I’m 29 today! Naturally, I’ll take this opportunity to explain why you are awesome, even if it has nothing to do with my birthday. Keep on reading, fellow life traveler.
But first – wow, what a roller coaster ride it’s been! I mean, holy cow – from a tiny village full of mud and livestock (mooo) to an American suburban “dream” with luxury cars, motorcycles, and good friends. I’ve been the love of my family and I’ve been the outcast. I’ve been betrayed, and I’ve been forgiven; I found true love, and I lost it. Some knew me as over-confident, unstoppable, and hyper-productive and some – as depressed, lonely, and continually sick. I’ve both made 6 figures per year and teetered on the verge of bankruptcy. I helped change lives and I’ve desperately needed help myself. And in a few weeks, I’m about to change location for the 13th time in my life, despite still not having 100% certainty whether the destination will be San Francisco or Canada (99% certain for SF, it’s just not under my control).
Today, I once again find myself staring into the face of uncertainty. It’s been 11 years since I moved to the U.S. of America, and I am still a nonresident alien (read: no ‘green card’). That’s despite earning my college education here, working many jobs, and being an exemplary citizen who pays a ton in taxes. But you know what? Fuck it. I’ve studied brain science, psychology, and philosophy for years and let me tell you that “fuck it” is the best wisdom I will ever be able to give you. Because it’s all in our heads, my friend. All of it.
Real stuff happens in the world, and absolutely we should react to it with reason and evidence-based judgement. But our attitude towards it all? Our motivation? Our psychological well-being? It’s all in our heads. We have automatic responses to things we’re been forcefully attached to – parents’ approval, love connections, definitions of success or what’s good and bad, social expectations, religious beliefs, etc. – but all of those things can be changed, morphed, or even entirely dissolved with but a single switch in your head. A switch you can flip.
How do you find the switch? By realizing that the world isn’t magically “better” than you are and other people are not smarter – like you, they all just are. Everything around you has been built by folks that are as smart or dumber than you are (credit: my dad). They were all just trying to figure out what the fuck was going on and how to co-exist amid it all, and all of them, without a single exception, made a lot of mistakes, too. Even the figures we’re taught to idealize, like Gandhi, MLK, and Mother Theresa, were just people who stopped listening to the noise and started sending out their own signal into the world. One day, they simply said, this is who I am from now on and I don’t need anyone’s approval for it – I’ll start being that today. And the rest of us, just as capable and great, huddled around them not because they were better than us, or somehow stronger – we did it because they became a constant, a rare constant amidst the chaos that is the rest of the world. And I’m here to tell you – you are Gandhi. You are MLK. You are Mother Theresa. You are everything and everyone, and the only difference between you who is all-capable and you who is meek and weak is your decision to be so.
Now, some have talents – music, quicker math, etc. – but that’s not what gives strength or greatness. Hell, I’m smart – used to be real smart – and I’ve spent many a month in depression. And no, you won’t magically become rich just by thinking you will. But you will be strong because it’s not a thing you get from outside of you. And you will be on the path to having your inner greatness expressed in the real, outside world. And you will be happy. You will be happy because you will know that the only thing you need to be happy is your own approval and definition of happy. Whether you’re trying to create a piece of software or you’re trying to find food and shelter for the night, the only two possible outcomes are identical – you’ll either succeed or you won’t. But who you are during that process, while on that journey, is entirely up to you.
See, no matter how damn good your life is, there’ll always be shit to worry about – will my baby get sick and die in her sleep tonight? Will the boss approve my idea tomorrow? Will US adopt communism next year? And if it’s a reasonable concern then make reasonable plans and steps to counter it. But in the process – give up the idea of control. Have both the humility and faith to say, “I can’t know the future. Ever. But until that future arrives, I can choose what to believe about it.” Choose to believe that it will all turn out. Why?
Because life, my dear reader, is the biggest joke ever played on you. Life, you see, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe life sucks, and bad shit happens – our attitudes make us feel down and depressed, the world is less willing to interact with us, and everything that does happen is interpreted as crap, and we often choose overly defensive and safe actions that lead to less win and more suckiness. Or, we choose to believe that life rocks and our attitude goes up, people want to hang out with us more so we meet more people and build a better network, and we end up taking more risks that lead to bigger rewards, and so once again the results confirm our initial bias about life. But in the end, no one will tell you which way was right and which way was wrong. Nor will you be able to judge b/c, from your perspective, your results will confirm whatever bias you starting with! And that’s the joke of life – I hope you laughed.
So separate yourself from the noise, confusion, and the pain of the rest of the world. The world doesn’t know any better. Your parents made mistakes. Your friends made mistakes. Don’t spend your life proving them right or wrong, or earning their love or approval. Don’t spend your lives being afraid of being ashamed or stressing over every achievement to prove someone wrong. Fuck it, fuck all of their opinions. Their opinions are just as biased, as imperfect, and mean as nothing as your opinions. (See what I did there with that ‘nothing’ word? I’m proud of it. No, I don’t care what you think – I’m still proud of it.)
Define yourself. Obviously, don’t do illegal shit – that’s another topic. But choose to believe that life will turn out. Choose to believe that you’re great and amazing. Choose to believe that you’re loved. (Do you love yourself? See, told you. Wait, you don’t? Well start today. See, now you’re loved.) Choose to believe that you don’t need to be loved by everyone (even if it’s someone you really want to be loved by). You don’t need approval, you don’t need direction. You just need you. Find friends who support you in that manner, who will stand for who you really, truly are (as defined by you). Ditch the friends who lead you astray (seriously, fuck them, you owe them nothing). Ditch all of your friends if none of them support you in being stronger.
Because I tell you – you’re goddamn amazing. You’re beautiful. And you were so even before I just said it. This life, I don’t think it means what you think it means… it means nothing. It means what you make it mean. So make it mean whatever makes you happy. Enjoy it. Go play with your kids, or go ride that bicycle, or go solve malaria or poverty.
Pick the direction of your self-fulfilling prophecy, Captain. You need no look at others, you need no approval or praise – you are the highest praise you can get. That said, just FYI, I have full faith in you. You rock!
And to myself I say – happy birthday, Alex! You are alright, too. I’ve so, so missed you.
Why are you still here?? Go be awesome.