As I turn 30, I become compelled to ask: how did I get here? I know how I didn’t get here: conventional wisdom, which is more conventional than it is wisdom. Like lore, conventional wisdom always sounds good and feels good (for a while). Tested against time and a world indifferent to idealism, they crumble.
You may then try your way, which in the beginning is rough around the edges. Eventually, you get the swing of things. You motion into a stride. The stride turns into a run. And then the marathon begins. Or as Anakin Skywalker said, “This is where the fun begins”.
I prefer to run marathons in unknown territory with uncharted paths. I would rather fall on my face through my own volition than through another's. The prizes in unknown territory bare much more fruit than the silly constellation prizes in a prototypical path.
I have never publicly advocated for any of these ideas because they can be often misinterpreted and lack the context in which they were born. They also require a high degree of risk tolerance, which is undesirable for many people.
Today, I think I’m ready to share summaries of my counter-intuitive ideas:
A man must impose strict principles upon himself
What makes a man? Is it simply biological? Or is there an inflection point that renders a man into Man? I believe men should not simply exist, passively traversing. He must continuously interrogate himself, discover who he is and take a deep look at the world around him. He should come up with a worldview with a singular focus on what he sets out to achieve. He should have principles, which act as guardrails so that he does not lose himself along the way. If a principle is altered too often, then a new principle must take its place or it must be discarded.
You must make difficult decisions
If you are not consistently weighing tradeoffs, doing the ugly “behind-the-scenes” work, calculating second-order effects and projecting trajectories there is a high chance you’re living life in easy mode which is going to produce a lacklustre outcome. It is akin to going to the gym every day and using the absolute bare minimum amount of weight resistance, forever. Play easy mode, and earn crappy prizes.
Be skeptical when others are stubborn, be stubborn when others are skeptical
“Supporting the current thing” and other instances of blind following without proper due diligence in research and understanding is the unfortunate epidemic that has plagued the masses. People form powerfully strong opinions in a matter of seconds on profoundly complex topics. This is why it’s pertinent to be skeptical when others are stubborn, as their stubbornness may be born of recent radicalization and not longitudinal understanding. Being stubborn when others are skeptical should only be out of a matter of principle and not mimetic.
Parents are not immigrants
Our generation is notorious for reducing our parents from people to immigrants, which bares often negative derivatives than most people will care to admit. Fundamentally viewing your parents solely as immigrants is damaging, as it abstracts away their humanness and personhood. View them simply as parents and you might find a dramatic change in your relationship with them. This does not mean you ignore their plights of immigration, but rather do not understand them solely on the merit of their immigration status.
Put your family first
I could say a lot about family but I will defer to Bryan Dyson since he has said it better than I ever could:
“Imagine life is a game of 5 balls that you manipulate in the air, trying not to fall these balls. One of them is rubber and the rest is glass. The five balls are: work, family, health, friends, soul. It will not be long before you realize that (work) is a rubber ball. Whenever you fall, you will jump again, while the other balls are made of glass. If one of them falls, it will not return to its previous form. It will either be damaged, bruised, cracked, or even scattered. You have to be aware of that and strive for it. Manage your work efficiently during working hours, take the time to be assured of your sincerity, give the necessary time to your family and friends, take appropriate rest, and take care of your health. If you are gone, it isn’t easy to return as it was.”
- Brian Dyson
Pick your partners wisely
Often our emotions override our ability to reason which can impair your ability to acquire a holistic image of your prospective partner. How you feel is important but it is by no means the sole determinant of the merit of a partner. Assessing compatibility, thresholds for disagreement, aptitude and long-term stability are essential to finding the right partner. Applicable to both business and marriage.
Create trajectories not targets
It’s not important exactly where you land. It’s important that you start somewhere and that you adjust your trajectory along the way rather than over-optimizing and over-calculating the final destination.
Bet on yourself
Popularized by Fred VanVleet, it confirms what I’ve felt for a long time. That I am my own best investment. Any money or time I spend on improving myself is well worth it in the long term.
I have no idea what I’m doing. I know exactly what I’m doing.
At any given time I have a beginner's mind or an expert’s mind. What warrants one on the other depends on how much information and certainty I have. If I’m lacking, I defer to a beginner’s mind (I have no idea what I’m doing). If it’s the opposite, I assert my expert’s mind.
Public progressive images often render opposite beliefs in private
Virtue signalling is the silent epistemic epidemic. Non-profit organizations and progressive figures project a high moral standard despite often suffering from dysfunction, attrition and hypocrisy. I was shocked when I discovered that the non-profits I love and admire are bastions for everything that can go wrong. I was also shocked to find the people that espouse and preach publicly believe otherwise behind closed doors. I’ve kept my distance since and I’ve been better for it. Malcolm understood this well:
“I have more respect for a man who lets me know where he stands, even if he's wrong, than the one who comes up like an angel and is nothing but a devil.
- Malcolm X
It’s expensive to not have children
Amongst our generation, there is a growing perception that children are expensive financially, emotionally, freedom-wise and time-wise. Some have gone even as far as to believe they shouldn’t have children because of climate change. This is disastrously incorrect.
One of our community teachers Sheikh Abdalla Idris has continuously reminded us that every child comes with their rizq (sustenance). There are many paths to financial bankruptcy, but children aren’t one of them. It’s quite common for people’s financial situations to improve after having a child, due to the dramatic increase in motivation to provide for a child’s future. It’s possible that by not having a child if you’re able to, you’re losing out on potential financial opportunities.
Like finance, your emotional capacity, aptitude and maturity dramatically increase once you have a child. I once described it to a friend as akin to receiving an over-the-air software update. I even typed this section of the post as my daughter was crawling all over me and not for a second did I exhibit an ounce of frustration.
On the idea that children subtract your freedom and time: eventually, all the abundant freedom and time in the world will be insufficient and unfulfilling. A gap forms, a void that needs to be filled with meaning and purpose that is beyond your life, work and community. Children are this meaning, and purpose that extends beyond our spheres. There is the final piece to the puzzle. There is nothing more beautiful, fulfilling and rewarding than having a child. As cliche as it is, the idea of the “circle of life” is a profoundly beautiful yet simple cyclical idea. That life must and shall continue.
To begin to pump the brakes on the continuity of the Human Story because of individualistic reasons is ingratitude for what brought you here and selfishness in refusing to continue the future. Secular individualism has led us to the belief that we are the center of our lives and to hear otherwise, to decenter what is known and familiar is a relatively radical act.
If you don’t know where you come from, you won’t know where you going
Many of us who grow up in North America have our ties severed from our country of origin, our culture and our people. Visiting where you are from can be an extremely rewarding experience. To see how people live differently. To get sage advice from elders. Understanding where you come from is an experience that will give you goosebumps. It’s a perspective that will permeate your thinking and keep you grounded.
And lastly, this is not contrarian advice but it’s an idea that has been profoundly helpful in how I approach solving problems:
Question like a philosopher, investigate like a detective, experiment like a scientist, craft like an architect, build like an engineer, fix like a mechanic and be ready to change like the weather.