My Only Mission.
My North Star. The goal to align all my other goals in life. The yardstick to measure how good a life I have lived.
For most of my post-university time, I kept thinking about the end goal: 20-30 years from now, Eugene would be a titan of industry, travelling all over the world, have a house full of love, wonderful kids running around.
Health, Wealth, Happiness.
The full package.
However, since coming back from India, and I suppose as a culmination of the experiences and reflections in 2022, I’ve come to see that fixating on the future isn’t the best thing. I was obsessing over it, and in the process, downplaying the present moment. Disregarding it. Trying to escape.
I think its important to have that visualization of the future. In fact, i intend to have 1 blog entry specifically sharing a detailed visualization for my ideal life. A life I would be proud of.
But goal-setting and visualization, as with most other things in life, are good only in moderation.
So I decided that in 2023, I would turn my gaze to the present. Make things more local.
Rather than trying to be this perfect, ideal Eugene with everything sorted out, I would simply be the Best Iteration of myself, in this moment. Accepting my imperfections, my unique circumstances, as is. Not as how I want them to be.
‘Iteration’ is the key word here, because for me, although it is synonymous with ‘version’ (as in ‘best version of myself’), the word iteration holds a special meaning because it makes me think of my game design playtesting prototypes - it frames my thinking into a kind of ‘testing and feedback’ mindset. All I need to do is to ship out the best product I can right now, with the limited information I have. If I end up doing the right thing, good. If not, take that feedback and improve on the next iteration.
The game design analogy also helps me make sense of ‘wrong paths’ - iterations where I try to add a new mechanic, a new feature in the game, only to find that players don’t enjoy it as much, leaving me to eat some humble pie and take some steps backwards to a previous iteration. We like to think that the higher the iteration number, the better the game would be. I certainly thought so. MK13 HAS to be better than MK12. But the truth is, it really might not. And in the spirit of experimentation, the risk of being wrong should always be there, and I should be willing to accept that.
We are always changing. Upgrading. Some parts of me will get buffed (maybe I will literally get buff lol), other parts will get nerfed (Ego, tactfulness, avoidance, selfishness, etc.) But what's important is to simply show up, put skin in the game. Try and fail, right now, then course-correct and then take the next right step. To not get too attached to the goal.
What does my best iteration look like?
Being a better son, better brother, better friend, better lover.
Better colleague, better leader, better follower.
Better game developer, better dancer, better writer.
Fitter, smarter, wiser.
Spartan, Stoic, Sage.
Have I been a better ___?
Some days, the answer to these areas will be yesses all around. Some days, maybe only one aspect was answered a Yes. Some days, maybe none at all.
And that is perfectly fine.
What matters is that we have this as the goal, and we try to take one step, maybe multiple steps, towards this goal.
And the key thing is: there is no ‘end state’ that, upon reaching, life will be better, or I will be happy, or I can finally rest or some nonsense like that.
The process is the goal.
By virtue of simply choosing to walk this path, choosing to take steps to becoming a better iteration of myself, that choice, that action, is complete in and of itself.
Because, honestly, life could end tomorrow. It could end with my next breath.
We have no clarity on when we will die - statistically maybe around 100 years old, but then again, anything can happen in between to make me a statistical outlier.
So, this is all we can really do. The future isn’t here. If it does come, we will be ready to face it regardless.
In essence, if I were to die while walking this journey, there is no problem at all.
Because, at any point in time, I would be the best version of myself in that moment.
The best version in that slice of time doesn’t mean perfection, doesn’t mean no mistakes, no rest, no negative emotions.
All those are part of the deal too. I am still human, after all.
But the point being: I would be better than if I didn’t choose to walk down this path. I would make less mistakes, be more virtuous, have better emotional awareness in general.
Maybe not all the time, but in the long run, this is what I’m hoping is the case.
Other musings about Personal Iteration
This idea, that the present moment is complete in and of itself, that it is all we have, and all we can truly focus on, links to another concept I've been grappling with: Infinite Games.
Infinite Games basically means playing the game of life in a super super long term way. I used to see it as: only choose people that I want to have with me forever. If I won’t work with them forever, don’t work with them for even 5 minutes (I think there's a Naval quote about this somewhere). Ngl that’s pretty toxic, because I don’t give people a chance, and view them in a pretty utilitarian way. It also holds a crazy expectation that they have to be the ‘best people ever’, because this is my ENTIRE life we are talking about, amirite? you see how it went sideways.
Now I look at infinite games from a different perspective. As in, ‘if I am going to see this person for the rest of my life, how would I choose to interact with them?’
Looking at how I can give rather than receive.
If this is the last time I interact with this person, how would I show up?
After all, life could end at any moment. And the moment before it ends will also feel exactly like this one right now. It will feel like the present.
Infinity is simply a bunch of present moments bundled together. *mindblown*
Growing and failure are synonymous - you can’t grow unless you fail.
Sometimes growing means going backwards. Retracing your steps until you are able to find a better path.
Your muscles can’t grow unless there are microtears in the fibers that get repaired stronger than before.
The cells in your body are dying all the time - you literally become a new person cells-wise every 7 years or so.
A start-up doesn’t become a unicorn unless it fails - the whole point is to fail fast, fail forward, learn and iterate. Each version we find out what doesn’t work, and try a new thing.
So I’m embracing this for my own life.
Embracing failure. Embracing change.
Kensho and Satori - two types of growth
Kensho is growth through pain. A breakup, a misfortune, that causes turmoil and suffering for an episode, but when you come out the other side, you’ve become a totally different person.
Satori is growth through insight. A sudden flash of inspiration, of enlightenment, when concepts click and you see the world in a new way. No pain, just eureka.
For me, seeing growth segmented this way helped me make sense of the non-linear and sometimes backwards nature of growth.
Growth is not linear, nor is it always up.
Growth is not good or bad. It simply is a part of nature. We are growing all the time, whether you like it or not, whether you want it or not. We are all growing to become more of what we expose ourselves to - thoughts, people, content, environments, diets, etc.
So I want to be more intentional about this. To cultivate a good diet, a good environment, to help me grow into the person I want to be.
“You can read all the books you want, but if you can’t read yourself, you’ll never learn a thing.” - Steven Bartlett
I used to get quite uncomfortable reading this quote. If you’ve been following me for some time, you’d know that Steve Bartlett is someone I admire, someone I consider to be a role model, thought leader-type guy for me.
But when he said this quote, I tried so many times to disregard it. Or even to say ‘oh but i am very self-aware and can definitely ‘read myself’, so there’s no problem here either.’
I would pride myself on external achievements, on habits and side hustles. Staked my entire identity on them.
Now, having gone through more of life, having made more mistakes, I’ve come to see the truth in this quote: what’s the point of reading all this self-help, if you are still a shitty person? what's the point of religion, or spirituality, if I am still not virtuous? worse still, by doing all this personal development stuff, I’d convince myself that it already makes me superior to others. In a way, adding a kind of ‘ego-armor’, preventing me from connecting meaningfully with others.
Ultimately, I need to get crystal clear about why I do personal iteration - what’s it all for?
What does being a better person mean? Is it just for the accolades and the ability to flex in front of others?
Or is it to show up better for others? To care deeper for them, to give more to the world, and to live a life of minimal regret?
I think its becoming clearer for me. But still, sometimes it feels like I end up with more questions than when I started.
So I’d leave you with just one more:
What would it take to become the best version of yourself physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually?
“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.” - Robert Louis Stevenson