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One of my most long-standing beliefs is that I am miles behind everyone else in all areas of my life. Whether true or not, this belief is the fuel that has propelled me far and fast. It made me determined to get ahead, determined to achieve all of my constantly creeping goals, and ultimately, determined to become the perfect version of myself.
I’ve always been a pretty goal-oriented person — but mostly because I frame my goals on a salvation scale. It’s not enough for achieving a thing to offer me exactly what I want — my brain craves anything I aim for to hold the key to everything that I need. As diabolical as this sounds, it’s extremely effective. With stakes that high, I’m willing to pull out all the stops. Failure just doesn’t feel like an option. By telling myself that whatever I’m reaching for will essentially allow me to achieve nirvana, I guarantee that motivation will never be in short supply.
I think a lot of terminally intellectual-brained high achievers do the same thing. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a fast fix to motivation and provides an easy answer to the age-old question of how a person might measure their self-worth: why not by your speed of growth? But with that comes the feeling that anything but progressing through life at warp speed is probably proof that you’re doing something deeply wrong.
In my case, I want things to feel hard. How else will I know that I’m making progress? In practice, this sentiment easily leads to self-sabotage. It encourages me to pick projects and people that give my overactive brain a silly sudoku-like game to play while matching my mind’s stock image of “meaningfulness.”
I’m not alone. How many times have you watched someone you consider to be generally quite smart chase after and attain a thing, only to realize that they don’t actually want the thing after all. It’s a true testament to the power of the mind how long people get stuck in this cycle; continually disproving their this-thing-is-my-savior theory and yet still somehow coming to the conclusion that it’s this next thing that they truly need and not that their savior theory is fundamentally flawed.
This is synthetic certainty in action — straight from your mental lab. It’s an intellectually-formulated feeling designed to simulate the organic farm-to-table certainty that only your heart can produce. But comparing the two reveals the difference is stark: a brain dressed as a heart will never beat the same way, no matter how hard it thinks about it.
I write essays pretty often now on a separate Substack! Usually me putting myself under a microscope in an effort to understand how human beings work.
Legitimacy by Vitalik
This is basically a core text for me — I cite it all the time. I humbly request the next installment be on “popularization.”
Living Like Weasels by Annie Dillard
"The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn't "attack" anything; a weasel lives as he's meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.”
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
On the promise and perils of equality, packaged in short story form.
The Question of Technology by Heidegger
This rec is for fellow philosophy of technology nerds. Heidegger’s work is particularly interesting because of how much it talks about the influence of linguistics on our conceptions of ourselves, each other, and our world.
E Unibus Pluram by David Foster Wallace
Total classic on culture through the lens of the television industry.
The Problem with Music by Steve Albini
To realize that the foundation of the music industry was already rotten 29 years ago is… unfortunately unsurprising. Excellent modern-day readings on the modern music industry live here and here.
The Eleven Rules of Showrunning by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Basically: how to have enough ego to start audacious things and then actually make them happen by working well with other people.
Politics and the English Language by George Orwell
Explainer on how while language is ideally an “instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought,” in reality it’s often more of a method of moral swindling.
We Need the Eggs: On Annie Hall, Love, and Delusion by Sheila Heti
I love this. It’s a deep discussion on love that debates the meaning behind a particularly poignant line in Woody Allen’s excellent film Annie Hall.
This one’s for when your mind’s busy playing in word worlds but could still use some soothing sounds.
Alone by Q (song)
Spotify says I’m in the top 1% of Q fans and it’s entirely because of this song.
Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale (book)
Breaking the bias-towards-brevity rule I learned from this book right out of the gate: this is an excellent, magnificent, superb read on writing good prose.
[Writing is] hostile in that you're trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It's hostile to try to wrench around someone else's mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else's dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.
— The Art of Fiction No. 71 Interview by Joan Didion