I have my own little New Years tradition: Usually, I go to bed before 10:00 (and trust me, I rarely go to bed before ten - it is a special occasion). And then I wake up the next day, and ski while everyone else sits around nursing their hangovers. This is my preferred way to bring in the new year: just me spending time doing what I love. This is what keeps me grounded. I look back on the time I've spent up in Utah this year, and I can't help but think about how this time of year and being up here always keeps me grounded, keeps me focused on who I am and why I'm here.
Even when the weather is absolute shit like this year, and I manage to have
some frustrating times, I still prefer to be here, skiing, to anywhere else in the world. This is, put simply, one of those things that I love so much that it manages to become a part of me.
Last year I set a wonderful new years resolution - I took it as a kind of theme for the year, and I found myself muttering, "Don't be a pussy!" under my breath constantly. It has opened up a world of things for me. I learned to surf, I battled through public speaking and being social, I got healthier... This year, I decided I wanted a theme again, something else I could add to my repertoire of things I could mutter under my breath like a crazy person. And after some thought, I think I'm going to turn to an old theme of mine. I spent the day today with one of my oldest friends. We met almost ten years ago, on the first day that I joined a ski team.
I was having an absolute shit time, things are rough and I wanted nothing more than to roll up in bed and never come out. She texted me, "Just come out. I'll be your therapist." And that's what we did. we lamented and discussed so many of the things that have tied us together over the years, the things that we understand fundamentally about each other that sometimes it feels like nobody else gets. Just like being on the mountain, sometimes all you need is someone like an old friend to remind you of why you are there.
When I was in about the fourth grade, I made the astute observation that the people I liked the most were those with passions, with interests. So I made a promise to myself that I would only spend time with those who were similarly passionate, about something, anything. I have, for most of my life, attempted to keep my promise to myself, to the best of my ability. But things have changed recently, and it's tough. When I was in school, it was so easy. There were the people kissing butt and prepping a resume for the next great leap, and they were fairly easy to pick out and just boring, I adored skiers above and beyond anyone I'd met in school for the longest time, probably until my later years at Stanford. These were kids that loved what they did, that sweat and bled for something they loved.
Now things have changed. I'm out in the world and meeting new people and seeing new things, and everything looks incredibly exciting and interesting. But what I think I've realized is, there are so very few people who are actually passionate, so very few people that know how to fall in love.
Here's the thing about this grown-up world: I'm lucky to be in a world full of people who are curious, smart, interesting and interested. There is so much to do and we can pack our days from dawn until dusk with all of the fascinating people to meet, things to do, all of this stuff. It's difficult. This is so close to being a passionate person - the ability to fall in love means you must be open, must mean you're ready and willing to plunge yourself into anything and everything to discover, to see what sticks. This intellectual curiosity is truly a breath of fresh air.
But it's not enough.
My new year's resolution, or theme, this year is to live with passion again, to focus on it and obsess about it and surround myself with it.
So it is with any other form of thought. You do your best thinking by slowing down and concentrating.
Concentrating, focusing. You can just as easily consider this lecture to be about concentration as about solitude. Think about what the word means. It means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input. It seems to me that Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—and just so you don’t think this is a generational thing, TV and radio and magazines and even newspapers, too—are all ultimately just an elaborate excuse to run away from yourself. To avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy? -
William Deresiewicz Ultimately, to become passionate means taking all of these things around you and throwing yourself into them with conviction. It means giving up on the endless distractions - we think of Twitter and Facebook and all of the stereotypical flimsyness of social media, but it means all of the things we have come to adore too as being marks of our superior intellect and belonging: dinner parties, events, meetings and coffee with new people, talks and all of it. But at some point you've got to sit down with this thing, and fall in love with it. You've got to pull it apart and understand it and think about it and lay out all the pieces and then stitch them back together with our own damn world view.
We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of expertise. What we don’t have are leaders.
What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision. -
William Deresiewicz Really, this generation seems to lack the ability to fall in love.
So my first goal is to quit endorsing the intellectual circus that has become our culture. This doesn't mean that I won't remain curious and interested, because as I said, that is part of what is required to become passionate, but that I will spend time also following my obsessions and turning them more into just a Tumblr full of curiosities. I will develop relationships, I will understand why I find them so fascinating, and I'll tie them back to myself. I may not fall in love this year, or the next, but eventually all these things illuminate something new.
Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
— Steve Jobs
Part of my goal with Teethie is to create the kind of space for this - the kind of space where we can think deeply, reflect, converse, and just generally find those who are also in love with something. I occasionally make light of the type of user that I hope to get, and I occasionally make fun of my own background as a fangirl and general obsessive, but in reality, I am fascinated and impressed and inspired by their dedication to finding something that provides some sort of meaning. The dramatic nature of their obsession seems funny to those of us passing by, but really it's a false security; maybe you feel superior but understand that while you are being snooty, they are being genuine. If I can provide a better experience for them, I will feel like I've done something worthwhile.
I think another part of this means reminding myself to enjoy that feeling everyday. I know that I am blessed to find things that I love and that give me purpose and meaning, but sometimes when things get difficult and tough, we forget to indulge in the simple fact that this same thing that drives us nuts also makes us feel better on the darkest days.
I often say that the most valuable education I got was out on the hill. Skiing is a tough, gritty sport. You will break bones and suffer concussions and tear muscles and turn blue and get frostbite. Cold days mean your nose will turn white, warm days mean rain will soak through your layers. Unless it's sunny, in which case you will deal with pain unknown to any of you all who do not have the experience of putting a cast of hard boot, several sizes too small, that feels more like concrete, even more so as your feet slowly swell up with the heat. You will get bone spurs, especially if you ski correctly, with your ankle backed into a form-fitting heel pocket. You will turn black and blue, and everyday you will get up and do it again. It is not an easy sport to love - there is one loser, and second place is just the first loser. The precision involved in the sport of ski racing means the slightest fluctuation is everything, the sport is about discpline and consistency, really.
"Four hundredths is not a lot of time at that speed. We’re going across the finish at 75 miles an hour — four hundredths is about a foot and a half. And after a mile and a half of racing, it comes down to a foot and a half." - Bode Miller (one of my few personal idols)
But here's the thing: no matter how horrible all this is and sounds, you find that mostly people are smiling and laughing. You pull into parking lots at 7am and find racers scaling the sides of the giant mounds of snow where careless snow removal has continuously pushed it, and skiing down, just to get a few blissful turns in. So many of us love what we did, and never forgot it.
That attitude of laughing and loving is something I hope to bring to my work everyday, to remember how much I enjoy it, even when things are awful and hard. To remember that I am blessed, because life would be much more bleak without it.
There's one more thing I want to talk about.
So solitude can mean introspection, it can mean the concentration of focused work, and it can mean sustained reading. All of these help you to know yourself better. But there’s one more thing I’m going to include as a form of solitude, and it will seem counterintuitive: friendship. Of course friendship is the opposite of solitude; it means being with other people. But I’m talking about one kind of friendship in particular, the deep friendship of intimate conversation. Long, uninterrupted talk with one other person. Not Skyping with three people and texting with two others at the same time while you hang out in a friend’s room listening to music and studying. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “the soul environs itself with friends, that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude.”
Introspection means talking to yourself, and one of the best ways of talking to yourself is by talking to another person. One other person you can trust, one other person to whom you can unfold your soul. One other person you feel safe enough with to allow you to acknowledge things—to acknowledge things to yourself—that you otherwise can’t. Doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you aren’t supposed to ask. Feelings or opinions that would get you laughed at by the group or reprimanded by the authorities. -
William Deresiewicz So much of the world is patently bad at friendship and relationships. My friend and I seem to be learning the same thing as we go out into the world: friendship, and the ability to love others, is similar to falling in love with things and ideas. It requires sacrifice, it requires forgoing all the exciting things out in the world to take the time to get to know someone deeply, to spend that time consistently with them, and to get to know them deeply. She broached it first, stating that she thought her best friends, the ones who were good at friendships and relationships and knew what it meant, were the ones who had a passion in their lives. Having friends to have a good time with, to do fun things with is important and wonderful, but it's only one part of a diverse diet for relationships. But just like we suffer from an abundance of curiosity, I think we suffer from the intellectual friendship - we befriend someone because they are interesting and thoughtful and have many great things to say and experiences to provide for us. But real friendship is more than this - interestingness does not make a friendship. This year another friend of mine sold his company. What I did with him the week that this decision was made was to walk around Palo Alto with him, for hours, walk and walk and talk and talk, despite the fact that we were walking and talking in circles, despite the fact that I was getting no interesting information or exciting experience out of it, other than to be there for a friend who needed it.
I want to befriend passionate people because their vision and thoughts are enriching and help you grow. This has always been the case. But I also want to befriend them because I want to build meaningful relationships in my life. I owe that to myself, and I want that. So I will start by looking for the people who are capable of investing in a relationship, capable of taking the time to let themselves fall in love.
Passion is a funny thing - we occasionally mistake it for determination. It's not the same. Determination is grim, unyielding, and satisfying only in pay off. Passion is the world where we have no other choice but to do what we do, and try, because it is part of us. We confuse the two because to the external world, it often feels and looks the same - especially since so much of us have the priviledge of only seeing or noticing determination when it ends up in success. But passion is an energizer, it enlightens and changes the way we see the world around us, the people with it have something special, something that cannot be articulated.
So there it is. 2012 will be a year where I remember what's important to me, and live with passion again. Hopefully this will open as many doors in 2012 as not being a pussy did for me in 2011. And I think I will ski tomorrow morning, early.