Thursday, August 6, 2015

Evaluation: A Functional Adult?

Yesterday*, I turned nineteen.

*It's Friday where I am.

When I was a kid, I remember thinking that nineteen was a weird age because you were a teenager and also an adult, and you were probably in college (which I couldn't visualize at all), and it is a prime number in between two very respectable composites, 18 and 20, which are both multiples of squares. Nineteen is also the color of Fig Newtons.


Music for the post is this lovely mashup that Lieutenant Sarcasm made for me.

Songs: "Numb" by Linkin Park and "Painkiller" by Three Days Grace. A mix of the old and new, which is appropriate.


I don't know if I feel old or very young. My first band camp was five years ago, I'm going to be in a position to give advice at the frosh send-off later this month, and I'm deep in my second year of working on my third book. At the same time, colleagues at work assume I'm twenty-two, I am less than halfway through college, I'm in my very first Real Job, and I know I have a long way to go.

In terms of Augustus, I am older than Octavian was when Julius was murdered, but I still have over a decade to go until Actium. Me plus about one year is Sam Altman leaving Stanford for his startup. Me minus about one year is Harry Potter killing Voldemort. Joan of Arc was about nineteen when she died.

I feel as though things are moving more quickly now, that all the time before I was meandering over the land at walking pace and now I have launched from the shore. The old life happened but it is qualitatively different. That is, I suppose, a side effect of (having the privilege of) going to college. Leaving home.

As I've gotten older, I've become more conscious of birthdays--which may seem contradictory, I suppose, because when I was a kid I was a lot more active about celebrating my birthday. But looking at this blog, which is a reasonable record of my high school self, I see that only in the past two years I've started writing birthday posts. Last year: A Functional Adult. The year before: Coming of Age.

Maybe the current streak of becoming more existential around birthdays is because I have entered a highly liminal state. I'm in my late teens now, and the difference between what I am doing this summer and last summer is a whole lot bigger than the difference between any two preceding summers. Once I leave college/grad school, my summers will probably go back to being homogenous because I'll be working.

Enough existentialism, however. Today I will evaluate how well I have done in my first year as an adult and then outline ways that I can improve (as usual).

I have a lot more self-confidence than I used to, because I've actually done stuff now. That's pretty simple. I'm in Indonesia working on a project that has the potential to help people, and that's worth something.

I am still not comfortable with uncertainty, however. If my confidence is based on past performance, what happens when I reach something new? If I can prepare for it, then prepare. That's something I regret for this summer--not preparing more. If I had learned more Bahasa prior to coming here, enough to have a reasonable foothold, then I would probably continue learning at a much faster rate. As it is I just kind of kludge along in English and say very simple things like "Where?" and "Thank you" and "Good morning" in Indonesian.

I'm improving very slowly at high-context situations. That is, situations where the rules are not explicitly laid out, where it isn't obvious what I should do. I overanalyze, of course, but that overanalysis is paired with an under-observation. My nickname in high school was Captain Obvious. I'm not naturally sensitive, observant, perceptive, tactful, etc. That's probably one of the reasons I'm quiet and polite as a default: because if I don't say anything then I won't say the wrong thing, and if I'm polite then that signals that even if I make a faux pas, my intentions are friendly. Silence is easy. Politeness is easy. They don't require any input from the situation, any advanced parsing.

The way forward is to pay attention. My thoughts will always be an interesting place for me, so it is always tempting to tune out of the present moment and retreat into my head. I am really, really self-centered. I need actively to fight against that and care about the external world enough to pay attention and process and, if I dare, respond.

The above paragraph has a political valence as well. There are a number of issues that are worth caring about, and I am slowly crawling out of my cave. Simply thinking "racism is hurtful" and "climate deniers are bad" is easy and not useful, unless these thoughts lead to actions. Speaking up is difficult for me and contrary to my basic personality, but if I keep telling myself that I owe the world my best, I need to keep pushing the line of "my best" forward.

If I am going to start finding a way to navigate the real world and take stances on important issues, I need to lay some groundwork on what that means to me and what my stages of evolution will be. That will take us rather far afield for this post, so I'm going to think more about it over the weekend.

Back to the evaluation. I've gotten better at asking for help and my common sense is slowly improving as I do more things. If you're a friend of mine IRL and you call me out on my mistakes, I'm going to ask you to keep doing that but I'm also going to try to be more attentive. And I'm going to try to do more practical things. One of the to-do items from last year's birthday post was to help my parents with chores, and something I've found is that if you ask someone if you can help them with anything they'll probably say "no, it's fine" but if you ask them again then they might give in and let you help them.

That's also one of the things I miss about being at college: doing my own chores. I don't like laundry but I like the process of getting it done. I like doing dishes when my friends cook. I like going to the grocery store when I am choosing things based on what I need.

I may even end up liking to cook, because it's methodical and the simple things that are within my abilities are also the things I like to eat. I think that I'm going to try cooking more often next year, since my roommate enjoys cooking and baking, is patient, and explains things clearly (I've seen her tutor linear algebra. It is a thing of wonder).

I need to work on my temper. People always seem surprised at the aggression of my music, so I guess I do a decent job modulating my expression of emotions (remember: "quiet and polite" is easy), but I get angry rapidly in response to certain situations or remarks.

Usually this is when my parents do something that I feel is threatening to my fledgling adulthood and independence. It's frustrating that they don't see me the way I want them to, but I really need to cut them some slack. I owe them everything up to and including my existence, and even if I disagree with them, they deserve the courtesy of a reasoned argument, informed but not driven by emotion. Maybe I also need to resign myself to the fact that they will never stop seeing me as a kid and get along with my business in spite of that. And the mirror to them not understanding me is me not understanding them.

EDIT twenty minutes later: Another thing I want to fix about myself is my complacency. I am willing to put up with a large number of minor inconveniences. The fact that I'm willing to put up with them shows that they're lower than my activation energy, but I need to go about noting these bugs and squashing them because part of becoming an adult, for me, will be to recognize that my activation energy is inflated and a lot of stuff is in fact worth the effort.

My main to-do items are:

Short term: make a plan for becoming less ignorant about the world. Start being more attentive to the situation around me.

Medium term: implement the aforementioned plan. Do chores. Learn to cook simple food. Recognize when I'm getting angry and take ten to decide if I will speak my anger or if I'll be better served by cooling down and then responding.

In eleven years: besiege Alexandria and defeat all of my foes.

Long term: iterate. Become someone I can thoroughly respect.

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