The summary of this essay.
You at the end of this essay.
Hemmingway famously called Paris a moveable feast. His most famous book is called that.
I never read the book.
But the name stuck.
Since hearing the name, I’ve been trying to find my own moveable feast.
For Hemmingway, his memories of Paris were a feast. A feast that nourished him throughout his life... no matter how far he moved away from Paris. In the book’s foreword, it’s described this way:
“A memory or even a state of being that had become a part of you, a thing that you could have always with you, no matter where you went or how you lived forever after, that you could never lose. An experience first fixed in time and space or a condition like happiness or love could be afterward moved or carried with you wherever you went in space and time.”
I have no moveable feast. I’m still searching for mine.
There are a lot of problems in today’s world that we can point to. Climate change, increasing polarization, mental health problems, etc.
But at the end of all this to me lies a deeper, underlying problem.
None of us lived even a moment in our lives as deeply as Hemmingway lived his.
None of us know where to start.
We’ve spent so much of our lives being trained to be sheep. To follow what society, our families, and marketers want us to do. We’ve forgotten how to ask the deeper questions and how to follow our own answers.
We trivialize ourselves with tranquility so as not to feel.
Ultimately, we’ve forgotten to even ask:
Who can I be?
What does nourishment mean to me?
What do I want?
We’ve instead tried to nourish ourselves with what we should do.
We could be Gods, and instead, we’ve become robots.
What do I want?
This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves.
I’ve been thinking of the same thing.
A little while ago, I attended an engineering convention that was more like a career fair. Many people seem to attend it to get internships and jobs.
I had no expectations. I wasn’t interested in getting internships at the companies attending. Most companies were part of the legacy tech, which are companies that get the boring important stuff done.
I attend and talk to the many recruiters and even have some interviews. However, I look around and I notice the lack of intentionality and herd-like mentality by thousands of attendees, including myself.
Everyone is lining up in two to three-hour lines to talk to recruiters to get internships.
You can feel the thoughts in the air:
“I don’t care what you do. I JUST WANT AN INTERNSHIP.”
Internship, internship everywhere, and not a minute to think for yourself1.
They say, “You have to sell yourself. Have an elevator pitch. Wear a suit, and so on.”
Did I want that outcome? (which it’s totally valid).
So why the hell was I competing for something I didn’t want?
After long hours of persuading recruiters, I’d lose my energy and feel demoralized. It felt like I was running faster and faster and coming back to where I started.
If I want to be building companies and developing technology, that’s not the path that will get me there.
It’s then I thought of the question that I’ve been thinking about:
What do I want?
And looking at over the over sixty essays I’ve written about many topics, from economics and math to college and CAD advice.
Most of them revolve around one question:
“What do I want? And why am I not doing that?”
This two-part question has been jumping around my mind for the past two years.
We discussed this question: “What do I want” at length on a call.
But the call could not contain our thoughts. After talking, we wrote to each other through emails. That wasn’t enough, either.
This essay will be us talking about this topic. We will briefly talk about how we explored this question in our lives. We’ll also include a 10-step process so you can figure out what you want.
It’s useful to explore this topic together because we come at it in different ways.
I am interested in exploring this question in a thinky, abstract, and almost spiritual sense.
I want to link this idea of wants to an expanded sense of self. I believe that we have restricted ourselves and our lives.
To be free, we must follow what we want. It’s only then that we can be truly free and authentic.
I’ve been exploring in a more grounded and practical sense. Examining how our generation has been trapped in the shoulds and how he could honor his wants while encouraging others to do the same.
As I started thinking about how to follow our wants, I asked myself a stupidly obvious question. Why don’t we follow our wants?
Shouldn’t it be obvious that we would want to follow our wants?
I believe it’s hard to pursue our true obsessions in a globalized, homogenous world. Those activities, books, or projects, we would engage in simply because they look interesting, take more effort because we second-guess ourselves whether we’re working or doing the right thing.
“Am I studying the right thing? Am I with the right people? etc”
Believe it or not: the repetitive thought of opportunity cost is itself an opportunity cost.
I’d estimate before the pandemic, the number of people second-guessing themselves was not as high. Optionality combined with an increased sense of urgency is making people literally LOSE their minds.
AN UNHOLY MESS!
This is true.
We’ve been taught that there is some “right” thing to do. And our lives consist of figuring out the right thing and then forcing ourselves to do it.
We believe that eventually, after doing the right things (going to such-and-such school, take a certain type of internship, marry a certain type of person) then we’ll arrive. We’ll finally have a good life (whatever the hell that means).
But life (fortunately) is not like a multiple-choice test. There is no right answer. There is no such thing as getting a higher grade than everyone else. Life’s much more wild.
It’s scary to realize the world is random and chaotic. That no “right” set of choices exists. That there is very little certainty, and that life is much less predictable than we think.
Once we come to terms with this, it’s easier to follow what we want and laugh when life is chaotic and nonsensical.
Most people never do this, however.
Most people are afraid of asking the question, “What do I want?”
Because they don’t want to admit there is no “ultimate answer” in life.
This is probably why you end up getting millions of people wanting instant results and instant validation.
If I could gift my friends any one valuable thing, I would gift them an existential crisis.
A crisis is a wonderful thing when done right.
In a crisis, you see all of your own existential bandaids and distraction methods.
You see the lies you tell yourself and although this causes a struggle. And if the crisis is done right, we rid ourselves of these lies.
In our greatest problems lies the greatest opportunity. Our greatest joys sit uncomfortably close to our greatest pains.
I would gift a crisis because when done right, we come out of crises more awake.
When this happens, the instant results and validations don’t work anymore.
We see how society, our parents, and companies have co-opted our wants. How they’ve attempted to take over our lives by numbing us.
In a crisis, we lose our coping mechanisms.
Instead, we’re left with something more human: yearning.
Perhaps there is something to that. But most of us aren’t there yet.
Instead, most people end up sourcing their thoughts and judgment.
Let me give you an example. How many of you know someone who, before watching a movie or eating at a restaurant, check out Rotten Tomatoes or Yelp?
It’s ok if you use these apps. The problem is that every time you use it; you lose the ability to think for yourself and sharpen your judgment.
Algorithms determine what we read, listen, think about, and… wait for it, what we do. This isn’t necessarily bad as you can get a better sense of what to work on, or what movie to watch. It becomes problematic when we never decide for ourselves, NOT ONCE!
Having a good judgment is important to know what you want. Because half of knowing what you want is being able to know what you actually want and doubling down on your decision.
Allow me to get slightly woo woo for a second.
We source because we don’t trust ourselves. We don’t trust that our wants and desires are valid.
Ultimately, all of our deepest wants are the most human things.
We desire pleasure. We desire connection and deep relationship. We want people around us to see us as competent and valuable. We want to experience beauty and joy. We want to feel ourselves as strong. We want to discover who we are and save the world in the way only we can.
Some of us don’t believe in our inner goodness, so we rely on algorithms and other people to source our thoughts.
Once we realize that our wants and desires are real, valid, and beautiful, this all becomes easier.
We must realize that shutting out our wants and desires isn’t being rational or rising above our animal selves.
It’s denying our own humanity.
If we were advising a friend on how to follow their wants... We wouldn't actually just say "follow your wants." This would be too confusing. For some, it may seem following their wants means sitting around watching Netflix for 8 hours a day. They may not realize that it is not a want, but a compulsion or an addiction.
For example, they may think they want to date a certain girl. But they may realize that this "want" comes from a traumatic place. Perhaps they want to be perceived as worthy, so they want to date someone beautiful.
Perhaps they want to date a girl they know they cannot have because they are afraid of success. Deep down they are not comfortable with being loved, so they run instead of facing their fears.
For others, you can think you’re following your own want. But actually, you’re secretly follow your mom’s shoulds.
SO the question becomes… how the hell do you know when you're following your wants VS when you are being controlled by your compulsions? How do you know when you are running towards wants VS running away from feelings?
We’ve struggled with many of these (seeming) paradoxes and problems. Out of my struggles, came a process that has helped me get closer to what my authentic wants really are.
We've boiled this down into a 10 step process so you can know what you want.
Step 1: Take care of your human and psychological needs. If you can’t eat or are super depressed, it doesn’t matter if you want to follow your wants.
Step 2: Train your focus through meditation and through physical activity. If we are too distracted to sit quietly and listen to our body... then we won’t hear the answer when we ask ourselves “What do I want.” Ideally you want to use meditation and journaling as a tool to separate yourself from the internal and external noise.
Step 3: Go deeper with your meditation, journaling, and body practices. After a while you’ll be able to be present and aware without letting thoughts, sounds, or sensations distract you. You’ll be able to feel, but not let your feelings overtake you. You’ll be able to start realizing that you are not your thoughts or your emotions. They’re just energy. You’ll start to be aware of what’s in your day to day life without attaching your preconceived notions or predictions. You’ll be “triggered” less and less.
Step 4: Formally or informally, ask yourself, "What do I want?" Try to ask this more and more. Every time you have a want, write it down in a centralized place (like a task manager). All wants are good and you should accept them. At the same time, it's okay if you can't always act on a want right away or at all.
Step 5: At any given moment, look at your wants, and choose to do whatever you feel like doing next.
Step 6: Surround yourself with people you want to emulate (actively cultivate your petri dish). You want “memetic” desires to work in your favor.
Step 7: Have a reflection process at some regular cadence (I do quarterly). Examine your wants. Where are they coming from? Who is determining your wants? How are your wants secret “shoulds”? What are underneath your superficial wants?
Have a conversation with yourself on paper. "What do I want? I want X. Why? I want it because Y. What does Y look like? Is getting Y a reason for X?" and on and on.
Look deeper into your wants. Perhaps you say you want a Tesla, but what do you really want? Perhaps what you really want is to be respected by your dad. Try to go after your deeper wants or feel the heartbreak of knowing they are out of your control. For example, you cannot earn your dad's respect through material goods.
This examination will allow getting closer and closer to what you want.
Step 8: Feel the heartbreak of unlived wants. If you are dealing with health problems, you may want to be better. You can want to fix your health problem. Sometimes this isn’t possible. You can't always get what you want. You have to realize that you may want to live forever, but you will die.
It's essential to feel the heartbreak (if there is any) of all the wants you cannot get. It's also essential to feel the heartbreak of the wants unchosen.
Step 9: Actively try to follow your wants to no questions for longer and longer time periods. Follow your wants through the body, heart, and gut. The mind will impose concepts, meanings, predictions, stories, and shoulds. These are distractions. Follow your wants.
Step 10: After a while, you'll be able to follow your wants totally. This will be the default setting. You can choose to abandon meditation, journaling, and reflection practice. You can follow your wants just by feeling. You don't need to think. You don't need concepts or stories. At this stage, you will tell others to follow their wants, but they won't be able to follow your advice. Because for you it is already intuitive, for them they have no idea what they want.
Our conversation reminds me of this distinction I read about in Tim Urban’s blog between a cook vs a chef.
He says this,
Everything you eat—every part of every cuisine we know so well—was at some point in the past created for the first time. Wheat, tomatoes, salt, and milk go back a long time, but at some point, someone said, “What if I take those ingredients and do this…and this…..and this……” and ended up with the world’s first pizza. That’s the work of a chef.
Since then, god knows how many people have made a pizza. That’s the work of a cook.
The chef reasons from first principles, and for the chef, the first principles are raw edible ingredients. Those are her puzzle pieces, her building blocks, and she works her way upwards from there, using her experience, her instincts, and her taste buds.
The cook works off of some version of what’s already out there—a recipe of some kind, a meal she tried and liked, a dish she watched someone else make.
Once you are able to remove your shoulds and follow your wants... You go from being a cook to becoming a chef.
The true chefs are those with any given set of ingredients they create something magical and unique and delicious.
They are artists of the truest sense.
Just like a chef, in life you’re stuck to using certain ingredients.
Where you grew up, what you look like, how healthy you are these all these things affect what you can do. They determine what is possible.
But chefs are chefs because they see ingredients others don’t see. They see a reality others don’t. They see what they want and they are able to warp reality to achieve it.
Chefs don’t rely on what society tells them is possible. They create their own definitions. And so they are able to be creative and creators of their lives.
Where you see restriction, they see opportunity. To chefs, the constraints of their lives are essential to their creativity.
None of us have lived as deeply as Hemmingway. None of us has a moveable feast. But maybe that’s not the goal.
Hemmingway describes a moveable feast as a memory that sustains him for the rest of his life.
But I don’t want to live in my memories.
I want to live each and every moment totally alive. Have each and every moment brimming with wonder and awe and a sense of possibility.
I want the world to be my playground. No matter how hard it’s been and the circumstances you’re in. If you do it right, you can still follow what you want.
I am writing this because I’m not a chef yet.
But following my wants is much easier and natural than I thought it would be.
I’ve tasted moments of pure spaciousness, joy, and creativity.
I’ve looked behind the veil and seen that reality is very different than what we are told.
In rare moments, I am able to see differently.
In rare moments, I don’t need a moveable feast.
My life is the feast.
Special Thanks To/Remix of:
Pranav Mutatkar, Tim Urban, David Chapman, Tibetan Buddhism, Sarah Ahmad, Kirti Mutatkar, Manoj Mutatkar, Venk Potula, Joe Hudson, Baillie Aaron, Johnson Mulia, Evan Lim, Mitch Schwartz, Rene Girard, Nick Wignall, Seinfeld, Calvin & Hobbes, Venkatesh Rao.
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