The story begins during a typical finals week. The semester is nearing an end, and the summer is coming! But it’s still finals week, and you know how you’re supposed to study. Well, memorizing (I mean “studying”) for some of my classes is boring, but that’s good because I get new ideas out of boredom.
One of these ideas is about free food. On my campus, there are always free food “opportunities.” Every day there is an event with free food. Typically, you’d need to rely on friends, Snapchat stories, or the school Reddit to find out.
The signal-to-noise ratio is too high, meaning to find what I’m looking for (let’s say free food), I would need to plow through hundreds of posts and hours on social media to maybe, just maybe, find what I’m looking for.
But what if you create a place where you can find free food when you want it? That’s precisely what I made with the UIUC Free Food Twitter Bot.
It works because it’s a student-generated place where students find out and share free food opportunities.
Or think about it this way.
You hungry? Go to the Twitter Page.
Know about free food? Submit the form to let other students know.
The biggest takeaway is when you have an idea for something and you want to do it. You NEED TO DO IT as fast as possible. Inspiration is perishable.
In my case, I was in a differential equations finals review session, and for some reason (I was probably hungry), I got this idea. I wrote it down as usual. I returned to my dorm around 11 PM, and the idea came up again. I felt the excitement and started working on it around 9 PM. I finished it and went to sleep around 4 AM. Not smart because I had a final the next day at noon, but….a project like this is a lot cooler!
The two most exciting things are the creation and the distribution. The latter is exciting because that’s where I think about ways to get people to use what I created. In this case, through the creation of memes.
Now, let’s talk about WHY I created it. Of course, I created the UIUCFreeFood because I want to help people.
Or did I?
I can say, "Sure, I created it to help people. I'm such a good person."
"I want to help people" is one of the main motivations for young people today. But it's also a motivation that is harming us significantly. I'll explain.
The idea of helping people became the right thing to say. No wonder why every college essay is about helping people. Ask anyone today what they want to do with their life, and the most common answer will be: "I want to help people."
Helping people is a beautiful thing, AND it's contributing to the great crisis of meaning our generation is going through. Helping people could be a motivation, but it can only sometimes be the primary goal!
Helping people is a consequence of figuring out who you truly are. If you figure out who you are and pursue what you love doing without realizing you will be helping people.
But it's hard to start at the end: helping people.
The UIUC Free Food surely helps many people, but the reason why I created it wasn't to help people. Sure, it's a big part of it, but it wasn't the main reason. If my goal were to help people with food insecurity, I would have joined other clubs on campus and tried to do something about it, but I would have never arrived at the UIUCFreeFood idea.
So how did I create it? What's the story behind it?
First, the idea came to me after a differential equation final review exam. I was bored, and the idea came to me after Prof. Bronski answered a question, and I was probably hungry too. Second, I thought about it and realized I would LOVE something like that because, like everyone else, I love free food, and there are many free food events across campus that we often don't know about. Third, I WANTED to USE IT.
So I went home and stayed up until 4 AM figuring out how to do it. I created it, launched it, and the rest is history! Now it's effortless for me to make up a story and tell you, "Oh my God. I'm such a good person because I created this initiative, and I created it to help people." In reality, I created it because I love doing projects like this. This is what I love doing, in the process, of figuring out who I truly am.
Following your curiosity and doing what you love doing while figuring out who you are and what you want to be is an alternative to the Current Thing of helping people. So if you want to help people but feel stuck, follow your curiosity and figure out what you love doing.
Counterintuitively, this is how you will help more people.
At the of the semester, we also got this award.