Sunday, October 6, 2013

Life is meaningless... but go ahead and fill it with wonderful stuff

Yesterday I wrote a piece about how chaotic I have been feeling lately. Today I came across a graduation speech video which gives exact advice for addressing my current feeling of meaninglessness and confusion. The speech was given by Tim Minchin, an Australian musician/comedian at the University of Western Australia. The 9 pieces of advice include:

1. You don't have to have a dream.
2. Don't seek happiness.
3. Luck has a lot to do with where you are today.
4. Exercise.
5. Be hard on your opinions.
6. Be a teacher.
7. Define yourself by what you love.
8. Respect people with less power than you.
9. Don't rush.

It happens that I had a dream when I grew up, and that was to become a scientist, which is what I am today. Minchin says it's fine to have a dream.. by the time you get to it and "are staring into the abyss of the meaninglessness of your achievement, you will almost be dead so it won't matter". I haven't achieved a permanent position yet, but I already see the pointlessness of it all. Also, like he said, I had too much of a tunnel vision on long term goals that I missed all the other worthy pursuits, like romantic relationships, established social circles with those with similar values, extracurricular hobbies, community service etc. My focus was on my academic degree and that was it. I was also trying to rush my whole life and still I end up feeling behind everyone else. But life is not a race and I cannot succeed in every area of life.

Because so much of my self-worth has been tied to my family's values and opinions of me, it's been extreme difficult for me to separate what I want from how I should be in order to make my family respect me. The way to make them respect me is to either 1: become an established professor, or 2: go make lots of money at a large corporation, or 3: marry some rich person (that's considered as an accomplishment for females in Asia) and have some cute babies so they can buy pretty clothes and toys and obsess over cuteness of infants.  None of these options would make me happy in the long run. I haven't taken pride in what I do because my family don't think highly of my profession. But just because my family members do not care to try to understand what I do, their opinions should not negate my decades of hard work and what I think are important in life.

Part of the reason I don't want to be a teacher is that I don't want to be a crappy teacher who ruins lives. But maybe that's because I was too dependent on my teachers. I didn't know how to think for myself and hung on to their every word and followed all their suggestions without better judgements. When I learn to make decisions for myself, can take responsibility and not be apologetic for my decisions about my own life, maybe I can start serve as a good teacher for others.

No. 5 is definitely something I need to work on for the rest of my life. It's what I said in my previous blog too: more observations, less judgements, or at least more critical examination of my judgements. Still a work in progress.

The most important take home message of the speech is that life has no meaning, so we should just do what we want with it in a way that make us feel fulfilled. We can proceed by being micro-ambitious in pursuing short term goals (like learning the second series in Ashtanga), to pursue our passions, and to feel grounded in whatever we choose to do with our lives. For those of us who have the freedom to choose what to do with our lives (only a small population in the world), we are extremely lucky indeed.


  1. If you want some advice from someone who is quite a bit older...the whole "getting my family to respect me" is a bottomless pit. You get the job? They will want you to get a better one. Get the husband? Where are the babies? Have the babies? Are they top students at school?

    Love yourself, respect yourself and strangely enough, that will do the trick.

    1. Thanks for the advice V. I've been indoctrinated by countless values + suggestions from my family that clash with the western/present day recommendations on how to live life. Still in the process in shedding them and figuring out what exactly I want for myself.

    2. What V said. In a ridiculous nutshell? Wake up (hopefully) and sincerely wonder what is going to happen that day.

    3. Yah, what happened recently was that I got burnt yet again by a cousin... I was told I should really try MUCH HARDER to "fulfill my duties as a daughter". That left hook materialized from the middle of nowhere and gave my ego a solid concussion.