The search for “truth” vs. the search for truth

Note: Day wibbledy-two of the #Trust30 initiative.

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. If we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Absolutists love to exercise the nuclear option in an argument.

You’ve seen the badge on the rusted-out pickup that has the little Darwin fish being eaten whole by the larger fish that says “TRUTH” in it.

Far from a rational counter-argument, it’s a full-nuclear response to a (questionably) humorous tweak, saying “Oh yeah, well you’re a liar!” But then, it’s a bit unwise to expect a nuanced response from fundamentalists who are compelled to decorate their car with retaliatory badges.

I’m not offended by much, but I take offense to this particular sentiment. Because it says to me that if asked, this person would unquestionably say they are either 1) On a quest for truth, or more likely 2) in possession of the entirety of truth, distilled into roughly 2000 pages.

Most of the people I know and associate with would find that as ludicrous as I do. However, nearly all of us subscribe to this fallacy in one form or another. I’ve been trying to break that cycle in my life, and here are some things I’ve learned.

Like the pickup driver who apparently eats Darwin fish for breakfast, I have always been sure I was on a quest for truth. So is my quest for truth real, or just a quest for confirmation of the things I already believe?

To test that, here are 3 differences between the search for “truth” and the search for Truth:

1. Whether you’re questioning the basic assumptions your search is based on.

If you’re not questioning your fundamental beliefs, then you’re on a quest for comfortable “truths”, and I can only bid you good luck. But if you’re willing to stretch out, you’ll have to diversify your portfolio of worldviews.

The best way I’ve found to do this is to view your assumptions from the perspective of someone who doesn’t share them. Not in an oh-it’s-cute-they-believe-that way, but in a serious, studious way. If you’re a Christian, you owe it to your faith to study the thoughts of alternate religions and atheists (those who have considered your worldview and disagree) and ancient philosophers/Eastern religious leaders (those who never shared your worldview).

You’ll find some dramatic differences among them, but more importantly, common threads that start to emerge in line with your personal experience. These threads will start to map out your personal path to happiness. My understanding so far is that this is a decades-long process, but perhaps I’m a little slow.

2: Whether you’re willing to let go of old assumptions when finding a better set.

My search for capital-t-Truth has taken me to some powerfully uncomfortable places, having shaken me to my very core and kept me up many nights. I’ve heard several describe it identically: as “going out into the cold”, often followed by returning to the warmth of the familiar.

But when you return to the warmth of the familiar, it’s not yours anymore. You’ve now seen that there’s more out there, and life is eventually going to push you back outside, because you’ve been called on your own personal Hero’s Journey.

For me, a truth is like a pry-bar that eventually cracks open a deeply-held belief or assumption. That process can take months, or even years, depending on how stubborn I am at the moment.

And a weird phenomenon I’ve experienced is that at the very moment you decide you’re willing to let go of old assumptions, you’ll find that many better ones had been rolling around in the back of your mind for a while. As you take these newer assumptions for a spin, everything starts making more sense. It’s like exchanging someone else’s pair of glasses for your own prescription.

3: Whether you’re willing to act on the truth you discover.

This is the part I struggle with the most. As the possessor of truth, you are now held to the standard of that truth. Not by some outside force, but because you can’t believe one thing, do another, and be completely at peace.

It can be difficult to feel acceptance when you don’t have a non-changing set of beliefs to bond you to a group of people. You can feel like the outsider, that you’re the person that doesn’t “play ball”. Your only options at that point are to let go of your need for acceptance, or be really quiet about your beliefs. I haven’t entirely figured out this one yet.

One of the hardest parts of a quest for truth is being willing to make decisions with the best information you have at the time, never knowing if it will be the right thing down the road. This is especially true when making life-altering decisions for my child. But I believe this method is a damn sight better than making decisions based on a “a sure knowledge” that later proves to be untrue, then feeling the need to justify them.

The hardest part of all has to do with relationships. As much as I value my quest for truth, I value the relationships in my life more. A person on a quest for truth can be hard to rely on in a relationship, because while their compass always points north, that north is constantly moving. I frequently have to beg the forgiveness of a wife who joined a journey with me, only to have the destination keep changing.

Quest for truth == Quest for happiness?

Lastly, perhaps not everyone equates the search for truth with the search for happiness. I find joy in truth and in attempting to live truly, and I assume that would work for most everyone. But that’s another one of my assumptions, and one I can’t easily test. Basically, YMMV.

What I will say is that walking away from many of my most cherished assumptions and beliefs has altered me dramatically. I’m much happier, more accepting of myself and others, and more able to roll with life’s punches. (This, in itself, invalidates one of the dogmas I held, that true happiness was only achievable through my existing set of beliefs, but that’s another story…)

If I don’t somehow mangle my relationships in the process, I have to follow where this path leads. If I abandon the quest to preserve a relationship, I guess I’ve found the trump card to this entire argument.

Is truth beauty? Will it set you free? Will it “bring us out safe at last”? So far, yes. In the future… I sure hope so.

My Friend the Worst-Case Scenario

Note: Day something something of the #Trust30 initiative. I sort of lost track after 18 consecutive posts on overcoming fear.

When I was growing up, my dad was really into Neuro-Linguistic Programming. NLP is this sort of wacky pseudoscience that mixes hypnosis and psychology to elicit a desired outcome from a person.

I don’t know how he got into it, but I assume he thought it would make him a better salesman. Over time, he discovered the techniques worked, and they became a part of his interactions with everyone, including his kids.

One of the techniques he would use is the concept of the “worst case scenario”. As a teenager, I would stress to the point of illness over asking a girl out on a date, and he would run through this exercise with me:

“OK, imagine yourself asking her out. Now, what’s the worst possible outcome? She says no. She doesn’t want to go out with you. She doesn’t even like you. You’re embarrassed. Now, imagine yourself surviving that. Imagine your life going on after that.”

I hated having this used on me, but it did work. Being able to accept the possibility of the most dire consequences allowed me to take risks I would have avoided if I’d left that door closed.

Today, I run into “worst case scenario” situations nearly every day. When people are unfamiliar with the technique, it sort of stuns them that I almost instantly go to the worst possible outcome, and they think I must be a pessimist or fatalist.

But it’s the opposite: Imagining the worst possible outcome allows you to dredge out the darkest fear you have about taking a risk, shine a light on it, and realize that the worst case is never as bad as it seems in the pit of your stomach. It’s actually probably the number two reason for my optimism (after my belief that people are generally intrinsically good).

At work, I often think about the risks I take. I’m not in there to please my boss, I’m there to get things done (which will probably ultimately please my boss, but that’s another story). So when I worry about taking a risk at work, I think about my worst-case scenario.

I take a risk. The risk doesn’t pay off. It wasn’t what the boss wanted. In fact, it blows up on me, and he fires me. I freak out a little bit, then call my wife and apologize for being an idiot. I start looking for a job, but none come up. I can’t pay the mortgage. Our house goes into default. Our credit goes into the toilet and we have to rent an apartment while I get a lower-paying job.

That’s a lot of stuff to keep in the pit of your stomach while making a decision as small as whether to take a minor risk at work. But running that scenario out and imagining yourself surviving it and still being happy is the key to realizing that you’re the one in charge of your destiny.

Because this is the real worst case scenario:

I don’t take any risks at work. My boss is happy enough with me to never fire me, and I am promoted until I make so much money that I become addicted to it. I do just enough to never get fired, because I feel like I have nowhere else to go, and never do anything exceptional with my life, and then I die.

That’s the possibility that truly worries me. Running those two scenarios out makes me a bit more brash and daring at work. It certainly puts me in the “higher risk to be fired” category, but I’ve been fired plenty of times, and I’m still here, a bit wiser each time. I’m also constantly more likely to find work environments that have a higher tolerance for risk-taking and boldness.

Imagining the unimaginable is a technique I use over and over again to remind myself that I have a limitless field of options in front of me.

If you have something that seems too intimidating or high-risk to you, try the technique. You’ll most likely find that you hadn’t been suffering from a lack of courage, but simply a lack of perspective.

These #trust30 prompts are getting ridiculous

Note: Day 15 of the #Trust30 initiative.

These #trust30 prompts are starting to all bleed together in an esoteric, self-involved mess. “If you could do one thing with the fraction of a second you have left in your life, how would you overcome your fear of it?”

It’s as if many of the prompts weren’t even read aloud, much less shared with anyone for feedback before posting. They’re messy, unclear, and don’t generally inspire a reaction.  Instead, I scratch and scratch until I find something that may be of value to anyone, including myself.

But now, I’m about out of gas. Only my fear of breaking a public commitment keeps me from bailing on the whole project at this point. I realize that a lot of work probably went into organizing this initiative, and I admire that and the spirit behind it. But in execution, many of the prompts themselves are often uninspired, even trite.

Yesterday’s “do the work” prompt had extraordinary potential. Instead, it was a mess.

Here’s what’s in the book, from the same passage as yesterday’s prompt:

“We look for ourselves in many places—meditation retreats, personality assessments, Twitter rankings. But the best place to find the reason why we were put on earth is a private moment immersed in our craft. In that sacred instant, we see without a reasonable doubt that we were made to create, and contribute.” -Pamela Slim

Wow, what an awesome thought that is! Where am I looking for validation and definition that isn’t going to bring me the reward I seek? What can I do today to participate in the act of creation and contribution?

Instead, it’s “What have I always wanted to do?”

I don’t know, man. I haven’t always wanted to do anything. I’m sort of figuring it out as I go along.

But the other question! Where am I looking for myself?

While I don’t believe Twitter is a total waste of time, I do think that indulging myself in associating personal value with a follower count is dangerously counterproductive, and distracts from the things that do generate true happiness and satisfaction. Yet I still catch myself indulging in each “new follower” email, confident that my existence is validated by yet another person. Or spam robot. Or corporation.

I’ve got to vacuum that out and replace it with the true sense of value that comes with creation.

What can I do today to participate in the act of creation? Well, daily writing seems to work, as does coding each day and building things that people will actually use.

I noted today that the best days are the ones where I look back and realize I was too engrossed in my work to check Twitter. Today was one of those days, and I can’t wait to have more of them.

Here’s hoping the prompts improve, and inspire me not only to write angry tirades, but to actually do something with my life.

Ambition vs. Blind Ambition

Note: Day 14 of the #Trust30 initiative.

10, 5, or even 2 years ago, I had a pretty linear view of my life’s path. I was gunning for promotions, and hurt and dismayed when I felt I was passed over for them. I was blindly ambitious.

I generally viewed my career as a project in itself, to be built, brick by brick, until I’d finally reached the income and status that would finally satisfy me (as if such a thing were attainable).

After suffering some serious pain, I entered the most wonderful growth period of my life so far, and it’s allowed me to (mostly) disconnect from this warped view of reality.

That’s the difference between ambition and blind ambition: ambition is about improving and changing things in the world, where blind ambition is only about improving things for yourself. As I have begun this journey, it’s been comforting to run across and befriend many others who were unhappy, trapped in the hamster wheel of blind ambition, and are now taking control of their lives.

For the past year or so, I’ve let go of my own vision for my future, while I start to rebuild it based on what makes me truly happy, rather than some arbitrary financial goal.

In a job interview, I was asked what career path I was on, and I told the truth: that trying to pick a path hadn’t worked out for me as well as letting go and focusing on building and improving things. I know exactly what I want right now, but I can’t say what’s a year or two down the road for me.

What opportunities am I not seizing? What paths am I not taking? The answer, at least for me, at this moment in time, is work. Instead of letting the list of things in front of me paralyze me, the answer is to pick one and get to work.

I have to be willing to let my work suck, and focus on improving it. I think that as I discover my capability for tackling larger and larger problems, my appetite and ambition will grow, and I have a real shot at making a dent in the world.

I love the distinction between ambition and blind ambition. It is not beneficial to be a social or economic climber whose only goal is to attain personal success at any cost.But that doesn’t mean you have to eschew all trappings of ambition.

Some of the least selfish people I know are wildly ambitious. I’ve already made it a point to seek them out, now my job is to learn from and emulate them.

Hey, non-programmers: surprise yourself.

Note: Day 13 of the #Trust30 initiative.

The 3 most surprising things I discovered about myself thus far:

1.) I was capable of deep & meaningful love with the woman who is my wife

2.) Parenthood came somewhat naturally to me (after a fearful and rocky start)

3.) I was capable of learning to program and getting off my life’s railroad tracks

I can’t help many people with the first two, other than to offer the advice that most people I meet who are fearful of long-term relationships or becoming a parent shouldn’t be. I wasted a lot of energy worrying about both of those things before plunging in.

But the third one, I’m wildly evangelistic about. My friend Jarom told me that everyone should learn to write a program, just like everyone should learn to change their oil, or grow a garden. It’s a part of being a participating citizen of the world in which we live.

Fortunately, I don’t have to invent the means by which you can learn and discover that learning to program is a simple, even magical process. Steve Klabnik runs Hackety Hack, a project to teach programming to non-programmers. 3o minutes with Hackety will do more to address the question, “why do people do this for a living?” than 20 hours of explanation.

It’s so fun that my wife, a non-programmer, finished it in a couple of hours and asked, “Isn’t there any more?” You’ll know whether it rings your bell (as it did mine) in less than half an hour. If you haven’t taken the plunge yet, I emphatically ask you to do so.

Seriously, click here and try it out. If you like what you experience, get in touch with me and I’ll get you lined up with more fun stuff you can do.

As for me, my challenge this week is to take the meager skills I’ve amassed over the past couple of years of tinkering and actually turn out a functioning product.

Trying to be cool nearly cost me everything

Note: Day 11 of the #Trust30 initiative.

I spent my youth being uncool. Not being considered uncool, mind you, but being absolutely, definitively uncool.

I tried extra-hard to be cool, and somehow that made me even less cool. So I was more than a little relieved when high school and its byzantine social structures were behind me.

Young Mormons are generally expected to serve a 2-year mission away from home at age 19, and being the dutiful son, I went to serve in the lovely Mississippi River valleys of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Ah! Here was my fresh start, a chance to try again to be cool. So why wasn’t it working?

Now Nate, he was cool. He was legendary among the 250 of us serving in the region. He wasn’t just cool, he was effortlessly cool. In my many interactions with him, he would frequently tease me, and I generally felt like a loser when hanging around him.

I hated this guy. Girls swooned over him, and guys set him up as a hero to be idolized. He was exactly who I’d hoped to leave behind after high school. So a few months later, when I found out I was to be paired up and living with him, I could only mutter “no, please, no.”

But my time with Nate was revelatory. It was also just about the most fun I’ve had in my life. He saw something in me that I didn’t, and said that I had it in me to be cool if I would just recognize it.

During our months together, I studied his mannerisms and attitudes. I figured that if I emulated his behaviors and mannerisms, I’d become cool too.

And you know what? It worked! After just a few months of trying to imitate my friend, I became one of the “cool kids”, a person whose admiration was sought after. It finally happened; I was truly popular for the first time in my life.

But Nate wasn’t impressed. I believe he’d expected me to draw more from our time together than the pyrrhic victory of popularity. It didn’t take me too long to realize how empty that was, and I decided I’d just work really hard and ignore the rest, which had essentially become noise in my life.

That strategy seemed to work pretty well, and I went home after 2 years with many new lessons and a real sense that I had truly done my best to “forget myself and get to work,” as the Mormon saying goes.

However, after my 2-year mission was over, I still carried around the lessons I learned by watching Nate interact with girls. He drove them absolutely bonkers with phrases like “whatever you feel”, and by being generally aloof and untouchable with them.

I had never really been able to communicate with girls, as they generally weren’t looking for a nerdy guy who was sensitive, sweet, and awkward. So on dates, I would turn my Nate impression back on, and by damn, it did seem to work.

But each girl I dated seemed worse than the last. Every time, I’d be talking to a girl who would giggle and say, “I can never tell when you’re joking,” and for all intents and purposes, the date would be over.

Exasperated after a particularly bad date, I walked into my sister’s room and told her that I absolutely quit. I decided that day that I wasn’t going to put any more effort into dating, because there so clearly wasn’t a girl out there for me.

Sitting in her room with her was her friend Jessica, who cocked an eyebrow at my hyperbolic tirade, and I could tell I wasn’t welcome and left them alone.

After meeting Jessica  a few more times, I told my sister that I’d like to ask her out on a date, but she was clearly uninterested. As usual, I tried to play the cool guy persona and set up a (lame) excuse: I asked Jessica to come “hang out” with me as I tried to help my friend rebound after his girlfriend broke up with him.

My cool guy schtick wasn’t working, and it was clear to me the date wasn’t going well. Afterwards, my friend Caleb said he thought we got along great and that I should ask her to go on another date. I (correctly) sensed it hadn’t gone well and that she wasn’t bowled over, and I specifically said I was not going to call her again.

Caleb convinced me to give it another shot, and Jessica, having nothing better to do and weak sales resistance, gave me another shot, and another.

As we continued to get to know each other and I started to let my guard down, I found out she was specifically into nerdy, sensitive, sweet guys, and a sense of humor was critical to her.

We both began to realize that each of us was exactly what the other was looking for, quirks and all.

It was only later I realized that by pretending to be Nate, I was setting myself up to attract girls that would be attracted to Nate, not me. Imagine if I’d married one! How happy could we have possibly been to have a relationship built on illusions and trickery?

More importantly, I would have missed the chance of connecting with the love of my life. This family is the closest thing to a miracle I’ve ever experienced, and I very nearly missed all of it, ironically, because I was trying manipulate Jessica so that she would like me.

Yes, being cool can be imitated. You can become a pick-up artist by sitting in a chair and reading a book. But if you let society push you into living someone else’s life, I promise it’s going to cost you a lot more than you’d ever gain.

It was only well after our time together that I realized what Nate meant. The process of letting go of the need to be cool and being comfortable in your own skin sort of makes you cool. In a certain uncool kind of way.

My biggest fear

Note: Day 8 of the #Trust30 initiative.

Despite my attitude of overcoming fear, there is one prevailing fear that still plagues me:

I’m afraid that I’m too lazy to accomplish anything of lasting value in my life.

I’m not always lazy. When I have a goal and some sense I can accomplish it, I can tear it up. When I’m fully engaged, I will happily work 18-hour days. But lately, I spend so much time avoiding the starting of anything by picking at Twitter or catching up on RSS feeds that I suddenly realize it’s past 1 AM and it’s time to go to bed with nothing accomplished.

I’m afraid I’ve become an infovore fraud that only talks about amazing things and never does them.

I like to nibble on the periphery of the startup scene. Where’s my startup?

I hang out with programmers and rarely miss a Ruby Users Group. Where’s my great Ruby contribution?

I love to write and tell stories. Where’s my screenplay?

Is it true that if I were going to accomplish anything of significance by now, I’d have already have a history of accomplishment?

I have 5 or 6 side projects competing for my attention, and I can’t seem to devote enough time to any of them to put a dent in them, much less the universe.

The only way I see a path forward is to bail on all of these projects, for now, to work on the one thing that captivates my attention at the moment, and hope that I get back into the groove of creation. I genuinely don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get my mojo back otherwise.

I like to imagine I have the internal fortitude to do something great like _why, Greg Brown, or Wayne Seguin. But as it stands now, I don’t even know how to get on the track that leads there.

My second biggest fear is that you’ll find out about me.

I care a lot about what people think of me. So whatever you do, please don’t discover that I’m actually a pretend programmer, a fake advisor, and a blind consumer.

Embracing The Fear

Note: Day 6 of the #Trust30 initiative.

A scared little boy

A little over a year ago, my dad related to me a story from my first minutes of life that somehow led him to believe, from that point forward, that I was doomed to be scared of the universe.

His suspicions were bolstered when, from the age of 3 to 8 or 9, I would get epic and frequent night terrors. For the unfamiliar, night terrors are like super-nightmares that are indistinguishable from reality, sort of a sleeping panic attack.

I remember them vividly, to this day: I would wake up, and my parents’ room would be gone. Not locked, but a blank wall where a door had been. I would run away from home, in the middle of the night, in search of my parents in the midst of these semi-waking nightmares. Sometimes I would be brought back home by caring neighbors, sometimes by police.

Needless to say, I do worry that my son will develop night terrors (it’s genetic) and it’ll be my turn to be the panicked parent.

A scared grown-up

My dad, while mistaken, shared this “insight” on the origins of my fear (after 30 years!) as a sort of intervention. I was literally worrying myself sick about my job, my new child, Peak Oil, credit cards, taxes, and whole bunch of other stuff that was out of my control. I trudged from day to day in constant, abject terror, and I can’t overstate how hellish it is to live a terrified life.

Thinking that this fear was inborn, my dad tried to counsel me as if I had a wildly abnormal illness that must be cured.

What a load of crap.

You know The Fear? The feeling that if you lose The Job, or fail The Test, miss The Payment, blow The Interview, or don’t impress The Date, that you’ll die? That feeling that the consequences are so dire that you literally refuse to imagine them?

Yeah, that’s The Fear. It’s totally normal. And it’s a good thing.

Why good? Because eventually you will fail. You will blow the interview. Hell, I don’t really trust your perspective unless you’ve lost a job or two. And those unimaginable consequences? You’re going to live them. In fact, The Fear is likely to be a contributing factor in you losing your job, or the girl, or the opportunity. That’s the way it worked for me, anyway.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t die. These unimaginable things will come true, and they cannot kill you.

My eventual murderer (ackook/flickr)

You know what I’m going to die from? Statistically, I mean? In-N-Out Burger. But I lie in bed fantasizing about a Double-Double Animal Style, rather than trembling in fear of it. How do I get this so backward?

In fact, I was so blind that the only way for me to learn to embrace The Fear was to suffer the exact worst-case scenarios I’d avoided even imagining and come out the other side. I don’t think everyone has to learn the hard way, but I sure did.

Gratitude for The Fear

If you have The Fear, be glad, because it means you’re smart enough to know what could go wrong. It also means that once you realize that stuff will probably go wrong no matter what you do, you can make wise decisions.

There may be several smart decisions you can make: It’s smart not to try out for a sports team, ask a girl out on a date, apply for a job, or start a company. That way you never get rejected, break your heart, or publicly fail.

The wise decision is to understand these potential consequences and go for it anyway. Because you also know that rejection, heartbreak, and failure are not only survivable, but also provide you with the silver medal of additional insight.

I believe you don’t lose The Fear, but you learn to shake hands with it, grit your teeth, and move forward.

And Not-As-Smart People? They don’t get to have The Fear. They can charge through life, seizing every opportunity and generally winning through persistence, while the smart people fret their lives away.

My commitment

To bring this back to my personal commitment, I’ve been really questioning whether the things I am charged with fixing at work are even reparable. If I can fix them, I get to keep the lessons I learn and be an expert at solving this specific kind of problem.

But the problems are so big and scary that I wouldn’t really blame myself for walking away and taking a simpler path, which I’d honestly given some consideration. (I may outline this problem specifically soon, but I’ll not open that can of worms just yet.)

The fact is, I haven’t given it a fair shot yet. I don’t know whether I’ll succeed or fail, but I refuse to walk away from this challenge out of a fear of failure.

Lastly: One surefire way to break the “fear of failure” habit that most programmers already know: fail first. I have a set of measurements I’m going to set up that fail from the start, then slowly start whittling at them until they pass, and then re-evaluate. I’ll write about red-green-refactor for business process & life soon, after I’ve had a chance to run this experiment.

Deleting To-Dos with extreme prejudice

Note: Day 5 of the #Trust30 initiative.

It’s funny that I keep forgetting that there are 2 ways to cross things off your to-do list. Yes, one of them is to Get Stuff Done, and I’m a big fan of that.

But it’s actually more important to Not Get The Wrong Stuff Done.

The prompt from the Trust30 initiative is based on what you’d do with a week left in your life. In that case, I’d probably create an entirely new list. But as it is, I have the luxury of a larger time budget, and am going to try to accomplish more than I would with a week left to live.

This week, my focus is going to be to take my big to-do list and run them against the “internal compass” I’ve set forward for myself according to these goals:

1.) Make time to let my family know they’re special to me.

2.) Become a better programmer.

3.) Improve my health & get in running shape.

4.) Make my workplace a better place to be.

It’s easy to work extra hard to clear stuff off your plate. But people will never, ever stop dumping things on your plate. My goal for this week is to pick and choose the items that reflect my internal goals.

I don’t know exactly how yet, but I’m trying to learn to separate “wheat from chaff” and mercilessly terminate the rest of my to-dos without looking back.

No, it’s not perfect, but life is literally too short to worry about “clearing your plate” every day.

One place I’ll travel before I die

via priyaiyer.wordpress.com

Note: Day 4 of the #Trust30 initiative.

Apparently, weddings are kind of a thing in India. My friend Ratish was married just about a year ago in his home state of Kerala.

He’s a prolific photographer, and shortly after he came back to the U.S., he received a wedding photo album like none I’d ever seen. It was a glossy hardcover book, with hundreds of meticulously-laid-out pages. Filled with beautiful photos, creatively designed, as if each page had been laid out in Photoshop rather than in InDesign.

Some of the photos were so perfect and beautiful that I could not believe that it was real. No place on Earth could be as lovely as this, and I asked how heavily the scenes had been Photoshopped.

Ratish’s response was “not at all”, and that Kerala was really as beautiful as the pictures made it seem. It was at that moment I decided I would someday travel there, and Ratish offered to take me and my wife around the area should we decide to visit.

I think my best chance to accomplish this is to stay close to Ratish and travel home with him someday. However I get there though, consider this my public commitment that I will see Kerala before I die.

Getting off the treadmill and becoming a “seeker”

Via ratigher/Flickr

Note: Day 3 of the #Trust30 initiative, in which I outline a strong belief and how I live it.

About 8 years ago, I discovered I was trapped in the life I’d wished upon myself.

I’d gotten the “dream job” at double the pay of my previous job. I rushed out to buy a new house and a sweet sports car. We got a dog and began settling down. My work was starting to take the shape of a “career”.

That’s when the walls started closing in, and the path I was walking started to look more like a treadmill.

I remember vividly sitting in meetings with management and talking about my “5 and 10 year goals”. I literally started feeling like I had “tunnel vision”, and I could see down the hallway of my life. I suddenly had very little say in the direction it was taking. All I knew of my goals were more status, money, and responsibility, and I was going to have to run in place to get them.

Run on the treadmill, and your boss will give you promotions until you’re the boss, and then the next guy gets on the treadmill.

So I went out for the big promotion. I didn’t get it. Instead, I got fired.

That should have been the message I needed, but I wasn’t ready to abandon the treadmill yet. It took me a long time to shake off the blinders that kept giving me that sense of tunnel vision. But I truly believe that I never would have if it weren’t for my intense belief that it is my responsibility to constantly seek out and follow truth, and to set aside old assumptions.

This “seeker mentality” puts me at odds with much of society, who generally latch on to a few key principles, sometimes ferociously, and are willing to defend them to the death. Or those who are born into a set of assumptions, and never find cause to question them. While both of these groups tend to live happy lives, I could never find happiness on either path.

Maybe that’s why talk radio grates on my nerves.

The search for truth sometimes comes at a high cost. Questioning everything can shake you to your core, and it can be tempting to retreat to the warmth and safety of the familiar. Asking whether the religion you were brought up in just so happens to be the only source of truth in a 7-billion-person planet is profoundly scary, especially when you’ve spent a lifetime weaving your sense of self, your hopes for the (eternal!) future, and your social support structure into that belief system. But after deep and thorough reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that these are belief systems that I have sort of “graduated” from.

Even on its face, the generally accepted model of “go to school and get good grades to get a good job and make lots of money and live happily ever after” is ludicrous; we all know it’s an illusion. But we’re collectively too comfortable in the lie to pop the bubble and try something different. It’s probably why there are millions of people who talk about the successes and failures of startups from the comfort of our 9-5 jobs. And although I’ve gotten off the illusory “career ladder”, I hope to someday fully “graduate” from the notion of equivocating money with happiness.

I tend to keep my beliefs intensely private. However, I hope I live them well. I try not to dismiss anyone’s beliefs out of hand, and work to really understand why someone holds to a belief or value so strongly. I often “play Devil’s Advocate” against myself to scrub the corners of my mind and keep me from becoming too tightly linked to a single point of view.

I’d like to say that I seek truth at any cost, but that’s not the case. I can unequivocally state that there are things in my life that I wouldn’t sacrifice in the quest for truth: namely, my relationship with my wife and son, or my personal happiness.

But my trust is that with more truth comes more freedom and more happiness. That’s proven out for me in my life thus far. I just hope my wife will bear with me.

I’m not saying that everyone should carry a “seeker mentality” all the time or change their belief systems. I am saying that everyone should question them. Your personal beliefs, priorities, and goals are too precious to hand over blindly to someone else.

I also think it should be a requirement of human beings that, when counting a person “dead wrong” about something, they must spend a few minutes considering the opposing view, seriously, from the other person’s perspective. This exercise has proven itself incredibly valuable on a near-daily basis for me.

Ultimately, there’s no way I could have predicted where my journey would take me 8 years ago. But that’s sort of the point of a “seeker” mentality, isn’t it? I’m so much happier than I could have imagined, and have had much more of an adventure getting here.