I turned 30 this past year and figured I’d take a hard look at my life. The ultimate goal here is improvement, not reflection. That’s why the following 10 items, while all inspired by specific incidents, are cast in terms of broader habits and personality traits that I can work on.
1. Not seeking timely medical treatment
The single biggest issue affecting my quality of life right now (and for the past six years) is my eye strain, often referred to on this website as blindness. It’s a cramp-like sensation around my right eye that never goes away. While it most directly interferes with eye-related activities (e.g., driving, watching TV, reading), the background level of discomfort it produces makes damn near everything more difficult than it ought to be.
It took me half a year to see a doctor about it.
As with many of the problems here, I’m going to blame this one on my parents. On one hand, they think being a doctor is the noblest of professions, but on the other hand, they think doctors are full of shit. I’d never see a doctor for a “normal” level of sickness, and when I came down with something that required medical treatment, they’d think up every bullshit excuse to blame it on me, the most common one being that I needed to eat more Indian food. There were also the issues of being on my parents’ medical plan and being financially dependent on my parents until I graduated from law school. If I went to a doctor, my parents were going to know about it. From all this I’d gotten used to toughing out whatever medical issues I had.
There are a few other medical issues that I wish I’d treated earlier. Some of them have gone away, some of them I still feel, some of them might return someday, and some of them may not even have been problems but I’ll never know since I never saw a doctor to diagnose them. In case you’re the squeamish type, feel free to skip to Problem #2. Otherwise, some of the health issues I wish I’d tried to treat earlier are, in no particular order, plantar warts, TMJ, RSI/Carpel Tunnels, back pain, knee pain, acne, anorgasmia, and depression.
2. Being afraid to quit
I’m also blaming this one on my parents, who’ve never head of the sunk cost fallacy. If I quit anything, it meant I wasted a lot of time, and even worse, money.
The two major things I wish I quit are:
Science Research: I always liked science, but I hated research. Part of this was due to my own laziness (Problem #9). Part of this was due to not asking advisers for help nearly as often I should’ve (Problem #8). Part of this was due to pressure from my father (pretty much every problem). In any case, all my high school and college research projects were total shit, and if I’d spent all that time and effort simply focusing on learning normal coursework instead of being convinced I had to do research get anywhere, I’d have been a lot happier, and I’d probably still be a scientist or engineer.
Law School: Many people who hear that I quit being a lawyer like to twist it into some sort of bullshit narrative about how I’m casting off the shackles of the working world to pursue my dreams. It’s really fucking annoying. I liked being a lawyer. The problem was my eyes. I should’ve quit law school soon after I started to get eye pain. It may have been easier/possible to recover back then. Instead, I pushed through a semester, an internship, an evening science class, another year of law school, the bar exam, and a year and a half at a job before making my health my top priority. Things had gotten a lot worse by that point, and full recovery will be difficult if not impossible.
A few minor things I wish I quit earlier but didn’t necessarily regret are:
- Football: I sucked. I was too slow to be a ball-carrier and too weak to be a lineman. I finally quit in 10th grade after a season-ending ankle injury.
- Band: Jazz band was awesome. Band class was stupid. I was good, but I wasn’t getting any better. I quit after 11th grade. The best time to quit would’ve been after 9th grade.
- Computer Science: More on this in Problem #9. Sticking this one out probably didn’t hurt much.
- Weight lifting: I was relatively strong as a kid but relatively weak since high school, at least among people who enjoy playing sports. It’s hard for me to build muscle, and I lose it the moment I stop working out. I also didn’t realize until recently that being more muscular won’t make me significantly more attractive to women. My biggest problems are intangibles, such as confidence, friendliness, and approachability, not my physique.
Of course I do have some regrets about quitting too, but they’re fewer, and more importantly, they’re correctable. For example, I dropped Spanish in high school and art in middle school. I wish I’d spent a more time on both of those, but I can always pick them up later.
3. Typecasting myself
This was a problem I thought I’d avoided. My parents always wanted me to be a doctor (and still do). From a young age I let them know I wasn’t interested. I never committed to any specific career growing up. However, looking back, I was never able to picture myself being anything other than a scientist or engineer.
As a preschooler, I wanted to be a cement truck driver. Then around kindergarten I wanted to become a detective. Around third grade I got interested in space and thought I’d become an astronomer or aerospace engineer. Early into high school I saw aerospace jobs declining and computer science jobs on the rise, so I figured I’d get into programming.
I was good at a bunch of subjects. I just never pictured myself doing most of them professionally until I’d already gone three-quarters of the way through the college computer science curriculum. Even then, I saw law school (or graduate school of some sort) as my only way out. I couldn’t see myself getting a normal job that required only a bachelor’s degree. None of this was really a conscious decision. It was just common sense that I never bothered to question.
Living and working in Japan has changed my views on career choices quite a bit. While some jobs in Japan definitely have higher status than others, Japanese culture doesn’t shame low-paying or menial jobs the way American or Indian culture does. Working a low-paying, non-elite job for the past two years hasn’t been so bad. Quite frankly, any job that’s kind of fun, pays me well enough to live independently, and allows me to succeed despite being blind is a good job in my book.
4. Overestimating myself
This isn’t just about overestimating what I can do. It’s mostly about overestimating what I’m willing to do.
There have been several times in my life when I’ve chosen not to take the easy route because I was confident I could compensate for it with time, effort, dedication, or even a change of attitude. Sometimes it’s paid off, but all too often I’ve been unable to deliver. Sometimes it’s pure laziness: I didn’t want to try that hard. Sometimes it’s pure logic: it didn’t make sense to try that hard. Sometimes it’s the literal definition of “can’t”: I never had the potential. Regardless of the specific cause, I wasn’t getting the results I’d originally hoped for. A few of my notable overestimations include:
- Going to a college with a 2:1 male to female ratio and getting practically nowhere with women
- Double majoring in computer science and economics and getting mediocre results in both
- Spending my summer vacations doing science research and failing hard
- Going to law school and going blind
- Getting a tough job while being blind and getting fired for incompetence a year and a half later
5. Being a jack of all trades, master of none
I’ve gotten pretty good at several things throughout my life, but I’ve almost always fallen short of mastery or even practical competence. To name a few:
- Programming: Mainly due to laziness and a lack of focus, I floundered in higher level courses and never developed any marketable programming skills.
- Law: Law School has a reputation for failing to prepare students for the actual practice of law. I was no exception. Real world training fell short due to my eyes.
- Math: I was great until college. Then I started cramming instead of understanding. By the time I turned things around, I’d turned my focus to getting into law school.
- Science: Placed out of most college requirements due to AP credits. Only had a few brief encounters with science since then.
- Economics: Realized most of it was bullshit.
- Music: Hit a wall in 7th grade due to poor technique. Only got worse through 11th grade.
- Spanish: Quit to make more room in my schedule for science classes.
Being a jack of all trades gives you a toxic sense of security. You’re less willing to push yourself up the learning curve because you know you can always fall back on something else.
One of the main reasons I’m living in Japan is to get the “jack of all trades” monkey of my back by becoming fluent in Japanese. I wanted to learn how much more effort it’d take to master something difficult that I’d only half-learned. After a year and a half, I’ve powered up, but I’m still not there.
6. Long-term decision making
Putting the cart before the horse. Counting your chickens before they hatch. Call it what you will. I’ve spent too much time thinking about what’s best for me long-term and not enough time thinking about what’s best for me in the present—the irony of course being that you can’t have the former without the latter.
In particular, I’d been thinking a lot in terms of finances. Get a job, invest, and retire. This precluded the possibilities of low-paying careers, risky careers, or even taking time off entirely. Blindness threw a wrench into those plans. It’s also gotten me to admit what I’ve always known: money isn’t that important to me.
7. Putting up with bullshit
I’m pinning half of the blame on my parents and the other half on moving from a school where kids were relatively humble and honest to a school where kids would whine, bitch, and lie to no end to get what they wanted. Personality-wise, it’s a curious mix of being proud, timid, and lazy.
When people are giving me bullshit, I’ve often found that the easiest thing to do is to suck it up until it’s over. Fighting back often results in the other party whining to an authority figure (or being an authority figure), which comes back to screw me even if I’m right. Whining to an authority figure myself usually ends up in the other side whining harder and nothing getting resolved. When I’m the authority figure, I feel like wielding my authority makes me feel weak. When I’m not the authority figure, whining to an authority figure makes me feel weak. I think the only way to solve this is to become more comfortable with the idea of using authority and becoming more confrontational.
8. Being afraid to ask for help
While talking to people in general has never been my strong suit, I’ve been especially pathetic when it comes to asking others for help. It’s the kind of thing I could get away with as a kid, but it grew more and more problematic as I got older and life threw more challenges at me. Weirdly enough, I like helping people. It’s hard for me to turn down people who ask for help, yet I feel uncomfortable asking others to help me.
The biggest reason my science research failed is that I rarely asked for help. High school research is bullshit in the first place. High school students don’t know shit compared to their professor and graduate student mentors. There are only three ways to succeed in high school science research:
- Be a legitimate genius (rare)
- Come up with a topic that’s both doable and hasn’t been done, all with a high school-level understanding of science (rare)
- Find a good mentor and conduct research exactly as they instruct
In college I rarely went to office hours, even if I was struggling with a course. In law school, I had the option of getting final exam feedback from my professors, but I never scheduled the meetings. At work I never wanted to walk into my boss’s office for any reason, let alone to ask for help..
9. Being lazy
Ever since the eye pain hit, nothing in life has really felt lazy to me. Even lying around in bed carries some pain with it. At the same time, I’m more responsible now than I’ve ever been. I’m rarely late for anything, I never forget an appointment, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve overslept. This makes me look back at a whole bunch of lazy shit I’ve done in my life and regret not getting off my ass and taking action.
Don’t get me wrong. I still only regret a minority of lazy things I’ve done. There’s also the distinction between things done purely out of laziness, which hasn’t hurt me much, and laziness compounded by other factors (e.g., being afraid to ask for help, being anti-social, putting up with bullshit, and possible depression), which has hurt me a lot more.
The ultimate shitstorm of laziness in my life was an internship at a financial corporation during college. My main duty was going through a bunch of Visual Basic code and updating it. It was boring and depressing. Over the course of the summer, I’d get to work progressively later, leave work progressively earlier, I’d sleep at work all the time, and at one point I even cut a whole week because I felt like I had no reason to be there. I didn’t care at all back then, but looking back I have to admit I’m really ashamed of the way I conducted myself. My internship the next summer was pretty bad too, but at least at that internship I got nothing done because I was in over my head, not because I was lazy.
10. Being anti-social
This may warrant an asterisk, because I don’t regret being anti-social “for the right reasons”. I’m not thinking of past friends and wishing I spent more time with them. I don’t enjoy spending time with the vast majority of people. There’s a small percentage of people I can count on having fun with, but only in small doses. The number of people I’ve met in my adult life who I consider to be “good friends” is probably in the single digits. Even then, the moment one of us moves out of walking distance from the other, I have little desire to spend more time with them.
The reason I regret being anti-social is because it comes with tons of indirect benefits. Being more social could’ve helped me with literally every problem on this list (and many that didn’t make the list as well). For example, if I’d told a friend about my eyes, he may have convinced me to see a doctor. If I’d done a team research project, my partner may have helped me ask a mentor for help. Generally speaking, friends could’ve talked me out of a whole bunch of bad decisions and into a whole bunch of good ones.
For 2nd and 3rd year classes at my law school, students can choose to take their finals on any open time slot during finals week. I found this out by reading through my law school registrar’s manual. It would’ve taken 3 seconds for a friend to tell me.
There are a lot of fundamental social skills I’m only now learning. Having been more social could’ve me taught these lessons literally half of my life ago. For example, I’m only now learning how smiling can make other people feel more comfortable (which I never knew because I don’t give a shit if other people smile around me).
Being more social probably would’ve helped my writing. Being a good comedian is about having a unique perspective and understanding the perspective of your audience. I’m good at the former but not the latter.
I’ve been more social in Japan than I’ve been at any point in my life since my first year of college (which isn’t saying much). Pushing into something I don’t want won’t help, but expecting things to change on their own won’t work. I’ll continue to tread this line going forward.
Oh, by the way, you can count these as my new
year’s decade’s resolutions.