I Turned 21
Reached majority. Where am I going now?
Eric Zhang • July 18, 2022
Sitting on a pier bench, looking out on the Hudson, enjoying the beautiful weather — taking in the energetic colors of Manhattan as I write an elegy for myself, by myself.
It’s kind of disappointing how people respond to this part of my life. “Oh you’re 21? Going to hit up some bars? smiles Unless you had a fake.” — is the exchange I’ve heard at least a dozen times in the last week. It seems so superficial though, like talking about the weather, except if the weather were tied to your biological clock and identity.
These are pervasive conversational idioms for people to feign interest in someone while remaining entirely disinterested. It’s repetitive, ritual interaction rather than individual dialogue. I usually don’t like prescribing what is good or bad, but meaningful conversations are characterized by how we ask, observe, and listen to questions more like “how do you feel” or “what inspires you” or “what are you struggling with” or “where do you see yourself now and in the future.”
I don’t want my conversations to be so predictable that large language models could essentially experience them for me. If that were the case, I would just talk to language models instead of people. I want to be smarter than that: more Human, less Machine.
A Scenic Tour
July 2021. I started off the last year in Chicago. At the time I was physically present with a lot of interns at a trading firm. I was also working on a small software team building big, ambitious database projects in the web ecosystem. And I met some of my inspirations. I remember feeling very optimistic.
Even if we don’t talk often, it’s still nice that they’re thinking of me. I am more optimistic about being able to find friends next year at Harvard! :)
September 2021: School starts. I meet some people who I like a lot. Those friendships end. I find myself struggling with reconciling personal identity and feelings of belonging.
Whenever I feel like I dislike someone or their interests, I should really reflect on how I would feel if that sentiment were reversed. Go back to my core values, that people are good. It’s when people are receiving attention for things that I don’t care about, and they don’t appreciate my work, that I tend to feel this disdain. And I really shouldn’t, since there’s no reason not to appreciate everyone for doing what they care about, even if you may not agree with those values yourself.
December 2021: I continue pursuing my interests. I grow to enjoy people physically present around me, especially upperclassmen. Many conversations in subjects too diverse to list. I fondly remember experiencing a lot of joy in making chamber music with people.
It has been a really fun semester! One nice thing that Jessica said to me is that I really “found my voice” during the performance, which I really agree with, still fitting into the group as an individual. :D
January 2022: I spend my time in London bitching about software engineering practices to electrical engineers, drinking fancy tea that I don’t understand, exploring the city on bike, and watching my coworkers plug in MOSFETs backward. It’s plenty of fun. I start Notes as an exploratory project for the next year.
Finally, the philosophical realization of writing as a mode of communicating hopes, dreams, worries, fears, and being able to communicate negative moments as a requisite skill for describing the brightest and most joyous moments of our lives. People write about both sadness and bliss, and both of these feelings form part of a narrative.
February 2022: I move to New York. The city is uncertain and scary at first, and the weather is very cold. There is no one to welcome me; I appear to be very lonely. But I get used to living by myself, and I spend a lot of time exploring.
I can write and externalize myself all I want, but at the end of the day, if no one cares, what’s the point? Will I ever find someone who can truly capture and empathize with my soul?
March 2022: See 10 Weeks.
June 2022: Life blurs into days and months. The city grows warmer. I visit Cambridge a few times, then school ends and everyone is now visiting New York. I start writing much more. I meet many people, many of whom disagree with me, and I try to cope with that.
Sessions like “founder’s therapy” makes me think that [X] selects for a very particular group of founder-like people who have specific problems and worldviews and perspectives. But I don’t align, as someone who truly loves software and works to explore in that direction, not thinking about money at all. And that’s who I am. But no one here can relate to it.
Reflecting on what I want to achieve in the next year (in no particular order, just as points come to mind):
- Finish and publish my blog post drafts.
- Start crafting my ideal community of wonderful, diverse people who inspire me and respect my work.
- Meet a lot more potential soulmates.
- Develop friendships I can love and trust. Inevitably break up with those friends. Repeat a few times as we learn how to live together.
- Allocate more time to intentionally and selectively spend with others, while still remaining approachable.
- Work on and publish “bigger and better” projects that I’m proud of.
- Develop as a writer: technical and otherwise. Strive for vibrancy and clarity of thought and locution. Gradually take on longer-form work.
- Do some more meaningful research, write a great thesis.
- Tie up loose ends around career trajectory and comp negotiation.
To set the tone: a few days ago, after attending a slightly uncomfortable set of research talks, I wrote in my journal
And so I interact with these many diverse people and bump into them and gradually acclimate to their perspectives and tread through paths of conversation that gather to form a quasi-coherent narrative of me.
What do we need to discover as individuals to grow into our bright futures? How do the different paths that my friends & acquaintances take color the relevance of human experiences to them?
What can I learn from other people; what perceptions and hopes and dreams and fears characterize the brilliance in their lives?