The secret to success
Build an Aesthetic.
When American politicians talk about "Make America Great Again", I always wonder, to what time period are they talking about? The 90's? The 60's? And for whom? At what point in history do they genuinely believe, life was better for their citizens, compared to now, and how did it all go "wrong"? I certainly believe that progress is non-linear, and different aspects of society go through different periods of change and transformation. But a blanket "rolling back" of the clock seems extreme, and lacking nuance. The 1960's were a difficult time for minorities in America, and the 1990's, while a picture of economic prosperity, were a time before the internet and good coffee. How do you defined "greatness"? When did you lose "greatness", and how do you attempt to find it again? These are the more difficult questions to answer for politicians, and they tend not to resolve them, hoping instead for their constituents to project onto their words their own hopes, fears, and interpretations into their words. That seems to be the secret of winning elections.
But --- what if we did try to define "greatness"? Clearly, many things in society are broken today, as they always are broken, due to massive technology disruptions, and so there is some truth in recognizing that the country has not recently lived up to its potential. I believe that this "greatness" that is so often expounded by politicians refers to social mobility and equal opportunity for all. How well can your citizens succeed in their station in life, and hope for themselves and their children to move up in life? How well can the society lift its people out of poverty, and to reach their creative and economic potential? Or, as President Biden puts it, how can you inspire people to have a sense of self-worth in their work, and to treat one another with respect? To me , this is the "greatness" that all leaders should aspire to, and not simply about maximizing individualism and wealth accumulation. This work towards "greatness" is never complete. Certain groups or individuals may have "done better" in the past, but it doesn't mean that others cannot be successful today. The extreme, zero-sum mentality of individual success -- where some must lose in order for others to win -- is perhaps the greatest cause of injustice, suffering, and inequality today.
It is February 2021. We've been working from home for almost a year now. Most of time, when I talk to friends over Zoom hangouts, we talk about returning to the time before, back to February 2020, and moving on with life as 'normal' again. But of course, life will never be the same. Covid has changed many things, and there will be long-term consequences. Will we live in cities again? Will the workplace ever be the same? Will we fly again? And what about dating, moving forward? And, unrelated personal reflection, am I really morphing from an architect into a technologist/developer?
For me, personally, maybe going back to February 2020 is not such a good thing. I was not in a good space. I had left a long-term relationship not too long ago. I distracted myself by exercising, and putting all my energy into passing my license exams, right before the world shut down. Still, I didn't know where I was going and what I was doing, even before Covid. I was questioning my choices. My main motivation for moving to New York had disappeared after a bitter farewell taxi ride, and I didn't know what was left.
Perhaps the pandemic was the best thing that could have happened to me---because it brought me back to my senses, and it connected me to friends and family, whom I hadn't spoken to for a very long time. And it made me start drawing again, for fun. It gave me the most valuable thing: time. I have learned about a whole new field -- software development -- and it seems like, for once, my life is not ruled by some oppressive hierarchy or 'fact of life', to forever banish me to a predestined identity. I'm no longer 'chasing' someone else's architectural ideal, or someone else's living standards, or someone else's affection. I feel more like myself again, and I'd say that is an absolute victory.
What if, instead of letting architecture and work design my life ---- I design my own life and work?
Fulfilling a status quo has never seemed to work out for me. Living up to a Hong Kong, or Missouri, or New York 'standard of success' has strengthened my courage, and made me battle some real-world demons and dragons, but it has given me no real satisfaction. But being authentic has.
If I wanted to go back to normal, I would not go back to fearful, anxious Feburary 2020. I would go back to hopeful, free-spirited September 2014. That year at Cornell (2014-2015), I felt confident and invincible -- because I thought I had nothing to lose, so I acted like it. It was the penultimate year at Cornell, and I had yet to think about 'job' and 'career'. I was totally present with my work, and with my life. I did a project on nuclear markers, and then a landscape project that led me to Brazil. I took an urban planning course, learned Grasshopper, and pitched a travel grant. Then in the summer, I went back to Hong Kong for an internship, and had dinner with my Grandma almost every week. This is the life I want -- to work on the challenging problems I want, with the people I love, and enjoying every minute of it, fully as myself, and not someone else's caricatured version of me.