Today I received a high compliment.
You have a really inspiring sense of hope, like you lack the paralyzing learned helplessness that seems so prevalent in our culture. Wonder if you could write about how you got there / how others might break out of it
June 2005 — age 7
It was hot, Summer in Arizona, and I was hanging out with my friend Chris. As I patrolled the precarious edge of the swimming pool, one foot in front of the other, I was struck by a fascinating thought.
“Nothing is impossible”, I provoked.
My friend’s retort was predictable, “some things are impossible, though.” he informed me.
“Nuh uh, name one impossible thing”
“You can’t bring people back from the dead.”
I imagined Frankenstein.
“I bet we can, we just don’t know how yet. One day someone will figure it out. I bet no one thought it was possible to go to the moon.”
And thus a techno-optimist was born. I’m not exactly sure where it came from — neither of my parents were technologists, or even particularly tech-savvy. I guess I just read a book about Rockets and knew, somewhere deep down, that I was meant to be impressed, that our ability to send humans to space meant anything was possible.We were put on Earth to accomplish our dreams.
September 2007 — Age 9
My dad grinned and remarked, “Y’know, Andrew, happiness is a choice.”
What remarkable mental ability children have. I took his comment as a matter of fact and gained the ability to choose happiness with little effort. Only much later in life would I realize that this mental lever I had installed was the ability to release Dukkhaand simply accept the conditions of life as they are.
To this day, I get confused when people are overwhelmed by suffering. “Why don’t you simply choose to stop suffering?” a voice in the back of my head pleads.
How lucky I was.
November 2011 — Age 13
She dumped me.
My first kiss.
She dumped me.
“She said you only kissed her that one time, and it’s been over a month.” my friend explained.
True. I had been so afraid. I didn’t know how to bridge that lonely gap between desperate souls. I remember sitting next to her for over an hour talking, desperately wanting to make a move, never able to summon the courage.
But no pain from social discomfort could be greater than the pain of embarrassment I felt after. I resolved never to be afraid with women.
March 2015 — Age 16
Derek told me that Elon decided what to work on by journaling about “What will most affect the future of humanity?”
I thought that was cool, and I didn’t know what I should work on, so I decided to do it, too. My list of problems was:
Unlimited Energy (Nuclear Power, in particular)
I knew my purpose. I was going to change the world.
June 2018 — Age 19
I dropped out.
It sounds dramatic, but in reality, it happens slowly. First, a summer internship. Then 1-semester absence. Then 2 semesters. Then the dreaded phone call.
“I’m rescinding my scholarship. I’m sorry.”
My dad cried, but I knew it would be okay — he had taught me I could do anything long ago. My mom understood though I’m still not sure why. Maybe she felt it when marrying my dad — a faith in the inexplicable exhortations of our souls.
But the decision felt clear to me. This was a calculated risk. I wrote down scenarios:
Risk I couldn’t find another job in tech if I needed one? (slim)
Risk my company shut down? (moderate, but I could get another SWE job)
Financial return if major success? ($$$ tech windfall)
Cost of total failure (I need to return to school and am not offered my scholarship back)? <$50k
At current spend ($2k/mo), how long until I save $50k? ~1 year
Chance that I can’t save at least $50k? (~1% of catastrophe)
okay, that’s financial security out of the way, how about my personal growth?
Will I learn more, faster, with people who inspire me? (yes)
Does my heart long to do it? (yes)
Do I sense regret/hesitation, or just excited/nervous? (excited/nervous)
Are the skills I’m learning more marketable/valuable/desirable? (yes)
Oct 2022 — Age 24
I watched her lips move as she delivered her vows, trying desperately to be present as my mind soared with dreams, hopes, love. Her vows were beautiful. She was beautiful.
Looking into her eyes, I knew it would be okay. We could handle everything. There was no helplessness between us.
I’ve never been more certain of a decision in my life.
Present. Age 24.
It’s 7 pm. I’m currently sitting at the front desk, where I greet the school kids each day.
In their eyes, I find something familiar, a kindred spirit staring back at me with wonder. They’re just like me. I moved 2409 miles away, but in their eyes, I find home.
“Y’know, Andre, happiness is a choice”, I think to myself.
“Nothing is impossible.”
Thank you, NASA.
And I basically succeeded, until I went through a traumatizing experience with a long-term partner many years later. That sucked, but recovering from the emotional trauma and re-learning how to connect romantically has been some of the most confidence-inducing fun I’ve had in my adult life! It’s like I got a second chance at falling in love for the first time :)
Still am, but I quickly came to the realization while studying Electrical Engineering that Nuclear isn’t research-bottlenecked, it’s policy-bottlenecked. As I did more and more research into infrastructure problems, I came to find policy-bottlenecks everywhere. Furthermore, intellectual culture wasn’t interested in solving these bottlenecks — if anything, the intellectuals my age were nihilists, morally, economically, and politically. Good policy is downstream of good society, and replacing nihilism and helplessness with hope and human flourishing became my number one priority. This has natural synergies with Education, since good Education is (very basically) modeling good society for children.
I kept a detailed budget spreadsheet because I was a huge nerd, but also because budgets are powerful tools that give you financial security if you use them well.
what a journey!