What’s the plan, Chan?
Vol. 5 - July 24th to August 1st : 2018
“Any half-awake materialist well knows - that which you hold holds you.” - Tom Robbins
I hate all this stuff! With so many possessions, I have countless potential sources of anguish. Countless chances for things to break, get stolen, or go missing. In the last few weeks, I have had a car accident, had my window shattered and head unit stolen, had my tripod break unexpectedly, bent my laptop screen, and had a computer charge ripped up.
If you take what the Buddha said - “existence is suffering” - then in America it’s more often “ownership is suffering.” The things I own are anchors. Anchors to place like my home in Alabama, anchors to memories like the high school scrapbooks that my mom keeps on display, anchors to a composed self-identity like my wardrobe, and anchors to people like the phone that’s constantly nestled in my pocket.
On Monday morning, I walked out front to head to work, opened the car door, and looked down onto a seat full of black glass shards. My window was shattered, my head unit was ripped out, and my dashboard was mangled with chunks of plastic strewn about the interior. At least the roll of paper towels and mom’s curlers were safe in the trunk. Aside from that, I was not off to a great start to the week.
Since I have a nice car, I have a lot of potential sadness if things go wrong with it. Weeks ago I wrote about backing into the parking garage and now I’m back in the same place. While meditation is certainly helpful in lessening the connection I have to physical objects, it is still a headache to have to deal with repairs and replacements of all of this stuff. I’m working to pare down my possessions so that I don’t own as many sources of potential anxiety.
My satisfaction in life comes from a simple formula:
relationships + creation = happiness
And possessions have no place in that.
I’m a compulsive planner. I like to have an idea of what my personal narrative is - where I’m going, where I’ve been, and how the two fit together. Having a general guideline for the future gives me something to work towards and allows me to pitch myself confidently to other people. Here’s my current go-to, “So I’m a marketing & media intern right now, but this is just a stop on my dream to become a photojournalist.”
This has been my stock answer for the summer because it’s simpler to tell this to myself and to others than to explain the more accurate reality - “so I study Public Policy & International Development but I really love musical theater, web development, and impact investing too, and I’m here in Detroit for the summer because I studied abroad last Fall in Tokyo and this was the only internship that I could apply online and got accepted into.”
Planning provides a scaffolding for the life narratives that I tell to myself and to others, and lately I’ve felt that my life has been too unplanned. I’m working at VFA managing social media, marketing analytics, and producing content but I had no real why for this or plan for how this would help guide me to a career that I would feel satisfied in. So I sought out a way to strip away the ambiguity of the planning process and found this in data.
Inspired by my friend Andy Page and his process of personal impact maximization, I created a “Career Decision Matrix” as a guide. It’s an Excel sheet with the weighted decision factors for my career (work-life balance, growth prospects, prestige, autonomy, et al.) along with the current career options that I’m considering (web development, photojournalism, design consulting, Peace Corps, Princeton in Latin America).
My Career Decision Matrix
When I forced myself to quantify how much certain factors like autonomy or work-life balance meant to me, I realized that I would be happier with a job that’s more stable and higher-paying than becoming a photojournalist. This was a shock - ever since photographing my grandmother’s battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy in my Gandy photo essay, I had assumed that photojournalism or documentary photography was the right path for me. I have dutifully followed the steps that it would take to get there - photographing news stories in Charlottesville, directing Running Japan documentary, serving as a photography editor for Cavalier Daily, and even meeting with National Geographic’s Director of Photography for feedback. Yet, I’m not sure that this is the right fit for me.
In completing my career decision matrix, I realized how easy it is to get trapped living the dreams of your childhood self and not the dreams and goals of the you right now. According to my matrix, I should pursue one of the following paths: Design Consulting, Venture for America, or the Princeton in Latin America Fellowship (PiLA). Huh. Not what I would have predicted!
I realized that I had been following precedent and working towards photojournalism because that was the path of least resistance for me. I was already doing work to get there, so why not? Moving forward, I need to shift what I’m working on to align myself towards one of these three paths. They are more in line with my values and provide a more stable career foundation for me to use the dad skills that I’ve been practicing.
I’ve already done plenty of work to keep my door to Venture for America open, but not much work has been done towards the other two. Using this decision matrix, I’ve learned that my original career plan was not in line with what I actually wanted, and that I have work to do to make design consulting and PiLA viable options.
If you think that this matrix would be helpful for you, you can access the spreadsheet template file by clicking here. If you’re not into quantifying your life like this, another great exercise that may be a better fit is Debbie Millman’s visualization exercise - “10 year plan for a remarkable life.” Find more about it from her interview with Tim Ferriss.
Highlights from last week
Went to a DCFC soccer game with 100+ VFA Fellows and obnoxiously chanting and pretending to be superfans. DCFC won 4-0 against Windsor FC and it wasn’t much of a game, but it was an infectious atmosphere being surrounded by people who seemed to live to watch a lower league club team play soccer.
Visited Clayton in Connecticut and had a total dad’s weekend (despite the fact that neither of us are dads). We played a couple rounds of golf, walked his dog Dixie through parks, visited breweries, grilled out, ate lobster rolls in Newport, and went on a long trail run at Trout Brook Valley Preserve. It’s nice to pop outside of the VFA bubble and be able to relax and internalize the belief that I’m okay right where I am and don’t need to do more.
We watched the Chef’s Table episode on the restaurant Central in Lima, Peru. The cinematography was gorgeous and I was inspired to visit and taste Virgilio Martínez’ culinary tour of Peru. The menu at Central is structured as an exploration of the country by altitude - beginning at the sea and working its way up into the Andes. In exploring more about Peru, I stumbled on La Victoria Labs, a design consulting organization which works closely with IDEO to find design-thinking solutions to Intercorp, a holding company of one of Peru’s largest business groups.
Essentially, it’s a blend of all the things I want in a career - challenging and fulfilling work, a chance to improve my Spanish, a unique and beautiful environment, etc. I’m gonna send a cold email this week and see if they could use an intern. Stay tuned!
Discontent in life arises from one simple truth. There are a gallon of things to do and you only have a thimble full of time. Chilean poet Nicanor Parra captures this best.
Chronos by Nicanor Parra
In Santiago, Chile
The days are interminably long:
Several eternities in a day.
Like the vendors of seaweed
Traveling on the backs of mules:
You yawn - you yawn again.
Yet the weeks are short
The months go racing by
And the years have wings.
Written from Gate D12 at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and then on the flight to LaGuardia. I’m wearing the staples of my travel wardrobe - indigo slim dungarees, merino shirt, and old boots. I practice Craig Mod’s zen approach to travel and never go on a trip without my “travel Dalai Lama” items - sleep mask, ear plugs, and podcasts. I am content.