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On Becoming a Parent

“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.”

Carl Jung

“Happiness comes from suffering. There is no happiness in comfort.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky

In the last year, I had the fantastic privilege to undergo the transformation of a lifetime.

I became a parent.

When I found out I was going to be a father, I had a massive rush of emotions. At the time, I was absorbing as much information as I could so I could find something that resonnated with me.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt like if I can’t find my feelings in something external to me, there is a chance I could be losing touch.

I also had this buzzing voice of anxiety in the back of my head saying “if I can’t capture this emotion, then I will ruin my child.” (The first of many transformations)

I desperately wanted to find something that explains what I was feeling, but I couldn’t.

Everything I found on parenting, from books to videos to people, didn’t quite explain what I was going through.

The clichès like “everything changes” or “it will never be the same” wasn’t enough for me. I needed something that fully captured my experiences, or at least pointed to them.

Becoming a parent is a transformation that so many people experience and probably the most important transformation of our lives. I was frustrated that I couldn’t find something that explains this widespread and significant experience.

So I do what I always do when I’m frustrated.

Create.

In high school if I was feeling a certain way and couldn’t find a song that expressed my feelings, then I could write one.

Today I couldn’t find an essay, book, lecture, or anything that captures my experience of becoming a parent.

So I am going to write it myself.

I’m hoping this post does a few things:

1) ensure my sanity

2) helps other people in the process of becoming a parent. I hope others can find themselves in my experience and discover that they aren’t alone.

3) gives my kid(s) some guidance if (God forbid) I cannot give it myself.

(Another of many transformations) I realized that all my actions help create a world that my children will inherit. It is critical that I share my lessons and experiences in a way that is relatively easy to understand so that they may spend their finite time and energy blazing new trails while standing on my shoulders rather than relearning and unlearning pathologies through trial and error.

This first section I wrote during Kyra’s pregnancy. They included my thoughts and lessons in an effort to track my transformation.

Before the Birth

All my life I put pressure on myself to be a better person especially for my unborn children.

That was a common axiom that underscored the majority of my motivations for as long as I can remember.

Every time I went through a terrible experience, I would think “my kids will never have to go through this.”

An experience I’m sure many people can sympathize with.

Coming to Terms with Limitations

I have just discovered I am becoming a parent, and for the first time, I realized that I am who I am.

The person who will raise my children is the person I am now, in all my glory and tragedy.

This was wildly uncomfortable, to say the least.

I realize that this is the same with my parents, all parents. They were equally as flawed and broken when they had me. Children tend to have high expectations of their parents, and view them as godlike, especially in their younger years.

But I see now that they are just people, who have become parents.

They, like all other parents, are human beings with dreams unrealized and unresolved trauma yet to be discovered.

I had to confront all of my ridiculous standards and insecurities, and admit they were ridiculous.

I had to accept that I was not where I wanted to be in life and there was a good chance that my parents weren’t either.

This has given me a new compassion and understanding for all parents.

Becoming a parent has been a massive coming to terms with my own flaws and limitations.

It’s painful to know that my child will have to endure my sins and share in a life that I, reluctantly admit, am not completely proud of.

This truth often brings me to tears.

This life, for better or worse, is both of ours now. So I will do my best to move forward with the proper attitude and congruent actions. I will strive to create a life that I am proud of and happy to share with my child.

For many years, I lived my life as if it is of little consequence and now I must confess, atone, and realize my potential. If I don’t, then it is my child I must answer to.

This is a game where I can’t pretend that I don’t care.

I do. Immensely.

Although this coming to terms with self is deep and intense, I have received wisdom, clarity, and compassion of equal or greater magnitude. I suspect, if a person is attentive and self-aware, then they’ll undergo a similar transformation upon becoming a parent.

Accepting Extreme Vulnerability

Part of this transformation is accepting vulnerability. This is vulnerability beyond any level that I have ever known. I knew it existed intellectually, but it is humbling to experience it for myself.

It’s difficult to accept this vulnerability, especially as a man. I’ve spent so much time and energy learning how to be “tough” and in the times that I grew up, that meant not being vulnerable.

Now, I must unlearn that nonsense and willingly accept that what I care most about in the world can be easily harmed.

I have to accept that I have an undeniable weak point.

When I was younger, I used to pretend like I didn’t care as a technique to limit vulnerability.

I tricked many people into thinking that I didn’t care about a lot of things, but most importantly, I tricked myself.

Now there’s no denying that I care. No hiding in the dark.

I have a theory that parents who abandon their children, specifically fathers, cannot accept this extreme vulnerability. The massive responsibility plays a role too, but I believe the vulnerability is more difficult to cope with.

It’s hard to welcome this feeling, but I must if I am to properly welcome my daughter.

I cannot both fully love my daughter and reject the vulnerability that comes with it.

The beginning of bonding starts with being vulnerable.

Accepting vulnerability makes you alive.

Unlocking New Levels of Will

I always had a sense that there was more that I had to offer than what I was already putting out. Most days I convinced myself that I was giving my all, but I always had a little voice that said I could do more.

Now I can say that that little voice was right.

I love breaking through self-perceived limitations, but becoming a parent gives me a whole new idea of what it means to push myself.

It has given me a new sense of what is possible.

It’s like in the hero’s journey, the hero must tap into a more profound strength that they didn’t know existed. Becoming a parent feels the same way.

No one will love this child as much as I do, and certainly, no one will sacrifice as much as I will for her.

Regardless, the tasks must be done which means they must be done by me.

No exceptions.

I feel like I captured my feelings relatively well in this journal entry that I wrote in February 2021, the month of discovery. I published this in my 2021 Yearly Review.

This month I was thrown for the biggest loop of my life and I lost sight of my themes for a while. Despite the turbulence, Leadership and Persistence have definitely been developed. The new information I got this month unlocked a new level of everything inside of me. While I was trying, half-assed I admit, to develop myself in leadership and persistence, this new jolt has given me everything I need to be an effective leader. Not just of a company, not just of my life, but of my family’s life as well. I’ve also learned how to push myself much further than my perceived capacities. I’ve accomplished things this month I never thought I could. Again I’ve been confronted with the impossible and again I contend with it. This time it is voluntary, and this time the stakes are high. In this case, I have accessed something much deeper than mere persistence. It’s like I have direct access to the fire of humanity inside myself. I am reborn. I was worried that I was going to lose my ability to write and be creative through the new changes, but now I see that staying connected to them in the midst of the chaos is what will enrich life further. I can see I am even more capable of what I was capable of before. It is almost like constraints allow us to access more of our potential, but only after a certain time. I don’t want to be too specific in this entry in case I make it public, but I’m happy with the developments I’ve made over the years and I’m excited to see where this takes me.

The bolded section of this entry really highlights what I was feeling at the moment.

Everyone has heard stories of mothers lifting entire cars to save their children.

Now I can see that those are not fairy tales, but testaments to the strength of the Human Will when fueled by the love for their children.

Excitment & Fear

I’m not sure which I feel the most. Excitement because I cannot wait to see and meet the combination of my love (Kyra) and myself. I desperately want to know which parts of each of us that she will manifest. I want to know her interests and personality. I want to know everything about her.

But at the same time.

I don’t want my life as a childless person to end. Honestly, I love only having to think about myself and I’m scared that I won’t be able to properly consider my daughter’s needs.

I’m worried that I won’t be enough for her. I’m worried that my blind spots are catastrophic and my trauma responses are unregulated. I’m worried that I won’t be able to properly provide and protect. I’m worried that she won’t let me love her.

I’m worried that I won’t be a good enough father.

I’ll flip between these two states multiple times per hour. It’s exhausting and vitalizing.

I don’t know which is more true but I do know that contrary experiences capture the complexity of the human-animal.

Pay Attention to Aims

If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that you get what aim for. To be frank, I didn’t feel like I was ready to have kids. (Looking back, I don’t think anyone feels ready to have kids. If they say they are, but don’t have kids or aren’t trying, then they probably can’t fathom the depths of their ignorance.)

I wouldn’t call my current lifestyle the ideal situation for having kids either.

But part of me wanted to have a family of my own more than anything in the entire world. I would say that the most honest and vulnerable part of me wanted this, and that’s what exactly I got.

If we’re honest enough, we can see that we make choices that lead us to where we want to go.

While I thought I believed I wanted a life of adventure, immense wealth, and travel, but my actions rarely depicted this.

I spent a ton of time developing my relationship with Kyra so that we can create a strong foundation to build a healthy and happy family. I spent even more time learning how to share ideas and becoming reliabile.

I’m sure if I was able to break down the hours of my life, I can see that I spent way more time watering this garden than anywhere else in my life. This is probably because the most authentic part of me was aiming for having a family of my own.

I learned to be extremely mindful of what I want and what my actions are working towards. If I’m not, then I get hit with “surprises.”

Funny enough, I would have many conversations with Kyra where I would complain that I was frustrated because the problems I had in my life weren’t “age-appropriate.” I certainly got what I was aiming for. Now I have all the “age-appropriate” problems I could ever ask for.

Looking back, I was so foolish for being upset about that.

The Death of The Boy

In order to become a good father, I must not be a boy. Like every young man, learning how to become a man has always been a high priority.

Now that I am a father, I have no excuse to act like a child…a boy.

The boy is not fit to be a father because he can only think of himself.

He cannot participate in asymmetrical relationships. Parenting, if anything at all, is an asymmetrical relationship.

I must voluntarily take on responsibilities.

I must be strong and formidable.

I must be reliable and trustworthy.

I must be honest, productive, and generous.

I must be selfless and patient.

A boy cannot properly take on this role without also causing destruction.

The first three days, in particular, were difficult. I felt the boy die within me and a rebirth of a new man take shape in my soul. This is as violent and majestic as a phoenix combusting and rising from the flames. I felt parts of my burn off and the tighter that I held on, the more it hurt.

I had to let go.

I had to accept that I was transforming, and it was permanent.

The death of Chris the Boy made room for Chris the Father.

Since I found out about the pregnancy, all the deadwood, so to speak, had to burn off. All the perceived ideas of who I am and who I want to be had to die. It’s not easy to let go of yourself, but in order to become a parent, it’s necessary. I’m sure this is partly why so many people, men, and women, cannot rise to the occasion.

Confronting Latent Insecurities and Fears

I feel like in order to transform I must overcome the challenge of becoming the worst parts of both of my parents, a fear that I’ve had for a long time.

I’ve seen many people mindlessly repeat the patterns they saw in their parents which produces the same results they had.

While my parents were far from the worst, they are plenty of things they did that I do not plan on repeating with my daughter. I’m not going to outline them here, but the generational trauma stops with me.

The Crushing Responsibility

I heard someone say that being a parent is a crushing responsibility, and in some ways it is.

But this is not a bad thing.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the last few years is that responsibility gives life meaning. When we are responsible for something, we operate on a higher level. We become more resilient and can withstand conditions that would have otherwise ended us.

I have been given the privilege to take on the greatest responsibility, which comes with great access to my own inner strength, tenacity, compassion, and a richer experience of life.

This means I don’t have the luxury of wasting time anymore. I thought I didn’t waste time before the transformation, but now I really don’t. Wasting time makes everything infinitely more difficult with a child. It’s better to maximize what I have. Now I can viscerally feel every second go by. If that second is not properly used, then I am flooded by negative emotions.

While my hypersensitivity to time can be quite uncomfortable, this transformation taught me that we, as human beings, want and need to lift a heavy load. Perhaps I can even say a life that is easy to navigate is not one worth living.

Accepting the responsibility means that I am burdened with a certain set of problems, but set free from so many others. For the first time in my life, I am clear on what is important and what is not. Before the transformation, there was a lot up for debate. Nowadays, not so much.

After the Birth

These are some of the thoughts I recorded after my daughter was born.

Abusive Relationships and Parenting

I heard somewhere that being a parent of a newborn is like being in an abusive relationship. This is because people who are abusive are mentally infants.

I see many new parents who have a tough time dealing with non-reciprocal relationships, but I have been practicing non-reciprocal behavior for most of my life. I constantly felt as if I was giving more than I was getting and I learned to not let that breed resentment in me.

I learned to take on the perspective – if I’m not willing to do it without reciprocal behavior then I won’t do it.

This thought process has made becoming a parent manageable.

Attending to the needs of my newborn daughter is tough, but not unlike abusive relationships that I have had in the past. I must consistently minimize myself and repress my needs in order to meet the demands of the child.

In the past, this dynamic drove me crazy. This is appropriate because I wasn’t a parent. But now, I am not bothered at all by this dynamic because I know that it is appropriate for my daughter to act this way. She litereally is a child! However, it will be my responsibility to socialize her and makes sure she doesn’t act like this forever.

The Dark Side of Becoming a Parent

In the spirit of honesty, it’s not all nice. I was resentful of my need for security and sometimes I believed that having a kid was throwing my potential away. This was a belief that had to burn off quickly.

I realized it was a choice to believe things like that.

My mind can make up so many thoughts that aren’t necessarily true and I don’t have to believe them.

Honestly, it’s revitalizing to believe the contrary – becoming a parent is a goal that everyone should take seriously.

The darker side of becoming a parent is discovering how much a parent loves their child. Unfortunately, there are behaviors my parents committed that I cannot imagine repeating with my daughter.

Reflecting upon on much of my childhood, the question arises “How could a parent treat their child that way?” If they loved me as much as I love my daughter, how can they act that way?

Perhaps they experience the parent-child relationship differently.

Maybe I love my daughter more than they love me.

Maybe they are so unconscious, that they are living a life that they would not approve of.

Whatever the answer, I know I am afraid to find out.

These were questions I wondered often as a child but easily ignored. Now I think about them more often, even though I know it doesn’t do me much good.

One thing that is known, is that my parents primarily operated out of resentment.

I must be mindful of my resentments, especially so I do not accidentally project onto her. I need to be honest about when I feel like I do not want to fulfil my parental duties and deal with those feelings in a healthy way.

If I don’t, then I will create a world in which I will love her less.

The worst part is that no one else in the world will care for her like I do. This means I have to be extremely careful to notice when she does things that makes me dislike her.

If I can recognize those behaviors and stop them before they perpetuate, I can potentially limit the number of things she’ll do to make other people not like her.

This is not because I need the world to like my child.

It is because I want to world to open itself to my child and provide her with opportunities and allies.

If I cannot recognize when my child makes me dislike her, then I cannot help her regulate her behavior.

Children who cannot regulate themselves are quickly rejected from the communities and have a much more difficult experience of life.

Intense Magnification

Becoming a parent has accelerated the process of getting everything I want, but also magnifies the problems within myself. I feel as if the limits on life have been taken out. The happiness I can feel is more intense than what I felt before. The same can be said for suffering.

I’ve also noticed an increased tendency of being self-critical. I think it’s because I don’t want my unconscious pathologies to decide what my daugher’s life is. So I am incentivised to dig deep within myself to be better, be more.

I feel like I have a new access to emotions and a new understanding of asking for help. I used to never ask for help, but now I will let nothing get in the way of fulfilling my duties as a parent. Especially pride, which is a sin I frequently grapple with.

This magnification has also appeared in my relationship with Kyra, my daughters’ mother.

It feels like we are a family now.

We’re constantly improving and learning how to better cooperate and negotiate. Although that does not sound romantic, those are two critical pillars of our relationship and it is what keeps us growing stronger every day.

Mostly Positive Responses

Most people said congratulations, which could mean they either see me as fit to be a parent, or they feel compelled to congratulate me.

Either way this helps me feel like I could handle this, although approval from the masses isn’t a solid foundation.

I’ve become more aware of people’s judgement, or envy.

As sad as it is to say, some people aren’t genuinely happy for me when I share what probably is the best news in the world. I try to live my life by being around people who are on my team. I test that I like to use is sharing good news. If they’re happy for me, then they’re on my team. If they aren’t, then they’re jealous or a possible enemy.

This is a great time to know exactly who will be on my team.

I’m keeping my family close to allies, not enemies.

Constraints are Crucial

Many people see having children as synonymous with “sayin goodbye to freedom.”

Poor thinking.

Life already has constraints and we typically define our lives by our constraints, so I say that it is better to have constraints and a well defined life rather than not.

Yes, there are freedoms I’ve lost, but there are privledges that I have gained. I believe it is a great trade.

I Want Her to Grow Up

When my daughter looks at me, I can see so clearly what I want for her.

I want her to be excited to grow up and fulfill her potential.

I’ve seen too many adults that make me feel like growing up is dreadful.

Why is it dreadful to become more wise, knowledgeable, and capable?

Maybe because most adults don’t try to inspire. Perhaps she can.

Godwilling, I can be an example for her.

My Relationship with Time has Changed

Becoming a parent has taught me more about valuing my time, scheduling, storytelling, patience, and time management more than anything else ever could have.

Free time is an unbelievably powerful force. Having kids makes this clear.

I’ve written many parts of this essay in the middle of the night on my phone while I’m holding my daughter (because she won’t let us put her down)

-Currently she’s 8 weeks old and sleep from 6pm-12am if I’m lucky-

If I am awake I must USE the time, not spend it.

I wish I understood this to the level that I do now, but I know that I could have only reached this level of understanding through actually becoming a parent.

Becoming a parent is deeply discovering consequences. Everything has a cost, and parenting puts that right up in your face.

I have also channelled a greater capacity for patience.

There are times when I want things to speed up, but she is a reminder that nature takes it’s time and happens fast enough.

I remember wanting the pregnancy to speed up. Then I wanted the labor to speed up, and the infant stage, and the toddler stage.

I desperately want to see what my daughter will be like as an adult similarly to how I felt wanting my video game characters to be at full power.

I’ve learned that dropping that tendency and enjoying what I have in the moment is how I get what I will miss when we are older.

I’ve learned that I will get to those points in time, but right now is a moment to soak in as well. I think of this when she is screaming and crying, but also when we are playing.

So many parents tell me that they miss the days when their children were young. Hearing that gives me the patience to take a breath and enjoy the stage she is now.

The Great Hope

Once more, life is full of the genuine wonder and excitement that I once had as a kid.

Except now, the feelings aren’t as overwhelming. I notice that same curiosity of wondering what will actualize from new potential.

I’ve heard that becoming a parent is the opportunity to have the best relationship I could ever have in my life.

Ever.

I didn’t believe this to be true, but after spending time with my daughter I see that it is.

But I also know that it can be destroyed.

The love a child has for their parent is instinctual and as the adult, we can either foster it or destroy it.

I am aiming for the best relationship anyone can have with anyone.

So far so good.

Balancing Control

There’s a growing urdge to control the environment. I feel like if I can’t, then I feel like a bad person.

I had a higher tolerance to urdge before becoming a parent, but I’m not able to tolerate it as much as I used to.

Finding a balance of understanding how much I need to control the environment versus how much I need to control myself is difficult.

For me, becoming a parent puts me in a psychological position where I must play the “parent” role as referred to in Berne’s Games People Play. I felt like if I could not control the environment for my child, then I am a juvenile. As rediculous as that is to say, I could not shake the cognitive dissonance.

Over time I’ve learned, and am still learning, how to find that balance between controlling myself and controlling my environment.

New Relationship to Ambition

I’ve been thinking about the morality of ambition. I’ve always seen it as a good thing, but I feel like I am at a point in my life where being too ambitious is counterproductive.

For a while I wanted to so desperately cling to the systems and habits I previously built. As if those systems were me. I grew more upset every day that I missed my goals. I had to discover that I am working on the greatest project I have ever taken on and will ever take on – it’s imperfect but great.

All of the endeavours that I could ever undertake are not as important as this.

I want to keep aiming up, because that is something that I do believe is absolutely good.

But I don’t need to aim as high and as a result, I can dedicate more to being a better parent.

So In Love

There is no sweeter sound, no more infectious rhythm, than my daughter’s heartbeat.

I’m always thinking of her, especially when I’m not with her.

She get’s cooler every day.

Every day her movements are more and more refined. It’s astonishing.

All of her accomplishments make my heart sing. Ever single one. Even the small ones.

I’m happiest when I’m doing boring things with her like laying down or feeding her.

I love playing with her and helping her develop. There is nothing more gratifying and satisfying.

I was worried that I would get stuck with “some kid,” but she continues to impress me. She constantly reminds me that I am not dealing with “some kid,” but that she is someone who is so much likely that I cannot even begin to understand.

The best part is that she lets me love her. Admittedly, I was worried that I would love her so much and she would not care at all. That fear could not have been further from the truth. She lets me love her in a way that no one else can and that’s enough to bring a tear to my eye. Even at a young age, I can tell that our bond is strong.

Joining the Human Race

I wrote about this in my 2021 Yearly Review: Joining the Human Race. Becoming a parent has given me a compassion and love for the ineffectiveness and ineffcientness of humanity.

My engineering training has taught me to seek and destroy inefficiencies, but becoming a parent has taught me to love them.

Our inefficiencies hold the most joyful and gripping moments of life.

Humans are messy, slow, and riddled with mistakes. That’s what makes us human.

This is not a bad thing.

Do we need to strive to be better? Yes.

Do we need to see human error as wrong? Absolutely not.

Discovering this has given me a new perspective on dealing with people. This is a perspective that was difficult to genuinely believe before becoming a parent.

Children Bring Out the Best in Others

I had a student who brought a gun to school. Before I knew, he saw me in the hallway and asked me about my daughter. He genuinely wanted to know how she was. It felt as if he truly cared for her, perhaps he did.

I found out later that he was armed and he was expelled. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, he just want to look cool in front of his friends. Seek love and acceptance by providing value, not fear. The bottom line is…becoming a parent softens everyone.

Becoming a parent has helped me see the softer sides of all people. I get people smiling in my direction and walking near me as opposed to looking at me with suspicion or hostility. A stark contrast from my experience as a single 6 foot tall Black man, where I usually get the more defensive or hostile side of people.

We had a saying in healthcare: kids are the great equilaizor.

This meant that no matter who you are, seeing a sick or hurt kid will hit you emotionally.

That is true with just every day interactions. People love seeing children and they always bring out their loving side. Kids always level. the playing field.

It’s magical.

Rediscovering the World & Discovering the Future

Loving my child is like rediscovering the world.

Seeing her learn the simple things from using her hands to looking at shapes is amazing. I watched her look at nature for the first time and it was miraculous. I hope more experiences like this are to come. The world is interesting and full of life again.

Loving my child discovering the future.

The world I am leave behind needs to be better for her. She also needs to learn that she needs to do everything she can to make the world better as well.

For a long time, I lived for myself. For the first time, I see how I am just one part of something much bigger. I am part of the force that builds for the future. This means the choices I make are extremely important.

No More Room for Cowardice

There were many fears and insecurities that I had to confront while becoming a parent.

I could not let any of them stop me.

Fear and insecurities are excuses that people use to act like cowards.

When I am fulfilling my duties as a father, there is no insecurity. I am the security. I must become the security.

What is peculiar, is that I had so much insecurity when I would do things for myself. I was just letting myself be a coward. Because I could afford to.

No more.

Last Thoughts

Becoming a parent is both terrible and wonderful, much like the rest of the human experience.

However, I can say that the experience of becoming a parent is something that everyone should take seriously.

I have a theory that if someone were to strive to be the best parent they can be, then they will unlock the most rewarding game humans can play.

Becoming parents makes us human. It is what we are made to do.

Many modern people think otherwise because they have been tricked into thinking that there are other games to play that are more satisfying.

Becoming a parent is the best game we can play. It gives us access to the best experiences.

But only if we do it well.

Categories
Education

The Role of a Tutor

“Children are educated by what the grownup is and not by what he says.”

Carl Jung (Archetypes of the Collective Unconcious)

I’ve been a private tutor for the better part of 7 years now and I have to say that it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s also the thing I think I’m best at, considering that every semester my demand is overwhelming. Every semester, I connect with most of my students in a meaningful way and I’m often told explicitly that I’m the best educator they’ve ever worked with.

I understand I have a serious bias here. Of course I think I’m an amazing tutor! All the students that love me let me know and all the students that don’t go off and find another tutor. So I don’t really know what people think when they aren’t happy with my services. The thing is though, I’ve only had a handful of families over my 7 years of tutoring that decided not to work with me, and every time it was because of reasons unrelated to my competency.

Despite the consistent, positive, and generous feedback I get from my tutoring expertise I still struggle with believing that I, Christopher Mukiibi, know enough to tell people “the truth.” I’m constantly worried that what I’m telling people isn’t true, outdated, or foolish so I’m (maybe to a fault) always learning about the best ways to teach, connect with, and engage my students.

I’ve had educators who wasted my time, squandered potential, and didn’t take responsibility for their presence and I found that to be some of the most abhorrent behavior I’ve ever had to endure. Educators have the power to change the world and unlock the limitless potential of the future, if only they gave it everything. To say that I will measure up to that standard isn’t realistic, but I do try my hardest to strive for that ideal in every way that I can.

And here I am writing this post. My way of articulating what an excellent tutor is, what they do for their students, and how they conduct themselves. At least in the capacity that I can.

This piece, like many of my other pieces, is part of a bigger picture that I hope will enlighten the minds of the future, but I also want it to be a stand-alone piece that demonstrates one of the better parts of me.

A lot of people see tutoring as a cheap profession, but it’s serious and has detrimental consequences if done wrong. By the time my students see me, they usually have little faith in their educational institution. Once I step into their home and assume the role of tutor, the student will unconsciously associate me with the entire education institute. Suddenly, I’m no longer just Chris the Tutor, but I am their representation of the education whether I like it or not. What I am to them is what education is to them.

If I’m useless, so is education.

If I’m interesting, so is education.

If I’m deplorable, so is education.

If I’m admirable, so is education.

Who we are to others is always much bigger than we think.

So as a way to do my part, I’m going to explain the proper way a tutor must conduct themselves in order to ensure a better future with powerful and independent thinkers who have faith and respect for the institutions that have come before them.


Understand the Power

Most people don’t see a tutor as a position of power.

Unless you’re the student.

The student is aware that they don’t know enough and that the tutor probably knows the answers. There’s an innate power imbalance when a tutoring session starts, especially when the student doesn’t know the tutor very well and it’s up to the tutor to take responsibility for that imbalance.

A good tutor must be friendly and approachable. These people are vulnerable and we need to be able to provide the space for them to be vulnerable and wrong. The tutoring session cannot continue if the tutor hasn’t given the student an opportunity to show their underbelly, so to speak. The best way to do this is to focus on the relationships – get to know the student and who they are as a person. Likewise, let them know who you are. Connection is everything.

People work with people – humanize everything and move with ease.

Initiate Support

Students typically don’t like asking for help, especially if we’re dealing with boys. Asking for help is implicitly admitting that we’re wrong and don’t know what to do. Some students won’t even admit this to themselves, so it is up to us to ask them if they need help. The good tutor initiates support. Sometimes the students have no issues with this and you can just get down to brass tax, but if you see that the student is stuck and won’t ask for help, be the helping hand.

No one wants to feel vulnerable, and extending the helping hands makes it a little easier to deal with.

Personally, I make a small effort to have the students ask for help because it primes their minds to take in new information but I am sensitive to my student’s emotional states when I’m doing this.

Clarify the Task

Sometimes students don’t know what to do simply because they don’t understand the instructions. My first line of support, so to speak, is to clarify the task. I just ask the question in a different way, usually in simpler language. Most of the time the students understand the question when I ask it differently.

As a tutor, our job is to meet our students at whatever level they’re at and illuminate the path. In my post, Understanding Development and Mentors, I talk about the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and it’s the tutor’s role to meet their student right at the edge of their competency, which is known as the ZPD. The ZPD is where productive tutoring happens, it’s where learning happens.

Provide Guidance with Questions

Too many tutors just straight-up give out the answers to their students.

THIS HURTS THEM IN THE LONG RUN.

Part of our learning process is suffering, pain. It’s one of the many tragedies of life, but it’s not needless. The negative emotion helps the information stick. The systems in our brain that we’re developed for negative emotion were originally used as a survival mechanism. For example, when we touch a hot stove we forever remember to never touch a hot stove because it was painful. If we just give the answer, the student may know it for the time being, but it won’t stay for the medium to long term. Searching for an answer can be a tough and painful process, but it’s where transformative learning takes place.

As a tutor, sometimes we may need to give an answer. Maybe the student won’t ever get the answer no matter how hard they try, that’s fine. It’s our role to meet them wherever they are, but we’re calling upon the highest parts of them. Most of the time, it’s best to lead them with questions. I try to answer their questions with questions.

Check for Understanding

Part of our role is helping the students understand the material, not get their assignments done. This can look different for different classes, but the main idea is the same. There are certain concepts that the student is responsible for knowing and it is the tutor’s job to assist in making those concepts clear for the student.

I usually check for understanding towards the end of sessions in the form of Active Recall questions. I try think along the lines of what is the main idea of the lesson and can the student explain it back to me?

Step Away, but Check Back In

This goes hand in hand with letting the students struggle through their work. It is the role of the tutor to help the students understand their concepts and part of that is letting them struggle on their own.

This would probably surprise many parents, but I spend a solid portion of the sessions just waiting for the students to get the answer or to work out problems.

I would try to have little tasks on my phone or tablet to work on so I don’t accidentally help my students more than they need to. (I do this more often than I would like to admit.) But it is crucial for the student to struggle through the work.

The Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. The ordinary man is always doing things, yet many more are left to be done.

Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

The real masters of tutoring do (next to) nothing.

Teach Procedures and Concepts, Not Answers

Do not teach answers or particular questions. I would argue that it’s crucial for the tutor to be familiar with answers and particular questions, but it would be our role to teach the procedures and concepts associated with solving those problems.

Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.

Teach a student a question and help him for a day. Teach a student a concept (or procedure) and help him for a lifetime.

Hands down, the most valuable thing I got from getting a degree in Chemical Engineering is learning how to solve complex and difficult problems. All the individual questions that I learned most definitely left my brain, but the concepts and procedures are still with me so I can solve similar types of problems.

Additionally, it’s much more difficult to forget a concept as opposed to answers to specific questions.

Encourage Contructive Habits

As tutors, we’re in a special position to influence our students in a powerful way. We aren’t teachers or their teachers, so the authority is slightly different. In my expereicne and many other tutors I know, students open up to their tutors in a special way and hold their opinion in high regard (as long as the tutor conducts themselves in a way that deserves that). On top of that, we’re providing support in a place where they have none so the students are more likely to take what we say as true.

This is a great privilege and responsibility and we should treat it as such. The good tutor encourages constructive habits like asking questions, attempting difficult questions, voluntarily taking responsibility, pushing themselves to improve, and many others.

Do not take your position for granted, be a force for good.

Be Compassionate Towards Their Struggles

It’s hard to do something well the first time. No one is good at anything when they first do it and we need to have empathy for that.

For tutors and educators, the material is literally easier to do because we’ve had the time to develop and strengthen the neural pathways necessary to run those concepts. If we’re learning it for the first time, we need to understand that we would also struggle regardless of who we are.

I often reflect back on the times when I struggle with certain concepts. 9/10 times my students make the exact same mistakes I made when I was learning a subject. This also gives me an edge in pinpointing their mistakes – they’re all the same one’s I made!

Admit Defeat, but Don’t Give Up

We have to be able to admit when we don’t know an answer, but we also cannot leave our students dead in the water. Have a bank of resources to refer back to when you don’t know something. This is much easier in the 21st century. I have a google drive folder with pdfs of textbooks, workbooks, lecture slides, and notes for all the subjects I specialize in. I also recommend connecting with other tutors in your area that are willing to help answer questions when you get stuck. Currently, I’m working on a resource bank on my website that educators and my students can use.

Promote Academic Honesty

Like I said earlier, tutors have a special kind of authority when it comes to academics. Our students look to us to learn what is right and wrong with academics. We have to take this role on with seriousness and responsibility. As tutors, we represent the institution of academics and the students are developing their relationship to the academic institution through us. This means how we approach our work will influence how our students will approach theirs.

Here’s where it gets serious, the way people approach their work (or anything else) also influences their relationship with themselves. The approach of their work influences how they know themselves and what kind of people they think they are. This decides which challenges people are willing to take or ignore, which ultimately decides their lives.

This may seem dramatic for some, but as I like to say we cannot fathom the impact of our actions. As tutors, we have to take on the responsibility of being the vehicle that people use to develop their relationships with not only academic institutions, but all institutions.

I’ve used my position to help students see that the whole system isn’t set up to hurt or control them. They can see this through me. Through my actions, I show them that there are parts of this world that actually have their back and want them to win.

With that said, plagiarizing is a weak move. Don’t give them work that they can turn in as their own. Turning in “bad” work is better than turning in fake work.

We can also promote academic honesty by discouraging dishonesty. Suffocating the behavior right when we see it is the best way from keeping things whole. I try not to encourage things that aren’t sustainable over the long term.

Lead Them to the Answer

People can only perceive what they can conceive. So just telling them the answer will be like talking to a wall. If we didn’t think of it, then we can’t perceive it. As tutors, we need to lead them to the answer. They need to see how the answer comes to be and why it’s important. Just giving the answer is like showing someone something that doesn’t exist.

Things stick with us when we come to the conclusions on our own.

I know I mentioned this in other sections, but I want to emphasize that this goes along with the idea that the tutor meets the student at their level of understanding and guides them through. This means waiting until the students get the right answer and rewarding them for hitting the mark. It’s okay to nudge them in the right direction, but telling them the exact answer never works in the long run.

Be a Mentor

Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone could use more guidance. As a tutor, we have a unique position to offer that mentorship and wisdom. The good tutor has a desire to pass along knowledge that they would love to have known earlier. The good tutor suffers for the greater good, learning the material the hard way and teaching the lessons so other’s don’t have to.

If we can take on the role of mentor, our tutoring automatically levels up because now we aren’t just there for the student’s academic performance, but for the student as a whole.

Contextualize the Information

I can’t tell you how many times a student has told me “When am I ever going to need this?” This is a classic case of not understanding the context – how the information fits into the bigger picture of their life. Context is specific to every individual and how something fits into my life will be different from how that same thing fits into someone else’s.

The good tutor helps the student make this connection. They help them see why it’s important to educate themselves and learn what’s in front of them. The trick is framing the information in a way that is relevant to that particular student. In order to do this effectively, we have to know what the student is aiming at. What kind of life they want, what kind of things they want to do. When those goals are made clear, putting most things in context is fairly easy.

If a student isn’t clear on exactly what they are aiming for, I try to show them that their academic challenges are opportunities to develop themselves in the face of things they don’t want to do. Life, regardless of which path we take, is full of things that we don’t want to do and knowing ourselves as the type of people who can get shit done even if we don’t want to will give us a serious advantage in life.

Putting things in context will help us understand the why.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Go Deeper

The good tutor must be able to take each concept 7 times deeper than it needs to go.

There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that the student may not understand how the first method works. If that happens, the tutor needs to be able to explain the concept in a different way. The second is that the tutor needs to be able to learn and update new methods of problem solving when they encounter one. Both of these reasons require a deeper knowledge of the concepts.

The deeper knowledge also prevents us from simply memorizing different ways of solving problems or concepts. The deeper knowledge allows us to accurately synthesize the data so we can present the ideas in a way that our student can understand. Each students has unique perceptions and a deeper knowledge can ensure that we accurately communicate those ideas no matter how unique.

Own Your Presence

The good tutor takes responsibility of their presence. We own 100% of the feelings of our student and take it upon ourselves to moderate our behavior accordingly.

Sometimes we need to be tough, sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we need to give the answer, sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we need to speed it up, sometimes we need to slow down.

The flow of the session depends on the student. The tutor should be able to adjust to the needs of the student, not the other way around. Some tutors expect the student to form to their methods of teaching, but that creates resistance and unnecessary effort for both parties.

We can’t force a horse to drink, we can only lead it to the trough. But coming from a place of 100% ownership, we are able to think of solutions we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Be Flexible

The good tutor is flexible. We must be able to move and keep up with the student. Sometimes that means speeding it up, sometimes that means slowing it down. Either way we need to be capable of both.

Changing our teaching style to accommodate for their understanding is one of our primary roles. While, if possible, the primary role of the student is to open their minds and pay enough attention to understand the information regardless of how it is presented.

The good tutor is also easy going and not too rigid. Flexibility creates an ease which encourages an environment of growth and vulnerability. Additionally, flexibility can mean to be rigid when necessary as well. Sometimes structure could be the the environment we’re looking for.

Maintain Visions

The best tutors can perceive and maintain visions for their students, even if they can’t for themselves. Most of the time, tutoring is not a quick process and lasting results take a long time to see. The only way to see them is to maintain a vision of the long term. The good tutor sees this and holds it as the target even when the student is blind to it. When things get stressful, we shorten our time horizons which means we lose our vision for the future and stop moving towards it. If the tutor can keep this vision alive for the student during times of hardship, then the student is much more likely to actually reach their goals. The tutor needs to be able to see what the student cannot.

Maintaining a vision is the bare minimum to realizing a goal, but it’s hard to do on our own.

Focus Intensely

A good tutor can focus, knows how to focus. A tutoring session should never be limited but the attention span of the tutor. If it’s easier for the tutor to get off track than the student, then the student is better off working on their own.

Now if you have trouble focusing don’t think that you can’t be a phenomenal tutor. Focus and attention span is like a muscle and can be improved over time with tracking. When I first started tutoring I had to push myself to flawlessly focus for an hour, but now I can go 2-3 hours without an issue.

Pay Respects to The Before & After

A good tutor understands that the world is loaned to us from our children, but also given to us by our parents. So it is up to the tutor to embody gratitude to the ones who came before us and enrich ourselves with their greatest accomplishments and ideas, but also pay respect to the minds that come after us and nourish them properly.

If we can arm our future with the wisdom of the past, we make the world better.

The good tutor learns how to plant from the ones who came before and plant seeds so the ones who come after can enjoy beautiful flowers. I try to leave bits of knowledge so that the students can make good choices when the time comes. Most of the time they don’t make the good choice, but sometimes they do and that would not have happened without the seeds.

Match Their Efforts

The good tutor matches their student’s efforts. There is no use in trying harder than the pupil.

All of our victories are our own and we should not take that from them.

When we meet the student who is ready to give it their all, we rise up.

The tutor should never be the limiting reagent.

Track Their Cognitive Load

A good tutor is attuned to their student’s cognitive load. Cognitive load can be thought of as our brain’s processing power. As I mentioned earlier, a 1-hour session was exhausting and it usually is for the student too. Now I can do 2-3 hour sessions without even thinking about it, but I have to keep in mind that my students don’t perform at that level.

Sometimes parents just want to have the sessions go as long as possible, but the student is only capable of working for an hour. It’s our job as the tutor to recognize when the student is tired and stop the session if the student isn’t processing adequately. There is no use in pushing our brains to work when we’ve hit our cognitive load limits. All we get there are diminishing returns.


This was a pretty long list, but it’s not entirely comprehensive either. Like my other posts, this is full of methods and tactics, but what I want is for people to understand the principles behind them As so that they may create tactics that are more effective than mine.

Tutoring is a beautiful thing.

We shape thinkers. We open minds. We design the future. We help people realize their potential.

Categories
Education

Solo Studying vs. Group Studying

“Surround yourself with good people that compliment the areas where you are weak”

Jacko Willink (1971 – )

The professor just announced the exam is coming up. We’re a little stressed, but not too stressed. Luckily, we’ve read Chris’ blog posts and understand the fundamental principles of studying Active Recall and Spaced Repetition. We also read my posts of Strategies for Better Studying 1, 2, 3, & 4, so we know a thing or two about how to studying for this exam effectively.

On top of that, we read his posts on time management and scheduling Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 so we know exactly when and where we can start applying the study strategies. We even read his post on Conquering Test and Performance Anxiety, so we have some strategies to handle that too.

It’s safe to say that we know a little bit about kicking academic ass, but then our classmate turns to us and asks a question.

“Hey, do you want to join our study group?”

Suddenly, we’re present to the fact that we don’t know if we actually want a study group or not. We aren’t sure if the study group will help or harm the progress we already made.

Maybe there will be people in the group that know way more than us and this study group will be the difference between a pass and fail.

Or maybe they’ll constantly go off-topic and spend too much time on the concepts we already understand.

Study groups and solo studying each have their own benefits and drawbacks. What determines if a study group will be beneficial is based on a few variables. The best way to decide for ourselves is to be knowledgeable of the benefits and drawbacks of group vs. solo studying and weigh them according to our particular situation.

Benefits of Solo Studying

The first (and possibly most obvious) benefit of solo studying is fewer distractions. When we are left on our own, we have the minimum amount of distractions available to us. Fewer distractions mean a higher probability of accomplishing deep and substantial work. If we can minimize our distractions, we have a greater chance of reaching flow and making significant progress.

Fewer distractions also mean higher access to focus, which is a fundamental ingredient to deep work.

When we study on our own, we have complete control over the study environment and study schedule. This means we can study whenever and wherever we want. Want a midnight study session in the parking lot of McDonald’s? You got it.

Although I don’t recommend studying at midnight in a Micky D’s parking lot, it is nice to be able to choose when and where we study. This way we can minimize excuses. No waiting on other people. No scheduling conflicts. It’s just us and our material.

Studying solo gives us maximum flexibility. We can take breaks whenever we want and spend as much time as we need on whatever concepts we need to. When I was in O-chem, I spent an ungodly amount of time going over reaction mechanisms. I would come home at around 7 pm and review the mechanisms over and over until midnight or 1 in the morning. This was possible because I was studying alone. I didn’t need to wait for anyone or make sure that everyone was cool with the time. I was simply able to use the time I found and didn’t need to qualify it. Most of my classmates wanted to study when I had work, so I had to go about it on my own.

Another fantastic benefit of studying solo is not spending extra time on concepts that we already understand. For me personally, there are some topics that I get faster than others and some topics that take me longer to understand. When we study solo we don’t have to hold anyone back from their studying and no one has to hold us back from ours. We can spend our time focusing on the concepts we don’t really know, which is crucial for effective and efficient studying.

Drawbacks of Solo Studying

When we’re working on our own it’s easy to talk ourselves out of studying, especially when no one else is counting on us to study. It can be extremely motivating when we have people around us who are focused on the same goal as us. If sticking to commitments is challenging, I recommend checking out my posts The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 1) and Maintaining Purpose.

Another drawback of solo studying is increased potential inaccuracy with facts. It’s hard to make sure that we’re studying something correctly if no one is around to double check out work. Yes, we can refer to the textbook, lecture notes, or other resources, but it’s still possible to support evidence that supports our incorrect beliefs. When we are studying solo we have to be mindful of cognitive bias, particularly confirmation bias.

When it’s Best to Study Solo

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,—that is genius.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance)

There are a few indicators that let us know when it’s probably in our best interest to study on our own.

If the group is too talkative or off pace, then it’s probably time to switch gears and study solo. Now, this isn’t to say that study groups need to be quiet. After all, coming together and studying requires conversation but that conversation should be in service to the greater purpose of understanding and learning the information that we’re responsible for knowing.

Pay attention to where the group is headed. If you sense disaster, run immediately.

Another sign that it’s best to study on our own is if the sessions are rescheduled. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves, we need to maintain commitments to ourselves, no matter how small. If the group decides that 4-5 pm after class on Friday isn’t good enough, we can still study at that time. If the group bails, no worries we can still kick ass all on our own.

Although there are many indicators, the last sign I’m going to discuss is if the group has a different level of understanding that we do. It is a colossal waste of time to study in groups if the group is far ahead or far behind our own understanding. Trust me, I’ve tried it both ways. It’s best to study with people of similar or equal competency, too much time is wasted otherwise.

Benefits of Group Studying

While studying on our own is effective, studying in groups can provide many advantages. With groups comes an opportunity to discuss concepts with others which tests our comprehension as well as creates more intricate neural connections. The more connections we have to a particular piece of information, the easier it is for us to recall it.

The group setting can also be a place to get our questions answered. If someone in the group knows more about a concept, then they can explain it to us exactly how we need it. Our group members may have a fresh understanding of the subject, so they know precisely what we need to know to go from ignorant to expert. This is a fantastic place to break down complicated topics.

Additionally, being around other students can be motivating. I know I’m less likely to slack off if I’m in the library with a group of other academics trying to prepare for this test. Especially if the test is graded on a curve and I have to perform better than my classmates.

It’s been known that social interaction makes people feel safer and calm their nerves. Group studying can work the same way. Studying alone can be an anxiety-inducing activity, especially if we’re seriously behind, but studying with a group could help calm the nerves too. The sense of “all of us are suffering together” makes things a little less painful and nerve-racking. Working with a group to solve a bunch of problems is a lot less daunting than working along to solve a bunch of problems.

When we study in groups, we get to teach each other. The opportunity to teach others is one of the most powerful study methods at our disposal. Teaching to our group mates puts us in the role of “expert” and it is from that place where we confront the gaps in our knowledge.

This happens to me with tutoring all the time. There are two possible outcomes when I try to teach something – I either teach it flawlessly or I don’t and realize that I don’t understand something. The best part is that if I mess up teaching the concept, the less I mess it up in the future. Honestly, it’s embarrassing, stressful, and painful to teach something that we don’t understand and that negative emotion gives a strong enough jolt to make me remember all the things I didn’t know the next time I have to teach. It’s kind of like putting our hand on a hot stove, the pain helps us remember.

Drawbacks of Group Studying

Studying in groups can be extremely powerful, but that’s not at a price.

With groups comes a higher chance to get distracted. All it takes is 1 person to derail the whole group. The group is only as strong as it’s the weakest link. This isn’t to say that all groups are distracting, some groups could offer a perfect study environment but that has to be intentioally selected for.

Groups are also less flexible when it comes to studying schedules. We risk spending too much or too little time on concepts which is an inefficient use of our time. Additionally, we can only study when EVERYONE’S schedule allows for it, which drastically limits convenience. A certain time may be optimal for everyone’s schedules, but that time may not be optimal for studying. I recommend scheduling study sessions during the hours you feel the most alert, for me that’s around 11 am – 2 pm. Knowing thyself is key here, as with most things.

One last point, including more people tends to make systems run slower, be mindful of that when picking groups.

When it’s Best to Study in Groups

“In the crowd one feels no responsibility, but also no fear.”

Carl Jung (Archetypes & The Collective Unconscious)

Here are a few things to look out for when determining if we should study in a group:

If our classmates are high performers and highly motivated, a study group could be the difference between success and failure. I’ve had study groups with struggling students, average students, and high achieving students and I can say that without a shadow of a doubt that studying with the high performing students gave me better results than the other two groups. Be cautious of groups if other people tend to distract you more than motivate you. Know thyself is the most useful piece of advice here. If other people motivate you more than distract you, then go for it. Sometimes our classmates can help keep us focused when we get distracted.

Additionally, it has been proven that it is easier to recall information through discussions because the conversations allow us to make multiple connections to the information. The multiple connections we create make the recall easier. Study groups are great for having a discussion about a concept or idea.

I recommend group studying when we are comfortable with a subject. If there isn’t much deep work to be done, groups are a fantastic way of studying more efficiently, However, if there’s a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done I suggest studying solo or with one other person.

What to Look for in Study Partner (or group)

There are a few things I like to keep in mind when looking for people to study with —

  1. Make sure that they are looking for the same type of study partner. They have to be able to match our needs as we can match theirs. Some questions to ask can be: How often will we be studying? What kind of studying will be do – more learning or more reviewing? Will it be online or in-person? Are they someone we can easily communicate with? Are they someone who is mindful and respectful of our time as well as their own?
  2. Make sure that they have a similar study plan and test date. This is easy if someone is in the same class as us, but not so easy for standardized tests where people have different dates and times. If they have a different test date than us, then they will inevitably have a different study plan and our time together may not be as constructive as it would be if we had to same test dates. A test coming up in 2 days requires a different strategy than a test coming up in 2 months.
  3. Make sure they have complementary or similar struggles. This is the best way to utilize group studying. Refer to the first quote I put at the beginning of this post. We get an opportunity to learn from our classmates when we surround ourselves with people who understand the concepts that we don’t. In my experience, if a student understands a concept proficiently, they can explain it to a fellow student better than a professor. Additionally, if they have similar struggles, then we can spend most of our time tackling the things we don’t know together.
  4. Make sure they have similar study habits. Maybe they like silence and we like some chill lo-fi in the background. Maybe they like larger groups and we like smaller ones. Maybe they prefer to study in the afternoon and we prefer to study at night. Paying attention to our own habits allows us to understand what we need to create our own optimal study environment.
  5. Make sure they are someone that you can share resources with. They should be knowledgeable in efficient and effective study techniques, (and if they aren’t then share my content with them so they can be) so they can teach us new methods or whatever else they learn. I showed my girlfriend Anki when she was studying for her MCAT and she showed me Anki plug-ins, which brings active recall to a whole new level.
  6. Make sure they can motivate you and keep on on track. It’s easier to hold ourselves accountable when we have partners. They can lift us up when we’re feeling down and keep us on the straight and narrow.
  7. Make sure that they are comfortable to be around. This helps us with actually asking for help when we’re stuck. When I’m tutoring my students, I try to make the environment as comfortable as possible because I know that we’re spending most of our time together working on something that makes them feel inadequate or is at least proof of their incompetence. These things are impossible to work on if we aren’t comfortable.

Bottom Line

I’ve had study groups save me, like my first exam for O-chem 2. I wouldn’t have studied anything that my group was studying, but thank God I did because all of that stuff was on the test. But I’ve also had study groups sink me, like in P-chem. I studied for my 2nd P-chem exam with a group of peers that I share multiple classes with. We studied for hours and hours but when it came to testing day, we all got D’s.

Group studying and solo studying — one isn’t inherently better than the other. Their benefits only shine through once we know what we want.

Determining the superior method depends on what we want to accomplish.

If there is a lot of work to catch up on I recommend studying solo or with 1 other person. If we’re more comfortable with the material and just have to focus on review, then groups are a fantastic option.

I’m a little bias because most of the powerful study techniques I talk about don’t require groups, but circumstances change and it’s better to be educated about the options so we can pivot rather than just picking one side and brute-forcing it.

Know what works best for you in terms of study techniques and do that. If you prefer flashcarding alone, do it. If you prefer discussion groups, do it.

The bottom line — get those neurons firing.

The Hero of Heroes: Marduk vs. Tiamat & The Significance of Speech

“A problem well put is half-solved.”

John Dewey (1859 – 1952)

An Invisible World

In my last post, I bring up the idea of analyzing hero myths for commonalities in order to find traits that would bring us success in any pursuit we choose.

What a mouthful.

I specifically brought up The Osiris Myth and how that story illustrates the power of attention. This post is going to focus on another powerful aspect of the hero of heroes, speech.

Similar to attention, speech is highly overlooked.

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, renowned Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, provides a beautiful timeline of history. It starts from matter and energy appearing marking the dawn of physics and takes us all the way to the present and into a potential future. In this timeline, we see different human species appear and either evolve or die out. Obviously, we know how this story ends. Us, the homo sapiens, end up dominating the planet.

But why? What makes homo sapiens the dominant human species?

Harari argues that is it our unique ability to communicate through complex language. Homo sapiens were the only human species that were capable of communicating on a massive scale. That gives us a huge advantage over the other species. That combined with our unprecedented cognitive abilities makes us the most powerful creatures on earth.

Everything we do on this planet is created by us and our ability to communicate through complex language. Yuval talks about this idea of human beings living in two worlds simultaneously; the real tangible world and the “imaginary” world of conversation. I like to think of this “imaginary” world as the world of conversation, speech, or logos rather than “imaginary.” Referring to this world as imaginary carries implications that it’s not real. If anything, the world of conversation is more real than the tangible world.

From my experience and observations, unless overridden by conscious free will, the human being primarily lives in the world of conversation. We experience our lives as a narrative, a conversation, but we also create things external to us in that conversational world.

Let me explain using businesses as an example.

Businesses in society are not physical entities, but a conversation we are having with one another.

In Sapiens, Harari brings up Google to illustrate this point. If we were to destroy the Google headquarters, would Google disappear? No, it wouldn’t because we could rebuild it.

If we replaced all the people who worked for Google with a whole new batch of people, would Google disappear? No, not really. It might be a different company, but it could still very well be Google as we know it.

This little thought experiment is fun because it highlights the fallacies in thinking that we live in a purely physical and tangible world. Google exists in the world of conversation and because of that, we could destroy the things that represent Google in the real world, and Google could still exist.

I argue that the conversations that we’re apart of matters much more than where we are in the physical world. I’ve seen happy people in terrible places and I’ve seen miserable people in beautiful places. What determines their happiness or misery is the conversation they’re in.

People live in conversations.

Businesses are conversations. Relationships are conversations. Jobs are conversations.

Sometimes we add tangible symbols to keep the conversation boundaries clear in the physical world. We see this in things like wedding rings or uniforms. Nothing changes physically when someone gets married, but we all understand that there’s still a huge transformation that takes place. When someone changes from fiance to wife or husband, there’s a transformation in the conversation & the way we act changes along with that conversation. We symbolize that change in the physical world with wedding rings, marriage certificates, and other things.

When my girlfriend and I first started dating, nothing changed physically, but we started changing how we behaved because things have changed in the world of conversation.

The same thing happened when I became an EMT. Nothing changed physically, except maybe a few neural pathways. I was physically the same person, but the conversation I participated in was different.

We create the world with our language. Change the conversation, change the world.

I know this idea seems a little extreme, but it seems like the Mesopotamians understood this as well.

Speech

Tiamat and Marduk

This story depicts how the Mesopotamians believed the world came to be and the origins of the first men. It’s one of the oldest stories known to man and it is filled to the brim with powerful and timeless lessons. I’ll be interjecting with some analysis in italics throughout the story.

It begins with Tiamat, the goddess of saltwater, and Apsu, the god of freshwater coming together in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to create the world, Mesopotamia.

Tiamat is more than just the goddess of saltwater, she is also the mother of everything and the goddess of Chaos. Together, Tiamat and Apsu populated Mesopotamia with young gods.

Chaos & Order. The Anima & Animus. Tiamat & Apsu

Tiamat is the archetypical representation of the anima. She is the chaos from which life springs and Apsu is the penetrative decisive force necessary to keep them alive. In some ways, Apsu is the archetypical old wise king, the positive masculine, and the animus.

There are also representations of Tiamat and Apsu drawn as serpents wrapped around each other and look eerily similar to DNA. How the Mesopotamians knew that is way beyond me.

As time goes on, the young gods become troublesome and begin to act recklessly. One night, the young gods disturb Apsu while he’s sleeping. In his frustration, Apsu tells Tiamat that they need to destroy the younger gods because they weren’t acting properly. Tiamat disagrees with Apsu and urges to protect the young gods, but it was too late. Ea, (a god of knowledge, mischief, and sweet water) discovered Apsu’s plan to destroy the young gods and sends him into an eternal sleep, death.

Naturally, the younger generations start acting in ways that the judgemental farther (animus archetype) does not approve of. Apsu doesn’t believe his creations are bringing order to the chaos, judges them accordingly, and wants to destroy them as a result. Not surprising considering that the animus archetype either protects or destroys. Of course, like any good mother, Tiamat strives to protect her children (a hallmark anima trait) but in the end, the young gods end up destroying Apsu, the order of the old.

Younger generations are constantly looking to understand the world around them and older generations are constantly working to give them answers. The issue arises when the younger generation doesn’t see the value in the old ways. Perhaps the old ways of doing things are outdated and need to be changed. Perhaps the new ways of doing things aren’t the best and the young people who practice these methods are doomed to repeat mistakes of the past. Either way, there is a mismatch between the young and old and it almost always results in the young destroying the old ways.

So what happens when we destroy what our predecessors have given us?

Chaos reigns.

Tiamat hears of Apsu’s death and is furious. She creates an army of monsters to destroy the young gods in retribution for the death of Apsu. She places Qingu, one of the few gods she trusts, as head of the army and gives him the Tablet of Destinies to wear as a breastplate. The Tablet of Destinies was the story of the world and what was written on the tablet is what happened. Because of this, the tablet gave Qingu immense power.

Tiamat’s rage echos themes of flood myths that can be found all over the world. In most cultures, you can find a myth of a great flood wiping out the world. In this story, Tiamat doesn’t necessarily drown the world but she is the goddess of chaos and saltwater and her will is to destroy the world because it has become too corrupt.

The young gods are terrified of Tiamat’s wrath and know that they cannot defeat her despite their powers, so they elect a champion, Marduk, to fight on their behalf. Marduk had eyes all around his head and could speak magic words. He was the only god who was brave and strong enough to take on this battle. He made a deal with the younger gods and told them that if he defeated Tiamat, then they must make him king of the gods and give him the Tablet of Destinies.

Marduk, the hero of the gods, the only opportunity to overcome chaos, harnesses the power of attention and speech.

I think this idea is so powerful. The only way we can have a fighting chance to triumph over chaos is through our attention and speech.

Also, the younger gods are also willing to give him the Tablet of Destinies if he can defeat chaos. How cool? The hero that uses their powers of attention and speech to overcome chaos, will determine what happens in the world. The will of the hero can surpass the will of the gods, so to speak. The hero will no longer be under the influence of the gods and can create the world in his image.

So Marduk went to war. He armed himself with a net and a sword. The battle was long and difficult. The more Marduk would attack Tiamat the stronger she became. She grew more monstrous with every swing of his sword. Tiamat takes the form of a dragon and begins destroying everything around her, but Marduk doesn’t quit. Eventually, he catches Tiamat in his net and chops her into pieces.

Marduk vs. Tiamat

From her body, Marduk creates the sky and the earth. From her blood, he creates the first man tasked to be servants of the gods with the responsibility to maintain order and keep chaos at bay.

The Fall of Tiamat

So Marduk, the hero, confronts chaos with his net and his sword. This is particularly interesting because this is similar to how we psychologically grasp the unknown. When we are confronted with something that we don’t know, we try to grab for a general understanding (the net), then learn the details in pieces (the sword). I like to use this idea to study better, creating a general knowledge frame to understand something then learning the details after makes learning really complicated concepts much more manageable. I talk about this in my post, Strategies of Better Studying (Part 3).

When Marduk when to war with Tiamat she grew stronger with every attempt to contain her and eventually began destroying everything around her. When we confront chaos, it will get ugly and things will be destroyed, but persistence will be the only way victory. Finding the balance to know which is tolerable destruction and which is irreparable damage is difficult, but solace can be found knowing that things will get ugly.

Notice how in the end humans are created from Tiamat (life; the anima) and the thing that harnesses attention and speech. I think this shows that the Mesopotamians noticed that a part of us, human beings, had powers like Marduk but was placed in bodies created from Tiamat.

I’ve also heard versions where the people were created from the blood of Qingu. I think that’s an interesting take on the story and also carries wisdom, but I’m not going to dive too deep into that here.

Not only were we created from the same thing that created everything else, but we were also tasked to serve the gods and mediate between chaos and order. This gave the Mesopotamians an understanding of why we felt controlled by things beyond us at times. Like jealousy or lust. The Mesopotamian gods represent a lot of what modern people would call emotional states. Carl Jung said when we stopped believing in the gods, we put them inside of us.

It is also our job to be like Marduk and maintain the balance between chaos and order. If we do, we get to be like Marduk. Access to the Tablet of Destinies and be king of the gods. This is an idea I think the Mesopotamians really captured well: the hero who maintains a proper balance between chaos and order will determine what happens in the world and will not unwillingly fall to the influence of their emotions or primal instincts.


Similar to Marduk, human beings speak magic words. We use our speech to craft the world around us and it’s truly magical how it happens. What we say has a very real impact on the world as we know it. From the story, we know that the hero who harnesses speech and attention and willingly confronts chaos gets to determine what happens. This is a powerful lesson, but that leaves us with an important question:

What does it mean to harness speech?

I don’t have a clear cut answer, but I think it’s something like understanding that there is immense power in what we say but to take it further and to use that power to confront potential and bring about our will.

Harnessing speech requires a focusing of attention on our language.

How we phrase things is how we understand them.

Harnessing speech involves practicing multiple iterations of phrasing ideas while refining the meaning more accurately each time.

Harnessing speech involves practicing specificity.

From my experience, whenever I’ve experienced frustration or irritation, it comes from a lack of specificity or too much generality. For example, when I was first working on my YouTube channel I was frequently frustrated because there were so many little decisions to make. I had no idea where to start and the whole thing seemed like a terrible idea.

But then I started writing down the issues down one by one. What’s the font for my brand? What is my logo? What are the structures to the beats? What are my upload days? What genre of music am I making?

Slowly, the task became less and less frustrating.

I had to focus and articulate the chaos into something small and actionable.

Once I started doing that, there was another layer of specificity. What font size should I use? What are my brand colors? What are the titles of the videos I’m uploading? What time am I uploading?

I felt like Marduk throughout the whole process — slowly cutting the chaos into smaller and smaller pieces using my speech. The way we overcome chaos is through using our language to break up the overwhelming monster into manageable pieces.

So this poses the question: if the Meopotampians meant this, then why didn’t they just say it?

Again, not a perfect answer but I think it’s because language development is a long and difficult process. The Mesopotamians saw this lesson. They knew it to be true. But they could not say it outright because we, as a human race, did not have enough iterations to be able to clearly spell out that message. We can today because we’ve had thousands of years to be able to retell the story, refining the message with every rep.

This also mirrors the battle between Marduk and Tiamat. The battle was long, but after a while, Marduk was able to capture the Tiamat (chaos, the unknown) and chop it up. The Meopotampians captured this idea, so to speak, but we have been able to chop it up and understand it on a deeper and clearer level.

Over time, messages from the great myths become clearer and clearer, provided that the ones confronting the unknown are harnessing their powers of attention and speech in a responsible and constructive way.

I’ve seen this to be true in writing too. The age-old phrase that I’m learning to accept captures it perfectly — writing is rewriting. I used to think that writers just wrote down whatever they wanted to write the first time through, but I’m starting to see that there are significant differences between the first iteration of something and the 10th or 20th.

I try to embrace the idea and use it to write my blog. I usually write something that barely makes any sense at first, then I try to make it clearer with each rewrite.

This blog post literally started as “Mesopotamian God Story – the being that confronts chaos is the thing that chooses the destiny – articulation – logos – speech.” As you can see, I’ve fleshed it out a bit more.

Another place I’ve seen this idea is in Napoleon Hill’s fantastic book, Outwitting the Devil. It’s on my Must-Read Book List. In his book, he talks about the importance of definitive purpose and how it is what separates the drifters from the non-drifters. The act of defining purpose is a form of harnessing speech. Defining purpose requires us to use language to carve out exactly what we want from the unknown. Creating or defining purpose is a great way to get people to consciously grab hold and actively participate in the world of conversation, especially if they don’t have the vocabulary to do so.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that our brains have systems for dealing with environments that they don’t understand, I talk a little about this in my post The Brain vs. The Mind (Part 1). These systems in our brains are primarily associated with negative emotion. We experience negative emotion when we find ourselves in places that we don’t know how to navigate (chaotic environments). When we’re in predictable environments, we experience positive emotion. Like the humans created in the story, we must manage the balance between chaos and order. We get access to positive emotion from confronting the chaos and turning it into order through harnessing speech and focused articulation.

This is something that I try to actively practice, especially in highly stressful or overwhelming times. Believe it or not, one great way to practice this is to create checklists. Whenever I feel like a challenge is too much to overcome, I emulate Marduk and chop the great dragon into little actionable tasks. This simplifies the situation, instead of trying to control for all the variables, my task becomes one easy thing — cross things off the list.

I recommend checking out The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. It’s a beautifully written piece on the hidden (an extremely underrated) powers of checklists. It’s really cool to see how using checklists can completely eradicate mistakes and move projects along faster. He also goes over what makes checklists effective and what makes them more trouble than their worth. Using checklists to practice harnessing speech is so powerful. Just keep in mind that more accurate articulation comes from multiple reps, the first checklists you make aren’t going to be very good.

When it comes to being an effective student, determining what you need to get accomplished or what you need to learn is a fantastic way to practice harnessing speech.

What we say creates who we are. We see this in jobs and our relationships with people. I try to make this known with my students — the only reason they see me as a tutor is that we agree that in the world of conversation, I am a tutor. There is nothing that’s physically different between me and them (except a few neural pathways). I find that this helps them feel like they could learn the material too, despite their failures in the past. It also humanizes me and makes me more relatable. When I’m tutoring I find that things run smoother if my student sees me as similar to them rather than some “math guy” who knows the answer all the time.

Our language plays such a huge role in the world we participate in. I don’t like to write about what people ought to do, but we should treat our powers of speech with respect and use it to build a better place for everyone.

“Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.”

Tim Ferriss (1977 – )
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Lifestyle

Personality and Trajectory (Part 2)

“No matter who you are, The Man does occasionally bend his ear to you even if his eyes are looking elsewhere, he does now and then condescend to listen to your demands and let you appear at his side. But you never think to listen to yourself, to bend your own ear to what you yourself have to say.”

Seneca (On the Shortness of Life)

In Personality and Trajectory (Part1), I brought up the idea of studying our personality in order to tailor our life trajectory. When we clearly understand what our personal preferences are, we could start to build an environment that compliments them. Since building something like a life trajectory is a massive undertaking, I recommend starting with a rough sketch of our preferences, so to speak, and refining it from there. In that post, I proposed using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a means of creating this rough sketch of our trajectory.

This post is mainly going to focus on The Big 5 Model, also known as the five-factor model (FFM) or the OCEAN model. It will provide descriptions of each dimension of personality according to the FFM, as well as what success would look like for people who score high or low in each particular dimension. I will also discuss how we can use The Big 5 Model to add on to and polish our pre-existing trajectory framework based on MBTI.

Before I really get into this, I recommend checking out Jordan Peterson’s Personality and its Transformations Lecture Series. It’s free on YouTube and it’s filled with everything you need to know about personality, how it transforms, and much much more. Jordan covers The Big 5 Personality Traits as well as other concepts related to psychology and philosophy.

The Big 5

This model of personality suggests that there are 5 main dimensions to human personality. Each dimension, or factor, was determined through a factor analysis applied to personality surveys. The factor analysis was applied to the surveys to discern commonalities between descriptive words that people would use to describe themselves. This means that these experiments were based on semantic associations and not quantitative empirical data, however, no model of personality is perfect and knowledge of The Big 5 is extremely valuable for developing an even deeper understanding of our personalities.

Some critics of The Big 5 claim that 5 dimensions are not complex enough to capture a human being. While it is true that The Big 5 Model probably does not accurately capture a human being in its entirety, 5 dimensions do carry sufficient complexity to describe human behavior. Newtonian physics occurs in 3 dimensions (4 tops) and that’s enough to invite serious complexity. Add 2 more dimensions and we get the complexity of a human…sounds about right to me. 5 dimensions are plenty complicated, especially when we dive into how people’s personalities fit into these groups.

Another thing to keep in mind is, similarly to MBTI, these personality traits can fluctuate over our lifetime and that is okay. Humans are constantly growing and changing and personality goes along for the ride.

Our own personality should be one of the biggest factors when we are considering which choices to make when building our lives. If we’re high in extraversion, then we probably won’t want a job that sits us in front of computer screens all day with little social interaction. If we’re lower in conscientiousness, we wouldn’t want to be in a position of high power and authority because people are going to need things from us all the time and that would drive us crazy.

Before I get too ahead of myself.

The 5 dimensions of personality are:

  • Openness
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism
Percentage vs Percentile

FFM is measured by percentiles. This is not to be confused with the percentage. Let me give an example to make this clear. If someone were to score 90th percentile in extraversion, this would be mean out of 100 people they are more extraverted than 90 of them while being less extraverted than 9 of them. This does not mean that they are 90% extravert and 10% introvert, although that is a common interpretation.

All the traits are normally distributed, meaning most people are in the 50th percentile range while there are very few who score high or low.

Openness

Or to be more specific, openness to experience. This dimension explores how open-minded someone is. Openness can be broken up into six subcategories which are:

  • Active Imagination
  • Aesthetic Sensitivity or Artistic Interests
  • Awareness of Inner Feelings or Emotionality
  • Preference for Variety or Adventurousness
  • Intellectual Curiosity
  • Liberalism
Potential breakdown of openness expression

Openness can be expressed through any of these six categories but does not have to be in all of them. For example, one who is high in openness may express it through their heightened preference for variety, but may not have a particular aesthetic sensitivity. However, that same person will most likely have a higher aesthetic sensitivity than one who is less open.

People who are high in openness tend to be more liberal, have more imaginative sexual fantasies, and experiment with drugs or participate in other risky activities. What is novel is exciting to the open person. Open people also need to be creative, if they aren’t they lose their vitality quickly.

Openness has also been found to be positively correlated with intelligence. Right now, it’s unclear whether intelligence may predispose the individual to openness or if openness predisposes intelligence but nonetheless they are correlated. (McCrae and Costa, 1987).

People who are low in openness tend to be more conservative, don’t like trying new things, and enjoy routines. Closed individuals are less flexible than their open counterparts and tend to be more analytical.

Individuals who score low in openness may do well at jobs that don’t require creativity and involve routines. Individuals who score high in openness may do well at jobs that require creativity and flexibility. Success to the open person can look like large blocks of time for creative work and exploration while success to the closed person can be predictable and orderly environments.

Conscientiousness

This is one of the biggest predictors of long-term life success. People who score high in conscientiousness tend to be responsible, organized, hard-working, intentional, goal-oriented, self-disciplined, and serious. These are the types of people who would spend all day chopping down trees to build a cabin if you left them alone in a forest with an ax. Conscientious people tend to be in leadership positions along with earning more and better work relationships. These folks also love to plan things.

Similar to openness, conscientiousness can be broken up into the following six subcategories:

  • Self-Efficacy
  • Orderliness
  • Dutifulness
  • Achievement-striving
  • Self-discipline
  • Cautiousness
Potential breakdown of conscientiousness expression

Conscientiousness can be expressed through any of these categories, but not all. People high in conscientiousness tend to be great at self-regulation and impulse control. When taken to the extreme, conscientiousness is responsible for the “workaholics” and “perfectionists“. These types rarely miss bill payments, take notes, keep promises, and are punctual. They are less likely to engage in risky behavior. High scoring conscientious types also tend to keep to-do lists and attend to tasks with little delay.

People who are low in conscientiousness tend to be laid-back, less achievement-driven, and are more likely to commit anti-social or criminal behavior. Especially if they are paired with low agreeableness. Nonconscientious types are also more likely to oversleep, be late, or avoid tasks that demand action.

Success for conscientious people looks like the most conventional sense of the term. They would excel in high-powered positions with clearly defined rules. Their life would be full of routines and order. Clean environments where everything is in its place.

Success for nonconscientious types may look like surrounding themselves with automated actions and little external responsibility. They would probably excel in positions requiring creative work with a fair amount of flexibility, not the types of jobs that require someone to show up and act on a regular basis. They would prefer a little more chaos in their environments and would probably be bothered by too much order. Nonconscientious types would probably love having pets (as long as they are conscientious enough to take adequate care of them!).

Extraversion

This trait is the dimension of positive emotion and an indicator of how outgoing or social someone is. Highly extroverted types love to be around people, go to social gatherings, and work well in groups. They also tend to seek out the company of others, are enthusiastic, energetic, and action-oriented. These people are the life of the party and love being the center of attention.

The six subcategories which extraversion is expressed are as follows:

  • Friendliness
  • Gregariousness
  • Assertiveness
  • Activity level
  • Excitement-seeking
  • Cheerfulness
Potential breakdown of extraversion expression

Unlike MBTI, there is no introversion dimension. In The Big 5 Model, introversion is just the absence of extraversion. Kind of like cold from the scientific perspective. There is no cold, just the absence of heat.

People who score low in the extraversion dimension are commonly referred to as introverts. Introverts have less enthusiasm and energy than extroverts, are less involved in social activities, and tend to be quiet and keep to themselves.

Matching a job to our level of extraversion is crucial in building a satisfying life trajectory for ourselves. Higher scoring extraverts may want to go into jobs that need a high level of interaction like teaching, sales, nursing, PR, or other service jobs. Introverts may want to find jobs that allow them to work independently or don’t require much social interaction. Excellent jobs for that could be authors, librarians, engineers, music or video editors, or computer scientists.

Success to an extrovert would require them to nurture their relationships carefully so they can have people there to celebrate their big wins with them. Success to an introvert would require them to create plenty of opportunities for space for recharging in between their other activities.

We can’t talk about this dimension without talking about Ambiverts. These types are equal parts of extroverted and introverted. They don’t have preferences for working in groups or alone. They are not uncomfortable in social settings, but being around people can tire them out. They love being the center of attention, but only for a short time. Some people think they’re quiet, while others think they are social. They lose themselves in conversation just as easily as they can lose themselves in their own thoughts. Ambiverts tend to do extremely well in both personal and professional settings.

Agreeableness

This is the social harmony and cooperation dimension. High scorers of agreeableness tend to be friendly, self-sacrificing, warm, polite, helpful, considerate, and generous. They usually take the Lockean approach to human nature and believe that people are fundamentally good. Agreeable people see others as decent, honest, and trustworthy much like themselves. Agreeable people are more than willing to put aside their own interests for the good of other people or social harmony. In unhealthy doses, agreeable people could end up as pushovers.

Agreeableness can be expressed in these six subcategories:

  • Trust
  • Morality
  • Altruism
  • Cooperation
  • Modesty
  • Sympathy
Potential breakdown of agreeableness expression

People who are low in agreeableness are known as disagreeable and tend to put their own needs above those of others. They are also more distant, less friendly, and less cooperative than their agreeable counterparts. Highly disagreeable people tend to gravitate towards anti-social or criminal behavior.

Success to an agreeable person will have a lot of social cohesion. They would love to be surrounded by people who like them and are great at building teams and maintaining relationships. Some great careers for agreeable types include nurses, counselors, teachers, or HR specialists.

Success to a disagreeable person will have a lot to do with how they feel about their own desires. Since social harmony is not a big goal of disagreeable folks, their own interests will take that place. So a successful disagreeable person would be more satisfied with getting what they want at the cost of social cooperation than being tactful and considerate of others’ needs. Some great careers for disagreeable people include scientists, critics, or soldiers.

Neuroticism

This dimension determines our susceptibility to negative emotion. Negative emotion being anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, depression, worry, or loneliness, not negativity. Highly neurotic individuals tend to respond worse to stressors and interpret them as more severe than they are. People who score highly in neuroticism have a harder time remaining emotionally stable and balanced. People who are high in neuroticism feel negative emotion faster and more intensely than less neurotic types. They are emotionally reactive and tend to give emotional responses to situations that normally wouldn’t affect many people. Highly neurotic types tend to be self-conscious, shy, and have trouble controlling urges or delaying gratification.

The six sub traits of neuroticism are as follows:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Self-consciousness
  • Immoderation
  • Vulnerability
Potential breakdown of neuroticism expression

Individuals who score low in neuroticism are known as emotionally stable. People with lower levels of neuroticism are desired in most professions because they tend to get less distracted by work, their personal lives, or other stressors.

High levels of neuroticism are associated with a higher risk of mental illness and less favorable results on measures of health and relationships. However, neuroticism provides a higher sensitivity to potential threats which is a useful survival mechanism. People with high levels of neuroticism also learn faster than their emotionally stable counterparts. I talk a fair bit about the utility in experiencing negative emotion in my post The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2). We learn faster when we experience negative emotion and since neurotic types are more sensitive to negative emotion, they experience this sooner.

The knowledge of our own sensitivity to negative emotion is critical when examining the potential realities in front of us. Fairly neurotic types may want to consider that they don’t work well under pressure and plan ahead so their work can be done at a leisurely pace. Emotionally stable types may not have to exercise that type of consideration, but may keep in mind they would be fantastic for high-pressure careers like firefighting or surgery.

Methods of Identifying Personality

All of this knowledge is great, but how do we determine exactly where we land on each dimension?

There are multiple methods with some being more accurate and precise.

The easiest is taking a test while in a neutral psychophysiological state. There are tons of resources online. I recommend understandmyself.com. Make sure you are as neutral as possible. Don’t take the test upset, tired, or hungry. On the flip side, also don’t take it if you are happy, excited, or anxious! This knowledge is crucial to take into account when we plan our futures including study schedules, career goals, relationship choices, and other life plans.

Be sure to keep in mind that personality, especially since there are no flawless models, is just a starting point when it comes to designing a life trajectory. Paying attention to our inclinations is a promising way to know what kind of life fits us best. Knowing ourselves takes time because we have multiple levels all working together like an orchestral symphony. Personality is a great starting point for building a foundation for the knowledge and cultivation of our inclinations. People like Steve Jobs or Robert Greene achieved the levels of success they had because they took the time to get to know themselves and cultivated their personal interests.

Knowing ourselves intimately gives us access to deep satisfaction that we couldn’t get anywhere else. I was lucky enough to have parents support my inclination in music at a young age. I got to explore my love for music and the deeper I got, the more I fell in love with it.

Fast forward to post-college where I am forced to deal with the realities of life and decide what my life will mean, I learn that I’m high in trait openness. From my own analysis and reflection, I discovered that long periods of time where I can be creative will satisfy my openness appetite. Combining the knowledge of these two ideas, I spend years slowly molding my schedule into one that provides me ample time to be creative. Today, I can say with 100% certainty that it gives me inner peace and a pure sense of satisfaction to have connected with something deep within me. Getting to know ourselves is truly the best way to spend our time. It enriches every aspect of our existence.

Another method of identifying personality is writing an autobiography. Now, this doesn’t have to be some thick book. It could be short with just a few paragraphs. There are no rules for writing the autobiography other than you have to write it yourself. The real meaning lies in what we write and not how much we write. This method is less quantitative than the online exams but could offer deeper insights.

Articulating the past is helpful because we can clearly see how we understand the past. We can stand back, look at the picture as an outsider, and make sound judgments about what we think, or feel, or know.

Writing an entire biography is difficult, so to make it a little more manageable, just start by breaking our life story up into 5 epochs. The way in which we divide up our lives gives us a hint into what we value. For example, when I last did this exercise I noticed that my epochs were based on what my main occupation was at the time. This particular division suggests my proclivity towards high conscientiousness. The time before last, I split my life up by which people I spent the most time around, which can suggest my agreeable tendencies.

Write your story and see how you know yourself. It can be very interesting to examine our lives through our own eyes.

Relationships

The world of personality research has given us a wealth of knowledge that we can use to better understand ourselves and others. Relationships regarding personality are not blanket statements about any specific group of people. There will be exceptions in every case. For example, women tend to be more agreeable than men but that does not mean there are no agreeable men or disagreeable women.

One personality relationship worth paying attention to is between gender differences. Across cultures, women tend to report higher levels of neuroticism, conscientiousness, agreeableness, friendliness (extraversion subset), and emotionality (openness subset). Men, on the other hand, typically report higher levels of assertiveness (extraversion subset), and adventurousness (openness subset). There is much overlap between men and women except for the difference in neuroticism, which is the biggest and most prominent difference in these self-reported studies.

Each of these traits has been believed to have evolved out of survival. However, success in the modern world and survival in the wild require different abilities and skills. Agreeableness, for example, is great for caring for infants. That’s why we choose to take care of them if they’re crying at 3 in the morning rather than throw them out the window. However, agreeableness isn’t so great for moving up the corporate ladder. Sure we need some agreeableness to cooperate with everyone, but we need to be disagreeable enough to fight for opportunities and look out for our own interests. All of these traits are useful for survival, but not in the modern world. Some of them can do more harm than good, I talk a little bit about that in my post The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2).

There are also trends with personality and birth order. Frank Sulloway, an American psychologist best known for his work on birth order personality research, argues that firstborns are higher in conscientiousness and lower in openness than their later-born siblings. He also argues that firstborns are more socially dominant. There have been other studies conducted that have fallen in line with Sulloway’s claims, but with a small correlation.

There are some correlations between personality and substance abuse as well. The personality profile of a typical heroin user would be low in neuroticism, high in openness, low in agreeableness, and low in conscientiousness. The personality profile of a typical ecstasy user would be high in extraversion, high in openness, low in agreeableness, and low in conscientiousness.

There are also connections between personality and health. Research has found that being high in conscientiousness can add 5 years to your life and being high in neuroticism is related to less favorable health outcomes. People who report high levels of conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness tend to have lower risks of mortality as well. It seems like it pays off to try to be conscientious, extroverted, and open.

Here are some connections between academic achievement and personality. Conscientiousness is predictive of GPA and exam performance. Students who report higher levels of conscientiousness and agreeableness tend to have higher GPAs and exam scores. Those who report higher levels of neuroticism tend to have less desirable academic outcomes.

Personality can also be a predictor of job performance. This is partly why I suggest using personality to help shape our life trajectory. We are more likely to enjoy jobs that we would excel in. People who excel in leadership positions are perceived to have low levels of neuroticism and high levels of openness while maintaining balanced levels of conscientiousness and extraversion. Studies have found that employees are less likely to view their supervisor’s actions as abusive if they consider their supervisor to be high in conscientiousness.

Professional burnout is highly correlated with high levels of neuroticism. People who report higher levels of agreeableness tend to make less money than their disagreeable counterparts.

Conscientiousness is the biggest predictor of overall job performance, the higher the conscientiousness the better their performance. Extraversion is the 2nd biggest predictor of overall job performance, the higher the extraversion the better their performance. Agreeableness and Neuroticism are tied for 3rd, lower levels of each being tied to higher performance.

Research on how the individual traits affected individuals and organizations at work found that individuals (or organizations of individuals) who are higher in openness are more proactive with tasks but less organized and proficient. Both of these effects are mutually exclusive. Those who are more agreeable tend to be less proactive with tasks. Those who are higher in extraversion are, on average, less proficient at tasks. Those who are high in conscientiousness tend to relate positively in all forms of work performance. Highly neurotic types tend to relate negatively to all forms of work performance.

In romantic relationships, personality could predict satisfaction and relationship quality during the various stages of a romantic relationship.

Dating couples’ studies suggest that people will have higher relationship satisfaction and quality if they see their partner with lower levels of neuroticism and higher levels of conscientiousness as well as see themselves with higher levels of conscientiousness.

Engaged couples’ studies suggest that relationship satisfaction and quality are higher among those who report their partner as high in openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness and lower in neuroticism. Satisfaction and quality are also higher for those who report themselves as higher in extraversion and agreeableness. Neuroticism predicts worse relationship satisfaction and quality for both self-reported and partner-reported studies.

Married couples, on the other hand, demonstrate higher levels of relationship satisfaction and quality when self-reporting higher levels of neuroticism, extraversion, and agreeableness as well as partner-reported agreeableness.

Personality can also show up with people’s political identification, but not with all 5 traits. People who are higher in conscientiousness tend to be more conservative, while people who are higher in openness tend to be more liberal. The other three traits have not been found to be linked to preferred political ideology.

Personalities are subject to change as our lives move and one of the traits the changes the most with age is neuroticism. Research has found that neuroticism tends to decrease with age and after major life events.


Similar to MBTI, The Big 5 has a few critiques as well. While The Big 5 is more based on empirical evidence, it is still limited in its predictive power and does not accurately encompass all of the human personality. However, it’s one of the best models we have and that doesn’t mean that we can’t use it to our advantage.

Since there is more research related to the Big 5, we can use what rings true from The Big 5, MBTI, our personal experiences, and other sources to clearly articulate our preferences. We can use everything we know about personality to create a more refined way of determining our life trajectory. Keep in mind which traits you have and how they will change and use that knowledge to inform your choices when you choose what you do for work, who you marry, where you live, and why you do what you do.

While it’s great to tailor our life trajectory to our personalities, that does not mean we should avoid exposing ourselves to the opposites of our preferences. Wisdom is always on the other side of what we are.

“Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you – more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.”

Carl Jung (1875-1961)