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Lifestyle

How I Found My Way Back

“But a man soon discovers that everything depends upon his being useful, not in his own opinion, but in the opinion of others; and so he tries his best to make that favorable impression upon the world, to which he attaches such a high value.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Wisdom of Life)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts that I found while reading Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans, which is on my Must Read Book List. I love the open endedness of this prompt because it allows me to take this wherever I want. This post is going to be more personal than my other posts, but I think the lessons are solid and should be shared.

So if I’m going to write about how I found my way back, then I need to write about where I was and how I got lost in the first place.

A few days ago, I was cleaning out some old drawers in my childhood room that haven’t been opened for years. I found a little certificate that said “Congratulations on reading 143 books in one year!”

I was immediately thrown back to my childhood. Images of little Chris just reading like mad. I remember my mom bringing me to the library every week with a laundry basket that we would fill up with books. I loved reading so much, but somewhere between kindergarten and senior year, I lost it. I actually hated it. I hated it so much that I would do anything to avoid reading. I carried this with me to college and I even majored in engineering just so I could read the minimum number of books to get a degree. (That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one).

Flashforward to today. I love reading again. I read every day and it’s always the highlight of my day. Part of my personality is creating my own version of whatever I’m consuming and now I read so much that I want to write a book of my own one day. Actually multiple books! Now, I have a blog and I’m taking steps every single day to make my books a reality.

The best part, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, is that I feel connected to who I authentically am and an inner peace that could not be found anywhere else. The ability to exercise my highest faculties and dedicate my will and time to projects that reflect the parts of me that I make me proud is, for lack of a better term, God’s work.

This doesn’t just stop with writing. This also goes for making music! I used to make music every single day. Every chance I had to strum my guitar I would take. I completely identified with it, but somewhere in college I lost that too. I felt like making music was taking me away from the things I “should” be doing and that the talents and passion for music was a distraction and a burden to wrestle with. I felt guilty making music and wrong for wanting to make it a huge part of my life. But today, I am back. I make more music than ever and it sounds way better too! Now, I put most of my stuff on my YouTube channel!

I lost myself. I lost who I was. I rejected who I wanted to be.

I took a step back. I found him again. I love this person and can see what he has to bring to the table.

I had to take a step back for about a year to sift through and separate the wheat from the chaff. I had to accept that there are ways of being and knowledge I couldn’t ignore.

I lost my way because I was tired of doing “what was right” and I wanted to do “whatever I wanted.” My dumbass at the time couldn’t even clearly articulate what it was that I wanted.

I ignored the knowledge of good and evil. I completely subscribed to nihilism and hedonism. (While they are formidable philosophies, they are not comprehensive enough to lead a healthy life). I had my head so far up my ass I couldn’t recognize sunlight.

But then, I saw how it affected the people who looked up to me. I saw my students started thinking along the same lines as me. I saw the ones who look up to me copy what I said and did and how much damage they would create with those ways of thinking. It was disheartening, but it didn’t really get to me until I saw it in my sister. I saw how much she was copying what I did and how I think, and it scared the living daylights out of me. All the damage she created for herself (while less than the damage I caused) casted a bright light on the weight of my actions. I saw an iota of the impact that we have and how we truly cannot image the actual effects of our actions. I saw that everything I did mattered because they affect everyone else around me. My sins were not kept in a vacuum, but were observed, studied, and duplicated by others around me.

The heartbreak when I see my loved ones destroy the beauty of life shows me how it really does start with myself. As Schopenhauer said, people either act through traditions, customs, or imitation. If I don’t pay attention to my own actions and walk a path that I could be proud of, then the people who look up to me that I care will not either. The path I walk will be the path of others, but more importantly, I will be the path of others that I care for.

People don’t pay enough attention to how they act because we think that our actions only affect ourselves, but there’s a huge domino effect at play. I found my way back because I saw that we are all connected and took responsibility for it. Everything all of us does all the time matters because we affect other people.

Categories
Lifestyle

The Parable of the Slovenian Farmer

“You can be good today, but instead you choose tomorrow.”

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180)

Once there was a Slovenian farmer who worked on his farm. One day, a god-like figure approached the farmer and offered him a deal. The god-like figure says “I will do whatever you request to you, but whatever I do to you, I will do twice that to your neighbor.” The farmer thinks for a moment then replies, “Take one of my eyes.”


I originally heard this story from Slavoj Zizek, a Solvenian philosopher and researcher at the department of philosophy at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Arts, to explain his pessimistic view of human nature and how we will actively work for destruction of our kind.

The story is pretty short, but I was surprised by the ending. I didn’t expect the farmer to be willing to lose an eye to blind his neighbor. I knew that people were willing to hurt themselves to bring about their version of justice, but to lose an eye seemed too extreme for me.

Maybe the story needed a little background between the neighbors. Maybe it didn’t. Either way, I thought it was surprising that the farmer chose what he had but that led me to the question:

What would I have told the god-like figure?

I probably would not have chosen to hurt myself or my neighbor. I like to think that I would have requested something that brought us both prosperity and fulfillment.

But…after thinking about it longer I would want to be more specific. I couldn’t simply ask for $200,000,000 or an 8 bedroom house for my future family. Honestly, I would want something that benefitted my neighbor, but I also want to be able to benefit from their benefit. Is that selfish? Probably. But I think it’s more moral than telling the figure to take one of my eyes.

Assuming I didn’t have to answer the figure immediately (because it took me a while to think of this), I would probably tell him to give me a strong desire to take responsibility for everything in my life. If I were able to do this, I think I’d be able to effortlessly design my life, but better yet, my neighbor would be even more responsible than me! This means he would not only be living life by his design but also would be consistently helping me find ways to solve my problems! His benefit is my benefit.

If I did have to answer the figure immediately, I probably would have regretfully asked for the 200 mil or the big house. I heard somewhere that people are terrible at predicting what they would do in spontaneous situations. I think that’s true, but I believe that we are excellent at predicting our behavior if we have thought it through thoroughly before hand. So, if some god-like figure or God himself were to appear to me and ask me the same question, hopefully I’ll be prepared.

Categories
Lifestyle

A Letter to High School Me

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

Neil Gaiman (1960 – )

Dear ’09 Chris,

It’s 2019 and the last ten years have changed our lives more than we can imagine. Like seriously. Almost nothing you think will happen actually happens. The fact that I’m even writing something down (that isn’t a song) without someone forcing me seems like a straight up miracle.

At first, I thought writing a letter to the old me would be stupid. But now, I feel like doing this can:

  • help me straighten out my thoughts
  • maybe give you some advice (if time travel ever becomes real)
  • help other people who read this too.

I know you feel capable and smart but there are so many things you need to learn.

Chris, I’m not going to pull my punches because I know what hurts you and gets your attention.

You really can’t fathom the depths of your ignorance. This lack of knowledge is the reason why your life gets thrown off course time and time again.

Yes, you will be forced to walk the beaten path. It will hurt and it will be hard. Try not to be scared and please, for the love of God, don’t frantically try to figure out how to prevent it. The lessons you’d need to learn to prevent all of that pain can only be learned by going through it. That being said, you don’t retire at 24. You are not a doctor. You went to a state college. You work for almost minimum wage with really bad hours. You do not know enough to play the games of life well. You will enter a world where you must compete with people much smarter than you who have been playing the same game for much longer than you have. So listen up.

You will go through challenges that are harder than what most people have experienced and you will not be understood. You will have a hard time articulating what happened to you for years but the bright side is you are tough enough to get through it! And even better, you will turn all of that pain and hurt into such a positive force in the world that you will gain new insights on what it means to be successful and fulfilled. Do not be afraid of anyone and trust your gut. That’s the only way to do it.

I know I’m being super general and to be honest, you probably don’t have the attention span to read all of this but if you got this far then I’ll give you some actionable advice and some spoilers.

Stop worrying about your family. Everything that you are worried about today will either not matter in 2019 or will keep happening so learn to make peace with it. Dad won’t stop drinking no matter how many ultimatums you give him, but Mom learns to how to stop making it a bigger problem than it is. I know that sounds super weird but Mom and Dad start to become less like enemies and more like other adults you are on this planet with.

You will learn about their flaws and why they act the way they do and through this understanding you will find a new level of compassion.

Mom gets better with respecting your time and controlling her emotions, and you need to forgive her sooner than later.

It’s tough out here Chris, and you need to learn that it’s hard for everyone. Everyone.

I know you’re worried about losing loved ones to death because, well it’s natural to fear death. Don’t worry. Mom, Dad, and Madelynne will make it. You even get a dog! His name is Aries and he’s an interesting pup for sure. You will love him to death, after you accidentally abuse him. Grandma passes away at the beginning of 2011, so enjoy those weekly visits at the SNF (you’ll learn my lingo later) because one day they’ll end and it will be the last real unity of the Balanza Clan. After she passes the family fragments, but the important ones will stay in touch. Sean’s mom passes away during our junior year. This hits us hard because it’s the first time we lose a parental figure in our lives and boy does that put things in perspective. A few years later, Robbie’s dad will pass away. Yeah, Mr. Stowers will leave us early man. That death hits harder than any other so far. Cherish the times he rambles on, be respectful (as you always have been), and remember him for the generous and kind man that he was. You won’t ever let him know how grateful you are for him and when you get the chance you will be too overwhelmed to tell him. Try not to let that bother you so much. I know it’s hard though, because it still bothers me now. Try to celebrate his life and have a big fucking party.

Start to tell people exactly how you feel.

I say “start to” because it’s going to take years before you begin to effectively communicate half of what you really mean. Practice early and always strive to be better at communication.

You need to toughen up. You will aim too high and berate yourself when you don’t reach these peaks but Chris, the sad truth was you never had what it took to get there in the first place. You have the ability to get what it takes, but currently you are ill equipped to handle the world.

Do things that you don’t want to do. Find a joy in struggling. It is okay to fail. It’s actually good to fail! The fool is the precursor to the hero, so when you fall get back up.

Don’t quit IB. Don’t quit track. Apply for appeals when college admissions comes around (especially for UCI). There were like 3 or 4 other key choices I made in high school that really messed me up going forward. You’ll know them when they appear because you’ll experience a lot of friction when trying to do it and everyone will tell you it’s a bad idea. I know you’ll take those as signs that you have to do it, but you’re wrong. It’s tough to figure out when that’s true, I know.

Pay attention to who your friends are. I know they’ve been with you for years and they will stay with you for years, but many of them will betray you. I wish you could see the signs now. As for the ones who don’t betray you…you end up wronging in terrible ways. Either way, you lose almost all of the people who surround you now, the ones who you call “family.” It’s a painful loss, but a necessary one.

Keep toxic people out of your life and keep your toxicity away from others.

Be yourself and focus on the the love and approval of a few people.

It’s not all bad though.

So many amazing things happen too!

The next 10 years will have some of the best memories of your life. You’ll start a band….well LDT will break up and it’ll just be you and Zac. You’ll travel and meet amazing people. You’ll have insane adventures! You will feel so undoubtably alive.

Keep the creative spirit alive in you.

I kept it pushed down for a few years, for reasons you’ll understand later, but I found that it was not worth it.

If you are not being creative, you are dying.
Understand that about us. It’s a nonnegotiable.

Believe it or not, you will actually meet girls who like you back. You’ll get your heartbroken a few times but you’ll be in a few relationships too. You’ll end up in 3 relationships in the next ten years. Do better in the first two. They won’t work out, but they deserved better than how I treated them. The third relationship will be one of the best things that has ever happened to you. When you’ll meet her, you’ll instantly understand what I’m saying. She completes us and makes us better dude. Like way better. I’m still dating her now and things are pretty good.

Take time to learn about how to act in relationships and what it takes to build a strong foundation.

There’s so much I still want to tell you, but know we learn to love the things about ourselves that we hate so dearly. The things we are scared to show people are the things we probably should. It’s cheesy, but it’s worked out for me most of the time. Pay attention in class. You’ll need all of this useless information more than other people will. Oh yeah, your driver’s license is one of the best investments you’ll make so make sure you get that.

Be bold. Trust yourself. Don’t worry so damn much. Find joys in the experiences and opportunities in front of you. Don’t quit on yourself. You have a lot to offer, but a lot to learn. Push yourself further than you want to go.

Maybe things could work out a little better for you.

Best,

Christopher S. Mukiibi, 2019

Categories
Education Uncategorized

Why Education Matters

“A single day among the learned lasts longer than the longest life of the ignorant.”

Posidonius (135 BC – 51 BC)

When I was a little boy my parents taught me to highly value education because it can yield power, money, and a “good” life. But most importantly, value education because no one can take it away from you.

They taught me that my education was one of the most important investments I could ever make for myself.

Because no matter which path I chose, I must get educated. The musician’s education is in the stage. The baller’s education is on the court. The doctor’s education in the classroom and with patients.

As I got older, I saw that education is all of that and much much more.

Education is more than just memorizing y=mx+b or dates in a history class. Education is training yourself to take on a mission worth of your talents and inner greatness. It’s learning how to act when you come across something that you don’t understand or don’t want to do. It is, as far as I know, the key to freedom.

So I worked hard in school. I paid close attention. I took the AP and IB classes. I went to college. Majored in something practical. Graduated. I did what my teachers, counselors, and professors told me and my parents supported that. I wanted a great education and all of the things that came with it.

But when pop and circumstance faded out and everyone stopped comparing their post-college opportunities, a subtle disappointment shrouded the moment of reflection when I looked at my degree.

I felt like school has failed me and everyone else too. It was painful to admit, but getting the degree didn’t seem to help me prepare for the world. I was constantly presented with problems that I had no idea how to solve.

 School taught me nothing about:

  • how to apply for a mortgage
  • how to open up a 401(k) or Roth IRA
  • how to buy a car
  • how credit works
  • how to grocery shop
  • how to cook
  • how my own cognitive bias affects me
  • how to find good books
  • how to raise happy children
  • how to get to know myself
  • how to help family members struggling with money
  • how to cope with drug abuse
  • how to live purposefully
  • how to have honest conversations
  • how to be a professional
  • how to navigate our world in terms of the Internet
  • and so many other things!

I forreal could go one forever. I was so upset that I spent nearly two decades in school and came out with about 5 years worth of useful knowledge.

(Side note: while I felt like college didn’t provide me with a worthwhile education, it still grew me in ways that I would have never imagined and I’m so grateful for it. I was thrown in so many different situations [some crazier than most] and I had the opportunity to see the world from many different perspectives.)

I was so hurt when I realized that I was not let down by my teachers but by the momentum of my culture. I was set up for failure and the generation before me couldn’t have seen it coming and prepared me for it.

The world has been changing faster than any other time in human history and the people responsible for teaching me how to act properly had no idea how to do it.

They were responsible for teaching me something that they had no idea how to navigate themselves. Sounds like a lose-lose situation.

In their time, the way to success was through a formal education. While a formal education still has its value, there are many things to consider now with the change of times.

There is a fundamental flaw in the structure of our schools.

School schedules mimic the hours of a typical 9 to 5 job:

  • Start in the AM.
  • Take your 10 minute break roughly 2-3 hours in
  • Patiently wait for the arbitrarily divided units of time to pass….
  • Lunch around the 5th hour.
  • Continue to patiently wait for the arbitrarily divided units of time to pass…
  • Go home.
  • Repeat.

Why?

During the industrial revolution, the school systems were designed to educate as many people as possible in order to employ at the factories that were growing at massive rates. This meant the lil future factory workers got accustomed to their schedule early and were taught enough to function on an assembly line.

This system was effective, and it helped launch the United States of America into an even bigger revolution. There are many names for it (i.e. The Information Age, The Internet Revolution, The Age of The Internet Information Revolution), but what ever you want to call it, it is amazing. Today, not knowing something is a matter of choice. We have the ability to learn anything at any moment. We can know almost everything that everyone else knows. We have the ability to talk to anyone anywhere at anytime (for the most part). We can be anything and faster than ever.

The only problem (well, not the only problem) is that we have used the same educational system since the last revolution.

WE HAVE NOT UPDATED OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM SINCE THE LAST TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTION.

I’m not a history buff, but I’m pretty sure it takes a while before revolutions come about and in that while, WE HAVE NOT UPDATED OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM.

We need tools to deal with the new world and the new digital revolution. We need a way to teach adolescents how to build successful lives.

I believe that this responsibility fell onto the schools, but since they dropped the ball, the responsibility falls upon ourselves to go out and seek the education we need and deserve.

“The way you teach your kids to solve interesting problems is to give them interesting problems to solve. And then, don’t criticize them when they fail. Because kids aren’t stupid. If they get in trouble every time they try to solve an interesting problem, they’ll just go back to getting an A by memorizing what’s in the textbook. I spend an enormous amount of time with kids . . . I think that it’s a privilege to be able to look a trusting, energetic, smart 11-year-old in the eye and tell him the truth. And what we can say to that 11-year-old is: ‘I really don’t care how you did on your vocabulary test. I care about whether you have something to say.”

Seth Godin (1960 – )

Utilizing the resources at hand (a.k.a. the internet), I took it upon myself to fill in the gaps of my education in order to not just survive in the modern world, but to thrive in it.

Education is important but our current institutions are not fit in their current state to properly prepare the next generation to thrive.

Sooner or later, parents have to take responsibility for putting their kids into a system that is indebting them and teaching them to be cogs in an economy that doesn’t want cogs anymore. Parents get to decide…

Seth Godin (1960 – )
Jordan Peterson captures a few of the failings in the modern education systems. Starts around 2:23 ends at 5:08.

The truth is we are not going to change our schools overnight, and by no means am I suggesting for students to stop attending school. But, I believe the world and life can be an easier journey as long as we know how to deal with it.

School is an opportunity to train ourselves in the face of things we don’t want to do.

Why we do want to practice doing things we don’t want to do?

Because life is filled with those things. Ask anyone. It is so important to know ourselves as the type of people who can get things done, especially in tough times.

The road to anything worthwhile is filled with hurdles that you don’t want to jump.

˙ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd uı ǝƃuɐɥɔ ɐ ʇsnɾ ˙ʇɟıɥs ǝɯɐɹɟ ɐ s,ʇı

We should all aim to:

  • read well.
  • write well.
  • think critically.
  • develop our characters.
  • build our best selves.

But our education can’t stop there. I honestly believe everyone should go out and find their own education.

Be disciplined and curious. Don’t stop until you get an answer that satisfies your hunger.

It’s a difficult task but it’s a beautiful journey (and fun too) and I want to help you do that.

If we don’t know where to start we can look to all of the great works that our culture has considered to be great and form our own opinions. Writer, Seth Godin, gives two starting points:

I think we need to teach kids two things: 1) how to lead, and 2) how to solve interesting problems. Because the fact is, there are plenty of countries on Earth where there are people who are willing to be obedient and work harder for less money than us. So we cannot out-obedience the competition. Therefore, we have to out-lead or out-solve the other people. . . .

Seth Godin (1960 – )

It’s my dream that one day there will be actual programs and establishments to help guide youth from being good students to great leaders (I’m trying to build them). But until then, we must make the best of our situations and take charge of what we know.

We can turn this revolution into a second Enlightenment, or at least something similar, in the sense that everyone is synthesizing massive volumes of information and transforming the world for the better. I honestly believe that a person can accomplish what Leonardo da Vinci accomplished in his lifetime in less than 15 years with today’s resources.

But we use most of it for consumption. It’s really a damn shame. We have the means to create a beautiful new world in a way that has never been done before. I want everyone to bring out their inner da Vinci and I believe the way is through a proper education.

Everyone can be like da Vinci, but better. Education unlocks our potential and I hope my content can help at least one person see the true power of education.