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The near future

Posted on 2015-12-14

Okay, this will be a long one. Also boring and pretentious. But the main reason why I have a homepage is not for others to read it. I want to look at this a few years from now and recall how past me thought about things. You may now stop procrastinating and go work (you know you should).

A human life is roughly like 80-90 years long (Google says 78.08 for Czech Republic). That may not sound all that short; you can get a lot of fun done in that time. However, consider the following:

Gist on GitHub

See the red dot above? That’s today. The yellow part is all of my previous life. The white part is the future. Roughly 55 years for me. What do I do about the white part?

About a third of it is sleep. Most people spend a significant part of the rest working. Lately, I have been asking people about what do they do, whether do they like it, and why do they do it. Most people do something not very exciting, they might not like their jobs a lot, and they probably do things to get paid. They give a lot of their precious time to something they don’t care about so they can happily rest in their free time. They make money just so that they can pay their bills, so that their next day can be just the same. The next week, the next month, the next year.

I think there’s probably no god and that your 80-90 years are all you get. Whatever your definition may be, you want to do right thing. This takes time. You might need to compromise between doing the right thing and between trading your life for wages. Your work could end up boring, useless to the world, and it may even go against your principles. Your work could distract you from doing the good thing and expend your time and your precious soul.

I do not like that image at all. I want wonderful experiences. I want to help others. I want to engineer great things that will give my grandchildren’s grandchildren a sense of pride and hopeful feelings about humanity. I want deep and meaningful friendships. I want to shout “Fuck off!” at the Dragon Tyrant that eats people at the top of my lungs. I want my reminiscence over how well today went to shine in my mind as I drift to sleep. I don’t necessarily need to be a Turing or a Picasso. I want the people I knew to think “Yes, he was a good person and I miss him” when they recall me 80 years from now. I want to be happy.

I like the idea of “financial independence”. You can reasonably expect an investment in diversified stocks to net you a few percent of gains every year. Get a lot of money, and this few percent of it could maybe pay a third of your rent. And what if you get so much that it pays for all of it, and also for any other expenses you have? That is what you call “financial independence”. It’s a state of being independent on any outside money, which you would normally work for. What do you do, then? Anything. In particular, possibly the right thing. For me, it’s not just about buying my freedom: I want to have free resources to help others.

I think of the idea of working to pay for my life like a huge ball on a chain around my foot. I don’t know almost anything about what exactly do I want to do with my life, but I’m fairly sure that by definition it doesn’t include anything I don’t like. For about the last three years, I’ve been doing what I could to get this burden off my future self. I combine frugality with working consulting and development when I have time. Software development is a pretty low-cost profession with high payouts.

This summer, I was looking for jobs. I got offers from several excellent companies to join them in their San Francisco offices. In USA and in Silicon Valley in particular, the cash a software engineer can make is crazy. Financial independence-wise, accepting and moving there would be the right option to choose. Leaving my home behind, doing what I’m good at at places that appreciate it and saving up for 5-ish years would easily set me up for early retirement in Czech Republic.

I was excited to get the offers. I should have been overwhelmed with happiness and by this time next year, I should have been a productive member of a development team in San Francisco or Mountain View. But something was off.

For some reason, I felt sad thinking about it. Moving to America would turn my life inside out. I would put my master’s degree on hold and probably slow down my learning. I would become an immigrant in a foreign country. Some of my old friends might be in touch every now and then, but most would eventually drift away into memories, unmoored by the distance. Visiting my family would become a venture spanning airports.

Sure, people change their life all the time. Moving is nothing uncommon. I have moved for both my high school and for my university and it was OK. It takes a bit of adjusting: you are under some stress for the first few weeks, you may need some time to gather a new social circle and you don’t feel quite at home for months or years. But it usually turns out OK. I think I’m getting better at it.

Not that staying in Prague would be that much better. I would still finish my master’s, then probably go work at some company, and some of the people I hang out with nowadays would move on within a year or two. Either way or the other, I will shift to productive age and my blissful youth will end. Does it matter all that much if it’s this year or two years from now?

Maybe it doesn’t and maybe life doesn’t get much better than this. Maybe I wouldn’t be missing anything that great by finishing my studies and yielding to work. Maybe mastery of engineering is all it’s going to take for me to feel complete. But maybe voluntarily leaving uni earlier would just rob me of a portion of the greatest experiences of my life. I’m not sure and it scares me. I want to know whether things get better or worse. I want to know what gives my life meaning, and what should I do to get closer.

I think friendships are an important component of happiness. I am not strong and I can’t handle everything alone. I learned this the hard way during my internship in Paris, where I was mostly lonely except for work (my timidness and lack of French did not help). Some of my best memories from San Francisco are of just hanging out with my intern-homies doing stupid shit. Even if you do very important and interesting work, lonely Saturday lunches get more lonely over time.

I’m not yet sure about this, but I think I’ll end up staying home for my master’s at least until mid-2017. This will delay my financial independence by a year at a minimum, but I think it’s probably the better tradeoff. Financial independence would be just chasing a high score if I didn’t know what to do with life once I’m free. I will use this time to think things over, develop myself and be useful. Altruism, which I’m very interested in, makes the world a better place, but I’m not sure altruism alone would make me a happier person.

Either way, there will be some changes. I will stop chasing pointless scores, whether it’s the price of my stocks or my grades in school. I will work way less on things I don’t enjoy.

I used to tell myself I’d do all kinds of things if only I had time. I will contribute to projects and causes that actually matter. I will develop deeper relationships and fight my social awkwardness. I will get back in touch with old friends. I will do the things I used to put in my bucket list. Urban exploration. Geocaching. Meditation. Jumping out of airplanes. Soft drugs in moderation. I will become healthier and stare at fewer screens. I will lose weight, and for good this time. I will learn about things I want to learn about. I will think things over and figure out how do I imagine my twenties and maybe thirties. And I hope this will not only make me happier, but that it will also help me become a better person.

Thank you for reading.