Turning 30: Looking back & looking ahead

I’m turning 30 pretty soon! And it’s literally freaking me out! I was looking back at some of my past posts and I saw my own post titled “Age is just a number!” I’m surprised that I said that! I read through it and I guess apart from the opening paragraph where I say age is just a number, everything else still seems fine…

30 is a huge milestone! Completing three decades on the planet seems like a really long time. It’s also for the first time that it feels like time is slipping like sand from my hands. This brings an image of a sand-clock in my mind, where I don’t know how much sand is there in the top part! Coincidentally, along with my 30th birthday, the calendar decade is also coming to an end. So my 30s, as well as a new decade of 2020s, start almost together! Surprisingly I had never realized this before probably because I didn’t care about my age in the past!

When we complete the first 10 years, we are just kids and it’s like just another birthday where we have fun being kids. Another 10 years and 20th birthday feels good and gives feels of turning into an adult. The twenties pass by where we mostly complete our education and start working. Life is cool! For the first time in life, the 30th birthday seems huge! It’s the first birthday of my life which is such a big deal for me, otherwise, I have always been pretty chilled out and cool about my birthdays.

I think this 30th milestone birthday is also a good opportunity to think, introspect, reflect back and plan forward. At this goalpost, it’s a good time to objectively think of the decisions we have taken, the choices we have made, our successes and failures, the lessons we have learned, the people we have met, the dreams and plans we have, our hopes and our overall Self. It looks like an appropriate checkpoint to consolidate the life we have lived thus far as well as to re-evaluate our priorities and future ahead.

I thought instead of freaking more about turning 30, I’ll collect some of the key learnings of my life which I learned while completing 30 revolutions around the Sun. We remember recent things than things far back in the past and thus even these lessons might be mostly based on recent years rather than from times long ago.

People

  1. Parents: Parents are special people who genuinely care for us (in most cases). They might not always understand us and sometimes they just fail to get the context of the things we say (probably due to the generation gap). However, it is good to remember that they (in most cases) always intend our well-being. They sacrifice so much of us, their kids, that it makes me genuinely wonder, how and why someone would do that! But they do that and mostly they do that without any regrets! At the same time, they are also humans just like us and make mistakes just like everyone else, including us. It’s best to always shower our love on them and be a receiver of their blessings, as long as we are blessed to have them in our lives.

  2. Mentors: It is difficult for family and friends to be objective towards us. Our friends are sailing the same boat as us, so in most cases, they might lack the larger perspective. And this points to why it is important to have mentors in life. A mentor is like a lighthouse; always there and ready to guide in the right direction. They can give a pat on the back as well as be critical when required. It’s a blessing to find a mentor who matches our personality and on whom we can completely trust.

    “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~Bob Proctor

  3. Friends: Friends make our lives fun! It’s not necessary to have a lot of friends. My friends and my friend-list are completely different things. A few close friends to count on are more than enough. At the same time, it’s always good to be on the lookout for new friends. Sometimes we never know that the people we meet might turn out to be ideal friends. Finally, it’s not necessary to have friends of similar age-group. Sometimes people elder (or even younger) can be friends. Also, people’s priorities change over time, so not everyone can be a friend for a lifetime.

  4. Everyone else in the world: Everybody will have an opinion about everything under the sky, including ourselves. And that’s totally okay. The same is true even for us, even we have an opinion or point of view about everything. But the important point here is to take others’ opinions with a pinch of salt, not to care too much about others’ opinions and to take decisions and choices based on our own will and preferences.

  5. Happy to be alone: The world might be filled with people. But there is only one person who knows us exactly how we are, and that’s our own Self. Thus it’s a great skill to be happy and calm in our own company.

    “I think it’s very healthy to spend time alone. You need to know how to be alone and not be defined by another person.” ~Oscar Wilde

    Life

  6. Money: Of course money is important in life. Money can make our lives simpler and smoother. However, it is also important to remember that money is not everything. If we take the major decisions of our life only on the basis of money, then it might not necessarily be the best thing to do. In my life, I have taken some key decisions without keeping money as the top criteria. And I have never regretted those decisions!

  7. Traveling: One of the best ways to broaden our outlook is to travel (like an explorer or local and not like a tourist). It gives us the opportunity to see the world from a bigger perspective. We understand the commonalities and differences among different cultures including why things are how they are! We learn to adapt ourselves to different environments and discover some of our own characteristics which we ourselves might not be aware of!

  8. Hobbies: All work and no play definitely makes Jack a dull and boring boy. So it’s good and essential to have some hobbies in life. It’s good to try and explore things that we are passionate about and spend some time on those. For example, I like photography, playing keyboard, reading books, etc. Whenever I take a break, I do some of these things. And these hobbies are like restarting a computer! It refreshes our brain and then we get back to our work in a much better state.

  9. Learn: Learning is a life long process. It enhances our skills and helps us gain knowledge and a broader outlook on life. It also makes us adapt better in changing times where we are able to learn things that are necessary for survival in the new context. Even otherwise, learning just for the sake of satisfying curiosity is cool!

    “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” ~Brian Herbert.


  10. Passion: Finding something which makes us lose sleep, something which excites our neurons and something that we don’t get bored of, is hard. Not everyone finds it! However, just in case if we think that something is a probable candidate, don’t let it go just like that! Work on it and try it out! In the short term, we might have to sacrifice or give up things to pursue it, however in the long term it is worth it! Nothing can be more satisfying than doing things that we are truly passionate about in life!

    “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs

    “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” ~Oprah Winfrey

  11. Health: Health is wealth! And gradually I’m realizing this. Until my mid-20s, whatever I ate, however much I ate and whether I exercised or not didn’t matter. My weight was constant and my energy levels always high. However, since my late 20s, I have gradually started noticing that my weight and energy levels vary based on the kind of food and the amount of food I eat. Exercise is essential! Also, it is better to stay fit and avoid illness rather than curing it! Maintaining good health requires consistent efforts by ourself, for ourself, on ourself.

    Lessons

  12. Do what you can: Sometimes our actions might seem insignificant. They might not have tremendous effects, as we may wish to be. Yet, if our actions are based on our principles and if it is what we want to do, then we should do it anyway. Repeated and consistent efforts can have a compounding effect in the long run and sometimes it is difficult to imagine that when we start.

    One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one. Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”. The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?” The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!” ~adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley.

  13. Ownership: Taking ownership means associating our selves with the things we do. When we own something, we are responsible for it and we take care of it. Similarly, when we take ownership of our work, we connect our self with it and then we give our 100% to improve it, get it to a point we want it to be and be proud of it. Also if things we own, don’t work out the way we want them to be, we feel responsible regarding it and think of solutions rather than escape routes or excuses.

  14. Believe in our Self: When things don’t exactly happen the way we want it to be, sometimes we blame the circumstances and sometimes we doubt ourselves. Either approach is not appropriate. Of course, not everything will happen as planned, that doesn’t mean that it’s due to our incompetence, there might be so many other factors involved. Thus it’s essential to always have faith in our own self and to always be our own best friend!

    “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~A. A. Milne 

  15. Be kind: Each and every one of us is on our own journey. It is always easy to judge others or be critical of others. However, just like nobody exactly knows our journey except ourself, similarly we can never know others’ true story and what is going on in their life. Thus it’s always best to be kind, not only to others but to ourselves as well. Also, not just with the people but with all the beings we interact with (like animals and plants).

    “We are all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” ~Prof. Charles Gordon


  16. Have hope: Hope is the only thing that keeps us moving forward. One might have big dreams and elaborate plans but if there is no hope, then it is hard to execute what we want to do. Sometimes, the kind of things that happen in the world makes us wonder if this is the place we want to be? Are we heading in the right direction? But come what may, it is important to never lose hope!

  17. Compromise on the small stuff: Not every battle needs to be fought. It’s okay to let go and not delve into small stuff. These small issues if pursued fervently consume a lot of our time and energy than what it’s worth. Thus it’s okay to let go of small things or stuff that doesn’t matter to us and focus on the bigger goals at hand. Know which games to play and which to ignore!

  18. Ask for help: For me, it’s difficult to ask for help. It feels as though I’m incompetent when I cannot solve my own problems. Thus asking for help hurts my ego. However, I have realized that not all battles are meant to be fought alone. Just talking with someone regarding our problems doesn’t make us incompetent. On the other hand, it provides us different points of view of the problem which we might have not known or ignored. It’s okay to talk to someone we trust in difficult times and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable in our trusted circles.

  19. Okay to fail: I am also the one who always strives for success in everything I do. However, practically it is not always possible to be successful in everything we do. And with this attitude, when failure strikes, it hits real hard. Also when we just focus on the end goal, we forget to enjoy the process. Now onwards, my goal is to normalize failures. It’s should be okay to fail sometimes. I will try to synthesize lessons from my failures and try to move on rather than lingering too long over it. (But I also know that it’s easier said than done!)

  20. Perfection: In continuation, my attitude has also been to be perfect in everything I do. And sometimes, it’s good as it leads to outcomes which are of high quality. However, in most cases, it requires a lot of energy to create perfect results which may not necessarily be required. Also, perfection also has human limits because of which however hard we try, for some goals we just cannot be any more perfect. Also, this attitude of perfection deprives us of experiencing and being happy about things in which we might not be perfect. For example, it’s not necessary that I may draw perfectly, but I can be happy about whatever I draw even though it might not be perfect. Now onwards, I will try to incorporate perfection within limits (not sure something like that is feasible!) and sometimes intentionally leave things to be imperfect when perfection is not that critical.

  21. Take risks: Staying always in the comfort zone is boring. It might be safe but nothing exciting happens there. It is important for us to step outside of our comfort zones sometimes and do the things we want to do. As it is said, no risk, no return! We must be able to take measured risks in life.

    “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.” ~T.S. Eliot


  22. Stay strong: In some situations in life, we are helpless. Terminal diseases, deaths, major accidents, etc. are things that are not wished for even for enemies. And yet sometimes we find our loved ones and the people we care about, in those situations. It literally breaks our heart and there is nothing much that we can do about it. Feeling helpless is a terrible feeling! The only thing that we must remember in such times is to stay strong!

  23. Accept both good and bad emotions: In a world that is constantly pushing the message about being positive, it’s relieving to know that sometimes it is okay to be not positive. We have a variety of emotions like happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, anxiety, guilt, etc. Some emotions are positive and some seem to be negative. It’s okay for us to feel all these emotions and not just positive emotions. Suppressing “bad” emotions can adversely affect our well-being. On the other hand, a better strategy is to think why are we feeling those emotions and can we do something about it?

    Future

  24. Have goals: It is important to have goals in life. Without goals, life seems meaningless. A goal gives us the purpose to wake up each day and to do something so that we are a little closer to the goal. Goals should be personalized and be regarding things that are important and meaningful for us. For example, one can have goals like losing x kgs of weight in an year or walking y kms every month or writing at least 1 paper per semester, etc.

    If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. ~Lewis Carroll

  25. Plans: Life is unpredictable. We don’t know what will happen next year, next month or even the next day. However, that does not mean that we should just give up and let things happen as they happen over time. Our actions have the power to change the course of what can happen, just that it is not deterministic. Thus it is always good to have plans, both short and long term. At the same time, one must be aware that things might not happen exactly as planned and it’s okay to dynamically update the plans over time. Plans should chalk out a route to attain our goals.

    कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन | मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 2.47 ||

    You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
    – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter II, Verse 47

  26. Dream: Goals are specific. But dreams are generic. It can be about anything we want to do or achieve or see happening in our life or in the world in general. It can be some crazy idea to build something. Or it might be something that might seem to be unattainable or rather impossible. And yet, we should dream. It makes us see and imagine the world beyond ourselves and our limitations.

    Self

  27. Discover our Self: Our Self is intricate. We are only aware of some parts of it. The more we discover our Self the more aware we are. Some parts of our Self, others may be aware of, but we might not know about it. We should do whatever it takes to discover and know our true Self. Our Self is the one tangible truth that is definitely true. Meditate, practice mindfulness, practice stoicism, go on a retreat, talk to a mentor, seek a Guru, whatever works for you, do that, but discover your Self!

  28. Accept our Self: Some aspects of our Self we may be proud of and then there might be some aspects which we might not like. However, we need to accept our Self including all the aspects. Suppressing some aspects just because we or others do not like it or because we are not good enough at it prevents us from being our Self.

  29. Being our true Self: Being our true Self might not sound a bit deal, but in reality, it is! When everyone is trying to be like someone else, to have characteristics of someone else, to achieve things like someone else, it is hard not to follow the crowd! However, we can truly attain inner peace only when we are being our true Self. 

    “Is there a difference between happiness and inner peace? Yes. Happiness depends on conditions being perceived as positive; inner peace does not.” ~Eckhart Tolle

  30. Tune within: Our Self always gives us the signals when something is wrong, when something feels a bit off or when something is not aligned to our principles. If we are drowned in the external noise of the world it is difficult to focus and identify that. We need to be sensitive enough to sense and understand our internal signals. That way, we can detect and modify our course of action. 

    “When I slip outside, I fall. When I slip inside I rise.” ~Swami Chinmayananda

Looking forward to the next decade. 10 years is a long time and a lot happens in that duration. Hope by the end of the next decade, if I’m still around, I won’t be freaking out about turning 40! Also hopefully, I’ll be wiser and more at peace with my Self.

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?” ~C.S. Lewis

Book Review: Algorithms to Live by

Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions

Algorithms to Live by: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Algorithms to Live by is one of my top favorite books! I’m a CS grad student and I have studied all the topics mentioned in this book like sorting, caching, overfitting, networking, game theory etc in great theoretical depth. After reading this book I think it can be understood and enjoyed by both CS and non-CS people. However, CS folks can relate to the things mentioned in the book even better as they have background knowledge about it!

All the chapters are well researched and presented in a way that it almost feels like reading a story. With real-life incidents, day to day examples and quotes it makes an awesome read! It is one of those books which one can randomly reread. Some of the lines have philosophical undertones and on reading it especially in connection to the topic being discussed, the mind just goes WOW!

Some of the everyday things that can be tackled by algorithms as presented in this book are finding the perfect house for rent, finding a life partner, why not to consume too much news as it disturbs our priors, how our tastebuds have overfitted over the years, how evolutionarily speaking our brains are at an optimum state, links between networks and effective communication, alternate email auto-replies, group interactions and its complexities and many more!

Some of my favorite lines from the book are:
* Outcomes make news headlines but processes are what we have control over…We can hope to be fortunate, but we should strive to be wise.
* If changing strategies doesn’t help, you can try to change the game. And if that’s not possible, you can at least exercise some control about which games you choose to play. The road to hell is paved with intractable recursions, bad equilibria, and information cascades. Seek out games where honesty is the dominant strategy. Then just be yourself.
* It turns out there is no Godfather quite like God the father.
* James Branch Cabell – “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”
* Communication is one of those delightful things that work only in practice; in theory it’s impossible.
* Our judgments betray our expectations, and our expectations betray our experience. What we project about the future reveals a lot – about the world we live in, and about our own past.

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