How do you think?

Take a second to look at these images. Does each represent something in your mind?

Last night, I had dinner with a friend and we were discussing thoughts, language, and ways of thinking. Both of us immigrated to the U.S. from Asia when we were 8-9 years old, and I asked her whether or not she could pinpoint when she started “thinking” in English versus her native language. This is a concept that’s always fascinated me – how I used to think in “Chinese” and when exactly it switched to being in English.

While I’ve pondered this use of English-vs.-Chinese in my mode of thinking, I never quite considered that we don’t JUST think in words. We also think in colors, images, and experiences! Sometimes, I think I get so wrapped up in my thoughts — the stream of consciousness type of thinking, that I forget I don’t just use words to make sense of concepts to myself. It seems like it’d make the most sense, that I use words to make sense of things, because we use language and words as a tool for communication and for articulating ourselves to the world. But words can be so limiting – colors, intertwined with experiences and memories, alongside specific images are just as amazing ways of thinking and processing our thoughts.

From my own conscious thoughts, I know that I do think mainly in words: it’s like I hear my own “voice” in my head (not in the crazy way) when I’m articulating thoughts to myself inside my brain. But what I wonder is whether or not everyone else mainly thinks in words, or if there are others out there who actually think with images, memories, colors, and perhaps other forms of thinking that I’m just leaving out. Can we think with feelings? Or is that an oxymoron?

What I’m also curious to explore is how these forms of thinking can be applied to business solutions. Can we integrate these modes of thinking into the systems thinking and design thinking frameworks? (Or are certain modes already integrated?)

I’ll be attending a Design Thinking Workshop that the Center for Responsible Business, where I work, is offering in two weeks. So, more on that after I learn more about design thinking…

Photo credits: Ang Kor Wat by my sister, Keane concert by me, words photo

Achieving authenticity

I miss taking courses that make me think beyond the subject matter to larger applications within my life, namely philosophy courses.. More specifically, I miss my existential philosophy that made me question the very being of my existence and purpose and broadened my outlook and perspective on life. On that note, I’ve recently been exploring the depths of my mind the rediscover the takeaways of those classes, and have come to a resolution:

If I’m going to talk about the active nihilist lifestyle I live for myself, if I’m going to live my life supposedly under the philosophy that life has infinite interpretations, if I’m going to have a way of life that allows me to discover new suns and seas as they are opened to me (or rather, as I open them myself), a life colored with my own meanings and interpretations as I make them to be

then I think it is time to embrace myself as an individual, to trust my gut feeling as I see fit, and to truly and fully live the life I want to live, not one I think others want me to live, nor one I live for other people.

As I work towards becoming the best individual I can be, seeking to reach the potential I have, I think it is important that I realize what it means to be an authentic individual, especially within my own worldview. For me, being an authentic individual means making life decisions and life choices that I want to — so long as it does not interfere with my larger life-goal, whatever that may be. I think that as of right now, my life goal is one that is career-focused. So while what I see from a “big-picture” point of view involves pursuing a career I love and taking steps to get there, it is also taking part in the “smaller-picture” of things: doing what makes me happy, what allows me to live in the moment, and what lets me to enjoy my youth and undergraduate college years while I can. More importantly, it is me feeling comfortable with who I am and what I do, realizing that I should not feel the need to please people around me all the time –that at the end of the day, I need to stop worrying so much about what others think of me. Because they are not me. It is not worth it for me to make life decisions or change the way I live my life to please someone else who is not living the life I live.

I think it’s taken me so long to come to this realization, that now that I have, it is a scary and quite uncertain new world to be in. Regardless, it’s a “new sun” I am eager to explore, a “sea” that I am willing to embark on a journey on, and slowly embrace, in hopes that all of this will make me a better person, one who is authentic to the essence of me, to create a life for myself worth living.

Excess, wealth, and materialism and how that fits into a career in social enterprise

As I am starting my senior year, something that I am constantly reminded of is finding a job and starting my career post-graduation. This summer, I started to work on case interview prep with my roommate. We spent an hour or so (sometimes more, sometimes less) each week reading consulting books and quizzing each other on market sizing, business operations, etc. questions. Prior to engaging in case prep, I thought I’d decided that I was not going to recruit this fall semester for consulting jobs. Then when my roommate asked me again, I reconsidered and decided “why not?” and went ahead with case prep. But as the summer approached its end, I started talking to my “mentors” (my colleagues and my bosses) to ask them for advice on going into consulting instead of jumping into the social enterprise field directly. The conclusion I came to was that I will not recruit this fall semester, and instead will conduct informational interviews. If by the end of the fall semester I think I might want to go into consulting, then I would recruit in the Spring.

There are many reasons why I have, for the time being, decided that I may not want to go into consulting straight out of undergrad. While those reasons are all valid and require just as much attention, I want to focus on one in particular: salary-level and financial gains.

It’s not a secret that those working in management consulting get paid a lot more than those who work at either a NGO or social enterprise. And while for the past 3 years of my life, though I had been setting my mind to working within the social enterprise field, I had not really and truly considered what it means to work for  a social enterprise, from a financial standpoint.

For me, part of what it boils down to is my background, upbringing, and financial stability which affects my career choices and how that would affect my lifestyle. I’ve talked about this more than once on this blog, but coming back to it — I’ve had a “fairly comfortable” (if not “overly comfortable”) life growing up… and partially I think this is also what made me realize that I need something more than “wealth” to be happy. And here, too, are multiple things going on: perhaps I think I’d be unhappy with “just wealth” because I lack the same sense of “personal achievement” that comes with wealth. And so who is to say that if I were to make something of myself in my future career and made a good amount of money, I wouldn’t be content enough with this? That’s something I cannot discount, because frankly I don’t know how I’d feel if I got to that point. But the point is that in my present state (or throughout my life) I never felt like pursuing a career that would bring in a lot of money would be enough for me, from a career standpoint.

So thus begins my pursuit of a career in social enterprise/social entrepreneurship, what I believe is a way for me to achieve that “something else” that I feel like I lack. But pursuing a career in this field means not making a lot of money, perhaps just enough for a “comfortable” lifestyle. And, to be honest, I think this is what scares me the most. The fact that I’ve grown up living a certain lifestyle, being provided for by my parents, and not having to worry about money is what makes me doubt my ability to learn how to want less and how to be content with a less “extravagant” lifestyle.

And while I can say this fear/doubt of mine can be attributed to my upbringing/growing up, it can just as well be attributed to social and peer pressure. Society — American society especially – breeds a culture of excess, consumption, and materialism. We are bombarded daily with new products or new “somethings,” and are constantly reminded of how awesome it must be to be rich and wealthy.

Let’s take my recent weekend trip to Las Vegas, for instance. Vegas is perhaps the epitomes of excess, consumption, and materialism. Table service at clubs costs thousands of dollars; suites or penthouse suites can cost up to $10,000 per night (can you believe that?!); lounging at the VIP section of a pool party can easily cost $3,000 for the afternoon. While it is not that hard to “crash” these VIP places, there is a sense of “coolness” and even “superiority” to be had when we are able to sit in these places or have the “VIP” treatment. We are conditioned to think that being VIP, having bottle service, or staying in a penthouse suite is what it means to be “baller”, “high rollers”, and just plain awesome. The implication behind all of these words is that: you have made it, you are wealthy, and that is something to be looked up to (in a sense). And being surrounded by that, and to see people’s reactions to this excess/consumption/materialism (myself included), only reminds me more of how much our society idolizes what it means to be wealthy and how that is the ultimate achievement.

While I am not discrediting wealth as achievement, I think there are other forms of achievement that are often downplayed. But when we are surrounded 24/7 by this excessive, materialistic, and consumption-focused culture, I think it is difficult to train ourselves — to re-condition ourselves, in a sense — to believe that there are, in fact, different forms of achievement, and that we don’t HAVE to buy into this wealth=achievement type of thinking (even though I am not saying people cannot have this type of thinking).

Peer pressure is another way we are conditioned to believe that achievement and wealth are synonymous. As an undergrad at a business school, I see a good percentage of my peers recruiting for investment banking, consulting, and accounting jobs. While I don’t believe this of all of those recruiting, a good amount of them want jobs in these industries because their end-goal is to make a lot of money. And to be honest, can I blame them? Is it really so wrong for those who: 1) grew up living a comfortable or extravagant lifestyle and want to sustain that for themselves in the future OR 2) did NOT grow up wealthy and thus want that kind of lifestyle — to pursue a career that will bring in a good amount of money? No, it’s really not so wrong.

For me, I think realizing all of these factors and being surrounded by this type of “philosophy” (if I may call that) only makes it harder for me to slowly accept the financial/lifestyle consequences of pursuing what I want to pursue. I need to learn how to be OK with living “modestly”; I need to, despite the fact that my sister is pursuing a career in the fashion industry (an industry that I also am interested in, as a hobby, but also an industry that thrives on excess and wealth), not participate alongside her desire to purchase expensive designer items, because that’s her future line of work, so it would be OK for her to want that, but it’s not mine. Most of all, I need to start thinking realistically what going into this field means financially and lifestyle-wise and start accepting this and being OK with it, despite the constant reminders that “more is better and wealth=achievement.” Otherwise, I am just kidding myself and will remain sitting here, thinking up some great scheme about how I am going to participate in poverty alleviation/changing the world, allthewhile still being supported by my parents and not having any financial burden at all, until I am thrown into it and hit by the reality of what it really means to want to work in the social enterprise space.

Creating and discovering new suns..

In a previous post on “Convictions, interconnectedness, and getting out of despair,” I wrote about the conflicting rationales of Ivan’s ways of thinking and my own identification with various aspects of Ivan’s philosophy. I was troubled by Ivan’s inability to deal with his suffering and wavering convictions. I have been meaning to follow up with this post on him and my perceived analysis behind his philosophy, because the next paper I did for this existentialism class infused Nietzsche’s “passive” and “active” nihilist views and Ivan’s “convictions.” Whether or not I “correctly” read Nietzsche’s nihilist philosophy is, as always, in question, but it makes sense to me and I am glad I think I resolved this conflict in my mind… So I went back and re-read parts of my paper and am going to share some of them here now…

However, Ivan’s positing of his world as the truth is problematic: the “escape” Ivan creates is one of wavering conviction. In the progression of the novel, Ivan’s convictions come back to haunt him via the Devil in his nightmare. Ivan characterizes the Devil as his “illness…, the incarnation of…only one side of [him]…, the nastiest and stupidest of [his own thoughts]” (Dostoevsky 592). In his self-proclaimed belief of absolute nothingness, much like a passive nihilist, Ivan gets into a feeling of despair. Ivan claims everything to be “disorderly, damnable, and perhaps devil-ridden chaos” (207-208). Later on, all the worlds of God and Satan are “not proved, to [his] mind” (597). Ivan clings onto the need for proofs, rationality, and logic in order to justify his true world he has created. However, Ivan’s despair and confusion is the natural result of the “escape” that follows from the first two psychological stages of nihilism.

Ivan develops his philosophy by relying on reasoning, logic, and rationality. However, he does not realize that “the strength of knowledge does not depend on its degree of truth but… on the degree to which it has been incorporated” (The Gay Science; 169). Ivan has not incorporated his knowledge and philosophy into his character and his being. He created his beliefs through logic, on the notion that there exists nothingness and that faith in a higher being cannot and does not provide value for him. Logic and reason, however, prove faulty for the basis of “truth.”

What Ivan would have needed was to reach the third psychological state of nihilism. This last state begins with the realization that the reason one must invent and create a new true world is derived from one’s psychological needs (The Will to Power), just as “achieving,” “becoming,” and “aims” are psychological needs. Thus, one then concludes that one has “absolutely no right” to the truth one has created, by which one can then realize that “the reality of becoming…[is] the only reality” and there remains no reason to convince oneself that there exists a “true” world. When aim, unity, and being – the highest values – devaluate themselves, Nietzsche argues that one should become an active nihilist in order to truly grasp and take advantage of life…[Ivan] did not want to discover another world because he became obsessed with trying to find meaning and make sense of the one sun, the one world he was in.

Ivan should have embraced the realization that there is no truth by becoming a free spirit and living life dangerously. When Ivan’s god began to die – began to lose its meaning –  Ivan slipped into further despair and confusion; an active nihilist, in hearing that the old god is dead, would feel “as if a new dawn shone on [him]” and his heart would overflow with “gratitude, amazement, premonitions, expectation” (The Gay Science; 280). The active nihilist would view the old god’s death as a wonderful opportunity to venture out into the unknown, into the “open sea,” and embrace “what is beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine (346).

Herein lies where, in the past 6 months (however long ago it was that I wrote this paper/took this class…) I think I’ve come to my own understanding of “life” and reconciling the seemingly “meaningless” world with an amazing, “beautiful..terrible..divine” life I am living. So this is my new sun, and while I am relishing in this “new sun” I am going to embrace the meaning I derive from it, until one day — if ever — my god/sun/meaning begins to die or devaluate itself…by which point it will be time to venture onto a new sea.