I woke when I wanted, no alarms. This was usually 7am, because I was excited to build my first company, a research consultancy working on important stuff. For the first time, my incentives were pointing me the right way: the harder I worked, the more I did for the world and the more I was rewarded; to sate my boredom, every two months my domain and work type shifted hugely (data analysis, hiring, essay writing, glossy consultancy work, deep speculation about massive underspecified concepts). Also I wanted to work hard for my co-founder, a dear friend. It was real. Sensation of lift.

10 middling mild modest years since graduating, things had suddenly exploded. Awards, grants, fancy meetings, invites. But I felt relatively free of “inner rings”, even as they started to pay me attention. There are advantages to years in the wilderness: you get stubborn and oblivious from long years of reading and writing with no particular audience.

I was becoming a fixer. But I miss the “individual contributor” stuff I was doing then. The IC level is also known as work, where the buck stops, where the full lurid detail of things lives. All else is abstraction - sometimes vital and lucrative and ethically mandatory abstraction, but still not the thing itself.

The alignment problem worried me often, but it felt like (misunderstandings and misrepresentations aside) the world was starting to turn its face in that direction, and might in a matter of decades yawn vastly, rub the sleep from its vast eyes, and do something.

I found myself in several communities and argued with them daily: effective altruism, Emergent Ventures, the Fitzwilliam, the Charles Uni group, ESPR, the Blog Prize, the Cincinnatis. An honorary Irishman and an honorary Czech. This ended one of my oldest fears - that, since I had initially done poorly at the academic game, I would be doomed to think alone and would grow into an odd and fruitless shape.

My unfinished PhD lurked in the background, but not in a menacing way. (People used to put a surprising amount of stock in the mere words “PhD candidate” - as if they stopped reading the phrase halfway through.)

I started mentoring at last. This brought me honest vicarious pride (where previously I had viewed reflected glory as pathetic, thievery and vanity).

I lived in Bristol, then the nicest place for both punks and professionals in Britain. But I lived in my head (then as now). Two of my oldest friends had coincidentally moved there for uni / sanctuary. Gym was 8 minutes from my door, and for the first time I quite liked my fellow masochists.

As work grew, my reading suffered. I was reading one book every 10 days and maybe 2 papers: about 1/4 the old rate. People had started to thank me for my Goodreads archive - a drip of value that would eventually, many many years later, redeem the thousand hours it took me.

K and I were doing well, nearly 8 years in. It was an effort to make time for each other, to give the due attention, and continue conversing after our five thousand rounds of conversation. But turmoil was rare and it was the kind of rock-solid love that people miss badly when without it. Laundry and taxes.

Between my company, my students, and the friendly ambitious nerds, my all-consuming need for novelty and constant cognition was more or less met. The sky wasn’t the colour of static, the sim was still running at full res, and the prime intellect wasn’t. I was very lucky.


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Tags: personal, meaning, fun, self-help, writing, becoming


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