📬 Postal Portals - Avery #4: Rage for Expression

Postal Portals is a new series of letters between myself and friends, intended to serve as a long-form medium to deep-dive into a snapshot of each other’s thoughts and emotions in an asynchronous manner. Often, when we catch up with close friends we haven’t seen in a while, there’s a lot of tangible ground to cover (physical events that happened, the progression of life, etc.) which doesn’t touch as much on the emotional and mental states we occupied and shifted from. These postal portals provide a gateway for the world to an excavation site of those internal states. This was inspired by The W Letters that my friend Jamie curates, so if this sort of thing interests you, go check that out too! See the full list here.

This was written in response to Sticking it to the Cult of Ambition, and the 4th letter in the correspondence between Avery and I.

Thursday 10:59PM

Home at my desk in San Francisco, post dinner + drinks.

Dear Avery,

I think your characterization of my growth over the past year is right. I’ve been going through a series of reckonings where I’ve had to face two distinct parts of myself, my own flavor of Jekyll and Hyde: the professional, status-oriented, proper student and the rebellious, idealistic, Rage Against the Machine-style freedom fighter (but a more mild, intellectual version of the picketing hippy archetype). I didn’t have my rebellious phase as a teenager, so perhaps, this is the reckoning that I now face in myself, yet part of me feels that the rebellious, insurgent piece of me that yearns to break free is an authentic part of myself that I’ve stifled. Both parts are equally me—I’m the professional software engineer working in Silicon Valley for a buzzy venture-funded startup, where we talk about changing the world, and I’m also a conflicted millennial questioning the incentives and paradoxes in a consumerist society, lost trying to reconcile that the world where millions of dollars pour into automated juicers and one where homelessness, drug abuse, and hate crimes are commonplace are the same. Before, I restrained the latter part of my identity for the sake of belonging. In order to fit in, you need to behave properly, to conform to the common denominator of behavior. It’s the same dynamic that came with the popularization of social media pushing the image of a “perfect” lifestyle. I was talking to my friend Nagle recently, and we discussed how belonging and authenticity are on a spectrum. It’s natural to “belong” less the more authentic you are because you don’t fit in the “normal” group. Yet, I think the ideal we all strive for is to embrace full authenticity and finding belonging because of that commitment to authenticity.

I like the “cult of ambition” terminology. It does feel like almost everything in modern society has been co-opted for performative means. From the work we do to the people we hang out with to the hobbies we choose to spend all our time on, they’re subtly catered towards an idea we’ve developed for what is “right.” My recent change has been a revolution against propriety, a rejection of rightness, a repudiation of standardization. Where I once climbed the ladders and followed the paved trail, I now scale the rooftops and search for the unmarked forest trail. It’s definitely harder—you have to find your own way, there’s a lot of crap that hasn’t been cleaned up, and there’s no guarantee you’ll make it out the right direction. But it’s worth it all for the freedom that comes with it. I felt like I was living under the palm of an invisible hand before—my decisions dictated by a larger force. It was out of my hands.

Where ambition once felt forced to me, a con to get you to move faster along the neverending and unmoving circle, now, my ambitions run wild like my imagination. My mixology is an expression of my mood, my thoughts, my entire being. It’s a dedication to a craft that allows your skill to create something that spreads more of you-ness into the world. It reminds me of the feeling and vibe I was trying to get at with my piece on dilution, that phenomenon of putting more of your authentic self into the world and receiving more of the world back in return. I pursue more for the pursuit and the journey and the adventure itself. Instead of hunting for more in service of an ever-moving goal post like I used to do, I’m exploring to experience more beauty, create more meaning, and understand more paradoxes. Have you ever read The Hobbit? I think about Bilbo Baggins and his initial choice to leave his home and go on an adventure. His mind tells him to stay, but his heart yearns for him to go. I think my main change has been learning to listen to my heart more, to accept and even encourage my yearnings, to leap for the thrill of the fall.

I recently re-watched Interstellar (which was my favorite movie for a long time), so maybe that’s why this quote is shouting itself in my mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I’ve felt what it’s like to be freed from the way we’re conditioned to stay in our circles and from the indoctrination into the cult of ambition. Now, I refuse to go gentle into the good night. Instead, my journey will be the harder path, the less traveled, one where I’ll rage against the dying light.

Your ex-cult follower friend,