33. On Proactivity

It strikes me that most of the people I have met in my life, even those who profess themselves forward-thinkers or problem-solvers, seem to consider the laws of their world immutable. For example, suburban living in the United States is a fairly new phenomenon—that is, the notion of having a house with a two-car garage, a spouse, between two and three kids, roughly one dog, between one and two careers, and an utterly useless lawn of grass only cropped up in the 1800’s. Even relative to the minuscule window of time in which humans have populated Earth, that’s not a very long stretch of history.

Yet we consider the modern lifestyle a standard that is not to be deviated from. Similarly, we complain about many of the unreasonable expenses involved in living in the United States, but do little to try and solve those problems. Many of us complain that “they” charge too much for housing, transportation, education, healthcare, or taxes, but almost no one tries to solve those problems. “They” are also “working on” some incredible scientific advancement, incredible new technologies, or new systems for how our lives should operate. “We” are never reasonably expected to accomplish these tasks, only some nameless group that is smarter than us.

This could all just be an anecdotal observation about my particular life experience here in Northern Colorado, but I suspect that it is not. I suspect that most people reading this recognize the type of mindlessly-re-parroted groupthink I am referring to here. The strange thing is that, barring some mental handicaps and a few exceptions, I think that most people could contribute to these societal problems if they truly applied themselves to the task, which is to say that they are smart enough and capable enough to do so.

For example, I recently started a business called Novum Opus, which will have the mission of eliminating the $1.5 trillion of student loan debt in the United States that less-than-wealthy kids have accumulated for having the audacity of wanting an education. It is a daunting task, to be sure, but it is how I want to approach actually solving one of the problems our culture can’t stop complaining about. Or, if I don’t solve it alone, I want to push the ball forward. I want to start solving problems instead of sitting and watching them continue to get worse.

There are some meaningful obstacles I have observed to taking this initiative. A lot of the people who are hurt the most by problems like crippling student loan or healthcare debt are so busy trying to pay bills on time that they have a hard time imagining picking up an extra, income-free grind outside of their day job to start a small business that is not off the ground yet. Life is structured around having exactly one job, most of the time, and coming home to “unwind” can be an immediate productivity killer.

Humans are not machines, and it is totally reasonable for people to pause their careers to spend time with their loved ones or do unproductive things they enjoy (I certainly play enough video games). But I wish I saw more people finding problems in the world and taking a more proactive stance to try and resolve them than complaining about it to their friends can generally accomplish.

People often underestimate themselves. Sometimes a parent, a teacher, a school bully, or someone in their lives told them they were worthless, or they sucked at math, and they believe that until the day they die. An individual’s eccentricities are squashed out of them because our school system and conveyor-belt-bullshit jobs (the retail and food jobs that mostly require warm bodies and make everyone involved miserable) encourage you to stay still, shut up, and do as you’re told. While each person’s quirks can hurt them in certain situations—an introvert may have a hard time making friends, a disorganized person may lose their keys more often than their peers—it is also those quirks that are our greatest strengths. They can provide us meaningful insight into how we learn, grow, problem-solve, and operate in general.

This is terribly unfortunate. While it is useful to know one’s limitations, it is also important to remember that people can change, learn, and improve over time in just about every measurable metric. Again, humans are not machines—our default behavior is to learn and grow, it does not have to be programmed into us. In fact, given that memories fade over time, if you are not constantly learning, you are in all likelihood going backwards.

And that only makes it harder to get engaged in resolving a problem that requires knowledge in physics, electrical engineering, computer science, or some other technical skill that most people think they’re “too dumb” to understand. You’re not too dumb. You have not applied yourself. There is a vast gulf of difference.

I struggle with these issues as much as anyone. I have a hard time buckling down and learning new software concepts sometimes, even though I work at a software consultancy. I wish I wrote more consistently, read books more consistently, and exercised more consistently. I do all of these things sometimes, but if I’m a decent writer now, I can only imagine how good I could be if I practiced more.

What I hope to get people thinking about is the notion that they can make change. People like you, dear reader, can improve themselves and the world around them. If you already have a list of excuses in your head about why you have not tried to create change where you know it needs to happen, you need to recognize those excuses for exactly what they are. Everyone around you needs your unique view of the world to improve it.

29. Rise

    The world was quieter, once.

    Once you could sit down in peace and solitude and focus with little fear of interruption. You could sit and read a book for hours. You could write computer programs. You could prepare a speech, write a poem, play the guitar, go on a walk, prepare a great meal, listen to vinyls and only ever pause the music to flip the record. You could focus for hours, thinking about one thing to the exclusion of all else. Once, we were probably even less stressed, less anxious about the dangers of sitting too long or dietary restrictions or missing out on something we were told once we should care about buying.

    Now, the world is loud. The world is integrated. Every few seconds there's a goddamn text message, a phone call, an email, a Snapchat app blinking at you that you know are bad for your health and attention span and probably your whole life, but border on being irresistible. The damn internet is calling every fucking second of the day, literally to the point that we have sleep problems.

    Our brains thrive, sometimes, on jumping around to a hundred places at once. It's like mind candy, our thought trains jumbled like spaghetti, ideas bouncing around and against each other like Yahtzee dice. It's good for our brains to be able to jump to another track on a moment's notice, or it certainly was when we worried that we were about to be eaten by a tiger. But to really learn, to focus, to get better at something, it's harder than ever to hush the noise.

    The rewards, consequentially, are higher, because fewer people rise above it. I've watched people both older and wiser than I succumb to the plague of Facebook feed refreshes and the fear of missing something, letting their lives drift toward the inevitable void instead of making something of their time. It's our nature to take the easiest route. Humans love things being simple. And the internet is a great tool. Yet letting it control us with its blinks and dings and phantom pocket vibrations while the rent is late, the love of your life walks by during your mindless scroll, you don't know the skill you need to get the job you want, and you're getting fatter from eating all that comfort food to compensate for how stressful and unfulfilling your life is how we become broken in heart and mind.

    This is not a political debate. The fucking Republicans say everyone except the millionaires should accept that their inflation-adjusted wage is falling; the fucking Democrats say you should be able to leech off the government in perpetuity. I say they're both wrong. I say the government is not going to solve your problems no matter who you vote for and what your creed is, and even if it does it'll be after such a long wait that they might as well have not solved the problem at all.

    This is not about Ayn Rand-ian selfishness or implausible communist ideals. This is not about starting a business and making lots of money if you don't want to, and it's not about pursuing an unrealistic dream. It's about you, and you alone, rising above the easy path and picking the right path for yourself.

    The danger is that not all people should follow the same path. There's no reason not to try things in such a long time on this Earth, but it's also dangerously stressful and unfulfilling to follow other people's dreams that you don't actually want for yourself. There's no reason not to follow your dreams, but it's also mental laziness to say you have a dream and never genuinely spend time in its pursuit. It does not do to dwell on all the reasons you can't do something, but there is also folly in trying to accomplish something you aren't equipped to accomplish.

    So quit scrolling through Instagram and bleed onto the page. Live life and then tell people about it.

 

27. Christmas Letter 2017

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to everyone! 2017 was a big year for Aarica and I (and Emmett too, of course). We worked hard to develop our relationship, our education, and our careers, made some big steps in each of these areas, and built on some of the goals we set out for ourselves in 2016.

Or rather, Aarica and I did those things–Emmett played with hair ties, chased mice (computer mice, that is, not real mice), and meowed a lot.

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I did not write a Christmas letter at the end of last year, but I did write a blog post about some of the biggest things that happened to our new family. Last year, Aarica and I celebrated our one year anniversary since we met; Aarica received her Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, was promoted to the position of Site Director at ABC Child Development Center, and picked up a job at Butters Daytime Eatery; and I started studying Ruby and JavaScript software development at an online coding bootcamp called Bloc, was promoted to full-time as a Retail Sales Associate at T-Mobile, and picked up work as an intern at the Colorado State Senate and as a driver for Lyft.

Most importantly, though, Aarica's parents gave me permission to ask Aarica to marry me, and she said yes on New Year's Eve!

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So this year, we built on these things. Over the summer, Aarica began working on her Master's Degree in Elementary Education at UNC and finished her practicum observing other teachers in Greeley's school district. This means that she will be student teaching at High Plains School in Loveland next semester, have her Master’s Degree this summer, and start teaching next fall! She has continued to work at ABC throughout the year and worked part time at Portrait Innovations and American Eagle on weekends.

I am in the final weeks of my Bloc Software Developer Bootcamp. When I submit my open-source project, I will officially be done with the course at the end of this year! I continued to work at T-Mobile throughout 2017, where my title was changed to “Mobile Expert,” and did some Lyft driving on the side. Fortunately, all the coding at Bloc has paid off–just a couple of weeks ago, I was hired as a part time Software Developer at Radial Development Group in Loveland, a consultancy that works with small businesses to build and maintain websites and apps. Radial is a great, supportive team and I have loved working there so far!

Aarica and I have really enjoyed this first year of our engagement, and now two and a half years of our relationship. We moved in together in an apartment in Loveland earlier this year, and wisely chose one with a spare bedroom that has since become my sister Meghan’s room. It really feels like home now, even to Emmett, who was terrified when we moved him here.

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Over the summer, Aarica got the opportunity to go to Japan to visit her parents and brother, who are living there for her dad’s work promotion, and came back very tired from jet lag but with a new appreciation for ramen that we are still trying to satisfy. Right around that time, I hiked Grey Rock, puzzled out an escape room, ate ice cream, and played Mario Kart with Nathan, Ryan, Trevor, and Mr. Liston for Nathan’s bachelor party. We took two separate wedding road trips this summer–one to Iowa for Nathan and Kat Liston’s wedding (I was best man!), and one to Jacob and Meagan Walker’s wedding. We hope everyone won’t be all wedding-ed out by the time ours rolls around!

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Speaking of which, we picked our wedding venue: Wedgewood Tapestry House in Laporte, Colorado! We can't wait for that day–so much so that Aarica seems strangely excited when we simplify things and refer to ourselves as "Dan and Aarica Rice" on something mundane like the internet bill.

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Those are all the big things, I think, but there are also lots of little things. Aarica and I stuck to our tradition of seeing the latest Pixar movies each summer and fall, which means we managed to stomach Cars 3 and tried not to cry like babies at the end of the masterpiece that is Coco. We also decided to start adding Pixar ornaments to our new Christmas tree every year, beginning with the movie we saw on our first date, Inside Out.

Just to make sure that no one doubted our nerdiness, we kept up with all the latest Avengers and Star Wars movies, played lots of Mario together, binge-watched several Netflix shows, and explored Zelda: Breath of the Wild for untold hours.

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We watched all of the Northern Colorado fireworks from Horsetooth for a second year in a row together, got a beautiful Fracture print of a picture taken of us at Nathan and Kat’s wedding, and I did my duty as a fiancé to keep Aarica happy–which mainly means keeping her warm via blanket or fireplace and getting her lots of pancakes, chicken wings, and ice cream. I have so far avoided burning down the apartment each time I have made pumpkin pancakes, which, I’ve just realized, is one of the bigger accomplishments in this letter after all. I’ve gotten to be spoiled by Aarica’s fantastic mustard pork and beef stroganoff recipes all year, so fortunately my attempts at pumpkin pancake production remain few and far between.

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And I get Aarica flowers every month at the anniversary of the day we met, because boy am I lucky to have her.

We learned a lot. We worked hard. And we had a lot of fun. We love all of our family and friends and wish everyone a happy and safe holiday!

Dan and Aarica (Rice)