A response to an article discussing our purpose in this world combined with a discussion of my own purpose
My best friend Sajiv wrote an article titled “What’s the F-ing Point?” where he discussed the common mindset of privileged students at our school, and why he believes we should break away from it. Here’s the article:
In this article, I want to respond to his ideas and then give my own story about my purpose in this world.
Quick disclaimer: Sajiv and I have talked about most of these ideas at great lengths already, so none of my responses are really raw reactions to his writing. Moreover, I don’t really disagree with a lot of what he has to say, as we came up with a lot of these thoughts together. This section of the article will be a line-by-line response on the parts that I disagree with as well as filling in holes on ideas that I think he missed.
Another big disclaimer: my ideas are inspired by my narrow perspectives in high school. If you go to my school and feel that what I am saying is targeting you, please know that I am not. I am simply talking about the friends and people that I know well who have discussed these ideas with me.
Let’s get started.
It is common for many students to take on a course-load that is greater they can handle, with multiple AP/honors classes. My AP Calculus teacher who I am a teacher assistant to make a guess as to how many students would drop out after realizing they could not handle the workload, and despite teaching for over two decades he still underestimates the amount each year.
This is a real problem especially for the grade below us. I’ll defend my junior friends, including my brother, who took a course load greater than what they could handle. They never got the chance to figure out what they could handle, as their sophomore year, which I believe is a character-defining year, was entirely online. This means they didn’t understand how hard honors and AP courses really are. Now, of course, they are taking 5 AP classes because everyone else around them is, but nonetheless, I believe they deserve a bit of slack for not knowing what they can handle. As my brother put it, they are basically freshmen taking 5 AP classes.
I myself am no exception to taking AP classes that I am either not prepared to or uninterested in taking. Now, taking these courses is not the issue. Academic rigor can build skills like hard work, resilience, and overall challenge one’s intelligence, but when the price many students are paying is their mental and physical health, it is time to reflect on our choices.
One problem that I think isn’t mentioned here is that a lot of my friends take these classes and survive them by having tutors. Sajiv lists the benefits of taking these classes, but I believe by having a tutor that guides you through the class, you lose the benefits of taking a challenging course in the first place. Moreover, I believe having a tutor might not remove the negative mental health effects, as if you understand a tutor is guiding you through these classes, you may start to doubt your own abilities and intelligence, which is even more harmful. The negatives on your mental health not only come from the bad grade in the class but from the fact that you feel like you aren’t smart or studious enough. It hurts your self-confidence, which I think is critical to an individual’s success and well-being (I’ll talk more about this in another article).
Being purposeless in itself is a privilege. And it is important to analyze what has allowed us to maintain a sense of purposeless for so long.
This is technically correct if we go by the dictionary definition of privilege, but I think it’s better to classify “purposeless” as a result of privilege. What has allowed us to maintain purposelessness is our privileges, such as wealth, two-parent households, being at the ivy-league of high schools, etc.
Privilege generally has a positive connotation, in the sense that a privilege is something that is beneficial to a certain person. Neither of us is arguing that purposeless is beneficial. I encourage people to acknowledge their privilege and leverage it to do something great (this is the common view on privilege). We both agree that we need to rid ourselves of purposeless, but I don’t think we should rid ourselves of privileges.
We shouldn’t tell people that their privileges are curses. For example, we should know that we have the privilege of wealth, and therefore we should use our wealth to do something great for society. Categorizing wealth and purposeless as the same does not do us a service. We should be grateful for privileges, not try to avoid them. Now yes, this is just an argument about semantics and word choice, but I think it is an important note to make.
Mr. Worldwide said at his concert last week something along the lines of:” I ain’t been a follower. Be unique. Be different. Take that risk. Live it up.”
This is my biggest disagreement with Sajiv’s message. This idea of being “different” has led to some of the saddest things I’ve seen in my community. We can be different in two ways: different in the problems that we tackle and different in the solutions we use to tackle these problems.
Being different in the problems we tackle can be quite harmful. I believe that our greatest challenge in society is poverty. We as humans fundamentally need food and shelter to survive, but in much of the world, including my home country of Bangladesh, there is nothing. I find it impossible for someone to look at people who are starving and homeless, turn their back on it, and try to find another problem to address. While there are other problems in our world that are on the same level as poverty, there are even more that aren’t on that level, and these problems are the ones that I see people in my community addressing. One reason that people address lesser problems is that they are told to be different. If one person is already addressing a problem like poverty, then the next person is encouraged to look for their own problem. The issue is that the new problem they are addressing is much less important, and if they decided to help the first person and address the same problem, then they would be making a bigger impact in society.
So the question is: why do they address these problems? Simply put, it’s because solving these problems is easy. They want instant gratification and recognition that they have solved a problem. They can put in minimal effort to create a solution that works, but at the end of the day, they have made almost no impact in our world. This mentality of doing the least is ultimately bred by our community and our privilege, but it is also due to the fact that we preach everyone should be unique and solve new problems. We shouldn’t focus much of our attention on smaller problems when the bigger problems are still not addressed.
But more so, by encouraging people to “be unique” when seeking our purpose in the world, we are going to ignore the few problems that deserve the most attention. This means my people in Bangladesh are forgotten, which I hate. The worst part is that my people know they are being forgotten, and there is nothing they can do for people to remember them.
Secondly, to be unique in our solutions is to innovate. This sounds somewhat crude, but innovation should be left to our greatest minds (which includes Sajiv). If we preach to everyone that everyone should just innovate for the sake of being unique, then we are left with 80% of our population working towards worthless creations that 1) are not revolutionary enough and 2) are not effective.
A proper self-reflection of one’s abilities can help one determine their role in this world. If you know that you probably cannot create a new solution to poverty, you should rather work for existing organizations that are effective and need more help. For example, don’t start the next Red Cross, just work for the actual Red Cross because they already are doing a great job. We need people to support current solutions to keep them sustainable for long periods of time—we don’t need hundreds of new Red Cross copycat organizations. We don’t need to invent the wheel again, we need people that can manufacture new wheels.
I don’t heavily disagree with the rest of the statement, but there is one problem that seems to be ignored about taking risks. For people like us, who have amazing safety nets, there tends to be less ambition and determination while starting a new business or solution. If the business begins to go underwater, we have little incentive to try and shovel water out of the ship. Our livelihoods don't rely on our business, which ultimately halts innovation even further. For someone who doesn't have a safety net, they will do everything in their power to keep it alive, but those with a safety net won’t. Now, this doesn’t mean we wealthy people shouldn’t take risks, but we should certainly be aware of the problems with a safety net and keep it at the front of our minds when our business begins to collapse.
This perspective is far more cynical than the reality of the situation. At the end of the day, I do not doubt that my class of graduating students will leave an impact on this world because I know that some of us already are. Although it may not be through our profession, we will create positive change and leave behind a legacy.
I’m a bit more pessimistic on this outlook than Sajiv is, but that is probably just due to my personality. Based on the people that I know and have met, I do have some doubts about whether the students at this school will leave an impact on this world. I think this is because we disagree upon what that impact might look like. Does working at Google and working on the newest version of the Pixel phone count as a positive impact? I would argue no, but maybe Sajiv would argue yes. We’ll talk about this more in our next few responses.
Or as I put it: do crazy sh*t.
Nice closing statement, but I think there’s more to our lives than doing crazy sh*t. Don’t do crazy stuff just for the sake of it, do radical and crazy things if you know it is for the betterment of society.
In the rest of the article, I want to talk about what I think my purpose in this world is and what it took for me to find that purpose.
Right before my junior year, I burned out pretty bad. You should check that our here:
Burnout — The Bane of Progress
How being an AI developer, hacker, and researcher lead to some of my lowest moments
After recovering, I believed that I didn’t like constantly working. How could I? It was the reason that I burned out twice, which were some of the lowest moments of my life. (I would like to note that I am very lucky that a simple burnout is one of the worst moments in my life. This is a testament to my privilege.)
I knew that I needed to work really hard to make it through junior year, so I told myself that after I graduated high school, I would take it easy. I was so fond of comfortability that I convinced myself I would simply want to work a 9–5 job at a research institution like DeepMind or Google AI. Then, I could come home at 5 PM and just chill for the rest of the day to catch up on the time that I lost during high school, the prime years of my life. I could watch Youtube, play Fortnite (very immature right), and have fun with my family.
I was obsessed with comfort and I missed it so much. I kept telling myself that once I got into college, everything I needed to achieve was done.
Over this summer, I had the luxury of being able to fall back into comfort. But I got so damn bored. I was bored of just sitting around. Minecraft, Fortnite, and Youtube just weren’t that fun. I felt meaningless and purposeless. It wasn’t because I missed productivity, but I missed the pressure and grind. I missed having something to work towards. I realized that my short-term goal is really close to being met, and now I need something greater to work towards.
This summer has been a period of reflection and change for me. The comfortability in my life came back, but in another sense, it went away. The friends that I built a life with over the last 3–4 years drifted away, and I was forced to find new friends. While I’m only a few weeks into this process, I’ve found a wide variety of people who have completely different perspectives and ideas on life. While this is a super cliche and boring idea of becoming open to new experiences (and I used to think it was an overrated thing as well), it was critical for me to realize that I don’t want comfortability. The new friends that I’m finding are interested in the world we live in and have the motivation to help people. They, just like me, are interested in self-betterment. They don’t want comfortability. For example, two of them want to take a year after med school to travel the world and provide free healthcare to areas where they need it. This is what I love.
To this end, I started “roadside conversations” with Sajiv and another friend Henrik. Each week (we haven’t been super consistent on this), we reach out to people at our school to learn their stories and their motivations. The goal is not only to build our own aspirations and dreams but to encourage those who don’t have long-term societal motivations to find ones that fit their talents.
So instead of being comfortable now, I have new goals. It sounds somewhat unrealistic, but hear me out: I want to make the most amount of money possible by the age of 30 and then retire after. Once I retire, I want to start a social enterprise that uses AI to solve medical challenges in Bangladesh. If you know a bit about my work you can tell what project I am talking about here. I’ve already started this and know what it takes to do so, and I think that it will be very possible.
I want to help Bangladesh because they deserve it so much. When I’ve worked with students and patients there, I learn their stories about what they sacrifice for their families and what they go through every single day. Their lives are so complex—they are such smart and driven people—but they just lost the lottery that Sajiv talks about. I don’t help them out of pity, I help them because I know that if I just give them a little bit of a push, they can start running on their own and do great things. I’m not a savior, I consider myself more of a mentor. But more so, I don’t deserve to sit on my ass playing Fortnite every single day, I’ve done enough of that. They deserve my efforts more than anyone, and I promise that I’ll give them every ounce of it. I’ve already changed the lives of a few Bangladeshis, but I know that by age 30 when I have even more skills and talent, I’ll be able to do it on a grand scale.
One aspect about philanthropy that I really care about is building a relationship with those you support. There’s something special about meeting a kid who is just like me and being able to help them achieve their dreams. While shelling out billions of dollars to charity is great, I wouldn’t be satisfied with that because I haven’t learned about those who I am helping. While this mentality might prevent me from changing the lives of the greatest amount of people, I know that I’ll be able to change the lives of certain people to an even greater degree.
In the next 12 years, I need to make the maximum amount of money possible. This will give me the capital to build something great. So yes, it’ll be incredibly hard to make that kind of money, but I believe in myself. I’m not gonna talk about self-confidence in this article, but I think that because I believe I can build a startup that sells for $50 million, it will happen. As some people say, I’m manifesting it.
I need to be honest with myself. By age 22 when I graduate college, my goals in life will probably completely change. I’ll have to pay expenses and do other things that normal adults do. By then, this “retire by 30” thing might not be possible. But I guarantee you that I’ll start something for Bangladesh, no matter if it’s at age 30, 40, 50, or even 60. I promised them I’ll do it, and I won’t go back on that promise.
Why Should You Care?
This article is targeted towards people like me who are wealthy and have time on their hands. We simply don’t deserve to be comfortable. We will have lived 18 years of our life with the only worries we ever face being first-world problems. Let’s stop telling ourselves that we are ridden with problems and need to fix our own community. Of course, there are issues in our community that need to be addressed, but let’s look towards bigger problems and make a real impact instead of just satisfying ourselves over the small problems we have fixed.
If you don’t know what you want to do in life, I 100% don’t blame you. It is somewhat unreasonable to expect a 17-year-old to know exactly what they want to do in life. But that doesn’t mean you should be actively looking for your purpose. The faster each of us finds our purpose in life, the bigger impact we will have in our society. The next four years of your life are the best time to find why you exist in this world, and I hope you can figure out how your talents can be used in a meaningful way.
I talked to the premier businessman at our school last month, and we disagreed about donations and charity. He said that he will not be donating his money to nonprofits and organizations where he is unsure of how that money will be used. If you are like him, then my suggestions would be perfect for you. If you have the talent to do something great, go ahead and build something yourselves. Don’t just hold onto your money if it can be used in better ways, be it through donations or your own initative. At what point do trips to the Bahamas and mansions satisfy you? These are questions that we need to ask ourselves.
So what is the f-ing point? What is our purpose in this world? If your lifestyle is like mine, I think your purpose has to be to address one of the major problems in our world. This deserves to be your purpose.