i grew up in the bay area. everyone told me it was the best place in the world. i heartily believed it.
all of my peers and i got 1500+ sat scores, applied and got in good universities, didn't need loans because our parents paid for everything. we were incredibly lucky, we had nothing to worry about. our worlds were laid out in front of us and we never experienced hardship. our parents told us to focus on our studies, not on earning money. if we follow this formula, 'then we will never have to work at mcdonald's' or 'be like that homeless person on the side of the street.'our lives would be good and everything else didn’t matter.
but it wasn't. if we lost control of the one purpose of our life, to meet the marks, then we had lost the game. it was accepted that if you were not depressed then you weren't working hard enough, that we 'would kill ourselves if we got a B,' that sleep was for the weak, that we wouldn't make it in life if we didn't get in a good college.
this was my entire reality before i left for college in pittsburgh.
in college it felt like a different flavor of the same game. but this time, instead of applying to college it was internships. instead of sat scores, it was grades and research positions. it all felt too familiar. study well and then the world will be easy. play by the rules of the game. follow the wiki on r/cscareerquestions and you too will succeed at the game. videos on people who talk about how they won the game. tutorials even. how you should craft your identity on a piece of paper and how to navigate the set of verbal problems thrown at you to earn your permanent station in the machine.
it's just how the game in this world works. just do it. you'll learn with time that this is how you play best, listen only to those who have won the game, they know best.
or do they?
will the next level of this game be another iteration of the same thing? will i be spending forever trying to define myself with another arbitrary number?
who even knows best? who should i be listening to, the people who i think know best who have played the same game, or people back at home that held the distorted reality i knew?
it was during some very long walks during the middle of college that i finally realized how little i knew about the real world. my world had been so carefully constructed, so photoshopped to optimizing a few parameters in front of me that i had been blind to everything else. it sounds unbelievable, but i hadn't realized there was a whole world of history outside of what i was prescribed, an endless array of storylines, people to learn from, experiences to experience outside of just grades and career. by spending a life outside of hardship and pain, i hadn't truly lived. i felt alone. why would anyone complain in my situation? i must be crazy.
i turned to books. i read about wendy liu's disillusion of the bay area in abolish silicon valley, cried in admiration about high-agency heroes like aaron swartz and edward snowden, saw merit in parts of the arguments from hyper techno-pessimists like the unabomber and jaron lanier, felt fired up about designs that have hurt the world in mike monteiro's ruined by design and about the history of broken startups in super pumped: the battle for uber. i absorbed any book i found on the history of silicon valley, capitalism, and technology. i frantically washed away my past, coloring it in hastily with an unsorted mass of new facts and opinions. i retraced footsteps along twisted trails as i squinted to distinguish what was true and what wasn't. i sought answers to my confusion in a sea of untenable positions.
i grew up in a perfectly maintained truman show bubble, where everything was a carefully controlled petri dish with any potential problems neatly swept away. out of sight, out of mind. i couldn't see outside the fish bowl so i thought i wasn't in one. when the bowl is large enough there is no world outside.
i thought i was looking out at the world when in fact the world was looking in at mine.
i thought i was in the best place in the world until my worldview started to shatter. i constantly felt like i was standing on shifting ground, no where to hold on to. i still feel quite alone at times, lots of loved ones i still know are stuck in the bubble.
there's no reason for them to be there than to believe they're still playing this game they never came out of. that their life is about this game and that they won’t stop until it’s game over.
i want to save them. i want them to see the real world too.
concerning but our parents literally said this
hi nancy, you dont know me but my gf showed me your substack a few weeks ago and ive really been enjoying these posts!
i feel like i can relate to this one very heavily bc it sounds like we have had a very similar upbringing. and almost as long as i can remember ive been staring down the barrel of “the game” of life and i have always hated it because of how bleak and soulless it seemed to spend the rest of your life on the grind.
the past 8 or 9 years have been a near constant struggle of looking for answers and alternative paths, doing mental gymnastics around reconciling the game with my own happiness and fulfillment, but at the end of the day im not sure if all this turmoil and existential crisis has really gotten me anywhere. obama wrote that his mom had “intellectual freedom at the cost of financial stability” or something like that, and at this point in life im wondering if the struggle against the system is worth it and maybe life is just better/happier/more peaceful on the other side of the game.
its interesting bc i see friends who see no problem with this game, or dont mind playing it, or some who thoroughly enjoy being a part of it and it blows my mind. but at some level i feel jealous of them, to be built for this world and just be happy playing along, because it sucks to be one of the seemingly few who feels so fundamentally misplaced here.
im not sure where exactly i was going with this, i just felt like i should share because people outside the bubble are rare but definitely not alone. anyway keep up the good work lol
"i thought i was looking out at the world when in fact the world was looking in at mine." and finally feeling validated when I found reboot <3