A kaleidoscopic 2020 + moving to a tech house in Utah
January 2021 (archived from MailerLite)
Hey, I'm Samson, an 18yo taking an unconventional path to high-impact building and entrepreneurship.
2020 has been a year of rapid learning and growth for me, and things aren't slowing down any time soon. Here's a look backwards and forwards, featuring literary magazines, advancing the vision of space solar power, and moving to a community house in Utah.
A first half-year in tech
2020 in review
In a New Year call with some TKS friends, we went around and shared three words to describe the past year. These were my three:
A high-quality pane of glass is smooth and transparent. beautiful in its perfection.
When a prism is chipped, its flawlessness is gone, but new colors are seen through the cracks and blunted edges. When it shatters, a whole kaleidoscope of hues and patterns explodes out of the intricately broken pieces.
It's not uncommon for people to describe their 2020 as a year of shattering. For me, it's for reasons other than the common ones.
Personal events gave me new understandings of love, pain, trauma, and family, and a new appreciation for the arts and humanities that dare -- or are forced -- to process and interrogate such understandings.
On a more superficial level, unexpected college decisions sent me tumbling out of my comfortable academic bubble and into the real world of careers, salaries, and the unguided, human pursuit of purpose and fulfillment.
Though this is a reflection of great privilege, out of my shattered stabilities have come for me, aside from struggle, myriad new dimensions to my understandings of myself and the world around me.
One of my key learnings from this fall is that finding your passion is a process of continuous iteration, not prepared discovery.
I was a humanities kid at the beginning of the year. I spent my time running a newspaper and excitedly discussing Existentialist philosophy, integenerational trauma, and modernist literature. I aspired to become an academic studying critical race theory and news media.
Then, committed to an engineering school without knowing what I would do with an engineering education, I took a gap year and pivoted to tech. I've worked as a product manager and software engineer, and learned about entrepreneurship with my own projects and programs like LCS and TKS.
I don't know what I'll major in, what career path I'll pursue, or almost anything about where I'll be one year from now. But I'm seeking learning and meaning every step of the way, and seeing where it will take me.
"You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with," as the saying goes. Many people in my life this past year have been huge contributors to my learning and growth. Here are some notes of gratitude, in roughly chronological order:
Thank you Dr. Slater, Tracy, M. Martin, Mr. O'Connor, Ms. Cai-Hurteau, Ms. Springer, Mr. Prescott, Mr. McHugh, Mr. Robinson, Dr. Hagler, and many other teachers at Andover for consistently bringing out from me a deep joy of learning, and profoundly expanding my knowledge and worldview in humanities and STEM alike.
Thank you Tessa, Junah, Aissata, Aloo, Andrew, and all the rest of The Phillipian vol. CXLII and CXLIII for being the most amazing co-conspirators, teammates, and radical conversation partners I've had.
Thank you Maxwell, Irura, Jason, Andy, Christina, the Sam boys, the Stu boys; Andover XC, Nordic, and Cycling; and all the others I've called friends, classmates, teammates, clubmates, or anything else who made my experiences at Andover so enjoyable and valuable,
Thank you Emily, Ariel, Ocean, Natalie, Julia, Victor, and others at The Incandescent Review for the amazing community you built and were a part of that served as my entry point into the literary world.
Thank you Emily, Arnav, Emma, Clara, Warren, Erik, and other members of Stem4Free for being such amazing co-directors and friends.
Thank you Terry Xu for replying to my random email in the spring and recommending TKS to me. I have no idea where I would be without your advice.
Thank you Shifra, Izzy, Davide, and other TKS alumni for their support and guidance before I had even joined the program. Thank you Nadeem, Navid, Hayley, Michael, and all the other directors who have put so much effort into helping students and making TKS the best it can be. Thank you Sabeeh, Aaron, and Kevin for being the OG New York squad; Nyla, Adeola, Elizabeth, Adara, Michael, and all the other Activates for maintaining such a high-powered global community; and all the Innovates who have taken part in TKS Community Talks, used Updately, or just shared their experiences with me and taken my advice.
Thank you Jennie, Alex, Steph, Twei, Clara, Arno, and others in an Andover "family" I stumbled into two years ago that has since been vitally grounding in so many ways.
Thank you Peter, Jenna, Cristiana, Jean, and the Life Changing Summer team for being such amazing teachers and organizers for the program that gave me my educational foundation in entrepreneurship.
Thank you Peter, Theresa, Sungho, and the StartupTree team for being such supportive and receptive mentors and co-workers at my first full-time tech job.
Thank you to my mom and sister for making our tiny apartment a deeply loving and vibrant home in all the time we spent together, and for their support in every other way.
What's next? The next half year of building and learning
To Utah and beyond
Prioritization, and correspondingly de-prioritization, are the most important things someone can do to get things done or grow as a person. Prioritization can be hard with external (parental, societal, etc.) pressure or limited opportunities for change, but even without these limitations it requires many cycles of damped oscillations before reaching a comfortable equilibrium of purposeful work.
Last month, I piled on commitments. It was exciting, because it was the first time I was able to do impactful work like save lives in rural Nigeria or contribute to the vision of space solar power. I quickly found myself with too many projects, though, ultimately falling short of expectations (my own and others') on all but one or two of them, with no time to sleep or explore my own further interests.
Since then, I made a big effort to cut down on the commitments I'm not passionate about and focused on what I am. I quit my full-time PM job at StartupTree. I wrapped up my research for EMM and left the team. I turned down an offer to continue working with Illumina on Scribe.ai.
So what am I passionate about? Building and problem-solving will always be constants. These are the things that make an impact on the world, and give me fulfillment.
I'm continuing to build Updately, a social platform for daily updates, recently adding comments and now working on notifications. The platform has already facilitated some beautiful serendipitous interactions that otherwise wouldn't have happened.
Aside from its value to myself and to the TKS community, I'm planning to make a pivot to the general trend of building in public as a marketing channel, building product and growth skills through a project empowering myself and the most curious and ambitious doers around me.
I ran the first round of TKS Community Talks alone, but its success proved the value of my vision and now I'm working with a team of four other students and a dozen mentors to put on the second round of talks.
The application deadline will be right around the time I send this email. I've been talking with applicants all day, and there are some really exciting topics on applicants' minds, and just as much energy to put on an interesting, high-standards round of talks.
The goals for this round are to improve community turnout and talk quality. With doubled time for feedback, including a round from Directors, and already more than twice the amount of submissions compared to the first round, things are looking good!
I'll be continuing my wireless power transmission/space solar power research under TKS' World's Biggest Technical Problem framework. I'm still very early in my research, having not been able to prioritize it for a few weeks due to other priorities, but I'm excited to get back to putting consistent blocks of time into it.
I have the support of some of the leading researchers in the field, so I have lots of guidance and direction. The goal is to create a research proposal or entrepreneurial project to make a meaningful contribution towards the goal of powering the earth through space solar power satellites.
Personally, I'm training my ability to activate meaningful change within a research field, and potentially doing rigorous physics research for the first time. This concept specifically is also incredibly exciting to me -- a super high-impact problem that I believe I can meaningfully contribute to solving, that way too few others are working on.
Lastly, I'll be living in a community house in Utah called Edyfi for the next three months, with 13 other curious and ambitious 18-22yos working on various startups and research projects (including four TKS alumni!). I was planning to move to my own apartment in NYC, this is much cheaper + I'm surrounded with people who will push me to learn and build. There have already been some amazing conversations at the house, and I'm looking forward to what comes out of the next three months!
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October fast, November slow, December fast, now this month is a little slower, but less than before. Each newsletter corresponds to one more half-cycle in the oscillations that slowly approach equilibrium.
This past year has been a year of rapid learning and growth, from a half-year diving into social and literary critique at Andover and The Incandescent Review to the latter half-year rapidly ramping up a career in tech and entrepreneurship at TKS, StartupTree, and across my rapidly growing network.
Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed: I've always been ambitious, driven to build, and taking my life one step and pivot at a time. The dimensions and ranges in which I do this have simply increased, and will only continue to multiply and grow as I accumulate experiences and connections.
2020 has been kaleidoscopic. Thank you for following along with and being a part of my journey. Here's to 2021!
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