Impatient to change the world: ending maternal mortality and researching universal clean power
November - December 2020 (archived from MailerLite)
Hi I'm Samson, an 18yo taking the unconventional path and training to change the world. Welcome to my third newsletter!
Entering an exponential growth trajectory
18yo impatient to change the world
I was in a slump in early November. As I wrote in my last newsletter, October's priorities of a consulting challenge with Illumina and college apps had faded away, leaving me with only my 9-to-5 job. I poured time into it, but felt that I could and should be doing far more.
Then, on Sunday, November 15, TKS Activate (the second-year program of an entrepreneurship program I'm in) went global. Instead of just the 15 kids from New York, I was suddenly connected to all the smartest and most ambitious kids in TKS.
At a friend's suggestion, on Tuesday, November 17, I wrote my first daily update. Here's an excerpt from its reflection:
“This week — maybe even today especially, forcing myself to do a daily update — I feel like my momentum and focus is finally coming back. My time is blocking back up, and I feel like my output is soon to double or triple.”
In retrospect, that reflection has a prophetic quality to it. In my last newsletter, I had barely two things to share (Illumina and StartupTree). Here's what I've done since then:
Last newsletter, I had not a single article to share. Since then, I've written nine. Here are four about the projects above (3 are 6K+ words -- I'm working on brevity 😭 but better to be writing too much than too little):
How did this huge acceleration happen? There were a lot of things I was intentional about, among them leveraging connections, commitment to high standards, and internalizing the mindset that I could do big things and change the world. These are the things that TKS, and its community, helped me grasp and execute on. I wrote about all of them in a monster 7K word blog post here.
More personally, though, I had two mantras that drive me throughout the past month. The first was "BUILD BUILD BUILD BUILD BUILD." Or, as Marc Andreesen / GZM puts it, "IT'S TIME TO BUILD." Later, this became the more refined "learn build share repeat," as put by investor Patrick O'Shaughnessy.
Under this mentality, I built and launched an entire social platform in three days. I organized a community event in a community I'd only been a member of for two months. I signed on to build product for two new projects.
In reflection, though, I realized that there was an even deeper underlying drive at play. As I wrote in that monster reflection post:
“When I encounter a problem that I know I can solve, [that it doesn't seem anybody else is going to], there’s no stopping me.”
Deeper than the thrill of learning and building, it's the thrill of understanding the world, solving problems, and making a difference that drives me. This applies to almost all of the projects I've gotten excited about this past month:
Updately — I was sick of sending dozens of daily updates in Slack every night. I knew a simple webapp could solve the problem. Rationally, I knew it would be a waste of time for me to build this relatively unambitious webapp, but passionately, I couldn't resist, and spent three days building it out.
TKS Community Talks — I knew that Innovates could level up their speaking skills, had so much to share, had so much to learn if only they had the opportunity. Having an internal speaking event seemed an obvious solution to me, but nobody was thinking about it. So I made it happen.
Wireless power transmission/space solar power — imagine Starlink, but instead of just beaming down internet, each satellite in the constellation has solar panels and beams clean electricity to the entire world. That's the vision of SSP. It's been technically feasible since the 1980s. Why hasn't it happened??? As soon as I found out about this problem it became a deeply exciting one for me.
Ending maternal mortality — early in the research for this, but the data collection part seems like just a big UX/product design problem. Time to use my skills to save lives rather than increase someone's bottom line.
Dealing with overworking and burnout
Prioritization and de-prioritization
For all the excitement and positive changes that exponential growth has brought, it's also come at a cost. Here are a few excerpts from my daily updates (again, from that monster reflection post):
Working on something you're really passionate about — taking ownership for it, feeling compelled to make it happen at all costs — is highly draining. And, one thing I've come to realize is that working a high-performance full-time job is no less of an energy/time drain than school.
This past month, I worked myself to the point of not sleeping well (less than 6h/night for weeks on end). To put on TKS Community Talks, I underperformed at my job and the two projects (EMM and Rally) I'd taken on. I didn't really get anywere with my research on wireless power transmission. I knocked right on burnout's door and even stepped a few feet in.
The reminder I give myself to recover is what I've always told myself: relentlessly re-assess and re-prioritize. What can I cut out of my life? What do I not actually care about doing? Communicating this well to your superiors or collaborators is ultimately best for them/the overall project, too.
I've made a few cuts already, and I know I'll need to make more. My goal for the holiday break is to scale back on the work I'm doing for projects, personal growth, whatever. I'll focus on myself and remind myself of what actually excites me and brings me joyful fulfillment.
On a larger scale, I view this peak of overworking and subsequent cutting-down as just another oscillation in the process of finding myself:
Notably, I believe that it dampens out over time, moving towards an equilibrium point where you don't feel like you're overworking, or that you need to do more. As said by such folks as James Clear and Naval Ravikant, "Happiness is the absence of desire. It’s what you feel when you no longer want to change your state." My current oscillation is one step forwards towards happiness.
Personal & creative writing
Taking a step back
Our experiences of life are intricate and often unexpectedly beautiful. Writer me dropped by a few times this month to appreciate this. Thought I'd link a few posts before closing this letter off.
We’re human. We’re alive. We love and are loved. We feel happiness. Sometimes, the reminder of these things comes from the most unlikely of places.
Brief essay about my relationship with my Chinese identity, inspired by Chinese EXO lyrics
An archetypical story of childhood and growing up, told through my obsession with laptops and custom PCs
Some creative writing to finish it off 🎨 more themes of childhood, belonging, time, and loss
My journey is getting pretty wild, and I don't know where it's going to go, but I'm excited about it. Thank you to all of you reading this who have been a part of it, or are following along supporting.
There was much, much more that I wanted to share in this newsletter: snippets of wisdom, more about my projects, outlook on the future. I've written too many 6K+ word reflection pieces this month, though, so I'll keep it concise and trust that the things that matter will surface again later. I'll send another letter before the new year with some more information, and to get myself back on a regular monthly newsletter schedule.
Big moves and opportunities lay ahead.🤠
Talk to you all again soon!
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