End of Challenge Post

Well, I did it! With the publishing of this post, I’ve officially written 20 posts in 20 days. I came across a lot of really interesting realizations doing this that I’d like to record now.

The first is worrying that I wouldn’t know what to write about. Coming into this challenge, I had no idea how I would generate interesting content for twenty days in a row when I was barely posting once a quarter. But once I got to the computer and opened up WordPress, I wouldn’t leave until something had been written. In my early posts, I wrote about whatever I wanted. When I started publicizing my posts and blog traffic increased, I started to worry about what all the readers were thinking. Does what I write matter at all to those anonymous readers? I started filtering out ideas that I think I wouldn’t be able to express clearly or wouldn’t be interesting to the average Facebook viewer, which I think stifled a lot of creative potential. I really had to work to overcome that fear of anonymous judgement.

The second is that I noticed I’ve been a lot more expressive since I’ve started this. Like I have less of an issue being able to articulate a point I’m arguing for or trying to get across. It seems exercising writing ability has opened up thought flows in my speech. I think it’s because struggling to write something that every member of an anonymous audience would like and failing to do so made me care less about what others think.

Third, writing a blog post was always on my mind, so I kind of turned on an internal radar that always searched for interesting things to write about. It was kind of like a devotion of a certain kind. Am I be able to unleash other kinds of creative potential by doing something similar to this?

Fourth, that writing every day for 20 days is just not feasible in the long run at all. I can’t count the number of times I’ve posted past 12PM – it’s been far too many. However, I really enjoyed being able to express myself here, so I’ll probably continue to post consistently, just less frequently.

Fifth, I think I kind of went through what it takes to form a habit. It supposed to be about 21 days, right? I had a gap in the last week, but I’m just gotten so used to writing one post a day now that it’s no longer the huge burden on my mind that I described it to be in my initial 20×20 challenge post (linked above). If this challenge made writing a lot easier, I could probably use this same concept of a daily or weekly challenge to kick start other things I want to start doing on a regular basis but “never find the time to,” – I certainly found the time to do this. Perceived social pressure from an anonymous audience turned out to be surprisingly strong motivator.

Overall, I’m really glad I decided to do this challenge. The next question to tackle is: what other skills I’ve wanted to make time for could be improved by another long-term daily challenge?

For now, though, I’m taking a break. It feels good.

The Underdog Mentality

One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was playing on my city’s club soccer team. We had two great coaches, Coach Ralph and Coach Mike, who were with us throughout our elementary, junior high school, and early high school years. They were there through every step of our growth from boys to men.

Playing soccer under their mentorship taught us a lot of really important lessons. One important thing I learned was how to really push myself, especially on those tournament weekends where we’d have two full games on Saturday and three full games on Sunday. Another was to push yourself for the purpose of the team. Don’t do it for yourself, but for your team. Suffer for your team. Die for your team. Leave it all out there on the field, whether it’s a normal practice or a State Cup semifinal. But perhaps the most important lesson was the underdog mentality.

We learned it the hard way more times than we can count. For example, we’re ranked first in our league, going up against the lowest ranked team during a season match. We get destroyed. Or we have a really good first half, then get overconfident and lose it all in the second half. Or we just come out of a tournament win, then laze around at practice the following week because we think we’ve made it. Coach Mike and Coach Ralph would be swift and severe in their reprimand, even if it was right after a game, to destroy this tendency to ease up the throttle just because we’re ahead. The underdog mentality is practiced by a group of people or a single person, and it means to never believe that mediocrity is sufficient, no matter how convincing the circumstances may be to that effect.

When our team followed our coaches’ guidance and played as underdogs, we accomplished great things. When we played in this way, we never kicked the ball and ran after it, nor tried to dribble the ball and attempt juking out defenders for personal glory. We adhered to what we learned in practice, passing the ball in a controlled, smart way, emulating drills we learned at practice on the field. When played this kind of way, we won scrimmages, we beat state champions, we won State Cups. When we didn’t, we lost to the worst teams in our brackets and were knocked out of tournaments in the first two rounds. Our coaches’ lessons are burned into my memory with the sweet taste of triumphant victory and the bitter taste of humiliating defeat.

I think this lesson is so important because everything that we do to in order improve ourselves always relates back to this underdog mentality.

Indirectly, they taught us that the core belief of a true underdog is that any misstep will lead him to failure. He is up against an opponent, imaginary or real, who is far better than he is. Only through diligence, strict discipline, and a bit of luck can he overcome it.

While the underdog mentality worked for soccer, it applies to everything we want to get better at in life. Improving a skill. Refining a perspective or mentality. Gaining knowledge. Attaining a higher level of religious/spiritual enlightenment. Anything and everything you think and do is able to be subjected to the underdog mentality, because anything and everything we do can be done in a better way. Always.

“The enemy” is always the state between your current level of skill and your next level of skill, regardless of the level of skill. Believing that you’re always up against this superior enemy cuts your pride and gives you something to work towards. I think that’s why people who are great at something rarely think they are as amazing as we do – their underdog mentality is what brought them there.

Part of the underdog mentality is the strong presence of motivation to get better. Self improvement is constantly on the mind of an ideal underdog. Contained within the mentality of the underdog, then, is the self-regulatory mentality. The constant questioning of even the most deeply held convictions that tell you you’re at a certain level of competence. Your acceptance of the fact that you are not the best means you accept that with improvement, change is certain to be in the future and that that change may necessitate the updating or deletion of even those sacred protected convictions.

This allows one to be open minded, but leaves one to the danger of being swayed easily. So a strict criteria by which you judge what should change a conviction or not is also necessary. And this set of criteria is contained within our minds, completely subconscious and automatic – the filter by which we judge what to change about ourselves only improves with experience.

I think the ideal underdog measures himself by improvement, not absolute performance. It’s more important that he outperformed himself, not someone else. Because there’s always someone out there better than you, working harder than you, better at everything than you, and it’d be an unattainable and ultimately confidence-crushing goal. He’s always thinking, “I am not the best” even if he just set a world record in his skill. It’s so hard yet important to internalize this.

It all sounds so abstract, but it’s so concrete. It’s as concrete as studying hard for the class every upperclassman has told said “Don’t worry about that class, LOL.” It’s as concrete as accepting that you’re simply not as good at something as people tell you are. It’s as concrete as striving for excellence in things as minor as filling out an event form and things as major as college applications.

Coach Ralph and Coach Mike stopped pushing us at soccer practice years ago, but they continue to teach and reteach this lesson in underdoggedness each day of my life. It’s something I struggle with now, but I hope to internalize this one day so deeply that I won’t know what this post means because it’s so natural to me. That’s the dream.

Sonder

A totally made up word from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig:

Sonder – n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

I came across this quote a couple of years ago on tumblr. I was in high school at the time – everyone in our graduating class virtually knew or met every other person in some capacity sometime during the six years we were all together. So I while I could appreciate what this word meant, I could not internalize it. I could see how other people would have this feeling, but I couldn’t experience it myself.

Now here I am in college. My circle of acquaintances and friends make up less than 1% of all the students in my graduating class, let alone the entire school. It’s true what they say about large college campuses – I’m a small fish in a very large ocean.

Not only are we less significant, but we all live our lives so closely to one another, in very similar ways – I see hundreds or maybe even thousands of people walking by me on the way to class, studying next to me at the library, listening with me to the professor or TA during classes, eating near me in the dining halls, working out near me at the gym. Yet despite all of our shared similarities, I know not a single one of them.

In other words, it becomes clearer with each passing day what it means to experience sonder.

That person entering that classroom over there 200 feet away in all likelihood as as many family members and friends as I do, whose deaths he’d grieve for as strongly as I’d grieve the death of any of mine. There are people Snapchatting him ugly selfies every day, people who know his idiosyncrasies far better than I ever will. He believe himself to be as connected and significant to the world around him as I believe myself to be connected and significant to that very same world. He is more than an avatar in my field of awareness, but a real breathing person who is just as important as I am. There is no logic that makes his birth and his existence any more or less justified than mine. Yet I’ll never know his name, nor those of the countless billions of humans who live, have lived, and will live on this planet Earth.

And this same thinking applies from the point of view of every single of one those beings.

It blows my mind.

Notes I wrote about habits to motivate myself when I was really sleep-deprived a couple of weeks ago

Habits – even the slip of one day can be the tipping point for everything to fall apart. Absolute, unquestioning self discipline. Definitely slippery slope – but once a habit is formed, you’re set on a road that’s much harder to deviate from. Habit means that that activity is as natural as waking up or using the restroom. That’s a habit. Only be satisfied and rest in your pursuit of establishing your habit when you unconsciously go about doing it.

Food Matters

Up until this quarter, our housing college’s dining hall was known, at least among its residents, as UCSD’s “worst dining hall on campus.” A small list of the concerns:

  • Each dining hall on campus has a sort of specialty. Our dining hall’s specialty is meat, which alienated those who want to eat Halal even further than they already are on campus, but also vegans/vegetarians.
  • The meat in general was pretty bad, according to my friends who tried it
  • The veggie pho noodle soup was literally uneatable. I tried it twice, most people in my suite had tried it at one point or another, and I haven’t been able to find one person could actually finish the entire bowl. (sorry veggie noodle soup)
  • Fruit flies near the pancake toppings and fruit areas
  • Serving lunch an hour before breakfast had ended
  • Flavorless soups
  • Charging $2.25 for a cup of milk when you can but a quart literally right upstairs for $2.50 (though this is pretty common among all the dining halls)
  • Very little variety
  • Extremely congested in peak hours because some food items people wanted were frozen instead of ready to be cooked, causing waiting times to be between 10-15 minutes for a warmed up patty.
  • All this contributing to the general negative perception of dorm food and of our housing college

To a certain extent, when we’d vent our complains about the horribleness of our dining hall, we were nitpicking, but it bothered us nonetheless. I think inside, we all felt bad that we’d often rather walk 20 minutes to the opposite side of campus to eat at a better dining hall instead of eating at the one in our own college. Also socially speaking, the first thing you do when you ask a UCSD student is what housing college they’re from – and when one of the things the college you’re from is known for is a horrible dining hall, it makes us feel just a little bit ashamed. (Honestly though, we’re just thankful we have hot food waiting for us like 300 steps from our beds.)

So when the Housing and Dining administrators set up a booth in our dining hall’s seating area for anyone passing by to submit feedback, I took up the opportunity.

I was the only one who stopped by, I think, because from the time I walked in to eat lunch to the time I walked out an hour later, no one else approached them. I talked to them for a good twenty minutes and tried to frame my concerns to stem more from wanting to improve our housing college’s image and less about me just being sick and tired of the sparse options .

That was last quarter.

This quarter, here are some things that have changed since last quarter:

  • No more fruit flies
  • Better soups
  • Variety in food. Today, especially, I was blown away – we literally had fried macaroni and cheese as an entree option during lunch. (Got two servings of that)
  • I found out they changed food suppliers from whatever they had before to Sysco – I was just pleasantly surprised with the improved quality this quarter and one of the people working there told me that this was one reason why
  • Fellow students around me have stopped saying we have the worst dining hall on campus, which is really great

I’m not saying that things got better because of what I told the admins last quarter, but I’d like to think I’ve made a difference. Above all, I’m just thankful we’re get better food now.  =)

Screens

We spend so much time looking at screens.

List of things I do that involve looking at screens:

  • Computer science assignments – 8 hours a week
  • Writing essays – 8 hours a week
  • Doing a lab for my second CS class – 2 hours a week
  • Working on homework for my third CS class – 10 mins a week
  • Reading textbooks on my iPad (I’ve gone completely digital, saved a lot of money by sacrificing paper) – 3 hours per week
  • Reading books for my writing class on my iPad – 8 hours a week
  • Writing blog posts – 3 hours a week
  • Playing Brawl – 3 hours a week
  • Obsessively checking my phone in lull periods because it’s too uncomfortable to not doing anything (what have we come to?) – x hours a week. Too many to count.

And it’s definitely not just me. I take a look around at the dining halls during any meal and between people on their phones or watching the TV, screens are definitely a thing. This need to be looking at a screen.

It’s kind of a socially acceptable addiction. We need a constant stream of information at all times, whether its TV or video games or social media.

I guess it wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t bother me so much. Looking at a screen kind of takes you out of this reality, and allows you to be in this virtual world doing whatever it is you want – watching videos, seeing what other people are up to, or writing code.

It’s one reason I like working out. The strain allows me to get in touch with my body again, in a very grounding way.

Just some thoughts.

Post-MHacks

What an awesome weekend.

Despite my best efforts to finish work ahead of time, I still had a lot to do to catch up after this weekend (including sleeping.. lots of it), which is why I haven’t had the chance to post until now. I’m a bit behind on my challenge, but no matter; two posts a day for the next three days will get me right back on track.

I read this really great quote about success yesterday:

Some parents are content asking their children, “Did you have a good day?” or “What did you learn at school?” Not at the Blakely household. The question Sara and her brother had to answer night after night was this: “What did you fail at today?” When there was no failure to report, Blakely’s father would express disappointment.

“What he [my father] did was redefine failure for my brother and me,” Blakely told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “And instead of failure being the outcome, failure became not trying. And it forced me at a young age to want to push myself so much further out of my comfort zone.”

Source

Spoiler: I didn’t win anything at MHacks. I didn’t even get to finish my main project. So here’s my theme for this post: What did I fail at during MHacks? What did I learn from those failures?

The very first thing I noticed when leaving was how bulky my pillow was. To streamline the flying process, I had opted to not take a carry on and instead boil down to the essentials and cram everything in my backpack. My pillow didn’t, so I decided to carry it. It’s made of memory foam, so it’s pretty thick, which made it bulky and difficult to carry, but I thought it’d be worth it. It’s like a gigantic sponge that sucks away your consciousness and blesses you the deepest of sleeps. After I experienced pretty uncomfortable sleep at HackGT without a pillow, I wanted my experience at MHacks to be a bit more luxurious. The pillow turned out to be totally worth it, but I didn’t know it at the time and I was constantly dropping it and letting it get in the way of everything so I made a mental reminder to take a carry on if my hands were going to be full anyways.

Failed at HackGT to bring a pillow. Learned to bring a pillow. Failed at MHacks by carrying a gigantic pillow so I wouldn’t overstuff my poor backpack. Learned to bring a carry on for the pillow so I wouldn’t overstuff my poor backpack. I printed out my boarding passes on paper when my electronic boarding pass on my phone works just fine (and I had a backup battery pack if my phone battery died). Waste of paper. Forgot to bring gloves, and my hands nearly froze solid waiting for the bus to pick hackers up from the airport.

Small things, inconsequential in their own situations, but they matter. Learning how to deal with small failures are a lot easier than dealing with bigger ones, and practicing the failing and learning process is necessary to deal with failures with bigger things. At least for me. Going in with this mentality allowed me to deal with the bigger ones later on in the weekend.

So, moving on to the bigger things.

We all met up at around 9PM on Friday evening – Dora, Vaishnavi, Bryan, Frederick, and I. It was a natural group here because the first three and I graduated from the same high school class, and Frederick was a talented hacker friend of Bryan’s. We all agreed to form a team to get together to work on our hacks.

After the Sponsor API expo and opening ceremonies, we all headed out to find a space to hack for the next 36 hours. It took us about 2 hours to settle in a spot, mostly because all the good spaces were already taken by teams who had gotten there earlier. Note to self: get hacking spaces at hackathons early.

We spent the next 6 hours throwing around ideas. Dora had some social networking ideas, and I had a list of different things saved in my Evernote ranging from calendar app reminding you of great things that happened in your life when you’re sad, to a voicemail to text app. The closest we got to agreeing on something that hadn’t EXACTLY been done before was a food app for college students that would suggest recipes based on inventory in local stores, cost range of the student, and cooking utensils available to the user (dorm residents like us may only have a microwave and refrigerator, while those in apartments have a full kitchen). But we quickly shot it down for not being truly original and just too difficult to pull off.

We only started to get stuff done when we relinquished the goal of trying to build a winning idea and instead focusing on finishing something smaller that would be satisfying to build.

So we ended up working on three projects – Dora and Vaishnavi on a Turmac Roll clone for iPhone, Bryan on a phrase guessing game for iPhone, and Frederick and I on a web application that would help users keep track of their extended family (born directly out of my frustration with my own ignorance of my extended family when I visited them over Winter Break).

Since Frederick was already well versed with Ruby on Rails for the backend, I hunkered down and began learning AngularJS, a frontend Javascript framework that would be ideal for the application we were building.

Halfway through the project we realized that the way we were writing our code made it almost impossible to couple together for the app. Frederick decided instead to work on an Android app and I remained working on learning Angular and implementing it for the web app. Because I didn’t have enough time to learn both Angular and a back-end software like Rails, I decided instead to opt for learning Firebase, a simpler way to manage data on the backend. I didn’t ultimately finish, but I learned a lot about web development. Mostly, how hard it is.

For the most part, we all remained close to each other throughout the hackathon, getting food for each other, reminding each other about event times, and helping debug each other’s code. However, our main work focused on our individual projects.

After the hackathon ended, I think we all realized how inferior in experience and knowledge we were in relation to the type of people who won. First place was an app that generated step-by-step instructions for any picture fed to it using Fourier series and on-the-cloud computing. Second place was a hack that broadcasted an Internet signal using FM Radio. Third place was a haptic feedback suit for the oculus rift. The rest of the top ten hacks and almost every single one of the prize-winning entires required technical talent, skill, or experience our team simply didn’t have. I was glad, after seeing all this, that we had all chosen to focus on what we truly enjoyed most.

As always, the biggest thing I got from the hackathon was motivation to become better. Achieving to implement even the bare bones of my web app was fulfilling enough to motivate me to work on it in my free time after the hackathon, which definitely wouldn’t have happened without the concentrated 36 hours, help from all the mentors, and the feeling of just being there with a thousand other people also working to build something they’ve wanted to build for a while.

Not shipping at MHacks may have been the biggest “failure” of my weekend, but going through the process, learning new software, making new friends and simply trying were my biggest achievements of the week.

Seeing the Future

I was covered up pretty well, wearing my beanie and my North Face ski jacket (because it’s jarringly cold here in Michigan for a San Diego-an accustomed to 70 degree winter days) and it was something about my clothing covering up the other visual cues of my body and the stubble and the lighting and who knows what else that did it. I looked in the mirror and saw myself – someone in his mid 20s, perhaps. I experienced a “first impression.” I looked a bit more serious, more rugged. It’s the first time this type of thing has ever happened to myself. It’s been 15 minutes since it’s happened but I’m already forgetting what it was like.

It’s usually someone you see regularly, someone whose mannerisms you are acquainted with. The vision might be triggered by the person in question wearing a certain style of clothing, doing a certain action, going about with a certain kind of hairstyle, carrying himself or herself in a certain way, or me, the viewer, looking at him/her at a certain angle with light shining on him/her in the exact way – it might even be the thoughts and mood that I may be experiencing at the moment – any number of infinite unconfirmable, unidentifiable parts of some abstract equation that all combine together to complete a secret formula unique to every individual.

When this secret formula is achieved, the “vision,” if I can call it that, begins. As soon as I am aware, I immediately fixate my gaze on the person in question, trying to preserve what I see. They never notice – they go about doing exactly what they were doing before the vision started for me.

From when it begins to when it decays a few seconds later, it feels like I can see an older version of their face. Overlaid on the perfectly normal face my eyes are perceiving are slightly more wrinkles on his/her face, a slightly more mature manner in their speech, perhaps a slightly different body language – in the space of a few seconds, my brain is augmenting reality, and yes, it looks like I’m seeing an older version of the person.

I’m always skeptical of things like this – there’s usually some neurological behavior that explains most “unreal” things, so I try my very best to store what I see in my long term memory to see if after the moment passes, I can look back on the memory rationally and evaluate its realness. So I concentrate as intensely as I can on what I’m experiencing.

Yet as soon as the moment ends, either due to focusing so hard on it, or some other cause far beyond my ability to explain, the vision rapidly decays in my memory. I grasp at it, doing my best to preserve it somehow, but it’s just so unlike anything I experience that I don’t think my brain knows what to do with it. So after half an hour or so, I forget the image. When I tell myself I do remember it, I’ve just tried to remember it so many times that it’s different than what is was in the moment (I think this one explanation for what happens) But I remember that I experienced it. And it just baffles me.

Is it what I think the person will look like in the future? If it’s some sort of unconscious thing, then what’s the reason it happens? Confirmation bias? But it happens so randomly, with no pattern apparent in either my thinking or surroundings, and the whole thing just feels so otherworldly and abstract compared to the usual day-to-day sensory input that I’m used to experiencing, and it happens for random people at random times (and the same person more than once, sometimes). It’s weird. It’s also oddly personal and spiritual.

I don’t know why it happens. I’ll never know whether my “vision” turns out to be correct or not. All I can say is: it exists.

A cool quirk of nature.

The Value of Wonder

Huge hunks of metal the size of newspaper stands begin spinning at thousands of circles per minute, applying force to a huge metal box with spindly appendages which, combined with the turbines, generate enough thrust to lift itself and the turbines and the huge metal box and its thousands of gallons of flammable liquid and me and three hundred passengers and all of our luggage ten miles up and thousands of miles across the world.

We accelerate down a strip of road one mile long and two hundred feet wide, and I’m forced back into my seat, as if I’m being catapulted forward. The landscape outside my porthole window whizzes by at a faster and faster rate, then suddenly drops away. Within ten minutes I can see our home city and all of its suburbs. Heck, there’s another country over there, like fifty miles away. I can see it.

Hundreds of thousands of square miles of civilization lie beneath me. Metropolises connected by thousands of miles of roads that transform journeys that took three months to eight hours.
I pull out a brick from my pocket about as long and wide and thin as my outstretched hand minus my two outer fingers. It grants me access to a network invisibly transmitted through particles that, on a logarithmic scale, are smaller compared to a grain of sand than that grain of sand is compared to the entire Earth. An array of microscopic containers emitting these tiny particles communicates using more tiny particles with a piece of clear metal made from the same material as that grain of sand that communicates using more tiny particles to this network, and all that stuff in my brick working together allows me to communicate in real time to anyone in the world and grants me access to virtually everything humans have ever discovered.

———————————————–

Marco pauses, breathless. He looks around. The jury members are asleep or unfocused, bored out of their minds. The magistrate’s face remains sympathetic. “This poor, poor man,” the magistrate remarks, addressing the sparse audience instead of the man standing before him, clad in a leather tunic and pig hide boots. Five minutes later, the gavel pounds the podium and he is carted away in a padlocked carriage to a ramshackle wooden building he’ll spend the rest of his life in. Mad people are unpredictable and dangerous. It’s for his own good.

Pre-MHacks Thoughts

I fly out tomorrow at 8am to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for my second major hackathon: MHacks. It’s one of the most hyped up and talked about events in the Hackathon Hackers community on Facebook, which with over 10,000 members is one of the biggest if not the biggest hacking community in existence. But I’m not feeling the excitement – to be honest, I’m scared of failure. And I’m trying to figure out why, so I can change that negative energy into positive motivation.

I went to my first major hackathon, HackGT, with feelings of being able to accomplish the impossible – unbounded enthusiasm, passion, feeling. I was (and DEFINITELY still am) the typical excited freshman unaware of the true grit and hard work required to ship a finished product – just blissful that I get to fly across the country for free to follow a passion, unobstructed with school or other extracurriculars, that I’ve had for over four years.

I came in with what I thought was an awesome, doable idea – a Google Chrome extension that would add saving functionality to Facebook posts.

Yet the project, while simple enough conceptually, turned out to be far more complicated than the teammate I found there and I expected. Documentation for Chrome extensions turned out to be very unhelpful, and Facebook feeds were an endlessly dynamic flow of content that required advanced Javascript/Chrome-specific software that were beyond the limits of what we could learn in 36 hours.  In the end, we walked out with a Chrome extension that added a save button, minus its functionality, to Facebook posts.

In all honestly though, that was the only downside to the whole experience, if that can even be considered a downside. I made some great friends and caught up with two old ones I hadn’t seen in a long time. I learned what it was like to fly across the country by myself, how to Javascript, how to divide up work between teammates, how to Git, and some ins and outs of how big hackathons work.

After I came back, I was still in high spirits. I had just experienced all these new things and I was still absorbing them. I was still enthusiastic about the Facebook Chrome extension project, telling myself I would finish it in the free time I had left in summer and during my first quarter of college. As time went on, though, life happened and the project never materialize. I became… ambivalent about the whole experience.

I’d like to call myself a hacker – someone who enjoys taking up problems and figuring out an innovative solution using hardware and software. I love computer science and making complicated things come to life on a screen and even in reality, if it’s hardware, by simply entering a couple thousand words into Sublime Text 2 or Vim or whatever IDE and clicking the run button. There’s so much pleasure and satisfaction with having the deep understanding of how a complicated thing functions. All hackers feel this way, to some extent. But here is a fact that bothers me: I don’t have anything to show for it. I’ve done tutorials, I’ve gone to hackathons, but I haven’t fully finished a project, 100%, all the way to completion. I’ve yet to complete a computer science project I’m proud of.

I guess I’m in that stage of my life where I’m trying pretty hard to figure out who I am and who I want to be. Hackathons are opportunities to exhibit this self-perception that’s tied to my career and aspirations and passions and self-respect. So it doesn’t feel right to call myself a hacker before those skills that I tell myself I have manifest themselves through a finished product. Now, it feels like MHacks is a matter of proving that this perception I have of myself is more than an unsubstantiated fancy.

It runs deep. But I think there’s another part of me swimming around here that I haven’t caught yet that runs still deeper.

My attitude towards failure in high school wasn’t so great. Early on in 9th grade, I received sympathy for expressing my sadness about failures, which made me feel better. As the years went by and as I failed and succeeded (just like anyone else who’s had a normal high school life) in more things , my friendships changed and I no longer received that sympathy. I think I started expecting that sympathy from myself, leading some pretty bitter periods of my life that I’m not exactly proud of (read some of my old posts, you may see it 😛 ) I’ve come out on the other side a lot happier, though I’m still picking apart and learning from what happened.

Being a hacker or a programmer is merely a status. At the end of the day, it’s a label for a skill set, and in the grand scheme of life, it’s as transient as the clothes I wear every day. It’s a passion, sure – it’s a potential career, sure – but I think I’m more defined by something more constant: how I approach every general challenge, every general emotional obstacle that may come across my path in the (hopefully) long journey of life.

It’s clearer now why I’m so ambivalent about HackGT. I wasn’t afraid that one experience would define me – I was afraid that the experience was symptomatic of a general inability to commit to something and execute it to completion. Which is definitely something far more serious. Looking at it this way, how I define myself is no longer a question of skills I may or may not possess at this point in time, but a question of willpower. Willpower was what prevented me from ever finishing that Chrome extension, not my lack of knowledge.

So here’s the deal: This weekend, it doesn’t matter whether I believe I’m a hacker or not. It doesn’t matter whether I ship something or not. What does matter is how hard I’m going to try to come up with an idea I’m proud of. What does matter is to what lengths I’m willing to push myself outside of my comfort zone to accomplish this goal. Because how I choose to approach this challenge, and whether I choose to learn from instead of be defined by my failures, is indicative of how I’m going to approach the rest of the challenges waiting for me in life, which outnumber and outsize MHacks 100,000,000,000 to 1.

At the first hackathon I went to, I did Android tutorials for 24 hours. The second, I tried for 36 hours to ultimately fail in finishing my first hackathon-worthy idea. This is my third hackathon. Will I continue this upward trend of improvement? Does it matter? Will I choose to be proud of success, or proud of effort?

I have no idea. I’m about to find out.