Finding alignment

The courage 
to start one more time

Since early in life, I really wanted to be self creative, rather than being managed, forced and limited by some external education system or workplace or whatever. I wanted to find something highly meaningful and engaging and then fully devote myself to that. So far in my life I have done that a few times more or less successfully. The most life-changing one was when I dropped out of university to self-study Chinese.

Let me elaborate on this event a little bit more: Before my mid teens I hadn’t been too good with languages, at some point I was in danger of having to repeat a year, because of my Latin grades. Trying to avoid disaster, I started to cram three days before exams. My mum would spend a couple of hours asking me vocabulary (thanks mum), the vocalization really helped me. (Both of these: vocalization and intense cramming, became later the basic activities for me acquiring Chinese at a cramming pace for months on end.) Even when my grades got better, we would still continue to practice before each exam and every time I would reek the benefits of this efforts for weeks afterwards.

Some people seem to be most comfortable learning in an externally structured setting, that prescribes content, practice and progress. For me this is different. I really seek to find passion that drives me forward.


During my first year of university, I met a student from Spain (actually Catalonia), whom I consider to be one of the most internally happy people I have known, simply because he seemed free of internal contradiction and external pretensions. He would wake up and start reading his physics book, such an alignment is what I most admire. I don’t he had any money at al, but still invited me to make Pa amb tomàquet.

For many others it seemed that what they wanted to do and what they thought they ought to do, where unrelated, say partying to escape studying or doing homework. But I really want to find joy and meaning in what I do.

Previous to that, I had already seen how someone would pursue things mostly for the sake of external rewards and consequences, without the necessary intrinsic motivation. I simply didn’t see how such inner misalignment was sustainable in a healthy way.

Extrinsic motivation is externally bound and depends on circumstances. When the way is full of rewards, however, this is actually not a bad strategy to move forwards. Imagine a thriving and ever increasing business for the owner or any employee that directly benefits from increasing gains. Or a singer/artist/writer or any creative professional, who meets with positive feedback. The greatest danger is when the inner part of the individual is not well centered and needs to be satisfied by an ever increasing external stimulus. This is a state of intoxication, which cannot be called a state of true happiness.

In contrast I was longing to see joy in achievement, when a person is naturally aligned with what they do and every effort invested brings them even further. When one’s values and abilities, constructive work and external reward align. In my life I have found the former, but not yet in full connection to the outside world.

“Follow my bliss”: 
self-studying Chinese

After seeing this innocent and natural joy in my fellow student, I really wanted this for myself. At this stage of my life, I had already gone through personal transformation, learned to trust myself, so it was inconceivable that external force rather than desire and joy  would drive me at the core of my pursuit.

I decided to trust myself, follow my nature. This got me started on learning Chinese. I bought an interesting book explaining the most frequently used 2000+ Chinese characters in very memorable stories, either as pictographs or a composition of their components. Simultaneously I engaged with an audio-program: deeply relaxed I would follow the instructions and translate sentences into Chinese, saying them out loud. This was very effective in developing a sense for speaking the language. Over time I tried out other practices and found some that worked well. Overall, after one or two months I had build momentum for my learning.

All of this worked out for quite a while, I went to China, came back, enrolling in Sinology (Chinese Studies) and aced most courses, while improving my writing, learning classical Chinese and History. All of this was highly rewarding, but at last it didn’t solve the question of how to make a living.

Passion, but how to make a living?

The department’s Chairman had been really encouraging and so I applied for a scholarship to study in Taiwan. I had already learned the language, now I could study culture, literature, history and philosophy in Chinese! I felt highly intrigued, especially seeking to understand how two cultural perspective answer questions of life in such a different way. After my first semester, I had already finished most courses and was reading a simple history of Chinese philosophy “中国哲学简史” finding joy in every new concept I discovered. A pure sense of joy, I couldn’t connect with since.

At that time almost everybody, even one lecturer of Chinese history, seemed to value STEM subjects higher than anything in the humanities, telling me to go back to physics and such, as they attributed a positive professional prospect. This by itself wouldn’t have deterred me. I had a vision of values, of al the things I learned from books, all the pride I took in the creation of my own person and the joy and peace I found in every step of my pursuit. But even I couldn’t see how to make money on my current path and didn’t know whom to talk to. Maybe the question didn’t even occur to me as I had long given up on seeking advice, when the people I sought it from didn’t take my nature into proper consideration. At that time, I had just a raw understanding of my own nature and few if any person knew myself the way I had become.

Earlier I had been okay, when an older friend had advised me against dropping out of university, by describing how shameful it would be to be unemployed. I did not heed his warning, because I had my intuition to guide me, and I really needed my life to make sense in a positive way. But this time, I felt lost for answers.

Computer Science: Trying an alternative path

I choose computer science, because in form it most resembled what I wanted: Independence, self-learning, building things etc. Also I always had a fast mind when it came to understanding math related subjects. I went on to study CS for 5 years, obtained a Bachelor and Master degree. Working throughout my graduate studies and doing contractor work for the same company, doing research and building systems for Natural Language Processing of Chinese. This seemed closest to my original intention and I could motivate myself by the idea of developing tools to improve language learning. This seemed like a viable option.

During graduate school my schedule was quite packed, keeping up a regular exercise routine, I woke up 4.30 am in the morning, arrived at the office around 6.20am, to return before commuting traffic started. I took sometime walking up a small mountain nearby, reading Confucius in Chinese and reflecting about my life and goals.

Computer Science worked out externally. Most Professors gave me the freedom not to attend class as I delivered results. Consistently earning more money than I knew what to do with was quite motivating and I spend extra time working towards the completion of work related projects, one step at a time.

Missing inner alignment

I became increasingly aware of the lack of internal alignment and since I abandoned my Chinese studies I had not found a state of full joy and inner peace. Earlier, I had still tried to convince myself, giving me time to adapt, trying to convince myself that science and engineering were superior to language and internal wealth, because they could give me external results.

Performance wise, I was still better than many of my classmates, even when I graduated one year earlier, went to a top university and delivering excellent and in some cases even exceptional results. But I didn’t feel the alignment. I felt exhausted. Thinking that if I could give myself time to self-study and achieve with joy. What was more, I had known what I could do when I was performing at full capacity, while I had been (self-) studying Chinese, because of my internal motivation. What I was doing now, by my own standards, felt mediocre. I didn’t feel in my element.

Anyways, I pushed through, but the greatest sense of joy came when I once took a day off (I often worked over the weekend), going to my mountain, sitting under tree shades, reading a Chinese classic and experiencing a great sense of resonance. This had always been a road I wanted to pursue, but lacking any practical application, I couldn’t allow myself the irresponsibility of sacrificing my financial future. So I thought.

Seeking a path

After graduation I signed with the company I had worked throughout my Masters, because I had to complete some more systems.

I really wanted to recover what I had lost, so I enrolled in a Master of Chinese literature. I was willing to work part-time, also to fulfill visa requirements. I felt trapped. Ultimately I couldn’t keep up with the course work while working full-time. I lacked a clear sense of direction.



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