Survival was the theme of this past year. When I expressed layoff worries in February 2022 (after Googling consequences of interest rate hikes as an econ noob…), friends joked that I was a “Golden State Worrier”. After the chips were down last November, the shock was not one bit absorbed by anticipation. Seeing coworkers I just spoke and worked side by side with disappearing was unreal and painful. Since then I can’t quite recall the last time I felt truly exited or relaxed — I seem to overdo what I can to feel a tiny bit safer.
It makes sense — as a friend once said, we wouldn’t have survived as strangers in a strange land if we didn’t constantly stay vigilant. Missing out on exiting stuff seems much less consequential than overlooking what matters to our survival — or so I thought, until I recently came across Engineer’s Survival Guide:
I used to panic and start thinking about the worst possible outcome to make sure I was prepared. Looking back, I missed many opportunities because I was acting on fear instead of excitement. […] Why is being exited about a situation so important? Because it opens you up instead of closing you down. […] When we are exited, we start having fun with what we are doing.
Strangely the last year of grad school, I was in a much worse position than where I am right now — I didn’t know if I was gonna graduate or find a job at all, yet I was so exited to learn everything I could about machine learning. First day of internship, I was thrown a big hairy graph problem — I knew nothing about graph neural nets back then and had never worked with massive graphs (only small Bayes nets), but instead of fear, I was genuinely curious about how relationships could be encoded and what model architectures make that possible. I spent loads of time reading tangentially related papers/blogposts — now I can probably do the same project in half of the time, but I’d never trade the excitement for the fear and pressure to perform.
Maybe the tunnel vision is exactly what I need to survive in desperate times, but desperate times will be over — when it does, I hope there is still excitement and curiosity inside me.