For the majority of my career, I've worked from home. My second "real" job after college was a job I did mostly from either my actual shared rental house, or the beautifully architected library in Downtown Salt Lake City. When I started working full-time on my company in 2013, I worked out of a bedroom converted into an office for five years.
In 2018 things changed dramatically. I started working in one of the most dramatic office parks in the world: Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters in California. I loved the office, the perks, the architecture, the vibe, seeing my best friends (coworkers) daily. It was a change, but an extremely welcome change for me.
In March of this year, I moved from Menlo Park to the New York City area. I live in my dream situation: a suburb of New York City. New Rochelle is big enough to feel like a city, but I have what I'd call a "normal American home." My city has public transit access to the biggest city in the US, but my kids have a mini forest in our backyard for them to explore. We can drive 10 minutes north to get away from city life, and 10 minutes south to embrace it.
It's should be perfect for me, but I've been miserable.
Comparatively to my life in 2018, basically every measure is better. I have wealth, a better home, a well paying career, support from my employer to continue pursuing what I view as the best problem for me to work on, but outside of my bubble the world feels like it's crumbling.
COVID-19, Briona Taylor and George Floyd all shifted my world experience. July 2020 does not match how I expected it to go.
I thought I'd be moving into my home, working on growth graphs of our product, and operating under the routine I had planned out in January 2020. Never would I have considered I'd be essentially quarantined to my home, checking charts of literal virality and death rates around the US, or ruminating on my considerable privilege daily.
This expectation mismatch, along with a healthy dose of subpar brain chemistry, has put me squarely in the realm of suffering for more days than not since the movers unpacked the boxes in our wonderful home.
But I really do want to be happy. I want to be free of suffering. I don't want to feel like the world is coming down around me.
I started reading a book by Mo Gawdat called Solve For Happy. It's not the cure-all guaranteed way to happiness, but its framework has been a great refresher in how to be happy regardless of circumstance.
The entire premise can be neatly summed up as: If your expectation of how the world should be doesn't match the way you feel the world is actually, you will feel unhappy.
You can either suffer in that state by default, or willfully choose to change either part of the equation... essentially change your expectations or perceive the world more accurately / broadly and you'll likely be happier.
This may not seem like a radical concept, but throughout the book it's been great for me to take a look at who I actually am.
The book posits anything you can observe, make judgments, or changes demonstrably outside of your consciousness is not really "you". Meditation focuses on the idea that if you're able to turn off the thought stream, you'll be more aware of the reality of life around you, and be able to more accurately perceive things. As you accurately perceive your immediate surroundings, it might cause you to accurately perceive the world around you. Instead of focusing on the thought stream flowing through your brain, which tends to bias toward negativity, consume a variety of information to balance the positive and negative.
Instead of considering "you" as the things that make up a person, like their inner monologue, outward appearance, or the things they own or do, the book reinforces that notion of the self is actually something else entirely. If you can observe and pass judgement on something, then those things can't by definition be "you". You can't be your inner thoughts because you can observe them and decide if they're useful or harmful. Your body is something which you control, but it isn't "you", "you" just drive it.
Applying this concept to COVID, I've had inner thoughts that things are annoying right now. That I'm frustrated with my lack of ability to go into the office. I wish things could go back to the way they were.
But from a work perspective, the way things were two years ago is largely indistinguishable from today, and have progressed steadily. "I" have now judged these thoughts, and decided they aren't the whole story.
Focusing on the negative served an evolutionary necessity: Our ancestors couldn't have survived had they not focused on the negative. Avoiding wild animal attacks, prudently farming in case things go south, etc. etc. All those things benefit from a focus on the downside risks, and filter out the upside risks.
113 people died in Florida on July 15 because of COVID. The downside of COVID's spread and resurgence is unquestionable. However, my reaction to those sets of facts can actually be questioned.
I honestly can't do anything to affect Florida's COVID infection rate. I have friends there who I haven't really spoken with in years... I guess I could ask them to wear masks and socially distance... but honestly my impact and potential impact next to nothing. I shouldn't choose to suffer, but instead focus on my wonderful family, home life, and optimizing the world around me.
The murders of George Floyd and Briona Taylor are abjectly horrible. Racism and police brutality have been on my mind more than ever before. My implicit reaction has been one of continued sorrow, a feeling that the world isn't fair and never will be fair, and despair that people in my neighborhood who aren't white will suffer a similar pointless fate.
While all those feelings are true, and worth having in my opinion, they aren't the whole story. How can I to help the situation?
First and foremost, I can get mentally healthy. The burden I've felt over the last few months regarding the situation has been painful... contributing to my lower mental heath state.
Remember to put on your own mask before helping others.
Second to that, I can figure out ways to help educate people in my circle who don't understand systemic and implicit racism. I myself can learn more to limit my personal biases. I've identified those as the most impactful ways I can help against systemic racism. Luckily even with COVID, and even living in an area which has more diversity than where I grew up, I can still connect with others in the west who ignorantly continue to be implicitly racist.
The unfortunate realities of these two situations is they cause pain and suffering. I didn't expect them to happen. I didn't expect life to be this way. I have been suffering as a result.
Now, instead of escapist coping mechanisms like overeating (check) and watching too much netflix (double check), I'm going to change my expectations to match the way life is currently, and work to change life for the better. Systemic racism is real. My neighbors will likely continue to face it for the rest of my life. COVID isn't going away, especially since folks seem to ignore social distancing and are actively against wearing masks in many parts of my country.
These things are hard. They are the default. Tribalism is the default. Finding people who don't question your beliefs and being completely certain of your point of view is the default. The "natural" human who is frightened of everything in order to survive is the default. Being resistant to new ideas is the default. Suffering is the default.
I'm going to solve for happy.
I'm going to be happy.