Photo by Tyler Milligan on Unsplash

Boulders Up the Hill: Building a Life Worth Living

Below is a lightly edited excerpt of my closing address to my university class this semester.

I hope you all had fun the last two months. Online classes are not easy — neither for the teacher nor for the students. Physical space fosters curiosity and creativity, and puts everyone on the same bandwidth within the confines of the classroom. You cannot have that with the internet.

But the internet, and every digital tool we use now, is a reminder of how life-changing impact can be created through foundations built with patience, creativity, and passion. Each stone is carefully placed on top of each other to form structures that bridge the world.

So let me close the class with this theme of building — this is a class about building financial models and startups after all.

I. Stacking the Stones: Building Financial Models

Let’s start with a practical message.

I deemphasize discussions on actual numbers and focus instead on qualitative thought, logic, and strategic thinking. This is by design. Numbers are important, but they only matter if you know which numbers matter the most.

Every well-built structure has those few critical points, those foundations where everything else is built upon. Remove those, and you shake everything to its core. The rest are just details.

This philosophy dictates my approach in building financial models, and in other forms of problem-solving. Break the problem down, find the biggest stones, and focus on moving those stones.

Complicated problems become less intimidating once you lay them out and see them for what they are — smaller rocks built on top of each other. Draw those “rocks” as boxes, spreadsheets cells, post-its, or whatever other medium you prefer. Suddenly, the smaller problems become solvable.

II. Letting the Rocks Fall into Place: Building Careers

With that framework in mind, let’s focus on your post-graduation life.

Like you, I grew up thinking of my career as a series of pathways. I wanted to follow an invisible map that tells me to start at point A and get to point B. Success is defined by getting to point B in two years instead of four.

But I’ve stopped plotting out my experiences like a path, and see them instead as a collection of skills that stack. They build on top of each other. Each phase of my career gives me a stronger foundation in different capacities, eventually forming a mosaic that is completely unique to me.

At the risk of oversimplifying, here are a few examples. Marketing develops your capacity for storytelling, positioning, and communicating. Finance teaches you quantitative analysis and structuring complexity. Entrepreneurship is about resilience and navigating ambiguity.

Don’t take on roles as a means to reach some title. Take on roles because you are accumulating building blocks that form the backbone of your career. Develop the repository of skills that make you special, even if they don’t seem to follow any logical pattern. They’ll be the constants you lean on to, especially in times of despair and self-doubt.

Collect those rocks that resonate, and let them fall into place.

III. Pushing the Boulder Up the Hill: Building a Life Worth Living

Let me end with the most important point — building a life worth living.

I always nudge you to dream bigger — to challenge yourself to go beyond the your comfort zone. What matters to me more than you leading successful careers, is you pursuing lives worth living.

This is why I always reframe the purpose of technology and innovation — not as means to drive investment opportunities, but as tools to address problems in the world that are worth solving.

What is that problem that calls out to you? What is your ‘why’?

That is a personal lifelong quest I hope you dare yourself to take. But allow me to share my own modest self-reflection: my own quest in search for boulders.

You’ve all taken philosophy, so you all know the Myth of Sisyphus — the king pushing the boulder up the hill, only for it to roll back down again. We are made to believe that he is miserable, that he is condemned to his fate— but what if he isn’t?

What if, as Albert Camus said, we imagine Sisyphus to be happy? What if we, in our own internal Sisyphus, accept the absurdity of life and freely choose to push our own boulder up that hill? What if we see every challenge we are pursuing to be a deliberate choice?

I think that’s what it means to have a life worth living — to have a problem worth fighting for. To have a boulder worth pushing up that hill.

Your benchmark for success shouldn’t be your job title, your pay, or your school diploma; though these are certainly nice to have. My wish is you find, some point in your life, whatever problem calls to your very sense of being.

When you find that problem, the details become insignificant. Whether you push that boulder alone or with others. Whether you use your bare hands or a fork lift. Whether you take breaks or just keep pushing. These are just details.

Just find that boulder you are willing to keep pushing up the hill. Even at the risk of it rolling back down. Find a sliver of this troubled world that your inner Atlas wishes to bear.

Be that titan of that problem. Work to conquer it.

That’s one of the most important blessings I’ve had in my life — to have found my boulder early on. The boulder that gives me reason to keeps pushing forward, even at the risk of falling back down.

I hope you all find your boulders too.

ErudiFi + Stanford GSB || ❤️ Education, Technology, and Humanities || Writes about work, life, well-being, and learning || Poet at heart || 🇵🇭

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