Desperate search for relief in a time of anxiety [a 16-year-old writes to Socrates]

Mail. Stack of envelopes and empty letters.This is the email message that a 16-year-old girl sent me. It is one of a series of similar messages that I have been receiving and replying to for some time now. But on this occasion I decided to share publicly both the letter and my reply in the hope of providing others with easy access to my suggestions as well as soliciting further wisdom and mentorship from the general Singularity Weblog community.

Desperate search for relief in a time of anxiety

Hello! I am a 16 year old named Stefanie, my first day of my senior year of high school is about 10 hours away and I’m lying in bed and I can’t get to sleep because I keep thinking about the singularity. I read your article on “10 reasons we should NOT fear the singularity” and it makes a lot of sense to me, we will not be deleted by the intelligence, we will become the intelligence. It sort of makes me want to write a book about human intelligence advancing and the Gods of ancient religions were actually time travelers but I digress. I’m having serious anxiety and fear about this subject. And I know, I’m young and I know everyone just says to accept these things will happen and I can’t do anything about it but I can’t accept it because I know I CAN do something about it. About 2 years ago I decided I’d dedicate my life to the betterment of all living things. I want to save the world. I know this might sound ridiculous, and every other organization that is dedicated to the future that I’ve tried to contact has ignored me because I’m just a dumb kid, but I’m passionate about these things and the world isn’t gonna wait for me so I need to run into it. I still fear the singularity, and until I know I am doing everything I can to stop Terminator from happening I will always be affraid. So aside from donate and support I beg you, tell me what I can do to help. Legitimately get my foot in the door and do something for this damn species of sitters watchers and waiters.

And here is my reply:

Dear Stefanie,

You seem to be a very unreasonable person!

I say that because you remind me of my favorite quote from George Bernard Shaw who said that the reasonable person adapts herself to the world while the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to herself. Thus Shaw concludes that all progress depends on the unreasonable people…

My suggestions for you are these:

  1. Never stop dreaming big dreams and being unreasonable! You certainly can make a difference and change the world no matter what other people say and how big the obstacles can be. And history is full of endless examples of people who did just that and despite all odds.
  2. Focus on the long run. Be ready to work hard and long towards your dream. Do not expect instant results and realize that life is not a sprint but a marathon. It is persistence, therefore, that is going to be your best friend (and biggest enemy). Accept that it may take a while and you will have much better chances.
  3. Prepare for failure. No worthy goal has ever been reached on the first try. It took Edison thousands of attempts to make the light-bulb and thus, in the end, what matters is not how many times you have failed, but how long you are willing to endure. Do not fear failure for it is an excellent teacher and most honest adviser.
  4. If you want to change the world start with yourself. You have to be the living example of the world you want to create. So learn how to learn and never stop learning and improving yourself. Become the strongest person you can possibly be – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, ethically and physically. You will need all of those to make the difference you want to make.
  5. Learn to leverage the power of technology. Realize that we live in an age of Abundance and the smart application of technology can accomplish feats that in the past we would have called miracles.
  6. Join a community. Find other people with interests similar to yours and start hanging out with them: be it on- or off-line. [Ideally both.] We all are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. So make sure you spend your time with people who motivate and inspire you. [For example, consider applying to Singularity University where you will find many others like you. And check out these 2 “dumb kids” and see what they did: Jack Andraka and Vitalik Buterin. But understand that you have your own path to walk.]
  7. Find a mentor. Realize that there are older and more experienced people who have been where you are now. Seek somebody you get really inspired by and consider a great role model; somebody who has accomplished more than you can ever dream of. Get in touch and ask them to become your mentor. Ask them how you can continue along their path and reach further than they did.
  8. Begin today! Do not forget that even the longest path starts with a single step. So take the first step today. And then just keep putting one foot in front of the other, while not losing sight of your destination – no matter how far it may be. Sooner or later you will inevitably get there.
  9. It’s about the journey, not the destination. The future is not someplace we are going to. It is something we are creating right now, in this moment; every time when we make a decision and take action. So be present within and enjoy each moment. Some days you will laugh and some days you will cry. But that’s the journey of life – it is our dance with the music of the universe. [And when we dance or play music we don’t rush to get to the end of the floor, or the end of the song, but rather enjoy the experiences for their own sake…]
  10. Have a sense of humor. Don’t forget that we humans are all just infinitely small specs on an infinitely small pale blue dot in an endless universe. Keep a cosmic perspective on things and be humble about what you can dream and accomplish. But choose to be an optimist and always look on the bright side of life.

I hope that these suggestions of mine can be of help until you find better ones or make your own!


Nikola [aka Socrates]

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