Noise & Nothing

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice” - Steve Jobs

Lately, I have been thinking and reading about great works of art, engineering, literature, and technology. My general opinion is that great work can only be done when there’s minimal outside “noise” and huge chunks of time spent doing nothing. However, I have noticed an exponential increase in this “noise” and decrease in undisturbed time in college.

Working on something hard and exciting was extremely easy in High School, atleast for me. After school ended at around 2:30 pm, I had huge chunks of unallocated time from 3 pm - 8pm and then 10 pm - 3 am. With studies on the backseat until tests arrived and my social life DOA, this meant that for around 80% of the year I had ample time to learn & experiment. Although, I can’t claim to have produced anything that I would consider great, I still learned a lot and had a great turnaround time from idea to execution.

In college, I am only now trying to optimise how I work, after struggling to use my older strategy for 1.5 years. You see, there’s no strict timetable in college – I don’t suddenly get free around, say, 2:30pm – there are events, evening classes, fixed meal timings etc. So although I have the same net amount of time, there are no long undisturbed chunks where one can focus. Sadly, I can’t work in short intervals – so a 2 to 3 hour break means either browsing Reddit or chatting with friends.

“Creativity starts with an empty calendar and ends with a full one” - Naval Ravikant

Now, I know that you’re thinking all this is just a ruse to escape hardwork, a standout trait that close friends & family often associate with me. Well don’t take my word for it, but I do hope you trust several scientific researches that have proved that there’s a strong correlation between boredom and creativity. Think of it this way - a huge advantage of being bored is that the only way out of it is to work towards a non-boring alternative. Ofcourse, as with anything, there are some terms and conditions behind this philosophy. Turning to Instagram or Youtube to get that quick mental stimulation is actually worse, because not only did you waste your time being bored by choosing the path of instant gratification, but also failed to find a long term idea/insight/creative pursuit to work towards. I recommend just staring at a wall like a madman until something hits, but your results may vary.

“The end goal should be to act only when inspired” - Random Tweet

The other aspect that I wanted to consider was this “noise”. When people all around you are landing prestigious internships, participating in ground-breaking researches, and taking on big leadership positions, it’s easy to start second guessing & questioning whether you are treading on the right path. Even I recently made this mistake of applying to random big name prestigous firms that I had no interest in interning for, just because I felt almost morally obliged to do the same (although I ended up rectifying this mistake soon after.) A good way to get out of this trap of “value signalling” is to ask yourself whether you actually even want to do the same things people around you are trying to achieve - a majority of times the answer is just no. Another way is to try considering the problem in third person – If someone came with this problem to you, would your own actions align with the advice you would give them? This is a well documented phenomenon known as the Solomon’s Paradox, which has found that self-distancing oneself from the problem often results in increased wisdom.

“The ugly truth is that no one can help you” - Pablo Picasso, Genius

On an ending note, I would like to mention another observation, which is that anyone who has produced anything of significance in history has had to walk the initial path of discovery alone. There is no mentor, textbook, or shortcut that can help you unlock a radically new perspective. Only hardwork and persistence reign supreme.