Purpose From Focus?

Last week I wrote about the bleed of attention of pursuits across the day, the way focusing on something “for a couple hours” infects your mind for the rest of the day (on the small scale.)

I’m not sure it occurred to me at the time, or maybe it was just starting to, how useful that knowledge is as a tool.

In the time since I’ve been leaning REALLY hard on a couple programming projects and, as expected they’ve preoccupied my mind in what are ostensibly other pursuits.

The picture of my own personal software ecosystem has come back into sharp focus as I’ve wanted for tools that would help the couple projects I’m working on.

What I couldn’t really have foreseen, but makes perfect sense in retrospect (even though “retrospect” amounts to about four days) is how sustained attention in a singular domain compounds.

As I work on the trading system and my HHC ecosystem at large the ideas that are just spinning off as I work are getting deeper and deeper. And no, you can’t work on every idea that comes in to your head. You’d drive yourself completely fucking insane if you actually tried.

But what I can (and do) do (heh. do do. 12. I’m 12) is write them all down on a notepad or the whiteboard next to my desk. Then when I hit a breaking point I’ll key them in to the wiki with some verbiage. Over time what happens is, quite like writing, I get the crap or low hanging ideas out of the way and start getting down to the actual interesting stuff before too much time at all.

That’s not to say that the first cut of ideas aren’t worth anything. But they’re like the leaves on a tree. Once enough of them are sketched out you start to see the larger form take place. The general principle starts distilling out of them.

There are shittons of “Wait…this is just like that, but different. I’m clearly heading towards something that’s a distillation of these five or six thoughts.” A couple generations of that and I end up getting down to the trunk of what it is that’s inspiring those thoughts through the filters of the day to day work.

Then my designs change, getting inevitably simpler as I distill the general principles out of the clusters of items. Then again, and again. Finally I reach a practical terminus of “this is just that with a coat of paint on it” ideas.

None of this would be possible without sustained focus within a particular domain.

I’m excited to see where this effort takes me.

BUT

It’s pretty frustrating when I walk downstairs to do the laundry, through the lab where all of my electronics projects, my 3d printer, little cnc machine, and vacuum former live, into the garage/wood/metal shop to the washer/dryer live to do the laundry.

I can absolutely do anything. But I absolutely can’t do everything. Not at the level of focus I demand in order to get good at any of it.

The payoff of single-mindedness is just too damned high.

[Warning: Segue from hell incoming]

Most of these posts, I think everyone who reads them would agree, have the same flavor of “running around a relatively tight circle, picking up apples from the same tree.” As I go through the same territory back and forth like some manic puppy I can absolutely see myself carving out the negative space around the problems of drive, meaning, dedication to ideals, and purpose (sacred or not.)

It’s a larger issue I’ve heard speak of everywhere from Ivan Throne to Jordan Peterson. It’s always been something that’s met my mind as a great mystery, this notion of Sacred Purpose, a higher ideal, something to strive towards. I adore the idea.

That idea of being somehow PULLED in a direction by something greater than yourself is something I absolutely lust after, but have absolutely never experienced. Of course that presupposes a willingness to BE pulled. That’s an idea that hurts my head enough that it may indicate at least some of where my trouble lies.

When it came up at the first Feast of War in Denver back in February 2018 I stopped the conversation with my question to Ivan, Mr. Swift, Alexander Cortes, and the assembled gentlemen at the table.

“Sacred purpose sounds amazing. And I envy people who have it. I really do. But…I just don’t have anything like that in my life.” (Sure, maybe I’ve gotten better at phrasing the posit than I did back then. But the substance is equivalent.)

And they tried. They did. Sadly I’ve forgotten Ivan’s response. Mr. Swift took a hard hack at it and asked if it was all the same to me if someone tried to kill me, as an exercise in evoking “what I have to live for.” Alexander picked up his butter knife and said “If I came over there and killed you with this knife, what would be your last thought?” Again, a provoking question well posed.

But no one has an answer to those kinds of things that means anything, and I was dismissive and dodged them because they backed me into a conversational corner where I had no tools at my disposal. Again, that was the point.

Now I knew than just as I know now that no one can give you that. You can’t be granted purpose. On reddit when the subject comes up in any of the various “hey throw me a line here” subreddits I’ve always responded with: “You don’t discover your purpose, you decide.” It’s a bit pat and sounds good. Hell, it might ACTUALLY be true.

But the problem with deciding over discovering is that you can decide based on a whim. Well okay, but then what weight does that decision actually have? If it’s not a based on some deeper compulsion than the weather then it simply hasn’t the gravitas required to sustain you on the path in the dark times of doubt.

To horribly butcher Hitchens: What can be decided on a whim can be discarded on a whim.

So what, then?

I’m finding fascinating…synergy in singular focus and it’s becoming self-propelling. But does that constitute larger purpose? Will it evolve into that over time?

Again, I don’t know. But it definitely knocks on the same kind of door.

Of course there are…other…things that are absorbing my attention in a way that doesn’t interfere with my current hobby/project/software work. Interestingly, my Tuesday/Thursday writing sessions technically DO interfere. If I was to really roll up my sleeves and commit to the project work then these would have to fall by the wayside. But I’m not giving this up. Writing is the effective fountainhead of my self-awareness.

It’s dialing in. Dead weight is being left by the wayside. Things are clarifying at what, if I’m being honest, is an extraordinary rate. Yeah, maybe it’s a bit late and it’s absolutely too slow for my liking.

I do take some solace in the fact that lessons learned quickly and easily aren’t really learned at all. That introspection and integration process takes time, focus, and energy if it’s to stick. (Huh. Reminds me of Ouspensky and Gurdgeiff. But I’ll have to save THAT discussion for another time, pending a couple re-reads.)

So for now all I can really do is plug forward, keep digging at this burial site, try to be patient with myself, and keep working on that trading system code.

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