(This post is a translation from @Tinyfool's blog post 一、寻找和突破心障.)
I hope the readers of this book were people with some sort of a mental barricade, who after having read this book, have eventually learnt ways to break these barricades, and achieve the inner freedom and joy. If you are one such person, the value of this book to you could be $1000; but if you don't have them, then this book might only help you a little, being worth perhaps only $100.
What's a mental barricade?
The earliest time when I've first experienced this question, was on a day near the end of 2013. I was thinking: I've been working for 13 years, but I've never had a long holiday, and haven't gone anywhere for a trip or journey. I'm not a workaholic - I'm often late at work, although there are times when I stay up and code until 2 or 3 in the morning. More of the time though, I would be scrolling through Twitter, reading webpages, and not have anything done by the end of the day.
Over the course of these 13 years, considering the annual 12-day vacations, without even counting festivals like Chinese New Year etc. or weekends, I would have 156 days' time off work. Of course, a weekend wouldn't be long enough for a trip to Korea or Japan; but for a hike around the suburbs, all this time is surely more than enough. Assuming I'm a person fond of travelling, I would've been able to have travelled all over the world already - at least I would've visited countries like Japan and the US which I would really like to visit.
Yeah, money is an issue. But during all these years, I've spent (or wasted!) so much money on books, Apple devices and so on. Compared to that, spending 30k on travelling isn't even a big deal.
However, at the end of the day, I haven't gone anywhere. Where exactly does the problem lie?
You see, this is what I mean when I say "mental barricade". There's always something that prevents you from doing what you wanted to do - sometimes, that thing is physical: like time and money; but other times, it's "mental": you do have the money, the time, and the will to step foot out that door, but somehow you just ended up not having gone anywhere. That's the mental barricade.
In the movie The Truman Show, Truman, played by Jim Carrey, grew up in a huge movie studio in which there is an island. Young Truman tried to find the boundaries of the island - so then the island was made more and more sophisticated and hard to escape from. The clever/cunning director even arranged for Truman's father to drown at sea, during one of Truman's trips to sea with him, in order to plant a fear towards the sea into Truman's mind. And so for the 30 or so years of Truman's life, he has never for once left the island, not to mention the movie studio - and hence of course never have known his fate.
I'm not sure how many people would resonate with the film after watching it. Yeah, we aren't living in some Truman's Show; not that we've been manipulated since we were children. One day I started to wonder - what makes me think that I'm not living on an island right now? Or put it this way: it was the director that set up the boundaries of Truman's life; who was it that set up the boundaries of my life?
Is there anyone who's stopping me from going travelling? Would anyone be able to stop me? So why haven't I headed off yet? - That's the mental barricade.
I often organised random-ish gatherings in Shanghai. A bunch of programmers would sit at a café, or on a lawn in Fudan campus. At one time, I used to ask all the people at the gathering, "How many years have you been in Shanghai? Where have you travelled to?". Some seem to have amazing experiences; but for most of them, they'd say, "I've been here for 3 or 4 years, but haven't really had a look around the place". Mostly they say they've just been at their flat, the workplace, and nearby supermarkets, or at the most, the Bund.
So I asked them, don't you like to travel? Like at all? Some would say "yes", and others would say "well, yeah, Shanghai is a new and foreign place for me, so I haven't gone anywhere yet". Then I followed up: "Was there anyone really stopping you from going? Do you not have the money for the metro? Or do you really have no time at all?" Most people would say "not really".
It's a common mental barricade I've come across.
The cost of learning
When I recommend a book to others, the response was often: "Is it thick?", "How long does it take to read?". Some even say in book reviews: "This book is in general nice; but it's too chuncky - I think you need at least half a month on it. It's not worth it."
Or sometimes, I get asked by beginners: "Mr. Tiny, is Objective-C difficult to learn?", "I heard that it would take at least half a year to learn; is it worth the effort?", or "I would really like to become a programmer, but at this ** school, they're pricing the class at 10k, and it takes 6 months - what do you think?"
Although I would tend to consider knowledge to be priceless, when someone really asks me like that, I would still carefully weigh the prices and gains. I'm actually also like that sometimes. There's heaps of things I wanted to understand, which I then realised I need to go through a big book in order to get there; or I'd spend half a month fiddling with the thing, and still give up on it because "it's not worth the effort". Why bother yourself so much when life is so short? That was how things were for me, until…
When I was 29, I got diagnosed to have type 2 diabetes. This illness wouldn't immediately kill, and there aren't much risk of a sudden death (translator note: pardon my poor language usage…), but it happens that I like to consider the ultimate questions: "What if I could only live 5 or 10 more years?" These are questions that I haven't given thought to so far; diabetes make me think.
The outcome of this contemplation? I may have many regrets in my life, but even if I had only another 5 years of life, I would still like to be a programmer. If I had only another 30 years? I'd still be a programmer.
And it's at this time, that I felt that I've set myself free. I was 29. 30 years later, I would be 59. 70 wouldn't be too old for a career in programming!
And so the logic follows. If there is a language or a tool that would take me half a year to learn, would it be worth the effort to learn it? My answer: it's always worth it. Even the things I've learnt in 1992 when I first started to play around with computers, are still useful to me to this day, and I don't feel that it has been a waste - the learning experience and the knowledge structure it gave me has a big impact on me, giving me the habit of systematic thinking I have today. It also gave me a good understanding of what is happening under the hood of computer systems. Even the specific knowledge themselves were used for many years. Considering all this, how would one be able to find a thing that's "not worth learning"? If learning it takes half a year, but will be useful for 5 years, it's surely a bargain. If it takes 2 years to learn, but will be useful for 10 years? It's still a good deal.
I think that day, I broke another mental barricade.
There is a quote from another movie Yes Man of Jim Carrey: The guru says:
Life. We're all living it. Or are we?
Change is generated form consciousness, but where is consciousness generated from? From the external.
And how do we control the external? With one word.
And what is that word? "Yes".
When you say "yes" to things, you embrace the possible. You gobble up all of life's energies, and you excrete the waste.
Of course, here I'm not trying to convince you to say yes to everything. Contrary to the appearance of Yes Man, but coherent to its core - I think you should say yes to all your inner wishes.
Remind yourself: Am I being too nice to others? Should I give myself a treat?
Is is a mental barricade to not dare to pursue a life of happiness?
One day, a member of a company that has just received 50M of finance posted a recruitment post on Sina Weibo. Roughly, it says that regardless of what technologies you use, as long as you're "good enough" at what you do, and "enjoy your life", you can apply. The wages are up to 500k per year.
My company is still struggling to survive; would I need "500k per year"? Of course I do, so I started to think, would I be "good enough"? Do I count as "enjoying my life"? If so, should I send a résumé?
A much larger question followed: what does it mean to "enjoy one's life"? Do I enjoy my own life? Yeah, if a 500k-per-year job requires me to "enjoy my life", then sure, I'll do that. But do I actually enjoy it?
I didn't actually end up sending a résumé to that company; but I did gain a new dimension to measure my life against. Whenever I thought about whether doing something was a good idea, I would ask myself, "Would I be enjoying my life by doing this?"
For instance, a month ago, I was flatting with a co-worker. Normally, I cook, and he gets the groceries. He often by very ordinary veges, like carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers; and I would just cook with what he brought back. One day I thought, "does this count as 'enjoying life'?" We're having these veges so often, that I might just get sick of it soon.
So I suggested to him, that we had to try out all the different types of veges available in the nearby markets, and to take note of which ones we haven't tried yet. Gradually, things like asparagus, yam, zizania, bean sprouts, peas, chives etc. started to show up on our dinner table. Our menu is getting more and more new items, and we also discovered nice new dishes.
One day he brought back a zucchini, which I've tried in my childhood, but haven't since a long time ago. I've also never saw a zucchini before it was cooked. "What's this?", I asked him; he shrugged and said he had no idea. So I tweeted a photo of it, and instantly got many replies with the word "zucchini". I looked up a recipe, and tried making a dish with it, and it ended up to be very nice - I also got a taste of my childhood.
Later on, I widened my menu even further, and started to cook cods, scallops, ribbonfish, long lee fish. Soon, I was to challenge myself with a baked lobster.
I think this is "enjoying life". It doesn't have to be cooking; you don't need to spend this time, or to force yourself to learnt to cook.
What's the purpose of finding and breaking mental barricades?
When I was younger, I was a total efficiency advocate. I pick high-energy foods that are easy to digest; I like to eat really fast, hence growing to the fat guy I am today; I would pick shortcuts when walking, and even do race-car-like corning when walking around a corner. I'd also like to take shortcuts in learning, looking for all sorts of tips and tricks, asking "what it means", wishing to find The Enlightenment, hoping everything has a nice answer.
As I got older, I realised that "moving fast" isn't necessarily helpful. Too often, we start off quick, but never last. Sometimes, I realise, the major waste of time isn't in doing the work itself, but rather in wondering how to do the work better, faster whatever.
Life is a long journey, whose purpose may be difficult to nail down. We like to seek the "purpose", and so "What's the best way of doing it?", and then get stuck for far too on this question. We're getting tangled in this "best way" - if there even is one - without actually doing the matter at hand.
A way for discovering and breaking through mental barricades is to look for some gradual-approximation to a beautiful world and a beautiful life. At first we accept that we can't understand ultimately understand anything, but realise that "closer" is better than "further"; we don't know how the "beautiful world" should look like, but we can get closer and closer to it; we're not sure where the final goal lies, but we can always improve our approximation. By doing so, we will have a direction in which to head; it can assure us that we've indeed been making progress, and not been lagging behind.
My next chapter My Height, And The Height I Can Reach will be waiting for you.