Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Know Thyself, a Mission for Life

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Life without knowledge is death in disguise. -Talib Kweli

I feel very fortunate to have lived through a very diverse and wide range of experiences in my relatively short life. I had an uncommon upbringing, especially amongst highfalutin technical folks. I was very fortunate with my family, especially my mom and grandma. I entered the work force just before the .com bubble burst, allowing me to see amazing success lead to wide-spread failure.

The worst professional day for me, which resulted in a feeling of profound emptiness was when I achieved the empty goal of merely being a developer. I was working in a stable job, writing code and doing things I enjoyed. What next? That question haunted me.

After a few years of wandering, abstract and unguided learning I met my wife and had an epiphany (I’m not sure those are related, I think they are). It was a very joyous time, and I finally had a direction.

The next step was to turn the subject of learning onto myself: psychology, economics and deeper understanding of self. I was always interested in sociology; what prompts people to do amazingly irrational things, both good and bad? When trying to study myself, though, I struggled. People are mercurial, especially when the subject is ourselves. I never felt I understood why I did the things I did.

I remember the mistakes I would make, and recoiling as I enjoyed the torment of hindsight. Oh, the thousands of choices I could have made differently! Then a crack formed, and I realized I was really, really wrong.

I was wrong in the way I looked and thought about myself. I thought of myself as grand, at least at the top of the food chain. We are humans, the chosen species that conquered this landscape. We went to the moon! We are amazing!

Except we are not. We are victims and benefactors of the same stimulus and response system that governs every animal. Our instincts and habits guide us more than our unique consciousness. But we are different. Humans are different because we have that split second of consciousness hiding between the gap of stimulus and response.

That is the gap to study. Looking at that gap, even in hindsight I was able to learn more about myself. Specifically, identifying the stimulus triggers and my conditioned responses. What were those subtle feelings tugging at my stomach, throat or shoulders? Those feelings are the signals indicating something isn’t right.

Looking back can help me learn and change, but only if I look at the right thing: myself.