The Problem With Burning Man–And a Solution

Mind-blowing art installations. An inspiring culture of creativity and love and colorful self-expression. A sharing economy free of bureaucracy and discrimination. Endless partying and opportunities for psychedelic experiences and sexual exploration. A body-positive environment where clothes are optional but you’re not sexualized unless you want to be. Intimacy with strangers and all the hugging, cuddling, and oxytocin you could imagine. Breathtaking desert sunrises and dust storms that awaken your primal survival instincts. Hundreds of workshops on topics ranging from sexual kinks to transcendental meditation. A tribal experience burning a symbol of evil and corruption and everything that is wrong with the world.

All of this—the culture of Burning Man— resonates with my own personal values. The experience has become wildly popular because it addresses serious problems we all face in modern life—isolation, monotony, conformity, consumerism, disconnection from nature. Most of my closest friends in San Francisco have spent months preparing for the week-long event that starts next week. They tell me it’s a life-changing experience that nothing else will ever come close to.

But I’m not going this year, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon.
Why not? The obvious reason is that I can’t afford it. After ticket costs, camp fees, transportation, and preparation expenses, it would cost me at least $2,000, which is way out of my vacation budget.

But even if I could afford to throw $2,000 at a one week vacation, I don’t think I would go. Here are some major problems I see with the whole festival:

1. It’s terrible for the Earth.
The Black Rock Desert is an inhospitable environment that is not fit for human habitation. I don’t know of any way to pack in all your own water, prepared food, and power supply (you HAVE to have air conditioning in the orgy tent!) without excessive amounts of plastic packaging and fossil fuels. On top of that, you have to buy all sorts of camping supplies that you’ll never be able to use again once they’ve been destroyed by playa dust.

I’m not sure how the eco-conscious hippies justify all the unnecessary waste and pollution, or how they sustain their serotonin-depleted bodies for an entire WEEK on cliff bars and freeze-dried dinners.

2. Talk about PRIVILEGE!
The culture of Burning Man preaches an all-inclusive philosophy that shares the love with people from every race, religion, and sexual orientation. Nobody talks about the minor exception made for everyone without $2,000+ and a week of vacation time to throw away, oh and you have to know the right people to get those elusive tickets and you need to find friends you can camp with who you’ll also have to trust to save you from a bad acid trip, and good luck finding a ride out to the middle of nowhere for you + 14 gallons of water.
If that’s not a way to discriminate against the under-privileged then I don’t know what is. I’d rather spend my time spreading messages of love and enlightenment to communities who don’t already have it all, contributing art and giving back to people who really need it. I’d rather cultivate intimacy with strangers who don’t have everything in common with me and put my energy into strengthening the relationships that surround me in my everyday life.

3. It doesn’t last.
Burners go through months of arduous preparation all for one week in a utopian city where they can escape the suffocating torture of the corporate grind and feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. At some point during the week, they reach an epiphany about the oneness in everyone, recognizing isolation and greed and bureaucracy as the source of all the hurt in the world. They undergo a spiritual transformation as they burn the effigy of evil, and then promptly go back to their fluorescent-lit cubicles where they ignore their feelings and sell consumerism so they can climb the corporate ladder and buy themselves the newest luxuries to stave off the existential dread. Maybe the burning man inspires you to quit your job or start having kinkier sex, but you still revert back to avoiding eye contact with strangers, paying your taxes, and bickering with your significant other.
If so many people share these values, why can’t we use them to build a community that lasts? Why does it have to be a temporary experience that disappears after a week and forces you to return to a life filled with everything you hate? Why not devote our energy to creating a real solution to the isolation and monotony of modern life?

It would make a lot more sense to find a place in nature that’s more hospitable to humans and build a permanent enlightened community. That way we don’t have to destroy the environment in the process and we can make it accessible to people of all socioeconomic classes who share our values.

I know of numerous living spaces in the Bay Area that are attempting to create more permanent intentional communities based on these values. Some of them are very successful, but they’re missing out on the crucial factors of being close to nature and requiring primal survival skills (aside from being extremely overpriced). I’ve done some research online and even traveled to visit several communities around the country with no luck finding what I’m looking for.

This is what I imagine: A modern village surrounded by nature that is largely self-sustaining. There are minimalist private living spaces and large central areas for recreation and communal activities. As soon as you walk out your front door, you’ll see children playing in green spaces and spontaneously bump into your neighbors, who will also be your friends. Everyone must embrace shared values of radical honesty, nonviolent communication, and authentic self-expression. There is a culture of contagious creativity that welcomes nudity, polyamory, and psychedelic experiences. The community is full of music and sports and dancing and all sorts of activities so you don’t need to drive anywhere to find entertainment. There are people of all ages who participate in raising the children and sharing any skills they can contribute so that no one is left isolated or in need. I want it to be a safe, private place away from the pollution and stress of city life, but still within a short drive of an urban center and well-connected to the outside world through technology. Residents could work remotely or survive on a small budget since expenses would be low and most needs would be met internally.

My gut tells me that my vision is too idealistic to ever become a reality. There are too many complicated details, and if such a thing were possible then it would already exist. But the growing popularity of Burning Man and other festivals gives me hope. Clearly, people are starting to see the problems with modern American life. That’s why thousands of burners spend months in preparation just for the chance to escape it all for a week and experience the way humans are meant to live. If we could redirect even a fraction of that energy towards building a lasting solution to our problems, then we could make SO much progress. We could demonstrate that it’s possible to live in peaceful communities that fulfill each others’ needs and treat the environment with respect.

My goal is to settle down in a village like the one I described within the next 5 years. Instead of going to Burning Man, I’m going to devote my time and energy towards finding or building a community that will last.

The problem is, I have no clue where to start. Do you know of any places I can find what I’m looking for? Any ideas for how to make it happen? Would you be interested in joining me?

The Power of Authenticity

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss

That quote nearly lost its meaning for me after hearing it so many times, but I’ve recently rediscovered how liberating and empowering the message is.

I believe and practice a lot of things that would offend people I care about. I’m not a Christian. I practice polyamory. Sometimes I’m attracted to women. I’ve tried illegal substances. I would prefer a world without government. I believe that circumcision, spanking, and most forms of discipline are child abuse. I think formal schooling is unnecessary and usually harmful to children. Sometimes I wonder whether humans would be better off if we lived in tribes as hunter-gatherers and never created civilization.

Did any of those trigger you? I hope so. They’re all things I’ve been afraid to admit to certain people. And each one is a huge topic that I would like to explore on this blog.

But there’s been so much fear holding me back. What if I destroy friendships? Lose job opportunities? Get abandoned by everyone I love and am forced to live the rest of my life in solitary confinement?

Some of these fears are well-founded. I’ve felt deeply betrayed by attempts to “be myself” in the past. One time I even lost a job that I adored because I opened up to my boss about my feelings. I’ve destroyed friendships by revealing my political beliefs. I’ve been rebuked by one of my biggest heroes for expressing my feelings inappropriately on Facebook.

As someone who tends to hold controversial opinions, I’ve continually swung from one extreme—proudly offending everyone within earshot—to the opposite, where I lock my feelings inside and attempt to pass as “normal.”

In my struggle to find a balance, I’m learning that I need to have a bias towards authenticity. People who get offended by my opinions are not usually people I want to spend time with. I don’t want to be friends with them, I don’t want to work for them, and I don’t need them to read my blog.

Looking back on the traumatic losses I experienced by being open in the past, I can see now that most of them were for the best. It really would not have been good for me to stay in a job where I bottled up my concerns about the environmental impact of cotton farming practices. A friendship that required me to believe in Christianity was not worth my energy. By cutting off these attachments, I’ve freed myself to develop more fulfilling relationships.

My biggest struggle recently has been opening up about polyamory. It’s a big part of my life, and keeping it secret feels like betraying myself. I want my friends to accept me for who I really am. But I’ve been worried that people would lose respect for me, assuming I sleep around with everyone I meet with no concern for safety or stability (although even that should be no cause for disrespect). I’ve already shattered my parents’ hopes for me to be a holy daughter, but this might be the last straw that causes them to disown me entirely. I’m in the market for a new job right now, and potential employers might look down on such an alternative lifestyle.

A few days ago I conquered these fears and shared a post about why I practice polyamory. I’ve never seen such a dramatic response. My blog got almost 1,000 page views over the weekend, compared to my normal 2-3 visits per day. I received dozens of messages from people I’ve never even met and friends I haven’t talked to in years. They said they’re inspired by my courage, and now they want to start sharing more about what they believe. Some of them confided that they’ve been exploring polyamory in secret, afraid of the consequences of coming out in public, expressing how grateful they are for my effort to break the stigma.

Of course, there were plenty of responses that weren’t so positive. I offended people I care about deeply. Some people made me out to be a frivolous little girl who wants to run around and sleep with everyone I meet with no regard for my offspring and the people around me. Some of them made valid criticisms of my arguments. I’m not looking forward to the reaction I’ll get from my parents—last they heard, I thought boys had cooties.

What’s amazing is that I’m learning to appreciate the negative feedback. Criticism means that I’m saying something worthwhile and threatening real beliefs. If everyone already agreed with me, then I wouldn’t need to say it.

T.K. Coleman explains it well:

“If you’re writing, saying, doing, or creating something that’s not capable of being misunderstood, I can assure you of one thing: it’s completely useless. If it’s worth it to you to put it out there, it will be worth it to someone else to put it down. Liberate yourself from the illusion that it’s possible to find a mode of expression that will go over well with every single person. Doing things that are useful isn’t the same as doing things that are universally understood.”

Thankfully, the positive connections I made from that post far outnumbered the criticism. That might not always be the case. But as long as I’m speaking my truth in a helpful way, it’s worth it to take a stand for what I believe in. I’d rather form strong connections with a smaller number of people who value that truth than stay in the middle of the road with everyone’s approval.

For everyone reading this, I want to encourage you to be authentic. Prepare yourself for the consequences of people judging you, but know that the connections you do make will be so much more meaningful. Vulnerable self-expression shines like a beacon of courage through the dull clouds of content smothering the internet, shedding light on the fear and isolation so that we don’t have to feel so alone. You’ll discover an empowering freedom and inspire others to do the same.

Why I Practice Polyamory

Yesterday I posted an article on Facebook that generated a heated debate about polyamory. Instead of responding to the comments individually, I decided it would be more worthwhile to express my thoughts in a blog post.

I was raised to believe that I would save myself for marriage and spend the rest of my life sharing intimacy with one person. After several years of philosophical exploration, deep introspection, and monogamous relationships, I’ve radically changed my perspective.

Even though I’ve been attracted to the concept of polyamory for almost 2 years, only recently have I begun to practice it actively. I’ve been afraid to discuss it in public because it’s so widely misunderstood, but I’m ready to change that.

I’ll start with a disclaimer that I’m only speaking for myself here. People practice polyamory in many different ways; I’m going to talk about the way I see it personally. The lifestyle doesn’t work for everyone, and I’m not trying to convince you to adopt it. I have huge respect for monogamous couples who stick together through hard times with a healthy relationship. I just want you to understand and respect my behavior, and to be aware that monogamy is not the only option for fulfilling relationships. I want to break the taboo and encourage acceptance for non-monogamous lifestyles.

Polyamory comes from the roots poly ‘many’ + amor ‘love.’ It’s about loving more than one person. For me, it means I’m open to maintaining romantic relationships with multiple people at any given time. It’s not about casual sex or threesomes or cheating or lack of commitment. I seek emotionally and physically intimate relationships with some level of commitment, where everyone involved consents to non-exclusivity. Sometimes my partners know each other, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s sex, sometimes there isn’t. There is always an emotional connection, clear communication, and mutual respect.

Many poly people have a “primary” partner who takes priority over other relationships. They might get married or have kids, staying committed as partners and parents while simultaneously having other romantic relationships with full knowledge of everyone involved. I don’t have a primary partner at the moment, but I foresee this model of polyamory working best for me. I would eventually like to settle down with someone and have children, giving them as much attention as they need while maintaining my freedom to pursue other relationships.

For me, independence is the greatest benefit of this lifestyle. I don’t want anyone to own me or control my actions. I don’t need someone to complete me or be my “better half.” I’m a fully autonomous individual who can make my own decisions about whom I spend my time with. I can have friendships with all types of people without anyone worrying about what goes on.

Polyamory puts less pressure on my relationships because I don’t expect any one person to meet all my needs. When I was monogamous, I tried to find “the one” who would perfectly connect with all my passions—music, hiking, philosophy, languages, traveling, writing, entrepreneurship, nutrition, psychology—all while having unique interests of his own that he could teach me about. Not only is it unrealistic to expect one person to fulfill all my social, intellectual, emotional, and sexual needs, but it burdens the relationship with impossible expectations. I can appreciate the ways we do connect and accept our differences where we don’t. I can enjoy a strong intellectual connection with one partner and obsess about music with another. I have high standards for emotional awareness and intellectual compatibility in all my partners, but I never expect them to be perfect.

There are certainly plenty of downsides to polyamory. It takes incredible emotional maturity and communication to make it work. It’s not easy to manage my time, devoting enough attention to the people I care about while setting aside time for myself. Sometimes I feel jealousy. Just like other painful emotions, I embrace it, explore it, and use it to grow. There is still heartbreak, betrayal, and unrequited love—polyamory doesn’t solve all the problems. Neither does monogamy. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve decided it’s the best path for me.

Pop culture leads us to believe that love is a zero-sum game. You have a fixed amount of love, and whatever you give to one person means that much less for anyone else. But when I actually gave it a chance, I realized that my heart doesn’t work like that. The more love I give, the more I have to give. I’ve expanded my capacity for empathy and connection, and I have a greater depth of feeling for myself and everyone I care about.

I hope this gives you insight into why I’ve chosen polyamory, and why monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. Please comment or reach out to me if you have questions.

You can check out these resources if you’re interested in learning more:

  • Sex at Dawn: A scientific perspective on the evolutionary psychology of monogamy and polyamory.
  • Polyamory Diaries: Personal stories about a polyamorous lifestyle.
  • Kimchee Cuddles: Thought-provoking comics about polyamory.
  • More than Two: A broad resource for all the questions you have.

6 Secrets to Cultivating Fulfilling Relationships

In an age where most people have hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends” on social media, it’s a wonder that we have so few meaningful relationships that truly fulfill our social needs. In recent years, social isolation has become such a big problem that health experts now recognize loneliness as the number one risk factor for disease.

It takes work to turn casual friendships into fulfilling relationships. Here are some tips that can help you get there.

1. Spend quality time alone.

While this might sound counterintuitive, you need to have a good relationship with yourself before you can connect with other people. Make time daily to introspect and get in touch with your feelings. Meditation and journaling can help with this. A simple practice like writing a note at the end of every day putting words to your feelings and exploring what happened to cause them can do wonders for your self-awareness. When you do this regularly, you won’t feel so desperate to rant to someone about your stressful day. Instead, you’ll feel more grounded and open to hearing out a friend or connecting over things that really matter.

2. Live in the moment.

You already know that it’s rude to use your phone while spending time with friends, but you probably do it anyway when you run out of things to talk about. Challenge yourself to resist that urge and enjoy the moment of silence. It won’t be awkward until you make it. Use the pause to reflect on the other person’s experience and ask them about their current life situation or their feelings about the future.

Even when we are engaged in conversation, it’s easy to let our minds run away and start comparing this person to that other friend who’s so much more interesting and doesn’t smack their lips together when they talk. When you notice this happening, gently bring your mind back to the present moment and pay attention to the details, listen for the inflection in their voice, look for the gaps they’re leaving in the story because they don’t think you care.

3. Figure out how they work.

It’s fascinating to discover how much we all have in common, but it’s just as important to understand what makes people different. I’m constantly surprised by the ways other people describe the worlds inside their head. Make an effort to ask good questions so you can figure out what motivates them, what they’re struggling with, and what influences that shaped them. The Enneagram of Personality is an amazing tool for understanding the fears and motivations of close friends and revealing how they differ from your own.

4. Don’t try to change them.

Can you remember a time when a friend or family member tried to pressure you into doing something they knew would be good for you? Maybe they sent you articles about why you need to start meditating, or bought you a book about how to quit smoking. Chances are, it didn’t work. You probably felt some resentment towards them. That’s because when someone pressures us so strongly, we get the feeling that they need us to change. That they can’t accept us the way we are. Even if it’s something as obviously beneficial as eating healthy or quitting smoking, it feels like they don’t really care about our best interest.

You never want to be that person. Maybe you’re embarrassed that your partner is overweight, so you subtly suggest going on a diet. The problem here is that your own happiness depends on the actions of another person. It’s absurd to expect your partner to change themselves just to make you happy, all the while pretending that they need it for their own good.

The only way to sustain a fulfilling relationship is to accept them as they are. If that’s not good enough for you, then you don’t have to be friends. If they’re engaging in a behavior that seems unhealthy, the first step is to recognize that they have their reasons for doing it. Once you’ve established respect for their decision, you should ask them with genuine curiosity why they are doing it. Maybe they’ll tell you they’ve evaluated the costs and benefits and decided that they prefer the pleasure they gain from smoking. Or maybe they’ll admit that this is something they struggle with, and they would love if you could provide accountability while they’re quitting. Whenever they do give up bad habits and improve their lives, you can share their joy without attaching it to your identity.

5. Don’t rely on one relationship to fulfill your needs.

So many monogamous relationships fail when the partners isolate themselves from all their friends and expect each other to fulfill their entire range of social needs–from intimacy to adventure to emotional support and intellectual stimulation. There’s no one human being who can connect with you on every single level like that. Those unrealistic expectations will put a strain on any friendship or romantic relationship. That’s why we need multiple close friends who we can connect with in different ways. If there’s someone who loves to go rock climbing with you but can’t hold a conversation about your favorite books, that’s okay—go make friends with another book nerd. Focus on the ways you do connect and make the most of those.

6. Be vulnerable.

Vulnerability can be terrifying. You’ve been wounded in the past, so you’ve built up defenses to protect yourself. But those same walls that keep you safe will shield you from the love and intimacy you crave. You can be cautious about it, but you have to let them down if you want to truly connect.

When you reveal your fears, struggles, and weaknesses to someone you trust, you will feel a sense of belonging, knowing that they accept you for who you are. It encourages them to reciprocate and unveil their own secrets that they’ve kept inside.

It takes incredible courage to be this authentic. There are no guarantees that you won’t get hurt. But you will open yourself up to the most fulfilling source of love and closeness.

Carpe Diem

2015-11-15 06.51.56Playtime doesn’t need to end when you become an adult. I spent my weekend in Charleston with some of the most accomplished people I know and got a nice reminder that I need to make sure I’m not growing old as I grow up.

“Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” -Tom Robbins


Today, I took a break from civilization. I went on a hike through the mountains around Asheville, NC, built a roaring fire, and laid on the ground looking for shooting stars on the backdrop of the Milky Way. I listened to the leaves crunching under my feet and let the gurgling of the mountain streams speak to me. I felt the mud squish between my toes as a wild little boy led me through the woods.

I feel refreshed and connected to the earth. It’s remarkably fulfilling. It’s like when you don’t realize how thirsty you’ve been until you swallow that sip of cool water and feel your parched throat rejoice. I get so caught up in the bustle of cars and concrete and computers that I don’t even notice my thirst for nature.

It might sound like a load of horseshit, but I believe we are meant to be one with nature. I believe that many of the vanities we seek in life are an attempt to fill the void created by this disconnect with nature.

For millions of years, our genes adapted to a life that was intertwined with the natural world. When we lose that connection, we lose a part of ourselves.

How Praxis Changed My Life

I remember coming home from the career fair in tears. The room had been full of sleek HR reps looking for students with all the majors that couldn’t be farther from my own fluffy Liberal Arts degree: Engineering, Finance, Chemistry. Some of them almost laughed when I handed them my resume with feigned confidence. The only people who showed any interest were the insurance companies and telemarketing farms.

I was a failure, doomed to sell my soul and answer insurance claims for the rest of my life. Sure, I was good at writing research papers and winning grants from dead rich people, but what good was that in the real world? I wanted to do something important that would make a difference, yet I had no idea where to even start.

A few weeks later, I attended a very different event. A friend of mine dragged me out of bed on a Saturday morning to attend the Students for Liberty regional conference at Duquesne University. I reluctantly went along, skeptical that anything good could come of it.

After listening to a lineup of doomsayers preaching about the futility of politics and the coming collapse of the economy, a speaker came up with a different tune. It was Isaac Morehouse, giving a talk about how entrepreneurship can change the world. He explained that we can have hope for the future if we look at what has been effective in the past—namely, technologies that connect people and let them experience freedom without engaging in debate.

He spoke about a business he was starting called Praxis, which offered a program for young people seeking to create an entrepreneurial career. The idea was to fill the disconnect between hardworking, ambitious young people with no connections in the workforce and startups starved for fresh talent. He believed that young people needed to get experience working in real jobs before they could have any idea what they wanted to do with their life. College was about as effective for career preparation as reading a book about bike riding would be for learning to ride a bike. And there was nothing shameful about changing course when you realized you were on the wrong path. You didn’t have to surrender your life to a soul-sucking corporation. You could design the life you wanted to live by viewing yourself as a startup and creating a job for yourself.

At the time, these ideas contradicted nearly every piece of career advice I had ever gotten. But they resonated with something deep inside of me and ignited a spark of hope about my future. They revealed a path where I was in the driver’s seat instead of sitting on a conveyor belt.

At that point, Praxis had not even launched their first class. Nonetheless, I followed my gut and applied. Then despite discouragement from family and friends, I decided to begin the program as soon as I graduated from college.

I started the program in June 2014 still lost and confused about how to design a fulfilling career for myself, but hopeful and determined to figure it out. 12 months later, I completed Praxis with new life goals and a clearer path to get there, as well as the tools and confidence to handle whatever challenges life throws at me along the way.

Over the course of the program, I learned that surrounding yourself with people who inspire you can transform your life. I learned that I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I learned that it’s okay to change your mind and admit you were wrong, even about the most fundamental beliefs—and that I only want to be around people who will embrace that change. I learned that sometimes the most effective way to change the world is to become the truest, most fully alive person you can be and wait for others to follow your lead. I learned that life without creativity is meaningless, because we might as well be robots. I learned to accept the fact that there will always be people who criticize me and dislike me, so I might as well speak my truth without shame. And I learned that I must never stop learning for as long as I live.

I still have plenty of doubts and fears about my future, but unlike before, I now fully believe that I am capable of creating the life I want to live and making a difference in the world. I understand that the change must start with myself, so I am committing myself to a series of personal development projects to develop my creativity as well as pursuing some daunting challenges through my work.

Thankfully, I’m not doing this alone. For the first time in my life, I truly belong to a community of passionate young people and mentors who are embarking on similar journeys. I can feel the contagious energy as each person becomes more alive and more true to their self, lifting others up with them as they climb, and I realize that this is what the world needs more than anything else.


This morning, I got some questions from David asking me to go into more detail about what I know about Linguistics.

The problem with the field is that a lot of it is pretty unscientific, so it’s hard to give definitive answers. Certain subfields like Phonetics are very scientific and measurable, but others like Syntax, Morphology, and Discourse Analysis tend to be more of an armchair science. Linguists like Noam Chomsky (the man behind most of modern Linguistics) made observations based on a small sample size of languages and then generalized that to some abstract “universal grammar,” disregarding any outliers or proof that their methods do not hold up to experiments.

A turning point for me happened during my Senior year of college, when Dr. Patrick Juola from Duquesne University came to speak in one of my classes. Dr. Juola had recently become famous for making a discovery about the author J. K. Rowling. Using a software he had developed to identify authorship, he correctly attributed a book she had written under a pseudonym back to her. The software worked by measuring the distribution of things like word length, word pairings, and function words (prepositions, conjunctions, and articles). Authors tend to write very consistently according to these stylistic attributes.

Dr. Juola had used the same methods to identify the authors of historical documents, scammers, and anonymous cyberbullying posts. His stories fascinated me, so I asked him how traditional linguistics applied to his software’s technology.

He explained that any time he had tried using traditional linguistic analysis and hiring linguists to help improve the accuracy of his software, the results actually got worse. When he worked with people trained in statistical analysis, the results improved. Thus, the Theory of Syntax was completely useless in real world applications.

He went on to explain how translation technologies originally attempted to use Chomsky’s idea of a Universal Grammar, converting words from one language into some universal medium and then translating that into the foreign language. These attempts never worked. It wasn’t until they began using more statistical methods of simply using the most common translations for words and phrases in a large database that these technologies developed the incredible accuracy that programs like Google Translate have today.

Needless to say, that conversation was somewhat of a shock for me. I realized that people had known for decades that much of traditional Linguistics was unempirical and largely useless. Yet somehow, the field of Linguistics hasn’t acknowledged this yet. Professors still receive thousands of dollars of grant funding to perform research on such pressing topics as critiques on past research on the syntax of the word “the” (this was an actual topic that one of my instructors was researching).

Perhaps now you can understand my disillusionment with the subject a little. I would never say that my time was all a waste. I learned some valuable skills while I was at it. Certain linguistic theories helped me speak foreign languages better. If nothing else, I learned how to learn—as well as a lot of random facts that I can share at parties during awkward silences: Did you know that some Americans pronounce “cot” and “caught” differently? Did you know that the silent “gh” in many English words used to be a sound, and that the correct plural of “octopus” is “octopodes”?


I like thinking about each person’s life like a plot of land. At birth, we’re given a certain amount of land of a certain terrain. Then it’s up to us to do what we want with it.

Before you build anything on your land, you need to explore it–to figure out what type of soil you have to work with, what defines the landscape. Even if it’s not optimal, you can cultivate the land.

Then, when you’re ready, you can build something. You can construct a humble abode, or you can make something tall enough to inspire those in the land surrounding you. You can even build something that will shed light on the surrounding land, helping others to explore the dark regions of their land that lie in the shadows.

Anne Lamott has some similar ideas:

Every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto-wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they thing is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.


Whenever I hang out with college-types, one of the first questions they ask me is “what was your major?”

I understand that this is partly out of a lack of better ideas for conversation, but the question reveals a horribly simplistic view of people. It assumes that a category selected by a naive 18-year-old can define someone for the rest of their life.

My undergraduate major was Linguistics. I chose it because it sounded exciting, because I was good at speaking foreign languages, and because I thought it would help me become a translator. My obsession with the subject faded after two years of insipid classes, but I kept going till the end because I assumed that I was supposed to stick with what I had started.

I later realized that I could have learned everything those courses taught me from ready Noam Chomsky’s books. I could have spent my time much more productively studying something more practical. I could have even dropped out of college and I’d be just fine.

After completing Praxis and working real jobs for a year and a half, I’ve decided to pursue a career in digital marketing. I’ve learned all of the skills I need either on the job or in my spare time. By experimenting with different activities, I’ve gained much more perspective on what I want to do with my life than I ever could sitting in a classroom.

Do I regret studying Linguistics? Yes. But it doesn’t upset me too much, because I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’m failing forward. I’m taking the useful parts, discarding the rest, and changing course—and I’m not ashamed. Because now I’m doing my best to cultivate the skills that will enable me to do fulfilling work. There’s nothing shameful about admitting you were wrong and moving on.

People change. Don’t make assumptions. When I meet people, I’d rather ask them what they’re passionate about, or just a simple “tell me about yourself.”