16```Thinking about failure for the nth time


I grew up feeling that the environment around me never allowed failures. One day I failed miserably (getting rejected by all 13 boarding schools I applied to in eighth grade), and I found out it was not only not the end of the world, but a wonderful gift. And failure became one of my favorite topics to think about since then. This was one of the weeks when I gave a lot of thought to it especially.

︎ an artist

I took a six-day trip to Shanghai, mainly for the art shows. And my favorite one was by Lu Yang (陆扬) at the CC Foundation. I really love her wildly imaginative incorporation of brain science and religion into her art (also love the arcade aesthetic) !! [link to exhibition description]

︎ a list of artsy websites/blogs

a collection of collections of cool images or cool websites

1. Archillect

2. But Does it Float

3. 50 Watts

4. Brutalist Websites

︎ a fear , or two

After talking to a few sophomores at Princeton this summer, I found a shared concern or fear among us, even though I am taking a gap year. It's the fear of not being able to do what we want to do. In particular, it's fearing not having enough initiative, agency, or passion to start something and persevere through it. A lot of us feel the pressure to be ultra successful in our early 20s. At least in my case this feeling became more real than ever this year.

My reading of it is that I have always more or less had this feeling (due to media portrayal of really young, ultra-successful people), but before college there was a straightforward direction to success (though it definitely wasn't the only direction), so I delayed thinking about how to be successful in the real world to after I get into a college. Then college came around and I suddenly found myself lacking skills that weren't so much needed in school as in the real world, especially since success to me personally has a very entrepreneurial quality (I mostly mean starting my own studio and creating artistic works the success of which is hard to predict)

A huge motivation behind taking this gap year was that, I want to make a few things happen, testing out how much initiative, passion, and grit I have to do risky things. Like the stereotypical artist, I have a big ego in that I believe I have unique visions and can create really cool and valuable art (doesn't matter if it is fine art, animation, architecture, game, or something else artistic) Maybe I'd have to do this for a few years, but ultimately I don't want to work in a big company and simply externalize someone else's vision. Knowing that, sometimes at night this year I couldn't fall asleep (or, refused to go to bed until 3, 4, 5am while I had to wake up early in the morning) because I worried I didn't have enough skills, initiative, and grit to create something extremely cool in the next few years.

At times I understood the silliness of having the pressure to be super successful in my early 20s. The Forbes 30 under 30 people don't always stay so far ahead of their peers after they're named on the list. A LOT of creators especially have to take many years to really learn about the world before they create truly deep and meaningful works.

A few weeks ago in Portland, Megan or Cammie asked what our favorite age so far had been, and I said 15. I liked being 15 because I could easily be the youngest person in the room for a class or something (and growing up I internalized the idea that being the youngest to do something is a sign of success), because all kinds of crazy life trajectories seemed possible. Now that I'm 20, I am thinking about the concrete things to do to reach my definition of success and, being way below the 15-year-old Wendi's expectation of myself, the crazy dreams begin to wad themselves into little balls.

Honestly though, the more I'm writing this out, the more ridiculous I find I am. What do I know about my future as a 20-year-old? How am I feeling too old already? I do think that a lot of it has to do with the media I consume. After all, when I really think about it, there are tons of people who start to do really meaningful things relatively late in their career. An example I recently found is Ken Liu, who published his first major award-winning work, The Paper Menagerie, when he was 35 and has been introducing Chinese science-fiction to the world as a translator for major volumes like The Three-Body Problem in the decade afterwards. I mean I can give myself many different reasons why my fear or anxiety about my own passion and success is stupid, but, emotionally, it's a different story. I'm trying to develop mechanisms to immunize myself from anxiety-inducing influences like ones that make me think I'm too old, and hopefully I can identify a few to share in my later updates.

︎ a conversation

The day after I talked to Jingjing about what I wrote above, I had a conversation with someone that threw me into many different directions at once—directions I really love & agree as well as directions I really don't.

This person is supposedly an expert in media and communications in China — I don't know much about him nor Chinese media in the past thirty years so I don't have a good sense of his reputation in the industry at all. Let's just say he's at least pretty well-established and knows a ton about the media scene in China. I'll refer to him as A for the sake of convenience.

A and I met because I'm taking a gap year and I'm interested in working in media, and he not only knows a lot about media but also is a huge fan of entrepreneurship. In his eyes, college students can do A LOT. When I told him I wanted to make a documentary and submit it to film festivals, he said that was not ambitious enough: I should think about distributing it in theaters or online. He believes that I can and should gather a team to work on what I originally imagined to do all by myself or with one more person. Things like these that he said were really empowering as I was pushed to think a lot bigger about what I could do.

Throughout the hours long conversation, though, he'd say from time to time that I should start 2-3 organizations over the next year, that I could "in the worst case" publish a book by the end of my gap year, etc. He'd mention successful examples of Ivy students starting a company during their gap year after freshman year, or immediately after graduation, and getting angel investment for some millions of RMB. These words made me think that he was really fixated on an ideal I couldn't agree with. They also contradicted with what he said at first that I should always "do big (as in, deeply meaningful), great things happily," because I don't see a profound meaning in selling red wine, which was one of the startup examples he gave me. Also, doing big great things and achieving things early in life are hardly the same thing.

We had two different mindsets, he said: mine an artist one and his a producer one. To him, the projects I'm trying to work on are "totally wrong" (thank goodness, I knew enough about myself and why I do what I do to call him bullshit on this. In my mind, though. I argued with him for a little bit and then he said I wasn't humble enough, so I gave up on trying to make our conversation an actual conversation and let him preach to me) because it's not even guaranteed that I'll have finished products to come out of my projects. It's risky in a producer's eyes. And being in my artist mindset, I care about the process of making what I consider valuable, more than if I can really have finished products and how much audience they reach. I am in the producer mindset, too, sometimes, and I'd feel internally conflicted as the two mindsets fight against each other. If I hadn't talked to A, I wouldn't understand just how much more I actually operate in the artist mindset.

As I'm writing, I'm feeling that A was actually very risk-averse in a way, despite his passion for encouraging young people to start companies ("starting a company is the #1 way to spend a gap year," he said) He'd have to make sure about having a really really large audience to consider a project worth his time. He suggested that I find projects where I only need to add my 1 to their 99 for them to work. My effort in doing things from scratch is dumb in his eyes. I understand where that comes from, but I, again, value the process enough to not care as much about the end product.

In the end, I'm very grateful that this conversation happened. My fear of not being successful early on actually dramatically decreased after this conversation, even though A should have made me more nervous about what I'm doing. I guess it's because, when someone with very different values come in, I understood that my previous internal conflicts were actually nothing. It helped me understand myself better and feel more grounded.

︎ a quote

I was reading the essay collection A Unique Pig (一只特立独行的猪) by Wang Xiaobo (王小波) and saw a quote that I really loved. Here's my very rough translation:

What is failure? One could say that falling short of expectations is failure.

But people that fight against their destiny, people that approach their limit, are naturally at the proximity of such failure.... A person who's always fighting near their limit is always failing. A person who wants to explore the mystery of nature is also always failing. A person who wants to change the society is even more so. Only people who are content to live within their limit "win" all the time. These "winners" win because their opponents are already tamed. Or you could say, they never got themselves into the fight.

In life, there's another meaning to the word "failure," which is losing the will to keep fighting and putting down the weapon. Giving in to one's limit — that's the true failure.