For a generation of privileged people that values experiences over material goods, we like to exercise our freedom in other ways. While some folks use free time to collecting niche knowledge or interesting people, others collect counties they've travelled to or social media clout. For me, I like to collect projects.
My favourite projects are ones that shape the kind of person I wish to be. Friends would joke that I somehow manage to turn all my problems into projects. But I believe that wisdom and practice are born of committing to something and that there is no life-hack to growth.
Below are my favourite projects I have taken on and what they have taught me. I hope this list grows. As I get better at this daily writing project, I'll get around to reflecting on some of them too.
That time I wrote a bot to swipe right on Tinder and took their profile photos
I moved to San Francisco for a quarter and had trouble feeling at home in the tech community. After some terrible meetups and failed dates, I built this project to meet people and also to test my hypothesis that as I photographer, I can help them better their chances, for a fee.
Through arranging and going on these photoshoot-as-dates, I learned so much about what people value, how to listen deeply and design for a collaborative experience to bring it out the best of them onto the camera. I published my process and learnings on Hackernoon: Swipe Right to Let Me Take Your Profile Photo, also did a talk at Eyeo Festival 2017.
That time I lived in an ashram and helped them raise money for a sustainable architecture project
When I first started living in South East Asia, I offered my skills to this the Ashram Gandhi Candidasa to help them come up with a fundraising strategy to renovate and accommodate more local members. Through interviewing and sorting out their campaign strategy, I learned about Balinese architecture and its intentional affordances for the ashram's ritualistic lifestyle. The architect on the project is also a village leader. Our collaboration made me see that the best practices in digital design are culturally biased (ie. the assumptions made with minimalism), classist (ie. the concept of an "authentic" design), and does not serve people under different contexts.
I owe it to this project for being a gateway drug into taking on my own clients in this part of the world. Before I left, I storyboarded a campaign video and pieced together this rough cut despite language barriers with the film crew. I was told that with the money raised, they were able to repair the seawall and expand on the kitchen space.
That time I became a guild officer for an MMO and dug out of depression
When I was burned out and depressed, I sought after playing MMOs in order to escape my problems and to talk to people anonymously. I committed to helping to grow a guild after joining one and seeing how their resources could be better managed. I learned about making tradeoffs, building trust with players, and scaling resources.
During this time, playing a guild officer not only became my support network but also a responsibility which kept me tethered to my own and other people's humanity. I realized that I had gotten less depressed not because I escaped into an alter ego, but because the character and the guild I committed to give me the opportunity to practice strengths I didn't know I had and see through some of my weaknesses. More about this experience here in 3 parts.
"If we practice such free traits often enough, they can creep into our personalities in more pervasive and permanent ways." - Excerpt from Who Are You, Really?: The Surprising Puzzle of Personality