Many people are asking me “what’s next?” in my life and the answer is that there isn’t a clear, cut and dry answer YET. I just left what’s arguably the world’s best company to work for after an amazing five years where I learned a ton and made proud contributions that improved people’s lives in broad ways. But I’m in a very different place than where I was five years ago. I’ve developed a strong set of skills, not just professionally but also in the physical arts. And although I was very well taken care of while working for a corporation, it meant bringing to life someone else’s dreams. I’m happy for the person I’ve become thanks to those opportunities. And now it’s time to apply this new self to my own passions.
The place I’m at right now is in some ways similar to where I was the year before I started working at Google. 2010 was full of uncertainty but diligent exploration and discovery. I was at some crossroads in life and decided to take my time to be smart about what I was doing next. At the time, my plans for med school had fallen through and although I was doing astounding research in human evolution, I didn’t see a solid future from it. After much introspection, reading, writing, and experimenting, I established that the “mindful application of technology” was core to what I cared for, and I worked my way into the then rocketing software industry.
Today I’m at the crossroads again, and it’s time for another round of concentrated exploration and discovery. It’s a lot different this time around though. Instead of looking to break into something new, I’m doubling down in areas where I’ve found great passion, like the physical arts and especially skating. There’s a handful of recent trends that I find particularly noteworthy:
Many people are into or getting into fitness and wellness.
Technology is becoming involved in these fields and in health care too.
The office job world has changed – more demanding with the rise of fast-paced, competitive startups, and less stable with increasing work becoming automated or replaced by machines.
I’m spending this summer doing three things: The first is to figure out some “pieces” that would help me make the most of potential opportunities between my passions and these trends in fitness, wellness, and tech. Like six years ago, that involves a lot of reading, writing, research, trying out things, and slowing down life so I can actually reflect. The second thing is to follow through and develop myself. While the concrete aspects of that are yet to be determined, there’s one area that stands out: becoming a face of the physical arts world as a world class roller blader. And to get myself there, I’m traveling all over the country, teaching workshops, developing my skills in different skate disciplines, and advocating the art of skating. The third thing is to get a feel for the sort of of lifestyle I’d like to live down the road. I’ve done the 9 to 5, salaried employee thing and pushed it to its limits. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I’m incredibly curious to know whether there’s another manner that’s a better fit for me. Being in charge of my own day-to-day and week-to-week life will give me a good sense of my entrepreneurial desire and range, and opens the possibilities of starting my own business or doing contract work for when it comes time to pay bills.
It might seem ironic, but I expect to work harder in the coming months than I have during the last five years where I had a full time job. I wouldn’t have it any other way though, cause this time it’s for me and not anyone else.
Almost always, “save the world” initiatives are aimed somewhere far from the developed world. Whatever you want to call it: the third world, or some developing nation; we regard it as THE area that needs saving: warring factions in Syria, censorship in China, extortion in Mexico, hunger in Ghana, rape in India, and corruption in Russia. These are real and serious problems in the world and we’re right to seek ways to improve the greater good of people there.
But the developed world is full of many of its own problems, often orthogonal to those of the less developed world:
Diabetes and cancer are the diseases of developed world, and throw us into an inefficient healthcare system that’s incentivised to be expensive and bankrupt patients.
Our food system isn’t helping – the most convenient and least expensive food tends to very processed. Moreover, information on healthful eating is muddled by vested interests.
Many people find themselves in unnatural settings for daily work, where they spend most of their waking hours: long and stressful commutes, uninspiring work, hierarchical and restrictive work structures that cause the same angst and disorders as hierarchical regimes, and a lack of sunlight, fresh air, and movement. This “life” causes many physical and mental ailments including obesity and a widespread reduction in well being.
A consumerist mindset occupies our minds, ceaselessly telling us we need more to be happy, adding clutter to our lives and waste in our landfills.
We find ourselves endlessly busy and distant (physically and mentally) from things that bring true happiness: sleep, family, friends, love, community, and general relaxing and reflection.
The crux of this is that people in the developed world might not be very happy in their day to day lives. By some measures we might be less happy than those living in the developing world
These problems are nothing compared to warfare and hunger, but it’s critical that we make strides to address these issues. For one, most of world is becoming more developed. They crave to be more modern. They want to be more technologically advanced and be a part of the greater world economy. They want success and prosperity and growth. And they rightfully should. But as the developing world inherits our advancement, they inherit our problems. And these would be new problems for them – the next five billion – and big problems for the planet as a whole. So if we’re to “save the world”, let’s go after the problems in front of us, and not just the ones half a world away.
Human social and societal behavior
A strong personal and professional research interest
I’ve worked with faculty at Stony Brook University in developing a theory of evolution of religion, which reached into in-group / out-group behavior and a theory of culture. While this work is yet to be published, it is referenced in the book “Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future”.
I was a teaching assistant for the undergraduate and graduate (classroom and online) course on Social Coercion Theory
I’m a former practitioner of Kyokushin karate and served as an instructor for 5 years
I presently practice capoeira, an afro-brazilian martial art and have done so for the past 7 years
I’m an avid roller blader, as a daily commuter and as a safety marshall (5 years) for the inline skating community
I enjoy many outdoor activities including hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing
I’ve volunteered at St. Francis and Bellevue Hospitals
I was trained and certified as a NYS EMT and briefly volunteered with the Glen Oaks Volunteer Ambulance Corps
I was a pre-med student in a college and applied to medical schools, but decided against the career
A strong personal interest and I do a lot of reading, research, and personal experimenting
The American healthcare system is messy, inefficient, and expensive. The problem lies in the lack of the unified goal of providing good patient care. Rather, every party involved in our healthcare industry must act to allow themselves to survive, often to the detriment of this goal. This is apparent when we consider the interests of each party and compare them to that of the other parties:
Patients – want to maintain their health and make it affordable
they are marketed to constantly by other players in the healthcare system
they often want quick fixes and to want to minimize effort (making them reluctant to adopt lifestyle changes)
their insurance policies put little importance on promoting healthy lifestyle
they must deal with the difficulty in getting insurance and have treatments covered
Doctors and other Medical Personal – want to deliver the best care and be properly reimbursed for their work
they had to work very hard for many years and pay a lot of money to get to where they are
they have to overtreat to avoid lawsuits
they have to use expensive medical equipment more often to cover those costs (more overtreatment)
they have to see more patients to cover their costs
they need to maintain good reputations (which means catering to reward systems that raise the cost of medicine yet don’t do the patient good; one example is not admitting mistakes; another is prescribing more drugs or procedures instead of suggesting lifestyle changes)
Insurance Companies – want to offer the best coverage and minimize their costs
they must avoid risky high-cost clients and maintain many low-cost clients, or business will be infeasible
they need to cover what their clients want to maintain their clientele
they need to deal with the high prices set my the medical industry in order to stay in business
Drug Companies and Medical Equipment Makers – want to offer the best medical advancements and minimize their costs
they must compete in a very aggressive industries
they have very high research costs
they must continually create new products
they must advertise heavily to remain in business
they lobby to create favorable government policy
by nature, they encourage overtreatment
Hospitals – want to offer the best care and cover their costs
they lose a lot of money when providing care in emergency departments (especially with patients without insurance)
they must cover this discrepancy by building and advertising high-yielding departments (such as cancer treatment and heart treatment)
they must heavily use expensive medical equipment to cover those costs
they must maintain good reputation
Government / Politicians / Policy Makers – want to create policies that better the health of people and they want to maintain their political power
they must please the patients and cater to what patients think is best for health (even if it isn’t)
they must deal with lobbying and funding from other players in the health care industry (critical to getting elected)
As you can see, every player involved in our healthcare system has well intentioned and even commendable goals (as indicated in italic). But at the same time, they’re working in a system that requires them to fulfill the second goal (survival) at the expense of the first goal (genuine health care). If we are to improve our healthcare system, and our lives, we must address the conflicting interests between these parties. We must align their interests and incentives with the greater unified goal of providing the good medical care. And this includes [potential] patients acting in kind.
Our president is hard at work to help secure the health of Americans. As I’ve discussed before, his ideas don’t stand a chance at being successful if we Americans don’t follow good lifestyle choices. However, the first lady, Michelle Obama, is making excellent strides in promoting better lifestyle through her focus on childhood obesity. Upon moving into the White House, she established a garden to provide fresh, wholesome, nutritious food for her family. This was an extremely symbolic act as it set an example for families in the rest of the country. Recently, she started a campaign called Let’s Moveto encourage parents and kids to eat better and be more physically active. In the video above, she discusses how the health of our children today will determine the cost of healthcare in a decade. She gets it! She understands! It isn’t about the mess with the healthcare system. It’s about how we live. I applaud her greatly on the work she’s doing and I really hope it does reach people to better their lives. For our own sakes, it’s essential to understand that the way we treat ourselves on a day to day basis determines our own health. It determines the load on the healthcare system. It determines how much money we’re putting into it and especially the financial stability of the country.
Whatever new healthcare changes we have are ultimately doomed. It’s not that the reform ideas are bad ones; they’re actually outstanding and much needed changes. It’s just that the American way of life is very incompatible with this system. We Americans are health destroying machines and there’s no way our healthcare system can pick up the slack. We put very little means into taking care of ourselves and that has very serious, painful, and expensive consequences. Imagine if every unhealthy person in the country, which is to say most of the population, was covered by insurance. There’d be no way to pay for all of their medical expenses.
Unless we start eating better and doing more physical activity, among other things, we’re heading for a total disaster. We could very well bankrupt the country in trying to pay off health bills or fees for insurance. So take care of yourself. In doing so, you build your own “insurance” – one of your own wellbeing. I know it’s not easy as it does have its own costs, including time. But it’s one we’re better off paying now than the huge costs we’d incur in the future instead. We also need to approach our food system as we’re doing our health system, as food writer Michael Pollan has stated. With this, we will make eating healthier easily attainable goal.