Letter 1: Coffee and the future

Hey! I'm writing this on the balcony of a holiday apartment in Dolomites. I have an unbelievably good view of a mountain and cable cars gliding gracefully up and down. I wanted to take this opportunity to write a letter — perhaps the first of many? — to you as a paying subscriber to this newsletter.

I have been up to a few things lately that I haven't shared outside of my private social media accounts, some of which I think you might find interesting.

We still haven’t personified our campervan with a name, but it has been serving us very well. After my parental leave ended about 3 months ago, we have only used it a couple of times, but each time we did we drove for hundreds of kilometres with it to various parts of Germany. We love the space it gives us wherever we go that allows us to heat up milk for the toddler, take an urgent pee, nap with the toddler, and travel long distances knowing that we could pull over practically anywhere to camp in relative comfort for the night and carry on the journey in the morning.

Right, so that’s a little update on the campervan. Now on to the recent projects.

30 days, 30 essays

I've started a 30 days, 30 essays project and am now on day 7. You might have read a mention of this in my previous post in the footer. It's going well in terms of honouring the commitment of 1 essay everyday. I've also learned a few things, like how unappetising it is to read a more-or-less unedited draft. A lot of readability comes from the writer editing for clarity, missing substantiations and elaboration, which is lacking when, well, you're short on time (I have 1 hour per day, more or less, to write and publish).

As a paying subscriber, you get to see me in my glorious fumbling about in this project by using this trick in the URL - just visit nickang.com/r1 and change the URL's number to see the others. So far, I'm at /r6, and the project will end at r30.

12 days of no coffee

I was having inexplicable eye twitches recently and after a round of perusing Reddit, I came up with the hypothesis that it was caused directly or indirectly by coffee. I drink one cup of brewed coffee each day only, but I've always felt the effect caffeine has on my body almost instantly. It is a drug to this body and I knew it!

So I decided without much further planning that I would stop drinking coffee. I had no end-date in mind, I just wanted to stop and see how I felt. This was originally something I thought I would write in a separate post, but I think the learnings can be effectively summarised in a section of this letter in bullet points, so here goes:

  • Side effect 1: first 3 days I had mild headaches throughout the day. They were bearable.
  • Side effect 2: first 7 days I could hardly hold a thought in my head for more than a few seconds. I would be pair programming with a colleague and I would have something to say and when a window to speak came up, I would draw a blank. It got better around the 8th day. It felt like my brain's RAM ran very low for a while and gradually upgraded with time.
  • Surprise 1: My eye twitching stopped at some point and no longer twitches now, despite going back to caffeine! Guess I needed a reset?
  • Surprise 2: I didn't feel much better in general without coffee as I'd expected. My mind did feel clearer after the initial fog, but whatever psychological gains I had from that I lost from not having a cup of delicious coffee to look forward to drinking everyday.
  • Surprise 3: Decaf coffee is nothing like regular coffee! This one is surprising, since they're made of the same stuff, and because I drew a parallel to alcohol-free beer, I thought it would have at least tasted almost as good. Nope, far from it. It may be just the lack of caffeine in decaf beans that make me feel this way, but I'm certain the taste lacks a dimension too.
  • Surprise 4: When I started drinking coffee again on day 13, I felt the effects more starkly than ever before. I felt nervous. Hot. And I felt an impending crash in the heaviness of my eyes. My hands became shaky and I was parched. This is just a reminder that coffee is a drug and you build resistance to it.
  • Confirmation: I'm not as deeply dependent on coffee as I had originally believed. I can confidently say that I can live without coffee if I wanted to, and I'm only continuing to consume coffee by choice. Spoken like an addict, I know, but I know this is true for me.
  • Conclusion: Trading some nervousness and anxiety for the joy of having something to look forward to everyday? I'll make that tradeoff!

The output vs the process

I’m intending to switch gears slightly to write something different for you (a paying subscriber, someone I consider in the inner circle of what this newsletter is). I’d like to start writing in the first-person only in these paid posts, which is something I currently do for all posts on this newsletter.

The idea is that going forward, I will treat the paying subscribers’ inner circle as acquaintances and perhaps even friends, and I’ll write to you as such, sharing my most recent doubts, trials, triumphs, disappointments, and so on. It’s “the one-way mirror” in its essence, since when we write letters to our true friends (if we still do that — I don’t but did use to), we know to let our guards down, because therein lies the meaningful conversations.

I’m changing the way I look at free vs paid as public work vs backstage private conversations. You should receive both as a paying subscriber, because your support directly enables me to do the actual work.

What’s the actual work? That’s the question that still requires refinement. So far the actual work since I launched this newsletter has been “to be vulnerable and write public reflections” but I’ve grown increasingly critical of using me so directly in the things that I create. Something about me being in the center of my work feels wrong, but I can’t quite articulate why yet.

Changing the way I see free vs paid posts as “the output” vs “the process behind the output”, as the front end vs the back end, is, I believe, going to help me focus on finding out what my work should be.

Here is an unvetted list of ideas I may run with in the near future (don’t hold me accountable yet!):

  • 30 days, 30 essays (ongoing)
  • A 10-episode conversational podcast with people about their jobs - loves, hates, warnings, recommendations
  • 10 pieces of flash fiction
  • 10 attempts at improving a public write-up (e.g. documentation, wikipedia entries)
  • Reading 10 books with explicit focus on finding 100 ideas for living well

The theme of the list as I see it is: do things, learn if you like doing them or are any good at doing them, and find out more.

There’s something called the Corridor Principle, which says that action is like walking down a corridor — it leads to the discovery of potential paths. Inaction means you don’t walk down the corridor, which means you will never discover the potential paths.

Good reads/watches/listens

  • Passion trials, explained by creativity YouTuber struthless - I watched this a few times before my brain certified that this framework for "finding your passion" is no-nonsense and could work. I embarked on the 30 essays project by following the steps he laid out in the video. Worth experimenting with if you're thinking of doing something new.
  • On The Value Of Fundamentals In Software Development by Skorks - I read this at the perfect time because I am (once again) rethinking my career as a software developer. This short and persuasive essay has given me something to focus on in the midst of doubt.
  • The Active Voice: George Saunders thinks you should watch your mind, a podcast intereview by Hamish McKenzie (cofounder of Substack) - I listened to this while driving to Italy and got an epiphany about an alternative career path in technical writing. (More about that in a future post, I think.)
  • The Rock and his marketing machine - this isn’t a single thing to read, but a series of posts on The Rock’s Instagram account. It has been fascinating and inspiring to see how good of a marketer he is, and how he remains authentic (from what I can observe) through it all.

That’s all I have for this week. Have a good weekend, and as usual, please let me know if you have feedback about the format.

Sincerely, Nick.

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