On the good opinion of others and how it drives us

I just came back from a short vacation during which my normal daily activities were suspended — including writing daily, following twitter and podcasts to keep abreast of infosec news, and doing work towards my M.Sc. at Helsinki University.

Before going, I had pushed myself at the expense of more interesting topics (memory forensics) to get more academic reading done and turned in my distributed systems course essays ahead of time so that I wouldn't need to fuss over them during my vacation.

After I came back my first worry is the next upcoming deadline (in less than a week) for which I had not yet read. This deadline trumped my personal goals that I have set for myself, like posting a new blog post on LinkedIn every two weeks — and that irked me quite a bit afterwards. Today as I was working on other exercises for the course my thoughts kept wandering to my favorite topics — my infosec twitter feed to learn about new threats, interesting defenses or nice write-ups of capture the flag contests. All of these would be preferable to the job at hand of reading the academic paper we were assigned. The only good vibe I got from the paper was that it had a really complex sounding title and thus it elevated my self-worth — I must be really smart, or sumthin', to be reading these big words!

Care about what other people think
and you will always be their prisoner
- Lao Tzu

Then the term coined by Peter Sage came a-knockin': GOOP, or, Good Opinion of Other People.

He posits that most people spend the majority of their lives being driven by how others see you — or rather, how you assume them seeing you. Others being people like your parents, significant other, classmates, and so forth. I had learned of the term 3 weeks ago while watching his second London Real interview and already then it had resonated with me on the "hey that's interesting, I need to share this with other people" level, but now it finally hit home.

And it really hit hard. Am I going for the master's because I actually want to get it, or because I want the prestige and/or approval that achieving it would garner from others — be this prestige real or imaginary.

I am lucky in the sense that I have a pretty clear goal of where I see myself career-wise in the next 2-5 year span and have access to all of the material to get me on my way for the next year or so at least. All of that material is standing idly by as I am working with something else. Something else that slightly relates to my desired career goals since it is in the field of computer science, but my alma mater does not have a infosec/cybersec program — let alone forensics or anything related to reverse engineering — so I am currently majoring in computer science with a focus in distributed systems and networking. Sure network security is one part of the infosec world, but where I am going, you don't need cars.. erm, I mean I don't need to have an academic background in how peer to peer networks work, or have implemented my own distributed hash table or the like.

To be honest, doing "school work" when I am working in an exciting new job in a new country feels like a step backwards — or at least sideways — instead of being progress for me. Sometimes it just takes time for these feelings to materialize from gut feelings into figuring out why things seemed amiss. On the other hand, this "faltering of spirit" makes me also suspect my motives for wanting to put academic progress on pause — am I doing it because I clearly see what I want to actually do OR am I doing it just to avoid the anxiety that comes hand in hand with learning new things.

After having wrestled with this internally for a lengthy while the key arguments against quitting were "I contacted the instructor beforehand and if I stop now, he'll have wasted his time" and "my friends/family will be disappointed". I am not saying it is wrong to care about others, but I am saying that making decisions based on what I project other people's thoughts of me to be is folly.

Whatever I am moving towards will bring with it loads of adversity and it is wise to make sure you are taking the punches for the right cause, because as cliché as it is: you are here only for a very short time. And as the great poet Drake so eloquently put it: YOLO.

And on that bombshell it is time to end, good night!