In Alaska, life flourishes both on land and in the sea because of mutualistic relationships (lichen + fungi + barnacles) from my photos.

This post is a space for my annual reflection, where I look back at the theme I chose last year and set an intention for a theme for the new year. Last year, I took on the theme of gambling.

This year, I structured my reflection as a letter to my past self to reflect on all that’s happened this year and painted a forward-looking vision for where I want my attention for 2022.

Letter to past self 💌

Dear 2021 Spencer,

I’m getting a little deja vu to when I wrote about how my selves started to split apart in my mind during the beginning of covid in 2020. I hope you take hearing from your future self well… You’ve always been a stickler for science fiction, so I bet you’re getting a good laugh out of this now.

It’s probably been a week or so since you did your own annual reflection (sorry, you’re not as diligent about that now). You’re reflecting on your previous year intention to do more instead of your inherent instinct to think. You’re thinking that you’ve made progress, but you want to accelerate it, double down on pushing yourself to act like the people you admire and work on the things you care about. You’ll choose a provocative theme, gambling. You’ll do this intentionally—the word choice a tiny act of rebellion to egg yourself into moving out of your comfort zone. You probably don’t realize how meaningful that intention would become.

You’ll gamble 258 days of the year1, pushing yourself to do everything from striking up a conversation with a stranger to sending that terrifying ski slope to sharing nascent ideas for critical feedback. You’ll push yourself to become active on Twitter and more vulnerable in your sharing, both to friends and publicly. You’ll try to write honestly, kicking off a 100 mini-essays experiment on your birthday and holding yourself publicly accountable on your newsletter and Twitter. You’ll do things you had thought of as a fanciful dream: dancing on a stage in front of all your friends, publishing a piece on the magic of technology, play with your sense of identity through fashion, and lead development of a critical software project.

10 instances from the year (you can use my journaling template or Obsidian to track this)

10 instances from the year (you can use my journaling template or Obsidian to track this)

It’ll be a hard year, but you’ll push yourself to embrace the pain and struggle now because you want to know what you want. Rather than wavering between possibilities and going with the flow, you’ll push to feel strongly and stand for and advocate against. You chase your instincts, rely on your feelings, and find yourself slowly grounded in the idea that emotional meaning gives things inherent value. You’ll fight to make your chest full by learning to chase energy and bottling them up in tiny artifacts, bad poems, and fun experiments—artifacts imbued with visceral resonance and historical emotion, magical emotional tupperware.

These thoughts and ideas aren’t anything new to you. You’ve had them in fits of inspiration and storms of curiosity and blankets of creativity. They’re not as glamorous as the moments of eureka shown in movies, but they pack the same impact: stories filling in the flow of people and intentions at the bus stop, poems interrupting eyes fluttering at the edge of sleep, visions of technology overtaking the fluffy husky’s daily poop ritual.

The difference this year is that you’ll learn to capitalize on those moments, glamorous or not. You won’t just think about them and let the momentum behind them steadily wither. Instead, you seize the bounds of energy they release upon capture and develop deep appreciation for how sustaining that feeling is. When inspiration strikes, you won’t take it for granted: you’ll write, and you’ll build; you’ll imagine, and you’ll conspire. You’ll choose to act over overthinking; play over folding; shine over hiding. You undergo a transition from full vita contemplativa to vita activa.

from my 2021 wrapped, featuring a lot of activity rather than being stuck in my own head

from my 2021 wrapped, featuring a lot of activity rather than being stuck in my own head

You’ll struggle with the meaning of love and what you seek in a relationship and reconsider what traits you hold valuable in a friendship, pushing yourself to be more honest about your feelings when they conflict. You’ll look for your tribe online, those that care about how technology affects our humanity and can be leveraged to enable our actualization, those who give deep care to the power of words and feelings—to colors and meanings, those who are deeply optimistic yet pragmatic about how to build a better future for here—starting now. Your travel instinct will be fulfilled with trips to Hawaii, to Alaska, and beyond, seeking everlasting bites of food and unreal sceneries and endangered vibes, the feeling of youth and exploration and serenity.

2021 is a hard year, but your consistency in sticking to your theme will pull through. You’ll push yourself to be a little more settled in your identity in everything from micro-interactions at the grocery store to life-altering career decisions. It will be a year filled with lifelong memories, precious moments, and rich time capsules. And you’ll be grateful for every moment of the journey.

Towards an ever-firmer self,
2022 Spencer

2022 ⏩

I’ve been thinking about how much things can change in a year, and how so much of what people are able to do is determined by whether they have the right sort of virtuous cycle going. For example, some wonder how people can spend so much time doing things outside of work, and I think the fundamental aspect comes down to how energy compounds. For example, if you have an unfulfilling “day job” then it’s a given that you won’t have energy to do anything after. On the other hand if you have a day job that not only sustains your energy but fulfills you and grants you more energy, you’ll feel like you never have to stop creating and exploring and living. It’s a state of hyperawareness, of too many ideas not enough time, of an urgent hunger. Compounding energy comes from fulfilling, agencyful work and having a squad to back you up and friends to be present for you.

In 2021, I figured out how to sustain those energy cycles myself—listening to myself better and became more quietly confident in being my authentic self in everything I do. However, like a lot of my struggles in life, I tried to tackle it independently for the most part. Despite having an incredible support network, I have always struggled with trusting myself enough to ask them vulnerably and admit my weakness.

I want to be more generous to the people in my life and those around me. I think I’ve always been generous in the sense that I’ve been trusting to the point of being gullible. Generous in the sense that I avoid conflict so I always check myself to accommodate others. I’ve come to realize that that isn’t generous at all. It’s taking agency away from others by choosing for them, rather than giving them the opportunity to show up as themselves and affect your shared world. That’s what I mean by a false sense of generosity, one born out of fear of showing weakness and being vulnerable. Paradoxically, it’s been shown that asking for help from friends makes them like you more, because they think that you trust them. Whether it’s true scientifically or not, I’ve felt this to be true anecdotally.

Like a lot of us do, I hold myself to an unfair, higher standard than I put on others. The threshold for asking for help was unreasonable, and I pressured myself to try to solve everything myself to show that I was capable and independent and worthy in the eyes of my support network and greater society. Simultaneously, I’ve struggled with trusting others to take care of things that I’m particular about. I’ll feel a nagging instinct to take care of the task myself, uncomfortable with the absolution of responsibility. These two tendencies stem from the same phenomenon: of putting too much pressure on the scaffolding I need to give others to be successful. In turn, I closed myself off from others, made myself seem aloof when everything I was doing was, in large part, to sustain those relationships.

In 2022, I want to lower the pressure on myself to reach out in order to create more collective energy cycles. I want to generate energy for all of us, compound our power to realize communal visions for a better future—the kind that entail things that make people feel more alive and dream higher and think differently and create more. I want to create space for mutual flourishing.

Mutualism and Interdependence

Mutualism describes the ecological phenomenon where two species interact in ways that give both a net benefit. Hummingbirds and flowers are one common example: the flowers give the birds pollen and the birds spread the flowers' seeds. Interdependence is a social exchange theory that describes how every act by a member of a group will deeply affect the other members and the state of the group. Specifically, positive interdependence induces positive cathexis, “the investment of positive psychological energy in objects outside one’s self.” Mutualistic relationships are also classified by the involved species' closeness to one another. In biological terms, an obligate relationship is one in which one “cannot survive without” the other (i.e. obligate aerobe, one that cannot survive without oxygen).

lichen is a great example of a mutualism

lichen is a great example of a mutualism

I think humans are obligate socialites—we cannot survive without interactions with others. Mutualism feels like an obligation in that sense. We cannot survive without depending on and helping others. But just because it’s something we have to do, doesn’t mean we need to treat it as just an obligation. We can commit to the mutualism, to interdependence, to being attentive. After all, choosing means everything in a world of limitless possibility. I don’t want to waste any of my privilege for dreaming—every project, story, moment I choose, I intend to make the most of for our collective benefit2

Mutualism is about abundance over scarcity, the pie recipe for all rather than a single limited pie. I want to lean into that abundance and cultivate gardens and havens that enable communal flourishing. I want to create free energy, build positive sum worlds, play infinite games. I want to work towards squad wealth, build caring communities, and multiply the opportunity of connection. I want to be attentive to friends, generative with co-conspirators, rigorous with rivals. I want to be dauntless in the face of adversity, because I know I have a formidable team behind me.

I intend to build the fundamental assumption that the people around me are compassionate and forgiving, rather than exacting and judgmental.3 I want to normalize asking stupid questions and voicing still-forming opinions and identifying discomfort and disagreement. Mutualism is about becoming trustless by trusting those you’ve established connection with by default and gathering psychological oxygen for your tribe. Interdependence is about braiding sweetgrass, passing down an ever-growing artifact that accrues value with use rather than depreciating through your community.

This past year, I’ve coalesced around a mantra for how I want to spend my time in life. It’s all about making cool (provocative, thoughtful, empowering, visceral) stuff (software, art, poetry, memories) with amazing (attentive, passionate, diverse, curious) people. My 2022 theme hones in on that joint of connection by trusting the people around me to be worthy of trust. In doing so, I allow myself to partake in these small moments of energy creation, which accumulate into permanent arcs of communal flourishing.

To a world and future where we flourish, together.

Thank you to you, reader, for sharing in my mindspace and to those who have shared space and time and moments and thoughts and emotions with me. You all have shaped and continue to shape my life in these droplets that build into a wave

Also, check out some of my friends’ reflections in the same vein! (jacky, jasmine).

  1. reminder! you can see how I am doing on all my habits on my live monitor↩︎

  2. One framework I’ve discovered recently for aligning these long-term incentives in a way that serves both yourself and your broader community is Bentoism, a framework for making decisions in-line with the long-term to avoid short-term thinking. You can see an example of my Bento and use my template to create your own. ↩︎

  3. I’m knowingly taking an extreme here to be provocative. Obviously this assumption is not true in a lot of environments you operate in in real life, and taking this too far can open you to exploitation and abuse. Knowing that context, I want to push myself to develop that assumption as a default because taking an idea to the extreme is the best way to test its metal and see what falls out. ↩︎