Answering one reader's many questions: Part 3

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And just like that, this Q&A series comes to an end. I have to say, answering these questions was an extraordinary amount of fun, so thank you "Swiss Cheese" person for sending me all these questions.

In all seriousness though, answering these questions really brought back a lot of memories. More importantly, they brought back feelings associated to memories that I forgot were so strong. Images of people, events, and places that evoked some unexpectedly strong feelings. It’s funny how we almost forget what we felt once upon a time.

I’ll also admit that I was surprised by how some questions actually made me mildly uncomfortable, in the sense that I always liked to think of myself as a super open book that would never have an issue disclosing any information about myself. However, many of these questions forced me to step back and think “ehhhh I should be careful here” or “damn, I don't know about this one.

It’s not so much that I was scared/embarrassed of disclosing the information, it’s more that I was worried that the answers might get me in trouble with some people (family, friends etc.). I didn’t lie in any of the answers to the questions, but I did have to tread carefully many times. So I guess I learned that I still have a long way to go with the level of transparency that I have with you, dear readers.

If you haven't read the first two parts of this Q&A series, please click the buttons below:

With that preamble out of the way, here is the final batch of answers to the questions.

1: For what do you have too little time in your everyday life, even though it would be important to you?

I’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument (guitar or saxophone maybe) but haven’t quite gotten around to it yet. I heard that it’s a pretty time-consuming endeavour though, so it’s unfortunate that I haven’t been able to do this yet.

Close second (and this is going to sound utterly absurd): videogames. Wait, before you close the browser, hear me out. Certain videogames, like the amazing Kingdom Hearts series, really touched me emotionally as a child and had a huge impact on my life. I loved the feeling that I felt when I played games like those and feeling such poignant emotions in my life is very important to me. These games just made me… feel, you know?

Traveling to different worlds and experiencing that emotional journey with the protagonist allows us to get in touch with the innocent, beautiful, and childlike parts of our mind and soul that lie dormant for a large part of our lives.

We all want to be reminded of the fact that we can feel deeper, genuine emotion. Some get it from romantic partners, others through family and children, and yet others from videogames.

2: Do you have a secret that nobody knows about?

Ha, don’t we all. Oh you want me to tell you that secret? Well that would defeat the purpose of the word, now wouldn’t it?

Honestly though, most of my so-called secrets are out in the open on my Quora account and here on my blog. It’s funny because people think I’m a really withdrawn person that doesn’t share much, to which I laugh and say “have you read the stuff I post on Quora and my blog?

It’s ironic because in this day and age where we spend so much time social-media stalking our peers, when it comes to putting in cognitive effort to read a lot of content, most of us don’t bother. People often think that I'm a ghost on the Internet because I only have Facebook, which I use very, very passively (the last picture I uploaded was probably 4 years ago. Other than that, I’ve been tagged in a handful of pictures). But if you actually dig deep, I probably disclose more genuine information about myself than most people do; you just have to put in the effort to bloody read it. Pictures and hashtags are easier to digest than words, I guess.

I feel like this answer is a bit of a cop-out though, so I’ll indulge you with a few things that are appropriate enough to disclose publicly.

  • I’m probably the only male you’ll ever know that has read The Notebook but not seen the movie.

  • The first book that made me cry was The Bridges of Madison County and, if memory serves me, I was about 14yrs old when I read it (it just happened to be in my room when I was cleaning up so I thought eh, why not read it).

  • Even though I am very inexperienced sexually, I’ve read a few books about it. I just finished reading She Comes First by clinical sexologist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., and a few months ago I read Open Her by Karen Brody (granted, this one was more about masculinity than sex specifically, but it's still related).

This is again one of those things that technically isn’t a secret because they were on my book list, which is publicly viewable and to which I posted a link on the Useful Stuff page of his blog (the book goes off the list once you buy it, so the list is only of books that I intend to read, not of those that I have already read). So you can find out what’s on my reading list by checking out my readling list there. To save you a few clicks, I’ll post it here again.

Tip: If you’re worried about looking weird when people see the book cover of what you’re reading and might judge you for it, just get an e-reader. The bare-basics ones are incredibly affordable. The cheapest one, and the one I highly recommend, is probably the Kindle Paperwhite, which I got second-hand for $60 on eBay. Nobody knows what you’re reading if you’re reading it on a Kindle or Nook. Or just get the audiobook version.

Here's another "secret" of mine. Even though I may give off an impression of being noble and caring for the greater things in life, I damn well want to be rich. Absolutely, fucking rich. Why? Because from my experience of working for a nonprofit for almost a year now and learning a lot about the nonprofit sector in general, I've realized that money solves a lot of problems for small nonprofits. I'm not saying that it fixes all the world's problems, but it sure as hell can solve a massive chunk of them.

Hence, my thinking is that if I were rich, just think of all the problems I could solve? (note: it reminds me of this article about effective altruism. If you can't access the article just Google the term to learn more about it.) This is a huge part of the reason why I'm so obsessively career-focused at this stage of my life. I could solve so many problems if I were rich.

3: Train or plane?

Depends on the circumstances of the journey. If I have a week or month off and relative freedom to travel through a continent (or massive country like China, Russia, or the U.S.) as I see fit, then I’ll go for a train and invite a few buddies to come along. But if I have an important business meeting the next day or in a few days’ time, I don’t have time for the scenic option and will have to use a plane.

4: Texting or calling?

Ha, funny one this. I listen to a few dating podcasts (as you’ll see here) and the women there regularly lamented the unpopularity of calling these days. It’s all just texts, emojis, and “lol”s these days. Anyway, for very objective, “yes-no” logistical issues I prefer texting.

For example, “are we meeting at noon today at the Starbucks?”, “On my way to the grocery store, do we still need milk?”, or “did I leave my charger at your place?” are questions that I see little-to-no reason to call for, unless it’s a really time-sensitive issue. But I prefer calling for the times where you just want to talk to a friend (or romantic partner) to connect, catch up, tell stories of what happened to you recently, or, you know, just talk. It's nice to have a regular, free-flowing conversation sometimes. Also, if you need to solve a more open-ended issue fixing a software problem on your computer, calling is better.

5: What would you spend money on first if you won 100,000 US dollars?

I would pay off all financial debts of my family members. Mortgages, student loans, credit cards; you name it. That said, I’m pretty sure $100,000 would just about pay off the remaining mortgage on my parents’ current house, so that would be a pretty simple expenditure. Perhaps $100,000 isn’t as much as I thought?

6: If you didn’t have your current job, what other job would you see yourself in?

Definitely something football-related. Although I’m very wary of the fickle nature of fans and owners in the world of football these days, I would probably be a coach. Footballing tactics and the different styles of play absolutely fascinate me. It’s like a chess game and it’s very intellectually stimulating. Like I said though, I’m concerned about how trigger-happy the owners of clubs are these days, firing coaches if they lose a mere 3 or 4 consecutive games instead of giving them at least a season. It’s ridiculous.

Football is a global language spoken in many different accents.
— Tim Vickery

I would start at the youth level and coach kids around the ages of 14-18. I like that age group because at that age kids are old enough to understand more complex concepts and tactics, but young enough to not have developed that stubbornness of mind where they can’t be “molded” anymore. They’re still open to new ways of thinking around this age; they're smart, but not "too smart", if you will. I would really love the opportunity to be able to mentor and guide them not just in footballing matters, but also in life in general, how to be a good human being, and how to live a worthy life. Perhaps I would coach professional teams someday as well, but that depends on whether I felt ready or not.

Though this doesn’t really answer your question, I wanted to shoehorn this one in as well. If I could be paid for training and/or teaching people the four Chinese martial arts from Avatar: The Last Airbender, I would be a very happy man (check out this video to see what I mean). Then again, I would have to master all four of them first. One step at a time...

7: What are you most afraid of?

Not succeeding (in my career and life in general).

I very deliberately avoided the use of the word “failure” here. While this might seem like a trivial game of semantics, I did this for a few specific and, I believe, important reasons. First, I’m confident enough in my own abilities to not necessarily fear failure, so that’s not on my mind too much. I’m also not really sure how to define failure for myself. It might sound odd, but I find it easier to define “not succeeding” because I have very vivid images in my head of what success would look like for me in my life. Hence, if I didn’t fulfill these ideas of success it would, by (my) definition, constitute not succeeding.

It just doesn’t feel right to define “not succeeding” as failure though (certainly not in the traditional sense of the term). What’s most on my mind is “what if I’m not good enough or don’t do well enough?” rather than “what if I fail?” I think that the word failure also communicates the wrong message because it emphasizes the negative, rather than the positive. I know, I’m venturing into the territory of cringeworthy-inspiration talk right now, but bear with me.

To me, focusing on the fear of not failing means that you focus on doing just enough to not fail. However, the fear of not succeeding more naturally leads to doing everything you can to be the very best. If that doesn’t work out, you fall just short of excellence. Shoot for the stars and all that. Coincidentally, this is perfectly in line with my personal philosophy/mentality of always striving to win. The best way to illustrate this point is through the words of the great Michelangelo:

The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and then falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.
— Michelangelo Buonarroti

This brings me to my main point: mediocrity. That is, I’m terrified of falling into mediocrity. That my life will be mediocre and that – oh those dreaded words that strike such fear in me – I’ll “settle.” You know what I mean. We all have that one friend in our lives that we gives us such sadness when we think about him/her because (s)he “settled” in his/her life. I don’t mean settled in the sense of “settled down”; I mean it in the sense of a person giving up and stifling his/her ambitions. This is probably why “not succeeding” strikes such fear in me. I have such high demands for myself, and am so ambitious, that mediocrity would be the ultimate and most damning punishment for me.

I have to be good; I have to win. But I have no concerns over that.

If I did, I would have gone fishing.
— Zinedine Zidane (Former Coach and Player of Real Madrid C.F.)

I think the reason for this is I’ve been blessed with such a fantastic upbringing, extraordinarily high-quality (and low-cost!) education, and honestly just great life overall that I feel obliged to do something with it. Given this, and the fact that I have so many resources put in place for me to succeed – resources that so many don’t have and resources that give me the potential to do really great things in the world – it’s no surprise that the one thing that I’m most afraid of can be summed up in one question:

What if, with all of these resources, I don’t succeed?

8: What are you most proud of in your life?

I haven’t finished my book yet, so I can’t say that. Hence, I’ll say my writing.

Improving my writing skills has been one of the best things I’ve done for myself and has opened up so many avenues for me in my life. Journaling, writing a book, blogging, connecting with people all over the world through the written word. I’ve gained so much from writing and I’m proud to say that I’m pretty damn good at it too. I have a strong feeling that it’s going to be really useful to me later in my life.

Secondly, and connected to that, is the day I overcame my fear of putting my writing on the Internet for the first time. This might sound trivial to you, but people that have been writing publicly for years understand what I’m talking about (think about the first time you clicked the “publish” button). The first time you publish your writing online is arguably one of the most anxiety- and stress-inducing activities of a writer’s career. I honestly cannot describe how terrified I was when I first launched my blog. It was so.damn.scary. But I’m incredibly proud of myself for overcoming this fear.

Because I haven’t looked back ever since.

9: Which person knows you best?

Semi-serious answer: any person that has read all my blog posts here, all my articles on Black & White & Read All Over, and every single one of my Quora answers. Seriously, if you’ve done all of that, you’ll probably know me better than anyone else. It's probably because most people are too lazy and/or don't have the time to read all of it.

Serious answer: I would say it’s the girl I used to have a crush on in high school (in the Netherlands) and is now one of my closest friends. I’ll keep her identity confidential because I respect her privacy (but anyone that was in my class in high school in the Netherlands will know who I’m talking about). After that, I think it would be those three weirdos that I’m in a Whatsapp and Facebook group with, also friends from high school. Don’t worry, they’re fine with me calling them weirdos. And they damn well know who they are (BOY!).

10: When did you last cry out of joy or other positive feelings?

I genuinely don’t know. Sorry for such a poor answer, but I really, really don’t know.

As I thought about this question, I ran through a few typical scenarios that might evoke (crying due to) such feelings. Let's see: I don’t have kids, I’ve never been married, I don’t have a spouse, and I’ve been single all my life and still am. After that, the closest thing that might have made me cry from such feelings would be my football club Juventus winning the Champions League (which hasn’t happened since I became a fan), Nigeria winning a World Cup (not happening, ehm… ever), or finding love the way Suárez and Cavani found each other during Uruguay's game against Portugal.

Besides all of this, I really don’t know (from recent memory) what else might have been able to make me cry out of joy or other positive feeling. This doesn’t mean that I never cry; over the last few years I certainly have cried after movies/books/stories. But that was because they were very poignant and emotionally-resonant events and stories, not because they specifically evoked positive or happy feelings from me.

That said, reading stories about Peru and its fans at the 2018 World Cup, and seeing the extraordinary looks of pride and raw emotion on the players' faces as they represented their country on the global stage, did make me very emotional. The looks on the fans' and players' faces during the world's second biggest sporting event (Olympics is probably first) seemed to almost say "look, world, we're here, we matter, we exist, and we're goddamn proud of who we are and the people we represent." The humanity and the purity of such emotion made me very emotional indeed and reminded me why I love this game so much.

To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people.
— César Luis Menotti

11: Which is your best character trait? And what is the trait that bothers you most?

Best: Not sure if this is technically a character trait, but whatever.

It’s my emotional self-sufficiency.

I’m not saying that I don’t need anyone in my life at all; of course not, that’s a ridiculous statement. However, I generally don’t need people to comfort me, cheer me up, tell me that I’m going to be ok, tell me that I’m good enough to deserve or succeed at something, or give me a pep talk. Not always, but generally.

This sounds weird, but I have a strong enough relationship with myself such that I don’t need to desperately seek out relationships/friendships with people in order to fill some emotional void. I’m introspective and emotionally literate enough to be able to deal with most emotional challenges by myself. However, I imagine that if I were to experience something like a nasty breakup with a girlfriend, I would need emotional support. But I never have, so there you go.

On that note, and before you ask/think about it, this doesn’t mean that I don’t want a romantic partner. My point is that I don’t need her just to fill some emotional deficiency that I might have. There’s a key difference there. Nevertheless, I want to sneak in a second character trait because I think it’s closely tied to the first one. It's, my mentality. This is something I learned from football and wrote about here. Basically, I learned to have the mentality of a fucking winner.

I have to be good; I have to win. But I have no concerns over that. If I did, I would have gone fishing.
— Zinedine Zidane (Former Coach and Player of Real Madrid C.F.)

Combined with my emotional self-sufficiency, this means that I’m less prone to pitying myself and more likely to fight and keep going. Anyway, enough self-indulgence.

When I was young, many kids were better than me. The difference was that I had the mentality, and they didn’t.
— Zinedine Zidane (Former Coach and Player of Real Madrid C.F.)

Worst: This is simultaneously one of my best and worst traits. It's my insatiable desire for more.

It’s good because it has driven me to constantly learn more, be better, and strive for more in life. I never rest on my laurels, so to speak. By constantly wanting more, I’ve become insanely ambitious, driven, and focused on self-improvement. I constantly want more from myself, relationships, and from life.

However, it’s a double-edged sword. It’s hard to be truly satisfied in life (though my answer to question #17 might suggest otherwise) when you always want more. You become too hard on yourself and too demanding of other people because you want them to keep up with you(r ambition). You might even look down on them for their lack thereof, which is insidious and arrogant.

You begin to despise platonic relationships because you want (not need) more from out of them. (Potential) romantic relationships become problematic because you demand close to perfection from someone, which is bad (and is connected to what I said earlier about my emotional self-sufficiency and me not needing people for emotional “care”). Otherwise, you're just not satisfied.

So it’s clearly a double-edged sword that I wonder how emotionally-healthy it is in the long-run. Having excessively high standards can be self-damaging and prevent me from appreciating both the good and the imperfect in people.

And maybe that’s it. Perhaps it’s not my worst trait. Perhaps it’s my most self-damaging trait.

It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same.
— Emily Kaldwin (from the game 'Dishonored')

12: If you could play a movie character, which one would it be?

Because you limited the question to movies, this question was actually trickier than I thought. Nevertheless, my best answer is Lester Burnham from the movie American Beauty. First of all, I just want to say what an absolutely brilliant, amazing movie that is. It really is one of my all-time favorites.

Anyway, Burnham experiences a mid-life crisis where he hates his job, is in a crumbling marriage, has no relationship with his daughter, and is painfully cynical and jaded about everything in his life. I am in no way, shape, or form similar to Burnham, but I’ve heard so much about people like him in real life that I would just love to understand and know the psychology of people that experience such chastening periods in life. Why do people become so jaded with life? What do they think of? What happened in their childhoods that caused this? I’m so curious about what the heck is going on in Burnham’s mind that he takes the prize for this question.

Second place goes to good ol’ Tony Stark from the Iron Man and Avengers movies. Firstly, I can’t describe just how much I relate to and resonate with every single bit of his type of humor. It’s one of those “YES! Somebody finally gets me!” moments. Anyway, we find that there’s far more nuance to Stark as the Avengers/Iron Man movies progress.

For instance, his relationship with Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the latest Spider-Man and Avengers movies really proves that there’s so much more to him than the arrogant “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” image that he gives off. There is a mature father-figure underneath all of that hubris and, in addition, we get an insight into how the relationship with his parents affected his personality. Because of this beautiful nuance in his personality, it would be awesome to play his character.

Though these are not from movies, I wanted to give them all a shout out anyway as quasi-answers to this question. Phillip Jennings from The Americans; Vegeta from Dragonball Z; Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender; Ozpin from RWBY; and Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop.

13: Which movie/series character could you fall in love with?

I couldn’t pick just one, so I’ll give you a few and list them in order of favorite to least favorite. Do note that I try not to let the appearance of the actress that played the character influence my assessment, because I think that the point of the question is the character rather than the actress (if not you would have just asked me who my favorite actress is, no?)

Peggy Carter from the movie Captain America: The First Avenger. I think she displays the perfect balance between strength of character (personality) and tenderness/vulnerability. Given her job in the movie, she has to be an incredibly tough person and stand her ground in a male-dominated profession, especially given the period that the movie is set in (World War II). However, I think she does amazingly well to not fall into a trap that women in such situations in real life commonly fall for: becoming so tough that you neglect your emotions and become emotionally sterile (or “cold”). She shows her vulnerability beautifully in her interactions with and eventual love for Captain America.

I empathize with women in such situations though; it’s tough to maintain that balance between being vulnerable and sensual, while also ensuring that people don’t trample over you or maliciously take advantage of your kindness. As we all know, sexual harassment is a serious problem these days, so women certainly have to stand their ground. Nevertheless, I think Agent Carter does this absolutely wonderfully and I could truly fall in love with such a woman. She’s extremely sexy in her own awesome way.

Alicia Florrick from the show The Good Wife. For the same reasons as Peggy Carter, plus a few additional ones. I found Alicia especially interesting because in the first two seasons, she struck me as a woman that wasn’t much in touch with her sexuality. Honestly, she just seemed very sexually-uptight. But she slowly opened up and started to embrace her sexuality and I really liked that development. Now that I think of it, I’ve met women like Alicia before – beautiful women with extremely well-rounded personalities but seem to be missing that one thing of feeling sexually alive/comfortable with themselves as women.

I always feel bad for them and think to myself “c’mon, you’re such a beautiful woman and such a fantastic human being. It’s ok to feel sexual, it’s ok to desire sex, it’s ok to feel beautiful in your own skin.” I never say anything because it’s not my place to comment on something so personal to someone (plus, there might be some childhood trauma or something else in their past that I don’t know about that could have caused this), but I always have the thought in my mind. Still though, I’ve often been drawn to and fascinated by such women. Anyway, for the rest my reasons for picking Alicia are the same as with Peggy Carter.

Next, and somewhat controversially for fans of the series, is Korra from the series The Legend of Korra. I’m going to have to vigorously defend this choice because many fans of the show really, really, really didn’t like her, although I think the criticism was often very harsh (before you ask, I would have picked Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender but because she was so young in the show, I never really perceived her in a romantic light, if that makes sense).

Despite being arguably the strongest person in her world, you can see the vulnerability and insecurities that she experiences, just like regular people that don’t have the ability to control all four elements. Given that she has the greatest responsibility in the world – being the Avatar – she always has to be strong for her people and her family.

But she’s human, just like us. Crucially, in the show she's just a teenager, burdened by this almighty responsibility. She loves, she hurts, she laughs, she screws up (a lot!), she has her insecurities, she’s anxious, she doubts herself; all things that regular, non-superhero people like you and me do. She’s an admittedly flawed character, but it’s seeing the humanity and vulnerability of all those imperfections – in light of the tremendous responsibility on her shoulders, her very young age, and the extreme trauma she’s been through – that I find extremely beautiful and endearing.

This reminds me of two really interesting YouTube videos called “what makes a hero feel real” and “what makes a villain feel real.” Even if you never watch any superhero-related entertainent, I highly recommend that you watch these videos because the points made in them are applicable to any aspect of life and very relevant to the argument I just made.

Note: If you haven’t watched The Legend of Korra, I think a more relatable example that is similar, though not exactly identical to the example of Korra might be Katniss Everdeen from the movie ‘The Hunger Games.’ I’ll repeat myself again: I’m talking about the character not the actress.

Furthermore, and although I’m slightly cheating here, I’m thinking more about the book-character Katniss rather than the movie-character Katniss because as is often the case with book-to-movie adaptations, her character is quite underdeveloped in the movie. You get a far more nuanced look into her personality in the books.

I specifically remember a point she made in the first book about how she hates owing people favors and how bad that makes her feel. I really related to that. Anyway, if you need a more relatable example of why I chose Korra, then just think of book-version Katniss.

Summer from the movie (500) Days of Summer. I want to again emphasize here that I’m focusing on the character instead of the actress. In this case, I know that the actress that plays Summer, Zooey Deschanel, has a reputation for being too much of the “quirky girl next door” and it seems that people are growing bored of that cliché with her. Anyway, focusing on the character Summer, her “weirdness” was extremely endearing and relatable. I especially love how she never takes herself too seriously, as was shown through the playful but beautiful way in which she dresses and behaves. The only caveat I add is that she sometimes overdid it a little and I can see how that could become a bit tiring. But if done in moderation it’s extremely loveable.

As I write this, I’m starting to see a pattern actually. Basically, I’m attracted to women that are extraordinarily strong of character and stand their ground, but still possess the capacity to be vulnerable. Look at all the things I’m learning about myself in this Q&A series!

14: Which person in your private/professional environment do you admire most and for what?

This is going to sound so, so strange but it’s the best answer that came to mind: my boss. I’m obviously going to keep her anonymous in this answer because, well, she’s my boss. But from talking to and getting to know her, I’ve learned about the incredible challenges that she has faced in her life, starting from childhood and continuing into adulthood. The thing is, she could have left the city with her family and moved to a better place. Why not? It would have been completely understandable. She could have turned her back to all the trauma of her past and moved to greener pastures. Like Batman in that poignant scene of The Dark Knight Rises, she didn’t owe this city anything.

But she didn’t turn away. Despite all the challenges, she stayed and fought. Much better than that, she started a nonprofit that is doing great things for and giving back to the community. And that, to me, is extraordinarily honorable. For obvious reasons though, I can’t go into much more detail about this, which is unfortunate because that means this answer might be a bit vague.

Catwoman: Come with me. Save yourself. You don’t owe these people any more. You’ve given them everything.

Batman: Not everything. Not yet.
— Catwoman and Batman (in the movie "The Dark Knight Rises")

I admire her leadership style as well because it’s very… human. It feels like I’m working with, not for her. Just one human being working with a bunch of other human beings that are trying to figure out how to make their community a better place. Like I said, very human. Moreover, the dedication she shows to her work is incredible. She really does give the people everything and puts her heart and soul into this work which, given our line of work, is particularly great. Most importantly though, I think that she’s just an all-round wonderful person. A really, really good person.

And yet, I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of medievalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal—to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be.
— From Chapter 2 of the book "The Picture of Dorian Gray"

For what it’s worth, I know that she has never read my blog and is probably too busy to ever do so. She is aware that I have this blog though and knows that I’m writing a book, but she has more important things to do than to read my blog. Things like, you know, running a nonprofit. I really hope she doesn’t read this though, because that would be a tad awkward.

15: What was the nicest compliment you remember and who said it to you?

Before I answer, I want to point out that I generally don’t remember exact instances/events where I received really memorable compliments. In general, the compliments that are dearest to my heart are those that recognize and appreciate my integrity/character as a person.

That said, I do have two specific stories that I can share with you. The first one occurred on my last day of high school in the Netherlands before I moved to the U.S. (when I was 16). As I mentioned in Part 1, there was a Dutch-French girl that I had a semi-crush on, but a few other guys were already “after her” so I tapped out of that race early on. Anyway, as we were saying our goodbyes on the last day of school, she said something that I’ll never forget: “You’re such a good listener and such a good guy. You’re a really nice person to talk to.

I think that was the first time someone ever complimented me on my listening and conversational skills and, now that I’m older, I’ve really grown to understand and appreciate the value of that compliment. Perhaps subconsciously it encouraged me to continue improving my conversational skills and to learn how to really be present when with another person.

For the life of me, I can’t remember who gave me the following compliment, so I apologize in advance. I know it was a woman, but I just can’t remember who. Anyway, I was having a regular, everyday conversation with this person and throughout the conversation I referenced some articles, books, and podcasts that I had read/listened to that were relevant to what we were talking about. Somehow, our conversation steered to relationships and dating; I don’t really remember how or why though. I think I asked something along the lines of what women find attractive in men and she responded: “Just those simple words you kept saying in our conversation: ‘I read’ [past tense].

I was confused so I asked her to clarify. “The fact that you read, listen to podcasts, and just learn about stuff is super attractive.” She then also complimented me on being really good boyfriend material, which was very flattering.* Again, these compliments stood out to me because they complemented my character, intelligence, and personality: three things that are very important to me.

*Note: before you ask, we did not and never had any romantic relations. Believe me, THAT IS something that I would have remembered.

16: What is the biggest miracle for you?

This is another one of those questions where I feel like there’s a socially-correct/socially-approved answer that I “should” give you. You know, stuff like “the beauty of nature on a wonderful autumn afternoon”, “watching the sunset while in loving embrace with my wife”, “waking up in the morning to the beautiful eyes of the love of my life”, “the amazing feeling of love”…

Bla bla bla bla. Fuck that.

The biggest miracle I can think of is that I actually seem to be halfway competent at this thing called life. Financially speaking, I’m in the best place of my life and only on an upward trajectory. It helps that I was able to get my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Europe, meaning that I have no debt whatsoever. I was very, very lucky in this respect. Physically, I am in fantastic shape and at a perfect place with my weekly fitness regime (shout out to my local YMCA for their great classes!). Based on the annual checkup I recently did with my doctor, I’m also in fantastic (physical and mental) health, thank God.

My diet is very good and I think that’s a big reason of why I generally have good energy in my daily life. I rarely feel excessively tired, have headaches, experience any chronic pain/aching in my body, or have any other similar issues. Intellectually, I’m really enjoying listening to fascinating podcasts and have been reading loads of books the last few years. I’m learning a lot about a wide range of topics and I’m excited to keep learning more. There’s just so much to learn and so little time.

I’m being dead-serious though when I say that I find it quite miraculous that I’m doing alright in life, because I’ve heard enough horror stories about other people’s lives to know how easily things could have gone awry for me. Luck and divine fortune, I suppose. Anyway, enough of all this self-indulgence. Maybe I shouldn’t do Q&As anymore; they bring out too much vanity and the ugly narcissist within me. Ugh.

Lastly, this event deserves an honorable mention for being one of the greatest miracles I’ve ever witnessed in my life.

Note: hey everyone, please make sure to do your routine annual checkups with your physician. Seriously, preventative care is the best care. Do your checkup to do some blood work, check your blood pressure, measure your heart rate, and all that routine stuff. Your health is seriously, seriously important people.

17: Are you really happy and if not, why not?

Ah, the million-dollar question. I saved the best for last!

I’m currently reading the book The Road to Character by David Brooks (an absolute must-read, by the way) and it has stirred some interesting thoughts in my mind regarding happiness. In Chapter 2, Brooks talks about The Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago, and its approach to teaching/inculcating character to the people living there. Specifically, The Hull House prioritized self-sacrifice and serving the good of society rather than the good of your own ego.

What I got from this and from the chapter in general was that perhaps we, as a society, have become too obsessed with the idea of happiness. Crucially, this myopia might have come at the cost of us ignoring our obligation to serve society and the greater good. We want to be happy and have rainbows shooting out our ass all day long. Self-sacrifice for the greater good of humanity isn’t always compatible with this desire.

It is a good life we lead, brother.”
”The best. May it never change.”
”And may it never change us.
— Federico and Ezio Auditore da Firenze (from the game "Assassin’s Creed II")

Let me be clear: of course I want to be happy and of course I don’t want to be depressed by denying myself all the pleasures of life. However, I’m personally more focused on whether I’m being a useful human being to society and am furthering the greater good rather than if I’m truly happy or not. That is more important, honorable, and valuable to me in the greater scheme of things.

Hence, I prefer focusing on fulfillment, meaning, and purpose instead of happiness per se, and I think I can better achieve this by asking myself what good I am doing for society and how I can help humanity at large. Funny enough, if every person did this we would all probably be happy/happier. Anyway, to answer your question, I’m content in my life. Not happy per se, but very much content and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. I would rather have this than an obsession with being happy.

Besides, I described in the previous answer how well I’m doing in the various aspects of my life, so I absolutely am very content at this point in my life. I certainly can’t complain.

That's all!

Thanks for reading and remember that you can send in your questions via this link!

See you, Space Cowboy.