Discover more from The Comma Project by Devin Baker
The Comma Project
Why I'm here and where I'm going. A manifesto, of sorts, I guess
I have a goal.
My goal is to uncover and connect deeper with my authentic self and intuition.
Why is this my goal?
Because I’ve realized, vaguely over the course of the past six years since finishing college, and more dramatically over the last three years since COVID washed over our world, that the things I’ve wanted and have worked towards haven’t actually been contributing to a sense of peace, purpose, and happiness. Nor have they felt like they were particularly mine.
I have felt, in a word, inauthentic. These desires, goals, and lifestyles aren’t mine. I don’t know whose they are, but I’ve inherited them.
And it doesn’t feel good.
I realized that, in many cases, I have no idea what I truly want the shape of my external life to be - those things like work, career, environment, routine, romance, that we typically think of as conscious, opt-in or opt-out decisions.
As I’ve come to that realization, it came accompanied by another, more terrifying one.
I realized that I feel out of touch with my inner core and identity.
That foundation behind the external life - that core that we rely on to provide solidity, an anchor, a guide for our actions.
That source of self-awareness. Of identity. Of values. Of intuition. Of integrity. Of confidence.
It was like whatever drive and compass for my external life I had inherited and was operating with came with a pre-assembled, out-of-the-box inner life “true self” character conveniently attached. Since I was playing the game, it must be mine.
Purely external components of a life like occupation, environment, or lifestyle are one thing. Intellectually, we know that these can change.
The more dramatic problem is that by inheriting a sense of self that is externally defined and comes as an accompaniment to that external life, and internalizing it as wholesale truth and innate identity, from the outside-in, is straight up upside-down.
It’s so insidious. Until I reached that breaking point where the realization of my chronic inauthenticity hit me like a ton of bricks, I was utterly convinced of my complete, profound, and bulletproof authenticity and integrity of life inside and out.
I was convinced that my goals and actions were mine - of course they were!
I mean, hell, my pre-assembled, out-of-the-box inner life “true self” character matched my external life! Achieving the societally pre-approved external life, playing the role of the pre-assembled, out-of-the-box inner life character - that was the whole point, wasn’t it?
I believed my life was good and true, and on track, and any doubts or bumps in the road were just proof of the fact that life is challenging, as everyone knows, and that if I want a better life, more happiness, a better version of myself, I must simply put my head down, grit my teeth, and work harder to achieve, succeed, triumph, transcend.
They call it “fruits of labor” after all, don’t they? Lazy or weak people don’t get fruits. Right?
It’s invisible until it’s anything but invisible.
But this covert inauthenticity was wearing on me. One seemingly minor jab at a time. But they add up.
All those jabs took their toll, and I reached a breaking point. I reached a state of submission, the final KO that the inauthenticity of my life beat me into.
It’s as if the curtain was pulled back to reveal the great and powerful Oz is in fact nothing that the grand façade portrays. The illusion loses its magic with a peek behind the curtain.
I realized that the person I thought I was at the core - this intelligent, ambitious, resilient achiever - wasn’t the whole picture of who I am.
But I struggled to see the rest of the picture. It was all chaotic, foggy, lights flashing, noise roaring, with so many different flavors of values and identity to choose from.
I felt even more lost than before.
At least before, my purported sense of self was more stable. After all, I had somehow ended up committing to and living it for a quarter century.
Now, there were so many options.
In a way, I was free again to uncover and claim what was right and true for me, which should feel liberating. Yet at the same time, I felt less equipped to do so. I’d been wrong - so wrong - before.
So here I am, worldview shaken, my intuition, calm, and secure authenticity feeling fully evaporated. My understanding of my identity before any inherited, societally-pre-approved life, what matters to me, what my values are, and what’s good for me simply not in sight.
In the absence of an anchor, I feel isolated and vulnerable.
Fearful, and lonely.
It’s as Sarah Silverman once said:
It feels like being homesick, but I’m at home.
And shameful. Like I’ve been living a mistake. Failing. Broken.
Hence my goal. To uncover and connect deeper with my authentic self and intuition.
I have a theory.
I have a theory that these things, our authentic self and intuition, aren’t created or built anew from scratch, but instead are already there - innate, inherent.
A theory that, though it can feel at times like they’re nonexistent, completely lost, and in fact were never there in the first place (as I can relate to), that’s not actually the case.
A theory that when they feel invisible, it’s simply because they have atrophied for lack of acknowledgement, encouragement, and nourishment.
Or that they’ve been obscured by layer upon layer of foreign, external, internalized beliefs and identities/roles. Much like the evidence of ancient civilizations buried under layers of soil that belong to millennia of foreign people, worlds, and cultures.
A theory that people have varying degrees of attunement to and integrity with this core.
I have a theory that to find these things, we have to do the work of excavation.
That the process of excavation leads to deeper awareness, authenticity, peace, and freedom. A deeper connection to self.
And that the deeper our connection to self, the deeper we can connect with others - the gateway to a richer life.
I have a theory that to do this work of excavation in the right place, we must turn inward, to our struggles and pain. To what’s not working, what’s hurting.
That simply changing our external life (e.g., job, apartment, city, relationship, etc.), without inner work, doesn’t alleviate our struggles. It’s addressing a symptom, not the root cause.
That only inner growth will sustain us in a better, freer state.
That we must turn towards what’s painful and acknowledge our emotional wounds, regardless of how much it hurts in the short-term.
That working through our struggles, exploring and understanding our internal landscape, and healing our emotional wounds is the path to connecting deeper to self, and to others.
That this is the work of discovering who we are, and how we will express that in the world.
I have a belief.
I believe, in a sort of abstract, philosophical, and, until recently, a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of way, that writing matters.
It’s a belief in the power of writing, the process, and the concentrated focus it takes, to spur introspection, and bring hitherto unseen insights to the surface. To uncover, and excavate, that authentic self and intuition.
It’s a belief in the power of story, the product of the process, to connect us. And in that connection, it makes us feel what it is to be human. The richness, complexity, and truth inside ourselves.
It’s a belief in the power of vulnerability. That humanity and connection is a result of vulnerability - from having more of our authentic selves be seen.
It’s a belief in the inherent value of creating something. It’s what humans do - we make things - and having something to point to on the other side of work triggers something in our ancient brains that just feels good.
It’s a belief in generosity, and in love. That sharing, giving, from a place of love matters.
Why am I writing this?
As I think about the work that I want to do in the world, it just simply must be human in nature. It must be about connection.
I’ve been thinking about starting a number of other projects - but they’re not quite clear yet. And based on my experiences with work and partnership, commitment is heavy. It matters. It tests one’s integrity, where action and follow-through are the evidence.
In the absence of full conviction and deep inner congruence, I’m very conscious of making that commitment to work that deserves it.
Many projects, companies, and products demand “finished.” You have to build something, define your mission, vision, values, and communicate and sell to the world, in no uncertain terms, your conviction. Whether it’s to potential customers, investors, or employees, clarity is key.
Sure, you can launch, fail fast, and pivot, but you still have to pick something, for somebody, and commit to action.
If you build for everybody and anybody, you build for nobody. And even if it’s not mostly baked, it’s still a little baked.
And I do not feel baked yet.
Which brings me to writing.
Writing is a process, and about the process. A story never ends.
I’m very much in process, so writing feels like an authentic way for me to do “work” towards understanding and fostering connection - first for myself (where I believe we all must start), and also for others. A way to create something, with vulnerability, generosity, and love.
Plus, anyone that knows me knows that, for better or worse, I can be quite verbose, excessively philosophical, and annoyingly curious and highfalutin.
That’s who I am, how I do things, and I think it’s also the nature of this work of turning inward, asking questions, deepening self-understanding, excavating our authentic self, and healing our pain.
And I have questions. Many of them.
Questions that are personal in nature, of course.
But also many questions that are cultural and systemic.
Questions about what it is to be human, and what it is to be human in our current world and cultural context.
Questions about how our ever-rapidly changing world, and the humans in it, are impacted by technology and modernity.
All with humanity at the core. Because I believe humanity is the core.
Throughout human history, the only constants seem to be challenge, change, and humanity.
I believe the concerns of the world, triumphs or challenges, are human matters. The world, and all its cultures, only exist as the culmination of the humans of which they consist.
So, to learn and grow, we must look at our human challenges. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with understanding humans - what we do, how we do it, why we do it.
And I believe the first, best place to look is inward. This is the work of excavation. Hence, my goal, theories, and beliefs.
I’ve committed to doing this work and exploring these questions in my private life anyway, and I feel called to share it along the way. So, I figured I’d treat this as an experiment, because, why not? And in fact, that seems to be the whole point of writing.
And, if I’m being honest, I think I’m doing this in search of some semblance of significance and validation. I’m only human. And one that is flawed and (*gestures at everything*) working to find his own path forward.
Trust me - I’m looking at this part of myself too.
So, now we write.
Ok, but, why me? Why my story?
Look. I haven’t summited Everest. Nor have I cured cancer. Nor have I been subjected to or overcome many of the very real societal challenges that confront so many. I count myself fortunate in many ways.
I’m well aware that my story isn’t particularly unique or headline-worthy. It’s one white Brooklyn man’s often privileged story.
But I believe it’s more than that.
I believe that one man’s story is actually every man’s story.
I believe there’s power in relatability in a world where the sensational is put on a pedestal.
I believe that the systematic emphasis on the sensational over the quotidian, the “if it bleeds, it leads” dynamic at play in media, has been a psychological hurdle in allowing myself to acknowledge, explore, and work through my struggles.
I’ve consistently struggled with an internal narrative of “others have it way worse, so everything in my life must be fine,” which I believe is one of the strings in the very real yet very complex ball of yarn that is the topic of privilege.
By definition, non-unique stories are more relatable to significantly more people than extraordinary ones, and in fact, in certain instances, even more impactful due to that relatability. For that reason, I believe these stories are more important than we often let ourselves acknowledge.
So, why should you keep reading?
I’m an achiever. Always have been. An ever-striving idealist, incessantly, exhaustingly, sometimes frustratingly working to grow, to improve, to achieve, to advance. Working to achieve what it is to be a better human. A Human Doing.
I’m a searcher. Always have been. An ever-curious watcher and wonderer, incessantly, exhaustingly, sometimes frustratingly trying to understand things better. Exploring to understand what it is to be human. To understand why and how. A Human Being.
I’m a culmination, a product, a blend, of my childhood, our modern culture, and our ancient roots of humanity.
As are you.
I’ve always wondered (being), but the only way I ever knew was to act (doing). I’m a finance and accounting double major (doing), and theology minor (being). A finance guy turned entrepreneur (doing) now writing (being).
I’ve taken a pause, to explore what’s going on. So I’m writing.
Why aren’t things working? What am I running from? What am I numbing from? Why have I been a Human Doing, not a Human Being?
Why do I seek, work, achieve for the wrong reasons? For recognition from the world, for affirmation? Why do I need more, but never get it?
Why have I always thought it was me, that I was underachieving, not good enough? What’s wrong with me?
Why is everybody “connected,” but I don’t feel connected at all?
My aim is to ask myself the hard questions, and pursue truth, in writing.
To explore for myself - but also for others.
To understand our humanity, and our humanity’s problems. Replace “I” with “we” in any of the above, and it still applies.
To say “I see this in me,” while also wondering if it might be true for others, for our culture.
To follow the realizations that pull me forward - the ones that yell without words, but with feeling: “I don’t know what that is, but I know it’s true. And I need more.” Maybe you connect with something that makes you feel it too.
To explore struggle and pain, and the challenging work of healing and growth.
To foster human connection - to self and others.
This is my work.
Maybe you read all this as a desperate search for recognition and validation - a contemptible project start to finish.
But, in the spirit of action, experimentation, commitment to the process, and embodying those things that do feel true to me (see the thousands of words above), I am sharing nonetheless, and aim to do so from a place of vulnerability, generosity, and love in the chance that this proves of value to you.
Let this serve as an experiment in applying my beliefs to test my theories and work towards my goal. Because to date, I feel stuck.
This is my project.
This is The Comma Project.
I invite you to join me.
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