Note: See comments for my actual writings in response to I Ching Hexagram interpretations. This main post is for meta-reflection on the experiment.

The Rules:

  • No divination-related questions.
  • I will do ten I Ching sessions, about every six weeks. Eight out of ten sessions must produce at least one new piece of evidence, or else I'll abandon the practice. Overall, the evidence should fall within at least two of the following categories. Final evaluation: this session counts as a success.
  • Definition of valid evidence
    • Serious work, and "mid-term exam" success, on novel ideas generated by the I Ching, or on projects that I’ve neglected at least 6 weeks.
    • Insights that I can articulate, that I still fully agree with after six weeks, that seem to improve my daily decisions and mental health, and that seem sensible to my friends. I will keep the fact that I used the I Ching to generate these insights a secret until the end of the project.
  • I will treat the most challenging parts of my reading as if they were true and important. After all, the strangest parts of the reading might be most valuable, if the point of the I Ching is to bust you out of ruts.
  • Week 6 update (final):
    • I feel that my EA community projects and networking were successes.
    • Just yesterday, I discovered the concept of "Deep Work" and implemented a rules-based plan that I think will help me both work, play, and rejuvenate more effectively.
    • My habit of more careful academic work paid off, but I still was not 100% consistent with following the detailed assignment specs from my last class.
  • Week 4 update:
    • My EA community projects work has continued to be fruitful. We've conducted many interviews with EA career changers, set up an EA video chat service that's been used by about 40 people, and have more in the works.
    • I have done a great deal of networking via email and in-person meetings in the last two weeks, which led me to decide to change colleges and helped me hone in on what I want to study. I've preserved what I learned from each of these meetings and correspondences in a journal, which I think may prove useful to others as well.
    • "Joy time" has remained mostly unrewarding, and my QoL has declined over the last two weeks. I intend to focus on planning novel, social, unruly and self-expressive activities, and using meditation or reading rather than pot and TV to relax.
    • My consistent double-checking habit has continued and been important in helping me succeed in class.
  • Week 2 update:
    • Using the I Ching caused me to reflect on my feelings and needs, which led to a post in the EA forums, which led to being contacted by a collaborator, which has led to a set of absorbing community-building projects, one of which will launch tomorrow.
    • It spurred me to set up a meeting with a professor at another college.
    • It has also led the idea of cultivating a "joy time" habit that initially improved my QoL, but became boring within a few days.

Preliminary Reflection:

I found myself selecting for cautious questions: nothing too intimate, potentially disruptive, or boring. I continued to edit my question until it had the right balance of being open-ended and specific, challenging but not precipitous. This was motivated in part by knowing that I was going to post about it publicly, and that I wanted to act on the results, not shy away from them. I don’t usually take time to consider what sort of question to ask. Calibrating questions more carefully, and preregistering my analysis seem like powerful ways to advance personal growth.


How should I prioritize my career-building projects?

Post-Run Reflection:

This was more productive than I expected, the most useful personal journaling I’ve done. Was the I Ching necessary, or would any self-help or wisdom literature work just as well? Yet I'm worried that these first steps and insights will prove illusory. I fear that personal journaling can be an addictive substitute for working directly on hard projects - a form of “pretending to actually try.” Adding this level of structure may only provide a more convincing illusion of usefulness.

Approximate time to complete this document:

3 hours initially, plus 30 minutes or so of updating every two weeks, averaging 15 minutes a day. That seems like a reasonable amount of time to spent on personal journaling.


Next: Run 3/10 Prev: Run 1/10

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Insights, Intentions, First Steps:

  • Insight: I will prioritize collaborative projects and ensure their success, deprioritize solitary skill-building projects, and reject projects related to developing the career I am involved in currently but moving away from. I will be cautious about taking on additional collaborative projects or escalating my current ones, since letting down others is frustrating to them and may risk my reputation.
    • Update: Since this post, I took on a significant new collaborative project that fits my new career direction, and have spent the bulk of my free time working on it. I did have a request to create a document with advice and insights related to experience in my former career. This seems like an important way to preserve what I've learned over the last decade as a music teacher, so I will probably do it.
  • Intention: I will take time this summer to investigate alternative community colleges and teachers, since I’ve switched academic tracks since starting at my current school. First Step: I made a list of the community colleges in my town, and listed the email addresses of the heads of their economics and math departments.
    • Update: I contacted the head of the math department at one, and scheduled a meeting for Friday.
  • Insight: Overall, I will keep a level-headed attitude with the ups and downs over this process, and understand that while plans are fragile, particularly those made for more than 6 months out, I can find workable alternatives.
  • Intention: I will assign a reasonable amount of time each day to do something intentional to add joy and ease to my life. Even if I’m not certain it will really accomplish this aim, I’ll select activities that convey the appearance of joy, trusting that performing such rituals will lead to maturity, the real thing. First Step: I made a list of fitting activities and created a Personal Growth Journal to put them in.
    • Update: I started using the late evening as a time to smoke a little bit of weed, watch TV or read poetry, and have reached out to friends more often. I have also used time-wasting activities far less during the day since making this change, and felt happier about my use of free time. However, the weed-and-TV time rapidly switched from novel and pleasant to somewhat routine. It will be hard to schedule more meaningful activities many days due to my work schedule, but it might be necessary for true "joy time."
  • Intention: I will make more of an effort to praise good outcomes of decisions and actions made by myself and others, understanding that they will usually be more modest and short-lived than I’d originally hoped. First Step: I started an “accomplishment affirmations” section of my Personal Growth Journal briefly listing what I’ve achieved today.
    • I only made one entry in "accomplishment affirmations," but have replaced it by creating a daily work tracker - a simple spreadsheet in which I list each task and accomplishment throughout the day. This gives me a more succinct and practical record that both serves as an organizing tool and as a record of what I accomplish. In general, I do feel that I've softened in my personal interactions.
  • Intention: I will look for opportunities to take positions of command, such as a boss or team leader. First Step: I guess I’ll make an “aspirations” section in the PGJ. Not sure how to take a more concrete step in this direction.
    • No obvious progress
  • Intention: I will hold myself and my collaborators accountable for failures in our duties. First Step: In my PGJ, I made a log of cautions to myself for my own small failings., and wrote two paragraphs about how I dealt with my frustrating physics teacher.
    • Writing down some of my mistakes (on tests, for example) actually did help me become more rigorous.




Fêng / Abundance

Thunder and Lightning from the dark heart of the storm: The Superior Person judges fairly, so that consequences are just. The leader reaches his peak and doesn't lament the descent before him. Be like the noonday sun at its zenith. This is success.

My first thought is that some of my projects are collaborative. That means we’ve made commitments to each other. My decision to cut these projects or increase my commitment will impact other people. Making sure others feel like I’ve treated them well in our collaboration is as important as adding another line to my resume. Therefore, all else being equal, I should prioritize collaborations, make sure that I’m treating others well and receiving good treatment in turn, and should be especially cautious before taking on further collaborations or escalating my current commitments.

The fact that I’m attempting a major career change after ten years in the workforce makes the language about “the descent before him” unpalatable to me. A more optimistic reading is that I’m “descending” from the zenith of my previous career. I have ideas from time to time about how I could have done more - building a larger business, hiring employees, starting a summer camp. Maybe it’s merely saying that it’s time to let these plans go: a graceful exit, feeling that I don’t need to squeeze in more to feel successful. This suggests that I should not add new projects toward furthering my old career.

You are in a position of authority in this situation. Archetypally, you are the New King, returned from your quest to claim your throne. However, you are enlightened enough to realize that you are merely a part of a cycle, and that you must someday yield your throne to the new kid in town, the younger, faster gunslinger, the young turk, the next returning hero, the next New King. Fretting about the inevitable descent is senseless. For now you must play your role to the hilt and use this gift of power to govern your world as best you can. You are the best person for the job. That's why you were chosen. Give it your personal best.

I did not consider that I might be fretting about my long-term decline in the context of prioritizing these short-term projects. Perhaps I am trying to do too much all at once, trying to run faster than the younger generation in order to stay ahead of the competition. I should at least make sure I do a great job at the collaborative projects I’m committed to. Achieving a good and timely result there is more important than investing extra time in learning new skills.

Chên is movement; Li is flame, whose attribute is clarity. Clarity within, movement without-this produces greatness and abundance. The hexagram pictures a period of advanced civilisation. However, the fact that development has reached a peak suggests that this extraordinary condition of abundance cannot be maintained permanently.

This connects with my value that I should have a good, conscious reason for making consequential decisions. All my projects are aligned with my fundamental desire to seek a more highly-impactful and rewarding career. I feel as though I haven’t invested enough time in looking at alternatives, and too often dive in. For example, there are a number of community college programs in my area. The one I’m attending was chosen for reasons that are no longer relevant. I’m pursuing a different academic track, and so I should probably make a stronger effort to meet or at least look up all the faculty who teach classes in this new area. Maybe there are better options. I keep pushing that into the background because it feels like another unfun thing on my plate, another uncertain and potentially disruptive decision to make.

After spending some time with the second half, which seemed more mysterious to me, I felt it might be suggesting a more cautious outlook on the future. It may be that changes in civilization that are beyond my control will profoundly impact my career trajectory in ways I am unable to anticipate. I can’t time the market, and it’s good to plan ahead, but I should take my plans for more than 6 months out lightly, and those for more than a year out as fragile. It may be that some of my projects are depending on enough factors that there’s always a risk they’ll collapse. My community college might get no state tuition subsidy and triple its rates. I might spend a year building up a relationship with a teacher, only for him to have a heart attack and die. Donald Trump might be elected for a second term.

In the face of risk, it makes sense to diversify and hedge my bets, while keeping a level head and not responding overmuch to the ups and downs. Both in terms of personal reward and altruistic impact, I think I’m making the strongest bet I can; I have to trust that over the next few decades, future-me will ride the waves as well as possible, whether seas are stormy or calm. When those risks hit, I can take time to reassess, but if I’m hedging and diversifying appropriately, I should be able to mitigate the impact to some extent.


ABUNDANCE has success.

The king attains abundance.

Be not sad.

Be like the sun at midday.

Being a student means frugality with my money and time. It’s stressful at times, and can make me sad about what I’m missing out on. This could mean to stay positive about the tradeoffs - my main strategy - or it could be suggesting that I aim for a full, abundant life for myself even in the midst of all the work. I have to admit that the question of how to have an abundant life right now is far from my mind. I don’t want to see these as “lost years.” Maybe I really do need to be as proactive and energetic about bringing an abundance of joy into my life as I am about working hard.

Maybe that means setting aside “me time” every day, making more plans with friends, being more open to taking trips, buying things I like, being OK with OK but always looking for fuck yeah. I think that would mean considering actions that I currently neglect or reject because they would make me joyful, rather than productive, and intentionally taking a gamble on them. It may be important to start with the appearance of joy and abundance, the ritual, and trust that over time, it will mature into the real thing. I’m going to make a list of several easy activities that might bring me joy, and intentionally set aside a reasonable amount of quality time for them every day, and see if it’s adding to my life.

It is not given to every mortal to bring about a time of outstanding greatness and abundance. Only a born ruler of men is able to do it, because his will is directed to what is great. Such a time of abundance is usually brief. Therefore a sage might well feel sad in view of the decline that must follow. But such sadness does not befit him. Only a man who is inwardly free of sorrow and care can lead in a time of abundance. He must be like the sun at midday, illuminating and gladdening everything under heaven.

This quote reminds me that it’s necessary but not sufficient to have a will directed toward greatness. Regression to the mean is a thing; time and tide ruin all structure. I need to be excited and glad of the opportunity to make even modest achievements. I need to be in the habit of praising what I and others do, always looking for and speaking to the good. This is a caution to LW and EA perspectives, which often focus on raising concerns and doubts, and can give rise to a somewhat mechanistic discourse. There’s a time for sober deliberation, and a time for praise and delight in whatever positive outcomes are achieved. I do feel as though I’m focused so much on the former that I’m neglecting the latter.

Perhaps I can make a mental habit of expressing more gladness for the positive outcomes of my decisions, and to counter activity bias by reminding myself that I also have agency over aspects of my life that I’ve come to take for granted, and that they also warrant continued alternations of praise and deliberation.


Both thunder and lightning come:

The image of ABUNDANCE.

Thus the superior man decides lawsuits

And carries out punishments.

This image seems both mysterious and harsh to me. I’ve never considered thunder and lightning as symbols of abundance. To me, the “superior man” is who I’m becoming: a person capable of shouldering big responsibilities and working with adults. Currently, I work with children, and have cultivated a kindly, receptive, soft persona. This image suggests that I’ll need to make myself into a force of nature, a mover and shaker, sticking by my decisions once they’re made, in order to have the kind of impact I want. This doesn’t seem too relevant to my current projects, since I’m not in a position of command in any of them. It might suggest that I should fight for such a commanding role as a way to prove myself, something I had not considered before.

It could also mean that just deciding to disrupt my life and pursue a different career, despite the objections and disbelief of my family and friends, is a way of taking command in this way. I need to cultivate credibility as an authority, from the way I speak and dress, to the way I live, to the roles I take on. In all that, it’s important to remember that on collaborative projects, my decisions will impact other people: it’s not all in my head.

This hexagram has a certain connection with Shih Ho, BITING THROUGH (21), in which thunder and lightning similarly appear together, but in the reverse order. In BITING THROUGH, laws are laid down; here they are applied and enforced. Clarity [Li] within makes it possible to investigate the facts exactly, and shock [Chên] without ensures a strict and precise carrying out of punishments.

I think this is about taking analysis seriously and putting it into action. Only in this way does thinking matter. I’ve made some important decisions already, and it’s important to implement them and enforce them despite the barriers the world puts up and my own rebelliousness.

The focus on punishment here is challenging. I think about this very little. I’m not a governor or manager, and have no authority to punish anyone except myself. However, in my projects, people will no doubt let me down in various ways. I need to be prepared at least to formally acknowledge violations and issue reprimands to others, or to call myself to account, when there has been a failure of responsibility. “Strict and precise” means going beyond merely feeling bad and letting it go. It means having somewhat more of an explicit process, by which violations are tracked, and appropriate punishments are considered before they are carried out.

Timeliness matters too. I once was accused of improper lane violation, and contested the ticket I received in court. The officer never filed a report, and didn’t show up for the court date, so it was automatically dismissed and my record was cleared.

Come to think of it, I’ve actually been doing reasonably well with this. When I had a sloppy and disorganized physics teacher a couple quarters ago, I called him on it, brought in the relevant college authorities, and was very proactive about making sure I was treated fairly.

That suggests that these projects will have value not only as concrete accomplishments, but also in supplying me with stories I can tell to establish my ability to work through challenges and demonstrate my personal and productive virtue. That will require some reflection, perhaps after the fact, as I am doing here. Part of a good court system is maintaining accurate and fair records. So perhaps I should also be creating a journal of these sorts of stories and engaging in periodic reflection of this kind.

and reject projects related to developing the career I am involved in currently but moving away from.

Random suggestion: Are there approaches or knowledge from your current line of work which you could record, and later see if they're useful in the career you're going into? Or more generally, things you learned which seem generally applicable (about productivity, organization, communication, etc.)?

I started an “accomplishment affirmations” section of my Personal Growth Journal briefly listing what I’ve achieved today.

That sounds like a fantastic idea.*

Intention: I will look for opportunities to take positions of command, such as a boss or team leader. First Step: I guess I’ll make an “aspirations” section in the PGJ. Not sure how to take a more concrete step in this direction.

You could try asking people advice for how to do that.

This image seems both mysterious and harsh to me. I’ve never considered thunder and lightning as symbols of abundance.

Without enough water/rainstorms there is drought.

There’s a time for sober deliberation, and a time for praise and delight in whatever positive outcomes are achieved. I do feel as though I’m focused so much on the former that I’m neglecting the latter.

A very important point, put very well.*

I think this is about taking analysis seriously and putting it into action. Only in this way does thinking matter. I’ve made some important decisions already, and it’s important to implement them and enforce them despite the barriers the world puts up and my own rebelliousness.

A powerful principle.

"*" indicates 'Related ideas'

Thank you for the ideas and all the positive feedback! I would say that the results of this I Ching run have been quite dramatic so far. I'm excited to make a post about them when they've had more time to develop. You're right that seeking mentorship on taking on more of a leadership role would be a good idea. I'm still exploring what academic training to seek, and actually starting a new career will be several years further down the line - though obviously there will be plenty of important projects in the meantime. However, I do feel confident that I've learned a lot from my work as a teacher, and I feel good about the ways they're applying to my new projects and schoolwork. Sometimes, that only becomes apparent on reflection.

Great post by the way.

Will I actually set aside more regular “joy time” than I’ve done for the last year, and if I do, will I actually find it more rewarding than the random “blowing off steam” activities that currently occupy most of my free time?

I'm curious about this distinction.

In concrete terms, it's the difference between sort of bleeding from working on schoolwork all day on the computer to mindlessly watching somebody play video games on Twitch or streaming a bunch of episodes of a TV show I've watched 4 times before; versus decreeing that work stops at 10:00 PM, taking one hit on a joint on the porch (I'm a lightweight), and gabbing with my girlfriend about all kinds of stuff in a very enjoyable and emotionally-engaged way that I find exceedingly difficult to do if I haven't gone into a kind of mental and emotional "second space." Does that make sense?

Does that make sense?