The irreversibility of life

I mentioned in my last post that one reason why rapid prototyping would work for life is that “very little in life is irreversible”. Some people might disagree with that assumption. For example, I just moved all the way across the country, leaving behind friends and family, which is a fairly drastic move. But, as one of my friends pointed out when I was considering this move, the worst thing that happens is that I hate New York or hate my job, and I move back to the Bay Area in a year. What would I have lost? Spending time with friends. Maybe some job opportunities. The lost year would be irreversible, but the time would not have been spent poorly – it would have been an investment in understanding myself.

I’m more relaxed about this move than others might be because I’ve demonstrated that my really strong connections persist across space and time. I had one friend who didn’t consider anybody a best friend who she didn’t see in person one-on-one every couple weeks. I just don’t understand that. My best friends are the ones who get me in some ineffable way, whose attitude and outlook “click” with mine. And my connection with those friends just grows stronger. As of this fall, I will have known my little tribe of TEPs for half my life, which is somewhat remarkable to me. Especially since a lot of those people are still such big parts of my life, despite us being scattered all over the country. That’s partially a tribute to the power of cheap long distance phone calls, the internet, and affordable air travel, but partially a sign of how much those particular people mean to me.

One of the biggest confirmations for me of the “click” theory of friendship was my road trip a few years ago. I flew to Boston, rented a car, and then spent most of the next three weeks driving back across the country, staying with friends all along the way. I hadn’t seen some of these people more than once in the nine years since I left MIT. And I really enjoyed seeing how their lives had turned out, and what amazing, interesting people they still were – we had these great conversations discussing our lives and philosophies. It was startling to me to find out how congruent our outlooks were despite not having communicated much if at all with some of these people in the previous nine years. It was a stark contrast to my ten year high school reunion, where once I heard where everybody ended up, I didn’t really have anything more to say to them – we had nothing in common.

So moving away from friends is not the irreversible step it might appear to be at first glance. The ones I’m close to, I’ll stay in touch with. We’ll talk on the phone, exchange emails or blog posts, and fly out to see each other. Other friendships might fade, to be replaced by new ones that I make in New York. There’s some horrible metaphor of friendship as being composed of roots and questing tendrils, but I can’t quite put it together, so I’ll leave it.

The one thing in life that is irreversible is time. We don’t get time back. If anything, that was a point in favor of moving for me. My career path forward as a programmer was easily forecast: a couple more years as a developer, shifting gradually towards management, then working my way up the corporate ladder someplace. That was fine, I could do it, but I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted. And staying on that track out of fear of change would have been a waste of my irreplaceable time – a mistake I had already made once by sticking with physics at least three years too long.

This way, at least I’m trying new things and perhaps discovering what I should be doing with my life. Or at least crossing things I don’t want to be doing off the list. Either way I learn something about myself, which is always a wise investment. More on this tomorrow, or whenever I get a chance to blog again.

10 thoughts on “The irreversibility of life

  1. I totally agree with you about all the friendship stuff, but I will say that I think the more general point about irreversibility is dependent on resource availability. Things like trying a change in career depend on having enough money to cover the time between careers, especially if you decide you don’t like it and need to switch back. That’s one of the catch-22s that keeps people in low-paying jobs — the job may suck, but it doesn’t allow you to accumulate enough spare resources to make the move to a better job…

  2. Yeah, I thought about getting into resource availability, because part of the reason I can fly around the country visiting friends (or even have broadband Internet and lots of minutes on my cell phone plan) is that I’ve been fortunate enough to have a high paying job. And definitely on the bit on changing jobs/careers. But I couldn’t figure out how to fit it into the flow, so I dropped it.

    Should have known I’d be called on it 🙂

  3. A few things, briefly:

    1) Anytime you want to kill some time in conversation, give me a ring or drop by.

    2) You keep becoming an even-more-interesting writer. How, exactly, do you DO that? Maddening! but good.

    3) No, item three should get appended to the post that spawned the thought. I’ll go do that now.

  4. Er, no, apparently, I can’t, so I’ll do it here:

    3, take two) Re: “Great Conversations”… I found it very interesting that you talked about the inherent happiness of the state of flow for hours, then blogged about it, commenting on how much you enjoy conversation with people who are really engaged in their work and/or in what they’re talking about, and yet didn’t explicitly tie those two themes together in your post.

  5. Re: Wes Item 1: Cool! Will do

    Re: Wes Item 2: Thanks! The way I do it is to surround myself with smart and interesting people who challenge me. This whole post was partially in response to a coworker who pointed out that life wasn’t irreversible when I was proclaiming my rapid prototyping theories. I had to sit back, think and re-evaluate to come up with a better answer. Or, hey, your comment about the good conversations post and relating it to flow has gotten me thinking about the interrelated connections there, which may turn into a post in the next few days. So I can’t take full credit for being interesting – it’s a product of other people’s interestingness as well.

  6. Yes indeed. I’m gotten enormous mileage out of my friends in that respect. And I’ve been upping the wattage on that front of late. I should make an effort to push that trend, as my friend network has yet to show any limits with respect to its utility or the inherent fun in using it.

    Which brings me to an interesting conclusion I keep skirting around but never fully taking advantage of: if you find an opportunity (for anything, milk it for all it’s worth. It’s easier and more productive to pull a thread until the thread runs out, than to find another thread on which to pull.

    (Yes, I am throwing this conclusion out there for your digestion and thoughts. 😉 )

  7. Availability of resources: I agree somewhat with Beemer, but also wanted to add that you have to consider availability of resources in Rapid Prototyping from a broader perspective. You wouldn’t be able to move back to the Bay Area if it isn’t there any more, or if the transportation system is shut down by civil war or martial law…etc.
    Pardon my Doom and Gloom: just read “The Black Swan”…
    Some things are irreversible (did I get all the negatives right?) after a point. As Richard Heinberg says in “Crude Impact”: “After a point, Nature doesn’t negotiate.” (in response to GWB’s “The American Way of life is not negotiable”.

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