Theories of life

I’ve been mentioning several theories to several different people recently and decided it’s time to put them all on my blog so they are easy to reference. Some are prescriptive, some are descriptive, but I find all of them useful in certain situations.

The Crusher Theory

Michael “Crusher” Ernst once explained this theory to me and Chuck, and I think it explains a lot about social interactions. The theory is that everybody is always the same age in your head as they were the day you met them. In particular, when Chuck said she was younger than I was, Crusher said that was impossible because I was 16 (he met me as a freshman) and Chuck was 20-something (the age she was when he met her).

It seems like a silly theory, except that it explains so much. Our parents always think of us as the little kids we once were. Our friends tie us to specific periods of our lives, and we behave differently with our high school friends, our college friends, our work friends, etc. And when they meet us in a different context, they don’t know what to make of us not being the person they expect, which is also why we feel such tension in situations where worlds collide, such as when parents attend a gathering with friends.

The Wes “Two Things” Theory

Wes explained this to me at Burning Man in 2000. His claim was that we only have time and energy in life to do two big things at a time so we have to select our big things carefully. For most people, the two things are work/career and a relationship/family. For me at the time, it was work and the chorus, and right now, it’s work and school.

I keep on trying to rebel against this theory, under the pretense that I can do more, but I never seem to manage it, and always end up wearing myself out. One of the results of that initial conversation was that I found a new job a month later as I realized I didn’t want to be spending one of my two “big things” doing what I was doing. Fortunately, in May I’ll be done with classes and able to select a new “big thing” at that point – now I just have to decide what that will be.

The ‘Bug “Fear” Theory

My friend, DocBug, has the theory that when given an option among different things to do in life, one should always choose the one that scares you the most. I like it because it forces us to confront our fears and discover they are not as overwhelming as they initially seem. I’m not very good at following it, though. I guess I have gotten over some of my social fear over the past few years. Now I just need to get over my fears of conflict and rejection in both work and social settings.

The Raj “Just Do It” Theory

Many years ago, I was talking to my friend Raj and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (funny how I still haven’t figured that out after all these years). I was debating whether I should take some time off and think about what I wanted to do. Raj said that thinking would never enlighten me as to whether I wanted to do something; the only way to know if I liked doing something was to do it. So he said I should just pick a likely candidate and try it out and see what I thought.

I’ve been following that advice ever since, and it’s led me through a couple different career paths and a number of different industries. I think it makes a lot of sense – I can come up with all sorts of reasons in my head for why something would or would not be a good fit, but none of my thinking can help me understand the day-to-day decisions and challenges of a job or activity.

There are probably others, but these were the ones that have come up in recent conversations. What theories do you use? Any you’d like to share?

One thought on “Theories of life

  1. I’m definitely a mix of “Just Do It” and “Two Things” – I don’t think sitting around contemplating what you’d like to do in an ideal situation gets you anywhere. The world is not ideal, and the only way you’ll learn in what ways your plans are un-ideal is to just do it.

    That said, I find I don’t have the willpower/endurance to do more than two things to any degree of success – the time’s just too limited. I know people who are able to successfully do three or even four things, but that ain’t me.

    I think the thing I’m trying to do more is to actually seize opportunities that come along, even if they make me uncomfortable. This is a little different than the “fear” theory, because my personal threshold for activity is so high. I *like* doing more or less nothing. I like doing stuff more (most of the time), but my activation energy is high. So, I’ve been trying, intentionally, to periodically just say “fuck it,” and go do whatever.

    Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.

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