Monday, October 26, 2009

Different Paths


"There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart."
-Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher, author of the Tao Te Ching, founder of Taoism

This past weekend I made a big decision (please note I will not tell you what it was - get over it). I made a phone call, did the deed and hung up. That was supposed to be it. I was supposed to be able to walk away from what I did with no cause for alarm. But for the next two hours, my stomach wouldn't stop twisting itself into knots. I was helping a friend of mine assemble a futon and I couldn't concentrate during the simple act of screwing in a bolt, I was in such a daze. Something in my gut was telling me that I did something wrong, that this was something I would lose sleep over, that what I did was not the way things were actually supposed to be. For two hours I let this gut-wrenching continue until I decided to do something about it. I called back and undid the deed. I then proceeded to sleep like a baby.

For some reason, this brings to the forefront of my mind the concept of fate vs. free will. Which line of thinking is the truer?
  • Are we predestined at the moment of our birth with no way to alter our course?
  • Do the decisions we make along life's road alter our destiny, with different paths leading to different end-results based on our actions?
  • Or is there no such thing as predetermined results? Maybe free will, coincidence and luck govern our lives, all actions and reactions based solely on chance.
It's an age-old argument, and one I doubt this blog post will settle.

Why did I get that gut-wrenching feeling that I did something wrong, making me call a second time? I've said this before, but I'm a guy who goes with his gut. When faced with major life-altering decisions, many people make pros and cons lists, debating the benefits and drawbacks of one course of action over another. That's all well and good for the analytical sort, of which I tend not to be. If my gut tells me I should do something, I do it - the same goes for the negative form of that statement. This past weekend, my instincts were screaming at me that I had messed up. So I listened.

I'm a believer of the second above bullet point, myself. I believe there is such a thing as fate, although not necessarily holding to any religious, dogmatic perception of predestination. However, I think you can change your fate when life-altering turning points are encountered. Think of it as a path through a forest. You start off on one singular path, but along the way many paths branch off of that singular one, and even more off of those. The small, everyday decisions don't necessarily turn you down another way, but the big ones can change your course as surely as you were born: what college you attend, what jobs you take, how you treat your body, what friends you associate with, who you date, who you marry and so on and so forth.

The gut-wrenching feeling I got after I made that first phone call was an indicator to me that I should not have done what I did. That I pissed off the cosmos and altered my fate, but not for the better. Hence, the second phone call.

I am meant for something, just as you are. Maybe I'm fulfilling that "destiny" as I write this blog post, or as I drive to work every day, or as I talk to my girlfriend at night. Maybe I'm just ambling along toward it, not having fulfilled my full purpose. Regardless, I'm going to listen to my gut/heart/instincts - whatever you want to call it - and trust them to guide me along my journey.

And during the journey, I must continue telling myself to "be present."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why So Serious?

"Get stuck in the never-ending drama (worrying about what irrelevant people think) and you'll never get anything done."
-Seth Godin, author, marketing expert

We all need to lighten up. We take ourselves way too seriously for our own good. Half the things we freak out about don't mean shit in the long run. So it begs the question...why so serious?

I read a blog post by Seth Godin the other day that talked about high school, explaining that the "winners" (which I took to mean the popular kids) were the ones who didn't take high school too seriously. Now some might argue that the popular kids weren't the winners - the whole idea of how the nerd in high school will one day be the football captain's boss in the work world - but I disagree to an extent.

During my tenure in high school, I found myself somewhere in the middle of the nerd and the popular kid. I had one large group of friends (my posse) plus smaller pockets of friends scattered across the social spectrum - from the nerds and bandos in the AP classes to the jocks and punk rock princesses in the general - so I feel I had a pretty wide range of social interaction to give me a fair vantage point. Thus, I will conclude that the popular kids were the winners, not the nerds who buried themselves in books and got a 4.2 GPA. Why? Because the popular kids successfully lived in the moment, at least moreso in comparison to the bookworms. The popular kids, the winners, made the memories on which they can look back fondly.

A microcosm of this theory: One night I was nose deep in some 800-page, hard-bound book studying for a test in God knows what class. I got a phone call from four of my closest friends saying they were going to drive around town playing strip padiddle and wanted me to come. I respectfully declined their tempting offer, choosing a pedantic night over their joy-riding. Looking back, you know what I remember about that test? Nothing. Not the class, not the grade, not the teacher. Not even the night of studying. What could I have remembered from that night? Dave, Katie, Jacquie and Shannon half-naked in a minivan driving around North Olmsted for no other purpose than to prove to ourselves that we were alive...yep, not sure I would have forgotten that. To this day I can still tell you who was in what car seat when they pulled up to my house to coerce me into joining. I remember who was more naked than the others.

They were the winners that night. Not me.

Now I'm not saying "Don't ever study. Go out and have fun every chance you get." There just comes a time where you should say, as I often tell my students, "Fuck it." Recognize what matters in the long run.

If you find yourself overanalyzing everything, take a step back. If you find yourself a little too OCD for even the most catatonic schizophrenic, chill out and go sit in your favorite chair.

But the next time four of your best friends pull up in a minivan half naked and laughing hysterically, think about what you'll remember five years down the road...and get in the damn car!