I was thinking the other evening about how I got here. Not in the cosmic sense, but in the explain-it-to-a-stranger-in-the-bar sense. I’m a programmer, a musician, a potter, and I live in a grand old house I’m dragging back from the cliffs of decrepitude. I like to ride and work on old motorcycles, be in the woods, be in front of crowds, write long-form letters by hand, and invent new technological wonders on the web.
I get paid to do this stuff. Eighteen-year-old me is confused and totally geeking out. This is way better than my initial life plan.
Many people are familiar with Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” about having chosen the path “less traveled by” and it making all the difference. I get the impression most people understand it wrong. That’s a pretty awful and contentious thing to say- in truth you’re allowed to understand great poetry any way you feel like. But focusing on the end, on the retrospective view of it, skips the part where he admits to not knowing which way to go.
When you are staring at the future, yours generally, don’t pretend you know anything more than the next person. The famous physicist Niels Bohr one said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” That’s a sentence that could just as easily have been attributed to Jack Handy or Yogi Berra. It still rings true though. So when Robert Frost says of the paths ahead, “both that morning equally lay,” he’s saying you will often not know the “right” way. But choose a path you must, and the very act of committing to that path changes you forever.
So yeah, I got my doctorate in tuba. Mostly because the doors were open at the right time luckily, and it was one interesting path among many. Software? I got a Commodore 64 as a kid and learned BASIC. My high school offered AP Computers and I learned Paschal. Luck, both of those. Then the web came along and I fell in love with it. Again, my luck.
So many successful people I know got there by hard work- and luck. Lucky to be born in an era with computers, to be born male, to have had access to mentors and tools at the right time. Lucky to have role models. Lucky lucky lucky.
So often we focus on the retrospective, how our decisions made who we are. But we forget that having a choice, a lucky opportunity, that has made all the difference.