A thought and some heavy questions have been troubling me recently. Questions about my life’s path.
Who’s in charge of technology?
Years ago I heard a question in a lecture: Do we dictate where technology heads, or does it kind of just flow naturally from where it currently is, regardless of whether or not it’s in its most optimized form?
That’s not as confusing as it sounds.
He gave an example of the modern keyboard.
Way back when, we typed using typewriters. The keyboard was optimized for that specific device, to prevent the keys from getting jammed when typing quickly. And for the time, it was perfect.
But later the modern computer was invented, and the jamming problem was no longer a thing. So the time came to revamp the keyboard based on the new technology. A couple of choices were just putting it in alphabetical order, or optimizing it based on strongest fingers and most commonly typed letters. But nothing ever took, because we were so used to the keyboard as it stood on a typewriter.
So it appears we’re stuck.
Technology isn’t necessarily developing based on the best way to help people have optimal lives. It just evolves as time goes by. Sometimes stuck behaving in ways it no longer should.
Certainly not the end of the world.
Stuck in Life
But what happens if all life is like this? Or most of it, anyway.
Do we really have full control over our destinies or are we too beholden to our past decisions? And even if you can argue that we have full control, is that forever? Or is there an expiration date? Is there a point in all of our lives in which we cross a threshold, and now we will always need to be a product of our pasts?
For example, if I want to be a professional athlete in a sport that takes decades to master and whose average retirement age is mid-30s, can I choose to go that route if I’m 40 and I haven’t started on that path yet?
Logic dictates that the ship has sailed, and I’ll be forced to choose a different path.
Maybe the example is extreme. Of course there exist physical limitations in life. Even if I started training at age 6, I simply wasn’t blessed with the qualities that would make a venture into the NBA possible. And even if I were, who’s to say I wouldn’t blow out my knees as a teenager, permanently ruining that chance as well.
The Guiding Light of Inertia
But I’m wondering less about opportunities whose time has passed, and more about the inertia that leads us to where we are at the moment.
When I was in high school, a catastrophic event led me to immersing myself in Jewish youth groups. NFTY became my heart and soul, and it helped lead to my choice of university. As well as my decision to pursue a career as a reform rabbi.
But those plans were derailed drastically, and I discovered a different passion within the world of Judaism, one that I was unlikely to have found if it weren’t for my previous experiences. But this new path led me to Israel, and a desire for nothing more than endless hours of Torah study. I was 20, and I had two decades worth of knowledge I needed to catch up on. It certainly wouldn’t happen overnight. So I plunged into that world and stayed in it as long as I could.
And the Path Just Continued
But then I happened upon an opportunity. I could extend my studies for three years, all the while working toward my rabbinic ordination. The results didn’t really matter to me. What was exciting was the ability to extend my studies, without much of a care. My circumstances were basically taking care of themselves. And I had no thought at all about what this might mean for my future.
And so I finished. I was now 28. Married with a kid. A mediocre degree with not a lot of job potential, and now a rabbinic ordination to boot. So if I wanted a profession, I had to use the tools at my disposal. And that’s when I took a job doing Jewish outreach at Cornell. I liked the work, but didn’t like needing to work so hard to get an audience. I wanted to prepare my materials, and have a group of people just show up, because that’s the nature of the system.
And these preferences led to a near decade’s worth of teaching in formal education environments. And by the time I was completely done with that career, I was pushing 40, I had four kids, and my marriage was in the trashcan.
How Did I Get Here?
And I wonder every day: How did I get there? I never set out to be a teacher. I’m not one of those people who decided their calling in high school and just pursued my dream passionately for the next several decades. No, I’m a product of intertia, luck, misfortune, and random decisions.
And now I stand here, pushing the halfway point to 90, pondering: What if I chose a different path? Am I doing what I was meant to do? If I wanted to start all over, choose the right path for me, and plunge myself into a brand new world, is this even possible? Do we get a chance to entirely rebrand ourselves? Or am I too late?
Or perhaps I’m looking at everything the wrong way. The good ole book The Power of Now would say that we have no control over the past. What matters is right now. Am I doing the best I can right now? Am I the best version of myself at this moment? And am I happy, appreciating the food that’s in my mouth, not uselessly dwelling upon the food that theoretically could have been in my mouth?
Am I Alone?
I know intuitively that this approach is the better one. It’s the one that would lead more people to true and everlasting happiness.
But I can’t escape the thought experiment. I can’t run away from this feeling that I plugged some piece of the puzzle in the wrong spot, and the results produced a path for me leading in the wrong direction.
Am I alone in feeling this way? Or is it absurd? My life is overflowing with blessings. So why do thoughts like this worm their way into my psyche? Why can’t I just look the other way?