Archive for October, 2023

Priorities, Not Luck

Saturday, October 14th, 2023

I emerged from the womb thinking, if something bad happens to me, it’s got to be luck.

Well I suppose it’s a bit more complicated than that. Let’s say, as I approached adulthood, I had a budding sense that it might be something else. That stupid decisions do exist. But by the time I was living on my own, that idea was still in natal development. Like a lot of people, I came into the world of adults thinking if things weren’t going the way I wanted, it was just how things went. I’d had this idea reinforced by others. “The important thing is to get up off your ass and try again.” There is truth in this. But it comes across like life is a slot machine, and each effort is just another pull on the lever. Maybe we should be clearer in our meaning when we tell young people things like this.

One day, I was able to look back and point to something…a decision I made…a blunder. And I realized, with all the good luck in the world, given what I did there was zero chance that could have come out alright. Zero. And once I realized that, it was like the sky lighting up with all sorts of regrettable decisions I had made, like stars in the sky. That was humbling. Not the realizing the one. It was the realizing of many that was a humbling experience. I had come to realize I needed to work on making good decisions.

I could point to some good ones I’d made, and fruit that had come from those.

But, it turned out…*those* were the product of luck. The good stuff. The misfortune was a natural consequence of simply not knowing what I was doing.

Some of this came before “the woman done dun me wrong.” Some of it came after. With the passage of a little more time, I came to realize relationships are special. They’re not “decisions”; not really. The other person gets to decide too. And I had a humbling moment when I realized I was a magnet for broken people. I was a young dumb person making lots of money, and I was attracting scam artists like a porch light drawing insects. I did some filtering. Thought I was diligent about it. But all that did was filter the scam artists, down to scam artists who didn’t realize they were scam artists.

People thought I was a diligent worker. They said so. I came to realize, they thought I was diligent because I did work. They were measuring me against a control group that didn’t do work. The measurement was flawed because the yardstick was flawed, and I came to realize diligent work had a lot to do with “luck,” and I wasn’t doing it as diligently as I thought I had.

Then, I began to work the hundred hour weeks.

That’s what software weenies do, right?

That’s when I learned about time management. I had another humbling experience when I worked several all-nighters in a row, and at the end of it thought…okay, it works…given that it works, how long would I expect a competent engineer to labor away at this, producing these results? And the answer was not 90 hours. It was more like 2, maybe 3 at the very, very high end.

Oh and by the way, here’s a bug. Bugs are to be expected with a first draft. But not like this one. I simply hadn’t done a very good job because my time management didn’t work. Like many 25-year-olds, I thought myself immortal and I ended up making an ass of myself.

Throughout all this, I gradually became aware of my conduct around others. I was occasionally professional. Sometimes, I wasn’t. My maturity progressed; the memories remained, and stayed the same, and so my embarrassment became acute. Interaction with people around you is a huge factor, so it’s not just a matter of dressing properly. Good manners, being on time.

People do things for you, and you can reward competence. You can tolerate incompetence and stupidity. That’s the big challenge; how not to tolerate incompetence, but keep your professionalism.

Empathy. Kindness. These matter, although they’re not the sole criteria for enjoying success in life. Jesus Christ had these, right? How’d that work out for Him.

I’d like to think that by the time I tumbled into middle age, I had a lock on this stuff. Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll accept the judgment of those who were around me. I’m sure there were gaps. But I still had much to learn about how to enjoy success in life, what more there is to things besides luck. There is attention to detail. Humans being imperfect, a lot of that relies on empathy. You’d be surprised how many people think they explained something, with zero ambiguity involved in it, when they’ve actually left quite a lot. You can’t turn all of these into instruction-opportunities for the other, all of the time. People do this stuff when they’re in a hurry. They don’t like to realize “Let’s eat, Paul” has a different meaning when the comma’s missing and they left it missing. Things like this aggravate them.

You might say, if you’re in the engineering profession, it’s your job to sweat out these details and part of the reason you’re there to do that, is so the other person doesn’t have to do it. So empathize. Figure out what they mean. And your ass is not covered if you guess wrong, so do a good job of it. That’s just how it works.

Remember things for later. Take good notes! If they’re ass-covering notes, then they have to be real notes. Write them down somewhere, the mental-notes aren’t good enough for ass-covering.

Learn as you go. After awhile, you can foresee how things are going to happen. It doesn’t take much to do this. Once you progress on this axis a little while, you’ll start to see. There isn’t much mystery about it. It’s kind of obvious.

And then there’s priority. How come your friends have accumulated [blank] in life, and they’re your age or younger, and you haven’t got it?

Priority. That’s the last one. The big one. You can do everything else right, and if your priorities are screwed up, then so are you.

In fact, when you think about it, priority is more than just the heaviest factor; it’s the bottom-line. This is ALL priority.

“Luck” hasn’t got anything to do with it at all. If you believe in God, as I do, I suppose you could chalk it up to His plan. Some people might call that “luck.” I don’t.

Anyway…that’s how I square the circles in what we call life. There’s just a long, long list of things you have to learn. There are people who think we need to drill little kids in all of it, before they cross the Rubicon and enter adulthood. If they’re right, I was woefully unprepared. Maybe they’re right. I’m not so sure though. Looking back on it, and looking at what a child-becoming-man-or-woman really does know about things, I have trouble seeing it.

And then there are our friends, the liberals.

They think it’s all luck.

Oh, I’m sure they’d argue about that. But when one of the members of their cherished designated-victim-groups has a sad story to tell, it’s their misfortune, or “society.” They won’t allow me to look into anything else, because they’ll argue about that too. So from where I sit, in their worldview, it seems to me like it’s all luck. It seems to me that that’s what they think; they’re not ready to allow for anything else. Like, the day they start to consider anything outside of that, they’re going to get kicked out of the good-liberal club.

I’m much closer now to the end of my time on this planet, than the beginning. And I’ve spent all that time learning how wrong this is. They’d have me engage in just a bit more deep-thinking, and come around to their way of looking at it, realizing belatedly that they were right all along?

If you can’t understand the impossibility of such a thing, then there’s really no way for me to explain it to you.