I’m asking myself seven questions a week, and here are this week’s questions.
022. In what areas of life, or about what topics are you way too serious?
As an analytical introvert, almost all areas. I think about multiple aspects of my life, even mundane ones. A friend is motivated to maximize utility when spending money — such as going to theme park X and figuring out which of the restaurants has the best value for money so he doesn’t end up needing to be Richie Rich when his kids get hungry. They’re fascinating stories, and I admire the commitment, but my bent is a bit different. For me, it is more like a belief that “some day, everything will be organized — a place for everything and everything in its place”, both physically with my stuff and mentally with my approach to life.
023. What is your definition of happiness?
024. Describe a past experience where you overcame failure.
025. Write down the life lesson(s) you learned from this experience.
I’m going to use a strange example to answer all three of these together. I don’t know if this would hold for others, or be “deep” enough for philosophy majors, but my happiness equation is about simply realizing potential.
In Grade 9, my father convinced me that I should take a double period of tech…a combination of three classes through the year for 3 months each one of drafting, machine shop and electricity. My father was a factory worker, and likely saw that I had very little aptitude for physical stuff, and I would need and benefit from such a course. A trade to give me some direction. It didn’t go the way he expected but it was the best course I ever took.
I sucked at it. I had almost zero aptitude. I really liked electricity, had little discipline for drafting, and machine shop overshadowed all of it. The project for the year was a tack hammer. You basically made the handle on the lathe with knurling for grip and threading at the top with a die. The head was mostly cut and shaped on a band saw tool, and then a drill press for the center hole with a tap for threading to screw it on the handle. Then you cut the top of the handle off, heated and fired it (as I recall), and voila, one tack hammer. A friend of mine who was good at these types of operations could probably have done it in his sleep. Mine took me the full trimester, I didn’t quite finish all the intended steps but enough to finalize it, most of the cuts were the wrong angle, etc. I think I got maybe 60% on it. But I still have it. I use it regularly. I made that and it’s functional. It’s probably the maximum potential I had at the time (or still, to be honest).
In our second year, we were supposed to make a C clamp. At the start of the year, I looked at all the marks in machine shop and realized that while the project was worth 40%, that meant the rest was worth 60%. That was my other potential, the theoretical side. I knocked that out of the park and got 59/60. The project? Not even close to finished, the angle of the bar going through the threads was wrong (supposed to be level, mine was angled down about 4-5 degrees), the cuts were off. 18/40. For a 77/100 overall, about 10% higher than the previous year. I had found another way to realize my “potential”, playing to my strengths, not the curriculum.
But the 77 doesn’t mean as much to me as a tack hammer that I still use. I have other hammers, but I regularly choose that one if I can. It’s reliable, it’s MINE. If I look at mementoes from over the years, many of my personal keepsakes come from having realized some potential in me, even if it wasn’t amazing or objectively “high” against others’ abilities. I did my best and produced something I didn’t necessarily think I could.
I failed at machine shop in one sense, the first year, a low mark, but I realized my potential; I passed the second year using another potential, a dodge if you will from the assignment, and got a higher mark, but not as satisfying over time. The real success of the course though was it taught me some humility. I was super smart and I couldn’t just think my way through it. My brain wasn’t enough for the mechanical aspects. There were lots of people in my high school who were academically-inclined, and lots of people who look at machine shop or the trades as being for “dumb people”. That somehow any Joe or Jane could do it, no problem, that working with your brain was somehow “better”. I knew different.
In some way, I have probably learned that lesson too well. I know I’m not good with my hands. I made some bookshelves, and I understood the theory of joints and how to make everything look nice. But when I was done? They looked functional, not quality. Good enough for a basement for books, not something I would put anywhere else in the house. I would LOVE to build an observatory in the form of a shed in my backyard. I have all the official knowledge required on how to do it. I can cut and hammer and screw. But I have no real talent or skill at it. It would look like a fort built by a ten-year-old in their backyard. So, I avoid doing things like that that would build up some experience and maybe some skill. I just don’t do it at all, if I can help it. I get too frustrated, too fast, when the outcome looks amateurishly bad. I often say it is my “digital aptitude over analog ability” potential.
But it can also be an excuse. Jacob, for instance, will likely grow up never having built anything like that. He’s assembled shelving, he helped me hammer some shelving together out in the garage, but we haven’t built much. I don’t think Lego counts. I’m hoping he might enjoy some aspects of a 3D printer in that regard. Small and dexterous is not always the best choices for him or me, but well, we’ll likely give it a try as we attempt some board game design.
In terms of potential, I often view my HR guide in almost the same way. I found a way to explain something complex, to reduce it its constituent parts and to do so in plain language so others can understand it, and in a way that they’ll find helpful for applying that info to a competition. I applied my potential to accomplish that feat. Could someone else do better? Sure. Could someone else make a better tack hammer? Sure. But it’s not an objective scale, it’s totally subjective. It was the best I could do, and I did it.
I realized *my* potential and I’m good with that.
026. What would you like people to understand about you?
It probably sounds lame, but I think the most important thing I would want someone to “get” about me, particularly my son, is the dichotomy between subjective reflection and objective ambivalence. There are lots of people who have similar drives to mine for improving something or to dig deeper within themselves to understand something, and then turn that outward to tell everyone they meet how they can be a better self. I have no such ambition. I’m happy to share my hard-won realizations, for HR, for astronomy, for books or movies or TV oh my, but I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m sharing what works for me.
When I started participating in a couple of specific online fora, one of the most beautiful phrases to me was the simple “Your mileage may vary”. My approach to things stops at my skin…just because I do it one way, I rarely try to impose that same expectation on someone else. “I’m doing me, you do you.” And the me that I’m being is an analytical introvert who loves answering these questions as they make me think in ways I hadn’t even yesterday. A slightly different nuance than normal, a slightly different way of explaining it. Should everyone do that? Probably not. But it works for me. Your mileage may vary.
027. What is your best recent memory and why?
This question has been in my queue for the last week. And I thought I knew what I would say — I was going to talk about Christmas again, how being at the inlaws in Peterborough surrounded by family, and having fun, slightly teasing, mega laughter around the table was such a huge stress relief of the last two years. A feeling of normalcy heightened by the delay and diminished expectations of life.
But then Saturday morning happened. I slept late, I’ve been feeling like crap this week with my new med, and Andrea wanted to clip Jacob’s toenails that were overdue. I suggested that she use a special “kit” I have for footcare, since I have weight-induced diabetes, and for many with the same issues, footcare is frequently a problem. Diminished circulation, trouble even reaching my feet in terms of flexibility (yoga master, I am not), blah blah blah. Anyway, I have a better-than-average set of tools that I ordered about three years ago with the standard scissors and clippers (although better quality), plus a larger high-quality pair of curved snippers plus a metal toenail file. I suggested perhaps she could try them with Jacob’s toes, see if it helped the struggle a bit (he doesn’t like having his toenails done).
Anyway, she went and did it, she came back to the bedroom, and I asked, “So how was it using the kit?”. And I swear, as she tried to answer, it looked like it was physically HURTING her to reply. Like the question had broken her brain and she kind of grunted and moaned as she tried to answer. And then she realized what she had sort of “said”, and we both burst out laughing. Laughing so hard like we couldn’t breathe.
It is those moments that I think are most real, the most precious, the most spontaneous. A week later, you have no memory of WHAT was so funny, but there it is. (And for the record, they worked fine. The question just threw her off and she wasn’t sure how to phrase it.)
028. What are your thoughts on extraterrestrial life?
I thought I would end with something a little lighter. I think the question involves actually three sub-questions, and without the sub-questions, the big one is meaningless.
First and foremost, do I think there are forms of life elsewhere in the universe? Absolutely. There will be plants and amoeba and I would be surprised if there weren’t animals of some sort. Within our own solar system, I think we’ll find the basic forms of life on Venus and Mercury, and the remains of life on Mars and beyond.
Secondly, the REAL question is if there are intelligent species like you find in Star Trek? I’m less sure about that one. But I’m inclined to think yes. While evolution on any planet will be unique, evolution with similar outcomes is not likely limited to one planet in the entire universe. I suspect part of me just thinks about the quote from the movie / book “Contact” about how if we’re all alone in the universe, it’s a pretty big waste of space.
Finally, though, will we ever meet them? We have come a long way in the last one hundred and fifty years as a race. Maybe we will survive ourselves. Maybe we will survive an era of machines and computers. Maybe we will somehow merge consciousness with machines giving lifespans of much greater timeframes and permitting long journeys on generational ships to explore. Maybe we develop new technologies that give us much faster travel speeds than we have now. I don’t believe faster-than-light travel is possible, but I would like to believe it is. But I don’t see any of it happening in the next 300 years. Black swan events for technology might leapfrog us ahead, yet I doubt it. Not in that way. I do think we’ll find a way to colonize Mars and the moon. I have doubts after that. And sure, other species might develop the capabilities and come visit us. But I doubt it anytime in the next 500 years.