To What Use Shall You Put This Achievement?

"Growing and working, thinking and gaining power, reflecting and gathering insights, the student justifies his life; the future may safely be left to its own devices." - Henry Merritt Wriston, The Nature of a Liberal College

After a brief tickle of sunlight, the day delivers on its slate-colored promise, and the cool air of the hills and the flickerings of a lake between the tree trunks draw us farther along the trails. We're dimly aware that we've been climbing and turning all this time, but we're still shocked when we come to an overlook and realize that our meanderings have nearly enclosed the farm and lake that we spotted earlier in the morning. My legs and lungs stopped burning a while ago, and now the higher hills are posed like giant question marks across the valley. I wonder how I could get to them, and promise myself that one day I will break from these trails that grow easier with each visit. I want to look out from the higher places, back at where MK and I are standing now, and take stock of the journey between the then and there and the here and now. I am not yet 28, and if I still feel young and strong walking these paths, enough to want to leave them behind, I also feel my own changeability waning. I am starting to crave the answers to those questions I habitually set aside, because I am still malleable enough to do something with them.

The quiet of these woods where Rabbit has built his warren always puts me in a reflective mood. There is something about the total quiet of a house in the middle of both the night and nowhere that turns my inner monologue into a Socratic interrogation. Introspection is harder in the city, where Cambridge's workers of The Works use their jackhammers and drills to crack the vault of my thoughts and send them scattering. Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" dystopia is, from my perspective, just an accurate recounting of life near a busy Cambridge intersection. When I reach Rabbit's place, I have the luxury of following those stray trains of thought to the end of the line. In the city I ask myself, "What shall I do today?" In the woods, the question eventually grows to be, "How shall I live my life?"

It's not just the peaceful Walden-esque surroundings that put me in this frame of mind, but also the people I share them with. Looking at Julian and Rob Daviau, I see grown, responsible men who have managed to retain something of the child about them without degenerating into man-children. Chatting with them late at night over pipes and whiskey, or across forest trails, I am trying to draw my own map toward the playful, thoughtful adulthood that they exemplify, at least to me. Yet I must let my own character guide me, without letting it turn me away from a destination that is as full of family, friendship and fulfillment as this one.

Later today, after we descend the gentler slopes we avoided on our way up to this promontory, my time-out from daily life will reach its end. There are bills to be paid, after all, and already the emails from editors and colleagues are starting to pile up, demanding answers and decisions. But right now I'm trying to figure out what I want from this life and, by extension, the career I am building alongside it. There are so few things I read these days, my time is so limited, that I have become aware of just how few outlets and writers I will consistently make the time to follow. Would I pass my own inspection? Or would I start closing articles after the first few paragraphs produced the disappointment of the familiar and mundane, until eventually I stopped reading past the byline?

I got into this partly by accident, and my career since then has been more improvised and stumbled upon than planned. Now I want to know that I'm making the most of this opportunity, that I am sharing and contributing to the good things in this life of play. The ways they enrich us, through the people they lead us to meet or the understanding they help us gain, are what interest me. But those are what I have the hardest time communicating. Because I know on some level that I've left too many questions go unanswered or, worse, unasked. Now, when I sit down to write, I feel hemmed in by the shrouded cliffs of my own ignorance. Somewhere beyond them, I feel, are the things I want to say. The things that can only be said by that best version of myself that I hope waits for me across this valley.

Comments

I'm glad you wrote this, Rob. Mostly, I'm glad because I have loose notes and big questions scattered all over my notebooks and scrap documents lately, and now I have an excuse not to try and answer them for a GWJ piece.

Aw, for one minute I thought this would be an article about how Achievements are ruining gaming! But, surprise, it´s a even better article! Great job, lot´s of question that I know I should be asking myself too, I just think I didn´t have any significant epiphany yet.

Very well done. Thanks for this one, Rob. It mirrors a similar, to some extent, general undercurrent in my existence.

I tend to use the musings of some of the above said people into microphones, recorded for my (and others, of course) edification as the background noise to drown the din of the city.

It's tough to find the time to introspect. Glad to see you're doing it, and gives inspiration to the rest of us to try harder to do so as well.

It's an overused quote, but no less true: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I elected to study philosophy in college as opposed to something more pragmatic like CS, but this is a value I have always taken to heart since my late teens.

I don't think enough people spend time really considering who they are and who they want to be, never mind making decisions about their life based on a coherent vision. I find that profoundly sad.

It does help to have real mentors in life (bypassing the quick and easy swipe suggesting Rabbit isn't a good mentor, but he really is), provided you acknowledge that they're human too. As I raise my children, my ever present #1 goal isn't to make nice, obedient children, but to raise thoughtful, independent people who contribute positively to society. And I want to instill in them the ability and willingness to introspect as you've done in this great article Rob. Thanks!

HedgeWizard wrote:

It's an overused quote, but no less true: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I elected to study philosophy in college as opposed to something more pragmatic like CS, but this is a value I have always taken to heart since my late teens.

I studied philosophy for two of my degrees, one undergrad and the other postgrad (I capped it all off with a CS Masters for some vocational training). I'm in my late-thirties now and my mind often wanders back to what I read or heard while studying, and in so doing I see that I had neither the breadth of experience nor subtly of mind to appreciate much of what I was exposed to. There was one thing however that I'm still sure of: in philosophy you won't find the answers, only better questions. That's true for both philosophy as a subject and as an activity.

Rob Zacny wrote:

Because I know on some level that I've left too many questions go unanswered or, worse, unasked. Now, when I sit down to write, I feel hemmed in by the shrouded cliffs of my own ignorance. Somewhere beyond them, I feel, are the things I want to say. The things that can only be said by that best version of myself that I hope waits for me across this valley.

Introspection is an important way of acquiring wisdom, but it's purely self-enquiry and can quickly degenerate into mental masturbation. The reason is that knowledge is a prerequisite for enquiry and no matter what your age, your knowledge is limited by experience and education. Don't get hung up on what questions you've ignored or been unaware of until now, the chances are that the answers you would have come up with in the past (or the future for that matter) are not those that you would currently consider to be of any great merit. Furthermore, feeling that you're constrained by your ignorance is just a matter of perception. Acknowledging it, just as Socrates did, is a form of liberation.

Life is for living. Enjoy.

spankyboy wrote:

[Don't get hung up on what questions you've ignored or been unaware of until now, the chances are that the answers you would have come up with in the past (or the future for that matter) are not those that you would currently consider to be of any great merit. Furthermore, feeling that you're constrained by your ignorance is just a matter of perception. Acknowledging it, just as Socrates did, is a form of liberation.

These are very good points. I think there is something about being my age, but having friends and colleagues who are significantly older, that puts me in mind of bigger issues than the sort of focused challenges of college and my job. I have one friend who might be getting a divorce from his wife and kind of rebooting his life. It makes you reflect on your own relationships, and what should be their foundation. How should they grow? Several years ago, this was not, to put it mildly, something that seemed important or relevant. Julian's kids make me consider my goals for my own future family, and how I could make it a happy one. I'm surrounded by people in different stages of life, in away I've never really been before.

To the matter of ignorance, I think I become more aware as I write and speak my mind in various public fora that there are a great many things I think without really knowing why. That just makes it harder to articulate myself, and it also makes me cautious when I approach those places where my knowledge ends. Those are inhibiting feelings, for a writer or anyone else, so I'm increasingly eager to find new perspectives and expand the scope of my own. The past few years involved deepening my knowledge about a few key things, but now I feel the broadening phase coming on.

I get it. Oh boy, do I get it. I felt -- feel -- exactly the same way, having asked myself the same questions fairly recently. All I can offer is: The question is, itself, an action you've taken, and you have the responsibility to yourself to follow through.

This is excellent - thanks for writing and posting it Rob.

Reminded me of something boss once said, "Too often we define ourselves by our career instead of who we are."

I too find myself in a place pondering my life. At 30 I have accomplished alot of my goals and still found myself not happy with the way things turned out. Making new plans is harder now that I have responsibilities to myself and other people.

However, I am still hoping to find my calling in life. Figure it something you should never stop trying to find.

Thanks for the article, it's nice to know I am not the only one

Introspection is a fine line, if we don't examine ourselves we never grow, but if we examine ourselves too closely we run the risk of getting lost in the analysis.

I haven't done a good amount of soul searching for a while now, then I had a rough day at work, one of many, lay awake for a long night and quit the next day. I did this a month ago, at the age of 31. Time to hit the reset button and grow in a new direction.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Introspection is a fine line, if we don't examine ourselves we never grow, but if we examine ourselves too closely we run the risk of getting lost in the analysis.

I haven't done a good amount of soul searching for a while now, then I had a rough day at work, one of many, lay awake for a long night and quit the next day. I did this a month ago, at the age of 31. Time to hit the reset button and grow in a new direction.

You know, I have been considering the same thing. It's about time to change, but I haven't had my late night -> quit moment yet. But I feel it coming on.

jadefire21 wrote:
MrDeVil909 wrote:

Introspection is a fine line, if we don't examine ourselves we never grow, but if we examine ourselves too closely we run the risk of getting lost in the analysis.

I haven't done a good amount of soul searching for a while now, then I had a rough day at work, one of many, lay awake for a long night and quit the next day. I did this a month ago, at the age of 31. Time to hit the reset button and grow in a new direction.

You know, I have been considering the same thing. It's about time to change, but I haven't had my late night -> quit moment yet. But I feel it coming on.

Luckily for me I don't have any dependents and few responsibilities, that made it easier. Good luck with finding the change you need.

As a guy with dependents and responsibilities, I've been very inspired by my wife who recently quit her job to pursue her real passion in photography. I'm incredibly proud of her, and while it's been challenging for our family financially and emotionally, we've both found the time to grow in new ways. Great post.

Great post. And Comments.

It's been a while, far too long, since I've really questioned my life and explored what I mean by what I'm doing right now. I know why... and it might be because I know why that I'm avoiding thinking about it too much. I hope to be back in the same place as you soon.

Thank you.

Feeling sounds familiar. Every time I've had such a reflective moment, I've made some kind of change in my life, or acknowledged that I knew something valuable that needed realisation at some point. At 24, it was definitely knowing that I wanted kids (which I now have). Not long after that, it was the realisation that my then current girlfriend wasn't the right person for me. Very recently, it was the realisation that my current job (in IT) combined with a move to a different location a fair bit removed from my 'roots' limits my self-realisation to a part of myself that I tend to find boring (at least when I'm not in the middle of solving a nice work puzzle ).

As I'm what you call an alfa-beta-gamma (everything equally much or little, as an example I studied both Artificial Intelligence and English Literature), and picking schools for my son I noticed that a primary school teacher is one of the few professions that actually covers all bases. So I've decided that as soon as this is financially viable (my kid has to be in school instead of daycare), I'm going to at least get the education (in part-time). That path to salvation starts in 2012, and as any good path it should give joy not just in the destination but in the travel, as I'll be standing in front of a class one day a week right from the start.

In the mean-time, I've discovered that a local music school has something called 'duo-lessons', which means you'll be playing, say, guitar, while another student plays drums, and the teacher instructs in both as well as playing together and plays bass. It's just an example configuration, but coming both off of Rockband and playing in a real band many years ago, it sounds like great fun and hopefully also a good way to meet new people.

Anyway, to bring this back to basic stuff that is useful for everyone - life is like Googling something. When you know what you are looking for skill in using search terms still helps a tonne, but finding out what you're looking for itself is much more difficult. What I've learnt is that like any good government, your life needs three independent pillars: a good place to live, a partner, a family or (several) close friends, and a fulfilling daytime activity (aka job for most). You should strive to always have all three in order. When you need to work on one of these three, you'll need the support of the other two in the meantime. If you only have one left, you risk overburdening that one and have nothing altogether, and will find you'll have a hard time building those other two pillars just from that one alone (but should nevertheless get on it on the double ). From these three pillars you can build the rest, and you can improve the quality of the pillars as well (for instance by having a partner, AND a nice family, AND a bunch of good friends).

If I could teach anyone life lessons, it would probably be to keep these three pillars in mind, and ask yourself what their current state of them is, what you'd want them to be, and how you want to get there. And while it is an interesting question to also wonder if there's any aspect of them that you'd like to be proud of on your deathbed, that fleeting moment should be less of a concern than any of the moments that pass before then.