On Beginnings ... And Endings (Newsletter 032)
The past few weeks have been full of many new things for me. When I describe some of it to you, my aim is not to brag. The specifics of what I'm up to is not the point. Rather, I want to reflect on the nature of new beginnings generally and see what we can learn together about human nature as a result. To set the stage, here's the list of some of the last month's novelties:
- I reached out to both more friends and strangers than ever before. I was asking favors, agreeing to offer services, and exploring new types and boundaries of interaction: e-mail, phone, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, text message, Skype, you name it.
- I was a guest on my first-ever podcast, Future Hacker ironically enough, given my historical interests. Check out Episode 70, parts 1 and 2.
- I gave a letter of recommendation for a friend and PhD applicant for an exciting new program, after years of giving references purely in the business context.
- The Association of Corporate Counsel started publishing my weekly Career Path column in the ACC Docket. The theme of this week's article is one that regular Klugne readers will recognize: No One Said Life Is Fair.
- I began posting the first of what I hope will be an illustrious collection of Guest posts on Klugne. This week's post from Amy Tibbetts Dutton called How To Learn By Listening shows wisdom and grace. It demonstrates well what I'd like the Guest posts to offer, which is thoughtful perspectives different than my own.
- Let's see. My wife and I bought bicycles and we took our first cruise up and down the Swamp Rabbit Trail. We ran our dishwasher for the first time, and learned a lot more about how solar systems work.
- I took my first motorcycle ride along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway.
- My wife and I ran our first 5K race a few weeks after running our first 8K race. I'm scheduled to run a 16K soon. Who said shorter distance races are easier than long ones?
All of this is to say I've tried and am trying a lot of new things. Alongside this list of positive experiences, I could also give you an equally long list of things that were less wonderful, because life rarely comes to us in just one flavor. Maybe I'll do that in a later post if I can think of a way to make it funny rather than bittersweet.
With every beginning come various endings. For one, and this is not as trivial as it sounds, for each new thing you do you are no longer a novice. It takes but a few repetitions for both your setting and your behaviors to feel familiar to you. I used to tell people anxious about starting a new job, "Just give it two weeks. Every day you'll meet colleagues and learn new things about how to get around and how things work. See if you don't feel much more comfortable by then."
Because of the ease with which we build familiarity with our surroundings, I already find it harder to see the U.S. through a stranger's eyes. I am trying hard to keep from taking our experiences for granted. This usually means asking the questions "Why do we do things this way?" and "Does it have to be this way?"
For another, each of the things we do represents a choice. In addition to the choice to affirmatively do something, our actions are a choice not to do everything else we could have done that day at that moment. Are we swept along by events, or do we seek to steer our course? Either way, our daily choices represent many, many things undone. This is both a desired and necessary consequence of setting priorities. But our priorities carry with them the opportunity cost of all that we did not do.
We tell ourselves that we will get back to everything else on our lists tomorrow, or next weekend, or when we have more time. The Stoics would advise us to stay in the moment and focus entirely on what we're doing. Neither the past nor the future exist. I can't shake the thought, however, that some planning is also desired and necessary. I think the way to reconcile the need to focus on the present with the need to plan for the future is to set aside specific times in which your planning becomes your top priority.
The ultimate ending is the one that awaits us all. This week's Moral Letter 63 On The Proper Measure of Grief reminds us not to take our friends and loved ones for granted. We can learn to cherish them more by recognizing that we could lose them at any moment. If you have given proper attention and respect to your loved ones during their lifetimes, then grief upon their passing should not throw you long off your course.
In Moral Letter 064 On Philosophers, New And Old, we contrast the interactions we have with our friends with those that are possible with philosophers. The best of these interactions are the ones we have in solitude, carefully thinking over and celebrating in the collected wisdom of humanity.
The wonderful thing about reading the thoughts of philosophers who died long ago is that their ideas survive them. For each person who picks up and learns from these ideas, they have created the seeds of a new awakening of learning, a new beginning.
We make a mark during our lives with our every interaction. The impressions we make upon others are what we are leaving behind when we are ourselves gone. When we consider this, it is easier to keep trying new things and to continue trying to be better each day.