This week’s post was supposed to be a kind of “mid-year progress report.” I was going to ramble on a bit about the various goals I had set for 2020, how those goals had shifted as a result of…[gestures broadly]…and how I’ve been able to use a kind of “magical thinking” to keep myself on course in spite of catastrophic uncertainty.
Unfortunately, this morning my laptop decided it had had enough of life and tried to leave this plane for a better one. I managed to drag it back from the brink, but only just, and I doubt it’s long for this world.
To be fair, this laptop has been a trooper. It’s a very low-end model, and I bought it expecting it to last only about a year. It’s lasted about three. These last six months, though? Let’s just say that if I want to run a web browser and say, the calculator app, well…I have learned a great deal about patience.
But all of this is prelude, and it served only to get me thinking about my life choices, both in the past and those I’m making now for the future.
And I had a lot of time to think while this machine was rebooting. And rebooting. And rebooting.
Years ago, in a former life, I was a computer geek. I set up computers, I fixed computers, and I wrote software for computers. At one point I could safely lay claim to being fluent in more than half a dozen programming languages, and knew my way around at least as many operating systems.
Back in 1995, if you’d asked me what I was going to do with my life, “information technology and/or software development” would have been my answer.
Less than a decade later, I turned my back on that whole scene, and have never regretted it for even a single moment.
See, something I realized right about the turn of the millennium is that I don’t really even like computers. What I like is what I can do with them.
Playing video games, writing and sharing that writing with others, talking in real time with other people around the world…these are all very cool things which either require a computer, or are made much easier if you have one.
And if you also know how to write software, well, you can basically do almost anything.
This all seemed very cool to nineties-era, teen-aged me, and since I was reasonably good at making computers go, it also seemed perfectly reasonable that I should do it for a living.
That was a decision which, a few years later, would bring me to the First Big Revelation I Had About Life: Just being good at something is no reason to do it.
I had that revelation in 2001, and a year later I left the white-collar computer world for a job in manufacturing. Less than a week after that, while working on an assembly line, I realized I was happier than I had ever been behind a desk and staring at a monitor.
As cool as I thought it was to be able to bend machines to my will, the truth is I hated it. I hated spending hours staring at compiler errors. I hated spending even more hours re-installing operating systems and hooking up network cables. And, at the risk of offending former coworkers I haven’t seen in years, I’ve hated pretty much everyone I have ever worked with.
The computer industry has always attracted exactly the sort of people I would never choose to associate with. I don’t want to get bogged down with specifics, but let’s just say I am not in any way, shape, or form surprised that half of the Silicon Valley “elite” is getting dragged in front of congress for hosing civilization, while the other half is getting accused of all manner of bigotry and sexual harassment.
The best decision I ever made was leaving that industry when I did.
Sadly, though, old habits die hard.
Once you know how to fix computers and write code, I don’t think the compulsion to tinker ever really goes away. If something about your machine isn’t working just the way you want it to, the fact that you can do something about it almost invariably leads you to do it.
Even though I left the computer industry almost twenty years ago, I still find myself thinking up little programming projects, or wondering if there’s a setting somewhere I could tweak to make my computer do just a little bit more. As I touched on above, if you know how to write software, a computer can look an awful lot like a sea of infinite possibilities, and the impulse to dive into that sea can be quite strong.
About two years ago, I learned to catch those impulses and throw them down the garbage disposal.
This ties back to what I might call the Second Big Revelation I Had About Life: Possibilities may be infinite, but life isn’t.
I don’t exactly subscribe to the conventional notion of “True Will” you find among the more Crowley-influenced magical folks, but I do accept that we each have a finite amount of time in this world, and that it’s probably best we choose how to use that time wisely.
I have no complex theory here, just a two-step process: Figure out what your “ideal life” looks like, then do the bare minimum number of unpleasant things needed to live it.
My ideal life looks a lot like reading, studying, writing about, and doing magic. A few nuances aside, that’s basically it.
More pertinent to our present discussion, my ideal life doesn’t look like sitting in front of a computer screen trying to figure out why the program I’m writing keep crashing. Or trying to figure out why balancing my checkbook caused my laptop to go into seizure-mode.
So I’ve got a new laptop on the way. When it arrives, I’ll give this one a proper goodbye, and while I’ll grieve for it, that grief will be tempered by the knowledge that my new machine will be under warranty, and so not my job to fix!
All of this is probably gibberish of the least interesting sort, but what can I say? It’s Monday, I’ve been up since four, and I spent the first two hours of my day fixing one computer and ordering another. It seemed like there was a life lesson in there somewhere, even if it was just a remedial review of a lesson I learned years ago.
It also made me want to pose the question to you.
What does your ideal life look like, and how close are you to living it?
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