Existential Thoughts

I’m feeling anxious.  I was sitting in my kitchen and I was trying to work on thermodynamics.   I was really having trouble focusing so I went on a quick run to clear my head.  Instead, the run formed a question in my mind: who do I want to be?  Now that’s a tough question to have stuck in your head because the answer is very elusive. The answer is always changing so fast that it becomes difficult to ever truly pinpoint.  It’s like sailing for a destination but every time you calibrate your course all of the variables like the current and winds and even the stars have changed and now you have no idea if you’re still heading in the right direction.  And you want to stay on course so you need to recalibrate, but at the same time, there are other things that need to be attended to like managing leaks and making dinner and looking out for icebergs.  So you just have to trust that you are on the right course and hope you end up landing somewhere manageable.  But not only that.  We aren/\’t even sure which destination we want to sail to.  There are 50 different landings that could be amazing or horrible but we can only ever reach one.  So what the *Iowa State Say’s I Can’t Swear*  are you supposed to do?

Follow the paths of others?  That might put you in somewhat of the right place.  But our ships aren’t all built the same, and what if there is a better course that hasn’t been set yet, and truly where is the glory in following? True, the young must learn, and at times that means following, but that is only for short tracks of our journey.  In the end, the destination must be our own.

I have some ideas for who I want to be.  I want to be a person who is in shape and works out consistently, I want to be stronger than I am now, faster, more physically defined.  I want to be well-read in history, and classical literature, and contemporary works about climate and the economy and architecture.  I want to know how to play instruments, how to surf, how to weld.  I want to know how to convince people of facts and sometimes even my opinions.  I want to know how to get pretty and interesting girls to like me.  I want friends who are adventurous and spontaneous and caring.  I want to make a positive impact on the world while still enjoying life.  I want to improve my current skills and build new ones.  I can do a lot of these things, and maybe even all of them, but what’s the order.  How do I know what I have to do right now?  Do I really have to study thermodynamics tonight to become the kind of person I want to be?  Could I be spending my time more effectively?  No one knows the answer to that, and what’s even more frustrating is that I’m the only one with even an approximation for that answer.

What’s more confusing is that there are aspects of who I want to be that are contradictory.  Part of me wants to go to Seoul or Barcelona and teach English when I graduate.  Part of me wants to go get a stable engineering job and pay off my debts as quickly as possible.  Another part wants to continue my education and pursue a master’s degree.  Or I could find a research position I really like.  Or maybe I start a bookstore.   Or I could get hit by a car and none of hopes and dreams would matter.  Like thermodynamic properties, there are choices I have to make in life that are irreversible.  Every action I take increases the entropy of the universe just a little bit, and I will not get to go back and change it no matter what.

In a way that is beautiful.  I… we, must sail blindly to a destination that doesn’t even exist yet because it is a reality we are inadvertently and inescapably creating in the moment.  The decisions that we make every second determine the kind of life we are going to live and the kind of people we are going to become.  Every decision is like a ripple cast off by our bow in the ocean of our journey.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

I still don’t quite know the exact location I want to land, but looking back I do think I’ve been going in the right direction.  Studying abroad is really good for this.  It’s helped me put a lot of things into perspective and I’m sure it will continue to do so.  This is why I think studying abroad is so great.  If you are a student considering leaving your safe harbor, I say do it.  But no one can make that decision for you, you have to make the choice.

Sorry if this was a bit of a jarring blog post.  I know it’s definitely a different style than what I’ve been posting but this week was a lot more subdued and it had me thinking a lot about a lot of things.  I’m not sure if this will resonate with anyone but I hope it does.

One more quick story.  My Uncle Mark recently passed away.  The morning after I found out, for some reason, I decided to get up early and watch the sunrise.  If you know me getting up early is something I can almost never do.  Somehow I got up after four hours of sleep without any difficulty.  I looked outside and it was actually snowing, which is a very rare occurrence in Edinburgh.  I rushed outside and watched the sunrise over Arthur’s seat.  The sky lit up pink and yellow and reflected beautifully off the light layer of fresh snow.  I don’t know if that was my Uncle Mark or coincidence but it was a beautiful morning and I hope his soul finds peace.wp-1490327200830.png

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