Lost Opportunities – Nope

No one knows what the future holds. It has infinite potential.

Looking back on what has passed, it’s easy to identify what appear like lost opportunities.  Jobs not taken, promotions not achieved, relationships not pursued.  If I only would have bought Tesla stock a decade ago, I’d be rich now.  Or if I would’ve studied X instead of Y.  Or moved to A instead of B.  The list is endless.

This kind of thinking is commonplace and entirely erroneous.  As I’ve mentioned before, I feel like I’ve honestly never made a mistake.  To that end, I don’t waste any time thinking about what might have been.  The past is exactly that:  The past. There are two parts to this:

Part 1:  Feeling good or bad about your current life stage is a transient, ephemeral feeling.  It’s impossible to hypothesize whether if things would be better or worse for the simple reason no one knows what might have actually happened.  Yes, maybe you bought Apple stock in the 80s and went on to be a billionaire.  But all of that money led to half a dozen divorces and a cocaine addiction and you ended up dead before 40.  There is no counterfactual to life.  What’s appears “good” now (like winning the lottery) may in a year’s time be a terrible curse– plenty of those stories abound.  Fake friends coming out of the woodwork to fleece you; relatives calling in; etc.  And on the flip-side:  What seems like “abject tragedy” now could somehow later be “the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Part 2:  One of my favorite scenes in The West Wing is sometime in S7 when Josh (or maybe it’s Santos?) is looking at the election map with Leo; they’re in the final stretch and trying to figure out what states to give up spending in, and where to bet the remainder of their campaign funds.  Santos says to Leo:  “Are you sure we want to do this?  It feels like we’re closing a lot of doors.”  And Leo replies:  “The best strategies always do.”

There’s no way to Monday-morning-quarterback life.  Like that scene in The Dark Knight Rises— sometimes you just need to climb the pit wall without the harness.  There’s a time for caution and a time to go all in.  Ray Dalio reflects similarly in his book, Principles, when he decided in the early days to close shop on Bridewater’s China expansion.  Though it was lucrative and possessed huge potential, Dalio just couldn’t wage war on so many fronts and so he gave up some potentially golden hens abroad in order to nurture others closer to home, here in America.  (In the end, I conject that things worked out fine for Ray.)

If you have any regrets with the life you’ve lived so far, don’t.  Regrets are dumb.  Focus on the present and future.  By ruminating on the past, you’ll just shoot yourself in the foot even more; actually missing opportunities in the here and now.  Now that’d be the true tragedy.

Today’s parting thought: For some reason, I am just absolutely amused to no end with the very notion of Tom Cruise somehow being The Last Samurai in the entirety of Japan. Another 2003 cinematic masterpiece, this one courtesy of Edward Zwick: This time around, the Samurai and Bushido culture, which has existed since the 12th century (that’s nine centuries (900 years) ago, for anyone who’s counting) somehow culminates with Tom “Mission: Impossible” Cruise as being the last warrior of an ancient caste that dates back nearly a millennium. That is honestly so genuinely great on so many levels. Truly, legit entertainment; fiction done right.

A Special Circle of Heaven for Artists

Often, I contemplate the nature of doing good. Listening to a lot of Sam Harris and Peter Singer unavoidably makes these questions top-of-mind, I suppose. Devising a sensible metric isn’t as straightforward as it may first appear. For instance, one’s mind may gravitate to “obvious” answers such as Mother Theresa, Dr. King, or Gandhi. But a quick read-up on any of them quickly yields heaps of criticism. Mother Theresa, winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, believed that “the sick must suffer like Christ on the Cross.” Christopher Hitchens wrote especially scathing take-downs of the patron saint, “[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God.”

Meanwhile, there is the entire question of unintended consequences. Setting aside Dr. King’s affairs, there remains a larger unanswerable question whether his non-violent approach itself (a la Gandhi’s as well), was actually “the way to go?” Malcolm X advocated “black nationalism” and a more “any means necessary” philosophy. Is there an alternate version of history, a more violent timeline, that actually ends in more equality and ultimate peace?

Rather than grapple with complicated legacies and unanswerable questions, as I’ve grown older (and my mind less supple to entertain impossible conundrums) I’ve grown to take a different tact: I now firmly believe artists –ie. creative people who produce works that spread inspiration and joy– are probably as good as one’s going to get in this life we lead. Bill Gates is currently on a crusade to save Africa and the most impoverished from malaria. But is Gates just hastening human’s extinction with overpopulation and resource depletion? Similarly, Norman “Dwarf Wheat” Borlaug (winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize)hero or villain?

But with artists, eg. Tom Cruise, Taylor Swift, Tina Turner, George Lucas, J.K. Rowling– the work they put out into the world has touched the lives of hundreds of millions. Billions, in the long-run. Or I think of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Whether you are Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, black or white or Hispanic or Asian– it is likely you’ve at one point been touched by Journey or Van Halen— and your day brightened just a little by that interaction. Probably, maybe?

In closing, I feel Salvatore Sanfilippo, creator of Redis, said it best in his recent goodbye letter as he stepped down from the open-source project he helped found. Pretty much sums up my current sentiments exactly:

“I’d rather be remembered as a bad artist than as a good programmer.”

Salvatore Sanfilippo – Creator of Redis