Everything does NOT happen for a reason

Aug 15 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. At best, that is post-hoc rationalization and type I error. At worst, it is magical thinking to protect one's self from reality.

The world, for the most part, presents itself to us as a large random number / event generator. Other people, other actors, other agents, have reasons and rationales and justifications for their acts. And we do not, cannot, control them. And frequently when we try to control them, it backfires. Often spectacularly and horribly.

Whether we control our actions and feelings is quite open to debate. That's another rabbit hole that people of religion are quite willing to go down.

Why is this worth pondering? Because, one can't control that random universe, but one can position oneself to take advantage of it. One can be in a place where more and good random things are more likely to come your way.

Take for example staying in place vs. leaving the region/city/whatever you grew up in. I call this the Patty Duke effect (ah, certain people of a certain age will remember Patty and Cathy and the rest of you, just don't worry about it). There is a comfort and support for being in a community, and being in the same  community. My partner is Patty, who, with the exception of 3 years has lived in a 10 mile radius of the parental house. When we go out to dinner, we are inevitably approached by people saying hi. My partner is deeply imbedded in this community and it is a joyful thing.

I am more of a Cathy and while I haven't lived most everywhere, I've done a lot of moving for all sorts of reasons, including better jobs, other partners, parental units. I think its helped me grow, and become much more than I would have been had I stayed in place.  There are inevitably more opportunities to do different things with one's life, if one is willing to move and seek them out. It's increasing your sample size, and being less likely to make a type II error in life.

Yesterday, I had a marvelous young person in my office talking about her future. Or her perception that she is "stuck" and doesn't know what to do with her life. Grad school? Follow a partner? Work and earn some real money? She had a friend, she said, who is a school teacher, married, and just bought a house. All at the tender (to me) age of 23. It made her feel unaccomplished, and well, stuck. I tried to give a different perspective. "You're not stuck" I said. "You are free and flexible". I wish I had said "you are a bird on a branch and getting ready to fly."

It was relatively easier for me at 22, to be a Cathy and move. My parents had. While they put down roots to raise a family, and found community in middle age, they are also helped push me and my sibs to go see the world. I am grateful for that. My partner's children are Cathys too, which I admire in my partner, for pushing these kids to go out into the world. One child is queer, and would have been bitterly closeted and unhappy in the small local Patty-community. I love my partner's kids, and while they can be infuriating (they are in their 20s), that's part of the charm, and part of their strength, and part of why I love them so very much.

So, to the incredible young person, debating life: You are a minnow and the ocean is wide, and this is a good thing and a scary thing. Enjoy, revel in the fact that you do have a choice. That hasn't always been true for young women in our society, and there are still many places where it is not. Swim and Fly and grab life with both hands.



2 responses so far

  • Microscientist says:

    I just had a similar conversation with an undergrad student from my lab. She wants to apply to grad school, and we were brainstorming schools for her to look at. My first question was "Where do you want to live?" Close to family? Far? Do you have a Significant other to consider? She was shocked that I wasn't asking questions about what kind of program she wanted.
    I explained that this was one of the few times where she could go anywhere she wanted. Funding for PhD programs gives you the freedom of looking beyond the state. I also explained that academic PhDs tend to be vagabonds- they go where the science takes them. Something to be aware of as you start this journey.
    She's applying both near and surprisingly far from home, so I'll be curious to see what happens, since she lived at home for undergrad.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    Back when I was at Private Midwestern University Medical School, I was surprised by how many of the applicants to our graduate program applied only to schools in the region because they didn't want to leave.

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