Saturday, April 02, 2011

Drop Your Life's Plan:

And let things happen. John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." It's from Beautiful Boy, an awesome song. Probably the wisest thing John Lennon ever wrote (because he had some other really bad ideas in his songs like, "Imagine no possessions," a notion which radically misunderstands human nature).

It's kinda funny, in principle, you might think Marxist oriented central planning would produce better outcomes than unplanned spontaneous capitalism. But reality begs to differ. There is a certain, Zen, being in the right time, the right place, letting things happen as they happen reality that capitalism incorporates and for which central planning, or overly planning in life, is useless, futile and often counter productive.

And if you have kids do not plan their lives; rather open doors and, after they turn 18, the older they get, the more inappropriate it becomes to put emotional pressure on them to make the "right" choices. (If you need to intervene to prevent them from becoming crack addicts or serial killers, it's understandable.) Your goal should be to raise autonomous, fully responsible adults by the time they are in their early to mid 20s at the latest, so you can just let go and let them flourish with you passively and patiently observing in the background, offering gentle, implicit, helpful advice with few if any emotionally reactive "you shoulds" and "you have to's."

For purposes of individual lives as well as government policy -- I'm a libertarian in both politics and personal matters -- I suggest replacing the idea of a specific "central plan" with a more general awareness, charting yourself in the "right" direction without a specific plan. As Richard Epstein put it, Simple Rules For Complex Society. Gain knowledge for yourself and continue to remain on top of things while living your life responsibly. Be mindful and ready to jump on the unplanned, unknown opportunities as they arise. Don't try to anticipate or predict them because they are, for the most part, unanticipatable and unpredictable.

I had the good fortune to attend a music college, in Boston, MA, one of the greatest cities in the nation, where I met a lot of bright folks with delusions of grandeur. We couldn't accurately predict who would "make it," though some of the most talented among us did. Equally talented bass players were far likelier than guitar players (what I play) to make it for reasons of simple supply and demand (guitarists outnumbered bassist 4 to 1; but for bands in general, it's more like on average a 1.5 guitarists to 1 bassist ratio). The best players who "made it" from Berklee College of Music tended not to finish and get their degrees; they used the school as a social network, got from it what they needed and moved on.

For those of us who DID finish and get our bachelors of music (BMUS) it was actually quite helpful in the sense that employment markets, human resources depts. and whatnot, value bachelors degrees from accredited colleges even if there is little to any relationship between what you studied and what you do on your job. I know that's a f--ked up way for the system to work; but that's way the system currently operates.

My best friend, for instance, has a bachelors from Penn State in political science. He couldn't find a job once out and worked a few years -- made a good living -- in construction. But eventually he got a position working in civil service for a state government for which he would not have been qualified without the bachelors. Now, in order to properly and effectively perform his job, he probably didn't need to sit for the vast majority of those courses; in a perfect world we could come forth with a much cheaper, quicker way to predict who is going to be qualified. But as long as public and private firms so value the bachelors, that degree, in practically anything, from any college, as long as it's accredited by the proper agencies, will have intrinsic value for employment prospects. (And if the "end" is simply to get a bachelors, do realize there are more and less cost effective ways of achieving this end; I suggest doing whatever you can to avoid going into debt to get your education.)

(I have an aunt who has an analogous story; she got her bachelors from a so so school in education -- but it was properly accredited and she ended up working an awesome job, from which she retired with full benefits in her early 50s, helping to run a county public health department; again there was little to any relationship between what she studied and the job she got; but the bachelors did qualify her for that position.)

But anyway, back to some of my friends who were and are very talented musicians, many of them bright and hardworking, some of whom got their bachelors and a few who did not. (I went to college in the mid-90s.) For those who didn't "make it big" (most of them) as long as they were indeed fairly bright, responsible and hardworking, they ended up in employment positions where they currently make a decent living. That's the reality of capitalism. You think you are going to be a famous musician; at 22 you work in a coffee shop or music store. Your big break never happens. You get older and want to make more money and start looking for opportunities to use your talents, but are constrained by the way the market values your talents. In a free society you have the right to pursue your dreams; but you are entitled only to the job for which you get an offer. You make mistakes and learn from them. You need to eat and provide for yourself and your family so you accept certain offers that come by and you find yourself doing ... what you could have never planned on from the beginning.

This is especially so in an ever changing techno capitalist world of creative destruction where Moore's Law dominates.

Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, whatever its flaws, I think accurately captures the creative destruction-Moore's Law synthesis from an optimistic global capitalist perspective. In this lecture on the book he gave to MIT in 2005 he said a typical educated (whether formally or self) person of Generation X or Y may find him or herself making a living being a, for instance, "search engine optimizer." How do you plan on that when you are in K-12 if search engines have not yet been invented? You don't. You find yourself doing such as it happens.

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