Luck and Chance

Looking back at my life, something that stands out like a garden gnome in a basketball lineup is that most of the significant moments of my life seemed to have happened by chance.

The joining of the cross country team in middle school because the coach promised cookies leading to the discovery of a life long passion. Drawing political cartoons on a SAT test and being offered a job at the natural history museum. The chance meeting of a person in the college cafeteria that would become my closest friend.

Ask anyone that knows me well and they'll probably tell you that I'm not the type that leaves things to chance. Instead of chance, I have daily goals, monthly reviews and yearly bucket lists. And even though I leave certain gaps in my schedule for entropy, most of my days are structured around a common set of routines and activities, all of which are tailored to achieve pre-defined goals. So how is it then that despite all this, the things in life that I'm most grateful for tend to be things that I never planned for?

So I have a theory about this.

Every day of every moment, there's an endless amount of things that might happen. You cross the street. You might get hit by a car. You might bump into someone. A seagull might drop a doozie on you. You might change your mind about crossing the street and pick up a call from your mother. We can list examples all day. Whatever you end up doing in that moment, now all your subsequent moments are changed. Explore this tree of possibilities even a few layers deep and you'll find the number of potential realities quickly approach infinity. Not everything will lead somewhere and most won't, but live long enough and statistically, there's an almost certain chance that one of these moments will. Now compare this to the handful of goals that you or others might have picked out for you. What are the chances that you actually achieve those goals before a chance moment changes your life?

Another assumption is that achieving those goals will bring some sort of happiness. It is a well studied phenomenon that people are bad at predicting what will make them happy. This is for all sorts of reasons, chiefly because of how we are wired in a physiological sense to always want more and because we don't understand what we want. As a result, when we set goals with the idea that their achievement will bring out a state of happiness, there's a good chance that the achievement of said goals might not actually bring about the expected feelings of joy. And if this is the case, it might then make more sense to pick randomly and be open to a full range of results than pick deliberately and unconsciously bias towards the sort of ends that don't bring about lasting happiness.

In improv, there's this idea of walking on stage with a plan but being ready to drop that plan at a moment's notice if the opportunity for something better comes along. There's a lesson to be had in there. A lesson from improv. Now what are the chances of that?


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