Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Half-life

I mention to Jonathan that our friend Clay has decided to strike out on his own, to abandon the security of a corporate gig and work for himself.

Jonathan responds, "And what do you suppose the half-life of that decision is?"

Clay has "decided" to pursue self-employment on several occasions, but has never quite achieved the velocity required to escape corporate orbit. An olympic-caliber swimmer and former college football player, he has energy, drive and tremendous physical power. When he decides to pursue something new, Clay's enthusiasm and chutzpa are inspiring. He tackles pretty much any challenge that comes his way. He encourages others to do the same. 


He's a strong, independent guy who doesn't fit corporate mold. He certainly doesn't thrive incorporate environments. Yet the prospect of unpredictable income is like kryptonite to his super-man psyche. What begins as an overwhelming display of confidence dissipates like a cloud of smoke in high wind.  Poof! Next thing I know, I'm getting calls from a corporate recruiters who tell me that Clay has listed me as a reference.


Jonathan and I have seen it all before, many times. So when Jonathan asks me about the half-life (technically, the time required for half the atoms of a radioactive substance to disintegrate and un-technically, the brief period during which something flourishes before dying out) of Clay's decision, I find myself in a quandary.  On one hand, I believe that this time can be different, that, with the right changes to environmental factors, Clay could do what he's always said he wanted to do. On the other hand, I'm not sure any of those environmental factors will ever change.


I respond, "I don't know, man. A week?"

Jonathan says, "I'll give him three days before he starts looking for interviews."

The other day, my friend Micky spent about an hour explaining to me that despite how emphatically they state them, people generally have no intention of pursuing their desires, certainly not if that pursuit involves persistent effort or change.  It took an hour for me to get it, not because I failed to understand his words, but simply because of the cognitive dissonance they caused me.

I say, "But if they don't really want it, why do they talk about it as though it were the only thing that mattered to them?"

Micky looks at me, his face a mask of contemplation. How do you explain the obvious to someone who's clearly not getting it.

Driving in the car yesterday with my friend Kat who's originally from Edinburgh, I thought aloud about the half-life of commitment. I mentioned my experiences working with an engineering team in Edinburgh. I quipped that there was something about some of engineers' attitudes that seemed distinctly Scottish. It was as though they'd rather die trying than win.

Then I thought about all the musicians I've known who longed to make more money, who consistently lamented being poor, and yet, who seemed to have a strong commitment to poverty. After all, who wants to hear lyrics about how wealthy your are?

I certainly know people who have a strong commitment to unhappiness despite emphatic claims to the contrary.

Maybe it's just the power of status quo. It may be the most irresistible force in the universe.

The thing I struggle with is: how do you know? How do you know when someone's emphatically stating whimsy? How do you know when they have true desire? Specially when either whimsy or desire can be stated with such exuberance and energy. It's easy to see after the fact, you can tell by they half-life of their follow-through. But what about in the moment?

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

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