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The Road Not Taken

(This is more of a diary entry than a regular article. Skip it if you're not interested in me as a person. Hmm, that sounds awful…)

Over the past month I've experienced a powerful lesson in opportunity costs. And it makes me feel old. Which won't make any sense, so let me back up a few years…

I was a strange teenager. I was unusually well-behaved — ask my parents. I certainly have my share of silly stories of awkward adolescence but the important point here is that I wasn't self-destructive — I generally spent my time on useful things that invested in my future. Lots of reading, learning technical skills, that sort of thing. (I can't say lots of studying, because I was content enough to get by without a lot of effort.) This carried on through my college years and even though "there's a time and a place for everything and it's called college" I didn't treat it that way.

When my peers were going through the wild / carefree / dangerous / partying phase, I was busy being more "responsible", pursuing hobbies that were directly responsible for landing me my job. I missed all of the fun when I was younger.

So now that I've taken a couple dives into that end of the pool (read as: "let women get me drunk") my natural inclination to overanalyze everything has had me reevaluating the last decade of my life. Over and over again. When I drink I don't just lose that evening, I keep thinking about it for days. I fear I would be an excellent object of study for some underworked psychologist; I think I'm several standard deviations away from normal.

The reason I feel old, and the connection to opportunity costs, is that I feel so unnatural in the carefree lifestyle that I don't think it's something I could capture and properly experience even if I had the inclination to do so. I'm so naïve and inexperienced that it would be embarrassing to make the attempt. I would need a very patient teacher. The opportunity cost of concentrating on my skills and career this past decade is that I may never be able to capture the experiences I earlier chose to forgo. And isn't that what makes people feel old — the realization that some opportunities are gone forever?

I feel like I made a choice years ago with permanent consequences that I wasn't aware of when I made the choice. And I wonder what life would have been like if I had chosen differently, and been a little less serious about everything. I would probably have a good career but not a great career. I would be satisfied with it, not knowing that what I have now was a possibility. I wouldn't have as much money, but that probably wouldn't matter to my alternate self. I'd probably be married, which would. I'd be much more well-rounded as a person instead of the near idiot savant I fear I am today.

I can visualize how my life would have been different, and believe it would have been better along several vectors that I'm currently unsatisfied with. And of course, worse on others. But I'm not quick to conclude which set of choices would have made me the happier person overall. It's this uncertainty that keeps me thinking about it.

I know what you're thinking: "Sheeh, just lighten up!" Belay that thought for a moment — I'm writing all this because I can't lighten up. That's one of the things I'm not good at, okay?

Tiny Island