Are You What You Wanted To Be When You Grew Up?


Thursday, 8.20pm

Sheffield, U.K.

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. – Oscar Wilde

I’ve been thinking about models this week – so this could be a technical sort of post. Or be quite short, we’ll see.

Here’s the thing. How do you know what to do with your life? What kind of thought process do you go through as you work this out?

The thing most people are familiar with is the power of positive thinking. Believe in yourself and the universe will give you what you want. Write a list, focus on your goal and it will happen.

Now, this is a way of thinking but how do we capture it? How do we set it down in a way that can be analysed?

One way of doing that is to put down the logic – the arguments that are being made in order and look at them. Just look. So, if you did that, you might see something like this.


Now that you have a model in front of you, that’s something that can be analysed. so, you ask yourself, is this really a question about a beginning and an end. If you wanted to be a train driver when you were a kid and you are now a painter and decorator – does that make you a failure? I suppose it sort of depends on how you see the world.

Right, so how could you see the world?

There’s a mathematical view which says there are lots of possibilities branching out in front of you and as you make decisions you travel along some branches and make other branches disappear. If you don’t take biology at school your chances of becoming a doctor start to fall as the branches leading to that career start to thin – until eventually you have no way to bridge the gap between where you are and that particular way of life.

If you were suggesting to your child what they should do in life you’d probably advise them to pick something that led to a safe and secure career. You’d have a number of thoughts that you’d arrange in order to make your point. These thoughts are what you believe and you’d try and get that across to your child – trying to help him or her make the “right” decision as you see it.

That might look something like this.


This pretty binary route is what seems to be the idea that most parents have in their heads as possible futures for their kids. And if you make decisions based on what you think – then you had better hope that you have the right thoughts in the first place. But how do you tell without living that life that you’ve thought about?

Well, most of us can probably relate to one of these branches but also know it’s not quite as simple as that. Reality is a little more messy and there are multiple routes that life could take. In a sense, there are happenings that result from the arrangement of our lives. In that sense what happens to us emerges from what is happening to us. And that doesn’t entirely make sense in words but it does when you think in terms of feedback loops. And that looks something like this.


Now, I’ve thrown these models together in a few minutes and not really thought them through but that’s not the point. The point is that once the thinking is visible you can look at the arguments and see what might happen as a result of using any one of the thinking approaches that I’ve described – which loosely approximate making decisions based on a formula, a path of possibilities or based on thoughts, an argument for action or based on a systems model, a basis for emergence. These are a little technical, and you need some familiarity with the terminology to appreciate the differences, but the important point is that life is rather more complex than we sometimes make it out to be.

You are where you are because of all the choices you made over your lifetime and all the ideas you had, including the ideas about what you wanted to be when you grew up. If you aren’t happy with where you are – then you might benefit from thinking from all these vantage points. Is there a branching set of possibilities that could still give you what you want? Do you think there is a way to make it happen? Or could you arrange your life to have more of what you think is missing?

When I was young, I wanted to be a photographer and an artist. And I didn’t do those things for a career. But I draw a lot now, although not very well. And I think and write and do interesting work – and all in all – although I am not a National Geographic photographer – I have little to complain about.


And perhaps that is good too.

Karthik Suresh

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