Missing a Train on Purpose

If you’re a credentialist, I suppose you can stop reading my writing (temporarily).

A good friend of mine whom I finally met at a conference last semester (@AltPrimate) recently introduced me to some of the writings of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who was in Boston last week. I was hoping I would be able to meet him, to shake his hand, if nothing else.

I’ve found myself in the last two semesters or so in a very miserable place in my life where it seemed I was simultaneously getting both everything and nothing done. Everything in terms of developing as a scholar, learning new ways of thinking about the world and methods for analysis, and starting to network deeper at meetings than I had ever before. I’ve also done quite well in my classes, had wonderful debates with people both like-minded and differently minded from myself, and while I haven’t been published yet, I have at least two papers just about ready for submission. On the other hand, I found myself in something of a personal rut with other issues pertaining to my long-term success in my graduate program. Nothing personal to them. I went to an excellent program. If I had to play the last two years of my life all over, I probably would, just so I can enjoy it all over again.

This is from Taleb’s Black Swan.

I once received another piece of life-changing advice, which, unlike the advice I got from a friend, I find applicable, wise, and empirically valid. My classmate in Paris, the novelist-to-be Jean-Olivier Tedesco, pronounced, as he prevented me from running to catch a subway, “I don’t run for trains.”

Missing a train is only painful if you run after it! You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice. Quitting a high-paying position, if it is your decision, will seem a better payoff than the utility of the money involved (this may seem crazy, but I’ve tried it and it works). This is the first step toward the stoic’s throwing a four-letter word at fate. You have far more control over your life if you decide on your criterion by yourself.

Something about that quote has stuck with me pretty strongly. I’m not out of graduate school forever, and will be applying to new programs in the coming fall. In the meantime, I’m looking for a job. I hope you will see more writing from me in the future.

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