“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs
From the professor’s desk:
As humans, we like to think that life is linear, and that everything that happens to us is a step in a journey that goes upward and onward. We want our lives to make sense, to have meaning. This quote from Steve Jobs offers us a lot of insights to unpack.
Most of us “connect the dots” as we look backwards over our lives: we tell ourselves, this thing led to that, which led to this other thing. For example, if I hadn’t accepted that job, I wouldn’t have met so-and-so, and we wouldn’t have become a couple; or, if I hadn’t moved to this city, I wouldn’t have lived in this neighborhood, where I made lifelong friends.
Looking backward, we can see the fork in the road, the choices we made, and the consequences of those choices.
It’s important to realize that we are trying to impose order on events that might not have been orderly. We want our lives to have structure; it makes us feel more secure to think that “things happen for a reason.” Randomness is frightening. The idea that the major events in our lives could be meaningless is terrifying.
At the time I accepted my position at WMU, I had another offer. I compared the two schools, the salaries they were offering, the locations, and I decided that I would be happier and more successful at WMU than at the other school. And I AM happy here. But I also tell myself that I wouldn’t have liked living in that other city, that I wouldn’t have had as many opportunities at that other school, that I made the better choice. The truth is, I don’t know how things would have turned out if I’d gone the other direction.
The second part of the quote is also worth a deeper examination. Will the dots “somehow connect” in the future? I think “somehow” is a problematic word here. Whatever choices we make, our minds will impose a pattern on them, and create the connection.
Bottom line: Life is messy and often random. We impose order on the randomness, because it makes us feel more secure, like we’re not adrift on a big, turbulent sea. If we cultivate security and peace within ourselves, we’ll be less disturbed by the randomness of life.