“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.

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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.

Dr. Hamel