Monday, January 26, 2009

Connecting dots

I've been thinking a lot lately of what it is that I was meant to do. I always ponder this, its a regular reflection, but lately the question, instead of a quiet gnawing one, is clanging with cymbals at regular intervals. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button explores how our life would be if we lived it backwards, hindsight being 20/20 after all. If we could know the end of our destination wouldn't we better decide our present? But we don't live our life backwards, we live it walking forwards, making choices along the way which pave an uncertain future.

Enter Steve Jobs, CEO of Mac. Tee shared his Stanford commencement address in which he spoke of dropping out of college and taking calligraphy classes for fun. He made a series of choices which he did not fully understand, and certainly never thought would shape his future:

If I had never dropped in on that [calligraphy] course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later. Again, 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. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Looking back on my life to this point, I can certainly see this to be true in many instances. I must trust that dots will connect, the purpose of seemingly random happenstance and events, all abundantly clear just a bit further down the road.

*Updated* Adnan addressed a point I forgot to mention:
but don't you think it works both ways? That sometimes the dots don't connect. and you're left empty? for the people that the dots did connect, they'll say, "his approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." i wonder what the people for whom the dot didn't connect would say...
Good point. I believe dots connect but we must ready to work for those dots and work to connect them. If Jobs took the calligraphy class, went to engineering school and didn't pursue it, then yes, that dot wouldn't connect. This works for those I believe who are conscious, and continue to strive for their goals. Though the dots may not connect in ways that we anticipate, they do if we are looking for it, and are actively working towards our dreams. For instance, I want to be a published novelist, and I'm working towards that dream. I may never reach that dream and think back and think the dots relating to it were empty, but perhaps my someday child will have my writing bug, and will pen the next Great American Novel. Perhaps the few readers looking at my manuscript will be inspired to do something different as a result bringing a change into the world. The perhaps are endless, but just because I don't see the connection doesn't make it not there. Again, just speculation since this is a new thought and I'm still processing, but that is how it makes sense to me.

12 comments:

adnan. said...

hmmm... but don't you think it works both ways?

that sometimes the dots don't connect. and you're left empty?

for the people that the dots did connect, they'll say, "his approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

i wonder what the people for whom the dot didn't connect would say...

Aisha said...

good point adnan, I addressed it in the blog

adnan. said...

again, not to be pessimistic, but

"just because I don't see the connection doesn't make it not there".

but, is it possible for there not to be a connection at all?

take for instance someone who dropped out of college, sat in on the typography classes, got into drugs, and was found in a dumpster.
maybe if he stayed in college, he would have had a 9-5 job and died middle-class.
(we may say that he didn't "try hard" towards his goals and thus got into drugs)

so maybe the children who're born poor, try their hardest and darnest to get a "better life", but are unable to do so.

i guess what i'm trying to say is, are there always dots that can be connected? or do we tell ourselves there are so we can feel better?
(and that not all of us are equally privileged in terms of having dots to connect)

sophister said...

Adnan - I think Jobs addresses this by saying you must believe in some sort of karma, destiny, gut, etc. Without this, there is no hope. You are such a fatalist.

Aisha said...

Adnan, Like I said its a new concept for me so I'm not sure, but I think that that is the case, even for the poor children without a chance. There is a theory called the Chaos Theory that talks about how every little thing however seemingly random ultimately does lead to a point of relevance that makes sense, though when is unclear. But Sophister is right, you have to trust in it to some degree. Watching TV on the couch and doing nothing else will not connect any dots for anyone most likely later down the road. This is just a subjective perspective though, but on the whole I do agree with Jobs. It does not mean that each person who clicks their red ruby slippers twice and makes a wish will have it granted at some point. I don't believe that to be the case either.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the commencement speech text I am going to bookmark it

adnan. said...

@sophister - You are such a fatalist.

haha.i'm a fatalist who is continually trying to change things i cannot accept.

maybe the dots would have connected better if had stayed in school, maybe it would have lead to world peace.

Tee said...

I don't think the "if only I had" line of thinking is at all productive. We must deal in reality; we can not change what has already passed, but we can use it to guide today and tomorrow.

Besides, speaking from personal experience, parts of my life which at the time I considered some of my biggest failures are the exact same things which have shifted my path to something even grander than I had planned.

As for those dots, it is a great thing to be able to connect them once we are down the road, but also remember that your dots will outlive you and will directly connect to future generations - beyond what you could possibly imagine.

Suroor said...

Inshallah you will get published. I am certain. Your dots will connect. Just wait and see.

adnan. said...

i've been thinking about this more and i'm not liking this idea that dots will connect somehow, and even if they don't then they will connect in ways that we don't know, or connect after we are gone etc etc...

the initial thought of it seems individualistic (though it may not always be), the idea that dots will connect for me and for my dream. while i think it's great, i think this is very incomplete.

i would be equally interested in how dots connects in a collective sense. and what kind of work that would require. and the chaos theory principles as they apply here is fairly interesting. (brenda zimmerman's "getting to maybe" is a book that deals with this, chaos theory as it applies to social change).

hah, i still can't wrap my head around us thinking (wishing?) that somehow our dots will connect.
should action always have results? is it possible that despite our best efforts that no dots connect anywhere, ad infinitum?

=)

Aisha said...

Tee great point :)

Suroor, aw thanks insh'allah... :)

Adnan, I'm glad my post got you thinking! For me, in my life, I do see that looking back, the dots tend to connect. If I look at it more globally and in the lives of others this may fall apart, but at some point I have to look at the life I have and how this makes sense to me. Anyways- if you don't buy it, that's fine and to each his own. You may be the correct one on this thought process at the end of the day.

Anisa said...

I really enjoyed this post. I agree that dots do connect...as long as you are doing your best, trusting your instincts. This obviously doesn't apply do dropping out, becoming a bum and becoming a druggie.

I can see for myself how the dots have connected in my own life. At certain times, I thought I was spinning my wheels, but it ended up being part of the master plan of my life.

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