I awoke this morning about an hour ahead of the alarm. I don't know why exactly, perhaps I had a dream that strayed a little too close to wakefulness. Whatever the reason, I found myself laying in bed, thinking about the big picture of my life right now.
I found myself drifting to two different encounters with acquaintances of mine recently. The first was a telephone call with J., a groomsman in my wedding. The call was first and foremost about the Christmas gifts Mrs. Geek and I sent to J. and his family, and the gifts they have for us, should we ever be able to get together. We got to talking about our respective real estate options, however. J. works for a nearby computer chip manufacturer, and reminded me that he's got stock options that, when fully vested, would probably allow him to buy a decent sized house outright... which is a pretty huge chunk of change. He didn't say this to be pretentious or brag. It just is a fact of his situation.
The second encounter is with K., someone I knew in high school. It turns out that she's actually lived about 10-20 miles from me for the last five years. She was striving to be a musician when I knew her, but she got an MFA and became an artist instead. She's evidently been successful at it. I found her with a quick Google search based on some clues from my cousin Ja. -- who got an e-mail from her last year -- and I see that her work has been shown in galleries in places like say, New York and Paris, among other venues. I wrote her an e-mail just to say "hello" and got a very sweet and charming e-mail message back. She and her husband would like to have Mrs. Geek and I over for dinner sometime next month.
The common thread between these encounters is about success. Both J. and K. have achieved some level of success (J. financial, K. creative) that seems to elude me at the moment. I'm five years into a post-graduate school career, a real job if you will, and I wonder what I have to show for it... except being a mid-level cog in a big corporate machine. On some level, I fear that this is all I will ever be because it is what I am best at.
Of course, I can tell myself that a lot of it has to do with luck. J. was working as a document processing temp in a corporate legal department when I met him. He took a couple night classes in computer programming (he has a college degree in mathematics), got a lead for an IT job from one of his instructors there, and spent 10 years bouncing between a small community of chip making companies until lightening struck. I'm happy for him. If anyone deserves a little luck, it is him.
I suppose that if I started work at Company O. five years earlier than I did, I could have done pretty well too -- I think our stock was twice its present value 10 years ago and peaked at five times its current value during the peak of the Internet bubble. There were riches to be made. I decided to stay in the ivory tower and finish my Ph.D. instead... not because I would necessarily use it, but because I didn't want to give up when I was close to finishing. Staying in school was also the safe move. Am I condemned to perpetual mediocrity because I so often make the safe move?
Well, having "Ph.D." after your name seems like less and less of an important achievement five years on. That was yesterday, and what I have I done lately? I'm not sure. I'm a basically happy (relative) newlywed who is trying to cope with how I can have a house and children in the next five years. I feel like I'm carving out my niche in the world, but I feel like I'm lagging... not necessarily in a "keeping up with the Joneses" way, but rather lagging behind the schedule that biology and a booming housing market are setting for Mrs. Geek and myself.
The possibility of seeing K. again after all these years also raises some existential high school reunion-type thoughts. It's been nearly 20 years since we last saw each other... and I find myself wondering what I can say about who and what I am that would be interesting. How have I grown as a person? What have I done with my life? Well, I suppose time will tell. A shared past (and not that much more) is causing our paths to cross again. Whether those paths stay crossed in any meaningful way depends on personal chemistry when we finally get to sit down and talk.
on 2006-01-11 at 6:25 a.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond