Yesterday was a day at DARPA (of which I shan't speak further, since it was all about possible future projects). On the way back, though, I had a conversation that made me really happy. Sitting next to me on the plane was a young man, part of a high school trip that had come down to see the capital as part of their AP Government class. As we started talking (his classmates congratulating him on starting conversations with strangers), I also learned that he was a senior, wanting to become an engineer, and thinking about UMass Amherst (a worthy school indeed), though a little boggled by all the possibilities of departure from home into the wild world of undergrad. So I shared a bit more about myself and my life as a scientist, and we had a pleasant though somewhat lopsided conversation.
What I really want to share with you, though, dear readers, is one thing that came up as we talked, a metaphor that have I found extremely helpful in those times when I am figuring out what I want to do with my life, professionally or otherwise: what do Tiggers like?
This comes from an old Winnie-the-Pooh story (by which I mean A.A. Milne, as I do not accept the validity of the Disney interpretations in my personal canon). In the story, the newly arrived Tigger is hungry, and the other animals offer to get him food. Only problem is, Tigger isn't sure what it is that he likes to eat! The generous Pooh allows that he might share some of his honey, and Tigger immediately responds that "Of course, of course! Tiggers just love to eat honey!" But the honey is too sweet, so Eeyore offers his own favorite dish of thistles. "Of course, of course! Tiggers just love to eat thistles!" And thistles, of course, are too spiky. So it goes, throughout all the animals, until finally Kanga offers Roo's nasty medicine, which proves exactly to Tigger's taste.
I find this quite instructive as a life lesson.
The moral, as I see it: when you have lots of plausible options, don't be paralyzed trying to figure out which is the best to do. Just do things. Do worthy things, that you do with passion and persistence. You can always change course later if you have to, and having given it your best in the mean time, you will not suffer badly for it.