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JUL
17

The Traveling Salesman Problem

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As a person somewhat prone to annoying things like worrying, perfectionism, and overanalyzing (and also as a person who has seen If/Then), I’m fascinated by the traveling salesman problem, which has to do with determining the best way to make a series of deliveries or stops. I’m by no means a savant for college addresses, commencement or otherwise, but I came across one given last year that opens with this very dilemma, and the mathematician speaker pointed out just how quickly actually determining the “best” option becomes impossible.

With 3 stops, a salesman has only 6 possible routes. Pretty easy to identify the best, shortest one. With 4 stops, we’re up to 24. With 5, we’re all the way up to 120. By the time you reach 10 stops, we’re almost unbelievably up to 3,628,800 possible routes, and with 20 stops, that jumps to 2,432,902,008,176,640,000, a number of options that even if you had a computer analyzing at a rate of 1 Billion routes per second, it would still take 72 years to check them all.

OK, so maybe there aren’t *that* many possible paths we can take in our lives, but I do think we get hung up too often on wanting to determine the “best” path. The best option. The scenario, the job, the city, the spouse, the ultimate combination of circumstances that would be better than all others. What this address did was remind me that it’s simply impossible to know if the decisions you are making, the life you are choosing, is the one that would make you happier than any other. You can do your homework, sure, and you can make some educated guesses based on what you know about yourself and the thing you are choosing. But after that, it’s nothing more than the proverbial leap, and if you spend too long trying to guarantee you are making the “best” decision, you’ll paralyze yourself into doing nothing. Ever. And you’ll regret your lack of action.

Think back to your bible study days on this one, but remember the parable of the talents? The speaker of this same college address tied in this story rather ingeniously by reminding the students that the servant who (literally) buried his talent was cast out. Banished. Sent to hell. Or whatever. The point is, even though he didn’t lose a single cent of that money, the bigger thing at play is that he didn’t even try to do anything with it, so afraid he was of losing it. See, it doesn’t really come down to whether or not we screw up, but life has more to do with us actually doing something, regardless of whether or not what we did was the best possible thing we could have done.

We’ll simply never know what the Best Possible Thing is, so that thing you’ve been wanting to do, that thing you’ve been looking into, that thing you feel like a crazy person for trying even though it’s all you can think about, I say do it.

It’s either that or wait 72 years for the computer to figure it out for you.

Your move.

APR
07

If/Then

 

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Today is my birthday. I'd say that my age is starting to approach a point where birthdays bring up more dread than excitement, but that isn't really how I feel. Because these thirty-something years are worth celebrating. They are everything. They are me. And I like myself much more now than I ever did when I was younger. It's like I once heard a woman say when discussing the appearance of wrinkles on her face...she said they represented the life she had lived, so why would she be bothered by them?

This particular birthday does find me more pensive than usual, if for no other reason than since my last birthday, I've had my first experience with true heartbreak. And holidays in general make it very easy to compare our lives to previous years. Last year, my boyfriend gave me the sweetest and most perfect birthday gift. Last year, I was pretty convinced we would get married. Last year, I was the happiest I had ever been in my life. This year, I am alone. This year, I miss him. This year, what the f**k?

I'm in NYC today, which by now you should know how much I love this city. I went to see Idina Menzel's new show yesterday, and the whole thing centers around decisions and the impacts those decisions--even small ones--have on our lives. What if I'd never moved to Cleveland? What it I hadn't taken that job? What if I'd left that party ten minutes earlier and never met that man or answered that phone call or sent that text. Or whatever. As the show ultimately says, we only get one life, so we have to let the rest of the "other me's" go, but the theme that most resonated with me as I sat listening yesterday was the idea that when disaster strikes our decisions, does that mean we would have chosen differently? In other words, if you knew something would fall apart and leave you irreversibly devastated, would you have made a different decision? I'm in Camp No, as I believe anyone who's smart should be, though admittedly it's hard to stick to your guns on that when heartbreak has you constantly aware of everything you've lost.

Ultimately the show encourages us to love while we can. Whenever, wherever, however, and I do believe that's a solid message. Especially in a world where when it comes to love, we tend to give up way too soon. We tend to shy away from things that seem hard or complicated. It's not just that it seems easier to walk away, it's that it is easier to walk away. And if easy and less complicated trump the satisfaction and contentment of being with someone who truly makes you better, then by all means, walk away. But first, go see this show. It might change your mind.

 

 

 

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