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the everyman memoirs

The official blog of author Tali Nay.
APR
30

Concert for One

I was traveling for work this past week, and one of the event speakers did this (super uncomfortable) thing where he would ask members of the audience to stand up and share very personal things...in front of hundreds of their business colleagues. Now, I don't recommend this. And even though some of the insights that were ultimately shared did border near truth and forward-propelling insight, I'm not sure it's worth putting a person through such public personal scrutiny.

I bring this up only because his first question to the first person called up on stage has stuck with me: "Tell us something that no one else knows and that you are ashamed of." See what I mean about this maybe not being the kind of thing you want to answer in front of hundreds of people? I wanted to be prepared in case I was brought up on stage (the horror), and about the only thing I could think of that truly no one in the audience knew, and something not overly intimate or revealing, was that I was a talented violinist and yet decided to quit playing violin.

Clearly this is not a super critical or important thing, and I doubt it has had much impact on the overall course of my life, but I think about it a lot. Not in a haunting way, necessarily, but in a way that makes me feel sad for neglecting to nurture a gift I feel I was given. At the time it was too much with all the things my teenage self had going on, and by that I mean the PRACTICING was too much. I wanted violin to be something I played when I felt the need to, when it struck me, not because my parents required me to...every day. So when my saintly violin teacher died and the only other alternative was a rather mean lady a few towns over who expected much more in terms of effort and improvement, it was, as they say, the straw that broke the back. I was OUT.

I felt good about the choice at the time, which is to say I felt relieved to have it off my plate, but now it sits there as this thing from my past that I gave up on. This thing I actually had a talent for. I feel like I have this on pretty good authority, because when my conscience got the better of me and I eventually agreed to ONE LESSON with the mean lady, she proclaimed to my siblings afterward, "Well, Tali is the one with the talent." But this is the crux, the thing my writer mind can't figure out, because is this seeming obligation to pursue those things at which we are gifted more important than the need to pursue those things we are truly passionate and joyful about?

Honestly, there are things, many things, I enjoy more than playing violin. So I feel overall pretty good about where I've ended up. That said, I may never shake the possibility that violin was the thing I could have been the best at. It's why I still think about it. It's why I considered sharing this with hundreds of business colleagues over breakfast. It's why I purchased this painting over all the others when at an arts festival on last week's trip. I think it's OK to have things like this occasionally occupy our mental energy, so feel free to answer the question for yourself, and just be glad no one's asking you to do it in front a full ballroom.

In case anyone's curious, the speaker also asked us to stand up if we worked with anyone who we wish we didn't, which is also an interesting thing to ask a room full of people who are surrounded by THEIR CO-WORKERS, BOSSES, and COMPANY EXECUTIVES. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I stood up, but let me just say that I believe in being honest. I'll leave you with that, so picture me serenading you out and onto your next adventure, the one you're choosing because you love it.

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.