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Time Travels

Clock in Hershey PAI used to daydream about how much better life would be if could go back in time with the knowledge I have now and make changes.  Used to.  My daydreaming was cut short by the anxiety about what I would lose. I couldn’t go back any farther than January 1991, for example.  Otherwise Espen wouldn’t be born.  Nothing could make up for that loss.  But even stipulating that would not be a factor, it still is problematic. 

The dangers & unintended consequences of using foreknowledge to change the future have been a part of literature since there has been literature.   It captures the human imagination, usually with the ironic twist that the very attempt to change the future is the catalyst that brings about the predicted outcome.

The farther back you go, the more small changes would have big and unexpected consequences.  There is no such thing as destiny.  Things did not have to develop the way they did in the past and the farther back you go the more leverage you would have, but you could never guarantee a better outcome.

It is probably a good thing that we fallible and conflicted humans cannot travel in time. But we can benefit from imagining the possibilities. Analyzing alternative possibilities in the past can allow us to make better decisions about the future. Thinking about what might have been is not a fruitless pastime for dreamers as long as you keep it in its place.

I found imaginary time travel a more useful tool after I stopped daydreaming about the real past and started to think about the present and near future in the past tense. It is easier to think backward than forward. I believe I have avoided some regrets this way. I decided to be less career oriented and devote less time to work way back in 1998. I got more time with the family and – unexpectedly – better at my job.  Proper work-life balance makes you more effective all around.   A few years ago I used a similar analysis to decide to buy the forest land. It turned out to be a great decision from the personal fulfillment point of view and not a bad one from the investment angle, at least compared with stocks in recent years.   

Bridge at Maxwell AFB 

Now I am trying to analyze a retirement decision. This is not the first time I have thought about this.  I planned to stay in only seven years when I joined the FS, but they always gave me something fun to do before I could organize myself to move on. I have been eligible to retire since my birthday in 2005. Of course, I couldn’t retire and just not work. I could retire with the FS pension and do something else; there are some enterprises I might try before I get too old.  But the present intrudes in the future.  I still have two boys in college and there is always a risk in giving up familiar work for the promise of something new. I hated looking for a job. I don't suppose the process is much improved since I did it back in 1984. My resume has improved, but my perceived potential has declined. 

How will this decision seem looking back five or ten years?  I will probably do as I have done in the past: make it contingent on my next job.  The FS has always given me good jobs before I could organize to leave. Opportunism is a strategy, or to say it more elegantly, sometimes a series of tactical decisions becomes a strategic decision. Anyway, what I decide to do now ... or not will change the “future-past” but my method of prospective hindsight is not working very well this time.

Will continuity or change be the better choice?  Who know?  Nobody knows.  That is precisely the problem with the future, no matter how you look at it. 


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