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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Zero Base Thinking: Are You Getting Out What You Put In?

Chapter 6 of My Life and Times at Purdue University

Knowing what you know now, would you get into the same business/situation that you currently are in today? The answer to this question – for example, a marriage that isn’t working at all – should lead you to decide to start over from scratch. Dump the partner that is not.

Such a tact brought me back to Purdue. Today, I got word I will get the financing for this dream. I started work yesterday at a Chinese restaurant in the Purdue Union. Back to zero – or eighteen years old – and the dreams one has about the career and plans to set the world ablaze with one’s ideas, magnetic charm, and that piece of parchment that says you know something, but really don’t.

(Ok, professors, you may know how to read, research, take tests, write thesis papers, even create some marvelous tools, that last piece I can respect, but the greater breath of ideas and innovations were not invented by Ph.Ds. at some university. No, the people that made it, generally (and accidently) stumbled into their calling, their gifting. They spent years and years in obscurity working on their better mouse (or trap) – usually devoid of relationships or great understanding – to make their legacy.)

So what gives with the zeroing out of my life, if don’t believe college professors are doing the best work? The answer is that a do-over was what I needed. A time to get straight the ideas, the path, I want to take from here on out. (A sabbatical of sorts – only with college as the destination, not the departure.)

My greatest personal asset is that I know how I fucked up. Second, I don’t have kids, a wife (or ex), or any nagging desire to obtain those familiar mid-life accoutrements. Third, I have a place to live, a job again, a desire for knowledge, and a thirst for accomplishment, which will replace that which I did not do in the last twenty years. And finally, I can get it all for the government-low cost of a student loan that may take years to pay off, but I am not in any rush, certainly not any more than Uncle Sam is to reduce his debt, our debt, together. In essence, Uncle Sam is going to finance my life’s ambition– more education, a publishing dream closer to reality by the day – and I get to be who I need and want to be.

Wiping the slate clean is not for everyone. It could be for everyone. But that requires that you give up on some relationship, some job, some aspect you probably see as much as an internal failing of yourself as you do anything the other party or corporation is doing. Don’t. It is not up to you to make this work. It is up to you to make your life work. And to be the best you can be, given whatever skills and ambitions you can muster out.

But?

But what?

I said that too. And did that for years and years. Then, one day, last fall, I got sick of it. It was a Friday, the day after my mom got her head cut open in the hopes the cancer inside would not come back. That night, and that early morning, as I drove a paper route, thought of what just happened, and the other family member in my mom’s life seemingly depraved indifference toward her, and frankly, towards me, I said, “fuck this noise.”

And since then, well, I’ve written about it quite a bit, just not all completely in one piece.

One Life, One Love

One life. One freaking life. No Ms. Pacman new life at 10,000 or 50,000 points. No new guys hidden in some dungeon or after you save the well-endowed princess. Or a charge up when you are dying from the barrage of bullets coming down on your fictional position. Nope, just one life. I am somewhere between 35 and 50% of it gone, unless medical technology gives me a longer expiration date. But, even at that…you get the picture.

Zero-base thinking is about cutting losses, ignoring the sunk costs. Lost time you will spend unhappy with people, or businesses, or activities that, in essence, are a waste. While this labeled idea was not swirling around when my mom was going through her crisis, I suspect it was unconsciously there because, in summer of 2010, I broke free from years of sameness. Suddenly, I did things for myself: seeing to finances, writing habits, and life-building through self-improvement titles more and more. (My mom was never the problem. Her sister was.)

Doing what you love –for yourself – is a way to help those you love personally the most. The ‘one love’ scenario requires that you stick to what works for you, when you find define it clearly. But most of us stick to what works not well at all, or even hate it so much we dread it daily, for way, way too long.

Even at this moment, I do not expect to be ‘doing Chinese’ for more than six months. Hopefully, after I settled into a comfortable state of finances, school, and professional aspirations (writing and publishing), I will bid sayonara (ok, that’s Japanese) from the world of restaurants forever.

Knowing your means from your ends is another lesson of zero-base thinking. Is your goal to build a great business or keeping a personal friendship that does not work within your business? Or is the problem someone else – outside forces you will never control (a third party) – that causes the tension for your partnership, your business? Answer those, and you’ll know what matters, and where the zero really is.

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