Tabula Rasa

At some point you will find yourself at a critical inflection point.

There are countless moments in a lifetime where one can choose between diverging paths. Some of these moments are more impactful than others.

Nearly everyone finds themselves a blank slate moment, a tabula rasa, a point in time at which you can change your current trajectory, a time in which it is especially easy to either build or destroy your future.

For many, it is upon graduation. For the vast majority of us, we graduate from high school or college with a net worth of just about zero, and a wide world of career possibilities ahead of us. 

For some of us, it is social. We find ourselves rubbing shoulders with different friend groups, and there is usually a moment where you must pick one or the other.

For nearly all of us, it is romantic. We either say yes or no to a significant other, and the wisdom of that choice can be the difference between happiness and misery.

For the graduate, one can pick an emotionally difficult and poorly compensated career, which can lead to a life of stress and instability. Or one can pick a stable and lucrative career, which can lead to a life of predictable stability.

For the friend, one group can have tendencies for interpersonal drama, hardship, substance abuse, unemployment, and moral ambiguity while the other group can have tendencies towards respect, hard work, sobriety, and general betterment. And since you become who you surround yourself with, that directly influences your own behavior.

For the lover, fast forward a few years with the wrong partner, and you may find yourself in a cycle of fights, financial misery, marriage counseling, unhappy children, divorce, and a waste of a decade or three. With the right partner, you could find yourself in a stable and encouraging relationship which helps you through rough times instead of plunging you into rough times.

We all make wrong decisions.

But there are many inflection points, many decisions, many times where you can pivot, many times where you’re faced with a sort of tabula rasa, a blank slate from which you can reinvent that which is going wrong. 

You can withstand one wrong decision. You can come back from two or three bad calls. Each decision may just be a very slight deflection off course. But statistically, if you’re faced with a constant onslaught of inflection points and you make all the wrong calls, you’ll find yourself going one hundred and eighty degrees in the wrong direction, and at that point it’s very unlikely any human can undo all of those bad calls.

Career, marriage, friends, hobbies, finances, habits, lifestyle, children…

A man who has picked a solid career, has married a solid woman, has surrounded himself with a thriving group of friends, has found productive hobbies, has spending & saving under control, develops good habits like reading or gardening or cooking or mountain-climbing, strives for a healthy lifestyle through exercise and eating well, and works hard to provide a good environment for his children…this is a man that we rightly envy.

A man who has never found good work, has married a miserable girl, whose friend group is comprised of losers, whose only hobby is wasting time on games or television, whose finances are a mess, who doesn’t learn with his mind or build anything with his hands, who eats fast food and never goes outside, who can be found in the evening baked out of his mind, whose children grow up in a disorganized and chaotic house…this is a man that we do not envy at all.

You may say “but…” and you may say “it’s more complicated…” but that is just an excuse.

It is true that some men have had it worse than others.

And that is why I think we have to judge people based on where they started, and how much they have progressed…and less on where they are right now.

I think it is fair to say that if a man grew up poor, on the streets, with an addicted mother and an absent father, we cannot hold him to the same end-result standards as someone who grew up in a stable middle-class family who imparted a strong moral fiber and provided constant stability.

But you can judge progress. Is the trajectory up, or down?

For that reason, I think you can look at someone who regressed despite having everything…and that person should be more harshly judged than the person who progressed despite having nothing.

I have known some people who were not objectively successful, but the mere fact that they were honorable people who came from bad backgrounds, yet tried to provide for their families and kept their noses clean — resisting the siren call of addiction and general disorder lines that is so prevalent in the underclasses of America if not the world — is a massive testament to their inner strength.

I have similarly known people who came from everything — educated middle-class parents, a solid community, and even somehow stumbled into good spouses — but they have essentially sacrificed all those gifts and regressed into a shell of a human, living off the largesse and sympathy of their friends. That, to me, is the most tragic of all. These people are leeches of goodness.

To whom much is given, much will be required — and this is reflected directly in seeing what people do with their lives. It is reflected directly in those inflection points, that constant barrage of decisions, and seeing what a person chooses to draw after their slate has been erased.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *