Thursday, September 3, 2015

On Paths, and the Niceness of Them

Where I work is a big place. And since being moved to the far end of the campus (it's big enough to merit being called a campus, if that is any indication), a certain amount of my time is devoted to calculating the quickest distance between my office and wherever it is I'm supposed to be in ten minutes.

I am apparently not the only person who has spent time considering this, as I often encounter unofficial paths trodden into bits of tall grass and weeds that happens to be everywhere where it's not mowed.

This lengthy preamble is all so I can set you up for this conversation I had last week.

I'm doing my full-barreled meander up a small hill, on a ragged bit of pseudo-trail that happens to connect the main campus road with a dirt access road, and as I pop up over onto the top of it I encounter an older lady heading my way. We exchange smiles, as humans are wont to do, and then she says:

"I assume there's a nice little path down there?"

My mind balks a bit.

"Well, there's a path. I don't know about nice, but it's a path."

And then my mind promptly spirals into how this seems a metaphor for my life, and I managed to get in quite a few thoughts on the subject before reaching my office.

I am finding myself continually surprised at the amount of people who grew up, went to school, got a four-year degree in four years, talk to their parents, and never worked a minimum-wage service job of any type. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

It's just not like anything I've ever experienced.

My path through higher education, for example, is peppered with some shaky foundations (never took trig or geometry before calculus, for example), juggling schedules for multiple majors, and then having to make some decisions on which major when I discovered that financial aid credit limits are a thing. I got my major in geology, but most of my internships were in astronomy. This is probably more like randomly wandering around in the underbrush and coincidentally falling onto a paved street.

Take the only mode of League of Legends that I actually like: Dominion. I am one of a ever dwindling population of players that continues to play the mode. I wouldn't be playing LoL today if it wasn't for Dominion. But when Riot decided they weren't ever going to do anything more than life support for the mode, a lot of upper tier players left. And I realize that, yet again, I ended up on the path less traveled and it's sort of muddy.

I got hired at a software company (nothing related to my major, of course), and found myself placed into one of the smallest roles at the company. A role that was subject to misunderstanding or outright uneducation, and while it's gotten a lot better over the past few years, I can't help but notice that, while the path is sort of here, it needs a lot more people to step on the grass before people who are not in the know will recognize it as such.

But that's the thing, isn't it? Some explorer climbs to the top of a mountain and within a decade you've got tourists in flip flops and shorts standing on the same summit taking pictures. Some person in an online game figures out all the quests the day of release and the guide for the quest is up within hours. A person in a lab makes a discovery and within a year some long-standing disease is in jeopardy of extinction.

Some people set out to make paths, to blaze trails into unknown lands. Some people just want a shorter distance between two points. And some chase a butterfly into the woods and find themselves without a compass.

Eh, sometimes the best bits of life are where there's no quest guide - yet.

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