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As well

Your reflections are interesting and important. But people should not forget that every life and life choice may potentially lead to regret. I know people who made very safe life decisions - staying at jobs that were secure, and promised great pensions - to be let go before they could enjoy them (this is not an academic). Or people who pursued more practical jobs to feel in mid-life that they wish they took more chances, or pursued a dream. Not to be cliche about it, but you only get one life. I have made a few really risky life choices along the way ... ones that had low probabilities of working out ... and I now have a life I wholly embrace. Of course I have suffered and endured loses. But you need to have a sense of ownership with respect to your life. Even your bad decisions should be accepted with some sort of peace (hopefully we learn from them as well).

Marcus Arvan

As well: Thanks for the kind words. You make a very good point.

I know someone who made a fortune having a successful career in medicine who nevertheless wishes in retrospect he had been an academic mathematician. I also know attorneys who make a ton of money but despise their jobs because they can't enjoy life, working morning to night 6 days a week. Finally, I also know people who chose industry jobs who love their lives and careers.

At the end of the day, most major life-choices are a crap shoot. They can go well or badly - all too often due to "life and luck." I wouldn't trade my career for anything now that it worked out. I just think it's important to recognize--especially, for young people considering an academic career--both the risks and the large and underecognized roles that "life and luck" can and do play in determining whether the choice turns out well.


I don't agree life is a crap shot. I think there is a LOT of luck involved. There is also a LOT of self-determination involved. And then there is also your natural disposition. I have been reading some interesting articles about the primary determining factors for happiness in life, two things come up a lot, and I find both very compelling:

1. A person's natural disposition. Some people seem to be relatively happy and satisfied with their life regardless of what happens. For instance, they might really regret not choosing career A instead of B. However, they are still very happy in career B (they just think A would have been even better.) Other people are naturally prone to anxiety and/or depression. This seems a bit more common among academics. In any case, even when people like this are satisfied with their job and would not want to do anything else, they are still depressed and anxious.

2. Relationships. Again, and again, evidence shows a very close connection between having close, supportive, relationships and happiness/life satisfaction.

Now in addition to the above, there is also a lot of evidence that while money/material goods do not make one happy, they can make one unhappy. People need a certain base line of financial security in order to enjoy other aspects of life.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda: no doubt. It's not *just* a crap-shoot. Character, determination, relationships, etc., all play very important roles. Still, there are people who do everything right but things "never go their way." I've known some people like this. There are also people who do things badly but get lucky. I've known people like this too. Life's a vast morass of luck, determination, relationships, etc.--and it is impossibly difficult to tease out how much of each. They are *all* important!


I almost agree with you, Marcus. I would just add that I have never known anybody who has done everything right. I have known people who have done at least as much right as super successful people, yet sadly they are anything but successful. Too bad mom was right about life being unfair.

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