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The Importance of Making the Choice. Sunday musings…8/21/2022

A couple of months ago my young buddy Blake, a rising rockstar in the world of my day job, asked me to co-host a series of episodes on the podcast he hosts called “Ophthalmology Off the Grid” (launched a few years ago by another young friend Gary). As the invited co-host it was my job to pick the topics for three episodes, and to suggest some guests that would make the podcasts interesting. Now, as anyone who has ever read my drivel knows, I am cut from a different cloth when it comes to your standard issue eye surgeon. The topics that Blake and I chose, and the guests who were invited, reflected my “out on the edge” perspective of our professional lives and life in general.

For reasons that I will explore next week, my brother-in-law Pete, the mad genius, brought up one of our favorite authors, Blake Crouch. Pete and I have long been exploring all kinds of esoteric stuff, lots of it involving deep, unsolvable questions, often through the lens of quantum physics. One of our favorite topics is whether something like an afterlife exists, or could exist. Quantum physics postulates that our universe may only be one among an infinite number of universes, all of which comprise the “multiverse”.

Our guests on one of the episodes of the podcast were two female ophthalmologists, close to me in age and both dear friends of mine, each of whom had made significant choices early on that had profound impacts on the arc of their careers. Like me, after the pivotal decision I made in my early 30’s not to travel to speak or consult, Lisa and Maria decided as young surgeons that they would make their careers priority 1A, a notch below the priority that they would assign to the health of their growing families.

Which brings me back to my brother-in-law Pete and one of our favorite books.

The book “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch continues to provoke. A brilliant physicist and his girlfriend, a supremely talented painter, discover that she is pregnant. They have just begun dating. The pregnancy is a classic crossroad. Which way to go? End the pregnancy, go their separate ways, and pursue the limits of their individual gifts, or follow their emotions and make a go of being a family? In the novel they choose to have the child and marry, settling into a life dedicated to home, in which their respective brilliances are applied to the mundane work of supporting the family. They seem to be quite in love, and their little family of three appears to be well to the happy side of the Bell Curve. Did they make the right decision? A reviewer for the WSJ opines that they “settled for, well, mediocrity.”

Had they, though? It turns out that the young physicist is an expert in Quantum Physics, his specialty the study of “quantum superposition” (Google: Schroedinger’s Cat). His area of research is that of creating a portal to the “multiverse” of infinite possibilities, one of which, of course, is the one in which the couple did decide to choose their individual paths. He solves the riddle of Schroedinger’s Cat, gains access to the multiverse, and both versions of the physicist are able to examine the path not taken.

What do you think the physicist who chose his career over marriage and family discovered? The one who chose family over career and eventual fame? I won’t ruin the story for you by answering those questions, but I will hazard a tiny ‘spoiler’ by taking issue with the WSJ reviewer: the young couple who chose family over devotion to career settled only for mediocrity in their professions. They had simply applied other parts of who they were to their fullest expression in the pursuit of excellence at home, as a more careful reading of the early part of the book makes clear.

Like Maria and Lisa.

The point? Lots of them, actually. Each of us faces more than a few truly epic, life-altering decisions where we stand at the crossroad. Which way should we turn? The tragedy is not in choosing the wrong path; it is in not choosing at all. Simply drifting through that crossroad without committing to the decision is likely what sows the seeds of regret if things don’t turn out just quite so. In reality, we don’t get to observe what it looks like at the end of the road not taken. Certainly not like the physicist who managed to turn himself into the cat that lived.

“He had his life—it was not worth much—not like a life that, though ended, had truly been something. If I had had courage, he thought, if I had had faith.” –James Salter, “Light Years”.

Lisa, Maria, and I offered our experiences to our friend Blake as he approaches a similar crossroad in his young career. Like the physicist and the artist, we chose the path that led first to home; we have no regrets. The antidote to regret lies in the knowledge that one must have the courage to acknowledge the crossroad before you, and the courage to make a choice. What inoculates us as we continue down that path is an unwavering faith that we made the best choice we could at that time, at that crossroad.

Faith that lead us to commit to the best possible destination in our one, singular universe.

I’ll see you next week…

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