How Did You Get Here?

Saturday, January 7, 2012 - 20:56
Longmont, CO

Rick’s Rules #17a (in my owner’s manual (which is still being written)): pay attention when life brings you messages in threes, particularly when it’s an open ended question. The I-don’t-believe-in-coincidences part of me wishes to suggest that…
… you may just find a tiny trail… that leads to avenue __ that leads to a highway ===== that leads to your next big move in life.

Or, it may just give you a moment for self reflection!

Example? This week I was shocked to find myself in three separate job interviews that began with the same opening question, “How did you get here?”

Apparently, it’s not too common for a BS + PhD graduate of MIT to simply walk away from the “rockstar” lifestyle being a professor or working in a lab trying to sort nanotubes. It’s unlikely that said person would then (on a whim) decide to start a successful business gig building large websites. It’s then equally unbelievable that said entrepreneur would then switch gears AGAIN and to give up the solo gig to join a team of un-like minded individuals in order to embark on new adventures!

(*Deep Breath*)

Yet, it’s a great question. And each time I found myself stumped.

How did I get here? Was it all by chance or by design? Did I have a big part to play in it? Did I consciously decide or merely drift among life’s waves to find myself stranded on this particular shore? Did I then decide to simply make the best of what I got in the moment?

On the third asking of this question, I finally woke up from my self-allowed hypnosis. What follows is my personal introspection of said question. My hope is that it may inspire you to consider the same for you and your life.

My Smart Ass Answer

The contrarian in me would prefer to give a somewhat smart ass, somewhat creative, and yet somewhat brutally honest and personal answer to this question from the vantage point I would love to have: that of an omnipresent observer of the universe merged in with the humanness of first person singular.

And away we go! How did I get here?

In the Beginning

Allegedly, there was some form of big bang in which

  1. A singular point of everything was
  2. sitting in the middle of an infinite space of nothing and
  3. decided it couldn’t take it anymore and
  4. created the biggest explosion the universe has ever seen (which isn’t that difficult, considering there was allegedly nothing before said explosion and by the very definition of the explosion creating the universe, nothing could, in fact, be bigger than it.)

Sidenote: I say “allegedly” a lot when speaking of events that allegedly occurred 13+ billion years (approximately 410,240,038,838,593,658 Earth seconds) before my alleged birth because I simply wasn’t (consciously) there! In the court of law, to claim otherwise would be bearing false witness! That only leaves us with forensic evidence and scientific theories to make the case. But even in 2012, we still can’t explain what the heck all the “dark energy” and “dark matter” is in our universe. We can only explain what it allegedly does because it apparently (are all these conditional modifiers making you sick yet?) has to be there for our current scientific models to work.

Back to the answering the question:

From Bang, to Goop, and Beyond!

Depending on which big bang timeline you believe, this exploding source of all that is eventually turns into a plasma/goop, which eventually turns into our periodic table.

By now you can tell I’m stealthily avoid the question at hand. But the reality is that everything from the very start of this universe has, in some way, influenced the very point at which we all stand at right in this moment. This is one of the few areas that the Newtonian based scientific theories and the religious based creationists theories tend to agree! And therefore, it it quite useful to remember that we didn’t get here ONLY because of the last choice we made in this lifetime… but rather we descended from a long lineage of ancestors and are influenced by every single choice they made as well. We are, in fact, the outcome of an infinite series of choices.

But at the risk of staying to philosophically focused when this is a story all about me (+1 for the ego), it behoves us to hit the fast forward button approximately 13+ billion years -> -> ->

The Pale Blue Dot (aka Earth)

Yay! The Earth is formed and the dinosaurs are already extinct (sorry, sometimes I hit the fast forward button too slowly). Now we find ourselves at the time of the first species of the modern day human. This is a very convenient place to start the rest of the story because it allows me to sidestep the entire debate of how humans got here.

Was it God? A simply series of random collisions via atoms at high energies that eventually made proteins and other building blocks that ultimately turned into babies? Or are we merely a lab experiment for aliens from another planet?

Whew, I’m glad I don’t have to reconcile that discussion! Fast forward, fast forward, fast forward -> -> ->

The Wee Small Child

February 1981. Being born a Pisces child (ok, enough of the astrology or astronomy), there was no way the “No More Tears” shampoo by Johnson and Johnson was going to prevent me from crying. I lived a dual life these early years. Publicly I had it all: I was gifted with intelligence (adding two digit numbers in my head in kindergarten!), I excelled at sports, and gosh darn it people liked me (they really liked me!) But home was a different story (queue the ominous music).

I could go into laborious detail, but I’ll leave that story for another day. I’d prefer a montage! And the only way to serve up anything ‘montage style’ in prose is to use one of my favorite punctuation points (can you guess it?). It’s my good pal the ellipses…

…I was born…
…I was happy…
…I allegedly ate my babysitter’s cigarette butts while she watched me…
…I met my core group of friends at age 5…
…I once walked out of the public pool locker room having forgot to put on my swim trunks…
…I was scared…
…I was a loner…
…I played sports against kids 2+ years older and won…
…I high jumped…
…Uncle Warren bought us a $3000 computer for Christmas…
…I fished several times a week…
…I high jumped some more, and then learned to hurdle…
…Dad was kicked out of the house…
…Mom finally seemed happy…
…I got creamed in football practice, quitting the very next day…
…I discovered family secrets (awakening point 1)…
…I persevered…
…I got into MIT…
...I began making peace with Dad…

Thus ends the book of pre-college Rick. It’s intentionally cut short because even though I’m only 30, it seems eons ago in a galaxy far far away. If I were to travel back in time to meet my former self, I’m not sure I’d recognize this person beyond the physical appearance. I consider it lifetime one and I think I’m one number three or four already… which each segment giving me a completely different perspective and learning experiences.

Getting to the point, Mr. or Mrs. Interviewer, this phase of my life really isn’t isn’t important to me as it doesn’t define me anymore. But I also have to acknowledge it as what brought me to where I am. It was an important foundation for the next, critical transition that changed my life irrevocably.

The Rubicon

Time is precious my friend (or enemy, time cares not). Let’s skip the undergraduate years (summary: hard work, beer, track and field, fraternity, etc) and get right to the possibly the single biggest turning point of my life… the moment that I can definitively say started a cascading series of events that brought me to where I am today.

Michael Badnarik: Whether you love him or hate him (or don’t even know him), he completely fucked my view of the world up to the point that I was almost nauseous. How? In gearing up for the 2004 election, I decided that I should actually exercise my right to vote. I looked into both major parties and couldn’t find anything I resonated with. I then looked at several 3rd parties and still couldn’t find the right fit. But I was determined to vote!

I kept search, asking, looking, and then I found his constitution classes here.

Whether you agree or not with him or not; whether you find errors in his facts/logic or not; whether you label him a conspiracy theorist or not: it doesn’t matter to me. It was like a repeat of learning that Santa was not real. Everything I took for granted in the world fell apart and I found myself very alone, very confused, and I needed answers.

He lit a fire in me to prove him wrong… or prove him right. The point was not so much whether or not I believed in his views, but that I needed answer. He inspired me to challenge every cherished belief I ever had to see what was real and what was an illusion. He sparked my insatiable desire to learn everything I could about (even the most fringe topics imaginable).

Thank you, Michael, for that gift.

The result? I no longer view the world through the same set of eyes. This is not to imply that I got smarter. I could, in fact, be more wrong than ever and have created some grossly ill-formed beliefs along the way. But I do know that I’m not longer the naive, gullible, and an “accept everything at face value” kinda person.

I challenge everything. I search everywhere. I look inside to discover who I really am.

And although this process can be terrifying because some ‘truths’ are exceedingly painful, I’ve learned that it’s the path that I must walk because I cannot even begin to chase down all the bits and bytes of data released from Pandora’s box at that moment in my life. And I’ve learned that even if I could corral them all, stuff them back into the box, and try in vain to wipe my memory clear of their existence, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

Besides, I’ve been told that it’s rude to give back a gift.

Awakening Point 3

“How Did You Get Here?” Allow me to introduce exhibit C.

While I know it’s effective for some people, the idea of taking happy pills when life gets you down is something I stubbornly refused the one and only time it was ever suggested. I knew it was only dealing with the symptoms and it would be far more effective address the root cause. The quote by Henry David Thoreau comes to mind:

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

Personally, I think this nugget of wisdom is applicable to virtually every facet of life. We medicate ourselves with drugs and alcohol instead of forgiving ourselves and other. We blame external circumstances and people for our problems instead of changing our own habits, behaviors, and actions. We chase the dreams and wishes peer pressured onto us without ever investigating what WE truly want to do and be.

In short, we blame/chase/attack/fight/tackle/resist the illusory symptoms versus fix the one thing that could most quickly and easily provide lasting change—the real root cause. Hence, my desire to keep driving for the truth.

Which brings me to the alternative, metaphysical, or so called ‘woo woo’ studies of the world. I quickly found that alternative healing/energies/personal development techniques like EFT and The Sedona Method were extremely effective at helping me overcome these alleged problems. In fact, it was so quick and easy that it almost felt magical, unbelievable, or even fake. How could this actually work? And yet when I tried binaural beat technology the first time, I went into a state of mental trippy-ness that far exceeded the strongest beer buzz I ever had.

I was hooked. And then, I made a big decision. I decided that I would go to a retreat to meet others who believed in this stuff. Why? Well remember at I was an engineer at one of the most technical schools in the world. It’s not like I could just waltz into a classroom and find someone interested in talking about spoon bending, psychic phenomenon, etc. It’s a paradigm that doesn’t fit in a standard college curriculum, real or not. So if I couldn’t investigate it here, I had to go elsewhere…

Therefore, I found myself, 3 weeks later, flying on a teeny plane to Charlottesville, VA to visit The Monroe Institute for an entire wek. Then it hit me. “Holy shit! What if I’m going to meet some crazy people that put some crazy spell on me or something.” The supernatural always intrigued me, but I had zero experience in this arena and here I was jumping into head first. I actually panicked.

The full result is a story for another day, but here’s the punchline: another pandora’s box was opened. And just like Michael Badnarik shattered my paradigm of the left brain world, my visit to TMI shattered my paradigm of the right brain world. I experienced things so far outside the language of western science that I don’t bother attempting it. I came back, again, with a new set of eyes.

The Answers

That’s wraps up the three major turning points, dear interviewer. But since you have made it this far down the rabbit hole of my life journey, I shall reward you with the answer to your original question. But to keep it brief, I’ll confine my answers to the time period after these three turning points.

How Did I Get Here? A series of bold moves:

  • A psychic friend I met at TMI set me up on a blind date with a woman who lived 2000 miles away. I’m glad I listened, because I ultimately married her on October 1st 2010 and have been blessed by that decision ever since.
  • I left academia and engineering on a hunch that the field was changing, drying up, or otherwise becoming a prison for the research I wanted to do. Web programming has allowed me to enjoy a decent income while exploring my passions.
  • I took a chance moving out to Colorado on an impulse that something about Boston just wasn’t right for my wife and I anymore. I’m glad we did so, because opportunities came into our lives almost immediately as a result of this decision.

But most importantly, I’m here because I stopped living in a hypnotic dream state and started to question the world around me. I started to question what drives me. I started to ask where I could be most happy, most successful, and help heal the world. I stopped doing something simply because I was good at it. I started to explore again, like a little child, to find out what it really was that I wanted to be when I grew up. I stopped wondering what I would do when I retired and started to ask what legacy I would leave to the world when I departed. I decided to make a jump onto a new life path now versus wake up 40, 50, or 60 and (still waking up from the dream) wonder how it was I got here.

I don’t know the full answer to that question but I do know why I am here. I’m here to fully learn and understand what it’s like to be human. I’m here to learn about who I am and what purpose I am to fulfill. I’m here because I followed my instincts and for some reason that I can’t explain with my left brain, it brought me to this point. And although it might not be some grand, earth shattering, cosmos exploding result having met you, we know from the butterfly effect that small changes can rippled to the ends of the universe.

Maybe I’ll never change anything significant in this world. I may never be a Tesla, a Julius Caesar, a Pablo Picasso. I may never be remembered in the annals of history or even the news of today. But I’ll keep flapping my wings, hoping that in some day, and in some way, even the smallest act of being kind to a stranger may be the turning point in their life. Or maybe a chance conversation or remark I make will open up a Pandora’s box for someone else.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be that person, but the mere fact that I’m alive means that my work here is not done. All I know is that I need to take the next step forward and trust, flapping my wings like a butterfly, that something bigger than me is happening as a result of said step.

Therefore, I’m here, on a hunch, and trusting my gut, that this is where I need to be, right now…


So… how did you get here? :)

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About Rick Manelius

Quick Stats: Chief Product Officer of DRUD Tech. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.