Instincts provide opportunities for personal discovery

One of the many reasons that Tech grads are so attractive to employers is the reputation the Institute has. Indeed, Tech is fairly widely known for a few key traits, which are both integral to the Institute itself and well-exemplified by its students and alumni. These include intelligence, the ability to capably handle seemingly daunting assignments and balance large workloads, and perhaps most interestingly, a practical and pragmatic dedication to logic and common sense.

I do not know whether Tech attracts individuals who already possess these features or if it molds students into having this profile. But if you looked at the engineering, computing and science graduates of the Institute, I think most of them would possess some combination of those characteristics.

Along with these positive aspects a Tech degree gives to a new graduate’s reputation, there are some negative ones that also inevitably arise. Things like an inability to interact well in social settings, a slight superiority complex, an inability to write well, etc.

These are undoubtedly stereotypes that we as Tech students should seek to eradicate, but many an editorial has been written on that subject already, and I think most of us have reached the point at which we inherently understand the need to be balanced individuals.

Rather, I have been wondering of late about that pragmatic dedication to logic that has served most of us so well throughout our lives. Is it really a help, or might it be a hindrance? And when would I be better off abandoning logic and acting more instinctively (because surely life is full of those moments)?

I’ve been brooding on this for quite some time; last spring I attended an international leadership development conference in Wales. Now, I know that if you, my readers, are anything like I was at the time I was departing for this conference, you are probably thinking to yourself, “A leadership development conference? What useless fluff. But Wales was probably cool and maybe meeting people from over 20 countries would be kind of neat.” Indeed, that essentially describes my motivations for going.

I was proven wrong, however; while some things at the conference were in line with my (low) expectations, on the whole the opportunity to look at myself, to evaluate my skills and abilities turned out to be most worthwhile. There were quite a few things from the conference that stuck with me, and one of these has now made me wonder about logic for over a year.

One of our facilitators, a guy in his mid-20s from Norway, told us that he was trying to live a life driven by trusting in and relying on his instincts and gut feelings more than extensive planning. He also shared a number of stories where taking a purely instinctive approach worked out very well for him.

The most memorable story he shared was about how he met his girlfriend. He was studying in Oslo at the time, but needed to go back to his small home town to see his parents, and for whatever reason he was not terribly anxious to do so. So he kept procrastinating and delaying, feeling like he just did not want to go right then, and never planning a trip in advance.

One day, however, he felt that it was time to go; he went to the train station, bought a ticket for the same day and boarded. While on the train he happened to sit with a few interesting people, including several girls. They hit it off instantly and talked the whole way, until he reached his stop and had to depart.

During that train ride, he did not get the girls’ contact information. He did not even know when he would be taking the train back to Oslo; he wasn’t sure how long he would stay in his home town.

After over a week at home, he felt that it was time for him to go back. He again went to the train station and bought tickets for the same day, again boarded the train—and again ran into the same girls from the way there. Needless to say, one of them eventually became his girlfriend.

Now, when I heard this story I thought, “But this is just full of lucky coincidences. A thousand things could have not worked out: the train could have been sold out if you try to buy a ticket the same day; you could have just not noticed the girls, etc.”

Indeed, that particular story probably was a series of lucky coincidences. But since then I’ve been thinking—what if these lucky coincidences are something you have to be open to, by not planning out every detail of everything you do? Would you even notice something like that if you had your entire trip planned out to the letter?

I haven’t put that thought process to the test yet; I’ve been too concerned about the potential negative consequences. But considering a meticulously-planned trip I once took landed me in Barcellona, Italy instead of Barcelona, Spain, could the negative consequences of going with instinct really be much worse?

Just as importantly, I am fairly convinced that the most interesting people I know did not become interesting people by constantly analyzing how to minimize risk in everything they did. Perhaps relying on gut feelings over logic might lead to something good, and perhaps it might lead to something bad, but either way the experience should be an adventure.

I have gradually convinced myself that I should maximize my opportunity to fail miserably now, while I can do so without any serious, life-long setbacks. Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy heuristic or algorithm for when one should strictly follow logic and when one should abandon it entirely.

Then again, wouldn’t that defeat the point?