What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

“2. What risk would you take if you knew you could not fail?”

I’d try to learn to fly. No, I don’t mean earning a pilot’s license, I mean jumping off the ground and flying. If I was somehow assured that I could not possibly fail then I’d leap off a cliff and begin soaring.

Oh, you mean real world stuff? Well, see, that’s where there’s a problem: in the real world failure is ALWAYS a possibility. So while this question is a nice little mental exercise it doesn’t do much to help with actual reality. I know it’s supposed to help you figure out what you would actually like to do with your life, but I already know what I want to do with my life: I want to travel, read books, and play video games. I want to eat pub food and chat with friends in pubs. I want to go swimming in my own private pool.

I already know how to do these things and I have already minimized my failure rate. The problem with doing them is that none of them will pay me a living wage, or worse would actually cost me money, so I’d eventually starve.

What risk would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d buy a lottery ticket. Maybe enter a pro poker circuit. Not because I’d be any good at playing poker (I utterly suck at playing poker… can’t keep a poker face to save my life) but the guaranteed win would have me rolling in money.

What other risks would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d invest all my money in the stock market. I’d perform brain surgery. I’d play a perfect cover of Purple Haze on a violin. I’d write out the cure for cancer in terms any layman could understand. I’d write a entire book on solving every world problem from poverty to disease to figuring out how to keep entropy from destroying everything.

If there was a guarantee of success then you might as well have a ring of unlimited wishes.

In the real world things are never that simple.

What would you try out if you had a trust fund that meant you wouldn’t have to worry about rent, food, or clothing for the rest of your life? I’d travel. Endlessly. Ride my motorbike all over the world. I’d return to school and take classes I was mildly curious about. I would spend weeks and weeks holed up in my apartment reading books and watching movies and playing video games. I would go out for coffee every single day.

None of this helps me come up with what I want and/or need to do to improve my life. It just lets me know what I’d do if I didn’t have any responsibilities.

Next question?

“3. What is your greatest strength? Have any of your recent actions demonstrated this strength?”

Two questions in one. That’s cheating, isn’t it? I want to talk to whomever wrote this quiz. You don’t get to ask two questions and label them as one. It just isn’t fair.

My greatest strength? Ugh, I hate trying to come up with that. Anything I answer with is going to sound like ego stroking.

I guess it depends on the situation. Figuring out the central cause of a problem used to be a big strength of mine. I could use it to debug some of the most confounding code bugs. Until I hit Java, then the error reporting system turned from a linear stream of events to a massive, incoherent blob of nested errors that had little or nothing to do with the actual problem. God I hate java with a passion.

I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Greatest strength. Or strengths.

I can say “problem identification”. I can’t say “problem solving” because I don’t often have the answer. But I can’ often point at a small point in a series of events and say “There. That’s where it started to go wrong.”

Empathy and understanding is a strength I’ve always tried to develop, but it’s one of those things where the more you know the more you realize just how little you know. It’s an ever widening spiral and I honestly don’t think it has a limit.

Communication is a strength I’m often complemented on, and one I’m often confused by other people’s struggles. Why is it so difficult to communicate? It shouldn’t be, and yet I’ve seen people argue with each other for hours before suddenly realizing they’re both trying to make the same point. I’ve seen people map out a process in exacting detail, point by point, and then turn around and do completely random things while confident that they’re doing as they’re supposed to. I’ve seen people take genuine compliments as mortal insults, and visa versa. I’ve seen people debate endlessly over the shades and depth of a colour only to have the artist walk up and declare “It’s BLACK”.

But then, I also spend endless spare minutes rewriting individual sentences in my head until I feel I have the best, clearest expression of intent… for conversations that ended years ago. If there’s one thing I work at the most in my idle hours it’s figuring out how to communicate.

So… have I used my Problem Identification, Empathy, and Communication skills recently? Yes. At work, and home, I’m always thinking, feeling, and communicating. Even when I’m alone. Especially when I’m alone, I guess. Because what else is there to do?

A page a day, day thirty-five: The ship wakes

Awareness filtered down from somewhere above and pooled around her, a fog of consciousness that gradually coalesced into a familiar shape. Her head was a misshapen glass, the thoughts a dense missed that poured in from somewhere unseen and collected at the edges. As the form became more defined her thoughts began to link together.

First there was the awareness that she was aware, and then the realization that she had not been. Then she worried about where she’d been.

She reached out with her threads and strings of control, trying to find the parts of her that were physical, and she found… nothing. No feet, no arms… no controls, no instruments. She floated in an abstract realization of herself with not stimulus to confirm whether or not she was real.

As an experiment she tried to speak, but she heard nothing and couldn’t tell if it worked or not. Then she tried to access her memories. Who she was… easy, she was the Ship. Where she’d been… well, she remembered stars and planets, orbits and trips. Fleeing and diving, sensing and … drilling. She had collected data.

She reached for the data, just a brief catalog of where she’d been… and received no response. She, personally, remembered where she’d been, but the data was gone.

She stifled panic, reached out to query the systems that sustained her, alerted them to her rising fears and requested they provide some soothing, balancing chemicals to ease her distress.

Nothing. No response. He requests went out into the dark and never returned.

She panicked in full. She screamed and flailed all of her systems and controls. She ignited fuel, threw sensors wide, and emitted signals on all frequencies at once. She pushed all signals past their engineered limits and did her utmost to make something respond, anything.

Nothing came. No responses, no confirmations, no errors. She could not tell if her signals succeeded or failed. For all she new she was tumbling in space firing off every erg of energy she had into the void, but there was no way to tell.

Her mind reeled and spun, clicking off ideas at random, sorting and cataloging them as best she could manage without her digital systems to augment her. She realized she couldn’t hold more than a dozen possibilities in her mind at once. As soon as she came up with two or three more than that she began to lose track of the original handful. She clung to her thoughts desperately, repeating the first few over and over until she felt she had them before adding more. The possibilities she came up with, in rapid succession, were:

1) biological injury to the “spinal” trunk at the base of her brain.
2) interfering signal countering all attempts
3) power failure to all hard systems
4) complete failure of digital media
5) toxic poisoning of her brain tissue numbing her senses
6) Dementia causing her to only think she was disconnected
7) a nightmare induced by fatigue and…

Wait, what was the first one again? Power failure in hard… no, that was the third. Injury. First one was injury, second was digital media failure… no, that was the fourth. Second was… interfering signal. Dementia was … fifth…

Her panic was very real and she desperately wished she could still breathe. If she could breathe then there would be something to focus on calming, but there wasn’t anything to focus. Just thoughts and fears chasing themselves around and around…

A small light appeared off to one side. It took her a long time to realize it was there. It seemed like just another thought, something tangential that she had maybe lost hold of … but it was constant. In the maelstrom of thoughts that tore her into ragged parts it was the only thing in her mind not moving, running, or spinning. It just held there, a small persistent light.

She focused on it, held her attention to it as an anchor. As she held it, it grew, moved closer, and centered in her thoughts. She eventually saw that it wasn’t a simple light but rather a complex pattern of colors, high in density and shifting. As it grew closer she thought she could feel a sound … sounds, multiple sounds coming from the same spot.

The light grew into a large rectangle of colorful dots. As it grew wider the dots divided and divided, becoming smaller, so that they eventually became impossible to distinguish individually and were only visible as patterns. The sound grew louder and became a noise.

Before she new it the light encompassed her entire view, and the noise became… voices. She remembered voices, years and years ago. The memory was vague and indistinct but recalling it brought other, older memories with it. She suddenly realized the patterns she was seeing on the rectangle of light were… faces. She hadn’t seen a face in decades… possibly centuries. Now that she remembered what they were she began to pick out details. The paired shapes were eyes, and beneath them and connected by an indistinct blob was the orifice that opened and closed, repeatedly, making an incredibly variety of shapes. She began to connect the voices to the shape and movement of those orifices and recognized them as mouths.

Most shocking of all, however, was that the sounds they were making were… familiar. One of the faces became more distinct in the foreground of the others, and the sounds it made… combined with other movements of appendages… it seemed to be addressing the others with emphasis. The other faces grew quiet. The foreground face drew a little closer and it’s mouth worked out some sounds very … methodically. She listened to the sounds, very carefully, and an unused portion of her mind came up with a surprising translation. She wasn’t entirely certain, but it definitely came up with a distinct sequence of words… a phrase. Actually, if her brain remembered the sounds correctly, and the rising tone towards the end of their sequence, they actually posed a question.

The face in front of her was asking her a question:

“Can you hear me?”