This is, like, a lesson. A lesson I never learned. But kind of wish that I had.
There’s this character in Catch-22, who keeps asking Yosarian to fly with him, but Yosarian refuses, because the guy keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt.
For those of you who don’t know Catch-22, it’s my Number One book of all time. Funny and true. My favorite kind of writing.
In Catch-22, the main character, Yosarian, is always trying to get out of the war, because he’s certain he’s going to get killed. When Yosarian asks the doctors to discharge him on the grounds that he’s crazy, it’s explained to him that, if a person wants to get out of the war because they believe they’re going to get killed, they’re not crazy, they’re sane, and being sane, they can not get out of the war. That is what’s called “Catch-22.” To which Yosarian replies,
“That’s some catch, that ‘Catch-22.’”
A guy wants to be let out of the war because he’s certain he’s going to die, but being certain he’s going to die disqualifies him from being let out of the war.
That is some catch, that Catch-22.
And as if Yosarian doesn’t have enough problems, there’s this guy who wants him to fly with him, but Yosarian refuses, because he keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt.
Near the end of Catch-22, the guy who keeps crashing his plane and getting hurt crashes his plane again, but doesn’t get hurt. Instead, he climbs into a rubber dinghy, and paddles to Scandinavia. And out of the war.
It turns out that, all those times the guy was crashing, what he was really doing was practicing crashing. Having perfected the maneuver, he had engineered his escape, guaranteeing his safety. Retrospectively aware of what he’d been up to, Yosarian, whose single objective was to get out of the war, realizes too late that he should have flown with the guy.
Many times in my career, I turned down opportunities, because they looked like trouble. Too hard. Too stressful. Too much responsibility. Too many demands on the weakest elements of my personality. There wasn’t a moment’s thought about it. I heard what they wanted, and I immediately said, “No.”
It was short-term thinking. “Why do I need the aggravation? I don’t. Thank you, but, not for me.”
Looking back, that approach appears to have been a mistake.
If I’d said, “Yes” instead of “No”, I could have discovered that it wasn’t too hard. I could have learned to manage the stress. I could have grown into the responsibility. I could have worked on the weakest elements of my personality.
I didn’t do that. The “long view” perspective never entered my mind. And though things turned out fine, a part of me wonders what might have happened
If I’d flown with the guy.