Probably one of the worst ideas I’ve ever had was reinventing myself as a high-speed business person.
It was the second half of 2006. I’d made peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to get anywhere on my music history degree (shocking, I know), and I had veterans’ education benefits to use. I had two basic options:
- Things like business school or law school that don’t require any particular degree, or
- Start over in a different field.
The first option seemed like the most attractive. In fact, I’ve toyed with the idea of going to law school several times. Once I even got as far as buying a study guide for the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test). I still think it would be interesting to have the knowledge of the law that law school would provide, but it’s hard to ignore that the legal profession has a high burnout rate. There are a lot of disgruntled ex-lawyers out there. Some of them are doing cool stuff, but it appears that you don’t get to skip straight to the cool ex-lawyer stuff. You have to go through at least a few years of practicing law, which by most accounts, blows. Unless you’re this guy.
So business school seemed like a better option. Also, an MBA would only take 2 years, whereas law school would take 3. I studied for the GMAT and did reasonably well on it. I also took some basic business-oriented courses online to help familiarize myself with the terminology. One of those courses was statistics.
As is common with online classes, we were expected to contribute regularly to discussion topics on the course message boards. The instructor would post a topic at the beginning of the week, and we had to post some number of times by the end of the week. One week, the topic was a study about average human body temperature. Pretty much everyone raised in the US is familiar with the figure 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) as the average body temperature. But this study measured a lot of people’s body temperature and got a slightly different average figure.
The key question: do you go with what you’ve always been taught, or do you go with the evidence?
As you might guess, in a statistics class, the answer is, “go with the evidence,” but most of the class went the other way. It turns out that the 98.6 figure came from a unit conversion based on a European study. Of course, the European study was done using Celsius, and they came up with an average of 37C. I’m not sure if more precise measurements weren’t available at the time (I think the study was done in the 1800s) or just weren’t used. And by extension, this 98.6 figure was accepted unquestioningly for decades.
A more accurate statement would be that average human body temperature falls into a range that includes 98.6F, but if you’re slightly above or below that, there probably isn’t anything wrong with your body temperature.
This experience showed me that a person’s natural instinct is to protect what they’ve always believed, even when the evidence says otherwise. You have to make yourself look at the evidence from time to time. So I gradually started examining what assumptions in my life didn’t hold up in the face of the evidence in front of me.
Two years later I was divorced and had decided to swallow my pride and start over in a computer science program. It’s safe to say my life would be unrecognizably different if I hadn’t made those decisions.
Have you ever made a decision that turned out to be life-changing in unexpected ways? Share your experience in the comments!
Note: Part 3 of “How I ended up Jewish” is coming soon. I just wanted to take a break from it because I don’t want to get into a groove of making this a blog about my spiritual journey.