Smells like midlife crisis

systems thinking my way through midlife crisis

A Universe - painting by Mavis MacDonald Farnsworth (2020)
A Universe – painting by Mavis MacDonald Farnsworth (2020)

I don’t know about you (I really don’t), but I feel this buoyancy when I think of the size of life, the great scope of a person extended through time, all I touch and am touched by, endless collections of ideas, things to learn, things to try, things to be.

And I see my life and my self as a Koestler holon: I’m a whole, a unit, an individual, self-contained and self-evolving, guided by my own set of rules and principles, an object with properties that will never recur.

But I’m also just one part of so many other wholes: family, work organization, community, city, ecosystem, country, civilization, universe. You’re parts of those wholes as well. And those wholes each have their guiding rules and principles, their own evolving structures. We’re systems within systems, just like everyone and everything else, and the smallest change in any of the parts has its impact on the whole, often delayed, ripples of water reflecting back through the pool.

Well hey now…. Is my buoyancy tethered? Those larger system rules give guidance but they also constrain, and there are so many different layers of them. It’s winter and I’m a kid wearing too many coats. And I feel absurd; I feel the situation is absurd.

And now that I’ve acknowledged these larger systems, given them life, and expanded my life to include them, I’m not sure I can ever again consider myself a whole. I’m simultaneously the smallest thing I know and the largest. I don’t know if I’m being compressed by the universe and its nested systems or pulled apart.

So now I’ve got questions…too many questions. And I expect they’re just versions of the ones people have always asked themselves:

  • What should I do with myself?
  • How do I optimize my system and the systems to which I belong?
  • Is system optimization even a reasonable goal?
  • Will ‘optimization’ bring my life some meaning?
  • Should I focus my efforts on improving my system-of-one, get it working properly so that it doesn’t impede the systems-of-many?
  • Or do I go the other way, try to understand my parent systems and my relationship to them, contribute to them and thereby, possibly, elevate myself, grow buoyant again?
  • Is there some middle ground, like a window washer platform, where I raise the ends separately, slowly, inch by inch, the individual and the whole, until we reach some critical height?
  • What’s at the top? And upon reaching it, will I just reset to do it all over again?

I don’t know about you, but this reeks of mid-life crisis.

I’ll let you know if I find any mid-life solutions.

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