Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.
- Arthuer Schopenhauer
Our office shares a floor and a restroom with a rent-a-desk tech center. Coming out of the men’s room the other day, I found a man with professorial wrinkles and a denim shirt smiling at me. “They locked me out,” he said, indicating the door to the tech center.
I was suspicious at first, since HR had sent out an e-mail hours earlier about a laptop being stolen from our neighbors. But this guy looked harmless. A Chicano Noam Chomsky. So I let him into our office and walked him to our front entrance so he could try the other door. He thanked me.
Our office has a glass facade and I sit near the entrance, so I could still see the professor. More importantly, I could hear him: trying the handle of the front door, pounding on the metal shutters that separated the tech center from the hallway, pacing and fretting. I hadn’t even registered the time. When you work for a start-up, 5:30 doesn’t feel late. But apparently our neighbors had locked up for the day and my new friend had left without his keys.
I have never been locked out of my apartment. Whenever I change locations – home to work, restaurant to movie theater, car to store – I pat down my pockets to make sure I have everything with me. Keys, wallet, cell phone. I have backups of every key I need secreted away in clever locations. It would take a concerted effort, with teams of ninjas and monkey pickpockets, to strand me outside my apartment.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to me at a young age that terrified me of being locked out. Sure, being trapped outside sucks. But there are worse fates. And the marginal increased risk of leaving the house without my little ritual might be worth the marginal gains to my blood pressure. Two hours locked outside of my home one night vs. another year of life.
We’re collections of habits masquerading as planners. I wonder what created the habits I follow. Why I can’t leave the house without keys, wallet and cell phone but I’ll sometimes leave credit card bills unpaid through sheer forgetfulness. Why my desktop (on my computer) needs to be tidy but my desktop (actual) is a sprawling pile.
Always knowing where my keys are doesn’t make me smarter or more careful than everyone else. It means I devote my focus and care to particular things. What I want to know is why those are the things I focus on. What set my priorities for me?
After a few minutes, a lady with frizzy hair answered the professor’s knocking. He didn’t look like a laptop thief anyway.