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“Escape Velocity”

In college, my roommates and I developed this idea of an event’s “escape velocity” in a life story.


The idea is a simple one:

  • People’s life stories tend to be told as a series of big, “seminal events” and accomplishments that appear to have a direct logic between them. There is a sense of movement and distinct decision points. (I’ve made arguments about this view being fallacious and un-useful, so I had to kind of re-establish this idea- it’s popular).
  • The impressiveness of an accomplishment is a progressive force on its own (it reliably generates new opportunities, some of which may become future Seminal Events)
  • Time is a dragging force that diminishes the apparent significance of an event/accomplishment. (Any resume-writer knows that.)
  • Prior accomplishments tend to be used as platforms to justify approaching newer, bigger accomplishments.
  • There are a limited number of significant accomplishments that you draw a line through in creating your current narrative. (Events can get written out, or even written back in)
  • For the first 2.5 decades of our lives, the distance between major institutional life phases is about 4 fours (~3 years of middle school, ~4 of high school, ~4 of college, etc.)
  • Roughly, an accomplishment that survives as a  uniquely impressive event after four years generally graduates to a seminal part of your life story.
  • To achieve “Escape Velocity” is to be remembered for a longer amount of time than whatever institutional life phase you’re in would normally allow. It occurs when an accomplishment is so clearly relevant and relatively impressive that it becomes part of your identity for a period of >4 years, and perhaps part of an institutional history beyond you as a person. These are candidates for inclusion on your Wikipedia page when you win at life. In a ‘successful’, progressive life story, they’re the events that break “chicken-egg” problems that act as gatekeepers to Better Things (example chicken-egg problem: need experience to get the job/need the job to get experience). In a less ladder-climbing life-story, it’s the story that earned you a nick-name or that defines your role in a social group, or explains that weird scar everyone wonders about. It’s the history you use to paint a picture of yourself to others.


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