This was our first Thanksgiving in Austin, and my first Thanksgiving, in some time, away from my family of origin in the Washington, D. C. area. In the quieter setting, I could see more clearly the historical arc that had brought this holiday into my life. I considered that my ancestors in Lithuania, some 100 years ago, may not have known of this holiday and certainly did not celebrate it. My family’s transatlantic migration was part of a tumultuous century that dislocated innumerable peoples. Seen in this context, it is no wonder that I strongly feel the pull of different value systems in my daily life, and in my consideration of the direction and meaning of my life entire.
I’ve recently watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey. I’m not a big TV watcher, and saw my first episode only a few weeks ago. Yes, the series is a soap opera, but the sense of the historical period, which marked the most significant change since the French Revolution, is well-delivered. Certainly, accordant reflections affected my thoughts on Thanksgiving thoughts.
The long weekend granted me some perspective, too, on the recent intensity of activity that accords with my new job. The drive and focus that characterize my activity as a career-changer, in a new company, suddenly seem a bit tiresome. To what extent are they motivated by the immigrant’s desire to make something of himself in the New Land? At the same time, I still cannot allow myself the appealing and leisurely world view of an established. That sentiment will surprise no one. What I find interesting, however, is the process of emerging from the profound questioning a weekend away can offer. I’ve found, at least this time, that I have little choice but to reengage my previous professional and personal goals, even if they seem a bit less self-determined, and a bit more derivative.
What does this have to do with staying afloat in a sea of data, of the subtitle of this blog would seem to query? Well, it is just another, in a string of reminders, that the questions we ask about a complex world are only very slightly influenced by our incisive thoughts. Rather, we are much more deeply influenced, in our questioning, by an historical context of which we are only vaguely aware. We do not escape from this constraint when we engage with data or with business. Just as when we think about who we are and what we are here to do, so, too, when we ask where to target our next marketing campaign: Our preconceptions are occasionally disrupted, but we constantly return to them, out of habit, out of ignorance. Humility increases our sensitivity to the fainter indications that our thinking is in error. It is both an honest and a useful response to the torrent of information that surrounds us.