If I pulled a Kyle Reese and went back in time to tell my past self that I would graduate college only to move to the ghetto and work part-time while gardening and fixing bikes, my younger self would probably call bullshit. I always had those fantasies where I'd encounter my future self and he'd go ahead and tell me what I should and should not do in the years ahead of me, and hearing something like that would probably not have been the thing I wanted to hear.
Then again, future selves often don't tell you what you want to hear.
There was a drive-by in my neighborhood last night, just across the block. My neighbor just got back from jail, and I'll likely want to quit smoking just so he doesn't smoke all my hard-earned cigarettes away before my eyes. The local slinger, who is a really big guy in his own right, just the other day counted coup with a man twice his size. But I feel a lot happier and safer down here in the Springs than I ever did up in the neighborhood where I lived before.
Crime is a normal thing around here, but the nature of the beast is far easier to adapt to than other places here in Tampa. You look out for your neighbors, and they look out for you. Social integration is indispensible if you're living in a neighborhood like this, and being a red-headed white boy like me isn't as dangerous as it sounds, once you make good with the people on your block. After all, they have better things to do than to fuck with you, and therefore, won't fuck with you unless you give them reason.
Three shots from a handgun fired from a speeding automobile into the home catty-cornered across my street, and I didn't feel the slightest bit unsafe, because none of those bullets had my name on it. Nobody was hit. It was counting coup. Still didn't stop me and my roomie from taking it inside and closing the blinds. After all, discretion is the better part of valor.
Right now, I should be in med school, being brilliant and overstressed to the point of breaking. I'd probably be starting my clinical rotations by now. I should be married to my high school sweetheart. We might have a kid on our way. I 'should' be a lot of things. Timelines are such bullshit, precisely because they're linear and deterministic, and if there's anything I that stuck in my mind from my education in anthropology, is that the real world is complex and dynamic. Static timelines are useless for describing reality; the closest thing we can get is simulations, and even those usually fail to encompass all the relevant variables. This is where intuition steps in and kindly brushes aside our silly conscious efforts to look three moves ahead --- you cannot possibly know the future, silly reason, let me take it from here.
This is both scary and liberating, but most things like that usually are. The future is not an open road; it's wild and overgrown. Some paths rise to meet your feet and bear you merrily along, but most paths have to be hacked away at with machetes. When looking for whatever it is you're looking for, you shouldn't take those easy paths, no matter how much your feet and back ache, because everyone else will have gotten there before you did and taken whatever they can get their hands on, leaving you with nothing.
After all, the thing about struggling is that it really helps you understand what your goals mean to you. I could go on for days about what my goals mean to me now...