Stephen is a 22 year old computer science and engineering student at Ohio State. Right now, he is working at Nationwide Insurance company as a software developer (third Nationwide employee I’ve met with so far!). The guy has a lot of interests such as cooking, backpacking, and playing music.
Stephen’s oldest memory of cooking by himself comes from around the age of 12 when he made eggs for his little siblings. They refused to eat them and when he tried them he completely understood why. I think everyone can relate to a similar first time cooking experience, but Stephen didn’t leave it at that. He used this first bad experience to start to learn how to cook meals that weren’t gross. He said that in high school, he would cook a meal for the family maybe once a week. At the end of his high school career, his mom started working again and the frequency of cooking for his family increased to almost a nightly thing. A love for cooking followed him into his more adult life as well. Stephen said that he uses cooking as a means to get away from his daily life. He doesn’t really use recipes and sees a certain art to cooking. It’s certainly a method of relaxation and of course, the end result is always infinitely more delicious than fast food or something from a box. Cooking doesn’t always have to be an art though. Stephen admitted that it’s usually more of a creative outlet when he is cooking for other people.
Backpacking is another tactic that Stephen uses to escape from his typical, everyday life. Backpacking is cool because it takes you out of the office and removes you from the computer screen. It’s a time when you can actually be at one with nature and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. The most recent trip he went on was a 15 mile hike that crossed the border of Kentucky and Tennessee. He said that another reason backpacking is cool is because you’re just living. There’s nothing you can take for granted and you have to actually think about what you need to survive. That’s not something that we think of in day to day life.
Stephen started playing music in grade school. His parents strongly encouraged or essentially forced him to pick up an instrument. He started with playing the clarinet. Around middle school, he wanted to join the jazz band, so he learned how to play the trombone. He also knows how to play the guitar and some other instruments. The ability to be able to be this diverse in knowledge fascinates me. As someone who has often only seen the analytical side of things, it’s nice to see that someone like Stephen can balance an analytical side, software development, with music, cooking, and experiencing nature.
Changing your Outlook On Life
The life changing question is one that always seems to stump people, and maybe it’s one that I’ll think of rewording in the future, but it always ends up stimulating fascinating conversation. Like a lot of others, Stephen had trouble answering this question at first, but he eventually came up with a couple fascinating points.
The big changes in Stephen’s life were all in changes in perspective. When you become an Eagle Scout, you can recognize someone as your mentor, someone who has been your greatest influence growing up. When Stephen’s younger brother became an Eagle Scout, he nominated Stephen. He was kind of taken aback by the whole thing because he had never really thought about the influence that he can have on other people. I asked Stephen if this changed the way that he acted going forward and he said that it didn’t change the way he acted that much. Mostly, he was just more aware of how his actions were going to affect someone and he thought about doing things before doing them.
Around the time that Stephen left for college, his perspectives were morphing. He chose to go to Ohio State because no one he knew was going there and he could start from a fresh slate, meet new people, and discover new things without distractions. As he started his time at OSU, he realized that he had gone about his entire life doing what he was told to do. He never really thought twice about doing things because he always felt that there was a specific way that things were supposed to be done. He never questioned his parents when they said to do something and even outside of his home life, he always just went with the flow. When he was off on his own at college, he realized that the world is much more chaotic and dynamic than that. There is no exact way to do anything. Even online tutorials that say you should do something one way are simply suggesting that you should do it that way. This was an interesting realization for Stephen. However, it didn’t end up changing his life all that much. Even though he is fully aware of what can be done and that there are different ways to approach everything, he still prefers the lifestyle of just going with the flow of things.
This didn’t really make sense to me. I didn’t understand how a person could be okay with going with the flow and live a fulfilling life. So I asked. I asked him if he loves his job. He said that it’s a job. He is indifferent to it. He likes to solve problems and his job consists of solving problems so it works. I said that sometimes I feel like those kind of problems aren’t meaningful problems to solve. Stephen said that in your particular specialized field, your solutions will never be meaningful to anyone outside your field. If you write a computer program, only programmers will truly be able to appreciate it and consider your work meaningful. If you write a book, it could convey meaning to everyone who is literate but not everyone likes to read. As a scientist, how is discovering a new element going to affect anyone outside your field? The term “meaningful” is extremely subjective and perhaps overused.
Along the same sort of lines, Stephen isn’t living a life to fulfill accomplishments. He doesn’t think that accomplishments matter much in life. Time erases all. What we do in this life doesn’t mean anything. He isn’t looking to leave behind some legacy because even the greatest of all scientists will one day be forgotten in time. To me, this is viewpoint seems incredibly depressing, but Stephen assured me that it doesn’t have to be. If he died tomorrow, he would be content because he’s lived a great life. He chooses to just go with the flow and not worry too much about trying to find “meaning”. That’s not to say he doesn’t enjoy life. He said that just like everyone else, he gets enjoyment out of life. But, that’s the thing: just like everyone else.
Another realization that Stephen came to is that we are indeed just like everyone else. A human is a human is a human. There isn’t anything particularly special about any of us. However, Stephen doesn’t believe that this makes life any less beautiful.
Stephen’s outlook on life was incredibly refreshing and although I’m struggling to agree (or maybe admit) some of the things he said, all of his arguments are certainly valid and it was nice to see this kind of viewpoint.
There isn’t much to be said about religion and Stephen. He was born and raised Catholic, but has grown up to be more of an agnostic. However, he doesn’t think that it matters either way. Whatever there is, there is. There’s really no sense in arguing over it. Religion isn’t something that Stephen thinks much about, but he definitely doesn’t look down upon religion. He’s pretty much indifferent to it all. I don’t think that’s really a bad way to look at it either.
Keep it real, Stephen.