Fueled by Randomness (Part 1)
What a weirdly static year taught me about about the role spontaneity plays in ones life.
In Feburary I went in for a physical and was surprised to learn that I lost some weight over the course of COVID, reaching the ideal 2021 physique: CDC-certified chonk enough to qualify as 1B, but 10 pounds slimmer than I’d been 18 months before.
I attribute this evolution to replacing a diet that previously consisted of catered office work lunches with one that included crippling, looming anxiety for most of 2020. I mean, I barely worked out in the last year, but somehow got trimmer? I guess once the COVID threat is squashed, I’ll need to fall asleep listening to global conspiracy podcasts and hire someone to sit outside our house at night in a unmarked white van at night so I can effortlessly maintain this bodacious bod.
Like most people, most of my wardrobe sat in in stasis for the last 18 months so, it felt like the perfect time to refresh it. If you lose a little weight, even accidently, you want to present yourself as best as possible, especially now that the simple pleasure of visiting friends feels more rare and precious now than it did in 2020.
So I tried out Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix has existed for some time, but for those unaware, its basically a styling app where you enter some metrics about your figure, what brands you wear, and have the opportunity to “swipe” on pieces you like/dislike. On a predefined schedule, the company will ship you a “fix” of five items tailored to what they know about you. The charms here are obvious and repeated a million other services: it’s very fun to get a surprise in the mail, specifically one that “feels” tailored to your preferences. From there, you try on the clothes, pay for what you keep, ship back the rest, and leave detailed reviews so that the next box they send you is curated with an even higher level of intelligence.
I know this is bordering on sounding like sponsored content. Like, you are gonna scroll down just a paragraph more and get bludgeoned with a referral code and some sob story about how if you use my code, I can get cheaper outfits for my rapidly growing daughter who Hulks out of her clothes at such an alarming weight we face financial ruin. Trust that I am going somewhere with this.
I like Stitch Fix. While you won’t see me on the bleeding edge of fashion, I have purchased a couple of functional pieces that were maybe a little out of my comfort zone, to replace old staples of mine that looked kinda dweeby. I realized through using the app that I’m actually a 33 waist instead of a 34, and that I look good in blush pink colors. It taught me about the the concept of Tonal Dressing, so you better believe whenever you see The Kid in 2021, I’m gonna have the fit of a Sherwin Williams paint-swatch.
I know, I feel like I have the energy of a dude that compliments you on your 10 year old New Balances with dog shit on the soles in the Cereal aisle at Target, just as a reason to strike up a conversation with you so he can invite you to a Hilton Garden Inn and game you into reselling a rat-poison filled energy drink. Bear with me.
But, I like the Stitch Fix alot. A kinda weird amount, maybe? Maybe it’s because I’m using less social media, but I am taken aback by objectively how much of the Beep Bop Booping I do in my downtime is now on Stitch Fix. I am constantly logging into the app to “like” or “dislike” the endless feed of shirts, accessories, and outfits they ask me to rate. Every time I do it, I feel like I am sanding the edges of the algorithm in such a way that the next mystery box they send me will reveal some universal fashion truth about myself. Just how powerful is this tech? If I do this for another year or so, will they send me a fursuit—prompting me to break down, clutch it tenderly and sob violently— just to realize how right it feels?
Jokes aside, I did want to drill into why I’ve been so charmed by Stitch Fix. I mean, I care about clothes and fashion to an extent, but not enough to justify my current fascination with this app and service.
What I landed on was the following: I think I’ve loved Stitch Fix so much because the service provided a jolt of randomness into my life, in a year when randomness was a rare luxury.
What do I mean by randomness? For the purpose of this essay, I mean situations that stir up your instincts reactively and emotionally, instead of situations that are anticipated or planned. Humans are animals too after all, and the less randomness inserted into your life, the more you can self-zombify through the motions of your day to day existence. Randomness feels like something we cede more and more of the older we get, perhaps by design, but perhaps to our detriment.
Stitch Fix, in a small way, got me to try out clothing that I typically wouldn’t buy myself, forcing me to rethink and react to how I might dress instead of coasting on how I’ve habitually dressed. It’s own way, it provided a small, but tangible type of joy that feels fueled by randomness1.
Given that randomness was in a such short supply in the last year, I wanted to reflect on the role random situations have played in my life, and how a level of randomness can result in a more fulfilling life.
When I think of the most “random” time in my life, at least in the framing of randomness I’ve defined above, it would be the quintessential public high school experience. It’s almost a trope, right? When you think of “random” and “high school”, it brings to mind a caricature of a specific brand of high schooler. For me, it conjures the image of a girl with Gir backpack, neon-dyed purple hair and fingerless arm gloves that was always offering to hug everyone. In retrospect, I can’t begrudge her, because how she was presenting herself was emblematic of what everyone was doing in their own way: trying to forge a sustainable identity in a crucible of changing dynamics that changed with each class period, each year. Public high school puts you through a wild gamut of interactions with the most diverse group of people you’ll probably ever interact with in your life from an intelligence, race and class perspective, and figuring out how to situate yourself in that randomness was fundamentally healthy but exhausting.
I think it’s a very universal experience, in the quiet moments of your day, to just suddenly become paralyzed by some soul-crushing moment of how you acted in high school. Just the other day, I poured some French press coffee into a mug and caught myself starring at it for what felt like 5 minutes, recalling the Freshman year homecoming that ended in me tearfully apologizing to my date in front of 4 other girls for being such an shy wierdo, apropos of nothing, while we were 3/4ths of the way through a video tape copy of Scarface in my buddy Andy’s bedroom. It’s probably one of ten in a rotating slideshow of such memories from high school that can short-circuit anything I’m doing, and God forbid it happens while I’m driving so I don’t cringe myself into oncoming traffic for the sweet relief of death.
Everyone has memories like these because they are emblematic of the sheer randomness of the high school experience: constantly being placed in uncomfortable social situations and having to make the best of them despite not having a solid footing of who you are yet. While those cringey memories were usually the byproduct of the spontaneity of the interactions you found yourself in, that randomness also made for your greatest memories—the ones where you rose to the occasion.
Some of my fondest memories from high school involved me and the goon squad hanging out somewhere with a case of beer, all of us sending out a bunch of invites on our shitty flip phones, and just seeing who was going to show up. The reality of underaged drinking meant in order to find beer a legit place to drink it, people from different cliques would often converge in situations that would seem unheard of in the halls of school itself. Some of the most invigorating memories I have from those days took place in spontaneous get-togethers in friends’ basements, on the pontoon boat, in the baseball team shed, or in the woods. In those random, non-sanctioned environments, I’d talk to the to the girls who I deigned too “intimating” and “popular” in the walls of high school, or we’d hatch the plans for the rest of the evening, where we’d get a buzz and decide to hop the fence of a nearby pool at 2am, or walk to a gas station for shitty microwave burritos. There were no “plans” to be made more so than groups of people converging and following an impulse.
From this point in your life, you gradually cede more and spontaneity from your life as you mature.
As a freshman in college, you’d pack onto crowded city buses, reeking of pre-game Burnett’s and Jager, and voyage off campus to unfamiliar and intimidating apartment complexes, keeping your ears open for wherever is bumping music, and essentially act as a door-to-door salesman with the following pitch: “sir or madam, can I sell you the opportunity to underage drink in your living room?”. These adventurous, chartless evenings are wholesale replaced by your senior year, when you are actually invited to the functions you attend, which were relatively subdued and populated with people you already knew.
Eventually you graduate and finally settle into a career. The reason the dating scene is so vibrant and fun right out of college is because it’s one of the last, best vestiges of randomness once you start scheduling your life around the rigid demands and schedule of a 9-to-5 job. There is an energy to meeting someone for the first time, mutually trying to probe if you could slot into one another’s lives and trying learn someone from a blank slate, that puts you in a very “in the moment” posture that is hard to replicate in other aspects of your life. Just little things, like meeting someone’s gaze, or trying to crack the code of how to make someone laugh or smile when you don’t know them yet, are emotional rushes fueled by the randomness of being in the moment with someone and feeling your way forward.
But this to, is a source of randomness that eventually fades once you partner up. Being in a loving relationship, specifically a long term one like a marriage, is very nourishing, but it does take natural spontaneity out of your life. Being in a relationship pits you in a polite, covert cold war where both parties are constantly anticipating one another’s wants and needs. This typically results in safe, predictable compromises on where you eat, what you watch, and who you visit with when. Once your own impulses need to be considered alongside your partners, planning around the collective “we” makes it fundamentally harder to be random. Eventually, you start to act as competing secretaries, managing one another’s social calendars weeks in advance and reducing the possibility to have any free time where just something spur of the moment could come up. This problem compounds itself even further when your once-single friends also get into relationships, and planning a group dinner suddenly becomes as easy to coordinate on as the Joint Sessions of the United Nations.
And maybe this is a me-problem, but I know I certainly closed off a level of spontaneity once I got settled into a committed relationship. There is a small voice in my head—a perhaps incorrect one—that says being a man in a relationship means I need to keep a level of composure in most situations, to stay buttoned up and on guard, and make sure we both get home safe. That impulse, right or wrong, creates a natural inclination to have rigid and subdued plans—not staying out too late, not getting to wild and not over programming weekends, that closes out of possibility for the types of situations you may slip into and give you the most memorable experiences.
In summary, the way I see it is as follows: life’s trajectory compels you to dispel of the randomness that once animated your formative years. I’m not knocking it. I think if you hit your 30’s and you’re entirely rootless and living off of impulses—no tether to a career you can tolerate, a property to maintain and pay off, or a family to nurture—you are probably introducing a different set of challenges for yourself and setting yourself up for a listless middle age.
So maybe it’s OK to an extent that the older you get, the more of a trajectory you are on to slowly kill randomness from your life. That being said though, living through 2020 put into stark relief how a life devoid of randomness can slowly kill you.
This is Part 1 of two-part essay. Part 2 can be found here.
I am deliberately and affectionately trying to name check Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled By Randomness with the name of this essay, because I feel like some of the concepts I’m thinking about here are probably half-remembered, half-baked regurgitations of concepts from the copy of Antifragile I read four years ago.