It is what you do, not what you own

Over 20 years ago, back when I was in high school, I went on a sailboat trip. I was so impressed that I decided to own a sailboat one day. I realized that a sailboat was expensive, and I guess I thought that owning a boat would not only be cool, it would be a symbol of my success. (Can you recognize me in the sailboat picture?)

How did it go?
Today, not only do I now own two sailboats, I’m building a third one. Of course, they are radio-controlled boats, about 4 feet tall and 2 feet long. I find that I really like to design and build these little boats.

Did I fulfill my dream? I am sure the younger self would be unimpressed by the small boats I own, but he would be floored by the two young boys who accompany me when I test them. My dream of owning a sailboat became irrelevant. Today, in 2012, if I wanted to go on a sailboat trip, I would probably rent one. And what would matter most to me is the look on the faces of my boys.

I find that this irrelevance of my earlier dreams is a common pattern throughout my life. My younger self was dreaming about having things and being someone. He thought this would bring happiness. He was wrong.

Today, I focus on doing things. I do not own very much and I am not someone important. But I do fun things. I write this blog, I write research papers, I build boats, I publish software, I play video games with my boys… These are the things that matter.

Note: I am grateful to Maxime Larocque for keeping his old high school pictures and posting them on Facebook.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

7 thoughts on “It is what you do, not what you own”

  1. @phil Yes, I want to build an arduino-powered boat. There a few issues though. One challenge is that water is bad for your electronics. Another is that if it is a sailboat, you need to make it very clever otherwise, it will always get stuck… and cleverness requires much testing… this takes time. So maybe it is easier to start with a motor boat, but this leaves you with one last issue… you still need a remote if only to call the boat back. So you need to hack a remote over your arduino… I don’t know how to do it.

    On the plus side, someone could make money selling kits for building RC models with an arduino.

    @Michele That is right. I’m the guy in the back.

  2. Great post! My inner economist often reminds me that for a great many things, it’s wiser to rent than to own. It’s easy to forget that doing things is more fun than owning things.

  3. Have you looked into autonomous boats / aquatic bots? There’s a small boating pond round the corner from where I live and I’m wondering about its possibilities for some kind of small-scale robo-regatta.

    I’m thinking Arduino controlled, maybe solar-powered. Or perhaps even sailed.

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