Boiling Over

The Importance of Path Dependence


I work at an oil refinery. We take oil in the front end of the plant and make products that help our community function like gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, propane for grills, butane, and more.

We have this wide variety of products that each have a very targeted and impactful end use, but the feed going into the plant is one big mixture.

So how do we create these valuable products?

We send the feed through a series of vessels of varying sizes at a wide range of temperatures and pressures. Millions of gallons a day are boiled, cooled, reacted, and more.

Change a temperature and pressure at one step in the sequence, and the product goes off-spec. The sequence matters, which is why there are trained professionals monitoring the plant 24/7.

And as a result of the precise sequence of these steps, we create a product that enables a half-million pound plane to fly safely across the country.

The interesting thing is, it all starts out cold at the beginning, and ends up cold as a product. But the extreme variation in conditions in between make the product what it is. The product makes my Ford Escape engine work like a top; the feed would break it.

It's similar in life. Every experience you have prepares you for a version of the future, but the way you get there matters.

So if I see an opportunity to grow my character, to engage with stressors that I believe will lead to long-term character development, I want to pursue those. I want to be refined, cast and shaped into someone of strong character, because that's what will maximize my resilience in the future.

To me that's what process goals can provide. This year, I'm writing more, reading my bible in a year, planning to increase the intensity of my workouts and coaching lacrosse for the first time. All of these involve discipline and commitment over time, not just sprints.

They each add their own version of personal pressure to my life. Pressure that I hope will refine, cast and shape me into a more capable person while having fun along the way.

The goal is to scale the pressure addition as quickly as I can, like a learning curve but for the disciplined pursuit of character-building.

And if I could find ways to do that year-in, year-out? Wow, what fun that would be!