Mario Romero: Free Will, Prior Causes, and Discovering a New Self

Mario Romero is a modern day renaissance man. 

He’s a polymath whose story doesn’t begin with promises of a prodigy. He seemed normal, even average. Some of his labels were inherited. As Mario so intimately recalls, he was told that “no one in the family is good at math.” So he wasn’t either, he thought. No one in his immediately family had graduated college (let alone an Ivy League), fought in U.S. Special Operations, or started the application process to become an astronaut at NASA either. But Mario has since done all these things. 

His accomplishments began with him challenging his prior causes, the moments in his life that defined what he thought he could and could not do. Mario was fed up with these prior causes, and believing them to be lies, set out to disprove their narrative. 

What culminated was a nine year journey in the U.S. Navy SEALs, where he was selected to join its most prestigious team, DEVGRU. After his time in the military Mario struggled – as so many veterans do. He never joined believing there would be a day after his time in uniform. Then there was. And he was left to figure out his new identity; with bruises and wounds on the inside and out.  

Having proved himself physically capable of some of the toughest challenges in the world, Mario applied the same approach to academics. He believed that he could become “good at math.” That it was just like any physical exercise – he just needed practice. Subsequently, he excelled at community college and continued his education at Columbia University in the City of New York – where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Pure Mathematics. 

Now, Mario works at NASA as a member of their dive team and trains astronauts in high-pressure environments. His next dream is to be an astronaut. 

Most peculiar to Mario’s story is his obsession with free will. How much of these accomplishments was actually his choice? He didn’t choose to first believe he was bad at math, did he? Did he choose to challenge the prior causes, or was it another cause that sent him into challenging his identity? 

While this conversation feels abstract, it suggests an interesting challenge. 

Where do we draw the lines to where the self begins and where it ends? And once drawn, can these lines be redrawn? Only through the proof of our lives can we answer these questions; through journeys with paths yet paved. Because, just as we’ve redrawn maps of the physical world, and our galaxy through exploration, so too we must explore and – and redraw – the map of ourselves.