Learning to be ignored

For everything that an artist puts into the world, there is the fear of rejection. The fear that nobody would care enough, and that his work would join the pile of obscurity that most art does.

A budding artist learns to be ignored. Most greats artists have spent years in obscurity, sharpening their saw everyday. Stephen King pinned his rejected stories on the walls of his bedroom, until there was no space left. Kurt Vonnegut spent 20 years in obscurity being discovered. Vincent van Gogh was ignored all along, through his 2000 art works and until he killed himself.

It takes thousands of hours of deliberate practice to become world class at something. The audience does not have those hours to spare to applaud an artist along his way. Their lives are filled with their own challenges. Apart from cat videos, the internet has put at their disposal world class art from across the world. The art of people who are at the other end of the thousands of hours of practice. When they could listen to Diana Krall or Herbie Hancock, few people would rather listen to a musician practice.

The key then, as an artist, is to learn to play the long game. In a short game, we expect a clear result after 90 minutes. There are football managers who have achieved great success by learning to love the result. In a long game though, we learn to love the game, not the result. We learn to love the act of showing up everyday, and not the applause that ought to follow our performance.

The problem with political correctness

Back in college, I started spotting birds. I could identify more than 50 species of birds on India’s west coast.

Most of my friends could never understand this though. They saw no purpose behind learning these bird names. A bird was a bird to them. What difference did it make whether it was called a red-wattled lapwing or a racket tailed drongo?

Red-wattled lapwing. Source: David Clode

Knowing a name is the first step towards understanding and engagement. It signifies an interest and a willingness to learn more. By calling somebody by their name, we recognize them and care enough about them. At first, I learnt the names of these birds. But later, I could identify the metallic call of a red-wattled lapwing from half a kilometer away. I also learnt that the drongos can imitate the call of more than 50 other bird species.

Greater racket tailed drongo. Source: Praveenp

This applies equally to social problems that we care about and wish to address. The name “holocaust” brings to mind a particular dark period in history. That is certainly a start.

Political correctness is an illness of our present, touchy times. While it pretends to care about social problems, it brushes them under the carpet. It lacks the courage necessary to name, identify and engage with them.

Racism exists. But with political correctness,  but we pretend that it does not. Heck, we do not even mention another person’s race. Instead we paint every person with the colour of burying our heads in the ground.

The problem with political correctness is that it is grounded in cowardice and evasiveness. Its proponents and dictators share a common trait – a belief that a problem can be solved by denying its existence.

The “how” AND the “why”

We are more concerned with the “how”, at the neglect of the “why”.

How is a car made? How do I screw this bolt in? How is this part inspected? How do I polish the metal on the bonnet? How do I install this refrigerator? How do I operate this washing machine?

This disproportionate fixation on the “how” is a hangover of the industrial age. We needed answers in the form of manuals and standard operating procedures. And we put them everywhere – from the smallest watch to the largest refrigerator.

In fact, that is how we treated our jobs as well – with job descriptions and standard operating procedures. We wrote down how people should walk into work at 8 AM, should screw on widgets for 4 hours, should break for lunch at 12 and go home at 5 PM.

But we are moving on from this era. The best way to screw on widgets today is radically different from how it was done yesterday. Tomorrow, humans may no longer screw on widgets.

We could keep our operating manuals and our operating procedures. That is the still the quickest way to start somebody off on a new assignment. But along with the “how” in the manual, we also need to include a “why”.

How do you teach high school students?
So that they can do well on standardized tests.

Because these tests are the best measure of aptitude we have to admit them to college.

How do you cook burnt eggplant?
Expose it to direct flame on the stove for five minutes while rotating it

So that it acquires a smoky taste

Humans are creatures of habit and logic. Giving them just the “how”, recognizes only the former and doesn’t acknowledge the human ability to reason. In this manner, education has degraded to make standardized tests an end in themselves, often at the cost of imparting useful learning.

Specifying the “why” tells people the reason. It respects their logical abilities. It recognizes that in the absence of a direct flame, they could cook the eggplant in an oven to induce a smoky taste.I

In a world that is changing rapidly, people who are concerned merely with the “how” would be the first to be displaced.

A writing analogy

Writing is like stacking Jenga blocks on top of each other.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

The first sentence in a paragraph is the premise. Every following sentence supports, clarifies or illustrates the premise. Sentences, paragraphs, sections and chapters pile up to construct the author’s main point. It is all about stacking!

When your tower is small, it is easier to manage. It is easier to add an additional block. But when your tower is big, you have to be careful and purposeful about every additional block. A paragraph about an idea is quick and easy. Every additional paragraph requires a non-linear amount of time for it to all hold together.

The analogy runs deep. With Jenga, as with writing, you have an objective. You know how to build towards it. But you build as you go. It is more about creating a tower, and less about constructing it. There is no blueprint.

And if they both do not feel like playing a game, you are doing them wrong.

The bookstore test

In which field should you pursue your career?

This question is difficult to answer regardless of how old you are. Several of us try to avoid this question and go about our lives by pushing it to the back of our heads. But there it remains, ticking like a time bomb.

The only way to diffuse this bomb is to answer the question. And it is never too late to do it. But how do you answer it?

You could try the bookstore test. Head to a large bookstore. Once you are there, imagine that the store is closed and you are locked inside for the rest of the night. When that happens, which section of the bookstore do you head towards? Which titles does your hand reach out for?

A bookstore has limited shelf space. Its sections ought to be relevant enough to have a regular supply of titles. At your disposal are an assortment of substantial topics (worth writing a book about) that are in demand (worth putting on their shelves).

Inclination, substance and market value. Could there be better prerequisites for a field to pursue your career in?

Inspiration: Lousie Karch via What Color is Your Parachute – Richard Bolles

The case for universal health insurance

Systems flow down slopes determined by their incentives.

With insurance, the incentive is to prevent disease. Insurers make money when their clients stay out of hospitals. In Germany, where everybody has insurance, I have seen this in action. One could reduce their insurance premium through regular visits to the gym or by clocking 10,000 steps a day on a fitness tracker.

For health care providers, the opposite is true. Hospitals and doctors make money when patients walk in thorough their doors in search of a cure. Even at an unconscious level, providers are likely to push their patients towards a cure – by administering tests, recommending surgery and prescribing pills.

I am not blaming doctors and hospitals here. Nor am I praising health insurers. It is just that they are positioned on opposite ends of a road that every patient traverses. A road where prevention is better than cure. Insurers walk downhill on this road, while healthcare providers trudge uphill.

Universal health insurance makes it easier for an entire country to put prevention ahead of cure.

Between the real and the artificial

We hear often that we ought to live in the present moment. What does living in the present moment mean?

Our species evolved as tribes of hunter and gathers in the jungle, tens of thousands of years ago. Every minute of our lives, we had to pay attention to our surroundings – a rustle in the bush, some water in the horizon, a bright red berry behind the foliage, an approaching thunderstorm, the length of days, the change of seasons. Each of these events had a profound effect on our lives. It was in this backdrop that our organs, our hormones, our feelings and our behaviour evolved.

In that era, every human lived in the present moment – there was no other choice. It was a survival skill. Anybody who drifted off from the present moment was dead sooner than they could snap out of their trance. It was an era of survival of the present. Merely the present.

Therefore, paying attention to the present moment – to what was real here and now, was our natural state. We had sharp senses. Our lives were filled with excitement. However, it wasn’t all good. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was fraught with fear and struggles. Living through every single day was a victory.

At some point, our fear got the better of us. We responded to the fear by seeking safety in in artificial constructs that distracted us from the real world. Safety in numbers. Safety in civilization. We started off by drawing in caves. With writing, we leaped forward by giving our thoughts a form that can be transmitted without losses. From one person to another. From one generation to another.

Fast forward to today – all our constructs are artificial – money, educational degrees, companies, religion, nations, the law. All these things exist only in our mind or on paper. Yuval Harari mentions how the company Peugeot, does not exist in the real world. It is simply an abstraction that exists on paper – in our minds. The moment we shred those papers, and people forget about Peugeot, it ceases to exist. A tree that we pass by on our way to work is quite different. Even if all human beings disappear, this tree would continue to stand tall and green.

We do not recognize the illusions we have created because we are steeped in them like fish in water. From masters of living and engaging with reality, we have turned into masters of simulation. Masters of verisimilitude. Think about the word verisimilitude – the appearance of being true or real. There are few words that can better describe our present state.

And yet, we all crave for the thrill of the jungle. We long to feel “alive”. We simulate this thrill in the form of computer games, sports, treks, ultra-marathons and other endeavours that fuel the thrill we once felt as we roamed the Savannah. These simulations attempt to create the thrill while avoiding the fear of living in our natural state.

But an animal removed from its natural state suffers. Sure, animals in zoos live longer in the safety of their cages. But they suffer from strange illnesses – illnesses of the mind, illnesses of the imagination. Illnesses of the lack of imagination.  The departure from their natural state makes them depressed.

We humans are condemned to dance between these two worlds – the natural one in which we have evolved and the artificial one which we have constructed.

When less is more

Ever wondered why movies often don’t live up to their books?

We are surrounded by noise. The daily news is a great example. How many of the several thousands news headlines and articles have had a significant impact on your life?

The essentialist gleans the essence from this noise. From the cryptocurrency hype, she realizes what blockchain technology means for our future. From Elon Musk’s farting unicorn, touchy diver friend and penchant for lighting joints on podcasts, she infers how fame, the limelight and a twitter account can be self-destructive.

Writers are essentialists. Stephen King talks about how writers have an advantage over film-makers in telling the same story. When portraying a character, a writer learns to supply the four of five most important details and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. He can describe Alex as a lanky, socially awkward math genius. The readers can then fill in the gaps. They can give Alex a face, imagine what he wears and how he walks. My idea of how Harry Potter looked was quite different from yours before the movies came out. JK Rowling enrolled both of us into her creation.

This is where film-makers lose out to writers. The film-maker is forced to cast an actor and fill in all the blanks. He cannot conspire with the audience to create these characters. Thereby, he induces some noise along with the essence of the story he is portraying. Like Daniel Radcliffe’s face.

Essentialism is an craft. Writing can help you sharpen it.

When you don’t have enough time

What do you not have enough time for? For exercising regularly? For writing that book you always wanted to? For learning how to swim?

What if we reframe that statement? What if every time we say “we don’t have time for X”, we say instead, “X is not high enough on my priorities”. Because those two statements are equivalent.

How does it feel to make that substitution? Does that feel right? Or do you sense some conflict?

By stating that we don’t have enough time, we let ourselves off the hook. Somehow, it isn’t our fault anymore that we do not pursue something. Somehow, our busyness and external conditions conspire to prevent us from doing these things.

Instead, by saying something is not high enough on our priorities, we take responsibility. We recognize that it isn’t as important as we think. Or at least, we do not treat it that way. We realize that inaction is a choice we make.

Because what we do with our time is our choice. Isn’t it?

Using survivorship bias to our benefit

Everybody these days seems to have their mantra for success – ideal morning routines, the perfect breakfast, the best way to make money from cryptocurrency trading, the process to write, self-publish and market your own novel. Essentially, a tonne of motivational drivel with the following modus operandi:

  1. I have tried this and it has worked for me
  2. I am rich
  3. Let me show how it can work for you
  4. Give me your money

The survivorship bias has a good laugh at the expense of these pitches and the good folks who part with their monies.

Most ventures fail.  We only hear about the successful ones. And why they succeed is never clear. The reasons could be different from what their founders fervously believe. They could have been lucky.  Their formula might not work for people in different circumstances. And we all have different circumstances.

This comic from xkcd sums it up the best.

Survivorship Bias

Source: xkcd.com

I’ve seen quite a lot said about the survivorship bias, its drawbacks and its pitfalls. But what are its advantages?

We call some wisdom “timeless” – things that grow stronger and more prominent with the passage of time. It is telling how stoic philosophy from ancient Greece is prominent in the NFL and Silicon Valley today. The entire world has adopted yoga now.

These works are said to have stood the test of time. But what does that “test” entail? And what happens to works that fail this test?

The test of time ensures that works that are rife with survivorship bias do not make it to the next generation of readers. Nearly every generation since the invention of writing has had more stuff to read than the previous generation. The old is stamped out and replaced by the new. Nevertheless, timeless wisdom survives and grows stronger. It ages in reverse.

A work’s lifespan eliminates the noise associated with the survivorship bias. That motivational speaker who is an overnight success might sell books today. But he would most likely be gone in thirty years.

We can use the age of a particular work as a measure of its universality. In the words of Nicholas Taleb, if a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years.

This simple thumb rule encourages us to dig deeper into the past, to eliminate the noise that surrounds us in present times.

Further reading: The Lindy Effect

The things around us

One of the paradox of our digital times is that physical books sales have been on the rise.

I made the shift to digital about 5 years ago. At some point I owned no physical books. Every book I wished to read was part of my Kindle library. I could carry them anywhere. In recent times though I have started collecting physical books again. I got out and buy the best books that I read and stack them where I can see them.

Staying around these books makes me feel good. Looking at them reminds me of what they taught me. Of how they made me feel as I flipped through their pages. At times I consciously remember what I have read. At other times, they speak to my unconscious mind. Their presence influences my behaviour and my mental state. A picture or a digital copy cannot replace their physical presence.

Our surroundings give us the opportunity to be purposeful about how we decorate them. The inanimate objects on our desks and our walls pull strings in our brains – a few conscious ones and mostly unconscious ones.

Some people choose to display weapons in their house – swords, shields and guns. Some cultures celebrate the ownership and the display of weapons. By making guns widespread and easy to acquire, we reinforce their associations in our minds every single day.

What we display on our walls and our desks is a choice we can make. As individuals and as a society.

Loving the plateau

While learning a new skill, in the first few weeks there is rapid improvement with effort invested. We improve every hour, every day at a rate which we can easily perceive. This keeps us motivated.

But after a few weeks, we reach a stage where incremental improvement seems no longer as easy. This is the point where most people give up and do not push further. Some people call this the plateau. Seth Godin calls it the dip. Regardless of its name, it separates the dilettantes from the masters.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. 
After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” – Zen koan

The plateau can be discouraging. After months of practice, it can seem as if we are stagnant. On bad days, it can even seem like moving backwards. We maybe reasonably good at playing the guitar or at swimming. But even hours of practice does not help us break out of our mediocrity.

This feeling of discouragement and exasperation arises due to a focus on the result – on the end product. The key is to attend to the process instead. What are the nuances of a song you play on the guitar? Where are the space between the notes? Can you play it at twice the original tempo? Or at half the tempo? Can you divide your swimming strokes into its elements and learn to perfect each element – how long your arm extends, how symmetric your stroke is on both sides, how high your head breaches the water’s surface as you breathe.

As Terry Laughlin, the world-class swim coach says, when we keep at something and show up regularly, improvement happens at the cellular level.  After a certain period, this improvement consolidates and surfaces to our conscious knowledge, appearing as a leap of capability.

After hours of playing chess games, certain positions on the board seem to feel right. After hours of swimming, one day, we are able to swim a kilometer without much effort. But these leaps happen to those who embrace the process, love the plateau and keep their faith.

It happens to those who chop wood and carry water everyday.

Where artistic inspiration comes from

How do prolific artists create so often? Where do they source their ideas from?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was off on a beach vacation with his family. Midway, he stopped his car and turned around. For two decades, he had been trying hard to formulate a tale of a large family in a small village. Now, he could see it spring to life before him. “It was so ripe in me,” he would later recount, “that I could have dictated the first chapter, word by word, to a typist.”

Stephen King talks about the source for his own ideas, and how they come out of nowhere:

“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky… Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

But what does this mean for artists everywhere? Does inspiration only strike a gifted few people?

King’s quote implies that everybody is an artist. Everybody’s brain is wired in a unique manner to observe patterns and formulate ideas. The artist’s job isn’t to look for ideas, but learn to acknowledge them when they appear. Everybody has access to ideas, but the best artists among us translate those bursts of inspiration into art through tens of thousands of hours of practice.

Further, we realize that our ideas are handed to us by forces we do not consciously control.  There is humility in realizing that “our best ideas happen to us”, rather than having the notion that “we come up with our best ideas.”

What is gifted to us is inspiration, personified by authors as their “muse”. What is in our grasp is our practice. Our work. Here’s Stephen King again, talking about the relationship between the two.

“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer station. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor… He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life.”

Ask not where new inspiration ought to come from. Ask what you have done with it thus far.

Inspiration: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

A writing revolution – 2

What is the human brain good at doing? And what are its blind spots?

We are able to recognize a cow standing on a field, or identify a tree by looking at its leaves. We can feel the rain on our skin, and understand another person’s pain by looking at their face.

Further, we can traverse a variety of natural environments with our hands and legs. We can walk, run, jump, climb and swim within in the first few years of our lives. We are built to explore the world. There are few species of multi-cellular organisms that are as widespread on the planet as we are.

While these tasks may seem simple to us, it is hard to get a machine to identify cows, climb mountains or recognize other people’s pain. That is why we click on panels in a picture that contain a billboard to prove that we aren’t a robot.

And what are our blind spots?

For starters, there are math concepts. We aren’t natural adders, subtractors or multipliers (of numbers at least). We use written symbols (+, – and x) to understand and communicate these operations. At the same time, we aren’t great at understanding the scientific rules and constructs that explain the world around us. This is because these are man-made constructs. There are no mathematical symbols in the real world, unlike the smell of the rain, the sight of a rainbow or the croak of a frog. We have invented them. They are our “abstractions”.

We live in a very abstract world from the ones our ancestors inhabited. That is why it takes about 15 years of schooling and at least 3 years of college education to eke out a living.

Writing is our oldest tool in recording and making sense of abstraction. The moment something is written down, it achieves a form, just like a cow or a tree does. When we see the “+” symbol, we know what it means because we have added for several years now. It is hard to solve a hard math problem without pen and paper and it is telling that the first use of writing was to keep track of harvested grains.

The eras before humans wrote are called “pre-historic”. The invention of writing is the historian’s big-bang. For about 70,000 years of existence, we could not write for 65,000. Only around 1960, did we have a world with more literate people than illiterate people.

Therefore, learning to write well is a skill as important and fundamental as mathematics or science. It forms the very basis of these disciplines. While school teaches us to write, it tells us very little about how we write, or what the most effective ways are. Not everyone who is literate can write. In writing, we have the oldest tool to moving from the knowledge that surrounded us to knowledge that we created, synthesized and transmitted. But I’d wager that more people can add numbers than write sentences effectively.

I have said this before, and I will shout it from rooftops – there is room yet for a writing revolution.

Remaining childlike

Retaining one’s childlike fascination is a rare gift.

Looking back at my own childhood, few things engaged me more than computer games. I’ve played a variety of games – I have walked around cities with guns, and lived out the quests of warriors and witches. I have controlled the destiny of cricket and football teams and the careers of their managers. My favourite games were ones  where I gathered and utilized resources to develop civilizations.

While writing the previous paragraph, a mental reel of those virtual worlds played in my head, where I spent a large chunk of my childhood without the slightest realization. What did they do to hold my attention for so many hours?

We are born with a sense of awe for the world around us. Toddlers can spend hours, playing with blocks or the simplest of things – such as sand, water and pebbles. They stare at dogs, birds or a spinning top with wide-mouthed amazement.

And yet, as we grow up, we lose our fascination for the real world. We create virtual worlds, where we synthesize levels, quests, armies and weaponry to captivate us. Can we not pay as much attention to the trees in the garden, the varied shades of their leaves and the exquisite beams of sunlight that pierce through their canopy? Can we not have a sense of wonder for how honey bees dance to communicate the location of a bed of flowers several kilometers away? Can we not be struck by how some species of moths – a creature whose wings are too fragile to hold between our fingers, migrates from North Africa to Britain?

I am not sure what robs us of this amazement. It might be the education system. It might be the need to function in a world that we did not evolve to understand. Or it might just be the process through which humans grow up.

But the geniuses among us retain their childlike awe of the real world. They communicate this wonder through their work as scientists, artists and poets. Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to a friend – “People like you and me never grow old. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.”

From speaking first to speaking second

We are moving from a world of leading from authority to leading by influence.

Leading from authority entails speaking first. To give precise orders and explain the context for their execution. The key is to understand tasks better, break them down and assign them to a person with the right qualification.

Leading by influence requires us to speak second. To listen to the other person – her dreams, ambitions and inclinations, and speak her language. The objective is to understand people, and assign the right task for them.

In the future, we would be leading machines by authority and people by influence.

A hack to provide negative feedback

There is a thin line between honesty and rudeness, even with the best interests.

We are more defensive to negative feedback than we think. Invisible walls unconsciously erect themselves in our minds in the face of criticism. The sharper the criticism gets, the taller those walls become.

And yet, criticism in the best interest of the receiver is often a generous act. How does one deliver it effectively?

In a recent conversation, I was asked:

“I can give you my honest and blunt feedback, or a polite feedback. Which one would you prefer?”

Soon afterwards, I knew that I was speaking to a seasoned negotiator.

Cushioning negative feedback with such a question is more effective than directly delivering it. When asked that question, most people would answer in the affirmative – few people would choose to listen to a polite answer and fool themselves. But by exercising this choice, they are letting their guard down. Whatever criticism flows after that question, they have chosen to receive it.

The cornerstone of good negotiation is to transform the other party from a rival to a collaborator. It is funny how a simple, seemingly redundant question achieves this and helps us deliver constructive criticism.

Conversation Chemistry

How do you make a conversation interesting?

Most conversations are like baking soda. In itself, baking soda is a boring white powder. With a few drops of vinegar though, it bubbles, spurts and gurgles to life. The standard recipe for a primary school science fair is a volcano, with baking soda, vinegar and red food colouring.

Image credits: Ryan Dickey

In conversation, some topics stay superficial and do not elicit more than a standard, canned response. These are the usual questions about the weather, our jobs and how life is in whichever city we live in.

Everybody has unique interests, and through their words and mannerisms, they leave us clues to what these interests are. It is an art to pick up on these hints and direct the conversation one way or the other. The best conversations are onto this clues like sniffer dogs are to a scent.

The standard recipe for an engaging conversation is to gauge what the other person is passionate about, nudge the conversation towards those topics and listen intently. The more attention you pay, the deeper they are likely to delve.

With these ingredients the conversation erupts into life. Just like a volcano in a science fair.

Discarding old habits

Several of our habits spark regret and resentment. We wish to be free of them – to discard them. And yet, this isn’t easy.

Everybody has a favourite jacket from the past – one that served us well. We used this jacket for several years against biting cold and niggling drizzles. It accompanied us through cherished moments, which have rubbed off on it. But now, this jacket is too old – its colour has faded, its zipper doesn’t work well, and its lower left pocket has a hole.

Even though we know that the jacket ought to be discarded, translating this into action isn’t easy. We are attached to it. It continues to hang in the wardrobe, seldom used, along with other clothes.

Most regretful behaviours – getting outraged when our plans do not work out, blurting out something inappropriate or drinking more than we would wish to, are learned.  Somewhere in the past, often stretching back to our childhood, they helped us cope with a difficult situation. That is why they exist in the first place.

They are the old jackets in our closet.

Resentment and suppression stows them away in the cupboards of our brain. And sure enough, the next time we open these doors, they spring out.

The easiest way to let go of our old things is to thank them. Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant, suggests that we pick up the old jacket, thank it by speaking out loud and discarding it respectfully. Gratitude gives us closure from guilt and sentiment.

“Thank you, dear jacket. You have served me well.”

This is as true of behaviours and habits we no longer need.

Inspiration: An interview with Gabor Mate

Perfection is fragile

“To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.” – Indian parable.

Behind perfection, there is elaborate planning and preparation – to define every detail in a manner that maximizes our satisfaction. If we wished to cross a thorny field, it is analogous to paving a path with leather at enormous expense and effort.

But several things could go wrong here. The planning fallacy demonstrates that things seldom go according to plan. The more elaborate our plans, the more likely they are to fail. Life is random. The entropy of the universe keeps increasing. It is arrogant to expect the universe to subscribe to the the last detail of our plan.

Besides, once we invest all that effort into creating and crafting perfection, there is no guarantee that it would live up to our expectation. The part of our mind that synthesizes a perfect experience is reinforced when things go according to plan. And when our plans materialize, it starts creating its next plan the next perfect moment. Therefore, the ecstasy of peak moments like winning an Olympic medal, winning an Oscar or publishing a book are short-lived.

Perfection is fragile, because things do not go according to plan. And when they do, they do not live up to our expectations and only trigger other plans.

The alternative is acceptance. To accept the thorns on the road is to recognize them rather than to deny them. To use two small strips of leather and make sandals. To enjoy the journey and experience it as it is, rather than how we wish for it to be.

“The boundary to what we can accept is the boundary to our freedom” – Tara Brach.

Inspiration: The Tyranny of the Perfect Life – Charles Chu