We tell the young to live fully and the old to accept death. We’d find less boredom, fear, and cowardice in both generations if we did the opposite.
A surprising property of personality: it is exponential, not linear. Two charming people are four times more charming than one person. Three boring people are eight times more boring than one person. Ten funny people are more than a thousand times funnier than one person (e.g. The Simpsons’ writing room, 1992-1998).
Therefore, you and I have two opportunities to create incredible value in the world. First, we can connect great people. Second, we can prevent not-great people from connecting with each other!
We celebrate those who excel at the former, because their successes are visible. However, the latter are rarely recognized, and never rewarded. We sweep them into disgraceful obscurity alongside QA testers, effective policy makers, and all other professions that successfully prevent disasters from ever occurring (and thus cannot be praised for their foresight). Yet they are no less heroic. No less vital to our collective progress as a species.
So let’s take a moment to raise our glasses to the disconnectors, our unsung protectors, preventing our nation’s idiots from stumbling into one other.
The assignment is due soon. The emails are gathering, the noisy horde at the gates. You are getting older.
And yet, you sit and stare at the screen and feel that old tug in the gut. Get up. Goof off.
The puritans among us would have you not delay.
Forget them. Procrastination is not a vice, it’s a signal.
Perhaps you are not prepared to complete the assignment.
Perhaps your work doesn’t excite you.
Perhaps your work does excite you, but right now your brain needs a break.
Perhaps you should be spending time with close friends, or reading and gathering ideas, or asking the boss for more context, or raising your heart rate on a jog around the lake.
Don’t rush to a reason. Don’t even jump from your seat, not yet. Just listen. Procrastination is usually the answer, it’s just a matter of figuring out the right question.
There are two types of knowledge: know-what and know-how. Know-what concerns itself with facts and conclusions. Know-how concerns itself with processes and techniques.
Know-what is memorizing a multiplication table. Know-how is multiplying any two numbers on demand. Know-what is recalling the events of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Know-how is reading that book, or any book.
Know-what tends to be specific, time-bound, theoretical, and context-sensitive. Know-how tends to be broad, timeless, practical, and durable. Know-what can usually be understood within a few intense hours of study. Know-how takes a lifetime to comprehend; it is more accurate to say that know-how resists comprehension, and is instead a daily refinement of imperfect understanding, an endless study. Know-what can exit the brain within hours. Once set, know-how settles in the marrow.
Formal education’s role is solely to train know-how. Know-what should be self-directed.
Unfortunately, outside of a few subjects (mathematics, elementary grammar, athletics), most education systems get this exactly backwards.
If starving, we’ll eat anything.
If presented with an endless buffet, we’ll eat only what we already like – and usually too much of it.
Ironically, when it comes to advice about healthy eating, it works same way. Too much information is just as dangerous as none. We don’t know how to choose.
To navigate the buffet:
- Search for a person who’s been through the line before, and ask them for recommendations
- Take only small portions
Better than a buffet is a restaurant, with an expert chef that you know and trust.
Better than a restaurant is experimenting in your own kitchen.
The hedonic treadmill describes our tendency to return to a baseline level of happiness (or curmudgeonliness) shortly after events we thought would bring us lasting joy: that new Tesla, that condo with the view, that promotion (long overdue, really).
We are less familiar with, yet no less afflicted by, the prognostic treadmill:
Our tendency to return to a level of confidence in our predictive ability, shortly after events that confirm our inability to make predictions: failure to reach last year’s growth targets, global economic recessions, populist upheavals.
“I hate hearing my own voice.”
One of our most common insecurities. And so we cringe from microphones and cameras.
We tend to perceive our voice – it’s pitch, timbre, cadence, range – as a natural extension of our identity. The cliche says that eyes are the window to the soul, but our voice is its ambassador to the world. When we listen to ourselves speak, we also hear every nagging dread we harbor about our character, that we aren’t adventurous or charismatic or talented or resilient enough.
My favorite story from Derek Sivers’ essential memoir Anything You Want recalls a lesson from his voice coach at the start of his music career. His coach would ask him to sing a song as written. Then, sing again, an octave higher. Then an octave lower.
“Then he’d make me sing it twice as fast. Then twice as slow. Then like Bob Dylan. Then like Tom Waits. Then he’d tell me to sing it like it’s 4 a.m. and a friend woke me up.
…After all of this, he’d say, ‘Now, how did that song go again?’”
What we think of as “our” voice, our singular, unique voice is one of many possible voices we can choose from each day. Our voice is not our Self, any more than our wardrobe.
And as we train the voice, we must train the soul. An octave higher, an octave lower.
You find The Economist dry, and professional sports viciously dull. And yet:
To the geopolitically minded, European football is thrilling when you dissect the chaotic allegiances and disquieting economic subtext of championship play.
During the cold months, football is played in professional leagues hosted within an individual country. England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, etc. Each team within these leagues is composed of an international set of players. Due to the lack of salary restrictions, the teams with the most money are able to buy the best players from across the world. And since soccer is the world’s most popular sport, well-performing teams make a lot of money.
“Money, you say?” I said money. And thus these clubs attract the attention and ownership stakes of wealthy scions in the middle east, Russian oil barons, and British globo-capitalists, who have amassed fortunes so large that luxury items are incapable of holding their interest; they seek a higher calling: alpha status among their billionaire bros.
The result is that professional soccer becomes an endless proxy war between the world’s shadow plutocracy, competing for returns on their investment dollars with hired mercenary armies of wiry kickers.
Then, the twist.
Each summer, the players, these soldiers of fortune, must reorganize themselves. PMCs are disassembled, aggressions temporarily paused, as players form national teams that compete in tournaments for the pride of their countries. Professional allies find themselves national rivals, and vice versa. The most patriotic players’ abilities swell during this period; others, for whom nationalism is an obligation, whose true allegiance is to the Euro, all but fade from view. Football matches become metaphors for regional disputes. Economic power decouples from geopolitical gravity. The strong are humbled, the humbled made mighty. Except, of course, when Germany wins.
Then autumn approaches, and the cycle renews.
This seasonal rotation between the mercenary and the nationalistic, this seesawing hierarchy between the moneyed and the spirited, to my knowledge is unique among human endeavors.
There are four possible reactions to reading or watching the news. I shall describe the appropriate response to each outcome.
1. “I didn’t understand this before, and I still don’t.”
Bummer. Perhaps this topic was too complex for the author to effectively capture. You might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic, should you wish to better understand. Stop reading the news.
2. “I didn’t understand this before, now I do.”
No, you don’t. You might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic, should you wish to better understand. Stop reading the news.
3. “I thought I understood before, now I don’t understand at all.”
Hey, you understand! The author effectively captured the irreducible complexity of human nature. Should you wish to deepen your informed perspective, you might consider seeking a handful of books written by people with personal experience in the topic. Continue reading the news, but please exercise caution.
4. “I understood this before, and now I understand better.”
Please, for the safety of those around you, stop reading the news.
Ask someone who has effectively implemented a nutrition plan (perhaps with the goal of enthusiastically removing their shirt on sunny days) about what they cook at home. You’ll find that their favorite recipes are never found in a cookbook. Instead, they are the results of reckless culinary experimentation, cobbled-together remixes of common dishes. The cook rarely knows what to call these Franken-recipes: turkey..thing? Power coffee? These are children with no name.
In the Star Wars universe, students of the Force must build their own lightsaber before they are accepted as Jedi.
Here in the regular wars universe, aspiring masters build their own tools.