An Idea Worth Sharing

In the spirit of TED, here’s an idea worth sharing. 

One of the big criticisms I heard in the hallways about the speeches was that they offered well-articulated problems, but few, if any, practical solutions.

Part of this is isn’t really the speaker’s fault; 15 minutes just isn’t that much time to talk about a complex problem.

But, I’d argue that part of this is because of a core element of human psychology. In general, humans are great at spotting problems, but not as great at identifying realistic solutions that can actually improve the situation as a whole.

It’s not enough to bitch about the evils of capitalism. Capitalism has succeeded in a ton of important ways where other systems have failed, so you must propose a different economic system that would get us the big benefits of capitalism with less downside. (And, spoiler alert: in this example, communism or socialism is not the answer.)

There were a few talks that got standing ovations that kind of surprised me. It was puzzling, really. The speaker had basically just gotten up there and bitched for 15 minutes without providing any way out. It was well-articulated bitching, to be sure, but bitching nonetheless.

Bitching is so easy (I’m doing it right now).

I think the solution is to have more speeches like Hugh Herr’s, who lost both of his legs to frostbite. Instead of giving a 15 minute talk titled “Losing Your Legs Absolutely Sucks,” he laid out a vision of how prosthetic limbs should be built in the future. And he didn’t stop with arms and legs. He wants to eventually build prosthetic wings for humans too. Like bat wings. So humans can fly.

I’ll just go ahead and repeat that: a real person who lost both of his legs decided that instead of bitching and collecting an insurance check, he was going to eventually invent bat wings that humans can install into their bodies so that they can fly like bats. 

So, what’s my idea worth sharing? Complaining without suggesting a solution is just bitching.

Why You Should Get Good At Being Miserable

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Humans tend to run towards pleasure and away from pain.

Unfortunately, life has a sick sense of humor and many of its big rewards require lots of short-term suffering. A great career, good health, a big pile of money - those things things usually require us to do not-fun things today in exchange for more fun in the future.

But, we often opt for comfort in the short-term instead of creating long-term value.

Our love of short-term pleasure is tragic. Think:

  • How many great books haven’t been written because the would-be author couldn’t suck it up and be lonely for a few weeks?
  • How many great companies haven’t been started because the would-be founder couldn’t handle short-term uncertainty?
  • How many great ideas are forever lost inside people who’d rather not be a target of criticism?
  • How many of our 10-year-old selves would find our current selves to be cowards?

Too often, our culture holds “balance” as a virtue without being realistic about how much further a less-balanced version of ourselves might go.

We’re told to avoid things that make us unhappy, because, duh, who wants to be unhappy?

Consider the following (real) Glassdoor summary of a very popular tech company in San Francisco:

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The reviewers are essentially saying, “this place has horrendous leadership, communication, and hours, but they have tons of free snacks.”

Taken further, “even a situation like this is less miserable than finding another job or trying to start my own thing.”

That’s how much we want to minimize suffering: we’ll trade our dreams for sandwiches.

In a world in love with comfort, being good at being miserable is a superpower. 

As the wonderful Steven Pressfield once observed:

“The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

Opinion I Don’t Share Often But Will Share Here Because Barely Anybody Reads This And So The Hate Mail Is Likely To Be Manageable

I believe that the following quote will sound patently absurd a few hundred years from now when we have a more complete understanding of neuroscience and our own biology:

"I look at all the emotions I'm feeling, which are anticipation, exhilaration, focus, confidence, fun, and fear. Then I take fear and say, ‘well, how much priority am I going to give this? I really want to do this.’ I put it where it belongs.”
- Excerpt from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans

Our emotions are largely the result of chemical reactions. In the future, it will sound crazy to say something like "I put fear where it belongs." Instead, we'll have more precise language, and say things like "my x levels surpassed my y levels momentarily, which caused me to do z."

We already say things like "my adrenaline was pumping," and I believe this will only get more and more precise as our knowledge (and vernacular) expands.

I don't mean to say that how we speak about our emotions today isn't insightful or useful (it's all we've got!), only that it will evolve dramatically and that the romantic will be replaced by the scientific.

This opinion ties directly into my belief that free will is an illusion, but I'll save that for another email!