Life lesson

One of the biggest reasons I started this blog was to leave something for my son to read. I believe when he gets to the age that would even bother to consider some of these things, I would probably be too old to communicate with him effectively or simply be dead by then.

Also, I have always been asked by my friends what is the purpose of this blog. I write something on entrepreneurship, something on life, and many others purely random. But there is a theme I am trying to get to. And by keep writing, I feel like I am slowing getting towards that goal. Oh, if you finish reading this, you would appreciate goal is not the point, it’s about doing… but anyways…

This piece is an example of what I am trying to do.

Self-help is a big topic. Most books in a bookstores (physical or virtual) are somehow related to self-help. I hate this term. It feels like some con artists taking advantages of the vulnerable ones. And one of the biggest propellants of self-help is the startup industry. Somehow, most articles in the startup circle are not able business, but they are about purpose, meaning, success, being nice, and all the other crap that one would find in a self-help book.

And worst, these messages are captured in short blogs and videos that give many (vulnerable) readers (yes, startup people are somehow extremely vulnerable and fragile) the wrong perception that these self-help concepts can be achieved by over simplified ideas and steps. If you browse through INC.com, entrepreneur.com, startup grind, or even more traditional media like Forbes, you will see a high number of articles that start with a number – specifically “x ways to achieve y’.

So this is my own take at this – writing an over-simplified life lesson hopefully that would actually be useful. This is in fact the purpose and the theme of this blog, although this could be a perpetual work-in-progress project.

Life lessons

There are only 2 lessons one need to learn about life. One is a fact and one is about us.

  1. “Most of us are going to have a very average life, by any standard. We won’t be much of anything, just going through the motion of …. life. In fact, some of us are guaranteed to be failure.”

This is not supposed to be a sentimental message, nor is it supposed to sound pessimistic (or optimistic because there is a spin at the end). This is fact. This is statistics. We are represented by normal distribution. No matter how we define success, success is by definition a system of comparison. Success is about being ‘better’ than others. If I am number 1, that means someone is number 2. And we all celebrate success. Actually, we are all suckers for success. If success is not about comparing with others, than there is no reason to define success in the first place.

Some may say, this is not right, we should all have our own purpose and benchmark against ourselves only. This is the biggest myth in the self-help industry. We don’t live in solitude (hopefully we don’t) and as long as we continue to be social animals, that’s what success is going to be defined. This is how the world works. It is about comparison and this is the root of inequality (sorry!). Yes, someone has to be washing the toilets and doing crap work. It would be hypocritical to say these are the purposes of those people.

So admit to this is the first step. Self-help book, and the startup industry, has been promoting this myth that everyone can be successful (whilst themselves trying to distinguish against others as the best self-help book or the next startup guru). NO. Very few people can be successful. Most people are extremely average and a good portion is just outright disaster.

2. “What to do when we don’t know what to do”

Now that we have set up the right foundation, we can finally get to what we can do. So here is the deal. Yes, most of us are going to be extremely average (by any standard) and some are destined to fail. But the key is, we don’t know who is who, i.e. who is going to win and who is going to suck. We won’t know until the day we die (well, this sounds a bit strange, when we die we won’t know/care… but I mean the ‘world’ would know…). It’s really impossible to measure success until one die (suicide is a topic for another day). You can do really well early and suck at the end, or vice versa, or any combinations. You just don’t know. Judging yourself or others before they die is simply jumping too early to the conclusion. Even God judge us after we die. So don’t try to overplay God.

Living life is about looking forward, judging life is about looking backward. And there is nothing much to judge when you are still alive. Oh, yes, there could be more disasters to come in your life and you could end up being one of the most miserable human beings in history. Yes, there is actually a chance of that. But you would never know. No one knows. That’s the point.

Some may say, why bother if I don’t now? Well, that’s actually part of the answer. Many people strive for certainty. The so called financial freedom is an example of this type of (illusive) certainty. But certainty is the only thing that is not certain in this world. Uncertainty, on the other hand, is certain. We simply don’t know what the hell is going to happen next. Sure, if you jump off a building, there is a pretty certain result. But if we are talking about life, we don’t. And this is one of the reasons why we continue to live – to find out what to do when we don’t know what’s going to happen us, for better or for worse.

So the key to life is understanding what to do when we don’t know what to do. Business schools or just about any other life lessons is about teaching you to reach a certain goal. But now knowing that you don’t know what the end goal is going to be like, if there is or should be one, technically you wouldn’t know what to do. And that’s why, life is about finding out what to do when you don’t know what to do.

That’s the life lesson I have been dying (not literally) to tell my son.

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