Living Life to its Fullest

Life is complicated. It has its ups, and its downs. In the end, life is always too short. Since we will never have enough time in this world, it makes sense to try to understand how we can live life to its fullest extent.

I recently listened to 3 Hidden Brain podcasts that talked about different concepts surrounding the process of living our lives. They are 3 distinct episodes, that I feel are extremely relevant to working towards living life to its fullest. The episodes discuss getting unstuck, operating in chaos, and living with backup plans.

In this first episode, Shankar Vedantam interviews Dave Evans of Silicon Valley about Design Thinking.

In tech, people will frame a problem, then create multiple solutions to solve this problem. Certain solutions are easier, others are harder. In the end, someone will weigh the opportunity costs, pick a solution, then prototype it and test it. If the solution tests well, then you keep moving forward with that solution. If it does not test well, you re-evaluate and test another prototype. The goal is to fail fast, find the correct solution, then learn from the successes and errors.

Dave Evans discussed how design thinking can be applied to life. At a given moment, you frame your current situation or problem. Based on your situation, you evaluate all of the different options you have, and based on what makes the most sense, you go and try one of the options. If it does not work out, then you pause, evaluate the current situation again, lay out new options, and then go after the one that makes the most sense. The idea is that there is not one “right” answer, but many right answers. One must choose a “right” answer that fits best within one’s costs, benefits, and opportunities.

Another key point that Dave calls out is that sometimes you may not be able to hit an option. This is not for lack of trying, but rather due to a gravity problem. The example he calls out is a man loves music and wants to be a professional musician. This man has a family, and the typical musician makes 15k a year. The gravity problem is that he cannot live off of 15k a year because he has a family. So he decides to continue to lead his economically sound life, while still pursuing his musical passion in his free time. This way he can support his family, and still follow his passion.

Designers prototype different versions of Silicon Valley apps everyday. They test them, then use the one that works the best. To find your optimal life, set up a series of experiments and test out which is your best life. Throughout life, there is not one right job or one right decision, there are many that exist. Identify what the decisions are, see what you can try, test it, and commit to it or move on. This helps you get unstuck. With design thinking, one needs to fail early and often.

In this next episode Shankar Vedantam discusses with economist and writer Tim Harford about people underestimating the value of disorder.

Tim discusses the factors that contributed to The Köln Concert. Keith Jarrett was a famous jazz pianist in 1975, and he was scheduled to play at the Opera House in Cologne. When he arrived, he found that the piano was unplayable. There was no tune, the black keys would get stuck, and it was too small for the full volume to reach the back of the auditorium. He refused to play. The concert organizer scrambled to try to fix the piano, but she could not. She begged Jarrett to still perform the concert. Jarrett told her “Never forget. Only for you,” and decided to play the concert anyways because he did not want to let this girl down, and he did not want to disappoint the 1,400 person audience that was about to arrive.

Jarrett and his producer decided to record the concert as proof to promoters that Jarrett could play in any condition. What ended up happening was a masterpiece. Jarrett had to make adjustments to cope with the horrible piano; he avoided the harsh upper registers and stuck with the middle of the keyboard. He had to compensate for the quieter piano with rolling repetitive rifts in the base and had to pound on the keys. The result of the chaos was one of the musician’s greatest pieces. The unplayable piano yielded chaos, which materialized beauty.

Another moment of chaos that Tim cited was Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Martin Luther King Jr. had something written for his speech to keep the Civil Rights activists calm and focused, but he could feel how safe and dry his speech was. In the middle of his speech, he went off script and impromptuly delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech with raw emotion and passion. One cannot plan passion nor emotion. The chaos brought out one of the best speeches known to mankind.

Start at 11:10 for when he goes off-script. It starts with “Go back to Mississippi” at 11:35.

While watching the video, note the change in tone of his voice and the response from the crowd. When he goes off script at 11:35, the passion in his voice and in the crowd thrive with the chaos.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech further demonstrates how chaos and spontaneity can create the best memories and moments in life.

The final podcast that is relevant to living life to its fullest is regarding backup plans.

Having a Plan B can create a security blanket for what you are doing, or who you are with, but it can ultimately keep you from fully committing or appreciating what you are going after. It ends up keeping you from fully focusing on your Plan A.

Having a Plan B is different than Design Thinking mentioned earlier. Design Thinking encourages finding multiple plans and testing them. If one plan fails, then you re-evaluate your current position and develop new (or reuse) plans to test. You do not necessarily go in with Plan A and ditch to a Plan B in the midst of Plan A. This means that when you do something, you must commit to it and go after it, and live it to it’s fullest extent.

All the episodes come together to the maxim of keep moving forward.

Things happen in life. Great people, poor jobs, amazing memories, and horrible catastrophes are all part of the game.

The getting unstuck podcast teaches how to evaluate several opportunities, then ultimately dive into one. The chaos podcast describes how in the midst of an opportunity, everything can fall apart and seem like a mess, but in reality, the chaos can create something better than was originally imagined. Finally, the Plan B podcast shows that having a backup plan can actually cause one to not fully commit and live the current opportunity. The worst thing someone can do is get stuck in an indecision loop that prevents progress.

The evidence above boils down to 2 points:

  1. Live life to its fullest extent
  2. Keep moving forward

A previous post that I wrote about how to Always Look Forward highlights the mentaility that all of these concepts point towards. The video that inspired that post is very moving.

Key Takeaways: Life is short, so live it to its fullest extent. Design thinking can help you get unstuck, chaos can create greatness, and backup plans can cause you to miss out on your current opportunity. In the end, live life, and keep moving forward.

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