“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
In the last several years I have been playing catchup, seemingly crossing the chasm from superficiality back to substance. I say back to substance simply because of the context within which I was operating — I have been a brand owner, agency lead and consultant in the fashion and influencer marketing brand space.
I will always love the beauty, innovation and aesthetic of fashion design. I will always adore the creative, imaginative aspects of the industry. I will always love “fly swag.” I still go absolutely gaga for every Olivier Rousteing post on Instagram as he details his behind the scenes work at Balmain. I still hang on every word that Anna Wintour says when she is interviewed. I can wax poetic for hours about the exploits of Hubert Givenchy as if it was required knowledge.
But fashion isn’t exactly known as a bastion of intellectual depth. The surface, the glitz, the glamour, vanity and unabated hedonism is still the primary mode within which it operates.
Along the path of necessary personal development that has taken place from my late twenties into my mid-thirties, as I have slowly broadened my horizons and found myself exploring new business models, new ventures, new interests and pursuits, I have been rabidly injecting books into my brain on philosophy, history, business and brain training. It’s almost like I am trying to make up for lost time.
I have always been an avid reader — this was something that I never lost. I found myself so personally comforted when I discovered that Ryan Holiday was a former director of marketing for American Apparel. I have such profound respect for him as a thinker and as an author. Apparently, it is possible to be an intellectual and be a fashion marketer!
One of the books that I found to be of great insight along my journey is Antifragile by the economist and esteemed author Nassim Taleb. You may remember him from his famous 2007 masterpiece The Black Swan.
Anti-Fragile was written in 2012, but remains as apt and relevant as it was the date it was published. Especially now as we are seemingly in the midst of a mental health epidemic that I sometimes liken to being in a futuristic zombie apocalypse. These are strange times, punctuated by the crazed stream-of-consciousness tweets from President Trump that only serve to underline exactly what I am talking about.
What is anti-fragility?
We all know smart, capable people and companies and organizations that thrive when things are going well — but absolutely fall apart the minute the winds of adversity blow their way. The thing is, the winds of adversity are ever-blowing, so we do need mental models and frameworks to help prepare us for inevitable hardship, and not just maintain composure, but actually get stronger.
I treasure counter-intuitive thinking because it forces us out of our comfort zone and makes us more powerful. In another post I wrote glowingly about the famed I Wish You Suffering Nietzsche quote from Will To Power, knowing full well how polarizing and divisive his thoughts on perseverance have to proved to be over time.
Some people were shocked and flummoxed and abjectly refused to critically think and grapple with my post —while yet other people were overjoyed and impressed by the intellectual exercise it presented, keenly aware that Nietzsche is talking about the need for resilience and strength in the face of the myriad challenges that life throws your way.
I have learned over the course of my life that it is best to lean in and embrace randomness and adversity — like really fucking enjoy it — because obstacles are going to appear, constantly. Forever.
Life doesn’t get easier as we get older — we simply get more experienced, more resilient, more able to roll up our sleeves, grit our teeth and push through. Unlike everything you have been socialized to believe, the natural order of the universe is chaos and disorder. No matter how much money you acquire, or how large your group of friends and family, or how perfect your body gets from exercising at the gym, the universe eventually reverts us back to the mean — you will lose a pile of money, your social circle will get smaller and you will feel loneliness, and your body, one day, will fail you.
How will you react when life throws a boulder in your path? Who are you going to be when the chips are down and the going gets tough?
I highly recommend that you read Antifragile along your path to developing a thicker skin for the road ahead.