“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
When Ralph Waldo Emerson first penned the quote above in a notebook, he certainly was not the first to go about putting life into a clever metaphor. People have gone about describing life in a plethora of ways: a journey, a garden (dig it), a story, and so on.
However, over the years none have resonated with me quite as much as Emerson’s. The idea of life existing as an experiment has appealed to me in a number of ways. Three of which, I would love to share with you.
- Minimizes fear of failure
As much as I hate to jump on the romanticizing of failure bandwagon, it certainly has its benefits. Because most of what we fear, as Tim Ferriss likes to point out, is temporary.
And with the view of life as a series of experiments, why should you fear failure? After all, when one experiment is done, its done. The point of an experiment is to learn something- to test a hypothesis.
Most of the time we let our hypotheses go untested for fear that they may be wrong (or even right). This is how confirmation bias culminates, a failure to test our assumptions.
For a long time I have wanted to write a blog post here on Medium. I have withheld out of fear. In school, I never received the best grades on my papers and as a result, I lost confidence in my ability to write well. I have resorted to the comfort of 140 characters out of an assumption that I do not have what it takes to put my ideas into long form, leaving any excess thoughts to my head.
The writing of this post is an experiment of mine. The experiment has its merit regardless of whether my hypothesis is proved right or wrong. The merit lies in learning something new, simply because I tried.
After all, no time to wallow in regret of failure when life’s got more experiments on deck. More hypotheses to be falsified. More assumptions to be tested.
2. Adds a sense of urgency
Not only does looking at life in this sense minimize failure but it quite paradoxically increases urgency as well. Emerson’s quote ends with, “the more experiments you make the better.” Why should I wait till next year to start a new experiment? Why should I wait until tomorrow? Time spent without experimentation is dead time.
What does life as an experiment look like? It means actually living it, not playing it, or studying it, but living it. Emerson’s mentee, Henry David Thoreau, says this better than I could.
“How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics.”- Thoreau
That means putting myself out there in uncomfortable experiences. Experiments of life certainly are not comfortable, because they are not part of our daily routine. Who ever said a life lived to the fullest was a comfortable one?
3. Freedom to choose never expires
Experiments don’t often last a lifetime. When one experiment comes to a close, what’s left to do but choose another one. The fun is that it is never too late to start on a completely new path.
Some of the people I look up to most have vast experience in many areas of life. People like Ben Franklin, Tim Ferriss, Teddy Roosevelt, Elon Musk and Kevin Kelly. None of them were content with pursuing one area of expertise because life has more experiments to offer than that.
Another individual I look up to, Ryan Holiday, calls himself a perpetual drop out (read his blog post about it here.) As Holiday sees it, comfort is a sign that an experiment has come to a close and it is time to start a new one.
After all, what good can come of comfort? Certainly not growth.
The life of an experimenter may not be for everyone. Who knows, maybe I am not cut out for it- a hypothesis only verifiable through experimentation.
Please feel free to share your thoughts!