Why you failed although you had the knowledge to succeed

Last week I had an exam. An exam by life and I completely failed. A simple rejection made me go completely melancholic and life-questioning. I spent nearly two days with the old cliches: „That is so unfair!“, „But I was working so much harder than… .“ „I really wanted that!“. Writing it down now feels so unreal. I must have sounded like a child. It was a major set back for me, because I did work really hard on that and had already planned with it and the rejection did come surprisingly. But still. Not very stoic of me.

It took me a conversation with a good friend and the right podcasts at the right time (I am eighty six percent sure, Tim Ferriss constantly has me watched too aim his content specifically at me) to get my own self back again. It is strange how unaware we are that we act differently when experience different emotional states.

But how could that happen? I read the Seneca, Marc Aurel and the buddhists. „The Obstacle is the Way“ by Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite books. I should have been able to act correctly, and act sovereign in the face of opposition. I had all the knowledge to say: „Obstacle, my dear friend, I embrace you. I will treat you as a way to grow and not be agitated by you!“. I should have invited Mara to tea, as the buddhists like to refer to this.

So why did I fail?

The keyword in this last paragraph is knowledge. Definitely the most dangerous word in all of education and learning. Of course I read the stoics, but I haven’t revisited them in a while now. I read „The Obstacle is the Way“, and if someone asks me about it, I can tell them the main message. My brain can give you the theory when asked, but it cannot apply the theory when needed. That difference is literally life changing. Whenever I ask myself if I I knew those things, of course my brain connects me to the things I read and I say yes. But when my brain is too concerned with being agitated, because of some minor problem, it will not connect me to this knowledge. I am too deep in this emotional state to access my „knowledge“.

To actually learn something, you need to connect the theory with an experience. So when a similar experience hits you, your brain connects it with the theory. Theory alone is mostly useless, unless you have a written exam on „how to behave in the face of opposition“. I haven’t taken this one yet. But we all know, that even in written exams we can get overwhelmed by emotional states, like stress, and not be able to access our knowledge.

“What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can get only by practice.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

You have to get in the habit to revisit some of the most important books. Reading them once is useless, unless you need the content for writing. If you need the content for actually using, once is not enough. On a side note, you have to accept that you will fail from time to time, but that is another story.

For me that means, revisiting „The Obstacle is the Way“, and maybe get in the habit to read a bit of „Meditations” each week, so I will maybe one day act fearless in the face of danger.

Similar to Game of Thrones, where I have to revisit the old episodes in March to be able to follow the plot again, I have to revisit my most important teachings from time to time, so I am able to follow my own plot again. Although I think my life is not nearly as complicated as Game of Thrones.