A Story On Trusting My Gut

Tobias van Schneider
Desk of van Schneider
5 min readNov 9, 2015

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by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared
on my private email list.

In my last two emails/articles I introduced you to two of my five principles that I mention in the lecture I’ve been giving in the last couple months.

These five principles have guided me through most of my life and career and I always look back to them.

I’ve already written about “Ignore Everybody” and “A Jack of All Trades” in the last week. If you haven’t read them yet, make sure to read them first.

Today we talk about my third principle: Trusting Your Gut

To follow the advice “Trust Your Gut” in todays world seems almost a bit irresponsible. Some would even say it’s bad advice given the amount of data we now posses.

In a world of big data, where everything gets measured, decisions should be data driven. Not driven by your gut — Thats what people say.

But I still believe in trusting my intuition, the same way I believe in magic & love. Things very few people can explain. But let me tell you a short story from my childhood that changed much about how I approach my own lifes decisions.

It was a regular winter deep in the mountains of Austria where I grew up with my mother and 4 siblings. The village was famous for its harsh winters and snow sometimes up to 2 meters high.

At the time, I was 11 years old and loved living in the nature. Every morning I’d get up at 4–5am and get ready for school. This meant putting on my full ski suit and equipped with a flash light, fighting my way through the snow down the mountain. The bus stop on the main road was about 500 meters away, and on average it took me 20min during winter times.

You have to understand that we lived in a far remote place. The bus was some kind of snow mobile bus that picked up the six kids too far away from the regular bus stops.

It was common during winters that there was a high risk of avalanches, but they never happened. Usually after a night of heavy snow fall, my mother would receive a call from the mayors office confirming that it’s save to go down the mountain.

The mountain with the risk of avalanches was just on the opposite of the valley, and the valley was narrow with just one road in the middle (our main road).

If the mayors office confirmed that there is danger of avalanches that day, I had to take a significant detour and avoid the main road and the spot where I get picked up by the bus.

On that particular morning, I was getting ready to head into the darkness. My mother on the phone with the mayors office confirmed that there is no danger of avalanches today.

I remember asking her three times to really make sure there is no risk. She said no, the mayors office said so. It was pitch black with a blizzard raving outside that morning. I was nervous but I did it so many times already, I have never seen anything coming down that mountain anyway, what should happen?

I kissed my mother goodbye, flipped on my flashlight and went down the mountain. I don’t remember much, but halfway through I decided to ignore the mayors (and my mothers) advice and take the detour. I had no particular reason to be honest, but my gut was telling me something.

I remember arriving at school that day without any special events. Three hours later I received a call from my mother in the principals office. She was in tears but relieved to hear my voice, I didn’t know whats wrong.

She told me that this morning, exactly at the time I went down the road an avalanche came down the mountain, the first one in many years.

My usual bus stop was covered in meter high snow, rocks & ripped out trees. If I would have not taken the detour that morning, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Because it was pitch black with a blizzard raving outside, I didn’t even notice the avalanche coming down just meters away while taking my detour. Only in retrospect I remember hearing something, but I couldn’t tell at that moment.

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I still remember this experience until today. And I in particular remember how my mother changed since then. She always supported and believed in me, but especially after that day she told me how happy she was that I ignored her advice. I followed my gut, and she told me I should do it for the rest of my life.

Often times an experience like these is all it needs to establish one of your lives principles.

I’ve read many books that tried to explain how our gut feeling works from a scientific viewpoint. There are many explanations, but we still can’t put our finger on it.

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
- Albert Einstein

I chose to believe in gut feeling. I believe it has a place in our decision making process, the same way as collecting data has. Sometimes data is the way to go, sometimes it’s your gut.

Our gut decisions are highly personal. They are the sum of our intuitions, instincts and our lives experiences. Knowing that this also includes our emotional & cultural biases is important, because our gut feeling isn’t always right.

But we often believe it is, mostly because our gut decisions define who we are as a person. Right or wrong, we learn how to deal with them and adjust along the way.

If you enjoyed this article, make sure to sign up to my email list.

Yours truly,
Tobias

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Tobias is the Co-Founder of
Semplice, a new portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Design Lead at Spotify & Board of Directors AIGA New York.

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