The Perils of Linear Life
From early childhood we have been conditioned to live a lie. That lie made perfect sense when we were six years old but at some point in our lives the illusion needs to be broken.
Schools have classes, and each class has a curriculum. Every student follows it — willingly or not. The common goal is reached by assigning the same homework and testing the same exams. And most importantly, it is designed so students succeed.
Most video games work the same way — albeit more fun than studying. You’re given tasks to jump over there, retrieve this, or fight that. Almost every story is linear and with few exceptions has one ending. Like with school, video games are designed to be solved. Both are fair.
The problem is that after school, the safety net of fairness disappears and everybody is bound to eventually fall off the rope — yes, there will be bruises, and the sooner the better. Failure is a common occurrence and can happen with the best intentions.
The illusion is that it isn’t possible to fail when doing all the right things. We are conditioned to think that you get a reward. But unlike in school or video games, success is not inevitable. So when I tell people that they may very well fail even if they do all the seemingly right things, I get all-knowing nods. But when rubber hits the road and things go haywire despite the hardest Capital E for effort, confusion and anger take over. I see way too many people starting their first job, who believe that as long as they follow a given path, they cannot fail.
“I did everything my manager asked me to. How come the project wasn’t a success?”
80 hours of busy work a week will not guarantee you a promotion. There is no reward for entitlement.
And for those who are starting their own business: a great idea and hard work alone is not enough. You need timing, luck, and the ability to prioritize and re-prioritize what you’re working on all the time. Life likes to throws lemons at you; don’t get upset when the lemon squeezer has gone missing.
The collective us gets upset over way too many things: this car cut me off, my roof has a leak, I lost my job, the thing I ordered has tomatoes in it even though I explicitly ordered it without tomatoes.
Despite the wide spectrum of the problem’s severity, our anger is oftentimes not justified given its magnitude. And herein lies the problem. If we get upset about something that we can change but instead let it paralyze us, we’ll never create the habit of understanding what’s within our power to change and what is not.
“Suck it up, princess!”
Complaining feels good and I sympathize with anyone who wants to complain to me about something. But don’t expect me to feel sorry if I believe that it’s within that person’s power to address what they’re complaining about. “So what are you gonna do about it?” I don’t ask this to be mean, but out of curiosity.
Even though it may feel like our lives are on rails, we’re not aboard a train that drives relentlessly to a determined destination. Instead it’s more like we’re powering a Flintstones car and the moment you stop using your feet, you stop moving. The standstill can only be broken by you. No deus ex machina.
It is common that a first reaction is to be overwhelmed or anxious when first realizing my above points, but the real takeaway is to cherish the possibilities. The phrase “you can be anything if you want it enough” is put down as a meaningless slogan from a motivational poster. But there is some truth to that. In the end, the world is indeed your oyster.
Once you embrace the freedom knowing that your daily routine is not set in stone, it’ll feel utterly liberating. That “I’ve always done it like this” can be subject to change.
Life is not like getting your driver’s license. It’s not a clear path with all the milestones from now to success perfectly staked out. Life is like being married to yourself. It constantly needs tending to, or else you’ll wake up one day and wonder what you have become.