Life is a hard thing to deal with. There’s a lot of moving parts, variables, and decisions to make. All of these create small outcomes that eventually level to your life’s path. Because of this, it’s hard to determine a method of finding the best way forward. Fortunately, we’ve already created many simulations on life; simulations called games. This post is dedicated to delving into some of the strategies gaming uses which can be applied to real life.
Luck is a hard, complex thing. No successful person has ever (truthfully) said their success was all based around skill; there is always a wide amount of chance in every major victory. And yet, it’s hard to genuinely define this aspect – calling luck simply a factor of chance raises all sorts of complicated problems. What’s the “probability” of success? Is it the same as a flip of a coin? Can we statistically define luck? Is the probability of being “lucky” in starting a business really equivalent to the number of companies that last more than 5 years? More than 10 years? What about a heavily cited research paper? Or having a successful album release?
Of course, barely anyone truly believes that luck is purely a derivation of chance. And yet, I believe the fact that this is embroiled into the mindset of many people is precisely because of an improper definition of what luck truly is. The best definition of luck I’ve ever heard is that it is “created” with the help of two broad categories: consistency and opportunity. Opportunity itself is of many moving parts, and is responsible for most of the complexity of luck – things like current status, geography, education, network, etc. These pieces are mostly outside the scope of this article (though may be covered in detail in a later segment), so instead what I want to focus on is this first piece, consistency. Consistency, when executed properly, brings opportunity. The thing is that consistency isn’t quite an easy task in itself; it takes more than a bit of operation. High-quality consistency requires exorbitant amounts of patience, proper long-term goal planning, and many, many extensions from the comfort zone. It also requires you to be able to tell if what you’re being consistent in is really worth you being consistent in it. Do you have the skill required for competitive advantage? Are you genuinely passionate about what you are doing? I feel as though all these questions, all these aspects, make up what luck really is. When people say luck, in reality, they’re giving a simple, generalized term for a variety of complex factors that are often hard to pinpoint. That being said, you’ll always find luck in opportunity, and you’ll always find opportunity inconsistency. Luck might feel like a hard thing to get, but remember; you only have to hit the home run once. And besides, if everyone was lucky, would any of it really matter?
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To be honest, when I had put this down in my notes of things to talk about, it was a long time ago. So now I’m a bit confused whether “dreams” is meant to be in a literal or abstract sense. Are we talking Freud, a la the dreams you get from sleeping, or dreams as in wide, aspirational goals?
Well, why not talk about both? After all, I believe that both are truly important; and I believe both relate to one another greater than it might seem.
First, we’ll start with aspirations. The purpose of dreams, in this case, can be made apparent in setting ourselves to somewhere higher than we currently are. We may, in the end, not reach our lofty goals; it’s fine. It happens. But it can almost be completely assured that where you end up after all the pieces fall into place will be immensely greater than you were at the beginning. I’m a realist, but I’m also a believer in doggedly following one’s dreams, solely because of the places it will take you. I believe that following the bigger things in life causes us to learn bigger things about ourselves.
And I also think we learn bigger things about ourselves every night when we sleep. The concept of dreams has always fascinated me, though their purpose has always evaded me. After studying my dreaming habits for a few years, it seems that the only things that really come out of most dreams are just whatever was top of mind the night before. And yet… it’s not always like this. Occasionally a dream will come up from the depths and rocket punch you in the stomach. Sometimes it will leave you with a sour taste in your mouth, or an entirely blissful day. Sometimes it will cause you to despise a person, or long to talk to them. I believe these moments are when the power of purpose of dreams truly come out. I believe that this is an inner voice within us, deep below our consciousness, trying to point us to what we need to see. And I believe that this inner voice is the same thing that tells us what we must aspire to.
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I’m usually really bad at quitting things. Once I’ve gotten into something deep, it’s hard to stop it; even if I really don’t like it or it otherwise isn’t giving me value. I just hate the idea of giving up on something.
Part of this probably has to do with the fact that, when I was younger, I had the exact opposite problem. I was giving up on things left and right. I would think of a new great idea for a website, or a project, or a book, get really excited, work on it for about 2 weeks, and then hit a wall. And then never came back from that wall. Repeat ad nauseum.
For veteran readers of the blog, this might sound familiar. It’s something I brought up in my final post on the #100DaysofCode challenge. In the post, I make a promise to myself to continue climbing even when I’ve hit that wall. And while I’ve done pretty good at continuing to hit on things now, I’m starting to wonder; is there anything that you should give up on? And if so, how do you figure out what it is?
About two months ago I read Seth Godin’s The Dip, which I would say touches on this subject better than anything I’ve previously read (it’s also only around 80 pages). Godin essentially fully describes this sort of wall idea that I mentioned in the 100DaysofCode, and gives some outlines on how to tell the difference between quitting for a good reason and quitting for a bad reason. I’ve decided to take a bit of a spin on these ideas and write out what I think are the key principles to think about:
Does this project give me joy?
As a good rule of thumb, Marie-Kondoing your project list will work pretty well. Now, there are a few exceptions to this rule (we’ll discuss them in the next point) but overall if over the full scope of the project you can’t think of a single redeeming feature about it that gives you confidence or excitement, then its pretty easy to see that its probably not worth it. This is the heuristic I probably use most often, although it does need to be used with restraint; just because something does not give you immediate satisfaction does not mean it is worthless in the long term.
What am I currently getting out of this project? What will I get when this project is completed?
Opportunity cost is also a pretty good heuristic for deciding whether something is worth it or not. To gauge opportunity cost, you’d have to look at both short term prospects and long term prospects to decide whether something is good. If something has only a few short-term rewards but many long-term rewards, then it’s a good investment. If there’s no short-term rewards and only a few long-term rewards, then you may want to at least consider other options. This is where the exception from earlier comes into play; something might not necessarily bring joy, but still give you better prospects if you complete it. Sometimes, if the rewards are high enough, I can understand slumping through a project at least temporarily to get into a better position later.
Will this project help me achieve my long-term goals?
Always focus with the end in mind. Not every single one of your current projects will involve one of your long-term goals (at least not obviously) but you should always make sure that the path you’re going down currently will at least lead you into hitting those markers. Don’t have long-term goals? Then make some, and follow them. Long-term goals have been the de-facto best way I have made sure to stay consistently on track, and I’ll probably continue to consistently refine it into the future.
Anyway, that’s all for this one. I do want to point out that we have a brand new newsletter! Following this will give you the low-down of all the new stuff I’m working on. Subscribe here!