The bookshelves and the Internet are filled with articles and books containing life-changing ideas. Between fiction, non-fiction, psychology, biographies and self-help literature lies a curriculum unfulfillable in thousands of life times. Many of the ideas have the potential to drastically improve one’s life. But there is a world of difference between just agreeing and truly internalizing any one of those ideas. And there’s even a wider gap between applying an idea in a safe limited environment versus applying it in a high stakes situation. The former is akin to a sandbox, shielding us from failure and limiting our losses in case of failure. The latter is enshrouded in fear and uncertainty because the potential losses are real, significant and palpable. Though only the latter lets us reap deep benefits and become better selves.
Not only is there a difference between knowing an idea and internalizing idea but there’s often no real situation in one’s life where that idea could be applied at a given moment. Life-changing ideas are somewhat like tools. To use a tool there must be something to apply it to, a subject. If I suddenly receive an advanced spectroscope I won’t have a clue what to do with it. After looking up what a spectroscope is on Wikipedia I’ll possibly try to use it to measure something, just to feel good about myself and that I am intelligent enough to figure out how to use it. I’ll then put the spectroscope in a box never to be seen again. An astronomer, however, would be glad to have the same tool at his disposal. Unlike me, the astronomer has a real use for the spectroscope. My use of the spectroscope is superficial while the astronomer could use it for a real breakthrough.
It occurred to me recently that getting in trouble is very important for a good lived life. Getting in trouble is the first step of personal growth and improvement in any area. Without trouble there’s no use for solutions. Tools are usually created to solve a problem, to get out of trouble. It’s not often that a tool is created first and then a use is figured out for it. Literature and media creates an opposite impression. Trouble, problems, inefficiency are portrayed in a negative light. Solutions, ideas, new ways of thinking are then glorified. But in this transition an important aspect is forgotten. Without the trouble in the first place nobody would care about a solution. Two thousand years ago humans could not care less about climate change and improvements to our energy production methods. These improvements are important for our well-being but two thousand years ago there was nothing to apply these improvements to. There was simply no such trouble as environment pollution.
Best-selling manage-everything books similarly portray trouble in negative light and gladly present solutions. For instance, time management books present 1001 strategies on dealing with overburden and stress. But few of the works will take a pause to acknowledge the value of being overburdened in the first place. Being overburdened and stressed means that we have taken on lots of responsibilities. While the situation itself may be undesirable our past courage deserves respect and acknowledgment. If we lied around the house all day and did not do anything at all we would not have these problems! It’s not the missing acknowledgment that personally bothers me but the resulting reversal of solutions and problems. I don’t need time management advice until I take up too many responsibilities and assignments. When I try to apply all the little tips and strategies I don’t need I waste my energy I could have used to actually do something. I also get a false feeling that I am a master of time management. But the reality is that I’m no better at time management than I’m at astronomy with the spectroscope I had previously been gifted.
My personal take away is to get in trouble more often. I have nothing against reading what the best minds have already figured out. In fact, knowing what exists out there helps when the reality finally confronts with insurmountable obstacles. But I am cautious not to foolishly get enthused about the problems I don’t currently have.