As 2015 comes to an end, and 2016 welcomes us – it’s time to pick a thought or two to live by in the year to come. The thoughts should be broad enough to be meaningful for us, deep enough to stay relevant for a long time and inspirational enough to ensure we persevere in our ambitions.
Where can we get such a set of thoughts? For this year, I’ll pick a few – one from a wise old Roman named Seneca, another from today’s Digital hero Jeff Bezos and one of the legendary Adam Smith’s quote brought to life by today’s uber economist Russ Roberts. We’ll garnish all of this with some Alan Watts magic – after all, he did a lot to bring Zen Wisdom to the west. A mini-rainbow of sorts, pick the one that appeals to you!
Thought 1: How to overcome fear the Seneca way
Let’s start with a timeless recipe from one of the leading lights of Stoicism, Seneca. Seneca believed that “fear of an event“ was more crippling than the event itself. We worry about riches, about security, about being alone, about death (of course!) and many, many more things. Just being less fearful, would make our life so much more better.
How though can we transcend fear? Here’s Seneca’s timeless yet simple solution. While no amount of reflection or thinking about the fear can help us transcend it, living what we fear (in small doses!) will do the trick. Here in his own words (translated of course!) he describes how we can overcome the fear of poverty (the fear of poverty is why we are “always” engaged in worrying about our financial security, our addition in working all the time etc.)
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” – Seneca
Before we dismiss this as a lofty philosophy of an academic, it’s worth pondering on the fact that he met his fate (condemned to death by the emperor on false pretenses) with unusual calmness and poise. Truly, a wise man teaching us wise things.
Thought 2: Choosing wisely – Bezos’ regret minimization framework
All of us have had occasions when we need to make a choice and we wonder how to go about it. Do we go for what our “heart” tells us or what our “mind” recommends – when they are at such odds to each other? Or to take but an instance – should we go sailing for a month when it will cost us our hefty annual bonus?
Jeff Bezos faced a similar dilemma 15 years back. He was torn between choosing to embark on an uncertain dream (starting amazon.com) or continuing with his job (which included the afore mentioned “big bonus!”). In his inimitable style (and words) here’s him thinking this through:
I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.
So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called – which only a nerd would call – a “regret minimization framework.”
So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.
Here is the full interview – savour it….
And the last – making the world a better place and other such big “points of view!”
Let 2016 turn out to be an year of joy. Afterall, like Alan Watts so charmingly puts it:
“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”
So treat life less seriously, and you are already on the world to a magical year. Russ Roberts has some more eloquent advice in his book “How Adam Smith can change your life”. BTW – if you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read book on so many different levels.
“If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loveliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world.”
With that here’s wishing you a wonderful year ahead full of joy, fulfillment and growth. A year I hope you will remember for all the right reasons.