To Serve Thyself
Posted on July 17th, 2012
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Failure is going to happen. There’s no reason to pretend otherwise. The ball will drop. The soufflé will collapse. Sometimes the deadline will not be met. The only real question is who’s to blame? The answer is clear, isn’t it? – Anyone but you.
We all share some fundamental limitations, sewn into our humble flesh. We’re quick to fight another tribe, even if it’s just a common stranger cheering for the other team. We’re very superstitious, afraid of the dark at times, and very much unwilling to look into the future and plan accordingly…or at all! Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Right there at the top of this list, you’ll find the ability to lie. We are very, very good at this. To quote David McRaney, author of the very excellent book You Are Not So Smart, “You are a liar by default, and you lie most to yourself. If you fail, you forget it. If you win, you tell everyone.”
I’m embarrassed by the frequency with which I submit to this self-serving fallacy. But at least I’m not alone. I can count myself amongst the billions of other hominids that think their collective shit doesn’t stink. Thankfully, there’s a solution!
When I finished school, I found myself staring back at the other side of a wall. Before, there were all of these deadlines – papers to write, exams to pass, and studies to defend. Everywhere you looked there were edges. Once that is all done and complete, you realize that it’s suddenly up to you to move on. You know the task – figure out just what you will do over the next 30 years or so. Couple this with the very real sensation of being woefully ill-prepared for this scenario and you have real cause for anxiety.
My response at the time was to seek counsel from much smarter folks. So I picked up books. Lots of books. And the author I picked up most often was Richard Feynman. Richard was an absolutely brilliant physicist, but that’s not at all what caught my interest. Rather, he had an otherworldly gift for reducing exceedingly complex ideas down to very simple concepts. In his view, this ability was the very essence of real understanding and wisdom. That was the draw, the promise. With a simple, yet scientific world-view, you could solve real problems. Any problem! And most importantly, you could easily spot the bullshit, especially your own.
I know that I cannot change what I am. I know that, given any choice, I will show this bias. But that alone may be enough. If you learn to expect the lie first, then you can counter by taking the objective route. You can listen to your own reply. You can measure your actions against a standard. You can reduce the problem into easily managed, and easily explained components.
In other words, you can learn to smell what you excrete way before you step in it!