Comedy: The Most Powerful Therapy

The ability to find your own misfortune funny is rare and powerful.

Long ago, I worked for a guy expert in it.  Everything was funny to him, especially anticipated and actual misfortune.  Speeding tickets, flat tires, threats from creditors, even an emergency appendectomy were all parts of the wildly entertaining narrative he inhabited.  He enjoyed his own life as if it were a sitcom full of predictably ill-timed occurrences and tragicomedy.

I’ve heard a variously attributed quote about how a paper cut is tragedy, while falling in an open sewer and dying is comedy.  My friend experienced both as comedy.  It made him invincible.  Not a stoic acceptance of pain and suffering.  Not an optimists insistence on silver linings.  My friend had something else.  Not somber respect for difficulty, nor sunny defiance of it.  Cheeriness and constant laughter because of it.  In fact, he almost looked with delight for the unexpected two steps back after every step forward.

He never saw himself as a victim, just a guy who got a front row seat to the ironic absurdity of life.  He loved his life, spoke openly about how good he had it, while laughing about the latest loss or bad news.

I used to find it fun and quirky.  The further down my own journey I’ve made it, the more I see it as one of the greatest secrets I’ve yet encountered.  This outlook is magic.  The shocking irreverence of it.  It’s juvenile snickering in the face of a menacing opponent.  It makes you invincible.  Parody, comedy, satire, laughter at all of it, everything.  Unseriousness in serious moments.  Like one never-ending under-the-breath pun at the never-ending board meeting of life.

Laugh at stuff.  Laugh at yourself.  Laugh at your misfortune.  You’re on a hero’s journey.  But there’s no reason the narrative can’t look a little more like Space Balls than Star Wars.  You save the galaxy either way, but one’s a lot funnier.

Credentialed Experts: Protectors of the Sacred Dogma

Credentialed Experts are not at the forefront of innovation and discovery, driving truth forward.  Their job is to tell a story about the past that doesn’t threaten the present and stymies the future.  The process of winning the credential itself is a trial intended to prove how effectively you imbibe and re-enforce the dominant dogma of the academy, or “The Republic of Science”.

History gets re-written to credit them with breakthrough, but practitioners are the innovators, usually in the face of tremendous resistance and persecution by The Experts.

Once upon a time, women were dying during childbirth.  Too many.  One doctor started experimenting.  He wanted to prevent it.  He found that if he washed his hand thoroughly between patients, the deaths stopped.  He didn’t have a satisfactory theory to explain this mysterious phenomenon.  The materialist dogma of the day wanted physical cause and effect, which he couldn’t provide.  To them it was a stupid superstition, like throwing salt over your shoulder (which itself may turn out to alter reality in ways we don’t yet understand), so they mercilessly mocked him, ruining his career.  Forget that it worked.  The Expert’s job is not progress, but protection of sacred dogma.  This didn’t fit so they went right on killing young women, their children orphaned by dogma.  Their response was the opposite of skeptical, open-minded, scientific, or truth-seeking.  It was what The Experts are Expert in.

Many years later, microscopes came along and revealed a material connection between hand washing and life-saving.  Now The Experts were ready to accept the practice (and probably take sterilization too far in the other direction) because finally it didn’t threaten the materialist dogma.  People dying in the meantime was simply the price The Experts were willing to make others pay for the maintenance of their dogma.

A less macabre story is that of Troy (and a favorite of my colleague Derek Magill).  The Experts deemed Troy as described in Homer’s epic a fictitious city.  The story was clearly myth.  If it was history, it would threaten the sacred dogma.  It could not be true and you were an uncultured idiot if you thought it was.  A practitioner, a hobbyist historian with no formal training in archaeology, pursued the question with an open mind and unbridled passion.  He found Troy.  Once the material evidence was undeniable, it was integrated into the sacred dogma by The Experts.  Like 1984, now it has always been true, of course.

The Royal Society and all The Experts on physics knew only a fool would pursue manned flight.  It was officially impossible, and The Experts paid it nothing but scorn.  A few bike mechanics flew anyway.  Once flight was undeniably thrust in their faces, it was quickly absorbed into the sacred dogma and treated as the province of The Experts.  They are quick to tell us why various speeds or forms of flight are impossible now.

My friend Steve Patterson shared with me his recent discovery that the Roman architects didn’t study or use Euclidean Geometry.  The Experts have been credited with great works of architecture based on their theories, but in reality the curious, open-minded, skeptical, experimental practitioners kept playing around and perfecting methods without worrying about upholding the sacred dogma.  They built stuff independent of the official theories – theories which were frequently forced to adapt to real world innovations by practitioners.

The Experts do not drive the world forward.  They struggle to define the past in a palatable way that elevates their status and the status of theory in general and suppress inquiry into things that challenge it.  They do not care if things “work” and make life better or even save it.  They care if things threaten their dogma.  They’d rather break a few thousand actual eggs to protect a hypothetical omelet than let it feed people if doing so doesn’t fit the dogma.

Ignore them.  They have no clothes and you don’t have to pretend they do.  Go ask the questions that ignite you and build the stuff you imagine.

Level Up

Tried something new.  No posts for almost a week.  For the first time in years, it actually felt good.  Daily blogging is a therapeutic discipline for me, like running for some people.  It’s hard and inconvenient, but I don’t feel right until I do it, and I get a little high every time.

But I stopped for several days.  I wanted to try storing all my energy for longer periods, denying myself the release of daily writing, and see if I could channel it into some other things.  I’ve tried this once or twice before, but this time it actually worked.  Really well.  I’m not surprised.  I can feel myself moving into a distinctly new phase, or as they would say in church when I grew up, a “new season”.

Time to level up.

Removing Failure is a Recipe for Disaster

Today, my Momentum Dash had a quote:

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

This question has the same danger as, “What would you do if money were no object?”  Sure, sometimes imagining a world without scarcity can open new mental vistas, but the lurking implication that activities would be easier or better absent risk is faulty.

I know, you’re supposed to get your answer to what you’d do in a risk free world and use that as a guide for what to do in this one.  But more often, daydreaming about the person you imagine you’d be if choices had no cost leads to lazy bitterness about the real world of trade-offs.  It lulls you into thinking that your goals would be better achieved with fewer risks and costs.  This is never true.  The only kind of person sturdy enough to handle big success is the kind who became sturdy by going through all the shit it took to get there.

Remember the scene in “The Dark Knight Rises” where Bruce Wayne is trying to escape from a hole in the ground prison?  He can’t make the jump as long as the safety harness is tied around him.  He’s only capable of his full physical prowess when death is a real alternative.  Like it or not, that’s the way it works.

So if risk and scarcity and challenge weren’t an object, what would you do?  Whatever it is, you’d do it at less than your peak potential, which is only accessible in the face of real hardship.

Don’t long for a frictionless life.  You’d atrophy.

Saving is the Easy Part, Creating is the Hard Part

I was invited to go on a news show and talk about lack of savings for retirement among young people.  I plan to propose a different angle.  Saving wealth is easy.  Creating it is hard.  Focus on creating wealth first.

Invest in yourself in ways that enhance your wealth-creation power, rather than socking dollars away in an account that you have no control over and hoping it grows 3%.

$100 put into a 401(k) is nothing compared to something as small as $100 spent taking a business owner to lunch and asking them about their business for an hour, for one easy, mundane example.  Invest in building skills, experiences, reputation, and relationships that enhance your ability to create value.  Think about that first.  It’s worth more than any institutional degree or investment account, and the best part is you don’t have to wait and hope it works.  You can control it.

You Can Outsource the Work but Not the Vision

I get a lot of ideas.  Most come as quick epiphanies that get me excited, and I know I don’t want to put time (or lack the skill needed) into carefully shepherding it to completion, so I think of a person who could and pitch them.

An app, an article, a product, an event, a video, or whatever it may be.  I pitch the general idea, hand it off, and excitedly wait for the result.  It almost never works.  Whatever comes back just lacks that ill-defined inspiration I had in mind upon conception.

I’ve heard coders say that, “I have a great idea for an app, can you build it?” is like an author hearing, “I have a great idea for a book, can you write it?”  Most will laugh because writing code is a creative process and the vision can’t so easily be separated from the process.

It doesn’t mean you can’t work with a ghost writer or hire coders to build something, but it does mean you can’t just hand them an idea and walk away.  You have to share and re-share the vision, and co-create it with them every step of the way.  If you’re not able or willing to do that, it’s probably a waste of time to look for someone to do it for you.  You might as well go out with the pitch, “Hey, think up a project and build it.”

This reality pains me.  I have more ideas than ability or time I’m willing to dedicate.  I want someone to do all these things, even if I can only commit to a few.  Scarcity is a bitch.

How to Be Confident (tell the truth)

A friend asked what gave me the confidence to pitch the first Praxis investors on our projected growth when there was no real way to prove or back the numbers, since we were building something brand new.

If I approached it from a place of needing to make investors happy, or make them believe in the credibility of my numbers, I wouldn’t have been confident at all.  It’s unlikely any amount of market research or experience I can compile will result in data with a higher degree of credibility than the investors themselves might come up with.  But I don’t like playing on turf I’m unfamiliar with, so I didn’t.

Instead, I focused on who I am and what I know.  I know the problem we’re trying to solve is real, and here’s my argument for it.  I know the solution we’re building is logical and valuable to people, and here’s my argument.  I know we’re going to build this one way or the other, and it will either work or it won’t.  If it works and these logical arguments prove valid, it will work big.  If not, it won’t.  I won’t stop until I get an answer.  If you don’t buy my arguments, no hard feelings, we shouldn’t work together.  If you do, you already know this has huge potential at least up to the numbers I’ve projected here.  If so, let’s work together.

This keeps me entirely on territory I know and will defend with skin in the game all day.  I don’t need to pretend to know or be anything I don’t or amn’t (yes, I said “amn’t”).

When you stick to your turf and don’t fudge in areas outside it, confidence isn’t hard.  People value self-awareness and honesty more than prediction accuracy anyway.

Not Good, but Not Stupid

I take a not-stupid approach to goals and predictions for big projects.

They don’t need to be good.  There are too many variables to reasonably expect good road maps.  If you think it’s good, you might have too many blind-spots.

But it can’t be bad.  If it’s bad, you’re nowhere near ready.  It doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be not-stupid.  If you can get it to not stupid, you can proceed and adjust as more information is revealed.

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