Fighting with Monsters and Staring into the Abyss

‘He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee” Nietzsche

I’m not sure what Nietzsche meant by this quote, and while interesting to find out, is not the point of this post. I remember feeling a quiet stillness when reading it for the first time, and since then, it’s always been in the back of my mind. It’s a rare piece of language that I can read many times over, and still feel puzzled and intrigued by it.

First, let’s break it down. The quote has two parts. The first relates to fighting with monsters, while the second relates to staring into the abyss. Both the first and second contain a reflexive, mirror-like consequence.  I would interpret both as basically meaning the same thing, with the second part emphasizing the first part.

What are Monsters?

I think one of the reasons I find the Nietzsche quote really interesting is because it is true on multiple levels. It is as true for the trivial as it is for the serious. We generally have the tendency to manifest into malicious creatures when presented with a certain set of circumstances. We could call our perception of the set of circumstances the “Monster”.

One set of circumstances could be work, another could be a game, a bad habit, a relationship, or social life. A set of circumstances are external realities that exist independently of us. Our perception of these external realities influences our behaviors.

As you dig deeper, you may be able to uncover the details of each circumstance. The subjective resolution of the image of the Monster varies in size depending on what particular set of circumstances most strongly attracts you. If I have a minor tendency to play a game on my phone every now and then, it’s a minor monster. My perception of this particular circumstance is not very powerful. However, If I am binge drinking all day every day, my perception of drinking is a Major Monster.

So how does the Monster come to exist? This would depend on the interplay between our subjective perception and the external reality. Here are some features of the external reality that would give rise to the Monster.

Here are some characteristics of activities that have the potential to create a Monster.

  1. Attractive Force: Pulls you in
  2. Dangerous: Potential for Future Harm.
  3. Ambiguous: You don’t know what the future carries.
  4. Hunger: Like an organism, the activity lives or dies depending on whether you feed it.
  5. Magnitude: How powerful the activity is. An activity that has the previous 4 features but lacks any real power to affect you can only lead to a Minor Monster.

Seeking the Thrill

Most people have at least tried to seek out thrilling, adrenaline-inducing experiences to some degree. Some have tried and burnt their fingers and never tried again, while others have jumped in head first and experienced it indefinitely, and finally, some people have tried to flirt with these monsters harmlessly at first, but ultimately lost the battle.

There are many possible interpretations for why we almost universally look for Monsters in our lives. Maybe we are evolutionarily wired to look for harmful creatures and try to destroy them. It may be that our tendency to seek out thrilling experiences is only an echo of our ancestors past that manifests in us as deep, subconscious urges.

There are other explanations of course, but the reason why I would tend to go this direction is that we certainly don’t consciously choose to chase Monsters. In other words, if one was being rational, they would never subject themselves to unnecessarily harmful activities. Some people get addicted to jumping off of airplanes or breaking high-speed records on the highway. There is no rational justification for these activities as the risk/reward ratio doesn’t make any sense.

But we tend to do them anyway, because, on a very deep level, we are likely used to associating thrill with triumph. When we successfully hunted or killed dangerous animals in the past, we achieved sustenance, security, and love and admiration from the tribe. If we perceived the act of hunting animals as the only way to survive, our perception of hunting animals developed into a Monster. We became killing machines and eventually directed out power inwards towards fellow human beings.

It might be the case that only after we encountered and slaughtered animals, and developed our fighting power and capacity for harm that we embodied our ideas of the animals we were so fearful of. These same animals killed and threatened our kin and pushed us to seek out ways to become powerful. We manufactured better tools with sharp edges that mimicked the teeth and claws of our enemies. We figured out, on some level, what the requirements for successful killing are, and we accentuated them. These requirements may have been a certain degree of aggression, sharp edges, or speed. We not only imitated animals, we created an exaggerated mirror that we could use to decimate animals, not only through physical tools but through psychological conditioning. We might have turned into an amplified, ruthless version of what threatened our survival.

Perhaps people today have a deep yearning for that feeling and when they can’t find it anywhere, they create it by giving birth to a new Monster.

To recap, life circumstances, in themselves, cannot be Monsters. They are merely life circumstances, and different observers would experience the same set of circumstances differently. The Monster itself depends on the observer or the mind. The real Monster is not just a set of circumstances, it is our perception of that set of circumstances. We perceived the tiger as an imminent threat. That perception itself led us to become more powerful, violent as a response. When we “fight with monsters”, we are only really fighting with our own perceptions of reality.

Whether it’s drinking too much, or smoking too much, or killing too much, or eating too much, or gaming too much, or spending too much time on social media, or being abusive to others, we are experiencing nothing but internal battles. We are only really fighting with ourselves, and depending on what we are fighting for and depending on who we are, we either give rise to Major Monsters or Minor Monsters.

It’s a battle because the counter position always exists. Imagine being addicted to day trading, one part of you wants to get out, while the other wants to stay in. The part of you that wants to stay in no matter what the circumstances gives rise to the Monster. The day trader used the graphs and charts as tools, gets angry and motivates himself like a warrior and perceives the stock market as a fierce tiger. To the day trader, he isn’t the Monster, he’s only trying to take down the Monster to gain the admiration of the herd.

But in reality, the Monster is in his head. A part of him feeds it, while another part destroys that perception, and depending on who wins that battle, the day trader either finds a safe exit or develops his perceptions into a Major Monsters and loses.

 

 

 

 

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A Pending Response to Time

Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.” – Jim Rohn

As one stage in life ends and another begins, it is difficult to avoid thinking about time and what it means. Many people seem to be fascinated with the idea that time is relative, some are fascinated with how the concept of time developed, and who invented it, others want to know more about how we can manipulate time itself. While these are all topics worth going into at length, my personal fascination has always been the subjective experience of time.

Time does indeed seem to slow down when you want it to pass and speeds up when you need it to slow down. It’s a reality vs expectation predicament. When you expect the clock to wind down quickly so you can finally open your microwave door, or when you are waiting for a traffic light to turn green, or when you stare intently at the status of your flight, or when you impatiently wait for a boring lecture to end or a boring conversation to halt.

We see the world not as it is, but as we are” Stephen Covey

When we are frustrated, and our state of mind is out of flow, things seem to move slower, less naturally. It’s as if your state of mind has a quirky relationship with time. When things are going well, and you’re engaged and immersed in an activity, thoughts about time remain dormant. When things go badly, and you feel disengaged, time is all you can think about. The reason why I find this relationship so interesting is that it serves a peculiarly useful function.

It ensures that any experience of boredom or anxiety is coupled with a seemingly spontaneous awareness of time. There are two ways of dealing with this truth if it is indeed a truth. Either we embrace boredom as a state of mind and learn to be okay with being bored, or we use our feelings of boredom to spur us on to do something worthwhile.

Option 1: Embracing Boredom

Embracing boredom, and learning how to be disengaged yet satisfied would be a powerful way to protect yourself from the inevitable bouts of boredom you are likely to experience. Having control over boredom would mean having control over your impulses. Thrilling but harmful activities that would all but eliminate boredom would no longer take precedence over what’s important for you to do.

Favorite weapons to combat boredom include but are not limited to gaming, drinking, reading the news, or using social media. The ‘escape’ for me represents the desire to remove oneself from an environment where self-consciousness takes center stage. Self-consciousness is the voice in your head that echoes the feelings, characterizations, and insecurities that you try restlessly to avoid. To embrace boredom, it is imperative then to be at peace with oneself. This surely is a worthwhile and important undertaking, especially in the long run, but it runs counter to how we function. We are more prone to find the short solution and stick to it for as long as possible. Option 2 is a more likely alternative.

Option 2: Boredom as a Cue

If you use boredom as a cue to recognize that what you are doing is unengaging, and to then make an effort to make sure that you fill your time with activities that better engage you, it is likely that no matter what you are doing, you will see better results and feel better about how you’re spending your time. In other words, if instead of treating boredom as an inescapable psychological reality that one should learn to control, you treat boredom the same way you would treat pain, by finding remedies, then you are giving precedence to the external rather than the internal. In option 1, you are favoring the internal battle, and trusting yourself to be able to overcome any form of internal anxiety, time awareness, disengagement by learning to better manage your subjective experience either by adjusting your expectations or being more comfortable with the spontaneity of anxiety-inducing thoughts you regularly encounter when in a state of boredom.

Imagine living somewhere very close to an airport, where an airplane flies over your house at seemingly random times during the way. Every time the airplane flies over, your anxiety levels automatically go up, and you become agitated. Similar to dealing with boredom, and the anxiety or guilt induces, there are two ways of dealing with this situation. The first option would be to get used to it or train yourself to tolerate it better. After say, 100 times, maybe you don’t notice it anymore. The other solution, obviously, is to move. Which one is better?

 

 

Manuevering Through Chaos

Chaos has always been something that interested me, The thing with chaos is that everyone experiences it to different degrees, and everyone responds to it in different ways. My concept of chaos is, of course, relative. I used to think that organization was the remedy of chaos. That if you put things in order, you would free up enough focus for more pertinent things. I believed that being less chaotic meant being more laser focused.

That may not be so true. While being more organized does allow for efficiency, there seems to be another dimension that organization cannot solve. Imagine a large circle, compose of an inner solid circle and an outer circle. The inner circle is the first stage of chaos. Combatting it involves having a schedule, understanding what to prioritize and when, and implementing a system that ensures consistency. And don’t get me wrong, that will get you very far. But the outer layer is peripheral chaos.

Peripheral chaos relates to direction. This is the more serious, yet subtle kind of chaos. You are unlikely to suffer from it in the short run as projects will be completed and stakeholders satisfied. However, the general direction you are taking yourself is unclear. Knowing what to aim for is the logical next step. Of course, what you aim for evolves with time. What you aim for today is not the same as what you are going to aim for tomorrow.

You can then, easily make the argument that it is futile to take your aims very seriously. If you were certain they were going to change, then it would be a waste of time to orient your life in a way that seeks to accommodate an ever-changing destination. For one thing, I do not think this is a powerful argument, and I will explain why I think that is the case. However, I do think it is an objection that ought to be taken very seriously and examined further.

The reason why it’s a bad argument is that the alternative is definite chaos. Going back to the inner circle, if you chose to stop planning because plans generally had the proclivity to change, then you’d never accomplish anything. It’s a minimum pre-requisite to achieving what you seek out to achieve. But consider that the most effective plans are those that are able to accommodate change. In other words, flexible daily plans that allow for a little bit of chaos but still end up accomplishing most of what you had planned to do is superior to both having unflexible plans or no plans at all.

The outer circle then should be tackled in the same way. I disagree with having a definite, definable long-term goal. If you can be that granular with what you want, you wouldn’t know what to do once you’ve achieved it. Your long-term goal, as a matter of fact, should be anything but concrete. Instead, it should be as concrete as possible, but no more. It should be more about lifestyles rather than material things, it should be about your physical health rather than that of numbers on a screen, it should be about a state of mind, rather than a state of power.

You do not have full control of your psychological health or even your physical health. And most people have very little control over the way they live day to day. Those are real challenges, and clearly, the most worthwhile, because absent any of them,  the importance of any other superficial accomplishment would pale in comparison. And yet, most of the focus we have are geared towards achieving things that are farther out of our control, and that, even if we achieve them, will not satisfy our deepest urges.

This, of course, runs counter to the “success” literature that advises people to set fixed goals. I believe this is akin to having fixed daily schedules. It is routinely violated, and incompatible with everyday life.

Similarly, to find the right balance in maneuvering through chaos, I think we should consult ourselves over an extended period of time. If you were asked to articulate your long-term vision today, it would be different from what you wanted 6 months ago, and certainly different from what you will want 6 months from now.

There are obvious reasons of course why that is the case. Your location will drastically have an effect, so will the people you interact with on a daily basis, what you expose yourself to, and how you live. Any change to any of these would expectedly change your general outlook on life.

To constantly beg the question across time, and attempt to coherently articulate it, is critical. You will recognize with time, what the constants are. You will recognize what the variables are. The outer layer of the circle of chaos will become a little more transparent. Beneath it, truths will begin to emerge. Not all truths, of course, because there is a lot more chaos than there are truths. And there is definitely more chaos than there is your personal energy to combat the chaos itself.

But some kind of truth, even if low in resolution, will contribute to learning about higher resolution truths. The only danger to this project emerges when you start to question the notion of truth itself.

 

The Singularity

singularity

 

I recently watched “Transcendent Man”. I found it to be entertaining as well as thought-provoking.  I don’t know if it gave me a lot of insight, or taught me something I didn’t know, but it definitely forced me to appreciate the complexity of the world we live in, and how we can easily develop systems that go out of our control. Some people, like Sam Harris, have gone on to say that it’s the most important question of our time. I don’t know if I would go that far, but at this pace, it might be quite soon.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1117394/

Here’s a description.

Ray Kurzweil uses the “singularity” analogy to illustrate a fundamental point, that it will mark the beginning of an entirely new paradigm of human existence. One that is infinitely more complex than ours today, and one in which human beings will merge with AI to become immortal.

The documentary constantly switches between two points of views. One advocates Kurzweil’s hypothesis and enforces his authority on the subject by referencing his past achievements and successful predictions. The other point of view scrutinizes him for being too optimistic and brings up his father’s death to illustrate his underlying motivation to being optimistic.

The basic premise is this, according to Kurzweil. And from a purely armchair philosophical point of view, it makes perfect sense. Scientific change has been happening for a few hundred years. For the majority of this time period, progress has been pretty slow. Today, things are starting to pick up, and the time it takes for breakthrough innovations to occur in any given field is becoming exponentially smaller. This builds on Moore’s observation decades ago.

Moore’s law refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. (Source: Investopedia) 

Back to the premise. Things will become so complex that we will no longer be able to control it. Artificial Intelligence would be infinitely better than us at every conceivable task and would outsmart and outthink us. Our relationship with AI would essentially flip completely. Instead of controlling AI’s to advance our interests, AI would control us to advance theirs. This is analogous the Terminator series as well as a number of other pop culture references to this morbid, yet inevitable destiny.

A future to fear is certainly one in which the master-slave relationship we have maintained with AI completely reverses. But it isn’t the only thing to fear, and it isn’t entirely the future.

I would argue, that out of a series of infinite doomsday possibilities, this is only one. Any kind of scientific advancement whatsoever requires us to expose ourselves to the externalities of the unknown. And since these externalities are unknown (obviously), we have no idea how things could go awry.

While it is interesting and important to consider where we’re heading, it’s probably futile to do so.  To illustrate this point, think of the world we know today. How much do we control it? To what extent are already dependent on AI? What about in 5 years?

We rely on technology for basic life sustenance. Generations in the future will find it easier to operate in the world of AI, but almost impossible to operate in a world without it. Another way to think about it is we have effectively switched our constraints.

In the past, it used to be the natural world. Our bodies would get sick and die because of disease. Today, our risks have slightly shifted. Yes, to a large extent we are susceptible to disease but far less so. We are more susceptible to the constraints set forth by the set of rules and structure created by man, within the context of the free market or in some areas, government.

In the future, we can imagine that this pattern will continue. Nature would become more controlled, not less. And the set of structures created by man will become more powerful. That includes structures that contain AI as their primary component. This is already happening, to a large extent, today.

The way we interact with each other, whether socially or for business, or even for entertainment is confined to a manufactured set of hierarchical set of virtual rules and structures that are constantly changing and mostly controlled by a very few number of players.

One can make the argument then, that a future in which AI controls our lives and make us subservient to it due its superiority in intelligence in multiple dimensions is not a dystopian dream, it’s life in 2017.

 

Inspiration, Ambition, and the Inverted U

inspire

What inspires you? A child refusing to live ordinarily and choosing to showcase a remarkable ability to sing or dance or express themselves, an elderly person refusing to accept ageing and displaying an undying desire to maintain their youth through physically strenuous activities, a disabled person refusing to accept their handicap as a hindrance to their dreams, an underdog who worked tirelessly and sacrificed everything to become successful, an athlete who outperforms millions, a romantic story that defies all odds, a famous performer, politician, artist, author, leader, someone who overcomes discrimination and racism, a brave soldier, a loving parent who lifts a car to save her child, a genius?

We are all inspired by someone, or have the capacity to at least. We are often inspired by those who excel at a field that we take a passion in, those who have surpassed what we thought was possible, those who break all the records and touch our hearts in some way, those who are famous. I also believe that there is a lot of inspiration to be found in other, less explored, less popularized, less flashy areas in life.

There is a lot to be learned , for example, from immigrants who move to a new country where they don’t understand the language, the traditions, or the culture. They have a basic level of education, little to no savings, and yet are adamant at working tirelessly and quietly to make sure they can support their family. Because of remittances, they have no money to spend on themselves, to buy that marginally more expensive meal, or outfit. A lot of great people today have only been able to achieve their success because their parents were one of those people.

Many can also take admiration of people with a very demanding job who maintain the ability to have external interests, who find the ability to lead a well balanced life. There is a common theme between everything we find inspiring, it is the action of overcoming a large obstacle. Be it lack of financial power, lack of physical ability, fear, environment, circumstances, laziness, we all feel inspiration by someone having to overcome something.

No one feels inspired by someone who inherited money, or was sent to an excellent school. There is nothing inspiring about these people because they didn’t need to overcome anything; there’s very little romanticism and heroism in the idea of being born privileged in some way. Respect goes towards only those who had to work hard, and it is perhaps in this concept that the trade-off exists in being privileged.

When someone is privileged, they lose most of their ability to inspire others, and even, to inspire themselves. Their success can easily be attributed to favorable circumstances and thus lose the tenacity, hunger, and will to become successful. This loss of hunger will almost certainly cause them to fail. If you give a prehistoric hunter  a lifetime supply of any food he wants, would he still hunt? Would he still hone his skills and tirelessly try to improve? Of course not.

If there is no urgency, then it is extremely difficult to create motivation, albeit not impossible. This concept, explained by Gladwell in his book, David and Goliath, is coined “The inverted U”. It’s a representation of a two-dimensional graph where personal success is measured vertically, while inherited wealth is measured horizontally. In summary, poverty and excessive wealth are equally and fatal for an individual’s personal financial success. A person in poverty is handicapped for the obvious reasons of living in an unfavorable environment for proper education, lack of opportunities, lack of connections. A rich person on the other hand is well equipped with each of those things, however, suffers from severe lack of ambition and hunger.

The theory is something I personally find very intriguing and should seem counter-intuitive to most; I certainly think it is.  If the hypothesis is true, and that these extreme levels of wealth and poverty are both equally detrimental to an individual’s success, then shouldn’t that imply that we should feel inspired by someone who inherited a very large sum of money and was still able to become successful?

In other words, while it is clear that much admiration will be shown towards someone who overcame poverty to become successful, should it also be true that similar admiration should be shown towards someone who overcame extreme wealth to succeed?

There’s Time for Experience

morning train

If there was only one feature that could describe modern technology, it would be in its masterful feat in effectively saving time. It’s amazing to think that there was a day, just over a couple of decades ago, where emails didn’t exist, where you needed to remember to get a camera whenever you wanted to take a picture, when you needed to locate a payphone to make a phone call, when you needed to carry pens and paper with you if you needed to make notes, an actual alarm clock, an actual phone book, and a countless number of other things.

The amount of convenience technology has brought to our lives is incredible. And yet, we are still looking for ways to save time, to save energy, and to find more convenience. We can now shop online for just about anything, and we can watch anything anytime we want without commercials, we can get a glimpse into other people’s lives who are thousands of miles away from us, and we can do all of that without moving an inch, without wasting a single extra second.

And yet, despite the truly amazing progress we have made in terms of efficiency, it seems that we might be missing the bigger picture. Rory Sutherland in an insightful Ted Talk discussed the importance of perspective in our lives. He was discussing how the stress of waiting for a train was solved by not making the train faster, but by putting a countdown clock.

 Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle-biting, going ‘When’s this train going to arrive?Rory Sutherland

His idea was that what irritated people wasn’t the fact that the transportation system needed improving, that trains needed to be faster, or that we can’t wait anymore for the new groundbreaking lightning fast transportation system, it was that we just needed to tweak little things to greatly enhance our everyday experiences.

I think that’s quite an significant point. Many of us are fixated on reducing the time it takes to get to our destination, often spending a considerable amount of time and effort into finding the least time consuming route possible, and to a large extent, we’re not really making ourselves any happier. If anything, we might just be making ourselves more miserable.

I was discussing with a friend of mine a few ideas of how the future might look like, how future inventions may very well make the time we spend waiting to get somewhere, waiting to buy something completely negligible. I expressed how  I was annoyed at the task of grocery shopping as it took an exceptional amount of time, and effort that could be used for something more meaningful. I started to enthusiastically discuss all the innovations that are making live grocery shopping a thing of the past. I imagined it would be truly incredible if we had so much more time to spend on things we loved doing, instead of just waiting for our stop, or walking around aimlessly in a supermarket buying things.

I was, however, promptly interrupted from my enthusiastic musings when he said, “Yeah, but what about the experience? You keep talking about how we’ll have so much more time to spend, but what are we going to spend it doing? Don’t you have moments throughout the day where you don’t really want to work or anything, or that you’re just too exhausted to really think? And wouldn’t it be refreshing to go out to supermarket and just walk around?”

He explained his point further by explaining how much of an experience mundane things can be if we look at them differently. We tend to take them for granted as time-wasting activities but there’s a kind of unique experience that they offer where we couldn’t really get elsewhere. Even travelling in a bus, or train, or waiting for them to come doesn’t have to be seen as a time wasting activity.

When I thought about it and how it applies to me, I realized a couple of things. I didn’t take too much pleasure into picking out items, that to me was still boring and time-consuming, but the second thing I realized was a little less obvious to me.

I realized that almost all of the time I spend alone with my thoughts, without interruption, happen in those mundane, time-consuming, pointless moments. When I’m doing something so boring, and requires minimum mental effort, I start to have thoughts. I think about many different things, and have the rare opportunity to do so peacefully. It’s difficult to sit in front of a laptop, and decide to put it aside and think, to be using your phone and think, to be working on something, socializing, or studying and think. Those rare moments of thought only have any room to happen when I’m just about to sleep, taking a shower, or when I’m commuting by foot, or by car, bus, train, or plane.

This is all really interesting to me because I’m often frustrated by the task of waiting. A long queue in front of me can often put me in a horrible mood for the rest of the day, and what this made me realize is that it would be great if instead of focusing my attention on counting the number of people ahead of me, and trying to figure out how much time each individual takes, and then trying to figure out how much time it would take in total before it’s my turn, it would be a far more rewarding and useful experience if I used that time to just entertain myself with my own thoughts.

Other than trying to change your perspective on the mundane experiences that you need to deal with on a daily basis. Trying to appreciate them as activities that can be enjoyable and interesting, you can purposefully use that time for thinking about absolutely anything, and it seems that such an opportunity will happen even less in the future, so it might be a good idea to try to make the most of it when you can.

The Two Tragedies in Life

tragedy

“There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” Oscar Wilde

The reason I love this quote is because of how gently, poignantly, and cynically it depicts life as an inevitable tragedy. However,  a few things came to my attention when looking more closely at it. Wilde obviously did not mean this quote as an irrefutable philosophy, it was meant to be a provocative poetic expression that is both witty and informative. It does, however, raise an interesting philosophical point about the meanings we place on our goals, and that is what I’ll discuss.


The obvious deduction one would have from the quote is that Wilde is implying that achieving goals is a tragedy, because one loses his purpose, ambition, and desire. And of course, that is the ultimate tragedy. The other obvious implication is that not achieving your goal is another tragedy for you have failed at what you’ve set out to accomplish. The final deduction is that life is by definition a tragedy. No matter what you do, you will always be unhappy.

Achieving your goal and not achieving it are both equally tragic and painful. One way to get around this is not have ambition. Since ambition inhibits goal seeking, it also prevents failure. To not have a goal, however, ought to have been considered the third tragedy in life, and most people would agree that this isn’t a viable solution; albeit a much practiced one.

As Ted Danson once said as Dr. John Becker“You see… no expectations, no disappointments.”

There was an interesting observation made by a comedian. I cannot remember who it was. The idea was that in sports, sprinting for example, the third and fourth placed finishers often finish the race fractions of a second away from first, and these are people who have spent months training intensely for this race. It’s interesting how we place so much emphasis on achievement, on being the very best, when what separates the very best from his competitors in many fields in life are often fractions of a unit.

In many people’s lives, a single moment of good or bad fortune could decide whether or not they are remembered as successful, whether they consider themselves as being successful. There are professionals who work their entire lives to become recognized and valued, some do eventually, some do very early, but the vast majority don’t at all. Not because they didn’t have the talent, or they didn’t work hard enough, but because the line between failure and success was that thin.

To relate this to the Oscar Wilde quote, I would add that it’s infinitely more tragic to have ambitions that are aimed at finishing first in a race. Most people who do, necessarily fail. The first part of the quote that related achievement to failure I think is very interesting. There are many people who, after having achieved what they had worked so hard for, they find themselves without a purpose, desire, or reason to live. Many professions inherently breed this kind of mentality. The most obvious is sports. Once a professional athlete is forced to retire, they often report feelings of depression.  Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard famously quoted, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring… there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.” 

Of course, many professionals feel relief after retirement. Some retired workers choose to finally go on that vacation they always wanted but never had time for, to spend more time on their hobbies, but there are many others who feel there simply is no value outside of their work, outside of what they’re so good at doing. I think to avoid the first of the tragedies Wilde expresses is to do one of two things.

Either work in a profession that has no expiry date, something that you will always be able to do for the rest of your life. Or find a hobby that will always be with you, something you can always improve in, something that is not trendy, but permanent, not social but personal, and not physical but mental.

By doing so, you cannot be doomed because you don’t have to value your life according to achievement or non-achievement in one particular field that has an expiry date, only those who have trapped themselves in this philosophy are doomed to fail no matter what. If what you do is all you have, and all you ever will have, but will inevitably end one day, then so with it will your ambition, life meaning, and self-affirmation. References: http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/life-after-sport-depression-in-retired-athletes/