13 June 2020


Perfect imperfections

I have been learning a lot about failure, lately.

It's not like I was walking around completely blind prior to this, though. I've been through my fair share coming up to this point and I've read many more records about this before. Stories of fortune and misfortune, success and failure permeate all throughout human history.

But through my recent experiences, I realise now that there seems to be a clear dividing line between reading, thinking and considering about acting on something to the actual execution of bringing thoughts to life and confronting reality firsthand.

We often hear about how great it can be to attend to failure with the right perspective, with sayings along the lines of:

"Embrace failure."

"Fail fast."

"Learn from your mistakes."

Words that sound really, really good and appear completely rational on paper.

I mean, who is silly enough not to learn from past mistakes? Who is silly enough not to be unwilling to push through blunders, become better and progress through to the other side?

"It all these other people!", an inner voice whispers to me.

But actually, no.

I, too, am vulnerable to imperfection and blatantly acting out-of-sync against the best of intentions. Life gets messy.

The consequences of such misalignment actualise themselves in reality in the form of small mistakes, which might then accumulate over time to produce a failure at large.

And it's a painful process, to not get the results you want despite having the right intentions.

You start to question yourself.

  • "Why didn't you just nail it the first time around?"
  • "What are you even doing here?"
  • "Look around you, everyone else is doing what they are supposed to do, why can't you?"

How might I reconcile this?

I was recently exposed to the dynamics of world class poker championships by listening to former professional poker player Annie Duke's interview on the Farnam Street Podcast.

It gave me tremendous insight into the quality of mental processes required to thrive in such a high stakes, time pressured environment.

I learnt about the role of luck in determining the final outcome - that one can receive the best possible starting hand but yet lose the round or inversely, having the worst possible starting hand but yet come out the other side with more chips in your corner.

The key insights for me were around: a) playing the best possible game with the hand you are dealt and b) avoid obsessing over the final outcome and instead focus on continuously honing the quality of your decision making processes.

"Why didn't you just nail it the first time around?" Is it not a foolish show of arrogance to expect to nail something you have never done before perfectly on the very first go? What can you learn and take with you moving forward?

"What are you even doing here?" At the very least, I'm in the arena, playing the game and trying to get better and better at it every single day!

"Look around you, everyone else is doing what they are supposed to do, why can't you?" What gives me the confidence to cast judgement on how everyone else is doing? They might very well be struggling with something I have no idea about. I really only get to see the surface.

. . .

Do not fear making mistakes, but also do not actively seek them out. Winning is important too, else you find yourself in a dismal, dark rabbit hole.

Take the necessary time to reflect upon and dissect errors made in order to find the signal amongst all the noise. Understand: it is often not as terrible as you think it might be and no, the world is not going to end.

Play the game, and strive to get better and better at it over time.

“ Each individual is a determining part of the welfare, the perfection and indeed the very coherence of that which governs the Whole. Because the complete Whole is maimed if you sever even the tiniest fraction of its connection and continuity... and you do sever something, to the extent you can, whenever you fret at your lot: this is, in a sense, a destruction. ” - Marcus Aurelius