I have another “Wrong Story” to PURGE.
Today’s target: I must PURGE the idea that I can predict how current events will affect my future.
The year was 1989. I was twenty six years old and 100% sure that the only path for me was Wall Street. I was hell bent on ditching my stupid engineering degree and becoming a billionaire banker. So I quit my job, took on debt, and dove into a two year MBA program.
My master plan looked like this…
Ace classes at business school.
Land interviews with top banks.
Dazzle them with my newfound financial brilliance.
Receive many internship offers.
Accept the most lucrative bid.
Begin the climb to jet-setting power broker.
Great plan - poor execution. Most of the banks were so unimpressed by my credentials that they didn’t even bother to interview me. And the ones that did sent polite rejection letters. Except one. With zero other options left on the table, I landed a coveted internship at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Ya-freaking-hoo! I did it!
My dream had come true. I’d made the transition from techie to banker. This outcome redefined me. I’d never been so freaking fired up or so sure that I was on the right path in my life.
GOOD THING, BAD THING
By the end of my first week on the job, I knew I’d made a mistake. I hated it. I won’t bore you with the details, but it was the typical round hole square peg thing.
How was this possible? How had my defining accomplishment turned into a disaster in just five working days? Was I really that bad at predicting whether a current event would lead to a good outcome or a bad outcome?
The answer was YES then, and it’s YES today. I’m still stunned by how often something that I thought was good can turn out bad, and vice versa. And I shudder to think of the damage I can do to myself when I ignore this fact.
For instance, what if I hadn’t gotten the internship? I would’ve been devastated. In that moment I would have known for sure that my future was tainted. That the rest of my career was going to be suboptimal. That I’d always regret what I left on the table when I failed the big challenge back in ’89.
I would have polluted my mind with all of this stupid stuff - maybe forever - for no good reason.
Conclusion: I suck at predicting how current events will affect my future.
Let me continue the story to underscore my point.
With the Wall Street dream crushed I fell back on my tech experience. I ended up in the software industry out of desperation and depression - took a job that I ended up despising. This was a bad time. Bad enough that it affected my health.
BUT, a person I met at that crappy software job introduced me to the startup software company that I mentioned in my last post. A job that led to a great nine years with great people.
So was the MBA/Wall Street detour a good thing or a bad thing?
- When I got accepted at business school it was a good thing.
- When I struggled to get interviews it was a bad thing.
- When I landed the internship it was a good thing.
- When I hated the Wall Street job it was a bad thing.
- When the MBA I earned chasing the Wall Street job qualified me to interview for the first software job it was a good thing.
- When I hated that job it was a bad thing.
- When that crappy job gave me a lead to a job I eventually loved it was a good thing.
- Etc., etc.,
You get the point. And there’s one more personal event I could add to that list. As part of the MBA/Wall Street detour I met my wonderful wife. So especially my kids, who wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t taken the detour, would join Joyce and I in considering the entire episode a good thing.
So here’s a quick summary of lessons learned from this experience..
Stuff that I think is great in the moment can turn to shit over time.
Stuff that I think is shit in the moment can turn to great over time.
Great stuff can turn to shit and then back to great given enough time - and vice versa.
EVEN MORE PROOF
Please answer this question. Would you rather have your legs cut off or win the lottery?
I’m going to assume you, like everyone else, chose winning the lottery. It’s obvious that it would be the better of the two outcomes.
Except, there’s a study showing that lottery winners and paraplegics share similar happiness levels. Not the same happiness levels - as many have falsely reported. But, the two groups end up much closer to each other on the happiness scale than I would have expected.
Doesn’t that suggest, about as convincingly as possible, that I must PURGE the idea that I can predict how a current event will affect my future?
If you’re familiar with Buddhist teachings the relevant phrase here is…
“Good thing, bad thing, who knows.”
And they typically tell the story of a farmer, his son, and a horse. If you care, here’s a link.
I’m not a Buddhist. And I don’t like the literal interpretation of the phrase because there really are bad things like child abuse and death.
But in general, if I remove the extreme cases, I think the saying is golden. It's a constant reminder that in everyday life I WAY WAY WAY overestimate my ability to know future good from future bad.
So this all sounds fine, but why am I making such a big deal of it? Is there some amazing payoff for adopting this mindset?
Yea, there is. Knowing that I suck at predicting how current events will play out in the future means I can delete anticipatory fear, angst, worry, stress. I can just throw it all away.
Which is a huge relief to my overburdened brain. I’m left with...
Peace of mind.
Which is a freaking gold mine for my mental and physical health. It leaves space for me to remember that my self worth isn’t tied to my success or failure on some project. My self worth is more about the intensity, creativity, and love that I bring to the battle.
At least that’s how I’ll be measured by the people that care about me - and that’s all that matters.
THE TWO POPSICLE RECOVERY
I’ll leave you with a perfect example of how I think this strategy should work.
I remember fondly my little league baseball days. We all played our hearts out - tons of emotion - full commitment. And sometimes we won and sometimes we lost.
Either way, after approximately two post game popsicles everything was pretty much OK. I got on my little bike and rode home absolutely committed to winning the next game.
Kids are wise!
***NOTE: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.