Most of the rest will end up on the bottom shelf. Likewise, the fewer yearnings you put on the top shelf, the more likely those on the top shelf will be to thrive. Your time and energy are severely limited, so this is a zero-sum compromise. The amateur mistake is to be too liberal with the NN bowl and top shelf and too sparing with the large bottom shelf. But like the rest of your hierarchy decisions, your criteria for what qualifies as trash should be derived from your own deep thought, not from what others tell you is and is not trash. Yearnings and fears are impatient and bad at seeing the big picture.
Many of the people who have done wonders to make the world better got there on a path that started with selfish motives like wealth or personal fulfillment—motives their moral tentacle probably hated at first. The Want Box deals with what you find desirable. The Reality Box is the same deal. The goal of self-reflection is to bring both of these boxes as close to accuracy as possible. For our Want Box audit, we looked under the hood of the Want Box and found its settings—your yearnings and fears.
When we open the hood of your Reality Box, we see a group of beliefs. For a career option to qualify for your Reality Box, your potential in that career area has to measure up to the objective difficulty of achieving success in that area. There are traditional careers—stuff like medicine or law or teaching or a corporate ladder, etc. Then there are less traditional careers—the arts, entrepreneurship, non-profit work, politics, etc.
These are perfectly reasonable assumptions—if you live in A general conception, a common opinion, an oft-cited statistic 7 —none of which have actually been verified by you, but all of which are treated as gospel by society. These problems then extend to how we view our own potential. These are only a few examples of the slew of delusions and misconceptions we tend to have about how great careers happen. I have no idea, mostly. And I think most people have no idea. Things are just changing too quickly.
If you can figure out how to get a reasonably accurate picture of the real career landscape out there, you have a massive edge over everyone else, most of whom will be using conventional wisdom as their instruction booklet. Pretty stressful, but also incredibly exciting. A career path is like a game board. This is promising news. If you simply understand what the game board really looks like and play by modern rules, you have a huge advantage. And this brings us to you and your particular strengths.
With enough time, could you get good enough at this game to potentially reach whatever your definition of success is in that career? The distance starts with where you are now—point A—and ends with you reaching your definition of success, which we can draw with a star. The length of the distance depends on where point A is how far along you are at the current moment and where the star is how lofty your definition of success is.
But the game boards in less traditional careers often involve many more factors. Acting ability is only one piece of that puzzle—you also need a knack for getting yourself in front of people with power, a shrewdness for personal branding, an insane amount of optimism, a ridiculous amount of hustle and persistence, etc. If you get good enough at that whole game—every component of it—your chances of becoming an A-list movie star are actually pretty high. So how do you figure out your chances of getting to any particular star? What makes someone slower or faster at improving at a career game?
Your level of chefness. Careers are complex games that almost everyone starts off bad at—then the chefs improve rapidly through a continual loop…. Your work ethic. This one is obvious. Someone who works on their career 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, is going to move down the path almost four times faster than someone who works 20 hours a week, 40 weeks a year. Someone who chooses a balanced lifestyle will move slower than a single-minded workaholic. Someone who frequently breaks from work to daydream or pick up their phone is going to get less done in each work hour than someone who practices deep focus.
Your natural abilities. Talent does matter. Smarter, more talented people will improve at a game at a faster rate than less naturally gifted people. But intelligence and talent are only two types of natural ability that come into play here. Depending on the type of career, social skills can be critically important as well. In many careers, likable or subtly manipulative people have a big advantage over less likable people—and those who enjoy socializing will put in more people hours over time, and build deeper relationships, than antisocial types. Persistence is simpler than pace.
A car going 30 mph that quits driving after 15 minutes gets a lot less far than a car that drives 10 mph for two hours. And this is why persistence is so important. A few years is just not enough time to traverse the typically long distances it takes to get to the raddest success stars, no matter how impressive your pace. Your Real Strengths and W eaknesses.
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When we list our strengths, we tend to list our areas of existing skill more than anything else. Instead, strengths should be all about pace and persistence qualities. Originality or lack thereof should be a critical component of the discussion, making qualities like agility and humility trademark chef traits notable strengths, and qualities like stubbornness 8 or intellectual laziness classic cook traits important weaknesses. The subtleties of work ethic, like a knack for deep focus or a propensity to procrastinate, should also be a major part of the discussion, as should natural abilities beyond talent, like savvy and likability.
Qualities related to persistence, like resilience and determination and patience, should be thought of as promising strengths, while a social tentacle clamoring to appear successful as quickly as possible should be viewed as a bright red flag. This lesson applies to specific skills—but most general pace and persistence qualities can also be worked on and improved if you focus on them. This would be an impossibly big list, only ruling out paths that are clearly far too long for you to traverse at your maximum possible pace on the path like me chasing a career as an Olympic figure skater.
To complete our Reality Box audit with that caveat, we need to evaluate:. For those paths, evaluate your starting point, based on your current skills, resources, and connections relevant to that field. Think about end points and where on each line your star should be placed. Make an initial estimate for what your pace of improvement might be on these various game boards, based on your current pace-related strengths and how much you think you can improve at each of them in other words, how much your speed might be able to accelerate.
You take your game board and make it a line, you plot starting points and success stars that together generate the various distances in front of you, and for each, you multiply your pace by your level of persistence. A from-first-principles Reality Box audit may bring some overly optimistic people down to Earth, but I suspect that for most, an audit will leave them feeling like they have a lot more options than they realized, empowering them to set their sights on a bolder direction.
A good Reality Box reflection warrants yet another Want Box reflection.
Reframing a bunch of career paths in your mind will affect your level of yearning for some of them. One career may seem less appealing after reminding yourself that it will entail thousands of hours of networking or multiple decades of pre-success struggle. Another may seem less daunting after changing your mind about how much luck is actually involved. This brings us to the end of our long, two-part deep dive. After a fairly exhausting box-auditing process, we can return to our Venn 10 diagram.
Assuming some things have changed, you have a new Option Pool to look at—a new list of options on the table that seem both desirable to your high-priority rankings and possible to achieve. If there had been a clear arrow on your map before your audit, check out your new Option Pool. Remember, going from a false arrow to a question mark is always major progress in life. And actually, a new question mark implies having made the key cliff jump on two roller coasters: getting to know yourself and getting to know the world.
Major step in the right direction. Cross out the arrow and join the question mark crowd. Now the question mark crowd has a tough choice. You gotta pick one of the arrows in the Option Pool. Careers used to be kind of like a year tunnel. You picked your tunnel, and once you were in, that was that.
You worked in that profession for 40 years or so before the tunnel spit you out on the other side into your retirement. The truth is, careers have probably never really functioned like year-tunnels, they just seemed that way. At best, traditional careers of the past played out kind of like tunnels. But crusty old conventional wisdom has a lot of us still viewing things that way, which makes the already hard job of making big career path choices much harder. It enhances the delusion that what we do for work is a synonym for who we are, making a question mark on your map seem like an existential disaster.
When you think of your career as a tunnel, the stakes to make the right choice seem so high that it explodes the feeling of tyranny of choice. For perfectionist types especially, this can be utterly paralyzing. When you think of your career as a tunnel, you lose the courage to make a career switch, even when your soul is begging for it. It makes switching careers feel incredibly risky and embarrassing, and it suggests that someone who does so is a failure.
But conventional wisdom still tells many of us that careers are tunnels. And of course, that landscape—and those game boards—will have themselves evolved. Popular psychologist Dan Gilbert also eloquently describes just how bad we are at predicting what will make us happy in the future. Pretending you can figure out what dot 2 or 4 or 8 should be now is laughable. Future dots are the worry of a future, wiser you living in a future world.
Dot 1 is your chance to test it out. Hypothesis testing is intuitive in the dating world. You have to get some experience dating this person to learn what you need to learn to make that decision. We can all agree that this hypothetical friend is pretty nuts and is lacking a fundamental understanding of how you find a happy relationship. Reframing your next major career decision as a far lower-stakes choice makes the number of options exciting, not stressful. And now you have to actually make the move. The Yearning Octopus can help.
As we discussed earlier, your behavior at any given point simply displays the configuration of your octopus. Your conscious mind may have tried to assign lower shelf ratings to the parts of your octopus that lean towards inertia, but your yearnings have rebelled. To fix this problem, think like a kindergarten teacher. In your class, a faction of the 5-year-olds is rebelling against your wishes.
What do you do? Go talk to the 5-year-olds that are causing the trouble.
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Describe to them the insights you gained from your Reality Box reflection. Remind them about how connecting the dots works and about the chillness of dot 1. Until you do, your life will be run by a bunch of primitive, short-sighted 5-year-olds, and your whole shit will suck. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.
But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read. I want to talk about what reading does. I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons — a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth — how many cells are they going to need?
How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? But there are very real correlations. And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.
What Was I Thinking?
Fiction has two uses. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading.
People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far. The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.
see Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.
Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer.
And not everyone has the same taste as you. We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know.
You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals. I was in China in , at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history.
And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed? The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Fiction can show you a different world. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with and books are real places, make no mistake about that ; and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison.
Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real. And to give them nowhere to read those books. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress.
When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering. Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain.
Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in , not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views.
If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in , they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals.
Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble.
Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently. Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.
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Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. They can now count on their side—sort of—Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians. The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component.
They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous.
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