Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You are a Black Swan

“You always control what you do; so make that your end.”

That piece of advice comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. A black swan, according to Taleb, is an even that is rare, has an extreme impact and is retrospectively (though not prospectively) predictable.

A key thread throughout the book is how big of an impact seemingly random events have on our world. Recognizing this leads Taleb to many absurd observations:

“I am sometimes taken aback by how people can have a miserable day or get angry because they feel cheated by a bad meal, cold coffee, a social rebuff, or a rude reception… We are quick to forget that just being alive is an extraordinary piece of good luck, a remote event, a chance occurrence of monstrous proportions.

“Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of the earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favor of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom… remember that you are a Black Swan.”

Try to remember this next time you are stuck in traffic, or delayed at an airport, or get lousy service at a restaurant… anytime you are tempted to say “I’ve had a bad day.” Just remember the odds of you being here at all are incredibly long against you.

And given all the stuff you can’t control, why worry about any of it? Really, you can only control your reactions to the indifferent and random world around you. Take the absurd approach, recognize none of it matters at all, and liberate yourself from self-imposed chains!

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