It is ok to be ordinary

This is an issue of my newsletter focusing on the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, particularly remote work, online economy, and cognitive load.
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It is easy to forget how good modern life is. Water, shelter, fire, food – all our basic needs are taken care of. We have running (hot!) water, access to medical care, and exotic meals on demand. All for a price most of us can afford without much concern. I am not an American, nor did I celebrate thanksgiving, but I am pretty grateful for the gifts of modernity, including industrial crop farming driving food prices down.

You don’t have to be a CEO, a billionaire, or particularly rich to afford luxurious things: I pay for catered meals, housekeeping, and Virtual Assistant and the total cost of all of those is about $300/week (yeah, Poland’s pretty cheap).

And yet, our default success metric is being extraordinary – CEO, director, celebrity, a famous person. Despite now being 8 billion of us, we all compare ourselves to a select elite.

In a great article, “Being OK With Not Being Extraordinary”, Tiffany shares how normalizing comparison to “winners” is not a sustainable way to live:

My constant exposure to these amazing stories of success has normalized the extraordinary. I started comparing myself to these “normal” extraordinary people, and wondered why I was not them.

We need to redefine extraordinary

Nassim Taleb points out that globalization turned the modern world into an “Extremistan”. Previously, it was possible to be an ok musician and make a good living just because you were the only option in town. Now people can listen to Taylor Swift or Mozart on demand. There are only a few winners, and you compete with everybody else on the planet.

On the one hand – we can enjoy the fantastic achievements of modernity, like running water. On the other, dating, writing, and much more of human experience have turned into winner-takes-all hunger games.

It seems like the only winning move is not to play. You don’t have to be extraordinary to make your life count. It is totally ok to have middle-class values.

Life is not a competition, and you don’t “lose” if you are not famous nor rich, or powerful. You lose if you’re trying to play somebody else’s game.

I feel like this is misaligned with what I wrote in The Triumph Economy, and yet I stand behind both of those posts.

Tiffany shared her advice on how to deal with the extraordinary trap:

Because the ledge is not the only thing that exists. There is a vast amount of space under it, other ledges, crooks, and crannies, that most people forget about. That space is just as valuable.

I expanded on that view in Competence is fractal. Plus transgenic trees

On the topic of Trees:

How would you plan for the next 200 years?

After their defeat and loss at Copenhagen in 1807, the Danes responded by planting 90,000 oak trees toward the Navy’s rebirth. The Danish Nature Agency, the successor to the royal forester, informed the Defense Ministry in 2007 that their trees were ready.

These centuries-long projects are fascinating. What will change in 200 years? What will stay the same?

I create software for a living and am sometimes unable to run a project created last year because its dependencies no longer compile. Planning for the next 200 years requires black magic. The Clock of the Long Now presents an interesting exercise of a group of engineers building a clock intended to run for the next 10 000 years.

A thing I’ve read

Crazy new ideas

In this article, Paul Graham explores the fragility of good ideas. The status quo is very resilient, and a better idea not always wins:

People build whole careers on some ideas. When someone claims they’re false or obsolete, they feel threatened.

A good litmus test is to depend on the personal credibility of a person proposing a new idea:

If the person proposing the idea is reasonable, then they know how implausible it sounds. And yet they’re proposing it anyway. That suggests they know something you don’t. And if they have deep domain expertise, that’s probably the source of it

We like to think that it comes down to the battle of ideas: things are the way they are because these are the best ideas we have implemented.

But ultimately, it all comes down to the credibility of the person proposing the idea and the person rejecting it.

Finally, we will not run out of good ideas:

You can observe big new ideas being born all around you right now. Just look for a reasonable domain expert proposing something that sounds wrong.

How to be lucky

Emma shares some tips on how to maximize your “luck”. It all boils down to the following:

  1. Leaving space for opportunities to appear
  2. Being prepared to take advantage

When you stop procrastinating and these mundane things are finally taken care of, they will no longer take up headspace. You’ll enhance your ability to be observant, present, inspired and curious, all of which will have a profound impact on building your serendipity muscle.

serendipity hook strategy’ (whenever you meet someone new, cast a few hooks – concrete examples of your current interests, hobbies and vocation, thus maximising the chance you and the other person will latch on to common ground and shared passions, triggering serendipity).

Wiseman found that people who self-identified as lucky used more open body language (such as fully facing the other person in conversation), made more eye contact and smiled twice as often as ‘unlucky’ people, all of which made others trust them and feel more ‘attracted’ to them.

Ask people What are you most interested in at the moment?’ instead of ‘What do you do?’

What is your favorite cheese?

David suggests another great icebreaker:

Ages ago my brother suggested at a family gathering that “What’s your favourite cheese?” was the best opening question to ask someone new. None of us were 100% convinced until we realised we’d spent about half an hour after he said this talking about cheese

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