“What don’t you like about Quora?”
“It’s populated by young, left-leaning individuals, and saturated by the ideas of productivity and self-improvement.”
It’s a fair point. Quora is the watering hole for many people seeking answers to fundamental questions about learning, growing and achieving.
But it’s not just Quora that is biased towards these things. It’s our whole culture. We’re obsessed with the ideas of productivity, improvement, assessment, comparison and progress. As such, we idolise individuals, organisations and systems that seem to be in a state of perpetual progress. That seem to evolve and grow, right before our eyes, like the timelapse of a sapling tree.
In John Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, Robert Coram, the author, describes Boyd’s struggle to articulate a theory.
“Finally it was time to get back to studying, and the two men returned to the John Saylor Coon Building. They found an empty classroom on the second floor and there, on one of the long desks that ran almost the width of the room, they opened the thermo textbook Engineering Thermodynamics by Jones and Hawkins. It was a relatively small book, but it’s equations had bested some very bright young men. Cooper began talking about the second law, explaining how more usable energy always goes into a system than comes out, because there is unavailable energy called entropy. Boyd nodded. After a while he stood up and began pacing. Cooper went on for several hours, but Boyd could not concentrate. Something was swirling through his mind, pushing at the edges of his consciousness—but what? Boyd continued pacing. He grimaced as if he were in pain.
No system is one hundred percent effective. No system is free from entropy. Some amount of energy is always lost in the process. Think about that.
Now think about the people and companies you idolise. Do you have a vision of them as one hundred percent effective? Do you see them as this nature-defying entity which can bypass the second law of thermodynamics, and exist in an ever-upward spiral of activity and achievement? I don’t know about you, but I do.
I read about, listen to and watch the people I admire in a state of disbelief. How can they do so much? How do they just keep getting better and better? Why can’t I do that? Why can’t I be like that?
That’s the problem. We can’t be like that because the pictures we create of these people are false. The people we admire aren’t like that in reality. The picture we’ve formed of them is one that doesn’t align with what’s actually possible.
Even Elon Musk, the raddest man on earth, cannot escape this fact. His days, undoubtedly, are a swirling mass of activity. But some of it, some of the energy he expends, is lost. Seconds, minutes, and hours of his life go un-utilised, just like the rest of us.
When we tell and consume stories about those we admire, we show only how they leverage their time and energy to great effect. We don’t see the leakage. We don’t see the time and energy squandered. So we end up in a vicious, unreal circle. Individuals and organisations are presented to us as perpetual motion machines, spiralling up. Then we look at ourselves and see everything, the leverage and the leakage of our time and energy. The gap we sense between what is presented to us about others, and what we see from ourselves, makes us feel small and ineffectual. We see, we compare, and we feel bad.
But we shouldn’t. The people we admire are people too. In their lives, just as in ours, there’s always procrastination, wasted time, squandered energy, useless motion. In their lives and in ours, there’s always leakage.