When I was a kid I was very relaxed. And I mean in school. I never worried too much about it, yet I managed to get the highest grades in my class. Even my teachers were aware about my apparent passivity and they “blamed” my success on my natural skills: a fantastic memory, they said. I was a good kid in school because I was blessed with a fantastic memory. And not because I was diligently studying. That was my secret, or so they said…
The more I think about this, the more confused I am. I did have a good memory as a kid, but not something way above the average. In fact, I think every kid has a far better memory than an adult. I didn’t read much about this so I’m not backing up my assumption with some scientific research, but I think our memory, as a cognitive function of the brain, is more developed in the early years, when we have to absorb a lot of new information and somehow decreases in performance as we grow, to make room for other brain functions like flexibility or information processing.
Whatever. The truth is I wasn’t a good kid in school because of my memory. I was a good kid in school because I didn’t care much about it. How come?
Well, I almost never did my home assignments at home. I used to do them at school, just before the class. There was a 10 minutes break between classes and I almost always used this short break to write my homework. Sometimes I didn’t even know I had a homework, so I had to react pretty fast. In 90% of the cases I had better assignments than my colleagues. The rest of 10% I didn’t had any assignment at all because there were situations when 10 minutes weren’t physically enough to do it. But the vast majority of time, 10 minutes was just about enough to get by.
I didn’t improvise at all, while I was quickly writing my assignments. I was pretty sure about what I was doing. In fact, the mere fact of having to do something in a pressuring context seemed to made me act faster and more focused than usual. Every time I knew I have to face a challenge, being it the challenge of finishing my home assignments during the break, my mind was like crystal clear. I really enjoyed during my homework.
Somehow related to this feeling I also remember the feeling of excitement each morning I was going to school. What challenges was I up for that day? What unexpected things were waiting for me? What small victories was I ready to conquer? What tiny but relevant roadblock would I overcome? Would it be a new assignment? Some new math problem that I have to solve? Some essay that I have to concoct in less than 10 minutes?
I confess I loved school. But I loved it not because I was successful at it, I loved it because it gave me a playground for my risk taking abilities. Am I going to finish my homework during the break? Am I going to learn something new? Am I going to get caught?
Even when I was getting caught without my home assignment (those 10% were emerging quite often, so to speak) I had to come up with something. I had to deal with the situation. Either by inventing an excuse, either by facing the consequences upfront. Ok, I will have to do twice the volume of work for the next time. I will come earlier to school and finish the double assignment, no big deal.
And finally, I remember the feeling I had each evening before going to sleep. Yes, today was a good day. I did great at school. I confess that each morning I was a little bit confused and even frightened just before getting into the flow of events, but once I was there, acting and doing stuff, everything felt into pieces. And almost every single day at school was a fantastic day for me.
Playing It Safe
Maybe you’re wondering now why I’m writing about my 3rd grade home assignments. That’s a good question. I’m writing about that because somehow, along the way, I lost those feelings. I lost the thrill of not knowing what homework did I have to do, the excitement of doing it under pressure, the satisfaction of doing a great job and the incredible feeling of self-confidence I used to have every day before going to bed.
Somehow, I started to play it safe.
I started to plan in advance everything, to make sure every single situation is covered. I started to do my life assignments at home. Even in advance. I think I started to spend more time doing my homework than actually learning and living.
Sometimes, I miss the thrill of not knowing what will happen tomorrow. Most of the time, I already know it. I have appointments in my agenda and tasks to be done.
I miss the self-confidence feeling I had each night while I was looking back at my school victories. Because I don’t really have any important victories to be proud of nowadays: every little task is done according to the plan.
I even miss my confusion and fear in front of something unknown and challenging because, even if my day is made out of difficult tasks, there’s nothing really unknown or challenging.
At some point, life became boring. Our fight for immediate survival made us create a highly predictable universe. The more predictable the universe we’re creating, the easier the life we’re living. We’re having a job which will provide money every two weeks. We have a partner who will fulfill our physical needs twice per week. We have a house that we’re going to really own in thirty years, after we’ll finish to pay our mortgage. And that’s for sure. Because we took every single measure to be sure. We’re constantly making our life assignments at home. At safe.
Maybe it’s the society. We have to survive. We have to push harder and become richer so we can pay our mortgages, get a bigger and fancier car and spend our holidays in exotic places with names that we couldn’t really spell. We have to provide and be accountable for our own contribution.
Or maybe we just get scared. Maybe it’s the fear of death which makes us surround with beautiful and shiny distractions just to avoid the very dreadful thought of physical destruction. By playing it safe we’re creating the illusion of security and predictability.
No Risk It, No Biscuit
Alas, there is no such thing as security. There is no such thing as predictability either. Security is an illusion invented byÂ insurance companies.
Fact is we’re vulnerable. We’re exposed to dangers every single second. Our life is not predictable, although by starting to do our assignments at home we’re creating this illusion.
You may wake up one day to realize that planes aren’t flying anymore because of a big volcano with an impossible name from a country half frozen. The sky is filled with smoke. The sky is not safe anymore.
Or you may wake up learning that your partner is not the person you though he/she was. Just like that, in a split second, you realize you invested yourself in the wrong partner. Your emotional life is not safe anymore.
Or you may learn from your bank that inflation made your life savings worth a nickel. Or nothing. You thought you’re covered for many years, but all of a sudden you have to start doing your money assignment again. Your financial life is not safe anymore.
And, as surprising and difficult to accept as it may seem, that’s the beauty of it.
The truth is life is what’s happening while you’re making plans. The secret we’re constantly forgetting is that life is what happens on that fragile line between defeat and victory. Life is about taking risks, embracing challenges and overcoming limitations. And you really can’t overcome limitations if you’re playing it safe. Doing your assignments at home, far from the noise and surprises of the real life, trying to prevent bad things to happen or desperately predicting every single bad outcome and avoiding it, will not make you more alive. This will push you deeper and deeper in the illusion of security, while constantly weakening your risk taking muscles second by second.
Until one day you realize you’re not excited about life anymore. You lost that secret along the way. You’re not going to bed happy about the victories you had during the day. You’re not starting your mornings eagerly waiting for some unexpected challenge. You’re not experiencing the thrill of coping with unknown assignments, focusing with a crystal clear mind and getting better and better.
Every time I get these feelings of boredom, limitation and frustration, I simply recall some of my 3rd grade victories. Now you know my secret. 🙂