I have a love-hate relationship with ‘quotes.’ Instagram is full of people who think they can become famous by superimposing Emerson’s words on stock photos.
As a result, we are being pelted with knowledge bullets all the time.
This is a blessing and a burden.
The knowledge that normally would be able to penetrate us, no longer can. Our collective immunity to intellect is growing. The constant exposure to wise words has created a sort of vaccination of the mind.
In the search for mindless entertainment, we scroll right past knowledge.
That’s why truths that are wildly unsexy and uninspiring can be the most effective. Because they aren’t cute or stock, they have the potential to infiltrate our distraction and overload.
Here are a few of my favorites:
[*] Everyone dies. No one has ever escaped this journey alive. Neither will anyone you know — your parents, kids, colleagues, friends, even you. We weren’t designed to live forever. Instead of fearing mortality, let it guide you to become a better person, do the work that matters, and cherish the time you have here with the people you love.
[*] You know nothing. You think you know everything about something (we all do) — whether it’s your spouse or that project you’re working on. But in truth, we can’t know anything. Scientists haven’t even been able to prove that the material world is “real” and not just a projection. So, when you feel embarrassed because you don’t know what KPI stands for. Just ask.
[*] Your pain is so normal it’s almost embarrassing. Whether it’s grief, anxiety, depression, overwhelm, or just flat out human suffering — there are millions of other human beings that do “get it.” You just haven’t found them or read their biographies yet. It’s unique to you, sure. But for the most part, it’s self-indulgent to think your pain is somehow different. This is a good thing.
[*] You have a blind spot a mile wide. In Driver’s Ed, they tell you, don’t drive parallel to 18-wheelers. The drivers’ blind spots are big enough to fit your entire car. The truth? You have a similar blind spot and you are running over opportunities — relationships, work engagements, fulfillment — all because you can’t see what’s beside you.
[*] Human nature is complex and contradictory. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, lays out a case for the fact that we know so little about how our minds operate. So much of how we respond to external stimuli and information is automatic. When we think we are thinking logically and acting rationally, we are often biased all the same.
[*] Apps know you better than you know yourself. Everything you do on a device is tracked. What you respond to. How you interact. When you sign on. What gets your attention. And more. The tech you use has better data on your behavior than you do. You have blind spots, emotional instabilities, addictions, natural biases. You often don’t even realize why you do what you do. The machines you interact with do and they manipulate this information to grab more of your attention (and dollars).
[*] Everyone loses. Even Michael Phelps — one of the most decorated Olympians of all time — lost races. The difference between him and 99% of people? He didn’t allow the losses to deter him from working hard and swimming fast.
[*] Emotions will always come and go. They are fleeting. They leave as quickly as they arrive. What can last is the damage we do when hit with rage or a sense of overwhelming sadness. This is why it’s important to come back here — to the place where you know all is transitory.
[*] “Depression is the common cold of mental illnesses.” Some of us catch colds more than others, but we all catch ’em sometime. It’s time we stop acting like depression is a rare occurrence and start talking about it openly.
[*] Nobody cares. About whether your socks match. About whether you’re feeling awkward. About your relationship status. About your professional accolades. Most people care about themselves, their own egos, their own stuff. You could look at this negatively, but it’s actually relieving, isn’t it?
[*] People do gossip, though. You’ve gossiped before, so you know it’s true.
[*] Your phone is probably killing you in more ways than one. Before the research came out, people thought smoking cigarettes was just a standard vice. Then, they realized it was a fatal vice. What do you think the longterm healthcare cost of complete connectivity will be? How might it impact longevity and mental health in aggregate? There’s no way of knowing. So, um… find ways to defend against it.
[*] To stay fit, you must keep working out. It doesn’t matter how many times you run a marathon, go climbing, or lift heavy. Working out last year doesn’t somehow exempt you from needed to do it today. It doesn’t end. Embrace the suck.
[*] Those who can’t do, teach. This phrase is often employed in discussions about terrible teachers and professors. But the reality is, teaching is a valuable way of synthesizing and practicing a skill. Many professionals assert that teaching a subject is the final step of mastery over it. If you want to learn something, try teaching it.
[*] Passion is often counterproductive. It can be blinding to all rationality. To a point, this is great. It helps you push past your limits. But there’s a breaking point. Passion can also set you up for failure in the sense that your emotions are so heightened you can’t see what’s in front of you.
[*] “If you’ve found yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Kapush. It’s just that simple.
[*] You’re not supposed to feel lethargic after you eat. Food is a fuel source, not a pleasure point. If you feel like taking a nap or puking after you eat something, consider not eating that anymore. [Cough this may include drinking if you are susceptible to nasty hangovers like I am.] I know, I know. I’m a purist for saying something so rash.
[*] Rumi says: “The solution to the pain is in the pain.” No one wants to hear this advice. It means, to go through pain, you must dive into the pain itself. You must feel. Trying to suck in your tears and bury your frustration only makes things worse. You must, must, must feel. Cry those tears. Yell into a pillow. Then, do the right next thing.
[*] Don’t be an a**hole. Whatever you do, wherever you go, no matter what — just be ethical, moral, and just.
We struggle to slow down to the speed of knowledge, whizzing right by the simplicity of it.
I, for one, am on a constant hunt for something more profound than this.
But what if there is no need for profundity? What if all wisdom is hidden in the myriad of unsexy truths that we overlook?
“Everyone dies” is more than just some banal statement. Those two words are terrifying and tantalizing. They highlight the transitory nature of life, show us just how fragile this is.
Yet, we repel and reject these words as if they are nothing. How cliché, we think. We fill our days with mindless complexities, for what?
We are afraid to accept that this is all there is, the existential void. What if we weren’t afraid? What if we allowed these simple, unsexy truths to guide us?
Wisdom comes in many forms. Sometimes that’s uninspiring. Sometimes that’s terrifying. Sometimes that’s simple and unsexy.
And sometimes that’s exactly what we need.