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"There is a simple way, one would almost say a trick, to demonstrate the full extent of the responsibility with which our existence is so poignantly loaded, a responsibility that we can only face trembling, but ultimately somehow joyfully.
For there is a kind of categorical imperative that is also a formula of “'acting as if,'” formally similar to Kant’s well-known maxim, which goes like this: “'Live as if you were living for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!'”
- Yes To Life, Viktor Frankl
This week, I'd like to close our series on Quarterly Reviews...
(Which wasn't just about Quarterly Reviews, of course, but about feedback loops, and distal causes, and the value of introspection...)
...with a Coda.
One of the most striking and - for me - impactful side effects of the Quarterly Review is the full realization of my own temporariness.
We're all used to hearing that "life is short," that we only have so many days and years on this planet, that we need to "wake up" and fully experience the world around us while we still can.
That isn't what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about the fact that "I" - the collection of thoughts, feelings, opinions and habits that constitute my "self" -
....will cease to exist before the day is done.
The Quarterly Review makes this fact abundantly clear.
Reading over the things I wrote, recalling the sheer intensity of the emotions that were tearing their way through my body, stressing me out, tensing my jaw, arching my back, tensing my fists....
Or the absolute joy I felt in something that, unbeknownst to me, would lead only to misery...
The decisions I made in complete ignorance of how things would turn out..
The rationalizations I made...
The critically important facts I overlooked...
The essential moments I missed...
Looking back as my future self doesn't just highlight the mistakes I made. I can no longer understand how I made them. The person in those journal entries seems completely "other," so totally foreign and incomprehensible that I can no longer recognize my "self" in them.
The "me" that I was so completely invested in, the worries and hopes and joys I was so entranced by...no longer exists. And, in reality, blinked out of existence almost as quickly as he came into being.
Emotions change. They come and they go, overwhelming in their ferocity and power but completely transitory.
In the end there simply isn't anything to them - they fade away almost as soon as they come into being.
When we associate "ourselves" with the debris floating through our minds - our feelings, our ambitions, our petty jealousies and our infatuations - we become lost in an ever-shifting miasma. We are aimless, unable to orient ourselves in the fog, always shifting from one goal to another.
The only way to break through that illusion is to come face-to-face with your earlier self, to truly feel the disconnect between who you were and who you are. We've all had this experience looking at childhood photos - "who is that person?" - but the real insight comes when we realize that years don't have to pass for our "self" to fade out of existence, to become something new. In fact, it is always happening - every day, every minute, every second, we are new.
This may seem too philosophical to be of use, but I find that it brings me great comfort. When things get bad - as they sometimes do - and the world seems to shrink, and the future looks bleak...
I can remember that the person feeling those dark emotions will no longer exist tomorrow morning.
When I wake up, the world will be new...and so will I.
Capable of great change, capable of seeing and experiencing the world in profoundly different ways.
It is impossible for the "me" of this moment to imagine what that future "me" is capable of - everything, and anything.
All you have to do is wake up tomorrow and see who you've become.
How wonderful is that?
COOL STUFF TO READ:
The Tyranny of Spreadsheets. An absolutely amazing read. I know reading about spreadsheets sounds boring, but trust me - check it out. Here's an excerpt:
Early last October my phone rang. On the line was a researcher calling from Today, the BBC’s agenda-setting morning radio programme. She told me that something strange had happened, and she hoped I might be able to explain it. Nearly 16,000 positive Covid cases had disappeared completely from the UK’s contact tracing system. These were 16,000 people who should have been warned they were infected and a danger to others, 16,000 cases contact tracers should have been running down to figure out where the infected went, who they met and who else might be at risk. None of which was happening.
Why had the cases disappeared? Apparently, Microsoft Excel had run out of numbers.
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