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January 5th, 2023
Charlie Munger has pointed out that it’s not greed that drives the world but envy. It’s the old trope of grass looking greener on the other side of every fence. Instagram is the ultimate envy machine as people post the very best moments of their lives. And often these are completely fabricated. The envy-impulse is so strong that it even supersedes the actual pleasure of having a “better” life. Renting a fake private plane just to take photos in it, for example - telegraphing a status that doesn’t actually reflect reality. Is there really any pleasure in this exercise, or is the pleasure garnered from the pile of likes and “OMG” comments that stream in from strangers who want what you seem to have.
We have another way of phrasing envy: FOMO, or fear of missing out. Is envy simply a form of fear? Is envy an actual desire for someone else’s situation or is it more a fear that your life is not as good as someone else’s and that you might be missing out? If only you were living someone else’s life…
Perhaps envy is the child of both desire and fear. Envy is a fearful wanting, a claustrophobic desire.
What effect does this have on people? Does it motivate people to work harder to get what they actually want? Or does it have adverse effects that seem similar? Always hedging bets, always going for optionality, instead of taking the risk, going all-in and welcoming a potential mistake into life?
Everyone is trying to live a life that will have felt worth the time and the effort. But this is a hard cooking to chomp on depending on which direction you look. Looking back, retrospect can make things look like a complete waste of time that felt totally justified in the moment. Smoking pot for the 200th day in a row and playing video games, for example. In the moment this can feel like a great idea. But looking back five years later? It can seem like a waste of time.
When I was younger, I spent a summer asking people in the later decades of their life what they regretted. They all had the same exact response: Sure, shit happens, many things you can’t control and those are things you have to deal with, but looking back? They all regretted not trying more things, not taking more risks.
One older gentleman even said: I have all this money now! But look at me? Look at my body! I can’t do anything! All that money is worthless now!
The terrifying reality is that as things stand right now: we are all going to fucking die. There’s currently no degree of optionality that can change that fact. And it seems as people get closer to the consequences of this horrifying fact, a few things flip in the mind and feelings of a person. The fear that stops people from taking more risks, more chances, and trying new things begins to seem silly. What’s there really to fear when we all have to deal with the same exact exit from life?
So when it comes to taking risks, what is the most fundamental aspect of assessing that risk?
Virtually everything else accompanying earthly risks is open to edit. It’s possible to lose everything short of one’s life and still bounce back.
What’s astonishing is that we live in a world where we have ideologies that compel people to actually die for some earthly change, be it someone who engages in military combat, or the most extreme version: a suicide bomber. And yet, within the comfy confines of modern society, most people tip-toe through their lives, far away from any unknown and potentially risky territory.
When the stress of taking some chance or risk is at the door, the only real question is: does this have a chance of actually killing me?
If the answer is ‘no’, then everything else is gravy, and hardship in retrospect will either seem like triumphant under-dogging, or a failure that can be mined for insight. This is how we naturally build the story of our lives as we look back on them.
So go all-in, burn the boats, take the risk, shoot for the moon, ricochet off the goal and cast yourself lost among unknown stars. But just stay alive.