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The Tinkered Mind
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May 9th, 2019
To have many irons in the fire is to have a lot on the go, projects, jobs, endeavors, explorations, hobbies, interests.
This last one: interests, might seem like the core of such a drive, and certainly it is the most fluid, efficient and natural drive behind such eclectic efforts. Such diversity is often based in a natural curiosity which can be one of the most powerful tools we can foster within ourselves.
This is a virtuous framework because it sets itself up in a way that naturally safeguards against risk and maximizes potential payoff.
To illustrate this aspect of curiosity and having multiple irons in the fire, we can juxtapose it with a similar idiom that functionally seems to say the same thing but actually conveys the exact opposite meaning. We’ve all heard it:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Why is it good to have more than one iron in the fire, and why don’t we say don’t put all your irons in one fire?
Because the risk of the basket does not carry over to the creative powers of the forge.
We don’t put all our eggs in one basket because if the basket is accidentally dropped, then many, if not all of our eggs will probably break.
Put another way, we might say: don’t put all your hope into this one endeavor, because… frankly, it might not work, and then all that hope will have functioned like expectation, now dashed to pieces, leaving only a mess of disappointment. It can take a while to bounce back from such an event, and this might just be from an emotional standpoint and says nothing of the financial and reputational fallout that might coincide with such unfortunate results. Many people fail to take into account the unknown forces that create unforeseeable randomness which can affect results in ways beyond our control, and such stiff perspectives can quickly place the blame on an individual who has honestly tried their best as opposed to greater influences of chaos that such stiff perspectives unwisely choose to ignore.
The forge for our irons, on the other hand carries no risk of ruining our projects. Metaphorically. this is where projects grow, where we build, where we experiment, iterate and ultimately produce results. As anyone who has tried their hand at multiple projects - even projects as humble as knitting or simple woodwork – such individuals know how everything comes with a learning curve, even those things we have some experience with. The craftsman or artisan puts no huge and final hope in any one project, but uses projects as a way to get better. The attainment and continued exercise of a skill is ultimately driven by the mind’s desire to increase personal agency, to change reality to be as close to the wonders we dream up.
This iterative practice is the symmetrical antithesis of being too emotionally tied to one single plan. Each iteration in the practice of some given skill, each project is a small plan, one through which we learn from the results and from which we form new plans based on the discoveries of such experimentation.
The blacksmith with several irons in the fire is running multiple experiments at once: keeping this iron in a little longer to see what effect it has, taking another one out sooner to observe that effect, having all of them run at slightly different temperatures to again note the difference of results. If one turns out particularly good, it’s a pleasant surprise, but it’s also knowledgably founded on the experience of what happened with all the other slightly different iterations.
The equivalent mistake of having all eggs in one basket for the blacksmith would be to have only one iron in the fire and to expect it to turn out perfectly.
Concurrently, the equivalent for carrying eggs would be to have a basket for each egg given to different people and thereby raising the chance that someone will make it to the destination without dropping their basket.