Looking back at the life lessons I’ve consistently failed to learn, certain themes dominate.
One of them might kindly be called Optimistic Overconfidence, particularly around timing.
I did, however, once demonstrate an extremely rare moment of early mastery in this arena.
Namely, during college I had a vision for an arty short film I wanted to make over Spring Break.
For one of the leads I cast someone I adored but who was notoriously unpunctual.
Given that she was once an hour late for her own birthday dinner at a posh restaurant, I sensed that the degree of her tardiness would be directly proportional to how important it was to be on time.
Thus, I told her that we’d need to start shooting on Saturday morning, while secretly planning her scenes only for Sunday afternoon.
Sure enough, as Saturday dawned, profuse and elaborate apologies began bright and early.
And they continued right up until the moment she arrived on set, just as I had wisely calculated, on Sunday at two p.m.
This reminds me of Billy Wilder’s famous quote about working with Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot.
Plagued with Marilyn Monroe’scompulsive tardiness (and her growing addictions), by most accounts, it was not a happy set.
Yet even Billy Wilder had to admit that Marilyn’s star quality was worth it.
As he famously quipped:
“My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual and never hold up production, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?”
In both Wilder’s and my experience, the trade-off between talent and aggravation was worth it.
Most importantly, in this instance I created something that Essentialism––the book I’ve been exploring this month––suggests is vital if we want to lead focused lives guided by Clarity.
Namely, a Buffer.
Buffers are fascinating and useful.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a buffer as:
“A person or thing that prevents
incompatible or antagonistic people or things
from coming into contact with or harming each other.”
In my anecdote,the buffer involved time, something I’ve often drastically miscalculated on macro and micro levels.
There’s even a business-speak term for this phenomenon: The Planning Fallacy, coined by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in 1979.
Basically, we all tend to be overly optimistic when estimating how long it will take to complete tasks.
Essentialism offers the example of a well known study where graduate students severely underestimated long it would take to complete their thesis projects.
The overall estimate was 33.9 days.
The average guess for everything going extremely well was 27.4 days versus 48.6 days for “if everything went as poorly as it possibly could.”
Ultimately, it took an average of 55.5 days for those students to carry out the task, a full week longer than even their worst case scenario estimates.
An even more glaring example is the Sydney Opera House.
It was expected to be completed in 1963 at a cost of $7 million.
It was a full decade later when a scaled down version opened, costing over $100 million.
Whether it’s waiting for your star to arrive on set or constructing an architectural landmark, almost everything takes longer than we imagine it will.
Often it’s a brutal life lesson, one that can destroy not only our budget but also our spirits.
And on the other hand…
When properly motivated, sometimes the underestimate can be heartening, such as with Agathor’s progress since his horrible accident.
Initially, the information via various group chats was that if improvement wasn’t visible within 6 weeks, hope of him ever being able to walk again would be lost.
Somehow that estimate shifted to 8 months––I’m not sure why––and fortunately every time I see him, there have been incremental improvements.
First, it was just the wagging of his tail.
Then some flutters of his hind legs.
This week there was even a little bit of movement in them as he jetted around in his canine wheelchair.
I’m not sure if the emergency vets fell into a Planning Fallacy––something that happens to experts as well as novices––or whether emotional overload resulted in inaccurate reporting.
My point is that maybe that initial underestimated timeline made the situation tolerable.
(Sometimes our harsh realities need a little extra cushioning.)
What I am absolutely certain of now––whatever confusion there may be about the suggested speed limit––Agathor’s clearly on the road to recovery, andthat’s all that really matters.
The final section of Essentialism outlines several other methods that make clarity more attainable.
They include things such as the Power of Routine.
I’ve definitely experienced how the relatively small amount of energy needed to create and sustain a beneficial routine yields such tremendous, truly exponential results.
I was also particularly taken with the benefits of visually rewarding progress.
Consider, as my third-grade piano teacher did, literally awarding yourself a gold star this week for Excellence (or even just for Completion / Showing Up).
I do this every day when I print out my to do lists just so I can have the outsized pleasure of crossing items out with my yellow highlighter.
More than once, I confess to creating midday lists that contained already accomplished items, just so I could relish the added satisfaction of celebration their completion.
Anyway, I have many more thoughts in this final week of musing about Clarity––again, this month’s meditation is HERE––yet I also want to address something not really focused on as much in Essentialism.
Namely, that sometimes Clarity cannot be found in a vacuum.
Many times, our thoughts alone can only take us so far along the path.
Often, Clarity requires Action.
Intellectually, none of us are confused about how the water is wet.
Nonetheless, there’s nothing quite like the bracing clarity that only comes from plunging into the unheated pool or the off-season ocean.
Even when our Newfound Clarity seems true and grounded, it still needs to be tested via lived experience.
Beyond this, we all know those times when Clarity seems determined to elude us.
It’s often then that the only possible path towards it requires taking an active step forward, even if it’s ultimately in the “wrong” direction.
In the end, every successful journey must have its share of missteps.
Actually, “Missteps” might be the wrong word.
Perhaps a better phrase might be “Complicated Choreography,” one that, for better or worse, you can only learn on the cosmic dance floor (aka “real life.”)
In any case, I’ve found diving deeper into Clarity this month…well, Clarifying.
Pursuing the lessons of Essentialism has helped me on both deep, soulful levels as well as creating concise bullet points for my marketing team.
And if you need a little more time to distill such lessons until you find your own nuggets of Clarity, Fear Not.
Simply gift yourself––as Billy Wilder and I did our respective stars––with the Buffer of Time.
Soon enough you will arrive at your own level of Clarity, and as lovely and punctual as she no doubt was, far outshine the Aunt Minnies along your way.
Namaste for Now,