Sunday, December 2, 2007

Life is statistics

Here is a claim that will carry me far along the path of being considered crazy…This is not one of cliché phrases decorating pages of highly illuminated volumes of ancient classics. Nor this is a freshly concocted New Age gimmick catch-phrase kitted on a gadget-festooning wall of the apartment of an ardent proponent of globalization.

This is what I came to realize while thinking a bit of how life is carrying along its own flow for me, for us, for everyone. What is life?

This question has been asked so many times by so many people, from incredibly dull to unsurpassably brilliant, because it gives voice to the issue many wonder about at idle times, during stressful moments, and of course, in aftermath of hideously glaring or impossibly happy incidents. However, many times this question is asked not to find an answer but to rather give our imagination a free fly and to try to ply along chaotic twists of our mind. Usually, many responses emerge. For everyone, life has its unopened doors, its hidden angles, its unrevealed glow, and this is where most of our thoughts are directed while we seek answers.

One of my favorite books about this ultimate question – what is life – is written by a Nobel Prize scientist Erwin Schrödinger, who sheds light on many a disciplines and gives his subjective opinion on it. I will not comment on his view.

You are waiting for a taxi. First one passes; you stop it. The fare is too expensive; you let it go; next one; still expensive; third one; no better. You start loosing patience. You think you might never end up taking a taxi for a reasonable price. You are on the verge of giving it all up and paying whatever the next taxi driver will ask you for.

Does this situation sound familiar?

Before you give up, wait and think. Remember the commonly cited and well-known phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” This is not a mere sound. There is a meaning in these words. Before you give up, try to master whatever patience you can and wait. Perhaps not the very next taxi but the one after that, or the third one would surely agree to relieve your anxiety of waiting for a reasonable price.

You are in the market, trying to buy fresh fruits. You ask the price and get back a response that paints a frown upon your face. You go for the next one, and next one, and yet another one. You start despairing. Wait. Don’t. Persevere little bit more and rest assured you will find what you look for for a price you are ready to pay.

You are looking for a good partner of opposite sex for a little romance or adventure. People around you seem too superficial, too uninteresting or plain stupid. Your quest enhances to online reaches of the Internet. People talk the talk and show the show. You meet some of them in real life and are utterly disappointed by an unimaginable gap between reality and virtuality. You decide to go on socializing a bit more than you are used to. You might end up with someone, who, in retrospect, turned out to be looking for something a little too different from what you were looking for or expected to have.

Does this situation sound familiar?

There are countless similar situations in lives of everyone. In fact, I would venture a guess that our lives are consisted of such situations. Every time, however, we complain, we accuse ourselves of naivety or stupidity, we curse whatever philosophical tenants that give praise to patience and perseverance, and we take options not necessarily beneficial for our long-term well-being.

Think about it. Try to relive events of past hour or past day. Would you be better off if you waited a little bit longer before you moved ahead with your choices, if there were a quintessential guarantee that your initial thoughts and preferences would come true? In most cases it is a resounding YES.

Is it better to skim through life in an impatient and superficial way, reassuring our souls that we have one life too short to wait, and that we have to run not to be lagged behind? Or is it better to wait a little longer and live a life, as we conceived it in our mind; a life close to ideal, given the possibility existed? No one of course is asked to wait eternity; nor one has to, however difficult and incredible this idea might seem.

I first started to apply for jobs while I was still studying. At the beginning, there was no success; I wasn’t even trying hard but it annoyed me somewhat to get refusals at best or no answer at usual when applying for jobs. Two years on, about to finish up my studies and I still was applying for jobs and still either getting refusals. Situation was becoming critical. I was about to quit the university and I still had no job. There were excuses, or justifications, if you want, for why I didn’t get in most cases even an opportunity to present myself for an interview. For one, my previous lack of specialized experience in domains in which I was interested in. For two, the non-Europeanness and non-Americanness of my passport. And no matter that I had two degrees backed by Swiss universities and spoke five languages. I was, just like everyone else in similar situations, about to abandon and embark on an adventure somewhere without a grand plan or money. University was done for. I decided to do what I wanted ever since several years. I came to Egypt to learn Arabic and to get more intimate with Egyptian culture and traditions. After two months in Egypt, I was running out of money and hope I would ever find a job. I was ready to take just about any job. I applied everywhere: from Australia to India to Egypt to Switzerland to America. No success. A lucky incident of noticing a familiar company name in the business directory in Cairo brought me what I have been looking for so long: a good job in a well-known company.

Once, I was obsessed by an idea to establish a NGO, which would serve as an umbrella for many youth organizations. The objective was to bring many brilliant and motivated young people together. This youth would then envision a future they would like to live in and would go about making it happen. I started off without any knowledge of how to create a NGO. I talked about it to a lot of people, most of whom dismissed the idea as utopia or thought I am crazy. I talked perhaps a year before I started doing anything. By then, I was already wondering if it made any sense to do anything in the absence of any positive feedback. But I persevered. I got a template of a business plan (I heard I needed one to create an organization). I took a look at it. This gave me an idea of what a business plan might contain. I again went on talking to people about my idea but this time armed with something I thought was a good sketch of a business plan drafted by my own hand. At least fifteen serious and competent people, upon seeing what I wrote, gave me their feedback, implicitly implying the unrealistic nature of my undertaking. Even after my business plan looked decent enough, many thought I belonged to the realm of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy world. I had so scarce encouraging feedback and support that I can’t even now understand how I persevered. All along, of course, my idea got more refined; more details emerged; many dull angles disappeared; many new views appeared. Eventually, I ended up creating the NGO I wanted, although it looked quite different from my original idea.

There were countless other lesser-scale occasions in my life, and I am sure in lives of others.

Our world is illusionary. The illusion consists of the fact that things and events are taken to have singular or rare occasions, occurrences, and opportunities of our preference. That is why we are usually impatient and exhibiting excessive hurriedness in taking options and making choices. We think we will miss opportunities and we just take whatever that comes our way. Later on, we complain how life was unfair to us, whereas it is us who are unfair to ourselves.

Those who realize the existence and extent of this illusion are the ones who live their lives to their fullest.

Life is statistics: bigger number of occurrences and events bring higher probability of realizing our preferred choices. All that remains is to wait little bit for statistics to accumulate. And usually it IS a little bit.

P.S. I still get somewhat bothered when, on my way home, I have to wait ten minutes and let go ten taxis at 3am in some lost part of Cairo. But deep inside myself I always know that the 11th taxi will be the lucky strike. In retrospect, I am right, although in might be the 12th :)

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