Conversation

Birthdays rub me the wrong way. None moreso than my own. I don’t think this is the right way to feel, but it is how I feel.

Stop me if my desperate need for genuine validation is showing, but the idea of undue celebration or praise makes me sick.

That moment when you realise that the nice person in the foyer after your show is saying all the nice things about your work because they feel like they have to, brings me dread.

I despise my birthday like I despised the football participation trophies I got handed every year as a kid. I was crap at football. I knew it, my Mum knew it, the coach knew it, and my team knew it. But I was celebrated anyway. Why?

Why should I be celebrated for simply surviving another year?

After 23 of these, I think I finally get it.

We should celebrate birthdays because surviving is an act of showing up.

Surviving is hard sometimes. So to be able to do it, year after year, with a steadfast consistency is actually quite incredible.

Birthdays are the markers we can use to measure how well we are undertaking the delicate work of carrying on.

Some stand out, others are bundled up, and some skip by far too fast – but there they are. Every year. One of the only guarantees we have.

I’m doing better at surviving than I was a few of these ago. For once, I’m looking forward to the next one.

If someone knows your name, you have a brand.

What people think and, more importantly, how people feel when they hear your name is that brand.

It’s got nothing to do with who we think we are and everything to do with who we actually are to other people.

Are we reliable? Trustworthy?Charming? Funny?

Not unless someone else thinks so. Self belief might inspire our action, but it’s our actions which inspire our reputations. Which, in turn, define us.

We are responsible for cultivating our reputation, but we don’t get the privilege of disagreeing with it once it’s out there.

We can seek to improve our reputation, but there is no sense in refuting it.

It just is.

If who we think we are doesn’t matter, then perhaps we should do less thinking about who we are today or who we were ten years ago, and more thinking about who we might aspire to be for someone else tomorrow.

Every item in your home, every app on your phone, and every person that you know is represented by brand.

It used to be that things were branded when companies wanted to make sure we understood who owned the product or service in question.

Nowadays, brand is no longer so tangible. Brands are now defined by how they make people feel.

Your brand is the result of the promises you keep. It’s the clarity of what you say you do, and your ability to follow through.

Confused, complicated brands flop. Sure, simple brands win.

Brands caught lying and cheating lose. Brands known for doing the right thing grow.

Imagine for a moment that your favourite brand were a person. What would they look like? What would they wear? How would they speak to you? What do they say?

I’d be willing to bet this person looks and sounds a lot like you’d like to look and sound.

If you can appeal to the interests of the people you want to connect with while proving reliability and fostering trust, you have an effective brand.

When you got your first mobile phone, did you imagine that you’d eventually spend thousands of hours every year looking into one?

I didn’t, and I’m 22.

But the ten year old down the street who got her first phone last week fully expects to spend that kind of time with phone in hand. She’s never know any different.

The game has changed. We’re now more and less connected than we’ve ever been before.

Young people need to be trusted to flourish in this connection, and protected against its most vile byproducts.

In an ecosystem of dichotomies and extremes, confusion is natural and moderation is key.

Failing feels terrible. It forces us to realise and acknowledge that perhaps we’re not quite as good as we imagined we were, and stings even worse when we know we could have done more to prevent it.

The art of cultivating meaningful pursuits will always involve some level of failure because failing is the most necessary step in getting good at anything. 

So if we need to fail to realise our goals, but the thought or act of failing makes us want to curl up and die, perhaps it’s time we develop a more sustainable relationship with it. 

How we feel at the completion of any finite game can be calculated with a reasonably simple (if not slightly convoluted) equation.

Imagine that the emotional outcome we experience as a result of the game can be measured on a scale from negative ten to positive ten. A score of negative ten involves dark, personal feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment. A score at this end of the spectrum is the type of guttural feeling which could result in someone never attempting a similar game again. Whereas a score of positive ten represents a feeling of such intense, euphoric bliss that it almost overwhelms the body. Scores of positive ten are those once in a lifetime moments of accomplishment which fill us to the brim with joy and pride. Our score along this emotional outcome scale is called our emotional outcome value (O). 

Now imagine another scale, which now only ranges from negative five to positive five. This scale is called the Result Scale. Our result value (R) is determined by how well we performed in the game, where negative five represents the absolute worst, most embarrassing, humiliating failure possible and positive five is the best, most gratifying, outstanding success possible.

At first glance it might seem that these values should be directly correlated; that the result of our efforts should reflect how we feel about the outcomes they produce. But we know from experience that this is often not the case. Both our result value and our emotional outcome value exist only once the game has been completed. 

There is another value, which also exists somewhere along the result scale, that is determined before we even begin playing. Our expectation value (E) represents the result we imagine is most likely to occur, and it is the only aspect of this equation of which we have complete control. Our expectations are influenced by an array of internal and external factors. They’re shaped by what we’re hopeful for, tempered by our previous experience and solidified by the expectations others project onto us. Sometimes we take the time to set them consciously, other times we unconsciously drag them along as baggage into games we don’t yet know we’re expecting ourselves to win. 

Ultimately, the emotional outcome of any finite game is the difference between the result of the game and the result we were expecting.

Result (R) – Expectation (E) = Emotional Outcome (O)

If we’re playing scrabble with a friend and we don’t have a lot of skin in the game, our expectation value might be a neutral value of zero. We don’t expect to succeed or fail and sure, we’d like to win, but we aren’t that fussed either way. In this case, our R value and our O value will be exactly the same. 

Let’s say we win. It was a close enough game, but we had better tiles and won without too much hassle. Our R value is one and so is our emotional outcome. It feels good, but not too good. We say, “Ah! Bad luck. You’ll get me on the next one.”

Now instead, let’s imagine that we’re getting ready to play against a friend who we know possesses an annoyingly Brobdingnagian vocabulary. They’re competitive too, so we’re expecting a challenging game. While we’re sure that beating them is within the realm of possibility, we’re realists. We understand the odds are stacked in their favour. In this case, our E value might be set at negative two. Winning here will definitely be an upset, but stranger things have happened.  

Perhaps we scrape through and secure a modest victory for an R of two. While the success was nothing spectacular, it feels excellent! 

R (2) – E (-2) = O (4)

When you subtract a negative number, it becomes additive. So two minus negative two leaves us with an emotional outcome of four. We’re buzzing after this victory and decide to challenge them to a rematch.

This time around, we’re heading in confident that we can replicate the result of the last game. We know we got a little lucky, but if we were able to beat them first try, they can’t have been as good as we thought they were.

We head into the next game with an E value of positive one.

But we don’t replicate the result of the last game. We don’t even come close. It’s unclear whether or not they were just taking it easy on us in the first game, but after a brief debate as to whether or not ‘katzenjammers’ is a valid english word (which is promptly settled by Google), they annihilate us. R score of negative four.

In this case, there’s no negative subtraction trickery working in our favour.

R (-4) – E (1) = O (-5)

The cost of failure is compounded by the expectation of victory.

It only makes sense to expect success when success is certain (which it almost never is). By placing our E value on the result scale, we’re setting ourselves up for unnecessary suffering.

So let’s change the game.

What if, instead of placing our expectations on the same scale we use to measure results, we designed it its own scale altogether?

How much could we improve our emotional reaction to objective failure improve if we started to set expectations on our growth rather than our success?

Imagine one last scale with me. A basic scale from zero to five which represents how much was learned by playing the game in question.

If we set our R and E values not on the results scale, but on this growth scale instead, it’s far less likely that we’ll walk away dissatisfied. And the less we walk away dissatisfied, the more likely we are to continue to play.

When we aim not to succeed, but to grow, we’re far more likely to fall into success.

Expectation is healthy for as long as your expectations make sense.

The act of putting things off is how we the waste the most time. What’s worse is that we rarely even do so deliberately.

Unconscious procrastination is perhaps even more poisonous than the conscious, conservative kind.

Too many young people find hilarity in the fact that our parents’ generation worked themselves to the bone for fifty years, all for the sake of a handful of holidays spent limping between Balinese pubs and war memorials. While unbeknownst to us, as the un-retired amongst our parents sacrifice their present for a luscious, expected future they aren’t guaranteed, we let our present dwiddle away before our eyes in an even more insidious way.

Glowing screens snatch our attention involuntarily, as if not by choice but by instinct, and the time we have left is often spent curating the next thing we’ll contribute to the very ocean of content we ourselves are drowning in.

At least they know what they’re giving away.

How is it that we can be both our most and least comfortable while entirely alone? There is peace in isolation, but also vulnerability.

We need it. It’s essential. Without isolation, reflection is impossible. Because time spent with others is time spent wearing an assortment of masks.

We present slightly different versions of ourselves to our mothers, our bosses and our dentists. Every second spent around other people is a second spent (consciously or unconsciously) deciding how to perform.

Only isolation provides the opportunity to wrestle with ourselves. To peel back the masks we dance around in and decide which we’re willing to put back on. To ask ourselves truly: what are the masks we wear in attempt to fool ourselves?

And more importantly, how might we return to the world a little more authentic?

Here’s a few things I’m pretty convinced are true;

  1. There is a constant war being fought for the attention of our digital selves which is having dramatic adverse effects on people’s happiness, especially amongst digital natives who have never known a world without digital media;

  2. Activities practiced regularly which reward participants for consistent time investment over many years are essential to a meaningful life;

  3. The instant dopaminergic gratifications available through social media and the 24-hour news cycle are training us against investing time into activities which generate meaning over time;

  4. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe the benefits of investing time and energy into skills and activities which create meaning and value over time for those who don’t understand this intuitively.

I was asked today whether I thought that Instagram, can be used in a way which fosters an infinite mindset.

My gut instinct was; of course not. Instagram is a game designed for short term gratification. It’s a battle royal for follower attention where shock and beauty reign supreme.

But I had missed the question.

The question wasn’t, “Do people treat Instagram as an infinite game?”

It was, “Can people treat Instagram as an infinite game?”

To which the answer is, of course, yes.

It’s possible to use Instagram in such a way that the gradual collection of images on your account generate meaning which isn’t governed by metrics of likability.

The truth is just that the systems in place do a pretty good job of keeping us focussed on those metrics.

It’s bizarre how focussed we’ve become with numbers alongside red hearts and blue thumbs.

Some announcements made today have concerned a lot of people.

There’s a divided tension swelling.

The echochambers are such that it’s hard to tell whether this is the most divided or unified the western world has been.

I suppose it depends which side of the lies you favour.

From my side, there doesn’t seem much to gain.

War comes at a cost much greater than the demise of the losing side.