After adopting Bruce Lee’s principles about learning, I felt I was going crazy. He said “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own” and it was a good one, at first glance. Only I couldn’t get it to work. What’s the point of looking at bad stuff and finding truth if it makes you empathize with all that crap? Well, it was probably the hardest lesson for my young mind to learn. After all, he was Bruce Lee. I don’t know any kids born before 1980 but after his death that didn’t worship him. I did sort of break my back in Judo training because of him, more than two decades ago. I knew his way was better because I related to it – I was tall, fat, slow and dumb but I still believed I was destined for greatness. Why? Well.. You’re still sort of skipping every three out of five words so far, ain’t you?
I don’t know if my understanding of the world comes from my neurological problems or the lack of social skills, it’s still a mystery to me now. I still struggle with little things I can’t grasp while being able to correctly plan and then code the perfect algorithm for problems others don’t even know exist – and I don’t mean programming, I mean troubleshooting everything from structures to psychology. I can foresee problems in strategic implementation, I can correctly run a financial analysis of a company, I can deduce psychological memes and trace future behavior, I can tell you in minutes if one solution to a technical problem can be more trouble than it fixes – hell, I can analyze large amounts of data to give you exactly what you need but I will never, ever think of something unless you tell it to me. I can’t do innovation, I have absolutely zero creativity. Everything I can do, and sometimes I surprise even myself, comes from a small amount of information I “stole” from others. No, not literally. But it’s true, I can’t come up with something new alone.
I … I have no imagination. I can’t imagine anything I don’t see, hear, read about, or build upon. In fact, all I need is one small hint and I’m ready to go – but without that hint, I’m useless. I may be wrong, but it is what it is. There’s no way in hell I could imagine something if I don’t have something to build upon. Which is why I read like there’s no tomorrow. You see a movie, I experience it. You read a book, I live it. I treat every new experience with something akin to reverence – every plot twist is a choice and every emotion teaches me something about myself and the world. It’s like being in a maze – I could run it with the best of rats but unless you show me where the doors are, I can’t see them. You have no idea how that feels like, I suppose, and that’s a good thing.
Information is life, to me. Choices I can’t even imagine exist within the pages of long-forgotten books and cryptic authors, every lesson burned into my neural pathways opening doors into universes I never knew were possible. My life is a constant struggle to link different experiences, different choices and test them for efficiency and usability. My brain is a thousand times richer than it was just a decade ago. I’ve devoured psychology, programming, economics, history and finance and now I’m stuck on math and physics because to me, they’re all linked. Chaos theory works with sociology, math works with economics, programming and finance at times can’t be separated and history always teaches that economy can’t work without considering the human psyche. There is no going back.
I understand Bruce Lee, more than you know. He left Wing-Chun doctrine to pursue “the way of no way”, his personal rebellion against the rigid and formalistic approach to martial arts. He incorporated techniques from different martial arts into his style. He literally absorbed what was useful and discarded what was not. It didn’t matter if he used wrestling moves, jujitsu, boxing, karate or kali, to name just a few – he used them and didn’t care what others thought of him or his methods. He was thinking big, he didn’t want to be the best Wing Chun fighter, he felt that would make him move from a small box to a bigger box – but still a box, a limit. He went for the gold, he wanted to be the best fighter, period. I listened to him. Take a bit from everything and create something unique, personal, your own. That’s his legacy. I felt at home within his philosophy. It was exactly what I was lacking, a system to grow. I understood, then and there, why I had failed so many times. There is no one size fits all system, you can’t tell an anxious teen to have patience any more than you can tell an introvert to be confident. It doesn’t work that way. Feelings can’t be fought with logic. But they can be altered, if you’re patient enough.
Life isn’t about doing the same thing over and over again hoping by the n-th iteration the result will change, because that’s just like placing your life in the hands of others. Sometimes you get lucky but that only happens if what others need coincides with your needs. Life is what happens between two dreams. Each choice we make creates it, every decision we take alters it. In other words, we aren’t happy because we made the wrong choices, because in the end, we chose it ourselves. I used to blame everybody else for my own failures until I realized they didn’t have anything to do with them, they had everything to do with their own lives. You may want the same thing I want, the same lemon or the same job – it doesn’t make you evil. It doesn’t make me evil. Regardless who gets it, we both want the same thing because each of us thinks that having it will create a better life for ourselves. It’s useless to think we deserve something more because nobody is actually entitled to anything, we just create a toxic thought to explain a future failure. By believing we are entitled to something and we don’t get it we put the blame squarely on the shoulders of our competition – we’re more likely to blame than to improve. We explain failure not by performance but by the lack of fairness, we become obsessed with it and because of that, we judge instead of adapting. Add too many failures and we simply stop trying because now everybody is against us. Only they aren’t against us, they are for themselves.
Life is hard. There’s no denying it. For some it’s a nightmare while for others it’s just a struggle, and it doesn’t care about wealth, health or looks. We’re all insecure even if we lie to ourselves we aren’t. The best looking supermodel fears her weight while the smartest Nobel prize winner can’t tell sarcasm from arrogance. The smartest woman I know thinks she’s dumb because she doesn’t know how to use Excel as well as I do. The smartest man I know can’t get a date because he forgets most of his vocabulary and his brain shuts down in the presence of women. The most beautiful woman I know has a problem with body hair and … odd-looking knees. And I don’t know any beautiful men, so there’s that. 90% of our fears come from a lab and are a result of marketing. We aren’t interested in living a good life, we want to live somebody else’s good life. We think we’d be floating on cloud number 9 if only we had a couple million quid – thing is, if we did, we’d still be miserable. You know why? Because the only thing shared by all our failures is ourselves. We fail because we make the wrong choices and we don’t learn from them. I’ve been on several job interviews where I went from top choice to reject in the span of one minute – all I did was open my mouth and my brain shut down. Not a nice experience at all. I had nobody else to blame but myself. That was the revelation, the eureka moment for me. I had to improve or fail again. Insecurity, fear, anxiety be damned – all they did was short out my neurons and cut the wire connecting the brain to the mouth. I learned to relax, to take my time answering questions, to let my brain reboot and take control, however that took more patience than I thought I was capable of. In the end, it worked. I learned my lesson. Failure is good, it teaches you things about yourself nobody else can.
I was poor, I almost lost my house because the higher you rise, the harder you fall. It’s a tough lesson to learn. But I persevered, I didn’t give up and I learned as much as I could from that experience. I sometimes wonder if our past experiences give us the strength to endure the future ones, it’s something that keeps me up at night when I’m sad. I don’t think that’s the case, even if my subconscious swings one at my chin, sometimes. Like I said, I don’t know if anybody else experiences that sort of thing, I don’t know if I’m this way because my brain has a few loose screws or my education is somewhat lacking – it could be both for all I know. The education we receive is incomplete and incorrect, I know that for a fact. However, that same education is given to others as well, who manage to get more out of it. Why? No, I don’t envy them nor do I desire to live their lives, I only wonder what made them choose better.
Josephus once described Roman legion training as “their exercises are bloodless battles, their battles are bloody exercises” and that, my friend, is how learning should be – a continuous feedback loop. Consider your job, for instance, what happens when your boss tells you of your performance – you can choose to ignore what he said or you can choose to accept his feedback. It’s your choice, not his. He can threaten, he can praise, he can criticize all he likes but the naked truth is that you choose how to react to it. Your life is a direct result of what you choose, not of what others choose even if sometimes it feels you have no choice. It’s only a feeling, it’s not real unless you yourself make it real. Your friends, your family, the people around you, all of them have their own agenda, their own needs and desires and you are only a minor player in them. They can do anything they want if you choose make a stand for yourself it won’t matter what they do. I’ve heard sometimes one piece of the puzzle spoken and I don’t know how to explain it myself, I can’t explain how I make it work for me. It says people don’t affect our mood, they don’t change our feelings unless we let them. We actually let others hurt us with their words or behavior. I think that’s really the point. Our first action in the face of criticism or bad behaviour is adopting a defensive stance, isolating those words that we don’t like and rejecting them by feeling hurt, sad or angry. We don’t try to learn what or why this scenario appears, we don’t consider it as training or feedback, we just distance ourselves from it. It may be a result of our own words or behaviour or maybe it isn’t, but we don’t think about it like that.
If somebody wants to hurt our feelings, they have tons of options. Criticism, truth, lies or outright manipulation, there are too many ways to achieve that. Without controlling our thoughts, we let them win. We don’t control our thoughts because, in part, we agree with them. Fear, for instance, can sometimes be overcome – if it’s only an irrational fear. If I were to live in Africa or hell, even Australia, for instance, a fear of dangerous animals is actually healthy. But fearing venomous snakes in London may be a tad irrational, if such snakes can be found only behind glass walls and cages. Those irrational fears may stay with us or may lessen, either way nothing can change unless we do something about it. The same thing that may make you experience less fear is what you can use when experiencing anxiety, mild depression or when you’re trying to control your thoughts – facing your fears gradually, on grounds of your own choosing, in scenarios where have complete control over the safety measures and the amount of fear you’re exposing yourself to. That is, if you fear public speaking for instance, you could decide to start with just one or two individuals and gradually increase their number over time while focusing on the increase in numbers not on overall size of your audience. Tell yourself you’re only talking to one more person than you were yesterday instead of going “gosh, I have 6 people in front of me today”. That sort of thing. Learn from that experience. Focus on the differences between today and yesterday. What did you do well? What went wrong? What could be better and when?
Everything is connected, more than you know. There are management strategies copied word for word from military textbooks on troop deployment, there are psychological exercises you can use when learning math or whatever else, everything you need is out there, in the open. We have internet, we have resources unheard of just a couple of decades away, all you have to do is look for them. Treat every day as training for tomorrow, tweak and fine-tune your behavior and thoughts to better suit your goals. And remember, never, ever, not once, not ever give up. Life can get worse or better but by giving up you’re not hiding from the possibility of things getting worse, you’re actually removing the possibility of things getting better. Look at Bruce Lee and his legacy, you can use it too. Use everything that helps you find a better life even if it means accepting the advice of your worst enemies because your best revenge is not defeating them, it’s proving yourself you’re so much above them they’re irrelevant to you. That, my friend, is how you stop them, by creating a good life for yourself. Remember, it’s not about them, it’s about you.