Posts tagged "Truck Tenets"

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I can be a completely insufferable person to be around. Part of this is because it took me a long time to learn the difference between someone seeking advice, and just wanting to vent. If I think I see a problem, I tend to look for solutions. Couple that with a bit of obnoxious optimism and an inclination towards simplicity, and the outcome is that I trivialize problems and offer deeply unnuanced "solutions".

Case in point: whenever someone complains about rain, I mechanically regurgitate some devastatingly cliché remark about how, without the rain, we wouldn't appreciate the sunshine.

Now, if they were just trying make conversation or kvetch, this is normally the point in the conversation where their eyes would roll back in their head so hard they'd be doing an impressive impression of a slot machine.

Even still, I think it's a valid point (fully acknowledging that I overdo it a bit). After all, us human beans spent the past four billion years* getting really good at handling whatever the universe threw at us, and the net result is that our experiences don't exist in absolute terms of "good" and "bad", but are instead relative to some ever-shifting baseline. If every single day was a perfect 73° F and sunny (or substitute your own particular perfect weather), we'd learn to complain on the rare day where it was an absolutely abysmal 72° F and partly cloudy (but still mostly sunny).

If you think I'm being dramatic, you've likely never lived in the Bay Area — that example was plucked from something I witnessed on many a mostly-sunny-day.

Anyway, all I'm saying is that rain helps set a baseline and add perspective. An "oh, so it could be worse". A poor man's negative visualization, if you will. And if you won't, that's fine too.

Anyway anyway, that's what this post aspires to be about: the wonderful world of less-than-ideal things.

The Best Medicine

I've dedicated a decent chunk of this blog to the times when things have gone suboptimally, awry, or just downright wrong. This is partly because writing about things going right would be significantly less interesting, we're all suckers for a good tragedy. But more than that, things frequently just don't go the way we expect them to go, which is doubly true when trying to live out of things not explicitly designed for living in, like box trucks. As such, I think it's useful to have some kind of framework for reasoning about undesirable outcomes. I never explicitly sat down and thought about how to handle things going wrong (until now, I guess), but I find myself coming back to the same few thoughts:

  • Bad Things™ are rarely existential. Take an objective look at the Bad Thing you're currently dealing with. Will it matter in 10 seconds? 10 minutes? 10 days?** Usually, the answer to at least one of those questions is no, in which case you can just mentally fast-forward to the point at which it no longer matters, and save the energy you would have spent stressing over it. For the occasionally cataclysmic Big Bad Thing where it really does matter, even in the long run, your energy is likely better spent on figuring out how to deal with this life-altering incident than feeling bad about it.
  • Adversity provides opportunities for growth. We grow when we step outside our comfort zone. Bad things are perhaps necessarily uncomfortable, or they probably wouldn't be considered bad. Therefore, dealing with Bad Things makes us more capable human beings, which seems like a Good Thing. Every time my bike or car or truck has broken down, I learn something new about how to fix them. Same for software things at work. Minor inconveniences build character and patience, etc, etc.
  • Things going according to plan is straight up boring. You ever read a book or watch a movie about someone having a great day and then living happily ever after? Probably not, because that would be a pretty uninteresting book/movie. On some level, it's because we like complications. Why not take it one step further and apply it to our own lives? Getting your car towed isn't a problem, it's a plot point. Enjoy the adventure.

The upshot is that I've Stockholm Syndrome'd (or Pavlov'd? I'm not a psychologist) myself to laugh reflexively when things go wrong. Bonus points if I'm the reason they went wrong. The worse things go (up to a point, naturally), the more hilarious it is. Some examples:

  • Stubbed a toe? Gentle snicker.
  • Car won't start? Light chuckle.
  • Ripped my pants in public? Hearty laugh.
  • Dropped an entire pot of baked beans? Roaring cackle.
  • Biking uphill in a freak rainstorm? Abject hysterics.

Laughter is chicken soup for the soul. Or vegetable soup, if that's more your thing. In either case, there are few problems so existential in nature that they're worth not-laughing about, and I'd prefer to laugh than be stressed, given the option. And that option is pretty much always on the table, especially if we know we'll get over whatever it is we're dealing with. I think folks frequently underestimate how much of a choice it really is to be stressed out or overwhelmed. "Just don't be stressed" is definitely one of those un-nuanced oversimplifications I'm oh-so-fond of, but at the end of the day, we're really the only ones responsible for how we feel.

Aside from uncontrollable laughter, my other favorite antidote for adversity is apathy. Over the past few years, I've found that I have less and less energy that I'm willing to dedicate to feeling bad about things. In the grand scheme of things, life is pretty short, mustering up the energy to be petty or upset or stressed or down on myself just doesn't seem as gratifying as it did when I was an angsty teenager. As a result, I consider fewer things problems than I otherwise might have in the past. Things that were problems are now just exciting detours that will make great stories later.

Making Misteaks

A special subset of "things going wrong" is "things going wrong because of you". I don't mean to brag, but I'm really good at messing things up and finding myself in that latter category, which folks usually call "mistakes". At one point or another, I've messed up pretty much anything I've ever done in some way. Whether its crashing cars, falling off bikes, making bad investments, ruining important relationships, breaking software systems, or any manner of truck-related tragedies, I've had my fair share of personal failures.

If you've been reading my ramblings for a while, it might not come as a surprise to to hear that I'm pretty proud of (most of) my blunders, and more than happy to document them in an unnecessarily public forum. That's because, in my mind, mistakes are a Good Thing™. Being bad at something is usually the first step to being good at something — it's a lot easier to learn from failure than from success. Through that lens, getting things wrong usually means I'm doing something right.

The only failures I truly regret are ones where I'm not the only person I hurt, or where I've made the exact same mistake more than once. The former one doesn't require any more elaboration***, and the latter means that I didn't learn anything from my mistake the first time. And publicly documenting my mistakes has the added benefit of making me (slightly) more accountable for those mistakes, and less likely to repeat them, at least in theory.

Wrapping it up

Recently, I've been reading this book**** about "antifragility", a way of describing systems that benefit from volatility (usually to some finite extent). The human immune system is a prime example — not only can it handle stressors (viruses, bacteria, etc), which would merely indicate robustness, but it actually benefits from such stressors, mounting a more effective response the next time around.

I only mention this because I think the same way about bad things more generally: anything that forces us outside our comfort zone is naturally an opportunity for future resilience, which is just a convoluted way of saying it makes us better people. I find the prospect worth smiling about.

*I recognize that human beans have only been around for about three hundred thousand years in their current bean form, but I imagine that we were also picking up useful adaptations as monkeys and mice and amoebas in our prior incarnations.

**I use a different number (e.g. 7) and different units (e.g. jiffies? microfortnights? dog years?) every time, because 1) I can't remember what it was when I originally heard it, and 2) the actual amounts of time are mostly irrelevant, it's the underlying idea that this thing doesn't matter long-term that's important.

***For all you sociopaths who need an explanation: it's because hurting people is bad.

****The author's got some pretty strong opinions on a wide range of topics. It probably goes without saying, but I don't necessarily agree with him on all of them.

Source: The album cover of Happiness, by Dance Gavin Dance.

An Obnoxiously Long-Winded Intro

I'm a firm believer that human consciousness is a huge cosmic accident. Kinda like Matthew McConaughey's monologue from that one scene in True Detective. Except far, far less cynical, and maybe without the part about humans choosing to voluntarily go extinct. Great scene though, great scene.

More to the point: not only do people exist, but we're painfully aware of our own existence as somewhat autonomous entities. We aren't particularly amenable to going through mechanical, preprogrammed motions as effectively as say, an ant. We get bored easily. To keep ourselves entertained, we ascribe higher meaning to things and give ourselves purpose.

A lot of times, this purpose isn't something that we call out explicitly, it's just something that happens. Things like "be good at my job" or "provide for my family". When our purpose isn't clear or we don't think we can carry it out, sometimes we'll just straight up die. Fragile things, we are.

All of this in mind, my personal feeling is that it's a good idea to take a more active interest in the Purpose Picking Process™, as it's a key part of Not Dying™. I'm talking about taking the time, doing the soul-searching, and really figuring out what you think it is that makes you tick.

I know, I know, that's an obnoxiously long-winded intro, but I swear I'm going somewhere with this. This post is about what makes me tick, the idea being that I can use that to structure my life and evaluate my actions and all that jazz.

Tick, tock

One day, you opened up your eyes
Inside of you
Inside a world
Inside a universe
You didn't get to choose

You didn't get to pick the rules
Or pick the past
Or set the pace
Or cast the cast and crew
You didn't get to pick your starting place

And though it was a race
You didn't understand
You simply lined up on the blocks
And when the pistol popped
You ran.

—Watsky, Talking to Myself

Aside from just being an all-around solid piece of prose poetry, I think this lyric nicely sums up the overarching sense of purpose I've picked for myself.

Because the fact of the matter is that we don't get to choose where we're born, or even that we're born at all. We pop into existence entirely of someone else's accord. We take whatever hand the universe has dealt for us. And we do our darnedest.

And statistically speaking, a lot of people are dealt truly terrible hands. Which isn't to say life is a cakewalk for everyone else. Even if you were dealt a halfway decent hand, by being born relatively healthy in a relatively wealthy nation for instance, life still has its fair share of hardships. And they have a curious habit of all piling on at the least convenient times.

The Thesis

So, in summary: nobody chose to be here, and everyone is doing what they can and working with what they've got. When we interact with people, we have quite a bit of control over how we affect their happiness. The least we can do is to not take some away. My goal is to maybe sometimes even add some more, using the relative autonomy granted to me. That's my sincere belief: happiness is not a zero-sum game, you can add happiness without taking it from somewhere else.

Why Happiness

I don't think happiness is the be-all, end-all of human emotion. Our brains are capable of a bewildering range of complex and nuanced emotion, and I think it's up to everyone to figure out the combination and balance of brain-chemicals that works for them, and to figure out how to get their brain to produce them. Having said that, happiness still has some universal appeal, and it's usually one of the easier-to-invoke emotions in other people, even in fairly fleeting interactions.

Why People

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm very much an introvert. In a pre-COVID world, I'd regularly go weeks at a time without actively seeking any social engagement outside of work. And from that frame of reference, it seems strange even to myself that I should make my overarching purpose related to other people at all. Why not make it about building the best blog? Or being wickedly strong?

I'm not sure if I have a great answer for this, but if I had to pick one, it'd go something like this: Nobody is an island. No one exists in a vacuum, even though some of us might wish that we did from time to time. Doing literally anything of sufficient scale will always require working with other people, because no matter how good you are at something, a big group of people will always be able to get more done. You're 10x better than the average person? Cool, a group of 11 people can do it better. That's just math.

So I think it makes sense to structure my core beliefs around how I deal with people.

A Decently Succinct Outro

So that's that. I've hitched my identity to "hopefully not making others more miserable". Future Truck Tenets posts will ostensibly talk about what that means. Hopefully in less abstract, more tangible ways.

Source: The image is especially low-effort today, because I just searched 'decisions' on the icon site I have a subscription to.
Still seemed better than leaving it barren and image-less.

Truck Tenets is a series I've been wanting to do for a while. Like, a while — I've got draft posts dating back to 2016. It's only by my sheer inability to see anything through to completion that none of them have seen the light of day…until now.

The idea behind the series is pretty straightforward: there are ideas that I live my life by, why not talk about them? Some are high-level and abstract, like "Less is more", and others are more concrete, like "Don't eat gas station sushi in land-locked countries"*. Some of them come directly from my experiences with the truck, and others just as a matter of living and doing Normal Human Things™.

Talking about these things isn't particularly new for me. Even when I'm not talking directly about what I believe in, the ideas that motivate my decisions are there, lurking in pithy asides and footnotes and implied subtexts.

I'm not going to pretend that the concept of having 'guiding principles' is even remotely novel or exciting, it comes up in one form or another in pretty much every one of the self-help-life-hack-be-better books I've ever read. Some examples:

From Atomic Habits:

Your behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe that you are—either consciously or nonconsciously.

From Getting Things Done:

Priorities should drive your choices [...]. In order to know what your priorities are, you have to know what your work is.


Horizon 5: Purpose and Principles This is the big-picture view. [...] Why do you exist? What really matters to you, no matter what? The primary purpose for anything provides the core definition of what the work really is. It is the ultimate job description. All goals, visions, objectives, projects, and actions derive from this, and lead toward it.

And naturally, from Principles:

Every day, each of us is faced with a blizzard of situations we must respond to. Without principles we would be forced to react to all the things life throws at us individually, as if we were experiencing each of them for the first time. If instead we classify these situations into types and have good principles for dealing with them, we will make better decisions more quickly and have better lives as a result.

Though really any section from Principles would work - it's quite literally what the book is about.

Anyway, all I'm trying to say is that I recognize I'm not covering any new ground here. After all, the idea is pretty intuitive: making plans and decisions is a lot easier when you have a consistent system for evaluating them.

Despite this, it's painfully clear that plenty of people haven't the slightest idea what principles are guiding their decisions. I see this in friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances, customer support folks I've had heart-to-hearts with, and cute pups at the local dog park - inconsistencies in decision-making because one doesn't have a clear idea of what's really important to them.

Now, I'm not going talk concretely about what my 'Truck Tenets' are in this post, since each subsequent ramblefest will tackle a different tenet. I will say that I think this is a particularly good time for me to be writing them though; being divorced from the truck for the past few months has given me new perspectives on where certain ideals of mine have come from.

*This last one isn't all that relevant, since I haven't had any seafood in three or so years.


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