How to Mine Disappointment

Thursday, May 16, 2024

The hair shirt of self-blame is a poor substitute for actual virtue, or the consequent real growth that trying hard and putting yourself out there can bring. (Image by Fontema, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
At Bet on It, economist Bryan Caplan reproduces an old Facebook post by Alex Epstein, author of Fossil Future.

It's a short, but valuable and memorable read about a public debate that Epstein painstakingly prepared for -- only for it to be switched on the spot to "two opening statements followed by a biased Q&A by a biased moderator, against a former governor that almost no one knows, in front of a half-filled area."

It is worthwhile seeing the many benefits the energy policy expert nevertheless obtained because he had put in his best effort to prepare for the event he'd expected.

But what's really powerful is that as good as these are, they really only point to a fundamental benefit of doing one's best work:
These benefits would not be nearly as great had I not tried my best in the first place. If I don't try my best I can always revert to: That didn't go well because I didn't try my best. When I try my best and am disappointed, all the learning is about the best version of myself to date. That's a very pure, high-density form of learning. It leads to the most rapid progress. [format edits, bold added]
Epstein is right to note that this is a psychologically vulnerable feeling, but he has just made it clear that accepting the apparent safety of blaming oneself is a fool's bargain.

-- CAV

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