Anyone who knows me well understands how experimentation-averse I'm about just about everything. All rudimentary decision-trees are neatly laid out and baked in at this point.
A chunk of the big life-anchoring questions around future dwelling-place, kids, marriage, and lifestyle were probably fully settled in my late 20s. Decision-trees were baked, reconsidered, then went through reinforcement training, and are now in their final form. The tediousness of having to reconsider any of these is such a monumental, arduous task, that my shield of sheer laziness lends its strong and unwavering support to keep me in line. Variables are now constants, and the comfort that it brings to the table is soothing.
If you were free to do anything with your life, what if you consciously made mundane and boring choices? And what if you were comfortable with it? You don't have to love or get excited, just find comfort!
If you frequent Starbucks for meetings, you've probably sampled a bunch of their coffees and likely have a "regular order" by now. Aren't you glad you arrived at a regular? Maybe you occasionally want to try a new or seasonal menu item like the Pumpkin-spice stuff around Halloween. But largely, you have a certain drink in mind when the weather is hot and ditto for the winter season.
The experimentation phase has its hits and misses. Your "regular" order won from among the hits. The misses are usually regrets — time that was wasted. You probably even skipped trying a few menu items because you could draw a straight line from your misses. Why bother?
The centerpiece for this discussion is a very Matrix-y question — are we free, and if we are free, why aren't all possibilities equally valued and hence pursued? On the "mundane decisions we make every day" side of things, if you wore the exact same t-shirt and jeans every day — same type, not the same stinky, sweaty piece — would your brain have a meltdown? Mine would not. I've made it to two sets so far, mainly Zuck-esque. I breezed through much of my college life wearing basically black t-shirts (mainly to escape teachers glances). I cannot comprehend why anyone would find this problematic, or worse, insane — they are nice, clean clothes — it's just that they look the same. You know they are a different pair from the ones you wore yesterday – clean, washed. What's the issue here? What frustrated me is that I received slightly different jeans when I reordered one on Amazon. But fundamentally, each one is already slightly different, if in nothing else then at least the serial no.
The crux of the matter is traditional wisdom. In and of itself, that's not really a problem. The issue is people parrying it around without original thought, or prescribing it to others when its none of their business. They are perfect candidates for the Total Perspective Vortex because — (a) the preachers have no chill (b) their thesis is based on probability theory applied to something as dynamic as life and time. I do not think anyone should be in the business of giving advice in any matter unless explicitly requested and in turn having fully explained caveats of their advice, no matter how "wise". And most certainly, no one should take their advice as gospel and follow it blindly. Advice delivered without caveats is nothing but evangelical religious outreach. Everything has caveats.
In my younger years, I used to frequently and annoyingly inject the line, "Well, I could also get hit by a bus when crossing the road tomorrow" into conversations to remind people of life's randomness. Not a good thing to say, really, but it's not untrue, is it? Probability is low, sure. Not good to scare people, sure. But it's not untrue! Perhaps "I could get hit by lightning" is softer given how getting hit by a bus in Mumbai is not exactly equally rare.
A recent fad of index investing or "buy-the-index" began during COVID, and there's no shortage of people who require little prompt to explain its benefits. If you spend some time posing questions to them, what you'll likely get is some angry rebuttals. Any time I see this pattern of behaviour — where someone is convinced of a theory and is so excited that they'll not just preach to whoever's listening but also tell the listener that their theories are wrong and that they should consider realigning with them — you aren't talking to someone who lives in reality any more. Reality is where anything happens. Reality is random. Reality is beautiful. Reality is brutal. Reality cannot be foreseen, and even some of the best probabilistic models break down at predicting the future course of events.
If everything that happens is mostly random, where does anyone find the confidence to tell others what they ought to do with their lives/money/time anyway? Sure, there's no shortage of gullible idiots that do nothing but follow other people. But is there no hope left?
I adore unconventional people blessed with smarts — folks that make a conscious choice to break the mould and do something so unconventional that, regardless of their success, you respect their choice for being authentic and true. That's the real adventure-sport — not rock-climbing or rappelling or parasailing — all those have safety-guards and, more importantly, people rooting for you. Maybe they fumble or fail and then stumble into a careers or businesses different from the one they originally wished to do. But these are kindred spirits and conversations with them are fascinating because there's a good chance they seem immune to invisible barriers imposed by societal pressure others find insurmountable. Imagine acing your schooling and picking the Arts stream to pursue some random idea. I think despite being a generation that is fairly aware of the meaninglessness of our education system as a predictor of success in living a happy life, kids of our generation will continue to be steered by their parents into making a fixed set of life choices very similar to ones our parents and peers thrust upon us.
In the stock market, my personal investment thesis is to ride the sine-wave of a handful of stocks – about 12 of them. Sell as soon as a stock reaches the 4% return mark, no matter what news. Reenter any of these when rates are favourable. That's about it. Goal is to beat the prevailing FD rate. Will it? Well, it isn't right now. Am I disappointed? Uhhh, look, about 5 years ago I installed Steam on my laptop and purchased Doom Eternal. It doesn't run very well on my laptop. That's when I thought to myself, do I really need to play a video game in my spare time? Maybe play with numbers in the stock market? That's about it. Any "losses" are mostly notional since it's just me holding the bag for the long term. So far I've seen the return-to-mean cycle play out. If the index-investing trade or SIP stuff people pour their monthly salaries into is to play out, I'm going to lazily, inadvertently stumble into some profits too. "Stock picking" based investments are supposedly done-and-dusted — that's what every index-investing proponent will tell you. As my cute nephew exclaims when someone shoots down his proposed contentious ideas — "lets try".
I'm extremely cautious not to let my personal decision-trees affect the lives of others — something that often gets misconstrued as dereliction of responsibility when someone asks me for advice and I wiggle my way out of saying anything. I try my best to communicate this well in advance of sharing my opinions, that is, if I ever have one strong enough to share, which seldom happens. People should really make up their own minds. I'm not even going to participate in helping you weigh options. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
From among many of my prebaked decision-trees, Starbucks is actually not a place I like meeting people. Neither am I fond of their coffee. I cannot wrap my head around their success in Mumbai. We've forever been pampered by having our coffees custom-made and served at the table with a smile. Yet, people droningly conform to Starbucks' nonsense system of name-callouts and no table service. For someone who likes sugary coffees, specifically Frappes, Coffee By Di Bella is excellent. I do not like the idea of getting a cup of coffee from the counter and having to figure out how many sugars it's going to need to make it taste good. However, after I crossed the age of 35, I traced down an indigestion issue to coffees at cafes. Something about the milk they use makes my tummy grumble, so unless I'm being adventurous or I'm heading directly home after the coffee shop, I generally avoid coffees.
At restaurants, most menu decisions are easy – if its a bar, finger food can be BBQ Chicken Wings, Fries, pizzas, virtually anything cheesy. I have never ever gone to a restaurant with the intention of eating healthy. If I do have to eat healthy to keep a friend's health in check, I'm still going for something like a Caesar Salad. It has "Salad" in its name, so I've done my part. I still get sugary colas. Not the diet ones. Give me the full-blooded good stuff. I'm not yet convinced that sugars are bad for me. They are supposedly bad for people. Again, wisdom of peer-reviewed research and all that, but hey, I ingest into me what works fine for me. Not trying to live to 70 here. Anyway, my menu choices are very limited — they are straight lines from things I'm familiar with. Almost always avoid sea-food unless I'm feeling adventurous.
As you've probably concluded, all this sounds like an utterly boring life, and there's so much more to explore, to do, to experience. I've been told. My rebuttal is pretty straightforward — Much appreciated. But you're missing my perspective. There will always be something I haven't tried. There will always be some place I haven't gone. There will always be something I haven't possessed. There will always be something I haven't experienced. Do they play any role in me being happy a person?
For me, happiness really isn't any of that. Maybe they play some role for happiness in your life, and I'm happy for you and your great discoveries. I have my own list of great discoveries (Kung Pao Chicken!) but I'm really not into preaching about it.
For instance, I don't regard marriage or kids as essential to happiness. Many do. Is that fine with you? Sometimes I get the feeling people are threatened by the mere existence of such ideas in the ether. We exist on a spinning ball hurtling through space, and everyone's figuring their shit out. It's not like I'm preaching to anyone. These are my risks. Calm down, man.