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Your Perspective is Wrong: The Reason to Experience New Things

Posted by on Mar 18, 2013 | 7 Comments

My last post on our temporary poverty situation led to reflection on a variety of things related to my experiences over the last few years. I’ve noticed a pretty distinct pattern, which is probably related to my serial hobbyist nature:

It’s nearly impossible to have a remotely accurate perception on any experience until you’ve been immersed in it for some time.

This idea manifests itself like this-

  1. I try something new.
  2. I glorify the experience, then write about it while under the glorification spell.
  3. Further experience allows me to see the experience in a more objective light.
  4. I regret my initial glorification because I realize my perspective was limited.
  5. I assign the experience a more accurate place in my world.

This is what happened with teaching. And barefoot running. And ultras. And functional fitness. And homeschooling. And getting my book published. And the hobo lifestyle.

All of these things have played and will continue to play an important role in my life, but I have a much different perspective now that I did in the early stages of all those things. I feel as though I should have seen my flawed perceptions, but that’s nothing more than a hindsight bias.

I would like to believe this realization would insulate me for over-glorifying my current experiences, but it really doesn’t. Shelly and I recently started mma training which heavily features jiu jitsu (I even started a new blog.) Without experiencing mma training for a significant amount of time, I just don’t have enough perspective to accurately assess how important the experience is to me. I want to recommend it to everyone and rant about how awesome it is, but I know it’s like every other experience I’ve had- I’m over-glorifying it.

So why does this matter?

I blog about my experiences A LOT. Sometimes the discussions will be reflective in nature. Sometimes they will occur in the midst of the experiences. In the case of the former, my observations are probably pretty accurate. In the case of the latter, I probably make anything and everything seem a lot better than it really is… just like mma training today.

I’m a pretty skeptical person, but that skepticism doesn’t really prevent this. For example, there was a time when I was convinced we should ban all shoes. I sincerely believed everyone should be barefoot all the time and the shoe industry was nothing more than a grand conspiracy between manufacturers and the medical community to boost profits and income by promoting injuries.

Fast forward. Two days ago, I advised a contractor dude at work to see a doctor for some orthotics. He suffered an acute foot injury that could benefit from temporary immobilization.

The same thing happened with ultrarunning.

I used to think ultras were the epitome of the human experience. The suffering and perseverance needed to reach the finish line was among the greatest challenges a human could face. Now I see ultras a slow jog where you get to eat a ton of junk food and is really no different than any other recreational game we play to pass the time. There’s no reason to put ultrarunners on any sort of pedestal.

I used to believe functional fitness was the absolute best plan to attain fitness. I recommended Crossfit to everyone I encountered. Then I started seeing people get hurt while overtraining. Then I saw supposed “phenomenal athletes” that couldn’t run more than a few miles. I realized there’s more to “fitness” than being able to get a respectable score when doing Fran.

After twelve years of teaching, I thought I had sorted out the positives and negatives of the education experience, and could create an ideal homeschool situation for our kids. It went great… for about a year or so. Then the kids started to get bored. I became difficult to hold their attention. Ever-changing majestic scenery, hands-on science, practical mathematics, and first-person experience with historical landmarks loses its appeal when you do it every day. We enrolled them in school (a supposed poorly-performing public school) and they started to flourish.

I used to think getting published by a big publishing house would legitimize my amateurish writing. I expected seeing my book in bookstores to be a magical experience. As it turns out, it was far more satisfying doing it myself. The publishing world isn’t about validation for being a true artist. It’s a giant business designed to make money. Getting published doesn’t mean you’re a great writer. It means the publisher thinks they can make a buck off your writings.

I used to think being a nomadic running hobo was the perfect lifestyle. Now I see it as an extension of something college kids and those that live in poverty do on a regular basis. We’re not pioneers; we’re just middle class folks pretending to be poor. It’s cool seeing new places, but the logistics of long-distance travel can be brutal, campgrounds sometimes suck, you’re entirely reliant on location-independent income, and there are serious downsides to living in a house designed for intermittent vacation dwelling.

In each of those cases, I eventually learned none of it was really all that special. All have provided great memories, provided ample learning opportunities, and have changed me as a person, but none were worthy of the glorification I created while in the midst of the experience. Each was just another notch on the fence post of life.

So Now What?

This realization has made me a little wary of writing about current experiences. I won’t stop, though. It’s fun writing about current experiences. As far as personal growth, it’s good to fully document that early enthusiasm. It’s even better to make it public. It forces me to reconcile how I feel today with how I felt in the past, and explain how and why my thoughts and feelings have changed.

The situation I wrote about yesterday perfectly exemplifies this. For a year and a half, I routinely referred to us as nomadic hobos and talked about living with so little. Then we settled in an area where we were surrounded with abject poverty and got a first-hand taste of what it was really like [sidebar- Shelly actually grew up in severe poverty. Her response to yesterday's article: "I had a regular diet of government cheese. I already know what poverty feels like, damn it!"]  Anyway, these experiences made me realize we were merely pretending to be poor hobos. We didn’t have to worry about our kids starving. When we actually DID have to worry about our kids going hungry, I regretted my previous hobo ramblings.

I do actively try to seek out contradictory evidence, but that’s not usually enough to counteract my bias. Sometimes my experiences provide enough balance. Gun control is a good example. I think our world would be a lot safer without guns, but I grew up with a lot of people that needed guns to hunt for food to feed their families. Sometimes, though, I can’t seem to find that appropriate gray area at that particular time. We can acknowledge the world is filled with shades of gray, yet still have black and white thoughts.

By the way, I still run barefoot on occasion and love teaching the basic principles, will probably run at least one ultra this year with some goal races down the road, still do a lot of functional fitness exercises, will probably experiment with homeschooling again at some point, am open to the possibility of using a traditional publisher in the future, and am working to get to the point where we can hit the road again.

It’s not that any of these activities turned out to be bad, I’ve just been able to put them in a better perspective. None are the royal road to anything. I’ve been able to consider them from different angles, which has stripped away the desire to overly glorify any of them.

Like any worthwhile life experience, all of these left me with more questions than answers. All made me realize I’m dumber, not smarter. All have made me realize I have a very limited perspective on anything and everything. Taken together, that ultimately fuels my curiosity to learn more. So I can feel even stupider. And so the cycle continues.

Anyone else experience this phenomenon? Better yet, have my long-time readers noticed this trend in my writings? Is it good? Bad? Share your thoughts!

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7 Comments

  1. Barefoot Tyler
    March 25, 2013

    Oh I know the feeling! Saying, “I am going to be 100% *insert activity of philosophy*” tends to fail. It’s all about testing both extremes and finding balances.

    I see this a lot in the Linux community. Users test out different distributions, get them all set up, and decide that the other one has something better, so they use that, only to want to try a different one or the previous ones. I believe humans are never content and always looking for a change in philosophy or lifestyle. Those that have accepted their philosophies are the ones truly at ease.

  2. Damien Tougas
    March 22, 2013

    I think that there are a lot of good benefits that can come out of any intentional pursuit we bring into our life. I am mostly referring to the kinds of pursuits where we are working at “bettering” ourselves.

    I think though that the real benefits happen after the honeymoon phase, when we are no longer excited about it and we actually have to knuckle-down and slog through. That is the point where a lot of people quit, myself included for various things on many occasions. It is working through the hard part that actually changes us for the better.

    What, of your collected hobbies/pursuits, do you still do regularly, after the lustre has worn off?

  3. Dave
    March 19, 2013

    Commenting on a previous post, I had commended you for not being afraid to change your mind. Despite this, I have had worries that you may have swung too far away from the stick-to-your-guns paradigm.

    You talk about being a serial hobbyist in many aspects of your life (not just hobbies), but taking this to the extreme leads to flagellation; a rudderless life where one is always “chasing the tiger” for that existential high.

    That being said…

    This most recent post reassures me somewhat. You are coming across as self-aware, or at least you have a wife who is! So long as someone is at the wheel, you should be okay, even if it appears at times that you’ve cut the brake lines.

    On a related note, it’s been an interesting (concerning?) year in the barefoot blogosphere. MGBG got hit by real life and has disappeared. Jessie Scott is rarely writing about minimalism and ultrarunning (though his existential crises has led to some good writing). Katie Kift all but got deported from Canada. You are working on becoming the next Kimbo Slice. Donald (Running and Rambling) has signed off for good. Even Chris McDougall has all but disappeared. This may be a natural progression of waning enthusiasm for the “next big thing”, but it does leave me wondering how I’m supposed to waste time during work hours.

    • Dave
      March 19, 2013

      Coincidentally, Pete Larson at runblogger took note of the attrition of his favorite blogs in his post today.

      • Jason
        March 19, 2013

        Dave- good comments above, which would make a few good blog topics. :-)

  4. MQ
    March 19, 2013

    This tendency you’ve identified – to think, “This thing I’m into right now is the *best* thing, ever!” – I would call it arrogance.

  5. Ben Hirshberg
    March 18, 2013

    Hey Jason,

    Longtime reader, first time commenter. This post really resonated with me so I just wanted to thank you for writing it.

    I am very similar to you in that I get really excited about things, and then after awhile my excitement tempers. I do not think we are uncommon in that regard.

    I see this phenomenon all around the internet, especially with folks who have similar interests to us (travel, fitness, entrepreneurship, etc). People get really, really psyched up about crossfit, paleo, barefoot shoes, traveling, being an entrepreneur, goji berries, juicing, not owning a house, etc and write about it online or tell all of their friends. After more perspective settles in, people seem to either ignore it, pretend to ignore it, or otherwise continue on with their infatuation with this new aspect of their lifestyle. It is really cool that you can be honest and not ignore your more experienced perspective.

    The biggest thing that I have learned echos what some of your FB readers said: there are many roads to happiness. Live and let live. To each their own. All of us are different and no matter what my opinion is, not everyone should think Jersey Shore is silly, nature is important, and taxes in the US should be higher. And no one is less of a person for disagreeing with any of my above opinions.

    Enthusiasm is great! I just need to keep reminding myself that not everything should or will have the same enthusiasm for the same things that I do. Thanks again for this post brotha