Recalculating Life

Live as if you were living
already for the second time
and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly
 as you are about to act now! 

Viktor Frankl

“I was thinking about the GPS in my car. It never gets annoyed at me. If I make a mistake, it says, “Recalculating,” Sylvia Boorstein said recently on the On Being podcast. Isn’t that wonderful!

“Recalculating” should be our theme and mindset. Technology does not judge us, it merely attempts to serve. Yet we judge technology all of the time. We express our impatience, even our anger at our inert devices for their lack of instantaneous perfection. We curse spellcheck even though it is usually our big thumbs creating the stream of errata. No gratitude. Our technology is much kinder than we are! More forgiving. We need to be more like technology sometimes. Less emotional, more predictable and always recalculating.

How do we adapt to the changing tides and the shifting winds of our planned futures? We should be recalculating as the world is revealed to us. We take things for granted. We expect continuous improvement in our tech and in our lives. Our money has to grow automatically by the magic of compounding. But things change and our beautiful assumptions that were so well-conceived are wrong or even obsolete. Illogically we expect the good times will get better. We defer appreciation of what we have for the opportunity to see our assets appreciate more. Greed always prevents us from enjoying the best of times because our expectations exceed our needs and even our desires.

We all know there are no mountains without valleys. And every wave has its trough. But these downturns, these setbacks, are so inconveniently timed to our schedules. Even when we know that our natural resources are dwindling, we wait until we hit a wall. These cycles have been occurring for decades and generations and here we go again. 

Okay so there went the good times, the good financial times. Right? Did that really feel like the best of times over the has dozen years, the last two years? The cliff we all feared has arrived. All of the so-called fundamentals of the marketplace seem to be in doubt. Yes COVID, the Ukraine war and so many global events have impacted things, but we have all been in a very warm bubbly bath of optimism for a long time. This “correction” is long overdue. Riding the stock market, crypto, real estate juggernauts to astronomical heights. And as a profound friend of mine said, “What goes up must come down.”

I remember when I went to a seminar for start-up executives in the Silicon Valley in 2001. And this Stanford Professor predicted the Dow Jones would reach 30,000—now at 32,000. It was below 10000 at the time. It was around 600 when I graduated from high school. S and P 500 returned 300% since 2011 and the NASDQ doubled since the COVID shutdown in March of 2020.  Somebody made a lot of money! My little “retirement” fund keeps riding the rollercoaster up and down. Never expected a lot and never planned for big returns.

Our relationship with money gets tested or revealed in times like this. Many assume that their money will grow into the sufficiency of their wants. But our wants always grow faster. And the price tags for our wants seems to grow faster than any portfolio. It is a recipe for stress, heartache and anxiety. It all contributes to some of our worst instincts. Envy, greed, and selfishness. 

Some of you youngsters don’t know that we had 18% interest rates at our bank accounts 40 years ago and we waited in line to get gas 50 years ago. The biggest difference is the rising tide, the higher waves have lifted many boats never seeing these levels of inequity, poverty, homelessness and suicide.

Many people are recalculating. Many are hoping for the return to normal. Have been around too long and watched the cycles of life. The introduction, growth, maturity and decline of everything over and over and over. We know there are opportunities, we know that there’s an abundance of chances to take advantage of this moment. What will we do?

What anchors us when the world around us keeps changing? Recalculating……

Full humanization… requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.  Erich Fromm

It can feel like a giant conspiracy to undermine our happiness. Because it is. What will make you happy? A set of bigger and better material items? But what is it for?   Recalculating…

What is the meaning of all of this?  Why? In service of what? Recalculating…..

I just saw the film Everything Everywhere and All at Once. It is a very unusual film that challenges your senses and your assumptions about what life is about. How absurd life can be.

When we are confronted with great painful change, we can reflect on the absurdity of our actions and motivations. We have an existential moment that initiates are truly honest assessment of what you want, who you are and where you are going.  Recalculating….

Most philosophers have debated that “happiness” is the aim of human striving. However, we all know happiness is a moment not a state of being. What matters is to stop and consider what “happiness” really means to us. Recalculating…

We are “Ill-prepared for the privilege of living” as poet Wislawa Szymborska asserts, Recalculating….

Like all of this is leading to something. This accumulation of transactions, material items, and deferral of meaningful gratification. Recalculating…

The world we live in is as volatile, ambiguous, chaotic, and threatening as we make it out to be. And as generous, inspiring and joyful as we want it to be.

Which do you choose? Recalculating….

Thanks for reading. John

by Wisława Szymborska

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.

I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more. 
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.

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