You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. – Seneca
Dip your toes into the perfumed morass that gurgles up around the business self-help industry and you’re sure to find a wealth of information on “how to win.” To that end, I’d like to expand on my thesis that although nothing beats “winning,” sometimes simply playing not to lose is a worthy goal.
How do you play to not lose? By working to a strategic playbook that has optionality built into it; where, as suggested by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the playbook is like a highway with multiple exits that gives you the option to branch from your planned destination at any time.
I’ve learned many lessons from my parents in this regard and I’ll recap three that are the most important because we can incorporate this advice into our lives if we so choose:
- Take care of yourself.
- Stay out of debt.
- Strive to have a conscience clear before God and man.
Today I’d like to focus on: taking care of yourself.
I cannot tell you how many people I meet who, regardless of their station, are willing to sacrifice their personal health to “win.” Whether it be computer programmers, managers, business leaders, doctors, lawyers, professors, accountants, machinists, or moms and dads, “taking care of yourself” always seems to be the first thing that gets ignored when things become busy (which, in case you haven’t noticed, is pretty much always).
The result? According to the Mayo Clinic’s (h/t Good) recent study by Loprinzi et. al., only 2.7 percent of the U.S. adult population live a “healthy lifestyle.” This is clearly a concern on many levels, but I hope to impress upon you today that by taking care of yourself, you’re working to a strategic playbook that has optionality built into it.
Let’s use the job hunt (and competition) as a scenario to illustrate my thinking.
Consider for example that, unless you happen to have a secure government job or are well off, in the near future many of us are going to be forced to negotiate a transition in employment. Within the next 10 years one in three jobs will be taken by software, robots, or smart machines. By 2029 robots will reach human levels of intelligence and although there isn’t anything you or I can do to stop this, we can go a long way to increase our options by taking care of ourselves.
Nothing like a robot taking your job to get you feeling down and out, right? If however, you tend to your mental state by staying fit, you’ll be more likely to bounce back. In fact, according to a study cited in The Atlantic, aerobic activity is an effective treatment for many forms of depressions. What’s more, exercise physically remodels our brains for performance and can help with stress and depression (parenthetical comment is my own) :
At every level, from the microcellular to the psychological, exercise not only wards off the ill effects of chronic stress; it can also reverse them. Studies show that if researchers exercise rats that have been chronically stressed, that activity makes the hippocampus grow back to its preshriveled state (very cool). The mechanisms by which exercise changes how we think and feel are so much more effective than donuts, medicines, and wine (dammit). When you say you feel less stressed out after you go for a swim, or even a fast walk, you are. – clinical professor of psychiatry John Ratey from his book Spark:The New Science of Exercise and the Brain (h/t Farnam Street)
Once you’re back on your feet, you’re going to want to start looking for a new job. Although never an easy task, if you’ve been taking care of yourself, you’re going to have more options than the competition. Here, for example, Forbes documents how “weight-based discrimination consistently affects every aspect of employment, from hiring to firing, promotion, pay allocation, career counseling and discipline.” Further, as this LA Times article about former presidential candidate
and current (not going there) Chris Christie and the politics of weight points out, not even politicians are immune to this bias.
After you land a job, you will find yourself competing not only with robots, but also with the minecraft generation programming them. Again, if you are one of the few who have focused on taking care of yourself, you will likely perform better and have better chances of retaining your job because regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory and thinking skills. (Harvard Medical School study).
Of course, you could just skip looking for a job altogether and look forward to the day when your kids can take care of you. If, like my parents, you’ve passed this advice onto your kids, they too will benefit because we now know that exercise also boosts young brains:
The results underscore, yet again, the importance of physical activity for children’s brain health and development, especially in terms of the particular thinking skills that most affect academic performance. ( Hillman et. al., New York Times Blogs, h/t Open Culture)
Although listening to and talking about “winning” undoubtedly feels good, with secular stagnation a real and worrisome possibility, many of us should be thinking about what we can do to keep from losing.
For the reasons noted above, doing a better job of taking care of ourselves is a great place to start*. Indeed, if we approach life as an endurance event that benefits from being healthy and injury free, we can better manage the transitions that are inevitably thrown our way.
I have more to say about this topic, which I’ll save for next week. Until then, let me leave you with the fantastic music of Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. In a roundabout way I was introduced to the music of Thao Nguyn and her band through my volunteer work with Emerge Center, a fantastic local non-profit that helps those suffering from the horror of domestic abuse. In 2013 Nguyn released a song called “We the Common (for Valerie Bolden)” about a woman who is currently serving a life sentence without a chance of parole as a “direct result of domestic violence.” From Nguyen’s post:
As many of you know, our latest record We the Common is greatly inspired by my time with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. My first meeting with Valerie Bolden was the foundation of the record’s lead single. Valerie Bolden has been incarcerated for 17 years. She is serving a life sentence without chance of parole as “a direct result of domestic violence.” When I told Valerie she’d inspired a song her first reaction was: maybe people will write letters! Indeed, many people have asked how to get in touch with Valerie- to reach out, to send words of encouragement, to learn more about her. Ms. Bolden loves to write and is quite excited by the prospect of connecting with folks from all over. Her information:
W72963 EMB 517L
California Institute for Women
P.O. Box 8100
Corona, CA. 92878
Thank you for helping infuse humanity in places that would willingly deny it.
Thank you Thao and Valerie for continuing to remind me through your music just how lucky I’ve been.
*To those of you who would like more details about my 15 minute Engineered by Design™ workout, I’ll see if I can put something together in the future and post it here. I’m thinking some sort of video would probably work best but, well, suffice it to say that putting something like that together is clearly out of my comfort zone so give me some time to figure something out.
Video not displaying properly? Click here.