Why Are We So Afraid of Secrets?
“Why are we so afraid of secrets? Why won’t we take risks and figure out something new? We have given up our sense of wonder at secrets left to be discovered?” - Peter Thiel
The problem with the way our educational system works, in general, is that it is designed to produce established skill sets (mostly) that serve a world that has structure. Identify your specific focus area early, dedicate most if not all of your time and academic resources towards that focus area and dutifully march down that well-trodden path to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, programmer, etc.
This is fine if you’re one of those rare folks who knows exactly what they want to do at a young age, but the reality is that most folks don’t. Instead, we end up choosing our path based on considerations of security, societal/peer pressure and risk mitigation.
The result is that generation after generation, we have masses of people who are going through the motions, engaged in work that is driven by someone else’s agenda and doesn’t serve them, doing just enough to make it through another day and another week (which is where phrases such as Happy Friday come from). I knew one person who worked at a world-renowned global corporation who would tell me - every time I met him - how many days he had left until retirement. He knew it to the day, and he was only in his forties!
What the system does not teach us is how to deal with things that don’t go according to plan i.e. plenty of what we deal with in our lives. We’re rarely taught important fundamental but perhaps even more important skills such as self-belief, the need for initiative, dealing with uncertainty, grappling with situations where there are no predefined solutions. I’m not suggesting this never happens, it just doesn’t happen enough, and yes, in some cases at all. Too often, it’s individualized and not institutionalized i.e. it depends on the teacher.
What we’re far too often missing is an education in the fundamental, underlying character traits necessary to thrive in a world that no longer provides economic certainty, where the company man is a relic of the distant past, where the traditional paths are being unbundled and disaggregated and changed beyond recognition. In other words, Junior might train for years to become a (pick any historically reputable profession) but that’s no longer a guarantee of lifetime security. Or of happiness. (Yes, that absolutely matters.)
If we have kids going through this right now, perhaps it’s incumbent on us to model situations where they can experience material uncertainty. Where they need to experience, assess and evaluate and come up with solutions to problems they’re grappling with. From tasks as small as navigating public transport to being given an objective and asked to think through and figure out a solution to it (with a deadline and a consequence). Independence, critical thinking and, yes, a little risk is necessary. There’s nothing wrong with guidance, but there is when you’re doing it for them.
And if we’re the ones going through this, then the advice should be no different. Take a risk. Do something uncertain. It could be as small as taking on a side project, or something as big as starting a new initiative. The point is to take stock in yourself, what you’ve learnt and what you’re able to do (which is almost always more than we think). Trust that you’ll land on your own two feet. In this process, it’s important, though, to be as mindful of the “wonder” of that journey as much as the destination.
That fact is that there are still plenty of secrets left to be discovered. But we have to want to take the risk and go out and discover them.