Whatever you do, don't forget to waste your potential: On the physics of perfect decisions
You never win optimizing for perfect.
I’m not sure how many of you did an engineering degree, or remember high school physics, but one of the most important concepts we take early on in the curriculum is the concept of kinetic and potential energy.
Let me give you a refresher, or introduction to the concept:
Potential energy is energy stored in an object or system due to its position or arrangement. An object or system, in this case, isn’t affected by anything in the environment outside the object or system. However, kinetic energy is the energy of an object or system’s particles in motion. Unlike potential energy, the kinetic energy of an object is affected by the various objects, whether stationary or moving, in its surrounding environment.
Another thing to note is that potential energy isn’t transferrable and is dependent on height and mass of an object. Unlike kinetic energy, which is transferrable from one moving object to another as well as being dependent on an object’s speed/velocity and mass.
So, where does this leave us for the topic of this post?
When faced with change in life, especially when related to achievement and career, one thought that crosses my mind is “I fear like I’m wasting my potential” or “what if I lose my chance at x?” or even “what if this is not what I’m supposed to do?” . This contemplation is normal in the face of uncertainty, and in face of what either is or looks like a major life decision. What is common, but shouldn’t be normalized, is the stage of analysis paralysis that keeps any of us on top of that hill, with our potential [energy] unwaveringly contained. Hoping for the environment to do its magic towards our contained potential; maximizing it, utilizing it, and somehow finding the answer to life as to where it should be ultimately spent.
But the thing is, potential energy is inevitably wasted. It’s either that or the object spends its lifetime in standstill. Whether that is where one decided to ultimately settle, or where one has been paralyzed.
Are we ever thinking all of the thoughts we have crossing through our heads to protect our potential hoping to stay in one spot until “the right opportunity” presents itself?
No, we are trying to spend our potential vs. wasting it; only going down the hill, accelerating and reaching 0 potential energy and x kinetic energy, for the “right opportunity”. This thought process only leaves us stressed, paralyzed, and never self-actualized, not to mention living the delusional that potential is spent, and not destined to be wasted for life to move as it is.
In this attempt to protect our potential, we attempt to optimize for perfection. A conception exclusive to divinity but we try to get as close to it as possible to minimize regret; another attempt at escaping the inevitable. We become cognizant of the singular shot we have at this lifetime, so we try to make all the perfect decisions and check off the prerequisite boxes to later do whatever we want to do; after we’ve proven our perfect track record to ourselves and others, when we can waste your potential because you’ve already gained the validation on your spending.
We’re optimizing for something not meant for us, and we work against the human condition because it weighs us down, all the while our little bike (referencing the picture) sits at the peak containing its potential at the top. Sure, bikes are fun to be ridden, but what if I ride it and it breaks at the bottom? or breaks before I reach the fourth hill?
But what if you never ride the bike? What if you never know the feeling of going down the hill and the wind blowing through your hair/hijab and clothes? What if you never get to see beyond your hill?
You need to waste your potential to ride your bike, to see sunsets, to laugh with friends, to build great stuff and help others do so, to see more art. You need to actively start wasting that potential because the thing is you will never be right, and there will always be something better you could do, and your potential is always wasted because [eventual] kinetic energy is how life keeps moving.
With that being said, lets talk about Monet and O’Keeffe
You might recognize Monet for his Water Lillies, but Monet is infamous for saying that his life was nothing but a failure. Monet created what many viewed as beautiful works, appraisers valued them at $100K+, and it didn't go without some critique, but the toughest critic of his work was himself. All Monet saw that he had failed to protect his potential; he saw the lost opportunities and shortcomings.
“I know well enough in advance that you’ll find my paintings perfect. I know that if they are exhibited, they’ll be a great success, but I couldn’t be more indifferent to it since I know they are bad, I’m certain of it.” - Claude Monet
One of the first recorded instances of Monet’s attempts to optimize for perfect was in 1908, the story I mentioned in my opening post for this newsletter. Monet worked for 3 years on a new set of paintings set to be exhibited in a show in Paris, France. Right before they were shipped, Monet simply decided they were not up to par and ripped them all up, and proceeded to park his bike on a peak storing what he can of his “leftover” potential.
On the other hand, Georgia O’Keeffe, labelled the “Mother of American Modernism” , has been known to have failed across her career, especially due to her severe anxiety and depression. Despite her challenges, O’Keeffe continuously wasted her potential; she broke her bike, built another one, and rode into the sunset.
“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” - Georgia O’Keeffe
O’Keeffe has been known to have set aside her paintbrushes and quit painting 3 times across her career. One of those breaks was to take on a more stable job, and another because she had a nervous breakdown that made her step away. But until her death, O’Keeffe kept on creating, even switching to sculpting later in life when she lost her eyesight. These were certainly not O’Keeffe’s only challenges, her cryptic autobiography tells more, but she fought herself first before pushing the bike off the peak and wasting its potential, and that is when she grasped the magnitude of her kinetic energy.
So kids, what I’m saying to myself before I say to anybody else, is that your potential is inevitably wasted whatever it is you decide to do. It is going to take me a bit of courage to push my bike off the peak, but I know I can’t stay here and miss the sunset. Even if I drive the opposite direction, I’ll know where it is next time.
Don’t forget to waste your potential.