Life Doesn’t Teach Any Lessons

Most of us look at life as a rule book.

We try to squeeze learning(s) from it as we navigate through the chapters. We turn a page, think, turn another, think and keep deriving lessons and inferences. It’s similar to reading a thriller story and contemplating the outcome of the story before finishing the novel.

With my little experience, I have come to believe that life offers no lessons to anyone. What is Sweet today, is definitely going to be sour tomorrow. We run after things and beliefs but none of them are true and neither is our perception about them or how we deal with them.

I remember I was attending a conference where the speaker was giving advice on Entrepreneurship, business and other things. Someone from the audience asked a question

If all of what you have learned is true, why don’t you donate the money and do it all over again? You know the formula already, why not repeat the success to a greater degree?

To this the speaker said something which I will remember forever

Your question is wrong.

I have succeeded once but that does not mean I will succeed again and again by applying the same principles and techniques. These are not learnings but experiences which I am sharing. It is possible that if I try the same business again, I may not even take off. This is because the time has changed, markets have changed, perception has changed and more players have emerged. My success has little to do with my abilities but because of numerous factors at that point in time which were beyond my control. If I try the same path again, I might fail. There are no “Learnings”, only experiences. You take the experience from me, you take the perspective but do not take them as “Dictums” or “Lessons”. There are no lessons.

A billionaire can write his theories and lessons on “How to become a billionaire” but that doesn’t mean that his learning is applicable to your business. It is possible that his learnings were valid at a given time, location, situation and cannot be applied elsewhere in the world ever again.

An actor can write an autobiography on how he was successful in his career but it is possible that all of it was a mere co-incidence when someone noticed his face in a crowd and decided to give him a chance. If not that situation, he could have grown up as a commoner.

This phenomena of uncertainty and that there is no such thing as right or wrong is aptly described in the zen story below.

Maybe Yes, Maybe Not. We’ll See

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed,

“Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!”

The farmer replied,

“Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out,

“Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!”

The farmer replied,

“Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried,

“Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!”

The farmer replied,

“Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury.

Friends shouted,

“Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!”

To which the farmer replied,

“Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Our life is very similar to the life of the farmer.

There is no such thing as “Win” or “Loss”, there is no such thing as “Good” or “Bad”. There are no lessons and there are no learning(s) from individual events and someone who tries to analyze every life detail and seek meaning or lessons from it is living in a fool’s world.

You can study hard in college, come out with flying colors and still have a hard time finding a job you love. That does not automatically mean that college education is worthless. So if you derive the lesson that college education is of little use, you are wrong. There are people who have found great jobs studying in that same or worse college than yours. There are people who do not have a college degree but are doing great professionally and there are people who have completed several degrees but never found employment.

You can remain committed to your spouse but still end up in an abusive relationship. That does not automatically mean that marriage is not a trustworthy institution. There are people who are happily married since 50 years and have stayed together in thick and thin. Deriving this lesson that relationships are worthless would again be a mistake.

You can be an active smoker and not die of cancer while one of your relatives, who is a non smoker and tells you to stop smoking dies of cancer himself. Does that mean smoking is good for health or does that mean your relative was a fool to advice you to quit smoking?

People who tell you that there are lot of lessons which you should learn from them are surely selling something.There are experiences and outcomes which people go through due to events but those outcomes necessarily do not translate into a lesson since there were numerous forces behind a specific outcome and those conditions in which a specific outcome prospered will never re-appear.

Any exercise, outcome or an event cannot form the basis of a “Generalized Lesson”, and hence there are no lessons in life.

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