top of page

I have done only a few jobs in my life, being on a regular payroll. Something always felt odd to me about jobs. Filled with rites and rituals, they never seemed to care for what I was hired for. When I was in the tech world they didn't care about my value in coding and when I made a brief stint as a faculty they wanted me to do everything but teach.

In the chapter 'How to Legally Own another person' from Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb deconstructs the need of businesses to have employees and covers through time, what exactly is of value to a company in having someone on their regular payroll. The short one word answer is 'Dependability' not skills or value exchange.

Free people are by nature not dependable for institutions, they incline towards questioning and are opportunistic. He provides the example of Gyrovagues, non-institutionalized wandering monks who kept their needs always below their means and in doing so were extremely hard to be subjugated by the Church system. Cut, a few centuries later, to the modern day 'Company Person' who is constantly owned not just by the company he works for but also by the idea that he needs to be 'employable' in an institution.

An interesting analogy that Taleb gives is that of Wolf and Dogs.

"Someone who has been employed for a while is giving you strong evidence of submission. Evidence of submission is displayed by the employee's going through years depriving himself of his personal freedom for nine hours every day, his ritualistic and punctual arrival at an office, his denying himself his own schedule, and his not having beaten up anyone on the way back home after a bad day. He is an obedient, housebroken dog." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Skin in the Game)

While it might sound harsh, the comparison is not without its parallels. Just like humans domesticated wolves to be dogs over long periods of time, so have institutions domesticated the wild spirit of humans to that of the modern day employee.

The process of domestication is fueled by the temptations of comfort. Or as Kahlil Gibran says in The Prophet "Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral"

As Taleb notes "The best slave is someone you overpay and who knows it, terrified of losing his status"

The animation short film 'The Employment' beautifully captures the essence of what Taleb puts across.

But being a wolf, and in the wild means risk. The very risk that the employee is so averse to taking that he is willing to enslave himself. The gains are extremely high, but so are the downsides. Taleb reminds us through the story of the wild-ass, that "Freedom entails risk - real skin in the game. Freedom is never free."

The Gyrovagues are extinct, having been outlawed multiple times by organized religion who kept its institutional power through comforts and subjugation of freedom.

Wolves still exist though, most times outside of jobs, but sometimes in them too.

Meditation is nothing but Mental Inaction. There are hundreds of ways to do it, yet, too many lores attached to it keep us distracted from the core. It is simultaneously the most loved and reviled topic of our day.

We are what Naval Ravikant likes to call Thought Athletes, that need to sprint, rest and reassess. When the mind is constantly working thought after thought its akin to a sprinter running even after the race is over and then joining the next race. We've all felt this in our bones as we get up the second day of the week and continue what should be easy work.

A neurochemical aspect to this is that of the hormone Dopamine. Meditation reduces base levels of dopamine, which in turn means that joy from simpler experiences is accessible. As we spend most of our day hunting for our next excitement our brain reacts to each dopamine hit by constantly increasing the baseline, needing infinitely higher and higher excitement levels to feel normal. At a higher dopamine baseline, doing lesser everyday chores and tasks becomes unbearable.

In an age of mental gluttony, meditation is fasting for the mind. - Naval Ravikant

Meditation is a cleansing of the mind. It is a biological reminder that reduction of stimuli and voluntary boredom can be healing and can enrich the everyday humdrum of which life is full of.

Doing stupid things is not the same as being stupid.

Often not doing stupid things is the most foolish act of all.

We have a colossal fear of looking stupid or failing. A product of our industrial revolution based education models is that we have always been taught to fear failure and attach it to our self-ego. It stems from a system that trains us to be components. Fear of being seen as broken spare parts to be replaced, we developed shame towards failure. But humans are complex systems and not mechanical parts.

we too often make our goals into parts of our identities, so that failure becomes an attack on who we are.. - Oliver Burkeman (The Antidote)

As we dive headlong into the information age and the age of rapid automation, if there is a single skill that is the most important it is that of learning. Everything else pales into comparison. This doesn't apply only to professions but also daily living. We can no longer be ashamed of failing as the stakes are infinitely higher.

Failing, reflecting and course correcting are the muscles that are atrophied in our mind and we need to show them the light once again.

One cannot reasonably learn anything without failing at it, the thing humbling you or you looking stupid.

  • You will be humbled by the waters when learning to swim

  • You will fall when learning to ride a bike

  • You will stall when learning to drive a car

  • You will look foolish when learning to dance

  • You will sound weird when learning to sing

You will do stupid things, add a giggle or a laugh to the recipe and keep moving ahead.


bottom of page