Beware of Hubris

how to not be overconfident in lifeA close friend of mine is remarkable at value investing. I’m in awe of how he picks out stocks that grow at least 10X in the long run and pulls out of others right before they start dropping like a knife.

But he struggles to apply the same logic to other aspects in life. In politics, for instance, he gets nasty if I raise a point against a party he supports. To the extent that I stopped discussing politics with him lest it ruined our friendship.

When many of us become good at one thing, we think we’re immune to cognitive biases. (After all, wasn’t it a good judgment that got us to where we are?)

We refuse to accept criticism. Seeking feedback and saying “I don’t know” are seen as signs of weakness and ignorance. We believe that the world is the way we see it.

But being good at one thing doesn’t automatically make us good at everything else. It doesn’t even mean that we will remain good at what we do forever. In fact, we run the risk of succumbing to hubris.

“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.” — Morgan Housel

A lucid example of this is the hermit crab. As it grows bigger, it needs a bigger shell. If it doesn’t find the shell in time, there’s a vulnerable moment when the crab must expose its soft self to the world. Most learning and growth occurs in this phase between shells.

But when we fall prey to hubris, we become like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so that it doesn’t have to grow and find a new shell. We choose unhappiness over uncertainty because it keeps our external image intact at the expense of intrinsic growth.

Ben Franklin was right. “Some people die at 25,” he said, “and aren’t buried until 75.”

Stagnant life is meaningless. Intrinsic growth makes life meaningful. It’s the best investment you can make in yourself. And it happens when you break.

“The world breaks everyone and afterwards many people are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills.” — Ernest Hemingway

In kintsugi, a Japanese art form that dates back to the 15th century, masters repair broken plates, cups, and bowls by fusing the cracks with gold. The lesson is that things can become more beautiful than they were before they broke, reversing our assumption of repair.

The same applies to human beings. It’s futile to resist when the world breaks us. But if we reverse our understanding of what breaking means, we can become stronger and anti-fragile.

Don’t chain your identity to specific ideas or beliefs. Keep trying to prove yourself wrong. Keep a circle of trusted friends or colleagues who provide discreet and unfiltered advice, and tell you things you need to hear although you may not want to.

This is easy when you’re a beginner. But as you grow, the self-inflicted pressure to stay right always increases because you think people expect you to perform.

Free yourself from that pressure. Embrace the fact that everything including you is temporary and in a constant state of metamorphosis. This will help you maintain a beginner’s mindset and a fluid sense of self.

Leave a Reply