July 11, 2010, 7:15 p.m.

The thing about life

Most people start out with a blank slate. No expectations. No desires. Except perhaps for living - survival. Important as that may be, it is not what makes us unique. As we grow older we start having different desires, different things we strive for. It starts out with very basic things - perhaps that new bicycle for Christmas. The last cookie in the jar mom hid in the cupboard. But as we grow older these things attain a certain depth to them.

For some people they desire love. Other want that perfect job. Some want power, other recognition, some fame and some other just to be healthy. Problem is very few people attain their childhood dreams. Mostly because the childhood dreams are not realistic - they are either impossible or improbable.

I think people who are happy are those people who came close to attaining their childhood dreams. Unfortunately that accounts for a tiny fraction of the population - it just is not likely that you will achieve what you desire simply because your reference frame as a child is incomplete and does not consider the realities of the real world.

So we adapt and improvise, and build a system that works for us. One that is sustainable. Some frameworks are better than others. However it is important to note that these frameworks are compromises. This does not mean they are inferior - simply that they are not necessarily aligned with your original preconceptions.

Usually this works out fine, but sometimes you miss the ball a bit. And once you followed this compromise, it is next to impossible to change. This is usually when you lose your naïvety. For most people this is an absolutely natural process, so natural that they are not even aware of it. Most people are not really self aware, in touch with their deepest feelings and desires. But for those select few that are, it can become problematic.

The problem comes in when they realise one day that what they conjured as a child is way out of sync with what they have as an adult. To change this is almost impossible. Usually by the time one realises this impedance mismatch, it is too late to change. Circumstances normally make this too hard. Unpractical. Unethical. So if we do decide one day our compromise is lacking, and come across something resembling our original fantasies, it presents us with a serious dilemma. There is always the fear that it may be too good to be true. Or that our childhood dream is for some reason out of sync with the kind of person we became - I do not believe people change, but people's needs do.

I think the problem is, our childhood dreams are in a context of naïvety. It is decoupled from the world. However, the impression they left on us last for ever. For as long as we live. A little bit like a fly locked forever in a piece of amber. Just because we and the world change, does not mean that idealism changes with it. Hence the impedance mismatch - we still yearn for what we felt back when we were young, however it is out of context. And this is dangerous. As it can prompt us to grab something that is not right for us.

I think it is an art to understand how to guide ourselves through the maze of desires. One needs to adapt your preconception contained in your childhood dreams to your current situation, and in that framework assess choices coming along your way.

The hard thing is knowing whether a new choice is better than the old. How do you measure the unknown with the known? It needs a risk benefit analysis. And this is where it gets complex. Sometimes all we can do is take a leap of faith. Sometimes making an incorrect choice is not that costly, sometimes it destroys us. That obviously affects the associated risk.

Not everyone is willing to take the risk of the unknown against the comfort of the known. That differentiates us. Hard to say which choice is the better. I guess it depends on the strength of the individual and the quality of the decision. Important thing is just to ensure you update your childhood dream correspondingly such that it fits in with the world are you experience it now. Otherwise you will be in for a surprise.