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  • Brendan Stec

The Day Teaches the Day

Chuckie: Let me tell you what I do know.

Every day I come by to pick you up. And we go out we have a few drinks, and a few laughs and it's great. But you know what the best part of my day is? It's for about ten seconds from when I pull up to the curb to when I get to your door.

Because I think maybe I'll get up there and I'll knock on the door and you won't be there. No goodbye, no see you later, no nothin'.

Just left.

I don't know much, but I know that.

Good Will Hunting (1997)


Most of us live rather regimented lives. We wake up at the same time. Do the same three or four workouts. Drink the same coffee from the same shop. Interact with most of the same people at work or on the weekend. We choose algorithmically-recommended TV shows and follow GPS directions to work. Maybe we take a vacation here and there, but if it's a cruise or a tour, that will have it's own structured routine down to the minute too.

A frightening majority of our decisions in life are habitual and automated.

So when we're suddenly put in a situation with uncertainty, where there is no clear right answer or data-driven algorithm to inform our behavior, the anxiety can really kick in. Do I take the new job? Sue for the money I'm owed? Start the relationship? Move across the country?

In these instances, you can't Google the answer or depend on some machine learning algorithm, because these aren't routine choices. No, these are the blurry, personal decisions that are uniquely human, impossible to automate, and in the end, ultimately up to our own judgment, for better or for worse.

In Good Will Hunting, Chuckie knows Will is running away from a key, life-defining decision like this. So Chuckie tells Will it's time for him to take a risk. No more of the same routine, picking him up every day after work to drink some beers. No more South Boston, hanging around the same people. He pushes Will to step out of his comfort zone, embrace uncertainty, and risk failure to move across the country.

The Japanese author Kenko wrote, "the most precious thing in life is its uncertainty." Kenko and Chuckie would be friends. They understand we are built to take some risks, overcome the discomfort of uncertainty, and learn from mistakes. Inevitably we hit roadblocks or screw up. But that's why we have such large brains relative to other primates, to learn for next time. Dies diem docet.

"The day teaches the day."

The greatest stories have ups and downs. The best adventures are a little scary. The greatest ideas, inventions, and companies are born out of strife, controversy, risk, and the potential for failure.

Perfectly optimized decisions, efficient and regimented routines, algorithmic choices, day after day: that's robotic and mechanistic. That's boring and meaningless. That isn't life.

"I don't know much, but I know that."


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