The Counterintuitive Stability of Change
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” – Alphonse Karr
Being in the middle of a lot of change right now, the term Antifragile has been on my mind a lot. I haven’t read the book by the same name yet — but it’s in my queue now. I recently heard its author Nassim Taleb on one of my favorite podcasts, The James Altucher Show and it’s been rattling around in my head for the last couple weeks.
What is Antifragile?
If you aren’t familiar with the word antifragile — that’s because it technically isn’t a “real” word. That is it wasn’t, until Nassim invented it. I think the meaning at first glance seems pretty straightforward, but when you begin to think about it more in context of life, it gets a lot deeper.
Taleb coined the term “anti-fragility” because he thought the existing words used to describe the opposite of “fragility,” such as “robustness,” were inaccurate. Anti-fragility goes beyond robustness; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock but actually improves because of it.
Are You Fragile?
I had never thought of myself as fragile — sure I recognized my insecurities, and I’ve written about my own anxiety levels, but when I heard the term antifragile I instantly connected with it. It put a name to what I’d been working towards for the last few years without being able to articulate it. It’s what this blog is all about changing your fear not fearing change.
By being open to change, and to borrow from the antifragile definition — “to not merely withstand change but actually improve because of it” – we experience the tree in the wind that will bend but not break factor. The what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger approach to life.
Change vs Stability
In a conversation last night, stability came up — I hadn’t thought about my stability or what makes me more stable until that moment. As I reflected on it, I began to feel even more comfortable about a tough decision that I needed to make. Making tough decisions– to leave something comfortable behind, to change or reinvent myself –whether it’s the country that I live in, the craft that I do or the people I’m around (or not around) it all has an impact on me. And that’s increasing my antifragility.
What If ‘Stability’ Leads to Fragility?
Nassim gave this example on the podcast of someone who’s done the same thing for 30 years, let’s say it’s for work. Now, if something happens and he suddenly loses his job, he’s not really prepared to continue to provide for himself. At least not in the way that another person who has a different life where they had to switch jobs or careers more often or where the job required them to be resourceful and to go out and find their own opportunities.
Looking back, my wife and I have changed careers more than once from designers to developers to consultants to coaches and that doesn’t even include creating products, writing, and the different industries we have transitioned to work with over time. And we’ve moved almost as many (if not more) times than years we’ve been married.
And on a personal level, moving wasn’t just from house to house, but from larger to minimalist, now in the last few years… from country to country.
All this change, to some might feel unsettling from the outside looking in, but if anything, it’s done the exact opposite. It’s truly made us less fragile – dare I say antifragile, as we seem to be thriving from the experience.
The Freedom in Letting Go of What You Know
As I’m embarking on a new journey, booking a one way trip to Thailand and beyond, I’m letting go of even more of what I would have thought I needed. My goal (inspired by Tynan’s Life Nomadic) is to have more flexibility by bringing just the essentials — my clothes, technology, personal care items, all in one bag. The amazing part is the counterintuitive step of minimizing everything I need to one backpack, doesn’t seem scary at all — it’s freeing.
Maybe we’ve been seeking the wrong thing in the traditional sense of stability — it’s not as important to have the most ‘stable’ environment — since we can’t truly control every environment — but to cultivate the strength to be stable in any environment.
*Photo from a recent trip to Vietnam, something about this photo just had that ‘heading out on a journey’ feel to it.