“We can never know what to want,
because, living only one life, we can neither
compare it with our previous lives
nor perfect it in our lives to come.”
-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
This quote from one of my favorite novels gets to the heart of the human condition: the difficulty of making decisions about how one should live one’s only life without any way of knowing if the choices we make will lead to *happiness, fulfillment, Heaven, whatever your thing is*, and the angst that creates in us. We take jobs, take lovers, take chances or don’t, always blind to where those decisions will take us, always wondering what life would be like if we had chosen the alternative. And for the eloquence with which he explained the dilemma, I call this the Kundera Principle, and it is inescapable.
Still, though the condition may be inescapable, one can hedge against it by doing a few things. Read biographies. Acquire mentors. Network and make friends with all types of people, and stay connected to your family. Basically do anything and everything that will put you in a position to study lots of different lives being lived in different ways. Look at the choices people make and the outcomes they bring. Look for patterns and trends among them. Then do your best to copy the things that seem to consistently bring what you consider to be positive results, and avoid the things that seem to invite misery. You’ll still be surprised by variances in outcomes, and by your own feelings throughout the process, but on average you’ll probably do better at dodging life landmines than the person just feeling their way through on intuition alone.
It might sound cold, but looking at other people as data points in a big experiment can help you navigate through life without having to approach every situation as novel. With limited time to live in the world, outsourcing experiences is helpful.