To do anything exceptional, we must be willing to do things differently, which means becoming comfortable with the possibility that we’ll look stupid. I always saw my poor vision as a handicap, but now I see my ability to unfocus as a superpower to drive past self-consciousness.
I can’t stand people looking at me.
About three times a week I do a home workout on my terrace, and when I happen to lock eyes with someone walking by on the street a few stories below, I’m super self-conscious about it. It’s not that I think I look stupid doing burpees, or that I’m not confident with my physique, or that I even much care about what people think of me to begin with. I really don’t. And I know enough psychology to understand the spotlight effect, which basically says that nobody is paying as much attention to us as we might think.
I’m not particularly shy, nor an introvert. Put me on stage with a podium and a microphone and I’m comfortable. There’s just something about people watching me doing plank jacks that makes me feel like an exceptionally self-aware orangutan in the zoo.
I’ve long believed that we can take lessons in happiness from dogs, with the pinnacle of experience being the ability to stop walking, squat down in the middle of the park, look straight through your eyes into your soul with the most innocent look and proceed to take a massive shit. As a reasonably hygienic person, I’m not advising nor aspiring to shit in public, but the idea of feeling so comfortable with your existence and so unconcerned with the judgment of others to be able to do so is, without a doubt, admirable.
I believe we can train ourselves to become free from embarrassment and the shackles of self-consciousness, but to achieve such a status might well be a lifetime journey. But for now, I’ve tripped across a hack that I owe to being blessed with eyesight that needed corrective assistance before I even turned 6 years old. I can simply take my glasses off, or refrain from putting my contacts in, and the self-consciousness of my terrace workout simply disappears.
It’s so liberating.
For years I had considered Lasik surgery, imagining how nice it would be to wake up seeing 20/20 without having to worry about dry contacts or glasses slipping down my nose on a hot day. My envy of my clear-sighted friends was deep-rooted; after all, I doubt there is a 7-year-old alive who’d show up on the first day of 2nd grade wearing bottlecap glasses by choice.
But my terrace workouts have completely changed my perspective, making me appreciate my naturally poor eyesight as a superpower. Without having to resort to blackout sunglasses or some other fashion choice that would perhaps draw more unwanted attention, I can inconspicuously tune out wandering eyeballs that, for no reason I can identify, make me feel uncomfortable. They can’t see me if I can’t see them (right?), and when I need to see clearly, my glasses and contacts are right there on standby.
I recently read a memo, Dare to Be Great II, written several years ago by investor Howard Marks. He makes an argument that to beat the market, by definition, you have to think differently, and that a prerequisite for thinking differently is becoming comfortable with the chance that you may look stupid. I can’t say there’s anything different about my terrace workouts, but I am thinking about how I may be able to apply the same hack–to be able to simply unfocus on prying eyes–when I am trying something that may be out there (like, oh, trying to publish a rhyming picture book for adults).
Lately I’ve been wondering what other things in my life that I’ve perceived as bad fortune are actually unappreciated gifts. There are two sides to every coin, and I’m starting to believe that the most content among us are those curious enough to at least look at the other side once in awhile, in the off chance that we may stumble upon a superpower.
For me, that’s being able to not see clearly.