Fragile vs. Antifragile Living

What is the AntiFragile Life?  At its core it’s about robust personal empowerment.  Without it you are at best dependent and at worst a slave to process.   If you want to live a free life or retire early or be your own man/woman or be of greatest value to your organization then you’ve got to be willing and able to walk away from societal expectations, cultural norms, and financial dependency.  That is hard to do if by walking away you put yourself and your family into a financial crisis with you frantically searching for another income stream.  If that is your reality (which is most everybody) then it means you have a fragile life model.  That fear of losing it all and falling off the rails and into destitution is a powerful incentive to cling to the status quo and not rock the boat – being average is the default comfort zone.  If you’re going to break that paradigm and seize the day in the teeth of chaos you’re going to need what some call “The F-You Account” ( http://tinyurl.com/F-YouMoney ).  You are going to have to design your life to be what Nassim Taleb calls “antifragile.”  In his book the Antifragile, Taleb defined antifragility as:

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Some things benefit from shock; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.[1]

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The Fragile Life Choice
How does one apply Taleb’s definition to everyday life?  Fragility means that a chaotic event would wreak havoc and force either calamity or very unpleasant choices.  It means that events are driving things rather than you.  Take a representative sample and see if  the term fragility fits you, your extended family, or your friends and neighbors – I’d be willing to bet that on average the percentage of fragile circumstances, in aggregate, is well over 90%.   Many Americans have built exceedingly fragile lives and perhaps worse they don’t even realize it – very powerful psychological temptations combined with access and opportunity almost guarantee it. Just about anything which upsets the status quo can throw their entire existence into a chaotic spiral.  Unfortunately the fragile life choice may mean that things look good on the surface, yet lurking beneath is a crisis waiting to happen.   This unfortunate circumstance is for a lot of reasons but the usual culprits are fairly basic:
1.  Debt
2.  Living at or above one’s means
3.  Single, vulnerable source of income
4.  Assuming status quo of current conditions
5.  Dependence on others when they have the intellect and means to do it themselves
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One can readily see that an individual or family who is defined by the above is extremely dependent on things going smoothly and as expected. Unfortunately, huge swaths of the nation are defined by just this set of circumstances.  In this paradigm, chaos and change are mortal enemies to be feared and fought at all costs.  I’d argue that it has a lot to do with the high stakes vitriol of our national politics.  The stakes couldn’t be higher if it’s your livelihood on the line and emotions will run high as threats to the status quo emerge.  Rather than thriving in chaos and seizing the day we are increasingly a nation defined by a never ending stream of “victims” often used as emotive pawns in a sickening game of pity politics. Why play that game?  Why let yourself be used as a pawn?   By definition, the fragile live in constant fear and scream the loudest when things start to go wrong – Look no further than the closing of a factory, the challenge to a teachers’ union, a government shutdown, or a change to corporate executive compensation (is that the full political spectrum or what?).  Yet, it doesn’t HAVE to be this way – there is a better choice.
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The Antifragile Life Choice
How do we build an antifragile life that can thrive in chaos?   By definition, if we conduct our affairs in opposite fashion to the above we will probably come close.  The antifragile person/family will likely be defined by the opposite of fragile:
1.  No debt
2.  Living well beneath their means
3.  Multiple sources of income
4.  Expecting randomness and chaos to alter reality
5.  Self reliant
The antifragile person is not plugged into the rat race and is not dependent on “the system” or society’s expectations.  He/she if they earn enough in early career is likely to “retire” at a young age and live a life of self-reliance and simplicity.  They don’t have to hang on every word of the news or worry about what politicians might do or worry about the factory down the street moving to Mexico – because these things simply aren’t that important to their day-to-day livelihood.  Rather than be whipsawed by reality they master it.

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What about you?  Are you free to walk away?  Are you free to speak your mind without fear of negative consequences?  What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow?  The goal of this blog is to get to a place where if that happens it just doesn’t matter – you have an F-You account and are disciplined enough to view it as a tool of personal empowerment.  If by speaking truth to power you are ruthlessly fired and “kicked to the curb” you can view it as nothing but another enlightening opportunity to continue living well and do something else, something better, and seize the day.  The antifragile life means that you are  free to work if you want to, in a place that you love, or are free to retire, or are free to do a little of both – on terms that you accept. You have life options and you’re in charge of your life.

 

The Antifragile/Fragile Tug-of-War
It’s going to be a constant tug-of-war between the two choices.  The right mental prism is to view every dime that comes in as adding to antifragility, and every dime that goes out adds to fragility.  Every shopping trip adds to fragility.  Every drink of soda adds to fragility.  Every inefficient trip to the store to pick up the carton of milk because you forgot it during the weekly shopping trip is a needless waste of costly gas and adds to fragility.  Chaos doesn’t care that it’s a special occasion and you have to buy a present.  Reality doesn’t care.  By purchasing that present you’re adding to fragility.  There are of course things which outweigh the addition of fragility in your life so we all make trade-offs.  It’s a constant tug-of-war.  What has to happen is a series of wise choices made at the micro level all adding up to tilting the scale more towards antifragility rather than fragility.  Unfortunately there is no perfection.  All of us, being human beings, can not control everything and ultimately we all die.  There is no perfect antifragility.  It’s all a matter of degree on a scale where our personal risk rises the more fragile we allow ourselves to become.

2 thoughts on “Fragile vs. Antifragile Living

  1. AntiFragile is key. I believe strongly that we should also remind ourselves regularly that we are but a blip on the radar of the universe, no more or less important than any other inhabitant, past, present, or future, but connected strongly. Our action or non action may have significant consequences but we are best not to place TOO much credit or blame. I hope you will keep up the writing!

    • In a random universe all things are possible – good and bad – and as you suggest there is a lot that will go well beyond any one person’s control. No matter what you do or no matter how antifragile you ultimately become, there will always be risk beyond what you can prepare for. The quest I guess is to get as close as possible to weeding fragility out of our lives and accepted full individual responsibility to the greatest extent possible.

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