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Soulful Sundays: Antifragile

"Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes a fire." -Nassim Taleb


A few years back I read a book called Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb. His general premise is that there are three types of systems. 'Fragile' systems are the ones least capable of coping with chaos, 'resilient' systems aren't affected negatively or positively by chaos, and 'antifragile' systems actually gain from chaos. A quick example for all three is provided by bird species. A bald eagle is an apex predator and is quick to die if it gets moved out of its ideal habitat (fragile). A robin is a generalist species and will do just fine in whatever habitat it gets plopped in, but will never reach a giant population size (resilient). A starling is an opportunist and absolutely thrives when introduced to new environments (antifragile). Taleb argues that we should strive to be more like the starling.


Essentially, we can gain the most by preparing for the worst. This doesn't necessarily mean that we all need to build bomb shelters, but an earnest investment in basic survival skills, food production, community building, and other self-sufficiency techniques would go a long way toward decreasing our general anxiety. We can also shockproof our bodies and minds by engaging in planned stressors like strenuous exercise, cold/heat exposure, fasting, etc. We do these things because eventually big, unexpected black swan events will occur whether we like it or not. Take the events of 2020 as the quintessential example.


The book also introduced me to the 'barbell theory' for risk management, which is the principle of placing the majority of your resources in resilient/safe areas and the remaining resources in risky areas. This is a life strategy as much as it is a financial investment strategy. I try to stay focused on the mundane, life-giving activities in my day-to-day life as much as possible (good meals, sleep, exercise, relationships), but then inject some risky business here and there when I get bored (like whitewater kayaking, travel, or walking everywhere without shoes). The idea is that by actively engaging in risk you will get better at spotting which risks are worth taking and which ones don't suit you.


Honestly, I continue to struggle with becoming more antifragile. I struggle with relaxing and welcoming the unknown and the chaos into my life, but I guess that is only human. And every time that I get kicked down and still make it through (often with more wisdom than before) I have to remind myself that I'm probably doing it right.



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