Recently I was introduced to this idea that if someone we consider to be a successful person gave their younger selves the same exact instructions to follow to be just as successful, they wouldn’t be able to recreate the same wealth. The major supporting argument is that most of the time, we ourselves are unable to describe a lot of the nuances that happen in between the steps and decisions we make, so any directions would essentially be an incomplete one.
This sounded promising, but it was difficult for me to grasp such a concept with people I haven’t deeply researched, like Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs. So I tried to think of it in terms of people who do something every day, but get different results each time.
I was first reminded of a Pho cook who Anthony Bourdain once introduced us to in “No Reservations.” This lady would cook a giant pot of Pho broth each day for over 20 years from the same recipe; but as described by Bourdain, the taste would be great yet different each day. Same cook, same recipe, but different soup each time.
Similarly, in the realm of martial arts it’s common practice to practice a technique to the point of painful boredom and irritation. Like in the movie “The Karate Kid” waxing-on and waxing off the car turned the protagonist into a physically capable person. As I noticed with my own martial art training, the physical movements might be the same, but there are so many things happening on deeper levels of physiology and psychology. As Bruce Lee might observe, no two punches are the same. And this is probably the reason why different students progress at different rates. Different students, same training, yet different (but not any less valuable) results.
I’ve noticed a similar thing lately with a drawing class I’ve been taking. Since I’m still new, I’ve been incessantly drawing lines, ellipses and boxes. The teacher mentioned that no two lines are the same, and I could feel my emotions change as it swung drawing from line to line like a monkey. It reminded me of the saying from Heraclitus, that “We can never step into the same river twice.” The river is always different because it’s moving. And we are always different because we are growing.
Maybe it is important to examine why we follow certain things closely, and to not judge ourselves if we don’t achieve them by following the advice of someone else. I’ve fucked up cooking eggs by repeatedly following the same recipe, but I’ve also had good egg days. And yet for some reason, I have a hard time explaining everything I did when it happened “correctly.”