The glass-half-empty-or-full dichotomy never really expressed the issue for me.
The point is supposed to be, of course, that a glass half-full or half-empty can be looked at two different ways, so why not look on the bright side of life?
I. Water is a thing that can be measured quantitatively.
II. Half-full and half-empty are always the same thing.
III. It’s easy to get more water.
IV. The rate of increase or decrease of the water is more important than the absolute amount.
Addendum to point (III): If you’re all like, “I am very grateful for this half-cup of water,” you are less likely to get off your ass and turn on a fucking faucet.
In Bullish: Gratitude is Nice, But Don’t Let It Keep You From Action, I wrote about the dangers of positive thinking, at least regarding things you can actually change. In every Bullish ever, I’ve written about the importance of audacious future planning.
Addendum to point (IV): You really need to make sure that you don’t sit on your ass practicing gratitude while your water continues to disappear.
Why don’t we plan for terrible but likely events?
The other day, I ate some Cuban food at brunch. Then, my throat felt weird. My glands swelled up. I declared to my fiancé that I had “gland cancer.”
He said, “You don’t get sick much, do you?”
I don’t. (Well, just the one major time that lasted a year and a half, which I wrote about in Bullish: Preparing for Getting Hit By a Truck, which is not actually about getting hit by a truck.)
I was fine. I just won’t eat there again, even though the mofongo was delicious.
When we got engaged, I made my fiancé promise that he would take care of me when I’m getting chemotherapy. That’s really the main wedding vow, as far as I’m concerned.
My fiancé gets uncomfortable when I point out that all of our parents will die and at least one of us will almost certainly get a horrible illness and then we will die also. But this sort of thing is exactly why we have marriage (and gay people should also have the option) — when it’s time to go to a funeral, you don’t want to be wondering if it would be “weird” to cry all over your boyfriend for more than a certain number of days.
I believe in planning for the worst, and then going off to enjoy as fabulous a life as possible for as long as it lasts.
Socially-acceptable planning (fuck that)
In this piece, I wrote about how unfair it is that it is socially unacceptable for single women to actually plan for marriage or children (for those who want those things) the way you would plan for, say, graduate school. If you were to see a cute baby outfit on sale, buy it, and store it in your closet thinking that you’ll probably have a baby in the future, you are, according to society, batshit-crazy and undateable, which is weird, because if you brought home some skis from a garage sale thinking you might someday learn to ski, that would be totally cool, and if you bought some books about how to learn French and then never really bothered, you’d be basically just like everyone else.
Just as I think it’s totally fine to stash away baby clothes should you come across a good deal, I also think it makes good sense to plan how you would live should you get really sick or become disabled. I mean, you’ve probably put some thought into how you would live if you won the lottery, and this is a lot more likely.
As I wrote in Bullish: Should You Slow Down Your Career For a Guy?
I wrote (semi-satirically) in a column about financial planning for motherhood that one needs to make twice as much as one needs to live on — in some kind of flexible and self-directed career — so that when you have a baby, you can make half as much and be okay.
Now, I’m not assuming that you want to get married and/or have kids. I’m just saying that there’s a reason I’m always trying to convince young women of the urgency of making more money, and that reason is to have options and freedom. (see Bullish: How to Ask for More Money Part I and Part II.)
It’s hard to know exactly what your future gentlewomanly self will want, but she will certainly want to have choices, which money helps provide. Life is also full of emergencies and loss. Having money helps you to not have to think about money during times when you need to fix an emergency, care for someone, or deal with grief. Or, if nothing bad happens to you, you can endow a scholarship somewhere and die a saint!
Contingency plans for awful events (that can be helped quite a bit by the god that is technology!)
Having a lot of money (and possibly, insurance) certainly does make planning for the worst a lot easier. So, plan to make a lot of money.
But I’m young and sprightly and a lot of my self-worth depends on contributing to the world in ways that help others. So my contingency planning is all about using technology to become a brain in a jar, so to speak, like the woman Steve Martin falls in love with in the 1983 classic, The Man With Two Brains.
In such a situation as I cannot leave my house, the hospital, or some other Internet-enabled building, I’ll keep doing most of the things I now do. Easy. In the case that I’m stuck in bed: pretty much the same deal. If I can’t type, I will hire a precocious pre-teen to do this for me, and she will probably learn something while transcribing all the test prep (and Bullish) books I’ll be dictating. (“No, darlin’, CUBE ROOT. Put a tiny 3 before that thing!”)
Did you know that Steven Hawking now operates his speech synthesizing computer with a muscle in his cheek? He lost his speech after a tracheotomy in 1985, and could use his hand to type four words per minute for some time after that, and now he’s down to a cheek muscle. (Article here.) But it turns out that Hawking isn’t actually using the most advanced technology — he just doesn’t like to change his setup too often, so he’s sticking with an older system that he likes. However, should he lose control of his cheek muscle, there are options that rely on EEG readings, eye tracking, or even electrodes embedded in the brain.
Should I end up in a locked-in state —and, I tell you, I think about this basically every day — well, I had the idea at least ten years ago that I would wait to get put into an MRI or other brain-imaging machine, and then I would THINK S.O.S. in Morse code REALLY, REALLY HARD. It goes like this: (· · · — — — · · ·). You want to make sure you don’t accidentally do (— — — · · · — — — ), which would be OSO, which is Spanish for “bear.” I mean, someone might figure it out, but at the point you’re trying to convince someone that you’re not brain-dead, shouting “Bear! Bear!” when there’s no bear is not, maybe, the best move.
Since I developed my “S.O.S.” plan, researchers have had the brilliant idea to put people who appear to be in a Persistent Vegetative State into brain-imaging machines and then ask them to imagine playing tennis — in at least one patient, “the neurologists were shocked to see her brain ‘light up’ exactly like an uninjured person’s would. It happened again and again. The doctors got the same result when they repeatedly cued her to picture herself wandering, room to room, through her own home.” (Article here).
I hereby state my wish should I end up vegetable-like in any way: I WANT TO GO IN THE MACHINE. In fact, I want AT LEAST SIX DOZEN ATTEMPTS AT MASTERING IMAGINING PLAYING TENNIS CORRECTLY. Just to make sure we’re understanding each other here. Should it turn out that I’m in there, someone should really check basically every day to see if I’ve progressed to toe-wiggling or eyelash-fluttering, because I CAN WRITE A BOOK IN EYELASH FLUTTERS. I have that kind of patience. And if I don’t develop the ability to wiggle something, at least leave NPR on or something. Geez. In fact, I’d like someone to curate an Internet radio station for my benefit. It can play on a laptop next to my bed. LOVE IS A DJ.
Oh, and here is a computer system that “uses an EEG cap to measure brain activity in order to let you type with your thoughts.” This is the answer to at least half of my fears in life. It costs $12,250. I have that! And, furthermore, assuming I could think-type at 1/20th the rate I can normal-type, I could make back the $12,250 in a reasonable interval.
This is why I’ve written so many articles about how to make more money and why we should talk more openly about it. You can really never anticipate when you or your loved ones are going to require a $12,250 machine allowing you/them to type with your/their thoughts. It would also be good to put a decade-plus into becoming an expert at something first (Hawking!), so you have something to type about besides trying to recreate The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, because the world can only absorb so many paralysis memoirs.
Of course, there are many terrible illnesses and circumstances that would keep you from typing with your mind, or even thinking clearly. I think the best plan, there, is to be nice to people now so they’ll be nice to you then (“nice” doesn’t mean weak and passive – sometimes “nice” means strenuously helping someone else get a leg up), and also medicinal marijuana.
I am hereby ripping that water metaphor a new asshole
In Bullish Life: Does “Happiness” Demand That We All Just Chill?, I railed against that stupid story about how we’d all be better off lying on a beach and never striving for anything.
In Bullish: When To Make Massive And Ballsy Life Changes For Your Career, I told the story of running a failing company and being pretty sure I was clinically depressed. Sure, maybe I was, but the solution wasn’t antidepressants and talk therapy — it was declaring bankruptcy, getting out of a one-horse town, and building a completely different and better life. Sometimes what you really wanted was a glass half-full of whisky.
In sum, my glass is not half-full or half-empty – I am, rather, prepared to act in the situation of any water level whatsoever. I have contingency plans!
If your glass is really full, why not look around and see if anyone else needs some water?
If your glass does not have enough water, your time would be better spent getting more water than rethinking the matter. The world is not all in your head. Not even for people who type with their thoughts.