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Upside Down

Did you notice that 2002 is perfectly symmetrical? If you write it from right to left, you get exactly the same number. Those palindromic years are pretty rare, and happen only once every century. It is even less common to go through two of those years as we do (1991 and 2002). The last time it happened to someone, it was in 999 and 1001, a thousand years ago. So we are pretty lucky (?)… Except that those years bring with them a sense of immobility and rigidity. After all, who wants to end the year the same way it began?

To celebrate the last palindromic year of our lives and challenge its potential statism, we decided to play a little game around symmetries. What if we turn upside down some of our basic assumptions? Can any sense be made out of this inverted and counter-intuitive logic? This is what we got… Thoughts for thought as we start inventing this brand new year…
First, let’s take, “Time is money.” Could not we say as well that “money is time”? We all know this dilemma between making a living and making a life, between those jobs that pay and those activities that we would embrace if money were not an issue. But if we dig deeper, we can even argue that money requires actually double time: the time to earn it and the time to spend it. The time to earn the Porsche, and the time to ride it and show it off to the whole neighborhood. And if this forces us far from the true meaning of our lives, cannot this be as well a double pain?
In a similar fashion, it is well known that, “Success brings Happiness.” What if happiness could actually bring success…? We are not talking here of some spiritual or esoteric notion of well-being. We are talking big bucks.

A survey was done in the 1960’s about MBA students: 93% wanted to make money first, 7% wanted to follow their true passions. Twenty years after graduation, 99% of the millionaires came from the second group. Moreover, as we learned in LEAD, those who are the best at their job are the ones that have passion for that job. This leads one to think that we might be better off inverting the conventional logic: putting our inner passions first and allowing success to be the result rather than the goal.
Finally, we all have this tendency to develop detailed business plans of our careers and life, to draw the line of causes and effect that will lead us to this superior goal we have in mind. But sometimes, great achievements unfold without a plan. Stephen King has said he never plans his books. Paul Auster never planned to become a famous writer; he just wanted to deliver a message.

Sometimes, fulfilling your dreams can be better achieved by developing a vision and being open-minded about the intermediary steps. As St-Exup‚ry puts it, “To lead your people to the sea, don’t talk about the ships, the planks or the nails. Just give them the love of the sea. And they will cut wood and melt iron to see the stars reflected on the dancing waves.” Being open-minded means not playing life as if it is a game with a rulebook that is the same for everyone. We all have intuition; we all have dreams of what might be. Calculated thinking is a wonderful characteristic of the human mind, but mixing it with our intuition may be the path to meaningful accomplishments.

This brand new year is as fresh as those paper napkins on which entrepreneurs sketch their first business plans. At this very moment when we are setting our priorities and resolutions, the ability to confront our old assumptions and reconsider our old reasoning can be the key for building a fulfilling life. We are all free to choose who we want to be, and exercising that freedom is the essence of being human. After all, today, more than ever, is the first day of the rest of our lives.

January 14, 2002
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