The Jagged Upwards Line

I like the Bell Curve. It’s one of those universal principles that can be applied in millions of different ways throughout your life to help make sense of things. Along with the bell curve, I think there’s another graph we should all internalize and use to understand life: the jagged upwards line.

Just as the Bell Curve describes distributions, the jagged upwards line describes forward progress. And just as the standard deviation can vary in width and amplitude, the jagged upwards line varies in it’s jaggedness and its slope.

When we imagine our path to reach a goal, we see a non-jagged line, gently sloping up and to the right, showing how as we move step by step, we’ll get closer and closer to our goal. But that’s not how things really work. What happens when we actually start working towards our goal and we hit a setback? We decide we must not be on that smooth straight line afterwards, and we get discouraged. Sometimes we give up.

It’s important to understand that progress always happens on a jagged line, and that to get to your goal you must follow that line. That means that you must endure setbacks, and you must temper yourself during those short but ephemeral bursts upwards. You must remain steady, because your path is anything but steady.

My poker winnings follow the jagged upwards curve. On those days where I make a thousand dollars in an hour, I have to remind myself that they players aren’t that bad, and I’m not that good. I’m just on my path, and it bursts upwards sometimes. A couple months ago I sat down at a table and lost $750 in less than an hour and a half. I didn’t quit and I didn’t get upset, though, because I knew that the dip was just part of my path.

More abstract pursuits in life follow the jagged upward line. If you approach one hundred girls in the course of a few months, the first one may go better than the last one, but the last ten will almost certainly have averaged to be better than the first ten. Some days you’ll feel like Cassanova’s long lost twin, and others you’ll feel like Gollum’s long lost twin. But over the course of those hundred approaches, you’ll get better at talking to women.

Understanding variance is important because it’s a part of life. If you’re scared of variance, then you’re scared of life itself. You won’t take the risks necessary to reach your goals, and you won’t develop the character of someone who has reached their peaks and been humbled as they slid from them to the valleys. You won’t enjoy the luxury of seeing that jagged but steady climb as you look examine the path you’ve walked.


Heading to Japan next week. If you’ll be there in early April and are interested in a meetup, let me know…

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