To Desire and Deserve to sculpt David

To Desire and Deserve to sculpt David
Photo by Jianxiang Wu / Unsplash

Imagine, for a moment, how Michelangelo would have transformed a lifeless block into the lifelike statue of David. With just a massive block of marble, Michelangelo would have first visualized David. Then, he would've chipped away at portions of the marble. Then, as the silhouette would've emerged, he would've moved to finer chisels, carving intricate details like David's hands and the sling.

a texture test in blender. Thanks for the CC0 model from Scan the World:
Photo by SIMON LEE / Unsplash

Thinking about this got me to simple realization: The sculpture already exists in the marble block. What matters then is the ability to carve that block into a beautiful sculpture. But for this, you need to visualize the end-outcome and work toward it, backward.  

How do you work backward? There are two scenarios.

Scenario 1: You have a binary goal in mind. Say, you want to get into Harvard. The goal is binary because either you get in or you don't. To succeed at a binary goal, you do everything that will work and hope for the best.

Scenario 2:  Your goal has multiple success states. Say, you aim to be a millionaire by 30. Here's where things get complex. If you aim to be a millionaire by 30, and you end up having $800K, you're not technically a millionaire, but you'll still be pretty satisfied. This is when your original goal has multiple success states: $900K, $800K, and probably $700K too.

In scenario 2, there is no predetermined path dependence to success. You can become a millionaire in many ways, but there are only a few that actually work. The complexity arises because it's impossible to determine which paths will actually work. There is no underlying metaphysics that says: "If you do X, you will get Y".

I think sculpting David is a lot like scenario 2. There was no predetermined path to success and there were multiple success states -- you could've had a less-elegant David, for instance. Yet, Michelangelo not only found a successful path, he also created a new paradigm of success: a never-before-imagined statue, one that would continue to awe people for 500 years.

Aiming for difficult things in life is like sculpting David. You have the same block of marble that everyone else has: 24 hours and no playbook. Yet, some are able to sculpt David; others are not.

In such a case, it's perhaps better to directly aim at the thing, regardless of where you currently are. Here, you go contra to the aphorism 'First Deserve, Then Desire'. Here, you desire and deserve simultaneously because you don't know how to deserve the ability to make David.

This is so because there is no one ability to make David; there is no one path; there is only David. In fact, there possibly is no path and you have to invent your own path. This is hard.

As our goals become multidimensional with multiple success states, path dependence to success goes away. What remains then between you and your goal is an infinite realm of possibilities and non-possibilities. Chances are you may work toward enhancing your skill-set to reach Y from X, but you would be much better off if you just went for Y. This is because the path dependence to Y, from X, is not mandatory.

For example, take standardized testing like the GMAT or the SAT. I know of folks who have studied for months and have still not gotten their dream score; in contrast, I know of people who studied for three weeks and got their desired score. Which is to say that whether X would necessarily lead to Y is not necessary. And so, deserving and then desiring is probably inefficient.

It would be more prudent to desire to be deserving, that is to say, desire to be the kind of person to whom things accrue naturally, of which, your goal can be one.

'First deserve then desire' is also true, but only where the path dependence is clear and the goal is binary. But where the goal has multiple success states and path dependence is unclear, 'first desire, then deserve' fits better.

Until next time,