When I was in college I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels by Doulgas Adams, or as they are often referred to, “a trilogy in five parts”. I didn’t realize it at the time, but everything I needed to know about life, the universe, and everything was somewhere in those books. Granted, I had to sift through a considerable amount of nonsense to get to the good stuff, but then, isn’t that exactly how life works?
Here are ten passages from the “trilogy” that I think make particularly useful life lessons. I hope you’ll find a lot of good stuff here as well.
1. “There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
It has always baffled me that so many people are fanatically devoted to finding THE Truth… the one and only answer to everything that should apply to everyone at all times. I just don’t think it works that way… there are too many variables, and not enough absolutes. Even if we could find the answer today, I believe it would no longer apply tomorrow.
Everything is constantly changing. Nothing lasts. Maybe if we weren’t so worried about finding the right answers, we could focus on enjoying the questions, the uncertainties, the endless options and opportunities. Believe it or not, there is a liberating joy in NOT knowing.
2. “Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”
What is it with people these days? We barely communicate at all unless it is to spread bad news, or gossip, or fear. Is it the fact that misery loves company? If I’m unhappy, do I want to hear about everyone else who is more unhappy so I can feel better? Or maybe it’s that bad news helps us appreciate what we have for a brief moment in time… until we start taking it for granted again.
If we could figure out what those “special laws” are that make bad news spread so quickly, maybe we could apply them to good news, positivity, and stories of compassion and kindness. What if those spread like wild fire and were covered in the media around the clock? We might actually start feeling pretty good about ourselves and the world we live in. I try not to pay attention to the bad stuff, since it doesn’t seem to make anything better.
3. “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
On many occasions I have had the opportunity to play armchair psychologist for family and friends… and a few random strangers I’ve met in the ladies room of restaurants, clubs, and bars, because that’s where women always end up crying when their dates are less than stellar. But my point is, when these people seek my advice and counsel, they do so in a determined and convincing way.
And yet, when I’m done sharing my experiences and life lessons, they usually ignore everything I tell them and go back to doing exactly what they were doing before (and hoping for different results). At first I took this personally, and got very frustrated, not wanting to help anyone. Then I realized it isn’t really about the advice since they won’t learn from MY experiences anyway. What helps is the listening, sharing, and caring, regardless of the results.
4. “Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word ’safe’ that I wasn’t previously aware of.”
This lesson is currently being drilled into our heads from all around us. Remember the days when corporate jobs, retirement accounts, medical insurance, and investing in a home were all considered “safe”? The “safe” route to happiness was to get good grades, go to college, find a prestigious career, make a lot of money, get married, and have a few kids. This was what they all but promised us when we were growing up… if you do these things, you will be playing it safe.
“Safe”? Really?! Because that “safe” path has led numerous people into situations of complete misery: unfulfilling work, depleted life savings, complicated divorces, denied medical claims… these have been the result of staying on the “safe” path. You know what? I think I’ll take my chances on the other one. Call it what you want, at least there I have a real chance at happiness.
5. “The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.”
We are constantly planning and scheming, trying to avoid all the little things that might go wrong. There’s insurance, emergency funds, and all the other things we have and do “just in case” something unexpected happens. But the truth is, those are hardly ever a problem. What really happens, and knocks the wind out of us, is what we never expect and can’t do anything about, like the loss of a loved one, divorce, recession…
When THOSE things happen, we simply are not prepared… how could we be? How could I have been prepared for my mom to die when I was 25? That was one of those things that are just NOT supposed to happen. But the important thing is that even after those huge, unexpected things happen, life goes on. We worry ourselves to death over dumb little things that could be easily dealt with if they actually came to pass, and they rarely do.
6. “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
This is true for just about any job or role in life: if they can talk the talk, they often can’t walk the walk. Campaigning is vastly different from managing or leading a country. Sweet talking Casanovas who have all the right moves and know just what to say are not usually marriage material. Often what it takes to GET the job is totally different from what it takes to DO the job.
We need to learn to look past appearances, past the deliberate attempt at seeming perfect, to see the REAL person inside. REAL people are not perfect; they are rough around the edges, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going… and that’s exactly what it takes to get the job done.
7. “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
What is needed is a shift in perspective. Does any of this really matter in the long run? All the little things that stress us out and make us suffer… are they worth all that? Sometimes I sit and watch an anthill after my son has poked it with a stick (because what kid can walk past an anthill and NOT disturb it?) and try to imagine what each little ant is thinking.
They are running around, stressed out about the fiasco, worried about how they will get it fixed in time for night, or rain, or winter. Maybe they are cursing the fates because everything they worked so hard to achieve is now completely destroyed. For all I know, an ant or two had a heart attack from the stress and anxiety!
Then I think of the human colony as just another little tribe on a tiny patch of earth in an enormous universe. How are we any different? Why do WE stress out about our “little crises”? Things will work themselves out… they always do.
8. “He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which.”
People always like to attribute success to genius… or to some rare quality that one individual possesses that the rest of us don’t, because that excuses us from achieving anything great. But the fact is, most successful people did not start out as super-gifted prodigies. They were ordinary people, maybe even naive and incompetent people, who just didn’t give up.
They practiced, asked questions, tried things, made mistakes, took chances,and kept at it until… eventually, they succeeded. At least, this is what I’d like to believe, because I’m in that second category… my strategy is asking questions, trial and error, and perseverance.
9. “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Society’s rules and rigidity are a little laughable to me. For most of us, if we miss a deadline or fail to deliver, nothing major happens. Yet everyone likes to act like if we don’t cross our t’s and dot our i’s, the world will fall apart. I think it’s great to have goals, to aim for something in life, to make plans and set “soft” deadlines. But we should recognize that they are merely suggestions, only valid if every variable works out as we expected… which is hardly ever the case.
Expecting everything to work out as planned is a sure recipe for disappointment. Instead, head in a certain direction, and make the necessary adjustments along the way.
10. “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”