What would you do if you couldn’t fail?

“2. What risk would you take if you knew you could not fail?”

I’d try to learn to fly. No, I don’t mean earning a pilot’s license, I mean jumping off the ground and flying. If I was somehow assured that I could not possibly fail then I’d leap off a cliff and begin soaring.

Oh, you mean real world stuff? Well, see, that’s where there’s a problem: in the real world failure is ALWAYS a possibility. So while this question is a nice little mental exercise it doesn’t do much to help with actual reality. I know it’s supposed to help you figure out what you would actually like to do with your life, but I already know what I want to do with my life: I want to travel, read books, and play video games. I want to eat pub food and chat with friends in pubs. I want to go swimming in my own private pool.

I already know how to do these things and I have already minimized my failure rate. The problem with doing them is that none of them will pay me a living wage, or worse would actually cost me money, so I’d eventually starve.

What risk would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d buy a lottery ticket. Maybe enter a pro poker circuit. Not because I’d be any good at playing poker (I utterly suck at playing poker… can’t keep a poker face to save my life) but the guaranteed win would have me rolling in money.

What other risks would I take if I knew I could not fail? I’d invest all my money in the stock market. I’d perform brain surgery. I’d play a perfect cover of Purple Haze on a violin. I’d write out the cure for cancer in terms any layman could understand. I’d write a entire book on solving every world problem from poverty to disease to figuring out how to keep entropy from destroying everything.

If there was a guarantee of success then you might as well have a ring of unlimited wishes.

In the real world things are never that simple.

What would you try out if you had a trust fund that meant you wouldn’t have to worry about rent, food, or clothing for the rest of your life? I’d travel. Endlessly. Ride my motorbike all over the world. I’d return to school and take classes I was mildly curious about. I would spend weeks and weeks holed up in my apartment reading books and watching movies and playing video games. I would go out for coffee every single day.

None of this helps me come up with what I want and/or need to do to improve my life. It just lets me know what I’d do if I didn’t have any responsibilities.

Next question?

“3. What is your greatest strength? Have any of your recent actions demonstrated this strength?”

Two questions in one. That’s cheating, isn’t it? I want to talk to whomever wrote this quiz. You don’t get to ask two questions and label them as one. It just isn’t fair.

My greatest strength? Ugh, I hate trying to come up with that. Anything I answer with is going to sound like ego stroking.

I guess it depends on the situation. Figuring out the central cause of a problem used to be a big strength of mine. I could use it to debug some of the most confounding code bugs. Until I hit Java, then the error reporting system turned from a linear stream of events to a massive, incoherent blob of nested errors that had little or nothing to do with the actual problem. God I hate java with a passion.

I’m sorry, where was I?

Oh, right. Greatest strength. Or strengths.

I can say “problem identification”. I can’t say “problem solving” because I don’t often have the answer. But I can’ often point at a small point in a series of events and say “There. That’s where it started to go wrong.”

Empathy and understanding is a strength I’ve always tried to develop, but it’s one of those things where the more you know the more you realize just how little you know. It’s an ever widening spiral and I honestly don’t think it has a limit.

Communication is a strength I’m often complemented on, and one I’m often confused by other people’s struggles. Why is it so difficult to communicate? It shouldn’t be, and yet I’ve seen people argue with each other for hours before suddenly realizing they’re both trying to make the same point. I’ve seen people map out a process in exacting detail, point by point, and then turn around and do completely random things while confident that they’re doing as they’re supposed to. I’ve seen people take genuine compliments as mortal insults, and visa versa. I’ve seen people debate endlessly over the shades and depth of a colour only to have the artist walk up and declare “It’s BLACK”.

But then, I also spend endless spare minutes rewriting individual sentences in my head until I feel I have the best, clearest expression of intent… for conversations that ended years ago. If there’s one thing I work at the most in my idle hours it’s figuring out how to communicate.

So… have I used my Problem Identification, Empathy, and Communication skills recently? Yes. At work, and home, I’m always thinking, feeling, and communicating. Even when I’m alone. Especially when I’m alone, I guess. Because what else is there to do?