Over the weekend, at my wife's urgings, we spent an
afternoon watching the sloppy, superficial biopic Jobs.
I knew going in that it would be a bad picture.
Sometimes you just have to suck one up for the team.
About the only good thing I can say of the experience is
that I downloaded it and watched it at home instead of
paying a combined $20 for me and the family to view this
cliche-ridden dreck on the big screen at the shopping mall
up the street.
You often see this Jobs' quote:
"Here's to the crazy ones – the misfits, the rebels,
the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes . . .
They push the human race forward, and while some may see
them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who
are crazy enough to think that they can change the world,
are the ones who do."
Ashton Kutcher's Jobs said it at the end of that
Just to be clear because the movie wasn't, Jobs never said
Jobs-attributed quote was part of the the Think Different ad
campaign from the late 1990's created by a Los Angeles
I hope the ad agency sued Jobs' producers.
There's a certain romanticism, if you will, talking about
misfits, rebels, troublemakers, and round pegs, and a large
segment of the population who wouldn't remotely qualify for
being any of the above commonly look up to the stars
pensively and think of what if.
"If only A or B happened, I, too, would have put my
own little dent in the universe."
wrote about how when we're young, we seem to
be more open to hanging out with a wider variety of people.
The slate is clean, and we can fill it with most
anything we want.
What we don't know yet is that what we put on our
slates is largely determined by our background, parental
programming, conditioning, whatever you want to call it.
A few of us find a passion and run with it against
great odds and socialized behaviors to achieve great
Steve Jobs happened to be one of those people.
Incidentally, this is not a tribute to Steve Jobs.
The only reason I'm using Jobs as an example is
because of that horrible film about him I just sat through.
Awhile back, I commented on the concept of
On the subatomic scale, from the point of reference
of an electron, there indeed, seems to be proof that
alternate universes exist.
Physicists don't phrase things that way, of course.
They speak in terms of probabilities and wave
The daydreamer in us, upon hearing of the idea of multiple
universes, contemplates all the wonderful outcomes he'd be
sure to enjoy if only he were a citizen of universe #1005
and #1007 instead of this one.
But as I painstakingly described, for most of us one
alternate reality doesn't differ so much from this one.
Everything leading up to our birth has to proceed
exactly the same way or we wouldn't be born.
Being a product of the same parents, having the same
older siblings, likely living in or around the same places
you actually lived in would statistically produce a person
not much different from the way you presently are.
Factor in that most people aren't risk takers.
They don't take leaps.
They take steps.
In universes #2-1,000,000, people are also not risk
takers. So if
you became an accountant in this universe and a half million
others, yet a lawyer in universes #500,001-1,000,000, your
life would have turned out differently, but would your life
really be all that different?
This difference is akin to me killing brain cells
this weekend watching Insidious: Chapter 2 instead of
Same waste of time, different way to get there.
I asked a few of my peers whether they would change anything
about their past – that is to say, choose to live in a
Depending on how far back they went, this would alter
whom they married and subsequently, the kids born to them.
For this reason alone, everyone I've spoken to says
they would change nothing.
They can't imagine a life without their present
family. And yet
this answer is almost a 'water is wet' response.
Yes, the people I questioned would've wound up with
different spouses and produced different children if they
veered off in a different direction far enough back in time,
but you can almost take it as a given that they would still
love their spouse and children in this new reality just as
much as they love their current family in this one.
People answer the question from the point of view of
having something taken away.
They can't imagine life with the present people in it
removed. But if
they never met these people to begin with and there were
other equal prospects to take their place, there would be no
pain associated with their loss.
When I talked about
marriage, I came to the conclusion that
although we are all free to choose our spouses, most of us
don't genuinely choose.
For the majority, it comes down to timing and/or
Don't get me wrong here.
I am not saying most of us marry losers and are in
state of perpetual unhappiness.
What I am saying is that there wasn't diligent and
meticulous soul searching going on here.
A friend of mine from my high school days met a
not-so-attractive girl in his sophomore year in college,
dated her, and then married her.
I've queried my wife's colleagues.
Nine out of ten met their spouse on the job.
They might be calling their spouse a soul mate now,
but they'd be doing exactly the same thing in another
reality with a different spouse they met via a different
Imagine a standard Gaussian distribution curve
or if you can't imagine one, click
This is otherwise known as a bell curve.
It doesn't matter what quality we're measuring on the
left-to-right axis, be it wealth, intelligence, or health.
Most of us, approximately 68%, fall within a standard deviation on either
side of the center.
As we journey to the extreme left and right of the
curve, we come to the region of the outliers, consisting of
just 4% of the sample -- 2% on the left and 2% on the right.
If we were talking about IQ, someone falling on the
extreme left would be severely retarded; someone on the
right, an undisputed genius.
About wealth, the leftmost represents the homeless
guy bearing a squigee you just gave a dollar to as your car
was standing at the traffic light; the rightmost, Carlos
Slim, Steve Jobs or any of the world's other billionaires.
The quality we want to measure on our Gaussian distribution
curve is happiness or contentedness, an overall feeling of
believing we've made the most of our life.
But instead of comparing ourselves to the rest of the
world's population, we're going to use ourselves, the we's
comprising the infinite number of alternate realities.
Probabilistically, the curve says the we, here and now, lies
somewhere in the center, but how does that tell us where we
in this current reality actually are?
To figure this out, you need to do a bit of genuine
self examination and ask yourself a few questions:
1) How happy and contented are you really?
Not what you tell or kid yourself, but the way you
2) Where do you fall on the personality scale?
Are you a "crazy one", a misfit, a rebel, a
troublemaker, a round peg in a square hole?
Or just a regular average Joe?
Looking back on your life, how easy or difficult would it be
to re-engineer the circumstances to lead you back to roughly
where you are now?
To break this down for you with an example, if you
went to the University of Bumblescrew Law School and got a
job at an
undistinguished firm where you met your present wife, not
very. There was
not some seemingly impossible coincidence, some magic spark
in a bottle, which had to happen to get you here.
Compare that to Bill Gates' journey.
If he hadn't ever gotten the meeting with IBM in 1980
to furnish their operating system or if IBM had rejected
Microsoft for another outfit, he'd be sitting in a very
different place today.
By the way, I am not specifying that the higher your net
worth, the further on the right you necessarily lie, that
wealth alone determines your happiness and contentedness
score. If you're
the child of a business mogul, then you're wealthy in every
reality, but are you equally happy and content across all of
them? For some,
wealth magnifies a person's worst demons to the point of no
Australian rock singer Michael Hutchence.
He committed suicide with a drug overdose at age 37
when he had a net worth estimated between £14m and £20m.
That makes Hutchence, in our reality, a rightside
outlier on the wealth scale, but a leftmost outlier on the
happiness and contentedness scale.
Hutchence should have fared better in most other
realities, possibly less wealthy, but much more stable.
Ditto for Kurt Cobain. He had an estimated net worth
of $100m at the time he shot himself at age 27.
For Kurt, the majority of other realities would have
offered him a better future.
I can go on an on.
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, all rich
and famous, all tragedies before age 30.
What about John Jacob Astor IV?
He was the richest passenger aboard the Titanic and
thought to be among the richest people in the world in 1912.
The 'poor' guy was sent to Davy Jones' locker on a
one way trip at only age 47.
There must be numerous alternate realities where a
simple middle-class Astor received a more appetizing overall
I admit that it's easier to determine a
person's position in the scheme of all realities after he's dead.
There's no more information left to consider.
The day the Titanic set sail from England, John Jacob
Astor must've looked like king of the world, a lot more so
than Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the movie, as he
occupied the extreme rightmost position across all his
Five days later, Astor was on the bottom of the
ocean. We can
only make a guess where we might lie relative to all other
realities based on our circumstances today.
None of us can know what unpredictable things
tomorrow may bring.
And we also don't know what traits and congenital
issues come packaged with a person across all the realities
in which he exists.
Was Kurt Cobain perchance born with a severe
depression disorder which made him unhappy and suicidal
regardless of how well he was doing on the outside?
Would Steve Jobs have suffered from pancreatic cancer
in 99 out of every 100 realities?
If so, these men may have lived out their best
version of life in our reality.
And one other thing we don't know for sure is what
these other people valued.
The famous actor James Dean was only 24 when he
died in a car crash, at the height of his fame.
In fact, his enduring fame is due to the fact he
never left a huge legacy to be judged against.
He died before he declined.
We look at Dean's short life and assume he must have
had it better in other realities only because he wouldn't
have died so young.
But some people just
don't value longevity all that much
They'd rather pack a ton of experience into a brief
period of time rather than live out a long life and suffer
the trials and tribulations of old age and being a has been.
Jim Morrison was one such man. For most of us, it's
tricky to judge the value of longevity vs other tradeoffs
because we are not old enough to assess what longevity feels
If you're on the extreme leftmost side or rightmost side of
the curve (more than two standard deviations above or below
the center), you'll know it, and if you don't know where you
lie, you're probably among the 68.26% in the center.
The misfits, rebels, troublemakers, and round pegs in
square holes would fall into both extremes.
A misunderstood "crazy one" would be cursing life on
the leftmost side of the curve.
An accepted "crazy one" such as Steve Jobs, embraced
and heralded for his achievements, would be loving life on
the right side.
To sum it up succinctly for you, if you're truly happy and
content, living and associating with supportive people,
doing a job you love, and making decent money doing it,
and this situation would be almost impossible to
duplicate because of all the chance lucky breaks or
encounters that landed in your lap, then you're doubtlessly
on the right side.
All of the above minus the difficult-to-emulate
breaks, then you're probably somewhere between one and
two standard deviations above the center, in the 85th to
Those who've made it tremendously big in fields where big
breaks can't be re-engineered according to a formula are,
statistically, living a better life in this reality than
they would anywhere else.
Let's use Jerry Seinfeld as an example.
In the 1990's, he was the star of the most successful
TV show of all time, a show that even 15 years after its
cancellation still makes gargantuan revenues, $2.7bn as of
2010. But NBC
was prepared to cancel the show after the pilot debuted in
diverted from a Bob Hope television special provided the
cash to film four more episodes which comprised the first
then, the show took three years to cultivate an audience and
could have been canceled at any time.
Had it been pulled, what would that have meant for
the careers and fortunes of Jerry and his co-stars?
Out of a thousand realities, Jerry wouldn't be a
megastar in most of them.
This is no slam on Jerry's work ethic.
It's the nature of show biz.
Anyone who has become the head of their nation, particularly
of high profile countries like the United States or the
United Kingdom, had to overcome tremendous odds.
Getting the job isn't as simple as passing a standard
entrance examination or getting accredited by some
another reality, where the political minefield looks
somewhat different, another person besides Barack Obama
would have secured the Democratic party's nomination in
2008. These politicos, who upon retirement can collect huge
fees for speaking engagements and directorship fees for
doing nothing, are probably living it up better here than
anywhere else and would lie more than three standard
deviations above the mean.
The most successful athletes are one of the few categories
which are reality-independent.
They've hit it big, but the secret to their success
isn't one chance encounter or whim of a trainer.
This type of success can be re-engineered.
In another reality, if Tiger Woods' father took him
out to practice golf while young, Tiger would have still
evolved into the brilliant golfer he became in this reality.
The laws of physics and practice don't differ in an
Michael Jordan would have been just as good a
basketball player in most other realities.
His talent was so far above most of his peers that he
would not have gone unnoticed.
But notice I don't say every reality.
These men owe their success in part to other people
and their avoidance of tragic personal events.
If Tiger Woods' dad had died when Tiger was only one,
would someone else have exposed Tiger to golf?
If Michael Jordan had been involved in an accident
which affected his ability to walk normally, would he have
still become world class basketball player?
I often wondered where on the reality scale I lay.
I took for granted I was just in the center or one
deviation above or below like most other people.
It's very easy to place yourself there because, with
the media beaming images of teenaged billionaires and the
latest celebrity homes for sale, you too often end up
comparing yourself to others, when you really should just be
comparing yourself to … well, yourself.
My brother made a comment to my wife over the phone
last week that in 99.9999% of other realities, I couldn't
have found a better woman, and he's right.
I don't believe there's a me in 99% of the other
realities echoing that same sentiment.
Rather, I think in most other realities, I never
bothered to get married because I didn't find anyone worth
lived a solitary life for years in Los Angeles and could see
how uneventful and pointless my life would've remained had I
stayed. My life
is better now than it was 10 years ago, and I wound up in
this situation almost as if destiny lay it out before me.
It was nothing I could have engineered.
In other realities, I could see myself taking that
Proctor & Gamble job right out college, becoming a middle
level manager, marrying someone mildly compatible - if I
deigned to get married - as I got an MBA, leading the very
conventional life Steve Jobs (and myself, more importantly)
would have scorned.
These were all options thrown before me in various
guises up until the time I moved abroad.
Is the me here living in the top 0.0001% of all the
realities where I exist, occupying one of the treasured
That may be assessing my situation too generously,
but I'll be optimistic and guesstimate I'm in the top two percent. I'm less happy, less content, less fulfilled in
at least 98% of other realities.
Or I can kid myself I am, and because no one can
disprove the assumption, delude myself until it's true.