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Striving for Prévoyance

“C’est une prévoyance très nécessaire de sentir qu’on ne peut tout prévoir.”
(“It is a very necessary forethought to feel that you cannot foresee everything.”)
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Prévoyance. The word tantalizes me, capturing my imagination, tauntingly just out of reach. It’s a French word, essentially translating basically to “foreseeability”. Prévoyance is powerful when applied to the markets, or business, social trends or simply whether to bring an umbrella with you on your walk. It also helps greatly when managing our own lives. I heard a richer and more profound definition from David Hackett Fischer when describing this trait in Samuel Champlain. He defined prévoyance as “the power of a prepared mind to act upon chance events in a world of deep uncertainty.” My French hasn’t reached that level of nuance just yet (and never will without immersion), so I’m grateful when people point out the magic sprinkled in such words.

The problem with learning is in learning what you don’t know, or levels that you haven’t yet reached in life. But within that inherent underlying frustration lies growth and progression towards a higher self. And that’s where I find myself: decades into life and scrambling over jumbled bits of acquired knowledge in a climb to wisdom and higher truth. The promised land that I’ll never quite reach, but a step closer than I was yesterday or the day before. Sisyphus has nothing on me.

It was better to be in the right place than to be smart and work hard. It was best to be cunning and focus on results rather than inputs. Acting on a few key insights produced the goods. Being intelligent and hard working did not.”Richard Koch, The 80/20 Principle

In this life I find myself climbing a succession of mountains, looking around with a sigh, and descending back down to climb yet another (refer to yesterday’s post). Perhaps with a bit more prévoyance I might have climbed fewer mountains, and chosen the right one much earlier in life. But such is life: we don’t know what we don’t know until we gain experience or acquire and leverage knowledge from others who have had the experience.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

That distinction between greatness and meanness lies in which mountains we climb, and how soon we turn back down the path to ascend a different mountain than the one we’re climbing. And that leads back to foreseeability, to prévoyance, and acting upon chance events in a world of deep uncertainty. And so I stuff the brain with as many bits of knowledge from as many perspectives as I can consume, for knowledge, well-used, is the key to prévoyance. This blog, in many ways, is the public-facing library of that accumulated knowledge (such that it is), and the breadcrumbs on the path of where I’ve been recently. And in the 370,000 thousand published words, perhaps it telegraphs where I’m going too.

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