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T oday I was a fool.

I packed my bags in the morning and was ready to visit a family member in Croatia. I found myself standing calmly in a queue walking towards security when someone passed me holding their passport. Did I have my passport? No I didn’t even pack it, it was in my cupboard.

I had one hour to boarding time. It looked hopeless. A wave of annoyance washed over me and immediately it coalesced into me wallowing in my own carelessness and reprimanding myself internally. The comical nature of my actions quickly revealed itself to me and what I next experienced is best described as a sense of schadenfraude, with myself.

I approached an airport employee monitoring the queue and he asked me what was wrong. Little did I know that the most important decision of that day was what I was going to say at that given moment in time. The alternative was deceit or omission through shame.

I told my wife. Her laughter and teasing was what I needed to help me laugh at myself and spur myself to action. Confronted with a complex and highly inconvenient situation I kept making decisions — This was definitely a “shit my pants” moment to quote my co-founder.

I told the truth, I told him that I had stupidly forgotten my passport. Sympathetically he directed me to immigration services where I could possibly get an emergency document. In my mad rush I met a police officer who also got the unvarnished truth, he directed me to a service desk as immigration was for Dutch Citizens only.

I went to a service desk to try and reschedule my ticket and each time I told the truth the solution went from hiding the problem to solving the problem. I told the truth to my Team at our startup (nFold). I told them I had fucked up and was trying to solve it. My co-founder immediately called me and provided suggestions.

On the back of these suggestions, I discovered that my original flight was delayed and then spoke with a service desk lady who, because of the truth, provided more assistance than I suspect she usually would have and helped me brainstorm how I could get my passport sent and which flight I could then use. I phoned my co-founder and once again told the truth; to his immense credit he jumped into action with the intent of delivering my passport via train.

The effort was a thing of beauty, of teamwork and decision making and driven by the crisp and clear communication of truth.

I made my flight

This story represents a microcosm of overcoming many challenges, truth and jest and decisions and outcomes.

The Jester

It was really important that I was able to laugh at my own foolishness in the situation I found myself.

I’ve found that those who have an inability to laugh at themselves are the first (and generally the only) people to bring up the topic of “respect” about themselves. They are doomed to a futile attempt at warping reality around themselves.

To become a master at any activity or skill we must first be prepared to be a fool. The same applies to becoming a master of ourselves.

And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh. — Friedrich Nietzsche

The Truth

From early childhood we learn (very quickly) that we can manipulate what we say and use our language to get an outcome we want.

I believe that we are most adept at lying to ourselves. We rationalize our words, our actions and re-write history to make ourselves feel better. It is how we maintain our self structure. Even small lies are sub-optimal solutions to a complex problem and are true at some levels of analysis and false at others

In my experience at the Airport, there was a strong incentive for me to cover up my own carelessness, not seek help, and to feel shame. This would have led to deceit which would have led to information that was useless in helping me accomplish my outcome.

This situation could not have happened in any other way if the truth was not told and it started with telling the truth to myself. It created a situation where information could be shared, problems could be fixed and help could be sought.

An appreciation of how dissonance works, both in ourselves and others, gives us some ways to override our wiring to rationalize. And protect us from those who can’t.

— Take yourself less seriously, keep making decisions, formulate your words as carefully as you can and let the world unfold around you however it may.

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