If you think back to when you were a slobbering, drooling kid, life was pretty simple. Mom told you to say “thank you” so you said thank you. Dad told you to clean your room, so you cleaned your room. Teacher told you to stop picking your nose, so you stopped picking your nose (in public, at least).

Life was algorithmic. Do X and be rewarded with Y. The X was always clear and given while the Y reward was dependable. You could count on it. You could expect it.

Most of life passed this way. Teachers deigned assignments upon you and you knew that completing them in a certain way would earn you specific rewards. Your friends told you what was cool and what was lame and you followed accordingly. Your boss told you that if you didn’t stop falling asleep during important client meetings, he’d fire your ass (and now look at you, lazy sack of shit).

And so it goes: Do X; expect Y result. Everything is predictable. Everything is understood. Whenever you do something, you always know what result to expect.

Let’s call this “The Algorithmic Life.”

The Algorithmic Life works at first for the simple reason that the first two decades of your life are consciously constructed for you in a way that makes everything algorithmic.

But then life goes on and you get a little bit older and you start to notice some things. Namely, that the world is often not a dependable or fair place. You were told that getting that cool haircut and joining the basketball team would make girls like you and, in fact, they appear to continue to be repulsed by your existence. Your teachers said going to a good college mattered more than anything in life, but you got your first three jobs through friends and family members. Hell, they didn’t even ask to look at your diploma.

You realize that as time goes on, The Algorithmic Life begins to fall apart. And not only does it fall apart, but it begins to create unexpected problems along the way.

  1. When you can only do things when you know the outcome, you become limited to only being able to do what others want you to do.
  2. You realize that you’ve been allowing external forces to determine your identity — what you work on, what you pursue, what you care about — rather than your own convictions.
  3. You see relationships — be it friends, co-workers, or even romantic partners — in terms of what you get from the relationship, rather than a healthier unconditional appreciation. Your relationships are inherently conditional. You enter them with certain expectations and you become disappointed or angry when those expectations fail.

It is my opinion that most “life problems” people have are a result of being mentally stuck in The Algorithmic Life. They got married expecting their Y reward and instead they got Z. So now they’re miserable and find excuses to stay at work late.

A lot of people who get burned by The Algorithmic Life assume it’s because their mistake was having positive expectations. These people then assume that the algorithm was never the problem, it was simply expecting something good from the world. These people become miserable and quite dark. They overcompensate and try to protect themselves by assuming everything will end up being shit and horrible and, fuck it, we’re all going to die anyway, so who cares?

But adopting the “we’re all fucked and everything’s horrible” expectations doesn’t exactly make your life better either. (Not to mention, it makes you a fucking drag to be around.)

No, the problem is The Algorithmic Life doesn’t really exist in most circumstances, and while it was a useful tool for teaching you when you were a kid, you’re better off as an adult ditching it.

This, in my opinion, is possibly the most important skill one can develop in one’s own life: How to act without expectation.

It sounds a bit zany and abstract at first, but when you apply it you see that it resolves a lot of these conflicts and problems people feel within themselves.

  • Job/vocation – forces you to pursue a career out of curiosity and passion rather than seeking external rewards.
  • Relationships – allows you to be unconditionally appreciative of the other person and removes toxicity/manipulation.
  • Creativity – Allows you to explore new ideas freely without fear of failure or embarrassment.
  • Conflict – You become better at dealing with disappointment and misunderstandings.
  • Learning – Opens you up to accepting that some of your beliefs may be wrong.
  • Anxiety – Focuses you on the purpose of the action rather than obsessing over the success/failure of the result.
  • Is arguably the definition of leadership – gives you the ability to make decisions in the face of uncertainty, something that will inspire others to follow.

Of course, it will be terrifying at first. Like anything, it is something that requires practice. You will confront all sorts of defense mechanisms in yourself, both your thoughts and your emotions. You will likely put some strain on some of the conditional relationships around you as you’re effectively removing the silent transactional agreement you’ve made with that person.

But as you get better at it, aside from all of the benefits above, you will notice something more subtle and powerful: freedom. An ability to accept whatever may come, and a confidence in yourself to rightly handle it.

Our expectations, in reality, are shackles upon our minds, and The Algorithmic Life, it’s sort of prison. It’s only by letting go of the notion that everything must be a means to something else, and rather treat everything and everyone as an end in and of themselves, that we truly free ourselves to live productive, moral, and enriching lives.