Grow Up, Change Your Mind

If your career demands that you must pretend to have definite answers that you cannot possibly have, you may want to consider doing something else.

Sarah Palin came rushing to the defense of the Duck Dynasty patriarch without even bothering to read about what he said. All she needed to hear was that a celebrity with a conservative bent was in hot water and she reflexively weighed in on his side. The manner in which his opinion was delivered didn’t matter to Palin, staying on message and “supporting the team” were the priorities.

I feel bad for anyone who has to live their life that way, and that includes MSNBC’s Al Sharpton on the other “team”, who will essentially take the left side of any issue, with or without having even a single shred of evidence to back up his opinion. TV loves these nitwits because they’re programmable and ready to play their appointed part for the camera at a moment’s notice. I doubt either one of them has read a book in over a year.

There are two professions in which flip-flopping or evolving one’s convictions means a career death sentence: Politician and Priest. They can’t change their minds or admit to having been wrong. For everyone else, it’s time to grow up. You can both admit to feeling differently about something as well as own up to the reality that you don’t know everything. Try it a few times, publicly and unabashedly. It will feel good. You will want to do it again some time. You will laugh at those who cannot bring themselves to do it.

In politics, sticking to one’s guns regardless of new information is practically a prerequisite to holding office, they have no choice. See John Kerry, 2004 Presidential Campaign of for a crystal clear example as to why.  In markets and investing, however, unconditional conviction is suicide. Don’t cite for me that singular outlying case in which an investor held on for dear life and was eventually rewarded lest I come back at you with the thousands of examples in which that investor was destroyed before any kind of vindication arrived.

We don’t know for sure whether John Maynard Keynes ever actually uttered the quote When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” He might have, but there is no record of it. One thing’s for sure, it’d be cooler if he did.

Maria Popova, the editor at Brain Pickings celebrates seven years of her excellent blog, seven years plumbing the depths of the world’s knowledge and distilling life’s biggest concepts for her readers. In observance of this milestone, she takes the seven most important things she’s learned during her journey amidst the wisdom of the ages. The very first lesson has to do with flexibility of opinion:

Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.

If you still believe wholeheartedly in exactly what you believed in five, seven or ten years ago, then you aren’t paying attention. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who’ve figured it all out from the start – in that case, god bless.

But for everyone else (myself included), a good goal for this year may be to stay off the treadmill of obstinance. If you think your employees, customers, co-workers, friends or loved ones will think less of you for an evolution of opinion, ask yourself what value you offer them by adhering to ideas whose time has past.

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