The Law of the Lemon

There is no heavier burden than unfulfilled potential.”Charles Schulz

Contrary to popular belief, underachievers don’t underachieve because they want to. The reasons that they underachieve are plenty. You see, someone can have enormous amounts of potential, yet have no idea that it even exists or how to release it. It is common that those around the dissident thinker are more aware of their potential than they are. There may even be those that point it out and the dissident thinker disregards them or approaches their findings as skeptics. Moreover, if they do happen to concede to the possibility of potential, they are unaware of how to access it.

There exists a percentage of dissident thinkers who happen upon their potential and make a good bit of it reality. However, the vast majority have either only scratched the surface, stumbled upon a bit, or peaked then plateaued.

The phenomenon of not knowing what you want to be when you grow up, after you grow up, isn’t common to only dissidents. It’s part of the human condition. The condition has been exacerbated by the over-domestication of society.

If we were to look back on human history through the lense of anthropology, we’d find that dissidents were plenty. When you look at various people groups there were those that were nomadic, herdsman, blacksmiths, tinkerers, artists, gypsies, pioneers, warriors, etc. We’ve always existed. The only difference is that the background of society didn’t always provide such a stark contrast.

In light of this contrast, society can view underachieving dissident thinkers as lemons. They view their value as fluctuating against the backdrop of societal expectations and norms, instead of seeing their value as a fixed long term asset.

Here’s the thing about lemons, someone can go and purchase a “lemon” from an uniformed seller, and with a little elbow grease and spare parts, convert that lemon into a beautiful classic in pristine condition. While the market value of that vehicle changed radically, it’s inherent worth or potential, did not.

Dissident thinkers need someone who is able to look into their souls, see the potential, and have the understanding to help them cultivate it.

Dichotomous By Nature

“The Cube is, at the same time, a symbol of simplicity and complexity.”

– Erno Rubik

Dissident thinkers are wired with complexity. That is certain. Yet, there is a deep simplicity that they crave, require and long for.

To observe their lives, or to hear them speak, it may appear to be anything but simple. That’s often because they are unable to navigate the chaos and the noise in order to find that simplicity that they need. You may also observe a dissident thinker’s life and find that it is the model of simplicity. Their inner world or the way the perceive the outer world, is quite chaotic. In order to function well, they have to make sense of the chaos by bringing it into order.

They are able to look at a very complex or systemic set of problems and strip it down to the chassis to address the root of the issue. Once the problem is stripped down, they can build a solution from spare parts.

This need to subdue chaos is often what drives them to design, refine, and create systems or tools that facilitate order in their world. Photographer Platon expresses it this way:

For me, a very complex world has to be simplified. Has to be stripped down. And design, for me, was a way out of confusion. Because great design simplifies a very complicated world.”

They may also begin with a specific design or system, and constantly experiment with new iterations of it, until they get it right. Of course at that point, they may have outgrown that system or tool entirely.

To counterbalance their complexity, they often crave simplicity. They are also profoundly adept at enjoying very simple pleasures.

They are wired with complexity but need both the simple and complex in order to be satisfied. If they are surrounded by only simple, they can bore easily and lose interest. There has to be a challenge, new experience or a puzzle to solve.

Perhaps this dichotomy is the allure of both the Cube by Rubik and the dissident thinker. It can be a very attractive quality, yet for those who love them daily, it can prove to be quite confusing. We’ll have additional conversations about these living dichotomies and tools to help them reconcile their internal opposing forces.

Inspiration Required

You can’t be legendary if you have no energy…and it all starts with inspiration…Protect your inspiration.

Robin Sharma

Many dissident thinkers are also highly sensitive, empaths who are affected deeply by the energy of those around them. It can be something communicated via their subconscious. They aren’t even aware that it is happening. They enter a room, a building and suddenly they are inundated with emotional data from everyone around them or at least those who are emitting the most energy. Processing that energy, even in the background, can be exhausting and will deplete the energy of your dissident thinker.

Energy is precious. The dissident thinker must guard their energy even more than the typically wired. Even the slightest brush with negativity can potentially have a profound impact. Tension, confusion, chaos, and fighting can debilitate the highly sensitive dissident thinker.

Even more dangerous to them is a lack of inspiration. While they tend to be intrinsically motivated, it is based on the amount of inspiration taken in. Similar to a fire, the more logs the brighter and stronger the fire. When supplied regularly with logs, the fire can burn for long lengths of time. Dissident thinkers are fueled by inspiration whether or not they realize it.

As the combustion engine requires fuel, so the dissident thinker requires inspiration.

What inspires the dissident thinker varies widely depending on the individual. The things that discourage or block inspiration tend to be a bit more universal. Among those things are: too long without play, or wonder or interruption of the status quo. They are very hard workers when motivated. However, even the hardest worker will need some kind of reward upon completion. At times, completion can serve as it’s own reward.

Nearly everything they do requires inspiration. And last week’s motivation may not work for today. For optimal performance, peak performance and sustained performance, inspiration is required.

Under the topic of context, which we’ll discuss in greater detail in future conversations, the dissident thinker must have an inspiration rich environment. If it lacks inspiration they can create an inspiration corner, closet, space…something. Pull out all the stops and make it happen.

As mentioned before, when the input threshold of inspiration is reached, and the period of processing is complete, the output will be phenomenal.

When properly inspired your dissident thinker can do literally anything.

The Necessity of Novelty

-APA Dictionary of Psychology
Novelty.n: the quality of being new and unusual. It is one of the major determining factors directing attention. The attraction to novelty has been shown to begin as early as 1 year of age; for example, when infants are shown pictures of visual patterns, they will stare longer at a new pattern than at a pattern they have already seen. In consumer behavior, the attraction to novelty is manifested as a desire for a change, even in the absence of dissatisfaction with the present situation. For example, despite satisfaction with a particular product, many consumers will switch to a different brand just because it is new.

While everyone has novelty thresholds, the dissident thinker has higher thresholds for it. Like many other things in life, it’s more of a spectrum than a simple yes or no. Someone can have moderate novelty thresholds. That means that they only require a moderate amount of novelty in order to reach satisfaction.

For those with high novelty thresholds, they bore easily and it takes quite a bit to hold and maintain their attention. In some cases high novelty thresholds show up as an inability to watch the same movie twice, re-read the same book or repeat oneself ad nauseum.

Having low novelty thresholds shows up in those that can do repetitive work without developing atrophy. They have favorite songs that they keep on repeat, they watch and rewatch movies and don’t mind retelling or rehearing familiar stories. Novelty thresholds can also vary from one area to another. One can have high novelty thresholds with food, travel and media, but low thresholds with the cars they drive and clothes they wear.

For most people novelty thresholds are relatively static. There can be notable events in a person’s life that may alter that, but largely, they remain consistent. For the dissident thinker, these thresholds fluctuate depending on the processing and growth seasons that the thinker may be in. For example, in the input phase of processing, novelty thresholds are very high, whereas during the output phase, it could be much lower. During seasons of positive disintergration novelty will be higher than usual. Periods of grief will either drastically increase or decrease the novelty thresholds, but there will be significant fluctuation.

There are things that we typically classify as needs. Food, water, safety. Yet for those that are wired with complexity, the emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and even physical needs are higher than average. Novelty may seem frivolous, but it’s not. It is indeed a necessity. If your dissident thinker is more of a synthesizer (scanning and gathering data from various places and creating a mash up or synthesis of the data), they will have significantly higher levels of novelty required.

Without atrophy or comorbidities, novelty is typically cyclical. They may desire a significant amount of novelty, then the desire will drop. These seasons can be quarterly, seasonal according to weather seasons, seasons of creativity or even over a lifetime. They may require more novelty in early years and less in older years or vice versa. There is the rare group of dissident thinkers that are your modern day nomads. They will constantly require novelty and are at their healthiest and best when roaming.

Change is an essential part of life. The dissident thinker is in part wired to initiate change. They desire in the deepest parts of who they are. They may not know how to initiate that change and may even be afraid of the very changes that they long for. Generally speaking, their need for novelty does not indicate dissatisfaction with the current state of their life or the people in it. They desire change and growth because it’s possible. They also desire it, because it is how they learn and grow. They gather data and process through new experiences. They want to live life to fullest.

Relatively Aware

“We inhabit time as fish live in water. Our being is in time.”

Carlo Rovelli

Usually, we call “real” the things that exist now, in the present. Not those things that existed once, or may do so in the future.

Carlo Rovelli

I promise this isn’t a lecture in physics. The point I am making is this. Even in the experience of time passing, the dissident thinker often diverges from the norm.

For the dissident thinker we exist in this dimension as something like time travelers. Now, before you start assuming we all own our time machines or that I am saying we are shape shifters, let me explain. Our concept of reality extends beyond the confines of now.

Psychologists refer to the phenomenon as flow. The state in which we are so engaged in what we are doing or thinking that we become completely oblivious to the passage of time. So much so that we are unaware of sensory experiences like hot/cold, hunger or even the need to relieve ourselves.

Even outside a flow state, we can often forget what day it is, or how many days have elapsed since a particular event. Richard Feynman in Perfectly Reasonable Deviations From the Beaten Track, wrote many letters. In some of those letters to his mother, he would often pen his unawareness of what the date was or how many days had passed since a particular event took place.

Then there is the whole concept of age. As children we tend to be very old, yet often more immature than our counterparts the same age, at the same time. Conversely, as we age into adulthood, there can be the experience of aging in reverse. Or more accurately, we stopped internally aging years ago. We seldom (if ever) have true peers or deep connections with individuals within our same age bracket.

But back to existing in time… Dissident thinkers tend to consider historical events in a more real or concrete sense than their non-dissident counterparts. As a result, they tend to be more aware of the historical implications of current events. Likewise, the future, even just the possibility of future events, is just as real to them as now.

This is a beautiful feature of the dissident thinker. They are built for around the here and now driving, and leisure drives down memory lane as much as they are long distances into the future. However, if there is atrophy or high levels of anxiety, the awareness of future event’s reality can become a looming albatross around the neck of the dissident thinker. It then becomes important to help them reframe future events by discovering hope and the realization that they have some control over what happens. There has to be an anticipation of good in the now, or it becomes quite difficult to move forward into a bleak and hopeless future.

Out of Context

The original title that I toyed with for a while was the driving force behind this project originally. It was Lover’s Manual. Everyday Guide to Loving Your Underachieving High Achiever. It’s clunky and not at all aerodynamic, Yet it reveals a primary challenges for dissident thinkers in life. Being a high achiever, who is currently underachieving.

I recall visiting some family and friends. They had purchased a new vehicle since the last time we visited. It wasn’t my favorite car, but it had a higher than average number of horses under the hood, and torque that brings tears to your eyes. I asked to take it around the block and back. I had plans to really find out what this vehicle was made of. Then a couple other family members asked to ride along. Hopefully I hid my disappointment well…don’t really know.

As I pulled out of the driveway, feeling the rumble of the engine, the potential energy that could be released, I thought about the human cargo and played it safe. I accelerated quickly but stayed within legal limits for speed. The car’s owner lamented over the disgusting misuse of the vehicle and reminded me that it was created with a capacity to accelerate to incredible speeds at incredible rates. He explained that in order to really see what she was capable of, I needed to get out of residential areas and school zones.

Sometimes we are unable to see or realize our highest potential because we are operating outside of our context. In real estate they say location is everything. For the dissident thinker, potential rises and falls on context. How do we discover that context?

I think for the most part, we already know what that context is. At least we do deep down inside. It’s in there, hidden for us, not from us. We have to draw it out like water out of a well.

Sometimes that is discovered in solitude. In quiet meditation. In faith. It’s revealed in pieces. And sometimes those pieces lay before us, a jumbled mess. And we need help to make sense of it all.

There are however some universal recommendations for the context of dissident thinkers.

A few shared best practices are: beauty, autonomy, understanding, functionality, inspiration rich (or at a minimum not inspiration hindering) and the right amount stimulation.

Context applies not only to your living confines, but also career, colleagues, and comrades. More important than all of those is your internal context…your mindset. Your external and internal context impact one another…but your internal context determines the boundaries of your life.

Demand Avoidance

“Avoiding things that drain you is more important than gaining energy.”

Frederick Lenz

Some say with the dissident thinker that it is their way or no way at all. They only do what they want to do. I have been on both sides of this. In that moment when you know that this standoff is happening and cannot be easily avoided, it seems that there aren’t many options for a viable way out. Once fully embroiled not much can be done to unring the bell (if it is even possible at all).

The thing to remember is that at this point it’s primal. There are instincts kicking in and overriding every day logic and common sense. The fight, flight or freeze response has kicked in.

The individual can shut down which is the freeze response.

Become combative, confrontational, or aggressive. That’s the fight response.

They can also ghost, retreat, stop returning calls, disengage from endeavors they otherwise enjoy or look for a means of escape. Binge watching tv, drugs, alcohol, fantasy, illicit sex, excessive reading, a new or renewed obsession they can get lost in. That’s all flight.

Now, not everyone who binge watches television or doesn’t return a phone call is experiencing this. The thing to keep in mind is that this would be a deviation from normal, typical patterns of behavior for that thinker.

In terms of an automobile, this would be comparable to flooding the engine. In terms of computers this would be hitting too many keys before the computer is able to respond to the first command given.

While people consider this to be an act of rebellion, it isn’t. It is literally a processing issue that there are so many demands or commands that were given it overloaded their system and they need time for all of those things to clear and then they can address the first command. It’s extremely energy consuming and triggers a primal instinct to survive.

In this situation, depending on the thinker, if they process internally it would be good to give them some space or downtime without any additional demands, commands or requests.

If the person processes externally, this would be a good time to listen. Allow them to simply vent without trying to fix all their problems or encourage them to write it down.

Sometimes for the dissident thinker physical activity can help in this process. Especially if their stress response is fight.

While I may use words like demand or command, it should not be assumed that you are demanding or commanding. It simply is a reference to input that requires processing and output. This can involve anything and everything from asking for a hug or opinion, needing to get dressed, someone calling, projects due, bills due, an alarm going off, etc. Anything that is going to place an additional demand on their energy supply.

When signs of atrophy are showing, and your dissident thinker is avoiding demands or at least not responding to them, it is important not to label them as lazy or place additional demands. It will actually slow their processing further. It’s best to acknowledge that there is an underlying issue and not to exacerbate it unnecessarily. The underlying cause could be sensory overload, an introvert hangover, anxiety, fatigue or something highly emotional running in the background. Give them time to unravel the mystery.

What Is The Lover’s Manual About?

The concept of the Lover’s Manual was born out of absolute frustration. Years of banging my head against the proverbial wall and shouting only to find out that, although I was heard, no one could understand what I was saying. I was so blinded by my own frustrations that I failed to really give ear to the frustrations of others in my life, in any meaningful way.

The frustration came from loving the most dissident of thinkers and the emotional devastation that came as a natural byproduct of doing so, and being a dissident thinker who was loved by someone who didn’t understand me. And truly, no one understood me. I didn’t even understand myself.

There were things I knew, but it was overshadowed by everything I didn’t know.

I had no real purpose. I transitioned from job to job without any lasting satisfaction or anything meaningful to show for my effort. (More on this in future conversations.)

I began to research dissident thinkers everywhere, from a variety of places throughout the world and over the course of history. I began to collect vast amounts of data and study various disciplines day and night. I interviewed hundreds of people.

Then one day, I remember driving and feeling a hesitation when I would accelerate. Based on the year of the vehicle and it’s make, there were only a handful of issues that it could have been. I narrowed it down, made a small adjustment and voila, it was good as new.

In that moment, I thought to myself, if only people were easy to understand like cars. Or better yet…if there was a manual. I bounced the idea off of a friend who was also dissident and shared similar frustrations. And thus the Manual was born.