Esse quam videri - Seeing what’s in front of you
As humans, we are easily fooled. Our five senses are the primary way we get an idea of what’s happening around us, and it’s been shown time and time again that our senses are unreliable. In this post, I try to explain the importance of ‘seeing’ what’s in front of you, and how to practice it.
See this video a classic example of our incredible ability at missing important details.
Rembrandt used to train his students by making them copy his self-portraits. This exercise forced them to see their subject as objectively as possible, which was essential to make an accurate reproduction. Only after mastering their portraiturne skills did Rembrandt’s students go on to develop their own artistic styles.
It is important to periodically evaluate your position and course in life. It’s something you do whether you’re aware of it or not. When you plan something, you’re setting a course. When you’re reflecting on past events, you’re estimating your position. For the sake of overloading words like sight, vision, and planning, let’s refer to this act as life portraiture.
Life portraiture can be compared to navigating on land, air, or sea, except the many facets of our lives results in a space of many more dimensions. We can consider our position and course on axes like physical health, emotional health, career, finance, and social life. If we want finer detail, we can split any of those axes into more dimensions.
Objective life portraiture is not easy. We are all vulnerable to cognitive biases. Following the above analogy with navigation, our inaccuracy at objectively evaluating our lives is akin to inaccurately navigating a ship or airplane. If you’re not well-practiced at seeing, your only tool for navigation might be dead reckoning. If you practice drawing self-portraits of your life, you might suddenly find yourself in possession of a sextant and an almanac, so you can navigate using the stars. The ideal in this case would be to have something like GPS, which might look like Quantified Self with an incredible amount of detail.
It’s worth mentioning that our ability to navigate varies across different dimensions. This is an idea that doesn’t really carry over to navigating Earth, but it’s important to recognize. For example, if you’re thorough with your personal finances, you could have tools akin to GPS for navigating that part of your life. At the same time, if you don’t check in with your emotions, or do anything to improve your emotional health, you might be lost in those spaces.
There are ways to improve our navigating abilities depending on the spaces we’re looking at. To improve navigating your personal finances, you can regularly consult your banking statements, make budgets, and explore different methods of investing. To improve navigating your physical health, you can perform one of many different fitness tests, or consult a personal trainer. To improve navigating your emotional health, you could try journaling, or maybe begin seeing a therapist. Any and all of these could help you locate yourself in the vast space where your life could be.
In order to get where you want to go, you need to know where you are, and what direction you’re moving in.