Talking about coffee one day, I was reminded there are limits to ‘relevant complexity’. Once you’ve made it – the perfect roast, the perfect grind, the perfect press; there it is; the perfect coffee. Mmmm. But hmmmm – it’s only coffee…
And that’s the secret ingredient of ‘relevant complexity’ – knowing when to move on. As a philosophy student I learnt this from a thought experiment by the novelist Julian Barnes…
You’re dead, you go to heaven, you can do anything you like – for all eternity. But once you’ve slept with everyone, drunk everything. got your golf handicap down to 18 straight holes-in-one and been to the Hell ‘theme park’ what’s left to do? Given enough time, everyone would tire and eventually say:
“I’ve seen and done everything so many times, I just want to rest now and stop. Bye bye.”
But here in the living world, the secret is to recognise when you’ve had the best of something; and it’s time to stop. All too often people stick at a thing they once loved, profess to love it still, but a gaunt tautness of jowl and a haunted look in the eye gives the game away. They’re just not enjoying it that much any more…
I remember the – at the time – confusing story, a good friend told me about Hud. Hud was a big old horse whom my friend’s dad came to know and love, when in his 40s he decided he wanted to learn to ride a horse.
Every weekend, for a number of years, he would be united with Hud and other riding novices, and they would plod around some parkland in perfect contentment.
What a lovely story. So I asked my friend whether his father still rode:
“Oh no, he gave up years ago.”
“Eh?” I said, if he’d always wanted to do it and then mastered it thanks to Hud, what happened?
“Did Hud die or something?”
“No, I think he just stopped getting so much out of it, so he gave it up.”
At the time I didn’t get it. I was perhaps too young to understand.
Now I do. Once you’ve got past the ‘relevant complexity’, either drop the frequency or drop it altogether. Find a new field of endeavour.
By all means pop back and give Hud a hug, but know when you’re done with saddling him up. Knowing what to stop is as important as finding new things to start… let the horse canter off out of your life; don’t flog it to death.
by Julian Barnes
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