Why There Aren’t Instructions

Let’s say you buy yourself a chair, only you buy one of those things that’s technically only a chair in theory – what you actually get is a box of wood and screws.

Actually, you get wood, screws, and instructions. (Usually.)

There will be a nice, neat (sometimes comically-poorly written) pamphlet that tells you how to assemble a chair.

Chairs are nice that way. Most things in life, however, don’t come with instructions. That’s very, very awesome.

You heard me: awesome!

Why is that so great? Because of why instructions are written in the first place.

The reason your chair comes with instructions is simple: there are more ways not to build a chair than to build one. Given the pieces that come in the box, there are maybe 2-3 ways tops that will result in a usable chair and minimal destruction to your immediate surroundings. The simplest of those 2-3 is probably the one detailed in the pamphlet, but a really skilled carpenter might know a better way to assemble the components. The point is, though, that there are probably several million ways not to build a chair out of those pieces. So if given the choice between writing a pamphlet that tells you all the ways not to build a chair versus all the ways to build one, the latter uses significantly less paper.

But that calculus exists for everything. There’s no pamphlet of instructions for most activities because the number of ways you could do them is vastly, vastly larger than the number of ways you couldn’t.

Why is there no instruction manual for falling in love? Because you can fall in love in a few billion ways – given regular, unplanned exposure to the human race it’s almost impossible not to, at least once. Why is there no instruction manual for “how to make money?” Because there are as many ways to do that as stars in the sky.

So when you find yourself confronted with an activity and you think “I’m woefully unprepared for this – I’ve never received any instruction at all” – rejoice! That means you’re about to do something that has a million different ways to succeed, and a million more. When you’re at the South Pole, no matter which direction you walk, it’s North. When you’re at the bottom, everywhere is Up.

Most people worry about lack of instruction not because they’re worried about not doing “it” right, but because they’re worried about doing “it” (whatever “it” is) horribly wrong. But you can’t! Your only outcomes are varying degrees of “right,” and you can improve as you go.

There. Let this be your instruction manual for all of life. You don’t need more than this to get started.

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