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Reality Is Embarrassingly Simple

It’s amazing how many complexities we attach to complex problems, rather to the problems or situations that we perceive to be complex.

The reality is embarrassingly simple. So embarrassing that we can’t even act on it. 

I was catching up with a few friends in Delhi over the weekend. A conversation with one of my friends whom I hadn’t met in a long time and the reality of the above statement struck hard, really hard.

One of these guys is a chartered accountant. Last I met him in school, he was playing football for the school team, and forever and ever that I heard him talk in school, all he could talk about and all I remember talking to him about is that he wanted to be a soccer coach. He even enrolled for some program during college to get qualified as a coach. 

Here I am, meeting him after many years, I consciously don’t even remember these conversations but it must be so drilled into my mind. My first question, the moment I saw this guy, ‘Which team are you coaching?’ 

‘Not yet coaching! Am leading one! The audit team at KPMG.’ 

Obviously the two jobs are not exactly comparable. One is a constant adrenaline rush and the other one, I assume, isn’t exactly a dream job for someone whose childhood dream is soccer. 

Post my conversation with this friend of mine, which I’ll write about in a moment, I was really left struggling with an answer to the question – What happens to our childhood dreams? The answer is obvious – they remain there. The more relevant question was Why? And can we do something about it now?

What prevented this guy from becoming a football coach? I couldn’t understand because in my mind becoming a chartered accountant must be as much of a struggle and have as many chances of succeeding in one’s first attempt. 

As he explained and as is obvious, it started with creating some form of ‘surety’ for that ‘just in case’ scenario. That resulted in enrolling for Chartered Accountancy. Of course as life would have it – after three years – a call had to be taken – “Do I keep trying to be a soccer coach or do I take the Job offer at hand?  Once I put the question to my family, it was a no brainer.” 

There were two things I couldn’t understand. Firstly, why does one have to try to be a soccer coach? Get 10 kids who like soccer together and start! So obviously trying here means, making a living (and how much) out of soccer, not simply coaching. Second thing I couldn’t understand is why he would put such a question to his family. What was he expecting – someone to say – “No Kido, your dreams’ soccer!”

I was a bit irritated at all of this as I usually am in any conversation with such eratic logic. And I genuinely wanted to provoke him the best I could, So I told him, “Well! Congratulations, you’ll die a very successful Chartered Accountant one fine day, you must be very happy about what you accomplish!”

“It’s easy to say all this. Reality is reality. One can’t survive on soccer. You have to do something before time runs out on you. I had to take a job. What do you expect? I can’t not be settled in life?” was the immediate reply. 

The guy earns 25L in annual salary plus a bonus of 5L that it makes it about 30L (must have started with a lot lower). My very simple explanation to him was this – set up a soccer academy – charge a student 4000 a month and you only need 60 students to earn 30L. You took three years to complete your CA. I can guarantee you with my life, that you spend three years in promoting your academy only for as much time that you spent studying for CA – you will have your 60 students at the end of three years. Every other argument is basically bullshit. Its just taking the easy way out. 

There are a few things I need to discuss here. Firstly that all of us perceive reality to be complex –

“I had to get a job, get settled…..”  and so I made some eternal compromise with my  dream, my happiness. Utter nonsense. The possibilities were always there. We don’t want to pursue them. Why? There was a simple solution from where I see it. He didn’t see it? Some still don't see it.


After a lot of thinking and reading on this over the week, I have one answer – We believe reality to be complex and hence create and seek complex solutions. The truth is that reality is in fact embarrassingly simple. In fact, more complex the situation, simpler the solution is. 

Even after pointing out the solution to him – there is further complexity!! I have a family now. I could have done this, years back, if only my parents had supported me but now it may be too late. 

I asked him how many people at home told him that they were very happy about him being a CA, how many people told him they were happy with his career. 

The answer was obvious. None. “They must be but they haven’t said it.” But they do not hesitate to crib at his working hours.

This is the sad reality that I pointed to my good friend – When people stop telling you how you are doing in your life, they have given up on you. They have accepted your reality. A reality where you think you have no more options – so do they. Everyone ceases to look for the better one! 

We all have one life. For most of us may be another 30-40 years to go. Are we really going to spend that in the name of ‘security’ – Do you really think there is going to be some ‘extra’ time given to you to pursue your dreams. What would be a prouder moment for you and for people who love you – A childhood dream realized into a successful football coach or a successful CA? You have become a CA; you can’t become any more of it in the next 30 years. 

We left this conversation there to get back at it in a couple of weeks.

We perceive reality (life) to be complex and hence look for complex solutions. These are Mostly self defeating but ‘socially’ perceived as successful or correct ones. We are forced to look for the complex solution because the simple one has no benchmarks, no examples.

That is probably why we find it more difficult to implement the simple. We attach ‘statuses’ to things and are then compelled to make decisions for getting those. The things include cars, houses, lifestyle, marriage, kids (all things we call ‘settled’) We attach so much value to these (unknowingly) that when it comes to crunch-time, we chose to get convinced about the option that is ‘socially’ correct. I’ll tell you why we do this. Because if we fail – we rather fail with a correct option than a non correct one. It’s inherent; we are brought up to live this way. It’s the taught life. It’s also a trap.Everyone falls into it. 

There is one very simple way to look at a ‘simple’ solution. It only needs three things for you to do. Here it is.

Accept that we perceive reality to be complex (in reality it isn’t) but the solution is going to be embarrassingly simple or it isn’t yet the solution.

Get to the ‘cause and effect’ relationships to uncover the ‘basic’ conflict. For example in this case – the current job as CA is an effect – the cause is doing CA- the cause for which is assuming that ‘settled’ life cannot be achieved through coaching – the cause for which is concluding without trying – the ‘cause’ for not trying is two – may be not knowing how to or a fear to discover the road ‘alone’ as there isn’t a benchmark or an example to follow. The conflict in this case was perhaps with oneself and with two basic questions. Given these two basic conflicts – tell me how is Chartered Accountancy a solution?

Blaming the other person or the problem or the situation takes you further away from the simple solution and takes you closer to making peace with complexities. For example – here the blame is on situation that is ‘not possible to make a living in soccer’ so CA is cool and on people; ‘family guided me to this so in hindsight there fault’ – either one of the two is a convenient justifier. Deal with the truth without blaming. 

Blaming is just a ‘mask’ you have created to help you accept stupidity.

Having said all of this – lets for the sake of an example apply these three rules to a very extreme complex reality – Terrorism.

What is the reality? The reality is that given the current situation we either don’t have a solution or have very ‘ridiculous ones. What are the solutions we have – Bomb Iraq, Afghanistan – hunt them and fight them. From the Indian perspective – Strikes on the camps (will we do it – answer: NO)  or get Pakistan to hand over people. C’mon can they ever afford to do that! (will they do it – answer: NO – they might handover someone irrelevant).

So reality is complex – solutions even more complex and undoable. 

What is the cause insofar as India is concerned? Terrorist strikes in Mumbai or in rest of the country – is a result of probably that the strikes in Kashmir have ceased to have substantial meaning – is a result of inaction of everybody to resolve the issue – the issue is that brought terrorism to forefront is a result of unresolved territory dispute (mostly) – which is a result of division of state (of India) in the first place.

The last cause that I can reach here is unresolved Partition.

If we were to stop blaming – Pakistan or ISI or whoever it is – and start resolving – what is really the problem that needs to be addressed. Two in my mind – Partition and Terrorists (not terrorism). If these are the problems (at the root) how is bombing Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc a solution?

What is the solution then: 

If the problem is partition, if the problem is division of the state- then remove the border. It’s only been 60 years. It might take 60 to accept it – we are only talking two generations compared to 2000 years.

If the problem is terrorists – the problem here might be the ‘leaders’ talking to these people that we come to know as terrorists. We know the camps. The solution is not in gunning them down which we anyways can’t without accepting a full blown-up war. EVEN That will suppress it for a while, not eradicate it. The solution has to be to make these so called leaders redundant.

Lets draw a parallel here – British ruling India – we didn’t create an army to fight theirs and win our land back. We simply disobeyed them and through non-violence. We didn’t react with violence (when we did, we lost). Even if we did, we would’ve been defeated at it.

The solution for all the people who are ridiculously marching with ‘lights’ in hand in Mumbai and elsewhere, the solution for all those giving silly speeches and launching attacks on politicians (rightly so – that’s another problem – another time), the solution for all those vying for revenge – the solution is not in doing all this – who is it affecting – the solution is Gandhi – he was a master at ‘simple’ solutions – what would he have done? Doesn’t need too many brains to guess? He would have started marching to do what no one can do – started marching towards the camps across the border – he would have initiated a movement from the other side as well – in the process enrolled a few thousand people – my guess is a few lacs by the time he reached the border – so many people advancing into another country and vice versa – you can’t arrest them – logistical issue – no army on either side can bomb them. Make no mistake – eventually – the solution would have emerged. 

I don’t think he had it figured in the earlier instance as well, not all the way up to 1947 – else how would you explain a partition?

I am not suggesting that all this is doable by you and me.

It’s the simple things that are probably the most difficult to execute – ‘coz they are too simple to state. Am not looking at you to find a solution to terrorism and change the world. Neither am I myself capable nor am I any influence to do this. The above was to simply attack an impossible problem. The problem is complexity. The problem is not the problem itself.

Leaving the terrorists and the partition aside –  I’ll rewrite here my opening line to this article - It’s amazing how many complexities we attach to complex problems, rather to the problems or situations that we perceive to be complex. 

The reality is embarrassingly simple. So embarrassing that we can’t even act on it. 

Life will be over soon. Remember the old saying – the days go by very slowly but the years fly by. Whether you will die as a chartered accountant or as a soccer coach – Whether you will die as a Man – or die as a child struggling to live his childhood dream – the choice is yours. Both are possible. The time is finite. 


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