MAUGHAN: First I was gutted. And then I felt more frustrated, like, I can’t believe I did that. I’m so dumb.
* * *
DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.
DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: Is it better to regret something you’ve done or something you haven’t done?
MAUGHAN: “Mike, if it’s a cry for help, let us know. Otherwise, cool.”
* * *
MAUGHAN: Angela, we have a fascinating question today and I think it’s even more memorable because of how the listener frames the question.
DUCKWORTH: I’m all ears.
MAUGHAN: So Eric wrote in asking about regret, and he did so by invoking a song called “Sweat Loaf,” which is sung by a group called the Butthole Surfers.
DUCKWORTH: I’ve heard of the Butthole Surfers, but I haven’t heard of sweat — no, I think they’re famous. Aren’t they?
MAUGHAN: Okay. Well, I’d never heard of them. They were kind of before my time.
DUCKWORTH: It’s because I’m older than you. I think that’s why I know them.
MAUGHAN: Anyway, I listened to this song in preparation for this podcast and let me just say, it is not the music that is what I am most interested in putting into my life. I regret having listened to the song. That said, it led to a great question. So let me read Eric’s question. He says: “In the song, ‘Sweat Loaf’ by The Butthole Surfers, it is posited that it’s better to regret something you’ve done than something that you haven’t done. Is there evidence to support this claim?” So, let me ask you, before we begin, if you were forced to make a binary choice, which side would you side on? Better to regret something you’ve done or something you haven’t?
DUCKWORTH: I personally feel more regret over things that I have done and I felt turned out badly than things that I haven’t done and “coulda, woulda, shoulda” have made the world or my life better.
MAUGHAN: Really? That is shocking to me.
DUCKWORTH: What? You’re the opposite?
MAUGHAN: I feel like most people regret the things that they didn’t do more than the things that they did, mostly because there’s no counterfactual. You can’t go back and fix it.
DUCKWORTH: Well, there’s always counterfactual. The counterfactual in a sense is the “road not taken” or the roads not taken. Right? I think there is an interesting question about whether they’re easier to dream up for regrets of inaction versus regrets of action.
MAUGHAN: Well, I think for sure, right? I mean, if I did something, then I just dream of maybe not having yelled that thing or said that — whatever — thing that I regret or gone to that place. But if I didn’t do it, then I think of the 4,000 scenarios. I guess what I would say, I think it’s probably a matter of scale, because if you did something so egregious, then of course you’re going to regret that more than things that you didn’t do. But if it’s outside of something incredibly egregious — and I’m thinking the order of, like, felonies — I think that most people —.
DUCKWORTH: Federal crimes. Not local and state crimes.
MAUGHAN: High crimes and misdemeanors, as they say. Outside of something like that, I would imagine that most people fall on the side of, “I really regret not having done that, not having been there for this person, not having said this thing before it was too late.” Something like that.
DUCKWORTH: I mean, I answered the question as an N of one human being. But I do want to say, you’re right. Actually, the data are pretty clear like, when you survey people and you just pose the simple, straightforward question — and I’m going to steal the phrasing for the way I ask this question from a 1998 Psychological Review paper by Tom Gilovich, Danny Kahneman, and Victoria Husted Medvec. The paper is called “Varieties of Regret: A Debate and Partial Resolution.” It’s on this very topic. And the way they studied it is as straightforward as can be. They asked people, and I quote, “Half of the people in study one were asked to think of their single biggest regret of action and inaction from the past week, and half in this study were asked to do the same for the biggest regrets of their entire lives.” But in other words, the way to study regret is usually just to ask people, “Hey, tell me about something that you did that you regretted and something you didn’t do.”
MAUGHAN: That’s enough to just depress you. “What’s your biggest regret of your entire life? Okay. Have a great day.”
DUCKWORTH: I know, right? I’m glad I wasn’t in this study.
MAUGHAN: Okay, so do you want to answer it? Do you want to share —.
DUCKWORTH: No, I want you to go first. But I’m going to be kind, and I’m going to let you either choose a regret of action or inaction. And I’m also going to let you choose last week, Mike, or, yeah, like, your whole life. So, pick your poison.
MAUGHAN: Good gracious. As much as I feel a kinship with all of our listeners, maybe I’m not quite to the point of sharing my biggest regret of my entire life on this show. I also don’t even know how I would define that. I think if I could talk about a regret, a recent regret I have — which is funny because you and I recently did a podcast episode on why people fall for scams. Fast forward a few weeks, and I fell for a scam. And I’m so dumb, and I — I do regret. But I don’t regret what led to it. So, I’m on Instagram, and I get a message from this individual who I don’t know well —.
DUCKWORTH: And now they know exactly who they are because they messaged you on Instagram. You’re going to regret saying this, Mike.
MAUGHAN: I think I’m okay with it. There’s no animosity, but no love lost. It’s a somewhat, you know, older person who — we had butted heads in a variety of situations, but have a cordial, but standoffish relationship. This person sent me a DM, and it wasn’t actually them, but they sent a DM saying, “Hey, lost my job. Starting this clothing business. Can I add you to my, whatever, clothing brand?” And I don’t really write back. And then they message me again, and again, and again. So, just sort of like a child — you know, a child just pecks you to death? I felt like I was being pecked to death. So, finally I write back and I said, “Hey, you know, I’m happy to be helpful. Please be respectful and don’t message me every few hours. And how can I help?” And they say, “Well, I need to send you this link, and I’ll sign you up to follow the clothing brand, da da.” And it’s also tracking that this guy didn’t know how social media works. And I wrote back and said, “Listen, like, I can follow your brand or your brand can follow me, and I can comment, and I can even share it, but that’s not how social media works.” And this is the other thing, when I say things I didn’t mean to, when I treat people poorly, which I try never to do, it’s always because I’m in a rush.
DUCKWORTH: Yes, you’re making a decision on the fly with limited cognitive bandwidth, and you make a bad decision.
MAUGHAN: And I love efficiency. I’m trying to do 30 things at once, and I’m trying to just pound things off my checklist, and I finally just say, “Okay, whatever. I may not like this person that much, but I feel like I’m generally a good human being, and I want to help someone in need, so I’m just going to agree to this, even though none of this makes sense, but it’s sort of tracking.” So, I say, “Fine, I’ll — whatever you need me to do, I’m happy to be helpful.” So they say, “Awesome.” They send me this link, which gets texted to me from a number I don’t know, which is — I mean, any cybersecurity person here is pulling their hair out right now.
DUCKWORTH: Wait, wasn’t he DMing you? Couldn’t you just click on it from the thing?
MAUGHAN: Well, this is — again, just I’m an idiot. I mean, that’s clue No. one. So, they send it to me and I click on it and instantaneously my Instagram account, which I don’t actually care. It’s not like I have a business or am a big influencer or something. But it’s my journal. It’s been my journal for 10 years. So, it has every meaningful thing; my thoughts, my — it really is where I record everything. It is taken over by these hackers, who then — I can’t get back into my account. It takes hours.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, really? Okay. So, you click on this link and they somehow are able to, like, take over Mike Maughan’s Instagram account.
MAUGHAN: And they post — they post these amazing things — I mean, like, I am a crypto influencer, and they post this yellow Lamborghini with things saying like, “2023 has been faithful to me.” And, “Early congratulations to me.” And, “I just made all this money on my fifth one in a roll.” Not fifth in a row, fifth in a “roll.” So, all these grammatical errors — like, everyone knows it’s not me. So, I have this major regret. I’m dumb. I follow this thing. I fell into the scam.
DUCKWORTH: How do they benefit? Like how do they make money off of this?
MAUGHAN: I have no idea what they get out of this other wreaking havoc in my life. But here’s what I learned through this bad decision is: I had over 300 phone calls and text messages immediately — I mean, it’s nine at night and I am getting blasted by all these people who are just immediately, “You got hacked. You got hacked. How can I help?”
DUCKWORTH: Oh, they all knew because they were like, “This is not —.”
MAUGHAN: No, not “they all.” I have these 300 people who know me and are like, “This is not you.” Then, I have a much broader group — long story short, I finally get the Instagram account back through heroic efforts of, some dear highly–placed friends, and I post, like, “Hey, that wasn’t me. I’m so sorry.” Then I find out there’s this large middle group who’s like, “Yeah, it didn’t seem like you, but I was like, ‘Okay. I mean, maybe — that’s weird, not his style, but perhaps he’s on drugs all of a sudden.’” And I thought, “Okay, come on, guys. Like, be a little —” Anyway, not that I was offended by that group, but I thought, “You don’t know me.”
DUCKWORTH: Right, it was like a Turing test. They didn’t know the real Mike Maughan.
MAUGHAN: Well, and here’s what I found out though. There was a group of about 75 people who — who I now know are my ride-or-dies. They were there no matter what. They’re like, “You know what? If you just bought a yellow Lamborghini and you want to throw it in everybody’s face and talk about 2023 has been faithful to you,” they’re like, “Good for you, man. We’re here for you no matter what.”
DUCKWORTH: “I’m in the Lamborghini with you, Mike.”
MAUGHAN: Yeah. And I just thought, “Wow, I mean, thank you.” Also, “What? Do you not know me at all?” But also, like, what a beautiful thing to know that you have some ride-or-dies.
DUCKWORTH: These are your loyal friends who don’t know you.
MAUGHAN: Yeah, don’t know me at all. It was funny. Even my aunt — my aunt who’s, you know, mid-70s and the sweetest human, and I love her dearly, she says to me after, “It didn’t seem like you, but I thought, ‘Well, if Mike suddenly made all this money on crypto and bought a yellow Lamborghini, then I’m very happy for you.”
DUCKWORTH: I just want you to be happy, Mike.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Angela and Mike talk about how to avoid regret.
DUCKWORTH: I think about it more than you would imagine.
* * *
Now, back to Angela and Mike’s conversation about regrets of action and regrets of inaction.
MAUGHAN: I will say this about regret of inaction: those take time. I don’t know how to talk about a regret of inaction within a week because I feel like — and you’ll have to tell me where the research lands on this — but I feel like unless something immediately just happened so, you know, I missed out on this opportunity to tell someone I loved them or to apologize for something in the last week, most regrets of inaction I feel like build over time. And it’s not until looking back that I can say, “Wow, I wish I had treated my body differently, because now I can’t walk.” Or, “I wish that I had spent more time with my children, because now we’re estranged.” And therefore it was harder for me to think of anything — “Oh, I regret not doing that in the last week.” Am I off?
DUCKWORTH: This is exactly what Tom Gilovich, and Victoria Husted Medvec, and Danny Kahneman were talking about in this 1998 paper. This now is called an “adversarial collaboration.” So, Danny Kahneman later coined the term of “adversarial collaboration” — when two scientists are head-to-head in complete disagreement about an issue like, you know, “Which is more painful, a regret of action versus a regret of inaction?” And so, what they did — now, again, decades ago — is they collaborated on some research studies to settle the debate. And often what happens in these adversarial collaborations is actually what they found in 1998, which is, in a sense both were right and both were wrong.
MAUGHAN: That’s such a nice way to handle it. Like, “Oh, we’re all right, we’re all wrong. Look at us.”
DUCKWORTH: It’s all good. So here’s what Gilovich and Medvec on one side were arguing. They argued that quote, “People regret actions more in the short term and inactions more in the long run, because the sting of regrettable action diminishes relatively quickly, whereas the pain of regrettable inaction lingers longer,” unquote. And that’s what you said.
MAUGHAN: See, I think this is why I was so surprised when you said that you regret action more because, I mean, in their words, that tends to diminish over time.
DUCKWORTH: Well, okay, but let me give you Kahneman side.
MAUGHAN: Oh, okay, okay. Because of course, you’re going to side with Danny.
DUCKWORTH: And by the way, I wasn’t talking about, like, all of humanity. Whenever scientists say things like, “People generally regret actions more here.” The thing to remember is that that never applies to everyone. Okay, but here’s what Danny Kahneman said, “Kahneman disagreed, arguing that people’s long-term regrets of inaction are largely wistful and therefore not terribly troublesome.” So, on one side of the debate, the idea is that you’ve got this thing that you didn’t do — a regret of inaction or regret of omission — like “woulda, coulda, shoulda.” And then you’ve got Kahneman on the other side that says like, “Yeah, you know, these are just wistful. They’re not the strong regrets that we have.” And so, what they did was the simplest possible set of studies. You know, I asked you about a regret. You told me about for simplicity’s sake, the regret of clicking on this link and making an impulsive decision that, upon reflection, maybe you wouldn’t have made. If that’s true, let me just ask you some of the questions that, in this 1998 paper, they had actually a checklist. When you realized that your account had been hacked and you had made a stupid decision, to what extent do you feel “angry, ashamed, disgusted, embarrassed, frustrated, guilty, and irritated”? I’ll just give you the whole list at once. But you know, how much do those emotions feel like, “Yeah, that’s how I felt?”
MAUGHAN: So, overall, I think my first reaction was just I felt sort of gutted, because I was mostly worried, “What if I lose my journal for the last decade?” Which, I realized probably should have printed out or had some — I don’t know how to have a backup. I’m sure there’s a way. But first I was gutted. And then I felt — on a level of, like, angry, I wasn’t at 10 at all, but I was just more frustrated, like, I can’t believe I did that. I’m so dumb. I mean, I immediately called my sister, and she is younger and smarter in technology in terms of how to use social media. So, she’s talking me through it, and while I’m on the phone with her, I am getting all of these text messages and phone calls. And every new one that comes in, I’m sort of laughing, but in a very embarrassed state. Like, gosh darn it, every single person knows.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, almost blushing, right? Were you blushing?
MAUGHAN: Yes. It was sort of this anger, frustration, embarrassment. And I need to immediately go into action to fix this. And I think often when we do something we regret, it’s, “Okay, how do I fix this immediately?” And then when I realized I couldn’t, it was sort of this — I realize we’re talking about an Instagram account, so let’s just put this in context with the word — but a bit of “despair” where you just kind of sit back and say, “Okay, I made a mistake. I tried to fix it. Everything I’m doing isn’t working. And so, I now need to accept the consequences. I need to give this some time, and I need to call in some other people to help fix this.” And weirdly, as we’re talking through this, it feels like this is actually how most regrets of action happen. And if it’s not fixable in the moment, then you just kind of sit back and say, “Okay, sometimes regrets of action take time to heal.”
DUCKWORTH: Okay, so let me — before you make general statements about, you know, the nature of regret for all human beings, let me —.
MAUGHAN: I have just defined it.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, but you haven’t even finished the experiment. And Danny Kahneman would not be happy if you only answered the questions that Gilovich and Medvec put into the study. So, he gets his say. He wants you, Mike, thinking about that moment when you clicked on the erroneous link, to what extent did you feel the following wistful emotions? So, did you feel contemplative? Did you feel nostalgic? Did you feel sentimental? Did you feel, literally, wistful? Any of those ring true?
MAUGHAN: Sometimes you talk about your first response and second response. I think the emotions Danny talks about came in my second response, which is once I’d sort of given way to the fact that maybe I had lost this thing — maybe my actions had resulted in a permanent loss of what I’ll just call my journal, then I did become somewhat nostalgic and contemplative, because I was thinking through, “Okay, there are all these memories, all these things that I’ve written, all these moments in my life that I’ve documented.”
DUCKWORTH: But then probably regretted the inaction of saving your Instagram account, not the action of clicking on the fraud link.
MAUGHAN: Right, I regretted the inaction of not having put on two-factor authentication.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, everybody, everybody just stop what you’re doing and put two-factor authentication on all the things you have been too lazy to put two-factor authentication on.
MAUGHAN: I know. And you know what the hackers did?
MAUGHAN: They immediately put on two-factor authentication, and they had the authenticator, so I can’t get back in.
MAUGHAN: So, they did a great job.
DUCKWORTH: So look, this is what the conclusion of this adversarial collaboration on regret of action and inaction was. I quote from their joint paper: “The adverse consequences of inaction often take longer to manifest themselves than the adverse consequences of actions,” unquote. And that matches your experience, Mike, right? So, first you had this this kind of suite of “hot” emotions from what you did. And then, you know, maybe the consequences of the inaction of never saving your Instagram in the first place, that, you know, has a different time course. So, right there you’ve got some of the greatest minds in social science nodding in agreement to you. But let me continue to the very crux of what they were really in debate about. So again, to quote, “Gilovich and Medvec” — and this is them writing about themselves in third person: “Gilovich and Medvec agree that like ice cream, regret comes in different flavors and that many regrets of inaction are more wistful and therefore less bothersome than their original research on the subject implied.” That’s them conceding the point, by the way. They’re like, “Eh, Kahneman sort of showed us something,” right? That many regrets of inaction are more wistful and less bothersome than, say regrets of action. But they continue: “They still believe, however, that long-term regrets of inaction are truly painful for many individuals and that the pain centers around the feelings of despair documented in the research reported here.” And just one more thing before I stop quoting them like the Bible here: “To use a combat metaphor, inaction regrets are more troublesome in the long term because they tend to be the last ones still standing.”
MAUGHAN: Yeah. Does that ring true to you?
DUCKWORTH: The idea that, you know, you have these, like, “hot” emotions — and by the way, as you know, Mike, I feel like emotions are always signals. And like a smoke alarm, you know, it can sometimes be, “Oh, don’t worry, there isn’t actually a fire.” But like a smoke alarm, you know, it has a purpose. So when you experience the emotion of regret, I think you should ask yourself, “What is the signal? What did I do wrong and what did I maybe not do that I should have done?” And so the whole underlying theme of regret is it’s a signal that you should maybe correct things in some way. You either need to kind of fix a mistake you made or take an action that you omitted. I think that rings true and I kind of want to answer the question for myself. But let me just say the thing that leaps to mind, right?
MAUGHAN: I mean, I think it’s only fair that you also have to share your regrets.
DUCKWORTH: The reason I was hesitating is, — I hope it’s, like, not too hard to follow — but the anticipated regret of it has actually changed my life in a way that I think is good. So, that’s massively complicated. Let me just tell you that I read a short story by Raymond Carver, and it was called, “A Small, Good Thing.” Have you heard of Raymond? He’s way cooler than The Butthole Surfers, by the way. Do you know who I’m talking about?
MAUGHAN: I’m so sorry. I’m very excited to learn.
DUCKWORTH: Okay, so Raymond Carver died at age 50, but before he died, he was one of the truly great American fiction writers. And his genre was the short story. I think he died of maybe lung cancer. But he was a raging alcoholic. He had, actually, a very tumultuous life. But let me just tell you about the cautionary tale that “A Small, Good Thing” was for me. In brief, “A Small, Good Thing” is a story of a little boy who dies on his birthday — gets hit by a hit-and-run driver. I read this story. I think I was in my — I want to say my early 20s, like, I had a license to drive a car. But I, you know, always was a little insecure about my driving ability. I read that story, Mike, and that in that moment I said, “As soon as I don’t have to drive a car, I’m going to stop driving, because I never want to be the driver who kills a small child who steps off a curb on their birthday.” And, you know, I couldn’t have anticipated, but then Uber was invented, and whenever Uber came to Philadelphia, I — whatever that day was — I should Google it — that was the day I stopped driving. I have not driven a car since. It’s gotta be at least, I think, a decade. So, here is a story that is a story of regret, but it was the regret that I avoided. I guess it was a regret of action that I avoided by reading a Raymond Carver short story.
MAUGHAN: I actually have read that story. I now remember. I regret that you made me feel bad that I didn’t know who Raymond Carver was. So, you didn’t either do anything or not do anything. You have just placed yourself in a point of total abdication of responsibility and that you will never have to be in that situation.
DUCKWORTH: I really, seriously, like, I think about it more than you would imagine. I really, really, really never want to have the regret. That’s why I don’t drive.
MAUGHAN: Yeah. I’ve never — I knew you didn’t drive.
DUCKWORTH: You know I don’t drive. I want to ask listeners the question that I just asked you, Mike. Tell me something you regret, something you did, something you didn’t do. Tell us your name and where you’re from and record a voice memo in a quiet place, yada, yada, yada, put your mouth close to the phone, and tell us what you learned. Email your voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com, and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. One way or another, you won’t regret sending it.
MAUGHAN: I do wonder if people will regret sending it though.
DUCKWORTH: No, they won’t. It’ll be awesome.
MAUGHAN: Okay, let me share with you my favorite quote I’ve ever read or listened to or heard on the topic of regret. And it comes, surprisingly, from Trevor Noah, the South African comic, who you might think is just comedic and funny. But he wrote a book called Born a Crime, and it’s a very thoughtful, serious look at his life. And in there he says this: “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done in my life, any choice that I’ve made, but I’m consumed with regret for the things I didn’t do, the choices I didn’t make. The things I didn’t say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most because failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.”
DUCKWORTH: Oh my God, that is so beautiful, Trevor Noah.
MAUGHAN: Yes, failure’s an answer. Rejection’s an answer. I, I remember — I will never forget. I was living in Arizona. I was working in this office building. I took the elevator down several floors. It’s the summer in Arizona. I had a private office. Don’t know why I felt the need to go outside. I just did. I’m sweating profusely. And I called this woman that I had dated years before and was still in love with. She was still single, and I talked to her for half an hour. We hadn’t caught up in ages and, you know, I don’t have the guts to say anything. I went back up to my office, I sat there, and I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” I went back downstairs, out into the hot Arizona summer sun at noon, called her back, like, three minutes after calling her the first time, and she’s like, “Hello?” And I just said, I — you know, very appropriately, but, “I never stopped loving you.”
DUCKWORTH: Mike, I’ve never heard this story before. What?
MAUGHAN: Anyway, she so sweetly just said, “Hey, I loved our time together. I’m so grateful for you and what you meant in my life, and da da da.”
DUCKWORTH: Oh, now I’m wilting. Oh, I got so excited there! This was like going to be a romcom. This is not the ending I wanted.
MAUGHAN: To hell with romcoms, because I legit thought, “No, no, no, no, no. What happens now is she says yes.” Anyway, it’s fine because here’s what I’ll say: rejection is an answer. And I am so grateful, to this day — I mean, it’s been years — so grateful to this day that I took the risk and called her and got the rejection, because I got my answer. And it allows you to move on.
DUCKWORTH: And even when you fail, failure is an answer.
MAUGHAN: Failure is an answer.
DUCKWORTH: And you know what? It’s good to be told this because I sometimes get confused. I’m like, “Oh God, this stings.” But in the long run, you know, the roads not taken that we should have tried, those are probably the ones to really worry about in the moment so that we can be more intentional in how we live our lives.
MAUGHAN: Let me, in closing, share with you one thing I don’t regret. Can I do that? It was a dumb decision. It was so stupid. So you and I, in 2020, at the beginning of quarantine, started making these YouTube videos, right? For parents and teachers.
DUCKWORTH: Oh God, do remember that. I know I forget almost everything about our friendship, but I do remember making pandemic videos for parents. Didn’t we record them, like, at some ungodly early hour of the day?
MAUGHAN: Well, for me, not you. You were two hours later.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, yes. It was two hours more ungodly for you.
MAUGHAN: Yes. But yes, we did. And we had recorded them. And if you’ll remember, everyone’s home and quarantined and all the men are like growing these amazing beards, or mustaches, or whatever. And I am keeping up my appearance because we’re recording YouTube videos and people can see us and I feel like I can’t do what everybody else is doing. We finish recording and I decide, “Man, everybody else has gotten to do something cool. What do I want to do?” And so I decide that I’m going to, as a person in my late thirties, I’m going to bleach my hair platinum blonde so I bleach my hair and you know, I think, well, I’m not going to see anybody. And then very quickly I realize I’m on Zoom calls every day with Arianna Huffington, and the N.B.A. execs, and blah, blah, blah. Right? I get a call from my boss, and he said, “Hey, are you blonde?” And I said, “Yes, yes, I am blonde.” Anyway, so I’m driving up to Park City, meeting with my family in this park, and they have not seen it. And so, we park, I get out of my car, my brother and his family get out of their car. My brother Mark turns around and just looks at me and then he says, “Mike, if it’s a cry for help, let us know. Otherwise, cool.”
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. This is the best thing to say.
MAUGHAN: And that was his whole reaction. And I thought, you know, it’s not a cry for help. I do think it’s absolutely a quarantine crisis, but I’ll tell you what I learned.
DUCKWORTH: What’d you learn?
MAUGHAN: Nothing bad happened. It was so fun. It was stupid. I look back at the pictures and I look ridiculous, but I ended up moving to California that summer. I did a house swap. So, I’m in Southern California, I’m on the beach. I have blonde hair. And I think sometimes we also tend to catastrophize what will happen if we do X or Y thing. And so, I guess what I would say in ending is: take a little risk. Try something. Bleach your hair.
DUCKWORTH: Bleach your hair platinum.
MAUGHAN: No failure is ever final.
DUCKWORTH: Click on that link. Click on the g*****n link!
MAUGHAN: No. Okay. Well. Don’t, don’t, ohh gosh.
DUCKWORTH: Whatever it is, it’ll be fine.
MAUGHAN: Don’t click on the link. But take a risk. If you’ve been wanting to do something, you know what? You’re going to regret if you don’t try. So go ahead and take a chance.
This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Katherine Moncure, with help from our production associate, Lyric Bowditch. And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation. Early in the conversation, Angela says she can’t remember the day Uber came to Philadelphia. Uber launched in Philadelphia on June 6, 2012. That’s it for the fact-check.
Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts about last week’s episode on high expectations:
Dante HALE: Hi NSQ crew. As someone who wore, then aggressively shed, the label of gifted child, I subscribe to the philosophy that’s absolutely okay to be average. I’m good at what I do and somehow still blissfully happy not being Kevin Hart or Marc Maron and the heavy, heavy weight of the expectation that comes with that. I don’t have a fandom and few have ever heard of me in advance of my shows. It’s better that way, so I can form my own relationship with audiences and pleasantly surprise them with my material. I’m just a firm believer that if everybody’s extraordinary, nobody’s extraordinary, but you can be unique in your own way and happy with that.
Betsy LASKOWSKI: Hi there. This is Betsy from the Netherlands. My wife and I moved over here about seven years ago, and one of the things that we noticed almost immediately was the Dutch don’t glorify “busy” like we used to do in America. And I feel like some of the, “Is it okay to be mediocre?” has a lot to do with the company you keep. So, we work hard, and we have a nice life, but there is not that drive, to constantly achieve and to excel. And we’re not seen as lazy. We’re seen as enjoying life.
ANONYMOUS: When I was a child, my mother really ranted about mediocrity a lot. She did not want me to be mediocre. That was like the worst sin possible. and that’s why I developed perfectionist tendencies, which took a long time to eradicate in myself. I am happy to report I’m happily mediocre, but what I’ve learned is that the most important thing in life is not excellence, is not happiness, it’s health. If you don’t have your health, just forget about it. Nothing else really matters.
That was, respectively, Dante Hale, Betsy Laskowski, and a listener who asked that we not use their name. Thanks so much to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear about something you regret. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. Let us know your name and whether you’d like to remain anonymous. You might hear your voice on the show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: Angela and Mike discuss why we find beauty in nature.
MAUGHAN: People are always like, “Oh, go toward the mountains.” And I just want to punch them in the face a little bit.
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne and we had research help from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our senior producer is Rebecca Lee Douglas. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: “Sweat loaf” or meatloaf?
- Raymond Carver, 20th-century American short story writer and poet.
- Thomas Gilovich, professor of psychology at Cornell University.
- Danny Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
- Victoria Husted Medvec, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University.
- Trevor Noah, comedian and writer.
- “In the Pursuit of Scientific Truth, Working With Adversaries Can Pay Off,” by Michele W. Berger (Penn Today, 2022).
- “Q & A with Angela Duckworth,” by Angela Duckworth and Mike Maughan (Qualtrics, 2020).
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah (2016).
- “Varieties of Regret: A Debate and Partial Resolution,” by Thomas Gilovich, Victoria Husted Medvec, and Daniel Kahneman (Psychological Review, 1998).
- “A Small, Good Thing,” by Raymond Carver (1981).