in Me, Myself, and I

Slacking, staycation, and the Optimism Bias

Me in pink shirt on the right, trying my best to dig myself out of a hole during a short seminar sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Manila in August 2019. Facilitators include Nick Phythian (left, standing) and Pulitzer Prize winner Manny Mogato (center, standing). (Photo by Emmanuele Parra/Thomson Reuters)

Immediately after I quit my job last year, I looked forward to a month of staying in the Great Indoors and do absolutely nothing.

You got that right, San Mig Light: nothing — just laying about, lollygagging, drifting in and out, like a vegetable fitted with a mediocre human mind (i.e., a set of string beans with brains, a drunkard with an intense hangover, a certain Philippine president, etc.)

In short, I looked forward to replicating the lifestyle of President Duterte but without A) hogging the mic at a karaoke bar after dark; B) disappearing for days on end; and C) blowing snot into the nearest available shirt sleeve, Barong Tagalog or otherwise.

In any case, after I submitted my resignation, I yearned for 30 days of inactivity — no bad vibes, bad news, bad trips, bad grammar, and most importantly, bad breath (mainly mine).

During that time, I would read (Granta magazines), listen to podcasts (NPR’s Hidden Brain; best episode so far: One Head, Two Brains); or watch Netflix shows (The Inbetweeners, Ozark, and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson).

Never have I imagined that taking an extended vacation would be harder than keeping up with Facebook trolls, mainly Diehard Duterte Supporters (DDS) who should be ignored.

The reason why trolls get so angry when you block them, and they call you a coward, blah blah etc etc is you're denying…

Posted by Robles Alan on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This is because three days after I left my arguably cushy job, I found myself being pulled back in, just like this character in The Godfather, a movie that I have yet to see in full, a confession that has caused my friends to gnash their teeth in disbelief.

Anyway: seventy-two hours after I left corporate media, I got asked to join a project which, in effect, ruined my planned, month-long staycation. I was easy. I bit.

And that, my friends, illustrated my optimism bias, defined by the Changing Minds website as the tendency to believe that we are likely to be successful than actual probabilities predict.

“We tend to be more optimistic about our own chances than we do about other people,” the website said. [See: Optimism Bias]

When I quit, I expected to lie low for a month, just like the true slacker that I was. Instead, it later looked like I took a short, three-day break to move from one job to another.

Not that I’m not complaining.

After all, the project offered a modest paycheck, covered expenses, and allowed me and my co-workers to go on trips out of town and visit places we would not otherwise consider.

When I agreed to take it on, I was confident that I would be able to wrap everything up months before the due date. I allegedly had enough experience and expertise to know my way around the task of beating a deadline. [See: Dunning-Kruger effect]

However, life (such as it was) had other tricks up its sleeve.

Less than a month into the job, the project’s focus shifted. It expanded exponentially and quickly and, as a result, had made me feel that I was way in over my head (especially since the work involved science and statistics.)

"The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary."— Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes

Posted by Robert JA Basilio Jr. on Tuesday, August 14, 2018

To make matters more interesting, some of us, while working on the project, had changed their respective relationship statuses on Facebook.

One fell out of love, another jumped right into it, and the others relished the excitement of both but only vicariously.

Fortunately enough, the personal didn’t get in the way of the professional.

Neither did that help us any, now that I think about it.

Despite having been blown away by an amazing person whom I now call my partner, I was able to finish what I was supposed to do. Except that it was submitted six months after the deadline and practically one year after I took on the job.

That sound familiar? Yes.

The missed deadline — one of a few in my so-called career — again underscored my optimism bias.

Which, having said that, isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds.

Being optimistic, done moderately, can be useful, especially in explaining risky decisions that yield beneficial results. (But then again, that falls within the realm of luck and the narrative fallacy. [See: Narrative Fallacy] To paraphrase the disclaimer, usually written in small print, in Mutual Fund brochures: Past performance is not indicative of future results.)

If I wasn’t optimistic enough to believe that there was something out there that was better than the day job, I wouldn’t have the courage to quit it. And if I hadn’t left it, I certainly wouldn’t have gotten the project and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy its flexible schedule.

Simply put, if I hadn’t risked it, my life would have been quite the same, toiling in a corner cubicle, counting the hours wasting away.

Nowadays, my disposition is supposedly more pleasant.

I now have someone to hold my hand (and occasionally give me a whack on the head if I go over the deep end, which I still sometimes do).

Am I being too cheerful? Too positive? Too upbeat?


You know what that means: optimism bias.

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