life concepts

7 Concepts to Grasp the Fullness of Life

Everyone should have their toolbox of concepts to pull from.

When you’re anxious, worried, lost or overwhelmed, it helps to be able to draw from a repertoire or ideas and ways of relating to life, so that we get a more constructive perspective on reality. It’s not a way of lying to yourself, but of framing the context in a better light. Like putting on a pair of glasses to calibrate your vision, a good concept applied correctly can uplift your life.

These are the ones I use more often and they help me break out of unproductive mindsets.



Bookshelves full of books

You’re probably familiar with this concept. The term was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It refers to one’s collection of books that will probably never be read. The Japanese have a similar concept, called tsundoku, which means the piling up of books without reading them.

I have accepted the harsh truth: I won’t ever be able to read all the books I want. Rarely does a day go by that my list of “books to read” doesn’t grow. So does my antilibrary. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle of discovering a new topic which then opens up the floodgates to all the books covering it. Which then makes me learn about a new thing, and the cycle begins again.

I’m not so much a physical book buyer, I prefer to get my books in digital format. Currently the number is close to 400 and climbing. If all of these were in physical form, I’d probably run out of space in my apartment pretty soon.

I used to be demoralized by the sheer amount of works that are waiting to be consumed. But once I made peace with the idea that I won’t ever get through all the volumes that interest me, I began to see the pile of unread documents on my computer in a new light. They’re a testament of my ignorance. It’s not a pretty thought, but it’s a sobering one. It humbles me. The books that I didn’t yet have a chance to read (and the ones that I probably won’t ever get to) stand as a monument of my finite condition and a reminder to stay humble.

There’s also an eerie comfort in knowing there’s an inexhaustible body of knowledge and wisdom to tap into, which will never get depleted, but will continue to flourish long before I’m gone.

So if you’re like me and get high on books, don’t let the colossal volume weigh you down, but let it energize you into a love for learning. Remember also that not all that’s out there is worth reading.


Pictoresque narrow street on a summer day

Serendipity can be seen as a happy accident. It’s a combination of luck and circumstance. Being in the right place at the right time. Finding things one was not looking for.

We’ve all experienced this. Either out in the world, or on the internet. Stumbling upon a whimsical cafe, discovering a little gem of a website or finding a forgotten heirloom in the attic. All these encounters have the power to change us a bit as people.

I’ve been thinking about serendipity and how it comes about. It invites playfulness, curiosity and openness. Without exploration, there’s nothing to find. I find it useful to be reminded of this concept when I have second thoughts about a project or feel like what I’m doing won’t lead anywhere. Serendipity is at play in whatever we do, we just need to cultivate it through curiosity and wonder.

Serendipity works both ways. We mustn’t always think of it as when we happen to come across something amazing, but it can also be directed at us. We can be that “something amazing” that someone else finds. Or our work.

So remember that the trail you leave behind might lead people to you. Your body of work, your shared thoughts, your projects, all are leaving traces that act as magnets for other people. I’m not that concerned with the number of followers of visitors to my website because I treat it as a “serendipity vehicle” (as David Perell would say).


Red tape that read "fragile" in different languages

Another “anti” concept coined by Nasim Nicholas Taleb. This one is explored in an entire book.
Antifragile describes the systems that gain from stress, instead of being damaged by it. Not only aren’t they deteriorating, but those systems grow stronger and get more consolidated.

Just like (most) vaccines works by introducing antibodies into the patient’s system so that they will trigger an immune response, thus making the body more resilient to the actual disease, so do other events strengthen the entity they disrupt.

I bring this concept to mind whenever I feel like I’m being pulled out of my “comfort zone.” I like to think of the new stimulus, such as giving a talk or lifting more weight than before, as a means of surfacing any weaknesses and growing resilience.

Any chaos that’s introduced into the system (such as a person or a business) is going to reveal imbalances, weak points and deficiencies. We should invite such disruptions because they can provide meaningful data on the current state.

Wu Wei

A feather

Wu Wei is an ancient Chinese concept meaning “effortless action.” It’s linked with the philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism. You can imagine it as a state of unfolding spontaneity. It’s been discussed by Alan Watts as “the art of getting out of one’s own way.” Although this concept was also linked to politics and ruling a state, I’m only going to analyze it through the lens of modern day living.

I’ve been fascinated with the idea of wu wei because it seems to go against the cultural ethos of our times of “hustling” and being in a perpetual state of action. As much as persuasion and exertion are necessary to make strides, I think we can fall into the other extreme, pushing things too hard.

Whenever I undertake a challenging task, I like to ask myself: “What would this look like if it were easy?” I think this encapsulates the essence of wu wei. Greg Mckeown explores the nature of effortless action in Effortless.

It reminds me of these verses from Tao Te Ching:

Creating without possessing

Acting without expecting

Guiding without interfering.

Wabi Sabi

A collection of pink irregular plates and bowls

This is another Japanese concept. It reminds us to see beauty in imperfection. The core idea is that in nature nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.

I’ve seen an increase of people and businesses who embraced this concept in the recent years. From fashion, architecture, interior design, gardening or even cookware (as seen in the picture above). The adoption of imperfect, quirky designs may be new, but the idea behind it transcends time periods. It speaks of the appreciation that can be found in unique and unusual objects or the natural world.

Learning to contemplate the impermanence (more on that below) and imperfection of objects or nature can afford profound insights into the essence of the world. Just like for vintage collectors the wear and tear of an object makes it more interesting, because it reflects its life, so we can appreciate the flawed beauty in our life.


Old rusted cars in a field

Another concept is that of impermanence. I’ve written about it in this article too. Buddhists call it “anicca.” It’s somewhat linked to wabi-sabi, because impermanence was a core part of it.

No one steps into the same river twice. (Heraclitus)

This idea is found both in Eastern and Western philosophies and commands us to consider the ephemeral nature of everything, both good and bad, pleasant or unpleasant. It may not seem like the most uplifting thought, but it’s an unavoidable part of reality that can put a lot of things into perspective.

I think we’d be a lot happier if we noticed the exact moment when our negative feelings dissipate. We always sense when a negative emotion has arisen, but we very often fail to acknowledge when it passes away. We seem to think that we’re under the spell of anger or sadness for much longer than we actually are.

I try to bring impermanence to mind not only when things are going badly, but when they’re going well. It’s a reminder to not get attached to the present conditions. A reminder of the ebb and flow of life.

Amor Fati

Woman with the back to the camera, in a field, at sunset

Amor fati is “love of fate” in Latin. It means to love and welcome everything that happens in one’s life. This concept is found in Nietzsche’s writings as well as in the Stoic philosophy.

Epictetus, my favorite stoic, encouraged us to want things to be exactly as they are:

Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.

Amor fati is characterized by the embracing of anything that happens. We often resist the events that are unpleasant or different than what we hoped they’d be; we push them away.

  • we have a new job that is too demanding, so we constantly moan how exhausted we are
  • a friend disappointed us, so we feel bitter and hurt
  • we suffered an injury, so we see only focus on the negative parts

If we practice amor fati, we can get a new perspective on each of the events above:

  • we can be grateful for the opportunity to work and the understanding we got of ourselves: we now know the limit of how far we can be pushed
  • we can see it as an opportunity of practicing forgiveness
  • we can embrace the recovery process, and maybe explore other interests that we didn’t have time for before

Embracing every event does not mean talking yourself into liking it, or not working toward something better, if necessary. But it starts with acknowledging where you are and seeing it as a chance to grow. Since it has already happened, you might as well embrace it and go from there.

I pull out amor fati from my toolbox to help me navigate life with grace and gratitude.

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