Healthy Friction: When You Want Something, All The Universe Conspires Against You

As a kid, whenever I wanted something for myself, my father turned it into a challenge. If I aced in my exams, or if I woke up at 6 for a week, or did yoga with him for a month, then he would consider what I was asking for. This one time he challenged me to not skip school for a whole year. Since I loved going to school and rarely fell sick, it was a fairly easy challenge.

We weren’t rich, so my dad made sure that every penny he spent was an investment in me—in some way or the other. The benefit of creating challenges for me was twofold: I not only tried to bring in good grades and build healthy habits, I also learnt the importance of deserving my gifts. You cannot get anything just because you want it. You have to earn your pay. You should deserve it!

From an early childhood I believed that I can get anything I want, as long as I’m willing to work for it. Putting me up for challenges was my father’s way of creating a “healthy friction” to test my conviction. Do I really want it? How much do I want it? How hard am I willing to work for it?

As I grew up I started to realise that a healthy amount of friction is present in all walks of life—you don’t get something just by asking. You have to overcome the friction first. Friction is there in many forms—other people, your own shortcomings, the market, natural calamity, and more.

Overcoming friction involves hard work, clear thinking, articulation, persuasion, and a lot of grit. It’s not always easy, but to be honest, it makes living all the more fun. Truth is, you can get anything you want from life. The ask is always free, but you have to put in work for the rest.

I see the Healthy Friction framework as the opposite of what Paolo Coelho said. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” In real life, when you want something, the universe creates friction to test your conviction. It challenges you to see how far you are willing to go.

In business meetings, no matter how good your idea is, no matter how rational your thinking is, you still have to put in a lot of effort to convey it’s efficacy. Just saying it never cuts it. There might be arguments thrown at you whose stupidity might amaze you. There might be sly insults thrown at you that’ll make you uncomfortable. See them as challenges to test your drive, character, and conviction. Overcome them with gusto. If you do your homework well, this is bound to become easy.

It’s the same in public speaking, marketing, debates, and discussions—whenever you are trying to change something, whenever you are trying to move away from the norm, you will have to overcome friction. The world isn’t going to give you everything in a platter just because you asked for it.

For a long time I had tried to avoid conflicts and disagreements in all situations. My ideal discussions and debates were those where everybody gets my point as soon as I mention them. There are no questions, no opinion differences, no doubts, no counter points—just plain consensus. It was wishful thinking. It took me quite some time to realise just how naive I was.

If this ever happened, it would mean that I’m working with a bunch of dumb yes men. There’s no scope of growth without challenges. Without sharp opposition, one is bound to become blunt. The friction created by smart people and their opinions keep us sharp.

In a16z, the VC firm run by Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, both of them give each other hell whenever one brings in a deal. Not because they don’t trust each other, but because creating friction by questioning ideas, challenging preconceived notions, and opposing opinions is a healthy way of judging the matter at hand.

In real life, if you are going to change things, you’ll face some opposition. If you are going to work with others, there would be clashes. If you are going to work with smart people, there would be differences in opinions, and there would be debates. No matter how obvious or how awesome your suggestions are, people would still have concerns; and that’s okay. These are healthy dollops of friction to make sure that your ideas, thoughts, opinions, and plans have a strong footing.

The world is wicked. It’s time you accept it. It will always create friction for you in one way or the other. The world likes order, and if you try to change things, it conspires against you. The intelligent thing to do is to work with the world. Welcome the friction. Be prepared for it when it knocks your door. You’ll have more challenges, but fewer problems.

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