Hapax Legomenon

It is that time of the year in the Pacific Northwest when the day has more hours of sunlight than darkness. It so happens that, around this time of the year I suddenly feel like I have more clarity than I did all year round. Sometime this week, I turned a year older. This is likely because of the illusion of wisdom that comes as a result of turning a year older. But, I credit it to the fact that—for better or for worse—I spend a good number of hours in the first week of May thinking about the learnings and mistakes since the previous May. I also come up with new mistakes to make—or learn from, depending on whether you're the glass half full or half empty kind.

Hapax Legomenon is a Greek phrase which means that (word) which occurs only once—within a context. It is an extension of the Zipfian distribution which in turn is a specific instance of the Power law. Hapax Legomenon is a linguistics term, but I'm going to go ahead and apply it to life. There are infinitely many experiences, a gamut of configurations any given day can take. But I posit that a large number of us share a large number of mundane experiences—going to work, doing that assignment, paying those bills, losing money on that stock. Hapax kicks in rest of the time. There's a small number of us seeking out unique experiences, and if you're one of the fortunate you're going to have experiences nobody else has ever had, and nobody else will.

Low expectations help me easily top the experiences of one year the next. This past year has been nothing short of incredible. As was the year before compared to the year before that. This morning a friend asked me how my birthday went. My response was "Met some friends. Drank some beer. Ate some cake. Can't complain." Aside from summarizing my birthday, it was a succinct summary of how my year was. I met some wonderful people, visited a ton of great places—7 countries in Europe!, got an opportunity to eat and drink some incredible food and drinks, and overall made significant adjustments to my social circle and well-being. Then again, all of these are easy to do one better in. I could meet more people, try more kinds of food and drinks, and of course travel to more places. But the interesting part—and perhaps the most exciting part—is that there are many other dimensions in which I can accumulate and experience new things. So much so that, even if I don't do any better on the things I did this year, it wouldn't feel like a step back when I look back at the end of the year. In fact, next year might bring with it a realization that none of this matters—a phase I'm in for a few months every year—which would result in the null hypothesis; No one experience is different in a statistically significant measure from the others, any observed difference is likely an experimental error. So what's the answer if it is indeed an experimental error? Go live the next year of your life and repeat the experiment. Tweak some values, introduce new variables, go back to the damn whiteboard. Live a little. Like the famous song goes, I'll try anything once.