On January 19, 2006, NASA launched the space probe New Horizons. The primary mission was to do a flyby of Pluto. On July 14, 2015, it did. “New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey,” NASA explained the day the probe made its approach to Pluto, “took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006.” ¹
NASA predicted New Horizons’ decade-long journey with 99.99998% accuracy. ² Before launch, NASA was 99.99998% sure about what the next ten years held for New Horizons.
Can you imagine? If life were more like astrophysics? If you could know how a decision would shake out with 99.99998% accuracy? If before you started a business or wrote a book or quit a job, you were 99.99998% sure it’d all work out?
When I told Ryan Holiday I wanted to start writing on this site, I told him I was just waiting until I knew for certain what I wanted to write about. I told him I started a Google Doc where I’d been writing potential posts to see if any patterns or themes emerged. “Just start,” he said. “You’re trying to map out the whole game. You can only dial up the first couple plays.”
He then reminded me of the line from Robert Greene, “The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.” ³
We like certainty. We’d like to see the whole game mapped out before we decide if we’d like to play or not. We’d like the thing we are thinking about doing to be like a trip to Pluto. We want to be 99.99998% sure that the article is good before we publish it. That the party’s going to be fun before we go. That the joke will land before we take it on stage.
Jerry Seinfeld has told a lot of jokes on a lot of stages. If you were to ask me to name a comedian who is certain about their material before going on stage, I would have said Jerry Seinfeld. But then I heard this…
Interviewer: Before you try it on stage, how do you know if something’s funny?
Jerry: You don’t.
I: You just trust yourself?
J: No you don’t. There’s no trust. 8 or 9 times out of 10, it’s not going to work.
Every time he goes on stage, he said, he tries some new material. If it works, he tells it the next night. If it doesn’t work, he tweaks it or drops it. If you’ve seen him on TV or Netflix—“What you see is what worked. But you’re only seeing 1.5% of what I’ve tried.” ⁴
Jerry Seinfeld can forecast with 1.5% accuracy. He published a book titled with the question every comedian says to every other comedian about a new bit, Is this anything? He says there’s a follow-up question when you see that comedian later, Did it get anything? “All comedians are slightly amazed when anything works.” ⁵
So I’m trying to remind myself that most things are more like comedy than astrophysics. That you can’t be certain. That it’s not a trip to Pluto. That you can’t be 99.99998% sure. And that needing to be is the greatest disease the mind faces—it will prevent you from doing anything.
 I first learned about New Horizons’ Pluto flyby in The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
 Mastery by Robert Greene
 Jerry Seinfeld | Sunday Sitdown with Willie Geist
 Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld
Thank you to Greg Shildkrout and Katie McKenzie for reading drafts of this. Your feedback made it 99.99998% better.