Here is the self-help guru everyone hates.
He’s a white man, 6 foot 3, and good looking. He has a high IQ, comes from an upper-middle-class family, and graduated from an elite university.
After writing one article, he goes viral, and builds an entire career from a random moment of success, telling you how you can have the exact same life if you followed his ‘blueprint’ for success.
Sound about right?
Jokes aside, you can’t properly think about success in a vacuum, and there’s no such thing as a perfectly repeatable formula.
You can attempt to achieve the same outcomes as me, using the same process as I did, and get entirely different results. And, it could be for a number of reasons. Worse, these reasons may not even be obvious enough to pinpoint.
That’s the thing about not just the variables of success, but the variables of life and existence in general. There are just too many variables involved.
Isolating a single variable doesn’t tell you the entire story, e.g., saying someone is unsuccessful due to what they look like. And observing the outcomes of entire systems don’t necessarily tell you how the system works, e.g., macroeconomics.
This is to say in terms of totally understanding how the work works, you’re screwed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t understand patterns that have higher odds of success.
And to follow those routes that lead to higher odds of success, you’re better off not worrying about the variables you can’t control, because you can’t control them.
Let’s look at some of them today and talk about ways to work around them.
Some people win the genetic lottery. Some people incur harsh disadvantages from birth. Most of us have a wide array of advantages and disadvantages based on nothing more than blind genetic randomness.
LeBron James didn’t earn being 6 foot 9 with the ability to jump higher than 99.99 % of human beings, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve his success.
Attractive people tend to get treated better in society. There is a debate as to whether beauty is a social construct or a deep innate preference, but the results are obvious.
Some people are flat out smarter than others. But there are different kinds of smart. Book smarts are valuable in some areas and useless in others. Same with street smarts. Some people have natural social intelligence — charisma. Mechanical intelligence — ‘good with hands’ — has value in occupations like construction where a book smart genius with terrible hand-eye coordination would fail.
I often say that each person gets a gift or set of gifts they can use to improve their lives. I never said we’re given equal gifts because we’re definitely not.
You have to use whatever gifts you’ve been given. To do that, you have to fully understand those gifts are in the first place. Most people sell themselves short. They think they need to be a gorgeous, genius, extremely charismatic person to succeed. Not true.
You can enhance yourself up to a point. You can use the gifts you have and ignore the ones you don’t have. And you can combine the unique gifts you have along with enhancing yourself to develop a rare skillset.
The punchline: don’t have a fatalistic view based on your genetics.
Just like there are unsuccessful people with genius IQs, there are wildly successful people who never graduated high school.
For every LeBron James, there are thousands of gifted athletes who don’t work hard or practice to become elite.
Some people use their genetic gifts to coast while others use their lack of gifts to work harder and get better results long-term.
Life is random and some people succeed through dumb luck. This is annoying. I know. But don’t just look at luck through the lens of people who are more successful than you. Understand how lucky you are.
I talked about the genetic lottery. Let’s talk about the geographical lottery. I have a hard time being sympathetic toward most Americans. Why? Because we hit the geographical lottery. We don’t appreciate this, though, because America is all we know, so we only look at ourselves in comparison to other Americans.
What about the time lottery? Some peasant living under a feudal lord in the 1,600s, or whatever, would kill to live your life of relatively abundant material wealth. They’d probably think you were a sorcerer. The average person at the poverty line in our country lives better than kings of centuries past. Again, lost on us, but true.
But back to talking about your life in the present, randomness affects your life in ways that can help you and harm you. The solution? Roll with the punches and understand that success tends to occur on a long-enough time scale if you work hard.
The type of extreme success you see often has a large luck component to it, e.g., becoming a billionaire. But there is a wider range of more predictable routes to success that you have higher odds of achieving, e.g., making a living doing what you love, even if you don’t make billions.
Try to engineer luck wherever you can. The more ideas you execute, the higher your odds of getting one to work. The more connections you make, the higher odds one of those connections is valuable. If you stay in a field long enough and you have some talent, luck will tend to find you eventually.
No matter how hard you try, you can never control what other people do.
As much as I’d like to force everyone to read my articles and buy my books, I can’t, so I have to focus on writing well and persuading people. I see many writers who suffer from ‘they should get it’ disease. They think it’s the reader’s fault instead of theirs.
Of course, this applies to many areas of life.
Emotionally, you feel others should do what you want because you want them to. But they also think the same thing. So if you don’t have the same beliefs, this creates conflict.
You can’t control what people do, but if you learn to understand other people, you can influence them to do what you want them to do.
If you want to bring someone to your cause, meet them where they are at and agree on the things you can agree on.
If you want to gain customers or an audience, find the best match between what they want and what you can offer.
You can influence behavior by changing the incentive structure, e.g., FedX dramatically increasing output by switching from an hourly model to a ‘pay per boxes shipped’ model.
You can focus on changing yourself.
Have you ever considered that your beliefs might be wrong? Maybe you need to change your strategy, not the world. Perhaps the common denominator in everything that happens in your life is you. Maybe you should adopt the attitude that everything is your fault even if that’s not technically true.
All these points seek to hammer in the main point.
You don’t have much control over anything in life except for the decisions you make and how you choose to spend your time on a day to day basis.
Your attitude and beliefs will shape your decisions and how you spend your time.
Your decisions and how you spend your time, mixed with the randomness of the world, will create the results in your life.
You know this logically, but it’s hard to accept emotionally. So how do you accept it?
Look, deep down, you know more or less how your life will turn out if you continue to warp the way you see the world into a comforting yet incorrect view. You know this. I know you know this. And you know I know you know this.
Do you want to be right or get it right? Do you want a better life or do you want to cling to your ideological? Would you rather have self-righteous moral superiority or superior results?
Up to you, friend. Up to you.