“I want to punch you.”
I’ve received this comment more than a handful of times about my articles. Some people have told me they’re scared to read them. They’ll say something along the lines of, “Your article pissed me off, but you’re right.”
I could make a lot more money selling you dreams and telling you what you want to hear. But then, I’d feel guilty about it. So I prefer to tell you the truth from my perspective.
You live in a society of panderers. Everyone is trying to sell you a dream, either of quick riches or socialist utopia. I’m selling you a dream, too, don’t get me wrong, but I’m at least attempting to be objective about it. You can let me know whether or not I’m doing a good job.
If you want to be successful in this world, you must understand the world you’re living in — a mixture of massive opportunity and cruel inequality, crazy upside and limited mobility, the ability to pursue but not the promise of happiness.
Life is beautiful, tough, amazing, and shitty at the same time. Understand the important truths, though, and you can live a pretty damn good life.
“A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.” – Thomas Sowell
Human beings aren’t created equal, at all.
They have the same intrinsic value and worthiness as humans. Aside from that though, we all have advantages and disadvantages that we didn’t earn.
As much as LeBron James practices basketball, he didn’t earn being 6 foot 9 with freakish athletic ability. And he happens to play a sport that commands the attention of millions and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, which is why he makes millions.
Some people are born with more intelligence than others. And there are different types of intelligence. I’m book smart, but I’m mechanically illiterate and have poor hand-eye coordination. This is why I decided to be a writer and not a carpenter.
You get some gifts from the universe, but you also get some flaws. On top of your genetic wiring, you don’t get to choose your parents or your socio-economic status growing up. Some people start off behind others. You probably have started ahead of others.
We have a big debate in America about wealth inequality from our iPhones built with parts mined by what are essentially slaves in Africa, while we bomb poor people across the world on a daily basis, yet no one bats an eye.
Why? Because you’re wired to only think about yourself in relation to others you. The rest of the world struggling to survive? Out of sight, out of mind, Your concept of fairness and equality is self-centered.
Fight that urge and understand that you have to be you no matter what, advantages, and disadvantages included.
No politician on earth can legislate away talent, hard work, or luck. Stop waiting for it to happen.
If you live in the West and you aren’t impoverished, you have nothing to complain about and your success, or lack thereof, is on you. Sure, you were born into circumstances, but I think a few decades is enough time to catch up.
“Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome” – Charlie Munger
When dealing with other people or observing how the world works, you have to understand the power of incentives.
Incentives shape the difference between the way things are and the way you think things should be. Many people have a fatal flaw of idealism. Not optimism, but idealism. They have a view of life that doesn’t match reality.
These kind-hearted people will end up living a life of quiet desperation, waiting for the universe to all the sudden bend to their will when it never has done that for anyone, ever.
Do you catch yourself getting upset at the way others behave or the way institutions in society operate? Why? Can’t you see how they’re incentivized to behave this way?
Transnational corporations are incentivized to maximize profits for shareholders, not take care of their employees. Politicians are incentivized to do get elected and nothing more. The elites in society are incentivized to do everything possible to keep you distracted and helpless. And they’re doing a hell of a good job.
I go on social media and see all this handwringing based on idealism. Useless.
What should you do? Let these next words sink deep into the recesses of your brain.
Society itself is not incentivized for the advancement of the individual. Deal with it and focus on operating within the system as best as you can. Understand the incentives that drive you. Becoming successful is a matter of giving yourself a good enough reason to do it.
If you constantly focus on how everything in the outside world should be, you’ll never spend enough time focusing on what you should be doing.
“Thinking in bets starts with recognizing that there are exactly two things that determine how our lives turn out: the quality of our decisions and luck. Learning to recognize the difference between the two is what thinking in bets is all about.” – Annie Duke
Much of the success I’ve had in life occurred through pure luck. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but if a few chance moments never happened, I may have never become a writer. I’d like to think I would’ve figured it out eventually, but I can’t know that.
A friend asked me to write for his website and I never stopped after writing the first article. But he also asked me to write for his site because I had been posting content on my social media already. I’d been posting content because I was studying and implementing self-improvement in my life.
So while the process involved luck, I also put myself in a position to be lucky.
On a long enough time scale, you can become moderately successful at lots of things. But there’s always variance, luck, and randomness involved.
Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb explains this concept well:
“Probability is not a mere computation of odds on the dice or more complicated variants; it is the acceptance of the lack of certainty in our knowledge and the development of methods for dealing with our ignorance.”
Since you can’t predict randomness, what should you do?
You should build a life that benefits from randomness and doesn’t get ruined by it. This means focusing on opportunities with high upside and low downside. This means running enough mini-experiments throughout a lifetime to get a few to work.
For your mindset, understand that failure isn’t always your fault. Also, when you succeed, understand your success isn’t solely due to skill. Don’t believe you have the Midas touch.
I try to work hard daily and be thankful for the lucky breaks I’ve gotten. I try not to envy others who appear to have succeeded through pure luck.
Fairness isn’t a concept I think about much aside from obvious things like laws because I realize how random life is. Again, this move to legislate away the imperfections of the world just isn’t going to work. The world is too complex to fully understand.
So don’t even try.
“Life is an experiment. That’s the beauty of all of this. We’re all scientists in this giant laboratory.” – James Altucher
The idea of randomness segues into the most uncomfortable truth about self-improvement. You can do everything right and still fail. You can be a good person and still get screwed over. Hard work doesn’t perfectly correlate with worldly success, at all.
You’re not scared to fail. You’re scared to try as hard as you can and still fail. This scares you because it can reveal uncomfortable truths.
It could mean that you simply don’t have the talent or aren’t mentally equipped to pull off your goal. Or it could mean lady luck hates you. It could mean you had the right idea at the wrong time and that someone will try the same thing a bit later and become massively successful.
Are you ready for my motivational pep talk?
So the hell what. Stop thinking so much in terms of failure and success and think about life as a series of experiments. Some confirm the hypothesis and some don’t.
When you want to achieve a goal, there’s the possibility of failure. When you don’t attempt the goal at all, failure is certain. Pretty simple equation if you ask me.
So why don’t people use this logic and decide to swing for the fences all the time? Humans aren’t logical, they’re emotional. And make no mistake about it, failing and getting rejected will hurt your fucking feelings, badly.
Feelings are not easy to overcome. We are all run by them to a degree. I still have heights I’m afraid of reaching because of doubt — the fear of literally nothing. It’s stupid, I hate it, but I honor that reality and try to fight against it.
I get it, friend. I do. It would be nice to know upfront whether or not you’ll succeed, but it ain’t gonna happen. You might get your feelings hurt. But, usually, feelings and memories of failure and rejection tend to fate. Regrets don’t.
That’s how I weigh my decisions — which do I want to feel? Failure? Or regret? At least one of those options comes with a chance.
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar
I write so prolifically because I know self-help advice is ineffective. It works. I’m a product of it. But it’s ineffective based on the ROI you get for your investment in it.
I don’t pretend that you’re going to read one of my articles and change your life. Hell, you might read a few dozen of them without changing a damn thing.
So why do I still write these articles and why do you still read them? It’s your best shot. We all know dreams are lofty and few achieve them but we hold out hope for them because what the hell else are we going to do? Give up?
You’re reading this with the hopes that something I say will spark something in you that helps your life go on a bull run. While I don’t guarantee that it will happen, it definitely can happen. It happened to me.
Maybe I’m romanticizing the past, but I had an attitude that, while I knew self-improvement wasn’t effective for most people, it was going to be effective for me. That’s what you’ll have to do, too.
The inspirational content doesn’t stick all that well, but if you use it enough to build momentum in your life, you’ll create habits and a level of discipline that will stick. If you work hard, and you’re a bit lucky, there will come a day where you no longer need to read my work.
And I’ll be happy for you. I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life reading self-improvement articles. I want you to live your best life and do what you were put on this earth to do.
“Nobody cares. Work Harder.”
Back to the point earlier about politics. One thing that baffles me is the fact that some people believe politicians care about them at all. They talk as if their candidate is really on their side, that they care about them on a personal level when they don’t even care about their constituencies as a whole.
I try to understand how people behave this way. My guess? They do it because the idea that someone cares about their life enough to change it keeps them sane. If they had to contend with the fact that no one gives a fuck about them and they’re not going to personally do anything about the situation, they’d go nuts.
But the truth is that nobody cares about your life enough to change it for you. Not even your parents. Definitely not me. This trend of people trying to outsource their agency to institutions frightens me. I know what happens next when the people ask for equality and get it. Not good.
Nobody cares if you’re happy. Nobody cares about your financial prospects just like you don’t care about the slaves who make your consumer goods. Your dreams? Oh, people could really care less about those. But that’s not a bad thing.
The fact that no one cares about your dreams means you can work on them in silence while the world continues to spin. You don’t need anybody to believe in you. You don’t need a bunch of people patting you on the back for shit you haven’t done yet. Just build out the project, complete it, make it successful, then announce it later.
People only like to see the finished products. Become that product and don’t worry about what people think about you in the process. Why?
Because your friends, family, and social media followers don’t pay your bills, live your life, or spend any time in your mind. Only you do. The elites and the politicians don’t live your life either, and they’re so far removed from it that expecting them to care is ludicrous.
I’m telling you. Worrying about anything outside your sphere of influence is just a waste of your time. Take that energy you use trying to make everyone care, that energy you use imaging that everyone does care, and just direct it back at yourself.
You’ll get a ton done, trust me.
“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden
Understand how little control you have over anything that happens in your life. Since we live life through a sole perspective, we imagine we have much more power than we actually do.
You can get hit by a bus tomorrow, a virus can appear from nowhere and the government can lock you in your house, you could have a health scare, your job could phase you out just like that, the people in your life can betray you, hell, the entire world could cease to exist just from pushing a few buttons.
Let go of your need to control so you can live and create freely.
So much of this repressed and anxious energy comes from people trying to control the uncontrollable — geopolitics, macroeconomic problems, other people.
You can only control your reactions to what happens to you, the level of effort you put into your own life, the responsibility you take, etc, and you’re barely good at even doing that.
The good news? You don’t have to become great at those things to live a great life. Just get slightly better than the average person in society who takes almost no responsibility for their own success.
Get a little bit better, a little less imperfect, and a little more adaptable. That’s it.
Don’t mistake my realism for pessimism. I’m one of the most optimistic people on planet earth. I just realize what optimism can solve and what it can’t. It can’t erase the complexity and inequality in the world to zero. But it can help you get what you want.
Focus on the latter. Let others worry about the former.