How To Pan For Gold In Rivers Of Sh*T

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Listening to him talk was like panning for gold. He’d go on for hours, mostly about himself, or about one of his new girlfriends half his age. We used to be my boss.

He’d pull into work an hour late in his Porsche convertible, wearing some terrible Tommy Bahama shirt. He’d call me into his office and I’d have to sit there, sifting through miles of mud and needless chatter before anything that resembled relevance would shine through.

But when he finally would, it would be gold.

Despite the constant river of sh*t flowing out of his mouth, my old boss managed to come up with one fantastic idea a year. All the board members knew that if they were patient, eventually one of his long-winded ramblings would produce something that would drive sales and revenue farther than the year before.

We’ve all heard how it’s the getting past failure that leads to success. That overcoming hardship keeps us strong and resilient. “It’s the highs and lows of life that hold the answers.” -fortune cookie wisdom.

But what about all the time spent in the middle? The seemingly useless chatter of the world. What lessons hide in the ether of everyday monotony?

After a few years of sitting and listening to him talk, between contemplating jumping out the window or cutting my ears off, I walked away with some valuable lessons. The most valuable was this:

You can pan for gold anywhere.

Happiness and heartbreak are great teachers, but irrelevance and boredom are no slouches either. It’s recognizing the opportunity to learn in situations that seem pointless that’s valuable. That’s where we spend most of our time — drifting between the highs and lows of life.

Hearing crazy ideas, practicing patience, collecting random pieces of other people’s awkward little puzzles — that’s the stuff that compounds over time and leads to wisdom.

4 ways to pan for gold in rivers of sh*t (and everywhere else too)

Stop Talking

Gold nuggets of wisdom like to hide in-between small talk and incoherent rambling. You have to be on the lookout. You have to listen. That’s why I try not to talk too much* When I’m talking, that’s time I can’t listen.

*My girlfriend insists I talk entirely too much, at all times. Especially when she’s trying to fall asleep.

Use Quantity to Find Quality

Ask any photographer — it takes hundreds of frames before the golden photo is taken.

Woody Allen keeps dozens of pieces of paper with one sentence movie ideas in a drawer next to his bed. When he’s ready to make his next film, he goes through each one until he finds something that has a glimmer of hope and builds a screenplay from there.

There’re thousands of great books in the world, yet often times it takes 200 pages before that one passage strikes a match and lights up a new room in your brain.

If you want a bottomless pit of fresh inspiration to build off, you have to cast a wide net. Talk to more people. Read more books. Think of more ideas. You have to get to the good stuff.

Learn What Not To Do

Next time you’re stuck in a dull conversation or awkward encounter, stop and think about what it is that’s putting you off. Is the other person oversharing? Poor body language?

Don’t let boring situations turn into a waste of time. Identify other people’s missteps, then do the opposite.

Ask The Right Questions

Everyone has at least one redeeming feature. Find it. Poke at them with a stick until they give up their gold. A secret to doing this is to first share something about yourself. Tell them an embarrassing story.

The law of reciprocity is usually enough to trigger the other person into giving up something that will at least be good for a laugh.

Don’t ask what their favorite show is on Netflix. Ask them the last time they created something. Ask them, “What’s one thing that would make your life better right now?”

You never know, one of their terrible ideas might meet one of yours and explode into a halfway decent idea you can share.


Subscribe to my newsletter and get weekly articles on how to connect, create, and accomplish (like a human).