You live in a society of panderers. Everyone is trying to sell you a dream. 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.
Equality is Impossible
“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.
Things Will Never Be the Way They “Should” Be
“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.
Sometimes the Ball Just Doesn’t Bounce Your Way
“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.
This Possibility Will Always Exist
“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 up front 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 fade. 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.
Ayodeji is the author of Real Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement