Succeeding at the wrong things

               This here piece of my mind only works if you’re old enough. How old? Beats me, I can’t say. I’ve been saying for some time now success is achievable only if you’ve got enough willpower or you’re stubborn enough to ignore everybody else. Why? Take a good look around, what’s the most common defining characteristic of people? It’s not stupidity because facts don’t support that theory, it’s not genes because there’s too much evidence pointing at the exact opposite, and it’s not the social class you were born in because … well … evidence again. It’s people believing in luck, people resigned to the idea that success is not a consequence of what you do.

               God hates me, other people get all the luck, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I’m not good looking enough, I don’t know the right people, and so on.. When I was a kid I used to dream crazy theories of changing the world and becoming famous, from inventing space travel to ending world hunger. I’ve changed. Then I’ve changed again and again and again, until life hit me over the head with a brick. I woke up, sweat dripping from my head and shoulders, and realized there’s something wrong with me. I had given up on my dreams for more than a decade. It took a lot of crap to finally wake up, too. What got me wetting my bed was the fact I was all about defense. I was so brainwashed I kept it going all by myself.

               I may be wrong about success but I’m not wrong about failure – I’ve tasted too much of it to know it inside out so if I’m not really the best man to teach you about success I may be exactly what you need to avoid becoming a failure. I’m no genius, I know, but I’m rather smart. I used to go on math contests in school. I programmed computers in ASM, Pascal, Basic and C++ when the internet was rather new and my teacher only knew about DOS commands. I’ve got a master’s degree (or whatever else you want to call it). And I’ve failed so hard it was more a 50/50 chance of me going out with a bang at some point. I’ve been caught cheating by my teacher only this wasn’t on some official exam but at home, the teacher giving me supplementary tutoring. I was paying him to help me with something I struggled with and all the while I was cheating. Imagine that. You can’t, can you? But some former classmates of mine who didn’t care about grades went on to greener pastures. I was a smart failure but they were dumb successes. It scared me.

               I was scared for a long time. Oh yes, now it’s called anxiety. Panic attack. Depression. No, son, it was fear, a whole damn truck of fear. I was working, very much appreciated by my peers for the quality of my work and the ability to adapt and innovate, but dumber co-workers were promoted. I was stuck while they soared. I didn’t have that much experience with people or leadership so naturally I assumed I was the victim of somebody. When I was promoted, finally, I was in ecstasy. Only I wasn’t doing that well as a leader so I naturally assumed, like most people, that success didn’t come from my abilities but from luck. I assumed the source of success was external, not based on my work. I resigned myself to those ideas. I did have some success because apparently leadership isn’t always about how much you work but how much and how well your underlings work, only that didn’t last. Bullshit may get you to the top but won’t keep you there. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

               You see, when confronted with overwhelming evidence, the human brain tends to misfire. I didn’t have the patience to learn. Most people, especially younger folks, don’t have the patience either. We take the easy way out because it’s convenient and it doesn’t hurt that much. Just like me, people assume today is all there is, and ignore the fact that they’re going to be working for many, many years. Nobody in their early 20s is really prepared to lead teams. Nobody. Some fake it, some get lucky, but in the long run each one of them young managers will fail at something, either their careers or their personal lives. Except for a very small elite, they’ll never bounce back. Why? Because they’re trapped by habits and years of experience. Those who make it back to the top know there’s no such thing as luck, that willpower, mental discipline, hard work and pure bullheadedness is what gets them up. Those who fail always fail in the same way – they give up on becoming better and keep waiting for the “right set of circumstances” to bounce them back. They develop cognitive dissonances to deal with the situation.

               Those who believe in luck get defensive over failure. It’s not their fault they failed, just like success is not their doing. They had bad luck. They develop mental defenses and by doing that they trick themselves into redefining their goals. It’s a little strong but it’s true. Fear of failing makes them fail where it matters. You see, if I define success as the consequence of luck it means I have no control over it. If I have no control over it, I get myself to believe I’ll get lucky someday if I stay clear of monumental failures but this also makes me believe I don’t have to improve myself. Why improve myself if success comes regardless of my efforts? So all I have to do is wait and not sink deeper in crap, all I have to do is survive until my day of reckoning comes. In other words, I have to avoid drawing attention on myself by failing. This is where it really hurts – I get to believe I am a superior person, on the inside, if only those damned bosses would look deeper and they’d make me CEO in an instant. It’s like taking crap from everybody while secretly fantasizing of hitting them over the head with a big sturdy blunt instrument. What I do isn’t important, it’s who I am on the inside that matters. It’s not a big stretch of imagination to turn that into the sort of “the end justifies the means” behavior, you know. You don’t fail, you become a failure. This is what I’m trying to teach you, my older self, to avoid. Every time you try rationalize your failed experiences you give control over that pain to somebody else.

               It’s the rationalization of failure that’s making you a failure. I’m a fat, shy, undecided person believing I’d be the greatest lover since Casanova if only there’d be somebody who looked deeper and loved me for who I am. Or the greatest leader since Patton if only I’d be promoted to power. Bullshit all around. Nobody’s willing to pay my price for something without proof I’m that valuable, but I don’t want to prove it because I believe I’m worth it anyway. I don’t do a single thing to improve myself, to make myself valuable to others – I keep waiting and dreaming. I place the power squarely in the hands of strangers because everybody is a stranger to me since I do nothing to make myself somebody to them. I don’t do anything because it’s easy, because misery is easier than happiness, because if I did something it carries a chance of failure so … why bother? I’m avoiding failure and waiting for my spotlight. Only there’s something to be said about that. I don’t try to succeed because I’m avoiding failure, so that basically states I don’t believe in myself enough – why then would anybody believe in me when I don’t?

               What is failure? Failure is the opposite of success. I’ve rewritten my goal – which was to achieve success – by “avoiding failure”. So this vegetative life of not trying and splitting my identity into 2 separate pieces (one public avoidance of failure and the second one private dreaming of achieving success) is truly a success … at avoiding failure. It’s failing to achieve success but succeeding at avoiding failure. Avoiding failure is easy – all you have to do is not do or decide anything. You can’t fail if you don’t try. You can’t succeed either, but that’s another story. My life would be a never ending coma filled with dreams of greatness and brain twisting rationalizations. If success is not up to me, then my brain won’t have to feel that much pain – the pain of trying and not getting it. It’s a good explanation for the future too, everything I try has no personal touch, no identity and no real consequence to me since it’s not my fault if it didn’t work out. I even stop trying altogether because I know it’d never work. You know how somebody like that is called? A loser.

               Even if you didn’t get there, you will. All it takes is time and the longer this scenario goes on the more anxiety you’ll feel. There’s a nice thing to reduce anxiety – it’s called control. The more control you have over your environment the less anxiety you’ll feel, it’s like a rule or something. But those losers, what do they do in this case? They give up trying, they give up that control over their lives and rely on external “luck”. Take a wild guess on what’s the next logical step… Depression, rage, alcohol and psychiatric medication. There’s a good reason for why the poor are more likely to believe in god, luck, conspiracies or other external events that “keep them poor and oppressed”. Though even if there were somebody rich opressing them they’re less likely to fix the cause correctly because they believe they don’t have the power it takes to change the status quo – so they do exactly what we’re shown by the media, they rage and use anonymous violence against whoever is closer to them on the food chain. Why else respond to police abuse by setting fire to or looting various stores?

               This attitude is quite obvious everywhere you look, actually. Be quiet, don’t make waves, don’t challenge authority, don’t criticize the government, don’t point out abuse, avoid blame, buy lottery tickets, keep working until you drop, don’t improve yourself, and so on.. Give up. People have to love you for who you are on the inside. Wait for a lucky break. You have no power here. Not here, not there, not anywhere. Wonder why we’re losers? Because we’re so afraid of failure we won’t accept that we are defined by what we do and by doing nothing we are nothing. We give up control over our lives for the chance of random luck and we’re depressed when that random luck strikes any other random person but us. You know, that’s actually how I felt for about half my life. Ouch, that’s gotta sting.

               There’s only one way out of this. Take charge of your life. Do, decide, try and try again. Don’t give up. Willpower is everything for those like me. Embrace pain, steel your mind, be stubborn and keep your eyes on the ball. I mean goal. If it’s getting too painful, reset the mind and take up knitting. Every failure is pain and every pain teaches you something about yourself. Remember, pain is weakness leaving the body.

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2 thoughts on “Succeeding at the wrong things

  1. This is a really, really good post. I don’t often read long posts on here, but this one was worth it. I think we all need to take more responsibility for our lives and everything we have. We can change all of it.

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