Your success is tied directly to your merit. If your business is profitable with many customers, you’ve done good work. If your business hasn’t gotten off the ground and you’ve been working hard for a year, you’ve done bad work. If you are rich, you deserve wealth because you’ve provided services of value to your community. If you are poor, you got into your situation by providing no value, or never charging for it. If you provided value for free, it wasn’t useful. If it was, you would have received unsolicited donations.
If you are famous, you are an attractive, interesting person. If you are unknown, you are neither. If you’re a good author, you can get a publisher to pick up your book. If you are a bad author, you cannot. If you are good at playing the piano, you should be able to go into any Target or Wal-Mart and attract a crowd by bashing the keys. If you do not attract a crowd, you are a bad piano player. Or you aren’t bashing hard enough.
These paragraphs may seem laughable, but they are practical. They are true 90% of the time, but half the people who read them will not like them. Most of us have created a different model of reality—one based on chance, privilege, and divine right. All of these advantages belong to our competitors, and all of these reality models are used to explain our lack of success. They have no other purpose other than to vindicate us from the vagaries of reality!
Is this practical? Hell no!
90% of the time, success is tied directly to merit. 10% of the time, there are hidden or special factors to consider. The exceptions usually involve rich or famous people promoting unworthy people or products. However, if they do this too often, they become untrustworthy. They will fall from grace themselves. While most people might say that success is tied to merit only half the time, in truth the two are almost always correlated. People with government contracts still have to put out good products.
When I started writing about personal development over a year ago, I wanted to help people change their lives for the better while becoming a better person myself. I wanted to make an impact on the world. I wanted to give new perspectives on time and money, limiting vs. empowering beliefs, working for yourself vs. working for others, negativity, intrinsic value, happiness, and other topics. I wrote articles about many things—they’re each several pages long and still seem fairly good to me.
I haven’t made an impact. Most of my articles are skimmed by few people and read by fewer. I make less impact with 60 posts than a popular blogger makes with one. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve received a piece of critical feedback. No one ever says anything about whatever I write, even when I give out print copies, which I make a habit of. If I get a meaningful comment, it is the rule, not the exception. There is a grandiosity gap. The goals I set do not line up with the practicality of reality. Pretending that I’m changing the world is laughable. I haven’t even started. I haven’t made a quantum leap. I’ve worked hard, but I’m still on the launchpad.
How many goals have you set yet never reached? How many of them have stayed on the launchpad? How many projects do you work on each day that are still going nowhere? Are you being practical?
If something doesn’t work, ditch it. Don’t be trapped by dogma.
The posts I’ve written aren’t working. They appeal to the mind but they do not appeal to the heart. They don’t touch anyone. I may be writing in the wrong field—I have no life experience and am hardly empathetic. However, I am sticking with this field because I want more of both (life experience and empathy). Examining my circumstances practically, I see that I need to write shorter articles tackling lower level, practical concepts, rather than grazing high level, theoretical concepts which I hardly understand myself. I must adapt or die.
In the past two months, I’ve done a lot of programming on Tweet This, a WordPress plugin that integrates your blog with Twitter. Before I started, I considered working on Bookley, an open source library management system I designed over the spring. I never wrote code to let you search the catalog. It has no support for different library branches. You can’t set closed days and have due dates automatically forward. There are no alert emails for hold requests. It could use a lot of work.
A couple years ago, I would’ve considered Bookley my main project and Tweet This my side project. I’d add a few features to Tweet This while putting the bulk of my effort into a white elephant. Today, I chose Tweet This. It is purely a matter of practicality. No one uses Bookley and it is likely that no one ever will. Hundreds of people use Tweet This every day. If well-designed, Bookley is the type of software that would win an award. Tweet This will get no academic recognition, but it will always be used widely. It is the practical choice, and that’s where my effort belongs.
In 1942, the comedy team Abbott & Costello were at their peak, and their movies brought in $10 million at the theaters, even as America was going into a war. Movies like Hold That Ghost, Pardon My Sarong, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would bring in more money than first-rate productions, even though Abbott & Costello were B-actors. A practical studio would have put all their money behind the team. The props and sets would be stunning and realistic instead of laughable. The movies would be in technicolor rather than black and white. Instead, Universal Pictures would paint the studio every time an Abbott & Costello picture was released. They would take the profits from the team’s movies and use them to fund sacred cows like Hamlet and Phantom of the Opera. Movies designed to win awards rather than sell tickets. Movies that interested no one received lavish funding and the best color film stock.
The same thing happened to The Three Stooges. Their short films are more popular than the features of their time, yet they were given second-class treatment for most of their careers. Is this practical? Of course not. More money would not have made them any funnier—in fact, it may have detracted from their appeal. However, we cannot consider this because it was not something the studios considered. A&C and the Stooges were simply considered second-rate actors. They did receive the proper recognition for their work, but from the public, not the studio executives. If the executives were any good, they would’ve let the Stooges lead the show rather than putting them on the back burner.
The practical choice is always present and often obvious. We only miss it when we are trapped by dogma. We overlook it when our model of reality is inaccurate. We choose hard solutions when practical solutions are readily available. We try to shock and awe when it would be better to get the job done quietly.
The practical choice is often the most obvious and readily available solution. You don’t have to look hard for it. Don’t make life too complicated.
The practical choice can change based on your situation. When you’re looking for a jar of peanut butter at the grocery store, the practical choice may be the store brand if you are poor, or a brand name if you are rich. Consider your needs and priorities. But don’t spend fifteen minutes selecting a jar of peanut butter. Be practical.