Self-Direction Is Slower Than Employment

1. Fools

Horace Vandergelder: Now in honor of the occasion, I’m going to promote you both. Cornelius, how old are you?

Cornelius Hackl: Twenty-eight and three-quarters, Mr. Vandergelder.

Horace Vandergelder: Is that all? That’s a foolish age to be at. I thought you were 40.

Cornelius Hackl: No, I’m 28 and three-quarters.

Horace Vandergelder: Well, a man’s not worth a cent until he’s 40. We just pay him wages until then to make mistakes.

Everyone expected me to succeed.

When I told people at my graduation party that I was going to college to become and animator, people saw that I was bright, knew that animation was an industry on the rise, and assumed that I would ride the momentum of that industry to great heights.

I did not go to college to become an animator.

Animation is still part of my life. Animation brings my video game characters to life, and if I could not animate my Noah Wizard character for the thumbnails of these posts, he would look like this:

I did not go to college to become an animator.

If I had, I might have gone very fast in my career compared to the slow crawl that I have been managing.

But I describe the choice as a 6 lane highway going quickly but to somewhere I do not care about, vs hacking my way through a jungle but each milestone is meaningful to me.

2. A Mission Missing Number 4

I went off on my own.

I decided that I would train myself in my own career.

It doesn’t matter the reasons at this point, it’s the path I took.

I had no idea how much of my success in life was not my own.

I had one year of bad teachers, and then another year of something-other-than-great. After that, it became a major pull within my family to get us moved into a school district that could deliver me and my sisters an education.

The upshot of getting back into decent schools is that we learned a lot.

The downside was that for me, who did not go the traditional route, once I was on my own, I went from blazing fast, to flat on my ass.

For reasons I won’t get into now, I was a people pleaser. When a people pleaser is talented and the people being pleased have vision, the people pleaser can go far.

Again, far and fast do not mean that you like the destination, but our society values far and fast, it does not yet often value health. Or satisfied. Or right.

I was a people pleaser with no one to please.

It was the mid-aughts, and people were having runaway successes using the internet to leverage their creations into empires.

I tried to mimic them.

I sought out clues to success wherever I could find them.

One of the books that was a guiding principle for me at the start was called “Good to Great,” and it was an analysis of why some companies rocket ahead of their competition.

One of the principles outlined in the book was “The Hedgehog Concept.”

The notion was that a wiley fox will try many different ways to outsmart a hedgehog, so that it can best the critter and eat it, but a hedgehog’s response to each new threat is the same:

Roll up into a ball of spikes.

Problem solved.

In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins explained that the companies that pulled ahead of the pack were not like the fox, using new flashy techniques every chance they got.

Great companies pick a thing that works, and do that, over and over again, and it always works, and they keep compounding their success.

I wanted a Hedgehog Concept.

There were three overlapping circles to the Venn diagram that was a Hedgehog Concept.

I am now convinced that when I read the three items I needed, that I misunderstood them.

I have not gone back to reread the book and clarify.

What follows is not a faithful representation of the contents of “Good to Great,” then, but my understanding of the book at the time.

  1. Love the work. Be able to get easily engrossed in the work without having to pressure yourself.
  2. Be able to become the best in the world. When you love the work, you keep showing up, and it keeps honing your skills, so eventually you are the expert who is the most experienced, and it makes you the best in the world.
  3. It’s what the world needs.

This last one is where I most likely distorted the book the most. I don’t know if I screwed up the first two, but I know I took the third item to heart, and assumed that if I knew what the world needed, it was going to be powerful fuel to get me to the life I wanted to have.

Years later, I eventually ran into the concept of Ikigai, which contains those three circles and adds a fourth.

  1. What the world pays for.

Marketing comes from the word “Market.”

A Market is a group of people waiting to pay for a thing.

People who are waiting to pay for a thing, know they have a problem, believe there is a solution, and are throwing money at their screen to anybody who might solve that problem.

The world is often not motivated in the same way towards the things that it needs, the things that would ultimately help, but are currently too long-term and delayed-gratification to be enticing.

My mission was to bring the world what I thought it needed. My mission was to bring more clarified thought process to the world.

My mission was to make people eat their vegetables, emotionally speaking.

My mission failed.

3. Failure Does Not Exist

Kobe Bryant is being interviewed.

The interviewer says something like this: “I’ve seen that some players play to win, and other players play to not-lose. Which are you?”

Kobe Bryant doesn’t accept the premise of the question. He says: “I play to figure things out.”

Over the course of the interview, he tries to explain that the model we have for progressing our skills, the one based on the concept of avoiding failure and seeking success, is not a good fit to how life actually works.

We are going to make mistakes.

We are going to screw up.

We have to screw up.

Screwing up is how we learn.

Kobe Bryant played basketball without an obsession over the wins or losses of the game, because his focus was on what he could control.

If he could try something out, and learn from it, he could get better, and that was both satisfying, and an action that was likely to improve the win/loss record anyhow.

We cannot choose to be successful. We are not magic.

We can make ourselves learn from our situation and perform the tasks that make us less-awful. That is always under our control.

My mission failed in that it was doomed from the start, because it was focused in such a way that other people were in control of whether I succeeded or not, but I graded myself as if I could have made different choices and guaranteed success.

When I was unable to bring my ideas to the people who I thought needed them, I sought out more education.

I learned over and over again, the premise that you can teach people what they need, but you first have to give them what they want.

And to understand what people want, you have to spend time investing in them where they are.

I really wanted a shortcut that would allow me to experience the speeds and successes I’d had in my school career, but those successes included no real sense of control.

Meeting people where they are, and improving my ability to understand what people were ready to hear, that was something under my control.

That is something still under my control.

I have not gone far.

And there are days when I am ashamed of the extent of my progress.

But I am pointing in the right direction, and I have action steps I can take which increase my steps along my journey.

I’m stuck in traffic, and it’s not very fun, but I’m driving away from the meaninglessness that ruled my life for so long, and though each nudge forward is humble, it is mine.

The above post was an entry for Paul Scrivens’ 30 Day Prompt Challenge.

Prompt: You’re not where you want to be in life. Why? Whose fault is it?