I’ve written and re-written this a couple times, but this post made me finish this out.
The world wants you to be average.
There’s been a subtle shift – the world won’t say “average” but the world of instagram manages to perpetuate a message of “be aspirational in exactly the same way everybody else is.” And if you can’t do that – try to be funny.
But it’s hard to do hard stuff. And talk is cheap.
So, what you end up with is a bunch of people afraid to do hard work turning into third rate comedians. A hive mind treading in a lukewarm pool of mediocrity and pretending it’s a joke.
Jack Dorsey – CEO of two billion dollar companies – Twitter + Square – has been making the podcast rounds lately and talking about some of his “weird” habits.
And – to be honest – they’re not that weird.
5am wake up. Intermittent fasting. Meditation. Cold Baths. (Jack – you seem like you belong around here).
However – this is patently insane to the most media companies. Here’s a sample of the headlines that came out – with the media in full on bug-out mode.
True to form – opinion piece authors writing for free followed suit – selling themselves out in the process.
I don’t want to pick on anyone, but this piece came across my feed along with this choice quote.
“The only way I’m going to be up at 5am is if my bed was on fire. And as for an ice bath? Only if I was on fire.”
“Brutal regime”. “Starving themselves”. “Dangerous.” “Only if I was on fire.”
My first reaction was “I don’t get it” – why are people celebrating being soft?
I mean, I do get it – the author is trying to be funny. But there are a couple tragedies here. First, it’s not that good of a joke – if you’re going to sell yourself out – at least make the joke worth it. Second, and more importantly, what’s not funny is that whether he realizes it or not – that attitude is bleeding over into other parts of his life.
As Bruce Lee would say:
Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.
I was at an event the other day with a group of impressive entrepreneurs and at least one billionaire – all more successful than me
During the Q&A, an interesting question topic came up:
Is it cool to win anymore?
Without hesitation – he answered:
Winners are automatically thought of as having done something unfair.
You can make up your reasons. They’re mean. They don’t deserve it. They’re bad people. Whatever.
But he’s not wrong.
There seems to be a trend lately where all winners are lumped together and must be graded by the behavior of the worst of them. And a few them might actually suck – they cheated, had an advantage, whatever – but maybe the rest of them worked their tails off and made something valuable.
The flip side of this mindset is that everyone seems to think that they’re losing. Wrap your mind around that – people living in the richest country in the world at the best time in history – somehow think they’re losing – that someone else is doing better than them or taking advantage of something they don’t have access to.
But instead of doing anything about it (like looking at the fact that at least 2 billion people have it objectively worse) they turn their situation into a joke.
Because, if everyone thinks they’re a loser – and the deck is stacked against you – then you can at least make a joke about the guy who’s winning.
I don’t know the author of the piece above, but he obviously cares about how many people are following him on LinkedIn. Maybe he thinks dismissing discipline to wake up early or take an ice bath will get him more followers.
There’s the popular “Man in the Arena” quote – “it’s not the critic who counts” – but it’s not even the critics anymore. They’re easy to block out (literally just block or mute them – it’s easy).
Instead, it’s the subtle pressure to perform even if you’re failing – even when you’re screwing up – and instead of worrying about the critics that probably aren’t paying attention to you anyways – you turn into a jester at your own expense.
The self-deprecation – even well intentioned – leads to lowering the bar – missing the standard – and covering up by making a bad joke about it. Quitting early or opting-out entirely at something you might fail at so you can at least get a joke out of it.
It’s fine to laugh about a mistake – but laughing about your failure – or even worse your “inability” to do something. Really?
- You can’t do 15 minutes of ice baths? You might not want to – but you can’t?
- You can’t wake up at 5am? You might not want to – but you can’t?
- You might not want to do hard things. But you can’t?
You might not want to – but you can’t? You’d need to be on fire?
You just closed yourself all to a whole bunch of difficult, worthwhile things, and sold yourself short for some cheap laughs.
And – you just made it easier for the field of people willing to do slightly-harder-than-average-things.
It’s like the kid in grade school who thought it was cool to act stupid. Maybe his peers thought the jokes were funny, but any adult looking in would say either
- He doesn’t believe in himself.
- He doesn’t have someone to believe in him.
- He’s scared of his own potential.
I don’t know which of those options is the saddest one.
But just like that kid – being a jester at your own expense isn’t that cool.
You know what’s cool?
- Being the best.
- Having standards.
- Meeting them, and then exceeding them.
Discipline. Integrity. Resilience. Grit. Follow through.
Yeah, you will miss them sometimes. You’ll fall short. You’ll fail.
And when that happens – you can let yourself off the hook, and make a joke about it. Make it so you don’t have to admit that you didn’t do your best, you didn’t meet your standard and that you failed. You never really “failed” because you didn’t give try your best, right?
Or you can take a hard look in the mirror, figure out what went wrong and how you can get better.
It’s not the critic who counts.
But your internal jester doesn’t either.
It’s less a question of you vs. the critics. You vs. yourself is the real battle.
And when you get set back – when you get punched in the face – humor is useful (think of the movie scene where you get punched in the face and as you rise back up and spit out a mix of blood and saliva, smile and say “that all you got?”).
But getting pummeled and then pretending like you’re not trying isn’t cool. Neither is standing on the sideline and saying “I could do that, but only if on fire.”
It’s the opposite.
From an objective point of view it’s embarrassing.
And like the kid at school, it’s a little sad.
You can do better – and you’re not. Instead you’re selling out you and your potential for a cheap joke.
So the next time you’re challenged –
- Instead of not even trying and option out beforehand.
- Instead of giving up halfway through.
Instead of making cheap laughs out of a challenge.
Why not go for it ?
Or are you content treading the water of mediocrity and pretending it’s a good joke?
But what do I know? This guy has 317,000 followers on Linkedin.
I have 317,000+ Followers on LinkedIn and you can FOLLOW ME via this link
I not only enjoy reading your emails, but I subscribe to your “no limits” mindset, and I have applied some of your tips into my regimen, e.g. cold showers. In fact, I am 58 and I have no limits. In the last few years I’ve gone from clinically obese, depressed and generally really f^cked up, to where I am today, a man transformed. In fact, you can find me on Instagram at “mantransformed.” Thank you so much.
Taylor Jacobson says
Preach! Great post Joel.
Alright, I’ll bite.
I’m tired of crazy high standards and kill-yourself-to-reach-your-highest-potential rhetoric, not because being soft is inherently a thing to celebrate, but because the people saying these things, the get-up-at-5-am-and-work-until-you-die types are often profiting from the very people they’re preaching to. You have multi-billion dollar CEOs who do all these things, and then continue to pay their workers as little as economically and politically feasible.
I don’t want to improve my life for someone else’s benefit. I want to improve it for my benefit and the people, places, and things that I care about. But it’s hard for me to go along with the attitude that people in their position champion because even though I want to do things in life, I don’t want to kill myself getting there.
I don’t want to live to work.
I don’t want to exploit my environment, personal relationships, or surroundings in order to survive.
Winning ‘isn’t cool’, because it brings attention the massive, massive income inequality that is the root of so many of people’s problems. Yes, we’re the richest country on the planet. Yet here we are, one of the only first world countries without universal health care, among other things. This chart shows off the core of the issue really, really well:
If you really feel like exploring the ‘why’ here, I really recommend Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris
Joel Runyon says
Complaining about this in the US without realizing the disparity worldwide is incredibly nearsighted. There are 2 billion people who live on less than $2/day. You are the 1%.
That’s fair, US-centrism is a thing I’m dealing with
Valene Spence says
Great post. U never disappoint and im always happy to find u in my inbox in the morning.
Is it cool to win anymore?
Winners are automatically thought of as having done something unfair.
This part really struck home and there have been a ton of articles in the press lately about how many “successful entrepreneurs” actually got a lot of support from their families and friends, perpetuating the same idea that : “yeah, you shouldn’t feel bad for not trying, this guys are lucky or have unfair advantages that they don’t talk about”.
Instead I would ask: How many people out there are willing to risk $5 000 – $50 000 of their families wealth or their life savings on an idea? Can you take the risk of blowing it and going back to family and friends and say that you failed? Because 90% of all business go bust.
Even with all the unfair advantages it still takes a lot of guts and really hard work to do it, the critics dismiss this and only focus on the advantage as an excuse for why they can’t do it or even try to do it.
I agree that this trend of dismissing hard things by trying to be funny is a dangerous one, especially if you play it on yourself, because you can never never lie to yourself.
It’s one thing to give it your best and have a laugh if you fail and another one to have a laugh without even trying, you will know.