Progress Can Ruin Your Life

by on April 29, 2010 | posted in Marketing

ProgressProgress shapes our entire planet. How each and every human started and continued was based on certain progressive factors, ones that etched the path of their life towards greatness, mediocrity, or less than both.

For those who achieved great things, progress was enabled in areas without a ceiling, or a ceiling that was extremely, extremely high. For those who accomplished mediocrity or only above average excellence, progress was routed in areas where the ceiling was much lower.

Don’t understand? I’ll clarify.

The Difference between Lil Wayne and a Division 2 Basketball Player

There are two men, both with similar attributes. Both love hip-hop. Both love basketball. They only have one differing characteristic – Lil Wayne, on one side, is 5’6. The other? 6’5. In their early years, they both played basketball, and had not developed much analytically. Naturally, the player who grew to be 6’5 did better – he was taller than his peers, and more athletic.

So his life turned that direction. He played throughout high school, and was just good enough to get a scholarship to some small Division II basketball program. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne wasn’t very tall, and never succeeded, so he focused all his efforts on hip hop, which he loved. He put thousands upon thousands of hours into it.

Division II basketball player put in the same hours, but his ceiling had dropped considerably. From the very start, he never had a hope of making it to the NBA. His progress had pushed him towards a goal that would inevitably end as his college career concluded, and thus take way every hour he had ever contributed to it to accomplish anything more. If he was lucky, he’d go to the military and maybe someday be able to afford a VA Streamline Refinance.

Meanwhile, Lil Wayne, placed in an area where the ceiling was higher and less measurable, had the ability to get in his 10,000+ hours from the very start.

Rap was an area where, given the talent he was born with/nurtured, had a ceiling beyond belief. If he had gone the basketball route and practiced religiously, maybe he could have been a decent player. But his ceiling would have been monumentally lower.

If Lil Wayne had been three or four inches taller, it’s almost a certainty that his career would not have panned out the same way. His height pushed him away from athletics and into the recording room.

There’s a reason why so many musicians/hip hop artists/actors are so short/unathletic. Their upbringing/cultural background would often push them towards athletics, but when there was a point of failure, they focused elsewhere.

What if those people who were just OK, or just above average, had focused on rap instead?

Progress Influences Us

At different points in our lives, we hit points of progress. Someone tells us we’ll be good at this thing, or maybe we win a Spelling Bee. It creates a reference to something we feel we’re “good at”. However, at our stage of analytical infancy, we are unable to establish the ceiling levels for our achievement, and because of that, we often shape and bend our lives in directions of waste or distraction.

This most commonly occurs with athletics. So many athletes spend the majority of their youth dedicated to a sport that has no future. It has many immediate returns, and many “lifetime lessons”, but after a certain stage, it stops being tangible. After a certain point, coaching is the only option, and greatness there – when measured by potential monetary returns or impact on the world – is much smaller.

For people like Lil Wayne or any other young entrepreneur, tangibility continues for a long, long time.

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs in the startup world are so young and rich because they have done it all their lives. They opened a lemonade stand or sold t-shirts. This doesn’t mean they had some “entrepreneurial spirit” – more likely, they succeeded the first time they tried, and it created a ball-down-the-hill effect of “I like selling stuff” that can last their entire lives.

Had they failed initially or gotten negative feedback, they would’ve been pushed elsewhere. They hit a progress point in an area with an immensely high ceiling, and they achieved great things. Because of their emphasis in business from a young age, and the fact that “business” can last forever, they have the potential to reap the gigantic rewards their time investment supplies.

Genetic Talent as a Progress Inhibitor

Low-ceiling  progress occurs in spots where time investment can quickly be overborne by genetic talent. Modeling/pageantry/acting are some decent examples where physical genes can overtake the time investment of accomplishment almost instantly. Many people spend considerable time trying to get into high ranking schools like Harvard or another graduate school, without ever having realistic chance of acceptance due to subpar IQ and upbringing.

If any person is pushed  towards these areas at a young age, where their genetic attributes will never be up to par, they will have been pushed into a time void where they will invest a sizable amount of time with no real end game. If you have  no desire to coach or transfer into an area of talent management, your large time commitment will completely be lost, other than in those less cool, abstract areas of measurement like “friendship” and “work ethic”, areas that you could have developed in an area with higher ceilings.

This is not to say that every person can become Steve Jobs or Eric Schmidt, even if they’re pushed towards the right direction. The point is that many people are moved to areas where their chance to be amazing is limited, even if their maximum “amazing” is running a seven-person local Accountant’s office. That’s still pretty damn amazing.

So.. what do we do?

If you’ve already fallen victim to this time loss, sorry, you’re out of luck. In Gladwell’s Outliers, he shows that most of the spectacular accomplishment in the world was the match of circumstance to talent, so that these people could get in their 10,000 hours of hard work. For those just reading the book or just coming out of your subpar upbringing or just reading this post, there’s little to do, besides grind like hell and make up for lost time.

The next generation can directly benefit from our knowledge and potentially become The Beatles or Bill Gates or Lil Wayne. For us, though, we’ll have to settle for the chance to become Aaron Wall or Loren Feldman or Seth Godin.

I’ll take that. Won’t you?

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  • Jordan Spuck

    Good post ross if I didn’t notice your GODinest influence I’d probably be extremely impressed, none the less very good.

  • Greg

    Cool blog.

    One thing that’s odd about Outliers: True, many people are successful because of some situation they fell into without any intent on their part. They were born at the right time, or grew up in a place where they had access to computers, etc.

    Malcolm Gladwell, however, presents a fatalist model. If you don’t happen to have some luck of being in the right situation at the right time, you’re doomed. He writes as if it’s all beyond our control. He presents interesting yet freakishly odd examples of how forces beyond peoples’ control caused them to have great success.

    In high school I had a friend who had four girlfriends during his time in high school. Also, he decided that being on the school newspaper might be something he could put on a college application that might boost his chances of acceptance, so he was on the school newspaper every year he was in high school

    All four of his girlfriends were also on the school paper. It’s an ideal way to meet girls, become acquaintances, and end up having some girlfriends.

    Like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he never intended this. He never realized going in that he would be successful with girls because of the paper.

    What Gladwell never says is that people can make their luck. With a few easy choices, a college students can live in an apartment very close to school, one filled with students. They will make friends and relationships, much more so than a student who lives a couple of miles from school, in a building where no students live.

    You can, to a great extent, put yourself in the right situation at the right time, if you know what the right situation looks like. Want to be an actor? Maybe you might want to move to L.A.

    I’m just saying….

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