I’m not sure who needs to hear this, so I’ll just put it here in hope it reaches someone who does.
Your value to most people in the greater uninterested world comes from your output.
Not your ideas. Not your talent. Not your potential. Your output. The fruits of your labor, not the labor itself.
Effort might be visible to those around you, but it’s not visible to the world. It’s is like a scream in space: you screamed, but nobody heard you.
I think about this a lot when I’m in self-reflection mode—a.k.a, beat-myself-up mode.
Where are my accomplishments? How often have I been on the Sam Harris podcast? How many entries does my work have on Wikipedia? How many patents do I have? How many books have I written? How many people read those books?
In short, what mark am I making in this world?
Those are the questions I ask myself, but that’s not quite the point of this. My bigger point is that you should never think that you deserve to be in any of those things if you haven’t done the work and produced tangible output from it.
Sam (Harris) has people on his podcast all the time, and I consider it an ultimate honor to be asked onto that show. There are lots of bigger shows, with bigger audiences, but Sam picks his guests based on the impact they’re having on the world. He brings people on that he thinks are contributing to the world in a meaningful way.
When I’m measuring myself, and my work, and my actions, and my habits—I regularly think about what it would take to be invited onto that show. Or to have 10 entries in Wikipedia. Or to get more patents. Or to be asked onto Bill Maher.
Many B-level players in any field have this strange fascination with being part of the A-team. To be invited to their parties. To be on their shows. To be part of their elite group. Whether that’s in sports, or media, or business. And they use their considerable intellects to think about various ways they can convince the A-team to let them in.
Being smarter, funnier, better looking, etc.
Maybe if I did X instead of Y—then I would have been invited to be part of that group…
But it’s mostly bullshit.
What people either don’t know—or don’t want to accept—is that the way to get invited is by putting in the work on a valuable problem and having some success. You have to grind—often in complete silence and anonymity—for some period of time. Maybe weeks, maybe months, maybe decades.
And even then you might still never be noticed. You might still die in the squalor of invisibility. But at least you have a chance.
The short answer here is grinding. Finding an interesting problem, getting the proper training (or training yourself if your discipline will allow you to achieve recognition that way), and then working like Edison for as long as it takes.
That’s it. That’s the secret. Hard fucking work. Quiet work. Which results in actual benefit to the planet.
It’s not sufficient, but it is necessary.
So why am I writing this down? Because someone might need to hear it. When I figured it out it was a big revelation to me, and I want to pass it along to anyone who might benefit.
Don’t wish you were in the club. Don’t find ways to sneak in. Do the work required to be respected by the people who are already in. Do that work quietly. For its own sake. And forget about the club.
That’s the best possible way to get in.
- Don’t tell painters you love their painting so you can be invited to paint with them. Just paint.
- Don’t tell hackers you love hacking. Just hack.
- Don’t tell thinkers you love thinking. Just think. And write down those thoughts.
- Don’t tell successful businesspeople that you love money and creativity. Start a business and make some money.
Another good example of this comes in a work setting: especially if you’re new to a role. You can bring all the ideas and presence you want, but if you can’t get points on the board quickly you’ll lose all favor within weeks or months. Or you’ll fail to create any favor in the first place.
To be respected as a dancer by dancers, you have to dance. Nothing you do compares to being able to actually do the thing that the in-group values most.
So what can you do about this if you’re not currently dancing?
If you’re someone who cares about being respected in some particular circle, I think there are two primary things you need to ask yourself:
- Are you working on a question or a problem that is worthy of the field?
- Are you making consistent and valuable contributions towards answering that question?
If you’re not working on a worthy question or problem, you should find one. And if you’re not doing good work towards a good question, you need to change that.
Within the context of this endeavor.
Avoid the allure of confusing effort or being busy with output. If you’re not making tangible contributions to this problem you’ve chosen, it’s nearly the same as doing nothing.
You must both be focused on the right thing, and be contributing meaningfully.
- Your value to the people you respect is in the output you can produce within your field.
- If you want to be part of an elite group, as a peer, don’t waste your time trying to convince them of your worthiness.
- Instead, find a quality problem in that space and make a plan to produce meaningful results towards solving that problem.
- More than anything, the world judges people by their tangible output.
- There are sometimes exceptions where a trick or persistence combined with luck can get someone into an elite group, but the moment is usually fleeting if you don’t have what it takes to remain.
- There is a whole other dimension of reality in which I don’t agree at all with this post. Perhaps I’ll do a rebuttal post at some point and give that other perspective. Spoiler: friendship and kindness and love aren’t “outputs”, but they’re still worthy endeavors.
- Yes, I’ve read Ayn Rand, but not recently. And I don’t find her ideas about this type of thing all that compelling. But yes, I do see the similarities.
- Image by drawlab19.