0220 – strive for the company of immortals

“Aim for the company of immortals” is a quote by David Ogilvy– I believe he was talking about the sort of attitude to have when writing copy. Too many people attempt to simply one-up the competition.

I’m really feeling that very strongly right now. I feel like I’ve spent far too much of my life trying to impress peers, or trying to cope with peer pressure or influence. I allow myself to get swept up in current affairs, where I get bothered by the opinions of people who I find shallow, boring, annoying, frustrating. And it bothers me that these people seem to get so much airtime for their ideas, which seem so unnuanced, oversimplistic, derivative.

Example- the conversations you’ll find on reddit or Hacker News about creativity and discipline and focus and all of those things is incredibly limited and over-simplistic, and people worship anybody who has a slightly contrarian answer. I suppose this was also the case on Quora a while back.

Perhaps I’m frustrated because it seems like people don’t read. When I first learned that I was going to work at a startup, one of the first things I did was to read every single one of Paul Graham’s essays. I was still just a entry-level marketer then, doing basic things like posting on forums and writing the occasional blogpost. But I felt like I needed the context, to make sense of the ecosystem I was getting into. So it blows my mind when people actually start startups (and get funded, with tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions) and they make seemingly rookie mistakes and blow it all up. And then the founders and the investors all shrug and go, “Eh, there’s a cost of doing business.”

Benjamin Franklin had a quote where he said we are taxed more by our own laziness than any government would ever be able to. And he’s right, although that’s something that would get horribly misinterpreted and misused by people who want to make an argument against welfare… I don’t want to get into the details of policy, but I do think that most people seem to be ridiculously careless about their thoughts. I suppose I am too, in many ways that are not clear to me. I’m merely observant about some things more than others, and it’s clear to me when people are careless in those particular spaces.

So there are a few thoughts going on here. I’m a little too tired right now to really process all of it perfectly, but it’s somehow important to me that I get through this vomit and maybe go through the details later.

One is that I believe that it’s unhealthy to spend a lot of time among “current affair connoisseurs”. I am of the belief that older men gather to drink and talk about religion and politics and gossip primarily because those are things that they cannot do very much about. Why don’t people gather to talk about self-improvement? Why don’t they solicit negative feedback and seek to improve themselves? Why are mastermind groups such rarities? Because it’s difficult and painful, I suppose, and we’d all rather just entertain ourselves to affairs.

I’m getting ahead of myself- I wanted to say that a constant discussion of current affairs is potentially dangerous because then you become a person discussing ideas rather than a person executing on them. (This is making me feel some deja vu- have I already written and published a word vomit about how ‘great minds discuss ideas’ is a self-serving idea, perpetuated by somebody who wants to come across as great-minded? Because it’s far more likely that great minds discuss the mundane elements of things that matter to them- they have no need to persuade each other of their greatness, and they don’t really care for abstract discussions. When art critics meet, they discuss form and function and meaning. When artists meet, they discuss where to buy cheap turpentine. I’m guessing that when business visionaries meet, if they trust each other, they talk about hiring practices, and how they manage their employees, payroll, legal and stuff like that. It must seem mind-numbingly boring to the ‘great minds’ who expect a discussion of ideas.

So there’s this strange phenomena here which indicates that a large chunk of I thought I knew about what it means to be a smart, well-developed person might be illusory- I thought I was learning how to be smart, but I was instead learning how to come across as smart, how to perform the identity of “smart”. Actually being smart appears to actually be a somewhat tangential skillset. And it seems that a lot of the smartest people care very little for appearing smart- indeed it’s starting to seem to me that they’d much rather be underestimated or ignored altogether, because it allows them to observe quietly in the background, ask loads of questions and learn about their peers and environment.

Anyway. I wanted to write this to talk about how I think it’s important for me to compare myself not with the people in my immediate presence- my competitors and contemporaries- but with the immortals. With people who I truly admire in the most deep, legendary sort of sense. I’m reminded of the reverence Neil Tyson has for Isaac Newton. People like Newton, Carl Sagan, Benjamin Franklin, Da Vinci, they don’t seem to come along very often. It’s very presumptuous of me to ever claim that I could be someone like any of them. But I think if there’s anything I can do to make that likelier by even 1% or less, I should do that. Because I’d like to work on things that excite me. I’d like to do things that are amazing. I want to bunt it out of the park. I want the company of immortals.

It might be an unachievable goal, but it’s one that I’d like to have. I don’t really know if that changes anything immediately. I suppose it means greatly reducing the amount of time I spend discussing things with people I don’t care about– even more so than I already have. And it means looking at the world with a slightly different lens. And it means that I have a lot of reading to do. So I’ll get to that. Toodle-oo.

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