Unless you’re winning, most of life will seem hideously unfair to you.
To myself, I’m the most important thing in the world. But to society, I’m utterly insignificant. Some people deal with this contradiction by creating an artificial sense of self-worth: they invent reasons—“they’re nice” or whatever—for why they’re really worthwhile. This is wrong. You or I have no worth outside what we do for society and the value society gives it. This means we have only one option: adding value to society is the only way to make society love us as much as we love ourselves.
The phone is ringing! Imagine Society as a grumpy guy and he’s calling to demands answers. Will you take the call?
Picture that iconic scene from the Matrix when a mysterious phone keeps ringing as Leo rushes to answer it and exit the matrix.
You rush to answer it and immediately feel the fury in Society’s raspy voice. The loud table pounding is being silenced by Society’s even louder baritone voice. He’s asking that you quit your BS and deliver what he wants!
A moment of pause and then Society asks you to name five impressive things about yourself? No cheating! Society doesn’t care about what you are (honest, god-loving, etc.), only things that you do (wrestling champion, large-scale charity organizer, etc.).
The silence takes over, defeat sets in.
Go ahead, fill it in if you think it’s easy.
The early fury is all but gone and Society takes an almost Grandfatherly tone as he begins to speak.
1 – I’M SELFISH, I ONLY CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO FOR ME!
Imagine you’re sitting at a restaurant and a baby nearby starts to choke. The parents look paler and bluer than the choking baby in a state of shock. The waitress is flailing for help, the brave are rushing to the aid of the child. Time slows down to a crawl.
A cocktail of courage and adrenaline intoxicates you into action. You roll up your sleeves and beat everyone to the scene where a desperate mother holds a dying child.
She’s yelling, “MY BABY IS DYING! SAVE MY BABY! SAVE MY BABY!”
By your sheer act of bravery everyone assumes you know what you are doing. You have the appearance of a doctor .. or at least a nurse … or at least a paramedic … or a random guy with a CPR certification from high school. Surely you know what you are doing, right?!
There is a look of hope on the mother’s face as she sees you approach to help her. Why else would you rush to the scene like a hero?
She asks about your qualifications, but you respond with irrelevant qualities about yourself.
Desperate and confused she forces out,
“But you know what you’re doing, right? You’re an old Army medic, or …”
You get fed up! You tell her that you’re a nice guy, honest, caring and friendly. You tell her that you are a great son to you father, enjoy tennis, and always attend Sunday church service.
Imagine the potent mix of anger, confusion, desperate crying and shouting coming from the mother as her child moves a second closer to death!
With increasing laughter, Society continues, “WELL I’M EXACTLY LIKE THAT MOTHER!”
Society explains that it’s full of people who need things. Just like that helpless mother, people need entertainment, people demand great sex, convenient transportation, and safe housing. If you want to stay a respected member of Society you must give people what they need!
“Give me what I want or you will remain alone, disrespected, underpaid and you will have a meaningless life. Your devotion to church, good manners and humor only matters if they help you do things for me!”
2 – Your human value is equal to the useful thing(s) you do for other people
Society reminds you of Alec Baldwin’s performance in Glengarry Glenn Ross.
It also brings up Sean Connery in The Rock.
“Both brutal truths about how those that serve me best are the only ones who get what they want. Nobody will deliver it you with such sting because it’s rude. They rather let you continue to fail.”
You are your “JOB”! Not necessarily your employment, but rather what you do for other people in general. A parent has the job of taking care of children — that’s an extra point on that person’s Value-To-Society scoreboard.
The math is simple, people have needs and they assign a value to the people who can fill them. It’s the invisible — yet obvious — ranking system for all members of Society.
Notice: there has been no mention of money so far. Only value to others.
3 – Don’t be a coward and use money as an excuse. Show me what you can offer!
Society explains a scenario where you’re on a date with a stunning woman that looks like the ‘girl-next-door’ and a model from the runway.
She’s leaning back and hoping you can impress her. You see, she earns six figures as a software engineer, just made a downpayment for a luxury condo, vacations in non-touristy destinations and has a body sculpted with a disciplined workout regime. What value can you offer this woman? What do you do/say?
Don’t tell her that you are funny, ambitious and can draw with your toes. How do you demonstrate that in Society?!
Nice Guy? Pshhh… There are millions of those! Being a nice guy is necessary, yes, but that’s just the cost of entry. As in the bare minimum. There are 13 ‘nice guys’ in her apartment complex rehearsing an emergency elevator speech in case they spend a precious twenty seconds in her presence.
The baby needs to be saved, this woman need a boyfriend and all you have is … “I’m a nice guy?”
There is only one solution to this conundrum. Find something tangible you can offer both the attractive woman and the mother with a dying baby.
Saying you are the nice guy is as ridiculous as restaurant advertising itself as serving food. Of course it serves food, that’s a given. Serving food is the price of admission to be a restaurant to begin with — it doesn’t need mentioning.
4 – The only cure is action!
Society does a quick stretch and sits back down before continuing.
“The ultimate goal is to be the type of person who saves babies, the type of person who that woman will find attractive. Be the type of person who solves my problems in general.”
It’s not “how can I get that job?” It’s “how can I become the type of person who gets that job”. Serving Society often means becoming a much better version of ourselves. Humans need things and it’s our job to make sure we can deliver on some of them. Choking babies don’t save themselves, women don’t date themselves — we must deliver.
Doing is always better than not doing. We will suck at first, but if it’s necessary then it’s worth it.
Not even you can just “love you for you.” Do some quick math to determine what you consume vs produce. Or, the imbalance of how much you are being served vs how much you are serving.
5 – Choose how you will serve me, but you’ll still face extreme resistance
Society clears it’s throat for the last time and shuffles in its seat.
It’s no use to feel sorry for Syrian refugees escaping ISIS. It only matters when you do something for them. Donate, help collect supplies, be a freelance journalist to tell their stories, anything, really.
How do all your good intentions, goals, and ambitions manifest in the real world? What do they make you do? If that woman from the date followed you around, would she be impressed with what she saw you doing?
That mother with the dying child and the woman from the date can’t read minds. They can only observe and judge on actions.
Don’t be the coward who at times of distress tells people, “I’ll keep you in my thoughts.”
That’s rubbish and everyone knows it. It’s the kind of lazy support offered from the comfort of an armchair.
Society is getting encouraged with the progress so far.
“Be warned that what I tell you will require action that triggers resistance. All people are self-saboteurs to some extent and will avoid anything that might demand that they change.”
“I bet you are sitting there listening to me talk with a deep hatred for the messenger so you can justify avoiding the message. You are thinking, ‘Who is this Society guy to tell me how to live, I will never sell myself short and be something I’m not.’”
In the most counterintuitive way, misery is comfortable — it means no change and maintains the status quo. As long as you don’t create, nobody can attack your work and progress. It’s safe. It’s a resistance trap.
It’s easy to be a critique of other people’s work and talent. It’s the perfect preoccupation and excuse NOT to do anything. If you don’t produce your work you can still be considered ‘perfect’ and safe from criticism. And when you do try something, you’ll intentionally self-sabotage and underperform because it’s obviously not your best effort and this will make the critics matter less.
The world isn’t crazy enough to throw a billion dollars at a person because they want it or feel they deserve it. (The world does not care what you want or deserve.) The world gives you money in exchange for something of equal or greater value. Something so awesome that it transforms the culture, the way people live and think.
Are you or can you get good enough to do that? Are you good enough to create that much value for that many people? There is no roadmap, no blueprint for this; a lot of people will give you a lot of advice, and most of it will be bad, and a lot of it will be good and sound. But you’ll still have to figure out how it doesn’t apply to you. And you’ll be doing it alone, until you develop the charisma and credibility to attract the talent you need to come with you.