Steve A. Stone
Dear Friends and Patriots,
Have you noticed a new sub-narrative that’s been trotted out? It goes something like this:
We Americans need to get over our mania for work. We need to relax more. We need to stop trying to multitask. We need to stop reaching for brass rings and accept lesser goals in our lives. Our primary goal should be individual happiness. Gaining happiness through work is an archaic concept that needs to be discounted.
Have you seen articles appearing that have one or more of those themes? Do you find them a bit curious? You should. They’re meant to condition your mind. They’re intended to slowly nudge you to a new life paradigm – one where individual success of any kind is no longer a goal.
We tend to go through our lives without paying attention to the truth we’re surrounded by propaganda. The product ads we see on TV – they’re nothing but commercial propaganda. How many of those products live up to the hype given them? PSAs (Public Service Announcements) are little but government propaganda. They’re often either our governments trying to convince us to change our habits, trying to convince us a government agency is the answer to one of our needs, or is one or another interest group trying to convince us they have our best interests in their hearts. All too often there’s no gain if we buy in. Our politicians sell us on their own propaganda – their campaign platforms. How many of them offer more than “the usual” excuses when their promises aren’t kept?
This latest subtle narrative is intended to focus American on their navels. Its intent is to pacify, placate, and to point us. The forces behind the articles I’ve read appear to want Americans to get used to the notion of becoming sheeple. They want us to accept it and even to welcome it. They want our normal hyper-driven workforce to learn to sit back and re-imagine new success goals, ones that are not so lofty as before. They want us to, in the words of former President Barack Obama, “ … become more like Europe.” Those of you who’ve never personally investigated Europe, or who went there but didn’t perceive the meaning of Mr. Obama’s vision need a bit of elucidation.
People who’ve been in Europe will often tell you of great arts, great architecture, beautiful landscapes, quaint and historic towns and cities, interesting food, wonderful wines and beers, fascinating local customs and traditions, and … the list seems to go on and on. If you pay attention to all you hear you have to wonder why any European would ever want to leave, much less come to a rough and-tumble, wild and wooly, rough as a cob place like America. Compared to Europe, it’s fair to say – we don’t do refinement all that much here. We have examples of “culture” here and there that are the equal of some of the best of Europe, but overall America is best described as a diamond in the rough. We’ve always had tremendous potential, but our own tendency toward individuality makes us what we are – a glorious mess.
America, for all its faults, didn’t become the richest and most powerful nation on the planet by emulation. No one in our past looked to Russia, Germany, or Great Britain, and certainly not to France or Spain as templates to follow. We made up our own rules. We did everything “The American Way.” We developed our own ethos regarding business and pleasure, and it seems to have served us well. We’re not nearly as regimented as the ancient Spartans were said to be. We’re not as naturally warlike as the great Mongol Khans and warlords like Attila were reputed to be. But, we do have our uniqueness.
Americans never liked being pushed around. Our historic reaction to abuse by another country was to push back. If subtleties didn’t work, we geared up, sharpened swords, loaded up our guns, and if the nonsense still didn’t cease we made good on our promises. Once we’d taken care of the matter and the offending country formally backed down we went back to business.
America has always understood the value of a good trade. To us it’s a macro concept. We like a good trade between family members, neighbors, and anyone else willing to trade. We trade with money or we trade in kind. We haggle until we reach a mutually agreeable price, then we deliver. Our national government was established partly to ensure our overseas trading was within the bounds of law and was protected. Commerce was our reason for being, and we all agreed that “ … the business of America is business.”
A good business requires profit to thrive and grow. The more profit a business makes, the more potential there is for growth. Growth means more or different products, and also means more jobs for those who want or need them. That describes the phenomenon we used to call “opportunity.” But, as in all things, opportunity costs. It’s not free. To achieve that opportunity people have to invest with time and money, and with both physical and mental effort. America always had a few advantages. Land was always much cheaper here than in Europe. Our taxes were less, too. Those advantages usually offset the transportation costs of delivering goods to our overseas customers, but not much more. We were competitive with their native industries in price, but could always sell our goods. Why? That’s a question history answers. Our goods were usually made better. American goods developed a reputation, and the “Made In America” label on anything made it a prized article. It was that reputation for quality, utility, and durability that made America’s overseas business base grow and the profits flow back to our land.
American businesses were built on pride. Our factory owners had enormous pride in their enterprises, but so did their workers. It was almost a normal thing for people to start working for a company early in their lives and never seek another employer. Consumers had brand loyalty. Manufacturers had standards that could be depended upon. It seemed as if a system had been created that could thrive in perpetuity. The factory owners reaped good profits. Their workers had jobs for life and their children did as well. Consumers bought good products that did what they said they would. Everyone got what they wanted out of the bargain.
Another formerly unique American truth helped to make all that opportunity work out. Individual freedom to pick and choose one’s livelihood ensured relatively few people would get “stuck” in life. No one was a slave (at least, no one after the 13th Amendment) to any undertaking. If any American was willing to pay whatever price was due they could change their lives and livelihoods and do something else. There was no social structure that kept anyone down on the farm, in the mines, or working their lives in a basket factory. Anyone with enough gumption to strive for better could do so, with no one to tell them otherwise. There was no class structure or artificial social barriers to prevent a coal miner from becoming an architect or a physician. Rags-to-riches stories are a dime a dozen in America, and always have been.
Entrepreneurship is the engine that has always driven America’s business. Entrepreneurship is characterized by an individual desire to achieve and to turn that achievement into a going concern. One thing is certain about entrepreneurs – none of them expect to work only 40 hours each week. To be a successful entrepreneur is a full-time undertaking. Many successful people will tell you they spend 14 to 16 hours every day either doing some part of their work or in thinking and planning for their next success. Getting ahead is possible for anyone with dreams, a little creativity, and the gumption to expend the energy necessary to become a success.
I’ve just spent a bit of time in describing the America I grew up in. It was an America where the sky was the limit and each of us, by our own choices, determined where we would end up in life. Of course, I certainly know that was never the case for everyone. Even in the freest nation on Earth there have always been people whose life circumstances made it seem impossible to succeed beyond the lives they thought they were given. There have always been those who didn’t understand they could choose something different, or whose will was not strong enough to make such a choice. They didn’t comprehend that not choosing is itself a choice. They chose a certain and unhappy circumstance rather than pay whatever price was attached to doing something different. Life has few guarantees, but one of them is – not choosing something potentially better guarantees continuance of a situation known to be lesser. Many do that. It’s their right. I don’t condemn anyone for that choice. It’s just human nature.
There’s something to all this I want to state. It’s a personal belief; something I can’t prove. It explains to me how all this works at the human being level. No one is destined for anything. No one is destined to be a success, and no one is destined to be a failure. Destiny has nothing to do with it. There may be some degree of destiny in our genes, but that has little to do with what we do with our lives. Success and failure are relative terms, with an infinite number of degrees to each. The degree to which we succeed or fail is often related to two three things – preparation, application, and opportunity.
Preparation involves education of one sort or another. No one can become a competent ditch digger without being shown how and practicing what was demonstrated. Likewise, no one can become a competent brain surgeon or bridge architect without years of training and experience. Preparation is about recognizing the tools necessary to succeed in an undertaking and ensuring those tools are in our possession. Personal traits play a role in preparation, too. An impatient person won’t succeed in psychiatry. An action-oriented person won’t make it as a design engineer. An introvert usually makes for a poor public relations representative. The implication here is that one’s personality must be taken into account early in life to ensure one doesn’t prepare for an unsuitable career field. It would be a waste of time, money, and potential to train for any undertaking one’s personality can’t sustain. A child of three may declare their hope to be a fireman one day, but if the same child grows up to be a physically weak or timid adult, perhaps they might be better off as a journalist, photographer, or artist of some kind. We all have our dreams, but we have to acknowledge our own reality and incorporate that reality into preparing for our future. That’s not to deny the importance of dreams, but to acknowledge that dreams most often don’t come true for valid reasons.
Application is where the rubber hits the road. It’s that “elbow grease” thing. Application involves something many humans seem to dread … work. If one has done all the necessary preparation and has all the necessary tools to succeed in the field of his/her choice, the next thing that determines success is to gainfully employ those tools. In other words … work your tail off. The more you do a thing the better you get at it. It’s a principle of work that janitors and others in the cleaning industry understand intuitively. When you do repetitive tasks you will intuitively discover the most efficient and effective ways for you to accomplish your goals. You’ll discover the essential nature of your task and learn to discriminate the most important parts from those less so. Doing that helps to create efficiencies. Efficiencies can lead to greater effectiveness. Greater effectiveness often leads to more accomplishments and, depending on the undertaking, more profit. One thing is for certain – artificially limiting your application will most certainly limit your results. We all have limits of endurance, strength, mental capacity and fortitude, etc. but if we artificially limit ourselves to something less than our best we can’t reasonably expect to be the best in our chosen undertaking. We have to work at it. It’s not accurate to state that the one who works hardest always triumphs. But, it is accurate to state that no one who limits themselves can ever maximize the potential to be their best selves.
Even if you have done outstanding preparation and have applied yourself to the point you’re well on your way to mastery in your chosen undertaking, there’s no guarantee of success. You still need opportunity. People still have to want what you can give. They still must value your product or skills enough to make it worth your while to continue your pursuits. You still have to recognize that it’s possible to be the master in your chosen field and still not be able to earn a living. It happens. Just think of the young person whose desire is to become a professor of Medieval Folk Medicine at a major university. (Trust me, there are people with just that kind of dream.) It might be difficult to prepare for such a field, but it’s possible. It might even be feasible to find enough work in the field of folk medicine to acquire the necessary skills to warrant claiming to be a master. But, if there are only six university professorships in the entire world, what are the chances that individual will ever realize their desire? If there are two dozen in the world outside those six professors who can claim to be masters in the field, is it likely the six professors will retire in time for more than a couple of those two dozen to be offered such a job? What I’ve just described is the situation many thousands of college graduates face today. Universities shouldn’t offer degrees in subjects that no one can earn a living in, but they do. Even so, if they ensured only rich dilatants took those occupationally useless courses, it would help. But, they don’t, which is why so many students want debt relief. They’ve gone in hock for as much as a quarter of a million dollars for a degree that can’t earn them minimum wage. There’s no demand for what they know. What knowledge such boutique degrees impart might make for interesting talk at a dinner party, but little else. There’s no opportunity there for success.
Opportunity has two faces. One involves the willingness of the qualified person to commit. The other involves timing.
Willingness to commit is all about sacrifice. A person may be asked to relocate. The starting pay may be lower than expected, even if the potential for success is there. A business opportunity may require one to live in a really shoddy apartment and eat ramen noodles and cheap pot pies for a year before profits might make it feasible to improve. A couple may have to live apart until a reasonable accommodation can be worked out. Every opportunity has a down-side. If one sees the potential for success is there and is willing to commit to it, then it could end up as one of those “sky is the limit” deals. But, maybe not.
Timing is always a factor. It always has been, and always will be. If you prepare yourself for a career and have sufficient experience to be marketable in that field, but the field is drying up due to a technology shift, you may find yourself frozen out. You may need to start over or accepting a lower threshold of success than those who went before you. There are factors such as business and economic cycles, science and technology breakthroughs, societal faddism, and demographic preferences that are difficult to comprehend and track when you’re in the formative stages of a career. Some people hit the sweet spot and are set for life. Others miss as often as they hit and may find it necessary to change careers several times during their lives. Young people need to understand the reality and be conditioned to cope with it.
There is a fourth element to success that’s completely out of our hands, something we can’t predict or prepare for – luck. Luck is an interesting concept. It’s not a reality as much as it is a catch-all concept that describes the randomness of the universe. It’s just true that one can do all the right things and still fail due to something totally unexpected. Bad luck is used as the reason for business failures that can’t otherwise be explained. Becoming ill from a deadly disease is bad luck that can wreck all one’s hopes. Being in a car accident and either dying or becoming incapacitated – yeah, that can be bad luck, too. And, there’s good luck as well. Starting up a new business just before your product becomes the nation’s hottest new fad is an example. One day what you do is a good, solid investment of your preparation and application. It looks like a decent opportunity that meets your success needs, then something in society changes and you find yourself sitting on a gold mine. It happens! (Never to 99.9% of the writers in the world, but that’s just a personal truth.) Luck happens, but it’s not something you can plan on and should never bet your future on. Luck is kismet. Both bad luck and good happen, but no one ever knows who it will land on or when. I recommend acknowledging the truth of luck, but otherwise to ignore it. Gamblers believe in luck. Business people shouldn’t put their money on those green tables. The three fundamentals of preparation, application and opportunity are where smart money is wagered.
This discussion started out to be a rumination regarding a trend in the nation’s propaganda narrative. It evolved into a historical reflection and narrative of how to succeed in business through really trying. I hope you’ve all understood the threads I’m weaving. If not, I’ll bring it all home now.
If we buy into the “less is more” philosophy being hawked by progressive media propagandists today America is certain to willingly accept the whole idea of becoming a nation in decline. It doesn’t have to be that way. We led the world in new ideas of how to become successful through individual talent and hard work. We can still do that, but not if our young people buy the candy now being offered. If they believe their happiness lies in rejecting all that made America great, then it’s foregone that one day we will not be great. The “candy” being sold is that our greatness was bought and paid for by victimizing other nations and our poorer “classes.” It’s poisoned candy, meant to kill pride in our nation and divert the young from the truth – that America has never been perfect, but has always been a vigorous and dynamic leader of individualism. It’s that individualism the progressives want to eliminate. It’s anathema to their purposes. For America to fall it must be less, not more. It must regress, not improve. It must self-destruct, not continue to perfect itself. If our young are convinced that their lives can only be fulfilling if they take every August off from work, stop trying to advance at work, limit their education to the point of “just getting by,” and avoid the risks of entrepreneurship, then we are surely doomed as a nation.
When you see the articles I’m referring to, please take a moment with any younger person in your life and read it to them. Then explain to them how such writings are intended to convince that it’s okay for then to be less than they are. They’re meant as handy excuses for not striving for success. In the ultimate they’re meant to diminish us all as Americans and to end The American Way.
Pay attention, my Friends and Patriots. Our adversaries are clever. They are Satan in disguise. Their superficial aspects are pleasant, but their intent is poisonous.
You got all that, didn’t you?
Steve© Steve A. Stone
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.