Take No Prisoners

Sorry, they lied. You really can’t be anything you want.

Today at the Public Intellectual, Frederick makes the point that when parents, teachers, politicians and those assholes in Hollywood say that you can do anything, they’re lying.

This reminds me of the classic book Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill (decades later, it’s still a best seller). Hill studied a bunch of rich people and concluded that the secret to success is persistence. Unfortunately, this is bogus. The problem is selection bias: he only studied the successful. When you want to know the antecedents of success, you must study both successful and unsuccessful people. Otherwise, you just get a bunch of characteristics that all successful people have. You can’t tell if any one characteristic is a necessary condition for success, or a sufficient condition. If successful people are all persistent, persistence is likely a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success, because there are plenty of persistent people who die before they ever taste success.

Like so many things, this ‘work hard and you can do anything’ prattle is a lie. There are plenty of things I can’t do, and plenty of things you can’t do, and anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit. But that doesn’t mean you should ever, ever give up.

While persistence does not guarantee success, giving up guarantees failure.