Today is my sixty-sixth birthday. I never know what will trigger one of my essays–its always about what you, my friends, discuss on the Facebook feed, or emails sent to me.
I saw a note with someone saying they were about to take an IQ test, and that if the results came in low, his life would make sense. If they came in “high” then he would declare the universe dead and meaningless. The issue seemed to be…money. He wants more money, doesn’t understand why he doesn’t have it, and is under the illusion that if he is smart, he should be rich…or the universe doesn’t work.
Ummm,…might I say that this notion, that Smart = Successful, is pernicious. It ONLY equals “successful” if you are asking the right questions. Like: “how do I become successful?”
Well…remember the story of the man who is walking down the street at night, and encounters a second man on his hands and knees under a streetlamp. “What are you looking for?” he asks.
“My keys,” the guy says. So the first guy gets down and looks with him. After fifteen fruitless minutes, he says “are you sure you dropped them here?”
“Oh, no,” the second guy answers. “I dropped them across the street. But this is where the light is.”
Frankly, this is precisely what smart, unhappy, unsuccessful people do: they are looking where the light is, rather than where they dropped their keys.
They are thinking that they can “figure out” their emotions, and because of that, never see the degree to which emotional programming rammed into them prior to their mental awakening and adult development is creating tunnel vision. Literally prevents them from solving the real problem, be it fitness/weight control, love, or financial success.
Intelligence is problem solving. WISDOM is knowing which problems to solve.
Let’s apply this to one issue, and one potential route to solving it. Money is a big one, one I’ve sure as hell struggled with.
- Core goal: TO BE HAPPY. That’s it. Everything you’ve ever done has been to move away from pain toward pleasure. Children will only do this short-term. Adults must learn the long-term implication of their actions, or cannot learn the “discipline” necessary to finish long projects. They are eternal sprinters, not realizing that most real success goes to those who can sprint, jog, walk, and sit silently. WHAT IS YOUR BELIEF ABOUT YOUR RIGHT TO BE HAPPY? Where did you get it? Do you agree? Would you want your own most beloved child to feel this way? IN MY OWN LIFE, my mother loved me, and I knew it even when things were sometimes stressful. And she supplied me with the resources to love myself, even if that was not the specific intent–it was the indirect result. I actually never heard “the meaning of life is to find happiness” until reading a quote from the Dalai Lama, about three years ago. Brilliant in its simplicity. Never heard better.
- Take a step back. To be happy, you need to remove pain. While money has a real ceiling on providing happiness (up to about 75k. After that, its ability to provide joy drops.) it DOES remove a lot of pain. Hunger, homelessness and lack of medical care are not fun. So you need to have enough resources for this. Barter doesn’t cut it: try bartering for your water bill. Money is just abstracted barter, a symbol of trust between human beings. WHAT IS YOUR BELIEF ABOUT WHAT MONEY IS? Where did you get it? If it is anything other than the result of hunting, gathering, and trading…what is it? IN MY LIFE: I was happy connecting with my friends, and happy writing stories. But how to make MONEY from this? To even understand the question, I had to move into the adult world, to grasp that ONLY money provides the things my mother used to provide. I needed it.
- Take another step back. Money results from trading. One person expends their effort and focus to create or gather a product or service, that another human being finds valuable. They trade. It is one of the core foundations of society. Only within your family will you be supported just because you’re cute and give warm hugs. WHAT IS YOUR BELIEF ABOUT YOUR OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE VALUE TO YOUR COMMUNITY? Where did you get it? Is it true? How do you know? IN MY OWN LIFE, this meant marketing my stories, risking rejection every time. Ugh. But also working other jobs while I developed my writing skills. Ugh. Knowing that I had to keep those jobs until and unless I made enough money from writing to compensate for the lost paychecks. Otherwise, the ADULT thing is to work a day job, so that my “kid” could have fun writing at night.
- Take another step back. Have you found role models of adult human beings who exchange goods and services (preferably in your arena, something that brings you satisfaction) who trade with others to make the kind of money you desire with integrity and joy? Remove “luck” from the equation. Go with statistics. You cannot wait for someone to discover you and say “what a genius!” If you are hunting for your family, you have to be ACTIVE, and cannot just wait for an animal to wander by…or you will starve. What you CAN do is put out passive fishing lines or traps…but LOTS of them. In other words, be ACTIVE about your “passive” hunting. Until you’ve calculated the number of hours you have to work to get a given unit of return. Then…how many of those units you need to survive, and thrive. Put in that time daily, and strive to increase your efficiency and effectiveness. IN MY LIFE I needed to find role models of success, and preferably get them to sit down with me and explain how they did it. Why? Because only a cook can teach you how to cook. Not interested in the opinions of amateurs and wanna-bes. I was an amateur wanna-be myself. Only someone who has traveled across the mountain can guide you through the mountains. The rest is opinion. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you the names of the writers who turned me down. We all know the name of the one who finally said “yes.” Larry Niven. God bless him, forever.
- Take another step back. Being “good” at something in the modern world only lead most people to “success” if someone, somewhere, is doing the marketing and sales for you. This is “oogie” to so many people, especially artists. “I hate the way sales makes me feel” is a common reaction. Really? If you are sick, and someone offers you medicine that works, you resent them? Yes? No? I suspect that what you dislike is when someone tries to sell you something you DON’ T need or want. What’s the answer? Provide a valuable product or service, and find the people who need it. Simple, really. And if you don’t believe you have anything valuable to offer, that is only true if you have never focused your energy and mind to develop those skills. How long does it take to get good at something? A thousand hours? Ten thousand? Most people reading this had spent more time a thousand hours watching movies and television…every year or two. IN MY OWN LIFE: I got an agent, Lurton Blassingame, as my salesman. This became Eleanor Wood when Lurton retired. Working with Larry provided serious marketing: I got to piggy-back on his fame. But I also had to separate myself from him, or I’d always be scared to speak in my own voice. So…SF conventions were a good place for this. The point? To find the people who needed MY voice, who were attracted to what I had to offer. Interviews, articles, booksignings…all of this is marketing, short or long term. BUT I NEVER SPECIFICALLY STUDIED MARKETING AND SALES. This was an error. No single role model is likely to give you everything you need.
- Take another step back. If I wanted to make a living as a writer, there were really only two ways to do it: books and visual media. New York and Hollywood. And in Hollywood, agents don’t really get you jobs until you have proven yourself…and you have to keep proving yourself. Jonathan Westover, the first Hollywood agent I really connected with emotionally, told me point blank: its all about the marketing, in the form of relationships. I didn’t hear him, but what he was saying was that I had to get out there, meet people, go to parties, make friends, and THEN when the opportunities arose, they might think of me. I got Marvin Moss, my first Hollywood agent by getting a job with Disney and then asking Marvin if he would negotiate the deal for me. Free money. He then knew I was a hustler. I wasn’t enough of one…but I had my foot in the door.
- Take another step back. And this is clearly in the adult world: you need not only to MAKE money, but manage it properly. THIS WAS MY GREATEST ERROR, ARGUABLY THE SINGLE GREATEST ERROR OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. I knew how to create goods and services, how to market and sell (somewhat) and put in the 10k hours of focused time to be an expert. Money was flowing in. BUT I WASN’T SAVING IT. If I had simply followed the advice in one of my mom’s books, “The Richest Man In Babylon” and saved 10% of everything I earned, I’d have been fine, able to ride out the deepest dips, learned to budget and live within my means, and really been an adult instead of a big kid. I didn’t. And it wasn’t until the whole Atlanta situation, moving away from Hollywood for the second time, that I really understood I had screwed up royally, for decades, and needed to fix it.
So what would the proper use of my intelligence have been?
- I knew how to create a product or service. Good at that.
- I should have studied marketing and sales until reaching EXPERTISE. A good sales/Marketing person is never out of work, can always make money, and can apply those skills to ANYTHING. The most successful self-published authors aren’t the best authors, they are often branching out from sales and marketing. They understand that game. They’ve put 10k hours into the “money making”. Then, 1K of time invested in writing, “creating product” and they blow away the people who are ignorant of marketing. How do you know if you’re ignorant of marketing? If 1% of your books aren’t on this subject…it is reasonable to conclude that you don’t consider it important. And if you are complaining about lack of money, IMO you are ignorant.
- I should have invested/saved 10% of everything I earned. That would have created a safety net. Could have had a real downturn and still walked into Hollywood meeting without the stink of desperation floating around me.
WISDOM is looking at the patterns of life: hunt and gather, trade, store and protect.
INTELLIGENCE is looking for specific methods that increase efficiency and effectiveness of hunting and gathering, marketing and sales, protection of assets. You might well decide to outsource aspects of this to others, but how will you even know if they are any good, if you don’t understand the psychology and syntax of excellence, marketing, investing?
You are blind. In Ancient Child parlance, you are trying to stay a “genius child”, dancing in the living room to the applause of parents and cousins. Not realizing that in the adult world, you are SURROUNDED by genius children, every one of them screaming for attention. Why should they pay attention to YOU?
- Because you have developed unique value, by putting in your 10k hours.
- Because you have identified the people who need and WANT what YOU have. 1000 “true fans” will do it, if you can figure out how to provide fifty bucks in value to them every year, and have the self-respect to demand what you are worth. Again, problem solving.
- Because you know how to reach them, to communicate your value to them, and have the nerve to ask for the sale.
Yeah, there are artists who surround themselves with “adults” who do parts 2 and 3. Managers, agents, PR flacks, shills, salespeople, marketing experts. But the most successful understand EVERYTHING they are hiring others to do, so that they know how to support them. Guide them. To do that, you need to be able to do it yourself. To do that you have to know HOW to do it, WHY to do it, and have the emotional JUICE to do it: have to feel that it is good and right and even FUN to communicate that value to the people who need your product or service.
Otherwise, what are you saying? That sales and marketing is corrupt, ugly, bad…so I’ll let YOU do it! How incredibly disrespectful. And how contemptuous of your own efforts. Do you really believe that what you have is not of value? Do you not believe that there is someone who would be happier if they knew of that value, and could trade their own efforts for it?
WHAT WERE THE BELIEFS I HAD about money, excellence, “talent”, sales, marketing, and investing? My mother struggled horribly with money: no slightest question that some of my conflicts came from that lovely, brilliant and troubled woman, whose emotions were knotted by social and personal loss.
And it took a family disaster before I “woke up” from the dream that I could simply be “good enough” with my art that I could avoid the adult responsibilities: to create, market, sell to other adults, to communicate value to them so that it is in THEIR interests to give me their money, and then protect that money for the lean times. Ant and grasshopper.
I was a grasshopper most of my life. And am now grafting ant DNA in there. The process is frightening, and painful, and embarrassing…and necessary.
That little genius kid inside me, who saw the big broad world and wondered how he would find love, and success, and happiness has been dancing as hard as he can for sixty-six years, today.
He deserves my very best, don’t you think?