Fail Early…and Often

The discussion of “Incels” wound around to a lot of interesting thoughts, but one of them was my thought that they were likely under-employed.  A reader commented that many of the SORT of guys who now identify as “Incels” actually have pretty high-level tech jobs.  But that they were often the smartest person they knew until they hit Google or Microsoft…and then they were nothing special. And that that realization, that for the first time in their lives they were going to have to bear down and really find out who they were…breaks some of them.


Isn’t that the “Peter Principle”? The rising up through the ranks until you hit your level of incompetence, at which point you either evolve…or fall back into self-pity and delusion?


This is where the myth that “intelligence is a disadvantage” comes in: if you are smart, but lack wisdom, you’ll set out to solve the wrong problems.   Then when life smacks you with the REAL problem (growing, finding joy, mating) you have no idea what to do. The map of reality that has sustained you to this point falls apart, and under it is chaos.




A martial arts example.  Every dojo knows the phenomenon of the Natural. First day he walks in the school, he is a born black belt: fast, balanced, strong, fearless, right in your face and learning so fast it is spooky to watch.  On the fast track to be the best fighter in the school, and everyone knows it.  Heck, he damned near announces himself when he walks in the door: “I’m here.  You ain’t never seen anything like me!” And proves it.


Some of them had studied boxing or wrestling, or had a lot of street fights. Some are ex-military, and by having gone through combat are COMING from the place civilians are trying to GET TO.   It’s fascinating, and says a lot about what is really going on in training, on a psychological/spiritual level…but that’s another matter.


Sometimes they were fantastic athletes in another arena.  Let me tell you about one.  I’ll call him Frank.   Frank was unbelievably “quick”–he could kick you so fast it would cut your skin.  The guys in the BKF called him “the Black Bruce Lee” and said that “God made Frank, and then made Lightning in his image.”  Fearsome.


The story is that Frank’s secret was genetic: fast twitch muscle fibers bundled like bridge cables. That when he was in high school he ran track.  They said he would attend track meets, sit in the stands and smoke cigarettes, then when his event came walk down and beat everyone.


And in tournaments, he was just beyond intimidating. People would look at his speed and just shake their heads.


And why have you never heard of him?  Because that natural ability got him from the local to the city level.  By the time he hit city, he was running into people who didn’t have his “talent” but worked HARD.  He squeeked past them on sheer physicality.


But then…at the state level…he ran into people who had NEAR his physicality…but also worked hard.  And here, he finally stopped winning.  And this is the moment where you find out who you are.  And who Frank was was a man who couldn’t handle not being the best.  He knew on some level that the level above this was regional…and then national…and then international.  That he would meet people who were at his physical level…and also WORKED like demons…and also had a mental tenacity, a capacity to resist failure that Frank had never developed.




He didn’t know how to lose. How to be wrong. How to push through fear and doubt. He was in his early twenties when reality set in.  If he had hit that reality in his teens, when he had more behavioral and conceptual flexibility, less rigid ego walls…he would have known how to accept “death” and rebirth, would have taken the “dark night  of the soul” in stride.  Read any biography of any great man or woman, and you will see that they suffered such defeats…they are just the ones who pick themselves back up.


Frank couldn’t.  And didn’t. And the last person I know who ever saw him Frank was wandering down Crenshaw boulevard with  a stringy beard and six-inch fingernails, mumbling to himself, apparently homeless.




What a waste.  And so common.   If you are “smart” but not “wise” you get very very good at trivial things.  You create maps without testing them with reality.  “Awakening your Kundalini backwards” is a version of this, and dangerous as a coral snake in a nursery. Smart people can be SO convincing, so logical, so reasonable, with such gorgeous argumentation and rhetoric.


Doesn’t mean they are right, thought.  Means that they have convinced themselves something is true, and if they are smarter than you, or better educated in that subject, the chances that you can effectively refute their argument is slim…if you play their game.  But remember that once someone has a position, they will edit reality to defend it.


Frank’s belief was almost certainly “I’m the best.”

When he started having it tough, he probably thought “that guy was really talented.”

When he started getting beat, he probably blamed the judges.

When the crowd stopped cheering for him, when his friends stopped automatically agreeing that he was “the Black Bruce Lee”, he probably considered them false friends, unappreciative of his genius. When students fell away they were simply weak and foolish.  HE was right. HE was the best…

All of that because, at the core of himself, he secretly doubted. How could he help doubting? The instant he thought “I’m the best” he was in dangerous territory, because “I’m better than you are” is both highly effective as a competitive strategy, and only a hair away from “he’s better than I am”, which is down the hall from “I am nothing.”


Fear of nothingness. “If I am not brilliant and the smartest, I’m nothing” is common. The same in sports, or performance arts.   You are the best in your neighborhood, you are protected from failure during your peak flexibility years (how old?  I’m guessing right around Puberty.  You need to be falling on your ass) and it doesn’t hit you until you are in your late 20’s, early 30’s somewhere, more or less.


And the longer it takes to hit, the greater the shock. If you haven’t developed a sense of who you really are, gained a sense of humor about the human condition…it can be devastating.



Sigh.    The solution is to have goals in all three-four major arenas of life. Never met a human being who was just primo at all of them without ever getting their ass handed to them.   People who specialize in one arena…are like those houses at Universal City.    Look great from one direction, but get around behind and they are shells.


I’ll make a guess: Frank was a dog with women.  And ran through money like water.   Just a guess, but it would make sense.  And when his ego cracked…he thought it was him, and folded like a cheap chair.




I don’t know about this stuff for certain. But most of the most brittle people I know are actually very smart, and usually managed to confine themselves to the arenas in which they had “talent”. And when life caught up with them…had no coping skills.


One way or another, I think most of us hit this a little bit. Some of the unfortunate ones hit it a LOT. And hard enough to break.


Fail early, and often.





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