A huge percentage of the writing on this blog is about positive models for success, including using things like mental models in an ethical and honest way to maximize your gains in life. Yet, I also keep case studies and files on anti-models of behavior; things that, if emulated, can cause suffering, distress, unhappiness, and failure. Very rarely do I share them because I try and follow the rule to praise publicly, criticize privately, but this is such a textbook example that I think it’s worth highlighting.
It comes from a blog called This Is Thin Privilege. Some of the posts are reasonable – like linking to an article discussing the very real psychology of beauty capital and how it influences business outcomes and job promotion. A significant majority of the time, however, it is filled with illustrations of the type of thinking that you should not only avoid in your own life, but cause you to run – as quickly as possible – if you see in friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. It’s not healthy. This kind of irrationality and selfishness is evidence of deep maladaptation. Avoidance is the most rational mechanism for dealing with this kind of damage.
Someone else’s happiness or success takes away nothing from you in most, if not nearly all, cases. It is not the job of individuals or society to make people feel better about the things under their control that they refuse to change. It’s closely related to the model of using the primary mission of your life to determine which trade-offs you are willing to make, and which you are not.
Except in extraordinarily rare circumstances, nobody is going to step in and give you the things you want in your life – not the money, not the body, not the career, not the skills, not the recognition. There is no calvary on its way to help you. There are no fairy godmothers coming down to waive a wand and manifest your dreams. Instead, you will get back an amount equal to the intersection between three variables:
- Your greed for it, which is psychological,
- Your effort towards it, which is physical, and
- Your base ability to achieve it, which is largely genetic.
There is also small degree of luck, but in a nation such as the United States, it plays a much smaller role than it ever has historically, or in many other parts of the world (family wealth, as one illustration, is now more tied to personal achievement and merit than it ever has been, with only a relatively small minority of the top 1% of society having inherited any of their money; most of it is first-generation made). In some parts of the globe, it is still very prominent – no matter how smart you are, if you are born in the Congo or North Korea, at the moment, you’re going to have a far more difficult go of it.
You have no right to expect others to withhold their praise or joy in the accomplishments of others because of your own failures. If anything, insisting that they do, even in secret, makes you even more of a failure. Celebrate success. Emulate habits that lead to prosperity, good grades, healthy lifestyles, and stable households. Look up to those who have achieved, through their own efforts, the things that you want for yourself. The moment you demonize virtue, you’ve doomed your own life.
I am telling you this because I want you to be successful. If you have these thoughts, acknowledge that they exist and then set to work crushing them. It may be hard, but you have to find a way to retrain your thinking. Otherwise, you’re poisoning yourself, guaranteeing failure.