It’s Not How Good You ARE: It’s How Good You WANT To Be
  • The most successful people in life aren’t particularly gifted or talented.

    They become successful, rather, by wanting to be successful.

    Genetic giftedness is a figment.

    There are really no such things as prodigies.

    Talent is a process.

    Have you ever observed that the smartest kids in school are almost never the ones who go on to be the most successful in life?

    School in its best state teaches datum, not ambition or desire or will — all of which things can be encouraged and fostered, but not really taught.

    Ambition, desire, will, persistence — these, as you may or may not guess, are the greatest predictors of success.

    * * *

    No human being and no living thing begins her life by undercutting it.

    No human being, no matter how pampered, no matter how abused, no matter how spoiled, no matter how mistreated, starts out by giving up or giving in.

    No one starts life irrevocably defeated.

    Abandoning the dreams of one’s youth comes only after a protracted process of perversion.

    The time it takes before this mindset dominates differs for each person.

    For most it is a gradual accretion of pressures and set-backs and frustrations and small failures, or by the systematic inculcation of mantras that this life doesn’t really matter, that our dreams can’t be fully realized anyway, and that human existence is accidental or meaningless or both — only to find, one day, that their passion, once a glowing force within, is now gone … but where and how?

    Others, having no depth of thought or will, stop at the first sign of adversity.

    Only the truly passionate persist. Only the truly passionate retain for a lifetime the vision they had of themselves when they were young. Only a handful maintain for a lifetime the beautiful vision of their youth and go on to give it form.

    The means by which we give that vision form is our work.

    No matter what any given person may become — no matter how good, bad, ugly, or great — in the springtime of life, each person at one time believes that her existence is important, and that big wonderful things await.

    Each and every single human being has the potential to retain that vision, and each and every single human being should retain that vision, because it is the true and correct vision.

    College, I submit, can do irreversible damage to it.

    * * *

    Unactualized potential is a tragedy.

    Nonconformity for nonconformity sake is meaningless.

    Nonconformity for the sake of reason and independent thought, however, is a virtue.

    Independent thought is a prerequisite of genius, and it takes courage to think for yourself.

    Courage is also a virtue.

    Blind conformity is the opposite of independent thought.

    Ambition, too, is a virtue.

    Virtue is human excellence. It is The Good.

    The Good is that which fosters human life and promotes it.

    The Bad, corollarily, is that which frustrates human life and smothers it. It is pain. It is that which stultifies human thought and human flourishing and prevents gain.

    Thinking is the human method of survival. It is for this reason that humans are properly defined as the rational animal, and it is also for this reason that morality — true morality — is rooted not in God or gods or devils, but in the human quiddity: our rational faculty.

    As a thing is defined by its identity, so humans are defined by their acts — which is to say, their actions.

    Our actions are in turn shaped by our thoughts.

    Your brain is the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. Nothing increases its strength like thinking.Cultivate, therefore, deliberate thought.

    It is the greatest asset you’ve got.

    * * *

    Your life is largely a process of turning your interests into talents, which is done through a process of practice.

    Talent is learned. It is cultivated.

    Talent is not fated.

    Your talents are rooted in the things you most enjoy doing.

    It is in this sense that your passions are primarily willed.

    Find your passions and grow them, and the more you do this, the more completely you’ll be fulfilled.

    * * *

    If you want to go to college, go.

    If your true desire requires something specialized or technical — like medicine or engineering or law — go.

    By all means, this.

    The point here is not to condemn college categorically, for condemnation sake.

    The point here — the only point here — is that if you’re going to college because that’s what you’ve been told you should do, or because you’ve been told that you must go to college in order to have a more complete or successful life, do not go.

    Do not go to college merely for lack of anything better.

    If you don’t yet know what you want to do, do not go.

    Don’t go back to college for that Bachelor’s degree in sociology.

    Don’t go back to college to try and motivate yourself to write, or in an attempt to fill your time, or your head.

    Cultivate your brain instead.

    Read. Think. Blink. Drink.


    Be self-taught. 

    Learn to play the piano or piccolo or sax.

    Read and think a lot.

    There is no hurry — I assure you, there is no hurry.

    I assure you, you need not worry. In fact, it is a good thing to not yet know what you want, because life is a gigantic canvas and there’s so much with which to fill it, so much to do — have you not heard? So much, indeed, that choosing one thing at twenty or thirty or even forty is absurd.

    College is far from the be-all-and-the-end-all. College is a lot of conformity and groupthink.

    It can truly stunt your brain, every bit as much as lack of nourishment or food.

    College is very often nothing more than pointless debt accrued.

    * * *

    Your desire to become the person you most want to become is ultimately the only thing you need.

    In its elaboration, this will require a great deal — focus, discipline, practice — but the desire is the fundamental thing.

    As long as there’s a fundamental desire and it burns like a fire, there’s no limit to anyone’s achievement. You needn’t be a savant. The desire to excel is the most important ingredient in becoming what you want.

    * * *

    “Life is an unceasing sequence of single actions, but the single action is by no means isolated,” wrote Ludwig von Mises. 

    Your life is largely a process of transforming your interests into talents, which, in turn, comes about through a process of practice.

    It is in this sense, I say again, that your passions are primarily willed, and not inborn or innate.

    Even genius is willed. You make yourself great.

    * * *

    Life is work.

    Jobs are healthy. Work is good. Work is good for the soul. Be happy in your work.

    Nothing more fundamental than labor is required for the production of abundance and the good things that you want for your life.

    Labor takes many forms.

    Blue-collar jobs build character, as they build invaluable work habits that you’ll never lose.

    In her book No Shame in My Game, Katherine Newman points out what has been blindingly obvious to many of us for years: namely, that so-called low-skilled, blue-collar jobs, whether fast-food, waitressing, bartending, barista, custodial, clerking, so on, they require talents completely commensurate with, or even surpassing, white-collar work:

    “Memory skills, inventory management, the ability to work with a diverse crowd of employees, and versatility in covering for co-workers when the demand increases,” she writes.

    Among many, many other skills, I would add.

    Servers, bartenders, baristas, expos, clerks, et cetera, must multitask and remember every bit as much as, for example, an ER doc.

    That’s one of the many reasons these jobs are good, and not something anybody should knock. And anyone who knocks them is an elitist fool without actual sense — destined to become a cipher of history — and on that you may quote me wildly.

    * * *

    What do you value? The active work of your body and brain?

    Find work that you enjoy and embrace it. Become good at it. Become better. Pour your energy into your work like rain. Enjoy the motions of your body in concert with your brain. Because he or she who’s faithful in a little is faithful in a lot.

    Everything you do, therefore, do it with all that you’ve got.

About The Author

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning as the constant in my life.

2 Responses and Counting...

  • Jim franzen 01.16.2020

    I agree with your premise. You can teach skills, but you can’t change. If they come to you without a tolerance for ambiguity, you aren’t going to change that. Better to point them to environments where that isn’t required.

    Read. Think. Blink. Drink. And Mises in the same essay.


  • “You can teach skills”

    Of all people, you would know — brilliant musician that you are.

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