Steven Pressfield wrote for 30 years before publishing The Legend of Bagger Vance. His career leading up to then was bleak, at one point living in a halfway house because it had cheap rent.
He once spoke about the people he met living there:
The people in this halfway house, we used to hang out in the kitchen and talk all night long, were among the smartest people that I ever met and the funniest and the most interesting.
And what I concluded from hanging out with them and from others in a similar situation was that they weren’t crazy at all. They were actually the smart people who had seen through the bullshit. And because of that, they couldn’t function in the world.
They couldn’t hold a job because they just couldn’t take the bullshit, and that was how they wound up in institutions. The greater society thought, “Well these people are absolute rejects. They can’t fit in.” But in fact they were actually the people that really saw through everything.
This may not have been Pressfield’s point, but it reminds of something I’ve long believed.
If you recognize that BS is ubiquitous, then the question is not “How can I avoid all of it?” but, “What is the optimal amount to put up with so I can still function in a messy and imperfect world?”
If your tolerance is zero – if you are allergic to differences in opinion, personal incentives, emotions, inefficiencies, miscommunication and such – your odds of succeeding in anything that requires other people rounds to zero. You can’t function in the world, as Pressfield says.
The other end of the spectrum – fully accepting every incidence of nonsense and hassle – is just as bad. The world will eat you alive.
The thing people miss is that there are bad things that become bigger problems when you try to eliminate them. I think the most successful people recognize when a certain amount of acceptance beats purity.
Theft is a good example.
A grocery store could eliminate theft by strip-searching every customer leaving the store. But then no one would shop there. So the optimal level of theft is never zero. You accept a certain level as an inevitable cost of progress.BS, in all its forms, is similar.
A unique skill, an underrated skill, is identifying the optimal amount of hassle and nonsense you should put up with to get ahead while getting along.
Good advice for a lot of things is just, “Identify the price and be willing to pay it.”
The price, for so many things, is putting up with an optimal amount of hassle.
Photo credit: Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash