You and I just can't just download decades of training and competence.
I am a serious Matrix fan. The first one, not the sequels. And while I have no conceit that I am right in my premise for the title, this is what I think. At this age, I have the right to an opionion or two. Still...
I know, I know, who cares, right? But humor me here. I think that the movie's premise is genuinely important, and that there were some powerful undercurrent messages about how we are manipulated without our being mindful of it. NO, I don't believe in conspiracy theories. This is more that media, social media and a great many other sources of constant messaging have a way of influencing us in ways we may not always understand, and not just to make us BUY BUY BUY.
While that may well be true, and my hand is up here, I am more interested in how some of The Matrix's more slick constructs may well have helped convince us that we really can bypass the work it takes to become an expert and leap to the head of line in no time. Note to Dear Reader: I am using The Matrix to make a point, but I also believe that this kind of thinking is a natural evolution of Get Rich Quick thinking which has been around for a very long time.
Here's what I mean:
When Neo first wakes up in his slimy pod, he has no muscle tone.
No matter. Lie down and we'll just attach lots of electrodes.
Boom. Instant athlete.
The Fakepreneur is still selling gimmicks like that. Don't work but BUY THIS NOW AND HAVE SIX-PACK ABS.
Can't fight? No worries. We'll just plug in the software. Seconds later you're a jujistu expert. No years of sweat, practice, failure and discipline.
Boom. Instant serious badass.
Plenty of Fakepreneurs make similar promises about learning languages, learning new skills. Or getting rich on Medium or Linked In overnight without learning to write, having anything of value to say, or much of any kind of effort on our part. You can be an $500 an hour Life Coach at 22, without having the slightest clue about Life. Just type in your credit card right here...
Please kindly ask my buddy Rosennab what it took for her to earn that Fourth Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. Wasn’t a software download.
You get my drift.
Here's how that plays out in my life.
Scenario #1: I'm in the gym locker room. Very young woman asks me how to get my guns. I tell her: forty-plus years of lifting, 100 men's pushups a day, heavy duty weight work, day after day, year after year. Decade after decade. Might not take her that long, as our bodies vary a lot, but it isn’t a two week enterprise. Not at all.
OMG, she says. I can't do that. I don't have time.
Okay. You can get silicone implants or oil bags instead of real muscles. However, piece of advice: you might not want to lift anything heavy, because you will end up in the hospital. You might end up seriously disabled. Please see this:
Scenario #2: I come down the stage steps after a speech where I got a standing ovation. Man in line asks me how I "get" to do that. I tell him: years of practice, years and thousands invested in professional training and coaching, writing my own prize-winning books (two of them) putting my time in at the low fee levels, learning to tell a story, learning how to sell, run a business.
Guy says I can't do that. I don't have time.
Okay. You go right ahead and hang out a shingle, claiming expertise you don't have, or steal from real experts. Maybe you get a gig. When you are booed off stage or your client demands their money back, and you are roundly slammed online, blacklisted from other gigs and possibly sued for copyright infringement, kindly, don't call me for advice.
Dr. Bakari, who has decades of transformational experience, has seen this all over the Internet, exacerbated by Covid. Folks in their twenties who have no life experience promising to transform lives that they haven't even lived themselves.
Scenario #3: I speak or write about my adventure travel. Somebody in the audience wants to know how I "get" to do that. Like there's an office where I put in an application to become an international adventure travel expert and blogger. Like there's a real place where a massively inexperienced rank rookie with nothing whatsoever on their resume is going to be given that kind of work and get paid for it. Sure. Sign me up, Sparky.
I tell him: forty years of writing and journalism experience, Fortune 100-500 consulting, prize-winning business experience, extensive adventure travel on my own time and dime to build the expertise, sales skills, business skills, investing in travel writing coaching....to say nothing of the serious, lifelong athletic training which allows me to do these trips with expertise and confidence.
Kid says, I can't do that. I don't have time.
Well, okay. See how well you can compete with tens of thousands of folks seeking a free ride from international concessions who are tired of freeloaders, not interested in Your Magical Trip to Indonesia, who won't tolerate poor writing, and who have no intention of paying your way. Not even.
So when you find yourself begpacking in Seoul, and kicked off the street by intolerant travelers who are done with freeloading White folks who prey on the poor, don't fire me an email. I'll likely be on my way to the top of another mountain, on paid assignment.
Cheating your way to the top doesn't work very well
I doubt that The Matrix was the inception of these ideas, that somehow you and I could hack our way past all the years of work and sweat and effort. People have always sought an easier path, a quicker way to avoid the very hard labor to the top. I think that the seductive sci-fi of the messaging doesn't help.
While I can understand both the compulsion to hurry up already and be the expert, I might offer that this is very much like being taken to the top of a difficult mountain by helicopter. You get your Instagram shot, then show it off to all your friends.
While I am quite sure the photograph itself might provide some superficial sense of satisfaction, the problem is that it's far more indicative of the seriously twisted ego need to get to dessert without deserving it.
To that, this morning I read the following article on Medium by Jessica Wildfire:
Wildfire points out:
Toxic entrepreneurs want to mentor someone before they have any experience. They’re aching to narrate their biography the minute they get an idea. They read every story about Elon Musk.
They also value money over people, she says, which is precisely what I am hearing when folks want to "GET" to do what I do without understanding the giving nature of my work or the level of commitment it took for me to "GET" to do what I do.
These folks, the ones who badger me for secrets and hacks that don't exist, seem to believe that they have to be successful before thirty. To that, this article from Inc. points out why this is a fallacy:
Some of us, and I am one, don't even begin to bloom until middle age or late middle age. There are people who rise and then flame out by 35. They're done, and many end up leaning on their rotting laurels for the rest of their lives. The good ones keep right on buidling. As they age, they take what they did in their youth and expand on it.
Others take a long time to become an overnight success. There's nothing overnight about it. I didn't write my first book until 2010 when I was 57. That first effort won three prizes.
There's a bit of a joke in the speaking industry, where I have spent a good part of my career, that anyone's first book is usually awful. Not mine, but only because by the time I finally got around to writing the damned thing I had decades of experience as a writer. Nothing overnight about that.
Toxic entrepreneurs are drawn to the attention, not the work. (author bolded)
If you use the examples I gave in my own life above, she is absolutely spot on. None of those people who wanted what they perceived I had were willing to put the time and effort into earning them. The years of sweat and labor to get the guns, the education and effort to earn the business success, the time and money to learn the adventure travel business.
My favorite bit out of Wildfire's piece:
They Suffer from Tony Stark Complex.
Above all, toxic entrepreneurs want to be a fictional character with massive wealth, a vibrant personality, and an adventurous lifestyle. They’ll take the personality flaws, too. But they miss the real story and lesson of Tony Stark. Time and again, Stark creates problems for the world that he then tries to solve with his own brilliance.
She nails it.
Tony Stark is funny, he gets laid a lot, women scream when he gets out of the car, and he is a dangerous, irresponsible asshole.
In other words, to her articles points, he hurts more than he helps if for no other reason than he is such a raging asshole that he is constantly creating bigger and more dangerous messes than he can put out.
Like so many toxic people he creates the fires for which he wants to be given hero buttons to put out.
Such people have always been with us. Perhaps, and I don't have any research on this, I think that the comparison-crazy environment created by social media and Instagram took that to new heights.
Some folks will always want to hack the system and try to find shortcuts to riches, power and popularity. When we lionize fictional heroes like Neo who didn't have to do the work to earn his MMA powers, his athletic ability, or we wanna be like Tony Stark who above all things is an effing lowlife of a human being with too many smarts and too much money, we skew our value system.
Yesterday afternoon I was talking to a friend in Portland about these very things. His comment, and he is 58, was that he loved doing the work to achieve his goals. This man was an endurance runner who switched to bike racing when his knees began to give out. For him, as for me as an athlete who climbs big mountains, rides difficult horses and does some pretty badass sports, if we don't do the work to get ourselves in proper shape, we can bonk, or in my case, outright die.
No silicone impants are going to give me the strength to hang onto a horse's neck after being tossed forward, and wait until said horse and the guide's horse get over a nasty tiff. Nasty tiff involved kicking and biting, and my body was about to drop right into the middle of that melee of flying hooves belonging to two 1500-lb angry horses.
You see my point? At 67, there are no shortcuts to the strength and endurance I possess. There are no Magic Pills or software downloads that my cycling buddy in Portland can take which will give him the strength and endurance to master 100-mile rides over hills. There is no magic sauce or quickie overnight program to turn me into a successful writer. There are only work, study, practice.
The only thing that Wildfire fails to mention in her piece is that toxic entrepreneurs refuse to deal with failure. In fact they're terrified of it.
As the single best example, that fear is precisely why the Orange Menace has tried to hide his taxes for so long. His entire business life is one monumental failure after another, only propped up by more loans, many of which are coming due in the next four years. Close to four hundred thirty million, in fact. He's broke, and likely is owned and puppeted by people like Putin. He fits Wildfire's example perfectly.
And millions wanna be a "successful businessman" just like him.
Success in my world doesn't carry the same definition, I guess. If success is defined by little more than a string of bankruptcies and massive personal debt, then kindly do not sign me up.
I have considerable empathy for those who are intimidated by the time it will likely take them to build any kind of mastery. Totally get impatience. I used to be impatient until I got old enough to notice how the incremental steps began to pay off big time over time. And ONLY over time. That is just one gift of aging.
Another gift of aging is that you have weathered enough failures to not only not be so fearful of them, but grateful for them. For mastery is all about mastering the self, not the environment. That is a critical insight that these overly eager folks might be missing, especially the student who informed Wildfire that her class was unnecessary. The hubris, but what can you do?
Another potential gift of aging is growing out of magical thinking and the kind of delusion that we don't have to be responsible. Or work hard. Or be aware that the kind of work we do in the world increasingly needs to be inclusive, not at the expense of other people, their countries and resources.
You and I can download lots of things to make us experts. The problem is that as humans in a real world with real limitions, for most of us who are not Elon Musk or other wunderkinds, that downloading takes time, sweat equity, social capital, hard work, plenty of failures and losses.
Ultimately you discover, if you're lucky, that it always was and forever will be the journey, not the money, the relationships, not the riches, the service, not the sucking need for attention that matter.
And those only come with time.