Bullshit & Success

It’s ironic how the site called ‘Without Bullshit’ posted some bullshit of its own in a recent article, How to judge people, by Josh Bernoff.

Bernoff gives some examples of ‘failure’ that aren’t really failures when put in the correct context. You see this all the time online – off people telling their stories of how they were at a supposed ‘disadvantage’ only to succeed wildly, but you never hear the countless stories of people who failed and continue to fail, never succeeding. Such people make up the ‘hidden’ bulk of society, who achieve little in life. They are hidden because you never hear about the, yet they are the majority. All we hear are the Daredevil stories.

Bernoff lists the following as his ‘failures’:

My first job was writing software manuals.

I’ve never joined a company with more than 150 people in it.

How are these failures? Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft all at one time had less than 150 employees. Were all those early employees failures?

How is writing software manuals a ‘failure’. It beats working at Walmart, and probably pays more, too.

I’m currently earning next to nothing.

Kinda misleading. A person with marketable skills but temporary unemployed is in a much better position than someone who is gainfully employed but with low-paying skills. Many successful people get gigs and contracts which, while sporadic, pay large sums when they are realized, compared to people who go to work for a smaller but more consistent paycheck.

I was laid off from my last two jobs. All my other jobs lasted three years or less each.

Being laid off doesn’t mean you personally failed, unless you obviously didn’t meet the goals of the company in spite of your best efforts. Maybe you were laid off because of the the economy or other factors outside of your control. Choosing to leave a job doesn’t mean you failed, if you find a better job. There just isn’t enough information by provided by the author to assume he failed.

Every book I’ve written has had someone else’s name on the cover alongside mine. Each book I publish sells less than the last one.

Considering the majority of manuscripts are rejected, getting anything published is a success, unless he’s talking about self-publishing.

My teenage children have made choices that would horrify some people.

Economist Bryan Caplan has some interesting research that parenting has little influence on long-term behavior of children:

Instead of thinking of kids as lumps of clay that parents “mold,” we should think of kids as plastic that flexes in response to pressure – and springs back to its original shape once the pressure goes away.

Some successes:

I was the best math student at Penn State in decades, graduating in 3 years with a 4.0 average.

I earned a National Science Foundation Fellowship and accepted MIT’s offer to join their Ph.D. program in mathematics.

The successes obviously outweigh the failures. Is his successes weren’t so impressive and rare, he probably would not have had the courage to list the failures, which aren’t really that big of failures to begin with.

Most people have poor critical thinking skills, accepting things prima facie – if it’s written by an ‘authority’, it must always be true. I can read anything and, provided it’s not too long or outside of my expertise, immediately find counterexamples in about 90% of instances. Counterexamples don’t necessarily refute a thesis, but often the author will write a strong-worded article without even considering counterexamples, which are obvious to anyone with even average mental ability who is paying attention.

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