Note: This is last week’s syndicated column.
Every now and again a term gets coined and comes into circulation that perfectly describes in shorthand a phenomenon you used to have to use whole sentences, paragraphs, pages or books to describe.
The late psychedelic guru Timothy Leary called these terms “neurologically exact.”
Do you remember the first time you ever heard someone say, “Hey, don’t get uptight”? You didn’t have to ask what they meant, did you?
Well recently I was exposed to a term which perfectly describes a phenomenon whole books have been written about. For example Diana West’s, “The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization,” of David Mamet’s, “The Secret Knowledge.”
I encountered it in the online version of the humor magazine Cracked. I remember Cracked as a sort of poor relation to the much better-known and influential MAD Magazine of beloved memory, before “the usual gang of idiots” died off or retired and MAD was possessed by the Devil, a.k.a. AOL/Time-Warner.
It was in an article titled, “How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World” by David Wong. I’m not sure if Wong invented the term or not, but it’s a good one.
The essence of it was that movies like “The Karate Kid” show someone going from being bad at something to being good at it over the course of a two-minute musical montage, after a sudden enlightening attitude change.
Ever work that way for you?
Me neither. Like Daniel-san I was a skinny kid who got picked on. But I acquired my instructors credentials in two martial arts and intermediate/advanced level skill in a half-dozen others via thousands of dollars spent on lessons and reference materials, and tens of thousands of hours of practice.
I switched professions in mid-life when I was living and working in Eastern Europe in an exciting milieu of dramatic change, civil war, and international intrigue.
After getting some great stories as an amateur I went back to school. I then became an underpaid reporter at my first newspaper – one with less than 12,000 circulation. I’m on my second, somewhat larger paper now.
I cover local government, agriculture, small business etc. It’s called paying dues.
Success in most professions does not require genius. It requires a certain minimum of study, experience and a lot of paying dues.
The classic, reliable way of getting rich for those of us not in on the ground floor of the Next Big Thing, is not at all complicated. Get a job, any job. Gradually increase your earning power via skills training. Do a conspicuously good job. Put aside ten percent of your earnings, regular as clockwork, for years and years. Invest it according to the best advice you can find, which itself takes a lot of research. Get married, stay married, buy a house. By the time you’re ready to retire, barring disaster, you’ll be at least comfortably, maybe very well-off.
And yet, every year a multitude of college students graduate from our institutions of higher learning expecting to own the world, or a substantial piece of it, while they are still young and good-looking.
That’s when they run into effort shock.
Notice that formula for success is not complicated, merely very, very, difficult. It requires sustained patient effort, and delay of immediate gratification, over years. And years. Not to mention the fairly frequent bad luck, or bad judgment, that means you have to start all over again.
This applies to success in all things. How many people can’t stay married, not because of those “irreconcilable differences” but because staying married is hard?
Of course people have always encountered effort shock, but it does seem to be more pronounced these days.
If I had to guess, I’d say modern civilization makes us a little too comfortable. Not many of us grow up on farms anymore where kids are part of the workforce from an early age. We don’t grow up working hard just to stay afloat.
I wouldn’t give up those civilized comforts. On a not-too-spectacular salary I still have a house full of stuff people used to pay fortunes for when I was a kid, if they existed at all.
But sometimes I wish I could make life a little harder for my children. And sometimes I wonder if that’s not going to happen anyway.