The Layman Sails Not

Standing on the banks
The layman sails not
But intent on succeeding,
He plans, toils, and plots
Only he’s living in a dream,
For he accomplishes naught
And without the tests of time,
His craft lay in rot

While he watched men of the world go forth
He judged himself still provincial and stayed hither
Hence through age and not mediocrity,
Unspent passion soon withers

Years on and gone wasted,
He recalled the voyages of great men:
How they were once but mediocre,
And he was once but one of them


Unproductive day, dissapointed. Perfection is surely a lesson only the great can teach; the rest of us damned to learn it, aiming to be great and failing to venture forth and acheive what may be called good, even great. There’s a diffference between living a life that is a work in progress and making progress.

Maybe it’s just patience I Iack, but I’ve been here before. I made that great mistake mediocre men make in trying to be great: I turned back at the water’s edge. Yes, I built a raft and made ready to venture across the river but on reaching the water’s edge and not feeling my craft swift or good enough, I turned back.

But what if I would have cast off?

Oh the pain in not knowing and then knowing! This is hindsight: to see,  years later, the mediocre man made great by the greatness of his voyage. Not to say any person is mediocre – that is to say, not mediocre in the downcast view the bourgeois have of their self-imposed fate – no, when I say mediocre, I say it with reverence, I refer to the Latin mediocris, meaning: moderate, ordinary, from medius: middle. Great men were no more than ordinary men who took great voyages. The voyage great, simply because it was made. The anchor of mediocrity that weighs the ordinary man down is not his lack of greatness, but his lack of courage to venture forth into greatness from mediocrity, for it is not the greatness of the man that makes him great but the greatness of his will. How many men build and beat on their craft only to turn back at the rising tide of time!?  For there is an eternal winter from whence only the willingness to be mediocre can lead one to greener pastures. How the sun might shine resplendent on the faces of the mediocre if only they would go! Swim across the damning bank for the sake of living, will ye.

In the book Into The Wild, Christopher McCandless reaches such a bank. After months in the wilderness he prepares to egress, only to reach the river and turn back after judging his swimming skills inadequate to cross. The author remarks that had he simply walked a few miles downstream he would have reached a spot where he could have safely navigated tamer, shallower waters. Of course, this is an easy observation, and we know what tragic fate young Mr. McCandless meets; needless to say, he does not die a drowning death.

I hope I am forgiven in using this anecdote – for I only use it as metaphor and the story of Christopher McCandless has doubtless inspired countless youth to venture forth from the banks of mediocrity into greatness – for Christopher McCandless crossed many such banks before he found the one he dared not cross.

And I write this standing on the edge of my own banks – staring into the abyss of possibility – beating on my own craft: my business, my writing, my concept of self, all works in progress, all mediocre, all inadequate, all laden with excuses for not doing the damn thing.

So it is, I write this to call myself to account. I’m still young and through the process of self-honesty I have staved off the eternal winter of mediocrity, but I am not as young as I might be had I crossed this river sooner. Now I am thirty. That age when men stand in the river of time whether they dare chance it or not. A man at thirty faces his possibilities and whether he belives in himself or not, he knows in his heart what he might be.

I don’t want to grow old standing in the cold bank of the river. I know that luck is not preperation meeting opportunity, but action creating it. The needle of probability which directs our fate is controlled by each of us. Whether we take action, moving chance from unlikely to likely, or whether we stand in the evermore freezing banks of the river, our craft decaying in the eternal winter of preperation, we hold our future in our own hands. I personally have never in all my life failed at anything, except relationships and those ventures I did not undertake. And only the latter of the two I regret.

In ten years I will be forty, and in less than a year’s time I will be thirty one. Perchance I could speak to him, what would my great grandfather say to me?

I’d like to imagine he would encourage me to venture forth from as many banks as I could as fast as I may. He would tell me not to strive to be great but, rather, to strive to do great things. The doer of great things being the one who does them.

I have a friend who makes half a million dollars a month. He did not attain this through perfectionism – he did it by casting off the lines from the dock and putting his ideas to sea. His compass – his needle of probability – pointing
straight to likely, while mine, so long as my ideas do not sail forth, will remain on the banks of mediocrity – my needle pointing straight to mediocrity.

I challenge myself (Having no other choice in the face of such hard truths) to set sail. Every idea, every dream, every plan, is no more than a mist, a vapor, a fog. The only measurable and worthy idea – the only plan or dream that may come to fruition, being the one we deem worthy of releasing into the world. Until then, they lie buried beneath the crushing weight of our egos, decaying with an increasing tide of self-consciousness. A plan is a dream with a deadline. A failure is one whose time either passes or never comes. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of?

Money meet mouth. For mediocrity is a river, possibility an abyss. Only action and its palpable results, only what may be called good enough and done, may be called great.  While you are here be not a master architect or shipbuilder; be a sailor, mediocre as your untested craft may be.

A Note on Work, Success, and Survivorship Bias

Coincidentally I’m taking a break from working to write this, but I wanted to get this message down.

Essentially, we all have to work in life – well, at least those of us not born into the lucky sperm club – but, even then, there’s a certain brand of satisfaction that comes from working, from doing something you enjoy, that you can’t get anywhere else. Fuck all the noise about doing what you love – I mean by all means, it’s something to strive for – but the truth is, if you want to do what you love then you better work your ass off to do whatever that is – just don’t forget how satisfying working can be in the meantime. I’m not where I want to be yet, and some would call me crazy to know the journey I have been on, but I am getting there.

It’s easy to turn on the TV, or go on social media and see stories of people making a killing doing something they enjoy – and there are people who get paid to do just about anything you can imagine having fun doing, from yacht captains and travel guides, to exotic car dealers and artists. And that should be inspiring to you, but don’t let the television or the internet fool you into comparing yourself to anyone, because it’s easy to look around and feel like everyone is getting rich, or doing what they love. In the business world we call this Survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias is the fallacy of looking at all the visible successes, “the survivors”, and drawing a conclusion based on that evidence. The fallacy in this case arises from the fact that the parties who did not ‘make it’ aren’t visible, and thus, seemingly logical, yet highly erroneous conclusions are drawn based on poor incomplete evidence.

An obvious example (and one that I think most people are aware of) is Hollywood, because – as everyone knows – for every successful actor, there are literally thousands of people hitting their forties who just never made it (Remember that the next time the barista at CBTL fucks up your drink – he wanted to be the next Gerard Butler and all he got awarded was his dog in the divorce). But beyond ambitious waiters, there are numerous other instances in life where Survivorship bias clouts our estimations of what it means to make it and what it takes to become successful.

I don’t tell you this my dear reader to discourage you, but rather to help you figure out the differences between those who make it and those who do not – ironically, the biggest pitfall of Survivorship bias is that it causes people to fail because they falsely attribute success to the wrong factors.

I’m not saying that the friend of mine who is going to make a million dollars this year pod-casting got lucky – not at all, but those who do not recognize the inherent blind-spots posed by survivorship bias might think that [luck] is precisely the case. No, he ‘got lucky’ because he moved the needle from unlikely to likely, from improbable to probable. He picked up the phone when he was Joe Schmoe and called the biggest names, and asked to interview them – and he kept at it for months. There is no such thing as luck; you make your own luck, and every successful person I have ever known has put themselves in a position to succeed. They created something of value and then worked just as hard to get it in front of the people who could benefit from it.

I’m getting closer to being able to call myself a survivor, but I want to make it clear that I paid a price that few people would be willing to pay. I’ve got stories.

It’s the quote of: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t to live the rest of your life like most people can’t”.

Work is going to have it’s ups and downs – just today I had a very terse phone call, which led to me saying some not nice, but ultimately very empowering things. A sign from the universe I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there – the point is that you have to have a big vision. You have to enjoy being on your path. You have to just laugh it off and get back to work.

I don’t know what kind of plans G-d has for you, but if you don’t have big plans for yourself and you aren’t sacrificing harder than the guy who is going to make it, I can’t help you.

And I don’t care what you do, I don’t care how much money you have, etc., etc., – but what I do care about for you my dear reader is that you are having a satisfying life. That means different things to different people, but to all of us it means being as well-equipped mentally and as psychologically bolstered as we can be to succeed at being a fucking human being.

There’s a lot of uncommon common sense out there, but no one wants to hear that you have to pick up the phone, that you have to live in a dump, that you have to work harder than everyone else. They just want to make their mind up about why everyone else made it and they didn’t.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar