Stop Climbing Mount Stupid
“In your 20s you can be anything.
But in your 30s you are things.”
Fascinating quote, right? Guess who said it.
Confucius? Nope. Naval, the Twitter legend? Guess again.
Albert Einstein? No, although probably someone on the internet has attributed it to him at some point.
This pearl of wisdom came from HBO’s classic, Sex and the City.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s character said that after discovering her one-night stand used all the toilet paper as a coffee filter. While she wiggled and hovered over the porcelain throne, the words tattooed themselves on my brain.
And like toilet paper, they’ve been more meaningful than ever this year.
Imagine you’re building your first business. You could sell any product, but for the sake of argument, let’s reduce the number of choices available. Should you create an online course or start a paid newsletter?
Probably, you’ll run the numbers first.
“Okay, if I charge $5 per month for a paid newsletter, then I only need 20 subscribers to reach $100 running, but if I make a course and sell it for $497, I only need to sell one unit to make 5 months of newsletter income!”
The cash registers start ringing in your mind. What if you sell 2 courses? 10?! You decide to build the course.
With this decision comes a thousand little choices. What should your course be about? How long should it be? Where will the course live? Should you do short lessons or long ones? Is your webcam resolution high enough? Shoot — do you even have a microphone?
Each of these bumps requires energy and thought. Thinking is hard, but you push through it because you believe in the vision (or at least, the money). You do the tough stuff.
One eternity later, you export the last lesson and breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve finally done it. Launch time.
You craft a proud announcement to your 1,000 person email list.
You hover over the send button, butterflies in your stomach.
You grit your teeth and click.
Seconds crawl into minutes as you refresh the cart.
“That’s fine,” you tell yourself, beating back the tentacles of doubt creeping into the edge of your mind. “It’s only been a few minutes.” You decide to go for a long walk to calm your nerves. An hour later, you return to a disaster:
Still, nobody has bought.
A full day rolls by. You’ve made zero sales. Doubt turns to panic. Panic, to despair.
What went wrong? Was the price too high? Did your sales page break? Is it possible your webcam wasn’t good enough? Did you have the wrong customer in the first place?
Now, you’re angry.
“I had 1,000 people following me! Not even ONE of them wanted to buy?!”
At this point, your is mind dripping with fury and your fingers are dripping with the whisky you just poured.
You sit back, take a sip, and think of that newsletter you didn’t start.
What does it take to master anything?
If I asked you that question you’d probably come up with a few good answers: education, practice, work. Maybe you’d think about inherited abilities, like genetics or talent.
A simpler answer is — commitment.
Commitment is kind of like eating a 42-ounce steak. At first, it sounds like heaven. An hour later, you realize that maybe gnashing on dead cow isn’t as fun as it first appeared. Commitment when it comes to skill is even tougher, in part due to the Dunning Kruger effect.
The Dunning Kruger effect is an odd quirk of the brain that makes you feel like an expert long before you reach expert status. It’s the rush you get when you swim your first lap in the pool before realizing some people can cross the English Channel in nothing but a wetsuit. It’s the magic of learning addition before being introduced to the madness of calculus.
In our example, your confidence swells when you conquer the first set of challenges (“What webcam should I use?”, etc.). Then, you plummet back down in the face of nobody purchasing the course. Re-building your confidence at that point demands you answer the second set of challenges (“Why did nobody buy,” etc.).
The fall from “Mount Stupid” to the “Valley of Despair” is agony. Why? Because, after feeling like the smartest person in the world, you feel like an idiot. Rather than face that, the average person will try something else.
They will climb Mount Stupid, again and again, hoping that the initial summit is enough to master a talent.
It never is.
Sadly, few individuals survive the fall from Mount Stupid. Deep in the Dunning-Kruger’s Valley of Dispair, they kick themselves for making the wrong choice. The temptation of what they “could have” done is irresistible.
“Could have” thinking is more delusional than any other type of thinking because it dwells on an alternate past. At least when you think of future versions of yourself, you do so through the lens of your current reality.
The land of “could have” is a magical place where no problems exist.
This is total nonsense, of course. If you’d chosen the newsletter instead of the course, you’d go through the same cycle.
You’d have to answer a million little questions (how long? how often? what topic?), and then you’d have to answer a million more questions that you didn’t even know existed.
That means it doesn’t matter what choice you make. The same level of grit is required. Finding success, then (whatever that means to you), is not only about mastering one area. It’s about refusing to indulge in the cheap high of learning another one.
In that Sex in the City scene, the main character’s date is a total mess. His apartment is sloppy. His career is stagnant. He has potential, but he hasn’t yet dedicated himself to any path. More to the point, he can’t let go of the romantic idea that he could be anything.
It’s a total fantasy.
Learning new things can be an addiction, just like any drug. It might be worse, actually, because learning feels productive. In reality, it’s death by a thousand cuts.
Instead, lay your ego to the side. Do the embarrassing work of becoming an expert.
Stop jumping off Mount Stupid only to climb it again.