Confusing Arrogance with Benevolence

by Krishna on June 8, 2010

In the way that only David Heinemeier Hansson can:

Where to start?

For people who complain about bad luck, it doesn’t really matter what a successful person is talking about. If the complainer has put in no or little effort, the complaints are just excuses. If they have put in a lot of effort, they are just trying to comfort themselves. People need to move on from failures and one way is to stop blaming themselves. Either way, what somebody else says is no concern to them. So you are not doing any favors to them.

Success and failure are very relative. If you are employed in the software industry in the United States, you are more successful than 95% (or more) of the entire population of Planet Earth. Seriously, think about that! But if we are doing the comparison with someone, say, Steve Jobs, many (all?) of us, including David Hansson, would be miserable failures. To a significant extent (beyond absolute poverty and starvation), success or failure is a function of your mindset.

In fact, the rat race in the 21st century would seem amazingly strange to most of our ancestors who cannot even imagine the advances that modern science has made. Modern medicine, fuel-powered travel, electricity, indoor plumbing: Luxuries compared to the past, but which we take for granted. So what is this success/failure thing? Made a few extra pieces of silver? Is that the definition of success?

Or maybe success is about doing or making something that you wanted. Then it is about meeting your own need of achievement or happiness. It has nothing to do with other people. Isn’t it enough to be gracious and thankful for being able to achieve your dreams? Or is success defined in terms of proving yourself to other people? Pity for such a narrow viewpoint because the only thing left after achieving that is to hope that no one else will reach your level.

To brag about how you reach where you are because of what you are is to diminish the effort of the co-workers, partners, customers, teachers, friends (open source contributors!) and relatives who helped you get there. Yes, you did your part, but they were instrumental (consciously or otherwise) in helping your work not get wasted.

I am reminded of Jim’s Collins’s concept of Level 5 Leadership in his book “Good to Great”, where he says that good leaders look in the window (outwards) when searching for reasons for success and look in the mirror (inwards) when looking for causes of failure. And bad leaders do the opposite.

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