When I was a kid, I used to get completely and thoroughly panicky before any big or meaningful test (and my idea of big and meaningful was somewhat skewed, looking back.) You see, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how much I studied, I was never perfect (now, there were several physiological reasons for this, including undiagnosed ADD and sensory issues. But of course I was never going to be perfect, anyway.) And then I would get back a test with an A which always shocked me. I felt like I’d pulled a great con on the world.
The truth of course, was that the teacher didn’t expect us to do everything perfectly. She had mental benchmarks for us to hit. (At least in elementary. After that we entered a crazy tiltawhirl where curriculum changed every month, and…. yeah. The indoctrination went on though.)
And when I first got married, I kept panicking at everything that needed to be done to keep the house running, and being sure I was about to mess up and it all would come crashing around my head. You could say that my expectations for myself were unreasonable — they were — because things never crashed and burned, though sometimes the laundry pile at the end of the bed is where we got all our clothes. (There is still a laundry pile. These days it’s mostly stuff waiting to be ironed or have a some mending done, though.)
And when I first had kids, I had persistent nightmares that I forgot to feed the infant and he died. (In that case, I should have run screaming for ADD meds, but hey. It was a subconscious self-diagnosis.) And there were days, like when I found older son eating croutons from the bag, because I was writing and forgot to make lunch; he was hungry and that’s what he could reach in the pantry. He’s 30 and married and living away from us, though, so I didn’t fail COMPLETELY.
I just always feel like I fall incredibly short of my standards.
Yesterday, while talking about something else, I told younger son I try very hard not to lie. He said “true, but your self valuation is so bad it’s an actual lie. Particularly of your own work. You write this incredible stuff, then act embarrassed because it’s not very good. It’s a lie, even if you’re lying to yourself.”
And maybe he’s right. I’m probably not the 12 year old trying to bluff the adult world that I feel I am.
Partly because most of us feel that way. Partly because we know how imperfect we all are.
Someone in the comments yesterday said that he feels as though a few very competent individuals are keeping civilization going. He’s not wrong. There’s a metric and ratio and a name for them.
According to the Pareto Principle:
More generally, the Pareto Principle is the observation (not law) that most things in life are not distributed evenly. It can mean all of the following things:
20% of the input creates 80% of the result
20% of the workers produce 80% of the result
20% of the customers create 80% of the revenue
20% of the bugs cause 80% of the crashes
20% of the features cause 80% of the usage
And on and on…(More at the link.)
This also means that 20% of what you do creates 80% of the results you see. But don’t drive yourself nuts looking for it, because it might change all the time. I remember something Glenn Reynolds said, which I overheard and which made a huge difference in my life “How did I get into being instapundit? By accident. Like most things in my life.”
Because, you know, that’s my experience too. There are things that require a crazy amount of work, and where I push like an insane person, and they fall into a hole and disappear forever.
Well, I got published (traditionally) because a friend talked me into taking a workshop, where I met an editor and pitched a series and–
I published Darkship Thieves by accident, too. You see, I had written it thirteen years ago. I’d sent it to every possible publishing house and agent and been rejected. Then I sold something else completely different to Baen, and they gave me a conference in the now defunct bar. And I did free content for my fans. I ran out of stuff on hand, started serializing the novel, and either the novel or the reaction of the fans meant Baen bought it.
Meanwhile there were years of seriously sending that novel out/trying to sell space opera and getting every door shut in my face.
Then there is this blog. I’m not yet sure if that’s a win, but it’s become a significant part of my life, and it was never something I wanted to do. It just started because an agent pushed me to have a blog. Of course she didn’t know sooner or later I’d write about things I truly cared about, which meant we parted ways which meant…. well, here we are.
Most of the big breaks in my life are not intentional. Even though I’m working in a targeted way towards something, something I do almost incidentally will bear more fruit and sometimes take me in another direction.
But yes, in the macro level it’s easy enough to believe that 20% of the people are doing the important work.
The thing is, these aren’t necessarily the people who work hardest/longest hours/most targeted. Sure, most of the time they are. And sure, competency matters a terrible lot, and there’s a dearth of it.
But it’s not necessarily so. And all those drones working madly along always think they are the ones holding up the world.
Actually part of the problem we have is that 80% of people are so maleducated they can’t be competent whatever they set out to be. They don’t even know what competence looks like. So they roam the world lecturing people about invisible privilege and the made up history of critical race theory, and then become convinced they’re really, really helping, that somehow, at a molecular level (so to put it) they’re making the world a better place.
Sometimes it’s enough if they’re not making it worse.
I am convinced that the left has read — or rather skimmed, as they usually do — about the Pareto principle and became convinced that they don’t even need 80% of workers, or that workers don’t need to work, because the other 20% can support them. AND of course that they and only they are qualified to decide whose work is essential. Then they decided to use a virus panic (which I think was organically created from China’s agit prop and the left’s desire to crash the economy and make everyone miserable, so they’d vote for their zombie.) to implement their brilliant system.
Which can’t work because they’re morons with illusions of competency.
The whole point of the Pareto Principle is that you can’t decide who re the 20% being effective. Or where the important work is being done. It’s an uneven world, you can’t make it even (or as the left now calls it, in their habit of changing terms, “equitable”) or manage it. Even you only 20% of your work is effective.
So, you know, this is a complete refutation of communism, socialism or even “managed economy.” You can’t manage because from the top you can’t tell what is effective and needed. All the workers look equally busy and sometimes the drones look way more diligent. And anyway only 20% of your managing bears the right fruit and does what you want.
The problem is the left will never admit that and will keep pushing buttons at random to try to make themselves the most powerful people who decide who gets to work and who gets to eat.
Which means they are making the world collapse….
And only 20% of us can do anything about it, and only 20% of the time.
Well, there might be ways to increase that ratio, or at least make your work more effective.
1- Try to work with a purpose, and be aware of where you’re putting your effort.
2- Learn. Learn as widely and effectively as you can. Even if 20% of that is ever needed, you don’t know what 20%.
3- Be willing to try new work/do different things. If you’re lucky, when the main thing fails, one of those will catch you up.
4- Be cheerful in the certainty you are not in control. No one (human) is in control. Control is an illusion, and ultimately destructive.
Now go and work as hard as you can towards perfection. You won’t reach it. But 20% there is good enough.
To keep the world running.