Events vs. Process: What Spectators Don't See
“Why don't people just give me money?”
That's what a friend of mine once lamented, frustrated at how hard a time he was having running business and making things work as well as he thought they should.
It stems from a mindset that most people have to some extent: X just happens to people. It's a focus on events.
Events are an easy thing for the human mind to seize on:
- Climbing Mt. Everest
- Diving in the Mediterranean
- Getting married on a hilltop
- Selling a business for millions of dollars
- Sleeping with some beautiful girl
- Becoming famous and getting on TV
Most people look at the people doing these things and say, “God, that person is lucky! Why can't I have that happen to ME?”
The hard thing to do though is the thing that's also the more correct thing, and the thing that actually works: focusing not on events, but on process, instead.
Imagine I walk up to you one day, out of the blue, as you're making your way down the sidewalk somewhere, on your way to work or to meet up with some friends.
“Make a million dollars... NOW!” I yell at you, right in your face.
You're going to stand there looking at me thinking I'm a mad man.
You couldn't possibly just make a million dollars like that because...
Because you don't know how! Because you don't have anything to make a million dollars with!
Well, all right, how do you get
that knowhow you need to make it, or those assets you need to make it
Most likely this is the point where you say, "Well gosh, I don't know."
The reason you don't know though is because you're on the outside of the "circle" of people focused on making large amount of money. Which means you're merely a spectator, at least in this arena.
And that means you don't see the process - you only see the events.
The Brain Likes Events
I discovered in high school it was really easy to entertain my classmates and paint a picture of myself with this really insanely crazy, exciting life. All I had to do was only tell them about ridiculous things that happened to me. Pretty soon everyone was saying things like, "I wish I could switch places with you for one day, just to see what it's really like to be Chase Amante."
What most days were really like, of course, was I'd go home, play some video games, do some homework (maybe), have dinner, watch a movie, play some more video games, try to find videos of naked women on the scrambled TV channels we didn't quite get (I didn't discover Internet porn until 1999).
Pretty boring stuff.
But if you told people all that stuff... well... you'd be a pretty boring person.
Just like all those people you're friends with on Facebook:
- "Woke up late today... need a better alarm clock."
- "OMG, can't believe the latest episode of Jersey Shore."
- "Had steak for dinner at Texas Steak House - mmm, good."
Boring, boring, boring.
The brain defines things by the events it witnesses. That's because it can't possibly witness process.
When it sees a lot of boring events, it writes a person or an experience off as boring. When it sees a lot of amazing or rewarding events, it pegs a person or an experience as amazing or lucky.
Anyone you talk to and get talking honestly will almost always tell you that everybody else's life is way more exciting than their own. Why? Because people talk about their more exciting events when they talk to other people (except perhaps on social media), but they see all their own day-in, day-out boring events.
We forget about the fact that other people need to go brush their teeth, sit on the toilet, and sleep 6 to 9 hours a night just like we do, and that they worry about the same stuff we do. We let our brains mythologize them in our minds.
And the processes they go through are invisible to us... we only see the end result, and count them as "lucky."
Events Aren't Real Life
In real life, much of the time, events are a lot less exciting for the people living them than they're imagined to be by the people hearing about them.
You pick up two girls and take them home later and your friends
think that you and the experience are legendary, but for you it was
really just a lot of work and worrying you were going to lose one or
both of the girls at some point along the way.
You travel to some exotic locale and your friends hear about your experience climbing on ruins and lounging on beaches and think your life is a paradise, but they don't know you were sick the whole time and feeling miserable, or fighting with the girlfriend you brought along, or annoyed that your guy friends you went with wanted to do one thing and you wanted to do something else.
You build a business that becomes successful, and your friends all think you're so lucky to be outside the 9-to-5 world, free from having to commute to an office and report to some boss, but they don't see the years you spent slaving on something, unsure if it was going to work or fail spectacularly, going deep into debt to give yourself time to try to get it off the ground, constantly on the fence about whether to just close up shop, give up, and slink back to the working world for a pay cut on what you used to make before you left the workforce, or whether to stick it out a little longer and risk going deeper into debt and become less relevant and less hirable to the working world.
Events are not real life. Everyone looks at a Wal-Mart or a Zara and says, "Wow, those company founders must've been brilliant. Why didn't I make a big store selling cheap stuff like Wal-Mart or an inexpensive current fashion clothing store like Zara?" They don't see Sam Walton struggling in the 1940s to make his store idea work and getting booted out of his original retail space, and they don't see Armancio Ortega opening up a little store called "Zorba" in 1974 and then getting told he couldn't use that name, and gradually expanding throughout Spain and Portugal in the 1970s and '80s and only moving overseas in 1989.
People see a guy like Eminem get rich and famous and say, God, he's so lucky; they don't see his failed, panned 1996 album Infinite and the suicide attempt that came after it, when he decided he just didn't have what it took and was never going to make it. They only see the end event - the success.
But success never happens fast. Even a (relatively) overnight success like Facebook comes only after a long period of learning and building on the founder's part - compare Mark Zuckerberg's 2004 TheFacebook.com with his 1999 Angelfire website here.
Success is never the meteoric rise to the top someone standing on the outside imagines it to be. Success is not an event; it is, rather, a slow, arduous climb to the top, with plenty of slipping and sliding back down to the bottom and retracing your steps before you ever reach the summit.
Whenever I hear about someone or something that's become impressively successful in one way or another, the first thing I do is see if I can find out how long they've been at it. When did they start, and how did they start out doing things?
The next thing I try to do is learn about the process they followed to become a success.
There was a great profile piece on the Pricenomics blog the other day about a company called Jellyfish Art. It followed a guy who started a company on a whim, had a little luck in the beginning, and then began the long slog to learn how to build his business into one worth doing.
These kinds of tales are often the best, because they give you a better look at the process. But as good as they are, they're still a collection of milestone events, because the brain can't listen to or process an endless collection of inane and repetitive things happening in a full process. You don't hear about how the guy who launched Jellyfish Art sat around for two weeks trying to come up with an idea, took a few hours to sign up for Google AdWords, tested out a bunch of different ideas, etc. You just see that he put an ad up and somebody offered him $25,000 for a tank.
How do you learn to see process?
Everything Anybody Knows, He Had to Learn
A friend of mine recently started a new business as a real estate agent. She went out to meet her first customer - her first one, finally, after months of working on the business! - only to end up feeling uncomfortable asking for money, uncertain if she was really offering a valuable service, and she told her client not to worry about it, and that she'd waive her fee. Afterwards, she felt pretty bad about this.
My response was, look, that happens to almost everyone who's new in business - it's hard asking people for money! Like anything else, it's a skill you have to learn. Then once you learn it, it's easy; you learn to be up front about it, so you don't waste time on customers who don't value your service enough to ask for pay for it, and you make it a very matter-of-fact part of running a business.
Fact of the matter is, if you don't value your time and services enough to pay for them, neither will anyone else. Nobody else is guarding your lifeblood but you.
It's common for people to look at things other people know how to do and say, "Man, I wish I knew how to do that." But anything you learn - anything - takes time.
When I take a student out to talk to girls, he'll see me do something and say, "Wow, that's incredible!" But this thing that is amazing to him is nothing I was born with - it's just something you learn after doing it often enough.
Likewise, you go to a martial arts class - I recently started taking Krav Maga - and you realize how terrible you are at predicting where a punch or a kick is going to come from. Like anything, that is an ability that you only get after lots and lots of practice, and lots of exposure.
Show me anyone who's good at anything, and I'll show you someone who's spent a lot of time working on it.
The events are just the outcome; the end result. The process is what gets you there.
Refusing to See Yourself or Others as "Talented"
In "Are You Smart? It Doesn't Much Matter Either Way," I talked about the fact that it annoys me when someone calls me "smart" - it feels like an attempt to invalidate all the hard work I've done to get to wherever I am in some particular field.
Well, it's a lot worse getting called "talented" or, worst of all, "lucky." If I have any natural talent at all, it might be understanding and predicting things a little better than most, but other than that, I'm just about the most naturally talentless human being on Earth. Everything other than a little better understanding and a little better predictive capabilities boils down, for me, to just slaving away at something until I finally figure it out. Much of the time, I'm reinventing wheels other people have already invented because I'm too stubborn not to try doing everything myself. You look smooth and efficient at the end, but it's a horribly slow and painful grind to get to that place.
The word "talented" I almost feel like others (as in "distances") people from you. It cuts them off; suddenly, you can't relate. Here is someone with some capability you cannot imagine having yourself - it's too far outside reality.
It's a flawed mindset - human beings are not that different. We're all just walking apes with a bundle of nerve fibers in our skulls that are all roughly about the same in abilities. We all have little minor differences here and there, but sort of like the differences between political parties, those differences only seem great when you're focused ONLY on them - and not the huge, huge, colossal reams of similarities.
Is there anything anyone else can do that you cannot, with enough time and motivation and effort and energy? I doubt it. That Jellyfish Art guy didn't start out knowing anything about building a business or about jellyfish or jellyfish tanks. Instead, he threw himself into a situation and learned as he went.
I was terrible with girls when I pushed myself into the fray and told myself, "Just keep meeting random girls until you get women figured out and can do well with them as a skill set."
Don't see things as events.
Refuse to let others see or define YOU as an event.
Anytime anyone tells me I'm really good at something - whatever it is - if I say anything other than, "Thank you, that's very kind of you," what I say instead is this, "Well, that's only because I worked very hard at it and put a lot of time into it."
And whenever I meet someone who's very good at something, the first thing I think is, "This is a person who's worked very hard at this and put a lot of time into this."
It changes the way you interact with people - instead of standing there awestruck at someone's success, you begin to pick their brain about it:
- "How long have you been doing this?"
- "How good at this were you when you started out?" [Awful!, they always say]
- "Did you ever want to quit when you were new?"
- "How'd you make it through the valleys and low points?"
- "What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned getting good at this?"
- "Will you continue to focus on this, or will you move onto something else?"
When you ask questions like these, accomplished people recognize you automatically as a kindred spirit - you are one of the few who, rather than look on in thunderstruck amazement, actually have been there too, understand that it's not about events, but process, and know that the actual valuable information they have to share is the journey they took to get there, rather than what it's like being there right now or telling them how lucky they are to be there.
Seeing Process Instead of Events Changes Lives
When you're still a spectator or a bystander, it's easy to look at someone doing something you have trouble imagining doing and saying to yourself, "Geez, that person sure is lucky," or, "Wow, he's talented."
But that's a self-defeating mentality. You don't get anywhere by presuming that accomplished people are over there and you're over here and the two of you have nothing in common.
Instead, the mentality you want is, "Man, he must've worked hard to get that good. I wonder how long he's been at it and what the journey was like?"
By taking this mentality of process, not events, you open your mind up to the possibility that other people aren't really doing anything special or unique - they're just working really hard and really devotedly.
And you open your mind up to the idea that if you just worked at something devotedly and hard, you could get really good at it and see a lot of success from it too.
The next time you see someone doing something amazing, something you wished you could do, catch your tongue before you call them lucky or talented.
Instead, say, "Wow, that guy must've worked his ass off to get
You'll be amazed how this changes the way you feel about things.
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