I had to write something about this, because it’s just so damn rare.
The other day I disagreed with my invisible mentor, Seth Godin.
In one of his posts, he said:
Tom Robbins, ranting in the Times, conflates the difficulty of making a living with the challenge of doing the writing:
“What’s next…kiddie architects, juvenile dentists, 11-year-old rocket scientists? Any parent who thinks that the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction requires less talent and experience than designing a house, extracting a wisdom tooth, or supervising a lunar probe is, frankly, delusional.”
This is nonsense on two levels. First, writing fiction is significantly easier than leading part of the Apollo mission (can we accept that as a given?). Second, and more important, it’s free! No gums are damaged, no thumbs are hammered, no shuttles are launched.
I realize what I’m going to talk about wasn’t the point of Seth’s article, but he’s off-base on something pretty important here — namely, his first point of “nonsense.” Tom didn’t say “writing fiction is significantly easier than leading part of the Apollo mission.” He specifically contrasted “the crafting of engrossing, meaningful, publishable fiction” (emphasis mine) with “supervising a lunar probe.”
These are completely different things.
I make this distinction in workshops all the time. If we’re talking about just doing something, people can do almost anything they put their mind to. The power of will is amazing.
But, if we’re talking about doing something well… well, that’s another story.
We can’t do everything well. Period. If by some miracle I could get drafted into the NFL, I might be able to be a linebacker. That doesn’t mean I can ever, EVER do it well. (If you’ve seen me, you know this is quite true.) I’m simply not built for it. Likewise, we may never be able to rap like Eminem or play basketball like LeBron James or sing like Mariah Carey. That doesn’t mean we can’t do other things with the same amount of mastery.
The talents it takes to write well and the talents required to successfully manage a lunar landing are completely and utterly different. This is why blanket statements about difficulty are dangerous — what’s hard for me might be really easy for you.
Writing great fiction isn’t any more or less difficult than running a successful moon mission.
It all depends on who’s doing it.
Fantastic piece, Josh! This is lost on many people. The craft we choose to master has much to do with whether we achieve it. Additionally, the success or failure of the pursuit can shape our perception of ease/difficulty and success/failure.
Well done, sir!
I do agree with your distinction re: writing *well* vs. these other disciplines and also who’s doing it and their accompanying skill set, talents, etc.; however, I interpreted Seth’s post to have much more to do with the accessibility of the tasks at hand, not the ability to succeed at them. Even then, the barriers to entry for the other jobs are still significantly higher and that’s the core of his point in my mind.
Good thoughts here, Josh.
Hey Ryan, thanks for the comment — and great points!
As mentioned, I was definitely not referring to Seth’s whole post, and not even really the point of his post (to your good observation!).
The barriers for entering certain jobs are crucial to understand, and I’m glad you bring this up. I will add, though, that these barriers are completely man-made. The rules exist the way they do because WE have, at some point along the line, decided that certain things are more difficult or require more degrees or schooling. While these distinctions may be true or helpful — I certainly would prefer a doctor with great education, for example — they also may not be true or helpful. In many cases, our barriers don’t predict the right things (does a PhD guarantee a great teacher?), or they are in the wrong places (I think being a consultant should have more barriers, for example).
My big point here is that we should help people strive for mastery in whichever field they choose. This, however, requires a re-thinking of most work-related tasks, at both an individual level and an organizational one.
Agree with this point for the most part. I think this is very much a two pronged problem with the way we educate today in the US AND organizations insistence on degrees and such as markers of a successful employee.
Core job training components for MANY jobs need to be separated from the traditional “academic” curriculum. Then, going beyond that, the gatekeepers, HR managers, and business owners need to hire the person with more experience FOR THAT JOB over the MBA that knows nothing about X.
Hi Josh and Ryan, I enjoyed reading this post and your comments so much that I came back and re-read them. I think I will keep doing that untilIi undersand what you’re taking about. :). I admire the attention span you both have to read both articles and your ability to deeply consider the subtle contrasts of the two author’s opinions. Even more, I admire how much you care about the topics. Judging by your passion, it appears you are both in the right professions.