Saturday, November 4, 2017

Novelty Acts

We seek novelty in our lives to distract us from our routine mundane existence, where nothing seems to change much.  But it is this mundane existence that actually accomplishes things over time.  Successful people eschew novelty in favor of the continued slog.

Further to my previous posting about logical versus emotional thinking, it occured to me that one distinction between people who are proactive and successful in life and those who are depressed and merely consumers who fritter away their money, is the pursuit of novelty.

Getting ahead in life and becoming successful often takes years, if not decades of hard work and sheer boredom.  Oftentimes it is said that people who are very successful  perhaps have mild autism or Asperger's Syndrome or some other mental affliction which allows them to concentrate on one thing for long periods of time. They are not so easily distracted by the frivolous or by novelties, as so many of us are prone to.

Most of us get bored and depressed after doing the same thing over and over again, like working at a job, paying off a mortgage, and trying to save up money.  So we seek out novelty.  We seek out the latest fashions, the latest music, the latest television shows, the newest movies, the new releases, the new novels, the new celebrities, the drugs, the alcohol, the parties, the in-group, the new tattoo, the new piercing, the new trend - whatever.  We seek out distractors.

We do this to anesthetize ourselves against boredom and depression.  We want to keep up with what's going on in life, so we stayed glued to the television, plugged into our smartphones, the internet, or whatever, to see what the latest trends are.  And before there were smartphones, the internet, or cable television, we watched regular television, or listened to the radio, or read the newspaper, or interacted in some other way to see what the latest trends and fads were.  So much of the "news" for example, really isn't useful information to you personally.  Yet we all feel a need to "keep up" with "what's going on" in life - or what we think of as life.

This struck me the other day as I was mulching our planting beds around the house.  About  once a year, I rake up all the pine needles that blanket our property and shred them with a lawnmower and then shred them again with a leaf shredder to produce a fine mulch.  Having raked up these areas, I carefully reapply that mulch so that it looks nice and keeps down the weeds and insects, and also maintains moisture in the soil.  It is a tedious process and after 3 or 4 days of it, one gets bored and just wishes it was over.

And for many people, such projects end there.  Half-hearted attempts at projects that are started but never completed.  We get bored and distracted, and decide to finish things "later" but we never return to them.  The person who sees it through and keeps going, day after day, week after week, year after year, is the one who is successful.  For most of us, we abandon projects when we see only incremental advancement over time.  We lose interest and move on to other things.

I alluded to this before, noting that many young people put $500 into an IRA or 401k account, and by the end of the week if they're not billionaires, they get discouraged and decide to do other things with their money.  I say this half-jokingly, but I recall vividly when I was in my twenties feeling that very same way.   I had a very tiny amount of money saved in my retirement account and it wasn't growing in leaps and bounds overnight, so I got very discouraged.  I bought a motorcycle instead.  That $2000 would be about $29,948.92 today, if invested - or about a year earlier I could have retired.

(And as an aside, I could have bought a used motorcycle for cheap and fixed it up - after all, fixing things is something I can do.   But I had to have a brand-new one, right?).

But of course, if you keep putting money into savings, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, eventually it adds up to a nice pile of change.  But this requires a long attention span and the ability to endure boredom and what appears to be stasis for long periods of time.

I didn't become a fairly successful patent attorney overnight.  Rather, I spent over 30 years in the business, writing and prosecuting literally hundreds and hundreds of patent applications during that time period.  I probably wrote or prosecuted over a thousand applications in my lifetime or at least it seems that amount.  I know that for one customer alone, I wrote over 300 patent applications.  So 1,000 cases isn't too far off.

This didn't happen instantaneously or overnight.  It took a long time to build up the expertise and get the training to learn how to do these things.   And it took a long time to earn a significant amount of money, as each year the amount of money I earned was often spent on overhead and expenses as well as living expenses.

Many of us - and I'm including myself, particularly I was younger - don't have the patience for this.  We invest a little money and don't see it growing into a billion dollars overnight.  So instead of saving up money and trying to build real wealth, we instead fritter away our money to buy the appearance of wealth, so we can kid ourselves that we are becoming wealthy, when in fact we are just spending money.  So we go out and buy the latest fashions, the latest cars, the trendy house in the trendy neighborhood, the latest tattoos and piercings, attend the latest shows and concerts, and do all the "in" things, that are seen at the in clubs and bars.  It is instant gratification and the appearance of wealth but not actual wealth.

If you read the biographies of famous men and women throughout history the one thing that seems to be consistent across the board is not that they became really wealthy overnight, but that they spent long hours, days, weeks, months, and years working at projects, before they were finally recognized for their achievements.

Ernest Hemingway didn't win the Nobel Prize for literature after writing his first short story, but rather toward the end of his career.  And the same is true for Bob Dylan if you think about it.  Achievement takes time and effort and doing the same thing over and over again for years on end.  And perhaps today, more than ever, we are less and less prepared to go through this.

Some of my readers - and I use that term loosely as they apparently don't read anything I have to say - write to me wanting to know how to get rich quick.  That Zuckerberg fellow became a billionaire overnight, right,?  That's how it works in this new "" internet smartphone era, where people become billionaires before the age of 25 - or so it seems, anyway.

You just need to invest in the right thing or invent the next gizmo.  Buy a few Bitcoins and become a millionaire in a matter of minutes.  The idea of slogging through life, working hard, setting aside trivial amounts of money, and hoping they accumulate, is just old-school nonsense which is irrelevant in this modern day and age.

Or is it?

Granted there will always be one or two people who get struck by lightning and become fabulously wealthy overnight, such as lottery winners.  But these are the exception, not the rule, despite what people tell you about the internet, or smartphones, or apps, or social media being the "new paradigm."  Most companies and people who are successful become so after slogging long and hard through the years, to develop products ideas and services - and working hard to make them successful.  Yes, even a lot of these "overnight billionaires" actually worked for years, if not decades, to get to where they are today.   Nothing landed in their laps.

And that's basically the long and the short of it.  You can go out and spend a lot of your money trying to appear to be successful, young, trendy and "with it" and have all the latest trappings of our modern society.  Or you can put away a little bit every month and work hard toward a goal which may take years or even decades to achieve, but in the long run will result in the acquisition of real wealth.