Essays on Technology and Culture

One Way To Know When You’re Succeeding

One way to know you’re succeeding at something is when you make people angry.

I’m not talking about specifically aiming to make people angry. No good can come from deliberately upsetting people. What I mean is, if you’re succeeding at something, the very act of your success is going to engender jealousy and resentment among some people. Sometimes, these people will express their resentment through anger, or even sabotage. That’s how you know you’re succeeding. These people are not your friends, and if you thought they were, think again.

By way of example, let’s look at Apple. By any measure, Apple is a successful company, and yes, that success engenders resentment. Recently, a story came out that Apple is cutting supply orders for the iPhone 5. More than a few have suggested that it’s an attempt at stock manipulation, and I would agree with this line of thinking. It adds up. Because of Apple’s runaway success, it’s engendered a line of thinking that assumes its okay to tear it down for financial gain.

To take it back to the human level, there’s other reasons to attack someone else’s success beyond the merely financial. The first is simple that it makes us feel good to fling our metaphorical feces as the object of our jealous ire. It’s easy, it’s effective (to us), and doesn’t cost us anything but our time. Everyone, at least once, has thought to themselves “He/she/it sucks. The only reason they got successful is that they got lucky.” This may be a reason, but it’s far from the only one. Even if “eighty percent of success is showing up,” to quote Woody Allen, that still leaves a gap to fill. You have to do the work.

And, when you’re doing the work, and putting it out there, the one thing you want most is feedback. You ask two questions: “Am I doing this right?” and “Can anybody hear me?” Angry people answer both of those, and both of the answers are “yes.” This makes sense for the latter question, but for the former, anyone who comes up to you, unsolicited, and says “you are doing this wrong” is validation of the opposite.

I want to separate this from professional, craft criticism. When Roger Ebert says you make bad movies, he does not approach your work from a perspective of jealousy, but from a perspective of craft. This is the same of any, quality critic, in any artistic medium. When you approach your (real) friends and family and beg for harsh, serious criticism, if they actually give it to you, there should be no jealousy there. It’s those people, known and unknown, who come up out of seemingly nowhere to attack you that are the unfortunate marker of being on the path success.

However, this is not an excuse to turn around and start berating those successful people you’re jealous of. The other distinguishing factor of the people who try only to tear down the successful is that they don’t produce anything of value. It takes no effort, no talent, and no skill to simply dismiss, or insult someone or their work. To channel that jealousy, that resentment, and do something constructive with it is much, much harder. This is what separates the poo-flingers from the people you actually have to worry about, though it’s hard to tell when you’re busy dodging projectiles. Once you understand, however, you won’t have to.