by TS DeHaviland
As you begin the grown-up part of your life journey, as you enter careers, as you become the adults we haven't had the heart to tell you you do not want to be, you might be asking yourself “What do I need to do to become successful?”
This is an important question an era in which it is increasingly difficult to “make it” in the traditionally American sense.
That is why I, as a successful person, have taken it upon myself to tell you.
First, major in business.
I realize that it might be too late for some of you to do this. But there's nothing stopping you from marching right over to the admissions office immediately after this ceremony and re-enrolling. That would also have the advantage of saving you from paying off your student loans for a few more years, and it would finally get your fathers off your backs for choosing a path in which dead languages play a prominent role.
Besides, you're already six-figures in debt, so what's another hundred-thousand to a future job-creator?
If you do this, or if you have already done this, you'll notice that, as a business major, you're no more prepared to deal with the vagaries of the real world than anyone else. Perhaps less so.
But key people in key organizations will think you're more prepared, and, frankly, that's all that really matters.
You see, competence, intelligence, and quality of work are highly over-rated by the earnest seeker of success. In fact, attention to detail is a sure sign of someone who lacks leadership qualities. Actually caring about what you do merely communicates that you want to do menial and low-paying things that involve paying attention to the details, not to manage and execute.
It is, therefore, vital that you develop the proper disdain for the actual work while always speaking vaguely of “the big picture” and “the 30,000 foot view,” and “the view from the balcony.” In this way, you can telegraph your leadership abilities by assuming the ground the Big Guys already occupy.
Next, it's important to know rich people and schmooze with them.
Schmoozing is different than friendship. I cannot stress that enough. The people with whom you are schmoozing are not your friends, though your success depends upon spending a lot of time with them, particularly at the events they think are important—typically vapid and annoying parties of varying vapid and annoying themes.
If you're not already rich, they will never fully accept you, and you will never be able to marry their women. And, trust me, if you're not already rich, you don't want their women anyway, unless you always want to be considered “the help” by your in-laws.
Schmoozing is also called “networking” by those who want to make it seem less mercenary than it is. Do not believe it: it's schmoozing. It's a sophisticated form of sucking up: as such, it is one of the most important life skills you'll ever develop.
So laugh at their awful, shallow, sometimes racist jokes. Agree with their wackadoodle political philosophies. Tell the female host how wonderful she looks, even though her latest plastic surgery makes her look like a largemouth bass.
There is nothing more effective for getting what you want from rich people than catering to their perceived notions of their own place in the world.
The next thing you must do is to sell out almost immediately. The moment you see an opportunity to signal to the blue bloods your willingness to give up to them whatever glorious thing it is you've created, do it. It doesn't matter if you've discovered a cure for cancer and Big Pharma wants to buy it just to shut it down so they can keep selling their existing lines of drugs. It doesn't matter if it's a new energy source and a military contractor wants to buy it so they can wage better war. If big money takes an interest, sell. Clinging to impractical ideas like integrity or the desire to create a better world is a certain way to invite ruin.
The ancillary rule is to not just sell out early but to sell out often. The man who stands on principle stands alone. And freezing.
As you sell out, though, it's very important to cover you bases. Get everything in writing and run it by a good contracts lawyer. Make sure you get yours and that the cash-flow clause is airtight when you walk away.
Remember: those rich acquaintances are going to screw you every chance they get, and you have to protect yourself. And don't worry about offending them: they'll admire you more for having had the intelligence and audacity to screw them over first.
Another reason not to feel bad about doing screwing them over is that their kind of greed isn't the reason the rich are rotten; it's merely a symptom of it.
The reason they're rotten is honest: it's in how they are raised.
You see, all of this advice I'm giving you is what rich people are taught from the cradle to do. It's second-nature to them, but as the last graduating class of people made up mostly of the middle class, you-all have to learn this stuff, and it's best not learned the hard way.
At this point, you might be asking “TS, this sounds like a miserable way to live! Constantly compromising, sucking up to people I hate, always angling for the way to maximize for me and not care for anyone else.”
And, of course, you'd be right.
But the premise, and the promise, of higher education these days is about being successful, not about being happy, content, or fulfilled.
If you want those things, you could use your prodigious intelligence and cultured understanding to solve real problems or help people in need. You could use your creativity and wit to produce great works of art to edify humanity and alleviate suffering through the compassion they engender. You could use your brilliant scientific minds to advance what we know about the world and make us a more efficient and sustainable species.
But doing these things is a great way to become poor, to struggle with irrelevancy and frustration, to constantly face the possibility that all of your hard work is going towards a lost cause.
And even then, there's no guarantee such a life will make you happy, content, or fulfilled. But it's got a much better chance of doing so than the life spent chasing what we cynically call success.
Now, a few of you accidentally took logic, and you might think you smell a false dilemma. “TS,” you might say, “there's got to be a third way, some synthesis of fulfillment and success, some way to do good while still doing well.”
Fifty or sixty years ago that may have been true.
But the contrast between success and fulfillment has become, in recent times, considerably more stark: the efforts of the wealthy few have, quite purposefully, stymied the work of the compassionate mass. In our own greed, our own desire to be like those whose collections of stuff they've taught us covet, we have allowed the rich to set the terms for what it means to be successful.
If you're OK with not having what they have, if you're OK with being a small voice of caring in a chorus of greed, then you might begin, in some modest way, to change the tune.