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Saturday
Jun092012

I Can Do Anything - The Formula for Success

I tried to embed this video to kick start this article, but unfortunately YouTube is blocking that function, so you'll have to open a new window.  The Big Bang Theory, for all its mild, sitcom humor, is actually quite an intelligently written TV show.  I appreciate any form of entertainment that bases its content off of real human observation.  In this episode, Sheldon needs to use the university's lab equipment, but the man who gives permission only lets his "friends" have access.  Sheldon, however, doesn't realize that making friends isn't an exact science, which leads him in search of an algorithm for friendship, as well as to the local bookstore in search of friendship manual.  Some skills in life, however, can't be translated into a logical formula.  Making friends, like many other personal abilities in life, is not something that can be learned in a few hours by reading a book.  It requires a combination of experience, understanding, common sense, insight, and observation (or what we know as wisdom). 

It seems to me that the writers of the Big Bang Theory have made the same observations about our current society as I have.  Some people today believe they're talented enough to do anything, they just need practice or a few days to catch up on the required reading.  Costco's head wine buyer doesn't think selecting wine is any different than purchasing toilet paper.  Of course it isn't!  There can't be that much wisdom required to make a decision regarding one's beverage, can there?  There's nothing more aggravating than when a person believes a certain skill or talent can be mastered in matter of minutes, or reduced to the status of a simple chore.  It's the ultimate sign of disrespect towards people who actually know what they're doing.  Yet, it seems to me there are more and more people everyday who think they're good at things they are not.  I have an idea as to why this is.

As a young elementary school student partaking in California's GATE program (Gifted and Talented Education), I was told by my teachers that I was a bit more advanced than the other children.  I was told that I was being prepared for college at an accelerated rate.  I was told that once I got into college, I would get a good job and be happy.  I was five years old at the time.  I was not alone.  Thousands of other kids along side me matriculated into the real world believing we were future CEOs with no patience for the entry-level position.  When we couldn't attain success instantly we blamed society for not understanding our genius. 

More than twenty five years later I am watching the terrible results of the GATE program all around me.  Young adults from my generation believing they possess special abilities they do not.  I know an old friend who went to Berkeley and was a talented scientist until one day she wanted to be a baker.  After a year of making terrible cupcakes, she quit, blaming others around her for her failings.  Another former friend was a talented teacher until one day he wanted to form a band.  He couldn't sing, play an instrument, or write a lyric, but he was determined he could "pick it up" in a few weeks.  He never understood why no one went to his shows.   Our teachers repeatedly told us, "You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it."  Unfortunately, my generation took those words literally.  Oh, former educators, what damage you have inflicted upon this world.  The truth is that some people are inherently gifted and talented, a result of being born with something special or an aptitude for specific skills.  Others work hard, pay their dues, learn from experience, and eventually acquire humility, or a respect for their craft.

As a professional wine and whisky salesperson, I've learned that you can't understand wine from reading Wine Spectator magazine or the Wine Bible, or any other manual.  They're certainly helpful in attaining an overall perspective, but they will never replace time and experience.  The only way to truly understand alcohol is to drink it, think about it, dwell on it, and appreciate it - over and over again.  Nevertheless, there are always a few people who think they can master the whole thing in a few weeks - find a list of the ten best wines, track them down, drink them, and there it is - that's wine appreciation in a nutshell.  What more do you really need to know?  There are no shortcuts, however.  There is no "friendship algorithm."  Knowledge is power, but only if it's coupled with experience.  That's a fact some from my generation still fail to understand.

In the end, I guess it's about perception or even results.  Too much positive reinforcement has lead many skilled musicians or athletes to believe they can also act.  Actress Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook has made her millions, only re-enforcing her belief that she's an actual chef.  Unfortunately, she became so deluded by this association that she thought hanging out with rappers actually made her a rapper too!  I'm sure that some guy out there has managed to purchase everyone of Jim Murray's top whisky picks, re-enforcing his belief that he's an actual collector and appreciator of single malt.  Some people do manage to convince others that they have wisdom when they're actually borrowing someone else's (I've managed to trick some people into thinking I know something about whisky).  Ultimately, I have to believe they'll eventually be exposed, either by the judges on American Idol, or by a sheer failure to achieve.  Hopefully, like me, they'll learn from those experiences.

-David Driscoll