You Can’t Become Great Without Looking Like an Asshole

I’ve been thinking a lot this year about what I’ve learned in life so far. I’ve been thinking, if I were to bundle up all of my life experiences into a pithy little book of bullshit platitudes and truisms and motivational nuggets that could go in the little spinning caddie in the checkout aisle at Barnes & Noble, what would I have to say?

The short answer is, not a whole hell of a lot. 

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life dabbling, which hasn’t resulted in a lot of specific expertise, but it has given me the benefit of watching other people apply themselves in a variety of fields, from just starting out, through figuring it out, through becoming expert. And I’ve figured out one thing about getting really great at anything.

You have to be willing to look like a total, embarrassing, screaming asshole for anywhere from one to five years before you can achieve greatness at anything.

Most people don’t have the fortitude for this, which is why most people don’t really get great at much. In order to be great, you have to be either really oblivious and deluded about what an asshole you are, or you have to be really strong and have a good sense of direction that carries you through being an asshole.

But either way, you have to look like a total asshole. Aggressively. In front of everybody. Over and over and over again.

This is how you learn.

Trying to achieve greatness without looking like an asshole is like trying to lose weight without diet and exercise. You just can’t do it. You have to bite the bullet and show your ass. Your lame, can’t-do-anything, makes-people-feel-really-really-sorry-for-you-because-you-are-so-hopeless, stupid, clueless ass.

If you can’t do that, you can’t get anywhere.

I can’t do it. I’ll tell you that right now. I have too much dignity. Dignity is pointless. It gets you nowhere. But we can’t help who we are. I’m one of those people who looks really great coming right out of the gate with anything. I’m a teacher’s pet, a natural, a quick study. But I don’t have the genius or the wherewithal or the courage to stick with anything through the part where you have to be an asshole for a few years.

And that’s the other thing I’ve learned — whenever you’re starting out in any field, there will be people who are shiny and showy and perfect-seeming, but they aren’t going anywhere, so there’s no point in sucking up to them. They aren’t learning anything, and they’ll be done in a couple of years.

The person who comes in to the first class or the first meeting or whatever, and tries really, really hard and just doesn’t get it, not at all, and everybody cringes whenever she talks, and then maybe she falls over a chair and farts — that’s the chick you need to watch. That’s the chick who’s going to be writing your checks in ten years.

So, this is the only thing I know. Do you think I can pad it out into one of those books?

17 Comments

  1. Do you think I can pad it out into one of those books?

    If you’re willing to be an asshole for one to five years.

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    1. Ha! Shoots that, then.

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    2. Also, weirdly, to me to “be an asshole” means to be a jerk, but “looking like an asshole” means looking stupid? Which just goes to show how nuanced and precise swear words are.

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      1. For an interesting opposite view, I didn’t actually notice that the phrasing you and I used were different. Isn’t language weird? 🙂

        To clarify, you’ll need to look like an asshole for one to five years. I guess you could be an asshole too, if you wanted.

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      2. I would have thought the correct word was “dumbass” instead of “asshole.”

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        1. “Dumbass” is more passive. Like, you can be doing nothing, really, and look like a dumbass. When you’re looking like an asshole, you’re really working at it.

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      3. And that’s what makes them so great.

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      4. You could probably pad the book with a discursion on the nuancing of swear words–and yes, there is a lot to talk about. You could keep the original idea by linking the words to stages of development such as “apprentice dumbass” all the way to “master asshole.” I think you’re on to something! 🙂

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  2. See, and I’m actually pretty good at being an asshole. I just don’t like to look like one. 😉

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    1. You don’t have to be great to write a book.

      Who cares if they pulp it or mark it down to a buck? At least you’re doing something.

      And, years later, when people’s tastes have changed, you’ll be taught in every school. You’ll look like an asshole, but you’ll be dead.

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  3. Oh, I was looking for an excuse.

    “Watch where you’re going, asshole!”
    “Can’t help it, I’m becoming great!”

    You’re right, it does make me look like an asshole!

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    1. Keep at it! You’re making things happen!

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  4. “The person who comes in to the first class or the first meeting or whatever, and tries really, really hard and just doesn’t get it, not at all, and everybody cringes whenever she talks, and then maybe she falls over a chair and farts — that’s the chick you need to watch.”

    Sounds like you have it made! 😀

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  5. I would totally buy anything that you get published, even (especially?) a printout of all of your Kayako replies over the years.

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    1. Ha! That would truly be the dullest book ever written.

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  6. Reblogged this on Jenia on WordPress.com and commented:

    Elizabeth is brilliant. The fact that she’ll be writing my cheques in ten years is not the reason why I’m reblogging this.

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  7. I’ve seen stuff on the NYT best seller list with less depth than this, so yay books! 🙂

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