In This Episode: Sure, it’s cool to hear stories of famous (and completely obscure) people who exhibit Uncommon Sense — the ones I talk about here. But there’s one other thing you need to know about every one of them: they’re definitely not perfect, and that’s important to know because neither are you, and I’ll tell you why that doesn’t matter.
094: Why You Don’t Need to Be Perfect
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Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.
There are several common gut reactions that listeners have to the stories I tell on Uncommon Sense. First there’s the feeling that “I could never do that!” — because the person I talk about is so special, or so talented, or born at just the right moment and the right place, that they’re seemingly impossible to emulate.
Or second, the “But what about…?” types, who are aware of something less than savory in the person’s background. To use a couple of examples from Uncommon Sense itself: Jeff Bezos may be looking way into the future, but didn’t he cheat on his wife of 25 years? Isn’t that pretty much the opposite of Uncommon Sense? I mean, not surprisingly his wife divorced him — and when she left she took 25 percent of his Amazon stock as a consolation prize. That was worth $36 billion at the time.
She did allow her ex to retain voting rights in those shares, but bad move ethically, morally, and financially, Jeff. But good display of Uncommon Sense, MacKenzie: she has given away more than $14 billion of that, but she still has more than $25 billion, according to Forbes. At just 52, she probably has a lot of time to give the rest of it away to good causes, which should really be a guide to other billionaires.
Speaking of which, what of Elon Musk? Sure he’s looking way into the future too, but doesn’t he do very stupid things on a pretty regular basis? Say, taking a big puff from a marijuana cigar — on camera — when his SpaceX company is in the middle of a make-or-break contract with the government?
Or make stupid tweets that have gotten him in big trouble? And that’s not even counting his buying Twitter for far more than it was worth, and probably much more than it will ever be worth. Yep, bad moves plural, Elon: every one of the actions like this took time and focus away from his huge missions in life — and cost him plenty of money, too. They set him, and those profoundly important life missions, back — at least to some degree — time after time.
Yet I held both of them up as great examples of Uncommon Sense. Isn’t there a disconnect here?
No, and here’s why.
As I’ve said repeatedly over the years in relation to This is True stories, which very often show people at their worst, we shouldn’t gloat that we are somehow better than they are because, as I say, “We’re all stupid sometimes.” The corollary, which is almost just as true, is “We’re all brilliant sometimes.”
Every one of us has done, continue to do, and will do stupid things until the moment we die. Hell, sometimes doing something stupid is the reason we die. But just because we all do stupid things sometimes doesn’t mean we do stupid things all the time, or that we can’t exhibit Uncommon Sense in some area of our lives at least some of the time.
What’s truly stupid is saying you can’t be as successful as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or anyone else, or as successful in a mission as anyone else featured in Uncommon Sense, and therefore, you don’t have Uncommon Sense. You can; and you know what? You probably have exhibited Uncommon Sense at some point in your life, maybe many times!
Isn’t there something you did that you’re really proud of? A time when you thought, “You know, if I do this, I can probably achieve that” — and you did? Not that every success or point of pride shows Uncommon Sense, but many of them do.
Let’s go for a couple of specific real-life examples.
Maybe, a time when you decided to talk to a geeky type at a party because they looked lonely, and it turned out they were the manager of a big project that excites you, and you ended up getting a great job at a prestigious place simply because you chose that connection over hitting on a hot chick or guy there.
That’s exactly how I ended up at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, except the geeky guy wasn’t the project manager, he was in the office next to the project manager. Monday morning he told her about me, and passed along my phone number. I interviewed on Tuesday and was hired on Wednesday. There was definitely a big stroke of luck involved, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t proactively made that conscious choice.
Or maybe you figured out how to take a hobby and turn it into a career by crossing that hobby with a new way of doing things, maybe applying a new technology to it, and intuitively understanding how to make the resulting business prosper and lead you to a much more satisfying profession.
That’s how I left NASA to become the writer and publisher of This is True, which is still going more than 28 years later, enabling me to live where I want, have great fun doing the job I designed from scratch and, by the way, directly leading to me finding a great wife.
Are those examples of Uncommon Sense? Minor ones, sure!
Do those examples mean I’m perfect? No. It doesn’t even mean I can repeat that success again and again! In fact I’ve had failure after failure at different things I’ve tried. But because I was willing to go through failure after failure, and try different things, I have also had some additional nice successes, the best known being the Get Out of Hell Free card, which I’ve sold millions (not to mention associated products like stickers, coffee mugs, and more), and the True Stella Awards, a spinoff newsletter that talked about weird but true lawsuits and resulted in a contract offer from a huge New York book publishing company with a large check attached, which I accepted.
Yet I’ve even had failures with some of the Get Out of Hell Free products, losing time and money. Plus, I just didn’t have the passion to keep the True Stella Awards going, and shut it down after five years — so there was never a second Stella Awards book, which means there was no follow-on big check from the New York publisher for a second, or third, or fourth, book.
Because that does happen: Wendy Northcutt, the author of the Darwin Awards web site, not only had the same book publisher as the True Stella Awards, we even had the same literary agent to get those contracts. She churned out nine books (and got a movie deal!) before apparently losing her passion for the project.
The more someone loves their projects, the longer they can stay at it, which is why This is True is still going, and I have no plans to stop it. But someday, it’ll stop, hopefully not for a dumb reason.
Exercising Uncommon Sense in some part of your life doesn’t guarantee success, but it sure makes success more likely, not just in a professional or money-making sense, but in other areas of your life that can bring as much — or more — joy, peace, or health.
I don’t talk about Uncommon Sense to try to get you to be like Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. I do it so you can see that there are infinite ways to have Uncommon Sense — and, even more importantly, to encourage you to work hard to pass the concept along to your children, grandchildren, or anyone you live or work with, because we need something to counter the infinite ways to be stupid, as we’ve seen in 28+ years of This is True.
The opposite of Uncommon Sense is Common Nonsense, and we sure have enough of that in the world, so why don’t we try something different and encourage thought, thinking ahead, thinking again, and even striving for Uncommon Sense? Maybe with that approach humanity will get a better result! (Ya think?!) And that explains my mission in life: to encourage more thinking in the world.
So if you don’t “feel worthy” of the kind of people I talk about in these stories, that you can’t ever hope to rub shoulders with people like that, that’s buying into Common Nonsense. And worse, that’s setting a very bad example for others: that that’s the way to live, that Common Nonsense is the best we mere ordinary folk can hope for.
Yet that is the way that probably the majority of humans live. We really can do better, and the examples I present in these stories are just that: examples of doing much better — which you can use to stimulate ideas, not try to somehow reproduce their results.
Some episodes are even explicit about that, such as “Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize”, which talked about a totally ordinary guy who did something extraordinary with his life. “Developing Uncommon Sense”, talks about how you can do just that: develop Uncommon Sense. And “How to be Happier” — well, that title is pretty self-explanatory! I really get into it in “7 Things to Stop Doing (& What to Do Instead)”. And there are more. I’ll put links to those episodes on the Show Page, but also explore past episodes on your own.
Uncommon Sense isn’t something only extraordinary people have. It’s how ordinary people become extraordinary. You don’t have to strive to become some huge financial success story, but if you pass Uncommon Sense down to the next generation, well, that’s true success in my eyes right there.
And it starts with rejecting the sort of Common Nonsense we see all around us as a default way to live; the way the sort of obliviots you read about in This is True stories live. And I know you can do that, since you read those stories.
It’s always time to take another step down that path toward something better — and, if nothing else, to pass the idea along. It makes a difference, and it’s worth it.
The Show Page for this episode is thisistrue.com/podcast94, where I welcome your comments and questions.
I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.
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