We love to read the biographies of the rich and famous—the successful business people, sports celebrities, politicians, and entertainers. They inspire us all to strive for our own goals and overcome obstacles in our lives. They promise practical advice and strategies we can deploy to achieve (the same) success. We relate to their stories of struggles and triumphs, and we empathize with the characters as we seek to learn from their mistakes and achievements.
Who wants to read the life story of a dentist who got rich? Very few of us.
But very few professions are perfectly predictable. While it may not be a glamorous career, there are practically no stories of starving dentists. While the route to success as a dentist may be long and arduous, once you've received your qualifications, the profession provides a combination of predictability, reasonable hours, and a steady income. If the dentist likes, she can even earn some extra money on the side as a consultant.
Most professions are not predictable, even though we fool ourselves into thinking they are. And while all the success biographies may serve as valuable entertainment and a few good insights into the human experience, we commit the frequent fatal error of assuming that if we follow in somebody else's footsteps, we too will be successful. And we reject all the permutations and combinations of things that could go wrong, astray, sideways that could lead to the same successful outcome.
As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote, $1 million earned as a dentist is not the same as $1 million earned as a rock star. Success relies as much on chance, randomness, and luck as on skills and hard work. That's why most careers are like roulette wheels with hundred slots—one for the celebrity who wrote the biography and the other 99 for the struggling followers.
When you see it this way, the odds are clear. For every roaring success, countless others never manage to break through.
Should we therefore give up hope? No! Of course not. But instead of blindly reading the biographies, thinking you're smarter than the average bear, capable of riding through any storm, or you've got the most well though out business plan, spare a (very long) thought for the role of luck and randomness, temper your expectations, and work on a few "bets" at the same time. Have a few "safe" projects in your life parallel to pursuing higher-risk projects, and remember that often, the most significant events in our lives come when we least expect them.
If you want absolute certainty in your life, become a dentist!
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