Hard work vs probability. Who wins?

subvert suhb-vurt to overthrow (something established or existing); to try to destroy or damage something

Nothing is certain. We might set ourselves goals that seem achievable and work sincerely towards them. But there is no certainty, because every quest is a struggle against probability. Whatever we set out to do has certain odds of failure, whether we’re aware of them or not.

To subvert these odds is what success is all about.

To not die is success.

To not fail is success.

Nine out of ten new businesses fail. Everyone who starts a business thinks they are going to make it. That’s not a problem, though. Because why start if you don’t actually believe you can succeed?

No, the real problem is that most people don’t even realize that probability is at play. They focus only what they can do. Very few think about how not to get eaten up by the odds that are completely out of their control.

Everyone thinks about the one way in which they can succeed. Not many consider the nine other ways in which they can fail.

The cult of hard work blinds us to factors out of our control. Work hard enough, we’re told, and success is all but guaranteed. So we put our heads down and grind it out. Those who have already made it tell us how they never gave up, so we dig in and try even harder. But we never hear about those who did all the right things, yet lost to the odds.

The person who doesn’t expect failure is the one who’s most shocked when it happens. When received wisdom about hard work fails, where does one turn to? What happens when you spend countless hours but fall short? Where does that leave you and your beliefs?

There’s a misconception that human agency is only about the effort we put in — that we can create a ‘dent in the universe’ through sheer grit. But the random universe doesn’t really care about grit. It’s hubris to believe your hard work has any meaning for the world.

Hard work is more like a wrench, a tool, that helps turn the odds in our favour. Sometimes it’s enough to turn them completely our way, but not always. Which is why agency is as much about picking the right screws to turn, as it is about pulling the wrench as hard as we can.

Subverting the odds is about breaking the linear relationship between input and output. It’s about building leverage so that outputs are an exponential function of your inputs. When you have leverage, no one can beat you at your game. They might win at a different game, but you completely own your game.

Remember: the odds are the enemy only when you play the wrong game.

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Dhawal Sharma

Dhawal Sharma

I read like a man possessed | I write to understand the world | Twitter: @DhawalHelix