Have you heard how sometimes a drowning man, or a survivor of a shipwreck, has been helped ashore by a dolphin? This kinds of things come up in the news every now and then. Are they proof that dolphins are intelligent and benevolent? Do dolphins know that by doing this they are saving a human life? Or are they just being playful?
And what about the times when the dolphins ignore a struggling swimmer and let him drown? Or start towing or pushing him to the open sea instead of land? We never hear about these stories. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t happen, but there’s no one alive to tell them. Maybe a dolphin is just being playful, pushing and pulling the drowning man to wherever. The stories we hear are told by those who were lucky enough to be pushed ashore and lived to share their experience, and this distorts our perspective on reality. We are inclined to think that dolphins are benevolent creatures.
I was reading this article by Everett Bogue about becoming successful by setting unrealistic goals and I realized that many of the blogs I read are written by people who are making their income online with an illusory ease. In the process they seem to have achieved freedom, happiness, and financial security – and all of them are saying that you can do it too! This is connected with personal development, as the process involves shedding many of your limiting beliefs and learning things about yourself. These people make it sound so easy even when they say it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire what these people have done, but similar to the drowning man saved by a dolphin, are we only hearing one side of the story? I don’t know of any bloggers who are focusing only on their failures and how difficult it is to become successful in your chosen trade. In fact, I don’t even think people want to read about this stuff. It’s much nicer to read ‘from rags to riches’ kinds of stories. They give hope.
The few times I’ve seen people blog about where they failed the articles have always included very profound analysis and soul-searching to figure out what went wrong and how to learn from it, so I wouldn’t consider these failures in that sense. The best way to learn is to try and fail and try again.
Humans have a tendency to wrongly estimate the likelihood of different events to occur. The more first-hand evidence we see about specific things the more common we assume them to be. This is why it’s normal for a layman to grossly overestimate homicide rates. These events always make it to the newspaper and TV headlines so people are much more exposed to them than e.g. deaths caused by heart disease.
In a similar way I’ve begun to wonder if the number of lifestyle design, personal development, and online marketing blogs is skewing the actual data. Maybe these successful bloggers are just a dime in the dozens of failures, but because it’s very rare to hear about those failures we assume that achieving what these people have achieved is somehow easy and commonplace.
What do you think?