Moses never saw the promised land. Socrates was executed. Aristotle had to flee Athens under similar threat late in his life. Van Gogh and Alan Turing committed suicide. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and Edward Snowden is exiled in Russia for probably the rest of his life.

Dogged persistence in the face of a complete void of external validation characterizes those who are able to bring ambitious projects to fruition. Young people who claim they want to change the world would do better to study the story of Moses than Mark Zuckerberg. Most of the people who have had a lasting impact on the world did not do so with ease, or early in life. Many if not most of our hallowed heroes of history died in penniless penury, many as outcasts and even outlaws.

In my last post I described the futility of the current ways in which the undirected anger of my generation is being channeled, and how if we actually want the world to look differently than it does today, we must abandon our childish notions of change, the idle fantasies of Utopia, and get down to the difficult work of being adults, where most of life is unpleasant, and most of the things we do are things we would rather not be doing. This may sound much like the status quo understanding of adulthood, but the trouble is that we don't have adults anymore-we only have adolescents who are playing adults on the TV screens of their lives.

I submit that Civilization requires adults to build and sustain it, and that there is actually little left of Civilization to sustain at this stage other than an extremely distorted, abstracted system of the division of labour that actually does permit most of the world to not live in grinding poverty. This has been predicated on the progress of industrialization, which has brought untold wealth to the world-exceedingly unequally shared and at great price to nature.

The primary difference between children and adults is that children exhibit natural behavior and adults exhibit learned behavior. Because of my work at Exosphere I am involved in a lot of conversations about the psychology of learning and am frequently in heated discussions with other alternative education leaders about the supposed virtues of childhood. The idea that children are inherently virtuous and need to be completely free of constraints to learn and flourish has become popular in recent years as an overreaction to the clearly destructive, traumatizing and counterproductive system of industrial era education.

The trouble is that the overreaction in much of the alternative education movement is just as dangerous as the phenomena that gave rise to it.

Using the toilet and brushing your teeth are unnatural behaviors. They must be learned, usually at great expense of the time and energy of our mothers. Both of these learned behaviors are forms of discipline that the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled would characterize as delaying gratification. The ability to routinely delay gratification is perhaps the first critical difference between adult and child behavior. To the extent that this must be externally enforced by rules, regulations, deadlines, etc., there will always be a game of cat & mouse in the individual's organizational life.

This is where the alternative education movement is correct in criticizing the over-programmed, over-regimented system of grading, examinations, and homework with which we currently torture children. Such a system deprives the child of developing the ability to derive internal motivation for their actions, and relying exclusively on externally imposed metrics will lead to the rampant cheating, dishonesty, and corner-cutting that now characterizes our educational system. Yet at the same time, imagine waiting on a child to determine for himself that he wants to brush his teeth every night before bed.

When I look at the current standards for the conduct of business, especially the startup ecosystem, it seems that we have managed to create a situation combining the worst of both worlds.

We have now two generations of people who want to have a positive impact on the world, but their ambitions are entirely out of proportion to their abilities. It is not because they do not have the technical talent, or the capacity to propagandize their efforts-these they have in spades. Rather, it is that they are insufficiently adult to persist through the challenges that inevitably arise and thwart the development of new ways of doing things.

The path toward legacy is almost invariably paved with frustration, misunderstanding, and loneliness.

We are unfortunately misled by media narratives to believe we can have it all-and soon. Venture Capital time horizons force a few exceptions to become perceived as rules. These lucky few are heralded as examples to be followed, and the more we are fooled by this randomness, the more likely we are to attempt to imitate the inimitable, sacrificing our potential for true impact for the lustre of immediate, but soon to be forgotten recognition.

The choice is difficult. The easy praise gained from winning the signalling game that is adjudicated by the media and the commentariat class is a perpetual temptation. Like the children in the famed Marshmallow experiment, though, we must learn how to wait patiently for a greater reward. We have, in modern times, conflated learning with knowledge, the idea that we can conceptually grasp something and consider it to have been learned. Learning how to wait has nothing to do with knowledge in this sense, but is a deeper personal wisdom that can only be gained through perpetual and repeated practice-and it may never feel like it's truly been learned at all. Perhaps no advice in our age is less likely to be taken, and yet never has there been a time in recent memory when it was more needed.


In my next post I will discuss how business and commerce can be utilized to pursue long-term, sustainably positive impact on the world by taking on their boring, mundane aspects and seeing them as the surest path to meaningful change in the human experience. If you'd like to make sure you see my next post or if you have questions about this one, follow me on Twitter and send me a note letting me know what you think: @skinnerlayne