Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Big Fish, Little Industrial Pond

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It didn't take me long to figure it out. Of the gathering of geeks, I was the most "cool".

I don't mean in the "geek-cred" sense, but in the sense of the rest of American society. I was still a geek - nobody would debate that - but I also had more social skills than most of the people in the gathering. I had traveled several hours to this gathering of geeks, all of us friends over a computer network that predated the widespread adoption of the internet. (Yes, I did BBSes from 1991-2001, and even ran my own for a few years.) This didn't happen at every gathering like this - and it never happened in "real life". It's still a hot day at the bottom of hell [1] when I'm the coolest kid in the room.

But it has happened, and it felt good.

That same experience has happened in many areas of my life - writing, medicine, athleticism [2], and education. I've been good, or even at the top before. I was a big fish - but in a very, very small pond. And more than once, I'd stick my head out of that pond and find out pretty quickly how small my pond was.

That's the place a lot of mid-sized American (and largely industrial) cities find themselves in. They look at data like Richard Florida's on spiky innovation or the creative crisis in industrial cities and think that they can't compete against Silicon Valley or Seattle or... well, you get the idea. They think - mistakenly - that if you can't directly compete, you shouldn't bother.

But that's a defeatist way to look at it. Rather than try to compete to be the biggest fish in the big sea, instead we could concentrate on becoming a specialized fish. Mudskippers, triggerfish, and many others are well-adapted (and very successful) in their niche areas. They would have a very bad time of things in the open ocean (or a vast lake for those of you who require accuracy in metaphors), but a fish adapted to the open ocean (lake!) would have a hard time in mud flats or hunting like a triggerfish does. If you read the posts I linked to carefully, they are saying the status cannot stay quo, but neither are they saying that everyone has to be enormously, internationally successful overnight.

It goes back to the problem that got us here in the first place - the idea that we have to maximize profits. That is, that we've all got to be the coolest kid around, the richest kid, the most successful kid. And that simply can't be. But we can still succeed.

I wasted years of my life trying to be "cool", and failing rather spectacularly. My life did not start to turn around until I decided to stop judging myself by the cool kids and stopped trying to be the cool kids.

Instead, I just started being myself - and it was only then that I could suddenly discover that I was cool, after all.

[1] And the fact that I'm making a literary joke here should serve as proof.
[2] Not now, but at other times in my life I was vaguely athletic, okay?

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