Updates » February, 2010

Fuck the Karate Kid

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

I think The Karate Kid ruined the modern world.

Not just that movie, but all of the movies like it (you certainly can’t let the Rocky sequels escape blame). Basically any movie with a training montage.

You know what I’m talking about; the main character is very bad at something, then there is a sequence in the middle of the film set to upbeat music that shows him practicing. When it’s done, he’s an expert.

pics unrelated

When I run out of ideas for horror novels (which will happen about, oh, two horror novels from now) I want to write this up as a self-help book, probably titled Fuck the Karate Kid: Why Life is So Much Harder Than We Think, by Dr. David Wong. I also have to become a doctor at some point.

(NOTE: If you’re new here, hi, my name is David Wong and I wrote John Dies at the End, available everywhere in hardcover etc).

It seems so obvious that it actually feels insulting to point it out. But it’s not obvious; every adult I know–or at least the ones who are depressed–continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.

We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at their job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.

Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s ten or twenty times harder. Like losing weight. You make yourself miserable for six months and find yourself down a whopping four pounds. Let yourself go at a single all-you-can-eat buffet and you’ve gained it all back.

So, people bail on diets. Not just because they’re harder than they expected, but because they’re so much harder it seems unfair, almost criminally unjust. You can’t shake the bitter thought that, “This amount of effort should result in me looking like a panty model.”

And it applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, “If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (my wife, my boss, the government, illegal immigrants etc).”

Or, think about the whole economic collapse and the bad credit bubble. You can imagine millions of working types saying, “All right, I have NO free time. I work every day, all day. I come home and take care of the kids. We live in a tiny house, with two shitty cars. And we are still deeper in debt every single month.” So they borrow and buy on credit because they have this unspoken assumption that, damn it, the universe will surely right itself at some point and the amount of money we should have been making all along (according to our level of effort) will come raining down.

All of it comes back to having those massively skewed expectations of the world. Even the people you think of as pessimists, they got their pessimism by continually seeing the world fail to live up to their expectations, which only happened because their expectations were grossly inaccurate in the first place.

You know that TV show where Gordon Ramsay tours various failing restaurants and swears at the owners until everything is fine again? Every episode is a great example. They all involve some haggard restaurant owner, a half a million dollars in debt, looking exhausted into the camera and saying, “How can we be losing money? I work ninety hours a week!”

The world demands more. So, so much more. How have we gotten to adulthood and failed to realize this? Why would our expectations of the world be so off? I blame the montages. Five breezy minutes, from sucking at karate to being great at karate, from morbid obesity to trim, from geeky girl to prom queen, from terrible garage band to awesome rock band.

In the real world, the winners of that Karate tournament in Karate Kid would be the kids who had been at it since they were in elementary school. Skipping video games and days out with their friends and birthday parties so they can practice, practice, practice. And that’s just what it takes to get “pretty good” at it. Want to know how long it takes to become an expert at something? About 10,000 hours, according to research.

That’s practicing two hours a day, every day, for almost 14 years.

As a lot of you know, I’m the Editor over at Cracked.com and what many of you don’t know is that we run the site on a unique, open submission system where anybody can submit an article idea, and everybody’s idea–whether submitted by a 15 year-old anime fan or a Nobel Prize-winning journalist–comes in through the same system, on equal footing. Then we have a way of filtering out the horrible ones and getting it down to just the ones we want to publish.

So I deal with literally thousands of aspiring writers and I never get tired of watching people experience Effort Shock, and seeing how they deal with it. It’s great to work with the special few who can fight through it. And it is a fight; people fucking freak out when they get into the writing process and realize how many hours a good article is going to suck from their free time.

Yeah, Cracked is just doing short little comedy articles, not building skyscrapers. But that makes it worse; because everything is written in a conversational style and is full of boner jokes, it seems to the casual observer like you should be able to sit down and just pound out an article in an hour or so (where this one took me about 30 hours).

I bring all of this up now because I’m giving a talk at JordanCon, a fantasy book convention in a couple of months about my ridiculous, roundabout path to getting my book published (if you’ll be in the South this spring, JordanCon will be held at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia at Perimeter April 23-25th in Atlanta, GA). And I hope I can convey this without turning everybody off.

John Dies at the End took eight years to get where it is now, in fancy hardcover on real book store shelves. But I wasn’t drinking and sleeping in my car that whole time, waiting to get discovered. I was working two jobs and updating a website three times a week and getting those ten thousand hours in.

Oh, I sure as fuck didn’t realize it at the time. Don’t let me come off as a guru here; I’m three years removed from looking at the Classifieds and seriously considering making ends meet with night jobs that would have had me cleaning toilets.

I walked out of college at 22 thinking I was going to be king of the world within a few years. Ten years later I had failed at one career, then failed at another, tried to go back to school twice, accumulated $15,000 in credit card debt, and was working at a job where I was one promotion above high school kids.

I felt like I was working myself to death. Year after year. And even then, so many things had to break my way to get what I have now. I lost hope and lowered my expectations over and over and over. Nothing that had happened in my life up to that point prepared me for it. Nobody told me.

Fucking Karate Kid.

Anyway. I know what will make us feel better:

Buy the book, if you wish.

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27 Responses to “Fuck the Karate Kid”

  1. […] John Dies at the End » Fuck the Karate Kid Says: February 16th, 2010 at 12:05 pm […]

  2. patterson says:

    Dave, I can’t tell you how strangely inspirational I find this.

  3. Archprophet says:

    Yeah me too. I suppose there’s a comfort in knowing that if you try hard enough you can achieve anything. At the same time I found it kind of depressing. This is due to me being astonishingly lazy, and 10 000 hours being one hell of a long time. Times like this often make me wish that the human lifespan was about 20 times longer.

  4. Cactus Jack says:

    Growing up in the generation that’s just now ending college and setting out to make their careers, I can’t tell you how many of my peers think the world owes them something for nothing. A generation that’s been given everything but doesn’t seem to realize that because it’s been given so much it’s expected to accomplish that much more, and shit if it doesn’t work out you can just live with mom and dad and party till something comes along. No need to really work, no need to survive, just maintain the status quo and blame the world when it doesn’t turn out like in the movies. This is gayer than a leather pinata.

  5. […] Doctor (Pending) David Wong of cracked.com blames The Karate Kid for everything: […]

  6. […] Previous Entry – Start From The Beginning – Next Entry […]

  7. […] full post on Hacker News If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it! Tagged with: Effort • […]

  8. […] Shock… By grok2 | March 10, 2010 Read this blog post by David Wong. Fantastic insight –you may not agree entirely, it might seem like link-bait to […]

  9. […] not counting the 8 minutes of commercials. David Wong made it worth getting up this morning. Read this. I get […]

  10. […] 5 things I “knew” (or should have known) before starting a company, but didn’t fully understand until now I’ll bet you don’t know the answer to these three questions Neil Postman – Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection Fuck the Karate Kid […]

  11. […] Achievements serve as inducement to put in extra effort and attention to things we ought to be doing (as the friend who pointed out the IDGC link out to us put it, “I want achievements for everything, dammit. Especially brushing my teeth.”).  However, just as leveling up in games gets tougher, it does in real life, too. […]

  12. […] Effort Shock – how The Karate Kid ruined the modern world. (tags: motivation life inspiration productivity work psychology) Tags: All Wikis Posted in All Wikis « Today’s graphic Identidad digital fragmentada » You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed. […]

  13. […] us begged for a Skinner Box we could crawl into, because the real world’s system of rewards is so much more slow and cruel than we expected it to be. In that, gaming is no different from other forms of mental escape, from sports fandom to […]

  14. […] turns out the people consistently underestimate how much time it will take to get something done. This throws your schedule way off if you’re […]

  15. Anonymous says:

    […] lot of us begged for a Skinner Box we could crawl into, because the real world's system of rewards is so much more slow and cruel than we expected it to be. In that, gaming is no different from other forms of mental escape, from sports fandom to […]

  16. […] Es uno de los mejores textos que jamás leerás.* Fuck the Karate Kid (en Inglés) por David […]

  17. […] Previous Entry – Start From The Beginning – Next Entry […]

  18. Malan says:

    So you spent 30 hours telling young people, myself included, that life holds nothing in store for us but a grotesquely large number of epic disappointments and fails?

    I’m assuming that by now, you feel like you’ve ‘made it’. You’ve got a hardcover book in stores. That’s awesome. Well done.

    But what, is there no sense of accomplishment to share? No self-actualization? I’m always in favor of a shock to the system, a dose of bitter reality, a burp in the Hollywood Happy Ending credits, but seriously, you have to offer your readers some sense of closure. Some sense of inspiration. When you were doe-eyed and wet behind the ears, when you were 22 years old, fresh from college, what would you have needed somebody to tell you?

    I get that it’s part of your cred and your rep to be inyourface, upfront, straightforward, and kind of merciless in your worldview. But I hope you don’t shit in my face when you respond, and that you treat it with some respect.



  19. […] the new Karate Kid No, this isn’t a rehash of this awesome post. It’s about the new movie and how it’s already a sack of […]

  20. […] article about the (American, yes, I'll own it for us) expectation gap: http://www.johndiesattheend.com/updates/?p=1071 […]

  21. l4nc3rr says:

    @Malan He’s not saying that life is filled with disappointment and failure. He’s saying that if you expect success in life to be as easy as a five-minute montage, you’re going to be disappointed and probably fail. If you realize that it takes many many many hours and days and years of hard work to accomplish something, you will be more willing to carry that thing out and stick through the rough spots.

  22. Angelita33Hendrix says:

    People in all countries get the loans in different creditors, just because this is easy.

  23. Jo says:

    I think the average person watches around 10,000 hours of TV a year, I guess were all experts.

  24. jwatte says:

    Jo, that’s pretty funny! You clearly didn’t spend 10,000 hours on math :-)

    For comparison: 365 days times 24 hours equals 8,760 hours in a year, leaving no time for sleep or paying the rent. A US worker does about 2,200 hours of work a year; a European worker around 2,000.

  25. […] truth is we all have begged to crawl into a Skinner Box that resembles a world we WANT to live in. Life is just terrible and cruel and so much hard work with little to no tangible benefits.  David Wong here discusses my point entirely on numerous subjects [to be honest, there's a reason […]

  26. ScutigaraColeoptrata says:

    While the importance of hard work should not be understated, you neglected to mention something that is equally important; demand and marketability.

    To put it bluntly, the ‘world’ doesn’t care HOW much effort you put into something, only the results of that effort. By the world I mean the network of people that make up our international society. Your article states that people should not automatically feel entitled to a tangible reward for any amount of effort they put into a task, but you also imply that with a far greater amount of effort they SHOULD expect a tangible reward. They shouldn’t; a large amount of effort doesn’t mean a thing if it isn’t applied properly.

    Take your example of the karate student who has done his 10,000 hours of work towards his goal of being a master. Now compare him to a med student, who puts in roughly an equal amount of work to become a fully qualified doctor. Do you think the karate student is going to make anywhere near as much money as the med student will at their end of their respective journeys? No, the payoff is going to be far less for the former because the demand for a doctor’s skills are far greater.

    To use an example from my own life, I studied history up until the graduate level, and would have completed my Ph.D. in an additional 4 years had I not done some research and realized that if I wanted to become a professor I would be competing, on average, with 300 applicants per position. I’m now working at a fairly well paying research job for a company, and I am very glad I did not make that mistake.

    There is also the issue of ‘class’, whereby some people are more privileged than others and, while still putting effort into their jobs, will earn a higher income than people without their connections. I don’t want to say that we live in some kind of feudal system, but it is going to be harder for some people to achieve their goal than others, and require a lot more work for the same goal in some cases. What’s important is the goal though; work is only a means to that end.

    The old cliche work smarter, not harder, is definitely true. You succeeded because you put a huge amount of work toward a goal, AND you intelligently approached that goal. If you had instead fallen into the trap of believing that a good education and hard work means that someone, somewhere in power would recognize your toil (the Just Tsar, or whatever), you’ll be waiting for the payoff forever.

  27. […] Wong, who you might vaguely recognize as the guy who writes the good articles on Cracked, puts it pretty well: You know that TV show where Gordon Ramsay tours various failing restaurants and swears at the […]

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