While participating in a Twitter giveaway for some C.S. Lewis books, I received a consolation price of an essay by Albert E.N. Gray on the common denominator of success. While the tone of the essay was akin to the sort of talk that one gives to salesmen to pep them up–and this is vindicated by the fact that it was in fact a sales talk given in 1940 by the author to the National Association of Life Underwriters convention in Philadelphia, it does still have a considerable amount of value. The author’s thesis is that successful people do what is necessary to get results and failures focus on what is pleasant and therefore do not do the hard things that are necessary to succeed. I would like to expand that in general to present a more general theory for how people can find niches by doing that which needs to be done but that which others do not or cannot do.
There is much in this world that remains to be done that has not even begun. While many people despair in terms of thinking about what they can possibly do or accomplish, the fact remains that there is a lot of work in a given society that needs to be done, but people do not want to do it for a variety of reasons. There are some people, a great many people, in fact, who do not like doing anything. But whether we desire to succeed in this world or the next, much work remains to be done on ourselves and then on the world around us such as within our influence, sometimes as a result of having done the necessary work on ourselves to make us a good example for others. Acquiring the habit of doing things that are not fun and that we do not want to do but that need to be done requires that we see the overall purpose that makes unpleasant things worth doing and that purpose is something that is a particular struggle to find.
Being observant to the gap between that which needs to be done and that which people want to do is a good way for people to gain profitable niches in life. If we can find a situation where people do not give honor or a great deal of respect to certain professions, we will find that those professions will have to be paid enough to make it worthwhile to attract people to them anyway. It is something to be noted that part of the remuneration we receive from work is a high degree of honor and respect. If we tell others that we are a teacher, and expect kudos and pats on the back for it, we may find out to our chagrin that a great deal of the wages we receive is in praise and not in pay. On the other hand, if we say that we work in cleaning sewers or handle logistics work for a shipping company, it is unlikely that many people will praise that, but we will be doing necessary work that pays well. If one is emotionally tough enough, one can shrewdly see what it is that a given society values, find the tasks that are necessary but not appreciated, and dedicate oneself to profiting through doing that necessary “dirty work” that other people do not tend to regard or respect but which they will pay for others to do so that they do not have to. It is in such ways that people find profitable niches for themselves.
There is, of course, danger in such a strategy. While there is a great deal of profit in doing that which needs to be done but that which brings no honor or credit in the eyes of society at large in doing, there are costs in doing that which is dishonored. For one, people will not tend to understand why it is that a given person or a given group is doing so well for themselves by doing that which other people do not appreciate, not realizing that the lack of appreciation drives off enough competition that it allows someone to do well by doing that which is unpleasantly needed. Yet others will not understand this and may be given to envy and jealousy of someone doing so well when they have chosen to go against the societal grain, not realizing that it is precisely by going against the grain that one does well. Is the work of reading and study and research boring to many? Then go and do it, and you will prosper. Do people value college degrees as credentials but have no praise or honor to give to those with vocational courses of study–then focus on profitable vocations that pay the bills even if other people will not celebrate your studies. Find that which slips through the cracks and falls underneath the attention and celebration of the outside world and you will find a profitable niche. Just don’t tell anyone I told you.