The joke is on the valet

as a kid i went to church every Sunday. around age 12 i learned something… the pastor’s kid is usually f*cked up.

at church, their dad is patient and forgiving. at home, he yells and holds grudges. the English word for this is “hypocrisy” but the sentiment is universal: betrayal.

observing man’s fallibility is just one of many milestones on a child’s journey to adulthood. realizing “things aren’t always as they seem” describes this gap between naiveté and maturity.

but now we must invert. things aren’t always as they seem… to seem.

reasons, not excuses

in The Effective Executive Drucker writes:

There are indeed no great men to their valets. But the laugh is on the valet. He sees, inevitably, all the traits that are not relevant, all the traits that have nothing to do with the specific task for which a man has been called on the stage of history.

Steve Jobs was not put on this earth to be a rockstar father to Lisa Brennan. nor Warren Buffet to be monogamous. or Trump to model humility.

nobody argues that Gandhi should have been a religious guru or MLK Jr. an actor. yet we’re quick to prescribe feel-good behaviors on ourselves.

without excusing hypocritical pastors we ought to wonder, in every scenario: who is the joke on, really?

avoiding purposelessness

it’s impossible to know our purpose, but by borrowing Carl Jacobi’s inversion technique we can avoid that which is definitely not our purpose.

a few things i was not created to do:

  • shave (don’t own a razor)
  • play sports
  • feed homeless grownups (donate only to children)
  • rescue animals
  • enjoy hot tea
  • metabolize carbohydrates (fuel the beef economy)

these plus 100s of other items on my non-purpose list unlock the ability to pursue whatever is my purpose. specifically they give me at least 15 hours per week to figure out why i exist.

what would you accomplish with thousands of extra hours per year?

content with rough edges

for years i maintained a martyrish identity of being “equally wholesome to everyone” (#EWTE).

Uber driver wants to chat? fine, i’m a conversational guy. new acquaintance is 25 minutes late to our meeting? no worries, i’m a patient zen master.

so what if it ate me alive sometimes? i’m Ryan Kulp! i am (checks notes) friendly, outgoing, energetic, kind, goofy, and don’t take things too seriously.

but here’s the rub. i am each of these things, just not to all people.

you can’t un-see it

sometimes i wake up at 4am and take a taxi to the airport for a 12 hour flight. in this haze i am not a jerk to ignore my driver’s questions; he is the driver, not my wife. our relationship does not merit a chat.

in fact it is by taking the 4am flight instead of the 2pm flight that i arrive early to my Airbnb. which means i can sleep well before delivering a presentation.

now let’s highlight a single word from Drucker’s riff: “he sees, inevitably, all of the traits that are not relevant.”

it is inevitable i leave Impression A on the Uber driver in order to leave Impression B on the audience. a layman finds this duplicitous; a rational man calls it the theory of constraints.[1]

following are more examples.

in the 2010 Korean thriller The Housemaid, a young au pair compliments her rich clients’ daughter for being so polite. the daughter replies, “my father told me to always be polite. it’s considered good, but is actually the most self serving.”

some department stores have “70% off ” signs that never go away. the product sells out, then it’s restocked.

a street vendor in Thailand thinks she “tricked the stupid Americans” for accepting her 150 baht ($4.80 USD) price instead of negotiating.[2]

the joke, dear reader, is on the maid. it’s on the bargain shopper. it’s on the artisan. and it’s on you, me, and everyone else who isn’t in touch with their purpose.

choose the right battles

by employing your talents on that which only you are uniquely capable of, you honor yourself and others.

i’m glad Steve Jobs didn’t repent to Lisa and become a stay at home dad. the world is a better place for their sacrifice.

1. the driver is a bottleneck to performance.
2. in 2015 i bought a leather, hand made business card holder in Chiang Mai for $3 USD. it’s been my only wallet ever since. negotiating with the unfortunate is evil.