“Find your unfair advantage” — Marc Ecko.
There are people who have unfair advantages, of course: e.g., parents with money and connections, a psychopathic ability to manipulate others, or perhaps a physical appearance that makes it possible to cruise by on looks alone. (I’m sure you’ve met people in all of those categories.)
But this isn’t actually what Marc Ecko means by “unfair advantage.” In fact, if you read about his career and life, he struggled, took risks, and did the work, going above and beyond his competition. He won out not by finding his “unfair advantage,” but, in fact, by using his fair advantage. He simply made the best of the skills and knowledge he had acquired, over many years.
It’s a curious thing, but people with skill often feel guilty about it — and sometimes even ashamed of it.
We’ve been taught since childhood that it’s unfair for us to use skills that we have that others do not. The slowest runner is given a head start. The rules of a game are changed to accommodate the weakest mind.
The “Protestant work ethic” taught us that “hard work is honest work.” (And since the better one gets at something the easier it becomes, the more dishonest it can feel. Skill or “talent” can feel like cheating.)
And, of course, we’ve been told that artists (meaning anyone with integrity) “are supposed to suffer.” CEOs, apparently, aren’t.
Rapper Jay Z describes how being told by his mother that he would be rewarded for “hard work” almost cost him his career because writing lyrics, he says, “was something that I loved to do. It didn’t come hard to me so I figured nothing come out of it.”
Such doubt creeps into any remotely creative area, from fine art to martial arts.
Writing lyrics and rapping came easy to Jay Z him because, by the time he wanted to go pro with it, he had been doing for years — he started as a teen, and owned his own record label at 26. In fact, he had worked at it, probably for at least a decade.
Psychologically, acknowledging our advantage, and the work we put into acquiring it, can be one of the hardest things we face.
Marc Ecko’s “find your unfair advantage” should be read like a Zen koan — to get us over the feeling of guilt of having acquired skills and knowledge actually worth sharing, and to get us to use them and to feel good about it — perhaps the way ninjas probably felt good about using their skills.