After a recent too-long bout of DotA 2, a friend of mine and I got to catching up on old times over Skype. He asked some questions about entrepreneurship and the success that I seem to be having with Driveline Baseball. I think it rather surprised him when I told him how much I was making (way lower than he thought) and the salary I gave up as a Data Scientist (four times what he makes now).
I told him that I left my job as a Data Scientist because I simply could not stand churning out worthless project after worthless product (back-ends to terrible flash games, analytics for a Gen-Z social-media-thinly-veiled spamming company, predictions for tax rates, etc) and that the software development industry simply had way too many toxic people in and around it. (It doesn’t help that I’m not a software developer – no matter who I tell this to, they don’t believe me when they see the software I write. Apparently no one else can figure out how to do FFTs and neural networking.)
I told him that I thought that a big component of being successful involved minimizing what I call “emotional damage.” In this profession, much like baseball, it is full of constant failure. If you judge your worth by the results you get, you will lose. (Companies that ask their employees to be “results-oriented” are full of bosses who are shit to work for, by the way.) You have to focus on the process. This is a major, major problem, because our education system promotes exactly the opposite. So does the media. We are bombarded with the idea that results are what matters – so we feel terrible when we have setbacks or failures in life.
Case in point: I once spent over 1,000 hours building a biomechanics lab that is two orders of magnitude cheaper than anything else out there and provides similar results to those labs. I thought that if I finished this project that I’d have baseball teams fawning over me and that I’d have people flying in from everywhere to have their mechanics analyzed.
It was a giant fucking failure. I haven’t sold a single package, and now I’m selling off my excess high-speed cameras.
I felt terrible for weeks, months after I came to the realization that no one cares. This, of course, was a chapter right out of the Lean Theory book – don’t spend a shitload of time on something where you have no idea if anyone actually likes it. (I actually hate the spam-like garbage you see on the web as a result of the Lean Theory methods, but that’s another kettle of fish.)
I was seriously mad. Here’s a college dropout who was able to collect 20+ research papers and reproduce the results of people holding very expensive pieces of paper, and yet no one gave a shit. Every baseball team I sent the information to either ignored me or said: “That’s awesome. We have a biomechanics lab too. Will you tell us everything you know for free?”
That’s emotional damage, and though I move on quickly from this kind of damage, it accumulates over time.
I happen to be in an industry where my opinion means very little because I never played professional baseball. It honestly does not matter that I know more than literally almost every pitching coach out there and that my results have been nothing short of godlike. In a fair, just world, the data and the results matter. But baseball is not the real world; not yet, anyway. Anyone who has read or seen Moneyball can tell you that’s the truth.
For those who have read and/or seen Moneyball, imagine a world where the baseball teams are even more ignorant than they are portrayed as – and you have player development in a nutshell. (I’ve actually just spent the last 10 minutes writing and deleting a bunch of anonymous conversations I’ve had with baseball executives, simply because I don’t want to bring it up. Find me at the RIPS facility some day and buy me a Coke Zero and I’ll talk your ear off.)
I am routinely undermined by the coaches in the facility I work out of. I am constantly laughed at by parents of kids who think that what I do is ridiculous – and they should know, because this ex-professional baseball player told them so. They’ll never tell it to my face, because, well, that’s Seattle for you. That and the fact that deep down inside, they really have no goddamned idea about anything, and that they’re really just praying that their son will get better.
I used to let it get to me. Then I transcended that, and I was fueled by it – I loved proving them wrong by turning out athlete after athlete who threw way harder than they used to and could throw every day with no pain. But that phase is slowly coming to an end; I’ve turned out many, many excellent throwers, and as far as I can tell, I can’t change anyone’s mind. So I stop taking pride in it, and just withdraw.
All I can do is help those who really want to be helped. And for them, I will do anything. But I don’t work with the kids who make up excuses – “I can’t come in tonight because I had practice and I have homework.” Fine. You don’t want to be a college or pro baseball player. “No, I do. But you know, life.” Yeah. I get it. Tell it to the kid who is going to take your spot at the next level because he doesn’t have a life. It’s your choice. I’m not your dad.
As you can tell, though I say I do a good job of blocking emotional damage, it doesn’t always work. It’s important to be cognizant of the fact that your mind and your soul will be worn down over time, because though everyone tells you to find a niche and exploit it to succeed in the Web 2.0 world, the reality is that if you do find that niche and dominate it, you will be looked at as an idiot and a weirdo because no one ever did that.
Can you be strong enough to withstand the constant sea of rejection and derision? I like to think I can. But time will ultimately tell.