Charlie's Blog: Charlie's Big Idea


Charlie's Big Idea

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

If you read Nassim Taleb's books, you are struck by the fact that they are the same book. They are all devoted to the same idea. Yet, you should read them all. Taleb gets a lot of mileage out of that idea. Similarly, I get a lot of mileage out of my one idea.

What is my one idea? It is difficult to sum up my one idea in a sentence or a word which is why I am able to get mileage out of the idea. If Taleb had a label for his idea, it might be "antifragility." The label for my idea would be "blue collar." It has a long history with me, so I'll start with the genesis of the idea.

I used to be a basketball fan. I have moved on to other things, but I still have a fondness for a team that existed in the late 80s. This team was the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys roster that would go on and win two NBA championships. Lots of teams win championships, but it was the way this team won that made them special. The Bad Boys were physical and rough. They played hard especially on defense and earned a bad and fearsome reputation as a consequence. They were gritty and tough.

A co-worker of mine from back in the day used to go on and on about those Pistons. We both loved the team because we identified with them. The Bad Boys were a bunch of scrubs. They didn't have deep talent to draw on. They just put on their hard hats and went to work. That grittiness was what turned a team of losers into a team of winners. They were blue collar.

My love for that team, and their strategy for winning was what gave birth to my blue collar idea. It was not fully formed, and the tenets of the idea would take longer to take shape. But the seed was planted. I was developing a framework for thinking about things.

The next part of the idea came from my frustrations with work. I have a college degree, and I have worked one job that required a college degree. It was the worst job of my life. I literally saved money by living as a pauper in a "Go To Hell" fund in order to quit that job. That was two years of pure hell as I occupied the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. I was a supervisor with the intention of getting promoted up the chain. Yet, I hated the job, and my bosses hated their jobs. The only guys that seemed to like their jobs were the maintenance guys who worked on our equipment. They made more money than me, but they had no ladder to climb. I envied them. I realized I was in the wrong job.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs showed me the way on this. The problem with those corporate management jobs was that they were a shining but false path. Basically, you are running a business for someone else's reward. When blue collar people want to move up, they move out and start their own businesses. They don't need a college degree to do this, but they do need skills and a work ethic. What they don't need is glamour and hype.

The next part of the blue collar idea came from a martial art that is all martial and zero art. This is Krav Maga. I've spent some time learning some kung fu from a friend of mine who took special delight in training me and then beating me up. I learned many things from him, but my frustration with martial arts only increased. Once you get in shape, martial arts is chess from that point on. It doesn't get simpler and easier. It just gets harder. But you don't get tougher. You just get overwhelmed by all the options you have learned, and you get your ass kicked trying to think about them all.

I have little faith in traditional martial arts. If you are learning tae kwon do at the local strip mall dojo, you are wasting your time. I know because it was a waste of time for Ron Goldman who was young, fit, and possessed a black belt in karate. It did not help him not get killed by OJ Simpson. OJ even laughed about it in his "confession." Goldman got into his karate stance, and OJ still took him down.

The problem with karate and other traditional martial arts is twofold. The first is that they are complicated. The second is that they lack grit. There has to be a better way, and this way is Krav Maga. Developed by Imi Lichtenfeld for the Israel Defense Forces, Krav Maga is a simple, brutal, and effective real world self-defense system. Building on natural movements and an acceptance that fights are dirty, Krav Maga makes fighters out of ordinary mortals including women like Jennifer Lopez in Enough. Ron Goldman would still be alive today if he had known Krav Maga.

The next part of my blue collar idea came from the writings of Saint Josemaria Escriva and the work of Opus Dei. After my conversion to Catholicism, I didn't know what direction I should take with my life in terms of spirituality. I was married, so I knew I wasn't called to be a priest or a monk. I'm an ordinary guy living in the world. Then, I discovered Escriva and noticed a similarity in his way of doing things with those of Imi Lichtenfeld and Krav Maga. Escriva cut through the complication of Catholic spirituality, simplified it, and made it applicable to ordinary people like me.

People are dismissive of the spirituality of Opus Dei. The harshest antagonism and criticisms of Opus Dei come from the Jesuits who see the laypeople and priests of the Work as rivals. Here is a favorite quotation of mine from the Jesuit, Father James Martin:
Some of the group’s spirituality can be gleaned from Escrivá’s numerous writings, most notably his 1939 book, The Way. The book is a collection of 999 maxims, ranging from traditional Christian pieties (“The prayer of a Christian is never a monologue”) to sayings that could easily have come out of Poor Richard’s Almanack (“Don’t put off your work until tomorrow”).
This description paints Escriva and his followers as unsophisticated rubes. That is one thing I will give to the Jesuits. They are sophisticated. They are also a bunch of sodomites interested in promoting anal sex more than holiness.

I love this quotation from St. Francis de Sales:
It is an error, or rather a heresy, to say devotion is incompatible with the life of a soldier, a tradesmen, a prince, or a married woman. . .It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world.
The desert St. Francis de Sales refers to is the life found in the religious orders like the Benedictines, the Dominicans, the Franciscans, and others who have endeavored to pursue holiness in a way that is very devoted and complicated. Most of this complication comes from praying the Divine Office.  But as the Jesuits show, a sophisticated spirituality does not automatically produce saints. Opus Dei works because it stresses simplicity and getting it done each day, week, month, and year in the Plan of Life and in apostolate.

All of these ideas and influences have produced in me a mindset that I label "blue collar" because that was the label those Detroit Pistons had. You can be a white collar worker or a schoolteacher and have the blue collar state of mind. It is not a job where you work with your hands but a mindset. Here are the components of that mindset:


Things should be simple. Most problems and errors come from unnecessary complications. People are astounded when I tell them that the greatest breakthrough in medicine was when doctors and nurses started washing their hands. Soap and water have cured and prevented more disease than all the pharmaceuticals the drug companies have ever produced.


You have thinking. You have talking. You have advertising. You have marketing. You have focus groups, studies, commissions, blue ribbon panels, and on and on. Then, there is doing. Most of what gets accomplished in the world comes from plain and simple hard work. The world has no shortage of ideas and thinkers. It has an acute shortage of hard workers.


Grit is an extension of work ethic. It is the fortitude needed to get things done. People want beautiful and elegant answers to things. When those show themselves to be unavailable, they give over to "experts" and their complicated solutions which are not solutions at all. Then, there is the guy who rolls his sleeves up and accepts that the real solution won't be pretty, but it will be effective.


So-called experts and technocrats and other members of the Parasite Class attempt to protect their turfs through intimidation. This comes in the form of complicated jargon, complex ideas, and just plain crap to make others think they are more than what they are. They portray themselves as a priestly class privy to the mysteries that the rest of us rubes could never comprehend. The reality is that they are a bunch of bluffers who are full of bravo sierra. The blue collar mindset rejects this intimidation by adopting what I call "unintimidation." Basically, you become like a honey badger in the belief that no one is bigger, badder, smarter, or tougher than you.

People who read this will be dismissive of this blue collar idea of mine. This comes from a combination of conventional wisdom, pride, and laziness. They make the ironic criticism that this blue collar way is simultaneously too easy and too hard. They can't get their minds around it, and they never will. Yet, their hubris makes them overestimate themselves and underestimate you.

The best examples I can give for this phenomenon are the great pyramids in Egypt. Those monuments of stone are stunning achievements for people who possessed neither machines nor magic. Yet, there they stand. Experts today readily admit that they could not duplicate those feats with their modern tools, sophistication, and equipment. It baffles them how the ancients ever did it. They propose theories including outlandish ones involving aliens and UFOs. But here's the secret behind the building of those great pyramids. Simple people with simple tools put themselves to the task and got it done. They were blue collar. That's it. It baffles people because they can't wrap their minds around the cumulative and almost magical effects of hard work. It can't be done! Yet, there they stand. The real builders are unknown to us, but they were the simple workers of their world.

We live in a world today where all of the credit goes to the thinkers and the dreamers and the architects. None of it goes to the workers that turn those ideas into reality. The reason the workers achieve so much is that they don't concern themselves with who gets the credit. This is the preoccupation of parasites bluffing their way through life.

This is my one big idea. It's not a sophisticated idea. It is just the basic belief that so much of life is a load of crap. Life gets better when you cut through that crap. Most problems in life are not in need of sophisticated answers but blunt answers ruthlessly applied to those problems. What separates the blue collar types from the sophisticates is this. Blue collar mindset people solve problems. Sophisticated types create problems in need of their solutions. This is what separates the Productive Class from the Parasites Class. Quit the Parasite Class and join the Productive Class.