San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The Law of Parsimony

Jack O’Brien

Jack O’Brien

Being of an indolent nature myself, I am perpetually amazed at the raw energy and intestinal fortitude of those who do good works: Chairmen of many committees, indefatigable organizers of charity events and persistent gadflies to those of us who labor under the mistaken impression that retirement means just that. In short, the overachievers of this world.

Speaking for the vast army of underachievers, it is my proud boast that I have nothing to boast about, and that my name will never be added to the interminable list of kings and queens, tyrants and record-breakers, and assorted notables who are responsible for History. Should you rush to censure me for this lack of spirit, let me tell you that I have excellent credentials based on the Law of Parsimony. This law, sometimes known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that all natural processes (which of course includes underachievement) consume the least possible amount of energy. For example, an apple falls straight down from the branch, rather than touring the landscape before hitting the ground.

Accordingly, ever careful to observe the law, I rise late and retire early, exerting myself to the minimum extent possible in the few remaining hours of the day. Even so, my tranquil existence is often rudely interrupted by some overachiever, scornful of natural law and trampling roughshod over my Fourth Amendment rights. I can hear one at the door right now, and I know exactly what’s coming: “Jackson, this is disgusting! Already five in the morning, and here you are, still pigging it out in bed! Out with you, immediately, and sign this Title Agreement!”

The awful thing is that we underachievers are putty in the hands of these monsters, always preferring to sign rather than argue, and of course they know it. Last year, I signed away twenty-one tenths of my disposable income, and my accountant no longer speaks to me. But then, overachievers never limit themselves to personal assaults; they are to be found everywhere: on billboards, on TV, in our junk mail, exhorting us to lose weight and improve our spelling, in fact wherever we could maybe, just maybe, use a little sharpening.

So what’s the answer, for those who don’t want to be sharpened? Well, just like the healing leaf grows right next door to the stinging nettle, the answer lies in the very nature of overachievement. Your typical overachiever suffers from a shortage of self-esteem, which by some quirk of the psyche he transfers to his victims, so use that very weakness to overthrow him. Try reproaching him for never having made President of the United States, or even CEO of Google. That should shut him up for a bit while he tries to figure what went wrong and what you should be doing to put it right for him.

In fact, that’s one of the few duties we underachievers can admit to, and practically our only defense against the varmints. They know instinctively that without us they don’t really exist, because they can’t be overconfident or overinvolved unless we provide them with a basis for comparison. So next time an overachiever gives you lip, reproach him for inexcusable failure in the achievement department, and watch him curl up in a ball and roll out of your life. Of course, if you decide to use the Presidential gambit, you’d better be sure of your facts; there’s nothing more embarrassing than accusing an ex-President of failing to make the grade.

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