I hate pigeons.

It’s a personal choice for me. I choose to hate them, and they (presumably) choose to hate me.

At least, I think they hate me because I am a prime target for poop. That’s the problem with pigeons, they just dump everywhere. And when I’m with others, I’m the only one to get pelted.

At least that’s how I feel. In reality, pigeons don’t single me out. They are a force of nature that relieve themselves everywhere.

I’ve seen pigeons lay waste to historic landmarks, hot dogs, and bear statues. I’ve seen them relieve themselves on pedestrians whom I tentatively decline to notify about the state of their hair. They crap on vagrants, software engineers, and yogis. They crap on everything. 1

Pigeons simply exist, and they simply poop. There’s no rhyme or reason. It’s annoying, disgusting, and sometimes depressing if you’re feeling exceptionally down. But, it’s just a thing that happens. The possibility of poop is a consequence of being outside. But that (hopefully) doesn’t keep you locked indoors at all times.

This post will share a lesson from pigeons and how they can be a symbol for the most highly correlated personality characteristic for success.


Let’s jump back to 2009. Mobile gaming on smartphones is just emerging. A 6-year old Finnish development company now has 51 games developed and is rapidly approaching bankruptcy.

They expected to hit gold after the 15th game, but no luck was found. Employees at home likely wrestled with thoughts of finding a new job or changing career paths.

But they stuck around and stayed optimistic, though stressed. They were already almost 4 times over their “golden number” for success. They’ve learned a lot, but apparently it wasn’t enough.

But as a company, they persisted.

They released Game 52. It was called Angry Birds.

Angry Birds screenshot

For the unfamiliar, Angry Birds is a mobile game where you launch angry birds with a giant slingshot. The goal is to destroy all the green (evil?) pigs and break down a building at the same time.

As of 2015, Angry Birds had 3 billion downloads, and the sequel (Angry Birds 2) has over 10 million downloads (it’s only a few months old) 2 They even have a movie slated for a 2016 release.

As you can imagine, the perseverance and focus paid off beyond expectation.

Rovio spent 8 months on Angry Birds. The game saw thousands of changes. There were thinking of abandoning the project until co-founder Niklas Hed saw his mom burn a turkey while hypnotized by the game and realized — this time with extra conviction — that it had potential. 3


Employees at Rovio exemplify the ideal portrait of a quality called grit. Grit is “perseverance and passion for long term goals” 4 And in individuals, it is the single most important factor predicting success, above even intelligence and talent. Yes, it is THAT important. 5

Luckily for us, grit is a learned trait like most mental habits. And though I don’t have my own personal research team, I do have a “theory”.

When You Do Things, You’ll Inevitably Get Crapped On

Rovio employees likely had their own self-doubts. And I’m sure they felt their family and friends thinking about their current position as game makers in a near bankrupt company. Yet through their doubts, they persisted.

And this is a little like pigeon crap.

When you step outside, you risk getting pooped on. The same is true of goals, aspirations, and dreams.

When you do anything, you WILL get criticized and challenged if it’s important. This is the nature of life. And like pigeons, it simply exists. I call it the Pigeon Theory.

Whenever you do anything, there’s someone out there ready to criticize you. To challenge you. To berate you. To call you an idiot for even trying. This is especially true for the big changes in life. Big things, by nature, have larger surface area. The bigger the object, the larger the chance a pigeon will poop on it. The bigger the change, the larger the chance you’ll get called an idiot.

Practicing Pigeon Theory means you know the poop is coming. It’s up to you to prepare for it, and accept it.

Everyone’s a Pigeon, Including Us

When you do ANYTHING, you’ll manage to make someone mad.

This is the nature of opinions. Want to be a happier person? Someone is going to get mad. Trying to quit your drug use? Someone is going to get mad.

You could breathe, and someone will get mad. You could try to cure cancer and someone will get mad (“It’s impossible, just look at all these graphs!”). You could do NOTHING, and you’ll piss someone off.

Disagreements are a thing that happens because these issues are important to us. Some are insecure and want to drag you down with them – they don’t want to you achieve because they’re comparing themselves to you. Others are looking out in your best interest – they may think you’ll find only disappointment in your dream of a new business, a better body, or in trying to be more content.

As the saying goes, “Everybody poops,” even if we don’t mean to.

Here’s a sad (but true) example of doing something that seems innocuously healthy that sets someone off. A larger girl told her parents she wanted to lose weight. The general expectation of a parent’s role is to support a decision, or talk it over if it’s not wise.

Instead, she received a different reaction – anger. Her mom felt upset that she wanted to change herself. And while it seemed somewhat compassionate at first (maybe her daughter goes through some manic moments), it proved to be plain cruelty. The mom actively sabotaged her goals, backhand mentioning that losing weight was unhealthy. She started eating snack bars in front her, and gleefully exclaimed how delicious they were.

And yes, this was a parent whose daughter opened up about wanting to look better for her own confidence. She wanted a change for her own good, and then got pigeoned for it.

Her parents are the worst of pigeons overt and aggressive. But that’s not the only kind of pigeon. Most are another breed.

This other breed I call “accidental pigeons”. The day I left my tech job a year ago to free up time to think about my future career, new replies from friends were always about, “So, doing anything new? Looking for a job yet?” An expectation was made that I would be constantly renovating the world… or failing miserably.

For the record, I was just a few rungs above failing miserably. I accepted that.

They weren’t trying to tear my dreams down. And their insistence that I pursue a more traditional path wasn’t malicious though it could feel like it. They just weren’t sure if what I was doing could pan out in the real world, and wanted me to succeed in a way that they could understand.

My friends are better pigeons concerned with my well-being.

But even that can be poop – if a little more subtle, like poop on a hat.

And, it’s something you just have to accept and wash off.

What Do We Learn from Pigeon Technique?

First, observe your words when speaking with those you care about. Can you recognize when you’re being the pigeon, and admonishing their major decisions? Is there a way to make your words more reflective?

Second, when pursuing your own choices, accept that feedback won’t always be positive. Accept that not everyone is going to agree with you and may talk you down (intentionally or otherwise). But if this change means something to you  — whether you want to lose 70 pounds, or chase an unlikely career path  — then don’t let it stop you. Otherwise you’ll miss your only shot at fulfillment.

Don’t be scared of a little poop. 6

Footnotes

  1. But they have a high propensity of pooping on people. This has to do with a reflex when they perch. People commonly sit under places they perch, and thus get pooped on.
  2. Download figures from Forbes . Angry Birds is doing some serious work.
  3. Quoted from an interview on Wired
  4. Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (6), p. 1087.
  5. You can read more about Duckworth’s studies on grit here 
  6. The header image is an image from a comic by Tom Siddel called City Face.
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