Success or Snake oil?



Have you ever looked up what it takes to be successful in your field? Literally, type it into Google and you will thousands of articles telling you which habits you need to create to be successful. More interestingly, there are also hundreds of articles telling you about the habits of successful people. These stories talk about how these people became successful, and what habits they owe their success to. Interesting stuff! And although I do believe it is good to learn from the successes (and failures...) of others, this shit is becoming obnoxious as hell. This article got *triggered* by a tweet I saw quite a while ago, but just stuck with me:

Now obviously, this is a joke (although not to some, as Michael did get asked for his source...). If you go through the entire thread you'll also see many funny replies, claiming that 60 podcasts a day is a rookie number, that you should also read 50 books a day, run a marathon a week, get up at 4 am and make sure to meditate and a lot of things mentioning Chuck Norris. It's a funny thread, I had a good giggle. But after the laughter dies out what are we left with? We are left with some interesting individuals who wanted a source for a ludicrous statement and hundreds and thousands of articles that tell you how to be successful. And ironically, that twitter thread and those "inspirational" articles have a lot in common... So let's dive into this nonsense.

1. 60 podcasts, 500 books, 3000 courses

I find this one very funny, because this has been taken massively out of context. This is not going to make your more successful, this is "rich people bullshit." I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but apparently Bill Gates reads two books a day. Yeah, after he became loaded. Not during and also not beforehand, because he spend all his time coding. That's the difference. You can't hustle your career to the top and do this. This is not meant for the people who are starting their career or are setting up their start-up. Those people easily work over 50 hours a week. If you're on the grind for that long, and still need to sleep (please do sleep), you just do not have the capacity left to focus your free time on more grinding and learning, although this is being sold to you as "entertainment." The brain needs rest, and this continuous stream of information is just an overdose.

What should you do? Know your job, prepare for the projects you are doing. Read up on them, do seek out information about them. If that information comes in the shape of a podcast, cool. But do keep in mind that research, whatever form it takes (Reddit doesn't count) is WORK. If you need to do an extra course to get better at your work, those hours count as working hours. This should not happen in your free time. It almost sounds as if I'm advising you to work less, and educate yourself less. I'm not really. I'm asking you, whether working 50 hours a week, listening to 2 podcasts a day and reading god knows how many articles is EFFICIENT. How much of that information can you retain? If you can only remember vague outlines, you wasted your time. In that time, your brain was turning out overtime, and could not regenerate. This is why the rate of burn-out is so high in the generations that have been career-raised on this nonsense.

You cannot do this efficiently, you cannot even do this effectively. So let it go. Redefine what it means to work and work in sensible hours, to make sure you don't end up being burned out. Because being burned-out is definitely not a success story.



2. Love what you do "Love what you Do, Do what you Love," I'm pretty sure it says this on one of my tea mugs. It says this slogan on many other things as well: pillows, Pinterest, Tumblr. But how it ever got to serious literature on management and entrepreneurship is beyond me. Now you're probably thinking: "But Merle, am I not supposed to love my job?" Well, in an ideal world you would love your job, or would at least be enthusiastic about the lion share of it. But how realistic is this? There are many parts of my PhD I strongly dislike, and I chose to do this and the projects are designed to fit my very interests! So what's up with that then?! For me, this statement has led to people quitting things too soon, not seeing them through properly or not having bothered starting them at all. Why? Because the entry-level is not where the "fun" is. And most of us will have to start at entry-level. In that regard I can see where the derogatory comments about the snowflake generation are coming from. We were promised we would love our jobs if we just chose them carefully enough, selected into all the best education programs etc. For us this was supposed to be endgame. But it's not. In this "endgame" we are finding ourselves on the lowest step of the ladder, seeing how long we still have to go to reach the top, and not loving where we are. Is that demotivating? Yes. But should that be enough to quit? No. I think it's even worse in the entrepreneurial sector. If you don't love all of what it means to be an entrepreneur, apparently you shouldn't be one. How discouraging is that?! No one loves doing taxes, and doing taxes is a mess as an entrepreneur (or self-employed individual), but that shouldn't be stopping you! Do I think you'd be more successful if you loved what you do? Maybe. I think you'll be selling yourself or your product more enthusiastically, but I don't think this will outweigh being good at your job, or just business-savvy. Sorry. Next.


3. Meditate and Exercise (at 4 in the morning) Successful people seem to find time anywhere, I swear they just have it lying around. Surprising finding, truly. What do they do with all this free time if they are not reading, listening to podcasts, doing extra courses or you know, working? Well, they meditate. Or run a marathon. You choose what fits your lifestyle better. This one I don't hate too much, I really don't. Exercise is good for both body and mind. Meditation can help a lot of people to reduce adrenalin production and cortisol build up, this has been proven. What bugs me is that all these "successful people" are doing this at ridiculous times such as four in the morning. Because that is when they get up, to meditate, then exercise, then meditate some more and finally go to work. Come home, exercise more and meditate some more. I don't think I even have enough thoughts going on in my head to to have to order them three times a day! If your career, job or business isn't working out, if you are stressed beyond belief and not making ends meet, going for a run will relief some stress and be better for you in the long run (pun intended), but it'll not turn your misery into a success story. That is not how this works. If you need to get up at 4 in the morning to make all your activities fit into a 24-hour day, you are doing something very wrong (if you are a morning person and this genuinely works for you, you do you, but that isn't most people). Re-evaluating your choices and priorities might do more for you than another meditation session could ever do.


4. Be Positive/ Don't let Discouragement stop you

Ever heard of the sunken cost fallacy? It means throwing good money after bad. The term comes from investing, where people would continue investing in a project that was losing them money, just because they had invested money before. It's the same with a marriage: if every day is a struggle and the net utility of staying together is negative, a divorce might actually lead to a higher net utility in the future. But you stay together, because of all the time you have already invested into the marriage and into each other. You choose misery, because you have chosen it before. Stay positive, right?


Now, I know that with marriage there might be other factors to take into account: children, finance, social pressure etc. but the example fits the bill. With a business, a dream or a career it could be very much the same. It might be your dream, but if time after time things backfire, go wrong, turn out the opposite from what you thought they would and you are running through money (or worse, getting into debt), maybe it's time to let discouragement stop you. Because this is going nowhere good. You might not have had the right training, the right knowledge or education. Maybe you would have needed better, or just different people around you, like a mentor or something. It really doesn't matter. Even then, there are people out there for who it should have worked out, where everything was in place. They knew the right people, had the right education and knowledge, were social, fostered good relationships, and you know what? They still failed. Because preparation and positivity isn't enough. If you incur setback after setback, maybe it is "a sign."


If you have good reasons to be discouraged (and I mean GOOD reasons, not point 2 reasons), maybe you should stop being positive, and be more realistic. And if then you come to the conclusion that it's not working, just stop.


Now there are many more tips: follow your intuition (doesn't work if your intuition doesn't understand business), work hard (god really?!), and foster positive relationships (captain obvious wrote this article I swear). You know what you need to be successful? Let's look at the Rock (Dwayne Johnson). That man gets accused of doing steroids all the time. Does he do steroids? No, he just has an absolutely insane working out and eating schedule which has been released online. He is on the grind. He lives that lifestyle. As such, he is successful at what he does. If you think that he is successful, and want to be successful like him, you know exactly what to do: live that insane lifestyle. But often what you'll see is that people don't want to live that way and give up on that aspect of success, or try many snake oil approaches to this success. And that to me is what many of this "success story" articles are: snake oil. They seem to promise if you read books and be positive and meditate it'll just come to you. Or you'll outdo everyone else if, on top of working 60 hours, you also prepare for a marathon at 5 in the morning, whilst listening to podcasts. How would that work?!

What do you need to be successful? You need to put in the hard work, but only to the extent as mentioned in point 1. Working yourself into a burn out will not do anyone any good. But there is something you'll need even more: a lot of luck. It's just a nasty truth that people who have succeeded don't seem to admit to. But you need to be lucky. And sometimes, you are not lucky. And after a while, if you continue to be out of luck time after time, it might be time to throw in the towel. Maybe put the dream on a shelf and make sure you are able to continue paying the bills or still have a good (enough) mental health. It's not for everyone to be successful in business. It's not for everyone to be successful at all.


When it comes to being successful, the sky might be the limit, but that very sentence indicates that there is in fact, a limit.

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