Everything You’ve Heard About Success Is Worthless

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Everything You've Heard About Success Is WorthlessLike you, I read a lot. Over the years I’ve consumed tons of information about successful people and what it takes to be successful. Some of the biggest names in business have taught us to “Fail fast and fail often”, “make a plan”, “work tirelessly”, “do more than the competition”, “imitate success” and more. Collectively, they’ve spent billions of dollars learning these lessons and have generated trillions as a result of following them, but it’s all worthless.

Not too long ago, I stopped consuming content about success, focusing almost exclusively on digital trends, strategy and tactical execution. The resulting productivity and focus were amazing! We all get information overload, but I was choosing to fill up on content that could help me now, not next week, not next year, but then I read REWORK by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

The success book that killed all success books.

REWORK features over 80 short essays on a variety of success related lessons learned by Fried and Hansson while they were founding their highly successful software company, 37signals. This book had long been on my reading list, so I decided to give just one more “success” book a try. It was a great decision, but not for the success tips. True to their revolutionary form, Fried and Hansson share some great arguments including “learning from mistakes is overrated”, “planning is guessing”, “don’t be a workaholic”, “underdo your competition” and “don’t copy”.

Think about that.

37signals has thrived on practices that contradict most common success principles. In fact, the five that I just mentioned correspond directly to the five commonly accepted principles in the beginning of this post. The other 75 lessons in REWORK are no different, but this dynamic isn’t limited to the 37signals environment, just look around. Tim Ferriss advocates a 4-hour workweek while the sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank will not invest in someone unless they work 24/7. It’s everywhere.

Your cat requires specific skinning.

The bottom line is that you could spend all day, every day reading about and trying to implement principles that have made someone very successful. Don’t forget to also try their opposites! Walking in circles isn’t my shtick though, so I’m going to go this way…

All success principles started as the solution to a problem. “My life lacks something” or “I’m not as successful as I want to be” are not problems, they are states of being. “My marketing sucks” is a problem, “I’m inefficient” is a problem. Instead of consuming broad principles, we need to identify real problems and challenges that we face every day. Only then can we prioritize and strategically solve them.

Success, that point when confusion becomes directed action.

I recently faced a situation where this mentality paid up. I had spent a few years working with some partners to grow a startup and it’s doing great. We have been steadily growing, but despite this success, I was not satisfied with my contribution. I was working tirelessly, doing a lot of things that no one else on our team could do and my partners were happy with my work, but something was missing. I felt lost, like I was running through a swamp and not getting to where I wanted to be.

This would have been the perfect opportunity to dive into some books about success, but I had already walked in that direction. Instead, I sat down and diagnosed the problem. The #1 thing I needed was more strategic training specifically around data in the digital space. I needed some wins and I needed mentorship. With this information I sought the right solution to my specific, primary problem. Through this deep understanding of my problem, I learned that my nonnegotiable wasn’t a salary number or a location, it was the experience. All that mattered was what I would learn.

This insight led me to accept an internship in digital analytics. Now I am getting a ton of experience defining strategic direction. I am on solid ground, learning data analysis and strategy from ground up while gaining deep digital insights. It’s amazing, but in order to get here, I had to take my eyes off of the horizon and focus on my next step.

No one can write your success book.

We need to understand ourselves and the unique challenges that we face every day before we can turn to others for guidance and help. So what’s your problem and what step do you need to take? Cross that hurdle and you will begin to see the next one more clearly.

My next hurdle.

As for me, money is the next challenge. Had I mistaken that for my primary challenge, I would have sought the wrong direction and wasted years going down a dead end. Now that I am in a career path that I know is right, the money issue seems small. Solving a 3-figure budgetary deficit is so much easier than digging out of a career hole.

I hope this helps.


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