You Don’t Have to Be Extraordinary.
Perhaps you have it too. You caught the “greatness bug.” You think you have to be not just “good” at writing, but Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Stephen King, David Sedaris level good. You start businesses with a goal for them to become international successes. You assume that someday you’ll be famous, recognized, give a TED talk, write a bestseller, make an online course, go on podcasts, and retire somewhere in southern France, sipping your cold glass of Chablis while your highly-diversified investment portfolio brings you dividends.
You push yourself. And whenever you don’t live up to your personal standards, you blame yourself.
We call such people Type-A’s or “go-getters” (whatever that means). But the biggest problem with such an attitude is that a person has to work really hard to feel OK — constantly checking themselves not to fall short of their own standards. When you tie your self-worth to your work — you’re in a risky position. One slip and you feel like a failure.
Assuming that you won’t ever become successful can help. The moment you tell yourself, “I will never become the super crazy success I see online,” everything changes. At first, it freaks you out (“What?!”), but after a while, it actually makes you feel better.
You let go. You accept that if you don’t need to become successful — you can at least have fun and do what you love. If you’re like me, you discover (with satisfaction) that you can make just enough money to cover your living expenses — without sacrificing your personal comfort or enjoyment of the simple pleasures, life has to offer — and retire to the suburbs, on a small farm, drawing upon the energy from animals, nature, books.
There are less pressure and more life to this kind of existence.
But after a while, you forget. It’s easy too — as you keep consuming content online, see your ex-classmates get promoted on LinkedIn, and come back to the same old habit of chasing greatness.
What we need to realize is that none of that really matters.
There Is No Such Thing As Success
When we say that a person is successful, we usually mean they have money. They are “well-off.” They “made it.” And we forget that everybody needs something different.
I need a farm in the suburbs and books and creative freedom and a bottle of Chablis. My sister needs to live in a big city like New York and draw all day. A friend of mine wants to be with women older than him and tour around Europe with his music. We all want something different.
And success is not in whether somebody “has made it” or not financially, per se.
Success is whether you got what you wanted all along.
To do that, you need two things:
a) Understand what you want. 90% of people in this world don’t know what they want. But unless you know what you want, how do you expect to get it?
b) Build towards it.
You like green, and I like red. Assuming that we all need yellow is stupid.
Chasing Greatness Kills Creativity
You can’t create when there’s so much pressure to be someone.
For a long time, I started projects thinking they’ll become great successes. This influenced my decisions heavily. It influenced how I treated them. Oftentimes, I let go of opportunities to make money because I assumed there are riches waiting for me ahead.
That’s ego, not patience.
Don’t assume that the project you’re working on will become great. Assume it will be small. By accepting the smallness of things, you have more control over them.
Yes, your blog won’t become Seth Godin-level good. It will be a niche blog that a few thousand (at most) people read. And that’s fine. You can still make a living off of it. You can still enjoy working on it.
They say it’s wise to aim as high as possible — because your target defines your ceiling. Even if you don’t achieve your target, you’ll still get higher than if you’ve aimed low.
There’s some truth to that. But I think social media has perverted the idea of enough. There’s nothing wrong with having enough money to live on — and not a dime more.
Why do you need extra success, anyway? To show off? To buy yachts? Build cities? Castles? Or to post a pic of yourself on Instagram?
How much do you need to have “enough” anyway?
It depends. But statistics show it’s about $75,000 per year. Now, let’s assume you have a family, and your household is making $100,000 — that’s a good living to most folks. It’s a level of income where all of your needs are met. Yet, there will always be people who make millions and billions.
It’s much more stressful to keep a vast garden than it is to tend to a small farm.
The Real Problem
The real villain in this story is social media (not parents, although they often are).
Think about it. You sit with your friend in a cafe, drinking wine, when you get a notification. Suddenly, there are not two of you — but more. The intrusion has been made. That nagging device wants your attention — because, oh my god, “Your friend has tagged you in a photo.” How can you let go of that?
We are never alone. And that’s the biggest problem. We can’t think for ourselves because there is so much content we consume — that does the thinking for us.
Social media UX is designed in a way to make us addictive, compulsive, FOMO-driven, whatever — just to keep scrolling the feed further (and see more ads!).
Don’t believe me? Watch The Social Dilemma.
We see glamorous success and think we need to be there too. We read stories of “How I Am Making $5,000 Per Month” (and you are not) — and feel envy.
This envy motivates us to do things we don’t want for reasons we can’t even name.
All meanwhile, our true desires are left unnoticed.
The farm is left unbuilt.
Books are left unread and unwritten.
And a Chablis bottle is still left unopened.