Be the Best In Your Own Little Pond: How To Use the Example of Dominos Pizza to be a Better Writer

I was watching one of those panel shows a couple of weeks ago and they were discussing one of my favourite things: pizza. Specifically, they were talking about the fact that one of our pizza chains here, Eagle Boys, had gone into voluntary administration. They went on to discuss why this happened and got into the market share of all the pizza chains — things got really interesting at that point.

We have something like 6 different pizza chains here. They’re a cheap and quick dinner on a Friday night after a long week at work. They’d surely have to have all the market. You’d think that, but no. Traditional pizzerias make up something in the realm of fifty percent of the pizza sold in Australia. That’s huge. It’s huge because it’s generally two to three times the price of the pizza chains, and you wait considerably longer for it because they don’t have an army of minimum wage teenagers to drive around delivering.

The interesting part of this story, however, lies in the 50% market share of the chains. Out of these chains, Dominos has a whopping 43% market share compared to its closest competitor, Pizza Hut, who sit at a relatively abysmal 23%. How could this happen? If people want a chain pizza, surely it’s just about what’s closer and cheapest, right? Apparently not. See, Dominos used to be number 4 in market share amongst the pizza chains, but then something happened that set them on their upward trajectory:

They started giving a shit about their little pond.

Since Don Meji became their CEO, Dominos has done a blitz on marketing, on innovating their order and delivery service, and even coming up with a delivery robot that they’re going to patent. All of these are great, but that doesn’t touch on the most important thing they did: they began to make better pizza. They began to make pizza that, while it isn’t going to win any awards, will certainly stop you from saying “eh, it’s not very good, but it was only 5 bucks”. They now sit slightly higher than Pizza Hut on price, but after recently comparing the two, I wouldn’t ever go back for Pizza Hut again.

What someone very clever at Dominos realised was that you didn’t need to be the absolute best, just the best in your pond. Dominos has never said or acted as though their pizza is as good as what you’d get from a traditional pizzeria. They don’t say stuff like “our pizza is as good as mama makes” or any BS like that. Nope, they know they can’t compete with that section of the market, because people in that part of the market are willing to pay top dollar for the best available. That’s not Domino’s model.

Domino’s model is to do it better than anyone else in their pond, and they’re succeeding wildly.

Now, why the hell have I spent the past 5 paragraphs harping on about how great Dominos is? Am I a paid shill for them? Of course not. It demonstrates an excellent point about the online world, personal branding, internet marketing and all that stuff right now. Check out any advice about building an audience nowadays and you’ll find it chock full of gimmicks, but most distressingly, a lot of it tells you that you need to pivot and start a podcast, because that’s where the audience is. Start a Snapchat profile, an Instagram profile, get on Twitter, do Facebook ads. The list never stops.

Dominos didn’t expand their market share so rapidly because they did a million different things they didn’t know how to do or weren’t good at, they did it by being better than everyone else in their niche. If you’re a writer and you want an audience, how is starting a podcast going to help you? You aren’t just going to have an audience from day 1 that you can direct (or who would want to be directed) to your writing. And if your writing is piss poor, they’re going to click away pretty quickly anyway.

What if instead, you decided to get as good as you possibly can at writing, painting, podcasting, whatever. What if you gave up trying to do a million things and just got really good at what you do, in order to get noticed in your little pond? The world of the audience is very similar to a whole heap of ponds that spring up after a big rainfall. The biological life in one pond is pretty much cut off from the pond that is a few metres away, even if they seem really close. A tadpole in one pond doesn’t care and isn’t interested in a tadpole in the other pond. If we look at the creative world, the people who live in the pond of podcasting aren’t necessarily very interested in the pond of reading. The people who live in the pond of taking pictures probably aren’t all that interested in the pond of political discussion in 140 character bites.

Too many people unfortunately make the mistake of believing that they need to be in every pond to build an audience, not realising that all they’re doing is spinning their wheels, because people in those other ponds aren’t interested. Why would you do that when there is a pond full of people that are interested? Because you’re not being noticed is the likely answer. You think if you instead get on a whole heap of different platforms and promote yourself that the audience will come flooding in. I hate to break it to you, they wont.

If you aren’t being noticed, you’re likely just not good enough yet, or you’re trying too hard to be like someone else and just coming off as a cheap imitation. Like Jon Westenberg said just a few days ago, all of these marketing tricks just don’t work. Following someone on Twitter in the hope of being followed back so they can read your writing when you link to it is just stupid and pointless. If you spend all the time you normally would on your marketing strategy instead getting better at your writing (or any other skill), and trying in earnest to become the best in this pond, you’ll be far better off. Take a look at any of the many great writers on Medium with a sizeable audience — whether you like what they write or not, they are excellent technicians at the craft of writing and they speak authentically. They didn’t get their audience by being on ten different platforms, they got it by being really damn good on one platform.

So quit wasting your time on the tadpoles in all of those other ponds. They don’t care about your writing, but the tadpoles here are always looking for something great to read. Give it to them and you’ll do great.

If you need further convincing, order a pizza from Dominos the next time you write. They’re pretty damn good (and not “for the price”).

PS In case you’re wondering, I’m a pepperoni guy with extra oregano sprinkled on top.

It’s Time to Forget About Personal Branding

Ah personal branding, it’s the thing that everyone’s trying to do right now. You’ve been told by all those in the know that you have to do it, that you have to differentiate yourself, that you have to show your audience who you are and engage with them. They want to know what makes you tick, they want to know who you are behind the scenes and they want to feel like a part of what you’re building.

I call bullshit.

Personal branding is yet another piece of flawed conventional wisdom in the online world. It holds true for a precious few people, and is a distraction for everyone else. 99% of the people trying to build a personal brand right now are putting the cart before the horse — they’re doing the online equivalent of starting a business by designing logos, ordering business cards, building websites, all before they have any kind of plan or product to sell. You’re doing nothing more than spinning your wheels and making yourself feel good about doing something that is ultimately nothing more than a waste of time.

Now don’t get me wrong, personal branding works and is important for a rare few. Names that come to mind are Gary Vaynerchuk, Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi. They all have very distinct and unique personalities that are a part of why their audience sticks around. They are all trying to appeal to a certain demographic. And most importantly, they have something of quality that they are trying to sell. I’ll say it again: they all have something they want to sell, something that they have put significant time, research and effort into building. It’s not some bullshit course they cooked up overnight in a field they had no expertise in. The personal brand came after the product, not before.

My question for those of you trying to build your own personal brand is, what are you offering? No one cares about your bullshit “I was sleeping on my friends couch with no money to my name, before I dragged myself out and became a millionaire, and you can do it too”. That horse has been flogged so badly it’s nothing more than dust. We don’t need another Eric Thomas, another Lewis Howes, another Derek Halpern, another Tai Lopez.

The problem with personal branding is one of ego. We’d love to believe that our fans care about us. We’d love to believe that they want to know what makes us tick, that they want to be a part of our lives, that they think we’re a great guy or gal and they’re hanging on our every word. It’s nothing more than delusion and a desire to be validated.

It makes me think of my favourite writers who lived before the age of social media and the Internet: Steinbeck, Yates, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald. Most of all I think of Hemingway. Here was a guy that lived an amazingly interesting life. He traveled the world, went to war, had tumultuous relationships. He was everything that the average person of the time wasn’t. Does anyone believe that people read his work just because they liked the idea of who he was, because they felt they could live vicariously through him? Maybe a few did, but the fact is that if his writing was poor no one would have given a flying shit how great or interesting Ernest Hemingway’s life was. No one wants to read a piss poor book, no matter how interesting a person the author might be.

And there’s the crux of it. Forget all this horseshit that you want to help people achieve greatness, forget about changing the world, forget about your image, people only care about the quality of your product and whether it entertains or is useful to them. It doesn’t matter if your product is your writing, photography, an app or a Youtube series — if it isn’t good, people don’t care about your personal brand. People don’t care if you don’t reply to their comments, and they don’t care if you engage with them.

People. Don’t. Care. About. You.

The other thing is, this personal brand you’re building that you think is so unique, is more than likely so vanilla that vanilla ice cream looks at it and says “Jesus, you’re white bread”. The online world has become an echo chamber, where everyone is so busy congratulating themselves on being unique because they rejected the cubicle lifestyle that they’ve failed to notice they’re doing the same damn thing as every other wannabe who is trying to build a personal brand online. It’s always the same story, the same M.O., the same script.

The people that build the best personal brands are the ones that aren’t even trying to. Richard Dawkins isn’t known worldwide as that pain in the ass atheist guy because he set out to build such a reputation, it happened because he has strong opinions based on decades of work and he wasn’t afraid to put them out there. He polarises people because he knows what he’s talking about and doesn’t care whether you like it or not. Compare that to the army of brand builders online right now with their lukewarm, everyone’s gotta like me and look up to me image.

One is black sesame ice cream — a flavour that turns a heap of people off, but has others coming back for it again and again because they can’t get enough. The other (to belabor the point) is vanilla ice cream. It doesn’t matter that you try to dress it up by calling it French vanilla, Madagascan vanilla, Peruvian vanilla, Siberian vanilla,

IT’S ALL FUCKING VANILLA.

And the thing we all know about vanilla, is that you only go for it when there is nothing better around.

None of my readers over at observer.com or here likely know anything about me or give the slightest shit about who I am, what I do or what makes me tick. All they care about is have I given them something interesting to read. If I haven’t, their clicks and attention go elsewhere. That’s all they care about with you too.

So quit trying to build a personal brand. Build something that captures people’s attention and interest, the rest will take care of itself.

In Defence of Harsh Words

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I can be a bit…harsh in my writing and advice. I’ve written a few angry rants so far and while for the most part people seemed to love them because it was a sort of vicarious catharsis for them, many did not. Many called me arrogant, an asshole, pretentious and told me to get off my high horse. Funnily enough, the more aggressive the comment, the more hateful it is, the more it makes me laugh. It’s not so much because I’m trolling people and wanting to bait people into anger, it’s more the fact that I’m a lot more chilled out in real life than what comes across in my rant pieces. They’re more a way of releasing pent up irritations into the world, which is why I generally don’t edit (or edit just to check for typos) them – I don’t want to think too much about it, because then I’d second guess everything I wrote merely for the sake of not pissing some people off.

But why so harsh, you might ask. Well, because I don’t want to try to be eloquent all the time. I don’t want to spend hours in thought on every single piece of writing I do, I don’t want to always try to put beautiful (in my eyes) work into the world. Sometimes, sometimes I just want to shake things up a bit. I’ve read numerous times that one of the best ways to write is as though you were speaking to one particular person, or a group of people. That’s what I’m often doing in a rant piece. Many people hate the style, but I’ve always been a fan of it. People think putting the word “fuck” in the title is me trying to click bait, but in reality it’s a signal to whomever wants to read that this isn’t a piece that will in any way be diplomatic or “nice”. It’s me saying “hold onto your butts, shit’s about to get real”.

It makes me think back to the first time I saw Alec Baldwin’s scene in Glengarry Glen Ross. You watch his character, who seems so hateful, so angry, as though every breath that comes out of his mouth must reek of bile, whose words at the assembled characters are like the relentless pounding of a minigun.

But after a little thought, you realise something. The scene ends and immediately follows the characters and their reactions. What do you think we would have seen if it had immediately followed Alec Baldwin’s character? Do you think we would have seen him getting into the car, pounding the steering wheel with anger, screaming into thin air how stupid and hopeless these schmucks are? Nope, he would’ve walked out that door and not given it a second thought. Maybe he even would have chuckled to himself. He was there to deliver a performance that would elicit a strong emotional response. The best response would be the guys feeding off his ruthless energy and finding new motivation. Or maybe one of them thinking “who the fuck does this guy think he is!? I’ll show him!” The worst responses would have been dejection and resignation.

I had one of those responses to my last rant. It stuck out in my head, after a commenter told me I was an arrogant, self-righteous SOB and that I had no right to trash other people’s writing. They took my rant personally, and told me that not only was I being detrimental to new writers, but that I discouraged her and made her want to throw down her pen and never pick it up again.

How perplexing.

Upon reading that, my first response was to furrow my brow and think, gee whiz, if one of my little pieces offended you so much that you don’t want to write anymore, are you sure it’s something you really wanted to do in the first place? Does one person’s opinion, which may not even be directed at you, really sway you so much to quit? Maybe you should quit, and I say that in a completely non douchey, concerned for your well being tone.

But if you really, truly love writing, then write. Don’t worry what the hell I (or anyone else) think. That goes for whatever you want to do – it’s pointless letting other people’s opinions bother you. Shit, the amount of abuse I’ve copped since my stuff started gaining traction is crazy; people call me arrogant, stupid, an asshole, an idiot, and so on. But why would I care? Hell, I’ve even had family friends go on incoherent, pointless rants over what I’ve written. All I could do was laugh and think “wow, guess who got paid actual money just to get your knickers in a twist?” It probably helps that I’ve got a very nihilistic attitude towards life and that carries over to my writing – some people are going to love what I say, some people are going to hate it. Some will leave a really insightful or thoughtful comment, some will just be indifferent. None of it matters, because sooner or later I’ll be pushing up daisies and not long after that everything I’ve done will likely be forgotten anyway.

And that being the case, I’m going to write whatever the hell I feel like. If people are going to misread what I write, or take it in the wrong way, or project their own baggage onto it anyway, then there’s no point writing something mild, vanilla and boring. I’d rather be hated for writing something that I think is true than being hated for writing what I think people are going to like to gain approval.

Look, I’m not going to tell you to grow a thicker skin and just deal with it. After having my master’s thesis (something that I worked on for 3 months) eviscerated by one of the markers, not to mention six years in the military, I’m used to and in fact quite enjoy harsh, right to the point criticism. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea though. So if you aren’t used to harsh words and criticism, if you’re one of those people that just wishes we could all get along, I apologise, it’s just never going to happen. Take anything I say with a grain of salt, and before you get upset or offended, ask yourself if my (or anyone’s) opinion is really worth so much of your mental energy.

Don’t Squander Your Time in Obscurity – It’s an Artist’s Greatest Gift

This year has been a wild ride for me so far. After a quiet start on Medium, I had a couple of posts hit the top 10 within a few days of each other. I subsequently got an offer to work over at Observer.com and since the end of March I’ve put out an article a week for them. This last week I hit a point I never believed possible — I published a piece on Bernie Sanders that went well and truly viral. As in, half a million page views and over a hundred thousand shares viral. It’s still the top story too, so while it might be slowing down because it’s the weekend, who knows how many views it will end up with. It may spike again next week and hit a million.

A lot of people have asked me how I feel about it. It’s pretty nice, but to be honest a number that large, I can’t even really fathom it. It’s too big. I remember not so long ago having a piece do 10k or even 20k page views would leave me giddy with excitement. This time I didn’t actually feel any kind of exhilaration or enormous high, because I had a really important change in mindset recently — that of finding happiness in doing great work, rather than finding happiness in the result of the work. Believe me, it took a long time to get to that point, and that’s what I want to talk about.

Let’s rewind the clock 7 or so years. I started my first blog intended for an audience about 2009. It was similar to what Art of Manliness is, but a little less in depth. I guess you could say it was somewhere between AoM and a printed magazine like GQ. I kept going at that for a few years not really knowing about using social media or how to get an audience. The result was I had maybe 15k views for that entire period. I spent a lot of that time copying what other sites were doing and adding my own spin, really just experimenting and trying to get my voice out there.

I eventually stopped doing it because I figured people just weren’t interested — it was probably a wasted opportunity.

Then a few years ago, I started my current blog. This time, this time was going to be a success. I’d been reading Tim Ferriss, Derek Halpern and Ramit Sethi and thought I had it all worked out. I knew all the social media avenues, how to get traffic and so on. Well, it worked out ok. Certainly not great, but ok. I worked hard on doing what I thought would get lots of traffic and bombarded social media with my stuff. Unfortunately, it never really took off at the level that I wanted or expected it to. I published my first 3 books, two of which sank like a stone without a trace of a sale, one of which has at least done passably well (passably well = over 200 sales, which is apparently the average number of copies a book sells, skewed upwards by the bestsellers).

I started to get mad. I got mad and I got jealous. Jealous at the fact that there were people out there who proclaimed they were making a living off of their blogs/books with material that I though was either derivative or just shit. “Why is the universe so against me?” I thought. “Why am I toiling away in obscurity, when I have so many better things to say than them?” See, this is what so many gurus just don’t get. They’ll tell you to stay positive about it, that you aren’t entitled to success and that if you just stay positive you’ll make it. But the negativity was good for me, because being mad made me work like a demon. It made me think that if people with sub par work can be making a lot of money off of this, why the fuck shouldn’t I? Where is my share dammit!? So I expanded. I started writing for other major publications and had some great results, but none of it brought me what I thought I wanted — lots of email subscribers and people paying for my books.

And after that frenzy of work and nothing paying off, I was dejected. I felt exhausted, defeated and completely deflated. I didn’t write for months and I just left my blog there to rot.

After a while I returned to my blog just to clean up all of the spam comments out of my filter and found myself reading through old posts. My oldest made me cringe at how bad they were. I steadily made my way through, finding myself surprised here and there at older posts I’d actually still be proud of if I wrote them today. I finally made it to the present day and found something that made me really happy: the standard of my work at that point was far better than when I started. I didn’t realise it during that time, but I had grown a lot as a writer and thinker. This was tempered with a sobering fact though— when I looked at my recent posts, I realised they weren’t really that good, that I wasn’t as good a writer as I wanted to be.

That was late last year. Since then all of my energy has been spent just getting better. My “marketing” is limited to posting my stuff on Medium, Facebook and Twitter. If you want to read it, great. If you don’t, I don’t care. I found myself becoming increasingly happy, because rather than writing and hitting publish, I’d be spending weeks on each piece. I’d usually go back at least ten times, changing words or sentences here and there, challenging my own assumptions on what I had written and in some cases rewriting large portions or scrapping a piece altogether. It’s gotten to the point where I can leave what looks like a finished, polished piece of work for a week, come back and see that a certain paragraph just doesn’t sit with the flow of the piece. Or maybe a single sentence needs changing. Looking at my finished pieces since the start of this year I feel incredibly proud of what I’ve put out there, even if no one reads them.

In short, I’ve found a deep love in making great art.

It’s that love that has allowed me to put my recent success in perspective. Writing something that over half a million people see could very well be my peak of popularity. After all, the next level would probably be publishing a bestseller, something even fewer people are able to pull off. The old me would have been frantically trying to capitalise on this success, or even worse, trying to put out another article that I think would garner lots of traffic.

But I don’t want to do that. I want to keep writing things that are important to me. I want to write things because I have something to say. Every now and then, something will come out like that Bernie piece that will strike a chord with people, that will hit in the right place at the right time. That’s cool, but as a writer, it’s incredibly dangerous to tie one’s happiness to results like that. When we do, we end up depressed and bitter, because we put our happiness in the opinions of other people. And people are fickle. When you learn to find happiness and fulfillment in the act of making art, in putting the best of yourself into something you can be proud of, you’ll be happy anytime you create. The only way you’ll do that is by spending all of those years toiling away in obscurity, when the only person who cares what you’re doing is you.

The other great thing about obscurity is that I learned to never read the comments, because there was never anything in there anyway. I had to learn to make my own judgement on what was good, and rely on a few friends who could walk a fine line between not sugar coating and not devastating me with their feedback. Now when I check the comments, there is no shortage of people ready to tell me how stupid I am, how terrible my writing is, that I don’t know what I’m talking about and any number of other pointless criticisms. I have my own internal radar though, so I don’t feel any need to even look at the comments, let alone take them to heart.

Most importantly, what the time in obscurity and this recent success has shown me is that even if I really have peaked in terms of popularity, I certainly haven’t in terms of my skill as an artist. Not even close. With any luck, I’ll look back at my work in 3 years time and think it’s trash. Maybe I’ll have another big hit, maybe I won’t. Either way, I can be happy and fulfilled knowing that I can always create, and make each effort better than the last.

Pampered, Privileged and Annoying as Hell: Why SJWs Need to Borrow a Clue

Have you ever said something offensive to another person? Maybe you made a joke in poor taste, or you didn’t even mean it the way it came out. The person you said it to may have laughed it off, looked at you funny or said something like “that’s not cool”, which made you realise what you had said, allowing you to apologise or clarify what you actually meant.

Have you ever said something offensive in company, like at a dinner party? Maybe someone pulled you up on it, or maybe you heard about it the next day, when someone told you that everyone was talking about it behind your back. Maybe they thought you were a bit racist, sexist etc, or maybe they gave you the benefit of the doubt. Odds are they still think you’re a decent person and you probably didn’t mean it that way. Once you apologised or explained what you meant, they probably didn’t give it a second thought.

Have you ever done it online? Depending on how people took it, what you said might have been retweeted tens of thousands of times and become a trending topic. You might have lost your job because people went to your employer, you were doubtless harassed by a huge number of people, you were probably even given death threats. If your name is Justine Sacco, it was all of the above, plus your family telling you that you’ve tarnished their name. Continue reading “Pampered, Privileged and Annoying as Hell: Why SJWs Need to Borrow a Clue”

Demonising the Different – It Isn’t Just for Donald Trump

When you think of some of the worst acts of humanity throughout our history as a species, almost all of them were made possible by the fact that one group of people thought of another group of people as less than human. Whether it be the Mongols in their rape and pillage of Asia & Europe, Hitler and his extermination of the Jews, or Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killing anyone they deemed intellectual, all of these happened because they saw the people they were killing as something “other” than themselves.

Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the despicable people of history, because the tendency to put people in the “other” category is a feature of most human beings. We do it at work every day, we do it with people whom we perceive to have wronged us, and we especially do it to the people above that I just mentioned. We don’t see them as human beings, we see them as evil incarnate, monsters that have nothing in common with any of us “normal” people. White people have done it in the past (and some continue to do it) with black people. Parents do it when they tell their kids “the Asians are just better at maths”. We constantly put other humans in the category of “other”, because it’s easier to do that than attempt to understand them. Even SJW’s, who believe themselves to be the bastions of righteousness do it — inclusion and harmony are on their terms, and as soon as you disagree with them a torrent of abuse is directed at you, because you are deemed an “other” by them. Continue reading “Demonising the Different – It Isn’t Just for Donald Trump”

Confessions of an INTJ

One of my favourite discoveries of last year was the Myers-Briggs personality test. I had recently joined a new company who was big on personality testing – their first report was startlingly accurate and I became more curious about the whole thing. I eventually stumbled upon the Myers-Briggs test and of course took it. Reading over that report was even more interesting – I felt like finally someone understood what made me tick and was surprised there were others (although not many, my type makes up 2% of the general population) like me.

Even knowing my own shortcomings and issues, I don’t think I’d change who I am. So with that said, here are some confessions of what it’s like to be an INTJ – for better and for worse.

  1. While I can do social situations, anything with more than a couple of people feels really awkward for me. If humans were made on an assembly line, I’d suspect that they forgot to put the “group social interaction” chip in me.
  2. I’m extremely impatient. Whether it’s people doing things slowly because they don’t get it, they can’t keep up, or they’re just being slow for the sake of it, it irritates me to no end.
  3. I never really feel like I fit in anywhere.
  4. I once left a work function early, because I was more excited about starting work on a project I’d just thought of than getting drunk with everyone else.
  5. I sometimes wish I’d gone into science or tech. Every INTJ profile I read says we are so good at it, I feel as though I missed the boat on a truckload of money by being more fascinated in psychology, philosophy and the nature of things. Although I suspect it’s more satisfying.
  6. I’m both angry and disappointed that I live in a world where the Kardashians have more money and influence than someone like Alain de Botton.
  7. While I feel uncomfortable in group situations, I form fast and very deep friendships with individual people who are intellectually curious and passionate.
  8. I feel extremely energised after spending 4 hours discussing ideas and hypotheses with my best friends.
  9. I love time alone to just sit and think.
  10. I never feel truly satisfied unless I’m doing work that is difficult.
  11. I want to put a system in place for just about everything.
  12. I found military service difficult, because assuming I’m an idiot and need to be treated as such is the surest way to piss me off.
  13. I can’t stand opinions based on emotions, when logic and reason suggest the opposite.
  14. I have an almost insatiable thirst for more knowledge. It feels like I have an addiction to reading.
  15. I find people who hold intense ideologies, such as patriotism, religion etc utterly baffling.
  16. I despise it when people back down from a debate with “you just have to be right” or “I don’t want to argue”. I lose respect for people who can’t put their beliefs up to scrutiny and retreat back to comfort of believing a position they know to be false.
  17. I find dealing with my 2 year old daughter’s temper tantrums and obstinance incredibly difficult, because the things I am best at – ie logic and reasoning, don’t work.
  18. My dream job would be as a consultant, where people brought me in to analyse their operation and point out inefficiencies, to create systems that would fix their problems.
  19. In a group situation, people will often say “you’re being very quiet”. I just find more satisfaction in listening than talking. Either that or I’m bored out of my brain by conversation on pointless subjects.

I hope that gave you an interesting insight into the mind of an INTJ. Don’t know what an INTJ is, or never heard of Myers-Briggs? Head here and you can do the test for free, it takes about 10 minutes. I’d love to hear what you got!

It’s Not About Authenticity

I’m quite a fan of Jon Westenberg’s work on Medium. I know he cops a lot of criticism for being part of the self improvement/listicle/tech oriented content, which I feel is quite unfair because his work is experience based and not just curated bullshit. He certainly doesn’t deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as people like Benjamin Hardy. But there is something that I have to take issue with Jon, something you wrote about recently in your post “No more filters. No more editing.” Continue reading “It’s Not About Authenticity”

Work Sucks: Why We Hate Our Jobs & Are Unsatisfied With Our Lives

The definition of success is one that is relatively simple and straightforward. According to the dictionary, success is:

  1. the favourable outcome of something attempted
  2. the attainment of wealth, fame, etc
  3. an action, performance, etc, that is characterized by success
  4. a person or thing that is successful

In other words, success is merely a result. A book launch can be a success, a clean & jerk can be a success, a party can be a success. A success is, as number 1 states, “the favourable outcome of something attempted”. Unfortunately this word has been perverted in recent times into a phrase, to be successful, and we can see this in both definition 2 and 4. This means that success is no longer describing a result, but a state of being, which raises all kinds of questions:

If a business is successful for a decade and has a couple of years with shrinking profit, is it all of a sudden not successful?

Does one have to continue to achieve things constantly to be considered successful?

At what point could someone be considered a successful musician? Do they have to play regular gigs for decent cash at bars, do they have to have a recording contract, do they have to win an award?

If I have a one hit wonder, does that make me a successful artist, or is it just a fluke?

You can see the problems that arise when you take success from a result to a state of being. Now it is all in the eye of the beholder, or the media, or society, or anyone who wants to weigh in. Let’s face it, for the vast majority of the population, success comes down to how much money one makes in their job and/or how much power they wield. No one is going to look at the most loved and respected nurse and say that they are more successful than Donald Trump, no matter how poorly he acts or how racist he gets.

If we look back even just a century, however, we see that the concept of being successful is a rather odd idea. The people at the top of society, known as “old money” were seen as the most prestigious and therefore “best” people. It did not matter that their wealth was inherited, it was the fact that they had been brought up around wealth and thus knew how to act and comport themselves in a manner befitting of such a social strata. They were never considered successful though — such a concept did not exist at the time. They were just seen as the old aristocracy in Europe was: better than everyone else.

On the other hand the “new money”, the people who had actually earned their way to the top, were looked down upon by the old money and seen as less than them. Right now they are essentially our gods in the 21st century of capitalism; those self made men who managed to become wealthy through their business acumen and hard work. At the time though, they wouldn’t have been considered successful (again, it wasn’t really a concept back then), they were looked down upon because they had to earn their own money.

It’s interesting to note that regardless of what the definition of being successful may be, it is almost always measured in comparison to other people. It is never absolute. It matters little that a man may have complete financial independence with $60k of income per year, have close, fulfilling relationships and be extraordinarily happy. That would almost never be considered successful. This is because he is compared to workaholic billionaires who never see their families and have few meaningful relationships in their lives. We measure success by tangibles such as money, without considering an individual’s perspective on life.

Having money, status or both in modern times causes one to be seen as “better” than everyone else. It matters little how this wealth or status is attained (think Kim Kardashian), just that it is. Once someone becomes a part of this club they are revered by the middle class and looked up to as gods who are somehow special for what they have attained. They are held up as the definition of success, because in a culture obsessed with consumerism they are the people who are able to consume the most. As such, their voices become the most important and listened to, because we equate wealth with worth.

Before the industrial age, one’s station in life was considered to be the result of the divine. Religion decreed that if your father was a baker then that was God’s plan for you as well. The ruling class were bowed and scraped for, looked up to as “better” because they had been born into their position, meaning they ruled by divine right which was further entrenched by the clergy. They were your betters and you just accepted this fact. You didn’t aspire to be like them or lust after what they had, because such notions at that time were absurd. If God wanted you to have that, he would have made you a prince rather than the son of a baker.

It would make sense then that in the modern world where such religious ideas are thought of even by their adherents as ridiculous that we would have a different perspective. We should be able to look objectively at all the reasons someone has reached a certain level on the career ladder; what advantages helped them progress faster or what disadvantages held them back. It would be reasonable to assume that someone from a minority group who has grown up with a single parent on welfare has a number of disadvantages when it comes to where they will end up in their career. Their level of success and satisfaction will likely be very different from a person in the ethnic majority with hard working parents who put significant time and money into their education and transition into work.

Unfortunately, a large amount of the population, rather than recognising that someone from a minority group may need assistance just to have the right psychology for a successful career will instead chalk their situation up to something else: laziness.

While it’s easy to recognise that the concept of divine intention in our station of life is ridiculous, the idea that career success is down to individual laziness or hard work is much more insidious and extremely damaging to anyone who isn’t sitting at the top. Now it isn’t just that you’re unlucky or unfavoured by God, it’s your fault. Business leaders, entrepreneurs and those at the top frequently espouse that the most important ingredient in their rise was the fact that they worked hard. This is in no doubt — one does not build a business or make it to the position of CEO without putting in a gargantuan amount of effort.

Unfortunately for the rest of the working population, this implies that they aren’t on top simply because they haven’t worked hard enough. Rarely mentioned are the other ingredients that make up such a level of success. Surely if hard work is the equivalent of flour in baking a cake, we also have the equivalents of sugar, eggs and water in the form of luck, connections, timing and good advice or mentoring. These things are not mere trivialities that hard work can overcome, they are vital. Going to the right schools, having the right parents, even just being in the right place at the right time (like Silicon Valley during the tech boom) have an enormous impact on the level of career success one can expect.

We should also look at this from another perspective: imagine telling a stressed out office worker who puts in 10–12 hour days for $50k a year that she just isn’t working hard enough, that she is on a low income because she doesn’t work as hard as those above her. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that this is utter nonsense, but it’s become the capitalist narrative. Everyone’s current position in life is apparently based solely on how hard that person has worked and they deserve to be where they are. If you’re not rich or powerful, you aren’t successful. And if you aren’t successful, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough, you weren’t innovative enough, you haven’t done enough.

You aren’t enough.

1 percenters such as Sam Zell have even said recently that they shouldn’t be persecuted because they just “work harder than everyone else”. Unfortunately many at the top develop a narrative in their heads that their level of success is all down to their own hard work, that they are special in some way and everyone else is lazy. It is rare to hear a millionaire or billionaire recognise the advantages they might have had growing up, the things that went their way at the right time or what they were able to leverage once they gained a little power which accelerated their rise.

It’s all enough to depress even the most level headed person.

What if we began to look at career success through the lens of happiness, job satisfaction and even contribution to humanity and society? Many of the people we now look up to as successful would all of a sudden be thought of as much more normal and provoke much less envy. Society never considers nurses (for example) to be successful, but the quality of their work and the care that they provide is a vital service to anyone that is in hospital. No one ever asks career or life advice from the person that works an average paying job, despite the fact they may display an ordinary genius in living a simple, peaceful and fulfilling life.

No, we look to the rich, to the people that have made it to the top of the pile to tell us how to be like them because we assume that they are better than we are and are happier than we are.

“No wonder I’m a little twitchy on a Sunday, you know I’ve got my dreams on one hand and my reality on the other and the gap is too large and I feel desperate. No wonder we feel that, because that is what the whole system helps us and makes us feel.” — Alain de Botton

How often have you had an existential crisis on a Sunday evening? We’ve all had one at some point or another; for some they are few and far between, for many they are all too regular. Work is a large and important part of our lives, this is in no doubt whatsoever. When we are spending 8+ hours a day there in addition to commuting 5 out of 7 days a week, that is a large chunk of our time, so when we are in a terrible job it is of course vital that we get out of it as soon as we possibly can.

That said, the general population looks at work the wrong way the majority of the time. We say that we aren’t advancing fast enough, we aren’t getting paid enough, we don’t like our boss, our commute is too long. When we aren’t happy we look at all the negatives of our job and career, reinforcing our unhappiness and perpetuating the cycle. We in the West have been conditioned with destination syndrome, whereby we are always expecting to be happy and satisfied when we meet the next milestone. Of course if we have such a worldview, we are going to become breathless with anxiety at the thought that the next milestone might be a long way away, therefore we cannot be happy in the meantime.

We aren’t taught by anyone in our lives, be it our teachers, parents or other authority figures to look for the positives in our job and our life. The solution given to us is always simple: if you don’t like your job, quit. This is pointless advice, because it ignores the very psychology that is programmed into us about work and life in the first place. Very often it isn’t our job that we hate, it’s our lack of advancement and our level of status. This is because, in addition to destination syndrome, we are conditioned to always compare ourselves to everyone else, which means we only ever see the things we don’t have and assume the other person, by virtue of having things that we don’t, is thus happier than us. We aren’t ever taught that we need to go searching for the positives in our jobs, our careers and our lives. No. It is the way of the West to look at all the things we don’t have, so it is little wonder then that we feel eternally poor and miserable. This is why I found the concept of journaling at the end of each day, just to write down a few positive points and wins from each day, had a profound effect. My mind shifted towards finding positives in everything and I felt happier and richer for it. Some will never stumble upon this important perspective and the few that do will likely come to it after going through some existential crisis.

This is because from a very young age, we learn not to address the elephant in the room: that we will all die one day. Even if we conquer the world we cannot take it with us, and when we realise this truth, thoughts of power, riches and advancing up the corporate ladder more quickly begin to pale in comparison to the desire to be happy and at peace. We often see that perspective (happiness and peace) as somewhat quaint, being the domain of the cheerful peasant who doesn’t know any better. We are of course more intelligent, live in a more complicated world and have bigger things to think about. When we have such delusions of grandeur and pretense that we are something more than people who have less than us, it’s important to go back and consider those articles we see pop up from time to time on the regrets of the dying. The common theme is that they spent too much time working, too much time worrying about career advancement and things that weren’t important in the grand scheme of things. For most, it isn’t until the onset of mortality that they realise their anxiety over career and status was a waste of their time, which is a tragedy.

This serves as a stark reminder that what we value isn’t necessarily what we should value. When we have only one life, with a short span of 80 years if we’re lucky, happiness all of a sudden becomes hugely important. The problem is that we are taught and conditioned to believe that we have to impress other people with our status, and this will make us feel happy in addition to all the things we can buy. We need to earn lots of money and have lots of power so we’ll be respected and thought highly of by people. The question is, which people? Our friends rarely care about such things, because usually our deepest friendships have nothing to do with our work. Our families usually (and should always) love us for who we are, not what we do. Unfortunately many parents fall into the trap of wanting their children to be successful to boost their own status. I’ve heard them before, almost breathless with anxiety at the fact that little Johnny has turned 18 and he still doesn’t know what to do with his life. It’s a shame that the casual eavesdropper can see how ridiculous the mother is being but she cannot.

If you’re obsessed with “becoming successful”, I’m curious to know why. Is it because you want to be respected? Is it because you want status? Wealth? The glory of being at the top? Power? I’ll wager that you yourself probably don’t even know why, but you’ve read enough magazines, listicles on how to be successful and been sufficiently programmed by the media to believe that’s what you want. For many people, it takes an entire lifetime to realise that they wasted their time chasing after what was sold or programmed into them. What’s it going to be for you?