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By Matt Hearnden
I was listening to a podcast this morning, featuring James Altucher. He was answering the question: “How much is my writing worth?”
It turned out he had started writing because that’s what he really wanted to do, and people had liked it more than he expected, and now he was getting paid.
My heart stopped.
Then the host said he wrote “real estate articles.”
I calmed down.
Ah, he’s not doing the same as me and getting paid for it. It’s different. Good.
I was jealous when I knew he was getting paid to write and a little less jealous when I found out he was writing “real estate” articles.
Then the host said “he feels like he’s pigeonholed himself.”
And I smiled.
He’s not doing that well after all, then.
I was hating. I hate that.
James is an extremely accomplished writer. He’s published 9 or so books, and writes for a few small sites like The Huffington Post, The Wall St. Journal, Thought Catalog, Yahoo, AOL, Elephant Journal – regularly. He created a web series for HBO and a comic book and a podcast and well, you get the picture. He’s a really successful guy, and I was blind-slighted by one comment out of my own perceived inadequacy.
… But that’s what happens when I compare myself to successful people. Here are a few others:
1. I forget my “why.”
How is that guy making money already? I’m not.
That isn’t why I write. I write because I love it and because it fulfills me and because I want people, more than anything, to know it’s ok to be who they really are.
Not to become a millionaire.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t theoretically want that.
It’s just not what I think about in the shower.
2. I become unmotivated.
I was trying to start a “Personal Coaching” business about a year ago and that was when I first started reading about “successful” people. Jamal Edwards, Richard Branson, Zoe Jackson (who runs her own dance company, Living the Dream, and whom I had the pleasure of meeting.)
They were so far ahead of me. I could’ve learned so much, especially from Zoe.
But, instead of realizing my ego was running my life, I compared myself to them and felt depressed.
I remember being at my parents’ house and lying in the fetal position on my bed because I just… didn’t. I don’t even know what I “didn’t.” I just didn’t. I couldn’t.
“How am I supposed to get where they are?”
The gap between where I am and where I think I should be to be successful starts to feel impossibly wide.
So I back away.
3. I lose the best parts of myself in favor of becoming more like someone else.
This really hurts to admit. Even typing that made me weak.
I always talk about being the “Real Me” and now I’m saying I wish I was someone else?
I know I don’t. Not really. But in that moment, that second of sadness… I did.
I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
As Terrell Owens said “I love me some me.”
I don’t think that’s arrogant.
I’m the only person I’ll spend every single millisecond of my life with so I will choose to love me some me.
I think that’s a good way to never, ever wish I was anyone else.
4. I forget everyone has their own path, and that the only way to fail is to walk someone else’s.
Sometimes I think to myself “maybe I should write blog posts like this, or like that, or maybe like this one which has been shared over 100,000 times…”
Even though it’s one I don’t believe in. Or even like.
“What would the Real Me do?”
That’s the best question I can ask.
It brings me back to my path and helps me take steps, big or small, even when I’m unsure, even when I’m scared.
My path might cross with others, or merge, or be the same for a while. And that’s cool. It’s nice to share a path with other people sometimes.
I actually think there would only be pressure if I had to walk someone else’s path.
What if I do something wrong? What if I don’t do it exactly how they did it? What if I fail?
No one has ever, in the history of humanity, in the 14 billion years the Earth has existed, walked my path.
So where’s the pressure? Outside the universe, it would appear.
And that means I’m free to experiment. To make mistakes. To laugh and be free and move forward at my own pace.
Yeah. I like my own path.
5. I think I’m not good enough for my own life.
My admiration turns to awe and I hate that.
I hate when I see other people doing it too. They put “successful” people like Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, 50 Cent on some ethereal pedestal and think wow, look at them.
And then they forget about it and turn on the TV and do nothing.
I won’t do that.
I have done that and all it does is depress me because I think they’re special and I’m not good enough.
Maybe they are special. I have no idea. But believing they’re “just” people and I can be as “successful” as they’ve been is more useful.
I was watching a 50 Cent documentary yesterday (there’s more to him than meets the eye) and they were interviewing his manager.
I’m sure his manager is “successful.” He’s managing 50 Cent, after all. He’s probably rich, too.
I could never be an artist’s manager. I have to be the artist. That thought was the fire and my brain was the wood.
I want to be the admiration.
I’m working to be the admiration.
That’s how I know I’m good enough.
6. I rush where patience and perseverance is most needed.
When I was trying to start my coaching business I wanted clients NOW. I wanted money NOW. I wanted to quit my job NOW.
Jamal Edwards is one of the most “successful” businessmen in the UK, and in the world, and he’s younger than me.
He started his journey when he was 15.
15? All I thought about when I was 15 was girls and how scared of them I was.
For me, wanting to rush was a sign I wasn’t prepared to put my 10,000 hours in and, therefore, maybe I didn’t really want to do it.
I’ve been a lot more patient with writing. I just focus on getting better every day. That’s it.
I want “success” and if it comes quickly I’ll take it.
But the important thing is I love writing and I practice, deliberately practice, every single day. I’m committed.
Love = persistence = abundance.
I wish I thought of that but it was actually James Altucher.
Thank you, James. I hope you’re right.
7. I forget to be happy – and that it’s a choice.
I really believed this one was so important when I first wrote this article but I think I was thinking more about short-term satisfaction rather than long-term happiness.
“Extreme success results from an extreme personality and comes at the cost of many other things. Extreme success is different from what I suppose you could just consider ‘success’, so know that you don’t have to be Richard (Branson) or Elon (Musk) to be affluent and accomplished and maintain a great lifestyle. Your odds of happiness are better that way. But if you’re extreme, you must be what you are, which means that happiness is more or less beside the point.”
Justine Musk wrote that, Elon Musk’s ex wife.
“Happiness is more or less beside the point.” I’ve never ever read anything like that before.
I’m driven and I like to think I’m driven. The thought of average disgusts me. I’m not saying that’s good or bad.
I’m also not saying I’m as great as Richard Branson or Elon Musk, whatever that means. I have no idea if I am or not.
I write because I love to write, but also because I want to live the life I’ve always wanted to live.
I want to live wherever I want. I want to be able to go wherever I want. I want a red Lamborghini Aventador. I want my kids to be able to go to basketball camp, have tennis lessons, go to Chess club. I want to have enough money so I never have to worry about if I have enough money.
I probably do sacrifice some happiness for all of that.
I get lonely, for example. I think my parents hate that I get lonely. Why wouldn’t they?
But wanting success is more important than feeling lonely.
I know me. I know if I hung out with my friends more often, tried to go on more dates, watched more Netflix… I’d feel guilty.
I’d think I could be working right now. I could be moving forward. And I’m not.
But… what I have allowed myself to get better at is stopping.
Just now I stopped writing and stared at a little kid who was staring at me. I smiled, and he smiled bigger. I love kids.
I stop so I can feel happy now.
I work to create the life I want so the future me will be happy.
I like that balance.
8. I stop living in the moment, because I’m too carried away by having to create ideas that will appease my emotions.
And I start living in the future.
The future is everything but certain. Disagree with me all you want but it’s true.
I think the only way I can be happy is to live in the moment.
An old couple having tea together. The pretty girl serving at the till. The little kid laughing.
They all made me smile.
What if can’t do it? What if I’m not as “successful” as they are? What if I end up as just average?
I was playing the “what if” game but I was playing it unfairly because comparing myself to these “successful” people made me feel scared. Like, maybe, I wasn’t good enough. Like, who was I to be “successful?”
What if I do it? What if I’m more “successful” than they are? What if overtake average and win the race by a mile?
I never asked myself those.
If I’m going to stop living in the moment I want it to be because the picture I’m creating is something I want so much that it brings me back to the being in the moment.
And, then, I can start painting it.
9. I think they’re ‘lucky.’
And maybe they are. Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” certainly suggests luck is a part of it.
But, again, even if that is true, is it a useful belief?
I typed “define luck” into Google and this is what came up:
“Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”
If I believe they’re lucky I might as well sit on my couch and wait for opportunities and money and success to fall through the door.
I’d be so bored.
Thinking they’re lucky pisses me off.
Doing my research and listening to interviews and reading their books helps me realise how hard they worked, how smart they worked, how many challenges they faced, how bold they were, how they listened to their own gut over other people, how they prioritized their success.
That makes me think it’s possible.
10. Forget that “amateurs call it genius, and masters call it practice.”
I first saw this in the twitter bio of Thierry Henry and I instantly tweeted it. That’s how much I loved it.
The only way I’ve been able to get better at anything in my life is by working at it.
When I first started writing, I was writing once a week. Maximum.
Reading some of my first articles, I didn’t get much better. There were bits I liked, moments I thought oo, that’s good, but I mostly don’t like them. The writing sucks.
I’m patronising you. Of course you know you have to practice to get better.
But how much? For how long? How will you know when you’re actually better?
I thought these “successful” people had special talent. It’s easy to think they do because look at how great they are!
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. The greatest player to ever play, after LeBron James (just kidding – for now), didn’t even get into his high school team because he wasn’t good enough.
He was drafted into the NBA with the 3rd pick. For those at home keeping score that’s 2 people who were selected ahead of him. Ahead of the greatest player ever.
He can’t have been blessed with extraordinary talent.
He would’ve walked into his high school team and dominated straight away. He would’ve been picked 1st overall and it wouldn’t have even been a discussion.
I thought “successful” people had special talent but it’s the same thing as believing they’re lucky. Neither of them help me.
If Michael Jordan, one of the most “successful” people of all time, considered by some of his teammates a “basketball genius,” and now a billionaire, didn’t have special talent, then I have no excuse.
11. I forget I’ll absolutely, unequivocally, get to where I want to be.
I wrote this point when I first wrote this post and now I’m in two minds.
Imagine having two minds? Having one is hard enough sometimes.
Who knows if I’ll get to where I want to be? Humans are horrendous at predicting the future. Well, we’re about as accurate as flipping a coin. So perhaps horrendous is hyperbolic. Average is probably the better word. But considering how much we’ve studied it, how we developed a prefrontal cortex so we could envision the future, make goals, come up with ideas… being average might be equal to being horrendous.
I write because it makes me feel alive. I write because I feel like I have something important to say. I write because I want people to read what I write.
Do I also write because I want to live the life I’ve always wanted to live? Yes. Of course. I won’t be ashamed of that.
Would I write if I knew I definitely wouldn’t be able to live the life I wanted to live? I don’t know.
But… these “successful” people got to where they wanted to be. And, as we’ve said, they don’t have special talent. At least, I don’t think Michael Jordan did.
So why not me?
I would’ve asked that before in an entitled way. Like I deserved “success.”
And, in the past, I don’t think I did deserve it. Because I’d make excuses, procrastinate, pretend I didn’t care, and then still say “I want to be successful!”
I write 2,000 words every single day no matter what. I read for at least one hour a day. I edit my writing every single day. I sleep at least 7 hours every night.
I’m working for “success.” Maybe I do deserve it.
Who knows if I’ll get to where I want to be? I don’t.
I’m just having a lot of fun throwing my heart to the world.
12. I forget things take time.
I forget Tiger Woods started playing gold when he was a toddler.
I forget Mozart composed his first song when he was a child.
I forget Michael Jordan couldn’t even beat his older brother, couldn’t make his high school team, was selected 3rd overall in the NBA draft.
I just wanted it all NOW like an entitled little brat.
Why should I have to work at it? I’m good enough now.
I was the most humble person in the world. More humble than you.
I was jealous of people who were closer to my age who were “successful.”
Like Jamal Edwards. Like Zoe Jackson. Both young. Both “successful.” Ugh.
They were both running their own business and winning awards and making lots of money.
Why can’t I be like them?
That’s a terrible question. It’s probably the ultimate comparing-yourself-to-others question.
Jamal Edwards started his journey when he was 15. Zoe when she was 16.
They’d been working for years to get where they were, to where they are now.
I’d just started and I wanted to be where they were. Is that disrespectful? I think so.
That’s ok to think if it’s motivating but it just depressed me. They were the same age as me and yet so far ahead of me. How would I ever get to where they were?
A quote from Warren Buffett helped me through this one:
“You can’t produce a baby in 1 month by getting 9 women pregnant.”
On an unrelated note I’m looking for volunteers for a potentially ground breaking study. Please get in touch.
13. I assume they are happy.
I view these “successful” people as almost mythical.
They’re rich, “successful,” happy… they have it all.
Perhaps they were, and are, rich and “successful.” But it’s subjective. Rich compared to what? “Successful” compared to whom?
But them being happy is biggest assumption of all.
I just assumed they were because I assumed they were rich and “successful.”
Maybe they wanted to be richer. Maybe they didn’t think they were “successful” and wanted more.
They’re all assumptions that demotivated me. Lied to me. Paralysed me.
If I knew they weren’t happy it would’ve changed my view of them.
What’s the point, then? I would’ve thought.
Maybe they don’t even care about happiness. Maybe all they care about is “success.”
A friend once said to me they wanted to be “successful” by doing “almost anything.”
“And then I can do what I really want…”
I didn’t even know where to start with my reply but even if that was true, even if they were able to be “successful” by doing something they didn’t care about… I won’t live that way. Not ever. And I’ll never teach my kids to live that way.
Happiness is too important.
Instead of asking myself “how will I ever get to where they are?” I now often ask myself “what can I learn from them?”
That’s a better, kinder question to ask. If I ask better questions, I get better answers. Don’t believe me, though. Believe Tony Robbins.
Let’s take 50 Cent because he’s the latest “successful” person I’m learning from.
There are things I love and am learning from him. Fearlessness. Marketing. How to turn shit into sugar. How powerful it is to live in reality.
They’re all things he’s great at and things I want to get better at.
He was also a drug dealer, alienates people, speaks ill of people in interviews.
They’re all things he’s great at and things I have no interest in getting better at. Apart from being a good salesman (the drugs).
How will I ever get to where they are?
What can I learn from them?
One of those paralyses me.
The other sets me free.
And nothing compares to freedom.
Image: Alex Costin