Why I Refuse to Trust People Selling Me Success
I’ve been guilty of believing people when they say nothing but their hard work led them to success.
I’m guilty, I’ll admit it, of watching one too many webinars, reading one too many ebooks, subscribing to one too many mailing lists, where the content creator showed off their incredible results and said that I could have this all, too, if only I just do exactly what they did, step by step, with a guide and plan that they were willing to sell to me — practically give away to me, really — for the low, low price of $99.
I’m guilty of daydreaming of what it would be like to get those kinds of results — whether amazing numbers of Instagram followers, or companies soliciting my writing skills. I’m guilty of being very, very tempted by those online Pinterest courses that promise to teach me how to avoid the mistakes every other person is making, and you know why? The person selling the course gets 500k visitors to her website a month and spends less than ten minutes a day pinning stuff.
But all those courses, all those books and webinars and blog posts leave out one important element: luck.
Nobody wants to hear you got lucky, because that means they might not get lucky when they try to copy your success. Nobody wants to tell you they were lucky in the first place, because they won’t be able to sell you their success.
Luck is a resource like any other.
Here’s the thing. In this world, we’re all born with advantages and disadvantages. These have a direct effect on the way we live our lives. For example, I’m a white, straight-sized woman who was born in an upper-middle-class family who gave me every advantage in life.
And now? I run a successful blog, I have 14k followers on my cats’ Instagram account, I have an excellent job and a wonderful partner, and I work out three times a week.
Is my hard work to thank for that? Absolutely. But I know better than anyone that a lot of my success is from factors other than hard work. My family educated me on healthy eating, taught me to read when I was young. My size and skin color give me a leg up in interviews, doctor’s offices, when speaking with clients, and when convincing people to follow my YouTube channel. My blog posts got a leg up early on when other people were passed over, for no apparent reason I could determine.
I’m talented, ambitious, hardworking — and very, very lucky.
If I were to create a course and say, “Here’s how you can get over ten thousand Instagram followers in less than six months,” I’d have to admit that a large part of it was luck or I’d be lying. I don’t control the Instagram algorithm, and I don’t know why certain pictures and posts do better than others. I don’t know if I could do it again if I were to start over. I see plenty of other accounts doing the exact same things I do, and yet they’re not favored by the mystical algorithm.
I respect the hell out of anyone who tries to do the same things I’m doing, but there’s not a guaranteed, one-way ticket to success because a lot of it is privilege and random chance. And that’s hard to admit.
“What’s your secret to success?”
I listen to this podcast, “Don’t Keep Your Day Job.” It’s a wonderful, motivating resource filled with great advice and stories about how people started small and made it big. I’ve made it through over twenty episodes, and each one has tips, tricks, guidelines, and stories of creators who quit their day jobs and became successful beyond their wildest dreams.
These people all have a few things in common: they’re passionate, persistent, motivated and talented — and they got lucky.
The host, Cathy Heller, does a fantastic job interviewing them. They provide their life stories, they explain the steps that led them to their current position, they relate amusing anecdotes about their many failures along the way.
But listening to every story, nearly all of them get to a point that goes a little something like this:
“Wow, so you’d failed to get a loan from 22 banks. What did you do next?”
“Well, I asked my friends and family if they’d consider investing in me.”
That’s not a skill. That’s the benefit of having rich friends and family.
There’s always something like this: they knew the right person to get featured in a big magazine. Their brother’s girlfriend’s cousin let them have a workspace for free. Their mother contributed a small loan of $100,000 to get the business off the ground, which they repaid at their leisure. Their wife agreed to work a second job while they tried to write a book.
Even if they weren’t supported by friends and family, all of them had a huge element of luck that contributed to their big break. They managed to be featured by Etsy, they had a single viral article, they were discovered just a week into their singing career by a big singer who tweeted about them to their 5 million followers.
They’re talented, yes, but more importantly? They’re lucky. Lucky to get the big break, or to have friends who can loan enough money to get their business off the ground. And it seems like nobody is willing to acknowledge the enormous role that luck plays in success because we’re all invested in viewing it as a meritocracy.
You need to be talented to make it big. But talent won’t do it all.
I’m not denying these people have talent. All these people selling success need to have talent, to reach and stay at those levels. And probably, if I were to invest in the course, or the book, or the class, I’d learn something. But the people guaranteeing I’ll get the same results as them, that I can apply what they do to my own life and start getting their outcomes? They’re doing me a disservice. They’ll never mention how they got lucky, and how I probably won’t.
All I’m saying is that there are so, so many talented people who never “make it big” simply because their work doesn’t get seen by the right eyes, or they’re not white or thin enough to be taken seriously by venture capitalists, or their family don’t have the money to invest in their budding business.
That’s a fact of life, unfortunately. It’s fine to be successful. It’s much, much harder to be successful if you’re not incredibly talented. But it will never stop being disingenuous when people try to tell you they worked hard to get where they are — and leave out the inevitable role that luck played.
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