Somebody like Gary Vaynerchuk succeeds. They look back. They tell you how they did it and how you should do the same. This corrupt reasoning pervades all motivational writing, and nobody even notices. Starting now, I will.
The energetic and provocative Gary Vaynerchuk wrote a Medium piece in June called “The Day I Decided to Become GaryVee.” Thanks to a new critique by Alexis P. Morgan, it’s become a raging debate.
Vaynerchuk’s piece, like all of what he writes and says, is long on enthusiasm and short on logic. The basic point is that you have to stop sitting still and decide to do something with your life. Here are a few excerpts:
When I decide something, it just happens. I go all in. 30 was the year I decided that I was going to become GaryVee. That I was going to live my life in the pursuit of my ambition. That I would not waste another moment on anything but my dream.
If you’re not happy, and you’re stuck in a rut, you need to do the same. You need to look in the mirror and become self-aware. Financially at 30 I was actually in a good place. On paper I had already accomplished success. But it was not enough. I knew that spending my time selling Wine wasn’t going to make me a billion dollars. I needed to adjust my strategy if completing my bucket list was going to become real. . . .
For me, it’s simply about staying the course and putting in the work and positioning yourself in the right place to succeed. Fuck what anyone else says. You have to do you.
So you know why I’m sitting here right now? At the top of one of the fastest growing creative agencies of all time… At a 150M dollar annual revenue business? At a company that has ambitions to become worth billions and billions of dollars? Not because I got lucky but because I outworked you. I went for it. Think about it. I out worked you. I didn’t come from money. I didn’t come from opportunity. I didn’t go to the best schools. I was a D & F student. I just think a lot of people feel this enormous pressure to get it right in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. But that’s false.
I’m 41 and I’m just getting started. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what you did before now. Each day is an opportunity to deploy your time and energy toward your dream. Think about what you want, reverse engineer that, and then execute. . . .
Please take a step back. Use this article as a reminder. It doesn’t matter what you did before. It matters what you do TODAY.
Alexis P. Morgan says he’s full of crap. She wrote “The Terrorism of Capitalism” to rebut him. A few key points:
I’ve been in business circles for almost a decade now and have gotten to the point where I simply roll my eyes at the oversimplified, buzzword-sprinkled ignorance that tends to filter onto my radar from this corner of the Interwebz.
This took the cake. . . .
While growing and stabilizing a multi-million dollar business is some version of achievement and work (dosed heavily with luck!), let us be clear: the first million is the hardest, and that honor belongs to your parents.
We’re being devoured by people infected with the Damnable Trinity of capitalism, white supremacy, and kyriarchy. They are munching on people’s bones and baying to those infernal gods while our blood drips down their faces. . . .
This while they have the audacity to scold us with lies about having ‘earned it’.
This, while having the arrogance to say that their wealth means they outworked us all.
The corrupt logic of “why I succeeded” pieces
Basically, Gary Vaynerchuk has said he is winning because he decided to work hard, while Alexis P. Morgan says it’s because he started out white with money from his parents and got lucky.
Here’s the problem: successful people get to tell any story they want, and because of the cult of success in the developed world, people will believe them. They cherry-pick whatever elements of that story they like and get their followers jazzed up. For Vaynerchuk, it’s hustle. For somebody else, it might be analytics, or comedy, or nurturing, or audacity. You can pick what you want from the thousands of self-help success stories out there.
It’s true that statistically, successful independent people are more likely to have decided to go off on their own and worked like mad, like Vaynerchuk.
It’s just as true that statistically, most people who quit their jobs, go off on their own, and work like mad will fail. (And as Morgan would say, this is even more true if you didn’t get a headstart by having the right parents).
This is the paradox of hindsight:
People who succeed ascribe their success to certain qualities that they have and actions that they took. It does not follow that if you have those qualities and take those actions, that you will succeed as well.
The logical paradox is like playing the lottery. Everyone who won the lottery chose to play the lottery. Playing the lottery is a necessary and causal step to winning. But that doesn’t mean that if you play, you will win. You’ll probably lose.
For Vaynerchuk, the qualities and actions that lead to success are decisiveness and hustle (and profanity). But there are millions of people who hustle and get nowhere. And, my own experience aside, cursing will not necessarily generate success, either.
Lots of people will read what Vaynerchuk wrote, quit their jobs, follow their dreams, and flop.
Lots more people will ignore him, stay in their jobs, put their heads down, plow ahead, and get nowhere.
Frankly, most of us will get nowhere.
How to succeed
I am sorry to depress everybody today, but I’m very skeptical of “succeed like me” narratives. In fact, the whole self-help genre is full of advice that is based on cherry-picked “just-so stories.” And yes, that includes much of what I’ve written.
And yet, there is a lot of wisdom here, too. Lots of people read these pieces, take the advice, and do better.
So here is some advice about self-help books by people who have succeeded:
- Do not assume that you can do what the people you are reading about have done. What worked for them won’t work for most people.
- Where there is advice that resonates with your own capabilities and common sense, take what you can from it.
- Find people who you feel are like you, and learn from what they have done. These people are called mentors.
- Eventually, you will find yourself in a spot where no one else has ever been. You will have to survive on your wits and experience. It is at those moments that you may actually accomplish something new.
- If you fail, dust yourself off and get up again. Failure is as common as dust. Just try not to make the same mistake twice.
- Don’t bet your whole future on one thing without a safety net. Bet what you can. It might be great, but what are going to do if it isn’t? Failure is always an option.
I cannot prove this advice is good, anymore than Gary Vaynerchuk can. But I hope you find some of it useful.