The Illusion of Success – Five Truths Revealed

Bigger Better Faster Cheaper

I’ve been kicking’ around this blog post for a while, but then I saw some updates from Justin Seeley & Glyn Dewis this week that motivated me to put hands to keyboard. How many times have you heard or even thought the following to yourself,

“If I won the lottery it would solve everything.”

“I’d trade places with [insert favorite celebrity here] in a heartbeat.”

“[insert rich/famous/beautiful here] must live a charmed life.”

“Why can’t I be lucky like [insert name here]?”

“I want to be like [someone you admire], they caught all the breaks.”

“There are already established leaders in what I want to do.”

“How did an idiot/moron/jackass like [insert name] get to be so popular?”

If you’ve had any of the thoughts above, you’re not alone. Today’s technology constantly bombards us with material that’s ripe for self-loathing & comparison to everyone else. “Keeping up with the Jones family.” has jumped to the next level as you can see every perfect day documented on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, etc. The American Academy of Pediatrics even coined the term “Facebook Depression” in 2011.

During my travels, I occasionally come across individuals who—despite being inspired by creative genius—are weighed down with the uncertainty of their own skills. I’m not talking about shy people (although that could be a future topic), instead I’m talking about that new photographer, graphic designer, or artist who is afraid to enter that art show, or holds back just a tad at that audition. You’ve seen the best, maybe you want to be the best, but you can’t seem to get there. Even worse, you sometimes look at your peers with envy & disgust—their success only amplifying your sense of failure. And that’s your problem.

You will never find happiness or success if you continually see yourself through the lens of the world. The problem with comparing yourself to others is your perception of that person distorts a reality you know nothing about. While you can learn a lot about someone from their Facebook profile or page, that doesn’t mean you know them. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase, “Fake it until you make it.” Here’s a bold truth told to me by Kevin Ames years ago:

We’re all faking it.

In this technology-driven-hyper-connected-global-space, we as content creators, all of us, strive to put our best face out there for everyone to see. Technology, specifically social media, has taken this idea of celebrity public persona and attached it to the small business and individuals. That’s not to say that everything is a lie. There’s some truth sprinkled in, albiet selectively screened to make the right impact.

Take a wedding photographer as an example. His/her wedding website may have a blog. That blog documents all the weddings to date. The best photos are be posted (of course), and the blog post describes an [insert overly positive adjective here] event. It’s promoted through social media, e.g., Twitter, Facebook, etc., and reflects the brand. Under most circumstances updates reflect that wedding photographer persona. If the content or social media channels started spouting off about politics, religion, or maybe a depressed cat, the wedding photographer risks alienating his/her target market.

Now that’s not to say that all communications are HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY. Communications are posted to illicit a certain response, be they Likes, Shares, Comments, Purchases, etc. I envy teenagers who haven’t learned how to filter. Their sometimes immature, generally emotionally charged behavior, probably wouldn’t impress potential employers, but I appreciate how they hold nothing back.

The next time you find yourself asking, “Why them and not me?” Consider this:

  1. Overnight success takes time. I don’t know anyone who instantly became a success. The folks I know who are most admired in their industry have worked their craft for many MANY years. As my friend J Schuh often says, “Practice practice practice, Research research research, Network network network.” Some folks believe Adobe saw my YouTube channel, and hired me on the spot. Truth is the process took over six years; networking, teaching, writing, public speaking, failing as well as several interviews along the way.
  2. Fame and money, two different words, not always paired together. In the Internet age, anybody can be famous. However, millions of views on YouTube, and a few TV appearances don’t always include a payday. Don’t assume because everyone knows your competition that everyone uses them.
  3. Perception as reality. You’ve been told you need to act like a success to be a success. I want you to look at how you perceive others, especially the ones you want to emulate. Are you trying to emulate the person, or your perception of them? Are you enamored by their talents or status? What do you actually know about them beyond TMZ & The Daily Gossip? The sooner you can see the reality of the wizard as simply a person behind the curtain, the sooner you can get on with your life.
  4. Everybody has problems. Last week I saw a great update by Tony Pierce on Facebook sharing advice from a 90yr old woman. The line that caught my attention said, “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” Celebrities, your peers, your competition, they have their own set of problems. As you live your life, and better yourself, you’ll trade one set of problems for another. (You don’t have to, but that’s yet another blog post)
  5. You define your success. Whether success is material to you, or a state of mind, the definition should be one you choose not one that’s chosen for you.

Last summer 2012 I wrote, “…It’s easy to envy the results and ignore the drive & dedication necessary to produce them. The people you admire? They’re fallible, they have problems, and they’re human. They just show the world their best side.” Rather than be consumed by what someone else is doing, take stock in yourself, and seek your own value. Discover that, and you can become the person that other people will want to emulate.


  1. says

    Great article! Here is my two cents. :)Also easy to get caught up in illness, family, and actually an over analysis of problems for resolution. But is that not everywhere., churches, schools and government spend so much time planning and in committee, it leaves little time to accomplish things. Continue to march and live it one day at a time are things I have to remind myself and although looking back is beneficial at times it can deter progress.

    • Melissa Passaro says

      I agree Michael. It’s best to live out our days one day at a time. It’s okay to plan or have goals but I don’t think people should get so obsessed with ONLY meeting their goal. They should really try to enjoy the process; good or bad leading up to the goal. I try everyday to practice what I preach. :)

  2. Melissa Passaro says

    I didn’t realize that comparing myself to others slowed down my progress. It made me depressed, anxious and doubtful of my artistic skills. I am glad that I am enjoying the ride (which includes many failures) before experiencing the “fruit of my labor”. It’s so important to enjoy the process so you learn how to be patient with yourself and with others. It’s also nice to know that the work I’m putting forth will create a strong blueprint for my niece and nephew. Hopefully when they look or listen to my life struggles it will serve as a bit of encouragement. Hopefully it will teach them to remain self-assured. Thanks for the blog!

  3. says

    Wonderful post my friend!
    There’s such a fine line between inspiration and comparing when looking at other people’s work but such a massive gap between the results of doing either. As I see it being yourself is the only way to be and let’s face it: You can’t please all the people, all the time…and nor should you try to!”

    Thanks for sharing,

  4. Mark Goodwin says

    Excellent post, thank you AJ. also a shout out and thank you to Glyn Dewis who pointed the way to this blog for me via Twitter.
    Actually AJ you have hit on a subject that is very close to my heart, I have a lot to say about this subject (rightly or wrongly)! However, this not the time or place and I do not wish to hijack your post. Suffice to say at this point that I strongly agree with you, and thanks for prompting me to write something on my neglected blog.
    Hope you have a successful 2013.

  5. says

    Thanks AJ for sharing this wonderful and really motivational post. we must have go for that we want in our life, if we are afraid of facing the problems then we cant do anything other that thinking… really great post…

  6. says

    This is kind of what my new blog is all about. Through a myriad of circumstances, I find myself in a less than ideal situation, and I’m not exactly sure where to go next.
    One thing I will take issue with is the part about comparing your problems with those of someone else. This is my analogy: You & your broken leg are at the doc’s office. Guy sittin’ next to you also has a broken leg. Whose leg hurts worse? YOURS! Because it’s YOUR leg! Problems aren’t a competition, and, if they were, are they an event in which you’d really like to take the gold medal? Also, being grateful and being sad are not mutually exclusive emotions. I can be grateful for what I have while mourning what I do not. I believe it makes me human.

  7. says

    Figures I’d stumble upon this post TODAY, the day I was having many of these same toxic self-doubt/comparing thoughts. So happy I rarely live in this space, but when I do, I’m SO VERY HAPPY that Life provides an immediate antidote before I get carried away.

    You, your words, have been the antidote. Thank you!

  8. says

    Excellent post!!! I totally agree with the 5 points stated above, especially the first one that lots of people need to understand that nothing happens overnight and it takes really long time and hard work for someone to became successful.


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