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The Illusion of Success – Five Truths Revealed

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,

“Why can’t I be lucky like [name]?”

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

“How did an idiot/moron/jackass like [name] get that promotion?”

“I’d trade places with [coworker/manager] in a heartbeat.”

“[person you envy] must live a charmed life.”

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

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. As a professional, you may feel compelled to constantly monitor your brand. Maybe you obsessively tweak your LinkedIn profile, or cyberstalk your peers/competitors profiles. “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 the photographer, UX designer, creative, etc., who is afraid to compete for business, or insecure when going after a promotion. 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 every professional or business. That’s not to say everything is a lie. There’s some truth sprinkled in, albiet selectively screened to make the right impact.

Let’s examine the professionals you admire. Perhaps they have a blog. That blog shares some business advice and services. Useful articles are published, and there’s the occasional post describing an [insert overly positive adjective here] event. It’s promoted through social media, and updates reflect the brand. If the content or social media channels started spouting off about personal issues, politics, religion, or maybe a depressed cat, those professionals would risk alienating their audience.

Now that’s not to say that all communications have to be HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY. Nor am I discouraging you from personalizing the content you share. 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 won’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 subscribers on YouTube, and a couple of TV appearances don’t always translate into a mega-payday. I know lots of folks who would be considered celebrities that live quite modestly compared to their well-documented adventures. 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 what you see at the office or on social media? Once you see the reality of the wizard as simply a regular person behind a curtain, you can get on with your life.
  4. Everybody has problems.
    A few years ago I saw a great update by Tony Pierce on Facebook sharing advice from a 90 year 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.

  5. You define your success.Whether success to you is material, or a state of mind, the definition should be one you choose not one that’s chosen for you. In a guest post for Scott Kelby 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.

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  • Michael Longfellow January 10, 2013   Reply →

    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 January 10, 2013   Reply →

      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. 🙂

  • Melissa Passaro January 10, 2013   Reply →

    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!

  • Glyn Dewis January 10, 2013   Reply →

    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,

  • Mark Goodwin January 10, 2013   Reply →

    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.

  • Nathaniel Dodson January 10, 2013   Reply →

    JDI = Just Do It.

    “Everything comes to those who hustle while they wait.” – Thomas Edison

  • Neil Holmes January 11, 2013   Reply →

    Some of the best observed, wisest works I’ve read in a long time! Cheers Neil

  • motivational videos January 11, 2013   Reply →

    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…

  • Melissa Swanson January 12, 2013   Reply →

    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.

  • Leslie Green January 22, 2013   Reply →

    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!

  • Nikolay March 5, 2013   Reply →

    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.

  • wilfried feder August 24, 2013   Reply →

    i’m kinda late here but this was exactly what i need to read right now. so so true. thanks!

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