Have you seen them? Articles and books that promise you the secrets to success? Save yourself some time and stop reading them. I’ll tell you why in a minute.
There are many kinds of those “success-articles.” The ones that suggest there’s a difference between winners and losers are my favorite.
Stuff like: “This behavior separates successful people from average people.” Or how about articles that list the habits of Millionaires or Billionaires? It’s so predictable.
Those type of articles and books are designed to give you a good feeling about yourself. “See! I have all the traits of successful people. I’m one of them!”
They always focus on the outcome. Not the process.
Studying, learning, and stealing productive habits or tactics are all very smart things to do. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about people who only focus on the outcome. I.e. success.
Also, everyone pretends that the word success has nothing to do with money and status. But that’s simply not true. When we talk about success, we all talk about getting rich. Just be honest.
Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want, said it best on the Tim Ferriss Show when he was asked about success:
“Notice how we all assume that when you say “become successful” you really mean “get rich”.”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting rich. People can pursue anything they want.
But let’s keep it real and not pretend that “only you can determine the definition of success,” and then talk about the habits of millionaires.
Last week I was speaking to my mentor about this phenomenon. He never reads anything online. He likes newspapers and physical books. He’s not really into new technology.
Until a year ago, he still had a Nokia 6310i. You can only call, text, and play Snake II on those phones.
He literally bought 5 or 6 of them when he heard that Nokia discontinued that phone. He loves the battery life. Apparently, those things lasted forever on one charge.
Anyway, my mentor is old school. And we were talking about how a lot of people love to dissect success. This is what he said:
“There’s a difference between studying success and actually building a business or career that matters. It’s the same as talent and hard work. I know a lot of talented people who never contributed anything to the world.
And I also know a lot of people without talent who did wonderful things in life. Knowing how to be successful will not guarantee success. I believe it’s the opposite. People who don’t assume they know everything often accomplish the most.”
I think that was such a great point he made. I must be honest. I’ve also tried to “study the habits of successful people” in the past. But I’ve never looked at it that way.
My mentor tried to make me aware that success doesn’t happen by imitating others. No matter how many habits of successful people you might have, it doesn’t mean anything.
Correlation doesn’t mean causation.
That’s the exact phrase he used. Reading articles and books that talk about success is a waste of time because they are not teaching you anything useful.
Worse, they can cause tunnel vision. You might pursue things that lead you in the wrong direction. (more on that later)
For instance, take waking up early. That’s always part of the lists of habits. But waking up is not a skill that does something. When you try to imitate a rich person who wakes up early, will you become rich by waking up early?
That’s why I find it odd that people try to imitate successful people. What’s the point? Even if you know the EXACT ingredients of success, it’s no good to you.
Richard Branson is one of the most well-known people in the world, and many believe he’s the most successful entrepreneur there is.
He’s written books and articles. He’s also been interviewed, analyzed, and researched to death. We know all about Branson’s habits and mindset.
I wonder: If we’re all trying to imitate him, why are there not more world-famous entrepreneurs? Exactly. It’s not that simple.
I get why we study successful people. We all want the outcome but no one wants to put in the work themselves.
I don’t read articles about success. I don’t care whether someone is only talking the talk or has backed it up with results. You just can’t promise someone success if they do xyz. But that’s not the most important reason I don’t care about imitating success.
There’s beauty in the struggle.
If you blindly try to imitate others, you kill your character. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best:
“Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide.”
Be yourself. It’s the biggest cliché in the book of an amateur philosopher. “Imitation is death” sounds better than the lame old “just be yourself.” And it means the same.
But let’s pretend for a second that someone can provide you with an exact roadmap to success. Would you still imitate it? Or would you rather pave your own path?
Because why even care about the outcome? Life is not about success, no matter how you define it. Life is about the struggle of figuring things out. The very thing that many of us run away from.
One of my favorite musicians, J. Cole, wrote a song called “Love Yourz” about this concept. He says:
“There’s beauty in the struggle. Ugliness in the success.”
Think about it. What if you get to a destination to find out that you arrived at the wrong place?
That’s what imitation does.
Be bigger than that.
Always create your own path—no matter how hard it is. And you better love it too. Because that’s the only right path there is.
This article also appears on Medium and is published here with the permission of the author.