These are just a sampling of actual headlines from the million and one articles out there that promise you ultimate success and fortune if you eat the same breakfast cereal as Warren Buffet or wait to poop until the mid-evening like Mark Cuban.
(I know nothing about either Warren Buffet’s breakfast habits or Mark Cuban’s BM schedule, and neither should you. Because they mean absolutely nothing to the success of your life trajectory.)
In a list-driven blogosphere, it’s clear why posts like this do so well. They’re full of high-octane keywords and promise to offer you the formula you need to become wildly successful and rich and happy. They make it seem like living the good life is a simple X + Y + Z formula, and if you know what that formula is and follow it, you too can be the sort of person who has list posts written about them.
But There Is No One Formula for a Good Life
And there’s certainly no precise routine or secret series of hacks that will catapult you from humdrum everyday schlub status to the lifestyle of the exceptionally successful.
That’s not to say you can’t learn valuable lessons from a post like 5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 AM. Plenty of the tips in posts like these are just good old-fashioned sense: Wake up early. Eat right. Exercise. Don’t multitask.
These are all smart tips to follow, but there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about any of them. You can attach a name like Tim Ferriss or Ben Franklin or Richard Branson to them, but that doesn’t make them magical.
Now, if you told me Richard Branson got up at 4:37 every morning, did 15 squats and 7 Hail Mary’s, ate Nutella on toast for all three meals and slept with a life-sized stuffed emu each night while whale sounds soothed him to sleep — and you told me that, every single day he’s done exactly this for the past 20 years, it’s never failed to earn him a precise $10 million dollars a day, then you’d have me listening. Then we’d have a routine we can take to the bank.
But all the rest?
Is just plain and simple, common-sense advice anyone can follow at any time. It simply happens to be gathered under a clickbait headline that makes you think the right routine can be your get-rich-quick meal ticket.
It can’t. It takes a hell of a lot more than that.
The Trouble With Copying Successful People
Mind you, I have nothing against the advice these posts deliver. Most of them advocate healthy and sensible things like making time for hobbies and not falling asleep with the TV on. I can get behind that. And I can also get behind the fact that clickbait headlines may be driving people who otherwise might have no interest in self-improvement to read and possibly consider these tips.
So far, all well and good.
What bothers me is the way lists like these oversimplify what it takes to lead a happy and successful life — and what it says about us as a society.
We live in a world where whatever problem you’re facing or dream you’re after, there are dozens of salesmen (some sleazy, some honest, some simply misguided) with websites and LeadPages accounts desperately trying to convince you their webinar or 10-step-program is the Be All, End All formula for whatever it is you’re trying to attain.
And we’re eager to think it might be. Because all we see are the end results of the billionaires who’ve made it. We don’t see the years of hard work they put in, the number of times they were rejected and got back up again, the nights they stayed up wondering what the hell they were doing and if it was ever going to lead them anywhere. We skip past all the habits and routines and hacks they tried that didn’t work for them at all, and what they learned from those failures.
You can learn some useful things by studying successful people’s habits, but that’s all they are: useful things. Actually forging a life that’s worth writing about? That takes an awful lot more than emulating the right morning routine. (Tweet!)
So, What IS The Secret to Being Super Successful?
The real secret is: There is no secret.
Standing on the shoulders of giants aside, each and every trailblazer and name-maker out there had to connect their own dots and choose their own adventure.
They tried things. Some worked, and some didn’t.
They listened to some advice and rejected others, based on where they were headed and what they knew worked for them.
When they weren’t yet sure what worked for them, they spent the time to figure it out.
You need to do the same.
You might get some helpful pointers from “learn from the super successful” list posts, but only you can create a plan and the follow-through that leads you to the life you’ve been dreaming of.
Just because some Fortune 500 CEO gets 3 hours of sleep a night, that doesn’t mean it will help you perform at your optimum capacity. Just because a “30 Under 30” honoree refuses to check email first thing in the morning, that doesn’t mean you’ll ruin your chances at having it all if you decide you still want to do it. (Gretchen Rubin does it, and she’s doing just fine.)
Make your own choices.
Live those choices.
See what works and what doesn’t.
And if you want to try waking up at 4 a.m. because that’s what Frank Lloyd Wright did, go for it. Maybe you’ll like it. (Maybe you won’t.) But don’t fall into the fallacy that copying what successful people do will somehow help you copy their success.
This is your trip. Plan it however works best for you.
If you were asked the top 5 habits or routines that help you have a successful day, what would your list post look like?
Image: Jonathan Deamer / Flickr
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