I’ve read an awful lot of articles about the top 10 things successful people do in the morning. Usually, it’s something along the lines of eating kale, being up at the crack of dawn and developing groundbreaking advancements in technology before breakfast. I think there was some mention of drinking warm water with lemon juice too, but that seems so far fetched I may have imagined it…
These articles are in the same category as books that promise to help you think like Bill Gates, live like Steve Jobs, carve intricate wooden oars like Sheryl Sandberg & shuck oysters like Elon Musk. They’re useful, they’re interesting, and they’re pretty inspiring. But if you’re reading them, you have to be careful that you don’t adopt a dangerous idea:
The idea that if you can find out how successful people live and then copy it, you’ll be able to emulate it. Maybe if you get up just as early, the universe will magically give you a billion dollars — like it was an influencer’s early morning routine that made their brand successful.
This idea is just not true. The daily habits and thought processes of your idols are certainly a contributing factor to the quality of their lives, but only because they have realised that those things work for them. Those things add something of value to their lives on an individual level. Those things are deeply personal, and they’re not something that can be copy-pasted into your own life with any guarantee of impact or effectiveness.
The people who have developed those habits, and those ways of living have done so through a process of experimentation. Working out what’s good for them and what gives them an edge. That’s something that can’t be skipped or avoided, and it’s something very organic.
It’s natural to want your life to reflect other, proven paths. I think it’s comforting, in a way. But it can also be dangerous. I can’t count how many times, when I was younger, I would benchmark my age against the age of big time entrepreneurs and investors and writers, bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t reached their level. It was damaging and destructive. God, I used to be such a whiney little shit.
The same damage can be inflicted by trying to compare lifestyle choices and routines. Making yourself feel inadequate is not an effective way to encourage good choices, and it’s not going to get you anyway.
There are habits and routines and ways of thinking, working & doing that might be helpful and healthy for you. Getting up early, running, reading inspirational books before breakfast, whatever it is that you’ve heard some entrepreneur talk about. All of these could be great for you.
But only if you’re doing them for you. Only if you’re taking on these habits because you’ve recognised that they will be of benefit to you personally. Not because you think that by copying the way other people live you can somehow take on their successes or personas.
Here’s what I would advise. Read those articles and books only for inspiration and insight — not to learn some “secret path” to greatness. Read them to get ideas about what might work for you and what might help you reach your potential, but don’t take them as holy commandments.
In reality, there’s only one habit that you can emulate that will get you somewhere. Just one. Work fucking hard.
The people who build companies and products that are hugely successful all worked hard, every single day, in order to drive their vision. There are no shortcuts, there’s no cheat-code and there isn’t a magic spell or ritual that will let you skip years of toil.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.
Her writing has appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. Her regular work can be found on Pizza Party, a blog about creativity, culture and technology. Joan is the creator Transgenderinclusion.com, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.