I’ve read the same stuff as you. I’ve read the same articles that promised me success above all else, success guaranteed, success in 5–10 easy steps, lessons and lifehacks. I’ve read them all for the same reasons as you, because I felt lost and uncertain and I needed something to guide me.
But they didn’t make my life better, and they didn’t make me better, and they didn’t make me win. I spent years, searching for the keys to success, believing that there were some set of secrets that could unlock the universe.
Those years were wasted. They’re wasted because the keys to success don’t exist. There’s no formula for being a success, and chasing it is almost appallingly egotistical — we think that we deserve to be big, so there must be a way to get there.
When you’re looking for the keys, you’re looking to find a shortcut and a guarantee, an easy way, a fool proof method. A cheat code in the game of life. I missed out on so much, in terms of experiences and passions and moments of pure joy, because all I wanted was to find a way to win.
You know what? I’ll tell you, the best advice I’ve ever heard is the worst advice I’ve ever heard. It’s the best because it’s tried, true and useful, and it’s the worst because it’s tough to follow and we all fucking know it already.
It’s the advice my first mentor told me, when I was too stubborn and arrogant to listen, and it’s the advice your parents told you when you got your first job.
“You’ve got to put the work in, because it’s the only thing that pays off. It’s the only way to get what you want.”
We’re all told this, and we all try and ignore it, because putting the work in sounds hard. And it sounds like it’s going to take a long time. Well, both of those things are true. But they don’t make the advice worth any less.
Because the fact is, no matter how many blog posts you read that tell you Jack Dorsey’s “keys to success” the reality is, you aren’t Jack Dorsey. And neither am I. And we shouldn’t want to be.
The folks who last, the folks who build things that they love, didn’t have any keys. They turned up every day and did what needed to be done, and got their shit over the line. They hit record. They wrote the first line. They scripted that first scene. They crafted one line of code, and then another, and then another.
That’s what made their creativity work. It sure as hell wasn’t just “believing in themselves” or getting up early to go jogging. That shit might not hurt, but it’s not a magic bullet.
If you try to avoid the work by looking for all of the “keys” you’re only wasting time, procrastinating, and letting yourself down. And here’s the thing, I can’t guarantee that putting the work in will mean you’re going to succeed. But not putting the work in 100% does.
I don’t buy into the idea that working 70 hour weeks is the only path either. Overwork is a bad idea. Pushing yourself to death’s door is a bad idea. Believing that working harder instead of smarter is stupidity.
But you do have to take the work seriously, and you do have to battle through it. There are no “keys to success” — it’s all bullshit. You need to focus, you need to get your hands dirty, and you need to get it done.
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.