Mar 20, 2017

Work vs Self-Promotion

Here we go: yet another article with "advice" on how to find success - this time at with a terrific example of the genre entitled 'Want to be successful? Quit working so hard'.

There is a solid kernel of truth in this advice, at least in the title. Being known as a 'hard worker', and slaving away at a desk job (or any job) for 12 hours a day will not generally be rewarded with 'success' in terms of money and renown.  Most of us already know this, even if some of us (ahem) only figured it out after years of doing the same.

"My childhood dream!"
(image: Karl Bedingfield/Flickr)

Of course, 'success' means different things to different people. Becoming an expert in your field, achieving qualifications, building a base for your future, reaching a point at which you are comfortable and can ease off the treadmill somewhat - all of these, if they are your goals, do indeed require 'working hard' for a few years.

And, call me old-fashioned, but I still think it is important for students and young workers to 'work hard' - not only because this fosters knowledge, skills and resilience which they will need to advance, but because, at a young age, 'hard work' is usually the biggest thing you can offer.

That's not to say that it isn't a bit of a mug's game - it is - but you still have to do it, at least until you amass the experience and wisdom to work out how to trade your time and skills for appropriate compensation. And that's assuming you are lucky enough to do the kind of work where this is even possible.

But the "advice" in these articles, such as it is, is that you can leave drudgery and hard work behind by working out what you want and just, you know, doing it. Lift yourself out of the everyday, look beyond the grind, take [insert variable time here, anywhere from 15 minutes a day to a six month sabbatical], find your niche and then... succeed, I guess?

For at this point the advice becomes very fuzzy. But the intent seems to be to become self-employed in some way, like an Instagrammer or a business consultant or a web designer who works from home and enjoys cafe meetings, yoga before lunch and long walks whenever.

"That was a great way to start the morning.
Now to my client meeting at the beachside cafe."
(image: / Flickr)

None of these articles ever suggest what type of work, exactly, fits this life model.

"It's so liberating not being chained to a desk.
Or an ergonomic chair. Or washroom facilities.
Or a roof..."
(image: Bruno/Flickr)
Short term contractor?
Small business owner?

Well, we'll all be independent contractors before long, anyway, self-employed the way Uber drivers are self employed.

Small businesses? The majority fail, or if they succeed for a time, do so on the back of unrelenting hard slog by the founder - which is 'working hard', but I guess in service to your own goals, so therefore is worthwhile, even if you do collapse in a heap after a couple of years and your business along with you.

But hey - these articles are not responsible for the details. That's up to YOU!

So, you can live better than everyone else if you just open your mind, serve your own goals instead of someone else's, and 'imagine possibilities'.
'The first step on your path to success is to stop working, stop stressing, and let your mind wander.' 
Then:  'envision your future', 'refine your vision', and finally: 'then you can make it real!'

I have two problems with these kinds of articles. First, they recommend ways of thinking and working that simply aren't viable for many workers.

I don't mean that the advice in these articles is useless if you work in labour-intensive jobs, in shifts, in retail, hospitality or manufacturing for example. Because these articles are not pretending to speak for anyone other than white-collar professionals.

But aren't they selling a kind of pyramid scheme? Because sure, while there will always be a lucky few who manage to earn a fortune from an Instagram account or an inspiration blog, surely not everyone can do this kind of work? I mean, there may well be enough paying customers (so it seems!), but who is going to run the banks, bring the coffees and fix the plumbing?

Or consider even the most-recommend advice in the 'work muse'/productivity articles, like taking frequent creativity breaks and only responding to email twice a day - I keep picturing young graduates reading them and trying EITHER of these things at any typical company they are likely to work for.

Second though, is the kind of person who writes these articles, and the way they make their own living. Basically, they make their living writing these kinds of articles.

I could point to many gurus and websites whose whole shtick is basically "dare to dream" and who make their money not from having done what they preach per se, but having done what they preach in the form of selling you what they are preaching.

They remind me of the old joke from the days before internet gurus, where someone sees a classified ad saying "Learn how to get rich! Send $1 in a prepaid envelope and receive my secrets!', sends the dollar, and receives a postcard saying 'Place a classified ad...'

So here's how I see it: if your 'mission' in life is helping other people find their 'mission', then what you offer is not a way people can 'work'; it is self-promotion and the selling of those little postcards.

Image: Dipayan Bhattarcharjee/Flickr


  1. Sadly true.
    And equally true, we need workers. In a range of fields. Self-employment is wonderful for some, but not a master plan for all.

    1. Can you imagine if everyone wanted to work this way?



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