10 Top Tips For Success That I Have Completely Ignored

Today, I stumbled down a dark and dangerous path: link after link after link, each with an Effective Headline that promised to teach me how to optimise my Pinterest SEO. Nevermind that I’d forgotten Pinterest even existed until a professional blogger posted an article yesterday about how it was Crucial For Success: all of a sudden, here I was, two hours deep into fifty pages of content, in search of that next tip that would be the difference between success and failure.

This is no different to the nine floppity-jillion other listicle rabbit-holes I have fallen down. It’s the same thing every time: a neatly-curated list of Things That Will Change My Life. It’s tips for Wordpress beginners, or it’s tips for newlyweds, or it’s tips for only-very-vaguely-defined-if-at-all “success”… I have tips for all kinds of pursuits coming out of my proverbial a-hole.

And yeah, my life is pretty great. But I suspect that it’s in spite of — rather than due to — the RSI I’ve developed in my right thumb from scrolling through all of these fucking Life Changing Morning Routines Of People Who Probably Have Secret Love Children Or Cocaine Addictions Anyway.

You’ve got to kiss a lot of toads in this particular medium. Here are a few that I’ve slipped the tongue.

(1) “Wake up early.”

You know who suggests this? Rich corporate types that don’t go to any interesting parties on weekdays.

My husband is a bartender. I have spent the vast majority of our lives together starting my day with a jolt at the sound of a hideous 5AM alarm, nary an hour after he’s fallen asleep. Then I would slide on home around 20 minutes before he headed out to work. This was what demanded of me in the corporate world, and — yeah, okay — the early wake-up calls probably did give me a leg-up in the office. But you know what? I left that world for a reason.

I have nobody in my life expecting me to be awake and productive during specific business hours. I can wake up “early”(er) than my husband does at 10AM, and still be awake to actually lay eyes on him when he gets home. It feels like a much more charmed life than sipping “delicious” hot water with lemon before the sun rises. (And I get to go to those awesome weekday parties without counting the minutes of sleep I’ll get like they were calories. Win!)

(2) “Meditate.”

Or “sit in silence”, if you’re Oprah. Look, I’m a psych grad, I’ve read all the research, and I know all of the benefits. Meditation is an ancient practice, it’s a panacea, it’s the key to a long and healthy life, yadda yadda yadda. Except that it drives me fucking nuts.

Sitting still, in a quiet place, for more than 30 seconds at a time… it makes me feel like my brain is about to implode. I become restless, unsettled, and fidgety in the extreme. I’d equate it to giving meth to a toddler, except that I’ve never done that, so I can’t verify the claim.

You know what makes me feel calm and centered? Walking a dog and listening to a podcast. “Resting my eyes” with a movie playing (the way my mother does). Tapping away on my laptop into the wee hours with only my French musician neighbours for background noise. Any of the above will take me to a happy place, and I’ll come out the other side relaxed and rejuvenated. So fuck “meditating” with perfect posture on an $80 mat — I’ve got my own thing.

(3) “Eat a good breakfast.”

This is on virtually every list ever, and I take significant umbrage with any suggestion that I should be assigning moral qualities to my food choices. What makes a “good” breakfast, exactly? Does it say its prayers before it goes to bed? Does it recycle? Does it give to charity?

Get stuffed. Food is food. Not to rock the boat here, but I’m going to eat what I feel like eating, when I actually feel hungry. I force-fed myself green smoothies and bland omelets at the arse-crack of dawn for years, and I am so angry about all that time and energy I wasted. It turns out, my body likes to eat anywhere between 30 minutes and 4 hours after I wake up, and normally it chooses whatever is leftover from the previous night’s dinner (there’s a good chance I was fantasising about it as I fell asleep the night before), or occasionally a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich made by my delightful husband. With extra mayo. “Good” enough for me.

(4) “Take cold showers.”

The masochists that include this on their lists of tips for “success” or “health” or fucking whatever are Not. To. Be. Trusted.

Have you ever taken a cold shower? It is horrible. It’s what they do to torture prisoners of war (probably). There are exactly two scenarios in which I feel it would be appropriate to take a cold shower, and both of them are very NSFW.

If this is how you get your jollies, good for you. I, on the other hand, like to enjoy my daily ablutions. I will exfoliate and condition and sing along to Lady Gaga at a reasonably scalding temperature (for three minutes or less, mind you — conserve water, folks).

(5) “Write down three things that you are grateful for each day.”

I did this for 30 days, once; it was one of those challenges that crops up in the Facebook feed of your yoga studio or whatever. By day six, I was writing things like “I am grateful for Alanis Morissette because that one song she wrote helped me get over that lover that one time”. By day fifteen, I was writing things like “I am grateful that this challenge doesn’t last longer than 30 days”. By the time I finished the challenge, I didn’t feel any more grateful; all I had was a notebook full of trite nonsense that I threw in the garbage.

You know what I’d rather do? Tell someone I love that I love them. Share something awesome with my Twitter followers. Tip a bartender. Write a letter to someone who has done something great. Writing down all of the things for which you are grateful might make you feel good, but what good is it actually doing? I think my gratitude only matters when I show it. So I do.

Bonus points: in my wedding vows, I promised my husband that I would never stop telling him how grateful I am that he married me. So far, nailing it!

(6) “Have a strict daily word-count” (or equivalent).

This one usually crops up in lists for writers, but I’d imagine it can be adapted for a range of vocations. It goes something like: “Write X number of words every single day!”, or “If you don’t post something new on your blog each day, all of your followers will abandon you!”, or “If you don’t reach your target on every day that ends with Y, you’ll end up moving back in with your parents!”.

Bugger that.

Some days, the words flow out of me like the vestiges of a particularly spicy curry. Some days, I’m creatively constipated. You know what? Shit happens. (Yes, I made myself laugh just writing that.)

I do have goals as to how long I might spend writing and researching every day, and in an ideal world I’d be a content machine, cranking out the hits on the hour every hour… but I live in this world, and that isn’t always going to be the case. On any given day, if I’ve given it a good crack and it’s just not working, I’m not going to force the issue with my muse. Maybe that’s the day that I’ll finally sort out the spare room, or learn how to cook a roast chicken. I’ll come back to writing tomorrow, and see if the words flow then.

I didn’t leave the corporate world only to shoehorn myself into another set of KPIs.

(7) “Make a five-year plan.”

I have never once done this. I typically work to a three-month plan, or a six-month plan if I’m feeling ambitious. I think it’s a by-product of growing up with parents that fell into every job they’ve ever had, and succeeded in every single one. They taught me from a young age that work ethic is what matters, and — to bastardise Lennon — planning is what you try to do while life happens.

My lack of a five-year plan actually completely changed the trajectory of my career, at one point. I was sitting in an interview for a job that was a good three-or-so rungs up the corporate ladder from where I stood. I was completely under-qualified, I had basically no experience, and I walked into the interview wearing a $12 blazer that didn’t quite fit around the hips. I bluffed my way through questions about skill-sets and background, until we came to that old cliche: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”. I froze. I had no idea. I just said the first thing that came into my head (as I am wont to do):

“I see myself laying on a beach, drinking a mojito and writing my memoir. Mate, where do you see yourself?”.

The interviewer chuckled, and — would you believe it — the crazy bastard hired me. He told me months later that my answer to that very question was the deciding factor.

(8) Don’t quit your day job.

The funny thing is: I actually agree with this one. I don’t think there’s any glory in financial martyrdom. The “starving artist” trope is well and truly played out. Maybe this is a case of do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do (or don’t do any of it, because I’m just a newlywed twenty-something writer with an internet connection, and what do I know?).

But I did quit my day job, for the simple reason that I couldn’t stomach it a minute longer. I’d wanted to be an artist (of one shade or another) since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I left a high-school that I didn’t want to attend, only to find myself undertaking a university degree in a field that I’d never even thought about. I finished that degree (with first-class honours, mind you) and made my dash for freedom… only to succumb to the siren song of the corporate world, because it turns out finding one’s passion doesn’t pay the bills. I gave years of my life, more than a few stomach linings, and all of the zest I had on me. I’ll tell the full story of how I came to quit The Job another time, but for now let me say: it was my only option. And I’m so bloody glad I ignored that great advice.

Even so, William Faulkner worked as a janitor while he wrote As I Lay Dying. It took Joseph Heller eight years to write Catch-22, because he crammed it in around his work in advertising. Quitting one’s day job might put the pressure on to succeed at all costs, but how creative can you really be when you’re wondering how you’re going to put petrol in your car?

(9) “Focus on solving the big problems.”

Big problems are overwhelming problems. Maybe there are masochists out there (probably the same ones that take cold showers every day) who thrive on finding ways to stop the walls from caving in. I ain’t one of them.

Shoot the shark that is closest to the boat.

As a rule, I deal with what is in front of me. If I cast my eyes out to the sharks swarming in from the horizon, I get scared and I find ways to bail.

I can’t become The World’s Most Successful Memoirist/Mojito-Drinker in one fell swoop. There’s too many moving parts, there’s too much that I’ve yet too learn, and there’s too many people out there already doing it better than me.

You know what I can do, though? I can become a better memoirist/mojito-drinker than I was yesterday, incrementally. I can write one more blog post. I can register one new domain. I can learn one more strategy for optimising SEO. I can add one more verb to my word list. I can go to one more happy hour. The Venn diagram of “things I can do” and “big problems I can solve” will inch towards convergence, day by day. I do myself no favours by staring into the gaping chasm.

(10) “Drink your own urine every day.”

Yep. That’s a thing. I’m not doing it, and I’m not sorry.

So, should this listicle inspire you to ignore all of the same advice? Probably not.

What I’m trying to impress upon you here is that all of the great advice and early morning routines and cold showers in the world don’t mean shit if you’re not happy. What’s the point in doing exactly what Steve Jobs did if you don’t enjoy your life? How “successful” can you really be if you’re doing something that you hate every single day? If you don’t enjoy yourself on the path he trod, you sure as hell won’t like the destination.

What’s more, I’m pretty sure that J.K. Rowling and Richard Branson didn’t become the “successes” that they are purely because of Habit X or Routine Y. Even if they did, I really doubt that anyone can be come equally “successful” simply by doing the same thing.

Ultimately, I’ve decided that “success” means doing the shit that makes my heart sing, every single day. So that’s what I do. You don’t need me or your eight hundredth bookmarked listicle to give you permission to do the same.