Why We Should Stop Copying Successful People

My personal journey in the last seven years has been winding and at times quite bumpy. I switched my profession a few times, jumped across continents in search for a perfect habitat, and inevitably landed in the paws of entrepreneurship, in the country that was familiar to me. During this time I constantly had to start everything from scratch, and my never-ending questions needed deeper and deeper digging to get the answers. Most of these questions started with “How”, and my home library was growing around this word like a pile of moss around an old forest stump.

All these questions had no philosophical nature. I was looking for concrete actionable advice, blue prints and magic pills. And just like any other aspiring entrepreneur would do, I started to search for the answers from people, who already “made it”. It only took a few overloaded bookshelves to realize that I was heading towards the the wrong direction.

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In the age of almighty Google and all pervasive Facebook there is no need to become a book worm to peek into the lives and detailed journeys of successful people. Success stories are fed to us on a silver platter, and it is our natural reaction to try to copy them. After all, if babies didn’t imitate, they would never learn how to talk, as well as other crucial life skills. In the adult world, however, it doesn’t always work that way. Imitation can give you a head start, but very soon you’ll appear to be on your own — with only yourself to turn to.

If we all know what it takes to succeed, why so few of us do?

In his classic book “Think and Grow Rich” Napoleon Hill studied the greatest wealth-makers of his time, trying to figure out the universal laws of success. He put together 14 personalities traits and principles that are necessary to obtain the riches (as goes his definition of success).

Surely, it is possible to develop all these character traits and it is advised to do so, if you see them as necessary. It seems to be quite easy and straight-forward: identify the required skill, learn this skill and get the results. There are a few factors however that can not be obtained by mere repetition, for example timing, unique personal experience and an absolute passion towards what you do.

I can assure you, that most of successful people we follow and try to imitate so rigorously, documenting their daily routines, never did the same themselves. They made their dreams and aspirations a reality through devoted work and focus on their craft.

You will never know the entire story

In the process of exploring the laws of success, one thing might strike you: while there are many similarities, each success story is remarkably different. Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty, but she secured a full scholarship in the University, studied media, headed straight to television and went on to launch one of the most viewed TV shows of all times. A fashion icon Ralph Lauren dropped out of college, went to the army, started his career in sales and first made his name thanks to his design of colorful ties. Richard Branson made his first million at 23 and Harland Sanders, the creator of KFC, only launched his franchise at a tender age of 62. These examples have no end. But besides the biggest milestones you will never ever now the whole story.

Earlier the main source of inspiration from the greatest of personalities were books and biographies, with selected media appearances. Now, in the age of social media, the lives of the role models seem more raw and real than ever, but it can not be further from reality.

Every personal story is heavily filtered — often, by the personalities themselves, and in many cases by a team of professionals. The same narration can be presented from many different angles, turning into a completely new story on the way.

We all like to buy from people whom we “know, like and trust”, and today’s marketers know it very well. All products, be it a new book or a line of yoga leggings, are being sold the best through personal brands and real people’s stories. The morning routines, habits, life principles, selected life events that you see about inspirational personalities, are often what they want you to see. You will never know what it really took them to get to where they are.

The only success story you can know for sure is your own.

Copying others’ path to success has a serious downside

The desire to copy someone’s life journey can lead us into a tricky trap.

When we closely watch people whom we want to imitate (and it is so easy to do nowadays through social media), we inevitable compare ourselves to them. As the social comparison theory states, we determine our personal worth based on how we stack up against others. If you compare yourself to a famous accomplished person, it is easy to start feeling inferior. This unconscious comparison is dangerous and can lead to a major depression and anxiety. There is no need to read books to understand that nothing can take you further from success! The higher we climb, the more unreachable our role models become — the comparison slope literally has no end.

Our own definition of success is mostly shaped by what is publicly “validated” by the society instead of what would make us personally happy and satisfied with our lives.

Very often what we are trying to imitate is not really the riches or a particular lifestyle. When we watch an accomplished person, we see someone, who is accepted, loved, and recognized for what they are. We mistakenly believe that we can feel the same way, if we follow the same means.

Being productive for the sake of being productive might give us a nervous breakdown at best. What we should do instead is listen to ourselves, be honest about our own personal definition of success, set the priorities accordingly, and follow our own unique way to achieve it.

You can not copy someone’s happiness.
You need to create your own.

If there is one particular trait that every successful person shares, then it is the ability to maximize their own potential, instead of trying to copy someone’s else. At times I’m guilty for indulging in the inspirational life stories of highly successful people, but what it gives me is a motivational boost and a strong belief that everything is possible. As for the roadmap for success — I’m drawing it with the colors of my unique personal journey.


Originally published at www.happilyglobalized.com on March 5, 2018.

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