Misc. Monday: A Formula for Success?

Reading instead of watching TV. Complimenting instead of criticizing. Embracing change instead of fearing it.

These are some of the things a popular social media graphic alleges to be characteristics of successful people. Regardless of how success is defined, I think the graphic provides an interesting list of points to consider.

Please jump into the conversation and tell me your thoughts too! For those who haven’t seen it pop up in their social media feeds, here’s the graphic in question:

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I do not own this graphic. From a Google search, it appears to be the product of a company called MOTIVE8CO. Without knowing who owns the copyright, I will credit them.

The first time I scrolled past this in one of my feeds, I gave it a cursory glance, nodded in approval, and moved along. The next few times I saw it — each time posted by very different people in my life — I paused to give each of the points more thought. Did I agree with everything on here? Why or why not?

“Successful people read every day. Unsuccessful people watch TV every day.”

Gosh, why did the creator of this graphic have to start with the one I find hardest to grapple with? The first time I read this, I agreed wholeheartedly with this first statement. After all, reading stimulates the brain and builds vocabulary. It exercises the mind’s eye, forcing the imagination to stretch and visualize what is written on the page. Watching TV, on the other hand, just seems so passive in comparison.

So clearly, this point has a good argument, right?

Not necessarily, I would argue, even if it pains me as an avid reader and writer to say that. When I forced myself to examine further why I initially agreed with this statement, I realized part of my motivation was intellectual snobbery. Reading is viewed as inherently more academic, plus it requires literacy. I think there’s a reason the word “bookish” is used as a synonym for an academic nerd. Watching TV, on the other hand, is viewed by some as being a low-brow activity, one in which passive consumers lose brain cells to flashy images and canned laughter.

Confession: I can be quite guilty of regarding television with that kind of cultural disdain.

And if there’s one thing I really dislike, it’s snobbery. So whenever I detect it in myself, I do my best to reexamine its source and try to appreciate whatever it is I’ve found myself subconsciously judging.

In that spirit, I would argue that the graphic’s argument here is founded in wisdom, but grossly turns a grey area into crude black and white. I would argue that there is plenty of room for “success” in a lifestyle that balances moderation in all forms of media, whether it’s reading or watching TV or playing video games or viewing art or listening to music.

“Successful people compliment. Unsuccessful people criticize.”

I 100% agree with this one. Obviously, how “success” is defined will change the truth of this statement, but if it is loosely defined as leading a more fulfilling life while encourages others to do the same, then I think this statement rings true. Success, defined as such, isn’t a zero sum game. I like to think that building others up builds myself up too, and that it becomes a regenerating cycle.

“Successful people embrace change. Unsuccessful people fear change.”

Hmm, this is another one where I agree with the spirit of the statement, but the way it is bifurcated seems naively simplistic to me. I would probably reword it something like this: “It is natural to fear change, but embracing it in spite of the fear leads to healthier adaptation.”

“Successful people forgive others. Unsuccessful people hold a grudge.”

Oh gosh, I 100,000,000% agree with this one. Probably because it’s the only one on this list that I have really and truly struggled with throughout my life. I have learned the hard way that what they say is true: forgiveness isn’t just for the person who wronged you, it’s to set you free as well.

“Successful people talk about ideas. Unsuccessful people talk about people.”

If by “talk about people” they mean gossip, then I suppose in general this is probably something I agree with. While I definitely agree that talking about ideas breeds creativity and insight, I’m not so sure talking about people is inherently negative. If it’s petty, mean spirited gossip, then sure, that’s not good. But talking about our relationships and trying to understand one another can be healthy, I think.

“Successful people continuously learn. Unsuccessful people think they know it all.”

Right up there with my disdain for snobbery is my disdain for arrogance. So I’d definitely have to say I agree with this one. I think that knowing where blind spots in your knowledge are is one of the hardest things, but it can really be helpful with continually learning.

“Successful people accept responsibility for their failures. Unsuccessful people blame others for their failures.

As a general rule, I would agree. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is so crucial in virtually all aspects of life, from work to school to relationships. Pointing fingers at a scapegoat is almost never valid. Even with situations outside of our control, we always control how we react to them.

“Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.”

Can I get an amen?! I think this is so darn true. I really don’t even feel the need to elaborate on my agreement with this statement. There’s not much more I can add. Gratitude cultivates peace and satisfaction.

“Successful people set goals and develop life plans. Unsuccessful people never set goals.”

While I’m generally not a fan of absolutes that aren’t preceded with qualifiers like “almost,” the spirit of this statement does resonate strongly with me. I wonder, though, how much of my agreement with it is biased due to my personality of being a super OCD list-making, goal-setting go-getter. For example, I would be interested to hear a counter argument about the freedom that may come with drifting where the winds may take you.

Tell me, now that I’ve opined on this alleged formula for “success” (again, whatever that means), I would love the comment section to become a dialogue of what you guys think!

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7 comments

  1. I disagree with this. There is no formula. I mean, I identify with several things on the ‘unsuccessful’ side but I know I have potential and a chance to succeed in life. This image (which I’ve actually never seen before) was created by some elitist to shame people and make people feel like they have to change in order to succeed. I mean you might as well add “people who say ‘bless you’ when someone else sneezes” to successful and “people who dislike normal bodily functions” to unsuccessful.

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  2. While there is certainly some value in trying to adopt many of these virtues, it does, as you’ve noted, create a false dichotomy. A person might be wildly successful, love reading but be an ungrateful and highly critical bastard to people around them. Another might be a giant in their field, but possess a whole host of character flaws. Sometimes it’s the flaws that make us interesting too and one might be suspicious of somebody with an apparently saintly disposition.

    I rather like the Zen concept of embracing imperfections and not trying to be perfect. Perfectionism can become a illness and drive people insane. But striving to do your best, balanced with some healthy self-acceptance, might be a good compromise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice find and good thoughts. I think this serves as a good guide, but not does not have to be necessarily adhered to in order for someone to be a successful person. I think you summed it up nicely when you said: “I’m generally not a fan of absolutes that aren’t preceded with qualifiers like ‘almost,”.

    I mean, since I started blogging, I’ve spent much time reading other people’s blogs, sharing their ideas, and viewing things from their perspectives. So I guess I’m good in that category…but I also like playing games at night (I’m subbing this for tv) when the kids and wife have gone to bed and I can engage in mindless entertainment. It clears my head and gives me a nice break from reality…helping to re-center myself and approach the next day’s tasks with a fresh mind.

    Similarly, I forgive people and don’t unusually hold grudges….but I also remember how people have previously acted (or not acted) which hindered me, either in life or work. I have found that to be tremendously helpful in my career…knowing who I can count on and the types of people/personalities that will undercut me.

    That all said, I find the image spot on with acceptance of change, complimenting, idea vs gossip discussion, continuously learning, and accepting responsibility vs blaming others. So yeah, very good guide in general.

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    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. It is really nice to hear everyone’s varied opinions on a popular social media meme.

      On the one hand, while I didn’t personally view the graphic as being judgmental, I can certainly see how the word choice of “successful people do this” and “unsuccessful people do that” could be viewed as judgmental. I wonder, if the language were changed to something like “In general, doing the things listed in green are good for one’s well being,” would you (or others) have reacted so negatively? My point in asking that is that, I think it’s unwise to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. As I hope I made clear in my post, I certainly disagree with a lot of the stark dichotomies and absolutes presented in the graphic, but, that being said, I think the spirit of what many of them were trying to say was valid and valuable. For example, on your blog you often discuss the importance of gratitude for well being, so I suppose I don’t quite understand how something that advocates for gratitude is holistically bad. Sure, the dichotomy of success and lack thereof can certainly be argued to be overly harsh and unrealistic. But I would argue that casting everything else out — like the reminder of gratitude — is just as harsh and simplistic.

      Thank you again for taking the time to read and engage in a fruitful dialogue. I always love hearing others’ opinions and perspectives.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I tend to agree with you assessment. I think the error in the picture is simply the use of the word ‘success.’ Success in what? Life? Business?

    Plenty of critical know-it-alls ‘succeed’ in life. *cough* Donald Trump *cough*

    I think it’s tending more toward something like having a more positive mind and productive lifestyle, but again, it depends on what you want from life.

    It also depends on how many things you identify with on the red side…

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    • Agreed. I took success to loosely mean emotional, mental, and social well being in life. Not necessarily happiness, but well being. “Success” as measured by money is a whole different topic, one that I neither care to touch or have enough knowledge to comment on.

      I personally didn’t interpret this as a cause-and-effect statement (IE “do anything in red and you will fail at life”), but I can appreciate some of the negative reactions based on the verbiage of “success.” I have to wonder if people would have reacted so negatively if it were changed to just show the actions listed in green and say something more general like “these habits are good for well being, adaptability, and personal growth.”

      You make an excellent point that it does also depend very much on what someone wants out of life. It may seem obvious to me that people would want well being and emotional fulfillment, but I have to remind myself that there are those who measure success by dollar signs. If that is someone’s definition of success, then heck if I know a formula to achieve that.

      Tangentially, oh lord Donald Trump… his version of this meme would probably be something like “berate, belittle, bully! Be a narcissist! Never admit fault!” I try to avoid politics in general on here but that man really and truly scares me to death. He openly advocates for limiting free speech, not to mention dozens of other horrifying stances that smack of fascism.

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