7 Overrated Pieces of “Common Knowledge”
Much of what the Internet taught you is wrong
If there’s any activity in which the self-development corner of the Internet excels, it’s beating a dead horse. Actually, we don’t just beat dead horses. We prop them up Weekend At Bernie’s-style dressed in different clothes, claiming this is a horse you’ve NEVER SEEN BEFORE.
Most advice that spreads like wildfire today sounds good on the surface. That’s why we’re all drawn to it. However, when examined, these overdone quotes and trite turns of phrase might be misleading, incomplete, or downright dangerous.
Let’s examine some of that “common knowledge.”
#1 Take a Leap of Faith
For most of us, taking a leap of faith is a terrible idea. We are misled, though, into thinking a win-or-die move is the only path to success. That’s because Hollywood and the media spent decades crafting the narrative of “A Hero who Struggles Greatly but Ultimately Succeeds.”
These stories are inspiring and entertaining. They just aren’t real.
Jan Koum saved $400,000 as a programmer before he started Whatsapp. Evan Spiegel had connections deeper than the Atlantic Ocean who rose up to advise him on (and invest in) the launch of his then-small social media platform: Snapchat. Warren Buffet calmly moved from salesman to Instructor to investor to super-investor to nerd rock star with no irreversible risks.
“But what about Jeff Bezos? He left his Senior Management job at 30 to start Amazon!”
Sure. Bezos took a risk starting Amazon. But his parents also gave him $300,000 to do so. Amazon wasn’t so much a leap of faith as a tender step across a potentially slippery rock in a creek. The worst consequence Bezos could have experienced is falling and getting his pants wet.
Then, he would have changed clothes and taken another executive job elsewhere, having been only momentarily inconvenienced.
#2 Let your ideas fuel you
This sounds like a great idea on the surface. An idea can be life changing.
However, there’s a big problem with allowing an idea to spur your commitment to its execution. Once the work starts and the lights dim, when the rush of creation fades and you set off into the trenches, you will inevitably realize that idea is probably not as groundbreaking as it once appeared. Not only that, but creating something out of nothing is, well… hard. When the idea loses it’s shine, you give up.
Adolescents fantasize about ideas. Adults nurture them.
One good example of this is Jay Z’s recent partnership with Roger Goodell and the NFL. These two giants have posed a mission to improve the league’s social justice efforts.
What could be better than that idea?
Well, according to Jay Z, the actual work that happens after the media circus around this partnership ends. Here’s what he said directly following the announcement:
I’m really into action — I’m into real work. I’m not into how it looks. How it looks only lasts for a couple months until we start doing the work…I’ve been in this position many times. I just show up and do the work.
He didn’t talk much about what the new idea would mean for the kids who get ripped off by the NFL. He didn’t speak of the vision. He didn’t try to give people goosebumps.
Instead he said: “Let’s get to work.”
#3 Trust Your Intuition
Years ago, I took a design class from Michael Frederick, an Emmy award-winning artist.
The first lesson in the class stunned me. Do you know what we did?
We looked at the client brief for what felt like hours. Then, we came up with not one, but three separate ideas for the design. We developed each of those ideas. At times, new ideas would come in the process. We integrated those new ideas as we worked.
Again, this guy won an Emmy. That’s an actual award. Why didn’t he just say “Yeah, I know what you want, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. Let me just get started on what I’m pretty sure you want.”
Because Michael knows the first idea to pop in your head might not be the best idea. Yes, there will be days when your intuition is right on the money. What happens when it isn’t? What happens if that day your intuition is off happens to be the day you need to come through for a big check?
When you second-guess your intuition, you raise your chances for great work. More importantly, you reduce your chances of a total flop.
#4 Get Rid of What you Aren’t Using
Thanks to Marie Kondo, the world is now convinced less is always more. So pervasive is her wisdom that when the pint-sized sensation launched a television show, thrift shops and bookstores across the United States saw a massive boom in donations.
Getting organized is reasonable. But does it really pay off to pillage your closets, drawers, and cupboards and simply remove any object which doesn’t “bring you joy?” Isn’t it a remote possibility that stuff might come in handy later?
I remembered this while watching Paula Scher, a legendary Graphic Designer and typographist, on Netflix’s Abstract documentary series. Her “desk,” for lack of a better term, is swamped with newspaper clippings, magazine cutouts, and scribbles of sketches.
The drawers behind her are even worse. Stuffed to the gills, they threaten to explode a load of paper and color at any moment, covering the floor with 150 years of design history.
Scher says things like “I think I want the weight on this composition to look something like… (rummage, rummage)… this!” And there is the piece in her hand, the perfect reference for what she wants to recreate.
Life is long. A book you read at 20 might impact you differently than it will at 40. An old photo could trigger a memory. A found phone number may lead you to revive an old friendship.
Remember, re-discovery can bring joy too.
#5 Lean on your friends for support
Let’s pretend you’re starting a professional Instagram account.
Everyone will be on board that first week. They are so excited to see you chasing your dreams! Their fervor will show up in the first few pieces you create. You’ll reap the hearts, the shares, and comments — all that Internet currency.
You will, inevitably, make this mistake: you will think your content is good because of the early attention it receives.
The truth is, what you’re making may actually be good. It also may not be. Either way, the metrics you will see in the first week of launch are not a reflection of the quality, but of your relationships with your friends.
Relationship-based metrics can be fickle.
During weeks 3–9 of your projects, 99.9% of your friends will fall off the bandwagon. Turns out they probably don’t care about your still life photography. They don’t want to read your memoir. Be it jealousy or pure disinterest, your starting momentum will fade away. You will be left alone: you and your work and nobody else.
There’s a little hope in this, though. Stripped of all your former support, you will be forced to ask yourself: do I really want this? If the answer is yes, a new identity can be born.
#6 Leave Your Comfort Zone
I once was a famous writer on Medium. My writing on the platform led to a following of nearly 60,000 people, publications in Inc. Magazine and CNBC. The editors of TIME Magazine once reached out to me, asking if they could publish my work. (They never did, but it was nice telling my grandmother I’d been approached by a magazine she had actually heard of).
Here’s a dirty secret. None of this felt difficult. After several years of work and training, I understood writing. The work itself felt easy. Any result that came felt deserved. I was comfortable.
Too comfortable, in fact. I grew anxious when I heard all the gurus saying that leaving my comfort zone was the secret to “real” success. So I started a YouTube channel. At last, the struggle arrived! This was hard work.
After nearly 2 years of failing to find the same reach I found on Medium, I gave up. The bitter fight to succeed in this area also sapped up any energy and confidence I had for writing. I stopped posting to Medium as often.Then I stopped writing completely. Meanwhile, my peers stuck to the platform as it changed to a model that paid writers. Now, those peers are making money to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars per month from this platform alone.
I could have used that money.
#7 Monetize Everything
If there’s a defining pillar in the philosophy of modern culture, it’s this: everything you do or touch must make money.
I’m fine with money. Money is cool. You should make a lot of it.
But what if — stay with me here — you made time to experiment with other interests that may or may not pay off? It’s hard to even imagine this as an individual. How could you even think of spending time on something which might not make you money right now?
Do you know who sets a great example of spending time and money on things which might not make them money? Almost every company ever.
Amazon dedicated an eye-watering $22.6 BILLION dollars in R&D in 2017. Although not all of that money is burned, a lot of it is. And why not? The proverbial needles in the R&D haystacks typically pay absurd dividends.
Luckily, you are not a company. Of course it’s nice if a hobby turns into income, but since you don’t have investors on your free time, you can experiment with other activities and expect another result than money: fun.
Remember fun? Of course you do. You just resist it now because it doesn’t feel like progress.
Reviewing all of this, I can’t help but be reminded of a quote from the legendary comedian, George Carlin. Carlin once said this:
“It’s all bullshit folks. It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for you.”
I’m not quite willing to go that far. I’m too optimistic for that. However, in the era of fake news, misappropriated quotes, bad science, and backwards logic, it might be time we all stop accepting every piece of faux-inspiration as gospel.
You owe it to yourself to take a second look.