This Twitter thread by James Clear popped on my feed a week ago, and I'm still thinking about it. He's an author, photographer, and weightlifter who writes about habits, success, and human potential. Here are the first two tweets:
... And so on. He continues to disprove the perceived sexiness of success in the thread with a few more points. The skinny - the process behind success is often hidden from our view, and instead we're fed with the most photogenic version of everyone's lives. In practice, we can't cherry-pick the favourite parts of a lifestyle we want to enjoy.
The entrepreneur who talks about making $80K a month? She isn't telling you about the $65K a month in expenses she's incurring. The author who wants to show off his novel and attend all of those book signings? He's also choosing months of lonely typing. Likewise with bodybuilders - the attention and gains come with calorie counting and the same meals, over and over again.
What about my peers?
I wonder about the process behind some of the most accomplished people my age, and what they had to go through to achieve the level of success they enjoy today. From my experience at Queen's Commerce (for example), the process is a little more transparent with the constant talk that happens around Goodes Hall. The conventionally successful students are balancing 2-3 (or more) extracurricular commitments, making the time to find an internship, networking, and maintaining their GPA. Some are even running a business or working remotely on the side.
Their involvement is clear and inspiring. But unless you're a close friend, you don't hear about the prep they do before interviews, the number of clubs and employers that passed on them, the sleepless nights and extra workload that they have to carry, and things outside of commerce that they personally have to take care of but can't because of commitments. And this is all while group projects for every course are happening, where you have to consider the schedules of potentially 10-15 other people. In school and beyond, it's a massive perception game of making success look easy that captures everyone's attention.
And unless you're actually them, how do you know if they even enjoy what they're doing? We simply don’t know the story behind their success and hard work.
The point James is making applies to more than just success, but self-improvement as well. Stay in your own lane and keep building the vision, while being mindful that your accomplishments will come with trusting the process.
Starting this year, holding myself accountable to transparency is something I want to emphasize in my personal code of ethics. I want to be transparent in my success, relationships, interests, and process, while expressing what I’ve previously been shy to share moving forward. Reflecting on last year seems like an interesting place to start, and I suspect this is something others can relate to before classes begin again in September.
I started my second year of university "successful" in certain areas (GPA, Dean's List with Distinction) while seeking improvement in others (extracurricular involvement, networking). The picture is different heading into my third year at Queen's. My GPA dropped and I'm not on Distinction. It's not a metric I value as highly as I did before, and it's also a cost of taking CISC101 as an elective (lmao).
I'm now involved with three extracurricular commitments, all of which I'm excited to be part of. I eventually landed an internship with the Rick Hansen Foundation in mid-May. I also bounced from considering a career in finance to a career in consulting... and now I'm exploring digital marketing. I have a good feeling about the last one, and I'll save that for another story.
2016-2017 also marked my second year in a long-distance relationship with Florence, and we knocked that challenge out of the park. Transitioning from a shared dorm to an actual room made things a whole lot easier, which meant longer and better FaceTime calls. Riverdale was our thing on Thursdays. She also visited the east coast!
In hindsight, it's been a great year. I also learned that I am more than capable of washing the dishes and doing the laundry while living in a seven-man house. (I miss my housemates.)
But there are still things I don't like to talk about and look back on. I haven't shared to my friends the 60-70 job applications I filled out, the ~10 interviews I completed to no avail, and how much time I spent throughout the year filling out cover letters that didn't lead to anything else. It feels embarrassing to talk about it, especially when others made the process look easy. I know my job hunting approach has to change for next year.
Something I didn't think about until now was how many people in my program were probably going through the same process of finding an internship. What gets shared instead is when someone does receive an offer. It would have been valuable to hear their stories and support them along the way - but I didn't share my struggle, so why should they? You have to give to receive.
Only a few people also know about the allergy and breathing issues, problematic nose, and an on-off case of somatic OCD that I faced throughout the year. I'm still dealing with some of those symptoms now, and my biggest mistake would have to be not taking care of myself right away.
In hindsight, it's been a great but challenging year.
One person who's inspiring me to be transparent is Rand Fishkin, founder and former CEO of Moz who went from having $500,000 in personal debt to $40 million in annual company revenue in seven years. The thing I like about him is that he's not afraid to showcase his company's struggles along with its highlights - even when Moz had to lay off a quarter of its employees. He plans on covering the ups and downs of startup culture in his upcoming book Lost and Founder, and I'm looking forward to read it when it comes out in 2018!
Sharing the successes in our lives feel great, but the journey to get there is what I feel compelled to shed more light on. I challenge you to do the same with your own progress toward self-improvement, and I'd love to hear your stories.
This is the first in a series of reflective posts on transparency I'm planning for August. You can find me on Twitter @imalecyu!
Ben Horowitz (co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz) - How to Tell the Truth