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Why the Hustle Culture, Surrounding Yourself with Successful People & Other Myths is Bullshit

Why hanging out with successful people is bullshit

Read any startup blog, take a gander through the millions of posts on Linkedin, or open any of the top tips for success in business magazines like INC, Entrepreneur and Business Insider and there are the posts and the tip lists on “surrounding yourself with successful people”. There are 6.4 million search results for “surround yourself with successful people”. It’s been repeated over and over so many times, that it’s like some kind of unwritten rule of business right now. So it must be true? Right?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while (I mean years) and I have concluded that there are many reasons why I don’t think that associating yourself with successful people is always such a good idea. In fact, I would go as far to say that in some cases it could be extremely detrimental for your personal growth as well as your likelihood of achieving success on your terms, never mind the impact on the business world.

Alongside the fact that I don’t think the “successful friend factor” is the key to your success, I’m also not a fan of the of the macho/ bro/grown-up frat pack/boys club/wolf of wall street, type of messaging that circulates around these posts.  Isn’t it time that we start to critically think about whether these online magazines and journalists are pushing ethical business that’s as empowering to women as it is to men?  Isn’t it time that we start to look at the world of work as more collaborative and not combative? And isn’t it also time, that we relooked at what we consider successful?

I’ve been through some of these articles and pulled out why I think they are simplistic.  The damage that you can do to your chances of success if you just take them at face value, plus why I think we should consider other options for making our lives a success.

There’s a comments section below, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have I missed any or do you vehemently disagree with me?  It’s a fascinating topic, and I’m happy to be challenged!

The Strategic Friend Strategy

Do you hang out with your “friends” for the pure reason that they are successful, hoping that their success will rub off on you? Or are you trying to social climb or get access to exclusive things through them?  I would ask if they are really your friends and why do you think this will work?

Look at all the pop stars and their entourage? They all have them. Every time they go to nightclubs or events, they are there, backing the stars up and getting to hang out and enjoy the moment in palatial venues across the world.  I can’t say I follow celebrities much, but I don’t recall hearing about the way to becoming a successful celeb or singer is by being part of an entourage. Have you?

If your success is derived off creating something for yourself, is this is the wise strategy? Do you think that you can learn tips from them? Will they get you access or gift you special relationships that are useful for your business? Don’t mistake fun and frivolity for getting closer to success. Those 5000 dollar bottles of champagne you are drinking might be clouding your vision.

What may be more useful is joining a group of empowered women or men, that create a group where everyone benefits. Not the typical networking club where people only talk to you if you have a fancy job title, but a more holistic networking group. A place where you can meet people that echo your values and beliefs.

One of the best places I found to do this was the co-working space, that I was a member of in London called Huckletree. I wrote an article about how co-working changed my life and it did.

There are now plenty of co-working spaces all over the world, that create spaces for people to chat, network and collaborate and HELP each other together. The key is to really talk to people before you sign up and see if they fit in with your values and your goals. Some coworking spaces are part of the start-up bro culture, others like Huckletree are not.

Their success should inspire you

Being around successful people, who have achieved great things should be inspiring? Shouldn’t it? But it may not, and no one talks about the NOT.

Think about how you feel when you are around these people. Do you feel like you are always in their shadow, that they are in the limelight because their success eclipses yours? Perhaps you literally feel that in their presence, you should be walking behind them like some lady servant. If they or a group of successful people make you feel like that, then perhaps it’s time for some reflection.

Material success does not make anyone any better than anyone and secondly are they really making you feel like that or are you making you feel like that?  If it’s you, I would suggest working on your confidence levels and think about why they are triggering you like that. If it’s them, and they are actively behaving like that, then walk away. Do you really want to be someone’s hanger-on, someone’s groupie or entourage?

Ask yourself – Do you think that relationship is helping you to get to the next level or is it just helping them feel like they have more power and more control and feeding their ego? Who’s helping who?

I’ll be writing a lot more on self-belief and self-confidence over the coming months as I believe it’s the cornerstone of success and feeling really good day to day. In fact, it’s become probably my most important mission to date. Even if Tarot is not for you, do look at my weekly self-belief tarot card readings, as I use the cards to delve into topics in the area of self-belief, self-confidence, self-esteem, confidence and courage.

Successful people always have the best advice and are always right

Some people just think that they are always right. If they have had any amount of success, have led a company or teams and are used to people listening to them or just doing what they say, they may have concluded that they know everything.  Because you are not as “successful” as them, you can’t possibly have any good ideas or have a different or even better angle on the subject in question.

They may be the ones that feel they should “approve” your ideas and you may end up falling into a pattern of behaviour, where by you keep running stuff by them and them and vetoing the ideas if it doesn’t seem like a good idea to them at that moment.

In this case, I would look at the goal for your idea and your project. If your goal is purely making money and they are the expert on that, then maybe it is a worthwhile relationship for you.  If you want to create something that you personally enjoy and that will also earn you a living, maybe you need to not ask them.

Listen to what they say and think about their general viewpoint and their motivations for saying they think it’s a bad idea. Do remember that there are psychopaths hidden amongst the world’s successful people. If they are behaving like this, it smacks of narcissism or even psychopathy.

According to a study by Nathan Brooks a forensic psychologist, he estimates that 1 in 5 CEO’s may be successful psychopaths. Narcissism, which if you read the media has been exploding in the western world for the last 10 years is another dark trait associated with the manipulation tactics of psychopaths. Manipulation, bullying, moving the truth around to suit themselves so that they win at all costs are traits you need to keep any eye out for.

They give praise and approval based on their needs and what’s in it for them. It’s almost never about you. Keeping you low and wanting for praise is a common manipulation tactic. It can happen at home, in the office or with friends. Keep a watch out for it, and you’ll start to spot it. It’s probably a lot more common than you think it is. Here are some signs that you might want to look out for to see if that successful person or group you are associating with it, have these traits.

However, on the plus side, there has been recent further studies to suggest that these traits are not best suited to the roles we thought they were. The University of Denver produced a study on this, and I suspect there will be more, “we should keep in mind that psychopathic traits — like ruthlessness and callousness — don’t produce the successful outcomes that we might expect them to.” they said. You can read the article in Science Daily.

You should be free with sharing your ideas, no one will take them (Watch out for Parasites) 

I am kind of divided on this topic, as some people say you should and others say you shouldn’t. Having been through a negative experience, where a friend copied and passed off my ideas and knowledge as her own, I am now understandably more cautious.

There are reasons to hang around with people that are as successful as you or have interest or skills in a different field, but when that tips over into one of the friends actually “using” the others for personal gain, then that moves into the parasitic field in my mind.

If your idea is to hang out with them so you can share ideas and knowledge together, then that seems like a good relationship. However, sometimes this balance can get out of whack when the one person is literally sucking up all the ideas and copycatting them and then putting them out in the public domain or sharing them. even worse if they are profiting from them!

At some point the person that’s being used will either realise what’s being done or know and then just get to the point of enough is enough. Copycatting ideas and concepts is very common in the business world, but it’s not something that sits well with me at all. If all you can do is copy what others are doing, that’s stopping you from creating your own thing and from creating things with any meaning.

I’ve had this happen to me several times, but the worst was not actually that long ago. I really helped this friend a lot with her business for free. Helped to coach her through some pretty major business events, which were successful, then I found out that she was going to major conferences speaking and blogging about the confidential methods that I was going to be using for a future business. I had taught her as a way of seeing if they worked outside my industry, and told her specifically that they were confidential.  My methods worked but more fool me into thinking she was a friend. She was most definitely a frenemy and a parasite.

It was not me that spotted her. Friends of mine wrote to me, and sent me her blogs and told me what she was doing. I had heard some stuff at a conference, but I dismissed it at the time. They said I should act as it was stealing. I gave her the warning to stop publishing or at least quote me, she wrote me an abusive note back and that was the end of a friendship. I dropped her, put the idea on pause and started working on something else. That’s no friend, that’s not smart and if it’s not your idea you just swiped it, there’s no real story, no background and that’s what customers are looking for today.

I noticed that she’s done this to other people too since, so I was not the only one!  Just like with anything if that’s a person’s mentality, and MO, they will keep doing it, so do watch out for warning signs. However, don’t believe that everyone is bad, because they are not all bad, just be better at listening to your gut instinct than I was at the time.

And if you are thinking about copying, don’t be that person, the bad karma just isn’t worth it. If you don’t have your own ideas, then work on learning how to get them.  That’s a far more useful skill than having to rely on copying others all the time.

Choosing a career based on what successful people do

Here we have two issues to discuss. What actual successful people do and what the “fake” successful people do and if you should use either of these people/groups to steer your career. I’ll break it down.

Following Real successful people

It is a well-known fact that stockbrokers make a lot of money, so do cosmetic surgeons, so do private doctors and people who run successful businesses. However, to make money at these things you must be very good at those jobs, you have to invest a lot of time studying to be good at those jobs and you also need an aptitude and a desire to do them. In some cases, like stockbrokers, you have to be comfortable with a high degree of risk and being able to gamble other people’s money. With surgery, you must be comfortable with having people’s lives in your hands and so on. Everything has its pluses and minuses and nothing is a get rich scheme.

My parents used to tell me all the time when I was a kid and in fact well into my thirties that I should have become a stockbroker. I still to this day have no idea why. I know they wanted me to have financial stability and to be a huge earner, but I cannot think of a job I’d like to do less. It’s ruthless, competitive, I’m sure pretty murky in terms of business principles and it goes against literally every core value I have.

If you are choosing a career path based on how much money you think you can make, or your parents are choosing (even worse), then do remember that to be successful you really must want to work in these areas as they need a lot of commitment and to rise to the top, you need to put in the time, which is not pleasant if you hate what you are doing.

I also believe that you should choose a career aligned with your values as if you don’t then things will start to become increasingly difficult for you. One of the reasons that I am now on a creative sabbatical, is that I was just not happy in the world where I was working. The murky behaviours in that industry were not making me happy. Bullying, blackmail, sexism and the joys of working in an overtly competitive macho industry, just did not sit with me anymore. Deflecting that crap daily is enough to either turn you to the dark side or force you to leave. So, I left. It just it does not sit with me anymore and I want to create something different or at least create something from a different place.

My advice, don’t just think about your career as $, it also must fit with your values. Be careful who you are choosing as your career mentors or which successful people you are hanging out with. They are not always a positive influence. Work out which are your core values and then look at the world and make decisions through that lens.

Following Fake Successful People – There are a lot, a hell of a lot of people on the net, most especially I find they hide out in Facebook groups selling the dream. The cryptocurrency people, the new breed of multi-level marketers or pyramid schemes creators, the get rich while travelling the world,  are now everywhere. People like this, of course, have always been around, but now with the power of the internet, they can get in your inbox fast, and we all know the underhand tactics and the lies that people with money and power can spread. Cambridge Analytics & the Facebook scandal being a case in point.

Critical thinking is the skill here. Are these successful people, actually successful at what they do or are they successful because they are making money off selling you the dream? If you are struggling to work out whether someone’s the real deal or just a snake oil salesman, then spend some time working on those skills.  Here’s an article that will get you started from Psychology Today on critical thinking. We all need to brush up on these, as these people are getting more and more sophisticated. This is also a great video from the University of Leeds on the same topic.

Do these 200 things BEFORE 8am and you will be successful

This phrase is everywhere now. It turned up 11.2 million search results. There are many great articles there, but the lists to be are massively unrealistic and are peddling an excessive overwork culture.

The other thing that you will note from these lists is that they literally contain everything and anything. Imagine if you did all those things that successful people did in the early morning in this article. You would still be doing them at 9 pm at night. There’s a little too much of the unrealistic HUSTLE/ bro/vibe in these posts for me.

I also highly doubt that by doing someone’s morning routine that you will become successful, just on that alone. I think perhaps we are naturally all a little voyeuristic and like to know what everyone else is up to, so I see why these have caught on. I really do believe that testing & testing and tracking the outcome (yes boring I know) on what works for you is the best answer.

I do have a morning routine that works for me and I’ve created a specific one for my sabbatical. I do admit that I took the idea for the routine from some successful people, albeit from the 18th century, but I’ve mixed it up and adapted it with my own. Like with anything in life that you want to make work for YOU.

So, if like me you have worked out that you want to be able to do more writing and that works best for you in the very early morning when it’s relatively quiet, then you know you need to get to bed early and get up early.  If you know you write best at 3 am then, again you need to schedule your day around that. See what works for you. Don’t feel pressured by these lists.

Successful Hustle Habits

The last 5 years have been filled with the loud voices of the start-up bros, the start-up investors and the macho communities that support them.  The” I’ll sleep when I’m dead” philosophy that used to be linked to drinking and fun culture and was then adopted by the start-up community has done no favours for them. Pushing the 3 am workouts, the few hours’ sleep, the 24 and the 48 hackathons etc. It’s probably better for you than going to a rave and taking ecstasy mind you, but I’m sure it’s not a healthy way to work long term.

Some habits are good habits and others decidedly bad. All night drinking, smoking, drugs and so on are not healthy choices, so I don’t think that we need to debate that. However, there are other habits that may not strike us immediately, that should not be mirrored from successful people.

I honestly don’t think that everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur or that everyone must scale their business. On top of doing the work with your own business, you have a lot of admin (which I hate), and you have to be comfortable with marketing and sales. If you have staff you have to manage them managing them. There’s a lot of talk and pressure in the media about being successful equates to having your own business, scaling, getting VC money, bla bla bla.

People used to ask me all the time, why I didn’t scale, why I didn’t add on my clients, why didn’t I have agents working for me. I had enough people asking from both sides, the opportunity was there. The truth was, I just didn’t want to.  The extra money I might have earned by adding more clients and employees for me was just not worth it then. All I saw was more admin, and more stress and more of what I didn’t want to do. And if I decided I wanted to make a lifestyle change, then would not have been easy with people depending on me for money.

If you want to have a job, have a job. If you want to have a passion project, have a passion project. You don’t have to have a side hustle, and you don’t have to turn everything into work. Believe me, I learnt the hard way that turning everything into work is not a good idea. And in all honesty, I am still learning that every day.  Having work for work and then passions and hobbies outside of work is a great way to live. Not everyone needs to build a huge business, make a billion dollars or be a serial entrepreneur. It’s a cliche, but material success does not always make you happy.

What is success anyway

The meaning of success and status is changing rapidly. Not that many years ago it was all about the big house in a fancy location, with a supercar on the drive. Diamonds, crazy expensive watches, bling locations. That was the dream, that you were bombarded with on TV, Instagram, or on any reality TV show.

In the last 5 years, slowly but surely, this has started to look passé and out of date. Health is the new wealth, self-actualisation is becoming the new norm, travel is king and ostentatious flashy wealth just isn’t cool anymore.  This trend is only going to keep growing as we get deeper and deeper into the Aquarian age.

This means the concept of success and how we define it is changing. Perhaps it’s worth considering, whether the people you follow are chasing external material wealth or are they chasing happiness and personal enrichment.  Have a think about that the next time you hang out with your “successful friends” and work out if their ideal of success is the success you want?

And most importantly don’t forget you can create your own life and your own path. You don’t have to follow the well-trodden route taken by everyone else.


Further reading

Here are some articles on success, that you might want to take a look at:

What does success mean to you  – Success Magazine

Oprah and her thoughts on success

Success in the Aquarian Age



1 comments On Why the Hustle Culture, Surrounding Yourself with Successful People & Other Myths is Bullshit

  • Hi Zoe!
    You there?

    Found your post because I was wondering if hanging with smarter, harder working, more successfull people could be depressing me. My bro in law is like a super smart cyborg with crazy energy. We were really close but the gulf in wealth makes it hard to be around him. They always go to expensive restaurants and refuse to let us pay. I dont want handouts.
    Its like they are telling everyone
    Im not jealous because I am perfectly happy where im at and not trying to rise to their level. Happy for them but I do feel looked down on.

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