My sister and I recently had a chat with
Amardeep Parmar for one of our podcast episodes. I didn’t want to dwell too much on the “how-tos” of becoming a successful online writer, so we dug a little deeper into issues like the pressures of living up to expectations, the fear of failure, and our dreams of attaining financial freedom. And there’s one point we touched on in particular that really resonated with me.
We tend to attach an arguably disproportionate level of reverence to the people we admire.
Now there’s nothing inherently wrong in doing so. Admiring other people is a nice thing to do. But it can also be unhelpful to you. If you see your idols as people to look up to; people you aspire to be like, that’s great. But once you put people on a pedestal so high they begin to appear other-worldly, it’s easier to convince yourself you’ll never get there, or that you’ll only get there if you blindly follow their advice.
I’ll use an example (which to this day, I find laughable) to explain the level of ‘blind devotion’ I mean.
Quote ‘Einstein’ one more time
The first ‘real’ job I ever had after graduation was in sales. I was convinced I would never be successful in business if I didn’t learn how to sell coffee and vending machines to people who didn’t want them, so excited and naïve as Buddy, I gave that job every ounce of energy my body had to emit.
Some weeks, all we did was cold-call; all day, every day, ‘no-toilet-breaks-before-11 am’ kind of vibe. These guys were serious about vending. One of these guys, our sales director, was also serious about Einstein. He cited the same Einstein quote at least five times every single day:
The definition of “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein (or not).
What he meant was we should try a different approach if one client didn’t respond well to our pitch. But his ridiculous assumption that he was right ‘because Einstein said so’ grated on me like a sharp fork on a plate.
First of all, Einstein didn’t come up with that phrase. It’s a quote which is often miscited, and whilst its exact origins remain to be found out (should anyone care enough to do so), it has been traced back to a fictional character by the name of Jane Fulton in a book by Rita Mae Brown, in addition to a gazillion other people.
Secondly, the way Einstein is thought to have defined insanity is, according to quantum theory, exactly how the world actually works. In quantum mechanics, people do the same thing over and over again and get different results, all the time, including in sales!
If I use the exact same script to call 50 different people, surely I can most certainly expect every single person to react differently. Why would I expect 50 people to react in the exact same way? How does my pitch not working once indicate it can’t work the second time I try? Or the third, or the thirtieth? It doesn’t…
Instead of wasting our time making us amend our pitches every single call, the whole sales team could have been much more effective had he just let us get on with it. And I can say this with confidence because our success rate tripled when he went away for a week.
I agree with quality over quantity in general. Of course, if it’s a bad pitch, it doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it’s likely to go wrong. But we had already invested adequate time into perfecting our pitch. It was go-time, not ‘re-write it because Einstein would think you’re crazy’ time.
Needless to say, that sales director did not become one of my idols. But anyhow, the point I’m making is, everyone we admire is still figuring things out. Endlessly. All the time. Throughout their whole lives. Including Einstein.
If you’re not asking questions, you’re not paying attention
Assuming someone is right just because you adore them can lead you down the wrong path if you don’t analyze the advice for yourself. Does it apply to your own context? Is there an aspect you disagree with?
Because just like you make mistakes, your idols make mistakes. In our episode,
Amardeep Parmar mentioned how Steve Jobs, who is obviously and rightfully revered by many, was also known for his extreme and unhealthy diets. He would stick to just one or two foods for weeks, like carrots or apples, and in preparation to play his role, Ashton Kutcher was sent to hospital for pancreatitis after dieting on carrot juice “all day long”. Not a smart move — either of you.
Now I’m not immune to this either. I can become a super-fan in seconds — Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Glennon Doyle — let's be friends. Mi case es su casa.
Of course, I could look at any of these amazing humans and think “I’ll never be a successful writer like Glennon”, “I’ll never be as funny as Krasinski”, or “as talented as Emily and Kristen”.
But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t stop to reflect on the undeniable truth that they’re human. I can choose to let their advice guide and inspire me but still, pick out the parts that simply aren’t helpful in my context.
I often saw my goals so far away and unattainable because I attached so much admiration for the people who had already accomplished them, that I stopped myself from even trying. I assumed I would never be able to do things; that I could never be as good as [insert name of idol here].
The person who changed my mindset for life
One thing that really helped me snap out of it was actually working closely with one of my idols, who, thankfully is very accessible — my dad. He’s built a successful business that has allowed our family to live an awesome life, despite coming from very humble beginnings. I have huge levels of appreciation and admiration for all that he’s achieved.
But I also always assumed I would never be able to do something like that. Until I read his e-mails and watched him trying to operate Zoom. In fairness, I should say at the outset, English isn’t his first language. But still, he’s stubborn, he refuses to take advice, and I can identify over a handful of ‘points for improvement’ with how he operates his business.
I witnessed what things were like behind the scenes. And it made me realize — I could actually help. I could legitimately make this even better. I don’t know everything, obviously; I have a huge hill to climb. But I can certainly contribute already. If he’s been this successful with sub-optimal communication skills (sorry, love you Dad), maybe I actually could do something like this.
So if you’re crippled with self-doubt because you think you could never be the next Bill Gates, just know, he makes mistakes like the rest of us. He, like all of your idols, is still ‘figuring things out’. You’re allowed to keep figuring things out too. In fact, I encourage you to do so forever. Because, what a boring world it would be if we were all just ‘finished’.