This weekend I got an email from someone who’s doing very well in her business, talking about her rags to riches story. She says she’s realised that a lot of it was privilege. Good for her. Then she suggested we should share how we feel about this. So I wrote back to her telling her how her email made me feel.
She didn’t reply.
Which was interesting.
So I’m posting my reaction here.
Rags to riches stories: you know those stories about someone starting out with nothing, half-starving to death in a garret, but somehow works out how to make their first million in year one. The story often features a photo of said happy, relaxed entrepreneur surrounded by happy partner and clean, happy kids in a beautiful home. Not a fish finger in sight.
JK Rowling is a great example. She started writing as an unemployed single Mum and is now incredibly wealthy.
These stories are supposed to be inspirational and show that everyone can do the same, to make you believe in great possibilities. And they get used in marketing a lot. Infact the Testosterone Template Factories tell you to use them.
Inspiration is a good thing.
We all need role models to see what’s possible.
And when you’re starting out, they can be a great way to dream.
But if you’re reading a rags to riches story five years into your business, while you’re still stuck in your garret working your socks off, taking financial risks, with kids screaming they want fishfingers again and you’re not even close to that million, these stories become anything but inspirational.
It’s tough to read those stories when you’re working so hard but still a long way away from where the storytellers are.
After a while you start to wonder if something is missing.
This is where the self-doubt can start to kick in. Is she smarter than me? Is he more extravert than me? Is she more instagrammable? What does she know that I don’t? What does he do that I don’t? Does she only need 3 hours sleep? Will I ever be able to find out what he’s doing? Will I ever make it? You may start to wonder if you’re investing enough. Hmm.
But that’s not the whole story.
What they’re not telling you
What they’re not saying is that they’ve had some advantages that they didn’t mention in their story. Maybe he had a lot of savings in the bank. Or she was married to someone who supported her while she got started. Perhaps he had great connections. Or she was in the right place at the right time. It could also be a case of overnight success after 10 years of hard graft.
Sure, they worked their socks off to get there. And I have a lot of respect for what that takes. I work long hours and I know what that means.
They were lucky too.
Don’t get me wrong, good luck is good.
We should all be grateful for the good luck we experience in our lives.
But there is an element of well, luck, involved in it.
And good luck is not the same as being a superior being.
Joe Pesci said: “There are great actors we’ll never see, because they haven’t had my luck”.
You make your own good luck (or do you?)
Here’s another phrase I have problems with. Yes, you can absolutely do things in your life to attract luck. You can be a nice person, work hard, talk to lots of people and be open to opportunities. Going the extra mile is a definite yes.
But it’s never the people who have just gone bankrupt who say they make your own good luck. It’s the people who are successful. Why? Because they really believe that what they did caused their good luck.
Think about that.
This is called the fundamental attribution error. We tend to over-emphasise the role our character plays in situations (how smart we are) and underemphasise the role of the situation (luck).
You can probably think of enough well-known people who do this.
But as Larry King said: “Those who have succeeded at anything and don’t mention luck are kidding themselves”.
Now is not the time
There’s a lot of talk now about making your own luck and ignoring the economic challenges we’re in.
Yep, it’s good to be positive. But….
What do these stories do to people who are already struggling?
Advice to lucky people
Please don’t call your own good luck talent and expect others to be inspired.
Talk about your struggles, your doubts and how you overcame them.
Express your gratitude for the opportunities you got.
Tell them how glad you are about where you are now.
Say they’re doing well.
That you believe in them.
Inspire them to keep going.
Give them nuggets to help them along.
Maybe even cut them some slack with the payment plans.
And they will become genuine fans.
Just ditch the rags to riches stories
Because they don’t work in the way you think they do.
They just emphasise the idea that some people are born lucky.
But others aren’t.
And that my friends is icky marketing 101.
A couple of days after writing this post, she reacted and completely got what I’d written. Turns out it wasn’t just a publicity stunt. My faith is restored. But my dislike of these stories? Well, let’s just say that hasn’t changed.
How do you feel about these stories?
Love them? Hate them? Join the conversation below.