Response: There's No Recipe for Success

Minh Ha left a lengthy comment to my There’s No Recipe for Success blog post, adding an interesting perspective of someone who had to work really hard to overcome coming from a third-world country.

Ivan, I happened to read “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” recently so I can attest that it does provide some valuable advices on how to do things well. Some of the overarching themes are stay focused and cut off unnecessary noise/drain the shallow. The author also suggests removing your social media account if you can’t see how it add values to your work/business, as social media can create attention disorder, seen in many young kids these days.

As to your vid, I read most of the comments and saw several negative ones, so I decided to watch it in full to see if they’re justified, as this is not the first time I heard people calling you a snob. Frankly, the ‘No tangible solutions given, no path provided, no actionable advice detailed’ one was clearly misguided, because from what I see, not only did you answer the questions directly, but did provide some path guidance as well. For instance, you ask youngsters to go out and build something themselves and show the world their accomplishment. What else do they expect??

So I left comments there in response to some of those negative ones. Then it dawned on me the next day, that some of these guys simply expect to be spoon-fed. One comment went as far as asking: which certs are more profitable…? Frankly, what’s wrong with these guys? Too much expectation, too little exposure to ground truth.

Certs by itself provides nothing in terms of job guarantee. Back in 2005 when I was still at Uni, this Korean classmate was speaking to me about how back in his country, there were specialized CCIE training centers that trained people to get CCIE at all cost, which resulted in a fair amount of paper CCIEs aka CCIEs who know a lot of commands and some basic knowledge, but nowhere near the level expected of a CCIE. He said he’d finish Uni, then go home and get the CCIE before attemting to find a job. Employers know this, so certs can be helpful as a resume booster, but by themselves they’re not the key to unlock employer’s door. Neither is degree, unless you happen to go to high-end Uni that have a lot of industry connections.

Reasonable people can see through what you’re trying to convey in the vid, and we very much appreciate your thoughts Ivan, as reflected in most of the comments :)). OTOH, people who expect to be spoon-fed, won’t make it even if a step-by-step, detailed action plan is laid out in front of them. Reason is simple: success takes work, lots of it. If one reads enough about people who make it big in different fields, one can quickly see a similar pattern; it’s a pretty simple formula. But simple is not the same as easy. You have to put in a lot of work, and make creative adjustments from the base formula to fit your particular circumstances, as history doesn’t normally repeat in verbatim, but it often rhymes. That creative effort comes from lots of hard work and self-reflection; it won’t come to those who’re not willing to put a lot of time and focus, in what they do, this willingness to work hard driven a fair bit from passion, from the fire within. Those who desire one-size-fits-all golden formulas out of a book, a vid, or a known successful person, are all doomed to be disillusioned, they’re in for a nasty surprise, the shock of their life.

And that’s why despite tons of self-help books written, the number of people who are good/successful/way beyond average, however one wants to put it, in whatever endeavor they choose to take on, are still in the minority. Since you mentioned Havard Business Review, I’ll bring up this example. How many investment-advice books detailing the time-proven methods of investing giants like Warren Buffett and the likes have been written, with actionable paths laid out in them? Plenty, and more are coming out as we speak. Yet, how many of those who read them become multi-millionaires, vs how many of those who read them manage to destroy their wealth investing in the stock market? Two people of different temperaments and work ethics, taking the same advice, can achieve vastly different results over time, because in the end it’s character that matters more than intellect. No matter how talented you are, if you’re not willing to put in a lot of hard work, and chicken out the moment the going gets tough, then GOD help you.

For me, I grew up in a socialist/communist regime (Vietnam) which was rather tough, so I consider myself having working-class common sense. When I moved to Australia, English wasn’t my first language and I wasn’t gifted with linguistic talent, so it’s tough as hell trying to get a job here. I read a lot of stuff in preparation for it of course, but in the end, it’s your tenacity and ability to internalize the learned concepts and put them to use creatively and at the right time that decides whether or not you can move ahead.

And yes, as you’re rightly put, luck plays a big role as well, don’t dismiss it. But a lot of us can create some luck through hard work as well. It won’t come overnight, but it’ll come when you least expect it, if you love what you do and are in it for the long haul. For people who manage to get by through sheer luck though, they will pay the same or even heavier admission fee in a different way, because life is all about balance. Some people are born rich because they inherit a lot or they can get material success thanks to their legacy/connections/sweet-talking, but if they take it for granted, they will pay, often painfully, in more ways than one. Undeservingly rich guys for ex, are often surrounded by sycophants who want a piece of their fortune, and don’t normally have true friends. Like Warren Buffett has put it, success, by his standard, is measured in how many people truly love you. And without characters, no decent person wants to be near you, no matter how smart or rich you happen to be.

Btw, I recommend the book “Talent is overrated” as well. It’s an easy read, and it’s quite an eye-opener :)).

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