There must be something in the air because over the last three weeks I’ve been coming across a lot of discussions about the success myths that are perpetuated online.
“I went from being broke to making six figures in six months and you can too!”
“Last year I was running my business from my kitchen table. Now I’m helping people all around the world and I want to share my secrets so you can, too.”
“Write a novel in six weeks with so-and-so’s masterclass. Register now.”
And it doesn’t just extend to career-oriented content. I see so many promises for quick-fixes when it comes to diet and exercise, relationships, and more.
Often, these claims are all accompanied by Instagram-friendly photos of happy, well-dressed people – the individuals who are selling these online programs.
Sure, we’ve all become pretty savvy when it comes to snuffing out marketing ploys, but when we see promises from individuals like life coaches, personal trainers, artists – real people who could potentially be our next gurus, heroes, or mentors – some of us are more likely to pause and take a look.
Maybe it’s because the idea of making six-figures in your business is a dream of yours. Or just quitting that damn day job already. Maybe it’s because you’ve always wanted to travel the world while still bringing an income.
Maybe it’s because you’ve always felt you were destined for something bigger and better than where you’re at now and if you could just get a little bit of help from someone who’s “been there, done that,” then maybe you could finally figure out the secret to getting to where you really want to be.
Maybe it’s because you’re looking for change, but you’re not sure how you can take that first step to get out of whatever situation it is you’re in right now.
But, as marketing maven Maggie Patterson recently wrote, “Amid all the fluffed up audacious promises of 6-figure success, so few people are speaking the truth. Because it’s so much easier to gloss over all the parts of business that aren’t Instagram friendly and perpetuate this ongoing myth of shiny, happy, (success).”
Right. Because it’s hard to admit that you’re scared shitless. And it’s hard to sell registration spots for a class when the real message to students is that there is no other secret to success than putting in the work.
When I launched my tarot business, I scoured the internet for the answer to two questions:
– How long did it take for other professional readers to develop a client roster that would fulfill a full-time schedule?
– How slow was their business when it first started?
I wanted to know because I a) wanted to understand what I could expect and how much patience I would need (because patience is so not my thing), and b) I wanted some kind of benchmark comparison, even though I knew that everyone would have different experiences and would be dependent on a number of factors, including location, past experience, style, and skill. It was very difficult to find the answers.
Instead, I found a lot of information about how to find clients, market yourself, or sales pitches that would teach tarot readers how to start their own businesses.
But I was hard pressed to find anyone who would talk about whether they were scared when they started, whether they questioned if anyone would actually come through the door, or how they learned to trust that everything would come together in the end.
Success stories sell, though, and it’s a lot more comfortable to talk about the sweetness of reaching the finish line than it is about the slog it takes to get there. The click-through rates are better, the conversions are higher, and the ego-boost is greater.
Which is why I often question grand claims that sound an awful lot like overnight success. In the past three years, I’ve taken ten online courses and coaching programs led by women in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Some were incredible, others forgettable. Inadvertently, I learned that some people are really good at writing sales copy.
This does not necessarily mean that they are equally skilled at teaching a course, or delivering the results they promise. It also does not mean that they are being honest about their own stories.
Like before and after pictures, we love to see the beginning and the end of something, but what did those bodies look like in between, and how long did it really take to get those results? Why aren’t there any “during” pictures?
Where are the guts of a story that show the conflict and concern, and then the persistence and resilience? What are the sacrifices these people made?
What did they give up to get where they are? That’s what people need to know, because those are the details that help us know if we are on the right track, or acting out of desperation, or if there is something we haven’t yet considered but should.
That’s why we need to talk about the in-between days, because those are the times that people need the most reassurance and motivation to keep going.
It’s easy to start something once you’ve decided on a goal, but it’s a lot harder to see it through to the end if all of the messages out there in the world seem to be telling you that you should be making six figures by now, or have an office in Paris, or have a waiting list of clients. It’s also easier to know what’s realistic.
How long does it really take to write a book? To draw a salary from a small business? To transition from being a full-time employee to a full-time student?
How do you really get from Point A to Point B when you know there are a lot hard, uneasy steps in between, and sacrifices that you’re not even sure you are ready to make yet?
Tarot guru Brigit Esselmont, founder of the mega-popular BiddyTarot.com, spent 15 years building her business before it became the six-figure empire it is today. She describes it all as “a journey of trial and error (with) mistakes along the way.” She worked in HR before going full-time with tarot.
Architect Frank Gehry was not always working in the avant-garde; one of his early buildings was a shopping mall. When he decided that his talent was in pushing architectural boundaries rather than creating ho-hum retail spaces, he didn’t exactly step onto a path paved in gold – at least not right away.
He ran into failures. He lost money. He questioned whether he had made the right decision. But he also kept going, and focused on what he knew was right for him. And eventually, he grew.
Author and entrepreneur Danielle LaPorte has openly shared her stops-and-starts along the way. Some of her in-between days included quitting a day job at a think tank in Washington, D.C. without a backup plan, as well as being let go from her own company.
While these experiences might have felt like freefalling at first, Danielle figured out and found a way to move forward, and that’s what those in-between days are all about: Deciding what your next step needs to be.
Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what direction that step goes in, as long as you keep moving, and as long as you don’t start believing that you are destined to stay stuck, because you aren’t.
Life is all about movement and change. I remember reading about a personal trainer recently who said she thought she would have her business up and running to full capacity – meaning, making full-time money – in six months after launching. It turned out that it took a year and a half instead. But that’s what we need to hear about.
The messages that say, “It’s okay if it takes longer than you expect it to,” are so important because they let us know that we aren’t failures if we aren’t seeing instant success or feeling instantly gratified. We need more messages that tell us it is okay if things happen slowly.
So if it helps, here are some of my in-between days:
1. I workout every day. I lift weights six days a week and go running every Saturday. I follow a lot of trainers and bodybuilders online and see a lot of amazing progress pictures from people who got really fit really fast. Some of those pictures are real. Some are Photoshopped.
There are also apps you can use to make pictures of your butt look bigger. (Seriously.) Some people’s bodies adapt quickly. Mine doesn’t.
I spent years “eating clean” and restricting foods with little change. I still have cellulite on my hips. My upper back is my weakest area.
You can do all of the “right” things for your body and still see little to no progress. You can see other people doing exactly the same things you are and getting amazing results.
I used to want to see a dramatic change. Now I go to the gym because I like it, and because I get stronger all the time. The ordinary person probably won’t notice the changes in my body that I see and that is okay. I know what I can do and that’s become all that matters.
2. I don’t ever know whether a book I am writing is going to work out until I reach the end. The books I do finish are just part of my body of work, not a total sum.
I have started other projects in the past that I had to can altogether because they just weren’t as feasible as I’d hoped when I started them.
Others are sitting on the sidelines, half-started or half-finished. Maybe I’ll return to some of them again one day. But what’s important to know about writing is that a lot of “debut” books are on the first a writer has published, not the first they have written.
There is a lot of trial and error in writing and some authors lose years to manuscripts that never see the light of day.
3. I live outside of my comfort zone constantly. I hate asking for help but I am not afraid to ask for opportunities.
“Will you publish my work?”
“Can I read tarot at your store?”
“Can I organize a poetry reading at your bar?”
A lot of people have said no to me over the years, and I expect that I will hear a lot more of that as time goes on. But a lot of people have also said yes, and I trust that I’ll hear more of that, too.
My first book was rejected numerous times. When I was a freelance writer, I got rejected more than I got published. It still sucks when I get a rejection letter for my poetry, but I also know that it’s all part of the game.
You send stuff out into the universe and sometimes it lives on, sometimes it boomerangs back to you. You just have to keep throwing it out there to see what sticks. Asking for opportunities can be exhausting.
It’s a big push of energy and you’re always running on hope. But there’s no other way to make things happen so if you want something, you just have to ask.
And I bet all of those people who you see talking about supposed overnight successes asked for a lot of opportunities before they got to where they are now.
Because we have a lack of stories where we talk about those gray areas of our lives, we miss out on reminders that there are options and alternatives and if we just start asking, “How can I take one step towards what I want?” we can find the answers.
It might be in asking to borrow some money to go back to school. It might be in talking to the bank about getting a loan. It might be in asking if you can move in for a while, or if someone can move out, or if you can get that time off after all.
Because whatever it is, change tends to happen a lot slower than many people out there would like us to believe. Behind all of those overnight success stories out there, there are probably a lot of small but important steps that were taken to get there.
And if those stories end up to be fake, well, those truths will probably come to the surface sooner or later anyway.
The important thing is to focus on doing what you know you need to do now, and if you’re not sure what that first step is, then that’s the question to start with and your first destination to aim for.