The Problem With ‘What Successful People Do’ Articles

Scroll through any career-related magazine and you’ll likely notice an abundance of articles dedicated to the routines of the rich and successful. Headlines like, “What Successful People Do Before Breakfast” and “What Successful People Do Differently” promise to divulge the lucrative secrets of those who excel in their fields.

There’s clearly a high demand for this sort of content and it’s not hard to see why. It’s perfectly natural for us to look to those we admire for inspiration, to try to learn from the people that society holds up as shining examples.

Add to this the fact that in modern careers, it can be hard to come by real-life mentors. This absence can leave us a little at sea when we need advice, wisdom or inspiration. The solo road to personal success can be a lonely one, when the expectation is that diligent self-motivation will be your only fuel for progress along the learning curve.

And that is at least part of the reason that publications churn out click-bait headlines that seem to promise that advice that we are missing. Fair enough. But this approach is somewhat problematic – these articles aren’t just picking up the slack where genuine inspiration is lacking.

As I see it, the real problem is this: success isn’t one-size-fits-all. Invariably, the people referenced in these articles are similar in two ways: they are rich and they are visible. And that’s a very narrow idea of what success should look like.

In a modern world, where people have the opportunity to define their own path through life, I think it’s damaging to offer a blinkered definition of successfulness. It implies that people who don’t follow these routines, these prescribed, step-by-step processes cannot be successful.

And that is a toxic, condescending way to address readers. We need to get past the era of ‘shoulds’ to enable people to create their own definitions of success, of how they work, and to give them broader horizons of how they can do things that matter to them.

Instead of presenting easy, quotable maxims on how one should live one’s life, the onus is on publications to produce work that lifts the self-esteem and the feeling of possibility in their readers. Instead of promulgating restrictive ideas of success that encourage the acquisition of  money and fame, magazines need to ask questions that help readers think about what success means to them.

Each person comes from different backgrounds, from different starting points, so we shouldn’t have to aim for the same finish line. The human reality of success is a vast spectrum, and only allowing for one type in common discourse is a disservice to every person working today.

So what does success mean to you? What are your personal goals and what really matters to who you are, to who you want to become? Set your own definition, decide on your own lifestyle, and work towards your own ambitions. That’s truly success.

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King

Carrie M. King is the Editor of the Journal by Jobspotting. Hailing originally from smack-bang in the middle of Ireland, she moved to Berlin in 2014 to join the gang at Jobspotting. Carrie previously worked in journalism and literature. If you want to share thoughts or ideas, get in touch: