In Defence of Simplicity: Why You Shouldn’t Chase the False God of Success
How do you know what you want from life? How can you tell if you’re pursuing goals for the wrong reason? Why should you focus on the pursuit of success at all?
Isn’t chasing after anything in the worldly realm just as much of a prison as living a “life of quiet desperation”?
I ask myself these questions all the time, I constantly update my worldview, and I reserve the right to be wrong.
Normally, I don’t pay attention to comments on my article, but when I see a valid pattern emerging derived from thoughtful critiques, I’m not one to shy away from them.
I encourage dissent.
You shouldn’t take everything I say at one hundred percent face value. You definitely shouldn’t look up to me as a hero. You should take an honest look at my insights, decide what to keep and decide what to discard.
Here’s the most important thing you should do, though. Make sure to take a critical eye at your own worldview.
If I say something that triggers you, you’re triggered for one of two reasons.
- One, you truly think my advice is wrong and dangerous, which is, again, a valid take in some circumstances.
- Two, you’re triggered because, deep down, you think I’m right and it bothers you to have the truth so brazenly shoved in your face, which is something I’m highly prone to doing.
Rather than respond to comments directly and get into an arguing match, I’m going to take some opinions I’ve received on popular articles and use them to frame the insights I’ll share in this article.
Here are some comments from an article I wrote called The 7 Habits of Highly Ineffective People. It’s one of the most popular and controversial articles I’ve published on Medium and it stirred up quite the debate:
I can certainly understand that some people act like they are satisfied with a simple life when they aren’t, but why try to claim that it’s true of everyone? I don’t want to start a business or have an elite network of people. I want to enjoy the pleasantries of life, and I want other people to stop pursuing individualistic goals that, when all combined, lead to late-stage capitalism, global warming, and way too many pointless products nobody asked for. And I know I’m not alone.
That was quite a manner in which you wrote off the value in having a good family, friends and a roof over your head. Those things are valuable, believe it or not. They’re not just rationalisations — perhaps exercise some self-doubt (which towards the end of your article I sensed you don’t have much of) before you think you can smell the discontent in the people who say this.
I think it’s worth noting that at the end of the day, the overachieving networker, traveller (and whatever else you think defines ‘success’) will end up in an exactly the same place as that a person, who was happy just walking their dog every day and weeding their garden: dead.
If you’re searching for spiritual enlightenment, I’d suggest the first place would be to look past negative thinking. Judging others for wasting their time focuses on the wrong, not growth. Speak of your growth, not their folley.
Everything that truly makes you happy in life is free. When I watch my four-year-old daughter laughing and playing — lost in the moment with no concept of the past or future, truly engaged in something as benign as playing with a rock — I see true happiness right in front of my eyes. Raising a child, watching them grow up and learn new things on a daily basis right before your eyes, trying to teach them how to live, and experiencing that rush of pure unadulterated love in those moments — that’s what life is about.
The moments that make life special are also free. Having a great conversation with a friend over some drinks on your porch into the late hours of the night, kissing someone you love, getting totally immersed in a day where you’re not being productive, not building a dream, and not doing anything in particular. Listening to your grandparents tell you about their lives and how different things were just a few decades ago. Intense games of Uno, Monopoly, and Connect four. Going for a long-drive just because.
I talked about the benefits of simplicity in my article called — The Only Two Ways to Live a Happy Life.
“Success doesn’t make you happy. In fact, it can make you miserable. This is why famous and wealthy people kill themselves — they get literally everything they want and they’re still not happy.
Anytime you reach a new milestone in your life, you quickly get used to it and you just want more. You can’t fill the void in your life with accomplishments and materials.
In truth, you shouldn’t need anything to be happy whatsoever. You should be entirely grateful for what you have and focus solely on the present moment because that’s all there is.”
Nobody is an original thinker. We create beliefs and worldviews shaped by culture and experience. I’m highly influenced by the rugged individualist culture of Western Civilization. Some of my beliefs are carbon copy replicas of capitalist dogma and certain self-improvement tropes I’ve picked up along the way. Many people rightly point out that the pursuit of success can be quite hollow.
You work so long and hard to accomplish what feels like crazy pie-in-the-sky dreams. When success comes flooding in, you expect the high to last. You expect it will feel wonderful and exciting, but it doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t really feel like anything at all. Maybe it feels even worse than nothing because you expected something so different.
In many ways, I can relate. I’ve reached many of my goals already at the age of 30. I’m not retired, but I don’t worry about money like I used to. Millions of people read my work each year. I’ve published three books, given talks on stage in front of 1,000+ people, I have a verified profile on Google and SEO tools tell me that thousands of people search for my name.
So how does it all feel? Is it any better than the simplicity of just enjoying ones life? Here’s what I’ll tell you. Here’s the reason why I’ve spent so much time studying self-improvement, implementing the lesson from it, getting the outcomes I’ve wanted as a result, and sharing those insights with others.
I don’t walk around feeling euphoric 100 percent of the time. Having more money is…nice. The attention is nice. Having people reach out to you saying you helped them change their lives is amazing and never gets old. Getting the views, subscribers, and likes you worked so hard for feels good, but it doesn’t fill the void in your life at all.
You have to work on those yourself.
My life is an incomplete picture and I’m still figuring things out. I’m ambitious, insecure, understanding, judgmental, fulfilled, and unfulfilled at the same time. Life is complicated.
Here’s the major difference. I no longer suffer from quiet desperation wondering what could’ve been. After achieving a certain level of success, like Ryan, like others who’ve achieved it and say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, you have more time and freedom to contemplate those deep questions.
Also, even if you don’t experience complete and total satisfaction from achieving your goals, you do earn an irreplaceable sense of pride. It took five years for me to get to a place where I feel successful.
While the outcomes themselves don’t provide the meaning, looking back on what you went through to get there does. Looking back on your struggles is awesome.
My third book has sold orders of magnitude more than my first. But that first one, the one that made little money, taught me so much about life and about myself. It was proof that I had the capability to follow through with something I truly believed it. I had to overcome the fear and doubt that comes with putting your work in the public eye.
I can remember all the stops and starts — writing full drafts of books that never saw the light of day, creating products that got zero sales, trying to figure out the technical aspects of blogging that were so frustrating it felt like blood was about to seep from my forehead. Trying to get published at major websites and getting rejected — only to have those same publications reach out to me years later asking me to publish my work.
As Tom Hanks character says in A League of Their Own:
It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.
But enough about me. What about you?
Here’s the question I’ll pose to you. How do you feel about your life? Is this simple path working out for you? On a day to day basis, are you content with the circumstances of your life, your station, and your overall disposition?
I always think this to myself when I get negative comments from people who tell me they’re happy and content. Would the Dalai Lama leave a comment on someone’s blog post? Wouldn’t someone totally immersed in their own lives just go about their day?
I forget the exact quote, but there’s a saying that goes:
“If you’re offended by someones characterization of you, it means, deep down, you agree with it.”
I poke at people on purpose. See, along with some people who’ve written of my work in public, many have come to me in private and said, “You know what? At first, your work bothered me, but I realized it upset me because you hit a nerve and I’m glad you pointed things out bluntly.” On more than one occasion a reader has said, “I kind of want to punch you in the face for this article, but also, thank you.”
So why do it this way?
Why not take the path of the warm and fuzzy, tell you it’s all going to be okay, and tell you not to worry about success at all?
Often, to reach people, you must first appeal to their lower nature to bring them up to their higher nature.
I aim at fear, desire, and anger because that’s where many people in society are. I use divisiveness to wake people up from apathy. This is what the media does as well. When people are too apathetic to engage with anything, try moving them up to anger. The only difference? I’m trying to bring people to a higher place and the media just wants your clicks.
It’d be nice to jump straight to those self-actualization levels — reason, love, joy — but spouting that to someone who feels stuck makes for a harder sell.
What should I tell someone who is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling with their bills, and having that stress bleed out into all other areas of their life?
Should I just give them a copy of The Power of Now, a Buddha statue, and some incense to light during their meditation sessions? Or should I teach them how to fix that financial problem in their life so that the unnecessary stress doesn’t lead them to an early grave?
What should I tell someone who feels absolutely stuck in life to the point where it causes major anxiety? Just don’t worry about it, friend. Go for a walk and watch the leaves blow in the wind.
What should I tell the parent who does want more free time to spend with their family, spouse, children, and friends, but who’s so stressed out and wore thin on a daily basis that they don’t have the capacity to be present to the moment? Funny to say you care about more time with your family when you spend a third of your life away from them at a job you hate when you don’t have to.
Does every single person in society have some underlying sense of discontentment that I can smell? No. But enough of them do to make the message valid. I see how a lack of purpose manifests itself in such strange and even dangerous ways.
Look at our discourse. I get a lot of pushback for telling people to avoid watching too much news to the point where they’re obsessed with it. Why? You can see the rage of discontentment bubble up to the surface in that arena more acutely than anywhere else.
When you feel like you have no control over your life, no agency, no power, and you put your trust in a system that doesn’t ever actually help you, what other outcome is there than outrage?
I often use the anecdote of the prototypical “Karen” arguing with the manager over something trivial like the exploration date on a coupon. Where does that perverse and misused energy come from? Lack of purpose.
I remember commuting to work when I had a job. I’d look at the faces of people driving to work on a Monday Morning. I didn’t see bright-eyed faces enjoying the beauty of simplicity locked in the present moment. I live in a city with a bustling downtown area filled with professionals. Most of them looked miserable.
Just like one can make an overgeneralization about the cure of success, one can make an overgeneralization about the beauty of the mundane. Life is paradoxical, but yes, in the end, simplicity does win.
Funny enough, I live a simple life. I could afford to live a middle upper-class lifestyle — 2020 BMW, a house in the suburbs, a fleet of brand new suits. But I don’t. I could even stretch myself a bit to live an affluent lifestyle — buy a huge house, lease a really nice car, an own Rodeo drive style suits. But I don’t.
I prefer my duplex, my laptop, a nice $5 t-shirt from H&M, and the freedom to do whatever the fuck I want. I measure money, not in what materials it can buy me, but how much time it can buy me and the experiences I can have with it.
My process for living is simple. Write some articles, record videos for my YouTube channel, run my little business — a business I fully intend to turn from little to huge.
If I don’t seem to have overly material needs, why be on team success in the first place?
To me, there’s just nothing quite like pushing the limits of reality in real-time — that’s the payoff. Once you realize your personal evolution is the point itself, you get to live your life continuing to pursue success without getting attached to it.
I come to the same conclusion as my detractors — life doesn’t need to be taken all that seriously. I just interpret it in a different way.
Why take the notion of simplicity and use it to justify inaction? Why not use it to justify endless action?
Sure, you’re but a normal human being doing what you can to get by who should enjoy the simpler things in life, but you’re also made up of the DNA of a species that went from a single-celled organism floating in the primordial ooze to one that created civilizations, technology, art, and many of the wonders of the world you enjoy today.
Don’t focus on money. Write articles for free. Build a business to give the money away. Pursue your ultimate goals and discard of all the rewards.
Maybe people like me are missing out on the finer simplicities of life, but ask yourself if you’re missing out on the finer simplicities of finding purpose, following through with a calling, and disciplining yourself to become the best possible ‘you’ you can be?
Just know that I’m listening, updating, and trying to provide the best angles possible. While I’ll never engage with ad hominem, insults, and trolls, I’ll always do my best to create the most nuanced and honest insights as I can.
Ayodeji is the Author of Real-Help: An Honest Guide to Self-Improvement. Grab your free checklist here — The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Natural Talents and Strengths.