Whenever somebody famous dies or makes the news somehow, my mailbox fills up with emails saying something like “What you can learn from Steve Jobs” or “What marketers can learn from Lady GaGa” or “The Seven Success Secrets of (fill in name)!” Quite often it is strongly implied that if we just copy the five or ten things they did differently, we can be just as successful as they are or were.
Here’s what we CAN’T learn from Steve Jobs, Lady GaGa, and whoever wins the most gold medals at the Olympics: how to be Steve Jobs, Lady GaGal or whoever wins the most gold medals at the Olympics.
Turning into who we are is a complicated process. I don’t know how much Steve Jobs, for instance, was affected by having been adopted, or by his new father's interest in electronics or by growing up in the Bay Area, home of several big electronics companies. One influence he mentioned himself was that taking a calligraphy class introduced him to the physical beauty of words, and that's why the early Macs had fonts that were much nicer than the ones on other computers.
Undoubtedly ten thousand or a hundred thousand other events and circumstances made Steve Jobs who he was.
If we copy a few of his principles, such as seeking simplicity in design, will we have his success? Will we enjoy the same things he did? Will we see the world the same way? Of course not.
The same goes for every other person we are encouraged to emulate. Interestingly, often it seems to be negative events, such as being bullied, or having a serious childhood illness, or losing a parent at an early age, that gave many of them the determination—sometimes to the point of obsession—to be a success. Others with similar histories crumbled under the pressure, or just made other choices about what's important.
Of course it’s worth looking at what methods successful people use or used that we might find useful as well and to be aware of what advice they offered others. That’s at the heart of my book, “Your Creative Writing Masterclass,” which contains the writing advice of classic and modern masters of writing. But it’s a menu, a smorgasboard from which you can pick and choose the elements that make sense to you. It's designed to help you discover your own style, your own voice.
The danger is that the person who reads that Jobs was a bully at work will decide that's the lesson. That worked for Jobs because he had the genius to back it up and other qualities that inclined many people to work for him despite that trait. Without those qualities, the person who apes the bullying will just be a jerk. It's not so prevalent now, but for quite a long time aspiring young writers assumed that drinking a lot was part of becoming a good writer because so many of the most successful ones were alcoholics. Of course for those who came to this conclusion the alcoholism was easier to attain than the success.
I think there’s really only one lesson all these people have for us:
Be yourself. It may or may not work out well, but it’s your best option.
(Another thing that makes sense is to focus on what you really want and use your time more effectively in order to get it. My book, "Use the power of targeted thinking to get more done", can help you do that. You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)