A modern-day fairy tale

​She quit her job, started a lucrative freelancing business, and launched a kickstarter that generated 150k. 

She had more time for reading. More time for learning new things. More time for travelling and meeting people. She went to San Franscisco and toured Silicon Valley. She met founders, VCs and many others in the start-up game.

Then offers started flowing in. Stock packages, competitive salaries, perks. She turned them down. They weren’t on her terms. 

Another offer came in from a company happy to adapt to her demands. She accepted. Her new job gives her flexibility and freedom. She has even more time for friends, for family, for staying healthy and for building her freelancing business. 

It’s about as close as you can get to a modern-day fairytale; individual quits soul-destroying job and finds fulfilment and wealth. 

It’s also the sort of story that we draw the wrong conclusions from.

Wrong Conclusion Number One. Quitting my job will make me happy, give me more energy, and thus allow me to make more money and get smarter.

Wrong Conclusion Number Two. If I go to the centre of my industry, I’m more likely to get a good job and live a good life.

But why are these the wrong conclusions to make? If that’s what you infer from the story, what are you missing?

First, a fundamental rule. I call it the B.R.F.G. approach. You have to be really fucking good at whatever it is you do. The person in the story above didn’t go to Silicon Valley and then hone their craft. They developed their skills before they explored a new domain and stepped out of their bubble.

Second, positioning. Freelancing is as much about marketing as it is the quality of the work you do. It’s about the relationships you have with the people you’ve worked for. It’s about the standing you have in the industry you operate in. 

Especially in the start-up game, talent talks. But it’s not as persuasive as the connections you have. Because those connections open doors and give you a chance to exhibit the value you can produce for others.

Third, preparation. Such a drastic transformation in someone’s life doesn’t happen by accident. It’s usually the consequence of decisions made and actions taken years before. Which means that you have to do the right things, every day, for years before the right things start to happen to you. 

Which links to the next point. In the story above, our protagonist didn’t change much. The habits she developed before she travelled to SF are the ones that gave her an edge. She was already thinking about how to provide value. She was already cultivating relationships and taking a sincere interest in other people’s lives. She developed strong, useful and habits and took them with her into a new arena.

Finally, she didn’t make arbitrary demands. Turning down offers and opportunities isn’t easy. You can only do it when you have rigorous understanding of what you want, what you don’t want, and why. And you don’t develop that understanding on the spot, as the offers roll in. You think about it well in advance. You prepare long before the opportunities arise. To understand what you want, you have to know what you’re not looking for.

Stories like the one above are useful and inspiring. They help us see how others do it. They allow us to learn vicariously what could work and what might not. But these stories are remarkably dangerous. 

In such stories, the room for interpretation is high. Which means we have just as much chance of drawing the wrong conclusions from them as we do the right ones. 

So ask yourself of every inspirational account, “What am I missing in this tale? What is buried within it that everyone else can’t, or won’t see?”