Success Porn and the Scarcity Mindset.

People are attracted to success stories like flies to faeces and, frankly, it’s starting to stink.

I’m talking about the mad proliferation of ‘how I made my fortune’ articles in your feed. How many have you read this week?

You’re not alone. I’ve been sucking this stuff up for years. I’m something of a success porn connoisseur.

Success porn
noun:
Content that emphasises the sensational aspects of success and stimulates a compulsive interest in its audience

The problem with success porn is that while it’s meant to inspire, it ends up doing the opposite. It depends on a handful of individuals doing exceptionally well while the majority enjoy mediocrity. It’s a reflection of capitalism in its rawest form.

Success porn plants a malignant seed inside the mind that asks the question:

Am I good enough to deserve my own success story?

It’s the wrong question to ask. Here’s why:

Abundance vs scarcity mindsets.

People who create content about how well they’re doing are usually coming from a good place.

  • They recognise the position they’ve attained and want to pull others up the ladder behind them.
  • They outline the exact strategies they employed and detail the time it took them to get to where they are today.
  • They set out their daily routines and lay bare their income streams.

This generosity signals that they’re operating from what Steven Covey called an abundance mentality.

“The Abundance Mentality […] flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody”.

The trouble is, obsessing over the success of others reveals that we have a scarcity mindset. It reinforces the idea that there’s only so much success to go around.

While [people with a scarcity mindset] may verbally express happiness for others’ success, inwardly they are eating their hearts out. Their sense of worth comes from being compared, and someone else’s success, to some degree, means their failure. Only so many people can be “A” students; only one person can be “number one”. To “win” simply means to “beat.”

It’s lonely at the top.

When we perceive others as high achievers, we’re signing up to the idea that success is a finite resource. This is the scarcity mindset at play.

We relatively grade ourselves and the content we create. Relative grading is a type of evaluation that marks students according to their position relative to others in their class. High achieving students only exist in relation to mediocre students and low achievers. Success is relative.

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The model of relative success is everywhere. Only around 8% of writers publishing work on Medium earn $100 or more. That’s out of at least 30,000 contributors. Only a fraction of that 8% will be earning a ‘successful living’, where success is defined as earning more than the median wage.

Similarly, 3% of the most popular channels on YouTube get 90% of all views. And only the top 1% of those channels earn the kind of income most YouTubers aspire to.

Deep down, we all understand these numbers. Worse, we accept them. After all, if everyone could reach the heights of the highest achievers, we’d be there already.

Don’t we follow the blueprints laid out for us? Don’t we emulate the best of the best?

The imitation game.

Obsessing over success porn paralyses our potential because we always have the model of relative success running through the back of our minds. We know that excellence is vastly outnumbered by an army of the average. We’re convinced we only have two options. We can either:

  • accept that high achievers are a different breed and give up chasing success, or;
  • attempt to produce the kind of work we think is good enough to spawn success stories of our own

The issue with the first option is that we’ll never allow ourselves to reach our full potential. At best we are half-hearted in what we produce, at worst we give up trying.

The danger in the second option is that what we produce is derivative — we copy the formulas and format of the high achievers we admire in an attempt to steal their lightening.

When we produce work that only duplicates what already exists, we can be nothing but average. I look back on the work where I took that approach and I’m embarrassed. By worrying that I wasn’t good enough, I ensured my work wasn’t good enough.

Redefining success.

So what’s the solution?

It’s simple. We need to stop obsessing over success porn.

Let’s just stop consuming it. People are always going to churn out their success stories on whatever platform they’re on because it’s popular. That doesn’t mean we need to eat it up.

Once we stop reinforcing the idea that success is limited to a handful of special individuals, maybe we can start redefining what it means to be successful. We can start producing content on our own terms, that fit with our own values, and that are coloured with our own unique perspectives.

Maybe we won’t find ourselves earning six-figure sums, but the content we create will have a much better chance of being something better than average.

I know I’ll certainly enjoy making it a hell of a lot more.

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