“How to be Me” – The Universal Un-truthiness of Thought Leadership

Love Yourself

Flickr photo credit: alachia

Frequently, we see influential people we look up to – in business, art, et al – write about their success. They write about how they achieved it; they write about the steps they took; they write, often, about what you can do to emulate this success.

It’s all crap.

Well, it’s not all crap. But the part about how it applies to you? That you must consider carefully.

All any thought leader can do is talk or write from their point of view. They do not share your experiences, your situations, your worries, your challenges. To the extent they do intersect, their advice is sound. Beyond that, it’s a good story that may have some value, but ultimately is the influencer telling you “How to be me because my life is the best-ever/awesomest and here’s how I did it” than it is about you improving your life.

My favorite example is from five years ago, when entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote a thoughtful screed on how entrepreneurs should do their own marketing and publicity, which I dubbed “How to be Jason Calacanis.” The points about being careful what you spend for outside counsel are helpful; but overall, the advice about, essentially, doing it all yourself was only truly helpful to entrepreneurs who had the stomach and personality to be entrepreneur, money man and spokesperson all in one. Most entrepreneurs, frankly could use some sort of outside help.

Zombie Finds Self-Help

Flickr photo credit: e_monk

There are plenty of other examples out there, including recent ones of successful women trying to make their road to the top, and how they stay there, relatable (think Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” among other examples). There is no way I am going to insert myself into those debates, where I have no place – but it appears they do not necessarily resonate with everyone.

Extrapolate this to any book, lecture, or blog post that veers into the “self-help” category. The sharing is wonderful; there is always something to take away from anyone’s story. But these aren’t instruction manuals, and I would be wary against treating them that way.


  1. This has ALWAYS bothered me about ANYONE telling other people how to succeed in almost anything. There is advice that is helpful, but it’s generally a small, finite amount. The rest is, as you say, personal experience, knowledge, skills, timing and opportunity. Most of that just can’t be taught. And you’re right, most of the books written about these topics tend to sound almost fake-humble, “Aw, shucks. Me? I’m just lucky. And I worked really hard. And I have a natural affinity for communications. And math. And accounting. And I can divide by zero.”

    One of the ONLY useful book I’ve read along this vein is Stephen King’s On Writing. He gives legitimate tips and tools but makes it abundantly clear throughout that this is what works FOR HIM. He uses MANY examples or what he thinks works (from different authors), and he even provides a sample manuscript with edits. This is remarkably helpful in showing the process of writing and editing. But, as I said, it’s definitely in the minority.

  2. Doug Haslam

    I think it’s great if there might be lessons to learn from one person’s story- but when someone succeeds (or likes to think they have), and decides their way should be your way- then we’re talking about something closer to a cult. A lot of folks walk that dangerous line. Even more dangerous is if people take the lessons that way, whether intended or not.

  3. That “how it applies to me” part is the part so many people leave out. Everybody’s story is different. The variables everyone is dealing with are different. The only thing you can take away are lessons that perhaps can be applied, in some way, to your business, life, venture, etc. I think it’s as much the people reading this crap and trying to apply a one-size-fits-all mentality to this as it is the people writing it to blame. But then, I’m cranky today.

    Above all, caveat emptor always applies. Always. Always. Always.

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