Success Isn’t Normal

One of the most significant moments of my life was buying a pair of shoes. Not just any shoes, but green Vibram toe shoes. I was the first one on my campus to have a pair. Why is this so significant? Because I’ve learned that success isn’t normal.

For the vast majority of people in the world, major success is not a normal thing. The average person in the US makes 43k, is obese, watches 3 hours of TV and works a 40 hour week. That is average. Nowhere is massive success a normal part of their lives (nor has it been a part of mine).

Wearing Vibrams around campus wasn’t normal. More than buying shoes, the important fact was that for the first time in my life I was willing to do something very different than others in my environment. Just being willing to be different and not do exactly what everyone else was doing, especially in college, has lead to a lot of great things. It’s not normal to read a book a week, to try and teach myself programming, or to cut sugar out of my diet. It’s not normal to start a company in college and be talking regularly with 5-10 successful, smart people. This doesn’t mean that not being normal = success: I doubt if you started drinking your urine it would make you successful (but who knows). I just know that for me, being willing to take chances and do things out of the ordinary has been a series of small steps that have led to a lot of good things in my life. First, I bought the shoes. Then, started a company, gave a pitch to 1000+ people, lived in San Francisco for the summer and have had an incredible stretch of learning experiences ever since.

Most of what I write about on here comes from things I’ve learned from my mentors and others who are far smarter than me. One of them, one of the most successful guys I’ve ever met, has carried around an extra copy of his favorite book since he’s been in college. He does this so he can give it away to someone he meets that he likes. That’s not normal, but neither is being the youngest ever person to occupy the position he’s in.

The same can be said for startup success. Startups that follow normal paths often struggle to get traction (partially related to the law of shitty clickthroughs). Who would have thought that the best way to start an international social network was to first capture Ivy League college students? Do what your competitors are doing, and you are likely to fail. This can also be applied to startup ideas – if you are thinking of starting a company now, good luck doing it in the deal or photosharing spaces. A company like Instagram getting acquired is a sign that a wave has passed, not that a storm is gathering.

Again, I don’t think success is something that intrinsically means all that much. Whether it’s a good or bad thing can be debated (my takes are here are here), but the fact is that most people wish they were massively successful, or even moderately successful, in some way. And the best way I’ve seen successful achieve success is to be different.

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  • Nice piece.
    I’m tired of people talking over this theme, but your approach made it valuable.

    How is the Vibram doing in your feet?

    • Thanks Paulo! Vibrams take a small adjustment period (took me about 2 weeks), but are awesome after you get used to them. I use them primarily for workouts, and wear my Terra Plana sneakers for everyday use – you get less stares that way!