What No One Talks About, The Downsides of Success

Downsides of Success
Never before have I felt so afraid of hitting Publish. I think some people will find this piece condescending. Others will find it overly dramatic. Maybe a small percentage will even be offended. I don’t know, but I’ve never hidden anything from my readers before. Here it goes.

When you reach a certain point of success at a young age, you realize typical days don’t exist.

It’s a concept most college students and non-entrepreneurial folks can’t visualize. Days are supposed to be structured and identical to the next.

Sure, there are routines and the like, but most days aren’t as similar as you’d imagine. So you start making up generic statements that don’t accurately reflect what you do. When they ask what sort of field you’re in then you just go with whatever umbrella would be easiest to nod your head to.

Screenshot of Message

Yup, something like that…

It gets lonely.

It doesn’t always feel that way, but when it hits. Damn. When you can rarely talk about yourself you sort of go crazy. You avoid it for several reasons. You don’t want anyone to feel bad and compare themselves to you. You also don’t know where the line between boasting and informing is. Sometimes it’s just difficult to explain anyway.

What usually happens if someone asks you, “what did you do today?”, is you wind up speechless because A) you don’t remember since you did so much, B) you know it’d take way too much explaining, or C) you can’t describe what you do without the other person having prior knowledge on the subject.

Telling someone you talked to (insert influential name in your niche here) means nothing to the average person, even though you know just how big of a deal it was. They’re only excited when you explain that the person you just worked with is the CEO of this and that, or makes this much money a year.

People ask, “What do you do?” and you find yourself at a loss for words. You try to avoid using jargon, but some things are almost impossible to explain from scratch. Sure, you may have a solid elevator pitch that works for business people, but you occasionally have to tune it down even further.

Neil Patel says, “I don’t explain at all. I just tell people I work for Microsoft. It is a lie, which isn’t good, but that is easier to say than to explain what I do.”

What does Neil really do? He has co-founded KISSmetrics and CrazyEgg, two companies that generate a ton of annual revenue. He’s an angel investor, an internet marketing guru, an awesome guy who loves helping other people, and about 1,000 other things. How would he explain what he does?

Neil Patel's Clients

Some companies who have used Neil’s CrazyEgg software

When what you do is complicated you know you only have a few seconds before you lose their interest. So you end up being vague or downplaying what you do.

It’s funny because I pride myself in conciseness and my ability to simplify. For whatever reason, I lose this power when I talk about myself.

You start to feel isolated around people who don’t see things the same way you do or understand the lifestyle. People who aren’t as driven and are going for more traditional routes begin to seem like outsiders to you. In reality, you’re the alien looking in. You’re an intruder with all these foreign ideas that threaten what they believe as dogma.

Would I consider myself successful?

Yes, I would. I’m not a millionaire–hell, I haven’t even made very much money since most of the work I focus on I do free–but I consider myself successful because I’m able to do the things I want and live my ideal lifestyle, all without having to worry about bills. I’m fortunate.

Here’s the part where you should be thinking, “Oh, don’t be so dramatic! Most jobs have technicalities that are difficult to explain! I bet you my job can be tough to talk about too, but you don’t see me getting dramatic. Just be glad you have what you do.”

To that, I would smile and nod. I’m ranting more about the lifestyle. Explaining what the job is just a front to avoid having to talk about the behind-the-scenes (which is even more complicated.)

Am I a writer? Sort of… Okay, yeah, but that’s not all.

Is writing part of my typical day? Definitely, but it doesn’t take as much from each day as you’d think. I don’t sit hunched over a keyboard 24/7 typing away. If anything, I sometimes write less than an hour a day. Sometimes the writing isn’t even what you think it is. There’s copywriting, casual blogging, and even pitching emails.

Some days I’m connecting with tons of people. Even that gets complicated.

There’s planting seeds. There’s introducing people who can benefit from one another. There is strategic planning to figure out how to reach out to a busy influencer. Finally, there’s getting back to people who are trying to connect with me. The most fun part is meeting up in person with like-minded people.

Connecting is a full-time job in itself.

It’s how I met people like Joshua Becker for coffee. It’s also how I was able to connect him with two people he needed during our hour and a half together while we were just casually hanging out.

Plus, being a connector is how I managed to get the support of various millionaires. It’s how I became friends with Neil Patel (who I just talked about earlier) and why I am now helping him with his newest project. Okay, I’ll be honest, this paragraph was sort of boastful, but I rarely get the chance to do that.

Then there are days where I’m figuring out how to get conversions up. Psychology. Running tests. Comparing data. Oh man, the list goes on for this whole “numbers” thing.

Just last week I was finally able to sum up what I do in three sentences. It’s still a bit vague and of course requires a lot of expansion, but it gets the job done.

“I find creative ways to jumpstart an online presence, whether it’s for a company or individual. Most of it is through using analytics and tracking what works against things that don’t. A lot of writing.”

For someone who has more background knowledge I’d say, “I’m somewhat of a growth hacker. I use all my knowledge in SEO, CRO, copywriting, human psychology, and overall my own creativity to figure out how to approach expanding an online brand.”

Traffic from search engines

Increase in monthly search engine traffic coming to Self Stairway (started Jan. 23, 2013)

Catch your breath. That was a lengthy one. It’s rare that I would be able to say the second sentence to people my age. Who knows? Maybe it’s because I’m still young. After all, there are a lot of people who I’m able to speak “business-y” to that get it. I am grateful for such access.

Still, the fact that most people around me can’t fathom the idea of a life outside of the college path is discouraging. They can’t imagine waking up every morning excited to work. We think on different planes. They also can’t imagine so much flexibility. Wasn’t work supposed to be dreadful?

Passion becomes an arbitrary term for a lot of people.

They think it’s just bullshit others spout to motivate, like it’s something saved for the Hollywood biopics and entrepreneurs who “got lucky.”

They’d listen to something like Steve Jobs’ commencement address and say “Bravo, he’s rich and successful. That’s the only reason he got away with saying all that nonsense.”

Steve Jobs' Commencement Speech and Quote on Passion

Let me tell you, passion is very real and making it work is viable (assuming your passion isn’t virtually worthless to the world.)

It makes getting up each morning easier and labor becomes something done out of self-enjoyment. I can’t tell you how to find yours, but all I can say is don’t ignore it if you have a gut feeling.

How could I possibly explain any of this to my friends? My family? How could I tell that to anyone outside of the way of thinking? Playing it safe and by a formula is too engrained in the majority’s minds.

I sometimes feel more at home when I’m with my entrepreneurial buddies who share the same pains.

They get it. They look at things from different angles. As a result, they feel the same isolation and frustration.

Last week, I gave a presentation in class on the “The Upper Upper Class.” Most of it was impromptu, but I discussed how life exists outside of college. I showed them how the “New Rich” thought outside the box and how they could use multiple income streams, many of them automated. How they could never accept the social norm.

I wonder how many people left that classroom questioning whether they’re onto something amazing. I wanted them to think and relate on an emotional level. Even though it was impromptu, I was passionate and got really into it. Will they ever know that feeling?

My heart skips a beat when I meet someone my age who shares the same visions as I do, or at least is aware of the possibilities. It’s so rare that it’s becoming painful for someone like me. No one knows it, nor can they see it, but I’m an outsider.

I often try to avoid talking about my accomplishments these days because I’m afraid that people will feel small compared to me.

“What did you do today?” “You know, stuff.”

I don’t want anyone to feel bad. I only offer glimpses when my friends pry and insist. If casually asked, I’ll downplay what I’ve been doing. Hell, I think only a small percent of my close friends know I may be out of the country for almost a year (assuming all goes according to plan.)

I’d say the biggest reason I feel isolated is because of my family. None of them would understand any of this. I tried to make them understand a long time ago, but I’ve given up. Sadly enough, there is only one person in my family who knows a single thing that I am doing.

I’ve tested the waters on occasion and still am not seeing any use.

Yet, I have so much proof. Things I can show them to make them say, “Wow, you’re doing amazing things.” I don’t think I ever will though. I’m waiting until the day they Google my name. At least then, they’ll see a small percentage of what I do. For some reason, I don’t want them to know. Maybe I’m afraid.

Google "Vincent Nguyen"

If I were to tell them my website has been around for half a year and gets thousands of visitors from Google monthly, would they understand the complexity of that? They don’t even know about the whole leaving the country thing.

So every day, I smile and blend in. On occasion I will briefly offer a preview into my life. As for the majority, I’ll answer, “What have you been up to?” with “Nothing much, you?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my life right now. But it’s the little things that catch up to you. Mark Manson describes the downside of living the “digital nomad” lifestyle very well and his article really hit me hard.

Obviously, it is much better than poverty and I hope none of you guys are struggling, but I’m wondering where that happy middle is. Well, I’m just one guy speaking from his perspective.

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

Like I don’t deserve all these great things or that I’m not good at what I do. They call it the impostor syndrome and it’s something a lot of wildly successful entrepreneurs struggle with.

Jason Cohen, founder of WPEngine and Smart Bear, talks about how he uses it constructively. “I doubt my title as ‘expert,’ so every day I read, write, and immerse myself in my field.” That’s what I’m doing every day.

Andy Wibbels sums it up well, “If I don’t feel like a fraud at least once a day then I’m not reaching far enough. If you aren’t scared shitless then why bother?”

Andy Wibbels Fraud Quote

But I can see how this daily fear can crush some people, especially those who haven’t found validation in years. We all need someone to tell us we’re good enough.

Maybe I’m just a whiny and lucky kid who has his head up his rear. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Success doesn’t automatically make you happy. There’s so much more to it.

What do you think? Are the downsides of success real or just imaginary?

Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Flickr by Truthout.org

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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83 responses to What No One Talks About, The Downsides of Success

  1. This is a bombshell of truth and honesty.

    The path we are on is unconventional. It can be easy to forget when we do it for awhile. Even though we are doing things we love, it’s still vastly out of the norm. So naturally we will be isolated from the majority.

    If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me where I go to school or what I do, I’d be rich as hell. It’s a normal question, but we can’t give a normal answer. My generic answer is “Internet Marketing.” Most people have no idea what that is, but the like sound of it.

    But through all the downsides of this journey, I wouldn’t change a thing. We are doing things we enjoy. We are writing our own rules. We are forging our own path. I never want to go back to school or work for an incompetent boss in a corporation. This is the path I chose and I’ll accept the good and the bad to the fullest.

    Btw – When you’re afraid to hit the “publish” button, that’s a sure sign the post is going to be amazing. 🙂

    • Thanks, Kevin! That’s always what I aim for. 🙂

      “Internet Marketing” was what I used to default onto too. I may start saying that on occasion again. It’s short, it piques interest, and it’s largely accurate!

      Yup, definitely agree with that last statement. I was afraid but I knew it’s something I want out in the wild. Who knows what will happen?

  2. Have you also noticed how, when you do talk about what you do, and you can’t help the passion in your voice, that other people act kinda ‘blazah’ about it …? Or they think you’re kinda nuts and there’s no way you’ll ever make a ‘real job’ outta what you’re doing … ? I also find talking with some adults in the professional/corporate world (typically men) look ‘down’ on me like Im a bit of a joke …. I’ve learned to ignore it, but it didn’t help with confidence.

    Sometimes the “outlier” life comes with all this negative energy from those who don’t understand why we want to do things differently …

    But I always remember that there will always be those who don’t understand, and that’s fine. They can live the way they want, and I will live the way I want. 🙂

    • If you find that happening frequently then I would start using your age as leverage. Start advertising yourself as a young person who has tons of experience and skills under her belt. It seems like people are more impressed that someone less than 25 did this and that than if a 52 year old did the same.

  3. I sometimes feel like a fraud and I’m not even successful yet… probably not a great sign, haha. No but in all seriousness, I get what you’re saying. And I don’t think you even have to be successful to get to that point. If you pursue an obscure career that few of the people you know can relate to, then it can be hard to have fulfilling conversations on the topic. Even though you want to explain, trying to would most likely only further expand the gap between you.

    This is also part of the reason why I have found myself incredibly unsocial lately… I have no idea where I could find like-minded people, especially in a small city in Norway. But then again, having a social life has many benefits… haha, I should probably just “get out there” again.

    • Start exploring some hobbies. Meetup.com exists and hopefully you have more events going on your area than mine does. In California, I took tango classes (once,) improv, and started playing disc golf. I wouldn’t say I made any new close friends, but I met interesting people. If you put yourself out there consistently and always try new venues then you are bound to make new friends, learn a few things, and just overall have a great time.

  4. Great post Vincent. Thanks for your transparency. I don’t pretend to have some amazing entrepreneurial successes, although I’ve tried some things and had minimal successes, including growing a small audience at my blog. Honestly, I don’t talk about my blog and other endeavors enough, and I gather that’s true of you as well. It’s likely because we know that most people won’t get it.

    Nonetheless, it can be a lonely road at times. That’s why I’ve made it a point to meet some online friends offline. Heck, I even drove to Iowa for a few days this summer to hang out with one of my accountability partners and aspiring entrepreneurs. It was a quite a week discussing ideas with someone who gets it. So refreshing. I would encourage people to meet up with other like-minded people, even if you have to travel.

    By the way, it’s really great that you met Joshua Becker. I have read his blog for a while.

    • Yeah, I rarely talk about my blog. Truthfully, it’s become so normal to me that I don’t really think about it or find it something I need to bring up. Perhaps I’m a bit ashamed? I don’t know.

      That’s exactly why I love connecting with people both in and outside my niche. People who are drive and understand the unconventional. They offer insight that I rarely am able to get anywhere else.

      Joshua was very down to earth and we had a great time. It was really just a casual meeting where we hung out and talked about whatever. It’s just coincidence that I happened to have known the exact people he needed. 🙂

  5. Vincent! Quality stuff here. When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I teach the guitar. It omits much of what I do and generalizes my specialty with the classical guitar. I don’t ever get into the blogging thing.

    But I do not feel bad about saying it. I feel like it saves me a lot of time and effort and saves the questioner a lot of detail that will not improve their life. I have no qualms with omitting info to save me especially or in some cases someone else a bit of valuable time.

    I rely heavily on a great marriage and the online community for camaraderie and neither has let me down. Have a blitz of a day!

  6. Man! It’s like you reached right into my head and pulled this article out of it. I think about stuff like this EVERY DAY.

    Right now I’m in my apartment, working on my site while all my friends are at class or part-time jobs. It’s been like this for quite a while, and like you, I definitely feel alienated at times. I don’t understand why the people around me don’t think about things the way I do; why they don’t try to hack life and maximize everything.

    I feel incredibly lucky to have a single person in my close, local circle of friends who thinks the way I do. He’s running his own blog, learning all the aspects of it, and teaching himself five languages. It’s really awesome to live with someone that motivated.

    But other than him, I often don’t get to hang out with people my age who share my mindset. That’s why I was so excited when I stumbled across your blog and found out you’re still in college. You’re doing amazing work here, dude.

    • Haha! That’s the feeling of someone relating! I sometimes work out of a collaborative workspace we have over here called Gangplank. A few buddies of mine were hanging out after hours and I mentioned that I was going to write on this topic. They told me they have these thoughts too. I guess you just have to be good at ignoring it.

      Right? I know that frustration. Why doesn’t anyone else plan for efficiency?!

      Like you, I have one person in my close-knit group that thinks similarly to me. He’s actually the main inspiration for a lot of my earlier work.

      Looking forward to our interview tomorrow, Thomas!

  7. Hey Vincent, You’ve joined the club of the professional entreprenuers. Where what you do and how you do it is a mystery to most. Yet, you are harbinger to the future of work, but you joined early! There are no impostor’s here just one’s ahead of the crowd. Enjoy it all, have fun with it and go wild in using your imagination for everything. Leader of a pack!!!

    • Thanks, Laura! I’m not sure if I’d classify myself as an entrepreneur, but maybe I am. 🙂 I definitely think like one and have done things people say are entrepreneurial.

      I’m doing my best!

  8. I’m so happy for you, Vincent…! You do what you love, and love what you do! Just enjoy it!
    Great post!

  9. Vincent, Thanks for this post. Really hit the nail on the head. I think when you’re forging your own path it can be really hard to know when you’ve been successful. Big moments come and they feel like success, but then . . . there’s no real life recognition. Sure, other big moments can be life changing and even your mom will know about it, but I find that success in the cyber world feels a bit different since I’m the one setting all the benchmarks, doing all the celebrating, and eating all the cake! 😉

    But here’s the thing, if we feel like frauds, if no one (including our mothers) know what we really do, if we can’t explain it at a dinner party before the pizza gets cold, it doesn’t matter. I’m a firm believer that the world really needs us to do what we love. We love it for a reason, and no matter how fearful we are that shining our own lights will dim the lights of others, we have to remember it doesn’t work that way. Those people have something they need to look at. Their feeling is the cue they’re not living up to their own potential. And you being the ambassador of that knowledge is a good thing.

    So go ahead! Be successful right in my face! Because it challenges me to be a better version of myself!

    Thanks for that, Vincent!

  10. Vince, good read. Makes me feel not so alone that sometimes I feel so isolated from the normal people around me.

    I love the bit about generic vague answers. Someone asks me what I do I’ll usually say: web dev, web design, or video animation. But that’s because I don’t want to bore them with things they wouldn’t care to hear about or comprehend.

    There have been multiple times I’ll run into an old friend. They’ll say, “what are you doing these days?” “oh just ‘something generic'” They’ll say, “oh I want to do something like that one day, after I go to school for it”

    I’ve learned to just let them believe that. No use in telling them that school is completely irrelevant to success. Most people just aren’t self driven enough to comprehend it.

    All in all, it’s all worth it. I’d rather live a silent life of success. It resonated with me. Thanks.

    • That reminds me of a funny story. Last month I was playing tennis with a buddy of mine who has an idea of what I do. Maybe a small percentage, but much more than most.

      I was telling my buddy about this huge opportunity I was going for. Five minutes later, three friends of ours who we haven’t seen in a few years came and we caught up with them. I asked him what he’s been up to and he told me “Same old, same old.” He asked me what I’ve been up to and I repeated the exact same thing. My buddy started cracking up because he knows there’s so much I could say, but I decide to nonchalantly make it appear like nothing’s changed.

      I’m so used to “acting” like I’ve got nothing going on. It’s odd.

      As for the waiting until graduation response, I actually wrote a guest post on that topic for UnCollege last week: http://www.uncollege.org/forced-to-attend-college-college-dont-wait-until-graduation-to-start-living/

      I always keep my mouth shut too. It’s nearly impossible to change people’s opinion on that sort of thing.

      • I wouldn’t call myself successful yet, but even without the success, I tend to also keep quiet about what I am doing around others.

        For me, it is because most people don’t relate well. My job isn’t simple to describe anymore. I can’t just say I am a software engineer at big co. I now do back-end dev, front-end dev, design, social media, blogging, some marketing, networking, etc. I’m sure it is the same with you. There are so many things to describe that it just becomes easier to avoid talking about it if you don’t expect the other party to relate.

        • Same feelings here, Alex. When it gets difficult to summarize what you do in a few words you realize that most people won’t want to hear anything more than that. The first few times you try, but you gauge the other person and realize it’s not going to work. Then comes the fallback to a generic phrase that isn’t accurate.

  11. Awesome post Vincent, and thanks for bringing up this conversation to the web.

    To be clear, a lot of this depends on a person’s definition of success, as well as the type of success you are talking about. A student who is top of the class with a 4.0 and gets a full-ride to Harvard could be considered successful, but probably does not experience the downsides you write about here.

    I think this post is really about the people who are trekking off the beaten path. I know because I’m currently doing it! It is one thing to go and succeed in university. It is fairly well accepted. It is a whole different thing to off the beaten path and pursue your entrepreneurial ambitions. This is where it can get really lonely and difficult, even without the success! I can only imagine how strange and difficult it be with a modicum of success.

    Anyways, kudos to you. Thanks for sharing, and I hope for your continued success. If there is some way I can help you out, just let me know 🙂

    P.S. The topic of loneliness on the entrepreneurial journey is important and something I believe needs to be shared more. I tweet and write about it whenever I can, and recently helped out with this BI article you might also find to ring true with your experiences: http://www.businessinsider.com/loneliness-and-startups-2013-7

    • Definitely. Our definitions vary so wildly. I defined it early on in the article, “I consider myself successful because I’m able to do the things I want and live my ideal lifestyle, all without having to worry about bills.” That’s my personal success.

      I checked out the BI article yesterday. I really liked it! Good to know I’m not the only one going through these strange, strange feelings.

  12. Actually, Vincent, I read other (popular) bloggers’ posts on this same topic you just wrote. Thus, you’re in gooooooooooooood company. 🙂

    Still, it doesn’t hurt to read something like this. Obviously some people won’t like it, while others may learn a thing or two from it. Thanks for writing about it as well.

    And if this somehow helps: if someone asks what you do, tell them something like, “I do (action) that provides value to (client, prospect, etc.).” I use that a few times, and it either shuts them up (he he) or intrigues them enough to ask me more.

    • Haha I’d appreciate it if you can link them if you find them. I personally haven’t seen any aside from the BusinessInsider article Alex linked here yesterday.

      Good format. I adopted a similar one but I think yours works better. It’s more concise and it answers all the big questions. 🙂

  13. If the people you talk to are not into blogging or know the kind of people you know (i.e Neil Patel), then it is no surprise that they will stare blankly at you when you talk of your endeavours.

    There is no clear definition for what you do. And that’s where the beauty of it is. It is YOURS to define. Or not define. No pressure, right?

    You have a great community here that understands you, Vincent! Isn’t that the upside of success?

    • You’re right! I am really grateful for everything that has been going on, especially this community. Knowing there are people who get it make it a labor of love (cliche and cheesy!)

      The upsides by far outweigh the downsides, there’s no mistaking that. 🙂

  14. “You do something with computers right?” lol I get asked this all the time by friends and family over the past nearly 4 years of building my business (website income, software, etc etc) and I’ve given up explaining.

    I can never say something like, “I’m building an online business on my own terms, on track this year to make 5x what I made at my last day job as a top sales rep in a software company and I can do my work from anywhere in the world”

    Ultimately this is why I go to various marketing conferences every year. It’s the only way to connect with and build friendships with people that are doing similar things and it’s easy to relate to them (if only on a professional level)

    Keep at it Vincent. The downsides of success definitely do not outweigh the upsides.

    • Haha, don’t you just hate that? Computers…? Pfft… It’s as if I’m sitting in a basement writing code or something! Completely different. 🙂

      I haven’t been to many official conferences. The ones I’ve been to have been very local, but going to more is definitely on my list. I’m looking to do more speaking so they’ll be good conference-type stuff. That’s where the like-minded people lie, so there I will go!

  15. You just cluster bombed my brain with a salvo of awesomeness and honesty. I can tell how much Tim Ferriss you read when you mention the New Rich and how hard it is to describe what you do!

    Just start doing what he did: “I’m a drug dealer!”. Awesome writing, as usual.

    • Actually, I don’t read Tim Ferriss all too much. I have his Four Hour Workweek on my drawer, but I haven’t touched it in months and I only read through 1/4 of it.

      I think New Rich is a common buzzword nowadays. 🙂

      Ha, I should start using that drug deal line. It will lighten the mood, get a laugh, and the topic will move on.

  16. Hi Vincent. I love the honesty in this post. I think it’s normal to feel like a fraud, and I do not tell everyone that I blog or that I’ve written a book. Many people who have known me for many years don’t know I’ve written a book or have a blog. I don’t really feel that I’ve done a good job explaining it, but it’s because people have their own stuff. They have (hopefully) their own things they are doing.

    When you do connect with like-minded people, it’s like dancing about on the clouds, isn’t it? It’s like Yes! Yes! Yes! So glad you’ve been able to make those connections. I’ll give up quantity for quality any day!

    • Oh yeah, I had that cloud feeling twice today! Went on Thomas Frank’s podcast for an interview and it was the first time he and I talked together. It was great having someone around my age talking about the things we did!

  17. Nice honesty! I can relate with this. I just tell people, “I’m a writer,” and so they assume that I’m a poor dreamer, which is somewhat true at this point, as I’m not making a great deal of money from my endeavors. But like you, I’m building something that will last and helping people change their lives in the process.

    Who else in the traditional job world gets messages like this?

    “I started One-Push-Up challenge about 2 months ago following the steps. It was a while that I didn’t do regular exercise. Now I’m doing 125 situps and 58 push ups daily, reaching my goal by end of August which is 140 situps and 70 push ups daily.”

    It just feels better to make a difference than to be a cog in the system. Even if I have to shoestring my finances together and live in a shed, I want to make this work. Based on how fast my blog has been growing lately (+1k subscribers in the last two months), I think it will work.

    Vincent, I hope you get that apprenticeship! That would be an incredible experience. That’s a nice house they’ve got too. 🙂


    • Hm, I’ve never thought about telling anyone I’m a writer. Perhaps that’s the simplest explanation because it does tie into everything I do. Maybe I should start doing that even if it leads to misconceptions. Writing is definitely my favorite part about what I do!

      Thanks, Stephen! Congrats on all the successes you’ve been having with your website!

  18. Your pitch to people with more background knowledge actually sounds clearer to me than the more vague one, ha. I only know a gist of your list from my little bout with hacking, but online branding sounds more powerful than building presence.

    I get your isolation. It takes a while for anyone to wrap their mind around a framework, which develop in the first place for people who are already deeply entrenched to talk quickly about big concepts. I’m not a go-getter entrepreneur type, but I understand spontaneity. My proudest achievements were opportunities I noticed and seized along the way. It was necessary for me to choose a path. I like some structure, but I absolutely expect to detour towards something better than my initial expectations. It’s not always linear, and I think that’s what makes it so hard for people to relate to us. People can understate the rest of their person beyond their career path. When I ask what people are doing, I want to know what pays the rent, but I also want to know what keeps them feeling alive. I no longer expect happiness and money to come from the same place, although that would be nice.

    Your feeling like a fraud reminds me of a book: “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be,” by Paul Arden. It’s a super fast read because it’s short with unconventional formatting and pictures. I recommend it because he offers his wisdom why the most successful people were rarely the most clever in school, how he got good at selling things, and how we are all trying to sell ourselves in every activity. Some of your brightest classmates will keep living up to standard and become lawyers or engineers, exceptional but common. People who don’t even consider entrepreneurship, greatness or new solutions to new problems, will settle for proving how good they are at doing things that have already been done. I think it will fit your harsh, dark train of thought going on right now, ha.

    • Haha that means you’re exactly the type of person I would have said that to. 🙂

      “My proudest achievements were opportunities I noticed and seized along the way.” Right there. You’re different than most people just from that. A lot of people see an opportunity and start overthinking and they make up excuses as to why that door can’t be opened. I think happiness and money can co-exist, but unfortunately it’s common to believe money = happiness.

      I’ll try to make time to check out that book. Thanks, Tisha! I haven’t been reading books very often lately.

      My thoughts have been rather dark lately, haven’t they? 😛 I’ve always thought about these things but rarely allowed myself to express these thoughts. I figured they didn’t provide value. I realized that they have a lot to offer even if sometimes I don’t write out an explicit “Here’s what you can do!” Plus, they’re more enjoyable to write and I think they add a lot more than a bulletpoint or a numbered list. 🙂

  19. There is definitely an inverse relationship between time and success. The more connected and successful you are the more you will want to do to maintain the level of success and even expand on it.

    I agree connecting is a full-time job.

    • Hey, Davis. So Scott did agree to do the video but I had already turned it in by the time we re-connected on the logistics. It’s okay though because my chances are looking preeeetty good! Scott is wishing me the best of luck though! 🙂

      Thanks for connecting us!

  20. Great Article Vincent,

    A friend of mine who lives in a tiny town in Oklahoma has been writing smartphone apps for years. For all of the reasons you state in your article, he tells few people what he does. Several years ago, after he had lived in the tiny town for about 6 years, he got a birthday card from a few of his neighbors. They wrote “Happy Birthday to our neighbor who we all like… even though none of us know what he does.” He found it easier to just tell people that he “works with computers” than to explain the dozens of tasks involved. He will enjoy reading your article.

    • Thanks, Bob! It was great having lunch with you today.

      I can totally see that card going to someone like me too! It’s mysterious and sort of funny in a way.

      Make sure you tell him to let me know what he thinks in the comment section. 🙂

  21. I think a lot of what you talk about here comes down to the fact that work has really changed. It isn’t something our parents would really recognize anymore. That is scary to a lot of folks, but represents opportunity to folks like you and I.

    • Yes, the perception of what work means has shifted quite a bit. No longer is it grueling work in the sun. It’s so varied and can look like simple internet surfing even if it’s the most complicated thing ever. Strange paradigm shifts.

  22. Amazing Post Vincent. There is so much truth in feeling like fraud. The problem with me is when I find people who do understand my ideas & thoughts – It gets exciting. And I do form a bound. Slowly, those friends start looking upto me for harboring such creative & eccentric ideas. And each time this happens – I feel like a fraud to the core. Because I am only talking about my thoughts & passion so passionately.
    Because of the system in my country & the promises I have placed myself into – I rarely take initiative on such ideas. If it’s possible to do it online, I do it. But i am still searching openings to initiate my action in the real world. Till then, I know, I will keep feeling like a Fraud.

    • Are you absolutely sure these things are realistic barriers that are stopping you? I know when I’m deathly afraid I start making excuses that seem like there really is no way, but really it’s just my mind scaring me.

  23. Hi Vincent. Thank you for sharing. I TOTALLY get this. I often feel the same way and beat myself up telling myself that I’m arrogant (sometimes fueled by some lousy feedback from my environment). It’s also definitely hard to define in a casual manner what exactly it is that you do on a day to day basis because, as you said, you do quite a lot and some prior knowledge is needed on the matter. Subsequently I feel that when I try to explain the context of what I do, I come across as an educator which in turn might not be appropriate for every casual encounter. So, like you, I simplify matters, stripping away much of the goodness in the process. It’s a draining and lonely feeling indeed…

    However, the solution I have found thus far, is, as always, your own responsibility. After some personal development endeavors which made me have a serious look inside, I learned that the more you are invested in your identity – “I am an entrepreneur, there are not”, “My path is different, they will never truly get me”, “I feel successful, they feel small around me”, “They choose career safety, I choose freedom” – and the more you come to view this particular situation as me vs. them, the more painful this aspect of your life, and your life in general will be. And although all your feelings (and mine) and very real, ultimately they do not matter in the greater scheme of things.

    This can be a very painful realization at first because if you are not your identity, then who are you? I have invested so much time, energy, skills, etc in creating and upholding my identity and spend so much time frustrating about the fact that “people don’t get me”. Has it all been in vain?! To some extent, yes it has. But it was necessary because as we come full circle, this is a glorious realization to have when you are still young/our age (im a few years older then you) because many people do not have this realization ever and spent their entire lives in the state of duality (me vs. them). After which you have some additional fuel yet again for you the feel misunderstood, if you’re not careful :-).

    You’ve probably read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power Of Now? If not, have a crack at it because it is a great book on identity, the mind and duality and all the trouble we get into because of those. (They are also very helpful but they need to be utilized the right way :-))

    I write this fully aware that every day I myself step into the duality trap over and over again, but that is ok :-).

    • Feeling like you’re lecturing at the very beginning of a conversation is usually odd. It only works if much further on in the discussion. I personally am more inclined to go into detail if they ask what I do when we’ve already been talking for a few minutes. If it’s been less than a couple then you can’t shake the feeling that you wouldn’t be able to explain.

      Wow, that’s some great insight! I had a similar thought yesterday. How lucky am I to be able to see things and think differently from almost everyone else? It’s not just blindly following a set of rules that is supposed to somehow make you “happy?” Even if the “road less taken” is something that the majority may never understand, does it make my efforts any less amazing?

      I haven’t read that book yet. I read most of Tolle’s A New Earth, but never actually finished the whole book. Not sure why I didn’t finish it haha!

  24. Vincent,

    I really enjoyed this post. I think these feelings are not just true of being successful, they are more about being different. Your success makes you different from people who haven’t experienced it and because of that, it makes them feel vulnerable and question their own decisions. It makes them wonder what they are doing wrong.

    In the same way, when you choose to live your life differently, you are challenging another person’s way of life. When I tell people that I’m traveling full time and writing, they pass judgment. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t always like bringing it up. But I do because it challenges people and makes them think.

    What people forget in both cases are the sacrifices that have to be made. To be successful, you have to spend your free time writing and working on your blog. I have sacrificed many material pleasures and career security to make my dreams happen.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks for sharing.

    • Right, it’s not exclusive to success, but it’s an example I wanted to use to paint a picture. 🙂

      Judgment is impossible to avoid and I try to avoid allowing people to feel bad by comparing themselves to my accomplishments. You know, it sucks because sometimes I would like to talk more about what I do, but I just can’t. Some of the judgment is actually good, like admiration. Still, I play it on the safe side.

  25. Karen Martinez P. September 11, 2013 at 10:07 am

    Hi Vincent!

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks (or months?) now, but I have never commented. I like the content, by the way!

    I find myself in the same position, sometimes people believe you should have a 9-to-5 job, and that’s it. They don’t understand a different lifestyle, a lifestyle you’re proud of.

    I agree with you, it’s hard to meet someone our age with the same vision, I guess it’s refreshing to read someone who shares it.

  26. Vincent, what you’ve described is definitely, without-a-doubt, 100% real.

    I know many people who downplay what they do for the precise reasons you’ve described. Heck, I even find myself downplaying what I do now more and more, especially around people whom I don’t know very well. It’s just easier that way.

    Like you’ve said, what we do sometimes is so unconventional from the “normal” that the average person just wouldn’t get it. The thing is, despite all the things/projects/difference we’re making, we’re not the CEO of such and such or made a million dollars overnight. Hence, there’s no tangible measure of success that conventional people can relate to.

    But those of us who travel on your path gets it. To various degrees, we live what you live through every day. But if this is the downside to being successful and unconventional, then I’m game.

    After all, there’s no going back to the conventional life for those of us who have been to the other side. 🙂

    • “Hence, there’s no tangible measure of success that conventional people can relate to.” This thought recently crossed my mind. Success is seen as creating a mega-corporation that employs thousands and makes huge ripples across the world. That’s not the case for a lot of us and often it’s not our goal.

      Our successes are smaller on scale, but they’re actually HUGE. Rarely do people get it though. If you’re not Steve Jobs, you’re not getting anywhere. That’s the sort of mentality we’re fighting against. Oh well!

  27. I usually tell new people I blog. Then they will ask follow up questions, usually getting to the point of money. When I begin to tell them that money can be made, their ears perk up and they want to know the “secret”. As much as I try to tell them that it’s not as easy as it sounds, it’s actually a lot of hard work, they still start brainstorming blog ideas on the spot.

    I usually fall in to the “same old, same old” trap with my friends since none of them understand what it is I do.

    • That’s another thing that bothers me. I understand that money is a great motivator and all, but I don’t do this for money. I know that if I tell them that they would think I’m crazy and push “Why not?!” There’s definitely a lot of money in it, but I’d rather do it because I love it. 🙂

      It’s awesome to see people brainstorming for ideas though. Maybe you’ll inspire a famous future blogger one of these days!

  28. I must say that I do and don’t relate here.

    I understand how time consuming making connections is. That is one reason I have not grown my own blog as quickly as I’d like. I have other time commitments.

    I am very productive and I also understand how it can become awkward to tell others what you did in a day. They begin to feel inferior and that’s not how I want them to feel.

    I do not feel like a fraud. In fact, at the risk of sounding cocky and judgmental, I feel I am more genuine than many of the more well-known bloggers. I’m a poet, a musician, an artist. I write stories from the heart. Many big name bloggers feel more like salesmen to me. Some of their writing is good, but some of it seems written only to promote themselves and get people to join their programs so that they can profit financially. To me, that feels fraudulent.

    And although I would like to profit from my own work, I refuse to be a salesman. I want to share the power of writing as a healing tool. I would rather be a great “undiscovered” writer that is doing it for the love of the craft, than a writer who sells out to the masses, offering products that are designed to benefit me financially. I am the real deal.

    • Connections don’t always have to be a full-time job. Sometimes it just comes passively when you’re doing amazing things. For example, your writing has created a community and built friendships, all connections. 🙂

      Great thoughts, Dan. I’m a big believer in creating trust through giving honest aid as well.

  29. This was such a good piece of writing, I just sent you $5 for coffee Vincent.

    Us internet marketing people live in such a different world to others that it becomes hard for other people to relate to us. Especially people on the school -> college/university -> corporate job -> retirement path of life.

    It’s like someone from the Middle Ages discovering a smartphone. They don’t understand it.

    Like you say, that often leads to isolation.

    But I think the answer lies in doing more in-person-non-professional activities. What do you think?

    • Thanks a ton, Alex! I got your email and shot you a reply about your idea. 🙂

      Oh definitely! Not being able to talk about what I do is by no means depressing because there are other things going on. It’s not something that kills a conversation nor does it ever slow one down. The effects are only visible to me because it’s something that I’m aware of so it’s pretty easy to transition the conversation onto another topic.

      That’s something else I should mention, don’t get married to your work for too long. You need a fine balance between professional and personal where you are still enjoying others’ company as well as your hobbies. Sometimes I forget to balance it and I find myself working a lot more than I should, even if I love it to death.

  30. I don’t understand why some of you are making such a big deal out of people not understanding what you do. In my life, I’ve met very few people who shared my enthusiasm for mathematics, not a single one who was familiar with the name of the profession I’d like to enter, and I’m totally fine with that. If you do something most people don’t, you almost by default differentiate yourself from the majority. Why expect they will relate to your experience? Do you need this to be able to have a good conversation/a time with them?

    • Like I was telling Alex above, it’s a conversation point but it’s not make or break when it comes to a conversation. The reason is because we seek empathy and connection on a frequent basis. When you’re incredibly passionate and driven about something but you’re unable to talk about it, you start wishing you could and you could feel disconnected from everyone else.

  31. Incredible post. I haven’t seen anyone else approach this topic, but you are spot on for how I feel about it. I do work a full time job while I’m building my blog out, and like clockwork every Monday morning when folks are talking about what they did over the weekend, I find I always comment “Same ol”. They would have no idea why I would spend 15-20 hours of my weekend working on a blog, they wouldn’t understand how exciting it was that my subscriber list doubled. Even the ones who know what I am doing still give me the courtesy “That’s awesome”, but still have no idea what I’m talking about.

    It’s definitely isolating. You can’t really talk about this thing you are so passionate about with your family and friends because they won’t get it.

    It’s tough. It sometimes makes me feel like I’m hiding it from them, because I did so much more than the “Same ol”

    Off to do the “Same ol” 🙂


    • You’re in good company here. Take a look at the comment section and you see people who are going through the exact same things as you. We know how exciting doubling your email list is! That’s awesome, btw. 🙂

      In a way, I’m worried that my family will find out all the cool stuff I’m doing. It feels sort of neat having these secrets, even if it sucks at times. I don’t know, life’s strange. We don’t always need others to understand why we pour entire days into a blog!

  32. Vincent,

    Making a living for a few years on a couple of blogs and eBooks, I would say I am “fairly” successful -though perhaps not to the level of Niel Patel.

    One downside of success I get a lot is the perception that I am not doing anything, like I am cloistered in my room playing video games rather than working.

    My Girlfriend and friends think since I work at home during the day, then I am always “free” rather than doing meetings, interviews, working on blog posts, working on eBooks, exchanging emails or even something as simple as blog commenting.

    As downsides go, it is a small one, but work is work, no matter where or when it is done.


    • Hi Steve,

      I share the same feelings! A lot of my family assume I’m just messing around since a lot of my work is online. It’s sort of discouraging, but I try not to let it get to me.

      Hope you hold up well too. 🙂

  33. VIncent, first of all…LOL! at when people ask you what you did today and you say you don’t remember because you did so much. I LOL because I can relate. I’m not a blogger or “Internet Marketer” like you (though I’m a Social Entrepreneur, Personal Stylist, and Author) and I do appreciate your blog and people that do “Internet Marketing” so much!

    I love how you explain connecting 🙂

    I used to think I was an outsider, too. When I first became entrepreneurial, and almost all of my associations weren’t. Then I discovered and understood the Law of Association by John C Maxwell and am constantly applying it.

    Oh! And for summing up what you do, one of the nuggets I got from Janice Jordan’s It’s More Than Wine & Meatballs is to use only 7 words, so people can remember it and repeat easily to their friends. Of course there’s a more lengthy intro to use after that, like your elevator pitch.

    About not talking to certain people about your entrepreneurial efforts, I feel I don’t talk details as well. I just (usually) give an overview and downplay what I’m doing. I wonder when they ask me are they asking because it’s polite and to show they care, and/or are they asking to become inspired?

    LOL! at your quote some people say: “Work wasn’t supposed to be dreadful?” I’m realizing that doing me and becoming successful is the best thing I can do for others, because I’m leading by example, and whether or not they choose to follow is their choice. Law of Attraction will work it all out 🙂

    That Steve Jobs quote is one of my favorite out of everything I’ve read so far- books & quotes- and I’ve read a lot. Thanks for sharing it!


    • Ooh, I’m going to have to steal that 7-words technique!

      Yup, downplaying is part of my daily routine (which isn’t a good thing!) It’s difficult to convey just how excited we are without being too full of ourselves or boring the other person! It’s all too subjective!

      Thanks for stopping by, Kacie! 🙂

      • For sure! Steal it and share it, or “rob & duplicate” 🙂

        I’m learning how you talk about your business varies depending on the person you’re talking with.

        You’re welcome Vincent, and thanks for having a blog that gives such value!

  34. Hey Vincent ! I recently stumbled upon your blog and I have to say you helped more than you could imagine. I have been struggling and fighting against my parents about my choice to pursue my dreams in owning my own business vs finishing my year up at UCR. I know how you feel about trying to explain to your friends and family what you do, only to receive cold comments and negative opinions. But I’ve learned “support” is a luxury especially when you’re going against the grain. I hope only the best for you ! I see you going places people only dream of.

    • Hi, Genevieve!

      Always glad to know I’m making a difference in someone’s life. How long do you have at UCR left? Maybe you can finish it up, get that degree, and then go off to do your own thing afterwards. 🙂 Not ideal… But it’s one option!

  35. Hi Vincent,
    I just found your blog and have been perusing, but this article really spoke to me. I am about your age and just started college as a classical vocal performance major. As a musician I can relate to most of the points you raised, especially the isolation. Though I go to large state school I take music classes almost exclusively. This means that almost all of my friends are in my vocal niche and since my time is spent wholeheartedly on music I rarely meet other people.
    Doubt and not considering your self successful is also something with which I am intimately familiar. This is heightened by the fact that few consider my degree or career path to be worth while or serious. Explaining to people that while I do not spend time learning equations or writing papers I am still hard at work is difficult. Singing is such an independent activity that explaining what I do or any breakthroughs is almost impossible to anyone not familiar with music or singing.
    “Connecting is a full time job”
    Hear Hear! This is a surprise to lots (myself included). So much of being a performer is making sure that you are making connections and presenting your best self. This is so hard to quantify or explain (in fact we have master classes and guests lectures that discuss this subject alone) but so important to being able to get where you want to go. I was so intimidated by this prospect upon fist hearing about it. Thank you so much for writing such a well thought out and honest article.

    • Hi, Alice! Welcome to Self Stairway and I’m glad you got here.

      I do know that art gets a lot of criticism because it’s almost cliche to hear about how hard it is to make a living. It’s a real shame that you’re not being taken seriously.

      Hang in there though. You sound like you know what you’re doing and that you won’t have trouble at all. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks. Their lack of support makes it harder, but you don’t have to have it to be amazing. 🙂

  36. Hi Vincent,

    I enjoyed your post and have a few thoughts and questions. What we share with other people usually has something to do with how we want our relationship to go. So we share activities, hobbies, interests, movies, books with people we think or hope would share the interest. Maybe we might makes plans with them based on our shared interest.

    Almost any job has a specialized vocabulary and skill set. We share only short and broad sweeping statements about our work unless we are with co-workers who are involved or unless we are being interviewed by the press or a blogger, etc.

    Rarely does anyone expect or want a blow by blow description of our work day. They are more likely to want to find some common ground to enjoy the moment with us.

    So my questions are around your intention. What do you want from the people you are with? It sounds a bit like you want everyone to be an informed colleague. What do you want from family? from friends? from a new person you meet at a party or the gym?

    I also wonder, given your detailed description of what you do, if you are receptive to hearing and understanding such detail coming from another person who may or may not be in your field.

    There are so many ways to experience life and work in this world, Vincent. I hope you find a way to enjoy your day and the people in your life.

    • Great questions, Joanna. They’re making me think a lot.

      Your first question is a hard one to answer because I really don’t know. I think I expect too much from everyone and I try to remind myself not to because it’s unhealthy and impossible. Wish I could answer this one better because that’s a good thing to know.

      I actually do enjoy hearing about what others do because it intrigues me even if it’s unrelated to what I do. It’s interesting to see how excited people get explaining what they do (assuming they’re passionate about it.) Most of us enjoy talking about ourselves after all.

      I definitely am enjoying my life and wish this post didn’t come off so gloom. I may have written it while my mind was in a bit of a dark place. Noting to myself that I should be wary of that in the future.

      I’ve got to thank you again for such a thought-provoking comment and for taking the time to read and engage. 🙂

  37. Wow.

    It’s interesting to see that there are possible downsides of standing on the side with the greener grass. This reminds me of Morty Lefkoe saying that there is no disadvantage or advantage in life and there are only events.

    Successful or ‘failure’ – there are implications whenever we achieve the right to have one of the labels.

    • Donald Trump’s The Inevitable of Success:

      1. You’ll lose some friends.
      2. You’ll think you’re going crazy.
      3. You’ll almost talk yourself out of it 100 times.
      4. You’ll lose some money.
      5. You’ll cry before you get it.
      6. Your family and friends will discourage you.
      7. You’ll doubt yourself 100 times.
      8. People will give you grief for no reason.
      9. You will develop weird habits.
      10. It will all be worth it.
      11. All of a sudden they will all want to be your best friend.

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