One of my favorite books, as a teenager, was Martin Eden, by Jack London. I’m sure many of you heard about it, and perhaps some of you even read it. I wouldn’t say it’s one of my top 10 books right now – people do change, to some extent – but it’s still a nice memory. For those of you completely in the dark, Martin Eden is the – quasi-autobiographic, it seems – story of a young aspiring writer who goes over the limits to achieve success. Eventually, he gets it, but, somehow, he doesn’t enjoy it as he thought he’ll do.
I’m not getting into details here, because it’s not the entire novel that I’m interested in, for this blog post, it’s just a small part of it. As a matter of fact, it’s something that happened to me a number of times too, hence, I decided to call it “the Martin Eden effect”. What’s this all about?
Well, after months of struggling to survive and to write at the same time, Martin Eden, a humble young aspiring author, is eventually hitting big. His stories are being published and he starts to enjoy success. He gets accepted in higher social circles and people are constantly congratulating him for the value of his work.
Well, to the surprise of the vast majority of people, Martin is confused about that. How come people are congratulating him now, but they ignored him while he was struggling? He is basically the same person. How can success, as a social metric, can change so much the perception we have on other people?
That’s what I call “the Martin Eden effect”.
The Open Connect Experiment
Time to do a very abrupt change of direction in this blog post. Let me tell you a little story about what I did in the last 6 months. I already wrote about Open Connect a number of times, but things seem to move rather fast for this project.
In short, 6 months ago I decided to create an event – a live weekly event, that is – in which people will connect with each other, they will present their ideas – in the form of a 1 minute pitch – and they will get feedback. Things started rather well, with dozens of people attending, sharing ideas, projects, doing networking and creating partnerships. At the moment of writing this, I organized 23 editions. During the last 5 editions, the event started to be broadcasted live by an online television, creating audiences of more than 3000 people. Live, at the event, during the last 4 editions were more than 70 people each time.
By any standards, these numbers are big. And for me, they are even bigger. I didn’t see it coming, although I was prepared, somehow, for it. Just like Martin Eden, I kept struggling for years as a digital nomad, did my job each and every day and, at some point, things exploded.
The strange thing is that people are constantly – and somehow, increasingly – congratulate me for the event. Or for the lifestyle I chose. Being a digital nomad, that is. And they do it over and over again. But hey, I am the same person as I was 6 months ago. I work in the same Starbucks where I worked 6 months ago. I blog, I code, I run and I dance tango. I did all these things before this sudden stroke of visibility (I hate the word “celebrity”) hit me. I didn’t change. It’s just that my social image exploded, covered in aura of success.
Just because I created a few successful editions of an event, it doesn’t mean I’m different, or that people need to look up to me, or that I’m so fucking extraordinaire. I’m constantly telling people that, contrasting to my baby face figure, which is something I’m not responsible for, being related to my genes, I’m not even a nice person. Seriously. I’m not even polite and I seldom follow social rules in conversation. I’m brutally honest and very few people appreciate that.
So, try to understand my surprise and, to be honest, my concern, when people are congratulating me constantly, assuming that, because I was successful with this Open Connect thing, I must be a nice person all over.
Labels, False Goals And Honesty
We are floating in a sea of labels. We don’t have the desire, or the time, to unglue those labels and see what lies behind them. And it’s such a pity we don’t do that.
We’re accustomed to associate success with niceness. Success with happiness. Success with kindness. These are labels, folks. Behind these labels are human beings. And human beings are fundamentally flawed. I never have meet a single human being who was perfect so far, and I highly doubt it that I will ever meet one. We’re at the mercy of times, of contexts, of luck and bad luck, of our own temper and expectations and prejudices and bad choices.
Sometimes, we hit it right. Sometimes, we do all the right things in the right way, the stars are well aligned and the contexts are smiling at us. The result: what we usually call success. But that, my friends, is a false goal. We cannot hope, or expect to live a “Barbara Cartland like” life each and every second. There is grief sometimes, there is loss, there is apathy or there is deceit. These too, are part of life. Without them, we wouldn’t be complete in our experience here, on earth.
So, in all honesty, I’m telling to all the people who are congratulating me for being such a successful entrepreneur, to stop it. And spend the time they use congratulating me doing something with their lives.
I told you I’m not a nice person.