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Why inspirational quotes are ruining your career


DATE: 06 September, 2016

Those cute inspirational quotes are ruining your career. Your business. And possibly your life.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m a sucker for a good, motivational, inspirational quote. I’ve liked them, shared them, hell, I’ve even written a couple of my own (although mine usually have a few swear words in them).

At their best, they can be thought provoking and uplifting, but at their worst, I’m pretty sure they're destroying civilisation as we know it. Or possibly just your career/brand/life/all of the above.

Beware of The Hollywood Effect

You see, I’m a bit worried some people are starting to take these snippets of wisdom a bit too literally. Like they’re a complete truth instead of a partial one. It’s like The Hollywood Effect on relationships. (I’m not sure there is a Hollywood Effect, I may have just made that up.)

You see a film, two people meet, everything’s perfect, or more likely they overcome some hurdle or obstacle, and live happily ever after. So people start thinking that’s what real relationships are like. They want that Fairy Tale. When clearly, no such thing exists. It’s Hollywood. It’s a snippet. We assume they live happily ever after, but after the credits roll, who knows? Maybe they fight about money and leaving the toilet seat up and smelly farts like regular people. And break up. Because the film is just a snippet. The bit we want to see. And those damn quotes are the same.

“When you want to succeed as much as you want to breathe, that’s when you’ll be successful”. Well, yes, sort of. But what that actually means is “When you’re prepared to do the shit no one else wants to do because it sucks the big one, and you do it really well and for longer than anyone thinks is humanly possible, that’s when you will be successful. Maybe”.

Not quite as catchy or motivational though, right?

Maybe there's a reason to not follow your heart

And this one from one of my own heroes, Steve Jobs: “There is no reason not to follow your heart”. Except, actually, there is. Sometimes plenty of reasons! Or at least, there’s plenty of things you have to do on the way to following your heart, that probably don’t qualify as following your heart.

Like working on the project no one else wants to touch with a ten foot barge pole because it will help you get ahead. Or going without, making sacrifices, getting paid less than you deserve, working longer than you should… the list goes on. All things that don’t really fall into the ‘follow your heart’ category. But it’s context, right? The quote is only part of the story.

Those quotes are all well and good, but I’m pretty sure some people think that’s all there is to it. When truthfully, Jobs and Gates and Branson did their fair of shit kicking as well. That part of their career isn't necessarily glorified now, and they certainly don’t write inspirational quotes like “Kiss the boss’s ass and work late for less than you should because sometimes that’s what it takes to get ahead” because no one wants to hear that shit. Sadly, no one wants to do it either. And I think it’s because they think they don’t have to. No, it’s because they think they shouldn’t have to.

Is your last name Zuckerberg?

Unless when you were born, your last name was Buffet or Gates or Zuckerberg or Bezos, chances are you’re going to have to put in the hard yards. Not coincidentally, much like Buffet and Gates and Zuckerberg and Bezos did.

Sure, you could travel and follow your bliss and hashtag #Wanderlust on everything and the universe may well provide for you. Maybe. But probably not.

It’s not that being the next Branson or Gates or whoever you aspire to be is impossible. But let’s be honest, it is improbable.

Welcome to the 400 hour work week

And I’m sure we all love the idea of Ferriss’s four hour work week. But it only works if there’s someone doing 40 or 50 or 60 hours. And that’s likely one of us. (I’d be happy with a 4 hour work day, let alone week!)

Chances are, providing you get or make an opportunity, you’re gonna have to slug it out and do all the shit no one actually wants to do. The shit they don’t write inspirational quotes about. Maybe one day you’ll get to follow your bliss. Or work a four hour work week. But until then, don’t get sucked into the idea you don’t have to do more than your fair share of the difficult and boring and painful stuff as well. Sorry folks, that’s the fine print. Yes, dreams come with fine print.


You’re not above doing that thing you don’t want to do. Do it. It’s part of the dream. It may be behind the dream scenes, but it’s all part of it. And next time you see a motivational quote, like it if you like, share it if you want, just don’t fall for it.


Sputnik is an internationally awarded creative and brand consultant at Out of this World where he has worked on projects for some of the world’s biggest brands including Disney, Coca Cola, Unilever and The Simpsons. He is the author of ‘The Swashbucklers Guide to Becoming an Astronaut' and the creator of the Job Hunter's Boot Camp.