There is a massive, lucrative market in selling secrets.
Not the espionage sort, or at least I can’t speak to the scale of that market. No, I mean the secrets to… take your pick: professional success, a better body, finding your soulmate, running faster (or further), making friends, being the life of the party, retiring at 40, working on your passion, having it all. (I refrained from adding “air” quotes because I quickly realized they’d be littered across the list.)
There is an incredible demand for the secrets of life, of personal betterment. The evidence is on shelves of bookstores, scattered across Self-Help, Fitness, Business, and other categories. In pages of the magazines by the supermarket register and touted on their covers. In article titles that flit by on Twitter. In questions that are asked at nearly every career forum/panel.
We long, even at times are desperate for, those secrets (or by other names: cheat codes, formulas, lifehacks). At some point, though, if we
are lucky have been paying attention, we realize there are no infallible codes to finding or achieving what we seek. We come to understand that those success stories that sell are a product of particular set of circumstances—personality, privilege, opportunity, skills, environment, context, and even a bit of luck.
There is no one-size-fits-all, or even one-size-fits-most, solution. That’s not to say that we can’t learn something from others’ stories. In some cases, it might be a lesson, an idea, or an inspiration that we bring to bear on our own scenario. In other cases, it could be the opposite: We see what the “secret way” cost someone (financially or otherwise) or see that there’s no way it would work for us and decide that we are going to find another way.
There are almost surefire ways to fail. It’s incredibly rare that someone who never runs can just go out and run a marathon. People don’t make friends by never engaging with anyone. Finding our to “success” (however we might define that) can take many forms. But when we see others “failing” or struggling, it doesn’t mean they’re not trying; many encounter systemic barriers or don’t have certain types of privilege. Just as there are often overlooked contributors to success, so too the obstacles can be invisible, especially to those of us looking in from the outside. What if we strived to understand those secrets too?
Each of us is a product of many elements. Life is full of trial and error. We may glean some strategies to try from others, but ultimately we won’t find our way through using a formula that someone is all too eager to sell us.