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The Deception Of Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk

Guest blog from Mitch Joel

Dubbed the “Rock Star of Digital Marketing” and “one of North America’s leading digital visionaries,” by Marketing Magazine, Mitch Joel is president of Twist Image, an award-winning digital marketing and communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, passionate entrepreneur and speaker who connects with people worldwide by sharing his marketing insights on digital marketing and new media. Mitch has been named Canada’s “Most Influential Male in Social Media,” and was awarded the highly prestigious honour of being named to “Canada’s Top 40 Under 40.” Most recently, Mitch was named one of iMedia’s “25 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators in the World.” His column runs bi-monthly in both The Montreal Gazette and the Vancouver Sun and he also has a regular column, “Media Hacker,” in The Huffington Post. Mitch’s first book, Six Pixels of Separation, named after his successful blog and podcast, is a business and marketing bestseller.

It’s funny how Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and others (including me) are often criticized because their work is mis-interpreted as, “in order to accomplish what these authors are saying, you have to give up everything and only focus on work,” or that these people’s success is directly linked to a lack of sleep, energy levels or ignoring family responsibilities. The core message around the discourse is that in order to be successful, you can’t be all that successful in other areas of life (family, friends, community, etc…).

That’s a lie. It’s a myth.

There is no doubt that there is always some level of sacrifice when you are committing to your 10,000 hours (as Gladwell defines it in Outliers), but trust me: it’s incredibly hard to be that successful or smart without sleep, taking breaks and connecting to your family and friends. But, that’s not the point of this Blog post. I’m willing to bet that the people who say things like, “It’s easy for Seth Godin to say that, he doesn’t have two screaming babies at home,” never take five additional seconds to think about what that sentence really means.

It’s not about Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin or Gary Vaynerchuk… it’s about you.

When you say things like this (be it in your mind, to a friend or in a Blog post), what you are really saying is: “This is my belief system and I’m not willing to change it.” Our habits, the stories we tell ourselves and our belief systems are not right or wrong – they simply are. They can be adapted and changed. The reason most New Year’s Resolutions fail is because the change is so dramatic that it causes too much internal struggle and friction. Things won’t change fast, but things can change dramatically if you just give it some time to both become a more natural habit and to develop slowly into your belief system.

How I lost 100 pounds in under one year (this is not an infomercial).

In the late eighties, I was extremely overweight, overworked and stressing out. After making some very difficult (but wise) decisions about my stress and work, came the even more difficult challenge of losing weight. Have you ever tried to lose weight? Quit smoking? Quit drinking? Anything that falls into those quadrants is difficult. I didn’t have an appetite for exercise and I didn’t have an appetite to give up on my appetite. After trying some diets and joining different gyms, nothing was really working/taking hold. I decided to slow down. After meeting with a dietician it became very clear what needed to happen: I needed to stop eating things like sugar, fried foods, white bread (and other starchy stuff), cheese (which I love) and other high-fat foods. I also needed to increase the amount of water, fruits and vegetables that I consumed. On top of that I needed to exercise. Even reading back to those past few sentences, it seems both overwhelming and daunting.

Here’s how it happened (and yes, I just made this system up to see what would happen):

  • I tried to stop eating sugar for one week. Once I did one week, I tried it for three more weeks. After a month, it was a habit. A part of my daily life.
  • The next month I did the exact same process for fried foods.
  • The month after that, I removed white bread, white rice and the high starch foods.
  • The month after that, I cut my intake of cheese in half (I love it too much to give up) and tried cheeses that were either lower in fat or had healthier ingredients.

It started working.

In between those first four months, I did my best to supplement my urges with drinking more water and by adding in a some fruits and vegetables here and there. I also didn’t beat myself up when I slipped… that’s a part of life. The process was so slow and so gradual that I didn’t even realize how much weight I was losing or how quickly my belief systems were adapting to this new way of living. I decided to start doing some light exercise as well. Simple things like: no more elevators (walking the stairs) and walking to a destination instead of driving every now and again. I also started riding a bike (something I used to enjoy immensely as a child).

The talent factor.

By the eleventh month, almost all of the bad weight was gone (close to 100 pounds). By then, my life had completely changed. I wanted to do more active things (running outdoors, biking, martial arts), I was meeting different people because of it and eating differently (which gave me newfound energy and passions). I began to imagine what else I could change, so I got that much more engrossed with bettering my mind and spirit (reading, writing, etc…). Then, I had a moment of depression. As great as I was at losing the weight, exercising and taking care of myself (I’m proud to say that, to this day, I have not put the weight back on – which is, actually, the real hard work in the process), I realized that it just wasn’t my thing. While I was good at losing weight and exercising, I wasn’t talented in sports or motivated enough to let it consume my day-to-day. Things slipped. Not a whole lot, but they slipped.

It’s all about talent.

When you’re talented at something, you don’t slip. Let me correct that: when you’re talented at something, even the slip-ups have a better result than if someone else did the exact same thing, only they were lacking the talent. Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk and others are very talented at what they do. It is their art form… and that’s the big secret. Hard word, high energy, dedication, consistency, focus and everything else won’t add up to anything if you don’t actually have a knack for what it is that you are doing. When you say things like, “I’m not willing to to sacrifice my life to be like Seth Godin,” what you’re failing to realize is that what you consider a “sacrifice,” Seth considers a “habit”… and one that he’s very comfortable with and talented at (and he knows it). Furthermore, when it’s something that’s highlighting your talent, it does come more naturally.

The recipe for success.

Sadly, there isn’t one. You have to work very hard to develop new habits daily, have an acute ability to identify what truly piques your interest (and act on it), dedicate yourself to working on that area and nurturing it and hope – with everything that you have – that it truly is something that you are talented in. Something that highlights your unique abilities. My realization that fitness and diet wasn’t a talent of mine didn’t make me quit, it just made me realize that I have to be vigilant with it and that I have to be accepting of my mediocrity. My current fitness goal is this: to get in a good 30-40 minute sweat as many days during the week at possible. My current diet goal is this: to eat as healthy as possible and make sure I’m not moving the notches on my belt in the wrong direction. That honesty fits with my current belief system (but I’m open to it changing).

Get started.

Be patient and really start out slowly to make the changes feel like they’re not changes at all. Slowly will also help you define if this is a talent of yours or something that needs to be readjusted. I bet you can find something to start with today: how about commit to watching one hour less of TV every week and spending that hour reading about the industry you serve? My guess is that within one to two months, you’ll be in love with the work that you do or you’ll be looking for a place that better defines your talent and passion.

Mitch Joel is President of Twist Image – an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. In 2008, Mitch was named Canada’s Most Influential Male in Social Media, one of the top 100 online marketers in the world, and was awarded the highly-prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation (published by Grand Central Publishing – Hachette Book Group), named after his successful Blog and Podcast is a business and marketing best-seller. You can find him here: