Part of the beauty of the Internet is that it is an open forum for the exchange of ideas. Part of the problem with the Internet is that people can say anything. All things being equal, I’d prefer an Internet where people could say anything, but I’d certainly like to see more skepticism among its users.
There is so much on the Internet today that it is hard to get noticed without resorting to some kind of extreme. The result is some outlandish statements to attract attention, like one I encountered yesterday morning that asserted “The most successful people wake up before 6:30 am.” When I see an assertion like this, I roll my eyes. It is clearly an attempt at getting our attention. (The mildly observant reader will notice that I used that very line in the title of this post. I did so as a sort of experiment. I wonder (a) if this post will get more attention, and (b) if it will become one of the many evergreen posts I’ve written over the years.)
An assertion like “the most successful people wake up before 6:30 am” is so fraught with generalities that it is hard to know where to begin in interpreting it. To know what “most successful” means we first have to know what “successful” means. It seems to me that the definition of success varies based on a number of factors. Moreover, it is a generality. Successful in what? In life? In a career? In happiness? In love?
If we can manage to get to a definition of success that we can agree on, then we have to define what we mean by “most successful.” Is this the majority of successful people, meaning 50% plus one? It is a standard deviation, the narrow end of a Bell curve?
To me, an assertion like this is just asking for counter-examples. I consider myself a successful person based on my own criteria for success. But I spent only a relatively small fraction of my life waking before 6:30 am. These days, I generally wake up somewhere between 6:15 and 6:45 am. I rarely use an alarm. I’m not trying to wake up before 6:30 am. And I’m not sure I feel any more successful on days that I sleep in until 7 am as I do when I wake up at 6 am. (Sometime, waking at 6 am, I feel more sluggish than when I wake at 7 am.)
To me, an assertion like this has a specific type of person and a specific type of success built into it. It implies that someone working a night shift, for instance, can’t end up in the group of “most successful” people because they sleep through the day and may not wake up until the sun is going down. I suspect there are a lot of successful first-responders, doctors, pilots, and others who fall into this group.
And why 6:30 am? That seems arbitrary to me. I suspect part of the problem is that when culling examples of what we deem successful people, we find that these people wake up before 6:30 am. But aren’t we being selective in our sample? We are selecting people who are likely outliers in their success, who have the means broadcast their success, and who have discussed what they attribute to their success (or have had in implied about them). These outliers have to represent a small fraction of successful people, many of whom are too busy being successful to get involved in publicizing their success and writing about it for others to later cull as examples.
A final problem with an assertion like “the most successful people wake up before 6:30am” is that is has the illusion of being readily actionable–which alone makes it suspicious in my mind. It implies that because a person gets up before 6:30 am, they are successful, which is a fallacy encapsulated by the Latin phrase post hoc ergo propter hoc (because of this, therefore this). I suspect that there are many successful people who wake up after 6:30 am. I suspect that there are many unsuccessful people who wake up well before 6:30 am.
Still, I can see people being lured in by the simplicity of the implication. All I have to do to change my life is get up 2 hours earlier!
Vague assertions like these annoy me (clearly). Yesterday, the Little Miss was watching a gamer on YouTube play Minecraft. The gamer was decribing the two types of Minecraft players: those that play in survival mode, and those that play in creative mode. “People who play in creative mode,” this gamer stated, “are inherently lazy.”
I’ve played my share of Minecraft, and I have never once played in survival mode. I always play in creative mode. I never once thought of it as lazy. I thought of it as the most efficient way to get the most enjoyment out of the game that I could, by doing exactly what I wanted to–build things.
Looking at these two assertions, I come to the conclusion that I must have a fairly thick skin. I am not among the most successful people, and I am inherently lazy, it seems.
But I’m okay with that.