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Success Means Becoming Your Image

I had a friend when growing up who was a great musician. He led a band that played for a very defined niche audience. This social niche that he played for had a certain way of dressing, a certain way of talking, a set political outlook, a very rigidly defined idea of what was cool [...]

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I had a friend when growing up who was a great musician. He led a band that played for a very defined niche audience. This social niche that he played for had a certain way of dressing, a certain way of talking, a set political outlook, a very rigidly defined idea of what was cool and what was not, and 90% of them came from the same place: predominately white, middle class suburbs. My friend’s songs were far better than many other similar bands in our area, but he never really made it. But other far inferior musicians playing vastly inferior songs did. It wasn’t a matter of quality that my friend had difficulties with but image.

My friend was never really a part of group that he played for. He liked the music but that’s where the similarities ended. He was from the countryside, and did not mesh well with suburban youth. He just wasn’t the type of person who would alter his points of view, wear certain clothes, or restrict his music listening habits just to fit in with a clan. He was his own person, he lacked a definable image, and he fizzled out as a musician.

To make it in any artistic pursuit you must not only be a part of a demographic, you must BE the demographic. You don’t only need people to like what you do, but you need them to want to be you. Success is found where the money is, and the money is in those who are striving to meet an image. People support people they think are quintessential examples of the group they want to be a part of, people who are the hallmark of what they want to be.

In a group, few people are secure in their identities. There is this constant striving for the image they set out for. There is a status scale that is ever moving up and down for each individual, and this competition keeps the rules of the group strictly enforced. Speak a contrary opinion, and lose status; like something different than your peers, and lose status; mold yourself as an exact replica of your image and your status rises.

The people who make it are those who toe the line, dummy down their thoughts, and never speak or act outside of what has been approved by their group. The leaders of this world are not the trailblazers who are doing something unique and different, they are the people who are doing things the most quintessentially the same.

Humans see the world in the frame of patterns. Those who exemplify the patterns of their particular group will rise, those who fall outside the bounds of a quick definition are left by the wayside. To make it in any pursuit you need to chose your own self-definition, you must chose the group you wish to have identified with you, cut out all exterior influences, project nothing to the contrary, and toe the line to the bitter finish.

Every person has the ability to be a possessor of myriad opinions, streams of knowledge, and thought. Each person can push their boundaries, step beyond the gates of image, fashionability, restrictive status-quos and become truly free.

But freedom is the last thing that most people truly want.

I look to make friends with people who fall outside of all social and ideological boxes. As soon as I detect that someone is mimicking the catchphrases of a particular group, I walk away. In order for someone to exist inside of a defined group they must first dummy themselves down to fit its status-quo. I don’t want to spend time with dummies, so when I look for friends I avoid anyone who slaps themselves with a broader identity — such as that of a religion, a political perspective, an art, or any manner of sub-culture. I will talk with anybody, but when it comes to forming friendships I look for the misfits, the people who are too unique, experienced, or knowledgeable to dummy themselves down to group level.

But these people often sit on the leeside of success, spending lives struggling to make it in their art or having just given up long ago.

The undefinable does not often become the successful. The undefinable is too complex for the quick mental categorizing we are prone to doing, the undefinable makes us uncomfortable, the undefinable is unpredictable — and few of us are going to invest the time and resources into somebody so unpredictable.

Ideas, groups, and people that can be wrapped up in a tight blanket of definition, that can be dummied down to the lowest common denominator, are those that are marketable. It is the people who can mold themselves into an image who lead the packs.

A good marketer knows what the audience wants, and they don’t only give it to them, they become it. In the words of another good friend of mine:

“A good marketer will crush a great creator into oblivion no matter the trade. The world reeks of it. Always had too, so it’s likely not to be changing anytime soon.”

A quality product is only half the game. Find your “identity” and run with it.

Filed under: Digital Nomad, Marketing, Travel Philosophy

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • John December 4, 2012, 8:17 pm

    Great article Wade and it is a perfect summary of everything that our society is too scared to confront. I see many people trying to fit into groups that are terribly unhappy but they can’t break out or understand why they feel their life is meaningless and bland. I think that if we focused on who we are, our personalities and things that bring us joy instead of trying to constantly fit, life may be a bit less miserable for everyone.

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  • RootLeaf January 26, 2013, 1:48 pm

    o unhappy destiny! let it rain until the world ends! hahahahah

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