Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

"On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. ..." - G.K. Chesterton, The Fallacy of Success

Read more - it's extremely funny and wise: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11505/11505-h/11505-h.htm#THE...

To be honest it just seems a bit like playing with words. Of course you can use "success" in sentences where it loses the meaning intended in the current context, but it seems clear to me that when someone writes "to be successful" there are implications that it means being successful on some measure that the author finds valuable or intends the reader to think valuable (in order to sell a book or something).

And of course people can argue all day about what is "being successful", since you could mostly put it as a matter of taste depending on what one finds satisfaction in, in life. It is indeed true that someone who doesn't have the same frame of reference for success as the author will have a harder time finding useful information in such a book/article, but that doesn't mean that because the measure of success can vary from person to person, it doesn't exist at all.

When such an article or book talks about that, there is a meaning behind those words that is conditioned by the cultural context in which it is used (as materialistic as it can be) and obviously this is pretty much never meant to be understood as "how to act as to be able to formulate statements that match 'I successfully did .*'", which is how this quote feels like to me...

You really should read the whole article. I definitely recognize what he talks about.

"It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating." (...)

"You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: "The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL." "

And the article then ends with:

"At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?"

As I was reading point 1 of Sam's article, Compound yourself, I was thinking, ah ok, teachers are in the wrong field evidently, for Success. They can never be exponentially increasing their force and effect in the way suggested.

Although there are people like Gilbert Strang, making his excellent courses (e.g. Linear Algebra) available online, which over a million people around the world have watched and benefited from, and helping to create a world with an amazing variety of free online course videos available in all subjects. That is success for a teacher, I suppose. And we're asked to believe (in this culture) that making a lot of money is or could be in any worthy sense a greater success..

Teachers compound society, which is extremely valuable but doesn't make them rich.

You should read the article I linked to! Sadly it was a bit too long to paste the whole thing.

When I was younger, my father gave me a thick and nauseating compendium labelled The University of Success, filled with extracts from vacuous books of the kind Chesterton talks about. I guess he thought I wasn't 'successful', and it would teach me how! By then I'd already read and got a lot from some of the useful books in the field - Awaken the Giant Within, Life 101, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The New Guide to Rational Living, Effortless Mastery, The Art of Possibility etc. For the kind of success I value most, I've been inspired for decades by, and owe the most to, writers such as Robert Fulghum, SARK, and most of all, Emerson.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact