The 4 Myths of the Chronically Successful and Chronically Un-Happy

by Alexander Heyne · 9 comments

A successful Harvard MBA was telling us of a dream where he met God.

The story kinda went like this:

God told me he was going to give me the resources to live a meaningful life. But he told me I had to answer 3 interview questions in order to get there.

#1 Did you make this life extraordinary?

#2 Did you take care of the planet?

#3 Did you help everyone do the same?

I’m an American, so the answer to #2 is obviously no. Which leaves me #1 and #3.

So I thought for a while – was my life filled with doing the stuff that I wanted? Was it useful, worthwhile, exciting, fun, and a no-regrets existence?”

He decided it wasn’t – and he had been sold into the deferred life plan for his entire life – starting with his outdated business education at Harvard and then continuing through life, where he was told to do work that made him suffer in order to reap the rewards later.

He was told “work now, enjoy later.” The problem was, he just turned 40. Statistically speaking, he was half way there, so when was he supposed to start reaping these rewards?

He decided to do an experiment that was totally contrary to his character and his education.

He put aside 3 years of savings for this experiment, which had a couple rules:

#1 No goal setting

#2 No hard work (Hard meaning work that was unenjoyable and involved suffering for a reward later)

#3 Build your life around the extraordinary (read: happiness and excitement) and then find a way to make it pay for you.


Before he told us the results of his 3 year experiment, he told us about the 4 big myths we’re encouraged to buy into.  These 4 myths are the curse of the successful person – the highly ambitious, the harvard MBA, the chronically overworked and over-driven 20 something.

The problem is they don’t actually guarantee success. Not only do they not guarantee success, they’re almost entirely counter-happiness.

They’re the curse of the “chronically successful” and “chronically un-happy.”

According to him, the 4 myths are as follows:

#1 The myth of busting your ass

One of the first examples he brought up was of the classic “work hard” and you’ll succeed.

This is one of those paradoxes — does working hard guarantee success? No. But does laziness ever prevent you from being successful? Yes.

Hard work is drilled into us as the foundational principle of success, but even if you do what you love you’ll still be working a lot of hard days in your life.

He shared a story of how he was sitting at the breakfast table one morning drinking a coffee and watching his cleaning lady clean:

I know she works incredibly hard, but which one of the two of us is making more money?”

Who’s making more?

#2 Myth of setting goals

He also talked about something I’ve long debated: if goals actually are conducive to long-term happiness.

For most of us goal setters, goals go like this: goal ==> fail/achieve ==> new goal ==> fail/achieve ==> new goal ==> fail/achieve.

We put ourselves in giant hamster wheels.  Goals are momentary, so what comes next?

I’m a long time lover of goal setting, but sometimes I wonder their value when it comes to long-term happiness.

As part of his experiment, he did not let himself set any goals. The only goal was to do what he enjoyed – whether that meant working 1 hour a day or 20.

#3 Myth of making plans

Why do maps work? Maps only work if the landscape doesn’t change.

Life plans change because life becomes destabilized and changes over time.  It’s reminiscent of the saying “Men plan. God laughs.”

We love to think we have it all figured out and our 3, 5, 7, 9 year plan will work and go somewhat according to plan.  But our assumption is sometimes a faulty one — sometimes we’ve assumed that the landscape and terrain will be the same, when in reality it has been changing and morphing.

It’s also possible you were given bad maps — an education that didn’t adequately prepare you.  E.g. your MBA that bore no relation to building a business in the real world.

#4 Myth of deferred gratification

A classic thread among people looking to escape the rat race is the following belief (which sounds logical right?):

“Work hard and the hard work will pay off. Work now to reap the rewards later. Success and enjoyment are an event and not a process.  Bust your ass now and you can have your car / house / vacation / time with kids later.”

The only problem is that there is an end. Working now to enjoy later is based on the assumption that time is infinite. It is an inherently flawed assumption (not to mention not fun at all).

Waiting for the end , or near it, is an awful plan that isn’t even based on logic. It’s just based on ingrained assumptions about what we should do.

And I know people are screaming “Well of course I have to work now in order to prosper later. Doesn’t the farmer spend all day planting his seeds so he can reap them later?”

If you’re like me — where you turn “want to’s” into “have to’s” and work always becomes suffering, the reward is not worth it.

Why trade 5 hellish workdays for 2 days of freedom, assuming you hate every minute of the work? That’s not a very good return.


Show did his story turn out? And what was his advice?

At the end of the 3 years, his bank account balance was roughly the same (he didn’t need to use the 3 years of savings), he was co-authoring a musical (why not?), had met people through all sorts of weird coincidences that ended up being meaningful connections, magically got a book deal of out nowhere (even though he had been trying to get one for years), and most of all – felt like his time was worthwhile.

He was literally just as successful, except he was actually happy and his life finally felt worthwhile.

I bet you’re saying “Yadda yadda I’ll build my million dollar business and once I’m free I’ll have the resources to live and love my life.”

Well the choice is up to you, but here were his closing words:

Organize your life around what you love, and then use your head to figure out how to turn your extraordinary life into a profitable one.

The journey is the reward.

For the rest of you over ambitious 20,30,40 somethings – I hope those 5 words above mean something – before you hit the half way mark and start asking “When am I supposed to start reaping these rewards?”


Image via CubaGallery

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Rice April 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Love this advice, Alexander.

It’s powerful way of looking at life because so few of us do it. I love the advice he gave at the end. Do what you love then figure out a way to make it profitable.

I love the last advice too that the journey itself is the reward.

Thanks for sharing this reminder.


afheyne May 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Hey Steve,

Yeah I agree, so few of us do it. I think both extremes are hard though — one is attempting to ensure you are successful and have enough to pay the bills. The other is ensuring your sanity but not guaranteeing financial freedom at all.

I think there has to be some sort of middle ground, or some other way of looking at the picture. But it was easier for him to share, seeing as he already has a ton of money (Which gives him a ton of options). For people without the money, options are severely limited.


afheyne May 1, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Whoops, and the reminder is as much my own as it is for anyone reading — that is definitely my biggest flaw, business-wise. Failing to enjoy my every day in favor of those “events” of success. Bad bad habit of mine.


Brasilicana April 30, 2012 at 8:59 pm

“Work hard and the hard work will pay off. Work now to reap the rewards later.”

The problem with myth #4 is that does indeed apply to entrepreneurs – there really will be a lot of ass-busting required in the beginning, since most new businesses don’t start seeing real solid positive returns until year 2 or even 3.

To me, that just emphasizes the fact that you need to LIKE, if not LOVE, the area in which you’re building your business/side hustle/passive income website. That way the days may be full of hard work, but at least it won’t be hellish work!


afheyne May 1, 2012 at 2:01 pm


Yeah there is definitely some sort of balance that is needed. I often see business ideas everywhere based on need, but rarely do I think I’d be happy getting involved in them every day for 2-3 years until I’m getting paid. This is something that I really come back to a lot, what you said, you need to (at the MINIMUM) like the process, and (ideally) love it — that’s pretty much the only way you’ll ensure that you’ll stick with it.

I guess I need to keep searching , huh?

How did you end up finding something fun to work on?


Shanna Mann May 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm

That’s exactly the mindset I have. I have almost the same amount of money as I had when I quit my last job three years ago, but my life is inestimable richer.

I get so frustrated hearing people say, “I just have to work hard! harder!” It’s not a guarantee. It’s not an exchange you make with the universe. All it is is a reckless gamble.

I love my life. My schedule is my own. I’m working on a screened porch listening to the birds and feeling the breeze. I just made a healthy lunch and I think I’m going to take a nap this afternoon. I maybe want to travel more, but not for a few more years.

To me, this is all about the ROI. I have everything I need and a little of what I want, right now, without any sweat and tears. To get *more* of what I want, I have to give up some of what I have (freedom to determine my schedule, days where I do nothing but putter around outside) in order to work 1.6x as hard to make maybe a couple extra grand a month. The Law of Diminishing Returns, man, the law of diminishing returns.


afheyne May 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm


Yeah I’m a little neurotic in that regard too haha.

Agree 100%, making these pledges to work harder mean nothing. It’s exactly what you said – a gamble. That’s why it can be terrifying.

Haha and I hear you — it all comes back down to asking what I really want at the end of the day, beyond money, beyond success, dealing with the realm of freedom.

Definitely involves the law of diminishing returns.. make effect for minimal effort. I’ve got some pondering to do !


Guill June 6, 2014 at 12:35 am

The thumb is up.


Jim January 17, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Doing this right NOW. It’s AWESOME !!!. Life is a mystery EMBRACE the unknown ! After 20 yrs of Stress, woke up , and walked out. Of course I prepared a bit first, but that being said, I decided to follow my heart and not the crowd. It takes courage, no doubt! Now, I’m doing what I love, and regardless of how this all turns out, I’m Happier now, than I’ve been in 20 yrs of Corporate crapola. Believe in YOURSELF, YOU CAN DO IT !!! One must jump, before one knows if flying is really possible….
Value YOURSELF, break from the herd mentality, security is an illusion anyway. We’re all going to die, so live the life your heart leads you to, and stop the insanity of caring what others think. Re-own your POWER, Look within yourself, you already have everything you need, stop looking outside, that’s the problem. Happiness and Peace is yours, if you’ll only stop long enough and look. Disassemble the corporate ladder, and take the elevator. May you follow your heart, and reap the reward always that’s waiting. Blessings to you.
Milk the Pigeon…..Great stuff !!!, funny name :)


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