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Inspiring Slogans are Ruining Your Life

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

A friend of mine recently posted a photograph of an 'inspiring' slogan found on the wall of a conference space called 'The Studio' onto Facebook. It went thus: 'Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil.' Let's be clear, the person in question was not posting in agreement but in complete incredulity... what does a slogan like this even mean?!

A quick google search revealed that the quote comes from renowned American industrialist J Paul Getty who founded the Getty Oil Company and who was once labelled as the richest man in America.

Now we're bombarded with so-called 'inspirational' quotes on a near daily basis and for the most part I just brush them off as harmless (hell, sometimes I even agree on some level with them and feel a brief moment of calm or zen or whatever the fuck you call it). But for some reason this one in particular incensed me more than usual.

Perhaps I was so narked by this particular quote because the whole notion of Getty's 'advice' is actually based on luck (how often do you hear of people in the staff room or at parties talking about how they struck oil last week?) and Getty himself was better positioned than most to fulfil point three on his three point plan as his father owned oil fields in Oklahoma. When you know this little nugget of information, the 'advice' becomes even more infuriating as you imagine a smug Getty surrounded by the trappings of multi-billionairedom smirking as he pontificates on how to be successful.

It also turns out Getty wasn't a very nice man: he famously negotiated his own Grandsons ransom.

Really, when asked for the secret to success Getty should have replied: 'Be born into wealth and be a right fucking tight arse - don't even pay the asking price for your own Grandson's life.'

Getty aside, there is a greater problem at play here: slogans that are sent/posted/painted on walls to inspire and guide us only serve to make us feel one thing - GUILT.

This one slogan alone makes you feel guilty THREE time over: guilty for being human and needing to sleep, guilty for not working hard (against who's barometer of hardness are we working to?) and guilty for not being born into privilege or being at the right cosmic place at the right cosmic fucking time.

Of course, many 'inspirational' quotes come from a slightly less self-aggrandising place than Getty's and on the surface they seem only to want to create a better you...

'Believe in yourself... Don't call it a dream, call it a plan... What you can do today can improve all of your tomorrows.'

But what happens when you really can't be arsed doing anything today? What if you're really not very good at making plans? What if you simply can't believe in yourself? Then you're left feeling like you've fallen short. But fallen short of what?

What exact end point are we aiming to achieve when we turn to these quotes to spur us on? Riches? Fame? True happiness? When it comes to happiness we're told that it's 'a journey, not a destination'... but actually in reality it's even more elusive than that.

Let's face it, Getty himself was probably no more happy than you or I. He married and divorced five times and was even quoted as saying: "A lasting relationship with a woman is only possible if you are a business failure" and "I hate to be a failure. I hate and regret the failure of my marriages. I would gladly give all my millions for just one lasting marital success."

Now there's a piece of advice we can all heed, why wasn't that printed on the wall?

I recently gave up the 9-5 world of work to be my own boss, do my own thing, work on my terms and yet I constantly feel guilty for not being 'productive' (whatever that means)... this week I took two naps in the middle of the working day and immediately felt guilty. I had to give myself a real good pep-talk: napping mid-day is OK, you're human, that's what we do, this is the reason why you chose to work for yourself!... and yet the niggling feeling of guilt continues to pervade my day to day life (consequently I was far more creative, productive and got shit loads done in the two hours following my guilt-ridden snooze-time).

So I've decided to create my own inspirational slogan for my home office wall... it's helping to remind me that I'm human, I have flaws and sometimes a nap is exactly what I need... maybe it'll help you in times of guilt too...


Post-Script: I was supposed to be updating my accounts whilst I wrote this... ah procrastination, my oldest and dearest friend... do I feel guilty?... hmm... lets just say, I'm working on it...

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