Many ‘motivational’ memes are repeatedly posted on social media sites these days to further self-promotion and outdated philosophies with little thought to their actual meaning, relevance, or adverse effect on the platform.
Let’s take a look at ‘No Pain No Gain’ as an example.
Does the End justify the Memes?
Social media networks have become conduits for meme propagation, far more so than personal updates or career advancement in the cases of Facebook and LinkedIn, for example. Scrolling through either produces a list of sponsored posts and memes that far outweigh those that relate to the original intended purpose of the platform.
My previous article ‘Influences and the Decay of Social Media’ touched upon how influencers may cause the implosion of a network through self-propagation, in this article I want to touch on how meme propagation is diluting actual information content and rendering it practically invisible as a result.
Let’s take LinkedIn as an example. Over time it has become more of a social network, more of a sales and marketing conduit, than that of a career advancement aid as seemingly originally intended.
“…it is mainly used for professional networking, including employers posting jobs and job seekers posting their CVs”
- Definition of LinkedIn from Wikipedia
Is Suffering Necessary to Achieve?
What spurred my thinking on this subject was a post describing how business advancement was based upon the old adage ‘No Pain, No Gain’ which got me to thinking about whether this was actually production or even useful at all.
My initial thought was that if something hurts then why should you be doing it? I thought of a painter, labouring away for weeks or months to produce their work of art — is it the act of creation that is the most satisfying or inspecting the end result?
For the painter or indeed, generalising for a moment, to any creator, is it not the actual process of creation that is the reward for the work involved?
I thought of the process of producing this article, the labour intensive research, thought processes, and eventual conversion to prose is difficult, yes, but it’s not painful. If it were painful, then why would I be doing it?
It would be painful for me to write an essay on something that I’m not at all interested in such as blockchain, the Java language, or Microsoft Windows but it would be an absolute pleasure to write one on macOS, the Swift language, or Lasagne for example. The actual work involved would be similar — research, thought, and application — but the process would be infinitely more enjoyable if I enjoyed the subject matter more.
Equally, I would have struggled with both — but what would I have gained?
Granted, my prose writing would probably have improved in both cases through application, but I’d posit that it would have improved more if I’d have followed a more enjoyable path to creation along the way. Same for the research.
Would I have been more satisfied in the end result of something I enjoyed producing or something that I didn’t? Personally, I’d feel a little resentful of something that I didn’t enjoy producing — and may even regard it as something that I was neither proud of or would refer to as an example of my skills in producing it. How would you feel about it?
Framing an achievement as ‘No Pain No Gain’ is simplistic at best and displays a lack of understanding both of the creative process and the ultimate achievement of creation itself.
If it Hurts then Why are you Doing it?
Many of the motivation posts I come across frame achievement as a struggle, almost always a triumph over adversity, but I believe this propagates a dangerous and misleading belief that if something isn’t difficult that it isn’t worth doing. Sure, work and application are needed, but framing it like this is counter-productive and best and fosters a stressful, competitive culture.
Many of the self-aggrandising posters circulating this kind of strategy seem to milk the belief that the business world, in particular, is a nest of vipers or a tank of sharks — and it’s an inevitable aggressive process of ‘Sink or Swim’, ‘No Pain No Gain’, and ‘Survival of the Fittest’ that’s needed in order to advance.
I’d propose that the best way to advance is to be comfortable in a subject area, a branch of business, or indeed a way of life in which you feel suited. You will achieve more if you’re content and happy rather than upset and stressed.
The adage ‘No Pain No Gain’ seems to stem from the physical stress involved with building fitness from exercise and has been co-opted and ultimately perverted to exhibit the continually pedalled misnomers about the competitiveness of the business world that I’ve outlined above. It seems almost that an incorrect ‘sales mentality’ is being offered as a panacea over all routes to ‘success’.
Indeed, as a participant in the world of software engineering myself, there are fewer and fewer companies that encourage outright competition and more and more than encourage co-operation and openness.
Collaboration and conflict are viewed as counter productive in a modern workplace, so why are they continually being promoted via memes on business related social media?
We achieve more when we like something we are doing, we can achieve more, and more complex feats, in collaboration, and we are happier when the creation process itself is pleasurable in itself.
The great suffering in history, and today
The root of the ‘No Pain No Gain’ method seems to be that historical achievements have been framed as a great suffering of the creator.
I do intend to think more on whether the great composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach thought of their creations as painful to achieve or were instead continued focussed application — of something they love — rather than something they didn’t.
I view the framing of creation as painful as unhelpful in modern times and feeding into the aggressive competitive nature propagated by some people in the business world. Those who don’t seem to be either doing what they like and/or are in perpetual competition to achieve something.
Perhaps this is what people buy into in order to achieve what they think is success — promotion competition, stress, anxiety, the burden to continually create whether or not you actually enjoy the process.
Memes in the business social media world promote both competition and aggression as means to succeed in life. I believe this to be untrue, indeed portraying this as such brings back memories of double-glazing salesmen in the 1970s and 80s and the resulting legacy mistrust of sales people that remains today.
The industry does not do itself any favours with this kind of promotion.
We will all achieve more if we stop buying into the endlessly posted memes of the business world. It’s a self-sustaining process right now, but all it will take is for more of us to see them for what they are — an outdated anachronism from the past and a misquoted, misunderstood, and badly used adages and idioms that need to be forgotten so that we can all move on with our lives.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
- Steve Jobs