“The secret to my success?” asks the lottery winner, fanning himself with wads of cash. “Just keep buying scratchcards. You can withdraw £200 a day. Put it all on the tickets. That’s how I got where I am today.” The tech billionaire tells you to drop out of secondary school and pour all of your attention into coding. The band selling out Wembley tells you to sack off your A-Levels and get high in your mate’s garage. Elon Musk sagely advises you be born the son of a Canadian model and dietitian and a South African electromechanical engineer, pilot and sailor. You nod and politely make notes.
I hate self-help books so much, especially ones that are centred around attaining wealth and fame. I find it disconcerting when people turn to famous millionaires for advice, since so often these people’s success seems based on a combination of luck and privilege. Like, it might have worked reasonably well for Pete Doherty, but generally turning down an offer to study at Oxford so you can pursue grungy aesthetics and heroin isn’t a wholesome five year plan. Bill Gates might have dropped out of Harvard to make his fortune, but that doesn’t mean you should, too. There’s a huge bias to these success stories in that we only ever hear about the dropouts who made trillions of dollars and founded anti-malaria charities. You only hear about the people who spend their entire wages on lottery tickets if they end up winning the jackpot.
As you know, reader, I am a wildly successful entrepreneur in my own right. I have one and a half articles published in a Prague-based zine, I have my own .com url, and I’m about to launch a line of upcycled tote bags. I have only suffered from crippling depression for two thirds of my adult life. My parents still pay for my therapy and my dentist appointments. I’m pretty much living the dream.
You wanna follow in my footsteps? Follow these universally applicable pieces of advice. If you follow these iron-clad rules to the letter, you could end up like me – a mediocre barista with an unfinished degree.
Fail To Gain A PLace At Oxbridge
Just like Bill Gates before me, I don’t have a degree. The university I don’t have a degree from is the University of Sheffield, a mid-table establishment that doesn’t pour enough funding into modern languages. However, I came rather close to not having a degree from Oxford University, a top-tier establishment that would’ve fulfilled my childhood dream to attend Hogwarts, in aesthetics if not in subject matter.
I interviewed at Oxford at the age of 18, as is traditional. Looking back on my final year at school, I’m not even slightly surprised that The Powers That Be (TPTB) took one look at my general self and politely requested that I get to fuck.
It’s hard to talk about getting rejected from Oxford without sounding bitter, but – reader, I swear – I’m genuinely at peace. If I’d got an offer from Oxford and matriculated there, my life would be immeasurably different. I would have studied Czech and English, rather than my current degree of RussianAndSlavonicStudiesWithCzechAndPolish. I would not have had the pleasure of feuding with a member of the Sheffield faculty, a bitter experience which probably foreshadowed my love of coffee, a uniquely bitter delicacy. If not for the bad feeling between myself and TPTB at Sheffield, I would not have made the ill-thought out decision to take a leave of absence. If not for my leave of absence, I would be a graduate now, applying for e.g. the civil service or marketing positions.
In short, my advice is that you genuinely try to get into a world-class university, fail and go to one with a great Czech syllabus but a terrifying Russian teaching staff, take a year out, and leave the country. This is the only way you can hope to end up like me, mostly unemployed and very unqualified. Hope this helps.
Never Quite Learn To Froth Milk
I can froth milk ish. On a good day, it’s beautiful. Creamy. Micro foam. Everything you could want from a drink. On a bad day, it’s overfrothed, lumpy and fuzzy, with big, big bubbles.
And yet, my failure to do this simple task right may be the secret to my success. After all, as I am sure you’re aware, dear reader, I love my job. I love serving coffee and I love the cafe I do it in. I can’t imagine anywhere with better vibes. I fear that my unabashed opportunism would propel me to a better regarded but less nice job if I were a better barista. Sometimes your limitations are a blessing.
Play With Every Dog
Have you ever heard of ‘networking’? Networking is a fancy way of saying making relationships with people so they feel guilty for not hiring you at their start up. If, like me, you find the idea of talking to humans disgusting, set your sights on our furry friends, the humble dog.
Getting an article published in print is by far my greatest achievement and I am unreservedly proud of it. I wish I could say I got this break in journalism through sheer, rudy talent and honest graft, but it was very much a ‘who you know’ situation. I was chatting to a local at the caf who happened to work for OKO!, strongarmed her into giving me her contact details, and then just happened to send her a message on the very day that their fiction piece fell through.
The reason I was chatting to this lady, though, was not just her magnetic and charismatic personality. If I’m honest, it was mostly because she has the two cutest dogs in the world. Chopper is the size of a small bear and has the most chill personality ever. Biscuit, as her name suggests, is a treat fiend. She sneaks behind the bar to play with me and I give her secret biscuits whilst Chopper and his owner are distracted by carrot cake.
So, yeah, here’s my advice for anyone looking to get their writing published: it’s all about relationships. It’s about who you know. And I happened to know Chopper and Biscuit.
By following this very simple advice, you can be like me! Best of luck, chin up.