Archive for January 2014

Learning from ghastly people

January 29, 2014

Unless you’re on holiday somewhere remote, it’s a rare week that goes by without a mention of someone ghastly. This blog post has been prompted by a New Statesman column comparing the ghastly Carol Vorderman to the ghastly Sarah Palin, but there are so many of them: Louise Mensch, Toby Young, Michelle Malkin, Nick Griffin, Richard Branson, Mary Portas, Gillian McKeith…

Many of them are media hate figures, or left-wing social media hate figures, and for good reason: they’re absolutely ghastly. But every time I see Mensch’s shiny, perfect cheekbones or Young doing his “SRS ABOUT EDUCATION” face, I think something else. It might sound strange, but I think: “What could I learn from this person?” And so I present: five habits of ghastly (yet successful) people.

1. Ghastly people are confident. They do things they’re not remotely qualified for, but they do it with enough confidence to take in some of the people, some of the time. And, crucially, they have enough confidence to actually do what they do, rather than saying: “Hang on, I think I might be a bit rubbish at this.”

2. Ghastly people have a consistent narrative. Even when they’re jumping from career to career like a mountain goat, they have a strong narrative that they give every impression of actually believing in. Think of the way Louise Mensch and Sarah Palin both quit their political posts halfway through the term they’d been elected to serve. Both had the chutzpah to make it look as if quitting was absolutely the right thing to do at that exact moment. Mensch went from hard-working young MP to New-York-based journalist without even breaking a sweat. It doesn’t matter that some of the narratives are utterly misleading – think about Thatcher’s “prudent housewife” act – it just matters that they’re compelling and believable.

3. Ghastly people have no shame. It’s public knowledge that Richard Branson’s empire was built with taxpayers’ money. It’s equally public knowledge that Gillian McKeith shouldn’t have called herself “Doctor”. Ghastly people don’t allow any narrative of “unmasking” or “downfall” to stick to them. They just carry on regardless until the people yelling “You’re a fraud!” start to look petty or even unhinged.

4. Ghastly people pay attention to appearance. They try not only to look good, but to look the part. A ghastly fake TV doctor is going to look a lot more like the public’s idea of a trustworthy doctor than your average fully-qualified GP. Ghastly people pay attention to trappings and visible processes. They care about branding. Ben Goldacre has compared McKeith’s “science” to a cargo-cult ritual and he’s hit on something important there: cargo cult behaviours are about charismatic individuals with the power to make people work together. It’s just a shame they’re not about achieving anything real.

5. Ghastly people push on doors. They try things. They’re not afraid of failure, because they don’t have much shame or self-awareness. If something doesn’t work out, they’ll find a way of weaving it into the narrative anyway. So they keep trying.

These are all characteristics that help to make ghastly people successful, often without working particularly hard or being particularly bright or likeable. And I think: why should ghastly people keep these advantages to themselves?

It’s perfectly possible to get some of these advantages for yourself, without necessarily becoming ghastly. Rewrite your CV to give it a narrative and make it look as if you’ve always been heading for where you are today. Feel less shame about your mistakes – just learn from them and move on. Try things without worrying too much about failing. Blog more about your achievements. Get a new pair of glasses, or a new suit, to make you look more serious/authoritative/attractive. It won’t make you ghastly. Being ghastly makes you ghastly.

I’m back

January 28, 2014

Happy new year! I’m back, at least for a while. I decided to just publish all my “unfinished” posts. I’ve been writing about the costly power of making a decision, about closure, about decluttering. Then I left lots of these posts lying around until some unspecified day when I would magically find the finishing touch to make them “good enough”. No, I didn’t know what that magic touch would involve. Yes, I do see the irony.

Last night I took a look at some of the posts to work out what, if anything, it would take to call them finished.I soon realised that calling something finished is the key step towards calling something finished. Well, if you’re being pedantic, the only step. So I just cued up a stack of posts to publish over the next few weeks.