In praise of aspiring ‘influencers’

Content creators are the fastest growing type of small business worldwide. Today, over 50 million people consider themselves ‘influencers’ on social media.

According to YPulse – a youth research organisation in the United States – over 72% of Generation Z wants to become online celebrities.

Nowadays, getting famous on Instagram or TikTok is the ticket to wealth and fame. According to a Harris poll, more kids dream of becoming a YouTuber than an astronaut.

Generation Z kids do not want traditional careers in engineering, medicine, consulting, and teaching. Becoming viral on TikTok through outrageous flamboyance can make you a millionaire.  “Don’t need no education, don’t need no thought control”.

Intellectuals, social conservatives and cultural pessimists commonly decry this trend of ‘superficial consumerism’. “Yet another dissolute younger generation in the making”, they sniff.

Yet, pop culture meets a need. No one is forcing the youthful masses to follow ‘influencers’. Following them takes time, and buying the products they endorse swallows money.

This is not new. Teenagers have been buying ‘brands’ for decades. They having been indulging and experimenting in all sorts of things that affront their elders, probably from time immemorial.

So the followers of the influencers must be getting a benefit. In part, it will be a social group thing. I get that.

Moreover, ‘influencing’ must be a competitive and risky business. Entry is free. Anyone can be outrageous and flambuoyant – until the euphoria fades. One tweak that misses its mark could destroy months or years of assiduous cultivating of one’s followers.

Take Daniel LaBelle for example. He started a physical comedy channel on TikTok last year, and now has over 23 million followers. Podcaster Joe Rogan has to entertain 200 million people monthly on Spotify.

Imagine waking up every morning wondering what you can do next to titivate such followers, without blowing everything. Who wants that pressure?

Many influencers will crash and burn, just as pop musicians have for decades.

But pop music endures because it entertains. So far influencers are passing that test.

Channel Your Dark Side

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.”

― C.G. Jung

We experience emotional turmoil from time to time in our lives. This can include bullying, romantic rejections, or even condescension on the part of other individuals. Since I was a young boy, I have been directly criticized by people on several occasions – “You’re a fat loser”, “Useless dickhead”,There is no way you can succeed in this position“. In response to my writing, I have recently received feedback from some individuals that “This is bullshit.“. To be honest, all these criticisms and disappointments breed resentment and frustration. The cycle feeds on itself and deeply hurts me. There are times when the emotional turmoil and suffering manifest themselves in negative emotional reactions toward others. Sadly, this is the default setting for me, and I need to improve it. Patience and sensitivity have been two of my weaknesses.

Nevertheless, I have found that reading Stoic philosophy calmed my mind and helped me recognise that sometimes these critical comments can be used to fuel positive developments. Every individual has a dark side that we try to repress by claiming that “this is not me”. Yet if that is the case, we are deluding and lying to ourselves. As a matter of fact, we can either channel that energy into productive and constructive activities, or we can allow it to manifest itself into destructive outcomes that negatively impact us and those around us.

In relation to the dark side of human psychology, personal trainer Tim Grover explored the hypothesis in his book, Winning’. He is well known for being one of the best trainers on the planet. He trained world-renowned NBA players including Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Both of these men channeled their energy into their passion for basketball. He asked three questions of those who wish to succeed:

Do you bet on yourself?

When things get tough, do we trust ourselves? Do we rely on the opinions of others or our gut instinct? As a Los Angeles Lakers player without Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe exceeded everyone’s expectations and won titles after titles without him. He retransformed his game.

Michael Jordan exceeded the expectations of the crowd by scoring the highest points average in the league for the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s when he was expected to fail by adding 30 pounds of muscle.

Both went against the grain and followed their instincts.

Do you leverage your dark side?

It is no secret that Kobe Bryant had a dark side. He even coined the nickname for it – “Mamba”.

It enabled him to accomplish all the tasks he had at hand. Michael Jordan used his negative past experiences to outwork and outperform other players. His rejection by his peers and his coaches inspired him to become the best of the best. This resulted in a successful outcome for him.

According to Tim Grover, we are best served by our dark side by remembering all the disappointments we have experienced – those who said ‘no’, those who teased us, those who rejected our applications, and those who said to us, “You’re not good enough.” We should mentally connect with how each of these moments made us feel. If that made you feel “fire and fury” inside, then that is the kind of energy you should direct toward productive pursuits. That is our dark side fuel for growth. Turning anger into focus is our superpower. Rather than using this energy for despair or impulsive pleasure, we re-direct it towards activities that will benefit us long-term.

In my case, it is writing this blog – practicing my writing; reading the authors and intellectuals that I admire; pushing myself harder to build greater understanding in economics; and lifting weights harder at the gym.  

Do you live an unbalanced life?

There are always trade-offs to be made in life. For Grover, winning demands obsession. In order to reach our potential, we must make sacrifices. It is important to avoid socializing too much, not committing to family obligations, hobbies, vacations, or leisure activities. In order to succeed, one must focus on the long term.

It is impossible to have it all. Depending on what we want to prioritize, our decisions are always the lesser of the two evils. Those who seek to have it all will not become true masters of their craft. According to Grover, this will be a difficult choice for most people, but in his opinion, a ‘balanced life with leisure’ does not make sense. It is purely about becoming world-class. Perhaps those who take the decision to become masters are considered obsessive, selfish, and neglectful of others.

However, the results speak for themselves. It pays off to have an obsession with something and strive towards mastery and victory. Tiger Woods, for example, has won 109 PGA Tour events, won 15 major championships, and has been ranked number one for 683 weeks in total. 


“Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.”

― Tim S. Grover

For a life of true fulfilment and long-term satisfaction, we must channel our dark energy. Dark energy can be used either productively or destructively. We use our negative emotions as fuel to achieve success in our craft. If we combine this strategy with Stoicism, rely on our guts, our obsession to win, and make important life trade-offs, we can achieve our goals.

Imagine what it would be like to see yourself in the future and prove everyone wrong. That would provide real satisfaction. 

Honoring the 10-Year Anniversary of Kobe Bryant's Final Championship |
Kobe Bryant with the Lakers

“Invert, always invert.”

Recently, someone told me that my method of thinking drastically transformed. To be frank, that’s correct. I’ve become far more focused on empirical analysis of public policy and business. I’ve attempted to abandon ideology in ways of analysing problems and looking at them from different angles.

Renowned American investor Charlie Munger stated that we should “Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backwards”. It is indeed a curse to be fundamentally ideological. It traps us from being able to solve problems practically. Unfortunately, many of us have fallen into this psychological fallacy.

In relation, people debate about whether the world is a social construct or an objective universe. How humanity is not entirely an objective place simply determined by facts and numbers. From my angle, both have important perspectives. Humans provide meaning to objects that create subjectivity within our observation of the world. Simultaneously, if you ignore facts and data, and only consider the intentions of people, we are being ignorant.

This is where I’d like to introduce the idea of the ‘half-glass empty/full’ analogy. The way you look at it determines how you subjectively view this object. A cup that is ‘half-empty’ sounds pessimistic albeit correct. ‘Half-full’ is optimistic but also sound. The thing is that both are empirically and logically objective, except the approach to the observation. I tend to view this as a good analogy of explaining the difference between liberals and conservatives; the utopian vs the constrained; yin and yang.

For example, let’s explore the hypothesis of income and wealth inequality (caused by hyperglobalisation). It’s objectively true that since the 1980s, the world has become both more unequal and equal – in different ways. According to Brookings, inequality between countries have gone down and 3.8 billion people have exited extreme poverty. Simultaneously, inequality within countries has gone up as countries became globalised, accelerated by lower tax rates, free trade and creative destruction of economies, fostered by technological innovation. This has unfortunately led to greater populism across western liberal democracies.

The point is that what we witness around the world is not as black and white as people think. On net balance, globalisation has been a fundamentally important part of human prosperity (Pinker, 2018). But the real problem is that policymakers have failed to consider the short-term unintended consequences of globalisation.

Therefore by inverting a problem or hypothesis, we can become better thinkers and participants of society. Consider different perspectives as a thought exercise. Don’t fall into the trap of political or philosophical ideology. Genuine empathy of different thought processes and intellectual curiosity can solve many of the world’s problems.

The Vestiges of Machiavelli

Political discussions in liberal democracies are supposed to be about the battle of ideas, heterodox exchanges, and civil debates. Politicians and leaders present their arguments for a better and productive society through public discourse.

However, recent scandals in Parliament have indicated that it is not really the case. People have forgotten that politicians do not operate under the guises of morality, but manoeuvre based on strategy within established rules of the game — the game of survival in politics. Politics is rife with clever duplicity and manipulation.

Every member of Parliament has two main interests in mind — maintaining power and being perceived as a noble, honest fellow. As Machiavelli once said, “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you really are.”

Should the public expect more ‘Machiavellian’ behaviour as the election campaign goes underway? If so, what can we learn and observe from the late 15th century philosopher’s wisdom?

Political marketing to Machiavelli is a seductive tool and the use of charming to mislead the public. “It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver” and “one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” — A tool the Prime Minister utilises to perfection with her omnipresent slogan, ‘Be Kind’.

Regarding the competence of our leadership, he states that “the first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” If you do not have a competent team, pointless blunders will hit the spotlight, shown by recent resignations.   

Unfortunately, public policy will not be the driver of electoral success. Machiavelli states that “princes have accomplished most who paid little heed to keeping their promises, but who knew how to manipulate the minds of men craftily.” Cunning political strategies are the best ways to preserve or gain power.

Machiavelli always maintained the importance of being effective without being impotently pure. Regarding leadership, he recommends that “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

What are the ultimate lessons? Even under liberal democracies, politicians will always use cunning deception to attain or maintain power. Machiavelli was a republican and an astute observer of human nature, that politicians will always strive to serve their main interests — this is just reality.

We must understand that despite the imperfections of our system, liberal democracy still allows us to have a voice in contrast to autocracies. Multiparty systems still provide a check and balance of power on the leadership and their potential to abuse it.

Self-interests are the norms of politics, but if we genuinely want to have competent and effective leadership, the public must understand this aspect of human nature — effective politics require some level of Machiavellianism.  

Take responsibility for your life

Prominent intellectual and speaker Jordan Peterson’s current Australian tour could well be the first time many millennials have heard a message of personal responsibility.

For most of their lives, millennials have been coddled by the narrative of having rights without responsibility. For many millennials, individual accountability was obsolete in western culture, until people like Peterson revived the discussion in a new way for a new generation.

As an unintended consequence of the cultural change in the 1960s, there has been an overemphasis on group identity and intersectionality in our culture.

The most important aspect about an individual has become their group identity — characteristics such as race, gender, cultural background, and sexuality, take primacy over the individual.

This has led to people being classified as belonging to either an oppressor or a victim group. Being a white person meant that you had to forever reimburse the sins of western imperialism and slavery. Because you share the characteristics of those who did wrong in the past, you must pay in the present.

Meanwhile, being a minority victim group meant that you can ‘never be guilty’ or be responsible for any suffering in your own life. If you belong to a victim group, your problems were caused by the oppressors.

Peterson’s message directly counters this narrative. For the first time, many young people are being told they have control over their life. You are not responsible for the sins of your ancestors. Nor are you a victim because of the trials of your ancestors.

Take control of what you can. Start small, slowly build competence, and your life will drastically improve. This is how you build a meaningful life.

As Peterson says in his book, 12 Rules for Life“We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world”.   

We must bring personal responsibility back onto the table.

Leonard Hong is a student at the University of Auckland and a research intern at The Centre for Independent Studies.