What We Can All Learn From Simon Sinek’s ‘This is why you don’t succeed.’

I see a lot of people getting beat down by quarantines, COVIDS, and crap. In fact, I wrote last week how COVID 19 was trying to win.

Today, I came across Simon Sinek’s 2016 interview “This Is Why You Don’t Succeed.” In teaching my high school English class, I watch this video each year. I have used it in different ways: to talk about social media, to talk about cell phones, to talk about leadership, and to talk about relationships. Ever since I first saw this interview, I described it as one of the most intelligent 15 minutes of learning I have ever spent.

Today, Simon Sinek is helping me not let the Corona virus win. Sinek is a self-described Idealist and I feel better after watching this. He focuses a lot on millennials in this piece, but I argue this piece is 15 minutes of insight we can all use right now, regardless of our age.

1. “Failed Parenting Strategies”

Sinek describes parents giving children everything and telling them they can be anything they want just because they want it. I love this example. Most parents want to help their children reach their goals and dreams, but part of reaching goals and dreams is being realistic.

Randy Pausch, in “The Last Lecture,” talks about how he wanted to play football in the NFL. He was an incredibly successful college professor at Carnegie Melon University and a Disney Imagineer. However, he was the smallest kid on his youth football team. He goes on to talk about how sometimes the dreams we have make us learn skills, like teamwork and work ethic, that help us get our dreams once we figure out what those dreams really are. He talks about how it’s okay he didn’t get his goal of playing in the NFL because it inspired him to other greatness.

Sinek cautions parents about not being realistic because once students get out of school, mommy and daddy can’t fight the teachers for A’s anymore. Not every student should be in AP and Honors classes but Sinek says many students land there because the parents won’t have it any other way.

He is spot-on with this comment. Ask teachers how many parents email them about their AP/Honors grades as opposed to students. We have parents of 17/18-year-olds — legally their children are old enough to fight and die for their country — that run inference in their young adult’s English class. This is not helping our society’s growth.

2. Technology and Social Media

Sinek builds an analogy with social media and dopamine. He argues that dopamine is the same brain chemical at work when people drink, smoke, and gamble. He argues that social media is highly addictive, but unlike drinking, smoking, and gambling, there is no age restriction on technology. We have a generation raised on little dopamine hits that come from phones from as early as two years old. He cautions about the Instagram world by saying “We’re good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people life is amazing, even though they’re depressed.”

I see it all the time: everybody’s life on social media during this quarantine is awesome and they are being productive, according to the filters. Some days I don’t put pants on. We need to take people’s online personas with a grain of salt.

Sinek continues by stating that it is not any of these vices on their own that are bad: it’s too much of anything. Life is about moderation.

Social media becomes a crutch that doesn’t let young adults develop relationships. Sinek states young people “don’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships.” I have seen this as a high school teacher. The idea of the Best Friend Forever is becoming obsolete: people have many BFF’s. They now have “the squad.” However, it isn’t that they have lots of deeper relationships; they have more shallow relationships.

Walk down a hallway in high school at lunchtime and you will see three or four friends sitting next to each other, all staring at their phones. I tend to make the sarcastic joke when I see this:

“Man, you guys must be really good friends, sitting next to each other, paying attention to people that aren’t with you!” The joke always goes poorly because they can’t see the irony. Perception is reality, and they have been raised on phones, social media, and relationships with people who aren’t there.

3. Impatience

Simon Sinek points out the speed of our world and the instant gratification of it: Amazon, Binge-watching Netflix, and dating apps. He’s right; if I want McDonald’s, I get pissed if I have to wait five minutes in a drive-through line. We have become such an instant gratification society, we don’t even want to wait while people are waiting on us without leaving our cars. And they better not screw up our order!

“Everything you want, you can have instantaneously, except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that.”

Sinek uses this example of impatience to set up his best point in this interview, and the one that I keep gravitating back to every year. His clarity of thought is on display as he states “Everything you want, you can have instantaneously, except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that.”

Sinek is approaching this topic through the lens of the business world. I approach this topic through my lenses of a teacher and football coach. One of the hardest goals each year is to develop team unity. It is also arguably the most important goal to success. Each year, I struggle to build deep, meaningful connections in a classroom where students would rather download an app than talk to a teacher.

I find so much brilliance in this lesson, because we have to try! I feel this loss of connection as we teach from home and students learn from home. Students already know how to use a laptop, but what is going to happen to our relationships as a result of this school shutdown? Many teacher friends and I have already expressed our fear about next year: what if we had to start a year online? How would we even start the process of building relationships from a computer? And how much of our world would suffer without one of the few places where we still build relationships?

There is no shortcut for hard work and time. It’s like that famous quote, “how do you start a journey of 1000 miles? One step at a time.” It’s true. If we start putting one foot in front of another, we just start climbing the mountain. Sinek comments about this mountain climbing. It doesn’t matter if people go slow or fast up the mountain, they still have to climb the mountain if they want success at the top. Apple still doesn’t have an app for hard work and commitment. Skills and relationships take patience to develop.

4. Environment

Again, Sinek comes at this environment piece from the business world, but his thesis is that we have to teach young people in the business world. This teaching young people is what sticks out to me and focuses my thoughts.

Since parents, technology, and impatience have failed our society, we need to acknowledge it and teach it. One of the most gifted teachers and coaches I have been around, Paul Peterson, always said “we are either coaching it or letting it happen.” He had an innate ability to make himself teach hard truths rather than blindly turning an eye.

Sinek’s point is the same as Coach Pete’s. It is a leader’s responsibility to build confidence, teach social skills, and help people build relationships. Whether that leader is a teacher, a coach, a business manager, or a parent, there is a responsibility to teach hard truths. We can’t just ignore them and blame young adults.

I love the story about cell phones in meetings. Simon Sinek states it isn’t enough to put down a phone when the actual meeting is happening. He encourages people to put the phone down while waiting before the meeting and talk to others. He encourages people to put the phone down and think. Ideas happen when we are bored. Ideas happen when we look at something and go, “I could do that. Except I would do it this way.”

Relationships are built slowly over time, by talking to people.

Before classes or football meetings, I encourage people to talk to each other and I talk to them. We don’t all have to like Guns N Roses, but if you know I like Guns N Roses, we are starting to build a relationship. I might not be into what you are into, but once I know that’s your thing, now I can support you in it.


I started this essay trying to argue that watching Sinek’s interview helped me in some way in dealing with 2020. I am not sure I hit my mark, but maybe my goal was to get people to check out his interview if they haven’t seen it. I always find his message inspiring and I’ve seen a lot of people lately that aren’t feeling good about the world. Maybe the answer is to focus on our relationships and find a balance between life and technology.

Written by: NathanWhite