A Cynic’s Guide to Writing the Perfect Medium Post

Henry Wismayer
4 min readSep 12, 2015

Consider, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, this: https://blog.growth.supply/advice-from-30-year-old-me-to-20-year-old-me-b9b035d39e2d.

It’s a piece by Nic Haralambous, a hirsute luxury sock-seller from Cape Town, entitled ‘Advice from 30-year-old me to 20-year-old me’. A list of 11 life lessons he’d like to share with his younger self, it’s been recommended over 6,500 times since Nic hit the publish button back in May 2014. Which is a lot.

There’s just one problem and, at the risk of antagonizing the many people who seem to have enjoyed the read, the problem is this: the article is… well, it’s crushingly insubstantial.

Example: this paragraph from his list of millennial top-tips, about the benefits of reading:

3) Read: Read every day. Read everything you can. Don’t just read about things you know about. Read about people. Read people.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of reading. But I can’t help questioning the level of insight here. There are probably tens of millions of 30-somethings who could have conjured this anodyne piece of pseudo-wisdom, and articulated it better. Yet here is Nic, with the blogger’s longed-for virality, all for 700 words of intellectually lightweight condescension.

I pick on this post merely because it’s one that recently came to my attention. But there are dozens of similar pieces churning around Medium at any time: how to listicles, life-hack guides, autodidactic treatises on ‘personal growth’ etc etc.

It’s not difficult to understand the reason for their popularity. These articles flourish by feeding us the seductive idea that we can always improve, always drag ourselves out of the rut, always be successful. Nearly all of them hold some reductive, snake-oil promise of making the reader better in life, work, love or play.

But so much of the content is utterly vapid, offering nothing beyond a few nauseating blandishments designed to appeal to the reader’s individualism and thirst for success.

Do we really need someone to tell us that reading will enrich our lives, or that getting up early in the morning will give us more time to get stuff done?

Henry Wismayer

Essays, features and assorted ramblings for over 80 publications, inc. NYT Magazine, WaPo, NYT, The Atlantic, WSJ, Nat Geo, and TIME: www.henry-wismayer.com.