Reading too many "startup stories" considered harmful

In the past few years a lot of websites have appeared that tell "startup stories" or "side-project stories". Typically in these stories someone comes up with an idea for a project, then goes through some adversity and finally the triumph is when traction happens, and the project gets to $X / month, with often even exact dollar amounts are mentioned. I've read hundreds of these stories, and there is some powerful appeal to them. I'm also responsible for putting a few of them out there.

But I've come to suspect that there is something unhealthy about reading too many of these. It finally clicked today when I read yet another one, but one that was refreshingly different in its conclusion, thanks to having a bit more introspective protagonist. Here it is: From $0 to $10k/mo with a Geoparsing/Geocoding API in Under Two Years. The difference here is that the author is an academic as well as a hacker, and recognizes the trap of the startup story.

Entrepreneurs reading books about entrepreneurship are like romantic people reading romance novels for inspiration.

The most compelling of these startup stories follow the "hero's journey" where the main character goes on an adventure, perseveres through difficult times and finally wins. Now I don't doubt that especially these smaller side project stories are mostly accurate — I'd trust ones from companies with PR people a bit less — but this really compresses the timeline of a project.

Going back to the romance novel comparison, after reading a lot of those and trying to apply them to your own life, even if you recognize that things won't be as perfect as in a novel, it might still make you impatient for the story to move along faster. With projects really most of it is noticing an interesting thing to play with, or a problem to solve, then spending months tinkering with it before finally releasing it into the world. So most of the time you need to be in these "playing with ideas" and "focused tinkering" mindsets, but I find that after I've read too many of these stories I'm focusing too much on the outcomes.

Focusing too much on the outcomes actually prevents me from getting into the two other mindsets that would be required to make them happen. Instead of starting with "wouldn't it be neat if..." or "I wonder what would happen if I did X...", you start thinking of "how can I also make $X / month?", which seems to be counterproductive. It reminds me of what I read about the physicist Richard Feynman. At one point in his life he was stuck, and couldn't come up with any good new ideas. After reflecting on the situation, he realized that instead of just enjoying playing with physics, he had shifted his focus to achieving important discoveries, killing his enjoyment of it. Not only was he having less fun, but focusing on the goal prevented him from reaching it.

Only after he let go and just started to play with ideas again did he manage to get unstuck.