Listed: Breaking Free of The Success Myth with Emma Gannon


Emma Gannon is one of the leading voices of the millennial generation. Dubbed "the spokesperson for the internet generation" by The Evening Standard, she documented growing up in the 90s on the internet in her bestselling book Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online detailing evenings on dial up internet trying to chat to her friends on MSN Messenger. She followed it with The Multi-Hyphen Method, a book detailing the many different and varied career paths open to people these days in the age of remote work and side hustles. Over subsequent years on her highly successful podcast, also named Ctrl Alt Delete, she interviewed many other authors and successful entrepreneurs on the topic of work, wellbeing and creativity. She closed down the podcast in January 2023 and now runs a Substack called The Hyphen, a newsletter that goes out to over 45,000 readers each week. In 2018, she was named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for media and marketing.

At the height of her success (a word we've purposefully used multiple times in this intro), Emma experienced very serious burnout. It came at a time when she was riding high in her career. Booked and busy. A life many looked at in awe from afar. At a time when she was so high achieving and expected to be happy, she felt very much the opposite. This caused her to stop, reevaluate her lifestyle and her goals, and truly question why our society feels the need to constantly strive for the next big thing in order to be - or look - successful, instead of feel happy. The result of this discovery is her latest book The Success Myth, which she is coming to Guernsey to speak about on 4th May at the Guernsey Literary Festival. We had the opportunity to chat to Emma about her new book and delve into her new approach to wellbeing and that elusive 'work-life balance'. If that's even a thing anymore.


We're thrilled to say that Emma Gannon is Listed.



What is ‘The Success Myth’ and what made you want to write about it? 

The Success Myth is my new book which is part-memoir part-manifesto pushing back on all the ways in which society leads us to believe that traditional metrics of ‘success’ (followers, excess wealth, promotions) will always make us happy. This book is a personal one, born out of my own experience of reaching the top of the so-called ‘ladder’ only to realise it didn’t feel at all how I thought it would — plus it’s a curation of ideas from the interviews I’ve done over the years with traditionally ‘successful’ people and what we can learn from the difficult moments too. A question I’ve been interested in is this: “is it really success if you had a miserable time getting there?” My book is looking at all the ways we can enjoy our lives on a daily basis by also appreciating the small things without burning ourselves out and becoming unwell in the process.


Why do you think today’s society has developed this obsession with achievement? And why do you think we need to kick back at it?

We live in a capitalist culture so most things are all about scaling, growing and making more money. Usually at the expense of human spirit. We have to live within certain structures to survive, but I like to think books like mine are opening up a wider conversation around how we can all logistically slow down more. On a bigger scale, the Earth itself is struggling from all the extraction of natural materials, loss of wildlife, burning of fossil fuels, fast fashion and constant growth, so I truly believe we are being ‘called’ to slow down on a bigger scale. On a personal note, I had a nervous system breakdown at the tail end of 2022 for myriad of reasons, so I am interested in how we feel successful in our own lives and not just ‘look’ successful on Instagram by being constantly busy.


Where do you think the line is between breaking free of this obsession with achieving & ‘settling’ in life? Is it simply a mindset reframe on what true happiness and success actually look like?

I remember Oprah once saying (I’m paraphrasing here) that the most important question you can ask yourself is this: “what do I want and why?” If you can truly answer this, and go after it, you will be focused and fulfilled. To add to this, I think it’s crucial to ask yourself “How do I want to feel?” When people say “I want to be rich” most of the time they mean “I want to feel safe.” I know many people who are rich and still constantly anxious and worried and depressed. It’s about unpicking what you, personally, want and then working out how to get there. Most people don’t know what they want or, at least, have never asked themselves the question. 


Source: Emma Gannon Instagram


You’ve openly spoken about your personal experience with burnout - or existential burnout from being out of alignment with what makes you happy - at the height of your career success. Can you tell us more about that time in your life? Did you recognise the symptoms? And what did you do to get where you are now?

The symptoms weren’t massively obvious so unfortunately I couldn’t catch it in time, and when I realised how unwell I was, I had to take almost a year off work to get better. I look back now and feel really grateful for that time, I learned how to rest and nurture myself for the first time in years. Before then, I had no boundaries and was people-pleasing constantly. Since my burnout I have very good boundaries and I don’t get as exhausted. I was lucky enough that I could really put the brakes on, and took some time out, and I’m so glad I did. I have a new book coming out in May called 'A Year Of Nothing', all about that year, all the learnings, and a celebration of all the people, things and mundane moments that made a huge difference in how I now live my life. 


You have done many things that many would consider to be going against the expected, such as publishing fiction as a published non-fiction writer, speaking about being happily child-free by choice, choosing to end your podcast work & go all in on Substack and more recently coming off Instagram.  What impact have these decisions had on your life? And do you see your ability to simply feel free enough to make these decisions as a success in itself?

Yes definitely! Success for me is being true to yourself despite other people going in a different direction. I feel more successful the more I get to know myself. 


You’ve covered many varied topics in your books - and even bridged the gap between fiction and non-fiction. What’s your process for deciding on the topic for each book? Do you plan it far in advance - or is it just an organic idea that keeps cropping up?

I don’t tend to plan too far in advance. I usually get a niggle of an idea and it tends to keep nudging me until I give it a go. I feel so lucky that I have multiple platforms to tell my stories on. I usually ask myself: how would I like to read this, if I was the reader? I always write the books I’d like to read. 


Source: Emma Gannon Instagram


We work a lot with small and local businesses, helping them to promote their art, products and services. In fact, Guernsey is a hugely creative and entrepreneurial place with many people living multi-hyphenate lives and pursuing passion over income in many ways. After researching and writing this book (and previous!), what advice or inspiration would you give our community?

I love that! Multi-hyphenate business owners always have a special place in my heart. I would say to trust your instincts. Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks, even if they’re tiny. A 10-minute walk or a 10-minute meditation. Business owners work so hard and sometimes we forget to water ourselves like a plant if we want to keep growing.


For people at the Guernsey Literary Festival who may not be familiar with your work, where would you recommend they start?

I would say to join my Substack community, The Hyphen!


To end, we always ask people what they love about living in Guernsey, but let’s switch it up for you - What excites you most about coming to Guernsey? 

I am super excited to speak at the festival, to be reunited with my fellow author pal Clover Stroud who’s also doing an event (and I’m interviewing her) and also: a cold swim at the Bathing Pools.


Hear Emma Speak at The Guernsey Literary Festival

Emma Gannon: The Success Myth

St Pierre Park Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort, Saturday 4th May, 10-11am

£15 - Book here - Ticket price includes coffee, tea and pastries.

Emma Gannon was thriving in her portfolio career, enjoying a happy personal life and, to anyone looking in, she was undoubtedly a success. However, she was also burnt out and confused as to why she felt unhappy, yet was still striving for more. 

After taking a deep look at her own journey, and interviewing many other successful people on her podcast Ctrl, Alt, Delete, she realised that our overly celebrated version of success is making us lonely, unfulfilled and dispirited. A manifesto to craft work (and life) on your own terms, The Success Myth will give you the tools to walk away from 'having it all', uncovering your individual path to fulfilment.

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