In the face of billions of dollars of destruction, of the loss of life, of families distrupted, it’s easy to wonder what we were so hung up on just a few days ago. Many just went face to face with an epic natural disaster, and millions are still recovering. Writer’s block or a delayed shipment or an unreturned phone call seem sort of trivial now.
We’re good at creating drama, at avoiding emotional labor and most of all, at thinking small. Maybe we don’t need another meeting, a longer coffee break or another hour whittling away at our stuckness.
There’s never been a better opportunity to step up and make an impact, while we’ve got the chance. This generation, this decade, right now, there are more opportunities to connect and do art than ever before. Maybe even today.
It’s pretty easy to decide to roll with the punches, to look at the enormity of natural disaster and choose to hunker down and do less. It’s more important than ever, I think, to persist and make a dent in the universe instead.
We’ve all been offered access to so many tools, so many valuable connections, so many committed people. What an opportunity.
Good stuff, I’d vote to replace poker with trading pennsytocks, the learning curve is probably the same but the barriers to entry are so much lower. Get a $300 used laptop and a $30 a month internet connection and you can trade anywhere. If you use poker to build your nut you need to go to where the poker games are.
3. Read every single day for at least an hour. Books get lumped in with other reading like magazines and blogs, but they’re actually far more valuable. The amount of value an author compresses into a book is often astounding. There are books I’ve paid $10 for that have completely changed my life. If you read for 1-2 hours on average, you’ll read around a hundred books per year. I do this now and find it to be one of the most valuable uses of my time. Read at least 50% non-fiction, but fiction is good, too. In school you would probably read 12 books a year at most.
4. Write every single day. Write blog posts, work on a book, write how you’re feeling, or write short stories. I don’t think it really matters. Writing every day helps you develop and refine your thoughts, as well as learn to communicate with others. Almost any field you’ll go into will require communication, so you may as well get good at it. After you write, record a video yourself explaining what you wrote. This will help with public speaking and conversation. After the first year at the very latest, start publicly posting your work. This teaches you to ship and to integrate feedback.
5. Learn to program, even if you don’t want to be a programmer. Programming develops logic and efficiency, amongst other things. Even an intermediate understanding of programming will allow you to be a creator. Programming languages are the languages of the future, so even if you aren’t a programmer yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll be working with them. Speaking someone’s language is nice when you’re working with them, right?
6. Do something social. College is really excellent for making people social, and it’s the one aspect in which don’t expect my plan to exceed school. If you’re a guy, consider getting into pickup. If you’re a human, take group art classes, yoga, dance, or go to meetup groups. Social skills are some of the most important skills you can learn, and they can only truly be developed through social interaction. This interaction has to be in person, too… online chatting can be beneficial, but it’s not enough. Traveling will help you be social as well, especially if you stay in hostels.
7. Eat healthy. When you eat healthy, your brain functions better and you’re safeguarding its longevity. Developing yourself is at least as much about good habits as it is about learning skills. And like all habits, the earlier you start, the better. I’d say that the minimum to shoot for here is cutting out all sweeteners and refined grains. Besidses the obvious health benefits, eating healthy will help you build discipline, which is an absolutely essential life skill.
Most successful (and honest) real estate agents will tell you that their business is about the listings, and that sales ability comes second. All other things being equal, the agent with a better home to sell will make a better sale.
The same thing is true for baseball managers—if you have a better lineup you’re more likely to win the game. And of course that’s true for the sushi restaurant with fresher fish. And the tech company with better programmers, and the college with better professors…
If this is all so obvious, why do we spend all our time trying to find cheap average inputs and then make them special through our magnificent sales and management skills? Why do we industrialize the hiring process, spend very little time on scouting, and seek out the replicatable instead of the special exception? Our ego demands that we spend all day polishing the average instead of seeking out the exceptional.
Better to invest the time and money on special people and raw materials instead.
…is to avoid being one. At least among your most treasured peers.
Surround yourself with people in at least as much of a hurry, at least as inquisitive, at least as focused as you are. Surround yourself by people who encourage and experience productive failure, and who are driven to make a difference.
What’s contagious: standards, ethics, culture, expectations and most of all, the bar for achievement.
The crowd has more influence on us than we have on the crowd. It’s not an accident that breakthroughs in music, architecture, software, athletics, fashion and cuisine come in bunches, often geographic. If you need to move, move. At least change how and where you exchange your electrons and your ideas.
We all need leaders who challenge the tribe. We benefit even more when our leaders have peers who push them to be even better.
Micro-entrepreneurship is changing the world. The best opportunities in the new economy are centered on creating your own assets.
There are at least 200 working days a year. If you commit to doing a simple marketing item just once each day, at the end of the year you’ve built a mountain. Here are some things you might try (don’t do them all, just one of these once a day would change things for you):
Send a handwritten and personal thank you note to a customer
Write a blog post about how someone is using your product or service
Research and post a short article about how something in your industry works
Introduce one colleague to another in a significant way that benefits both of them
Read the first three chapters of a business or other how-to book
Record a video that teaches your customers how to do something
Teach at least one of your employees a new skill
Go for a ten minute walk and come back with at least five written ideas on how to improve what you offer the world
Change something on your website and record how it changes interactions
Help a non-profit in a signficant way (make a fundraising call, do outreach)
Write or substiantially edit a Wikipedia article
Find out something you didn’t know about one of your employees or customers or co-workers
Enough molehills is all you need to have a mountain.
We travel for many reasons – entertainment, growth, comfort, appreciation, ego, and, probably, some of each in different amounts at different times. I like to think that I travel to grow — ideally, uncovering some remaining piece of information that will help me be a better person. Hoping that I’ll assemble enough pieces so that the puzzle of life begins to resolve into something I might recognize. As Pico Iyer famously said, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”
For the past 5 years, I’ve been on the road more often than not. To places and experiences remote in both distance and familiarity. I’ve spent sweltering afternoons in monasteries, sheltered in the high Himalayas, zodiacked around Antarctic Icebergs, cruised at the edge of Space, wandered among remote South Pacific tribes, ridden through endless tea plantations, worked the fishing lines in Indonesia, and cried at more than one sunrise. I’ve seen and experienced more than I deserve, hoping that somewhere along the way, I’d find myself. What self-respecting explorer communes with Buddhist Monks at the foot of Everest and doesn’t have a spiritual awakening? In the movies: none.
About two years ago, I began to realize that it just wasn’t going to happen for me. There would be no enlightenment in an Ashram or conversion in Jerusalem for me. Coming to this conclusion brought on a kind of “wanderer’s melancholy.” If the answer wasn’t out there, I might never find it. But having no easy alternative, I simply packed up and headed back on the road, doubling down on my search.
As the years have passed, I’ve collected a few more pieces. They occasionally fit together to form small archipelagos of knowledge in some enormous Terra Incognita. Nothing spiritually transformational but my lens on the world has definitely changed.
For me, those islands come in flavors of convictions or truths that I’ve observed and know to be true. Interestingly enough, none of these observations are novel. From philosophers to grandparents, we’ve heard them countless times. But, hearing something isn’t quite the same as observing it. I won’t bore you with specifics. Suffice it to say, I think the Buddha had it right when he said craving, desire and attachment are the sources of suffering. Everything else is window dressing.
I’ve observed that poverty and happiness are not mutually exclusive. I’ve seen more dissatisfied 20 something’s in SoHo than their counterparts in rural Jodhpur. I know that there is real joy and meaning to be found outside the secular system of wealth, status and eternal youth. It’s not our fault; it’s our programming. But the answers can’t be found in accumulating more. You knew that already. Well, so did I, but I’m not sure I really believed it. I do now. Happiness is reality minus expectations. And Americans, in particular, have some pretty high expectations. You do the math.
I’ve collected enough pieces now to begin to suspect that they don’t belong to a single map. They simply don’t all fit together. But, perhaps, knowing that makes the journey even more sweet. I may not have found myself, but I think I now know where look.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot
They use stopwatches at McDonald’s. They know, to the second, how long it should take to make a batch of fries. And they use spreadsheets, too, to whittle the price of each fry down by a hundredth of a cent if they can. They’re big and it matters.
Small businesspeople often act like direct marketers. They pick a number and they obsess over it. In direct mail, of course, it’s the open rate or the conversion rate. For a freelancer or small business person, it might be your bank balance or the growth in weekly sales.
I think for most businesses that want to grow, it’s way too soon to act like a direct marketer and pick a single number to obsess about.
The reason is that these numbers demand that you start tweaking. You can tweak a website or tweak an accounts payable policy and make numbers go up, which is great, but it’s not going to fundamentally change your business.
I’d have you obsess about things that are a lot more difficult to measure. Things like the level of joy or relief or gratitude your best customers feel. How much risk your team is willing to take with new product launches. How many people recommended you to a friend today…
What are you tracking? If you track concepts, your concepts are going to get better. If you track open rates or clickthrough, then your subject lines are going to get better. Up to you.
One thing you’ll notice about the naturally athletic is that they all seem to be born with a certain grace, the ability to walk with lithe steps and catch a foul ball in the stands.
One thing you’ll notice about leaders is that they’re not naturally born. They don’t have much in common on the surface, other than the fact that they are leaders.
This is bad news is you’ve got the wrong genes but want to throw the shotput, but great news if you’d like to be a leader. It’s a choice, not the way you were born.