I hate self-help books. And any books or articles or “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (or “Power of Now”) stuff that don’t really speak from experience and don’t really give you specific steps towards achievement. When you have a gun to your head, with two kids, a mortgage, and your entire self-esteem at risk, you need PRACTICAL methods for moving forward. And you need them from someone who can speak from experience and say, “this works.”
Practical doesn’t mean: “incorporate your company, hire programmers, etc”. And it doesn’t mean “appreciate the moment”. Once that moment is over you have the rest of your life to worry about. Practical means building the basic foundation that I know for a fact creates wealth. I’ve had the gun to my head. And it even fired. But I dodged the bullet because of the below.
Claudia recently wrote a similar article so I decided to rewrite hers with my own take on the topic.
1) Find Your Passion. This is very very hard. The first step is doing the Daily Practice I outlined a few posts ago on my blog. But, to summarize, you need to be healthy (you can’t be passionate if you’re sick all the time). You need no emotional drama in your life. Zero! You need to keep the idea muscle from atrophying. And you need to have some sort of spiritual practice. This Daily Practice above is the Starting Point for finding your passion. And only the starting point.
2) Trust. This is similar to “giving”. You need to share your ideas for free, trusting that the returns to you will be worth much more than if anyone steals your ideas. Ideas need to mate with other ideas to generate children. Its those children and their descendants that become the real ideas that drive the next generation of innovation. In order for your ideas to mate, you need to trust sharing them with others. More on how to get ideas to mate:
3) Learn to Receive. Claudia mentions this as being able to “take a compliment” which is true. But one step further: learn to accept the fact that you don’t need to move up linearly in salary at your job. If you follow the Daily Practice and begin to generate value through ideas, and learn to promote yourself (see below), then your value to your organization (or, most likely, any other organization but the one you are currently with) goes up exponentially if you learn how to promote your ideas.
4) Bless that which you want. This is Claudia’s polite way of saying, “Don’t be jealous”. I read a story as a kid: two people were walking by the executive dining room at their corporation. One guy said, “look at those jerks. Eating in their own lunchroom.” And the other guy said, “I’m fine with them eating there. I’m going to eat there one day.” Never be jealous of what you want. It puts a huge dividing line between you and THEM. Admiring the qualities you want to achieve instead of being jealous of them is the only way to achieve them. Catch yourself today anytime you are jealous of people who have more. Reverse it. Build that into your daily practice.
5) Prayer. This does not mean “pray to god” (although it could). For me it means spending a few seconds devoting yourself to something other than your base needs and desires. For me, its sometimes as simple as repeating to myself when I wake up, “Help me save at least one life today.” Which has some arrogance in it (I pretend I’m a superhero) but the basic motive is the same – the first goal of the day is to help someone other than myself. Everyday I know I’ll be a superhero and save at least one life. But the key is to look for the opportunity. Keep your eyes open all day for that life you need to save. Else someone will die.
6) Visualization. If you visualize you’re rich, you won’t necessary get rich. But if you constantly visusalize you’re poor, its certain you will have such an overwhelming feeling of scarcity that you won’t be able to overcome. I have problems with a “scarcity complex”. I’ve sold three profitable businesses and I always joke I’m the only guy who ever sold an internet company on the basis of a multiple of earnings (as opposed to the super-inflated valuations everyone else gets). Its hard for me to step up and really say I deserve more. Visualizing the life you want and deserve is a good way to prepare for those moments where you have a real opportunity to make the leap to that life instead of settling for less. One way to visualize is, of course, with a list. Make a list of the 10 things you want in your life by next year. Visualize how those things can happen. And then take one step forward today towards achieving those things. I try to do this every day and it works. Today I’m going to try and find one more high-traffic place to syndicate my columns.
7) Meditation. This goes hand in hand with visualization. And its important. Without getting into the specifics of meditation you want to clear your head of the non-stop chatter that gets in the way of your success. Clearing the head lets ideas from the subconscious get closer to the conscious mind. It helps the ideas from one part of your brain mate with ideas from the other part. Its also good practice for getting your mind back into focus during the day when those inevitable “scarcity complex” moments come up where you feel undeserving of the riches you are destined to get. I often find myself in the “Why me” syndrome. Building a meditation practice is good practice for pulling your head back during those moments.
8) Studying a spiritual text. There’s been a million bands created since 1960. But only a handful of bands have withstood the test of time so we still listen to them today. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. U2, etc. Similarly, there’s been millions of prophets, self-help gurus, advice columns, etc since 5000 BC but only a few have withstood the test of time. Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Jesus, and a handful of others. Why did they withstand the test of time? Who knows. But that’s why they are worth reading. A little bit each day. Currently I am reading Karen Armstrong’s book “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life”, which surveys many of the major philosophies.
9) Trust, part II. If something happens, and you’ve been following the core Daily Practice mentioned above, then trust that things are going in the right direction. In 2009 I started a company, 140Labs. We were going to make twitter-related sites. For instance, we made 140love.com, a dating site for twitter. I had a first round of $500,000 raised and mostly wired in. The morning we were going to close the round I had an overwhelming feeling that this was not a good idea and not how I wanted to spend the next three years of my life. My body was physically shaking as I woke up. So I trusted that moment. I returned the money that had been sent in, canceled the raise, shut down the company (you can still see 140love.com), and moved on, at about $50,000 personal expense to myself. Trusting yourself and the cues your body and mind are telling you despite great grief it could cause (partners, investors, etc were disappointed in me, not to mention my bank account) is the best way to find success. I ended up having a great year despite that loss of money and time.
10) Giving. See Give and You Shall Receive
11) Say Yes. In a prior article I mentioned I always say “No” to anything I don’t want to do. But, with an important caveat. I almost always say “Yes” to new experience, even to the point of throwing myself into that experience. That’s how stories are generated, that’s how real knowledge is generated so new ideas can be formed with your old ones. This is how life becomes interesting. I never wanted to go to India before in my life. Last month I went and it was well worth it. I always look forward to meeting new people. And I always look forward to the next surprise I say “Yes” to.
Don’t forget: for our whole lives everyone around us gave us great examples about what it looks like to be “unhappy”. Now you have to say “Yes” to happiness. Its hard because nobody taught us how to. That’s why you have to say “Yes” to new experiences. Since each new thing might teach us that elusive happiness.
12) Learn the value of money. I think I express it best in the post, “How it Feels to be Rich”.
13) Bless Money. You always hear, “money is the root of all evil”. Its actually not. Money creates jobs, creates products that improve the quality of life, money can be given to charity, money can be given to our children so they hopefully live better lives than we did. Money can be used to pay for healthcare for ourselves and our family. My biggest regret in life is during a low point, not having the money I felt was required to really help my dad recover from a stroke. I’m devastated by that still. Money doesn’t solve all of your problems, but it does solve your money problems.
14) Be grateful. Exercise your idea muscle right now. Can you think of 32 things you are grateful for? Can you do that again every day? I find this to be a useful prayer.
15) Do yoga. This is from Claudia’s post. At the very least, exercise is important for three important reasons:
- All evidence suggests that people who exercise live longer.
- You’ll be more confident and it will show
- When you exercise you often have to deal with short-term situations when your body is in extreme pain. You have to breathe through those situations (whether its yoga, lifting weights, doing 100 pushups, shooting baskets, etc). this is great practice for breathing through those difficult situations that often come up in life.
Yoga specifically I find to be very interesting. It exercises the muscles. Its continuous (so a half hour yoga session is often equivalent to a 1 hour gym session where there are breaks between using the different machines) and it forces you to breathe deeply in often incredibly difficult-to-get-into positions, a necessary tool for life. Additionally, breathing in those positions forces oxygen into parts of your body that are not used to it.
Here’s my take on how Yoga Completely Humiliated Me
16) Dedication. Part of my prayer in the morning of “Save a life” is I dedicate my day to a “higher power”. I hate using that word. It sounds like a new age phrase. But whatever. Call it “The Force”. Its not so bad to try and imagine the Force working through you. Try it for a day or two.
17) Add value to others. This is part of the “give” point above but deserves its own point. It’s a rule of the universe that you can only create value for yourself if you stridently attempt to create even more value for others. The only way I’ve ever made money was by creating something that had lasting value for others. Every other attempt at a shortcut failed miserably.
18) Offer for free. I always want to be as honest as possible. If I’m offering something for free, there’s no bullshit. I don’t have to convince anyone of anything. Its free. Either take it or not. Then, if people take it, I learn from it, the ideas get better, the service improves, I get to know the audience better, word of mouth gets better, etc. Even in a consulting business, get your foot in the door with such good ideas that the door becomes wide open. Then you can charge. I once had a client that I visited once a month for over a year before I made a single dime off of him. Then, in one chunk, I made $750,000 from him. As the great Barry Ritholz has told me, “Never let a whale off the hook”.
19) Learn to charge for services. When I started a company building websites the hardest part was learning how to charge. I quickly found out I was charging about 1/100 of what my competitors were charging (Razorfish, Agency.com, etc) and was able to adjust accordingly. But it was hard. I’m a salesman. So my whole goal was to always close the deal and get the client to say “Yes”. The lower the price, the easier to get them to say “yes” (in most cases). Learning to balance this has been my life-long challenge.
20) Promote yourself. This is easy advice but hard to follow. How do you promote yourself? One thing is by learning how to write. Most bloggers/businessmen out there don’t know how to write. I would say on a scale of 0 to 10 most people are a 1 at best. The first step in promoting yourself, believe it or not, is reading high quality writing. Read stories by Raymond Carver, essays by David Foster Wallace or Malcolm Gladwell. Read as much good writing as you can get your hands on. You need to be able to express yourself in order to promote yourself. In order to express yourself well you need to be a good writer and communicator. And don’t forget these important rules for good writing:
- After you are done with your post, take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Almost certain that it will read better.
- Along those lines, try to take out every other sentence.
- Bleed a little in each post (i.e. a personal story that shows you’re human like the rest of us)
- Provide value. Make sure you aren’t regurgitating something written somewhere else on the entire World Wide Web. Really create something new. Else, don’t write. Never say anything that doesn’t add value. Else, you are wasting everyone’s time.
And then, key, try to distribute/syndicate in as many places as possible. But only after you have followed the above rules. This will build the ability to promote yourself.
21) Brush your teeth. Nobody wants to give money to people with bad breath. Its just a fact of life. The same goes for cleaning up your workspace. And try to dress as cleanly as possible. This is almost impossible for me. I tend to appear disheveled no matter what I do. But I try. Here’s a site I made a few years ago, crowd-sourcing an ad for Crest toothpaste. Just for fun. Crest had nothing to do with it.
22) Ask. When I started my first business, Reset, I asked corporate customers what it is they wanted to achieve with a website. I listened as much as possible without talking. And then I would come back with ideas, hopefully enhancing even further the ideas they had about their own website presence. Asking, then listening, is the first steps towards creating value for someone else. Someone recently wrote me asking me for so-and-so’s email address. But in his letter to me he gave no reason why he wanted it, provided no value, and was clearly not concerned with why so-and-so would have any interest in talking to him. So I deleted the email.
23) Ideas. I stress this in a billion other posts but specifically, find ten people you want to do business with, list them, then list ten ideas you think can improve their business. Realistically think about how they (or you) can execute on those ideas. They have to be easy to execute. List how they can execute each idea. Do this every day. Whittle down the lists. Send each list out to the people you want to help. Before you know it, you will have a business helping people. This is a guarantee. Helping people is also the fastest way to profits. Its also a guarantee that if you don’t exercise that idea muscle, it will atrophy. Quickly.
24) Laughter. I give a lot of public talks. I try to follow the 50-50 rule. 50% real value, 50% laughter. Make sure people laugh. Most of the time they only remember what made them laugh. But every now and then real value slips in. How do you make people laugh if you aren’t funny? Learn how to be funny:
- Get a list of funny books and read them. Start with something smart and funny, like Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”. Something more contemporary is anything by Nora Ephron or Ariel Leve. Or books by comedians, like Seinlanguage, Jim Norton’s books, etc.
- Watch on youtube funny standup. Anything. Richard Pryor is great. Seinfeld is great. Anything.
- Watch funny movies. My current favorite: “Superbad”. My current favorite funny sitcom: “Arrested Development”.
- There are actual books on how to be funny. “The Standup Bible” (or “Comedy Bible”) by Judy Carter is one.
- Watch “Jon Stewart”. He’s the best. Study how he pauses often. Even his silences are funny.
People will want to work with you, buy your company, give you money, etc, if you do the 50-50 rule. Provide value, and make them laugh. A lot of companies can provide value. But you stand out if you can also provide laughter.
25) Surrender. You want something. Badly. But if all you do is think about it, you’ll never get it. Visualize exactly what it is that you want, and then give it up to the universe that you will get it. I know this again sounds corny, new-agey, but its on solid ground. If you obsess you’ll be too fixated on what you want to be able to change directions at a moment’s notice.
Being able to change and trust that the change is correct is critical. In June, 2006, I received an offer for the fund of funds I was running. It was a healthy offer of about 15% of assets when similar companies were being acquired for 3% of assets. Millions of dollars.
But they wanted me to stay locked up for six years. I couldn’t sign myself up for slavery. So my business partner and I said “no”. Then we wondered, “What the hell?” We just spent several years building up a business that had no equity value unless we agreed to indentured slavery. So we switched directions on the spot. We created several websites, and one after the other, if they didn’t take off immediately, we stopped it.
Eventually one took off. Stockpickr.com. More on that in another story. But we knew that we were putting in the right effort, the right daily practice, we knew what we wanted, but we had to surrender that the results might not come in the way we expected. The key was to not get disappointed. The way you don’t get disappointed along the way is to know that you’ve surrended to a higher power (or even better, you’ve surrendered to the fact that your Daily Practice has made you equipped for the long-term to generate success).
The above 25 methods are difficult. Most people can’t do them. And don’t set yourself up for goals you can’t achieve. But a constant attempt to do the above will allow anyone to conquer the obstacles in this way. I don’t believe in self-help. But I certainly believe in helping myself. This is the way I do it.