[Note: Rewritten version of an earlier post. I rewrote because I think NOW is the time to get our share.]
I only just found out the other day they lied to us about the American Dream. 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. You can’t go to the bank and say, “I need my piece of the American Dream”. Even though they gave the banks a trillion dollars, the banks won’t budge. And if you pull out your favorite self-help book and say, “see, it says I just have to Think and Grow Rich” they won’t listen. “That is not a debit card,” they will say.
So I went to Wall Street last week. I decided to DIRECTLY ask the bankers and traders for my piece of the trillion dollar bailout.
- (we deserve a little piece of this)
I held out my hand and stood outside the New York Stock Exchange. I was dressed in a nice button down shirt. Nice pants. I wanted to look neat if I was going to go begging.
I said to everyone who walked past: “Please sir, can I borrow just five dollars.” One time I was lying down and just had my hand out. Not a single person would give me money. People stepped over me. Well, I take that back. One person wanted to give me money. But I had to refuse it in this case.
The excellent folks at PBS are compiling the result into a video that I will post here probably next week. Suffice to say, I came away from the experience penniless. Even someone who knew me just walked past me and didn’t even say hello although I know he recognized me. So I couldn’t get my piece of the trillion dollars.
Begging doesn’t work. But what does? 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. Why is this a starting point? Because you need to clear your head. People have been bringing you down. Or maybe you’ve been envious of people. Or maybe you’ve been sick. Or not motivated. Or maybe you’re too worried about the future.
First we have to clear your head and make you healthy. And the spritual side means practicing acceptance for where you are right now. Forgive your past. Stop worrying. Start practing this now. This step alone is enough to get your piece of the pie. All of the below are reflections of this.
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. When good things happen to you, there’s two ways people screw it up. One is, they blow it. They take their money and spray it around like a broken hose, like a drunken rock star. Someone told me the other day: “I know 50 different guys who made $100 million and all they do is blow it on hookers, divorce, and bad investments.” So when something good happens to you, don’t change your life. Be a good person. As simple as that sounds, it’s not so simple.
The second thing: You deserve it. Many people deep down don’t think they deserve it. Take every compliment. Cherish it. Look around. The world is trying to give to you RIGHT NOW but we often spend our time rejecting it because we obsessing on the past or anxious about the future. Worrying is the opposite of receiving. Look around today at what the world is giving you right now. Write it down later. What did the world give you today?
- (learn to receive)
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) Save a Life. Getting means also giving. When you create value for others, it comes back to you tenfold. Make this committment every morning when you wake up: I will 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. That might be BS self-help.
But if you constantly visualize you’re poor (through fear or anxiety about an unknown future), its certain you will have such an overwhelming feeling of scarcity that you won’t be able to overcome it. I have problems with a “scarcity complex”. Its hard for me to step up and really say I deserve more.
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.But the key is: 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. And today I’m going to connect two people who should meet. (when you create value for others, you create ten times the value for yourself). Or today I’m going to specify more features that would be good for tdp.me.
7) Meditation. This goes hand in hand with visualization. And its important. Without getting into the specifics of meditation (I write about it here ) 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. Practice stopping those thoughts. That’s meditation. Not sitting under a tree waiting for enlightment. Then that’s “Mad Attention”.
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. Trust that if before, during, and after, every time you talk, think, act, you are not harming anyone, then nobody will harm you and only good things will happen. This is hard.
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, 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. I would’ve had a miserable year if I hadn’t done the right thing.
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.
I want to live my life like an experiment. Like a work of art. Sometimes there’s an explosion. But if you say “yes” to the right things, often something beautiful is created.
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. I’ve gone twice now 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. They tried to tell us “college” or “a job” or “a house” or “a wife” would make us happy. But happiness like that is fleeting unless you constantly re-ignite the fire inside.
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.
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. The way you can rationalize it: our brains are really just made for getting food and procreating. Trust that there are many mysteries we can’t possibly understand with our small brains. Dedicate your day to those mysteries.
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) THEN 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.
The above 25 methods are difficult. It’s a daily battle for me to follow them. And don’t set yourself up for goals you can’t achieve. But a constant attempt to do ANY of the above will allow anyone to conquer the obstacles in the way. I don’t believe in self-help. But I certainly believe in helping myself. This is the way I do it.