Throughout his life, architect Bill Claudill wrote down notes on this and that, and organized those thoughts under the title This I Believe. When Tom Peters turned 60, he decided to scribble down 60 thoughts, one for each year – that seemed to capture his professional and personal journey.
I turn 36 in a couple of days (June 24). Much younger than the above named folks, but I decided to do the same. I wrote down 25 TIBs – things I believe to be true.
1. Have a skill that people value
Some years ago I stumbled upon this story:
A young dude somehow ends up at a party in the Playboy mansion. Sees a well-known billionaire there, and seizes the moment to ask him a question: “What’s the one piece of advice you would give someone in their 20s to achieve great success?” “Young man, have a skill that people value”, the billionaire replies.
Now I don’t know whether this really happened, but it’s something I’ve come to believe very strongly. Having a skill that the market is ready to pay for is an amazing asset to have. It’s what sets apart the NBA superstars from random ball players, it’s what makes the difference between a software developer making top dollar and someone having to struggle to find an odd freelance gig for a few bucks. If you are among the top 1% in the world at what you do, you will never have to worry about “making it”. It’s the surest path there is.
Devote yourself to become the very best at what you do – and success will follow.
2. Decide what you want your life to be like – and then do it
Decide how you would like to live your life, and then go do it. You can be everything you want to be if you devote yourself to it.
Around 10 years ago I was an advertising sales guy, hated my job. I literally took out paper and a pen, and wrote down what I want my life to be like. Based on what I wrote down, it seemed like working for someone else was not really possible, and because I wanted my life to to include a lot of travelling, I couldn’t have my business be tied to a specific geographical location. So back then I realized I need to build a location independent business. It added much clarity to my path. And since 2007 my life has been fully location independent. Not an accident, by design.
3. Live abroad
There’s a huge difference between people who’ve experienced the world, and who haven’t.
- If you want to broaden your horizons in ways you never knew, go live abroad. Some of the most interesting people I know have lived in various places around the world.
- If you want to “find yourself” and figure out what you really want to do with your life, go live abroad. Moving to a different country strips away the mixture of habits created by the places, people, circumstances and cultural conditioning that shape your life – leaving only yourself. You can become somebody else if you want to. You can find who you really are. In my experience living and working abroad brings out the you in you in a much stronger way.
If you’re in your 20s, there’s no better time to go and live abroad for a year or more. The more different the country, the better. Definitely a different language.
Nothing changes people’s perspectives and cultural understanding like living and working abroad. (Just visiting beach hotels and hanging out with expats doesn’t count).
Organizations like AIESEC make a huge difference to young people’s lives.
4. Get things done
Awards and applause are not given out for intentions or elaborate plans. The only thing that matters is getting things done.
I often have conversations with people where they express something like “I’ve always wanted to travel to Brazil” or “I would like to have my own business and control my hours”. Well – if you know what you want, go do it.
Getting things done at the office is similar. There are A-players who get S O M U C H done, and B-players who tinker and chat and browse and produce minimum required deliverables.
Be that one person people know that gets stuff done. It only takes a decision. Nothing more. Anyone of us can be that person who gets shit done.
5. Everything is hard, so do what you love
There is no such thing as easy business, or easy career. You need to work your butt off no matter what you do. So if everything is hard, then why do anything you don’t absolutely love?
Some people are professional spammers, or run pawn shops, or sell quick loans with exorbitant interest rates. Hard to imagine that there’s something fulfilling about those, yet there’s rough competition in those businesses too. So why do it? It’d be much better to fight the good fight for something you believe in.
We spend most of our awake hours at work, stupid to spend your life doing something stupid.
6. Do things that others are not willing to do
The secret to success is to be willing to do the things that others aren’t and be prepared to do them for a really long time.
How does one become the best at what they do? They work and try harder over a long, long period of time.
Most people are inherently lazy – they want the shortcut, the quick fix. Most are not ready to really bust their butt for many, many years. That’s where you can have your edge.
Most bloggers give up before their blog even has a chance to make it, most give up on their diets / workout regimes before they see progress, and so on. Be the one who is ready to work so hard over a long period of time that the barrier of entry to compete with you is extremely high.
7. Don’t be afraid to piss some people off
We’re taught to be nice, and it really is important to be nice. But don’t put pleasing other people first. Sometimes you need to defend your truths, stand out against bigotry or raise your voice in support of other people. Most people are afraid to voice a controversial opinion. What if they don’t like me then? Screw that.
Pleasing everyone won’t get you anywhere. Besides, being a straight talker makes people trust what you say more, and that goes a long way. Have some integrity, and don’t be shy about it.
8. Say “no” more often
People are generally terrible at saying “no”. Anyone who’s worked in sales knows that. People who are never going to buy what you’re selling just can’t make themselves say “no” – so they’ll give you some bullshit about “maybe later” or “we’re re-structuring our business”.
Interestingly, when people want to buy from me, and I tell them “no, I don’t want to sell you” (because XYZ), they want it even more. Playing hard to catch works.
Saying “no” is not about sales though. It’s about priorities, putting what’s most important first, putting yourself first. You will save so much money.
When people ask you to do something, avoid the temptation to say “yes” (very easy to do), and try to tell them “no” more often.
9. Getting an email from someone does not mean you need to reply
If someone sends you an email, it’s about them. You’re not obliged to reply. At all. Feel free to ignore all but the important emails. If you get a lot of emails, that’s the only way to survive.
If you reply to every single email, your whole time and life is dictated by other people. Be your own boss, and choose which lucky fucker gets a response. You don’t owe them anything.
Everything starts with a dream. Then hard work, luck, blood, sweat and tears are needed to make it happen. But everything starts with a dream.
11. Tell me who are your friends…
… and I’ll tell you who you are. It’s so true. I see it every day in my life.
If you’re surrounded by small-minded people, you’ll become one. If you’re surrounded by movers and shakers, people going after their dreams, you’ll become one. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, as the saying goes.
During high school and first years of college, I was in a group of friends whose main goal was drinking, getting drunk. I was optimizing for that. Then I joined an international student organization (for chicks and parties), and suddenly found myself surrounded by young people developing their skills and changing the world for the better. Before I knew it, I was optimizing for the same thing they were. I rose quickly through the ranks, and I spent 5 years in that organization, making it to the top. Optimizing for what the group was.
I’m not saying you should ditch any friends necessarily (all those drunk guys are coming to my birthday party ;), but spend more time with people that are going places or are where you want to get to. As the saying goes – if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
12. Own less, but better
I believe that owning too much stuff leads to your things owning you. You feel like you can’t leave your stuff. You start worrying about your stuff. Too much physical clutter also clutters the mind. It’s better to own less stuff.
You can get more joy out of the things you own by getting the best you can (afford).
Anything I need – a new kitchen knife, coffee grinder, washing machine or a car – I enjoy doing the research and getting the best possible one. Especially for things that I use a lot. Life really is better when the things you use every day are the very best.
It’s better to sleep on the best possible mattress on super high thread count sheets. It’s better to chop onions with a never dulling French knife. Your dishes get cleaner with the best possible dishwasher, and you don’t need to pre-rinse them or whatever. If you drive every day, it makes so much sense to get a car that’s fun to drive and fun to be in (even during a traffic jam).
13. Do less, but better
You can’t be great at everything. You need to pick. When you choose that one thing, not only the perception of your expertise goes up (since you only focus on one thing), but your actual expertise as well. The more you do something, the better you get at it.
You don’t see a 100m sprinter also competing in tennis and kickboxing. Pick one thing. You’ll be rewarded for it.
14. Proactive people win
“Why isn’t anyone picking up that piece of trash?”
“Why isn’t anyone telling that man to shut up?”
“Nobody told me to do it.”
“Not my job.”
Instead of saying any of these things and being reactive, be proactive. Proactive means that you take the responsibility, you don’t wait for anyone to give you permission or authority to take action.
You see a piece of trash, you pick it up. Some racist asshole is yelling at a woman in a hijab at a restaurant, you stand up and shut him up. You don’t wait for your boss to assign you marketing tasks, you come up with your own proposals and implementation plans first. You do whatever needs to be done, even if it’s not necessarily your job.
Proactive people are the ones who get promoted, proactive people are leaders. It’s a skill that you can develop. It’s one of the key hiring criteria for me. It’s also what’s gotten me everything I have in life.
15. Don’t wait for life, live now
How much of your life do you spend waiting?
- I’ll work for 5 more years, save money, then I will travel!
- Next year I’ll get a new job, then my life will be good finally!
- After I graduate/move/get a raise/launch that thing/etc, then I will launch my business/start exercising/network/be happy/do XYZ!
You can have the good life now. Stop deceiving yourself that you need a life event to start doing something, be happy or whatever. Live now.
16. What’s your problem right now?
People worry too much about stuff they have no control over.
If you have a problem – you have 2 choices: change it or accept it. Either way the issue gets solved.
Too cold? Put on more clothes. Don’t like your hair color? Dye it or accept it.
So – stop complaining. Either change your situation, or accept it.
17. Build relationships – they open all the doors
Nepotism is not a thing of the corrupt past. It’s how the world still works. From getting into Stanford university to raising VC money to getting others to promote your products – it’s all about personal relationships. The better the relationship, the more it will help you.
Relationships are like a superpower – and you can use them in the time of need to get you out of trouble or to further your cause. And it’s not just about gaining something – it makes your life so much richer.
Go to conferences, be active on Twitter and other online communities, add value, be a likable person. Have it as your weekly goal to make deposits to relationship bank accounts (as per Stephen Covey).
A lot of people go to conferences to “network”, but they do it all wrong. Networking is not “Hi my name is John, I work for ABC, and our software does XYZ”. Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch. The best networking is getting people to like you – and you do that by just hanging out and being charming. Once you know the other person and there’s a good connection, you’re in a position where they might be interested to hear what you have to say (sell). But you don’t do that the first time you meet (unless they show initiative).
Even if you’re an introvert, you can train yourself to be great with people. Look people in the eye and smile – that’s half the battle. Being serious in a corner, looking at your phone, will not get you anywhere. Read Dale Carnegie books to get the fundamentals of interpersonal relationships right.
Also, have a strong handshake.
Another mistake people often make is they try to form relationships with people “out of their league” – say celebrities of their industry and what not. It’s much better to focus on people at your own level, and grow together. Or raise your own game, and become known for something. It really helps to have a personal brand.
18. Build an audience
A bit of business advice that I believe: If you have an audience that wants to receive messages from you, everything becomes so much easier.
My last startup failed for various reasons, partly because we had no name recognition and no audience to sell to. When I started my next company, I told myself that I will build an audience first, and then figure out what they want, so I can offer it to them. And that’s when I launched ConversionXL in 2011. And building an audience has made all the difference in the world.
You might not know what you sell 5 or 10 years from now, but if you have an audience that you have a great relationship with, it doesn’t matter. You can grow / evolve with them.
19. Hang out with your kids
Children are amazing (I have two kids), and they deserve a happy childhood where they get to hang out with their parents. And you deserve to hang out with your kids, people who love you unconditionally and think you’re an amazing hero. Unless you really are an asshole, you can do no wrong in their eyes.
I love spending time with my kids, and I make an effort. I leave work 4:30-5pm to go home (pick up the older one up from kindergarten along the way), and hang out with them.
One thing that pisses me off – the gigantic self-help industry is written for single people without kids. Career advice, networking advice, fitness advice and what not advice assumes that your universe is just you. e.g.,”Work 16 hours a day to get ahead!”
Last time I checked many people have children. When I bring up this topic – fellow parents agree. If you spend all your time at work/networking/gym/etc – when will you hang out with your kids? I’m not saying at all that you can’t be super fit or have a great career when you have kids – it’s just so much harder, an requires a lot more self-discipline.
The uncomfortable truth is that a lot of the uber successful people have achieved that by sacrificing their kids. Read their (auto)biographies – how many mentioned that they were home by 5 to spend time with their kids? Today’s mythical superhero Elon Musk – details of his life are out there. I wonder if his kids ever see him (or did even before the divorce). You win some, you lose some.
I guess everyone has their priorities – I will always put my kids higher than anything else.
20. A healthy mind in a healthy body
We need to take care of both – our intellectual and physical health. The science is there – better health enables us to do better things with our life. The more we neglect it, the more we feel it as we get older. We also know now that people age at different pace – mostly due to lifestyle. We also know that cancer and other awful conditions are mostly the result of lifestyle choices and less about genetics (with exceptions, of course). Add here feeling good about yourself and being able just do more, there’s every reason to set health as a priority.
When I turned 35, I set health as my priority (again). I’ve now been doing kickboxing 2x/week for a year (helluva cardio – I hate jogging, but kicking and punching is so much fun), lifting weights, eating well.
It’s done wonders for my health, my overall fitness level (fitness is mostly what you can do, not what you look like), I’ve lost a bunch of weight and gained muscle. It’s good for self-esteem as well.
21. Get to know your parents, before it’s too late
My dad died when I was 24. I was really angry at him during his last 10 or so years, so I was disinterested in getting to know him at the time. I’ve had many regrets since. I have many unanswered questions.
I lost my mom this spring. Cancer took her away too soon, relatively suddenly. Two years after getting the diagnose she was gone. Nothing prepared me for this.
Even though I had lots of talks about her life in the last 2 years, there’s so much I still don’t know, and now never will.
If your parents are still around, go ask them about their life. You never know what might happen.
22. Prioritize, ruthlessly
We have so many demands for our time. I have 2 kids, a beautiful wife, a lovely home, a growing business, a body I dwell in. All of it needs attention. Any time you’re doing anything, make it worth it. Ask yourself: is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?
Don’t spend your precious time on minutia. Cut commitments, say no, ruthlessly eliminate everything that is not essential and focus your effort on what’s most important in the given moment.
Readers are leaders. Bill Clinton read 300 books while in college. Bill Gates reads all the time, and frequently publishes lists of recommended books to read. They’ve come quite far in life.
Set aside at least 30 minutes a day to read. It’s not hard to do. You don’t need to read every page of a book also. I skip a lot – most books have 250+ pages due to publisher demands, and could be wrapped up in 50 pages.
Reading can inspire, show you new ways to think, do and live.
24. Write a lot
The ability to communicate clearly and compellingly in writing is invaluable. The difference between good email and a mediocre one is dramatic. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they write their emails. You can spot a clueless person a mile away.
Applying for jobs? Writing great cover letters helps a lot. If you’re in business, blog like your life depended on it. Writing is a skill every marketer has to have. I built my whole business on it.
How to become a better writer? As Stephen King said: read a lot, and write a lot.
25. When in your 20s, take risks
I believe that the courage you show in your twenties determines the ceiling for risk tolerance for the rest of your life. If you graduate with good grades, and you get a safe job – that’s it. Travel – go backpack around the world. Take risks. Work in places where you can grow, don’t go for the highest salary. Plenty of time to make money later.
My friends who never took risks back then, play it safe now too. If you ever want to become an entrepreneur, now is a good time to dabble and fail – before you have kids, and have bigger responsibilities.
What nobody told me about college years is that it’s far more about relationships than it is about what you study. It takes a long time to make an old friend, and college is where a lot of it gets started.