Appreciate What You’ve Got—and Kill Your Fear!
Today is an incredible time to be alive. Opportunity is everywhere, and people have so much. There’s never been a more level playing field, thanks to the Internet. Today anyone who can afford a cell phone has access to the Internet, and we all know that the Internet is crammed with knowledge, and that knowledge is power.
Access to knowledge is this century’s revolution. Think about it. Back in the day, the expense of education was always a barrier to a better life, but now facts are free. If you don’t know how to do something—literally anything, whether it’s code or design a website, learn Mandarin, master the flute, or anything else—you can just go to the Internet and teach yourself or be taught by someone halfway around the world.
Steve Jobs once said: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
So don’t be afraid of what you can’t do. Appreciate what you’ve got—which is, by the way, more than most people have had since the dawn of civilization—and go from there. No matter what your dreams are, or what job or industry you’re in, you’ve got an incredible opportunity at your fingertips. Let go of your fear, and instead reach for the stars.
Screw the MBA
College and MBA programs in entrepreneurship are the hot new thing now simply because of demand, not because of their proven value. As long as students want to pay exorbitant tuitions to be taught to be entrepreneurs, schools will be willing to take their money.
But the reality is that one of the best educations for an entrepreneur is just learning the basics of business—economics, finance, accounting, marketing, human resources, organizational behavior—and a few other skills, along with a healthy dose of arts and sciences.
If you think business school is the right fit for you, then go for it. Just don’t think that you can enroll in a curriculum that will make you the new Elon Musk or Steve Jobs or Sergey Brin or Larry Page, because those jobs are taken. Learn to be you.
If you’re good at it, you can monetize it. If you’re excellent at it, then you already are, in a very real sense, an entrepreneur. By that I mean you’re the world’s first you. Get good enough at that, and people will line up at your door, whether or not you have a fancy MBA.
Never Learn the Rules
The scariest person at a poker table full of veterans is not the man in the cowboy hat, the guy wearing sunglasses at night, or the guy in the tuxedo who’s casually stirring a martini with one hand and riffling through his chips with the other. The scariest person is the one who doesn’t know the rules of poker as well as the others.
If you’ve read all the books about poker, watched all the online tutorials, and heeded all the expert advice, and then you sit down to play poker with the pros—you’re going to get wrecked. Because the pros know the rules and conventional actions and reactions better than you ever will, and they know what you’re going to do. When you follow their rules and play their game, the odds are stacked as high as a mountain.
But if you sit down at that poker table blissfully unaware of the rules, you’re going to terrify those veterans. They can’t read you. They can’t calculate your actions. You’re bringing something new to the table, and they don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s crazy, maybe it’s dangerous, or maybe it’s the future.
Don’t Pitch Your Business—Pitch Yourself!
People working for a company tend to think of that company as their brand. That’s why it’s good to work for a big brand, like Google. You introduce yourself this way: “Hi, I’m John Smith, of Google.” People are like: “Mr. Google, it’s such a thrill to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you!”
Your company is rarely your primary brand, though. Your main brand is you. Don’t forget that, and don’t be ashamed of it. Everybody loves being on a team—especially an all-star one like Google—but think about it this way: People change teams (and jobs) all the time, and you’ll still be you long after you’ve left Google.
If you look around, you’ll see that the smart people at high-opportunity networking events like these are pitching their own persona—their selfhood. They’re making connections, not deals. They know that deals are for later, if ever.
There’s scattered talk about who’s doing what, which companies are being funded for how much, and so on. But the real conversations are always about the same two topics: you and the person you’re talking to.
Don’t Try to Win a Humility Contest
Not that there is such a thing as a humility contest—by definition, humble people wouldn’t enter, would they? When somebody once asked Warren Buffett to give a speech on humility—since he’s the de facto winner of the humility contest among billionaires—he said, “Isn’t giving a speech about humility an oxymoron?”
Too many people work too hard at being humble, and it shows. They’re so demonstrably self-effacing and flattering of others that it just doesn’t ring true. Call it the vanity of humility, the ultimate oxymoron. You know the type I’m talking about here. There’s just something off about them.
Warren Buffett recently offered a good definition of humility at an event devoted to advice for CEOs under age thirty. He said humility is “knowing the edges of your own competency,” and added that he’d rather be somebody with an IQ of 130 who thinks it’s 125 than somebody with an IQ of 180 who thinks it’s 200.
Humility isn’t something you can engineer; it’s just a matter of being true to who you are as you grow. That’s why introspection is so key. You need to keep asking yourself: “Who am I really? Why am I doing the things I do? What makes me feel comfortable in my own skin?”
Stop telling yourself that intelligence is based on knowing what’s happening at this very minute. Stop trying to be in touch with everybody all the time. Don’t feel like you’ve got to notify the world every time you have lunch. All that stuff is like a drug. But like any drug, it can be hard to go cold turkey, and realistically most of us would have a hard time maintaining both our careers and our relationships if we went totally off the grid. The key is to use the information drug only in moderation.
People don’t think about this, but every time they send you a text or email, they’re taking away your time without your permission. It’s a little like they’re barging into your office without an appointment.
We’re all pressured to stay wired, but bending over and taking whatever information people throw at us is not the way to deal with it. Stand up for your right to some peace, quiet, alone time, family time, fun time, and creative time.
Don’t Try to Be Better Than Everybody Else
Funny parable: Two guys are in the woods. Out of nowhere comes a grizzly bear! He’s mean! He’s hungry! He lumbers toward them. One guy sits down to put on his sneakers. Other guy says, “Shit, dude, you can’t outrun that bear.” First guy replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”
It works the same in business. If you happen to be hanging out with high achievers and meet somebody who’s inordinately successful but not remotely the brightest, most driven person in the room, it tells you one thing: He’s at least a little smarter and more tenacious than his closest competitors. That’s all it takes.
A lot of people get caught up in the hero worship of super-amazing people—Musk, Page, Bezos, Jobs—and try to compare themselves with them. Don’t. It’s irrelevant. It’s a waste of time to compare yourself to the upper echelon of the whole world. The world is too big and you’re too small. You’ll always lose, and when you do, you’ll feel like a loser.
Take a Splurge Day
If we learned anything from the classic Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, it was “All work and no play makes Johnny a maniacal ax murderer.” As those who have seen the film will recall, Jack Nicholson’s workaholic mind-set was ultimately of no value to him—nor to his family.
Even an occasional splurge day gives you something to look forward to every day as you’re working long hours at the office or getting all too acquainted with the business travel lounge at your local airport. As Jane Austen said, the anticipation of happiness is happiness itself. The body will tell you when it needs a break. Listen to it!