Today is my birthday. Every time one of my friends has a birthday, I ask them to share some birthday wisdom, so today I wanted to take a second to thank you for reading IWT and share a few lessons I’ve learned in 34 years.
1. Look beneath the surface of “catch phrases”
“What’s your greatest fear?” When I used to hear people ask me this godforsaken question. I guess I never really understood it. I would say, “Nothing” and they would look at me like I was crazy. I thought fear meant an animalistic, physical sensation like some predatory animal was chasing me. It turns out fear is a lot more subtle. I’m afraid of being ordinary. I’m afraid of thinking small. A lot of us are afraid of failure, or looking stupid, or of our friends thinking we got “too big for our britches.”
“What keeps you up at night?” Another phrase I didn’t understand. Dumb & Literal Ramit was like, “HUH? I SLEEP GREAT!” Well, now I get it. Maybe it doesn’t literally mean what prevents you from going to sleep…but what is on your mind ALL THE TIME? For me, it’s not revenue or launches or my protein powder. It’s people problems and people management (the special challenges that come with growing a company).
“Keep trying new things.” There’s another phrase I’ve been thinking about: “Keep trying new things.” On the surface, it sounds so normal — duh, of course I should keep trying new things. But think about our daily schedule: Most of us go to work, come home, maybe work out or watch TV, then do it all over again…for the rest of our lives. Maybe there’s a 1-week vacation thrown in there every year.
And yet a tiny change can change everything.
A few days ago, a reader sent me a link to an old IWT article he’d stumbled across, written back in 2005. Check it out:
Just like that. No 3-week launch with all the bells and whistles. No affiliate promotion. Just a simple mention, like “Oh, btw, now this site will also be about personal entrepreneurship. Cool?”
Such a small post for such a historical shift in focus that’s now led to millions of readers focused on more than just cutting back on the price of their breakfast cereal.
I think that for a lot of us, huge changes come from simple decisions. A decision to go to a yoga class, or hire a tutor to learn Spanish, or make the decision to be happy.
That little blog post was a great chance to sit back and really appreciate how far IWT has come in the last 12 years. I hope it inspires you.
2. Make yourself proud
I loved this email I got from a reader, Pete R.:
I did a talk yesterday to some high schoolers on career advice (I mentioned
your book and site on my recommended reading list) and had a moment that
made me think of you. A lot of my talk was about not being afraid to be
exceptional, to be above average and to stand out. In the Q&A afterward,
one of the girls asked me “so are you a top performer?”
I didn’t even flinch. I said yes without a moment’s hesitation. I said
everyone in my company was, it was the benchmark for even getting in (I
work at XXXXX). The look on everyone’s face was intriguing. They were
shocked, but it wasn’t a “he’s full of himself shock”, they seemed shocked
because I didn’t try and downplay it, didn’t have any false humility.
Almost as if they were thinking “wow, can you really just be like that?”
It was like me saying it was telling them it was ok not to be average. The
level of engagement and questions after that definitely went up.
I’ve been thinking about that constantly since it happened. I find it very
interested that it seems to just be imprinted on the majority of kids that
you’re supposed to be average.
Thanks for reading, NRN.
I love this for so many reasons.
First, society highlights superstars, athletes, and CEOs…but the minute you try something different, you realize the world wants you to be vanilla — they love celebrating, but nobody likes seeing how the sausage is made. It’s no surprise that we tend to do what everyone else does.
Second, when was the last time we actually said, “I’m proud of this”? For most of us, it’s been months…or even years. We’re socially conditioned to not say we’re proud of something we’ve accomplished or to downplay it.
I think that if you focus on doing something interesting, you get really good, and you tell people about it, then one day you wake up and realize you’ve accomplished something meaningful.
I never started IWT to turn into this big thing. I didn’t even know it would be a business! I just wanted to share what I’d learned about personal finance with a few of my friends. And now, I’m proud of what the IWT team has accomplished.
3. Everyone has something they “know” they should do…and they’re not doing it. Including me and you
A few days ago, our Product team did an icebreaker. The question was: “What surprising thing has working at IWT taught you about the people around you?”
Now, inside this small group is some of the best talent on applied psychology anywhere in the world. They know why people do what they do, they have access to test data and stories that nobody else does.
So we had a fascinating discussion on what we’ve learned about human nature.
One of the answers was, “Everyone has something they know they need to do and they’re not doing it. Including all of us.”
That level of compassion is something I didn’t have in my early 20s. If you couldn’t get an A…well, just try harder. If you couldn’t lose weight, well…you probably weren’t trying hard enough.
Over the last 12 years, I’ve learned that we all have a few things we’re great at…and at least one big, glaring thing that we think about every day of our lives.
For some people, it’s being unhappily single: “Will I ever meet someone? Do I have any time left?” Etc.
For others, it’s their looks. “Am I too short? I weigh too much. Sigh…there’s nothing I can do.”
What is it for you?
When I was in my early 20s, if some guy had just come up to me and said, “Dude, I know you think about being skinny a lot. Look, it’s so easy. Just count your macros, increase your calorie count to 3,500 calories, and lift heavy,” I would have looked at him like he was speaking alien.
We all have struggles in our own life. I have them, you have them
But just telling people the facts isn’t enough — even if you’re right. Like it or not, facts are overrated in persuasion. But meeting people where they are, giving them a vision for the future, and moving them a little in the right direction — not from A-Z, but maybe just A-F — can help tremendously.
Anyway, just some thoughts to share on my birthday today.
If you’ve read along, thank you.
For my birthday, I don’t need any presents. But there’s one request I have: If you’ve enjoyed IWT, please do me a favor and leave a comment on how IWT has helped you. That would be the best birthday gift of all.