On December 18th, 1995 Mikki Williams did a presentation for my, then TEC, now Vistage, Group 100 entitled — Pyromania: How to set a fire under yourself. Like most all presentations there was a good amount of wisdom and take home for the moment and, like most presentations, almost of that wisdom was forgotten relatively quickly. However, as I mentioned in a previous story here called Stupid Human Tricks — I have set my bar for success very low and, though I try to actively listen to everything said, I only look for the one thing to take home and really implement. That one thing that stuck with me all of these years from the 90 minutes or so Mikki was in front of us was to — ask, and more importantly, ask first. It was punch line of her “Ferrari Factor” story, which was all about taking a risk and asking for what we want, no matter how outrageous.
In short the story was about a friend of hers — a super tiny beautiful blonde that happens to drive around in a red Ferrari convertible. It was told that at a stop light a bunch of guys who were playing basketball came up to her and only one of them who rushed to the front said, “Lady, you would make my day if would just give me a ride around the block.” She actually took him up on that ask and he got to wave to everyone he knew on that ride with a big smile on his face. When they returned the next person was ready to get in but the answer to the rest was, “No, he asked first.”
Since then, and perhaps because of then, there have been many times in my life that I have gone out of my way to not only ask, but ask first. The flip side for me has been doing my best to respond — and respond quickly. For almost everything that matters, small to large, one can either answer positively now or say no with the affirmation of never looking back. Meaning opportunity is a two way street that more often than not only holds open for a brief period of time. Sometimes the ask comes from you while, at other times, the ask comes from someone else.
Time is the great equalizer that is given to us all in the same proportion. Asking is taking a risk. As Mikki says, “When you live, you risk dying.” If you don’t ask you don’t get. Time can either be spent asking, and getting ahead, or asking, and finding out what doesn’t work. All of the rest of the time waiting on the sidelines is wasted. In a different story called “Advice to a younger self” I briefly mentioned how important taking those risks are.
Mikki went even further using the acronym “PIES” to help you think about the types of risks you can take: Physical — meaning anything involving the physical world, Intellectual — meaning anything that will stretch or otherwise challenge your mind, Emotional — meaning anything that comes from the heart, and Spiritual — meaning anything that helps build your soul.
20 years later and I still remember this. It helped me build a life I am grateful for. Perhaps it will help you too.
When life ends up breathtakingly fucked, you can generally trace it back to one big, bad decision. The one that sent you down the road to Shitsburg. — Deadpool
Which is true… but hidden under the hood is the fact that big, bad decisions are the zoomed out fractals of the choices we make every-year, every-month, every-day, every-hour, and every-minute. Yet, at the same time, I cringe when people claim, “not everyone can be so perfect,” when things are going well. Repetition is the mother of skill because failure is the mother of all success.
Imagine the insanity of the scenario where an archer picks up his bow for the first time and gives up after the first shot he takes misses his mark. How many times in life do people get frustrated when they cannot accomplish the ultimate goal on the first attempt. Imagine the double insanity with the want to be archer missing the first shot with his bow and deciding darts might be more his game. Then, if he misses on the first dart throw — maybe he was destined to be an expert at pistol, and when that did not work of the first try, maybe it is time to give up on this whole target idea… Dieting, exercise, learning a new skill, whatever it might be is a road to be taken and not a sci-fi transporter ride from zero to everything.
Four or five moments — that’s all it takes to become a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend — spare an enemy. In these moments everything else falls away… — Colossus
Despite where you might lay down the measuring stick and claim something took ten years to change you will still be able to track down the real change in a moment — the moment when the decision was made to do something different. It might be ten years of pain followed by the moment when you could finally say enough is enough — no more — the moment when you finally decide to pick the bow, stick with the bow, and start aiming at the target. Being the hero, however, is not hitting the target every time you pull back on the string. On the contrary, being the hero is deciding to be a little better than yesterday in getting closer to the target. Being the hero is getting closer to the target by learning from the skills of others and then applying your unique abilities on top of those skills. Being the ultimate hero is, in-turn, helping others who want to do the same succeed as well. Unless you really want to visit, and perhaps live in, Shitsburg — step up and start making those moments for yourself today.
A friend by the name of Jim Kwik has a SuperHeroYou conference he hosts where performance experts come together behind closed doors in Los Angeles to share their best ideas to unleash your Superhero Brain, so you can triumph against the modern day super-villains of information overload, digital distraction, mental fog, fatigue, and forgetfulness. One of the repeating themes I noticed was people being asked what their “super power” was.
Given the moments in my life that made the most difference to my, then, future self I have come to realize that my super power is fearing the unknown a lot less than a known bad certainty. In an older story here on Medium I said it a little differently, “It is more important to stop going in the wrong direction, than to know which direction is right.” As the entrepreneur sees the unknown as untapped opportunity a seasoned business owner, and investor, needs to see the unknown as a way to survive as the world changes.
It is fun to see the leadership lessons people have collected from the fictional character Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The one I remember the most is:
I have found it useful to understand that, more often than not, there are no right answers to the best path ahead. There are only choices to be made and if you choose not to decide, counter to the Rush lyrics, then the world has made your choice. If it is time to leave something behind then do so with a determination where there is no looking back — only continued learning, course correction, and hustle, for the path you are now on.
Although you can borrow other people’s super powers at times of need there is most likely only one that makes you consistently unique when compared to the crowd. If you know yours — leave it in the comments below…
Republicans vs Democrats — right? In searching for the image above I ran into a meme from the 2012 election showing Obama and Romney with the caption, “Voting changes nothing. Revolution is the only solution.” Well, for 2016 America has been voting for a revolution — or at least the beginnings of one. The race the nation was hoping for, socialism vs social popularity — Sanders vs Trump, may not have happened but to still say there is not major change coming is insanity.
I believe Naval Ravikant was the first person to use the term ‘American Spring’ and it is a great description of what is happening now. When you see a headline on CNN that reads, “GOP Delegate Group Working to Stop Trump,” you can more or less translate that into, “GOP Delegate Group Working to Stop Direct Democracy from Voting Them Out of Power.” It was not much different for Sanders and Clinton but America still is America and thankfully, though a generation is growing up with the reality of falling short in the lifestyle high water mark their parents had the fortune to set, there is still a deeper belief that true socialism is not the answer.
The revolution has come. This time not with violence but with a direct democracy which spells as much trouble for government in its current form as it does for the current two party system. Seeing an IBM Watson powered graph in February of how socially connected the candidates were, one could determine Sanders did not have a chance, which was the biggest surprise to me, and no one was even close to Trump.
Need more evidence of the obvious? Nassim Nicholas Taleb posted the following on Facebook:
The *establishment* composed of journos, BS-Vending talking heads with well-formulated verbs, bureaucrato-cronies, lobbyists-in training, New Yorker-reading semi-intellectuals, image-conscious empty suits, Washington rent-seekers and other “well thinking” members of the vocal elites are not getting the point about what is happening and the sterility of their arguments. People are not voting for Trump (or Sanders). People are just voting, finally, to destroy the establishment.
With a direct democracy also comes speed. It is the speed that no longer tolerates multi-year processes that end up going nowhere. It is the same speed that is turning many traditional businesses into ashes with new ones rising to replace them nearly overnight. Innovation in technology is actually only the juice of the real driving force behind the changes we see today — speed is everything…and you cannot have the speed needed when you devote energy to keeping the walls in place that either only support your point of view or artificially protect your position in business or politics. Speed is even more important than IP (think NDAs).
From atomic energy to space exploration the government may have got us there but now scalable technology and the open ability to share knowledge and discovery has made the need for government obsolete in many cases. It was Craig Venter who, in 2000, made the announcement of the mapping of the human genome, a full three years ahead of the expected end of the Public Genome Program. Though there have been others look to Elon Musk’s work to see what has driven change to what people thought possible for space and alternative energy. (…and I wrote those words before the news came out about the possible combination of Tesla and Solar City which makes perfect sense giving where they have both grown to become) The tough change government needs to make is to focus on what the public has trouble doing and get out of the way for everything else. In other words government in its current state tends to do what it is bad at and doesn’t do what it needs to do. Obamacare is one example of government attempting to force an end result without doing what is needed to get there. The technology exists to learn from what works and what doesn’t — to save more lives andto reduce the cost of wasted efforts and time. Craig Venter might lead that future for the elite who can opt-in to Health Nucleus but in the meantime the rest of us have trouble transferring information from doctor to doctor or worse yet, even having access to our own medical records. The goal should be to make universal health care as opposed to coverage universal.
Not long ago I heard the headmaster of an independent school say, “We live in anxious times.” The other thing I think people miss is that in anxious times risk needs to be increased to match the social mood. However, it might be interesting to read a perspective on the risks of Trump presidency and our tendency to overestimate the limited ability of one man to make a difference. Presidents tend to be judged by the tide that rises or falls around them rather than by their direct actions. Another unusual source of perspective on this topic is from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. I encourage you to read his views on the risks of a Trump presidency along with several other articles on his blog.
Limited ability, however, still comes with moments that can change the course of a world. Moments that are hard to find and sometimes rarely written about. Take Ronald Reagan, whose legacy usually starts with people bitching about the failure of ‘Reaganomics’ or trickle–down theory. When the real legacy is a memory from Mikhail Gorbachev who said: “The world changed the first time I had my first meeting with Ronald Reagan in Geneva … I will tell you the moment. We had been sitting for four hours arguing back and forth… What happened was that we were in this mad argument, worse and worse, going nowhere, all of a sudden this President Reagan stands up and says ‘this is not working’ with this weird look on this face and he says how about we start fresh? My name is Ron, may I call you Mikhail…. At that moment the world changed. He was no evil, he was no horrible [sic], he was such a nice man.” Yet, how many people voted a choice upon the possilibity of that moment?
Either way it is going to be an interesting election. It is a race of the old elite against what, at least, seems to be something different. In the words of Mark Cuban, “I don’t care what his actual positions are. I don’t care if he says the wrong thing. He says what’s on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.” Think of the irony in that alone — a billionaire businessman, and reality TV host, as the current symbol against the incumbent political elite. As it has been said about many other things, only in America…where stranger things have happened.
Can America be great again? Perhaps so. However, the error in dreaming about it is thinking what worked in the past should be able to work again. Success might leave clues but, at the same time, the world seems to be at a change point that traditional journalists and politicians are actively ignoring in the hope of things returning to their control. Vote Trump, vote Clinton, either way what we are seeing in this election cycle is not just a weird bump in the road — rather it is the moment we will look back on as the change that started to build whatever the future holds. It is with hope that direct democracy is finally going to kill the seemingly arbitrary clustering of values supported by the current two party system — and if you stand back far enough and look at the headlines it seems it is indeed starting to happen. The more interesting question is who will be running in 2020 and will any resemblance of the elite be able to hold on for another four years? As with businesses and empires it usually takes just a blink of an eye to breakdown what has taken decades to build.
Change the voices in your head make them like you instead — P!ink
We have all had it happen before. The scenario where we blissfully move along in life and then discover the world we knew so well was not true. Maybe it was the relationship that moved forward on a foundation of monogamous commitment that was shattered by the knowledge, and embarrassment, of years of infidelity. Maybe it was something smaller. Maybe it was something much worse.
Maybe it was even the opposite — perhaps years of wasted time knowing that you have been wronged only to find out it never actually happened. The Upside of Anger (2005) — spoiler ahead, the movie is over ten years old now — relates the story of Terry Wolfmeyer who told her daughters that she thought their father, Grey, had left the family to be with his former secretary in Sweden. It was not until years later that, when a real estate deal involving both Terry and her new boyfriend finally goes through, construction begins in the area surrounding their homes. A worker accidentally uncovers a well, where Grey Wolfmeyer’s body is found, revealing that he had never abandoned his family. Rather, he had accidentally fallen in the well and drowned.
If you are reading carefully, at this point you might be thinking great — if wonderful things are happening now the truth could crash the illusion at any moment whereas, if things are currently in a hot mess, perhaps I am dealing with just an illusion of what the truth is. The problem, however, comes down to not what the truth is but rather what the story is we tell ourselves.
There’s the flat tire and then there’s the story about the flat tire. — Tony Robbins
Though there may not be a choice about the flat tire, the story we tell ourselves, and others, is 100% under our control. The story is our a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting the past. It is a mental impression that is defined as our perception. In turn, I am sure the phrase, “perception is reality,” is familiar thus the idea of changing the past should not be looked on as a possibility to be dismissed as just a stupid trick of words.
Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. — Albert Einstein
If you do find yourself with a disempowering story holding you back I am not under the illusion that it is going to be easy to make the shift needed to change the past. With years of investment into an identity it is going to be harder to let go of than that stock you know will just, some day, eventually, maybe, perhaps, possibly, turn around and make all of the money you lost back. Though I do not have any data for this comment I will still say that the great majority of people will never even make the attempt — perhaps under the hallucination that their story actually is the truth and cannot be changed.
There is, however, some data at least remotely related to those that do. If you look at success, regardless of how you define it, it seems that 75% is the magic number that has arisen from challenged backgrounds. In other words, the story that is holding you back might actually be able to be rewritten into the story of why you can succeed where others have failed. Life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you handle what happens to you. Need some examples to put your story to shame? Just look at Sean Stephenson and Nick Vujicic. Both have taken lives that could have been easily written as tragic dramas and turned them into stories about superheroes instead.
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you are less than, less than fuckin’ perfect
Yet, for others to see your perfection the first, and only, challenge you have is to be you and not something you have let the things in your past become to you. Pause here. Time to re-read and think. Time to separate yourself from what you have let the things in your past become to you — in other words, your stories.
It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. — Tom Robbins
The following is copied from “Advice to a younger self…” It is a piece of advice I heard in 1999 from Joseph McClendon III, Tony Robbins No.1 Performance Coach. It was a story he told aloud back then and in asking him just recently if it was written down anywhere his reply was, “Unfortunately I do not have that in written form. Most of the time it is of the cuff and I’m in the flow.” I wish I could remember his words exactly but it went something like this —
Imagine yourself going back in your past having the chance to see all of the moments that made up your life to where it is today. See the friends around you today and remember where you first met them — some you may have only known for a short time and others you may have shared most of your life with. Remember how you wound up living where you are and what that move was like. What are you most proud of now — your family? Your job? Maybe what you have learned over the years. How did you meet your spouse? Remember all of those good times you have had together. Remember the bad times too — how have they made your relationship stronger? How did you wind up driving the car you have now — what about the last accident you were in — I know you were in at least one. What are you most proud of? Go back further in time before your career. Remember your school friends. Remember the people who didn’t like you? Remember the subjects you liked and the ones you didn’t. Dating, your first kiss, your first boy friend or girl friend. How about your first car? What were you eating back then? — I bet it is different today. What was your neighborhood like? Remember all that free time you had. Go back before school. Can you remember what your home was like? Remember where you played. Visualize that world in your mind. Look around to those familiar places and find your favorite one. Do you see a child there? Pick that child up and hug it with all of the love you have inside until you are one with that soul. Then realize that child is you. Before you let go take the time to tell that young soul, “It’s going to be all right.” Then let go and remember how far you have come. Enjoy and be thankful for that moment. Your life is a gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God. Become the miracle you seek.
Yes, thinking about it now probably the best advice I could give to my younger self is, it is going to be all right. Divorce, death, and even high school, were all somehow meant to be on the trail leading to the here and now.