What would people advise a (hypothetical) 22-year-old college graduate to do with his or her life?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What would people advise a (hypothetical) 22-year-old college graduate to do with his or her life. Follow me on Quora.

  1. Read. Ferociously. Everything you can get your hands. Join a book club. Imbibe books about personal development, communication, achievement, biographies, leadership, success, marketing, sales, business, entrepreneurship. You’ll do many things you may regret, but you will never ever regret spending time reading. Good sources of reading lists are Quora, blogs (Google 10 best books for …), Amazon (look for recommendations in categories, popular books with high ratings).
  2. Accept uncertainty. This comes from The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams: Deepak Chopra, a must read for getting started out. There’s uncertainty to everything, the sooner you can embrace that the sooner you’ll be able to leverage it. “You must give up the life you have planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell
  3. Agree. With everything and everyone. Stop arguing, stop trying to control every scenario, stop trying to prove yourself right. You’ll never change anyone’s opinion through argument, and no one will remember if you’re right. Seek consensus. Groups, teams, life move much better when harmonized than with discord.
  4. Be curious. There’s a vast, fantastic world out there. Foster your curiosity, and it will lead you to amazing places.
  5. Be open minded. Your opinions will change drastically on many, many things. The opinions you hold with absolute conviction may be very different in a few years. Don’t let those opinions get in the way of meeting people and experiencing things.
  6. Learn from adversity. You’ll experience challenges and adversity you can’t imagine right now. You’ll have a choice when you have these experiences, either see it as an obstacle or focus on what you can learn and how you can grow from the experience. It won’t be easy, but choose the later relentlessly, and you’ll grow in ways you can never imagine.
  7. Foster the growth mindset. Watch this:
  1. Get out of your comfort zone. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. If you stay within your limits, you’ll never know what your capable of.
  2. Don’t hold onto the wrong things. Grudges, anger, opinions. Let them go, quickly.
  3. Travel. Get out and explore. Another thing you will never ever regret. Go to places you’d never think you’d go. Max out your vacation time every year. Take a few weeks off between jobs and travel. Save up for a year and take a few months off.
  4. Don’t wait for the right time or the right thing to say. For anything. Most of the time you wait for the right time, you’ll be too late. Those who win in the world are the ones who speak up and take immediate action. You might say a few things you later regret, but you’ll regret more not saying anything.
  5. Don’t look for the perfect scenarios, partner, job. Everyone sees success and wonders how Jobs and Wozniak found each other, the perfect partners. Well, it wasn’t the one in a billion odds they found each other, they made each other the perfect partners, pushed each other’s knowledge and expertise and built Apple on their collective knowledge and energy. The vision of your career might include a high profile company or opportunity (e.g. work at Google, live in San Francisco), don’t get hung up on these. Focus on the motivation behind that scenario rather than that goal.
  6. Provide value in the world. Money and success are common goals but so many people often don’t achieve these in spite of their being a nearly universal goal. Money and success are important, but focus on creating value in the world first. The biggest disrupters didn’t do it because it would lead to money or fame. They did it because they wanted to change things. They saw a different future and created that. Look at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg built a tool for Harvard students originally. It now has over 1.4 billion users! Wake up and think about what you can do to create value in the world to your friends and family, your company, your coworkers, your country.

Interpersonal Interaction: What is the quickest way to get people to trust you?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: Interpersonal Interaction: What is the quickest way to get people to trust you. Follow me on Quora.

I sell for a living.

A better way to describe that is to say: I get people to trust me for a living.

Regardless of what industry, sales is about approaching complete strangers and shortly after meeting them, ask them for money. There may be not better test of whether people trust you. Sales skills are people skills.

After over 10 years of sales, I had an experience that I never dreamed of could happen when I started working in sales.

I started a routine sales call with a potential client (whom I reached out to with a cold email just the week before). He was head of marketing at a hot consumer start up.

After the routine pleasantries, he announced that he talked to dozens of marketing companies, and they had passed on them since the internal marketing team were doing a great job growing the brand . He said he didn’t really think that we had much unique to offer and that it was pretty unlikely they try us out, but he’d give us a few minutes of time. It’s not uncommon for sales calls to start out with a healthy degree of skepticism, but what happened next is uncommon.

I agreed with him. I told him that I read about his brand in the press and that whatever they were doing was working very well because they’d just been covered by a major news outlet. Then I asked him how in a crowded and competitive space and against huge established competitors, they were able to so well distinguish themselves.

He talked for the next 40 minutes. I asked him a couple questions here and there, but he did 99% of the talking.

He said he didn’t need to see a proposal and asked for us to send over the contract. Authorizing a contract without even seeing a proposal has never happened before.

I had spoken for in total less than 1-2 minutes.

How did this happen?

Sales is often misunderstood. It often doesn’t have a great reputation and is rarely a sought after career. People often believe sales people are fast talkers, that they talk people into deals and  that they are untrustworthy. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Any entrepreneur knows that selling is one the most critical skills to success, and many of the best entrepreneurs are exceptional sales people. Great sales people are exceptional listeners and have a high degree of integrity and trustworthiness.

Sales is predicated on getting people to trust you, quickly. How else would they give you their money? What works in sales translates to life as well.

It starts with great questions. In a 30 minute call the client does almost all of the talking. That’s the best type of sales call. I just guide them by asking insightful questions, and listening intently. By asking insightful questions, you can steer the conversation, identifying the clients needs and then eventually showing them how what you offer is a fit for their needs.

More importantly though when people feel listened to, they feel understood and validated. When they feel understood and validated, they like you. When they like you,they trust you. And when they trust you, they’re willing to do a deal.

When you meet anyone they are subconsciously evaluating you for your trustworthiness. I don’t know the exact psychology of it, but I would suggest that it’s the primary criteria people are assessing (mostly subconsciously).  When they walk away after meeting someone new and say “I liked them,” they’re really saying “that person seemed trustworthy.”

With lessons from sales, here’s how to  get people to trust you quickly:

  1. Greet them warmly – greet people as if you were greeting an old friend you hadn’t seen in a while. Smile deeply. A great smile is remembered. When you smile deeply, you positively affect your mood and physiology and you exude warmth. A colleague told me at his first job doing sales for a brokerage, he’d have to do a minimum of 200 cold calls a day. His boss put a mirror on everyone’s desk. They were supposed to look in the mirror before the call and smile. Before every sales call, I take a quick break, breath deeply and then smile.
  2. Talk slowly – being a fast talker has negative connotations. In fact you don’t have to communicate much at all, so say it slowly.  People respond better to someone who talks slowly and deliberately. Be conscious of this because many people who are nervous and in new situations tend to talk faster and people subconsciously react to this. Exude calmness and be measure in your speech. Don’t talk or feel rushed.
  3. Validate yourself – people are looking for external validation. Mentally, they’re looking to check a box that they can make some sort of affiliation with you, however distant. It’s why people play the name game (I believe this has evolutionary roots harkening back to when humanity was a series of disparate tribes and when encountering someone new or strange, they needed to validate who the stranger was and whether they were trustworthy). Before sales calls, I research on LinkedIn and social networks to find any sort of commonality, shared interests and common connection. I bring this up early in the conversation. For example, “I see you went to school in …,” “you also know …,” etc. It’s usually a quick confirmation. “Yes, Tom’s a great guy, I went to school with him. How do you know him?” But it goes a long ways in terms of building trust.
  4. Listen intently – listen as if they were the only person in the room and make them feel that way. Look them in the eyes. Show them that you’re listening by focusing on what they’re saying. Sounds intuitive, but you’d be shocked how many people drift off, check their phone, let their eyes wander, etc. There’s no quicker way to show disinterest in someone. Don’t interrupt them or finish their sentences. When they finish saying something, wait a second before responding. This gives the perception you’ve really listened, and you’re taking it in.
  5. Ask great questions – most greetings start out with typical small talk, “How’s your day?,” “Where are you from?” There’s nothing wrong with these, but take them a step further and ask questions like “What was it like growing up there?,” “Tell me about what you do,” instead of “What do you do?” When you ask a question, act as if they’re about to tell you an incredible story. You’ll probably need to fake this at first, but as you do it more and ask better questions, you’ll start finding more interesting aspects of people and it will start becoming a self fulfilling prophecy. Great questions, lead to great answers. My old boss used to tell me how he would meet the most interesting people on airplanes, which was the complete opposite of my experience of flying. I eventually realized that this happened because he’d talk to them and get them to share the most interesting parts of their lives, not because he happened to always sit next to interesting people. Everyone has an amazing story to share, find that story.
  6. Validate them – this most often comes in the form of agreeing with them. With the example sales call, the potential client started out declaring that it wasn’t likely he was going to need our services because they were doing such a great job on their own. The first thing I did was to say that I’d heard about them through an article in a top publication so they must be doing a great job. I could have instead launched into my sales pitch and tried to argue for why they needed us. That’s what everyone else typically does. However, he was geared to tell us why he didn’t need us, and instead I agree with him. If I’d tried to pitch ourselves, I would have been disagreeing with him and when people sense disagreement they put up barriers, reinforce their reasoning and create distance – all really bad things to happen in sales calls. In improv, this principal is called “Yes, and…” It’s how you build on a story and create spontaneity and consensus. In a conversation, similar phrases are “that’s incredible, I love that. Tell me more…” In sales, this is part of the process, but really one of the most important aspects. You can’t just skip all this and ask people for their money. The worst sales calls come from sales people just jumping into their pitch, telling you why you should buy their product and then trying to “close” you on a deal. Trust is never established or built.

Think of the times you’ve met someone new and walked away with a good impression. Look back on the encounter and think of what made you feel that way. Chances are what you really felt was validated and listened to.

I am in my late 20s and feel I have wasted a lot of time. Is it too late for me to achieve something worthwhile?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: I am in my late 20s and feel I have wasted a lot of time. Is it too late for me to achieve something worthwhile. Follow me on Quora.

I was 26 when I graduated college.

I postponed medical school for a few years and ended up in sales in Biotech instead.

I got fired in 2007 when I was 33, and decided to take some time off to start a business.

Then 2008 hit. I was 34 years old, broke, $250K in debt, had been without a job for over a year, and had to borrow money to pay rent. Creditors called me all day long. I had to stop answering my phone.

I couldn’t go back to my old industry because LA, where I had moved to, didn’t have much in Biotech. I had pretty much zero experience in my new industry (online media and Internet), but I persisted, networked and applied to every job I saw. I can’t count the number of jobs I applied for. I had to liquidate anything of value to pay the rent (camera, stereo, etc). Eventually, at the absolute end of finances, I landed a job in online media. I had been without a job for over a year during the worst recession since the great depression.

Fast forward five years. I started and now run one of the leading businesses in my industry. I started the company with $100 after nearly being fired from my last job (I quit before they could fire me). My company has twelve employees, and we’re continuing to grow.

Follow your interests and don’t compare yourself to others or create expectations of where you’re supposed to be. Drop any comparisons altogether. Cultivate a practice of gratitude. Practicing gratitude will help you appreciate what you have, not what you don’t have or haven’t achieved.

Realize you’re young, and it’s not a race. Focus on growth and learning and providing value to the world. You will always be rewarded and paid for providing value. When you provide enough value, you have a business.


How can I stop being average?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: How can I stop being average. Follow me on Quora.

“Life expands or contracts depending on one’s courage.” – Anais Nin

I sat on a rocky point in El Salvador as the biggest swell in 10 years tore through the surf break. Monstrous waves reeled down the point and stormed into the bay, breaking over the pier at the end of the bay. The wave faces were 20-30 feet.

The previous day, the break had been packed with 50 or more local surfers in the 10 ft surf. It has been so crowded that it was hard to even get a wave. None of those locals were anywhere to be seen today. Not on the point, not on the beach nor the pier.

Multiple surfers had tried before us to paddle out through the break to get to the waves and only 3 had made it out. They sat dwarfed by the size of the waves coming through. The waves were easily 10 ft bigger than anything else I had surfed. I was tired from a week of non stop surfing, and my board was too small for the surf.

There were a thousand reasons I had not to paddle out; but I told myself that I wanted one of those waves. I was filled with fear. I knew the longer I watched this spectacle, the more the fear would set in. So I cleared my head, walked to the edge of the water and paddled my ass off. I made it out. My friends got swept through to the break on three separate attempts to get out.

The fear didn’t end with just paddling out into the surf. Now I had to paddle into one of these beasts. The waves were truly monstrous. Every 10 minutes, we’d see the hint of a set on the horizon that seemed bigger than the last, and the 5 of us out there would paddle to the horizon will a mad fervor and our heart in our throats to avoid being caught inside.

I ended up only catching a couple waves that day; but every moment of the memory still stands out to me 10 years later. In terms of skills, I remain a completely mediocre surfer; but paddling out that day crushed anything average about my surfing ability. Not many surfers have every paddled out and survived 30 ft surf.

“How can a man be brave if he’s afraid?” Rob Stark asked his father.  “A man can be brave only when he’s afraid.” Rob Stark – George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones [TV]

There was a recent short documentary about big waves surfers at a particular surf break in Mexico (Puerto Escondido). These surfers were taking on 40-50 ft waves. Waves so powerful they would drown all but a handful of the best surfers. The surfers describe wipe-outs as being as jarring as car crashes.

These guys are typically described as fearless in the press and in advertisements, but the truth is far from it. They talked about fear being so bad as to keep them awake all night the night before. They live on a precipice of fear. One surfer talked about how the high he’d get surfing big waves was a mix of equal parts fear and adrenaline.

The truth is: it’s human to have to fear. Without fear, we either don’t understand what we’re doing or are completely reckless. You don’t vanquish fear; you embrace it and learn to live with it.

It’s not that being average means you’re afraid, it’s more than you don’t know you’re courageous and don’t know what being courageous can do in your life. You may also believe that courage is something innate. People have it or don’t. Courage isn’t a trait; it’s an action. One we’re all capable of.

Being courageous also just doesn’t mean doing activities that put your life on the line. It means in most cases recognizing what’s holding you back from your ambitions and goals and confronting those challenges.  It’s pushing your comfort zone and overcoming voices in your head that promote doubt, say you’re not worthy or that something is out of reach.

There’s a lot of ways to be average (not setting goals, not working hard, not creating a positive, supportive environment, and hundreds of others); but the fastest way to stop being average is to recognize the possibilities of living with courage and doing so.


What were you dead wrong about until recently?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What were you dead wrong about until recently. Follow me on Quora.

Being right.

In the sense of proving yourself right to others, or correcting and arguing with others about thoughts and opinions.

The ego is enormously strong and wants to be right about everything. It’s cantankerous and prickly if you let it. It wants the attention it thinks might come with being right.

I’ve been in fierce arguments about things I ultimately did not care about. All it did was create a divide between myself and the other person. I took stand and then felt the need to defend it. I’ve battled over opinions that I changed a year or two later.

When your ego senses resistance, it digs in. Acquiescence feels like defeat. Your ego builds walls and becomes polemic about your position.

Let people have their opinions and beliefs. You’ll find when you don’t question them or disagree, they’ll move on pretty quickly from talking about it.

Better yet agree with them. The whole issue will dissolve instantly. You’ve found common ground and that’s something to build off of.

What life lesson did you learn from your first job?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What life lesson did you learn from your first job. Follow me on Quora.

My first job was a dishwasher at popular restaurant in a summer town in New Hampshire. It was the early 90’s. I got paid $2.75 an hour which was the minimum wage. Even though it was a while ago, it was as little as it sounds. In spite of that, it was the most coveted summer job in the town. The owner had every male in the restaurant start as a dishwasher to make sure he had the chops and work ethic to continue (the girls all starter bussing tables).

Busting my ass, working non-stop 8 hours shifts, sorting through an onslaught of food, hot dishes and a steam bath emanating from the dish washer for $2.75 an hour taught me a lot about hard work in the world. The only attitude you could have was to shut up and do your job. We were the absolute lowest people on the totem pole and had to do pretty much anything anyone ranked above us asked. Did I say it was for $2.75 an hour?

Don’t be late. When we started, the owner explained that if we showed up on time (e.g. 8:00 for an 8 AM shift), we were late. That set the precedent in my career to show for jobs up 5–10 minutes early. The right people take notice of that.

Be thorough. The second thing the owner showed us when we got started was a pan. He picked it up and said there wasn’t just one side (e.g. the cooking side) to clean. We cleaned the inside and outside. Sounds trivial, but he had to say it because otherwise it wouldn’t get done.

Help your coworkers. When the restaurant closed, everyone had a list of responsibilities of what they needed to do before they could leave. In theory, you could leave as soon as you wrapped up your work. In practice, everyone who finished their tasks early, chipped in to help everyone else until the work was done. It was unspoken, and I never saw it done otherwise.

Put the effort in. One Sunday morning, I woke to the phone ringing. Before my mom answered, I knew exactly what it was. I hadn’t set my alarm and was an hour late for the early AM shift. I leapt out of bed in a panic, got dressed in 10 seconds without a shower and asked my mom to drive me right away. I was at the restaurant within 10 minutes of them calling. The manager was so stunned I got there so quickly, she cooked me breakfast.

Counter politics with hard work. My first job was also my first exposure to workplace politics. The owner didn’t like me from the start. I smarted off to him a few times and that wasn’t acceptable. However, I was one of the hardest working employees. When work needed to be done, I shut up and put my head down until it was done. He may not of liked me, but his family (also owners) were always impressed by my work and kept an eye out for me.

Respect the boss. Being the boss isn’t easy. The owner worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week from May until September. He was often irritable and rarely in a good mood. I now run my own business. As a manager, boss and/or owner, you have to constantly make difficult decisions. I can’t remember a day where I didn’t have difficult decisions to make. When you’re working for someone else, just know you can’t know the difficulties of what they do until you do it.

Experience trumps all. One of the best lessons of starting working 40 hours a week as a dishwasher at 14 years old was it put me years ahead of work experience of almost everyone I knew. When I moved across the country to Santa Fe after my freshman year in college, I walked into the best restaurant in town and showed up with a full page resume, as a 19 year old. I’d already been working for 5 years. They’d never seen a resume from a 19 year old and hired me on the spot. I run a business now, and there’s simply no replacement for experience. Success in business and leadership requires gaining experience, and experience only comes from work. Summer jobs used to be a rite of passage; recent stats have shown it’s become out of favor. The money I made was trivial, and my parents let me spend it however I wanted; but it was gaining the work experience and learning the work ethic that were the greatest lessons. I don’t know that you need to start when you’re 14, but in an interview for Google when I was 35, they asked about jobs I had in college.

What is the most effective yet efficient way to get rich?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What is the most effective yet efficient way to get rich. Follow me on Quora.


There’s a story of an Italian Billionaire when asked if he had to start over from scratch what he’d do (I searched Google 50 times to find the original without luck). He replied that he’d take any job to make $500, buy a nice suit, then go to parties where he’d meet successful people. The implication being that he meet someone who’d offer him a job, share an opportunity, etc.

I’m almost 40 and of the 5 career type jobs I’ve had in my life (I run my own business now), 4 came through networking. Only 1 came out of applying to a job listing.

But networking isn’t something you just go out and do. It’s immensely more effective if you have simple people skills. And when I say simple, I mean spend a couple hours reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Read that and try it out at a party and you’ll be blown away by how effective it is and how after meeting and talking with a few people and asking them about themselves, how they’ll want to help you, without you asking them.

When I asked my old boss (who was the most remarkable sales person I’ve met), what he did to improve his sales skills, he told me that right out of college without any skills or pedigree degree, he took a job as a limo driver. He was reading “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and thought it would be worth trying out. He would ask his customers one simple question when they got in the limo, “So tell me about what you do.” That simple question resulted in a huge increase in tips he received. Notice he didn’t ask his customers, “What do you do?” There’s a subtle difference. If you ask the latter, many people will just tell you in a few words what they do. If you ask the former, it’s an invitation for them to tell you their story. Few people will turn that down.

At one point early in my career, I was doing research in the medical field and realized I wasn’t interested in it or where it would lead. I wanted to make more money and get into the business side of things (this was right after the tech crash in the San Francisco area), so I spent nearly 9 months relentlessly applying to jobs, writing cover letters, researching companies. With no success. I was doing it all wrong.

One night, my roommate asked if I wanted to go to a party. Sure, no problem. We went. I didn’t know a single person there. At one point, everyone did shots. I wandered back to the kitchen to get a beer. There was one other guy in the kitchen and I introduced myself. We talked for a while, I asked him what he did and he said he worked in biotech. I mentioned I was looking to get into the field, and he said his company was actually hiring. My resume got sent to the hiring manager, and I was interviewing within a couple weeks. You can guess what my next job was.

There are a million paths to getting rich. And there are countless people who’ve gotten rich who are jerks, tyrants, manipulative, conniving, and all around assholes. When you’re working in different industries, you’ll start to feel that all the  successful people are this way. But in reality, these are only the people who leave the most lasting impression, not because they’re the only people who succeed.

But there’s unlikely anyone out there successful who wouldn’t emphasize the value of people skills in succeeding.

So back to your question, how do you get rich quickly:

The high level:

  1. Learn relentlessly. Read books and books on success, people skills and anything that might have some inkling of a strand of wisdom about success and wealth. Especially read the biographies of successful people. In his autobiography, Mark Cuban talks about how he would buy and read any book on business that he thought might help. The $15 he’d spend was a fraction of the worth of the wisdom he picked up. Drew Houston of Dropbox talks about how he would spend every weekend reading books on business, sales, marketing, all day long. Every weekend.
  2. Become a people person. This is a learnable skill or set of skills. No one is born a great salesperson. There may be people (like athletes) with better inborn abilities (outgoing, etc). But the best learn, read, study, and practice. Relentlessly. A lot of times, those with the best given talent don’t end up being the top in the field because at the start, it came easy to them. The ones that have to work at it, work relentlessly and don’t ever get complacent. And then one morning, they wake up and the effortlessness at sales or marketing or leadership that they never thought they would achieve, they now embody.
  3. Work hard. As an employer, one of the things that stands out the most with employees is a good work ethic. It’s worth its weight in gold. Drop your expectations and ego, and put your nose to the grind and good things will happen.
  4. Take risks. Not dumb, fickle risks and not gambles. But smart, calculated risks where you have a good chance at succeeding. You won’t always succeed, but you will learn a huge amount in the process and you will garner an enormous amount of respect from people in doing so.

The nitty gritty:

  1. Get a job in a high growth industry. This is where the quick money and the opportunities are. There’s a saying how everything rises with the tide. When you’re in a fast growth industry (or company), the tide is rising.
  2. Work for the best and most recognizable company you can work for. This gives you instant credibility. Starting as an intern at a recognizable company will get you opportunities right away.
  3. Become an expert. Pick an area within your industry and learn it inside and out. Start writing answers on the topic in Quora, start a blog on the topic, network with other experts. You’ll find pretty quickly that this type of knowledge and expertise will lead to a huge array of options.
  4. Create multiple income streams. Start writing, consulting, tutoring, fixing things, just get busy with a second source of revenue. This will get you hungry for more and you’ll double your learning. You’ll see that a job, tutoring on the side, can lead to starting your own tutoring company on the side. Your marketing consulting job can lead to writing Amazon books on marketing.
  5. Be too busy to spend money. Feel like you spend too much money? Feel like you don’t save enough or at all? Get busy working on everything, your job, learning, networking, consulting, projects, side jobs, overtime at work and you’ll find out you won’t spend a fraction of the amount of money than before.
  6. Finally, start a company. Name a billionaire who didn’t start a company. Yes, there are a few. But they ended up running the company they joined (Sheryl Sandberg, Steve Ballmer, Eric Schmidt). Starting a company may seem completely out of reach and unfathomable, but when you’ve done all the preceding steps, it will be the most logical next one. Successful companies don’t start out with 50 employees and a $10M in revenue, they start out small, tiny and scrappy. They start out in their dorm rooms or their parents’ garages or spare bedrooms. The founders beg, borrow and steal to get what they need. Michael Dell started his company by hacking together computers in his dorm room and selling them. Walmart started as a single variety store in Newport, Arkansas. Ever hear of Newport, Arkansas? Yeah, me neither. Richard Branson started out selling records by mail, one at a time. Don’t look at the most successful people and companies and see where they ended up or you’ll be overwhelmed. Look where they started and you’ll see how it’s achievable.

How do I become a more interesting person?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: How do I become a more interesting person. Follow me on Quora.

“Either write something worth reading about or do something worth writing about” – Ben Franklin

Often easier said than done.

My senior year in high school I sat down for a group interview at a prestigious university. The interviewer asked everyone to share what they did this summer. One girl had spent the summer in London apprenticing under a well known photographer. Another traveled to Italy to study painting. I’d spent the summer in New Hampshire working at an ice cream shop. I didn’t feel the least bit interesting. And becoming interesting sounded very expensive and out of reach.

That’s all changed. Since then I’ve driven across the country 7 times, hitch hiked from San Francisco to LA, attended a Rainbow Family national gathering, backpacked to over 20 different countries among others. I’ve got amazing stories from all of it, but a lot of the best stories didn’t happen because of traveled far or spend a lot of time or money. Here’s what I’ve learned about becoming interesting:

  1. Seek adventure. Adventure doesn’t have to mean traveling to another another country or involving a expensive gear or expenses. One of my most memorable college experiences was hitchhiking from San Francisco to LA. It cost me nothing. I caught somewhere around 10 rides and have a story from each. I’d never hitchhiked before or after. I also took a Greyhound from LA to Santa Fe once and could write a book on all the people I met and stories that happened. The ticket cost me $35. Seeking adventure can be through travel, sports or the outdoors, but it definitely means getting out of your comfort zone.
  2. Be curious. Be curious and learn about the world around you. Read, listen to podcasts, find great websites. Learn from interesting people. Knowledge has never been as accessible as it is now. Knowledge is one of the sources of having interesting things to talk about. You might find an interest in say Astronomy. You could show friends common sites in the night sky and the incredible stories behind them.
  3. Be unconventional. Capturing people’s attention doesn’t have to involve grand stories or adventures, but can come from the unconventional. Triathlons weren’t common right after I got out of school. If you did them then, that’s pretty interesting. Then Team in Training came along (an awesome cause and not taking away anything from it), and suddenly it seemed everyone around me was doing triathlons. Not really that interesting anymore. A friend of mine after college did something no one’s ever done before (at least known). He circumambulated Martha’s Vineyard via its beach/shore. It only took a couple days and some camping gear. 20 years later he still tells the story. He also lived briefly in a Teepee after college. That part is interesting enough. It gets more interesting considering his stay there continued through a cold New Jersey winter. Another friend does long bike tours all over the world (at home in the U.S. as well). That’s pretty interesting. What makes it even more so, is he does it on a beach cruiser.
  4. Delve deeply into a hobby. Interesting people have hobbies they pursue passionately. It’s hard to have more than one or two that you have the time to pursue passionately, but one is all you need. Immersing yourself in hobbies is inherently interesting. You meet other super passionate people, you travel with a purpose and you have shared experiences. I got into scuba diving because I loved the ocean, and I imagined it would be something I did once a year on tropical vacations. I now dive 12-15 times per year in California alone. Primarily off the beaches in Santa Monica and Malibu to hunt for lobster and to spearfish. 50 feet off of beaches packed with tourists, I’ve caught lobster and fish and swum with seals. I bring a camera along to capture it. There’s not a single person I show the photos and video to that isn’t captivated by them and amazed it’s all possible yards off the local beaches.
  5. Explore. I was going to just say “travel,” but exploring is much more interesting. When I was backpacking through Guatemala, taking bus’ around the country and staying on youth hostels, the entire trip was an adventure. A couple approached me. They were on a cruise and were being shepherded around to the touristy sites with hundreds of other people from their cruise. They were amazed and jealous at the freedom I had to see and explore. We were in the same place, they were on a tour and I was exploring. Traveling to Asia, I had an extended layover in Kyoto and hired a taxi driver to take me to the Zen monasteries, he took me to two hugely popular monasteries that although they were beautiful, were immensely crowded and touristy. It didn’t feel like the spirit of Zen at all. I asked him to take me to a quiet monastery. He brought me to one with only a couple other tourists. It had a large beautiful rock garden and empty halls and spaces, and it left a much deeper impression than the touristy ones. I could write pages and pages on this topic, but the key point is to get off the bus, the schedule, the tour and to go explore.
  6. Document and share. It’s much more powerful to show an amazing adventure or trip or experience than it is to try to describe it. I make a habit to document and take great photos of all my trips and to have those photos and videos ready on my phone in albums.
  7. Learn to ask questions and listen. If all you do is talk about yourself and tell stories, you’ll be a huge bore. It won’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been, people only really want to hear stories about you to a certain extent, then they want to talk about themselves. Every time I talk about the hobbies or travel, it’s usually a jumping off point to a great conversation where we both share about what interests and fascinates us. You can actually pull this off without having any interesting experiences, just by learning to ask great questions and to listen well. But I wouldn’t recommend bypassing the experiences, because there’s an immeasurable value of actually going out and having these experiences. And it’s not in becoming more interesting, it’s in expanding your perspectives and experiencing the world.

Looking back on that college group interview, I’d felt hugely insecure. I realize now that I was very interesting. In high school, I’d been a student leader and an accomplished athlete. I’d spent my summers working at an ice cream shop and training for road bike racing by riding up to 200 miles per week. It took having all these later experiences to realize that it’s the sense of adventure, passion and curiousity that makes people interesting, not their experiences or where they’ve traveled.

What are the lessons people most often learn too late in life?

Originally posted on Quora, answering the question: What are the lessons people most often learn too late in life. Follow me on Quora.

Learn how to listen. So few people can really listen and so many people genuinely appreciate when you do.

Learn when it’s time to move on. From jobs, people and relationships. Not everything is fixable. Cut your losses and move on.

None of the best experiences of your life will happen staring a computer screen, a phone screen or a TV. If you want more of the best experiences of your life minimize the time you spend in front of these three.

Take great care of your body. It’s delicate and becomes more so as you get older, but if you treat it well, it will treat you well. Exercise regularly, stretch or do yoga, eat wholesome food.

Take great care of your mind. Foster curiosity, read, learn and grow. Learn to be quiet, meditate and spend time in nature regularly.

Take great care of your heart. When you hold onto harmful emotions like anger, hurt, pain, you really only hurt yourself. When you practice love, compassion and generosity, your heart expands and grows.

You’ll spend too much of your life working, staring at a computer screen and sitting. If you’re going to do all these things, find a work environment or shared purpose that’s fulfilling and creates meaning.

Success comes most readily when you find fulfillment and create value in the world.

Learn how to compliment people and do so regularly. There’s no limit on how many compliments you can offer, there’s no scarcity of compliments available and there’s no end to how much people will appreciate them.

Learn how to accept a compliment and do so whenever one is offered. You’re conditioned to deflect compliments. Recognize how you do this and practice recognizing and accepting when the universe acknowledges what you do.

Learn how to be generous. You can’t attract what you don’t give. Share your knowledge, your time, your thoughts, your wisdom, and your charity.

Learn how to be patient. Life is not a race, and it certainly won’t go slower if you rush through everything.

Practice gratitude. If you cultivate gratitude, it has no limit to its rewards and benefits and no cost to nourishing it.

Hard work puts you in the place where luck can find you. The harder you work, the more you help others selflessly, the more value you provide in the world, the luckier you’ll be.

Happiness is a habit, not an aspiration.

Great stories come from great experiences. Chase those experiences.

It’s not that time moves by faster as you get older, you just start to have fewer new and captivating experiences. If you can continue those experiences and expand your curiosity, time won’t feel like it flies by as so commonly described.

What is the most thoughtful/kind act you’ve ever witnessed?

photo-1438027316524-6078d503224bOriginally posted on Quora, answering the question: What is the most thoughtful/kind act you’ve ever witnessed. Follow me on Quora.

After my freshman year in college, I decided to take a year off and live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My parents were not supportive of my decision, so I had support myself entirely. I worked in restaurants and coffeeshops and was as broke as you could be.

I bought a old junker Volvo. I think I paid $750 (this was 1995). It never ran right from the start, but I couldn’t afford the necessary repairs. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but cars have come a long way. Cars used to regularly break down. Good cars sometime did and newer cars sometimes did. Owning an older used car was a guarantee to inconvenient break downs.

The car’s engine compression was shot. It required rebuilding or replacing the engine which wasn’t an option. It the morning, it wouldn’t start. I lived on a hill and would have to park it there, pointed downhill, so I could do a “hill start.” Letting the car gain momentum on it’s own and then shifting it into gear, which start the engine running.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t always a hill nearby. In those cases, it needed a running start with either myself and someone else pushing it to get it to sufficient speed to start.

This went on for a couple months before the car just died, but in the meantime I was assisted by countless people who would see my hood open, stop and inquire if I needed help. Most didn’t have any inkling of car mechanics, but just felt compelled to help.

It was often a helpless feeling, staring at my car stuck in empty parking lot at night, wondering how I would get home. Inevitably, someone would just pull up and ask if they could help. I was amazed every time someone stopped to help. It was the every rare instance that it did not happen.