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.