How do I become who I really want to be?

nature-sky-sunset-manOriginally posted on Quora, answering the question: How do I become who I really want to be. Follow me on Quora.

“To desire is to obtain to aspire is to achieve.”

—James Allen, As a Man Thinketh

I never thought much about success through and after college. I was a smart and ambitious kid and generally got to where I wanted to go (Stanford University for college). I started to think more about it in my 30’s. My career had stalled and many of my friends were breaking out and achieving extraordinary success in their fields. I started to think about success more when I took time off to launch my own start up. And as my start up stalled, I started to doubt myself and my abilities, and my confidence started to erode.

Soon the financial crisis of 2008 hit like a tsunami, and I was as ill prepared as possible. I’d struggled with my start up path for too long and had burned through all my savings. I’d been out of the work force long enough that it put me in no man’s land for experience and relevance to potential employers. It was a very serious low point. I was in my mid 30’s with a Stanford degree and struggling to pay rent every month with no job or job prospects and a dizzying amount of debt.

The only true crisis is the one you don’t learn from. My situation pushed me further to read and explore every potential angle on personal development and success to help dig my way out of it. I heard that Sara Blakely, the billionaire founder of Spanx, had read through as much as she could in the personal development space before she succeeded. She found a particular affinity to Wayne Dyer. So I started reading Wayne Dyer. At the time, it seemed that everyone was talking about attracting success, so I read the Law of Attraction and that led me to the book it was based, James Allen’s masterpiece, As a Man Thinketh.

Slowly my life started to turn around. I finally got a job and started to build back my career. I continued to devour books on personal development; each I read led me to more and more. Over the past five years, that accumulated knowledge has lead to huge personal and entrepreneurial success. I founded my own business and continue to run it as one of the most successful in the space. Throughout all this, from being flat broke (I was actually in debt $250K at one point), to starting and running a successful business, I have learned, grown and improved. I have not, however, become a different person.

One of the big problems with the personal development space is that it emphasizes “transformations,” suggesting that change and improvement necessitate some sort of full transformation, from where you are to where you want to be, from who you currently are to who you want to be. It implies a change so radical that you transform into someone else. Another commonly used metaphor is that of a metamorphosis. The visualization is that you start as a caterpillar and come out as a butterfly.

This is what many of the “leaders” in personal development promise. And this is also what so many of people seeking success, change and improvement are seeking. The promise of becoming someone else, because they have grown to hate who they are.

You’re not someone with a bad habit, goal of losing weight or desire to improve yourself; you are someone you are wholly critical of and someone you don’t want to be. You imagine the new you will be free of bad habits, will achieve everything you want easily, and will be someone you accept and love wholly. That sounds so much easier than the truth of change, which is incremental.

The model of “transformation” is one of the things that can make personal change so difficult in the same way that striving for perfection can handicap achievement. If perfection or full transformation is the goal, then it may feel so unachievable that one may never begin or cannot acknowledge progress as achievement in the path since the only real achievement is complete transformation and anything short of that is failure.

Change doesn’t start with finding all your flaws and imaging a you without them. Personal change isn’t the magic that happens after the caterpillar enters the cocoon. Personal change is a focus on learning and improving and changing habits. It’s small incremental goals and improvements. It’s setting achievable milestones and celebrating them. And most fundamentally it’s learning to accept and love oneself.

Loving oneself doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of yourself you want to improve on or habits you want to get rid of. It’s recognizing at your core, you are worthy of your own love and appreciation. It’s being compassionate for yourself instead of being critical and/or berating yourself.

When you don’t love yourself, you become critical and resentful of who you are. This can lead to self destructive behavior. It can also lead to failure on the path to personal change because your goal goes beyond improving habits to actually becoming someone else. You hate the old self; you love who you imagine you’ll become.

People fail to start because the concept of “transformation” is too overwhelming. They see change as all or none. How we frame transformation creates these difficulties. We believe we must leave behind our old self to become our new self. The old self is tired, worn, ugly, overweight, not successful and unloveable. The new self will be fit, attractive, loved, successful, charismatic and complete. In reality, we are always the same self. You won’t ever become a different person and the thought that you can and should, is often what can hold you back from improving.

So start by reframing the question. Instead of “How do I become who I really want to be?,” ask “How do I achieve my goals?” and “How do I embody the qualities and characteristics I most admire?”

To answer these questions, here are some important steps you can take:

  • Learn. The personal development space is arguably one of the oldest forms of thought and analysis. There’s more written about it than anyone can consume in a lifetime. So get reading. Start with the big names: Dale Carnegie, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra among many others.
  • Learn to love youself. We live in a world where the media and social media project imagines of people who are happier, richer, younger, more successful, better looking and skinnier than us. These images start to erode at us, and can cause us to not feel content with who we are and what we’ve achieved. And this leads to us not loving ourselves, our current circumstances and lives. These images of others don’t inspire success and motivate us, more often then inspire envy and hatred of ourselves. Start loving yourself. Everyday. Catch yourself when you start to spiral down the path of self-disparagement, and take a moment to appreciate something about yourself instead. Cultivate that feeling.
  • Cultivate awareness. Our thoughts drive our action. Focus on thinking the right thoughts. The right thoughts can sow the right mindset and move your whole person forward on the path you desire. Practice mindfulness and meditation. This is one of the best ways to become aware and then help to steer your thoughts.
  • Celebrate progress as success. Celebrate your achievements along the path, however small. Many small improvements can lead to significant change in your life. Too often, everything is not enough, and eventually we become not enough.
  • Practice gratitude. This is one of the easiest things you can do that can have the most dramatic effect on your life. Start a gratitude journal and jot down a few things every day you’re grateful for. Catch yourself when you’re thinking any negative thoughts and redirect your thoughts to something you’re grateful for.
  • Avoid perfection. The saying is: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good; but it can be extended to: don’t let perfect be the enemy of done. Perfection can be one of the biggest obstacles in the path of personal development. If you can only imagine the perfect you, you will always fail in achieving it.

The 5 Must Read Books for an Aspiring Entrepreneur

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In Mark Cuban’s autobiography, he talked about getting started out and reading voraciously anything and everything related to his field, business, marketing, etc. He used to read software manuals cover to cover. Drew Houston of Dropbox used to spend every weekend, reading all day long “Every weekend, I would take this folding chair up to the roof with all these books I got on Amazon. I would just sit there and read all of them. I would spend the whole weekend just reading, reading, reading.” 

Nothing prepares you for entrepreneurship like reading everything you can get your hands on. Here are some good places to start.

Richard Branson: Like a Virgin

Richard Branson’s autobiography is a fascinating look at one of the most dynamic entrepreneurs of our time.

Peter Thiel: Zero to One

When you’re just getting started, it’s important to be and stay inspired. Few books will make you want to change the world and business like Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. Peter Thiel was one of the founders of PayPal and the first investor in Facebook. He’s knows a thing or two about business and ideas that change the world.

James Altrucher: Choose Yourself

James Altrucher has seen it all. He’ll recount often how he lost millions and his shirt on several occasions. And through it, he’s gain remarkable insight. Choose Yourself will change the way you think of business and yourself. Somehow it’s only $0.99 on Amazon. It’s a quick read, get it.

Mark Cuban: How to Win at the Sport of Business

Mark Cuban is loud, brash and unapologetic. He didn’t get lucky becoming a billionaire. Broadcast.com was his third successful business. That’s a habit. His autobiography breaks it down and shows his remarkable prescient about the growth of technology and exactly how hard he was willing to work to win.

Steve Chandler: Wealth Warrior

Wealth Warrior incorporates a huge amount on wisdom about business and personal development in very few pages. A brilliant read. Steve Chandler’s focus on oneself and your motives, refocuses the whole narrative on entrepreneurship.

What are your must read books for a new or aspiring entrepreneur?

Agree with Everyone

In college, in my circle of friends, there was a guy I referred to as “yeah, but” man. You would start to say something, no matter what, and would he would immediately jump in and say “yeah, but…” somehow disagreeing with your statement, opinion, thought, etc. And it could be about anything. And it was one of the most infuriating habits I’ve encountered. He had trouble making and keeping friends, and he never knew why.

A few years ago, a friend and I were having a discussion and he mentioned how the Mormon Church used to not allow caffeine and then in the 80’s, they invested in Coca-Cola and shortly thereafter changed their policy on caffeine. I called bullshit and told him it was an urban legend. (Recently, the Mormon Church clarified their stance on caffeine and sodas, and it seems that the ban only refers to “hot drinks.”

My buddy didn’t take it well. He argued fiercely about it. This was pre-smart phones, so we couldn’t just Google it. The next day we met up to go surfing. He got in the car and launched into a treatise about how he researched it online after we talked and it wasn’t entirely clear… I was surprised he had given it a second thought, but now he was getting worked up about it and I could sense some tension. All because I had disagreed with him.

We have a strong desire to be right. We correct people, we argue with people, and fight for our opinion. But at the core of it, is this desire to be correct, to be validated, to give our ego a little pat. Who gives a rat’s ass about being right? Unless, someone’s raving about Hilter being misrepresented in history or some other offensive thought, just leave it alone. Better yet, agree with them. If you try to correct or argue with them, at a minimum you’ll go on talking about longer than the subject matters or care to. Agree, nod, and move on.

In James Altrucher’s book, Choose Yourself (a phenomenal and highly recommended read), he talks about giving up opinions. Take an opinion he has. They don’t matter, he’s not going to convince you otherwise of your opinion. People change their opinions all the time, but if you try to fight for yours or argue your side, you’ll just further cement the other person’s opinion about it.

My friend’s probably never thought about the Mormon’s Church stance on caffeine. I certainly haven’t and never cared about it in the first place, but we got into an argument about it. Who really cares?

In improv, there’s the “Yes, and” principal, which is the exact opposite of my friend, “yeah, but” guy. The improv principal is about building on a thought, collaborating, moving forward, and focusing on the now. It’s a core principal of improv. It’s never talked about in business (well, I Google and this author wrote a good post on using improv principals in business) or life. Why not just use that principal in life? Stop disagreeing about anything and everything. Start any sentence out in when talking with someone after they’ve finished with “yes, and…”

Here are some ways to apply it:

  • Agree with everyone. Just start your next sentence with “yes, and…”
  • Stop the story battle. When a you hear a story, a lot of times your tendency is to share a similar (or better) story right after. Just let your friend’s story sit and marinade. Compliment it, or ask them to go deeper. By telling your story right afterwards, you’re wanting to shift the attention back to you and in a way you’re invalidating your friend’s story (i.e. subtly you’re saying yours is better).
  • Just listen. Another core principal of improv. It’s amazing what you’ll actually hear, what you’ll learn and how much better conversation will be when you’re not fighting to talk, to be heard or for attention.
  • Don’t interrupt or finish someone’s thought or sentence. This is a thought hijacking. Usually when you finish someone’s thought, you want them to finish. Let them finish on their own.

The last of these came out of this book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, a remarkable little book with some amazing insights.

When Opportunity Comes Calling

“Fortune favors the prepared mind” – Linus Pauling

I recently wrote an answer to the Quora question: What is the Most Effective Yet Efficient Way to Get Rich. See the original answer here. The response has blown up, and I’ve been flattered by the comments and votes it’s received (over 3K and counting!). My previous most upvoted answer on Quora was the story of how I got Dengue Fever in Thailand under the question: What’s the Stupidest Thing You’ve Done.

It’s inspired me to start writing again for my blog and given me a new sense of direction for the content.

Many people have been struck by the answer in the same way that I was when I first read the anecdote of the Italian billionaire. It can be that simple. I was talking with a friend from France about entrepreneurship here vs France and asked him what the difference was. He said that in France when you bring up the idea that you want to start a company, people tell you it’s a bad idea, that it’s too hard and that it won’t work, but here when you bring up the idea of starting a company, people tell you it’s a great idea, that you should go for it and suggest ways they can help or people you should talk to.

My former boss whom I mentioned in the Quora answer, started his own Biotech company. Know what he did before he raised $10M to start his own Biotech company? He was a pharmaceutical sales rep. Know what he did before that? He was a Baptist Minister. And before that? He was a limo driver.

What’s even better, he met the investor who gave him $10M, waiting in line to buy tickets to a concert.

I remember Bob telling me this story and being blown away. We live in a country with a $14 trillion economy. Trillion. That’s dizzying number. Want a piece of it? It’s out there for you. You don’t have to take it from anyone. It’s sitting out there waiting to be claimed. Your keys to the kingdom are waiting on an answer on Quora or with the guy you wouldn’t think twice of in the line next to you in the ticket line for a concert. There’s opportunity around you, all the time.