How to be Successful Today

“Success in life is directly proportional to one’s immunity to ridicule and rejection.”  – Robert Kiyosaki

Growing up in Oklahoma, I saw many oil booms and busts. During one of the oil busts, a friend of my Dad’s was laid off from his executive job and spent several months looking for work. Over breakfast one morning with his friends, he was fretting how he was having a hard time paying bills and was afraid he might even lose his house. One of his friends sitting around the table – a business owner – leaned forward and said, “Paul, there’s no reason to lose your house. Meet me tomorrow morning at my house and I will help you find work.”

The next morning, Paul arrived at his business-owner friend’s house. The friend was already standing outside next to his truck that was filled with buckets, sponges, squeegees, towels, a vacuum cleaner (or a “Hoover” if you are in the UK) – everything you would need to wash cars. “Hop in,” the friend said to Paul.

They drove one street over. The friend told Paul, “Follow me.” He walked up to the first house, knocked on the door, and said, “Hi, I’m Dave. This is Paul. In the middle of this recession none of us have time to wash our cars. But you still have to keep your best foot forward, so Paul and I would be glad to wash your cars for $10 a car.”

And so it went. For the next 13 hours.

At the end of the day, Paul had $250 in his pocket. Dave walked over, put his arm around Paul, and said, “My friend, all work is honorable. If you did this every day, you would be able to pay your mortgage. You can always create a job for yourself.”

Within the next year, Paul used this experience to start a successful direct-to-consumer business. And when I heard this story, I used it’s example as motivation to start a DTC business as well.

When we allow what others might think to cage us into a reality that is smaller than we are, the harm is not just psychological. It is quantitative. We don’t take the risk to start that business. We don’t write that book. And economists like me can track that reality in our GDP.

We don’t own ourselves when we believe and behave like that. We give ourselves and our futures away. Usually to people we don’t even like.

It works better when we train ourselves to not want their approval.

“Success in life is directly proportional to one’s immunity to ridicule and rejection.”  – Robert Kiyosaki

My New Definition of Success

Who is more successful: the one who has more than he wants or the one who has less than he wants?

My new definition of success… is to want nothing.

There was a painter in San Francisco who returned home to his apartment to find that it had burned to the ground. As the painter looked at the ruble, his neighbor stood beside him distraught. The neighbor screamed, “I have lost everything! How could this happen?! How will I recover – all of my most valuable things are now gone!”

The painter turned away from him and decided to take a walk. He walked a long way and found himself in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. As he walked along, there by the side of the curb in a trash barrel was a child’s blank painting-canvas and paints that had never been opened. Because it was in the trash, the painter pulled them out, tucked them under his arm, and walked away. The next day the painter returned to that same house, walked past the two Ferraris sitting in the driveway, and knocked on the door. A wealthy tech executive who had been quarantined at home answer the door. He had been yelling into his phone when he stopped and stared aghast at the painter. “Why are you here; what do you want?” the executive demanded. The painter handed him the art he had produced with the executive’s discarded canvas and paints. “You gifted out of your abundance yesterday to the world,” the painter said, “and so I wanted to give you a gift in return.” The tech executive looked at the painting. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of art he had ever seen. He asked the painter, “Why would you do this? You could have sold this for a lot of money.” The painter replied, “What more do I need? I have more than I want already. I have clean water; I have fresh air; I have good friends; I have abundant opportunity; I have my faculties and the ability to work. All of these are more than I want, and so I live in abundance. I don’t need to sell this painting so I can give it freely.”

The tech executive thanked him, closed the door, sat down and thought for a long while. The next morning he took a picture of the painter’s art and put it on a website sending a link out to some friends. The painting went viral and the painter became famous. When the painter was interviewed about the phenomenon of his success, he was asked how much happier he was now that he was rich and famous. The painter looked curiously at the interviewer, “Why would I be any happier now? I already had more than I wanted so why would having twice as much as I want make me any happier?”

There will come a day when this COVID-19 crisis is over and we will return to abundance. Until then, we can use this time to become truly successful by lowering our wants while we give our gifts to the world.

3 Ways to Build Happiness

The concert started. We had been waiting for this all year. The band came on stage, and all of a sudden all the cell phones went up to filming the band. I thought, “Why on earth can’t we just enjoy this moment?”

But I was wrong. And it has major implications for what makes us happy. This is why:

We don’t live our experiences; we live the memories of our experiences.

For a long time, I have been a fan of being present in the moment. But the idea that we are happiest if we live in every single moment is not supported by brain science.

Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow asked this question: What if I offered you the most amazing vacation with everything that you could want – the location, the food, the experiences, the people that you would go with? It is a once-in-a-lifetime, no-experience-spared vacation customized for you,

BUT you could not remember any of it once you left. How much would you pay for that vacation?

If you are like ninety percent of people, you would not pay very much for it. Many answered that they would pay nothing.

Let me ask you that same question from the opposite perspective: If you knew you had to have an incredibly painful surgery, but you could be assured that once it was over you wouldn’t remember any of it, how would you feel about the surgery?

A few years ago, my dad had to have a bone marrow biopsy, which is incredibly painful. They drilled into his hip and there was no pain medication. My dad said he screamed during the entire procedure. So I asked my dad if he had to go through that procedure again, but this time they had to drill into both hips, what would he decide? His face winced at the very thought of it and he said, “I don’t think I would do it again.” But then I asked him how he would feel if he was assured not to remember anything after going through the experience. His face lightened up and he said, “Oh. No, okay. I’d be okay with that.”

I was actually shocked to hear his answer, but it underscored what Kahneman found in his research: we don’t live our experiences. We live the memories of our experiences. That is why Kahneman says you see so many people going on vacation taking pictures, taking videos at events and putting them on websites. We are trying to maintain those memories. Somehow intuitively, we know we don’t live the experience but we live the memory of the experience. And we can live that memory long after.

There are three ways to use this reality from neuroscience to build happiness into our lives.

1. Keep two separate journals.

There are benefits to writing down both your darkest thoughts and brightest joys – but you write them for very different reasons.  There is good evidence that the very act of writing out your darkest thoughts relieves the stress of them.  But you don’t want to review these constantly.  By contrast, recording the wonderful things that you see every day creates a log that you can return to often and relive the beautiful landscape of your life.  Win the victory again.  Laugh hard again.  Make love again.  It is this second journal we want to live with.  It is the story of our happy life.

2. Upload lots of photos to Flickr.

The more we see them, the more we relive them.

3. Ask yourself, “What is the best thing that could possibly come from this day or situation?”

Our brains love puzzles. If we give our brains a puzzle to solve, it will search until it finds a solution.  So even in the worst of days or the most negative of circumstances, our brains can be tasked with finding the best possible purpose, and it will produce one.  All we have to do is ask.

This builds happiness because it becomes the filter through which we relive our memories.  Neuroscience also shows that every time we retrieve a memory, we view it through the filter of how we feel in that moment. Our memories change over time; there is nothing we can do about it. What we can affect is HOW our memories change. By using the filter of simply asking what is the best that could possibly come from every memory, we positively affect how we remember our past. And that positively affects our own happiness.

Now, this is not easy in the middle of tragedy; trust me, I know. I have heard a doctor tell me my daughter had a stroke. I have stood there as we discovered a child was deaf. I watched my dad die. Life is not delicious in every moment and sometimes the very best that can possibly come from a situation is that we get stronger. But if we task our minds with finding some possible growth that might come from a challenging situation, we will find it.

And then we can write about it. Or take a picture of it. And the building of those memories will build our happiness.

Why Leaders Don’t Listen

I was sitting with a front-line employee of a friend’s company recently. This is the type of employee we all want to hear from – he interacts with clients on a daily basis, is creative, engaging, and cares about the company’s customers. He was sharing good ideas about the strategy of the company and what it could do to better serve its end-users. This was quality feedback.

Then he said something that made me pause. He zeroed in on one idea, one he had shared with leadership multiple times. “It is clear,” he said as his voice rose. He got animated, “Why don’t they do this? Aren’t leaders supposed to listen to us? Aren’t they supposed to heed our advice?” And it hit me…

“Because they don’t agree,” I said flatly. He looked at me dumbfounded.

Leaders who listen hear lots of great ideas over time. They still have to pick one to move the organization forward, and it might not be yours. When we are listened to, we have to be fine if the decision does not go as we suggested. We need to be as enthusiastic implementing the plan that was not our idea as we would have our idea.

A healthy listening culture is a symbiotic relationship; those of us who report to someone also have a responsibility – to not get so emotionally tied to our own suggestions that we go sulk if our suggestion is not chosen. The leader usually has a different perspective than we do; sometimes one from higher up the mountain.

One leader I consulted with settled on some language that worked for her with her team. She had a passionate, intelligent team who cared deeply about the business – again, exactly the type of team any leader would want. She, rightly, sought ideas from them constantly about the next direction of the firm. And sometimes, a team member would get married to an idea that the leader decided against. The team member would keep making his case, showing more evidence, arguing, and not letting it go. As she and I brainstormed options about how to handle this, the leader started saying to her team, “Look, as people, we are all on the same plane and no one’s idea is better than anyone else’s. But for the organization to move forward, a direction has to be chosen. Right or wrong, the mantle of leadership was placed on me so I’ve got to make the call.”

If we are part of a team and we want to be listened to, we have a responsibility to pull the wagon just as hard if the decision is to pull in a different direction than we suggested. Otherwise, we teach leaders that listening carries too much complication.

Your Ice Cream is Melting

“It’s always amazing how people are so willing to believe whatever it is that keeps their paycheck flowing.”  – Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg


I was going for ice cream. Summers in Central Texas are scorchers and this summer was right in line – well over 100 degrees on this particular day.

Standing outside the ice cream shop was a little boy looking aghast at his beautiful, double-dip, chocolate ice cream cone melting so quickly that it had now stained his entire right forearm and was running off the end of his elbow in a thin stream. It was creating a warm chocolate milk shake on the pavement below. As I approached, his dad was trying not to laugh and was cajoling the little boy, “Just lick it! Just start licking it!” barely getting the words out because of the scene’s humor. His son looked up at him incredulous and almost screamed, “My tongue’s hot too – it will just make it melt faster!”

Your world is changing. So is mine. That is just our reality.

The ice that most of our careers were built on is turning into water. And then into steam. We keep thinking that after this change will come something solid again, but those thoughts only lead to stress and anxiety and worry and disappointment; we cannot create like we need to create in such a state. The best thing for us all is to make a plan for the future based on reality: there is no more solid. It is time to learn to surf.

And that is actually good news.

Because as ice cream melts, we also have the opportunity to realize that we now have another wonderful thing – a milk shake.

Different. Not what we went out for. But still wonderful on its own.

So we have this choice: we can scramble to salvage what we can of this loved treat (this career, this idea, this business,) that is fading away and before it is gone. OR, we can get curious about what glorious things could be done with a warm milk shake (the opportunities that are created whenever change happens – which is always) and get to work on that. We could, of course, work on both solutions at the same time. OR, maybe worst of all, we could continue to stand stuck, incredulous that the sun is taking away our ice cream and jabbering on about how we hate warm milk shakes and watch the whole thing turn into a brown, sticky mess on the concrete.

We get nothing if we spend this precious time complaining about how our ice cream is melting.

Goals Without Routines

Goals are meant to keep us on track. Goals without routines, though, can still have us lurching from one thing to another, feeling like we are playing whack-a-mole or trying to spin too many plates in the air. But when routines are in place, it fills up the day or week to the point where we can tell a request for a commitment, “I’m sorry, I’m full.”

What are the Pareto activities – those activities that drive 80% of the results – in any objective? Those are the activities to build routines around.