Many things in life aren’t as simple as a minimal wage job. In such a job, the relationship is linear. The obvious, common sense model here is that the harder you work, the more you make. And in most situations, hard work is the answer. Outwork others. But is it always? I mean who gets rich working 20 hours a day at McDonald’s?
As you climb up the ladder of success, things become paradoxical. You may assume that in business, you should cut costs to the bone and maximize profit as much as possible. But you’ll find that the successful businesses often sacrifice profits for decades in the form of lower prices, higher wages, and great customer service so that in the long run, they build a reputation that allows them to charge much higher profit margins.
As you chase wealth, you expect happiness. But instead, research has shown that your happiness doesn’t increase much with more money after a middle class income. Yet we spend most of our lives chasing money.
If you look at the trophy and shoot at the target, you miss. If you look at the target and aim at it, you get the trophy. You must start being present completely in the task at hand to close that sale later, buy that Ferrari in the future, or get the kiss from the girl.
Dating’s especially weird. The nicer you are to a woman, the more you usually repel her. The more a woman sees you try to get her when you first meet, the more likely your failure since it comes off low-value or desperate. That’s especially true if your “niceness” isn’t true kindness in that you’re clearly expecting something in exchange for being nice. It’s moreso the indirect work you do to improve yourself as a person behind the scenes that matters. It’s one of those strange areas where the classic advice of
“hard work pays off” falls apart at first glance.
Or take showing off. The more you show off your achievements, the more you come off as arrogant to the woman, which repels them.
Asian Americans understand the power of patience more than other cultures because their parents have drilled in them the idea of sacrificing the first half of their life for the wealth of the second when they become doctors or some similar profession. Yet most people, thanks to human nature, are impatient, selfish, and short-sighted. They don’t value the backwards nature of delaying gratification, working, saving, and investing in a distant future. Why not just spend all the money we make now and live it up? Those new Yeezy’s are out, right?
Speaking of Asians, there’s the Chinese finger trap. Your first exposure to this gadget may have been on Dexter’s Lab when Dexter’s finger got stuck with his sister’s finger. They tried everything, but couldn’t get the trap off. They found out that the one thing they should’ve done is to come together rather than apart since going apart tightens the grip even more while coming together eases it out. It’s a metaphor for life in a way. The best way to get someone to do something, for example, is to make them want to do something rather than force them.
Another strange instance of backwardness is seeking acceptance. Why do we strive for the love and camaraderie of others? Partially, it’s human nature and how our ancestors survived. But at what point does that desire for approval and affirmation become toxic? What happens when you do all this stuff for others to see you as so cool, only to get little reaction? At some point, it may be best to step back and love and accept yourself and what you do and be content with you whether or not others like you.
Next, consider a major tenet of Buddhism, which is to accept unpleasant experiences, to understand that life means we will all have unpleasant experiences at some point. The backwards idea here is that the seeking of pleasant experiences (money, cars, glory, women, shoes) bring further unhappiness during the pursuit of it and even when you obtain it, as it won’t keep you happy for long.
Technically, you can hack it so the journey is fun by finding a passion that makes money. But the point is that it’s counter-intuitive, but a lot of our unhappiness comes from our own brains telling us about what we don’t have yet. I’ve caused myself a ton of unhappiness for this exact reason because of the woman, career, or wealth I don’t have yet. But frankly, I could’ve spent a lot more time enjoying my life as much as I could and trying my best instead of dwelling and beating myself up.
Let’s examine risks. The biggest risk is often not taking a risk. Staying in your comfort zone may be the biggest threat even though you’re trying to minimize threat as much as possible. Consider the person who fails to start a company that could’ve changed the world because he felt safe in his 9-to-5 job. Not making a decision is still a decision. Indecision is often the worst decision.
Let’s look at stock investing. Research published from various people, as cited by many of John Bogle’s books, shows how the vast majority of professional money investors fail to be the S&P 500 index, something you can just passively buy and hold. What’s worse is that the people who do beat the market one year are rarely the ones who beat it the next. In this case, dumb money wins. It’s not better to be smarter than others with investing. The highest IQ fund managers with tall their technology and offices fail to be the humble average individual who buys the index.
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Less is often more. The minimalist room looks cleaner since there’s less stuff to crowd it up and keep organized. When you say less, the words you do say hold more power. By boiling down your priorities to a handful per month, you can do less of the unimpactful, useless stuff, become less busy, and focus more on what matters.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is relax or sleep so you can recover. A lack of sleep or energy can cost you more productive output in the long run than working yourself to death.
Or think of the counter-intuitive nature of forgiveness. The natural urge for most people is to seek revenge. Yet often, achieving that revenge still leaves you hurt. By forgiving that person, you are freeing yourself from the hurt and chains that you’ve kept with you so that you can be free.
Or take selfishness. Wouldn’t you get the most stuff if you take it for yourself and put yourself first? What actually happens is that successful people with the most stuff have obtained it by helping the most other people. By helping so many others, they reap the social and monetary benefits of helping the masses.
What holds back people from going from decent success to great success?
I’ve explored this question in-depth over the years through the books and lectures I’ve gone through.
They’re short-term focused and cut ethical corners. They tell “white lies.” They’re unaware of the big results of what they do.
Picture a man who is moderately successful.
He has a small sized SEO business.
How did he achieve his success?
He had a website that sold SEO services: Let me help you rank #1 on Google!
He has a really hard time starting the business up.
Eventually, he gets a decent success from one of his first customers and asked for a testimonial.
The actual testimonial was “He helped me rank #1 for a really long-tail keyword. I guess that’s OK.”
The real truth is that this keyword is easy to rank for because it’s long tail.
A long tailed keyword is something like “how to peel potatoes without a peeler” It’s something that is a longer phrase and gets less searches, therefore less competition on Google.
In reality, because it’s less competitive, it’s less searched.
The small business owner convinces his client to let him use a variation of the testimonial and revises it to “He helped me rank #1 on Google.”
There is the problem: He found a way to get quick results that he can’t sustain in the long run, causing dissatisfaction with his customers, lowering his reputation.
Why does this not work in the long run?
Because for long term success of the business, you should not be overpromising and underdelivering.
Doing that shows that you are chasing short term gains at the ruin of your total and long term success.
By overpromising and saying that he can get you rank #1 on Google for almost any term, the business is built on under-delivering. That ruins the customer satisfaction and really eliminates a number of other things that you are not even aware of: great word of mouth referral, a great reputation, and more.
You should be doing the other thing: under-promising and over-delivering.
It’s not rocket science.
Yet many people still cut corners due to short-term desperation or growth.
One eerie similarity I have found is how successful people say they break down long-term goals.
I have been told to do this by CEO’s, serial entrepreneurs, and other successful people. At this point, I don’t think they all learned it from each other or the same source. Many may have just come up with it on their own on their way to success because it works. There’s a bit convergent evolution going on here.
How To Actually Achieve Long-Term Goals
The concept is simple: Have a long-term goal and walk it back to what you have to do on the monthly basis, then the weekly basis, then the day to day basis to get there.
It works well because you don’t have a vague idea of what you need to accomplish. You have a definitive goal and things you need to do specifically by walking things back.
A variation on this is Peter Sage’s version. He envisions his future self already achieving this goal and then telling his current self what to do walking back to the monthly and weekly and finally, daily tasks needed to get there.
Have One Goal In Mind
Little goals are harder to accomplish than big goals. A big goal will inspire you more to work. A tiny goal may not make a difference for you to get motivated. Noah Kagan was one of the first employees at Facebook. He learned from his time at Facebook that having just one goal is important. Rather than what most people do: they have a handful of different goals that stretch them in multiple directions and stretch themselves too thin.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook cross-referenced everything he did with one big goal to check to see if tasks and projects were worth doing for his team. A great book on this is called The One Thing.
Set Definitive, Somewhat Short Deadlines
Dr. Kim, the President of the World Bank, says that if you don’t have a specific deadline set, things will never be accomplished and they will constantly be pushed further out. That is why they set a definitive deadline year to end world poverty 14 years out: by 2030.
Noah Kagan recommends a maximum of 1 year out. You don’t have to be that stringent, but having vague deadlines or deadlines that are too many years out make it easier for organizations to get away with wasting time or not doing anything.
Anyone who has had to write an essay they didn’t want to write for school knows the dangers of this: you procrastinate until the last possible moment.
Exceptions To The Rule
Reid Hoffman, the billionaire behind LinkedIn and other ventures like Paypal, says that you should be definitive but loose in your goals.
I have also experienced this advice from other successful people. What he means is that many successful people find themselves in jobs or businesses or lives that they weren’t aware of or couldn’t have predicted. You can have passions you are unaware of.
With the modern world, there is a lot of amazing things going on in its vast space. You can’t possibly know specifically to a detail on how you want your life to turn out. Many people want one thing but end up somewhere else that they enjoy more.
Ellen DeGeneres is a great example. She simply wanted a job after she got let go after openly declaring she was gay. No one could have predicted the success of her talk show.
The point that Reid makes is that you should move in the general direction of where you want to go, be as specific as possible, but loose enough to open yourself to random chance. And do what you can to increase that chance.
A great example would be meeting new people. Let’s say you want to get into the consumer tech industry but don’t know what company. You just want to work with smart people. Going to at least one tech meet-up a week will open you up to a lot more chance than the guy who sits at home doing nothing.
You don’t know who it is you will meet that will change things for you, but each week, you are increasing your chances in the direction you want to go. A great book for this is The Start-Up of You by Reid Hoffman.
The best things in life take time and patience, and often require overcoming fear and sacrificing short-term pleasure. What is your biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
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