Whatever You Do, Don’t Follow Your Passion

I regret that I’ve given the career advice “follow your passion” to others before. I’ve become convinced that “follow your passion” is actually terrible advice.

Entrepreneur Mark Cuban agrees with me. Mark calls “follow your passion” the “worst advice you could ever give or get”.

Along with real world experience, the turning point for me on the question of passion was Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Newport begins by detailing the findings of Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale University. Wrzesniewski researched the issue of how workers viewed their careers. She found that “the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but, instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do”.

Things become more interesting with Newport’s look at the growth of, what he calls, “the passion hypothesis”. According to Google’s Ngram 2 viewer, authors didn’t use the term “follow your passion” until the 1970 Richard Bolles book, What Color is Your Parachute? The phrase grew steadily in popularity thereafter, used more and more often throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. But, then the phrase spiked into 3X greater usage in the 1990’s than the previous decade.

The result of this trend on our overall satisfaction with our careers? We are more unhappy with our careers than ever. Today, only 45% of Americans say they are satisfied with their careers compared to 61% in 1987. 64% of young people say that they are actively unhappy with their jobs which is the worst mark in the 20 year history of this particular survey.

The fact that this rise in the “passion hypothesis” correlates with a decline in career happiness doesn’t prove that one causes the other. But, it does seem plausible when mixed with Wrzesniewski’s research and the anecdotal evidence offered in the book. Newport outlines his own view on the issue as follows:

The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic “right” job waiting for them, and that if they find it, they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do. The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.

A little more from Newport:

…our generation-spanning experiment with passion-centric career planning has been a failure. The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it.

So, if I Don’t Follow My Passion, What Should I Follow?

Cuban says you should follow your effort. Newport offers a more detailed version of the same basic message: Become really good at something.

Newport encourages the reader to take a “craftsman” mindset to his or her work. A craftsman is someone who doesn’t approach his task as a simple “job”, he seeks to  improve both his skills and his results for the sheer reason of achieving excellence. In short, he wants to create a masterpiece.

You must take this mindset into your own field.  Seek to do your job in a much better way than anyone else is willing or able to do it. Whether it’s technical work, accounting, sales, design, engineering, or any other field, you should approach your field with the mindset of a craftsman seeking to create a truly excellent body of work.

That will require you to develop better skills than anyone else. Work at this for long enough and it will eventually open the doors to greater income, more flexibility, more security, more control, more feeling of “making an impact”, and all the other components of a “great job” that we all want.

Doing these things consistently will eventually make you “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”, as the book title suggests. And you can only reach those highest levels of career happiness and fulfillment by reaching this skill level, according to Newport.

We will get more detailed on ways to tactics of the craftsman mindset in a forthcoming post, so, be sure to subscribe through the link at the bottom of this post if you’d like to learn more.

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Read Cal Newport’s full book now: Get So Good They Can’t Ignore You from Amazon by clicking here.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You is also on my list of 8 Books with the Greatest ROI on Your Time. If you liked this post, you will also probably like some of the other books on this list.

Are You Passing Up Great Rewards over Small Risks?

Tim Ferriss’ books The 4 Hour Work-Week and Tools of Titans shared many powerful success tools with readers. Today we are going to focus on one tool that Tim covered in both books and in his podcast – Fear Setting.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Fear Setting, at its most basic level, is simply defining the worst case scenario for whatever action you are considering. An action always seems most risky when its downside is undefined.

Once you define the actual risk, you will often find the risk is nowhere near as bad as it seemed when it was cloudy in your mind. The downside usually seems catastrophic while it is not defined. But, once it is clearly defined, we realize the downside we so feared would only be a minor bump in the road of our lives. Meanwhile, the potential upside of taking action could be huge.

Tim once described this in a podcast as follows:

We often pass up opportunities that could be, on a scale of 10, a long-term 8, 9, or 10 type of positive outcome. We pass up on these opportunities because of fear of  what is really only a temporary 2 or 3 type of potential downside.

Once we start thinking of our decisions in this way, instead of obsessing over cloudy ideas of all the things that could go wrong, we will be much more open to taking risks.

An Example of Fear Setting

Starting your own business sounds scary. It feels like, if you do it, your life could be over if you fail. The truth, however, is that, if you fail, you are just out some time and money.

If things don’t work out, maybe you get behind on some bills. Maybe some things are temporarily not great for you financially. But, you still have food to eat. You still have a home. You can always just go back and get another job working for someone else. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s words, “The practical world is always waiting with open arms”.

When all is said and done, this outcome is a “2” or “3” on the scale of bad things that can happen to us in our lives. And, it’s temporary. You go back to what you were doing before, maybe you have some debt to work off, but, you recover and life goes on.

But, if your own business worked out, maybe your life is altered in a positive way for years. Maybe you achieve fulfillment and you are happy. Maybe money ceases to be a concern. You are setting your own schedule, you’re your own boss. This is maybe a 7 or 8 on a scale of positive events and this is a potentially permanent development.

Starting your own business is only one example. You could use the same exercise for taking a new job, moving to a new city, starting a band, writing a book. When you go through this exercise you will often be surprised to find that, for many things you are holding back from doing, you are being more held back more by fear of potential embarrassment than any real material loss.

The Art of Fear Setting

Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left side, write down all the things that could realistically go wrong with whatever action you are considering taking.

Once that is done, on the right side of the paper, write the ways that you could minimize each of those things that could go wrong. “Cap the downside” is a term you will hear Tim mention often. For each of these bad things, is there a way you lower the chance of it happening? Or minimize the damage if it does?

Simply going through this exercise will help to free your mind from your fears. Fear Setting is one of the most powerful tools that I have found to get comfortable with taking risks. Give it a shot the next time you are faced with a big decision.

You might be surprised to find that you are bypassing a chance at a “10” positive outcome over fear of a “2” negative outcome.

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Want to read more of Tim’s best tips and tricks from the best and brightest in the world? Check out Tools of the Titans by clicking here.

Influence Others by Giving Away

This is part of the JABBED 5-Minute Book club where we breakdown the most powerful concepts from history’s greatest books in a post that takes 5 minutes or less to read. Not part of the 5-Minute Book Club yet? Read more about it or join here.

Robert Cialdini’s masterpiece, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has been cited as “the book that appears most often on the reading list of elite performers like  CEOs and world leaders”. The book not only teaches the principles of persuasion, but, perhaps more importantly, teaches you to protect yourself from those who would persuade you to do things you would not otherwise do.

In this post, we are going to take a look into one of the most powerful and basic principles in Influence: the Rule of Reciprocation.

The Power of Reciprocation

As humans, we have a deeply seeded need to return the favor to others when a good deed is done for us.

This need is embedded into human society. This is true to the point that those who don’t reciprocate get negative labels – moocher, ingrate, bum. These labels exist because of the inherent understanding among humans that a person who has had something done for them has to return the favor.

For most humans, this need to return the favor is so powerful that our desire to reciprocate is often in no proportion to the original favor. In other words, even a small initial favor can often lead to a much bigger returned favor.

This is a very important concept to understand. This concept frequently leveraged by salespeople, politicians, and persuaders of all stripes.

Returned Favors Much Larger Than the Original

Cialdini covers the details of a well-known experiment in which the power of “out of balance” reciprocation was shown. In this experiment, a researcher offered a test subject a Coke. Later, the subject was asked to buy 25 cent raffle tickets by the same researcher. The subjects that accepted a Coke later purchased twice as many raffle tickets as those who did not accept a Coke.

This doubling of average sales amounted to big returns for the Coke giver.  The value of a Coke at the time was 50 cents. But, raffle ticket sales went up $2.50 if the test subject accepted the Coke.

This “out of balance” reciprocation is the reason a car salesperson offers you a Coke before you start negotiating over your car purchase. It’s also the reason a jewelry salesperson offers you a drink while you browse engagement rings. It’s the reason that salespeople of all kinds offer to take a client to lunch.

In all the above cases, the cost of a beverage or lunch is often miniscule. So, adding slightly to the chances of making a large sale more than makes up the difference. Going from a 15% chance to sell a car to a 30% chance to sell a car by giving up a soft drink is a very good deal for the seller.

The Takeaway

  1. Most people feel a strong need to reciprocate when something nice is done for them.
  2. The “returned favor” can often be much larger than the original favor. Even in cases where a large transaction is at stake, the purchaser is more likely to comply if they accepted a small favor.
  3. When you have extra time, money, or expertise you can give away, it’s often worthwhile to do so. The value of future favors you can make available by doing this will often far exceed your short term cost.
  4. If you don’t want to be unduly influenced by a person, you should not accept their favors. No matter how small. If you accept a favor from a person, you give that person some amount of power over you.

Want to read more about the power of persuasion? Check out Cialdini’s full book at Amazon by clicking here.

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Stop Waiting for Luck

In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday says, “Stop looking for angels, start looking for angles“. In other words, stop looking for divine providence or luck and start looking for new solutions.

This sums up the road to success for many great success stories. We often assume that success came from a flash of insight. Or we think that those who did great things must have known something unknown to the mortals. We often look back, in hindsight, and believe it was easy or that everything came together quickly for our heroes.

In short, we look at our heroes’ highlight reels and compare them to our blooper reels.

But, the truth shows that pure persistence is the key to success. It’s the one factor shared by high performers in every field. In fact, success, almost always, is a result of the elimination of so many angles that didn’t work. So many ideas that were bad. So many misses.

Our heroes failed many times. But, they kept going. They kept trying new approaches until – eureka! – they found one that worked. Their misses are largely forgotten by history, but, their successes are remembered.

Edison examines straws

Inventor Nikola Tesla once sneered of Thomas Edison that if asked to find a needle in a haystack, Edison would “proceed at once” to “examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search”.

In 1878, Edison did just that when he tested 6,000 different filaments for his light bulbs before he found one that would work – bamboo.

The Obstacle Is the Way author Holiday puts it like this “it was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile”.

It doesn’t matter how proper your solution is or how smart you look. All that matters is that your solution works. Success isn’t based on style points.

The Truth

The truth is that your new venture is not supposed to work at first. Your new hobby is not supposed come naturally. Your difficult problem is not supposed to be cracked with ease.

As Holiday puts it, “Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory – only by persistence and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught”.

What you need to win is the simple persistence to continue applying time and pressure to crack the problem along with the willingness to keep trying new approaches. And the will to not quit.

The great new is that those are things that are fully in your control. And those are the traits that will eventually crack any problem wide open.

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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

The Power of Taking Action Now

In The Obstacle is The Way, Ryan Holiday writes, “While you’re sleeping, traveling, attending meetings, or messing around online you’re falling behind. You’re going soft. You’re not aggressive enough. You’re not pressing ahead. You’ve got a million reasons why you can’t move at a faster pace. This all makes the obstacles in your life loom very large.

For some reasons, these days we tend to downplay the importance of aggression, of taking risks, of barreling forward.”

The above passage outlines a lesson I have learned in a big way the last few years. The lesson is simply this: 90% of achieving big things is simply taking Action.

Stop complaining about what the incumbents are doing. Stop daydreaming about what you could do one day. If you wanted to. Stop coming up with excuses why you can’t get started now. Most people will waste their lives away doing these things. You don’t want end up like “most” people, right?

So, get in motion. Take the first step. Dare to dream the big dream. Take bold, massive action. Those who created the machine in which you are a cog were no smarter than you. They simply took action.

Creating Momentum

As Holiday continues, “We often assume the world moves at our leisure. We delay when we should initiate. We jog when we should be running… or sprinting. We’re shocked – shocked! – when nothing big ever happens, when opportunities never show up, when new obstacles begin to pile up, or when our enemies finally get their act together.”

“We talk a lot about courage as a society but we forget that at its most basic level it’s really just taking action… If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started.

A half-hearted “I guess I will give this a shot, but, it probably won’t work” attitude will lead to you taking the kind of actions that get you zero results. You might as well not take action at all if you are going to have that approach to it.

Take big, bold actions. Throw yourself completely into your task with your whole heart. This is the kind of Action that creates greatness. Especially when you pair it with Persistence.

Want to read more about the power of Action and speed? Check out my breakdown of Gary Vaynerchuk’s take on the issue by clicking here.

The Power of Persistence

Will merely taking action solve our problems? No, of course not. This is where persistence comes into play.

Think of Persistence as the twin brother of Action. Action is strong, muscular, and full of energy. He is boisterous, and charges ahead, but, can quickly become discouraged when things go poorly.

Persistence is a smaller, quieter, calmer brother. What he lacks in physical strength, he makes up for in emotional strength. He is confident. When things go poorly, he does not become flustered. Instead, he encourages and points his “big” brother to try again with a new line of attack. Persistence knows that there is one course of action that will crack the puzzle. He knows that each failed action just takes him and his brother one step closer to finding the right action.

You will fail. You will fall down. Your “can’t-miss plan” will miss. You need the persistence &  the willpower to try and try again until you find the action that will work. There is one. You need to have the “I won’t be denied” attitude to try every angle until success is attained.

Usually, if you plan your actions carefully to minimize your downside, the costs of a miss aren’t that great. The failure is temporary. But, the spoils of success could be life-changing and you usually only need one big success in a lifetime to change your life completely. Are you forfeiting the chance at big, long-term success over the fear of small, short-term failures?

The Mindset You Need to Succeed

Holiday describes the mindset we need to succeed as follows: “We will not be stopped by failure, we will not be rushed or distracted by external noise. We will chisel and peg away at the obstacle until it is gone. Resistance is futile.”

“Too many people think that great victories… come from a flash of insight. That they cracked the problem with pure genius. In fact, it was the slow pressure, repeated from many different angles, the elimination of so many other more promising options, that slowly and surely churned the solution to the top of the pile.”

Action and Persistence. It’s secret mixture used by anyone who achieved great things.

You just need the creativity to come up with new lines of attack when your first choice fails. The confidence to know you will fail at some point and that it will be okay. The audacity to try anyway. The persistence to keep trying every possible approach until you find the one approach that works.

These are the attributes that you must cultivate. These are the attitudes that will lead you to successes greater than anything you have ever dreamed possible.

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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

How One Man Turned $100 into $1,050 in 16 days

In January 2017, 32/10 (a division of entrepreneurial non-profit New Leaf Digital in Huntsville, AL) ran a contest to see who could turn $100 into $1,000 in just 30 days. We called the contest our first 10X Challenge.

Nandish Dayal accomplished the feat in just 16 days.

With all the entrepreneurial talk about apps, Facebook ads, scalability, etc. you would expect Nandish’s methods to have involved something tech-related. But, Nandish 10x’ed his money in just over 2 weeks with some of the oldest, most tried and true entrepreneurial methods imaginable.

Nandish is a native of Fiji. In his words, “We didnt have a lot of resources so you learn to be creative.”

Nandish is not, in his words, a “tech guy”. His career is in healthcare. He just finished becoming a nurse practitioner and relocated to Oregon to work in a healthcare facility where he is negotiating a partnership. Making his hustle even more impressive, he achieved 10X returns while packing up for his big move across the United States.


Nandish and wife Judith

Nandish’s Strategy

Coming into the competition, Nandish knew he wouldn’t win in some kind of tech or app competition. He decided to focus on something he knew really well. His hobbies have long included working on cars, specifically Subaru vehicles. For most of the last 7 years, Nandish has worked on Subaru’s as a hobby. He also drives them and has bought and sold them for profit.

Nandish found an old Subaru in very bad shape. It needed thousands of dollars worth of work to run properly again. The owner wanted $300 for the car. After a a lot of negotiating, Nandish got the cost for the car down to $100. The engine ran long enough for the car to sputter its way back to Nandish’s garage. The transmission was shot.

But, Nandish knew the value of the parts inside the car. He knew how to remove the parts. He knew that the parts inside the car were worth substantially more than the $100 he paid if they could be removed and if he could find buyers.

As luck would have it, while removing parts from the car, Nandish’s neighbor sees him and says he knows “a fella” looking for a front assembly for a car like that. Nandish ends up selling the complete front bumper assembly (both sets of wheels, hood, both fenders, front bumper) to the “fella” for a whopping $750.

A few days later, he sells the rolling shell that remains for $300 to put him $1,050 in just 16 days.

So, there you have it… a 10.5X return on investment 16 days.

Takeaways from Nandish’s Achievement

  • If you are accustomed to depending on someone to give you a job to make money, that’s not the only way. Our education system largely encourages us to seek careers instead of entrepreneurial opportunities. Nandish’s upbringing taught him to look for opportunities and not to expect anyone to give him an easy path to making money when he needed or wanted cash.
  • Nandish was willing to think of what was possible and be creative, not just what other people were doing.
  • When looking for a way to make money on the side or start a new venture, your best chance of success is to stick close to something you know well.
  • In Tony Robbins’ book Money, he covers a strategy that billionaires use in investment called the 5X Rule. Simply put, the 5X rule means that they must see a likelihood of 500% upside to make any investment. Smart businesspeople know they will be wrong and, if you follow this rule, you only need to right 1 time out of 5 to break even. It’s a low-risk/high-return strategy (what you learned in economics about risk and return being related is completely out of sync with the real world) and so was Nandish’s strategy. He was only risking $100 and felt certain there was at least $500-1000 worth of value in the car. These are the type of business bets you want to make. Too many people risk all their investment in hopes of a 30% return on their investment. This isn’t a good strategy because you will be wrong sometimes.
  • You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert to be on your own and make money. There are people who know more about cars than Nandish. But, he knows more about cars than most people know. That is usually enough to be able to make some profit.

I asked Nandish for a closing comment to those who might read this article. Here is what he said:

“There are often instituted drawbacks or obstacles that may hold us back. But the important thing to remember is that you are truly the master of your own destiny. It’s okay to have bad days but someone out there would kill to have the access to all the privileges that we have.”

Nandish shared with me that he plans to donate his winnings to a scholarship at his alma mater, the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

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The Productivity Trick Used by Nick Saban and Tim Ferriss

Why is that we all have only 24 hours in a day, yet some can achieve so much more than others? We all have a limited amount of time and energy. This means that every time that we choose to spend time or energy on one thing, we are left with less of both to spend on other things.

So, here’s the trick: focus 100% of your time and energy on the things that you can control. Spend 0% of your time & energy on the things that you can’t control.

The default behavior for the average person is to spend the majority of their time and energy worrying over things they can’t control. News, sports, gossip, decisions that are for others to make.

In addition to lost time & energy, these things we can’t control often cause us stress. Stress further damages our ability to be productive and makes us unhappy.

When we focus on things we can control, we feel empowered. When we focus on things we can’t control, we feel powerless.

The lesson that high performers teach us is that those who tune out the distractions and get focused can achieve amazing results. When you dig into high performers and their habits, laser-like focus is maybe the most commonly shared behavior among all different types of high performers.

Why do high performers achieve more in 24 hours than the average person?

  1. They “create” time & energy for themselves by not wasting their limited time & energy on things that they can’t control.
  2. Because they are focused 100% on the things that they control, they develop a mindset of confidence. They don’t feel like helpless bystanders watching other people do things.

Diverse Examples

Author Tim Ferriss details this “focus” philosophy in his book, The Four-Hour Work Week. This idea is, in many ways, the core idea in Ferriss’ productivity system.

Ferriss encourages avoidance of media which has no impact on your goals. To have good ideas and to be productive, we must “turn down the noise”, Ferriss warns us.

At the other end of the spectrum from author/entrepreneur Ferriss, we have University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban. Focusing only on what you can control is the cornerstone of the system that Saban calls “The Process”. The Process has netted Saban multiple national championships and the most dominant college football dynasty in recent memory.

The only media consumed by Saban is 10 minutes of the Weather Channel each morning while having coffee with this wife. When asked about the 2016 Presidential Election the day after the election, Saban answered that he “didn’t even know that yesterday was Election Day”. He didn’t appear to be joking. Saban is also the same man who, in 2006, famously skipped dinner with President George W. Bush because his Dolphins team had practice (not a game) that night.

Saban continually coaches his players to think only about the current play, the present moment. He tells them not to think about what the score is or what the outcome of the game is. For Saban, it is all about complete and total focus only on what you can control at this very moment.

The Power of Focus

In Ryan Holiday’s words in The Obstacle is the Way, “Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But, every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted… So much power – ours and other people’s – is frittered away in this manner”.

What are the things you can can control? “Our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions, our determination” according to Holiday.

The things you can’t control? Who is President, who won the Broncos game, what Kim Kardashian did today. Quit opening the news app. Unfollow those noisy folks on Facebook that are going on and on about these things. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.

There are less obvious things we can’t control that can sap our time & energy. You can’t control if the customer accepts your proposal. You can only control giving the best proposal possible. If you are part of a team pursuing a goal, you can’t always control if your team achieves the goal or not. But, you can control whether or not you gave your absolute best effort.

Even in your own life, you can only control your end of the deal. Focus your time and energy on that. Focus in on the things that you can control. Leave the rest. Simple, but, by no means easy.

Eliminate Distraction, Focus In

Your career, your family, your friends, your dreams, your happiness and fulfillment are the things that deserve your time and energy.

The events that our society watches from afar and talks endlessly about will only waste your time and energy away. The same goes for worrying over the choices that are up to others to make.

If you tune these things out and focus 100% on what you can control, you will seem unusual to many people. But, those who are the most successful always seem unusual to everyone else.

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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

The above images are used in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons license.

Change Your Perception to Solve Your Problem

How can we turn our obstacles into advantages? Or problems into solutions?

In The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday says that the change must begin with our perception. Everything that we think or do begins there.

First, we must develop our nerve. Any time that we “aim high, pressure and stress obligingly come along for the ride… The risk of being overwhelmed is always there” Holiday writes.

The Importance of Nerve

What is nerve exactly? Nerve is largely about staying calm, or at least in control, when everything else is going sideways.

If our nerve fails, our ability to use all our other skills is greatly diminished. Nerve allows us to “focus our energy exclusively on solving problems rather than reacting to them”.

It’s not that we should stop feeling emotions, this is impossible and foolish. But, Holiday says we must “domesticate” our feelings.

How often does getting upset offer us an advantage? Almost never. It narrows our viewpoint, lowering our potential options for dealing with a problem. It clouds our minds and makes us act rashly. Rarely does this lead to better outcomes.

Defiance sticks out as the key attribute to develop – I won’t let this emotion control me. I am in charge, not my “lower self”. 

Cultivating Calm

Nerve is not something we are born with, it can be developed. Holiday recounts the story of astronaut John Glenn whose heart rate never went above 100 during a shuttle launch.

Was Glenn superhuman? No, he trained and mentally prepared for that launch for months, going through simulations & mental exercises. In a shuttle launch, losing nerve for even a few seconds can cause a critical mistake resulting in catastrophe.

We also should prepare and fortify our nerves for our daily challenges and for those critical moments when our actions mean so much. If Glenn can control his heart while hurtling into outer space, we can learn to control ours while facing competitors, clients, our children, our spouses, and our family members.

The lesson here is that building nerve is not a matter of a one-time decision. Glenn invested time and sustained effort into building his. It’s a process.

“The observing eye sees what is there. The perceiving eye sees more than what is there.”

Holiday writes that it is our perceptions, not events themselves, that are often our biggest problem. We decide an event is “good” or “bad”. And, sometimes, when we have a perception that an event is “bad”, our perception can lead to a chain reaction of worsening problems.

Events simply “are”, they are not inherently good or bad. It’s our thinking that decides they are one or another.

Ever notice that when your friend shares his or her problems with you, the answers seem crystal clear? We never have this clarity about our own problems.

What’s missing when you talk about someone else’s problems? “The baggage”, writes Holiday, “with other people we can be objective”.

Consider backing up from your problem and pretending it isn’t happening to you. What if this were happening to your friend? How would you perceive it then? What advice would you give if you weren’t so emotionally involved?

Our Perceptions Are the Basis of All Our Actions

We can’t change the obstacle we face, but, we can change how we look at it. The “worst case” explanation that we jump to isn’t necessarily the right one. Consider the alternatives. Backup and look at this problem from someone else’s point of view. Look for alternate points of view of ways to attack the problem.

This quote from Holiday sums up this first section of The Obstacle Is the Way: “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

The first step to turning our problem around is to change our perception. Our perception is a domino falling that will cause a chain of thoughts & actions that can either make matters worse or better.

Control your perception, control your life.

Want to read more great books but don’t have the time to spend hours on a single book? Click here to join the Five Minute Book Club Mailing List for 5-minute summaries of the most valuable concepts from the best books delivered right to your inbox. No spam, 1-click unsubscribe at any time.

This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

The Obstacle Is The Way

How Your “Problem” Might be the Key to your Success

What if the big problem that you face today could actually be the springboard to your greatest success?

In The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, we learn that you can turn any problem into an advantage. But, only if you start thinking about your problem the right way. What you need is a system to reframe your problems.

A New Way of Thinking About Obstacles

Why is having a system of thinking about problems so important? Couldn’t we just focus on solving our current problems? After all, once they are solved, it’s clear sailing, right?

But, this doesn’t work. We tell ourselves things like this but the truth is that problems and obstacles will never go away. No matter how far we progress, how much we accomplish, or how much money we make, we will find and face new problems.

A brief look at human history illustrates this very well. Our ancestors faced far worse problems than we do today and solved them. If you’re reading this, you will probably never worry about having food to eat or a bed to sleep in. Or, if you’re a parent, you can reasonably expect all your children to live to see 18 years old. However, in the year 1800, 43.3% of children would die before their 5th birthday.

Even though humanity has come so far, we still face plenty of problems today – some old and some new. The reality of human existence is that problems are a part of it. It’s a reality of our physical world and our mental and emotional wiring.

So, since problems aren’t going away, we need a new framework for thinking about them. We must no longer shy away from them, sweep them under the rug, or live in denial.

We must find a way of thinking that will keep us calm, composed, and prepared to handle whatever may come. The place to begin is simply realizing this: your current problem contains an advantage specifically for you.

The Advantage Built In to Your Biggest Problems

Intel CEO Andy Grove once stated that: “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” Holiday says that this quote is equally true of individuals:

All great men and women used their greatest challenges as the fuel to achieve their success.

This is not about “glass half full” platitudes. In Holiday’s words:

The point is not to be “positive” but to be ceaselessly creative and optimistic

Not: This is not so bad.

But: I can make this good.

Examples of Those Who Turned Weakness into Strength

Over 33% of all entrepreneurs are dyslexic, including billionaire Richard Branson. Dyslexia is almost twice as common in entrepreneurs as the general population.  Some estimates put the percentage of entrepreneurs with any learning disability as high as 50%.

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was rejected repeatedly during auditions and told that he could never be an American movie actor due to his accent. The accent became the signature of Arnold and a key reason that he became one of the world’s most famous actors.

President Barack Obama turned both his own multi-racial background and the racial issues raised during his 2008 bid into a vision of hope, change, and a speech on race relations still considered to be one of the best in history. Arguably both Obama’s “disadvantages” ultimately made him more remarkable and fueled his meteoric rise to the White House.

President Donald Trump has been widely ridiculed and sometimes despised for the things he has said in his political career. This very criticism has only made him stronger with his base. Why? In large part, because Trump has leaned into the very things he has been criticized for rather than run away from them. He turned a disadvantage into the source of his strength with his constituency.


How do you get start turning your problem into your solution? You can find more wisdom on problems solving from Holiday and other authors in the Problem Solving section of the Five Minute Book Club by clicking here.

I also strongly recommend checking out The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

Want to read more great books but don’t have the time to spend hours on a single book? Click here to join the Five Minute Book Club Mailing List for 5-minute summaries of the most valuable concepts from the best books delivered right to your inbox. No spam, 1-click unsubscribe at any time.

This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

Cutting the Ends off the Ham

Losing $300 Million By Cutting the Ends off the Ham

A daughter is preparing a big family dinner with her mother. Mom cuts both ends off the ham before putting the ham in their big, spacious oven. The daughter asks, “Mom, why do we cut the ends off the ham?”

Mom says, “It’s the way grandma taught me to do it”. Daughter goes to grandma’s house to ask grandma why we cut the ends off the ham.

Grandma’s reply is, “Oh honey, I only cut the ends off the ham because my oven was so small back then that the ham wouldn’t fit inside it without cutting it”.

We Often Carry Forward Out of Date Ideas and Assumptions

This anecdote is an example of something we all do. We form routines and mental models based on a current reality, or, as in the story, we get them handed down to us. But, sometimes the underlying reality changed and our routines and mental models did not.

Sometimes, these no-longer-correct routines and models can have harmless consequences, like cutting the ends off a literal ham. But, sometimes, these outdated approaches can get us into real trouble.

Failing to See the Possibilities in the New Oven

In 1998 and 1999, investors poured money into new online stores like Pets.com, the “internet pet store”, and eToys.com, the “internet toy store”.

Investors saw the internet going mainstream and believed that online retail would closely mirror traditional retail. Traditional retail was flush with successful niche retailers like Best Buy, PetSmart, and Toys R Us. But, investors were blind to the fact that the world of traditional retail was a world that had been largely shaped by its constraints.

  • Traditional retail requires lots of high quality floor space in expensive “prime locations” plus warehousing and delivery to stores. Online retail only requires bare necessity warehouses with delivery direct to the customer.
  • Due to space constraints, traditional retailers must be selective about what product they carry and specialize in. Online retailers can stock and sell millions of products for not much more effort, relatively speaking, than is required for hundreds.
  • If traditional retail stores get too large and hard to find product in or if retail employees don’t know the products or the store layout, customers can become lost or frustrated. In online retail, customers don’t expect to deal with an employee and any product is one search or click away.

In short, traditional retail has a small oven, online retail has a very large oven.

Having a product niche like toys or electronics makes perfect sense in traditional retail due to the constraints imposed. But, investors still wanted to cut the ham to put the “old world” constraints on the “new world” of online.

A $300 Million Mistake

Pets.com was founded in 1998, promptly raised $300 million from investors, and was completely out of business by the end of 2000. To be fair, Pets.com suffered from a variety of other underlying issues as well that made their fall so sudden and dramatic, but, it’s also now clear that the entire premise was flawed from the beginning.

Very small & inexpensively run niche online retailers are certainly thriving in the Long Tail of the current online economy. But, the rest of online retail is largely owned one internet superstore – Amazon. Amazon finally capitalized on all the “big oven” possibilities and, it turned out, that was what the market craved.

It was a mistake to build a “large scale niche” online store like Pets.com. And, perhaps, there was no way that anyone could have known this. Predicting the consequences of great shifts is complicated and fraught with risk.

But, if we are at least aware of and thinking about this phenomenon, maybe we can give ourselves a chance the next time around.

The next time you see major shifts in any area, ask some of these questions:

  • What old restrictions have been removed?
  • What new possibilities are now open that were not there before?
  • Imagine throwing out the old model completely. You are starting fresh in this new environment. What would the ideal model/routine/way of doing business look like?
  • How could I make something better and not simply mirror the old environment in this new one?
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