Currently viewing the category: "Making and Taking Opportunities"

Why fool yourself into thinking that only conventional ways of finding opportunities will work? Don't you think most successful people try something else?

Today, I had lunch with a buddy I haven’t seen in years.  I knew he was working on a start-up out in San Francisco.  I was curious to learn more.  He and I chatted for an hour and a half.  By the time we were finished, he told me they could “really use someone like me” to help with their start-up, and the he would talk with his business partners to see if there was something I could do to help out.

Coincidence?  Luck?  I think not.

You see, directly in line with my advice about integrating my goals into my daily routine I devote a large amount of my time to finding other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

At first, I had these grandiose ideas in my mind:

“how could I possibly start a business?  I don’t know of any good opportunities.

I’m not good enough”…the usual downtrodden frames of mind that I have devoted this blog to combatting.

Once I got over that silly though process, I could see that there were a huge number of opportunities already around me.  All I had to do was reach up and grab the fruit.

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Consider this a budding of a new way to look at the world.

I read a lot of other blogs on self-improvement, entrepreneurship, personal development and motivation to keep abreast of other writers’ ideas and approaches to the issues I cover here.  An issue I see covered quite often is the issue of motivation.  I wasn’t going to write about this topic because I feel that all of my other articles allude to it.  But I realized it’s an important topic to talk about specifically, and one that, like many other self-improvement topics out there, is approached from the wrong angle.


I think of true motivation as the intrinsic desire to accomplish a task combined with actually doing it.  So you want to do something because you want to do it (rather than someone else making you do it), and then you acutally do it.

But that’s not what usually motivates us.  Our primary motivating factor is fear: fear of loss, fear of losing our jobs, fear of getting a bad grade in a class…  so we’re used to other people or things ”forcing” us to do things and calling the shots for us.  So we are usually exclusively motivated by other people or things–such as our bosses, teachers and money– ”forcing” us to do things.

So in the off-chance we try to motivate ourselves to do something (like starting a business, going on a diet, or wasting less time), we fall flat, because we’re not used to forcing ourselves to do things: we need someone else there to tell us what to do.

It’s actually pretty sad.  We let others tell us what to do, but we can’t tell ourselves what to do?

A lot of people who write about motivation really miss the mark.  Most writers, while well-intentioned, turn the issue of motivation into espousing platitudes.  They write articles about “how to get out of bed in the morning”, “how to boost your confidence”, “keep your energy high!”; one I saw even talked about a ”motivation clinic”.  Then they list out 5 to 7 “tips” on increasing motivation.

Platitudes are not helpful.  If overused “tips” really worked, there wouldn’t be an unmotivated soul left on the planet.  Unless you’ve never tried to motivate yourself to do something before, I think we’ve all heard “tips” like the ones I listed above.  Platitudes address symptoms rather than problems: so telling you how to manage your time better or    motivational quotes don’t actually address why you don’t feel motivated in the first place (i.e. the actual problem).  That’s why I call this article “Motivation- A method for intelligent people”, because I don’t reduce this issue to pretending to know your situation and giving you a list.  Rather, I  talk about a mindset that, since you are smart, you can relate directly to your situation, and choose the actions necessary to make it happen.

So what is your problem then?

The problem is that you don’t care.

That’s it.  Period.

The true key to movitation can be stated in one sentence: If you really cared more about your goals, you would find a way to get them done.  Since you can’t, you just don’t care enough.

-Too “busy” to learn how to play an instrument?  I bet you watched TV last night.


-Want to start your own business, but “don’t know how”?  I bet you haven’t done any research…and you watched TV last night.

-Want to find a new job, but “can’t find one” because the “economy is bad”?  I bet you didn’t even apply; and if you did, I bet it was only on Monster.com.

Come on now.  If you truly and sincerely decided “I want to play the piano”, you’d find some time in your day to practice.  If you really wanted to start a company, you’d actually research the idea rather than making excuses.  If you cared more about getting up early than sleeping in, you would just wake up when your alarm goes off.

This stuff isn’t rocket science, but you feel like it is.  That’s because you’re not used to motivating yourself.

And the first step to motivating yourself is to care more about your goals than other things. 

I use my free time write this blog, rather than watching TV or using Facebook.  That’s because I value writing and helping people more than TV or Facebook.  And mind you, I’m busy.  I’m usually working on classes and other projects for 10-12 hours per day during the weekday, and at least 5 hours per day on most weekends.  But I make it all work because I want to make it work.

Do you want to make it work?

What helps us care more about our goals than other things?

  • Get angry

Isn’t it pretty sad that the only thing holding you back is actually just you and your excuses?  It made me mad when I figured it out.  But use that anger to make you disdain the laziness and lack of accomplishment, and yearn for something better.

  • Give your goal a high priority

This sounds fluffy, but it’s a simple, profound, and often-missed truth.  Be willing to work on your goal rather than being distracted by other things.  How many times have you wanted to do something, but wound up playing video games instead?  I personally recommend automatically eliminating things from your day that add no value (such as watching TV, going out all of the time, and playing on Facebook).  Read my article Jettison activities from your life that waste your time for some thoughts on how to do this.

  • Care more about your goals than short-term pain or failure.

Dealing with failure is easy (and go read my article on failure): just don’t care, and don’t take unreasonable risks so that failure causes huge problems (scale your efforts).  Like with this blog: I care so much about it being successful that I won’t quit because I had a day of low traffic or complaints about an article.  It’s more fun to be successful than it is to feel “comfortable” by not trying.


So understand failure for what it is, and realize that most people fail–a lot–before having breakout success.  Read my article referenced above for an in-depth analysis.

  • After you start caring more about your goals, then go read the specific “how-to” advice.

This is the time to start looking at things like “the best way to organize your time” and “the best way to set your goals”.  Remember that knowing how to set goals and organize your time only works if you actually stick with your goals.  Otherwise it’s pointless.

Some articles I have written that I think will help:

-The Main Idea (an overarching look at the main concept behind my blog).

-Setting goals

-Unwavering desire to improve oneself

-Challenging assumptions

Final note

This article is short intentionally: motivating yourself is not hard, as long as you realize why you’ve had trouble doing so in the past (because you’ve spent most of your life being motivated by fear), and the right mindset required to motivate yourself (the basic points listed above).

I don’t go into many specfics here (“what should my goal be?”  “how much should I value it compared to my family life?”  “what’s the best way to make myself angry about not meeting goals?”) because I can’t answer those questions for you, and frankly I’m not sure I would listen to anyone who says they can answer them.  My focus is on instilling in you the mindset necessary to accomplish your goals.  Other than that, I recommend doing what you are now: read different blogs, read some other articles here, and most importantly, actually do thingsto practice and accomplish your goals!

You can do it.

 

 

As long as you can go to a school with fancy buildings, who cares what major it is?

How do you choose your college major?

We all have read tons of articles on this topic, especially those who are or will soon be college students.  The type of advice given is all over the place: some people recommend picking a major based on the ability to make money, and a high starting salary.  Often, there is a strong focus on what kind of jobs you can get with a major.  For example, someone thinking about majoring in Finance would read an article like this: W. P. Carey Finance undergraduate major.  They would see all of the possible careers listed, such as investment banker, corporate financial analyst, CFO, etc.; and think “I want to be an investment banker, so I will major in Finance”, or “I don’t think I could stand being in corporate finance, so I will major in something else”.


But there is a huge problem in the way that many people give advice.  Most people that give advice usually have a narrow perspective driven by their wants and needs, which are not necessarily the same as yours.

So someone who tells you to major in finance may say so because they value a prestigious job in New York City, and want to make a lot of money regardless of the costs to their personal life.  But what if you don’t care about those things?  What if your priorities are different?

Some people (if not most) value job security and a steady paycheck over anything else.  That attitude will permeate the advice they give you.  What if your risk tolerance is higher, and you want to do something else?

A lot of people tell you that these are the things you should consider first when choosing a major:

  • How much money can I make?
  • Pick something you find tolerable that makes you a lot of money.
  • What do authority figures say (e.g. parents and people whose judgment I trust say)?
  • What are the expected career paths for my major?
  • Find something that will pay off your student loans.

I think those things above are best for people who just want to go to college to have fun and “get a job”.  They imply that making money is more important than anything else (such as happiness), that the perspectives of others are automatically more important than what you want to do, and that your only career options are those that most people do.  Furthermore, these points promote intellectual laziness, since they imply that the only thing you can think of doing or actually do is what someone “tells” you that you can do.  If you sense you can–and want– to accomplish more, you need to look at majors in a different way.

I’m not saying everyone should throw away the usual manner of analyzing degrees.  Plenty of people don’t want to go outside of their comfort zone, and just want a secure job at any cost.  That’s fine; I’m not writing this article to convince you otherwise.  For those who are motivated and want to live an interesting life, there are other options.

First and foremost:

Think first  about what you are passionate about!

What do you actually want to do?  Can you really only be successful if you get a business job making lots of money right out of college?   For myself, all things being equal, I place a much higher value on spending my time the way I want over doing some task that is guaranteed to make money.  That’s not to say that they are mutually exclusive (I try to make both happen at the same time): my point is that if your end-goal is “I want to spend my time doing something I like”, you can use college to set a foundation for doing that and making money. But it most be done intelligently, and I recommend considering it through these points:

  •  See majors as just the beginning step towards developing your career, rather than the thing that cements the exact path you want to go.  See your degree as giving you lots of options, rather than restricting you.

One of the biggest misconceptions about majors is that a major “tells” you what kind of jobs you can and can’t get, and what kind of career you can or can’t have.  It’s just like the link to the W. P. Carey finance page I posted above: “if you major in finance, you can be a banker, a financial planner, etc.”

But look at people in their thirties or forties.  What do you see in reality?  I see lots of people whose paths actually are quite different from what schools tell you the major will allow you to do.  I know someone in their sixties who majored in chemistry in college, only to go on and become a successful real estate investor (and never work in chemistry a day in their life).  I know someone else who majored in accounting, and opened up a large successful chain of car washes.


In reality, a major only “tells” you what your career can be if you let it do so.  I think a much more useful way to think about it is to see your degree as opening up lots of opportunities rather than restricting you to one type of career.  An example is with accounting.  The traditional route for accounting majors is to work in a large public accounting firm (e.g. PwC and Deloitte) for a few years, and then go work in industry or a smaller firm after that (the reasoning being that the first few years of the career are designed to be rigorous and stressful, and that people should “put in their time” before going to a more relaxing and potentially higher paying job like in industry).  This is the path that someone would “tell” you to take as an accountant.

I’m an accounting major, but here I am writing a blog about personal development, and starting businesses of my own.  No one ever “told” me I could do that.  In fact, I think I’m probably one of the only people in my class doing these types of things.  But my success and efforts in writing and in business were, in many senses, enabled–not restricted by–my efforts in accounting.  As accounting truly is “the language of business”, I think I understand most business concepts more strongly than others without this background (well, in my age group, that is).  And my experiences in school and with my major, even if not a direct result of my accounting classes, have helped me develop the rounded perspective from which to write this blog.

So when you choose your major, there are two ways you can see it:

  •  Majors as a direct path to a job.

If you want to work at a large public accounting firm, you will probably see your degree in accounting as being a direct path towards getting an offer at Deloitte.  You will focus on doing exceptionally in the core classes, and likely not spend much time doing tasks aside from those which directly bolster your chances of getting that job.

  • Majors as a path towards developing skills.

Suppose you just want to have a good business background that will enable you to start your own business or monetize your passion (see below).  Then you might choose accounting because, as I mentioned above, you want to understand the “language of business” to help you better start a company.  So your focus would be, in addition to learning accounting concepts, taking other classes and learning about other areas that could give you business ideas and teach you how to run a company.

  • Don’t restrict the classes you take and the way you spend your time to your direct major; develop other skills and passions.

As an undergraduate accounting major, I took tons of classes not directly related to the accounting curriculum.  I took lots of extra classes in finance, and classes in Chinese.  I also studied abroad in Shanghai, China for a semester.  Currently, I am working on startups, doing consulting work, and starting a radio show.  Most people I know?  They took the required classes, enjoyed shorter schedules, or spent their time pursuing dead-end jobs just to make some pocket change.

I argue in my blog that it is important to have diverse interests and diverse experience.  There is probably no easier time to do this than in college.  I recognize that all of the endeavors above, even though not directly related to my major, will open up many interesting and delightfully unusual opportunities for me in the future.  If you want to spend your time doing interesting things and have an interesting career, the best way to start is by spending college exploring other options and developing a unique and diverse skillset.

  •  If you choose a major that does not translate into a direct job, you need to ensure you know how to monetize your skill set.

This is my answer to the incessant debate between majoring in something that you are passionate about, versus something that can be used to make money.  In reality, I’m not even convinced there has to be a difference.  Maybe if you make the usual mistake of being “told” what you can do with your major, there is.  But it is undeniable that some majors, such as engineering and accounting, lead directly to jobs, whereas majors like art history or marketing really don’t.  Some people look at this in a one-dimensional way, and say “well, I really like art, but since I can’t make any money from art history, I’ll major in finance”.  Often, people who do that become very unhappy, even if they are making enough money to support themselves.


So, if you do want to major in something that doesn’t directly lead to a job, you have to figure out how to monetize your skills.  So if you want to major in art history, you have to think, “how can I make money from this?”  The answer could be something like starting an art gallery, or becoming involved in other business ventures involving art.

But if the only thing you’ve ever done is just think about how wonderful it would be to start a gallery, I imagine you won’t have much luck.  So, while in college, it is key to begin to acquire skills that can be used to monetize your major.  For example, maybe you can take classes in accounting, management or finance; or you can try to start a gallery while in college (I know people who have done this).  If you are not willing to do this, then you probably should not major in something that is not a “job-ready” major.  I know plenty of people who majored in psychology who work minimum wage jobs because they did not try to monetize their degree.  Conversely, I know people who majored in psychology who went on to become successful researches and business people, because they did what was necessary to make money.

So your degree does not have to define you.  But recognize that some degrees will always have a higher propensity to let you make money without much extra effort.  If your degree is not one of those, you need to have another way to make money.

Final Note

For those who want to live interesting lives, the key is passion.  This means doing the kind of things you want, and finding a way to make it work.  My guess is that, even as a high-school student or someone still in college, you know yourself well enough to know if you want to lead an interesting, strenuous life.  I’ve known it since I was ten years old.  If you want to make this work for yourself, you have to find a way to make it work, even though the current system is designed to mint you into someone who can do a professional day job and work for someone else.  It’s doable, and it requires a perspective like the one I teach above.

 

Would you buy from this guy? Would someone by from YOU?

Building, demonstrating and proving credibility is one of the most important things we can do as people who seek to accomplish interesting goals and live successful lives.  But it’s also highly misunderstood, and many people don’t have a clue how to make credibility work for themselves.

Credibility is a certain intangible quality that proves our value, sincerity and competence to others; and demonstrates that we are the exceptional people we claim to be.

 Credibility is important because:

  1. Makes it easier to convince other people that you are worth dealing with.
  2. Sell your ideas or products to others.
  3. Makes it easier for other people to decide to work with you rather than someone else.
  4. Helps you get what you want.

I think we all understand credibility on its basic level: don’t be dishonest, do what we say we will, do a good job with our work, have a nice resume…But the kind of credibility we are talking about here is the credibility that will allow you to accomplish your unique and exceptional goals, such as starting a business, working abroad, and getting funding from a venture capitalist.

I usually see people approach presenting credibility in one of two ways:


1.     Showy credibility (“form” credibility)

This is people who have fancy websites, fancy business cards with nice professional pictures on them; people that use a lot of big words, have a pristine smile, and who could give a better speech than all of our Presidents combined.  These people are great at self-promotion.  Think of the stereotype of a salesman, for example.  These people are most interested in acting like they are credible, rather than actually doing things to prove credibility.

2.   Evidenced credibility (“substance” credibility)

These are people that work hard, get lots of credentials, have years of work experience, and are knowledgeable in many areas.  Think of a typical accountant.  They take great pride in their career accomplishments.  Their main method of conveying credibility to others is a long resume or CV detailing their work experience and other accomplishments.

One is how you look.  The other is what you do.  Clearly salesmen and accountants can both have successful careers, so sometimes either one can work.  So which one should you do?

I think both of them are wrong.  Those that focus on showing credibility in only one way are likely to, in the long run, show no credibility at all.  Why?

Showy (form-based) credibility is bad because:

  1. Smart people will notice that there is “nothing there” except empty words.
  2. So you will only appeal to a lot of dumb people, or people that don’t know what’s going on.
  3. Stereotype of being deceiving and sly, which is counterproductive.
  4. Your face hurts from smiling too much.

Evidenced (substance-based) credibility is bad because:

  1.  You make-believe that everyone’s just going to pick up your resume, realize how great you are, and bow at your feet, when the exact opposite is true.  How are people going to know how wonderful you are if you don’t go tell them or promote yourself?
  2. Having work experience or credentials doesn’t actually mean anything.  It’s about the value you can provide, rather than the places you worked.
  3. You work hard, but feel like you’re not accomplishing anything.

I used to lean strongly to the “evidenced-based” credibility side, so I can attest to that not working.  And I’ve seen lots of people get burned on the “showy-credibility” side (such as people who can use their charm to get new clients, but can’t keep them around because they do a bad job), so I know that doesn’t work either.

The real answer is to master the substance and master the form of credibility.  Don’t be a salesman, and don’t be an accountant.  Be an accountant that is good at sales.

Think of my blog, where I actively try to use substance and form.  My substance:

Well written, original articles that discuss common issues in a unique way

  • Articles that are longer than most blogs’, as to truly have an in-depth conversation about an issue
  • True desire to help others improve and live a successful, fun and interesting life
  • Extensive professional and life experiences that are unique, and have given me a unique perspective.

My form:

  • I actively promote my website
  • I understand (at least try to understand) SEO, programming and code to get website traffic and give it an attractive design.
  • I write well, as to interest you, my beloved readers, and make you want to read more.

Think about it: you’re probably visiting my website because of my showy credibility: you either found a link online, or your friend told you to visit it.  If it wasn’t for me putting this website out there and advertising it, you’d never know it existed.

But if the content sucked, you wouldn’t keep on reading.  If I couldn’t write interesting and unique articles, why would you bother to read what I write?

So substance and form are complementary forces that are absolutely essential if you want to be successful and accomplish your goals.

So how do you successfully mix form-based and substance-based credibility?  Let’s do a points-system.

 Substance.  Form.

1.  Actually be credible. +1 Substance

What can you actually do that demonstrates credibility?  I don’t mean the platitudes that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and I certainly don’t mean “go and fluff up your resume”.  No, I actually want to know: what have you done that shows I can trust you?  It’s not a trick question.

Practice answering these questions (relate them to a specific scenario relevant to you) in two sentences, one sentence with a reason and another with a specific example:

  • There’s 300 other people applying.  Why should I hire you?
  • Why should I invest my money in your company?
  • How do you know what you are talking about?
  • What experience do you have starting businesses?

If you’re like most, you probably feel daunted.  “I’m still in college, I’ve never started a business”, or “how could I be better than 300 people?”  You probably have done a lot to provide credibility (see next point); but if you honestly can’t think of any reason you are credible, then you need to realistically assess your goals, and see what experience you need to gain first.

2.  Know and provide your value. +1 Substance

No one else is going to sit around thinking, “gee, is this guy credible or not?”  It’s a gut decision.  Make their gut decision the right one.

I wrote extensively about valuing yourselfThey key point is that you must be the one that 1.) knows why they are valuable to another person, and 2.) actively conveys that value to others.  I won’t spend much time on this here (read the valuing yourself article), but I want to bring up an important point to those who might think they aren’t credible (like I mentioned in the above point).  Either A.) you really aren’t credible yet, and need to get more experience, or B.) you can prove credibility by making unique associations between your skills and the needs of the other person.

For example, think of someone who taught English in China.  The obvious association is “I learned Chinese, I have teaching experience”.  The unique association is “living in China taught me tenacity and how to deal with others.  That means, as an entrepreneur, I will be exceptional at dealing with others, and can make this work:”

3.  Be the first to offer to help and provide value to others. +1 Substance, +1 Form

As a society, we generally wait for other people’s cues or permission to do something, and act only when we want something from others.  That’s the exact wrong approach when proving credibility to others.  And that’s why this point is part substance and part form.  The substance is the action, the form is that you were proactive.  This is valuable because it shows we want to give value rather than taking value, and giving value is the essence of showing credibility.

-So if you want to prove to entrepreneurs that you are credible, offer to do some work for them for free first, and then talk later about hiring you as a full-time person.

-If you want someone to give you a referral, give them a referral first.

-“Do onto others…”


4.  Understand personal branding, and be able to demonstrate your brand to others. +1 Form

A high-five to my sales-minded friends.  Like I said, it is very important.  Read my articles on branding: Branding Pt. 1 and Branding Pt. 2.  The important thing here is making the connection that your value is actually credible, and useful to the other person.

5. Credibility is most easily discerned through the endorsements of others. +1 Form

When you want to find out about something, who do you believe more?  An internet ad, or what your friends or coworkers say?  I will write specifically on winning the endorsements of others.  Especially in tight-knit communities (venture capital community, CPA community, etc.), people are tight-knit, and reputation can spread easily.

 3 Substance.  3 Form.

Networking is one of the most useful tools available to you as someone seeking to accomplish important and unique goals.  Networking opens up new opportunities.  Networking cuts through red tape.  Networking gives you more control over your time and your destiny.  How many other singular things have this much power to help you out?

Save one summer internship, every meaningful job I have gotten has been because of networking.

Networking suffers a long and battered history of being misused and misunderstood.  A lot of people hear the word “networking”, and automatically think it means trying to go out and meet a whole bunch of people for the purpose of using them to accomplish a goal.  Given the way that many people network, maybe this is a deserved misunderstanding.

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Theodore Roosevelt- 1904In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech entitled “The Strenuous Life” in which he urged that a life devoted to overcoming obstacles was the best way to success.  He said:

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

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