I wanted to earn my MBA from UC Berkeley, but I wrestled with the investment of time and effort it would take with a newborn at home and a looming six-figure tab. I solicited counsel from anyone who would speak with me and ultimately determined that the opportunity cost didn’t add up. While the degree and the network from UC Berkeley could open doors, it was not worth $102,150 to figure out what I wanted to do.
However, the decision led to my curiosity to learn about subjects that interested me. From there, I interviewed my heroes which included authors, business leaders, and athletes to learn in more depth about the work and life lessons that could impact me — which I share through writing and podcasting — in hopes to impact others.
It’s given me the opportunity to sit across from Mike Tyson and ask him about how he prepared for the biggest moments. Or ask Michelin Star Chef, Michael Mina, how he developed the courage to place a cold-call to Andre Agassi to invest in what would become their restaurant empire. I believe you can learn valuable lessons from anyone if you’re willing to listen. Here are some of the gems I’ve gleamed from the shoulders of giants.
#1 Do your best and don’t attach your self-worth to the outcome.
While it took me 8 years and a pandemic to complete the P90X at-home fitness program, I’d been reflecting on Tony Horton’s lessons throughout the journey. He said “You can train with the hope that your ego will be satisfied with your physical appearance in a mirror 90 days from now. Or you can train to improve today.”
When I think of my future self, this quote gives me the foresight to control what I can today.
#2 “There’s a misconception that you need other people’s money or you need to know someone to get somewhere,” said Daymond John.
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Daymond John founded FUBU and stars on the renowned Shark Tank TV show. One of the numerous books he published is titled The Power of Broke which highlights how constrained resources can unleash creativity.
“It’s from the Lakota warrior and the literal meaning is that today is a good day to die. It’s about not leaving things unfinished. Having lived so fully and present that you can look out and say if today is my time, it is a good day to die. If this was your time, you can go through it with a smile,” Aubrey explained.
#4 Why asking for help is a sign of courage.
Spencer West is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve had the privilege to interview. He lost his legs as a child but that has not stopped him from making significant contributions to the world. He shares a heartwarming story about how asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but courage.
#5 How anyone can be the leader they wish they had.
Simon Sinek has made a profound distinction that just because someone is a manager, that does not mean they are a leader. “We’ve confused rank and leadership. They’re not the same thing. I know many people that sit at the highest levels of an organization who are not leaders. We do as they say because they have authority, but we would not follow them voluntarily. I know many leaders who sit at mid-ranks who have no authority and they’ve made a choice to look out for the people around them, and we would follow them anywhere,” Simon articulated.
#6 Don’t be the best at what you do, be the only one who does what you do.
Tech titan and investor, Keith Rabois, said the key thing to develop is what you’re going to be incredibly awesome at. “There’s a great quote I discovered reading a Pat Riley book 20 years ago where he’s quoting Jerry Garcia from The Grateful Dead. He says ‘you don’t want to be the best at what you do, you want to be the only one who does what you do.’ You want to develop strengths that are unique or world-class over time that become your competitive advantage and you want double down on those as much as possible and find companies and role that leverage them to your maximum potential,” Keith explained.
#7 The more congruent you are with yourself, the more aligned you become with your passions.
Dany Garcia is a renaissance woman. She’s a Hollywood movie producer, bodybuilder, Dwayne Johnson’s business manager, and mother. At age 12 she told herself she’d be a millionaire someday to provide for her family and she was right.
#8 How a gratitude practice can change your life.
John Kralik’s book, A Simple Act of Gratitude, is the story about how he began to notice the things in his life he should have been grateful for. He set a goal to write a thank you note every day for a year. It’s a wonderful story about how gratitude can change your life.
#9 “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
There’s a treasure trove of life lessons from Ernie Johnson’s memoir, Unscripted. The thesis is to be sure to slow down to embrace the unscripted moments in life. One of Ernie’s favorite authors, John Ortberg, said it best in relation to a quote by Dallas Willard in his book, Soul Keeping.
#10 Why it’s important to be less judgmental when you see someone make a mistake.
I asked leadership advisor, author, and keynote speaker — Ryan Hawk, which of the 500 interviews he’s conducted with leaders changed his life the most. He told me a story about an ex-NFL player, Maurice Clarett, whose career took a wrong turn early on and he was quick to judge him.
“Why I’d say it was life changing — prior to that conversation I had judged him. What I realized after speaking with him, is to have a better understanding to put myself in other people’s shoes. It’s easy to judge when you don’t understand why they’ve made the choices they’ve made.”
#11 Chef Michael Mina on being resourceful.
Michelin Star chef Michael Mina demonstrated resourcefulness when he placed a cold call to Andre Agassi to become an investor in his restaurant empire. Apparently Agassi was in a good mood because he’d won the US Open earlier that day.
“If you don’t have a lemon, replace it with another acid. If you don’t have molasses, try honey. And if you run out of butter, perhaps use an avocado. Stick to the main ingredients, don’t be afraid to play around – and keep the balance.”
#12 How the output of trying new things can help you reach your goal.
Author and advertising executive, Marty Kihn, recounts a story about a British writer who thought his life’s calling was to write a biography about DH Lawrence but he was unable write the book. It turned out his calling was to write about his failed attempt to write the biography. Marty explained how it reminds him that he’s attempted many projects that may not have been successful, but the output provided tremendous value.
#13 “Be willing to do some things that might not fit a conventional narrative — and risk failure to some extent if you define failure in a conventional way.”
Mike Grossman’s reputation is that of a turn-around CEO in Silicon Valley. Early on in his career he found himself at a crossroads where he had to make a moral decision in order to raise capital where the stakes were high. With a newborn baby at home, investors would only provide capital for his company if he were willing to fire his best friends and take the throne as CEO. Fascinating to learn how he made this decision.
#14 Patrick Lencioni on humility vs confidence.
Lencioni is one of the leading voices on organizational health. His most popular book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is a foundational read for most leaders.
He quotes C.S. Lewis when he said that people who are humble don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less. “The point is, if you’re good at something, denying that is a violation of humility because it’s not true. Humility is about understanding that it can be true that you’re good at something but it doesn’t make you more important than others. People that lack confidence are often described as being humble, when in fact they are just not confident. Humility is about being interested in the greater good than in yourself,” Lencioni explained.
#15 Treat every interview like it’s your dream job.
I can hear Dan Portillo, who at the time was the talent partner at Greylock, saying this like it was yesterday. It’s one of the most important lessons from his experience as a recruiter and building world-class teams. Too often, candidates give less than 100% effort during the interview process and it shows.
#16 Scott Galloway on the most important life decision.
“The most important decision you’ll ever make is who you choose to partner with, and that’s your spouse. If there’s ever a chance to punch above your weight class, it’s with who you end up with the rest of your life.”
Scott is widely known for his views on this intersection of technology and politics. His favorite book of mine has nothing to do with either. In fact, it’s unsolicited advice on happiness based on his viral video, The Algebra of Happiness.
#17 Dr. Srini Pillay on addressing uncertainty.
Dr. Pillay is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and brain researcher. He was the director of outpatient anxiety disorders at McLean Hospital. His superpower is making neuroscience accessible. The tips he provides on recharging to manage stress were invaluable.
Srini explained an idea he calls existential confidence. “In the face of uncertainty — have a deep sense of trust in yourself and a commitment to the idea that you are sufficient to deliver on the promises that you want to deliver on — and that there’s a possibility that has not yet manifested in reality that you can be committed to.”
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