This is my annual manifesto, based on last year's 18 Rules for Ambitious Young Men in 2018. That article was so popular and got so much feedback, both among men and women, that I've decided to release 19 rules for 2019 that can (mostly) be applied to men and women alike. I write these articles almost like a list to a younger self -- information that should be taught to people but isn't.
I'm a believer in professional development through personal development. You can earn more, succeed at your career, and have a happier work life if you work on improving other aspects of your life. I know young professionals who have so much potential and throw it away because they can't get their health or finances under control.
These are fundamental rules to save time and get ahead in your health, wealth, and wisdom.
1. Find a Job that Lets You Move Around
I wrote in last year's 18 Rules post about how bad it is to be sitting all the time and slouched towards a computer screen. Now imagine doing that every day of the week for 20, 30, or 40 years. Then imagine going home and staring at your phone screen while slouched over on the couch.
When I talk to people about the effect that slouching has on their energy and stress levels, I usually get some version of, "yeah, I know, I try to stay active outside of work," as a response. But unless you're a fitness nut, that's probably not enough.
You have, day-in and day-out, hours and hours of slouching over keyboards and screens. Then you have people going home exhausted and most people don't feel like getting to the gym. Even if they do build a habit of staying busy after work, that habit is often decimated as they get older, have a family, and develop other obligations outside of work that fill up their evenings.
Sidestep this time-management issue entirely by getting a job that at least allows you to move around during business hours. This doesn't mean you can't work in front of a computer (90% of my work is on a computer), but try to get a job where you can stay mobile during the day and only have to sit for long periods of un-interrupted work.
This simply means taking a job that lets you:
- Do walking meetings.
- Take phone calls while walking.
- Move from location-to-location.
- Not have to spend your entire day seated doing non-screen work.
I'm a big believer in setting yourself up to win. I'm also a big believer in the fact that people are not very good at predicting their future actions or states. So, instead of trying to rely on your energy when you get home from work or rely on your motivation on the weekends, minimize the need to frantically move around after work by putting yourself in a more mobile environment at work.
2. Master the Basics of Health
Being healthy and fit is not something that is actually hard.
It's a pretty simple task. It's a function of keeping a few variables in check and correcting as necessary for your genetics and environment. This takes more work for some people than others, but, generally speaking, it's a lot easier than people let on.
There's just a lot that can overwhelm you. And there's a lot that can distract you. And a lot of that stuff that can distract you isn't necessarily wrong, it's just a distraction when you are starting out.
Nutrition is a great example of this. For most people, eating "healthier" really just means that they should eat less crap. Whether that crap is sugary soda or fatty fast food really doesn't matter. Eating less of both would probably do them the most good.
But instead of focusing on the basic, un-sexy fundamental -- "eat less crap" -- they want to find a complex, sexy sounding alternative that might make sense at an advanced level but just gets them too caught up and distracted when starting out.
The reality is, they probably don't need a diet tailored for the gut biome. Or tailored for their genetic background. Or LFHC. Or HFLC.
They just need to eat less crap.
Then they can focus on advanced elements later.
(This is a theme throughout this post, so please excuse me if it ends up sounding repetitive. It's just something that cannot be stressed enough.)
The same applies to the rest of health and fitness in general.
Go to a Nearby Gym and Build a Habit of Lifting Weights
I've seen way too many people get side-tracked in the complexity of strength training before developing the basic strength and habits to justify that complexity.
Instead of focusing on different circuits, different training programs, and supplements (!), they should focus on building the habit of going to the gym and lifting weights past a basic novice curve.
If you've never seriously lifted weights before, you'll benefit from sticking to any training program for a few weeks.
This is a famous chart from Starting Strength that outlines the performance you'll see in weightlifting. The dark solid line indicates your performance over time. The author of Starting Strength uses it to emphasize the importance of sticking through the leveling-off period. But a lot of people never even get there because they get too caught up in stupid hacks and tricks!
Instead of getting caught up in a specific program, choose some kind of pattern you can stick to and build a habit of going. It really doesn't matter what program it is so long as you develop the habit of showing up and working out.
Here's a quick example...
My roommate recently purchased a goofy resistance-training bar that attaches to the floor with bands. It's not a barbell -- but has a cult-following online.
As much as I want to make fun of the goofy resistance-training bar, I can't mock it. My roommate is a member of a good club downtown, but he never went to the gym there. He never went because 1. it was downtown (far from where he works and lives); and 2. he couldn't stick to a lifting program.
The goofy resistance-training bar can be set up in our basement and there really is only one kind of program you can do it on it. He uses it nearly every day, which is a marked improvement over how often he went to the gym downtown.
I tell this story because I could easily get caught up in the elitism and mockery you'll find on different forums online about different programs. But all that mockery misses the fact that most people shouldn't care about your stupid little lifting program tribe because they can't even make a habit of lifting in the first place.
Build the habit first, then obsess over particulars. It's only once you start leveling out on the novice curve (above) that specific training will really matter.
Get a Basic Grasp of Nutrition
Alkaline diet. Whole 30. Paleo. Bulletproof. Keto. Atkins. Vegan. Pescatarian. LCHF. HCLF.
This is just a small sample of the different diets and nutritional plans out there.
But it's annoyingly difficult to find good information on what you, specifically, should focus on when setting out to understand and get a grasp of your nutrition.
Even worse, most of these diets or nutritional plans seem to contradict each other. It's not like you can try a few out easily without annoying and sometimes-unhealthy consequences.
If you struggle with getting a grasp of your nutritional plan, start by getting a grasp of basic nutrition.
Read up on the role of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Examine.com is a good place to start.
Then start refining what you eat via negativa. Remove the foods that you know you shouldn't consume. Almost all nutritional plans and diets agree on these. Some examples are soda, starched white breads, and trans fats.
Honestly, for the vast majority of people drinking soda right now, the best thing they can do to improve their fitness would be to stop drinking soda (that alone dramatically improved my energy levels in my early 20s).
Then go from there. Eliminate more foods that you believe it would benefit you to remove from your diet. Read up on different diets for different purposes before diving head-first into any just because you saw some guru on twitter talking about his all-corn diet! or somebody on the radio telling you how every other diet will kill you.
For the Love of God, Get Some Sleep
I did an interview last year with Stephen Warley on his Life Skills that Matter Podcast (here). At the end of the interview, Stephen asked me, "what time do you get up in the morning?"
"Whenever I've gotten 7-8 hours of sleep," I shrugged.
He loved this answer and it caught him a little off-guard. That's because so much in the culture -- especially in the entrepreneurship and success culture -- idolizes the idea of getting up and doing some kind of special routine. This prioritizes the routine over the outcome -- getting stuff done and feeling good.
No special morning routine or special hour will make up for you being sleep-deprived.
You will be more productive, smarter, stronger, and happier if you prioritize sleep in your life.
It's that simple.
As much as posts on Instagram hashtagged "hustlelyfe" exhort you that you can "sleep when you are dead," they're not exactly backed by quality research or, well, common sense.
If you work out at all, you need sleep and rest in order to recover and get stronger.
If you work a stressful job, you need sleep to help your body readjust your hormones so you don't burn out in a cortisol-fueled blaze of failure.
And if you travel, you need sleep to help your immune system keep you from getting sick.
If you're sympathetic to the "I'll sleep when I'm dead" side of things (which I was, at one point), think of it this way:
Would you rather be well-rested and healthy, working 50 hours/week for the entire year...
Would you rather be sleep-deprived and occasionally sick, working 80 hours/week for 70% of the year, and sick or burnt out the other 30%?
I'd rather take working a little less and feeling better than working more and feeling worse.
Examine.com Fitness Guide -- I bought this the week it came out. Examine.com is one of my favorite resources for nutrition, supplements, and fitness info in general (and I am ashamed to say I only discovered it last year after meeting its cofounder, Sol Orwell). This guide is 210 pages of everything you need to know about fitness, including sleep, joint health, testosterone, diet/nutrition, and everything else under the sun. Well worth the $79.
Why We Sleep -- Sleep research is "in" right now, in part because of this book. I like this book because it breaks down a lot of the conversation around sleep while pulling on research and making it digestible to the common reader.
3. Pick Up Some Kind of Structured Physical Activity
Going for an occasional jog or swinging a kettlebell at home is better than nothing.
But structured physical activities are better than unstructured.
There's a personal development and happiness angle to pursuing structured physical activities: it's a clear way of tracking your growth.
One of the major components of personal fulfillment is a sense of ability to deal with challenges: self-efficacy (more about this in Rule 19). And improving your self-efficacy largely comes down to setting yourself up for challenges and proving to yourself that you're capable of overcoming those challenges.
I've written about this before as a rule: do harder stuff. Progressively loading, and occasionally overloading, your abilities helps you see that you are growing, that you're getting better at difficult tasks, and that you're capable of taking on new challenges.
As you get better compared to the most immediate previous milestone, you're considerably better compared to the first milestone. So, you're always getting fitter and maintaining your ability to stay in shape.
So, a structured physical activity is simply any physical activity where you can track your performance over time.
This can be running if you're tracking your times. It can be lifting if you're tracking your weights. It can be a sport if you're tracking your performance at the sport.
It doesn't really matter what kind of activity you do, just that you do something that allows you to build a habit around moving.
4. Learn to Cook at Least Moderately Well
This rule really could go in any section in this post. Cooking at home doesn't take a long time, is probably the least-unhealthy way to eat, and saves you money over eating out every day. Almost every professional I know who has a hard time keeping their finances in control eats out way. Too. Much.
But learning to cook well also opens up the most opportunity for controlling your health and fitness. Treat what you eat as fuel for your body and you develop an entirely new relationship with food. You start to view food as its constituent parts: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and learn to treat your meals as opportunities to refuel on which constituent parts you need most based on the activities in which you're engaged. Plus, if you want to take your health and fitness seriously, you can't do that without getting the fundamentals of food and nutrition down first.
View this rule as an application of the sub-rule "Get some basic grasp of nutrition."
I'm not going to recommend books on specific diets or nutrition. That's for you to figure out based on what you want to achieve. What I will recommend are books that will make home cooking a lot easier for you.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat - This cookbook is a stellar place to start if you want to cook good food at home. The author breaks good cooking down into four elements (the title of the book) and walks you through how to use each element.
MasterClass' cooking classes - MasterClass offers a few different cooking courses if you prefer to watch how to cook at home, instead of reading it in a book.
5. Choose Your Job Carefully
When you first get offered a job by an amazing company, it can feel unreal.
You've worked so hard for the opportunity to work with a team you admire on a product you like, that it's easy to immediately jump on board.
But take the time to do your research on potential employers. And choose your job carefully.
A terrible manager can make a dream job a nightmare. A lousy benefits and incentives package (i.e., working for a startup for $36,000/year with no equity stake) can make you resent the good work you do. And life is too short to work at a company that doesn't provide you the opportunity to grow.
A few quick rules when it comes to looking for a job:
- Know what you really DON'T want from a job. A job that is otherwise great but has elements you despise -- like a long commute or a controlling boss -- can be a nightmare. It's easier to eliminate what you don't want than to focus on all the things you may want.
- When looking for a new job, look for a company that's growing. Ramit Sethi likes to tell business students, "go where the fish are," when they research new business ideas. The same applies for finding a job. Look for companies that are growing quickly. If they're growing quickly, they probably need your help, even if they don't have a job posting for your role up. Use tools like the Inc 5000 list and Crunchbase.
- Work for startups that let you grow and compensate you appropriately. If you're going to work for a startup, prioritize working for one that provides you both with an opportunity to grow and a sizable equity position. Most startups fail. Your opportunity cost of working for a startup is the pay and benefits you could receive working for a larger, more established company. Not all startups can pay market wages at first. That's fine. Just make sure you can make up the difference elsewhere in equity and growth potential.
- Work for established companies that aren't bogged down in bureaucratic procedure. If you're going to work for an established, non-startup company, prioritize working for one that allows you to flexibly create value and negotiate raises. If you can propose a new project that actually helps you grow with the company, you can get the benefits of an established company alongside the growth of a startup.
A lot of this comes down to making the right kind of decisions going into the job-hunt process. If you want stability and a reliable paycheck, don't try to be employee #4 at a startup. If you want growth and you love hustling and the opportunity for long-term payoff, don't go get a job at McKinsey.
If you're totally unsure of what you do and don't want in a job, start with my Ambition Mapping exercises (email me for the most updated version - email@example.com). Those will give you some structure and a place to start.
If you have an idea of what you do or do not want from a job and just need to do research, develop your own due diligence process. Before investing in a company, investors do due diligence on the team, product, and ideas behind the company. That means talking to people who know the team, talking to experts in the product space, and getting a feel for whether or not the team is accurate in their portrayal of the company.
You want to do the same thing for any companies you want to work for.
Due diligence comes down to verifying claims made by the people recruiting you. These claims include objective claims like the growth of the company and what they're working on as well as subjective claims like how much people enjoy working at the company.
You should ask incisive questions in your interview with the person recruiting you. You should also reach out to people who worked with or for the company previously and get their input.
Know that no matter who you talk to, what you hear will be biased based on the person's previous experience.
Talking to somebody who was fired by the company might be helpful -- just remember that they'll have a different story than somebody who currently works for the company.
Talking to a competitor can give you an idea of what the industry looks like, but that will be through the competitor's eyes.
And talking to a current employee can show you what it's like to work at the company right now, but you'll rarely hear the downside of working there.
Here are some questions you can ask people who work for the company -- try to do this privately and where the person can be as candid as possible:
- Why did you choose to work here?
- What's something that you wish were different here?
- How would you pitch a good friend to work here?
- What was the most surprising thing about working here?
Here are some questions you can ask the person trying to recruit you (e.g., the CEO, the founder, the HR director, etc.):
- What's your biggest bottleneck to getting the company where you want it to be?
- If you weren't running this company, what else would you be doing?
- Sell me on working here. What makes you different? (Be careful with this one, if you use it in an arrogant tone with the wrong person, it can backfire. But some leaders will love hearing this kind of question and jump on the opportunity to sell you on their company).
- What's the main reason that somebody ends up being fired or quitting here?
Here are some questions you can ask somebody who used to work at the company:
- Why did you take a job there in the first place?
- Why did you leave?
- What met your expectations?
- What didn't meet your expectations?
- What advice would you give to somebody who was thinking about working there?
Here are some questions you can ask a competitor:
- What's the hardest part about your industry?
- What makes a company in your industry stand out?
- Why would somebody work with your company and not another company in this industry?
- What's the biggest misconception that outsiders have about this industry?
Try to get a feel for the company. Is this a company you would want to refer a good friend to work for? Is it trustworthy? Will you have the opportunity to grow -- either at the company or through getting a better job at another company?
If you want to run a business on the side, see if that's something you can do. A lot of companies don't care if you run a side-business so long as you hit your KPIs and milestones at work. But some do and will be frustrated to see you working on a business while they pay you for full-time work.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) - This is a good book on cognitive biases, like confirmation bias. It's an explanation for why you shouldn't take somebody's opinion too seriously after they've made decisions, like choosing to work for a company or going (or not going) to grad school. Investigate, but verify.
Wealthfront's 2019 Career-Launching Companies List - Every year, Wealthfront releases a list of companies where you can start your career and expect high-growth. The companies are established-enough that you won't be living on a cot in a shared bedroom, but early enough that when they get acquired or go public, you can make good money. And why would you work at a startup without getting compensated for the risk?
6. Delete Finance Apps from Your Phone
I wrote last year that you should automatically start investing in the stock market, if you don't already. Sexy investments like gold, cryptocurrency, and real estate should wait until you've already made your maximum contribution to your IRA and, ideally, your 401(k) (if you're self-employed, your SEP IRA and your Roth IRA). The stock market is the most resilient source of wealth protection in modern history.
Whether you choose to invest in specific stocks, ETFs, or index funds is up to you, your research, and what you want to achieve. But too often do young professionals get caught up in the sexy marketing of crypto influencers, real estate "investors," and snake oil charlatans selling their own solution usually premised on some kind of massive meltdown.
For long-term wealth preservation, no majorly accessible asset class is better than the stock market. Even if you know that there will be a meltdown in the markets, that information isn't helpful for unsophisticated investors (like 99.99% of people) unless you know exactly when that meltdown will be. It's like somebody telling you, "you're going to die!" Well. Yes. We know that. That's not helpful unless you tell me when I will die.
But, of course, the stock market goes through boom and bust cycles. At the time of me writing this article in January 2019, we're near the top of the longest bull market in modern history, going a decade since the Great Recession. A lot of people in the workforce have never worked through a recession and they don't know what to expect when stock prices start sliding.
As soon as prices start to tank, people get anxious. They see their brokerage accounts or their Stock app or Robinhood go from net gains to losses. Day. After. Day.
It's easy to get freaked out and sell at this point. You may hear friends or gurus on the radio telling you that you should get out early and then try to buy at the bottom when everything is "discounted." This is an idiotic comment in and of itself that you'll see on bad personal finance blogs and r/cryptocurrency. It's fundamentally wrong and based on the idea that you can time the market.
With a long-enough time frame, you'll be just fine.
For example, if you invested at the peak of 2007, right before the Great Recession, you would have more than doubled your money by now.
If you invested $10,000 at the bottom of 2008, you would have $40,000+ right now.
In other words, you'd be in a great position no matter when you invested. And that's just over one business cycle.
If we take a broader look at "Bob" who starts investing in the 1970s and wants to retire in the 2010s, we can still see an optimistic case. If he only invested at the top of every market cycle and rode through the subsequent downturns, he'd still retire a millionaire.
Lessons from the story of Bob, the world's worst market-timer, quoted from the article:
- If you are going to make investment mistakes, make sure you are biased towards optimism and not pessimism. Long-term thinking has been rewarded in the past and unless you think the world or innovation is coming to an end it should be rewarded in the future. As Winston Churchill once said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”
- Losses are part of the deal when investing in stocks. How you react to those losses is one of the biggest determinants of your investment performance.
- Saving more, thinking long-term and allowing compound interest to work in your favor are your biggest accelerants for building wealth. These factors have nothing to do with picking stocks or a complex investment strategy. Get these big things right and any disciplined investment strategy should do the trick.
I want to emphasize the middle point that how you react matters.
So delete your stock apps. Turn off push notifications from Robinhood. Automate your investments in your 401(k) and your IRA and tell yourself that that money is entirely off-limits until you think seriously about retirement.
Don't allow yourself to be tempted by selling. You don't need to have every market move at your fingertips. You don't need to know how much your account is worth today versus the end of the month.
Keep investing. Keep saving. You shouldn't have to spend more than an hour a month on your retirement investments.
I Will Teach You To Be Rich - Ramit Sethi's NYT Best Seller + his blog by the same name are excellent resources on investing for the vast majority of people who don't need to be experts at investing. Forget about day trading. Forget about crypto. Forget about "value investing" versus "commodity investing." Just set up your investments. Automate them. And make more money. You can deal with more complex stuff later.
(I have a rule that I find a single expert and stick to them for specific areas of my life. Ramit is that expert for personal finance.)
Wealthfront - If you're like me and you don't have a 401(k) because you're self-employed, Wealthfront provides an easy way to set up and invest in a SEP IRA alongside your Roth IRA. If your employer provides you with a 401(k) plan, focus on that and your Roth IRA and ignore toys like Wealthfront and Robinhood. You'll get an additional $5,000 managed for free if you use this link (disclaimer: I get $5,000 managed for free, too).
7. Start Your Personal Website Sooner Than You Think
You have a personal brand whether you like it or not.
This personal brand can bring you new opportunities like job offers and freelancing opportunities. It can provide a place for you to capture people who are interested in you and your career through an email list. And it can provide an insurance policy against losing your job.
Even if you don't plan on freelancing or monetizing a personal brand, you should build a personal website.
Why to Get Started
I see at least a few strong reasons for starting a personal website.
Robust Personal Real Estate
Your personal website is your own real estate on the internet. It's the one place that is dedicated to your work, what you do, and how you can help people. Unlike social media, where you're the product and you have to compete with thousands of other distractions, your personal website flips the tables and makes your visitors the people who you can help.
You don't have to worry about getting banned, about algorithms changing, or about people no longer wanting to use a specific platform. Your website will pretty much always be there (especially if you build an email list). Yes, you'll have to find ways to drive traffic to your site, but there are a thousand ways to do that (e.g., twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SEO, referrals, etc.).
Your site is a robust homebase for you. It's not fragile. It won't go away with a few changes in trends. People may read blogs more or less one year, but you'll always have the site there to use for traffic from other sources.
This is your stake in the ground. Use it.
Make Opportunities Come To You
You don't land most interesting opportunities by applying through a portal or sending in your resume somewhere.
You land them because somebody found you and referred the opportunities your way. They saw you and thought, "oh, this person would be a great fit for the issues I need solved!"
In other words, they bring the opportunity to you.
Most hires, contracts, and new opportunities are made based on referral, so you want to be the person to whom the referral can be made.
And referrals are made by being top-of-mind for people on specific subjects and topics related to you and your personal brand. You establish and reinforce being top-of-mind by writing, creating content, and updating people about and around topics that you know about and people want to learn more about.
For example, just this week alone, I've landed 3 podcast interviews on the subject of personal branding and networking. I landed 4 business referrals to businesses interested in corporate workshops on these topics. And I landed a paid university-speaking engagement on getting started in your career.
This is after years of running this website and establishing, reinforcing, and refining my personal brand. But even when I got started, I was able to land interesting opportunities like speaking engagements and consulting on projects because people saw what I wrote about and I was top-of-mind.
Would that have been possible without a personal website? Sure, but it would have been a lot harder. I would have had to become a pro of social media and dominating people's newsfeeds.
For most folks, it's easier to get started on the personal website first and then move on to things like SEO, social media marketing, and earned media.
Launch a Side-Gig or New Ways to Make Money
Let's say you want to earn a little extra money on the side and you know something about something.
You could consult, coach, or launch a course. There are a thousand and one products out there in 2019 to teach you how to build and launch a course. Coaching comes down to knowing how to teach people and support them. And consulting is less difficult than people think.
But to do each of these beyond your existing network, you need to both signal your competence in your subject area and capture contact info for people who are interested.
Your personal website can do that for you.
Write about common questions in your area of expertise and provide quality solutions and answers to those questions. Give people actionable content, feedback, and solutions to their problems. And make it easy for people to get in touch with you.
That's how I got started doing for-hire career coaching, for-hire professional development consulting, and launched my own course, Email Anybody. Each of these started as side-projects and pursuing curiosities in subjects where I realized I was an expert. I didn't have to start a new company or a new website when I realized this was information I already knew.
(I did end up spinning off the consulting into a new website, Get Ahead Labs. But that came after establishing that people would pay for what I know.)
Chances are that you can answer questions like this for people, too. If you have years of intense and deep experience in a specific field, you can answer questions for people about that field.
Write about stuff that interests you & creates value for others and you won't need to worry about how to monetize your expertise.
Insurance Policy Against Unemployment
Personal websites aren't just for business owners and entrepreneurs. In fact, they can be most handy for employees working traditional 9-5 jobs.
A personal website with a small, dedicated audience works as an insurance policy in case of unemployment.
If your company downsizes, you get laid off, or the economy takes a wrong turn, one of the first things you should do is ping your network for new opportunities you can work. This is much easier if you have an email list of readers. You can pop into MailChimp or ConvertKit and simply tell them that you're looking for new opportunities, include your portfolio, and ask them if they know anybody in your field.
If you have a list of 200 dedicated readers and just 20 respond, that's 20 leads. If each responds with 2 people in mind, that's 40 leads. People on your list may be potential employers or clients, too.
Instant backup in case your day job takes a wrong turn.
And that's assuming you don't want to launch a side-gig, which can itself help pay your bills.
Running your own personal website can just be fun, too.
If your day job has you reviewing Excel documents but you want to write about what you're reading, it's a place where you can do that. You can share pictures of the art you create on the side. You can start conversations with people on the other side of the world.
It's a fantastic creative outlet and a way to escape the drudgery of the day-to-day.
How to Get Started
Building a personal website doesn't have to be hard.
Then, refine your own positioning statement. Who are you? What do you do? What do you want people to know you for? Why should they reach out to you?
After that, write on those topics. Start with questions that you know about on Quora if you're struggling for topics to write about.
Put up a portfolio of your work. Put up evidence of what you've done. Show people that you do more than simply talk the talk.
Build your own email list. Give people a reason to join that email list by offering them something in exchange for signing up (my email scripts are an example of this). Maybe it's a collection of answers you have to popular questions on your field. Or maybe it's a group of ebooks you like (for a while, my lead magnet here was free ebooks in the public domain that I really liked). Whatever it is, give people a reason to sign up. This is called a "lead magnet."
Keep creating content. Create podcasts if you prefer audio, vlogs if you prefer video, or blog posts if you like to write.
Learn how to engage people off your website. If you like social media, learn how to use it to your advantage. Build relationships with people in your space and help them. Drive interested people to your website.
Update the email list occasionally. Send them emails when you publish new posts. If you want to see if they're curious about a specific issue, send them an email about that issue and ask people to respond.
You'd be surprised. People like to feel like they have a relationship with somebody sending emails, so personally-written emails that emphasize what you are working on and how you can help them go a long way.
Keep building out your site based on what you write about and what your goals are. Here are some common pages that I recommend people have on their websites:
- About page - written to speak to the reader, not just as a bio.
- Contact page - I recommend having your email address listed. Contact forms can be wonky.
- Portfolio page - this is especially important if you work in a field where you can show off your work.
- Resume page - I actually recommend putting up a lead capture on this page and making visitors give you their email address in order to see your resume. Now you have their contact info and can follow up with them.
- Media page - if you've been interviewed on podcasts, the news, or somewhere else, this is a good place to put those interviews.
Starting a personal website isn't hard. It's one of those high-return, low-risk activities that I recommend everybody take a few minutes to do.
8. Apply For a New Job (Even if You Love Your Current Job)
This is something I've written about before and I'll write about again.
You should almost always be on the lookout for new professional opportunities, even if you love your current job.
Whether or not you pursue those opportunities depends on your personal risk profile (see rule #11) and your opportunity cost.
There are lots of reasons to interview for other jobs while you're working a job you like. I outline the, in the link above. But the professional development reason is one I want to highlight.
But don't allow yourself to get too comfortable or to stagnate in a job. Know what other opportunities are out there and what you need to get better at in order to advance your career.
There are two ways you can do this:
- Research. Read up online what skills you need to know to advance in your career. Talk to some people a few stages in front of you (my cold email scripts are good for this). Try to get some kind of idea of what you should spend your time learning and what kind of experience you need to get to the next level of your career.
- Explore. Go out into the world and interview for jobs for which you may not be qualified. You'll get feedback along the way of what you need to get better at and what you are actually really good at already.
Exploration always beats research. Talking to people actually doing the hiring will always beat reading articles online or emailing experts like me (I mean, you can still email me, but go get out into the real world!). Sometimes you can't afford to do exploration because it's particularly busy at work or you just don't have the time. But when you do have the time, get out there and explore.
Here's some of the information you'll learn by exploring your career options:
Most people have no idea what their earning potential is. Surprisingly few negotiated their salaries when they started out (and this is a big factor in how much you can earn at a specific company), talk to other people in their industries about what they earn (it's "not cool" to talk about how much you earn, after all), and get out and compare offers between companies.
I always like to highlight that the maximum amount you earn is a function of the value you bring to an organization over time. But the minimum is largely in your control. Whether you earn near the minimum or the maximum is in your control. You just need to know what you can ask for.
You may well be earning well below (or above!) what somebody with your experience earns in the market. Even if you earn a decent salary or commission, you might be losing out on other compensation.
It's not uncommon that I talk to young startup employees outside of the Bay Area who don't realize that they should have an equity stake in the company. A lot of them don't know because they didn't explore multiple job offers at the same time and see what some companies offered and others didn't.
This isn't to say, "you're getting gypped!" It's to say that you need to know what to ask for in your negotiations with employers. If you don't know, you can't ask. If you can't ask, you can't get.
Professional Development Plans
You should spend some of your time and money on professional development. If you're lucky, your employer has a budget for this. If you're reading this blog, I'm going to assume you care about professional development.
Access to professional development material isn't hard. There are thousands of courses out there, millions of articles, tens of thousands of books, and lots of podcasts.
But knowing what to listen to and what to ignore can be really hard.
If you're a software developer, should you spend your time learning a new language? Or should you spend your time learning best practices for cleaning code? Or should you spend your time learning a little about systems architecture so that you can differentiate a little bit?
Or if you're a lawyer, should you spend your time picking up new cases? Or maybe learning how to do sales and business development? Should you specialize further?
The best way to figure out is to actually talk to people who do hiring. Interview for jobs. Put yourself out there. Get feedback. Learn what you should spend your time learning.
New Career Directions
You may actually be overqualified for your job. Or you may be qualified for jobs you didn't even think about.
Most people don't look for new jobs so long as they aren't too dissatisfied in their current jobs. They think it's a hassle to look for a new job, that it might get them fired (if this is the case, you should probably quit your job now), and that the payoff is too low.
But that's not always the case.
If you've performed well in your job and haven't had a promotion or upward movement in your company for more than a year, it might have more to do with the company than it does with you. The company may just not have a position for you or it may be growing slower than your career.
So you may actually be overqualified for your current job and capable of landing an even better job at another company.
Or, your experience may qualify you for an entirely different job that you'd enjoy more.
As a quick example, somebody I know started looking for a new job after a few years in sales. She did a good job and performed well in the company. But didn't love the job. But she also wasn't dissatisfied enough to look for new options. Until recently.
She put herself out there and started interviewing for sales positions selling the product she's sold for the last 10 years. Nothing great has piqued her interest or come close to what she's earning in her current job. But she's good at her job and good salespeople are worth their weight in gold.
During one job interview, the CEO she was talking to told her that he may have another sales position in his company for her. It would be selling a much more expensive item (so, better commission for her) and would be a type of sales she'd much rather do.
She hadn't even considered making that kind of career switch until she started interviewing for new positions.
You rarely know what you're capable of until you start actively asking what you're capable of. Interviewing for new jobs does that in the marketplace.
9. Sell Something
When the stock market was melting down in December, one of my email list subscribers sent me this question:
How do I make sure I have a good job in a recession?
Here's my reply:
Learn sales and get good at sales.
This doesn't mean you need to be a world-class salesperson. You don't even have to work in sales. You just need to know how to build relationships with people, convey the value you can add to their lives, and close them.
This is what I call a high-leverage skill. It's a skill that transfers between careers, industries, and stages of life. Once you learn it, you can carry it with you no matter what you do.
In economic downturns, companies don't fire their producers. They don't fire the people bringing cash in the door. And they don't fire people that actually create immediate value for them. The only time you'll see a company fire its producers is when that company is in its death throes.
In fact, producers become so valuable in downturns, that companies will spend whatever leftover resources they have to keep them around. If you're at a startup, this means you can negotiate a better equity stake in the company. If you're at a bigger company, you may be able to finally convince your bosses to let you work remotely.
And sales is the core skill you'd need if you ran your own business. You can make beautiful products, invent new technologies, or have the expertise to solve problems for people, but if you can't convince them to sign a check for you, your business is DOA.
Sales breaks down into a few categories, as far as I see:
Get good at each of these areas and you'll be fine.
Networking and connecting comes down to building a strong personal brand so that other people think, "Oh, I should introduce you to so-and-so," and getting good at doing outreach. Inbound and outbound, essentially.
Relationship-building is a lot of listening and a lot of empathy. Figure out what people's problems are and what kind of solution would actually help them. This is my favorite part of the process because it shows that sales is not sleazy. It's the exact opposite of sleazy. It's empathetic. It's solving problems for people.
You can accelerate this process by finding people who you know have problems. I can talk about that later another day.
And closing comes down to getting good at asking. A lot of this is confidence, knowing your value, and sticking your flag in the ground and standing by it. Closing takes time to learn. But the reality is that if you did the networking and relationship-building well, closing will come easily. Closing looks less like Glengarry Glen Ross and more like a natural conversation.
Does that make sense?
Now, that email was the "what" and the "why," but not the "how."
How to get good at sales depends on what your starting place is. If you think sales is sleazy and unnatural, you'll want to start with an understanding of what good sales looks like. If you're totally unsure what to think of sales, you want to build the thick skin for rejection in the outreach/networking part.
So, it depends. I train people on different parts of the sales process depending on where they're starting.
But the simplest way to learn is to try to sell something.
I recommend that people get a job in sales early in their career to kill two birds with one stone here. But if you can't do that or refuse to do that, find a service or product you can offer and try to convince somebody to give you money for it.
Just sell something in 2019 and you'll be way ahead of the vast majority of people who expect a paycheck for their job.
Which of these books makes sense for you depends on what you want to sell.
The 4-Hour Workweek - Tim Ferriss has some good strategies on how to sell your expertise or how to sell physical products in this book. It's worth picking up if you like the idea of selling something on the side but don't know where to start.
Pitch Anything - The reality is that sales rarely looks like "pitching." You probably won't stand up with a powerpoint presentation in front of a room of men in pinstriped suits smoking cigars. But in the few cases where you will, this is a good look at how you can approach sales.
Reach Out - This is a good book on how to do email outreach, part of the "networking/outreach" component of sales.
How to Win Friends and Influence People - It always amazes me just how few people have basic social acumen. This is a good book for the "relationship development" stage of sales.
10. Negotiate Something Big
Learn to negotiate.
Negotiating a salary can be the difference between retiring with $1 million in the bank or $3 million in the bank. It can be the difference between driving a Honda or a BMW. And it can be the difference between living in your dream home or just getting a place that you think is okay.
Learning to negotiate isn't something that's done well by just reading a book (I suggest some books to start with down below, but those won't take you the distance). You can almost always tell when somebody's learned all their negotiating prowess from books -- they use the same scripts, the same language, and the same tactics time and again. And if they learned from the same books as everybody else, they aren't even very good at it!
Read a few books and guides to get started, but then go practice a purchase. You want to put yourself in the position of asking for something different than the other party -- you want to be comfortable with disagreeing with somebody else without feeling attacked or like you're attacking them. You want to be comfortable with somebody saying, "I don't think we can do that," and then asking them to try.
Don't be a jerk about it -- but do stand your ground and tactfully and intelligently ask for something different than the other party. If you do this well, it doesn't even feel like negotiating. Good negotiating gets you to a place where both parties are actually pretty happy with the outcome -- bad negotiating is the sleazy stereotype most people think of, where one party gyps over the other party.
After you've started small -- negotiating a used book purchase here, a discount at your favorite coffee shop there, and maybe an extra perk at a nice restaurant -- try to negotiate a large purchase. This is where you'll really cut your teeth.
Here's the truth of negotiating large purchases:
Most people hate negotiating so much, that if you negotiate at all, you'll get a nice return.
Evidence of this: most people hate negotiating so much that many car dealerships have rolled out programs like Lexus+, which specifically advertise that there's no negotiation involved.
Yes, salespeople in large purchase fields like cars, houses, apartment rent, and corporate programs are trained to negotiate. But so few people (especially consumers) do negotiate that just some negotiation gets you far ahead where you'd otherwise be.
Negotiating a 10% discount on a $20,000 car puts an extra $2,000 in your pocket. That $2,000 can then be invested, used on a course, or just spent on something you'd enjoy more than getting the car salesman a new suit.
Negotiating a 5% salary increase from $80,000 to $84,000 not only gives you an extra $4,000 every year (before taxes), it gives you a stronger base to negotiate more increases in the future (i.e., a 5% increase the next year would be $88,200 -- $4,200 more, which then compounds for a 5% increase the next year).
More than anything else, negotiating a large purchase gives you a sense that you can control the outcome of your interactions more than you think. Most people just take it as a given that they have to agree to what other people state as a price, a salary, or a fee. Why should you do that? Why shouldn't the other party expect pushback? Why can't you stand up for yourself and demand a little more?
Getting Past No -- Getting to Yes is the more well-known and established negotiating book in this series. It's also the one that every MBA student reads and you can automatically tell they've read based on how they act. Getting Past No provides better mental models and a stronger way of thinking about most negotiations. Most negotiations start with, "no, we won't budge on our price/rate/fee/salary offer." You have to get past that first, before you can play any weird negotiation tactics and tricks on anybody.
Secrets of Power Negotiating -- This is a fun book full of tactics on negotiation that don't come off as insincere or inauthentic when you apply them. Each chapter is short and easily applicable. It's how a book on negotiation should be written
Never Split the Difference -- I don't love this book from a usefulness perspective, but it's a fun read and some people find it really helpful. If you like nonfiction that reads like a story and has you turning each page, this is a good one to read.
11. Reach out to a New Person Every Week
You have the most powerful networking tool in human history on your computer and your phone.
You have an email account.
Almost every other person in the developed world has an email address. The people you want to meet have an email address. The people you need to meet have an email address.
The cost of emailing them is essentially zero.
If you want to grow your professional network, become more comfortable with putting yourself out there, and establish yourself as somebody that people know, you should take advantage of this and use your email account.
Reaching out to a new person every week isn't about some arbitrary rule or some desire to just connect with other people. It's about taking the time and the energy to prove to yourself and others that your network and the people who know you are entirely within your control.
Yes, some people won't respond to your emails. In fact, many probably won't respond, especially if you don't have Mutual Points of Rapport (MPRs) or shared contacts. But a few people will respond to your emails. You don't need everybody to respond to your emails to get outsized returns from doing outreach. A single response can turn into a meeting, which can turn into an introduction to a few other people, which can turn into more meetings, which can turn into more introductions. Before you know it, a significant portion of your professional and personal networks can be traced back to one or two emails you made.
Think of it this way, over the course of a few weeks:
- You send 20 cold emails to people you want to meet.
- 10 people reply. 5 reply saying they'll chat with you or meet (a high, but not-unreasonable response rate depending on the who and why). (5 new contacts total)
- 2 of those 5 conversations go really well and result in follow-up meetings where you meet 2 other people, each. (9 new contacts total)
- You meet 2 of those 4 new people, those go well and they each introduce you to 2 new people. (13 new contacts total)
That's 13 people from sending a few emails. And you can replicate this several times over with different niches you want to get into (e.g., podcasting, book writing, direct sales, whatever). You can get a higher response rate than 25% if you write great emails to the right targets (some of my students report near 100% response rates on cold emails for jobs, for example).
The point here is this: meeting new people and growing your professional network is a lot simpler than people think. As with many of the most rewarding activities in life, it might not be easy, but it's not complicated.
Email Anybody is my course on how to write cold emails that people actually respond to. It's a step-by-step system that I teach to consulting and private coaching clients.
Reach Out - Molly Beck's little guide from McGraw-Hill is a fun and simple strategy for doing outreach via email, LinkedIn, and other media platforms. Beck tells her story of using outreach to land her own dream job, even when she had no idea what she wanted to do. It's an easy-to-reference book -- and I interviewed her for Email Anybody bonus content.
12. Build Your Own Mindful Network
I think there are two ways to network: mindlessly and mindfully.
Mindlessly networking looks like the dork who shows up at every networking event he hears about, hands out business cards, and asks people to get coffee without any real reason or any real ask. He's been told that the secret to success is a strong network (that's not necessarily wrong) but he takes it too literally and doesn't think about how to build that strong network.
Mindfully networking looks different. It looks tasteful. It looks like building mutually beneficial relationships with interesting people and like adding value where you can add value. If you can't add value, it means not looking like a jerk.
Mindfully networking works for you, even when you aren't out meeting new people.
A well-curated mindful network should work for you. Your other contacts in your network are mindful of you, your needs, and your value. They send opportunities your way because they know you're somebody who solves problems, creates value for people, and can send new and interesting opportunities their way as well.
There's a concept I teach to consulting clients called the Mindful Networking Plan, and it works generally like this:
There are people you need to meet and build relationships with in order to advance your career. They can be investors, donors, potential employers, potential clients -- anything. They tend to be most accessible through referral or through meeting them live.
But meeting them live is hard. They don't show up to networking events. They get hit with thousands of cold emails and cold calls every week. They're very busy and breaking through the noise with them is a challenge.
So, you want to find out where they spend their little bit of free time. I call these Honeypots. These might be sporting events, leisurely events, workshops, or charity events. Whatever they are, they're usually consumption goods -- meaning the people who attend them attend them for the sake of attending them and the enjoyment they get out of them. They're not networking events. They're not sales conventions. They're not trade shows.
You should try to spend some of your time at these events. Pick up a social hobby that these people enjoy (do you really think that that many people like golf? Golf is a social hobby that older, high net worth individuals enjoy. That's why so many people golf). Join their clubs. Go to their events.
I have a friend who has to meet people like this. He works in private equity and needs to meet and build relationships with property owners and with high net worth individuals. He could try cold-calling them -- and he does, but that only works part of the time. The rest of the time, he tries to meet them through referral, introduction, and bumping into them where they spend their time.
For him, picking up a social hobby that these people also enjoy gives him an excuse to show up at honeypots and bump into the people he needs to meet to do his job. He's acquired millions of dollars worth of properties this way and raised nearly a million dollars for his company.
Not everybody can access these honeypots. Sometimes they're expensive, exclusive, and just generally difficult to get into and identify.
If that's the case for you, don't fret. You can use Super-Connectors as a way to meet these people anyway.
Super-Connectors are people like my friend. They have to meet Very Busy People as a function of their jobs. These people usually work in roles like big-ticket sales, business development, boutique consulting, and fundraising. And they're usually more accessible than the Very Busy People with whom they meet.
Build a quality, sincere relationship with them and you'll gain access to the Very Busy People.
Make a list of the honeypots where Super-Connectors may spend their time. Do they like going to sporting events? Nonprofit galas (where they also meet with their donors)? Wine tastings?
Figure out and meet them where they are.
My new book How to Get Ahead has an entire chapter on this, and includes templates and examples you can apply directly to your own career.
(Pick it up and forward me the receipt and you'll get something special closer to release.)
13. Don't Be Cheap: Spend Money on Value, Not Cost
I used to be really cheap.
Like, really cheap.
I would stay at a $47 Airbnb with just a couch instead of staying in a $69 motel just to save that extra $22.
I would price-shop between $12 and $10 goods.
I was the type of person who would only fill up his gas at Costco because it would save an extra $2 on the tank, even though it would take a gallon of gas to get to Costco in the first place.
It was so bad that one of my bosses ended up bragging to an investor that the reason the company stayed afloat was because I was a penny pincher in the early days and would search out any way to save money for us.
I didn't understand friends who would spend $200 on a new pair of shoes, or $100 on a new shirt, or spend the extra $25 for the direct flight over the flight with the layover.
I ended up spending so much time and energy searching for deals that I was undermining my own happiness. Sure, I had a little more than the average person saved up and I was also able to bootstrap some cool opportunities, but I was running myself down.
I remember how bad it got one night.
I rented out my absurdly overpriced Mount Pleasant, South Carolina apartment on Airbnb when I traveled for work. It was a way I could pay for my gym membership and get a little in my retirement account while working for a startup. I'd list the apartment whenever I was gone on business development trips and just switch out the sheets and clean up when I got home.
I came home early one night from a trip. There were guests in my apartment.
It was 1 AM. They weren't supposed to check out until 9 AM. I wasn't going to kick them out.
So I went to the one place open in South Carolina at 1 AM on a Thursday: Waffle House.
While sitting at that Waffle House and working through cups of watered-down coffee, I realized just how stupid being cheap was and how much it was driving me nuts.
What would I have given for a good night's rest? Probably $250 or more. More than the person renting my apartment was paying per night, anyway.
Money only has value for the things it can buy you. It can buy you a good night's rest, or peace of mind in your retirement account, or a nice pair of shoes that actually last more than a year.
What you end up spending that money on depends on your values and what you want it for. But you should acquire it to spend it, not just to save it. And sometimes you should be willing to spend more money on something in order to get more value out of it.
Once I got to an income level where I could both save and spend without undermining my retirement accounts, I started buying nicer shoes, better clothes, and a car with a long and decent warranty. The marginal cost of an extra $50 here or another $25 there pays off. You derive more value than that $50 or $25 would otherwise bring you.
Ramit Sethi draws this distinction well in a lot of his material. His article on reasons to buy a new car (heresy in the personal finance world) makes it well.
14. Set Aside a Personal Development Fund
Take the time to set up your own personal development fund.
Once you get out of school, it takes conscious effort and time to focus on your personal development (and even when you are in school, a good chunk of your time is just going through the motions).
Take the time now to set up a bank account where you will save money every month to make purchases related to personal development.
These can be taking courses, buying books without having to worry about your budget, hiring coaches or advisors to work with you on a specific skill -- whatever you consider "personal development."
The advantage of setting up a personal development fund is that you automatically contribute money every month to the account -- 2%, 5%, 10% of your monthly earnings -- and then don't have to worry about whether or not you can afford the purchase so long as it is within the realm of your fund.
Or, in other words, imagine not setting up a personal development fund. You decide you want to get better at a certain skill -- let's say, wine tasting -- and you come across a nice course that will help you better understand wine. But you aren't sure if the $399 to sign up makes sense given your monthly budget. You go back and forth on signing up for a few days and then ultimately decide against it because you're not sure about the purchase -- it's an unplanned purchase after all.
If you had this fund set up, you could just log into your bank account, see if you have $399 in your personal development fund (or will have it by the end of the month) and decide to make the purchase, guitlessly.
This has been one of the best decisions I've made in the past few years. Now, whenever I want to learn a new skill or get better at something I already know, I just see if I have the money on my PDF and make the purchase. If I don't have it, too bad. I will have it in the future, so I just make sure I keep making the monthly contributions.
This has allowed me to invest in a number of online courses, in-person seminars, one-on-one coaching and teaching, and an endless supply of books from Amazon whenever I want to read something new.
Here's just a few of the courses this has allowed me to enroll in in the last 18 months:
- Zero to Launch - A course on launching a digital-products based business.
- Call To Action - A copywriting course.
- Behind the Sales Page - A copywriting course.
- Delegate And Done workshop - A live workshop on getting the most out of a virtual assistant.
- Mental Mastery - A personal development course.
- 50 Proven Email Scripts - An ebook of email scripts, recommended to me after I started writing on email scripts (not much overlap but also a suggested product if you like my stuff).
- James Suckling Teaches Wine Appreciation
- Steve Martin Teaches Comedy
- Vault program full of programming and courses on strength, conditioning, and nutrition.
15. Adopt a "Guru-Rule"
The fact that there's so much information out there is both a blessing and a curse.
The blessing is obvious: you can access information on pretty much any topic with a quick Google or Twitter search.
The curse is less obvious: there's so much information out there that it's actually really easy to get overwhelmed by differing and conflicting viewpoints.
Nutrition is where this is most obvious. One website tells you to eat high-carb. Another website tells you to eat low-carb. Another one tells you that keto will save your life. Another says that keto will kill you. They all cite studies. They all are written by reputable people.
There are two ways that people respond to this overwhelm of information:
Option 1: Dabble
Dabbling is the natural consequence of coming across many differing-but-compelling opinions on an important subject matter.
Dabblers in health and fitness try out every fad diet that comes their way, every fad workout, and every fad for "mindfulness" and mental clarity. One week they try keto. The next they're bulletproof. The next they're vegan. The next they're paleo. Then OMAD. Then GOMAD. Then every alphabet soup of diets and fitness routines under the sun.
Dabblers in personal finance try crypto. Then day trading. Then real estate investing. Then forex. Then "passive income streams." Next thing you know, they're pulled into some MLM that they heard about from some kid who went to high school with them.
A visualization of dabbling from George Leondard's book Mastery.
They get to try lots of options out, but they never get to see the real benefits of sticking to something.
(I may sound harsh but I used to dabble myself -- until I saw no real benefits and instead saw others who went deep on topics getting real benefits.)
Dabbling is fun. But dabbling rarely drives results. Don't dabble.
Option 2: Stick With Something and Ignore Distractions
The other option is to find an approach or strategy that works for you and then stick solely to that. Entertain other options as they come up and you find them helpful, but so long as something works (see the next rule), stick to your guru and your strategy.
The most important things to consider when choosing a rule are:
- Does this help me achieve my goals? - If you want to get big and strong and have lots of energy, you probably shouldn't eat vegan and only do cardio. If you want to not stress about making money, you probably shouldn't do day trading. Those might be fine for people with different goals, but they don't make sense for you.
- Can I stick to it and does it make my life better? - Unless your project is to entirely revamp your habits, you want to stick to a strategy that makes sense for your life. Sticking to it is the hardest part. So find something that it isn't ridiculously difficult for you to stick to and that you can build up to life-changing habits.
Once you find an approach that works for you based on these parameters, find a guru or expert in that area and stick with them.
The qualifications for a good expert should be:
- Are they believable? Ray Dalio has a concept he uses at Bridgewater called "believability." I've written about it before on the blog. You want somebody who has achieved the outcomes you want (or has taught how to achieve those outcomes) and can logically rebuild how to do it. Ignore charlatans. Ignore people who talk a big game but can't offer you endorsements, testimonials, or at the very least a good explanation for how they would achieve the outcome you want.
- Are they actively learning? The gurus and experts I admire most keep learning new things, applying those things, and launching new products and services around those and creating new content. This is a good sign that they aren't stale and just doing the same article 15 different ways.
- Do you enjoy engaging with them? Voice matters. The style they use matters. Find somebody whose style you enjoy and from whom you enjoy learning. Most of the people I enjoy take a cerebral-but-no-bullshit approach. You may not like that. That's fine. Find another believable person creating new content with a voice you do enjoy.
Once you do this, adopt what my friend Frank Marcopolos calls a Guru Rule: once you find a guru you like for a specific subject area, stick with them.
This doesn't mean you should be ignorant or uninterested in learning from other people. It does mean that you should go deep in a specific area before you go into a new field that contradicts what you are already focusing on. Do your research, yes, but stick to something once you've verified that it's worth pursuing.
And just because you choose one guru doesn't mean that other gurus don't have anything to offer. Pull on them as you see fit, respect them for what they've done and can do, but don't bend over backwards to try everything under the sun.
Here are some of the gurus I follow and the areas in which I apply their expertise:
- Shane Parrish / Farnam Street - Mental Models & Decision-Making
- Ramit Sethi / I Will Teach You To Be Rich - Personal Finance & Business Strategy
- PD Mangan / Rogue Health & Fitness - Health & Fitness
- Bonus: Examine.com to verify research about food, diets, or supplements I want to try.
- Manny De La Cruz / WellBuiltStyle - Menswear
- Ed Latimore - Social Media Marketing
- BJ Fogg - Habits (research, James Clear is good if you want personal development writing in terms of habits).
Find a believable expert you like and stick with them. The results should follow.
16. Double Down on What Works
As you try new strategies and tactics, pay attention to what drives the results you need.
And then double down on it.
This is a personal and professional development strategy I call double down on what works, or d2w2. D2w2 focuses your attention on results and helps remove the temptation to dabble when you're just starting down a new path.
This isn't complicated. Just remind yourself to look for and recognize patterns.
When you want to make progress in a specific area of your life -- like your diet -- do your research, try a few separate approaches, and pay attention to the results. Then, when you come across something that works and you can stick to it, double down on it.
I've used this approach in pretty much every aspect of my life from diet to work to habit formation to fitness to relationships. It helps me avoid anxiety about missed opportunities and stress over whether or not other approaches may also work.
They might, but my time and energy is valuable, too. So I double down on what I know works.
17. Learn to Manage Dangerous Personalities
(Big hat tip to my friends/colleagues Michael Gibson, Danielle Strachman, and Nick Arnett for helping me better understand dangerous personalities and how to manage them.)
The world isn't full of dangerous personalities. There aren't psychopaths lurking behind every corner or narcissists ready to take advantage of you.
But there are dangerous personalities out there.
And you will have to deal with them at some point or another.
The reality is that there are considerably fewer dangerous personalities out there than people believe, but that the ones who are out there can wreak disproportionate damage on your life. A select few narcissists or Machiavellian manipulators or people with borderline personalities can make working in a specific industry harder for everybody else.
Even worse, dangerous personalities are attracted to jobs where they have disproportionate power over everybody else. They gravitate to the same industries and fields as ambitious people without dangerous personalities. And they often do well in those fields, as covered in the Harvard Business Review:
In a recent study on representative German businesses, narcissism was positively linked to salary, while Machiavellianism was positively linked to leadership level and career satisfaction. These associations were still significant even after controlling for the effects of demographics, job tenure, organization size, and hours worked.
Previously, an impressive 15-year longitudinal study found that individuals with psychopathic and narcissistic characteristics gravitated towards the top of the organizational hierarchy and had higher levels of financial attainment. In line with those findings, according to some estimates, the base rate for clinical levels of psychopathy is three times higher among corporate boards than in the overall population. This is also consistent with earlier conceptualizations of psychopathy among businessmen. In his classic 1940’s book The Mask of Sanity,Hervey Cleckley noted that the psychopathic businessman works industriously and appears rather normal, except for his periodic sprees of “marital infidelity, callousness, wild drinking, and risk-taking”.
I spend a lot of my time now working in the technology and venture capital spaces, for example. I've worked around my fair share of narcissists and Machiavellian personalities.
These spaces attract ambitious people who have a desire to go big or go home. Founders put everything on the line to build a company that can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and create value for hundreds of millions of people. Investors roll the dice on teams hoping to strike the next Uber or Slack.
Most people in these fields are decent. They aren't dangerous and they have normal interactions with normal people wanting normal, if not a bit ambitious, things for their lives.
But more people in these fields are dangerous than in an average group. These fields offer opportunities to ascend to the top and take control over other people that other fields rarely offer. Most people don't like firing people, or rejecting an investment opportunity, or giving negative feedback, or stabbing a co-investor in the back.
But a few do. Or, they don't see a problem in doing these things.
And those few dangerous people make working in these fields harder for everybody else.
There are two ways one can deal with dangerous personalities like this:
- Avoidance. You can look out for the warning signs that somebody may have a dangerous personality and then remove them from your life.
- Management. You can look out for the warning signs that somebody may have a dangerous personality and then find ways to minimize the damage they have.
Avoidance doesn't really work. It sounds good in theory but if you're ambitious and want to work in any field that has an outsized potential for impact, you're going to run up against people with dangerous personalities.
And dangerous personalities exist on a spectrum. People are rarely black and white. You may find some people with dangerous personalities have redeeming qualities. Not everybody who is a narcissist will absolutely destroy your life and make you wish you never met them. In fact, you may find some of the most effective people in your life exhibit traits of dangerous personalities.
You may want them in your life, just in a way that doesn't end up hurting you and the people you care about. I've known great founders and brilliant investors who have elements of dangerous personalities, but it's worth it for me to keep them in my life.
From the same HBR article:
But as the saying goes, everything is better in moderation (except of course moderation). For example, studies have shown that an intermediate – rather than low – level of Machiavellianism predicts the highest level of organisational citizenship, perhaps because Machiavellian individuals are politically savvy and good at networking and managing upwards. In another study that examined military leadership, the best leaders displayed the bright-side features of narcissism while inhibiting its dark-side traits: they were high in egotism and self-esteem but low in manipulativeness and impression management.
In fact, people who are too far down the dangerous personality path probably have a difficult time even getting by in the world. Most dangerous personalities result in anti-social behavior. If somebody's personality were entirely dangerous, they wouldn't rise to the top. So don't worry too much about the the person who is 100% psychopath - he probably looks less like Hannibal Lecter and more like the nasty, unsuccessful troll on twitter.
Instead of trying to totally avoid people with dangerous personalities, learn to manage them.
Look for for warning signs that somebody may have a dangerous personality, understand that dangerous personality, and try to stay one step ahead when working with them.
Understanding the Dark Triad
One popular way of grouping dangerous personalities together is with the Dark Triad. This is probably the most common group of dangerous personalities you may encounter, with the possible addition of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), depending on the industry in which you work.
The Dark Triad comes down to three personality disorders:
- Narcissism - Excessive interest in oneself and a dangerous capacity to sacrifice others for one's own ends. This is somebody who is obsessed with their own advancement and will place that above the organization's and often their own long-term interest.
- Psychopathy/Anti-Social Personality Disorder - Impaired or non-existent conscious and empathy abilities. This is somebody who will take actions that others would pause before doing or wouldn't consider altogether.
- Machiavellianism - An obsession with achieving ends through abusive or questionable behavior. A propensity to manipulate people to achieve one's own ends. This is somebody who will manipulate, deceive, and play people against each other to advance themselves.
What makes somebody a narcissist, a psychopath, or Machiavellian isn't black and white. It generally comes down to anti-social behavior and an ability to use people against each other for his own ends. But what exactly they are getting at and why they are using people for their own ends depends on the dominant Dark Triad personality disorder and the context of the individual.
Managing the Dark Triad
For example, all three personality disorders might lead somebody to throw you under the bus at work, but why they throw you under the bus changes depending on their dominant disorder.
A narcissist might throw you under the bus if it makes him look better and inflates his importance in the organization.
A psychopath might throw you under the bus to for entertainment, to see what happens, or just because they're feeling like it. If they're an intelligent psychopath, they combine this with a Machiavellian streak and make sure that this helps their ends at the same time.
And a Machiavellian personality may take a page out of Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power and throw you under the bus to create a political dynamic in the office that meets their ends.
(I honestly find pure psychopathy the rarest trait to come by. Machiavellian traits are not uncommon in growing, high-potential organizations and the normalization of Machiavellianism through media and business books adds an element where people who aren't actually Machiavellian may try acting in Machiavellian ways. I've spent more time on learning to manage narcissists and Machiavellian personalities than on psychopaths.)
For each of these examples, there's a slightly different, but related, why behind the dangerous person's actions. If you know they're prone to dangerous personality disorders, you can plan for this and stay one step ahead of them.
One tactic that a colleague recommends in dealing with narcissists is to always make them think a good idea is their own idea. This might slow your own career ascension in the short-term, as they take credit and are rewarded for your good ideas, but it also keeps you in their good graces and allows you to predict their behavior. In the long-term, this lets you sidestep costly and time-consuming situations dealing with the drama brought on by a narcissist.
Consider out-Machiavellian-ing Machiavellians. Machiavellians are often obsessed with how they appear to others and their ability to network with and meet big and important people (see the next rule). Build your own independent relationships with important and powerful people the Machiavellian wants to know and to befriend. That places a check on the Machiavellian -- they know that if they undermine you (sloppily) that you can burn their chances with the powerful people with whom they want to rub shoulders. At the least, study what they study and learn to think how they think. Don't be Machiavellian -- but know how to predict their behavior.
Managing dangerous personalities is a skill that takes time. It's one that I wish I had invested in earlier.
Dangerous Personalities - An FBI profiler walks through a few common dangerous personalities and shows you how to identify them. The nice thing about this book is that each section on a dangerous personality comes with a checklist that you can walk through.
The Sociopath Next Door - This is "the" book on sociopathy (which tends to get lumped into psychopathy and anti-social personality disorder). It's a good book to familiarize yourself with sociopathic tendencies. I'd say the book probably overplays how prominent anti-social people are in the world, but it's still a good read.
18. Focus on Working People You Admire, Not Just People With Status
If you're a reasonably intelligent, conscientious, and ambitious person, you're going to face a choice at some point in your career to go work somewhere really glitzy and impressive. You'll have the chance to work with famous or b-list famous people. You'll be able to craft the "perfect" resume or the "perfect" experience.
Or you'll be able to go work with people you admire in a position of considerably lower status.
The choice isn't always either/or, but most ambitious, conscientious, intelligent professionals get that either/or choice at least once in their careers.
Try to work with substance, not just status.
Warren Buffett put this well in a speech at the University of Georgia in 2001:
You know, people always say, "Well who should I go to work for when I get out then?" I've got a very simple answer, we may elaborate more on this as we go along, but, you know the real thing to do is to get going for some institution or individual that you admire. I mean it's crazy to take in-between jobs just because they look good on your resume, or because you get a little higher starting pay.
I was up at Harvard a while back, and a very nice young guy, he picked me up at the airport, a Harvard Business School attendee. And he said, "Look. I went to undergrad here, and then I worked for X and Y and Z, and now I've come here." And he said, "I thought it would really round out my resume perfectly if I went to work now for a big management consulting firm." And I said, "Well, is that what you want to do?" And he said, "No," but he said, "That's the perfect resume." And I said, "Well when are you going to start doing what you like?" And he said, "Well I'll get to that someday." And I said, "Well you know, your plan sounds to me a lot like saving up sex for your old age. It just doesn't make a lot of sense."
Get a sense of whom you admire. Learn which traits you'd like to learn from a high-character person and go find that person. Work with them because you admire them, not because of some status or because of the brand equity.
That will pay off more than the marginal difference in pay.
19. Stop Being a Weenie
Some men are weenies.
They're not necessarily bad men. They're not necessarily incompetent.
But they're hard to respect.
They seem to lack some part of self-esteem. They aren't entirely there and don't entirely seem like the image of a man that you think of in your mind.
Self-esteem, that belief that one is capable of achieving happiness and deserving of it, breaks down into two capacities, as according to Nathaniel Branden:
Self-efficacy: Confidence in the ability to cope with life’s challenges. Self-efficacy leads to a sense of control over one’s life.
Self-respect: Experience oneself as deserving of happiness, achievement and love. Self-respect makes possible a sense of community with others.
Weenies are not necessarily incapable of dealing with life's challenges. I've known many a young weenie who is quite capable in the world. He's good at his job. He gets along well with people. He's capable of dealing with challenges.
But there's something that's missing to him. He still doesn't seem like he's a young man. He's missing self-respect.
They're young men who have a lot of potential but who undermine their own potential by not standing up for themselves. Other men don't respect them, women aren't attracted to them, and nobody really wants to be them.
The Rise and Fall of the Weenie
Lots of young men are weenies at one point in their lives. They study, apply themselves to the real world and to life, and then they find that they're still getting stepped on and pushed around. They rise to relatively impressive and respected levels of success but then get selected out when their lack of assertiveness allows more assertive people to ascend above them.
Non-weenies take those opportunities to develop a sense of self-respect and stand up for themselves. Weenies find standing up for themselves difficult and shrink away from tests and opportunities to develop that strong sense of self-respect.
Most former weenies I know had some watershed moment where they could shrink back into their weenie-ness and allow themselves to wallow or they could stand up for themselves and develop a capacity to say no. They had a moment where a girl broke their heart, they got passed over for a big promotion, or they got stepped on by somebody else and they finally said I'm not going to deal with this anymore.
The downside of these experiences is the pain brought with them. And some weenies don't develop self-respect out of them and instead just shrink further into weenie-ness.
I've worked with these young men often and will try to feel out if they can develop that sense of self-respect without an experience that completely flattens them. I'll find buttons to push and antagonize them slightly in hopes that they'll push back. Sometimes they do -- and we're often closer as a consequence of that. But if they don't or cannot, then they have to build up that self-respect somehow else.
Don't be a weenie. If you are a weenie and feel like you lack self-respect, make a conscious effort to develop self-respect. This will bleed over into the rest of your life, as well.
(And if you're a woman and know a weenie in your life, push him to be better.)
The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem - This is an excellent book that breaks down the what and why of self-esteem and walks the reader through exercises to build up self-esteem. Also from the author is The Psychology of Romantic Love. Low self-esteem people attract low self-esteem people. Low self-esteem people drag down high self-esteem people.
Mate: Become the Man Women Want - Most weenies have a really hard time with building relationships with quality women. If you can't respect yourself, how do you expect a girlfriend or wife to, anyway? This is a good, non-sleazy book that breaks down the fundamentals of being a self-respecting man. It fits well into the third category of books that Geoffrey Miller, the book's coauthor with Tucker Max, describes here:
3 kinds of 'advice books' for men:— Geoffrey Miller (@primalpoly) October 7, 2018
1) act more like a woman, to overcome 'toxic masculinity' conditioning
2) act more like a psychopath, to overcome 'beta male' conditioning
3) act like a better man, to fulfill your potential.
Caveat emptor: few books are in the third category
Those are my 19 rules for 2019. Expect 20 for 2020.