Seriously now, The Tim Ferriss Show is such a rich resource of information that it’s easy to simply pick up a random episode from the show list and walk away with an amazing book or documentary recommendation on top of the unfathomable wealth of life lessons in the show itself.
So, I was listening to a personal favorite podcast interview with the outstanding Bozoma Saint John, whose life’s story is absolutely phenomenal. And in the context of the conversation about Boz’s time at Beats doing marketing before Bozoma ultimately became the head of global consumer marketing for iTunes and Apple Music, Tim dropped the name of this amazing documentary about the acquisition by Apple. And, Wow! I was blown away by the show. It was a pure masterclass in what it takes to be creative and pursue your creativity to the extremes. I was instantaneously inspired.
Inspiration hits you anytime and anywhere, like a spark in the dark, and you know that you have to capture it at that moment or it will fly away and you’ll never be able to catch it again.
And I really tried to capture the essence of some of the unpolished thoughts I had about this documentary series, as fast as I could on Evernote before I lost them.
One of the main things I was thinking about was how in hindsight all the dots are perfectly connected. It seduces you to think that these guys knew how big they’re going to get or how much success and money they’re going to end up with.
But that’s not the idea you walk out with after watching this series. These guys, Jimmy Iovine, and Andre Romelle Young, aka Dr. Dre, did not know they were going to reach the very top. They only had their work and their skills to focus on, and they bothered with nothing else.
When you really rewind and take a look into the rough times they were facing growing up and starting out, and their developing mindsets back then, you know that they did not have a crystal ball or were indulging any sort of conviction that they’re going to be millionaires one of these days, but rather they were people just like us, winging it.
But the story isn’t that simple. They were people of drive, focus, and determination who were extremely dedicated to doing the work and developing their skills. The fact to the matter is that when you don’t have too much free time to think about what the road is going to take you and you don’t have the luxury to consider whether what you’re doing is going to have any future effect on your life beyond the here and now, you’re simply going to excel merely by immersing yourself in the work.
Jimmy Iovine actually provided the perfect metaphor for this when he said that racehorses have blinders on their eyes so that they can’t see the other horses on their sides. Because if you look to the competition or if you distract your attention from what you are doing in the present moment, right here, right now, you’re going to fall, and the quality of your work will suffer.
I think it’s analogous to certain activities that are done on auto-pilot once we get in the moment, but are extremely prone to be messed up when you suddenly focus on the mechanics of how we’re doing it and we compare our performance to other people’s. Like you know that you do not look at your feet pedaling while riding a bicycle, you only look straight ahead. It’s the same principle, shifting your attention from your own track makes you trip over your own feet. The neat trick is that once you hone that focus and sustain that state of flow for a long time it starts to compound until it starts paying off in spurts at first, and then, in leaps and bounds.
It’s exactly how successful people seem to excel at playing the long game. They pour all of their attention and focus into this one thing, that one and only thing that they enjoy doing, through thick and thin, through good times and bad, that’s what brings about meaning to their lives.
It’s that very principle that other smart and successful people recognized and managed to replicate to produce similar results and become successful themselves.
Drive, in essence, is a habit that can be cultivated. If you keep doing something for a long time it becomes a part of your personality and who you are. It’s the kind of thing that leads to getting lucky.
But luck is not just the one things, it’s a few things happening all at the same time, and personality, character, and discipline are only part of the story, the other part is the relentless stirring of the dirt to unveil one opportunity after another.
People create their own luck by taking chances and doing things because, well, if it doesn’t work, that’s ok, nothing is working as is and you always get extra points for trying, but if it did work, well… the upside is limitless.
Take Jimmy Iovine’s big break at the very beginning when he was just at the recording studio cleaning and helping out doing chores, practically invisible, but on his own time, he was trying to learn how to be a sound engineer, and then one day, the owner being stuck without an engineer he needed some sound engineering work done asked the guy who only replaces the tapes if he could do it, and his reply was, “Yes, I can!”
That is what James Altucher calls “choosing yourself.” Jimmy stepped up and did the work, and followed through with an impeccable dedication and work ethic that got him noticed, and in a way initiated the cascade of opportunities that led him to where he is right now.
You hear the same story iterated through Dr. Dre’s own experience when he was starting out hustling, recording and selling mixtapes to his friends, and then DJ’ing in parties for free, then going to one of the hottest clubs in his area and hustling his way into DJ’ing for the first time in public. He also chose himself, in an active aggressive way, he pushed through and tried to find a way to show his work and prove his skill is worthy.
It’s again the same story for Eminem, when he was starting out, and going to Rap Battles, against all sorts of adverse circumstances, and finally losing one of his biggest challenges, but as he was walking away basking in pain of defeat, he was asked for one of his Demo tapes, and he didn’t know it then, by a talent scout working for Jimmy Iovine. The same tape Jimmy played for Dre, and then, well, the rest is history because we all know who Eminem is now.
Even outside the world of Rap and the music industry, you hear the same story in Bozoma Saint John‘s own story. One of the major breaks Boz got early in her life was after getting a temp job at spike Lee’s office. There was that moment when Spike Lee offered her a script to read because she had previously mentioned that she loves reading. And without much thought, being true to herself, she assumed what was expected of her and marked up the script for Bamboozled with her own notes and comments, in red ink no less. In her interview with Tim, she joked about how the whole situation was surprising and shocking to Spike lee so much that he was at loss for words.
What I see here listening to this situation is what a driven, competent, self-respecting smart individual with personal drive naturally assumes about the world that they are valuable, and their contributions are welcome.
So being congruent with her own self-image, Boz simply took the initiative, and I do think that on some level she understood the risk, and took it anyway. It was a brave thing to do, a ‘choose yourself’ moment that she seized and showed herself and her potential. Spike Lee must have taken notice of the energy behind the act, especially since she actually had done some serious effort and put some serious thought in those notes she left. He came back to her, told her she made good notes, and then gave her a job.
That’s how dedication to one’s own cause is the fastest way to making things happen. Marcus Aurelius says “Get active in your own rescue,” and he’s right on the money. You are either your very own best friend or your very own worst enemy. Your mind listens to what you tell yourself.
Another great lesson from Boz’s interview was that amazing deeply insightful and simple daily affirmation a lady restaurant-owner told Boz every day when she was trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Every morning, she told her “Today’s the day!” with a big cheerful smile of optimism and hope.
That got me thinking, we all do get a jolt of energy when we hear people’s cheering for us, telling us they believe in us and that we’re on track to make amazing things happen, but there’s a more powerful source for such energy that lies deep within. If we tap into that inner voice and cheer ourselves on and keep ourselves focused on figuring out the next steps, fighting for a future that is not clear at best, with unrelenting self-belief, things are bound to happen one way or the other.
This is why a huge part of all self-improvement literature always has a few chapters on self-hypnosis and self-programming affirmations that are designed to overcome the negative self-talk and overwhelm it with a positive narrative for life, to replace the damn lens of doom and gloom with one that sees luck and opportunity even in setbacks and adversity.
As per scientific research, people really like to be consistent with the image you paint of them. So, if you tell someone about how you see them as a generous person, that person is more than likely to act in a generous way with you, just to be consistent with that image you created for them. In the same manner, a person must act in a way that is consistent with the story they tell themselves about themselves.
And a huge chunk of self-help is dedicated to trying to fix that foundational story people tell themselves which has a transformative effect once people paint themselves a picture of love, hope, perseverance, and respect and then start to act according to that self-image.
On “The Defiant Ones”, I heard Dr. Dre say that respect is a great component of his professional engagements or relationships. He needs to feel “valued.”
Old wisdom tells us that people cannot see our potential if we do not see it in ourselves. It also tells us that how the world treats you is utterly based on how you allow the world to treat you. We set the boundaries of our attachments to the world.
We set the limits.
We allow for the world to set the rules we follow or we set our own rules.
It’s just not that easy to understand that concept, because we only see through the pre-established norms we’ve been into thinking are concrete walls. It’s the same story of the elephant trainer who ties a baby elephant with a strong rope that it cannot break as a baby. The elephant’s strong memory then work against his own interest because he remembers that lesson for life, and never tries to break the rope because he remembers from knowledge and experience that it’s “unbreakable.”
This is how we see a lot of the world. And this is why entrepreneurs and people of an outsider’s vantage point always question the status quo, they do not see why everyone else is following this or that arbitrary rule, while the facts of the situation might have changed. They have that ability to look past established norms and see the cracks in logic or where things simply stopped working, exactly because they missed that day at school.
I noticed some common quality, a common denominator you might say, about such innovators that I think they have missed noticing about themselves.
My observation is that some of them have that deeply buried chip of insecurity about not being good at school or not finishing school. A great many known innovators, great entrepreneurs, and business people have started out their lives being outliers as students in the school system because they hated the system and couldn’t thrive in it. They more than made up for that apparent weakness by defiantly plowing through obstacles with ingenuity, superior problem-solving skills, and street smarts.
That chip on their shoulder they carried through life and it was the fuel driving them to prove themselves to the world. That and the fact that there were no Plan-B to fall back to. It’s all or nothing attitude like Arnold Schwarzenegger once said.
But the crux of my theory came to me as I’ve noticed that a great many of these types of individuals end up going to college commencement speeches, dedicating wings in universities, or donating high school buildings. I might be wrong, but I think it all boils down to the deeply buried insecurity that they felt for not being a good student, for not being able to follow the rules and comply like their friends, which made them feel ostracized. They cannot completely acknowledge that the vindication they are seeking by these actions is misplaced because, in all truthfulness, they owe a large part of their success to having an outlier and an outsider’s point of view, which they developed independently while they weren’t being programmed with the same software everyone else got at school.
Seth Godin, speaks quite clearly about how schools are basically a relic of the industrial revolution that was designed in a way to create compliant factory workers. It is not where independent thinkers are made. Independent thinking happens outside of the boundaries of what society expects you to do, it’s an act of defiance in a world of cookie-cutter imitators. And even that is not enough.
There’s this one thing that had always bothered me about personal drive and when it acted as rocket fuel towards lofty and worthy dreams and when it was a hindrance causing a person to simply spin their wheels going nowhere. I was haunted by the defining barrier between self-motivation and setting unrealistic goals and how we can tell the difference. Should we persevere against all odds or pivot and course correct? Is it unrelenting self-belief or a self-aggrandizing delusion? Hard to tell. How come people will win and fail for the same exact reasons. But I think I just figured that out.
Dr. Dre said something in the documentary that stuck with me, it struck me as a powerful insight into how a person should seek and find success. He said a story in the documentary about when he tried some form of breakdancing as a kid and pursued it with all his passion and dedication yet couldn’t reach anything better than second place, he had to stop. That’s when it dawned on him that he had to go and redirect that energy into something that he could be the best at doing.
Now that’s a damn fine principle and a recipe for success and the long-awaited answer for when a person should consider a course-correction. In today’s lexicon, they call it finding your niche. Going where it’s not crowded, where there’s no competition, where your true value would shine. It’s a great part of the message in the Blake Masters book about Peter Thiel’s teachings in “Zero to One.” The shortest way to get massive returns on your product or service is to be there first, aka be a monopoly, or to be the best, aka reach mastery and leave your competition in the dust. And it really compounds if you can actually do both. That’s the same story whether you have a product or a personal brand. An artist or creator is their very own personal brand. They get to define it and shape it in whatever way they want.
These concepts and principles are where true value and true independence are created, and that’s the only way to wealth and freedom.
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