This is a piece that I wrote for a special podcast episode for seanwes Community members, but I decided to share it here on my blog as well. I hope it inspires and helps you create a life you love.
I love studying successful people from all walks of life.
Most recently, I listened to The Snowball, an audiobook about Warren Buffett.
If you don’t know who he is, Warren Buffet is an investor who is currently worth 73 billion dollars. Before you write him off as some rich asshole, you should know that Buffett is a notable philanthropist who has pledged to give away 99 percent of his fortune to philanthropic causes, primarily via the Gates Foundation.
I also recently finished listening to Shoe Dog, an audiobook about the founder of Nike, Phil Knight. It’s an incredible story about a runner from Oregon who slowly built a multi-billion dollar company and brand that is known worldwide.
Those are just a few examples of the people I’ve studied. For me, the most interesting part isn’t how they made money or how much they made. That’s good stuff to know, but I’m also curious about the other aspects of their lives.
- Were they happy with how things turned out?
- Were they enjoying themselves while building these companies?
- Did they have any regrets? Would they do anything differently if they could do it all over?
- In the end, was it the money that brought them satisfaction, or was it something else?
Throughout the years of studying successful people, I’ve learned a ton of great lessons. I want to share a few of those lessons with you today, including the one thing I’ve noticed all successful people have in common.
1. Don’t settle for less than awesome.
I got a job in a automotive parts factory when I was 21 (after a few unsuccessful years of studying music theory at a local college). That job sucked. I decided to teach myself web and graphic design so I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life (or at least my twenties) working in a hot, smelly factory. I knew I could do better than factory work. I didn’t know anything about design, but I knew it would be better than factory work and I wasn’t going to settle.
Q: Is there anything in your life that you aren’t satisfied with? Are you taking action to make a change?
2. It’s not going to be easy. It won’t always feel right.
The first couple of years were hard. I felt like I wasn’t making enough progress. I wondered if I was smart enough to make websites for money.
There were small wins, like the time I got paid $100 to make a Wordpress site for a friend of a friend. I probably spent 15 hours on that site, but I was getting paid to do work on my laptop, something I’d never done before.
There were hard times, like the month where I took an unpaid internship at a small web design company and nearly went broke.
Q: Are you expecting reaching your goals to be easy? Are you celebrating all the small wins as they come? Are you ready to do the work for as long as it takes?
3. Sometimes the thing you really wanted to do becomes the thing you used to do.
People evolve. Things change. Don’t be afraid to let go of old dreams. I’m bad at this. I still want to be a drummer, but I’m no longer doing everything I can to make it happen. I’m practicing once a week and playing shows every once in awhile, but my drive to do it full time just isn’t there anymore. It hurts my heart when I think about it, but I’ve got so many other awesome things in my life that I really can’t complain.
I started off thinking I was going to be a front-end web developer, but found that I enjoyed helping people make podcasts better.
Sometimes the thing you really wanted to do becomes the thing you used to do.
Q: Are you resisting change because you tied your identity to something that you no longer really want to pursue with all your energy?
4. You don’t need to become someone else, you need to become the best version of you.
The world doesn’t need another Sean McCabe. The world doesn’t need another Aaron Dowd. The world doesn’t need another Beyonce, or Madonna, or anyone else. Those people are awesome, but you don’t need to become them. You need to become the best possible version of yourself.
Q: Are you trying to become someone else, or are you looking for the lessons and mental frameworks that will help you become the best version of yourself?
5. Don’t spend all your time watching other people live their lives. Look for the teachers.
It’s easy to spend all your time watching other people live their lives. A lot of people are sharing every detail about their lives on social media. It can be seductive, getting to see the intimate details of other people’s lives, the wins, the dramas, the failures.
I always ask myself; does this person I’m watching have something to share that will help me live the kind of life that I want to live? Are they a teacher or are they sharing a recipe for life that I’d like to try?
A great example of this are the guys who call themselves the Minimalists. They talk about how removing clutter and unnecessary material possessions from their lives helped them appreciate the good things in life more.
That’s a recipe that resonates with me: Instead of focusing on gathering as much stuff as possible, focus on having only the most important things.
This frees up resources (financial, mental and emotional resources) to focus on things that really matter:
- My relationships
- The work I’m doing
- Helping other people
- Developing mental clarity and focus (which I’ve found is easier when you have fewer possessions)
That’s just a recipe that works for me. It might not work for you, but you should look for the people who are sharing their recipes for a good life. Try em out. If you don’t like the results, move on to the next thing.
Q: Are you following a ton of people for no reason other than you feel obligated to because they’re an acquaintance, or you used to be friends with them? Are you looking for teachers, for people sharing good recipes for life?
6. Invest your time and attention in building relationships with the right people.
All of the best things in my life have come from my relationships. It started with finding virtual mentors; writers and podcasters who shared what they learned about working remotely and freelancing.
Eventually it turned into real life relationships; like the time that I met Dave Rupert in Austin. That led to my first podcast editing job, editing the Shoptalk Show podcast.
There was also the time I met Sean McCabe at a Dribbble meetup in Austin; that led to us starting a podcast and eventually a job, but I got so much more than just that. I learned how to discuss things objectively; how to put aside my emotions. That was a huge lesson for me.
That wasn’t the only thing I learned from Sean. On top of all the other lessons that I’ve learned from Sean over the years, he’s also directly or indirectly introduced me to dozens of incredible people who continue to influence my life in many positive ways.
One example is my new roommate, Matt Lucas. We became friends at the seanwes conference after carpooling down to Austin together. Because of that friendship, I found not just a great friend and someone who inspires me, but also a new place to live.
One of my favorite things about Matt, besides the fact that he (like many other Community members) works super hard, tries to treat people with kindness and respect, and has built an amazing company in Fort Worth, is how grateful he is.
He’s always saying thank you. He always expresses his gratitude, even for the tiniest thing. Just by being who he is, he’s made me realize that I don’t express gratitude as much as I should. I don’t tell the people in my life how thankful I am for them as often as I should.
Starting a friendship with the right person can have a ripple affect that will create positive changes for the rest of your life.
That’s why I believe that everyone should invest in conferences and meetups. The Internet is great, but humans need real-life contact. We need to hug people, to look them in the eyes, to receive their gift of attention. It builds trust. It makes us better people because it forces us to come out from our safe space hiding behind our computer and phone screens.
Q: Are you dedicating time to invest in relationships with people off-line, in the real world?
What’s the one thing that all successful people do?
I told you earlier that I found one thing that all successful people do. And I just told you what it is a second ago. Did you catch it?
Successful people always get around smart people who have the recipe for the life they want to live.
Warren Buffett sought out his mentor Benjamin Graham after reading Graham’s book The Intelligent Investor in 1949. The book changed not only Buffet’s investment philosophy but also the course of his life.
Buffett applied to Columbia Business School where Graham was a professor, a pretty crazy story by itself (listen to or read The Snowball to get that story). At Columbia Business School, Buffet impressed Graham with his knowledge and work ethic, and Graham later hired Buffett to work at his company. That’s where they cemented a strong friendship that led to Buffett’s transformation into the billionaire investor he is today.
Phil Knight (the founder of Nike) has a similar story. His running coach in college, Bill Bowerman, was the first person to invest in Phil’s fledgling shoe company (then called Blue Ribbon).
I found this excerpt in a blog post before the show:
Phil Knight recalled the 1974 meeting he had with Bill Bowerman that sparked Nike’s epic quest to perfect athletic footwear, “We had a meeting and decided that there had been virtually no innovation in running soles in the last 50 years. So Bowerman literally went back that weekend and stamped out a urethane sole on his wife’s waffle iron.”
That year, the Waffle Trainer, featuring Bowerman’s unique Waffle Sole, became the best-selling training shoe in the country. In 1980, Nike surpassed Adidas to become the industry leader in the United States. The rest is history.
Warren Buffett and Phil Knight didn’t build their companies alone. They had mentors and gathered smart, hard-working people around them.
The main thing I want you to takeaway from this post is that you need to get around smart people. Go to meetups. Go to conferences.
If you’re already a part of the Community, you’re a part of an incredible group of people online, but you need to take it to the next level. Build real-life relationships with these people. Invest in them.
If you want to get around smart, motivated people who are working hard to get the life they want, join us this September at the seanwes conference in Austin, Texas. It’ll be the start of something great for you.