On my 24th birthday I wrote a post on my personal blog about 24 things I had learned that year. Along with the post, I included the above picture of Kobe Bryant, who wears number 24. It was symbolic of how I planned to attack the next year of my life with Kobe-like ferocity, fearlessness, and (necessary) selfishness. Having just celebrated my 25th birthday by speaking at Pecha Kucha on 25 things I learned during my “Kobe Year”, I now give you the longhand, extended version of my presentation. It all started with one realization, which lead to having one hell of a year...
Fear is the most crippling human emotion. Fear of rejection is the worst manifestation of it. Fear of public speaking is the #1 fear ahead of death. It’s is something we develop because it’s a cause of uncertainty. We fear rejection because rejection puts our ego in a state of uncertainty. We have one image of ourselves, and when someone rejects that image, we question its legitimacy. This creates a tendency to seek out comfortable situations that protect our ego. The problem this creates, however, is constant comfort creates a static environment. There’s nothing dynamic to cause disruption, which means personal development suffers.
The best way to overcome fear is to work in sales. The nature of working in sales is that you have to hear “no” on a regular basis. No matter how good you are at your job, you will always hear “no” more times than you hear “yes”. This develops an immunity to the word, to the point where you almost enjoy getting rejected because it gives you an opportunity to respond and show why they should take that meeting with you, or consider that product of yours. Hearing “no” all the time also forces you to become creative so that you improve your success rate. Are successful people successful because they are always right, or always being told “yes”? No, they are successful because they have been told “no” enough times that they’ve had to figure out new and different ways to gain a yes.
The second best way to overcome fear is to join an online dating site. Online dating is the relationship version of sales. But in actuality, sales is the art of developing a relationship so they really are one and the same. In the online dating arena, you’ll get rejected more times than accepted. But again, this builds up your immunity, and you find ways to get those dates. It can be a vicious arena, but you know what’s worse than sending a message to someone and getting rejected? Not doing anything and still getting rejected.
All single women want to be asked out. Sales and online dating in combination taught me that, all things equal, all single women want to be asked out. Men have a tough time understanding this for some reason. When you think about it, who wouldn’t want to be thought of as interesting or pretty enough that another person would elect to spend an entire block of time devoted purely to learning more about that person? I’d say the female brain divides into 95% impressed, 5% “he’s a creep.” The odds are on our side, but fear of rejection leads us to believe that the 5% is actually the 95%.
You know why so many people are single? It’s not because everyone tried and found out they were incompatible. And certainly not everyone “just doesn’t want to do deal with a relationship.” It’s because all single women want to be asked out, but are too shy or they feel it’s not within their gender role to ask a man out, and all men are afraid they’ll get shut down if they try. What you have are two positive ends of a battery trying to attract one another. It’s like that scene with the evening social in Heavyweights. Sluts and manwhores aside, the successful ones are the Tim’s of the world who decide to get out there and cut a rug.
Patience is not a virtue. Wayne Gretzky was right. All good things come to those who wait? Not really. Patience is only a virtue when you already have something going, but if you want to start something then you have to get out there and do it. Whether in sales, with girls, or Idea lemon, this year I subscribed to the Wayne Gretzky motto of, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” When everything represents opportunity, you can’t afford to hold on to the puck.
The best way to ensure you will always be the most interesting person at a party is to read. A lot. With having a lot of sales calls and meetings, going on a lot of first dates, and approaching life as untapped opportunity, there is one thing that remains consistent: You have to be interesting to be successful. The best product in the world won’t be bought from the dullest salesperson, and the most confident guy will never get a second date if he has nothing interesting to say. Want to be more interesting? Read a book. But don’t just read a book, read many books. Absorb so much knowledge that you can’t wait to go to a party and tell people about all the cool things you’ve learned.
Did you know that you have a better chance of graduating a school like University of Illinois with an undergraduate science degree than you do Harvard? Ask me to get coffee with you sometime and I’ll tell you all about this and more from the book I’m reading.
The second best way to ensure you will always be the most interesting person at a party is to do a good Barack Obama impression. Unfortunately, I don’t think this skill can be taught. But if you too have stumbled into doing a solid impression of the President, you not only will find people at the party always asking you to do it, but you might even find yourself introducing your CEO at your next company conference.
The third best way is to do a good Bane impression. And this is most certainly the best way to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny.
Don’t believe in “don’t chase the girl, chase the dream”. I wrote about this in my 12 Things post as well. Developing an immunity to rejection and enough dates from Match.com ultimately led me to asking out my current girlfriend (and that one technically happened via Twitter, believe it or not). yes, girls can be distractions when pursuing your dreams, but if they are a distraction then that just means it’s not the right girl. The right girl is someone with whom you can share your dream.
When you make every second count, you don’t have to count seconds. After finding the right girl, we began to get to know each other more, getting along great. Even only one month into our relationship, we both felt like we had known each other for much longer. Now at four months deep, we still say we can’t believe it’s only been four months. From time with my girlfriend, I picked up a lesson in quality over quantity. We both have busy schedules and don’t get to see each other every night, and generally have to plan in advance what’s going to happen on a given weekend so we don’t get booked by something else. How is it that we still have this feeling that we’ve known each other for so long then? It’s because we take advantage of the time which we’re given. I learned that when you make every second count, you don’t have to count seconds.
By the way, on our first date I talked about a book I was reading, and did both an Obama and Bane impression.
Too often we say we don’t like something without ever having tried it, and we avoid trying it out of fear that we might like it. In keeping consistent with the fear motif, and seeing opportunity everywhere, this year I learned that avoidance is a practice in futility. We owe it to ourselves to do more with our lives. Before saying we don’t like something, why not give it a try first? We might still not like it, but at least we know for sure. The ‘put yourself out there’ lifestyle manifested itself in Idea Lemon’s former Immersion group experiments. This lead to me learning 12, 13, and 14...
I don’t hate country music, and found it parallels hip hop. I always said that I hate country music, but I never gave it a real chance. I spent the month of April listening solely to country music. I can now say it’s not my cup of tea, but I found some things I do like, and I can appreciate the genre. I wrote a blog post that month about how Carrie Underwood is more hip hop than 2 Chainz.
I know exactly why I love Chicago. In another Immersion month, while traveling on my own in New York City (and blowing up my Instagram feed), it hit me why I love Chicago: Outside of the people and culture, Chicago as a physical presence is the perfect juxtaposition of nature and architecture.
Meditation somehow is the one thing where everyone thinks you have to be an expert from the start. In September, our group took on meditation. I’m not very “good” at it, but I still try. It’s weird that many people don’t even try it because they say they aren’t “good”. Have you ever known anything else to be the case where people flat out don’t even give something a try because they think they aren’t the best? Have you never shot a basketball because you believed you wouldn’t make it in the hoop on your first try? Did you never learn to ride a bike because you knew you wouldn’t stay up without training wheels? Did you stop writing altogether because you couldn’t spell pterodactyl as a child?
I hope the answer to all of these questions is no. But meditation never gets a chance because people immediately think, “I can’t concentrate! I could never meditate!” Meditation, like everything else, takes practice.
When you treat your endeavors as experiments, there’s no such thing as failure, just learning. Given that meditation, and everything else, takes practice, you have to know that there will be bumps in the road. These can be disheartening, but if you approach your endeavors more like science experiments you aren’t brought down by failure, because failure doesn’t exist. Hypotheses are rejected all the time in experiments. When your hypothesis is rejected, you don’t quit altogether, you take note of what you learned and use that knowledge the next time around to better optimize results. This year I learned to treat as many things as possible as experiments. What’s happened is my failure rate is at 0%, but my learning is at 100%.
Treat more things in life like a Kickstarter campaign. You can make some experiments even better by treating them like Kickstarter campaigns. What I mean is adopt a barter-like system to provide people with a valuable give-and-take. I learned this in November by participating in Movember for the first time. Rather than go to coworkers, friends, and family just asking for donations, I offered everyone something in return for their generosity. For pretty minimal fundraising efforts, I think I did pretty well ($492 raised) just adding these incentives for donations:
$1-$5: high five from yours truly
$6-$10: I will post on Facebook that a specific day's mustache growth is dedicated to you
$11-$20: I will write a rap for you, about you (don't worry, it won't be a diss song)
$21-$40: I will buy you a cup of coffee/coffee-like beverage*
$50-$100: I will buy you lunch**
$101+: I will professionally record a rap song for you, about the topic of your choosing, plus you will get each of the other perks
*From McDonald's, not Starbucks. They taste the same, and I'm not made of money. Redeemable in December.
**Lunch Value: ~$10. Redeemable in December.
17. The only way to feel and be in control of your money is to acknowledge what money you actually have. I traditionally have been afraid to carry hard cash on me, and generally avoid looking at my bank account because I don’t want to feel like I’m actually losing money. This caught up with me in October when I received an alert for a lower than comfortable checking account balance. That was my wake up call, so I decided to take an afternoon and actually look at what money I had, and broke down a single paycheck into categories of where money should be allotted. It was an unfortunate realization that I needed to start curtailing my spending. Even though I have to spend less now, because I know what my limits are and where my money stands, I have never felt more in control of my funds.
18. “Right now” will never be “the right time” to travel. So if you want to go anywhere, you have to be okay with right now being “good enough”. Although I have to spend less, I also learned that money will always be a reason not to travel. Sometimes you have to say the loss of money does not outweigh the potential for amazing experiences. There are a million other excuses not to travel, but if you want to have an enriching life, you need to cut the excuses and be okay with the situation not being exactly ‘the right time’. Next year I have plans to visit Costa Rica, Philadelphia, L.A., New Orleans, potentially India, hopefully head back to NYC, and hit up Pittsburgh and Austin for a first time.
19. A life of “what ifs” and “buts” is a life of sitting on your butt. This leads me to another key learning. Not only with travel, but with many other options in order to explore yourself and your surroundings, you can’t keep playing the “what if” and “but” game. I learned this when I finally decided to perform at an open mic night. I had always thought of reasons not to rap in front of a crowd. I would say I was still working on some songs I wanted to perfect first, I didn’t have a band so it wouldn’t sound good, I didn’t have a large catalog with original beats, etc. When I cut out all the bullshit and said, “I’m going to do this,” it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Check me rocking a crowd here. I now crave a live microphone and look forward to performing every month.
20. If you’re not working towards something, what’s the point of working? When you do make that decision to stop making excuses, you cease complacence and enter actively working. There’s a difference, though, between working, and working towards something. Just working is aimless, and ultimately pointless. It means you’re exerting effort to be in the same position as you would be without exerting any effort. Specifically I think this holds true with your job. If there aren’t distinct goals, a clear vision, or whatever you consider to be a checkpoint or end game, then there is no sense of accomplishment--AKA you’re not working towards something; an exercise in futility. Accomplishments breed confidence, which, again, cut fear down by the legs.
21. When you track what you learn, you find ways to make every day interesting. This is a great way to get yourself on the path of working towards something. One question I started asking people this year that seemed to throw them off was, “What did you learn today?” They didn’t know how to respond, and often didn’t have an answer. I feel like, on any given day, you should at a minimum learn one thing. If not by design, at least by accident. I realized that it’s not that these people live boring lives, it’s that they have never stopped to think about what they learned.
In March, I started keeping what I call a Learning Log. For seven months I wrote in the log one thing I learned at work that day, be it about myself, my co-workers, or my job. This made me more aware of my day-to-day, and because I acknowledged what I learned by writing it down, I was better able to recall it in the future. At the same time, I was more motivated in afternoons if I realized I hadn’t learned anything significant in the morning. Days became more interesting. I no longer keep the log because I trained myself to a point where I now don’t need it to be mindful of my day. I recommend everyone try it.
22. I can help almost anyone find their purpose in life. Through the personal branding workshops Martin and I developed, we found how to connect with people, and connect the dots in their life to uncover who is really at their core, and why they exist on a day-to-day basis. It’s truly amazing helping people make this discovery. Everyone deserves to know who they are. If you want what you deserve, shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
23. When you understand who you are, the glass ceiling doesn’t exist. Once you know your purpose, it sounds cliche but their truly is no limit to what you can achieve. Not because factors out of your control magically are lifted, but because understanding who you are means you know the different paths available to you.
24. My purpose in life is to inspire others. Driven by a burning desire to constantly improve who I am and stay forever curious about what lies before me, I leave satisfied if my actions and words (whether it’s these blog posts, mentoring, speaking engagements like Pecha Kucha, workshops, my music, or the many other things I do with passion) inspire you in any way.
25. Life is like a round of golf. I wrote about this in June. Through everything that happened this year, good and bad, I learned that life is like a round of golf. You can worry about catching up to who’s ahead of you, worry about those coming up behind you, or just play at your own pace, focus on your own shots, and enjoy the game with the people close to you.
I now embark on Year 25 with a new mindset. While this past year was all about attacking and getting mine, this next year is my “Steve Kerr Year”. Chicagoans will remember Steve Kerr for his 3-point sharpshooting skills and mastery of basketball fundamentals. He was never THE guy, but always on THE team. He was part of the Bulls second 3-peat, and won two titles with the Spurs in 1999 and 2003. He was an incredible team player.
In 1997, this guy who was always overshadowed (rightfully so) by the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Kerr hit the winning shot against the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals, clinching the Bulls 5th NBA Championship. My Kerr Year is an effort to put my teams (Idea Lemon, ePrize, family, friends, etc.) ahead of me in order to win. I won’t change who I am, but I’ll be taking the 25 things I learned this year to put others over so that on December 3, 2014, I’ll have 26 new things to share with you.
Rajiv Nathan is the co-founder of Idea Lemon with a background in digital and mobile strategy. He is passionately curious, a people-meeter, and lives by the motto, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."