I am another year older. I’ve been around the sun now 37 times. The average American male, at this age, is about halfway through their life. But of course, I am not the average American male. I am extraordinary.
And I am going to share 9 tips to be extraordinary, like me.
My greatness is something I’ve only come to realize and appreciate recently. This journey began about 3 years ago, soon after I moved to Atlanta, when my boss told me that fear was holding me back. He said that he couldn’t teach me anything more, that I didn’t need to learn any new skills, and that I was ready to do his job right now.
Well, that fear is now gone, and I am extraordinary.
I’m going to back off the satirical Colbertesque blowhardiness that dominates this blog and get real with you: I’ve found my mojo. I’m more confident and self-aware than I’ve ever been. Humility is a big part of the equation, too, as there are quite a number of things that I am not good at. True confidence means understanding and accepting my shortcomings, while embracing the qualities and skills that make me unique.
Someone told me once that a good leader always wants the ball. I don’t really like that metaphor, mostly because it’s from basketball, and we all know that hockey is far superior to basketball.
Solid, crisp passing in hockey is the most important determinant of a team’s success, even more than in basketball, where one dominant player can carry a team. That is rarely true in hockey, with players rotating through 4 lines in short 45-second shifts…the entire team must play well to win.
The best hockey players – the ones that truly makes things happen, are the playmakers. The ones who can shoot AND pass, who can set up plays, who have eyes in the back of their head, who always seems to find the skater with the best chance to score.
That is true leadership, in my opinion. If you looked it up in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of this guy, Mats Zuccarello, one of the greatest hockey players in the history of Norway…and planet Earth. He also has long flowing hair and a beautiful smile. He’s short at only 5’ 7” but he’s tough, quick, and my wife freely admits she would leave me for him, at least for one night.
Given that he has a four year $18 million contract…I’m willing to bet that her wish for one night could quickly turn into a more serious crush. (Not too worried, he’s married and she’s even prettier than he is.)
But I digress. Back to me. I want the puck now. I’m happiest when I have it, when I’m looking up the ice for the open man, trying to set up a play that will result in a goal. That is a sea change for me, and sometimes I wonder just how I grew from the McKinsey spreadsheet guy who was most comfortable analyzing numbers and giving advice, to the gray haired old man who wants to charge up the ice and lead his team to victory. [Note: this is a metaphor…in real ice hockey when I get the puck, I panic and clear it up the middle or ice it. I’m now talking about real life…I want the puck in real life.]
How did I make that transformation? Mostly by shedding fear, taking risks, increasing testosterone, failing at a few things, purchasing a $400 Yeti cooler on a whim (my mid-life crisis, at least so far), and, at long last, growing a respectable beard.
Since I could get hit by a truck at any point, it is my responsibility to impart all of my newfound wisdom to you, my millions of readers. If I don’t get hit by a truck, I will undoubtedly look back on this post and think “What an arrogant, self-centered, blowhard I used to be, until now when I’m perfect!”
So here goes. Pay attention if you also want to be extraordinary, like me.
Take what you do seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.
I had a hard time with this one. I throw everything I have into what I do. I am happiest when I am extremely busy. I care, a lot, about doing a great job at work. A colleague recently gave me some candid feedback: “I like you, you give a shit, and that matters.”
It’s been like that throughout my career, even when working on the most mundane of tasks, like flipping burgers at Wendy’s, to more important things like playing sound effects at minor league baseball games or managing downsizing at bankrupt Enron Corporation.
A side effect of this caring is that stress seeps in everywhere. Someone once told me to work on my RBF, or “Resting Bitch Face.” I used to walk around the office with a scowl on my face, unbeknownst to me, because my brain was wrapped around some problem and I was totally distracted from the people around me.
Ok, so I work hard. But spend 5 minutes with me and you’ll realize that I also love to joke around. I love to play pranks. I love comedy and satire. I respect a great sense of humor above all else. My heroes are Howard Stern, Louis C.K., Jon Stewart, Bill Burr, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Colbert…guys like that.
In business school, I started an Onion-like website called The Tuck Profit, which published fake news about the school administration and my classmates. We published some seriously offensive stuff, mostly in the name of trying to get people to think. Our slogan was “Spiking the Tuck Kool-Aid Since 2006.”
Learning how to merge these two seeming disparities in my personality – super serious about work, a total jackass with my humor – has been interesting. I came to realize that I don’t need to work at The Onion to succeed at this. (though I could be available, Mr. McAvoy).
I can use humor at the office to help defuse stress, build trust, and bring people together. I can disarm people with self-deprecating humor. And I can foster a more creative environment that lifts everything we do. Used appropriately, it can be a very good asset to get things done. And it all starts by not taking yourself too seriously, staying light in your mind, like a Jedi.
It doesn’t always go as planned, like the time my CEO exploded during a presentation I was giving, and yelled something like “That’s NOT HELPFUL, Chris Herbert!” But 99% of the time, when I take risks with humor at work, it pays off.
What you do is important, but who you do it with is even more important.
I am always going to work long hours. I am hard-wired for it. I want to be interested in the problems I’m solving, I want those problems to be important and I want to have a positive impact on the world.
But I’m not sure I’m willing to work on those problems in an environment which isn’t consistent with my values. It simply takes too much out of me. If deceit, greed, incompetence, finger-pointing, and backstabbing is the dominant culture…I am not going to succeed and I’m certainly not going to be happy, no matter what I’m working on.
The key is surrounding myself with people who share a desire to change the world, who take pride in what they do, who value true transparency. People who know how to work in teams towards a greater goal.
Throughout my career I’ve gravitated towards these kinds of people and found that in large organizations they tend to find each other and stick together.
Going back 8-9 years to my time at McKinsey, I found a core of people there that shared similar values, and we all worked extremely hard to achieve great things. It was a rewarding period of my career, and I ended up working with some of them for years to come. It is important to note that not everyone at McKinsey shared these values…I had to actively manage my projects and do everything I could to work with the people I respected and who shared these values.
I’ve also had the opposite experience, and it wasn’t pretty. Lying awake at 2 in the morning wondering why you’re working so hard, constantly stressed about who is hiding what in an attempt to thwart your success…that kind of thing eats away at your insides, and the enamel on your teeth. If you can’t trust the people that you spend all day with, what’s the point?
Life is too short.
If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
This doesn’t happen to me as often as you might expect (considering how brilliant I am), but when it does happen, it’s not a recipe for success or happiness. A-level players want to play with other A-level players. Magic happens when brilliant people push each other to new heights.
Here’s a non-work example. I don’t get better at hockey when I play with my kids in the driveway. They are slow and small and weak, and they telegraph their passes every time. They’re terrible. On the other hand, when I play with my teammates on the Crusaders, I do get better, because they push me to try harder and skate faster. They will no doubt dispute this, and hurl endless crude (mostly unoriginal) insults at me, but it’s true.
Same goes for work. When I’m surrounded by incredibly talented people, we push each other and great things happen. Learning from others is the best part about being on an A-team. But when you hit a dead zone, you know it, and it saps your inspiration.
Avoid the dead zones and get into the rooms where you’re surrounded by people who are smarter than you.
Titles are stupid.
The organizational structure at Bloomberg was far from perfect, but they did get at least one thing right: no titles. I used to think the policy was there to prevent people from leaving the company. But it served other purposes as well.
Titles and hierarchy don’t encourage a meritocracy, and that is where true innovation happens. You need teams of people who work together as equals to dream up and create great things. They all bring different skills to the table, so on any given day there is a different person acting as lead on a particular aspect of the problem. And it ain’t got nothing to do with their fancy title.
The kind of people who change the world generally don’t want to be told what to do every day. So the leaders in the organization need to set a compelling vision, lay out ambitious targets, attract the right people and secure the right resources, and then get the hell out of the way. The real trick of leadership is figuring out how to get every brain in the group to be actively and passionately thinking about how to solve the right problems.
People who use their title to get things done have already lost the hearts and minds. Mediocrity results.
Worrying about the future is a waste of time.
There are two reasons why this is true. First, it’s impossible to predict what will happen. The odds of seeing clearly past the next few months are slim. Since you can’t predict what will happen, what exactly are you doing with the information?
Second, and more important, the future isn’t *real*. It’s just an idea that lives inside your head. The only thing that is real is the present moment. If you focus your brain on the future, you are missing literally EVERYthing. Life is a miracle, self-awareness an astonishing thing, but you only experience it when your brain is focused on the here and now.
Am I saying you shouldn’t make tradeoffs that sacrifice present happiness for future happiness? That saving money, for example, is useless? Of course not. Be smart and plan for the future, but don’t obsess over it and don’t plot out the next 20 years of your life.
True personal growth comes from expanding your horizons, and the best way to do that is to travel and meet new people.If you can’t travel, you can explore different points of view on the Internet. But it’s hard to replace actually going to a different place to truly expand your perspective.
This year I had the opportunity to visit some amazing places: Munich, London, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paolo, along with some spots closer to home like Charleston, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and San Francisco.
Walking around these places and just taking in the sights is always interesting, but the people are what really make the difference.
Some of my work travel was the most mind-opening. I visited our London office and met a couple dozen people trying to solve the same problems as me, from thousands of miles away. They talked funny but we bonded immediately.
Two days later I was in Munich negotiating a business partnership, and a week after that in Brazil meeting potential partners in Sao Paolo and Rio. The people in these places talked even funnier than our London crew, but it was fascinating to understand the unique problems they are trying to solve for people in their countries…so many similarities to the problems we face in the US, but also many mind-blowing differences. For example, in some parts of Brazil, there is a water shortage and everyone knows the exact level of the reservoirs. These levels are of course profoundly impacted by the weather. How can we use our considerable forecasting and computer science skill to improve these Brazilian’s lives?
The business meetings were fascinating, but so were the sights. In Munich, we drank beers at Hofbrauhaus, a famous drinking hall where the Nazi party happened to be founded, with strangers from all over the world. In Rio, I swam in the ocean at Copacabana and climbed the hill to see the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio.
Closer to home, I attended SXSW in Austin and met some fascinating people, including John Hanke of Niantic Labs (who created not only the application that became Google Earth, but also a fascinating game called Ingress – more on that below) and Lyn Ulbricht, mother of Ross Ulbricht, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for creating the Silk Road website that created a free market and safe environment to buy anything on the Internet (mostly marijuana), using Bitcoin.
Opening your mind to new perspectives and continually trying new things is the best way to stay energized, positive and optimistic about the future. I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunities and the means to do this.
Don’t be Boring.
A lot of times, boring is a choice. Or at least an effect…the cause is laziness. There are limitless things you could be doing, seeing, learning, or exploring.
The world has changed – take advantage of it! You don’t have to be a blacksmith because your father was a blacksmith, like his father before him, and his father before him. You can pursue your passion and find increasingly creative ways to support yourself.
Also, you don’t have to watch college football unless you like watching college football. You don’t have to eat at Applebee’s unless you like eating at Applebee’s. You don’t have to conform to society…if the people around you don’t support you, find new people. Try the Internet. They may live on the other side of the world, but you will find your tribe if you look hard enough.
Men need testosterone.
This one may not be all that earth-shattering, but I’ve been married for 11 years, so indulge me.
Life sometimes just happens to you. You grow older, get married, have kids, move to the suburbs, buy a minivan, sit in traffic, and push a grocery cart up and down the supermarket aisle listening to “We are Family” playing quietly on the overhead speakers…
Men, that isn’t enough. We weren’t meant for this. We were hunters. We slayed dinosaurs on the Sarengeti with nothing more than our claws and teeth. Our nervous system is hard wired to attack our enemies and defend our lives, to kill or be killed.
So find your battle. And no, it can’t be watching football, drinking beer, screaming at the television, and passing out with your face. buried in a bucket of nachos. I mean, that’s perfectly OK, but you also need to find a way to hit things or destroy stuff, using nothing but the raw testosterone that is produced in mass quantities and pumped into your system by some internal organ. The science says that you can actually get your body to produce more testosterone by engaging in certain activities, and that more testosterone can be beneficial to your health, your career and your overall well-being.
My outlet is ice hockey. It is a relatively recent outlet. I skate hard and I yell a lot, and it is awesome. My teammates are a useless bunch of out-of-shape washed up losers, but they are my brothers. On the ice, I will do anything to support them so we can bask in the glory of victory. Off the ice, we make fun of each other mercilessly.
Since starting to play hockey 3 years ago, I’ve experienced new feelings I didn’t know were there and achieved a certain glow. My confidence has soared, and women throw themselves at me all day long. This can only be explained by a reinvigorated T-count.
So find your outlet. Remember that you have to wake up and go to work the next day, and that you have a family to support and all that. You still need to do a bunch of those things I mentioned earlier, like grocery shopping. We aren’t cavemen. But carve out some time for yourself, and do something manly with it.
Being there is most of it.
Get out of bed. Go to where you’re supposed to be. Be there when you’re there. Be present.
When it’s time to go home, go home. Just walk out of wherever you are and go home. And when you get there, be there.
If you put yourself in the situation, you’re much more likely to figure it out than if you stay away. This applies to all things – work, sports, spiritual life, home. I learned the hardest lesson in the last year as it applies to home, and I’m still learning it.
In February, I discovered an incredible location-based multi-player strategy game that takes place in the real world. It’s called Ingress, and it was invented at Google and recently spun out under a company called Niantic Labs. It’s incredibly fun and equally addicting. You have to go places to play, and you can’t get very far without joining the community and meeting other people. It is a brilliant concept and if you’re at all interested in strategy games, you absolutely must try it. All you need is a mobile phone with Android or iOS. Email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you a link to get started.
There is a downside to Ingress though. If you have an addictive personality, it can take over. Since I started playing, my commute has lengthened considerably. I missed precious time with my family because I was obsessed with a game.
I’ve slowed down a lot since reaching the highest level of the game. And being on break now, and spending most of it with my children, I’m realizing how much I missed. It’s not just the birthday parties and school plays you need to be at, it’s the accumulation of all the little moments in between. It’s bath time, it’s 10 minutes of street hockey before dinner. It’s all the little questions they ask, and the big ones, too.
Being here, now, is everything.
I hope you took notes. That was the most brilliant thing you read on the Internet today. You’re welcome.