The Dip by Seth Godin

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Winners quit the right stuff at the right time.

People settle for good enough instead of best in the world.

Being well rounded is not the secret to success.

The Five Big Ideas

“To be a superstar, you must do something exceptional. Not just survive the Dip, but use the Dip as an opportunity to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and, yes, choose it.”

“The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”

“Winners understand that taking that pain now prevents a lot more pain later.”

“The decision to quit or not is a simple evaluation: Is the pain of the Dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel?”

Quitting as a short-term strategy is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea because it frees you up to excel at something else.

The Dip Summary

“Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

“Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.”

“Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other.”

“With limited time or opportunity to experiment, we intentionally narrow our choices to those at the top.”

“People settle for good enough instead of best in the world.”

“Just about everything you learned in school about life is wrong, but the wrongest thing might very well be this: Being well rounded is the secret to success.”

“Almost everything in life worth doing is controlled by the Dip.”

“At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun. Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning you experience keeps you going. Whatever your new thing is, it’s easy to stay engaged in it. And then the Dip happens. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path.”

“The Dip creates scarcity; scarcity creates value.”

“The Cul-de-Sac is boring, the Cliff is exciting (for a while), but neither gets you through the Dip and both lead to failure.”

“In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition. If that adversity also causes you to quit, though, it’s all for nothing.”

“It’s not enough to survive your way through this Dip. You get what you deserve when you embrace the Dip and treat it like the opportunity that it really is.”

“Knowing that you’re facing a Dip is the first step in getting through it.”

“It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity.”

“Quitting when you hit the Dip is a bad idea. If the journey you started was worth doing, then quitting when you hit the Dip just wastes the time you’ve already invested. Quit in the Dip often enough and you’ll find yourself becoming a serial quitter, starting many things but accomplishing little.”

“If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.”

“If you want to be a superstar, then you need to find a field with a steep Dip—a barrier between those who try and those who succeed. And you’ve got to get through that Dip to the other side.”

“If you can get through the Dip, if you can keep going when the system is expecting you to stop, you will achieve extraordinary results.”

“To be a superstar, you must do something exceptional. Not just survive the Dip, but use the Dip as an opportunity to create something so extraordinary that people can’t help but talk about it, recommend it, and, yes, choose it.”

“The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”

“Selling is about a transference of emotion, not a presentation of facts. If it were just a presentation of facts, then a PDF flyer or a Web site would be sufficient to make the phone ring.”

“If you’re not able to get through the Dip in an exceptional way, you must quit. And quit right now.”

“Winners understand that taking that pain now prevents a lot more pain later.”

“The decision to quit or not is a simple evaluation: Is the pain of the Dip worth the benefit of the light at the end of the tunnel?”

“If your job is a Cul-de-Sac, you have to quit or accept the fact that your career is over.”

“Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices that are available to you. If you realize you’re at a dead end compared with what you could be investing in, quitting is not only a reasonable choice, it’s a smart one.”

“Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees you up to excel at something else.”

“Actually, quitting as a short-term strategy is a bad idea. Quitting for the long term is an excellent idea.”

Other Books by Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Recommended Reading

If you like The Dip, you may also enjoy the following books:

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stree-Free Productivity by David Allen

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

Buy this book

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Why We Work Summary

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 Why We Work looks at the purpose of work in our lives by examining how different people view their work, what traits make work feel meaningful, and which questions companies should ask to maximize the motivation of their employees.

Why We Work is a little book meant to accompany one of Barry Schwartz’s TED talks, and it talks about what motivates us to get out of bed in the morning. The famous author of The Paradox of Choice argues that we use the wrong incentives and ask the wrong questions to lead those, who make great products and services a reality.

Whether you’re an employee and want to find out if your employer is actually doing a good job at keeping you around, or a manager trying to improve your team’s motivation, these lessons will help you understand the other party a bit more.

Here are 3 lessons about the motivation, meaning and work:

Do you perceive your work as a job, career, or a calling?

Autonomy, investment and a mission are what keeps employees engaged and motivated.

A pay raise is one of the worst incentives for true motivation.

Let’s put the purpose back into work, shall we? Here we go!

Lesson 1: Ask yourself if you perceive your work as a job, career, or a calling.

You’ve surely thought differently of your work at different times. In general though, most of us land in one of three categories at any particular point in time:

Your work is a job. As the joke says, your job keeps you just over broke. It’s a way to make money. You show up, do what you’re told, but anything else is a stretch.

Your work is a career. You have prospects, you want to grow, make progress, get better, take on more responsibility, and you have a shot at moving up in your organization, which motivates you to give your best.

Your work is a calling. You know exactly how your work creates positive change in the lives of other people. It’s not a compartment of your life, it’s an essential part of it and makes you happy, because you know you’re doing the right thing.

Of course how you see your work depends a lot on who you work for, and how that company communicates with you. A crucial part of perceiving your work as a calling, though, is connecting with the end users of your product. This way you’re repeatedly reminded of how exactly your work makes a difference, which helps you move towards perspective number 3 from the list.

Lesson 2: Autonomy, investment and a mission are what keeps employees engaged and motivated.

Similar to the results Daniel Pink found when investigating motivation in “Drive“, Schwartz made out three factors, which keep a business running well (by keeping people motivated):

Autonomy. Giving people control and the power to make decisions makes them feel trusted, helps them commit to moving the company forward, and instills a sense of respect for co-workers and managers in them. Autonomy lets you be proud of what you do, and there’s hardly anything more motivating than that.

Investment. Daniel Pink calls this mastery. People should feel like every hour of their work is valuable and that their role is needed. Helping employees develop their skills by sending them to conferences and training them with seminars will achieve just that.

Mission. The company’s mission must be clear to every single employee, at all times. A single sentence should do. The more you’re aware of how you’re changing the world, the more likely you are to actually give a damn about it.

Sadly, these three factors are what most companies cut back on first in a crisis – which is exactly the wrong thing to do. If you control people more, train them less and forget about why you’re here, you’ll sap their motivation and the company will end up performing even worse.

Instead, increase these three wherever and whenever you can. Especially when shit hits the fan.

Lesson 3: Raises are crappy incentives to actually motivate people.

Whether you’ve learned this first-hand already or not, more money is a really bad motivation to do stuff. Take this example highlighted in Freakonomics, which Schwartz also talks about.

In a variety of children’s day care centers in Haifa, Israel, people tended to show up super late to pick up their kids. Nobody ever stuck to the 4 PM rule. Every week, there were 8 late pickups per center, on average. Supervisors then introduced a fine. Every parent, who was more than 10 minutes late, would have to pay $3 for each child, each time they missed the deadline. This charge would be added to their $380 monthly bill.

Guess what happened?

Late pickups more than doubled, shooting to 20 late pickups per week. That’s because:

The fine wasn’t high enough and people didn’t care about a less than 1% increase of their monthly bill.

Instead of feeling like an immoral, bad parent, they could just buy their way out of the guilt of showing up late now.

It’s easy to justify working with shitty colleagues, throwing others under the bus and sacrificing your health for those $10k extra next year, but the more raises you get, the more you’ll see they don’t really make you happier.

My personal take-aways

It’s a short book, very concise, and a nice addendum to the TED talk. It’s one of those things that it never hurts to be reminded of. Obviously, it’s a lot more valuable for people with responsibility over others, so if you lead people at work, take a good hard look at this.

Who Moved My Cheese Summary

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Who Moved My Cheese tells a parable, which you can directly apply to your own life, in order to stop fearing what lies ahead and instead thrive in an environment of change and uncertainty.

Funny, how you sometimes stumble into things that were right in front of your nose, all along. I’ve had this book for 10 years. When I was a kid, my uncle gave it to me, it was a leftover copy from somewhere. I briefly looked at it (it was still wrapped), thought it was a “manager’s book” and put it away. I distinctly remember the picture of the cheese slice on the cover, and turned it in my hands a couple times since. Sadly, I never felt intrigued enough to read it. What an idiot I was!

This site would probably have existed 5 years earlier, had I read it back then. But there’s no use in crying over spilled milk, so I’ll just make do with what I’ve got and share some of Spencer Johnson’s great lessons about change with you right now. Who Moved My Cheese a parable about two little people and two mice in a maze, searching for cheese, where each character represents a different attitude towards change, with cheese being what we consider success.

Here are 3 lessons about cheese and what you should do when someone moves yours:

Thinking too much about your cheese might paralyze you, so just start looking.

Nothing lasts forever, so keep your eyes open for approaching changes.

There’s always new cheese to be found, and the minute you start moving things will get better.

Are you ready to become a champion of change? Let’s look for that cheese!

If you want to read this summary later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want:

Lesson 1: Stop thinking too much about your cheese and start chasing it.

The two mice inside of our maze are called Sniff and Scurry. They spend most of their time running up and down the corridors of the maze, looking for cheese. Turn a corner, run to the end, see if there’s any cheese, and if not, turn around and go back. That’s their pattern, and, while it seems kind of mindless and unstructured, it actually saves them a lot of time and energy.

Hem and Haw, two little people, also spend their days in the maze looking for cheese, but not because they’re hungry – they think finding it will make them feel happy and successful. However, because of their complex brains, they think a lot about

how they can find the cheese the fastest

which strategies will work best in getting through the maze

how to keep track of those strategies

what finding the cheese will feel like

when they’ll finally find it

…and of course, they wonder if there even is any cheese in the maze at all every time they turn another empty corner.

Life is the same. Every minute you spend wondering what success looks like, how to get it, whether it’s possible and how you’ll feel in the future is a minute not spend working towards it. Humans are complicated beings, but that doesn’t mean we have to make everything complicated.

Be more like a mouse and just start running!

Lesson 2: Even the biggest cheese doesn’t last forever, so try to see change coming.

Sniff and Scurry soon found a big stash of cheese at Station C, and even though they enjoyed snacking a bit of it every day, they kept paying attention. The amount of cheese kept declining, slowly, but steadily, every day. Once they realized they were about to run out, they decided to move on of their own accord and soon found another huge cheese at Station N.

When Hem and Haw found station C, however, they settled there, and quickly grew accustomed to the new status quo. The cheese fest they indulged in every day soon became the center of their lives, as they thought it was the fair reward for all their hard work. They were so preoccupied with the cheese that they didn’t notice how it was disappearing, one piece at a time, and how some corners of it even got moldy. One morning, they woke up, only to find someone had moved their cheese.

This left Hem and Haw sad, depressed, feeling treated unfairly and in denial. Instead of venturing out to find new cheese, they kept returning to Station C, getting ever hungrier and weaker.

No supply of cheese can last forever. Change is always bound to happen, sooner or later. Instead of fooling yourself that things will stay the same forever, always keep an eye open for change.

Lesson 3: Don’t worry, there’s always new cheese to be found. The minute you start moving things will improve.

The best part about cheese isn’t that once you’ve found it you’re set for life. It’s that there’s always more cheese to be found. Haw eventually got sick of sitting around, so he decided to go looking for new cheese all by himself.

Once he started moving, his situation instantly got better. Yes, he just found a few bits and pieces of cheese here and there at first, but this was a lot better than doing nothing and being paralyzed by fear. After having found the courage to move on despite your fears once, fear’s grip on you will never be as strong as it used to be.

Haw realized the accumulated fears in his mind were a lot worse than even the biggest challenges he encountered. Full of confidence, he kept exploring the maze, until he eventually found Sniff and Scurry at Station N, where the three of them shared the new cheese they had found.

My personal take-aways

This is a great book. I love stories like these. It is a management book, and many a manager has told this story to his team to inspire them, but it’s just as valuable for you as an individual.

It describes a simple pattern of embracing change, finding success, looking out for more change and then embracing it again, which will help you cultivate a much more optimistic attitude about life.

Really cool book!

Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield: Notes

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Turning Pro is an inspiring instruction manual that will help you create the work you were meant to do by dividing your life into two phases, the amateur and the professional, and getting you from one into the other.

There are many different ways to frame the fundamental struggle of what it means to be human: trying to fulfill our potential. Science has the therapeutic model, in which some disease or condition must be cured and religion has the moral model, which says we must pay for our sins. According to Steven Pressfield, however, there’s a third model, a much simpler one: the model of the amateur and the professional.

Pressfield is a distinguished author, both in fiction and non-fiction. Turning Pro is his guide to this model, which’ll help you go from one to the other. According to Steve’s opening line, this change will make all the difference:

“I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.”

The book is divided into three big parts. The first describes the addictive nature of the amateur, who’s lost in his bad habits. The second paints a vision of what it’d like to be a pro, and where the amateur falls short. The third is about cultivating professionalism.

Here are 3 lessons to help your Turning Pro:

  • The defining trait of the amateur is the fear of being who she is and getting rejected for it.
  • A central obstacle for the amateur is that he always chases some guru or authority.
  • When you do your work for the sake of its practice and nothing else, that’s when you turn pro.

I don’t know what you want to create. Maybe it’s a museum, maybe a rare breed of frog, maybe a hedge fund. But I do know that turning pro will help you get there. So let’s do this!

Lesson 1: An amateur is terrified of being her real self and the consequences that come with it.

None of us are born as pros. We all start as amateurs, addicted to ‘shadow careers,’ as Steve calls them, which we pursue in lack of the guts to chase our real calling. I have no way of putting it better than Steve, so (emphasis mine):

“Fear is the primary color of the amateur’s interior world. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of under-achieving and fear of over-achieving, fear of poverty, fear of loneliness, fear of death. But mostly what we all fear as amateurs is being excluded from the tribe, i.e., the gang, the posse, mother and father, family, nation, race, religion.

The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of. The amateur is terrified that if the tribe should discover who he really is, he will be kicked out into the cold to die.”

This was a big issue for me. The idea that the more we become ourselves, the less we’ll be understood, and the fewer people will walk, talk, and act like us is paralyzing. Most people never get out of this incapacitated state of ungrounded fear. People do turn on you when you “go rogue,” but you’ll also find new people who are discovering themselves too.

Nonetheless, for the few who break out of their shell of fear, another roadblock awaits.

Lesson 2: One major roadblock for amateurs is trying to please gurus, mentors, authorities, and teachers.

Once I finally got over the hump of pressing ‘Publish’ on my first articles, I instantly turned to the gurus whose work I’d read in order to get there. This is as natural a part of the process as it is damaging. You just ventured into new, uncharted, scary territory, and now you realize there’s no clear path to go. So you hang on anyone’s every word who tells you otherwise.

There’s nothing wrong with listening to expert advice, but worshipping a teacher, mentor, even a spouse as an icon takes away our power. It’s the singer waiting to be discovered, the blogger hoping for a viral post, the swimmer craving her coach’s approval. All of these stand in the way of you doing your work your way.

Your mentor’s genius will never rub off on you. You must choose yourself. In Steve’s words:

“In my experience, when we project a quality or virtue onto another human being, we ourselves almost always already possess that quality, but we’re afraid to embrace (and to live) that truth.”

The moment you take your power back, magical things start to happen.

Lesson 3: Doing your work for its own sake, as a practice, is what being a pro is really about.

Steve published his first book when he was 52, despite writing novels since his late twenties. You’d think by that point, any rational person would’ve quit, which is exactly right. Eventually, the professional must commit herself to her work to an extent that is beyond reason. This, she will do gladly, because like Steve and like me, she at one point realizes she can’t do anything else.

“In the end I answered the question by realizing that I had no choice. I couldn’t do anything else. When I tried, I got so depressed I couldn’t stand it. So when I wrote yet another novel or screenplay that I couldn’t sell, I had no choice but to write another after that. The truth was, I was enjoying myself. Maybe nobody else liked the stuff I was doing, but I did. I was learning. I was getting better.”

It is at this point that your work will turn into a practice. A self-serving ritual that needs no justification. Steve defines it as “a rigorous, prescribed regimen with the intention of elevating the mind and the spirit to a higher level.” As such, each practice has a time, a place, and an intention. It’s a simple, consistent routine that enables you to let quality do its thing.

The professional is an eternal student, always ready to learn, always willing to show up, regardless of the weather. This is what allows him to practice his craft as long as he needs to until his craft begins to work for him in return.

My personal take-aways

The book is a short read. Technically a follow-up to The War of Art and a prequel to Do The Work, I think for most, Turning Pro is the right place to start. If you know what you want to do deep down, but don’t have the courage to jump in, this is the book for you

The Book in Three Sentences

You can divide your life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after.

All you have to do to turn pro is decide.

When you turn pro, life gets easier.

The Five Big Ideas

“Do you remember where you were on 9/11? You’ll remember where you were when you turn pro.”

When we’re afraid to embrace our true calling, we pursue a shadow calling instead.

“The question we need to ask of a shadow career or an addiction is the same question the psychotherapist asks of a dream. ‘What is our unconscious trying to tell us?’”

“The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”

“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day.”

Turning Pro Book Summary

“I wrote in The War of Art that I could divide my life neatly into two parts: before turning pro and after. After is better.”

“What ails us is that we are living our lives as amateurs.”

“All you have to do [to turn pro] is change your mind.”

“We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and to live out.”

“Do you remember where you were on 9/11? You’ll remember where you were when you turn pro.”

“To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls.”

“Sometimes, when we’re terrified of embracing our true calling, we’ll pursue a shadow calling instead.”

“If you’re dissatisfied with your current life, ask yourself what your current life is a metaphor for. That metaphor will point you toward your true calling.”

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

“In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addiction.”

“The shadow life is the life of the amateur.”

“The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our true purpose, and the harder it becomes for us to rally the courage to get back.”

“The difference between an amateur and a professional is in their habits. An amateur has amateur habits. A professional has professional habits.”

“The addict is the amateur; the artist is the professional.”

“When you turn pro, your life gets very simple.”

“The amateur is an egotist. He takes the material of his personal pain and uses it to draw attention to himself. He creates a ‘life,’ a ‘character,’ a ‘personality.’”

“The quick fix wins out over the long, slow haul.”

“When we can’t stand the fear, the shame, and the self-reproach that we feel, we obliterate it with an addiction.”

“The question we need to ask of a shadow career or an addiction is the same question the psychotherapist asks of a dream. ‘What is our unconscious trying to tell us?’”

“What you and I are really seeking is our own voice, our own truth, our own authenticity.”

“The amateur fears that if he turns pro and lives out his calling, he will have to live up to who he really is and what he is truly capable of.”

“The amateur identifies with his own ego. He believes he is ‘himself.’ That’s why he’s terrified.”

“Though the amateur’s identity is seated in his own ego, that ego is so weak that it cannot define itself based on its own self-evaluation. The amateur allows his worth and identity to be defined by others.”

“Paradoxically, the amateur’s self-inflation prevents him from acting.”

“The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two: Solitude and silence. The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction.”

“The amateur lacks compassion for himself.”

“Achieving compassion is the first powerful step toward moving from being an amateur to being a pro.”

“The amateur believes that, before she can act, she must receive permission from some Omnipotent Other — a lover or spouse, a parent, a boss, a figure of authority.”

“The force that can save the amateur is awareness, particularly self-awareness.”

“Fear of self-definition is what keeps an amateur an amateur and what keeps an addict an addict.”

“The amateur dreads becoming who she really is because she fears that this new person will be judged by others as ‘different.’ Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit.”

“When we truly understand that the tribe doesn’t give a damn, we’re free. There is no tribe, and there never was. Our lives are entirely up to us.”

“Sometimes it’s easier to be a professional in a shadow career than it is to turn pro in our real calling.”

“Life gets very simple when you turn pro.”

“What happens when we turn pro is, we finally listen to that still, small voice inside our heads.”

“Before we turn pro, our life is dominated by fear and Resistance. We live in a state of denial. We’re denying the voice in our heads. We’re denying our calling. We’re denying who we really are. We’re fleeing from our fear into an addiction or a shadow career. What changes when we turn pro is we stop fleeing.”

“When we turn pro, we stop running from our fears. We turn around and face them.”

“When we turn pro, everything becomes simple. Our aim centers on the ordering of our days in such a way that we overcome the fears that have paralyzed us in the past. We now structure our hours not to flee from fear, but to confront it and overcome it. We plan our activities in order to accomplish an aim. And we bring our will to bear so that we stick to this resolution. This changes our days completely. It changes what time we get up and it changes what time we go to bed. It changes what we do and what we don’t do. It changes the activities we engage in and with what attitude we engage in them. It changes what we read and what we eat. It changes the shape of our bodies. When we were amateurs, our life was about drama, about denial, and about distraction. Our days were simultaneously full to the bursting point and achingly, heartbreakingly empty. But we are not amateurs any more. We are different, and everyone in our lives sees it.”

“Turning pro changes how we spend our time and with whom we spend it. It changes our friends; it changes our spouses and children. It changes who is drawn to us and who is repelled by us. Turning pro changes how people perceive us. Those who are still fleeing from their own fears will now try to sabotage us. They will tell us we’ve changed and try to undermine our efforts at further change. They will attempt to make us feel guilty for these changes. They will try to entice us to get stoned with them or fuck off with them or waste time with them, as we’ve done in the past, and when we refuse, they will turn against us and talk us down behind our backs. At the same time, new people will appear in our lives. They will be people who are facing their own fears and who are conquering them. These people will become our new friends. When we turn pro, we will be compelled to make painful choices. There will be people who in the past had been colleagues and associates, even friends, whom we will no longer be able to spend time with if our intention is to grow and to evolve. We will have to choose between the life we want for our future and the life we have left behind.”

“Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision, a decision to which we must re-commit every day.”

“Each day, the professional understands, he will wake up facing the same demons, the same Resistance, the same self-sabotage, the same tendencies to shadow activities and amateurism that he has always faced. The difference is that now he will not yield to those temptations. He will have mastered them, and he will continue to master them.”

“Turning pro is a decision. But it’s such a monumental, life-overturning decision (and one that is usually made only in the face of overwhelming fear) that the moment is frequently accompanied by powerful drama and emotion. Often it’s something we’ve been avoiding for years, something we would never willingly face unless overwhelming events compelled us to.”

Habits of The Professional

The professional is patient

The professional seeks order

The professional demystifies

The professional acts in the face of fear

The professional accepts no excuses

The professional plays it as it lays

The professional is prepared

The professional does not show off

The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique

The professional does not hesitate to ask for help

The professional does not take failure or success personally

The professional does not identify with his or her instrument

The professional endures adversity

The professional self-validates

The professional reinvents herself

The professional is recognized by other professionals

“The amateur tweets. The pro works.”

“The professional knows when he has fallen short of his own standards. He will murder his darlings without hesitation, if that’s what it takes to stay true to the goddess and to his own expectations of excellence.”

“The amateur spends his time in the past and the future. The professional has taught himself to banish these distractions.”

“The professional does not wait for inspiration; he acts in anticipation of it.”

“The pro will share his wisdom with other professionals — or with amateurs who are committed to becoming professionals.”

“When we do the work for itself alone, our pursuit of a career (or a living or fame or wealth or notoriety) turns into something else, something loftier and nobler, which we may never even have thought about or aspired to at the beginning. It turns into a practice.”

“A practice implies engagement in a ritual. A practice may be defined as the dedicated, daily exercise of commitment, will, and focused intention aimed, on one level, at the achievement of mastery in a field but, on a loftier level, intended to produce a communion with a power greater than ourselves — call it whatever you like: God, mind, soul, Self, the Muse, the superconscious.”

Characteristics of a Practice

A practice has a space

A practice has a time

A practice has an intention

We come to a practice as warriors

We come to a practice in humility

We come to a practice as students

A practice is lifelong

“The best pages I’ve ever written are pages I can’t remember writing.”

Three key tenets for days when Resistance is really strong:

Take what you can get and stay patient. The defense may crack late in the game.

Play for tomorrow.

We’re in this for the long haul.

“Our work is a practice. One bad day is nothing to us. Ten bad days are nothing. In the scheme of our lifelong practice, twenty-four hours when we can’t gain yardage is only a speed bump. We’ll forget it by breakfast tomorrow and be back again, ready to hurl our bodies into the fray.”

Sue Sally Hale had a phrase that she drilled into her students’ heads: “Sit chilly.”

Other Books by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art

Do The Work

Buy this book

Print | Kindle

The First 20 Hours Summary

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The First 20 Hours lays out a methodical approach you can use to pick up new skills quickly without worrying about how long it takes to become an expert.

Here’s a small selection of the things I hope to learn in my lifetime: producing electronic dance music, rapping, freerunning, kung fu, chess, streaming video games, freestyle dancing, and speaking Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Italian, and French at least somewhat fluently. Yeah, right. I don’t have time to learn all those. Neither do you. We all have to make sacrifices.

Like Josh Kaufman, when he quit his job as a brand manager for Procter & Gamble in order to focus on writing and researching. After The Personal MBA turned into his full-time career, he noticed he also wanted to learn lots of things, like windsurfing, Go, or playing the ukulele. In order to reconcile his larger commitment with his curiosity, he developed a process that would allow him to quickly learn the basics of new skills. This way, he could decide what to double down on later on, without missing out on taking a swing at the things that matter to him.

He called this process The First 20 Hours, and that’s what this book is about. It contains ten principles of rapid skill acquisition, ten principles of efficient learning, and examples of how Josh used both in his life. Here are the 3 that seemed most important to me:

  • Always make the next skill you’re going to learn the one you’re most excited about.
  • Think about emotional and real-life obstacles beforehand.
  • Initially, focus on quantity over quality.

You don’t need to retire young to be able to try everything you want and the ship has not yet sailed. All you need is 20 hours and a plan on how to spend them. Here’s that plan.

Lesson 1: Choosing your next skill to learn is easy: it must be the one you’re most excited about.

One of my favorite Warren Buffett anecdotes is about what James Clear calls his 2-list strategy. When his pilot Mike Flint asked him how he could figure out his career priorities, Buffett told him to list his 25 biggest goals and then mark the top 5. After he’d completed the exercise, he expected Buffett to recommend he focus on the top 5 and spread the remaining 20 in between. But he didn’t. Buffett told him to avoid the bottom 20 at all cost, for they’d only get in the way of his biggest dreams.

Whether what you want to learn is something you hope will change your career or just a passionate hobby, the same logic applies. Don’t focus on what’s “kind of interesting” and don’t try to learn multiple new things at the same time. All-in. Whatever you learn next should be the thing you’re most excited about right now.

This doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay motivated, but it sure maximizes the chances. The first few hours of learning are always the most brutal, because you’re instantly confronted with the fact that, as a beginner, you suck. So the more fun you can have with it, the better.

Lesson 2: Identify both emotional and practical barriers in advance.

I like Josh’s sixth principle, because it addresses an issue few people talk about when wanting to learn new things: irrational obstacles. When planning practice sessions, it’s easy to imagine and anticipate practical problems, like a distracting phone, a long drive to the gym, etc. But the biggest preventer of progress are the sessions you don’t start at all, because you’re afraid of failing, looking bad in front of others, and so on.

When Josh started windsurfing, he was worried about drowning and hypothermia, so he always brought someone along to watch him and bought a really good wetsuit. But he was also fretting about not having been in the water forever. Besides making a list of potential distractions and taking measures to prevent those, think about your fears, doubts, and other beliefs that might hold you back.

Why do you have them? When did you develop them? Do you really think they’re true? Doubt your own doubts, so you can start learning with the enthusiasm of a child.

Lesson 3: In your first 20 hours, learn as much as you can, as fast as you can.

When I began to practice writing, I wrote whenever inspiration struck. I had a few initial ideas, but then, my imagination quickly “dried up.” Except that’s not how it works. As long as you sit down and start thinking, you’ll always come up with something. It was only six months later that I set a goal of writing 250 words every day, but once I did that, I immediately picked up steam.

That’s why I can’t stress Josh’s tenth principle enough: When you first learn a new skill, practice as much as you can, as fast as you can. It doesn’t matter how many bad posts you write, how often you fall into the water, or how many swings it takes until you make it onto the green. What matters is that you don’t let disappointment get the better of you.

If you can make it through the first 20 hours, whether that’s in 60-minute or 20-minute sessions, the worst is likely going to be behind you, and future failures won’t affect you as much. Once you make that transition, you can start looking for quality in your efforts. It’s bound to show up sooner rather than later.

My personal take-aways

This is a book for the semi-scientific self-experimenters out there. It’s less methodical than Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour approach, but more structured than just a motivational kick in the pants. Ten simple steps, which you can follow with a few hours of work to get The First 20 Hours under your belt.

Buy this book

The Da Vinci Curse Summary

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The Da Vinci Curse explains why people with many talents don’t fit into a world where we need specialists and, if you have many talents yourself, shows you how you can lift this curse, by giving you a framework to follow and find your true vocation in life.

Though I think it’s no coincidence that the author of this book is named Leonardo, just like the world’s most famous renaissance man, I’m sure it took lots of them to arrive at the publication of this book, which I’m grateful for.

The basic premise is something I’ve talked about before myself: that many of us are multipotentialites and get really depressed when it comes to choosing a true calling. Being a “jumper” himself, Leonardo eventually came up with a way to figure out how to piece it all together. Now he’s a master luthier – someone who builds guitars (electric guitars, in his case) – and shares his framework with you.

Here are 3 lessons to help you settle on a craft and master it:

  • If you feel like you don’t fit into this world, it’s because you do a lot, but the world wants you to do just one thing.
  • Don’t jump ship when critics raise their voices, it’ll make you miserable.
  • Find one complex activity, which forces you to use many of your talents.

Sick of drifting around? Let’s lift Leonardo’s curse!

Lesson 1: The world wants you to specialize, so if you have many talents, you naturally feel like you don’t belong.

Who do you go to when you wake up and your back hurts? Your physician. Who do you go to, if it still hurts the next week? Your chiropractor. If it becomes a chronic thing, you’ll probably go to a physical therapist. Worst case scenario, you’ll end up on a spinal reconstruction surgeon’s table.

The world we live in thrives on specialists. Back in Leonardo Da Vinci’s days, it was perfectly fine to have a rough idea of anatomy, be able to read only 25% of all words and earn your living as a farmer. Knowing a lot of stuff was not only easier, because there was less stuff to know, it was also a lot more reasonable financially.

But the amount of available knowledge has completely exploded, especially in the past 25 years, thanks to the internet. It’s impossible for you to be an expert in many things. If you want to be a Youtuber, become a great consultant, and a top notch chef all at once, you’re in for a tough decision. You can only master a highly complex skill, if you dedicate yourself to it entirely.

This is a huge bummer for multi-talented people (like you and me), because we’re incredibly curious, but find it hard to commit to just one thing for a long time. Even if we could, we don’t fancy the idea of throwing out 99% of our passions. But the world rewards specialists, which makes us feel bad for not focusing, so over time we get the idea that we just don’t fit in.

Lesson 2: Don’t switch fields when it’s about to get serious, it’s worse than facing criticism.

So what can you do about it?

First of all, so-called Da Vinci people like you and me tend to run away from two things, which we shouldn’t: competition and criticism.

It’s easy to practice the perfect basketball free throw all by yourself, become a great hoops shooter and then quit before you ever play with others. Your pride is left intact and you get to tell yourself: “This isn’t that hard, I could totally become great if I really wanted to.”

This spares you having to face cruel, but crucial criticism and that you’re probably still very much a beginner, like all masters once were. You just switch fields and learn the basics of something else, which means you never get the feedback you would’ve needed to get to the next level in what you were doing before.

That’s why we Da Vinci people often end up job hopping and jumping from hobby to hobby, until we feel we’ve wasted a lot of time. Then we realize in our 40s that we might not even have enough time left to become true masters at all. In the long run, this lack of direction will make you much more miserable than any criticism ever could. So the next time things are about to get serious, don’t switch.

Instead, pause and do the following.

Lesson 3: Find one, single, complex activity, which forces you to use many of your talents.

When Leonardo Lospennato realized that he’d have to pick something to master, but didn’t want to give up on all of his skills and passions, he decided to choose something so complex, that it would require him to use many of his skills, not just one.

For him, building electric guitars was the perfect choice, as it united his knowledge of acoustics, physics, electrical engineering and design, as well as his love for music, helping others, and marketing something he was passionate about.

So do focus on one thing, but make it something so complex that it requires you to use many of your existing talents and skills, and not just one.

For example, in writing this blog, I can practice writing, editing videos, designing images, online marketing and running a business all at once!

My personal take-aways

I had no idea this book existed. Found it, and am really happy about it! I love the name, the message, and Leonardo’s simple three-step framework for finding your calling – it’s very practical. I like practicality. This book is definitely a hidden champion. If you think you have many talents, go give this a read!

Buy this book

So Good They Can’t Ignore You Summary

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So Good They Can’t Ignore You sheds some much needed light on the “follow your passion” myth and shows you that the true path to work you love lies in becoming a craftsman of the work you already have, collecting rare skills and taking control of your hours in the process.

The best non-fiction books are usually the ones where the author solves his or her own problem. This is exactly what Cal Newport did.

After developing a new mindset about work and passion to figure out his own career problems, he wrote down the entire concept in this book, published in 2012.

Here are 3 lessons from the book whose title is entirely based on a Steve Martin quote:

  • Don’t do what you love, but learn to love what you do.
  • Become a craftsman to collect the skills you need.
  • Say no to a raise to keep control of your work.

Ready to let your passion find you? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Don’t do what you love, but learn to love what you do.

When finding himself having to decide between a job at Microsoft, a professorship at Georgetown University, and a career as a full-time writer, Cal didn’t deliberate anxiously for weeks, which is what most people would have done, in order to not choose the wrong one.

Not buying into the myth that he had only one true passion to follow, in which he would flourish, he knew that he would eventually come to love any of the three.

Cal says that whether you love your work or not is mostly based on expertise and experience.

He knew that all three career paths would start out rough initially, but that as long as he worked hard, practiced a lot and kept acquiring new skills, he’d eventually learn to love his work – so he just picked the one where he liked the location the most and could stay close to his girlfriend, the professorship.

That’s because according to self determination theory, intrinsic motivation, which we often connect with passion and being satisfied at work, comes from three things:

Autonomy – some sense of control over your time

Competence – the feeling that you’re good at your work

Relatedness – connecting with other people in the process

That means as long as you work hard and eventually become a master of your craft, you can thrive and learn to become passionate about any job you choose.

Lesson 2: Become a craftsman to collect the skills you need.

The likely reason why 43% of Americans are unhappy at their jobs, is that they constantly ask themselves what they want, instead of asking “What value can I bring to my job?”.

Once you start listening to Steve Martin and try to “be so good they can’t ignore you”, you’ll be so busy trying to deliver quality work that you won’t even have the time to deliberate what your true calling is.

Speaking of deliberate: Deliberate practice is the way to develop the autonomy and competence you need to boost your intrinsic motivation levels.

It’s the kind of practice that keeps you in a state of flow, where your work is hard enough to make you uncomfortable and forces you to learn, but not so much that frustration wins you over.

When you become a craftsman you’ll seek out those problems at work which you can almost solve, but not quite. This will help you focus on developing new skills while staying motivated, until you eventually become such a master that you’ll begin to love your work.

Lesson 3: Consider saying no to a raise to keep your control.

In the course of becoming better and better at work, you’ll probably be awarded with more responsibility and autonomy as you go along.

This is great, because when you get to make your own hours, or spread a project over 6 months in any way you like, you’ll feel competent and more motivated.

But the next trap will be leaking just around the corner, because as soon as you gain more control over your time and work, someone will try to take it from you.

Sometimes this happens violently, like when Steve Jobs was degraded and assigned a dead project (the Mac, hmm…), but most times, it’ll be even worse.

A shiny reward will be dangled in front of you, like a company car, a raise or a promotion.

Don’t give in to the temptation!

You have worked long and hard to gain the control you now love so much, so don’t trade it for more money.

Saying no to a raise will not only let you keep your hard earned control, it’ll probably earn you the respect of your coworkers and bosses as well.

My personal take-aways

I remember loving the term “craftsman mindset”. Don’t we all want to be someone who crafts things? It’s easy for me to work and stay motivated – I know I love writing. But that also means I can get carried away and puzzled at others who haven’t found their passion.

Yet, my advice has always been similar to Cal’s – stop thinking and start creating. There rings so much truth in this book, which will not only make you feel less pressured, but also get your butt in gear. I keep re-reading parts of it every now and then, because it just takes a while until you’re…So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Buy this book

Smart People Should Build Things Summary

Categories Jobs&Skills, SmartPosted on

Smart People Should Build Things explains how the current education system works against the economy by producing an endless string of bankers and consultants, instead of the innovators we need, and how we can encourage more young people to become entrepreneurs to solve this problem.

What’s the most depressing question you can ask a college student? Here it is:

“What will you do after college?”

Seriously, you can make them go from perfect mood to major headache in a few seconds with this. With the number of options exploding more and more and more, how the hell are we supposed to know what to do?

Back when my Dad went to college, you had a choice of a dozen subjects, mostly the ones you had in school, and then a few dozen variations and sub-topics of those initial ones. Today you can go to college for becoming a make-up artist, an animation graphics expert or even a chef. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the explosion of professions you can choose from after you graduate.

But Andrew Yang isn’t worried about that. He’s worried about how we deal with this paradox of choice – by defaulting to a very slim set of professional services, especially among the most elite schools.

Here are 3 lessons from his book to show you where Harvard, Princeton and Yale graduates mess up big time:

  • Half of all elite college graduates land in finance, law or consulting.
  • After beginning your career in such firms, you’ll be tied down by golden handcuffs.
  • None of these companies drive the economy forward, startups do.

Interested in what a real economic revolution looks like? Let’s look at the US education system to find out!

Lesson 1: Around half of all elite college graduates end up in finance, law or consulting firms – but mostly for the wrong reasons.

In 2013, Princeton sent admission letters to only 1,931 potential students. But how many applied? Over 26,000. That means just 7.29% actually get into the school. Fewer yet finish the degree they pursue. Other Ivy League schools show similar admission rates. The few who get in are the brightest kids in the US, having passed high school with flying colors.

If a few thousand get into those schools, then that also means a few thousand graduate each year. The big question is: where do the smartest kids go after they’re through with their top notch education?

In the case of Princeton, the vast majority, around 40% end up either in finance or in consulting. That means investment banks, the Big Four, and companies like McKinsey, The Boston Consulting Group or A. T. Kearney. Another 13% then go on to law school and will end up in big law firms.

What draws half of all these smart people into the world of professional services? Money and status.

Imagine being respected and congratulated by everyone you meet for most of your life, because you’re always among the smartest, and then the world’s college elite. The last thing you’d wanna do is lose that status after graduating. Plus, the work is a challenge worthy of your skills and it pays a crap load of money right out the gate. Six-figure starting salaries are not unusual in these industries.

Lastly, the students affect one another. If your roommate comes home from his 10th banking interview, it makes you think whether you shouldn’t try to get one too.

Lesson 2: All of these firms then go on to tie you down with golden handcuffs.

Elite college graduates are perfectly trained to go through the tough application process most of these companies have. After all, it’s not much different from getting into an elite college. What they might not be a good fit for, however, is the work that follows.

Hard work, long hours, repetitive tasks, lots of travel and an environment intolerant of mistakes make it tough to stay with these firms. Inside those industries, a common motto is “up or out” – you either get promoted every 2-3 years, or you’re fired. Employee turnover can exceed 30% annually, depending on the company. That means you likely won’t see one of your two cubicle neighbors again next year.

The only thing that might be harder than staying with these companies is leaving them. According to Andrew, they’ll tie you down with what he calls “golden handcuffs.” The money, the benefits, like cars, food and hotels, the people you get access to, it’s hard to leave these things behind. The longer you stay, the bigger this problem will get.

Also, the small- to medium-sized businesses that you’d like to be your alternative often don’t need as many specialists, look for people with different skill sets and start hiring within their network (especially true for startups).

Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. So maybe you should think twice about entering this race in the first place.

Lesson 3: Big, professional companies don’t drive the economy forward, startups do, because that’s where innovation happens.

Now you might say: “What’s so bad about many people joining these companies? Don’t they carry the economy and create lots of value?”

Sadly, that’s not the case. Not just a part, but in fact ALL net job growth can be attributed to new companies. Big firms don’t add to job growth at all. As companies get bigger, most of them try to automate as much as they can and find out how they can reduce the number of employees, not increase it.

How about technological innovation then? Same thing. Companies with less than 500 employees file for 13 times as many patents – per employee.

The value big banks and consulting firms create is doubtful at best, since most of the advice consultants give revolves around cutting costs, firing people and outsourcing work that can be done cheaper elsewhere. And banks…a lot of their revenue comes from trading, which is a zero sum game, since each win for one party is based on a loss for another.

The problem with all this is that big corporations are getting the lead over new businesses. Less than five year old businesses used to make up one half of all companies – by now it’s less than one third. Since 2008, the majority of US workers is employed at companies with 500+ employees.

Big companies don’t create jobs and they don’t move the economy forward. Yet, they keep growing and less people start their own thing. This is where you come in play. If you’re a smart, elite college graduate, please choose yourself.

My personal take-aways

Wow, this felt like a rant from the heart. Both my own and Andrew Yang’s. I think our stance is clear. If you’re now in doubt about your next career move, I hope it’ll be food for thought.

ReWork Summary

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ReWork shows you that you need less than you think to start a business – way less – by explaining why plans are actually harmful, how productivity isn’t a result from working long hours and why hiring and seeking investors should be your absolute last resort.

I picked this one up from Entrepreneur On Fire’s Top 15 Business Book List, as recommended by over 350 of their guests. They compiled the books that were recommended more than four times and ended up with 15 solid picks, one of which was this one.

The author, Jason Fried, is the co-founder of Basecamp, which was the first Ruby on Rails (a programming language) application ever, originally created by co-author David Heinemeier Hansson. Today some of the world’s most popular sites and apps run on Rails, such as Twitter, GitHub or even Shopify.

Basecamp is also the name of their project management and collaboration software, giving teams everything they need to get stuff done, from chats to message boards, to-do’s, timelines, reminders and folders. It’s over 10 years old already, but thanks to keeping his company lean throughout the years, Jason has managed to grow it into a million-dollar software product.

In 2010 he and his co-author decided to publish some of the principles they relied on to run Basecamp (until 2014 the company was called 37signals) and ReWork was born.

Here are 3 great lessons about starting a business from the book:

  • Take a stand for something you believe in and then pick a fight with an incumbent.
  • Screw big corporate marketing, stay honest, personal and nimble.
  • Don’t let long hours and meetings prevail, they actually hurt productivity.

Ready to rework your approach to business? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Take a stand for something you believe in and then pick a fight with a competitor.

If you’re going to start a business, please, please, please, do it right. Don’t be one of those people who spout off ideas over lunch like: “Oh yeah, we’re gonna build this fitness app and in 2-3 years, we’ll sell it to CrossFit, that should be a sweet exit!”

Trust me, if selling your business is your only goal, don’t even start, because you’ll never get there.

Instead, why not build something you really want to see in the world? Something you can be incredibly proud of, something you want to take a stand for – a thing worth fighting for.

For example, can you imagine walking into a McDonalds and hearing the slogan “We believe in fresh food?” I hardly think so. Everyone knows the burgers sometimes sit there for hours and occasionally look like they imploded.

If you really believe in fresh food, like Vinnie’s Sub Shop in Chicago, you’ll probably do what they do, and close up shop in the afternoon, because the bread will just never be as fresh as it was in the morning.

Now that’s something to be proud of.

Plus, taking a stand will make it easy to pick a fight with a competitor, which in turn will help put you on people’s map. If you hate the 7 Minute Workout app and think any good workout takes at least 30 minutes, then that’s something you can build upon and people might agree with.

Lesson 2: Screw big corporate marketing, stay honest, personal and nimble.

Founded in 1998, Milestone Systems is a global industry leader in open platform IP video management software. With support for the widest choice in network hardware and integration with other systems, XProtect provides best-in-class solutions to video enable organizations – managing risks, protecting people and assets, optimizing processes and reducing costs.

Yuck! Don’t you fall asleep reading this? Took me 2 seconds to find via Google, so this is a common problem. No matter how small, companies always want to sound like big corporations.

For the love of god, why?

Nobody understands this complicated jargon, if anything, it makes you sound pretentious. Instead, write like you talk to a friend and just be honest.

Lesson 3: Forget long hours and meetings, they hurt productivity.

The only thing that happens when someone stays late at the office is that the rest of the office feels bad for not doing the same. Don’t even try to convince yourself that those late-night hours are really productive, you know they’re not.

So instead of promoting a culture of overtime, start by cutting away the things that interrupt people during focused work.

Imagine how much your employees can get done when they just work on one thing for 2-3 hours. So don’t fret over emails left unanswered for a while or when someone can’t make a meeting.

After all, a 10-person meeting that lasts 1 hour means 10 hours of focused work time just went down the drain. Give people the space they need to get the things done that really matter and then interrupt them as little as possible.

That way everyone can go home at 5 and still get a lot done.

My personal take-aways

There are lots of starting points in this book. I think it’s one of the most comprehensive approaches to starting a business the right way I’ve seen in a while, it touches all the important bases.

I highly recommend this book, and then dive deeper into Fried’s philosophy. 

Outliers Summary

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Outliers explains why “the self-made man” is a myth and what truly lies behind the success of the best people in their field, which is often a series of lucky events, rare opportunities and other external factors, which are out of our control.

The only thing I knew about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, was that this is the book that the 10,000 hour rule came from. The rule says to become world-class at anything, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice, which equals to about 5 years of uninterrupted 40-hour workweeks worth of practice. In reality, it’s often closer to 10 years.

Therefore, I expected the book to be about deliberate practice and how success is in your own hands, if you work hard enough. Boy, was I wrong. The book argues the exact opposite.

Here are 3 great lessons from it:

  • After you cross a certain skill threshold, your abilities won’t help you.
  • The month you’re born in matters.
  • Asians are good at math, because where you come from matters.

Lesson 1: After you cross a certain skill threshold, your abilities won’t help you.

To debunk the myth of the “self-made man”, which might be the most popular myth of our time, Gladwell first looked at how much your skills really influence where you end up in life.

Of course practice matters, and so do genetic predispositions in sports, but their influence is limited. As it turns out, once you cross a certain threshold with your skills and abilities, any extra won’t do you much good.

For example, since the 1980s, the average height of an NBA basketball player has been 6′ 7″. Even if you grow to be 7′ tall, those additional inches won’t give you a huge advantage over other players.

Gladwell also looked at law school students and their performance. Some law schools lower their admission requirements for racial minorities, and even though these students tend to perform worse than their non-minority peers both before and in law school, this gap completely disappears once they graduate.

They make the same valuable contributions, get paid just as much and receive as many honors as their peers. Why?

Because once you’ve reached a certain level of legal expertise, other factors start to take over and influence your career, like social skills, how good your network is, and even catching a lucky break.

Lesson 2: Being born in the wrong month can put you at a disadvantage.

Remember when you saw an 8th grader in high school date a 10th grader? You were probably shocked! “He’s 2 years older than her, that’s insane!” – I still remember the comments, it was a huge deal in our school.

However, when you’re 40 and take your wife to dinner with the neighbors, nobody would be surprised to hear she’s 38, 42, or even several more years older or younger than you.

That’s because relative age matters, especially when you’re young. How old you are compared to your peers can give you a huge advantage or disadvantage, for example in sports.

Gladwell found out that most professional Canadian hockey players, who end up in the NHL, are born in the first half of the year. In fact, twice as many have birthdays in the first quarter as in the last.

That’s because the annual cutoff date for youth teams is January 1st, meaning kids born in December have to compete with their friends who are almost a year older than they are. When you’re 8 years old, you stand no chance against a 9 year old in terms of strength and speed – the difference is huge when a year makes up 12.5% of your entire life.

Think through your own life, this happens all the time. I remember being born early in 1991 always sucked in school, because 1990 was often the cutoff year for sports teams, due to the way the German school year is set.

Lesson 3: Asians are good at math, because where you come from matters.

If you think age is bad, try imagining being born somewhere entirely different. Warren Buffett always says he’s been lucky to have been born into the United States at the time he was, because a few thousand years ago, with his kinds of genes, he’d have been some animal’s lunch.

For example, Gladwell says there’s a reason for the stereotype that “Asians are good at math.” Several factors actually are in favor of Asians becoming relatively good at it.

First, Asian languages are set up so that children learn to add numbers simultaneously with learning to count. Second, hundreds of years of building a traditional culture around farming rice has instilled a great sense of discipline into Asian culture.

Unlike farming wheat or corn, farming rice is hard. It needs a lot more precision, control, coordination and patience. Rice farmers could also reap the full rewards of their work, whereas European farmers were often robbed of a big part of their harvest by greedy landlords and nobility, leaving them far less motivated to do their best.

Just like rice farming, math is hard. You have to stick with problems and let the gears in your brain crunch until you work it out. Europeans often give up a lot faster on hard math questions than their Asian peers, because neither math nor discipline are a part of their cultural legacy.

So yes, where you’re born matters.

My personal take-aways

I loved The Tipping Point, and I expected this book to be just as awesome. I’m really glad it did, it feels refreshing to hear some counter-arguments to the self-made man for a change! This is getting long, so I don’t want to keep you from learning more, check out this brilliant book!

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