Tuesday, November 25, 2014

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Tomorrow is thanksgiving in the United States, and I’m grateful to my brother Jadd for sharing a personal story with me so I could share it with you. In his own words, here’s his story, with a great message as well…

“During the second half of my high school career, I was required to take precalculus to help prepare me for college math.  I’ve always been good with numbers, but I never really enjoyed math classes.  The truth is, it takes a certain level of maturity to look ahead to the future and realize how doing something that isn’t very enjoyable right now may be helpful or useful down the road.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have that maturity, at least not in relation to precalculus.

“By the middle of the semester, I was barely passing.  Then I made it worse by not only blowing off studying for a particular test, but writing answers on the test in the form of notes to my teacher like, “I don’t know math,” “I have no idea,” and “How could I possibly know this answer if I didn’t know the last two?” 

“At the next class, when he handed our tests back, the teacher made a specific point of singling mine out in front of everyone.  I’d received a 4 percent.  Yes, that’s 4 percent out of a possible 100... and truthfully, I don’t even know how I got 4 percent right.

“What’s interesting is how much this motivated me.  Whether it was out of embarrassment or deciding that I didn’t like the thought of my teacher viewing me as a slacker, I decided that I was no longer content to just scrape by.

“For the next test, I buckled down and studied hard.  I went in with confidence, and although I don’t recall taking the test itself, I certainly remember what happened the next day.  Everyone in the class received their tests back with grades written at the top except for me.  Mine had a sticky-note that read, “See Me.”

“After class, the teacher laid my test on his desk.  He pointed to several problems at random, asking me to explain my work and how I’d gotten the answers.  After I did, he looked at me, then took a marker and wrote “108%” on my test.  I had gotten every problem right, plus extra credit problems for bonus points.

“I looked at my grade, then at my teacher, and asked, “Is that the highest grade in the class?”  He nodded.

“I thought for a second, then said, “You wanted to make sure I actually knew how to do the problems, right?  That I didn’t cheat?”

“He looked at me, sighed, and said, “You’re really frustrating,” which I took to mean that it frustrated him that I could do next to nothing for half a semester, then score the highest out of a class of forty students when I actually applied myself.

“Obviously, he had a good point, and I learned an important lesson from that experience.  We all have weaknesses and strengths, but just as important as figuring out our strengths is making sure we’re not wasting them.  What good was I doing myself by knowingly underachieving?  None. 

“When you have a strength, it’s not just a good idea to utilize it, it’s imperative that you do so.  It’s not enough just to be good at something if you don’t contribute that value to the world.  When you unleash your strengths and maximize your value, there’s no telling how great of an impact you may have.

“For example:  People know that Albert Einstein originated some of the most revolutionary scientific theories and discoveries of the last century and a half.  But did you know that, after graduating from college and being certified to teach math and physics, he was unable to find a teaching position for two years?  In fact, he was so frustrated that he finally took a job in a patent office, where he worked for seven years evaluating other people’s inventions and discoveries!  Can you imagine what the last hundred years may’ve been like for humanity without the scientific breakthroughs Einstein made after leaving that job to focus on his strength? 

“In the words of Michelangelo, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”  Aim high with your life!  Dream big, expect amazing things, and don’t hold back.  Your unique gifts may be exactly what the world is waiting for and desperately needs!”

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

Sign up here to have empowering stories like this one emailed to you directly each week!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The World's Youngest Billionaire

The most common misconception about the Passion First Mindset is that simply having passions and thinking about them will bring them into your life.  It’s important to start there, but to truly live Passion First, you need to be willing to make sacrifices and take risks when you’re pursuing what’s most important to you.  This may involve doing something out of your comfort zone and going against the advice of others, even if they have your best interests at heart.  Or, if you ask Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, it might mean living on ketchup and mustard sandwiches while everything else goes into pursuing your dream!  Here are a few examples of other individuals who faced huge risks and sacrifices in pursuit of their passions…

Ellen left college after just one semester to pursue her passion for stand-up comedy.  While holding down jobs at the likes of J.C. Penney and T.G.I. Friday's, Ellen sharpened her material, slowly pursuing her dream.  Within three years, she had become the emcee at a local comedy club, but it would take a more than a decade of castings, cancellations, setbacks and successes before Ellen DeGeneres truly established herself as a recognized comedic talent.  Today, she is ranked as one of the 50 most powerful women in the world, a status she attained only through determination and perseverance.

In 1995, Matthew's young daughter, who had shown incredible vocal talent since the age of 8, decided that she wanted to pursue singing as a career.  However, Matthew wasn't sure he could trust a manager he didn’t know to look out for her best interests.  Faced with a difficult choice, he understood his daughter’s passion and believed so powerfully in her that he resigned from his job to manage her singing group himself.  This cut the family income in half, creating immense strain on them, and even led Matthew and his wife to separate briefly.  Finally, though, the risk paid off when the group, Destiny's Child, was signed to Columbia Records, and his daughter BeyoncĂ© started on the path that would eventually make her the highest-paid African-American musician in history.

When Elizabeth was a 19-year-old sophomore at Stanford University, she began to feel strongly that her tuition money could be used for a greater and more benevolent purpose.  She decided to drop out to start a company that would revolutionize global healthcare.  When she told her chemical engineering professor what she planned to do, he was concerned about her leaving her degree unfinished. Her reply was that she believed deeply in the idea of helping humanity at all levels, regardless of geography, ethnicity, age or gender. 

Today, Elizabeth Holmes’ passion has become reality.  Her company, Theranos, has created a blood test that is painless, more accurate, fast and cheap, making it perfect for use in poorer countries with little or limited access to traditional clinical blood testing.  At just 30 years old, Elizabeth has become the world’s youngest billionaire, but only because she was willing to step away from what was safe and expected, risking her future to pursue her dream.

There are thousands of stories like these.  Tom Hanks left college to be a full-time theater intern, and became one of the most respected and recognized actors in the world.  Tech-whiz Kevin Rose used money planned for a down payment on a house to start the social news website Digg instead, and today is the millionaire head of Google’s entrepreneurial investment division.  But remember, these aren’t just stories of individuals who dropped out or took risks without a goal or plan.  They’re examples of people who needed to chase their passions, and didn’t feel compelled to follow conventional thinking in doing so. 

If the path to your dreams requires a college education, a significant track record doing a particular job, or twenty hours a week at the gym, then get the most out of every minute you spend whichever of those you’re doing, and leverage the experience to bring your passion into alignment with your life.  If you're just following along and doing what’s expected without a clear idea of what you want from life, think about whether your time and actions are really getting you where you want to be.  You might need to take a different route, one that involves risk, sacrifice, and uncertainty, in pursuit of what you’re most passionate about.  That is, if you’re ready to put your Passion First.

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

Sign up here to have empowering stories like this one emailed to you directly each week!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Flip-flopping

On a warm spring day not many years ago, 8-year-old Madison came home from a trip to the beach with her family and went straight to her room, closing the door behind her.  A half hour later, she came out with a drawing to show her father:  it was of a pair of flip flop sandals with fish designs on them.  Madison looked at her father and said, “They’re fish flops!  Can you make them for me?”

At the time, Madison’s father Dan was a full-time bank employee who had a side business selling a line of fishing shirts he’d created.  It was more a hobby than anything else, but he had made a few connections in the clothing manufacturing world.  More importantly, he thought his daughter’s idea was ingenious in its simplicity.  That night, he went online and bought the fishflops.com domain name.

During the next several years, the father and daughter got serious about their business.  Madison's idea was to make flip flops that showed off her love for swimming, fishing and drawing.  When she wasn't in school, she worked on the designs, drawing them herself and choosing the color combinations digitally.  Dan threw himself into working on the brand, reaching out to his network of connections to find the right manufacturer and soliciting investments from family and friends. 

It took some time, but once they got some samples made, Madison and Dan went to a large clothing trade show to see what kind of interest they could get from retail stores.  The interest level was there, with the pair getting orders from several dozen stores who wanted to offer Fish Flops as part of their spring catalogs.  Convinced they had a worthwhile idea, Dan placed an order with their new manufacturer to get a huge quantity made by January.  However, they encountered their first speed bump when manufacturing was delayed dramatically.  The first shipment wasn’t delivered until May, and almost a quarter of their initial batch of orders was cancelled.

They were convinced they had a great product, but it took time and hard work.  With thousands of pairs of FishFlops sitting in a warehouse, Madison and Dan went to numerous trade shows.  At one point, they got a big order for 10,000 pairs, but the retailer needed them delivered in different packaging.  Every day for a month, Madison and Dan, along with the rest of their family and friends, unpacked cases of FishFlops and re-packed them according to the retailer’s request to fulfill the order.  Dan himself was in the warehouse until 6pm on Christmas Eve finishing the re-packing.

Meanwhile, Madison learned her way around everything from packing shipments and checking inventory to explaining their pricing at a trade show booth.  But the great thing about being a kid in business is that you don’t know how hard some things are, and not knowing means you’re not afraid to try them.  What they really needed was to get in the door with a big, recognizable retail brand.  While scanning through her Twitter feed, Madison saw a tweet from a Nordstrom buyer who was looking for new lines to add to the store's collections.  She wrote a letter to the buyer, and within just a few days, she got a response that they were interested. 

After six years of work between Madison and her father, Nordstrom’s began carrying FishFlops, and things really started to move.  Within a year, they were selling out all over the country, and Madison herself was getting noticed in the media for her entrepreneurial spirit.  As of this year, FishFlops are still selling well, and Madison, now 16, has her own clothing line for young girls.  Dan left the bank to dedicate himself to the business, and Madison has already put away enough of the profits to pay her own way through college.

Have you ever come up with an idea that you felt was great at first, but then you or someone else thought it might not work, so you gave up on it?  The story of Madison and Dan making FishFlops a reality is a great example of how important it is to follow through on your dreams.  In basketball, they say that you’ll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, which means that if you never try, you’ll certainly never succeed!  Think about your big idea, and don’t let trying to be “realistic” stop you from figuring out how to take it to the next level!

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

Sign up here to have empowering stories like this one emailed to you directly each week:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Close Shave

Many years ago, I was standing in line at a grocery store and overheard a conversation between two women ahead of me.  One of them was talking about how expensive it was to take a taxi to the airport.  She needed to take a quick trip for business, but her family was away on vacation, and the airport was a 90-minute drive away.  She knew the taxi fee would run more than $100, which her friend blamed on supply and demand, saying that there simply weren’t many options.

Being a starving college student on summer break, I couldn’t help thinking of an idea.  “I’ll drive you to the airport for $50,” I offered, “and you can travel in comfort and style.”  She looked first at me, then at the packages of Ramen Noodles I was holding, and asked what I meant by comfort and style.  Thinking on my feet, I said, “The comfort of your own car, and the style you’ve been accustomed to for years.”  She laughed, realizing that I was offering to drive her to the airport in her own car.  I said that I could drive my car to her house, leave it there, and then drive her to the airport in her car.  I’d then return her car and leave with my own, and she would save both money and time by scheduling me in advance.

That summer and the couple that followed, I probably drove 50 people to the airport.  Recently, companies like Uber and Lyft have arrived on the scene, giving the taxi companies something to worry about with their own innovative solutions to the same problem I was addressing all those years ago.  Experiences like these helped cement for me the importance and value of using creativity to solve problems.  That brings me to this week’s story about an entrepreneur named Michael, and his creative solution to a common source of frustration for many of us...

A few years ago, Michael was at a holiday party where he and another guest named Mark began making small talk.  Michael’s background was in brand marketing, and though he had never worked for an advertising agency, he was always finding opportunities to create fun and interesting content. 

During his conversation with Mark, they somehow got talking about shaving, and Michael mentioned how ludicrously expensive blades were, even joking that he often forgot to buy new blades and showed up for work looking a bit scruffy.  Mark, whose background was in manufacturing, said he knew where to get affordable twin razor blades in bulk.  Within an hour, the two strangers had come up with an idea for a business to sell disposable razor blades by mail directly to the consumers, shipped right to their homes for just a few dollars a month.

Using the internet to take orders meant they wouldn’t have to spend money on a storefront. Selling and shipping directly to consumers would keep the prices low because there would be no wholesalers or retailers to take a cut of revenues.  And, if they could come up with a creative way to advertise their business, they’d save money on marketing.

The week they launched their business at DollarShaveClub.com, over 3 million people watched their goofy yet brilliant video – just 90 seconds long and produced for less than $5,000 – and it went viral.  More than 200,000 subscribers joined DollarShaveClub’s monthly membership program in the first year.  Members get one handheld razor per month for a monthly fee of $3 that includes shipping, along with 5 blades.  So, for less than $37 a year, you get all the razor blades you need, and never need to go to the store to buy them again!

Einstein once said that imagination is greater than knowledge.  We’re all born with the ability to think creatively, but throughout our lives, our tendency to let our imaginations run wild diminishes.  Sometimes this happens because, when we explore new ideas, we make mistakes and suffer the consequences.  Over time, many of us stop being experimental.  It’s easy to just give up, and much harder to get back up after things don’t work out.  But life rewards those who keep their creative spirits alive! 

So, whether you have an idea to innovate at work, the beginning thoughts for a new business launch, or something to add some fun and excitement to your life, keep at it!  Remember, “Imagination is your only weapon in the war against reality.”

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

Sign up here to have empowering stories like this one emailed to you directly each week!