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A Letter to a Young American

I graduated 10 years ago, bounced around 3 different advertising agencies until 5 years ago I started my first company with my best friend. 36 months later he fired me after I informed him that I felt he was incompetent. I started my next company a week later with 2 partners. 36 months later I realized they were practicing unethical business practices. With $500 in my bank account, I started over in November of 2017. Today our company is on track to do over $1M. Here’s what I’ve learned from all of that.

FIRST OF ALL….

Get your shit together. You don’t need to know what you want to be when you grow up. Just get started. Most of my friends didn’t know what they wanted to be at age 25, and the most interesting people I know are still trying to find that out at 65.

America is a video game set to destroy your ambition. It is something to be endured and survived. If you learn how to grab life by the throat, to conquer, you’ll realize what success truly means.

STEP 1:

Unless you grew up wealthy, your network and your net worth will be closely tied together. I have built mine off a concept of 50 cups of coffee a year and never eat lunch alone. I connect with people on LinkedIn and meet them for coffee. The ones who inspire me–I follow up with to have lunch.

Good jobs get filled before they get posted to Monster or Indeed. If an employer posts a job, they will get 800 resumes and likely only 10 qualified applicants. More than ever people are likely to reach out to their network first to get referrals before going down that black hole. Which again is why your network is so important. If you’re a little more ambitious, go to the owner of a company and show them why they need to create a position for you.

YOUR GPA DOES NOT MATTER.

When you’re up for a job and you’ve got the same shiny new diploma that everyone else has, what is it going to be that differentiates you? You need experience. Get as many internships as you can.

VOLUNTEER.

There are over three thousand nonprofits in the region that need your help. If you are self-centered like me, it will help you far more than it does them. You’ll become a more well-rounded person and learn to appreciate that other people have it way harder than you.

FAIL FORWARD.

Take risks and be reckless in your youth. Learn to accept that there is no such thing as failure. You either win or you learn. Pablo Picasso once said that all children are artists, the trick is to maintain that when you become older. We are told at a young age to be careful. Not to make mistakes. It is without a doubt the worst advice we as humans pass along from generation to generation.

If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t growing as a person. You corner yourself into only doing what you know you can do well. It is only through mistakes that we develop new skills. Many of life’s failures come from people who gave up not knowing how close they were to success.

STOP WORRYING ABOUT WHAT YOUR PARENTS AND FRIENDS THINK ABOUT YOU AND YOUR DECISIONS.

I encourage you to heed the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt who suggested that, “people would worry less about what other people think about them if they realized how little they actually do.” In full transparency, I told my parents I was living my life for me in 2001 and am still trying to convince myself of that.

YOU’RE GOING TO NOT BE VERY GOOD AT FIRST.

You won’t start off being able to do the level of work you aspire to. It has been suggested that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of time to reach mastery. If you’re putting 40 hours a week into your craft that equates to 5 years. Or if you’re mildly insane like myself and work 80 hours a week, you can achieve those same results in fewer than 3. Either way, the best time to start is now.

No one wakes up expecting a spontaneous moment of fitness, “wow, I suddenly have a six-pack.” The same is true for creativity and intelligence. You also won’t wake up one day and be suddenly brilliant. You need to be exercising your mind and creativity.

If you–like most people–are not a child prodigy, you’re going to have to work for it. I am a germaphobic, bipolar, OCD, recovering punk rocker with ADD, so most things I have to read three times to understand what some people get the first time through. As children, if you aren’t good at art they say, “well maybe that’s not your thing”, but if you aren’t proficient at math they give you more homework. Others can give up on you, but never give up on yourself.

I have said time and time again that I don’t have talent, I have tenacity. I would rather die in a trailer park broke and alone knowing that I played the game as hard as I could and died with no energy left in my body, than living comfortably in some mini-mansion in the suburbs.

FEED YOUR BRAIN.

Read. Every. Day. Religiously. Business books, fiction, poetry. These will make you smarter and a more interesting human being.

Learn to turn off your brain. Meditation isn’t something I thought would be of any use to anyone until I started doing it. It is arguably the 2nd best thing you can do for your brain after reading.

YOU ARE THE COMPANY YOU KEEP.

Yet another annoying cliche proves out to be capital T true. Think of the 5 people you surround yourself with most often. You are almost certainly the average of those 5 people. If you want to be driven and in control of your own destiny, then you need to surround yourself with those kinds of people. My business is successful because of the team we have built.

I like to say, “a general without an army is just a guy taking a walk.”

MENTORS MATTER.

I never would be where I am today without some very wise people around me, guiding me along my path. Likewise, few of them would be where they are without their own mentors. It is an obligation to play that we pay it forward.

8 mentors you need:

The Coach, who is there to help you with the day-to-day blocking and tackling. As one of my mentors put it, “your mind is like a bad neighborhood, you shouldn’t spend too much time there alone.”

The Cheerleader, who is there to keep you going through the hard times. Or as Winston Churchill once stated, “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

The Challenger, the person who will push you beyond what you preserve are your physical and mental limits.

The Connector, who will introduce you to their network.

The Educator, the wise old sage who gives you the tools to continue learning, because learning is true work of a lifetime

The Idea Generator, the one you drink beer with and work out your million dollar idea on the back of a bar napkin, pro tip: always carry a pen in your pocket.

Relationship, because even if you’re a relationship blogger, you’re probably going to experience some serious shit in your romantic, family, and friendships. So it helps to have someone you can call on that has “seen this movie before.”

Spiritual, arguably the most important. David Foster Wallace, my favorite modern author, once suggested that in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, there is no such thing as atheism. We all worship. Whether it be JC or Allah, the Four Nobel Truths or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, the fact is that anything else you worship will eat you alive.

Worship money or power, and you will never have enough. Worship your intellect and you will die feeling stupid. Worship your body and your sexual allure, and years after you age you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. It’s not that these are bad, it’s just that they are your default setting. If you really want to understand happiness you need to find your moral compass and never deviate too far from it.

If you learn to truly love others and put them before yourself and carry that out day after day after month after year, you will find happiness and success that goes well beyond financial prosperity.

Finally, I will leave you with a mantra that I have come to live by:

“You were meant to do more than pay bills and die.”

I promise you that knowledge without mileage is bullshit. You can read every book in the world on the Eiffel Tower, but until you stand there in front of it, you will never truly understand it.

You must venture out and see the world to truly appreciate it–and the people in it.

GO EXPLORE.

 

Written by: Richard Kaiser

Some of my fondest memories from my formative years were from Boy Scout camps sitting on rough, wooden logs that encircled a crackling fire sharing stories with the other boys. I believe in my heart that it is a human need to be told stories. We crave stories much in the same way we crave love. The work we do at Wilderness Agency is based upon this primal need. We bring together some of the best creative talent from around the world to tell our client’s stories, to share their passion with the world.

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