Why We'll Never Know the Origins of Success Cover

Why We’ll Never Know the Origins of Success

You can do anything. I know because I have no idea what you can’t do. You might, but in my book, anything is possible for you.

The funny thing is most people think that way about other people — it’s just us who do the self-limiting. We choose to focus on our shortcomings. But the truth is, as long as you keep doing things, anything could happen.

Take Andreas Illiger, for example. In 2011, he released a game on the iTunes App Store. It was called Tiny Wings. Helping a chirpy bird fly through an endless landscape with upbeat music was fun — so much fun that it generated millions of downloads and dominated the charts for weeks. At 28, Illiger became an overnight millionaire.

You can do anything.

Mark Cuban shared a 3-bedroom apartment with five friends when he was 25. All of his clothes were in one big pile on the floor. He was working as a bartender and living off beer and happy hour food. Then, he started selling software for PCs. He was fired after less than a year. But he stuck with selling software. He started his own company. He sold it a few years later for $6 million. He used the money to fund a company that broadcasted college basketball, which he loved. That company grew. He stuck with it. Eventually, that company sold to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion right before the dot-com crash.

You can do anything.

In 2016, I started a website called Four Minute Books. I further condensed 365 existing book summaries in a year. It was a stupid, harebrained idea. I made about $5/hr doing it. After that first year, I spent less time on it, but it kept growing. Now, I have someone helping me, and it makes a full-time income with about one hour of my work each week.

Do you see a pattern emerge here? No? Well, neither do I. And that’s why you can do anything. Life is random. All you can do is to keep trying your best. Some things will work out. Others won’t. It is only in hindsight that you’ll get to attach the label “success.”

We define success by outcomes. We see those outcomes — a fancy house, a cool car, a big company — and they feel like a specific result, created with fixed inputs over a fixed period of time. But they’re not. They’re the result of an entire person’s life, meshed with luck, timing, and other people’s lives.

Outcomes may happen suddenly, like for Andreas, or gradually, like for me, or first one and then the other, like for Mark Cuban. But there’s no such thing as fixed inputs or fixed periods of time.

All there is is your life and everything that’s in it.

Everything matters. And because it does, you can do anything.

Andreas made everything in his game himself. The graphics. The music. The mechanisms. The code. He’d been a developer and designer for ten years, dabbling in all these different fields beyond app development. It just so happened that, in this one game, at a time when everyone was looking for fun little distractions, it all came together.

Mark took a series of steps, constantly choosing to follow one path and abandon another. Was it his knack for trends? His gut? Coincidence? Whatever it was, he stuck with the right path at the right time several times and, in a historic moment of technology breakthrough, ended up winning big. He rode a huge wave all the way to the top, and then he picked up his board and went home right before it crashed. What all went into it? Who knows. Mark just kept doing things.

So did Harrison Ford, by the way. You know, the carpenter we all know as Han Solo. And Elton John. Henry Ford. Rihanna. Jackie Chan. J. K. Rowling. There is no straight line to success.

You can do anything.

Tolkien published Lord of the Rings at age 63. Ray Kroc franchised McDonald’s in his 50s. Judi Dench first showed up in a Bond movie in her 60s.

Success can only be measured and felt after it’s done, but it can never be judged in its entirety, because we never have a complete picture of any single human’s life.

Whether it happens suddenly or gradually, one day, someone will say something, and you’ll realize: “Oh. Yeah, I guess that did work out for me.”

You won’t know how you got there or why you got there or why you hadn’t seen it before. All you’ll know is that you kept doing things and that, yes, this is success.

You had never imagined it, but now you know it’s true:

You can do anything.

You're Still Here Cover

You’re Still Here

You were born as an accident. Or during an accident. Or with an accident. You were definitely born through great pain and suffering. But you’re still here.

You were raised in a poor home. A dysfunctional home. A home that clipped your wings and left you with deep scars you had to mend much later. But you’re still here.

You had a tough childhood. You were the runt of the litter. The middle child. The big brother with all the pressure. Maybe, you were all alone. But you’re still here.

You didn’t always get what you wanted. The other kids in school were mean. The boys never called back. The teachers had it in for you. But you’re still here.

You wasted a lot of time growing up. You couldn’t figure out what you really wanted. You dealt with disease, disadvantage, depression. But you’re still here.

Your body never gave you an easy time. It didn’t gain weight when it should have or lost any when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t want you to be fit and lean and healthy. It craves junk food and ice cream and popcorn. But you’re still here.

You were rejected when you put yourself out there. You showed vulnerability and honesty and compassion, and someone else spat in your face. But you’re still here.

You’ve inherited your dad’s gambling problem. Or your mom’s excessive spending habits. You struggle to make rent, to save money, to keep your dollar bills together. But you’re still here.

Your company failed. So did the big event at work, the 5th grade dance recital, and the opening of your art gallery. But you’re still here.

You made a mistake. You know you messed up, and you know it’s your fault. You don’t even know how to fix it. You just know you feel like you have to. But you’re still here.

You don’t know how to be happy. Life is confusing. It’s big and complicated and there are way too many options for everything. But you’re still here.

Life is and sometimes it isn’t. But it’s short for all of us. It’s a unique and crazy experience, and there are no do-overs, no second season, no late-night rerun tickets.

Every day is special. A once-in-a-lifetime chance. Another reason to be grateful. And you’re still here. So today is a good day.

How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything Cover

How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything

There are only two ways to look at the world: One is that nothing matters, the other is that everything does. Both are true.

On the one hand, you’ll quickly be forgotten after you’re gone. On the other, it’s impossible to know how your actions will add up. In the end, they might make a huge difference for the world.

Which of these world views you choose to focus on is up to you, but only one affords you with a real chance to find meaning and happiness. I’d choose optimism any time.

But there’s a catch: If everything matters, you can never weasel out of responsibility. Ever.

Consequences have consequences. Everything you do is a domino, kicking off a long chain of infinitely perpetuating events — and so how you do even the smallest of things will determine how that sequence unfolds. In other words:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

There’s a new study room at my school. One of the doors is heavy. It takes a proper grip to shut. I’ve watched dozens of people enter and leave that room — and I’ve yet to see a single one after which it won’t swing wide open.

It’s as if an entire generation was never taught how to manually close a door with care. With care. That’s the point. How you do anything is how you do everything.

The only way to write a book is to start with one page, one paragraph, one sentence. The only way to make a million is to make a dollar. And the only way to be loved is to start to be loving.

Life is big, but it consists of many small moments. The only way to do great things is to chain together those moments into one, brilliant, shiny sequence. Keep tipping the dominos.

It makes no sense to do the small things wrong just because they’re small. Especially if the opposite leads to greatness. How you do anything is how you do everything.

So close the door. Do it right. And remember that everything matters.

Your Gut Knows What You Need Cover

Your Gut Knows What You Need

“The man is obviously crazy. Are we just here to watch him die?”

That’s what his friends asked themselves. The man is Philippe Petit.

On August 7th, 1974, he and his crew raised a steel cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and then…he walked on it. For 45 minutes, 1,300 feet in the air. It was extremely dangerous and highly illegal.

But today, he is a legend. An idol. An inspiration to millions.

Uncertainty sucks. Big time. We hate it. Hate it. But we also know it’s what stands between us and the things that make life worth living. That’s why we celebrate those who conquer it. Who persist in the face of uncertainty.

Philippe withstood an incomprehensible amount of uncertainty, compressed into 45 minutes of life or death. That’s why he’s a hero. But most of us aren’t meant for such crazy dares — and it’s a good thing we aren’t. Yet, the same principle applies.

What about his friends, for example? What about their uncertainty? For months, they helped him plan the coup, not knowing if he’d survive. That’s terrifying too, and equally worth commending.

The longer uncertainty is drawn out, the harder each next day becomes.

Maybe you’ve been waiting for important test results for months. Approaching the birth of a child, not knowing if it’ll go okay. Working towards an important deadline, unsure whether the judges will like the result.

When the mountain is high, every day is a new chance to let it get to you. You look up, see the peak and think, “My god, how am I supposed to move this?” Of course, our only job is to carry away small stones. But it’s easy to forget.

To focus on the smallness of the true task — the first date, the first case, the first page — it helps to trust your gut. But you have to take time to listen to it.

Let the clock run. Allow other matters to fly by. Direct your attention to what’s in front of you. And let your gut figure out the rest. If you feel tired, sleep. If a coffee sounds refreshing, go get one. And if you crave air, take a walk outside.

Sometimes, it takes a while to know what’s what. To tell what’s necessary from what’s ego and desire. So tune in to your gut. Don’t rush. Listen. Separate duty and surrender. Hack away the inessential. And keep doing it every day.

For each impulse, ask: “Will this help me return to the mountain? Is it the next step to carry away another stone? Or just a distraction? Am I shielding my eyes because I glanced at the peak?”

It is better to sit with these questions than to choose a path in haste. Wait. Let the answers trickle in. Don’t act before you feel strong enough to lift the weight. All of this is training. Learning to remain calm despite instability.

You won’t always nail this balancing act. Some days, you’ll fall. But you can get better. And before you know it, the mountain shrinks. A glacier turns into a peak. A pike becomes a hill. A hill turns into a plateau and, eventually, you’ll be walking through a valley, surrounded by creeks and meadows.

Sooner or later, the deadline comes, the test is returned, the man walks on the wire — and balance is restored. The uncertainty fades away.

Philippe Petit had an incredibly strong gut. Deep down, he always knew he had to walk up there. There was no alternative. So he learned to deal with the unease. Until it faded away.

Your gut may not point you to such lofty feats, but it still knows what you need. Whatever mountain you’ve set out to climb, it can help you reach the highest heights. But only if you take the time to let it speak.