TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Powerful Books to Improve Your Life

A book is a powerful external force that can change everything about who you are

Quiz time: Can you name Newton’s first law of motion?

No? (Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up, too.)

Newton declared, “Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”

In other words, if you are flying in the International Space Station and toss an apple out the window (come on, use your imagination), it will keep going in that same direction forever, unless something stops it (like a planet, gravity or alien life form).

Although Newton was talking about physics, little did he know he was also describing life.

People tend to move in the same direction as they always have unless some external force is applied. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my life to be lived in a straight line. I want to change, to improve, to crush it.

This is why I read.

A book is a powerful external force that can completely knock your life off its mundane straight line and change everything about who you are. The following are five books that did just that in my life.

  • 1. Rich Dad, Poor Dad

    Goldmann TB

    Something was eating me alive inside. (No, it wasn’t a parasite.) It was an idea.

    Something about work, life, money, wealth and freedom — but I couldn’t quite say what that idea was. For months it weighed on me, but I couldn’t find words to express it.

    Then came Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

    Finally, there were words for the internal dialogue that was taking place every minute of my life. I could finally form my abstract thoughts about money into actual speech — and it changed my life forever.

    It’s hard to say exactly what Rich Dad, Poor Dad is because it means so many different things to so many different people. But the gist of it is this: The poor work for their money, but the rich make their money work for them. It’s a mindset book more than anything, but with enough stories and examples to keep you captivated. It’s no wonder this book is hands down the most popular book recommended by guests on The BiggerPockets Podcast that I co-host each week.

    Kiyosaki taught me to stop saying, “It can’t be done,” and start asking, “How can it be done?” in every area of life. He started me on a journey that led me to buy my first rental property, followed by dozens of other investment properties that got me out of the “rat race” by the time I was 27.

    For the first time, I began to see that wealth is not an accident, but an action. (Yes, I expect you to tweet that! I worked hard on that line!)

    Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad this week.

  • 2. The Total Money Makeover

    Thomas Nelson Publishing

    A year after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, a friend from church recommended I read through Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover, and once again, my life took a turn for the better after a rude awakening: my spending was out of control!

    I was spending $1,000 a month more than I was making. How did I not realize this?

    The Total Money Makeover helped me to look at my personal finances with more seriousness and gave me a passion to pay off debt, live more frugally, and save more money.

    Suddenly, having a budget didn’t seem like a chore, it felt like I finally had a reign on my wallet. I was in control of my spending. My spending was not in control of me.

    As an entrepreneur, some months are financially better than others. However, because of the lessons I learned from The Total Money Makeover, I’m better prepared to handle the difficult times because I have a strong personal finance foundation.

  • 3. The 4-Hour Workweek

    Crown Publishers, Inc.

    No, I don’t work four hours a week. No, I don’t travel to exotic countries to salsa dance. I don’t even know what Chinese kickboxing is.

    But Tim Ferriss’ story and philosophy about business and life resonated with me in a powerful way that altered my life, my relationships, my free time and my purpose.

    Whereas Rich Dad, Poor Dad taught me that wealth was mine for the taking, The 4-Hour Workweek taught me that life was mine for the taking.

    I don’t need to wait until I’m 62 to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I don’t need to have $1,000,000 in the bank to achieve the life that millionaires brag about. I don’t need to slave away at a job I hate just to pay the bills.

    There is another way.

    Part productivity handbook, part inspirational and part lesson in entrepreneurship, The 4-Hour Workweek refuses to be classified as anything but what it truly is: life-changing.

    I think critics of The 4-Hour Workweek tend to focus too much on the specifics of the book. “I can’t do that in my job” or “I don’t want to travel the world like Ferriss.” They are missing the point and can’t see the forest for the trees.

    You don’t need to hire a virtual assistant for $2 an hour to change your life (though, I did). You don’t need to start an online business that generates passive income (though, I did). You don’t even need to backpack Europe like a hippy (though, I did). However, there are ways you can improve your business and life through efficiency and optimization.

    For example, I hate talking on the phone with tenants, so after reading The 4-Hour Workweek, I hired someone part time to answer phones for me and show vacant units. The cost to me is tiny compared the amount of mental space it cleared up in my life, time that I could spend doing business activities I actually enjoy doing.

    To sum up The 4-Hour Workweek: Find things in life that make you passionate, pursue them with all your soul, and enjoy a glass of red wine while you are at it.

  • 4. The Lean Startup

    Crown Business

    The fourth book to cross my path at just the right time was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

    I had used real estate investing to get out of the rat race and was able to jump into my passion: teaching real estate to others. BiggerPockets was a small company at the time, with just the CEO and one developer. When I came on board, suddenly I was over my head in a world I knew nothing about: startup culture.

    This is when The Lean Startup changed everything for me. No doubt, you’ve heard of this book, as the entire startup world has been transformed by lean methodology. Rather than building something that I want, why not build something everyone will want?

    The Lean Startup got me excited about building a business that mattered, not just a business that made some money.

  • 5. The One Thing

    Bard Press

    Life gets hectic, does it not?

    I was working 100 hours a week between managing my rental properties, flipping houses, working at BiggerPockets and working on side projects as well. And I was burning out.

    That’s when this final book book took me by the shoulders and gave me a good, hard shake. The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is an easy to read but profound book that helped me to focus on keeping the main thing the main thing in all areas of my life.

    The One Thing asks, “What’s the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

    By asking this question a dozen times a day, I am finding more time in my day to work calmly, taking less work home with me at night, fielding fewer emails and producing more income each month. It’s like magic.

    Are you ready to escape the “straight-line life” and allow books to change who you are? If so, I highly recommend starting with these five books.

    This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Behaviors of High Achievers

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Stop obsessing over 'why'

I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. After lobbying to absorb yet another project into my ever-growing engineering group, something was bugging me. “It’s like I can’t get enough,” I confided in my manager. “It sort of scares me.” Finally, I asked, “Am I power hungry?”

“No, Steve, I don’t think you’re power hungry,” my boss replied. “You’re just achievement oriented.”

Relieved, I thanked him for his time and went back to work. It was only later that I realized I had no idea what he was talking about. What the heck does “achievement oriented” even mean, I wondered.

If it sounds like I was a bit naïve, I’ll cop to that charge. Unlike today’s up-and-comers, we didn’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about ourselves back in the dark ages. But that never stopped some of us from reaching for the stars, even if we had little understanding of why we did it.

I believe that, among a number of other behavioral elements, explains why certain people are consistently high achievers.

They do without obsessing over why.

The common thread between every successful overachiever I’ve ever known – and I’ve probably known hundreds in the tech industry alone – is that they’re born doers, troubleshooters, and problem-solvers. If something important needs to be done, they’ll figure out how to do it, no questions asked.

They have no patience for the status quo.

If you tell these people how something is done, how it should be done, that it can’t be done, or why it can’t be done, you’re likely to be branded as “part of the problem,” treated with disdain, and shunned. They simply have no tolerance for bureaucrats and negatrons.

Their passion and drive inspires others.

Let’s face it, it’s like a religious experience sitting in a room with these people or hearing them speak. Once they’ve set their sights on accomplishing a mission, to them, it may just as well be finding the Holy Grail or the true meaning of life on Earth. And I wouldn’t bet against them.

They’re never satisfied with their achievements.

In What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School – a book I recently learned, to my horror, many Millennials have never heard of – Mark McCormack sites profound “dissatisfaction with their own accomplishments” as a defining characteristic of true champions.

They live for the challenge.

If it’s easy, anyone can do it; so what would be the point? It’s the obstacles that make it fun. That’s why people who accomplish great things don’t let challenges stand in their way. The harder it is, the more they want to do it. That’s the fun part, the gratifying part.

They never admit defeat.

We often note how successful entrepreneurs overcome setback after setback before achieving what they set out to do. That’s actually a double-edged sword and sometimes gets them into trouble. While stick-with-it-ness is an admirable quality, sometimes you’re better off cutting your losses and moving on. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the difference.

They need to win … desperately.

Competition gets a bad rap these days. The problem is people misunderstand it. The need to win isn’t sadistic or personal. It’s not that we want to see the other guy grovel in the sand. It’s just that, for us to win, our competitors have to lose. That’s simply how competitive markets work.

They have a chip on their shoulder.

Accomplishment-oriented people don’t typically concern themselves with why they are the way they are. Nevertheless, they often appear to have something to prove. Usually that stems from growing up with adversity, as we’ve previously observed with respect to Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz.

They are not political players.

Don’t get me wrong: in politics, everyone is a political player. But in the business world, accomplishing and winning is based on merit. That’s why true achievers are not into finger pointing, backstabbing, or hogging the limelight. There’s simply no point.

They’re not necessarily paragons of virtue.

While I’d love to tell you that overachievers never overdo it, we both know that’s not true. Some have a hard time distinguishing ethical behavior from the ends justify the means. And once they start down that slippery slope, look out below. I’m not sure if it’s any consolation, but that usually involves mitigating dysfunction.

As a final thought on the subject, there is a flipside to being so driven to achieve. People like us don’t rest easy. I often quote Robert Browning’s famous line from Andrea del Sarto, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Always reaching for the stars is like never having a dull moment, but it can be exhausting. It’s definitely not for everyone.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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TIME Careers & Workplace

The 8 Greatest Commencement Quotes From Business Leaders

"Doing what you love creates resilience"

Commencement speeches aren’t typically renowned for their riveting content or brevity, but, once in a while, hopeful graduates get a speaker who is not only entertaining but also drops wisdom like a grenade and brings hungover graduates out of their seats.

These eight charismatic business leaders did just that when they gave their commencement addresses, making the grade for this unofficial list of the best quotes.

Time is precious.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma. … Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

Late Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave one of the most memorable commencement addresses at Stanford University’s graduation in 2005, a year after he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jobs spoke frankly of his being adopted, being fired from Apple in 1985, and death — which he said was a “gift” in its ability to make time count.

Be too legit to quit.

“Be hard core. … Hard core means tenacious. Hard core means long-term. Hard core means determined. I don’t care what you do, you’re going to have to be patient and industrious and really stay after things. … You’re going to have to be determined and long-term.”

— Steve Ballmer, University of Washington, 2014

Steve Ballmer is well-known for his over-the-top enthusiasm during speeches. At the 2014 graduation at University of Washington, the L.A. Clippers owner and former longtime Microsoft CEO told the graduates that he, at 58-years-old, had no clear plan of what he was going to do next — but that success was a long-term trip, not an overnighter.

It isn’t the first time Ballmer has urged a crowd to “be hard core,” with an overabundance of energy.

Find someone to love.

“It took me a long time to be as brave in my personal life as I was in my professional life … to be brave in love means opening yourself up to the possibility of heartbreak.”

— Mellody Hobson, University of Southern California, 2015

At the University of Southern California this year, Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and chairwoman on several boards, not only spurred students to find someone to be passionate about — but also to expand their bandwidth of diversity by getting to know people with whom they have seemingly nothing in common.

On the other side of failure is clarity.

“There are few things more liberating in life than having your worst fear realized. … It’s not easy, but your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound reinvention. … Whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

—Conan O’Brien, Dartmouth University, 2011

The comedian and TV personality Conan O’Brien spoke about his very public failure in 2010 when he was given NBC’s Tonight Show hosting gig (that once belonged to Jay Leno) only to be forced out of the role. He spent the following year “adrift,” he admitted, trying on new career moves such as doing stand up and touring on the road. The time, he said, yielded the most rewarding year of his career.

Careers are rarely clear-cut, upward trajectories.

“[Careers are] not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym … look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your résumé. Evaluate what you can do, not the title they’re going to give you. Do real work…and don’t expect a direct climb.”

—Sheryl Sandberg, Harvard Business School, 2012

In her speech to graduates, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke about her travails finding a job after graduating Harvard Business School and moving to Silicon Valley in 2001. At the time, Sandberg had been offered a job at Google, which she expressed to its CEO-at-the-time, Eric Schmidt, didn’t meet her job requirements. His response to her: “When companies are growing quickly,” said Schmidt, “careers take care of themselves.”

Get started already.

“Stop thinking about your dream, act on it. There are 30,000 days in your life. … There are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Your biggest risk isn’t failing, it’s getting too comfortable. … Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.”

— Drew Houston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston returned to his alma mater to encourage graduates to become obsessed with something that matters to them — and get started immediately. In building Dropbox, reportedly valued at $10 billion in 2014, Houston shared that his wins have been as magnificent as his failures.

Punching a time clock is not the way to change the world.

“At the end of the day, you can decide whether you want to be an employee with a great attendance record, getting promoted to ever better titles and working on interesting projects or whether you want to attempt to do something spectacular. This be or do should be a question you never stop asking yourself for the next 20 years and beyond.”

— Steve Blank, University of Minnesota, 2013

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Blank spoke to graduates of his realization that he wanted to do more than just be a “cog” after leaving the military as a youth and joining a big tech company. At the time, his friends working at startups were living in garages and were free to pursue their own ideas and cultivate their talents — he made his choice and joined them.

Doing what you love creates resilience.

“When you’re doing what you love to do, you become resilient, because that’s the habit you create for yourself. You create a habit of taking chances on yourself and making bold choices in service to doing what you love.”

— Dick Costolo, University of Michigan, 2013

At the top of his humor-filled address, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo tweeted — naturally — then went on to warn graduates about there being no script for how careers unfold. He used himself as an example: As a graduate of University of Michigan, Costolo moved to Chicago to pursue improv comedy — what many might consider a life of artistic poverty. While he didn’t remain in improv, he integrated valuable lessons that lead him to where he is now.


This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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TIME Education

Ian Brennan, Creator of Glee, to Grads: Audition for Everything

Ian Brennan gave this commencement speech at Loyola University Chicago

Very few people get to give a commencement address at their alma mater. And in fact this is my very first Loyola graduation, because I didn’t attend my own 15 years ago. I was doing a play at Navy Pier, and I guess I figured I definitely couldn’t miss a performance. (And looking back, I definitely could have missed a performance, because I had like 4 lines that were the Shakespeare equivalent of “Everybody, get in here!” I could have missed a performance and the other actors on stage wouldn’t have noticed.)

At any rate I’m very happy to be here and very humbled. And nervous, because these things are all about sharing pearls of wisdom that has one as accumulated and sage pieces of advice. Well what advice to give a stranger, let alone 600 of them? You all have different dreams than I do, different skill sets, different backgrounds, different sensibilities, different ambitions – you’re different people. And to give advice to a group of people as diffuse as that, you’d have to say something so toothless and so vague, it would have to be like “Go be good!” Which is also what you say to a dog when you want it to pee.

And what good is advice anyway? Everyone’s path is so different, and so dependent on chance. Advice that helped me in my life wouldn’t necessarily help you in yours. And it would be nonsensical to advise anybody to follow my path, because you wouldn’t end up in the same place. My path standing here before you this morning involved yes, a lot of hard work and planning, but also a lot of chance, a lot of bizarre chance events, a lot of strange coincidences.

Case in point, I’m here presumably because I created a TV show. That TV show, “Glee”, began its life as a screenplay, which was yes, based on my own experiences in show choir (which I hated — really didn’t enjoy it, still having anxiety dreams about it), but it didn’t occur to me to write about show choir until I met a girl I was in a play with in New York, and we ended up dating, and she had been in show choir, too, and then we would talk about it, laugh about it, watch old video tapes of it, and it’s then I realized, oh my God, no one’s ever written about a glee club. That’s hilarious. Such a funny setting for a movie. So then I sat down and wrote a screenplay about it. That screenplay was called “Glee.”

Now: that girl I dated, I met during this play, a play I had to fly to New York from Seattle to audition for, because I was doing a play in Seattle. I had to catch a red eye or I’d miss the whole thing entirely. I kid you not, I was 15 seconds away from missing that flight. It was like a Tom Hanks movie, I was in Sea-Tac airport, running through screaming to the gate agents, just as the doors were closing they let me on the plane. Barely made the flight, got to the audition, booked the play, met the girl that inspired the screenplay that became the TV show. If I was 15 seconds later I would have missed the flight, not gotten cast, never met the girl who showed me the videotapes that inspired the screenplay that became the TV show. And someone else would be here talking to you.

I don’t say that to exaggerate my abilities or to denigrate them, I just say that to illustrate the randomness that dictates every one of our lives. And in the face of such randomness what advice can you give, beyond Good luck. Buckle up. Enjoy the ride. To say anything else would just be hackneyed platitudes, and I do have hackneyed platitudes for you all. But before I get to that, I would like to speak a little bit about this institution we can now all say we share bachelors’ degrees from.

So confession – My whole life I really wanted to go to Northwestern. I just always thought it was going to happen. I was born in Evanston, it seemed symmetrical. They had a good theater program. I could stay in Chicago, my parents could watch Ohio State beat them at football. I just always thought it would happen.

And then, it didn’t happen. I didn’t get in. I’m still furious about it. I was like, how could this – you know, you get the little envelope, and I was like, but the whole plan was… and then your mind starts going, “What did I do wrong?” And in my case I totally knew what it was, and it was show choir. GLEE CLUB, ARGH. I felt obligated to do it because I knew I wanted to be an actor, and you sort of had to do it to be in the musicals, and I wanted to be a theater major and I dropped AP Euro so I could do it. And it made me too busy, it was literally the extracurricular activity that broke the camel’s back. It made me grades suffer, in junior year I got a bunch of B’s that should have been A’s. Dropped me out of the top 10% of my class. And then the person I asked to my write college recommendation to Northwestern was the show choir director! And it wasn’t even a good recommendation, because all he wrote about was how I was good at show choir! So dumb! And I didn’t even really enjoy it, with the sequins and the smiles and the show tunes. For our final show choir event, for the whole school, I was forced to perform in something called “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Concert.”

Looking back on it now, A) It all worked out. B) Sort of glad I was in Glee Club… and C) I am very glad I did not go to Northwestern, because if I had I could not have gone to Loyola.

I’m so proud of this institution, I’m so proud of the Jesuits, I think they represent just the absolute best of Catholicism. I’m so proud of the pope, the first Jesuit pope ever. Watching this man be pope is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. I literally had T-shirts made with his face on it, waving, that said “This Pope is Dope.” Not making that up.

And I’m so grateful to have gone to Loyola, a school that, as you will learn as you go out into the world, no one really knows where it is. You say “I went to Loyola”, people are like “Oh, I love New Orleans.” Nope. Or they’re like, “Oh, I’ve never been to Baltimore, what’s Baltimore like?” I don’t know. Or they say, “Great view of Los Angeles, really really convenient to LAX.” You go, Nope, that’s Loyola Marymount. I went to Loyola in Chicago, where there’s a Loyola.

I’m so grateful to have gone to a place where there’s sort of no fraternities—apologies to any of you that are in a fraternity. When I was here, they didn’t really even have houses, they had lunch tables. I don’t know if they still have that? And the lunch tables, they looked like dollhouses, they had these little mailboxes on them with letter slots which presumably you could drop letters into. Fifty percent of the letters had to say just like, Nice lunch table.

And I’m so grateful to have spent four years in this weird little pocket of Chicago called Rogers Park. It’s such an amazing place, it’s one of the most diverse places in the world, it’s a place where everyone is technically a minority. It’s amazing. It’s true. A place where if you throw a party, actual street people will show up. Like, urchins will wander in with an empty milk jug, head to the keg, fill it up, and then just hang out. You’d always be like, strong street urchin component at this party, Bravo.

And I’m so grateful for this Jesuit education. When you go here, that’s a phrase you hear a lot. For those who don’t know – and most of you should, because you paid for it – it’s a lot of classes over the broad range of the liberal arts, most of which you can’t use AP credit to pass out of, so you have to take them, with a heavy concentration in theology and philosophy. Such a heavy concentration that when I was here at least you only had to take three more courses in either philosophy or theology and you’d have a minor.

So let me tell you, this Jesuit education sticks with you. There’s still five or six classes that I still talk about on a weekly basis and bore people with at parties.

I took a class, it was a theology class, an astronomy professor my astronomy professor, wandered in one day, and he gave this lecture, and it was about how Hebrew tradition was really confused by the beginning, in the beginning, the first phrase in the book of Genesis begins with the letter Bet instead of Aleph, the letter B instead of A. Hebrew scholars were freaking out like for millenia, This perfect document, why does it start with B? Why wouldn’t it start with the first letter of the alphabet?

And what they came up with is, the letter Bet, it’s shaped like a bracket, and that that shape was itself a message, that it was pointing you that way, into the text. It was essentially saying Don’t worry about what happened before “in the beginning”. All this, by an astronomy professor…there’s no other institution in the world where that would happen, an astronomy professor wanders in and gives you a lecture in Hebrew theology.

I learned so much there. So much of any of my success I can trace to this place. And you’re like, Hold on, Wait, didn’t you have that high school teacher that inspired you? And yes, his name is John Marquette, he totally encouraged a small cadre of classmates of mine to go into a career in theater, he taught speech team, he directed all of the plays, and he want to Loyola.

It was here at Loyola that I took my first acting class, taught by that woman right there. It was here I was in my first new play, a play that had never been directed before, also by that woman right there. It was where I wrote my first play, saw it produced, realized it was the worst play ever written. I couldn’t even tell you the title of this play, such is my embarrassment. If any of you had read this play you would stand up right now and just go Shame! Shame! It’s that bad.

This is where I directed a play for the first time, learned about 60% of what you need to know about directing. So I can’t say I learned everything at Loyola, but a big chunk of what I learned, I learned at this place.

So, that having been said, what have I learned? What are my sage kernels of advice for 600 strangers? Here they are in no particular order.

Piece of Advice Number One: Work hard. Work hard. Be the hardest working person you know. Because if you’re not, someone else will be. And you can’t control how smart you are, how funny you are, how good-looking you are. The one thing you can control in your life is how hard you work. Make it a thing that people say about you, you know, “Man, he’s ugly, but he sure works hard.”

If you’ve got the lazy gene, you’re in trouble, because there is literally no successful person in history who people look back on and say, “Yeah, she was a really amazing person, accomplished so much, super lazy.”

It doesn’t mean you have to be obsessive type A maniac, because for 8 hours a day you can just pretend that you are and then you can go home and be as lazy as you want. Work hard.

Piece of Advice Number Two: Sounds obvious, but find a job that you love. And don’t stop searching until you do. Find a career you can get obsessed with. A career is like a mattress, you spend a third of your life on it, so make sure it’s comfortable. Take it from me, if you love your job, you will never work a day in your life.

Piece of Advice Number Three: Don’t follow money. Money is not your friend. Happiness in America – they’ve done studies about this, the happiest people in America are the middle class. The sweet spot is like between eighty thousand dollars a year and one hundred and twenty thousand a year. I’m not saying that easy, but less than that and you’re miserable, and more than that, and you’re miserable. (It’s sort of true.)

Money is good in that it gives you the freedom to continue to do the things you love. But it’s not an end in itself. It will not make you happy. Ask any Powerball winner.

Piece of Advice Number Four: Foster your creativity. And then, protect it. Your creativity is the greatest gift you will ever be given, and it’s the source of the greatest things you will achieve. It’s the part of you that is the most you. So care for it, the way you would a child or a beloved pet. Be firm, don’t let it just sit around. Make it do things. Toilet train it, be patient with it and it will grow and mature and get better and better and better. It will become the part of your life that you enjoy the most.

And more specifically, with regard to the two professions with which I can speak with some authority – to any actors out there, Act already. Start yesterday. Audition for everything. They say it takes ten years to get truly good at something? Well get up there and start being bad. Because once you stop being bad you’re going to start being good.

To writers: Write. That’s the one thing you have to do. Write for an hour every day. I remember I was told that once, and I thought, That sounds horrible. And it sort of is. But it doesn’t matter what you write, just write for an hour a day. Two at most. Nobody is creative for more than two hours a day, and if they say they are, they’re lying to you. Stephen King sort of was, but he did loads of cocaine.

Just let the world around you quiet down, and listen to your mind. Earplugs help for me. And when you get stuck, there’s a book to read, it’s called “Bird by Bird.” It’s by a writer named Anne Lamott. “Bird by Bird” – it’s the single best book on the writing process I’ve ever read.

Writing is lonely and difficult. Every time I sit down to write the first 45 minutes consists of 90% of my brain that is critical telling the 10% that’s creative that what it’s doing is absolutely horrible. It’s a job of the writer to not get up from the chair until that critical brain gets tired. And as soon as it does that creative part will start creating. Writing is hard until it isn’t, but when it comes flying out, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.

And my final piece of advice, sort of my only piece of advice, begins with an anecdote. When I was here at Loyola, the theater department brought in a very successful Chicago actor to give a seminar on acting. And I won’t say who his name is, I want to protect his anonymity, but his name is Bill Norris. He’s a great actor, he’s had a great career in Chicago theater for like 40 years.

Anyway I was like a freshman or sophomore, I can’t remember, but at the end of the seminar he asked if we had any questions. And my hand shot up, and I was like, What advice would you give someone like me who wants to do this as a career? What would you advise?

And his advice was one word. He said, Quit.

Now: I understood what he was getting at, and he was probably half joking. And maybe some people in that room needed to hear that. But it stands as the single worst piece of advice I have ever received. I am only standing here because I didn’t take it. So my only real advice to you is the opposite: Don’t Quit. Never quit. If you’ve been blessed to know the thing you want to do, do not give up on it. It doesn’t matter how hard it is.

The one way to guarantee you’re not going to be successful at something is to give up on it. Yes, some dreams are harder to achieve than others. But there is not one that is impossible. I’m telling you. Really ambitious goals – starting a theater company, running for Congress, starting your own business, opening an art gallery in Prague. These things are hard. But even the hardest goal is not that hard. The hardest part is admitting to yourself that that’s what you really want to do.

Dare to say out loud the thing that you actually want and the hard part is actually over. Because then you’ll start to make a plan, and when you have a plan, then you’ll start to make that plan real. And before you know it, you’re just doing the thing that you always wanted to do.

And when you’re busting your hump, following your dream, and someone asks you the question, What do you have to fall back on? Slap them. Don’t worry about Plan B. You know what your Plan B should be? Plan A. You’re young. The world is full of possibilities for every one of you. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t plant the seed of failure right next to the seed of success. You may not end up twenty years from now exactly where you thought you would be, but it’s going to feel like you did, because you followed your truest, deepest desires. You honored your truest, deepest self.

So that’s my advice. So Go be good. You’re 600 strangers, you have your whole lives ahead of you, and I’m already in wonder of what you’re going to accomplish. Congratulations, Class of 2015.

Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Arianna Huffington to Grads: Make Time to Connect With Yourself

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Grads: Make Feminism an Inclusive Party

Chris Matthews to Grads: ‘Make Them Say No. Never Say No to Yourself’

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Darren Walker to Grads: Build a Bridge to a Better World

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Joe Plumeri to Grads: Go Out and Play in Traffic

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Michelle Obama to Grads: Shape the Revolution

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

Natalie Portman to Grads: Carve Your Own Path

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

TIME Companies

This Is Why Some Companies Are More Successful Than Others

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They excel at things that matter the most

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Whether it’s Apple, Facebook, Twitter or Uber, all entrepreneurs look at companies that are super successful and wonder what they do differently. It bewilders us to see how they skyrocketed from a humble startup to phenomenal success. How do they not hit roadblocks? Why don’t they have problems to get through? What special talent helps them do everything right?

Well, they don’t do everything right. They just excel at things that matter the most.

A quick dive into the history of any top company will reveal the mess they went through to reach the pinnacle. Apple saw the famous ‘Steve sacking’ episode; Facebook had an ugly falling out of the founders; Twitter was a game of musical chairs for the CEO; Uber has made many mistakes with their international launches — and more recently, with their executives making inappropriate statements. And these are just some examples out of the many companies out there that went through troubles.

So what made these companies a runaway success? It’s the way they worked past their limitations and were able to create game changing products or services. They had a sufficiently great product that they were able to overcome a lot of their mistakes.

Let me explain this with a perfect example — Steve Jobs. Today, we see people emulate everything he did, trying to shape themselves into the person that he was. But while an amazing visionary, Steve Jobs was not perfect. In the early days, he did not treat his team with the right level of respect. He was not a people’s person and made mistakes with how he managed his employees.

Now, it would be wrong to assume that the way he treated employees contributed to his success. Truth is, what made Steve Jobs legendary was his vision and innovation, not his behavior with his team. If anything, people were more accepting of the latter because of his technical genius.

Yet another great way to explain the point is sports. Take a match of tennis, for example. Player X beats player Y in five sets. Match reports come out and it’s full of praises for the winner, highlighting how he was considerably better. They will talk about the training, the hard work, and the strategy as all being key reasons for their success. However, if you had seen the match, you would know that it was just a couple of key points that tilted the match. The real reason he won was because he made the right decisions on the most critical points — the break points and the set points. And that’s pretty much how success stories for most companies go.

This shows that we must take care not to confuse the noise from the signal. Mark Zuckerberg did an amazing job at building out Facebook because of his clear focus on growth of their Monthly Active Users. Even with all of Facebook’s success he was not perfect and made mistakes — he failed both times he tried competing with Snapchat.

There is no denying that we should be inspired by these innovators and their companies. But at the same time, we shouldn’t try to blindly copy every action that they do. There is a good lesson to be learned from every story; it’s important to recognize what the big decisions were that really moved the needle and learn from them.

Randy Rayess is the co-founder of VenturePact, a marketplace that connects companies to prescreened software development firms; he previously worked in private equity at SilverLake Partners and in machine learning. You can reach out to him at @randyrayess or on linkedin.

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

This article was originally published on BusinessCollective.

TIME Education

Arianna Huffington to Grads: Make Time to Connect With Yourself

Arianna Huffington gave this commencement speech at Vassar College

Thank you so much, President Hill, Members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished alumni, members of the faculty, devoted parents and friends, and especially the fabulous Vassar College Class of 2015. I am deeply grateful to have been invited to be part of such a special moment in your lives. Commencement is one of my favorite rituals – coming together for one last time, dressed alike before you head off into your singular and unique lives. When I was deciding what to wear under my gown, I asked Siri what the weather was in Poughkeepsie. And Siri responded with a list of mixed drinks with whiskey. I think I’m going to wait until Siri comes up with an update for Greek accents.

Today is the culmination of your time at Vassar. And it’s also a mini-culmination for me. Because I’ve spent a lot of time in recent weeks getting to know you – following you and your activities on social media, on Vassar’s website, in The Miscellany News, and in other ways I’m not prepared to disclose that will remain between me and the folks at the NSA. It feels a little like I’ve been checking out your online dating profile, and now we’re finally meeting. And when I saw you walk in, all 611 of you, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Because let’s face it, you look fantastic. If we were on Tinder, I would definitely be ready to swipe right. Or is it left? Actually, at my age, it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re swiping.

One of the things I learned from my cyber-stalking is that the Vassar College seal shows the goddess Athena in front of the Parthenon, which I love. Though it occurs to me that I’m probably here because Athena couldn’t be booked, so you settled for another Greek lady from Athens. And to really sell it, I’ll be delivering my speech in a thick, sometimes- hard-to-understand Greek accent, instead of the crystal clear, accentless voice I use at all other times. In my private detective work, I also learned that your former motto “purity and wisdom” was abandoned in 1930, which was probably a good idea given that when The Miscellany News – or the Misc as I understand you call it – sent out an email to seniors asking what was on their bucket list, most of the answers had to do with sex. One replied, “Have sex under the sex tree!” Another said, “Have sex in the circle couches near the Art Library.” A third wrote back, “Sex in the meditation room or the roof of the library.” Aren’t you glad I’m not disclosing your names in front of your parents? You owe me!

What was clear from all my private detective work is that you belong to a community. And for the rest of your lives, you’ll essentially have a language you speak that no one else understands…sort of a more fun version of how I’ve been feeling my whole life. Chili Wednesdays at The Retreat. The Bell Ringing. Founder’s Day. Mug Nights. A Quidditch team, The Butterbeer Brooers. The Deece. Running naked through the library the night before final exams. The Vassar Devil, which I understand to be some sort of ice cream sensation I’m definitely planning to sample before I leave. The a cappella groups – all 3,475 of them.

And what a treasure trove of stories you’re leaving Vassar with. Not just from your years here but from Vassar’s incredibly colorful past: Way back in the 1880s, you invented fudge – maybe. Some of you actually believe that the squirrels around campus are the slightly deranged reincarnations of English majors who couldn’t get jobs after graduation. But, hey, at least the squirrels aren’t living at home, right mom and dad? And here is my favorite: before your time, Vassar students were given the emblem of an acorn to display on their doors when they did not wish to be disturbed. The custom was apparently discontinued, but I want to urge you to revive it as something to use physically and spiritually for the rest of your lives. It’s actually central to the three relationships I want to talk to you about today. And those are: your relationship with technology, your relationship with yourself, and your relationship with the world.

Let’s start with your relationship with technology. No generation has been as liberated and as connected by technology as yours. But also, no generation has been as enslaved and as distracted by technology. So bring on that acorn because as the writer Eric Barker said, “Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world — while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up with texts, tweets and other incessant interruptions.” Sadly, we have become not just distracted by our devices, our texts, emails, constant notifications, and social media, but addicted to them. And when it comes to social media, let me break it to you: our addiction is not a bug, but a feature. This isn’t some unforeseen side effect, it was always the intention, that social media would consume as much of our time and attention – as much of our lives – as possible.

To your credit, many of you have already recognized this and have taken steps to curb this addiction. As senior Justin Mitchell told the Misc, “I was mindlessly going through people’s profiles and being an idiot. So I cut it out. There’s just not enough time to do that with school.” And having graduated just a few years before you, I can tell you there is even less time to do that with life.

But the addiction is so powerful that, according to a recent survey, 20 percent of millennials actually use their smartphones during sex. Maybe I should have read the instructions on my phone more carefully, but I’m not even sure what that means. Indeed, a recent study shows that more than half of women would rather go a month with no sex than a month with no smartphone – although I am sure this survey did not include any women with access to the Vassar Sex Tree.

Contrary to what many of you may think, not only is multitasking not very efficient, it doesn’t actually exist. It’s actually rapid task switching – instead of doing two things at once, we simply switch between doing two things badly. It’s one of the most stressful ways we can use our time, and it robs us of our capacity to notice and appreciate every moment of our lives. I live in New York, and you hardly ever see anybody simply walking down the street who’s not also staring at a screen, talking on the phone, or, even worse, texting while walking. It’s like being in a really boring zombie movie. I used to be exactly like that myself. I remember one day, I left my apartment with a friend. I looked up and said, “What a gorgeous building! I wonder when that went up?” “1890” my friend said. I’d never noticed it. As Vassar alum, Mary Oliver, put it: “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be Astonished. Tell about it.” And by the way, when you do, please tell about it on The Huffington Post. I’m going to make it super easy for you by giving you my email so you can bypass the growing HuffPost blogging bureaucracy: arianna@huffingtonpost.com.

As someone who runs a 24/7 digital media company and who uses every form of social media ever invented, I hope I have some street cred when I urge you to build boundaries, introduce digital detoxes into your life, and learn to regularly disconnect from the jumble and the cacophony and make time to reconnect with yourself. There will be many profound and fulfilling relationships ahead of you, but the relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you’ll ever have. And, like any relationship, it can’t be taken for granted – without care and attention, it will atrophy and, ultimately, break down.

If there is one thing I wish I knew when I was sitting where you are today – and by the way, there are many – it’s that the Delphic admonition “Know Thyself” and Socrates’ admonition that “the unexamined life is not worth living” are not ancient philosophical platitudes, but in fact the most relevant and important guiding truths for our lives. In the well-earned rush and excitement of your new life that’s about to begin, it’s remarkably easy to forget that most important relationship. That’s because the ever-increasing creep of technology – into our bedrooms, our brains, and our lives – makes it much harder to connect with ourselves.

Indeed, for so many of us, connecting with ourselves has been so neglected that we will do anything to avoid it. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Virginia did an experiment in which they gave people a choice to be alone in a room, without anything – no devices, no papers, no phones – or get an electric shock. A whopping 67 percent of men chose the electric shock. I’m very happy to say that only 25 percent of women chose the shock. Seriously guys – and a quarter of the women – what is wrong with you? It’s not like you have to go shopping with your own thoughts or move in with them and pick out drapes, just be alone with them for fifteen minutes. Is it that bad?

In fact most of us actually know more about the state of our smartphones than we do about the state of ourselves. I bet pretty much everyone here knows approximately how much battery remains in your smartphone right now. And when it gets below 20%, giving us the dreaded red low power alert, we begin to get anxious and desperately look around for one of the little recharging shrines we meticulously maintain everywhere around us, lest anything should happen to our precious phone. But how much do you know, how aware are you, how mindful are you, of the state of your own being? Of your own energy and alertness and reserves? How quickly do you spring into action when you go into the low power zone?

I was fascinated to read about Vassar’s Maria Mitchell, America’s first female astronomer, and to see the gorgeous building that used to house her observatory. And while I completely understand the sense of wonder that has led men and women through the ages to explore outer space, I’m personally much more fascinated with exploring inner space. As Thomas Merton put it, “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous.” In other words, it’s the quality of our inner journeys that allows us to make sense of our outer journeys.

There is now a collective longing to stop living in the shallows and recognize that life is actually shaped from the inside out – a truth that has been celebrated by spiritual teachers, poets and philosophers throughout the ages and has now been unambiguously validated by modern science. And you, Vassar graduates, can lead the way, and chart a new path forward. You’re the first generation born into the digital world. And you can be the first generation to master it, to make it serve you, instead of the other way around. And when you do, you’ll find that you have the wind at your back because that’s what the times are calling for.

One of the things that’s so special about Vassar is that at the heart of your education is a deep and profound sense of responsibility for the world and those around us. You’ve been taught to use your considerable talents, and your drive and your dedication to make a difference in the world. I was moved and inspired by all the projects you’ve started and been involved in: The Vassar Prison Initiative, The Vassar Haiti Project, The College Committee on Sustainability, Operation Donation, etc., etc. You’ve already made a difference in the world you’re about to enter.

And it’s no accident that Vassar has recognized the crisis of growing inequality in our country. In fact, congratulations for being the number one college to enroll high-performing, low-income students and support them through successful graduation. The concern about growing inequality has become almost universal – transcending political parties and ideologies. The statistics are staggering: Student loan debt is at 1.2 trillion dollars, the number of Americans in poverty has grown by 15 million since 2000, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods has tripled since 1970, while America is now home to more prisoners than any other country in the world, with more than 2 million people behind bars.

As we see this happening, I keep being reminded of my visit to Pompeii, whose people were wiped out in the first century by a violent volcanic eruption. There had been many warning signs, including a severe earthquake, tremors, springs and wells that dried up, dogs that ran away, and birds that no longer sang. And then the most obvious warning sign: columns of smoke belching out of Mount Vesuvius before the volcano blew its top, burying the city and its inhabitants under sixty feet of ash and volcanic rock. But the warning signs had been dismissed as “not particularly alarming.” The warning signs are all around us today, too, pointing out the gulf between what we know we should be doing and what we’re choosing to do instead.

It’s not that we don’t have enough data – in fact, we’re drowning in data. What we’re lacking is wisdom. Indeed ninety percent of the data now available to us has been created in the last two years. But how much of our collective wisdom has been made available in that time? That’s what’s missing from our leaders and from our public discourse. Could our political debate, dominated as it is by meaningless head-to-head polls, manufactured controversies, horse-race sound-bites, and news of Hillary Clinton asking for extra guacamole at Chipotle and Ted Cruz suddenly liking country music after 9/11 – be any more trivialized?

In fact, at The Huffington Post we’ve started a “Who Cares?” section to cover all these non-issues and hopefully leave more room for the real ones. And for those of you going into journalism, our goal at HuffPost is to reimagine the craft. There’s an old saying in the news business, one that’s guided editorial thinking for decades: “If it bleeds, it leads.” But it turns out this is just lousy journalism. As journalists, our job is to provide an accurate picture – and that means the full picture – of what’s going on in the world. Just showing tragedy, violence, and mayhem – just focusing on what’s broken and what’s not working – misses too much of what is really happening all around us. What about how people are responding to these challenges, how they’re coming together, even in the midst of violence, poverty and loss? And what about all the stories of innovation, creativity, ingenuity, compassion and grace? By shining a light on these stories, we can scale up these solutions and create a positive contagion that can expand and broaden their reach. Instead of just producing copycat crimes, we can start to produce copycat solutions.

And you can be a part of those solutions. There is an invisible but very real and inescapable connection between our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with the world. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it, “If you wanted to put the world to rights, who should you begin with: yourself or others?” I know everyone here wants to help put the world to rights. But please remember, it begins with yourself… as they say on airplanes, secure your own oxygen mask first.

So regularly hang that virtual acorn on your door because while the world will provide plenty of insistent, pleading, flashing, high-volume signals directing you to distract yourself, to not be in the moment, to burn out in order to climb higher up the ladder of what the world defines as success, there will be almost no worldly signals reminding you to stay connected to the essence of who you are, to pause to wonder, and to connect to that place of wisdom in you – that place from which everything is possible. The world will keep coming at you with its incessant demands, beeps, blinking lights, and alerts. “Every day,” Iain Thomas wrote, “the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And This! And This!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’”

It’s from this sacred place that life is transformed from struggle to grace, from information to wisdom. We have, if we’re lucky, about 30,000 days to play the game of life. And trust me, that’s not morbid. In fact, it’s wisdom that will put all the inevitable failures and rejections and disappointments and heartbreaks into perspective. Because as the great Onion headline summed it up, “Death Rate Holding Steady at 100%” So let’s stop sweeping it under the rug. That’s a modern impulse. Ancient Romans would carve “MM,” Memento Mori, Remember Death, on statues and trees – to put every victory and every defeat into its proper perspective. I’m not sure if you want to carve it on the sex tree, though, because things could get weird.

And if you’ve been to a memorial service recently, you’ll have noticed that our eulogies have very little to do with our resumes and our LinkedIn profiles. For instance, here’s the sort of thing you don’t hear in a eulogy: “George was amazing, he increased market share by one-third.” Or, “her PowerPoint slides were always meticulously prepared.” Or, “she ate lunch at her desk every single day.” Our eulogies are always about the other stuff: what we gave, how we connected, how much we meant to our family and friends, small kindnesses, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh. So why do we spend so much of our lives chasing things we don’t value and that don’t ultimately matter?

As you leave this magical campus, don’t let technology wrap you up in a perpetually harried existence. Don’t be so connected to everybody that you’re not truly connected to anybody. Or to yourself. And don’t get so caught up in your busy life that life’s mystery passes you by. Bring joy and gratitude into every moment – even the tough ones – and start displaying that acorn on your door. Thank you so much.


Arianna Huffington is co-founder, president and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post


Read more 2015 commencement speeches:

Alan Alda to Grads: Everything in Life Takes Time

Bernard Harris to Grads: You Are an Infinite Being With Infinite Possibilities

Bill Nye to Grads: Change the World

Chris Matthews to Grads: ‘Make Them Say No. Never Say No to Yourself’

Colin Powell to Grads: Learn to Lead

Darren Walker to Grads: Build a Bridge to a Better World

Ed Helms to Grads: Define Yourselves

Eric Schmidt to Grads: You Can Write the Code for All of Us

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel to Grads: ‘This Is the World We Were Born Into, and We Are Responsible for It’

Gwen Ifill to Grads: If You See Something, Do Something

GE CEO Jeff Immelt to Grads: Become a Force for Change

Ian McEwan to Grads: Defend Free Speech

Joe Plumeri to Grads: Go Out and Play in Traffic

Jon Bon Jovi to Grads: Lead By Example

Jorge Ramos’ Message for Journalists: Take a Stand

Joyce Carol Oates to Grads: Be Stubborn and Optimistic

Katie Couric to Grads: Get Yourself Noticed

Ken Burns to Grads: Set Things Right Again

Kenneth Cole to Grads: Find Your Voice

Madeleine Albright to Grads: The World Needs You

Mark Ruffalo to Grads: Buck the System

Matthew McConaughey to Grads: Always Play Like an Underdog

Maya Rudolph to Grads: Create Your Own Destiny

Mellody Hobson to Grads: Set Your Sights High

Meredith Vieira to Grads: Be the Left Shark

Michelle Obama to Grads: Shape the Revolution

Mitt Romney to Grads: America Needs You to Serve

Natalie Portman to Grads: Carve Your Own Path

President Obama to Grads: We Should Invest in People Like You

President Obama to Cadets: Lead the Way on Fighting Climate Change

Salman Rushdie to Grads: Try to Be Larger Than Life

Samantha Power to Grads: Start Changing the World By ‘Acting As If’

Stephen Colbert to Grads: You Are Your Own Professor Now

Tim Cook to Grads: Tune Out the Cynics

MONEY Success

Wisdom From the Wright Brothers: 5 Secrets to Success

Wilbur Wright, American pioneer in aviation, and Paul Zens, famous French flier, preparing for two man flight in Le Mans, France, September 16, 1908.
Corbis Wilbur Wright, American pioneer in aviation, and Paul Zens, famous French flier, preparing for two man flight in Le Mans, France, September 16, 1908.

"Carelessness and overconfidence are usually more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks."

The early pioneers of flight faced tremendous obstacles. The experiments were expensive and extremely dangerous. And those brave souls who devoted themselves to developing “flying machines” were ridiculed as cranks and fools.

Such knowledge makes the achievements of the Wright Brothers all the more remarkable. In his outstanding new book on the brothers, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough notes,

In no way did any of this discourage or deter Wilbur and Orville Wright, any more than the fact they had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial backers, no government subsidies, and little money of their own. Or the entirely real possibility that at some point, like Otto Lilienthal [a German glider enthusiast], they could be killed.

Instead, the brothers remained focused on their mission with an unyielding determination.

Learning how to fly is one of the greatest accomplishments in all of human history. I came away from this book in awe of the incredible discipline, determination, and courage of the Wright brothers. I truly believe that each of us can improve ourselves greatly by learning from their remarkable example. Below are five lessons on how to be successful from Wilbur and Orville Wright.

1. “But it isn’t true to say we had no special advantages … the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.”
Here, Orville was responding to a friend who told him that he and his brother were great examples of how far Americans with no unique advantages could advance in the world. Orville knew, of course, that they actually had grown up in a very encouraging environment. He and his brother remained curious about all aspects of the world throughout their lives.

Their father, Milton Wright, was a bishop in the United Brethren Church, and was considered well-educated for the time. Indeed, Bishop Wright was a lifelong lover of books, who “heartily championed the limitless value of reading.” The Wright home in Dayton, Ohio, had an outstanding library with books on literature, art, American history, and natural history.

The brothers were extremely fortunate to grow up with a father who taught them to have open minds and think for themselves. Years later in Paris for a short stay, Wilbur visited the Louvre 15 or more times. This dedication to learning both within and outside their chosen field of study was a key factor in their success.

2. “The man who wishes to keep at the problem long enough to really learn anything positively must not take dangerous risks. Carelessness and overconfidence are usually more dangerous than deliberately accepted risks.”
Wilbur recognized early on one of the key dilemmas facing early flight enthusiasts. One needed a lot of experience in order to master the various difficulties involved, yet each “experiment” could possibly result in death or serious injury.

The brothers were able to solve this problem by being disciplined about managing risks during their early flights. First, they made sure they didn’t go too high up. And they, of course, practiced on the beach at Kitty Hawk, N.C., so there was soft sand on which to land. As a result of their precautions, they were able to log countless hours in the sky, which was one of the main reasons they achieved their breakthrough. Like a lot of great investors, they were prudent, but not overly cautious, in their approach to risk-taking.

3. “The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power.”
This quote from Wilbur provides an interesting insight into their development of some of the earliest planes. Each new model often came with more powerful motors, but that wasn’t where the big improvements came from. Instead, discovering an improved “scientific design” resulted in better planes.

I think this quote is a nice illustration of the principle of working smarter. Sometimes, we’re tempted to just apply more muscle to a project or a problem. Stopping to learn and think about how we might improve the process can often yield even greater results.

4. “Well, if I talked a lot I should be like a parrot, which is the bird that speaks most and flies least.”
Wilbur Wright, who made this quip, was a doer not a talker. I came away from this book with tremendous admiration for his humility and single-mindedness. At an early flight demonstration, one observer wrote:

Wilbur Wright is the best example of strength of character that I have ever seen. In spite of the sarcastic remarks and mockery, in spite of the traps set up from everywhere all these years, he has not faltered. He is sure of himself, of his genius, and he kept his secret. He had the desire to participate today to prove the world he had not lied.

When they were just getting started, the brothers were able to shut out the rest of the world and focus on their work. Kitty Hawk turned out to be an excellent place for allowing them to do that. Years later, when they finally attained great wealth and fame, both brothers remembered those simple days at Kitty Hawk as the happiest time of their lives.

5. “If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”

Wilbur is obviously being lighthearted here. But I think there’s an element of truth in the remark. It reminds me of Warren Buffett’s comments on the “Ovarian Lottery” — where he expresses how lucky he is for having been born in America.

I think the Wright Brothers knew how fortunate they were to be born into an extremely positive environment — both at home and in their larger community. Dayton, Ohio, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was a vibrant, growing city where the people had, according to another of its notable sons, “the courage of their dreams.”

Obviously, we don’t have control over the environment we are born into. But we can change the one we live in as we get older. And we can certainly try to create better ones for our children.

I highly recommend that you read The Wright Brothers. It’ll change the way you think about these great Americans. And it might even inspire you to do exceptional things.

More From Motley Fool:

TIME Culture

How to Bridge the Generational Gap and Succeed at Work

jo piazza lucy sykes knockoff
Penguin Random House

Jo Piazza is a writer, editor, and co-author of The Knockoff.

You can learn something from the other generation

I’ve been the youngest person in the room. I’ve been the only one in jeans and a hoodie while everyone else wore power suits. I laughed when someone mentioned a fax.

I’ve also been the oldest. I have been completely left behind during a conversation about the benefits of Meerkat versus Periscope. I once had to ask what Tinder was.

I’m almost 35, which means I straddle that weird line between Generation X and millennial. I recently wrote a novel with former-magazine-editor-turned-techie Lucy Sykes, who is 45, about this generational divide in the workplace.

Our book The Knockoff has been called The Devil Wears Prada meets All About Eve meets Silicon Valley, and it tells the story of fashion magazine editor Imogen Tate (who is in her forties) who sees her magazine turned into an app when her young assistant Eve (who is in her twenties) becomes her boss. Even as Eve tries to strong-arm Imogen out of her job, Imogen meets incredible young women in tech who help her bridge the generational divide.

In some ways the book mirrored Lucy and my real relationship. Lucy couldn’t figure out how to edit the documents that I would send her over email. But we figured it out. Lucy paid her 11-year-old son to teach her to use her iPad. We both learned to speak the universal language of emoji. We got over it. Here’s some advice for others in similar situations.

For the younger generation:

1. Show. Don’t tell. Your older boss may think you’re goofing off and wasting time on your phone and social media. They might not understand that you can communicate with clients over text message and search for ideas on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I once had an editor ask me to reprimand an employee because she “never picked up a phone” and was “on her Gmail all day.” She was just using Gchat as her primary mode of communication. Show your boss how you use new tools and platforms so that your boss knows they are a part of your daily work flow.

2. Listen with respect and ask questions. Your older coworker has been working in this industry for so long for a reason, and they have years of institutional knowledge. You can learn from them. Asking questions doesn’t just help you learn, but it also makes your coworker feel valued.

3. Switch up how you communicate. Pick up the phone. Sometimes a phone call will accomplish so much more than a text message. Nuance is lost in text, and a smiley face does not convey tone. If you want to have a healthy working relationship with your older colleagues, make that phone call or pop over to their office. Keep the acronyms to yourself, and let them dictate the kind of language you use.

4. Be patient. The older generation went into their careers thinking they would stay in one place for a long time. That is no longer the case. You may be itching to move up the ladder and onto the next big opportunity, but sit back for a bit, take a deep breath, and don’t let that ambition and eagerness overwhelm you. Sometimes it can be taken the wrong way.

5. Be polite. We know you have manners. But sometimes manners are lost over text and email. It’s worth using pleasantries like “Dear X” and “Sincerely” in emails.

For the older generation:

1. Your next mentor may be younger than you, and that’s OK. When I used to think about a mentor, I thought about Oprah, Gay Talese, and Barbara Walters—all people who were older than I was. But now I look at women in their twenties who are fierce business women, and I think Lauren Conrad or Leandra Medine of the Man Repeller could be my next mentor.

2. Adapt. The old ways aren’t necessarily better; we have just been doing them longer. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt, or risk not making it in the industry.

3. Ask for help. Ask your kids. Ask your nanny. Ask those geniuses at the Apple store. Half the battle is knowing what to ask so you can level the playing field.

4. Compromise. Be prepared for change, and be ready to embrace new ideas from this new generation of business leaders. Accept that you are not always going to be right.

5. Learn new ways to communicate. Make sure you get on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Learn to text and Snapchat. It might seem like a fad, but it will open up amazing in-roads with the younger generation.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY consumer psychology

83 Questions Every Successful Person Asks

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Getty Images

"What am I really good at?"

One of the things that stood out from my Rich Habits Study was how important thinking was to self-made millionaires. I tracked 10 different types of thinking habits these millionaires engaged in frequently, if not daily. From my research, it was so evident that thinking was fundamental to their success that I decided it needed to become one of what I call the 10 Keystone Rich Habits.

When self-millionaires think, they do so in isolation, closed off from the world. Most engaged in their daily thinking habits in the morning, some during their commute in their car, others in the shower, and still others at night. Morning seemed to be the most dominant time frame, however. Typically, immediately upon waking, these self-made millionaires would find a quiet space and think for about 15 to 30 minutes.

What did they think about? Well, they thought about a lot of things and when they thought, they thought in a way that most would refer to as brainstorming. They spent time every day brainstorming with themselves about numerous things. I was able to boil down those brainstorming sessions into 10 core Rich Thinking Habit categories. Here they are, and the corresponding 83 questions the rich ask themselves.

1. Career

Some of the questions they asked themselves included:

  • What can I do to make more money?
  • How can I increase my value to my clients, customers or my employer?
  • What do I need to do in order to gain more expertise?
  • What additional skills do I need?
  • What things should I be reading more about?
  • Do I like what I do?
  • What do I love to do?
  • Can I make money doing what I love to do?
  • Should I change careers?
  • Should I work more – or fewer — hours?
  • Do I work hard enough?
  • Am I lazy?
  • What am I really good at?
  • What am I really bad at?
  • Does my job make me happy?

2. Finances

When it comes to their money, here are some of the questions they contemplated:

  • Do I spend too much money?
  • Am I saving enough money?
  • Will I have enough to retire on?
  • How much will I need to retire on?
  • Do I have enough set aside for college for my kids?
  • How much do I actually spend each month?
  • Should I create a budget?
  • Should I revise my budget?
  • Am I doing a good job investing our money?
  • Is my spouse doing a good job investing our money?
  • Am I paying too much in taxes?
  • Do I have enough life insurance?
  • Should I set up a trust for my kids?

3. Family

They also asked themselves:

  • Do I spend enough time with my family?
  • Can I work less and spend more time with my family?
  • Are we spoiling our kids?
  • Are we too hard on our kids?
  • Can I get away for a family vacation this year?
  • Are we doing enough to help our kids succeed?
  • How can I improve my relationship with my spouse, my kids?

4. Friends

Social life is also an important part of the equation, and among the things they considered:

  • Do I have as many friends as I should?
  • Do I spend enough time with the friends I have?
  • Why don’t I have many friends?
  • How can I make more friends?
  • Is my work interfering too much with my social life?
  • Do I call my friends enough?
  • How often should I stay in touch with my friends?
  • Who haven’t I spoken with in a while?
  • Do I have good friends?
  • How can I end my friendship with so-and-so?
  • Should I help my friends financially?

5. Business Relationships

Of course, business is also a prominent concern, and they continued to ask themselves the following:

  • What can I do to improve my business relationships?
  • Am I staying in touch enough with my key customers, clients?
  • How can I develop a business relationship with so-and-so?
  • Which business relationships should I spend more time on and which ones should I pull away from?
  • Do my customers/clients like me?
  • Do they think I do a good job?

6. Health

They also focused on health issues, asking:

  • Am I exercising enough?
  • Should I lose more weight?
  • Do I eat too much?
  • Am I eating healthfully?
  • Should I get a physical?
  • Should I take vitamins/supplements?
  • Should I schedule a colonoscopy?
  • Are my arteries clogged?
  • Do I get enough sleep?
  • Do I drink too much?
  • What can I do to stop smoking?
  • How can I cut back on junk food and eat more vegetables?

7. Dream-Setting & Goal-Setting

Most of the brainstorming involved their personal, financial, family and career dreams and goals, including dreams of retiring on a beach, buying a boat, expanding their business, buying vacation homes, etc.

  • What are my dreams and goals for the future?
  • What do I need to do to get there?

8. Problems

Here they brainstormed primarily about finding solutions to those problems that were causing them the most stress at the moment. Most were immediate problems related to their jobs and family. Some were longer-term and related to preempting future potential problems they were anticipating down the road most often related to their careers.

9. Charity

They also try to make sure they’re giving back to their community, so they asked themselves:

  • What other charities can I get involved in?
  • Am I doing enough for my church, business group, synagogue, etc.?
  • How can I best help my community?
  • What can I do to help my grammar school, high school, college, etc.?
  • Should I start a scholarship?
  • Should I contribute more money to my school or church?
  • Who can I help?

10. Happiness

Finally… the ever-important happiness factor. They checked in with these questions:

  • Am I happy?
  • What is causing me to be unhappy?
  • How can I eliminate those things that are making me unhappy?
  • Is my spouse happy?
  • Are my kids happy?
  • Are my employees or staff happy?
  • How can I make myself happier?
  • What is happiness?
  • Will I ever be happy?
  • What’s making me so happy?

That’s a lot of thinking, I know. There are a lot of days in the year, however, to brainstorm with yourself. You just need to make it a daily habit. Eventually, over time you will come up with solutions to your most pressing problems. You will gain insight into what makes you tick. Planned daily thinking will help you find some meaning to your life.

Making a daily habit of thinking is what self-made millionaires do. It’s an important piece of the success puzzle. Understanding why they do it is less important than understanding that they do do it. Every day.

More From Credit.com:

TIME Business

4 Important Pieces of Life Advice for New Grads

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Think of your career path more like a climbing wall than a ladder

LinkedIn Influencer Roger Ferguson originally published this post on LinkedIn. Follow Roger on LinkedIn.

At 22, the world is your oyster. The possibilities seem endless, and you’re eager to make an impact on the world. Here are my four top tips for how to go about it.

1. Develop – or continue developing – your human capital. It’s the key to your success.

Don’t listen to those who question whether a college degree is “worth it” anymore. The student debt challenge is serious, but it has not made a college degree any less relevant. Consider that the unemployment rate for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher is nearly half that of people with just a high school diploma. Moreover, jobs requiring a graduate or professional degree will grow faster than all other jobs through 2020 – so don’t be deterred from pursuing a graduate degree if your research tells you it’s a wise investment. (If you need help in making a cost/benefit determination, check out gradsense.org.)

2. Even when you have a diploma in hand, commit to being a lifelong learner.

To thrive in this time of rapid change, you must never stop learning and growing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be in a classroom forever. It’s more about the state of mind you bring to your work.

When you start a new job, see yourself as a student of the organization. Immerse yourself in the details, ask questions, and raise your hand for assignments that will expand your knowledge. Work hard to develop an expertise about the organization, its history, its challenges, its people, and its directions. Learn about your competitors and the wider industry you’re in. That kind of broad knowledge will enable you to make an impact on your organization – and advance in your career.

3. Think of your career path more like a climbing wall than a traditional “career ladder.”

Sometimes you need to go sideways to make progress. You may even have to move down the wall at certain points. The key is to keep growing and learning.

My career path has been anything but straight. I started out practicing law, and then joined the consulting world for 13 highly rewarding years. When I had the opportunity to serve as a governor on the Federal Reserve, I did not hesitate to accept. Since 2008, I have had the good fortune to lead TIAA-CREF. I have loved applying my talents to such a diverse array of positions and organizations. It’s been extremely rewarding on both a personal and professional level. But if I had started out with rigid notions about getting from point A to point B in my career, I would have missed out on many opportunities that have enriched my life.

4. Give your financial life the same kind of focus you give your work and social lives.

Your goal should be to achieve financial well-being, because without it, you’ll have a tough time making any kind of impact on the world. You can’t change the world if you’re worried about being able to make the monthly payments on your student loan.

Financial well-being is not about the size of your paycheck; it’s about having a clear vision for the future and confidence in your ability to get there. It requires a healthy dose of “financial literacy” – understanding the concepts of personal finance, knowing how to use credit wisely, and having a long-term financial plan. To boost your knowledge, take a look at startingout.tiaa-cref.org – a financial education site that TIAA-CREF developed to help young people build financial well-being.

To be sure, today’s 22-year-olds face some unique financial challenges, including student debt levels topping $1.2 trillion. But you can face any challenge and thrive with careful planning. Make sure that when you enter the working world, you have long-term financial goals, even as you deal with short-term goals like buying a car or taking a vacation. Most important, start saving when you’re young – because saving even a little bit on a regular basis can have a huge effect on your financial well-being. And if you truly want to make an impact, that’s probably the best advice of all.

LinkedIn Influencer Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and CEO of TIAA-CREF, originally published this post on LinkedIn. Follow Roger on LinkedIn.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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