Tribe of Mentors

Great advice given by various people.

20 min read

Book Recommendations

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger

Ask yourself: "What would this look like if it were easy?"

John Dewey’s dictum: “a problem well put is half-solved”.

Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask

Samin Nosrat

"Even the best gigs don’t last forever. Nor should they."

"The important thing is to learn from each failure and try not to repeat it."

"When in doubt, let kindness and compassion guide you. And don’t be afraid to fail."

Steven Pressfield

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

"I’m probably hopelessly out of date but my advice is get real-world experience: Be a cowboy. Drive a truck. Join the Marine Corps. Get out of the hypercompetitive “life hack” frame of mind. I’m 74. Believe me, you’ve got all the time in the world. You’ve got ten lifetimes ahead of you. Don’t worry about your friends “beating” you or “getting somewhere” ahead of you. Get out into the real dirt world and start failing. Why do I say that? Because the goal is to connect with your own self, your own soul. Adversity. Everybody spends their life trying to avoid it. Me too. But the best things that ever happened to me came during the times when the shit hit the fan and I had nothing and nobody to help me. Who are you really? What do you really want? Get out there and fail and find out."

"When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? I have a friend at the gym who knew Jack LaLanne (Google him if the name is unfamiliar). Jack used to say it’s okay to take a day off from working out. But on that day, you’re not allowed to eat. That’s the short way of saying you’re not really allowed to get unfocused. Take a vacation. Gather yourself. But know that the only reason you’re here on this planet is to follow your star and do what the Muse tells you. It’s amazing how a good day’s work will get you right back to feeling like yourself."

Kyle Maynard

Books recommendations: Dune by Frank Herbert. The Stranger by Albert Camus The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

It’s almost more difficult to think of a time when an apparent failure didn’t set me up for later success. Failure is inextricably connected to any major success I’ve ever had.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

My biggest shift came after listening to a successful CEO talk about his philosophy for hiring people. When his company grew and he ran out of time to interview people himself, he had his employees rate new candidates on a 1–10 scale. The only stipulation was they couldn’t choose 7. It immediately dawned on me how many invitations I was receiving that I would rate as a 7—speeches, weddings, coffees, even dates. If I thought something was a 7, there was a good chance I felt obligated to do it. But if I have to decide between a 6 or an 8, it’s a lot easier to quickly determine whether or not I should even consider it.

Quotes I’m Pondering (Tim Ferriss: Sept. 18–Oct. 2, 2015)

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” –STEVE JOBS Co-founder and former CEO of Apple

Terry Crews

Book Recommendations: The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel. I have read hundreds of personal development books, but this is the one that clearly showed me how to visualize, contemplate, and focus on what it was I truly wanted.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“Work hard to beat the competition.” The truth is that competition is the opposite of creativity. If I am working hard to beat the competition, it actually prevents me from thinking creatively to make all concepts of competition obsolete

“In order to ‘have’ you must ‘do,’ and in order to ‘do’ you must ‘be.’”

That in order to “have” you must “do,” and in order to “do” you must “be”—and this process is immediate. Although it takes time for these desires to manifest in our material world, you must see the thing you desire as completed, finished, and real, now. The better you can do this, the more you can accomplish. I have bought several copies of this book and distributed it to family and friends. I also reread it probably once a month to keep my vision clear.

"From that moment, I decided that if I was going to succeed or fail, it was going to be up to me. I was changed forever."

"“I’d rather die doing something I feel is great and amazing rather than be safe and comfortable living a life I hate.” I talk to myself a lot, and this quote helps me sort out my fears and deal with them. The more you run from your fears, the bigger they get, but the more you go into them, the more they tend to vanish like a mirage."

"Ignore any advice that tells you you are going to miss something. Every mistake I have ever made in business, marriage, and personal conduct was because I thought if I didn’t do or get this now, it was never going to happen. It’s like most clubs in LA. The trick is to keep the line long at the door, while the club itself is empty. The “aura of exclusivity” is really code for “bad atmosphere.” To do what you desire to do, you have all you need."

"When you’re creative, you render competition obsolete, because there is only one you, and no one can do things exactly the way you do. Never worry about the competition. When you’re creative, you can, in fact, cheer others on with the full knowledge that their success will undoubtedly be your own."

"So you sometimes have to do what I call a “crowd-thinner.” One wrong person in your circle can destroy your whole future. It’s that important."

Debbie Millman

"I tell my students to ask themselves as they set out on their path in the “real” world: Am I spending enough time on looking for, finding, and working toward winning a great job? Am I constantly refining and improving my skills? What can I continue to get better and more competitive at? Do I believe that I am working harder than everyone else? If not, what else can I be doing? What are the people who are competing with me doing that I am not doing? Am I doing everything I can—every single day—to stay in “career shape”? If not, what else should I be doing? One piece of advice I think they should ignore is the value of being a “people person.” No one cares if you are a people person. Have a point of view, and share it meaningfully, thoughtfully, and with conviction."

"We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is shorthand for “not important enough.” It means you would rather be doing something else that you consider more important."

"Instead, Dani declared that courage was more important than confidence. When you are operating out of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive. I now believe that confidence is achieved through repeated success at any endeavor. The more you practice doing something, the better you will get at it, and your confidence will grow over time."

"When you are in your 20s and 30s and want to have a remarkable, fulfilling career, you must work hard. If you don’t work harder than everyone else, you will not get ahead. Further, if you are looking for work-life balance in your 20s or 30s, you are likely in the wrong career. If you are doing something you love, you don’t want work-life balance."

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

Suffering is a moment of clarity, when you can no longer deny the truth of a situation and are forced into uncomfortable change. I’m lucky that I didn’t get everything I wanted in my life, or I’d be happy with my first good job, my college sweetheart, my college town. Being poor when young led to making money when old. Losing faith in my bosses and elders made me independent and an adult. Almost getting into the wrong marriage helped me recognize and enter the right one. Falling sick made me focus on my health. It goes on and on. Inside suffering is the seed of change.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?

"“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.” Desire is a driver, a motivator. In fact, a sincere and uncompromising desire, placed above everything else, is nearly always fulfilled. But every judgment, every preference, every setback spawns its own desire and soon we drown in them. Each one a problem to be solved, and we suffer until it’s fulfilled. Happiness, or at least peace, is the sense that nothing is missing in this moment. No desires running amok. It’s okay to have a desire. But pick a big one and pick it carefully. Drop the small ones."

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

Every book I read that wasn’t assigned to me or that I didn’t read with a purpose in mind. The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a superpower. We live in the age of Alexandria, when every book and every piece of knowledge ever written down is a fingertip away. The means of learning are abundant—it’s the desire to learn that’s scarce. Cultivate that desire by reading what you want, not what you’re “supposed to.”

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Advice: Follow your intellectual curiosity over whatever is “hot” right now. If your curiosity ever leads you to a place where society eventually wants to go, you’ll get paid extremely well. Do everything you were going to do, but with less angst, less suffering, less emotion. Everything takes time. Ignore: The news. Complainers, angry people, high-conflict people. Anyone trying to scare you about a danger that isn’t clear and present. Don’t do things that you know are morally wrong. Not because someone is watching, but because you are. Self-esteem is just the reputation that you have with yourself. You’ll always know. Ignore the unfairness—there is no fair. Play the hand that you’re dealt to the best of your ability. People are highly consistent, so you will eventually get what you deserve and so will they. In the end, everyone gets the same judgment: death.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“You’re too young.” Most of history was built by young people. They just got credit when they were older. The only way to truly learn something is by doing it. Yes, listen to guidance. But don’t wait.

"When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? Memento mori—“remember that you have to die.” All of this will go to nothing. Remember before you were born? Just like that."

Book Recommendations: Everything by Matt Ridley. Matt is a scientist, optimist, and forward thinker. Genome, The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, The Rational Optimist—they’re all great.

Matt Ridley

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

Don’t be intimidated by anything. In the vast majority of the professions and vocations, the people who succeed are not any cleverer than you. The adult world is not full of gods, just people who have acquired skills and habits that work for them. And specialize—the great human achievement is to specialize as a producer of goods or services so that you can diversify as a consumer. Self-sufficiency is another word for poverty.

Bozoma Saint John

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why? Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?

Hands down, it would be “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We spend far too much time complaining about the way things are, and forget that we have the power to change anything and everything. I’d have a secondary quote too: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”—Michael Jackson. Same message; different delivery.

Quotes I’m Pondering (Tim Ferriss: Oct. 9–Oct. 30, 2015)

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” –NIELS BOHR Danish physicist and Nobel Prize winner

“What we usually consider as impossible are simply engineering problems . . . there’s no law of physics preventing them.” –MICHIO KAKU Physicist and co-founder of string field theory

Tim Urban

"The Fountainhead was a major influence when I wrote a long blog post about why I think Elon Musk is so successful. To me, he’s like Roark—he’s tremendous at reasoning from first principles. In the post, I call this being a “chef” (someone who experiments with ingredients and comes up with a new recipe). Musk is unusually cheflike. Most of us spend most of our lives being like Keating, or what I call a “cook” (someone who follows someone else’s recipe). We’d all be happier and more successful if we could learn to be chefs more often—which just takes some self-awareness of the times we’re being a cook and an epiphany that it’s not actually as scary as it seems to reason independently and act on it."

"That’s what led me to explore all these ideas around reasoning from first principles (being a “chef” who comes up with a recipe) versus reasoning by analogy (being a “cook” who follows someone else’s recipe)."

"But a cheap lesson—don’t get daunted out of shooting for something you want, especially by potentially unfounded assumptions."

"I do a lot better with a toy in my hand. If I don’t have one, I’ll end up biting my nails down until they bleed. I have problems."

"Working later in the day kills your social life, since most social life happens between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends. If you’re working in that time you suddenly become that friend who’s never available, which is horribly shortsighted and unwise."

"As I detailed in my TED Talk, I think we all have two main characters in our heads: a rational decision-maker (the adult in your head) and an instant gratification monkey (the child in your head who doesn’t care about consequences and just wants to maximize the ease and pleasure of the current moment). For me, these two are in a constant battle, and the monkey usually wins. But I’ve found that if I turn life into a yin-yang situation—e.g., “work till 6 today, then no work till tomorrow”—it’s much easier to control the monkey in the work period. Knowing he has something fun to look forward to later makes him much more likely to cooperate. In my old system, the monkey was in a constant state of rebellion against a system that never really gave him any dedicated time."

"Obsess over figuring out the funnest, most exciting, most natural shape of yourself as a writer and start doing that. There are a lot of people on the Internet, and they can all access your work with one tap on the phone in their pocket. So even if only one in every thousand of them—0.1 percent—happens to be a reader peg that perfectly matches the shape of your writing hole, that amounts to over a million people who will absolutely love what you’re doing."

"I started out basically imagining I was writing for a stadium full of replicas of myself—which made things easy because I already knew exactly what topics interested them, what writing style they liked, what their sense of humor was, etc. I ignored the conventional wisdom that online articles should be short, frequent, posted consistently—because I knew the Tims in that stadium didn’t care about those things—and instead focused on a single type of topic. And it worked. Four years later, many of those people who happen to like my type of writing have found me."

Janna Levin

"Science isn’t about being right preemptively or knowing the answer. Science is motivated by the human drive to struggle to discover."

"I used to resent obstacles along the path, thinking, “If only that hadn’t happened life would be so good.” Then I suddenly realized, life is the obstacles. There is no underlying path. Our role here is to get better at navigating those obstacles. I strive to find calm, measured responses and to see hindrances as a chance to problem-solve. Often I fall back into old frustrations, but if I remind myself, this is a chance to step up, I can reframe conflicts as a chance to experiment with solutions."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

"Students should go to college with an open mind. I advise them to ignore all the absolutism around them, both in terms of ideas and people. When they’re told that some people or ideas are wrong, hateful, or offensive, a light bulb should go off in their heads. That is the moment their curiosity should be piqued to find out for themselves whether it is indeed a “bad” thing. Adopting an attitude of critical thinking is most crucial in learning anything."

"I have seen so many former students in their late 30s and 40s struggling to make ends meet. They spent their time in college doing good rather than building their careers and futures. I warn students today to be careful how they use their precious time and to think carefully about when is the right time to help. It’s a well-worn cliché, but you have to help yourself before you help others. This is too often lost on idealistic students."

"I am often asked whether one should work in the private or public sector. I always advise working in the private sector, and wish I did this before entering politics and the public sector. The private sector teaches important skills like entrepreneurship that can then be applied to any area of work later on."

Graham Duncan

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?

I ask myself “what would be the worst thing” about that outcome not going the way I want? I had started using it out loud with my kids, and recently my eight-year-old daughter started asking it back to me. I really like to be punctual. We were late to drop her at school and I was impatient, so she asked me, “Dad, what exactly would be the worst thing about being late?” It completely shifted my mindset in the moment. I like the question because it often surfaces a hidden assumption.

"First, “It’s not how well you play the game, it’s deciding what game you want to play.”—Kwame Appiah. This quote separates striving from strategy and reminds me to take a macro view of what I’m doing, like in a video game where you can zoom out and you suddenly see you’ve been running around in one corner of the maze. It loosens someone’s relationship to the game, too, helping to separate having ambition from being ambitious, or accessing hustle without becoming a hustler."

"Sam Barondes’ book Making Sense of People has had a big impact on my thinking, and I sometimes give a copy to people in the midst of hiring someone or even deciding whether to get engaged"

Mike Maples Jr.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are books that have greatly influenced your life?

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?

Life will go faster than you know. It will be tempting to live a life that impresses others. But this is the wrong path. The right path is to know that life is short, every day is a gift, and you have certain gifts. Happiness is about understanding that the gift of life should be honored every day by offering your gifts to the world. Don’t let yourself define what matters by the dogma of other people’s thoughts. And even more important, don’t let the thoughts of self-doubt and chattering self-criticism in your own mind slow you down. You will likely be your own worst critic. Be kind to yourself in your own mind. Let your mind show you the same kindness that you aspire to show others.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

“This worked for me in my career, so do it my way.” The best advice I have seen comes from people who don’t try to tell me the answer . . . instead they give me a new approach to thinking about the question so that I can solve it better on my own. Most “bad” recommendations I could reduce to “I have been successful, so do it my way.” The best advice is more like, “I can’t answer your question, but this might be a good way for you to think about it.” Everyone has their own journey. People who offer great advice understand that their goal is to help someone on their unique journey. People who offer bad advice are trying to relive their old glories.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?

I step back . . . and slow down . . . and ask the five whys. And when I am done, I also ask if I am afraid of something but too afraid to admit it.

"I love that Bill Campbell’s [called “the coach,” a famous mentor to tech icons like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page] favorite song was “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. There is so much wisdom in that song. Sometimes . . . not getting what you want opens the door to getting what you need."

“Integrity is the only path where you will never get lost.”

"In general, whenever I feel things are moving too quickly, I find the right instinct is almost always to slow down and get my thoughts back in order. It ends up speeding things up because we get better decisions and more alignment of everyone on the team. If someone on the team needs to be replaced because they don’t have the right skill set, we should face that problem too, but only after we have done our best to seek the truth of the situation."

"Ego is about who’s right. Truth is about what’s right."

Quotes I’m Pondering (Tim Ferriss: Nov. 6–Dec. 4, 2015)

“Diversity in counsel, unity in command.” –CYRUS THE GREAT Founder of the Achaemenid Empire, known as the “king of Persia”

“I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” –HERBERT BAYARD SWOPE American editor and journalist, first recipient of the Pulitzer Prize

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” –MARCUS AURELIUS Emperor of Rome and Stoic philosopher, author of Meditations

Soman Chainani

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

Advice I’d give: Make sure you have something every day you’re looking forward to. Maybe it’s your job, maybe it’s a basketball game after work or a voice lesson or your writing group, maybe it’s a date. But have something every day that lights you up. It’ll keep your soul hungry to create more of these moments. Advice to ignore: A little part of me dies every time someone tells me they’ve taken a job as a “steppingstone” to something else, when they clearly aren’t invested in it. You have one life to live. Time is valuable. If you’re using steppingstones, you’re also likely relying on someone else’s path or definition of success. Make your own.

Book Recommendations: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The greatest work of fiction I’ve ever read, with the simplest theme: All of us come with baggage and wounds and pain; all of us. But recognizing that common, human bond is what helps us transcend that pain.

Jesse Williams

Book Recommendations: Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: This text helped rid me of the nagging incompleteness in my understood connection between the successes and failings of ancient and modern civilizations. Power needs tools and circumstance. Neither need be earned.

"Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison: The characters’ dilemmas just rocked my world in high school. I bought a second copy, “just in case,” and I was so grateful for the classroom discussions throughout the rich layered poetic journey."

"The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: The protagonist’s audacious self-confidence and refusal to compromise his artistic vision—which was to say, himself—was a fascinating thing to survey."

"My friend Adepero likes to ask, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” That’s a good one."

Dustin Moskovitz

"We can’t control the fact that bad things are going to happen, but it’s how we react to them that really matters, and that we can learn to control"

Richa Chadha

"Trusting blindly in my business, or any business for that matter, is never a good idea. Most people are driven by self-interest or profit, and we can’t judge them for it. What we can be is provokable, so people know we won’t be sitting ducks if they mess with us."

"“Be so good that they can’t ignore you” is the motto I live by. I start afresh with each project. I forget who I am and my past laurels. It keeps me grounded and makes me work harder."

"Looking at the larger picture gives you perspective. Like when a plane takes off, you realize how small your little cocoon of problems, in fact, is."

"I also do a “so what” exercise. I make a statement and ask myself “so what?” at the end of it"

Quotes I’m Pondering (Tim Ferriss: Dec. 11, 2015–Jan. 1, 2016)

“Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on.” –CRISS JAMI American poet and author of Salomé: In Every Inch in Every Mile

“One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.” –BRUCE LEE Martial artist, actor, and author of Tao of Jeet Kune Do

“It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.” –WILLIAM OF OCKHAM English philosopher and originator of Occam’s Razor

Max Levchin

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

[My advice is to] take risks, now. The advantages that college students and new grads have are their youth, drive, lack of significant responsibilities, and, importantly, lack of the creature comforts one acquires with time. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. Barnacles of the good life tend to slow you down, if you don’t get used to risk-taking early in your career.

"“The difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting.” This famous line from Walt Disney on willpower cannot be more true when it comes to entrepreneurship. The only predictable thing about startups is their unpredictability, and powering through the lows of the startup roller coaster ultimately just takes grit—yours and your team’s."

"If you are your sole responsibility, this is the time to step outside of your comfort zone, to start or join an exciting, risky project; to drop everything else at the chance to be part of something really great. So what if it fails? You can always go back to school, take that job at an investment bank or a consulting company, move into a nicer apartment."

"The advice to ignore (in certain situations) is to strive to become “well-rounded”—to move from company to company, looking to pick up different types of experience every year or two, when starting out. That’s useful in the abstract, but if you find that strength of yours (as an individual contributor or a team leader) at a company whose mission you are truly passionate about, take a risk—commit and double down, and rise through the ranks. Maybe you’ll be running the place before you know it!"

Neil Strauss

"Because of that, I realized that the outcome is not the outcome. In other words, what we think of as endpoints to a goal are really just forks in a road that is endlessly forking. In the big picture of our lives, we really don’t know whether a particular success or failure is actually helping or hurting us. So the metric I now use to judge my efforts and goals is: Did I do my best, given who I was and what I knew at that particular time? And what can I learn from the outcome to make my best better next time? Note that criticism is not failure. If you’re not being criticized, you’re probably not doing anything exceptional."

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