Escape the Rat Race: 47 Lessons for Every Twenty-Something (or Anyone Else)

*This article contains some graphic language.

From time to time, my friends in their twenties will reach out to me. They’ll ask me questions about life. Some of them are more direct than others, but it’s always about “finding” themselves. It’s like they’re searching for something. 

I mean, Aren’t we all? 

Most of the time I think to myself, How can anybody, honestly, help anybody to “find” who they are? Let alone me. It’s such a loaded question. I mean, everyone’s situation is different and unique, mine included. But I get it. Most everyone is confused in their twenties: “Is this the right career? Am I going to get married? Should I buy or rent? What makes him or her so special? How can I do this? Should I do that?” On and on it goes. I can’t pretend to know all the answers to these questions. I won’t even try, but here’s what I do know.

Right now, you have a sense of empowerment at your fingertips. Fuck it, you should. Feel free in a world of opportunity with time on your side. Live, learn, and make mistakes (as long as you don’t die, go to jail, or have a baby). You’re ready to tackle the world, bright-eyed and well lubricated with tequila. You’re young, wild, and free. It’s not even until your mid-twenties that you’ll start to feel some pressure creep into that wonder tank perched on your neck, anyway. The pressure inside that tank stems more from the external rather than the internal, at least initially. You want to keep pace with your friends. I’m with you; I did the same shit. It’s quite likely you won’t admit this to anyone. This is part of what creates that pressure. You don’t have to admit it to me. We’re on the same page.

Maybe some of your friends have found a job. It’s even starting to look like a career. Now you think, Shit, am I behind? This leaves you feeling a little confused, down, or anxious. Maybe you have friends with a “serious” boyfriend or girlfriend. And if they’re absolutely insane, they may even be married. Please don’t do that. Just wait. Please, just wait. 

Anyway, all of this pressure starts to mount inside that wonder tank. The rats are picking up steam.

Late in your twenties, the race is on: hurry up! Find the damn release valve. Shit is getting heavy in this bitch. We need to release some pressurefast! Maybe you’ve had a couple crappy relationships, or you’ve been trapped in a bad one for the last few years. Maybe you’re thinking about the one who got away. Will you ever find him again? 

With each release—vacation, item purchased, or night spent drinking wine and eating ice cream—you’ll notice pressure slowly seeping back in. You’re thinking, Fuck it. It’s time. Now you’re going to have to make some decisions, or at least you’ll feel the pressure to do so. So you buy that house, marry the guy, leave your job, or move across the country. These decisions end up shaping your life—at least the next ten years. Sure, you can always pivot in life. Something you should never be afraid to do. But most people set the course in their twenties and don’t wake up until about midlife with two kids, a mortgage, and a job they hate. And they’re wondering, What fuck happened to my life?

Of course, you might be one of the “lucky” few living out your dream life. Congratulations. I hope it’s everything you imagined. For the rest of us, life is hard. Wildly unpredictable and radically uncertain. It’s sprinkled with grenades and landmines that are ready to blow your whole shit up at any given moment.

So here you are—stuck in the rat race. The strenuous, wearisome, and competitive pursuit of nothing. You’re in a constant need to keep pace with everyone in a race that has no end. A race that will leave you feeling chronically unhappy, constrained, and negative. You’re underwhelmed and overburdened. You might not realize you’re even running the race. Actually, you probably won’t until you try to escape—you know, until you start searching for those answers. All of a sudden, you notice these big-ass walls starting to box you in. Creating more and more pressure around you. As the race goes on, it just gets tighter and tighter, like a vice grip. You look up, turn left, turn right, and look back. Shit, you’ve got nowhere to turn because every direction you look, there’s just another rat running full steam. You begin to notice that the longer you run, the higher those walls seem to get. What the christ? Why are the walls getting higher? It’s well beyond your control. Those walls are getting built no matter what. Then one day, something happens and forces you to realize you really only have two options:

1) Submit yourself to race and just keep running. It’ll be pretty easy for a while. You can do it and probably be satisfied. You’ll likely be tired, worn out, and angry as the race continues on, but you’ll survive. Plus, you’ll be happy during those water breaks––vacations, weekends, etc.

2) Stop running, brace yourself, and try to escape. Sure, it’ll be tough holding your ground as more and more rats just keep surrounding you. Your best bet is to start climbing today. You can’t risk that wall getting any higher. You’ll need strength, patience, and commitment. But you’re eager to see what awaits on the outside.

I call that something moment the rat-race moment. For some people, it’s an accident or loss of a loved one. Others break up, lose a job, or get a poor health diagnosis. People usually classify this as rock bottom. I had a rat-race moment. (You can read about it at the end of this article.) I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “rock bottom,” but I definitely felt like shit. I knew I needed a change. Fortunately, I found the strength to make one. Maybe you haven’t had one yet. Tremendous. I hope this article is your rat-race moment. A sudden source of inspiration rather than rock bottom. An eye-opening experience that forces you to climb that wall.

Look, you and I, we’re not so different. I can tell you countless stories of me being a bonehead. But you have your own boneheaded stories. You’ve got social media to screw with, vacations to take with friends, and fun to have chasing girls or guys. I want you to do all that. You should do all that. I do all that. Christ, from time to time I still find myself a mile deep before I realize I’m acting like a jackass. Here’s the reality: whatever situation you’re in right now, it’s only temporary. Your vacation ends. Your job changes. Your year of bad luck will be over. Shit changes. That’s life. A best friend gets married. A family member dies. Your life goes on. It’s just the way it is.  

If you prefer option 1, you should probably stop reading. You might even be annoyed or angry at some of the things I say. This article is primarily for people who chose option 2. The people who know they’re running in the rat race. The ones searching for answers and looking to escape.

And of course, this article is for any of my twenty-something friends. You keep me twenty-something. I love you all. And I don’t care what option you fall into. Just listen to me. 

I wrote this for you.

Lesson #1: Advice is stupid. 

Okay, so you might be thinking, How can YOU, of all people, say that? Yup, you’re right. Sounds ridiculous when I say it. I didn’t say people don’t want advice. We all want advice. I just said it’s stupid. 

Here’s the reality: 99% of the time, advice is a projection of the advice-giver’s experiences, beliefs, and opinions. It’s not an honest assessment of your situation. Don’t believe me? Next time you ask somebody for advice, see how many questions they ask you to clearly understand the context of your situation. Maybe one or two (if you’re lucky.) Nine out of ten times, you’ll get this response: “In my experience…”, “When that happened to me, I…”,  or “I know what that feels like…” These are all lead-ins for people to tell you how it worked or didn’t work for them based on whatever their situation was, not based on what yours is. Like I said, advice is stupid. 

Lesson #2: Doing the work is the only thing that matters.

Whether you want to be the next Pablo Picasso, start a loving relationship, or pay off that insurmountable debt, starting the work is the most important thing. Most people get lost by biting off more than can chew. Rather than painting a little each day, they try to paint the masterpiece on day one, get disappointed when they don’t, and give up. Rather than put the work in on a relationship, they avoid the relationship altogether. “Why start figuring out a way to pay down debt when I can make minimum payments and still buy that car I want?” Worse, they start asking everybody else for advice! You’ll learn what advice matters versus what doesn’t once you start doing the work.

The point is that when you start doing the work, you learn things you can only learn by doing the work. You see, there’s no amount of thinking or teaching in the world that’s really going to show you how to do something. I don’t care what that thing is—writing, painting, dating someone, paying off debt, working that job, starting that business, whatever. You just have to do it. There’s no way around it. You learn the unlearnable things, things reserved for doers. You learn the hard things that you actually need to do, how to handle adversity or criticism, and the unimportance of doing something just once. Most importantly, you learn what you want versus what you don’t.

Lesson #3: Just follow your interest. Yes, really.

If I gave you a choice of three meals to select from, you’re likely going to pick the one you want to eat, right? You’re going to eat the one you’re interested in. Great. Now you have skin in the game. If we look at motivation and human behavior research, we know people are empowered by the freedom to select on their own, and when they do, they’re more invested. With something simple like a meal choice, since you picked that meal, you’ll probably like it more, be more engaged with the eating experience, and more likely to defend your selection. So how does this apply to your life?  

In short, if you want to learn or do anything then that thing should be placed in the context of your innate interests. I’ve coined this “The Interest Principle.” Why? You’ll probably a) enjoy it more, b) care about it more, c) be more likely to continue doing it, and d) be better at it. If you want to learn to write, write about stuff that interests you. Ponies, politics, or baseball—I don’t care. Doesn’t matter. Same goes for reading, singing, or whatever skill you’re trying to learn. It’s a feeling you’re following, not some supernatural calling. You know what interests you. You’ve got to leverage the Interest Principle.

Lesson #4: Quit early, quit often. 

One of my favorite books—ever—is The Dip by Seth Godin. It’s a book that teaches when and why you should quit. Ultimately, there’s a Dip associated with everything you want to do. It’s the long, hard slog between the excitement of when you first start doing something and actually become good at that thing. You have to make a conscious choice about whether you’re willing to go through the Dip.

I’ve quit a lot of things—jobs, relationships, creative projects, etc. I even recently quit making my podcast. That was hard; people really liked it. I usually quit something for one of two reasons: 1) I try it and don’t like it, and 2) I try it and realize I’ll never make it through the Dip. Of course, anything worth doing requires you stick it out through the Dip. It requires a little grit and determination.

Why do we not quit when we know we should? We stay because we feel we’ve already spent so much time or energy. The reality is this: everything that’s already happened has already happened. You should be making your decisions based on what’s best for you today. Not what happened yesterday. Either way, there are always two options—stay or quit. 

Start quitting so you can start starting.

Lesson #5: Always try before you buy.

It’s simple: you must start testing the things you want to do in life. You should always test things out in life. Give them a certain time period, learn, and tweak. Quit what doesn’t work before you get sucked into it even further. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck with a house you don’t want, a relationship that damages you, or a job that drowns you. If you want to be a writer, you should probably write a few things first, deliver them to the world, and see how you like it. Testing and learning is the only viable approach in life. Here’s why.

Lesson #6: It matters how you get there.

Have you ever heard saying, It doesn’t matter how you get there, it matters that you got there. Well, I hate this saying. It’s really dumb. It hinges on the Outcome Fallacy: a societal belief that outcomes are more important than processes. This fallacy gets reinforced through our education systems, youth sports, business careers, and artistic aspirations. We focus on grades rather than learning, winning rather than improving, sales rather than relationships, and finished product rather than the work it took to make it. Our consumption economy then swallows us up and emphasizes money, cars, clothes, and houses. All of these are outcomes. We learn to pride ourselves and hang our successes on those outcomes. Perhaps this is the heartbeat of the rat race.

Logically, there’s a big problem with this type of thinking. We spend nearly all our time on Earth living the process. It’s what we do every day. It’s how we live. It’s how we love. It’s how we work. It’s how we do anything. Outcomes are fleeting, but process stays forever. Process is our life. That dumb saying above just further emphasizes the Outcome Fallacy. A flat-out lie that’s been sold and told to you forever. I know you love your new bag, your new car, and that vacation you went on last week. Believe me, I love watches, shoes, and bags of money, too. But they don’t matter as much as what I have to wake up and do every day. How could they?

Lesson #7: Only do what you can maintain.

The only point of doing something once is to try or test it. Other than that, doing something once is essentially pointless. So what you should be asking is one of my favorite questions: Is doing this thing maintainable? Ask it all the time. I love the question because it emphasizes the importance of compounding. It makes sense this is my favorite question. If you can’t compound it, you should consider quitting it. Why?

Lesson #8: Small actions over time create big results.

Compounding is what occurs when you do actions over time. You can compound anything—good habits, bad habits, money, knowledge, whatever. Every action or nonaction will slowly (and mostly unnoticeably) build on what came before, start multiplying, and create your life. Here’s how I learned about it.

Consider a penny that doubles every day for a month. On day one, the penny is worth a penny. On day twenty, that penny is worth $5,243. It’s not until the final third of this example where we really start to see the benefits of compounding. On day thirty, that penny has turned into $5,368,709.12. This example tells us a couple things about compounding: (1) You don’t see the big benefits of compounding until later in life; and (2) The earlier you start compounding, the better off you are. 

Here are three things I’m committed to compounding every day: I read, write, and work out for 30 minutes. In five years, I’ve read over 250 books, published three books, written 187 articles/posts to my blog, and maintained pretty much the same exact weight/muscle mass for five years. Your goals don’t have to be the same, but either way, you should start compounding small actions toward something. Otherwise, you’re compounding in the opposite direction. That’s bad.

Lesson #9: The story you’re not telling yourself is just as real as the one you are.

The rat race is built on the back of the standard narrative. Get good grades. Go to college. Find a job. Get married. Buy a house. Have kids. Take vacations. Retire. Relax. Die. There’s nothing wrong with doing any of those things, but it’s not how you have to live your life. Despite what your friends, family, or the rest of the world might tell you, the standard narrative is not your only hope. It’s a story. You have many options on how to live your life. 

We create stories in our mind about who we are. These stories dictate our actions. You might not be aware of your story, but you are telling yourself one. You tell yourself who you think you are, and who want to be, and that person does things that line up with that story. So you do them. I just want to remind you that somebody else might be telling the story you’re not. Their story is just as real as yours. Switch your story, switch your life.

Lesson #10: You have to build toward something.

I love going out with friends and staying out until the wee hours of the morning. Flirting with girls, feeling wanted, and having a good ol’ time. I’m social. What I figured out, though, is that although I’m undoubtedly having fun, I still start from ground zero the next day. After a while, I don’t care who you are, this starts to take a toll on you, and you feel like something is missing. It is. You have to build toward something. So, while you don’t have to live the standard narrative, you have to build toward something. Otherwise you lose hope. Do I need to tell you what happens when you lose hope? Everything turns to shit. Building toward something gives you day-to-day hope. You can build toward a relationship, creative pursuit, or career. Building is growing. Growing is hopeful. Start building toward something.

Lesson #11: Creation is more important than consumption.

I’ve heard gurus proclaim we’re born creators. This is bullshit. We’re born consumers: we rely on Mother’s breast milk, baby food, and toys to keep us hopeful. Sure, we have an imagination and use it as kids, but many resort back to consumption tendencies. Our culture is based on consumption. You can live your whole life consuming. Most of us do. The car, clothes, restaurants, handbags, shoes, vacations. Consumption, consumption, consumption. 

Why should we focus more on creation? Creation gives you something to build toward. Create the relationship you want. Create the family you want. Create the career or business you want. Consumption is passive, which makes it easier. Creation is active, which makes it harder. It’s also not innate, but it’s ultimately what will provide you meaning.

Lesson #12: Your greatest power is your ability to choose what has meaning.

Life is boring. The days, weeks, and years roll on. I hate to say it, but you have no choice in that. Everyone’s time is the same. No matter what you do or create, you have to do it day in, day out if you want it to mean something. This is life.

Here’s the silver lining: You have the ability to choose what has meaning in your life. What do you choose to focus on day in, day out? No matter who you are or want to be, this choice is the same for all of us. This is the essence of life.

Writing found me, then I gave it meaning. It provides a great sense of meaning in my life. Creating a body of work, maintaining a readership, and impacting the people of the world who choose to follow me. This is incredibly meaningful to me. Hopefully one day, a relationship and maybe a family will do the same. For now, I can live with just writing.

Lesson #13: What you do on a regular basis becomes the baseline.

This is the problem for most drug addicts. In order to get higher, they need to take more and more drugs. They get used to the quantity they’re taking, so they continue to up it and up it and up it. Their body and mind has habituated to their current amount. 

Well, habituation happens no matter what you do in life. If you go to the same bar over and over and over again, you’re going to be less stimulated by it. Whatever you repeatedly do becomes your baseline. Grass is never greener when it comes to habituation. Every habit, career choice, relationship norm, skill—you name it—falls victim to habituation. After you do it enough times, your mind and body will be less stimulated by it. You habituate. It’s part of being human.

There are only two ways to stymie habituation: 1) vary the activity, or 2) decrease the frequency of whatever you’re doing. I definitely recommend either of those two solutions, but I have a third option. A realistic one. One you’re going to be forced to make once you’ve assigned meaning to whatever you’ve chosen to assign meaning to in your life. Make the commitment to that thing that has immense meaning in your life. Choose to be great at it.

Lesson #14: Don’t do everything, do one thinggreatly.  

You can’t golf and write at the same time. You can’t be in Connecticut and Florida at the same time. You can’t hang out with all your friends, all the time. You can’t work ‘til 8 pm every night and still make your kid’s baseball game at 6 pm. You can’t give your attention to two things at once; otherwise, you’re not giving enough attention to either thing. 

Life is about trade-offs. Oftentimes, life decisions are more complex, but that doesn’t absolve you of having to make trade-offs. Quite simply, think about trading off things for the thing you want most. You don’t have to do this, but I’d recommend prioritizing that thing that you’ve assigned meaning to in your life. Make trade-offs for that thing. You’ll be most fulfilled in the long run. Plus, with isolated focus, you have a chance at being great. The goal is to be great at something. Not average at many things. I was fortunate to be great at selling things. Now I’m trying to be great at writing. Why?

Lesson #15: Being great at something has huge benefits.

In short, you want to be great at something. You’re not going to start out great, or even close to great, but great should be your goal—whether that’s to be the best mom, artist, or businessman. Recently, I heard NYU professor Scott Galloway mirror this insight during an interview. You know that “passion” thing you’re desperately searching for? You’ll become passionate about the thing you’re great at. Yes, your “passion” will find you. That’s how it works. Your colleagues, friends, and family all recognize you for being great at something. You get a lot more leeway, which frees up pressure. Of course, this will drive you to do more of it and really start reaping the benefits of compounding (lesson #8). If this happens to be a career, skill, or business, you’ll have the added bonus that people who are really good at something get paid more than people who are not great. Bottom line: being great at something has too many benefits and not enough downsides to ignore it. You’ll get immense internal satisfaction. Great should be your goal.

Lesson #16: Skills are more important than knowledge.

There’s a quote that’s attributed to Mark Twain: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” I agree.

There’s no doubt that most educators are well-intentioned, but the education system as a whole is a bigger promise than delivery. In the real world—I mean where people actually have to make money to live, pay bills, and support their families—you need skills. School does a pretty bad job at teaching skills.

Remember this: A (career) gets paid to (skill) because he or she can (same skill.) A painter gets paid to paint because he or she can paint. A lawyer gets paid to litigate because he or she can litigate. A surgeon gets paid to operate because he or she can operate.

The point is, people get paid for skills, not knowledge. Certainly, knowledge is required to learn any skill, but the emphasis should be put on learning the skill. This makes lesson #2 particularly important. You have to do it (not just acquire knowledge about it). Learn as many skills in your lifetime as you can, and you’ll bullet-proof yourself from ever having to worry about not having work. But always try to be great at at least one skill. 

Lesson #17: Before you become great, you have to model.

There are already people who are great at the thing you want to be great at—partner, drummer, or mother. You should find the ones who inspire you and model their behaviors, skills, and techniques. Everyone starts out modeling, even the people who say they’ve never modeled anyone. We’re all influenced by the people, places, and things we give our attention to. Some people are just unaware that they are modeling, and consequently, they end up modeling assholes, lowlifes, and charlatans. This sucks. You want to be conscious about your modeling to avoid that.

Start to model the people, places, and things that inspire you. Great dads started out modeling other great dads. Bob Dylan, great songwriter, modeled Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson. Keith Richards, great guitarist, modeled Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed. Hunter S. Thompson, great writer, literally wrote out F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby word for word just so he could see what it felt like to write those words.

Modeling is how you start to do whatever you want to be great at. Combine that with testing (lesson #5) for a bullet-proof technique on how to start something. So whatever you’ve given meaning to in your life, find the right role model to help you become great at it.

Lesson #18: Your friends are not your role models.

Your friends are probably great people. You love them. I get it. I love my friends dearly. But your friends are running the rat race with you. They are doing the same stupid shit you are. They’ve habituated to the same habits, activities, and norms. They have a vested interest in keeping you the person you are to them. They’ve grown up with you, or they’ve met you in a specific context of life—bar, nightclub, college, etc. That’s the person they want every time they see you. Any time you try to veer from the behaviors that make up that person, it will feel awkward, and you’ll slink back into your old ways. This is completely normal. It’s a survival response. But this means you need to expose yourself to different models. People who have a different set of habits, activities, and norms. It’s quite likely these people are far outside your friend group. Now, go find the right role model.

Lesson #19: The gold lies in the customization.

There’s one thing I can say with immense certainty: nobody on this earth has your unique set of compounded experiences. Nobody. This gives every person in the world the same opportunity to put their own spin on whatever they’re modeling.

All of those people I mentioned above modeled, but they also customized. They made the thing theirs. Dylan made songwriting his through writing about things bigger than himself. Richards made guitar playing his by using only five strings on the guitar. Thompson made writing his by pioneering gonzo journalism. These people are all legends, but modeling followed by customization will work for you, too.

I have a buddy and colleague, John Crowley, who says, “The only thing better than better is different.” John, you know I love that line, so I modeled it, then customized it. The only thing better than being great is being weird.

Lesson #20: Weird is the X Factor in your life.

I wrote an entire ebook, Pumpernickel & Peanut Butter: Why Weird Works, to make the case for being weird in a world that wants you to be normal. A world that wants you to live the standard narrative and consume, consume, consume. If you have the courage to embrace your weirdness and compound it, you are your greatest advantage in life. Nobody can copy it. They can try, but it probably won’t come off too authentic. You will attract other weirdos who will support you, and you’ll be living true to yourself. You see, weird goes from mocked to admired. Later, weird starts to pull ahead of normal, and ultimately, weird gets remembered. But you have to start compounding your weirdness as soon as possible. So I say, search for your weirdness, quirks, and imperfections. And when you spot them? Embrace them. Infuse them into whatever you’re doing. Show them to the world. And definitely start compounding them today. 

Lesson #21: The key ingredient in whatever you do is quality.

Subir Chowdhury, world-renowned quality improvement specialist, wrote a little book I love called The Ice Cream Maker. In the book, he says quality should be the key ingredient in your business. Why? Quality is what keeps people coming back, interested, and satisfied. The same goes for people and life.

We live in a consumption economy. It’s something I mentioned in lesson #11. It’s sort of the backbone of the rat race. More, more, more is the mentality. Typically the first thing we trade-off for high quantity of anything is quality. Mostly due to necessity. It’s hard to get more or bigger without sacrificing quality. Restaurants deal with this all the time. It’s why you normally see the best restaurants with the shortest menus. They learn trading off quality for quantity is a really bad decision. So they keep the menu small. 

If you can manage quality at high quantity, fine, have at it. But your first priority should be to infuse quality into everything you do. Or at least try like hell. Infuse all your actions with quality. It’s the thing that stands out, especially in a world overflowing with quantity. You can be whoever you want, embrace your weird, learn any skill, or place meaning behind anything—relationship, career, etc. But whatever you do, quality must be your key ingredient. 

Lesson #22: Temptation never goes away.

It’s true. Forbidden fruit does taste sweet. I’ve tried it many times. It can also poison the things that you’ve given meaning to in your life. Alcohol or drugs will get you high, but will leave you emotionally confused. That hot barista will be fun to have sex with, but will likely destroy your relationship. These are real trade-offs you’ll always have to consider in life. Temptation will never go away. Not even when you have everything you ever thought you wanted. You know, the house, husband, and two kids. You’ll habituate to whatever situation you’re in, and you’ll likely find what you don’t have attractive.

So I’m not telling you can never eat the forbidden fruit—I’m not Jesus, that’s your decision. All I’m saying is that temptation will never go away. Please just don’t make the mistake thinking it will. It won’t. I promise.

Lesson #23: Problems never go away.

I told you I’d give it to you straight. So I won’t sit here and tell you the grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s often not, but it might be. That’ll be for you to decide. And it’s likely you won’t know the problems that exist on the other grass until you go over and check it out for a while. Remember: doing the work is the only thing that matters (Lesson #2).

But here’s what I can tell you with a high degree of certainty—nothing is absolute, certain, or definite in life—except problems. Problems will change, but they’ll never go away. There will be problems on the other grass. 

So what can you do? You’ll have to decide what problems you want vs. which ones you don’t want. Just another trade-off you’ll have to make. This is one of the advantages of quitting early and often (Lesson 4). You’ll expose yourself to a lot of different types of grass, so you’ll be exposed to a lot of different problems. It’ll be easier to decide which problems you want and which ones you don’t want.

Lesson #24: Unfairness never goes away.

Life is unfair. Get used to it. Some people are born into a world of wealth, while others are born into a world of poverty. Some people get diagnosed with cancer, and others win the lottery. Some know someone who will get their foot in the door somewhere, while others start from ground zero.

We all need a little luck to get where we want to go. But luck has at least two orders. Congratulations! You passed the first order with flying colors. You’re lucky as shit. You’re reading this right now, which means you’re luckier than approximately 4 billion other people who were born into a world where they can’t even use the internet. The second order is what you think of as luck. Getting picked. You know, the lucky break. That happens to some people the day they’re born (as I mentioned above), to others on day ten of doing something, and for most twenty years later—after a lot of testing, learning, quitting, and modeling. 

Most people need a lot of bad fortune before they get good fortune. The good news: you will outlast bad luck if you focus on doing the work and compounding it.

Lesson #25: You’re going to have to let people down.

You can’t be everything to everyone. You can’t please everyone all the time. You have to do what’s right for you. A broken you helps nobody. Take pre-flight check, for example: Please remember to put your oxygen mask on before trying to help anyone else. Always remember to put your oxygen mask on first, and if you have to, let other people down. If you’re not healthy and strong, you can’t help other people be healthy and strong. You have to be selfish.

I’ve taken my lumps with this one over the years. I had to say no to friends (more than I wanted to). I missed out on a lot of things that I would have liked to attend as I was getting my shit together with my finances. Most of the time, letting people down is just temporary. They’ll usually come around, but it might take time. Right now, I’m revisiting this lesson again. As I settle in to finding my writing voice, there will be people who say, “Did he really just say that?”

Lesson #26: It’s easier to let people down when you have rules.

I know, just the thought of rules in your life sounds terrible. Fuck, who likes rules? I hate being boxed in. Here’s the thing: most everyone you admire—your role models—probably has rules in their life. They use those rules to guide daily decisions so they don’t waste valuable time making the same decisions over and over again. 

Here are three of my daily rules

1) I have a morning routine that consists of waking up at 5 am, making my bed, drinking two cups of coffee, reading for 30 minutes, writing for 30 minutes, and then going to the gym. 

2) I don’t answer my phone after 8 pm. 

3) I do one uncomfortable thing each day. 

My rules don’t have to be your rules. But you should have rules. Once you know them, everyone should know them. Once you adhere to them, people will leave you alone, and you won’t feel like you’re letting them down. It’ll feel normal. Oh, that’s just Doug.

Lesson #27: Your brainpower decreases throughout the day.

This is the biggest reason I have a morning routine. It automates the first 90-120 minutes of my day. I use little to no cognitive power on decision making. Decision fatigue will zap your brainpower throughout the day. You have no choice here. Decision-making uses up cognitive power. The longer you’re awake, the less cognitive power you have. This is why you’ll see people automate more than just their mornings. Steve Jobs famously wore all black. Why? So he didn’t have to decide what to wear. Fewer decisions equals more cognitive power on the things you’ll need that brain for. As you’ve already concluded, there are more important decisions than what to eat for breakfast. Or what to wear today. Okay, I spend a lot of time on the latter. I like dressing well. But you get the point!

Lesson #28: Context is king.

Promise me something right now: promise me that you will never lose sight of this lesson. It’s that crucial. Everyone is dealt a slightly different starting hand in every situation. Every situation, problem, or scenario in life is different. Some slightly, some drastically. Cast of characters, social norms of the group, venue or location, problems, and so on and so on all change under different contexts. The variabilities and possibilities are literally endless.

Remember: context can change anything. Strengths can become weaknesses, good can become bad, and vice versa. Context typically does change things. That means your friends, family, job, or whatever will typically change in different situations. Don’t go too far. Just look at yourself. You probably act much differently when you’re home alone than you do out at the bar with friends. What changed? Context, that’s all.

You need to know as much about the context as possible to adequately understand anything in this world. Nothing alleviates you from having to understand context. It has a crucial role in almost every instance of life. You’ll be more empathetic, reasonable, and kind. You won’t be as irritable, angry, or annoyed. You’ll slowly feel pressure rise off your shoulders, leaving only the slightest trace of indentations, just enough to remind you pressure was once there, but not enough to weigh you down. Now you’ll be light enough to navigate life’s challenges. You’ll come to love recognizing context’s part in everything and using it to understand your emotions, your life, and the world around you.

Lesson #29: Don’t make decisions in the moment that extend past that moment.

If you’re buying a car, you’ll have to make payments. This means that it will extend past the moment. Same with a house, you’ll have to pay the mortgage. Anything you buy on a credit card extends past that moment. This is important because things look different from the inside than they do from the outside. Let me say that again in a different way: things look different when you’re closer than when you’re further away. Okay, one more time: in the heat of the moment, you’ll feel differently than when you’re removed from that moment. When you take a step back, that decision will look different. I always advise taking a step back, not being afraid to let people down, and making the decision from outside the moment.

In the moment, decisions that only last that moment are different. They get made, they go by, and you move on. They don’t impact the rest of your life—most of the time. Certainly, there are in-moment decisions that could potentially live past the moment. Having sex with someone is a good example. You can slip up, get an STD, or create a baby. It’s my philosophy you can’t live in fear of what might happen, unless there are clear signs on the wall that a thing might happen. In this situation, just use freaking contraception.

Lesson #30: Keep your overhead low.

I learned this lesson the hardest way possible. It’s the most important pieces of advice I can give to anybody—ever.  

Right now, you don’t know where you’re going to end up. You’re a modern-day explorer. You’re stopping and starting jobs. Quitting activities, hobbies, and friends. Modeling people, places, and things. And trying a lot of stuff. You should be doing all of this, by the way. This is not the time to bloat your overhead––your monthly liabilities. Your bills. The shit you have to pay out every single month. So whether you make no money or a lot of money, do me a favor and keep your overhead low.

Simple reason: when you’re young, you think you’re after all these outcomes—money, cars, clothes, and vacations. That high-society lifestyle. You think you’re after more money. What you won’t learn until later in life is that you’re not after more money. What you’re really after is freedom. The ability to come and go as you please. The ability to do what you want, when you want. The first step toward freedom is keeping your overhead low. I repeat: keep your overhead low.

Lesson #31: The closest thing to a magic bullet is a high monthly margin.

The quickest way to stymie your freedom is to have all your money go out your pocket the second you make it. You’ll feel like life has you in a vice grip, squeezing every ounce of freedom through your pores. 

Your monthly margin is the difference between how much you pay versus how much you earn in a month. Life is about living. This is the most important factor in your living quality. Who cares how much money you have if you can’t spend it on things that make you feel alive, happy, and fulfilled? 

Your monthly margin is the number you should be paying attention to. There are two ways to do this: 1) reduce debt, and 2) increase income. One is directly in your control today, and the other you’ll have to work toward. That’s why I recommend going in the order I’ve laid out for you. Reduce debt, then increase income. Or you could have just listened to me and kept your overhead low!

Lesson #32: More money doesn’t necessarily mean better living.

Full disclosure: I’ve never seen a million dollars in my bank account. I can’t tell you what that looks like, but I’ve seen six figures. Which is plenty to not even flinch at eating where I want, buying the bottles of bubbly I want, vacationing where I want, buying the clothes I want, and all that good stuff. You know, all that fun stuff the rat race is made of. So I’m not going to lie and tell you money isn’t important. It’s very important. Money gives you space to live the life you want to live. 

Which begs the question: what kind of life do you want to live? This is perhaps the most important question we need to answer when searching for a career or starting a business. Remember: everything requires a trade-off. That includes making more money. It might require longer hours. Less time with your family. More stress. Less sleep. The list is endless. Quite often, it requires all of the above. Is this the life you want to live? Is it possible that’s not the answer? 

So, rather than chase the career that’s going to pay you more, maybe think about the life you want to live, and chase the career that’s going to be able to provide that lifestyle.

Lesson #33: Expectations are all downside.

Expectations are kind of like the devil. They’re tempting. The thrill of expecting is exciting. So we tell ourselves how great the vacation is going to be, how delicious the restaurant is, and how it’s really our job to lose. It makes us feel good, but oftentimes, our imagination is more creative and expansive than reality ends up being. In short, most times, things are not what they seem to be. The vacation was all right, the restaurant was bad, and we didn’t do as well on that job interview as we thought. Expectations have almost no upside—they’re all downside. And actually, while I’m being frank, you’re not entitled to shit in this world. Life is unfair. Sometimes you boom and sometimes you bust. 

This lesson was really taught to me after my jet ski accident in July 2019. I had massive wounds and a broken ankle, and I needed a little nerve repair. I’d never gone through an experience quite like this...which was a great thing. Obviously, no one wants to go through that, but because I had zero expectations, I had no clue how shitty the process was going to be to get back up to full speed. Each small win felt like winning the lottery. I had no clue I was only at the start of the race. Now, if I were to go through that same experience again, I know exactly what to expect—pain, length of time, all of it—and it will likely be torture.

If you can learn to manage your expectations, living will be easier and more satisfying in almost every situation of life.

Lesson #34: The only thing you should expect is to not know the answer. 

You’re here, and what you want is over there. In between, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t know. I wrote an entire book, The Gap: The Little Space Between What You Know and Don’t Know, on this concept. So whether you’re launching a business, improving a relationship, or starting a creative venture, there are things you don’t know, and there things you do. There will always be a lot more things you don’t know than things you do. You will die one day not knowing a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. Therefore, the only thing you should expect is to not know the answer. What you should do? 

Lesson #35: Invest in stupidity today!

You don’t know jack shit about whatever you want to do. That’s okay! We all start out not knowing shit about shit. That’s why we quit, test, and model. Here’s the difference: people you look up to, your role models, embraced the fact they didn’t know jack shit, and they did it, anyway. 

There’s a major difference between looking stupid and being stupid. You’re not stupid for investing in your stupidity. That’s smart. Your stupidity is powerful. You’re going to learn a lot by embracing your stupidity. You’ll have to keep making deposits into that stupid bank for later. You learn how-tos, dos, and don’ts. You learn the nuances that you can’t possibly know. You’ll be surprised in five or ten years when that stupidity turns into wisdom. They’ll say, “Wow. Damn, you’re so smart.” Not really, though. You just invested in stupidity. Invest in stupidity now for wisdom later.

Lesson #36: You’re not as important as you think you are.

I interviewed Daniel Pink, author of Drive, on my podcast It’s Not What It Seems (the one I told you about earlier that I’ve since quit). At the end of the show, I always asked my guest, “What’s the one thing you want to tell the world it’s not what it seems?” Pink said the idea that other people are thinking about you. We sit there and think people are thinking about us, but they aren’t. In reality, all they’re thinking about is themselves. When he said that I was like, “Damn, that makes total sense.” 

Humans are concerned about how they look, what the world thinks about them, and so forth. Even in a one-on-one conversation where you might be nervous, like an interview or date. The other person is just thinking about their performance, not yours. We’re just not that important.

At first glance, you might feel like this rough news. But you should relish the fact that you’re not really that important. A great excuse to just start to do the work, invest in your stupidity, and take the chance. You can screw around, fuck up a hundred times, and nobody will notice. All the while, you’re learning and growing. Nobody really gives a shit about you. I promise. Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves. As you get older, you’ll realize everybody is busy doing their own shit, anyway.

Lesson #37: Always challenge the overly certain.

Truth bomb: the world is unbelievably uncertain. We can’t believe how uncertain the world is. Why? We have a craving for certainty. We don’t leave our 9 to 5 because we want certainty in our job. We choose unhappiness over uncertainty all the time. We don’t leave our asshole husband because we want certainty in our relationship. We buy certainty from companies every day. You know, the money-back guarantee or free trial period. Probably most importantly, we want certainty in advice. We want to have the answers, and we want them now! 

There are no guarantees. Things change rapidly, and there’s always a potential negative effect that can occur from any advice given to you. We really have no idea how things are going to change from day to day. 

Since you’re embracing your stupidity (lesson #34) and people are only thinking about themselves (lesson #35), you might be modeling fakes or frauds. People trying to lead you with overly certain advice. You know, the latest internet guru, self-made millionaire, and brand expert. And since we know the world is unbelievably uncertain, you should always challenge certainty. It will reveal one of three outcomes: 

1) They don’t know the downside of their advice.

2) They’ve never thought about the downside.

3) They can articulate the downside of the advice they’re giving you. 

You want to find and follow role models from bucket #3 as much as possible.

Lesson #38: People are walking projectors.

I call this the one bad habit we can’t run from: we all project our experiences, opinions, and beliefs onto everyone else—all the time. A waiter recommends a bottle of red wine. The waiter probably likes red wine. A husband yells at his wife to get off her cell phone. The husband probably plays on the phone all day. A teacher wonders why the student’s homework isn’t complete. The teacher probably has a supportive home life. A friend asks, “How much did you pay for that?” The friend is probably concerned about money. We see this projection with advice all the time (lesson #1).

Lesson #39: The world is made up of signals.

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but it is what it is. We’re all status seekers. We all want to look good toward somebody—kids, neighbors, friends, family, etc. We tend to make decisions based on status, probably more often we’re willing to admit. Stop and think: What books do you read? What books don’t you read? What car do you drive? What car don’t you drive? What school does your kid go to? What school doesn’t she go to? What clothes do you buy? What clothes don’t you buy? These are all signals. 

Each signal makes a statement about how you want the world to see you. Don’t panic. It’s just reality. It’s human nature. We want to fit in, look good to our tribe, and feel important. We’re wired for survival. Loretta Breuning, author of Habits of a Happy Brain, says it best: “You’re not a victim. You’re just a big-brained mammal trying to survive in an unpredictable world.”

Maybe you’re thinking, No way. I don’t give a shit about what people think. Here are two possible explanations: 

1) You might actually be counter-signaling. Some rich people do this with clothes. They wear scrubby clothes intentionally to signal I-don’t-give-a-shit or I-can-wear-whatever-I-want. It’s a counter-signal. It signals wealth, but not with wealth.

2) You’re just in denial. Look, all brands have images. All styles have representations. Everything signals something. If you buy a pair of Birkenstocks, it signals you’re the type of person who buys Birkenstocks. That’s why all people who wear Birkenstocks have similarities with other people who wear Birkenstocks. If you drive a Mercedes, you’re screaming, “I’m the type of person who drives a Mercedes.”

Bryan Caplan argues in The Case Against Education that the entire education system is at least 80% signaling. As in, you’re just signaling to the rest of the world you’re conscientious, intelligent, and willing to conform to rules. Employers like that signal. From personal experience, I can tell you that the only reason I went to college was to get my first corporate sales job. My diploma was merely a signal; in fact, I don’t remember one thing I learned in college. Seriously, not one thing.

The important thing to know is that everyone signals because everyone cares about status. The question isn’t about whether you do or don’t. The question should be, Am I sending the signals that I want to send to the world?

Lesson #40: Intention is everything.

Imagine this: I give you a dozen roses. You think to yourself, “Wow. How nice of him. But am I really nice? The gesture certainly was, but am I? There are infinite possible reasons I gave you a dozen roses. Maybe I want to sleep with you. Maybe I want to marry you. Maybe I feel guilty for something I did that you don’t know about. Or maybe I want to thank you. It doesn’t matter what the reason is. The point is that knowing any of those reasons is vastly more important than the dozen roses. 

Once you start to look at the world with a throughline of intention, you’ll always look for the intent in everything––a painting, a movie, the person’s actions, or a company trying to do business with you. You’ll only ask what, who, when, where, and how so you can start answering the why

People usually conclude that actions are greater than words. I agree, but what’s more important than both is why they are doing or saying whatever they are doing or saying. In short, the why behind anything is vastly more important than what, who, when, where, and how. The why represents intention. Intention will tell you more about an individual or organization than anything they say or do. It’s not always easy to decipher someone’s intention, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always be looking for it. 

You’ll see the true character of your family, friends, and colleagues. You’ll see the politicians, organizations, and leaders in a different light. You might get acquainted with some hard truths, or you might be delighted when someone’s why magnifies your appreciation for them. Ultimately, if someone has good intentions, who cares what they do, how they dress, and so on? Maybe they’re different than you, but who cares? Does it really matter? They mean well, and that’s what should matter. 

Lesson #41: Happiness is a feeling—nothing more and nothing less.

We all seem to be on this never-ending hunt for happiness. I want to dispel a myth, though. As far as I can tell, happiness is not a perpetual state of mind. We all get sad, angry, depressed, anxious, and nervous to varying degrees. You can’t be happy all the time. It’s not even human. So please, stop searching for it. Happiness is nothing more than a feeling you get from doing the things you enjoy. So this is my happiness formula:

1) Ignore what other people are doing. You want to avoid social comparison; otherwise, the things you love become relative to other people’s.

2) Find out what you love and do more of it. This could be a career, hobbies, creative pursuit, etc.

3) Find out who you love and be with them more. This could be family, friends, lover, etc.

4) Find out where you love and go there more. This could be a vacation, cafes, living location, etc.

5) Align steps 2 through 4. This is where you’ll have to make some trade-offs, consider your money, ambition, etc.

6) Ignore what other people think about your life. You want to avoid other people’s opinions on your life because everyone has an image in their head of who they want you to be. Only you know who you are.

I hope this formula helps you feel the feeling of happiness more than you don’t. Remember: happiness is not a constant blissfulness that dazzles your mind every day. It’s just a feeling—nothing more and nothing less.

Lesson #42: Be with someone who makes you feel good. 

This is the only piece of relationship advice I’ll give you. It’s certainly important for romantic relationships, but equally important to friendships. Nothing else should matter except how that person makes you feel when you’re in their presence. I don’t care what social media indicates your other friend feels about them, or how your mom disapproves of that guy in your life. We live and die with memories of our one-on-one interactions. The only thing that matters in this life is how someone makes you feel. You should always be asking yourself, “How does this person make me feel?”

How someone makes you feel cannot be replicated online, in a world of perception and trickery. It has to be done face-to-face. People can make you feel dead or alive. Inspired or damaged. Wanted or unwanted. Heard or unheard. It baffles me that people either (a) don’t ask this question, or (b) don’t honestly answer it. But it’s how someone makes you feel that will grow or shrink your attraction for them. Good can turn bad, and bad can turn good. I’m sure we can all recount examples of this from our lives. 

This question will lead to many others: how does this person treat other people? Something that will surely impact how they make you feel. How people treat other people is indicative of who they are at their core. It indicates morals and character—two things that always rear their heads in real life. Is this person a good person? Selfish or selfless? Polite or rude? Caring or inattentive? Do they even care about other people? This is how they will treat the people in your life—eventually. Ultimately, how does all of that make you feel?

How does this person look at me? Do they hear me? Does this person make me smile? Laugh? It’s an energy thing. Some people have magnetic energy that pulls you toward them, and others have repellant energy that pushes you away. It’s the most hokey thing you’ll ever hear me say, but I know it’s real. I’ve seen it too many times to discount it. When you’re looking right into someone’s eyes only a few feet away from you, nothing else matters. There’s no wall of followers, likes, and filters to stand behind. It’s in those moments of vulnerability that you’ll truly know how someone makes you feel.

Lesson #43: Have fun or don’t do it.

This saying is on the whiteboard that hangs above my desk: “Have fun or don’t do it.” I’m a fucking realist, though. I get it. Not everything in life is fun. Doing school work, going to work, and running on the treadmill all suck. Even doing the thing you want to be great at and the thing you’ve ascribed meaning to will suck some days. But I just believe life is better when you infuse it with a little fun. Which is why I say either have fun or don’t do it. 

I’ve gone about life both ways—the fun way and the boring way. Trust me, the fun way is the better way to go. Smile more. Laugh when you can. Always have fun. Always.

Lesson #44: Competition doesn’t always make you better.

So there’s sort of a lie that’s been told you for a long time. It’s the idea that competition will make you better. Look, I get it. I’ve spent a career selling things. It’s the most competitive environment you can imagine, which is why most people in sales were athletes at some point in their lives. I was an athlete. I should mention we revere our athletes from youth to pro. Athletes get a pass. Unfair, probably. True, definitely. We love our sports—basketball, baseball, mixed martial arts, etc. And you know what? In sports, competition will make you better, almost all the time. So we’ve slowly let this idea creep into real life. Competition must be a good thing, right?

Here’s the difference with life: in sports, you have set rules. Everyone is playing the same game. In life, there are no rules for how to play the game. You can be playing hockey while someone else is playing chess, and all the while, you’re competing against each other. In this sense, competition can become demotivating and uninspiring. Which is why people would rather read the meme on Instagram or watch the YouTube video than actually do the work. Social media has exploited our competitive juices and has made this a big challenge. I will advocate for you to strongly resist the urge to live someone else’s life and focus on yours. You have to ignore other people because in life, the world will reward you for one thing: being better at being you. The only person you should be competing with is yourself.

Lesson #45: You’re not as busy as you think.

We all have this stupid notion in our head that we’re so busy. I’m sure you’ve used or heard this line: “Sorry, I can’t do that, too busy.” While it can totally be true, I think it’s also worth considering you’re using it as a crutch. We use busy-ness as a crutch to avoid doing things and to make us sound more important than we are. After all, if we’re busy, how can we possibly be expected to do that. Whatever that is. 

Here’s the reality: we make time for the things that have meaning to us. The relationships we care about. The skills we’ve decided matter. The hobbies that make us feel alive. You should do all of that. But don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re too busy. The rat race loves people who are too busy. They have no time to realize they’re running.

Lesson #46: You’re not missing out on anything.

On July 3, 2019, I got rushed to the emergency room following a jet ski accident. I got T-boned by another jet ski and required surgery on my foot and ankle. While I was lying on the stretcher getting raced across the beach, the world was still going on around me. After the fact, I was in that ambulance, just me and the medic racing to the hospital. I was thinking about a million things, but there was one thought I couldn’t shake: Here I am alone in this ambulance, and the world is going on with me or without me. My friends were still at the beach. The fireworks were still going to happen. And I was in this god-awful predicament.

At first glance, you might think this a sad thought. It can be, but I encourage you to look at through a different set of glasses. Your world is only happening around you. You’re not missing out on anything. The ocean waves will continue to tumble in long after you and your friends leave the beach. There’s always another tomorrow. Another opportunity to say something to the girl, go on that vacation, or eat at that restaurant. The show must go on. It will with you or without you.

Until it doesn’t.

Lesson #47: Dude, you’re going to die one day.

You’re young, energetic, and alive. You’ve got the world by the balls. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but there is one thing as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow: you’re going to die one day. Don’t view this as a bad thing. It’s the best leverage you’ll ever have to live the life you want to live. 

Facing your own mortality and realizing the finality of your life is one of the most motivating forces you’ll ever have. Finality teaches the ultimate lesson in appreciation. The thing you’ve chosen to put meaning behind in your life will instantly be more meaningful when you come to grips with the fact that it won’t last forever. The sun shines a little brighter, the concert gets a little louder, and life gets a little easier. 

What do you want inscribed on your tombstone?

What do you want written in your obituary?

What do you want said at your eulogy?

Here are two things I’m sure about: 

1) Something will be on your tombstone, in your obituary, or read at your eulogy.

2) Time is going to go by, anyway. 

No matter what you choose to do, time will go by, anyway. How you spend your time living is totally up to you.

Since you stuck with me, here’s how I started my twenties. 

In August 2007, two weeks after I turned twenty-one, I went to Miami for ten days. After all, I was rich. I had a credit card with a $3500 limit and some cash in my pocket. The plan was to put everything on my newly minted credit card and have my friend give me cash for his half. 

Before I could even blink, the card was maxed out, and I’d spent every dollar I had and every dollar he’d given me. Somehow I made it through the trip, but with a maxed-out credit card and no cash to pay it back. 

This was the beginning of an eight-year stretch where I was living dedicated to the story, at any cost. I was conditioned by pop culture, music, and movies. All shit I still love, but I had no clue how much this stuff really influenced me. And worse, I was relying on other rats in the race for direction. Spending money that I didn’t have was how I felt worthy. Cars, vacations, and nightclubs. It provided me a false sense of control. The good time always superseded everything. The story masked the reality. I was building massive debt and living my life based on other people’s opinions. I was living FOMO (fear of missing out) to the max. But the keep-up-with-jones mentality throughout my twenties started to beat me down. I knew there was no way I could continue like this forever. Plus, social media had taken full effect. I wasn’t just competing—consciously or unconsciously—with friends anymore, but now I was competing with the entire world. Sound familiar?

In 2015, I had two maxed-out credit cards, a Lowes card, a PC Richards card, student loans, a loan on a Mercedes-Benz, and a rolling monthly American Express bill. Oh, and I had to take out a private loan just to pay back taxes to the IRS. I wish I could tell you the exact figures, but I’d be lying to you. It was north of six figures in total debt. I was paying close to $2000 a month in just minimum payments. I was a disaster. I was freaking out inside and mentally breaking down. But I had an image to uphold, friends to impress, and a world to prove myself to. So I avoided thinking about what was going on under the surface. After all, I was good at what I did, selling things, and I was making good money at an early age. 

Then my rat-race moment happened.

 In August of 2015, I was in JFK airport waiting to board a cross-country flight for a business conference. I meandered into one of those airport bookstores. I wasn’t much of a reader (yet). Just like someone who hadn’t read much, and was easily seduced by money and things, I picked up the first book that promised me more success. I felt the weight, flipped through the pages, felt the texture of the cover, and read the testimonials. I knew I had a five-hour flight ahead. Everything appeared to add up, so I bought The Compound Effect, a self-help book by Darren Hardy. The message was simple: it’s the little things you do each day that will compound and create your life. Of all things, it was a simple idea that captured me. Not a near-death experience, the loss of a loved one, or some rock-bottom moment. That message struck me and stuck with me. It reminded of all the dumb shit I had been compounding, along with my brutal money management. This little idea gave me hope that I could break free from the fragile life I was leading. 

At first glance, my rat-race moment appears to be all luck. Hey, I didn’t know I was going to stumble upon an idea inside of a book. There is an essential first step. I picked up the book. Which meant I was open. I was curious. I knew I needed a change. Not so different than you right now. Remember: escaping the rat race is a choice. You can’t find what you’re not looking for. I realized that if I wanted to be the person I believed I was, I’d have to say, Screw everyone else! And go to work on me. So that’s what I did. It was just before my twenty-ninth birthday when I started to get my shit together.

Today, almost five years removed from that god-awful feeling and position, I now feel light and free. I can’t imagine there being a better feeling in the world. Most days, I know exactly who I am and who I am not. What I can offer the world and what I cannot. I’ve made peace with all that. Just as you will. 

I’d like to say I never feel pressure, but I’m human, and this is life. I do have zero debt aside from my tiny mortgage, which I’d earn back two-fold if I sold the property today. It’s what you call good debt. Plus, I have money socked away in multiple areas––savings accounts, investment accounts, etc. I pay less for my total monthly bills now than I did for credit card and loan minimums combined in 2015. And I’ve doubled my income in that same time span. I’ve published two books and one e-book, spoken on stages around the country, founded and dissolved a consulting company, run a podcast for a year, written articles for the world to read, tried and failed many times, read and learned a lot, and still found time to screw around with my friends. All while selling and managing a book of business in the orthopaedic industry. 

Now it’s your turn.

I could go on a big rant to end this piece and tell you some inspiring story. You know, something to motivate you and kick your ass into gear. Rah, rah, rah. But I won’t do that. One, because I’m not a life coach. Two, because external motivation is fleeting. You’re going to just need more motivation tomorrow, anyway. As the great Zig Ziglar once said, “People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily.”

Here’s what I’d like to do instead. I’d like to ask you to do two things.

  1. Help yourself. Start doing the work (Lesson #2) and take account of everything you’re compounding daily (Lesson #8). Your actions? Money habits? Time-spending habits? Write them down. Ask yourself, “Will those habits compound daily over the next 3, 5, or 15 years get me to where I want to be in life? Will I be satisfied?” 

    I assure you, the time is going to pass either way. Will those habits add or subtract from the thing you’ve ascribed meaning to in your life (Lesson #12)? Are they helping you build toward something (Lesson #10)? If not, change those daily habits. Start creating some rules that will help you make fewer decisions (Lesson #26) and nudge you to the habits you want to compound daily. Even better, find a role model (Lesson #17) and start modeling. If you’re okay with what you’ve written down, you know the shit that you do every day, keep doing it. Keep compounding. There’s no magic bullet. That’s what it will take. Revisit this article and these lessons as often as necessary. Print the article, highlight it, cut it up, paste it on your desk, whatever you gotta do. Do it.

  2. Help me, help your friends, and help other twenty-somethings. If you found this article impactful, I’d love for you to share it with one person who needs to read it. Someone whom you think it would help. Someone who would enjoy it. Someone who you know would appreciate it. All we have in this world is each other.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for you. No gas left in the tank. I hope this article has been your rat-race moment. 

If not, come find me when you have it. We’ll grab a drink, I’ll tell you I told you so, and we’ll chat about it. 

Until then, be well, my friend.


*Did you like this article? If so, you might like my free ebook Pumpernickel & Peanut Butter: Why Weird Works!