21 Things You Learn When You Study Hundreds Of Successful People

Why can we not follow our own advice? remember all the lessons we invariably learn on our journey through life? always do what is right and good? achieve anything and everything we desire? all just get along? — Ahh, the big, mysterious, ambivalent and unanswered questions about human nature.

The only thing we can do is our best.

Having listened to over 400 podcasts, read a ton of books, blogs and watched a ton of interviews, either done by or about successful, top-performing people — people whom we consider successful on the surface, such as billionaires, CEO’s and champion athletes — it dawned on me recently how little I have been appreciating two things: firstly, the fact that  — thanks to the internet and the general availability of information — I have been able to actually study these people, get true insight into their lives and almost put myself in their shoes; and secondly, how much I have indeed picked up — both subconsciously and consciously — in the process. So to address the latter, I am writing this article.

Pic courtesy of shannonmiller.me

Instead of taking my usual form and carving out a a dissertation on the insight I’ve gained and lessons learned, for the sake of simplicity, time and simple desire to do something different, what will follow is a list — a list of the big ideas, helpful takeaways, lessons, wisdom and knowledge I’ve harnessed:

— We are all bluffing. We are all trying to figure it out — and we never truly will. We are all human, and the very act of being a human being means dealing with the trauma, neuroses, questions and uncertainties that life brings along. We are all asking ourselves the same questions — every single one of us —  and this is why introspection, overcoming your own personal battles and changing your life, are so powerful in increasing you ability to help others; when you invest in yourself you increase your capacity to help others — because, we are all asking ourselves the same questions. We make mistakes, we’re overcome by emotion and vice, we find it extremely hard to follow our own advice: these things are not exclusive to certain people; they are part of being a living human being. As Nietzsche so damningly, truthfully and yet beautifully said, we are indeed, all too human.

— You cannot know and shouldn’t try to know where you will end up. For knowing means to be sure beyond reasonable doubt, and the very nature of life — the uncertainty, unpredictability and constant change — does not allow for such accuracy in prediction and assurance. It is impossible to know where you will end up, so therefore spending time and energy trying is futile — a shameful waste of your two most precious, valuable assets. Sure you can have a general idea of where you may or want to end up, but for the most part we are never satisfied with that — we want to know the specifics of the specifics. This is impractical and not possible.

For the lazy, undriven, unambitious and sloth-minded, this is very rarely a problem — because they don’t really think about the future, about goals, about the pursuit of knowledge, about overcoming self, about the joy of doing big things, about the things you find in their opposites: the type A personalities, ambitious and hungry. Because many of the books you read, podcasts you listen to and interviews or films you see are predominately from, or about successful people, there is undoubtedly a selection bias here; people who don’t do anything in life very rarely get spoken about, so it’s unlikely you’re consuming wisdom from them. So this particular point is not applicable to everyone — because not everyone thinks about where they will or want to end up. Neither do, for that matter, monks, sages and many thought leaders — because their way of living is all about the present, simplicity and lack of external desire.

No matter which way you frame it, people who do, or want to achieve big things have to think outside the present, deal with complexity and desire external things. It is these people who think a lot about and want to know where they will end up in life. The lesson here, then, is to know the impossibleness of that.

— Money, power, fame and possessions do not make you truly happy. Gratitude, mindfulness, family and working on things that excite you does. In 95% of very very wealth people, you will hear this very simple, but profound and gorgeous truth.

— Time to sit and think, reflect, meditate, play, appreciate, be mindful and play, is perhaps the greatest thing — it is essential to a healthy state of mind and happy life. Turning off is something the great thinkers take very seriously.

— If it is possible, it is not impossible. There are 2 types of impossible: mathematically impossible (actually impossible as far as we know in physics and math), and the “I can’t do this” impossible. The former concerns obscure things like telepathy, teleportation and invisibility; the latter concerns pretty much everything else. There are very few things that are actually truly impossible — like becoming a billionaire, changing the world, being the best at something. 200 years ago, Wi-Fi, The Internet, Biotech and even Photography, seemed like impossibilities — now look.

— Most people are very irrational. All people are irrational.

— Lifelong learning, experimentation — on self and otherwise, pragmatism, never-ending curiosity, and a willingness to find things out: these are normal traits in the top performers, consistently happy people and mega successful folks.

— You must build your life around yourself. This is a large part of what most consider a mark of true success. Think Carnegie, Walt Disney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger: these people had a dream, and as a result of bringing the right people together, working very hard and being stubborn on their vision, they were able to make that dream come true — they built their lives around themselves. When you think of successful people today, the names Bill Gates, Buffett, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey come to mind — again, people who built their lives around what themselves.

— Don’t rush. Enjoy the moment. The most common answer successful people give to the question “what advice would you give your younger self?” is slow down.

— Do your own thinking. Or people will do it for you.

— The crippling fear on inadequacy, the anxiety, the neurotic episodes and meticulous obsession with details are normal emotions to have — they are part of being human. In ambitious people in particular, these types of emotions are 10x more likely to occur. However rather than see it as a stop sign — a disabler, the ones who succeed see it as a green light — an enabler; they go forth in spite of negative emotion. Not only do they not their fears, anxieties and worries cripple them, they use them as fuel and see them as very important ingredients. It is in fact these neuroses that makes their work so great — Think Lincoln, Picasso, Hemmingway, Steve Jobs. Whether we’re dealing with cause or correlation here is unclear; it could be that their striving and desire causes these neuroses, or it could be their neuroses that causes their striving — it’s likely a combination of the two.

— The power of writing. Most great leaders, thinkers and successful people are great writers — The profound link between writing and thinking well is undeniable. If you want to think better, write.

— Be present. The only thing that exists is the present — so worrying about the future or dwelling in the past is worrying about something that doesn’t exist. Having one eye on today and one eye on tomorrow, makes you cockeyed today.

— Story telling is the most captivating, impactful and powerful way to lead, persuade, teach, sell, write and make connections.

— Laugh. Laughter really is the best medicine.

— Nobody likes a complainer. We all have things to complain about, and we can all rationalise our need to make our frustrations known to the world. But the fact of the matter is, nobody likes to hear moaning and grunting. And not only that, nobody wants to help them, either.

— Embrace your funk.

— Look after yourself — physically, spiritually and intellectually. This enables you to think better, do more and have more impact. When we’re happy and comfortable, we function better as human beings. Although there can arise the need for immersion and personal sacrifice, you should have a high, high threshold for choosing to participate. Unless you want to get ill, die young or fail big, most, if not all of the time, prioritise your health, spirit and intellect. Especially your health though.

— Know your history. Knowing the history of the world you live in is a big, big advantage.

— Live a life you enjoy. And there is no better way to go about this than doing work that you love – for work is what you spend most of your life doing.

— The people you surround yourself with is absolutely, fundamentally, totally and utterly crucial.

Letting your thoughts flow and not discriminating, judging or overthinking is also another valuable lesson I’ve learned in my study of other people. But like, I guess, with all of the above insights, it has also been a realisation I came upon myself — through a ton of writing, thinking, experimenting and meditating. It essentially means to trust in your thoughts and give way to stream-of-consciousness; without trying to write neatly, prosaically, poetically or perfectly, trusting in your thoughts and ideas, and just letting them flow. This list was written that way.

You can spend years and years and years learning the hard way through personal experimentation, trial and error and making big mistakes. Doing this is a long, hard, suppressing and often unsatisfactory process. It’s often unsatisfactory because most people never actually learn from their mistakes. But if you do it right — if you learn from your failures, experiment smartly and live curiously, it can yield great results. But why do that when you can learn from other people? Why go through years of struggle, doubt and hardship when you can see how other people did it? This is the profound benefit of studying other people: it allows you to find people who had/have the same desires as you, people who have done or failed in something you want to do, and see exactly how they went about doing it. From biographies, podcasts, interviews and documentaries, you can learn a ton about what to do and more critically, what not to do. The choice is yours.

[You can also find this article at it’s original home on The Presto Post]

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