On Personal Success
Every year, Forbes lists the world’s richest men and women, and we – as meager individuals – imagine what it would be like to live among this elite group, but why do we hold these individuals to such high admiration? Does a sizeable bank account directly correlate with personal success? Are all of these men and women definitively the greatest human beings on the planet? Many of you are probably nodding your heads in disagreement and wondering why I’m stating something that is so widely known. All of us have learned through the course of our lives that true value comes from our contributions to society, our empathy towards others, our moral fiber, and even how much love exists in our lives. You all know this reality very well, and I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. Still, why do so many of us forget or disregard this statement on personal success? Is it a matter of conformity, sacrifice, greed, or something more?
Before I go any further, I want to share how the following thought process came about. Recently, I was watching one of my favorite dramatic movies, Dead Poets Society, and one particular motif caught me in a stranglehold. In the film, at the start of every meeting, the Dead Poets read an entry aloud from Henry David Thoreau – “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life, and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” Those of you who have read my first entry – “Sacrificing Your Brand” – can probably see why this theme catches me the way that it does. Personally, one of my greatest fears in life compliments that of Thoreau – to realize at my last breath that my life had not been lived. Whenever I contemplate this possibility, I recall the trap that so many of us fall into – the admiration of the world’s richest men and women. When we admire money, we seek it, and when we seek it, we sacrifice for it. Of course, everybody has a different definition of personal success, but my meaning is defined by how well I avoid Thoreau’s fear. Consider your definition. Regardless of what that may be, ask yourself if you are sacrificing true personal success by admiring extraneous goals.
Of course, some of us will live our lives having attained both substantial money and personal success, as I’m sure many wealthy individuals have done before, but so many of us will also sacrifice our lives in pursuit of other goals, such as a sizeable bank account. For example, about a year ago, I was speaking with a friend of mine about Donald Trump, and my friend had mentioned that Donald Trump was not making enough money with a certain deal, that he should have made x billion dollars instead of y (x>y). At first I thought this was a sarcastic comment, but it ended up being a serious statement. For the next half hour, my friend and I argued over Trump’s true value. As you can imagine, this friend was (and still is) completely driven by money – he is pursuing an MBA for the primary purpose of making stacks of cash post graduation. This is not to say that he won’t enjoy his business career, but personal success is not his primary motivation. As I listened to his rant, I pitied the life he was living. He was not looking deep within himself to uncover what would provide him with the greatest personal success. Does this make him a bad person? Of course it doesn’t. Nevertheless, I wish for his sake that he weren’t so motivated by the color green.
Still, wealth isn’t the only factor that drives us from our personal success. Sometimes, the ones we love can turn us away. For instance, I once was speaking to one of my at-the-time SAT students (whose identity will remain confidential) about his career ambitions. He told me that he wanted to be a doctor, and when I asked him why, he simply shrugged his shoulders. Then, after a pause, he told me that his dad was the one who gave him the idea. I asked if it was his wish as well to pursue this career, and he said it wasn’t his dream to be a doctor, that he wasn’t even happy about it. I was completely heartbroken by how miserable this kid looked. Not only was he unmotivated to be a doctor, he was disgusted by the thought of practicing medicine the rest of his life. [One thing that truly outrages me is a child who is victimized by his parents, but that’s a whole different story]. Recalling Dead Poets Society, I wanted to take the role of Mr. Keating and warn this student of the dangers of conformity. Unfortunately, even if I would’ve spoken up, there was little I could have done for him at the time. There are so many other cases of these sacrifices that we could write libraries about them.
Whether we surrender our personal success for wealth, conformity, the ones we love, or any other cause, why should we? I know there are plenty of arguments that rebut this theory, but I still can’t help but picture that last breath of every life and what must be going through those minds. Too many times I’ve heard of people regretting their choices because they pursued goals that sacrificed the lives they envisioned. I challenge you to think through this scenario: imagine you have one hour to live. That’s only sixty minutes to think about the choices you made. Would you have made the same decisions? Would you have done anything differently? For those decisions you would’ve kept, cherish them; for the decisions you would’ve changed, act upon them. Life’s timeline has no guarantees, but the course of your life can be changed at any moment when you take the time to pursue what you love. This idea is the source of so much inspiration in my life.
The next time you read about some of the wealthiest men and women, consider if wealth, conformity, or any similar distraction is the true mark of success. I implore you to live your life as you envision it, to “suck out all the marrow” from it so that you may truly live. So long as you stay true to morality, empathy, and love along the way, you will have lived a glorious life full of personal success.
What's Up With Myspace? -
I have a serious question - who out there still uses Myspace? In a way, I feel bad for this social network. Myspace practically pioneered the modern world of social networking, and just look at what it gets in return - aggressive competition. First, Mark Zuckerberg annihilated Myspace with the creation of Facebook, which converted so many Myspace users who were attracted to Facebook’s social hype and cleanliness while deterred from the monstrous “Myspace Stalkers”. I was one of these users who switched over to Facebook and deactivated my Myspace account back in the summer of 2006.
In response to Zuckerberg’s ever-growing social network, Myspace set itself apart by focusing on music - both fans and artists. The idea to set this niche was rather clever: although Facebook did create fan pages and music sharing capabilities, Zuckerberg couldn’t defeat Tom’s miniature competitive advantage in this niche market. In fact, I frequently found myself visiting Myspace to check out local bands. Of course, I didn’t reactivate my account, but I did contribute some page views.
For me, what really set Myspace’s death in motion was iTune’s Ping. Think about it: Apple took the only niche that Myspace had left - music social networking. Poor Myspace! From the moment that Steve Jobs announced this in his keynote address, I knew that Myspace was in trouble. Most companies would reserve some dignity and close up shop, but not good-old Myspace. What does genius Tom do instead? He establishes an even tighter niche. Call me crazy, but it’s as if Myspace is getting a bit desperate. I definitely agree that niche markets represent a terrific way to start a business (Facebook did this by first opening exclusively for Harvard students to establish demand), but they also - in this case at least - represent market divestiture.
Now, Myspace has established a niche market of 13- to 35-year-olds (aka Generation Y). In addition, Myspace now claims that its website will be “the leading entertainment destination that is socially powered by the passions of fans and curators.” Read between the lines - Myspace is running scared. I do give the website credit for putting up a hard fight, but realistically, how much longer can it really last? Its new positioning statement sounds a bit too specific for me. I wouldn’t exactly call the neighbors on my block a niche market, Tom.
In short, what’s up with Myspace? Let me know your opinions on this subject!
Absolut Vodka* is a legend in the advertising world. Through some very simple creativity, this company accomplished what most marketers only dream of achieving - it turned a product into a collectible item. Interestingly, the collectible was not the product itself but rather the advertisement. Seriously, you can buy a book that is dedicated solely to Absolut advertisements. I’ve seen it - it’s outstanding!
A great way to make yourself successful in this world is to do exactly what Absolut did - turn yourself into a collectible. No, I don’t mean this literally, but in a way I do. Find out what it is that makes you unique and sets you apart from the rest of the world, and use that to your advantage. One day, if you become unique enough, they might just write a book dedicated to you, too.
*Please drink responsibly.
Have you ever smelled a burning body? Let me tell you first hand, it’s a smell you can never forget. I know that my blog entries are usually cheerful or enlightening, but in honor of those who perished on September 11, 2001, I wanted to share a personal story about witnessing the worst attack in American history from the suburbs of New York.
Now you might think that growing up in the suburbs of New York, nestled safely miles away, I’d feel safe from anything that went on in the city; however, this one day changed my perspective on that false security. September 11 was a day that I can never forget. Although my blood-related family was not affected by this tragedy, my other family, the city of New York, suffered greatly, and in that suffering overcame, as did I.
At the time, I was only 12 years old, but I’ll never forget the beautiful weather that morning - it was a typical early September day with warm temperatures, crystal blue skies, and a subtle hint of fall’s chill. School had just begun only a week earlier, and I was still getting acclimated to my 8th grade classes. To me, it was an ordinary day, as it was to every student and teacher hustling through the hallways to their first classes. Little did I know that at that very moment, hundreds of lives were being accelerated over the Hudson toward Ground Zero - we were 10 minutes away from one of the greatest tragedies of our lives.
At about 9:00 in the morning, a rumor started buzzing around the school that a plane had hit into one of the Twin Towers. Now, I had heard about planes hitting New York skyscrapers before. In fact, a small aircraft once flew into the Empire State Building in 1945. As a result, I thought nothing much of the event - I figured that this was probably just a small little Cessna that had lost control and hit into the building, maybe hurting a few people in the tower and killing the pilot. As such, I just continued on with my business, thinking about how awful it must have been for those few people to experience in the city. Still, this was New York - accidents happened every day.
As the day progressed, there grew a somber presence across the school that I could never describe and hope none of you ever experience. Although I didn’t know anything else about the events that had unfolded, I knew that something was terribly wrong - teachers were crying in the hallways, students were being called to meet with their guidance counselors, and the blue sky seemed to turn a hint of gray. Even on such a warm day, there was a certain grim chill that relentlessly whispered through the hallways and made its way into every classroom. The emotion was similar to feeling as if you were being followed through a dark alley on a foggy night. I still get chills up my spine and goosebumps across my arms just thinking about it.
Finally, an announcement was made during 7th period that all 8th period teachers were to cancel their scheduled class lessons to speak with us. Walking into my Social Studies class, I was expecting the worst, and that’s exactly what I got. In a very calm voice, my teacher simply took a few minutes to explain to us what had happened and provided an open invitation for anyone who needed to see their guidance counselor to do so. Besides an occasional question from one of my peers, the rest of the period was spent in silence - students whispered to each other in the classroom, and I could see people walking through the hallway with tears streaming down their ashen faces. Although I knew that my family was safe, I was still struck with terror that I couldn’t even properly comprehend - my dad worked in midtown, and so many questions went unanswered. What exactly happened? Why did it happen? Who was hurt? Were my friends and their families safe? Would there be another attack? What did this all mean?
Six hours after the attack, I was finally home, and this was the first time I was going to see it all on television. Sure enough, when I turned on the news and saw the empty space where the towers once stood, my heart jumped to my throat. I had all of these memories of driving through the city and passing by the Twin Towers, staring straight up at their grandeur. In fact, I could even see the towers from a few high points in my neighborhood. Watching the towers erupt into flames and fall to the ground like two dominos was unfathomable; I honestly couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, and at 12 years old, I still didn’t get it. Rumors had swirled around about terrorism. What was terrorism? Why would somebody purposely kill themselves and send a plane into the World Trade Center… and the Pentagon… and a field in Pennsylvania? Were there going to be more attacks? Was I safe? Would I ever be safe?
September 11 was a day that will always be impossible to forget, and for several days after the attack, the eastward-bound wind carried the smell of smokey metal and burning flesh through my neighborhood, bringing with it the inescapable reality of those who had perished and the lives that were changed. I’ll never forget that smell; I’ll never forget that day.
Every year since, I’ve stared at the memorial lights outside my bedroom window at my parents’ house. To me, the lights serve as a reminder of what we take for granted in this world. Truthfully, we often lose consciousness of our own mortality and forget to take check of our lives. In reality, our lives are truly precious, and they can be taken away in a mere instant - whether through acts of natural disaster, sudden illness, or incredulous hatred. I hope I never take my life for granted, as I hope you never take your own.
In honor of those who perished, feel free to share your stories.
The Sharing Age -
Whether you’re in business, politics, art, literature, film, religion, or even none of the above, this article is a definite “must read”. The world has transformed drastically in the last 5 years. Remember when we entered the Computer Age (or the Information Age)? That was only within the last decade or two, and yet we now stand at the brink of another revolution. What ever happened to ages taking centuries to revolutionize? I suppose the definition of an age has changed. Nevertheless, the world is moving at an accelerating rate, which means that we must remain steadfast in our efforts to keep up with these rapidly changing times.
Although people have hinted at it, society has not yet defined our newest revolution - the beginning of what I like to call “The Sharing Age”. Think about it - we share everything today. We tweet when we’re at the gym, we update our Facebook pages to inform friends about every aspect of our lives, and we even check in on Four Square when we go to a local Starbucks. Furthermore, we’re now sharing our music with complete strangers through Myspace and Ping. The government can track everything we do, our friends can learn about every aspect of our lives, and strangers now have easier and smarter methods of stalking and scamming us than ever before. What ever happened to privacy? Whatever happened, it’s about to get worse.
In the next 5 years, Mashable is predicting even more changes to the world, which will propel us further into the Sharing Age, and this extends beyond Social Media. With all of the new inventions out there (and with people more openly willing to share most aspects of their lives), marketing professionals are ecstatic. Now, not only do businesses have the ability to monitor your purchases, but they’re also able to make accurate predictions about your behavior. Talk about a psychological nightmare, and let’s not forget that this is all coming from a marketing professional.
Perhaps my favorite item on the horizon is Geo-fencing. Click on the link to read all about it. This type of marketing is instantaneous one-on-one marketing at its finest, combining the virtual world with the real one. Using your smartphone, a company will be able to track when you enter into a preassigned area around its stores. For example, if you’re a loyal Macy’s customer, you might get a text on your phone if you’re walking close to their signature Herald Square store. That text could include a “special” one-time-only coupon that could say something like “Come into Macy’s within the next 30 minutes and present this coupon for 10% off any pair of designer jeans.” That’s not the scary part - Macy’s will know, based upon your previous purchase behavior, that you love designer jeans. In other words, this coupon really is specific to you (and all other designer jeans fans). If you were more of a frequent shoe shopper, the coupon could have presented you with 10% off any pair of shoes. Scary? Convenient? I’ll leave that up to you.
Either way, the world is being propelled into the Sharing Age, and you’re sharing your information with more than just your friends - you’re sharing with the government, companies, and perfect strangers. I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing either, but what I am trying to say is that we are becoming more open to these new social trends, and that will only develop as we soar into the future. Compare 2005 to 2010 alone, or even 2000 (remember Y2K). What will 2015 look like?
Do you realize that you’re in a constant competition? Darwin calls this Survival of the Fittest - species that adapt to their environment, survive attacks from their predators, and succeed in attacks against their prey are the species that survive agains the odds. Despite Darwin’s theories, I’m speaking outside the realm of natural evolution; I’m talking about the competitions that you encounter every day. Like Tiger Woods on the green, Michael Jordan on the court, or Derek Jeter on the field, you come face-to-face with competition every single day. The only challenge is how you approach the game: are you the type of person who fights aggressively, plans strategically, or cowers on the sidelines?
Let’s make this conversation a little less cryptic. Every day, you’re fighting for something, usually against another person - you fight for the top grade in a class, a new job, a date, that promotion you’ve been waiting for, or even the winning lottery ticket. These battles extend into your career, your love life, your friendships, your wallets, and so many other deep aspects of your life. How can you win the face-off? That all depends on how you market yourself as a combatant, and more importantly, how you follow through with those decisions. Which type of combatant are you?
The first type of combatant is an aggressive warrior. You probably have some of these warriors in your life: they cheat on exams, lie during job interviews, rat on their coworkers, flirt with your crush behind your back, and actively fight for what they truly want. Acting on impulse, they’ll stop at nothing to win the game, despite how their actions might affect other people. For the most part, aggressive warriors are strong, egotistic, cunning, agile, and often cold. Still, most of them are too proud (or perhaps too cowardly) to acknowledge the lives that they destroy in their pursuit. Like a running-back, all they can see is the end zone, and all they want is a touchdown. Think about whether or not you fit into this category.
The second combatant is a strategic planner. These individuals use their strong intellect, patience, logical reasoning, and personal desires to attain their goals. They can best be associated with chess players and golfers. As such, they think before they act - they consider all possible alternatives and all potential obstacles before making their moves. Perhaps their greatest flaw is that they can often act slowly, taking too much time to think about a course of action, and therefore missing out on certain opportunities. Nevertheless, think twice before facing off against a strategic planner; they’re often sneaky and can sometimes act against your interests without your awareness. Are you a strategic planner?
The third combatant is a passive observer. You can think of these individuals as second-string players on the sidelines. Admirably, these combatants are often compassionate, thoughtful, altruistic, and sometimes nervous or cowardly; however, their meek qualities come at the expense of personal gain. Most passive observers watch their lives pass by before their eyes - they watch other people land the jobs they want, take the people they love, and earn the money they crave. While many of them might appear satisfied on the surface, most of them wish they were more like strategic planners or aggressive warriors. They strive on encouragement and wait for opportunities to fall into their laps, and when this happens, they feel as if their time waiting was well spent. Perhaps you fit into this category.
Despite these blunt personalities, most of us fall into a hybrid category. Depending on the situation, we choose to be an aggressive warrior, a strategic planner, or a passive observer, and most of us have had our fair share of all three. Generally, our decision is based upon the severity of the situation - if you’re interviewing for a job that you need but not necessarily one that you want, you might choose to passively fight for the position; if you’re fighting against another coworker for a promotion, you might strategically plan how to position yourself against your competitor so that you end up as the victor; and if you’re about to watch the love of your life slip away, you might choose to take the role of an aggressive warrior, fighting desperately for the person you love.
Regardless of which path you choose, inevitably, you fit into one of these categories, and like an athlete, you fight every day to win your respective games. Life as we know it is about competition. The only question is, as which type of competitor do you market yourself? Like Darwin says, life is “Survival of the Fittest”. How do you ensure that you are the fittest?