Be Weird—Because Truly Successful (& Rich!) People Think and Act Differently Than Everyone Else
In case you were unaware, the 2019 BiggerPockets Conference just concluded. The conference was very educational and a great time with lots of beneficial networking opportunities. If you didn’t attend this year, I would recommend that you should definitely attend next year.
If you’re interested in my reflections on the conference, you can go here, but this piece is about an admittedly mundane but relatively instructive story on the last day of the conference. I had bought a ticket for my flight out the evening of the final day. This meant I had to check out before 11:00 a.m. even though the conference didn’t wrap up until 4:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the conference also started early in the morning. Due to a combination of factors related to the cocktail reception and subsequent after party the night before, as well as the regrettable fact I left my 20s some time ago, I had been slightly delayed in rousing myself from slumber that fateful morning.
Taking a quick step back, I had started implementing Hal Elrod’s “Miracle Morning” program into my daily routine a few months ago. For those who don’t know, Hal recommends you wake up much earlier than most do to get the day off on the right foot. He recommends doing the following cheesy-sounding life “SAVERS”:
- S: Silence (or meditation)
- A: Affirmations
- V: Visualizations
- E: Exercise
- R: Reading
- S: Scribe
Given the challenges I had in waking up, I had to race to the convention center to catch BiggerPockets’ founder Josh Dorkin’s presentation without time to do any of those tasks—or to even check out.
After Josh’s great presentation—where he described the horrible ordeal his daughter had gone through (she is thankfully alright now)—I raced back to my room to bust out my life SAVERS, clean up, and check out. (You can do the morning routine later in the day if need be; you just don’t want to make a habit of it.)
I was still a bit groggy at this point, so I was only able to make it through the AVERS, clean up, and then check out by 11:00 (probably more like 11:05). I couldn’t complete the silence or meditation part in time. I like the guided meditations Headspace offers, which typically involve sitting with my eyes closed and ear phones in for 10 minutes while a voice tells me to count my breaths and return the focus to the body and all that fun, new-age stuff.
But I was left with an extraordinarily trivial dilemma that brings us to the apex of the third act in this incredibly boring melodrama; I had no room to myself to meditate. Instead, I found myself in the Gaylord Hotel: a massive series of giant atriums with glass ceilings encasing some sort of artificial jungle with numerous people walking back and forth. “Perhaps I’ll just wait until I’m on the plane and can pretend I’m listening to music or asleep,” I thought.
Then, a second and far superior thought hit me as we reach the finale of this overlong and extremely banal story: “Who cares?”
So, I sat there next to some trees or whatever with my eyes closed for 10 minutes or so while who knows how many people walked by. In all likelihood, no one even noticed. Maybe one guy briefly thought “that’s weird,” but I’ll never know.
Even a Dumb Story Can Have a Moral to It
To be self-conscious is to be human. And pretty much everyone is to at least some degree. I had it worse than many and still have it some. But with every step out of your comfort zone—even for trivial things like the above story—it makes the next one easier. Perhaps the best piece of advice I’ve ever read came from Brian Tracy’s Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life:
“There is a rule that I have learned from experience: Never do or refrain from doing something because you are concerned about what people might think about you. The fact is that nobody is even thinking about you at all.”
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My father is great about this (although it unfortunately allowed him to master the art of embarrassing his kids when I was a bit younger, but that’s another story). Back when I was in college, he would hold book study groups for various professionals in his circle. He must have had a half dozen of these that went over books like Good to Great, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Mentored by a Millionaire, Built to Last, etc.
It didn’t immediately hit me that this wasn’t what most people normally did. Of course, it should also be noted that most people aren’t as successful as my dad has been.
Tim Ferris has several challenges in his book The 4-Hour Workweek that he encourages his readers to take part in. They include things like haranguing your way onto the phone with a celebrity and asking that person a question, walking up to a random person of the opposite sex in a mall or other crowded area and asking for their number (while explicitly giving that person the out of giving a fake), and just lying down on the floor of a fancy restaurant.
“The rules of this world do not apply to us,” he puts it.
Of course, these are all unwritten rules. Unwritten rules are meant to be broken, at least sometimes.
In fact, this was the undercurrent of the message that David Osborn gave in his closing speech at the BiggerPockets Conference. David Osborn is the founder of the fourth largest real estate brokerage in the United States and all-men mastermind group GoBundance. He noted the importance of moving outside your comfort zone and doing things most would consider different (or perhaps even odd). One picture he showed was himself on a boulder suspended between two rock cliffs out in the middle of who-knows-where.
David certainly doesn’t feel bound by the “rules of this world.”
Indeed, the number of weird, eccentric traits you’ll find amongst the most successful people in the world is quite large. There’s even a cottage industry out there to catalog it (here’s an example: “You Won’t Believe Some of the Weird and Unique Hobbies These Billionaires Love”).
Some of the more notable (and admittedly often useless) examples include Nikola Tesla walking around a building three times before entering, Tom Hanks collecting vintage typewriters, Beethoven keeping a tub of water handy, and Lord Byron having a pet bear.
For some reason, I didn’t see Mike Tyson’s pet tiger… but perhaps that brings me to one important caveat.
One Critical Caveat
Being different doesn’t mean being either rude or reckless. Punching some random stranger is not being “bound by the rules of this world.” Yet I would still advise against it. Throwing your life savings on snake eyes is also different and “not bound by the rules of this world.” But it’s also extremely stupid and absurdly reckless.
Integrity and prudence are still as important as ever.
And if you have the urge to buy an island, two castles, a pet octopus, and a 67-million-year-old Tarbosaurus skull (as Nicolas Cage did), it’s probably best to reassess your priorities.
Go back to that quote by Brian Tracy. The key question to ask is if the only reason you wouldn’t do X is fear of being judged, then do it. If it’s a fear of losing a lot of money because X is too risky, then you probably shouldn’t. And if it’s fear that what you’re doing is unethical, then it’s almost certainly something you shouldn’t do.
Conclusion: Zig When Others Zag
It’s simple but true that you should often (although by no means always) zig when others zag. Take legendary filmmaker Christopher Nolan, for example. First he makes a dark and gritty superhero trilogy in The Dark Knight when most superhero movies at the time were lighthearted adventure films. Then, he gets copied repeatedly to the point that the DC universe post-Nolan mostly sucks.
Now, when every big budget movie is a CGI extravaganza that makes me wonder whether these films should be re-categorized as “animated,” Nolan focuses on almost exclusively practical effects, which make his movies feel much more grounded and authentic than others. And now, when every war movie is a gore-fest with blood and limbs flying all over the place (because other directors were copying the zig Spielberg made with “Saving Private Ryan”), he brought the gore down to almost nothing and put the focus on tension with “Dunkirk.”
Zig when others zag, and don’t be afraid of the fleeting judgements of others that will almost always fade away shortly after they were made. Be prudent and ethical, of course, but don’t let the (unwritten) rules of this world prevent you from achieving the success that’s within your reach.
Have you reached a point where you’re comfortable with discomfort in life? What do you think about the above advice?
Weigh in with a comment below.