Alex Banayan is a 19-year-old associate at San Francisco-based venture capital firm Alsop Louie Partners. His upcoming book will feature 25 of the world’s most successful people and reveal the little things they did to propel their careers. He previously wrote about the five traits of radically successful people.
With only a few days left being a teenager, just thinking about what happened this past year gives me chills.
Before I continue, I have to warn you: this post is not for everyone. And this isn’t a tech-focused post, either. I’m writing this for that person out there who needs that extra reminder that anything is possible. If you want to know how my world flipped this year, and what surprising lessons I’ve learned along the way, keep reading.
This past year has been a whirlwind of life-changing events, but I don’t take credit for any of it. This all happened because of the people in my life who believed in me, guided me, and pulled me up. I wake up every day humbled by those people in my life. They are the successes, and I’m just riding the wave.
To give you some insight on what happened to me, I’ll share with you a few things that show how my life was a year ago and what it’s like now. But let’s be extremely clear: this isn’t a “things I’ve done” list, but rather a case study on what is possible—and if a scrappy teenager like me can pull it off, just imagine what you can do.
- A year ago I was 40lbs heavier and I couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes. Today, I’ve dropped the 40lbs (thanks to Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet) and I’m now training for my first triathlon (never thought that would happen!).
- A year ago I sat my dorm room and dreamt about being in the “real world” of Silicon Valley. Today, I’m an associate at Alsop Louie Partners, a San Francisco-based high-tech venture capital firm.
- A year ago I only had three people confirmed for my book and I had to chase down people on the streets (literally) to get them to agree to do interviews. Today, I’m at eleven confirmed interviews and counting—and the momentum keeps on growing.
- A year ago, I wrote in my journal that I wished to meet some of my business heroes, which included people such as Tim Ferriss, Tony Hsieh, and Elliott Bisnow. Today, I’ve not only met them all, but I’ve even shadowed one of them, had dinner with another one, and traveled to Europe with the third (it was amazing!).
I never would have guessed any of this would happen. As childish as it sounds, I’ve learned that dreams can actually come true. It’s crazy when you think about it. You just have to be willing to lay each brick, one by one, until you eventually build up to the clouds.
The following are the lessons I’ve learned along the way that have made this all possible. I share them with you with the hope that they help you too.
The Lessons Learned
- Writing in a journal changed my life. Journaling helps me with two things—maintaining my happiness level (if you write about happy moments in your day, your brain literally relives it) and helping me discover ideas I didn’t even know I had. A motto of mine is: I read books to learn what others know, but I write in a journal to learn what I know.
- Lightning strikes those who run around in thunderstorms. The chances of you getting struck by lightening while sitting in your house is slim. But the odds go way up when you go outside, climb trees, and hang onto metal objects during a storm. Success works the same way. Go to conferences where big players are, say yes to opportunities, and tell your story everywhere. You can create your own luck.
- Family first, always. I’ve realized that the one constant factor in life is family. Friends change, jobs change, girlfriends change, but your family is your family forever. Invest the time to make the relationships with your siblings and parents truly special. And if you don’t have biological family- find a community (such as Summit Series) and treat them as such.
- Never save the “best for last.” Give it all you got from the start. And it’s okay to eat your dessert first.
- Life is just a people game. Institutions that seems larger than life (ie. The White House, Disney, Microsoft) are just made up of people. If you learn how to pull back the curtain and find the people operating the machine, and become friends with them, you can make the impossible – possible.
- “No” just means “not right now” or “you asked me the wrong way.” Just because someone says “no” today, doesn’t mean they will say “no” tomorrow.
- There really are good people in the world. People want to help people who remind them of themselves, demonstrate they have potential, and have genuine intentions. You would be surprised by how radically kind people are when you ask for help in the right way.
- Reading books is the single most underrated key to success. Seriously. My top six books recommendations are: Never Eat Alone, Delivering Happiness, 4-Hour Workweek, Pour Your Heart Into It, When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead, and The Art of Possibilities.
- Most people’s email addresses can be found online in under a few minutes. The internet gives you access to contact people you can’t easily meet in person. Take advantage of that.
- Troubles are inevitable, but being stressed is a choice. I’ve learned to not worry about the little failures in life and focus on making the big success come true.
- Stop thinking about saving money and start thinking about making it. I’ve met people who spend hours cutting coupons and looking for ways to save a couple of dollars. If they spent that time working overtime or starting a business, the financial rewards would be much greater.
- “Networking”, passing out business cards, and attending mixers with people in suits is a waste of time. Focus instead on creating friendships with people who you really connect with. Networking makes me feel slimy and is no fun. Making friends is eternally fulfilling and enhances all aspects of your life and career.
- You are the reflection of the 20 people who give you the best advice. Try to get advice from the most wise and accomplished people you can get a hold of. Their hindsight can be your foresight.
- Life is not a zero sum game. Someone does not have to lose for you to win.
- Make time for free-time. Create time in your schedule to just explore, go on adventures, read something new, and talk to new people. I have way too many high-potential friends who are so busy spinning their wheels and working hard that they never actually do anything noteworthy. If you make time for free-time, you never know where your next big idea will come from.
- Accomplishments are not the driving force behind happiness. The happiness caused by the reaching the top of the mountain is momentary, but the happiness caused by the memory of climbing a fun mountain lasts a lifetime. The same applies to careers.
- Being funny and telling awesome stories can quickly turn strangers into new friends. Both of those are skills that can be learned and honed.
- “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is BS. Having friends in high places isn’t helpful if you have nothing to deliver. Success is 80% the product and 20% how you get it seen. Who you know is necessary for that critical 20%, but don’t neglect that fundamental 80%.
- Service workers and secretaries. Treat these two groups of people exceptionally well. It’s one of life’s little secrets.
- You will surprise yourself by what you can accomplish when your back is against the wall. Nothing is more motivating than treading on the edge of failure—it will make you do incredible feats that you didn’t think you could ever pull off. But you’ll only get to that point if you take unimaginable risks.
The coolest part of all this is that I’m actually not particularly special. Anything I did, you could do too – and probably better. The only reason all this happened to me is because I was crazy enough to try.
I am not an example of a lucky exception, but rather proof of what is possible.
What happened to me this past year can happen to any of you if you want it bad enough.
My hope is that with this article, I could touch the life of someone who is on the verge of taking that next big jump. Just over a year ago, when I dropped being a pre-med in college, it was the inspiration from others that helped me make that much needed leap.
Nothing is more powerful than the human soul on fire—and I hope I could help spark yours.
For more from Alex Banayan, check out his website.
VB's working with marketing expert Scott Brinker to understand the new digital marketing organization. Help us out by answering a few questions
, and we'll help you out with the data.