Playbook for Success – From One Millennial to Another – Guest Post by Kyle Maynard

Before I begin, I just want to thank Jeff for asking me to guest write for his blog. I’ve met a lot of people and worked with several individuals in my relatively short time on this Earth. If there is ANYONE who can motivate you to WAKE UP with a DAY ONE mentality…it’s Jeff Brandwein.

The point I want to make in this post can be summarized in two key themes. First, never trick yourself into thinking that where you come from determines where you’re going. And second, we are all capable of success, it’s your willingness to get serious and your ability to take the necessary steps that will ultimately get you there. Nothing in this post is groundbreaking by any stretch of the word; simply a set of principles and guidelines that I have applied to my life to get ahead.

Who am I?

My name is Kyle Maynard. I am a 25-year-old sales representative at a SaaS startup in Chicago. I come from a very small town called Cicero, Indiana with a population size of just under 6,000 people. Everybody knows everybody and not many people make it out of that bubble. Even though it was a very safe and comfortable place to grow up, I always knew I wanted something more. At 18, confused and eager, I graduated high school and started my collegiate career at Purdue University. Fast forward to 2015, and here I am; a young professional with not a clue what I was doing.

Since I can remember, I was told the same thing from all my elders: “do well in school, go to college, get a job, support your family, and you will be successful.” I also remember thinking to myself, “easier said than done.” These things can most definitely lead you to success, but how in the hell are you supposed to accomplish those things? And more importantly, is this even the path I want to take? This is an age-old tale and will always be a part of life we must go through.

I recently had a conversation with my brother, who is an extremely intelligent and talented 17-year-old. He has started to explore what he wants to do with his life and is struggling with finding what best suits his interests and strengths. It is a concerning time for him because he feels that the world hasn’t yet prepared him properly for what lies ahead and how to choose his path. What I tried to stress is that the world will never prepare you fully; unfortunately, you must struggle and make mistakes to figure it out. I had to figure this out the hard way, just as many of you had to. When I entered Purdue as a freshman, I learned very quickly that I was not prepared for what lied ahead. High school came so easy to me that I didn’t realize the amount of grit, preparation, and time-management that was demanded of me to succeed. Furthermore, it took me at least a year and a half to figure out what I was actually interested in pursuing as a major. This was a huge setback, as I switched majors twice. However, I finally recognized the importance of taking it seriously and laying out a game plan and took the necessary steps to get on the right path.

Here are the 5 things I have learned so far:

Find your “Somewhere”

We all have heard the phrase, “everyone’s gotta start somewhere.” This has been engraved on our brains since birth. The problem that most of us struggle with is, “where is my somewhere”? To start, you must first understand what you are chasing. Whether that is to own a three-story house, to be CEO of your own company, to become a famous athlete or musician, or to just be happy in life; you HAVE to determine what makes you get up in the morning in order to chase it.

Now sit down, take 20 minutes, and make a list of your top three goals. Don’t think intensively – just close your eyes and think of the first three things that come to mind. Write them down.

Goals vs. Commitments

Now that you have defined a few key goals or aspirations you would like to reach, it’s time to build on that. The first thing to recognize is that your goals CAN and WILL change. That is okay. However, it’s very effective to set annual goals to keep yourself on track. I prefer 3 personal and 3 professional goals. What’s crucial before laying these out is that you understand the difference between a “goal” and a “commitment.” One thing our team does at work is set a goal and/or commitment for the week. A “goal” is something that you wish to accomplish but isn’t fully under your control. A “commitment” is something that has a deadline, and you commit to accomplishing: no excuses. A great way to work towards your ultimate goal is to set 2-3 commitments that will help you reach that goal.

For example, one of my goals in 2018 is to learn to code on a basic level (HTML, CSS, JQUERY). 2 commitments I have set to accomplish this are:

1.) to schedule a half-hour block two days a week with my girlfriend (who codes and designs for a living) to work through a crash course

2.) to code and launch my own website for my music (I’m also a musician/producer in my spare time) by no later than December 31, 2018.

These two “commitments” I’ve made to myself are actionable and trackable, therefore enabling me to accomplish my “goal” of learning to code on a basic level. This principle can apply to your personal goals and is a great way to hold yourself accountable.

Small Victories are Vital

Now that you’ve laid out your goals and set your corresponding commitments, it is equally as important to celebrate those commitments as victories. Being in sales, small victories are vital. Dealing with rejection is a daily routine. To maintain a positive outlook and continue on your path to success, you must celebrate the small wins that ultimately lead you towards your goal. For example, every time we set a meeting at our company, we ring a bell. If we close a deal, we hit the gong. These things not only help with our company culture but on a personal level, allow you to celebrate the steps you’ve accomplished on the path to your ultimate goal. This can apply to anything: closing a deal, passing a test, reaching a certain body weight, finishing a painting, etc. The focus is to take time to celebrate those wins and know that you’re that much closer to your goal. Even further, instead of a gong, find a productive way to celebrate each small victory. It could be as simple as a “fist-pump” or as rewarding as a purchase you make to celebrate that victory. Regardless of the act, the outcome should provide you the confidence you need and inspire you to push on towards your goal.

Being Coachable

This may be one of the most important things I’ve learned in my life so far and one of the most valuable strengths I possess. Whether we admit it or not, we all have some sort of egotism in our DNA. We subconsciously shy away from advice or constructive feedback; whether it’s due to our fear of change, or our inability to accept when we are wrong. This is a cancerous and fixed mindset because it hinders our capability to grow as an individual. If you can swallow your pride and learn to implement advice from others who inspire you, it will change your world. For example, as a salesperson, my close percentage of meetings I conducted to deals I closed from January-March of 2017 was low. I wasn’t implementing advise I was given and therefore my performance suffered. I spoke with Jeff, who was my boss at the time, and recognized I needed to make some changes to my sales approach. After implementing these changes, my close percentage more than DOUBLED the next quarter and led to my now two promotions at my current company. If you take the advice given to you from people who have succeeded in your field, it will drastically improve your future.

Effort is Everything

Last, but definitely not least, it all comes down to EFFORT. You don’t have to be the smartest or most talented person in the room (believe me I’m not). All you must do is consistently put in the ‘incremental effort’ every single day or don’t bother getting up. If you apply these simple guidelines and make a conscious effort to use them, it WILL make a huge difference in the outcome of your future.

So the moral of the story here is: I’m not special, I came from a very small town and lived a very “normal” life. I had the same opportunities as my peers and am in no way someone who is a role model by any means. I have not cured diseases, and I am definitely not the most decorated salesperson at my company. However, instead of staying in a fixed mindset and wondering why the world hasn’t given me everything, I worked hard, accepted that I had to make some changes, and am striving every day to consistently use these principles to reach my goals in life. You don’t have to be the next Jeff Bezos or the next Elon Musk to be successful. We all have our own path, and hopefully, this helps you on your mission to find it.

Now Wakeup! It’s Day One.

Wake Up! It’s Book Review Monday – Grit

Outside of my mentors and defining moments, books have accelerated my learning both professionally and personally, and I truly believe that reading is the single most important thing you can do to better yourself.  In light of this, on Monday’s I will be reviewing a book that has impacted me.

Today’s book is  Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. What you will read below will not do this book justice. You must read it yourself. This is one of the most important books ever written, and it will change the way you think.

Brief Summary of Grit:

The author, Angela Duckworth, is a psychologist who has dedicated her career to studying the idea of grit. In her book, she discusses why grit is essential to achieving your potential and uses her research and interviews with people who she says are grit paragons (athletes, business leaders, etc.) to help solidify her findings.

She starts her psychology career while doing a study on West Point. She tries to understand why only 1,200 out of 14,000 are asked to enroll and how out of those 1,200 only 1 of 5 cadets make it to graduation. What she learned was that the scoring system that West Point uses does not accurately predict who the best candidates are. She finds that what predicts the best candidates is who is truly passionate and willing to persevere through the grueling task to become a cadet. Her research tells her that our potential is one thing, but what we do with it is another. She goes on to explain that what makes you successful is not about how “smart” you are, but how gritty. 

Things I learned from this book:

Effort Counts Twice

Duckworth shares an equation that is “Talent x Effort = Skill, and Skill x Effort = achievement which means effort counts twice. She shares a countless number of interviews and research studies of “Grit Paragons” who prove her equation. This equation tells you that while you can be the most skilled and talented person in the world at your craft, you can still fail because you did not put in the effort. A pretty simple concept right? How many people do you know who have all the talent, but fail? 

What is Grit and how is it measured?

Grit is not just as simple as working really hard. It is something you develop over time and actually grows with age. There are two parts to grit: Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth explains that grit is about working on something you care about so much that you are willing to stay loyal to it and strive for the same top level goal for a long period of time. 

How do you become Gritty?

You work to improve and develop the 4 physiological assets below:

Interest

The foundation for achieving your potential is rooted in what interests you. Duckworth explains that it takes time to find out what you are interested in, and most of us give up too quickly on things. She discusses the motto “Follow your passion,” and believes that we should rephrase it to “Foster your passion” because it takes time to find out what you are genuinely interested in. 

Practice

Most of us practice our craft and spend time working on our own personal or professional development, but why do we fail to achieve the highest standards in our fields? Well, Duckworth explains that the grit paragons she interviews didn’t just practice they deliberately practiced. To them, every day was a new day to improve from yesterday, and they were relentless with being better than yesterday.

Purpose

Duckworth describes purpose as a critical aspect of grittiness. To have a real passion for something you have to first be interested in what you are doing, but to deepen your passion you have to feel your work is important not to just you, but others.

Hope

To Grit paragons, hope means that if I give today all the effort I have, then I will be better off in the future. Duckworth shares a compelling statement that when I read it made me think differently:

Instead of “I have a feeling tomorrow will be better” you must say “I resolve to make tomorrow better.”

How to create a culture of Grit at work and for your kids?

1. Create your own life philosophy

This revolves around building out your core values, your vision, your purpose, your end result. Once you do you should talk about them, and live them every single day.  Every conversation you have with your kids or employees is centered around these items. 

2.  Duckworth developed a concept that she uses in her family called the “Hard Thing Rule”

  1. Everyone in the family has to do something hard
  2. You have to finish what you start
  3. No one gets to pick the hard rule for anyone else

How has this book impacted me?

This book changes the way I think about success and how I achieve it. If I make a career out of doing something I genuinely love, practice really hard every day, believe that this is my calling, and know that if I put in a full effort that I will be better off in the long run… I will achieve my own definition of success. Duckworth shared with me how simple achieving success in life can be and it has nothing to do with how smart you are.

As a parent, I have no greater responsibility than to teach and guide my son to his potential in life. I am going to use the ideas, stories, and concepts I learned in this book to be a better parent and that impact is extraordinary. As my son enters school, he will be taught that his effort is more important than getting an A, B or C on his test. Twenty to thirty years from now I believe this book will make the world a better place.

Now, WAKE UP! It’s Day One. Are you ready to become a Grit Paragon? May the choice be with you. If you have decided YES, Buy the book here and also check out her non-profit Character Lab to find out how she is changing the way we educate kids.

We Are Our Choices – The Stories of Steve, Richard, and I

As I have discussed in my previous posts, reaching your potential is a long journey that will most likely last a lifetime. Your future is not necessarily in your control, but throughout each day we have the opportunity to shape it by the choices we make. At times you will be tested, self-doubt will creep in, and you will want to give up. In those moments believing in yourself is vital, but the next most important thing is the choices you make to continue to move forward.

Today, I want to share a personal story and examples from others on how much power you have at this very moment to make a choice that can alter your future for the good or the worse. 

Let me start by asking you this:

Do you ever wonder why some people in your group of friends in and outside of work seem to progress their life or career faster than you?

To be honest, it’s simple and truthfully outside of any external factors it has nothing to do with luck or fate. The answer lies in the choices they make.

Years ago, I was like most people. Waiting for others to help me reach my potential. I remember being at my first job out of college, sitting at my desk, waiting for the next 1-on-1 with my boss to get feedback or waiting for the leadership team to give me training. The classic line that every single experienced professional will tell you is “Be proactive, go talk to your boss. Ask if there is anything you can do more of”. We have all been there, sitting and waiting for someone to tell you how to get better.

One day, while I was waiting for my 1-on-1, I had this feeling like this moment had already played out so many times before. Now looking back, I realize of course it has. The feeling that I remembered was how I felt after a 1 on 1 with my boss or after training or doing what everyone tells me to do. I felt good, and at times I learned something. But I started to wonder: Is this the rest of my career, waiting for someone else to help me?

So I made a choice. Instead of waiting for my boss to give me training, or teach me something, I realized I must take ownership of my own development. If I couldn’t do that, then nobody would ever be able to truly help me reach my goals. I decided I would learn as much as I could about business, sales, and leadership by myself, and then record and apply my learnings to my day to day job.

What choice did I make to start to improve myself?

You have many different ways to learn and get better. I decided books were the first and best route at the time. Sales books, biographies, self-help, business, non-fiction, whatever I could get my hands on. The key was not necessarily in the books themselves, it was the choice I made to take control of my own improvement that was important.

For me, books were helpful; for others, they might respond more favorably to something different. Whatever it is, the point is that I stopped waiting for others to help me and took matters into my own hands.

How did this choice to read books impact me?

I wanted to be in sales since I graduated college, but due to the economic climate in 2009 I took the first job I got offered. My passion was sales but sales jobs were hard to come by at the time for entry level reps. After a ton of hard work, I was given the opportunity to join a top tech company in Chicago to do sales. My very first sales manager told me something that I will never forget. He told me he hired me because in the interview process he was so impacted by the amount of effort I put into reading books about sales. He had interviewed candidates who had more experience than me, but I used my knowledge that I acquired from the books I read about sales and business to show him that I could learn quickly and apply it. This made a lasting impact and helped me to get the job over others with more experience. Looking back, my decision to start reading was the best thing I ever did, because ultimately it launched my career.

One of the early books I picked up was Seth Godin’s book “Linchpin.” After reading it, I took away two stories that are now the foundation of my life, and my sales team. It is the stories of two men named “Richard and Steve” and how their choices will impact their careers.

The Story of Steve (Seth Godin’s Book: Linchpin)

“Steve works at the Stop and Shop near my house. He hates it. He works at the cash register, and it seems as though every ounce of his being projects his dissatisfaction with his job. Steve won’t make eye contact. Steve takes a lot of breaks. Steve doesn’t start bagging until the last possible moment. Steve grumbles a lot.

The thing is, Steve spends as much time at work as his co-worker Melinda. And Melinda is engaged, connected and enthusiastic. Steve has decided that he’s not being paid enough to bring his entire self to work, and he’s teaching all of us a lesson. Melinda has decided that she has a platform, and she uses it to make a tiny difference in every customer’s day.

The sad part for me is that while Steve is busy teaching the store a lesson, he’s teaching himself that this is the way to do his job. He’s fully expecting that his next job, or the job after that or the job after that is when he’ll become the linchpin. If he waits for a job that he feels deserves his best shot, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have that job.”

The Story of Richard (Seth Godin’s Book: Linchpin)

“Forty years ago, Richard Branson, who ultimately founded Virgin Air, found himself stuck and most likely to be late for a business meeting in an airport in the Caribbean. They had just canceled his flight, the only flight that day. Instead of freaking out about how essential the flight was, how badly his day was ruined, how his entire career was now in jeopardy, the young Branson walked across the airport to the charter and inquired about the cost of chartering a flight out of Puerto Rico.

Then he borrowed a portable blackboard and wrote, ‘Seats to Virgin Islands, $39.’ He went back to this gate, sold enough seats to his fellow passengers to completely cover his costs, and made it home on time. Not to mention planting the seeds for the airline he’d start decades later. Sounds like the kind of person you’d like to hire.”

So, I leave you with a question: Who do you want to be? Richard or Steve? It’s up to you to decide. You are in control of your destiny. This world owes you nothing. You must take ownership of your choices. No one else will help you unless you start to help yourself.

Now WAKE UP! It’s Day ONE. May the choice be with you.