How can you succeed at anything in life? Are there universal principles that successful people follow? I recently had a chance to talk to someone who is publishing his third book before his 34th birthday.
Although there are many ways to succeed in life, here are twelve principles to follow.
1. Choose Yourself.
Mike: There’s this book I read and I recommend to everyone and it’s called Choose Yourself by James Altucher. The premise of the book is that we’re not in an age anymore where you are going to do something and people are going to discover you. You have to choose yourself. You have to be your own hype man.
You have to market yourself. It’s something a lot of people aren’t comfortable doing. They’re not comfortable marketing themselves and hyping themselves up because we’ve always been taught that that’s kind of unseemly but due to the shifting paradigms in the media, you hype yourself.
For example, I wanted to do a podcast, so what did I do? I said, “OK I’m going to start a podcast.” I didn’t wait for some talent agent to say. “Hey you know Mike you have some interesting things to say. Maybe you should come to my studio and talk on a microphone and maybe we can have you do a podcast.”
If you want to succeed, you must choose yourself.
Chris DeRose: If I had waited around for someone to come discover me as a writer or a historian, I’d still be waiting. I had the chance to write a history book, because I was a big lover of history, always read books, always thought I might write a book someday.
But then when I had the idea to write what became Founding Rivals, my first book. This congressional election between two future presidents, James Madison and James Monroe, which resulted in our Bill of Rights.
If I had waited for someone to come and find me or make the opportunity to happen for me that story would have never gotten told and I never would have had the chance to write two more books and all of the fun stuff I got to do as a result.
2. Use your Network
Chris DeRose: Develop and build a network, and use it. When I came back to Phoenix after working in national politics for a time, I was on Facebook one day and my friend, so was sort of the co-writer/ghostwriter for a politician was posting on his Facebook page about how they had a book coming out soon and everyone should buy it. I just sent him a message, I said, “Look I got this 20 page excerpt for a book and I got this idea for a book…could you just introduce me to your agent?”
And we had a 30 minute phone call with an agent and 6 weeks later I had a book deal.
I’ve worked in politics for a long time and met a lot of reporters along the way. And so I’ve had reporters who put me on NBC news or they’ve mentioned it in their columns, or found a way to work me into their stories and so it’s been very helpful.
And so I’ve gotten a lot of media exposure by looking to my friends and my friends of friends. I had a great call with my publicist last week, and I was just assuring her that some authors assume they write the book and that’s the end of the story and that the publication becomes the responsibility of the house, that I don’t believe that for a second.
3. Overcome Objections
Chris DeRose: I don’t have a Ph.D. I’m one of the few historians that don’t. I’m in good company. You have people like Michael Beschloss and David McCullough who don’t have Ph.D.’s, but for the most part that was a significant hurdle for us to overcome.
Mike: How did you overcome it?
Chris DeRose: Be creative. When you don’t have a Ph.D., there are a number of really big publishers who pass on the book who loved the idea because they couldn’t figure out how to sell me as the author. If I’d had a Ph.D. that wouldn’t have been a problem. But I ended up with a really great publisher who publicized the heck out of the book and turned it into a bestseller. And what we came up with the idea was to sell me as an election expert because I’d been working on campaigns for 18 years now, since I was 15, 16.
Founding Rivals was a book about a Virginia election and so they sold me as an election expert and someone who had just came off a major campaign in the state of Virginia. So you have to be creative about how you sell yourself.
4. There is always room at the top.
Chris DeRose: One of the things I would encourage your listeners to never accept as true, or to never accept as true without a lot of scrutiny is, “This has been done before or attempted before.”
That’s one if the biggest psychological falsehoods that people buy into and it’s crippling. “This can’t be done. Someone’s done this before. Somebody must’ve done this before.” Just to take it back to history books, so Abraham Lincoln has over 16,000 books written about him and he only had 3 political offices in his life. He was a state legislator, a member of congress, and of course President of the United States. But everybody wants to write about the presidency, the Civil War, and everyone wants to write about what happened during that time. And for a while it was en vogue to write a book about young Lincoln, so there were a few books that came out about young Lincoln in the past 10 or 20 years that are quite good.
But it had been about 1974 or 75 since somebody had written a book about his time as a member of Congress, so I wrote Congressman Lincoln. So we have thousands of new documents that have come to life since then and our understanding of Lincoln has changed quite a bit. And so it’s not too much to say that I was able to write the first definitive account as Lincoln’s time as a member of Congress.
5. Find a Mentor
Chris DeRose: I was raised by my mother, with my sister in the house, and so yeah I had to learn a lot of these things and one of the most important things I can encourage people to do is to find a mentor.
You can read articles, and the articles on your site give every very good advice, but at the end of the day people are going to have very specific concerns, they’re going to have questions on how to react to something that comes up and you’re going to need to be able to pick up the phone and call somebody.
So whatever field you are in, whether you want to be a lawyer, a doctor, or you’re in business…you should have a mentor of some kind; somebody who has been there before and can save you the trouble.
Honestly, one of the great tragedies in life is that we acquire wisdom at a point in which it’s often too late to use it or for it to be of any value to us. It’s one of the great tragedies in life from my perspective. So mentors can help you short-circuit that process. I had a very good mentor, I’ve had a few over the years but one in particular when I was in college and he was a graduate student.
He had actually read books; he grew up very very poor in North Carolina and had read books on how to pick out a suit and how to pick together an outfit. And so he took me suit shopping for the first time. So find somebody who can help you whatever your deficit is, wherever you think you are missing something.
6. Find somebody to help you.
Mike: That’s great advice and a common reader question I get is, how do I find a mentor? How would you answer that?
Chris DeRose: So you’ve got to go to the places where those people would be though. And never hesitate to ask somebody to coffee or lunch. If I ever meet somebody who I think is interesting, or would be a good person to know, someone that I could benefit from knowing…I almost never have lunch by myself. I schedule multiple coffees throughout the week, just to stay in touch with people and get to know new people.
Because you know me, I’m an extrovert I get a lot of energy from meeting new people so that’s fun in and of itself. But it’s also professionally incredibly useful and it’s personally very edifying to talk to smart people who are doing interesting things.
It’s about finding the people I your industry in your niche, whatever it is that you want to do. And it shouldn’t be hard, but you do have to ask for it though like everything else in life and seek it out.
Mike: Yeah. I would do something, I guess it would be akin to stalking. When I was in law school and wanted to get access to these trial lawyers, we had access to LexisNexis so I would do an all newspaper search of the lawyer’s name and then I’d find out what he liked and what he was interested in and maybe I’d find an article related to that. It could be anything. Maybe the guy likes Audi convertibles or horse racing or whatever. And then I’d find an article on horse racing and at the time I would mail it and I would say “Hey I saw this article and thought about you.” One time a guy had his assistant write me and say, “Who are you and what do you want?”
So I ended up going and meeting the guy (I’m not going to ID him on the podcast), you would know right away who it is, and I ended up going and meeting him and it became a very productive relationship and he gave me a lot of advice through some troubling times.
I guess you could just google it now. I did LexisNexis and sent a couple articles and they are thinking “Who the hell are you man?” and it worked.
Chris DeRose: Yeah, I actually remember that happening at the time and I think I probably learned a lot about this from you. So yeah. Don’t just be afraid to cold call somebody and just cold email somebody, and somebody gets quotes in an article that’s of interest to you or somebody writes an article or an Op-Ed of interest to you, I always take the time to send an email or make a call.
Get I touch with the person. Especially with the internet, there’s no excuse for not being able to find someone who is willing to help you out. Or multiple people who are willing to help you out on your path.
Mike: Flattery definitely goes a long way. When doesn’t it work? Because so many people will say “Hey Chris, you’ve written 3 books I want you to be my mentor.” And you’re a good guy and an open guy and you’re obviously more interested to help than most would be but I would say the approach would be “Hey Chris I read your last book. How did you come up with X insight?”
Wouldn’t that be a much better approach to networking?
Chris DeRose: It would. Mentors are human beings too right? Everybody likes to be flattered. Everybody likes to hear that what they’ve produced is useful and valuable and interesting and beneficial to people. So that absolutely true.
7. Put the relationship before the network.
Chris DeRose: I’m incapable of making superficial relationships, so I would never advise anyone to attempt it. It should be a real relationship based on things other than superficial characteristics, like actually getting to know the person.
Mike: Yeah. You make friends first and all the other good stuff is going to follow. I mean for example, doing this podcast idea. I just said, “Hey this is a good way to market your book.” But if I didn’t like you and you were just some random guy and said “Hey I want to be on your podcast.” I’d say “Who are you dude? Why do I care?”
8. Become comfortable hearing NO.
Chris DeRose And just accept that it’s not a judgment on you, and even if it is, who cares? Who is that person to tell you that you are inferior or make you inferior?
That idea of hearing no and feeling dejected, that’s one of the most self-defeating things a person can do. Like you have to get really comfortable hearing the word NO if it’s from a potential employer, someone who could send your book into the stratosphere, somebody who could give you your dream job, or a girl.
So it’s something that you absolutely have to get comfortable with. And you know, my first book had its fair share of rejection letters. Like I said, people couldn’t figure out how to market me. What’s that to me, you know? These are marketing professionals. They made a judgment that I didn’t agree with and they vetoed a book that their editors really wanted to buy. And then one publishing house did figure out how to market it appropriately. And all the other books that were bought at the same time as mine, I ended up blowing them away when it came time to go head to head on the charts. So you know, you’ll get the last laugh.
9. Create a delusional belief in yourself.
Chris DeRose: So it actually occurred to me when I was writing Congressman Lincoln and I’m writing about Lincoln’s childhood. Nobody has ever been born to a less advantage than Abraham Lincoln and nope of this is hype or embellishment from history. He grew up in a cabin with a dirt floor. A lot of people living there. His mother dies very young. Sister dies very young. Had a father who mocked him and probably smacked him around when he spent time reading or trying to learn or trying to better himself.
I remember once when he got into trouble and he got scolded, it was his sister: “What do you think you’re going to be when you grow up if you keep doing this,” and he said, “President of the United States.” So somehow this kid, you know, he had access to reading his family bible and whatever he could beg borrow and steal from neighbors had enough of a sense of self, a belief in himself that he could be president of the United States someday. That he lived in country where that kind of social mobility was possible and the thing is, is that it’s actually a prerequisite to being successful that I think you have to have this delusional belief in yourself.
If you can’t seeing it happening, if you don’t think it’s going to happen for you, no one else is going to buy into it either.
10. Don’t let your youth (or “old age“) defeat your belief in yourself.
Chris DeRose: It’s kind of funny, looking back, that if a 29 year old went around telling people “I’m going to write a history book.” Which, number 1, would have made me one of the youngest authors of all time. One of the youngest history authors, at least of the modern era, a couple people have been published sooner than that.
To say I’m going to take on this massive topic that some people have spent their lives studying, they have Ph.D.’s, and they theoretically, at least by society’s standards are equipped to process this information and distill it and tell the story—it seems like a preposterous thing to say but it never was preposterous to me.
You know, to me it seemed like a perfectly legitimate and viable option. And you know it was. I’m sitting here three books later on the verge of what appears to be my biggest hit ever. The pre-sales for this third book which comes out Tuesday have been better and higher than they ever have been for my previous books.
And to go back to David McCullough who’s considered the most commercially successful well-known historian in the United States, his book sales are measured in the millions every year, he didn’t write his third book until he was ten years older than me.
He wrote his first book when he was about my age now. My third book comes out on Tuesday. But if you don’t think that you can do that, then it’s never ever going to happen. You are certainly never going to convince anybody else if you aren’t absolutely convinced within yourself that it could happen. So a delusional belief in yourself is a prerequisite. It’s one of the most important factors of success, you know?
I said earlier that most successful people realize that there’s a sphere that you can control and sphere that you can’t control. I go even smaller than that. One of the books you recommended to me, I believe this was “The Drunkard’s Walk” and this was a great book on randomness and probability and how it affects your life. I commend it to the attention of your readers.
11. Never quit.
Really what you control at the end of the day is whether you give up.
That’s it. That’s the one thing that I can 100% guarantee that it’s in your control and it’s not in anyone else’s control, is that you don’t quit.
If you don’t quit, you’re not beaten.
If you do quit, you are beaten.
That applies to politics, business, writing books, whatever it is.
Mike: You show up. That’s how the book concluded which was interesting. The book talks about the randomness of life and how so many things are random and then you might read it and kind of feel demoralized. And he says, the one thing that isn’t though is you roll the dice.
That the outcome of what turns up might be random but your conscious decision that “I’m going to roll the dice. I’m going to publish a book. I’m going to start a website. I’m going to start a podcast. I’m going to start a law firm. I’m going to start a real estate firm. I’m going to go to medical school.”
12. Always remember, “I WILL.”
Mike: As Nietzsche says, “A man says I will.” That is the fundamental aspect of being a man. None of that is random, that’s something that you CAN control, therefore what you MUST control.