Your Biggest Enemy
You are your biggest enemy.
I heard this a lot growing up.
How could I be the enemy? I was the smartest guy in the room. I was the guy who was making more money than anyone else. I was the guy making MD at 34. I wasn’t my enemy, hell no.
As I approach 40, those words have found meaning.
I have finally understood that I have been my biggest enemy and continue to be.
There is a saying:
Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call promising.
I want to tell you why and how you & I are our biggest enemies and what to do about it.
Your entire life and career is at stake.
Before we begin, let me ask you some personal questions, do you ever:
- Get angry when you get feed back from your boss?
- Blame others when things don’t go your way?
- Think you are the only one who can do this right?
That is your ego talking.
Your Ego is responsible for a lot. Here’s a short list:
- Your Ego makes it hard for you to admit you are wrong.
- Your Ego makes you do things you know are wrong.
- Your Ego pushes you to make decisions your rational brain wouldn’t.
- Your Ego is the source of fear and greed, the two most powerful emotions in finance.
Finance is filled with Egos and stories of people who’s Ego’s destroyed them – here’s a short list: Duck Fuld and Lehman Brothers, Fred Goodwin and RBS, Joseph Cassano and AIG, and those are just the most famous ones. You might be wondering well, that’s not me, I’m never going to do that.
Here’s what I have seen, over the last seventeen years, on a weekly basis someone’s Ego has either hurt their career, limited their future or destroyed their relationships. It happens every day. My job is to make sure this doesn’t happen to you. The first thing to stop is passion.
Stop being Passionate
Passion is for losers. The first thing you see in people with Egos is that they have a lot of passion. Passion typically masks a weakness.
Its breathlessness is a poor substitute for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous.
I met many passionate people on Wall Street. They all wanted to make lots of money and get promoted. 95% fizzled out. For one big reason: Passion is great for the initial energy, its horrible in making you follow through with anything. Passionate people want to arrive. It’s all about the result for them, not the work.
But you actually do have to do the work, and passion isn’t any good for that.
Cal Newport says it well in his book: Be so good they can’t ignore you. The problem is most passionate people don’t want to put in the time to be good, why would you when you have all this passion telling you that you are already good.
Being good takes hard work, and being passionate, well that’s easy. Anyone can be passionate.
My advice, focus on being good at whatever you want to do. You don’t need someone to give you the job or to hire you first. Just go and be good. If you can’t be good yet, just focus on getting better.
Just Do It:
Ok, we are ready to do the work, but what sort of work exactly.
Here’s some good ways to get started.
Find ways to help others. Become indispensable. Do things that others don’t want to do or can’t do. For example, figure out how to improve your bosses’ life. Give your best ideas to your boss – become indispensable, for more on this read Stanley Bing’s ‘Throwing the Elephant’.
Find people and introduce them to each other – become the connector, rather than someone who protects their network and contacts. Be the person everyone wants around.
Then when it comes to you, think of what you have been putting off. Do that work.
Find what nobody else wants to do or can do, and do that.
Be a Student:
Remember when you first got started. Be like that. Don’t be afraid of saying you don’t know, in fact try to find as many things as you can that you aren’t good at. When you find them, be comfortable with not knowing much about them.
The biggest mistakes I have seen in finance came from someone who didn’t want to be a student anymore. They didn’t want to admit that they didn’t know. Mistakes happen when people believe they know the answers already and stop looking for them. Whenever I interview someone, one of the first things I check for is a big Ego. The last thing you want to do is hire someone with a big Ego. Those are the kinds of people I have seen blow up.
Check out Jocko Willink, one of the most decorated Navy SEAL talk about how Ego can destroy everything.
The other part of being a student is to learn from everyone.
If there is a reason I have found any success is because I try to learn from everyone and everything. From the people I beat, and the people who beat me, from the people I dislike, even from my enemies. At every step and every juncture in life, there is the opportunity to learn.
Basketball player Bill Bradley would remind himself, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”
Run from Pride:
Watch out for Pride. As it says in the Bible (Book of Proverbs): Pride comes before the fall.
It’s very easy as you start getting promoted; start getting paid bonuses to develop pride. Heck you just made in one year what your dad accumulated over a lifetime. Of course you are a genius. WRONG.
Let go of that pride immediately – you have done nothing, you are nothing. You have just gotten started. You still have a lot to prove. One paycheck proves nothing. Don’t let small success make you think that you are special or different. If anything you are just lucky. That’s all.
Step back and meditate on immensity. Realize how much has come before you and how much was accomplished by other mere mortals. And how even those powerful people are now gone. When in doubt, go walk through a cemetery. One day even you will be here.
Accept the Opportunity:
Either life has already knocked you down or it will. To quote Ryan Holiday: “Whether whatever you are going through is your fault or your problem doesn’t matter, because it’s yours to deal with right now”. Accept the opportunity. Be thankful for the opportunity. This is the best thing that could have happened to you.
Figure out how to turn this into an opportunity. I use a simple trick I learned from Tony Robbins – whenever something bad happens to me, I write down on a piece of paper – ‘What is so great about this?’ ‘How can I turn this into an opportunity?’
Trust me one day you will be thankful for the problems you faced. David Brooks has a great quote:
When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.
Stop being Passionate – Passion is for losers
Just do it – find hard work, and do it
Be a Student – don’t get complacent, keep learning
Run from Pride – you have done nothing, you are nothing
Accept Opportunity – be thankful for life’s problems
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