I knew that I belonged when I walked in the room.
On October 7, 2016, 500 people from all around the world converged on New York City for an action-packed event called Forefront.
Over the course of three days, I learned a great deal about myself, worked to overcome personal barriers that have been holding me back for years, and made new friendships based on shared values and beliefs.
Reflecting on it now, I can confidently say that Forefront was the most fulfilling weekend of my year.
Forefront? What’s that?
Forefront was a live, “rich life” event created by Ramit Sethi, Founder and CEO of I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
The event took place at New York’s iconic Conrad Hotel, named after Conrad Hilton himself, and featured numerous “rich life experiences” throughout Manhattan. Each day was filled with thought-provoking presentations, challenging small group sessions, and shared “rich life” experiences.
Why did I go to Forefront?
I went to Forefront because I wanted to meet other people like me. I’m a weird guy. My family and friends rarely understand why I do what I do, or even what I do. Very few people “get me.”
For years, I had been waiting for an event like Forefront. So when I read Ramit’s email describing the event, I knew that I had to go. Somehow I knew that everyone attending Forefront would understand and accept me for who I was. I also knew that the event itself would make a profound impact on the way I viewed and approached my life and career.
I knew that Forefront was right for me from the first few lines of Ramit’s email. I can’t explain how I knew but I knew.
Looking back, I can happily say that I was right. It was refreshing to be surrounded by hundreds of weirdos who shared similar values and beliefs and embraced my strangeness, without judgement or reservation. I felt accepted and free. It was incredible.
By the end of the weekend, I made many friends who I know will go out of their way to help me in my life and career. Similarly, I will go out of my way to help them in any way that I can. That is what happens when you put a bunch of high-quality, top performers in a room and create an environment of sharing, vulnerability, and helpfulness.
I guess you could say that Forefront was a “networking event,” for lack of a better phrase, unlike any other that I have ever experienced. It was one of those “you had to be there” events. Still, I will try my best to explain what happened at Forefront, how it impacted me, and why that matters.
Why did I go to Forefront?
Again, I went to Forefront because I wanted to surround myself with people like me and, more importantly, with people whom I can aspire to be like. I also hoped that I could be around people whom I could inspire or help in some way. I had the great fortune of accomplishing all of those goals because I attended the right event for me.
So often, we go to events and conferences because we feel that we are supposed to “network,” which is a horrible word that has come to represent the process of building relationships. Networking, for most people, is inauthentic and sleazy. They imagine a room filled with awkward people spamming each other with business cards. While that can be true in some cases, good networking is authentic, sincere, and valuable.
We all have networks. Your network is simply the group of people with whom you surround yourself, nothing more. By going to certain events, you can be more deliberate about who those people are and who you become as a result of meeting them.
In the case of Forefront, I knew that the people attending the event were the exact people that I wanted to meet. I even built connections and rapport with people before the event, scheduling lunch with a fellow attendee on the first day before registration. That way, we would each know someone at the Forefront before it started.
To me, that speaks to the power of community that can be built around a cause. In this particular case, the cause was living a “rich life,” whatever that means to you.
For me, a rich life is being surrounded by people who inspire, motivate, and drive me to become a better person. I don’t care much about material possessions because the most important things in life to me are the people that I meet, both the people I can help and the people who can help me.
My driving motivator is to learn and grow every day. I want to inspire people with that same goal and find mentors who have that goal to inspire me. Everyone benefits, everyone gets better, everyone wins.
Day 1: Friday, October 7, 2016
I flew from Chicago to New York on Friday morning in a crowded seat in the back of a United plane.
I literally could not touch my knees together because, at 6’5, my legs comprise roughly 97% of my total height. While the flight went smoothly, it was uncomfortable to say the least.
When I arrived in New York, I got an Uber from the airport to my hotel.
I checked into my room in the early afternoon and grabbed lunch with Leah, a fellow attendee who flew in from Vancouver. Leah and I had connected on Twitter and had agreed to grab lunch on the first day so that we would at least know someone when Forefront started.
It’s always nice to know someone when you go to an event. It makes everything a little less awkward.
Leah and I stopped a small deli somewhere in Lower Manhattan because neither one of us had eaten that day. Over lunch, we talked about why we decided to fly to New York and spend a weekend with total strangers. Our reasons were similar. We both wanted to meet like-minded people, which was the most common desire of everyone that I met at Forefront.
Following lunch, Leah and I walked to the Conrad to register. When we arrived, we were greeted by Mike, a Forefront volunteer. Mike was incredibly friendly and helpful in directing Leah and me upstairs to the registration tables. While waiting in line, Leah and I struck up a conversation with Ian, who came from San Diego and was also interested in meeting new, like-minded people.
Once we registered, Leah and I jumped into a tour group to get a lay of the land surrounding the hotel. We both missed our scheduled tours because of the wait time at the registration desk but jumped into another group without any issues. On the tour, we saw many of the surrounding restaurants, shops, memorials, and more. While quick, the tour was helpful in getting everyone familiar with the area.
Upon returning to the hotel, we went back upstairs to attend the kickoff event and meet more people. While the crowd was abuzz with conversation, music, and laughter when we arrived, we all played a series of “getting to know you” games to live things up, starting with a game called “World’s Biggest Fan.”
World’s Biggest Fan
The purpose of World’s Biggest Fan was to discover the best Rock, Paper, Scissors player at Forefront.
To start the game, everyone turned to a person next to them and challenged them to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The person who won two out of three games became the champion; the loser became the winner’s “world’s biggest fan.”
From that point, the job of the “world’s biggest fan” was to cheer, all-out, for their champion when their champion competed against someone else’s champion. The person who won the second round became the new champion and everyone else became their world’s biggest fans.
That process repeated, over and over, until two champions remained, each with 200 people yelling, cheering, and chanting behind them. The two champions then went head-to-head in what was the most exciting round of Rock, Paper, Scissors that I have ever seen. The whole ordeal was both exciting and hilarious.
After “World’s Biggest Fan,” our conversations resumed until the emcee announced the next game: Human Bingo.
In the game, everyone got a bingo card and a glow-in-the-dark rave bracelet in one of five colors. Each bingo card displayed the five colors along the top and a variety of “fun facts along the left side.
For example, some cards asked if you had any adopted siblings, if you had won any contests, if you could recite the Star-Spangled Banner, if you could do the Cha-Cha Slide, etc. It was fun to walk around and get to know people that way. Eventually, everyone forgot that they were playing bingo and eased into conversations with one another.
Both games were fun and effective at breaking the ice, helping everyone relax and make new friends.
Following Human Bingo, we continued our conversations, sharing stories, advice, and ideas with one another, devouring appetizers, and consuming premium adult beverages.
In what turned out to be the first of many occurrences, we talked so late that the hotel staff had to kick us out of the event space. We then went to the rooftop bar, extending our conversations well into the night.
Slowly, the party wound down. Once I felt sufficiently tired and talked-out, I walked back to my hotel to get some rest, looking forward to the following day.
Day 2: Saturday, October 8, 2016
Waking up on Day 2 was a struggle. When I finally pried my eyes open, I realized just how long I had stayed awake the previous night and how much I had had to drink.
Such is life.
After destroying a bottle of Dasani, I took a shower, got dressed, and walked to the Conrad for Ramit’s keynote. When I arrived the room was filled with smiles, laughter, and banter about Day 1.
Ramit’s welcome and keynote
How to live a rich life
- What is YOUR rich life?
- Take it from the clouds to the streets.
- Be unapologetic about what you want.
- Be at the forefront and decide what YOU want.
Be unapologetic about what you want. Be at the forefront and decide what YOU want. – @ramit
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 27, 2016
Leave room for curiosity
- Carve out time for important things and fight for it.
- Fight for your time.
- Get good at seeing clues that other people don’t see.
- ROI is a tool; you can’t use it for everything.
- The most important things have no ROI.
- Be curious but not too curious.
- One hop away.
- Deconstruct the best.
- What would it look like if it were magic? – Jeff Bezos
What would it look like it it were magic? – @JeffBezos
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 27, 2016
Get good, check box, move on
- Make a decision and move on.
- Decisions give you feedback.
- Sometimes you have to be okay with “good enough.”
- Build a life where your default is to make a decision and move on.
- Be 2% unique and 98% similar; 2% is your own path.
- Be in the room with people like you.
Build a life where your default is to make a decision and move on. – @ramit
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 27, 2016
How good is “good enough”?
- “Good enough” changes over time.
- Live to fight another day.
How do you find mentors?
- Kiss toads to find princes.
- “Nobody wants to do the work.”
- Sometimes mentors don’t scale with you.
- Stay with the good ones as long as you can.
- It’s a process.
How can you see the clues?
- The clue is someone offering to help you with something.
- Be open to and accept clues.
- Clues are all around you.
- Ask people who are successful about their clues.
How do you identify a bad fit versus a mental barrier?
- What’s the company?
- What’s the job title?
- Ask more relevant questions.
- You might be wrong, but it’s better to make a decision anyway.
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 8, 2016
Small group work
After a quick break, Ramit’s “Accelerator” coaches took the stage and led the group in a round “speed dating.”
No, Speed Dating was not geared toward romance. Instead, this was another “getting to know you” activity with added depth, focusing on vulnerability. Rather than beating the “where are you from” and “what do you do” horses to death, we were asked to jump in the deep end of the pool and answer the question, “What are your biggest challenges in life right now?”
On each “speed date,” each person shared their biggest challenges for five minutes while their partner listened. During this activity, I learned that, to make the passage of time agonizing, share your deepest insecurities and vulnerabilities with other people.
“Speed dating” was, without a doubt, the most challenging activity of the weekend for me. I rarely share my vulnerabilities with family and friends, let alone complete strangers. To say that “speed dating” made me feel uncomfortable is an understatement.
That said, I apparently needed to get something out because I spent the entire first round talking about myself: my challenges, my vulnerabilities, my insecurities, etc. I spent most of the second round listening intently to my partner. I split the third round 50/50 with my partner, using my iPhone’s stopwatch to ensure that we both got equal time to talk and listen.
Later, my partner from the first round, Bronwyn, told me that she could sense my need to vent and figured that she could help me most by simply listening. She was right. I found it immensely helpful to vent my frustrations with someone who simply listened and felt no need to judge me, shame me, or offer any advice or feedback. Sometimes people just need to talk.
Lunch was both long and delicious.
If you ever host a live event, give your attendees at least an hour and a half for lunch–perhaps two full hours–because they will need it. Throughout history, humans have bonded over food, and lunch at Forefront was no exception. Some of my best conversations at Forefront happened over lunch.
Rich life experiences
Most of our lunchtime conversations on Day 1 revolved around our upcoming “rich life experiences” that afternoon.
Some people went on speakeasy tours. Some people got makeovers. Some people worked with fitness and nutrition coaches. Some people took a pizza tour. The list goes on. For my rich life experience, I went to a seafood and wine pairing at Crave Fishbar on 2nd Avenue.
When our group entered Crave, we were escorted to the back of the building and up a candle-lit staircase to a dining room on the second floor.
There we learned about New York’s involvement in the history of oysters, which was surprisingly interesting, and heard several stories from the owner about his successes and failures as an entrepreneur and restauranteur in New York. We then got a detailed explanation of the oysters that we were about to consume and a lesson in oyster shucking from the head chef. Finally, we ate our oysters and drink our wine, which were both worth the wait.
After the pairing, we all went back to our hotel rooms to get gussied up for the main event of the evening, a cruise around the shores of Manhattan on the Majesty, a four-story yacht.
The cruise itself was about what you’d expect: food, drinks, dancing, conversation, photos, etc.
For me, the best part was the view. I had never seen New York’s skyline at night and was amazed at how peaceful New York looked from a few hundred yards offshore.
Like the previous night, the party did not stop with the last scheduled event. When we got back to the hotel, everyone hung out in the hotel bar and lobby, chatting until we were once again kicked out by the staff.
Because it was so late, most people decided to be responsible adults and call it a night. After all, Sunday had a lot in store.
However, as I stood to walk back to my hotel, several gentleman in the group asked if I would like to grab “just one more drink” with them at an Irish pub somewhere in the city. I politely declined their invitation but ended up tagging along because I cannot effectively manage peer pressure when tipsy.
After enjoying a couple more rounds and hours of conversation, we collectively agreed that 3:30am was a good time to call it a night. We left the bar and caught a Lyft back to the Conrad. All the while, I sat in the back seat, munching on a slice of pepperoni pizza given to me by a some random girl at the pub.
When we arrived at the Conrad, I walked back to my hotel where I collapsed on my bed in a pile of exhaustion.
Day 3: Sunday, October 9, 2016
“Shit!” I thought to myself.
Sitting up and looking at my phone, I saw that it was 9:10am, 10 minutes after Daymond John was scheduled to start his keynote. The situation would have been bad enough if I had been staying at the Conrad. But, my hotel was a 20-minute walk from the Conrad on the other side of Lower Manhattan.
Convinced that I was going to miss the entire presentation, I angrily got myself together, packed my things, and bolted out the door as fast as I could.
I was mad at myself. I’d been following Daymond John for several years and finally had the opportunity to see him speak live, and I ruined it by being overzealous and staying out way too late. I should have just gone to bed.
After race-walking my way to the Conrad, I walked upstairs to the event space and was greeted by one of the volunteers. Slowly and quietly, he took my bags and helped me slink into the keynote unnoticed.
Guest keynote from Daymond John
There he was on stage, Daymond John, one of my entrepreneurial heroes.
If you have ever watched Shark Tank, you know that Daymond is one of the “sharks,” investors interested in helping startup companies grow their business. While he is always cool, calm, and collected on Shark Tank, I was surprised at how silly, animated, and funny Daymond was on stage.
Daymond was bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and passion. He used an interesting mix of media in his keynote as well, adding sound effects, music, pictures, and videos to better communicate the FUBU story to the audience.
- You cannot hit a target that you can’t see.
Assets and liabilities
- Take inventory of yourself and your life.
- Assets feed you; liabilities eat you.
- Activate the power of broke.
Do your homework
- Proof of Concept (POC) is key. Or, test before you invest.
- The big boys and girls are always watching. For example, “for us by us on the low.”
The big boys and girls are always watching. – @TheSharkDaymond
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 11, 2016
Amore, love your work
- I loved what I was doing. Love what you are doing.
- We [sharks] don’t invest in companies; we invest in people.
Remember: you are the brand
- Explain yourself in 2-5 words. (i.e., Just do it.)
- You’re always pitching so master the pitch.
- Know what your audience wants, REALLY wants.
You’re always pitching so master the pitch. – @TheSharkDaymond
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 27, 2016
Keep swimming, no matter what
- Life is a series of mentors, mistakes, challenges. Just keep swimming.
Small group work
Our second session of small group work began with a discussion about heroes and concluded with some advice on accomplishing your goals.
Heroes, why they matter and what they say about you
“You can tell a lot about a person by who their heroes are,” Ramit said.
Ramit then went on to talk about how heroes are important in shaping our worldview, giving us inspiration, and guiding our path in life. Throughout the conference, Ramit mentioned several of his heroes, including Jeff Bezos, Jay Abraham, BJ Fogg, and Seth Godin among others.
Who are your heroes? Why are they your heroes? What have they inspired you to think and do in life?
Depending on your answers, you may or may not want to consider finding new heroes. In my opinion, your heroes should be those people who, when they speak, you listen or who, when they tell you to act, you act. Heroes should bring out the best in you and inspire you to become a better person.
Ramit Sethi and Daymond John are obviously two of my heroes, especially after Forefront. However, I have a number of other heroes as well, including Tim Ferriss, Robert Greene, Ryan Holiday, Tucker Max, and other authors. I also have several heroes in the business world, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Marc Benioff, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and others.
Those are the people whom I admire the most. What does that say about me? While I don’t know for sure, I think that having those heroes probably suggests that I want to follow a similar path and write a book or start a business, maybe both. What do your heroes say about you?
From the clouds to the street
“One year from now, what do you want your life to look like?” Ramit asked us. “Get specific.”
When we set goals for ourselves, we often say something vague like “I want to improve my health” or “I want to get my financial life in order” or “I want to learn something new.” Occasionally we take this one level deeper and say something more meaningful like “I want to lose 20 pounds this year” or “I want to get a $10,000 raise” or “I want to learn how to speak French.” Even those goals are far too broad.
At Forefront, I learned that a better approach is to imagine what you want your life to look like one year from now, not five years or 25 years. Imagining what your life will look like one year from today will serve you far better than imagining what your life will look like at some far-removed time in the future.
It is difficult to take action today on something that won’t happen for 25 years. However, if you know what you want your life to look like one year from today, it is much easier to back into that lifestyle. When you ask yourself the question “what do you want your life to look like one year from now,” you need to get specific, ultra specific.
When do you want to wake up? What do you want to do first, every morning? What do you want your workday to look like? What type of company do you want to work for? Will you be running your own business? What does your schedule look like? When do you eat lunch? Where do you work out? What do you eat? When do you go to sleep?
Every aspect of your life must be mapped out to the nth degree. Obviously, your life will vary from day to day. But, the important thing is that you understand, on a granular level, what you want your ideal life to look like.
In Ramit’s company, they use the phrase “in the clouds” during meetings when someone is speaking too high-level about something that needs to be done. If staff member’s vision is too broad, Ramit asks them to take it “from the clouds to the street,” forcing them to get ultra specific about their ideas.
The world looks perfect from far away. From space, you don’t see the details: the flowers, the trees, the waterfalls. It’s only when you get closer to the ground that you start to see the nitty gritty details and the beauty of it all. Everything becomes clearer up close, including ideas, goals, and dreams.
That exercise of taking my goals “from the clouds to the street” was valuable and helped me identify what my actual goals were.
Initially, my goals were vague: start an online business, grow my freelance business, get promoted at work, etc. All of those goals are too “in the clouds” and need to be refined and brought down to the street. After spending some time thinking about and working on my goals, I made them more concrete and specific.
One year from now, I want to have five Salesforce certifications and get three paying clients for Salesforce consulting services. I want to grow my email list to 5,000 subscribers, create my minimum viable product, and sell 10 online products per month. I want to read 25 books and share my book notes with my growing list of readers. I want to finally make a decision, one way or another, on whether to attend business school, and I want to either begin the process of applying or stop worrying about it and focus on something else.
As you can see from that example, my goals became more actionable when I got ultra specific about them. Putting specific numbers against goals is a fantastic way to sharpen your focus and accomplish your goals faster. I’ve heard it said that “F.O.C.U.S.” is an acronym for “follow one course until successful.”
Defining your goals and dreams
“It’s fun to think about new stuff. It’s hard to do the work.”
It’s fun to think about new stuff. It’s hard to do the work. – @ramit
— John Garvens (@JohnGarvens) October 27, 2016
Following the goal setting exercises, Ramit dove deeper into goals and dreams. He talked about how goals and dreams are fun to think about when they’re new but how it’s hard to actually do the work to accomplish them. He also pointed out how interesting it is that family and friends are supportive of your goals until you take them too far.
For examples, he talked about how people set a goal of losing weight and get support from their family and friends until they lose 20 pounds. At that point, they start hearing things like “slow down” or “you’re losing too much weight.”
Or, someone sets a goal of achieving financial independence and gets support of their family and friends until they make or have “too much” money. Their friends say things like “you need to enjoy your money,” “you never spend money on anything,” or “you shouldn’t save so much.”
As a final example, some people set a goal of starting a business or writing a book. Their family and friends are 100% behind them until they stay home on a Friday night to work on their business or write their next chapter. Then, they hear things like “you’re not fun anymore” and “you’re not the person you used to be.” It’s funny how that works.
I’ve experienced the same thing in my own life.
I set ambitious goals for myself and feel pressure from my friends to slow down because they start to get uncomfortable. It is kind of like how, when I go out with friends, I don’t drink much. Friends who have known me for years have told me that they have never seen me get drunk. I always found it interesting how, if I don’t drink, other people get uncomfortable and feel awkward about it, not me.
Reflecting on my life, I can see countless ways in which that principle has applied and held me back from trying things that I wanted to try. We like to think about accomplishing goals more than we want to actually accomplish goals.
Ramit then asked us to think about our goals and ask ourselves a simple question about each one: why haven’t you done it yet?
Like our goals themselves, our excuses for not accomplishing our goals are also “in the clouds” quite often. For example, when most people answer “why haven’t you done it yet,” they might say, “I have a fear of failure,” or “I have a fear of success,” or “I’m afraid of uncertainty.”
But, what do those words really mean? What is failure? What is success? What is uncertainty? When those words are in the clouds, they’re “too hot” as Ramit called them. He suggested that we “cool down” those emotions by deconstructing them and processing each piece in a systematic way. That is not to say that you ignore your emotions. Rather, you must unpack your emotions to uncover their true source, bring them from hot to cool, and attack what is holding you back at its root.
In my particular case, I wrote:
I don’t know what I want to do. I’m interested in too many things and can’t bring myself to do just one thing for a while. I worry that, by doing one thing, I’ll paint myself into a corner, unable to escape and do something new. I’m interested in and curious about so much. I want to try it all.
The end result of that line of thinking is that I end up doing nothing and accomplishing nothing.
By cooling down my emotions and approaching my internal barriers systematically, I can make each challenge more digestible and put myself in a better state of mind to overcome them.
Throughout this process, Ramit also shared how it’s not about the tactics, it’s about the identity.
What does that mean?
When you change your identity about a topic, you change the lens through which you view that topic. For example, if I identify as someone who never saves money, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and I will never save money. If I identify as a person who is afraid to start a business or talk to someone or anything else, then I never do those things either. Sometimes, a simple (albeit difficult) shift in identity can help you uncover and overcome the deep-seeded issues that hold you back from accomplishing your goals and dreams.
To illustrate the power of identity, I suggest that you read this article by Adam Grant on voting. In the article, he discusses how people are more likely to vote when you encourage them to “be a voter” versus asking them “to vote.” One is an identity; one is an action. As it turns out, people are more likely to take an action when that action aligns with their identity.
Fear of missing out
You’re going to miss out on some things in life.
FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a common phrase seen across the Internet these days. The phrase is used to describe how we feel when someone comes to us with an opportunity and we do it because we don’t want to miss out on the experience. Instead of saying no, what we know we should say, we say yes and add more to our plate.
Should I take on an extra freelance project, even though I feel overwhelmed already? Should I start a relationship, even though I’m not in the mental or emotional place for one? Should I go out with friends on a Friday night, even though I still feel exhausted from the previous weekend?
As humans we tend to hoard everything: stuff, information, emotions, etc.
None of us have the time or the energy to do all of the things that we want to do. The fact is that you are going to miss out on a lot of things in life. There is no way around it. It is physically impossible to do everything that you want to do, unless you want to do nothing of course. That is why it becomes so critical for you to prioritize and work on only your most important life goals, whatever those are for you.
If your goal is to get married and start a family, great. Focus your time and attention on getting married and starting a family. If you want to travel the world, awesome. Focus your energy on finding ways to do that. If you want to start your own business, fantastic. Focus all of your time and attention on starting your business. If it is truly important to you, you’ll find the time, the energy, and the money to do it.
A mentor of mine tells me constantly, “If someone else has done it, so can you.”
Has someone else done what you want to do? If so, then it is possible for you to do it, too. Does that mean that you are guaranteed success? Absolutely not. It does, however, give you both the permission and the responsibility to try.
One of the best ways that I have found to get over the fear of missing out is to simply accept that I will miss out on a lot of things in life. While depressing at first, it becomes less depressing as you focus more intensely on what is most important to you.
When you identify your most important goals, you give yourself a compass that you can use to direct your decisions. Then, when someone comes to you with a new opportunity, you can politely decline, citing your most important goals as reasons why you cannot pursue the opportunity.
Accomplishing your goals
There is a big difference between feeling good and being effective Ramit pointed out.
What did he mean?
Every January, millions of people set a New Year’s resolution to get in shape. Gyms across the United States fill with people, hoping to lose their pesky belly fat once and for all.
By February, gyms are vacant once again.
It’s easy to talk about everything you are going to do, but it’s hard to start doing them. Most people avoid hard work, acting as if their goals will magically accomplish themselves. Even if a person claims that they want to put in the work, you can bet that they have spent hours online looking for shortcuts and “hacks.” Everyone wants to find a silver bullet.
Silver bullets don’t exist. Still, there are still countless websites that will show you how to get rich quick, create passive income, and spend your days drinking Mai Thais in paradise. The world is filled with charlatans who propogate the myth that they achieved wild success, doing almost nothing.
The truth is that the lifestyle you want to live often takes a lot of hard work to achieve. With rare exception, the work never stops. There is always more to do. You must never get complacent.
1-on-1 teardowns + Q&A with Ramit
Following lunch, which was fantastic, we all gathered in the main room again for a 1-on-1 teardown and Q&A session with Ramit. The session featured three students who needed help on specific areas of their life and career. Those interviews punctuated a series of questions from students in the audience.
While Forefront was valuable overall, I probably got the most value out of this session. It was refreshing to know that other people were going through the same challenges that I was going through and that they had the same invisible scripts that I had. It was both helpful and instructive to hear other students share their challenges and to hear Ramit and other students offer possible solutions to those challenges. Sometimes all we need is an outside perspective to change our worldview.
Here are my key takeaways from the Q&A and 1-on-1 teardown session.
How can you break into competitive markets?
The first question came from a student who needed advice on how to break into a competitive market.
Ramit answered, suggesting that we think about which markets bother us the most and why. For example, when you think through your daily annoyances, ask yourself why they annoy you so much and what you can do to eliminate them. Sometimes the most annoying things in your life are the most annoying things in another person’s life. If you solve your problem, you solve their problem. You scratch your own itch in other words.
You can also appeal to a specific worldview.
In Ramit’s business, he focuses on living a rich life, whatever that means to you. It is a specific worldview. His website is no longer about personal finance alone. Now, it is about getting the most out of your life.
Ramit took a “bottom-up” approach in that case, beginning with content about monetary riches and later expanding the definition of the word “rich” to encompass many different areas of life. A “top-down” approach can also be taken, like that of Tim Ferriss, where you start with a high-level idea (i.e., lifestyle design) then dive deeper into specific areas to support your key idea.
You can go from the clouds to the street or from the street to the clouds. Both can be effective at breaking into competitive markets.
Finally, you can be highly selective and intentional when choosing your market and make the conscious decision to appeal to fewer people. You can also use other channels to set yourself apart. Sometimes the road less traveled is a better road.
How do you think about transforming yourself?
The second question came from a student who wanted to better understand the process of transforming, or rebranding, yourself.
The first point Ramit made was to show the honest truth about who you are and where you came from. Remember that everyone starts at zero. So be honest about that. If you started with no job, no friends, no money, no house, then say that.
People connect with authenticity. When they sense that a person is fake, they leave immediately and never come back. So it is important at all times to show your true colors to your audience. Over time, your audience will watch and believe in your transformation because they have seen it themselves. You will take them on a journey with you and give them an experience.
When should you move from direct marketing and brand marketing?
The third question came from a student named Naveen, one of Ramit’s most advanced students. Naveen wanted to know when it was appropriate to move from direct marketing to brand marketing.
In general, direct marketing is measurable while brand marketing is unmeasurable. Companies try to measure their brand marketing efforts all the time, but most brand marketing measurement is an exercise in making educated guesses and assumptions.
Regarding when you should switch from direct marketing to brand marketing, the key takeaway from Naveen’s question was that most people start brand marketing too soon. Your first priority should always be direct marketing so that you focus on creating a solid, stable, profitable business with consistent performance from the start. Only then should you begin to think about brand marketing.
Once you decide to move forward with brand marketing, Ramit suggested that you look to the fashion industry for inspiration. Fashion companies have a knack for understanding human psychology and how brand marketing can influence large groups of people over time.
After three questions, Ramit switched to a one-on-one teardown with a student who had questions about how they value their time.
In short, the student felt unproductive any time they weren’t actively working on themselves or their business. They even admitted that walks on the beach with their significant other felt like a waste of time because there were “better” and “more productive” things that they could be doing.
After unpacking their concerns for a few minutes, Ramit asked some follow-up questions.
“Do your parents work full-time?”
“Hourly or salary?”
“Do you feel challenged in your work?”
“Do you feel happy?”
From his questioning, Ramit was trying to determine if the student’s obsession with time had to do with a conscious or unconscious association of time and money. “Time is money” after all.
The problem with that association, however, is that it often causes people to obsess over time because they constantly calculate the costs of doing or not doing something based on the time it requires. I do this myself, even when I spend time with family and friends.
“What is the opportunity cost of visiting my parents this weekend?”
“How much will my daily commute cost each year?”
“How can I pay someone else to do X for me so that I can spend more time on Y, which is a more valuable use of my time?”
“Ugh! This meeting cost the company more than $1,000 in lost productivity.”
Ramit advised the student look for more support to overcome her internal barriers, mentioning cognitive behavioral therapy as potential solution.
Ramit also suggested that she start using the phrase “I am happy right now.” It is hard and almost impossible to feel happy all the time. Those who feel happy and content at all times are extraordinarily rare and often delusional. So if you don’t feel happy, it’s okay. That’s normal.
Sometimes life hands us a load of crap; sometimes you feel unhappy for no reason. All of those feelings are valid. The important thing is that you uncover the source of that unhappiness and address it.
To start, focus on being happy one minute at a time. When you feel happy, notice it and accept it. Think about what made you feel happy and reflect on why it made you feel happy.
Over time, you’ll start to uncover patterns in your thinking and identify the people, places, and events that make you feel happy. Then, expose yourself to those things more often. While there is no magic bullet for happiness, you can certainly take a systematic approach to happiness and move the needle in a positive direction.
How do you think about the long arc of your career?
The fourth question came from a student who asked how Ramit thinks about the long arc of his career.
“I don’t think about that at all,” said Ramit.
Instead, Ramit focuses on “going through the fire” on a daily basis. Yes, you need to have an idea of your destination, but it is essentially meaningless to create long-term goals. You will probably change your destination 20 times anyway. So focus on going through the fire right now.
What can I do about “now what”?
The fifth question came from a student who wanted to know what to do about the question of “now what.” In other words, “I accomplished X. Now what?”
Here are a few examples:
- “I graduated from college. Now what?”
- “I got my dream job. Now what?”
- “I started a business. Now what?”
- “I created a blog. Now what?”
“Now what?” is a question that plagues all high-achievers. We can never be satisfied with where we are. We always want to start the next thing, especially if you’re a competitive person.
One suggestion from Ramit was to create a picture of where you want to be. Perhaps that is a picture of a celebrity that you want to look like, a house that you want to live in, or a destination that you want to visit. Finding inspirational imagery can go a long way toward helping you answer the question of “now what.”
You can also analyze your past successes to determine whether they were true successes or flukes. You can unpack the puzzles of your life and business to figure out what went wrong and why or what went right and why. Sometimes good things happen for no reason. It’s important to understand whether your successes and failures were a matter of strategy or circumstance. People can often succeed despite themselves.
Lastly, you can ask friends, especially successful friends, what they did or what they would do in your situation. I always tell people to have mentors that are 10, 20, and 30 years older than themselves because they will help you make critical life decisions when you get in a jam or don’t know what to do. Reach out to them and ask for help. They’ve been through this themselves. Ask them how you should be thinking about the situation, where you should be cautious, what options you failed to consider, what decision they would make if they could make it again, etc.
How can you build a high-quality network?
The sixth question came from a student who wanted to know how to build a network of high-quality friends. They did not suggest that their friends were low-quality. They simply wanted to know how they could put themselves in situations where they were around high-quality people so that, over time, they could upgrade quality of advice, conversations, and ideas in their life.
Ramit’s first recommendation was to start with your top-performing friends. As silly as it sounds, go through your list of friends on Facebook, connections on LinkedIn, etc. and identify the top performers. Then, make a plan to reach out and spend more time with them. There are certainly things that you can learn from them and that they can learn from you. Together you can both make a bigger impact on the world.
You can also, as I like to suggest, make new connections on LinkedIn, which was created to help people connect professionally with one another. Find people in your industry and function as well as people in different industries and functions who sound interesting to you. If they live in the same city, find a time to meet for coffee or lunch and learn more about what they do. Or, if they live too far away, find some time to chat via phone or Skype. It is rarely a bad idea to meet new people and share ideas.
Another suggestion was to host boardroom dinners. You can either google “boardroom dinners” or read this PDF to learn more. In short, a boardroom dinner is an opportunity for you to introduce your top-performing friends to one another, share ideas, and help each other. Hosting a boardroom dinner makes you look awesome because you are the creator of a valuable experience in your guests’ minds. The best know the best after all. Rather than focusing all of your energy on your specific industry, focus on meeting the best in other industries. Don’t wait for an invitation either. Show initiative, take action, and invite people to an event that you create. If you wait for an invitation, you may wait forever.
What is your morning routine?
The seventh question came from a student interested in hearing about Ramit’s morning routine. The student was undoubtedly a listener of The Tim Ferriss Show, which covers morning routines and rituals in almost every episode. By examining a person’s morning routines and rituals, Tim tries to deconstruct how world-class performers become world-class performers.
People tend to get hung up on the idea of morning routines and rituals. While I agree that morning routines can be helpful (I have my own morning routine), people tend to focus too much on the routines themselves and not the larger idea of living strategically.
Many people assume that, if they follow someone else’s morning routine, their life will magically get better. What they often fail to realize or flat-out ignore is the huge amount of effort that people exert to become world-class performers. You cannot “hack” your way to becoming a world-class. Sure, there are ways to make your ascent more effective and efficient. However, there is no substitute for hard work applied consistently over time.
Still, Ramit shared a few key strategies that he uses to maintain peak performance.
In short, Ramit likes to “front-load the work,” setting himself up for success before he even begins a task or project. He repeats the same schedule every week, scheduling the same tasks on the same days. For example, Wednesdays are Ramit’s strategy days where he schedules no meetings, takes no calls, sends no emails, etc. He spends the entire day working on business strategy for and does nothing else. On other days, he schedules multi-hour blocks of time to write without distractions.
Every event in Ramit’s calendar contains everything he needs for that block of time: instructions, links, etc. For example, he may include a link to a website that he needs to use to complete a specific task. Then, when he gets a notification to start the task, he simply clicks on the link that he added to the event months ago when he created it and starts working. By systematizing his week, Ramit frees up more time for flexibility because he already knows when he needs to do what.
The second 1-on-1 teardown featured a student who needed help with her online business.
The student began with a discussion about power. She felt that she given away power because of an application process for students who wanted to join her online course. She thought that, by creating an application, she was creating a barrier to entry that reduced the number of tire-kickers who wanted to join her program.
While it sounded good on paper, she was not seeing the results that she had hoped to see. She discovered that the application put her in a position of power where potential students vied for her attention. However, once the students were accepted into the program and allowed to purchase the course, the students were now in a position of power because they had the money.
How could Ramit’s student regain power and influence?
Ramit noted that power is interesting because it is incredibly important, it is all around us, yet it is almost never discussed. It is important to understand the dynamics of power, how it works and how to get it.
Ramit explained how applications, while effective at identifying serious students, are a pain in the ass. So make sure that they are worth it for your business. If the business owner wanted to continue using applications, Ramit suggested that she add some restrictions to the process, mostly around the amount of time available to purchase the course after the student is accepted into the program. That forces the student to make a decision, one way or another.
Even though that seems like a cunning manipulation, it actually serves the student and the teacher. The student must finally make a decision about whether or not they want to join the course that they said they wanted. The teacher gets a better read on the seriousness of their potential students. The student can always join the program later when the course reopens. Everyone wins.
Instead of using applications to qualify students, Ramit uses a different approach. Everything about Ramit’s messaging says that he works with serious students only, not “productivity porn” addicts who waste their day on LifeHacker.
How do you make it known that you want to work with serious people only? You can pre-qualify your prospects based on where you find them, how you write for them, and what you use for examples.
Overall, Ramit was pretty good about not swearing during the conference, mostly because his parents were in the room. Still, he shared a piece of wisdom that hit close to home for me when he said, “Sometimes you have to eat a lot of shit first.” Sometimes you have to stay in on a Friday night to write the next chapter of your book. You have to work on Saturday because you are trying to get your business off the ground. If you are trying to accomplish anything meaningful in life, you will probably have to eat a lot of shit first.
The student’s second question was on tiered pricing.
For those not familiar with tiered pricing, they are basically package deals that you see when you make a purchase. A common example is when a company offers a basic, standard, and premium version of a product or service.
The student wanted to know how they should approach tiered offerings and pricing. Ramit stated that the only question that mattered was whether they wanted to go higher or lower in price. The answer to that question will make a huge impact on the way you approach your business.
Some businesses try to appeal to everyone and find themselves in a race to the bottom on price, which has tons of negative consequences. Other businesses position themselves as “premium” brands, refusing to play the price game. While they charge more and have fewer customers as a result, they can often be just as successful as or more successful than companies playing the price game.
I made the decision long ago to avoid the price game and charge a premium for my services. Of course, I have fewer clients because of that decision, but it’s worth it. My clients get a better experience because I can dedicate more resources to them, and I get to focus on the most important thing: delivering massive value to my clients.
Ramit’s second point was that tiered offerings are largely irrelevant. They don’t matter. Pick a price and move on. Don’t try and innovate around pricing and create a $56 product. It’s a weird price. No one will understand it. Follow conventional pricing practices and focus your time and energy on getting more customers.
Pricing generally doesn’t matter unless you’re doing huge volumes of business anyway. Price rarely affects whether people will buy. In the end, people will buy what they buy. If they don’t want to buy, they won’t buy.
Customers will justify any price in their minds. Apple is the perfect example. Apple fans don’t care that an iPhone costs what it costs. They will pay what they have to pay because they want the product.
Starting out in business, you should have a simple goal: get paying customers. The ultimate validation test for your business ideas is whether or not people buy from you. Your mom’s obviously going to tell you that she thinks your ideas are wonderful. But, until people buy from you, all of that talk is meaningless.
Focus on getting people to buy and then, when you are worried about other things like tiered pricing, licensing deals, or affiliate networks, take a step back and refocus on getting more customers.
Sometimes the best path is the most direct path.
The student’s third question was about payment plans and whether you should use them. To paraphrase, Ramit said, “Hell yes, you should use payment plans!” Once his company implemented payment plans, IWT saw a “significant increase” in the number of people who joined their courses.
However, Ramit added a caveat, warning that, if you are going to use payment plans, be ready for them. Payment plans come with a host of other issues: credit card expirations, non-payments, etc. Still, payment plans can go a long way toward helping students, clients, etc. afford your services.
Should you show or tell people what to do?
As kids, most of us had “show and tell” once a week where students stood in front of the class, showed them something cool, and told them all about it.
One of the questions during the Q&A was about telling people what to do versus showing people what to do. Ramit used Oprah as an example. While I was surprised at first, Oprah is a perfect example of telling people what to do versus showing people what to do. Instead of telling her audience that they should buy a high-quality pillow to improve their sleep, Oprah recommends a specific pillow.
Tim Ferriss is another fantastic example of showing versus telling. Instead of telling his audience to buy protein powder, Tim recommends a specific protein powder to his audience, eliminating their need to make a decision.
Google became the most popular search engine in the world by giving its customers, its searchers, specific recommendations. When you google something, you know that you’ll get a list of 10 specific recommendations, every time.
As Ramit said, “I want to know what’s the best. Just tell me.” That’s why, in his book, Ramit suggested specific banks, index funds, credit cards, and more.
Are Oprah’s, Tim’s, or Google’s recommendations truly the best? No one cares. People don’t want to think. They just want their problem to go away. Specific recommendations help people overcome indecision, take action, and solve problems.
What should I do now that I landed my dream job?
The next student was a 25-year-old guy who had recently graduated, landed his dream job, and advice on what do next. He wanted to know how to plan his life going forward.
Ramit’s first observation was that only the best people are doing well yet continue to ask questions and work to improve. So Ramit commended the student on his ambition, drive, and determination.
As a general theme, Ramit suggested that the student focus on taking work off of their manager’s hands. “Do it for them” in other words. If you “do it for them,” your boss will appreciate you more because you will become more valuable to them. When you become more valuable to them, they will give you bigger and better projects. In time, your role will continue to evolve and grow, as your relationship with your boss does.
How do you apply all of the wisdom that you learn from books?
The tenth question came from a student who had trouble applying all of the wisdom that he learned from reading books. While they read a lot of books, the student experienced challenges applying the lessons from the book to their daily life. They wanted to ensure that they weren’t merely consuming information.
To answer this question, Ramit shared his approach.
Every week, Ramit reviews everything he learned that week during a scheduled block of time and thinks about how he can apply what he learned to his business and life. Sometimes, he added, he doesn’t try to get anything out of a book; he simply enjoys reading for its own sake. As he discussed earlier in the weekend, not everything requires ROI.
Which events should you attend; which should you skip?
Another student had difficulty deciding if they should go to events when they did not feel motivated to go. They had trouble deciding which events to attend and which events to skip.
Answering this, Ramit suggested that they ask themselves a simple question, “Are there people there that I want to be around?” If not, don’t go. If so, go. Sometimes decisions can be that simple.
For example, when I received an invitation to attend Forefront, I knew that I had to go because the people would be “my people.” So I bought my ticket, booked my flight, and reserved my hotel immediately.
When you make a decision, everything moves a little faster.
How do you scale your business over the long-term?
The last question came from a student who wanted to know about scaling their business over the long term.
“What to do after you make your first $1 million?” the student asked.
“Your goal is to do it again,” Ramit replied.
Surprisingly, people can accidentally make $1 million. If you hit the perfect combination–the right people, the right time, the right product–you can make $1 million. The true test, however, is when you try to do it again.
- Did you make $1,000 on the side? Congratulations. Do it again.
- Did you make six figures as a consultant? Well done. Do it again.
- Did you make a $1 million as an entrepreneur? I’m happy for you. Do it again.
Making $1 million does not make you a business genius. You could have gotten lucky. You must take a scientific approach to your success, hypothesize that it was an accident, and attempt to duplicate it. If you can repeat your success, odds are that you are onto something.
Still, you should continue testing your success along the way to avoid the trap of thinking that you are amazing at everything. We’ll leave that to Kanye West.
You can apply the “do it again” principle to other metrics as well, like website traffic for example.
When I started this website, I got only a handful of visitors per month (read: my mom). Eventually, I got 100 visitors per month. Then, I got 200. Then, 400.
Today, I get around 25,000 visitors per month. So my next goal is to get 50,000 visitors per month.
My email list has grown in a similar way. When I started building an email list in November 2013, I got one subscriber, my friend Breanna. My mom wasn’t even my first subscriber. (Cue sad music.)
A year and a half later, I had 50 subscribers. I crossed 100 subscribers in January 2016. I now have just under 300 subscribers, many I don’t even know. My next goal will be to get 600 subscribers.
Sure, I could look at someone like Ramit and think, “I’ll never get a million visitors per month or have 500,000+ subscribers.” But, it would be foolish to think like that. Ramit has been working on his business for 12 years. No one gets a million visitors per month and an email list of a half-million people overnight. If they do, they know some sort of voodoo magic that I don’t understand.
Overall, Ramit said that you must “make a conscious decision to grow.”
Eventually, you will reach a point where you can no longer scale by yourself. To continue growing, you will need to hire people. When you reach that point, you must ask yourself if growth is what you truly want. Some people are perfectly content, living life as a soloist. If that works for you, awesome. You don’t need to grow.
Some people believe that you need to create the next Google to be successful. But, success has many definitions, and you must find the definition that works for you. Think about what a rich life means to you, not other people, because your life is ultimately yours, not someone else’s. So figure out what matters to you.
If you want to fly solo, then fly solo. If you want to build a small team, then do that. Growing for the sake of growing is pointless. If you don’t know why you want to grow, then stay small.
Grand finale and farewell
As the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” And so, following the final Q&A, we ended Forefront.
In a final shared experience, everyone went downstairs to the lobby of the Conrad for a group photo. The mood was bittersweet, yet we all knew that we made lifelong friends who would be there for us when we needed them.
Since Forefront, I have connected with several people to stay in touch and follow-up on conversations that started in New York. I also purchased my ticket for Forefront 2017, which will be held at Navy Pier in Chicago.
I’m already excited for Forefront 2017 and can’t wait to spend another weekend with my new friends.
Thank you and conclusion
I want to thank you for reading about my Forefront experience. This article is exceptionally long, and the fact that you took the time to read it means a lot to me.
I hope you got value out of this article, whether it gave you a key insight that will help you move forward in some way or whether it helped you make the decision to attend Forefront 2017.
If you attended Forefront 2016, I encourage you to leave a comment and share your thoughts on the event, your key takeaways, and what you would tell someone who is thinking about going to Forefront 2017. Feel free to contact me if you need anything also.
Once again, thanks for reading.