The third Door is a very entertaining Autobiography from which you will get a lot of actionable lessons. The thing that struck me most from Alex’s journey is how he looks at his frustrating experiences along the way to success. He doesn’t take his failures too seriously, actually quite the opposite, he makes the most amusing stories out of them.
That’s something I have to definitively get better at. I feel like that’s why I got so much value out of this book. I think you will too. Here are some of my favorite lessons from this book.
Books can give you the courage to try something different
There is one factor that opened my eyes to new possibilities, that kickstarted my curiosity and desire to improve myself and take a non-established course in my life, books.
The same thing happened to Alex when he laid in his bed with a pile of biology books staring at him, not knowing what to do with his life. He realized that taking this career wasn’t for him. But he didn’t know what else to do.
Then he found a book about Bill Gates in the biography section of his campus’ library. It sparked something within him.
Here was a guy who started his company when he was my age, grew it into the most valuable corporation in the world, revolutionized an industry, became the richest man alive, and then stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft to become the most generous philanthropist on earth. Thinking about what Bill Gates accomplished felt like standing at the base of Mount Everest and staring up at the peak. All I could wonder was: How did he take his first steps up the mountain?
Before I knew it I was flipping through the biographies of one successful person after another. Steven Spielberg climbed the Mount Everest of directing, so how did he do it? How did a kid who’d been rejected from film school become the youngest major studio director in Hollywood history? How did Lady Gaga, when she was nineteen years old and waiting tables in New York City, get her first record deal?
Alex couldn’t find the book he searched for though, he wanted to know how to get started from his position. So it occurred to him, why not write that book?
One biography I highly recommend
I started reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness right after reading The Third Door. I love that book, it has such a richness of lessons relevant to me at this time in my life. Here’s what Alex thinks about the book.
When I had first been hit by the “what do I want to do with my life?” crisis, I had volunteered at a business conference where copies of his book were given out. I didn’t know who he was, or what his company did, but college students don’t say no to anything free, so I took one. Later, when my parents became hysterical over my decision to switch majors and I was torn about whether I’d made the right decision, I saw Tony Hsieh’s book on my desk. It had the word “happiness” in the title, so I reached for it as a distraction. But then I couldn’t put it down. Reading about Tony Hsieh’s journey—about the leaps of faith he took despite everything that could go wrong—helped me find the courage within myself I didn’t know I had. Reading about his dream fueled me to pursue my own. That’s why I put his book on the top shelf. Whenever I needed to remember what was possible, all I had to do was look up.
You don’t always need a perfect plan
Steven Spielberg’s story is a perfect example of how sheer will to achieve something, can lead you to accomplish great things.
Steven Spielberg got his start when he was right around my age. I’d read varying accounts, but according to Spielberg, this is what happened: he boarded a tour bus at Universal Studios Hollywood, rode around the lot, and then jumped off, sneaking into a bathroom and disappearing behind a building. He watched the tour bus drive away then spent the rest of the day on the Universal lot.
Wandering around, he bumped into a man named Chuck Silvers who worked for Universal TV. They spoke for a while. When Silvers found out Spielberg was an aspiring director, he wrote him a three-day pass. Spielberg came for the next three days, and on the fourth, he showed up again, this time dressed in a suit and carrying his dad’s briefcase. Spielberg walked up to the gate, threw a hand in the air, and said Hey Scotty!—and the guard just waved back. For the next three months, Spielberg arrived at the gate, waved, and walked right through.
On the lot, he would approach Hollywood stars and studio executives and ask them to lunch. Spielberg snuck onto soundstages and sat in editing rooms, soaking up as much information as he could. Here was a kid who had been rejected from film school, so in my eyes, this was his way of taking his education into his own hands. Some days he’d smuggle an extra suit in his briefcase, sleep overnight in an office, and change into the fresh clothes the next morning and walk back onto the lot. Chuck Silvers eventually became Spielberg’s mentor. He advised him to stop schmoozing and come back when he had a high-quality short film to show. Spielberg, who’d been making short films since he was twelve, began writing a twenty-six-minute film called Amblin’. After months of directing and grueling editing, he finally showed it to Chuck Silvers. It was so good that when Silvers saw it, a tear ran down his cheek. Silvers reached for the phone and called Sid Sheinberg, Universal TV’s vice president of production. “Sid, I’ve got something I want you to see.” “I’ve got a whole goddamn pile of
filmhere…I’ll belucky to get out of here by midnight.” “I’m going to put this in the pile for the projection booth. You really should look at it tonight.” “You think it’s that goddamn important?” “Yes, I think it’s that goddamn important. If you don’t look at this, somebody else will.” After Sid Sheinberg watched Amblin’, he asked to meet Spielberg immediately. Spielberg rushed over to the Universal lot and Sheinberg offered him a seven-year contract on the spot. And that’s how Steven Spielberg became the youngest major studio director in Hollywood history.
Qi Time, lessons from
The most astonishing story in Alex’s book comes from Qi Lu from Microsoft.
Qi Lu grew up in a rural village outside of Shanghai, China, with no running water or electricity. The village was so poor that people suffered deformities from malnutrition. There were hundreds of kids, but only one schoolteacher. At age twenty-seven, Qi Lu was making the most money he’d ever earned—seven dollars a month. Fast-forward twenty years: he’s president of online services at Microsoft.
I almost shook my head in disbelief. Barely able to think of a coherent question, I just threw my hands up and asked, “How did you do it?” Qi smiled humbly and said that when he was a kid he wanted to be a shipbuilder. He was too scrawny to pass the weight requirement, which forced him to focus on his studies. He got into Fudan University, a top college in Shanghai, where he majored in computer science—and it was there he had a realization that changed his life. He began thinking about time. Particularly, the amount of time he felt he wasted in bed. He was sleeping eight hours a night, but then he realized that one thing in life doesn’t change: whether you’re a rice farmer or the president of the United States, you only get twenty-four hours in a day. “In some ways,” Qi said, “you can say God is fair to everybody. The question is: Will you use God’s gift the best you possibly can?” He read about notable people in history who’d reengineered their sleep patterns and set out to create his own system. First he cut out one hour of sleep, then another, and another. At one point, he was down to a single hour a night. He forced himself awake with ice-cold showers, but he wasn’t able to sustain it. Eventually he found that the least sleep he could optimally function on was four hours a night. To this day, he hasn’t slept in since. The consistency is part of his secret. “It’s like driving a car,” Qi told me. “If you always drive at sixty-five miles per hour, it doesn’t wear and tear the car that much. But if you speed up and slam the brakes often, that wears the engine down.” Qi wakes up every morning at four o’clock, goes on a five-mile run, and is in the office by six. He eats small meals throughout the day of mostly fruits and vegetables, which he packs in containers. He works eighteen hours a day, six days a week. And Stefan Weitz had told me that the word around Microsoft was that Qi works twice as fast as everyone else. They call it “Qi Time.” Qi Time seemed like a fanatical, even unhealthy lifestyle. But when I thought about it through the lens of Qi’s circumstances, I saw it less as a quirky experiment and more as a means of survival. Think about it. With so many brilliant college students in China, how else could Qi have found an edge to break through? If you cut 8 hours of sleep down to 4, then multiply the saved time by 365 days, that equals 1,460 extra hours—or 2 additional months of productivity per year. During his twenties, Qi spent the extra time he created writing research papers and reading more books, striving toward his biggest dream of studying in the United States. “In China,” he said, “if you wanted to go to the United States, you had to take two tests. The fees to take them were sixty dollars. My salary each month, I think, was equivalent to seven dollars.” That was eight months’ salary just to take the entrance exams. Qi didn’t lose hope, though, and all his hard work paid off on a Sunday night. He usually spent Sundays riding his bike to his village to visit his family, but it was pouring rain and the trip took hours, so Qi stayed in his dorm room. That evening, a friend came by to ask for help. A visiting professor from Carnegie Mellon University was about to give a lecture on model checking, but because of the rain, attendance was embarrassingly low. Qi agreed to help fill the seats, and during the lecture, he asked some questions. Afterward, the professor complimented Qi on the points he’d raised and wondered if he’d done any research on the topic. Qi hadn’t just done some research—he’d published five papers. That’s the power of Qi Time. It enabled him to be the most prepared person in the room. The professor asked to see the papers. Qi sprinted to his dorm room to fetch them. After the professor looked them over, he asked Qi if he’d be interested in studying in the United States. Qi explained his financial constraints and the professor said he would waive the sixty-dollar qualification tests. Qi applied, and months later, a letter arrived. Carnegie Mellon offered him a full scholarship. Every time I’d read about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or other examples of meteoric success, I wondered how much their achievements were a result of seemingly miraculous coincidences. If it hadn’t rained that Sunday night, Qi would have been home with his family, wouldn’t have met the professor, and none of this would have happened. At the same time, there was nothing coincidental about Qi having published those five research papers. I asked Qi about luck, and he said he believes it isn’t completely random. “Luck is like a bus,” he told me. “If you miss one, there’s always the next one. But if you’re not prepared, you won’t be able to jump on.”
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Qi eventually ended up at Yahoo. Qi was soon promoted to Yahoo’s biggest initiative: Yahoo search. In addition to taking on more engineering projects, Qi spent his weekends reading books about leadership and management.
Qi time isn’t just about sleeping less, it is about sacrificing short-term pleasure for long-term gain. Habits and persistence accumulate. If you do the right thing every day for years, eventually you will be perfectly prepared when opportunities show up.
Lessons from the Dream Mentor
If you have a mentor, you are lucky. If you have a dream mentor, you have everything you need. I don’t have one, but I think someday I will. Alex found his dream mentor through a lucky google search. He remembered that someone told him about an event on a cruise ship where Bill Clinton and Richard Branson had joined to speak. After some Googling he found:
In 2008 Elliott Bisnow, an entrepreneur with several companies to his name, started Summit Series, an “un-conference conference” that would serve as a mutual aid society for young entrepreneurs. It started with 19 people on a ski trip, and has grown to more than 750 people who attended their latest event in May. Part networking, part TED, part extreme sports, these invitation-only events have become the epicenter of social entrepreneurship. And along the way, Summit Series had raised over $1.5 million for not-for-profits. Participants include Bill Clinton, Russell Simmons, Sean Parker, Mark Cuban, Ted Turner, and John Legend.
Alex decided to just email Elliott. He got incredibly lucky. Elliott, it turned out, had decided just a month earlier that he wanted to mentor someone, and that person would be Alex. The email was a question about how to get started at building momentum in life, using Tim Ferris’ cold email template. Oh and by the way, he guessed Elliott’s email address because he couldn’t find it online.
Elliott answered 24hs later and invited him to meet and told him to read a chapter from the book “When I stop talking you’ll know I’m dead”.
“Okay, so, I guess my first question is: What was the tipping point in your career that allowed you to build so much momentum?”
“There is no tipping point,” he said, still typing away. “It’s all just little steps.”
Another great quote from Elliott: “When it’s in front of you,” Elliott said, “make your move.” There he refers to any opportunity. But specifically to people, you might want to talk to. Often we freeze when presented with an opportunity which makes us nervous. That’s the moment we have to act not think.
Tim Ferris’ cold-email tactics
By interviewing Tim Ferris Alex learned how to cold email people. That was something he had to learn because his emails and approach to Tim were somewhat off as he later learned. This is how Tim recommends cold emailing people, especially busy people.
I know you’re really busy and that you get a lot of emails, so this will only take sixty seconds to read.
[Here is where you say who you are: add one or two lines that establish your credibility.]
[Here is where you ask your very specific question.]
I totally understand if you’re too busy to respond, but even a one- or two-line reply would really make my day.
All the best,
Interviewing advice from Larry King
After almost harassing Larry King in a grocery store, Alex eventually got a chance to talk to him. Here is some advice about Interviewing I loved from him.
“When young interviewers try to copy our styles, they’re not thinking about why we have these styles. The reason why is because these are the styles that make us the most comfortable in our seats. And when we are the most comfortable in our seats, our guests are the most comfortable in their seats—and that’s what makes for the best interviews. “The secret is: there is no secret,” Larry added. “There’s no trick to being yourself.”
Ferriss was giving me exactly the kind of advice I craved. He told me to never email someone and ask to “jump on the phone,” “get coffee,” or “pick your brain.”
“Put your question right in the email,” he said. “It might be as simple as, ‘I’d like to discuss a relationship of some type that could take this-and-this form. Would you be willing to discuss it? I think a phone call might be faster, but if you prefer, I could throw a couple of questions your way via email.’
“And never write lines like, ‘This is perfect for you,’ or ‘You’ll love this because I know this-and-this about you.’ Don’t use superlative or exaggerated words because”—he let out an almost mocking laugh—“they don’t know you and they’ll assume, quite fairly, it’s hard for you to determine if something’s perfect for them.
“I’d also not end with something like, ‘Thanks in advance!’ It’s annoying and entitled. Do the opposite and say, ‘I know you’re super busy, so if you can’t respond, I totally understand.’
“And certainly, watch your frequency of emailing. Don’t email a lot. It really”—he let out a heavy breath—“does not make people happy.”
Lessons from Bill Gates
While interviewing Bill Gates, Alex tried desperately to find the holy grail, the one thing that was the secret to all of Bill’s success. He asked him persistently about good negotiating tips. Clear it became soon that there wasn’t a secret nor a particular tactic.
I can see now that Gates was essentially telling me to stop worrying about the BuzzFeed tricks. The best negotiating tactic is to build a genuine, trusting relationship. If you’re an unknown entrepreneur and the person you’re dealing with isn’t invested in you, why would he or she even do business with you? But on the other hand, if the person is your mentor or friend, you might not even need to negotiate.
It was the last thing I expected to hear from the business world’s chess grandmaster. I thought he’d share battle-tested secrets, but instead he was telling me to befriend my opponent so I wouldn’t have to battle.
Trying is key, you don’t know when it’s going to work out
“You want to know why a pipeline works?” Elliott went on. “A year and a half ago, when you first cold-emailed me asking for advice, you didn’t know that a month earlier I’d made it my New Year’s resolution to find someone to mentor.”
I was stunned.
“Crazy, right? There’s no way you could’ve known that. My point is that I’m sure I wasn’t the first person you emailed for advice. You asked dozens of people, and because of an external factor you couldn’t have predicted, one of those things worked. You have no way of knowing what’s going on in the lives of the people in your pipeline. You can’t anticipate their mood or how generous they’re feeling. All you can do is control your effort.”
“But what if all thirty things in my pipeline are clogged?” “Then you have to do two things: One, think bigger. And two, think differently.”
A key to happiness from Steve Wozniak
Wozniak is very happy, and he prioritizes his happiness as you will learn from this nugget.
“When I was a kid,” Wozniak said, “I had two goals for my life. The first was to create something with engineering that changes the world. The second was to live life on my own terms.
“Most people do things because that’s what society tells them they should do. But if you stop and do the math—if you actually think for yourself—you’ll realize there’s a better way to do things.”
“Is that why you’re so happy?” I asked.
“Bingo,” Wozniak said. “I’m happy because I do what I want every day.”
“Oh,” his wife said, laughing, “he does exactly what he wants.”
Another story took place early in Apple’s growth. At the time, it seemed obvious Jobs would be the company’s CEO, but it wasn’t clear where Wozniak would fit in on the executive team. Jobs asked him what position he wanted. Wozniak knew that managing people and dealing with corporate politics were the last things he wanted to do. So he told Jobs he wanted his position capped at engineer.
“Society tells you that success is getting the most powerful position possible,” Wozniak said. “But I asked myself: Is that what would make me happiest?”
Maintaining an Intern Mindset
When Alex interviewed Pitbull he thought him how to preserve a student’s mindset.
“The best thing I learned from Luther Campbell,” Pitbull said, “was that there’s nothing better than to be an intern in life. The best CEOs in business started out as interns. Because when you go from intern to CEO, no one can bullshit you. But all you can do is help them. ‘Look, I already did that job. I know exactly what it took to make that happen.’ ”
Pitbull does not just preach it, he lives it. He went to a meeting with Carlos Slim Jr. and offered to intern for him.
Hey, I’ll intern for you.’ ”
“One hundred percent, papo. I told him, ‘I just want to be around you to see what you’re talking about, how you’re doing things. I don’t have a problem being down here for a month, getting doughnuts, making coffee, I don’t care.’ ”
Mistakes fuel your growth
Quincy Jones instilled a shitload of wisdom to Alex. One point that stood out is:
“Nat King Cole used to always tell me: ‘Quincy, your music can be no more or no less than you are as a human being.’ ”
“That’s what the world gives you,” I said.
“No,” Quincy said, correcting me. “That’s what mistakes give you.”