“The Education of Millionaires”

I finished reading The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg recently. It was a great book and right up my alley. The author interviewed hundreds of millionaires and billionaires as part of his research and selected some of the best stories to highlight some recurring themes.

Here are some of my takeaways:

One of the greatest differences between successful people and others is that the former are constantly learning. They treat life as one big learning experience. From the books they read, to the people they interact with, to the jobs they work, there is something to be gleamed from every occasion. This is in contrast to those who who seemingly leave education behind for good after they’ve graduated college. Part of this likely stems from the association of school with ‘boring’ or ‘work.’ It’s almost tragically ironic.

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The book reinforced the importance of mentors and surrounding yourself with other highly successful people. Like many other college students, I’ve always wondered how to properly find mentors. The worry is that mentees have little to offer at this stage of their life. What I learned is that you need to have a contribution mentality as much as possible. You have to be willing to give, give, give, with no expectations of anything in return. The author provided examples of how he met two of his most important mentors by connecting one with a female friend, who became his fiancee, and another through helping him with his health and fitness. Fundamentally, every human strives for three things: health, wealth, and relationships. Everyone has room to improve on each front, and it turns out sometimes the most successful people are lacking in one area. If you can find these people and help them reach their goals or be of service to them, they will be of service back.

(A great conversation line to use in any situation: What’s most exciting for you right now in your life/business? What’s most challenging?)

I also realized the importance of sales and marketing for success of any kind. We laud best-selling authors, not best-writing authors. Everyone featured in this book were either masters at sales or marketing or both. It turns out that both of these skills aren’t taught in formal educational systems and are generally stigmatized. Good sales and marketing is about providing something of value the customer actually wants, rather than trying to shove an undesirable product down a customer’s throat. Ellsberg emphasized that learning these two skills alone can prove beneficial to any future endeavor, whether it be a business, a job, or freelance work, and he proved it with the results after learning and applying the two to his own business (I’ve made it a goal now to study these two subjects in-depth, starting with direct response copywriting through the work of Dan Kennedy and David Ogilvy).

On the topic of business, here’s an analogy I found interesting: doing something entrepreneurial is much like dating. In part, it’s a numbers game. People are afraid of the statistic that 95% of businesses fail;  yet, it seems reasonable that just about 95% of all dates end up as failures. It’s just as absurd to be scared of an entrepreneurial failure as it is to be scared of a date going awry. In both cases, you learn from your failures and improve your odds the next round. And when it comes down to it, you only need one success in an entire lifetime.

Out of all the stories of the millionaires and billionaires featured, the one that most impressed me was that of Elliot Bisnow. In order to connect with other young entrepreneurs, he cold-called some of the most successful 20-year old CEOs and asked them to come on an all-expenses paid ski trip to meet other young leaders. After he found twenty people, he went ahead and booked the trip – all on his personal credit card – which costed $40,000. But with his sales skills, Elliot was able to find corporate sponsorships to cover the entirety of the trip. This was amazing to me. Most people, including myself, would be terrified of undertaking such a financial burden with no safety net. But Elliot was confident enough in his own abilities and the future benefits of the event that he was willing to literally put his money where his mouth was. That one ski trip has now turned into one of the most influential networking organizations in the world, called the Summit Series. I love this story because it’s a testament of how successful people start before they’re ready, and the prerequisite risks necessary for extraordinary rewards.

As a closing thought, it’s deeply humbling to know how unpredictable and varied the paths to success can be. Many of the people profiled went through years of financial struggles or a lack of interest in school. Yet, they all shared an entrepreneurial mindset and an unwavering commitment to better their lives. Some, like the author, did not find success until later in life. This is comforting. There is a lot of pressure these days on college graduates to go out and do something amazing right away. There’s some kind of notion that we have to move from one chapter of our lives to the next, continually progressing up a stepladder of more credentials, more prestige, more pay, and more fame. But the stories in this book show that where you are today is not indicative of where you will be tomorrow, and that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.