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Being weird and being OK with it

Ramit Sethi

I recently spoke on a panel in Napa Valley called “What I’ve Learned In The Last 10 Years.” During the presentation, one of the other panelists said something that did NOT go over well. I found it fascinating.

This guy is a successful entrepreneur. He was talking about how, as he’s gotten busier, he’s had to change how he maintains his relationships. He’s realized he’d rather nurture his existing relationships than take random coffee meetings or meet with random people.

OK, cool. That’s a pretty honest statement. He has limited time and wants to spend it with people he knows.

No problem so far…

So he finally figured out what works for him: He created a “Top 50 Favorites” list of contacts on his phone. He prioritizes them when it comes to hanging out. When he has a free minute, he calls/texts the people on his Top 50 list.

Then he told us, at the end of the year, he re-evaluates who should be on the list and shuffles/deletes/adds to it. It can only be 50 people, so every year, he makes the tough decisions as to who’s on his Top 50.

People DID NOT LIKE THIS. You could hear it in the audience — everyone went silent and there was almost a collective gasp. Later, during Q&A, most of the questions were half-jokes about, “Will I make it on your Top 50?” In a room that was otherwise warm and welcoming, this felt opportunistic and transactional.

Personally, I loved it.

Here’s a guy who is busy and has to make tough choices. Trust me when I tell you he’s a very nice guy who wants to help people. But he also knows what it takes to grow his business. Instead of blowing smoke up people’s asses and saying, “You just do the best you can!” or “I try to help everyone!” he was actually honest about what it takes to succeed at his level.

Predictably, people hated it.

The key insight here is this: PEOPLE HATE SEEING HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE.

We love to believe everything is effortless and just happens.

For example, one of my friends, a mother of 3, told me how other women would ask her how she looked so amazing with her busy job and family of 5. She used to excitedly tell them about her detailed workouts and diet. Their response? “They got really mad,” she told me. They would say things like, “I could never do that” and “Must be nice to have time.”

You know what she tells them now? “I just watch what I eat and play with my kids a lot.” They smile and carry on.

People hate seeing how the sausage is made.

We almost never hear people tell us the honest truth about what it takes at a very successful level to succeed. You know why? Because society beats it out of you. How many times can that guy go in front of a crowd and talk about his Top 50 before the echoes of disapproval become too much for him? Give it a year or two, and his answer might be something like this: “I just try my hardest. It’s always a struggle to try to do everything, but I do my best. I know I can try harder, so that’s something I’m working on.” Yes, that’s a politically correct answer. Yes, it will get a lot of nods and smiles.

Yet it’s not even close to the truth.

The key is to realize this happens all the time.

The answer you’re getting from someone may not be the actual truth, but rather a politically correct, pre-rehearsed answer based on dozens of interactions s/he’s had before you. For example, when you see a celebrity on late-night TV sharing some funny story? Pre-rehearsed.

When you see a beautiful photo of a celebrity in US Weekly, they have stylists, hairdressers, and makeup people who made them look that good.

They’ll almost never admit this, of course. You’ll hear things like “Oh, this? I try to stay pretty low maintenance. I don’t like all those fancy outfits all the time.” Of course not. It’s “effortless.”

But also remember this: If you were in the same situation, you would probably do the same thing. This is hard for people to fathom since they imagine they’ll always stay the same.

For example, if you were a celebrity whose livelihood was dedicated to looking good, you’d have the exact same support system of nannies, stylists, and designers. If you were a busy entrepreneur like that panelist, you’d find ways of prioritizing who you spent your time with. And those might not sound too friendly to people who don’t understand your life situation.

Personally, I appreciate the honesty. Instead of having people tell me vague lies about what it takes to look great, build muscle, earn more, start a business, etc — I’d rather hear the unvarnished truth.

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