A young student at Pace University recently asked me a great question: What would you do differently if you’d known at the age of 16, what you know now?
I answered the question on the spot, but it struck a chord to such an extent that I've given it even more serious thought ever since. So, if I could go back in time, I think there are five key elements I wish I had known at 16.
One big lesson I’ve learned is all about trust. As a naïve 16-year-old, I had a dream of building a huge Internet business. I knew it would mean lots of hard work. I knew it would mean spending nights at the office. I knew it would mean making personal and family sacrifices. I knew I had the drive and determination — and the ability — to make it to the top.
I also knew I’d make mistakes along the way. But there’s nothing quite as disappointing as when you make mistakes and trust the wrong people, whether professionally or personally. I wish I’d known as a 16-year-old that there would be such people who took advantage of your high profile. I would definitely have been more cautious in that regard. I wish I’d known there would be people who faked who they are. Greed makes people do many evil things. I wish I knew that.
I’ve definitely learned to be more careful in whom I trust and I now have a closer inner circle. I have their backs and they have mine. At the same time, I’ve not lost my willingness to take a chance on people. Trust is something you can’t buy, and in my 15 years of business experience, it’s worth the risk of being disappointed.
Never lose faith in what you are doing. If you don’t believe in yourself and your vision, how can you expect others to share and participate in your dream? You also need to know when to call it quits and when to double down. You need to be able to separate emotion and logic. Emotion is driven by your ego and logic is driven by your inner intuition.
Emotion is built on ego and having an emotional commitment to a particular strategy can get you in big trouble if you pursue it in defiance of negative results. When making decisions, you have to apply logic and get rid of any emotional attachment. Have faith that you will ultimately get the outcome you desire. Be passionate about the end result, not about the minutiae of the process.
There’s no quick, easy road to success. As you make your journey, expect to be tackled and knocked down. If you’re playing football, you know there are many times in a game you will be brought to the ground en route to a touchdown. In life, and in business, it’s just the same.
Every journey has its ups and downs and I’ve certainly had my share of setbacks. But I accept them, embrace them, overcome them and move forward. That’s what makes a real winner. For every time you're knocked down, you get up no matter how painful.
I know in my heart that I conduct myself with honesty and integrity. I can’t act any other way, as I’m a firm believer in karma. Yes, as an entrepreneur I’ve been blessed with significant financial success. But, to me, that’s not what it’s all about. True happiness comes with a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of helping others.
I also believe that you should count your blessings, not your problems. When things go wrong, remind yourself that you have a greater purpose in life. You should always conduct yourself in such a way that if someone speaks ill of you, the people who truly know you will not believe a word of it.
Most people believe in revenge, especially if their trust has been shaken. But that’s just negative energy. My advice is not to let thoughts of revenge consume your day because that only detracts from your ultimate happiness.
What I didn’t count on, when I was 16, was what could happen when I’d become successful and was no longer an invisible teenager; what could happen when the public spotlight shines on you and everyone wants a piece of you.
It used to be that the glare of publicity was focused on TV and movie stars, but today it seems to be sexy to be a successful entrepreneur.
Today, entrepreneurs have been thrust into the limelight. That can be both good and bad. While it gives one the audience to share positive messages, it also opens you up to unwarranted attacks.
It’s sad when people are envious of your success and want to tear you down. But I’ve discovered that the more successful you become, the more you have to watch your back. In fact, I think someone should make a t-shirt that says: “For every back, there is a knife.”
There seems to be a whole slew of people who want to tear you down and take something from you, whether it’s your money or, more importantly, your reputation. It could be the media, business rivals, people with a political agenda or even so-called friends. I’ve never understood that attitude. I’ve always believed in trying to surround myself with people who were rooting for my success and I’ve always believed in acknowledging and celebrating the successes of others.
What matters most is being able to hold your head high and live your life in a way that makes your mother and father proud. There’s no better feeling than that.
That’s also good advice for any 16-year-old.
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