[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than three million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
In this episode, we discuss how to break into careers in tough industries, the skills it takes to succeed in difficult circumstances, how to deal with the difficulty of constant rejection, how to build the muscle of determination, a really cool hack for switching your thinking that can make it much easier to face challenging situations and rejection and much more with our guest, Alex Grodnik.
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In our previous episode, we looked at how to live a happy, healthy, successful life from the inside out. We explored what it means to have an integrated brain, looked at lessons across vastly different scientific disciplines and share the accessible, simple strategy you can use in 20 minutes to integrate the most important learnings from scientific research, to create an integrated brain, body and mind, to improve your health happiness well-being and success with our previous guest, Dr. Dan Siegel. If you want to have a healthy happy brain, listen to that episode.
Now for our interview with Alex.
[0:02:59.9] MB: Today, we have another exciting guest on the show, Alex Grodnik. Alex is the COO at the FinTech startup Paylub. He holds a degree in finance from UCLA Anderson. He spent more than nine years in the investment banking industry, digital media, business development and much more. He's the host of the Moving Up podcast by Wall Street Oasis, where he interviews business leaders to learn and share their secrets to success and life. Alex, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:23.4] AG: Thanks so much for having me. Excited to be speaking with you.
[0:03:25.7] MB: Yeah. I think this will be a really interesting conversation and definitely relevant, especially to some of our younger listeners as they're formulating their careers and deciding what they want to do with their lives. I'd love to hear your story and your journey about how you got into the investment banking world and how the challenges around that presented themselves and how you overcame them and then ultimately, what some – of the lessons that came out of that would be.
[0:03:49.4] AG: Yeah. I grew up on the west coast, actually in a small ski town Park City, Utah. I didn't really know any investment bankers. That wasn't a thing that people did in Utah. For whatever reason, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. Maybe it was a prestigious job. There was something inside of me. I always wanted to go work at the top level of high finance. Everyone in my family was entrepreneurs, so no one had ever worked for anybody.
My parents and uncles and stuff would always say, “Oh, yeah. Wouldn't it be so great to go work for Goldman Sachs, or JP Morgan?” They always thought that was the glamorous side of the world. Fine, for my basically my entire childhood, I've always thought, “Okay, I'm going to go to a good school and then I'm going to go get one of these hard-to-get, prestigious banking jobs.”
I left Park City. I went to school in Pennsylvania to a small school, Lehigh University. They had a pretty good track record of placing people into Wall Street. Everything was going according to plan. Then as I was getting ready to graduate, it was also 2009 and the economy was melting down. It was a little bit more difficult to get that banking job than I had originally anticipated that it would be. I mean, our career fair was the day after Bear Stearns collapsed.
It wasn't the best time to be graduating, but this has been one of the through lines of my entire career in life is that you got to face head-on into rejection. That's when the interesting outcomes can happen. I said, “Okay, this is just another hurdle that I can overcome, a challenge.” I said, “Great, let's go see what I can do here.” I can't even remember how many resumes I sent out. I mean, multiple hundreds, and phone calls. I mean, no one was hiring. They didn't even know if their firm was going to be in existence.
I’m trying to get to – my first job was a little bit scary, but I was able to do it. I got a job at JPMorgan in their asset management group and they really beefed up the analyst program. There was a 150 people in 2009, because it turned out that that was a big piece of the bank's revenue in 2009. Everyone wanted to go to the safest bank and that was JPMorgan.
While it wasn't that investment banking job I thought, “Okay, this is great. I'm working for one of the top banks. I'm in their analyst training program. I got three months of training in New York and the job was originally supposed to be in New York.” I said, “This is great. I'll go do this and then I can transition into the investment bank, or I can go get my MBA, whatever it was.” It turned out that that was pretty much the case. I did that job for about two and a half years. I actually had to move to Detroit, because they didn't have a spot in the New York team, and so I moved to Detroit after three months of training.
Then I was able to move out to Los Angeles. I followed my now wife out here who's from LA, so I moved here for love. I did was a three-year analyst program. I did it. As I was finishing it up, I was still really focused on getting that hardcore investment banking job. I had my boss at JPMorgan. He helped make some calls around LA. I got a couple interviews. It just so happened that Houlihan Lokey and they're, what's called financial restructuring group, we can get into what that is, but they had a need. I stopped working at JPMorgan, moved a couple of buildings over in Century City, which is where all the finances in LA and went to work for Houlihan Lokey for about a year and a half; that hardcore analyst training program, working 100-hour plus weeks, getting yelled at at 3:00 in the morning and building pitch decks and Excel models and meeting with CEOs and working on buying and selling businesses; really the exact skill set and experience that I had wanted for my entire life.
Like I said, I did it for a year and a half. It's funny what happened while I was doing that, because that's – I mean, I think I was 23 when I got that job. For 23 years, that was a job I wanted. I got it. Then once I had it, a really strange thing happened. I realized that I don't really like this job. I don't know if this is what I'm meant to be doing. I was pretty lost, because basically everything in my life was always built up to that. That was who I was. If I wasn't going to do that job, who was I? What was I supposed to be doing?
After that, it was a couple years of soul-searching and business school to figure out what was right for me. Now we can get into it, but I'm on this entrepreneurial path and I can talk about how I came to that. Basically, I'm fairly certain, very, very highly certain that this is what's right for me.
[0:08:18.8] MB: There's a lot of themes to unpack from that, especially what happens when you get to the peak and realize you don't necessarily like it there. Before we get into any of that, I want to go all the way back. I want to come back to the trenches of being a senior in college, trying to figure out – you have this career path that you've set out for yourself. I actually had a very similar experience, because I graduated I think the same year as you, right in the midst of the financial crisis. It was really, really tough to find a job.
When you were going through that, what did it take and how did you deal with that uncertainty, the challenge of trying to get a job in one of the toughest industries in the world in the middle of the largest financial crisis in the last 100 years?
[0:08:59.8] AG: Yeah. I didn't know this going into school, or really even coming out of school, but there's what's called target schools. If you want to work in investment banking, there's five or 10 schools that these investment banks recruit at every single year. If you go to one of those schools, great, you've got super lucky. All you have to do is submit a resume. The bank comes to your school, they interview people and you can get the job.
If you don't go to one of those target schools, it is an extreme uphill battle trying to just to get the interview. Then once you get the interview, it's pretty level set. You can sell yourself there and try to get the job. The only interview from non-target school is if they don't hire someone from one of their 10 target schools.
Like I said, I didn't know that. I had no idea how the process worked, and so I just was determined to get one of these jobs. I think that naiveness, naivety, whatever it is, that's required, and you look at startups. You just don't know any better. You don't know how the world works, how things are supposed to be and just put your head down and just hustle and go until it happens for yourself.
Like I said, hundreds and hundreds of e-mails and finding ways to get to people and asking people for introductions and combing through LinkedIn and trying to see who works where and sending them a little personalized e-mail and saying, “Hey, can we grab a call for 15 minutes?” Or someone that went to my school, or someone that – just any type of warm introduction you can get. Then you go through the process. You have an e-mail exchange, you try to get a call. From the call, you try to get an in-person meeting. Then from that in-person meeting, you try to get an interview. From that in-person meeting or interview, you try to get – you're always moving the ball forward. That's what it took.
I had so many calls, so many interviews. It's all just learning and process as you go. I mean, the success rates are not high, Matt. I mean, you're going to get sub 5%. If you're lucky, if you're doing everything, great. 95% of the time you're going to get told no, or just not even responded to. You got to develop a pretty thick skin for it.
[0:10:56.0] MB: Were you at one of those target schools, or did you have to create the job interview from outside of the system?
[0:11:02.5] AG: Yeah. No, Lehigh is a good school, but no it's not a target school from the investment banking perspective. This is like a bunch of the Ivy League schools, University of Pennsylvania probably being the best one. Then out in LA, USC and UCLA are both schools. Yeah. No, I was an outsider. Like I said, it's dog in this, it's hustle, it's finding a way just to not accept no for an answer.
If you have that determinist, you're just not going to hear no, you're not going to accept that no, then hearing no doesn't get you down. My brother, he's an actor out here in LA. I can tell you in his profession, he gets told no more than anyone I ever know. He's had to develop a de-sensitivity to it, because if you let all these nos seep past your skin, you're going to start to question, “Well, is this what I should be doing? Am I even good at this? What if I never get a yes? That's what stops a great outcome.
A great outcome never comes from, “Yeah, I applied for a job. I got a yes. Now my life is easy.” There's no easiness to life. You're going to hear hundreds and hundreds and if not thousands of nos. The unique outcomes, the huge life-changing moments, they don't come from your first trial and success and failure. You need hundreds of failures to hone your pitch and hone your strategy and get to the right place and get to the right people. That's just how it works. That's life, Matt.
[0:12:24.6] MB: I think that's a really critical point, which is this idea that greatness or achievement or whatever the big outcomes you're looking for in your life don't come from the first trial and the first failure, right? It's usually like – it's like 10, 20, 30, a 100 plus failures down the road before you really start to crack through and start to really find those actual opportunities.
[0:12:45.7] AG: Well yeah. I mean, some people probably get lucky and their very first startup they do turns into Facebook. That's not the case. I mean, you look at the founders of Uber and the founders of most startups, they have several unsuccessful – several failures that took years and years of their life and hard-work and probably gray hair and divorces and everything else, before you get to that outsized outcome.
If it was easy to get to that outsized outcome, it happened on your first or second try, then everyone would do it. That's why the rewards are so great. They reward the people that are able to hear no 10,000 times and persist and persist. That's the way that the universe is set up.
[0:13:23.5] MB: How did you cultivate that persistence? How did you deal with the constant rejection and the challenges of just trying to even get an interview, let alone, then succeed in the interview and then succeed in the job, etc.?
[0:13:37.1] AG: Yeah. It's a great question. I've since put a name and a process around what I had at the time. I now refer to it as rejection therapy. During the time, I had no idea what I was doing. It was just practice. It was getting reps, like you would if you were a quarterback of a football team, they talk about you need reps with the offense and you need to see actual game time. As you get that practice, your brain matures and you're able to see things differently and feel differently.
Yeah, in business school I really – I came to the realization of what it was inside of me. At the time, I just I just called it determination and that I just wasn't going to accept no for an answer. I think my dad instilled that idea in me. Like I said, he's been a serial entrepreneur, just failure after failure, went after the next. I mean, now he's had some good successes, but he's 60-years-old, so it took however long, I mean, 40 years of working to get to that point. That's a long time, but he always told me, “You just can't take no for an answer.” If you hear no, that just gets you – I viewed it as every time that that just got me one step closer to a yes. I just learned a little bit and maybe I expanded my network. I kept pushing forward.
Now this process of rejection therapy, which I call it as – it's the same thing as really anything else in life. If you're afraid of something, then exposing yourself to it is going to desensitize yourself to that fear. I have a buddy that I actually worked in banking with. He just took some time off to go travel the world with his fiancé, and they spent a lot of time in South America and they were camping and they were in the forest. He said, “Alex, I was so afraid of spiders before I went on this trip. Now I've lived in the rainforest and I've seen spiders the size of my face, that a little spider back here in LA it doesn't even faze me.”
I thought, “Wow, that's – You're right, that's interesting.” Rejection is no different from spiders, from germs, from whatever you're afraid of. If you expose yourself to being rejected all the time, eventually and not even after that long of time, you're just not going to care about it anymore. You're not going to be afraid of it. You're going to put yourself out there in life and just not be afraid to hear no, which is unique. Most people don't have that.
[0:15:53.4] MB: I love the idea of getting reps in and practicing to build that muscle of dealing with discomfort and rejection.
[0:16:02.0] AG: Yeah. If you look at the conversion rates, like you have a job, you work in sales and you work at a retail store, or a software company or something and you're calling people and selling to people and you're going door-to-door selling stuff. You hear these great stories, like Mark Cuban famously started off his career selling garbage bags door-to-door. I mean, think about how many times the doors were closed at him, like who's buying garbage bags from a door-to-door person?
Think about someone coming to your house and trying to sell you something, some orange cleaner or something, which they came to my house the other day. They probably have to be getting told no. I would think at least 99 out of a 100 times. The willingness to go forward after getting the door closed on you 99 times, that instills something in you. When you get that success, how good does that feel? How great is it? You realize that you're able to do this.
If you look at the conversion rates across industries and from nonprofit, financial services whatever it is, they're all sub 10%. These people are making a hundred calls and getting 90 rejections. What is it that keeps them going? It's that they've had this practice, these repetitions in doing it and they're not afraid of it anymore.
You are at your high school dance and you're standing on the other side of the room of a girl, or a guy and you don't want to go up to them and ask them, that's just because you haven't asked a 100 people. Have you already asked a 100 people to dance and 90 of them have told you no, you would really not care by going up to that 91st person saying, “Hey, do you want to dance?” Because you're just desensitized to the fear of it.
[0:17:36.8] MB: I like that idea as well, the idea that once you understand and I mean, sometimes you may not have perfectly clear data around what it is, but once you understand the conversion rate, it really clarifies things and you realize that in order to get the 10 people to say yes, you need to have 90 people say no. You have to churn through those, your conversion rate on really almost any activity is very rarely going to be a 100%. Yet, so many people often have the expectation that when they do something, if it doesn't work out the first time, or the second time, or the third time, they give up, or they think, “Oh, I can't do that, or I'm not good at that, or that's not for me.”
[0:18:11.8] AG: Right. Back to my brother the actor, he sends e-mails to people and tries to get jobs and coffee and whatever he can. He says, “Alex, yeah Joe Schmo didn't respond to my e-mail.” I say, “Okay, Jake. You sent one e-mail. You need to send two, three, four e-mails and then you can move on.” Just getting told no once and saying, “All right, that's dead,” I mean, that's crazy. You have to persist.
Getting to this rejection therapy framework, what's really cool about it is just like the school dance analogy is the first piece of it is you're going to get a huge amount of confidence. You're going to start to realize that, “Okay, I've got to hit my numbers. I got to be able to get my whatever it is, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 99, nos before I get this yes.”
As I'm going through this, probably at no 10, I'm not going to care anymore. I'm just going to have this extreme amount of confidence to go through life and just start asking people for whatever I want. That's one of the cool byproducts of it is is the first one is you get this great confidence to start going through life with. The second piece is this humility. We haven't really discussed this yet, but you start to see the world in a really positive life. This humility comes from the fact that like, think about when I was in business school, I'd be sitting in a class and I think of a question to ask and then I would say, “Oh, well. Is this a good question? What are my classmates going to think about this? Should I raise my hand? Should I put myself out there?”
What you realize is that no one cares about your question. It could be the dumbest question, it could be the smartest question, but everyone is so caught up in thinking about themselves and if they should be asking a question and what they should be doing, that you asking some question in class or the way your hair looks, or what you're doing is no one really cares. Once you start to go through this, yes you get the confidence, but you get the sense of humbleness that like, “Hey, I'm not the center of the universe. I'm just someone here and no one's judging me and caring about me the way that I'm caring about myself.”
Then the last piece of it is I alluded to, is you start to see the world in a positive light, because as you're going through this rejection therapy process, so we can get into how you can actually do it, but as you're looking for no’s, I'm saying, “Hey, can I have a discount on this? Hey, can I borrow a dollar?” If you get that no, then boom, you got the rejection and you win for the day. You start to get a lot of yess’s. People want to help you. People go out of their way to help you.
As you're going through saying, “Hey, can I have this? Can I have that?” Then you're expecting no, you get a lot of yess’s. You're like, “Wow, the world really is a great place.” People want to help you. There's some pretty cool byproducts of also just wanting to get this – your numbers and hit these rejection therapy marks.
[0:20:58.0] MB: I want to get into some practical strategies for implementing rejection therapy. Before we touch on that, I think I wanted to just echo one of the things that you said, which is when we're following up on trying to get a guest on the show, for example, and oftentimes it is somebody like a big-name guest; Carol Dweck for example, is one of the guests that we'd really wanted to get on the show for a long time. We followed up – I mean, we have a strategy, a minimum strategy that we followed 13 times before we'll give up on a prospect.
I think we followed up like 17 or 18 times with her before we were able to get her on the show. Finding new angles, new ways, whatever it takes, and I would just echo that same thing that if you're giving up after one or two tries, you're missing out on a huge, huge array of opportunities. There's magic on the other side of that rejection and that discomfort once you break through it.
[0:21:46.2] AG: Yeah, absolutely. Sending 17 e-mails you might be thinking, “Oh, am I annoying this person? Is this bad when I'm doing?” I can guarantee you that most of the time, the other person is not thinking about what you're doing. They're busy in their lives and they didn't respond to the first 10 e-mails. When you send them that 11th or whatever is, 12th, 13th, 18th, 17th e-mail they're like, “Oh, yeah. Look how persistent this person is. I like that. Maybe there is something interesting here. Sure, I'll send them a quick note back and we can jump on a call and get this ball moving.”
Sometimes that's just what it takes. You're right, these outcomes on the other side, nothing good happens without hard work. If there's something there, it's worth working hard for. I have the same process. I use an e-mail tool and a calendar tool that keeps me abreast of like, I'll send an e-mail. If I don't get a response in 10 days, I get that e-mail back in my inbox so I can send a follow-up and I can send another follow-up and another follow-up. You just have to keep pushing forward. You have to keep that persistence, because that's – nothing great is ever built without persistence.
[0:22:51.2] MB: It's funny, we had a couple weeks ago, we had Jonathan Hyde on the show and he talked about the importance of being anti-fragile. Even looking at it from a biological perspective, he used the example of peanut allergies in the immune system and basically said peanut allergies are on the rise, because for a long time people didn't introduce their children to peanuts at an early enough age, right? When you try to shelter, when you try to protect yourself, you end up becoming more fragile and weaker. When you expose yourself the things that are difficult, things that make you uncomfortable, that's how you – as you put it Alex, you get those reps in.
The first time, the fifth time, maybe in the 10th time you play with a spider, or make a sales call or whatever, it's really scary. The 100th time, or the 300th time you do it, it's getting pretty easy. The 1000th time you do it, it's boring, right?
[0:23:42.7] AG: Yeah. That's how humans are programmed. We’re programmed to survive. We don't like putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone, because think about how many thousand years ago, you get eaten by a dinosaur, or crushed by a lion. Those things were dangerous. Now that the outcomes are much less severe, but our brains perceive them as the exact same; we like staying inside of our comfort zones and going to see a spider, or touching the thing that has germs all over it, or getting rejected, all those things our brains tell us, “No, don't do that, don't do that, don't do that.”
You have to evolve. You have to change your wiring to not be afraid of those things, because if you do, the outcomes can be so incredible. If you don't and you stay in your house and you don't ask that person out on a date, or you don't ask for more money at your job, or you don't ask to have someone on your podcast 17 times, then you're never going to. It's just not going to happen.
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[0:26:01.1] MB: Let's get into some specific strategies for practicing, getting those reps and practicing, implementing rejection therapy into our lives.
[0:26:10.4] AG: Yeah. Really, the goal of it is very simple. It's to reduce the fear of rejection by exposing yourself to it. We've been through the benefits, the confidence, the humility, seeing the world in a really positive light. Fine, that all sounds great. How do I go do that? I talked about the timeframe for this. The timeframe is you can do it for 30 days. By day five, six, something like that for the first week, it starts to just be formulaic. It's not difficult at all. It doesn't it doesn't take a hundred reps of this.
The way you do it is you got to put yourself out there and you have to ask for things. You have to say, “Hey, can I have a discount when I'm buying my sandwich at lunch?” The funny thing is when you ask for that discount, I can tell you so many times, probably half the time, “Yeah, sure. I can give you 10%.” You’re like, “Wow, I just saved a dollar off my sandwich. Cool.”
Then I still got to go find some other way to get rejected, but can I borrow a dollar? Will you take a picture with me? I've asked, can I play just the first hole on a golf course? I like golf. Can I cut you in line? I mean, I've had a story. I cut a three-hour long line for this ice cream pop-up in LA just by asking. You're still going to get that that no. You end up getting all these yess’s. Basically for 30 days, every day, at least once per day, you got to hear a no. You got to be rejected. That's the way it works. That's the therapy.
[0:27:30.9] MB: Yeah, it's such a great tactic. The funny thing about it – I mean, I've practiced rejection therapy a number of times and it starts to get really fun and exciting. It seems really scary. Then after two or three instances, or a couple days of really building that muscle, it starts to become really fun. As you were talking about, you start to see the world in a completely different way, where there's so much positive optionality. There's so many exciting things that could happen. All you have to do is just find out if it's possible.
[0:27:59.7] AG: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you start getting all these things too, which is cool. You're getting extra patties on your hamburger to go see the kitchen at a restaurant. I yell to action on a film set. All these cool stuff, but along the way you're also getting those projections and you’re desensitizing yourself to the fear of it. It's a reoccurring cycle. You're getting more and more yess’s and you're gaining and building that confidence to just ask for anything.
The way it works is you start out asking for small things; a high five, to borrow a dollar, whatever it is, but you build up to asking for much more meaningful things in your life; promotion at work, or a raise at work, or for someone to go on a date with you. By asking for a discount on your dinner every night, when the time comes to ask for a raise at work, you have confidence to go do that. When the time comes to ask someone on a date cold at a bar, you can go right up and do it. It's really cool how it works.
The 30-day process, you probably – peaks somewhere around day 14, day 15, and you can just ride that wave, and then it lasts for a little bit after you finished the 30 days. You got to keep it up, because like I know now, I go through periods of this in my life, but I haven't been actively seeking this out recently. I'm probably afraid to go ask for stuff. It's a curve. Definitely, you got to keep practicing, keep getting those reps. Oh, I said deteriorates.
[0:29:29.2] MB: I think it comes back to as well, what you talked about a second ago, which is this idea that for many perspectives, we're evolutionarily programmed to be afraid of lots of different things, right? Because if you eat the wrong berries, or if whatever else from an evolutionary standpoint thousands of years ago, there's so many risks that you constantly have to be aware of that we're very naturally risk-averse. The reality is the risks today are so much lower than they were.
The downside of the vast majority of these things is literally just someone says no, and nothing has changed other than you weren't going to get whatever you were asking for before and they said no, and now you're still not going to get it. That's the disaster scenario. The upside is tremendous. There's just a massive risk reward and yet, the evolutionary programming in our minds can really mess with us and make it challenging to overcome that barrier.
[0:30:21.0] AG: Right. We think that if we ask someone for a hug and they say no, then they're going to rip our heads off. That's the way that our brains work. Not only will they just say no, but literally five seconds after you ask them that, they're going to forget about it. They're not going to come back to you in six months and say, “Hey, remember that time that you were stupid and you asked me for a hug, or you asked that dumb question in a class?” Nobody remembers, or you had a bad hair day, no one remembers any of these things about you, because they're all focused on their lives and their processes and trying to get what they want out of the world. You're totally right. The risk/reward is all screwed up. We have to reprogram our brains to desensitize ourselves to these fears that really don't make sense in today's world.
[0:31:04.4] MB: The beauty of rejection therapy, and this comes back to Josh Waitzkin, who's one of my all-time favorite thinkers and performers. For listeners who aren't familiar, he's a multi time national chess champion, chess master, and then went on to win the World Championship in tai chi push hands, which is a form of martial arts, and wrote this seminal book called The Art of Learning, which integrates these two things together; just phenomenal read, probably one of my all-time favorite books.
He talks about how this skill set of being comfortable with discomfort is really built in the small moments of your life, right? It's not built in the really tense, high-risk situations where you're asking for that promotion, or you're dealing with a tough negotiation. That muscle is cultivated when you're getting those reps in in the small moments every day. Then those big moments come along and that's really when the opportunity to flex that muscle really shines.
[0:31:58.0] AG: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, you start asking for small things, you move up to big things. For me, I thought this is what I like. I like trying to solve these hard problems, get rejected, find creative ways to go around them and get that yes. That's what feels the best for me. How can I make money off that? How can I start businesses off of that? How can I incorporate that as much as I possibly can into my life?
For me, it meant starting a podcast, starting a FinTech company. Just like you said with your podcast guests, sometimes you have to send 17 e-mails, I've found the same thing. When you get that yes, on my podcast I've had cofounders of Facebook and huge big time venture capitalists come on talk about their lives, their stories, their ups and downs, their key secrets to their success. To get them, it requires so much persistence, e-mail after e-mail after e-mail. They don't respond, why haven't they responded?
You can't incorporate that into, “Oh, this person doesn't want to be on my podcast. This person's busy. I got a convince them. I got to find a creative way. I got to go see them. I got to go meet them. I got to bump into them. I got to go to a conference where they're speaking, get another touch point and get them on my podcast,” because then all of those things that I've done, those creative means to get around the know, culminate in a yes, culminate them coming on my podcast. Lots of people listening to the podcast, me feeling good, that's the best feeling.
The same thing with my startup; we're trying to attack this huge, huge problem. Basically for a startup, the world's against you. You have no money, existing companies don't want you to exist, no one believes what you're talking about doing, until you actually go do it. You have to find a way to go do it with no money, while everyone is rooting against you and doesn't want you to succeed. If you are able to accomplish those things, then yeah, you better believe there's going to be a pretty huge return outcome on the other side of it for you, but most people would give up in the face of all of that adversity. They wouldn't be able to push through and triumph. That's what separates the huge outcomes from just the regular outcomes, the regular lives, if you're able to persist and just not care about getting rejected all day every day.
[0:34:08.2] MB: I think another really important point is that it's not about the people who said no. I mean, we've had hundreds of guests who've said no, or have never responded, or haven't been on the show and it would have been awesome to have them, but the show exists because of all the people who said yes, not because of the people who said no. We've been able to create something really compelling, because even a few people who say yes overtime really adds up to something massive in aggregate.
[0:34:33.1] AG: That's the numbers, that's the reps. Yeah, it's so funny. As I'm sitting here with my podcast sometimes, when I'm speaking with someone that I've wanted to get so badly and they have said they've had so more success in their life and I'm having this immensely interesting and thought-provoking conversation with them, I'm just thinking, “Wow, look what I've accomplished here.”
It's literally the best feeling. You feel so fulfilled when you're able to get to that point, because of the hill that you've had to climb to get there. If you didn't have to climb that hill, then would it mean anything to get those guests, to do those startups, to have those big outcomes in your life?
[0:35:06.9] MB: One of the other tools and I'm curious if you've had any experience with this that I've found to be really helpful around finding that. One of the other ways that I've seen is really useful to cultivate this is to notice moments in your life where you feel uncomfortable and you're pulling back from something and then be able to step into that and say, “You know what? I'm not talking to this person, or not interacting here because I'm feeling uncomfortable.” Recognizing that and then forcing yourself to do it at that moment. I found meditation to be a really useful tool to cultivate the awareness of those moments in your life. Have you had any experience with that?
[0:35:40.8] AG: Yeah. Like I mentioned, when I left investment banking I was a little lost. I didn't know what my path was supposed to be in life. I used the two years of business school to try to figure that out, figure out who I was, what I was meant to be doing in this world. The way that I did that was I just tried stuff that I would never ever have done before. I tried to put myself in the most uncomfortable situations and positions and new things to see who I was, what I was made of, what I liked, what I didn't liked.
I mean, you see a lot of things that you don't like, but I can remember a time when I was in business school, I was on a trip to New York with some buddies. I was Uber and we were driving past Madison Square Park and there was someone there that had a sign. He was just standing in the park and he had a cardboard sign and it said, “Free hugs.” I was looking at that and I said, “I can't think of anything in the world that I would like to do less, than go stand in that park with that guy and give away free hugs to strangers.”
I said, “Guys, hang on. I got to go do this for a minute.” I jumped out of the Uber and I gave that guy a hug and he was a little shady looking, but finally I gave him a hug. Then I stood there with him and gave a couple strangers hugs. I was so uncomfortable in the beginning. Then after two hugs I was like, “Oh, okay. This is no big deal, and I just did something cool. I learned something about myself.” I went and jumped back in the car with my buddies and we went about our day. That was the approach I took to business school was to try to put myself in the most uncomfortable situations and really just to learn about who I was.
[0:37:10.5] MB: You bring up something that I'd love to come back and explore a little bit, which is – and this is a departure from rejection therapy, but what happens when you spend your whole life focused on getting to this point of becoming an investment banker and then you realized that once you're on the mountaintop that you don't like it there?
[0:37:30.5] AG: It was such a strange feeling. Not just for myself. I mean, it was what my identity was. My friends, my family, everyone just knew me as this 100-hour working investment banker, feeling super self-important, feeling my life was valuable and I was doing all these great things. Then I got to the point where I said, “I don't like this. This isn't what I was put on earth to do, and so how do I tell my parents that? How do I tell my friends that? How I tell my girlfriend that? How do I tell myself that?” I didn't know any of those things.
It took a few years to figure it out. For me, really the – I could say the lightbulb moment happened in business school. Business school was a lot about meeting people and having these life-changing experiences and finding yourself. For me, I would say the most impactful moment happened inside of a classroom. I was in this communication, leadership type class one early morning and the professor had us write down on a piece of paper times and we had felt like we were being our authentic self.
He defined authentic self as feeling you're really just firing on all cylinders, using all of your facilities, really being true to who you are. Fine, I took a few minutes and I'm writing down all these instances. Great as I finished the exercise, I'm looking at these four or five things I wrote down and every single one of them was when I was doing something entrepreneurial. I was starting – growing up, I was the lemonade stand kid, selling stuff door-to-door. That was me. All of the times I wrote down, I was doing one of those things.
I was like, “Wow, why have I been chasing these jobs that other people put a tremendous amount of value on that translated to me putting a tremendous amount of value on, these prestigious jobs, this prestige trap of chasing these things? When really, I'm most happy and feeling most fulfilled when I'm selling lemonade, or washing someone's car, or getting a guest to come on my podcast.” That's what's a feeling to me.
Granted those things don't make tons of money in the very beginning, other people don't view them as really life-changing, or that great. They might be working for Goldman Sachs, or JP Morgan, but you got to do what's right for you and not what's right for other people. That was the moment I realized, “Okay, we're done chasing all these jobs that other people put a lot of value on. I'm going to go figure out how to do this for me.” I don't know how to start a business. I haven't really done that. That seems scary. I'm going to go do that. I'm going to start a podcast. I'm going to go find some other buddies, we're going to start a FinTech company.
Yeah, for the past 18 months I've been doing all those things. While I haven't been making the type of money that I was while I worked in an investment banking, the fulfillment that I have and the way that I'm excelling at these jobs and in these roles, it's so much – it's night and day compared to my job in investment banking. As I'm on this path, I'm learning about myself and I'm getting better.
Someone really said something very interesting on my podcast a few weeks ago. They said we're all going to live till were a 100-years-old. I tell my wife that I'm going to live until I’m 200-years-old. Fine, say I’ll live till I'm 100-years-old. How long are we going to be working for? What's a career length going to be? 60 years? 70 years? That's a long time.
To think about a career in a one or two or three-year period of, “Am I doing the right thing? Is this right for me? Am I maximizing? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing?” That's insane. If you look at the bigger picture of things, as long as you're learning every day and getting a little bit better every day and making more meaningful, authentic connections every single day that all of those things will pay dividends for you down the line in your career.
Just because I'm not making hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars today, I'm setting myself up to have those big-time outcomes. Along the way, I'm finding fulfillment. That's the other thing. You can't say, “Oh, I'm going to go do investment banking for five years and be miserable, and then be happy once I'm done with that,” because if you're constantly deferring happiness, it's never going to come. You're never going to have happiness. You got to be happy along the journey. The journey is really everything.
[0:41:40.3] MB: Yeah. I think that's such a great perspective. I'm sure you probably read it as well, but 4-Hour Workweek obviously comes to mind is a book that is really eye-opening and was definitely transformational for me as well when I left The Wall Street world and decided to do something more entrepreneurial.
[0:41:57.3] AG: Yup, absolutely. It's a great book.
[0:41:59.8] MB: For listeners who want to concretely implement some of the ideas we've talked about, I think the answer is probably relatively self-evident, but what would you say, what would you give to them as one piece of homework to get started with some of these ideas?
[0:42:13.2] AG: Just start small. Go ask a friend for a high five, or go ask someone to take a selfie with you. These things literally require nothing. I mean, the risk reward is so minimal. Just the idea – I want to leave with the idea that you're never going to get what you don't ask for. You don't ask for a raise at work, they're not just going to give you a raise. If you don't ask someone 17 times to come on your podcast, they're not going to come on your podcast. If you're not out there taking what you want, asking for what you want, then nothing's ever going to happen for you.
Start small, ask for really miniscule things that don't seem like they're meaningful at all and work your way up very quickly. I might add it goes fast, to asking for meaningful things and having a fulfilled life and getting what you want out of it.
[0:42:59.6] MB: For listeners who want to learn more, who want to be able to find you and your work online, what's the best place for them to do that?
[0:43:06.8] AG: Yeah. I've got the podcast, it's called Moving Up. We have similar conversations, just like to what we're having now. I go into business leaders, a lot of investors and founders and CEO’s, about their journeys, how they got to where they are, what set them apart. You can find the podcast, you can find me firstname.lastname@example.org. That's where the podcast lives. Yeah, I would love if anyone would e-mail me and tell me they tried rejection therapy and how it worked for them.
[0:43:35.5] MB: Well Alex, thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all this knowledge, rejection therapy; such a powerful framework for overcoming discomfort and achieving the goals that you want. Thank you for sharing with the audience.
[0:43:47.0] AG: Thanks so much for having me. This was a lot of fun speaking with you.
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