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Personal Development

Interview: Entrepreneur, Student Trustee, Early-Graduate, And World-Traveler

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Graham, Take Your Success interviewOn Take Your Success, I regularly interview top-performing college students to understand how they’re successful, so you can recreate the success in your life. Take what’s helpful, dismiss what’s not!

Graham Bowling and I are friends, I’m not going to try to hide it. We met at Miami University and also spent a week together with a group in the South Pacific island of Fiji.

Graham and I meet weekly now, and I’m always inspired by his ideas and actions. So, I knew I had to interview him for Take Your Success because he’s such a cool and talented guy—who will hopefully inspire you, too.

But, Graham and I didn’t always get along. (I hope he’s ok with me sharing this story.)

While we were in Fiji a couple of years ago, after our patience waned from the brutal sun, long bus ride on a rocky road, and then sickening boat ride, Graham and my nerves were struck. I knew if something else went wrong, then I would explode. And I guess Graham felt the same.

After we got off the boat, another guy, Graham, and I found out there were three beds in our place—two twin beds and a king-size bed. I was arguing with Graham that I deserve the king-size bed because I’m bigger. Graham didn’t exactly agree with my reasoning.

I had my shirt off, because we were on a hot island, as we raced to the room. After I made no compromise and demanded the bed, Graham threw this foot-long metal key in the middle of my back. It left a solid imprint because it made contact with bare skin. I was so pissed off. Then, as we got in the room, I pushed Graham down on the twin bed and yelled, “That’s where you’re sleeping!”

I guess being on a paradise island can really bring out the worst in people. Who knew?

We laugh about this story now.

——

Quick bio: Graham Bowling, just graduated at Miami University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Business Management and a focus in Entrepreneurship.

Brian: When did you start your lawn business and can you tell us about it?

Graham: I started my lawn service business at the age of 12 with my dad in the spring of 2006. Over the years we have remained small with an average of 25 customers a season. We value our customers greatly. We spend time truly getting to know them. While I am away at school, I employ high school students to manage the lawns. Learning the startup process early in life has allowed me to become familiar with both success and it’s highly important and largely disregarded counterpart: failure.

Brian: What has been the biggest learning experience from working in an entrepreneurial activity as a teenager?

Graham: I learned from an early age that I have the power to create my own life and future. I could work as much or as little as I needed and enjoyed being my own boss. Managing my business gave me confidence in all areas of my life and a desire to continue learning about entrepreneurship during my undergraduate career.

Brian: You’re a very busy and productive guy, but you also make time to build your friendships. What mindset or strategies have helped you balance college?

Graham: Honestly, sometimes there is not much balance. But this is something I always strive to achieve. With relationships, I always seek to listen and then speak. I find that most people strongly desire to be heard. They need an outlet for their ideas, feelings, joys, and frustrations. When you listen well, this communicates to your peers that you truly care for them. They will remember this and value your relationship highly. As issues arise, I make sure to help my friends in need regardless of my commitments to homework or personal projects. I value friendships more than my work.

To balance schoolwork, I take full advantage of Saturdays. I am a firm believer that one can have a ton of fun each night of the weekend but still get up by 10 or 11am to head to the library. I never once studied on a Friday or Saturday night during my entire undergraduate career and achieved an overall 3.76 GPA. On Saturdays, I consistently put in 4-6 back-to-back hours of work in the quiet university library. This allows me to stay on top of work and often to keep ahead. I hate feeling like I am drowning in work by Wednesday morning and having a solid study session on Saturday mitigates this mid-week overwhelming feeling.

Brian: It’s amazing to me that you have meetings with the president of the university and major donors as a Student Trustee. Please share with us your responsibilities in that position.

Graham: As a Student Trustee to the Miami University Board of Trustees, I serve as one of two student representatives of the 16,000+ undergraduate student body. Five times per year, the trustees meet on the Oxford campus for three days to discuss and decide on university policy, student safety, financial obligations, new and existing construction, faculty recommendations, athletics, and the future direction of the university as a whole. We meet regularly with members of the administration including the president and his various vice-presidents. As a Student Trustee, I provide a formal board report as well as a report to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee. I am also welcome to sit in the Finance and Audit Committee meetings. When I am not in meetings, I am often invited to special university events and dinners.

Last May, I sat next to Forest Whitaker during a luncheon at the president’s house before the Commencement ceremony. I am often called upon to entertain various Miami alums and donors during sporting events, dinners, and speaking events. The Miami University Board of Trustees is a fantastic group of individuals who truly invest their time, talent, and treasure into the future success of this university. It is an honor to serve as a Student Trustee.

Brian: As your friend, it’s obvious to me that you enjoy traveling. Can you share why you make an effort to see the world as much as possible and how it will help you professionally?

Graham: I have the travel bug. It is an exhilarating experience and I often save my money diligently for months to be able to afford the trips that I take. I believe that I must actively pursue discomfort in life in order to grow and traveling provides these opportunities. As much as you plan your excursion, you are always faced with some level of ambiguity and this provides an incredible learning opportunity. I also love to experience new people and culture. Like an anthropologist, I seek to understand and learn as much as I can about each geographic location I visit.

From a professional standpoint, my travel experiences offer me the chance to talk about experiences with both diversity and risk-taking. I can explain what forces bolster the market economy in the South Pacific island of Fiji and what forces hinder the economy in the Caribbean nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Travel allows me to become a global citizen in an ever-increasing globalized world. In my future career, I expect to travel extensively and conduct business with foreign partners. I am also interested in acquiring fluency in a second language, either Spanish or Mandarin. Language ability indicates my commitment to the global economy and will likely help me snag a job in the future!

Brian: You graduated a semester early. How did you do that? Do you recommend it for other college students?

Graham: I was able to graduate early because of my high school success. I took three AP courses and three dual-enrollment courses through Kenyon College and Findlay University. I came in with 25 hours of college credit. My high school courses prepared me for the rigor of college academics and for that I am grateful. During college, I stayed on top of my schedule and met with an academic advisor at least once per semester. I always tell younger students to take full advantage of the resources available to them at their institutions including advisors, career services, and writing center help. These services are fantastic and let’s face it…you are paying for it!

I recommend graduating early for a number of reasons. Personally, it allowed me to save a full semester of tuition and fees. I did not want to pay to take additional courses that would not count toward a degree. It also allowed me time to pursue additional experiences. I am currently interning for a venture fund in Cincinnati and would not have had the time if I were in class. All in all, the choice to graduate early is a personal one. As with most major choices, I suggest weighing the pros and cons and considering the opportunity cost of each viable outcome.

Brian: What are your future plans?

Graham: I am pursuing a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to teach the English language in Taiwan. Currently, I am a national finalist and should find out if I am offered a grant sometime in mid-April. This will take me out of the U.S. for 11 months starting in August. If this opportunity does not work out, I am considering the U.S. Peace Corps. I hope to live abroad for a year or two and learn a second language. Following my time abroad, I am interested in pursuing a stint with the U.S. Air Force. I want to work in the intelligence community and earn my MBA. Eventually, I hope to return to entrepreneurship and own my own business.

——

The two takeaways that struck me the most were Graham’s mindset of planning ahead by making sacrifices to accomplish his future goal, and his intentional decision to put friends before school.

He engages in many activities—starting the lawn business, studying for a high GPA, saving money so he can travel, being a Student Trustee, and working hard to graduate early—so he can develop skills to accomplish his long-term goal of owning his own business. He isn’t just doing these things for fun and going through the motions. It’s all directly or indirectly a part of him growing and building his skills, so one day, he does have the knowledge, connections, money, or whatever, to start a company.

Second, Graham is humble about putting his friends first, but he truly does do that on a consistent basis. He is a good example for balancing work and social life in school and after graduation. Graham works hard, but he has the awareness to know when friends need to take priority. This will surely help Graham be happier. Also, and this is not why he does it, but by giving his time to others, he builds this amazing support network around him that he can use when he is the one who needs assistance.

Those were my two biggest takeaways, but there is a lot of great content in there. So, please comment below with what stood out to you from Graham’s answers.

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Career

Life Tip: Never Take Anything Good For Granted

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Have you ever had something really good in your life, until you took it for granted and lost it? What a horrible, miserable feeling, right? It’s the worst.

I know from experience.

My senior year of basketball still leaves a sour taste in my mouth thinking about it.

It’s strange though because it started out good, like really good.

After thousands of hours of insane dedication to practice my basketball craft and improve my shooting, dribbling, passing, defending, and rebounding, I reached a dream of mine: make the starting lineup for the St. Xavier Bombers varsity basketball team.

Not only that, my first game of the year couldn’t have been better considering I only played 14 minutes the entire game. The stat line below proves it.

brian-robben-basketball-stats

And we won the game by 23 points. Everything is going smooth, until it wasn’t.

From the next game through the last game of the year it was all downhill.

Let me explain.

The Lost & Final Basketball Season

Let’s just say I was a different guy in high school. Now I’m all motivated and focused on building my businesses and leaving a legacy.

But the 18-year-old Brian was all about wreaking havoc and having a good time above all.

To express himself at school or during basketball team activities, he’d go as far as he could to toe the line of breaking the rules for pure laughs and excitement. Often he crossed the line.

Here are some of the reckless things I did during that basketball season:

  • After receiving a hard foul when driving to the basket, I stayed on the ground and racked off 5 push ups before shooting foul shots
  • On the bench during a pre-season game, I grabbed my phone and sent a tweet out to my Twitter followers explaining what I just did (tweeted during the game)
  • Ruined team pictures by putting a 3 goggles sign on my thigh, so the school had to retake them a week later
  • Stormed the refs locker room after a frustrating overtime loss when a bunch of questionable calls went against us
  • Put a teammate in a headlock during a shoot around hours before a game
  • And a lot more crazy stuff

That’s not close to all of the bad-boy moves.

I don’t know if you realize this, but it’s hard to play solid basketball and stay in the coaching staff’s good graces when you’re messing around whenever you can. It doesn’t work out well.

take-basketball-for-granted

That’s why it’s to no shock looking back that I got suspended twice. The first time I had to sit out two quarters against our biggest rival. And then I was suspended a full week from the team later in the year.

Not to mention a bunch of other disciplinary issues and conflicts with coaches that I don’t have time nor want to discuss.

It all boils down to the fact that my antics sabotaged my final year of basketball.

After the season ended, the problem was I couldn’t go back in time to stay focused on basketball and give it my 100% again. That ship had sailed. The opportunity was gone.

So I had to, and now have to, live with regret when thinking back to that year and what could have been.

But regret about not appreciating the game of basketball isn’t the only thing I received from that experience. It’s the unforgettable lesson: never take anything good for granted.

Fortunately I learned this lesson at age 18, not 48.

Never Take It For Granted

Thanks to my failure that year, I developed a wiser perspective to appreciate the good things in my life.

So now I know never to take my work, my company, my clients, my health, my friends, my family, and life in general for granted. Regret is the worst feeling out there so I want to live in a way that eliminates it.

Where maybe if my senior year basketball season went smoother I’d never have learned the full extent of that lesson. Who knows? Maybe something far worse than a disappointing basketball season could have went down.

But because of the outcome I get to hold that experience in my back pocket going forward. I turned a scar into an advantage.

Although it’s always cool for me to flip negative experiences into positive ones, it’d be even better if I didn’t have to learn the hard way.

Truth is you don’t have to be a dummy like me.

I don’t know what your “it” is (I can guess it’s your family, friends, faith, career, pets, house, teachers, and country). I do know you need to never take it for granted if you want what’s best out of your life.

Also, don’t forget to appreciate the little things that come and go during the passing days.

It could be your peaceful commute to work where you’re alone with your thoughts. It could be the Monday morning cup of coffee you can afford without thinking about. Or it can be your place’s proximity to the beach that other people would kill to have.

Never taking life’s big and small gifts for granted is a big step to living the good life.

And there’s another reason to have this mindset: you don’t want to mess around with regret.

Regret Is Brutal, Eliminate It

Regret is the worst feeling out there in my opinion.

Sadness sucks but you can become happy again. Anger isn’t fun but you can eventually relax and get over it.

But regret, there’s no way to reverse it and recover. It sticks with you the rest of your life. That’s why it’s brutal.

Your only solution is to do your best job to eliminate it at all times by both being super grateful for what’s good in your life and staying focused to keep it going well.

If you are unappreciative and lose focus, there’s sometimes no going back from there. Your fate is often sealed once the moment ends.

I want my life to be filled with as little regret as possible. That’s part of the ingredients for a great life, in my humble opinion.

Don’t you agree? Please join me in this effort to never take anything good for granted.

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Personal Development

Brian, Promise You’ll Never Stop Writing

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Hey guys, to celebrate video number 40 on my YouTube channel I put together a different kind of video.

Here I share a personal story and value I hold dear to my heart. It’s all about my relationship with writing and how it’s went from zero to hero in my life.

I hope you enjoy the video and feel inspired!

If you’re interested, here’s the transcript:

Let’s first take it back to high school. You sucked at writing. Just like all of your other classes, you hated it and let your teachers know by your classroom antics or naps, and doing the bare-minimum on papers.

Writing never interested you because it was a part of the school system you went to war against.

Brian this is a note to your future self.

Things changed your freshman year of college. You wanted to be a big time lawyer, and writing soon became your major since top lawyers know how to read and write well. So you needed to write, and write well, to get a top GPA and reach your dreams. And you did.

But things changed again. You said see ya to law school, hello entrepreneur land and started the blog takeyoursuccess.com. That meant constant writing, and hours of it to publish 2-3 posts a week for the past few years. And then you became an author from your writing, already accomplishing a major achievement on your bucket list through this method of communication.

Now writing is your daily routine as much as breathing and eating is. Writing is your public and personal journal, the world sees it but you know the heart of what’s behind the words and the words unsaid. Writing is magical to you.

Although you’re a business owner, author, and coach, at the end of the day, remember your journey all started from a blog, from writing. You’re a writer, writing your story as you go, figuring it out piece by piece, and telling the world, striving to create your legacy one word at a time.

So note to future self, never stop writing. You wouldn’t be the same without it. And all great stories have a storyteller. You happen to be your own storyteller, just how you like it.

What’s your story?

What do you want to tell your future self to commit to?

What’s magical to you?

I hope by hearing part of my story you find clarity in your story. Because we’re all in this thing called life together, so let’s make the most of it.

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Career

The Art Of Negotiation: Care Less

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the-art-of-negotiation

The art of negotiation is truly an art. Either you’re skilled enough to win, or you’ll stumble to the finish line as a loser. Those are the only two possible outcomes.

Depending on the deal, the difference in winning and losing could mean securing your dream job or entering unemployment, getting a deal or getting ripped off $10 grand, and building a million dollar business or going bankrupt.

But like many things in life—how to write a winning resume, who to marry, how to make money, how to invest—no one teaches negotiation.

Our parents: only if we’re lucky. The school system: fails at this. The government: nope.

If government and corporations had it their way, we’d never learn to negotiate so we would have to take the short stick without complaining. That’s just wrong.

Since you’re reading this article, you’re on the right path though. Because the first step is to want to know how to negotiate better.

The second step is to learn how…

“He Who Cares Less, Wins”

Emotions can often be helpful.

For example, you should feel love toward the person you’re about to marry before you go through with it. Duh!

Or you should feel sad when your parents are getting old and sick. That sadness can help you appreciate them better and prioritize quality time going forward.

But in the negotiation arena, emotions will kill you before you know it. It’ll be like a sniper with his finger on the trigger and a red dot on your chest—it’s already too late for you.

Why do emotions kill negotiation ability? It’s mainly because feelings cloud judgement.

Your brain focuses on how it’s feeling instead of reason, logic, and answering does the math work for you to go forward. Insecurities also come into play, which can make you do the opposite of what you intended.

Clouded judgement leads to rash decisions and often buyer’s remorse.

It also costs you real dollars.

This study found anxious negotiators were more likely to take deals 12% less financially attractive than their counterparts. If it’s a 12% loss off a $500,000 mortgage, we’re talking about $60,000. That’s a big deal!

But consider someone’s approach who couldn’t care less about winning the deal: They’re relaxed. They speak clearly and listen carefully. And they’re focused on the specific details of what they’re getting and giving.

Not to mention they hold the leverage because they don’t need the deal. If it helps them they’ll take it, but by no means are they getting on their hands and knees to beg for it like a dog.

It’s not hard to figure out that someone who is relaxed and focused performs better than someone who is scatterbrained and under pressure.

This explains precisely why caring less helps you win.

Plus, when you care less, you can’t lose. You either win the deal on your terms or you leave it on the table as a draw.

Caring less is precisely how you ensure you never make a bad deal that takes the shirt off your back. Those deals are the unrecoverable ones that will leave you unable to sleep at night.

Let’s check out how caring less comes to play out in day-to-day scenarios.

Real Life Negotiations

Negotiation happens everywhere, all the time.

You probably just miss it or don’t label them as deal-making.

To open your eyes and get a grip on how this goes down, read these four examples about how negotiating the right way changes the entire landscape.

1. Grad school admissions: Whether a grad school accepts you and how much money they give you comes down to 100% negotiation.

The university is negotiating to get the best students in their class (and fill the seats to make money). You’re negotiating to get into the school and make the best choice for yourself.

If you’re a top candidate with acceptances to all the elite schools, the game is on to negotiate the best offer package. You’ll want to negotiate for a fat scholarship, maybe a stipend, and see if you can get anything else (like a teaching assistant job) to entice you to come.

If you have average grades and admissions test scores, you’re playing a game of negotiating to get into better schools with no scholarship or less reputable ones with scholarship money. Use the acceptances into the better schools as leverage to get more money.

2. Buying a car: This is the classic negotiation scenario used from personal finance bloggers to authors. (Maybe because just about everyone buys a car and has room to negotiate.)

If you’re like most people, you’ll arrive at the lot and make a beeline to the car you want. Then tell the salesman, “I’ve always wanted this car. It’s perfect. How much is it?”

Their signals are telling them you’re an easy sale and to negotiate little. You cost yourself potentially thousands of dollars.

But say you come back another day after reading this article and bring a more tactical approach. Instead of making a straight shot to one car, you tell the salesman, “I don’t have any particular car in mind. I’m not sure I really need a car to be honest. Just had some free time and wanted to look around.”

You ask about a few car prices then “randomly” stumble on the one you actually want to ask the price, without being too excited (care less).

This is how the playing field gets tilted. The salesman is now the desperate one trying to both find you the right car and sell it to you.

And when you negotiate, you have to make an offer and be prepared to walk away with nothing (that’s a draw not a loss). There are plenty of stories where someone walks and the dealer calls them back the next day to drop the price to get the deal done.

This scenario works when buying a house, motorcycle, boat, and all other related-purchases.

3. Job offer and salary package: I feel strongly about this one. You have to negotiate your salary if you like yourself!

There’s free money on the other side if you do this well. That’s why I dedicated an entire section of my money book to salary negotiation, and have written about this multiple times on TYS. (See here and here.)

Let’s break it down (assuming you’ve been offered the job): The company is negotiating to get you on their team at a fair (or cheap) price, and you’re negotiating to get the job at a higher price.

Communicating you have other employment options and while you’d love to work here you know you may have to decline the deal, can often make the employer want you more. Odds are they fork over the extra money and hope you pan off as a long-term investment.

But if you don’t know how to negotiate and say, “I accept this,” the second after they tell you the salary offer, there’s no extra money for you. The reason you have less money is all your fault.

4. Business projects: Business comes down to negotiation across the board. If you’re an employee, freelancer, or small business owner, you need to know how to persuade the other side to get the deal and price you want.

Bad business negotiation means being in a place of desperation where you take contracts even if it’s 10%, 25%, or 50% your normal rate. The desperation will come through in your communication and be the reason you get taken advantage of in broad daylight.

A smart employee should recognize your company’s price is your price, and not care if you lose the deal because the person on the other side only values cheap labor, and not high quality work.

A freelancer should know the value in their work, price it accordingly, and have a take it or leave it mentality with clients. There’s always more work to be won instead of compromising your skill for cheap labor.

A business owner should double their rates to bring in more revenue (assuming they have a solid product, sales, and marketing), while not caring if they lose their smaller clients. That’s the quickest way to bring in more money, and it sure beats getting nickel and dimed on project rates.

Final Words

Everything is negotiable.

Knowing that, it’s your job to care less by having more options on the other side in case you don’t get what you want.

How do you get more options? The single best way is to work hard and provide value so you become financially well off.

Poor people are often in desperate, emergency-like situations where they can’t afford to shop around for a smart transaction. Where the rich have more time and opportunities to ensure they win the negotiation.

With wealth also comes the freedom to need less and become beholden to no one. This self-reliance empowers you at the negotiation table to only make deals if the numbers make sense to you.

You’re in a position of power when you’re finances are taken care of regardless what happens in these daily negotiations.

As you keep living, keep your eye out for negotiations big and small. Seeing them go down will give you mental reps and prepare you for your day-to-day negotiations.

Caring less about what you want, ironically gives you a better chance of getting it.

Related: Everything Is Negotiable

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