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The One Thing You Must Do To Succeed In College (And Life)

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Evan Pham took the reigns in this post to tell the Take Your Success community about his most important college lesson. 

The room was dark. I sat at my kitchen table staring at cold leftovers. The pressure was too much. I broke down and cried.

“What the hell am I doing with my life?”

My parents worked hard to get me to this point. And here I was burning their dollars.

I came here wanting to succeed, maybe get some awards like my high school days. Instead, I was failing classes. That meant more (thousands of) dollars burned. I had enough units to get a major in beer, minor in blacking out. I was on my way to becoming the most unemployable kid in town.

It’s never a good idea to be alone with your negative thoughts, but I had no one to turn to for help. When I asked for a helping hand, my friends’ best advice were…

“Quit bitching.” “Have another drink.” “Chill out, man.”

Great advice, man. Not what I needed. And so, my downward spiral continued.

Who am I? Who have I become? Can anyone help? These questions ran through my head on my way down.

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.”― William Gibson

I remember that kid. He was sharp. That’s what happens when you study seven days a week. It was all they did, him and his high school friends that is.

They were geeky, but driven. They couldn’t carry a conversation with the ladies, but for everyone else their GPA and college acceptance letters did all the talking, which spoke volumes.

On average, most friendships last only six years. Come end of high school, they separated and lost touch. That’s when he began losing his habits, too. That kid was me.

As a blank slate stepping onto college campus, I had child-like naiveté. Ambitious goals of conquering the classrooms were still top of mind at this time, but right below them was my curiosity for the social side of college.

That curiosity led me to stumble upon several new groups of students. They had something I desired—a life.

They introduced me to a social life I never had. House parties, liquor, fake IDs, nights filled with mistakes, and mornings occupied recovery became the norm.

My high school success ratio reversed. I played seven days a week and studied zero.

When everyone had the same cadence and (it seemed they were) scraping by just fine, I didn’t question the lifestyle. Everything happened fast. I changed fast. I forgot who I was.

It didn’t matter at the time. I was lost in Wonderland and wasn’t looking to be found.

And goals? They fell off my radar completely. No one in my circle of friends talked about them, so why should I?

Eventually, reality caught up. After accumulating major debt, dropping out of many classes, and decreasing my life span through reckless activities by 10 years, reality hit me hard. My face ended up on a pile of cold leftovers.

Who knew it would taste this bad. Had I known, I would have ordered something else.

“Show me your friends and I will show you your future.”- Unknown

Those annoying kids with their flyers flagged me down after my late afternoon class. They invited me to an event hosted by a professional organization, which seemed like a waste of time to me and my negative state of mind. I was hesitant, but reluctant.

Free food will get a college guy to go anywhere, especially for a broke guy like me.

Upon arrival, I judged them immediately. “What a bunch of losers.” This wasn’t my natural habitat. I made my way for the exit, but my plan was foiled.

Someone approached me. However, I wasn’t too bothered. After all, a cute girl will get a college guy to do anything, especially for suckers like me.

Small talk ensued, and then I met her friends. And another, plus a few more after. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of the biggest crowd at the event.

Everyone was sincere. Not only that, they spoke with passion, drive, and clarity. I had forgotten how to talk like that. Camaraderie radiated from them, which was apparent to an outsider like myself through their casual conversation laced with adventurous stories.

I wished I had those stories. Maybe what I really wanted was someone to help and listen to my troubles—school, and how to not get kicked out. Maybe I could.

“Was this life’s answer to my question?” I didn’t let the opportunity slip me. No more face plants in food ever again.

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”― Nora Roberts

I scheduled meetings with everyone I met that evening. They were upper classmates, so they’ve been in my shoes.  Been there and done that. I had questions. They had answers.

My coffee and eating out budget tripled over the following weeks. It was a small price to pay for knowledge. I stopped eating alone because there was always an opportunity to learn from someone. When they spoke, I listened.

“What advice would you give to your younger self to make the most of your college education?” “How do you see biotech affecting the future of medicine?”

“What’s your most effective study strategy to minimize study time and maximize results?”

“How do you build effective relationships with TA and Professors? Who is more critical in determining the outcome of your classes?”

We talked over drinks too, only this time we weren’t jeering each other on to consume massive volumes of alcohol. Nor were we gossiping on other people, which was my usual conversational focal points. With my new circle of friends, I talked about ideas.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

My life’s trajectory took a radical upswing since that one night. The food didn’t do it. The girl didn’t do it (though we still talk). The newfound connections did it.

When I began to be deliberate with who I spent my time with, my life changed for the better. If there was one thing I would advise anyone, including my younger self, friends, and family, then it would be to surround yourself with excellence. Here’s a few reasons why my life changed:

I studied more.

My old group of friends rarely studied. They would do the bare minimum just to get by. In turn, I never studied.

Our friends and the people we spend time with significantly influence what we perceive to be normal. In this case, the norm was to not study and play all the time.

When I began investing my time with my new group of friends, I realized that they studied excessively. Their habits redefined the benchmarks in my life.

The norm of this group was to excel in school and help each other do the same. With everyone moving in the same direction with momentum, I couldn’t help but follow along for the ride.

I became happier.

Prior to meeting my new social network, I was spiraling downward. Complaining is draining, and that’s all my old friends would do. I would feel drained rather than uplifted when in their presence.

When I became surrounded by my much happier friends, my outlook on life changed. I saw opportunities rather than challenges. I focused more on bringing people up rather than pushing them down. My character improved, and it became extremely difficult to defect from that upward trend.

Not only did my internal world change, but the external as well. The good times became higher, and the lows became much easier to handle. Having the outlet to share with friends the terrible professors, difficult exams, and crazy case study interviews made the world just a bit brighter.

School itself never became easier, but when I gained committed friends alongside me, the journey became significantly better. I was actually having fun again.

I became more purpose driven.

Money, women, and owning a nice car were top-of-mind desires for my old friends and me. Community service and philanthropy were laughed at rather than embraced. During this time, what drove me to win was selfish, personal success. Any job with a fancy title and a salary with several commas would suffice.

The new friends were focused on significance–helping the community, adding value to each other, and making a difference.

It was a foreign idea to me because I’ve been used to thinking only about myself. Over time, I bought into it this philosophy that emphasized significance over success. It became a more effective source of energy for me.

School, like anything worthwhile in life, is very difficult. It’s so difficult that to the rational and sane person, she may say that it’s too difficult and just quit.

Most people are very logical, so after analyzing the cost and benefits, they will conclude that working hard in school is simply not worthwhile.

That’s why passion and intrinsic motivation is necessary to succeed. Passion isn’t logical. When you’re extremely passionate about a cause, you’re going figure out how to achieve it. You’ll be more creative, be more productive, and have more drive to outlast the competition.

It was easy for me. All I had to do was spend time with my new friends and I became inspired to serve others, which in turn served my life.

I succeeded in school and in life.

By surrounding myself with excellence–individuals who were more studious, happy, and purpose driven–success in school and post-grade became inevitable.

Aside from having all the personal developmental benefits from surrounding myself with excellence I mentioned above, I had many academic, career, and life benefits as well.

Following my mid-college crises, I rebounded my grades to become a competitive candidate for several job opportunities. Every job offer I’ve received from then on until this day was due to my high quality, carefully curated network and inner circle.

When I left the traditional business career track, I went on to co-found three companies from scratch, taking them from $0 to multi-million dollar companies.

Every one of my company’s success was made possible because of my connections, which brought me partnerships, advisors, mentors, or investors.

I am fortunate to be in a position in my life now where I am confident that my next job is only a phone call away.

“Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.”― Franz Schubert

Success is never accidental, it is always intentional. My life changed when I became intentional with the relationships I kept close to me.

When anyone asks me, “What’s the single most important thing I should do to be successful?,” I would tell them to do this one thing…

Surround Yourself With Excellence.

When you do this, your performance will improve, your goals will heighten, your tolerance for risk will be higher, your way of thinking will change.

Regardless of where you’re in your life now, surround yourself with excellence immediately. You may not have all the answers you need right now (I don’t either) and that’s fine. I guarantee you when you position yourself in the center of excellent individuals, the right answers, ideas, and people will come to you.

Decide what kind of person you want to become, what your goals are, and where you want to go. Then, choose who you want to surround yourself with.

Take your success into your own hands by doing this one thing.

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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.

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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.

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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 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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