The Best Advice of the Year

It was my golden age of television. When I was thirteen years old, I’d race home from my Sunday morning hockey game, rewind the tape in the VCR, lie on the family room floor out at the old farmhouse, and watch a recording of the latest episode of Saturday Night Live.

Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon. Colon Blow. Happy Fun Ball (still legal in 16 states!). Church Lady. Deep thoughts by Jack Handey. Those names and skits still bring a smile to my face almost 25 years later.

Even Stuart Smalley. Do you remember that character played by Al Franken? Smalley was a parody of the self-help and affirmation world, with a catch-phrase he’d repeat to himself in a mirror, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!”

It wasn’t a character that would elicit a great belly laugh, but a smile and a chuckle all the same.

Stuart Smalley’s advice, however, won’t get you very far in the real world.

Affirmations might give you the warm-and-fuzzies, but they won’t get the job done. Personal validation might work fine when talking to the man in the mirror, but not when talking to the man – or woman – in charge of your paycheck.

What matters to your boss and your clients are results. And today I’ll show you how to do just that.

To achieve results, you need to add value. To add value, you must develop valuable skills. That’s where many workers, and business owners, are failing.

Young people today are being churned out of the higher education system woefully unprepared for the Value Economy. They have wonderful knowledge of the Liberal Arts, but frankly, that and the ability to make a decent cup of coffee will just get you a job at Starbucks.

You need to, as the title of the best selling book says, Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, written by Cal Newport.

Newport, a professor at Georgetown, originally set out to answer the question, “Are people successful when they follow their passion?

Surprisingly, the answer is no.

Says Newport, “From what I found, ‘Follow your passion’ is terrible advice.

Instead, Newport found that as people developed valuable skills, they became more passionate about the work.

My advice is to abandon the passion mindset that asks ‘What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?’ says Newport.

He suggests shifting to a mindset of, “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?

Become so good at a valuable skill that the world cannot ignore you.

That is how you get ahead in life.

Scott Adams, the creator of the eponymous Dilbert cartoon, says, “Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket.

He turned his initial success of adding value into something he could become passionate about. He started with a little bet before he took bigger steps.

This is a much better approach than plunking down four years and forty thousand dollars for a degree, whether it is a Liberal Arts or a follow-up MBA program.

One young man at Early To Rise is the perfect example of Cal Newport’s approach to becoming successful.

Gary was on the path to becoming a successful lawyer with a job lined up in New York City. But feeling like there was still something better out there, he attended the annual BlackSmith Liberty and Entrepreneurship Camp in Vilnius, Lithuania. That’s where, each summer, my friend Simon Black brings together entrepreneurs like myself to speak to fifty college-aged, ambitious men and women about alternative career paths.

In the summer of 2011, Matt Smith was one of the speakers, and he revealed Direct Response Marketing as the secret to success.

Gary was enthralled with both the message and the messenger. He knew that he wanted to work for Matt in the field of direct response marketing, for if he did, he was sure to be successful on his own terms.

Gary returned to America, gave up his promising law career, and entered into an intense period of study in the art of copywriting.

He didn’t love copywriting. He wasn’t passionate about it. And frankly, he wasn’t very good at it when he started.


He knew it was a valuable skill. He knew that as he improved in the art of writing sales letters that he would also begin to enjoy it more. And he did.

Today, Gary is passionate about it. But more importantly, he has a valuable skill that has allowed him to work for Early To Rise under Matt Smith’s tutelage. He has achieved one of his early career goals because he has been able to add value to the world.

Gary became so good we couldn’t ignore him. Like Scott Adams, Gary’s passion increased with his potential. As he did the work, improved his skills, and traveled further down the road towards expertise, he came to enjoy the craft more and more.

On the outside, people will look at Gary and mistakenly think, “He pursued his passion.” But the truth is passion hooked up with Gary on the journey to skill development.

That brings us to you and your situation, no matter what age, career level, or place that you hold in life.

Gary’s living proof that you hold the key to your future in your hands. The choices you make, the path you choose to follow, the education you decide to get, and the expertise you decide to acquire, are all up to you.

You do not need to go back to college. You can do this on your own.

David Kekich writes in Credo #93: “The best investment you will ever make is your steady increase of knowledge. Invest in yourself. Thirty minutes of study per day eventually makes you an expert in any subject – but only if you apply that knowledge. Study alone is no substitute for experience.

Go out and create your future. Build your skills. Become an expert. Be relentless on your quest to expertise. Step up. Take action. Do the work. Get better. That is what matters. Make little bets. Turn them into big steps. Go for it.

Don’t rely on affirmations alone to change your world. Don’t think that simply following your passion is the sure path to prosperity.

Learn to add value. Only then will the market deem that you’re good enough, smart enough, and that enough people like you so that you will earn what you deserve.


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  • Daniel Razowsky

    I’m a recent college graduate with a similar situation as Gary.

    It has been about 6 months since I graduated and feel a whole lot better with my direction in life. I was confused with my mindset of happiness vs. money. Somehow, google search led me to Early to Rise. I’ve been following ETR religiously every morning (my main reason to get up early) to start my day off right with motivating articles like these ones.

    The book by Cal Newport has completely changed my view of life by thinking about the ‘craftsman mindset’. I work with one person in an office that does property management for about 100 properties in Chicagoland. For a while I’ve wondered “What will this job do for me?” But after reading this book, by thinking the other way around to “What value can I bring to this job?” has made work a lot more enjoyable.

    I’m currently studying to receive my Real Estate Brokerage License and once I complete that then I’ll move on to other ways I can bring value to my boss.

    Craig, thank you for putting this all together. I’ve worked hard to be a better person and you’ve helped me step towards the right directions. I look forward to our future success!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you Daniel, this is why we do what we do. Tremendous to hear about your attitude!

    • ttcert

      Daniel, that is awesome. Your response is exactly why we do what we do at ETR! Thanks, and let me know how it goes. – Craig

      • Daniel Razowsky


        I’ve recently resigned from my property management job. I couldn’t stand working for a boss and working around co-workers that were a negative environment. Although I have received my real estate brokers license in last July, I’m able to use it in other ways then property management. Currently hanging my license with a residential brokerage company. It feels good to be my own boss and find creative ways (brainstorm 10 ideas daily) to bring income. I have a couple mentors that are willing to work with me to share their experiences and help me do business. Now it’s all up to me to start taking baby steps by setting specific plans, goals and deadlines just like Mark Ford and Kekichs Credos #12 (I believe) have said! I’m excited to see where this next adventure will lead me.

        Btw, the people that are afraid to quit their jobs: I’m young so I have less responsibilities and more risks to take, but I’ll tell you that you darn will find other way to make money by brainstorming a bunch of ways to bring value to people. I’m stuck with rent and car payments in the city of chicago but will do whatever it takes to find creative ways to pay the bills. It forces you to go out and make money or else you’re trouble! I’m only 24 tho so again, I may not be the most credible source but be deciplined, brainstorm, and set deadlines to make things happen!

        Thanks Craig for your huge inspiration. You’ve literally changed my life in good vibes! Cheers.

      • Thanks Daniel, stay strong!


    Great article. I greatly enjoyed it. Special greetings to Robert Ringer. I always enjoy his articles. Merry christmas and a happy new year to the team. Keep up. You people are doing a great job indeed. More grease to your elbows in 20014

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you!