The Secret to Limitless Success

In work, in love and in life.

I remember the first time I bought a car. I don’t mean like an $800 clunker — although, shoutout to my 1985 BMW 745i, that beautiful beast with heated seats, a moonroof and nonresponsive speedometer — I mean a real car. With a car payment. With that new car smell and a glimmering coat of paint. It was 2010, and I’d saved up enough pennies to plunk down on something that would make it through the next decade.

I knew exactly what car I set my eyes on: a fresh-off-the-line Hyundai Sonata. I visited half the dealerships in the Buffalo-Niagara metro area to compare prices. I’d get shown around by a bunch of empty suckers in suits, or bland blondes in blazers. They’d talk about their low-price guarantees and easy financing options. I take my time when I part with my hard-earned cash. I remained skeptical. Am I sure I want this car?

My friend Pete told me to go say hi to his friend Shannon at a dealership a bit farther off the beaten path. Told me to talk to her. She got him into his new whip. I’d walk off the lot with a car, no prob.

Shannon was different. She was damn cool. Cracked effortless jokes during the test-drive. Talked about her kids and her house, and asked me if I wanted to listen to The National. Asked me what bars and beers I liked, and what concerts I wanted to see that summer. Smiled and strutted as she walked. Made my friends along for the ride laugh. Told me financing wasn’t just easy, she’d even make the paperwork process fun.

Less than an hour later, I’d signed my name on the dotted line. Might’ve even paid a little more than I would’ve getting swindled by some suit. But bet your ass I got that damned car. She got her commission check. I sped around town, pleased as punch. 170,000 miles later, I still have that car — and that experience taught me a lesson about success I wasn’t yet ready to learn.

The Worst Advice I’ve Ever Received

We model a lot of behavior after our parents. They teach us life lessons — whether they’re trying to, or not. I learned a lot from mine. By the time I hit my teens, I tried to tune them out.

Now, you might be thinking: well, a lot of kids tune their parents out when they turn teenaged … That’s good ol’ fashioned rebellion. Of course it is. Our parents aren’t cool when we’re younger. My mom was listening to the Lion King soundtrack on her way to work. My dad was a mechanical engineer. I wanted to play loud electric guitar and trade barbs with Dan Patrick on Sportscenter.

This was different, though. My parents told me to do lots of things with my life and, when I could, I’d do the exact opposite. Why? Because my parents were miserable. My dad would come home each night to the dulcet tones of my mom berating him. They’d slam doors and stomp down into the basement to shout at each other while their kids were sent to sleep. She loathed his laissez-faire presence at home. Meanwhile, he’d sulk about his own lot in life. For five years, they fought each night, before splitting during my junior year. I couldn’t help but listen.

I kept listening, despite desperately wanting not to. I was told, constantly, what to do, where to be, how to dress, what to buy, where to live, where to go to college, what jobs to take, who I could be with (or not). And, try as I might to wrangle out of that advice — and, lord, did I ever try — if I wasn’t given another option, or I felt my decision would upset them, I caved.

I spent a lot of my teens and early 20s actively making decision after decision that felt compulsory. No matter how mad I made them. No matter how thick the wedge between us. Deep down, I wished I’d rebelled harder. The worst advice I ever received, I received from my parents: They told me what to do, yet they weren’t the folks I wished I’d listened to. Once I developed the guts to do the opposite — which took time and courage and therapy — I found my wings to fly. The past decade’s been remarkable.

The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

On Medium, I write under my own name. Yet, I often write for (or as) other people. People need words, and — as you may have guessed — I have more than a few of them. One of my clients is an author, lobbyist, motivational speaker and activist.

She’s pretty in-demand, wearing out her Delta SkyMiles card jetting to the Beltway and back, and various City Halls around the country. She’s got a smart and successful husband, cracks corny jokes, holds her liquor well, and does unsolicited favors for people just because she can. In short: she’s a dynamo.

One day, we were chit-chatting, and I asked her how to up my game, and leap to newfound heights in my new line of work, which ain’t all that dissimilar from hers.

She talked about her media reps and brand consultants and web designers, and her literary agent and how it takes a team to make the dream possible and all that, and to assemble my village, too. Yet, more powerfully, she said something that struck a deeper chord. She said, “the most important thing I can tell you is — whether you’re selling advice or a product — people won’t buy from you, unless they also want be like you.”

I was taken aback. She continued: “We buy from people we want to be, or people we want to hang out with, or people we don’t think we’re capable of becoming but wished we could. Work on being that person, first.”

Be Like Mike

Phil Knight knew what he was doing when he enlisted the help of Michael Jordan to sell his fledgling line of Nike sneakers. Michael Jordan was fresh off winning an Olympic Gold Medal in 1984. And, at 21, he signed a $500,000 deal to wear exclusively Nike’s in an NBA that, at the time, was mostly Adidas and Converse. It was the first deal of its kind — and, still, the biggest.

There was nobody like Michael Jordan in the NBA. Six NBA titles. Second all-time in points. The tongue-wag. The slam dunks. The shot. The comeback. The 72 wins. The style. The rugged competitiveness and smooth press conference demeanor. There’s a reason why, in 2020, some two-plus decades since his run with the Bulls ended, Jordan’s 10-part docuseries, The Last Dance, smashed ratings records on ESPN. MJ transcends basketball. He’s living, breathing American mythology.

At the peak of Jordan’s powers — around the time he and his Dream Team gallivanted around Barcelona — Gatorade created the iconic “Be Like Mike” campaign. It vaulted Gatorade from little-known scientifically-engineered hydration titration into a ubiquitous household brand, and his preferred flavor — Citrus Cooler — rose above Fruit Punch, Orange and Lemon Lime to become their №1-selling formulation … and my personal favorite. (The sun has largely set on Citrus Cooler, right around the time Jordan hung up his Jordans. No coincidence.)

We don’t buy from, or even trust, people we don’t want to emulate or cozy up to in some way. If persuasion amounted to just presenting the most credible viewpoints based on who held the most accurate data, then it wouldn’t matter where we get our news, what logo adorns our shoes, or who sells us the Sonata. If we have no desire to be them, we’ll have even less desire to buy what they’re selling us.

You know who’s not getting asked about their skin-care routines? People with scatter-shot skin. You know who’s not selling us whitening strips? People with yellow teeth. We take our life advice from Lizzo. We buy our beauty products from Rihanna. We hustle like Gary Vee and hack like Tim Ferriss. We Bend It Like Beckham, and Dare Greatly like Brene. We ask AOC where she got her lipstick and go to Santorini to follow in the footsteps of all the effortlessly gorgeous couples who flaunted their love there before us.

The secret to limitless success is becoming the person other people wish they could be. If that sounds circular, then clearly you’ve never heard the slightly-less-accurate axioms, “image is everything,” or “fake it till you make it.”

That’s not, by the way, to imply that you should be inauthentic or disingenuous — which is why I told you those were slightly-less-accurate axioms — instead, get healthy, cultivate grace, radiate warmth, stand for virtuous values and own your power. Learn, explore and grow. Accentuate the best parts of yourselves and keep working on them, until you become someone people will buy from.

And I don’t just mean that monetarily. I mean to get people to even listen to you. To get people to love you. To get people to ask you to come aboard their staff, to sit at their dinner table, to wear their sneakers. It’s not about manipulating your image; but about controlling and improving your character. Do that, and it doesn’t matter what you’re selling. People will buy it, because — whether they know it or not — they’re trying to take a piece of you with them.

One More, For The Road

I have a cousin who’s a fair bit older than me. He graduated high school when I was born. He lives in a nice home that’s both tastefully decorated, and equipped with nonsensical things like multiple kegerators and a full-size barroom shuffleboard. He’s married to a smart, fantastic empathetic and ageless woman. They’ve raised a strong, awesome daughter together. He started his own company, brews his own beer, smokes meat, cycles competitively and is both a father-like figure and the life of the party, sometimes at the same time. I use his life as a bit of a measuring stick.

One morning, he asked me if I planned on getting married, and if my parents’ marriage colored how I look at love. I told him, “yes, and also yes.” Indeed, I never wanted to end up like my parents, and so I soured a bit on the idea. But I told him, “watching you two, though, convinces me that love and marriage are possible and worth shooting for.” It was his marriage that sold, and still sells, me on the idea of it — not my parents’.

He owns a silver 1984 Porsche 944, and, that afternoon, he took it out of the garage for a spin. I sat passenger. Then, he pulled over, got out, and told me, “okay. Your turn.” I, having never drove stick, rounded the corners at 20mph before stalling out. I felt alive, sexy and one with the road. I knew right then and there I wanted one. There might be objectively better cars, but you can keep your Aston Martin and your Bentley. I’ll take the 944, please and thank you. And, when I’m all done with this Sonata, I’ll look into making a purchase. Maybe Shannon’s got one for sale.

Written by

Essayist and storyteller on life, liberty and the battle for happiness. Several million served. Words at Human Parts, Forge and PS I Love You. IG: heygorman

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