Breathe Their Air

I was talking with a friend over the weekend—a unique opportunity in her son’s life led us to discuss one of the best ways for anyone to learn the secrets of success. He was able to spend time with the head of her company. To set the stage and give you an idea of the power of this opportunity, her son is in his early twenties, and this company is a very successful company. My friend and I immediately agreed on his best course of action: “Breathe his air. Just shut up and listen.”

BreatheInBreatheOutPayAttentionHaving access to a mentor, who has already walked the path that you seek, is one of best ways to increase your share of the intangibles of attainment. They can have significant impact on the trajectory of your life—that’s why people jump at the chance to share a meal with big deals when those kind of experiences come up at charity auctions. A mentorship can take the form of a direct master and apprentice relationship. But it can also be incredibly beneficial just to sit and observe someone in action. Rubbing elbows with someone who has achieved success can accomplish a few things for you:

  1. Spending time with people who seem larger than life will instantly make them appear right-sized. When I say “right-sized,” I mean that you’ll perceive them as they actually are, rather than as untouchable chimeras. I was a fan of a pro bodybuilder for YEARS before I was actually able to meet him when I was thirteen, at which point I was already six feet tall. So not only did I see that I was literally three or four inches taller than him, I also saw that the earth did not crack beneath his feet and he did not cast a shadow on the entire building like the Titan I had always imagined him to be. Once he was right-sized, my role model became just a person, someone whose accomplishments I could achieve, too. Richest, strongest, fastest, smartest, blah blah blah—it’s still just a person. The priest at the head of the pew is just a person. It’s a person leading your country. It’s a person giving you a ticket. It’s a person diagnosing your illness. No matter how powerful they may seem, everyone in the whole world is essentially the same. A shitload of problems arise when we fail to perceive people, including ourselves, as right-sized. Spending a little time with someone who is very successful will allow you to frame him or her within reality. Once you can see the reality, without the illusion of awe, you free yourself to observe behavior that may be useful to your own life.
  2. Seeing success in action pulls the curtain away from the wizard. This point is similar to my previous point. The important thing for you to know here is that people don’t become successful through magic or superpowers but through habit, the repetition of “I can” rather than “I will,” the pursuit of action rather than procrastination, and the desire for fulfillment rather than mere fantasy. Spending time with someone who is content in success will show you that the momentum built up over years and years of taking action every day is all that separates you from your dreams. While the Have-Nots were busy occupying Wall Street, the Haves were continuing the work of chasing their goals. While the Have-Nots spend time asking for handouts and wondering why success doesn’t tip itself into their laps, the Haves pursue success persistently. Once success appears achievable and believable, there is nothing to stop you but going through the process yourself.
  3. Spending your time breathing the air of the successful is powerful because success is contagious. Successful people want others to succeed. The best thing about the good people who have achieved success is that they want it for everyone. They know what they had to do to get themselves where they are, and they want other people to join them at the table. After all, what’s better than having a yacht with a bunch of jet skis? Having a yacht with a bunch of jet skis and a bunch of friends that also have cool toys. It’s difficult to be in the presence of someone who’s happily successful and not want it for yourself—it’s obviously just so damned fun! But the more time you spend with these folks, the more attainable their lifestyle seems. In fact, it seems like it would be difficult not to succeed. Yeah, that’s right—almost difficult to fail! There is no shortage of amazing people who have achieved success. But the more successful people you meet (which is inevitable as you achieve your own success), the more you’ll realize that there are an awful lot of successful people who are not amazing. Successful doesn’t mean impressive or even capable. Persistence will lead a douche bag to success just as consistently as anyone else who’s willing to put in the work.
  4. You can learn from the priorities that accompany success. The fun and toys are a nice bonus, but they’re not the focus. There’s a real difference between people who are successful and who use that success to help other people, and people who are successful but who keep their success for the benefit of no one but themselves—one is worth emulating, and one is not. Success allows people the freedom to be with those they care about and to give back to the community that has supported them. This freedom can be a major motivator. Whether their philanthropy manifests itself through their profession or through some sort of outreach or charitable giving, their passion makes a difference.
  5. The trickiest part of spending time with a high achiever is asking the right questions the right way. However, it can also be the most beneficial part. Your goal is to empower yourself, not ingratiate yourself. Do not hit your mentor up for start-up funds. Instead, ask questions that directly address behaviors that you’ve observed, like, “I’m curious why you . . .” or “I noticed you doing something different than other people do. Why is that?” Concentrate the questions on his or her habits and outcomes. Unless you’ve already put in the time to build rapport, then no one wants to hear your idea, receive your pitch, listen to your demo, none of it. Just shut up and learn. My mom always told me that I have two eyes and two ears but only one mouth, so I should listen and learn at least twice as much as I speak. My mom’s a pretty wise woman, and this is some of the best advice that I’ve ever received.

If you know ahead of time that you are going to get time with a mentor or someone that you emulate, make sure that you come prepared. If they have written books, read them. If they champion a cause, become familiar with it. Get to know who they are. But try to be as non-superficial as possible—remember that they deal with posers’ shit every day. Your genuine interest in them can help you to stand out in a more positive way than just being the worst jackass in a long line of jackasses.

A mentor can’t do the work for you. Your own persistence will always be the key to your future, and your passion will keep you on track. But a mentor can show you the doors that will allow you to move outside of your isolated niche. Never underestimate the priceless power of just spending time with someone who you want to emulate.

Leave any comment, question, or suggestion here on the blog or email me at if you want to continue this discussion or pursue my online coaching. I would love to hear from you.

“The rain falls on the pope and the prostitute alike.”—unknown

5 thoughts on “Breathe Their Air

  1. irrationalliving July 2, 2015 / 9:54 pm

    I love this post. It is so true. Best advice here is “shut up and listen.” Haha people can teach you everything you need to know – just find the right people and learn to listen to what they have to say. Also, #1 is so important. “You earn within 10% of what the people you spend the most time with earn.”

    • jbrandonhall July 3, 2015 / 12:19 am

      Very true. People who have done prison time tend to associate with people that have as well. Too many people mistake a good friend for someone who accepts you as you are. The best friends to have in life are those that inspire you to be better, that assist you in achievement, and always have high expectations of you. That is a friend.

      • irrationalliving July 3, 2015 / 12:20 pm

        Yes, I couldn’t agree more!

      • jbrandonhall July 15, 2015 / 6:32 pm

        I’ve been reading your stuff and I’m very impressed. I can not reply to your posts from my work computer but I will definitely be interacting after work. Thank you for reading mine.

      • irrationalliving July 16, 2015 / 11:11 am

        Hey, thanks very much. I really appreciate it 🙂

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