September 16, 2020

What I learned about resiliency from Neil Pasricha

Neil Pasricha is someone that I have admired for a long time. He wrote a blog called 1000 awesome things that blew up, and led to book deals, speaking, and more. He has a podcast called Three Books, which I am a big fan of (I am even part of his super secret analog club – you will have to listen to the podcast to learn more about how to join the club).

When he wrote You are awesome, he sent out advanced reader copies to his analog club and I was surprised to receive it in the mail because I didn’t expect to get a book being part of his club. The book was devoured in a matter of hours and I remember reading through and being compelled to send Neil some comments about how much I enjoyed the book and how it was one of his best books yet.

The book, if you haven’t read it, is Neil’s nine secrets to building more resiliency. If you liked his previous book The Happiness Equation, it is written in a similar manner: short chapters, full of anecdotes, research studies, quotes and stories that provide short, actionable takeaways that anyone can use in their lives to lead more intentional lives. So without further ado, here are some of my favourite takeaways from his book You are awesome.

Adding a magic word to your vocabulary

You likely already know this word. Maybe you even use it from time to time. That magic word? Yet.

For example: I am not an entrepreneur…yet. Or I am not CEO…yet. Yet gives you the possibility that it might happen in the future. It’s something that you may (or may not) be working towards. But it isn’t so final that it never leaves that option open. And that’s one of the interesting secrets of resiliency that Neil shares: keep your options open.

The most ambitious people are the people that are hardest on themselves

Neil shares his time at P&G when he first graduated. It was a sweet job, had lots of perks, but he felt he was working many weekends and evenings just to keep up with everyone else at the company. As his manager put him on a performance improvement plan (i.e., a way to document evidence so that the company could justifiably let him go later), he felt like he was a failure. Why was this happening to him? Why couldn’t he just ‘get’ it?

It turns out that a lot of this was really because of his own ambitious nature. Thinking about my life, I have been there too. When I first started out in management consulting, I was doing horribly. I was a smart guy, graduated with honours in university, and I did not understand why I was not getting it. It took me a long time before things clicked, but up till that point, I was beating myself up verbally when I should have realized that that was not the right answer.

Everything is a step towards the future you want, you just can’t see it yet

What I like about this quote is that things that you think were massive mistakes or epic failures, are just steps in the journey towards the future you want. Some day, in the future, you will look back at what you thought was the end of your life, and realize that without that turning point, you would not be where you are today.

The story you tell yourself is important

Imagine that you are parked outside a bakery. You are running inside to pick up some things that you pre-ordered. You run inside, pick it up, but when you come back out, you notice a parking ticket on your car. In that moment, what do you say to yourself?

Is it that you made a mistake not paying for parking? Is it that you hate the city for being so picky about parking?

That story you tell yourself is incredibly important because it influences your future behavior and how you feel about it. For example, a better story you could tell yourself here was that it is just a ticket and a lot worse could have happened. With the parking guy around, at least it wasn’t towed. Nor was it broken into and anything stolen.

How do you get paid to do what you love? Do it for free for ten years

Before Neil was offered all of these book deals and speaking gigs, he was writing his blog, 1000 awesome things. He had started a website (actually, multiple websites) before that weren’t successful. He was writing in school. He was putting in the time and effort to get better and better at writing, before he ever made a living out of it.

Many people ask him how they can get the same sweet opportunities that Neil has. How they can get book deals. How they can get paid to speak. Neil’s advice to them? Do it for free for ten years.

This means a few things. One is to have a stable income so that you can afford to do something for free for ten years. Two is to be so passionate about it that you live and breathe it and never get sick of it for ten years. Finally, it’s about getting better and better every day, every month, every year so that when the time comes, you are at the top of your game.

Setting a failure budget

How can you be better at running experiments in your life? Set a failure budget. Just like how you might set a budget on a project so that you can monitor the costs and understand what the ROI might be, set up a failure budget. Use an amount that you are okay with depending on how much you are okay with losing. Don’t think of any ROI on the failure budget. Then, use that failure budget to run experiments. For Neil, he has a four figure failure budget for his podcast. He uses the budget to fly around to interview his guests, purchase podcast equipment, to hire assistants to help him, etc.

What do you want to experiment with? And how much can you set aside without expecting any returns?

Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond

Are you setting yourself up for success by looking at the environment you are in? If you join a top company where everybody around you is a high achiever, working evenings and weekends, it’s going to be difficult to differentiate yourself. And even if you could, you might hate yourself working even harder than they are. So what do you do instead?

Neil received some incredible advice while at Harvard. He was told to find companies that were struggling and to offer his services to those companies. Sure, he had massive student debt, but working at these smaller companies (rather than big banks or firms) would help make him a big fish in a small pond. People wouldn’t have his perspective or experience. He would be able to offer different perspectives on problems they had. And he would quickly be given more responsibility to do different things as a result.

If you’re not happy with where you work, think about your surrounding environment. Are you a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

Create untouchable days

I love the idea of creating a day where you focus only on one thing. One of the biggest things that kills productivity is distraction, whether working from the office, working from home, or even working by yourself. There are distractions from other people, cell phones, notifications, social media, Youtube cat clips, and all of these things are eating into your attention and energy.

So, create days where you are untouchable. Leave your smart phone at home. Go to a cafe, but don’t connect to the internet. Block out the things around you. And then focus on the one or two things you need to get done.


How are you building a resilient life? What habits are you incorporating into your life? When you suffer a setback (and don’t say that you never fail), what do you do to pick yourself up? What do you say to yourself?

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