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The Gap Year Curriculum: What Tony Hsieh, The Founder of UGGs, Pro Athletes, And Others Taught Me About Success
September 1, 2014
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It’s September. School just started again, yet I won’t be going back this fall as you all well know (gasp!!!).

Instead, I’m taking a year off from school in order to take control of my own education, and will be documenting all of my experiences on The Gap Year Experiment.

With no curriculum to follow, and a world full of opportunities now available at my fingertips, I had to decide what things were most important to learn. What are the skills, experiences, and habits I could create during my “gap year experiment” that would help me get the most out of the next 365 days of my life?

To answer that, I asked some of my mentors, friends, and role models to give me their 1-3 sentence responses to the following question:

Knowing what you do now, if you could have taught yourself and/or done one thing at 18 years old to create a better foundation for your future success, what would it have been and why?

The responses have been incredible! Business celebrities like Tony Hsieh, the Founder of UGG Australia, and the Founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as a variety of professional athletes, New York Times bestselling authors, professors, entrepreneurs, and creative types, all chimed in with words of wisdom, and their collective insights will become my curriculum over the course of this next year as I take on various experiments designed to instill in me these same lessons I’ve been advised to learn.

These lessons, as I quickly came to realize, were too valuable for me to keep to myself, so without further adieu, here is what I learned.

SUCCESS IN BUSINESS

1) “When I was 18, I was full of dreams, energy and excitement. I couldn’t wait to graduate and start making money. I saw an Opportunity to go into business with my brothers and I seized it! I Worked hard and Never gave up. Years later, I started reading and filling my mind with ideas and Inspiration. It changed my life and my career took off! If you are just starting out don’t wait. Time is your most precious resource. Invest it. Use it well. Start now!” – Peter van Stralen, CEO of Sunshine Brands

2) “Be unapologetically true yourself, both in business and in life, and broadcast who you are to the world. The right people will eventually find you.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

3) If I had been focused on my future, I may never have had this one. If I had been focused on foundations, I may never have built one. If I had been focused on success, I may never have achieved it. You have to do what you love because you love it and not for any other reason. And so I have nothing to teach my eighteen-year old self because it’s my eighteen-year-old self that my present-day self should be learning from.” – Neil Strauss, NYT Bestselling Author

4) “By eighteen, I had worked four summers on the construction crew of my dad’s company, held after school jobs in gas stations. I also cleaned a bakery, and after leaving high school worked on a road-building crew to make the streets for a new subdivision in my home town. Without a doubt it was the diversity of the people that I met during this time that expanded my view towards becoming an entrepreneur, versus following the typical University-to-life career path of my friends. I narrowly avoided joining a bank in a coastal town so I could surf every day, when the local grocery store owner took me aside and said, ‘You have so much you can do with your life, so get out and explore.’ So, looking back I would not wish to have changed anything. Traveling was the most critical step in me seeing opportunity, especially the fact that nobody in America owned sheepskin boots, while the product was everywhere in Australia, which ultimately led to UGGs.” – Brian Smith, Founder of UGG Australia, Author and Speaker

FINDING MENTORS

5) “To create a better foundation for success, I would have welcomed the advice of working with a mentor sooner. I was quite independent early in my career (few female mentors were available), thinking that dependence on others and asking questions were a sign of weakness, as was failure. Instead over time, I learned that I didn’t have to go it alone. The goal of a mentor is to shorten our learning curve. Failure wasn’t an option early on; now it is the only option. Fail Faster, Succeed Sooner, is part of my philosophy. The power of relationships, particularly of a mentor and a mastermind, means that I can ask for the help and expertise of others to move forward more quickly.” – Dr. Cheryl Lentz, The Academic Entrepreneur

6) “The best foundation is built on someone else’s mistakes. Find a mentor about 10-15 years older and grab onto their wisdom. Competition is too stiff to allow for many mistakes of your own!” – Bud Moeller, Former Partner at Accenture and Professional Race Car Driver

7) “Though it can be tough, force yourself to be in situations where you feel like the dumbest person in the room. Constantly surround yourself with people smarter than you, but don’t allow it to intimidate you; instead, use it as an opportunity to learn.” – Nick Arnett, Summit Community Development Manager for the Thiel Foundation

8) “If I could have done one thing at 18 to better my foundation for success, I would have become an apprentice. I would have spent a lot of time reflecting on areas that fired me up, and then I would have found those who were absolutely CRUSHING it in these fields. I would rank them sequentially, and then reach out to them individually describing in detail how I could ADD VALUE to their lives in exchange for learning from them. Would I get a lot of no’s? YES. Would I keep persevering until I found a mentor? YES. What you put out in the universe becomes a magnet…and this magnet would result in a powerful mentor to guide me through my late teens, early 20’s.” – John Lee Dumas, Founder of EntrepreneurOnFire

ON BUILDING SKILLS

9) I would have taught myself more programming languages. At 18, I had dabbled in computer science a little bit and could build a blog, but that was about it. If I could go back and teach myself anything, it’d be more programming languages. There’s something incredibly powerful about being able to sit down at a computer and prototype an idea in a weekend without having to call upon your “techie” friends to help you.” – Stacey Ferreira, CEO of AdMoar, Co-Founder of 2 Billion Under 20

10) “If I could have taught myself one thing, it would have been how to get over my early fear of cold calling and cold approaching individuals I don’t know. So many of The Muse’s biggest successes are due to cold outreach, and I wish I’d forced myself to get comfortable with this a lot sooner!” – Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse

11) “I would have started writing sooner than I did. Oh, sure, I wrote the occasional article. Today I write weekly, if not even more often. I focus on customer service and experience, and as a result have written hundreds of articles, with minimal repetition. My ideas are generated from the books I read (about one every two weeks) and the dozens of articles I read, or at least look at, weekly. This keeps my mind sharp, at the top of my game, and on the cutting edge of new information, and the amount of writing I do now positions me as an expert and thought leader in my area of expertise.” – Shep Hyken, customer service expert and NYT bestselling business author

12) “When I was 18 I wish I would have known and understood the power of email marketing. Yeah, that sounds drab and boring, but the email algorithm doesn’t change. If people opt-in to your email list, they want your content and they’ll get it in their (sacred) inboxes. Social media is great, but when you have zero control over when things change on those platforms, being able to reach followers and Likes can become impossible.” – Jason Surfrapp, Author of Creativity for Sale, Founder of IWearYourShirt.com

13) “Genius Networking and Marketing. Those are the two capabilities that create a foundation of future success better than anything I’ve learned about. Marketing is the way to positively impact millions (even billions) of people, and Genius Networking is the way to get in front of those people.” – Joe Polish, Founder of the Genius Network

14) “I would have studied how to be better at sales because it is one of the most important skills for business and life. I would have also written down short term and long term goals for myself both personal and professional so that I could have had better direction and focus.” – Nick Friedman, President and Co-Founder of College Hunks Hauling Junk

15) “It comes down to the work. If you want to do something and someone is outworking you…if you fail, then it is pretty much your fault…If you’re working harder than everyone else, than your chances of succeeding are so high!” – Com Mirza, Entrepreneur, Venture Capitalist, and Author

ON HABITS

16) “The difference between successful people and everyone else is what they do daily. Developing productive habits and working them every day, over time will always lead to success. At 18, I would have asked myself, ‘What are 3 things you can do daily that will bring you closer to your goals?'” – Kyle Fogg, Professional Basketball Player and Former Guard for the University of Arizona

17) “Well, I am not 18 yet, so I don’t know. So I will go back to 14 year old Jacob. I would tell 14 year old Jacob not to focus on achieving a grade in a class but rather to focus on understanding the concepts behind the grade. It is not the end result, but the process that matters.” – Jacob Barnett, World’s Youngest Astrophysicist

18) “There is a difference between wanting something and it being non-negotiable. When shit hits the fan, you’ll find excuses for the former, but the latter will get done. Choose your non-negotiable consciously, for they will be rooted in pleasure and pain avoidance if you don’t.” – Connor Grooms, Founder of One Month Master

19) “I always had a thirst for knowledge. If I knew at age 18 what I know now, I would have listened more carefully.” – Ron Klein, Inventor of the Magnetic Strip Credit Card Validity Checking System

20) “I would have taken the time to learn how to listen earlier. Learning about non-violent communication and how to take feedback has been integral to both my personal happiness and professional success.” – Dale J. Stephens, Founder of UnCollege

ON HEALTH

21) A commitment to lifelong physical health. It’s something that everybody talks about all the time (not just pro athletes), but so few of us give consistent effort to maintaining it. I remember the moment it hit home for me was when I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama on humanity: he said that what puzzled him most about mankind is that ‘we sacrifice so much of our health in the pursuit of money, only to later spend so much of our money to try and recuperate our health.’ So true.” – Collete Davis, Professional Race Car Driver and Co-Founder of TechDrive

22) “When I was 18, I was a pretty angry kid. If I knew about meditation back then as I do now, I would have been able to train the mind to stay in the present moment and not let the outside environment cause me any difficulty. Meditation has taught me how to bring an intense level of concentration, focus, and passion to my work, while at the same time being able appreciate all the beauty in the world.” – Jeffrey Zlotnik, Founder of The Meditation Initiative

23) “I wish I’d focused more on creating habits and processes that made *the moment* better, rather than working for future outcomes. There were so many times when I punished my body — all-nighters, drugs, sitting and staring at screens all day — in the name of “tomorrow.” If I’d pulled my head up and actually worked in the moment, I would have preserved my body and sanity (and still achieved all those goals). I also would have been more bold. No apologies, no holding back.” – Charlie Hoehn, Keynote Speaker, Author of Play It Away, and Marketing Expert

24) “I wish I would have focused more on developing self-awareness in all areas of my life ranging from the activities that excited me to what worked and what didn’t. One of the things I realized over the years, is that the first step to improvement is awareness, which requires listening! Only then can we find a better path.” – Scott Britton, Founder of Life-Long Learner and The Competitive Edge Podcast

25) “I really believe that knowing one’s self can help you with everything in life, from how to achieve your own personal goals to working and communicating with others. I’ve found that understanding my Enneagram Type and also my Personal Insight Inventory from InColor Insight has helped me develop a foundation for improving my relationships and achieving my goals.” – Hiten Shah, Co-Founder of KISSMetrics

LIFESTYLE DESIGN

26) “What I would tell my younger self is that everything always works out. No matter what decision you make, everything always works out. No matter what direction you take, everything always works out. You may not know it at the time, but each and every time you look back, you will know in your heart that it’s true.” – Kym McNicholas, Emmy Award-Winning TV Personality and Executive Director, Extreme Tech Challenge

27) “I would have taken a one-year deferral on going to Columbia University, and asked my uncles whether I could go live with them and work in one of their new companies in New York or California. I had extended family doing really interesting things in venture capital and artificial intelligence, but I just never thought about capitalizing on those family connections and learning what I could about business and real life. If I’d have done that, I could have entered college with more maturity, ambition, and perspective.” – Dr. Geoffrey Miller, Associate Professor at The University of New Mexico

28) “I would have taken statistics in college, had more sex, and married rich. (In that order.)” – Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org

29) “I would tell myself to embrace learning as the gateway to your possibilities. Mindfully pursue all forms of learning – both formal and informal – as a life-long journey and document your insights along the way. Take time to reflect on your life’s vision and purpose and pivot and reinvent yourself as needed to realize your aspirations.” – Sophie Vlessing, Senior VP of Strategy and Innovation at Kaplan

30) “Base your life on integrity, character and accountability. Your destiny is what YOU make it. Live each day with courage. Take pride in your work. Always finish what you start. Do what has to be done. Be tough when you have to, but be fair. When you make a promise, keep it. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. Learn from your mistakes. When you’re wrong, admit it and move on.” – Frank Shankwitz, Founder of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and RippleEffect.org

RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING

31) “The teaching most beautifully taught to me by my friend and mentor Annie Lalla-Pagan is that falling in love and doing whatever it takes to stay there is the surest path to self actualization/enlightenment. If I were to teach my 18 yr old self anything, it would be specifically to take the path of gratitude and intimacy.” – Anthony David Adams, Co-Founder of PRMatch.com

32) “Much of my success has been the result of surrounding myself with good people–many of whom I met simply by asking if they’d get a cup of coffee with me. I wish I’d started asking at 18 rather than 22!” – Megan Gebhart, Author of 52 Cups of Coffee

33) “As Charlie ‘Tremendous’ Jones has shared…’We are the same today as we will be in five years except for the people we meet and the books we read.’ Surround yourself with winners and you’ll become one too. Place positive and encouraging information in our minds and again, we absorb that wisdom.” – Greg S. Reid, NYT Bestselling Author and World-Renowned Speaker

34) “At 55 years of age, having spent most of my working life in the spotlight, whether in front of a camera, on film sets, or on stage, most people find it hard to believe that I was once very shy. It was hard for me to connect with others and it didn’t really seem to matter at the time. After I started working as a entrepreneur in my late 30’s, I realized just how important the creation of relationships (whether with family, friends or in a working environment) would be. I would let me 18 year old self know just how important healthy, close-knit, and sharing relationships are for your mental and emotional well-being.” – Clarissa Burt, Clarissa Burt International

35) “If I could have taught myself one thing at eighteen years old to create a better foundation for my future success, it would have been to put myself out there and make as many connections to people as possible. The more connections and good impressions made, the more job offers and opportunities you receive. I would have also taught myself not to just make these connections, but to attempt to sustain them as well.” – Mariah Spears, Top 20 Finalist on So You Think You Can Dance Season 10

36) “Personally, I would have loved to learn the art of psychic income (when you do things for other people as a gift with no thought of return) and relationship-building before 18 so I could leverage relationships with mentors who would have changed my life earlier. I would have loved to have read Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich and all of Earl Nightingale’s trainings as well.” – Patrick Carney, The Artiste

38) “When it comes to relationship-building…1) Love yourself. 2) Forgive yourself (and others). 3) Focus on what you want out of your partner, not what you don’t want, and frame it as though you have it NOW. Everything is energy, and you get what you focus on. 4) If you have a relationship that ends or one that you were hopeful about that ended up not lasting, don’t let your disappointment get the best of you. 5) Learn about trust, commitment, and surrender. 6) Give all you have. 7) Receive all that is given. 8) Have lots of great sex! If you don’t yet know how, figure it out!!!” – Ben Rode, Co-Founder of Explosive Sexual Healing

39) “Early in adult life, many of us expect to find “the one” life partner that will instinctively address our desires and comfort our sorrows..Such soul mates are like unicorns, almost real, difficult to encounter, impossible to capture. Sometimes brief moments in a loving relationship can be most impactful among our lifetime of experiences. The quality of a relationship can’t be measured by how long it lasts; relationship quality is measured by loving intensity in melding of souls, if even for a touch, glance, or a moment. That moment can impact our whole lifetime. After 17, I learned a truth: love, life, and relationships are moments.” – Reese Jones, Venture Strategist, Associate Founder at Singularity University

40) “When I was 18, I was a poor kid from Pittsburgh heading to Yale, not feeling I fit in even before I arrived. I was ashamed of my background and felt others wouldn’t accept me for who I was. I would have coached me in the following ways: 1) Take a couple people into your confidence who you feel you can trust and share deeply with and let them ‘have your back.’ 2) Put a relationship action plan together and don’t forget your peers…spend more time earning the respect and building the long term relationships with the exceptional people who will grow up with you to change the world. 3) Learn how to love. You spent your young life looking for sex and trophies who you thought helped you feel good about yourself. Make intimacy a priority and if that means preserving yourself, your time, and your sexuality for those you love and waiting till you figure that out, that’s OK. 4) Spend more time getting to know your dad and being open with him. You are not going to have him much longer.” – Keith Ferrazzi, NYT Bestselling Author of Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back?, and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight

AND MORE…

41) “My only regrets in life, both professionally and personally, is when I was not loyal or truthful to the people who helped me along the way. If I had done what was taught to me as a child throughout my life, things would have gone much easier.” – Bill Allen, Author of My Rad Career and Hollywood Actor

42) “All things considered, I couldn’t ask for a better experience in my 36 years. But we are living in a globalized era, despite the fact that many people never see beyond their corner of the world. At 18 again, I would travel and immerse myself in as many cultures as possible so that I could understand people and economies more fully later in life” – Ted Alling, Partner at Lamp Post Group

43) “I would have asked my 18-year-old self about lessons to teach my 13-year-old self, and then followed them. One would have been that it’s more important to be respected than liked. Another would be to do fewer magic tricks, because some people think magicians are creepy.” – Adam M. Grant, Ph.D. Wharton Professor and author of Give and Take

44) “When I was 18, I was busy learning a variety of skills, some of which ended up being helpful while others ended up being useless. This is fairly normal, I think. But in addition to learning skills, I also felt pretty unconfident and insecure about a lot of things. So if I could have go back and teach myself something, I don’t think it would be a specific skill; it would be more of a pep talk. I’d say, ‘Hey, 18-year-old self, keep working on stuff. Someday you’ll make something that matters to people. It’s okay if you get frustrated, but don’t hate yourself and don’t be unkind to others just because you don’t always see the path that lies ahead.’ Oh, I might also bring myself back a fake ID from the future. It would have made a few other things easier.” – Chris Guillebeau, NYT Bestselling Author and Founder of The Art of Non-Conformity

45) “I would have told myself to embrace fear. Fear isn’t always a sign of danger; sometimes it’s an internal reminder that you’re lacking a skill or knowledge that you need. The most powerful, inspirational people learn to use it as fuel rather than letting it restrain them or cause them to want to limit the success of others. I’m inspired by people who seize the alarm that fear provides and refuse to let it stop them from growing, learning, and standing for the things in which they believe.” – Seth Rogin, Chief Revenue Officer of Mashable

46) “Having made a wealth of mistakes in my life, it is interesting that you ask about what I would tell myself at 18 because what I did at 18 was the smartest thing I ever did and would unequivocally recommend it to any 18-year old. I spent two years living in Argentina as a volunteer for my church. While not everyone feels a connection to a faith, I would encourage everyone to spend a year or two at that age volunteering for a cause you believe in. Nothing will build a stronger foundation for your future than the growth you’ll make devoting yourself to serving others.” – Devin Thorpe, Champion of Social Good

– – –

I feel so fortunate to have shared these amazing individuals’ words of advice with you, and, as previously mentioned, this collective modern-day “foundation for success” will become my curriculum as I embark on The Gap Year Experiment. 

 

(BONUS POINTS: “Comment” below with your favorite lessons from above, and share your thoughts after hearing what Tony Hsieh, the Founder of UGGs, pro athletes, and others have to say about establishing a foundation for future success!)

 



About author

Jared Kleinert

Chief Test Subject at The Gap Year Experiment

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