Has Everything I Know by Paul Jarvis been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
Though it’s an old adage, it’s true: we’re all unique. We all differ in what we hold dear and in how we see the world. This very uniqueness is what we often try to suppress to better fit in with the crowd, when in fact we should tap into it.
Many self-help books purport to offer one-size-fits-all advice for success but mostly fail to deliver on this promise. In contrast to them, this book summary provide a flexible template that you yourself can adapt and fill with your own personal adventure of creating great new things.
In this book summary, you’ll discover why you should let your values rather than your goals lead in your quest to do great work.
You'll also learn why you should turn off the TV and instead create your own content.
Finally, you’ll understand why it’s OK to take pre-existing work and use it as an initial idea which you then adapt to suit your own values.
Everything I Know Key Idea #1: Let your inner values guide you to your own unique success.
In life, finding your own path to follow can be a difficult, life-long pursuit. In fact, often you only realize you’ve found it when looking back at your journey.
While there are many methods for finding the right path, there are two crucial guidelines that can help.
First of all, it is important that you follow your own values. This means that you must define what matters to you. It could be helping others, always delivering top-notch work – whatever you think is important! These values provide you with a simple way of measuring your own worth: how well do you manage to live up to them?
You can also evaluate how aligned your work is with those values by how much it increases your feelings of worthiness.
We’re all used to external yardsticks for our worth. For example, at school our worth was determined by our grades, while at work we’re measured by metrics like our contribution to sales and revenues.
But to determine your worth internally, you have to lead a life that is aligned with your personal values. Your internal worth can be totally separate from the way the market values your work and the amount of money you can earn with it. Though of course if having a high income is one of your key values, you should work more to earn more money than to feel more worthy.
Another important way to find your own path is to do things your way. This will differentiate your work from everyone else’s.
Think about it: if you just imitate the work of, for example, the leaders in your chosen field, you won’t create anything unique, but instead, because everyone else is doing the same, your work will be exchangeable with theirs and completely forgettable.
If there was a single “master business model” that would guarantee success, we’d all be rich by now. Obviously there isn’t – there’s only your own way, which you must find. And the way you find it is by following your own values, which are always unique.
Everything I Know Key Idea #2: Don’t imitate others – be yourself truly to make your work stand out.
Throughout our lives we’re constantly told that to be useful members of society, we must blend in and not stand out too much. But in fact, everyone of us is different and “weird” in our own way, so being your true, unique self means you also need to show your own weirdness.
At work most people strive to hide their weirdness with a wall of professionalism because they don’t want their own personality to shine through. This is a mistake, because they are deliberately making themselves average.
Instead, realize that in the professional sphere you are a brand, and as with other brands, the ones with a unique personality are the most successful.
If you’re open and honestly portray your real, even flawed self to others, it doesn’t mean you’re a weirdo – it means you’re human. And beneath all the posturing and professionalism, everyone around you is human too.
Take the example of Caren, a yoga teacher: You might think all yoga teachers need to project an image of enlightenment and perfect mental balance to be successful, but Caren openly talks to her students about her struggle with depression and thus shows her human side. The result? She has taught hundreds of yoga classes and over 1,200 yogis follow her online.
Another benefit of being true to yourself and your values is that people follow leaders who do so.
It’s natural that when we start on our path to success we are afraid of being ourselves, so we seek to copy the traits of highly successful people. But in fact, often these leaders have succeeded precisely by being themselves and proudly showing their uniqueness.
Take, for example, Richard Branson, the founder of several billion dollar companies: Although he struggled with dyslexia at school, he founded his own record company and led it to success by working with unusual artists like the then-unknown Mike Oldfield or the controversial punk band The Sex Pistols. He followed his unique personality in his business decisions, and this led to his success.
Everything I Know Key Idea #3: Don’t let your goals and the pursuit of money overrule what you really care about.
When developing a business idea, most people think that if they attain a certain goal – usually a financial one – then they will consider themselves truly successful. But setting goals can also hinder us from finding our path to success.
Blindly following goals means you’re restricted to moving in a single direction, and this limits your choices. Imagine your goal is to rake in a million dollars each year. To achieve this, you will probably have to accept every project you’re offered and will end up working 80-hour weeks. You might hit the goal, but you won’t have the time to do anything else that’s important you.
Goals can also lead you in the wrong direction altogether if they are merely things you think you should accomplish. This is often a sign that the path you’re on is actually someone else’s – following it won’t allow you to do what you really care about.
So instead of pursuing goals, let your values lead you. If they are clear to you, they will provide the guidance for you to choose your next steps without limiting your options or leading you astray.
As mentioned earlier, many people choose monetary goals for their businesses. But making money shouldn’t be your prime motivation.
While there’s nothing bad about money per se, it can make you obsessed with earning more, and not contributing to society in other ways.
However, money can be a useful enabler: you can use it to help others.
For example, The Gates Foundation has an endowment of about $38 billion, which it uses to improve health care and fight poverty.
Money can also be a useful indicator of the value of your business: people must be willing to pay you for your work, otherwise you’re not running a business – just pursuing a hobby. Of course, the best way to build a successful business is to find the intersection of what you really care about and what others are willing to pay for.
Everything I Know Key Idea #4: To create something great, do what is needed in the present and make time for meaningful work.
Knowing your values and being yourself is a fine starting point to building a successful business, but they are mere prerequisites. No actual progress will occur until you stop worrying about all the what-ifs and hows, and actually start working.
Since there is no way to predict what will happen in the future, you should stop obsessing about it and just get started.
You don’t have the power to control the end-outcomes, but you can influence the work you do now, so focus on the present.
If you’re really worried about your business failing, you can always start small and develop your idea initially as a side project. Then, if it proves to be successful, you can turn it into a full business.
Once you start focusing on the things that need to be done in the here and now, you will also find that you need to make time for them.
Finding this time for meaningful work is not a matter of magically conjuring up a few extra hours each day, but learning how to prioritize the time you have.
Creating something new always takes sacrifices, so you need to shift your mindset from consumption – say watching TV or reading a book – to creation, like making your own film, writing your own stories or building your own business.
Sacrificing some consumption is essential: you can’t keep doing everything you used to do as well as the new stuff and still maintain the same balance in your life as before. Ask yourself: what can you do without as you create something great?
Only by taking the time and starting now will you be able to achieve results one day. And as long as you follow your values, the outcome – any outcome – will be OK.
Everything I Know Key Idea #5: Acknowledge fear and push your boundaries to explore new possibilities.
Many people are reluctant to try new things because they fear they will fail. But the only completely sure way to fail is to not even try.
Great work demands pushing past your fears and going ahead in spite of them.
The best way to push past the fear of failure, for example, is to acknowledge your fear and fight it by experimenting with your ideas, regardless of whether they turn out to be smart or stupid. Great things often emerge as the result of just bravely sharing your ideas.
Confronting your fears can also lead to tremendous opportunities as you may find out new things about yourself. For example, if you’re afraid of public speaking, do it anyway. You might find that you are actually good at inspiring others, thus opening up new opportunities for you as a motivational speaker.
Sometimes our fears stem from the fact that we worry about losing something we value. So if you’re afraid of something, you should in fact be grateful that you’ve got something you value so much. This gratitude can help you overcome the fear and let you focus on doing a great job.
Another reason why you should do what you’re afraid of is that if you don’t challenge your limits by trying new things, you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of, which can hold you back from leading a meaningful life.
If you don’t try things outside your comfort zone, you’ll only know the limits that you think you have. By taking a step outside your imagined limits, you’ll get to know yourself better and will probably see that your limits are much further away than you thought.
Continuing the previous example, if you hadn’t taken a chance and tried public speaking in spite of your fear, you would have never discovered your talent to inspire others.
Last but not least, when you confront your fears, it makes you feel great and proud of the fact that you did something you were afraid of before.
Everything I Know Key Idea #6: Share your work and don’t dwell on the inevitable criticism – use it to improve.
When you put your idea out there for public view for the first time, you will probably be worried about people judging you – and they definitely will. But instead of worrying about the judgment, try to use it constructively by keeping your emotions separate from the feedback.
Remember, any idea will always attract criticism because there’s no way to make everyone happy. So don’t worry about customers who unsubscribe or send angry mails – just swear at your computer screen and move on.
Sometimes the criticism you receive might demonstrate that your work isn’t providing as much value as you thought. In this case you can study the feedback and learn from it to improve your work.
For example, if you write a book and people berate it because they don’t get what your point is, don’t give up writing. Rather, think of how you can better get your message across, for instance by using more examples or anecdotes.
If you find that you’re so emotionally attached to your work that you simply can’t stand any negative feedback on it whatsoever, you should probably not pursue that work professionally.
Don’t try to hide your true self from feedback either: to make a real difference you have to put your real you out there. Presenting the honest and potentially slightly weird you is the only way to stay true to your values and thereby keep producing something meaningful.
So while you should definitely listen to constructive feedback, you mustn’t dwell on your perceived flaws or allow your inner critic to dissuade you from sharing your work. You simply have to share it; no one else will do that for you!
If you’re still reluctant to share your work, ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? Probably only your ego getting bruised, so get over it!
Everything I Know Key Idea #7: Match your interests with your skills to make your work valuable enough for others to pay for it.
Many successful people attribute their success to having followed their passion. But while this is a good start, it takes more than just passion to create a successful business. Even if that passion is guided by your own values, it’s not yet enough to make people actually willing to pay for your work.
This is what differentiates hobbies from businesses, and mere excitement from other people will not generate profits – they have to actually pay you. And for someone to spend money on your or anyone else’s work, they must see the value or the necessity in it.
For example, say you care greatly about the environment and are good at programming, so you develop an environmentally themed app that helps people do their part to protect the environment. Great! But if there’s no one else out there in the market for whom this app provides significant value, you won’t find anyone willing to pay for it.
If, instead, the app would offer users a benefit like energy savings, people might be willing to spend money because it delivers value to them in saved energy costs.
But why would people choose your work in a crowded marketplace? For that, you need to be good at what you do. You don’t necessarily have to be the best in the world, but you do have to offer a distinct improvement over the other players and constantly come up with fresh ideas to stay visible.
To get there, you should pick something you’re already good at and then work to become even better: prepare to spend all your time and a lot of effort in becoming an expert.
If you’re not ready for such a commitment, you should move on and try something else or just enjoy this particular work as a hobby in your spare time without worrying about turning a profit.
Everything I Know Key Idea #8: Connect with the people who interact with your work, and help them find you.
A common mistake entrepreneurs make is thinking that there is some broad, homogenous mass of people out there with whom they need to connect. In reality, there are only countless individual personalities, so you should forget about trying to make everyone happy but focus on the people who really care about what you deliver.
In short, you need to find your people: the ones who find so much value in your work that they want to interact with it, promote it and share it.
To identify these people you can ask yourself questions like, “Who do I feel closer to the more I share with them?” They are the ones you should connect with.
Start off by getting into personal contact with a small group of them and expand from there. It doesn’t matter how many people you reach out to, only that they think your work is so great they’ll tell everyone they know everything about it.
For example, you could create a mailing list comprised of your people – a small group whom you enjoy interacting with and who give you honest feedback on your work.
To attract more of your people, you should create a “rallying point” where like-minded people can easily find you. This is analogous to soldiers raising a flag during battle: it signals that here there are people to be found who share a common cause and those who come will be surrounded by like-minded people – in this case the ones not trying to shoot you.
Your “flag” could simply consist of your values put into a medium like writing, photography or videos. For example, a photographer might upload pictures to illustrate their unique style while also sharing what they consider to be important about photography – for instance, capturing nature or presenting political views.
People will only connect with your work if they agree with it and identify themselves as belonging with your “flag,” so you need to take a clear position and communicate it powerfully.
Everything I Know Key Idea #9: Focus on bringing innovative ideas to life and don’t be afraid to steal initial ideas from others.
Contrary to what many believe, new ideas don’t spring up from a vacuum. The inspiration for them is everywhere – in everything we see, hear and feel, and also in the work others have created before us.
To create something innovative you should let the work of others inspire you, then fit it to your own style.
It’s all right to “steal” initial ideas from others. You can take several ideas from other sources and then, through iteration, gradually change the details until they feel consistent with what you believe in and stand for – your style. It won’t look like the original anymore, and this process is far easier than starting with a blank page.
Say you want to design a website. You could start by downloading the source codes from various websites you like and then splicing them together. You would then edit it further, smoothing out inconsistencies until eventually it would have your unique look.
Of course if you’re doing a similar thing to someone else via the same medium, there will be similarities between your work and the original. But this is a far cry from a dumb copy-paste; you’re still telling your own story by shaping the original source until it’s in line with your values.
When you’re working on your idea, focus on creating it, not on how the result can be presented to the public.
This means you shouldn’t get frustrated if your first draft doesn’t look presentable – it rarely does. But it doesn’t mean the idea itself is poor, probably just that the draft has a lot of unfiltered creativity.
Don’t waste these ideas: make them happen anyway. The main focus is to create things – don’t stop working on ideas just because you’re worried about how the result might look.
Remember, most great innovative ideas stem from a long and ugly process of creating, editing, redoing and re-evaluating, but no one knows about that except the person working on it. Patience and perseverance are key.
In Review: Everything I Know Book Summary
The key message in this book:
To lead a meaningful life, you need to find your own path and let your values guide you. Every one of us has the potential to create something great, but this demands pushing our boundaries and overcoming our fears.
Goals are fine but only if they are aligned with your values and passions.
To see where these three factors intersect, write down the goals you would like to set for yourself. Then evaluate this list in light of how well it is aligned with what you really enjoy doing and what you think is important in life. You’ll probably find that quite a few goals aren’t aligned with these factors, so you can forget about them. Concentrate only on the goals that fit with your values.
To overcome your fears when starting a new project, make a list of all of them.
Then examine that list critically: how many of the things you fear will actually kill you? Most likely none. Next, think about which ones would result in just your ego being bruised. Once you realize how pointless and small these fears are, you should find it much easier to conquer them
Next time you see something you like out there, like a nice design, photograph or website, try to make it your own by copying and editing it to suit your values. Don’t worry about the end result, just get on with it. If you do make a mistake, you can always try again and improve!