By Catherine Clifford
In his mid-20s, Sam Altman sold the Silicon Valley start-up he founded for $43.4 million. Now Altman is famous for being a partner at legendary start-up shop Y Combinator, which has funded start-ups (including the likes of Aribnb and Dropbox) that are now worth a combined total of over $100 billion.
On Thursday, Altman revealed how to achieve such extreme success in blog post called “How To Be Successful.” It’s been viewed more than 200,000 times, according to Altman’s site, and he calls it “one of the most important things I’ve ever written.”
“I’ve observed thousands of founders and thought a lot about what it takes to make a huge amount of money or to create something important. Usually, people start off wanting the former and end up wanting the latter,” Altman writes. “Everything here is easier to do once you’ve already reached a baseline degree of success (through privilege or effort) and want to put in the work to turn that into outlier success. But much of it applies to anyone.”
Here are seven pieces of advice from Altman on how to be extraordinarily successful.
“One of the most powerful lessons to learn is that you can figure out what to do in situations that seem to have no solution. The more times you do this, the more you will believe it. Grit comes from learning you can get back up after you get knocked down,” Altman writes.
Also immensely powerful is “self-belief,” he says. “The most successful people I know believe in themselves almost to the point of delusion.”
“If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to let yourself have contrarian ideas about the future. But this is where most value gets created,” Altman explains.
Elon Musk gave Altman a tour of SpaceX “many years ago” and heard the tech entrepreneur talk about manufacturing rockets, “but the thing that sticks in memory was the look of absolute certainty on his face when he talked about sending large rockets to Mars. I left thinking ‘huh, so that’s the benchmark for what conviction looks like,’” Altman says.
But equally important is listening to feedback.
“Self-belief must be balanced with self-awareness. I used to hate criticism of any sort and actively avoided it. Now I try to always listen to it with the assumption that it’s true, and then decide if I want to act on it or not. Truth-seeking is hard and often painful, but it is what separates self-belief from self-delusion,” Altman says.
Quality trumps quantity.
“It is much more important to work on the right thing than it is to work many hours,” says Altman. “Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.”
“You can get to about the 90th percentile in your field by working either smart or hard, which is still a great accomplishment,” says Altman. “But getting to the 99th percentile requires both—you will be competing with other very talented people who will have great ideas and be willing to work a lot.”
And “the earlier you do it, the more time you have for the benefits to pay off. It’s also easier to work hard when you have fewer other responsibilities, which is frequently but not always the case when you’re young,” Altman says.
Still, to work at peak capacity for extended periods of time you’ll have to find ways to avoid burnout.
“People find their own strategies for this, but one that almost always works is to find work you like doing with people you enjoy spending a lot of time with,” Altman says.
“I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote,” Altman says. “Most people get bogged down in linear opportunities. Be willing to let small opportunities go to focus on potential step changes.”
“A big secret is that you can bend the world to your will a surprising percentage of the time — most people don’t even try, and just accept that things are the way that they are,” writes Altman.
You can own real estate, a part of a business, intellectual property or a natural resource. “But somehow or other, you need to own equity in something, instead of just selling your time. Time only scales linearly,” Altman writes.
You can find all 13 of Altman’s tips here.
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