Perhaps the biggest discovery I made for myself this year was the Tim Ferriss Podcast. I forget how I came across it, but it has become a staple of my car rides and gym workouts. Half the time I’ll go to the gym and wind up stretching and listening to the podcast and forget to lift.
Because of the podcast, I bought Ferriss’ book, Tools of Titans, which is far and away the most useful — not best, but useful — book in my fairly extensive library. And because Tools of Titans was so good, I tore through the Four Hour Workweek, and because I enjoyed that so much, it was a no-brainer to order Tribe of Mentors essentially the day it was released.
If you haven’t read Tools of Titans or Tribe of Mentors, they’re not really formatted like a normal book, in a linear, narrative form. They’re interviews, or excerpts from interviews, transcripts with just the highlights. Tribe of Mentors was a compilation of some 140-odd email interviews with high performers, all of whom answered the same 11 questions, which I’ve copied below.
Because I love Ferriss and his work so much, and because I got more out of Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors than perhaps all of the rest of the books I’ve read combined, I figured I’d answer those same 11 questions, because, well, why not?
1. What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
I’ve probably gifted The Alchemist about a dozen times, though I’ve only bought a single copy. Whenever my friends from out of town visit, they’ll usually pluck a book from my bookcase for the flight home. The first to do so was Tim Dittman, who flew home with it, only to have it returned by Alex Cook. It was then re-gifted to Andy Levy, which was then brought back by another friend, and so on and so forth. It’s made half a dozen cross country trips, and likely has a few dozen more in store.
It’s a perfect choice, honestly. The writing is quick and simple, a fast read — ideal for an airplane. But it’s also full of so many literary golden nuggets, about life, about mindset, about pursuing your dreams, about staying the course. It’s in my top five favorite books of all-time, recommended to me by my good friend Jake Dietrich, and I was so enamored by it that I’d highlight little phrases and send a picture of it to him, thanking him for recommending the book. I had never done that in a book, not even when I was required to for school. Now I do it with essentially all of them.
2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? My readers love specifics like brand and model, where you found it, etc.
The hosting fee for this website, actually. This site began as a place for me to build my platform as an author, just a space for me to blog about whatever might be on my mind. But when I wrote my first blog on beach volleyball, and it was subsequently picked up by VolleyballMag.com. All of a sudden my silly little personal blog became a bona fide site for beach volleyball news. Not only was I now writing about my favorite passion and garnering an audience, which was the purpose of the blog anyway, but I was getting paid to do it. Pinch me now.
My writing established a certain amount of credibility that led to more opportunities than I could have asked for. Because of this blog, I was able to do some live commentary during the Manhattan Beach Open on the AVP livestream. Tri Bourne, whom I’ve admired and looked up to since I first saw him on TV in the 2014 Huntington Beach Open, and I had such a good time that we decided to launch a podcast, SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, which has led to me befriending mega-talents like April Ross and Chaim Schalk and Kelly Claes and Phil Dalhausser, among soon to be dozens of others.
None of that would have been possible had I not made a nominal $45 per year hosting investment with Bluehost.
3. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
Before I moved to Florida, I was working as a high school sports reporter for a newspaper called The Gazette, which covered sports in three counties in Maryland and published on a weekly basis. The ceiling there was stiflingly low, and besides, I was tired of the cold. So I started looking for new jobs, my rule being that it had to be south of Virginia.
I wound up with two interviews for the two jobs I initially applied for, one with ACCSports.com, in Raleigh, North Carolina, the other in Fort Walton Beach for a newspaper named the Northwest Florida Daily News. God, did I want that ACCSports job. I thought I nailed the interview, and drove back to Maryland prepared to pack my things and head to Raleigh in a few weeks. Only I didn’t get the job. I got call and a “We’ll keep your information on file” voicemail a few weeks later.
I did, however, get the job with the Northwest Florida Daily News. Down I-95 and across I-10 I went. My failure to get the job with ACCSports.com led me to Florida, where I was introduced to beach volleyball, which quickly became my life’s passion, which led to a number of opportunities in California, which led me to covering the AVP and writing for DiG Magazine and competing as a quasi-professional beach volleyball player. It led me to a job opportunity with Yahoo! Sports, where I’ll be covering the Winter Olympics.
That failure was the foundation for my life as it is today.
I’m sure I’d be fine in Raleigh. I’m sure I’d be as happy as I am now, living a fun life writing about the ACC. I’d be much, much closer to home, so my mom would be thrilled to tears.
But I wouldn’t be living this life.
I wouldn’t trade that failure for the world.
4. If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)
“Did you get better today?”
- Andy Levy
Andy Levy has been one of my closest friends for almost two decades. We’ve played on the same baseball teams together. We’ve played on the same basketball teams together. We’ve gotten blackout drunk together and visited each other’s colleges. We’ve seen each other at our best and we’ve seen each other at our worst. There are few things that I love more in life than when Andy visits, and we grab a 12-pack and sit on the beach and dive deep into existential discussion. We don’t talk on the phone as often as I’d like — maybe once every two weeks or so — but every time we do, Andy asks me the same question at the end of the conversation:
“Hey, Tram, did you get better today?”
It’s such a simple question, but how often do we actually ask that of ourselves? We’re so obsessed with the future, with attaining and re-setting our long term goals, that how often do we think about the micro? It’s a nice reminder for me to just get better every single day. And if I do that, guess what? I’ll reach my long-term goals when I reach them and not a moment before or after I was meant to.
Just focus on getting better. Every day.
You’ll get to where you need to go.
5. What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
The many, many thousands I still owe in student debt to the University of Maryland. The four years that I spent in College Park were the most formative of my life. I don’t believe college is necessary for everybody. I don’t even think it’s necessary for most people. I think it’s a grossly over-expensive societal construct we’ve been indoctrinated to believing. But it was so critical for me and my life path.
Like all high schoolers, I knew everything there was to know about the world. And then I got to college, and I enrolled in my first journalism class. And I got my ass kicked. Over and over and over again. A single spelling mistake was a zero. A single name wrong in an assignment was a zero. A single fact error was a zero. I got more zeroes in my first two years than I did As. I watched a teacher rip up my 500-word feature on a teacher because it was, in fact, 497 words, and not 500.
It was horrible.
It was perfect.
When I got out of college, I noticed how awful newspapers looked when they spelled kids’ names wrong, or got a score wrong, or even had the slightest error. I got it. I understood why journalism school had been such a crucible, and why it had such a high attrition rate.
And beyond the schooling, I learned just plain old life. I learned how to drink beer and not black out and pee on someone’s couch (though it took a few years to figure those out). I learned networking, and the power of a fraternity, a brotherhood. I learned — I think, at least — how to treat women right and how to interview and how to apply for jobs and dress for the occasion. I learned how to live a month on $9.82, and I can’t tell you how important that has been since moving to California.
College isn’t for everybody, but it was so entirely necessary for me that I legitimately have no idea what I’d be doing had I not enrolled.
6. What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
When I can converse with someone in movie or TV show quotes. My brothers and I have done this forever, and it’s almost a sign of how close I am with someone when I can just drop a line AND TOTALLY REDEEM MYSELF for something stupid I did or said, and the person I’m talking to will just get it. It’s like speaking a different language, but way better and far more entertaining.
7. In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Before we begin playing beach volleyball in the morning, I’ll jog down to the ocean and pray. I take a second just to look at the ocean and take it in — its vastness, its indescribable power and soothing equanimity. I breathe in the air, which right now is rather cool and refreshing and a bit startling to the senses.
And then I pray.
I don’t mean to proselytize here, so perhaps pray is the wrong word. Rather, I express gratitude. Believe what you want. Believe in nothing. Believe in one God. Believe in many Gods. Or the Old Gods or the New Gods or Poseidon or Zeus or Kronos. No matter to whom you pray or whether you pray at all, we can all believe in gratitude, and the incredible power of it.
I simply I choose to express my gratitude through God.
I thank him for everything — as much as I can rattle off in a few minutes, at least — at the start of every day, and there is absolutely no better way to begin a day than recognizing just how lucky you are to be living in the best country in the world, in the most desired state in that country, in the nicest county in that state, kneeling on a beach for no other reason than because you have the enviable choice to begin your day on the beach, after driving there in your own car, healthy enough to play beach volleyball with friends you love, fortunate enough to have a job to attend to after you play, which pays the bills for the apartment you live in, where you live with a beautiful girl and a crackhead puppy and you can drink beer and eat popcorn and watch Game of Thrones and read every night.
When you start every day recognizing just how lucky you are to live like that, it is impossible to have a bad day. It doesn’t matter if money is tight or work was rough or you played like shit. None of that matters. It never matters. Because it’s so easy to acknowledge the good — the incredible, overwhelming, abundance of good — that’s all around you, that’s all around us all. And if you can’t find it, make it. Buy a cup of coffee for a stranger. Write a thank you note. Give someone a hug.
Their smile will be something to be grateful for, I promise you that. When there’s no good in the world, make some yourself, and be grateful for your ability to do it.
Simple gratitude goes for miles.
8. What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
Just do the damn thing.
That thing you keep talking about doing, and telling your friends you’re going to do, and proclaiming to social media and cyberspace that you’re going to do — just go do it. Try, fail, try again, fail again, learn.
Do that thing you want to do.
9. What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Find a different career path. Do something else.
I had a high school teacher once tell me that I would never become a good enough writer to make a career out of it. (Given my competitive nature, this only cemented my desire to become a writer, so in an odd way, it’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received). In college, almost every one of my professors claimed that writing was dying, and that we should probably try to expand our skill-sets, do something different.
Writing, on the contrary, has never been more alive. People are consuming what is written and said and shot and photographed at a rate that, when my professors were in college, would have seemed unthinkable. There is an insatiable appetite for information — just one more dopamine hit before bed! — and that appetite is only growing larger. Information will always be consumed.
Somebody has to deliver it.
10. In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
In my first year out of college, I worked for a weekly newspaper that covered, among two other counties, Montgomery County. The famed Congressional Country Club, site of a handful of U.S. Opens, resides in Montgomery County, and when Tiger Woods hosted his AT&T Classic there, I was tabbed to cover it. At the time, I was a golf junkie. I could spend all day at a course — talking golf, playing golf, hitting balls, drinking in the clubhouse, betting on golf, whatever.
I covered the tournament from Tuesday-Sunday, and since the course was only a 20-minute drive from College Park, I crashed with my fraternity brothers that week. For the most part, I had refrained from imbibing too much — just a few beers here and there, maybe the occasional shot. Nothing that would debilitate me for the next day, all of which started at 9 and ended at 8. Then came Saturday night, and a bunch of us were invited out to a party. I couldn’t help but to partake — and the next day was one of the most miserable days I’ve ever spent at work. I smelled like the zoo. My head hurt. I can’t even begin to explain the state of my clothes.
Once a champion of the hungover work day, I have all but cut out late nights prior to work days. It’s not worth it. On the occasion that I do have an extra glass or two of red wine, or one more shot of whiskey I didn’t really need, or a few more IPAs that I probably should have just left in the fridge, I immediately remember why.
11. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
When I was a junior in college, I interned during breaks at my local newspaper, the Carroll County Times. On one of the many days filled with writer’s block — or, as Seth Davis would say, “arrogance block” — my editor, Bob Blubaugh, a fine American man, didn’t get on my case. He told me to relax, grab a book, read for 30 minutes, and let my mind work it out. And it did. He handed me his copy of 2006 Best American Sports Writing, and reading a few stories worked so well that now I don’t begin to write until I’ve read writing that’s better than mine for at least an hour before writing.
Reading lets your mind wander and focus on something else, and while your conscious mind is focused on the words in front of you, your subconscious is dealing with whatever you have going on in your life that needs to be dealt with. I don’t know much about psychology, but it’s worked incredibly well for me.