I was underwhelmed by many people at Goldman.
It was actually shockingly disappointing to me.
This is Goldman Sachs.
The best of the best, or so I thought.
But like every best of the best team, there are many degrees.
The best people at Goldman are the gold standard.
Rock stars like David and John.
Powerful leaders and commercial killers like, nah, not gonna name names… (especially coz some are my clients!)
Yet when you’re at Goldman it’s also well accepted that many of the best leave.
I’m not just talking Goldman here but every seemingly elite culture.
It’s a matter of scale.
In top places like McKinsey, Skadden, KKR, the cream rises to the top.
Many boil up and out.
The majority are left behind.
They’re all good, of course.
Incredibly effective relative to people who’ve never challenged themselves playing a top game.
Yet many do nothing more than lace up.
Still operating like they’re in high school.
Show up on time.
Do what you’re told.
Every year graduate to a higher level, and hopefully make that promotion on time, or only a few years late.
It’s not their fault either.
In the past even top firms have done next to nothing to help employees elevate.
“You’re a jerk”
I accept whatever judgements people have of me.
I’m beyond being that mediocre person who muzzled myself for fear of what other people think.
And I must own my detest for mediocrity.
That’s a reason I left Goldman.
When I joined in Australia we were a small crack unit of top operators.
We only hired a couple people a year, so if you weren’t top of your school you didn’t even get an interview.
But when I moved to the U.S. I saw how much Goldman averaged out.
And to be totally honest, so did I.
Once I decided I was more focused on leaving than staying, I was just doing what I needed to keep advancing my wealth and options.
All the work I was doing that became my first book was for figuring out what it took to win, so I could spend as little time as I needed driving my career forward.
I hated being that person.
At Carlyle I was even “worse,” seeking to minimize my work to an hour a day.
In the past I’ve never said anything like this publicly.
I was too mediocre to own my truth.
But September Man never again rolls that way.
Always detested mediocrity
Especially in myself.
This is how I’ve been my entire “aspiring life.”
Growing up working poor it never made sense to me that you wouldn’t do everything you can to elevate yourself and your life.
So I never let myself get away with doing less than everything I could in high school.
Same at university.
It was a dusk till dawn 7 days a week job for me, and it has been ever since.
I wasn’t there to get an “education,” let alone to be coming of age, but to get the best grades I could for landing the best job.
Now surrounded by all those smart kids I presumed were at the fancy private schools, I was shocked and dismayed at their mediocrity.
Most of them were there to pass, at best.
Few of them felt so blessed just to have the opportunity, which for me was in contrast to working at KFC.
Most were content with a basic job.
Few even imagined making a massive leap.
So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw it at Goldman.
Or at Carlyle, where mediocre was a high bar for the “leader” of my team.
Ugh, I can’t stand it, let alone want to be around it.
A reason I was drawn to train with SEALs was I wanted more of that.
Not just learning to shoot like John Wick.
But to be surrounded by exceptional people who would never settle for mediocrity.
Like when I trained MMA with UFC fighters back in LA, I loved being around people competing at the highest level.
The SEAL teams might be the tip of the spear.
A reason being they never lower their standards to build more operators.
The story goes that after 9/11 when George Bush wanted more special forces operators, the Navy told him it wasn’t possible.
There aren’t enough people who can pass the test.
Quite simply, there’s a limited supply of people who are willing to do whatever it takes to keep going even beyond when someone a hundred times harder than us regular folks would stop.
And it’s not just the SEALs, all special ops training has a ridiculously high failure rate.
For the sake of life and death, and to preserve the elite culture, they must shed all but the exceptional few.
Learning to clear a room with SEALs you learn that you’re never fighting for your life, but for your buddy next to you.
When he enters the room and sweeps to the left, you’re the only thing stopping him taking a bullet from the right.
Like the Roman testudo formation, the unit is only as strong as the man fighting next to you.
My unit too
I only want to be surrounded by elite people.
Life is too short and I’m too much of a jerk to entertain all but the exceptional few.
And here I’m never talking about the BS definition of “elites” that others might use.
The so-called one percent are just like every normal distribution, with the majority converging to mediocrity.
Also I’m not talking about how much money someone has or what their job title is.
As one of my clients says, “I’d prefer to hang out with the world’s best taxidermist who is as obsessed about her craft as you and me.”
Fact is, all the top colleges, business schools, and certainly organizations are full of mediocre performers who think of themselves as elite.
Because they got the right start in life, or landed in the right job, sadly many of these people think of themselves as top athletes.
Yet few of them are showing up any more pro than a weekend runner.
Also, when I throw around words like mediocrity, it’s important to define the term.
People might think of it as a judgement of “who” you are.
As a kid I felt mediocre growing up without money, surrounded by people who didn’t aspire to much more.
When over time I saw the definition of mediocre has nothing to do with your station in life, but who you are being.
Mediocre is operating within a fraction of your potential.
Meaning you are capable of much more, only you’re unwilling or unable to unleash it.
Growing up I didn’t know anything about this, but I did commit to do everything I could to improve my life.
Yet even now there’s still mediocrity I needed to shed.
September Man mediocrity
I perceive I’m the best in the world at what I do.
Yes, again, it sounds arrogant as fc, but I’m way beyond caring about that type of stuff now.
I work at this 100 hours a week, for two decades now.
But that still has me with mediocre results in our public mission, which comes back to my mediocrity too.
I can’t work “harder.”
I’m already at it from the moment I wake till I go to sleep, 7 days a week.
Working smarter, or whatever the trite phrase may be is mostly optimized too.
Years of my ultimate days system, closing the gaps, optimizing the mind and actions every minute every day has it mostly dialed in.
And this leaves one doorway for me.
One I wrote about in my Do What You Want book now 7-8 years ago.
A topic I hit every week with clients.
Where I already challenge myself, but needed to challenge myself more to ascend my mediocrity—
Doing hard things.
My main source of mediocrity is when I puss out on doing hard things.
And there are two hard things I’ve been working on in September Man you’ve seen me doing.
1. Publish on hard things
When promoting the Trump book got too hard for me, I pussed out.
Back then I was still playing too small to stand for that.
Once again I’d been naive.
Watching Trump thrash the GOP I was blown away by the skills he was using, and I wanted to use him as a device to talk about influence and winning.
Not realizing you can’t talk about this without getting dragged into politics, when it got too hot I bailed.
I wasn’t willing to attach myself to his brand.
It may have been the right move for lots of reasons, but what really stopped me was my mediocrity.
My inability to stand in the fire and absorb the flames.
Ultimately, I wasn’t skilled enough or confident enough to stand for my own message without being blown up by him.
The same is true on the covid lockdowns.
Earlier this year I was writing more openly on what I thought, but again it got too hard for my mediocrity.
Somehow our world thinks it’s brave for you to stand and drive a message like Greta that everyone cheers you for doing.
Doing hard things is standing for a message when other people shout you down like Churchill did on Hitler.
Once again I wimped out.
As I wrote recently, never again.
I may be wrong, but I’ll never stop myself from publishing just because other people disagree.
Everything you do is disagreeable to someone, and perhaps lots of someones.
And this isn’t just about these controversial topics.
The core of my work is disagreeable.
There’s something massively wrong with the way we work and live.
That so many of us have settled for so little, when we are capable of so much more.
And every time I hold back, being mediocre, operating inside the boundaries of my potential, not only am I short-changing myself.
But those who work with me.
And our mission for serving humanity.
2. Be, be aggressive…
That’s one of my favorite lines from the movie, Bring It On.
Yes, the cheerleader parody…
Like Pitch Perfect I wrote you about here, these are two fun movies that are in my rotation.
Nearly every other movie I rotate has superheroes or killers.
Yet it’s this line from this movie that has stuck with September Man.
When I wrote about Trump the other day, on social media, some guy went after me.
In the old days I would have made him feel right, said agreeable things, but this time I shut him down.
And because of this work I’ve been doing, I had a lot of fun doing it.
Bullies are best avoided, but sometimes you just have to serve them a little of their own crap.
My bet is he wishes he hadn’t picked that fight in public because I’ve spent 20 years training to fight with my body and words.
Yet, again, I’ve held myself back.
It was safer being mediocre, operating within the boundaries of my capabilities.
Trying to be a good guy, which is really another way of being weak, hoping people like you.
To be clear, I never exert violence in the world.
But with my words.
Well, the muzzle is off.
You can’t stand for something in the world and be unwilling to be, be aggressive.
Sure, you can play small.
I’ve done that.
Held myself back.
Been mediocre relative to my capabilities.
But September Man has ensured we’re never again doing that.
What about you?
Where are you being mediocre?
Can you work harder?
Do more hard things?
If you were to decide right now to step into being your most elite, what would you change?
And how will you?
I mean, really, so tomorrow, you’re no longer being that mediocre version of you that you even see so much at top firms.