Alex Banayan is the author of The Third Door (Crown/Penguin Random House, 2018), which chronicles his five-year quest tracking down Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Warren Buffett, Maya Angelou, Steven[…]
What's the difference between making it and faking it? Getting it done, no matter what.
What’s the difference between making it and faking it? Getting it done. Author Alex Banayan walks us through what actually separates the pros from the rest of the world: it’s less about networking and more about finding your way in. Knowing people helps, but it takes a certain mindset to walk into an industry uninvited. Here, Alex walks us through some of the origin stories of the most successful people in the world today. Alex’s book is The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers .
Alex Banayan: One of the best pieces of advice I got on this journey was the difference between a linear life and an exponential life.
A linear life is: you get an internship; you get a job; you get a promotion; you save up for a vacation, and you just go step by step slowly and predictively your whole way through.
And again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to be clear with yourself about what you want.
An exponential life is about deciding that you’re not going to wait around, you’re not going to hope someone just hands you what you’re hoping for, it’s about grabbing onto it for what you want.
So over the course of this seven-year journey, whether it was tracking down Bill Gates, which took two years, or Lady Gaga, which took three years, in every industry possible—Maya Angelo for poetry, Jane Goodall for science, Pitbull, Quincy Jones, Tim Ferriss, Larry King—they all couldn’t have been more different on the outside. But as I heard their stories and started to dissect how they launched their careers, I realized there was this common melody to everyone’s story.
And the analogy that came to me—because I was 21 at the time—was that it’s sort of like getting into a nightclub.
So there’s always three ways in: there’s the first door, the main entrance where the line curves around the block, where 99 percent of people wait in line hoping to get in.
And then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance where the billionaires or celebrities go through.
And school has this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in: you’re either born into it or you wait your turn like everybody else. What I’ve learned is that there is always, always the third door, and it’s the door where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door 100 times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen, there’s always a way in.
And it doesn’t matter if that’s how Gates sold his first piece of the software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal, they all took the third door.
So The Third Door isn’t a prescription or a recipe, it’s really a mindset.
So if you look at Steven Spielberg, the way he did it was: he was rejected from film school, so instead of giving up on his dream he decided he would take his education into his own hands.
So the way the story goes, according to Spielberg, is that one day when he was around 19 years old he jumped onto a tour bus at Universal Studios, rides around the lot on this tour, jumps off the bus, hides in the bathroom, waits for the bus to drive away and starts walking around the lot.
And as he’s walking around he bumps into this man named Chuck Silvers who works at Universal Television. And Chuck Silvers sees this kid and says, “What are you doing here?” And Spielberg tells him his dream. And they end up talking for a while and Silver goes, “Do you want to come back on the lot?” And Spielberg goes, “That would be a dream.”
And Chuck Silvers writes a three-day pass. And Spielberg goes every day back to the lot for the next three days.
But on the fourth day, Spielberg puts on a suit, gets his dad’s briefcase, walks up to the security entrance, puts a hand in the air and goes, “Hey Scotty!” And Scotty just waves back and Spielberg walks right through.
And for the next months Spielberg goes back onto the lot, going into editing rooms, learning as much as possible, sneaking onto sets and soaking it all in, really creating his own education. He is asking producers out to lunch, talking to actors and actresses, but eventually Chuck Silvers, who became his mentor, gave him one of the best pieces of advice. He essentially said, “Stop schmoozing and go make a quality short film that you can have in your hand and show to people.” And it sort of busts that myth of, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It’s really also what you know or what you have to show! So Spielberg takes the advice to heart, makes this incredible short film called Amblin. And when Chuck Silvers sees it he’s so moved that a single teardrop falls down his face.
And Chuck Silvers reaches for the phone and calls the Vice President of Universal Television, Sid Sheinberg. And he goes, “Sid, I have something you have to see.” And Sid goes, “Look, I have a lot to watch right now. Is it that important?” And Chuck Silvers goes, “It’s that goddamn important. If you don’t watch this tonight someone else will.”
Sheinberg watches the film the next day, says he wants to see Spielberg immediately, and gives him a seven-year contract on the spot. That’s how he became the youngest director in Hollywood history.
The key to that story though—of course Spielberg had incredible talent, so do a lot of other wonderful young directors—the difference between that story and every other story that doesn’t work out, to me, is Chuck Silvers, who I saw sort of this “inside man”, someone inside of the organization who believed in Spielberg enough that he put his reputation on the line.
If Chuck Silvers didn’t write that three-day pass, if he didn’t give him that wonderful advice to make that short film, and if he didn’t call Sid Sheinberg and lay it all out for him and say it’s that goddamn important, none of this would have happened.
So anyone who is trying to break through, not really in an age in life, it’s not about an age in life it’s about a stage in life. If you’re starting something new, if you’re reaching for a dream, find that inside man or woman who’s willing to put their reputation on the line to help you get in.
So an exponential life is about very much the concept of The Third Door, which is running down the alley banging on the door finding a way in yourself, and it’s about deciding that life isn’t going to slowly and predictively give you what you want.