We’ve all experienced it. Sitting in front of a computer or at a bookstore when a quote flashes on the screen or jumps out from a page in a book. It makes a strong impression and we spend the next moment in deep thought. And even though it may be a collection of ten or fewer words strung together, a quote can inspire and motivate us to take action and pursue our goals.
Yet I wouldn’t say that a quote itself, on its own, is powerful.
Power is given to words by the reader. You can read a quote and feel a little tingle but minutes later forget it ever happened. On another occasion, however, when you’re in the right frame of mind, those exact same words will stop you in your tracks and plunge you into deep contemplation. You may even consider walking into the nearest tattoo parlour to inscribe the words on your arm.
What, then, makes you susceptible to a great quote? Surely your willingness to be motivated matters. Also, the state you are in when it appears before your eyes. Timing is paramount.
Think of a quote as a soft, melodious sound, and you as an amplifier. On Monday morning as you read the text the reverberations in your head barely make a peep. On Saturday, though, when circumstances are just right, words will resonate like a symphony, electrifying every atom in your body. That happened to me last month during the Cannes Film Festival as I read a quote in a magazine. Let me tell you, it was like an orchestra went off inside my head. And though I was very familiar with the saying, I scribbled it down on paper as if it were the first time I read it. As if writing it would reinforce its meaning.
The quote: Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.
So important is the saying that I argue you should read it aloud to yourself regularly. And not just mechanically but with a genuine intention to appreciate what it means. Do it and – I promise you, dear Reader – you’ll benefit both on a professional and personal level.
And on that note, allow me to take you on the first stop of this blog post’s little journey. Beijing.
The elevator door opened on the 46th floor. I stepped out and immediately spotted the company logo prominently displayed on a wall next to some glass doors. In English and Mandarin. This is my stop.
I pushed open the door and walked in.
The receptionist looked up, smiled and stood up. She asked me for some personal information and my company name. Satisfied, she asked me to take a seat nearby and made a quick call.
Just as I got comfortable on the chair, and began to appreciate the interior design, she appeared.
“Please follow me,” she said.
I followed her around the floor past rows and rows of desks manned by busy workers formatting cells in spreadsheets. Sure don’t miss those days.
She led me into a large conference room with a spectacular view of Beijing. I walked right up to the floor-to-ceiling glass window and looked out at the expanse in front of me. This country means business. The next thing that impressed me was the size of the room. The table was large enough to comfortably seat twenty people. Is this right? I looked out of the room at another, smaller conference room a few doors down and wondered if that one was not more appropriate.
“Everything okay?” she said.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s a large room.”
“For an important guest,” she smiled.
I wasn’t sure about that but reluctantly returned her smile.
“Would you like some coffee, tea or water?”
“Water, please,” I said.
“Still or sparkling?”
She walked over to a table in the corner of the room holding refreshments and poured me a glass of sparkling water. She placed my glass on the table with the bottle alongside it.
The purpose of this meeting was for me to meet the CEO of a gigantic Chinese investment house. He was a highly experienced veteran of the investment world. It was our first meeting, on the back of an introduction by a mysterious woman I met earlier in the year by the pool of the Taj Mahal Hotel, in Mumbai.
So I was sitting there all alone in the conference room. Five minutes passed. And then another five. Just as I started to wonder what was taking so long, a procession of eight people entered the room. One by one they walked over to me, introduced themselves and shook my hand.
“Please bear with us,” said the CEO, whom I recognised him from a Google search that morning. “We are waiting for one more person to join.”
In the meantime, I was asked how long I’d been in Beijing, how much longer I planned to stay and if the jet lag was manageable. The chit-chat went on until, eventually, one other individual entered the room. Thereafter, the meeting officially began.
I’ll spare you the details but the next 45 minutes passed in a flash. I thanked my hosts for their time. We promised to stay in touch and to meet in London when the CEO would visit the following month.
In the taxi, en route back to my hotel, I thought about the meeting. Two things had struck me. First, the ticket sizes they could write for investment. It ranged from USD100 million to USD2 billion. Serious firepower. Secondly, the set up of the meeting. In particular the 9 individuals – the executive team of a large, Chinese investment company – sitting on one side of the conference room table and just me on the other side, all alone.
The first point I noted with interest as I would follow up on it. The second, for no apparent reason reminded me of a similar meeting I had in Slovenia not long after I left the bank to do deals on my own. When I was, as they say, still wet behind the ears. I smiled.
From Ljubljana with love
I flew out of London in the morning and transited in Zurich before touching down in Ljubljana shortly before noon.
When I reached the arrivals lounge I spotted my driver holding a card with my name written on it. We got into the car and set off downtown.
My mission on this trip: to convince the finance director of one of the largest conglomerates in the country to give me the mandate to help them raise money from the Middle East. I won’t lie, I was a tab bit nervous.
A half hour later we arrived at the venue.
I was led to a conference room expecting to meet the director and maybe one other person, at most. Yet as I entered the room I discovered there were six people already waiting for me.
I reminded myself that they were meeting with me because they believed I possessed a very strong network of investors, which I did. The cards in my hand gave me an advantage. I just had to be assertive and sharp. Go get them.
I’ll never forget the look on their face when I entered the room. Who the hell is this kid, their faces said. The youngest of them looked at least twice my age.
Only one of them offered me a smile. She was a lady with very short hair and striking bone structure. She winked at me when our eyes met. Later I learned that I reminded her of an Italian boyfriend she once had in university.
The next hour in that room was challenging. Did I make mistakes? Sure. Did I stumble? Yes. Could I have done better? Immensely so. Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely. Was it worth it? No question about it.
It is this sort of challenging situations that prepare you for the climb to success.
And so now I’d like to jump to Cannes and tell you why several weekends ago while flipping through a magazine in a cafe along the Croissette the quote – Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it – sprung to mind.
The short answer: it reminded me of the first time I went to the Cannes Film Festival.
Festival de Cannes
Host to some of the biggest global events, the resort town of Cannes is a phenomal location to network and get deals done.
I try to visit twice a year. Once to attend MIPIM – one of the most important real estate conferences in the world – and another time to check out the Festival de Cannes, whose name speaks for itself and which I attend because a) I advise a film finance company and also b) keep an eye on film trends on behalf of a family office.
So I’m sitting there at the Carlton Hotel, drinking a coffee in the lobby when I notice a young woman in her twenties and dressed to do business enter the foyer. Judging by the way she glanced around the lobby I suspected she was not staying at the hotel. I continued to observe.
She carried a cross-grain, dark red leather notepad, the sort Smythson specialises in. Her eyes jumped around from one area of the space to another, possibly in search of someone. This was confirmed moment later, when her eyes locked in on an individual. Her target, a forty-something year old man, was identified. Target in sight. He sat a few tables away from me and wore blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a pair of sneakers. Standing tall and assertive she took a deep breath and walked straight over to him.
“Excuse me, my name is…”
From what I could hear, the young lady introduced herself as a producer, referenced some films the man had himself produced and asked if she could sit with him for a brief chat.
He reluctantly agreed. “Just a few minutes,” he said.
“That’s more than enough,” she replied.
I don’t know what came of that encounter. But this much I can tell you. It is exactly that sort of initiative and guts that makes opportunity knock on your door.
This is the thing you must remember about opportunity: she is very much like a headhunter. Always in search of potential, she’s desperately looking to unlock success. And she goes round and round the world looking for someone whose call she can answer. Alas, the truth is that, while they yearn and pray for her arrival, most people, usually more attracted by the glamour of her blessing than anything else, are in fact scared of what she represents. Because success means unknown territory. Means a great deal of hard work. Means change. And it always requires stepping out of one’s comfort zone, something everyone would rather avoid, understandably. This, my friends, is why she will sometimes pass by and knock but the intended recipient will mistake her call for something else. Noise, perhaps. Exactly why having the right mindset is critical to achieving success.
Seeing that young woman approach the producer brought a smile on my face. Because years ago, I did just as she did in the lobby. In the same city and the same hotel. I walked into the Carlton with a mission and an understanding that I would place myself in an uncomfortable position.
Here’s how it went.
The ibanker at the Festival de Cannes
[Note: this was a point in time where I was keen to break into film.]
Upon entering the lobby of the Carlton, I walked straight over to a security guard who was manning a small desk, behind which were a set of stairs that led up to the various floors of the hotel.
I broke the ice and soon learned that he was of Moroccan descent. Very good. Having lived in Rabbat for 2 years when I was a child meant we had something in common and I would, therefore, connect with him faster.
We chatted for about 15 minutes before I posed a strategic question.
“So how do I meet the big guys of Hollywood?” I asked with a smile.
“The first two floors,” he said. “The biggest producers in the world are staying there.”
I stared at him without saying a word. My body language did the talking and my eyes were unambiguous. I want access to the first two floors.
He smiled. Then he looked to his left and right and, when satisfied, motioned with his hands to the staircase behind him.
“Hurry,” he said.
“Shukran jazeelan,” I said. Thank you very much.
I walked up to the first floor. Basically, each of the rooms was booked by a film company and in many cases in front of the door was a stand with the name of the company displayed. Think the biggest film companies in the word.
I clearly remember the first door I knocked on. It was an Italian production company. I walked in and just spoke nonsense. I had no idea what I was saying.
I moved on and knocked on another door, introduced myself and carried on this way from company to company. In the next hour, some interesting things transpired. A French person invited me inside the room for coffee and kindly explained to me how their production company worked and how they took on new projects. He was bored sitting inside alone and was delighted he had someone to talk to. I had told him I was in charge of Special Projects at Warner Brothers. Utter bullshit.
Another person in another room threatened to call security – they’d just gotten out of the shower when some unknown individual (me) showed up at the door with a big smile.
But the most invaluable encounter happened when, after being shooed away several times in a row, I decided I would only knock on one final door. Fate would play a role here.
I stood in place staring at the name of the production company. Where do I know this company from? It hit me: my mother had attended a wedding in California the year before and met a woman whose son was a Hollywood film producer. That producer’s company was the one in front of me, in a room on the second floor of the Carlton Hotel. What were the chances?
There was no time to waste. Security could pop up anytime now. Deep breath. Knock.
I heard footsteps approaching. I quickly ran my fingers through my hair and straightened my back.
A young, banker-looking man in his mid-thirties opened the door. He had a strong tan. Perfect skin. The kind of man whose bathroom at home contained shelves and shelves of skincare products. Not a single strand of hair on his head was out of place.
“Yes,” he said making me feel like I’d just interrupted a UN Security Council meeting of utmost urgency.
“Can I help you,” he continued.
“Can I speak to (name of producer)?” I said.
“And you are?” he said with a suspicious tone.
Without thinking, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“A family friend,” I said. What did I just do?
“Wait here,” he said to me and closed the door.
I nearly burst out laughing but reigned in my emotions and got into character again.
A moment later the famous producer opened the door and stepped out. He looked at me with questioning eyes.
“Do we know each other?” he said.
I smiled. “Not exactly, but my mother knows your mother. They both attended [X’]s wedding in California last year.”
He wasn’t put completely at ease but was comforted by the – tenuous – connection between us. He invited me inside and we chatted for about 15 minutes.
I won’t get into the specifics of it but several months later when I moved to Los Angeles I reached out to him and we met up.
Let me be clear here. Nothing material came out of that. But that’s okay. To this day I’m still proud of myself for having done what I did, in the Carlton. It made me stronger.
Boldness has genius
I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone many times in the past and more often than not it led nowhere. At the time. However, there were indirect benefits that, though difficult to quantify, should never be underestimated. Mainly, I became more courageous with respect to the risks I was willing to take. And with time I kept raising the bar of discomfort, challenging myself and growing.
When you dare great things you open yourself up to infinite possibilities. And you begin to attract opportunity.
Why, then, wouldn’t more people do just that? That is, to take more risks. I’ll tell you. Because, like most great investment opportunities, it’s not just upside. There’s accompanying stress, pressure and pain that comes with the territory. For instance:
- There are no guarantees when you embark on a less-traveled route; at least when you play the safe option you know exactly where you’ll be standing when you’re done, however uninspiring that position may be – and people like certainty
- You make yourself vulnerable
- You put yourself in difficult and uncomfortable positions
- You risk getting rejected (a lot)
Consequently, most people will choose to take a safe path. They’ll play by the rules and stay within the confines of safety. And that means they probably won’t enjoy the tastiest fruits, for the most delicious ones are the hardest to reach and require more effort and certainly greater risk.
If you’re still not convinced that you ought to be truly bold and daring, and would rather leave your destiny entirely in the hands of fate, then let me tell you why you should reconsider.
Look around. Life isn’t fair. If you live in London, just take a walk around Mayfair and pay close attention to your surroundings. Or find a very affluent part of town near you and take a stroll. Some people really have it easy, don’t they? The status quo is perfectly fine for them because they’re at the top. But if isn’t the case for you then you need to take unorthodox action.
We are not all given the same advantages. We do not control the lottery of life. The one we are born into was outside of our control. The events we can influence, however, are those yet to come. And even then, I would argue, fortune plays a role. But remember this. Fortune, the feisty mistress that she is, much like her sister, Opportunity, has always had a liking for the brave and the bold. It is when a daring individual takes risks that she notices them. When they stand out from the crowd.
You want great things to happen. Dare mighty things and get out of your comfort zone.
The final point I’ll make is that when you dare and you are bold, the action you take can deliver return with more interest than you ever imagined. It’s not proportional, i.e. you put in 1 unit of effort and get back 1 unit of reward. You may get back 100, 1000 or more units. The unknown unknowns that come from this mindset can be life-changing and it is why some people’s success balloons over time.
Don’t be mistaken to think you have to take BIG risks now in order to obtain large rewards. Not at all. Begin by taking small steps. Think long-term. And always remember it’s about building something. Brick by brick.
I’ll assume you’ve figured out what you want in life. The next thing is for you to start finding ways of getting there, however much the odds are stacked against you. That might be to take an action directly related to your professional goal. Or even something unrelated and more personal to you, such as speaking to a random stranger or someone attractive who you’re too shy to normally approach.
Pick something that takes you out of your comfort zone and give it a go. Just don’t over think it and spend too long trying to figure out exactly what exercise to carry out. Or you’ll become a wantpreneur who spends years and years in the pencil-sharpening stage trying to come up with the perfect business idea. Every time you take action, you are moving up and growing as an individual.
Never stop moving.