Find Worth in What You Do

Written by Davis Nguyen

Your first job (or even first couple of jobs) won’t always excite you. In fact, you might find yourself daydreaming of doing something, anything else.

That doesn’t mean you can’t find some reason to make the 40+ hours you spend at your job meaningful.

When I was 14, I heard the following story that reminds me of how much power we have to shape how we view our work:

On a foggy autumn day nearly 1000 years ago, a merchant traveling in England happened upon a group of three masons working.
Despite already being late for an important meeting, our traveller decides to stop and inquire the trio about their work.
He moved toward the first of the three masons and asked, "Dear fellow, what is it that you are doing?"
The man continued his work and grumbled, "I am cutting stones."
Realizing that the mason did not wish to be bothered, our traveler moved toward the second of the three and repeated the question, “My dear sir, what is it that you are doing?”
To the traveler’s delight this time, the man stopped his work, and replied, “I am cutting stones. I came to London from the north to work, but as soon as my work is done and I get paid, I shall return to my wife and kids back north.”
The traveler thanked the second mason, wished him a safe journey home, and began to head to the third and last of the masons.
When he reached the third worker, he once again asked the original question,
"What are you doing?"
The third worker paused, stood up, and glanced at the traveler until they made eye contact before replying,
"I am a mason and I am building a cathedral. I have come far to build this cathedral. I have spent many months away from my wife and kids whom I miss dearly. However, I know how important this cathedral will be one day, and I know how many people will find sanctuary and solace here.’
Satisfied, our traveler continued on his route leaving the three masons to continue their work.

You can’t always do what you love, but you can almost always find a way to love what you do.

You can view tasks you don’t enjoy in your life as mundane and beneath you, or you can view them as opportunities to better things.

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


What I Learned One Year Later: What Drives Work Happiness

Written by Davis Nguyen

Last week marked a full year since I started my first full-time job at Bain. Though I’ve had jobs in high school and college, I always considered myself a student first and an employee second. To celebrate my one year anniversary, I took time to reflect on the largest lessons I’ve learned the past 12 months. 

One of those lessons was learning what drove my happiness at work. 

And it came down to this:

Doing work that pushes you to grow while feeling supported 

The way Bain operates is we work on projects on average 3 to 6 months at a time for our client companies. These projects vary from figuring out which country a company should launch its products to figuring out how a company can save a billion dollars. 

I’ve had seven different projects since starting a year ago and what I’ve learned in all these different environment is what makes the time pass and satisfaction high is having work that pushes my growth while feeling supported along the way.

If you are doing work that pushes you to grow, you are constantly learning and feeling immersed. Time passes by quickly. Compare this to doing a task that is routine and mundane: an hour feels like an entire day. And if you are doing work while feeling supported, you enjoy being where you are and challenging yourself to grow. 

The type of work you’re asked to do day in and out will change. Some days will make you feel so lucky to be where you are; other days will make you want to quit. But what drives happiness is feeling as though you are being challenged without being too stretched, and having people who care about you. The work can be tough, the hours can be long, but with supportive people the experience is more enjoyable.

This lesson is one of the twelve largest learnings one year out of school. You can find the other lessons here.

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Learning to Say “No”

Written by Davis Nguyen

I’ve always had a hard time saying “no,” until saying “no” was the only thing keeping me from ending up in the hospital this month.  

When I first moved to San Francisco a year ago, I didn’t have much of a social base being 2,500 miles from home and 3,000 miles from where I went to college. 

To fill the void, I started joining volunteer groups at and outside of work. The committees at work and non-profit organizations I joined started to slowly solve my want for a social community. I met people I normally wouldn’t have met, create memories that otherwise wouldn’t have existed, and slowly found my community in the city. 

A year later, I have no problem picking up the phone and having someone come over for dinner. But last month, I started noticing the side effects of being so committed. As my social time increased, my personal time declined. 

This month a number of my commitments ran into unexpected obstacles that needed to be solved quickly. I encountered a problem I’d never experienced in my life: there was just not enough energy in me to do everything despite staying up 7 days to the AMs. I was near exhaustion every night.  

When it was all done and I could finally breathe, I was happy with the results but saddened by the price. I finally understood what “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” meant. Instead of being energized by volunteer work, I felt drained. When the last event concluded, I just went back home and fell on my bed. It was first time I remember such a restful sleep since the cascade of commitments came down. 

But besides the positive communal results that came from this period, there emerged a personal result: I learned to say "no." During this intense period, the request for my time didn’t stop, but it was the first time since moving to San Francisco I just said “no” without hesitation. Not to anyone’s surprise, the world didn’t stop and the people who asked me simply asked someone else. 

I wish this lesson didn’t have to come when my health was declining, but I am glad I learned it. Learning to say no is tough, but I remind myself that if I say yes to something, I am saying no to everything else. In the end, I want to be in control of what I say no to. 

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Winning the rental game

Written by Davis Nguyen  A year ago, I wrote about how my roommates and I were able to get rents that were less than half average in a newly renovated home in a safe, quiet neighborhood in San Francisco, the most expensive major city in the United States.

This month, one of our roommates is moving out and I was tasked with finding her replacement. And when you have a spare room that is below market price, people flock to you. Within the first day, we had more than 11 requesting applications, and I’d only told a handful of friends that we were looking to fill a vacancy.

Now that I am on the side to who gets to rent a place, I want to share two practices I’ve seen increase people’s odds of being offered a contract and one I wish more people did. Together these three tactics will help you secure a contract in a high demand area even if you are new to a city.

1. Do your research on the people you’ll be living with

Most people don’t know much about the people they will be living with. They are just so worried about securing a room. Doing some research upfront will set you apart. One applicant we had, found that two of us were both management consultants and asked us about tips for making the most of her first year in the field (she was also starting a job in management consulting for a different company).

As Dale Carnegie wrote in his seminal work, “You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.” With LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google you can do so much when it comes to learning about your roommates. Become interested in them.

2. Think creatively about the unique value that you bring

When interviewing, think about what can you do for the other people, not only what they can do for you. Our original roommate beat out almost 30 other applicants because she was so good at doing this. Despite being away from San Francisco when she initially interviewed, she did a convincing job telling us why we would benefit from having her as a roommate.

She offered to bring her couches cross-country so we would have a hang out area and she shared with us her irrational distaste of dirty bathrooms (meaning she would clean the bathrooms). While other parts of her application stood out, her willingness to think about how having her (or not have her) would influence our living environment brought her over the top.

Do you cook? Do you have a car? Do you have a projector? Think about what “add-on” you can offer for your roommates. By thinking about these “add-on” you’ll show you want to be part of their community.

3. Address your landlord/roommates concerns

This one I wish more people did. When people are reading applications looking for sub-lets, they have concerns: will you pay your rent on time? Will you be a positive energy in the house? Will you bring unwanted guests over?

As an applicant, if you can address these concerns, you’ve almost won them over. They aren’t impressed by what college you went to, where you work, or what talent you have if you can’t address their basic concerns.

If you take the time to put these tactics into practice during your next rental search, you’ll be miles ahead of other applicants. Go the extra mile because it is never crowded up there.

About Davis


Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

13 Life Lessons I Learned Growing Up Poor

Written by Davis Nguyen  When my family immigrated to the United States, they had $200 between the six of them. To save costs they would take any job that would accept them, mostly 16-hour factory shifts, and lived together to reduce rent even as our family expanded. At one point we had 11 people sharing 4 rooms and 1 bathroom.

Many of the common conveniences my friends had I didn’t and when you grow up poor, you often imagine what it would be like had your family been wealthy. Sometimes you look at more well-off families with envy. As a kid, I thought about all the negatives of my situation – eating instant noodles for the 5th time in a week does that to you – and when I started as a freshman at a college I felt inferior to my more affluent peers because I lacked the culture, the sophistication, and the elegance I saw they had.

I viewed my upbringing only through the lens of what I missed out on instead of what I gained. Only in adulthood am I beginning to see how my experiences growing up impoverished has positively shaped who I am and what I’ve been able to accomplish in my life.

13 Life Lessons I Learned Growing Up Poor

1. The more you give, the more it comes back to you

If you’re poor, most likely your friends are too and you either learn to look after one another or suffer together. When my family first came to the United States, they barely had enough to get by, but my grandmother Rose, the matriarch of our family, always opened our home to those who had even less than us. Sunday dinners were spent with people from all races and backgrounds and my grandma always made sure noone left hungry.

Years later, when my grandmother opened up her own nail salon in our neighborhood, her first customers were many of the families she welcomed into our home all those years earlier. The people my grandmother fed brought their daughters, their friends, and their co-workers. Many of them became my grandmother’s life-long customers and even though my grandmother is now retired, she still gets requests from them to give them manicures and is able to live comfortably in retirement.

When you are generous to others, others will be generous towards you.

2. Problems can be solved with creativity

When my family took our first vacation, we encountered a problem we hadn’t thought about before. Our neighborhood was known for high levels of robberies and we didn’t have an alarm system to protect the house while we were gone. My grandfather didn’t let this deter him from enjoying vacation with his family.

The day before we left, my grandfather closed all the blinds to prevent anyone from peeking in, put the radio on a Vietnamese radio station so it would seem people were talking from within the house, and he allowed our neighbors who normally parked in our street, to park on our driveway so it seemed that people were entering and leaving. When we came back from our vacation we learned that 2 homes had been robbed a street down, but our house had not been hit.

Growing up, learning to be resourceful became a regular part of my identity. When I moved to San Fransisco, a few friends and I wanted to have lunch at a popular restaurant that had an 1-2 hour wait unless you came with a reservation. But to make a reservation, you must have at least 10 people. I gathered a group of 10 friends and made a reservation for the following month. When the day of our reservation came, half of our group could no longer make it and informed me only as I was driving to the restaurant.

So the 4 of us that remained had to either find more people or lose our table and wait 2 hours. I decided to recruit people who were waiting without a reservation and asked if they wanted to join our group. The first 4 groups I asked rejected me, since we were pretty young, I imagine they thought we would run when the bill came out, but the 5th group I asked said yes and we had our table of 10, saving both groups a combined wait time of 2 hours. When you grow up poor, you’re forced to use creativity to solve your problems.

3. Comparing plate sizes is the fastest way to be unhappy

With such a large family and a small budget, my family only ate out on special occasions. Whenever we went out to eat I would always look at what others were eating. I envied how others could have lobster, crab, and even shrimp when my family only had rice and simple meats. When I was four and we were celebrating my aunt Quyen’s birthday, my aunt pulled me to the side and said, “only look at what others are eating to see that they have enough; never look at another person’s plate to see if you have more.”

Today, I earn more on my own than entire families make in a year, but even with a large income, I see how unhappy many of my co-workers are. They make 2-3 times more than the average American, but still consider themselves poor because they see and compare themselves to the person who has been at the firm longer or their friends who work at larger firms. When you look at what others have that you don’t, you are going to be unhappy no matter how much you have.

4. If you don’t ask, the answer is already “no”

When you are poor, you do a lot of asking. Asking for a discount, asking for work, asking for an extension on your rent. In asking, you learn that the worst response anyone could give you is a “no.”

When I was five, I wanted to learn how to ride a bike so I could join the other kids in my neighborhood instead of just watching them from the sidewalk, but my family couldn’t afford to buy me a bike.

One day, my dad saw that our neighbor had thrown out a used bike that was about right for my size. My dad saw an opportunity and walked to our neighbor’s house, knocked on their door, and asked if he could have the bike they had just thrown out. That used bike became how I learned to ride a bike and it was only possible because my dad had the audacity to ask to go through another family’s trash.

In high school, I made it a goal to win enough scholarships so that I could pay for college on my own and my family wouldn’t need to take out a loan. As I was applying for scholarships, I remembered how my dad knew the worst that could happen to him was someone tells him “no”.

Over three years, I made a list of 312 scholarships and applied to every single one of them. 281 rejected me, but the remaining 31 said yes and together equaled more than $1.2 million in scholarships, more than enough money to pay for any university that would take me. I only got to this point because of the lesson my dad had taught me earlier in life. The worst anyone could tell you is “no” and if you don’t ask, the answer is already “no.”

5. A good solution is better than a perfect solution

When my dad was still working on an assembly line, he was applying for his nail technician license hoping that he could join my grandmother’s nail salon, then our family business. Because he was working during the weekdays and got off too late to attend non-weekend classes, it would have taken him months to get his license.

To speed up his learning, he volunteered to give free manicures to all the women who worked in customer service and secretarial roles at his factory. When he took the licensing exam he had enough experience to pass and shaved weeks off his training saving him time and money. My dad’s solution wasn’t the most elegant but it solved the problem.

When I was applying for college, I knew I needed at high SAT score but I couldn’t afford to take the same SAT courses that other students were. As an alternative, I asked a student for a syllabus of the prep course she was taking. I found the books listed on her syllabus throughout various libraries in my state and asked my local library to borrow them for me.

When the books arrived, I spent the summer self-teaching myself the material on the syllabus. It took me twice as long to get the results, but by the end of the summer I saw the same 400 point boost on the SAT while saving my family $3000 in the process. When you’re poor you can’t wait for the perfect solution so you do what you can with what you have.

6. You can find comfort in the uncomfortable

When I was still young, my father walked out on our family leaving me, my mother, and my little brother to survive on our own. My mom who had been handicapped since she was young was unable to work. To get by we relied on food stamps, welfare, and what the rest of our family could contribute.

It became normal for my mom to miss her payments: sometimes I would wake up and there would be no water and other times our electricity had been cut off. So I would go on for days dressing in the dark or not taking a shower. Somehow along the way, I learned to be comfortable. I knew if the electricity went out to grab the flashlight and when the gas went out to use a lighter to heat our food. I learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

My job involves working with people who are older and more experienced than I am, but it is my job to be in the same room with them and give them advice on how to run their business; some of my clients joke that I’m young enough to be their son. To a 23-year old, being in this situation can be frightening, knowing if you say the wrong things, you’ll be out of a job, but when you know what it is like going for days without running water, going into a broad room isn’t so scary.

The more uncomfortable situations you experience, the more comfortable you will be next time you find yourself in one.

7. Don’t be bothered by small stuff

When you move from house to house and you have a budget constraint there is never a perfect home. Sometimes the heater didn’t work well, other times you hear the noise from cars driving on the major road in front of your house.

One of the homes I lived in had such a bad cockroach problem that even exterminators couldn’t keep them from coming back. I would find at least a dozen cockroaches when I turned on the light in the morning, but everything else about the home was great: big rooms, cheap cost of living, and on a quiet street. Crazy looking back on what my family put up with, but it helped me learn not to be bothered by minor inconveniences.

In life things are inevitability going to go wrong. Your taxi driver will take a wrong turn so you’re late for a meeting, you forgot your umbrella at home so you’re walking in the rain, or you get locked out of your house. In those moments it can be frustrating but remember that compared to a hundred of other inconveniences such as living with cockroaches, your inconveniences are quite small, so don’t let it bother you.

8. Knowledge is indeed power

Growing up my uncle worked at my grandmother’s nail salon, but since the income wasn’t fantastic, he read books on computers when computers were still new and floppy disks were the closest thing we had to the “cloud.” On the weekend, he would repair computers of local businesses. He was able to make a good side-income doing this for years based on a few books he read.

Even when my aunt passed away and he was the sole provider, he would continue to read books and find ways to make side-income to care for my cousins. My uncle is one of the most resourceful people I know – give him a book and he’ll turn it into income.

My first apartment after college didn’t have a washer or a dryer and going to a local laundromat would have cost me an afternoon. Luckily, a roommate of mine found a young couple who were giving away their washer and dryer for free, it just needed some small repairs.

After we spent a Friday evening moving the washer/dryer into our apartment, I spent the weekend learning how a washer and a dryer worked, went to a local hardware store, bought some parts, and spent the weekend repairing the units. By Sunday evening, they were as good as new and I did my first laundry load in our washer. Though I don’t plan to be a professional washer/dryer repairman knowing I have the power to access knowledge and use it to improve my life is powerful.

9. Care for the things you have, no matter how little you have

I didn’t have much growing up. My drawers were never filled and my room was mostly empty. This made it easy to clean up my room and care for my stuff. Because I didn’t have much, I would wear the same clothes often and so I took care of the few shirts and pants I did have. So when a shirt was stained, I would clean it right away otherwise I just lost a shirt I’ve had a long history with. Today, I still own very few things but whatever I do own it is because I enjoy having it and invest effort in caring for it.

10. Opportunity is everywhere, but not where you thought it would be

My Yale friends are some of the most intelligent people I know, but I still can’t find more street smart than with the friends I grew up with. One of my best friends in high school is a guy name Phi. He and I had similar backgrounds, our families immigrated from Vietnam and we both had fathers who left us when we were younger.

Phi wasn’t the academic type, but he knew how to create opportunities for himself. When we all turned 18, we began receiving credit card offers. These credit cards are meant to get you to spend and begin a cycle of debt. For the people who knew this they avoided the cards all together. Phi saw an opportunity.

Many of these credit cards even though they had horrible terms gave you a period where you didn’t have to pay interest. Phi applied for all these cards that had a 0% interest period and withdrew all the cash he could from them. He used all the money to buy three small homes that were in foreclosure, fixed it up when he wasn’t at school, and moved himself, his siblings, and his mom to one of these homes and rented out the other two.

Since he fixed the other two homes, he used the rental income from those to pay off his bills, the mortgage on the house his mom lives in, and earns equity at the same time. Since the 0% interest credit cards keep coming, every time a card is nearing its end, he would use the new card to pay off all the debt of the old one and cancel the old card.

Today, Phi has paid off all three homes and all income he makes from them he invests in a fourth rental home. Where the banks thought they would make money off Phi, he has used them to make a better life for himself and his family.

11. If you want something, no one will get it for you except you

My grandparents always dreamt of owning their own business so when they came to America they spent their time and money to make their dream a reality. They only bought second-hand clothes, cooked all their lunches, and when something was broken would attempt to fix it themselves before hiring someone or buying a new one.

On the weekends when they weren’t working, they would drive around looking for locations to open their shop and scoping out the competition. When I was 4, a location opened up near where we lived and my grandparents spent their savings to secure the lease. My grandparents had a dream and pushed themselves to make it happen.

When I was applying for college, my grandparents became my role models. Though my community wasn’t known for sending people to elite universities, my dream was to be the exception. I would wake up while my friends were still asleep to work on my essays and stay up late when my friends were already in bed to work some more on my applications, essays, and scholarships. When you grow up poor, you learn that no one will push you. You have to push yourself.

12. What you have and where you are at isn’t as important as who you are with

Growing up, my family vacations were going to nearby beaches. These beaches weren’t the cleanest, but they were close and the motels were cheap so my family could afford to take a weekend trip every summer. As a kid, I didn’t mind how dirty or trashed the beaches we went to where because I was just glad I could leave the house.

As a teenager, TV and the internet showed me that beaches didn’t always have beer cans everywhere or were puke green in color. I just wanted to escape all of it and vacation somewhere beautiful like what I was seeing on National Geographic.

After I graduated from college, I took 5 months to travel the world by myself with money I saved from working the previous summers. I saw the most beautiful sites in the world from the beaches of Thailand to the mountains of Sapa, but all I could think was how I wished I could have spent those months with my family back on the dirty beaches I would despise as a kid. As I learned, being on top of the world doesn’t mean much when you can’t share that view with people you care about.

13. Be confident with who you are

Being comfortable with who I am took a long time for me to accept. When I started college, in my class were the decedents of many of America’s most prominent families. I didn’t dress as well as they did; I didn’t speak as eloquently as they did; and I wasn’t as cultured as they were. I felt vastly inferior.

As college went on and I became friends with many of the people I initially felt so intimated by, I realized I didn’t have many of the experiences they did, but that wasn’t to say my experiences weren’t as valuable. Since graduating from Yale and working with some of the wealthiest people in the world, I’ve come to see that I do lack many of the experiences they’ve had and learned from, but I also learnt I could easily gain many of these experiences.

A few wine tastings and I can tell you why you should pair your ribeye steak with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux for a juicier dining experience; a few black tie events later, I can tell you how to present yourself at an elegant setting; and a few fancy dinners later, I could tell you why sending your daughter to a summer camp in Maine might be the best thing you do for her.

I learned that many of the experiences that my friends who grew up in wealthy households had, I still have opportunities to have and learn from but few of them will ever get an opportunity to have the experiences I’ve had and learn the lessons I’ve learnt.

We can’t change how we were raised, we can only appreciate how it has made us the person we are today.

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Turn Mundane Jobs Into Larger Opportunities

Written by Davis Nguyen 

At dinner during our senior year of college, a friend and I debated if a perfect post-graduation job existed. We couldn’t name one.

She instead shared a story of how no matter how mundane/uninspiring/replaceable our first job after college would be, that the job description didn’t limit the opportunities we could create from it.

She shared with me a story of how a CEO of a small company hired a part-time janitor to clean their office. This janitor was responsible for cleaning the floors, windows, and restrooms. After sometime, the other employees would notice how this janitor would spend more time than he needed with each task. It was as if he was on a crusade to eliminate every single germ from the office. In particular, he took pride in how well he kept the restrooms clean, claiming someone could drink from the toilet bowl because it was so clean. The other employees saw how clean the restrooms were, but thought the janitor was joking.

One day, the company CEO was using the restroom as the janitor was cleaning it. The CEO commented how clean the restrooms are always, and the janitor mentioned you could drink from the bowl. The CEO knew the janitor worked hard but laughed; the janitor took out a red solo cup, filled his cup with water from the toilet bowl, and drank from it. The CEO was left speechless. Later that week, the CEO hired the janitor as one of his full-time project managers.

We know this story is true because the janitor is my friend’s uncle.

Take ownership of your responsibilities no matter how small

Your first job after college won’t be the sexiest, most fulfilling, or highest paying job you’ll ever have, but every day you wake up you have an opportunity to create opportunities for yourself to get closer to that sexier, more fulfilling, and higher paying job. All you have to do is be willing to do more than what other people expect of you with whatever opportunities you are given, no matter how small, mundane, or uneventful it might be.

You won’t have to drink out of a toilet bowl, but if you take ownership in your responsibilities and demonstrate the ability to handle more, you will be given more. Even if most people don’t care about the results and bypass it, you shouldn’t. Average people take average opportunities and create average results. Great people take average opportunities and turn them into greater opportunities. Don’t’ believe me? Just ask the now-CEOs who started as unpaid interns.

Your first job(s) out of college won’t be glamorous, but if you are willing to take the opportunity you are given—no matter how little, how mundane, or how dirty—and deliver more than what is expected, you can turn that small opportunity into something bigger.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments: What is one thing you could do today at work to do more than what others expect?

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Be Who You Want to Be—Faster

Written by Davis Nguyen 

When I first started playing violin, my teacher would criticize us every time we played even a bit off-key, sat a few centimeters from ideal posture, or lost focus even for a slight second. She was a hard teacher to please, and many students quit.

Each time I played, I was nervous I would be the next one to be corrected in front of the class. But I looked forward to playing for her every day, because I knew she was only harsh to us because she wanted us to be better. Though I disliked being called out in the middle of everyone, the result always led to me being a better player. I knew the moment she stopped caring and calling out my mistakes was the moment my progress would stop.

It has been more than 10 years since I picked up my violin, but the lessons I learned from Ms. Allegood still remain fresh in my mind each time I am working with others, from school projects to business projects.   

Who do you want to be?

None of us are perfect. We have our strengths and weaknesses. And these strengths and weaknesses can be sorted into four categories:

  • Things you know you are good at (known-strengths)
  • Things you know you are not good at (known-weaknesses)
  • Things you don’t know you’re good at (unknown-strengths)
  • Things you don’t know you’re not good at (unknown-weaknesses)

Playing the violin, you quickly learn your knowns – which pieces of music you are good at, which pieces you are not, which positions you are comfortable playing, and which ones you are not. But it is hard to know your unknowns, and that is why a good teacher matters. A good teacher points out your unknowns and challenges you so you can discover your own unknowns. The result is that you become a better player.

Each time I work with others on a team, one of my goals is to further understand my strengths and weaknesses. I want to develop my knowns while discovering my unknowns to make them knowns.

It is easy to go from activity to activity at work, doing enough to get by, and not worrying about your personal development. Doing so would be wasting an opportunity to learn and grow, to be doing the work that you want, to be making the impact you want on the world, and to be paid what you want to be paid. By caring about your personal development, you ensure that every task you do, no matter how meaningless it might seem, will benefit you and help you become the person you want to be. 

Begin each task with a goal of how you want to develop by the end, even if it is just to be better at what you’re already doing.

Supercharge Your Personal Development

One of the fastest ways I’ve learned to develop myself is to ask for feedback from people who see me in action. I’ll ask for feedback as we’re working together as well as at the end.

Getting feedback can be hard since no one likes being told they’re not good at something, but it is the process of being vulnerable and allowing others to be candid with you that helps you develop your knowns and uncover your unknowns.

Over the years, I learned that when people I respect give me feedback, it is because they want me to be better, much like Ms. Allegood 10 years earlier. Over time, I developed three questions I would ask people I worked with.

  1. What should I stop doing?
  2. What should I start doing?
  3. What should I keep doing?

The answer to each helps me become a better leader, a better teammate, and a better person. Each time I ask these questions, I move closer to being the person I want to become.

Making the space safe

When I ask for feedback from people I’ve worked with, people I’ve managed, and people who have managed me, I provide the 3 questions ahead of time so they have time to think about the answer. I make it known that I want to know the answer to these questions so I can better myself as a person to give people the OK to be completely honest with me. 

Depending on the relationship we have and what I know about the person, if they are comfortable, I’ll set up one-one-one time to go over their answers. During this session, all I am doing is listening, taking notes of their answers, and asking for examples when I feel the answer is too vague. This is not the time to uphold my ego; arguing or defending myself would defeat the purpose of why we are having this session.

If the person is not comfortable telling me in person, I will send out a mass anonymous email (usually to at least 5 people I’ve worked with recently) with a survey form with the same questions and get my feedback anonymously.

Putting feedback into actionable steps

No matter how I collect my answers, I aggregate them into themes. Since no one person gets to see me all the time, one person might say I am great at X, while another might say I am not. Unless that person works with me a large amount of the time, I am not looking for specific comments but for themes across different people.

Once I have my themes identified, I highlight the ones that represent strengths and ones that represent areas for improvement so that when I work on my next team I continue to demonstrate my strengths and work on my weaknesses.

Once the project concludes, I ask for more feedback and the cycle of personal improvement continues.

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Standing Out From a Crowd of 30,000

Written by Davis Nguyen 

I rejected an applicant with a 4.0 GPA from Yale, and I was prepared to reject more.

Last month, my company asked me to help recruit the upcoming class of summer interns. It was my job to screen more than a hundred resumes from Yale (my alma mater), rank the applicants, and decide who my team and I thought should get an interview and who shouldn’t. The call to be part of recruiting at Bain is like being called up for jury duty – it's extra work, but it's considered an honor.

Upon accepting my role, I received a document to read that outlined how Bain & Company thought about applicants, what to look for in a resume, how to evaluate a transcript, and what attributes would indicate someone would contribute positively and have a good time at Bain.

This is not to say that the people we reject are not great applicants. But when each year more than 30,000 people apply for limited positions at Bain & Company, you have to have an objective measure. And over the last forty years, Bain's recruiting must be working, considering the number of future Fortune 500 CEOs, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and even Presidential nominees we hire.

After reading my share of the thousands of resumes and debating about the candidates, I learned how someone could stand out from a crowd of 30,000 applicants in whatever job they might apply to.

Cover Letter

The cover letter wasn’t really optional.

If my company and I are going to invest time, money, and energy to interview and develop you, we expect you to spend at least an hour writing a cover letter. I rejected more than a dozen applicants with perfect or near perfect GPAs, because they chose not to explain why they were interested in the position. Not writing a cover letter explaining why you are applying is like telling someone you like them and then showing up an hour late for a date. Let your actions match your intents.

Google will save you from rejection.

When I see you describing my company as “caring about results” and “valuing people,” I think, which company would say they don’t care about results or about its people? Find examples. What would have been better was checking out the websites of every company you apply for. What stories do they tell? What examples do they list of what they value and what makes them unique? What do the clients say about the company? Replace platitudes with examples to show you did your research.

Talk to someone who works there.

Want an easy way to write your cover letter? Talk to someone who works there. You can easily find the email of someone who works at the place you want to work at. Reach out. If people repeatedly reject even a short 15 minute call with you, reconsider whether this is the type of culture you even want to work in.

Your cover letter isn’t really about you.

It is about us and what you can do with us. I don’t care if you talk about the company you tried to start in college or the summers you volunteered at a kids’ camp. What matters is how your experience will help you have a successful time at the company. If you don’t tell me, I assume you don’t know if you will be successful and were just trying to fill up space on the cover letter.

Want to tell me about that stain on your resume?

The cover letter is the only chance you have to explain to me any points you think I will miss. This includes why your GPA should higher than it actually is. Did you have a family issue that caused one semester to drop your GPA? Without an explanation, I can’t read your mind. You can’t hide the stains, but you can explain why they are there before I assume the worst.


You have a college degree but so does everyone else. What else do you have to offer?

Today ~30% of Americans have at least a college degree compared to ~10% who had it in 1970’s. Having a college degree now is almost assumed. In the 1970’s if you knew how to operate a computer, it was a skill worth listing. Now you wouldn’t list “computer skills” since it is assumed every recent college grad will know who to use one. But is impressive if you have advanced computer skills that are relevant. When most to all people have the same qualification as you, you have to find other ways to stand out.

You have a degree in business, but an applicant with a degree in biology has started his own pop-up restaurant. Who do you think I will choose?

Just because you lack a degree in business doesn’t mean you can’t land a job in business, and just because you have a degree in business doesn’t mean you have a better chance of landing a job in business. In 2014, a team at Auburn University sent 9,400 fictitious resumes to online job openings in business-related fields such as finance, management, and marketing. Each of these resumes were assigned one of nine different majors ranging from business to biology.

Resumes with business degrees were not any more likely to land an interview than resumes with non-business degrees such as English or biology, but what helped was having internship experience listed – this increased the odds by 14%. As I am reading though your resume, I care less about what you studied in the classroom and more about how you use the skills you learn outside the classroom.

Imagine your resume is the only impression I get of you because it might be.

Considering the vast number of resumes I read, I saw some designs that wasn’t just your typical default Microsoft Word template – these people took the time to format these. While a beautiful resume alone did not guarantee a high-rating by me, it made the overall application more memorable. This was especially true in instances when more applicants are qualified than there are spots, I have nothing more than how nicely formatted the resume is. Your resume is an extension of you.

Google will once again save you.

Find out what we actually do. Your resume is not a time to brag about all the crap you have done. But if the crap you’ve done will help the company, you have my attention. I don’t care that you were a waiter at a Michelin star restaurant, but if your tips were 2x the average, then you have my attention. That signals that you know how to deal with people. Your resume is not about you. How will your experience help your future company?

You have a lower GPA than most other applicants, but we’ll still take you.

A high GPA means you can handle hard work. But will you be able to work with others? Do you have the resolve to be calm under pressure? Do you have the fire in belly to be a problem solver? I can’t tell this from just your GPA, so if a high GPA is the only positive quality you have going for you, you are in trouble.

A great resume and cover letter won’t guarantee you a dream job, but having a bad one will make you lost among the 30,000 other applicants.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What is the best job application advice you’ve received?

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

Putting Your Fear of Uncertainty to Rest

Written by Davis Nguyen 

I’ve always felt uncertainty hung around like a bad cop waiting to catch me. 

Growing up, uncertainty took the form of my basic needs. I wondered if my mother, little brother, and I would have food, electricity, or water the next day.

In college, uncertainty came in the form of impostor syndrome. I was convinced that Yale had admitted the wrong person and that any semester my professors would find out that I didn’t belong.

As I grew older, I thought uncertainty would go away, and it did—only to creep up again in new forms. My mom and little brother are now taken care of, I graduated from Yale with honors, and I work for company where I look forward to coming in every morning. But the fear of uncertainty still lingers. Will I still love my job a year from now? Will my income continue to provide for my family?

I’ve come to see that the only thing that is permanent about certainty is that there will always be uncertainty. We just have to learn to live with it.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to put my fear of uncertainty behind me by being grateful. I am thankful my worst fears haven't come true, and I channel my energy towards being ready if my worst fears do become a reality. Instead of letting uncertainty hover over me, I proactively react to every twist in my life.

In my childhood this meant making sure I didn’t waste any food, use too much water when I showered, or forget to turn off the lights when I left a room. If my worst fears did strike, my mom made sure we had at least ramen, a neighbor who would let us use his shower, and spare flashlights in the closet.

In college, I studied harder than I thought I needed, and if the results from a test came back unfavorably, I sought help so next time I would do better.

I learned to live with uncertainty by being grateful for what I already had and making the most of it. If tomorrow brought greater uncertainty, I made sure to be mentally ready to handle it.

Constantly worrying about uncertainty is like worrying that it might rain next week. It might, but constantly fretting takes away from the sunshine you are getting this week. Agonizing over the potential rain keeps you from best using your time and energy to proactively prepare for it.

Make of the most of where you are and what you have. Be grateful for today. Tomorrow might not be as easy.

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

9 Lessons Only Rejection Can Teach You

By Davis Nguyen

“It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” - Bill Gates

I thought the beginning of my senior year was going to be the time of my life. I thought that I’d quickly be able to find a job I love and spend the rest of senior year enjoying it with friends.

Instead of weekends sipping wine or exploring the outdoors, I spent my weekends sending out resumes and exploring the indoors of interview rooms.

I didn’t get an offer from my first, second, or even my sixteenth interview. Almost every day came with a call or letter of rejection.

In fact, I made a wall of my job rejections.

(picture here) -> after Davis gets back to dorm on Monday

After two months of interviews and a miracle, I received my first job offer; ironically from the company I wanted to work for most.

Now that my senior year is ending and I have a job, I’ve had time to reflect on my job search experience and come to appreciate what rejection taught me.

9 Lessons Only Rejection Can Teach You

1. You're not the sh*t

Being rejected teaches us humility. I still remember leaving my first interview thinking that I was going to receive the job automatically. I would have bet my first year's salary on it. It was a rude awakening when I did not receive the congratulation call I was waiting for. The lesson I was forced to learn was there were plenty of more qualified candidates who are willing to work hard to get the same job I wanted.

2. Not all outcomes are in your control

Sometimes my rejection came from factors that I couldn’t easily control or change about myself. With one company, my interviewer’s feedback was that I had the skill set to do great work with them, but felt I wouldn’t fit into the culture. I realized now he was right and that I probably wouldn’t have been as happy working there.

3. It can't kill you

Rejection is never fun. It got to the point that each time I received an email or call from a company I would just cringe. But I lived to send another resume and cover letter.

4. You're in good company

As the job rejections piled on, I googled for other people who had been rejected by companies they wanted to work for. In the state I was in, I just wanted to know that someone else had been where I was and ultimately came out okay. During my search, I read about Brian Acton who was rejected by Facebook. He later co-founded WhatsApp. Facebook bought the app this year for $19 billion. Maybe if it didn’t work out, I could develop an app? Probably not, but it proved that not having a job right out of college wasn’t going to kill me.

5. How to stop being rejected

After each rejection email or call, I learned to ask for feedback on my performance. The feedback I received didn’t prevent me from being rejected from future interviews, but helped me to not be rejected for the same reasons.

6. Not to reject yourself

For many of the interviews where I made the final round, I got to tour the company and meet the staff. I made friends with some of the other students interviewing. Though I didn’t get an offer, I was pretty happy to have enjoyed those weekends meeting pretty awesome people. As a friend of mine said to me, if you don’t try, you are rejecting yourself of potential opportunities.

7. How to be closer to success

With each rejection I felt more determined to work harder. I saw each rejection as a sign that the company I applied to didn’t think I was good enough. Nothing like being told you aren’t good enough to motivate you to prove yourself.

8. To appreciate success when it comes

When my first job offer finally came I couldn’t contain my emotions and weeped as I was receiving the call from one of my interviewers. The job search process was over and I would be working with my dream company. I don’t think I would have been as happy as I was that day had I not been rejected so many times before. I learned to not take the opportunities I was given for granted.

9. Who your true supporters are

During my job search I became closer to two of my friends as we were interviewing for the same companies. We would share our rejections and talk each other out of feeling sorry for ourselves. I am so glad I had my friends to share my low moments with. When we finally all had our job offers, we had a dinner to celebrate.

Rejection isn’t all bad.

We can think of rejection as we do fire (because it does burn). Like fire, rejection can either make us stronger or burn us until there is nothing left. The choice is ours.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments: What would you add as a 10th lesson?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


The Alliance: How to Transform Your Career (+ Giveaway)

By Davis Nguyen the allianceAt first glance, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age seems to be written for managers who want to improve employee retention. What does this have to do with 20somethings looking for a job—the true life after college?

Upon closer look, the book is really about how all of us can be more agile (and honest with each other) in the new world of work. And we have a lot to learn from it.

What if you knew what your employer was thinking when they were hiring people? It is like auditioning for a movie and knowing exactly what type of role the director wanted to cast. This is what The Alliance is: a manual for employers on hiring and keeping the best talent.

The term “alliance” comes from the partnership made between you and your employer. As with any alliance, it needs to be beneficial to both sides and has objectives laid out.

What is Your Tour of Duty?

At the center of the book is the idea that the alliance you form with an employer should depend on your goals: are you looking for a job that will give you broad exposure to different areas? A job that will develop a particular set of skills? A foundation for a career with the same company?

Authors Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha (author of The Start-Up of You), and Chris Yeh (co-founder and General Partner of Wasabi Ventures) call each job or role you take as a “tour of duty.” Similar to serving in the armed services, you have goals that need to be accomplished and a clear vision of the type of person you will be at the end of your tour. At that point, you and your manager can talk about the best next move.

There are three types of tours for you to consider:

The Rotational Tour

This tour of duty allows you to rotate between different roles within a company. Rotational roles are ideal for people are still figuring out what they want to do and don’t want to quite settle for one role yet.

Examples of rotational programs include Google’s People Operations Rotational Program that allows you to try out three different roles in three, nine-month rotations and Box’s Rotational Program Associate that allows you to spend three six-months periods in various business rotations such as marketing, sales, client relations, and business development.

But rotational programs aren’t just limited to big tech companies like Google and Box, even negotiating to rotate roles at your local bookstore is a form of a rotational experience.

A rotational tour benefits the employer because they get to evaluate your fit to their culture, and it benefits you as you develop your skills in various areas and evaluate your fit to the company.

The Transformational Tour

Unlike the rotational tour, a transformational tour is personalized and has a specific outcome for you and the company. During your time in a transformational tour, you will transform yourself as well as your company.

In The Alliance, Reid Hoffman tells the story of Matt Cohler, then a McKinsey & Company Consultant, who wanted to be a Venture Capitalist. Reid convinced Matt that gaining operational experience at a successful startup was a better path to a career in VC than trying to join a firm straight out of consulting. Reid and Matt then created a unique tour of duty for Matt who served as Reid’s right-hand man. Reid got in Matt an ex-consultant who would work on various projects and Matt in exchange gained mentorship from Reid and a broad exposure to various functional and operational areas of LinkedIn.

After his a two year tour of duty Matt eventually left LinkedIn for another tour of duty at Facebook and became a General Partner at Benchmark, a venture capital firm that provided early stage funding for Twitter, Uber, Snapchat, and Instagram, four years later.

The Foundational Tour

The Foundational Tour is seen almost as a form of marriage where both you and employer are committed to each other for the long-term.

Because the foundational tour takes commitment, it usually begins with a rotational or transformational tour that evolves into a foundational one.

The authors write of Brad Smith who began his career at Inuit in 2003 as a general manager of the Intuit Developer Network on a transformational tour. Smith eventually chose to stay longer and is today Intuit's CEO.

Giveaway Time!

Want to learn more about tours of duty and how to negotiate with your employers about beginning your tour of duty? We will be giving away three copies of The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age.

For a chance to win, answer the following question and leave your email in the comments by Friday, October 31. We will pick three winners with Random.org and email to let you know!

Comment to be Entered to Win:

What type of “tour of duty” are you most interested in at this point in your career?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


The Most Important Word in the Dictionary

By Davis Nguyen

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

—C. S. Lewis

Humility isn’t a sexy word.

As recent college graduates, we are so eager to show the world what we have to offer. What we lack in experience, we make up for in our readiness to accept every opportunity coming at us – even if we don’t know what we signed on for. It is no surprise then that embracing humility is so hard; it means accepting our weaknesses. It means showing, instead of hiding, our imperfections. Imperfections we believe will keep us from getting the job we desire, being with the people we want, and living the life we dream of.

But the more we try to mask our imperfections, the more we miss out on the same opportunities we are seeking. We doom ourselves to repeat the same mistakes; we turn away people who want to help us; and we deny ourselves opportunities to grow. The outcome from making a mistake at 26 is not the same as if you make it at 36. The question is, will you learn at 26 or repeat it at 36?

But accepting humility doesn’t come from reading a “how-to” guide or waiting for an epiphany. It comes in gradual acceptances of who you are.

  • It means being proud of your accomplishments without being prideful.
  • It means thinking about how your actions will affect others.
  • It means taking responsibility for your mistakes.
  • It means admitting you don’t know everything.

Humility isn’t sexy, but it makes you more attractive.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

What trait in a person do you admire the most?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


Don't Read These Three Books If You're Happy Being Mediocre

By Davis Nguyen I love being able to spend a Sunday afternoon with just a glass of lemonade and a book in my hand, but although a Sunday alone is my ideal, it doesn't happen all that often.

Luckily (or unluckily), between the 7-hour road trips, 5-hour delayed flights, and 2 hours waiting at the DMV this summer, I’ve found myself with plenty of time to read. A few of the books I've read lately have even been life-changing.

A disclaimer before we jump in to my favorite summer reads: some of you might not be in the mood for a life-changing, enlightening, all-around-awesome book. Some of you may be happy with mediocrity. You might not want to improve yourselves and bolster your careers.

So, to save you the trouble, I'm just going to tell you right off the bat why you shouldn't pick up these books.

Meditations: A New Translation

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

Marcus Aurelius

Why You Shouldn’t Read It:

Sure Aurelius lost his father when he was 3, his son when he took the throne, and his wife a few years after. And, sure, he inherited political unrest in the Roman senate and one of his most trusted friends tried to stage a civil war to take over his empire, but that's kid's stuff, right? You’ve definitely been through more, and you're happy to suffer. Aurelius might offer insight into how to find tranquility when it seems your life is just a tragedy for an audience to watch, but really you're just ready to take your own personal tragedy into Act II and continue with your sob-story. You’ve don't need to overcome your self-doubt and your fear of death. Definitely don't read this book if you don't want to find the calm in the storm.

The Obstacle is the Way

“What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.”

Ryan Holiday

Why You Shouldn’t Read It:

You enjoy complaining and making excuses for yourself. In fact you get as much pleasure from thinking of why you can’t do something, than from actually achieving it. Once you read Ryan Holiday’s book, you’ll lose your ability to find pleasure in making justifications for not being who you want to be. Why would you want to read about people like Abe Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela who found ways to turn their obstacles into opportunity? Just put the book back on the bookshelf and continue staring at all those obstacles that seem impossible to overcome.

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life

“The best time to start was last year. Failing that, today will do.”

Chris Guillebeau

Why You Shouldn’t Read It:

You don’t need Chris to inspire you with stories of ordinary people working toward extraordinary goals and making daily down payments on their dreams. You don’t want a book that challenges you to take the controls of your life, because, well, that's too much effort anyway, isn't it?

So please, whatever you do, don't waste your time on these books.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

What was the best book you’ve read this summer?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


Smart People Should Build Things

Written by Davis Nguyen

You’re 26 years old with $100,000 in student loans. Your recent start-up has just collapsed. You have a law degree and your friends and family pressure you to be a lawyer, but what you really want to do is build things.

What do you do?

This was a real dilemma facing Andrew Yang, who is the author of Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America, a few years ago.

I met Andrew a few month ago at a conference where he delivered our keynote. The conference had nothing to do with business or start-ups, but when Andrew asked “how many of you would want to start your own business or join a start-up?” 80% of the attendees raised their hands.

Andrew followed up by telling us that while the dream of building a company is one most of us have, when it comes time to choose, most of us will defer our dream for security and comfort. He understood that this was a normal reaction.

Bootstrapping Your Life

Andrew graduated from Brown University in 1996 and earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1999. After graduation he started working at private firm. Despite the job security and six-figure salary, Andrew couldn’t find much meaning and purpose in his work. Six months into his career as a lawyer, Andrew quit to pursue his passion of building things with no experience in business and $100,000 in student loans. Less than a year later, his first company, Stargiving.com, was a victim of the dot-com bubble in 2001 leaving him with no back-up plan.

Despite his parents jeering him, “Didn’t you used to be smart?”, his friends introducing him as a lawyer, and his growing pile of bills, Andrew decided to give entrepreneurship another chance.

Today, thirteen years later, Andrew has had a successful career as an entrepreneur and founded Venture for America, a non-profit helping recent college grads become entrepreneurs by pairing them with early-stage companies to gain experience. He was recently named Champion of Change by the White House and one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” for his work with Venture for America.

While most people in the audience were amazed by Andrew’s successes, I wanted to ask him about the story behind the success: the nights no one will talk about.

Two lessons I learned about being a successful entrepreneur from Andrew Yang

1.     Find Your Yoda (Mentor)

After Andrew’s first start-up failed, he started to work for Manu Capoor, whom he met while networking for Stargiving. Manu was a former doctor and investment banker who had started a healthcare software company, MMF Systems. Andrew had no prior experience in this industry, but working under Manu, Andrew had found his Yoda.

Andrew notes in the book that it was from Manu where he learned the most important lesson about getting things done in business. It comes down to “people, processes, and technology.” Andrew left MMF after three years to work under his friend Zeke Vanderhoek at Manhattan GMAT where he learned to shape company culture, scale a business, and provide unparalleled customer service. Andrew eventually became the CEO in 2006 and ultimately grew the company to employ over one hundred people and had it acquired by The Washington Post Company/Kaplan three years later.

2.     Learn to live within your means

Andrew gave up a six-figure lawyering job to work at start-ups that were paying him just enough to cover food, housing, and other essential needs. Through this process, Andrew learned that what he previously thought he “needed” were really just “wants.”

Besides paying for living costs and his student loans, Andrew never went broke or homeless. As one of my favorite quote about entrepreneurship goes, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”

Audio Interview with Andrew Yang

I had a chance to do a 18-minute audio interview Andrew, where I went into more depth about Andrew's decision to quit his six-figure job, managing a start-up with student loans, and how you can take the first steps towards being an entrepreneur today if you wanted. You can listen it below.

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/145135038" params="color=cc0000&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_artwork=true" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]

You can buy your own copy of Smart People Should Build Things here.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:


What is the biggest obstacles facing your entrepreneurial endeavors? 

What is one first small step you can take?


Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.