And I remember at 16, I wanted to find the good life. Aristotle talks about eudaimonia, his definition of the good life. Health, wealth, happiness, love. All those things. And I remember going, “It’s too hard. How am I ever going to figure this out? There are so many hard questions. I’m 16. I got to figure out what college I am going to go to, what religion I’m going to follow, who I’m going to marry, what politics, where to live, what career and path to pursue.” And I had this idea. I was like, “I know the perfect idea.” What I’ll do is I’ll find one person – I thought this was so genius, it turned out to not be so smart – But I’d find one person who had all the answers.
So I wrote a letter. The smartest person I could think of was my grandfather. So I wrote this letter and I was like: “Will you tell me how to design my life?” TED is about T-E-D. The “D” is about Design, the designed life. So I said, “Will you help me design my life?” And I was so excited.
I thought three days later, four days later I got this letter back from my grandpa. I read it and it said, “Sorry, Tai, I can’t help you. The modern world is too complicated. You will never find all the answers from just one person. If you’re lucky, a handful of people along the way will point the way.”
And I was like, “Ugh!” So much for my shortcut.
But seven days later, a package came. It was books. My grandfather had a 20,000-book library, and he had sent me some old dusty ones. A 1,000-page volume. 11 books. “The Story of Civilization,” by Will and Ariel Durant. I was like, “1,000 pages? This is too much.”
But I see now, he was giving me a hint, I didn’t understand it. There’s this myth that you have to go inward to find truth. But the truth he was saying is you have to go outward. If you can download the consciousness, the mindset of people who have gone before you – the smartest, the wisest, the most intelligent, the most experienced people – then you will get what you want.
And so I went on, and I started writing down note cards. I called them mental shortcuts. And I was reading these books. And then I started traveling. I went to 51 countries. I would read a book and I’d say, “Let me go visit this person in person.” So I went to New Zealand and Australia, South America, Argentina, Ireland, all over the world. And I was focused on those 4 things: health, wealth, love, and happiness. I decided to focus on health and happiness. I lived on for two years with Joel Salatin on his famous sustainable agricultural organic farm. And then I spent two and half years with the Amish. No electricity, trying to see what was life when we lived in community.
And I made one mistake. I forgot about money. That’s one of the things, and so eventually, I ran out of money. I had to do the thing nobody wants to do, I had to call my mom and be like, “Mom, I know I’m an adult, but I don’t have any money. Do you mind if I come stay at home until I get back on my feet?”
She said, “Sure”. She had a mobile home in Clayton, North Carolina. I went and she said, “Sorry, Tai, I don’t have a room for you, but you can sleep on this couch.” So I remember laying there at night, like: “Did I mess up? Did I miss out on the good life? Here I am, I have no college degree. My skills? I could milk a cow with the Amish.” That wasn’t a very marketable skill. I remember I had like $47 in my bank account.
And I actually had a car, but it had holes in the floor. Somehow it had rusted through, and if you accidentally would put your foot down, it would chop your foot off. So I didn’t want to drive it anywhere, or pick anybody up in that car. So I remembered back to what my grandpa said, he said, “Look outwards.”
So I started asking around: “Will somebody help me?” My uncle said: “You know what, Tai, you need somebody who is going to show you how to make money.”
So I was like, “Great idea. I’m going to go find somebody.” But I didn’t have any gas money. So I was stuck there at my mom’s house. I had $40. So I walked to the kitchen. That’s what I could afford to do. I found the Yellow Pages and I opened these Yellow Pages and I looked in the finance section and I found this guy. I said, “I’m going to visit that guy.” So I got a suit out of the closet. It wasn’t mine, it was too big. It looked weird on me. God help me! I don’t know what I looked like when I showed up at that guy’s house. But I got somebody to drive me in, I showed up and Kathy, his secretary, opened the door and I walked back, and Mike Steinback, from the phone book, I walked up to him and I said, “Mike, you don’t know me. If you show me what you know, because I figured you must know a lot about money, if you can afford a full-page ad in the yellow pages – if you show me what you know I’ll work for you for free.”
And I’ll never forget. He was sitting in this chair. He had a big mustache. He looked kind of like Tom Selick. He was sitting there, and he just rolled his chair towards me. And he said, “You know what, Tai? I’ve been looking for someone like you for 20 years. Show up in the morning, I’ll show you what I know.”
And sure enough, he did show me. And he began to mentor me on business. And now I’m an entrepreneur. I’m an investor. But I’ve continued on that path, traveling, finding mentors, reading. I read a book a day. I have a little book club, I write. And what I’ve found in my research is that I wasn’t the abnormal path. Mentors – your ability to copy – is the biggest predictor of the success that you will have in life. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy, but great artists steal.” Right?