"I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours" -Henry David Thoreau

Ken the Illustrator

Ken Fallin is a famous professional illustrator. His celebrity portraits and caricatures have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, the LA Times, Washington Post, etc. Yet it was his success story and how he discovered illustrating which I found so compelling.

He didn’t even begin his "illustrating career” until he was in his mid-30s. For years he pursued acting, yet to no avail. People asked him to do doodles on the side, which began to pull in more money than his acting.

Eventually, this led to his big break—doing posters for Forbidden Broadway, a satirical revue.

Of his career, he said:

“It got to a point where I didn’t think anything was ever going to happen, and I was very discouraged. But then things just started happening and it was great. I think you just sort of have to be ready. If you believe in yourself—and I admit there were periods when I didn’t—but if you can hold on and have somebody else tell you they believe in you…that helps too.”

According to Ken, his father never understood what he was doing—he just didn’t see the logic or future in it. “He couldn’t believe people would pay you to draw.” But right before he died, he told Ken he was proud of him, and that made it all right.

“But for years he thought I was a bum.”

A Conversation on Talent

Everyone came here with something. 


That’s where my conversation is headed with Andrew. He’s a real estate investor who, when I first heard him on the phone at my co-working space, I thought was a total shark.

One day he had a phone conversation where I was wincing with everything he said. He was on the verge of closing a deal - if this was a boxing match, he was lobbing hooks and tiring this guy out on the ropes before he could get him just dizzy enough to deliver the knock out. 

Andrew hung up and clearly got what he wanted. I could tell because he walked over to my desk and wanted to make conversation. He jovially asked if he could help me with anything. 

I asked him, “How did you get into a job like this? And what makes you so good at it?” 

Without thinking, he said, “I discovered my superpower.”


Andrew fell flat on his face four times before he became successful. 

He dropped out of college - which may be common for those who discover their own ability to create wealth. He accumulated $30k in some years as a poker player, only to invest it and see it vanish—like that—without seeing any return whatsoever (the man literally took the money and ran). 

After his fourth “rock bottom”, he came across a real estate investment book. He was so broke he had to borrow $35 from his mom just so he could buy it. He devoured the book, moved on to others, and soon was building his investment portfolio. Everything grew from there. 

Here was my assumption: anyone who gets into a sales-driven profession, where “money earned” is the benchmark of “success”, is shallow, greedy and uninspired. 

Here’s the truth about Andrew: he wasn’t raised with money, and it’s not something he strives for now. He makes obscene—and I mean obscene—amounts of money, but outside of taking his family on a cruise, he hardly buys anything. The watch he’s wearing now doesn’t even work. 

“Money,” he says, “is just my way of keeping score.”

Andrew doesn’t love money, he loves competition. Even deeper, he loves achievement. As with all superior athletes, he sets high goals and thrives off surprising himself each time he achieves them. 

His “sport”, you could say, is real estate. 

Still, I asked, how were you able to go from flat broke to millionaire? Surely it’s more than just what that book said, or everybody would be doing it. 

Now we’re back to superpowers. 

Years had passed between Andrew’s fourth failure and his success as an investor, enough time for him to seriously examine what he excelled at. Once he found answers to those questions, that real estate book was just the next step in bringing those answers out into the world.  

Everyone is born with something special. It’s an innate talent that you’ve been performing your entire life, the trouble is that you have no idea it’s unique to you. This talent comes so naturally, and you perform it so effortlessly, that you just assumed it was a quality possessed by everyone. It’s so “in your face” that you are unable to see it. 

For Andrew, he is able to give someone exactly what they want without compromising any of his initial offer. A born negotiator, he can position this offer effortlessly, without pre-planning, scripting or manipulating, and can pivot and execute on the fly.

He has personal traits that reinforce this talent. One is that confrontation does not affect Andrew in the slightest. It’s not to say he’s impenetrable—at this point in the conversation I could see he’s a thoughtful and sensitive man—he’s just unfazed, and completely fearless, to declare and fight for what he wants. He’s competitive, and through achievement is how he finds fulfillment. 


Your talents are generally obvious as a child. They’re what you gravitate towards and what you do in the living room while nobody is looking. You can do it all night long, if you aren’t interrupted. Then somehow it gets denied, you’re convinced out of it or talked into something more conventional, and most people never rediscover it. 

Why? Because they never look. 

We have a cultural misunderstanding of talent. Start by taking five minutes and asking yourself what it even is, how you define it. Most people’s mindset goes toward the artistic, or the physical - the super athletes and the visionaries. These are the people whose talent screamed out and begged to be utilized - like the ear of a musician or the eye of a photographer.

We think it’s something only select people have, a commodity for the elite or the “lucky”, and the rest of us are here to meander and tumble through life. That’s not true, though: we just start by asking the wrong questions. 

As children, our future is a fairy tale - we are asked what we want to be when we grow up, and we completely neglect the conversation of what we enjoy doing now. Further, many don’t strive to do what they’re personally best at, but rather to pursue the vocation which pays well or provides some sort of validation in society. We think very “high level”, pulling our hair out with questions like who am I?, what am I good at?, what job do I want?, and expecting the answer to come as a revelation. 

Self-discovery, though, is more than just a personal Q&A - it’s a journey of action and reflection.

Everyone’s looking for the outside thing, the perfect job, etc., but it all emanates from you. When you discover what feeds you, the world bombards you with food. You blossom, and everything flourishes. 

“Once you discover your talent, you don’t have to push it,” Andrew says. “It pulls you.”

That’s why you see people sleeping in their vans so they can fund their food cart, or working all night on a rap album that may never get past the ears of their friends and family. Others see those people as martyrs, tragic heroes; to them, they aren’t sacrificing anything at all. 

The job is the manifestation of your talent. An electrician isn’t just good at laying wires - he loves the instant gratification of installing something and immediately seeing it light up. A Project Manager thrives off of things being completed. A writer has an insatiable curiosity. A manager brings out the best in others (at least, a good one does). A teacher can deconstruct concepts into digestible forms.

In short, the job finds the talent. 

Your talents can carry you far and away, as high as you’d like to go. They’re what you came here with, stamped with your name on them and nobody else’s. But they need to be discovered, gradually, not told to you or spelled out on paper. Then they’re developed, refined, and used in all sorts of ways. This is part of Life’s Work, of being human. 

There’s a tuning fork inside of you that is the most accurate thing in the Universe, yet we spend our entire lives piling dirt and noise on top of it, to where we can barely hear it at all. 

It’s there, a needle that always points true, we just need to listen.

Ah, yes - "fin" - you've reached the end, and for that I thank you dearly. I hope you enjoyed the story - feel free to share it with a friend or to leave a comment below. If you really want to keep your buzz going, check out a podcast episode

As always, though, thank you for reading.

"The Art of Storytelling", with David Leander Hastings

"If you want to sell in 2017, you better be able to tell a story, because that is our primary currency of connection."

David makes a living off storytelling. He's a copywriter, a playwright, and has been brought in to coach others in how to tell a more compelling story. 

His advice is primarily useful in the business world, for both presentations and advertising, yet anybody can gain from it. 

Essentially, this conversation lets you in on how to make a connection with someone. And that applies for everything.  

How to Work a Networking Event -- with Theophan, Executive Sales Coach

You know the line, “90% of success is just showing up”? It’s not totally true (I guess 90% true).

For weeks during my job search, I simply showed up to networking events. Forget my shaky elevator pitch, I had no game plan going in beyond the flimsy prayer of, ‘I hope someone gives me a job’. I would go to dozens of events and have many interesting conversations, but not get a whiff of a job. Not even an interview.

So I sought the advice of a sales coach. 

Theophan is the owner of Elite Coaching, LLC. He views job hunting as a business - your product is yourself, and you are responsible for selling it. There’s a science to networking events - and getting what you want is not a product of luck or random circumstance, but the result of having a process and sticking to it.

Here’s how:

(Please note, the following bits are taken directly from Theophan’s coaching. I am just delivering the message)

Step 1: Come in with an intention

The question you must ask yourself before you leave the house is, “Do you want a job or not?”

It’s perfectly fine to say no - you may just want connections, or interesting, industry-related conversations with people you don’t work with. 

Your clarity, though, will determine how well you perform at the event. 

If your intention is just to go and eat chocolate bars, then be damned sure that chocolate bars are what you shall receive. The world isn’t going to read your mind and present you with something. 

Step 2: Adjust your mindset

You are looking for something, but it’s important to be genuine. As in, you do not want to be desperate, or aggressive. People can smell it a mile away, and nobody wants to be near that. 

Regardless of what you’re looking for, I’m sure it isn’t necessary for your survival (if you really need money, you’re better off with Craigslist ads than networking events). Thus, since you will wake up tomorrow and still be human, don’t take it too seriously.

It’s supposed to be fun. 

In that, and this is the most important thing to remember - everyone is there with a purpose. These events are centered around business - they are not Socratic discourses or summer barbecues. People are there to get something, and this is the event they’ve come to, hoping they’ll find it.

Step 3: Dress well

Just a quick note here. You want to give an impression of professionalism, that you’ve got your shit together. 

Ultimately, you want people to be curious about you.

Oh, and bring business cards. If you don’t have business cards, order business cards. If you don’t know what to put, just get some cheap stuff on vista.com with your name, e-mail and cell number. Trust me, it’s better than nothing. 

At the event…

So you’re dressed well, your head’s straight, and you’ve refined your intention to something succinct and clear. 

It’s a whole new ball game though once you're in the room. I used to jump into an event and feel like I was the new kid in the swimming pool - everyone is having fun, they all know each other, and I’d sit along the wall, sipping my juice box and hoping someone floats by. 

My instincts then were to find another person standing alone and just go talk to them, whoever it was. 

Not so wise. 

Odds are, the person you’re looking for isn’t standing alone waiting to be talked to. The person who owns the company or runs the department is most likely chatting with people already. What I’m writing about is a targeted approach - you are looking for prospects, not friendly conversation (friends too, but remember why you’re here).

So, who do you think is the first person you need to find?

The event organizer, of course. If he/she isn’t easy to find, then ask the first person you see to help you out. Tell them it’s your first time at the event, and you’re curious to find out more information (which you are).

Let this set a precedent for the rest of your conversations: you are now being driven by your curiosity. Your following conversations have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the person in front of you. 

Curiosity is how you avoid being the aggressive networker that makes people nauseas. 

Once you find the organizer, introduce yourself. Tell them it’s your first time here, and pepper them with questions. Stuff like,

“So how’d you start the group?”
“How long have you been meeting?”
“What do you like about it?”
“What sorts of people are in the room?”

This stage of the conversation is called bond and rapport. 

You are demonstrating here that you are a kind, genuine person. If someone thinks you’re a creep, or a hungry and desperate job seeker, they are not going to introduce you to their friends. So just focus on having a real conversation. 

You don’t have to talk all night. I’m sure he/she has people to get to as well (we all do, remember), so look for a good time to pivot things. After you have a firm handle on what the group does, who this person is, you’ll want to say a little about yourself and let him/her know what you’re looking for. 

“So, I’m a content writer, and right now I’m in transition. I’m hoping to meet someone who owns a marketing agency, or perhaps a travel publication, to find out about their business. Is there anyone here you’d recommend?”

If you are at the appropriate event, and not “Beekeepers of the City”, then you’ll most likely have someone to talk to. That, or something closely related. Once this person is pointed out, you will beeline there (no relation to ‘beekeeping’). No water, no side conversations, no pretending you need to pee so you can go to the bathroom and regroup. Just do it. 

Then, it’s the same thing. 

Bond and rapport.

“Hi, my name is Jim…I was just talking with Susie, and she told me you have a marketing business that I was interested in hearing more about. What’s your role there?”
“How long have you been there?”
“What were you doing before that? What’s your background in?”
“What type of work do you do? What type of clients do you have? Who do you like to work with?”

You are starting broad, and then moving towards the specifics. First you want to know the business, then you want to know their growth plans and needs. 

“So, do you currently have content writers? What’s their day like? Are you looking to expand the business? How so?” 

And please keep your mindset steady. This is not scripted, you are not leading somewhere, you are just getting to know this person and their business.

There’s a good chance this person is just as excited to meet you, as you are to meet him.

All the while, you are listening. You are not offering information about yourself. If you are asked (because most people are thoughtful, or curious, and they’ll want to know about you), then you will give a short and succinct answer and immediately redirect the conversation. 

“I’m a content writer, and I’m in transition. How about you, what was your background in?” 

Just like a sales conversation, you are listening for needs. What issues does this person have that you can help with? 

“….well, right now things are really good for business. Our only problem is, things are a little too good. We’re about to start turning down projects, we seem to have more than we can handle!” 

No shit? 

But you’re cool, and not desperate, so you’ll respond coolly with something like: 

“Well, that’s great to hear…what sorts of stuff do you need help with? What do you need that would allow you to expand?”
“Well, for one,” Bob says, “we need help in our writing department. We have tons of work, and talented people, but too many topics to fill. Right now I’m doing both the development and the writing, and it’s getting to be a bit much.”
“Bob, I’m a content writer…I’d love to help you guys out. Is there a day I can drop off my resume, or maybe we can meet for coffee and talk about the things you need help with?” 


What you came for? That just happened. 

Now, you are just arranging how to move forward - maybe it’s a coffee date, a phone call, or you coming by the office.

You closed.

You accomplished what you came for, now go and enjoy the evening. Go talk to the pretty girl, munch on the meat selection, enjoy the presentation, etc. 

You should be feeling pretty damn good about yourself. 

All that said, I understand most conversations don’t happen as smoothly as this. You may meet a person with a business you like, but hit a wall in terms of opportunity. You might ask tons of questions but not hear of any opportunities. That’s fine. Just because they don’t hire you, or they don’t have openings, doesn’t mean you ‘lost’. They may not be able to hire you now, but they may in the future. Or, they may know someone who’s looking. 

It’s a connection, or it’s a job. It’s win-win for you. 

Any thoughts or tips on networking that weren't mentioned? Successes or "failures" that you've experienced?  Please let me know below! 

               © 2016 Harris Newman - Portland, OR