A cold email is an email sent to someone you don’t know with a professional aim in mind. A cold email is not always an email. LinkedIn requests, Twitter DMs and Instagram DMs can broadly be put under cold emails too.
Writing cold emails is how I got published in Newslaundry and DailyO. Writing cold emails is how I first got paid for reviewing books. My college roommate has done remote internships that paid him more than most jobs. How? He developed a niche — cryptocurrency security — and sent out cold emails. Hundreds of them. He reached out to startup founders, professors and others in his domain “relentlessly”. Most of them ignored him. Some of them wrote back. Even a 1/100 strike rate is good enough.
The act of writing cold email forces you to define who you are, what you want and where you are going. No amount of lectures, career counselling seminars or assignments will give you the clarity that your first 10 cold emails will.
So, write cold emails. The sooner you do it the faster you will grow. Reach out to people you admire, people you want to work for, people you want to be like. Offer to write for them, intern with them, help them grow their business or research with them. Writing cold emails is how driven people make their luck.
No one can care about you, help you, mentor you, hire you or promote you if they don’t know you. Be friendly. Go to new places and strike up conversations. Keep in touch with those you find impressive. If you’re invisible, opportunities can’t find you. Become visible.
If you’re a graphic designer, build an Instagram page. If you’re a writer, build a Substack newsletter. If you want to be a filmmaker, make one and upload it on Youtube. It’ll be bad. But the 10th one will be good (most people don’t last to their 10th anything).
Plans are basically dreams spoken out loud. Everyone has them. Few do something about them. You can’t differentiate yourself by talking about your plans. But you can differentiate yourself by showing your portfolio. So build one. You have all the tools you need — and most of them cost nothing.
You will become a clear thinker by reading clear writers. So read Nietzsche. If Nietzsche is too heavy, read Will Durant. If Will Durant is too heavy, read Naval’s tweets. Using more words than necessary is disrespectful of people’s time. Cut to the chase. Talk in full sentences. Don’t ramble.
If you don’t eat right you will not have enough energy. I recently shifted to a protein and fat heavy lunch. Now I don’t feel the afternoon slump in energy. Here’s what I eat: 4 eggs, 100 gms of paneer and some veggies. It won’t work for everyone. Figure out what diet makes you energetic. The sooner you start experimenting, the sooner you will discover what’s right for you.
Buzzwords serve a very transparent goal: to hide your confusion. I get it — at your age, you are confused about a lot of things. I’m confused about a lot of things as well. But buzzwords are a coward’s way out. Buzzwords are vague — they can mean anything. Buzzwords are solid on the outside and pure gas from within. Buzzwords are fake answers to difficult questions. Using buzzwords will help you get out of uncomfortable situations temporarily at the cost of permanently destroying your ability to find the truth.
Embrace your confusion. Embrace your ignorance — Google stupid questions. If you don’t get something in class, raise your hand and ask the professor to repeat what everyone else pretends to get. Remember: you never need jargon to explain something you truly understand.
There is an arrow inside you that is only happy when it’s rushing at a target. Without goals, why not drink every night, whine about life with others as clueless as you and feel horrible about yourself in moments of honest self-reflection? Set goals that genuinely excite you. The goals can be physical, professional or whatever you want them to be. Just remember — they have to set your pulse racing.
Admiration is an essential emotion. Without people to admire, you will never become your best self. We build statues and write biographies of heroic men and women. We do that because we do not want to forget these people. And we don’t want to forget them because they remind us of what we are capable of.
Here are some of my heroes: Jordan Peterson for the way he combines psychology, philosophy, political science and theology to tell a unified story of what it is to be human; Robert Silverberg for his extraordinary writing talent; Joe Rogan for reaching excellence at so many different crafts.
Who are your heroes?
Don’t just think of where you want to go to college. Don’t just think about what you want to major in. Don’t just think of where you want to go for your masters’ program. Instead, think: where do I want to end up when I’m 30? When I’m 40?
Do I see myself working for someone? Do I see myself working for myself? What am I doing today that is taking me closer to my ultimate destination? The pit-stops only matter if you know where your finish line is. But the world encourages you to obsess over the pit-stops and put off thinking about the finish line till as late as you can. But there’s no need to make a mistake just because everyone else is making them.
What do UFC fighters, F1 drivers and film stars have in common? Two things. They typically earn a lot of money and they typically take on a lot of risks. People have died fighting in cages and racing cars. What about film stars, you ask? They risk personal humiliation each time the camera turns to them. Their failure is public — out there for everyone to mock.
The failure of the lighting department, on the other hand, leads to a bad movie experience but doesn’t lead to personal humiliation for anyone. When was the last time you googled to find the culprit of a badly-lit movie and then tweeted to thrash them? If you want more money or fame than the average person, you’ll need to take more risks than the average person.
Exercise will teach you that when you want to give up you can always go a little further. Sports will bring you to the present moment like nothing else will. The more you push your physical limits the more you will bring that mindset to the rest of your life.
You are a mystery to yourself. Why do you desire the things you do? Why do you avoid what you do? You don’t know. Here’s how you can start. Reflect on your behaviours that you don’t quite understand. Think of yourself as an animal whose body and mind have been shaped by millions of years of evolutionary forces — because that is who you are. Read Genome by Matt Ridley. Think of yourself as a social being who’s constantly influenced by his peers, family, friends and strangers — because that is who you are, too. Read Games People Play by Eric Berne.
The more you understand yourself, the more you can live with confidence. Don’t waste time pleasing yourself. Pleasure wafts away like the smell of a dying flower. Find something more solid to cling to.
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