When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to become was a writer. I spent hours and hours sprawled out in my family's home in the Philippines and Indonesia, scribbling down stories. Usually, my main characters were named Marcella and Marcello. Sometimes, a nameless sly fox would make a cameo. The fox served as a roadblock to my two protagonists. Usually, it would take an apple they were enjoying. Other times, the fox would distract them from their destination. At the conclusion of most of my stories, there would be a moral lesson. I'd take my notebooks everywhere, and read it to anyone who would listen to my tales.
I'm fascinated by stories. Almost twenty years has passed since the days of Marcella, Marcello and the cunning fox. I've remained curious about personal stories and how it shapes an individual's present and future.
Every entrepreneur has a story
Today, I'm very excited to launch a project which is near and dear to my heart.
'Young People Changing The World' is a weekly series featuring the world's changemakers. Every Monday, I'll be publishing an interview with a young entrepreneur with questions regarding their journey. They'll tell us their definitions of success, their desired impact on the world and share their single most important lesson
My goal with this series is to inspire young people to take action. Be bold. Go after your dreams. Make a positive change in the world.
Young People Changing The World #1: Vincent Nguyen of Self Stairway
Vincent Nguyen is an urban legend. At 19 years old, he is the author of Self Stairway, the fastest growing personal development blog. Since starting his blog in January 2013, which is only 8 months ago, he has grown his website to 30,000 monthly visitors. He has also been featured in other well known blogs, including Tiny Buddha, Dumb Little Man, Marc and Angel Hack Life, and more.
I first stumbled upon Vincent a few months ago. After visiting his website, I was hooked by his writing. Even more, I am also amazed by how hard working he is. I am in awe in his ability to run his blog, juggle full-time college classes and two jobs. My favourite blog post from him is titled '40 Things I Wish I Knew Sooner',
What is your name and organization?
Vincent Nguyen, Self Stairway.
What are you up to these days?
Right now I'm working on getting an apprenticeship that would have me out in the Philippines for 6-8 months (or longer if I'd like.). They'd be paying for nearly everything, including my salary. So I'd be living in a giant house in the 3rd largest city in the Philippines for free, with three cooked meals a day, a maid, and tons of other awesome stuff.
What I did to stand out and increase my chances of getting this was film a video filled with testimonials from famous, successful people. Names like Michael Hyatt, Neil Patel, Rand Fishkin, John Saddington, and several others. All I did was cold-email all of them and tell them about what I was going for and how they can help.
Somehow, I got over 40% of these busy, busy people to reply, say yes, and send me their video. I actually ended up befriending some of them too and right now I'm working with Neil Patel on a project of his. Neil's the co-founder of KISSmetrics and Crazyegg, two very established companies that pull in millions per year.
Where did the idea of your organization come from?
It's difficult to pinpoint where the inspiration for Self Stairway came from because I think it came from a combination of various things. For one, I was a fan of James Altucher's blog. His brutally honest approach to self-improvement was refreshing and it was fun to see a story attached to a lesson. You can see a lot of my earlier writing reflect some of his own tone and style.
My second inspiration came from an article I read on Mr. Money Mustache where he briefly talked about William B. Irvine's "The Guide to the Good Life, Art of the Stoic Joy." It summarized Stoicism and showed how people could apply it today to live a fuller life. Stoicism stuck with me for a long time.
The third came during a day I was feeling horrible about myself. I had hinted to my friends that I thought I was dumb and a buddy of mine told me, "What? No you're not, Vincent. You're really insightful." For some reason, those words just stuck with me and made me reflect. I realized how much I had to offer to the world and that a lot of people actually looked up to me. He still doesn't know the impact those words had on me.
All three of the above sort of meshed together and now I help people get through the ruts that I had when I was younger. I wasn't always this happy, optimistic, and confident guy. I was quite miserable and I still recall the thoughts that ran through my head. Now I try my best to pull people out of that dark place and figure out how to be truly inspired to be living.
How do you define success?
Success for me is the ability to do what you want to do. I can't imagine ever going to a 9-5 desk job because I've had too much of a taste of the "successful" life. I'm working when I want and from wherever I want. Although I haven't made everything I'm doing a full-time, self-sustainable income yet, I see the viability in it.
If you're able to wake up in the morning without dreading the day ahead, you are further than the majority of the world. To me, that is success in its simplest form.
How do you want to make an impact on the world?
I want to give people who feel like they're stuck a chance to realize that they can change for the better. Excuses are easy to come by and I know that there are tons of people who will read even the best article relevant to them and still find a way to deny themselves opportunity for growth. I accept that.
What I want to do instead is reach the ones who are ready for that next step or at least be the first catalyst. Basically, do what I can. I get the occasional email, maybe once a week, from people who tell me how much I've changed their lives and about the progress they have made thanks to me. That's a good sign because not many people will reach out to let you know they've been touched.
A friend of mine told me that for every one person who says you made a difference, there are probably tons more out there who have felt the same. I just don't know it yet.
How do you come up with ideas?
Most of it is very spontaneous and in the moment. I generally draw from my own experiences and it's rare that I will sit down for a brainstorming session. I find those are usually non-productive and I end up scrapping the ideas anyway.
The best ones that stick are when you make a connection with whatever you're doing now or from something you heard.
I started following James Altucher's idea of carrying a notepad everywhere you go so that you can write down ideas as they come. Although James advocates actively writing a set amount of ideas, I use it to track the spontaneous ones that flow through.
How do you keep yourself aligned to your goals?
A lot of it is through self-motivation because everything I do is driven by passion. They're all things I want to do and I can't imagine not doing them. It's a feeling that is difficult to convey to someone who doesn't have that drive, but this feeling wasn't always there. I used to be passionless, directionless, and everything in between.
With that said, once you find that drive, you stick with it and mentally reinforce the idea that you want to do these things. When you get there, you have to make sure you get these goals and ideas out of your head. Don't struggle to remember it all, so write it down. I use Evernote and I write down just about everything. What I need to do on what day, the importance of this and that, etc. Nothing should be kept in your head because you want to be able to see it on paper.
List three people you admire, and why?
James Altucher, Mark Manson, and Neil Patel.
James found a way to mix humor, personal anecdotes, and life advice all into one. His fearlessness for spreading honesty hits a certain chord with people. His ideas are often radical and go against conventional wisdom, but he doesn't care that some people will not agree because he's not after the world. He wants to write for the ones who get it.
Mark's blog is something I stumbled on a bit more recently. He writes on self-improvement a lot but he also talks about culture. Through him, I was exposed to more cultural differences that I didn't know existed. It's very real.
Neil is a very successful entrepreneur who is the ultimate juggler. The guy is a workaholic but he still somehow finds time to help out everyone. It's amazing because he's like the nicest guy ever. Very humble and brilliant. It's clear he cares a lot about others.
Name one strength and one weakness.
My biggest strength is my ability to use creative means to get what I want. I always thought I was the exact opposite of creative because I couldn't draw very well or do anything artistic. However, I realized creativity is a lot more than art. The way I see things is vastly different from others and I'm grateful for such a useful trait.
My biggest weakness is my lack of celebrating. I've always had struggles with slowing down to enjoy my victories and I start to see it becoming a problem. You get addicted to success and you absolutely dread failure. I'm not risk-adversed, but sometimes I feel like I HAVE to succeed all the time. Even when I do, it doesn't last very long on the inside. Does that count as a weakness? I sure think so.
As a young leader, what is the single activity or habit you do, that you recommend everyone else does?
Start taking walks. You don't need a destination or anything but it's liberating. You free your mind, come up with great ideas, and you feel amazing afterwards.
Do it on your own or invite your friends to join you on occasion. They'll think it's weird, but they'll understand why you enjoy it after they join you.
What is the last book you read?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. I won it through a contest that Scott Dinsmore from Live Your Legend was running. I was out of town for three months when it came so I didn't get my hands on it until way later. I finished it within two days.
The book is about finding and following your own personal legends.
Which tools, apps or resources do you live by?
Evernote. Like I said earlier, I write everything down. For my lists, I have about five main ones that I refer to all the time.
My main Evernote lists:
- Dates (Basically like a calendar.)
- Priorities (What needs to be done, similar to a To-do.)
- Completed Work (Checkboxes for me to track what I’ve done on any given day.)
- Personal Budget (Money I have left, what I’ve made, and what days I will be charged for monthly payments.)
- ________ CRO (Notes I’ve taken for websites I’m reviewing. Detailed analyses and some other stuff tossed in.)
I have several more and I try to delete often, but these are the main ones I review almost daily.
Second favorite: Dropbox. I make shortcuts for everything and toss the original onto Dropbox so that nothing gets lost. I’d toss my Evernote lists in there too, but luckily that’s not necessary!
What is the strangest thing about you?
I'd say the strangest thing is my humor. I make a lot of references and it can go either way. Some people will get the majority of them and will be laughing the whole time and others wouldn't even realize I referenced something. Usually, they're ridiculous references from movies that are absurd, like Zoolander.
Sometimes I just start changing my voice and start "playing characters," but it's more fun when people I'm with join in too. Usually they don't. :(
What is the single most important lesson you can share with our readers?
It's always better to fail, get rejected, or put your ego on the line than to wonder "what if?" Every time you let an opportunity pass you will beat yourself up for ages because you'll always be stuck wondering how things could be different. At least when you try and fail, you know there wasn't a chance and you can move on.
Don't be afraid of doing what you want. See a cute girl? Go talk to her and maybe ask for her number. If she shuts you down, you'll feel bad for a few minutes but at least you've got some closure. If you saw her but decided to run away, you're going to be beating yourself up for days, weeks, or months. It happens all the time.
I wouldn't have everything I have now if I had kept holding off starting my site. It's been the catalyst to everything and you bet I was afraid I'd fail. What would have happened if I never started?
How can people get in touch with you?
I respond to everyone, so don't be afraid to reach out!
The Young People Changing The World series asks young entrepreneurs to share their definitions of success, desired impact on the world and share their single most important lesson. Every Monday, I'll feature a new guest and their story. Have someone you'd love to see featured or have suggestions on questions I should ask? Send me an email.