Back in my junior year of college, I switched my major from Cinema Studies to Economics. I was sitting in the office of my favorite professor and adviser, a man who had his Economics degree from Harvard. I was asking about post-graduate options.
"I was thinking about maybe getting an MBA one day. Do Oberlin graduates stand a chance of getting into the Harvard MBA program?"
My adviser smiled in a good-humored way. "Honestly George, I don't know how anyone gets into the Harvard MBA program. I think you have to be magic to pull it off."
When I heard those words, my heart sank, but I took the advice to heart. Seven years and two startups later, I still vividly remember that conversation because it crystallized my understanding of how to pull off a seemingly impossible accomplishment: it's a magic trick.
Getting into the Harvard MBA program might embody a magic trick for most people, but magic tricks encompass anything that appears to be impossible on the surface. Retiring at the age of 30, traveling full time while working remotely, being a C-level executive at a Fortune 500 company, or knowing people of repute. All of these accomplishments work to confound explanation and increase the perceived importance of the speaker. After all, only 1 in a million spend our evenings rubbing shoulders with A-list celebrities and our days on the cover of a business magazine. It's unique, it's interesting, and it defies simple explanation.
But it's a mistake to write off such accomplishments as impossible. It's an even bigger mistake to write them off as unimportant or shallow.
I've learned the hard way that when you are an entrepreneur, it is extremely important to quickly impress people you meet. When all you have is a one-month-old company and a smile, people write you off unless you can quickly portray success. Maybe you didn't go to Harvard or MIT, but the more magic tricks you have under your belt, the more investors, customers, and peers will assume you can accomplish your next audacious goal. This is the first step in actually living your life like you want.
Which bring me to choosing magic tricks. I've used common examples above, but your achievements will be most impressive if they are your own. Maybe you want to start a nonprofit mentoring program and positively impact 1,000,000 kids. Maybe you want to make the next greatest search engine. Maybe you want to replace Netflix and bring the world a decent selection of on-demand movies. You need to define what you want to achieve, and then do it. The coolest thing about magic tricks is that they are cumulative: the more you've already done, the more people will believe you can accomplish the next one.
After all, if you've already started the first commercial space program or played basketball with president Obama, or even been accepted to YCombinator on stage, then you can probably do whatever you want.