My Revelatory Cab Ride Return from Experts Academy

I arrived at JFK at almost 2 in the morning, and luckily had arranged for a cab almost a day in advance. I love spontaneity, but not when it comes to more mundane matters. My wife had recommended Long Island's Countywide Taxi to me, because she had been pleased with their customer service from the dispatchers to the drivers. My wife is one of those people whose opinion about products and services matters to me, so, of course, I switched to using them over all of the other companies I had used previously. In this age of information overload, I advise clients and friends to delegate not just work, but a fair amount of taste: find like-minded curators of information to make the process of choosing vendors and services smoother. Word-of-mouth is everything in the new economy.

My taxi driver James arrived dressed in a pink polo and looking like he had just done a round of golf that day. Which he probably had. By night, he shuttles red-eyed travelers between the New York airports and their homes. By day, he caddies at golf courses, including the famed US Open Bethpage Black. The dispatcher from Countywide Taxi assured me I would enjoy my ride home just beyond the border of Nassau and Suffolk County. James regaled me with stories of NYC and the Hamptons and his family. He had been a trader on the stock exchange and had worked for awhile for Goldman Sachs. I could tell he loved being a midnight cabbie and daytime caddie. He was reinventing himself. He was living life on his own terms.

I told James about a video I had just seen of an interview with Paula Abdul, someone whose work I often forget about, but who, in this interview, impressed me with her life story. She spoke repeatedly about the importance of reinventing yourself when it comes to the categories other people try to define you in, but knowing fundamentally who you are--that which defines you in your mind. As an illustration, she pointed out that, after succeeding as a Lakers Girl Cheerleader, and then as a pop star, she was asked to be a judge on American Idol. She never considered herself to be a "judge," because she is not generally a judgmental person. But she has always considered herself a Cheerleader, and considered herself a successful cheerleader on AI, even though she was called a judge. I told James that I thought he was the embodiment of Abdul's implied ethos: While others try to define you, you figure out who you are and define your own terms of success.

I had just arrived from five days in Silicon Valley after one of the most unique experiences I have had. After watching more than thirty hours of online and DVD instruction (including the Paula Abdul interview, one of many Bonus interviews), I attended Brendon Burchard's "Experts Academy Live." EA can be best described as one part high intensity Professional Development training, one part speed-dating-style networking event, one part Megachurch Revival gathering (this aspect made me deeply uncomfortable). I am very glad I attended, and took home some very helpful templates for successfully navigating online marketing and product development. I also met some incredible people. The people I met were, surprisingly, not generally from the tech startup world or the corporate world or even the arts. Most were in the emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual development and training industries. I was surprised, because Burchard counts elite business people and artists such as Oprah Winfrey, Tony Robbins, and Usher as clients, and people in the world of small business and the arts really ought to pay attention to what he and other online "thought leaders" are teaching.

We no longer live in a world--if we ever really did--in which everyone is on the same page and is watching the same channel on television. The fact is, until last year, I had never heard of Brendon Burchard or other online celebrities (many of whom are featured this month in an amazing free online CreativeLive summit called "30 Days of Genius"), even if they have had many New York Times bestsellers. Why? Our life has progressively splintered to different platforms, media, devices, and what we buy and sell is so much more curated, customizeable, and commodified than ever before. So it's easy to be too distracted to notice someone who regularly draws a crowd of thousands for a conference or online course.

My whole world changed last year when my sister, the highly accomplished jewelry designer Kim Bloomberg, suggested that I join Marie Forleo's excellent online course "B-School." Kim participated in Flourish and Thrive, a "mastermind" devoted to jewelry design owned by a former client of Forleo's. I had never heard of masterminds, Marie Forleo, or B-School, but signing up soon paid for itself. Within months, I found a new community of like-minded entrepreneurs, a mentor (the excellent Los Angeles entertainment attorney Gordon Firemark, who soon became a good friend), and a better understanding of how the online and social media economy really works. Mobility, social media, and a hacker's mindset allows for people to cultivate authentic relationships not simply based on proximity or convenience, but on shared ideas, values, and goals.

After last year's success, and a commitment to write a book and launch a podcast this year, I decided to enroll in a new program. I asked around and had multiple people who I respect recommend Expert's Academy as a good follow-up to B-School. It's fascinating to see the differences between these two programs. B-School is all online--Marie no longer does live events--and her modules are exceptionally well-produced nuggets of wisdom, no more than 20 minutes in a segment. She does all of her videos from her NYC home, which looks like it was designed by Martha Stewart, and she looks straight into the camera and combines reassuring words of encouragement with a genuinely useful roadmap for starting a business from scratch. Marie Forleo does not share much of her personal story, nor does she have to. If you can project "real" and "astute" into the camera and smile while delivering actionable insights, you will earn your sure-to-grow audience.

Brendon takes a very different approach to his online and offline learning. He surprises and overwhelms you with a generous amount of tangible swag, including one of his bestselling books, 20 DVDs and 6 CDs and a companion binder. You also get two free admission tickets to Experts Academy Live. His home learning modules are actually not as incredibly well-produced as Marie's, and half his DVDs are virtually the entirety of his 2011 EA Live. But the information he shares in his DVDs and online is step-by-step and specific, and not exactly the same as today's EA Live experience. I didn't know what to expect when I went to the conference. I certainly didn't expect 1000 people, many of whom were jumping and cheering as if they were at a rock concert. When Brendon arrived onstage to Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me" blaring and jump cuts of him dancing around on 30 ft projection screens, I recoiled. To be fair, he quickly switched gears to personal stories of failure and epiphanies, and actively sought to discourage a cult of personality. He seemed to intuit that a skeptical audience will resist explosive enthusiasm almost as much as explosive negativity, but there is an infectious likability attached to those willing to "dork out." 

I learned a helluva lot about marketing, promotions, and packaging, but the real rewards came from our breakout sessions. Creative entrepreneurs spend so much time in their heads that the opportunity to spitball ideas and messages with other people from all over the world is so valuable. I wished there were more of these breakout sessions, because I could feel that there was a real sense of growth through kinetic exchanges of insights and information. I was resistant when Brendon asked audience members to hug 5 strangers--I am an affectionate person, but that weirded me out, because I hardly ever really hug even the most important people in my life--but I am in lockstep agreement that a fulfilling life is one where the lines blur between joy and purpose, exposing the lie that there is such thing as "work-life balance."

And so, on Day 3 of 4, I gave in and danced when, showing the importance of energy and emotion for effective communication, he screened the exuberant Macklemore episode of NPR's "Tiny Desk":

When I arrived home, I was armed with extraordinary knowledge of the intricacies of the nexus between social media and advertising, offers, products, letter-writing, and promotion partnerships. But, as James pulled into my driveway, we abruptly ended our conversation, which focused on another theme from the conference: life is too short to live the life other people tell you you're supposed to.  

I eagerly entered my dark house, thinking about my journey, resolute to:

1) Figure out the next life-changing program to try in 2017,

2) Suggest the Big Red approach to my family and closes friends and see if they will be game for real hugs.

3) Buy my wife a bouquet of Sterling Silver roses, sunflowers, and irises--her three favorite varieties.

I know I'm supposed to wait for Mother's Day, but life is too short to do what other people tell you you're supposed to.