04: You Need More Role Models
Dave: So today we're going to talk about this whole concept of role models and mentors. I'll let you do the intro, because we were just talking about this. What's the difference between a role model and a mentor, and why are we talking about role models?
David Cancel: Two different things. So mentors, which I love, are more of this formal relationship, right? They're this long lasting relationship. You're putting in the work. It's a more formal process that you have with someone who's ideally 20 or 30 years ahead of you, of where you want to go, where role models are really the people that you're constantly surrounding yourself with. And unlike mentors, which I think you can have a mentor for a long time, for years, I think you need to keep changing your role models year after year as your goals change.
Dave: I used to be like," I need a mentor." Like," I'm early in my career. I got to find a mentor." And I thought that that means you got to find somebody. You're almost asking them out on a date. You're like," I want to be mentored by you. Here's what that means." And that never really went anywhere. But you started talking about this idea. It's not about having mentors. It's about surrounding yourself with role models, and these aren't people who have opted in to say," I'm going to mentor you." It's just like you are a product of the people that you're around every day.
David Cancel: Totally. It goes back to that old adage of you're the average of the people that you surround yourself with. But unlike that old adage, I think you need to keep changing the people that you're surrounded with, because I think those are the people that open up your possibilities and let you know what's possible. And mentors, even though you may find that perfect date, you might find that perfect mentor, that person, because they're 20 or 30 years ahead of you, they seem untouchable. It's hard to relate how you're going to get to their level, whereas role models just might be people who are a few years ahead of you or people who are at your same level, just in a different context or different industry. And all of a sudden you look at them and you surround yourself with them, and then you say," Wait. They don't know anything I don't know. I can do this, too." Right? They open up those doors of possibilities. Even though we know something, it's hard to really understand that we can do this, too, until you're around those different role models.
Dave: Especially in a career perspective, which I'm sure a lot of people listening are thinking about learning and thinking about careers. It's like if two teams are equal, but one team has people that you feel like you're going to 10x your learning just by being around, even if they're not mentoring you directly, then it's a no brainer of which team you're going to go join.
David Cancel: No brainer. You got to surround yourself with those people who are going to 10x you, but most people would look at that and think," Oh, I'm going to come in, those people are going to 10x me," and think it's going to be a formal mentor process, and it's not. You need to come in and just shut up, listen, and just absorb from those people, and then just open up your possibilities, right? Just by looking at what they do each day, it's going to tell you what's possible for you to do.
Dave: You said shut up and listen. You get invited to a lot of meetings or conferences or networking things or whatever. But sometimes you're introverted by nature and sometimes you're the quiet guy that's just soaking in. And sometimes you have to lead conversations. When do you make the decision of," This is a room that I should shut up and listen to?" Is it when there's people that you think are smarter, or?
David Cancel: Yeah. Like you said, it's easier for me, because by default I'm introverted. So in any given situation where I come into a room and I don't know who's there, I'm going to default to being the quietest guy in the room. That's been a benefit because now I can come into a room, I'm quiet, I'm sitting down, and I'm assessing who's in the room. Pretty quickly I see and I start to listen and figure out like," Who are these people? Can I learn something from them?" And if I feel like I can learn something from the people in the room, if they're ahead of me in some way, then I'm going to sit down, I'm going to be quiet, I'm going to shut up, and then I just ask questions, because I'm in learning mode. But if I come into a room surrounded by a bunch of jokers, and I feel like I can't learn anything from them, then I'm going to feel free to dominate the conversation, and I'm going to just talk because I don't want to necessarily hear from those people because I don't feel like I can learn from them.
Dave: So, last week, you were at this event at Sequoia. We were out in San Francisco. And so I take it this was like the CIO summit, basically 20 or 30 of the top technology C levels. I take it you didn't walk into Sequoia and start running your mouth the whole time.
David Cancel: Yeah, I was quiet. It was a weird situation, because I was co- moderating a couple of panels with a Sequoia partner. And so I was coming in needing to talk, but by default I was quiet. I was trying to listen to folks, and I was trying to ask more questions than I was answering.
Dave: All right. So I want to go back to role models for a second. Your story is, neither of your parents went to college, you grew up in Queens, and you applied to one school, right?
David Cancel: Yes.
Dave: Why, though? There's plenty of other colleges out there. You just didn't know?
David Cancel: Yeah. As dumb as this sounds today, where we all grow up connected and we can Google everything and everybody knows everything and everyone's an expert, everyone could write a Medium article on something, it sounds so dumb now. My two parents immigrated to the U. S. Neither of them went to college. Obviously, I went to school with people who ended up going to college, but I didn't even know that it was possible to go to college outside of where I live. So I applied to one school, Queens College, which was right basically near where I grew up. And it was a city school, and I could pay for it, because one of the things that I didn't know as well was how was I going to pay for college? Obviously, now I can laugh and look back and think about I could take out a loan, financial aid, this, that, but I didn't even know it was possible, because I wasn't surrounded with people who were role models.
Dave: So it wasn't like you straight up couldn't figure it out. It just was never even a thought. Like," There's a price tag on college. Oh shit. That is way more expensive than I can pay out of my pocket." End of story.
David Cancel: End of story. And why I think this is so important to understand role models, a lot of people grow up in those circumstances. So if I look back to people that I grew up with, or I look people now who may grow up in a low- income area, in a ghetto somewhere, part of their challenge is they even don't know what's possible. They don't even know that they could take that train one more stop outside of their neighborhood and get a different job and be around different people. They don't know that they could leave their town and get out of their small town and discover an entire new world. Obviously, they know somewhere in their mind, right? They've watched enough TV, they've Googled enough, they know that it's possible, but they don't know that it's possible for them. And that's why role models are so important.
Dave: And you were telling me before this, you just actually had the same conversation with your wife about your kids today.
David Cancel: Yeah. I have two kids, a 10- year- old and a four- year- old, and my wife had been talking about role models, specifically female role models for my daughter, and how important they are. And I've been sitting around thinking about that for weeks on weeks and just thinking about like," Yeah, she's right. We need to figure out role models for my daughter, just to put her around and expose her around those people, just so she knows that it's normal. That it's possible." Right? Whether it's a bunch of female engineers or female MIT students or whoever, right? We're more technical.
Dave: But this doesn't need to be some crazy thing, right? She's 10. This could be like," Actually, we found this amazing person on YouTube who once a week does a talk."
David Cancel: That's a great point, right? It could just be someone just knowing that it's possible, just that she looks at them and says like," Oh, I'm like that person. I can do that, too." Right? Just opening up those doors for her.
Dave: Yeah. All right. How do we tie this back to tactical business stuff? So I think you made a good point about role models is all about just knowing what's out there.
David Cancel: Mm- hmm(affirmative).
Dave: Does this tie back to your whole customer- driven thing maybe in some way? Where like if I'm a designer at Drift, I haven't talked to marketing, I haven't talked to a customer, so I don't know what's possible in their world. Does it relate back to day- to- day work stuff?
David Cancel: Yeah. I like the way that you've connected those two things. So I think in the work world, I'm obsessed with building customer- driven companies and teams and products. And I think it totally relates, right? It's about opening up your world view, exposing yourself to different types of people so you know the possibilities that are out there, right? If you attack a problem from, let's say, design or engineering, you know your way of doing things, but talking to customers, talking to marketers, talking to salespeople on your team, all of a sudden it's opening up your world about what's possible in terms of building things.
Dave: This is something that I've learned in just a couple of months being here is it's liberating to know that you don't have to know everything.
David Cancel: Yeah.
Dave: I think that helps you simplify what you need to get done. It's like," I don't need to be responsible for inventing this answer."
David Cancel: Yep. You don't need to know much. You just need to know what you don't know and what you do know. And I think for people out there, what they can do today is, they have their circle of friends, maybe they have some mentors, but keep pushing yourself. Go outside of that circle of friends that you have that you grew up went to college with or you work with and start exposing yourself to different people who are going to become role models for you.
Dave: Yeah. Or even just read about different things. We did a whole episode about books, right?
David Cancel: Yeah.
Dave: And you've always been in SaaS and startups and tech, but you have lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger because you read his book.
David Cancel: Exactly.
Dave: Or Sam Walton.
David Cancel: Yeah. Books are my cheap way of getting to role models or getting to mentors that I can't physically get to, and so that's an easy way that you can do that. That's why I read a lot of biographies, to understand like what their life is about and what they went through. But I think people can go out there, watch YouTube videos, talk to people, read books. And the point is, get out of your comfort zone, get out of those few people that you know, and expose yourself to whatever you want to learn. If you want to become great at CrossFit, then get around the best people possible in CrossFit, even if that means that you got to travel, right? Traveling is cheap. Get on an airplane, get around the five best people in CrossFit, and just shut up and listen and see what they're doing. And all of a sudden, it's going to open up your world. If you want to be a book author, get around a bunch of the best book authors possible, shut up, listen, take notes, and just absorb and see what they do.
Dave: So, big takeaway is role models versus mentors. Mentors is this formal thing. Maybe you meet once a month, once a quarter. That's great, too. But role models are people you can get today. Push yourself outside of your existing group of people, whether that's through books or websites or whatever.
David Cancel: Yeah. I think there's a place for mentors. Let's start with role models. I think everyone should start with role models, because that's the easiest path to go. With mentors, everyone gets caught up on the tactics and," Who and when do I meet and for how long and what do I give them and how do I convince someone to be a mentor and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." Just forget it. Just go get some role models. Let's start there.
Dave: Before we wrap this up, I have to tell this story, because I think it's a good role model story. We went to San Francisco last week. I showed up with three huge bags. You, an O. G. of traveling, had one tiny bag. That's a great example of role models. I didn't know it was possible.
David Cancel: Now you know it's possible. You can travel with just a backpack. That's it for a week. That's all you need.
Dave: It's always learning.
David Cancel: Yeah.
Dave: Okay. We have a little call to action for everybody that listens. I'll let you take the first one. Skype call.
David Cancel: So, we're trying to get more people to listen to and discover Seeking Wisdom. The way that you can help us, we've got a special offer for you. If you leave a review for Seeking Wisdom and you take a screenshot of that and email it to us, I will jump on a Skype call or a phone call, if you prefer, and spend 15 minutes with you trying to help you on whatever subject you want. So me, 15 minutes, Skype or phone, whatever subject you choose. Just send a screenshot of you leaving a hopefully five- star review on iTunes to us.
Dave: You don't meet with anybody. This is a good offer.
David Cancel: Yeah. If you knew how few people I actually meet with, you would understand the value of this offer.
Dave: Okay, so leave a review for Seeking Wisdom, take a screenshot of it, and email you where?
David Cancel: Dcancel, D- C- A- N- C- E- L, @ dcancel. com.
Dave: Okay, sweet. That's call to action number one. We're going to do an AMA- type podcast where eventually once we get a bunch of questions, we're going to answer them. So call to action number two is tweet at us, send us an email. Send email to dcancel, same email, ask a question, and we'll do a whole episode on listener questions. Whatever you want to talk about. Favorite books, startup lessons, product teams. Once we get a bunch of them, we'll do a whole episode dedicated to that, and we'll shout you out on the show, too.
David Cancel: Yeah. And the first person to hit me on that, I will send you a picture of Dave's JV travel bags.
Dave: Damn. That's tough.
David Cancel: JV.
Dave: All right.
David Cancel: We're trying to get him varsity level.
Dave: We're out.