Confessions of a 21-year-old know-it-all


When I was 21, I was correcting my math teacher who made a mistake on the board.

The whole class giggled as the teacher timidly had to erase and rewrite the equation.

I was a first-class asshole.

This made other students and professors want to put me down – so I had to be on my tiptoes not to get it wrong.

I won 5th place nationally in MathCounts, a math contest. I was so proud that I photocopied my prize 5 times, in case I lost the original. This was before the days of digital cameras or even cell phones.

I made my Asian parents proud.

And I had the confidence of a 21-year-old life coach.

Remember when we were younger and we thought old people were fuddy-duddies? We had to program their VCRs, which flashed 12:00, or reset the microwave time after a power outage.

I thought ‘old people’ were hoarse whispering geezers – shouting ‘Get off my lawn’, before jumping into their Oldsmobile to eat a Grand Slam at Dennys. While they’re trying to turn on the TV, I’ve already walked around them with other electronic gadgets.

Yesterday I had a Zoom call with a 17-year-old TikTok kid named Noah Brierley who has 1.8 million followers.

He explained how to make short videos. And so I asked him why it seemed like the most important account was for young adults. He encouraged us by saying that even “old people” (yes, he said that) like his dad, me and Perry Marshall could use the platform to go viral.

We paused for a minute – as the three “old men” looked at each other, then back to Noah.

And in his eyes, these three guys were each three times his age. 17 times 3 is 51 — and we’re all close to 50. So it’s been 150 years on one side, learning from a 17-year-old.

If you’re not a young adult, have you ever had that “old man” moment when it comes to technology or social media?

Perry Marshall, one of the 3 old men on the call yesterday, is the best-selling author of all time in online advertising. He has the best-selling book on Google Ads, the best-selling book on Facebook Ads, and now the best-selling book on TikTok Ads. I happen to co-author the book of TikTok Ads, which is the #1 bestseller on Amazon in social media at the time of this writing – ahead of GaryVee and the usual suspects.

Two weeks ago I was in Chicago and spent the day at Perry’s. We had 5 kids running around, plus Perry and his wife. The 6 of us conspired around one goal for the day: to bring Perry to TikTok. But do it the natural way. Perry would not sing or dance.

So we recorded the normal chaos of a 20-year-old cat, an adopted Chinese boy with dwarfism, a one-legged girl who competed in wheelchair basketball, the Broadway enthusiast who does translation in ASL (and is the #1 TikTok account not on Broadway).

We were able to record candid scenes of Perry and his family eating leftover authentic Sichuan food, celebrating another child’s birthday, explaining why Perry started an $18 million cancer research fund and visiting his collection of handmade speakers.

Last night I had dinner with Gavin Lira, the brilliant 21-year-old founder of the company Empathy, who does public relations for 8-figure business owners. I saw myself in him a little, but without the arrogance. He has the blue checkmarks on his profiles, which is perhaps a higher status for young adults than having a Lambo.

But instead of bragging about being a 7-figure agency, he instead said this:

This abundance mindset was the exact opposite of 21-year-old Dennis, who believed the only way to get ahead was to fly to win math contests. After all, there can only be one first place, so everyone loses.

Last week, Gavin, Warren Whitlock and I had our usual MEATing – the cult of grilled cow meat galore. It’s 3 blue checks sitting at a table with over a million subscribers between us – mostly Warren’s.

Warren is 67 years old. 40 years ago he was selling copiers and Epson toner cartridges like an OG. It had an amazing ability to be able to tell exactly what was broken in your printer just by hearing the sounds made during the startup sequence. But today, he runs a site with one million organic visitors from Google per month – the #1 free e-book site on the internet.

And while Gavin and Noah teach us the social media skills to attract millions of followers, people like Perry and Warren teach us how to sell millions of books and sell our businesses for millions of dollars.

When I was 21, I was lucky enough to have the CEO of American Airlines as my mentor. He was so old he didn’t have a computer or even an email account. His secretary, Libby Scott, printed emails and put them in her inbox, along with physical letters, memos and magazines.

He wanted me to build a website for the company because he knew the internet was going to be big 30 years ago. And I knew I needed to learn how to manage people – so where would I have better experience than from a guy with 127,000 employees.

No amount of magic skin cream could make us look younger. But no matter what age range you’re in, be prepared to learn from those on the other end to open your eyes to blind spots you didn’t know you had.

I was a 21 year old white belt who thought he could talk to a 30 year old grandmaster. The last thing I want to be right now is a 50-year-old who’s confused by these young dorks using high tech.

Posted May 11, 2022


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