"You can give someone all the best tools and knowledge in the world, and their life can still feel stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they'll never be the same."
Alex Banayan is the only nationally bestselling business author under the age of 30 in America. His book, The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How The World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers, documents his unprecedented seven-year journey to interview the most innovative leaders of the past half-century, including Bill Gates, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Jessica Alba, Quincy Jones, and many more. He also funded this journey by hacking The Price is Right, where he won and sold a sailboat to finance his dream.
He’s been named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, Insider’s Most Powerful People Under 30, and appeared across countless media outlets. He’s also an acclaimed keynote speaker, having presented The Third Door framework to Apple, Salesforce, and countless others.
Alex is a fascinating individual and an incredibly captivating writer. I’m thrilled to have him on the podcast to introduce the concept of the Third Door. You’ll learn about the Third Door mindset and how successful people master the art of breaking through when no one will take their meetings or offer them their first deal. You’ll also hear wild stories from Alex’s journey about how he landed interviews with people few would have any idea how to get in touch with, his unique perspective on the power of mentorship, and why changing what someone believes in is the key to getting truly unstuck.
- What Alex did the moment he realized he wasn’t on the right path in college – and how he won The Price is Right having never seen a full episode of the show.
- Why every hugely successful person treats life and success the same way – and why they all have a Third Door story of their own.
- The moment that helped Alex get over his fears, recover from the most disastrous interview of his project, and have breakfast with Larry King over 50 times over the last several years.
- The three reasons someone mentors you – and why the best, most sustainable mentorships feature all three.
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Hal Elrod: Hey, goal achievers. It’s Hal Elrod and whether you are brand new to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast or you’ve been a longtime listener, thank you for that, you may have noticed that I almost never, ever have sponsors for the Achieve Your Goals Podcast. And that is because when I started the podcast in 2012, my only intention was to add value for my readers of the Miracle Morning and members of the Miracle Morning Community. And while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having sponsors, especially if you’re recommending things that you personally use or believe in, but I don’t have any plans on bringing on sponsors, because adding value to your life and your world is still my main commitment and why I’m doing this. So, because of that other than one or two random instances, I’ve never had really had a sponsor or earned money directly from the podcast. Now, I’m not trying to make you feel bad for me. I do benefit a lot from the podcast, and I hope you do too, but there has been one huge benefit from the podcast that in my opinion outweighs any sponsors that I could potentially bring on. And that is the Best Year Ever Blueprint Live Experience and how many of our listeners end up attending the live event.
When we survey our audience before or after the event and say, “Where did you hear about the Best Year Ever Blueprint Live Experience?” and again, it’s our annual event that happens every December in San Diego and on that form, a large percentage always are, “You know, I was listening to your podcast and you did a commercial on it or you talked about it or whatever.” So, you could say that I’m my own sponsor. So, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, we’ll be talking about it more over the next few weeks but check it out, BestYearEverLive.com. It is a scientifically-designed, community-created experience that is designed to elevate your awareness, reflection, and reconnection with your inner wisdom while inviting you to reinvent your highest self. So, in other words, the Best Year Ever Blueprint is unlike any event that you’ve ever been to. And I can say that with a lot of conviction, A, because our attendees tell us that, B, because I go to a lot of events and most of them are taking notes and going home and applying your notes. And let’s be honest, those notes you could have gotten on Google or in a book for $20 instead of spending hundreds and hundreds or thousands of dollars to go to an event.
Well, that’s why at Best Year Ever, we do it very differently. John Berghoff and I co-host the event and it’s about you and the experience that you have, not what you learn. That’s why we call it the Best Year Ever Blueprint Live Experience, not just live event. Yes, it’s an event but anyway, the best thing you can do I’m not going to go into much detail on this episode. I just want to tell you about it. Go to BestYearEverLive.com. Watch the video. That’s where you actually get to relive last year’s Best Year Ever Blueprint Live Experience and see for yourself what it is all about. So, I do hope that I see you there. It is life-changing. We’ve got about 200 and I don’t know the exact number like just under 300 spots are taken and we can fit about usually it’s 400 to 450 people in the room. I don’t know if we’re in the same room so I’ll find those details out and I will definitely let you know the details. But for now, just check out the video, see if it’s a good fit and if it is, you can secure your spot at BestYearEverLive.com. Alright. Well, achievers, I love you and hope you enjoyed today’s episode of The Achieve Your Goals Podcast.
Hal Elrod: Goal achievers, all right, you guys ready for this? Today’s going to be fun. I started reading a book this morning. So, in full disclosure, the guest today I am three chapters into his book, but I’m blown away like we were just chatting before we started recording and probably I said, “You’re such a good writer,” like I don’t remember the last time I started reading a book that I am this impressed and enthralled with the quality of writing and not when I say quality like how it just captivates you. I just want to keep reading. It’s like watching a great movie. I’m going to give a bio here for our guests because he might have one of the most fascinating bios I’ve ever read. And you’re going to witness us getting to know each other beyond the 10 minutes we just spent chatting right before your eyes and I’m excited about getting to know my guest, Alex Banayan. And he is the only nationally best-selling business author under 30 in America, and his book which I am literally holding my hands right now it is titled The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers and it’s been translated into more than a dozen languages after coming out I think about a year ago.
And over the course of Alex’s unprecedented seven-year journey, he interviewed the most innovative leaders of the past half-century including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Larry King, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Jessica Alba, Quincy Jones, and many, many more and his story where it begins in the book and it’s so fascinating the day before his freshman year final exams, freshman in college, Alex hacked the Price Is Right. Yes, the game show, the famous game show and he won a sailboat and then he sold it. So, he won like the showcase, the grand prize on the Price Is Right with Drew Carey. He sold it and he used the money to fund his larger-than-life adventure to travel the world and interview some of the world’s literally most successful people. And since then, Alex has been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Business Insider’s Most Powerful People Under 30, and been featured in major media including the Washington Post, Fortune, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, and NBC News. I found out he just turned 27 years old. He’s already an acclaimed keynote speaker.
Banayan is presented the third door framework to business conferences and corporate leadership teams around the world, including Apple, Google, Nike, IBM, Snapchat, Salesforce, and Disney. As I said, one of the most fascinating individuals and it’s about to get more fascinating, goal achiever, so tune in. Alex Banayan, welcome to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast, my friend.
Alex Banayan: Thank you so, so much, man. That really means a lot and I’m really excited to be here with you.
Hal Elrod: Absolutely. You know, first of all, like I said, I have to tell you, your book is so well written. Let me be really real and this is for my listeners. This is something you got to know about me. I don’t like reading stories as weird as that is, but not that I don’t like reading stories. I love stories. I’m a storyteller. I love stories. When it comes to reading books, I’m very left brain. I’m in the personal development profession but I’m like, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I got it. You overcame some stuff like what’s the framework? Like, give me the six steps.” So, that’s how I normally am. And I’m on every word like you are, yeah, phenomenal.
Alex Banayan: Thank you. It really does mean a lot.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And I feel insecure as a writer. I’m like, “Dude, I suck as a writer.”
Alex Banayan: Well, dude, if you are reading my first draft, you’re not be giving me compliments.
Hal Elrod: That’s true. That’s true. All right. So, how did the book begin? Let’s start there.
Alex Banayan: It began seven years ago. So, it took seven years to write this book and it started when I was 18 years old. I was a freshman in college and I was spending every day lying on my dorm room bed, staring up at the ceiling. And I was going through this, you know, the what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life crisis. And to understand why I was going through it, you have to understand that I’m the son of Persian Jewish immigrants, which pretty much means I came out of the womb, my mom cradled me in her arms, and then she stamped MD on my ass and just sent me on my way.
Hal Elrod: Medical doctor, right?
Alex Banayan: Right, exactly. And you know, you think it’s funny but in third grade, I wear scrubs to school for Halloween and thought I was cool. You know, that was my childhood growing up.
Hal Elrod: Nice.
Alex Banayan: And you know, in high school, I checked all the boxes. I studied for SATs. I took all the biology classes. I went to pre-med summer camp. So, by the time I got to college, I was the pre-med of pre-meds. Very quickly and I found myself on this dorm room bed, looking at this towering stack of biology books feel like they’re sucking the life out of me. And at first, I assumed I was just being lazy but very quickly, I began to wonder, maybe I’m not on my path. You know, maybe I’m on a path somebody placed me on and I’m just rolling down. So now, you know, not only do I not know what I wanted to do with my life, I had no idea how the people who I looked up to how they did it, how did Bill Gates sold the first piece of software out of his dorm room when nobody knew his name? Or how did Spielberg become the youngest director in Hollywood history without a single hit under his belt? You know, those are what they don’t teach you in school. So, Hal, I literally just assumed there had to be a book out there with the answers. Going to the library and I’m just like ripping through business books and self-help books, assuming there had to be a book with the answer.
And what I was obsessed with wasn’t about a particular age in life or more about a particular stage. You know, when no one’s taking your calls, no one’s take your meetings, you know, you’re faced with rejection after rejection, how do you find a way to break through? And that’s when my naive 18-year-old thinking kicked in, I thought, “Well, if no one’s going to write the book, I’m dreaming of reading, why not write it myself?” And I thought it be super simple. I would just call up Bill Gates, interview him, and everybody else and I thought it’d be done in a few months. That I assumed would be the easy part. The hard part I figured was getting the money to fund the journey. You know, I was buried in student loan debt. I was a lot of bar mitzvah cash. So, there had to be a way to make some quick money. So, two nights before final exams, I’m in the library and I’m doing what everyone’s doing in their library right before finals. Show on Facebook. And I’m on Facebook and you mentioned this earlier, I saw someone offering free tickets to the Price Is Right. And I was going to college in Los Angeles not too far from where the show filmed and my first thought was, “What if I go on the show and win some money from this book?” You know, not my brightest idea plus…
Hal Elrod: It was the next day, right? The show is…
Alex Banayan: Well, that was my problem. I was like, this is an idiotic idea because I have, you know, the show is going to be the next day. I have finals in two days plus on top of that, I’ve never seen a full episode of the show before. You know, I’ve of course seen bits and pieces when I was home sick from school in fourth grade, but I’ve never seen like a full episode before. So, I told myself it was a dumb idea and to not think about it. But I don’t know if you ever had one of these moments where an idea just keeps clawing itself back into your mind. As much as you try to push it away, it just keeps clawing itself back into your mind. So, that night, I decided to do the logical thing, and pull an all-nighter to study it. But I didn’t study for finals. I studied how to hack the Price Is Right. And I went on the show the next day and did this preposterous strategy and I ended up winning the whole showcase showdown, winning a sailboat, selling the sailboat, and that’s how I funded the book.
Hal Elrod: Okay. Yeah. And you just went through like the way you tell the story in the book is it’s phenomenal. You’re in the audience, you’re googling how to hack the Price Is Right. They take your phone, you’re asking the old woman next to you who watched it for like 30 years, right? Like, you’re crowdsourcing wisdom, learning how I mean, yeah, so phenomenal. But, yeah, so you get to the final showcase and then you won by what? Tell me again the numbers roughly. It was like 30 that your competitor was you against another gal and she was I think her showcase was like, she was within like $1,100 dollars and you were within like, you beat her by $145. Right?
Alex Banayan: Yeah. Wow. Good memory. Yeah, exactly.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Which is I normally not have a good memory, but I guess, okay.
Alex Banayan: And the crazy thing is, like, when I won that sailboat, I sold it for like I think like $16,000, which for a college student is a million dollars. You know, I’m like taking all my friends to Chipotle. I’m like, you know, “Free guacamole for everybody!” You know, it’s like, I’m a baller now. That’s really where the journey took off. It took two years to eventually track down Bill Gates. It took three years to track Lady Gaga. And when I started the journey, when I started, there was no part of me looking for that, you know, “one key to success”. You know, we’ve all seen those business books or those TED Talks.
Hal Elrod: The one, yeah, sure.
Alex Banayan: Yeah. And normally, I just roll my eyes but what ended up happening is over these seven years, every single person I interviewed in, it didn’t matter if it was, you know, Steve Wozniak, for computer science, or Maya Angelou for poetry. I realized every single one of these people, treats life and business with success the exact same way. And the analogy that came to me, because I was 21 at the time is that it’s sort of like getting into a nightclub. There’s always three ways in. So, there’s the first door, the main entrance, where the line curves around the block, where 99% of people wait around, hoping to get in. You know, they’re just standing in line hoping the bouncer will let them in. That’s the first door. And then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance, where the billionaires and celebrities go through. And for some reason, school and society have this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in. You either wait your turn, or you’re born into it. And what I’ve learned is that there’s always, always the third door. And it’s the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door hundred times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen. There’s always a way in. Now, it doesn’t matter if that’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal. They all took the third door.
Hal Elrod: Now, I love the analogy. Well, let’s get practical. Give me some examples of so, obviously, the analogy of you know you go around the block, you go down the alley, you climb into the window, right, and that’s your third door. What does that look like in real life? And what does it look like or what does it look like specifically for Bill Gates and Lady Gaga and some of these people that you had the privilege with and Maya Angelou and had the privilege of interviewing?
Alex Banayan: What’s cool about the third door is that it’s not a recipe for success. It’s a mindset. And so, it plays out differently in everyone’s life like a great example is Steven Spielberg. His biggest dream, when he was growing up, was to become a film director and he worked hard, applied to film school, and got rejected. But, of course, he was persistent, and he actually applied again a second time. And he got rejected again. And I would see that’s where like 99% of people normally stop but he decided to take his film education into his own hands. So, he applied, you know, he went to a community college in Los Angeles, so he could just be in the vicinity of his dream. And he went to Universal Studios, Hollywood, the famous theme park in LA and there’s this ride, which gives you sort of like a backstage tour of the Universal Theme Park and the Universal Theme Studio, the Universal Film Lot.
So, Spielberg is on this tour bus. He’s 19 years old. And the tour bus is going around the film studio, and he jumps off the tour bus, hides in a bathroom, waits for the bus to drive away and starts walking around the lot. And about an hour later, he bumps into this old man, you know, this older gentleman named Chuck Silvers, who is the Head of the Universal Library, the Universal Television Library. And this man sees this like young teenager, you know, wandering by himself. He says, “What are you doing here?” and this young 19-year-old tells him, “You know, it’s my biggest dream to be a director.” He tells him the truth that he was on the bus, he jumped off, and they end up talking for like an hour. And at the end of the conversation, Chuck Silvers asked Spielberg, “How would you like to come back on the lot the next couple days?” Spielberg goes, “You know, that would be a dream.” So, Chuck Silvers wrote him a three-day pass. And Spielberg goes the first day and the second day and the third day and then on the fourth day, Spielberg comes, you know, dressed in a suit, carrying his dad’s briefcase, and he walks right up to the security entrance, throws a hand up in the air, waves at the guard and just yells out, “Hey, Scotty,” and the guard just waves back and Spielberg walks right in.
And he starts doing this over and over and over again. And, you know, for months, he’s sneaking into editing bays, going into sound stages, asking actors and directors out to lunch. And he’s literally taking his film education to his own hands and he’s absorbing all the knowledge he can. He’s meeting all these people. And after a few months of this stuff, you know, pretty much every day he’s being thrown out by security at some point. And after a few months, Chuck Silvers slowly becomes Spielberg’s mentor, and he gave him some very important advice. He said, “Look, there has to be a point in your life where you stop schmoozing and you actually create something of quality that you have to show. Don’t come back to the lot until you have a short film that you’re really proud of.” And Spielberg took that very hard advice to heart and he spent months grueling over the directing and editing of a short 22-minute film called Amblin. And he finally went back to Chuck Silvers and showed him this movie and Chuck Silvers watched it and it was so good, a single tear fell down his cheek.
And Chuck Silvers just at the end reach for the phone and immediately called the Vice President of Production at Universal Television, Sid Sheinberg, and he said, “Sid, I have something you have to see tonight.” And you know, the Vice President’s like, “Look, here’s a lot of things I have to see.” And Chuck Silvers goes, “No. If you don’t watch this, somebody else will.” The Vice President is like, “You think it’s that important?” and Chuck Silvers was, “Yes, it’s that important.” And Chuck Silvers even like went as far to call because back then they had like a projectionist because he had to like put it on the projector. And Chuck Silvers called the projectionist and was like, “Look, make sure this is the first thing Sid watches tonight.” And sure enough, the Vice President watched it that night and the next morning Spielberg got a call saying the Vice President wants to see him immediately. Spielberg, you know like he ditches his class, like rushes over Universal, goes into the corner office and on the desk is a contract, making him the youngest director in Hollywood history.
Hal Elrod: Wow. And what was the film? Did I miss it?
Alex Banayan: So, the film was called Amblin. It’s actually really good. It’s Spielberg’s first short film. It’s 22 minutes and he produced it, directed it, edited it all himself. And what’s amazing about this story is, of course, Spielberg had incredible talent but so do a lot of aspiring directors. The question is how did Spielberg become the youngest director when everyone else didn’t? And on the one hand, it sort of looks like a people game. He was meeting people on the lot, he was networking, but it’s sort of like demeans the gravitas of this story. And to me, it’s almost like, it’s not just a people game. It’s like the Spielberg game and I sort of see it as like three steps of the process. The first step is, you know, he jumped off the bus, he jumped off that tour bus. The second step is he found his inside man in Chuck Silvers. And the third step was he had his inside man pull him in with that introductions to Sheinberg.
And the key to the process, I think the most important step is the second step, which is finding your inside man, and that’s anyone in an organization. It doesn’t matter if it’s a film studio, if it’s a business you’re trying to get do a deal with whether it’s a publishing house, whether it’s a job, and it’s the job recruiter. The inside man or the inside woman is anyone inside of an organization who believes in you enough that they’re willing to stake their reputation on the line to bring you in. And it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at Steven Spielberg’s career, Warren Buffett’s career, Bill Gates’ career, every single one of them had an inside man or an inside woman who completely changed the course of their career. And the key to the third door is not to sit around and hope you just find an inside man, by chance, while you’re sitting on your couch. It’s by going out there and cultivating that.
Hal Elrod: I love that. I couldn’t agree more. You know, as you’re talking, I’m thinking in my own head, right, I’m thinking like, “Who are my inside men and women?” One that comes to mind is Mike Koenigs and Mike Koenigs who’s written many books and very successful entrepreneur I connected with, I get an entrepreneurial dinner, and he was my inside man and he was with an agent, a book agency, not working for the agency, but he was, you know, one of their authors. And long story short is he made the introduction to one of the finest agents in the world, Celeste Fine, and she has personally gotten the Miracle Morning translated into 37 languages and published in 100 countries and it’s sold over a million copies under her watch if you will overseas in these countries. And so, it’s reaching people around the world. And it was because of one inside man, Mike Koenigs. I mean, I’ll spare the podcast with going through person after person after person, but I love what you’re sharing because I think this is really an untapped strategy. It’s almost an unknown strategy, right? Like there’s the whole generic, well, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know.
Alex Banayan: Right. Exactly.
Hal Elrod: Right? Like, well, that doesn’t help you if you just like shut your brain off at that point. And I think most people do, like, yeah, if only I knew people.
Alex Banayan: Right. There’s a diminishing return. You definitely need to know people but if you have nothing to show, it doesn’t matter how well connected you are.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Well, give me an example then because that’s another track within this line of thinking, which is, yeah, for me, I would call that as you’ve got to find a way to add value to their world, right? Like, that’s the language that I use, like when you find your inside man or woman, find out what’s important to them, find out what their self-interests are, and then figure out a way to align, support their interest, and maybe they are big into a charity, and you support the charity, right? So, there are infinite ways to do it. But any thoughts on once you’ve identified your inside man or woman, how do you connect? How do you reach out? How do you other than jumping off the tour bus and pulling a stunt?
Alex Banayan: Well, what’s interesting is, you know, when I was just starting out, the whole question of like adding value like made sense when I was like meeting people maybe at like a, you know, a business conference but when it came to like, you know, people like Bill Gates, it’s how do you add value to Bill Gates? It’s like come on, but I actually learned a very interesting lesson and I don’t know how we’re looking at time but do we have time for like another like nice meaty story?
Hal Elrod: Yeah. No, please. In fact, I was going to ask you how you got all those interviews with those people that I would have no idea how to like, you know, your list of Bill Gates, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, like Jessica Alba. If someone said, “Hey, can you get interviews of those people?” I’d go, “Beats me. I have no idea.” But, yeah, man, I don’t know that even fits in the story but, yeah, please go ahead.
Alex Banayan: Okay. So, yeah, it definitely fits into the story. So, this is each interview, getting an interview with its own very separate adventure. Like I said, some took years but there’s definitely one that was the most miraculous, and it took place about halfway through. So, you know, something you have to understand that, you know because you’re reading the book, is that these aren’t random Q&A interviews. They’re all journeys that lead to each other. So, right before this situation was a long eight-month saga with Warren Buffett. And sort of the ending of it was that I ended up hacking his shareholders’ meeting in front of like 30,000 people and asking my interview questions at the shareholders meeting. And although part of it was a success, another part of it was a complete disaster, and it blew up in my face. And I sort of was just completely dejected, sort of at the lowest point. And it was just one of those times where I just couldn’t pull myself out of bed, just pulling the covers over my head for weeks.
And if there’s one theme of this journey, it’s that when I’m at my lowest points, it’s always my best friends who pulled me back up. And one of my best friends, his name is Corwin. And he’s like, “Dude, you got to get out of bed. Why don’t we go grab some lunch?” So, we go to a grocery store to like grab sandwiches. We end up just sitting on the sidewalk and eating. Corwin was trying to raise my energies like, “Come on, man, like don’t you have any other interviews lined up?” I’m like, “Dude, I got nothing.” And he’s like, “Come on, like, let’s say you had an interview lined up, like who would you want to talk to? What would you want to ask?” And I’m like, “Man,” you know, it’s just being really pissed. I’m like, “Oh, even if I had another interview, I’d probably like mess that up too. Look at what happened with Buffett.” Corwin is like, “Look, man. You can’t be so hard on yourself. Interviewing isn’t a science. It’s an art.” And as we’re talking about this, the most miraculous moment of the entire journey happens. A car pulls up with tinted windows, parks right in front of us. The door swings open and out walks Larry King.
Hal Elrod: No way.
Alex Banayan: Now, if you are anything like me when things line up so perfect like that, that’s actually when I get the most nervous. Like, I call it like the flinch and like my mouth is like becomes like wired shut, my throat clenches, my cheek turned to stone. And I literally just sit there watching Larry King walk right past me into the grocery store. And I don’t say a thing. And my friend, Corwin, sort of like jams his elbow into me. He’s like, “Dude, what the hell? You know, why didn’t you say anything?” And the thing about fear is that it’s very good at making logical excuses. And I was like, “Oh, you know, he’s probably going in to buy something for his family, like, I don’t want to bother him. I don’t want to be that guy.” And Corwin is like, “Dude, you are that guy.” And I’m like, you know, and I’m like…
Hal Elrod: Own it. Own it.
Alex Banayan: And I’m like, you know, my fear keeps making excuses. I’m like, “Oh, you know, ah, well, you know, he’s probably very deep in the grocery store now. There’s no way I’ll be able to find him,” and Corwin is like, “Dude, he’s 80 years old. How far could he have got in?” So, very reluctantly, I get up and I walk into this grocery store looking for Larry King. And, you know, I’m looking around the bakery. Yeah, no Larry. I go to the produce section. You know, fruits, vegetables, no Larry. And immediately, I remembered that he had parked in a loading zone. So, he must be leaving any second now. So, this bolt of adrenaline kicks into me and I start running through the grocery store, sprinting down every aisle looking for Larry King. No Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry. Now, I’m running down, cutting the fruit, like cutting around the frozen food section, sprinting down, no Larry, and I figured he has to be at the checkout counter. So, I run to the front, I’m looking at the checkout counters, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry. And at this point, I wanted to kick myself, because he had been right in front of me and I hadn’t said a thing. And I’m sort of just staring down at my feet and walking out into the parking lot.
And I slowly lift my head. And right there, 20 feet in front of me, is Larry King, you know, suspenders and all. And I don’t know what gets into me, you know, but all this like, I think it might have been just all like frustration and anger was like combusting inside of me. And uncontrollably out of my mouth I started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Mr. King!” and, Hal, the echo in the parking lot was so loud, the poor guy is 80 years old and had quadruple bypass surgery. And I will never forget him literally jumping in the air.
Hal Elrod: Gee, you almost killed Larry King, Alex.
Alex Banayan: Right. He like he slowly turns around, every wrinkle on his face is sprung back. You know, it looks like he’s looking at the Grim Reaper. And I don’t know what to do and I just like sort of like run toward him and I’m like, “Mr. King, Mr. King, you know, my name is Alex. I’m 20 years old. I’ve always wanted to say hi.” And he’s like, “Okay. Hi,” and he walks the other way.
Hal Elrod: That’s hilarious.
Alex Banayan: And I’m just like too deep to like pull back now so I just like am awkwardly following him on the sidewalk out to his car.
Hal Elrod: You’re stalking Larry King. Sure.
Alex Banayan: And it’s just like in complete silence and we’re now out by his car and I’m like, you know, he puts his groceries in the trunk, opens the driver side door, and I’m like, “Wait. Mr. King, can I go to breakfast with you?” And he looks at me like I’m a lunatic. And before he can respond, he looks onto the sidewalk and sees that there’s like a dozen people now watching this go down. So, he sort of just like shrugs his shoulders and he’s like, “Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.” And I’m like, “Oh, my God, thank you so much. Oh, my God, I’m so happy. Thank you. Great. I’ll see you tomorrow.” And he gets into his car and right before he’s about to shut the door, I’m like, “Wait, Mr. King, what time?” and he just looks at me and slams the door shut. And I’m now like shouting through the windshield. I’m like, “You know, Mr. King, what time?” and he just looks at me. Starts the engine. I now standing in front of his windshield, waving my arms shouting, “Mr. King, what time?” and he just looks at me and he’s like, “Nine o’clock,” and he just speeds up. So, sure enough, the next morning comes around. It’s 9:00 and I walk into this, you know, bagels restaurant. And there’s Larry King sitting at the corner booth with his best friends.
Hal Elrod: He’s a man of his word.
Alex Banayan: He’s a man of his word. And there’s an open seat at the table. But, you know, the night prior, I had some time to reflect on how I had acted the day before. And I thought you know, today maybe I should be a bit more gentle.
Hal Elrod: There you go.
Alex Banayan: And then I’m like, “Hey, good morning Mr. King.” And he just looks up and he certainly grumbles. He’s like, you know, he just sort of mumbles.
Hal Elrod: He’s like, “Oh my God, that annoying kid showed up.”
Alex Banayan: Right. Exactly. And I’m thinking, “Okay. Maybe he needs some time alone, so I’ll just sit at the table next to him and wait for him to call me over.” Ten minutes pass, 20 minutes pass, an hour passes, and finally, he gets up and he starts walking toward me. And you know, I can feel my cheeks lifting and he walks right past me and heads for the exit. I sort of just put a hand up in the air and I’m like, “Mr. King?” And he just looks at me and he’s like, “What is it, kid? What do you want?” At this point, I just felt a very sharp, familiar pain in my chest and I was like, “Honestly, I just wanted some advice on how to interview people.” And the slow smile spreads across his face almost as if he was saying, “You know, why didn’t you say so?” And he ends up giving me, you know, the greatest monologue of the interviewing advice I’ve ever heard. And then he looks up to the ceiling at the end, almost as if he’s debating something in his mind and then he looks back at me and sort of like puts a finger in my face and he goes, “Alright, kid. Tomorrow, 8:45. See you here.” And I show up the next morning at 8:45. He calls me over to his table. He asks me why I even wanted to learn about interviewing. I tell him about my book. He’s like, “All right. I’m in.” And over the course of the past five years, I’ve been to breakfast with him over 50 times.
Hal Elrod: You’re kidding me.
Alex Banayan: And the reason I thought about this story when he first asked your question about adding value when you get to meet people is that made no sense. You know, why am I at this breakfast table over and over and over again beyond Larry King just being an incredibly kind person. And you know, in hindsight, I can see that there’s a couple of reasons. First of all, he has like his five best friends that eat breakfast with him every morning. You know, there’s like Cal, there’s Barry, there’s Bruce, there’s Broadway Bruce. You know, there’s the whole classic character.
Hal Elrod: The entourage. Sure.
Alex Banayan: Right. And they’re all like 80 years old. So, I remember like, showing Barry how to use an iPad and I remember like Bruce being like wants Instagram.
Hal Elrod: You’re like the grandkid they never had.
Alex Banayan: Right. I remember like Larry King is like, “Oh, what’s the next thing?” And I’m like, “Oh, there’s this thing called Snapchats.” He’s like, “Who made it?” And I like emailed Evan Spiegel on the spot like, “Hey, Evan, like Larry wants to meet you.” So, I’m sort of like this digital like you know…
Hal Elrod: Grandkid, I think.
Alex Banayan: Yeah. Like sort of like the bridge for them. And one of the other people at the table was this man named Cal Fussman who was Larry’s ghostwriter and was a writer for Esquire Magazine. And when I met Cal, the first thing he ever told me is that Twitter is his kryptonite, and he hates the internet. And he then started complaining about how his whole career is going down the drain, because he climbed to the top of the magazine world, and it’s starting to crumble. You know, the mountain he climbed is collapsing. And that night, I like read some of his magazine pieces and they were like some of the greatest things I’ve ever read in my life. And I was like, Cal, it took me like 30 minutes, being like a detective on the internet to find these. How is it not like on your website? And he is like, “I don’t have a website.” And so, I ended up becoming very close friends with Larry’s best friend, Cal. And what I started realizing is that, and actually, I don’t take credit for this advice. I learned this from a man named Will McDonough, who used to be a Vice President at Goldman Sachs. And Will told me the reason someone mentors you is for one of three reasons.
Hal Elrod: I’m excited. I’m writing these down.
Alex Banayan: He said, number one, it’s because they see a part of themselves in you. They see a younger version of themselves in you so they relate to you. That’s number one. Number two is for some reason, they want to make you more like them. They see a value in making you more like them. Or number three, which is the most surprising to me, is they want to be more like you. And in hindsight, I can see what he means by that, because I’ve seen a lot of extremely successful people, like if you actually go to, you know, Wall Street, and you spend time with these like 70-year-old hedge fund managers, they normally have like this like 22-year-old like right-hand person, a Chief of Staff, Director of Special Product like this right-hand person. They always like why is this person in this room? But for some reason that like 22-year-old has like this incredible energy, is like fired up working like 20 hours a day and what I’ve learned is that sometimes the most successful people who have reached this like iconic level, they miss that energy, that like hungry, you know, there’s always a way, let’s do it, let’s change the world energy. And, look, they don’t want to travel with 1,000 22-year-olds with that energy but when they do come across someone like that, it is powerful. And what this Vice President from Goldman Sachs told me, and he says, he said the best mentor relationships have all three of those components.
Hal Elrod: I was just going to say that I think that it’s all three for most of the time.
Alex Banayan: Those are the ones that are the most sustainable mentor relationships. You know, number one, they see a part of themselves in you. Number two is they think the world would be a better place if they can pass along what they know to you. And number three, they want some of your energy.
Hal Elrod: I love that.
Alex Banayan: And I think a lot of young people, like greatly underestimate the value of being really positive, hardworking, and optimistic, and thoughtful. You know, you don’t want to be – there’s a difference between being obviously naively optimistic and like pragmatically optimistic. And I think a lot of very successful people like feel rejuvenated being around. Because when you get older, there’s just so many cynics around. A lot of times like experts and really rich people can be very cynical and there’s something really invigorating about that young energy. You know, I’m not even old. I’m young. So, I’m still in my 20s but sometimes I’ll be at events and I’ll meet like this 19-year-old, this 15-year-old. I’m like, “Oh, man, like, you have that fire like it feels so good talking to them.” You know, their eyes are like shining. And it’s just one of those things. I’m sure you see it on a daily basis, just shiny guys.
Hal Elrod: Absolutely. Yeah. And when you compare yourself in their shoes and you go, “Man, I was once there. I was once hungry. I was once curious. I was once…” Didn’t know what the heck I was doing and so I think that’s where that element of seeing a part of you in them. For me, I go, “Man, what would I have hoped that the person I was reaching out to or I was asking for help, what would I hope they have said, right?” So, for me, that’s the answer is like, “Oh, you want me to write a foreword for your book?” “Well, yeah.” When I reached out to authors to write a foreword for my book, I was terrified they wouldn’t and most didn’t. But yeah, so now it’s so practical and pragmatic. I love this.
Alex Banayan: Yeah. And something that I learned, you know, when I went to go interview Bill Gates, I was really pressing for negotiation secrets, sales secrets. So, one of the things that naturally came up in those topics is really what it’s like to have someone more experienced, more senior, take you under their wing. And something Bill taught me was that, you know, whether it’s CEOs or famous authors, they want to spend time and mentor people who subconsciously feel like a good investment for them. And what that, you know, the example Bill Gates gave me is like, if you are meeting a CEO of a company and you say, “Hey, what’s a book would you recommend for someone who wants to get into this industry?” and they’re like, “Oh, read so and so book.” You know, they’re naturally going to assume you either won’t read it or you might read it over the next month. If you email back in three days thanking them and letting them know how you read the entire book, and how the lessons have already changed the way you view the world and have changed your life, and letting them know how much their 30 seconds of advice meant to you, Bill Gates very clearly said, that creates a mental model in their mind that you are person worth giving advice to.
And people will start, you know, the 30 seconds advice will turn into five minutes of advice, which will turn into 15 minutes, which might turn into, you know, an hour coffee. But I think a lot of young people, myself included, when they’re starting out, they’re like, “Hey, can I pick your brain for an hour?” And, look, I tried that a lot and sometimes I got very lucky that people said yes because they were very tired. But especially if you’re asking someone who is very pressed on time if you’re lucky enough to get even 30 seconds of advice, run with it. Like really run with it and write them, letting them know how much it meant to you.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, I agree. That opens the door for mentorship relationship or whatever level.
Alex Banayan: People are nice. They even like, you know, the richest people on earth, they’re still nice, kind people who want to feel good about themselves. And if you can make it easy for them like they’ll want to help you.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, absolutely. I’m eating this up, Alex. You’re on a mission but what is the mission moving forward?
Alex Banayan: You know, for me, when I first started writing this book, my vision was to try to make it the most practical wisdom packed book I could possibly make. And, you know, in some ways, aspects of that came true. You know, in the book, like I said, it’s Bill Gates’ negotiating secrets. There’s Tim Ferriss cold email template. But now that the book is out in hindsight, can I see that the soul of this book is much deeper. And to me, the soul of this book is really about possibility. You know, there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past seven years is that you can give someone all the best tools and knowledge in the world, and their life can still feel stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they’ll never be the same. And there’s this one story that I came across in my research. I can’t even remember where I read it but it’s this story about this teacher who’s teaching for Teach for America and I think she’s teaching in like Baltimore in a really tough part of town, a really rough school. And she’s teaching maybe third or fourth grade, and she realizes these kids need some inspiration.
So, she says, “You know, tonight, instead of our math lesson, we’re all going to drop pictures of our biggest dream in life. You know, what we want to be when we grow up.” So, she passes out papers and crayons, and the kids start coloring except for this one boy sitting in the back of her class. He won’t pick up a crayon and his face is like pretty stoic. And then finally, like 30 minutes in, his eyes light up, he starts coloring. And at the end of the day, the kids go home, and the teacher is going through their papers and she sees that that young boy drew a picture of a pizza delivery man. And the teacher was very concerned. So, she called the mother that night and the mother said that she wasn’t surprised. She said that the only male figure in his life, who isn’t on drugs, or in jail, is his uncle who delivers pizza. And what that taught me is that young people will always reach for the highest branch they believe is possible. They will always reach for the highest branch they believe is possible. So, it’s our jobs, whether it’s families or school or society at large, to illuminate more branches and that’s the mission moving forward.
Hal Elrod: I just I don’t want to say anything. Alex, that means a lot. I really appreciate you saying that. And as a parent, and as a leader and influencer like, yeah, I resonate with that so deeply, and everybody listening does as well. And that we’ve got to illuminate those branches, those possibilities not just for young people. I think that we can argue that’s probably the most important place to put our energy, but it’s for each other. If you’re a spouse, it’s for your spouse, it’s for your kid, it’s for your friends, it’s for I think that how we live our lives gives other people permission to do the same. And so, we owe it to the people we love and the people that we lead to really live to our full potential and go after all of our grandest visions and possibilities, because only then can we inspire and empower others to do the same.
Hal Elrod: Well, Alex, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you, my friend. And I want to tell you, in fact, before we close out let me just say this that if you are listening to this, if you are a goal achiever, a listener of the Achieve Your Goals Podcast, if you dream of learning under the wings of world-class mentors, and achieving your biggest goals, or just transforming yourself into the person that you always imagined you could be, I invite you to check out Alex’s book The Third Door. It really gives you the tools that you need, so you can get what you want in your life. And, Alex, I’m assuming that this is a traditionally published book, so it’s available everywhere books are sold, I’m guessing.
Alex Banayan: Absolutely. Yeah. Wherever people like to buy books.
Hal Elrod: Wherever you like to buy your books. Get it on Kindle. Get it on Audible. Get it at the store. Cool. Well, hey, Alex, man. Yeah, really, really…
Alex Banayan: Thank you so much, man.
Hal Elrod: No. Thank you so much. You’re welcome. It was mutually I really, really enjoyed your time and your wisdom and your heart. All of the above. Really great, great conversation. Thank you so much.
Alex Banayan: I’m so grateful, man. Thank you.
Hal Elrod: Well, hey, goal achievers, I will talk to you all next week. I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did and, by the way, tickets just went on sale for the Best Year Ever Blueprint, the Live Experience. In fact, I’ll probably record a commercial or something for this episode. But yeah, Alex will be around on December 13 through the 15th in San Diego, California and the details you can go to BestYearEverLive.com for all the details, and we’ve got about three minutes taken but yeah, man. It’s a pretty cool experience. So, we’ll talk more about it next week. Goal achievers, I love you. I really appreciate you and appreciate you, Alex, and I will talk to everybody very, very soon. Take care.
"Young people will always reach for the highest branch they believe is possible."
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