I have been spending a lot of time with my 16-year-old daughter recently and we even spent a weekend together when I taught at the International Beauty Show in NYC where she met some of my friends while I was teaching. 

She saw Nick Arrojo, Mike Karg, Ted Gibson, Rodney Cutler, Joe Santy, just name a few, and got to hang out a bit and talked with them too. Later that night back at the hotel, she was talking about how nice everyone was and how cool in a real way they were too, not just cool and then a jerk.

As we started talking about each of them, it was during this conversation that I had a realization. I had just finished watching my brother-in-laws new series on Netflix with my wife, Leah, called Abstract about very innovative, creative people, like Tinker, who was the gentleman who designed all the Air Jordon sneakers at Nike or Platon, the famous photographer who has developed a specific, very sought after portrait style. And I realized that everyone I know who is successful and all the people I watch in documentaries who are successful have done three things.

What I realized when I was talking with Emma, was that it didn't matter where my successful friends grew up, if they were rich or poor, what their education was, whether they were male or female, or even what their field was, no matter entrepreneur or corporate leader. It was just 3 things they all had in common.

Now I am not saying you can't be successful without these three things, and I am also not saying these alone will guarantee success, but I do know without these three things, I would not be in a position to be sharing this blog or have the life and successes I have had. 

So what are the three things?

First, all the people I know who are successful, hang out with people that make them better or are better than them. There is a well known saying that, “you are as successful as the 5 people you hang out with the most”, and this is that truth.

I was lucky in the 1980’s, I started coloring hair in 1987 right when color was becoming something you wanted to do, not just to cover gray or be blonde. But the big names at the time were all cutters and because of that, by 22, I was in New York City coloring hair with Logics and Clairol and working with salons like John Sahag, La Coupe, David Daines (where I met Maurice Tidy!), Oribe, Frederic Fekkai, Pierre Michele, Roger Thompson, and Louis Licari!  It was crazy because I got to teach at some of the top salons in the world, with the biggest names, I was 22 and definitely surrounded by people better than me.

Even as color director for Nick Arrojo and Rodney Cutler, I had cutters who were better and more well known than myself, and the color departments then and now have colorists that are better than me, that’s why I show up and work my butt off every time. I have a friend who only flies First Class and when I asked him why he said, “The people in first class are the people who hire me.” I know someone else who vacations at the Four Season in Hawaii because, “You will not believe who you meet at the pool”. 

And this is all business, not celebrity. This is why you go to a good college, or work on great teams because the people around you, help you, teach you, hold you accountable and let you grow.

Second, all of my successful friends travel. Period. I was watching a great documentary on the Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang who creates in fireworks and black powder, creating works both in the sky and burnt on canvases.It was his travel to Japan as a young artist that helped him learn to control his creative medium, he is responsible for the opening of the Beijing Olympics and you’ll hear more about him in the third reason as well.

Traveling to England to teach at 23 and Germany at 24 changed my career at home and traveling to Africa, in my mid thirties, changed my life and what I believed “normal” was. As a native New Yorker, tall buildings, lots of people, homes, cars, trains and subways were my normal, but Africa showed my that was just my normal.  And the truth is, for millions of years, in fact for the entire history of man up until the last 200 years, normal is, no heat, no ac, no running water, no security, no closets full of clothes, no internet, death of parents, brothers and sisters, children, everyday and being eaten or possibly being attacked by an animal, everyday in Africa. That is their “normal”, even today. 

As I returned to NYC about 15 years ago from that trip and emerged from the subway to a view of the Empire State Building, I realized, “my normal” was not “normal”.  All of our normals, are normal, and the more normals I learn, the more I appreciate normals I have, change the normals I want to have and bring awareness to “normals” that should no longer be.

Third, all of my successful friends created their success. They didn’t get jobs, they made jobs and even new thoughts and ideas.  No one thought the way Steve Jobs thought when he returned to Apple the second time.  He didn’t create a better computer, he changed the way we interact with technology. 

In one scene in the documentary about the Chinese artist, Cai Guo-Qiang, Steven Spielberg is looking at one of his canvases that is hanging more than 20 feet in length. A huge work of art with portraits, mountains, beautiful images burnt on a canvas as beautiful as if created with very dark charcoal and he asks, “how many explosions does it take to make that canvas”.

After a pause, “One” the translator replies, as Steve is visibly blown away by this artists control, expression and work as he looks at the art and mutters, “one” in amazement.  Bumble and Bumble did this with the razor and all of the distinctly different razor geniuses that came out of Bumble. Or Sassoon used a distinct cutting technique and tools, the McCormick’s in Houston and Visible Changes how they used great business to create successful salons.  It doesn’t matter corporate or wild entrepreneur all the successful people I know created their success and didn't just get a job, they made it and owned it!

What I loved about sharing this with Emma is that then there are many other facets that every individual has added to these three things and with them, a lot of hard work and some luck, I know I can always guarantee my success and I know most of my friends if not all, feel that way too. The best thing about this is, honestly, everyone can create success, because today successful people truly come from everywhere.

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