Last year Tim Ferriss posted an article on his wildly popular blog titled My Unusual $20,000 Birthday Gift (Plus: Free Roundtrip Anywhere in the World). I read the article and thought, “Hey, that’s cool. I should enter.” I glanced at the due date for applications and, noticing that I still had a whole month to participate, told myself maybe I’d do it later, like thousands of others.
A couple days later, a friend of mine reposted it in our 4HWW Berlin group and I noticed that I had read the application date wrong–rather than thirty-two days until the fundraiser and competition was complete, there was actually TWO days. I thought, “shit, it’s now or never, isn’t it?” I noticed that there were hundreds of comments supporting the idea or contributing to the conversation about it, but there was a relatively low number of people entering the competition part of it to win that roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world.
That surprised me. Still, I didn’t feel I had a reasonable shot at winning because several of the people who had actually entered seemed to have quite a large following, compared to me but also by most standards.
But then I remembered what Ferriss wrote in his very own book–”Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals.”
I remembered the story of how he offered a class of students a free trip around the world in return for writing to 3 seemingly-impossible-to-reach people and getting a reply from one, and not a single student even tried to complete the challenge because “all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.” And I thought.. well, I’m probably not going to win, but I’m going to give it all I can. I can still “show up”. If I don’t enter, I can’t win.
To enter the competition, all you had to do was leave a comment telling how you promoted his charity drive. I looked at my situation, and assessed it. For spreading the word about his charity goal, most entrants had tweeted, facebooked, and emailed their followers and contacts. In terms of social media, I had a modest twitter following, a strong but small email list, and a fair number of facebook friends. So if I was going to go the “traditional” route, it looked like my chances were slim.
I sat down with a blank piece of paper and thought, “how can I go the extra mile? how can I leverage my strengths and what I DO have to set me apart?” I focused on my strengths and what resources I had at my disposal.
“Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre.”
One of my favorite parts about Tim’s ideology is that you can create win-win situations. It just takes a bit of planning and creativity. The gist of what he writes about is that you can make money through your business, help others and provide immense value to them with your work, have plenty of time to do whatever you want by creating passive income streams, and even enjoy the work you do. He asserts that life doesn’t have to be trudging through a dull job you dislike just because its “normal” and it pays the bills. And I know its true because I’ve had a taste of it myself, both with successes in my own company and vicariously through many of the friends I’ve made from our 4HWW Berlin group.
So on my blank sheet of paper, I took stock of my resources and racked my brain to formulate a win-win scenario. I wanted to tie everything together–to incorporate my greeting card company (which is even based on the 4HWW model), benefit my customers and potentially bring in new ones, harness my best skill (creativity), advance the charity drive, and create a positive feedback loop to “pay it forward”. I came up with an idea, and before I could second-guess myself, I took immediate action right then and there with the mantra “I’m going to give it all I can. If I don’t enter, I can’t win” on repeat in my head.
The idea was this–I released a brand new design for sale in my store dedicated to the charity drive, and created a storewide sale in which the customer received 50% off and I gave 50% to the Room to Read Charity in Tim’s drive.
After several hours of this inspiration-fueled burst, I felt satisfied that I gave it my best. I had no idea if it would be enough, but at the very least I could be proud of myself that I did all I could. The rest was in the hands of Tim and his crew–they would choose the top 5 commenters who would proceed to the next round in the competition.
The deadline for the charity drive passed and amazingly (but unsurprisingly) his readers and followers exceeded the $20k donation goal, meaning Tim would also donate his own $20k.
Two weeks passed, and finally there was a new post about the great victory for the charity, as well as the names of the 5 top commenters who would move on to the next round of the competition.
My name was among them (and my jaw was on the floor).
The next stage of the competition, which was to decide the winner of the roundtrip ticket, would be decided by a pure and simple vote. I still didn’t think I stood a serious chance, especially up against a guy with 50,000 youtube followers and a woman with an incredibly heart-wrenching story among the lot. But I stuffed my worries and reminded myself what mindset got me into the competition in the first place–it was one where dreaming was allowed and I went for it anyways with a “why not?” attitude.
My strategy was simple.. to ask everyone I know to vote for me.
I wrote and messaged and called as many people as I could personally, one by one, telling them how grateful I’d be if they could vote and spread the word in any way. I included a message they could copy-and-paste as their statuses, so that if they wanted to, they could repost it or edit it. I asked my friends to help me brainstorm and get involved. I talked about it to everyone I encountered and asked them to go home and have their moms and dads and grandparents and cousin’s dogs vote and spread the word. I asked everyone in my 4HWW group. I even made a joke youtube video. I exhausted my brain and my body and then let go–I waited to hear the results for several weeks, without trying to think or worry about the outcome (especially because I was traveling at the time).
Almost four weeks from the original post went by and I heard nothing. One day I woke up early to go on a run–I was in Geneva in a hostel on a trip with my brother. I checked my email and saw nothing of interest, then loaded up Ferriss’s website to see if there was any news. I saw that the results had been posted, and since I hadn’t received an email I didn’t think I had won.
But my name was there again. And it was at the top. I won.
I shook my brother.. “I won. I.. won. I won.”
He thought I was joking. I repeated it a couple more times and shoved the computer towards him. I felt a huge rush of adrenaline rush through my body, jumped up, shaking, excited. After a while I remember I was going on a run, so I headed out the door and along Geneva’s picturesque Rhône riverside in the morning sunshine. The rush of adrenaline lasted the entire run and I felt a huge wave of appreciation and gratitude.
The secret to winning didn’t have a lot to do with me–I could only vote for myself once. It was my friends, family, and contacts who made it happen and for that I’m extremely thankful.
I used the ticket I won to do just what I said–travel around the world and write a creative cookbook called The Eat Team. For the past 5 months, I’ve traveled Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and today I’m writing to you from Auckland, New Zealand.
It’s that time of year again, and Tim is currently hosting another charity and win-a-roundtrip-ticket contest at this very moment. Could this one be your ticket around the world? Go enter now.