Behind the Brand with Scott Galloway

Economics professor Scott Galloway is living proof that brilliant minds don’t always reach their full potential until later in life. Galloway teaches at NYU’s Stern school of business, and he is an author who has written several books and publishes a newsletter. He is also a host of four weekly podcasts and consultant/investor for businesses. 

Galloway didn’t come by success easily. In fact growing up he always felt like he was “remarkably unremarkable.” He didn’t fancy himself to be a great student and tells me that he was lucky to get into UCLA when their admissions rate was 70% in the 1980’s.  

“There’s different on-ramps to a rewarding professional life,” he says. “What I would argue is that you always need to have somewhat of a path. You want to make sure you have a plan. You want to be on getting certification, or education, or professional experience. Because time goes fast and…it’s just super competitive out there.”

Scott was a C student at UCLA when he attended for his undergrad. He tells me that while it said economics on his degree, he really majored in marijuana and sports with a minor in Planet of the Apes. “I showed up to UCLA at seventeen years old,” he says. “And I really wasn’t prepared for it. Not so much intellectually, but emotionally. I wasn’t really responsible or mature enough for college at that point.”

Galloway always skirted the line of being on academic probation and getting kicked out of school and he graduated with a 2.27 GPA. Maybe some people might have counted him out at that time, but by the time he approached grad school at UC Berkeley things had changed for him, especially after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Maybe it was maturity, maybe it was time–Galloway is a big proponent of time–but as a graduate student he had much more success than an undergraduate student and he would eventually go on to get his masters and have a successful career as an investment banker in the private sector for ten years before moving on to academia.

“When my mom got sick… it was just me and her and when my mom got cancer, the healthcare was awful,” he says. “And I remember feeling very emasculated like I wasn’t a man because I couldn’t take care of my mom. I remember thinking at that moment, I’m going to be rich. Whatever the f*** it takes. I don’t want to ever be in a position where I can’t take care of my mom.”

Galloway acknowledges that his path to success and finding his own way isn’t unique. And family and economic dynamics play a huge part in how young people will succeed in today’s highly competitive world. Kids today have an even harder time getting ahead and Galloway feels that there is a crisis amongst young males in particular in today’s world. With incarceration rates, opioid addiction and depression rates jumping up for young men, Galloway is passionate about coaching them whenever possible.

“My colleague at NYU, Jonathan Haidt wrote a book called the Coddling of the American Mind, and he describes specifically this epidemic in depression among young people and thinks it’s driven by two things,” Galloway tells me. “The first is our fault as parents. He said our generation engages in concierge or bulldozer parenting where we use so many sanitary [wipes] on their life, they don’t develop their own immunities. They show up to college with this sort of princess and the pea syndrome and they get their heart broken or they get their first C, and they just literally freak out. And the second is social media. Especially among girls. Boys bully physically and verbally; girls bully relationally, and we’ve put these nuclear weapons in their hands [with their phones.]”

With the progress we’ve made in today’s society as we move toward a more equal and just world, Galloway is seeing that the paradigm shift is causing an identity crisis among young men, in particular young white men, who are figuring out how to be supportive of progress, and find opportunity, which is more difficult to come by than it was for their predecessors. And they’re trying to navigate this new terrain while also not entirely taking on the guilt of being the bully in the American story. 

“I think [young men] have been told–especially white men–that they’re the oppressors and I think the opportunities that you or I had aren’t as plentiful,” Galloway says. “It’s much more difficult to get into a good school and it’s much more expensive. So, you’re faced with, do I really want to saddle my family with this debt to go to a tier two college? And the bottom line is the world is more competitive. [Men] had sort of a monopoly on a lot of industries when you and I were coming out of school and that trickled down to more opportunity for men. A third of the population got 80% of the spoils. It was just awesome to be a white dude in the 80’s. You got free education and you got opportunity to access free education with incredible admissions rates.”

In addition, Galloway feels that social media has levied tremendous damage on the youth of today. Young people experience depression and anxiety at far greater rates than in generations past. The theory is that it’s because they are constantly comparing their own lives to the curated ones they see on their phones from their friends or channels/accounts they follow. As a parent myself I understand the dance you do with your kids of trying to let them be social with social media, while making sure they’re not being bullied. Giving them enough while simultaneously not giving them too much. It’s complicated. In addition to the complex intricacies of the home environment that children grow up in, there are larger problems at play in our society and one of them is poverty. 

“Poverty is a disease and one in five households with children suffer from food insecurity,” Galloway says. “To me that seems unthinkable and what is supposed to be the wealthiest nation in the world. You’re hungry, it’s just hard to study. Your mom doesn’t have any money, it’s hard to have an iPad for remote learning. So, I think attacking childhood poverty is really important.”

Galloway tells me that he’s a fan in theory of the infrastructure plan the White House is moving on and he believes that eliminating poverty and childhood hunger will create a stronger society where economics are concerned. Having a strong middle class is the name of the game for him.

As we attempt to solve some of the macro-economic issues this country faces, how can we start at the micro level? One of Galloway’s favorite sayings is, life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to what happens to you, so how does he suggest we respond when times get complicated or competitive?

Find something you’re good at.

Galloway feels that when young people gear their career towards things they love that will often lead them down unstable paths that won’t yield results or attainable success. Career paths like music, fashion, acting, culinary arts… fields that have high unemployment rates. This kind of advice is honestly contrary to what a lot of people might tell you. Many successful people say they got successful because they followed their passion, but Galloway feels differently. For him it’s talent first, passion later.

“I think your job as a young person is to find something you’re good at,” he says. “I think that unfortunately we tell a lot of kids that you should find your passion…[and] I think follow your passion is terrible advice. I think you should find something you’re good at and your job as a young person is to put yourself in a position where you can find [that.] Expose yourself to a lot of different classes, a lot of different opportunities, and if you’re good at something and then you commit to providing or investing the requisite thousands of hours and perseverance and grit and grind to become great. Being great at anything [and] the accoutrements of being great–economic reward, camaraderie, prestige, relevance will make you passionate about whatever it is.”

Be more of a stoic.

“I wish I had the discipline to be more of a stoic at a younger age,” he says. “And I do think there’s an algebra of wealth and it’s (1.) find your talent; find what you’re good at. (2.) save more than you spend. From every age just decide you’re going to start saving money. Time is the most powerful force in the universe. If you put away a hundred bucks a month now, or fifty bucks a month at the age of some of your high school students, you’re going to end up with a lot of money. And time is going to go faster than you think. Sure, if you’re a baller and end up going double platinum, or investment banker good for you, but assume that’s not going to happen. And the best way to get rich is slowly.”

In addition to this Galloway recommends checking in on how much time you give your indulgences. How much screen time, social media, sugar, or trans fats are you taking in each day? Can you redirect your time towards focusing on meaningful relationships, finding, and nurturing your talents and physical fitness. He says that creating grit through sweating and challenging yourself physically and mentally prepares you for the rough roads life can present.

“Also, stoicism is about not reacting emotionally…being willing to take slights without responding,” he says. “I’m fifty-six and I still can’t resist dunking on people when they say something stupid to me on Twitter. And what you realize is that you become where your attention is.” 

Don’t Day Trade

One of the biggest pieces of advice that Galloway gives is to not day trade. He says that statistically most people lose money when day trading and that the best thing you can do if you invest in stocks is to invest money you can afford to lose and then forget about the investment. In the same way you might give yourself some money to go gamble for fun, day trading should be treated like consumption, not investing. 

“Your returns are entirely correlated to your time horizon around investing,” he says. “Day traders, between 80-95% lose money. And all you’ll hear about is selection bias. People will take pictures of their trade. Oh, I’m up 80% on LiteCoin. Assume you’re not that person. It doesn’t make for good Instagram to say, Slowly but surely on Coinbase I’ve lost 70% of my inheritance from my grandmother for my college. That doesn’t make for an Instagram post. And that’s kind of what’s happening across America.”

Invest in yourself and others.

Galloway is a big proponent of investing in relationships and investing in yourself. We as humans need support and self-support to be successful. For him it’s about changing the way we connect with ourselves and those around us.

“There’s an analogy to investing in the market, ten bucks a day can be a million bucks if you start at a young age. A text message, a thank you note…Small investments, small gestures, checking in on people, a little bit every day,” Galloway says. “Just a little bit and you wake up and it’s like compounding interest in the market… you wake up with a great friendship, a great relationship with your sister. And then there’s a lot of research that shows that the biggest regret people have at the end of their lives, and my colleague at NYU Adam Alter did this research and talked to people in palliative care, is they wish they’d been less hard on themselves. So, bringing forgiveness to yourself and to others is the key to having a healthy relationship with yourself…

I think about my tombstone a lot, even though I want to be cremated. I’d like to think of myself as a generous person, and a good dad. And I want to be known as a patriot. So those are the kind of three things I aspire to be. I think everyone should have a code. Everyone should try to distill down to three words the things you want to be known for when people think of your name.”

More with Scott Galloway here:

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