My Answers to the ‘Tribe of Mentors’ Questions

My Answers to the ‘Tribe of Mentors’ Questions

I’ve been reading through Tim Ferriss’ new book ‘Tribe of Mentors‘ where he 12 or so questions to a ton of folks who are top-performers in their field (business, athletics, writing, science, etc).  I really liked the questions and sent them to a friend of mine David, who is doing medical-missionary work in Kenya.  He responded and asked what my responses would be so I thought I’d share them below.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why?
Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Given – not many.

I’ve given The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey to a couple people, mainly because it was so formational in how I viewed debt and budgeting and has helped Sara and I develop a plan where we’ve chiseled away $110k of medical school loan debt down to about $30k in 3 years.

Influenced my life –

Drive by Dan Pink.  It’s a book on what motivates people and how to develop intrinsic motivation in yourself and your team (or students in my case).  The three main drivers of intrinsic motivation are a desire for autonomy, mastery of a concept or skill, and purpose.  Has really impacted how I try to motivate my students by giving them autonomy when I can, presenting the math content like a puzzle to be solved and mastered, and give as much purpose to the work we’re doing (which isn’t always how you’ll use it in the ‘real world’ but sometimes just to appreciate the beauty of logic and systems).

The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun.  It’s the story of one of the early Chinese missionaries (to his own country) back in the 60’s before the big explosion of Christianity in China.  Reading through it was like reading through the book of Acts in the Bible, except a lot of it happened less than 50 years ago.  It actually helped much of the Bible feel less like ‘old stuff that happened a long time ago’ but seeing how real Brother Yun’s relationship and connection to God was is really inspiring.  Seeing how he ministered to Christians in the US also helped me to be less cynical about the American Christian church.

Daily Rituals by Mason Currey – A book on the habits and methods of work by famous figures in history.  He looked at artists, writers, politicians, musicians, scientists, philosophers, and more.  People were all over the map on how they worked which helped me realize there isn’t one right way to do it.  It did inspire me to continue to work to wake up early and win the day as many folks did that as well.  Some people also stayed in bed until noon and hated themselves which sparked some of their best work so there’s that.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? 

I just discovered that you can get way more beef jerky if you buy it through Amazon.  I love to snack on jerky but it’s generally kind of expensive in the grocery store ($10 for 8oz).  I found Jack’s Links Teriyaki 16oz for $12.  Got a handful of Amazon gift cards from students for Christmas this year and plan on using most of it buy more jerky 🙂

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

Several ‘failures’ sort of led me into teaching.  I studied Sound Recording Technology and I wasn’t all that great at making bands sound awesome.  My final big recording project was a rock band and the end result was really just OK.  I knew that I probably wouldn’t make it as an engineer in recording studio; I also didn’t really want to do that (would have to work for free for a while, music industry was really changing, didn’t want to record bands I didn’t care for, etc).  Wasn’t very good at live sound, nor did I really enjoy that.  So when I got out of college, I thought ‘I guess I could teach.’

While I was getting ready to start my alternative certification program, I was applying for a ton of jobs to do in the meantime.  I was getting rejection emails literally moments after applying online (a lot of the jobs required a personality quiz that you did online and I guess I was answering the questions wrong…I didn’t have the right personality to be the stock boy at Toys R Us).

I applied to work with a train company doing repair work out on the rails; the idea of hard work was really appealing to me at the time.  Didn’t get a call back.  Went in for an interview at a grocery story stocking warehouse and the interviewer was surprised I was there since I had a degree.  I told him I was wanting to save money before I started teaching next year.  He said I’d really hate the job and recommended I keep looking for other alternatives.

I decided to start substitute teaching even though the pay was pretty terrible.  I figured it would at least help me develop my teaching (or more like classroom management) skills.  Subbing was tough but it ended up being far more valuable than if I were to go the student teaching route; there was no one to fall back on to handle a difficult situation, I had to learn how to talk to students in a way that they’d want to do what I asked them to do.

I subbed from kindergarten classes to 12th grade classes to see which age group I felt I meshed well with.  It led to a long-term subbing position in a really difficult school where I took over an unruly 7th grade English class for the last 3 weeks of school.  Every day of that was filled with failures on my part of not knowing how to handle disrespectful students, not making any progress with the class in the book we were trying to read, and just generally having no idea of what I was doing.  BUT I did make a few meaningful connections with a couple particularly challenging students during that time.  Those moments were what solidified in my mind that teaching was something I really did want to do and it wasn’t just going to be a temporary gig for me.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why?

If you want to be interesting, be interested.

It’s the main principle of How To Win Friends & Influence People and I try to remember it in most of my interactions with people, particularly when meeting new people.

The end result isn’t just that people find you interesting, but that you begin to learn how to really listen, to ask better questions, to try and understand someone’s perspective because you’re generally trying to be interested and not just waiting for your turn to talk.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I really really love seeing minimal desk setups.  There’s an Instagram account that’s full of them.  The symmetry and simplicity is so aesthetically pleasing.  I submitting a photo of my desk but it never made the cut.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Waking up early.  About a year ago I started waking up around 5am.  It’s allowed me to have a nice, slow start to the day.  I make breakfast and coffee, take time to read the scriptures, pray, and then get started on any work I need to do.  I avoid looking at my phone until after my time of prayer to help keep me from getting sucked into that world.  The work I do is generally all the school stuff that I’m too lazy to do after school; grading, lesson planning, emailing, etc.  It’s also freed up my afternoons to work on my personal projects (YouTube videos, freelance voiceover work, blogging) for a couple hours before my wife gets home, and then when she’s home, I’m just with her.  Early on in marriage, the amount of time I spent on work and personal projects when she was home was a point of contention since that meant I wasn’t spending time with her.

About a month ago, I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the class meets from 6am-7am so I head to that after my time in prayer on Mon, Wed, Fri.  I now try to get most of my school work done on Sun, Tues, and Thurs.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

1.  Don’t worry if you don’t have a ‘passion.’  I feel that word is loaded and there’s this expectation that everyone has this encompassing passion that should be the focus and goal of all their efforts and work.  Find time to explore things you find interesting.  It’s so much easier to find things you’re interested in than things you’re passionate about.

2.  If you do have a passion, great!  But that doesn’t mean it has to be your life’s work.  Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.  I love what Mike Rowe says about passion – don’t follow your passion, follow opportunity and bring your passion with you.

3.  If you’ve got the entrepreneur bug in you, figure out how to start your business w/out going into massive debt and don’t quit your job to pursue your entrepreneurship dream until it’s necessary, until it’s taking off the ground and has momentum and cannot go any further without your full attention.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

This isn’t really a bad recommendation but I think it’s easy for teachers to find a method of teaching or a pedagogy style and feel it’s got to be all-or-nothing with that practice.  For me, I was wanting to do more discussion-based learning and I remember having this feeling that every lesson had to have this big discovery that came about from students conversing about the problems.  That was frustrating.

I’ve now got a little bit more of a mix where I really do work to have students discover new concepts through carefully selected problems (ex: when learning order of operations, I have them all solve a problem with multiple operations and talk about the different answers they had so they can see ‘oh it’d be great if there was one right way to approach these problems so we all got the same answer’) but sometimes I will provide a short lecture on a topic and allow the students to spend more time working out those types of problems after I’ve presented it.

I think lecture has gotten quite a bad rap in the progressive education community where people want to say it has no value because students are just passively listening but I think there are times and places for a good lecture. I think lecturing itself is a craft that teachers can learn to get better at as well.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Saying no to getting onto my smartphone first thing in the morning.

In the freelance voiceover world, I’ve gotten better at saying no to clients who are asking for significantly lower prices.  I used to feel I had to find somewhere in the middle and compromise.  Photographer Chase Jarvis talks about this.  He said either charge your rate or work for free, don’t do anything in the middle.  If your rate is $5k, and you charge $500, you are now the $500 guy in that clients mind, and even if they do get to a point where they can pay $5k down the road, they will find someone else because you aren’t the $5k guy to them, you’re the $500 guy.

When I started saying no to these jobs, I would just write ‘I’m sorry I can’t complete the job at that rate’ but recently revised it to something along the following lines:

Thanks so much for reaching out 🙂 I unfortunately cannot complete the job at this rate. 
My rate is below. I understand this is outside of your proposed budget and if it’s not feasible at this time, I do hope we get a chance to work together in the future. Thanks so much 🙂

I feel this gently communicates that I’m not willing to go lower and am OK not getting their business, but it’s not dismissive of them.  The first time I sent this to someone who said they had a $100 budget for a $220 job, I sent them the rate and they went ahead and took it.  I really didn’t think they would.  They left a 5-star review and were happy with the work.

Quick note- any Amazon links above are affiliate links which means if you buy something using those links, I’ll get a commission.  Doesn’t change the price for you.  Money 🙂

By Thom H Gibson

I help middle school STEM teachers create meaningful & memorable experiences for their students. Teacher, podcaster, YouTuber. Two-time teacher of the year

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