Confessions of a 21 Year Old Know-It-All

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When I was 21 years old, I would correct my math teacher making a mistake on the chalkboard.

The whole class would giggle, while the teacher would sheepishly have to erase and rewrite the equation.

I was a first class a-hole.

This caused other students and faculty to want to gun me down– so I had to be on my tippy toes not to goof up myself.

I won 5th place nationwide in MathCounts, a math competition. I was so proud that I photocopied my award 5 times, in case I lost the original. This was back in before the days of digital cameras or even cell phones.

I made my Asian parents proud.

And I had confidence of a 21 year old life coach.

Remember when we were younger and we thought old people were fuddy-duddies? We had to program their VCRs, which were blinking 12:00 or reset the time on the microwave after a power outage.

I thought “old people” were hoarse whispering geezers– yelling “get off my lawn”, before hopping in their Oldsmobile to eat a Grand Slam at Dennys. While they’re figuring out how to turn the TV on, I’ve already run circles around them with other electronic gadgets.

Yesterday, I had a Zoom call with a 17 year old TikTok kid named Noah Brierley who has 1.8 million followers.

He was explaining how to make short form videos. And so I asked him why it seemed the top account were young adults.  He encouraged us by saying how even “old people” (yes, he said that) like his dad, me, and Perry Marshall could use the platform to go viral.

We paused for minute– as the three “old men” looked at each other, then back at Noah.

And in his eyes, these three guys were each three times his age. 17 times 3 is 51— and we’re all near 50. So that’s 150 years of age on one side, learning from a 17 year old.

If you’re not a young adult, have you ever had that “old man” moment, too, when it comes to technology or social media?

Perry Marshall, one of the 3 old men on the call yesterday, is the #1 best selling author of all time in online advertising.  He’s got the #1 best-selling book on Google ads, the #1 best selling book on Facebook ads, and now the #1 best-selling book on TikTok ads.  I happen to be co-author on the TikTok ads book, which is the #1 best seller on Amazon in social media as of this writing– ahead of GaryVee and the usual suspects.

Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago spending the day at Perry’s house.  We had 5 kids running around, plus Perry and the wife.  All 6 of us conspired around just one goal for the day– get Perry onto TikTok.  But do it in a natural way. Perry wouldn’t be singing and dancing.

So we recorded the normal chaos of a 20 year old cat, an adopted Chinese boy who had dwarfism, a one-legged girl who competed in wheelchair basketball, the outspoken Broadway enthusiast who does ASL translation (and is the #1 TikTok account not on Broadway).

We got to record candid scenes of Perry and family eating authentic leftover Szechuan food, celebrating another kid’s birthday, talking about why Perry started a $18 million cancer research fund, and touring his handmade speaker collection.

Last night, I had dinner with Gavin Lira, 21 year old genius founder of the Empathy Firm, who does PR for 8 figure business owners. I saw a bit of myself in him, but without the cockiness. He’s got the blue check marks on his profiles, which is perhaps higher status to young adults than having a Lambo.

But instead of boasting about being a 7 figure agency, he said this instead:

That abundance mindset was the exact opposite of the 21 year old Dennis, who felt that the only way to get ahead was to fly around to win math competitions. After all, there can only be one first place– so everyone else is a loser.

Last week, Gavin, Warren Whitlock, and I had our regular MEATing– the worship of grilled cow flesh in profuse quantities. That’s 3 blue checks sitting at one table with over a million followers between us– mostly Warren’s.

Warren is 67 years old. 40 years ago, he was selling Epson copiers and toner cartridges like an OG. He had an uncanny ability to be able tell exactly what was broken in your printer just by hearing the sounds made during the boot-up sequence.  But today, he runs a site with a million organic visitors from Google a month– the #1 free ebook site on the internet.

And while Gavin and Noah are teaching us social media skills to get millions of followers, folks like Perry and Warren are teaching us how to sell millions of books and sell our companies for millions of dollars.

When I was 21 years old, I was lucky to have the CEO of American Airlines as a mentor. He was so old that he didn’t have a computer or even have an email account. His secretary, Libby Scott, would print emails and put them in his inbox, along with physical letters, memos, and magazines.

He wanted me to build a website for the company, since he knew the internet was going to be big 30 years ago.  And I knew I needed to learn how to manage people– so where else would I get better experience than from a guy with 127,000 employees.

No amount of magic skin cream could make us old farts young again. But whatever part of the age spectrum you’re on– be willing to learn from those on the other end to open your eyes to blind spots you didn’t know you had.

I was a 21 year old white belt who thought he could talk down to a 30 year grand master.  Last thing I want to be now is a 50 year old who is befuddled by these young whippersnappers using new-fangled technologies.

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