Jacob Wohl’s 19 Rules

There are many dubious “life hacks” which purport to be able to make you successful. These are my 19 rules that work every time they’re tried:

  1. Pick a profession where you are in the top quartile of intelligence in the field on day one. It doesn’t serve you well to be in the bottom three quartiles of intelligence for your profession on day one, nor does it serve you well to be in the top decile to start. Being in the top decile is what you want to grow into over the course of 15 years or so. For certain professions, like the practice of criminal law, the path to the top decile takes more like 25-35 years. If you are  in the top decile on day one, then you should be in a more intellectually rigorous profession. Being the fourth smartest carpenter in the US will suit your path to success much better than being the 18,704th smartest civil engineer. And conversely, being the 102nd smartest civil engineer in the country is more rewarding than being the number one smartest carpenter. 

  2. Within companies, 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the value. Make damn sure that you are in that 20 percent. It pays to be a winner. 

  3. Build long term relationships with people who are 10-30 years your senior and maintain them. Make sure that these people have measurable, demonstrated success, as defined by what you would be happy to end up with yourself. If you’re a 25 year old high-performance professional, you should probably spend almost none of your time with 25 year olds. Fellow 20-somethings aren’t in a position to offer you a job, an investment, or perhaps most importantly, an insight or hard-won kernel of knowledge that could provide an enormous boost to your professional trajectory. To build these relationships, clearly offer value and ask for nothing in return.

  4. Work harder. And yes, work longer. People who work 10% more hours each week make 40% more money on average. This data applies fairly universally across professions. 

  5. Dress well. The difference between wearing Cole Hann and Allen Edmonds shoes could mean a lot more than $200 for you. People prefer to work with good looking, well dressed people. And who can blame them?

  6. Ignore your weaknesses and sharpen your strengths. Improving by four percent in a domain for which your natural born talent only affords you relative mediocrity won’t increase your income.

    If you are an aspiring chief executive, you shouldn’t spend five hours a week working on your ill-fated violin skills. Could LeBron James increase his income by becoming a wizard with Microsoft Excel? Probably not. No one is ever going to pay you very much to perform your weaknesses, so don’t bother with trying to improve them.

  7. Don’t enter into romantic relationships with crazy people—ever. Sort out the crazy on the first date. The cost of a divorce could be devastating, yet it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems that dating crazy could bring you.

  8. Don’t be on the internet. With the exception of a few people in public-facing professions, having an internet profile can only hurt you.

    LinkedIn is worthless and you don’t need it. Build a real-life professional and personal reputation in the way you would have before the internet existed. When you build a real-life reputation that is entirely independent from the internet, you become invincible against the sort of wild attacks that can come from nameless, faceless entities on the internet. My own professional success is a case study in this.

    You should not have an anonymous profile either. Having anonymous social media profiles means that you can always be doxxed. If you’re relatively anonymous and you have internet profiles, it’s not too late to delete them. Contrary to popular belief, the internet does not “remember everything”. In fact, the internet is quite forgetful. If you deleted all of your internet profiles today, the digital sediment they leave behind will fade away, being almost impossible to find on search engines within a year. 

  9. Only borrow money to acquire assets which are highly likely to throw off more cash than is necessary to service the debt. If you follow this rule, then the availability of loose credit in the United States can be a significant windfall. 

  10. Don’t buy real estate in non-premier locales. This is the worst investment that most people make, limiting the accumulated time-value of an outsized portion of their wealth very significantly. I know a handful of people under age 30 who have several homes paid off in places like rural North Dakota. It’s brought them virtually zero benefit.

    A home in backwoods Texas is worth less today than it was in 2006. All the while, that home has tolled 15 years of property taxes and maintenance-related expenses. 

  11. Be jacked and tan if you are a man and thin if you are a woman. This means a eating a good diet and lifting weights. If you don’t want to delve into the intricacies of body building, that’s fine. Instead, do a simple program like Starting Strength and stick with it. Doing this greatly reduces the chance of suffering a health crisis that could be catastrophic for your professional momentum. 

  12. Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad. 

  13. Go to church. 

  14. Live and work in a place where you are most likely to catch your lucky break. Aspiring actors go to Hollywood and enterprising oil men to Texas for a reason. 

  15. Never attend networking events or “mixers”. They are exclusively full of people who are looking for something, but have nothing to offer. The value that you will occasionally think you have found at one of these events always proves to be illusory. Networking mixers are the worst place to meet people. Where should you go? This is an area where you will have to apply your own creativity.

  16. Invest in high quality assets and learn the universal hallmarks of investment fads and financial bubbles so that you can avoid them.

  17. There are only about 40 colleges in the world that have the brand power to get you a good job across a vast array of industries, regardless of what your major was. The rest are either complete rip-offs or only good for specialized purposes (e.g. Georgia Tech for Electrical Engineering). 

  18. Don’t switch jobs too much. Sure, a job or career change can be great, but being too mercurial hurts more people than it helps. Too often, millennials and zoomers never find out what could have come from a job, because they moved on to another job long before things even got interesting. There is a very widely held belief these days that the concept of being a “company man” is dead. While lucrative corporate pensions might be all but extinct, it remains the case that investing 20 years of your time with a great firm can pay off handsomely. 

  19. Identify your top five talents and determine how they compliment each other. Then apply them in conjunction with one another. This is commonly referred to as talent stacking. Let’s say that you are quite good at sales, graphic design, copy writing, photography and voiceover. While these five skills are seemingly unrelated, there might be a highly remunerative opportunity for which they are the perfect blend.