You probably haven’t heard of Gary Fong.
Even though I’m an avid photographer, I hadn’t heard of him until a photographer buddy clued me in. He is known as an innovative wedding photographer, entrepreneur and writer. In The Accidental Millionaire, Fong tells us his life story so far, illustrating a personal philosophy that has lead to his wild success.
What I found so compelling is that his approach to life appears very much at odds with what we typically see when we read about success. In contrast to vision, goals, tasks and actions, Fong writes about a more Zen-flavored philosophy that is based on exploring things that interest him, creating space for insights to happen and then working his ass off once something catches. He admits he acts on hunches, sometimes decides by flipping a coin and understands the role luck has in success.
This book will be appealing to anybody who has found typical goal-chasing to be unproductive or maybe even a little boring. It also serves nicely as an oblique introduction to some practical Zen concepts.
Surrender attachments to plans, goals, and expectations
The bumper sticker said: SINCE I GAVE UP HOPE, I FEEL MUCH BETTER. I read it, laughed myself sick, and immediately felt the proverbial weight of the world lift from my shoulders.
In that one instant, I gave up all my focus on things going the way I wanted them to. Ever. I surrendered all my goals, my visions, my fantasies, my expectations. My Plans. I was suddenly knocked from my inner railroad tracks and felt my perspective opening up like a morning glory in the sun.
That bumper sticker gave me my freedom.
I had tried setting goals, and I’d realized that all it had done was make me miserable. Heading straight for a destination with blinders on prevented me from looking at the scenery along the way. And it was within the scenery that I usually spotted the detours that led to the next glorious destination. These new opportunities were then affirmed by mysterious “clues” that told me I was on the right track.
I thought, I want to feel better, so I’m going to give up hope. It may seem strange, but it felt like nothing less than a spiritual awakening.
Right there in that moment, I decided I was not going to worry about anything anymore. I had worked my ass off in business and had absolutely nothing to show for it. In fact, I had more debt than case and a future that appeared bleak. But I just said, “You know what? I don’t care. I completely and utterly don’t care.”
I’d never felt better in my entire life.
…I allowed others to have the deciding vote in my personal life. Only later in life did I learn to heed that inner voice telling me to follow both my heart and my mind.
The point I’m trying to make is that hammering away at The Plan is as likely to cause you to miss greater opportunities, or to bring about the exact opposite of your goal, as it is to bring about success. So I don’t put much stock in it as a success strategy.
Being prepared though, that’s different. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
So that’s my great success advice, after all these pages? The corny old Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared?” Well, yeah. Except with a little twist, My motto is actually, “Be preparing.”
Preparing for what, though?
It almost doesn’t matter. For whatever cheetah you’re hot to photograph.
As long as you’re fully engaged in the process of preparing for something, that mean’s you’re learning and growing, you’re stretching and adjusting, you’re adapting to a changing world, you’re learning to read the landscape, you’re throwing out old maps. And that alone is preparing you for some next stage, even if the cheetah you were hoping for doesn’t show up.
Focus on the process instead of the outcome
Zen is not really about patience, though. Because when you’re patient, you’re still secretly waiting for the outcome. Zen is about the process, not the outcome.
I recently read an interview with an emergency room physician who was asked, “How do you handle stress?” He replied, “Rather than focus on the outcome, I focus on the process.”
…when one focuses on the goal rather than the process, one can be easily led astray.
Creative problem solving and innovation
As a teenager, I began to see life as a game filled with creative strategies. Once I uncoupled my mind from the box of self-imposed limitations (otherwise known as “rules”), I started to realize that there were unlimited possibilities for achieving anything I desired.
And one I started to be open to anything, the game of life began to be ridiculously fun.
What I do is clearly define the problem at hand, then sit on it for a few days. Rather than miserably pound out a forced solution, I just keep the question percolating in my mind and let the world fill in the holes to the puzzle. My brain’s filtering process does all the work; it unconsciously scans for answers that fit the “mold” of the question. Great ideas that I never would have conjured up on purpose come to me this way. This approach has been successful countless times in my life, and it continues to be so.
When I lock into thinking about a problem, rather than pushing for a solution, the answer lands in my lap. The reason is that I’m open to seeing it. I’ve set my filters to receive it.
I’ve always bristled against conformity. This girl’s incomprehensible wedding behavior helped me to see that in the absence of rigid rules, common sense becomes one’s guide. The rules lock you into an immovable position, whereas the absence of rules permits you to respond fluidly and come up with creative solutions—the best solution for the here and now.
…had she been more open to the infinite possibilities that the world offers on a daily basis, maybe she would have made a fortune inventing something amazing out of the blue…
Just as a passing curiosity, I asked him what his secret to success as an inventor was. He said that most of his success didn’t come from pulling new ideas out of a magic hat. Inventing wasn’t at all the way it was portrayed in the cartoons—light bulbs over the head and fevered cries of Eureka! You don’t wait for inspiration to strike you like heaven’s ball-peen hammer. You don’t even need to be particularly creative or technologically savvy.
The secret, Enzo said, is that if you look at anything, you will see that it cam be improved. Any object or service, especially the ones you use often, has features that just aren’t working for you. You simply have to learn to identify those things and propose solutions. Most of your ideas won’t stick, but some of them will.
Connection over marketing
…something [else] I’d learned from Rocky. He said, “Gary, the thing to remember is that you need to make friends with people. These people will refer you to their friends. Nobody needs another annoying salesman knocking on their door, but everyone could use a new friend.” I like that. Rocky had lots of friends. So would I.
So when I started out, I frequented the various hotels and catering facilities and florists, just trying to meet fellow travelers in the wedding industry. Instead of playing the salesman, I was honest and personal. I figured, make friends first, and the rest will follow.
Marketing Without Advertising teaches that people are usually passionate about at least one product or service that they have told multiple friends about. “Oh my gosh, I have the best accountant,” or, “You’ve got to got to this place for bagels.” If you can create client/allies who become the trumpeters of your product, the book says, you will never have to worry about business again.
Their friends would then say, “I want the name of your photographer.” That’s when my business really took off. All on word-of-mouth referrals, just like it said in Marketing Without Advertising. And all I had to do was make people happy.
The Accidental Millionaire introduces a perspective on business that many are unfamiliar with. Yet it may be a perspective that works better for some people than more traditional perspectives. Either way, it offers a lot to think about.