In an interview with Larry King, Gary Vaynerchuk–CEO and founder of VaynerMedia, 4 time New York Times bestselling author, venture capitalist and self-proclaimed hustler–was asked, “Were you always successful?”
“In everything but school,” the entrepreneur responded, “Education is the way out for immigrants. (But,) my mom recognized that I was a merchant, an entrepreneur, a promoter.”
What if he listened when someone told him that being an entrepreneur was too risky? To instead, pursue a stable career, working at a desk from nine to five? Would VaynerMedia, a company that generated $100 million in revenue last year, cease to exist?
Analyzing the events of Gary Vaynerchuk’s life, a common predicate seems to arise–a focus on self-awareness. Instead of changing himself to conform to the valued traits and occupational interests of society, he focused rather on improving his inherent talents through hard work. Individuals ought to stop negating their passions under the misconception that their own natural aptitudes are ill-fitting to the demands of today’s economy. The failure to maneuver around the narrow discrepancy between changing and improving yourself is why some individuals fail to reach their true potential.
Acknowledging his strengths, Vaynerchuk spent his entire life thus far mastering his craft, despite the perils in its pursuit. Speaking only Russian, Vaynerchuk immigrated to America from Belarus when he was a child. His story parallels with that of many immigrant families; his parents worked very hard and being a product of his environment, moulded him to be the same.
“My family was very poor. We didn’t speak English,” Vaynerchuk recalled, “My parents are 100% my heroes. My dad worked every day of his life and still is. I was 14 when I started to get to know my dad because he worked that much.”
From as early as the age of four, Vaynerchuk already recognized one of his talents, entrepreneurship. He spent his early years selling lemonade, then worked his way up to blow pops and baseball cards. He recalls a story of when his family could not afford a $30 New York Jets jersey, so his mom knitted him one instead.
“I’ve created a fairy tale in my mind, somewhere around 2nd or 3rd grade, that I was gonna go from not being able to afford a jersey, to owning the whole damn thing,” Vayernchuk revealed in an interview, “There’s a lot of things I can’t control in that fairy tale, but I can control the ambitious climb to get there.”
Ambitious is an understatement. In a society so invested in the idea that 21st century success is solely bred through a linear pathway from university to a corporate office, acting on one’s innate talents and passions, given that it was considered high risk and unconventional, is difficult to say the least.
Acknowledging his entrepreneurial instincts however, at 14, he began assisting his father with his brick and mortar wine business. Years later, he recognized the potential in the internet and he branded the family business into WineLibrary.com, one of America’s first e-commerce businesses for wine. He started running the business day to day with his father in 1998. Within a timespan of just 6 years, Vayernchuk did what seemed to be impossible and increased their revenues from $3 million to $60 million.
Vaynerchuk credits his e-commerce success not only to his intuitive ability to assess trends, but to his diligence to act on them. Email-marketing, banner marketing, YouTube and GoogleAdwords were all tactics that marketing deemed unconventional at the turn of the century. These were the very elements, however, that made WineLibrary an outlier among other businesses. Around the time of YouTube’s inception, he started WineLibraryTV; this risk severed him well as the year subsequent, he appeared on the Ellen and Conan Show.
Since then he has founded VaynerMedia, a 650-person social media digital agency that has worked with the likes of numerous Fortune 500 companies. Moreover, he has become avid in the venture capitalist community, investing during the growth phases of Twitter, Tumblr, Uber and Birchbox.
The secret to his success?
“Figure out who you are.” Vaynerchuk reveals, “Don’t apologize for who you are and then become even greater than you naturally are at what you are.”
Looking at Vaynerchuk’s story, it is clear that self-actualization is not just a drive, but rather a necessity. Talent without hard work is wasteful. To succeed in this competitive world that waits for nobody, the highest chance at success is to pursue what you love and to love the difficult pursuit of self-improvement. In essence, everyone can become the best at what they want to be, so long as they become the best at who they are.
Like Vaynerchuk, individuals must stop conforming to society’s path if it is not authentic to them. But to that sentiment, it is one’s responsibility to be resilient enough to not only do what they love, but to master it as well. Gary Vaynerchuk is where he is because he acted on his talents; now this begs the question–where will you be if you do not act on yours?
Author Bio: Anette Jingco
Anette Jingco lives in Toronto and is in her second year at the Schulich School of Business – York University. Anette enjoys all things creative–be it writing, designing or taking pictures. She believes that words, although they lack a physical presence, sometimes hold more power than actions themselves. If you wish, you can contact her on Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/anettejingco