No One Succeeds Alone: Learn Everything You Can from Everyone You Can

No One Succeeds Alone: Learn Everything You Can from Everyone You Can

by Robert Reffkin

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Overview

The inspirational story of Compass CEO Robert Reffkin, whose mother, mentors, and search for belonging taught him valuable lessons that anyone with a dream can put into action today to improve their own quality of life
 
No one expected a dreadlocked fifteen-year-old who cared more about his DJ business than his homework to grow up to become one of the youngest-ever White House fellows, create multiple nonprofits, and found a multibillion-dollar company. But Robert Reffkin — raised by an Israeli immigrant single mother, disowned by his maternal grandparents for being Black, and abandoned by his father — has always defied the odds.

Compass’s mission is to help everyone find their place in the world, and in these pages, Reffkin distills the wisdom he’s gathered along his journey. Each chapter offers a part of his life story and a practical lesson, such as:

  • Love your customers more than your ideas
  • Find someone to give you the critical feedback others won’t
  • Create your own “rich-kid’s network”

The advice in No One Succeeds Alone will inspire you to dream bigger than you ever have before, realize your full potential, and give back by helping make someone else’s dreams come true, too. All author proceeds from No One Succeeds Alone are being donated to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780358454618
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 2,326
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 5.50(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

ROBERT REFFKIN is an entrepreneur on a mission to help everyone find their place in the world. After working in finance and starting his own nonprofit, Reffkin launched Compass, a startup building the future of real estate. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Finding my place in the world

I’ve felt out of place my entire life.
     My mother is an Israeli immigrant. My father was an African American man from Louisiana who left me and my mom when I was just a baby. Through his actions, my dad, in effect, told me that I did not belong.
     After I was born, my mother’s parents—my grandparents—asked her only one question.
     They didn’t ask, “Is he happy?”
     They didn’t ask, “Is he healthy?”
     They asked, “What is he?”
     My mom said, “He is Jewish . . . and Black.”
     My grandparents immediately hung up the phone and disowned us both. From that day to their death, I never met them. I never even spoke to them. They made it clear that I didn’t belong.
     From that point on, it was just the two of us trying to make it on our own.
     When I was growing up, my mom made it clear that no matter what anyone else said or thought about us we always had each other. When I was with her, I belonged.
     But as I got older, I began to notice all the ways that I didn’t fit in and all the people who didn’t accept me. The people who asked my mother if I was adopted while I was standing right there. The middle school teachers who blamed me for fights at school that I had nothing to do with. The high school administrators who came down hard on me and some other kids of color when we shared the ways that the school’s curriculum made us feel unwelcome.
     The more out of place I felt, the more I craved a genuine sense of belonging in the larger world.
     That’s why I moved to New York City—one of the most diverse cities in the world, a city where a biracial kid like me would have as good a shot as anybody at feeling at home and gaining a sense of belonging.
     But as I became accustomed to New York, I realized that where I lived was only part of it. Yes, I had found my city, but I still felt like I needed to find my place.
     After college, I tried management consulting, finance, government, education, and various romantic relationships. No matter what I did, though, something was still missing. I was always running, looking to the future for the feeling of belonging that kept eluding me in the present.
     Your place in the world is sometimes an actual physical place: a home, a neighborhood, or a city. But it can also be something that speaks to your sense of purpose in life: a job, a community, a relationship. Your place is wherever you feel fulfilled, alive, and at peace.
     For me, the answer turned out to be finding my personal mission in life (which I’ll share more about later in the book) and a partner for life who accepted me completely: my wife, Benís.
     I believe that to be your best self you have to be your authentic self.
     And you can’t be your authentic self until you find your place in the world.

The only Black kid at the synagogueAdapt like water and you’ll be unstoppable

I was the only Black kid in my synagogue—but when I was with the other Black kids from school, I didn’t fit in easily either, since I was mixed and Jewish.
     People didn’t know what to do with me, how to talk to me, what to say to me.
     My being different made many people uncomfortable—even when they were well-meaning.
     Since there was no community that I belonged to without question, I was never able to let down my guard and just be me. I had to do the work of figuring out everyone else around me all the time, and I got very good at adapting myself to make other people comfortable. I had to learn, on my own, how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
     I learned to talk to White people and Black people.
     Wall Street types and nonprofit types.
     Kids whose parents had no idea how to play the game and kids whose parents practically invented the game.
     I learned how to set different kinds of people at ease. I watched their faces closely when I spoke to them to see which things connected and which things did not—then repeated the things that clicked in other conversations.
     I’ve had to study people with the kind of focus and care that other people study books with.
     It’s certainly not fair that some people can be themselves and others need to constantly present different parts of themselves in different situations in order to make others comfortable. When I was younger, I wished that I could be the one to be made comfortable sometimes rather than always doing that for others.
     But I’ve made the personal choice not to focus on the unfairness. Instead of getting angry, I became determined to go further. I focused my energy on learning to adapt and adjust to more and more situations.
     Being extremely adaptable is a hugely valuable skill.
     It transforms every interaction into an opportunity.
     These days, I might talk to an investor in Asia, a software engineer in Seattle, a newly hired real estate agent in Miami, my eldest daughter Raia on FaceTime, a junior marketing designer in New York, and a reporter from the Wall Street Journal—all in a single hour. And for each conversation, I adapt.
     People throughout my life have made me feel like I don’t belong. But I haven’t listened. Being able to adapt to anything made me feel that I was never out of place and that no one could ever “put me in my place.”
     A mentor once said that I was like water: no matter what you set in its way, water finds a way to keep moving. It changes form, it tunnels deeply, it discovers a path around whatever obstacle it comes across on its journey. And slowly but surely, water wears away the obstacles that try to contain it, carving new paths that are easier to follow in the future.

I don’t blame my father for what he did, but I do blame his egoDon’t underestimate the damage that ego can do

You might think that I learned about the dangers of selfish, hypercompetitive behavior by running up against some massive egos from high-flying executives in $5,000 suits in New York and Washington, DC. After all, I worked on Wall Street with investment bankers and alongside powerful politicians in the White House.
     But I actually learned about the dangers of ego on the other side of the country as the child of an absent, abusive father who suffered from a heroin addiction. Not exactly the picture of a high-ego individual.
     What I saw was that your ego can crush you as easily as it allows you to trample others.
     I believe that my dad, like many men, collapsed under the pressure he felt to be “The Man.” He moved from Louisiana to the Bay Area to follow his dreams of becoming a musician in the late 1960s. The fact that he didn’t become the next Jimi Hendrix or John Coltrane was a massive blow to his sense of self. The racism that he experienced in his new city ground him down in ways big and small. The guilt and shame that came from not being able to support himself or his family financially was psychologically debilitating.
     If he’d accepted himself and his own strengths and weaknesses, and had been a loving partner to my mom and a good dad to me, we would have never looked down on him for a second. We would have been so happy to have him in our lives. I would have been so happy to have a dad.
     But his ego blinded him to our love. When he looked at us, he only saw us looking back at him—and he imagined that we didn’t like what we saw. That’s the terrible trick ego plays on you: making you become obsessed with what others think about you rather than what you can do for others.
     The weight of my father’s ego—and his disappointments—made him turn to drugs.
     The weight of his ego—and the addictive power of drugs—led him to cheat, steal, and make risky decisions that eventually resulted in his contracting AIDS. At his worst, he would hit my mom and put both of us in danger. So much so that my mom had to move to a new city to escape his violence.
     I feel so blessed to have been too young to remember my dad in this way. In a way, his abandoning me when he did is actually the greatest gift he gave me. While my mom quietly wrestled with serious emotional trauma, I was able to have a happy childhood.
     He’s been gone now for a long time. My mother and I have forgiven him for everything he did, but we haven’t forgotten. We learned from our experiences and our memories of him.
     Children everywhere look to their moms and dads to understand what to do and how to be a person. I’ve learned what not to do and how not to be from my dad. They’ve been painful lessons, but they’ve also probably been more instructive because of that. Pain can be a powerful teacher.
     Seeing the ways my dad’s life fell apart taught me how to hold my life together. I saw my father give up on his life, and it gave me the determination to never do the same. Because of him, I’ll always keep trying, keep striving, keep showing up.
     While ego can sometimes give you a boost of energy or a drive to succeed, I think it can often be more dangerous than it’s worth.
     It’s wiser to focus on collaboration over competition.
     To care more about doing good than making yourself look good.
     To give credit freely rather than seeking glory yourself.
     To accept that you’re a flawed person—like everyone is—with great strengths and real weaknesses.
     To seek feedback so you can get better and better over time.
     To be comfortable being your authentic self.
     To be happy with who you are at the core.
     If my dad had cared about any of that as much as he had cared about his own image, my life would not have been the same—and he’d probably be alive today.

The teacher who believed in me, the one who didn’t, and the woman who had my backBelieving in people changes their lives

When I entered middle school as a sixth grader, my teacher sized me up and didn’t like what she saw. Without any real evidence or cause, she decided that I should be taken out of her classroom and sent to the auxiliary trailers that had been installed near the playground for kids designated as needing special education.
     Maybe the fact that I had brown skin and a lot of energy had absolutely nothing to do with it. Maybe I’d just had a bad day on my first day of school and she’d settled on a terrible first impression of me that she hadn’t shaken.
     But I worry that if, as an eleven-year-old Black male, I had been sent to those trailers, I never would have come back. I was standing at the opening of the infamous “school-to-prison pipeline,” and my life may never have been the same if I’d gone down that path.
     The most remarkable thing is that my fifth grade teacher had loved me.
     Her name was Ms. Julie Blank, and we’ve become Facebook friends in recent years, so I reached out to her to ask what she remembered about me as a child. She recalled how much I respected my mom and how I would call out other kids if they told a joke at someone’s expense. She described me as “just a very sweet kid. A good mixture of being calm and cheerful, usually on an even keel. Sharp. Hardworking.”
     I was just a kid, so I’m sure I also had bad days in her class when I was laughing when I should have been listening or when I was not picking up on some lesson quickly enough.
     But Ms. Blank had seen me as a whole person.
     And she had held on to her image of me at my best.
     She was the sort of person who went through life believing in other people’s potential. I’ve realized that this is a choice you can make in life—and it’s a choice with profound consequences.
     Ms. Blank, who has now been a schoolteacher for nearly four decades, believes that her students will achieve whatever you expect them to. If she expects everyone to be on time and focused, they will be. If she expects everyone to be rowdy and disrespectful, they will be. If she calls on girls less than boys, they’ll get the message and expect less of themselves, too.
     She told me that the key to ensuring that this philosophy works is making the kids believe that you truly believe in them. “If you love them sincerely and you make clear what you expect, it will happen,” she told me.
     When I told her recently that my sixth grade teacher had tried to track me into special education, she was stunned—and angry. “Even thirty years later, I’m feeling my mama bear come out. I pity the fool who underestimates Robert Reffkin.”
     I was lucky that my mom was also the sort of person who believed in other people’s potential—especially her own son’s. (She may have something in common with all other mothers on that one.)
     When she heard about my teacher’s plan to track me into the special education trailers, she marched to school to meet with her in person—and inform her that under no circumstances would that be happening. My mom is able to marshal a lot of intensity when my future is on the line (something else she may share with a lot of other mothers), and as a highly educated White woman, she was listened to a lot more than a young Black child.
     After weeks of advocacy from my mom, my sixth grade teacher gave me another chance to prove myself, which I was able to do without much difficulty. For months afterward, my mom kept pushing the teachers, administrators, and others at the school to make significant changes in how they treated students like me—but she ended up disappointed by their indifference and intransigence. The next year, she found another school for me where I was less likely to be underestimated.
     I still think about the other kids who were assigned to those trailers. Many of them probably hadn’t had a teacher like Ms. Blank to believe in them or a mom like mine who could fight for them and be listened to by the people in charge.
     I’ve never forgotten that lesson. When I have to choose whether to believe the best or the worst about someone, I choose to believe the best. I try to see greatness in everyone around me, and like Ms. Blank, I aspire to be the kind of person who can help them realize their unlimited potential.

Table of Contents

Foreword ix

Introduction 1

Finding My Place in the World 5

Every Mother is an Entrepreneur 51

No One Succeeds Alone 79

The Principles I Learned from Childhood, Mothers, and Mentors 107

1 Dream big 113

2 Move fast 124

3 Learn from reality 136

4 Be solutions driven 150

5 Obsess about opportunity 163

6 Collaborate without ego 172

7 Maximize your strengths 184

8 Bounce back with passion 197

You're Not Just Here for Yourself 213

Acknowledgments 219

Index 222

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