The larger-than-life journey of an 18-year-old college freshman who set out from his dorm room to track down Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, and dozens more of the world’s most successful people to uncover how they broke through and launched their careers.
The Third Door takes readers on an unprecedented adventure—from hacking Warren Buffett’s shareholders meeting to chasing Larry King through a grocery store to celebrating in a nightclub with Lady Gaga—as Alex Banayan travels from icon to icon, decoding their success. After remarkable one-on-one interviews with Bill Gates, Maya Angelou, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Larry King, Jessica Alba, Pitbull, Tim Ferriss, Quincy Jones, and many more, Alex discovered the one key they have in common: they all took the Third Door.
Life, business, success… it’s just like a nightclub. There are always three ways in. There’s the First Door: the main entrance, where ninety-nine percent of people wait in line, hoping to get in. The Second Door: the VIP entrance, where the billionaires and celebrities slip through. But what no one tells you is that there is always, always… the Third Door. It’s the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, climb over the dumpster, crack open the window, sneak through the kitchen—there’s always a way in. Whether it’s how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software or how Steven Spielberg became the youngest studio director in Hollywood history, they all took the Third Door.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
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Staring at the Ceiling
Right this way . . .”
I stepped across the marble floor and turned a corner, entering a room with glistening floor-to-ceiling windows. Sailboats drifted down below, gentle waves lapped onto the shore, and the afternoon sun bounced off a marina and filled the lobby with a bright, heavenly glow. I followed an assistant down a hallway. The office had couches with the most plush cushions I’d ever seen. The coffee spoons sparkled in a way I’d never seen spoons sparkle before. The conference room table looked like it had been carved by Michelangelo himself. We entered a long corridor lined with hundreds of books.
“He’s read every one,” she said.
Macroeconomics. Computer science. Artificial intelligence. Polio eradication. The assistant pulled out a book on feces recycling and placed it in my hands. I flipped through it with sweaty palms. Nearly every page was underlined and highlighted with scribbles in the margins. I couldn’t help but smile--the scribbles had the penmanship of a fifth grader.
We continued down the hallway until the assistant asked me to stay where I was. I stood there, motionless, looking at a towering frosted glass door. I had to stop myself from touching it to feel how thick it was. As I waited, I thought of all the things that led me here--the red scarf, the toilet in San Francisco, the shoe in Omaha, the cockroach in the Motel 6, the--
And then, the door opened.
“Alex, Bill is ready for you.”
He was standing right in front of me, hair uncombed, shirt loosely tucked in, sipping a can of Diet Coke. I waited for something to come out of my mouth, but nothing did.
“Hey, there,” Bill Gates said, his smile lifting his eyebrows. “Come on in . . .”
Three Years Earlier, My Freshman Dorm Room
I flipped over in bed. A stack of biology books sat on my desk, staring back at me. I knew I should study, but the more I looked at the books, the more I wanted to pull the covers over my head.
I tossed to my right. A University of Southern California football poster hung above me. When I’d first taped it on my wall, the colors were so vibrant. Now the poster seemed to blend in with the wall.
I turned onto my back and stared at the silent white ceiling.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Ever since I could remember, the plan was for me to be a doctor. That’s what happens when you’re the son of Persian Jewish immigrants. I practically came out of the womb with “MD” stamped on my behind. In third grade, I wore scrubs to school for Halloween. I was “that kid.”
I was never the smartest kid in school, but I was consistent. Like, I consistently got B minuses and consistently read CliffsNotes. To make up for my lack of straight As, I always had a sense of direction. In high school I “checked the boxes”--volunteer at a hospital, take extra science classes, obsess over the SATs. But I was too busy trying to survive to stop and wonder whose boxes I was checking. When I’d started college, I couldn’t have imagined that a month later I would be hitting the snooze button four or five times each morning, not because I was tired, but because I was bored. Yet I continued dragging myself to class anyway, checking the premed boxes, feeling like a sheep following the herd.
That’s how I found myself here: lying on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. I’d come to college looking for answers, but all I got were more questions. What am I actually interested in? What do I want to major in? What do I want to do with my life?
I flipped over again. The biology books were like dementors, sucking the life out of me. The more I dreaded opening them, the more I thought about my parents--running through the Tehran airport, fleeing to America as refugees, sacrificing everything to give me an education.
When I received my admissions letter from USC, my mom told me I couldn’t attend because we couldn’t afford it. Although my family wasn’t poor and I grew up in Beverly Hills, like many families, we lived a double life. While we lived in a nice neighborhood, my parents had to take out a second mortgage to cover the bills. We went on vacations, yet there were times when I’d see notices on our front door saying our gas was going to be cut off. The only reason my mom allowed me to attend USC was because the day before the enrollment deadline, my dad stayed up all night, talking to my mom with tears in his eyes, saying he’d do whatever it took to make ends meet.
And this is how I paid him back? By lying in bed, pulling the covers over my head?
I glanced at the other side of the room. My roommate, Ricky, was at a small wooden desk doing his homework, spitting out numbers like an accounting machine. The squeak of his pencil mocked me. He had a path. I wish I had that. All I had was a ceiling that wouldn’t talk back to me.
Then I thought about the guy I’d met the prior weekend. He’d graduated from USC a year earlier with a math degree. He used to sit at a desk just like Ricky’s, spitting out numbers just like him, and now he was scooping ice cream a few miles from campus. I was beginning to realize that a college degree no longer came with guarantees.
I turned over to the textbooks. Studying is the last thing I want to do.
I rolled onto my back. But my parents sacrificed everything so that studying would be the only thing I have to do.
The ceiling remained silent.
I flipped over and planted my face in my pillow.
I trudged to the library the following morning, my biology books under my arm. But as much as I tried to study, my internal battery remained depleted. I needed a jump start, something to inspire me. So I pushed my chair back from the study tables, wandered to the aisles of the biography section, and pulled out a book on Bill Gates. I figured reading about someone as successful as Gates might spark something within me. And it did--just not what I’d expected.
Here was a guy who started his company when he was my age, grew it into the most valuable corporation in the world, revolutionized an industry, became the richest man alive, and then stepped down as the CEO of Microsoft to become the most generous philanthropist on earth. Thinking about what Bill Gates accomplished felt like standing at the base of Mount Everest and staring up at the peak. All I could wonder was: How did he take his first steps up the mountain?
Before I knew it I was flipping through the biographies of one successful person after another. Steven Spielberg climbed the Mount Everest of directing, so how did he do it? How did a kid who’d been rejected from film school become the youngest major studio director in Hollywood history? How did Lady Gaga, when she was nineteen years old and waiting tables in New York City, get her first record deal?
I kept returning to the library, searching for a book that held the answers. But after a few weeks, I was left empty-handed. There wasn’t a single book that focused on the stage of life I was in. When no one knew their names, when no one would take their meetings, how did these people find a way to launch their careers? That’s when my naive eighteen-year-old thinking kicked in: Well, if no one has written the book I’m dreaming of reading, why not just write it myself?
It was a dumb idea. I couldn’t even write a term paper without half the page coming back covered in red ink. I decided not to do it.
But as the days pressed on, the idea wouldn’t let me go. What interested me wasn’t writing a book so much as embarking on “a mission”--a journey to uncover these answers. I figured if I could just talk to Bill Gates myself, he had to have the Holy Grail of advice.
I ran the idea by my friends and found out I wasn’t the only one staring at the ceiling. They were dying for answers too. What if I go on this mission on behalf of all of us? Why not just call up Bill Gates, interview him, track down some other icons, put what I discover in a book, and share it with my generation?
The hard part, I figured, would be paying for it. Traveling to interview all these people would cost money, money I didn’t have. I was buried in tuition payments and all out of Bar Mitzvah cash. There had to be another way.
Two nights before fall semester final exams, I was back in the library when I took a break to scroll through Facebook. That’s when I saw a friend’s post about free tickets to The Price Is Right. The game show was filmed a few miles from campus. It’s one of those shows I watched as a kid when I stayed home sick from school. Audience members would get called down to become contestants, they’d be shown a prize, and if they guessed closest to the actual price without going over, they’d win. I’d never seen a full episode before, but how hard could it be?
What if . . . what if I go on the show to win some money to fund the mission?
It was absurd. The show was taping the next morning. I had to study for finals. But the thought kept crawling back into my mind. To prove to myself it was a horrible idea, I opened my notebook and wrote a list of the best- and worst-case scenarios.
1. Fail my finals
2. Ruin my chances of going to med school
3. Mom will hate me
4. No . . . Mom will kill me
5. Look fat on TV
6. Everyone will make fun of me
7. Not even make it onto the show
1. Win enough money to fund the mission
I searched online to calculate the odds of winning. Out of three hundred people in the audience, one wins. I used my cellphone to do the math: a 0.3 percent chance.
See, this is why I didn’t like math.
I looked at the 0.3 percent on my phone, then at the stack of biology books on my desk. But all I could think was, What if . . . ? It felt as if someone had tied a rope around my gut and was slowly pulling.
I decided to do the logical thing and study.
But I didn’t study for finals. I studied how to hack The Price Is Right.
The Price Is Right
Anyone who’s watched The Price Is Right for even thirty seconds and has heard the announcer say “COME ON DOWN!” knows the contestants are colorfully dressed and have wild personalities that fill the television screen. The show makes it seem like the contestants are randomly selected from the audience--but at around 4:00 a.m., as I’d Googled “how to get on The Price Is Right,” I discovered it was far from random. A producer interviews each audience member and picks the wildest ones. If the producer likes you, he puts your name on a list that’s given to an undercover producer who observes you from afar. If the undercover producer puts a check mark by your name, you’re called on stage. It wasn’t luck: there was a system.
The next morning, I swung open my closet and threw on my brightest red shirt, a big puffy jacket, and neon-yellow sunglasses. I pretty much looked like a chubby toucan. Perfect. After driving to the CBS studio, I pulled into the parking lot and approached the check‑in table. Because I couldn’t tell who the undercover producer was, I assumed it could be anyone. I hugged security guards, danced with janitors, flirted with old ladies--I break-danced, and I don’t know how to break-dance.
I got in line with the other audience members in a maze of railings outside the studio doors. The line moved forward, until finally, it was almost my turn to be interviewed. There’s my guy. I’d spent hours researching him the night before. His name was Stan and he was the producer in charge of casting contestants. I knew where he was from, where he went to school--and that he relied on a clipboard, but it was never in his hands. His assistant, who sat in a chair behind him, held it. When Stan selected a contestant, he would turn to her, wink, and she’d write the name down.
An usher motioned for ten of us to step forward. Stan stood ten feet away, walking from one person to the next. “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” There was a rhythm to his moves. Officially, Stan was a producer; but in my eyes, he was the bouncer. If I didn’t get my name on his clipboard, I wouldn’t get on the show. And now the bouncer was right in front of me.
“Hey, my name’s Alex, I’m from LA and I’m a premed at USC!”
“Premed? You’re probably always studying. How do you have time to watch The Price Is Right?”
“The . . . what? Oh! Is that where I am?”
He didn’t even give a pity laugh.
I needed to redeem myself. In one of the business books I’d read, the author said that physical contact speeds up a relationship. I had an idea.
I had to touch Stan.
“Stan, Stan, come over here! I want to make a secret handshake with you!”
He rolled his eyes.
“Stan! Come on!”
He stepped forward and we slapped hands. “Dude, you’re doing it all wrong,” I said. “How old are you?”
Stan chuckled and I showed him how to pound it and blow it up. He laughed some more, wished me luck, and walked away. He didn’t wink to his assistant. She didn’t write anything on the clipboard. Just like that, it was over.
This was one of those moments when you see your dream in front of you, you can almost touch it, and then just like that, it’s gone, slipping through your fingers like sand. And the worst part is you know you could’ve seized it if you just had another chance. I don’t know what got into me, but I started shouting, at the top of my lungs.
The entire audience whipped their heads around.
“STAAAAAAAAAN! Come back!”
Stan ran over and nodded slowly, giving me that “all right, kid, what now?” look.
“Uh . . . uh . . .”
Excerpted from "The Third Door"
Copyright © 2018 Alex Banayan.
Excerpted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Step 1 Ditch the Line
1 Staring at the Ceiling 5
2 The Price Is Right 12
3 The Storage Closet 23
Step 2 Run Down the Alley?
4 The Spielberg Game 33
5 Crouching in the Bathroom 42
6 Qi Time 52
7 The Hidden Reservoir 59
Step 3 Find Your Inside Man
8 The Dream Mentor 69
9 The Rules 76
10 Adventures Only Happen to the Adventurous 85
11 Bite Off More Than You Can Chew 91
12 That's How You Do Business 96
13 Exponential Life 100
14 The Avoidance List 107
15 You Can't Out-Amazon Amazon 116
16 No One Ever Asks 124
17 It's All Gray 132
Step 4 Trudge Through the MUD
18 Hallelujah! 141
19 Grandpa Warren 147
20 The Motel 6 153
21 Frog Kissing 165
22 The Shareholders Meeting 171
23 Mr. Kinggg! 185
24 The Final Bullet 194
Step 5 Take the Third Door
25 The Holy Grail: Part I 203
26 The Holy Grail: Part II 210
27 The Third Door 220
28 Redefining Success 227
29 Staying an Intern 232
30 The Collision 238
31 Turning Darkness into Light 243
32 Sitting Down with Death 251
33 The Impostor 259
34 The Greatest Gift 269
35 Getting in the Game 276