David Anderson and Mark Nathan are Millennial entrepreneurs with very different backgrounds. Born in 1985, David worked on Wall Street and at the White House before cofounding School Loan 411, a student-loan advisory firm. He is currently the CEO of Keep Global North America, the U.S. division of a Chinese multinational. He was inducted as a Global Shaper with The World Economic Forum and is the Senior Advisor to the Honorary Consul to the country of Moldova.
Mark Nathan was born in 1982 into a family of Burmese and Filipino immigrants. He paid his way through college as an actor and started his entrepreneurial journey launching a film festival at age 21. He worked in the corporate world while building a network marketing business, until he became financially free to quit his job. Today Mark speaks globally about goal-setting, personal development, team-building, and creating culture.
Both based in Chicago, David and Mark met almost 13 years ago and recently wrote a book together, The Delusion of Passion: Why Millennials Struggle to Find Success. Their goal was to clear up some of the misunderstandings about their generation while helping Millennials understand themselves and pursue their purpose with passion.—J.G.
Tell us a little about your background.
David: I come from humble beginnings. My mother struggled with physical and mental illness, so I learned to be responsible early on. I always looked for opportunities and mentors. While studying at the University of Illinois, I met Dr. Charles King, who was a marketing professor. One day he said, “You should call my good friend Mark Yarnell.” That day changed my life, for many reasons. I didn’t know at the time that I was about to get mentored by a giant of network marketing and the author of several bestselling books.
Mark Yarnell started putting books in my hand: sociology, psychology, religion, finance—you name it, I was reading it. I devoured 10 to 15 books a month, did that for about four years. I didn’t know I was developing myself for everything that was to come. This was in 2005. I was working at Starbucks and other odd jobs while taking care of my mom and two young siblings.
Mark never pushed me to join the network marketing profession. He believed I was meant to do something different with my skill set and talents. He taught me an entrepreneurial mindset and warrior spirit. That took me from Wall Street to the White House to where I am today.
Thanks to Mark Yarnell, I learned all about leadership, starting with leading myself.
Your career skyrocketed from there. Give us the bird’s eye view.
David: After Starbucks I worked with a non-profit for a little while. Then I met Attorney Ernest Fenton, a Harvard Law graduate who had a business and was running for local office in our area. I decided to help him, and after he lost the race, I said, “I would love to work with you and learn from you.” Two weeks later he called me and said, “I’m going to start my law firm. Why don’t you come and join me?” In less than 18 months we built a million-dollar business helping families get out of foreclosure. This was before the crisis in 2008.
From there I went into finance. I had given myself an informal education and decided, “Let me go do this formally.” I enrolled in school and then went to work on Wall Street. Mark Yarnell told me, “David, you won’t last in that culture long term, because you’re going to have a conflict with your values. You don’t create anything, you move money around. The more money you make, the more conflicted you will become.” He was right. At my height I was the investment analyst of $5.6 billion! Thankfully, while working for JP Morgan, I got a call to become an aide at the White House, so I went off to go help the administration in 2011.
How long were you in DC?
David: For about a year, and for the next three years I traveled with the President as part of his advance team. While traveling part time, I started a company to help people, especially my generation, get out of student loan debt. My government experience had shown me how to navigate the student loan system, and along with my financial knowledge, it enabled me to counsel about 2,400 families on how to offload an average of $40,000 in student loan debt.
After we built that to a million-dollar business, I got a call to meet a businessman from China—Chairman Dianke Wang. We had a five-hour dinner, talked a lot, and at the end he said, “I would love for you to be the CEO of our U.S. headquarters.” I had to think about it, because I was enjoying growing my own company. He called me again and again for a week. I reasoned, “China is becoming a major world power. America runs the West, China runs the East. I think I need to do it now, because an opportunity like this probably won’t come along again.”
I had already worked with China on a political level in DC and on Wall Street. I now had a chance to work on the commerce side.
Let’s give Mark a chance catch up with you.
Mark: I’ve always been trying to figure out how to fit three lifetimes into one. It’s been my driving force in everything I do. I want to fully explore my strengths and give them their due.
I paid my way through school acting in commercials, industrials, theater, and so on. I started to direct and produce some independent films, and in my senior year of college I founded my first business-the Chicago Collegiate Film Festival. We got it off the ground in 90 days, with nine sponsors, seven participating universities, and a few hundred attendees. This was my first foray into traditional business ownership.
I majored in education and theater, became a high school teacher, but teaching just didn’t pay enough. I figured I’d take the corporate route for a while. I was an executive recruiter in accounting and finance for five and a half years. On the side, I was building my network marketing business, which I started right as I was coming out of school.
One of my goals was to make $100,000 before I turned 30. That year, about 18 months after graduating college, my side income from network marketing had matched my corporate income and I hit my goal at age 24. I thought, “This is amazing. I love network marketing. It helps fast-forward everything. You get to accelerate your whole life!”
Even if you’re doing well at your job, having a secondary income can help you accomplish your goals way faster.
Mark: That’s right. I enjoyed that for a couple of years, but got to the point at age 27 where I didn’t need to work for anyone else anymore. I left the corporate world to be a full-time entrepreneur, still building my business, but I was financially free.
I met David when he was 19. I was 22. I was going Platinum in my company at the time. One of my team members met David at a bookstore and chatted with him about the business. The timing didn’t make sense for him to join, but we hit it off and I handed him some books I was learning from. I also gave him some audios, some encouragement, and some rides home every once in a while.
For David it was good to see others who were entrepreneurial. Most people coming through college are excited about getting through school, getting a degree, and getting a job. David soaked up the personal development training. Anytime we’d play football, he’d be there. He just wanted to be around the team of other young guys who were making things happen instead of waiting for someone else to pay them. It was fun—and the start of a great friendship.
Being financially free opened up the time and space for writing your book.
Mark: Financial freedom creates space for all sorts of things. Back to this “trying to cram three lifetimes into one,” it’s the reason I went after this business so fervently. I saw it as a pivotal piece of the puzzle. If I could get this financial cornerstone in place, I could build on that for the rest of my life. Before network marketing, I had no idea an option like this even existed. It freed up my time so I could go and flex some of my other muscles, because I have this entrepreneur side that loves business, but there’s also my creative side. That’s why I was acting and directing. Today I’m excited about getting back into that and being able to fund my own ventures without losing control or creative integrity. As an actor, you audition for an underwear commercial or for some random gadget. You’re jumping through all these hoops just to be in a t-shirt commercial no one cares about, because you need to get paid.
What planted the seed for The Delusion of Passion?
David: Mark was observing the Millennial phenomenon within his business, and I had seen the same. One day we were having a conversation and he said, “We should probably write a book about the Millennials’ confusion around passion.” Between what I’d seen at Harvard, on Wall Street, and at the White House, I noticed a pattern. It was almost like Millennials were looking for this elusive feeling before they would undertake anything.
Instead of going through the pain or the process of starting something, they would say, “I can’t commit until I know I’m passionate about it.” Wait, how do you know you’re passionate about it if you don’t commit? This was such a common theme that it inspired part of the book.
I also was well connected with a lot of CEOs from my Wall Street and White House days, and they would ask me, “Are you a Millennial?” I’d say, “Yea.” They’d say, “You’re working really hard. You get it, but we don’t understand your generation.”
Some would offer, “Can you become my son? Can I adopt you?”
There is this whole generation that doesn’t understand Millennials, and then you have the Millennials who don’t really understand themselves.
Mark and I wanted to write a book to hopefully bring a little clarity. We don’t have all the answers, but we do know that our generation has huge potential. There are about 77 million Baby Boomers in America, and wherever the Boomers go, economic activity happens. Millennials are over 80 million, so we’re even larger than the Boomer generation. We’re an economic powerhouse. We just think and operate differently. We were raised by Boomers who gave 20 years of their lives to a corporate job, and then got kicked to the curb. We watched their pensions fail and the economic crisis hit. We see the world with different eyes, economically and politically. With our book, we wanted to bridge that gap.
We have a HEART to see each other win.
We have a LOYALTY to the greater good.
We have PASSION to do the amazing.
We have a NEED to accomplish the awesome.
We have an inexplicable DESIRE for world domination.
I saw on your website you interviewed 8,000 Millennials. How did that happen?
Mark: We call it an informal survey on passion, because none of the conversations were meant to be about passion. We’re forward thinking kind of guys, always talking about the future, about goals. We’re always asking what’s happening next, especially when talking to Millennials. Between speaking engagements and everyday conversations, the subject of passion comes up all the time.
“I really want to find something I’m passionate about.”
“I’m looking for something I can really sink my teeth into and just get behind with all my heart.”
David and I have the benefit of being on the front end of our generation. We think like Millennials, but we’re the first ones through the door. Certainly there are young people who have done more things and made more money than we have, but we’ve both done fairly well in our different fields. David went the finance, politics, then entrepreneurship way, and I took the arts, corporate, network marketing entrepreneur route. We haven’t arrived, but we’ve both succeeded at a pretty high level. If you count the people who have done what we’ve done, at the age we’ve done it, it’s probably a fraction of a percent.
What is it that people or Millennials are missing?
David: We’re not special in our generation, but I think we have a different mindset about our gifts or our talents, and about the process of how to structure our lives. It has to do with a more practical understanding of “this comes before this, and before that can happen, this has to happen.”
Most people want to have all the answers first, and then figure out what they need to do. But that’s not how you create anything. You don’t get all the answers first. You have an idea of where you’re going. You have a goal, and then you “kill what’s in front of you.” This is actually one of Mark’s chapters in our book.
It makes a big difference when you have mentors who can guide you and help you understand the next couple of ripples from the actions you’re taking. “What is this setting you up for?” Here’s what I want. Here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. Here’s what’s in front of me. We always have something in front of us, whether it’s an opportunity, a job, or a school program. How can I do well with that, and how can I leverage it for the next step?
There’s a reason why life puts specific situations and people in front of us. Millennials feel they are here for a purpose. How do you relate purpose to passion?
David: Personally, I would not have accomplished what I have if it hadn’t been for a purpose. I have a strong why, which has to do with my family lineage. Both my parents have a heritage of slavery, five generations of no college education, of basically poverty, or if not poverty, lower middle class.
Then I was stuck with my mom being mentally and physically ill. We didn’t ask for the life we were given. Part of my why and my purpose comes from the fact that I am strategically changing a generational pattern. Because of my efforts, my daughter and the generations going forward will have a completely different life.
I think a lot of people have that same passion or will to improve something in their family. It’s not unique to my upbringing or my background. Watching our parents give themselves to a job, climb the corporate ladder only to be laid off, we want to come up with a different way to live.
If you don’t have a strong why anchoring you, then people don’t know you’re serious. I went through a gauntlet of interviews to get into Wall Street. With my background, the chances were zero, especially at the firms I applied for. Everyone said it’s impossible. I went through 14 interviews, facing rejection after rejection. I came from the wrong school, wrong neighborhood, and wrong family. But I was determined to change my family’s future.
So where does passion come in, and how does it get confused with purpose?
Mark: People are waiting for passion to fuel them, and we think it’s your purpose that should fuel you. Wanting to make life better for future generations is what fuels us. Being passionate about what we do is a by-product of the pursuit of that purpose, and most people have it backwards. They’re looking to find a passion that fuels them through their daily challenges, except passion is not something you find, it’s something you create.
My parents are both immigrants. They came here for a reason. My mom is the eldest of eight, and she left her entire family in the Philippines. She was the first one who had an opportunity to come to America. She came here, worked hard, and paid for every single one of her siblings to go through either nursing school or dental school.
She also came here so that when she had a family of her own, her children could grow up in the U.S. She didn’t come here for her own convenience; she came here so I could have a better shot, even though I wasn’t even born and she wasn’t married yet.
My dad was a doctor teaching at the university in Burma, and he was offered a tiny window of opportunity to move here. He left his family and everything he had to come here for kids he didn’t even have yet.
How did these life choices affect your drive and purpose?
Mark: I believe if I end up in the same tax bracket as my parents, I will have failed. If they sacrificed all that for me, and the best I can do is match what they did, to me that would be a complete lack of respect and gratitude for the gift they gave me. When I look at the freedom, the gifts, the connections, and the opportunities I have, I ask myself, “How can I do as much with this as humanly possible?”
A lot of young people get a little jaded. When given an opportunity, they think, “I’m sure there will be another one.” They move on to the next thing. When another opportunity comes, they say, “I don’t know if I’m super passionate about that. I’ll just wait for something better.”
Then they wait, and they wait. Seven years later, they’re still at the same placeholder job, not any closer to where they want to be, and now they start settling.
My drive to try to fit three lifetimes into one has to do with my parents’ sacrifice. As the recipient of that gift, having those seeds planted in me, I’m going to make the most of it—and simply matching what they did is not enough.
Aside from your book, entrepreneurship is your chosen path to lead future generations.
David: We love the idea of running a business of our own. Yet, there is a myth going around among Millennials that I’d like to dispel. Everyone wants to create a technology startup, raise a lot of money from venture capitalists, and be on a show like Shark Tank. “If only someone would give me money for my idea, then I’ll do very well,” they think. What they fail to realize is that, if investors give you a million dollars in capital or equity, they are looking for five million dollars in return.
I know entrepreneurs of very successful startups, who after building the business to over $100 million, didn’t even make $1 million after they paid back their investors.
In the lines of work I do, the barrier of entry is very high. You need to have all kinds of pedigrees and connections. As Mark Yarnell taught me 10 years ago, there is no other profession outside of network marketing where you can get started for $1,000 dollars or less, and make a six-figure income.
Companies like Uber and AirBnB are taking a chapter from network marketing by telling independent entrepreneurs they can have their own business. The only difference is that you have to put up significant capital to own or rent real estate, or to buy a car that depreciates and has constant maintenance cost.
Millennials need to understand that learning entrepreneurship is financially painful and hard work. Going to Harvard Business School will cost you at least $200,000, if you can get in. If you want to earn six-figure residuals from your investments, you need at least $3 million dollars in cash working for you.
In network marketing, you can create this kind of income for $1,000 down and sweat equity, which you have to put in anyway. It truly is one of the best opportunities out there to affect change in your own family and future generations.
9 Lessons from The Delusion of Passion
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