Required Reading: The Third Door


“Many times the hardest part about achieving a dream isn’t actually achieving it—it’s stepping through your fear of the unknown when you don’t have a plan. Having a teacher or boss tell you what to do makes life a lot easier. But nobody achieves a dream from the comfort of certainty.”

Alex Banayan

To prepare for this post, I looked through reviews of Alex Banayan’s The Third Door and was surprised to see such mixed responses. In fact, there are people who go so far as to give it one star and remark that it’s “a waste of time.” They also accuse Banayan of egotism and name-dropping, of the book being a self-serving tale about nothing.

I believe these reviewers are missing the point of the book.

What I got out of it was that this was a book about failure. I’ve never read a book that exhibited the power and need for failure. Failure is as important in life as success, but the human condition seems to want to shun and dismiss failure. Look as social media: people don’t post their failures and screw-ups. It’s all about what works, what’s successful, and the rewards. I thought it was novel for Banayan to document his journey to interview the biggest names in tech, finance, Hollywood, and popular culture. He didn’t do it to become famous, he did it to find out their paths to success and share it with the world.

He struggled mightily along the way. If he hadn’t shared the journey, the book would have been like so many other “self-help” or “steps to success” books out there. Banayan would have been another Tim Ferriss clone. But instead, Banayan takes us on the journey from dream to reality, fumbling and failing all the way. Some might have considered a lot of what Banayan shared as embarrassing or personal. But that’s what makes the book so important.

I first became aware of Alex Banayan and The Third Door in an interview I saw he did with Tim Bilyeu. He told the story of how Steven Spielberg made his own way into Hollywood, slipping off a Universal tour bus and wandering around the studio before finally making a connection. The “Third Door” refers to finding a backdoor into the world you want to break into. There’s the front door, where most get turned away. There’s the VIP door, where some people use connections to the industry or are born into it through family or wealth. The Third Door is making your own way, finding some passage that no one else has. Spielberg’s Third Door was sneaking into the Universal lot.

In the format of my past “Required Readings,” here’s the 5 biggest takeaways from The Third Door:

#1. Being Persistent is Not Being a Hassle

“You’ve got to stay in the fight. It’s going to get tough. You’re going to hear no. But you’ve got to keep pushing.”

When Banayan first started out, one of his big targets to interview was Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of Titans and (more famously) The Four Hour Workweek. Banayan would badger the hell out of Ferriss via email, always starting the correspondence off with “Hey Tim!” and ending with “Thanks in Advance!” The emails got cringeworthy. Banayan believed Ferriss would see the persistence and finally respond. The problem was, Banayan was being a hassle, writing crappily-written emails and testing Ferriss. Banayan thought the emails sounded warm and cordial. Ferriss thought they were annoying and slobbish.

Banayan finally got a response after sending 31 emails. A phone call was arranged and Ferriss proceeded to explain to Banayan the difference between being persistent and being a hassle. Ferriss was persistent but “balanced.” He never emailed ten times per week; he never ended emails with “Thanks in advance!” because it sounded rude and entitled. Ferriss suggestion something cordial like “I totally understand if you don’t have time to respond.” Throughout the phone call, Ferriss also subtly (but not so subtly) hinted to Banayan to stop saying “Hey so and so!” in emails as well.

By the end of their discussion, Banayan had learned from Ferriss the proper way to send an unsolicited email while looking for a response (and you can find it on page 50 of The Third Door).

#2. Style Comes From Being Yourself

“Sometimes when people are starting out and feel they don’t know how to interview, they look to the people they admire—maybe it’s Barbara Walters or Oprah or myself—and they see how we interview and they try to copy that. That’s the biggest mistake you can make. You’re focused on what we’re doing, not why we’re doing it….When young interviewers try to copy our styles, they’re not thinking about why we have these styles. The reason why is because these are the styles that make us the most comfortable in our seats. And when we are the most comfortable in our seats, our guests are the most comfortable in their seats—and that’s what makes for the best interviews.The secret is: there is no secret,’ Larry added. ‘There’s no trick to being yourself.”

Alex Bunayan ran into Larry King in a grocery store. It sounds ridiculous, but much of The Third Door is and right from the get go (starting with the crazy Price it Right story, which I’ll get to later). After some persistence, Banayan was invited to have breakfast with King on several occasions, eventually meeting King’s personal circle of friends with whom he had regular breakfast meetings.

The quote from Larry King above illustrates the takeaway. It’s important to be yourself. Being yourself is what makes you comfortable, and being comfortable brings out your style. This rings true to me, because I see so many other filmmakers and writers try to emulate someone famous’ style. This makes them a copy, a clone, and, most importantly, nothing new. If I want to see a Quentin Tarantino movie, I’ll go watch something Quentin Tarantino made. I don’t want to watch someone else make their Tarantino movie. When you try to emulate someone else or their style, you’re never comfortable because you’re not being yourself. Because of this, I could see why so many amateur interviews are so shitty or awkward for those being interviewed.

If you don’t believe me, surf YouTube for celebrity interviews and I guarantee you’ll find some cringe.

If you’re active in the arts, people will always try to find or ask you about your ‘style.’ How do you like to do things? What do you like to convey? What’s your vision? I’m proud to say as a filmmaker that I have no fucking clue what my style is. And maybe that makes it my style. Ask a painter, or a writer, or a filmmaker what their style is and 9 out of 10 times they’ll start naming other painters, writers, or filmmakers.

#3. Failure Leads to Growth

Growth comes from mistakes. You have to cherish them, so you can learn from them. Your mistakes are your greatest gift.”

As mentioned above, the theme I saw in the book was ‘failure.’ Banayan shared his and his mistakes, but never came out and said “failing made me better.” Instead, you could SEE it happening through the course of the book. Tim Ferriss gave him criticism on how he wrote emails, so Banayan began writing more professional emails. He made more inroads to other interviews.

Near the end of the book you could see how much he’d grown. Early interviews were stilted and awkward — as if reading questions from a notecard. By the end, when he interviews rapper Pitbull and Jessica Alba you can see he’s changed. The Alba interview in particular was the moment I saw he had arrived. Banayan was genuinely interested in what Alba was doing with her business and they eventually connected over the loss of a loved one due to cancer (Banayan’s father died during the writing of his book). After so many chapters of interviewees being held up on a pedestal or Banayan struggling to get certain information for his book, it was nice to see that Larry King’s advice on interviewing had stuck.

The unstated lesson from The Third Door is you NEED to fail. “You can’t get an A if you’re afraid of getting an F,” he says. If he hadn’t failed repeatedly, he wouldn’t have pushed himself creatively and found ways to get interviews with Bill Gates, Maya Angelou, Tony Hsieh, or get Warren Buffet to answer a few questions. (This last one was the result of a clever ruse using three of his friends strategically at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder’s meeting, placing them in various sections where microphones were placed to ask Buffet and Charlie Munger questions.)

#4. Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way OR: How I Learned to Hack The Price is Right

The book opens with a bang. Banayan decides his dream mission is to cultivate interviews from some of the most successful people in the world. He just needs the money to do so. After seeing that USC (where Banayan attended college) had tickets available for The Price is Right, Banayan decided that was his chance to earn his project’s funding.

The only problem was, Banayan had no idea how to play the game.

Instead of studying for finals, he studied up on how to ‘hack’ the gameshow. Banayan found there were patterns to being selected from the audience, namely by outrageous and eccentric behavior that caught the eye of the producer. The producer would then put the person’s name up for being called out of the audience, ensuring an eventful episode of the show. He dressed extravagantly, acted over-the-top (hugging janitors and making scenes), and caught he producer’s eye. When he eventually got in front of Drew Carey to play, he had to ask the audience what to do.

I couldn’t believe the story was real at first. It seemed to extraordinary. A person who didn’t even know how to play the game, who needed money to chase his dream, won over $30,000 in prizes on The Price is Right. But that’s exactly what happened. Banayan found an opportunity and did what he needed to to make the most of it. He didn’t let a small detail like knowing the rules stop him!

#5. Linear Life vs Exponential Life

This one speaks for itself. If you read this blog, you’re not looking for a “linear life.”

“You see, most people live a linear life…They go to college, get an internship, graduate, land a job, get a promotion, save up for a vacation each year, work toward their next promotion, and they just do that their whole lives. Their lives move step by step, slowly and predictably…But successful people don’t buy into that model. They opt into an exponential life. Rather than going step by step, they skip steps. People say that you first need to ‘pay your dues’ and get years of experience before you can go out on your own and get what you truly want. Society feeds us this lie that you need to do x, y, and before you can achieve your dream. It’s bullshit. The only person whose permission you need to live an exponential life is your own…Sometimes an exponential life lands in your lap, like with a child prodigy. But most of the time, for people like you and me, we have to seize it for ourselves. If you actually want to make a difference in the world, if you want to live a life of inspiration, adventure, and wild success —you need to grab on to that exponential life—and hold on to it with all you’ve got.”

In other words, life is what you make of it. If you want something you have to work for it. Here’s another quote from ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, whom Banayan interviews in Leonard’s California Mansion:

“You may have the heart—you keep fighting, you keep fighting, you keep fighting—but your mind is saying, ‘Man, forget this. I don’t need this.’ The head and the heart aren’t going together; but they have to go together. It all has to connect. Everything has to connect to reach that level, that pinnacle…You may have a desire, a wish, a dream—but it’s got to be more than that—you’ve got to want it to the point that it hurts. Most people never reach that point. They never tap into what I call the Hidden Reservoir, your hidden reserve of strength. We all have it. When they say a mother lifted up a car off a trapped child, that’s that power.”

If you’ve ever had a dream or you’ve ever been discouraged by “how difficult” chasing your dream is, then The Third Door is for you. It’s not going to tell you how to be rich. It’s not going to gameplay how to quit your job or become famous. It will remind you that it’s okay to fail, that you should fail, and by failing you grow and get better. Remember, Alex Banayan was just an 18-year-old student a USC before he got to sit down with some of the biggest names on the way to writing his dream book. He found his way and you can to.

Pick up a copy of The Third Door by clicking this link or the image of the book below!

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