Last updated on April 30, 2017
Mike Posner is a Grammy nominated singer-songwriter, poet, rapper, and music producer.
I met Mike recently on Instagram after he heard me on Tim Ferriss' podcast. He joined my Noah Kagan Presents podcast to share his incredible journey from growing up in Southfield, Michigan to becoming a world-famous artist (and all the lessons for success he learned in-between).
Even uber-successful people run into problems, have fears, and deal with frustrations. Mike shared fascinating insights on what he still struggles with, and how he maintains perspective and priorities alongside his growing fame and fortune.
This episode is jam-packed full of insights and lessons for budding creatives and artists, seasoned entrepreneurs, or anyone trying to find their passion.
Listen as Mike drops some #knowledge from his journey, including the importance of change (and why you should embrace it), the vast difference between success and popularity, what it’s like to meet Jay Z, and how to combat jealousy and live your own life.
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Mike just released a new album called Mansionz, plus a new poetry book called Tear Drops and Balloons, so this is the perfect time to hear about Mike's creative process, how he's dealing with success, and tons more.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
Throughout this episode, there were a few key themes that really stood out to me and I’d love to highlight a few of these below:
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“I remember having these delusions of grandeur and becoming the white Lil’ Bow Wow.” (Click to Tweet)
Seeing young artists skyrocket to insane levels of popularity and success early in their careers led Mike to envisioning his own instant success.
But success doesn’t usually happen overnight.
Mike’s journey to his first record deal and hit song took more than 10 years of dedication:
Just before Mike started at Duke University as an 18-year-old, his close friend Big Sean was signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music record label. Mike was a bit jealous… but if Sean could do it, Mike thought he could too. Success seemed more realistic.
Motivated and focused, Mike would spend college weekends and nights making beats, recording verses, and perfecting his flow.
In 2010, at age 22, Mike had his first hit. “Cooler Than Me,” a single from his first album jumped to number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Here’s the truth: What’s valuable never comes easy.
As an early employee at Facebook, I saw behind-the-scenes what success is like (and then I saw it again as employee #4 at Mint.com). The outside world has the illusion we just “made” it at both companies one day — but in truth, we were grinding in the background for years.
We faced a lot of failures, ran a lot of experiments, and had a little luck. This is the real reason for success.
When you have an idea or passion you want to pursue, you have to commit for the long term to achieve it. For example, I’ve been blogging here on OkDork since 2005 — and here’s one of my very first posts to show you how long it can take.
Being close friends with one of the world's hottest rappers, Big Sean, doesn’t come without its challenges. And during our conversation Mike touched on fighting jealousy.
At age 18, as Mike was heading to Duke University, Sean got signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music label. This provided Mike with one of life’s most important lessons on how to combat jealousy.
Seeing those closest to you succeed can put you in a tough spot. “I get jealous of friends all the time,” Mike told me. “It’s the first emotion that comes up a lot of times.”
It seems that no matter what level you reach in life, jealousy can always appear.
So how do you counter jealousy?
Mike believes almost all jealous feelings are related to the fallacy that "more is better":
The reality is: more isn’t always better.
When someone close to us achieves something, even if our gut reaction is to be jealous, it’s probably a good for us in the long run.
Take Mike and Big Sean for example: when Sean blew up, a song feature or shoutout could elevate Mike to new levels of success.
At 22, with his first hit single “Cooler Than Me” under his belt, Mike had a revelation about fame: We don’t actually see famous people for who they are. Instead, we idolize these people to become who we want them to be.
For example, Mike shared a story about attending an NBA game to see his Detroit Pistons take on the Cleveland Cavaliers:
I remember this one player, Drew Gooden, he was very antagonistic. He’d rile up the crowd and I remember sitting there and saying: “I fucking hate Drew Gooden.” Right when I said it, I felt terrible. I’d just started to be known for my music at that time and I realized that he was a real person.
Empathy has become more important to Mike as his career grows. Once you become known for something, people assume you’re the same exact person you are on stage. Or in the interviews. Or at your office. But we ALL have different hobbies and interests.
Who we are at work or in our business is only one flavor in a whole dish. There’s plenty more depth to people than what we see online.
I think the same is true of my podcast and OkDork. I try to be vulnerable in as much as I can, but you still only get to see a small percentage of who I really am through my podcasts, videos, and posts.
Empathy is an often overlooked factor in success.
Many entrepreneurs look for a quick fix to solve problems. But, with true empathy you can:
The next time you’re writing a cold email or responding to an angry customer, embrace empathy and put yourself in the other person’s position. It’ll make a world of difference to how you deal with the challenge.
“When you’ve experienced real highs, even the normal can feel low.” (Click to Tweet)
Between his two waves of popularity, first in 2010 with his hit song “Cooler Than Me” and now with “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” Mike found it really tough to adjust to life without being somewhat famous.
Every day, Mike had to see how many Facebook Likes his posts were getting, how many Twitter followers he had. He was used to free clothes, complimentary drinks at bars, being lauded when out in public...
But fame comes and goes for everyone. Eventually, even the most famous people are forgotten.
Gradually, as Mike’s popularity waned, he was receiving less social media notifications, no free meals, no free clothes. Everything dried up.
This was a difficult time for Mike:
Instead of my shimmying out of a snakeskin and into a fresh one, it felt like someone was ripping the skin off me and everything was out of my control. When I look back on it, though, this was one of the best things to ever happen to me. It forced me to realize who I am without all these things.
Mike learned to embrace these changes and his “new” self. He took all his expensive toys, and got rid of them. He sold his:
He then took his 1993 Dodge van, put a bed and his recording equipment in the back, packed a few clothes and hit the road. “I wanted to turn the volume up on losing stuff and see if I could still be happy.”
Through the ups-and-downs, Mike realized he isn’t defined by the things he owns or what others see.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of defining ourselves by how much money we have, what company we work for, the friends we hang out with.
Honestly, I’m guilty of this, too. But Mike’s story is a reminder we shouldn’t define ourselves by external factors of success.
After all, like Mike realized, it comes and goes.
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Want to listen to my whole conversation with Mike Posner? Check out the recording below:
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Challenge: If you had a rap name, what would it be? Mine’s "Rabbi Can’t Lose."