Interview with Jay Papasan
How to Use ‘The ONE Thing’ to Create an Extraordinary Life with Jay Papasan
What’s the number one activity that makes everything else in your life better? The thing that will move you towards financial freedom and allow you to live life entirely on your terms?
Today’s guest, Jay Papasan, has answered that question for himself and is now sharing the roadmap with other people that want to achieve ultimate success.
Jay is a bestselling author who serves as Vice President and Executive Editor at one of the largest and most trusted real estate companies on the planet, Keller Williams Realty. Keller Williams has over 1,000 offices worldwide with more than 180,000 working agents. In 2018, they generated over $332 billion in sales.
Jay is a living example that with a deliberate and efficient system in place to prioritize actions, one can achieve tremendous success in all categories of life.
In today’s episode, you’ll learn the importance of personal relationships for achieving success in life, how to build businesses that suit your personality, and how to find your ONE thing and stay focused on it.
Featured on This Episode: Jay Papasan
✅ What he does: Jay Papasan is a bestselling author who serves as the Vice President of Strategic Content for Keller Williams Realty International, the world’s largest real estate company. He is also Vice President of KellerINK and Co-Owner of Papasan Properties Group with Keller Williams Realty in Austin, Texas. His bestseller, The ONE Thing, which he co-authored with Gary Keller, has sold over two and a half million copies worldwide and garnered more than 500 appearances on national bestseller lists.
💬 Words of wisdom: “Ask a bigger question because sometimes you’ll surprise yourself, and you’ll find the answer. But if you only ask questions you know the answer to, you’re never really stretching.” – Jay Papasan.
Key Takeaways with Jay Papasan
- How to network if you’re an introvert. Learn why Jay prioritizes connecting with people each week and how he considers that his best investment.
- Find out how Jay got the idea to start his newsletter, through which he shares his favorite hobbies and activities with readers.
- The two relationships that impacted Jay’s life the most, and how they appeared in one year.
- How, from a freelance writer, he ended up as the employee number 27 at Keller Williams Realty.
- What Jay learned about business and wealth by interviewing 120 net millionaires.
- What are the top lessons he learned by working alongside Gary Keller.
- Find out how Jay and Gary chose the title for their bestseller, The ONE Thing.
- Finding the appropriate partner is one of the best decisions you can make. Learn how Jay and his wife built habits and strategies that made it possible to pursue their dreams and become millionaires.
- What’s Jay’s current ONE thing?
Jay Papasan – How To Create Financial Freedom with Real Estate Investing
Jay Papasan TweetablesFor the most part, everybody gets an equal dollop of luck in their life. It's unpredictable about when it shows up, and the difference often is whether we're prepared to take advantage of it.” - Jay Papasan Click To Tweet
- Jay Papasan on Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | YouTube | Instagram
- What I’m Up To Newsletter
- The ONE Thing
- The Millionaire Real Estate Agent: It’s Not About the Money It’s About Being the Best You Can Be by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan
- The Millionaire Real Estate Investor by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan
- Glenn Neely
- Brandon Turner
- BiggerPockets Real Estate Podcast
- Jason Drees
- Noah Kagan
- Keller Williams
- David Osborne
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Read the Full Transcript with Jay Papasan
Justin Donald: What’s up, Jay? So glad to have you on the show.
Jay Papasan: I’m so happy to finally be here. We’ve been circling this meeting for quite some time, Justin.
Justin Donald: We sure have. So, we’ve been talking about this I feel like for at least a year, maybe two years. And I’m just excited to have the date down. It’s moved a bunch but your story is one of my favorite stories. And secretly I haven’t even shared this with you but you’re one of my absolute favorite people that I have met in Austin. Out of everyone I’ve met, everyone I’ve hung out with, I love getting some time with you. And so, I’m thrilled to have you on the show and really thrilled to share your story because it’s incredible.
Jay Papasan: Well, one, thank you very much for saying that because I know some of the people you hang out with. So, that might be a little bit of hyperbole but I’ll take it and be very flattered.
Justin Donald: Well, I’ve had the chance to hang out with you in a lot of different settings because we’ve got a ton of mutual friends. And so, we hear enough from people when they say, “Hey, you got to meet Jay,” and I heard it from three separate people. I knew that we were destined to meet. And what was also interesting is I think that inside of our first meeting, there were some things that I was doing in single family home rentals and you were doing, and so there were some synergies right out of the gate so that was cool. But one of the cool things I love that you do, there are a couple of things. Number one, you do this annual poker charity tournament. The poker tournament, all the money goes to charity and it’s incredible. And so, I’ve played in this tournament. Unfortunately, I’ve never won.
Jay Papasan: Neither have I.
Justin Donald: You know, there are much better poker players in Austin than I am but I love it. I love what you’re doing there. And we got a chance to hang there. You always have such cool people at your events. And then secondly, you’ve got another cool thing that I love. You’ve got this weekly ritual of doing coffee every Wednesday with someone, a new person often, or maybe a repeat. But you just create the space to connect with people. And that’s one of my highest values and something I’ve done for over a decade, running probably close to 20 years now in a row where I’ve had some sort of a weekly meeting with someone, usually a new person but I carve that out because of the importance of it for me.
Jay Papasan: Yeah. I love that.
Justin Donald: I love to hear your thoughts on it.
Jay Papasan: Okay. Well, I’ll tell you how it started. When we wrote The ONE Thing at that time, I was starting to explore other strengths of income. I had a business interest and I got about three new entities at that point. And while I didn’t have big job descriptions, right, like my wife runs a real estate sales company but I’m a partner with her and I sit down with my coach and we just ask the question, what’s the one thing I could do, an activity that would support all of the businesses I get to be a partner in? And we decided that for me would be networking. And, Justin, I’m an introvert like I’ve taken probably 14 different tests from the Enneagram to the KPA to the DISC to the Myers-Briggs like I can just go on and on as we’ve done tons of research. And like the common thread through all of them is I don’t need to be around a lot of people like I’m very introverted. So, this is one of those answers that you know is the right answer but you’re not necessarily happy about it. Because all of my thoughts about networking were like going to conventions and meeting lots and lots of strangers in very concentrated bits. And so, my coach, Glenn Neely, at the time that was actually like one of my first assignments was to go research four or five conventions that were not the ones that we host that I would really be like, “Oh, I’d be excited to go.”
So, I went to like FinCon and like some of these places that it would be a whole new group for me, the podcast, whatever they call that one. There was a podcast convention that I’ve been to once. But I came back the next month and I just said, “I look at these and I’m intellectually curious but the thought of having to work that event just doesn’t get me excited.” So, long story short, I had been invited to go to coffee by a stranger. It was a woman who lives in West Austin. She’s a realtor. She wrote a blog called Coffee with a Stranger, and she just made a habit. It wasn’t like weekly per se of trying to get network to interesting strangers, and it was a way for her as a realtor to write. And she would just interview someone, write it up on her blog, and then ask, “Justin, it was so great meeting you at coffee. Like, who else should I have coffee with?” That was it. And I called her up and I said, “I really enjoyed that meeting. Can I just steal that idea?” And she said yes and that became the goal is if I could meet with 50 people with no agenda, just someone that someone else said was talent then over the course of the year, I would add 50 people to my database. And so, you look up in ten years and you would have theoretically 500 kind of amazing people that you had some level of relationship with, you’ve actually broken bread with. So, that’s where the ritual came from. I call it my introverts networking program, and it’s extended to a newsletter and some other activities to give it more life but the fundamental job is still, can I just meet one really cool person every week and earn the right to stay in touch with them?
Justin Donald: That’s cool. And the compound effect, as you said, over a period of time, the connections, the relationship, the education that you get, I mean, that is incredible. And I love that I can see exactly that path because I’ve had my own version of that path and it’s powerful. I really feel like a lot of people when they look at me, they think my superpower is investing. And I actually think my superpower is my network. And I think that most of my best investments have actually come from my network. So, it’s an interesting way of looking at it.
Jay Papasan: There’s probably somebody out there that I’m quoting when I say this but your network is your net worth.
Justin Donald: That’s right.
Jay Papasan: I just know that somebody more famous than me has said that but it just feels too obvious not to be true. And I look up and that’s one of the reasons we invested in it. I can tell you we’ve had many, many, many investment opportunities from this, acquired a couple of businesses through this, and hired a lot of people through referral through this. And I just looked at my stats. Through this week I have done, since I started I think in June of 2013, now 643 coffee meetings.
Justin Donald: Wow. That’s incredible.
Jay Papasan: It compounds, right? It adds up over time. In one year, you’re like, okay, 62. What’s the big deal? But over time, you’re like, “Okay. That’s a lot of folks in the database that have some memory of meeting and hopefully I’ve been following up with them a little bit in my own introvert’s way.” For me, it’s a monthly newsletter. If those things are happening, then there is at least the DNA for us to have another conversation and a future opportunity.
Justin Donald: Oh, and it’s so neat to hear that. I think maybe even what’s just as impressive, more impressive is the fact that you track these stats so that you can measure results. You can see if you’re on pace, off of pace. And I know you do this with like net worth calculations and cash flow calculations and we’ll get into that because I think what you’re doing there is such a smart strategy, such a great like model and benchmark for others to really copy and imitate. You and I hung out here recently at a mutual friend’s. We were actually invited to Brandon Turner, a real estate mogul who had a huge podcast called BiggerPockets. He put on this incredible meal, flew people in from Hawaii that have this basically like cook all these different types of meat, open fire, veggies, just seafood, like all kinds of stuff, and this is an outdoor venue, just incredible. And I think that when you go to events like that, it’s like the coffee on steroids. You meet all of these people. You’ve got to figure out maybe like who you can settle down in a little corner with or at your table with and then just dig in so you’re not always so overwhelmed with all the people that you probably don’t know. And so, I’m curious, like as an introvert, you really have to intentionally get out of your comfort zone, I would imagine. Like me as an extrovert, I love meeting people. It’s not hard. It is not a chore. It is sometimes I’ve got to be careful because I might overdo it but I know that it is such a great joy to me. I’m curious, like in a larger setting for you, if you feel like, “Oh, it’s better for me to like find a few people and just kind of tuck away,” or if you still feel the desire or need to connect with each person there?
Jay Papasan: It’s going to be, for me, I’m going to follow my introvert roots. I’m probably going to be happy if I can make one new connection, and I wasn’t even going to give myself a goal for that one. Like if you’ll notice, if you remember, you sat to my left, that was the bonus. Like, “Yay, I get to talk to Justin again.” On my right was my wife so already know her and I sat across from Brandon, his sister, and his wife. And so, I remember thinking, “I’d like to get to know Brandon’s wife.” I’ve only seen their relationship through social media, and I was an unexpected gift to get to know his sister. And I got to spend a long time talking to you and Hal Elrod, our mutual friend. He was two over but we already know each other. Our kids go to school but luckily Hal and Ursula, they don’t mind carrying a conversation like five people apart. So, we also got to converse. So, I put a very low bar on those things. I like my activity. My activity is the coffee and my follow-up is ask, “Would you like to be on my newsletter?” And if they answer, then I very dutifully, I’ve done it for 58 months in a row, I try to make sure I do some sort of recap of my life to share with them and invite them to share back. And every month I get about 40 or 50 emails in response. And so, like that’s the whole program. So, anything else above that is a bonus. So, I met Brandon’s coach, Jason Drees, and I asked just very briefly, I just said, “Hey, I’d love to follow up with you and just grab coffee.” So, I used that and it was just me being improvising. He seemed like a nice guy. I liked his wife and said, “Let’s go grab coffee sometime,” and we just actually did that two weeks ago.
Justin Donald: Oh, that’s perfect. And by the way, it’s really funny. Jason just reached out to me today and said, “Hey, can we get together for coffee?” So, it’s fun how you’re seeing it kind of get paid forward but it’s also interesting to see how strategic you are with where you sit. And by the way, I’m strategic on the opposite side. So, I likely in most cases will sit next to people that I don’t know or people that maybe in that moment I want to spend more time with. And so, hence the reason I ended up next to you, which is cool.
Jay Papasan: Well, lucky me.
Justin Donald: Yeah. Talk about your newsletter because I love your newsletter. It’s cool, it’s relevant, and you and I like a lot of the same stuff. So, like you talk about movies and TV shows and music and all these different things that for me are passions. And so, I’ve learned about some cool shows through your newsletter. So, I love how it came about, and I love that you just write about what it is that you want to write about. Share a little bit about your newsletter.
Jay Papasan: It’s called What I’m Up To, and I just have Volume 1 and like the last one I think was Volume 58. And I usually just kind of recap what me and the family have done the last month and what I’ve read and what I’ve watched because those are two of my favorite hobbies and they’re very consistent. I try to read about 50 books a year. About half of that will be fiction. And like the ultimate way for me to relax is to turn on a good movie or a show. Like, I really, for whatever reason, I can turn off my business brain almost 100% of the time. I just completely be in the moment and enjoy, hold my wife’s hand, and watch a show. So, those pretty consistent activities have become their own part. The unexpected gift of this was I think maybe I’m not like a lot of people. I’m going to assume that I am but I’ve always been fairly goal-oriented. You know, my wife and I are always setting goals for our future, for us in our family, and we’re focused on what’s next. And I’m not the type to do a lot of celebrating when I cross the finish line. I actually shared with one of my colleagues this the other day. It’s like it’s probably I could use some therapy but usually when I win something or I complete something, I feel more relief over not feeling than elation over the victory. Like that’s just the way my brain works. Like, “Oh, okay,” you know? And it’s like, I move forward.
And the gift of this is for the last 58 months is it forced me just pause and I usually use my photographs on my phone. I’ll scroll. You can type July 2021, whatever the month is, and your iPhone will just collect every photo you took that month. And I use that to kind of, “All right. Well, what was I doing that may or may not have made it into my day planner?” And I look at my day planner too because I don’t always take pictures of those events. But between those two, I can kind of like, wow, like we move a lot. We do a lot. It gave me a lot more moments to celebrate, which is a good thing for me. I needed that. And it also gave me a lot more time for reflection on why am I doing these things and why do I think these are important? And sometimes a little moment of is this something that’s even worth sharing? But my whole thing is, like everybody who said yes to that, I told them what it was. This is not me selling anything. It’s not a business newsletter. It’s just if you’re wanting to get to know me, what I do, and what I think about, for better or worse, it is what it is. And I will never check to see if you unsubscribe. And that’s remained true until this day. I can’t handle it. I don’t want to know. The first person to unsubscribe was Noah Kagan and we were acquaintances. I get the occasional shout out on Twitter about something and I looked up to him. I think he’s a great, great entrepreneur but like he has no time for nonsense. He signed up and like after the first episode, the very first unsubscribe is Noah Kagan. I was like, I told my assistant, “New rule. We never look at unsubscribes. Never ever want to see that again.”
Justin Donald: That’s really funny. Well, I love what you put out. And it’s nice that you slow down enough to kind of recapture these moments. And then I also think what’s great for you is you love to write, so you’re doing the thing that you enjoy. It’s creating peace and happiness in your life. I think that’s really cool. Now, I want to rewind here a little bit because and by the way, we’re going to get into all your successes. You have been incredibly successful in a lot of things as an author, a very accomplished author, but also as a professional. Working with Keller Williams, you’ve been very successful in real estate and building passive income, and I want to get into all of this. But before we do, I want to hear about you kind of in your earlier years, like how did you get to where you are? What made you decide to work with KW and what made you pivot into more of a writing career? And when did all the real estate start? Like, when did you transition from, “Hey, I’m going to work for a company,” to, “Hey, I’m going to start building wealth with assets outside of my earnings with the company?”
Jay Papasan: That’s a lot of questions. I’ll try to answer them in order. No. I think there are two broad chapters to my life. Within a year of turning 30, I got married to my wife and I started working for Gary Keller. And outside of my nuclear family, my mom, dad, and sister, I don’t know that there’s any relationships that have had more impact on my trajectory, Justin. So, before that period of time, I think I always I tended to wait until the last minute to prepare. You know, I was just smart enough that I usually could cram in college and still get a B plus or an A, and that was good enough for me. I didn’t practice for sports outside of the sports practices, and we all know that the best players like they practice extra. I just wasn’t that guy. I enjoyed it. I went for as much social as competitive reasons if I was playing sports. And I wouldn’t say I was aimless or not achieving like I ran a marathon before I met my wife. I got a graduate degree from NYU. I got to work with some great people. I got a job in publishing. I’ve come from a family of achievers. So, I had that kind of in my DNA. I’m competitive. I want to do interesting things and I get a little fearless. You know, I lived abroad for three-and-a-half years and those were things that are I just thought they were fun. But I got much more purposeful after I started working with Gary. And when I had more than just my contentment to work for, I had a family to think about and my kids to set an example for. So, I just divide it in those two. I’ve always been a bookworm. I mean, I said going back to like third or fourth grade when one of my teachers read The Hobbit out loud to us like during quiet time, like I started going to the library and checking out books and like a lot of pictures of me as a child or with the book or like with the Lego set or something like just kind of a solitary kid. I have a very curious, inquisitive mind and I just could entertain myself forever.
So, flash forward, my wife and I met in New York City. I’d been in publishing. She’d been in PR and marketing. We got married after a quick kind of five months where we were unemployed and backpacking and just using that as a transition period. Before I even heard of cash flow or any of that, we just had been responsible enough to just save. We got out of both of our leases, put our stuff in a $400 a month storage unit, and just went backpacking for like super cheap for five months. Just a lifestyle choice. And we ended up choosing to move to Austin during that period of time, and we moved here without jobs. We just like the city. So, we’ve got a little bit, I guess, of when I say it out loud, more adventurous than I would give myself credit for. But my wife fired me from my freelance writing job at the end of that first summer. I got some really great gigs like Memphis Magazine and Texas Monthly but I think I earned our family about $18,000 in freelance income that year editing, copywriting, doing travel writing, and a few big magazine pieces. And I’m not a salesperson. I wasn’t going to cold call editors and pitch stories. I was doing email pitches, which is not a great recipe for a freelance writer. So, she came home at like three in the afternoon. I was playing Diablo on my computer with a cat on my lap and she just said, “You needed to get a job,” and I said, “You’re right. This is boring.” I mean, I was just bored. I was waiting for someone to respond and wasn’t being proactive. So, I ended up applying and getting a job at this very small real estate company called Keller Williams. Back then, I think I was employee number 27.
Justin Donald: Wow.
Jay Papasan: Not total all-time. The company’s been around since ’82 but it was really small back then. So, there were 27 total employees with me counted and there was 6,700 agents since September of 2000 when I joined. And that was just a – I was a newsletter writer. I was going to write a tech newsletter and I did it because I thought I would learn about technology. And Austin’s kind of a tech town and I was trying to learn a new trade to go with writing and discovered that this was a crazy little company that has all this opportunity. It was growing wicked fast. It grew. We were, at that point, still had another six years of 40% year-over-year growth, and that’s just exponential growth.
Justin Donald: Wow.
Jay Papasan: Today, there’s, I don’t know, 1,600 employees and 185,000 agents in the company. So, it’s just like that’s a 22-year period but I got to be there for the growing up part of all of that. And that’s where I found out Gary wanted to write books, reminded him I came from publishing, we wrote our first book together. And up until we wrote the second book, Justin, that’s where my trajectory changed again. I still was thinking I want to be an executive. You know, my first big goal attempt is I want to make $100,000 a year in salary. And my dad had been an executive and I was like I thought that was the end goal. Like, you get better and better title. You make more and more earned income. And then after we wrote the Millionaire Real Estate Agent, which is really about building a sales business versus a sales practice like I sell stuff. I want other people to sell stuff on my behalf, like a business with tons of business lessons there we could go through, leverage, and all of those things. But the Next book was the Millionaire Real Estate Investor. And instead of me jumping in without a lot of knowledge, Gary said, “Why don’t you take Heather, who’s our research assistant?” And we interviewed 120 net worth millionaires. And I could show you just off-camera I’ve got three six-inch binders alphabetized of all of those interviews. You want to see what it looks like?
Justin Donald: Yeah. That’s awesome. I’d love to see it. That’s so cool.
Jay Papasan: But, like, I still keep them because they were that important to me.
Justin Donald: Oh, my goodness.
Jay Papasan: And I underlined, highlighted them, read them, and I remember like talking to this immigrant who’d moved here from a country where you could not get a mortgage. If you wanted a house, you had to save up, live with your parents, and buy cash for it. Like, I had no appreciation for that. He’s like, “You can put like 10% down and buy a property,” like he was freaking out about it. And I just got such perspective from doing those interviews. And I remember at some point going to my wife, it’s like these were all like really ordinary people and they just did a few things. They learned how to live on less than they earned. They saved up enough money to make an investment and then they let that investment start paying for their lifestyle. And that just set us down this journey where I ask Wendy I think in 2002, 2003 even, is our first flip was in 2003. So, yeah, 2003 I was like, “Do you want to be millionaires?” And I think we both said yes to that answer with no idea at all how we do it. So, that’s kind of how I went from being kind of a book nerd, working at bookstores and publishing that the common thread here is like tracking numbers because I’m a bit of a data geek but on the other side I looked up, it’s like, “Oh, okay, there’s more than just being a business person and working a job. You can start buying assets.” And I got to work with Gary very closely for the last 20-plus years. He’s a self-made billionaire, so he got that game long before he started actively teaching that to me. So, I have no idea how long I’ve been monologuing on you but you did ask me like eight questions, in all fairness.
Justin Donald: That was perfect. You answered them all. This is great. And we’ll pivot into the next one with real estate. But before we do, I have heard just incredible things about Gary from people that have worked closely with him. I’ve known a handful of people that have had the privilege and luxury of walking arm in arm with him the way that you have, Jay. And I would argue that your relationship with him is very unique, very special, one that no one else has. And the amount of time that you guys get is probably unparalleled to most people. So, I would love to know just some of the major lessons that you’ve learned. You know, and it’s interesting because when you said like you and Wendy were like, “Hey, you want to become a millionaire?” “Yeah, sure. That’d be great.” Well, what better mentor than a billionaire to teach you how to become a millionaire? You know, and so I would love to hear some of like the great takeaways that you’ve had over the years.
Jay Papasan: Oh, gosh. There are so many. I mean, honestly, first and foremost, like one of his standards and one of the reasons I’m still in a relationship with him and I try to do it is he’s always said, “If we’re going to tell people to behave a certain way,” you teach people too, Justin, and he’s like, “We have to live in integrity with that.” We call it kind of being concentric. Can we be concentric? And it’s like you don’t have to be a millionaire real estate agent or investor but you have to be trying to live that even if you’re failing, just so that you can look people in the eye and say, “I’m on this journey, too.” You don’t always meet people at his level that every day get out of bed and try to live and be concentric with all the stuff that comes out of their mouth. And he’s just been on a journey for a very, very long time. And it’s a long story, like he teaches a whole class on this but basically, after his divorce, his first divorce was very hard, like he had some soul searching to do and he realized a lot of his motivation, his achievement came from a very poor self-esteem that’s probably contributed to his first choice of a spouse and that didn’t end well. And he’s working with his therapist and realizing, “Oh, so basically my motivation came from me trying to fix me.” And if I learn to love me as I am, like he says, like he jokingly says, I was like, “Oh man, I’m screwed because there goes all my motivation.”
Justin Donald: That’s funny.
Jay Papasan: Now, I’m divorced and unmotivated because I don’t have to go prove to the world that I’m okay by being number one in sales or number one in my market. And he kind of went down a different journey. The short version is he kind of felt like his purpose in life, like his calling by who he calls God is that, “How can he become the best version of themselves?” So, that every day he can ask like, “How do I get better? How do I continue to grow?” And so, success to him is like a spiritual journey. It’s not about the house or the car or the money. Those might be things that just happen naturally along the way but like he always challenges himself to go to the next level. It totally blew like our whole like we have a private group we made for goal setting and I shared with them. I said, “Here’s how Gary does goals.” Like he’ll say, “I want to be a millionaire,” whatever that number is. And then he’ll go all the way back to, “How do I behave every single week for that to happen?” It’s not a series of tasks and things you check off but like, who do I have to become so that that is the natural outcome of that behavior? And then he focuses 100% of his effort on becoming that person. And the moment those are locked in, he doesn’t bother to cross the finish line and celebrate. He immediately goes, “Well, what if I said a decamillionaire or 100 million? I’m just using money because it’s easy for me to do the math. But then he’d asked, “Well, who would I have to become to do that?”
And it’s this fundamental thing. And everybody in the group was like, “What do you mean he sets goals and doesn’t ever track to see if he crosses them?” And I was like, “No, he does it so he can set behaviors, being, where he’s virtually certain, like, ‘Okay, this is now habitual. I’m doing this thing. What’s the next target?'” Because his journey is not about crossing finish lines and collecting medals. It’s about how do I become an increasingly better version of myself and service to his faith? So, that’s a lot but working with a guy like that, he doesn’t tolerate people for long who are unwilling to grow, who are unaccountable, who are unwilling to think big. And so, like, when people ask me that question, “What have you learned?” the most consistent answer is as big as I’ve ever thought for myself, Gary will always ask a bigger question. He will always challenge Wendy and I to think bigger for our lives. And that muscle is so strong for him because every day he asks, “What’s the bigger question?” So, he’s been practicing on himself. He’s a natural guinea pig. And when you say, “I really want to be a bestselling author,” like, he can immediately say, “Well, great. We should be doing these things to become that thing.” And then in the moment you’re on track, he’ll say, “Let’s just keep raising that bar.” And either you really love that, raise my hand right here, yes, I enjoy that journey or you don’t. And that’s when I see turn over here over time. One of the fundamental reasons either they’re not a culture fit to begin with or that can become exhausting in its own right for some people if they’re not on that journey too.
Justin Donald: Well, that is some great color and some great commentary on just life lessons, life wisdom from you think about the number of billionaires that exist in the world. It’s not only a small percentage. I mean, it’s a very small number.
Jay Papasan: But with the market this year, it got a lot smaller. So, it’s been growing pretty fast and then it also got a little bit smaller with the market this year.
Justin Donald: That’s right. Yeah, there’s no doubt. And it’s neat to be able to have that type of mentorship and to be able to ask those questions and to see such big pictures in how it can be done to have the role model and to have like an actual model to follow, like a blueprint because success leaves clues and the people that get to that level of financial success, of success from the standpoint of like the financial aspect of wealth. It’s not luck. I mean, someone might get lucky and do something to become a millionaire. You’re not getting lucky to become a billionaire. And so, it’s neat to hear that and it’s neat to hear how humble he is and how eager he is to learn and grow, and that it’s not about the material possessions but about him and who he’s becoming. And then I also know from you and other people that it’s about who he is ushering along the way as well. It’s a partnership. It’s a relationship. How can he better his network, his community, his trusted cabinet, or his closest circle of friends?
Jay Papasan: Yeah. You just had a good point that I don’t often think about. Gary is in the franchise business. So, in our world, like a franchisee, like I think his standards about five years in our world is 7 to 10. They go back to, I guess, it would have been the late 80s when he formally started franchising. He’s beyond just like I look downstairs, I know his assistant well and there’s probably, I don’t know, 300 binders that each represent a different entity. He’s never like other than a piece of real estate for his family, he’s never owned a business 100%. He’s had partners in all of them and he’s had franchise agreements. I would imagine he’s had over, I don’t know, 2,000, 3,000 legal long-term business relationships. So, like one of the other really unique things he brings to the conversation is he’s got deep, deep understanding of how partnerships do and don’t work. And that’s like one of his zones of genius. He figured out like, “I’m not going to do this alone and I might as well then figure out how to do it at a really high level with others.” And that’s something else that’s kind of admirable about him.
Justin Donald: Well, I’m glad that you get to glean that for all of your relationships and partnerships as well, which is cool because I know you’ve got a big operation that I’m excited to get into. But before we do, you had this colossal success with your book, The ONE Thing, and what maybe a lot of people don’t know is you’d written like eight, nine, ten books. You know, like as an author, you’re very well accomplished. You’ve been a bestselling author. You sold millions of copies of books prior to this book. And then this is kind of the blockbuster, your biggest one so far. I’m going to say so far because who knows what the future has in store for you, Jay. But in writing this book, I think you have helped impact and change a lot of people’s lives. I loved your book. And just this whole idea of the lead domino, The ONE Thing, once you figure out what the one thing is, when that’s solved, everything else falls into place. It’s a brilliant concept. And I love the story of trusting your gut when it came to the name because the experts, and I’m going to put quotes here, “the experts” said, “No, you should name it this,” and you trusted your gut, you and Gary, and you decided, “No, we’re going to go with The ONE Thing,” maybe the less corporate name or the less, I don’t know, it’s just a little bit more real, natural, more like organic or grassroots, maybe. I don’t know what it is but it doesn’t feel as like an institutional name or big corporate-based decision. And so, I’d love to hear that thought process and just the success of the book because you’ve sold millions of copies.
Jay Papasan: Thanks. Those are the first book, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, which I thought would sell 50,000 copies is now sold I think 1.7 million, and The ONE Thing is now approaching 2.8. And so, like, those are like 80% of all of our book sales represented by those two books, just even though we’ve written other bestsellers. So, when I think about the impact, it’s there. The ONE Thing we got a working title of just The Power of One and that was just kind of our working title forever. And I remember our publisher like we always knew it was a working title because everybody thought like it was going to be a religious book. Like it just like, oh, if you call it One or the Power of One for whatever reason most people saw that whatever it was going to be on the cover, they assumed it had to do with religion. But one of the core hopes for the book is that people would build what we call is like a success habit, and that’s just of learning to work from priority. You know, you wake up in the morning, you look at all of your goals, and ask that question like, “Of all the things I could do, what’s the one that if I knocked out like everything is like getting better?” And that idea of just constantly building the habit of asking in this situation or in this moment in time, what’s my true priority? It’s like you at that party, like, what’s my priority for networking here, if that’s what one of your goals is? What’s my priority in my relationship with my wife? What’s my priority? Like, boom. Like, that’s a huge thing. We call it The Success Habit. So, we had two dueling titles and our publisher actually mocked up covers, one that had The ONE Thing and one that was The Success Habit.
And we went to BookExpo, which is this giant convention for booksellers. And literally, at the end of every aisle, they have like a FedEx station because people pick up so many free books, they have to mail them back to their office. So, for book lovers, it is Nirvana, right? All the books that haven’t come out or coming out and you get them for free. And we were here with the cognizant eye, the most smartest book people in the world, publishers, book publishers, business book publishers, and we had those two up and we just voted. 70% of the attendees thought that the Success Habit would be the right title. It wasn’t quite the 80-20 rule but, man, it was close. And I remember coming home and sharing that and it was Ray Bard, our publisher at the time, Alan Curtis, who was our marketing director, and Gary and I. And I just said the clear, not even close a good sense to us from the people who sell books is they would rather sell that book. And I remember like Gary didn’t jump on it and I didn’t jump on it either. I wasn’t eager to go, “Great, let’s call it The Success Habit.” And Ellen, she gets credit, she said, “I don’t know. If I see a book called The Success Habit, I’m overwhelmed, I’ve got all this on my plate. Like, it sounds cool but it sounds hard. I see a book called The One Thing, I want to know what that thing is, right? That’s more attractive. That’s more provocative.” And Gary and I were just nodding our heads like, “Okay. You’re articulating what we’re feeling. You’re putting, God bless you, you’re the marketing director for a reason, Ellen.” And we just looked to Ray and just said, “Hey, I agree with every word that she just said. I want to go with The ONE Thing. I just feel like that’s a better title.” Now, we’ll never know. We don’t have an alternate universe where we can go back in time and like maybe it would have done just as well but it certainly seems to have worked so far.
Justin Donald: Yeah. I mean, what a home run on that because it does feel easy. It does feel simple. I remember when I was reading it, I had a bunch of books lined up that I was going to read and I was like, “The ONE Thing, I mean, this one should be pretty easy to get through. Let me go ahead and move that one up on the list because these other ones seem a little overwhelming.” So, I mean, even from a guy who didn’t know the backstory at the time, I think it played to my advantage and I guess your advantage, which is cool.
Jay Papasan: Well, your book does that as well. Like I’m looking at your logo behind you. Lifestyle Investor, right? It doesn’t say technical investor. Just the word lifestyle like, “Hey, I want a good lifestyle.” Like, there’s a lot of investor books that make a different promise from the cover and that’s what I call it, like, what’s the promise they’re making when I stare at that cover? What are they telling me? And the other part of the promise is how big is it and how thick is it? And when I open it, how small is the type? Because everybody’s got a stack of ten books that reads books. I mean, this stack right there, if you can see in the camera, that’s all the books that are on my on-deck circle right now. Like, I will read all of those this year. Like, I’m still going to have to make your choices because this month I’ll probably add two more and at some point, right, you just are always triaging it. So, how do you earn the right to get to the top of someone’s deck? I think you get to make a promise and today you’ve got to design the book so that it feels like I can do this. Like, we intentionally wanted shorter chapters, a lot of white space, like we really tried to design it. Thank you, Ray Bard, our publisher, and Todd, our new publisher now, same company, same mindset. They just really believed in engineering the book so that you could remove a lot of the friction people have because like nine times out of ten, their boss gave them the book. And so, like it’s already got that strike against it. It’s like your parents saying eat your vegetables. I learned to like all the vegetables I refuse to eat as a teenager and/or made a grimace and griped about. I like them all now, except maybe beets. Okay, we won’t get past that.
Justin Donald: I’m with you.
Jay Papasan: Yeah. So, it’s like I don’t know. Like, I think I compliment you back. I still don’t know what the line’s about but there’s nothing unfriendly about it. And so, I’m like, “Okay. That looks inviting.” I told you, I picked it up on vacation on a lark and read the whole thing I think in one sitting.
Justin Donald: Well, I appreciate it. It means a lot coming from someone that I look up to as much as you in the writing space. I mean, to have a couple of my friends who are prolific authors like you and Hal Elrod and a handful of others that have sold millions of copies of their book.
Jay Papasan: David Osborne, I’m sure he’s read it.
Justin Donald: Right. It can be overwhelming where you’re like, “Oh, my goodness, they’re probably ripping this thing to shreds.” And so, I appreciate the kind words and probably holding back on how critical you would be, especially of your own work. I know we’re all very critical of our own stuff, right?
Jay Papasan: Yeah. I’m sure if I go to my notes, we can sit down with a cup of coffee and I can ask permission. I could show you three or four things that as an editor, I might have done differently. But I got to tell you, it’s a good book, and I’m not just doing that because I’m on your podcast. I really have a low tolerance for a lot of these books because I don’t learn much but I felt like I learned a lot. Your book really speaks up to the reader. So, alright, your audience has heard enough of that but I could go on and on. But I mean it sincerely, you and your team did a great job.
Justin Donald: Well, I appreciate it. And you know, with this moment, I think it’d be really cool just to share because I don’t even know if I’ve shared this with my audience. But the whole genesis of the Lion and where that came about, I mean, the whole purpose of my book was that I wanted to leave a legacy for my daughter. I’ve had friends that have said for years, “Justin, when you write a book, will you teach a course? Will you run a mastermind or whatever it is?” And I just kick the can down the road. It really wasn’t a priority. And one of my friends said to me, “Well, Justin, what happens if you die and your daughter never learns all these things that you’ve figured out in life, lifestyle investing, passive income?” And, man, that hit me hard. And so, in the process of writing, this is a legacy piece for her. It gave me the confidence that even if no one bought it, it was like I felt good like I was making a difference. And then it just so happened a lot of people bought it but the logo really came from us, my daughter and I reading The Chronicles of Narnia and specifically The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And we really had this. We loved Aslan and my daughter thought would be really cool for a lion. And the word, lion, when you think of lion, it’s inside of the word millionaire, lion. In addition, anyone who joins the community is now part of a tribe or a pride of other like-minded folks that can graduate and become lifestyle investors. And so, there was symbolism. It was cool. I think the logo is strong. You know, it shows like the strength that people have, which is a perfect segue into your journey, kind of moving from the corporate life or the writing life to buying assets and having passive income. Because you now own a lot of real estate and you picked a great market to own your real estate in. I mean, who would have known?
Jay Papasan: You said earlier, it’s not all about luck. I was also going to say, I also have a firm belief about luck. I think that for the most part, everybody gets kind of an equal dollop of luck in their life. It’s unpredictable about when it shows up and the difference often is whether we’re prepared to take advantage of it. And all I can tell you is like we just kept doubling down on this Austin market and there’s definitely been a tailwind for us. Like, so location became a massive source of luck but we also could have been doing what a lot of other people doing was investing in other markets. Everybody was telling us there’s no deals left in Austin but our criteria were always, “Man, I just love the security I feel when I can change my route home and drive by one of my properties and see if the grass hasn’t been mowed or if it needs a fresh coat of paint.” Like, I loved maybe my sense of control, right, over these things. It gave me a great sense of security, even if it made it harder for us. So, the investor journey was triggered by the book, The Millionaire Real Estate Investor. I will share with you while some of that book is classic and some of it is now probably dated and better replaced by some of our newer books on investing the first 110 pages or so we wrote, and it’s all about how investors think. During a period of time that we both knew that Gary’s father was very close to death, and he shared with me very similar to you, that he was feeling the fragility of time. He’s got a son, an only son, and he’s like, “I’ve got a duty to make sure that how I feel about money, the good and the bad.” And he wrote that almost as a letter to his son like here’s fundamentally what I believe about wealth. And that’s some of the best writing he’s ever done and it was very heartfelt.
So, anyway, that’s something you both share. There is little bit of a legacy piece in that, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of that team. So, we looked at the very first investment property we did was a flip in East Austin. We owned our own home, so call that unintentional investing. We bought the worst house in Zilker in Austin, Texas. So, everybody knows Austin now and goes Zilker, it’s like a very posh neighborhood. But I remember telling my wife is, “This is as far south as I feel safe living,” because it was like a concrete house with a fence around the front yard, a Doberman was like running around and a pit bull, like all the hallmarks of like maybe this isn’t a great neighborhood. I called it kind of the DMZ. It’s like beyond this line we’re not walking at night but above that line, we’re good because that whole neighborhood hadn’t yet started to turn. So, our first investment property was in 2003, and we did the flip really just to kind of put our toe in the water. It was a paid education and that we ended up rehabbing the house. And right before we’re finishing, when the inspector’s going through, we realized that the drainage pipe was broken under the concrete slab.
Justin Donald: Oh, no.
Jay Papasan: So, you know that. So, we ended up jackhammering through all of the floors that we’d already finished having to have the whole thing leveled and having the cast iron drained, replaced. At the end of the day, I think we actually lost money but the IRS told us we owe taxes on $3,000. So, I remember a wise investor told me, he goes, “Jay, it could have been a lot worse.” And that’s what I call like, even if it’s modest, it was a paid education. I remember like five months I would drive out there on my lunch breaks with a lawnmower and I would mow the yard on a lunch break once a week to keep it looking nice while the rehab was going. And we were the sweat equity and our other partner was the money but that was great and we realized, okay, we could do this. And then when our first son was born, Gus, we chose to keep our current house, rent it, and then use cash to buy our next house. So, our first long-term rental was our first home. We still own it to this day, and that $175,000 investment is probably worth close to a million with very little improvement and maybe two weeks of vacancy over that entire 20-year period. So, it’s just been one of those. And Austin’s not a great cash flow town but I think we’re almost done paying off the mortgage, right? So, it’s about to be a good cash flow property but we were focused more on the asset growth and we just set a goal that year of owning ten investment properties and paying them off as fast as we could. And we kind of felt like at the end of that process, we would have somewhere around 75,000 in passive income. And that’s what we called our Go to Hell Fund.
And I had just interviewed someone that was very upset because she had worked for a very bad boss. And she said, “Every day I drove to work and I cried in the parking lot before I’d go and work.” It just broke my heart that she was a single mom and she felt like she was basically a slave like if she lost her job, she couldn’t provide for her kids and she had no other options. And that really impacted me and I just said, “How much?” I say it’s like now me. This is my wife and I. We were very much partners in this and I was like, “How much would we need, really need in passive income to escape?” And at that time, I’m not into cars. I’m wearing – this shirt is vintage 2012, I think. I buy clothes, I wear them until they fall apart. My biggest indulgences are probably food and travel and we just kind of both been thrifty. It’s not like I’m not going to work unless I’m like incapacitated. I mean, hell, maybe I’ll bartend or wait tables and write the great American novel that will never sell. But if we had 75,000 and we didn’t have a lot of debt, we felt like we were free. We could walk away from anybody. And so, those were our initial goals and our discoveries were in Austin with appreciation, we could grow our net worth rather rapidly. We were very good at we would take the cash flow and pay down the mortgages. I’m sure that we would maybe not do all of that the same. So, that’s not advice. That just was our strategy. And we were just trying to have, this is our home base that was just free. That was our free days. I looked it up and I was like, “Man, the cash flow is happening really slow. We have to start buying businesses.” And so, the first business is my wife stopped being a stay-at-home mom. She started a real estate team. Her goal for that first year was 15,000 in income. She was going to be super part-time. She made 85.
Justin Donald: Wow. That’s great.
Jay Papasan: Because it was our second business, right? We were still living on my income as the primary breadwinner at that time. That was just because there is a lot of our marriage where she made more than me. I just flipped it when she went home to stay with the kids because I was a writer, right? Writers don’t normally make money, so we were living on my salary and it had grown because I had become an executive at that point. I think I was soon to be or almost a VP at that point but we just said, “Let’s just always live on my salary, and everything you earn we’ll use to acquire new investments or pay down debt.” And we just kept that balance up. So, that first year, like she didn’t have a big goal because we didn’t need the money. So, she had the freedom to just kind of go to work and have fun and be natural, and she made 85,000. And then she just kept growing that business. And she now sold over 100 million in real estate for at least the last five years. And as a business, right, a multi-city business where she doesn’t do a lot of sales anymore. She’s just a leader. So, that was our first business but over time, we realized, like, as our net worth grew, it took us I think until I’m looking at my dates, 2012, we started it in about 2004. It took us until about 2012 to get to that “millionaire status” on net worth. But we were lagging on the other goals but what we started realizing is we just set a goal of, can we make our net worth grow by about 25% every year? And the bigger the number is, the harder it is to make that leap.
And we started realizing like we have to look at like three or four years and we have to start a business today that could hopefully grow up. And that was kind of our strategy. That was how we started getting into businesses. Can we acquire one? Can we start a new one? Can someone who works with us who’s talented said, “Look, we will share everything we’ve learned. Let’s grow this business together.” And we’ve done that a few times as well. So, that’s our journey. Like we own a ranch, a house, ten rental properties, including a short-term rental in Minnesota. So, it’s not like giant like the McKissocks or David Osborne style retail estate holdings but it’s a big portion of our net worth. It enabled us that as our home base and the security it gave us to venture into launching businesses. And we’ve just been really good and disciplined about like I’ll start a business but I can’t run it. My money can go there but I have a calling and I have a job and it’s right here as an executive and I write books with Gary Keller, and I do what we do as leaders here.
Justin Donald: Well, that’s incredible. And by the way, great to have the mentorship of Gary to now be in a place where you’re giving that same mentorship, you’re providing that opportunity for your business partners, there in turn, I’m going to do that with others down the road. More than likely, it’s probably already happened with some of them. So, just incredible. Now, one of the things that I love that you do, Jay, is you’ve got this tracker and it tracks your passive income year by year. I’d love for you to share any of the stats you’re comfortable sharing.
Jay Papasan: Okay. So, I can just share like what I track as our net worth. And so, what we’ve always established is at the end of the day like one of the things that we’ve learned, Wendy sat by a guy, she was flying back, I can’t remember from Arizona or something and met this really interesting guy and he was talking about his estate plan. Weird like only this happens on an airplane. And he was a real estate investor, which is why they were hitting it off. And they just made the decision to liquidate all of their investments before they died and put them into more traditional holdings because their kids had grown up to be doctors and other things and they just hadn’t gotten that gene. So, we’ve always assumed unless we could hire a manager in perpetuity, which I’m not sure is going to happen, that at some point we might move everything into more traditional vehicles that you can just hire a firm to manage for your kids and grandkids or whatever your estate was. So, I’ve always assumed that about 4% to 5% of whatever our net worth would be, would be our future cash flow. So, we do track it but it goes up and down with the businesses. But the average median net worth growth since we first started tracking in 2003 is then 26.15%.
Justin Donald: Wow. That is just incredible that you have these stats and you can measure it and you can know when you’re on pace, off pace, you have your goals. And what’s interesting is that your goal was that and your results are so closely reflecting that at least on an average basis.
Jay Papasan: Yeah. It was higher earlier. We adjusted it but I still kind of – the books talks about this. Gary teaches this. Ask a bigger question, right, because sometimes you’ll surprise yourself and you’ll find the answer. But if you only ask for questions that you know you know the answer to, like you’re never really stretching. So, I love every year we do a retreat for a couple of days and we just ask. Like, we had a place a few years ago, I’ll be honest, where we’re like we’ve kind of hit our financial goals. Like, we’ve raised them. We raised them again. And I just can’t imagine a world where like I need like a private plane or a tiger on a leash or like any of the stuff that you see some people like, like they just thought, “I need a private island now.” Right? I don’t know where I’m going but I also know like we have more than what we need because we also want to be prepared. But what if a loved one needs help like I have to pay for their college? So, we went way beyond our goals already. And now it’s all about like we had to figure out like what’s our motivation? And it became charity. Like, okay, so if we’ve kind of got our immediate needs and the people we love, we feel like we can really provide and it’s not like I’m going to let my kids not have a job but I’d like to be there, like to help them with the down payment if they’re in graduate school, like they can buy a house instead of renting. I fully plan to give them some advantages in life but I don’t want to take away their work ethic.
So, that said, like I want generational wealth within some limits. I don’t want it to be like the Vanderbilt kids that just their wealth destroyed them. But I want it to be a positive influence and I also want to do a lot for charity. But those questions just like, “Wow. So, we would need to put our money in different vehicles.” Like we’ve started looking at donor advice funds and stuff like that because we have to start planning ahead for how we can be bigger givers. Now, that’s kind of the goal.
Justin Donald: I love it. Well, what a cool new journey you’re embarking upon where you can shift and you can grow. But because you kind of take a different page, a different path, and the focus, what is the big picture? And I just love your story. I love what you’ve been able to accomplish. I do think that the financial wisdom taught is so much more valuable than having money. And I think the good that you can do with money is incredible. Like, there’s so much we can do and I think people that have this ability to create a lot of wealth. I love when they also feel a responsibility to do something that betters the planet, the community, the people around them, and even people they’ve never met before.
Jay Papasan: People are working for money. When they hit the number, they stop.
Justin Donald: Yep.
Jay Papasan: And I find it, I’ve always been motivated by trust. And so, if I know someone’s counting on me to do something like I will really hurt myself. I always won’t stop. That’s just like a deep, inner sense of motivation. But the irony is, is when we turned our focus really like beyond to others, like it actually increased our ambition and increased our motivation. And I really think that I’ve seen that pattern like a lot of people start maybe they came from very little. Like, my wife came from very little and you start with, “Let’s make sure that we take care of those minimums. I want to be secure before I have to be free.” Like they’re limited even in that. But like that place that you can get to where you’re just really focused on the other, I just find it again and again that people will break through walls they won’t for themselves for others. And that’s always like it’s a good reminder that humans are, I believe, fundamentally good. And there’s a lot to be hopeful about despite otherwise dark headlines some days.
Justin Donald: That’s right. Well, Jay, this has been incredible. I just want to thank you for the time that you spent here with our audience. I know there are a ton of people that love your work and even more that are going to learn about it. Where’s the best place for people to learn more about you or The ONE Thing or anything else that you’re doing?
Jay Papasan: Well, I think I shared this with you before we started. I think I’m the only Jay Papasan on the planet. So, if they google me, they’re going to find me. And The1Thing.com with the number 1 is a good home base for all things ONE Thing and you can link from there to our other books. But like giving your audience, I would recommend like if they wanted to get a start like on the philosophy that led to almost everything that we’ve done, those first hundred pages of The Millionaire Real Estate Investor, I go back and read them occasionally because a lot of our fundamental beliefs, like we just started like we track our net worth and we do track our cash flow but we feel like our number one goal is that net worth. We built a few habits around lifestyle that allow us to design our life by design, right? We just got very clear, like what are the handful of things that if we just do them consistently, we can kind of author our life at a much higher level.
Justin Donald: That is incredible. And you’ve done so much, and you don’t have to work. And now it’s you get to work. You choose to work. You choose what you’re passionate about, and you can move full-bore. And so, that’s why I do this podcast is to show people the way, give examples. Your example is exactly that, and I’m excited to kind of round things out here today the way I end every episode is with one question, my one thing that is a question, Jay, and that is this. What’s the one step you can take today towards financial freedom and a life by design, not by default, but a life that’s on your terms, one that you’re excited to be in the front row of? Thanks. And we’ll catch you next week.