When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Alec Ross: First, I grind the coffee and start the coffee maker. Then I feed the birds. Our garden has red-bellied woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers, chickadees, robins, finches, a whole bunch of different birds, and I try to turn it into a happy place for them. So I go out in the morning and fill up a peanut bird feeder and put some thistle and black sunflower seed in another feeder. Once I finish that, the coffee’s just about made, and it’s time to enter the world of the living.
TG: What gives you energy?
AR: I’d point to two things that give me energy, each one of an entirely different nature. One is exercise itself: a really long run or 90 minutes pounding away on the racketball court. I get energy by expending energy. Another thing that gives me energy is cooking. Nothing makes me happier than going to the farmers’ market, buying things that look great, then spending half of the day cooking it. While racketball and running give me physical energy, cooking for friends and family gives me spiritual energy.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
AR: Eliminating unproductive time. I used to spend time at the very end of the day slouched down on the couch when I was too tired to read, but not thinking that I was ready to sleep. It was an hour and a half during which I came down from a really kinetic day before heading to bed. Now, I try to cut that down to near nothing by reading in bed and falling asleep when I’m ready so I can actually get a full night of sleep. This in turn gets me up earlier, so instead of being awake for 17 and a half hours and having the last 90 minutes be worthless, I’ll be awake for 16 hours, and the time I’m awake is higher energy.
TG: Name a book that changed your life.
AR: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know that might seem unoriginal, but the lessons from that book about ambition, artifice, love, and not-love would serve any young person well.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
AR: I have a wife, three children, and an iPhone. This isn’t something I’m proud of, but I have become way too attached to my phone and technology, in general. It is on the nightstand, but I try not to end or begin the day with screen time. It’s there because I use it as the alarm clock.
TG: How do you deal with email?
AR: I tend to do a batch of email early in the morning before the work day or working out. The emails that I get out that early set the course for the day, as well as provide synthesis of whatever transpired the night before or while I was sleeping. I am then off and on email pretty consistently throughout the day. For emails that I need to send that are more thoughtful (I’m still one of those people that does try to send long, thoughtful emails), I’ll usually find a few minutes to dictate them on my phone. I’ve become a much more verbal person over the years and am able to use small bits of time even when I’m not at my computer to get down thoughts or messages that are at the top of my mind.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
AR: It depends on what time of the day it is. If it’s early in the day and I’m not around a lot of people, I’ll try to use the time on the Headspace meditation app. If I’m at home where I live in a house with a wife, three children, and animals, I try to take 15 minutes of house recovery time and get some cleaning done. There’s always something to be cleaned or a batch of laundry to be switched over. If it’s at work, I call one of my strategist buddies and get 15 minutes of their thinking. Or, I’ll look at the next three to four months in my calendar and evaluate if I’m lining up my time in the right way for the long-term objectives I have set, both personally and professionally.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
AR: Now that I’m running for governor, there are times at the end of the day or the end of the week where I feel pretty fried. Many days I spend hours on the phone asking people for their support and listening to their concerns, then head out for afternoon and evening political events. That can be invigorating, but sometimes it burns me out if it ends with a feeling of skepticism. Usually when I get burned out, it isn’t from one little thing that happens, it’s from four or five days of grinding it out. I haven’t gotten burned out in a long time in a way that sidelines me for a couple of days, usually, 24 hours of resetting will do the trick.
TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
AR: I had plenty of access to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and while I wasn’t campaign staff, I certainly had access to people whose opinions helped drive that run for president. To the extent that I failed, it was by not recognizing some of the dynamics in America and then communicating them to the campaign in a constructive, action-oriented way. I’m pretty disgusted by the fact that Donald Trump is our president, and I think that we all hold some measure of responsibility for that—some people just a tiny bit, and others hold a lot of responsibility. I hold more than some, and less than others, but I do feel like I wasn’t picking up what the American people were putting down during much of the presidential election. The way I’m trying to make up for it is with a really vigorous run for governor of Maryland that acknowledges why people have become so disaffected by our politics and governance and trying to do something about it.
TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
AR: “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Alec Ross is a candidate for Governor of Maryland and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Industries of the Future.