Philippe Cousteau, Jr.’s 9 Rules for Success

"Purpose is more important than money. ... People who do have purpose but don’t have a lot of money are very happy."

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Philippe Cousteau Jr. has a name you might recognize. There are two reasons for this: First, he’s the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, the famous filmmaker and ocean explorer. The second is that you have probably seen him on one of a dozen cable, news, or streaming channels tagging sharks, diving into oil spills, sailing around the Caribbean, or otherwise discussing the environmental issues that have come to define his life. Philippe Cousteau is everywhere because he has a passion, a plan, and a penchant for adventure that he combines to bring his message to the world. We spoke to Cousteau over the phone about how he finds time for it all, what it means to bear a famous family name, and why saying ‘yes’ is the surest way to success.

1. Integrity Is Everything

“I believe in living with integrity and what my mother would call ‘the rightness of things.’ Be a good person. It’s as simple as that. In particular, I’m a big believer in this idea of helping people who have less opportunity or less of a voice or less power than you do. The role of a man is to empower those around him. A strong man does that for his family and community and work. This is the essence of what I’ve been taught being a man is all about.”

“You can always say ‘no’ later, but you can never say ‘yes’ later.”

2. Learn From Your Legacy

“I have learned things from my father and my grandfather about working hard and treating people well. I have learned to give people in my professional life opportunity, direction, and allow them to thrive.

My grandfather was an incredible guy — he was visionary. But he made some mistakes. It’s not a secret that he was a bit of a philanderer, and there were a lot of difficulties in dealing with the consequences of some of his choices. My mother always told us to live by your word. And if you’re in a situation where you can’t do that anymore, be honest and upfront about it.

I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Family is important to me and I want to operate with integrity in my personal life. I’ve tried to take the best and learn from the worst.”

3. Listen to Other Opinions

“It’s important to surround yourself with people who don’t agree with you sometimes — and who will tell you that. Don’t weed out the naysayers and just find the ‘yes men.’ Being willing to find good people and listen to them and empower them is really, really important. It’s the only way to be successful.”

4. Say ‘Yes’

“You can always say ‘no’ later, but you can never say ‘yes’ later. In other words, be open to opportunities and be willing to have a conversation. Be open to wacky ideas, flesh them out a little bit, say ‘yes.’ This has lead to things that haven’t worked out, but you really learn from your failures, not your successes. I’m grateful for them — because I’m not going to do them again.”

My grandfather’s genius was knowing that when he did a documentary, it wasn’t about an octopus. It was about a group of French guys going out on an adventure and you wanted to join them.

5. Focus on Solutions

“There are no problems in life — only solutions. I always say to my team, ‘if you’re going to come to me with a problem, please come to me with an idea about to solve it.’ That comes back to the idea of empowering people. We are not bogged down in problems, folks — we are buoyed by solutions and opportunity and let’s think about everything from that lens.”

6. Connect With People

“I think that a big part of what I try to do in my work is to connect with people. My grandfather’s genius was knowing that when he did a documentary, it wasn’t about an octopus. It was about a group of French guys going out on an adventure and you wanted to join them. You just happened to learn about the world through the course of that adventure.”

7. Find Purpose

“Solving problems provides opportunity and purpose to people. Purpose is more important than money. I know a lot of people with a lot of money but don’t have purpose and they’re freaking miserable. People who do have purpose but don’t have a lot of money are very happy.”

8. Practice Communicating

“No matter what you’re interested in doing, take a class in public speaking, and practice. If you want to go far in life and be successful, you better bloody well know how to communicate and sell your ideas to people. It might be one-on-one, it might be in a business setting, but for god’s sake, know how to write and spell stuff and formulate an argument and communicate to people. Look them in the eye, give them a firm handshake, a smile, and have a conversation.”

9. Learn Humility

“I’m a believer in following your passion, but I’m not a believer that we all should have our dream jobs right out of college. It may not be your favorite or best job, but work hard at it — show up and put your hours in. A lot of that stuff really sucks to do, but you learn, and you do what you have to do. It won’t always be fame and fun. But you do need to find that purpose or passion in life, even if it’s something on the side. That’s what gives our lives fulfillment and that’s what makes us happy.”

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