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Tate HackertOctober 31, 20236 min read

The Iceberg Principle #1: How to unlock your hidden genius with Polina Pompliano

I’ve been a fan for a while, but the first you time you may have learned about Polina Pompliano might have been through from The Rock (yes, The Rock, AKA Dwayne Johnson, the guy who dominated WWE).

Polina gained a ton of traction writing incisive, well-researched profiles about some of the world’s most successful people, from business magnates to avant-garde artists. You can find hundreds of these gems in The Profile (if you haven’t, be sure to subscribe… like, right now).

Polina had the brilliant idea of compiling what she’s learned from her time writing profiles into a book: Hidden Genius. It’s jam-packed full of everything you need to know about what makes high-performing people tick.

Source: The Profile

Naturally, I wanted Polina to share some of this invaluable information with the ZayZoon team, our friends and family. My hope: that we could learn a thing or two from some of the greatest minds around—including Polina, of course.

Like they say, sharing is caring, so I’m opening up about everything we learned below, no strings attached. And if you like what you see, you should register for our next Iceberg Principle with none other than Cole Bennett, the guy who’s directed the likes of Eminem, Justin Bieber and J. Cole.

You don’t want to miss it 😉

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Insight #1: Curiosity drives success

When we think about success and successful people, we often think about the fruits of their labors—the business that’s transforming the corporate world, the hot record that defined an era, the athlete who overcame adversity to win it all…

What we miss is the curiosity that, in most cases, functioned as a springboard for that future success.

Polina talked a lot about curiosity and how it has ultimately shaped her own career.

For instance, when she came to the U.S. with her family through the Green Card Program, she couldn’t speak a lick of English. Without an innate sense of curiosity, she wouldn’t have learned how to pick up social cues, subtleties in body language, English…

By Polina’s own admission, without curiosity, she wouldn’t have been able to survive.

Curiosity has, at least in Polina’s case, become the foundation to later success. Instead of going the STEM route like her parents, Polina became a journalist. While she did enjoy science, she preferred the research component over the lab. She was more interested in the nuances of people and things than the superficial.

“Nobody is inherently boring. They are only boring because you haven’t asked the right questions yet.”

Polina’s university professor


Before the pandemic, she held a coveted editorial position at Fortune magazine. She dropped it all and launched The Profile… just as we were entering a global pandemic.

Why take such a big risk?


Beyond wanting to see if she could make her own way, Polina was keen on pursuing her passion: asking lots of questions and unraveling other peoples’ stories on her own terms.
Insight #2: YOU define what success looks like
This one’s important.

Too often, we let others define what success should look like for us.

… a summer house in the Hamptons. 
… a Bugatti.
… a medical degree from Johns Hopkins.
… x dollars in savings.

You get the point.

Turns out, this is a bad trip.

Because success is a hugely personal thing. It isn’t about what others want or constantly shifting societal expectations. It’s about you. It’s about your passions.

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat.”

Lily Tomlin


Polina brought up a good example. On Substack, where she publishes her own content, the highest grossing newsletter covers…


Yes, salads.

There is someone out there who is passionate about salads, and it shows—which is why it’s so popular.

The same goes for Polina’s career. She gave up a secure job to go it alone on Substack at a time when she was the only mainstream media reporter to do so.

Making gambles like Polina’s are less difficult when the choice is between someone else’s conception of success and your own.

To say that Polina’s decision was an easy one would be unfair. It took plenty of consideration. Ultimately though, she decided to choose a path that led to professional fulfillment over one that provided security.

“Reversible decisions are like doors that open both ways. Irreversible decisions are doors that allow passage in only one direction; if you walk through, you are stuck there.”

Jeff Bezos


Telling you to follow your passions is cliche, I get it. But that doesn’t make it untrue. The challenge is understanding exactly what you’re passionate about. In many cases, Polina’s included, that answer can be found in the unique experience each of us have of the world around us.

So, figure out what you’re into and pursue it relentlessly and without compromise. Which reminds me of this Bill Gurley clip—How to succeed and thrive in a career you love. 

Insight #3: Let go of your identity and ego

Letting go of your identity is no guarantee that you’ll be a successful person. It is, however, a guarantee that you’ll be at peace with your own life. It’s also a guarantee that you’ll be a much more pleasant person to be around.

Polina talked a lot about successful people who have had to radically reinvent themselves. In her experience, these people have no ego and have largely released themselves of their identity. They do not see themselves as their jobs. As a result, they’re not afraid of failing or starting over again.

Francis Ngannou is one of these people.

If you don’t know, Francis Ngannou is a sand miner turned MMA world champion. I won’t rehash his fascinating story here, but you can read all about it on The Profile. When Polina interviewed him, he had an interesting insight into his massive accomplishment. Namely, that he wasn’t the first or last MMA fighter. In other words, he wasn’t attached to his title.

Letting go of ego means there’s less at stake when you fail. Failure doesn’t actually hurt as bad as it would otherwise. And as we all know, failure is critical to success. It’s how we learn. How we improve.

TLDR: The highlights

Don’t have time to read the blog or watch the vid? No worries. Here are the highlights in less time than it takes to make a PB&J sammy.

  • Subscribe to Polina Pompliano’s newsletter, The Profile.
  • Be curious and pay attention to the things you’re curious about (i.e your passions)
  • Drop other peoples’ definitions of what success looks like; you get to make the call
  • Lose the ego and embrace failure

Follow the steps above and you too can enjoy fabulous success!

And stay tuned for our next edition of Iceberg Principle.

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Tate Hackert

Tate is the brain behind ZayZoon, developing the idea of providing access to funds before payday, in 2013. He feels gratified knowing “we get to improve the financial health of people each and every day.” One of his favourite ZayZoon experiences involves a business trip to Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania where he helped film a Holiday Inn Express testimonial video. Wearing a ZayZoon shirt at the local Walmart, someone saw Tate and exclaimed, “Hey, ZayZoon! I use that!"