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Book Summary: The Lemonade Life – How to Fuel Success, Create Happiness, and Conquer Anything

The Lemonade Life (2019) is a hands-on guide to living life by design. It argues that most people settle for drudgery in their work, and make excuses for why things aren’t going to plan. But, in the end, the only person who can turn things around is you. If you’re willing to be authentic and bold in pursuit of your goals, you can live a life of fulfillment and adventure. The Lemonade Life demonstrates how to take practical steps to turn your dreams into reality.


Motivation, Inspiration, Career Success, Self-Help, Personal Finance

Introduction: Learn how to think innovatively and create the life of your dreams

During their first week at Wharton Business School, Zack Friedman and his classmates were instructed to split a lemon into two parts – any way they wanted to.

They all came up with different solutions. One team split it equally down the middle. Another team peeled the lemon; one person kept the skin, and the other got the flesh. Yet another team dissected the lemon, so one partner received the seeds to grow a new tree and the other kept the fruit.

These were all viable methods. But the fourth team came up with a solution that was truly imaginative. They squeezed the juice of the lemon into a water bottle and added a sachet of sugar that one team member had found in her pocket. They shook all the ingredients together, and voilà – they’d created lemonade.

This enterprising solution epitomizes the thinking that creates a Lemonade Life. The team members weren’t limited by the assignment. They weren’t scared to think creatively or to add more ingredients. And they made something refreshing and delicious, with a value that exceeded the sum of its parts.

Over the next few chapters, you’ll learn five key strategies which will ensure that you, too, are living a Lemonade Life: a life filled with possibility, opportunity for growth, and fulfillment.

In this summary, you’ll also discover

  • why Jim Carrey wrote himself a check for $10 million;
  • how taking things personally can help you grow; and
  • why failure is the key to success.

Changing your mindset is the first step to success.

Imagine you have a switchboard inside of you that consists of five light switches. These switches can be turned on and off. But some of us don’t even know they’re there – never mind how to turn them on! In this summary, you’re going to learn all about these five switches: perspective, risk, independence, self-awareness, and motion. Together, they spell PRISM. But more important than knowing what they are is knowing how to turn them on – and how to apply their wisdom in your life.

So, let’s begin with the very first one: changing your perspective. This is also one of the most important switches you can make. Without a good outlook on the world, you can do all the self-help exercises you want – but you’ll still be stuck. In order to change your perspective, you first need to identify the beliefs that are limiting you right now.

There are three key types of mindsets that will keep you stuck in the Lemon Life – a life of limitation and frustration. Friedman calls them the Eternal Excusers, Steady Settlers, and Change Chasers. In the descriptions that follow, see if you identify with any of them.

Let’s start with the Eternal Excuser. As the name suggests, the excuser constantly blames their life circumstances on external factors. If he’s not successful as an investor, he’ll moan about the fact that the stock market is bad. If his children are misbehaving, he’ll blame their teacher for not stimulating them enough. And if he doesn’t get a job he wants, he’ll argue that it’s because he never went to a prestigious school. You get the picture. For the Eternal Excuser, there’s always a reason he can’t succeed. And that reason never has anything to do with him. Funnily enough, the excuser is also one of the sharpest critics. He loves nothing more than weighing in from the sideline, telling everybody else how to play. But he totally misses the fact that he’s not in the game at all.

The second kind of Lemon Lifer you’ll meet is called the Steady Settler. A Steady Settler may appear to be very successful from the outside. She’s probably stayed in the same job for years, working her way up the corporate ladder. Her Instagram posts gleam with pictures of her family at their holiday house in the Hamptons or skiing in Aspen. The problem with this picture of contentment? It’s not real. Inside, Steady Settlers are desperately unhappy. They hate their jobs but feel trapped and unable to move. That’s because they hate change. And they’re so invested in the happy image they project to the outside world that they’re scared to disrupt it by going for what they really want. So the Steady Settler stays stuck in the illusion of success.

The third character you’ll meet is called the Change Chaser. This type appears to be very different from the other two. Change chasers seem to be dynamic and innovative because they’re constantly going after new opportunities. But, in fact, they’re just as compliant as Steady Settlers. They keep chasing the Next Big Thing, following the herd instead of doing thorough independent research. They’re motivated by the fear of missing out and often make rash and impulsive decisions. They call themselves entrepreneurs and like to pretend they’re independent, but their hurried investments often land them in hot water and cause them to borrow more. They have no staying power because they don’t have time to build on their success – they’re already going after the next thing.

These three characters are all very different, but they have one thing in common: their perspectives keep them stuck in a Lemon Life. Their future looks the same as their past because they keep repeating the same old mistakes.

The good news is that these mindsets aren’t fixed. Human beings are dynamic. Once you have the knowledge and motivation, you can choose to make a change. You can flip the switch and adopt a new perspective – one that equips you to lead a Lemonade Life.

So, what exactly is this new perspective?

The best mindset for living a Lemonade Life is called the Daring Disruptor. Like the team who turned the lemon into lemonade, Daring Disruptors think unconventionally. They’re bold and aren’t afraid to go with their intuition. They make decisions based on calculated risk. They’re also extremely curious and never assume they have all the answers. Instead, they’re passionate about learning.

That all sounds nice, you may be thinking, but How on earth do I apply that perspective in my own life?

If you’ve been an Eternal Excuser for the last 30 years, it may seem impossible to make the switch to thinking like a Daring Disruptor. But you can. And the first step is to do some honest accounting.

Think about what you’ve gotten out of being an Eternal Excuser. After all, there must be a payoff – otherwise you wouldn’t have embraced that way of thinking. Perhaps it provided you with a sense of security because you didn’t need to take risks. Maybe it allowed you to avoid feeling vulnerable because you never had to examine your own shortcomings. Then think about how much this perspective has cost you in your life. Making excuses is comfortable, but it also takes away your power.

Once you’ve done your accounting, make a commitment to dropping that mindset and opening yourself up to something new. You won’t learn to be a Daring Disruptor in a day. But you can begin right now! The best time to start practicing your perspective switch is the first thing in the morning. There’s no one way to get a Daring Disruptor mindset. After all, the whole point is to be nonconformist and follow your own path. But by checking in with yourself every morning, you can set the stage for your day. Because the truth is, you have 365 chances every year to begin again, start applying fresh tools, and learn new ways of thinking.

So, when you wake up tomorrow, ask yourself a question that Steve Jobs always asked himself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I be happy doing what I’m doing?” If the answer is no, you need to start making a change – immediately.

But how do I do that, you might be wondering. Well, there’s no change that comes without risk. Luckily, the next switch you’re going to learn how to flip is about risks!

No growth can happen without risk.

Living the Lemonade Life inevitably involves risk. That’s because you can’t achieve anything if you’re not willing to shake things up and try something new.

But taking risks comes with uncertainty. It may make you feel vulnerable and unsure. And that can stir up a lot of fear, especially if you’ve gotten comfortably uncomfortable in the life of an Eternal Excuser or Steady Settler.

That’s why lots of people just tell themselves that they can’t achieve their dreams – without even trying. They’re scared of failure and rejection. Unfortunately, many of us were raised in homes where risk was seen as being bad – where we were told we couldn’t make it, that our dreams were too grandiose, and that we should settle for the safe thing. And we internalized those voices until we started believing them.

Take a pencil, and draw a small box with a thick border on a piece of paper. Then fill the box with your hopes and dreams for your career, family, and spiritual life.

It’s cramped in there, isn’t it? That box represents the real limits you place on your own ambitions when you become fearful of risk. Now erase the borders of the box, and allow your list to stream over the page. Your goal, as you flip the switch of risk, is to remove that box in your head – to allow yourself to dream again and dare to take action.

There are three key tools you should practice to help you flip this switch.

First up? Check your wolfpack. What this means, essentially, is you should examine the people in your life. Who do you spend most of your waking hours with? And how do they influence you as you go about your day? Do they support you and fill you with energy and motivation? Or are they constantly critical and more interested in tearing you down? Who you surround yourself with matters. There’s no space in your life for people who don’t want to build you up. Don’t be afraid to kick people out of your wolfpack. Instead of accepting the status quo, curate your own dream team of five people who challenge, support, and inspire you, and make sure to spend as much time with them as possible.

The second tool is simple but powerful: write yourself a millionaire’s check. When Jim Carrey first moved to Hollywood, he had a rough time. He went from audition to audition and was constantly rejected for roles. But every night, Carrey gave himself a pep talk. He would make it, he told himself – it just hadn’t happened yet. As a show of commitment, Carrey even wrote himself a $10 million check “for acting services rendered.” He promised himself that he would cash it in by the end of 1995. Carrey could have doubled that amount. In 1995, he received a $20 million advance for Cable Guy and had countless other hit films to his name. In writing that check, Carrey drew on the power of visualization and demonstrated that he’d literally back himself. Your own goal might not have a dollar value. But you should still write yourself a check – or make yourself a promise – for what you know you can achieve.

The third tool is to learn from the great inventors and embrace failure. Most of us will go out of our way to avoid failing. We find it humiliating and try to cover it up. But becoming comfortable with failure is actually the surest path to success. That’s something that inventors know well. You can’t invent a new technology without hundreds or even thousands of failed attempts. Take Jim Dyson, the billionaire inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaners that are so popular today. Dyson made 5,126 prototypes over the course of 15 years before he developed the right one. That’s over 5,000 failures! But Dyson wasn’t deterred. He had a vision, and he knew that every failure was bringing him closer to success.

Getting comfortable with risk will set you up for your Lemonade Life. But there’s another switch that is equally important: cultivating independence. That’s what we’re going to explore next.

Be the black sheep of the family if it makes you happy.

What would you say if someone asked you what your dream job is? Would you reply with the salary you want to earn? Or a job title?

Of course, compensation is important. But if that’s what you’re focused on, you’ll be stuck in a Lemon Life. The truth is, what makes a job ideal for one person can make it totally unsuitable to someone else. What matters is not so much the job description but how the job fits you. Does it give you an opportunity to use your unique talents? Are you good at it? And, most importantly, does it bring you fulfillment?

The responses to those questions are specific and can only be answered by you. So in order to find your dream job, you’re going to have to flip the switch of independence. This will allow you to think for yourself and actively assess what’s right for you – not what anyone else thinks is right for you.

So, how do you start thinking independently and determine what a dream job is for you?

Start by writing a so-called work fulfillment checklist. Fill it with the qualities of a work environment that you know will satisfy you. Perhaps you need a creative culture, opportunities for advancement, a flexible schedule, or warm and lively colleagues. Or maybe you’d like to work alone as much as possible and be constantly challenged with new intellectual puzzles. Be as specific as possible. The first step to getting what you want is to articulate it clearly.

When you’ve finished your work fulfillment checklist, you’re ready to move on to the next one: the work toxicity checklist. This is a list of things that you can’t stand in a work environment. It could feature things like repetitive tasks, an unreasonable boss, boring colleagues, or no room for growth. These items are your personal dealbreakers – the factors that will make work unbearable, no matter how high the salary or prestigious the title. Again, this is a deeply personal list. One person’s deal-breaker is another person’s comfort zone.

It can be very hard to turn down a high salary or ignore everybody else’s opinions about what you should be doing. But just think: you might spend 70,000 hours at work over the course of your life. What kind of environment would you like that place to be? What kind of mood do you want to be in when you come back from work and face your children?

Next, we’re going to explore a key switch that will help you improve your independent thinking even more. And that is self-awareness.

Self awareness is the ability to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.

Have you ever told a lie at work? If you say no, you’re definitely lying.

We lie all the time. We tell people that things are going well when we’re actually struggling. We say we have no questions when, in fact, we don’t understand anything about the project. We claim we love our team when they irritate us to no end.

Why? The workplace is an environment where people aren’t taught to be authentic and honest. Instead, they’re taught to tell the boss what he wants to hear. The payoff for lying is job security. But it also poisons your workplace and limits growth.

Imagine, for a minute, that you could say what you’re really thinking. Like, I’m having a tough time with this project, and I need some help. Or, I’m to blame for that mistake, and I’m going to make it right. Far from being disrespectful or weak, those statements reflect power and insight. And, most importantly, they showcase your ability to see your strengths and weaknesses clearly.

Self-awareness is one of the most important tools you can cultivate. And it’s the next switch that you’re going to learn to flip. By seeing yourself and your challenges more clearly, you’ll be much better equipped to solve them.

The first strategy to strengthen your self-awareness is to take everything personally. Yes, you heard that right. It’s the opposite of what you’re normally told to do. Taking everything personally doesn’t mean becoming hypersensitive to criticism. But it does mean that you’re willing to listen to negative feedback and become accountable instead of blaming someone else.

Take the example of Patrick Doyle, the former CEO of Domino’s. Doyle was appointed to turn around the flailing pizza brand. But it was a tough task. To put it bluntly, Domino’s pizza sucked, and their client base wasn’t afraid to tell them. Customers had posted hundreds of terrible reviews, saying that the crusts tasted “like cardboard” and that Domino’s was the “worst excuse for a pizza” they’d ever had.

Most CEOs would be desperate to cover up such terrible publicity. But Doyle was different. Instead, he featured the scathing reviews in a nationwide advertising campaign. In doing so, he signaled that he had heard the criticism and was determined to do better. And, of course, the unconventional campaign created a storm of good publicity. By taking on the feedback of his unhappiest customers, Doyle turned Domino’s around.

So, how can you apply the Domino’s model to your own life? A great way is to create your own SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Divide a page into four squares, and label each square with one of these categories. Under strengths, write down three key ways you shine and excel in life. For weaknesses, list three areas where you struggle or fall short. Under opportunities, list three areas of your life where you can get ahead easily. And under threats, list three challenges or roadblocks that might impede your progress. After you’ve written your own answers, interview some of the people who know you best and ask them how they’d answer these questions for you. It’s important to have external feedback for this exercise.

Once you’ve completed your SWOT analysis, use it as a unique roadmap for your life. If you’re presented with an opportunity, consider if it matches your strengths – and which strengths you can use to overcome some of the threats you’ll encounter. Instead of obsessing about your weaknesses, just think of them as areas you don’t need to waste any more time on. No one is good at everything. By playing to your strengths and skipping over your weaknesses, you can achieve much more than if you were trying to do everything perfectly.

This powerful exercise should be repeated often – at least every three months. Take note of how the roadmap changes. And above all, stay open to feedback. Being open is a sign of strength; it’s what will help you flip the switch to self-awareness.

So far, you’ve learned some important tools for gaining a new perspective, taking calculated risks, thinking independently, and cultivating self-awareness. But there’s a fifth and final switch you need to activate to build your Lemonade Life – and that’s motion.

Talk is cheap but action is worth everything.

Common wisdom argues that we should always have a plan B in case plan A doesn’t work out. That sounds sensible, doesn’t it? But here’s a secret: in order to live your Lemonade Life, you need to give up on the idea of a plan B.

Too often, your backup plan becomes a cop-out. It means that you don’t actually fully commit to your dreams because you’re too busy looking for the exit. In order to be a Daring Disruptor, you need to commit yourself 100 percent to your goals and do everything you can to reach them, even if the path is bumpy.

So forget plan B. All you need to worry about is actively working to achieve your goals. And that’s the fifth switch you need to flip: always stay in motion.

So, how can you work to achieve your goals? The first step is to articulate them. Think about five things you want to achieve. Don’t let yourself be limited by your fears or what other people might think.

Then read your goals aloud. Instead of saying, “I want to,” start each goal by saying, “I will.” Think about why you want to achieve that goal. Finding the underlying purpose will become an important motivator.

Once you’ve distinguished your purpose, do a visualization exercise. Imagine you’ve already achieved your goal, and work backward to where you are today. Say the goal is landing your dream job. Ask yourself: What did it take me to get there? How long did it take? Who did I ask for help? Visualizing the journey in reverse can give you an important sense of clarity about all the smaller steps you’ll need to take in between.

If you’re feeling daunted, think about a time that you achieved a goal, like learning a new language or getting in shape. How did you do it? What motivated you to stay on course, and what strengths did you draw on? Allow yourself to remember the satisfaction you felt when you did finally achieve your dreams.

Next, make an action plan for achieving your goal. Include all the specific steps you’ll need to take – the more concrete and tangible the goals, the easier it will be to succeed. Now, take the first step. And then the next one. Look, you’re on your way! You’ve flipped the switch from talking about your dreams to being in motion and doing whatever it takes to achieve them.

Remember, success won’t be instant; sometimes it can take years. You may encounter detours and twists in the road. Your motivation may flag. There’ll be times you’re exhausted. But it doesn’t matter how long it takes. All that matters is you’re on your way.

You’ve flipped the switches that lead to a Lemonade Life: A life of constant learning and discovery. A life of honesty and authenticity. And a life without a plan B.

Final Summary

So, we’ve come to the end of this summary to Lemonade Life. There were a lot of good nuggets of wisdom in there, but here’s the biggest takeaway:

By learning to turn on the switches of PRISM – that’s perspective, risk, independence, self-awareness, and motion – you’ll transform your life. You can turn on the first switch tomorrow morning by asking yourself, If today were the last day of my life, would I be happy doing what I’m doing?

About the author

Zack Friedman is the founder and chief executive officer of Make Lemonade, a leading personal finance company that empowers you to live a better financial life. He is an in-demand speaker and has inspired millions through his powerful insights, including more than 125 million who have read his advice in Forbes. Previously, he was chief financial officer of an international energy company, a hedge fund investor, and worked at Blackstone, Morgan Stanley, and the White House. Zack holds degrees from Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins. He lives in New York with his wife and children.

Zack Friedman

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION: Lunch with Warren Buffett

Chapter 1: Five Switches to Change Your Life

Chapter 2: Meet the Lemon Lifers
Chapter 3: When Life Gives You Lemons

Chapter 4: Escape the Chasm of Can’t
Chapter 5: Embrace the Rewards of Risk

Chapter 6: Your Career Depends on the Greek Alphabet
Chapter 7: How to Make $110,237 in Less Than One Hour

Chapter 8: Take It Personally
Chapter 9: Always Take No for an Answer

Chapter 10: Never Have a Backup Plan
Chapter 11: Ignore the Shortest Distance

CONCLUSION: Lead the Lemonade Life

Discussion Questions
About the Author
About Make Lemonade


The secret to an extraordinary life starts with five simple changes that anyone can make.

In this groundbreaking book, Zack Friedman starts with a fundamental question: What drives success? It’s not only hard work, talent, and skill. The most successful people have one thing in common, the power to flip five internal “switches.” We all have these five switches, and when activated, they are the secret to fuel success, create happiness, and conquer anything.

The Lemonade Life is filled with inspirational and practical advice that will teach you:

  • Why you should write yourself a $10 million check
  • Why your career depends on the Greek alphabet
  • Why you need ikigai in your life
  • How Judge Judy can help you have better work meetings
  • How these twenty questions will change your life

Learn from the entrepreneur who failed 5,126 times before becoming a billionaire, the fourteenth-century German monk who helped reinvent Domino’s Pizza, the technology visionary who asked himself the same question every morning, the country music icon who bought more than one hundred million books, and the ice cream truck driver who made $110,237 in less than one hour.

With powerful stories and actionable lessons, this book will profoundly change the way you live, lead, and work. Your path to greatness starts with a simple choice. Everyday, you’re choosing to live one of two lives: the Lemon Life or the Lemonade Life. Which life will you lead?

Video and Podcast


“One of ‘Fall’s Biggest Audiobooks’ and a ‘Must Listen'” – Apple

“Friedman provides a wealth of actionable advice.” – Publishers Weekly

“Practical, heartfelt, simple wisdom for people at any stage of their career (or life).” – Seth Godin, New York Times bestselling author of This Is Marketing

“Zack Friedman is an inspirational leader for the next generation. In The Lemonade Life, Zack shows you clearly how to change your perspectives, behaviors and actions to lead your life with greater purpose. If you want to experience powerful transformation, read this book.” – Marshall Goldsmith, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Triggers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Research is clear that mindset and believing your behavior matters have a huge impact upon your long-term success. Through stories and ideas, The Lemonade Life continually teaches your brain that change is possible if you remain positive and experiment with life.” – Shawn Achor, New York Times bestselling author of Big Potential and The Happiness Advantage

“Change starts with a change in perspective. Easy said, but not easily done. Zack Friedman shows us how to make lasting change in The Lemonade Life, a book rich in encouragement and practical advice. The Lemonade Life is a game changer.” – Beth Comstock, author, Imagine It Forward and former Vice Chair of GE

“Zack Friedman has the mind of Tim Ferriss, the passion of Gary Vaynerchuk, and the heart of Tony Robbins. The Lemonade Life is the must-read book of the year for entrepreneurs and leaders. It will change the way you see the world.” – Brian Roberts, CFO of Lyft

“Zack Friedman’s new book, The Lemonade Life, is an immensely readable blueprint for finding that elusive pathway that leads to success and happiness. Unlike so many other books, Zack gives us specific things to start to do tomorrow and the next day to get on the road to the Lemonade Life.” – David S. Pottruck, former CEO of Charles Schwab and New York Times bestselling author of Stacking The Deck

“The message of The Lemonade Life resonates loudly with me: ‘everyone has a shot at greatness.’ Other books speak at you; Zack Friedman’s book speaks to you. The Lemonade Life is thought-provoking, engaging, and a compelling reading for anyone who seeks positive change.” – David Novak, co-founder and former Chairman & CEO, Yum! Brands (KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell) and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Taking People With You

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Your life today is the result of choices. Some choices you made, while others were made for you. But what about your life tomorrow? In The Lemonade Life, author Zack Friedman shares five simple changes anyone can make to experience more happiness, more greatness, and more fulfillment in life. Every day, you’re choosing to live one of two lives: the Lemon Life or the Lemonade Life. Which one will you pick?

Lemon Lifers
There are three types of “Lemon Lifers,” but they all share a distinctly negative outlook. Eternal Excusers complain constantly, Steady Settlers prefer to play it safe rather than take risks, and Change Chasers blindly follow fleeting trends.

The Lemonade Life
Unlike the Lemon Lifers, there’s only one type of person living the Lemonade Life: Daring Disruptors. Start your day like a Daring Disruptor by adopting one of these five effective morning routines.

3 Questions
Trying to decide if you should stay in your current role, find a new one, or start your own company? Ask yourself these three questions first.

10 Powerful Statements
There are ten primary lies people tell at work, and they’re all driven by fear. Rather than letting these lies drive your professional life, make these ten powerful statements instead.