We plan our days. We set alarms to wake us, then hit the snooze. We show up to the job, then punch the clock. We make lists, then cross things off. We plan the work, then work the plan. We block out times on the calendar, then make the appointments. We look at the time, then punch out at the job. We pick up the kids, then get them to practice. We make the dinner, then get to the homework. We set the alarm, then turn out the light.
Even our vacations are driven by plans and itineraries. We get to the airport at one time so we can make the plane by another. We go to the city to see the sights or visit the person or do the thing.
But are any of these things the things we remember? Are these the things that stick with us or, ultimately, have meaning?
Or, is it the surprises? Is it the things that are not a part of the plan?
The day when the alarm did not go off and you did not wake on time. Or the meeting was cancelled and you now have an unexpected hour fully in your control. The day the kid got a broken arm at practice. Or the night you stayed up way past when you should have, talking and laughing with your partner. A night so fun you forget to set your alarm…
And what stands out from that last vacation? Was it making the plane on time or the one you missed? Was it making good drive time to the destination or getting lost? Is it that visit to the monument or that dance that seemingly broke out of nowhere in the middle of the square? Or that amazing meal you had in the cafe the local told you about that is not listed in some book?
My point being that the things that stay with us most are the things that are not part of the plan. Therefore, perhaps, we should leave as much room as possible for surprise. Plan the work, but leave space for the unplanned.

You’ve got this…

This day, this hour, this minute, this moment. This is what you’ve got.
The tools, the ability, the skill, the time, the opportunity. Everything you face right now, this moment, you face with these. You may take away from this place more than you came with, but what you brought to it is all you have.
There is nothing you can do to change this fact. Everything that can be done right here, right now, can only be done right here, right now. You might be able to do more later and there are things you might have been able to do before. But neither of these desires matter now, in this moment, and only keep one from facing the truth.
So, here it is. The time is now. Give it your all.
You’ve got this.

Question Your Certainties…

Reflect on your deepest held beliefs and convictions .
Anything that you know for sure, deep down inside, should be able to withstand such questioning.
Challenge them. Open them up to debate. Invite their contention.
Because, it is the only way to maintain your continued certainty.
Because, such reflection will allow further introspection on the values you hold dear.
Because , these are the things we should meditating and dwelling on.
Because, it is the only way to make sure they are not wrong.
Because, it is the only way to discover if they are.
Because, it may be the only opportunity you have to change them if the above is so.
But, should they survive the melee — if they are, in fact, certainties worth your conviction…
Just as steel is hardened by tension and force, so too are the values and ideas we believe most true.

Habit Forming

Yesterday, I went on my first run after ten weeks of not doing so. Yep. Ten whole weeks.

About, eleven weeks ago, I went on my last long run of training for the Minneapolis Half Marathon. I set out for a two hour run and went 12.5 miles. It was a bit of a slog after I hit a wall at about mile nine. But, that was the same place I hit a wall in my first half-marathon so that was OK. I now know where that wall is. After I made it back home I was a bit sore but still felt like I had a bit more “left in the tank” and felt good about my overall time and pacing.

Then, after a few days of recovery my shins were still pretty sore. I began to get worried so I decided to go for a very short run to work out the kinks and see how I felt. Well, every step felt like my shins were on fire. I barely ran a mile like this and, at the point of tears from the pain, I walked home. I spent the next two days massaging with a couple of rollers, icing, modifying my nutrition, and just about every other tip I could find to see if I could fix it. The day before the marathon, I decided to try that same short run to see if I could make it. Same problem. I was certain it was shin splints. This is a common injury for those who have tried to increase their running distance too fast (as I had done). And, though I had paid the registration fee and picked up my race packet, I decided right then to bow out of the race. It was for the best.

I knew it would take a few weeks of babying my shins to heal. Resting, icing, massaging, stretching, etc. All of which I did. It was going to be a pain in the ass because I really had worked hard to form a routine — a habit — of running. I knew a couple of weeks off meant that I would spend every two to three days with the urge to go for a run. I also knew that, once I got back out there, I would need to take my time and be careful not to make the same mistake twice. All I would have to do is to fight that urge until I was well rested and healed. Then just give into it when the time came. It would still be there if I healed up soon enough. Which was the plan.

But then, two to three weeks became three to four. I always put it off to tomorrow. Then each tomorrow became just another tomorrow. And, each time I said tomorrow it became easier to say it again when tomorrow came. And, soon enough, I had formed a new habit…

A not-running habit. A tomorrow habit.

I had spent a good month or so when I started running coaxing myself to put on the shoes and get out the door. But, each time it required less and less coaxing. Until, eventually, I did it naturally because I had formed a running habit. Not running was not an option becuase I got a nagging feeling every time the time came to run.

Well, what I discovered is that one can form habits in the opposite direction as well. And, they work just like forming any other habit. The more you say no the easier it becomes to say it again.

This is true in other areas of our life too. That task on your list you keep putting off will become easier and easier to put off until, eventually, you form a “putting that particular task off” habit. That dream you keep talking about pursuing but never do, eventually becomes a “talking about it but never chasing the dream” habit. You get the idea.

The only way to break any habit is to eat that frog and replace it with a new one.

So, yesterday, I decided I needed to replace and rebuild my running habit. I refused to let it be just another tomorrow again. After so much time off, I would need to form the habit all over again. And the only way to start was to strap on my shoes, get out the door, and go.

The Yo-Yo Expert

I once had a friend who loved to yo-yo. He was a computer security specialist by trade. But, when he had some down time or wanted something fun to do or just needed to get out of his own head for a while, he’d whip out his yo-yo.
Working through a problem? Yo-yo. Bored? Yo-yo. Frustrated? Angry? Yo-yo. No date on Saturday? Yo-yo.
This had been his “thing” since he was a teen. And, over time, he started to pick up ious tricks. He, in fact, became quite good. He’d show up at parties and people would ask him to yo-yo. Mesmerizing the crowd for an hour. He then decided to enter a competition or two. He won these handily. Other lesser skilled yo-yo enthusiasts happily paid him for learning tricks and tips.
Pretty soon, he built a business around this. He’d hire himself out for parties, sell instructional videos, win cash prizes at competitions. Not too long after, Duncan offered him a paid sponsorship. They gave him more money than you can imagine for playing with a kids toy and flew him around the world doing something he loved.
Now, he did not set out to become a professional yo-yo expert. All he was doing was passing the time in the era before Facebook and social networks and all of the other things so many of us “pass time” with existed. Yet, the passion for the skill and fun of the play he had was so deep that at a certain point he couldn’t not build a business around it and find some way to do it full time.
Now, I’ve lost touch with him and he is not coming up on my searches. I don’t know what he is doing today. Maybe he is still doing yo-yo professionally or maybe not. But…
Oh, I forgot to mention, do you know how it was he became a computer security specialist? He loved to hack into people’s systems in the early days. Big companies, small ones, banks, etc. You know, just for fun. He was a kid. He didn’t do anything to them. He did it just to see if he could. He’d leave a backdoor sometimes, maybe. Not always. He was easily bored once he got in and generally just moved on to the next.
But then, once day he got caught. Some savvy IT guy at one of these companies tracked him down and asked him how he got in. He told him that they would have to pay to find out and that he would be happy to fix it for them. At that moment, he realized that he could build a business around that for every single place he hacked. That he could offer to hack people and fix their problems and not risk getting arrested for it. At a certain point, for both his level of skill and own personal safety, he couldn’t not build a business around it and find some way to do it full time.
My point being that, basically, freelancing ultimately boils down to this:

  1. Discover who you are and what you love to do.
  2. Build a business around that.
  3. Repeat.

Anyways, where was I? Oh, yes. I don’t have any idea what that guy is doing right now. But, my guess is it has something to do with these three steps.

What do you *really* cost?

As |bteyt|referrer|nidbk
I stated in What do you cost?, many of those in salaried positions do not take the time to sit down and figure out what their rate per hour is. But, what I did not mention is that a salary is only part of an employee’s cost to a business. In fact, from an employers perspective, full-time employees may, in fact, be a liability. Let me explain.

Salary alone is only part of what many employers call your total compensation package. This includes things like retirement matching, paid vacation time, company stock, and healthcare apportionment. Added all up, your salary may only be 50% (or less, or more) of what that employer feels they are actually paying you. But we are not done yet.

You see, there are human resources costs associated with employing you. You, being a human, use up commodities like they are going out of style — like paper, pens, toilet tissue, etc. You use up utilities like water and electricity. Plus, you are often times inefficient and unproductive. They can’t even get rid of you without cost. They might have to pay unemployment insurance, severance, perhaps still contribute to a pension, etc.

The fact is, to many companies, employees are simply automation — costly automation at that. You hire people to either do the tasks that you can’t do alone or the tasks you don’t want to do yourself. Therefore, more often than not, employers are always looking to streamline the cost, management, and efficiency of such automation. No wonder they would love to replace you with a robot (and often treat you as one). No wonder, as well, that as their profits and stocks continue to rise, they are in no rush to hire people back.

Now, I am generalizing here but I am also using some hard truths that can’t be denied. My goal here is to try to provide you with some understanding of how you might be perceived from an employer’s standpoint. Especially in a large corporation where the person making the choice of laying off a few thousand people next week likely only sees you as a number on the spreadsheet. It will do you well to understand what that number is and why it is likely far larger than you think.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

What do you cost?

Once |etkty|referrer|kaiba
we enter the working world, we all put a price on our time. The American Dream, we quickly learn, is largely predicated on steadily increasing that price until we reach a point where we are “comfortable”. Of course, everyone has their own opinion of exactly what comfortable means. For some it simply means not having to worry about having enough. For others, it means having so much more than enough that they never have to be in a situation where they have to put a price on their time again.

Many of us start out as teenagers doing odd jobs for cash. We mow lawns. We babysit. We shovel sidewalks. We may be too young for a “real” job yet we are old enough to learn the lesson that time and labor is worth cash. Then, we get out first job. Many of us for minimum wage, which in the US is currently $7.25 an hour. As we work more and move up, this price per hour steadily increases. Our first raise, even a fifty-cent one, gives us a tangible idea how much impact such an increase can have when compounded. And, if asked to work overtime, many jobs offer to give you even more — 1 1/2 times our regular rate perhaps. All the same, we have a very direct idea of what every hour of our time is worth. The math is easy.

But then, as we enter the world of salaried work, something strange happens. That cost becomes obscure. Because until then your brain has been conditioned to think of your cost reduced to an hourly rate, when someone offers you a job for, say, $35,000 per year, it sounds surreal. The number is almost too big to comprehend. Especially, if all you’ve been thinking about until then is that $10.50 or $11.25 or $12.70 or… is the most you’ve ever costed. Now you cost as much as a low end BMW. You must be valuable. Why stop to do the math?

And, that is where they have you. You never stop to figure out that your time is worth, at that salary, $16.80 cents at a normal 40 hour work week. But, when you have a salary these days, many work more hours than 40. In fact, more is becoming increasingly common. We never stop to do the math that more hours means, in fact, we are costing less per hour worked to the employer.

But, you keep moving up and they (the collective “they” of employers everywhere) keep throwing bigger numbers at you. They sound so big and nice…

$50,000 ($24.00 per hour at 40 hours)
$70,000 ($33.00 per hour at 40 hours)
$100,000 ($48.00 per hour at 40 hours)

And, quite honestly, if you are making $100,000 per year in this country right now you probably have it pretty good. You don’t have to do the math. And I would argue that’s exactly what the people paying you are hoping for. They are hoping to entice you by the big number and promise of comfort, in return for your forgetting the fact they have you working 60 hour work weeks for $32.00 an hour.

I lay all of this out here as an idea for us all to start doing the math. To start figuring out exactly how much we cost. Because, I believe, once we do so it will give us a much clearer picture of what “being comfortable” really means and what it will take to get there.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

Be Quiet

There |tkkay|referrer|diidd
is safety in silence. There is no risk in being quiet and doing nothing. Ignoring problems may not make them go away but, at least, you are less likely to take the blame.

In fact, if they try, you can say you didn’t know about the problem and blame someone else instead. You were silent so how could they know the truth. Responsibility means action and that takes risk and, well, you don’t want that.

And, if you are called upon, just be quiet and stay still. Wait for someone else to raise their hand. It is far less likely you’ll be asked to do anything. Someone else will do all the work.

Oh, also, wait. Wait for someone else to tell you what to do. Then, only do that. Don’t do any more than asked. In fact, if you can get away with it, do less. Because, if you do more than that you might stand out. Others will think you are a troublemaker or brown-noser or that you are setting the bar too high. So, whatever you do, do it with the least amount of effort you can.

But, not a single one of these things will make your life better, let alone anyone else’s. Nor will any of these get you any further on any aspect of your life than you are right now. If you want anything to change, you have to speak up, take risks, be courageous, assume responsibility, take action, do more, and don’t wait.

Especially if you want to change the world. 1

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.

  1. Fellow introverts, I know you feel that being quiet is a core part of who you are. I get that. You know what? So did Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela. They were all introverts too

Is [This] Making Me Better?

I’ve |yzrfe|referrer|srzkd
come to call this The Better Metric. Whereby [This] is a place holder for anything we decide to do. Example, "Is my relationship with this person making me better?" or "Is my job making me better?"

This is the question we should always be asking ourselves about everything we choose to do. Because if the answer to this question is not yes then we should be asking some important questions. Questions like, "Am I the right person for [this]?" or "If this isn’t making me better then why am I spending time on [this]?"

Now, this metric and point of view might sound selfish. Perhaps, in some ways, it is. I’m going to argue that this is OK. This idea that all interest is self-interest is not a particularly new idea and, in fact, is considered enlightened by some. To wit, in order to give we must first receive so that we have something to give.

I know the coffee me and my wife have in the morning makes us better for getting Beatrix get off to school. I know that the time I take in solitude makes me better for being around others. I know that being a writer makes me a better human. Any endeavor I engage should make me better. And anything that does not make me better, I should not engage or find a way to disengage from as quickly as possible.

I believe we all would be better by doing the same.

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You Can Do Anything

One |fnees|referrer|zyeyn
of the ideas I have been pondering lately is one imparted to me by my friend Garrick:

“If you decide to do something, you can do anything.”

So many people are ruled by indecision. They await clarity as if it is a train that runs on Swiss time. They want to know the answers before they ask the questions. They seek the outcome before the action. So many people who’s lives are frozen in so many places. Stuck.

But, really, all they need is to get past that comma.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.