Focus

Staying focused isn’t easy.  Making something worthwhile is truly hard.  Willing something to exist from nothing goes against nature.  A body at rest stays at rest and we fight that trend.  It’s hard.  It’s hard to battle the status quo.  It’s hard to do something different, to bring forth something with meaning.

People tether you by making you explain yourself, and sometimes, out loud, your ideas sound silly.  We are to believe that if they sound silly, then perhaps the problem is ours.  Reactions like “that must be hard,” are controls: they are subconcious mild discouragements, designed to have you on the path that is comfortable towards another person.

You’ll doubt yourself, and others will doubt you.  You’ll have distractions and things will conspire to take you off course and suck away your energy.

Inertia is seductive.  It’s almost always easier to justify the problem than it is to solve it.  You can live overweight for another day, or get through the holidays with a bad marriage, or go through another year in a crumby job.  It’s always more pleasant, and the risk of doing that battle is that you are not going to have a certain outcome.

Realize in advance that it’s going to be really, really hard, and the commitment gets easier.  Because you know you’re committing to something that’s harder than what you’re doing, and you understand the undertaking.   You won’t underestimate it, and you’ll emerge with victory as a possibility.

Ruby

Have taught me how to love. Have helped me to be less selfish. Have made me proud.

Ruby is 2 yesterday. With excitement I said to her, “Happy Birthday Ruby,” and she grinned and mirrored me and said, “Happy Birthday, Daddy.”

She’s cute. Ruby, you’re 2. You’re talking more prodigiously than your brother, asking achingly sweet questions like, “Where are we going, daddy,” or “What was that funny noise.” You’re more content than Jack was to be left alone. Less active, just taking things in.

You still like your mom best, but you have plenty of time for me. This morning you sat in my lap and ate cheerios and commanded me to “play peek-a-boo.”

You ask for what you want and are showing cleverness both linguistically and in other ways. You smile at everyone.

You can recite the alphabet, you sing nursery rhymes and kid songs (rain Rain, go away little RUBY wants to PLAY).

You like looking at and doing what Jack does. He’s a close second in your life. When Jack stays with my parents your first question when you wake up is “where did jackie go?” Jack has been the best big brother to you, whenever you cry (not much) he brings you a stuffed dog, and is very empathetic. How he treats you makes me very proud. It’s no wonder you like him. I hope that that lasts.

You both have made me a better person. Less Asperger’s, more kind. I love you so much for that.

Happy Birthday, Ruby

Happiness, Bliss, Duty & Fulfillment

Been thinking a lot today, as the song goes.   A paradox:  most of my unhappiness comes from the unbridled and selfish pursuit of pure happiness. Or the pursuit of bliss/pleasure/adulation/gratification.  Most of the times that I feel self loathing, I feel that way because I am gonna get embarrassed from saying or doing something vaguely (or maybe not so vaguely) smarmy and shady.

Seeking bliss alone makes you a target.  If you, as a reptile, just look for the next opportunity to catch a beery buzz or socially climb by insinuating that such-and-such did this and that…it might give you a fleeting satisfaction.   And it might manifest itself in a million different ways, but at the end of the day, it’s only a moment.  “He sought the most pleasure for himself,” is not a legacy that is we want on our tombstones.   Seeking bliss means that we become addicted to it, and then we spend time chasing bliss, the next high, the next big thing, the next bit of praise from the cool kids.

The chase for approbation also withers our souls.  When we become adulation addicted, and when we become dependent on what other people think of us as a measure of worth, then the bliss we seek is subject to approval.  We’re looking over our shoulders to make sure that others approve of our grotesque pursuit of happiness.  We try to reconcile the paradox of being pure bliss seekers with needing to have praise for others, not knowing that they are impossible to balance.  We wind up lying to cover the pursuit of our bliss.  When we lie, we wind up lying to hide the lies and our lives become caught in a paradox.

I’m seeing my generation now–my peer–crash shoals of seeking bliss.  Judging acquaintances on “how happy the other person makes me,” and activities through the “what am I gonna get” prism means everything situational: if it’s expedient to break a promise (or a vow) to achieve bliss, that’s simply what we do.

The thing is, the longer I live, the more I realize that seeking instant gratification isn’t going to do it for me.  It’s not going to make me happy–not going to make me have more utils of pleasure.  We think we’re victims and entitled to more when someone has the appearance of more pleasure.   We don’t get that we’ve screwed up, we don’t get the idea that we’ve all messed each other over, and we all deserve a worse fate than we’re getting.  We some how spend a lifetime seeking our pleasure and when we don’t catch that phantom, we feel like we’re victims.  The siren still calls us all the time: there’s more more more more just over here.

The thing is–when we serve for the right reasons (not, say, to seek approval, but to honestly be of service), when we get past ourselves and do something because we care we feel something that we can’t get when we chase it.  When we chase “charity” because we’re hoping it makes us happy, it never does.  But when we chase it because it’s the right thing to do, and because we’re over ourselves, then something wonderful and inspiring can happen.  When we empty ourselves of the worldly desires of seeking the pleasure du jour…we can then see what’s truly possible to achieve.

How do you think we do that?

It’s Not How Good You Are When You Start, It’s How Fast You Get Better

I’ve been in business for myself almost two years now as a primary source of income.

And, I’m going to say this: I was terrible till a few months ago.  And I still have a ways to go.  I was–and remain– a better salesperson than practitioner.  I was never getting things done, always behind with every single client.  I was living on the grace and kindness of my clients, and the fact that the web is opaque to others.  In some ways I still am–more on that in a bit.

I didn’t start out knowing everything.  I started out slow, doing a bad job and behind the 8 ball.  I started out dropping balls everywhere, letting my clients down.  I started out making mistake after mistake, being overcommitted, and piling myself so deep in time debt it was a wonder I ever got out.  I started out broke and hungry, and needing to hustle to keep the lights on.  No steady or recurring revenue was coming in, my (well talked about) struggle with the IRS had me flat broke.

I started out working out of a pantry, literally. I didn’t know anything except kinda sorta how to use fantastico, I had creditors chasing me with varying degrees of success and intensity.  I was well intended, but broke, and broke people break other people and their businesses.  I was bad at first, but I was good at taking in business, and I kept the worst of the demons at bay.

Each mistake I made I improved.  I’d tell you that I wrote it down (I wish), but I wanted to get better, so the skill that comes with putting some fraction of your 10,000 hours in came to me as well as simple experience.  But, even six months into it, I was living off of luck.  A check here, a 401k withdrawal there was how I was getting by.

But every time I failed, I improved.  Every customer got slightly better service.

One day, I started getting referrals from customers.

One day I was able to do the work fairly fast.

I failed a lot, but I improved.  And some time about a year in, I stopped hating the work.

And I got better.  I didn’t say, “hey, I suck at this” or “hey, my destiny is to suck at customer service.”  I did suck at customer service.  I did suck at it, but that doesn’t matter.  I wanted it to be better, I was papering over my warts with new sales, refunding when needed, and moving forward.

My last refund was in business from July 2009.   I’m cognizant that I might have more, and I’ve lived on the grace of some of my clients.  I’m cognizant that I’ve had a run of nice people.  But, the last refund was for work I took in an ill defined way 6 months ago.  It was for work that I largely did but was left open.

Anyway, I’ve got some “permanent noncustomers” now, and some bodies in my wake, but I’ve also developed an increasing reel of good successes.  I’ve made good things happen for an increasing number of people.

My secret is not how good I am.  My secret isn’t my talent.  It’s the fact that I can keep getting knocked down over and over and come back.  I am that bozo doll.  I am going to be right back up, no matter what bullshit hits me.  I’m going to be after it, and I’m going to get a little bit better each day.  You can keep whacking me, but eventually you’re gonna get worn out and go home.  I’m going to sit there with that insipid smile on my face, ready for the next punch.

That’s my secret.   I can take lumps.  I’m Rocky Balboa, and you might be more talented, you might hit harder, and hell, you might even be a steroid using Soviet Cyborg, but I’m coming back, and there ain’t nothing that you can do to stop me.   It’s not how good you are, it’s how fast you get better.

If tomorrow, your effort was just 1% more effective, you’d become twice as good in about 2 and a half months.  1 * 1.01^68 = 2.

How can you become more efficient?

How can you deliver better service?

How can you prevent mistakes that happen?

How can you fix problems, on purpose?

How can you do this stuff now?

A lot of people are stymied by that question–how can I get better–because it presumes that they aren’t good.  I know that I’m OK, but my business needs to improve SO much so quickly.  I don’t want to punt that question off anymore.  I want to get that question asked every single time.  I want to do things correctly and get better.

I know that I’m going to be much better this time next year.  And I know that in two years I’ll be better still.  I can’t get better fast enough.  That’s the attitude.  Because if I’m better at getting better than anyone else, I’ll eventually catch damn near everyone.  F=MA if you focus on the “A” you’ll eventually get there no matter what the M started out as.

Entitlementality: Cancer Of Success

I’ve been playing at it for a long time, but I’m completely convinced that entitlementality is why people don’t succeed.  Some that the world owes you a living, that your talents are more than they are, and that you earn something because of your “talent” is bullshit.

When you think you “deserve” something from your employer, from the world, you’re focusing inward.  Your eyes are tuned to what you’re supposed to be getting.  And as a consequence, there’s always someone prettier, luckier or more connected than we are.  Focusing on that will make you nuts.  Talent…doesn’t…matter without service to others.

The deal is we get paid because we are of service to others.  We get paid only because we are here to help other people.  Not because of our talent which is over rated, but because of what we’re able to do that others want.  And at every level, we can provide what others want.  All we have to do is admit it.  Admit that what we made doesn’t have a market, or that it’s not good enough to get people excited.

The world has rules, and the most simple one is this: if you serve others at the highest level, you’ll become rich in friends, money, opportunity, connection.  If you try for a living through arbitrage or self focus, the poison you swallow will eventually kill you.

So the question is this: instead of focusing on what you get, what are you doing to focus on how you can help others?  Instead of focusing on how that dude ripped you off, ask what did you do for that dude–did you keep your promises?  Did you serve?  Did you help?

Your wallet is the first to know where your focus is.  Think of the people that you admire.  They are highly paid servants that chose what service they were going to perform.  They are not focused on grabbing all they can, but proudly performing an amazing service that is valuable to others.

What Are You Lying To Yourself About?

Iliarliarposter spent my 20’s earning–and spending–a lot of money.

I earned money from being a Real estate agent, and I spent money on nothing.  I had the ostrich head in sand problem for a long time.  Have played at this, but never DONE it.

I’m not unusual.  I have some cash in the bank, but when you take the IRS, the people I borrowed from to bail myself out of the IRS, and everything else, my net worth is -89,000.   That’s negative.  I’m 89,000 in the hole, and happy that I’m not in jail.  In the last 9 years, I’ve only had 2 years that were under six figures.   The bulk of the damage, the state and IRS tax bill that was once $170,000 is now down to $25,000.  It’ll get knocked out. And it’ll make a good story.

I honestly believed it to be less till recently.   I had made a $25,000 clerical error.  A GIGO problem.  A spreadsheet that I worked on had bad data.  But it was interesting, I think.

I hid this stuff from people.  Mostly myself.  I knew how to earn money, and I paid some lip service to frugality, but it was a ruse.  I didn’t care, I figured I’d be a millionaire soon.  Phil Hodgen, International Tax Lawyer (and good friend) says, that the “second you don’t need a Mercedes anymore is when you’ll get one.”   The dissipation of every bit of money I had on stupid schemes that would get me out of the last failed plan was kind of how I lived.  I was grasping for whatever.  When we got rid of the real estate and moved into a dive, things changed, our focus changed some.  Hopefully it’s not too late.

I didn’t spend a lot of money on advertising, I pissed it away on restaurants, shiny tech gadgets, clothing for my wife.  Oh, yeah, and rental properties that were a Bad Idea for anyone to own, that I didn’t care about.  The whole time, I hated my job.  There’s plenty to like to being a Realtor, I just didn’t have the passion for it.

Anyway, I lied to myself for a long time.  See, I had income.  Things are fine, I’m still a smart kid.  I made money, so I can’t be failing.   I’ll fix it later.  Who cares, everyone has these problems.  Thing is, they are preventable.

In the long run we’re all dead.  That’s what Keynes said.  But the thing is, how we lived matters.  I can’t endure the stress of it.  Deal is: I had all the means to have a good pile of wealth now.  Somehow, my ego never let me feel this.  I always find some excuse, some reason that everything was still OK.

It’s not OK.  The debt is suffocating.  I’ve taken it from $150ish (realmoney) to $89.  Now it’s time to home stretch this thing and get this smoked forever.  It’s all survivable, and it’s all a distraction.  You can’t operate with debt, not like you can in reality.  Think about this:  At 10% (my average interest) I’m paying $9,000 a year, or $750/month to debt.

Think about that.  That’s before I do anything, I gotta pony that money up.

It’s fixable, though.  I’m earning at a good clip.

I’m pretty sure at this point that there aren’t going to be any other ‘surprises’.  I honestly had believed that the debt was down below $20k.   And it’ not, and so this thing is going in a google doc.  that google doc is gonna get iframed into the sidebar.  And I’ll be updating it once a month.  All the component parts of the debt will get added in.    I’ll do this tomorrow.

I want to be transparent for selfish reasons.  I’m not bragging.  I’m currently doing pretty well.  I collected up all my debts and spreadsheeted ‘em.  I’m going to get rid of them one by one as fast as I can.  The first goal is a $4800 loan that costs $200 a month and is at a ghastly 14% interest.    I can do it.

Here are some personal finance bloggers:

The Simple Dollar – more consumerist than I’d like to be, but better than I am.

Five Cent Nickel – opinionated.  Tough.  And good.