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20 Things I’d Tell Myself Before I Started a Business

About one year ago, I set out to start my own business.  As of this writing, our business has not folded, I have not quit, I have not been committed, and I’m not burned out yet.  So far, so good. I’m continually learning and hopefully bettering myself, and I hope that never changes.  At the core of owning your own business is the unrelenting desire to succeed as an individualist on your own terms.  Cubicles and bosses and HR reps be damned.  This is about more than money to me, owning my own business is about changing things, about doing things my way, and about overcoming whatever comes at me.  I’m still broke, I’m still stressed, and I’m still scared. But I’m happy.  The more business owners I meet, the more I see that even when the money is tight and the obligations pile up, most of us still prefer this self-invoked insanity to a cushy nine-to-five job.  For the first time in my life, I’m proud of what I do and I’m excited to do it.  That’s a rare feeling.  If I could go back in time to last year, there are many things I would tell myself to make the road less bumpy.  I’ve enjoyed every bump, but a little less stress and a little more sleep would have probably been better for my social life and my sleep schedule.  Being a fan of lists and bullet points, I’ve arranged the 20 things I would tell myself before we started out.

1. “Dude, relax.”  I still say it to myself roughly 5 times an hour.  But it really is the most important mantra for a business owner to possess.  No, you can’t possibly know everything you need to know when you start out. Your nest egg isn’t big enough, your network isn’t vast enough, and your skill set isn’t fully developed yet.  But that’s the point.  you learn the really crucial, really tough stuff by striving to get better.  Go easy on yourself.

2. Get a bunch of mentors.  I’ve been lucky enough to have good people take me under their wing and show me the ropes.  Never have too much pride to let someone help.  That’s the beauty of this whole thing, right? We get to look at what others have done and learn.  Find people you trust and let them help.

3. Read. There is no greater tool at your disposal than books.  You learn from reading. The minute you stop learning, your business is dead.

4. Thrive on stress, but don’t let it paralyze you.  There is a threshold within us all for stress.  It’s different for everyone.  Get right up to that threshold and try to stay there.  That’s where you work the best.  Once you pass it, walk away and recharge.  Fear will paralyze you.  Paralysis is bad in just about any sense of the word.  Know your limits, respect them, but don’t be afraid of expanding them.  Just know the difference between pushing your limits and being overwhelmed.

5. Stay Competitive.  In every business owner is the desire to be better than the competition.  It’s easy to settle for ‘good enough.’  It is also unacceptable.  If you ever lose the edge or will to win, you’ve got to get back to the drawing board.  If you can’t find it, start submitting applications and give up your office space to the hustlers.

6. Turn off your TV.  I think that one speaks for itself.

7. Learn the difference between good and bad advice.  I’ve gotten tons of advice in the past year. If I’d taken the majority of it, I wouldn’t be here.  There is a big difference between what is safe and what is best for you.  Most people close to you want what is safe, and they want you to be happy with that safety.  Happiness within safety does not exist.

8. Never forget your biggest failures.  the first political campaign we managed, we lost.  I was devastated for 2 weeks.  I was also able to pick out a lot of things we did wrong.  If we’d won with a flawed strategy, I would have thought I knew everything.  I would have then done it the wrong way until I had to learn the same lesson down the road.  I still think of that race every day.  On purpose.  It taught me more than all of the collective triumphs of my life.  At the core of successful people is an unrelenting hatred of failure.  If you don’t have that, you don’t have ‘IT’.

9.  Mess around with your business model.  In fact, business models suck.  They are for rigid people that think they want change when what they want is stability and freedom.  Guess what? That isn’t real.  One or the other, pick your poison.  Don’t be afraid to change daily.  You won’t have the luxury in ten years.

10. Toot your own horn.  Owning a business is tough.  If you’re doing it, then you deserve respect.  No matter what your age, experience, or clientele, don’t be afraid to be proud of where you’ve been and where you’re headed.  It takes guts to start out with nothing.  People know that.  If you’re in the arena and you’re making ends meet, you’ve proved enough to the masses.

11. Stay Hungry. Always try to push for change.  I don’t want to be the guy everyone wants to work with, I want to be the guy everyone is afraid to work against.  There’s a huge difference. You can always be better. ALWAYS.

12. Never forget where you came from.  Every person at the top is standing on the shoulders of a lot of good people.  It’s harder to climb back down these people than it is to climb over them.  Don’t burn your bridges and don’t lose your sense of self.  These things guide you when times are tough.

13. Help others.  My dad and I were talking one day about all of these great connections I was making.  At the end of the conversation he said, “You know, you aren’t far off from being someone good to know.”  When you do in fact become someone that can be of value to others, take advantage of that.  It feels good.

14. Break every rule.  I was told so many times that I had to take certain steps to get to where I wanted to be.  I had to follow old rules and do things a certain way.  I’m glad I didn’t listen.  The people that make the rules are disrupted by change.  I thrive on it.  Do things your own way.  You won’t be happy otherwise.  When it works, you will be filled with pride. If it doesn’t, at least you went down swinging.

15. Look at your business through a different set of eyes.  Sometimes I get discouraged because things aren’t moving fast enough.  Sometimes I just need to take a step back and reassess.  When I truly do that, and I see how far we’ve come in a year, it blows me away.  It’s a long, long journey.  No one day or mood or occurrence decides the outcome.

16. Check your baggage at the door.  Owning a business is hard as hell.  There are lots of little things that go into the everyday grind.  You’ve got to check yourself when you get bogged down.  You’ve got to deliver to your clients and the people that count on you.  Leave your anxiety and other garbage at home.  Walk out the door every day like you own the world.  If you only believe it until you get home, you’re still ahead of the curve.

17. Never grow up.  Being an adult and growing up are two different things.  Adults handle their bills and responsibilities and are dependable.  Grown ups are jaded and tired and out of ideas.

18. Evolve.  Your business will change, even if you sell unchangeable products.  You will also change yourself.  Don’t get flustered when your priorities shift.  If you’re really in it for the long haul, they most certainly will.

19. Get a new hobby.  Believe me, you’re going to need it.  Even if you don’t have much time for it, you will need a refreshing reprise.

20.  Have fun.  It’s all about the journey, right? Enjoy what you do.  Welcome the uncertainty.  Induce new experiences.  It will be worth it in the long run.

Ditch Your Polls

Another post from my company blog.  New content this weekend!

http://centennial-strategies.com/small-campaigns-big-ideas-ditch-your-polls/

Small Campaigns, Big Ideas is a group of blog posts that aims to educate operatives and candidates on what works and what doesn’t work in small-scale elections.

These days, public opinion polls are an ingrained aspect of our political process.  At the very least, they give us a sense of the direction that an election is moving in.  At their best, they provide lawmakers with crucial information about how the general public feels about policy or the state of their respective district, state, or country.  Some pundits and polling advocates even suggest that they can shape the results of elections.  Polls seem like an asset in campaigns.  So why am I telling you to ditch your pollster during campaign season?  Because those polls are expensive, time-consuming, and worthless.

Your election is small, local, and likely not at the forefront of the minds of your constituents.  That’s just a fact.  The drop-off of interest after presidential and state-wide elections is tremendous.  Sure, a poll can slightly boost your name recognition insomuch that the people selected for the poll will hear your name once, but is that really worth the cost, especially when you could spend the time and resources on delivering a message to these people?  The quicker that you realize that opinion polling in small elections is more about vanity than results, the sooner you will save your campaign budget from taking an insurmountable hit.

We saw a perfect example of this in the last election cycle.  We had a guy that we were circling for some paid work for almost the entire election.  The first time we talked, he mentioned that he had run a poll in an attempt to gauge his opponent’s approval rating early on in the campaign.  That would have been fine if our candidate was flush with cash and simply attempting to gauge rather or not his challenge would be worth the time and effort.  Unfortunately, he was down 10:1 in fundraising and he ran the poll after he had already started the campaign process.  So he essentially flushed 10K down the toilet to figure out that the people in his constituency didn’t really like the guy they had elected.  The problem was, his opponent had a ton of cash and just smeared our guy relentlessly the last 2 weeks.  That 10 grand would have been huge in mounting a comeback, but he was broke and reeling down the stretch.  He lost by half a percentage point.  If he had had something, ANYTHING, in those last few weeks, he would have won.  Money for a commercial, a website debunking the smear rumors, a mail piece, Google or Facebook Ads, anything could have pushed 200 votes in his direction.  But we didn’t even end up getting paid our measly hourly rate for our design work or opp research.  The research we did would have blown his opponent up, but once again, he didn’t have the money to get it out.

There’s also bigger issues with polls besides the fact that the really nick your campaign bank account.  In local races, the math can be terrible.  As a standard rule of thumb, a poll needs at least 1,000 respondents to achieve a margin of error of 3.  In other words, when a poll conducted with sound methodology surveys 1,000 individuals, 95% of the time the results will be within 3 percentage points of where public opinion truly sits.  But in a constituency of 4-10K voters, good luck getting to 1,000 likely voters with a public opinion poll.  Suppose you can get 3 or 4 hundred to answer the poll (much more likely).  You’re margin of error then moves to 5-6 percentage points at best.  Is it really worth it to empty your bank account when the results aren’t even within a margin of error that you can trust?  How many local races aren’t decided by 6 points or fewer?  And even if you do run a good poll and get good information, what are you supposed to do with it if you’re broke?  What if the poll tells you that you’re down 4 points? You’ve paid a hefty price to be told that you are likely to lose without more groundwork and money.

A lot of people talk about polls keeping candidates on message or shaping public opinion.  But like I said earlier, no one really cares about your local race.  Not to say that there don’t exist engaged voters in small elections.  But a Gallup poll that shows Obama over Romney is going to register with far more people than a local internal poll detailing a state senate race.  In fact, good luck getting local news outlets to even publish those results.  A good portion of local outlets stay out of smaller races for one reason or another.  There’s a good chance that your constituents will never see the results or that they will dismiss them.  In regards to a candidate’s message, the fact of the matter is that you should know your message for a small race from day one.  Deviating from your core beliefs that you are running on during a campaign just means that your campaign is being run poorly, plain and simple.  Small elections revolve around your plans to bring pork to your constituency and maybe a couple state-wide issues.  You’re not dealing with scandals, national budget or security issues, or tiny elements of your past being picked apart daily by media outlets.  You’re running on a few core ideas and your reputation.  If those things suck, paying someone a bunch of money to have people in the community tell you that isn’t worth much.

Is this all to say that polls are completely worthless in small elections? No.  there are no absolutes in politics.  If you’ve got more money than you could ever spend, then poll away.  But if you’re trying to run a lean campaign and still come out on top? Ditch the polls.

I Never Saw Him Play: One Last Shot for Dale Murphy

I Never Saw Him Play will be a new feature that spotlights some of the greatest baseball players of decades past.  I love baseball stats, and I hope you agree.

Dale-Murphy

No, he doesn’t hold a lot of major league records.  He didn’t hit any postseason walk-off home runs.  He didn’t even win that many games as a player.  But when I got the chance to go see the All-Star Game in Atlanta in 2000, there was a fanfare event that included the likes of Bob Feller, Phil Neikro, and Don Sutton, among others.  And none of these drew the praise and gratitude of the attendees more so than Dale Murphy.  I stood there and shook his hand as my dad snapped some photos.  Dale was a really nice guy, and he stopped and chatted for a minute before moving on.  I was 13 at the time, and fully entrenched in Braves lore.  I knew of all the greats: Chipper, Phil, Mathews, Aaron,  Spahn.  I’d seen my team win a World Series and cried like the baby I was.  I’d seen the greatest pitching staff ever assembled.  I’d heard stories of Bob Horner hitting balls 900 feet into neighboring Cobb county and marveled at Greg Maddux’s minuscule walk rate.  But I didn’t know a whole lot about Dale Murphy.  Sure, I knew who he was.  But I didn’t actually know what he meant to my beloved franchise, nor did I fully grasp why he conjured such emotion in old-school fans, especially while in the company of so many Hall of Fame players. On the ride home, I asked my dad what was so special about this career .265 hitter we had  met that day.  “Well,” he said, “I guess you kinda just had to be there.”

To fully understand what Dale Murphy meant to baseball, I guess you did have to be there.  The man notched exactly 11 career postseason at-bats, all in one underwhelming 1982 sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.  He played on some of the worst teams of the 80’s in Atlanta.  He never made over 2 million dollars per season, a far cry from the superstars (can you say Vernon Wells?) of today. But to loyal fans of the Atlanta Braves, he is of the most revered players to ever put on the uniform.  Dale was a spectacular player.  He had a beautiful swing and he just looked like a baseball player, as if he couldn’t have done anything besides play the game.  But the Braves have had more successful players and better all-around players before and since Dale Murphy.  His glove was not great and he struck out a lot.  He struggled at catcher and first base before finding a home in center field of spacious Fulton County Stadium.  Once he found his stride in the mid-80’s, however, he became an elite player in Major League Baseball.  He won the MVP award in ’81 and ’82, and he made 6 straight all star games beginning with that ’82 season.  By all accounts, he was a superstar in his own right.  More importantly, he was Atlanta’s superstar.  He played on many bad teams, and most nights he was the only thing in Atlanta worth watching.  Fulton County Stadium was normally 3/4 empty and talks of moving the team swirled through the late 70’s and 80’s.  In an age before 24/7 sports coverage, Dale went out and did incredible things on the diamond that only a handful of people ever saw.  Sure, the Braves were on WTBS, but they were awful.  No one was watching.  And just as the Braves turned the corner in the beginning of 90’s and people began to take notice, Dale was shipped to Philadelphia in the middle of the 1990 campaign.  It was as if he was never even here.

Dale is special to us not in spite of these things, but because of these things.  Dale may very well have saved baseball in my city.  He strapped the 1982 Braves to his 6’4″ frame and carried them into the postseason.  He dove for balls and swatted doubles and swiped bases every single night not because the Braves were fighting for championships, but because he knew no other way to play the game.  Inside of a franchise crying out for an identity, Dale Murphy was solid as a rock.  He never railed on ownership, he never decried the fans, and he never stopped hustling.  That just wasn’t who Dale was as a person or as a player.  He put his head down and he worked hard and did the right thing on and off the field.  He was the same guy on Peachtree Street as he was on Capitol Avenue.  There was no quit, no lay down and die inside of Dale.  He endured a lot in Atlanta.  He could have demanded trades or played half-speed on many steamy August nights when the Braves were already making vacation plans for mid-October.  And no one would have blamed him, really.  But he never did that.  He signed every ball a kid ever handed him, he slid face first when we were losing by 10 runs, and he was always loyal to the franchise that treasured him.  It’s easy to point to heroes in Braves history.  David Justice and Tom Glavine gave us a World Series.  Maddux hauled hardware year in and year out.  Those flashes of brilliance and triumph are what every fan base yearns for.  But it’s not what baseball means to us as a country or a region.  Baseball in the South and in America is about seeing things to the end, slogging through the day-to-day, and reveling in the glory of simply playing the greatest game man ever invented.  Dale never hoisted a World Series trophy, but somehow it seems better that way.  Dale’s Braves were just trying to hold on.  It seems that in life, your more often than not just trying to hold on.  Our greatest triumphs are few and far between, and you’d better recognize them when they come along.  That’s what Dale did for us.  He showed us what it meant to persevere when things were tough.  Dale had some great times, but he was mostly just enjoying the ride and giving it his best shot.  That’s all any of us can do.  Dale Murphy encapsulated real life out there under the lights in center field.  And that is why he is Atlanta’s most beloved Brave.

Next week is Dale’s last shot to get to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.  He doesn’t have a great chance, and that’s a real shame.  Some people point to his .265 average, his 2,111 hits, or his 398 home runs and say, “Those are good numbers, but not all-time numbers.”  And maybe they are right, but maybe they aren’t.  Dale played his first full season in 1978 and was among the best in the game for 10 seasons up until 1987.  For some more insight as to how good Dale was during this stretch,take a look at the  sample players and their stats below:

Player A: 1,514 H, 920 R, 227 2B, 308 HR, 904 RBI

Player B: 1,451 H, 971 R, 216 2B, 369 HR, 1,015 RBI

Player C: 1,996 H, 909 R, 343 2B, 164 HR, 874 RBI

Two of these players are in the Hall of Fame.  Player B and C are Ralph Kiner and Kirby Puckett, respectively.  Player A is Dale Murphy.  These stats are for the most productive 10-year spans from each’s career.  As you can see, Dale’s numbers are right in line with each of these Hall of Fame player’s.

Now, I realize these are pretty old-school numbers.  So let’s dive even deeper.  Dale Murphy has a 44.9 WAR rating according to baseball-reference.com   .  That’s good enough for 184th all-time, ahead of the likes of Ozzie Smith, John McGraw, Edd Roush, Kiki Cuyler, Max Carey, and Brooks Robinson.  With an .OPS of .8149, he is tied with Barry Larkin and leads Roberto Alomar, Sam Crawford, and Andre Dawson.  He’s 140th in career games played.  He’s 174th in runs scored, one behind Joe Medwick and leading the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Mark McGuire, Billy Herman, Orlando Cepeda, Lance Berkman, Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, and the aforementioned Ralph Kiner.  He has more home runs than Dimaggio or George Brett.  He’s 120th in walks, 119th in EBH.  His Power/Speed number puts him at 59th all-time, around the likes of Chipper, Cobb, and Mantle.  His WPA, which calculates the change in probability caused by a batter during a game, is better than Bench, Puckett, Rice, or Yount.

No, he doesn’t lead any of these categories.  But he is very solid in most categories and downright impressive in others.  He led the league is slugging, HR, and RBI twice.  He never missed a game from ’82-’85.  Dale Murphy encapsulates what the Hall of Fame stands for.  He was so good in so many facets of the game.  He was always reliable and dazzling often.  Dale deserves a spot in Cooperstown.  But if the voters don’t agree, that’s okay too.  Because Dale saved baseball in Atlanta.  If it wasn’t for Dale, we might not know Chipper, Bobby, Smoltz, Glavine, or Maddux like we do.  Francisco Cabrera would mean nothing to us.  Sid Bream’s mustache would not be legendary.  Barry Bonds might have won a World Series in the 90’s without the Braves being what they were.  I couldn’t live with that.  And thanks to Dale, we don’t have to.  If Dale goes in, wonderful. If he doesn’t, he will always be our guy in Atlanta.  Good enough for me, and good enough for Dale.

“I’m a Campaign, and You’re an Idiot”

Whew! Back from the holidays.  I hope everyone had a great one.  Going to do a little re-post here, since we are running behind a little.  This is my most recent post on our company blog.  Check us out on Facebook if you like the post.  We write about politics and marketing over there, so it’s a little more serious. Cheers!

One of the inevitable truths of working on local elections is that you will spend a lot of time around party activists and volunteers.  In the past year alone, I spoke or worked to some degree with dozens of hard-core local activists, volunteers, and party heads.  These guys (and girls) are wonderful commodities for campaigns, especially small ones.  Beyond that, most of the ones I met are really interesting people.  But on the flip side of that, these are not you’re most “outside of the box” thinkers.  It’s similar to one of those pictures that you see when you’re in elementary school where you start with your nose right in front of the paper and it’s completely blurry, and then as you pull your face back it starts to make sense.  These people pretty much have the picture up to their nose at all times.  And that’s okay.  These are the people that are willing to go to work for you whether it’s freezing cold or smoldering hot.  But at the same time, They are generally far-right of just about anyone besides this guy.  You would be hard-pressed to find candidates, consultants, pundits, or generally any individual with the slightest interest in politics that rival the dogmatic volunteers or activists that you find in local elections.  Sure, consultants and (good) candidates know how to talk to certain people, but it’s often about picking battles.  The name of the game is still productivity and compromise, despite what we’ve seen in Washington lately.  To most elected officials, the goal is to get things done for people, and the honorable ones are capable of hearing two sides to any problem.  But that’s not the case with activists.  It’s all or nothing, all the time.   So the first thing you have to learn to do in these interactions is bite your tongue, and bite it often.  One thing I heard from many Republican activists this election cycle was total, utter disgust with the notion that Obama was saddling up mass amounts of grassroots “volunteers” with cell phones, lunch money, and a stipend to do the dirty work of door-to-door campaign work.  “It’s just not right,” they would say.  “Your party shouldn’t pay you to do this stuff.  These people don’t care about his policies, just his money.”  And every time I heard it, I had to literally bite my tongue.  I’m surprised I made it through 2012 without oral surgery.

This notion of grassroots politics might seem logical to some folks.  Sure, it’s great when you find enough unpaid volunteers to do all of your canvassing, but it’s not really feasible in a lot of races.  Even in small races, tons of voter contact is missed due to lack of troops.  But beyond hitting your numbers, missing face-to-face voter contact brings up a bigger question: are we treating voters how they need to be treated?  A lot of times, I think the answer is ‘no’.  On a national scale, Mitt Romney glaringly grew more and more out of touch with voters as the campaign slogged along.  But it’s happening more and more in smaller elections.  Campaigns treat people like idiots.  And there is a pretty good reason for that: we are idiots.  You, me, the oil mogul, the drive-thru shift manager, we are all complete and utter morons when we go to the polls to vote.  This is an issue that has plagued political scientists for a long time.  Just what drives people to vote?  Well, there are plenty of theories, but the constant in the literature is that voting itself makes no sense, and thus, we are driven by irrational factors to even go to the polls.  What we do there and why we do it is anyone’s guess. The odds of one person deciding a presidential election are .00000843355, and this number is only relevant to voters in swing states in the closest of elections. That means that both candidates run dead even in the electoral college and dead even in your state, then completely dead even in your precinct, minus your vote.  The odds of this happening would be the number above with hundreds of 0’s in front of it. By my rough math, the chances of a very small election, say 2,000 voters, ending in a tie is 0.00031847133.  So that number, three ten-thousandths of a percent, is your chance of changing the local election for coroner.  It makes no sense to go vote! None! And that is why campaigns treat voters like they are dumb.  It’s because taking time out of your day to go vote is inherently a completely illogical act.

I’m in no way trying to say that voting shouldn’t be done.  I think there are ample historical examples to show that we need a system to hold our government accountable.  It’s a privilege to vote.  It’s just like online poker or marriage or any other irrational aspect of life that we take part in.  Just because it’s illogical doesn’t mean it’s not fun or fulfilling or important.  But to get the core of the question as to why campaigns interact with people like they are dumb, is easily answered by the numbers I just showed you.  We don’t know why we vote, we don’t know why we vote for certain people, and we don’t know what really swings us when we are undecided.  So what are campaigns to do?  Well, I think that question has also been answered.  Campaigns have rightfully abandoned the idea of treating people like logical, rational actors and started treating them like exactly what they are: a very tiny piece of data with plenty of clues that indicate if, how, and why they will move to the polls.  Politics is a weird game that totally throws logic out the door.  Look at this bell curve, for example. (update: a reader pointed out that this example using income does not follow a normal probability distribution. Let’s assume the curve represents something like the height of all individuals in a population.)Disregard the text and let’s say this indicates something like the average income of Americans.  You’ve got the big part in the middle, the mean or average, and then it goes down or up, depending on which side you’re looking at.  Those ends that run along the lines are the tails, and in this example they represent the people that will make far more or far less than the average.  This is a quantifiable problem, and so the tails are short.  They represent small populations on both ends.  But if you took a bell curve based on something like why people vote, you would have much longer tails.  There would be the big part in the middle which could represent people aligning with the major parties, but you would have long tails on either side that represent fringe groups, independents, single-issue voters, or one-off voters driven to the polls by a singular candidate.  Essentially, it makes little sense.  Long tails indicate outliers, just weird stuff that happens for no reason.  In this case, it’s voters that vote based on illogical assumptions.    And thus, campaigns must treat voters like the idiots we are.

Campaigns treating voters as data isn’t new.  Even William McKinley knew how many people he needed to get to his front door, he just didn’t have the tools to figure out how he would get them there.  But now we have those tools, and we aren’t going to candidate’s doors anymore.  If you want to win elections today, you have to segment your population and dig into what makes each individual tick.  Karl Rove boasted that he essentially knew the name of every person he needed to swing in 2000 to get George W. elected.  But knowing their names and getting them to the polls is a different story (SPOILER ALERT: Rove got them to the polls, sort of.)

So how does all of this tie in to what I was talking about earlier in regard to Obama paying for ground troops?  Well, it turns out that there is a lot of evidence and science that proves that going to a voter’s house is still the undisputed king of voter turnout tactics.  This book, a personal favorite of mine, shows statistical evidence of what works and what doesn’t work to turn out voters.  While only dealing with voter turnout and not campaign tactics that focus on accruing supporters, it shows that direct contact is still the best way (and essentially the only truly effective way) to bump turnout upwards.   So why not pay people to go door-to-door? It works.  It works all the time.  But people would rather send flashy mail or make commercials.  Listen, I may be an idiotic voter, but seeing a guy standing next to two elderly people at a local Cracker Barrel on some colorful piece of mail doesn’t mean a thing to me.  Why not slim down the effort on all the fluff and go talk to the people that decide your fate?  Essentially, voters are idiots that campaigns see as a piece of data, but how you treat the idiots is still important.  Social media is a fairly ridiculous concept, but somehow it works for marketing and campaigns and all sorts of other stuff.  Going to someone’s door to talk to them about your campaign is ludicrous, but people vote based on ludicrous assumptions. We’re all idiots when it comes to buying, selling, voting, dating, whatever.  It’s all about how you embrace it and use this notion.  Here’s an example I love: When you see a bright, colorful piece of mail, what do you think? I think marketing or coupons or someone selling me something I don’t need.  Certainly, whoever sent the mail would need to make it look great if I’m even going to entertain the idea of buying what they’re selling.  But what about a piece of mail that is in an envelope with your name stamped on it?  When you open it up, there is a letter addressed to you.  Even if both pieces say the same thing, which one says to you ” this piece of mail needs to be read and taken seriously?”  The answer is obvious. Now imagine that the first piece rattles off a bunch of GOP talking points, but the second one talks about maintaining my chosen lifestyle, protecting what I care about, and changing what I think needs to be changed.  What do I care if whoever sent the mail piece only knows what I like because they pulled tons of info about me from a database? The second piece speaks to me, plain and simple.  And when I get in my car and go spend hours getting to the polls and I get rained on and put myself through all that illogical garbage to cast my vote, what will I remember? I’ll remember what spoke to me personally, even if these things are terrible reasons for casting a vote for a particular candidate.  That is the kind of contact campaigns should be focused on using.  It may sound harsh, but it’s the beauty of the whole election process.

Candidates can make promises the first time around based on what matters to voters, but they still have to stick to them.  If not, we can always boot them out.  It’s the beauty of the whole thing, and it gives candidates that stick to their guns a leg up on anyone else.  We are all just a bunch of illogical fools, but I want to be treated like an illogical fool that matters.  Personally, I’m okay with knowing that to any campaign, I’m just a little guy with a bunch of data attached to me, because that’s where we are with modern technology.  Most people are too worried about their own lives to ingest all the information that it takes to cast an informed vote.  So inherently, the campaign that knows how to talk to the idiots is in the driver’s seat.  And if I know I’m getting taken for a ride, at least do me the courtesy of making me feel a little bit special.  That’s all us idiots ask.

What We Must Learn From Sandy Hook

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s.

I have been an extremely fortunate young man so far in life.  I was blessed with fantastic role models, a loving family, and a great deal of opportunities.  I have largely been spared the throes of grief that accompany a great loss.  Certainly, I have lost loved ones.  And yet, these losses seem abated by the fact that they were the types of losses that one is taught to expect.  We know that we will lose our grandparents, our parents, friends, and mates.  These are the hardest realities of life, but we learn to accept them because to make it in this world, you kind of have to buy into the entire process.  Yes, we know loved ones will leave us, but we deal with it by contriving the idea that  we will exhaust from life every bit of happiness, love, and contentment that we possibly can.  To buy into life and love is the ultimate contradiction.  It’s a raw deal.  But we do it because somewhere along the way, we find people that inspire us, we find passion, we find purpose.  These things are tough to come by, and when you find them, you better cling to them with everything you have.

I am not a parent, and therefore, I could never begin to offer any semblance of true perspective into what happened last Friday in Connecticut.  The torture and the grief are outside the range of emotion that I can even begin to wrap my psyche around.  To fling your anger and despair and woe into the cosmos in a search for answers that will never come, as all of the parents, friends, and family of the deceased are surely doing, can be nothing short of the ultimate agony.

We’ve seen a lot of this in the past, unfortunately.  Since 1999, mass shootings have been an inimical part of our social landscape.  But this one seems to hit home the hardest.  It could be the nature of the shooting, that the victims were helpless children, or simply the fact that we are just sick and tired of all of the terrible stuff that keeps happening to innocent people in our country.  After all, isn’t this supposed to be the single greatest nation on earth?  Aren’t we supposed to feel safe here? To take it a bit further, SHOULD we even feel like this is currently a great country? We’ve become a country that has let fear and insidious behavior define us.  We are still fighting poverty, crime, civil rights infringement and a host of other afflictions everyday here.  We have allowed our motives and our actions to be dictated by things we are afraid of, not things we all believe in.  Yes, what happened last week was terrible, and yes, I personally hope that things change soon.  But for that to ever happen, we need to look at ourselves on an individual basis, because that is what our country is founded upon and that is what our future hinges on.  We can collectively waste away and point fingers or we can rise up and hold ourselves accountable.  Those are the only two options at this point.  One is easy, and one is not so easy.  I still believe in this country, and I’m hoping that we don’t take the easy way out.

I’ve experienced a lot of different emotions in regard to the shooting last week. Initially, I was upset and bewildered and angry, just like everyone else.  And then came the slew of blogs and Facebook posts and small-talk conversations where blame has been flung from one end of the cultural and social spectrum to the other.  People said if we get God back in schools, this wouldn’t happen.  People said that you can’t stop evil people, and the responsible ones shouldn’t have their guns taken.  The gun lobby was blamed.  Mental illness and its subsequent care in America was blamed.  And I couldn’t help but to feel totally infuriated by all of this.

First of all, how is this a religious question? Do people really think this has something to do with our schools and their relationship with faith?  These same people that say God was not in the schools because we pushed him out are the same people that use their faith as a tool to suppress individualism. So which is it, folks? Is God vengeful, loving, all-knowing, or powerless? Draw your line in the sand or shut up.  Because when you get right down to it, this is a cop out.  Mike Huckabee and the like can say what they want, but it doesn’t pass the litmus test.  A lot of faithful individuals have died knelt in prayer, and it’s pretty  easy to place the blame on our government or school systems for removing religion from schools.  Being faithful does not ensure a safe, happy life, nor does it entitle one to blame the tragedies of our time on the lack of others’ faith.

And then we have the gun/mental health issues.  Regardless of what I personally think about guns in America, they aren’t going anywhere.  We might see some tightening on permits or a new ban on assault weapons, but how effective would it be? You aren’t going to pull those guns out of homes at this point, not without a good deal of civil discourse and backlash.  It would get really ugly really quickly.  But we had guns in this country for a long time before Columbine, and we certainly weren’t having this debate in 1950.  The fact of the matter is, no matter how ridiculous it is to believe that the government will collapse and we need an arsenal of private guns for when that day comes, you aren’t going to convince the massive amount of gun owners that this isn’t a risk.  And that’s sad, but it’s also true.  Mental health is also a big issue in this country, and one that needs to be addressed.  But it also needs to be destigmatized, and we sure aren’t getting that done when we only talk about it after stuff like this happens.  It’s surely tough to live with any sort of mental illness, but tons of Americans do it everyday and live productive lives.  On top of that, these shootings aren’t being carried out by poor individuals who do not get treatment.  It’s mostly people that have at some point had treatment, so these people are more likely to slip through the cracks when assessing who is dangerous and who isn’t.

So where do we go from here?  I don’t know, honestly.  The worst part of all of this isn’t something that has been talked about much.  This would have been nearly impossible to prevent, and deep down people know that.  We saw evil incarnated, and it rendered us as a nation helpless for a moment.  Sometimes horrible things happen, and it is awful, but sometimes there isn’t an an answer as to how we could have done things differently.  You can bring mental illness to the forefront of the conversation or pass gun control laws or bring prayer back into schools.  And then what do we do when this happens again?  Because it will.  Really bad stuff happens, and we are often powerless to prevent it.  That sucks, but it’s something we have to live with.

What we can’t do is let fear control us any longer.  We need to stand up as people and live our lives differently.  The government isn’t going to do that for us, and frankly they shouldn’t.  It’s easy to point fingers, but it gets us nowhere. We have to be more proactive.  If there is a cause you believe in, stop thinking about it and act on it.  If you have let relationships drift away, then do what you have to do to make them right.  If you don’t like yourself, change things to the best of your ability.  And by God, squeeze every second of passion and humor and love and curiosity that you can out of this life.  Because if you’re alive right now, regardless of what you’re going through, you are blessed.  Hug your friends, kiss your mother, and give back to those around you.  When we face evil as we have in the past week, our best defense is to show it that it will not break our spirit.  It can bring us to our knees, it can break our hearts, but it can not crush our spirit.  As a people, we’ve come too far to fold to fear.  Until we can address the issues that cause these unspeakable tragedies, we have no option but to stand tall and be brave.  We must be different, as a nation and as a group of individuals.  We won’t ever be the same, but how we change is our decision.  We can become more fear-driven, less trusting of others, or we can learn how to accept each other and to sincerely participate in life.  We’ve been pretty backwards as of late, and I think now we have to learn to look forward.  If not now, then when?

An Ode to Running: Past, Present, and Future

God, I love running. That sounds weird to some people, but it really is great.  Running is good for you.  Running feels good.  Running helps you clear your head.  I started running every day about 3 years ago, and I honestly haven’t had a cold since then.  That’s no small accomplishment for me.  I’m allergic to everything, I have an evil set of tonsils, and I have asthma.  Through college, I literally walked around with bronchitis about 9 months out of the year.  I had no energy.  Granted, I drank too much and ate too much, but I also desperately needed exercise and I wasn’t getting it.  After graduation, I was chubby and unemployed.  My priorities may have been a little skewed back then, because I lost 30 pounds long before I got a job.  After just a couple months of jogging, I realized I was hooked on running for the long haul.  Naturally, I wanted to race. And  maybe a little unnaturally, I set my sights on a long race in September 2010, just 9 months after I started running: the Tupelo Marathon.  I’m going to explain that experience in a bit, but first I need to go way back to 1st grade to explain how I came to crave the long run.

When I was pretty young, I was hospitalized a couple of times with near-fatal pneumonia.  Of course, I didn’t know it was near fatal, but everyone around did and apparently it was some BFD that scared my whole family.  Between the ages of 5-8, my mom would have to hide my football or soccer schedules from me because I was insanely competitive but was often too sick to walk, much less go play out in the cold.  My lungs were crap, plain and simple.  As I got older, there were emergency room visits and appointments with allergists and all that fun stuff.  I gave up cold-weather sports for good in 8th grade. My junior high football coach wrangled about 15 undersized kids one day after we had practice and told us that we were not exactly welcome on a team that was supposed to be inclusive to anyone that stuck out practice.  That short little PE teacher telling me to go play rec ball never left me.  I felt completely dejected.  I should have just been able to let it go.  But I couldn’t for a long time. It felt awful, and I vowed to never let something like that happen again.

Fast forward to high school, where I was engrossed in baseball.  I wasn’t big, but I was decent enough.  I worked all year, every year to get better.  I sat a lot my first couple of years, but kept working to get my shot.  My high school brought in a new coach my last year.  I had worked all year to get a chance to pitch.  He called me into his office to discuss my role on the team just before the year started.  During that meeting, I was informed that my role would consist primarily of motivating younger players and keeping morale up.  I was to be a glorified cheerleader. I sucked it up, completely humiliated but still hopeful.  10 games into the season, I still hadn’t seen the field and our team sucked.  I had 4 months left in high school, and I made a difficult choice: I went into his office and turned in my uniform.  I never put on a uniform again.  I felt like a quitter, and for whatever reasons I thought about that for a long time afterwards.

When I was a junior in college, I bought a book on running.  I got new shoes, new gear, and started logging short miles. My dad was ecstatic.  He was a good runner on a fantastic high school track team.  He wasn’t the fastest, but he was good enough to run at big meets.  He loved to run, but he had gotten away from it when my sister and I came along. I was in decent shape before I reveled in my senior year and lost my  edge.  When I moved back home, my dad encouraged me to get back into running.  I believe his exact words were, after I squeezed into a pair of 35″ khakis on Christmas Day,  “maybe you should have asked for running shoes.” I got the point, and starting logging miles.

I ran a lot of long, lonely runs that year after I graduated.  I was depressed about being at home and unemployed. I didn’t feel like I could control much.  But I knew everyday that there was a choice I could make: be a wimp or go log the miles.  4-milers turned into 8-milers.  Those turned into 15-milers.  I picked up a running buddy along the way and we started logging 20-mile runs in preparation for the marathon in Tupelo.  It was flat and fast, just the type of road race for a marathon beginner.  We figured we could sign up late and still get in.  I mean, how many people can actually have the urge to run 26.2? Turns out, there were a lot.  I got a text from my running buddy a couple weeks before the race. “Tupelo is full. What should we do?”  I panicked.  I scoured the web for nearby races.  I found nothing at first.  I dug around for days.  And then I found one. I knew from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be pretty. This was not the easy coast I had envisioned for my first long race. I sent my friend a message. “Found a race. It’s bad. Small race up the side of a mountain in Boone, NC.  You in?” His reply sealed our fate. “Yeah, I’m in. Why not?”

It was really cold at the starting line.  It was still dark.  There was no band, no big sponsors, no fancy tech T-shirt.  There were 30 people, about 6 organizers, and some gatorade stands set up by a local sorority.  I threw up behind a car. I questioned my sanity.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  And then the gun went off. And then I just ran.  I ran for a long time.  I ran up massive hills. I ran past terrifying dogs.  I walked a little.  I almost quit.  There was no shame in walking off at 20 miles in.  It wasn’t a matter of shame, it was a matter of principal.  On all those long miles, I saw those guys that told me I wasn’t an athlete.  I could still hear them telling me to focus on something else besides sports.  It drove me.  More that the love of running, more than the notion of kicking a marathon off the bucket list, those naysayers from my past haunted me.  On those 20-mile runs through Georgia heat in July, I saw their faces, heard their words.  Quitting again was not an option.  No one could tell me that I couldn’t finish that race but myself.  And that just wasn’t happening.

More than 4 hours after I left the line, I crossed it.  In the days leading up to the race, I imagined some cathartic experience as I finished the race.  I imagined my doubters from childhood standing there, middle-aged and overweight, staring with astonishment as the kid they dismissed completed one of the most daunting feats in the sports world.  I thought I’d cry.  I thought I’d scream.  I thought I’d do something.  But I didn’t. I just crossed the line, got my medal, drank some juice, then drove home. 

I was pretty down for a few days.  I was expecting some sort of personal revelation to occur just after the race.  It didn’t happen, and I needed to know why.  So I did what I always did when I needed answers: I ran.  And sure enough, I got my answers.  That race was totally insignificant. I had busted it for 6 months getting ready.  I knew I would finish, and the run itself was a formality. The lessons were in those miles that I ran in my hometown.  The problems I solved while out there. The joy I felt during the peaks of a run and the lows I drudged through were far more valuable than being able to tell people I had run 26.2. I didn’t need validation, I had my validation.  It just so happened that it was already with me when I went to Boone, not on the course for me to find and collect.  I ran more than ever after that race with the Boston marathon in mind.  After a couple injuries in the winter and some bad times in shorter races, I shelved the marathon aspirations and focused on staying in shape, not training.  The injuries and bad races had me down about Boston, but it was out of my control so I accepted it and moved on to things like starting my business.

A couple months ago, on my dad’s 57th birthday, I asked him what he had in store for the year.  He said he’d like to run a marathon.  He’s been running a little the past year, and he’s still got that knack, although he hasn’t run anything longer than a 5k in years.  I told him that the only way that I was going to let that happen is if I was right there with him.  And so the quest for 26.2 has begun again.

In Mid-March, barring injury, my dad and I will pull ourselves across the finish line at the Publix marathon in Atlanta.  My training is going well, as is my dad’s.  My focus feels so different this time around, though.  I know I don’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else. I know that I won’t break through to a great marathon time.  I know that this isn’t a real stepping stone to achieving the ultimate goal of running in Boston.  And I feel great about that.  Because I know that crossing the finish line with my dad will be better than any of that stuff. He gave me my love of running, and together we will both start and finish this race as a sort of ode to friendship, family, and love of the sport. Give me crossing the finish line with my dad over running alone in Boston any day.  Alberto Salazar once said of the marathon distance, “Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.”  There is some scary truth to that.  But there is beauty in it as well.  To stand there knowing that you are about to challenge yourself to an extreme degree is difficult.  But it’s fulfilling and it’s exciting and it makes you feel alive.  The pinnacle of human experience is sitting there waiting to be grasped.  To achieve, to conquer, to defy odds is the essence of the human experience. The marathon is unforgiving, brutally honest.  You will make mistakes out there, you will hurt, you will face mental and physical barriers.  But to welcome these things and confront them is sublime and utterly fulfilling. To grasp that opportunity is courageous and glorious.  These opportunities and hardships and triumphs are what make life beautiful. And that is the beauty of the long run. 

 

 

The Unorthodox Reader

I will admit it.  I have a horrid vice that is causing me both psychological and financial stress.  I buy A LOT of books.  I estimate that in the last year, I’ve probably bought at least 50 whether they come from Amazon, the B & N down the street, PDFs, kindle, books on tape, or through my Audible account.  I don’t just buy them and let them sit, mind you.  These books almost always get read.  I just read them in a different way than I assume most people do.  Today, I have read portions of three books: Seth Godin’s Purple CowStephanie Vance’s The Influence Gameand Nate Silver’s new book, The Signal and the Noise.  On deck for this evening, I’ve got a PDF copy of Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence On top of that, I’ve perused some of my notes and dog ears from Monkey Mind, a book I referenced in my last blog post.  Add to that some blogs, and I’ve got my hands full.  I realize that a lot of people often take this scatter-shot approach to reading.  It’s kind of like the reverse of what Ryan Holiday calls his “Swarm” strategy.   Just off the top of my head, in the past year I’ve read books on: marketing, political history, statistics, polling, political strategy, memoirs, social marketing, owning a business, baseball, self-help, and a couple of works of fiction for good measure.  Pretty good list of topics, if I do say so myself.  That I’ve read these books simultaneously is a bit unorthodox.  I have my reasons, though.  This strategy, which I used to think of as a kind of deficiency  has really gone a long way in shaping how I absorb and retain information.

A few weeks ago, I was at a doctor’s appointment and we got to talking about how I love to read, but how I almost always do it in a really roundabout manner.   So naturally, the conversation was steered towards ADD.  I told him that one book at a time rarely held my interest before another could come in and pique my interest enough to motivate me to pick it up in lieu of what I was previously reading.  I told him that I was currently reading about 8 books.   We got to talking about how long it would take me to get through all those.  I thought about it, and came up with my answer:two months.  He looked a bit surprised.  I thought I might have sounded like an idiot.  On the contrary, he informed me that if I was clipping off an average of one a week, I was doing pretty well.  “So you don’t think I’m actually ADD?” I asked.  “Oh, no,” he said.  “You definitely fall in the spectrum, but if you’re making it work for you, then I say keep it up.”  That was kind of an “AHA!” moment for me.  While how I studied and researched might seem a little strange, I was getting through a plethora of information at a quick rate.  So I went home and jotted down some of the tactics I use.  I’ve tried to firm them up and streamline them a little bit so they make sense.

  1. Read ALL the time: I am somehow, about 75% of the day, connected to a book in one way or another.  Whether I’m listening to one on a long drive, carting one around town with me, or reading one on my laptop, I try to make sure that I always have a book near me.  Some days I can crank out 150 pages on the couch, other days I may get  30 minutes to read.  Whatever the case, I try to incorporate reading into everyday life.  It’s become so commonplace for me that I kind of feel lost without a book nearby.
  2. Read on different subjects: This is the biggest key to me.  For work, I read lots on politics, marketing, and data.  But I don’t want to just sit and crank out 6 marketing books, then a couple political books, then an online course or two in statistics.  I’d rather read a couple chapters on each subject a day.  They are all pertinent to work, so why should two months of my time be dominated by one subject? I’m just going to forget all this stuff when I move on to another category.  Similarly, why read one book front to back and then move on? If I’m reading two books on political strategy, I prefer to read a little bit of each at a time then move on to the other one.  That way, I see lots of different ideas and can tinker with some of the conflicting theories and build upon the overlapping theories.  With this method, I have a steady stream of ideas coming from different places.  This allows me to synchronize and streamline all of the different theories and ideas I read about.
  3. Be an active, not a passive reader: Everyone is guilty of this at times.  You read a full book full of good ideas and then you put it down when you’re done and most of those ideas are lost after time goes by.  Your books should never look very good for very long.  Dog ear them, put sticky notes in them, take notes on a laptop and stash them away for another day.  Most people associate this kind of reading with academic texts.  I even do this with my novels.  If you’re reading something and you find it enjoyable or helpful, chances are that you will need it again at some point.  Make it easy on yourself and catch these things the first time around.
  4. Read something out of your comfort zone: I’ve read my fair share of self-improvement books, but lately my reading has been dominated by work-related stuff.  So I made a point this summer to pick up a self-improvement book, This is How, by Augusten Burroughs.  No, it didn’t give me much insight into what I was normally thinking about at the time.  That was exactly what I was going for.  How your brain functions is largely correlated with what you read.  At the time, I was burned out on politics and marketing.  So I threw my brain a curveball and went off course for a couple days.  I learned some good stuff and I felt refreshed when I came back to my other readings.  Something as simple as going out of your usual genre for a week can be enough to refresh your brain and get you focused again.

And there you have it.  A guide to unorthodox reading.  It won’t work for everyone, but it works for some of us.  I can confidently say that I won’t ever return to the one book at a time mindset.  This method puts about a million swirling ideas in my head at all times, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anxiety: The Great Motivator

Over the weekend, I picked up and read Daniel Smith’s newest book, Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.  As one can probably deduce from the title, Smith’s book deals with his deeply personal life-long dance with anxiety, an emotion we all face at one point or another.  It was a great read, well-written and funny, and one doesn’t need to have a life-long history of anxious tendencies to appreciate how tactfully Smith delves into this part of the human psyche. However, I personally took an interest in this book because I myself am prone to some anxious tendencies. At times, these tendencies have ranged from too much energy to irrational self-doubting to deep intellectualization of the mundane. Example: as a second-grader, I was the only student who got a daily “behavior report” sent home to my mother, which consisted of three faces: one smiling, one frowning, and one indifferent.  I guess this was about as scientific as my teacher had to get to successfully express her satisfaction, or lack thereof, with my behavior for the day.  I was pretty young at the time, but I distinctly remember that most days her judgement erred to one extreme or the other.  Undoubtedly, at that age I did not often provoke a feeling of indifference in my superiors with my behavior.

As I’ve gotten older, it has morphed into an uncanny energy that must be redirected into productivity, lest it becomes detrimental and self-defeating.  Extended down time isn’t great for anyone, but for a Type-A bundle of nerves, it can be exponentially vexing.  Without a purpose, without some direction for this lightning in a bottle, anxiety becomes one’s worst enemy.  With direction and drive, it can be the most powerful tool one could possibly possess.

Smith hits on this notion pretty thoroughly.  Noted often in the text is Kierkegaard’s 1844 treatise, The Concept of Anxiety.  I haven’t read it, as it is cited by even the loudest Existentialist champions as confusing and deluded, but Smith makes some important references to what is often seen as the first text to ever touch on the concept of human anxiety.  Essentially, anxiety is born out of freedom.  Freedom is paradoxical in that human beings continually strive to achieve freedom, but freedom itself is the root of anxious thought.  College students are overwhelmed by the barrage of choices they suddenly face.  Business owners are saddled with a host of stressful situations as a result of their chosen freedoms.  Young parents find that raising a family can be both highly rewarding and draining at the same time.  Therefore, anxiety is uncomfortable, but essential in creating the whole individual.  Humans don’t like choices because they want what is on either side of a given choice, but they can only have one.  It is both our greatest gift and our greatest discomfiture as a species.  My dog does not worry whether his last meal made him fatter, nor does he worry that his extended periods of sleep may negate his productivity or ability to earn.  There are no metered choices in the animal kingdom, save for those that face humans on a daily basis.  This can be at once fully liberating and terrifying for the individual.

To me, it boils down to choices.  Choices are everywhere.  Those that spend their days in fear of choice will most assuredly wither under the perceived pressure that consciousness provides.   When I have been in the throes of anxious thinking, any phone call, meeting, career move, or lunch selection has seemed to possess the capability of leading me to either the heights of triumphs or the depths of existential atrophy.  There is no either/or.  But what I’ve learned is that human choice does not exist in some sort of moral vacuum.  There is no wrong or right, no golden road to serenity or success or happiness paved with a decisive string of “good” choices.  Choices simply provide us with consequences, and once you come to realize that hardly any consequence is insurmountable, you shake some of the anxiety off of your everyday life and you begin to see that it’s less a matter of right or wrong and more a matter of do or do not.  You can clamp yourself down with the fear that your decisions will determine who you are, but they simply do not.  Life is far too complicated to boil down to singular, individual choices.  It’s judged far more on reactions than actions.  I have made many ill-advised decisions, but how these decisions changed the course of my own personal history account for about 1% of outcomes, and the rest on reactions.

I’ve learned that to quell the exclusively human feelings of anxiety, I must simply act.  No, I do not always act with total logic or clarity. No one does. Anyone who thinks they possess this ability is a fool.  But action provides us with a plethora of outcomes, inaction provides us with far less.  When you do something, at least you have a palate and canvas to work with.  You can backtrack, move forward, or hold steady.  But you’ve got to get on the playing field to have a shot at greatness.  And that, if nothing else, is what I’ve taken away from the lessons of my anxieties. I can sit and worry and walk on egg shells, or I can put myself out there and see what happens.  There’s no use in wondering what opportunities passed you by.  There is no valiance in deferral.  Act, then react.  It’s the only way.

The Perks of Being a Night Owl

If there is one thing I’ve learned from a year of being self-employed, it is that I do not enjoy adhering to a strict 9-5 schedule.  For that matter, I don’t like working 10-6, 11-7, or any other 8 hour block that requires me to be up and at ’em before lunch.   Not to say that it can’t be done, as I have my fair share of early mornings in a suit and tie.  But I’m of the belief that any man who routinely goes to sleep on the same calendar day that he woke up lacks fortitude and variety.  Hence, a normal day for me looks like this:

-Wake at around 10, check emails, watch the news, eat breakfast.

-Settle in at the computer around 11:30, return phone calls from people that called around 9 (the nerve), and get to work.

-Work until around 5, relax for a couple of hours, get a workout in, and settle back into work/research for a few hours.

This is where it really gets interesting.  At this point, I’ve put in about 5 hours of work or research.  One of the cool things about my job, at this stage at least, is that I’m still in a constant position to learn.  I strongly believe that reading, and reading alone, is the purest form of hard work.  Pure immersion into the literature of my profession has done more for me in a year than 22 years of education ever did, and that’s no lie.  So this research to me is the most rewarding work I do, and it makes me far more efficient when I’m billing hours or working on projects.  Honestly, something I’ve come to learn since college is that the average American work day is total BS.  People go in, they mess around for 3 hours, they go to lunch, then cram in whatever work they have before the clock runs out at 5.  We spend a ridiculous amount of time returning stupid emails or brainstorming on irrelevant projects in an attempt to mask fatigue or indifference.  I know because I lived   it, and hated it.Now, I know not everyone is in a position to set their own schedule and not everyone wants to start their own business. It’s a headache, real talk. And not every person on the 9-5 is wasting away. My dad owns his own business and he goes in at 8 and leaves at 6, and he legitimately works a full day. He then goes home and shuts it down. But this is rare, and he loves his work.  Far more people get caught up in all the garbage distractions that hinder us from productivity, and I just couldn’t do that anymore.    So when I go to work, albeit a little late, I GO TO WORK. I get things done, and I’m only on that traditional clock for about 5 hours.  After that, the barrage of follow up emails and pointless phone calls stops, and I get in a zone.

From about midnight to 3 AM is where I absolutely crush it.  I’ve even implemented a late-night workout to supplement my earlier workouts.  Is a dude doing CrossFit in his front yard at 1 AM in 35 degree weather crazy? Yeah, probably.  but my cell is not going off and the landlord isn’t coming by and the dog is asleep, so there are zero distractions.  During this time frame, I zip through books, hit new projects hard, take my best notes, and read the blogs or articles that I missed during the day.  It’s pure productivity.  Unadulterated growth of my business simply because no one can piss me off or get me off track.  I know this won’t work for everyone, but for those of you that make your own schedules or work from home, consider it.  Altering the time I work has greatly changed how good my work is.  You won’t see me at Starbucks at 7:30 or stuck in rush hour traffic, but I’m okay with that.  As long as I keep seeing results, I’m okay with being the weird guy in pajamas at lunch.