Leading Teams and Delighting Customers

Month: November 2013

You Don’t Get a Medal For That

Awhile back, I was reading some of Ryan Holiday’s work. Ryan has a distinct way of putting things into perspective, a different outlook on life that in many ways pushes against the status quo. In particular, I’m always impressed with how much he (and many other writers I enjoy) read. They seem to put away books with an insatiable appetite. The books seem to give rise to different thought processes and opinions. So, to give it a try myself, I embarked on a quest of sorts – not only to read more, but to consume, comprehend, and apply the material I was reading. I loaded up my Kindle and ordered some material books to stock my shelves, ready to stuff my brain with new knowledge and change the way I think.

So, where are we now? Well, I’ve certainly managed to read more. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read On Writing, Good to Great, David and Goliath, and I’m nearly finished with Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard. Am I thinking differently? Maybe. Do I walk around quoting book excerpts and viewing life from a different perspective? Not exactly. Have I enjoyed my recent reading exploits? Moderately.

When I started trying to consume more material, I was doing it for all of the wrong reasons. Instead of enjoying the art of reading, I wanted to have already read the books I was purchasing. For some reason, I thought that mimicking others would somehow improve me as a result. I was reading through the books to attain some different level of status rather than for actual enjoyment and learning. Often times, I think this rings true in other areas of our lives as well. Retail stores create products that are, by default, addicting. We buy toys, electronics, clothes, and other items, not because we want them ourselves necessarily, but to join some sort of club and to be looked favorably upon in the face of others. The same sentiments ring true for my reading experiment. Yes, I love to read, and I will continue to do so. But, I’ll read on my own terms selecting books for enjoyment rather than for the off-chance that I can namedrop in conversation. If I was truly honest with myself, I’d have to say that David vs. Goliath and Switch were the only two books I enjoyed out of the recent list. I had to basically force myself to read through the other two.

For those that aren’t familiar with the book, Atlas Shrugged is a book by Ayn Rand. It’s popular both for its content and for its mega length.

As the holiday season closes in, it’s important to reflect on our thoughts and actions. It’s easy to fall prey to the typical consumer mentality where the best reason to get something is because everyone else already has it. But, in the end, those products aren’t worth much. Instead, do things that are meaningful to you. Buy things that you truly need or will use. Don’t hop on the group mentality and attempt to join a club of sorts with that latest and greatest item. At the end of the day, you don’t get a medal for that. At the end of the tunnel, there isn’t a group of people waiting to congratulate you on finally finishing Atlas Shrugged. So, what are you truly reading it for? I hope that answer is because you want to. Don’t waste your time trying to do something in the hopes that it elevates you to a certain status level.

Don’t Waste Your Most Important Asset

I often wonder what my most valuable asset is.

Is it money? Probably not. In my mind, money is largely infinite (you can always make more) provided you work hard enough and have a creative mind.

It certainly isn’t material items. Although I’m finding things constantly creeping into my life, I recently went on a purge of sorts and feel awesome.

One could make a case for relationships as those require effort to nurture and grow. A great relationship also energizes both parties and can greatly increase one’s quality of life.

However, in my mind, our most valuable asset is time.

  • There’s a limited amount.
  • You can’t stop it.
  • There’s no option for redoes.

I also feel like it indicates a lot about a person. I’ve written about this before, but essentially, since time is so valuable, where you spend it and what you spend it on should matter.

Your Relationship With Time

Awhile back, I wrote about reverse-engineering happiness, essentially envisioning the happiest you could possibly be and then formulating your life to fit those idealized scenarios rather than trying to conjure up happiness without first defining it. In my experience, this largely helps to figure out where to best spend your time. Picture yourself doing what you love to do on a daily basis. Envision it down to the hour.

  • When do you wake up?
  • Where do you go?
  • What do you do?
  • How long and where do you work?

All of these questions need to be answered in an honest way. Only then can you set the destination to work towards. Before that point, you might as well be shooting darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. It’s nearly impossible to hit something you can’t see.

Here comes the roadblock.

Even after defining all of those areas of your day and accurately partitioning your time according to how you really and truly want to spend it, it’s going to be hard to implement. There’s a certain feeling about being busy. Regardless of what you’re doing, busting your ass from dawn till dusk makes you feel more productive, regardless of what you’re actually getting done.

When Tim Ferriss originally published his book on The 4-Hour Work Week, it changed the typical notion of how many people view work. Instead of viewing it as a way to spend your day, Tim pictured work largely as an outlet to freedom. By successfully setting up your career, work could be a catalyst to your free time rather than an impediment. Again, that sounds great in theory. But, how many individuals do you think read that book and actually implemented a single word? Probably not many. The idea of living your dream schedule (waking up when you want, working when you want) sounds great, but can be hard to implement because it largely pushes against the status quo. As Ben Franklin put it, leisure time and laziness are often confused:

A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave. – Benjamin Franklin

Time spent working is pictured as the norm, and free time spent enjoying yourself is the luxury to be enjoyed occasionally. People feel obligated to work.

The Required Change of Mindset

Perhaps the worst distinction one could make is that time not spent working is time wasted. To quote Henry Ford:

“Every man needs more than one day a week for rest and recreation….The Ford Company always has sought to promote [an] ideal home life for its employees. We believe that in order to live properly every man should have more time to spend with his family.”

“It is high time to rid ourselves of the notion that leisure for workmen is either ‘lost time’ or a class privilege.”

That “notion” as Ford calls it has slowly crept back into our minds.

We view time off as wasted time that could otherwise be used to create/build/make/earn something (typically money). As Ford put it, that notion is absolute nonsense. In truth, your time is yours to spend how you wish.

So, it’s time for a change of mindset. Stop viewing time as a means to accomplish work and start viewing it as a finite resource meant to help you enjoy everything that life has to offer.

Don’t Wait for Perfect

I have a confession to make – I haven’t made any progress in the gym in the last few years.

While I’ve had some success with my career and relationships, physically speaking, this isn’t shaping up to be my best year. Sure, I’ve been lifting consistently and staying active. I haven’t ballooned up in weight nor have I shrunk tremendously back to my natural stick-figure frame. By the same token, I haven’t gotten any stronger either. Or faster. Or more muscular. If anything, I’ve gotten weaker.

None of this comes as a shock to me. While I hate to admit it, my fitness level hasn’t been a focus for me for a few different reasons:

  • I was busy
  • I was lazy
  • I had no accountability

For quite awhile, I knew I needed to make a change. Fitness has always been and will always be an important aspect to my life. In my head, I knew a change was necessary, but instead of act, I kept making excuses.

“I need to focus more on work until I’m financially stable.”

“I’m working so hard that it’s okay if my fitness level suffers.”

“Well, I’m not getting fitter, but I’m also not getting grotesquely out of shape. This can hold off for awhile.”

As a result, I have remained relatively stagnant over the past few years.

I’d imagine I’m not the only one to experience the complacency syndrome. You realize that you’re unhappy with a certain situation, but it just feels too damn hard to change it. It can pop up in a number of areas in our lives:

  • Relationships
  • Career paths
  • Mental well-being
  • Physical well-being

In some cases, the feelings of complacency resonate in multiple areas at once leaving you feeling depressed and completely powerless.

The Road Out From Complacency

Recently, I decided to make a change and re-prioritize some items in my life. As I’ve said before, I believe that where we spend our time and our money represents the most important items in our life. I, for one, was spending them in entirely the wrong areas.

In order to help me prioritize my physical well-being, I decided to pull the trigger and register for the Scrawny to Brawny program from Precision Nutrition. Coming from my background in fitness, I’m very familiar with the coaches there. In fact, this wasn’t the first time I had considered joining. I had registered for their pre-order list for the past three coaching groups. In all three circumstances, I talked myself out of it.

I didn’t have the money.

I wasn’t ready to commit the time.

I know how to gain weight so why do I need a coach?

In my head, I knew all three of those arguments were a lie. If something is important enough, you can always find the money. The same thing is true for time. Finally, “knowing” is only half the battle; real results requires active implementation of knowledge.

So, I stopped waiting for the perfect scenario.

I took the plunge and signed up. We’re only in the second week of the coaching group, but I’m already far in front of where I would be if it was up to me. I have a regular routine, a coach and coaching group to turn to for motivation, and guidelines to keep me on track nutritionally.

Through this experience (and others like it), I’m continually learning that the perfect scenario never truly does exist. All of the pieces won’t fall into place at the exact right moment. You’ll never have enough money or enough time. But, both of those items are allocated by you. So, you can choose to allocate them in a different way than you are now.

Start thinking to yourself – what have you been postponing? In what area of your life are you waiting for the perfect scenario?

It’s likely never going to come.

Instead of waiting, figure out what steps you can take right now to help right the ship. There will always be reasons to put things off, but happiness is one thing in life that shouldn’t be delayed.

If You Hate Smoking, Don’t Make Cigarettes

“Ross Millhiser, then vice chairman of Philip Morris and a dedicated smoker, said, “I love cigarettes. It’s one of the things that makes life really worth living.” – Good to Great by Jim Collins

For those that don’t know, Millhiser was the man responsible for enlisting the rugged cowboy image that helped to propel Marlboro to the top of the cigarette charts.

It doesn’t take a medical doctor to know that smoking isn’t the best thing for your health. Granted, Millhiser was at the top of the industry during a time when medical knowledge wasn’t terribly advanced, but the quote still is very powerful. It embodies just how much passion Ross had for his craft. Sure, his job was to package and sell cigarettes to both dedicated smokers and to hook in fresh blood to pump with nicotine. It obviously behooves someone in that situation to be a proponent of smoking. While I’m never going to work within the cigarette industry, I think it poses some pretty powerful questions regarding passion and happiness at work.

A little while ago, I posted a thought I had concerning prioritizing different parts of your life and making them the focal point of your time. One of the prioritized items on my list was “my purpose”. In the description, I briefly hit on the idea that “work” and “purpose” are two vastly different concepts in my mind. The word “work” typically becomes synonymous with a daily chore that we put ourselves through often helping to turn someone else’s dream into a reality. By contrast, purpose is much more fulfilling. It’s evident above that Millhiser found something to work on that he was passionate about. To him, it wasn’t just work. He was putting out a product that he both loved and enjoyed using.

So, the inevitable question: Are you working on a product/service/idea that you have a passion for?

Some Thoughts on Changing Careers

After announcing a few weeks back that I would be moving from the digital advertising world, where I lived briefly, to working full-time for Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, many of my friends pointed out that I had somehow managed to make this blogging thing a full-blown career. I’ll admit – I’ve been surprised at how well the transition has gone myself.

When I started with blogging and writing, I saw it mainly as a part-time gig to help fill my time and potentially earn some extra money outside of personal training. I had no idea it would end up turning into a full-time career. While the road has been paved with extremely fortunate circumstances, at the same time, it hasn’t been easy to switch from a career in fitness and personal training to working full-time for a tech company. I wanted to compile some thoughts regarding the transition and some things I learned along the way.

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Lessons From The Most Embarrassing Story in My Young Career

When I was 16, I, like many other teenagers blessed with a new car to go along with my new license, was immediately ushered out into the working world. To help pay for my own things as well as prove to my parents that video games and cross country weren’t going to occupy my free time forever, I set out to get my first real job. Of course, I’d been paid an allowance when I was younger (mostly in poker chips which I then exchanged for cold hard cash), but this was going to be the real thing – with a paycheck, taxes, the whole nine yards.

As with most young teens, the thought of working alongside strangers (most much older than I was) didn’t exactly excite me. So, it should have come as no surprise to my parents when I ditched the opportunity to work at Walgreens right across the street from my house for the chance to work at the Taco Bell on the local college campus alongside two of my good friends. The decision was quite easy actually – all the free tacos I could eat, friends to goof off with, and the opportunity to hang with college-aged chicks. What more does a high school kid need?

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The Hedgehog and the Fox

In an effort to continually learn a thing or two throughout this life, I’m always on the lookout for good books to read. One, in particular, was recommended by more than a handful of friends so I decided to take a look. The book, Good to Great from Jim Collins, provides an excellent analysis of what it takes to be a great leader. The way Jim and his team breakdown historical examples of amazing leaders provides some great insight into what it truly means to be “great” and inspire a whole organization.

One concept in particular is the story of the Hedgehog and the Fox, originally told in an essay by Isaiah Berlin, that covers two different mindsets on mastery. As described by William Barrett for the NY Times:

“On this ancient bit of wisdom Mr. Berlin bases his distinction between two fundamental human types: those who have sharp eyes, like the fox, for the multiple things of the world, and those, like the hedgehog, whose defense consists of a single centripetal impulse–that is, who seek an inner unified vision.”

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What Won’t You Do?

Work 1,000 hours? Go to the ends of the Earth to uphold your word? Lie to keep others happy?

We’re presented with thousands of choices each day. Many are simple to make; others are a bit more difficult. Often times, these choices have a ‘cost and effect’ type of feel. In fact, every choice has a cost and effect to a certain extent.

One of the biggest choices that we have to make on a daily basis is where we’re going to spend our time. There’s a finite amount of time in your day. In my mind, how you choose to spend it tells a ton about your character. Are you spending it working? Are you spending the vast majority with your family? Are you complaining or taking life head on?

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What is College Good For?

Recently, there’s been a quick uptick in the amount of writing on the internet meant to steer the popular opinion away from going to college and instead, encourage young teens to learn through gaining real world experience. A quick scan of my RSS feed right now shows two additional posts on the topic. James Altucher is one particular individual that commands quite and audience and speaks to the inefficiencies of college  and several alternatives.

All of these articles putting down the use for secondary education include many of the same arguments:

  • College costs a lot of money, and it almost always forces students into debt
  • College students aren’t likely to use much of the coursework they study in their real jobs
  • College takes roughly four years to complete and much of that time is spent partying – not actually learning a trade
  • One could argue that college forces students into a certain path and removes any and all opportunities for creativity and “figuring it out”

Having gone through college (and graduate school) myself, I can certainly agree with a few of the main arguments. Sure, college is expensive. I dug myself a hole in student debt that I’m continuing to pay off right now, albeit at a quick pace. I’m certainly not using much of my main coursework in my job now (I studied Human Performance, but now I work for Automattic, a digital publishing and tech company). I certainly spent much of my four years partying (sorry Mom). But, at the same time, I think we’ve gone a bit overboard.

While the arguments for postponing secondary education or skipping it altogether seem to make sense on paper, the numbers don’t add up in real life. Several of the assumptions the proponents of this idea are making don’t apply to everyone and anyone.

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