Don’t Be A Lifestyle Slave and You Will Be Much Happier

Being fully present while observing this beautiful sunset doesn’t cost a penny. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

The Matrix was an amazing movie. Yes, the entertainment value was excellent. But what really made it special was the way the concept got people thinking. It can apply to so, so many areas of life. The Red Pill community has literally based its name on the movie, and with good reason. The concept of unplugging oneself from an entire system of intentional, insidious deception, whether living in an entirely virtual world, as in The Matrix, or in a feminine dominated reality that is blindly accepted by almost everyone in our society, is powerful. Today I want to challenge you to do it with the supposed connection between consumption and happiness. And what better time than just before Christmas?

Look around you. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to convince you to spend your Christmas dollars with them. And everywhere you look, someone is rewarding that effort by doing just that. There are literally people taking out loans or loading up their credit cards because of the social pressure they feel to participate in this annual spending orgy. And these poor decisions aren’t just being made on an individual basis; to the contrary, this is a movement of self destruction that has a nearly religious fervor.

Don’t get me wrong. As a member of society with family, friends, etc, I participate in all of this to some degree. It is definitely possible to derive joy from the act of giving. But my giving is entirely grounded in my ability to do so. If I were living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay down a mountain of student loan debt, unemployed, or in any other form of financial difficulty, you can bet my efforts would be focused on putting out that fire. I happily give out gifts at this and other times of the year solely because I have excess available to dedicate to that purpose.

But save for a short, unfulfilling period of my early twenties, I have never completely subscribed to the “buying more crap will make me happy” mentality we see all around us. Bigger houses to fill with more and fancier furniture, more expensive vehicles, stuff galore, it doesn’t matter. The theme permeates everything. More is better. But there’s just one little problem. It isn’t. In fact, quite the opposite has been true for me. And I don’t believe I’m alone in that.  

I lived a relatively simple life before I moved from Wisconsin to Texas. My commercial quality home gym was by far my most prized set of possessions. But I still had to get rid of over a thousand square feet worth of stuff before I could move because I had decided to live in a nice, but small apartment while I got acclimated to my new home. Every item I had accumulated over the years was something I had just had to have when I originally bought it. And most of them had seemed too important to get rid of at any point before that. But when suddenly forced to get rid of all but a small, carefully chosen selection of my earthly possessions and move into a much smaller space, a funny thing happened. I felt better.

Today, I have almost no desire to buy or rent a larger home in spite of the fact that I could easily afford to do so. In fact, the mere thought of doing so stresses me out. If I bought a house and suddenly had more space, I would almost certainly fill it with similarly pointless possessions to the ones I had previously thought I wanted, but had felt liberated by getting rid of.

Now let’s look at the other side of this equation. By avoiding being one of the many people whose very life embodies an obsession with the word “more,” I’m able to save and invest over half my income. This has given me something intangible that no “stuff” could: peace. For example, my industry is currently in a deep, ugly recession that has destroyed jobs, businesses, and even lives. And at the moment, no end is in sight. But I have over a year’s worth of living expenses in cash alone and much, much more in other forms.

Is a man like me likely to be unemployed for an entire year? No. Unemployment is extremely low and I’m a high achiever. And besides, already growing very weary of the sucking dick for money that is most W2 employment, over the last year, I’ve already taken the initiative of starting three businesses. One was a fairly quick failure but another has been a modest success so far and will likely continue to be that at a minimum. And I believe the third, and latest one, has a strong possibility of not just paying my expenses, but replacing most, or even all, of my current income by the end of 2020. So in the midst of relentless job attrition in my industry, and even within the smaller world of my employer, I sleep great at night. In fact, if I were offered any sort of reasonable buyout today, or forced to take one, as is the more likely scenario, I would gladly take it. I’m confident that between my currently small, but rapidly growing business income, my investment income, my cash, and if all else fails, getting another job, I will be just fine. To me, that is worth more than almost any possession I could possibly have.

But this isn’t just because I’m good at making money. It’s also because I keep my expenses reasonable, thus setting myself a low bar to clear. With the combination of the two of them, I’ve set myself free from the shackles that keep most people trapped in enormously stressful lives that are so far from ones they would truly love. And you could do the exact same thing. But it would probably require challenging some assumptions you’ve been programmed to believe – like “more is better” or that any worthwhile people might love you less if you don’t give them the right gifts.

So this Christmas, why not enjoy some time with the people you love while also being thankful for free will? Why not use that free will to start questioning your expenses one after another – are they really making you happy in a way that you wouldn’t be without them? Are they really worth more than the step closer to freedom that money could be instead? It’s your life. You have every right to live it the best way you can find. What a tragedy it would be to spend the entire thing as a plugged in consuming machine without ever even trying anything else.

How I’m Getting Back on Track After a Few Very Tough Weeks

Ridiculously cheap seasonal produce deals can help to perk me up sometimes. These apples are perfect for my green smoothies and they have a good shelf life, so yes, I bought a few bags!

Over the last few weeks, my day to day life has grown brutally demanding and I’ve been pushing myself very hard, including a few consecutive days of working nearly around the clock. As a result, I started getting pretty run down. Exhaustion set in and with it, some weak thinking that led me back down the path to my old nemesis, depression, which I had not experienced in quite a while. All my problems seemed to have grown to insurmountable sizes and new ones were popping up faster than I could deal with them. I was really letting things get to me until Saturday night, when I made a conscious decision to get the situation under control.

I determined that in my overloaded state, I had fallen into three main forms of self destruction. I chose to focus on attacking just those items. First, I had been getting very little sleep to the point where I wasn’t even physically able to get up at my usual time (lately between 5 and 5:30). As a result, I would be behind schedule before my day even started. I had even missed two workouts – something I try extremely hard to avoid. This was happening partially because of the very high demands on my time, but also due to something I was doing. When I get too stressed out, I tend to get stuck in a state of mental paralysis and waste a bunch of time browsing the internet on my phone, and I had fallen back into that habit. So that was the second thing. Third, I was making everything more difficult by indulging my sweet tooth too often – another habit I’m prone to when I’m overstressed. Each of these things was causing problems on its own, but each was also making the others worse in some way. I had trapped myself in a negative feedback loop.

So I resolved to get those three things under control. I would force myself to get to bed by 9:30 each night so I could be up by 5:30 and still get enough sleep. I would limit myself to only browsing the internet on my phone during my time on the cardio machines throughout the week. And finally, I would limit myself to a maximum of one “treat” per week. I didn’t go extreme on any of these items, but set goals I felt were both reasonable and adequate to improve things dramatically.

Getting up this morning was brutal, but I did it. I suspect it will be easier to fall asleep tonight (I’m writing this on Sunday). The phone item proved too difficult on fantasy football day, but I only had a few quick lapses, which didn’t waste more than fifteen minutes or so total. And I successfully got through the day without eating any treats. It helped that I made myself some delicious, but healthy meals to enjoy. And the results? I do feel much better. Things aren’t completely back under control yet, but I believe I’m well on my way to getting there. Of course, it remains to be seen how I fare with Monday morning, as I’m sure the stress level will be cranked right back up to eleven. But hopefully I will be able to keep myself mindful of the fact that the way I respond to things is extremely important. Plus, I only have to make it through three days this week and then I have four more to use for further recovery purposes.

Do you have any preferred methods for snapping yourself out of it when you lose sight of things? Please share them in the comments or email them to admin@healthwealthpower.com. And have a great Monday!

Sharpening the Saw – Possibly Covey’s Most Underrated Habit

Believe it or not, this tranquil scene of water and mist is on a little trail at a rest area only a hundred or so feet from a major highway between Houston and Dallas. Spots like this offer a great opportunity for travelers like me to “sharpen the saw,” if only for a few minutes.

Happy Monday! If you haven’t read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, I highly recommend it. Most likely, it will either help to explain some of the trends you’re seeing in your life or it will give you some ideas that will improve that life dramatically if you implement them. Simply put, it’s an absolute classic in the world of self help, success oriented books. I could easily write posts about every one of the habits and how they’ve helped me, but right now I feel compelled to write about the very last one: sharpening the saw.

The reason I want to write about this concept is that although last week was pretty rough, today, I feel better than I have in a while heading into a new one. What did I do this weekend that brought this about? Yes, I did some work on both of my side businesses (I’m working on a brand new second one; I’m sure I’ll talk more about that as it progresses), this blog, and my W2 job. But mostly, I sharpened the saw. What does that entail? Instead of focusing on production, you focus on doing the things that support it.

In my case, I got some fresh air while playing tennis, did my usual weekend cardio, cleaned up my apartment, read, drank delicious coffee, talked to some good friends, made and enjoyed some delicious food, watched some quality football (unfortunately the Packers won, but at least it was a good game), and just generally relaxed and recharged. None of this is revolutionary stuff, and none of it will directly result in anything measurable. But that’s not the point.

The point is that on a Monday morning, I feel energized and ready to attack my workout and get my week going. As always, there are plenty of challenges ahead. Plenty of things I would rather not do, or even think about. But take away that weekend I had, and rather than feeling ready to take all of it on, I’m feeling run down and nowhere near in the right frame of mind. So that’s about it for today. When you get a chance in your life, I encourage you to sharpen your own saw.

Here’s to an awesome start to the week for all of us!

Every Step Affects Your Destination So Choose Wisely

Getting out in the woods can be a great way to quiet your mind and figure some things out.

Today I’m going to write about something that is breaking my heart because I see it happening way too often, resulting in devastating consequences in people’s lives and subsequently, for society at large. There seems to be an epidemic involving people thinking they can have whatever they want without paying any cost at all. I’ve succumbed to this siren song at times in my own life so I know it’s very powerful. But I’ve learned that everything on life has a cost. Everything. Want to be in great physical shape? You pay for it by spending a lot of time in the gym and eating well. Want to live in a big, beautiful house? You have to pay a lot of money. Want a good career? You have to dedicate a lot of time to it.

What I’m describing ought to be considered a law of nature at this point. If there were no costs, what would anything be worth? Everyone would have the best of everything and none of it would have any meaning whatsoever. But the world doesn’t have the resources to support that and even if it did, we would all be living terribly unfulfilled lives. Why? Fulfillment comes from facing challenges, overcoming them, and growing as a result. You get none of that when you take the easy road. Imagine if you had everything you wanted right now – a big mansion, millions of dollars, a fleet of expensive vehicles, a beautiful and loving family, the admiration of many people, etc. Your vision probably includes you being happy. But what happens if you stay in that vision as the days, weeks, months, and years go by? I believe that smile is going to fade. Why do you have all those emblems of success? Why do those people love you? There isn’t a reason. You didn’t earn any of it. And that element is crucial. So many people don’t understand this and it crushes them in life. They fetishize the material rewards of success but that’s nothing but fool’s gold. The value of success isn’t in rewards; it’s in the process of earning it.

And beyond simply depriving yourself of fulfillment, making the easy choices in life will actually make things worse for you. By bypassing paying the cost of something, you increase the cost you will eventually have to pay. If you just make the minimum payment on your credit card bill today instead of paying the full statement balance, that bill is going to come back bigger next month. If you keep doing it, eventually you are going to drown in credit card debt. If you skip the gym today, tomorrow you’re going to have to work even harder just to get back to where you could have been. If you stop going to the gym altogether, eventually you are going to have health problems you otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Most people aren’t very future oriented and as a result, they see substantially higher long term costs as a perfectly acceptable trade off for somewhat lower costs today. This is how obese people are built – one bad decision at a time. This is how people in their sixties with no choice but to work until they drop dead got there – “I’ll start saving tomorrow.” Please do not choose that kind of path for yourself. I highly recommend The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. That book explains this concept brilliantly in scientific terms.

Think about who you would be in life if there were no limits. Whatever that looks like, I’m here to tell you that you can have it. Maybe not exactly what you pictured, but you can make your life look much more like that than it does now in ways that you will never believe. But you have to start doing the work. Not next week, not tomorrow, NOW. You are building your future with every decision you make. Instead of what is easiest right now, think about where you actually want to go in life and make the choice that is going to move you in that direction. It won’t be long before those little, good decisions will start to add up to big, positive changes and you’ll realize how important every one of them really was. And from there, it will get easier and easier to make more of them – and bigger ones too.

Or, you can stop working on something important because it’s too hard. You can have a Twinkie because vegetables don’t taste as good. You can sit on your increasingly fat ass and watch mindless garbage on tv because you don’t feel like doing anything productive. You get the idea. But don’t blame anyone else when you have gone nowhere in life in twenty years. Don’t demand that successful people pay for your mistakes. Don’t try to force your bitterness on others who have made better choices than you have. Whether or not you want to earn anything in life, I can assure you that you will. But it might not be an outcome you, or anyone, would want. Please choose something better and make something out of your time on this earth.

Possibly the Most Unattractive Statement I’ve Ever Heard

Just a phenomenally timed photo! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

No matter what your goals are with the opposite sex, you will probably have to play the numbers game. And since my divorce a few years ago, I’ve done just that. Not long ago, I met a woman who seemed pretty worthwhile at first. She was attractive and clearly intelligent. But my assessment changed in an instantaneous and permanent manner when she said something that absolutely appalled me. “I wouldn’t want to be with someone like you because you clearly live a healthy lifestyle and I don’t want to feel pressured to live that way too.”

One issue with dating women in their early to mid twenties is that you can’t necessarily assess their lifestyle very easily. Sure, some of them are already significantly overweight at that age and others are showing signs of aging prematurely, both of which are indicative of consistently poor choices in one or more areas. But many of them still look great thanks to nothing but a combination of age and genetics. And that was clearly the case here. She went on to describe her party girl lifestyle, which sounded like it mostly involved staying out drinking at bars, clubs, etc until the wee hours of the morning, rather proudly. This was clearly a woman who is well on her way to hitting the wall head first and at full speed.

But it wasn’t even the fact that she’s squandering every resource she has – her health, her money, and the time her very life is made up of – that shocked me. I see women her age still living that way all the time. Consequently, the reason I tend to date women that age, as opposed to younger than that, is because the smarter ones tend to be starting to realize that they aren’t going to be young forever and adjusting their choices accordingly. The reason I usually avoid women thirty and above is that many of the ones who are single at that age have never made those all important adjustments, but now want kids regardless – with whoever is foolish or desperate enough to attach himself to that mess for a couple of decades at a minimum.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. I’ve suspected plenty of women of harboring this “I don’t want to be with someone who looks like he might have even modest expectations” mentality. I’ve just never met one who was actually willing to admit it before. She apparently wants to date a man with no more drive or self discipline than she has. And the crazy part is that she went on to talk forlornly about being single as the minutes, which started to seem like hours, passed. Of course she is single! What kind of man would be attracted enough to someone with an attitude like that to have anything beyond casual sex with her? What are the odds that she herself would find a man like that attractive? It’s amazing how self destructive people can be. But in this case, she has an almost unbelievable combination of awareness of what she’s doing to herself and insistence on continuing to do it.

The lesson here, of course, is to live exactly the opposite way this woman is. Make the right choices, not the easiest ones. Surround yourself with people who motivate you to be better in every area of your life. Avoid people who are going to drag you down to their level with their mere presence. I’m sure you have all heard the quote about being the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While I don’t think it’s quite that simple, I’m a big believer in the basic concept. Clearly the woman I met was, too. She just had a very perplexing vision for what she wanted her “average” to be. More power to her, I guess. But I strongly recommend you choose the best life you can for yourself. Why would anyone want a crappy one?

Your Life Is Going to Change; What Do You Want It to Look Like When It Does? Part 2

Happy Friday! Here is the conclusion to Wednesday’s post.

Waiting our turn to taxi. Jets are usually prioritized and with good reason – they’re burning hundreds of dollars of fuel in just minutes!

I’ve discussed how I got here plenty over the life of this nearly year old blog so I won’t revisit that here. This would be a good post to check out if you’re interested in the cliff notes version. Over the last few years, I’ve met all sorts of people and seen all sorts of things – a whole world I never would have experienced if my old life hadn’t ended so catastrophically that I decided to start over nearly from scratch. And one thing I’ve learned is that you aren’t defined by your current circumstances. You can be anything you want to be. If you don’t like your current circumstances, change them. It will probably require making some changes to yourself, but that is possible as well.

In fact, beyond being just possible, it’s inevitable. Remember those “cool kids” from high school? The quarterback and the hottest girl, who were always at the center of everything? Well, they changed too. They got married and had kids. Now he’s fat, bald, and trapped in a crappy job he hates while she’s fat and bitter and sits at home watching daytime tv all day. Obviously, that isn’t what always happens, although I do think peaking too early in life can be disastrous. But every person on this planet will change and so will their circumstances. Winners today are definitely not guaranteed to be winners tomorrow. And blessed are the “late bloomers” among us. We had to fight through significant challenges before the sun would shine in our worlds and as a result, today it’s shining brighter than we could ever have imagined it would. 

So who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? You do have a say in these matters. Look around you. Do you see the people you DON’T want to be? Those people had a choice too. Chances are, their attitude was that they didn’t. Life just “happened” to them. And look at them now. They didn’t decide what they wanted and force it to come into their lives, so they got the leftovers no one else wanted. Not making a choice is still a choice. I strongly suggest that if you’re a pessimist, you make changing that your first priority. I’ve recommended some great books on the subject in the past, but anything by Martin Seligman is probably the best recommendation I can possibly make.

From there, think about what you want your life to be. Envision it. If you were who you wanted to be, and you lived exactly the life you wanted, what would that look like? Now don’t just let it fade away like another daydream. Write it down. Next, figure out what steps you need to take in order to make your reality look like the one you just imagined. This may require some research. Finally, break the necessary changes down into small, actionable items and start doing them. Don’t get caught in the traps of perfectionism or “analysis paralysis.” Starting imperfectly is much better than never starting at all.

That’s it. You should start to notice changes in both your life and yourself almost immediately. Taking action is very powerful. It’s one of the main differences between people who life “happens to” and people who mold their lives into what they want them to be. I know someone who bought his first rental house five years ago and now has over seventy of them and a seven figure net worth to boot. I know someone else who has gone from a beginner sales rep to one of the best and most successful in our company in about that same timeframe. You really can transform your life, and in a lot less time than you would probably guess. But it won’t happen unless you decide to make it.

Your Life Is Going to Change; What Do You Want It to Look Like When It Does?

The very coffee machine referred to in the post making the very coffee I was waiting for when I conceived the idea for it.

The other day, I heard a song that reminded me of a very different time in my life. My then fiancé and I were both working what felt like dead end jobs with few prospects for anything better. We lived in Wisconsin, suffering through the standard six months of hellish weather on an annual basis. Everything I did in life, including staying in Wisconsin, was dedicated to her – something I now know was a terrible mistake and would have been whether or not our eventual marriage had only lasted two years. But how could I know that? I hadn’t been with many women before her, so like most men in that situation, I held on for dear life and smothered any chance of her remaining interested in me out of existence. Anyway, we lived in a decent, but modest apartment, and we each drove a 10+ year old vehicle. We had some fun, but mostly it amounted to hanging out with family and friends. Every spare dollar went to paying down our student loans. From an objective perspective, our life together wasn’t much to look at. However, I was naively happy and didn’t expect any of the fundamental parts of it to change too dramatically from there. There’s a powerful sense of security in that, albeit a false one in many cases.

But as I waited for the fancy coffee machine in the clubhouse of the luxury apartment complex I live in to finish brewing the amazing coffee I enjoy every morning I’m in town, I marveled at how vastly different my life is today. While it can certainly be stressful, and is particularly so lately given the current state of the industry, my job pays about three times what I made back in the time I was referring to in the last paragraph. My side business adds almost as much as I was making back then with very little time commitment required on my part, bringing my total income to about four times what it was. I still have friends and family, but now instead of a long term relationship, I tend towards enjoying being with someone while it’s mutually enjoyable, then moving on when that passes. I appreciate every experience and I look forward to the next. I have no trouble finding women who want to spend time with me, so there isn’t any over-committing on my part and as a result, my relationships tend to be much better while they last. I fly planes and write for this blog in my spare time, and enjoy both activities immensely. Oh yeah. And I’m enjoying all of this stuff from the comfort of my favorite state, over a thousand miles from bitter Wisconsin, and I get to spend regular time in four of its biggest and best cities – Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. Why choose just one?

Problems that used to seriously worry me aren’t even problems at all now. I was having some trouble with my computer the other day. And while I was able to get it fixed with the help of my teacher turned IT professional mother, it occurred to me that if I had needed to replace my year and a half old computer, I could do so and I would barely have noticed the difference in cashflow that month. I’m considering going on a nice vacation early next year and it has already occurred to me that once again, I can pay for it out of monthly cashflow and not really think twice. Oh. And I just bought myself a luxury sports car – although I did stay true to my principles in the way that I did it. I’ll get into that next week; I promise this time! The point of this isn’t to brag. The point is that there is a night and day difference between these two periods in my life. I’m going to guess what you may be thinking here. There must have been a decade or more of hard work separating these two almost polar opposite chapters of my life, right? Wrong. Try six years. And if you’re going from the demise of my ill fated marriage until today, when things still weren’t dramatically different from the first paragraph above, you can make that three and a half. I have wasted much of my life so far as a pessimist. I still struggle with it. But it is much easier to challenge that way of thinking now that I’ve seen the seemingly miraculous changes that are possible in life.

To be continued…

The Illusion of Security – Part 2

Good morning everyone! Today’s post is the conclusion to my post from last Monday. Whereas that one exhibited more of an “old testament” tone, today’s is more in the “gospel” direction. It felt good to write it and I hope it feels equally good to read it.

I believe I’ve used this picture before, but I don’t even care. It’s an awesome message that tends to come true more often than not.

But just like with anything else, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. I’m on track to be a millionaire by forty if I continue to work that long and I still spend sleepless nights envisioning what might happen if I lose my job. I get worked up over relatively small setbacks that pose almost zero threat to my long term success in any area of life. Through hard work on my mindset and rapidly improving actual circumstances, I have gotten better about this. But my desires are still way too close to the security end of the spectrum. As far as I can tell, there are at least two antidotes to this problem.

One is to assess your position and worst case scenario from a rational viewpoint. Think about things as if an average, unbiased observer was watching your life on tv. In my case, if I lost my job, I could live on cash for at least six months without that income and if I needed to go further, I could liquidate enough in other assets to extend that by years. It is pretty difficult to imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t have another job by the time all my assets were exhausted and it wouldn’t even have to be a remotely comparable job to my existing one since my living expenses are less than $30k a year and I could cut them by half and still have everything I technically needed. But if none of that worked out, I have friends and family. I’m not the easiest guy on earth to get along with, as you may have guessed by reading my blog, but there is almost a zero percent chance that no one would take me in while I worked to get back on my feet. Even if no one would, there are organizations and programs dedicated to people in such dire circumstances. And even if none of that helped me, I see homeless people on the streets every day; they are surviving somehow. Almost the entirety of this analysis is absurd because I’m relatively unlikely to take the very first step down the path I’ve just described. I’m well educated and intelligent, I have a good work ethic, there is a (generally) high demand for people with my skillset, and thus far, my income has increased rapidly and consistently.

Another approach is to look at things from the opposite point of view. Since graduating from college, my income has risen over 20% on an annualized basis and while obviously not infinitely sustainable, the rate has only increased as the years have gone on. While I’m on a strongly upward trend in my current job, it is fairly common knowledge within my industry that my employer offers more of an experience building opportunity than a wealth building one and as such, the pay is on the low end of the market. I occasionally get calls from recruiters throwing out numbers $50-100k higher than my current total compensation in an effort to get me to interview for positions I’m getting more qualified for every day. Those calls are getting more frequent over time and in the next year or two, it’s likely that the right one will come. I have a profitable side business that I will likely be able to scale up as large as I would ever want to. My investment account balances grow pretty rapidly since I’m adding a huge portion of my income to them on an ongoing basis. I have a great network of past and current coworkers, many of whom I count as friends. And I have talents besides the ones I’m currently using to bring in money that I have only barely begun to explore. A strong argument could be made that I am likely to have substantially more resources for the foreseeable future – not less, and certainly not none.

All in all, I’m an extremely fortunate guy and a hell of a lot would have to go wrong in this world before I’d be on the street. Your situation may be better or worse than mine but working through the analysis would likely make you feel better if you’re a chronic worrier like me. If it doesn’t make you feel better, then figure out what would and start setting some goals that will help you move in that direction. But the bottom line is this: time spent worrying irrationally is time that could have been spent enjoying the buffet of happy experiences and growth opportunities life offers every day.

My Current Storm and the Adjustments I Need to Make

This is actually from Hurricane Ike, but last week’s tropical depression and subsequent flooding caused substantial devastation in Houston as well. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

I’ve reached a critical point. The stress of my situation has increased to such a degree that I need to address it in a very purposeful way in order to keep it from destroying me. It has literally begun to manifest itself in physical symptoms – terrible headaches that refuse to go away, shortness of breath at times, my heart rate speeding up for no apparent reason, etc. Obviously, I need to first acknowledge that I’m creating the symptoms by handling things the way I am on a psychological level. Then I need to figure out exactly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what changes I need to make. I have the entire day (I’m writing this on Sunday) to dedicate to doing just that while I also work on the usual chores everyone has to do to keep life moving along smoothly. As part of that, I decided to write a post about the situation. I’m hoping that it will both help me to see things in a different way and inspire someone else to work through something of their own.

The heat is up about as hot as it can go. My employer’s firings have continued and while we’re being reassured that anyone left is safe, that, of course, means nothing beyond that the company has an interest in tamping down the panic among its remaining employees as much as possible. Already a couple they didn’t intend to lose, including our perennial number one rep, have escaped and the consequences to the bottom line will be severe. They’ve done it to themselves with their panicked reaction to the circumstances – and it goes way beyond simply firing a large percentage of the sales force. I’m very happy for him because it sounds like he is in a genuinely better situation with enormous potential. But guys like that will always have employers lining up to pay them basically whatever they want. For me and most of the other reps who have neither been fired, nor found the door on our own, better options aren’t necessarily available, especially at a time like this.

Every last one of us is looking, of course. But it’s not so simple. Over the last year or so, our broader industry has been absolutely devastated by a massive oversupply problem that has crushed revenue, putting hundreds of small, medium, and even large businesses under and thousands of people out of work. If one of us were to find a job at another company within the industry, we would very likely be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. You never know the reality of a job until you’re actually doing it and under the current circumstances, that reality is very unlikely to be a good one – no matter where you go and no matter how much a biased recruiter gushes about how great the opportunity is. Every company is dealing with its own version of the same problem right now.  

So how about getting a similar job in a different industry? No dice there either. First off, most of us are finding that there is very little interest in our services in other industries because even though our skillsets are extremely valuable in the right circumstances, we are not exempt from the fact that most employers these days want someone who is already doing exactly the same job they are applying for. While this is obviously a short-sighted attitude that has made hiring quality people more and more difficult and caused significant structural problems in our workforce, it’s still reality. Besides, even if I could get into a different industry, it probably wouldn’t solve my problem for long.

Why not? I’m in a barometer industry. When things get ugly, we tend to get hit first. When things improve, we also tend to see that first. So if I leave now after fighting a year of industry wide recession, I will probably find myself in rapidly worsening conditions as the recession spreads to my new industry. And to make matters worse, my current industry will likely be in recovery mode by then. But having just changed jobs, I would be taking a huge career risk at that point by doing so a second time in a short timeframe. It is best to be in that 3-5 year tenure range before you make a switch if at all possible. Anything less is likely to produce a suboptimal outcome in a variety of ways.

So what should I do? I believe my best option is to continue to stand and fight. I’ve made it this far and besides, bailing out doesn’t appear likely to be possible, or even profitable. Going back to the beginning of this post, since I can’t adjust the outside circumstances, I need to look inward to improve the situation. I’ve already made the disappointing decision to stop taking flying lessons. I was really enjoying them, but I simply can’t afford the time the overall process was taking up anymore and it’s not something that can be “half-assed.” I’ve also cut back on writing for this blog, although I did so a little more than intended, dropping from three posts a week to one. I intend to get that back up to two as I had planned.

The biggest thing I need to work on is to focus on optimizing everything I can control and not letting the things I can’t stress me out the way they have been. That means doing all those things that I know are crucial to my continued success to the best of my ability every day. It also means shutting out the noise. Or, as one of my more senior colleagues told me, in times like this, you just have to keep your head down and work. This is one of Stephen Covey’s seven laws and if you haven’t read his book, I strongly recommend that you do.

I have to be as mentally strong as I possibly can right now. The pendulum is going to swing back the other way for us. It always does. For all I know, it could happen as soon as a few months from now. Even if it doesn’t, it is almost certain that we’ve seen the worst of things. It would be a tragedy to fight so hard for so long and then fall apart so close to the finish line – the equivalent of being among the last soldiers killed in a battle that has already been materially won. I’m not going to let that happen to me. And on the other side of the finish line? A scenario where the market is improving again and anyone who survived the purge is well positioned to take advantage. Every hardship I’ve ever faced has made me a better man in some way. This one isn’t going to be any different.

By the way, it appears this is my 100th post on this blog. Thank you to everyone who has been along on this journey with me and I hope you all have a great day!

The Illusion of Security – Part 1

One day, all evidence of this “mighty civilization” will be gone.

Good day to you, folks. I’ve got some serious philosophical rambling to do today, so let’s get right into it! I don’t care what the context is; security is no more real than the fairy tales people tell their kids where everyone lives happily ever after (the American versions, that is; the German versions are a whole different ball game!). A bike locked to a rack is a bolt cutter away from being stolen. A lifetime employee is a disappointing trip to the boss’ office from being unemployed. A decades long marriage can be ended by divorce or death on any given day. No matter how secure a home may seem, it can still be robbed, burned down, hit by an asteroid, etc. Even something as big and powerful as a country can, and eventually will end. And of course one day, we will all die. In my case, this was, and still occasionally is, a very difficult concept to accept. But it is an integral part of life and in fact, without it, life might not even be worth living.

When I was a kid, I remember the kind of fantasies I would have about my future. I would be a pro athlete, a rock star, an astronaut, the usual stuff. But for me, there was a unique element. Instead of romanticizing the excesses or glorious moments of these “dream” lifestyles, as I’m sure many people do, I lusted after mostly one aspect – the security. Sure, I would have whatever I wanted. But that was a footnote. The real draw was that no one could ever take my dream life away or put me in any real danger at all. I could cordon myself away from the world and never be exposed to any problems again. I would simply be too rich, too famous, too powerful to take down. Obviously this wasn’t realistic. Living any of those lives, I could still have been taken out by a plane crash, a car accident, or cancer. Rich and famous people are killed by all of these, and by plenty of other things, on a regular basis.

As a young adult, I had similar, but more scaled down dreams. Gone were the fantasies of fame and fortune. I didn’t need admirers or a mansion or a fleet of Italian sports cars. I just wanted a decent house with a decent car and a wife who loved me for who I was. I thought the fact that I only wanted “enough” made me enlightened. But I still had the same illusion that one day I would have this elusive security, if only I could accumulate enough money to protect me and provide for a reasonable set of wants and needs for the remainder of my life. And make no mistake; this is a personal demon that I have to contend with to this day. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, enough money will buy me security. And that has led me to chase and hoard money relentlessly. I have been very successful in this pursuit; but at times I’ve taken it to an unhealthy degree, especially in my thought processes. There is a word that sums this all up well – fear. My mind tries to tell me I’m not strong enough to win out against the problems I face in life. It tries to tell me my only option is to outrun them.

But that option doesn’t really exist and even if it did, it wouldn’t be the right one, or even a good one. The people who get closest to having no problems at all have bad outcomes at several times the rate of people who don’t. Lottery winners often squander their newfound wealth in a matter of years and end up less happy than they were in the first place. Genetic lottery winners (pro athletes) often suffer a similar fate once they’ve retired. Musical lottery winners (rock stars) destroy themselves with drugs at a much higher rate than that of the general population. What goes up will inevitably come down and if the ascent is abrupt and rapid, the descent is likely to be the same way.

Of course, balance is crucial in life. Just because security isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your car running in the driveway with the doors open or visit the darkest alley in the most dangerous part of town at 2am with neither a weapon nor a companion. It also doesn’t mean you adopt the “I might die before retirement anyway so why bother saving anything” attitude. There is a reasonable range of security levels in life and your ideal point within it depends on your unique situation. But step one is to get to a point somewhere within it.

To be continued…