How To Have Nice Things

Every day I reflect on my life to figure out what lesson I learned that day. Then, I share that lesson with you.

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I have really nice things. I carry one of the best smartphones, all my clothes are expensive (compared to most big box/mall brands) and fit my exacting needs. I eat organic, healthy foods and I drive a nice car.

I am not bragging. Less than 10 years ago, I lost everything. I was living paycheck to paycheck, wondering how I was going to survive a divorce, a new career, and a new life in a new city on less than half my former salary. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I had no friends, no family nearby. It was just me and my misery for a long time.

I am not looking for kudos or empathy. I know you have probably been there, or at least felt like you have at times. Maybe you are in a tough spot now. I thought you might like to know how I rebuilt, and ended up with even nicer stuff, in 3 easy-sounding (but immensely difficult) steps:

     1.  I singled out the real, true essentials. I turned to a minimalist lifestyle. I threw out every thing I did not need. I mean everything from old year books to pots and pans to clothes to furniture to towels to books. If I did not use it, touch it, look at it, or notice it over the course of a year, then I decided it must not be as important to me as I thought. I tossed it, whatever it was. Soon, I only had what I truly needed, with very few exceptions.

     2. If I could not afford it, then I did not buy it. Money was tight. I might have wanted a new (blank) to replace my old (blank) but if I did not have the money in hand, I simply could not buy it, just like when I was a kid looking at the candy in a grocery store. Sure, I wanted it all but if I only had 50 cents, then all I could afford was a couple of suckers, and that was better than nothing. No credit, no borrowing, no creative financing. The fun ran out when the money did and that was that.

     3. When I did buy it, I bought the best one I could afford. I needed jeans for a long time but I did not buy a pair until I had saved enough to buy the only pair I wanted–the vegan friendly Prana Axiom jeans with gusseted inseams and rugged stretch fabric. They were (and still are) the gold standard to me and the funny thing is, they were worth every penny. They still look like new and fit like a charm, plus I can sit cross-legged in them without any worry of tearing the fabric. I bought one pair. It was another year before I could buy a second pair. The same went for every product I now own. Until I could afford the one I wanted, I either bought nothing or the absolute cheapest piece of junk that would help me get by.

 

I still live small but everything I own is the thing I chose. I went from zero to luxury in less than a decade and you can, too. I had no idea how little I actually need and how much better I can live, when I think small, live without owing, and pay the most I can afford for the best I can afford.

For me, it is the tale of two worlds, and frankly, I like the world I live in now better.

 

 

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This Title Makes Sense

Every day I learn a lesson in life–not a fact, not a quick quote, a real bona-fide life lesson. And then I share it with you. You can follow my lessons by watching my social media feeds (just search for “Michael Salamey” on your platform of choice) or subscribe to this blog for a daily email of each post, which you can keep for later, read right away, or share whenever you want! Here is today’s lesson…

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I have always loved titles–of songs, poems, stories, pretty much anything except blog posts or headlines. The reason I don’t like blog or news titles is they are almost always “click-bait”. That means the headline is designed to trick the audience into clicking on a story that probably could not have drawn the audience on its own merit. These are the vague, sensationalistic titles like, “5 Ways to Save Your Relationship!” or “Dog Finds Owner After 15 Years: You Won’t Believe What Happens Next…” (trust me. You will totally believe what happens next.).

A great title is creative, intriguing, playful, and a little mysterious. It stands on its own but also sets the context for the content. Take a look at song titles from your favorite artist, for example. I bet the titles are as creative as the songs (unless you are into classical music–those titles suck).

Unfortunately, really creative titles do not work well with blogging because of the way search engines rank and find blog content.

I am making a change to my titles. You probably won’t notice, but it is a big change for me. My titles will be straightforward, more obviously aligned with the content of the post.

I have also added the little blurb at the top of each post explaining what the blog is about. This is for new readers–after speaking to one, I realized jumping in half-way, the blog seems like a random journal (which, in a way, I suppose it is). To keep it fresh, I do not just copy and paste the blurb. I rewrite it every time.

Finally, if you haven’t noticed yet (I have been doing this for a while), I highlight the core take-away of each lesson in bold and italics in each post. That line, at least to me, is the most important line of the post.

I do not go out of my way to publicize my blog–you do not see any banner ads, I pay for it myself. I do not try to talk about it with every person I meet. I do not try to link to other blogs or spend much time building awareness externally.

I rely solely on your word of mouth, and on you sharing your favorite content with your friends. If I am lucky, sometimes people trip across MichaelSalamey.com via Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, FaceBook, Google+, etc. but I also do not go out of my way to learn and master SEO, key search words, or other strategies I could use to popularize the blog with social media and search (for example, I almost never blog about topical celebrity news or whatever is trending on social media).

The readership success I have is all thanks to you, and to a lesser degree the blog title, the tags, and of course, the content. So, thanks! Watch for (hopefully) better titles to match the content from here out and let me know if it’s cool.

(Incidentally, you would not believe how many times I re-titled this post. Making less obscure titles is a lot of work!)

 

Your Pet Thinks You’re Crazy

I look back on each day and figure out what lesson I learned from it. Then, I share each day’s lesson with you. Here is today’s…

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I have been thinking about Time lately, and one thing I realized is we humans are the only creatures who have any long-term sense of it. Our pets, for example, live in a world that runs on the most rudimentary mathematical equation: cause and effect. When I do This, That happens. They live without any context for living.

In some ways, this means they enjoy more satisfaction with life–pets do not have the stress of making ends meet, maintaining relationships, or worrying about their environment. They do not even have the context of sanitation to be mindful of their hygiene. In other ways, it means they have no appreciation for the nuances or consequences of living and therefore, have less satisfaction with life–they have no fascination for rainbows, no appreciation of the work put in to feed them, no gratitude for their toys or the people in their lives.

Can you imagine what it must be like for the dog whose exasperated master rubs the dog’s nose in the dog’s urine when the dog pees on the floor? To the dog, the math was simple: he had to pee, that was the best spot he could find. The dog has none of the context around the master’s stressful day at work, the cherry-wood stain on the floor, the fact that they have to keep living there, or the amount of time and effort needed to clean the mess.

People argue that the dog knows he is in trouble, but does he? From the dog’s perspective, probably the best explanation he can conjure is, “Sometimes when I pee in my cell, the people who locked me in prison go ballistic. I have no idea what they expected me to do instead. I’m hoping they don’t notice this time because the last time they completely lost their sh*t and forced my face into it. And then 20 minutes later, they treat me well. This is one messed up situation.” 

Of course, it is not even that sophisticated. The dog has no concept of prisons, cells, bad, good, punishment, or reward. The world is simply a very confusing morass of double standards, random beatings, and meaningless love. What we consider to be loyalty, the dog might think is simply the safest bet. “Despite these people being complete nutters, I can’t imagine how much worse it could be without them.” Then again, no wonder they often try to escape and make it on their own.

The context of our lives is what makes life meaningful, which means it can also rob meaning from parts of life. We make some parts more meaningful than other parts. Sometimes the dog is important. Sometimes the dog is an excuse to vent negative emotions. To the dog, though, it is all the same. You are a crazy person.

To bring this back to Time, the dog has no context from which to remember peeing on the floor is bad. The dog just knows you are random and crazy and sometimes treat the dog well, sometimes poorly.

For us, it is the context of the past that gives meaning to the present and future.

 

Back In Time

I challenge myself to find a valuable life lesson in every day. Then I share that lesson with you. This blog is our journal of lessons learned. Here is today’s entry…

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In our quest to build things we dream of in science fiction, we forget we have already built many of them in science fact.

We want to have time machines that transport us to the past. Ironically, we are also the only living creatures with a cohesive sense of the long-term past. We are the only creatures we know of who are able to look at fossilized bones or shells and draw conclusions about where they came from. We are the only creatures in the known universe capable of putting the pieces of history together and creating a cohesive narrative of what came before that led to now. Only we humans can ascertain how the world, life, even the universe, evolved.

Through observation, testing, and recording results, we have ascertained how Rome rose and fell. We are able to look back into the past and imagine what dinosaurs looked like and where and how they lived. We can follow the path of plate tectonics to envision what the land and oceans of Earth looked like millennia ago.

Only we humans can revisit the past and alter the course of any would-be future based on our knowledge of the known past.

We want to build time machines to travel to the past but we have already built time machines through the science of carbon dating, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, written language, cosmology, stories, art, etc.

No other creature on Earth knows Earth’s history–only humans. No other creature can speculate about Time, Space, Matter, or where any of those came from–only humans.

We do not need to build time machines to visit the past. We are the time machines.

 

Extra Durable

I look back every day and figure out what lesson I learned from that day. Then I share that lesson with you. Here is today’s.

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Practicing martial arts showed me the value of bruises (mostly to my ego) and what they can teach us, but there is another element to our lives that shows we are stronger than we think.

I bet the major problems you are dealing with in life right now are the toughest problems you have ever faced. I say that confidently because it is a matter of logic. The toughest problems you faced five years ago you have already learned how to conquer. If they show up again, you know what to do. You have been there before and won (and hopefully learned something from it).

The big problems you are facing now are new and tougher than anything you faced before because you already learned the skills to beat small problems.

This tells me something about the bio-mechanical machinery we call our bodies and brains. It is durable, really durable. No matter what life has thrown at you so far, you have either beat it or figured out how to live with it and move forward. Chances are, no matter what problems are coming your way, you will also come out on top.

If I were a problem, would I want to go up against a professional fighter with a zero-loss record? Would I, as a major problem, be eager to pit myself against someone with so much grit and courage that nothing–nothing so far–has been able to stop them or keep them down? I wouldn’t. If I was a sensible problem, I would run like hell from you. (Of course, most problems are not sensible but that is okay, you still stand undefeated even when problems have played dirty.)

Whether you realize it or not, you understand what it means to be tough and extra durable.

You are a survivor until the end… so don’t sweat the small stuff, or the big stuff. Just keep moving forward–nothing can stop you.

Bruises Are Great!

Each day I share a lesson. The lesson has to be something I recently learned–not a fact, or repeating something I read or heard–but something I internalized as my own. And then I share it with you, for fun. Here’s today’s lesson.

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Until I went for my black belt many years ago, I was afraid to get into fights–either physical or mental. I was a timid person without the confidence I wanted or needed to do anything that mattered.

I will never forget when I first gained that confidence, though. I mean, really gained it and held onto it. It was in my first fight against a Muay Thai student. We were training. I was a red belt at this time so I had already sparred many times with other students but this guy, Paul, was a really good Muay Thai fighter and I only had a good grasp of Tae Kwon Do at the time.

Every time Paul landed a kick (which was often–he was a better fighter than me, out-ranking me by several belts), it hurt. A lot. He kept nailing my thighs and I could never protect them in time, or when I did, his steel-post legs just hurt my biceps, forearms, and thighs. I landed a few good hits and I did hold my own but there was no question he won the sparring match. After the fight, he spent a great deal of time generously helping me improve both my defense and my offense, and eventually became a friend.

The thing is, for a few weeks after that fight, my legs and arms looked like a map of the constellations, with purple and yellow galaxy-shaped bruises lining both sides of my body.

Of course, I healed, but I knew my body had never taken that kind of punishment before and it hit me later (almost as hard as Paul) that I was tougher than I thought. I got beat up, I bruised, and then I healed. All my life until then, I avoided bruises and pain because… well, because I did not want to get hurt.

After that fight, I realized I could take a hit (even several) and keep going. Even better, the bruises illustrated the personal areas of mine that are really tough (those are the areas that took a beating but a bruise was the worst those kicks could deliver). The bruises also showed the areas I needed to do a better job protecting.

Bruises are great because they do enough damage to teach you where to improve and how to fight back. I am speaking now beyond physical bruises. Emotional bruises work the same way. They show you that you are more resilient than you know and teach you that when a problem arises, you might end up bruised… but it’s okay. You can take it. Even from a steel-legged Muay Thai fighter.

 

A Paradox of Time

Every day I strive to learn a lesson in life. Then I share it with you. Here is today’s lesson…

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I am no astrophysicist (so if I say anything patently stupid here–and you are an astrophysicist–feel free to call me out), but my brothers and I love to chat about space, time, and the fate of the universe. In one of those conversations, Milo and I discussed the wackiness of Time, when I tripped across a paradox I had not considered before.

This might be a little nerdy and confusing but I will try to keep it straightforward since you might like to talk about this, too.

We know time travel exists because we are doing it now. We are always moving forward in time, from present to future. The real problem is traveling backwards through time.

It is fun to think of different ways to make visiting the past work, but there is a logical and fundamental flaw that will, I think, always prevent us from going back in time.

When you travel through time you also travel through space (when I cross a room, for example, I am traveling through space to reach the other side of the room and it is also later in time when I get there).

Therefore, theoretically, you should be able to cross time-space backwards and end up in the past, just as you can walk backwards across a room (but time still moves forward). The catch is, to go back in Time, you must travel faster than the speed of light.

Everything emanates light, including people. Thanks to this property of the universe, we are able to see into the past. When I look at you, for example, I actually see you as you were a fraction of a second ago. It took light a (very) small amount of time to travel from your face to my eyes so I could see you. This means that light, to travel through time, must also travel through space. Because of this, when we point our telescopes to the Andromeda galaxy, we actually see Andromeda as it was about 2 million years ago–the time it took the light from Andromeda to reach Earth.

If you were walking down a busy street today in the Andromeda galaxy, someone on Earth would not know for another 2 million years because that is how long it will take the light from that moment to travel across space and reach us humans.

Think about this. The light from every moment is always traveling across space, in all directions. However, every moment that light is followed by the light of the next moment, and the next moment, and the next, etc. It happens so fast and so close to simultaneously that it seems like everything is happening all at once.

If I could somehow travel through time to the moment you began reading this article, I would have 3 major problems, though:

1. I would have to travel faster than light so I could get ahead of the light in my present moment. I can never escape the present because I can not travel faster than light.

2. If I could travel faster than light, then I have an even tougher problem. I could not see where I was going. There is no light if I am ahead of it!

3. Even if I conquered the first two obstacles, when I arrive in the past, that light will have already moved on. There would literally be no past to see.

 

The inherent problem with time travel to the past or future is if you master the mechanics needed to do it, you still would not be able to find anything because the light is either not there yet (future) or has already left (the past).

It is fun to play with the ideas, but I guess the important thing is, regardless of what life you want to live–past, present, or future–use your Time wisely, because when you run out of it… there is nothing more to see.

Can I See You In My Office?

Every day I share a life lesson I have learned. Here’s today’s…

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Leaders often forget their words have more weight than they realize. One of my pet peeves is delivering a vague request (this is one of Nicole’s pet peeves, too, it turns out). I am talking about the email from your boss that says, “Can we talk? I’ll send a meeting request.” Or the dreaded, “Can I see you in my office?” which seems to happen only on Friday afternoons, the scariest time of all.

If you are in a leadership position, be sensitive about the power you have. When people know they can not say “no” to you, then it is up to you to put them at ease. If the team member you are talking to is not in trouble, do not be vague about it. “Hi. Can we talk–about the Prometheus project schedule so far? I’ll send a meeting request later.” Or, “Can I see you in my office? Nothing bad; I just a have an idea I want to run by you.

Vague commands presented as requests are disrespectful to the person you are speaking with and it makes you look like a wimp. “Can I see you in my office?” sounds like you are afraid to approach a situation in public. Instead try, “Can I see you in my office, please? I want to talk about the Prometheus project.

If you must be vague, give a reason. “Can I see you in my office, please? Sorry to be vague but it is a sensitive matter.

Most of all, do not leave your team-mate hanging. “I need to talk to you this week.” Or, “I’ll call you today.” When? When do you need to see him or what time will you call her?

Some leaders enjoy the power of vagueness. They like to watch people squirm. That is not leading, though. It is bullying and many good leaders do not realize they are doing it.

Hopefully, acknowledging the problem will help you take the first step in rectifying it, or at least serve as a friendly reminder not to leave your people hanging.

Name That

Each day I share a life lesson learned within the last 24-48 hours. It can’t be a fact I read or something picked up in the news. It has to be a lesson I truly learned and intend to apply to my life. Every day I share that lesson with you…

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Here is a game you can play by yourself or with others (especially with kids who have seen The Little Mermaid). What if everything had different names?

In other words, what would a car be called if it had been invented today? Would we say, “Let’s take a drive in my quadro-roller?” What if the words “microwave oven” never existed? Would we heat food in our electro-stove box? Would we wear a pair of sun-reducers and drink from a mouth-pouch?

I know, it is a silly game but it can be surprisingly challenging.

The game itself is not important. The important part is to find reasons to use your imagination for solving puzzles. If you create the puzzles, all the better, because you have to use your imagination for that, as well.

By working your imagination muscles with fun games, you are also priming your mind to be ready when creative problem solving becomes crucial. The imaginative “solutioneer” will be prepared when there is a work or family emergency which seems impossible to solve… until she solves it, of course, using nothing more than a quirky idea and a dingle-hopper.

Don’t Hire Me!

The secret to hiring well is, well, not hiring.

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I would not say I am a “recruitment whisperer” but I have a good track record of hiring great teams. In a group training session, a new hire asked, “How did you know everyone in this room would work so well together? We all have such different personalities, yet we all seem to gel. What’s your secret?”

I said, “The truth is, as I interviewed each of you, I was never looking for a reason to bring you on board. I was trying to find any reason not to hire you.”

He looked stunned. I continued, “I think many hiring managers miss that point. I talked to each of you several times but every one of my questions was designed to give you enough rope to hang yourself. Everyone in this room is truly the best of the best I interviewed. You are here because I could not think of a single reason for you not to be here. So, pat yourselves on the back and thanks for making my job easy!”

Leaders (in whatever field) are leaders, I think, because they often move forward by going the opposite direction of everyone else.