You Can Save 70 Years Or More On Your Insurance

Today’s Lesson: Just because something has survived does not mean it is the fittest.

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I have been hearing these commercials for Geico Insurance lately, stating that they have been doing business for 75 years. I thought that was odd because I certainly do not remember their brand name from when I was a child and I am not 75 years old. In fact, I only recently heard of them, within the last 10 years or so, along with most everyone else.

It is true, it turns out, that they technically incorporated a long time ago but only catered to government employees. They say they have even been selling to the public since the mid-seventies. Regardless, most people never heard of them until their famous Cockney-accented Gecko lizard commercials became a hit around 2010.

I was trying to figure what bothers me so much about these commercials, and I think it is a few things…

1. As the inimitable George Carlin has famously said, “old” does not mean “good”. Who cares if they are 10 years old or 1,000 years old? We only care if they deliver a great product at a fair price with decent service.

2. There is something a bit deceptive about trying to leverage your entire history to validate your credibility. My blog has been running something like 7 or 8 years and only about 5 of those years has it had an audience outside of people I have physically met. Nonetheless, I have been writing seriously since I was at least 18. Although it would not technically be a lie, I do not promote myself as a “writer with nearly 30 years of published works”. Most people would only know my work over the last 5 or so years.

3. It is a cop-out for quality. Let the work stand on its own merit. When J.K. Rowling had her first Harry Potter book published, nobody said, “She only has 0 months of screenwriting experience. Let’s not turn this great story into a movie.”

 

Using established tradition to defend present practices never holds water for me and I think the recent Geico commercials are a variation of that.

Because something has been around a long time is not proof that it is credible or correct. It just means it is old.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 3 of 3

Do successful people really feel motivated and inspired and have limitless energy all the time?

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Do you sometimes feel like a failure? There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or ignorant of what I have accomplished while also being envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. I sat down to consider what sometimes makes me feel like I am not doing a good job living my life. I think there are three big reasons. I wrote about Comparing Yourself to Others and Defining Success in Context. Let’s explore another one:

Lost (or never found) passion. 

Follow your dreams. Do what you love. Find your passion. There are many variations of similar trite phrases and heartfelt quotes meant to inspire people to pursue lofty goals based on personal intuition and emotion. The problem with the idea of following one’s destiny is that many of us, including me, are not so passionate about a single thing we will pursue it doggedly until we find absolute success or die trying.

It has taken me nearly three decades to accept this ubiquitous advice is plain bad. It provides no tools to find your “passion”. Most people do not have a specific, concrete dream they are interested in following. For example, I love music but not as much as Prince, who devoted his life to it. I love writing but I am not as passionate about telling stories as Stephen King. I want to do more than write all the time. I love living a vegan lifestyle but not enough to devote years of my life defending animal rights or trying to bring down the entire factory farming industry. I have strong emotions about all those things and many others but there is not one that lights me up so much I wish it was the only thing I could do the rest of my life. I do not wake up and go to bed every day solely thinking about any of those things.

There are people who are passionate about a single thing and that is good for them, I guess, but I see no reason for anyone to feel bad about not having the energy, time, motivation, inspiration, or wherewithal to devote large swaths of their life to a singular, primary purpose (when there are infinite things and purposes to explore).

 

Today’s lesson: You do not have to chase your dreams, especially if you do not have one or if you have too many. You do not have to follow your passion, especially if you are not that passionate about anything yet. Maybe you will find your passion. Maybe you will never find something you are particularly passionate about. Either way is okay. Just make time in your life to do things you love. There is no requirement for you to become a slave to your ideas or ideals. Do not feel guilty for being anything less or more than you are willing to be in this moment.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 2 of 3

Who is more successful… you or Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son)?

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Like most people, I sometimes feel like a failure. There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or not cognizant of what I have accomplished but rather envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. So I sat down and considered what sometimes makes me feel like I suck at living my life. I think there are three big reasons. Yesterday, I wrote about Comparing Yourself to OthersLet’s explore another one:

Defining Success in Context. 

Stories about success are prevalent in the media. I love to read stories of how people overcame obstacles and attained something they pursued. Unfortunately, sometimes I am so caught up in the stories of others that I neglect my own. I want something more, better, or different from what I have and the longer I want something or the further away it seems, the more I feel like I am failing at living my life. This is especially true if I see other people enjoying or attaining the thing I want, whether it is something small like owning a new product, or something big like a relaxing scenic vacation, or something really big like having a mansion on a private island and an exotic vacation home.

One problem with this mentality is allowing myself to have a skewed definition of “success”. Rather than judge my success on its own merit, I sometimes judge it by my perceived success of others. That would be fine… if it was not so frequently wrong. I do not know the lives of others and often they do not know their own life story that well. I suspect none of us do. After all, we are busy living our lives! This means I do not know the cause of anyone’s success. I only see the effect (and, really, only a small part of the effect because I am not involved in every moment of someone else’s life).

For example, who is more successful?

…The son of a wealthy, famous actor who goes into acting and has a hit movie, thanks to the proximity of resources, time, and support to chase his acting career. OR…

…A homeless, recovering alcoholic who has lost everything, but faces and eventually overcomes her addiction, working her way back into lower-middle class society and settling down with a supportive family in the suburbs?

The actor’s son started with a network of people at his disposal to help him. With a little luck and moderate talent, it would be nearly impossible for him to fail. He might have an expensive house, fancy car, and a lot of money, but I would not consider someone who started at the top and stayed there more successful than someone who started at the bottom and made greater progress against greater obstacles. The irony here, of course, is the recovered alcoholic who rebuilt a life from nothing will likely look at the celebrity as an example of success.

 

Today’s lesson: Success is not a tangible, rigidly defined product to attain. Your success is different from mine. I do not know what you overcame to be where you are and you do not know every experience that defined who I am today. Remember, your success is relative to you, and only you. Ultimately, the single act of taking a breath is a success: it is the profound accomplishment of life itself over death. When you realize that, you realize everything is pretty much a win from there.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 1 of 3

How successful are you compared to Beyonce?

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I sometimes feel like a failure. There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or not cognizant of what I have accomplished but rather envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. I certainly know others who have “woe is me” moments from time to time. Feeling like a failure is agonizing so I sat down and considered what sometimes makes me feel like I suck at living my life. I think there are three big reasons and today I want to explore one of them:

Comparing myself to people I have created fantasy stories about. 

Sometimes I think of successful celebrities and the stories I have read or heard them tell about their success. I have heard sports stars and rap stars and movie stars talk about rising from poverty or broken households and overcoming adversity by practicing relentlessly, sacrificing sleep, friends, and wealth to do what they loved until they became the best in their field. In my mind, I imagine them having limitless energy and commitment to perfecting their craft over years, while diligently working their way up the ladder of success, motivated and inspired every moment of the way. I think they might sometimes imagine it happened that way, too!

Of course, that is just a story I made up to fill in the gaps of all the years and moments I was never there to see. I was not there to see the bouts of self-loathing or the day their more-talented friend broke an arm and was unable to show up at practice… which was the same time the talent scout did. I was not there to see the lucky moments, the support from others by chance or circumstance, or the frequently random dumb luck that led to a life that looks great from the outside (but maybe is not so great when you actually live it). Not having lived a second of their life, I have created an entire life for them based on my fantasy of the story I would like to write for myself.

The truth is I have no more insight into the real lives of others than they have into my life. I sometimes misjudge myself by comparing my story to the stories I create or accept about the success of other people.

 

Today’s lesson: Stay in your own story. When you compare your life to people you think have it better, you are setting yourself up to only see your failures. Instead, look objectively at your own life and count your successes based on their own merit rather than on the stories you create about others.  

 

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Living An Experimental Life

I’m fond of saying something I swiped from one of my favorite thought leaders, Seth Godin: “Fail big or fail often”. I tell my team members I don’t care which one they choose, but if they are not failing then they are not pushing themselves hard enough to find their limits. They are only staying in their comfort zone and not risking anything personally or professionally to really find out who they are. Of course, I give them a safe space to fail and provide air cover when needed.

It is an important distinction, failing by reaching out of your comfort zone to find your limits, but today I want to tweak that a little. Obviously, failing, by definition, has negative connotations. I am not trying to contribute to a philosophy of failure for the sake of failure (but using the word “fail” to illustrate what success looks like does make a dramatic talking point).

Instead, what I want you to consider is embracing a life of experimenting. When we experiment, we are not playing a pass/fail game. We are trying something new, reviewing the results, and either re-assessing and trying again, or adopting, tweaking, and moving forward.

When I realized this, I realized how much I have already embraced this idea and how much of my life revolves around experiments. I think experiments are important because they help define who we are. They help us learn what we are capable of and drive us to improve. I invite you to consider what you can experiment with in your life.

Here are many (but certainly not all) of the life experiments I have tried. Some of these I continue to practice. Some I have discarded. Some I am still tweaking and practicing. I encourage you to try some of these or create your own:

 

  • Being vegan. I did not start animal-free and I failed at maintaining a vegan diet many times before I got it (mostly) right.
  • Waterless showering. I tried using dry shampoo and some weird astronaut soap for a week. I made it three days…
  • Fasting one day a week.
  • Eating food with absolutely no added spices for three months.
  • Turning my whole wardrobe into a two color palette (black and gray) that I could simply mix and match without giving thought to what I was going to wear each day.
  • Only shopping at local merchants, no big box stores. This was a very worthwhile one. Highly recommend.

A full year of sleep experiments, including:

  • Going to bed one minute later and waking up one minute earlier every day until it affected me mentally and physically (turns out I only need about 4 hours sleep to function normally).
  • Sleeping on the floor with no pillows.
  • Following a Circadian rhythm (sleeping about 4 hours during the day and about 4 hours at night).
  • Taking a three-week vacation and logging how much sleep I naturally provided myself when I removed all time cues. I started a stopwatch when I went to bed and stopped it when I woke up to track how many hours I slept and I removed all clocks and watches from the house, plus moved my bed into the walk-in closet so I could not use the sun as a visual time cue. Incidentally, when I am left to my schedule and free to go to bed and wake up when I please, I average about 5 hours of sleep per night (and go to bed somewhere around 3:00am) and wake up completely rested (around 8:00am).

 

…and much, much more. I continue to experiment with my body, with time management, even with my blog (I recently turned off commenting and date-stamping posts and started focusing on publishing to my public profile, for example). I love experiments and living an experimental life.

 

So today’s lesson is easy: learn about yourself or the world by trying new things, considering the results, and trying again or trying something entirely different. The idea is to learn. I hope you come up with some  great experiments of your own. Feel free to share about your experiences or ask questions on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Tumblr.

Have fun experimenting!

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Today’s Lesson: United We Stand [140922]

It is amazing what two people can accomplish together. I have had many victories this year… both career successes and many personal successes. I was reflecting on the year so far today, and I realized all the biggest wins in my life (this year and throughout my life) have been with the support and partnership of someone else.

 

Some random successes that popped into my head were when I was younger and writing lyrics for local singers. That success came because a coworker read my poetry and demanded I take it to her producer friend. It was a great partnership but I would never have gone down that path without her.

 

Achieving my black belt–especially when it became a personally difficult choice–came because my long-time friend and teacher, Shihan (Master) Peterson, was behind me the whole way, telling me I could do more than I ever thought I could, and then showing me it was true! Moving to Grand Rapids on the tail of a failed career, divorce, and financial ruin could never have happened without the loving support of my brother, Milo. He quite literally dropped everything to make sure I had what I needed to succeed.

 

It is hard to imagine how I would have succeeded in many areas without someone else there to hold me up, hold me accountable, or sometimes just help me hold it together. All my successes happened with partners. On the other hand, all my biggest failures happened alone (divorce, trying to go into business for myself by myself, bankruptcy… all the bad stuff was with the help of me, myself, and I).

 

Looking at whatever you are trying to accomplish right now, pause and make sure you have a partner. In a world as complex and chaotic as ours is, you can probably find a way to go it alone, but I can tell you unequivocally it is easier, and more fun, to have a partner in crime.

 

(But, of course, don’t actually commit crimes. Hopefully both you and your partner are not that dumb…)

 

 

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The Lesson I Learned Today… 140712

Author and “recovering” millionaire, James Altucher, shared something in an interview that really resonates with me. It was so good, it’s my lesson today. He said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory, so forgive me if the quote is not exact–it was a 90 minute interview on the Tim Ferris show):

“The road to success is paved with failures. I would never buy a book on how to pick-up women if it was written by Brad Pitt because he can’t possibly relate to the troubles I’ve had in that area. He’s simply never had to deal with them. People praise the business owner who turns his little side business into a multi-million dollar empire, but they didn’t see the 30 businesses he tried and failed at first, and lost everything three times over. Those people weren’t there for all the lessons that led to his success. And the only reason I can talk about my success is because I arrived here the only way anyone can… by learning from my many, many failures before I finally got it right!”

I love that. I sometimes receive compliments for being a good leader or writer, or even just for things like being remarkably patient with people… but the only reason I have accomplishments in those areas is by working through my own failures first. I can speak to being vegan, for example, only because I messed up so many times along the way, finding out what I assumed was vegan isn’t (like Wonder bread) and often what I assumed could never be vegan that actually is (like Oreos!), and I am still learning and sharing as I go.

If I am “remarkably patient” with people, it is only because I remember how impatient and impetuous I have been at times (and sometimes still am!). When I am recognized for being a good leader, it is because I failed at it so many times but kept learning from my mistakes. By the way, I make new ones all the time but, hopefully, I will keep learning from those, too.

I am quick to share advice I got from other leaders, and I tell the leaders I have the privilege of training to either “fail big or fail often. Pick one. But if you are not failing, then you are not finding your limits and you will never know how successful you can actually be.”

Success is not automatic. The only way I know to get there is by learning through failure first. I guess the trick is just to learn the first time as often as possible.

 

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