How To Succeed Despite Your Best Efforts


Nicole and I are both successful professionals but we each took a different path to arrive here. Nicole is a true professional any way you can define it. Her resume is polished. Her career path is clear and sensible. She has done a remarkable job managing her career and it has paid off.

Reading Nicole’s resume is like watching a Pixar movie. You can clearly see the formula to success and every plot point along the way is clear. One job leads fluidly to another with increasing levels of responsibility. She has two degrees, has done volunteer work in her field, has sought successful mentors and top-notch references, and has plenty of credentialed post education awards and certificates.

In short, she did everything right and is enjoying the fruits of her efforts.

I have found success, too, but I have done everything wrong. Reading my resume is like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie. It seems haphazard, the timeline is broken, and nothing makes sense until the end.

Both paths are fine and if you are driven, both paths will take you where you want to go despite the warnings of conventional wisdom. Nicole’s path is more reliable. It is the more intelligent way to go, in my opinion, but it was not for me.

I dropped out of college. I left high paying positions for lower paying ones to follow passion. I went into business for myself (and failed, twice). I tried to be an artist. I tried to be a customs broker. I tried to be a professional movie critic and an IT Security Administrator. I have been a public speaker, a sales manager, a pizza delivery driver, a telemarketer, a small business consultant, and (a LOT) more. I have been fired, demoted, and denied positions. I have gaps in my employment history, I have been in trouble with the law, and I have burned bridges with former employers.

The fact is, I have succeeded in spite of my best efforts, not because of them. The success I have found has mostly come from the wisdom of many, many failures.

Nonetheless, I would not begrudge anyone for doing things the hard way, like me. In fact, I would argue the wisdom I gained from being young and stupid has become invaluable to me as I mature into mid-life.

So, how do you succeed despite what seems like your best efforts to undermine your success?

Here is what I did…

To become an author, I did not pursue a degree in writing. I started a blog and read books about writing… and then I wrote. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better.

To become a leader, I did not go to school to learn about leadership or organizational development. Instead, I had bosses who recommended great books. Then I learned from both the books and the bosses until I gained enough knowledge and wisdom to try my own ideas. Then I applied myself. Terribly at first, but I kept going until I became better. I continue to read, learn, apply, and create.

To become someone with vision and a penchant for thinking outside of convention, I did not get a degree in Sociology or Information Technology. Instead, I read a lot of books by people who proposed ideas that seemed absurd to me (until I read them) and then I challenged everything I thought was true. I still do this and I am still amazed at how different the world is today from what I thought it was yesterday, every day.

I do not have a “natural talent” for anything. I was not born with a special gift. I do not have quick-response muscles like some people. I was never the smartest kid in class (until I left school). I don’t fight crime because my parents were murdered–I don’t have any special drive to be famous, or rich, or altruistic. The only thing that might make me exceptional is maybe being good at being persistent and resilient.

You can take whatever path to success you want, but if you want to succeed despite your best efforts to undermine a traditional path to success, then you have to be willing to do three things:

Get up every morning. Do what you did yesterday a little better today.  Keep going.

Maybe, one more thing… don’t get so caught up following the trail that you forget to stray away from it once in a while. There is a lot of cool stuff off the beaten path.


Start First, Not Last

I announced that Nicole and I are starting a new blog together, A Couple Vegans. We don’t know how, exactly, it is going to work. Do we take turns writing articles? Do we write them all together? Who is responsible for the website maintenance? Who is going to take on getting a logo created? Do we want a logo and brand? What is our long-term goal with the blog? The list goes on…

Many times we fail because we have the notion we can not start until everything is perfectly in place, until we know the end result and every step along the way. That is definitely a viable option for a select few but most of us (and I mean nearly all of us) will never move past the starting line if we wait until the plan is perfected.

“Start” can not be the last step of the plan. If we wait until everyone else finishes before we start, there is no point to trying.

Strong leaders have vision. They know (roughly) where they want to end up. They have a few ideas of how to set things in motion to get there. Then, they start. They do not plan for every eventuality or hiccup along the way. They plan for as much as they can, practically, and wait only as long as they have to. Once the essentials are in place, though, they go.

A Couple Vegans will evolve as we figure out what we want from it and how we intend to reach that goal, but the important thing is, the website is alive, now. It is real and in the world. We started first. We will figure out a lot of it as we go.

Put another away, the first step to success is Commitment. The second step is Execution. The final step is Repeat.

Start first, not last.



Weak Nights

Most nights we are in bed around 10pm. With a friend visiting from out-of-town, though, Nicole and I spent the evening strolling downtown and trying a new restaurant.

I realized I had not seen the downtown river walk at night for months. A lot had changed and it was well worth the trip to stay out a little later than usual.

Do something outside of your routine now and then. The world is full of surprises.


Broken Glass

On weekdays, I share a lesson learned in life. Today’s lesson is about our reaction to inconvenience.


Nicole has a super-power. She has the power of “No-Freak-Outs”. It might not sound as cool as “flight” or “invisibility” but let me tell you, it can be more powerful than either in the right moment.

Last night, just before bed, I was putting away dishes when one of our (over-priced, hard-to-replace) glasses slipped from my hand and shattered on the counter. “Shattered” is an understatement. This supposedly super-tough Italian fire-folded tempered something-something glass exploded like a Molotov cocktail.

Anger swelled in me immediately. I don’t know what Nicole was thinking or feeling in that moment, but I do know two things: what she did do and what she did not do.

Here is what she did not do: freak out. She didn’t shout, yell, cry, scream, curse, sigh, roll her eyes, or look at me or the glass with disappointment, fear, spite, or malice. We were both tired. This was not the nightcap she was hoping for, I am sure. Rather than give in to any of that, she exercised her super-power.

Here is what she did do: she asked, “What do you need?”, which snapped me from my oncoming emotional outburst and into action. “Um, I need the mini-vac and a broom.” Within seconds, she showed up with the hand-held vacuum, a tiny broom and dustpan, and slippers to protect my feet (have to give her props for going the extra mile there).

Times of crisis often bring out the best in people. We rise above our emotions and feelings and do what is necessary and helpful (think, 9/11). This was not a time of crisis, though. This was a moment of inconvenience. Moments of inconvenience demand the worst from people. A moment of inconvenience is an excuse to be petty, angry, spiteful, or self-immolating (think, ruining dinner).

When little things do not go your way, you can choose to blow your top, like I almost did, or you can dig into your super-power of “no freak outs” and make yourself useful.

Also, it’s pretty cool to live with a super hero.



Winter In Paradise

I share a life-lesson learned every weekday. Today’s lesson is about living where you love to live.


December 7 , Tampa


This picture is from December 7th, 2015. Nicole and I were at Clearwater Beach in Florida, enjoying the sun and sand. We weren’t on vacation. We live in Tampa Bay.

For most of my adult life, I have lived in places like Michigan and Indiana, where cold weather encompasses nearly 8 months of the year. We moved to Tampa at the beginning of 2015. This is our first full winter in Florida, and I have to tell you… I should have done it sooner.

I never liked winter. Sure, the leaves are pretty in the Fall, for a week, and then I am ready for Summer again. I always figured the trade-offs for living in Grand Rapids and Detroit were mostly worth it (MUCH better vegan food, more art and culture, nothing in the water wants to eat you, etc.). I was wrong.

Looking at a tent full of Christmas Trees for sale next to a bunch of palm trees is both jarring and satisfying.  Having one wardrobe is great. Being able to be physically active all year round is great. Maybe most of all, having weekly moments of zen while sitting on white sand or paddling blue surf is great.

I lived up north for the last 23 years. The only thing I wish I had done differently is move south sooner. The ironic part is, it was not my idea. In fact, I resisted it. I wanted to move to Portland or Chicago, and I am sure I would have been happy in either of those places, but only for a third of the year.

If you know where you want to live, go. Don’t wait to live there–waiting is the enemy of success. Living is about living, not waiting to live.




4 Weeks as a Puppy Daddy

On weekdays, I share a lesson I have learned in life. Today, let’s talk about the joys and pains of (puppy) parenting…


Oliver, Hiding Rope (flipped)- 151118

I have been the proud parent of Oliver for about a month now.  I don’t have (human) kids so this is my first time really caring for a “child” from infancy to adulthood.

I am only a month in but I am already feeling the turmoil of parenting. It is like volunteering to be manic-depressive. I go from bouts of joy (“Yay! He peed on the lawn instead of the carpet!”) to rounds of utter despair (“I can’t believe it is 3 in the morning. I’m a forty-year old man who is paid to lead teams and write prolific articles and my contribution to the world right now is cleaning poop prints from every conceivable spot in the bathroom. How did he even reach the shower head?!?”).

There are times when I can not believe this little creature trusts and loves me so much and there are times when I feel completely incompetent as a (puppy) father. I can not imagine what the turmoil must be like for a parent raising a teen.

I would like to say I have learned something profound from being a Puppy Daddy in my first month, like “Being a Puppy Daddy has taught me the value of patience and being kind to all animals” or something. That is not true, though.

So far, being a Puppy Daddy has taught me that fathers must always wonder if they are good fathers and there is no objective way to tell if they are. My job as Puppy Daddy is simply to provide routine and stability, teach cause and effect, and express happiness and anger (but not too much of either).

The rest is up to the puppy, and Puppy Mommy.




Picking Your Pet’s Name

Each weekday I share a life-lesson learned. The lesson can be about anything but it can not be something I heard or read and am just sharing. It has to be something I experienced or am trying for myself. It is a real life-lesson. Here is today’s lesson…


We met our new puppy at a rescue event in Orlando. He was the first puppy we picked up and after about 10 minutes spent with him, we knew we were not leaving without him. During the 2 hour drive home, we debated pet names. I wanted to name him “Bruce Banner”, or “The Incredible Shrinking Puppy”, or “Cory and the Chocolate Factory” (because the rescue was tentatively calling him “Cory”). Nicole was voting for “Spot” or “Brindle” or “Fido”.

Clearly, we were not finding a middle ground. For every normal-ish name Nicole would throw out, I would counter with something–um… let’s say, a little more creative–like “Robert Downey Junior, Jr.” or “Kal-El”.

Then we had a great idea. We used social media. I posted our dilemma on Facebook and asked our friends and their friends to come up with some names. Everyone looked at the picture and in no time we had some great ones to choose from. My friend Chris thought we should name the puppy, “Chris”.

We got “Phydoe”, “Corbin”, “Braveheart”, “Oliver”, “Brindy”, “Digger”, “Cosmo”, “Charlie”, “Samson”, and my personal favorite, “Apollo” which Nicole was okay with but she wouldn’t let me add “Creed” after it, once she found out who “Apollo Creed” was. She is a Rocky fan but when she says “Rocky” she means this one, not this one… no accounting for good taste, I guess. Please, let’s not do the Time Warp again… not ever again. Pretty please.

We tested a few in talking and playing with the puppy. In the end, and I can’t really say why… the name just stuck… it was “Oliver”.

(I haven’t told Nicole yet, but when people ask me what the puppy’s name is, I plan to say, “This is Sir Lawrence Oliver…eh! He’s Canadian.”)

When you are stuck on a problem, don’t forget you can leverage the power of your network and friends to come up with a solution. Somebody out there probably has the answer you were looking for.


Being Mr. Done

I share a lesson learned in life each weekday (I take weekends off from blogging lessons, but I still learn stuff!), and then I share each lesson with you.


While my car was getting fixed, the maintenance shop somehow got mine and Nicole’s last names reversed. For the first four or five times, I corrected them but I finally gave up. It seemed like each day we would have a conversation like this:

“Hello, Mr. Dunn?”

“No. My last name is Salamey. Dunn is my girlfriend’s last name–same policy.”

“Oh, sorry. We’ll get that fixed right away, Mr. Dunn.”

After a while, I have to admit, the name grew on me. I thought about changing it up just a little and introducing myself, “Hi, I am Mr. Done. First name, ‘Getit’.”

I kind of enjoyed being known as “Mr. Done”.

The car is fixed now, though, and I am back to Mr. Salamey (which most people mistakenly pronounce as “Salami”–the lunch meat). It was fun being someone else for a few days but going back to being me is just fine. I had to take the bullying for my name and now I have the street cred for being Michael Salami. Plus, it turns out there is already a Michael Dunn (Nicole’s father) and I kind of like being me.



Back To Minimalism

I share a lesson almost every day. A lesson I have learned in life, not just something interesting I read, heard, or remembered. Something significant that helped shape my view of the world that day. And then I share it with you. Here is today’s lesson…


We did something crazy when we moved to Tampa… we left everything behind. Aside from what Nicole and I could fit in our cars, we abandoned our furniture, trinkets, clothes, kitchen gadgets, all of it.

Then, something interesting happened. Within a few months, I think we had actually accumulated more stuff than we originally had. As a sort-of minimalist, that can be despair-inducing.

It makes sense, though. When we clear space in our lives, our habits and social training compel us to fill it back up rather than protect it. We are pushed from every angle to acquire and consume. For example, when we see an empty wall, rather than appreciate the simple beauty and freedom of space, we want to fill it with framed pictures and artwork. I am not against art but having empty, open spaces can be artistic, too (and beautiful design).

We just moved again, and again, we left a LOT of stuff behind. Moving is a great way to de-clutter, for sure!

I have been re-committing to getting back to minimalism, though. There is little that has given more back to me than simplifying the way I live. With less clutter in the apartment, there is less to dust, clean, or accidentally break. I gain time I would have spent only maintaining the status quo of my life. Instead, I can use that time to try new things, explore, experiment, or go on adventures. With less clothes to choose from, I do not have to waste time debating what to wear each day. With a simple hairdo, I don’t waste time grooming.

You get the idea.

Having less (stuff) often provides more (time, freedom, breathing space, peace).

In the new apartment, I am focusing on keeping less so I can do more. Again… as with any lesson learned, practice makes perfect.



I Caved In to My Caffeine Craving… And I Don’t Regret It!

I share a life-lesson learned each day. Today is an update on my experiment to give up caffeine for six months.


I gave up caffeine for six months starting about five months ago. I didn’t quite make it. I broke for a latte while in the middle of moving to a new apartment. I was exhausted physically and mentally but I knew I needed energy to make it through the day.

Since giving up caffeine was more of an experiment on a lark anyway, I discussed it at length with Nicole (who gave up caffeine with me even though she did not have to) and we decided to stop at Kahwa Coffee. I had a Vanilla Pumpkin Spice latte with Soy, and it was amazing. Everything I remembered about my morning lattes. Warm, sweet, and satisfying.

Giving up caffeine, for me, has been a fairly useless experiment over the past five months. I have not gained or lost a pound. I do not sleep any better or worse. I have no more or less energy than before. Other than the four days of minor headaches when I gave up caffeine, its absence has had no discernible impact on my life. I didn’t even save money by giving up my expensive Starbucks addiction. The money just went elsewhere to presumably equally wasteful vices.

The way caffeine works is once you have established a routine dosage, its positive effects even out and you are mostly just staving off withdrawal symptoms after that. In other words, caffeine has a smaller and smaller effect on most people the more they consume it (like most drugs).

That being said, my latte on moving day was like having my first beer–one drink and I was lit. Because I have not had caffeine in so long, the latte was like a super dose and in no time I had the energy needed to make it through the day. It was like having a shot of adrenaline that lasted four hours–I plowed ahead and felt awake and alert.

The lesson I learned about caffeine is the same lesson I learned from minimalism: Less is More.

That was the only latte I had and I have not had another one since but now I know if you stay away from caffeine it won’t make much difference to your life. Except that when you really need that sugary dose of espresso… it can be like super charging your battery. I like the idea of using caffeine sparingly. If it does not do me good all the time, then I do not need to have it all the time.

Waking up with a nice herbal tea blend is not that bad either.