Either kill me, or let me do my job.

At least he's not in a cubicle.Holy monkeys, I just reread my 8-things post below. Looks like a bear of a project for the weekend.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this past week+ of writing is the veracity of the idea that you have to fail to succeed. This does not mean that it’s okay if you stumble once or twice on the way to success, so don’t be embarrassed, it happens to everyone, look at Thomas Edison and the light bulb, blah, blah, blah.

No.

It means that you HAVE TO FAIL to succeed. You have to try something, ANYTHING, to move you toward your goal. And you have to start right now.

Years ago, while working my second full-time job in my second year out of college, I read the Hagakure, a Tokugawa-era book of aphorisms intended for samurai warriors. Among the ideas that stuck with me, perhaps because they were repeated over and over again in the book with subtle variations on the theme, were “start each day by contemplating your own death” and “when they find your body, let it be facing in the direction of your enemy.”

At that time, I was really starting to hate my job. It was boring. It was not intellectually challenging. It seemed so…conventional, in the sense that everyone seemed trapped in a conventional mode of thought, and yet no one seemed happy about how things were going.

So I decided to get myself fired.

I said to myself: “Look, self. You don’t like this job, but you don’t want to seem like a quitter, or like this job “conquered” you somehow. So what you’re going to do is this. Your going to act crazy, but all the while keep the company and it’s clients’ best interest in mind. You’re going to break the mould, then you’re going to grind it under your heel and sprinkle the ashes on your bosses’ heads. You’re going to be the clown, the nut, but the most brilliant one there. Come to work each day contemplating your termination, think of a thousand things you can do to get fired while still being a fundamentally good person, and have fun.”

Long story short, I had the time of my life, and people were amazed at my initiative. I fumbled a few times, but because I was having fun doing it, and because I was clearly actively engaged in the process, I was a more fun person to be around, so I was forgiven. I’ve attempted to carry that same attitude into every job I’ve had since, and when I’ve succeeded in maintaining that “get yourself fired” attitude, I’ve succeeded marvelously in the job as well.

You know the saying that “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission”? I think when people are unhappy with their progress toward a goal, it’s because they’re always asking themselves in small ways, “Is it okay to proceed?” “No, self, not today. That would upset your other plans or pull you too far out of your comfort zone. Ask yourself again tomorrow.”

What about that group-therapy drivel, “Give yourself permission to fail”?

Forget that. Don’t give yourself permission to do anything. Just act. Do something now. Actively try to fail (by acting imperfectly, not by inaction ) at something that’s important to you.  Resolve to ask yourself for forgiveness later. Resolve to forgive yourself in the future. And for crying out loud, get off your a$$. Doing nothing in service of your dreams is the only thing you shouldn’t forgive.

8 Things: Multiple Income Stream Edition

ocho!One of my favorite improv warm-up games is 8 things. It’s a great way to get you “out of your head” and thinking acting creatively, yet adherent to a theme. I’m still incredibly overwhelmed with the possibilities sparked in my imagination by Trent’s post about multiple income streams on the Simple Dollar yesterday, that I’m going to do my own little 8 things exercise, dedicated to Trent.

JOHN, name 8 things you can do to generate more income beyond your day job:

Ummm…

  1. Start a more focused niche blog about food and cooking.
  2. Start a more focused niche blog about frugality and material detachment.
  3. Start a more focused niche blog about Jewish learning and Jewish community issues.
  4. Start a personal chef business.
  5. Create an information product about cheap, quick, and easy home cooking that I can market online with minimal follow-on work.
  6. Create a non-fiction book about divorce survival strategies for single dads that I can market online with minimal follow-on work.
  7. Take in freelance writing work via Craigslist and Elance.
  8. Create an information product about resume writing, job hunting, and interview skills that I can (you guessed it) market online with minimal follow-on work.

There. That wasn’t so hard.

Now it’s your turn.

BLOG READER, name 8 things you look for when you decide whether to add a blog to your RSS feed.

Aaaaaand…go!

Gee, thanks Trent. Now I’m a chef.

Chef and his signature dish.This has got to be my last after-midnight post. This schedule is killing me, but I’m just so pumped about a couple of things going on right now that I can’t stop working on them. I’m also pretty pumped to have more than a week of daily postings to this blog — just 2 more weeks and the habit will be formed, they say — but I do have to figure out how to get it done before 2am.

What really pumped me up today — the pump, if you will — was an article posted by Trent on The Simple Dollar. This is one of probably a dozen personal finance blogs I subscribe to, and it is by far my favorite. The article was about the benefits of setting up multiple income streams in your life, effectively diversifying your human capital to increase your income and cushion the blow if something happens to you day job.

Here was my comment on his blog:

“Trent, thanks again for the kick in the pants (the backside kind (good), not the frontside kind (bad)).

“I’ve been thinking about the multiple income stream idea for a while, and I guess my chief concern was that raised by Barbara Stanny above. I figured I’d earn more by focusing on my highest-income pursuit – my day job – rather than diversifying my human capital, since nothing else I could do would earn me as much per hour of effort as my day job, not even close, especially with overtime factored in.

“This post got my cranial juices flowing, though. What if I break out of the time-for-money paradigm? Right now I’m developing an information product related to cooking that could generate a passive income that could scale WAY beyond the number of hours I put into it. That was already in the works. What THIS article got me thinking was: why don’t I start a personal chef / small-scale catering business?

“I already do the majority of my cooking 1 day a week…what if I just doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the quantity (which does not increase the level of time and effort by the same amount) packaged it into meals, and sold it to folks who want home-cooked meals without the hassle? This is turning my greatest passion – cooking good food for people who appreciate it – and turning it into an income stream. I figure at the very least, my passion for cooking will start to pay for itself, and what I learn from this business may improve the quality of my info product.

The punchline: I posted an ad on craigslist earlier this evening. If anyone’s in the Minneapolis area, search for “personal chef”. Bon appetit.”

Sorry for the long quote — especially one that’s already posted someplace — but it demonstrates that I’ve done my 500 words today, even with a weak post like this one. I guess I just want to make a couple of things clear.

First, follow your bliss, even if it’s only by a couple of baby steps each day. That craigslist ad was a huge step for me, because it’s starting the ball rolling on testing a career in cooking — even for only a few hours a week — that I’ve always dreamed about, and that act of putting myself out there only took 10 minutes and is completely anonymous if I fail (unless you’re reading this…d’oh!).

Second, I guess it’s alright that most personal finance blogs, when they’re not filling pages and pages quoting each other, publish a lot of repetitive stuff, just like magazines do. Eyeballs are drawn to new posts, not new ideas. Because a lot of these messages take time and repetition to set in, especially when your skull is as thick as mine. I’ve read about the value of having multiple income streams dozens of times, but I’ve never put it into practice. Trent just happened to have that thought today, when I was receptive to it and needing to be reminded. This time I’m ready. Thanks again, Trent.

Call to action (which I’m going to start calling “required reading”): read Trent’s article about multiple income streams, as well as this one on Monster about monetizing your hobbies. List 3 things you love to do and would do for no money. Pick the easiest one to monetize, and post an ad on craigslist advertising your new business. You can always use their anonymous email feature in case you chicken out, but I want you to try this so you can see for yourself how responsive people might be to your new business. You might be surprised. Then, you might also wind up following your bliss.

The 4-Hour…Sleepnight?

New testament for the new rich.Holy shoeshine, am I beat. It’s going on 2am and I’m yay-close to wrapping this Seinfeld chain around someone’s neck and playing “start the lawnmower”.

Why am I up so late? I’m glad you asked. Oh, right. You couldn’t have asked. You’re asleep.

I’m up so late because of my dreams. Not bad dreams that scare me awake. Good dreams that make me afraid to go to sleep.

You see, I’m a devotee of Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Workweek phenomenon. I got the book at the bookstore the day it came out, and I read it cover-to-cover — taking copious notes — over the weekend that followed. The whole book seemed to speak to different areas of my life that I found wanting…working in office environments that value presence over performance, allowing meaningless tasks and useless information to consume my attention, trying to get ahead financially under a non-scalable paradigm of trading time for money.

I learned an awful lot from that book. I began to apply the lessons to my working life and my dreaming life. Re-evaluating all my commitments with the killer combination of the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law has boosted both my productivity and my free time. But I also made a resolution I’ve yet to follow through with, until now.

I’d resolved to give Tim’s “muse” business creation plan a try. He said you could get a small business — simple enough to practically run itself, yet lucrative enough to free you from some or all of your time-for-money commitments — in a matter of a few weeks. I made this resolution at the end of April.

May came and went. I kicked around a few business ideas, but I crafted no “muse” to speak of.

June, July…same drill. Stuff going on with my then-employer kept me preoccupied; however, it also strengthened my resolve to work toward breaking out of the time-for-money and praise-for-presence box I was in.

August: wedding and honeymoon. Mine. Gimme a break.

September I opened my paper calendar (ug ug…fire much bad…) and found a sticky-note with a goal written on it: “$15k profit/month in 90 days!” It was dated July 15. I’d stuck the note in September to get myself back on track IN CASE I’d fallen off. I know myself too well.

The punchline: I’m up late working on a website to test the demand for a product I’m considering developing. I don’t want to jinx it by letting on, but it’s something that combines my greatest passions of cooking and performing. I hope the demand is there — in my mind the value proposition is pretty compelling — because I’d have a blast developing the product, which would boost my chance for success even more, I think. Stay tuned.

Call to action: read Tim Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Workweek. It may or may not change your life, but it will definitely broaden your perspective on how you’re living your life (or letting IT live YOU).

Now I’m off to bed for 2.5 hours’ sleep before I have to get up and take the kids to schoozzzzzzzzzzz…..

Interview them right back

Interview situation.I was just commenting on post to Wisebread about job interview tips, when I realized that my comment was starting to resemble an article unto itself, and as such, it could totally count toward my not breaking the chain.

A pox on the house of Seinfeld, I say!

The most important thing to remember in an interview situation is that you are interviewing THEM just as much as they are interviewing YOU.

You’ve got to figure our whether this is a company you really want to work for. Is this a good learning environment with active mentors who will help you in build your career, or are you just selling yourself to them because they’re the first person who paid attention to your resume, or they’re the most prestigious company that has deigned to interview you?

Make sure you ask good questions designed to show the interviewers that you’re interested in investing the next few years of your life with them IF they’re willing and able to help you build your skills and value.

This is not to say that you should only ask self-interested questions, or that any self-interested question will do.

Bad: “How many sick days to I get?”
Good: “What does your company do to promote employee wellness?”

Bad: “What’s your 401k match?”
Good: “What’s your strategy for retaining good people?”

Bad: “The other guy has free beer. Do you have free beer? Can I have one right now?”
Good: “A lot of companies encourage team-building activities and “fun” at the office that promotes work-group cohesiveness and improves long-term productivity. Do you have any activities like that? Can you give me an example right now?”

The right company will respect your desire to grow your own human capital — indeed, they will see it as a clear strength of yours — and will demonstrate THEIR capacity to meet YOUR expectations, not just the other way around. I’d hire a critical thinker who shows forethought in career planning over a desperate yes-person who’s over-impressed with my brand any day of the week and twice on casual Friday.

How to love your life

Love, American-style.As someone on an endless quest to refine my identity and define my purpose, I often try to summarize my findings to-date into a catchy motto or creed by which I should live, some sort of shorthand standard or “rule of thumb” (for those not afraid of useful cliches of patriarchal origin). I need a slogan. A cheer. A cheat sheet.

Or how about this: an algorithm.

An algorithm is a set of instructions for accomplishing a certain task, ideally with the fewest possible steps necessary to complete the task satisfactorily. Or it can be a set of rules, preferably the fewest rules necessary to govern the situation and handle all possible or likely inputs and outcomes.

Here’s my algorithm for living a happy life, a life that I love:

Spend as much time as possible doing what you love with whom you love.

How did I come up with this? I sat down this evening and thought about whether I love my life. The answer: sometimes. The follow-up: when? When I’m doing the things that I love to do. Or when I’m with the people I love.

Synthesis: chocolate and peanut butter, dude. Why not both?

I love my life when I’m spending time doing what I love to do: writing, cooking, entertaining, performing. I also love my life when I’m spending time with people I love to spend time with: my wife, my children, my friends.

It stands to reason that I love my life the most when I’m doing what I love WITH the people I love. Conversely, I love my life least when I’m spending time doing things I don’t love with people I don’t like or just don’t know very well.

This conclusion has two key lessons for me.

First, I need to maximize my time in that “loved things and people” quadrant. Whatever I can do to get there as often as possible and stay there as long as possible is a good move.

Second, if I find myself in the opposite quadrant — the sad little quadrant of “unloved things and people” I can improve my situation in one of two ways: either substitute loved activity for unloved activity — for example, by volunteering to write the executive summary for a project instead of handling an account reconciliation — or start loving the people I’m with — for example, taking the time to get to know my co-worker, seeing what hobbies or interests we have in common.

By the disjointed narrative above, you can tell I’ve got to do some more thinking about this idea, this new motto of mine: Spend as much time as possible doing what you love with whom you love. In the meantime, I challenge you to answer this call to action:

List three activities that you love and three people that you love. Then make some time this week to do at least one thing on the first list with at least one person on the second list.

Extra credit: come up with your own motto, your own one-sentence algorithm for living a life you love. I’d love to hear it.

Saturday night free-ver

That's Frugality / voluntary simplicity / urban po’folks nerdiness is in full effect: tonight’s romantic evening was all about leftovers and DVDs from the public library.

Luckily, I’m an amazing cook, and I had the foresight to make a double batch of everything for last night’s Shabbat dinner. We had sweet & sour meatballs with noodle kugel and farmers’ market green beans with some Aussie shiraz brought over by last night’s guests, and the Mrs. found some intertesting movies at the lie-berry.

The first was a real treat (for me): Orson Welles’s 1963 adaptation of Kafka’s”The Trial” starring AnthonyPerkins. Holy crumble, was that an amazing film. The Mrs. hated it, and afterward said something about my penchant for “crap movies”.

I admitted “The Trial” was no “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days”, but then, what is? Her deft response: “You liked Pi!”

Yes, I did. Do. And forever shall. I even quoted that movie’s main character Max Shapiro when she said that “The Trial ” was boring and dumb.

“WHAT IF IT’S GENIUS?!”

Up top, Aronofsky fans.

The second was a further sortie into our new passtime of exploring foreign film together. “Cafe au Lait” is a French movie, circa early ’90s, I’d say, about a young woman who’s pregnant and informs the two potential fathers simultaneously. The two men compete with one another for primacy in her affections and eventually reach a kind of humorous detente.

Bonus: the two men are a wealthy African Muslim law student and a poor Jewish bike messenger who’s also a drug dealer and an aspiring rapper. Even if you’re not impressed by this attempt by the French to rip of Spike Lee as clumsily as they’ve ripped off the rest of American urban culture, the whole thing’s worth watching for the one scene where the tipsy Jewish grandpa (or Grand Pere, according to the credits) dances around the living room solo singing something in elderly Franco-Yiddish.

As much as I’m filled with anxiety and nausea by the sheer cognitive dissonance of French rap, I give this movie a full thumb and three quarters for good writing, good characterization, and several moments of genuine humor and unsaccharine poignancy. The catch: it’s in French, so get your reading glasses, Grand Pere.

Call to action: if you’re having an evening in with your special lady or gentleman, fight the urge to just get BlockBuster and take-out. Challenge yourself to try something new: drop by your local library and get a couple of movies outside the norm of what you’d usually see, and make the most romantic dinner you can out of what you’ve got in your fridge.

It’s the time you spend together that makes an evening romantic, not how much you tip the pizza dude. And I pity the fool who doesn’t LOVE “My Dinner with Andre”.