“Stop this Train or What I Learned by 30”

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It might be ironic that one of my favorite albums of all time — Continuum by John Mayer — is all about recognizing that we can’t stay young forever and have to appreciate the journey instead of trying to hold on to the past.

I think about this album as I free-fall toward my 30th birthday. With only a few months left to be young and stupid, I can’t help but reflect on some of the things I’ve taken away from this last decade and some things I think might be helpful to someone else out there who might be at a similar point in life.

1. We have to stop reading blogs about “Things you should know by 30” or “Skills to have by 30” or “Things to do before you turn 30.” It’s OK if you don’t know what you are doing with your life (I don’t) and it’s OK if you don’t know how to change a tire (provided you know how to call AAA). I would say there are some things that are helpful to know, but there is no rule book that says we have to live up to somebody else’s standard of what it means to be 30.

2. I don’t understand fashion, which cracks me up because I enjoy seeing what new things are happening with men’s clothes and I like asking my wife if I could pull off things like bow ties, or those pants guys wear that are baggy up top but have elastic by the ankles. I’ve found it’s best not to try to keep up with what is hip or current, and just keep a solid stock of plain colors and classic cuts that don’t ever go out of style.

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3. I can enjoy writing (aka – the thing I am good at beyond athletics and other general talents). I used to think this would be my vehicle for making a living, and I put off a lot of writing in my 20’s because I thought I had to have this perfect story or brilliant idea about something that everyone would want to rush out and read. I realize that if I am ever going to get paid to write, I have to genuinely enjoy it first — and I do! And the funny thing is, I see more opportunities presenting themselves as I enjoy the pieces I put out. I don’t love everything I write, but I’m getting better and seeing that there is promise at the end of the tunnel.

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4. I am more secure with myself now more than I’ve ever been. I am also healthier now than I’ve ever been, which helps with body issues and self-consciousness. But, more so than how I look, I feel very comfortable with who I am to others, as a husband, and how comfortable I am with myself when no one else is around. I see my 15-year-old sister obsess about her weight and her look, and I see a lot of the same tendencies in who I was even a couple years ago. Once I learned to let my guard down, it allowed me to relax and have enjoyable conversations with new people and look forward to the unknown ahead.

5. Money is a funny thing. I think about the things I used to spend money on, the things I currently spend money on, and the idea that more money will make me happier. I used to spend money on beer (cheap/ quantity), food (cheap/ quantity), online poker, and “fashionable” clothes from Express and Buckle. I now spend money on food (groceries), experiences, lawn care items, and vet checks on my dog. I remember buying a case of Natty Light and cringing at the $15 I would spend. Now, I feel better about spending more than $15 on a bottle of wine than I do about spending less than $15 because I feel like I am moving up in the wine world.

::Note – I’m sure I’ll look back at what I’m spending money on now in 10 years and laugh, but at least it shows I’m evolving::

And regarding the idea that more money will make me happier… I won’t say I wouldn’t be able to put it to good use, but the things I value in life aren’t necessarily obtained by money. When I was 21 I wanted to be a millionaire and didn’t care if that came by dumb luck or hard work. Now, if I earn a million dollars, I want to have done so because I worked hard for it and I earned it. The payoff would only be worth it if the value of my effort matched the money I get on the back end.

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6. The last thing I learned in my first 29 3/4 years on this planet is that, above all, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Whatever it takes to make you happy, don’t stop at anything until you can stare at yourself in the bathroom mirror when no one else is around or can hear you, and say to yourself that you’re happy, or at least taking the necessary actions to become happy.

So I was going to end this with a John Mayer quote, but I think I’ll end on one of my own. (Wasn’t it Almost Famous or American History X where the lead character says it’s best to end a paper with a quote from someone else because they probably said it better?)

Here it goes…

Don’t get hung up on things that are beyond your control. Decide who you want to be and figure out the best way for you to get there. And along the way, try to have a little fun and learn something new.

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10,000 Hours

I wrote before about what it takes to be an expert. Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. It was a book recommended for any budding entrepreneur, and since I have my hand in a couple cookie jars at the moment, I thought a book like this would be good for me.

What Outliers aims to do is to inspire it’s readers to put in the work even when there isn’t a definite target ahead of you. It talks about the concept of 10,000 hours, and how you can’t truly become an expert at something until you’ve put in 10,000 hours reading, practicing, absorbing and doing that thing. It cites some of the world’s most successful people and shows you that it wasn’t always their drive to be the biggest/best in the world at something, but rather they did something they loved or were good at, and when the opportunity came, they were ready for it.

So if you’re like me, you want to take over the world. I want to create a business that is so successful that I can set my own hours and have the peace of mind that I can take care of myself and my family without having to worry about finances. I want to work when I want to work, and work HARD for something that I can see grow and see reward.

My wife and I talk about it all the time, what it would be like when we don’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves and we have the freedom to work harder and see a direct correlation in benefits. But what does it take to get there?

That’s where the idea of 10,000 hours comes in to play…

In a nutshell, if you do something for 10,000 hours to truly be an expert at it. It doesn’t mean that if you love fishing, and you fish for 10,000 hours that you’ll somehow find some magic formula that will make you rich. It means that, provided you keep your eyes open and you are dedicated to reaching for your dreams and not giving up, that after those 10,000 hours something might happen where you’re expertise will allow you an opportunity that you might not otherwise have ever received.

My brother is going through some hard times stemming a lot from motivation. I think he is at an age where it’s easy to pass your classes with little more than the smarts you woke up with, and he doesn’t apply himself to anything he really loves. I remember being that age and remember those same feelings. My parents tried to motivate me, but it never seems to come out right when you don’t want to hear it. I wish at his age I could have read something like Outliers and taken it to heart because it would have let me see my passions in a different light.

I loved baseball. I think I knew deep down that I would never go pro, but from the time I was 5 years old, I played every spring, summer, and fall (and for the few years I lived in South Florida, winter too). I put in 10,000 hours and I could have been an expert at baseball. But my problem was motivation and a lack of foresight to see past my lack of ability to be a professional. I could have been a great, GREAT baseball writer. I could have called games. I could have been a scout, agent, coach, GM, or even a great owner if I would have not decided to move on to something else.

So now, I write. I am a great writer and I am using this tool to explore a couple of business ventures that I am committed to making successful. And the best part is I have someone behind me who wants the same thing. And beyond that, I am so optimistic because my wife balances out what I am not great at so that we can collaborate on ideas and projects that WILL be successful in the near future.

So I’m done with hoping, wishing, thinking that I deserve something because I want it or anything like that. It’s time to put in the time and earn every reward I have coming my way!

How to be an Expert

There are all kinds of experts in the world: expert lawyers, expert analyzers, bowlers, skiers and writers. Some experts are so good at what they do they don’t even have to have the world “expert” in their title. Foodies, techies, and all other sorts of whizzes, wunderkinds, prodigies, “-istas” and phenoms all excel at one specific thing.

But what really makes someone an “expert?” Does it mean they had to go to school for 25 years and listen to every single lecture from anyone who has ever had a thought about a particular trade? Is an expert someone who has done something more than anyone else has ever done it before?

I think a lot of people are intimidated to do something because they don’t think they’re accredited or, for lack of a better word, worthy to do something.  I think people settle into mediocre roles in companies because 1. they’re comfortable and afraid of change, and 2. they don’t think they’re good/smart/ready to make a move up in life.

I think an expert is someone who has confidence to do something that is a little out of their comfort zone enough times that they learn how to adapt. I don’t think a degree makes someone an expert, rather I think it sets them on their way to becoming one, provided they keep the drive and passion to continue learning and testing whatever it is they’re seeking to master.

In short, to be an expert you just have to believe you can be and do whatever you can to make it happen. If I am going to master creating a business and better life for myself and my family, then I am not going to get there by wishing it into existence, but rather doing, failing, learning and improving every day.

Thinking BIG

My wife and I are starting a start up business. Scratch that. My wife and I have started a start up business. We met with lawyers, we have set up a functional website, and we have been starting to reach out to people to spread the word about what we’re doing. 

We still have a lot of things to figure out. Our business model connects people to people, so there isn’t any tangible “thing” that we’re selling. So, we have to figure out how we’re going to make money and allow the business to grow. We have to figure out how to reach as many people and expand our horizons as far as how many people we can connect. We have to figure out how to raise capital and track progress and all of those other pesky things you do when you launch a business. 

The old me would have focused on that last paragraph and lost hope. The old me would have stood at ground level and looked up at the mountain of work, sweat, arguments and hours it was going to take to even make a dent in conquering that mountain and stayed the course with my 9-5…

The new me is thinking BIG.

To help motivate myself, I have been reading a lot of books about strategy, how our brains work, and even continuing to read Atlas Shrugged because (1.) I have been reading this book since I MET my wife and just got past the half way point and (2.) because reading books like that help me feel like I can do anything, think like a business tycoon, and believe that I can do whatever it is I want to do if I want to do it bad enough.

Another book I am reading is called, The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David J. Schwartz. This book reinforces, more than anything, a positive outlook on everything from relationships to business to the way we dress and how we can motivate ourselves to be the best possible version of ourselves that we can be. In it, Schwartz constantly reminds you that you don’t have to be the smartest or richest person to get where you want to go, but the most determined. 

I actually put into practice one of his lessons the other day. I was driving out to meet with a customer and Schwartz said to give yourself a pep talk. If you take 5 minutes before a big presentation or meeting and tell yourself 3 things that you think are your strongest attributes, and tell yourself why whatever it is you’re about to do will succeed, you’re bound to impress. 

So I was driving out, and I turned the radio off as I was getting off the exit ramp. I told myself that I was confident, that people like me, and that the customer was going to walk away from our meeting getting exactly what it was he wanted to get out of it. I couldn’t help but think of that old Saturday Night Live bit where the guy looks in the mirror and says something about “you’re good enough, smart enough, and dog gone it, people like you.” The funny thing, though, was that it actually worked. I WAS more confident and it showed. Instead of trying to be the people-pleaser that I usually am, I was confident and whatever he asked me I answered in a confident manner. 

Anyway, I think that taking this attitude towards launching a business is exactly what I need to take the business from the “I hope we make it” phase to the “we will make it” phase. I will not doubt that my wife and I will make this a success. And here’s the part that would have scared me off before:

We don’t have the next FACEBOOK idea and we’re not going to ever be as big as Google. 

Our idea is good — really good, but I know that our business model will shift and move to whatever it is the business will ultimately become. 

I don’t know how we will make money doing this right now but I know that we will do this until we do make money and we accomplish what we’re setting out to do. 

It’s not about making a million dollars or living in a 3 story beach-front house. It’s about the realization that I want to dictate the direction I go in life on my own terms. I want to be able to say that I made a choice, stuck with it, and followed through (and was successful at it).

So while I might not be ready to make it today, I am determined enough to know that I am making it today and that tomorrow holds much, much bigger things for me.

Why I Run

My favorite thing to do is run. No. My favorite thing to do it eat, sleep, play with my dog, love on my wife, golf, play poker, travel, drink, read (lies!), watch football and make up inventions in my head. But for the sake of this post, lets say my favorite thing to do is run.

Actually, all kidding aside, I really do love to run. For me it’s the best place to clear my head. No matter what is stressing me out or what I have to do later, I know that if I get out and do 3 miles I am going to go somewhere else mentally. And I need that.

I need it because it’s “my space.” I don’t need it because I am escaping anything or have to get away. I need it because it’s where I connect with myself the best.

Things you get to see at 6:00 am.m running.
Things you get to see at 6:00 a.m running.

My wife hates running. She loves races and the idea of running. She likes looking the part more so than the act. And for what it’s worth, I love that she likes looking the part because she looks a lot better in tight pants than I do so better her than me, right?

Yesterday, I signed up for the Cleveland Rock and Roll Half-Marathon. It will be the first distance race I have done outside of Columbus and I am excited for it. I don’t know that I will PR or even be happy with what my time is, but that’s not what it’s about for me. I like seeing the people cheer, and picking someone out who is ahead of me and trying to catch them, but I also like the 3 months before a race where I am working towards something. I like getting a new pair of shoes and making a playlist for the event, but I also like looking back at the Saturday’s I got up at 6am to be outside when everyone else is asleep.

Running is satisfaction. Running is dedication Running is youthful. Running lets me be myself and I don’t care if someone in a car driving by sees me singing and air-drumming because they’re already gone and I get to keep on going.

So this weekend marks 12 weeks until the race and that’s when I begin tracking my miles and making progress; 12 weeks until I take on a new city and a new challenge.

I run because it allows me to be the best version of me.

Ten Minutes

A few months ago, I was feeling extra motivated after I read something about the “habits of highly successful people.” I bet you can guess what some of them are. Even better, I bet you can guess what some of them are NOT. Sleep in….no. Procrastinate….no. Celebrate 5 days running of having at least one alcoholic beverage…unless you work for Samuel Adams, no. Basically, the article talked about these super-human CEO’s with 4% body fat and bodies that worked better than diesel engines and found out some common things that these people had in common. Get up early….yes. Read everyday…yes. Meditate, eat foods with less than 2 ingredients, exercise, disconnect, family, loved ones, unwind, no TV, animals, kids, yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, after reading this and deciding that my life could use a little kick in the butt, I decided that I was going to get up an hour earlier than normal 3 days a week and either read, write, or exercise. I was realistic enough to know that  I wasn’t going to be able to do this 7 days a week just yet, but who knows, maybe after a few good months I would learn to enjoy the pain of this routine and expand on some of these good habits.

Well, like my childhood dreams of becoming a professional baseball player, this never happened. I found plenty of “good” reasons NOT to start this good-intentions project.

“Well, I don’t want to wake my wife up, so I probably shouldn’t do it.”

“Well, I work better at night, so maybe I should do it at the end of the day.” Cut to, “what time is it? Well, nothing more important than a good night’s sleep, so I probably shouldn’t do it.”

“I’m more active than most people my age, and I like writing at my lunch breaks at work, that’s probably more realistic for my life. Once I become CEO of my $10 billion company, THEN I’ll make sure to incorporate those habits into my daily routine. So, for now, I probably shouldn’t do it.”

So, in my last post, I wrote about being on the verge of something I think will change my life. It is very early on, but my wife and I have decided to commit to creating a start up business and we are going to begin making some things happen. Now, more than ever, I need to start making some changes in my life to watch less TV, and dedicate myself to making this dream a reality.

I still don’t think I can get up 3 days a week an hour before my alarm usually goes off (my wife would kill me), but I do think I can do 10 minutes.

I read another article that says if you can get early and just focus on a task without stopping for 10 minutes, you will begin to make some significant (positive) changes in your life. 10 minutes before you shower, eat, take the dog out or brush your teeth, just focus on something and see what happens. The author said that you might find yourself focused for 20, 45, or even 60 minutes (which would be great for trying to build a start up from the ground up).

So my new (and realistic) goal will simply be “10 minutes.” I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do for 10 minutes, but I’d like to get into some kind of routine. Maybe 3 days a week I brainstorm blog, 3 days a week I brainstorm startup, and 1 day a week I just stretch (because for the amount of running I tend do do leading up to half-marathons, I really NEED to start stretching).

Anyway, I am always trying to make myself a little bit better in one way or another. I really want to develop some habits that the ultra-productive 1% of the world have, and I think this might be a good first step.