Life As a Failed Hypothesis: Try Again.

I’ve hit a wall today. I feel like throwing up. Fact is, I’m here, where I am in life, as a result of my choices.  In a word, I made the wrong hypothesis. It’s all very complex, you see; allow me to rewind so that I may tell the story in full.

In 2010 I built a successful lead generation business that brought in monthly what many take home in a year (I tell the story here). At this same time, when I was suddenly making gobs of money, I got back together with the girl I had dated for 5 years after an approximate 24 months broken up. The conditions of the breakup where what you would call nightmarish, but I was foolish, and I suppose I sought closure.

Having gotten back together with this first love of mine, we moved to Seattle.

After 6 months, she left.

I was left alone in a condo we had spent thousands furnishing. I didn’t give a fuck about any of it. Maybe I had started the business and made the money to “win” her back. After all, my initial plan was to “randomly” pull up where she happened to be in a Lamborghini (I was 24); however, Before that ever happened, we reconnected.

Once she was gone, however, the two years of heartache, the business, all of it came crashing down. It was a house of cards. A game I had set up for someone else.

I convinced myself I hated the business and, frankly, I was in that very toxic male mode of “not giving a fuck”. Unattended to, the income dried up.

I took a 10 day trip to Hawaii, and I was every bit as lost as I had been before. Upon my return, I was facing eviction from the condo I was renting, and, suffice to say, the pain of it all was a lot. Dark days.

At about the three month mark after said ex departed, I left Seattle for Milwaukee, at the invite of a good friend whose work was taking him there.

I had no dream, no plan, no nothing. And although I had almost no money, I somehow managed to live a fairly carefree life there for a year; however, by the time I left, I was living in a motel by the airport, and only 1 friend visited me (Garry, I’ll never forget that).

When I left Milwaukee, I came to LA, where I crashed with a friend whom I had met in Santa Barbara, where we had both worked at the same bar.

LA was, in my mind, my favorite city. I felt different there.

I was also poor as a rat. I would walk to the store for a single serving of yogurt and a banana. But I was happy taking long walks through Mid-Wilshire, exploring Koreatown around sunset, headphones on. It was a calm time.

Nonetheless, I needed to feed myself, so I started building websites using the skills I had developed in my lead gen business. I hated it. You get a small deposit, you work your ass off, you get paid the balance, and then you try to find more clients (I suspect many web developers hate their work).

Around this time, while visiting my sister in San Diego, I met someone who would end up being my second love, whom I would date for three years. This is, of course, a novel in it’s own right; however, for today, I’m mainly focusing on work / career.

That said, while we dated, I at first continued building websites; however, I soon thought about entering the lead gen game again, which I did – for all of three days.

On the third day I had been running paid traffic to my landing page, I got a call from a past client (A lead reseller). I was offered a job in LA, where I would be responsible for running their marketing. And although I had already been at an approximate $300 profit for the day, I did something stupid: I took the job.

Then my girlfriend, who had been very convincing in me taking the job, backed out of moving to LA with me. What’s worse, I wasn’t even in LA, I was in Hermosa Beach, which was just a more expensive, more bro-ish version of where I grew up (Pacific Beach). I would have rather been back in Koreatown. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling empowered enough in my new job, and my efforts to communicate this – even accompanied by an offer to forgo my salary till I felt I was paying for myself – all these were met with little response.

I left the job, miserable in a city where I was so alone, and I retuned to San Diego, where I ended up moving into a little apartment in La Jolla Shores, about three blocks from the beach. Around this same time, I was offered a job consulting for another lead gen firm, located in Ohio. It was on a trip there, where I contracted blood poisoning, the result of a faulty ass piece of shit pair of tennis shoes (A story I tell here). The blood poisoning was serious, and it came to be a kind of soft turning point for me.

I was twenty-seven and working very hard to please a girl who wouldn’t even stay at my new place the first night I moved in – on my birthday!

That said, the relationship crashed and burned. We had different values.

As casual as I sound about this now, it was by no means a cakewalk; I was a fucking mess. Another multi-year relationship had ended with me being persona non-grata. These are breakups where you say and do the worst things to each other, which, of course, no matter what end of it you are on, you end up totally deflated, devoid of self-worth. Not exactly a recipe for success.

Now, at this time, I had been writing on my blog for 3 or 4 years (Since Seattle). It was also around this time that stories began to take shape in my head, novels. I knew it – I had known it all along – I was supposed to be a writer. This in mind, I began living what I imagined to be a sort of young writer’s life. I was in no way shape or form concerned one iota about the getting of money. It was like, what had all that been worth? All this chasing of money, only to end up investing in the wrong dreams, which had left me depressed and heartbroken.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the Sheriff came and let me know it was time to move out. I had simply stopped functioning. No bills had been paid. My cell phone was cut off. I simply didn’t care.

Of course, I knew all along that I wouldn’t be homeless. When I called my mom and asked if I could stay with her – something I had done before – it was an automatic yes. A friend of her’s even let me use her guest house – the main house which was occupied by various young middle-easterners, all of whom loved to smoke spliffs in the gazebo, where they had moved a TV to watch early morning soccer matches.

Again, I was doing a lot of nothing. Eventually, when a tenant came to rent the guest house, I moved back to my mom’s. I was thirty.

During this time, I had no real future plans or trajectory, other than knowing I was to be a writer. In following this, I spent my days volunteering at the library, and my nights reading everything I could get my hands on. I started to build a decent library; however, I was in my mom’s house, so the books were stacked at first along a wall, then, after, on a door, made like a desk atop two wooden folding chairs.

Not long after, I would cook down a few feet of San Pedro and have my first Mescaline experience – something that would have a profound effect on me, allowing me to see things about the world and myself I had hitherto been unawares of. There’s a reason Huxley called his book, The Doors of Perception.

I had multiple cactus tea experiences, all by myself, on a blanket near the water. Just me and my candles – two non-working cell phones for music (In case one died).

I guess I just wanted to “be”. To experience stillness and possibility.

Soon possibility would be upon me. I would fall in love again.

I remembered laying in Sarah’s bed, sleeping in one morning while she was at brunch, and saying aloud to myself, “Is this the girl you’re going to marry?”

Maybe I’ve been lucky in love. I’ve always thought so – despite things not working out in my twenties.

Sarah and I spent hours talking about what we wanted, and our values were a definite match – she even had psilocybin mushrooms in her freezer.

I soon had moved in with her, and we set up a desk we had found for me. I felt once again compelled to strike out on my own and do something.

I spent countless hours trying to build a User Experience consulting business. It failed. I tried to pivot my model to focus on the financial industry, where I felt I could make the most impact. I didn’t get a single client.

Around this same time, we were tired of apartment living in a beach town. We soon decided to move to LA; however, it would be reading Stephen King’s, On Writing, which would compel us to change our minds.

The image of Stephen King typing away in a shed for hours, living in a trailer, working in a hospital laundry, seemed almost romantic to me.

Fuck, I thought, I need to go all in on my writing. 

Besides, neither Sarah nor I was overtly materialistic, so we had no problem with a simple life – particularly one dedicated to the pursuit of my writing.

So, a plan was formed. We would move somewhere cheaper than LA. We opened the laptop and got on google maps and craigslist, zooming out from where we were.

It seemed we might be destined to move to Nor Cal, when we found a reasonably priced three bedroom on the edge of the woods, outside Big Bear, CA. Sarah left her job, working from home for a govt contractor, and I decided I would support us doing websites (It seemed fair, Sarah supported us the first six months), writing in the evenings.

Only, it wasn’t that simple. We moved to the mountains and I spent all most all of my time working, barely scraping by – despite long, often grueling hours to finish projects.

The truth is I was in a very saturated market. There are a billion front-end web people, and the price of the work you do naturally reflects this. But what drove me fucking crazy is that I had hardly written. Life up here in the mountains had become about keeping the lights on, paying the gas.

I had imagined that somehow, I could support us with my web work and write.  I had imagined that going after the money didn’t matter.

After all, I felt my writing was the only thing worth investing myself in; I didn’t want to chase money, I wanted to live simply, I wanted to write, to pursue my career as a serious novelist and screenwriter.

This was a great romanticization on my part.

I’ve come to realize plain as day that this was a failed hypothesis. In short, my writing hasn’t progressed as I’ve wanted, and I’ve struggled for months to scratch out a living doing work I loathe.

Not a recipe for happiness. In fact, it was a recipe for disaster.

Early this year, I would up having a full-blown nervous breakdown. The kind where they take you in for three days to observe you. How’s that for bragging rights? Not much.

By the time I was in the hospital, I was relieved to be there. I had had a terrible flu and hadn’t slept for a week. I was a skeleton. The first night I was there, I got up, walked down the hall, and asked the nurse for something to finally get to sleep. I was offered an injection of some sort in the buttocks, which I happily received.

My nervous breakdown over, I came home and started therapy immediately, consoled by the words of Joseph Campbell:

“If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.” 

I began to want to listen to myself more deeply. To avow myself not to do the thing I hate. I also realized that there was no sense in trying to live the starving artist’s life. Being a pauper is simply not for me.

So, where to from here?

Well, I’m certainly not going to continue down the same road with a failed hypothesis. I did that and surely, it’s part of what led me to have a nervous breakdown in the first place. You can’t do the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

It’s become clear to me that I cannot support my writing with freelance web-work.

This is, however, still my current bread and butter, which I have no immediate way of replacing. I can, however, change my expectations.

It’s reasonable to assume I cannot expect to flourish as a writer under these circumstances. So, firstly, I need to drop my expectations of writing until I have a reasonable means of supporting myself, Sarah, the dogs lol.

In conclusion, I’ve been looking into returning to where I started: generating leads. At one time, I was earning $2k a day without much work needed to maintain it. Today, as a freelance web developer, I have to do an immense amount of work to earn the same, and it just hasn’t been practical to write, as I’ve told above.

My new hypothesis is based around the idea of security first. I’ve built a bad life for myself as a starving artist: and maybe, the days of the starving artist are done – they certainly are for me.

I feel today, that it’s my right, my duty to create a new set of circumstances for myself, one in which I am prosperous and able to write. Maybe I just lacked the imagination or the confidence to go after that in the first place. My younger self certainly would have dreamed a better dream, but after my twenties, I had such a bad taste in my mouth about the pursuit of money, I just thought it would be crazy to take that route – particularly after the defeat of two failed consulting business models. But I was never a good consultant. I was never a good employee – even when I was a successful employee I loathed the Sisyphean nature of trading time for money, day in day out.

I said something to Sarah recently, about how there are other people, who, with my knowledge and experience in the lead gen industry would have undoubtedly gone back again and gotten after it. I simply wasn’t hungry before. Now I am.

Thirty-two and starting to build a new life again. I mean, isn’t that what it takes sometimes: getting the shit kicked out of you and getting up again. And maybe there are other people who would not get back up, but I have to.

I just don’t see any other way. And really there’s not. So I have to do what I have to do.

The idea is that I’ll create a comfortable life for myself, and that I’ll once again own my time, which I will invest into my writing. It reminds me of a paradigm I wrote about a while back: Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment, in which I talked about how Elon Musk’s “Software” works. Essentially, we have our wants and we have reality, in between are our goals. By focusing on the right goal prioritization, we expand our reality, allowing us to attain the things we want. Elon long ago wanted to build rockets and cars. He started Zip2 / Paypal to do it. It just wasn’t possible without the capital. The same seems to be true for my writing. I need the capital to be able to commit my bandwidth to fiction, rather than web development.

And it breaks my heart to write all this today, but it’s simply the reality I now find myself in. I wanted to come here to the mountains and have a comfortable life, where I could write. I didn’t create that. I created a life of stress and struggle, and, frankly, I’ve had enough. Thankfully, I’m still young and willing to take risks, I just can’t risk continuing to live like this. It’s been hell. I had a bad hypothesis. Time to try again now.

 

Blind Spots

Biases, weaknesses, complexes, assumptions – things that cloud our objectivity – we all have our shortsightedness. 

Unfortunately, we typically do not recognize blind spots until they become clear: in hindsight, where we can see them – often for the first time. 

The cause of our blind spots are as varied as human folly, and as vast as the fallacies we are capable of engendering. 

In short, blind spots are a part of life, they will fuck your shit up, and you will be blind-sided time and again by things you do not see, things you fail to understand: relationships, businesses, friendships. In life, the plane will crash into the mountain. 

But we have to keep trying. The day we give up, our shadow has won and we have placed our dreams on ice. 

There will be blind spots. This, I recognize. What I want to do, however, is succeed in spite of them. Is this not how life is lived: via hypothesis – our beliefs and theories – the working models we apply to avoid blind spots. 

It’s nothing less than a great irony, that the successful working model is often the very product of the numerous pitfalls and blind spots a person had to ultimately encounter in order to succeed. 

In the words of Steve Jobs: you can only connect the dots looking backward

To close, I’m trusting life. That it will carry me further and care for me, as it has. But I am also hoping to hit the moon. And I’m trusting that my blind spots have prepared me. 

Lean Capitalism: Little Questions, Big Picture

There’s a difference between cutting corners and not turning them; to cut a corner is to take a shortcut, to fail to turn one is to face a wall. And some walls must be walked around, the time it takes to scale them simply not worth the benefit, the cost being too great. I’m speaking in proverbs but I refer to my work.

The past three days I have beat my head against a wall in the way only an engineer can. The enginnering being web engineering, but whether the medium be code or steel, square pegs do not fit round holes; and sure, were I more skilled I would be able to solve the problem at once, but I am not.

Every man must make great from his own share of good, conforming to his limits rather than bending to them. At the heart of the matter is the question of inherent neccesity. Is problem X of inherent neccesity to solve? If not, there need be limits to the amount of time wasted on it.

At thirty I am goal driven as the migrating whale, called to waters beyond the horizon by something bigger than myself, bigger than my stubborn inclinations. I’m learning that self-mastery includes mastering even the best of intentions; as much as I would like everything I output to match my mental conception, I simply don’t have the time to be Michaelangelo. Some ideals simply aren’t neccesary. This is the art of living; to know that doing your best requires a degree of comprimise between what is possible and what you can do. This, I suppose, is practicality. Something I’ve never been big on.

I’m an idealist – but I’m coming to see that it’s better to be a doer than a dreamer. I met a man tonight who has been writing his book since 2000. Sixteen years and he never went around a wall.

I’ve often quoted Joyce, but the longest way round is not the shortest way home. The shortest way home is to limit the points between two distances.

The Buddhists have a framework for right speech consisting of three questions:

Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it neccesary?

If a thought meets these essential requirements then it is worth speaking. But what of my engineering problem? Might I have my own framework I may use to determine if the thing is worth doing? Surely.

Here goes:

Is it neccesary to completion of the goal?

That’s it. The buck stops there.

The answer in my case being no. So, it will go on a prioritized list pending surplus time and money. That’s called pragmatism.

My books will be my Sistine Chapel, my businesses simply the financing.

I intend to put this lean capitalist principle into use immediately. For while we all have problems to solve and needs we wish to meet, there do exist more important principles, bigger pictures.

The Layman Sails Not

Standing on the banks
The layman sails not
But intent on succeeding,
He plans, toils, and plots
Only he’s living in a dream,
For he accomplishes naught
And without the tests of time,
His craft lay in rot

While he watched men of the world go forth
He judged himself still provincial and stayed hither
Hence through age and not mediocrity,
Unspent passion soon withers

Years on and gone wasted,
He recalled the voyages of great men:
How they were once but mediocre,
And he was once but one of them

##

Unproductive day, dissapointed. Perfection is surely a lesson only the great can teach; the rest of us damned to learn it, aiming to be great and failing to venture forth and acheive what may be called good, even great. There’s a diffference between living a life that is a work in progress and making progress.

Maybe it’s just patience I Iack, but I’ve been here before. I made that great mistake mediocre men make in trying to be great: I turned back at the water’s edge. Yes, I built a raft and made ready to venture across the river but on reaching the water’s edge and not feeling my craft swift or good enough, I turned back.

But what if I would have cast off?

Oh the pain in not knowing and then knowing! This is hindsight: to see,  years later, the mediocre man made great by the greatness of his voyage. Not to say any person is mediocre – that is to say, not mediocre in the downcast view the bourgeois have of their self-imposed fate – no, when I say mediocre, I say it with reverence, I refer to the Latin mediocris, meaning: moderate, ordinary, from medius: middle. Great men were no more than ordinary men who took great voyages. The voyage great, simply because it was made. The anchor of mediocrity that weighs the ordinary man down is not his lack of greatness, but his lack of courage to venture forth into greatness from mediocrity, for it is not the greatness of the man that makes him great but the greatness of his will. How many men build and beat on their craft only to turn back at the rising tide of time!?  For there is an eternal winter from whence only the willingness to be mediocre can lead one to greener pastures. How the sun might shine resplendent on the faces of the mediocre if only they would go! Swim across the damning bank for the sake of living, will ye.

In the book Into The Wild, Christopher McCandless reaches such a bank. After months in the wilderness he prepares to egress, only to reach the river and turn back after judging his swimming skills inadequate to cross. The author remarks that had he simply walked a few miles downstream he would have reached a spot where he could have safely navigated tamer, shallower waters. Of course, this is an easy observation, and we know what tragic fate young Mr. McCandless meets; needless to say, he does not die a drowning death.

I hope I am forgiven in using this anecdote – for I only use it as metaphor and the story of Christopher McCandless has doubtless inspired countless youth to venture forth from the banks of mediocrity into greatness – for Christopher McCandless crossed many such banks before he found the one he dared not cross.

And I write this standing on the edge of my own banks – staring into the abyss of possibility – beating on my own craft: my business, my writing, my concept of self, all works in progress, all mediocre, all inadequate, all laden with excuses for not doing the damn thing.

So it is, I write this to call myself to account. I’m still young and through the process of self-honesty I have staved off the eternal winter of mediocrity, but I am not as young as I might be had I crossed this river sooner. Now I am thirty. That age when men stand in the river of time whether they dare chance it or not. A man at thirty faces his possibilities and whether he belives in himself or not, he knows in his heart what he might be.

I don’t want to grow old standing in the cold bank of the river. I know that luck is not preperation meeting opportunity, but action creating it. The needle of probability which directs our fate is controlled by each of us. Whether we take action, moving chance from unlikely to likely, or whether we stand in the evermore freezing banks of the river, our craft decaying in the eternal winter of preperation, we hold our future in our own hands. I personally have never in all my life failed at anything, except relationships and those ventures I did not undertake. And only the latter of the two I regret.

In ten years I will be forty, and in less than a year’s time I will be thirty one. Perchance I could speak to him, what would my great grandfather say to me?

I’d like to imagine he would encourage me to venture forth from as many banks as I could as fast as I may. He would tell me not to strive to be great but, rather, to strive to do great things. The doer of great things being the one who does them.

I have a friend who makes half a million dollars a month. He did not attain this through perfectionism – he did it by casting off the lines from the dock and putting his ideas to sea. His compass – his needle of probability – pointing
straight to likely, while mine, so long as my ideas do not sail forth, will remain on the banks of mediocrity – my needle pointing straight to mediocrity.

I challenge myself (Having no other choice in the face of such hard truths) to set sail. Every idea, every dream, every plan, is no more than a mist, a vapor, a fog. The only measurable and worthy idea – the only plan or dream that may come to fruition, being the one we deem worthy of releasing into the world. Until then, they lie buried beneath the crushing weight of our egos, decaying with an increasing tide of self-consciousness. A plan is a dream with a deadline. A failure is one whose time either passes or never comes. What are you afraid of? What are you afraid of?

Money meet mouth. For mediocrity is a river, possibility an abyss. Only action and its palpable results, only what may be called good enough and done, may be called great.  While you are here be not a master architect or shipbuilder; be a sailor, mediocre as your untested craft may be.

Napoleon Hill: Outwitting The Devil

Update: Jan 2017 – just going to leave this here: 

https://www.google.com/amp/paleofuture.gizmodo.com/the-untold-story-of-napoleon-hill-the-greatest-self-he-1789385645/amp?client=safari

– Not to detract from the man’s work, but the above read was eye opening to say the least. Take what you will with a grain of salt, the entry below included.


tl;dr – I am incredibly excited about this discovery. I am buzzing with excitement. The 1938 manuscript Outwitting The Devil was released in 2011 and having come across it this evening, I cannot get enough. Scroll to the bottom for embedded audio.

###

In my youth I first read Napoleon Hill’s classic Think and Grow Rich, and I think I can trace a lot of my success in the years since back to that crucial stone in my path.

This evening, I came across something pretty awesome while watching youtube videos. And when I say awesome, I mean really awesome. I’m excited about this. I’m excited for anything that sparks a light within me capable of extinguishing fear, doubt, and worry.

What I came across was an audio version of an obscure Napoleon Hill manuscript, titled: Outwitting The Devil.

As the audio tells, the book was written in 1938, but wasn’t released for more than seventy-two years. Mind you, Think and Grow Rich has sold over 70 million copies worldwide – so why was this manuscript locked away for the better part of a century?

Wikipedia explains:

Just after the release of Think and Grow Rich in 1937, Hill began writing Outwitting the Devil as an explanation of why some were still seeing failure after following all of the steps in Think and Grow Rich. His wife, Annie Lou, did not want the book published because of the role the Devil played in it. When Hill died in 1970, the manuscript went in the possession of Annie Lou, who died in 1984. After her death, the manuscript went into the hands of Dr. Charles Johnson, who was Annie Lou’s nephew and president of the Napoleon Hill Foundation. While Dr. Johnson believed the book’s message to be powerful, his wife, Frankie Johnson, shared Annie Lou’s feelings and told Dr. Johnson that she did not want the manuscript published while she was alive. After Frankie’s death, Dr. Johnson passed the manuscript to Don Green, CEO of the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Sharon Lechter was then asked to edit the manuscript, and after several years of annotations and reviews, it was released in June, 2011.

While I am only one hour into the six hour audio, I’ve already gathered that the manuscript has an almost Jungian mythological quality to it – and this too would have likely made Napoleon Hill seem a quack had it been released during his lifetime.

And let me state, I enjoyed Think and Grow Rich, but compared to this, it’s a snoozer. Outwitting The Devil exceeds every expectation I could have had for it. The author [Hill] tells a story of his inner psyche and is at times vulnerable and human in ways he was not in Think and Grow Rich. The audio contains numerous passages that strike me as profound, and listening to it feels almost like a meditation, and leaves me with the same feeling I got reading Steinbeck for the first time when I was 12. It’s captivating.

In Outwitting The Devil I find a narrative written in sometimes beautiful prose, which goes far deeper than the superficial pseudo science and monotony of most self-help books – classics included.

Here’s a sample passage:

During my quarter century of research into the causes of success and failure I have discovered many principles of truth, which have been helpful to me and to others, but nothing I have observed has impressed me more than the discovery that every great leader of the past whose record I have examined was beset by difficulties and met with temporary defeat before arriving… this would seem to justify the conclusion that infinite intelligence has a plan, or a law, by which it hurdles men over many obstacles before giving them the privilege of leadership or the opportunity to render useful service in a noteworthy fashion. 

Now, I would not wish to again be subjected to those experiences through which I passed during that fateful Christmas eve in 1923, and since on that eventful evening when I walked around the schoolhouse in West Virginia and fought that terrible battle with fear, but all the wealth in the world would not induce me to divest myself of the knowledge I have gained from those experiences. 

Faith has a new meaning to me.

I repeat that I do not know exactly what this other self is, but I do know enough about it to lean upon it in a spirit of absolute faith in times of difficulty when the ordinary reasoning faculty of my mind seems to be inadequate for my needs. 

I repeat that I do not know exactly what this other self is, but I do know enough about it to lean upon it in a spirit of absolute faith in times of difficulty when the ordinary reasoning faculty of my mind seems to be inadequate for my needs. 

As someone who is interested in both philosophy and psychology, I absolutely love this material. As one Amazon review says of the recently released manuscript “It isn’t new age to me, but old age, and science and thought is [sic] just catching up”.

But Outwitting the Devil is not just about a philosophy of living or the psychology of fear and success – it’s also about spirituality, and contrary to the title – it’s more about the devil within yourself than it is about the existence of an evil deity.

As an aside: Personally, I do not believe in a devil, or a hell (beyond the one we are capable of creating on earth for ourselves) – but I’m glad I did not let the seemingly religious title put me off. The devil is merely a metaphor, and this is not a work of religious zealotry.

Listening to this, I am nothing short of enthralled. Easily one of my new favorite works of non-fiction.

Note, pay little mind to the Sharon Lechter woman narrating on occasion, many Amazon reviewers loathed her contribution and feel it added her own neo-conservative beliefs to an otherwise flawless work. I’m more than half-inclined to agree. 

Without further ado – I present to you:

Edit: When you reach the section where Hill ‘interviews the devil’, be prepared for a thrill! It’s as dramatic and Shakespearean as anything I have ever heard. Damn, this is good!!! What I wouldn’t give to see this made into a play…

Edit 2: it’s 1:25 am, listening to in bed, not sure I’ll be able to sleep! It’s increasingly clear why Hill’s family did not want this released. In one passage the Devil character warns that this book ‘if published the book would be banned from public schools’ and that Hill himself ‘would be hated’. Hill goes directly after both public schools and organized religion as pillars that ‘strip people of their ability to think for themselves’. Pretty unreal stuff to listen too. Hill unplugged from the Matrix back in 1938.

Update: I’ve published a follow up entry to this with lessons and notes.

A Note on Work, Success, and Survivorship Bias

Coincidentally I’m taking a break from working to write this, but I wanted to get this message down.

Essentially, we all have to work in life – well, at least those of us not born into the lucky sperm club – but, even then, there’s a certain brand of satisfaction that comes from working, from doing something you enjoy, that you can’t get anywhere else. Fuck all the noise about doing what you love – I mean by all means, it’s something to strive for – but the truth is, if you want to do what you love then you better work your ass off to do whatever that is – just don’t forget how satisfying working can be in the meantime. I’m not where I want to be yet, and some would call me crazy to know the journey I have been on, but I am getting there.

It’s easy to turn on the TV, or go on social media and see stories of people making a killing doing something they enjoy – and there are people who get paid to do just about anything you can imagine having fun doing, from yacht captains and travel guides, to exotic car dealers and artists. And that should be inspiring to you, but don’t let the television or the internet fool you into comparing yourself to anyone, because it’s easy to look around and feel like everyone is getting rich, or doing what they love. In the business world we call this Survivorship bias.

Survivorship bias is the fallacy of looking at all the visible successes, “the survivors”, and drawing a conclusion based on that evidence. The fallacy in this case arises from the fact that the parties who did not ‘make it’ aren’t visible, and thus, seemingly logical, yet highly erroneous conclusions are drawn based on poor incomplete evidence.

An obvious example (and one that I think most people are aware of) is Hollywood, because – as everyone knows – for every successful actor, there are literally thousands of people hitting their forties who just never made it (Remember that the next time the barista at CBTL fucks up your drink – he wanted to be the next Gerard Butler and all he got awarded was his dog in the divorce). But beyond ambitious waiters, there are numerous other instances in life where Survivorship bias clouts our estimations of what it means to make it and what it takes to become successful.

I don’t tell you this my dear reader to discourage you, but rather to help you figure out the differences between those who make it and those who do not – ironically, the biggest pitfall of Survivorship bias is that it causes people to fail because they falsely attribute success to the wrong factors.

I’m not saying that the friend of mine who is going to make a million dollars this year pod-casting got lucky – not at all, but those who do not recognize the inherent blind-spots posed by survivorship bias might think that [luck] is precisely the case. No, he ‘got lucky’ because he moved the needle from unlikely to likely, from improbable to probable. He picked up the phone when he was Joe Schmoe and called the biggest names, and asked to interview them – and he kept at it for months. There is no such thing as luck; you make your own luck, and every successful person I have ever known has put themselves in a position to succeed. They created something of value and then worked just as hard to get it in front of the people who could benefit from it.

I’m getting closer to being able to call myself a survivor, but I want to make it clear that I paid a price that few people would be willing to pay. I’ve got stories.

It’s the quote of: “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t to live the rest of your life like most people can’t”.

Work is going to have it’s ups and downs – just today I had a very terse phone call, which led to me saying some not nice, but ultimately very empowering things. A sign from the universe I suppose. But that’s neither here nor there – the point is that you have to have a big vision. You have to enjoy being on your path. You have to just laugh it off and get back to work.

I don’t know what kind of plans G-d has for you, but if you don’t have big plans for yourself and you aren’t sacrificing harder than the guy who is going to make it, I can’t help you.

And I don’t care what you do, I don’t care how much money you have, etc., etc., – but what I do care about for you my dear reader is that you are having a satisfying life. That means different things to different people, but to all of us it means being as well-equipped mentally and as psychologically bolstered as we can be to succeed at being a fucking human being.

There’s a lot of uncommon common sense out there, but no one wants to hear that you have to pick up the phone, that you have to live in a dump, that you have to work harder than everyone else. They just want to make their mind up about why everyone else made it and they didn’t.

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

Happiness, YOLO Culture, and The Chinese Bamboo Tree

edit 11/16/15: I think if you look at the infographic on Sonnet 9 here, you will see right through the fallacy of YOLO, simply in the actual regrets of the dying.


For World Happiness Day, I have this to remind you: “How you spend your days is how you spend your life”.

Meaning, that while you’re waiting or dreaming for the life you want, it’s passing you by; you’re living life right now. As John Lennon famously said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

And as I enter the dawn of my 29th year, let me tell you, three and four years can pass and leave you bewildered at how fast the time goes by. I’m reminded of a great quote that I recently read, which really encapsulated my feelings about life as of late: “..Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.” – Anna Quindlen

What a great paradigm; life most certainly ought to be lived with joy and passion. But I look around and I feel that modern culture has effectively debased the concept of embracing our mortality and diluted it into something vapid and hollow. I say this not because I think people are ignorant to the finite nature of life, but because I think adherence to modern ideas of what it means to live once are essentially causing people to squander their time in an attempt not to. YOLO culture, or whatever you want to call it, has watered down the objectives in life for many into two basic principles: A short-term objective of: the pursuit of fun, and a long-term objective of: the avoidance of regret. The combination of these nearsighted objectives can aptly be summarized in the oft heard rally cry of: ‘You only live once’ or perhaps more crassly in Jeffrey Lebowski’s (The Dude’s) mantra of ‘fuck it’.

Existential psychologists, such as Viktor Frankl and Rollo May held the view that an individual’s personality was constantly being governed by the choices and decisions they made in relation to the realities of life and death. Perhaps these modern ideas about pursuing fun while avoiding regret have become widespread paradigms because they provide people with a decisioning model that both excuses and validates a person’s actions in relation to both life and death.

The major fallacy with the paradigm of: ‘You only live once, have fun, you don’t ever want to be full of regret when you’re older or dying‘ is that it fails to apply any weighted logic to the integrity and intelligence of the decision itself, instead relying on the sole question of ‘Will this bring satisfaction to my life at the present day, whilst decreasing my dissatisfaction with life at some arbitrary point in the future?‘. That kind of question is akin to the logic that guides the behavior of children. The only difference being that a child is not aware of the concept of avoiding future regret.

As evidenced by the previous few paragraphs I hardly find this to be a healthy model for finding happiness in life while reconciling the truth of my mortality. When the pursuit of fun and the avoidance of regret become the chief metrics by which you assess your decisions, you essentially reduce your ability to direct your life to that of a child, and while children are often happy, as adults we have vastly different responsibilities; however, its possible that the root of the problem itself is not in this ‘YOLO logic’ but in the unevolved adolescent priorities which allow such an immature model to exist. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides an interesting model with which this might be assessed.

But digressing from my existential thoughts on the un-actualized potential of the masses, I want to return to what I am doing to find happiness.

You know, life is long. And despite the fact that we are all very likely going to die eventually (pending there is no singularity which transcends the human lifespan), we have to live in a manner which allows us to reconcile this fact. For me, that’s something I accomplish by loving as if each day were my last. For me, that brings peace to my heart. Do I believe in living each day as if it were my last? I don’t know if that’s realistic. Maybe for someone at sea, sailing the world. Maybe on your honeymoon. Maybe we get moments where we are able to live as if they are our last.

The second century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that: “You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last.” I think he meant that we should do things with the knowledge that we may never get to do them again, not that we should do things because we may never get the chance to do them again. That’s a very slight but massively important distinction that says something about the quality of the things we should do.

As adults, we have adult responsibilities, and hopefully we have adult goals (internal goals: growth and development). Because that’s what life is about. It’s about transcending who you are and growing, and reaching your full potential as a self-actualized individual.

True happiness, like true love, is work, not leisure. It can be more amazing than you could ever imagine, but you have to invest in it. If you’re not willing to do the work, and to sacrifice for it, you cannot expect to break through those plateaus and reach your goals and dreams.

But I didn’t write this to talk about true happiness or to talk about living once or even to harp on the fallacies of conforming to dogma (the last part comes easiest for me). No, the real reason I wrote this is to talk about something bigger within the context of happiness, living once, and thinking for yourself. I wrote this to talk about sacrifice. And not sacrifice in a self-pitying way, but the type of sacrifice you have to choose to make if you really want an exceptional life.

The recipe for an unexceptional life is to think YOLO, and just never grow. And I’ve seen the outcomes that school of shortsighted and immature thought produces. It produces people who are complacent. It produces people who have immature needs and goals and who neither cultivate themselves nor create anything which lives up to their potential.

I’m reminded of the story of the Chinese Bamboo tree. The Chinese Bamboo tree must be watered every single day for nearly five years before it begins to grow beyond a small sprout. At about the fifth year, it explodes in growth, reaching up to 90 feet tall in a single season. That’s kind of how your dreams work. You have to be willing to water them and cultivate them every single day – focusing on the future with belief that it will be worth it.

The true point of my writing today is to outline a mental foundation for you for the following picture, and hopefully everything I’ve written here today helps to connect those dots for you in ways that allow you to adapt to life so that you can change the way you see life, change the way you see other people, and change the way you see success / your dreams.

farmblog

So do today what others won’t so you can have tomorrow what others can’t.

An Essay on Love

For over three decades, George Vaillant directed a study out of Harvard, one of the longest running longitudinal studies about human development and happiness ever.

Recently, in summarizing the trends and findings from the study, he had this to say in conclusion:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”

 ‘The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’

Take that as you may – but if you are living without true love in your life, or if you’ve given up on the notion that you will ever find it again, you may find it interesting to note that Dr. Valiant also stated that the study showed that it was “never too late.”

See, you can chase things, be addicted to food, and remain stuck on that never ending cycle of doing things because you want need to change the way you feel (eat, sleep, sex, drink, TV, etc, repeat); or you can heed the findings of the Grant Study, and commit to finding TRUE happiness.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t be happy without love in your life, but in my 29 years, I’ve never seen a happiness that matches the happiness of love.

I look around, and I see so few people who are truly happy. I’m not saying I don’t see people smiling, or people who are friendly, and people who appear happy; I’m saying I see few people who are truly fucking happy. And if you’ve ever been in love then you know what I’m talking about when I say truly fucking happy.

The happiness that love brings is like ‘the invincible summer within’ that Albert Camus wrote of. It’s not the generic, fair weather, watered down version of happiness that society resigns you to aspire to. Love happy requires no faux positive mental attitude, it can survive bad days with relative ease, and there’s no big house or fancy car required.

Love happy is happiness simply for love’s sake.

Love happy is happiness simply for love’s sake.

Right about now you probably think I am a Pollyanna. Another naive person with the kind of unfounded optimism that causes people to overlook the unfortunate nature of reality.

And I don’t blame you. We don’t live in a utopia of love. Real life looks very little like the movie Valentine’s Day.

The reality of love is tough. The divorce rate is above 50%. Hell, it’s 75% in California and it’s even higher for second marriages. And as any adult knows, marriage does not imply harmony or bliss, or even true love at all – if I may be so inclined to assert.

I’m going to indulge in a bit of amateur sociology.

As a society, our hope at love is bleak because our outlook on love is cynically glum. Even the people who’ve felt the kind of love strong enough to stop the earth get older and become practical, taking a more sensible and pragmatic approach to love.

Part of the reason we are cynical on love is the fact that it’s not uncommon for people to believe in the idea of a soul-mate. This concept that there is only one true love for you in life.

This is one of the biggest limiting beliefs in the world.

There are seven billion people on the planet. Your odds of hitting the powerball are 1 in 175 million. This means that if there were only one soul-mate for you, your chances of finding them would be one in 7,000,000,000 and you would be 4 times more likely to win the lottery than to find your soul-mate.

To believe TRUE love can only happen once is a dangerous cop out. You’re much better off realizing that the idea of one true love is a product of human nature, and not nature itself.

To believe TRUE love can only happen once is a dangerous cop out. You’re much better off realizing that the idea of one true love is a product of human nature, and not nature itself.

It’s human nature to believe in the love of your life concept, it’s human to alter our beliefs and behaviors to protect ourselves from being hurt again, and it’s human to let negative events assail our hopes; and in this fashion, we have a society of people who settle, but we do not have a society of people who are happy.

To believe that there is just one true love is to do our chances at happiness a grave disservice.

The one true love idea is romantic, and it often fuels many a hormone filled love – but as soon as the relationship comes to a crashing end and life has wiped the floor with your heart, then bam. You’re fucked. The one true love will then haunt you forever – and it often does.

A recent study of 2,000 participants found that one in seven had ‘settled’ with their current partner, and of those one in seven, 73% felt they ‘were not with the love of their life’.

People tend to believe in this idea of ‘the love of their life’ and people tend to settle in part because of it; they accept that love is one thing when you are young and your hormones are in full bloom and that it’s another when you are nearing 30. People simply put away the hope of true love, pack up their baggage and wisen up before settling down. There’s a reason it’s called settling down.

There’s a reason it’s called settling down.

The unfortunate truth of love for many is that simply finding someone who treats them well and has their figurative shit together is reason enough to settle down.  Frankly, I am baffled as to why anyone would ever marry someone they weren’t madly head over heels crazy in love with. “He’ll be a good father.” Good luck with that.

As a society this tendency to settle down rather than pursue love as if it were the key to happiness is almost medievally feudalistic. Marriage should not be for the procurement and protection of property and the social milestone of settling down and raising a family.

To add to the complexity of the situation, it’s human to want to find someone who will be a good provider because no one wants to be insolvent. Money is often cited as one of the number one reasons couples fight. So, in this sense, the individual who is committed to true love and desires a financially secure partner truly is looking to eat their cake and have it too. But, you know what, I say go for it. If you don’t believe you deserve something someone else will end up with it that does (believes).

Look, this blog is eventually for my kinds and grankids. I may not convince the world of this, but love is not a matter in which you should settle on. As the Grant Study concluded, love is happiness, so unless you want to take your chances on settling when it comes to your happiness, then don’t fucking do it.

As I’ve written, people settle, people give up on love and I’m not meaning to project an air of superiority over them because of it – by all means, this is an opinion piece, but I cannot strongly enough state that we should not base our lives on the patterns of our society. Just because a way of thinking or a behavior is the de facto choice for many, does not mean it is the self-actualized choice, or the right choice for your life.

I cannot strongly enough state that we should not base our lives on the patterns of our society. Just because a way of thinking or a behavior is the de facto choice for many, does not mean it is the self-actualized choice, or the right choice for your life.

The fact of the matter is, our society is almost atheistic to the pursuit and the belief in love. We think there is one true love, we don’t find it, we settle, then we give up.

What the Grant Study revealed is that happiness is love.

Is there no more genuine a pursuit in life? I think not.

To this end, I want you to love. Be love. Find Love. Fall in Love. Make the pursuit of love your paramount goal in life. Love yourself. Love your family. Experience happiness, experience the love the world has to offer.

I’ve never found anything closer to a spiritual experience than love, and as such, the Grant Study’s premier conclusion is of absolutely no surprise to me.

There is a season for everything in life. My grandmother found love again in her eighties, decades after her husband of over twenty years had passed away.

This may seem purely anecdotal, but I like to believe that this drive for love is what helped her stay active and to take care of herself all those years. It has always been the driving force in my life, because I have always believed in it. A belief that has been extremely rewarding.

Believe in love. Be one of those rare believers in the spiritual and sacred truth that love exists and it will find you and you will find it. Like all gifts in the universe, you first have to be open to receive it.

And though the world may be full of atheists when it comes to love, you must believe in the invincible summer of love within you. You will meet people who don’t truly believe in high fidelity, true and lasting love, and that’s okay. But in believing, you will keep your heart open to the precious few you meet who do.

But if you close your heart to everything that love truly is then you will not be on the pursuit of happiness.  To live your life according to the gospel of love is simply to be love.

I will close with a note about luck. Some say luck happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I think that’s a fine poster for a low-rent office. But luck really happens when probability moves from unlikely to likely. It’s not luck that the people who were happy had found love.

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

Waking Up to The Matrix

heath_ledger_key

Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.

Morpheus, The Matrix

I’m a thinker, it’s just my nature.

Call it intensity, call it passion – but as enriching as the experience of deep introspection can be, it’s often the burden of many an artist’s soul.

But it must be faced, for to attempt to escape from that splinter in your mind is a dangerous pursuit that will often manifest itself in some of the most unhealthy and destructive forms of prolonged self-abuse.

If you’re thinking, if your gears are going, it’s because your brain is trying to resolve something – and you can’t ignore it.

In my journey through the world, I am always looking for signs and I’m willing to blindly venture down the rabbit hole in order to find them.

This willingness, combined with my unbridled ADHD, makes for a life that’s full of signs.

Tonight I was listening to Phil Collins and one of the youtube commenters said something to the effect of ‘GARBAGE , PETER GABRIEL KICKS PHILS ASS, SCREW THIS POP SHIT.’

So, I decided to listen to some Peter Gabriel, and what a beautiful thing that I did.


I have an egocentric tendency to relate things to my personal life or current situation. This is probably a result of my desire to discover the signs and messages in life, but it provides me with a great power, which is the ability to use everyday things (like a Peter Gabriel song) as lenses through which I can view the world from a perspective other than my own.

That allows me to better understand myself, and life as a whole.

What struck me about this song was it’s message of transcending pain through awakening.

Love I get so lost, sometimes
Days pass and this emptiness fills my heart
When I want to run away
I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go
I come back to the place you are

All my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride I reach out from the inside

In your eyes
The light the heat
In your eyes
I am complete
In your eyes
I see the doorway to a thousand churches
In your eyes
The resolution of all the fruitless searches
In your eyes
I see the light and the heat
In your eyes Oh,
I want to be that complete
I want to touch the light
The heat I see in your eyes

Love, I don’t like to see so much pain
So much wasted and this moment keeps slipping away
I get so tired of working so hard for our survival
I look to the time with you to keep me awake and alive

And all my instincts, they return
And the grand facade, so soon will burn
Without a noise, without my pride
I reach out from the inside

The lyrics perfectly mirrored the song in my heart and it spoke for me, which is what I think good music should accomplish.

The reason it spoke for me is because right now I am floating in a place where I am not living from my gut, from my instincts – and that’s a painful place to be.

This is a song about instincts returning and the grand facade burning.

It’s about reaching out from the inside and establishing a new and loving relationship with yourself, where you are complete and you’ve found the resolution of all the fruitless searches.

To me, it’s about awakening to the experience of being reconnected to your authentic-self.

Your authentic-self is the true you. The person connected to your passions, your purpose, your beliefs and your identity.

This is difficult, because the authentic-self is not the same you that has been so deeply conditioned and programmed.

Societal pressures that we’ve come to call ‘life’ trap us, and force us to compromise our heart and ignore our intuition. And once you awaken to that you will question everything you beleive in.

The questions I’ve started asking myself are:

What makes me tick? What are the driving forces in my life?

Why do I do what I do, and make the choices that I make?

What beliefs are dictating my being? and are they empowering or disempowering beliefs?

Those are questions that won’t leave me, it’s as if I have to live with them now.

I’ve started to try and answer them, and I’m beginning to discover so much more about my nature. But most importantly I’m realizing how conflicted it is with my reality.

I’m not trying to get too existential here, but when you realize that you’ve been making the wrong commitments and your priorities are completely paradoxical to your true-nature and your life is suffering as a result of your beliefs – then I think it’s a wise time to question what you believe in.

steve_33_years

During his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, Steve Jobs gave this sage anecdote:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Unfortunately that answer has been no for me for far too long. Probably as is the case for many of us who aren’t living our truth.

Instead of living our truth, we are caught in the trap of trying to please everybody.

Why? We’ve been programmed to. Just like our parents were programed to try and please the gatekeepers. Employers, teachers, the opposite sex, the government – the entire system relies on us being compelled to try and appease it.

And that’s just one example of thinking that has been so deeply ingrained into us that we don’t even realize it.

From birth, we are plugged into a world that programs our thinking and our beliefs.

Welcome to the matrix.

But if we had the courage to deprogram our thinking, and truly examine our beliefs then we would have the power to define our world, rather than be defined by it.

lessons

That, my friend, is called unplugging from the matrix.

Here’s a great explanation of ‘unplugging from the matrix’ from Awake in The Now.

Once the red pill is taken or the awakening process begins, there is no turning back, it cannot be undone.

When we reach the point where higher self comes to tap us on the shoulder we must respond. If we resist this wake up call we will suffer more and more intensely until we get the message and make the turn inward.

In the movie, Neo chooses the red pill and is unplugged so to speak from the matrix. The is an incredibly painful and disorienting process as he realizes that everything he took to be reality is not in fact real but just a projection of his mind and part of a simulated dream world within which he had been imprisoned…

The process of beginning to unplug from the matrix is very painful for most of us because essentially everything, every aspect of our lives begins to change and transform in profound and initially uncomfortable ways. We no longer get much comfort and pleasure from the things we used to and as we begin to see through the illusion we’re confronted with the vastness and limitlessness of the unknown which is terrifying to us because we’re used to living in a comfortably limited world.

The higher-self has definitely tapped me on the shoulder. I’ve takien the red pill and I’m starting to experience the discomfort of seeing through the illusion of my beliefs and the choices they are producing.

There is no turning back from this awakening.

Now I really have to answer those same questions of:

What makes me tick? What are the driving forces in my life?

Why do I do what I do, and make the choices that I make?

What beliefs are dictating my being? and are they empowering or disempowering beliefs?

and just as important,

What are the beliefs that are holding me back from doing what I’d truly like to be doing and what I’m truly capable of doing?

and what beliefs are limiting my concept of what I’m capable of and what my limits are?

Clearly, for most all of us, fear is a central theme in the answers.

Many of us have likely heard of the concept of people being driven by fear.

We’re scared of letting people down, we are scared of being uncomfortable, we are scared of taking that most painful first step.

Whatever we are afraid of, we need to uncover our fears and face them as what they are: beliefs. And as I asserted, we need to ask if they are empowering or disempowering fears.

In my previous post, I embedded a youtube video where Will Smith can be seen explaining to PBS’ Charlie Rose that he is driven by fear:

‘I’m motivated by fear. Fear of fear! I hate being scared to do something, and I think what developed in my early days was the habit of attacking things that I was scared of.’

Will Smith

What’s really interesting about what Will Smith said, is that although he admits to being motivated by fear, in his case, his fear is fear; being scared to do something.

So, in the case of Will Smith, his fear is an empowering belief, because it causes him to attack things to avoid being scared of them.

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4th 1933

That’s probably the only fear that’s going to empower us. The fear of being afraid to do anything.

If we are afraid of fear then we are afraid to be paralyzed by the ‘needed efforts to convert retreat into advance’.

And once we realize that’s the only fear worth fearing, then we stop being driven by limiting fears that are disempowering because they cause us to be afraid of taking action. Action shouldn’t be feared. Not taking action because we are afraid should be feared.

If we can re-frame our fears in this light, we will see that they are not protecting us, or keeping us safe. They are keeping us plugged into the matrix. And when we examine the root of the fears that have been guiding and defining us for so long, we will come to see that they are based in societal notions that have been imparted to us without any real critical thought.

We just accept that being successful is hard, and we are safer at a job, and all of the other ‘unjustified terrors’ that are keeping us in the uncomfortable place of having taken the red pill, but not walking through the door and becoming truly unplugged.

To truly unplug from the matrix, you need to establish a belief system that is completely rooted in the inner-voice of your heart, and the quiet yet unwavering intuition of your gut.

This sounds complex, to make the jump from the beliefs of the matrix to our own, but there’s actually a secret to it.

From the same video, in my previous post.

“Greatness is not this wonderful, esoteric, elusive, god-like feature that only the special among us will ever taste – you know it’s something that truly exists in all of us. It’s very simple: this is what I believe and I’m willing to die for it. Period. It’s that simple. I know who I am and I know what I believe, and that’s all I need to know, so from there you do what you need to do. I think what happens is we make this situation more complex – the normal among us, than it has to be (because we’re looking for complexity).”

If we want to find out what are beliefs are, we need only ask if we would be willing to die for them – and not necessarily in a literal sense, but absolutely in a figurative sense. Our true beliefs that are rooted in our authentic-self outside of the matrix have to be essential for our existence.

You either believe it or you don’t.

In this video, Will Smith talks about a lesson learned from Muhammad Ali on the critical nature of innate confidence as a belief that’s required for success.

If you don’t believe it – no one else will.

So if you can frame your beliefs on the idea that they will make or break you, then you can begin to establish beliefs that will unplug you from the matrix and connect you to the limitless nature of your true being.

You can unplug from the maxtrix wherever you are trapped by it.

You can go as deep as you want down the rabbit hole. It’s all dependent upon how much you wish to awaken to the programmed beliefs that keep us trapped in the matrix.

Maybe the matrix is your career, maybe it’s your dreams that lay stagnant because of your fear. Maybe it’s an entire life path, as defined by society. The matrix is nothing more than the software that our mind is running. Our physical being is the technology, and we don’t have to run the same software that everyone else is running. We can program our own beliefs to mirror those of the most self-actualized and successful members of our society. Those that are free from the rat-race, and are living a life that’s tailor made for them. Design your life and program yourself as required.

Start deprogramming yourself today. Find out exactly what your guiding systems are.

Your only fear should be fear of letting fear continue controlling you. Reach out from the inside and let your instincts return and the grand facade of the matrix will burn. Now that you are awakening to the matrix, it’s time to unplug. It’s your choice: you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

I’m trying to free your mind, but I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” – John Lennon

Real Life Limitless Part 4: Surroundings

Update: 10/17/14

I’ve posted an entry on self-mastery that covers both self-control and self-discipline, and I’m posting a link to it here because I think that self-mastery was the missing piece of my Real Life Limitless Series. Read it here.

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This series is my own ethos; a formula for ‘success’ that contains the ingredients that I believe are paramount to becoming limitless in our own lives.

You can read the previous editions below:

Part 1: Omnipotent Beliefs

Part 2: Act Accordingly

Part 3: Habits

For the final edition of my Real Life Limitless series, I am going to talk about surroundings. This isn’t a very long post, but I think it’s important enough to take note of.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I have been given was this:

Take your five closest friends, average their income and that will be your income.

This came from someone who at the time, was the most monetarily successful people I’d ever known; I was 19 and I really took this to heart.

But, I didn’t just take this at face value. It would have been fairly easy to do so though; the person who dealt this piece of advice to me lived in one of the richest zip codes in America.

As it is often quipped ‘we are who we hang out with’ – we generally share their habits and tend to hold similar beliefs. We tend to be an average of our friends. Sure, some will skew this and having rich friends alone does not make you rich, but if you want to succeed – it would behoove you to surround yourself with other successful people, and you’ll have a hard time disproving this belief if you look around at other successful people.

This post isn’t about deconstructing a single quote, but it is about recognizing the impact your environment has on you. Our habits, beliefs, ambition, happiness, intelligence etc, ad infinitum – tend to be a reflection – an average of the people around us.

Now, the law of averages is not representative of reality – but human nature is. And human nature is to surround ourselves with similar people.

Perhaps you think the aforementioned piece of advice is shit. But that’s fine. I don’t believe in anyone holding a belief that does not empower them on some level. You don’t have to subscribe to this. Just be aware of the effect your peers and surrounding environment has on you.

I don’t look for people with money to hang out with – I look for people who are similar to what / where I want to be.

On a personal note – there have been times when this has not been possible. I just didn’t have the ‘right’ people to surround myself with, so I often choose solitude over the company of others that would have a negative impact on my well being.

Often it might not be possible to interact with the type of people who we can aspire to be similar to, but this should not stop you. I’ve read countless stories of successful people ‘modeling’ others prior to their success and I’ve known numerous people in real life who have done the same and both were usually in the form of self directed study.

So, if you have to – read books; go to the library; go the lectures; stop hanging out with losers if you have to.

Your surroundings will help shape your beliefs, goals, habits, and more.

The mind is a very fertile ground. If you want to be limitless you cannot afford to pollute yours with the wrong frequency. It’s a narrow road to the top, but trust me – it’s not lonely there.

You’re born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake son.  – Layer Cake

Success is a layer cake; don’t forget the human element – and remember, no man is an island.

And that is my two cents on surroundings. If I’ve made you think – then I’ve succeeded. Hopefully you can look at your surroundings as an important piece of the puzzle.

Real Life Limitless Part 1: Omnipotent Beliefs.

Update: 10/17/14

I’ve posted an entry on self-mastery that covers both self-control and self-discipline, and I’m posting a link to it here because I think that self-mastery was the missing piece of my Real Life Limitless Series. Read it here.

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Preface: I originally published this on April 4th, 2011. Then, as writers tend to do for whatever reason, I deleted it.

And, as writers tend to do – I regretted it. Greatly. I searched for it a couple times, and was aware I had deleted something special – but I did not find it.

Then, tonight – I logged on and noticed there was a “Trash” folder. Who would have thought ; ) I clicked and lo and behold, Real Life Limitless was staring at me.

I believe the universe has a sense of humor, but there’s something deeper than that. The right messages have a way of finding us when we need them. Tonight, I needed this. I will certainly add part II soon. Enjoy.

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How many of us know what it is to become the perfect version of ourselves?

The concept behind Limitless is brilliant simply because it’s so damned alluring.

We’d all like to take a pill that would make us become limitless. Virtually no one would turn down the ability to transform into their ideal self with such ease.

Unfortunately, the alluring quality of limitless is also what makes it dangerous because it reinforces the idea that we have to be brilliant freaks to be successful and that without a magic pill, we will be sloths our entire lives.

It reinforces the idea that in real life we are all limited – rather than limitless. Because in real life, our limits prevent us from becoming the ideal version of ourselves.

Becoming our ideal self isn’t outside the realm of reality, it’s just outside the limits of our present beliefs and actions – which shape our reality.

In my Real Life Limitless series, I’m going to explore my philosophy and approach to becoming limitless in our own lives.

Because while there is no magic pill, the world nonetheless produces major successes everyday without it.

It begins with believing.

To become the ideal version of ourselves, we have to shape the world to fit the reality we want to live in. In other words, We have to create what we want in life.

But first in order for this to be possible, we have to believe in what we want. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to? We can’t. And without the support of others on some level, success is virtually impossible. It takes a certain level of chutzpah to put our beliefs out into the world, but there is no other way around it.

The salesmen who closes the sale is the one who believes, the actor who gets the part is the actor who believes, the guy who gets the girl is the guy who believes he can. They all believed they were capable and deserving and that it was just a matter of time.

When we believe these things in our heart of hearts, we behave in a congruent fashion and no one even bats an eye as we work our ‘magic’. Believing is the only magic that is real.

‘Acting as if’ won’t cut it.

We’ve all heard the advice, ‘act as if’. Or, ‘fake it until you make it’. That’s total bullshit. It’s bullshit because it’s acting and faking and those verbs are completely in-congruent with believing.

Your beliefs have to be omnipotent to be effective. Strong beliefs are omnipotent; omnipotent beliefs are limitless.

Let’s examine what constitutes a strong belief:

We have to be committed to it. People who are committed to their beliefs don’t hesitate to defend them and they don’t give up.

We have to have a confident attitude in our belief. Beliefs are living things that are subject to change. Confidence helps them to grow stronger.

The Key to Strengthening a Belief.

Focus and repetition are great ways to strengthen a belief but the most effective way to strengthen a belief is to get emotional about it. When we get emotional about beliefs we become passionate about them. And the things we are passionate about become part of who we are.

This emotional empowerment strengthens the synapses in your brain and you begin to become dependent upon the outcome of your beliefs for your emotional well being. <—That is when you really believe.

Your beliefs should be expectations with extremely rewarding results. This also means that failure for our beliefs to come true should have extremely negative connotations. These emotions of pleasure and pain have very powerful effects on our actions and this allows us to start a chain of events on an almost primal level.

What’s next?

These omnipotent beliefs are the foundation for my Real Life Limitless series. The next step is taking our beliefs and acting accordingly to bring them to life.

Check back for Real Life Limitless Part 2: Making Our Beliefs Come True…

Update: Part 2 has been published.

Timing Your Startup to be Relevant.

I couple days ago I provided five filters that every founder should apply to a potential business idea as an indicator of potential success.

Today, I would like to add an additional criteria for assessing your next business: Timing or relevancy.

Your startup has to be relevant and timely in order to gain traction.

Felix Dennis, the founder of Maxim magazine, gives an excellent example of this in his book, How to Get Rich. (silly title, excellent reviews.)

“My own suspicion is that many failures are merely a matter of timing. What used to fail now succeeds. What once was a sure thing no longer works.

Take the invention of the fax. Fax technology existed for decades before fax machines were universally adopted. One day my office manager in the US walked me out in the hall to show me how to use our shiny new fax machine.

‘Why do we need one?’
‘Because everyone is getting one.’
‘OK, but why is everyone getting one?’
‘I don’t know. They just are.’

As far as I could see, the technology had not improved much from the prototype I’d inspected a few years back. But now ‘everyone’ was getting one.

Failure had transmogrified into success. The fax had reached critical mass.

Take another example. In 1977 (after years of arm wrestling with the powers that be), Sir Freddie Laker launched his transatlantic Skytrain service, an airline offering a no-frills service at about one third of the prices of his competitors – notably British Airways. It was a huge success for a while, then failed, collapsing into bankruptcy in 1982 with debts of over £250 million. Conventional wisdom in the City and on Wall Street labelled cheap airlines a flop.

All of a sudden, here in the first decade of the 21st century, bingo! Cheap airlines are all the rage again and turning over billions of dollars of business around the globe. A failure one minute, a success the next. It was just a question of timing.”

Felix Dennis knew the importance of timing. In May 1994, Loaded Magazine was launched in Britian by a competing publisher and as Dennis described it, it was the first of the lads magazines. He also described the founding editor’s timing as impeccable.

In 1995 Felix Dennis launched Maxim Magazine, which we all know was a huge home run. Dennis gives some brilliant advice to aspiring founders.

If you want to be rich then watch your rivals closely and never be ashamed to emulate a wining strategy.

Maxim Magazine is a great example of the power in recognizing brilliant timing. Better to emulate a winning strategy than to poorly time something and fail to gain traction because of it.

Caveat: When timing a startup it’s also important to be aware of temporary trends and fads. Courting a trend or a fad in the market can be profitable but the window of opportunity is invariably going to be much shorter.

Edit: I just came across a great blog post about choosing a startup idea using a market approach.

Here is an excerpt from the article.

Market-driven approach to finding startup ideas that make money

The market-driven approach is quite simple. It essentially means:

Find a startup idea that: a) is already making money for someone else in a growing industry; b) interests you; c) aligns with your skill sets. Once you find such an idea, simply carve out a niche within the industry by a) addressing pains of an under-served segment within that industry; b) or, making it much easier to use than existing solutions; c) or, disrupting the market by making your product accessible to masses at a much affordable price. And once you dominate a particular niche, expand from your niche with your eyes set on the largest player in the market.

The rest of the article can be read here. Great advice.

My Journey as a Young Entrepreneur: Raw and Uncut.

I recently added an answer to a question on Quora, What is your most memorable founder experience?

My answer was:

Being embarrassed to park my beat up old Volvo 240DL next to the Porsche Cayenne one of my new sales hires was driving. I wasn’t even drawing a salary yet.

This got me thinking about all the memorable experiences I’ve had as an entrepreneur and it prompted me to write this blog post recounting my story, because frankly – the entire process of starting a company is one of the most memorable things you will ever do.

I didn’t set out originally to found an internet company. It happened in a roundabout way.

My first experience as an entrepreneur began at the age of 20, buying and selling designer jeans on ebay. This lasted until I discovered the jeans were of ‘questionable origin’. So much for my career in fashion.

Then I discovered began importing in-dash car DVD players from China and selling them on ebay back in 2006. This ended when I had a large order filled with the wrong (much cheaper) product and I was left holding the bag.

After that, I attempted to start my own boutique mortgage company and after leasing and remodeling office space – I mean literally prying up asbestos floor tiles, repainting, and spending weeks sweating my ass off, I ended up having to hand back the keys to the leasing agent just after the new carpet went in, because I had drained my finances in the process.

I remember walking by a couple weeks later and seeing that she had rented it to a new tenant  (presumably at a higher price: ). She got a free remodel and I learned the concept of making sure I gave a business enough runway. Even at the time, I wasn’t upset. I knew that I had gotten carried away with accent walls and carpet samples, instead of paying attention to the shit that actually mattered.

A few months later I decided that I had it all wrong with my brick and mortar failure, and that I was going to start an online mortgage company. I ordered one copy of Dreamweaver from Craigslist NY (definitely of questionable origin) and I was soon spending 10 hours a day building a website.

When I finally got it up, traffic trickled. Plus I knew NOTHING about SEO and marketing at the time, and I finally decided I just didn’t have the money to compete with the ‘big guys’. Plus begging my one mortgage applicant a week to refinance his house was a little less awesome than I had imagined and a little hard on my self respect.

My next business venture was an awning cleaning company. This idea came via a friend who had just gotten out of the business following a divorce and after buying a used Ford Ranger and spending about a thousand dollars on supplies, I was out visiting local businesses and handing out the 3×5 cards I had printed up at the local Staples.

I remember striking out horribly at my firsts sales attempts. I would sheepishly walk into a business and passively mention that I had a business that cleaned awnings and if they needed theirs cleaned, they should call me. They didn’t call.

This is when I learned one of my most important lessons as an entrepreneur – re-pivot your sales pitch until it works. Luckily for me I am a very strong willed, never give-up type of guy, so pretty soon I was walking in with confidence, wearing the remainder of my ‘designer’ jeans along with a polo shirt – looking very much like a small business owner, and my pitch was more like this:

Hi, I’m Lawrence, I own windnsea awning cleaning. I noticed your awning outside and it’s definitely showing some wear from the smog and the salty coastal rain and I’d love to make it look brand new again – it’s one of the first impressions your customers have of your business. My crew will be in the area this Thursday evening if you’d like to schedule a time.

Boom. Sales. It was that easy. Unfortunately, there was no crew. So, I would show up Thursday after ALL the local businesses had closed and I would pop my hood, connect my floodlights to the inverter, wrestle with 100 feet of hose and a 10 foot ladder, and spend about 45 minutes to clean one awning. You can do the math, I was finishing at sunup, and I had to wake up at a respectable hour to do more sales.

This carried on until I eventually became so burnt out that I abandoned the business altogether. Hell, there had to be an easier way than only getting 3 hours of sleep a day.

I admit to feeling a bit deflated at this point on the whole concept of entrepreneurship. My girlfriend at the time must have felt the same way too because I was soon single and living with mom. :/

After awhile, I sold my truck and used the money to move to Santa Barbabra and live like a college dropout for the summer. I was working as a barback, getting drunk and not knowing what the hell I was going to do in life. It was pretty fun!

But that eventually ran its course and I was back at mom’s feeling like a major loser. But, I was writing goals and I hadn’t given up on my dream. Reality however dictated that I pay my way, so I got a job at a restaurant downtown bussing tables and soon I was promoted to waiter! My increase in pay went solely to Nordstroms so I could at least not look like a loser which made me feel better.

After 6 months or so of this, I decided ‘you know what – fuck it, I am going to follow my passion as a writer!’ And voila, I got lucky and got a writing job. Well – sort of. I was hired as a Chief Blogger for an internet marketing startup.

I loved that job. There were about 8 people in the office and we got to drink beer and watch family guy. I spent most of my time writing ad and landing page copy. After a 10-12 hour day, I would come home and read internet marketing blogs until it was bedtime.

Unfortunately, the CEO didn’t like me and I was soon fired along with a young female web designer – in front of the entire company. I cried – in front of the entire company. I think I cried out of sheer embarrassment. He was a real asshole. As she drove me home, I told her that I was going to start a company and I asked if she would wanted to be my business partner. It was my Jerry Maguire moment. She didn’t think so though, so I was on my own.

I had only worked there for a little over a month, but I definitely knew I liked the culture – both of a small startup, and of internet marketing.

I was borrowing a laptop from the girl I was dating at the time and it wasn’t a very founderly. So, I went to FRY’s Electronics in search of the machine that would make me feel like a proper tech founder.

There were laptops there that would have suited me in the five hundred dollar range, but the one I wanted was around eight hundred. It was like the one the guy who fired me had. It had a big screen and it looked like it meant business. I only had about three grand in the bank, but I bought it anyway because I knew it would make me feel confident in my new venture.

So, I went home and spent the next 8 or 9 days building a website and creating a business model. I developed some landing pages and started an adwords account. When I say I spent 8 or 9 days, I mean days. I would work 18 hours a day, no joke. Sometimes I wouldn’t even sleep. At times, I would get up in the morning and immediately start working, only finally stopping hours later because I had to pee so bad that I couldn’t hold it any longer.

Eventually my friends pried me out of the house for dinner and drinks. Well, after just two moderately strong Belgian beers, I was WASTED. The lack of food and sleep coupled with the fatigue and I was no match for a couple glasses of Chimay. I definitely remember the waitress not liking me at that point.

Anyway, a few days later I began cold calling clients to sell them leads, but my pitch was BAAAD. I don’t even remember how bad, but I couldn’t even keep them on the phone.

But, like I had learned with my awning business, I had to re-pivot my sales pitch. So, pretty soon it was more like this:

Hi, my name is Lawrence Black and I have a boutique internet marketing firm. I generate wholesale leads for other companies to resell, but I’m looking to increase my margins by establishing some direct relationships.

Boom. Sales. Pretty soon, there wasn’t a single question I couldn’t answer. I actually only had to spend about a week doing sales because I soon had buyers for all my volume.

Then I got the call. It was the guy who fired me in front of the whole company. It went something like this: ‘I’m going to fucking bury you! You better watch your back.!..etc.’ He accused me of taking proprietary information, but it was totally untrue. I didn’t take a single keyword or client. Although I sure as hell could have.

(I really suspect he was just threatened on some personal ego related level, which I also suspect is why he fired me in the first place – but that’s neither here nor there.)

Anyway, then I got the letter from his massive downtown law firm and I had a meltdown. I thought it was over. Thankfully, I consulted an attorney at the recommendation of a friend. He reviewed the letter, told me it had no legs, made one phone call to the other attorney and that was squashed.

I continued running the business and working like crazy. I had no CRM at the time to send out leads, so I had to individually email them and manually keep track of what clients got which leads. But, my bottom line was going up and to the right. Things were good.

I began receiving calls from referrals and pretty soon I got a call that changed the game. It was another lead shop and they wanted to meet with me. So, I took a cab down to the local Rock Bottom to meet with their CEO and one of his managers.

Unlike myself, the title suited him. He had the top of the line Lexus, the 5 million dollar home, the high paid managers and the sales staff. He was a real CEO.

He said that he was impressed with what I was doing and he wanted to work with me. To cut to the chase, I ended up partnering with him about 6 weeks later. I bought a beater Volvo 240DL to commute to our new office and we worked our asses off.

I would often stay till midnight or later. Between my leads and his clients, we were putting up some pretty good numbers. My laptop incubated business soon had a handful of employees and even though they all drove nicer cars then I did, I felt in awe of what was going on.

Unfortunately discrepancies in our accounting practices eventually ended our business partnership. As I’ve learned since, this is what a lot of partnerships tend to do, they get messy. My attorney had warned me beforehand but I didn’t listen. My former partner is a great guy and I was very fortunate to work with him, but it just didn’t work out.

Before I knew it, I gave him back his clients and I left the big baller office. I was sitting back at my mom’s kitchen table with my laptop. But, it didn’t take long for me to get on my Blackberry and establish a fairly decent passive income for myself that lasted another solid year.

However, things eventually wound down as the marketplace became over-saturated. Click costs went up while the market pushed the prices down.

I wrote about some of the other factors that contributed to this business no longer being viable for me in a post entitled: Lessons from My Previous Business.

I am thankful that I have derived benefit from every experience I have had as an entrepreneur. Studying Journalism after high school made me a great copywriter. Trying to build an online mortgage company gave me valuable web development experience. My awning cleaning business made me a good salesperson. Working at an internet marketing startup opened the door to a new opportunity. Founding my last business gave me a incredible amount of experience.

I’m more prepared then ever to crush it and I’m presently getting ready for my next and hopefully most significant journey. Stay hungry my friends.

A Litmus Test For Your Next Business.

As someone who has founded and run a profitable company, I am a very critical when it comes to people giving out advice and selling books on the topic of success. Especially when the title is The Millionaire Fastlane.

However,  this evening I came across an interview from Mixergy with MJ Demarco, founder of limos.com and the author of The Millionaire Fastlane. As Andrew Warner of Mixergy tells Demarco:

“I went to your website once and I saw a big Lamborghini on there. And I saw the word millionaire somewhere and I said, this guy is probably a get-rich-quick guy. I got to stay away and I’ll pass on the interview, and I made a mistake by doing it. Now that I’ve read the book and gotten to know you, I can see I made a big mistake.”

Thankfully Andrew Warner caught this mistake because The interview is a complete diamond in the rough.

My personal favorite is what Demarco calls NECST: Need, Entry, Control, Scale, and Time. He describes this framework as a path or litmus test to determine if a business is in the fast lane.

Here are some excerpts on NECST from the interview transcript.

Need:

MJ: The commandment of need, I believe, is basically you want to start a business that solves a fundamental need in the marketplace. And when I say need, I don’t mean it’s never being done before. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, they think, I have to go find something that’s never been done. It’s rarely usually about that. It’s usually about just doing something a lot better or putting a spin on something different. I mean, when I started my company, there was 12 other companies already doing a similar thing. I just did it better, so sometimes the need is just about being a better executor and not necessarily finding or inventing the new segway or something groundbreaking.

Entry:

MJ: Entry basically states that as the lower the barrier entries are to any particular business, the worse the opportunity becomes. Meaning, if you can just go to a website, fill out a form, and then wham you’re in business, it’s probably something you don’t want to be doing. But if you fill out a distributor kit, and then wham, you’re in business, that’s probably something you don’t want to be doing. Because as a marketplace becomes more saturated, obviously the profitability or the margins of that particular space go down. So we want to have businesses that have to be started or created as a process, not as an event. And by process, I mean it usually takes weeks, sometimes months.

Control:

MJ: Control is having complete control of everything in your business that is humanly possible, meaning you don’t want to be outsourcing something where somebody can slip out the rug from under you and instantly kill your business or instantly kill your revenue stream. The example I give in my book is I used Google Ad Sense on my forum, and someone made a post on there about, I don’t remember what it was, but Google looked at that post and said, that violates our terms. And they immediately canceled the ads. Now I wasn’t making a lot of money on it. That wasn’t my breadwinner, but in a moment, that revenue stream disappeared. So I was thinking, God, what if I was making 10, 20, $30,000 a month off this revenue and then wham, instantly someone can slip out the rug from under you and take it away. That’s a violation of control. I mean, we want to be in a position where we control our financial plan, and we don’t want to be putting ourselves in a position where somebody or some board of governors or some board of directors or some hierarchal entity can slip out the rug.

Scale:

MJ: Scale is, again, that wealth equation I talked about earlier. You want to be involved in a business you can scale to the masses. And I don’t mean it has to be that everyone can use it. It can be a niche. The little business is a $6 billion industry. Pretty big but still a small niche, but everyone can use it around the world. So scale is about having a business you can scale the the masses, meaning if you have an apartment building or a single-family house at Main and Elm, that’s not very scalable. I can tell you unequivocally that business will not scale to $20 million dollar evaluation or $5 million or whatever. If you own a deli franchise at the corner, again that’s a business that isn’t going to scale to a huge evaluation. You’re not going to sell a thousand sandwiches in one day. So scale is about having a business that has the potential, meaning a wealth equation or a speed limit, that can reach the masses.

Time:

MJ: Time basically says, are you building a company that can turn into a money tree? Can it turn into an autonomous system that will work while you’re away? And time is probably the least important but is also the hardest as well. I mean, it took me years to get my company automated. Selling a book certainly isn’t automated, but at some point, we want to detach from our time, because time is the most important. Can we have a business that is going to work for us while we’re not working? And I think a lot of business have an implicit time component. I mean, the Internet is number 1 because Internet is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I highly recommend watching the entire interview and checking out MJ Demarco’s book, The Millionaire Fastlane. Watch the full video interview at Mixergy, here.

Startups: How to Gain a Crucial Advantage in Your Market.

Successful entrepreneurs know that one of the most crucial advantages they can obtain for their business is knowing more about their market then their competitors.

If you think this sounds basic then you are taking a half-assed approach or you’re doing it all wrong. I’m amazed at how little emphasis most budding entrepreneurs place on truly knowing their market.

Too many startups approach market research as a finite aspect of business planning but fail to invest the necessary resources required to actively assess and analyze their market. Avoiding this approach is going to provide you with the insight needed to out-execute your competitors.

Successful execution requires leveraging insight into your market, competitors, customers and culture. In order to glean that insight you need to take a leading-edge approach to aggregating information. If you take a traditional route relying on the educational system, old guard media and the latest books, you’re going to sink.

I’m not totally denying the value of traditional education or print but, as an entrepreneur, the ROI for both is declining. Data is liquid and it is fast moving. If there is a book I need to read, I will know about it because I actively follow the thought leaders and the outliers in my market.

Not Rocket Surgery.

Know who the players are in your market and who the up and comers are. Follow them on twitter. See who they follow and who they interact with. Read what they post. Read their blogs. Pretty soon you will start to be a part of ‘the conversation’, even if it’s just a passive role in the beginning. (When you start to matter, you can bet they will follow you.)

Set Google News alerts for key terms related to your business, customers, market and competitors. Use an RSS reader to aggregate important blogs into one location.

Become a better business person. Mixergy and This Week in Startups are an excellent place to increase your business acumen simply by listening to the stories being shared by successful founders. Entrepreneurs like Andrew Warner @mixergy, Jason Calcanis @jason, and David Heinemeier Hansson @dhh have made incredible contributions to the startup community by providing vast amounts of insight and inspiration for entrepreneurs.

If for some reason you find that all of this doesn’t pique your interest and motivate you enough to make a habit of it, then you probably want to consider doing something else because this is what it takes to win and it’s what the players in your market are doing. (and Or their C-level team.)

Your dot com sucks and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Every brand creates it’s own impression within me; negative, positive or indifferent. Everyone has their own opinion, for some people Mcdonalds makes them smile, for me it makes me cringe. Simple as that.

However when it comes to online businesses I have always been reserved in voicing my negative judgment. Perhaps simply because the internet is such an indiscriminate audience. While I might voice my negative opinion of certain brands with friends, I really feel no need to voice my opinion to complete strangers.

They would probably very quickly see me as someone who would deny his own children a happy meal and someone who is too good to shop at whatever crappy stores they shop at. (sarcasm, a little)

Well, as an online guy I’ve always felt an inclination to be supportive of other online companies. But, the truth is, I’m tired of playing like the internet is any different than the brick and mortar world. Like it’s some happy magical land where every website is going to make our lives better. “It’s free”.

Fuck that. Your company fucking sucks and just because there is a dot com at the end I shouldn’t by any less inclined to say so. So, here is a big fuck you to all the online companies I hate and all the startups I can’t stand and the people who are riding their coattails. That feels much better. /rant

The Fallacy of the Already Executed Idea

Most entrepreneurs are aware of the ‘fallacy of a great idea’. You don’t need a great and original idea in order to succeed. I think the fallacy of the great idea is perpetuated by the great ideas that are major home runs. The ideas that are so wildly successful they cause people to say ‘Now why didn’t I think of that.’

It’s very easy for entrepreneurs to get discouraged once they (very quickly) realize that their great idea has already been executed.

However, most successful businesses start out with preexisting competitors; only rarely is someone able to be the first to solve a problem, fulfill a need or even to create one. Once this happens and success is demonstrated, then competitors tend to enter the market and a pyramid begins to build.

Typically with existing ideas there are one to three major players at the top and numerous others vying for market share. But, as I learned in my previous business, a small percentage of the market can be very profitable.

In order to succeed where others are already profitable you have to differ in strategy and execution. Perhaps there is a different share of the market that they aren’t going after. Where is the facebook for senior citizens? Where is the Latino Groupon?

Or maybe they just aren’t executing it as effectively as you envision. Too many clicks to get to point B, too many features, missing features, poorly targeted content or ads. You have to be willing to shift and pivot the great idea. Remember, facebook wasn’t the first social network and google wasn’t the first search engine. Who is going to build the next twitter?

Memolane, the (another) Startup I wish I Founded.

Occasionally a startup comes along that I wish I founded. This is essentially one of the highest compliments one entrepreneur can pay to another, other than investing in them.

Memolane opened to doors to the public (Beta) today and I had a chance to create my own memolane at memolane/lawrenceblack

Memolane creates a visual time line of your online activity using your social media data.

A big motivation for me to publish content online is to create my ‘legacy’ and to leave something intangible, yet (hopefully) of value to my heirs.

Memolane created an all in one social media scrapbook that preserves all this content in a clean, eloquent fashion.

Unique and well executed. Going to keep my eye on this one.

Lessons From My Previous Business.

I wanted to immortalize some of the mistakes I made over the past two years in my previous business. These weren’t fatal to the business, but like many plane crashes, ‘pilot error’ is really just a combination of small mistakes and oversight.

While I was able to bootstrap my previous business from zero to about 40k a month in earnings in under a year, I’d (like to think I’d) be earning 5 times that if I was in the same position today, but hindsight is 20/20 isn’t it.

Now, instead of writing a long Mark Cuban style blog post telling the entire story, I’d rather focus on the key lessons I learned about business and about myself in the process.

Lessons: {unordered}

Being great at building a business and being great at running a business are two entirely different skillsets. Identify exactly where talent is needed and hire it at a competitive price. I made the mistake of hiring people to do the things I did great (sales, design) when I should have hired people for the areas where I was weaker. I should have invested the money in all A’s. (accountants and attorneys.)

Avoid partnerships after the onset of your business at all costs. If you choose to take on a partner, get money for any equity relinquished and retain a majority stake. (He exchanged his clients for equity – a major mistake on my part, there are hundreds of ways I could have structured that differently.)

Keep overhead at an absolute minimum on all fronts. This seems obvious but it’s an easy trap to fall into even for the leanest and meanest of companies.

Big clients are great, but having one client comprise a large share of your revenue is a lot of exposure.

Don’t rely 100% on one marketing channel, keep marketing in your control as much as possible. SEO > PPC.

Avoid investing too much of your business in singular temporary trends. Create a revenue model that will still have traction in 5+ years.

Don’t get geeked by numbers. It’s nothing compared to what you could and should be earning.

If you aren’t stimulated to work by what you are doing, create another revenue source.

Shop lawyers around and don’t pay for two at once.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the experience and proud of what I accomplished. For every mistake listed there are ten things I got absolutely right. So, while I’m not dwelling on the past, I certainly am going to leverage that experience in the future.

EDIT: April 3, 2011 3:09am

I just wrote a new post, entitled A Litmus Test for Your Next Business and as I wrote it, I thought back on this post and realized there were more lessons mistakes that I had made in my previous business. Going into my next business, I definitely am going to give it the ‘litmus test’ referenced above. As an entrepreneur, you can never stop educating yourself and increasing your business acumen. As Mark Cuban says, you only have to hit it big once.

about.me

I just finished watching an episode of This Week in Startups featuring Tony Conrad @tonysphere who is a VC at True Ventures and the Co-Founder of about.me

The episode was great as always but I also came away impressed by the about.me concept. I’ve always detested writing bios for myself and not only does your about.me page serve as a bio, but it also serves as a living social media bookmark and a splash page that will no doubt have a million uses and hacks.

AOL purchased it four days after launch and I can see it gaining major traction across the web. My new profile can be seen at about.me/lawrenceblack

Pure Capitalism in The World of Online Startups.

This is one of my favorites. Jason Calcanis of This Week in Startups interviews 37 Signals founder David Heinemeier Hansson on the topic of startups, M&A, profits and why profitless companies are continuing to fall victim to the ‘graveyard of acquisitions.’ {Business: I love this fucking game.}

The video starts midway, where I think the best content begins.