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The Power of Being Friendly to Strangers

When I travel alone, I have a tendency to strike up conversations with the people around me.  It can be as quick as a joke with the security personnel to a deep conversation with my neighbor on a plane.  Traveling really stresses a lot of people out so I go the extra mile to carry a smile.  I don’t enjoy being in close proximity to grumpy/sad people so it’s my little selfish way to improve the environment surrounding me.

Today I was flying back from the MAGIC Fashion Trade Show in Las Vegas and had a lunchtime layover in Houston.  I got a giant piece of lasagna (which was awesome, btw) from their cafeteria and snagged a spot at the bar.  Shortly after sitting, a woman sat across from me and then another man next to her.  We were all about 1/2 way done and she leaned over referring to his food and said, “that is the biggest potato I’ve ever seen.”   I let out a quick laugh and responded with, “well you know everything is bigger in Texas.”  Everyone chuckled and we began discussing other venues where you can purchase large baked potatoes.  Eventually the conversation drifted into, “what brings you to Houston?”  It turns out that we were both exhibitors at MAGIC and on our way home.  She works for a designer who makes very unique, limited-run suits for men.  Her brand has been attending the shows and she told me that they didn’t have as much success this year as in previous years, but they still had a great response.  The response I got from the shoes I represent was dismal compared to hers, but I was still excited because our brand is relatively new in the US.

As the conversation continued, she gave me all sorts of information about how they handle their booth and what they do to ensure success.  She asked for my card so she could send me her catalog and I’ll send ours as soon as it is done.  This is when the magic happened.  Her company has been looking for shoes that can be matched with their suits so they can sell the image of a complete outfit.  We think they might be a good fit.  If everything works out, our shoes will be included in their advertising and they will help us sell our shoes to the stores who carry their suits.

I had no idea who this person was or that she would be in any sort of position to give me anything besides a smile.  I wasn’t expecting a single thing in return. Without knowing it, I met someone who wants to help me grow my business.  How awesome is that?

If you can find a way to be kind in an otherwise unkind environment, you’ll have made another step towards infinite happiness. And you never know, sometimes the people you meet will go out of their way to make your day.

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Respect the Good Times

Our lives seem to follow a rhythm that flows between good times and bad times.  Some days we’re up and some days we’re down.  Some days we feel rich and some days we feel broke.  The transitions are a natural occurrence that happen in everything from biology to economics and are called cycles.  You can read more about cycles at the website for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles.  The foundation was started by Edward R. Dewey, an economist, who worked for President Hoover and was tasked with trying to find the cause of the great depression.

The Bad Times

When times are bad, we have a tendency to want to make things better.  After a while, that desire will build up enough to actually illicit an action.  The action is what transitions us from the bad times to the good times.

Have you ever noticed that when you feel poor, you tend to not buy as much stuff.  Typically it’s because you don’t have much of a choice, but that is still what happens.  You forgo the purchase of some doodad because you didn’t really need it that bad.  Or maybe you’re feeling out of shape so you decide to eat healthy for a month.

Before you know it, your hard work has paid off and you’ve got something new to be happy about.  Now you’ve made it to the good times.

The Good Times

The opposite thing happens in the good times.  After a spending a lot of energy pulling out of the bad times and making ourselves better, we tend to let ourselves coast.  We’re happy to have reached our goal.  We look good and we feel great. We’re full of energy and deserve whatever reward we owe ourselves… which almost always means a break from the regimen that got us here.

The problem is that the break is never just a break.  Being stuck in the bad times was our motivation for change.  Once the bad times are gone, so is our motivation.  So we don’t take a break, we completely quit.  And then one day we find ourselves back in the bad times wondering what the heck just happened.  Sometimes we fall so far we find ourselves in a worse position than where we started.

Adjusting Response to Cycles

When we’re in the time of harvest, it’s really hard to remember to keep pushing along.  This is the time when opportunities come up and we don’t have a good excuse to say “no.”  When your friends invite you on a trip and you have absolutely no money to your name, you say, “no” because it’s impossible to say “yes.”  But when you have that money, you’re tempted.  You might not even consider declining the invitation.  But this is the important decision.  It is where you exercise your self control and choose to go only if it doesn’t interfere with your future goals.

A year ago I decided to do the opposite of the norm.  During the usual lulls of life, I was just going to coast.  When things weren’t going well, I was going to avoid taking on new tasks and projects.  My only goal was to make sure I didn’t slip backwards.  I was going to do just enough to make sure I didn’t have a mountain to climb back up when the bad times were done.  But during the good times I was going to fight for my improvements.  I was going to use that extra energy to make the drastic changes in my life.

The results have been very positive so far.  When things were going great I made a lot of progress, achieved new goals, and made big life-changing decisions.  When I eventually ran out of steam, I just sat back and let the cycle do it’s thing.  The low parts are much less exciting and less enjoyable, but I kept tending my fire.  I kept those embers warm and made sure I didn’t slip backwards.  When my life got back into the exciting and happy phase, I picked right back up where I left off… only I had even more energy because I was aware of how much I disliked the negative side of the cycle.  Now I find that I work even harder in the good times to make the bad times less bad.

Real Examples

Financial Windfall

If everything goes as planned, next week I will finish a business deal that will push me to the next level (financially).  By April 15, 2010, I’ll have “made” more money in 2010 than I did in all of 2009.  That’s a pretty big jump in income considering back in September I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to pay all of my bills.  It really takes all I have to not let it get to my head.  I’d love to buy the sports car I’ve craved since 2007.  I’d love to put a down payment on a house that is 3 times as big and 100 times as nice as my current townhouse.  I’d love a new TV, stereo, and computer.  I could spend all of that money before the check even clears the bank and I’d have a great time doing it.

And with all of the fun I’d have, I have to dig deep and avoid the pitfalls.  If I let myself do everything I’d wanted, I’d find myself with no money and a lot of new monthly payments.  I’d be more broke than I was a year ago.

You’ll notice in the beginning I put quotes around “made” when I first mentioned my income.  Thats because I didn’t actually do anything in 2010 to earn that money.  It was all just one big payout from work that I started doing actively 3 years ago.  I can’t count on that kind of income in the future; there’s no telling when I’ll find my next deal or how long it’ll take to mature.  As much as I would love to enjoy every last fruit of my labor, I am forcing myself to resist.  Some of that money will be used to reward myself, but the major portion of this found money will be used to plant new seeds.  And those seeds will hopefully continue to grow and bring me more harvests.

Spring Chickens

I recently started a relationship with the girl I’ve been dreaming about for a long time; she is all of the things I wished my ex-girlfriends were.  You’d be safe to say I’m smitten and if you’ve read about the five love languages, then you know I’m currently in the “falling in love” stage (or cycle, if you will).  Hanging out with her is effortless and enjoyable just as it should be.

Every person I’ve ever known with a great marriage has told me that there will be some bad times.  No marriage is ever 100% happy 100% of the time.  To be proactive, I’m using what I’ve learned from Dr. Chapman.  I’m taking the days where things are effortless and adding a little something extra.  So some day when I hit that bump in the road that everyone tells me will come, it’ll just be a small bump.  Our love tanks will be so full that the bumps will be bumps and not stop signs.

Final Thoughts

Our overall demeanor is a good indicator of how much time we spend on any particular side of a cycle.  Do you spend a lot of time feeling broke and out of shape?  Or do you spend a lot of time feeling rich and healthy?  When times are great, take advantage and make yourself better.  When times are lean, don’t fuss or beat yourself up.  Just continue with a slow, steady, and methodical plan to ensure you don’t lose all of the things you’ve gained.  Eventually the cycle will flip the other way and you won’t want to have to regain that ground.  The cycles are inevitable, but your reaction isn’t.

Eventually we might find ourselves in a place where our bad times are good and our good times are great.  If you can adjust your actions and control yourself through the changing cycles, you’ll have taken another step toward infinite happiness.

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Reverse Discrimination is still Discrimination

Throughout my life I’ve been told that you shouldn’t treat anyone better or worse based on their race, religion, color, gender, accent, hair color, musical taste, or anything else for that matter.  It is something I believe in and try to exemplify each day.  If that weren’t true, I wouldn’t be friends with a guy who thinks I’m cute or with Fred my car detailer.

Today I was doing research on the elections that are happening in my home town.  Two gentlemen are running for mayor.  One fella is named Craig Lowe and he is openly gay.  If he gets elected, he will be the first openly-gay mayor in Gainesville, FL.  His opponent, Don Marsh, is slightly right of center and is your “traditional” american man.  He has been married to his wife for 32 years, owns his own business, and is a Christian church-goer.

I know people who would discriminate against each of those men for things I just mentioned above.  Some people would vote against Lowe because he is gay and they would ignore all other issues.  I also know people who would vote against Marsh simply because he believes in God.  Most people don’t talk about that sort of discrimination because they know it’s not socially accepted.

It blows my mind that the opposite seems acceptable.  I know of people who will vote for Lowe because he is gay.  I also know people who will vote for Marsh because he is Christian.  I’ve never seen someone publicly call out this sort of behavior.  How is it any less discriminatory to vote for someone because they’re like you, than to vote against someone because they’re unlike you?  By voting for the person that is like you, technically you’re discriminating against the other party.  If you vote for Lowe because he is gay, that’s the same as voting against Marsh because he is straight.  Voting against Marsh for being straight is no better than voting against Lowe for being gay.

During the last presidential election, people claimed their support for Hilary Clinton because she was a woman or for Barrack Obama because he was black.  We would never allow someone to say, “I’ll never vote for a woman, ” but we do allow, “I’ll never vote for a man.”  The double standard blows my mind.  And just so I cut this off at the pass, past wrongs or past discrimination to not make it OK to discriminate in the opposite direction now.  That is a childish stance.  Be a big person and say with me that any discrimination is bad.

Real Voting Principles

Since things like race, creed, and color create discrimination no matter which direction you take.  So what should we focus on?

We need to focus on principles and issues.  Lowe has a strong focus on the environment.  Marsh has a strong focus on the economy.  Lowe wants to make us a greener and happier community.  Marsh wants to create jobs and lower the cost of living.  Choose which man (or woman, but not in this instance) has the set of principles that you believe in.  Vote for the person who you believe would stand up for those things you value most and ignore the superficial things.

I’m Chris and I’m neither gay nor Christian, but I’m proud that I’ll be voting for the man who I think will tackle the issues that concern me the most.

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Preparedness

For years the US has had a fairly regular cycle of life.  Things go up and down but we have had a pretty decent amount of certainty.  We’ve been certain that the US will be the #1 super power, the stock market will rise, and the dollars in our hands will still be worth a dollar tomorrow.

These days, everything is a lot less certain.  Just about everyone will agree that the recession is about over.  Some will say that as we head towards the summer months we’ll see the usual upswing in the economy.  Others say we’re about to see such a sharp decline that the recession will quickly become the 2nd great depression.  I feel that one of the sides has more sound arguments than the other side, but one thing is for certain: one of three things will happen.  Things will get better and the gloom-and-doomers will be heralded as the bunker builders of the new millennium.  Or things might get really bad; the whole world will get a nice reset and we’ll all be reminded of what is really important (friendships and life, not rims and ice).  Or who knows?  Maybe things will stay right in the middle, in the lull of kinda-crappyness where it sucks but it’s not terrible.

Be Prepared!
Boy Scout Motto

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never heard the boy scout motto.  I spent many years in scouting while earning that Eagle Scout badge. It’s really a large part of me and the things I do.  Everyone can agree that we are headed somewhere, but everyone forgot their compass.  We’re going down the road but which way?  That’s why I encourage everyone to be prepared.

Lately I’ve been discussing my plans for wintering the depression.  It’s on my mind the most because that’s where we need the most help.  Monkeys can pick good stocks in an bull market (monkey beats market) so it’s relatively easy to survive in the US when times are good.  When times are lean like they are right now, most people are still carrying on as usual.  A few things here and there are tougher, but for the most part, if we just cut back on a few things we can still get by.  But who is ready for a depression?  There are lots of little things that each of us can do to really lessen the pain.  The bad stuff may not happen, but won’t you be glad you spent a day preparing if it’s necessary?

Now I’ll describe all of my suggestions on how you can prepare for each of our possible futures.

Economy Skyrockets Up

Earlier I mentioned that monkeys can do pretty well in a good market, but you should want to do even better.  This means the prices of things will probably rise again, so get ready to buy.  You’ll want to catch the wave as real estate and stocks shoot up in value.  Have your money positioned so it can quickly move into these assets as soon as things look safe.  Put off your purchases of all doodads because every dollar spent is one less that will grow in your investments.  And don’t invest too early; times are too scary right now to take unnecessary risks.

More of the Same

Just about everyone out there has cut back in one way or another.  But for the unfortunate 10% of our population who are currently unemployed, they’ve been forced to cut back a lot more.  As jobs become more scarce, you will need to be more diligent in your cutbacks.  You might be employed today but who knows what sector might be hit next.  It is important to decrease your unnecessary expenses and save for leaner days.  Some things you can do to save a few bucks:

  • Drop your cable bill by reducing your channels or lowering your internet speed
  • Eat our less frequently
  • Cut out subscription services you don’t need (magazines, movie rental, etc)

Hitting the Fan

I’m no extremist (or alarmist) so I won’t tell you that it’s time to buy some cammo and a small goat farm in the countryside.  But I will say it is conceivable that things could get much worse than they currently are.  I’ll discuss some of the things that might happen and what I’m doing to prepare for them.  If you really really like to be prepared, Sean Brodrick’s book, The Ultimate Suburban Survivalist Guide, seems to be a good compromise between being prepared and going over the top.  I haven’t read it though, so do so at your own risk.

Bank Closure

People might say, “who cares if a bank closes, I’m FDIC insured!”  And for most people that is absolutely correct.  But for the people who are anything like me, you haven’t carried cash since 1998.  Your bank might close and the government might be able to get you your money some day, but what will you do in the mean time?  It is really hard to buy things if the credit card machine goes down at the same time as your ATM.  I’m preparing by making sure I have several days worth of cash available to me at all times.  It’s nothing crazy, but just enough to make sure I won’t have any trouble getting incidentals I might need.

Store Closure

Stores might close for all sorts of reasons.  It could be things like riots and looting, or maybe some workers went on strike.  People like me also don’t keep much around the house.  Basically I’m collecting enough canned goods to get me through a few days.  I’ve also got spares of the common incidentals like a spare tube of toothpaste and a spare toothbrush.  These preparations lessen the amount of cash I need.  In some ways, the more prepared I get, the less prepared I need to be.  Funny how that works.

Loss of Power or Water

As the people up north were recently reminded, sometimes power or water will go out.  I’m preparing by making sure my grill has a full tank of propane and I have some spare water laying around.  Utilities these days seem fairly reliable, but it’s really not that hard to prepare…so why not?

Civil Unrest

When times are bad, it is hard to count of the behavior of others.  Someone who is normally a good person might be inclined to break into your home.  And it’s not because they’re a thief, it’s because they’re desperate…they probably have a daughter at home who needs some food.  Can you blame him or her?  I’m not going to buy motion sensors, cameras, and razor wire to make my house a castle because that seems a little much.  But what I will buy probably seems extreme to a lot of people.  Right now I have a gun on my shopping list.  There’s the obvious reason to remind people that my home is for friendly folk only.  But if you’ve ever tried to catch yourself a rabbit with your hands, you know it ain’t easy.  I don’t plan on ever pointing that gun at anyone or any thing, but I’m taking about preparations. A safe place to store my gun is also on the list, if you were curious.

Dollar Loses Value

In the first great depression, we actually saw deflation.  That probably won’t happen this go around.  Today the dollar is looking pretty good against the other major currencies of the world and the dollar has been the currency for all trading around the world.  Unfortunately the dollar is starting to lose a lot of its support.  The American government has spent itself into a pretty deep hole and the rest of the world has noticed.  They’re starting to feel uneasy when a spend happy government also controls the printing press.  There is a chance that the US dollar will stop being the world’s currency and we’ll go back to the old days of bartering with commodities (like gold).  I’ve prepared for this by purchasing some physical assets in both gold and silver.

Final Thought

In my last and biggest section I tried my best to not sound like a chicken little.  The sky really isn’t going to fall and I feel like there is a 90% chance that I won’t experience any of the bad things I’ve prepared for.  But at the same time, if the 10% stuff does happen, I’ll be comfortable.  Instead of scrounging for any scraps of food I can find, I’ll be eating some baked beans warmed up on my grill.  As I said from the beginning of the recession, I don’t particularly care where things go or who’s fault it might be.  Whatever my situation becomes, I’ll make the most of it.  My only real goal is the leave the recession poised to take advantage of our economy’s next revival.  If you can find a way to keep the good times good and the bad times less bad, you’ll have taken another step toward infinite happiness.

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Mexican Standoffs Kill Your Potential

A mexican standoff is a situation where someone has an easy opportunity to kill one person but will likely be killed in the process.

standoff

This scene happens frequently in the movies; especially the ones I like to watch.  But it also happens in the corporate world; albeit, in a much less violent manner.

Today is a Sunday, and I happened to go to work.  This is a pretty common occurrence because for the past month, everyone I work with is in the office for 10-12 hours a day (including weekends).  We have a very big conference coming up (this Wednesday actually) and we’re doing all we can to put on a great show.  This will be the most important conference in the history of our company… until next year’s conference of course!

Anyway, as soon as I got to work, my friend shot me an IM.  Immediately he started berating me and my fellow coworkers for going into work.  He started by telling me that we don’t make enough money to work the kind of hours we do.  The conversation was going nowhere until I finally talked some sense into him.

You see, my friend is like many people I’ve had the unfortunate displeasure of working with.  They only want to work for 8 hours a day; yet spend at least a few of those hours goofing off.  When their boss asks them to go above and beyond once, they immediately scoff. “How dare he?  I have a life you know!  Besides, I don’t get paid enough to put in extra time.”

In our current culture that is driven by “me” attitudes, this makes perfect sense.  We have a tendency to get things done when it suits our fancy.  Any new tasks, duties, or responsibilities (even when we’re actually at work) cross the line.

Taking a step back, we can see the mexican standoff.  The employee is thinking, “I’ll never do more unless I get more money.”  The employer thinks, “If this person will show a little initiative, ownership, or stop spending 1/2 the day goofing off, I can give them a raise.”  Well, who goes first?  Does the employer give the raise to see if maybe productivity improves?  Does the employee work a little harder and take a chance that there is no reward waiting?

For me personally, I’ll take the risk.  It’s in my nature to always do something as best I can.  But even more importantly, I like to keep my future in my hands.  I never know if my latest boss will be a gambler and I’d hate to wait to find out.  For all the people that sit around complaining how their boss won’t take a chance on them… that must be a really tough way to live.

I’ve also learned that money doesn’t really make you work harder.  So anyone who thinks they will is just kidding themselves.  At my last job, I fortunately had a boss who taught me this lesson.  I worked my butt off because that’s what I do.  And he rewarded me with some very healthy bonuses during an economy when others were passed up.  But you know what?  I don’t work there anymore.  I was offered more money as I walked out the door, but I still walked.  It turns out that money really isn’t everything.  Once your basic needs are paid for, a raise almost means less.  I left that job, not for more money, but for a future.  That company wasn’t going anywhere.  I was at the bottom of a very tall ladder, underneath many many people who weren’t going anywhere.

At my new company, I’m still at the bottom of the ladder.  And I don’t think the people above me will be going anywhere. Not that I’m actually ready to move into those spots…I have lots of growing to do still.  But what my new company has that the other one didn’t, is growth.  Today I’m at the bottom of the ladder, but as the company grows, it will grow beneath me.  In several years I’ll be near the top of a very tall ladder.  I like the sound of that.

My friend claimed that we’ll all work really hard but we’ll never actually get rewarded.  I doubt that he is right, but who really knows?  What I do know is that we all gave 120%.  If things don’t work out, then each of us know we gave all we got.  Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out but no one will ever point the finger at us.

I’ll leave you with a quote I found attributed to Thomas Edison.  Who knows if that’s where it really came from, but I was at work today catching my own opportunity.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.  ~Thomas Edison

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Near Death Experiences

There are many times where we do things and we are fortunate to still be alive afterwards.  I’ve had a few of those in my time; probably most were caused by my general clumsiness.  Other times we think we’re near the end but it is really just an overreaction.  Ask a hypocondriac about their new freckle and they’ll tell you about cancer.  Last week I had a little fake near-death experience of my own and this is what happened.

Symptoms

After my early morning workout, my stomach wasn’t feeling too good.  I headed to the kitchen to see if I could find something to munch on and help it settle down.  A box of cookies was on the counter so I helped myself to one and went back to my office.  As soon as I sat at my desk, I noticed that I couldn’t read the screen.  There were these flashing lights all over the place and they were obscuring my vision.  I could tell that I rubbed my eye recently, and rubbed it hard, because my eyelid felt a little scratched up (I have some awesome calluses from rock climbing).  After a quick google, my suspicion was correct.  Rubbing your eye does some stuff to your ocular nerve which causes flashes of lights when you rub your eye.  And since I rubbed it hard, the spots will just hang around for a little bit.  5 minutes…10 minutes…15 minutes…Man I must have really rubbed hard.  The flashing is still going on, but now it is time for a meeting.

The meeting was really difficult.  Everyone was talking but I was fascinated with my vision.  Towards the end I realized that if I looked as hard to my right as possible, the flashes would go away.  I figured that in this position, my eyeball and brain must be getting a better connection.  It seemed like a simple solution; I’d take a break and have a doctor reconnect those two organs and I’d be back in action.  No worries.

The meeting continued while I was distracted but eventually it was my turn to speak.  My area was completely unrelated to everyone else’s so it didn’t matter if I didn’t catch everything that was going on.  So here we go….uh….  I could get a few words out, but nothing really made sense.  I couldn’t formulate a complete sentence to describe where I was with my project.  My real limiting factor seemed to be vocabulary; I couldn’t think of any words!  I had no way to say what I had done or what I was going to do.  To top it off, I had trouble remembering anything about that project…anything from my status to what it was even supposed to do…it was a complete blank.  I think I forgot what my project was even called.  After stuttering a bit, they gave up on me and moved on.

Back at the Desk

With the meeting behind me, it was time to get back to work.  My vision was slightly improving but I was still having trouble focusing.  I’d immediately forget each line of code as soon as I read the next one.  If I learned anything through all of the sports I’ve played, when stuff is hard, that’s when you push harder.  So I kept working and I even managed to make a change or two.  After about 30 minutes of this laborious process, I noticed that my right hand went numb.  Well it was sitting on the desk funny so I’m sure I was just blocking the circulation.  I adjusted my position and went back to the task at hand.  5 minutes.. still numb. 10 minutes.. still numb.  Well, it’s is still numb but my stomach isn’t feeling too well, let’s take a bathroom break.

In the Water Closet

While in the bathroom, I made up my mind that I aught to tell my boss that something isn’t right.  Not only because my productivity was pretty lousy, but also because I might have to leave and this way he has a little heads up.  I’ll just walk into ____’s office.  Wait!  What is my boss’s name?  Come on Chris, you can do it.  He’s in the office right next to your buddy ____.  Dang!  I can’t remember his name either.  Can you remember anyone’s name?  Mike!  Ok, there’s a start.  Anyone else?  {plain emptiness}  I now knew that something serious was happening.  While washing my hands, I noticed something new.  My lower lip felt like I had been punched.  Well it felt numb, but also wet…which is the feeling I associate with having a busted lip.  With a numb lip, numb hand, no memory, upset stomach, and flashing lights everywhere, I made it to that guy’s office (whatever his name is).

Waiting out the Storm

I told him and a few other people who came into the office that I wasn’t right.  Someone offered to take me to the emergency room, but I declined.  My reasoning was that the emergency room can fix things when they’re broken.  If I was riding my bike and hit my head, then I’d say, let’s go to the doctor and fix my noggin.  But what is broken when I’ve got a numb hand from scratching my eye while eating a cookie?  I decided that I should just go back to work (since it’s about the only thing I like to do these days anyway).

While working I tried my darnedest to focus on my work.  I was able to change a few lines of code but it took all of my effort to keep everything in my brain.  On top of that my mind kept wandering.  I knew that this was it.  The only explanation was that I must have a tumor in my brain; that’s the only thing that could affect so many different parts of my body at the same time.  I started figuring out who I’d call and what I’d do.  I’d sell the houses, throw away all my stuff, and then go live with my parents for the 3 months until I checked out.  For once I was going to enjoy some family time and I was ok with that.

Eventually it hit me.  My dad once told me that when you have a migraine, it really sucks.  Not only does your head hurt, but it messes up your vision and makes you feel sick to your stomach.  I thought, could this really just be a migraine?  I used google and spend the next 15 minutes reading the first website (it was really short, it just takes that long to read when you can only see about 10% of what you’re looking at).  The 2nd paragraph laid it all out for me.  When you’re getting a migraine you will see light flashes, have memory problems, get a numb face and hands, have weak limbs, and get an upset stomach.  So everything I have is just the precursor to the ultimate headache; I’m going to die, but not today.  Wahoo!

The Touch

I just finished reading the article and had my revelation when my boss came in.  He wanted to make sure I was doing alright.  While I was showing him the wonderful website with the good information that says I was experiencing every single symptom of a migraine, he just placed his hand on my shoulder.  It felt like he was just saying, “you’ll be just fine son” and then he left my office.  As he walked away, I thought to myself that it was a very kind gesture and it actually made me feel a little better.

By the time we got back from lunch, I felt like a million bucks.  My head was clear and my body felt strong.  If it weren’t for the fact that it was 1pm and I still hadn’t accomplished anything, it was like nothing ever happened.

Two times during the day, my boss mentioned that he had prayed over me.  I wasn’t really sure what that meant or how to show gratitude, but I just assumed that he said a quick prayer in his office asking to make me feel better.  It wasn’t until I got home around 9pm that I finally put 2 and 2 together.  When he placed his hand on my shoulder, that was him asking God to help me.  Duh!  I’m dense sometimes.

My Christian friends who read this will say, “well it’s obvious what made Chris feel better” and my non-Christian friends will chalk it all up to coincidence.  Regardless of the cause, it had an effect.  When he walked out of my office, I did feel a touch better. And as far as headaches go, I barely had one.  Could it be that there was some subconscious change that reminded me of some time when I was much smaller and my father or grandfather would place their hand on my shoulder to give me strength?  Could it be that even though my primary love language isn’t physical touch, it becomes important when you’ve lived completely devoid from it?  While I find the quest to determine what really induced my physical change to be intellectually stimulating, I don’t find myself too particularly concerned.  For some reason a little voice told Dennis to put his hand on my shoulder, and for some reason it made me feel a little better.  While I don’t really care what it was, I’m certainly happy it was there.

Thanks Dennis.

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A Ray of Light

With the year coming to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting about all the things that have happened to me.  The major events have been numerous, but there is one trend I noticed that I would have never expected.  I began the year with a cynical outlook towards other businesses.  So many seemed to be riddled with poor quality, poor customer service, or poor morals.  In Good Employees Are Hard To Find, I discussed some companies which were given an opportunity but dropped the ball.  I could spend hours writing about all of the companies that have wronged me in one way or another, but then I’d be wasting too much energy on negative thoughts…I don’t have time to sit and pout.

Now that the year is over, I’ve found 4 businesses that I count on and have developed a great relationship with.  I know I can call them whenever I have a question, I’ll receive a timely response, and I’ll feel like they were ecstatic to be able to help me.

Realtor Like None Other

When it comes to real estate, I’m much more educated than your average Joe, but I’m still an amateur.  My efforts to become a real estate investor have been met with one wall after another.  The most surprising thing to me through all of this was how much more difficult realtors made this process.  I started trying to buy houses 2 years ago and I’ve already run through 5 realtors  Although these folks were supposed to be on my side, working for me, it felt as though they were slowing me down.  I found my own deals, I did my own research, and I even drove my self all around town.  The only thing I needed a realtor for was to get the key out of the lockbox.  After what most would consider to be a pretty bad realtor experience, I happened upon Allison…the realtor I dreamed about.

She caught my eye with her outward appearance.  I receive postcards from all sorts of realtors around town.  Most of them just have a picture, a phone number, and some sappy bio that says, “I went to the University of Florida and love the community.  You should hire me.”  What did Allison have?  A higher quality postcard with a list of everything she’d do for me if I were her client.  The list was two times as long as anything a realtor has ever done for me, and mentioned all sorts of things that a normal realtor wouldn’t know about.  She’s talking about getting my house on websites and search engines when most of her competition doesn’t know the difference between Google and their browser (yes, there is a difference…just take my word on it).  Time to look at her website.  What do I see?  A perfect blend of information & art; it was designed. I’m very critical of webpages and I only have one criticism of her webpage.  colordiffThere are two blues that are so similar they look the same.  On crappy monitors you can’t even see the difference.  Now I’m not saying all this to criticize Allison.  I’m using this example to demonstrate how awesome she is.  I spent over an hour looking for mistakes and this is all I could find.  I can point out problems in just about anything and the best I can come up with is the use of two different blues.  I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a small business with such a precise corporate image.

All of this is what caused me to contact Allison, but what keeps me around?  When we first met she showed up in a sharp suit with a cool car…more with the good image thing.  Then when we were walking around the house and talking business, she was effectively telling me to not worry about anything.  I hand her a key and I’m done.  No more work for me?  You mean I don’t have to be the driving force?  Now that my house has been on the market, I’ve gotten a nice little weekly report that tells me everything happening in the neighborhood, descriptions about all the showings, and then any recommendations.  Sweet.

I work a lot of hours because I crave accomplishments and don’t have much of anything else to do.  Because of that, it’s rare that I meet someone who is willing to push harder than me.  But Allison will.  She has stopped by twice on her way home from work and I’m actually already home.  If you know the hours I keep then you know she’s burning the midnight oil to show up after me.  If you’re in Gainesville Florida and want to buy or sell a house, there’s no one that I’d recommend more highly. http://www.allisonables.com/

Detail King

I have a car detailer who washes my car every 2 weeks; he’s the fella I mentioned in Give Without Guilt.  This guy is my car detailer, but he seems like so much more.  All of my friends know him by name.  Everyone at my office knows him (even the part-time interns).  My parents have shaken his hand and they don’t even live in the states.  Why is he so well known?  First off, he makes dirty cars clean for $25;  a mere pittance when you see the work he does.  He does the work with a smile and says, “Thank you” at least a dozen times.  After spending hours on my Jeep, I gave him $40 when he only asked for $20 and he teared up because at the time he had never received such a big tip.  I love my relationship with Fred because I know I can call him at any time and have my car cleaned with a smile.  He charges so little that I feel like he is doing me a favor.  But he feels like by calling him, I’m doing him, and my car, a favor.  He does things better, faster, and cheaper…perfect business principles if you ask me.

Laundry Guy

I don’t have many dress shirts and I am not very good at ironing, so I started taking my dress shirts to the cleaners each week.  It was really a pain because I’d have to rush out of work to make it there by 7.  One day I got there at 6:55 and the lights were already off.  The girl was still inside but refused to take my clothes.  I was livid, so I went back to work (like I planned to do already) and typed an angry email to the owner.  While I was getting his email address off the website, I noticed that they had a delivery service for a nearby community (Haile Plantation if you’re familiar with Gainesville).  So after I said my peace, I asked him about the delivery.  He now comes every Tuesday and Thursday.  Dirty clothes go in a closet, clean clothes show up in my office 2 days later.  He is polite and gracious.  Today he even brought us all little bags of chocolate as a holiday present. I get better & personal service, do less work, and don’t pay a dime extra.

Law Man

At the beginning of the summer I had the unfortunate pleasure of being on the giving end of an eviction.  Fortunately the process as a whole was rather effortless.  A mentor introduced me to a lawyer, Kevin Leary, who specializes in evictions.  It’s almost like going to the drive through.  I give him an address and a $750 check.  After waiting 45 days for the due process, I get my house back.  It’s so simple that I know who to call if it ever happens again.

My Crew

I’m slowly developing an army of people I can count on.  I know it’ll likely cost money to receive their assistance, but for these folks, the money is worth it.  They are the type of people who provide way more value than what they charge.  I’m left looking forward to 2010 to see what new business owners I’ll meet.  My fingers are crossed that a great accountant is in there somewhere.

If you really pay attention, you’ll start to meet folks who are actually worth their weight.  As you build your entourage, you’ll notice that life gets much less stressful. Having a list of solid people you can count on is just one more little thing on your journey towards infinite happiness.

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Troubles in Dubai

While we were all eating excessive amounts of food with our families in what I consider to be our 2nd greatest holiday (it is a symbol of cooperation and good will, 1st would go to July 4), troubles were brewing abroad.  Not paying attention to the news at all on Thursday, I expected Friday to be slow.  According to the articles I read, Friday’s trading would be slow and have a light up-tick by the market close.  As the market opened that morning, I was busy working on whatever I was working on.  But eventually I noticed the little quote thing at the bottom of my window had lots of red.  I decided to investigate to see if there was a glitch or if the market truly was down.  Google confirmed that everything was working properly; the market opened 2% below where it was on Thanksgiving.  Why?  The top news story was filled with all sorts of things about their being financial trouble with Dubai World and apparently some $59 billion in bad debt.

Wait!  Debt?

I’ve voiced my confusion to numerous people and everyone had the same impression that I did.  As oil prices were rising, it seemed like we were hearing more and more stories of the fantastic buildings being built in Dubai.  Putting 2 and 2 together made it seem obvious.  These folks had so much money and they didn’t know what to do with it.  So why not build the tallest building, tallest hotel, or the largest shopping mall?

I took a trip to my trusted source to get general information (meaning, this is probably correct-ish, but don’t bet your life on it), Wikipedia.  Turns out that these folks were hardly in the oil business; it only makes up 6% of their economy and their oil reserves are expected to run out in 20 years.  Knowing this problem, it looks like their leaders did the smart thing by trying to get into other markets.  According to Wikipedia, they were hoping to become a major financial and trading center like New York, London, or Hong Kong.  Because of their growth, lots of people were eager to get in on the action and help develop the next must-see place to visit.

What exactly is Dubai World?

Most articles that talk about the problems with paying back $59 billion are referring to Dubai World (not actually Dubai).  So who or what is Dubai World and how does that relate to Dubai?  Again, this all comes from Wikipedia.

In short, Dubai World is an investment company that manages all of the investments for Dubai.  Depending on where you read, Dubai World holds between 50 and  75% of Dubai’s total debt.  It had over 50,000 employees and owns real estate in the US, UK, and South Africa. Remember in 2006 when there was a stiff debate as to whether or not we should let non-Americans run some of our seaports?  Well the company that was going to run our ports was Dubai Ports World, one of the many companies held by Dubai World.

Why did this Happen?

All of this made me think back to a 3-part article I read by Greg Zanetti back in January 2009.  He was formerly a Brigadier General with the Army and was stationed in Guantanamo Bay.  Since then he has reentered civilian life and is running for Governor of New Mexico.  He is very level-headed and understands more about the economy than your average politician.  He was convincing my parents to buy gold back in November 2008 when it was just a hair over $700/ounce (1 year later it is now $1150/ounce).  His blog was titled, “Zanetti’s Strategic Outlook Reports – Financial advice with a historical perspective”.  I’d highly recommend you read everything he has written, but this one particular series relates very well to this topic.  Zanetti discusses what he considers to be traits of winners and losers and how it relates to wall street and terrorists.  Taking from what he says, Dubai fits in as a loser and the latest debt mishap should be of no surprise.  Below are what traits Zanetti considers to be required in a successful country.

Winning nations have transparency

Countries that block the free-flow of information are destined for trouble.  As Zanetti pointed out, it is impossible to compete with others who have unrestricted access to all of the available information.  He makes one mis-step in his article because he says that Dubai had transparency (as opposed to wall street’s lack of transparency).  In 2008, the chairman of Dubai World threatened to pull all of its finances out of Europe after the EU declared that it wanted to set new rules for transparency, predictability, and accountability.  Seems pretty anti-transparent to me.

Despite Dubai’s progressive and ostentatious image, censorship is common in Dubai and used by the government to control content that it believes violates the cultural and political sensitivities of the Emiratis. Homosexuality, drugs and the theory of evolution are generally considered taboo. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai, 11/29/2009)

Winning nations don’t subjugate women

Just like with transparency, how could one country expect to compete with the rest of the world if only 1/2 of the population is allowed to create? Women in the Dubai are slowly gaining acceptance as workers, but they are still limited.  A quick google search will find numerous accounts of women who are abused for having a conversation with a man who is not in their own family…which must be very difficult to avoid in most professions.

Winning nations don’t allow domination of the government by a restrictive religion

Well why is it that women are having trouble entering the workforce in Dubai? Turns out their national religion, Islam, expressly forbids women from doing most things.  Reading about religion and government in Dubai makes me think back to the medieval times when a king was told that he could not be forgiven without giving the church lavish gifts.  In Dubai, the religious leaders still seem to wield power over the government.

Full Text

All of this has been a gross summarization of the work written by Greg Zanetti.  I highly recommend you read his articles in entirety:

What can we Learn?

There are people out there who recommend investing in China during the recession; Peter Schiff is the main proponent of this that I can think of. With what I’ve learned from Zanetti, I’ve decided to stay away.  China is very appealing because they actually make stuff and then sell it (just like we used to back in the day).  But when I think long and hard about it, what goods do they generate that I need for a recession?  I’m not buying electronics, I’m not buying trinkets, and I’m not buying gizmos.  I’m buying food, gas, and very very limited clothing.  None of those things are really all that dependent on China.  To top it off, China doesn’t allow a free-flow of information and it has human-rights issues.  The government isn’t run by a restrictive religion, but their communist government achieves the same effect.  Sounds like someone who did well because things were going good, not someone who will do well in all markets.

Although the US lost its way with fads to generate wealth (.com & real estate bubbles) and had an overindulgence in debt, I’m still going to bet on the US.  There are a surprising number of folks out there who will work hard to succeed and as far as our government and society go, there aren’t a lot of restrictions put on those people to stop them from working as hard as they need to.

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The Man

In my life, there is no such thing as “The Man”.  Some people might respond, “Of course not!  You’re a white male…that makes you the man.”  Obviously that isn’t true.  I don’t go out of my way to make anyone’s life harder and I’ve never met anyone else who would either.  I’m not claiming those sorts of people exist; one could argue that the shooter at Fort Hood, the DC sniper, Timothy McVeigh, or even the 911 hijackers intentionally tried to make someone’s day worse.  I’m also not going to claim that unfortunate situations never happen to me; I just don’t blame the man.

That’s Life

When I was younger and I would whine to my parents that all my friends had nicer and cooler things than me, my parents would respond, “well that’s life”.  If you think back, your parents probably did the same thing.  There really is no such thing as some imaginary man trying to keep you poor or unhappy.  And by throwing up your hands to declare defeat to the man, you’re only hurting yourself.  By passing the blame to someone else, you’re given up control.  You’ve said, “This situation sucks and there’s this person out there to make sure I don’t do better.  I’ll just save everyone the time and give up.”

Often things won’t go the way we want them to and that’s life.  And many times, when it feels like the man is holding you down, it’s really for the better.  If you follow the school of thought presented by Napoleon Hill in Think and Grow Rich!, then you know it is really just the universe helping to guide you down the proper path.  If you’re religious, then it is God playing the role of your parent.  He knows you want donuts for dinner, but you need to have broccoli.

Dealing with Life

delorean

You might have been held down today, but you need to decide why that was.  It might take years to know for sure, but you need to start right away.  Reasons why you might have been held down:

  • This was just something you should have never done; it would have brought more pain if you got your way
  • You had the right idea, you were just too early or too late
  • You or someone else dropped the ball
  • There is something better and you haven’t seen it yet

It is very important to not point fingers, blame, or feel regret.  Whatever happened, happened.  Hopefully you were making the best decisions you could make at the time.  The best thing you can do is tell yourself, “this is where I am today and it’s ok, but what is the best move from here?”  That’s right!  I said that even in your crappy situation, it’s ok to be there.  But what are you going to do about it?

Real Examples

I had a house for sale and was set to close next week.  I was very excited and a lot of people made or were going to make a lot of money for this entire process.  I felt great and thought I did my part to keep the world moving along.  Tuesday I got a call saying everything was progressing fine; Thursday I got a call saying the deal was off.  The whole thing turned into a big mess.  Stories are flying around and not one seems to agree with the others.  Truthfully, I really have no idea why the deal ultimately failed.  What I do know is that I made decisions that I thought were the best decisions at the time.  I hired the people who I thought were the right people, I made all the right calls, and I applied the appropriate pressures.  It didn’t work out, but that’s life.  There’s no time to blame anyone, feel regret, or even get angry.  This afternoon I’m meeting with a new potential real estate agent and we’re going to start from scratch.  Notice I said “potential real estate agent”.  Although I’m focusing on the future, I still looked back to learn the necessary lessons.  One of those lessons is that I want to treat business partners just like I would a new girlfriend.  I want to get to know them and develop a relationship of trust before making any large commitments.

On Friday I told my boss, by the end of the day, he could count on me having a certain thing done.  When I left Friday evening, it wasn’t done.  I could blame it on the man.  I could blame it on my distraction with my real estate troubles.  I could blame it on the guy who wrote the difficult-to-read code, or the guy before him who wrote very amateur code.  I could even blame my own lack of mental super powers.  The truth is, it would be hard to single any one of those things out as the cause for my failure.  They all worked together in concert to make sure that I couldn’t do what was needed. On top of that, it doesn’t matter what odds are against me.  I get paid to make magic and that is exactly what I’ll do.  The man held me down, but as soon as I publish this article, I’m heading to work for round 2.  He can’t keep me down forever; I won’t let him.

Choose your own Results

Life is going to deal great things and it’s going to deal terrible things.  Just keep asking yourself, “where am I right now?”  And once you figure that out, “what should my next step be?”  Sometimes it might be appropriate to decide between fight or flight.  But you have so many more options like divert, circumvent, etc..  If you can get yourself where you handle life’s upsets in stride and continually take the next step, you’ll have taken another step towards infinite happiness.

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The Herd is Wrong

I always had high hopes for each of my romantic relationships since college, but the truth is, each was destined to fail.  Every time I started to get into a relationship, I changed who I was (well really I just lost who I was) because society told me my usual behavior wasn’t kosher.  In the beginning I discuss how I followed the herd to tell me how to act in my relationships (the same herd that is statistically destined for divorice, mind you) and how following the norm wasn’t good for me.  Then I’ll talk about a situation where I set out to do exactly the opposite of what most people were doing and how well I fared in that.

Workaholics Anonymous

If I have learned anything from TV, it is that men who are too into their work are destined to have a terrible family life.  Their wives will feel lonely and ignored.  Their children will constantly be disappointed with a father who is too busy to play or show up for a recital.  I’m sure you’ve seen a show like this, and of course the guy always tries to do better but some outside circumstance gets in his way and he blows his last chance.  I don’t want to be that guy.

To show that I cared for my significant others, I’d spend more and more time with them.  I’d let them distract me at work with instant messages or emails.  I’d answer their calls if they called while I was at work.  I’d forgo opportunities to earn extra money and I’d stop monitoring my expenditures.  By losing the persona of being a person who worked hard, I felt like I was making a small sacrifice to show her that she was loved.

Unfortunately this never worked out.  Eventually I’d lose my passion and the relationship would get caught in a rut.  By giving up the things that made me feel strong and confident, everything grew stale.  I figured that society knew better than me because I was heading into uncharted territories.  I did what I thought everyone was expecting me to do and it ended badly.  These periods of time for me are filled full of regret, but no one is there to share the blame besides myself.  The funny thing is, if I really followed the herd, I’d spend less time working, more time at a bar, and the same amount of time with my significant other that I naturally would.

The Ring of Regret

ringpop

When my ex-fiancee and I were discussing marriage, she convinced me to go try on rings so we would know each others’ size when the time came.  Of course she couldn’t stop there when the sales lady was encouraging her to try on the fanciest rings in the store.  She was putting on rings that were over 3 times the price that I felt was reasonable for such an item.  Her eyes glistened and she had no problems telling me that she needed the biggest and nicest stones.  I argued that really the value should be meaningless and all that really matters is the symbol of our love and connection.  A ring pop should serve the same purpose.  We got nowhere; we both lived in such different realities that a compromise seemed impossible.  So I looked to society for an answer.  Everyone I talked to encouraged me to spend as much as I could.  Why?  I was given all sorts of reasons like, “it will be worn every day” or that it would somehow “show my commitment to her.”  Unfortunately I neglected to ask the people who were the closest to me.  I asked the people who were convenient, not the people who knew my core values.

So feeling the pressure of the herd, I caved.  I told myself that even though it didn’t feel right, there were more-experienced people than me who said this was right.  I thought it was just another small sacrifice I would have to make to show how much I cared.  Or to show how good of a husband I would be.  Again, I am now filled with a deep amount of regret for trusting the general population, but there is no one to share my burden.  I am looking for a way to get rid of the ring, but it turns out that diamond rings lose about 1/2 of their value the minute you buy them.  It really sucks, but I’ve decided that 1/2 of the money will provide more benefit than just some metal sitting around.

The Herd Picks ‘em

This last example is the converse of the above two.  I did exactly the opposite of what the herd told me to do (really as part of an experiment) and it actually led me to pretty good success.  Remember back in 2008 when the economy wasn’t doing so hot?  Anyone who watched the news knew the recession was coming and that stocks were about to lose value.  The 3 American automakers were headed towards certain doom.  Anyone who watched what was happening began to move their money from stocks into bonds.  Stock prices to dropped further and the bond prices began to rise.  The trend caused even more people to leave the unsafe stocks for decently performing bonds.  As stocks were reaching an all-time low, I decided it was time to make my move and I invested in the US auto industry.  I purchased stocks in Ford and GM.  Two people I carpooled with actually chastised me very heavily for buying stocks…especially in such a bad industry.

So what happened?  As we all know, GM went bankrupt and the stock prices plummeted.  When I actually got around to selling GM, I ended up losing 2/3 of the money I initially invested.  Maybe the herd got this one right?  (Hint: no!)  Do you know what happened with Ford?  I purchased my shares of Ford at $2 even.  I sold them at $7.40.  Although I lost a decent amount with GM, I made such an obscene amount with Ford that it doesn’t really matter.  In the overall transaction, I earned a 220% return in just over 6 months.

My point is that sometimes if you do exactly the opposite of what the herd would do, it works out very well in your favor.

Staying True

What all of this really tells me is that we need to stay true to ourselves.  The general society will always move in one direction or another.   Sometimes we end up choosing to go the same way as society or sometimes we choose to go the opposite.  In my experience, choosing the opposite direction leads to more frequent success, but there is never a guarantee.  Besides, being different for the sake of being different doesn’t seem smart either.  It is our responsibility (no one else’s!) to pick what direction is the right way for us.  Being in tune with what is most important to us and refusing to let others dictate the direction we take will lead us towards infinite happiness.

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