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My Ideal Woman

My mother dated the same guy for a very long time and they went through all sorts of dramatic ups and downs.  According to her, he was a guy who just loved the drama and the chase of getting back together.  Once their relationship was completely over, Grandma said to mom, “tell me about your ideal man.”  She mentioned all the traits that were important to her and why it was that they were important.  She didn’t get into minute details like blonde hair, blue eyes; she kept it more general with things like, “big and strong” because she wanted a big teddy bear.  About a month later she is at a party and she happens to meet the teddy bear.  Within minutes she was able to tell that this guy was everything she told grandma about.  There are all sorts of theories and concepts as to why those sorts of things happen.  It could have been coincidence, it could have been that she was finally paying attention to the proper wavelength, or it could have been a gift from God.  Today’s topic is about finding a soul mate…not the science behind getting anything you want.

After my split with my fiancee, my mom told me that I also need to come up with a list.  I couldn’t think of the real important traits off the top of my head, so my first reaction was to build myself a white board and just figure it out.  I never built the white board, but I kept tossing around ideas in my head.  I kept coming up with all sorts of positive traits, but none of them really felt right.  They were things that seemed like they’d be really nice, but I didn’t feel that they were worthy of basing a relationship of them.  On top of that, some of the ideas were even negative.  I’d say, “she should be exciting”…but really that’s because I was thinking, “she had better not be boring.”  But what real underlying trait, that if some girl had it, would make all other things meaningless?  I knew there must be something, that if a girl exemplified it, then she would end up doing or being all the other things I desired.

How I got here

The story really starts with my first major girlfriend in recent history (ie. post college).  She was pretty, smart, reasonably attractive, and extremely successful.  I thought I had a winner, but our relationship quickly became routine.  After work she’d cook me dinner.  After dinner we’d take the dog for a walk.  After the walk we’d watch the news and follow that with Jeopardy.  Bor-ring!  Turns out this girl loved the simple life.  I could never get her to go out and she only wanted to hang out with the friends she had since high school.  Getting her to go anywhere that would warrant bringing a camera was next to impossible.

So for my next girlfriend, I went around saying, “I want a girl that is exciting”.  I took a few days off work to attend a real estate conference.  While I was there, there happened to be one cute girl.  And by the way, she was single and my age.  Score!  On top of that, she was hispanic…everything was a production and filled with emotion.  Even a simple conversation with her had so much energy that it was exciting.  Sounds like a winner; a lifetime full of excitement, right?  Well it turns out that I found two major flaws (for me).  First, she didn’t really carry herself like a lady.  Her vernacular lacked certain bits of politeness and tact and she just didn’t conduct herself in a graceful sort of way.  The other problem was a severe deficiency in work ethic.  She owned her own business but gave poor customer service.  She’d quit working at 4:30 because she felt like she put in a good day’s worth of work, even though she wasn’t done with all of her clients.  On top of that, work for her didn’t even start until 10am.  I would have been embarrassed to have a wife that put such little effort into her business.

On to the 3rd major relationship.  Third time is the charm.  This girl was so different from the previous; I was in hog heaven.  She was very smart, very beautiful, talented in all sorts of areas where I’m deficient, and was one of the most proper and well spoken ladies I had ever known.  On top of that, she was actually quite helpful with remodeling my house.  This one was a keeper for sure.  Better than anything I had ever known, and better than anything I could even fathom as existing.  So what happened?  We finally split over differences in what we liked to do.  Her real passion was to read and play online chess.  Funny how it went full circle isn’t it?

After each relationship I was too focused on finding a girl that didn’t do that bad things the last one did.  I was ignoring all sorts of other warning signs because I was so hell-bent on making sure the problems of the last one weren’t an issue in the new one.  The previous girl’s bad traits were never present in the next girl, but a lot of the good traits weren’t there either.  Now I finally know what I need and it has nothing to do with an ex.  The next girl gets to start with a clean slate where all attributes are judged on a completely even scale.

What she is like

So it took me 2 months to finally figure this out after mom asked me.  And at first when I was generating a never-ending list of “must haves”, it seemed like I was going to get so specific that I’d never find anyone.  No one could fit the bill.  My list has finally ended with just a few personality traits.  She is a strong, confident woman who takes charge and enjoys doing a lot of the things I don’t enjoy doing.  When I say, “strong & confident” or “takes charge”, I’m not saying in the drill instructor sort of way.  I am very disinterested in being with a gal who is bullish or pushy.  To me it means that she sees things that need to be taken care of so she takes care of them.  She doesn’t wait to get permission or wait for me to tell her to do it or (even worse) wait to tell me to take care of it.  She’ll also ask (never tell) for assistance if she needs it.

The part about differing interests is also just as crucial.  I love to fix and build things.  I love to make money and manage it.  If she is good at those things, it would be really cool but probably not super helpful.  There are multitudes of things that I’m not very good at or just have no interest in.  Cooking is an excellent example.  Plenty of people out there love to cook and then clean up afterwards.  To me the entire process is excruciatingly painful; I could think of 10,000 things I’d rather do.  I don’t want to plan to make food, I don’t want to go through the effort of making food, and I don’t want to clean up afterwards.  I’m certainly not sexist and in no way to I feel that a “woman’s only place is in the kitchen”.  But unless she takes charge of the cooking, I’m going to fulfill my role as the hunter by bringing food home from the closest fast food joint; together we will suffer the future of associated weight gain and clogged arteries.  She also needs to enjoy being the inspiration for vacations.  I’m always so caught up in my work that I never think to schedule down time.  Sometimes I will find myself with some free time, so I’ll make a few calls and do something spur of the moment.  The problem is that it’s really hard to pull off a big trip at the last minute.  If I actually had someone encouraging me to plan some vacation time in advance, I’d certainly be doing a lot more vacationing.

I can’t tell you with certainty that this is the absolute way to go because it’s not like I’ve used it to get married, but now that I have my solid direction I feel more confident.  Although I went out with a girl last week whose favorite activity is sleeping, I felt compelled to call her back anyway… just because she was so pretty…but fortunately I didn’t.  I knew after one dinner, she was definitely not my “take charge” kind of woman so any calls would have been a waste. Being able to quickly filter out any that aren’t true keepers is one more step towards infinite happiness.

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Budget Your Way

The first business I ever tried to start was going to be an online version of Quicken.  I loved managing my money and I figured everyone else would too if they had a free means to do so.  It was going to be accessible from all the fancy cell phones that were starting to come out so you could check your financial health from wherever you were.  I did all sorts of research on different budgets and ways to track expenses.  In the end, I came up with two conclusions:

  1. Budgeting is only fun for a select group of people
  2. Even the most avid budgeters rarely keep up with their receipts.

After doing the initial design and then deciding that the idea just didn’t have legs, I scrapped the project.  I still wanted a painless way to track my expenses and savings so I took from all the other ideas I saw and I made my own.

The Criteria

First off, I wanted it to be painless.  Having to go to a computer and type in some expenses seemed painful to me.  And wouldn’t you know, a lot of banks charge to download all the transactions.  And with the downloads, if I were to spend $100 at my favorite box mart, how can I be sure that it is properly classified…what if $15 was for toys and the rest was for household goods?  Secondly, I wanted to be able to track and even predict my progress.  Lastly, I really wanted to know how much money I could spend at any given time.  A new TV would have been really cool, but could I really (I mean really really) afford it?

The Theory

My budgeting is based off the envelope principle which came from back in the days of the great depression (well that’s the theory anyway).  With every paycheck, a set amount of money is divided (not necessarily evenly) into several envelopes.  Each envelope is labeled for a certain expense (or type of expense).  For example, there might be an envelope for Rent and one for Vacations.  When it is time to spend money, you’d choose the appropriate envelope and use that money.  If there isn’t enough money in the envelope then you just don’t do that thing.

I find this method to be very easy.  As my savings were accumulating, the envelope system made it much easier to control my impulse buys.  Instead of a big pile of money sitting around, having everything split up reminded me that 80% of that money wasn’t allowed to be spent frivolously…the majority of the money was for things like car insurance, rent, or my school loans.  These things are easy to forget so it’s nice to see the smaller envelope with the true amount of money I’m allowed to blow.

The Practice

I didn’t really want to have my money sitting around in envelopes or coffee cans and it isn’t all to convenient to visit the bank these days.  Instead I opened 10 savings accounts with ING Direct and named each account after each of my envelopes…or “virtual envelopes”:

  • Car Insurance
  • Emergency
  • Homeowner’s Insurance
  • Investments
  • Living Expenses
  • Property Taxes
  • School Loans
  • Tithing
  • Toys
  • Vacations

Every two weeks when I got paid, a predetermined amount was put into each account.  At the end of the month, 6-months, year, or whenever some bill was due, I always had money.  It worked out so that every single month I was spending the money I earned in the previous month.  There was no “paycheck to paycheck”…I was always a month ahead in my savings account and never once thought about paying bills.  When the bill came due I knew I’d have the money I needed and the best part was that it was all automatic.

Determining the amount of money that goes into each account was fairly simple.  First I noticed that I had two classifications of envelopes.  There were expenses and there were savings.  The expenses were things like car insurance, property taxes, and school loans.  They were bills that I had to pay regularly and they were nearly impossible to get rid of.  Getting money into these accounts took priority and once I figured how how much they needed, I had the rest to divide among the remaining accounts.  The “savings” saving accounts were for things that I didn’t really need to do if my life depended on it, but they were just things that I felt like I wanted to do.  I was also able to determine how important each thing was to me and assign a dollar value to it.  Investing and having an emergency or vacation fund were the most important to me so that is where I put most of my money.  Some of my friends might say that the tithing or toys account was the most important.  Unlike the expense-type, I was able to decide what dollar amount I wanted to distribute where.  For the savings account, the money still went in automatically, but it only came out when I wanted to buy something from that category.

One of my goals of this system was also to make sure I didn’t have to spend all day recording receipts.  I accomplished this by having a “discretionary” envelope.  After all of the money was transferred to the different savings accounts, I was left with a checking account with exactly $300.  This was the only money I was allowed to use until the next paycheck and it was to cover the majority of my everyday living.  Anything from dating to gas to shampoo to golf came from this account.  I didn’t really track the spending; I was allowed to use it however I wanted.  If I ran out of money on Wednesday, then I’d have to eat sandwiches until payday.

Since my major purchases came from savings accounts that only had online access, I became more dependent on a credit card.  I got a card with some nice rewards and charged everything.  At the end of the month I’d pull the proper amount of money out of each account and use it all to pay off the credit card (in full!).

The Sharing

I thought I had a pretty cool system and as far as I could tell, I was more successful with my budgeting and savings than anyone else I knew.  For my first year out of school, I was saving 50% of my gross income.  I still think it was pretty good.  Because of my success, I felt the need to tell everyone and most people were at least intrigued.  I even convinced a few people to go through with my system and I helped them get started.  But you know what?  No one stuck with it for more than a month.  At first I was heart broken; I thought I had to explain just how easy it was again until they were able to keep it going.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized the mistake I made.

I tried budgeting a few times before and was completely unsuccessful.  I also then spent a few months researching different budgeting techniques.  After sitting down one day to figure out how I wanted to budget, I had my eureka moment and I’m still following the same principle 2.5 years later.  By telling other people about my amazing thing, they were missing the opportunity to have their own lightbulb turned on.  I loved my process because I came up with it and it was exactly what I needed.  As for the other people, they weren’t as excited because they didn’t come up with the idea or the problems I solved were never a problem for them.  They also didn’t experience the same pain points as me years before so they had no reference to determine what was better or worse.  The better path would have been to tell them how successful my budget was, give them the general idea, and then let their brains figure out how they could also receive that sort of performance.

Budgeting is a very important tool in modern society.  It helps you prepare for unexpected trouble, get out of debt faster, and accumulate more wealth.  When you decide it is time to take control of your financial health, it is always best to start with a budget.  And the best way to make a budget is to research the different methods that exist.  Once you’ve done the research, you should spend time figuring out how to make it work for you because that’s the best way to make sure it sticks for the long term.  It might be good to try what your friends do, but ultimately you need to find what works for you.  If you can get in a place where you never worry about bills and you can just watch your money grow, then you will have taken one more step towards infinite happiness.

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Life without TV

For a little over a year now I have been without a TV subscription and I thought it was time for me to check in.

Making the Transition

The hardest part of cutting cable is getting past the dependency.  I see it as no different than the lull we all experience after a breakup.  Our brains tell us that it is a good thing but the little motor inside still draws us towards the old and familiar.  I was fortunate that the transition wasn’t so bad for me.

The cable company made me really mad so that gave me the initial spark to cut the cord.  On top of that, there was the money savings.  When I look at all of my other expenses, it wasn’t that bad, but one would be hard pressed to argue that cable provides true value.  Those two things together were all that my brain needed to say, “this is good”.

As for the little inner voice, I happened to make the switch at the end of the season.  The summer was just starting and it was going to be 2-3 months before anything even came that was worth watching.  This helped me get through the withdrawal phase because my drug wasn’t going to provide much of a high anyway.

Filling the Void

Believe it or not, it’s just like they say…we can always find things to do with our free time.  I do all sorts of things now because I’m not tied down to a TV.  Instead of surfing channels, I’ll aimlessly surf the internet.  I find this to be just as mindless and unrewarding as watching TV, but at least it is costing me less money.  Fortunately I’ve also picked up more tasks.  I spend more effort in trying to get out of the house (because it’s kinda boring in here), so that means I get to spend more time with my friends.  If a good show comes out, I’ll still get to watch it…but I’ll get to do it with friends instead of in the solitude of my living room (more social time, big bonus).  I like to think that it also helps me get more things done around the house.  Instead of eating dinner and watching a 30 minute show…I scarf down my food because I’ve got nothing else to distract me.

Into the Future

The truth is, I hope to avoid getting cable until I have children.  Currently I’m too busy remodeling my house so I definitely will not sign up for cable in the near future.   Once I’m less busy, my plan is to setup my home theater so I can watch movies from the internet on the TV.  I’ll also make my own HDTV antenna (instructions).  My biggest motivators are still my dislike for the cable companies and all of the money I’m saving.  The downside is that I have one less excuse to invite people over…and I’ve got some beer in the fridge that needs drinkin’.

I’d love to say that life without TV is fantastic and life changing, but I’m not so sure that it is.  There is certainly a positive gain by switching off cable, but not enough for me to recommend that everyone follow suit.  In life there are things that come up that cost us money, make us less effective, or do something that could be considered negative under a certain light, but honestly, if those small costs make us a little happier then I say they’re worth it.  Sometimes we need to treat ourselves to a night on the town, an extravagant vacation, or a zombie tube because that is what makes all of the hard work seem worth it.

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Results may be below ideal

The real title for this should be, “results may be below ideal, and that’s just fine.”  As an engineer I feel like I spent 6 years in school learning all about ideal situations.  When a truck slams on the brakes, how far will the box slide while totally ignoring wind resistance, variations in the truck bed, or whatever?  How long would it take to download a 4 gigabyte movie with an ideal T1 connection?  If you are reading this over a wireless connection, there’s a good chance your wireless access point is running 11 or 54 megabits per second because that’s what the box says.  Unfortunately that’s the theoretical maximum and technically you’ll probably see only half of that.  If you didn’t already know that, it obviously doesn’t really matter that it’s not perfect.  Right?

Well can be ‘Good Enough’

With just a quick search you’ll find all sorts of people and books that say you need to pick one thing and stick with it until it is complete.  A good example would be The Power of Less by Leo Babauta.  I’m not quite finished with the book but I’ve read enough to get the general idea.

I’ve been remodeling my house for over a year now.  I’ve done some great work and I’ve come a long way, but at the same time I feel like it takes much longer than it should.  To boost the rate of my results, I’ve tried staying focused on one task at a time with my house projects.  I’d tell myself, “you can’t start any new projects until this room is clean” or “you can’t paint the other room until you finish the plumbing in the kitchen”.  I couldn’t believe it when my productivity went down!?  By forcing myself to only do one task, the process of fixing up a house became a chore.  I worked on things because I had to, not because I wanted to.  I spent all of my time not working on the house.  If I worked on something else, then I wasn’t following the rules…so I worked on nothing.  Eventually the project would get done and I’d move on, but the process was exhausting.  By the time I got to the project I wanted to do, I already lost interest and didn’t enjoy doing that either.

This past weekend I let my ADD take over.  I pulled up some carpet and laid a few tiles in my living room.  It’s maybe 15% done.  Then I started tearing up some of the floor in my bathroom, it’s about 50% done.  I cleaned up a few things and baked some lasagna.  I put in about 24 hours worth of work this weekend (12 hrs each day).  These are the things I completely finished: cooked 1 meal and cleaned up after it, went to the grocery store, did all of my laundry.  All of my tools for tiling are still in the living room.  My bathroom still has tons of little pieces of linoleum on the floor.  An outsider would say that I spread myself too thin and was working on too many things.  But the truth is, it takes me about 4 hours to work through one bucket of mortar when laying tile.  If I don’t have 5 hours so I can prepare and take a shower afterwards, I can’t start tiling.  So instead of spending half of the weekend doing nothing because I couldn’t get started on more tile, I filled in the gaps with other forms of work.  And the best part was that I was happy the entire weekend.  If I grew bored with something I just moved to something else; I definitely made a large amount of progress.  I’m not worried about my 1/2 organized kitchen because right now I feel compelled to write and I’m certainly not going to feel guilty about it!

The Best isn’t always Better

My point of all this is, the best way to do things might not always be the best thing for you.  Don’t get caught up when someone tells you that there is some scientific evidence that suggests you could be stronger, better, faster, or smarter.  Sometimes under ideal conditions, science has a great point.  But in real life, enjoying the things you do is just as important as doing the things you do.  If you can step back and find joy in the things about yourself that just aren’t that perfect, then you will have taken another step towards infinite happiness.

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Delayed Gratification for Success

When I was a student, one of my coworkers and friends had a serious credit card problem.  It was very frustrating for me because I felt like I couldn’t convince him that he was headed for disaster.  He fully believed in his fiscal policy with such ferocity, it was like I was trying to argue that the sky is green instead of blue.  On top of that, he was acquiring all sorts of fun toys (like samauri swords, top of the line of computer peripherals, and an expansive collection of iPods).  How could my sound (yet ultimately lame) logic compete with the emotional high one gets when purchasing stuff?  I don’t typically like to tell people they are wrong, but if you use your credit cards like this guy…you’re doing it all WRONG!  Now on to what he did…

His costs to get the basic needs were all 0.  Scholarships and grants covered his tuition, books, and rent in the residence halls; Mom and dad had insurance for emergencies.  His job paid $121 every 2 weeks…so we’ll say $242 per month to keep it simple.  It certainly wasn’t a massive wage, but the entire sum was essentially “fun money”.  He could spend it all and not really have to worry about eating the next day.  Unfortunately his eyes were much bigger than his wallet so he used his credit cards.  He charged all sorts of electronics and sundries.  He judged his ability to purchase toys by his minimum payments.  After spending a few thousand and finding his minimum monthly payments to be around $150, he proudly exclaimed to me, “sweet, this means I have about $2,000 more to go spend.  Gotta go, I want to pick out a few DVDs on eBay.”

I don’t think I need to argue all of the reasons why that is a bad idea.  If you honestly don’t see any problems with it, then please seek advice from those close to you.

Having the means, doesn’t mean you should

In 2006 I saw a little blurb in Motor Trend about a car I had my eye on.  It was about two sentences long and basically just said, “the 2008 version will be a little bit wider”.  I had no idea what the car would look like but my sole complaint about the current model was that it looked too skinny!  I was in hog heaven and couldn’t wait to get a job and buy the 2008 model.  Once the pictures were released, I thought it was the best looking car to hit the streets.

Fortunately between having this thought and landing that job, I read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”.  I knew that I was supposed to buy some assets before some doodads.  Trying to avoid being a total square, I told myself I’d still buy the 2008 model…just 2 years down the road.  That way it would be less expensive and it would give me an opportunity to invest.  My job paid well enough that I could afford the payments without any problems so it was really more of an exercise in good financial decisions.  I took the amount of money I’d spend each month and put it in a savings account.  As it started to accumulate, I began investing in other things.  Even if I lost all of my investment money, well I could still just pick up the car and make payments.  All I’d potentially lose is 2 years with the car of my dreams.

Half way there

Well here it is, 2009.  One year down and one more to go.  If you read my last article, you know that I’ve made some other poor financial decisions that have put a hurting on my current cash flow.  Fortunately as soon as I sell my other house I’ll get all of my money back, get a bunch more, and severely decrease my expenses.  Once the house sells, I should have enough to purchase the car in cash!  That is quite an upgrade, no?  If I bought last year, I’d still have 4 years more of payments and not a lot of expendable income.  If I buy the day my house sells, I’ll have the same car but no payments…so I’d have the car and expendable income.  Big win!  All I had to do was work a little harder and wait a year.

It’s still not enough

Again, I could buy the car but I still won’t.  I have a year to go on my promise and I don’t care for the current numbers.  If I bought the car it would almost be like starting at zero.  I’d have a nicer car but my bank account would look just like I graduated.

In the next year I want to continue saving heavily and invest the money I already have.  My hope is that in a year I’ll buy the car and still have plenty of money left over to keep investing.

Final thought

It definitely takes a certain amount of control to say, “I’m not going to get it even though I could”.  I’ve found that I keep so much money in my wallet because when I walk through the store I’m always thinking, “I’d really like to get that” followed by, “but do I really really need it?  Or is it just going to sit in one of my closets?”  I definitely screw up (just ask the cans of unopened tennis balls on my floor).  Denying yourself all the goodies that you crave can really take away the fun in life.  What’s the point of living unless you can’t let loose every now and again.  But if you can find a way to crave the doodads, delay your gratification, then use your cravings to fuel your enterprises that will provide some security and the doodad, then you will have made one more step towards infinite happiness.

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Failure Doesn’t Exist

Back in April my life was changing like crazy.  All of the changes were good and a lot of fun.  I got myself a fiancee, she moved in with me, I purchased a 2nd house and I started a brand new job.  It seemed like things in my life just couldn’t get any better.  I felt like a kid in the candy store that his parents owned; I could have anything I wanted and I ate plenty.

The excitement couldn’t last long because I had tons of work to do.  I had to to finish remodeling the 2nd house and get it on the rental market. Unfortunately, by the time I was finished I missed the sweet spot of the rental season.  Also my relationship with my fiancee had been going down hill the entire time.  Two weeks ago I found myself with a still empty 2nd house, a messy and disorganized primary house, a payment for an engagement ring that was no longer being worn, discussions with an ex fiancee who was packing to move out, and a car that kept going to the repair shop.  On top of all this, I was able to look at my finances and see that my budget was no longer balanced.  My current way of life had me in the red; I no longer made enough money to cover all the expenses.  Any one of these things would have quickly fixed that: get a new roommate, rent out my other house, be able to return the engagement ring.  After weeks of trying, I was still stuck.  It seems that once again life showered me with change, but this time it has a much more bitter taste.

Choose to Win

If I were a loser, I’d finish my complaining and the story would be complete.  Fortunately my blog isn’t called the Smart Path to Unhappiness.  I’m a positive fella and I still had one thing going for me, time.  By staying on top of my finances (I’ll write about how I do that later), I was able to see the danger well in advance.  I wasn’t truly in any sort of immediate financial doom but I knew that in 4 months I would be.  Although my budget that was in a deficit, I do have an emergency fund.  I hit the drawing board and made all sorts of recovery plans.  I had a plan A.  I had a plan B.  I had enough strategies that I could have lettered well past W.  I was planning things as simple as eating sandwiches every day for lunch and dinner to as complicated as liquidating my assets.  No idea was too small or large.  I had enough things that even if 3/4 of them failed I would have been fine.  I couldn’t play it safe though because I wasn’t sure if some unexpected emergency would pop in there.

Past Comes Back to Bite

It turns out that some of the small seeds I was planting months ago just began to sprout.  When I started working on them I had the idea that, “doing these things will some day help me get rich”.  I had no idea that doing them would actually keep me out of the poor house.  I went through the effort to consolidate my school loans a few months ago to lock in on the low interest rates.  They finally finished and I got my new statement in the mail; turns out my payments were cut in half.  That one little change I made months ago single-handedly put my budget back in black.  I can’t stop there…I still need to be prepared for any other lemons.  Yesterday I got a call out of the blue for some freelance work.  This wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t already been building my reputation.  So now my budget is clean and I’ve got some more income to bolster my emergency fund.  Neither of these things were on my plan to help me succeed but they wouldn’t have been an option if I chose to sit on my butt all those months ago.

Make Your Own Outcome

The first real point of my story is that I got lucky.  I wasn’t expecting my expenses to drop or for some extra work to knock on my door.  I also feel lucky that I took the time months (or years ago) to set some balls in motion.  At the time I didn’t really know what, if anything, would come from the effort.

The second point is that I still never lost my attitude.  I told myself that I would not lose my stride and I searched for ways to make sure I wouldn’t.  No job is beneath me.  I’d scrub toilets, fix cars, or flip burgers.  If it paid money I would have applied for it.  Also, unless the expense was a loan I had to repay or provided one of my basic needs, I was willing to live without it.

If you can look at yourself now and you’re doing ok, spend some time building some skills or a small side business.  Don’t do it for money today, but for the idea that it might help you when you least expect.  If you don’t have 6 months to invest because you need money yesterday, it is time to make your plans (A through W).  It is time to throw all but your basic needs.  You need food, water, and shelter.  You need food, but not fancy food.  Ramen noodles might not be fun to eat but you’ll survive.  Entertainment is no where in there.  Cut off your cable.  Cut off your internet.  Stop using your AC.  Do whatever it takes to slash your costs.  You certainly deserve the luxuries of modern life but you are no longer allowed to experience them while your head is under water. On top of that, go find yourself some more employment.  You’re motivated.  Earn money any legal way you can; work hard to get any job because you’re going to work harder than any other person.  Success is the name of the game, not your image or ego.

Work hard when things are good and be willing to push 110% if that is what life requires.  Creating more confidence and the ability to deal with anything life throws at you will take you one more step towards infinite happiness.

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Working as a student with the Department of Housing at the University of Florida made me into a lot of what I am today; I have a much higher potential for success because of that job.  While I was an RA I did very well, but eventually I felt like I was ready to move up the ladder.  I interviewed for a higher position and didn’t get it; I was distraught and felt unappreciated.  I reached out to my boss’s boss’s boss who gave me some helpful pointers and kept me in mind when another opportunity opened up.  Her name is Kathy and she holds a special place not only because she helped me grow but because she had little sayings that still keep me on the right path.  My old housing friends and I lovingly refer to them as Kathy-isms.

5-Minutes early is “on time”

This is not a recommendation to plan on arriving 5 minutes early to prepare for potentially bad traffic.  By Kathy’s standard, if a meeting starts at 4pm, then it should start promptly at 4pm.  You cannot do that if people are still filing in the door, finding their seats, or exchanging pleasantries with their neighbor.  To start a meeting on time (4pm), everyone must arrive on time (3:55pm).  I try really hard to accomplish as much as I can so I routinely lose track of the time.  As of this writing, being 5 minutes early for everything is my new goal.  I may accomplish a tiny bit less, but I will regain my old reputation as Mr. Punctual.

Fake it till you make it

Children will always complain about having to do things they don’t want to do.  Having to eat broccoli will be the most terrible thing they could ever think of happening.  For the rest of us, we feel fortunate to have jobs so we can afford to poison our children with vegetables.  As grown ups, we’ll always have to do things at our job that taste like celery (or maybe even radishes!) but we aren’t children so it is important to control the way we react.  You don’t have to pretend like you are excited, but paint on a smile and say, “I’d be happy to”.  It’s no fun to force people to do things they don’t want to do and your supervisor will greatly appreciate having a low-maintenance employee.  You can read a much more in depth conversation of why it is good to be good to your boss in Good Employees are Hard to Find.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have

Here is another Kathy-ism that I used to follow everyday but in the past year I’ve really lost my way.  Today I picked up a bunch of nicely pressed shirts from the cleaners so that is soon to change.  Generally speaking, as you move up the ladder your attire becomes more fancy.  If your supervisors see you looking like someone on their level, they’ll be much more likely to pull you up.  How can they be certain you’ll look the part if you still dress as though you’re watching football at home?  And nothing shows that you’re willing to go above and beyond like going above and beyond with your appearance.

When someone throws a party in your honor, you should do them the courtesy of showing up

What your boss calls a party is what you’d call “fundatory” or “mandatory fun”.  You spend all day arguing and being annoyed by your coworkers, the last thing you’d want to do is eat a small piece of cake while making idle (awkward?) conversation.  I find this aversion to fundatory events to be slightly humorous; 99% of the people out there spend 1/2 their day complaining about their job and having to “work” too much.  But then they complain even more heavily when they’re told they can take a little break…they just have to show up and eat cake instead.  {stepping off soap box} The people above you in the global structure know that it is the effort of the entire team, not just one person, that keeps the gears turning.  As a way of saying that you are appreciated, they want to give you a few minutes off and get to know your peers in a friendly setting.  I know we’d really prefer some tickets to Disney World, but do the honorable thing and say “thank you” for the kind gesture.

When you see something and think, “someone should do something about that,” — you are that someone

At one time or another, we have all said this.  Someone should pick up that trash.  Someone should let her know that a leaf is in her hair.  Someone should start a hotdog stand at this busy intersection.  Normally the line goes as quickly as it comes; we assign the duty to a non specific person so we can quickly get back to our activity. Someone should but not me! That fleeting moment is really your time to shine.  Others will notice your initiative and you’ll be surprised the number of times you hear, “oh I was thinking of doing that.”  Taking action on the little things will show others that you’re someone who is in control of their life; you’re not someone who waits for life to happen to you.  I’ve seen many conversations in the workplace where a group will waste 30 minutes discussing some issue that ought to be fixed.  Do everyone a favor and make it happen.  Your coworkers, supervisors, and customers will be happy you did.

Your first thought is for yourself; your second thought is the one you say out loud

I’ve found this Kathy-ism to be quite helpful in arguments or heated discussions.  Let’s say someone made a comment that really pushed your buttons.  Your gut reaction is to quickly shoot back with how much of a jerk this person is.  But as Kathy says, that thought is for you and you alone.  You get to call that person all sorts of unsavory words or whatever it takes to make yourself feel better.  As soon as you’ve vindicated yourself by mentally mistreating your foe, now it is time for thought number two.  Your second thought won’t be as reactive and hopefully be much more constructive.  It should be something like, “what you just said really offends me” or “things are getting heated so let’s take a quick break.”  Resisting the urge to blurt out your first thought will really increase the chances of having something constructive come from a disagreement.

Emails don’t have emotion, they only have the connotation that we assign to them

Have you ever gotten an email from someone that just seems so sarcastic, snooty, or snarky?  Why is that?  Sarcasm really comes from a person’s facial features of the inflection in their voice.  If an email appears with a negative connotation, it is because you put it there.  Maybe you and this person have a history or they are just telling you something you don’t want to hear.  The thing is that we use email a lot in our communication so it is important to get this right.  Most people are poor typists or just to busy to proof read which creates a poorly worded email that has the potential to be misunderstood.  Next time someone sends you an email that sounds like they are trying to incite an argument, pick up the phone and ask them to clarify what they’re asking.  I bet they will be much more kind when you hear their voice.

The more time I spend thinking about the little bits of wisdom that Kathy shares, the more I realize their power.  They’re short, sweet, and easy to remember, but they can also have a profound impact on the way you interact with others.  By learning little things that can improve your potential every day, you will have taken one more step towards infinite happiness.

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Power to Change

Ever since I’ve been a teenager, I’ve been in control of my personality.  I always knew it was something I could change if I felt the need but I never thought about it until my mom mentioned it this weekend.  Apparently she and a coworker were talking about me and the coworker referred to me as an “old soul” because most people aren’t capable of doing what I do.  I’m not sure what it means to be an old soul, but maybe that’s why I got my first gray hair while I was still in high school?  I’m not some shape shifter-esque person in a Sci-fi movie; I have no special powers.  I strongly believe that anyone can choose to act, be, and do whatever they want.

Examples of Changes

When I was in high school, I went from being an annoying adolescent to a rather mature young adult.  For those around me, the change seemed to be overnight.  When I was a Junior, I started working with an engineering startup.  I was the 3rd employee and the other two people were the same age as my father.  Obviously I’m a big proponent of being thankful for your job, so I took it upon myself to fit in.   On top of that I was dating this really really cute girl who was in college.  I have no idea how I pulled that off but I was determined to not screw it up.  The usual antics of a 16 year old were of no interest to some serious business owners or a college girl.  Some people might say, “you should never change who you are”.  Well I changed the way I acted but not who I was.  I defined myself by the way I treated people and my ability to fix things.  The way I see it, acting like an adult, eating more salads, and drinking less sweet tea was a change for the better.

Once I started college, I took a personality test and scored as far as an introvert as one could be.  I was working on an engineering degree so I felt like it was an indicator of a smart decision.  But sophomore year I wanted to become a Resident Assistant in the residence halls (dorms, for the uninitiated).  Introverts were hired for the position but I still had to fight my tendency to be reclusive.  So again I shifted my personality.  To this day I’m still rather introverted, but I am able to easily approach people and can usually carry a conversation.

As I was starting graduate school, I noticed that I still wasn’t having much luck with the ladies.  I had the fortunate benefit of meeting someone who had had no problem attracting them and it brought about another personality shift.  I again changed my personality in such a way that I was much more successful at catching the eye of the opposite gender.  I went from being surprised when I actually got a girlfriend to being surprised if a girl wasn’t interested in me.  Sounds arrogant, I know…but it’s true.

How to Change

My power to change came from inside myself.  I was fortunate that I actually was born with the necessary tool to be in control.  Luckily for everyone else the tool is simple and just has to do with questions.  In each of the situations above, one day I sat down and looked at my life.  I thought about how my path really wasn’t the path I wanted to be on and made a decision to fix it.  The real power was in the questions I asked myself to illicit the change.  Some of my friends have had trouble getting jobs that weren’t a perfect fit for their personality or had trouble finding a mate.  The unfortunate thing is that their frequent response is just, “well that manager was an idiot”, or even worse, “those girls were just lesbians”.

If you take the advice from Kurt Wright in Breaking the Rules, you’ll realize that the solution isn’t in fixing some dumb manager or some girl who isn’t into men.  The question my crass friends would ask is, “what is wrong with those girls?” and it would lead them to their less intelligent answer.  When I found myself in the situation, the question I always ask is, “what would it take from me to get what I want?”  The funny thing is that when you ask that question, your mind will give you an answer.  If I asked, “what would it take to keep this cute older college girl around?”  The answer was to watch my weight and eat some vegetables on occasion.  When I would ask, “would would it take to score a new girlfriend?” my answer came to me.  What I realized was that I had to shift my personality so I was more attractive to the opposite sex.  Again, playing video games and eating Cheetos isn’t very interesting to most ladies.  Once I took an interest in clothes and renewed my interest in extreme sports, I found I had a lot more success.

Losing Yourself

Through all of this change, I’ve still never lost myself.  My interests have shifted countless times but who I am as a person has not.  If you identify yourself by some task or attribute then it will be really hard to change.  If I fought hard to keep my identity as an extreme introvert, because that’s who I was, I would have never landed that job.  The first step is to look at what you’re trying to accomplish.  If you’re accomplishing it then you have nothing to worry about.  If not, then step two is to figure out what you can change within yourself.  Step 3 is to reevaluate the goal and the necessary inner change an decide if you still want the results.  Step 4 is to make the actual change.  Once you gain the power to control yourself, you will find that you frequently get what you desire.  And being in control to fulfill your own desire is another step towards infinite happiness.

P.S. I’m certainly not encouraging you to temporarily deceive others so they think you are something you are not.  Don’t hide your love for Cheetos and World of Warcraft for some temporary gain.  If you still love those things then be honest with yourself and others.  Lying about who you are won’t get you too far.  I’m only advocating that you make these permanent changes as a means to improve yourself.  If you snag some extra benefits (better job) or find some extra encouragement (pretty girlfriend), no one will blame you.

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Five Love Languages

I just finished reading The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman.  I really enjoy reading books like this because it helps me understand the problems I have in my relationships and to make the appropriate corrections.  In the book he has a lot of examples of marriages on the rocks and how each was saved from certain doom by understanding this principle.  I highly recommend the book to everyone (married & single) because understanding more about how we interact with others can have profound results.  For the remainder of this article I’ll discuss the lessons in the book.

The Languages

According to Dr. Chapman, everyone “speaks” one of the five primary love languages.  While discovering your personal love language is cool, it’s really important to discover the love language of those around you.  We have the tendency to show others that we love them in our own love language, but unless the listener also speaks in that language, your acts of love will fall on deaf ears.

Words of Affirmation
A person with this love language will be most affected by kind words or encouragement. Some examples would be to say things like: “You look great in that outfit”, “Your smile just makes my day”, “This is the best meatloaf I’ve ever had”, or “You sure are making some great progress on this thing.” A sign that someone’s love language is Words of Affirmation would be if they say something to you like, “You never notice my hair” or “You don’t like my cooking.”
Quality Time
For those who speak this love language, just being physically close won’t cut it. They are looking for undivided attention or some team activity that he or she enjoys. You can speak this language to your mate by paying attention when he or she is speaking; turn off the TV and use your good speaking skills. Discuss your emotions and how things make you feel. You can also satisfy the same need by doing a group activity your significant other enjoys. A sign that someone speaks this language is if they tell you something like, “we never do anything anymore” or “you’re always playing with your stupid _____ and ignoring me.”
Receiving Gifts
Those who speak this language respond positively to receiving any gift. The cost of the item is no where near as important as the thought. They view the gift as saying that you were not only thinking of them during the day, but you decided to go out of your way to bring them something. The gift could be something as simple as a flower plucked out of your front yard.
Acts of Service
People with this love language respond very positively when you do things for them. Things as simple as taking out the trash or as complicated as fixing their car speaks volumes to these folks. A sign that someone speaks this love language is that they complain about things not getting done or lack of assistance in some task. They’re hurt when they feel the other person isn’t helping.  You can show love for these folks by either helping them with the actual task or by doing other things for them so they can focus on their task.
Physical Touch
Being physically touched means the most to those who speak this language. To some sexual intercourse is the #1 way to speak this love language but that is not always the case. Some may actually prefer a back rub or a foot massage more than anything else.

Don’t Limit Yourself

So now that you have an idea of the love language of those you love, don’t limit yourself to speaking that one language.  Some people out there may just require sexual intercourse or consistent gifts and they’ll feel fully loved.  For the rest you’ll need to get creative.  A person’s love language might cause them to respond to your gift giving, but on certain occasions, changing a baby’s diaper will speak a little more loudly than a flower.

The Love Tank

Dr. Chapman discussed the idea of a love tank.  Every person has one and it could be empty, full, or somewhere in the middle.  To be in a truly successful relationship, both people need a full love tank.  An empty tank will make us feel hollow, under appreciated, or unloved.  If you love someone then it is your job to help keep that tank full.  You can accomplish this by showing them that you love them in ways that are meaningful to them.  In other words, speak their love language (not yours!).

Falling in Love Isn’t Love

Another very important topic thrown into this book is that the act of “falling in love” isn’t really love at all.  The only thing that those two things have in common is the word “love” somewhere in the name; that’s it!  Falling in love isn’t really something you can control; it happens (or doesn’t happen) whether or not you want it with people who may or may not be good for you.

Love on the other hand is a conscious choice.  It takes energy and acts of selflessness.  If you want the love in your relationship to last, you’ll need to learn the love language of your partner regardless of how unnatural if may feel.  You’re not going to watch a broadway play because you like musicals; you’ll do it because your partner will feel loved when you do.  You’re not going to turn off the TV to talk about emotions and feelings because it interests you; you’re going to do it because you want to show your partner that he or she is loved.  Being in love is really about doing things for your partner so that he or she knows you’re in love.  And yes, that means sometimes you’re going to go out of your way or do things you’d rather not do.  And yes, you’ll do it with a smile because you’re not worried about some task,  you’re happy because you’re about to say “I love you”.

If you can get yourself into a relationship where the both of you are continually speaking the proper love languages, then you will have taken one giant leap towards infinite happiness.

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Good Employees Are Hard To Find

Every time I see a TV show about running a business, they always say that it is wrong to micromanage.  A lot of times the owners of small businesses have to work 80 hours a week because they’re afraid to let go.  They’re not sure if they can trust others to do as good as themselves.  Their fear is certainly justified; they have more skin in the game than anyone else.  The moral of the story always ends up being that for the business to grow, the owner must let others take more responsibility.

I feel fortunate that I’ve finally reached a point in my life where I am too busy to do everything.  I have too much on my plate and I can’t do it all.  I’m willing to do all of it; I have just reached my limit for a lack of sleep.  Learning from the mistakes mentioned above, I started paying people to do things.  My thought was that the economy is bad, so people need money.  If I offer to give people money, then they will be gracious and allow me to go to bed before 1:30am.  It turns out that it isn’t as easy as I originally thought.

Letting Go Was the Easy Part

It was really interesting to find out that I had no trouble letting go of the control.  It honestly felt liberating to think that all I had to do was pay a little bit of money and my task list got shorter.  I was multiplying my effectiveness because for 1 day’s worth of work I’d get 2 or 3 days worth of things done.  Even when things  were done differently or not as well as I would have done them, having less pressure on me made it feel like a net win.

The real heartache or difficulty was to get people to do their job.  I can’t count the numbers of people I’ve met since May that have had an opportunity to make money but turned it down or just plain dropped the ball.  I find it so strange that when I’m paying someone to do something they actually fail to do it.  Or they’d get around to it when they felt like it.  From their position, they were doing me a favor…which is the completely wrong attitude to have.  We needed each other equally; they needed a little more business and I needed a little more sleep.  If that symbiotic relationship didn’t exist, no one would have cried.  They’d have a little less money and I’d have a little less sleep.

A concrete example would be with one of the local window installers.  There was a hole in my kitchen window, I needed a few screens, and my sliding glass doors wouldn’t open. I figured this would be a great thing to outsource. I called a window person at 7pm one night and left a message.  Their message said, “if you’re calling after hours, we’ll return your call the next business day.”  Well I didn’t get a call for 2 days.  No biggie.  By the time I got off the phone, the owner personally told me that he was going to run by my house that afternoon and I was going to meet him there.  He never showed.  Almost 2 weeks later someone else from the company called and asked if I would like to have my window fixed.  I politely told the person that if they are too busy to keep their appointments then they really didn’t need my business.

Later, when I was running a background check on a tenant, I called a private investigator to do it for me.  I could have done it myself but this person is trying to get a small business started.  So on Sunday afternoon I sent over the information and was told I’d be put in the queue.  After still not hearing anything, on Tuesday afternoon I called to see what was going on.  No work had been done yet so again I said, “don’t worry about it anymore, I’ll get it done elsewhere.”

The Unexpected Outcome

Those two particular cases added more stress and took more of my time than if I just did it all myself.  Unfortunately those individuals soured by taste for small businesses.  Generally I love entrepreneurs and I take pride in trying to help them grow.  Frequently I’ll use their services just as a means of my own philanthropy.  It breaks my heart to know there are so many folks out there, struggling to make ends meet while they start a business, but fail to realize the amount of effort it requires.  Starting a business is not like working for the government or as employee 12786 in a sea of cubicles.  I think all of the infomercials have caused people to think that “being your own boss” means you get to set your own hours and approve all of your own vacation requests.

The saying is that 9 out of 10 businesses fail.  It makes me wonder if 9 out of 10 business that fail had owners who weren’t willing to go an extra mile?

The Next Step

The truth is, without the help of many individuals and businesses, I’d probably be alone at my other house laying tile right now.  And really, I’m sure the owners of those business will do fine, it’s just that they run their businesses in a way that I’d never run mine.  I’d stay up until 3am if that’s what it took to service each one of my customers.  But I’m weird so I can’t fault the “normal” people.  I’ll just make it a point to support my fellow weirdos.  It also taught me to be more upfront with my expectations.  If I told the investigator that I wanted a quick turn around, I could have been told that it wasn’t possible right away.  I wouldn’t have had to wait 2 days to find out this person was too busy.

All of this leads me to my final point and a conclusion that I promised in the title.  If your boss has ever had an employee before, then he or she will know that it is very difficult to find someone who takes responsibility and just does their job.  They appreciate not spending their entire day making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to.  If you can consistently give your boss what he or she needs without constant nagging, then your boss will do everything it takes to keep you happy.  Knowing that you are the last person who will ever get fired and the first person who will get a raise, now that will get you one step closer to infinite happiness.

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