Learning To Embrace The Superpower Within

 

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I won a pair of tickets to the two days of Comicon in Philly a few years ago, from a morning TV show.  I took my nephew with me.  At the time he was a teenager, fascinated by Lord of the Rings (and weren’t we all!)  So I was excited to take him because I knew he would enjoy it.  Comic books and the conventions held for fans (fan-aticals?) to converge and enjoy being dorks and nerds together are a celebration of the social outsider. Today people use the term “geeking out” because billionaire dorks like Bill Gates made being a social misfit “cool.” Well, at least the money part.

What has always made comic books magnetic for nerds, geeks, dorks – whatever your preferred adjective – is the idea of having greatness hidden inside of you that the society that rejects people like you cannot perceive, until something happens that requires power and authority that very few possess.  It’s the escape into a world where the thing that makes you different, that most other people cannot recognize, understand, relate to or empathize with actually makes you very important.

Everybody has a superpower.  But most of us will never discover our unique personal power, and for many reasons. Humans are much like some of our friends in the animal kingdom: we enjoy moving in packs.  We were created for community and being part of a community means sharing common interests, beliefs, lifestyles and even biases.  During puberty we want to downplay anything outward we think might alienate us from everybody else.  I don’t believe that goes away in adulthood.  We look to our immediate community or the environment around us otherwise for confirmation for what to think and believe.  It is our nature.  This “flattening” of the architecture of our personhood to avoid friction within our community, be it at work, at home or in our family, is one of the reasons most of us will never discover the superpower within us.  Our uniqueness, even if it’s odd to most people, can actually be the source of our greatness, the source of the life force given to us to propel us fully into our purpose if we follow it.  But we are taught from the very beginning of our lives to conform.  We watch the look of embarrassment on our parents’ faces when our behavior as small children draws stares and jeres from other adults.  We learn how important it is to be liked and how going against the grain can potentially cost people connected to us.  Conforming requires that our presentation reflects the norms of the group.  So anything that makes us too different is to be avoided at all costs.

1_0_wLgBhPRgnB_wZ8diKxBQLooking back now I realize that my superpower is my “eye” – I am very visual and intuitive.  I see things in a different way than most people. I’m very proactive and insightful to the point that I’ve always been someone from whom friends solicited input on important things happening in their lives.  I can discern a deeper level of meaning in things that allows me to break down ideas and situations in keen detail and communicate it clearly. My “eye”, creativity and proactive nature would reflect in my presentation in high school.  Two incidents have stuck with me, as I think about how empowering it would have been if I had made a different choice.

I would travel to New York often to visit family and friends.  At that time trends moved from one area of the country to another far more slowly than now, like everything else.  Walking through a mall I found tights that had lace edges sewn in at the hem.  I bought a pair in a tan color.  I wore it to school the next Monday.  I remember walking down the last block before crossing the street to get to the school. It seemed like every girl’s eye was on me, all looking down at my lace-edged tights.  I wore them under a terra cotta dress that came with a brown belt.  I really loved that look.  But the stares I was getting from girls who wouldn’t speak a word to me made me feel like an alien.  I remember the distinct impression of being an outsider, abnormal.  I grew immediately self-conscious.  I kept the tights on for two morning periods until I asked another girl what she thought of them.  She said they looked weird and I should take them off.  So that’s what I did.  Almost two years later every girl was wearing them and when I mentioned to another girl that I had them before they became popular she repeatedly denied it just to be insulting.

The other experience that stays with me was when I started wearing a necktie with a shirt and fake reading glasses.  I was ridiculed.  I never wore it again.  Once again, the following year another girl wore almost the exact same outfit and even a teacher complimented her.  People admired her “different” style.  The contrast in impressions was disheartening to me as a fifteen-year-old.  I wondered what was wrong with me.

Little did I know that the difference was confidence.  I was always going to be “different” than most of the other kids for a variety of reasons including my cultural background.  My demeanor and appearance set me apart and it was hard to connect.  But I wanted to fit in.  Once I was hanging out with a group of kids on my block and one of them asked me why I wear silver and gold together.  It was something I had never even thought about because it was normal in my culture. As a kid these things made me insecure, not proud, and the effect was being invisible.

My escape was not comic books but fashion magazines.  I did not think of my passion for the art of framing a photograph, color, texture and pattern coordination and the way a picture could evoke an emotional response was something of value; having an “eye” for detail.  Instead I tried to fit my square peg into a round hole and ended up going in circles in my early professional life.

At a field trip to the Art Museum the tour guide asked us a question that I no longer remember about the artifacts on display.  What I do remember is answering the question with my eyes looking up at the metal suit of armor hanging on the wall above us; the guide saw me and told me I had a “good eye” and that I was correct.

Our superpower is often the thing about ourselves that we dismiss because it makes us different.  But once we grow up and recognize that what we thought was embarrassing as children is actually what makes us special it’s important to join a community of like-minded people, either of our own making or that we can find if we look.  We all want to be appreciated for our specialness. We know the truth of ourselves that burns inside of us but letting it out can be intimidating.  Having people to turn to who understand where you’re coming from is so vitally important and much fulfilling than trying to be like everybody else.

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How Dana Lost Three Winning Lottery Tickets

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Millions of people play the lottery.  Some people sink hundreds of dollars a year or more into hoping to catch lightening in a bottle.  I am quite sure that the lottery racks up its biggest ticket sales when the jackpot is some astronomical number.  The thought of winning hundreds of millions of dollars, no matter how unlikely, induces millions to take a chance on putting their hat in the ring. People reason that if they win even one of the smallest amounts the ticket(s) would more than pay for itself.

Everybody knows that people who win those astronomical sums are more likely to end up worse off than they were before, as unimaginable as that may be. Hindsight has made us all familiar with the term ‘financial literacy,’ that what matters is not how much money you have but how much of the money you have that you keep.  Financial literacy has come into focus in recent years more than it ever has before, thanks especially to the work of Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey.  We are smarter now when it comes to money.  Aren’t we?

What I have learned in recent years is that while most people dream about a miracle windfall they fail to recognize the “lottery ticket” they already have in their grasp.  It’s called assets –  the more important aspect of ‘how much of the money that you have that you keep.’  Assets have to be recognized for what they are. So many of us are so focused on the liability side of our finances and the work it takes to service it that we neglect to recognize things of true value and even how a liability can actually become an asset.  An asset is a commodity that has appreciable value.  Real estate is the classic example.  Scarcity is the foundation of its value.  Nobody can create more land but everybody needs it; it is fundamental to life.  The value of an asset is often (not always) reflected in its price, but the hidden value of an asset – hidden to those without understanding of these things – is how it can be leveraged.  For example, an asset such as real estate can be utilized as collateral to access greater sums of money than the value of the collateralized asset.  Real estate can serve as collateral for a loan or a business investment.  But back to the analogy of the lottery ticket.

We piss away enormous opportunities all the time.

 

Meet Dana.

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Dana is a fictional character. This is a model.

Dana is a senior citizen who has worked hard all her life.  She is a very conservative spender.  For the last twenty years of her working life Dana averaged $100,000 a year. She lived in a modest house in the “inner city” and did not splurge on much of anything.  Dana was an avid saver.  Her checking account averaged a couple thousand dollars a month and she built up her savings account to about $40,000, earning no more than 1% interest most of her saving years. Her credit score was enviable.  So far Dana is technically doing everything right.  Her history and financial standing together are an asset on which a foundation could be built to reach greater financial heights – her self-made lottery ticket.

Dana never understood the stock market.  Like most employees she invested money automatically into the company 401K.   Also like most employees she had no idea on what basis to select a mutual fund or what she was invested into.  She did not take advice to invest some of her income into more aggressive funds to take advantage of potential above-average gains.  She did not take advice to hire an advisor to help her develop a rational plan. People don’t usually see the value in paying for such things. They believe that is the purview of the wealthy but don’t consider that is a step a person of average income can take to grow wealth over time.  Dana preferred to take her guidance from other employees – men – who had no training or real knowledge in investing.  Later, when time was no longer on her side, she expressed regret at not doing more when she had the chance.

The First Bad Decision

Dana bought the house she owned for twenty years in 1992 in a working class area of the city.  The price was $35,000.  She lived in the 3-bedroom house with a sunken living room and nice sized backyard for fifteen years until 2007 when she bought another house in the suburbs.  She had no problem covering the first mortgage, which was only a couple hundred dollars.  Dana paid off the first house in 2010.  She owned the property free and clear then, after years of struggle and financial discipline.  Dana decided to find a renter for the property, primarily to ensure it did not become a target for squatters and vandals.  She did not list with a realtor, but relied on a shaky referral from a friend at her church.  The renter was her friend’s friend, who was barely scraping by and Dana decided to do this stranger a “favor” while accomplishing her goal of keeping the property occupied.  Needless to say, her cash poor tenants – the woman, her boyfriend, her daughter and her unborn child – almost never paid their rent and when they did pay it was either not on time or not in entirety.  Whenever Dana would go to inspect the house or deal with an issue they brought up she would find new damage to the property.  One time, she saw that for some inconceivable reason the medicine cabinet was ripped from the bathroom wall.  And the house often had a foul odor as though nobody bathed and they smoked indoors.  This went on for nearly three years.

The time came when Dana decided to evict.  They hadn’t paid rent in full for at least three months.  When she entered the property after they vacated there were additional damages, some even more significant, and at least one seeming simply vindictive. The house remained vacant for a time until Dana decided to put it up for sale.  This time she did seek the services of a realtor.

Dana And Her Three Discarded Winning Lottery Tickets

In economics there is a concept called ‘opportunity cost.’  According to Investopedia, it is “the benefits an individual, investor or business misses out on when choosing one alternative over another.”  It can be used to “make educated decisions when they have multiple options before them.  Because by definition they are unseen, opportunity costs can be easily overlooked…Understanding the potential missed opportunities foregone by choosing one investment over another allows for better decision-making.”  Unseen is the operative word regarding opportunity cost.  It is the lack of awareness.  And the point of this article is the reason behind this lack, and that is mindset.

One of the biggest challenges in life is weighing the pros and cons of the options before us.  Many variables are involved in an individual’s choices but I have come to believe it is all driven by self-image, which is a function of childhood experiences, emotion, and pride.

The Mentality of Lack

Unfortunately many of us learn in childhood to identify with working hard, struggling and denial of self.  We are taught that there isn’t enough, or that we are not enough, and to be anxious about having what we need.  We are quick to identify needs and desires but slow to recognize the abundance of opportunity around us.  We see success as something unattainable without luck and some special talent that we don’t have and cannot understand.  More tragically, when we learn to deny ourselves we even block our blessings. We think anything worth having must come the hard way and when a plum opportunity falls into our lap we approach it with cynicism and doubt.

Dana is the classic example.

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Ticket #1

The first way Dana pissed away a perfect opportunity was in her choice to sell her first property, which she owned free and clear.  She did this right as the market in her area was heating up. New Yorkers were moving to her city in droves to escape skyrocketing rents and property values.  Real estate investors were heavily gentrifying her general area in particular, but despite advice to hold on, she proceeded with the sale. She thought property values wouldn’t rise “this far” into that part of the city.  Dana would only have to pay taxes on the property and minimal maintenance. She saw this as a burden.  She did not perceive her paid-off property as an achievement in life and something of great value.  She related to the obligation of having to pay a bank for a place to live.  It is the mentality of a person who sees themselves as unworthy.

When you never teach yourself to embrace abundance and courage you do not learn the concept of value.  The value in a home is known as ‘equity.’  Equity in real estate, again according to Investopedia, “represents how much of the home he or she owns outright. Equity on a property or home stems from payments made against a mortgage, including a down payment, and from increases in property value.  Home equity is often an individual’s greatest source of collateral, and the owner can use it to get a home-equity loan, which some call a second mortgage or a home-equity line of credit. Taking money out of a property or borrowing money against it is an equity takeout.”  Dana poor decisions cost her several important opportunities that would have been on par with winning the lottery.  The first is the opportunity costs associated with selling the property.  They include:

  • The use of the equity in her house as a “bank.”

Real estate investors know.  A homeowner can get a line of credit (Home Equity Line of Credit) against their equity to fund other investments.  You can use the equity in your home to become a private investor, and there is no shortage of ambitious entrepreneurs looking for creative financing such as this.  The borrower can make periodic payments to cover the interest on the HELOC that the homeowner must pay, plus any interest agreed to in the contract.

  • The opportunity to rent the home to visitors to her city through a platform like AirBNB.

Finding renters this way comes with the built-in security of a large company that vets the renters utilizing their platform and recourse if something goes wrong. The added benefit is that it is temporary so not requiring a long-term commitment.  AirBNB hosts can make a steady, significant income.

  • The real estate boom happening in her area.

Given that the home was paid off the rise in property values would have been pure profit and would have given her the opportunity to easily acquire additional properties.

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Ticket #2

The second loss came from blocking an enormous blessing.  A few blocks away from Dana’s second home in the suburbs, a property owner who had lived in the neighborhood for decades was trying to sell his house on his own.  It is a large, 5-bedroom corner lot with plenty of yard space next to public transportation.  Somehow the gentleman struck up a conversation as Dana was stopped at the light on the street beside his house.  He asked her if she would be interested in buying his property.  She respectfully declined.  She told him she already had a house around the corner.  By some miracle the two had a second encounter in which he literally asked her to buy his house.  He was ready to move on.  In real estate this is called a “motivated seller.”

Remember, Dana was flush with cash – not only the tens of thousands in a savings account making less than 1% interest but also her 401K which allows a loan to buy property as a first-time buyer.  A buyer is a “first-time” buyer three years after buying a property.  You can be a “first-time” buyer many times over. And with her perfect credit score, and job and residence stability, any bank would have been happy to lend her the money.  Moreover, since she would have been purchasing directly from the owner she would have avoided agency fees and could even have worked out just paying the owner directly without a bank.  Dana could have gotten this information from her very daughter if she had simply asked, given that she knew her daughter was a passionate student of real estate investing. Needless to say, Dana declined for the second time.  Dana could not recognize this enormous, rare blessing.  Her mentality of lack, scarcity and not being good enough blinded her to the platinum opportunity that TWICE fell into her lap – an opportunity that every real estate investor salivates over.

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Ticket #3

The third opportunity cost is also related to real estate.  We are back to the first property, the row house in the inner city in an area that was on the cusp of a spike in property values when she decided to sell to a buyer for $90,000, whom I’m sure felt that he had just won the lottery.

Most people’s dream is to finally pay off their home and pass it on to their children or other family members. 

I mentioned that Dana had a daughter.  Dana’s daughter had been searching for her first property.  After Dana’s house had been on the market for about a year it occurred to her daughter that shecould buy the property.  She made the proposal to Dana, who agreed that if she could get a loan her daughter could buy the property that had been sitting vacant for a year for $50,000.  Her daughter called Quicken Loans and got an approval, contingent upon her having a down payment of $1,500, which is a number she gave them.  To be approved for the loan some of the equity in the home would be used to pay off all of her debt, which is considered a literal gift by the mortgage company, allowed because the property was being transferred between a mother and daughter.  This was Dana’s daughter’s lottery ticket.  All she needed to do was come up with the down payment, which was a bit of a struggle for her because of the circumstance her life was in.  In the meantime, Dana continued to lament not having a buyer for her property even though she did.  Her daughter wondered why the property was still listed with the agent when they had agreed that she would buy it.  The daughter asked her about it but Dana did not give a real answer.

Even though Dana agreed to sell it to her she was yet opposed to the idea of her daughter moving into that neighborhood.  Her daughter explained all of the massive benefits of her owning the home, including the fact that she would be debt-free and only had to make it her primary residence, she didn’t have to literally live in it.  One day her daughter told her that she would have the money for the down payment in two weeks and would be able to move forward with the purchase.  That week she, Dana and Dana’s grandson visited the house.  He asked, “How come nobody wants to buy grandma’s house?” The daughter replied, “Because it was meant for me!”  She went from room to room imagining all of the changes she was going to make to make it her own.

About a week later that Dana’s daughter, who lived with her, heard her mother let out a sound of excitement.  She went downstairs and asked what happened.  Dana told her she got an offer on the house.  Her daughter went into immediate panic.  It was profoundly unimaginable to have her winning ticket snatched out of her hands, to have her goals and dreams crushed by her own mother.  Long story short, Dana’s decision led to her daughter’s complete emotional and psychological devastation.  She did not speak for three days, after going into a profanity-ridden tirade, shaking from agony at the inconceivable loss, an opportunity she would never have again, and desperation at the thought of how much harder things were going to be for her given the plans she had made based on the expectation that her mother would honor her word.  But Dana didn’t value the investment she had already made nor the investment she could have made into her own child’s future.  Sometimes when our own self-image is damaged we need the people closest to us to reflect it back to us, even if by force.

It Gets Worse

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The second house Dana had bought was not even an upgrade financially.  It was much smaller than the first one and was overvalued.  Very soon after purchasing it she was underwater: the house is worth far less than the price she paid, which was more than three times the first one.  And it will never recover.

An additional way that Dana lost out on a great opportunity was her attempt to buy a $30,000 house for her daughter which was earmarked for a first-time buyer.  She did not consider buying it in the daughter’s name, or realize that she herself was in fact a first-time home buyer.

 

The ability to evaluate the potential costs of missing an opportunity requires both knowledge and vision to discern its unseen future manifestation.  One must have the ability to perceive the likely outcome of a decision given the facts at hand then make a determination as to whether the resources necessary to go through with a choice will have an even greater return.

 

 

Sources:

Investopedia: Equity, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/equity.asp

 

Motivation Porn

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Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

There’s a thing called ‘motivation porn.’  Fueled by social media – Instagram in particular – it is the use of platitudes intended to ‘motivate’ the viewer to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and dreams.  It’s all about going harder to takie action, never sleeping and taking risks to achieve a specific definition of success.  The ‘gurus’ of motivation porn have been selling the guilt trip over being “mediocre” ever since Gary Kiyosaki published Rich Dad Poor Dad.  The idea that being an employee makes you a loser in life has taken off in the age of digital technology, in which opportunities to earn a living independently have skyrocketed.

The effect is that everybody thinks they can be an entrepreneur.  Much of motivation porn centers around not listening to the “haters” and doing whatever it takes to achieve success.  I always say fact and truth are not the same.  While much of motivation porn is based in fact, context reveals inescapable truths.

I am a very spiritual person.  I put life into that context.  There is such a thing as seasons in life.  There is a time to sow and there is a time to reap the harvest. Some of us are in sowing time and some of us are in reaping time.  This is why it is toxic and misleading to compare our achievements (or lack thereof) with someone else’s in a moment in time.  While in sowing season things don’t seem to be moving.  In this time there may be lots of spare time to do other things that aren’t necessarily related to the goal.  The key is consistency in actions to reach the goal; every bit of action is progress even if it doesn’t look like it to somebody else or in the moment the eventual result is not apparent to us.  So there is a time when #hustlehard and #hustleharder may not be a practical use of time and energy.  Furthermore it is important to take time to just “be.”  Take a real vacation, read a book, learn a new skill.  Grow personally in some way: learn a new language just because; ride horses (which I intend to do), learn horticulture (which I am doing and I love it), visit family, spend time with friends doing nothing in particular. It is important to rejuvenate and appreciate where you are.  Otherwise what is the point of achieving anything?

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Coincidentally, as I began writing this post in front of the TV, I glanced up at the closing credits of Mike and Mollyand paused at Chuck Lorre’s famous vanity card at the very end.  It starts, “I believe we have a cultural obsession with things getting better.” I knew this was going to be good. “Corporate profits MUST rise. Gross domestic product (whatever the hell that is) MUST go up.  Teenage pregnancies, smoking related deaths, the deficit and unemployment numbers MUST go down. Well, clearly no one else wants to ask the question, so I will. Why? Why MUST life constantly improve? When did we become so burdened with this need for things to always get better? I’m pretty sure that if we go back in time far enough we’ll find that our ancestors didn’t stress over it. Life was good, then it was bad, then it was the same, then it got good again, etc. For millions of years, things rarely got great and often got horrible. Which is why I believe our relentless drive to improve on the status quo is a fairly recent occurrence. Furthermore, I pinpoint its origin with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which I believe mistakenly implies that it’s in the nature of nature to “get better.”

As an economics student I wondered the same thing.  Why must the stock market and prices keep rising with no end in sight?  Surely there must come a point when the continuing rise in costs will be unsustainable.  Will the day come when a loaf of bread will cost $1,000?  But that issue is never addressed.  When does this stop making sense and a new paradigm must be adopted?  Similarly, when do we get to the point that continuing to increase the energy we put into our goals and dreams becomes futile?  If a person is in sowing season reaping will not be an option, at least without getting into trouble.

On Instagram today a promotion for the book The 10X Ruleby Grant Cardone showed up on my timeline.  It’s another full dose of motivation porn, expounding on his idea to do everything 10 times more than you would otherwise, to achieve massive results.  And though he posits this premise toward entrepreneurship, it is best for sales people.  The reviews on Amazon are quite telling.  The low scorers site the many shortcomings and even dangers of approaching life and work this way and that the author gave no actionable steps to implement his credo. Motivation porn works by digging into peoples’ feelings of guild and insecurities around why they haven’t achieve “massive results” like the “winners” have – the Elon Musks and Vaynerchucks of the world.  ‘What’s wrong with YOU?’  It comes down to FOMO which is what led to the hype over cryptocurrencies a couple of years ago.  The heightened emotional response is elicited, making the listener ripe for the plucking. This is when the sale happens because nobody wants to be a loser, or, God forbid, “average.”  The “sale”constitutes any positive affirmation such as a ‘like’ or a follow or the purchase of a book or a course and the like.

One criticizer of 10X  noted the important point that “extreme effort will not turn a bad idea into a successful business…Sometimes the best course of action is to give up on an unsuccessful idea in order to free up time and resources to pursue more promising opportunities.  Just like in poker, the trick is knowing when to throw more chips into the pile and when to fold.  A sales professional who is promoting a product in an established market is different from an entrepreneur trying to become the next Elon Musk.  In the former case, hard work is sufficient to be successful.”  I couldn’t have said it any better myself. My question is, what is the basis for the calculation?  Ten times what, exactly?  What is the basis of measurement?  Is it the output of energy?  Implementation of ideas?  Client acquisition?  These would be concrete, actionable directives but Carbone’s a “just do it’ kind of guy.

Many people love motivation porn and will defend its ‘gurus’ come hell or high water, as though simply believing hard enough will translate into success for themselves.  They have been convinced that they are among the average losers and by wedding themselves to the ideas espoused by a “winner” they will be freed from the prison of mediocrity.

Motivation porn disciples have a tendency to not look beneath the platitudes. A perfect example is a series of Instagram posts by Vaynerchuk that seem to perfect contradict each other:

September 26, 2018: “It doesn’t matter what they think.”

October 2, 2018: “Entitlement is poison.”

October 3, 2018: “There’s no reason to do shit you hate. None.”

October 4, 2018: “I’ll do anything, anytime, always…humility to the fuckin’ max.”

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Talk about mixed messages!  But let’s break this down:

Just last week I had a conversation with the owner of my hair salon. I asked how his juice store is coming along.  He proceeded to unleash his frustrations with owning a business, particularly one staffed with millennials.  “They’re so sensitive.  You can’t tell them anything.”  As soon as he corrects them, for example on being late or showing up at all, “they’re ready to leave!”  He lamented the lack of manners, discipline and accountability of this generation. As we talked, my own  stylist was twenty minutes late and while we sat he called to get an ETA; I heard her bark into the phone, “I’m with my landlord!” There is an extreme sense of entitlement with this generation, which I blame on social media, motivation porn gurus a la Vaynerchuck in particular.  Context is key.  The idea that “It doesn’t matter what they think” reflects an extreme level of entitlement.  And it’s not even true.  What others think matters in life, but it’s important to know how to filter out what is not helpful and there’s a way to do that.

If “there’s no reason to do shit you hate” is true then clearly he won’tdo “anything, anytime, always…”  I assume “anything” includes things you hate doing.  There are plenty reasons to do “shit” you hate.  Bills to pay and kids to feed.  Having a long-term view and understanding that you have to pay your dues first.  Sometimes the things we hate doing will teach us our greatest lessons, not least of which are reliability, mental toughness, grace, integrity and…humility.  You can’t only do the things you enjoy.

And that’s the irony here: to be an entrepreneur requires sometimes doing things you hate.  Like firing people.  Like meetings.  Like picking up trash.  Like working 12 hours or more a day.  Like making uncomfortable sacrifices.  This is why it is so important to apply context to the platitudes.  The gurus are motivated by their own ambitions; what they are doing is not purely altruistic.  It is always necessary to apply a little critical thinking and self-reflection to determine how to make the platitudes work for you.

My Mini Social Media Detox

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I realized this morning that I haven’t been watching the news. I checked my Wall Street Journal app and saw yet another story about George H. W. Bush in a couple of days, and I thought, “Did he die???” I did a Google search and saw that he had passed away two days ago.

I actively avoid the news, only paying attention to things that I am curious about and only in outlets that I know will not expose me to things that I don’t want to give my energy to.

I am an emotional sponge. I have to be careful about what my eyes and ears consume. About three years ago I realized how manipulative social media had become. I could see how a Facebook, for example, had figured out my triggers and posts would constantly show up on my feed to incite an emotional response that I would react to. So in my own life I could see the manipulation that was going on and understood that it was fundamental to the business model there. Not only was I fatigued by the constant bickering particularly on certain pages that I am convinced were conceived by some department at the company to keep users engaged to sell more to, but the things I was going through with my health were already dragging me down emotionally and psychologically.  I gradually backed away.

Now studies are being published proving what I experienced, and of course it is especially pronounced and dangerous with children who don’t have that level of awareness.

Digital media has been transformative in this world, helping us to get closer and shed light on the dark corners of this world but it has also increased ills such as anxiety, depression and confusion that we should all be vigilant in protecting ourselves from.

Comfort Is A Girl’s Worst Friend

When-Our-Comfort-Zone-Becomes-A-Danger-Zone

A theme that has come up recently with the younger people in my life is the issue of how to assess the value of an opportunity.  I have repeated the same advice, to think about  the long term benefit(s) of accepting the opportunity being presented.  The thing that stood out very clearly in both situations is that they wanted to wait for the perfect situation that did not require any additional sacrifice: the perfect job in their field, paying the desired salary, close to home with a positive work environment.  These are people working survival jobs that don’t bring fulfillment or much career advancement.

What I told them both is that we have to step out of our comfort zones to get where we want to be.  A very “lucky” person can see things work out exactly as expected, however the truth is, it is highly unlikely.  Plans face frustrations.  There is a popular expression that states: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”  While that sounds pretty cool and most would agree, as with most motivational quotes, it is a different thing altogether to internalize its meaning then practice it in real life. And what is a comfort zone??

 

ship-sail-quote

We are created to multiply our innate gifts and talents.

 

Welcome To The Comfort Zone

‘Comfort zone’ is a pretty way of saying ‘complacent’ or ‘apathetic.’  It is a state of familiarity, predictability, consistency and untested confidence.  It’s a place of the knowns and known unknowns.  It is home base.  In a comfort zone you know what you have.  The down side to never straying from the comfort zone is stagnance.  Yes you know what you have, but it is all you will ever have.

Showing Up

We often get to a point in life where we want something different, even if we do not know exactly what it is.  There is a powerful force inside that yearns to be released in some particular direction.  It may be the desire for more income, better use of skills, development of interests. In this day and age entrepreneurship is the highly valued; more people than ever want to “be the boss.”  But any change to the norm requires some level of ambition and that inescapably requires risk.

When we want to accomplish something greater we need a plan of action with short term and long term goals; we have to assess what we are willing to give up to get started in that desired direction.  Changing careers or employers is a good example.  Are you willing to give up the place you live?  Are you willing to take a longer commute to work or work in an environment that is not ideal in order to gain practical experience in order to become a more attractive candidate for the dream career you envision?  Are you willing to make the monetary sacrifices necessary, such as spending more on transportation or more professional credentials?

It is nearly impossible to make any progress toward a significant goal without getting very uncomfortable.  Success and risk go hand-in-hand.  There is no way to know where an opportunity will lead and sometimes the best opportunities appear very undesirable.  Doing things we don’t “feel like” doing can be blessings in disguise because the first step is to make ourselves available for that unknown key to unlock the door to the chance of a lifetime.  The first thing you have to do is show up.

I learned this while pursuing a career in acting.  Plenty of people are drawn to the industry because of the perceived glamour and riches that can come with it.  Have you ever watched a TV show or movie and wondered how in the world that actor got that part?  Maybe their acting stinks or they are otherwise somehow wrong for the role. When I see situations like that I remember what I was told by casting directors: about half of the actors who are invited for auditions don’t bother to show up!  Showing up is literally half the battle in life.  Actors who go to everyaudition that they can, even ones they’re not invited to, are more likely to eventually book work consistently, not only because of the increased odds they gain from going to as many auditions as possible, but because their consistency is noted and appreciated.  They’re hungrier than everybody else!  And because of that they will be trusted for their work ethic and reliability.  So between two actors, one being stellar who attends auditions sporadically and one being mediocre who shows up consistently, the latter will have a higher likelihood of booking the part because of their reputation.

The other thing I learned from the acting world is that the industry is small. Everybody knows everybody, ultimately. Other industries are the same. Human beings are relational.  One of the blessings of showing up is that you don’t know who is going to notice and make a recommendation to someone looking for someone just like you.  You never know whose mind you are on.

Showing up for every audition you can get to means showing up when you “don’t feel like it.”  When you’d rather sit on the couch and watch TV or doing whatever other activity brings you pleasure.  It even means showing up if you are less than prepared and chalk it up to simply more audition experience and another opportunity to “be seen” by someone who may be looking for your type in the future.  Being willing to get uncomfortable means being willing to be less than your normal cute self.

The point is that it is those who do not expect their best opportunity to look and feel a particular way, but can consider the different ways that an opportunity may be able to enhance their skills, network and reputation who will ultimately fulfill their purpose and reach their goals.

Training Day

 

Rough diamond 980x

Challenges can make you stronger.

 

The best thing about challenging one’s self to get uncomfortable is how it will strengthen a person.  When we get uncomfortable there are hurdles that we have to figure out how to overcome. It makes one more “street smart.” It develops character.  It teaches one how to manoeuver in life when inevitable difficulties (the unknownunknowns) come up – even in the realm of your ideal life.  Overcoming fears, doubts and anxieties trains our brain and our spirit to persevere instead of giving up when things get hard. It can teach us to recognize ugly-looking opportunities as the potential diamonds in the rough that they are.  Ask a real estate investor.  The gold mines of life are the places that most won’t go because it’s not cute or easy.

Overthinking: The Anti-Superpower?

UntitledWe all know what a superpower is, right?  I would describe it as some incredible ability that nobody else has or a very rare gift that allows the holder to do amazing things.  Earlier this year my uncle told me I was Superwoman because nobody expected me to live when I was battling hodgkin’s lymphoma with a scleroderma pre-condition, much less to go into remission from both and thrive while reaching for my dreams.

But what is the opposite of a superpower?  Maybe there are a few.  But I strongly believe (since yesterday!) that one word that can definitely define the opposite of a superpower is over-thinking.

I’ve been thinking about over-thinking and how to resolve it; how to overcome it to accomplish goals, certainly, but more importantly, to create a great an abundant life.

Here’s Why I Think Over-Thinking Is The Anti-Superpower

Over-thinking will destroy the ability to take advantage of an opportunity; it will lead to procrastination; it can even lead to self-doubt because the more you think think think over something the more likely you will end up thinking your way out of doing it.  Ultimately, over-thinking is dis-empowering.  This occurred to me very clearly just the other day.

Two days ago I posted about my issues with not completing my book and what could be holding me back.  I believe that over-thinking plays a part.  Instead of just going for it I over-think and psyche myself out.  When you spend too much time thinking instead of stepping boldly into action it’s like getting yourself caught up in a net that is difficult to untangle without great effort – lost in your thoughts.  And that process can lead to overwhelm.

We Can Express Both Strength and Weakness In The Same Habit

I must give myself credit for the areas where I can see that I am overcoming this habit.  There are things I am doing business-wise and personally that are happening because I am blocking out worry – another offshoot of overthinking – about if I’m ready and the definite and potential risks.  I am taking my own advice to others, that you have to take a risk if you want to accomplish something.  If you let fear keep you petrified in the same place you end up with frustration.  You end up with real failure.

“Fail Forward”

The above is one of my mantras.  There are different kinds of failure.  There is failure that leads to growth, which can form a stepping stone in the right direction.  And then there is failure that keeps you from moving forward.  (Moving forward can mean moving in another direction, but the operative word is moving!)  Not trying in the first place is a sure-fire way to not move forward.  I consider not trying a form of failure because it could mean missing your true calling.  Much of the time we don’t try because we are full of fear.  When there is no escape from fear, like laying down in a hospital bed nearly immobile, barely lucid much of the time, in never-ending excruciating pain for months on end, you eventually figure out how to defy your fears if you want to live.  This is why challenging our comfort zones is so important.

Well, this is my lesson to myself today: overcome this “anti-superpower” called overthinking.  I’m so proud of me!!

What do you think?  Do you have an issue with spending too much time rummaging over an idea in your mind instead of taking decisive action?

Follow me on instagram at @melissa_the_mariner and on Facebook at @thefinancialfashionista.

You can also find me on the Rainbow in Bloom podcast here:

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Issues With Writing My Book

book-images-png-30955I’m supposed to be writing a book.  It’s been at least four years now that I have had this story – or, testimony – to tell and have neglected to.  I know that I MUST pinpoint what is holding me back from writing my book.  Not that I haven’t done anything; I’ve been writing notes and paragraphs, ideas and memories.  I even have an outline that lays out the topics I want to write about.  I’m trying to pinpoint why I do not follow through and just write it.  I think part of it is, just the thought of putting all those pieces together is kind of overwhelming.  I think I must get discouraged by the feeling of overwhelm.  It’s a lot of work!  I’m good at writing down my thoughts but putting it all together remains elusive.  Sometimes a stroke of ambition will hit me and I will take the time to flesh out a part of the story to my satisfaction.  But I think it’s the glue to tie together all the different pieces that I get “stuck” on.

The book is to be about surviving what was essentially terminal illness.  And it’s really not AT ALL as depressing as it might sound.  It is a story of triumph, hope and faith, and lessons learned from having to dig deep into the core of my being for the strength and tenacity to hold on until I reached my breakthrough.  My survival is nothing short of miraculous.  I was diagnosed with stage 4B hodgkin’s lymphoma after having a pre-existing autoimmune disease called scleroderma, which was already slowly destroying my body and my life.  So I was living (“living” is generous) with two illnesses that each had a high likelihood of fatality.

I learned a lot going through that experience.  I learned a lot about myself.  I learned a lot about people.  Going through all that, I learned a lot about life itself, who I am and what I stand for.  It’s made me more bold, brave and confident in who I am, what I want and what I will not stand for. I am no longer let insecurities about what people think of me limit me.  And boundaries.  It also taught me a lot about the importance of establishing clear boundaries, unapologetically.  I stick up for myself.

The ultimate goal for writing this book (I already have the title) is to encourage somebody else to keep pushing through even when it seems there is no way out; to allow someone else to see how they might pull themselves out of seemingly insurmountable odds. I was ensconced in darkness but I was able to have joy and hope, which would seem antithetical.  Five mantras for my life came to me through that experience.  My mental toughness was also a valuable realization about myself.

It could be a really good book!  If only I would WRITE IT.  But I sit down to write and I get easily distracted by other things.  I allow other things to distract me.  And I’m getting annoyed with myself because at this point I don’t really have an excuse like I did before – I was really sick and could hardly sit up straight for an extended period of time or stay awake against crushing fatigue.  Persistent mental fog is a common complaint among people living with autoimmune illnesses like scleroderma.  Those things are not much of a problem now.

Then there’s the issue of distance.  The blessing is that hindsight comes with better vision – as they say, “hindsight is 20/20.”  I see things differently now.  I see more and understand a little bit more day by day.  But also, as time progresses we and our circumstances change.  The curse is that we don’t stay the same, so my perspective  changes constantly.  My emotional connection to that experience is nowhere near as strong as it used to be.  I worry that some of the emotional resonance could be lost because of this.

So pinpoint number one is that I really have to get disciplined: that’s my big problem, clearly.  I assume that one of the reasons why I get distracted is because of the way I work.  I don’t have a set schedule.  It’s sort of up in the air.  I’m in logistics so I often have to get up and go with short notice.  That makes it hard to be consistent and grounded since I have to be ready to literally move throughout the day.

The nature of my “day job” (I am self-employed) suits my personality because I have a wandering mind – which is pinpoint number two.  My mind is always “on” and as a result I don’t have a regular sleep pattern either, which is pinpoint number three!  As I write this it is 3:24 AM and I am supposed to wake up around 6.  I am trying meditation to help center and calm my mind.  Pretty sure I need to do it more than once a day.  When I do need to sleep I manage to do it, but only because my body makes me.  That pretty much means I am completely exhausted.  I’ve always been an insomniac.

Completing this book will mean something more to me than simply the satisfaction of the achievement and even helping someone who reads it.  The process of completing it will help me to grow because it requires that I overcome these issues that I know I have and want to get a handle on.  If you don’t control life life will control you, like the tail wagging the dog.

This is my big challenge for the rest of the year.  I want this week of July 22, 2018 to be really focused on completing one chapter.  I probably have it done already; I probably have more than one chapter, considering all the pieces.  My short-term goal is to publish an ebook, to get a feel for the response to content and make some money too.

What are some things that you have been procrastinating on, haven’t made the time for, or simply not in the right situation to get done?