Did you get the email in your inbox about the new Pinterest terms of service? The email is written in plain, clear language, and gets to the meat of the changes in a way that keeps you from needing to read the entire document to know what’s going on.
I’d love to see more communications like this one. It’s fantastic:
Updated Pinterest Terms
Our original Terms stated that by posting content to Pinterest you grant Pinterest the right for us to sell your content. Selling content was never our intention and we removed this from our updated Terms.
We updated our Acceptable Use Policy and we will not allow pins that explicitly encourage self-harm or self-abuse.
We released simpler tools for anyone to report alleged copyright or trademark infringements.
Did your mom ever tell you that you were special? Did she hang your pictures up on the fridge? Did your dad tell you that you could do anything you wanted if you just set your mind to it?
Maybe you are special. But you know what? So are a lot of other people. I’m not kidding. Have you spent any time on this thing the kids these days are calling the “interweb”? There is so much talent out there it’s not even funny.
If you’re a writer, photographer, designer, content creator, or purveyor of fine video content, it’s a little daunting. You may have been hot stuff in your 5th grade story contest, but this is the world wide web, baby. You’re not playing with the farm team anymore.
It should scare you a little bit. Spend some time on the ubiquitous amateur photo and art sites, read some of the better blogs out there, get a read on the competition. Many of them are better than you at what you do, and they’re not even professionals. They have day jobs as statisticians and nail technicians, whatever the hell that means.
Am I talking to myself? Absolutely. There are some people out there that I just can’t help wishing I could be when I grow up. I remember one time – one shameful time – I watched a special effects video a kid put together on his home computer and I just walked away from the screen with angry tears in my eyes. That flipping kid wasn’t even out of high school yet, and I had spent four years getting my BA in Communications with a Radio & TV production concentration. I flat out did not have the skills to do what he had done. I was so pissed. That’s probably because I felt entitled.
Not anymore. Now I just work harder. I work longer. There’s no time left in my day for things like TV. Or how about video games? Man, how many years of my life have I spent chasing down a sense of virtual accomplishment at the business end of a rendered weapon. At the expense of real accomplishment. The clearer my goals become, the more stuff I push out of my schedule to make room to pursue them.
For example, I’m writing a blog post on Saturday afternoon. Who reads blogs on Saturday? Not many people. You can look at a stats chart for just about any website and see the dip on the weekend. But it doesn’t matter. I want to be writing every day, or as close to it as I can be. I want to develop my following and my knowledge. I want people to find my content because it’s searchable and interesting. I want to be seen as an expert.
And that’s the point. None of us live in a small town world anymore. We live in a world where the bar is constantly raised by people we’ve never met. Not just people in New York, or Los Angeles, but people in St. Louis and Omaha and Aukland and Windhoek for all I know. (Windhoek is the capital of Namibia. Don’t feel bad if you had to look it up. I did too.)
Remember when everybody told you to get a college education to succeed in your career? Remember when you discovered that now that everyone else has a college education, you’re not ahead of the game, you’re just on par? Well this is just like that. Expert is the new normal. Talented people have more tools at their disposal to make their work get noticed and make a living doing what they love than ever before. And they’re out there doing it while you’re eating Fritos and watching a Chuck marathon. (It’s a great show, but SNAP OUT OF IT, MAN!!)
Mediocrity is just so…mediocre. If you want to coast in life, you can probably get by, but I’ve tried it and the results are (unsurprisingly) not very exciting. If you want a life less ordinary, a life filled with satisfaction and success, I suggest that you bust some ass and develop your expertise in something. Hopefully something that you love. Eat it, sleep it, breathe it, read about it until your eyes bleed. Talk about it. Challenge your assumptions. Be bold and go out there and make predictions and stake your claim and get noticed. Don’t pretend to be an expert and don’t you dare go calling yourself one. Prove it. Let your work speak louder than your resume. If you’re doing the right things, your CV is searchable and thus, demonstrable.
Yesterday, I participated in a workshop on crisis communications. I was in a room full of communications professionals. For most of them, communications was their full-time job. (For me, it’s only a part of what I do.) We were handed a crisis scenario and told to come up with a plan. I was nervous. I felt I didn’t have enough information. I didn’t know any of the people I was working with, and in fact was only introducing myself as the assignment was being handed out. I wanted to analyze, to hold back, to make notes and re-organize. Admittedly, I sometimes favor a defensive strategy, (nerd metaphor alert) fortifying my castle and preparing for the siege rather than scorching the earth and searching for plunder. But I saw a lack of leadership in my group and I decided I had might as well go out of my comfort zone and step up. I took the reigns, and started organizing everyone’s contributions. I wrote up a list of action items and divided it into categories (internal plan and external messages). Sensing that the pressure was off of them, the group turned to me to be the spokesman as each team presented their approach.
When I was finished, the next group that went started out by saying, “We came to many of the same conclusions you did, though we couldn’t articulate them nearly as well…” It felt good. I liked knowing I had command of the room, for just a few minutes. Like people were listening to me because I knew what I was talking about. I saw the presenters smiling at me and nodding, like when a teacher is particularly proud of a student. The woman running the workshop stopped me at the end to compliment me and thank me for my contribution.
My initial inclination had been to hang back quietly out of the worry that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t up to the task. I usually have very good instincts, and so I tend to listen to them. But this instinct in particular has never done anything for me but keep me from achieving the things I really want. So I’ve learned to stop listening to it. And now I’m getting things done. I’m earning those little successes that build your confidence and make it easier to take a risk the next time. Everybody needs those. On the road to becoming a champion, you can afford a few losses as long as you rack up enough wins.
So my question to you is: are you ready to be an expert? To do outstanding work? To accomplish things – small and big – instead of just talking about doing it?
If not, what’s holding you back?
Today, I had the good fortune of receiving an email that was not supposed to come to me. The email I received was in regards to a scheduled job interview, and there was apparently some sort of benchmarking requirement as part of the process. Whenever this happens, I can’t resist the opportunity to screw with the sender. In this case, it was a sender and two copied colleagues, which made for even more fun.
The message thread follows. The names have been changed, the headers removed, but the text is the same.
Hope all is well. Just following up on the phone screen earlier this week. As I told you we give an online Lab assignment just to get a sense you skills. The Lab is designed to be finished in roughly an evening – and we give 24 hours recognizing people already have a job.
I can send you the Lab tonight at 5 PM if that works for you. If not let me know what 24 hour period you would like to have between now and Monday.
To which I *of course* responded:
I’m Steve Skojec, not Robert. While I do live in Northern Virginia, I was not an applicant for this position, special assignment, or deadly mission, whichever it was. Fortunately I’m cool about the whole mad scientist thing, so I won’t tell anyone about your “lair” or whatever it is that you’re concocting in your “lab.” I just hope that whatever it is, it’s extremely explosive. And cold. Not enough explosions are cold. I want an explosion that freezes everything in the blast radius. That would be awesome.
Anyway, you may want to update your email address. Because I’m not the guy you’re looking for. If I was, I’d probably be taking this way more seriously.
To his credit, the interviewer came back with:
I’m happy to inform you that passed our top secret mad scientist, secret mission, cold explosives “Lab”. Honestly we just send that message out randomly hoping for worthy candidates. Its our new recruiting strategy.
We also like designers – for that we give a different test….
Which I naturally replied to with:
I suspected as much, but I didn’t want to tip my hand. When do I get fitted for my tux? Will the bow tie double as a shuriken? Do you have ballpoint pens filled with acid? Is there a shark tank, or some sort of other dangerous animal enclosure? Do I have the option of having my drinks mixed according to my own exacting specifications?
Perhaps most importantly, do you have casual Fridays?
I’m waiting for his reply. I wonder how long we can keep this up.
UPDATE: 3/23/2012 @ 6:26PM
I got another response. This time, from Melanie, one of James’s colleagues copied on the thread:
Yes, we do have casual Fridays, however all employees are required to wear the official company tuxedo t-shirt.
What I should have done, but didn’t think of until now, was respond with this:
Perhaps now that I’ve thought of it, I will.
Instead, I wrote:
I didn’t think anyone else shared my affinity for tuxedo t-shirts. If I weren’t happily married, I’d think we were soulmates. Instead, I’ll have to settle for nominating the three of you for the awesome hall of fame.
Seriously, thanks for being such good sports about this. It always screws with the Russians.
P.S. – I discovered last night that this email was supposed to go to my cousin, Robert, who emailed me yesterday asking me how I like (town redacted) because he has a job interview there. I told him he owes me for vetting the company’s coolness, and I think I’ve extorted a modest quantity of expensive booze in return. Please don’t hold it against him, he didn’t know about it until after I had already deployed my evil “screw with the misdirected email” plan. Now I almost feel bad. Almost. Except it was too much fun so instead of feeling bad I posted it on my blog – with names changed, and no company mentioned, of course. I wouldn’t reveal that info unless you started blackmailing me. So don’t start. Things could get ugly.
So there you have it. The other shoe belongs to my cousin, who has a job interview with this company on Tuesday. I’m assuming I’ve improved his prospects. He can thank me later.
I’ve experienced a real burst of creativity lately. It’s helping me to do double or triple the amount of work I would usually do in the same amount of time. It’s a good feeling, but as any creative person knows, creative bursts are often short-lived. Here are 8 tips on how to keep it going:
8. Put Down the Booze
You may think that because Van Gough, Picasso, Poe, Wilde, and Hemingway all found their muses with the help of the Green Fairy that you should too. I’m telling you, it doesn’t work. Drinking alcohol may loosen the inhibitions that keep creativity in check, but it also loosens your will to do work and fogs your brain. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I’d find the next chapter of a story I was working on at the bottom of a glass, only to wind up losing interest in writing at all. If you think it helps your ADD-riddled brain to slow down and identify ideas, then try to stick to brainstorming while you’re on the sauce. Keep a notebook handy and write things down when they come to you. Have conversations with friends (unlike creative work, these are often enhanced – or at least made more entertaining – by a touch of white lightning) and see if you have any takeaways you can use next time you’re fully sober.
7. Turn Off the TV
Seriously. You can chillax, or you can create, but you can’t do both. TV numbs your brain. You may think that catching the latest episode of Fringe will give you ideas for the next chapter in your own novel, or that Breaking Bad will be like a crash course in character development and exposition, but at the end of the day, you will just be watching TV. Ask yourself how often you’ve gotten up from the couch to go do something productive afterward. I’m not saying you can’t find inspiration from television, but do it sparingly, and do it on days when you intend to just relax, not expect to get some creative work done.
6. Find Silence
It’s harder than ever to get any real quiet. We’re constantly distracted by a cornucopia of sound. Conversation, radio, MP3 players, Spotify, TV, traffic – you name it. Give yourself some time without noise. Go for a walk and don’t bring your headphones. Get up earlier and sit in a room overlooking a scene that you love. Let your mind wander, and it will begin to get the creative juices flowing.
5. Use Music
Silence is grand – and necessary – but most of us can only find it in small doses. If you can’t find silence, find noise that is conducive to your muses. I have a long morning commute, and I used to listen to audiobooks every day. They were great, but I spent so much time focusing on the narrative that I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I switched over to using Spotify in the car, and next thing you know, I was getting to the office brimming with ideas. Find music that suits your mood. Don’t feel like it has to be Beethoven or Mozart. Rock some Skrillex if you want to. Listen to someone mellow like Lights. Find your own tune, whatever it is that gets the creativity happening.
4. Get More Sleep
This is one of the hardest things about fueling creativity. When you’re feeling creative, chances are you’re up late working on things. You have so many ideas, and not enough time to do them. This week, I’ve been getting somewhere in the ballpark of 4-6 hours of sleep a night. The more tired I get, the more sluggish my brain is. Get at least 8 hours of sleep and your head will feel clear, allowing you to work better, faster.
3. Eat the Right Foods
This can’t be overstated. Despite the fact that I’ve still got at least 40 lbs. to lose, I’ve never felt better in my life. The food that I’m eating (and not eating) has an enormous impact on my brain. Everyone has a different approach to nutrition, but I’ve made no secret about what mine is: get rid of wheat. Get as much coconut oil and Omega 3s as you can. Eat red meat and vegetables. You’ll be amazed how amped your brain is when you dial in the right nutritional balance.
2. Look for Inspiration
You know that old saying, “No man is an island”? Well, it’s true. Those of use with strong creative impulses can do a lot on our own, but we do even better if we feed on other sources of creativity. Read design websites. Thumb through magazines. Take a spin around Pinterest. Check out Fab.com. Read novels. Play with children. Climb a mountain. Visit a city at night. Go to an art museum. Browse Etsy. There are so many amazing sources of inspiration around you, you just have to tap into them.
1. Make Stuff!
Everything else on the list is no good unless you actually move into the production phase of creativity. If you’re a photographer, pick up your camera and start shooting. If you’re a sculptor, grab that clay and start working it with your hands. If you’re a writer, start dancing the keys. Don’t worry about whether it will be any good or not. Failed attempts are just building blocks for success. Many great ideas are born out of the incomplete execution of an earlier concept. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten on creative work is this: “If you don’t like what you’ve done, lower your standards.” Silence the internal critic just long enough to give birth to something. Then you can give yourself permission to revise, or start over.
Just this morning I saw a great quote:
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”- Michael Jordan
So get out there and make it happen!
I received a package today that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s been over a month since my first pair of Merrell Trail Gloves arrived, and they just didn’t fit. I’ve tried finding a pair of wides in all the stores around here that carry them (I’m a 13 2E and they only carry normal width) so I could make sure that they would actually fit. And frankly, if I could have found a pair at Dick’s Sporting Goods, it would have cost me $79.99 instead of $110.00 plus shipping. But with no luck, and with a firm sense that these are the best-looking barefoot/minimalist shoes out there, I finally caved and ordered them from the Merrell online store.
I’m glad I did.
These are barefoot/minimalist shoes and they’re made so you can wear them without socks. Without a doubt, they feel like a piece of footwear meant to be worn in the water. The interiors feel like some sort of spandex (I could look this up, but I’m feeling way too lazy, and if you want a real review go to Birthday Shoes) and the laces work easily, tightening the shoe for the right fit. The toe box (I just learned this term, and I feel cooler already) is wide, so your toes can spread out when you’re walking. This leads to a shoe that feels snug in the middle and the heel and too big in the front. At first. Then it just feels awesome.
I set out for a walk though our neighborhood to break them in. We have a gravel driveway, and despite initial concerns I had that the rocks would be sharp and uncomfortable to walk on, the Vibram sole, no doubt only milometers thick (again, not fact-checking!) did a fantastic job of dulling the feel just enough that it was pleasant to walk on them. You could, however, still feel many individual bumps beneath your feet. In the automotive industry, they call this “road feel.”
They were comfy to walk on on the asphalt too. No padding to speak of, just that thin slice of rubber between you and the road, but that was enough. I spend most of my time at home barefoot, in slippers, or in Crocs anyway, so maybe I’m more adapted to this feeling. With the lack of padding, you definitely feel it if your walk is heel-heavy, which mine is. What can I say? I’m a big, clumsy guy. I used to always judge the comfort of the shoes I was trying on by how much it felt like my heels were landing in kinetic-energy dissipating resistance gel. (I just made that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s real.) These are the exact opposite. The Trail Gloves are supposed to have something called a “zero drop” – meaning the heels have the same amount of distance from the ground as the toe, rather than the wedge shape with the heel elevated that most people are used to with standard athletic shoes. I swear these shoes feel as though there’s some design mechanism that makes the foot roll forward onto the ball of the foot and toes, because as you walk your foot just tilts forward as you heel comes up. Maybe that’s just nature taking hold.
Where I felt like these really shined was when I went off-road. We live in a wooded area near a river, and as I headed off the trail down the bank, I felt my toes doing things I’d never felt them doing in shoes before. Spreading out, grabbing a hold of terrain, adjusting for every bump and groove in the forest floor. Come to think of it, I’ve never felt them doing this at all, because I don’t walk barefoot in the forest for obvious reasons. It was as if some instinct was taking over, replacing the usual solid clump of immobile toes you’d find in a pair of hiking boots with living, breathing things. I suddenly realized what an advantage this would be while hiking. I also realized how much less likely I would be to roll my ankle, because I could feel the ground and all its inconsistencies. I mean, who rolls their ankle in bare feet? (OK, I’ve done it, but let’s not go there.)
As I sprinted back up the hill, I felt the advantage of having shoes on my feet that weigh roughly the same as a slice of bread. I’m guessing, but I think I’m close. These suckers aren’t much heavier than socks. Sprinting on the road, though, was another story. I am going to have to wear these for a while before I can adjust to the sort of footfalls that won’t send shockwaves up my spine. Also, my 2nd toe (the one right next to your big toe) is longer on both feet, and particularly so on my left. I noticed that in that big ol’ toe box, it was scraping up against the front of the shoe in an uncomfortable way when I started to run. Hoping that isn’t going to continue to be an issue, but we’ll see. I also felt strain in weird places in my legs, hips, and knees, which, I assume, is due to the change in muscle use that comes with walking any distance in bare feet. No telling if I’ll be sore tomorrow after only a 30 minute walk.
Other annoyances? There’s stitching in these bad boys that rubs against and irritates my feet. I don’t have any super-thin socks, but I may have to invest in some. Only thing is, I like being able to wear shoes barefoot. Especially because the Trail Gloves are hot. After wearing them for a couple of hours, my feet felt like they were going to start sizzling. The shoes have an all-mesh upper, but it doesn’t seem to ventilate very well. (My wife has the same shoes, only about 17 sizes smaller, and hers are fine. She doesn’t have the heat or stitching issues.)
All in all, though, a solid pair of shoes. I think these will be a good entry into the barefoot scene for me. I still want to get a pair of Altra Adams, and I’d love to get some Vibram Five Fingers too. And then I want somebody to invent a barefoot/minimalist dress shoe – leather on top, party underneath – so I can wear them when I need to look dressy. That’d be sweet.
You can’t spend any time in Social Media circles and not hear about Klout. Lots of people think it’s a bust. I disagree. Rather than write about it, I fired up the camera on my phone and put together a quick video.
The first goal I committed to this year really set all the others in motion. I said I was going to write something every day, especially in this space.
At the beginning of March, I finally sat down and hammered out the rest of my 2012 goals. I’d been meaning to do it for months, but I am a world-class procrastinator. I had ideas banging around in my head, but I needed to get them on paper. And when I finally did do it, I came up with a pretty good list.
One goal was to increase my daily pageviews for this site to at least 100. I’ve broken that goal a couple of times already this week, but it’s not consistent. As I mentioned earlier today, it’s time to up that goal. I want to hit at least 500 per day by the end of this year. If I hit that mark with time left on the clock, I may even up it to 1,000. Let’s see how ambitious I’m feeling.
Another goal was to double my Twitter followers. For me, that meant hitting 500. I was at 250 at the beginning of the month. I had been at between 230 and 250 for as long as I could remember. A year? Maybe two?
Today, I crossed the 300 follower marker. In the last two days alone, I’ve added 35 followers – 25 of them just today – who have a total combined audience of almost 1,000,000 people (962,652, to be exact.) This was unexpected. I’ve been following some new strategies for engagement, building good content, and moving away from my former approach, which was very niche. Suddenly, the followers were coming in almost as fast as I could approve them. This is a small success, but it is one worth celebrating. It’s proof of concept, and that makes it something to build on.
Curious, I searched around for some metrics I could use to get an idea of what had happened and when. That’s when I found Twitter Counter. Here’s a snapshot of my followers over the last 3 months:
It appears that they’re using some sort of average to smooth the curve, because I didn’t jump up by one follower per day since January 24th. But it does show a trend line.
I decided to also take a look at my tweet activity. Not surprisingly, there’s a correlation:
So there’s a pretty obvious force in play here: do the work, make it interesting, and people will follow. It isn’t rocket science, but it’s nice to see it happen. Because prior to January 21st, I had a big, fat, flatline. Not that I wasn’t doing any tweeting, but it just wasn’t working. And that’s because I was half-assing it. Once I made an effort, I started to pick up an average of 1.24 followers a day. At that rate, I need 161 days to hit 500 followers, give or take. That gives me a target of August 28, 2012, to hit my target of 500 followers.
Of course, all the new followers I’m picking up have larger audiences. Some have over 100,000, or over 200,000. Many have over 10,000. If I can write just one outstanding piece of content, and a handful of those power players retweet it, I could easily have another day like today, or better, where I pick up dozens of followers.
This is all grassroots, build it from the ground up stuff. I’m not on TV. I’m not on the radio. I haven’t had anything published in a real periodical in over a year. This is one guy, a blog, a Facebook account, and a Twitter feed. 500 people may not sound like a lot in the Twitterverse, but if you’re just starting out in social media, wouldn’t you love to have 500 customers you could reach out to with the press of a button? And if you add my Facebook friends, that’s another 400. That’s 900 people I can reach, just like that.
If I can do it, you can too. And 500 isn’t the limit. It’s just the beginning.
Right now, I’d like to take the time to thank all of the people who have followed me in the last two days. I would have gone back further, but it’s hard to keep up:
@pushingsocial, @aheartforgood, @KStarry, @mclayson, @sandrikrakowski, @NewandFriendly, @SJ_Pretorius, @MariSmith, @JonMorrow, @itsGadgetGuru, @randyeagar, @Hypnotweet, @albis_g, @RobertRadosevic, @ValerieDeveza, @EvanPabon, @DioFavatas, @knoxcounty, @echang19, @RobertRadosevic, @Ariellederrico, @GWPStudio, @writingcopy, @kennethdavid, @benrobbins, @JeremiahBilas, @albis_g, @stevebanfield, @RickM, @Aye_CecilyGhera, @sambrilhart, @socialbizdc, @DBMEi, @VueTOOVisualEOC, @BrandingDC, @gr8SocialMedia, @Home_Recipes, @AlliedMtgDirect, @pascalclaeys, @messierjf, @KingWorldwideIR
I used to write controversial stuff. All the time. It was my bread and butter, and the only two topics I was unwilling to be away from were those that you’re never supposed to touch: religion and politics. And because the Internet is forever (unless you want it to be, then the websites go down and you can’t find things on the Wayback Machine) that stuff just sits out there, fermenting, waiting for you to get a job or run for office so they can dig it up and use it against you.
If you want to write that way, you’d better learn to deal with it. Even if your views change, the archives stay the same.
One of the reasons I wrote that way was because I had an inherently negative outlook, so I’d complain about something that I knew would draw the attention of other complainers and the discontented. They always feel like they’re an under-served audience, and appreciate a shout out. I also liked to pick fights. Sophistry can be an entertaining hobby when you have unresolved anger issues.
One of the biggest reasons, though, that I’d write about things that were controversial: it drove traffic and discussion. I liked nothing better than getting a heated comment box debate going. Every comment posted might as well have been a dollar in the bank for all the excitement I got from it. Somehow it was validation that what I was doing was interesting. And it would earn me comments like:
“I normally find Steve Skojec’s blogging too polemical, but….”
Badge of honor? Not really. Then, after years of this, I burned out. I stopped wanting to talk about religion and politics. I stopped feeling like arguing on the internet was such a fantastic idea. I wanted to be more constructive. And so I let a fairly significant readership drift away, while I spent the better part of two years not blogging. At all. And it was fantastic. It was peaceful. My writing was going to hell from not practicing, but I didn’t care. If I found content worth sharing, I’d post it to Facebook, or tweet it.
And then I had an idea.
I decided to change my entire model. I decided to build a whole new audience from the ground up. Instead of writing about controversial things, I would write about interesting things. Things on different topics, but mostly related to communications, tech, and social media – the sort of things that directly impact my line of work. I was reading those kinds of blogs every day, and I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t count myself among them. I hardly ever jumped into the comment boxes on anything controversial after a while – it was always a blood bath anyway, and logic had no quarter there – but I’m happy to get into a discussion about best practices or communications strategy or trends or where I think the future is taking us. That stuff is fascinating to me in a whole different way. And then there was the personal stuff, because I believe that social media is about the humanization of business, and I’m a human being, despite what some people have called me over the years. So I write about things like the weird stuff we eat, or where we live, or what I did with the kids.
And I was pretty sure there was a good chance that none of you would be interested in any of it. Since it wasn’t driven by
passion anger anymore, it felt a lot less focused. Since it wasn’t honed in on a couple of very specific topics with strong niche audiences ready to go to battle, it felt less likely to succeed. And speaking of success, since I wasn’t the VP of Communications for some big firm, I didn’t know how relevant I would be. I think I have pretty good ideas about this stuff, but then again, I’m biased.
I’m happy to say, though, that since I started blogging regularly, traffic has picked up. In January of this year, I had 199 views the entire month. This week, I’ve been averaging about 130 views per day. These aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they look good on a graph. They also tell me that what I’m doing is resonating, at least with a handful of people, and that’s a good thing. Because I don’t want to earn eyeballs simply by using cheap parlor tricks. I’m certainly not above stirring the pot now and then to get things going (no comments yet, but by far my most-read post) but that’s all part of the game.
If you’re blogging and have adopted my old strategy of using rants, public shaming of significant figures, polarizing issues and polemics to get readers, that’s your choice. But if you really want to grow your audience, I suggest you try something more original. Don’t limit your potential. It’s always easier to tear down what someone else is doing than to create something of your own. That road leads to the dark side.
Since I didn’t expect the uptick in traffic back when I was getting about 10 or 15 views a day, I set a goal for 2012 to get my daily views up to 100. Now that it’s only March and I’ve hit the mark, it sounds like it’s time to revise the goals. I think a good milestone will be 500 views per day. I hope you’ll stick around and help me get there.
And if you feel the urge, leave a comment. It’s too quiet around here!
I realized something this morning: good weather makes me happy.
For most of you, that connection couldn’t be more obvious. It’s a rare person who doesn’t feel just a little more kick-ass on a bright, sunny day. But until very recently, I was that rare person. I savored the rain, the clouds, the fog, the sleet, and the snow. I’m not talking about that enjoyment many people get from a good thunderstorm. I mean I actually looked forward to the kind of weather most people complain about. As Calvin once told Hobbes,”I love these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”
I still appreciate those kind of days. The melancholic side of my temperament always will. But I’ve learned to love how things look in the sunshine. The bright, crisp, clarity of it all. The feeling that the day is filled with possibility and opportunity. I don’t want to spend every day nursing whatever thing it is I’m brooding over. I’d much rather be out there, getting things done. It’s a shift in my outlook and attitude that I frankly never thought would happen.
Why the change? Part of it is no doubt due to my change in diet. Another part is because I’ve learned to stop feeling entitled to happiness and success. I can’t fully explain why I expected those things to come naturally, but in hindsight, I realize that I did. And so when they didn’t, I got angry, because I felt like I was being deprived of something I deserved. So that meant that every time I got stuck in traffic, or spilled coffee on my white shirt, or couldn’t find my other shoe, or got a scratch on the paint of my car, I was seriously pissed about it. Life was taking things from me that were supposed to be mine to keep. I wasn’t supposed to be inconvenienced, dammit! Things were supposed to go my way!
Being religious didn’t make this any better. Have a gander at the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6 (vs. 25-34):
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness,* and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
I can tell you from personal experience that if you read that often enough, you can use it as an excuse for not putting in the time you should be investing to make things happen. It can easily turn into a mentality that leads you to say, “It’ll all work out. I am doing His will, and He will take care of me.” And when that doesn’t happen, you start to doubt. The next thing you know, you’re saying, “I have always tried to do the right thing and serve God. But nothing goes right for me. Why is God doing this to me? I’m beginning to wonder if he even exists…”
The best thing that could ever have happened to me was when I started asking these questions. Why? Because as I searched for the answers to how I could love God and not just be taken care of like the birds of the sky or the wild flowers, I couldn’t find anything that satisfied me. And what came next is that I lost my faith. Some of you will surely object that this is not something to be thrilled about. But it was only through losing my faith in God as a divine welfare system that I gained faith in myself. If I couldn’t count on Him to hand me a job or make me better at my marriage or help me to do something I wasn’t sure I could do on my own, then I had to find a way to do it on my own.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s called growing up. And when you learn to do things on your own, you stop expecting everyone else to do them for you. You stop looking for excuses for why you failed, and you start embracing the failure as a means to learn and grow. You stop asking why other people don’t do more for you, and you start asking how you can do more for yourself. You stop fixating on the problem, and you start problem solving.
Let me break something to you that I had to learn the hard way: unless you are a child, you don’t deserve to be happy. And nobody deserves to be successful. Happiness and success are things that you go out and grab and make your own. There aren’t any shortcuts. You have to put in the work. You also have to be the kind of person who can build the relationships that are essential when you’re in a bind and you need help. Nobody wants to network with Mr. Negativity. Be the kind of person that people want to work with. Stop complaining about your life, because nobody wants to hear it. Only stand up comedians make a living from that kind of thing.
Once I learned to start doing things for myself and saw that I could succeed without waiting for someone else (divine or otherwise) to open the door, my entire perspective changed. My outlook on life became increasingly positive. I felt empowered. I saw opportunities where I had only seen obstacles in the past. I relished challenges rather than dreading them. I learned to be happy in the moment, rather than saying, “I would be so much happier if I could just have/do/accomplish X.” Does that mean I have no ambition? Absolutely not. If anything I have more ambition now than ever before. I have begun goal-setting. I feel confident that I bring value to whoever I’m working with.
And something else has happened. I’m rediscovering my faith. Rebuilding it from the ground up. Finding a healthier philosophy and approach to the numinous. Basing my relationship with God on gratitude (and, hopefully, love) instead of fear and co-dependence. Instead of being a hardline providentialist, I now subscribe to a more pragmatic ethos, first penned by St. Augustine: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
My wife will tell you that despite a full range of things happening in our life that cause me no small amount of stress, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m also more productive. We used to watch a lot of TV. I was burned out at night and just didn’t have it in me to do anything else. At some point over the past month, we’ve stopped even turning it on. It wasn’t a conscious decision. We just have so much to do and talk about, we never get around to it. Now I come home from long days at the office, spend time with my kids, then jump into business building activities for her new company, or develop my personal brand. Sometimes I switch gears and I work on pet creative projects or hobbies or read one of the half-dozen or so books I’m trying to get through at any given time. And it feels great.
I am not speaking as someone who has a long track record of success. I am speaking of someone who feels very strongly that I am on the cusp of great success. My gut’s been telling me for months that this is the year that things are going to start clicking. I half-seriously told my wife in January that I was going to lose 30lbs. this year. March isn’t even over, and I’ve already lost 25lbs. I also told her back in January that this year, I felt we were going to finally begin to create success in our business pursuits. Just last week, she started her first real estate brokerage as a sole proprietor. Neither of us planned for the things we were doing to go so well or so quickly, but when you approach your challenges with energy, passion, and optimism, you might be surprised what happens. Whether or not this year winds up as a success for us on paper, just the fact that we are thinking positively and overcoming challenges makes it more successful than a typical year for us, where I’m cynical and negative about everything and she has to drag me kicking and screaming toward the goal line.
Don’t be a drain. Tell-all blogger, entrepreneur, and former millionaire James Altucher says that you should cut out the negative people in your life, because they steal your energy. What happens if you’re the negative person? What does that say about you? (Altucher also says that you can increase your productivity 500% by not being this kind of person. I agree.)
I feel like I have a new lease on life. I get in the car every morning excited about what I can accomplish today. And I focus my efforts (and my prayers) on being the best, most productive guy I can be just for that day. Every today is all I can focus on, or I get daunted. But one day at a time, you can do anything. And one day at a time, a bad day isn’t such a loss. After all, you can take another crack at it tomorrow.
I realize that I probably sound pretty cliché. I’m okay with that. It’s all true. And if you want it badly enough, it can be true for you too.