Saturday, August 5, 2017

6 Ways to Achieve Your Dreams - That Most People Won't Follow

There are many people out there who have very fulfilling jobs. Their jobs align well with their skills and interests, paying them a good salary while giving them a sense of fulfillment. This article is not for them. It is for people who want to be them.

Chances are that there is something you are very good at. Maybe it's a craft or artistic skill like leather working, composition, or music. Maybe it's a knack for understanding where people are coming from and what they are thinking. If your best skill is not a core component of your job, then you are likely underpaid. If Steve Jobs got a job as a house cleaner, he'd get paid what a house cleaner does.

1. Look Broadly at Your Skills
Many highly talented people assume that the skills that they have are not marketable. Maybe you make leather armor as a hobby. When you search Indeed for "Armorer" there's not a lot of listings. However, it takes a variety of skills to be a good armorer. Three dimensional thinking, knowledge of materials, tools and often mechanical skills, aesthetics, color design, etc.

Break down your one big skill into smaller skills, then consider who gets paid to use those skills. I suspect that the skills of making armor and reupholstering furniture and vehicles are similar.

2. Know Your Limitations (Probably Less Thank You Think)
"Be reasonable and know your limitations" is some of the worst advice you can give someone, especially a young person. Not because it's not good to know your limits, but because telling someone to know their limitations is like telling them to know how to fly. Left to their own devices, everyone will get it wrong. When you were young, you probably had people saying something like this to you about knowing your limitations, but you thought you knew better. You thought you were unlimited, so you tried to soar... and you probably crashed and burned one or more times.

This convinced you that the nay-sayers were right, and you went from overestimating you abilities to underestimating your abilities. The irony is that while you were trying to do what turned out to be impossible, you were learning and developing skills. You are now more capable than you were before, but, believing that your detractors have been vindicated, you accept the limits they placed on you when you were younger.

When I talk about this, I'm not just talking about you, I'm talking about myself. I came out of college thinking I could do anything. I opened a game store and proceeded to make no money for five years. In my arrogance, I did not think I needed to study, so I did not learn (until much later) what I would have needed for success. That experience gave me the skills to succeed, but it also drained my confidence to try again so boldly, keeping me from putting those skills to use for many years.

If you find yourself looking at your dreams and not pursuing them because you are not good enough, then I'm talking to you. You're probably better than you think, and even if you are not, you can probably get good.

I say probably because there are some things that can never be overcome. If you want to join the NBA and you're 5'1", then you might want to think more broadly. Maybe Baseball might be a better sport. However, if it's a matter of lack of skill and talent, then remember that dedication and humility will overcome natural talent every time.

3. Know What You Want to Do
Part of "knowing your limitations" often involves settling. Maybe you are a seamstress and you wish you could make fine wedding dresses, but you believe that it beyond you, so you put it aside and follow a career path that takes you in a different direction.

If someone were to ask you what you want in your next job, you'd say "more money, better hours, benefits." But the truth would be that what you want in your next job is to be one step closer to creating beautiful dresses. Most people never achieve their dreams because they don't take a single step towards them.

4. Yes, You Can
In response to what I'm sure you just said to the last section, yes, you can. Whatever justification you just offered is probably an excuse (unless you're 5'1" and want to play for the NBA).
There's no jobs in my area in that industry.
I don't have the skills.
I don't have the experience.
I don't have the contacts.
I can't afford it.

Any of those sound familiar?

Some reasons are legitimate, but many are excuses. All to often, we look at one path, determine it will not work and give up completely. If you were driving to Boston, and I-95 was closed, would you just give up and go home, or would you find another road?

Skills can be learned. Experience can be earned, either through work or even volunteer opportunities. Don't have time to volunteer? Is it that you really don't have time or you prioritize other things over your dream?

Need contacts? Go make them. Don't know how? I wrote a book on the topic.

The point is that whatever obstacle you have that keeps you from doing what you say you want to do can be overcome if you are willing to make some sacrifices to do it.

5. It's Closer than You Think
Often, all that you need to take a step towards your goal is one good connection. Just one introduction to someone who knows about that one job opening or apprenticeship opportunity. This comes back to that excuse of not knowing the right people.

Chances are that in the circle of people you know, there is at least one person who either is the connection you need or could introduce you to them. How do you find them? You put in the work. Have you made sure that everyone who knows you knows what you are trying to do? If not, how would they know to help you.

Once you have spread that message, it's time to go person to person. Talk to everyone you know individually and tell them what you are trying to achieve. Tell them whom you are trying to meet and ask them if they'd be able to help you. If they are your friends, they should be glad to introduce you to someone, and even if they are just acquaintances, most good people are happy to lend a hand. Think of the reverse. If an acquaintance asked you for an introduction to someone you knew, would you do so? Probably.

But first, you must believe that what you are trying to do is possible. You have to approach it with an attitude that you will find what you are looking for. It's only a matter of time. This confidence will show and make people more comfortable recommending you to their friends and contacts.

6. You Have At Least One Contact Who Will Help You
Don't think you know anyone who can help? I guarantee you know at least one. Reach out to me, and I'll be happy to talk you through what you need.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A Man Got On the Train This Morning

This morning, I got onto the 5 train to go Downtown, and this guy gets on the train and starts speaking like he's at a podium. My first thought was that he was selling Jesus, but he wasn't. He was selling a book he had written.

His name was Randy Kearse. He had gone to prison for 15 years when he was younger, and he spent the time locked up preparing for when he would get out and change his life. He told us that he had his own publishing company and every eloquently invited us to look at his book.

Of course, no one looked up except me, but I bought a copy of his book. I wanted to read the story of a guy who was gutsy enough to walk onto a crowded train and just open up a sales pitch.

It got me thinking. This guy was in prison for 15 years, and now he's a writer who has apparently sold 75,000 copies of his books doing exactly what I saw this morning. I've never been to prison. I've got a college degree. I'm a little short on excuses today.

Then I thought about this past weekend. I went to Steampunk Worlds Fair, and Amy and I ran ConCardia, the Info Desk and the Merch Table. ConCardia, in 5 years has grown from an unplayable game I printed on my home printer to a fixture at the largest steampunk event in North America. I had some really awesome people having cards to give out in the game, and a lot of people really enjoyed it.

You see, this is important because my job has been wearing me down. I have not been terribly successful in what I am supposed to be doing, largely because I have not been able to do things that way I feel that they should be done. I have internalized this, started to doubt myself, started to think that maybe I don’t have what it takes.

Oh really? I have what it takes to get a quite a few bands, some awesome reality TV folks, and one very clever magician to be excited about my little card game.

My first job sales job was 1996. I chaired my first convention in 2001, and opened my first business in 2002. In 2003, I was a co-founder of the Come Again Players who still perform to this day. In 2005, I led the transition of a struggling game store into a volunteer run collective that successfully operated in various forms for 12 more years. In 2006 I co-founded Pi-Con which ran for most of a decade. I created the Connecticon Info Desk department. I have led sales training courses and written a (unfinished) book on networking.

I have been in sales, marketing and entrepreneurship for 21 years. My sales skills are old enough to drink. I know what the fuck I’m talking about.

So, if I analyze the data and develop a sales plan, I know a little bit of what I speak. If I present the plan, and you shoot that plan down in favor of a plan that my two decades of experience say will not work, listen to me when I say it’s the wrong choice or don’t blame me for the results.

I have the experience. I have the skills. I have the drive. I merely await the opportunity to put it all together and once again show the world what I am capable of.

Monday, April 3, 2017

What I Learned From Changing Train Stations

It took me almost half of a year to solve a very simple transportation problem, and the reason it took so long is instructive in how we look at problems and their solutions.

Since November, I have been commuting to New York City one day a week. I live next to New London, so it made sense to get on the train at the New London station, but there was a problem.

If you are not familiar with Connecticut shoreline geography, New London is about 130 miles from New York City. The Metro North line runs to New Haven, and Shoreline East runs from New Haven to New London (sometimes).

Source: Google Maps
I would take the 5:50 train from New London, and I would sit at a nice comfortable table on the Shoreline East train all the way to Stamford, then take Metro North to Grand Central and a subway to the office. 3.5 hours, but most of that time is productive working time.

The problem is when I go to return home. I kept missing the train in New Haven that got me home at a reasonable time, so I had to take the 9:00 train and get to my car at 10:00. Thus, my day that began at 5:50 AM finished up around 10:10 PM. Not optimal.

I kept thinking that I just needed to catch an earlier Metro North train, but it turns out that I'd have to leave the office a little before 4:00 to catch the earlier New London train.

One of the 5:50 New London trains I rode.
It had been suggested that I drive to Old Saybrook, which has more trains, but it seemed silly to drive 25 minutes then take a train for 3 hours, when I could spend 3.5 hours on the train and have half an hour more productive time on the train. (I'm writing this article on the train, for example.) And, so, I got home super late every Monday night, exhausted and drained.

The solution, as it turns out, is simple: drive to Old Saybrook, catch the same train that goes to Stamford, then on the way back catch one of any number of trains to Old Saybrook and get home two hours earlier. Simple. Easy. Duh. How'd it take half a year to solve this problem?

I was trying to solve the wrong problem. I was trying to solve:

What is the most efficient way to get from New London to New York by train?

The problem I should have been solving was:

What is the most efficient way to get from Groton to New York?

You see, I don't live in New London. I live in Groton, one town east of New London. I thought I had the problem partially solved, knowing that the train left from New London, so I didn't reexamine that part of the puzzle. It's a matter of mental efficiency. We don't tend to look at the parts of the puzzle that are already solved. Why would we?
Train selfie on the Shoreline East

In life, often, what appears to be an effective preliminary step is not, and we need to reexamine the underlying "solutions" that we are basing our ultimate solutions on. By stepping back to the original question and away from the assumptions I had developed, I was able to conclude that Old Saybrook was the place to catch the train. I lose 25 minutes of working on the train, but I gain about 2 hours at home. Pretty good deal.

Next time you are struggling with an intractable problem, be sure that you are framing it correctly. Are you starting from assumptions, or are you starting from the raw situation? This will make all the difference.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Incomprehensible World

A bit of a rant, if I may.

I am coming to understand the mindset of one who votes for a candidate who promises to "tear it all down." My life is dominated by forces I cannot control or understand. All the big ticket necessities (phone, car, etc) require multi-year contracts that I cannot understand for service/products that I don't know how they will work until I'm locked into them, which, predictably, usually disappoint.

My car is ergonomically built for something other than a human, thus it causes back pain, and my phone service from T-mobile is awful. Apparently, I have been *leasing* my phone, which means that after paying more than the phone would have cost to buy, I must return it at the end, and rather than paying $150 for early termination, early termination would have cost over $600. All of this was described in a contract which I was not given the opportunity to read before signing.

I owed thousands of dollars in taxes last year, and, after increasing withholding for both of us, we apparently are on track to owe thousands more this year.

In trying to start a business, I have more or less resigned myself to the fact that at some point, I will make some unforeseeable error that will run afoul of some tax code or some regulation which will result in a level of fines that will bankrupt me.

Marauding gangs of thugs can be seen and fought. They can even, sometimes, be reasoned with. They can be prepared for, defended against, and, even if they destroy everything you care about, you at least know what happened and why. 

When the government determines you owe thousands of dollars in taxes or an insurance company tells you that you owe thousands to the hospital, it is a force of nature that cannot be resisted. But, what is worse, is that you feel like you should be able to do something about it. You can read the rules. You can read the contract.

But who has time for that? Who knows which rules to read? Who can afford to consult a lawyer to read it for them?

Of course, I don't support candidates like Trump, not because I like the system, but because I know that, rather than tearing it all down, he will just build it up even more and make it even worse.

And I don't support anarchists because, much as it seems appealing to be dealing with marauding gangs rather than the fear of bureaucracy, the fact remains that the constant danger of sudden death for myself and my family, really is worse than the lingering fear of the taxman or the insurance man or any other Man serving me with unpleasant papers.

In other words, my mindset is certainly growing closer and closer to that of the Trump voter. Only my understanding of the world makes me not like them. Worse, it means that I understand just enough to know that I really should be able to grasp this all but not actually enough to be able to do anything about it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ultimate School Choice

I attended a well funded, well rated, well equipped high school. It was a "good" school. but I managed to get through four years of education achieving honors without learning most of the skills that I would actually need to succeed.

This good school failed to teach me financial literacy, how to find a job, interview skills, sales skills, marketing skills, or any other business skills. I did not learn these skills until my early thirties. This good school failed to teach me anything I needed to know. And the lack of these skills proved costly to me. Very costly indeed.

I'm not saying that every school needs to teach business skills, but parents should have the choice to send their children to a school that teaches business skills, or art, or theater, or science.

I actually don't think that most school choice proposals go far enough. I believe that the free market would be an effective solution. Complete school choice, allowing a broader standard for schools to be created, some of which are not hampered by standardized testing. Each child has a dollar figure attached to them, and parents send their child to the school of their choice, period. The good schools thrive, the poor schools close, leaving a fine building for a better school to open in.

With a diversity of schools, there will be a diversity of admission standards. Some will want test scores. Some will want entrepreneurship. Some will want artistic skills and auditions.
Imagine if a local community of 200 parents could join together to open their own school run by people they choose, teaching the curriculum they prefer. No more neglected schools run by distant boards. Every child the same value. This would be possible because the funding would exist.

Some ask about kids who need special education. Note than many learning disabilities are only disabilities when forced to learn the same way as everyone else. With a diversity of schools and styles, many who would be "behavior problems" or "learning disabled" at a normal school could thrive at a different kind of school environment.

No plan is perfect. Neither is this one. This is not a matter of Democrat or Republican. It's a matter of creating new forms of education for a new economy. Even the best public schools are failing their students, and there must be something better. This is the best I can think of.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Win and Lose By the Rules of the Game

Like him or hate him, if you're an American,
he is your President.
I see a lot of liberals claiming that Trump didn't really win the election because he lost the popular vote. You see this #notmypresident hashtag. And this really bugs me.

I'm not a Trump supporter. I didn't vote for him, and I think his administration will be a negative experience for many people, especially already disadvantaged populations. A lot of the people who are so upset about his election have good reason to be so upset.

But he did win.

Some of this may have its roots in 2000 when there really was shenanigans: votes being "misplaced", miscounted and a legitimate doubt as to who was the legitimate winner. 2016 is not that. The votes are pretty clear, and, under the rules that were in place, Trump won.

Look at it this way. The other American past time, besides half of American convincing itself that the other half will destroy us all every four year, is Baseball. In Baseball, you win by getting the most runs. But what if we have a game between the Red Sox and the Yankees and the score is:

Red Sox - 5 runs, 12 hits
Yankees - 3 runs, 18 hits

You have to touch to hard pentagon thing to score, not the
soft square one. See, I know sports.
I don't know if this scenario is mathematically reasonable, but it's an example, so roll with it. No one would say, "well, the Yankees really should be called the winner because they got the most hits. They got more men on base and maybe even advanced more bases, so they should be the winner."

Of course not. The rules say that the most runs win. If you don't like it, then maybe you should create a new game called Buntball in which the most hits win, and runs mean nothing. But even if you created Buntball, you can't say that the Yankees would have won if they were playing Buntball because you would play Buntball totally differently than you'd play Baseball. You'd be pushing for hits instead of runs, and that's a different strategy.

Same thing in electoral politics. In the Electoral College system, it's by state, so if you aren't going to win a state, you don't compete for the state. You save your resources. In a Popular Vote system, you would compete for every vote, everywhere. Clinton would have needed to campaign in the deep red country. Trump would have been out in upstate New York and Western Massachusetts (not the Pioneer Valley, the rest of it) and Eastern and Northwestern Connecticut.

Would he still have won? I cannot say. But the way the race would be run would be entirely different, so the outcome would be different.

While I hate to say "You lost. Get over it," or more accurately "We lost. Get over it," the fact is that's the case. We lost. Get over it.

That doesn't mean that liberals should just give up and go home and wait for the next election. It means the opposite. It means that we need to stop wasting energy whining about what already happened and put our energy to the changes we can make.

The midterms are 22 months away. It's not too soon to start recruiting and supporting candidates.

Many important decisions are made at the state and local levels. Do you know who your state and local representatives are? That seems like a better investment of energy than complaining about an election gone by.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Day at the Playscape

I took my daughter to the playscape at the other day. I have been a fan of Lenore Skenazy ever since she let her son (who is now in college) take a trip on the subway, and I've been thinking about how to raise a strong and independent child for many years. Of course, now the rubber hits the road. I have a child.

The playscape at the mall has a variety of brightly colored things to climb on (and fall off of). It is an interesting place because I get to watch not only my own daughter, but the other kids and their parents. The benches for parents are all around the playscape, so the parents get to sit quite close to the kids.

I am always interested to see how involved some of the parents are in their kids play. Not that they play with them, none of them do that.
I don't tell her how to play, but I do try to
guide her to hold the sword and shield correctly.
But they advise, direct, and interfere. One woman who was sitting near me repeatedly scolded her son for trying to climb up the slide instead of sliding down it. He was playing wrong, and she was telling him how to play right.

I also often see parents helping their kids. Lifting them up to here. Taking them down from there.

I do not subscribe to this behavior. The playscape is padded structures mounted on a 6" thick foam mat. Short of wearing a helmet and safety harness, there are few places that a child could explore their abilities and experiment with a lower risk of injury, and I see this as a great thing. I can let Rowan do her thing. If she tries to leave or tries to climb over the benches to the gumball machines, I'll intervene, but otherwise, she does as she likes.

It is in this way that I took her to the playscape (indicated for ages 2+) when she was 9 months to see what she could do, and I had the opportunity to see my 23" long (she wasn't walking yet) daughter climb onto a 28" tall car-like structure and figure out how to climb out of it and make her way back to the floor safely.

The other day, she was climbing on a structure shaped like a giant caterpillar climbing over a log. IT is a difficult object to climb, and her approach to climbing it did not seem to be the best one. It is was apparent to my parental eyes that she might fall off of it. The fall would be about 8" onto a padded floor, but it would be a fall nonetheless, and she could hurt herself.

Moment of choice. Do I step in and suggest that she stop climbing on the structure or perhaps try to help her to prevent her from falling, or do I let her fall and learn from it, possibly hurting herself.

Sure enough, she did fall, and Dad swooped into action. I picked up my crying daughter and snuggled her close to me while she made that sad but adorable blubbering sound that she makes when she hasn't figured out if she is hurt or just startled yet. I held her until she calmed down enough to talk. She told me that her foot hurt, so I examined it. No blood. No redness. No swelling. And it didn't appear tender.

She did it.
A few minutes of cuddling and she was ready to get back to the playscape. She returned to the same caterpillar that she had fallen off moments before. The thought to stop her did not even cross her mind. The caterpillar had won the first round, but Rowan was not done with it. She tried to climb it again. A few minutes later, I heard her proclaim loudly "I DID IT!" as she stood triumphantly atop the caterpillar segment. I cheered. I clapped. I took a picture.

She had a great afternoon. She played on many things, and conquered many challenges. She had fallen off that caterpillar once, but we did not allow the story to end there. The story continued until she could shout "I DID IT!"

Every inspirational movie has a story arc in which things look bad and the hero gets knocked down, but then the hero gets back up and triumphs. So, why is it that when our kids fall down, we whisk them away to "safety" and don't allow them to finish their story, or, worse, never give them the chance to fall at all?