Saturday, December 30, 2017

2018: Looking Forward More than Back

I have had two separate incidents in the past week that got me looking backwards. The way I often do it is look year by year. 2006 was the year that I seemed to achieve everything I was hoping for. 2007 was the year I lost it all. It's not a good thing to do, but I find myself doing it. Year by year I summarize my life, lamenting what is lost and feeling that some of my best days are back there.

One reason my best days are ahead.
But are they? I am poised to have my most lucrative year in 2018, making more than I've ever made financially. I have a brilliant young daughter who is developing spectacularly, and a wonderfully supportive wife. I am finding my place in my community, making connections socially, professionally, and politically. I'm even an elected official.

So, I decided to take my usually backward facing process and point it forward. With the predictability
that working with BVM brings me, I can actually map out year by year what things might look like going forward.

If 2017 was the year of taxiing to the right runway and applying the throttle, 2018 will be the year of climbing into the air. I will be in a position to serve my community as I never have before, both through my role on the RTM and through Groton Mystic Neighbors. When the magazine gets to print, it will provide a resource for Mystic like nothing else that exists. It will still be a lot of work to get it up and going, but it will be the more engaging next stage.

2019 will be the year of taking things to the next level. With Groton Mystic Neighbors being a significant part of the community, I'll be able to focus more on service, taking a larger role in Rotary, possibly doing more for the town officially, and maybe being involved in other organizations. I will also be able to rededicate more energy into ConCardia and Geekcentric.

I didn't forget about it. Just found that the boss was too tough
so I'm doing some side quests to level up before I take it
on again.
2020 will be the year that Rowan turns 6. Much will depend on what she needs as she enters school, but I will be in a position to have the resources to provide her whatever she might need, whether it's more of my time or money for a private school or anything else. She will also be old enough to start to understand some of the exciting things her parents are involved in and start to learn about them.

Of course, there is an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, make plans, and long term plans even more so. However, I am in a position to plan like I have never been before. While it lacks the excitement of the unknown that I enjoyed in my youth, it replaces the unpredictable hope with a steady confidence which serves me much better at this point in my life.

Happy New Year, and may 2018 be our best yet.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Story of a Cat Person

Note: this story is an alternate point of view of Cat Person by Kristen Roupenian in the December 11th, 2017 issue of the New Yorker. Cat Person is a brilliantly written piece that was created with considerable effort and does an excellent job of presenting a very realistic and relatable story. I highly recommend you read Cat Person first. This story was written in one day as a response and commentary. The purpose of this story is to expand the discussion and perspective that has been created by this very popular and excellent story, as well as to explore the mental states that a passionate relationship can create. Ms. Roupenian deserves all credit for any quality you find below. All quotes are from the original story, and this is simply a fair use derivative to expand the narrative.

Robert did not consider himself a lonely man, but he would generally be considered a loner, largely because the whole “people thing” did not often work out well for him. He didn’t understand them well. He had some friends: people he hung out with, gamed with, maybe had a beer with, but no one he was really close with.

He’d dated a few women, but it always ended the same way, with his heart broken and her going off on her merry way, likely happy to be rid of him.

Robert could be described as awkward. The word “aspy” had been suggested, as in describing someone with Aspergers Syndrome, the mildest form of Autism. He didn’t disagree.

This is why he would do things like go out to the movies by himself. He didn’t have anyone to go with, and that was fine. It was him and his cats. It was nice enough. Who needs a girlfriend? Cat’s never break your heart.

He liked the artsy theater downtown because it had the movies that most people were too stupid to understand, and he liked to go midweek because there were less of the morons there who came the movie but came anyway to impress their equally moronic girlfriends, ruining the experience by fiddling with their phones all night.

He approached the concession stand and ordered his customary large popcorn and box of Red Vines, largely oblivious to who was behind the counter.

“That’s an… unusual choice,” the concession-stand girl opined. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

He suddenly noticed the young, bubbly girl behind the counter. Probably because you’re too busy on Instasnapping and Facetweeting to notice what you’re selling, he thought to himself. He was used to people making fun of him for this or that, but didn’t expect it here.

Not knowing what to say, he said, “Well, O.K. then,” and pocketed his change, heading to his seat and trying to put it out of his mind to enjoy the movie.

The next week he came back to the theater. The same pretty young girl was there behind the concession stand. He asked for another box of Red Vines. She handed it over without commentary this time.

“You’re getting better at your job. You managed not to insult me this time.” It never hurt to show some appreciation when someone did something you liked. He’d heard that somewhere.

In the split second between when he finished speaking and when she replied, he had that feeling that he had maybe said something he shouldn’t have. Wasn’t sure exactly what. He had said the truth. But some people got offended by that.

“I’m up for a promotion, so…” she shrugged.

She did seem offended. Was that a joke? Was she engaging in banter with him? Sometimes he bantered online, especially in the role playing rooms where he could adopt a persona. It was easier online. He had time to think. Time to be witty and clever. Never done it in person.

These thoughts wandered through his head throughout the movie. The movie was in French anyway, so he didn’t really follow it. He’d heard that some people got along so well that awkwardness fell away. He’d seen these kinds of people on TV, of course, but when Aaron Sorkin writes your lines it’s easy to be clever. He’d actually known some couples who were like that. Alex and Joanna, for example, two of his gaming friends that bounced off each other like a comic duo. Could this Concession-stand girl be his Joanna?

He was still half lost in thought when he left the movie, so he quite surprised himself when he heard “Concession-stand girl, give me your phone number,” come out of his mouth. He was more surprised when she did.

Friday, December 8, 2017

How We Fail Most Children

I have always been passionate about education, more specifically, the fact that most Americans reach adulthood lacking most of the soft skills that are required for great success in our culture and economy.

I attended a well funded, highly rated high school from which I went to an excellent university, and I came out with a cum laude degree and almost none of the skills or knowledge that I would need to be successful beyond academia.

It is no mystery what I needed to know, nor are they difficult skills to teach: business planning, goal setting, salesmanship, networking, and the like. Furthermore, I was fortunate to have learned that our economy is such that opportunity still exists and that you need to know to look for it. Too many young adults do not know this, which is why some of the best minds of my generation are flipping burgers or working at the mall.

With the birth of my daughter, I have given a great deal of thought to this over the past few years. Knowing that the education system will fail to provide her this array of skills and knowledge, how will I supplement that education to prepare her for success?

The juxtaposition of a number of interactions with particular people and groups this week has reminded me that this is a much broader problem affecting almost every young person approaching adulthood, but that there are resources which could be mobilized to help.

The fundamental problem is that education has been structured by experts who are focused on the acquisition of knowledge who lack expertise in how that knowledge is executed to create results in adulthood. The focus has become testable knowledge: accountable, concrete, useless. We can talk about test scores doing this or that without recognizing that many high achieving students become low achieving, unhappy adults.

The solution is simple but not easy.
We must teach our children that opportunities exist if they are bold enough to seek them.
We must teach them the basic skills for success in adult life: networking, salesmanship, grit and resilience, goal setting and achieving, and business concepts such as marketing, bookkeeping, and the like.
We must teach them the value of entrepreneurship, whether in terms of running their own business or simply thinking of themselves as the masters of their own commercial destiny rather than drones in a vast capitalist machine.

These things are not difficult to teach, and the first step would be to teach them to the most motivated to learn: the top and bottom students. The top students are eager to learn and succeed and they desire to know how to succeed at the next level. At the other end of the spectrum, many very intelligent students drop out, burn out, or tune out because they have not learned these things, and they would benefit the most from them because the lack of this knowledge is why they have disengaged from the educational system.

They could be taught in afterschool programs. They could be taught as courses in school. They could be directed independent study projects. There is a variety of options, but it must be done. An entire generation of millennials have fallen into adulthood, saddled with student loan debt, unprepared for a dynamic and changing economy, and we are all suffering for it.

This can be better. Together we can find a way.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Gratitude

Related image

Gratitude is a deconstructed element of faith. Some of the happiest people that you will ever meet have a profound and and deep faith in some form of God. I don't mean the people who wave the Bible around and tell you why you're a sinner. I mean those people who just seem very serine all the time no matter what is happening; as if they have read the last page of the novel and they know how all of this will turn out.

A life of Gratitude is a key part of this serenity. Anytime something happens in your life, your emotional reaction to it is only loosely connected to how good or bad it is in reality. If you get a promotion and a raise at work, you can see it as a very exciting thing or you can see it as a whole lot of extra work with only a little more money. If you lose your job, you can see it as a disaster or you can see it as an opportunity to find something better.

Gratitude is crucial to being able to control the difference for yourself. Being grateful is not just something that "good people" do because they should. Gratefulness is something that you do because it is good for you.

I mention faith because most people have encountered faithful people who give thanks to God no matter what happens. If they are starving in the woods, and have nothing left but a handful of trail mix, they will give thanks to God for that trail mix. What would most of us do? Probably be upset that we're out of food and about to starve.

But think about the difference this could have in your life. How many blessings do you have every day that you don't even think about.
  • If you are reading this, you are blessed to have access to the Internet, giving you access to all the assembled knowledge of mankind. 
  • You either have your eyesight, or some other method to read. 
  • If you live in America or another developed country, you live in relative security with a level of technology that was science fiction just 20 years ago. 
  • If you are able to work then you have health that allows you to do so.
But what about when bad things happen. How can you be thankful for that. Let's say you lose your job. It is reasonable to be angry or anxious, but the anger and anxiety will pass more quickly if you can get to a place of gratitude. What might you have to be grateful for?
  • You are now free to find a new and better opportunity.
  • You gained certain skills and experiences which are now yours to capitalize on.
  • You may have friends and connections through the last job.
Many of us go through our lives in fear and anger. Upset about this and worried about that, but what if, instead of looking at everything that might go wrong or has gone wrong, we look at what has gone right? Think about how that would change your average day. 

Think about the posts you make on social media. Are they negative or positive. What if you made just one more every day that expressed gratitude for something? What if you made an effort to thank someone every day for something they had done in your life? Imagine the difference this slight change might make.

I write this article aspirationally. I often find myself focusing on what I have lost rather than what I have, and it does not bring joy. Perhaps, starting today, we can start down this road of gratitude together. I can start by thanking you for reading this article.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Talk Politics Like a Salesman

What do I think? Well,
what do you think?
A good salesman has no political opinions. Well, that's not true. They have opinions just like anyone else, but they are not going let those opinions get in the way of a sale, and that means that you are unlikely to learn anything about them in a sales context. In fact, should you start talking politics to a salesperson, you might even come to think that they agree with you politically.

In my years of selling, I have encountered a great many people whose politics I disagreed with. Some radical left, some radical right, many radically wrong on basic points of fact. My job, however, was to sell, not educate, so I said a lot of "hmmmm" and "interesting" and "wow."

An interesting thing happens when you are listening to people espouse their political views but you cannot argue or disagree: you actually find yourself listening. Not agreeing, but at least understanding.

You come to understand a few things. First, everyone wants what's best for our country. They have different opinions on how to get there, different views of the size of the pie to be shared, different concepts of economics and justice, but the goal is still to find what is best.

You also come to see that many opinions are the result of the source of your information. If a person gets all their information from a place that claims that the Republicans are all Russian spies or Democrats are all socialist revolutionaries, their opinions on issues will follow. You will also find that when you are able to compare sources of information, that you have a great deal of common ground with most people.
This advice is also excellent for avoiding duels.

So, I encourage you all to try this exercise: next time you find yourself in a conversation about politics with someone you disagree with, approach it like a salesman. Say as little as you can about your own beliefs. Ask specific questions about how they learned that and explore their beliefs. Try to find common ground.

You will be amazed just how much you can hear when you are trying not to talk.

Monday, October 16, 2017

On "Me Too"

Image result for me too

I had three reactions to the "Me Too" meme going around the internet. For those who are not aware of this movement, you can read about it here, but basically the concept is that any woman who has ever been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped can post "me too" and it will let people see just how pervasive of a problem it is.

For those who are familiar with the problem, it is no surprise that most Facebook feeds now are just a stream of "me too"s, but for many this is an eye opening phenomenon.

Personally, I had three reactions to it. My immediate reaction was anger that this happens in the world.

My second reaction, a little bit later, was to realize that, since this happens to almost every woman in America, one day my daughter will likely be posting "me too" to her own status some day in the future.

My third reaction was the realization that someone may be posting "me too" because of something I have done at some point in the past.

Frankly, every man should be considering that third reaction. Even if they think that they never harassed anyone, they should still think about it. Why? Because there are plenty of things that a man might do with innocent intentions that could leave a woman feeling uncomfortable or even scared. Complements on her body or clothes. Suggestions of sexual acts. Even crude jokes. Behavior that might be fun and playful around friends can be downright terrifying from a stranger or an acquaintance.

For me, however, I know I have done things wrong. I know when, but interestingly, I do not know to whom, and that gets to the root of the problem for many men.

A bit over a decade ago, when I was in my mid-20s, I was in leadership of a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast. It was a fun and flirty group. There was a great deal of casual affectionate contact, and, being young and foolish, I subscribed to the school of thought that if she didn't complain then everything was fine. This is not correct, as I now know, especially because I had the power to determine who got on stage and who did not.

We're talking about relatively causal contact: hugs, back rubs, etc. But when the director who decides if you're on stage next week starts rubbing your back, and you'd rather he didn't you have to weigh your discomfort against your desire to perform. I would never have made a casting decision based on something like that (there was a strict guideline I followed to remove various forms of bias), but how would she know that?

Some people did express concerns, but the people who were willing to step forward were people that I already had some conflict with, and they brought it up in the context of "and here's another thing you do wrong," but since they wouldn't provide names of who was uncomfortable, I thought it was just politics.

Of course, I made an effort to talk to some women about it, but the women I would be able to talk to openly were the ones I was closer with, thus the ones who would not be made uncomfortable. And when I asked those whom I was not close with, some of whom I was making uncomfortable, they would just brush it off and say it was fine.

In the end, of course, I did learn my lesson, and I learned it when I was removed from leadership by a cast-wide vote, but even then, for over a year after, I blamed politicking and conspiracies rather than understanding what my role in it had been.

So, why do I tell this story. I tell it because I believe that the solution to the problem is very different from what many people think it is. If the problem is being caused by predators who prey on the vulnerable than the solution is punishment, but if the problem is that there are men who simply don't realize they are doing anything wrong, then the solution is engagement and education. Worse, men who believe themselves to have done nothing wrong facing punishment will seek to defend themselves and will enlist the support of any allies they can, creating and promoting the narrative of vindictive prosecution and false accusations.

It's much easier to accept that you have ignorance to address and that your ignorance is hurting people than to be called a predator and a harasser and an abuser.

I hope that most people who know me would not think that I am a predator or a misogynist, but I was very much at one time ignorant, and it was not until my late 20s that I overcame that ignorance.

There are predators out there who know they are doing wrong, and those men should be punished, but I honestly feel that the vast majority of harassers simply are not aware of their transgressions. Fortunately, I think that this "me too" meme will do a lot to start the conversation, and a lot of education can come from it. First, there must be awareness before there can be any change.

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.