Doers, Decision-makers, & Entrepreneurs

Why are some people content to do their tasks quietly and never aspire for more? Why do some people want all of the trappings of success but don’t want to earn them? Why do some people accomplish great things by guiding the efforts of others? How do some people build success from scratch? It’s all about work styles. Let’s look at a few: DOERS Some people are content to find their success in a job well done, be it painting houses, writing code, or putting food on the table. They may have simple needs, finding satisfaction in the completion of one task and moving on to the next one, or they may reserve all of their creative energy for other endeavors or personal projects.  In other words, they are content to be where they are, doing their thing, getting paid, and going home. I know an exceptionally gifted programmer who was promoted to management years ago.  After a while, he discovered that he didn’t like management at all.  He missed the solitude, structure, and creativity of writing elegant and efficient code.  He also hated managing people, with all of the drama that goes along with it, and making strategic decisions.  In the end, he returned to his former position and is happy to be where he feels he belongs. DECISION-MAKERS One of my good friends recently entered what I consider the “executive” level of leadership within an organization. As a senior VP, he has associates, directors, and managers all reporting to him, with other employees reporting to them in turn. While he is an extremely capable professional with years of hard-earned experience, he now does almost nothing that would be considered “task-oriented.” He spends his time as a primary decision-maker. He “puts out fires,” manages personnel issues, and makes key decisions which affect the entire organization. He has the experience and the personality to create success as a decision-maker and an executive. Decision-makers make things happen.  They make decisions and scores of people mobilize to implement them, but decision-makers can’t come from nowhere. No matter how smart you think you are, or how talented you think you are, you cannot become a successful decision-maker without a proven track record of success and a deep understanding of the field in which you work. Those skills are earned and learned over a long period of time, with no shortcuts. I once had a business partner that wanted to be a decision-maker without putting in the effort to become one. He was more interested in being able to say “I own this business” than saying “I built this business.” He enjoyed the trappings of success without doing any of the dirty work. Late in our deteriorating partnership, he declared in frustration that “I’m a businessman. I make decisions. That’s what I do.” Unfortunately, we had no other employees to implement those decisions, so decisions alone were less than useless. At the time, we needed serious work and commitment to get out of a…

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10 Ways To Know You’re A Jerk

So let’s talk about jerks1 We know they’re out there. You see them everyday. Worse, you may be one. (Update: I was asked for a printable one-sheet short version, so I did it.) As Jeff Foxworthy might say, you might be a jerk if: 1. You think it’s all about you. You may indeed be a smart, successful, and very knowledgeable person, but let that fact be demonstrated by your life and actions. People are generally pretty perceptive. They’ll figure it out. The more you tell people how much you know, how important you are, or how right your opinion is, the less likely they are to listen, much less respect you. Maybe you hide your arrogance behind a mask of professionalism, but the real jerk emerges when things get tough. I’m constantly amazed by successful, well educated people who seem so cool and collected until something doesn’t go their way. When that happens, exit Dr. Jekyll and enter Mr. Hyde. Are you the type to lose your freaking mind and tell people exactly what you think, how important you are, and how you demand everything goes according to your demands?  If any pretense of understanding or mercy goes out of the window when you don’t get your way, you’re a jerk and others will see you as nothing more than a petulant child.   2. What’s yours is yours and what’s theirs is negotiable. There’s a scene in the movie Sense and Sensibility where the family estate has been passed to the son following the death of his father.  His father’s dying request was to take care of his step mother and half sisters.  With only a bit of discussion, the son and his selfish wife manage to reduce the original stipend provided for the woman from a respectable sum to a small inadequate token.  They convince themselves that the final amount is totally reasonable and, in fact, quite generous on their own part. Several times in my life, I have found myself “partnering” with a jerk-in-disguise on a purchase or a collaborative project.  It always starts with a sense of “We’re in this together, 50/50. It’s you and me, bro.” Things go well for a while, but circumstances eventually change.  That’s when the jerks show their true colors and you find yourself paying for things that you don’t own or debts that you never incurred.  Not only do jerks have the ability to skip out on you, but they can even make you feel guilty for suggesting that they take any responsibility. Are you so wrapped up in the your own needs and desires that you can’t see anyone else’s needs, especially if it may be a sacrifice or inconvenience to you?  Are you adept at rationalizing that it’s “really their fault,” even when you bear some responsibility for the situation.  Do you tend towards the opinion that it “sucks to be them,” while counting yourself lucky?  Yeah… you’re probably a jerk.   3. You expect others to…

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The Value of Values

A while back, I found myself in the middle of some heavy-duty business debt. How the debt got there wasn’t really that important, although that story will probably make its way into another essay at some point. What is important is the way that debt took over my life and the life of my family. Everything we did became colored by money – how much we had and how we could get more. It defined nearly every waking moment and every conversation, with questions like: “Can I spend an extra $10 this week?” “Can you wait until payday to buy that item?” “How will we pay for this?” “Can we afford it?” “Can we juggle this account to offset that account?” It really had an impact on my wife, who is the primary keeper-of-the-finances (and the main reason we survive) at my house. It put her in a position to be the one who always says “no” when someone in the family wanted something out of the ordinary. This was not a position she wanted, and it put considerable strain on our relationship and everyday lives. In turn, it made me feel guilty for being partly responsible for the circumstances and for not being a better breadwinner. Money isn’t everything, but the lack of it sucks. If you find yourself lacking money and in debt as well, then it really, really sucks. Essentially, our lives at that time were nearly completely defined by money. It was present in every conversation and every decision we made as a family. As a result, I began to believe that money was an important part of my identity; that it was a significant part of who I was. I began to let my fear of the future have an impact on how I saw myself and how I related to the world around me. I didn’t look at an opportunity without weighing the costs and possible financial benefits, and I was constantly looking for chances to change my financial situation. Tell yourself something long enough and you begin to think its true. By focusing so much on money, I began to question things that I had always believed about myself. Maybe I wasn’t really that generous at heart, but was more miserly than I would like to admit. Maybe personal fulfillment wasn’t as important as I thought, but I was more interested in just trying to turn a buck instead. Maybe that was who I really was. This financial dispute had already destroyed my relationship with one of my closest friends. Maybe money was more important to me than friendship. I was really struggling with questions about the type of person I had grown to become. Enter the values. I’ve used many tools that help you learn more about yourself as a person, both as a participant as well as a coach or consultant. The tools constantly change, but in the end they remain essentially the same – find your personality, find your strengths,…

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Mensch or Mooch?

mensch |men ch | noun ( pl. menschen |ˈmen ch ən|or mensches) informal a person of integrity and honor. ORIGIN 1930s: Yiddish mensh, from German Mensch, literally ‘person.’   “A friend will help you move. A true friend will help you move a body.” Some friends are real friends, tried and true. If you need something, they’re right there for you, no questions asked. If you do something for them, they thank you and acknowledge the effort. While the best friendships don’t involve scorekeeping, there remains a certain quid pro quo in the relationship. Everybody gives and everybody receives. These are the relationships on which you should build your life. (For additional help in choosing friends, you can refer to my handy infographic.) Some friends are well-intentioned, but hopelessly disorganized and unreliable. You enjoy having them around and they make you happy, but don’t ask them to take you to the airport or pick your kids up from school. Whatever you do, don’t go into business with them. These friends are fine to have. They add color and spice to your life. Think of them like the décor in a home – fun to be around but not part of the foundation. Then there are the mooches. These are the vampires of the modern world. They suck your time, talents, energy, and goodwill, leaving you empty and frustrated while they’re moving on to their next victim. They see you a resource to be consumed and nothing more. “Can you build this web site for my new project? It’ll look good on your résumé. ” “Can you design posters, brochures, and souvenir artwork for my event?” “We think you’d be perfect to chair this committee / host this event / volunteer this work.” Worse yet, they may not even realize that they are vampires. Some people have lived their entire lives under the impression that this is just the way the world works. Ask for what you want, receive it, and then move on. No harm, no foul. But, the world doesn’t work that way. Rather, I should say that that the world shouldn’t work that way. Share your talents freely, but only on things you’re passionate about. If you don’t love it, then get paid for it. If you don’t love it and don’t get paid for it, then don’t do it. Say thank you when someone does something for you. I repeat: say THANK YOU. If they design the cover of your book, then they dang well better get a free signed copy. Be generous when you say thanks. If someone says “I’ll do it for free. Just buy me lunch sometime,” that means they like you and are willing to develop a friendship with you. They see their efforts as an investment in a relationship and not just work. If that’s what they want in exchange for their time and talent then buy them lunch, dammit. Don’t assume it lets you off the hook for compensating them. If…

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The Costs of a Renaissance Soul

I’m a polymath1. That means I am a “Renaissance soul,”2 a “scanner,”3  a “Jack of all trades,” or a “multipotentialite”4 on my best days. I have a wide diversity of shifting passions which takes me from one field of interest to another. In many cases I am a dilettante, which most often means a person with a superficial or feigned expertise in a given area (we’ll go with superficial in my case). At the end of the day, I like to think of myself as a Renaissance Soul. It sounds more romantic and creative. I like who I am. As a matter of fact, I’m probably my biggest fan. Over the course of my life, I have cultivated my own curiosity, indulged my desire to learn, slaked my thirst for novelty, and pursued a host of diverse passions. At every step of the way, I have tried to be true to myself and seek personal fulfillment in each endeavor. In many ways, I have succeeded. I have trained myself to have more ideas than ants at a picnic. I have self-taught myself fairly demanding skills and then used those skills professionally. My résumé is an omelet of vibrant flavors and experiences. There are many unpleasant experiences that I might choose to change in my life, but I can’t really argue with the end results. As Popeye would say, “I yam what I yam.” Here comes the big “however.” However, the Renaissance soul comes with a price. In fact, there are many costs associated with following the many paths of your passions. Here are the ones I have seen in my own life. I’m sure you could add your own. Financial A former student of mine commented “You’re starting something new? Again? Your retirement accounts must be awful.” Yes, there was a certain amount of truth to that. Chasing a wide variety of passions can cause financial stress over the long term, especially if long-term wealth and security are priorities for you. If you pursue a new interest or career path every time you get bored, it is unlikely that you will reach the highest levels of income within a single industry. Richard Branson has built empires in diverse areas like music, airlines, telecommunications, and space travel, but, there are two things you must remember about Richard Branson; He is first and foremost an entrepreneur and he probably works 80 hours a week. If you want to indulge your wandering heart, you will not find wealth by working for someone else’s company or limiting yourself to a 40 hour work week. Even if you think you can handle the risks of entrepreneurship, you must be willing to work hard to master a specific area of expertise before moving on to your next adventure. You must take a deep dive into that subject and properly research your options before taking any personal or financial risks. If wealth is your ultimate goal, then you must be willing to discipline yourself, tame your many passions…

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Getting Your Act Together First

If you spend any time reading blogs that help you change your lifestyle, career, or circumstances, you quickly discover that everyone is in a huge rush.  We write things like “Just start something.  Get moving.  Do it NOW.”  You deserve cool things, and you deserve them right now.  When we realize what we want out of life, then we want the rest of our life to start as soon as possible.1 All of that is well and good.  Personally, I’m a big fan of action and forward motion.  I am convinced that the world has changed, and delaying your quest to find meaning in your life until after you have “paid your dues” is a scam.  The delayed gratification of retirement should not be our ultimate goal in life.  Finding meaning and doing meaningful work should be things that we strive for at every stage of life. Now, here comes the “but.” We want change and we want it now, but I wonder if we pay adequate attention to the timing and costs of acting, particularly when it comes to financial obligations.  We are all responsible for our own choices.  If you have debts, you have an obligation to pay them back.  If you have a child, you have an obligation to provide for them, and so on.  There is a tension between the rush to “follow your dreams” and the things that tie us down.  How do you know when it’s time to do something new, especially if it means leaving a regular paycheck? How much do you need to prepare before you start? How much should you work to get your financial act together before you venture off to do something entrepreneurial? Should you be debt free first? Should you have X months of salary set aside first? I have a personal stake in these questions.  They haunt me, because I’m still carrying a significant amount of business debt from another entrepreneurial experiment.  I’m anxious to get moving with my plans for the future, but I’m not necessarily prepared to take another huge financial risk at the expense of my family.  We weathered the last financial storm, and I’m not sure we’re ready for another. These are some tough questions, and I don’t have the answers.  So, I decided to ask others with some experience in these matters.  I posed them to writers I respect, especially in the areas of finances and entrepreneurship.  I received several great responses, and here are some of the best.   Corbett Barr is one of the brains behind ThinkTraffic and Expert Enough.  He works with people trying to get really good at what they love to do and expand their online presence. How much should you work to get your financial act together before you venture off to do something entrepreneurial? This is really hard to answer for everyone because there are way too many variables and specific circumstances. Personally, I waited until I had multiple years of living expenses saved up…

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Get Off Of My Lawn!

I guess I need to channel my inner crotchety old man.  Sometimes, I feel like I just want to sit on my front porch and yell “You kids get offa my lawn!”  I don’t usually feel like an old crank, but sometimes it happens to the best of us. Lately, I’ve been looking around at other folks who write things that seem similar to mine.  Apparently, by blogging about authenticity and personal change, I fall into a category of bloggers that commonly refer to what they do as “Lifestyle Design.”  Quite by accident, I also learned (the hard way) that some people who write similar things are rather offended by that phrase.  No matter how hard you try, you never know how people will react. What I have noticed after looking around at my peers is that I seem to be the oldest guy in the room.  What’s up with that?  Am I just a slow learner, and everyone else has this stuff figured out by their mid-forties?  Have most people my age given up on searching for authenticity and fulfillment, and I’m out here all alone?  Who knows. To my crotchety-old-man eyes, bloggers in this area fall into two groups.  The first are the ones you might expect to find, folks that have already done a good bit of living. They have seen their fortunes rise and fall, suffered the consequences of their choices, been kicked in the gut by life a few times, and lived to tell the tale.  Those writers inspire others with their stories of lives lived in search of authenticity and fulfillment.  I feel like they have something to teach me. The other group was a surprise, and really brings out my crotchety old man.  There seems to be an entire subset of bloggers that moved out their parent’s house, got scared to death by their first “real” job, decided to “go find themselves and live their dreams,” and ended up as global vagabonds for a year or two.  They spend a year or so backpacking in a remote part of the world, sleeping in hostels or on couches, and then writing as an authority on being yourself, following your dreams, and changing the world.  Their main message seems to be that fear is the only thing preventing you from living your dreams.  Every concern you may have is just an excuse not to act. I love dreaming; It’s what I do best. I also appreciate energy and optimism, but I really have a problem listening to a cheerleader half my age telling me how to follow my dreams when the biggest challenge in their life has was paying off their student loans.  My crotchety-old-man wants to tell them to keep silent until they’ve been screwed over by a friend, dug themselves out of a mountain of debt, or spent some time in the hospital with a seriously ill child.  I want to tell them to actually do some living before they tell the rest…

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The Important Stuff

    Just recently, I started my “free day” earlier than usual and hit the ground running.  I had a lot to do and a schedule to keep.  I started by straightening up the house.  Then, I cleared off the mountain of junk that had accumulated on the kitchen table.  I set up tables and chairs for an evening gathering.  I kept moving towards the shower, again much earlier than usual for a free day.  Next, I burst out of the house to pick up a few grocery items, exchange cars with my wife, get gas, hit the bank, and leave town by 9:45 so I could make a lunch appointment by 11:00.  I had 70 miles to go for my first destination and another 40 to go for my second appointment before heading 100+ miles back home for an afternoon deadline.  I was a man with a mission. Luckily, I came to my senses before I even left town.  While standing at the gas pump, the little wise man in my head emerged to ask: “What are you doing?”  Getting gas so I can get out of town.  “Why?” So I can have lunch with a friend 1, drive to meet my sister, cook a bushel of crabs at her house, and get back home in time to serve them to some friends.  “And this upsets you?” What? No.  It doesn’t upset me.  Those are some of my favorite things.  “Then why are you upset?” Because I could be late! “You could be late, true.  However, your lunch date said “I’ll see you when I see you,” your sister has already offered to pick up the bushel of crabs for you, and your friends at home would totally adjust their schedule if you were running late.  It’s the start of the weekend, moron.  Everybody is happy to see you and flexible with their plans.  Just chill.” And so I did. Sometimes, we need to remember why we are doing a thing.  We need to keep the important stuff important. Otherwise, the “normal” life will convince you that your sole purpose in life is to to run errands, cook food, attend meetings, and generally exist in a state of panic and unrest. What have you been doing lately? Why have you been doing it?  Take a look and see if it’s really important.  If it is, remind yourself why it’s important and change your attitude.  If it isn’t, try and change your options for actually doing it. Let me know how it goes.           Israel Galindo is one of my favorite people. You can find him here. [↩]

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Clients, Customers, and The Color of Butter

Once in a while, I enjoy dipping my toe back in the waters of graphic design.  I usually restrict the activity to personal projects, but sometimes my personal weakness intervenes and I end up doing work for someone else.  It’s always for friends, so it’s not such a hardship, but it does remind me of some other unsavory experiences similar to this. I once had a client go ballistic on me about the color of butter.  No, really.  The web design had a yellow background, or a yellow frame, or something like that.  She wanted it to be the color of butter, and I complied with my best estimation of the color “butter.”  She didn’t like it, and I tried to explain that “butter” wasn’t a very precise color, and every computer monitor and printer displays color somewhat differently.  The response I got was something like “I am a color professional, and I know what the color of butter is.”  Reacting out of my own wounded pride, I asked if, as a color professional, she could provide me with the Pantone, Hexadecimal, or RGB color value for “butter.”  Not the most tactful way to handle a client, but it felt good at the time. I recently did some work where the initial instructions were essentially “be creative and let’s see what you come up with.”  Of course, when I finished the design, it completely missed their expectations and sent me back to square one.  Since it is a project done for a friend at no cost, there’s no real harm done, and I have plenty of leverage to take my time on the new design.  However, it reminded me once again that client work is not for everyone. It wasn’t until recently that I made the mental distinction between clients and customers.  I knew the difference at an instinctual level, of course, and I have worked professionally for both clients and customers.  But, I had never considered the difference consciously. Here’s the thing: Clients control your products and services. Customers consume your products and services. I made this realization when I was gearing up to grow and develop a full-blown organizational consulting business.  I like consulting and I do it well, but I was faced with the prospect of taking any and all the clients I could find just to grow the business.  Something just didn’t feel right, and it kept nagging at me.  In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to work with just anyone with the money to pay me.  I want to work in a way that I can pour all of my creativity and passion into a project, without concern for how someone else will alter or react to the results. Some people love clients.  They are able to dance on the line between personal control and compliance to the demands of others.  I’m glad they are out there.  They are inspired by feedback to reach higher and work harder.  They make magic from…

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On Jesus, Chicken, and Rhetoric

Now that the national uproar over chicken sandwiches, gay marriage, love, hate, and free speech has moved out of the spicy rhetoric of the 24 hour news cycle, I’ve had a chance to process what has been rolling around in my head. While I may not be as angry about the whole affair as I was at the time, my opinions haven’t really changed much. In short, we really screwed up. All of us. My day job’s office is two blocks from the local Chick-Fil-A, which happens to be owned and operated by the university’s dining services (I find that to be a little ironic in this whole mess). I happen to frequent the establishment once a month or so because I’m a fan of both chicken sandwiches and milkshakes, especially good ones. My usual response to criticisms of Chick-Fil-A’s politics (and when people say that, they really mean the politics of the owners of the corporation) is that my relationship with Chick-Fil-A ends with the exchange of money for chicken sandwiches. Period. No one tells me how to spend the money that I make, and I try not to make the same demands on others. I don’t want to write about the pros and cons of boycotts, but honestly, do you know what happens to the money you give your babysitter, your dog walker, your supermarket, your gas station, your therapist, your doctor, or whatever? We don’t know and we don’t care how those people spend the money we give them, and there’s no way to do anything differently. In my mind, it makes this whole Chick-Fil-A thing even more ridiculous. I tend to avoid political, social, and religious debates like the plague, having spent most of my self-righteous indignation in my youth. I try to politely excuse myself from those conversations, especially when it looks like someone is gearing up for an impassioned discourse on the worth of their own opinions. Part of my inner monologue responds “I’ve spent a fair amount of time wrestling with this issue, and I already know what I think. You’re welcome to your opinion, and I’ll keep mine. Thanks.” I knew something was up when I rolled into Chick-Fil-A a few weeks ago to redeem a coupon for a free chicken wrap (stick to the sandwiches and nuggets – trust me on this). I was early, being intentional about beating the lunch rush, but the place was already packed. I puzzled over this for a while, since the college students weren’t back in town yet and things should have been pretty quiet. I saw a friend from church ahead in the line and commented “I guess it’s the wrong day to go to Chick-Fil-A.” He responded “No , it’s the RIGHT day to go.” Then it hit me. It was THAT DAY. It was the I-Support-Chick-Fil-A-Jesus-And-Free-Speech-Because-Their-CEO-Gives-To-Anti-Gay-Causes Day. I looked around and confirmed my suspicions. There were people sitting at tables with little signs saying which church they represented. The line was out…

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