“ For me, experiences are always more important than material goods. A story is more important than a gift.”
— James Altucher
He goes into this in more detail in his book Choose Yourself. As frugal as he can be when it comes to buying things, James Altucher spares no expense when it comes to spending money on experiences.
When I first read that, I thought about how so many people I know, including myself, seem to be in the endless pursuit of the material more. Maybe because we can. I like to blame cultural pressure and the unnecessary need I feel to keep up with the Joneses. Of course some material things are essential for safety and survival, but as for the luxuries, it’s only because we want them.
Spending Time vs. Spending Money
We often spend money to buy things. To have them and to own them. And if we’ve earned it, why not? Having new things — better things — feels good. So we want more…and more.
Shopping is an experience that can be addicting. I’m in no place to judge. I just bought a new suit online this morning. I didn’t need it. I already have seven in the closet. It was 73% off so I justified the purchase knowing I could wear it to work. I guess what I was really buying was the pleasure that will come along with it. I’m indirectly buying that experience. It’s a means to an end.
If in the end I just want to feel good and be happy, perhaps I should be more mindful about how I spend my time.
I grew up hearing “time is money.” I agree it needs to be spent well. If it truly is finite and we never know when our time will run out, then I wonder why we waste so much of our time trying to be happy in the future. Couldn’t we just be happy right now, without spending a penny or accumulating any extra baggage?
Even when I’m having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong, I can transform the experience knowing that those bad days happen for good reason. You don’t appreciate the good times as much unless you know the challenges that come with the “bad” days. Oftentimes, we need those bad days to teach us an important lesson. And if seen from that perspective, we can be grateful for the good sandwiched between the bad. Perception becomes reality.
What we choose to do with our time is important. More important, I think, is how we perceive the experience of that time. The same story can be interpreted in numerous ways. The same circumstances provide a different experience to different people.
Too much philosophy and not enough practicality? That’s fair. Instead of manipulating our perception, let’s consider how we can alter our approach to improve the experience.
Elevating the Experience
I love to read and to watch movies. It gives me the chance to experience life through others. Experiences that might normally be out of reach or a life better left to fantasy and imagination.
It wasn’t until recently that I wondered why. I’ve already acknowledged that I enjoy living vicariously in the shadows. Although I’ve occasionally ventured out into the limelight, my introverted nature feels more comfortable in the audience. Comfortable but limiting. Being the spectator only takes me so far. It’s so much more fun to be on stage. The experience is elevated.
Take, for example, the difference between the experience of a reader and that of a writer. I enjoy both. For me, writing is more sublime. I become an active participant. In addition to input there’s output. I can connect different dots and create something new. This takes the enjoyment of reading and brings it to a higher level.
Passive Participation > Active Participation > Creation
The transformation can take many forms and different paths, depending on what you experiment with and where you find your passion.
Reading the book > Writing the book
Sitting in the audience > Being the main character
Spectating in the stands > Playing the field > Coaching
Those who step up and perform, have an opportunity to inspire the audience. Those who create, have the power to elevate the experience for others as well as for themselves.
Love eating French cuisine? Julia Child decided to become a chef and bring the art of French cooking to the United States. Julia went on to author several cookbooks and become a legend as a TV cooking personality.
Fascinated with movies? Harrison Ford (I’ll always think of him as Han Solo) overcame his shyness and got into acting. He is now the highest-grossing actor in U.S. box office history.
And if you feel like an old dog, remember that both Julia Child and Harrison Ford blossomed later in life.
It’s never too late to elevate your experience.
Surround yourself with the Have-dones. When you’re time is up, let your memories be filled with what you’ve done more than what you possessed. Spend more time in your world, not somebody else’s. Don’t just go along for the ride, find your own path. Choose to dance instead of being a wallflower.
“ Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.”
― Mary Schmich, Wear Sunscreen: A Primer for Real Life
Every experience you have is all that you really need. You still have to own it though. You’re accountable for making good of it. Elevate it, learn from it, share it, or simply enjoy it. Don’t take for granted the fleeting precious moments you already have. Be present. Everything else will unfold as it should.
So let me reiterate and close Groupon style:
“If you’re going to own something…own the experience.”
“…interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t…Without experimenting, you can’t figure out which interests will stick, and which won’t.”
— Angela Duckworth, GRIT
As you read in Austin Frank’s account of his journey from Congressional staffer to committed writer on Medium, the road to finding your passions and living a happy life can be hard to predict. Every story, every journey is unique. One step leads to another and when you occasionally look back, the road that got you to where you are today is winding. Lots of surprising twists and turns. And during the process, there’s inner transformation. That’s what makes each story interesting.
In my own life, I hit a point in my career where I was in between chapters and at a crossroads. I took some time to look in the rear view mirror and reflect. In trying to decide which road to take next, I was filled with self-doubt. Afraid I’d make the wrong choice. So I assessed life-to-date hoping to find a pattern. Something that might point me in the right direction.
I realized that I have always been a dabbler.
Dabbling in a variety of interests makes me feel alive. My gritty passions include weight lifting, dancing, DJing, positive psychology, fashion, management, Japan, all things Internet, and writing. Each passion has its own story. Follow the links for the ones I’ve already written about. The rest I will save for another time. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve been transformed because of them. They make me who I am today.
You probably already know the story of Tim Ferriss. Now there’s somebody who takes dabbling to another level. On top of being a best-selling author, serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Tim can speak five languages fluently. He holds a Guinness World Record for most tango spins in a minute. As of this writing, his latest obsession is AcroYoga and you can read all about it on his blog about Experiments in Lifestyle Design.
So many great stories out there. Some are yet to be told.
I’m encouraging you to write about yours and don’t be afraid to share. As Austin and many others have already shared, fear holds us back, but when we bravely venture forward despite our fears, we often find that we’re in good company. In response to one of my quirky posts, Dr. Rob Brown even said, “ I think you and I live in parallel realities. :-)”
One of the benefits I like most about dabbling is that it gives some pretty interesting experiments to write about. And writing about colorful life experiences encourages us all to live life fully.
Creating new publications for Medium wasn’t planned. One thing just led to another. I didn’t plan to write this post this morning. It just happened. All part of dabbling. Where will it lead? We’ll see.
When I first started publishing on Medium, Samuel LeBaron Abbott III took the time to kindly remark on one of my articles. Samuel also suggested I reach out to publications for future inclusion. Well, I took his advice to heart and then went a step further.
I registered ProDabbler.com in early 2016 but wasn’t sure at the time what to do with it. After falling into writing publicly and rediscovering Medium, we now have a wonderful home. This publication was originally just an outlet for me, but the experience is much better shared, so I’m having a party and you’re invited. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can enjoy them together. Going from private to public, you never know who you’ll inspire.
Thank you for the invitation! Maybe tell me what kind of publication the Dabbler is, what kind of content the Dabbler is looking for? I would contribute if I can!
Since the Dabbler publication is new and still taking shape, I’m starting with an open invitation for any stories about life experiences and lessons learned while exploring your personal interests.
Maybe you’re exploring writing on the side to see where it might go. Share what that personal journey is like and any insights along the way. Others dabbling in writing will hopefully be able to apply those lessons to their own experience and be inspired.
If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build a business outside of your current day job, how are you overcoming the challenges?
Or do you just love to learn new languages (or travel, cook, paint or compose music) and in the process, you stumble upon a way to do it full-time. How did that story unfold? Share any colorful episodes.
Just a few writing prompts to start. If the publication organically moves in a different direction, we can flex.
I know there are many great publications — that are already more established — where these topics may overlap, so over time we’ll hone in on the writers and the stories that differentiate and best represent the community.
Like you, I think there’s a dabbler in everyone. And as you mentioned, it’s liberating to know that dabbling is a good thing. Helps us uncover our true passions. It can also be very encouraging to read how others are benefitting from their own dabbling, regardless of whether or not they consider themselves amateur or professional.
It’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve read that when it comes to writing, it’s important to write even when you’re not inspired. To write even when you think there’s nothing noteworthy. To just “show up.” I haven’t done that consistently for the past month or so, at least not publicly. Although not everyday, I’ve been writing my morning pages more often. This is done in the Journey app and is my private journal. (If you’re interested in keeping a journal, I highly recommend this app.)
I’ve been focused on other things so I don’t regret taking a break from my public posts. After a couple months of regular posting, I started to feel like I was forcing topics and spending too much time in front of the keyboard. To regain some balance, I intentionally walked away from it to spend more time with the family for a while. Now I’m feeling the itch again. This time I’m going to adjust my approach a bit based on things I’ve picked up during my first dive into blogging.
Here are some things I’ve observed about my approach and what I think could be areas of improvement…
Even if I don’t publish a post regularly, it’s important to write my morning pages every day. Morning pages don’t need to be polished. They don’t even need to be coherent. Since the journal is for me to unload and clarify my thoughts, it serves that purpose well without having to take too much time. To improve, I’d like to shoot for one public post every couple of weeks on average, and to write my morning pages every day.
The stats behind each post can be addicting. I tend to be overly concerned with the numbers and the outcomes rather than just enjoying the process. This seems to corrupt my creative spirit as I become overly concerned with what others might think. While the statistics and analytics provide some useful insights, scheduling a weekly or monthly analysis would probably be enough.
While it seems to be a good practice to re-post the same article across multiple channels, it’s become obvious that some topics are just better left where it better fits the audience. At the very least, it’s important not to copy and paste. I’ve found that making adjustments to the intro or context, depending on the audience, sets up the same article to be better received. Similar to public speaking, it’s critical to speak to the interests of the specific audience. No matter how universal I think the topic may be, I still need to frame it a little differently from channel to channel.
Blogging is more fun as a conversation. I used to write like a monologue. If anyone commented, the most I would do is “like” their comment. After taking time to actually respond thoughtfully to each comment, the entire experience has become a lot more rewarding.
I write best in the early morning when everyone in the house is still sleeping. There are very few distractions and my mind is still fresh. It also helps when I get enough sleep (for me, that means 7-8 hours) and when I read a good book before bed the night before. The challenge for me has been to consistently sleep enough. When I’m trying to write on 6 or less hours of sleep, the right flow just isn’t there.
I will adjust my approach moving forward to validate or disprove any of these initial observations and thoughts.
This day means different things to different people. Resurrection, life after death, hope, and miracles are first to come to mind. On the secular side, it’s an observed holiday that allows us time off work to spend with our family and friends. For me it means a little of all those things. It also got me thinking about something we don’t often connect with Easter…creativity.
When I think about it, creativity is a very subtle part of the holiday. It’s below the surface but it’s there. For example, there’s a creative aspect in the Lenten practice of giving something up in order to make room for something new. On a more common level, kids tend to be very creative when it comes to coloring Easter eggs. Then, of course, there’s the dramatic story of new life and hope that gave birth to a whole new religion.
I like to think of days like today as a day of quiet reflection. A day to be grateful for your blessings and to appreciate the everyday miracles around us. A day to take stock of who we’ve become and the kind of person we want to be…then make conscious decisions on how we’d like to bridge the gap. A great example has been set. If a humble carpenter can change the world, how can we follow in those footsteps? I don’t see a need to be as dramatic, or to expect transformation after only the third day. It’s a process and you can feel good about taking a single small step in the right direction.
Let’s take a break from the hustle and bustle of the everyday routine. Maybe make an effort to unplug. No checking email, Facebook or Twitter…self-contradictory as this post may be. Be with your family and friends. Be present and enjoy the moment. New life is embodied in this simple act. Happy Easter everyone!
I’m at a good chapter in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Currently on “Week 8: Recovering a Sense of Strength”. There are several sections talking about the creative process. Some statements that stuck with me are as follows:
“At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.”
“Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure. Focused on product, the same creative life can feel foolish or barren.”
“…creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large leaps.”
“One of our favorite things to do―instead of our art―is to contemplate the odds…In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, “What’s the use?” instead of “What’s next?”
From The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Creativity―like human life itself―begins in darkness. We need to acknowledge this. All too often, we think only in terms of light: “And then the lightbulb went on and I got it!” It is true that insights may come to us as flashes. It is true that some of these flashes may be blinding. It is, however, also true that such bright ideas are preceded by a gestation period that is interior, murky, and completely necessary.
We speak often about ideas a brainchildren. What we do not realize is that brainchildren, like all babies, should not be dragged from the creative womb prematurely. Ideas, like stalactites and stalagmites, form in the dark inner cave of consciousness. They form in drips and drops, not by squared-off building blocks. We must learn to wait for an idea to hatch. Or, to use a gardening image, we must learn to not pull our ideas up by the roots to see if they are growing.
Mulling on the page is an artless art form. It is fooling around. It is doodling. It is the way that ideas slowly take shape and form until they are ready to help us see the light. All too often, we try to push, pull, outline, and control our ideas instead of letting them grow organically. The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.
Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. All too often, when we say we want to be creative, we mean that we want to be able to be productive. Now, to be creative is to be productive–but by cooperating with the creative process, not forcing it.
As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path. This mulling on the page can be very threatening. “I’ll never get any real ideas this way!” we fret.
Hatching an idea is a lot like baking bread. An idea needs to rise. If you poke at it too much in the beginning, if you keep checking on it, it will never rise. A loaf of bread or a cake, baking, must stay for a good long time in the darkness and safety of the oven. Open that oven too soon and the bread collapses–or the cake gets a hole in its middle because all the steam has rushed out of it. Creativity requires a respectful reticence.
The truth is that this is how to raise the best ideas. Let them grow in dark and mystery. Let them form on the roof of our consciousness. Let them hit the page in droplets. Trusting this slow and seemingly random drip, we will be startled one day by the flash of “Oh! That’s it!”
From page 219 of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron:
“The morning pages and artist dates must be experienced in order to be explained, just as reading a book about jogging is not the same as putting on your Nikes and heading out to the running track. Map is not your territory, and without reference points from within your own experience, you cannot extrapolate what the morning pages and artist dates can do for you.”
Observing My Creative Process
Since I stopped spending so much in the office and working outside of normal hours, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with my creative side. I got back into mixing music and acting out my other side – DJ ReCreator. I took the leap and started publishing my writing. This blog is one example but I’ve also built up my confidence to share some of my posts on LinkedIn Pulse. Experiments in the kitchen have also been fun though it’s been more scripted by other people’s recipes and not my own creations.
All these areas have been creative outlets for me and have brought more balance to my spirit. I’m happier now. Less and less, I’m not displaying what I learned is the “angry artist” that arises from being stifled and held back. I don’t like being grumpy. Caro and the kids don’t like being around me when I am. Who can blame them. I’m just glad they’ve been patient with me as it took me a long time to find my way “back home.”
Anyway, while I’ve been spending time on my creative projects, I take mental notes of my process and try to get a better understanding of what brings out my best. I also note habits that seem to undermine the process.
It really is more about the process than the product. When I focus too much on the product and the recognition I hope to get from it, I lose my way. Enjoying the journey and not worrying too much about the destination is where I’ve been most myself. So here are some observations regarding the process from my own experience (They seem to reflect the truth in Julia Cameron’s words):
I’ll occasionally have bursts of inspiration where the ideas or words just gush out and I almost can’t keep up. This usually happens during free association or when I’m writing my morning pages. More often, though, I get an idea that feels like a good seed, so I plant it and let it grow at it’s own pace until it’s ready to blossom.
When I’m focused too much on the product versus the process, I get tempted to share something prematurely. I’m learning that my best outcomes are a result of nurturing over time. Maintaining environments and conditions conducive to growth (i.e. balanced and inclusive of all the right elements).
By letting things simmer and rest, I’m able to go back with fresh perspective. This allows me to refine and fill in where needed.
If I’m ever afraid to express something, I remind myself that it doesn’t matter if some people don’t like what I’m doing. If the process serves it purpose and I’m the only one who benefits directly, that’s enough. Worrying about what other people will think is self-sabotaging. Actually, it’s when I don’t worry about putting my true self out there, that I seem to connect with others in a more magical way…at least based on the feedback I’ve received in those instances.
My gut has been a good indicator of whether or not something is ready. Going against it has rarely been a good idea.
Quotes on Creativity
‘Trust that still, small voice that says. “This might work and I’ll try it.”‘
― Diane Mariechild
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
― Albert Einstein
“Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”
― Claude Bernard
“I cannot expect even my own art to provide all of the answers–only to hope it keeps asking the right questions.”
― Grace Hartigan
“Art? You just do it.”
― Martin Ritt
“Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”
― Linus Pauling
“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”
― Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Remember first that everything you think, say, and do is a reflection of what you’ve decided about yourself; a statement of Who You Are; an act of creation in your deciding who you want to be.”
― Neale Donald Walsch
“Intelligence looks for what is known to solve problems. Creativity looks for what is unknown to discover possibilities.”
― Simon Sinek
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.
“such synchronicity is quite staggering
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
“a fortunate stroke of serendipity”
“We often dream about people from whom we receive a letter by the next post. I have ascertained on several occasions that at the moment when the dream occurred the letter was already lying in the post-office of the addressee.”
― C.G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle
“Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.”
“Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
― Louis Pasteur
“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don’t bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second symptom is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous. (quoted by Carol Lynn Pearson in Consider the Butterfly)”
― Deepak Chopra, Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles
“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic — the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.”
― Charles de Lint
“At various points in our lives, or on a quest, and for reasons that often remain obscure, we are driven to make decisions which prove with hindsight to be loaded with meaning. (225)”
― Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras
“As soon as we notice that certain types of event “like” to cluster together at certain times, we begin to understand the attitude of the Chinese, whose theories of medicine, philosophy, and even building are based on a “science” of meaningful coincidences. The classical Chinese texts did not ask what causes what, but rather what “likes” to occur with what.”
― M.L. von Franz
It was the summer of 1991. Although I hadn’t officially finished school, I boarded a plane for Tokyo after being accepted into the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. I had taken a semester of Japanese language during my freshman year but proficiency in Nihon-go wasn’t even a prerequisite.
My time as an Assistant Language Teacher was only contracted for a year. Six years later, I was still working in Japan. I had extended for a couple more years with the Ministry of Education. Then as I was packing my bags to head back to the States, a Japanese student/friend referred me to the CEO of a local language school which led to another 3 years in the private sector.
The entire cross-cultural experience influenced my perspective on everything from communication to customer service to relationships in general.
In terms of communication, I quickly learned the value of paying close attention and listening more than talking. It took incredible concentration just to carry on everyday conversation in a language I could barely speak, much less read and write. Surprisingly, even if I couldn’t find the right words, I was still able to carry on meaningful exchanges. Sometimes it was enough to just listen respectfully and then combine broken Japanese, simple English and a whole lot of gestures to respond. When totally over my head, I would bow and excuse myself as gracefully as possible. Sumimasen! To the Japanese, there were unspoken expectations and varying levels of formality depending on who you were speaking with.
Being a gaijin (translation: foreigner or outsider) I was often excused for making inappropriate or ignorant comments. I knew I could only play that card for a limited time. After the first year, I had no excuse not to understand the local lingo. More importantly, I needed to better understand the cultural expectations and social context surrounding both verbal and nonverbal exchanges. The more I familiarized myself with what made the Japanese culture unique, the more I appreciated the differences. It became easier and easier to understand what my Japanese friends really meant despite what they actually said.
My Takeaway: Words Are Important but The Nonverbal Means So Much More
More than 20 years later, this perspective still influences every interaction regardless of whether I’m with a client, a co-worker or family and friends. Understanding the subtleties of body language, or knowing when it’s better to keep my mouth shut, has had a huge impact on the quality of my relationships and the differences I’ve made in the various roles I’ve played. It has shaped who I am today and the opportunities that have come my way.
For example, when I DJ a party, the music is the language of choice. How I segue from one song to the next is based on how I read the audience and the mood of the moment. I pay careful attention to how smooth the transitions flow and how the party reacts. When I’ve done my homework and made the effort to understand the audience before the event, our “meeting” leaves everybody pumped up. I put the needle on the record and communicate through the song selections and the crowd replies by packing the dance floor. A track record of packed dance floors makes securing the next gig easy.
Whenever I’m responsible for a team, I flex my management style depending on the person or the group. As I’ve mentioned in my post about simply effective leadership, I always take the individual and the situation into consideration. This tends to produce much better results than the one-size-fits-all style I used to have. In turn, being an effective leader has afforded me greater responsibilities with greater rewards.
At the heart of it all, it comes down to understanding the details within the context of the bigger picture. The meaning of any words spoken or actions taken can change drastically depending on how you frame them. The frame can shift the focus. The context can change the meaning.
So this is what I learned so many years ago thousands of miles away:
It doesn’t matter what language you speak (Japanese or English, Music or Business). what you do and how you respond can mean so much more than the words you actually say. There’s a universal language out there that we all understand, and words have little to do with it. Da yo ne!
“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal”
— Jim Lore and Tony Schwartz
“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things—that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
— Steve Jobs
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
(Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
“Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and we would be poorer without it. What the world needs, and what the slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age. The secret is balance: instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between.”
— Carl Honoré, the author of “In Praise of Slowness”
“Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and headlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimulation…Keeping the mind active makes poor use of our most precious resource. True, the brain can work wonders in high gear. But it will do so much more if given the chance to slow down from time to time. Shifting the mind into lower gear can bring better health, inner calm, enhanced concentration and the ability to think more creatively.”
— Carl Honoré, Canadian journalist based in London
Carl mentions this on page 120 of his book, “In Praise of Slowness”
“Rivers know this: There is no hurry. We shall get there some day”
— From “Pooh’s Little Instruction Book”, a gift from my friend Jake Jakobson while we were still living in Japan
“Direction is so much more important than speed. Many are going nowhere fast.”
“I don’t have time to be in a hurry”
“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast―you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” — Eddie Cantor
Now all you can do is wait. It must be hard for you, but there is a right time for everything. Like the ebb and flow of tides. No one can do anything to change them. When it is time to wait, you must wait.
“Life is full of ebbs and flows. Trust that when things are slow or not going the way you’d like, there’s something positive coming your way. Things are in the works, the universe is shifting, and all the seeds you plant will come to bloom in their right time. Take care of yourself, trust in the process and stop trying to force things.” — Stephenie Zamora
In his book, The Happiness Equation, author Neil Pasricha mentions a quote by Tim Kreider in his New York Times article, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”:
“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
“It is in this space of the unknown where all possibilities appear, this space where magic can happen. The space from the end of something to the beginning of something new that brings forth a new lease of life, a new energy.” — parth_é, Life is Flux
“We are often foolish in that we let our obsession with creation, following the force of sizzling anxiety and adrenaline to put the intangible into a product, take over the bare materials we need to do it well: living. Taking stock and thinking. Reading, watching, crying, eating.
Our brains don’t just stop because we’re not wrist deep in paint or late night loomed in stanzas.
They’re preparing for the next project.
They’re recuperating, tidying tiny pieces into their boxes to make enough room to lay out the new ones.”
— Charly Cox
“Leisure” by W. H. Davies
What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.
I Don’t Have a Degree I get e-mails every day. “I’d like to work at Google but I don’t have a degree,” Or, “I’d like to be a success but I don’t have an MBA.” And it’s not just degrees. I get e-mails from people who think they need yoga teacher certification. Or a medical degree (you can be a healer without writing prescriptions). Or any flimsy piece of paper that ultimately is no indicator of value. Google’s head of HR has even announced that graduates’ GPAs are a waste to look at. And that more and more of their hires have no college degrees at all! It’s just another way the world is changing, and you have to grasp it now. It used to be that a stranger knew he could cooperate with you if you had that stupid piece of paper. Come up with ten ideas on how you can escape the trap of the degree and demonstrate you still have value. Ideas for the company you want to work for, or the person you want to work with. Or just go get a camera and start making movies without a film degree.
When actor Andy Samberg was starting at Saturday Night Live he didn’t just huddle in the writers’ room with everyone else and try to come up with jokes. There was too much competition! Instead, he took a camera and with his buddies Jorm and Akiva went out and shot “Lazy Sunday,” which was the first YouTube video to get over 100 million views and became his first SNL digital short. He didn’t wait to rise through the ranks and hopefully get a joke or a sketch produced. He went out and produced it himself.
Before Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” got a billion views on YouTube, the rapper turned down every record label. He realized he didn’t need the validation they have provided to generations of artists. The distribution is there to reach the world no matter what your field is. You validate yourself now through your work.
Apologies to Mr. Altucher for taking that much verbatim from his book. I just read those pages this morning and it hit home.
The Trip Full Circle
I fall in the category of those who dropped out of college. While I had many an opportunity to finish, life went on and I eventually decided not to. When I’m having an insecure moment, I like to remind myself that I only had two classes to finish (and they were both freshman level electives!) so really, I earned pretty much everything I needed for that Liberal Arts degree in Psychology. I guess I just didn’t cross the finish line which could be perceived as inability to follow through. I understand and respect other perspectives. I just don’t personally see it that way. It doesn’t have to be a negative. I have worked very hard since then to show that it doesn’t have to matter if you don’t let it.
The Road Not Taken
…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
It was 1991 and I was scheduled to graduate at the end of Spring semester. This was all the JET Programme (Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program) needed to know at the time I applied and interviewed. They didn’t actually ask to see my degree before it was time for me to board the plane that summer. By the time the University of Illinois notified me that I failed two classes (English 101 Introduction to Poetry and Classic Civilization 115 Mythology of Greece and Rome), I was already all set to leave for Japan. Although becoming an Assistant English Teacher (AET) had nothing to do with my major, it was a 1 year adventure abroad with all expenses paid as well as a monthly salary. I wasn’t about to pass on the opportunity unless absolutely necessary. That degree would have to wait.
I had lady luck on my side. After the year was over, I had the option to extend for another year and I definitely wanted to. The only catch – I had to renew my work visa and I was told they required a copy of my college degree in the process. I figured I had better start packing my bags but then again…why not just go through the motions and see what happens? Even if they sent me home, I already had my adventure. For some unknown reason, the Japanese government renewed my visa without any questions. One year turned into two and next thing you know 3 years later I was still in Japan. That was the maximum length that anyone could stay with the Jet Programme. As the third year winded down, a Japanese friend referred me to the CEO of a private language school under the Terakoya Group. They offered me a job and I had to go through the process of renewing my work visa for another year. Again, nobody asked to see my college degree. Surprising enough, the person in front of me in line was asked for his. To this day I can’t figure out how I got away with it year after year, but my luck lasted long enough for me to meet my future wife. Caro was on a 9 month work-study program and just happened to be assigned to Matsuyama City where I also lived. After 6 years in Japan, instead of calling it luck, I’d like to think it was serendipity.
Unlike I did in college, note that I wasn’t just sliding by while I worked in Matsuyama. Knowing that I didn’t finish school, I felt like I had to prove something and make my mark anyway. My second year, I was elected as the Ehime Prefectural Representative for AJET (The Association of Japanese Exchange and Teaching) and after 1 year at Terakoya, I was promoted to Head Teacher at the private language school.
Ok. The story goes on, but I need to pause here for now. The kids are awake and I’ve been writing since 5am.
[2/16/2016 4:38am] Picking up where I left off…
When I returned to the States in the summer of 1997, it was like “Oh sh*t, what do I do for work now? I don’t have a degree.” I was going on 28 years old and still didn’t have any solid plans for my career. I was back with my parents and when my Dad asked me what I was planning to do next, I told him I was thinking about starting a DJ business. I could sense his disappointment. When your parents go against all odds to earn their college degrees in the Philippines and then move the entire family to the Unites States so we can have a better life in the Land of Opportunity, I can understand why being a DJ might not be what they had in mind for their son. When I was still at the University majoring in Electrical Engineering, I think I was living up to expectations. We all imagined my future becoming an engineer like Dad and having a secure and well-paid profession for life…I guess I’d be disappointed with my DJ ambition too.
Got to get ready for work. I’ll continue later.
[2/16/2016 7:45pm continuation]
While I worked to put things in place for the DJ startup, I took a commissioned sales associate position in retail. Retail store positions don’t often require a college degree. I chose Bachrach, a men’s clothing retailer founded in Decatur, IL with locations all around the Chicago area. I’d always been into fashion so this would be aligned with my interests. Sales was not my strength, but it paid the bills and helped fund the DJ equipment and music I would need. For years, I tried to work both paths in parallel without any breakthrough success. I knew very little about operating a profitable business and everything I learned was from trial and error.
The DJ business wasn’t growing fast enough and we were getting deeper and deeper into debt. Thousands of dollars spent on music, lighting and other gear without enough gigs to pay for it all. When I found out that Caro was pregnant with León, I knew I needed to change my approach if I had any chance of providing for my growing family. I decided to focus on Bachrach and work my way up the ladder. We could stabilize our finances and buy me time to figure out what to do as an entrepreneur. Looking back, that was a pivotal point. After my motivation shifted from selfish ambitions to providing for the family, my career started to take off.
Within a few years, I went from Sales Associate to Store Manager to Director of E-commerce. (I’ll save my success strategy for a different post.) I worked in several locations and eventually had my own office at the downtown Chicago corporate headquarters. There were several rungs in between and along the way, but I won’t get into those details now. What happened with the DJ business? One thing led to another and it eventually led to the launch of ChicagoWeddingServices.com. Although small potatoes compared to other dot coms, it was a business model that made money while I slept and the site could often run on autopilot. It supplemented my income at Bachrach quite nicely. (For more details, see my post on Website Experiments Throughout the Years)
After 10 years at Bachrach, I had to move on. Too many acquisitions had taken place and it was no longer a fit. I began looking elsewhere. When I was offered a position at Dreams Retail in 2008, I jumped. Fortunately, during the interview process, my college education wasn’t a deciding factor.
I would have to say that my years at Dreams, Inc. have been the highlight of my career to date. Kevin Bates and the team he built created a work environment that brought out my best. I started off in an Account Management role but followed the same strategy I used to work my way up at Bachrach. I went from non-management to executive management with a team of more than 50 people to lead. I eventually got promoted to Director of Marketing and in less than two years after that, became VP of Marketing.
This too eventually came to an end. Dreams Inc. was acquired by Fanatics Inc. and I relocated from the Chicago area to the Jacksonville, Florida area. (The kids didn’t like the move, but we had a new house built in a nice neighborhood. It also helps that we live only a couple hours from Disney.) I was able to keep my position as VP of Digital Marketing but with so many changes during and after the integration period, it was the beginning of the end for that chapter. My time at Fanatics officially ended in January of 2015. Without having anything lined up yet, I spent 6 months in what I call “mid-career retirement” – a career break if you will. We didn’t have to worry about finances, at least for a while, so I had the luxury of time to decompress, reconnect with my family, and think about the next chapter. As scary as it can be to lose a 6 figure salary, I’m grateful for what I’ve gotten in return.
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
– T.S. Eliot
Today, I feel like I’ve come full circle in a way. I’m back in fashion retail and am making about the same income as I did when I first started my career. I see everything through a different lense though. While money is still important, it’s no longer the carrot. It’s no longer about the prestigious title, but more about the unique contribution and value. Being hourly no longer has a negative connotation to me. It now means I have more work-life balance. Instead of thinking so much about what I want in the future, I spend more time appreciating what I already have and whom I’m with today. Things will have to change again I’m sure. Even though we’ve always lived below our means, our current lifestyle is not sustainable in the long run with my current income. Surprisingly, I’m not very worried though. We’ll figure it out. I know because we’ve done it before.
Regarding my college degree, or lack thereof, it has definitely made a difference in my career choices and the life I’ve lived. I’ve spent most of my career proving that you can succeed without a degree. When the competition was smarter, I just worked longer and harder to compensate. Most of my lessons learned were from the school of hard knocks. I learned the simple yet important lesson on how to make a positive difference…always strive to leave it better than you found it.
I’m content with what I’ve accomplished as a college dropout. I have no regrets.
Caro and I were married in 1998, not too long after I started at Bachrach. Although she has seen and experienced all the ups and downs of my career, she has never stopped being supportive. Even when she didn’t agree with all my choices, she has stood by my side and was always there to give me strength when I needed it most. I can’t imagine how things would have turned out without her. All these years later, I don’t worry too much anymore about climbing the corporate ladder or making lots of money. With her and our three beautiful children, I already feel successful. Together we’ll make life good no matter what comes our way.
To my band of brothers who joined me on my crazy adventure as an entrepreneur: That was an awesome ride, let’s do it again!
Grateful to the many coworkers who I had the privilege to work with, and my bosses/mentors who also shaped who I am and how I work today – they were some of my best teachers. To the organizations and hiring managers who took a leap of faith and gave me a shot, thank you.
I also want to give a shout-out to all my family and friends, near and far. You’ve never judged me and accept me for who I am, warts and all.
And special thanks to Mom and Dad, for always loving me even when I disappoint. From you I learned what is possible when you work hard. [2/17/2016 4:38am] Today is Dad’s 70th Birthday. I dedicate this post to him.
Essentialism /əˈsen(t)SHəˌlizəm/ (as defined by Greg McKeown)
The disciplined pursuit of less
Even though I specifically wrote down at the beginning that I would curb my smoking this past weekend, I didn’t. I think I actually smoked more than I usually do. I often blame stress as one of the main reasons I smoke. It helps take off the edge I say to myself. So when I work, I smoke due to the stress at work. You would think, then, that I would smoke less when I’m off work. For me that hasn’t been the case. At home, I smoke due to a different kind of stress. Being a parent can be stressful. You might be tempted to turn to electronic cigarettes as a way to ease the transition from traditional cigarettes to not smoking at all. There are flavors being created all the time, you will find premium e-liquid options for your vape. When the children test your patience, or you feel non-stop busy running the kids around to their various activities, or just daily chores you feel obligated to attend to. Of course, it all depends on what you focus on, and your attitude towards it. When I find myself overly concerned with the things that I want to do, then everything else is a distraction, but when I catch myself doing that, I can often course-correct and start focusing on what I can do for my family since I’m home. This is my way of transforming the stress to joy.
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten Season. Growing up, I was always under the impression that we had to give something up during that time. That’s how my Dad stopped smoking. He gave it up for Lent one year and then never went back. In the last few years, I haven’t taken the tradition very seriously. This year, I had no real intention to give anything up, but then yesterday Sofia asked me what I was giving up for Lent. She noticed that I went out to the backyard to smoke and had already done it only about an hour before. She cautiously mentioned that she knew something good that I could give up for Lent. Smart cookie that one. Very subtle and sincere without leaving me feeling picked on. I didn’t feel angry like my knee-jerk reaction would have it. I felt guilty because I could see Sofia really cared and she said it with that childlike innocence that you just can’t get mad at. Normally I would get annoyed, whether it be at Caro or Mom, because I simply get bothered when the topic comes up. Everyone means well so I try very hard to keep my knee-jerk reaction in check.
Anyway, I was thinking about it again this morning. Giving up something aligns with the whole “Essentialism” philosophy I’ve been drawn to after reading Greg McKeown. I’ve learned from earlier attempts that promising to stop smoking would just lead to disappointment for everyone. What could I give up that was doable and be a good thing to let go of so I could focus on better things? It would have to be something challenging but that I would be confident enough to pull off. As I did a cursory mental review of how I spend my time, I thought of just the thing…watching TV. That would include Netflix and Redbox which I gravitate towards when I need an escape or comfort from the daily stressors.
This I can do. Even if the only side-benefit is to give me more time to sleep, that would be worth missing a night of Gotham or waiting a little longer to watch “The Martian” recently released on Redbox. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe if I can get a smaller win this Lenten Season, I’ll go for the bigger challenge of a smoke cessation program.
Although I prefer the whole abundance mentality thing, daily life can definitely feel like a series of trade-offs. Trying to do it all and have it all leaves most of us burnt out and still not satisfied. As pointed out in “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown, when deciding how to spend your limited time, it really helps to let go of the trivial many for the vital few. “Less but better.” In other words, find the discipline to do less of the unimportant so you have time to focus on what really makes a difference. Funny how we often choose otherwise.
So when it comes to Lent this year, I’m not giving something up for the sake of sacrifice. I’m exercising my ability to better choose how I spend my free time. Watching TV is now on my “to don’t” list, at least until the Lenten season is over.
I was still living in Japan at the time (circa 1997) the web really started to take off. Caro and I were only dating then, but she saw my interest and bought us our first laptop. It was an early Mac Book and the screen was only black and white but we got it at a decent price ($1000 USD factoring in the dollar/yen exchange rate). That’s how it began. I got sucked into everything Internet.
So much about the Internet was exploding with potential. Living abroad, the whole concept of email was wonderful – no long time gaps between writing letters and receiving responses. It felt so instant. The only challenge was that not everyone was using email yet. I spent so much time playing around with this new tech toy, everything from learning design software to surfing the nascent web. I stumbled upon GeoCities, a web hosting service that gave people online tools to create their own website. It was exciting to think you could create something multimedia and then immediately publish it for others to see.
My first site was based on a theme I called “Spheres and Cones.” Basically it was a model I used to frame the idea of self-actualization and personal growth. My friend, Scott Scholtens, also bought a laptop and he was better at the design thing than I was, so he helped me created a logo and other graphics for the site. Fond memories of the early days when I didn’t care so much about how good (or not so good) my web design skills were.
The Next Step Up Back In The States
After returning to the States, I continued web design and tried to take it to the next level. The next stage involved using websites to support my entrepreneur initiatives. While working retail, I spent my other time trying to build out concepts for a mobile DJ business which I called Sound ReCreation. I wanted to go all-in so I formally incorporated the business and bought the domain name. Sound ReCreation, Inc. was an S corporation (Delaware) with the website www.SoundReCreation.com. It started with the conventional content (About Us, Contact, Services, Pricing, etc.) then I tried to add song lists, music clips, PDF client forms, and a page for partners and related vendors. I’ve lost many of the original image files, but here’s an idea of the logo and site layout. I found an ad we placed for a University Fashion Show Program.
Credits for the logo and site design go to Tommy Torres, my lifelong friend whom I grew up just referring to as “cousin” though we’re not technically related.
Actually, I forgot to check the Internet Archives. WayBack Machine had some site pages archived. Here’s a capture from December 26, 2002 (Wow! Did I really write that content for our About Us page? Weird reading it after all these years)…
Falling In Love with Wedding Sites
As Sound ReCreation evolved, I learned that the money was in DJing weddings so I focused on acquiring clients for weddings over other types of events. Eventually, my “Partner” page of the site expanded to a point where I decided to break out vendors into categories, such as Chicago Wedding Photographers, with a dedicated page for each category. Using what I learned from self-study plus trial and error, I optimized each category page for the search engines. Over time, the site analytics showed that the most visited pages of SoundReCreation.com were the wedding vendor category pages. Local wedding professionals started contacting us asking if they could pay to have their business included on our pages. They too noticed our high search rankings and decided it was better to pay us than figure out the SEO thing themselves. That’s when I had the idea to buy a new domain name so these pages could spin off into something new…ChicagoWeddingServices.com. (I went ahead and bought ChicagoWeddingDJ.com as well. I was surprised it was still available.)
I had a feeling that these SEO friendly domain names could piggyback off the success I already had with the SRC vendor pages. I was right. ChicagoWeddingServices.com and ChicagoWeddingDJ.com started showing up in the top 3, if not number one, of the organic search results for many relevant search queries. Any time someone searched for something like “wedding reception venues in Chicago,” or something local and wedding related, we would come up. Call it dumb luck or whatever, but I accidentally became good at SEO when the search engine algorithms were not yet as sophisticated as they are today. That luck lasted several years until about 2005 I think. Google had a major algorithm update and I finally fell from grace with Google. Traffic died and today is less than a hundred visitors each day. It was great while it lasted.
While I was tempted to sell the domain and give up on the site as a business, I’ve kept it and tried to update it enough so it isn’t as terribly dated as the original design that was not mobile-friendly. Last year, I finally had the time to complete a redesign that was years in the making. It was DIY since it made no financial sense to pour more money into a site that no longer made any profits. I used the opportunity to play around with responsive design and CSS. This is how it looks now on Desktop and Mobile:
Dabbling In Miscellaneous
Lately, I haven’t spent much time on any new websites. That said, a month or so ago I agreed to help out the Boy Scouts Troop that my son León is a part of. They wanted to put up a website that they could leverage for recruiting new Scouts in the area so my wife and I bought troop23nocatee.com and I quickly put together a WordPress site hosted on my existing web server. The template is simple so it can be consistent with the printed flier they made for recruiting.
A few years back, I was overzealous and bought quite a few domains with the intention of monetizing them somehow. Most of them have just been parked yet I renew them every year, hopeful that I’ll eventually do something with them. Perhaps I’ll put them on the market and see if I can recoup some of my expenses. Most likely I’ll just let them expire so someone else may run with them.
I’ll list the domains here and if anyone has ideas and wants to partner on a project with any of these domain names, please get in touch.
The original intention was to spin off more targeted sites for specific services and/or cities. For example, cityweddingphotographers.com could have any number of subdomains for each city. NewYork.CityWeddingPhotographers.com would target photographers and their potential clients in the New York City area. Once upon a time, these niche sites would outrank the larger sites such as TheKnot.com. That’s how ChicagoWeddingServices.com took off. Advertisers on CWS would tell me that they got better traffic and more bookings from our site, and it didn’t cost as much to advertise with CWS. Nowadays, it will take a different approach to succeed. I have ideas but the time and effort needed is substantial (team of freelancers?). Collaboration seems to be the better option. If you’re interested in batting around some ideas, please mention that in a comment to this post and I’ll be in touch via email.
CWS Makeover (Again)
Hard to believe it’s been four years since I’ve experimented with site development. The last couple of months gave me the time I usually don’t have. I’ve been home with the family and have revisited projects from years past as well as took several online courses to freshen up my digital skills.
Unfortunately, about two weeks later, I encountered limitations with both my existing web server as well as the theme I paid for. I had already spent so many hours migrating the old site to the new WordPress version, but I decided to accept the sunk cost and start fresh with a new web host and a different directory theme. I switched from IONOS by 1and1 (which I have been using since 2005) to BlueHost. I also spend another $40 to buy a directory theme called Direo with a better design and lighter code.
Although it took more than a week to migrate yet again, I’m so glad I did. The responsive mobile experience is significantly better and I’m not having server issues with shared SSL certificates being dated, REST APIs not functioning, and missing PHP modules.
WIP It Good
The foundation has been laid. A bunch of trial and error, but I learn best from doing. It’s still a work-in-progress (WIP) but I’m proud to show you the latest evolution of Chicago Wedding Services.
Justifying the Cost
Although this is no longer a business per se, I was easily able to integrate the theme checkout with my existing business PayPal account. I also included dynamic ad placements from my AdSense account. If it makes money here and there, great. Not my priority or the reason why I did it.
It’s been a fun ride the last few weeks and I was able to recondition some of my rusty skills. That alone made the investment in time and money well worth it.