Switch to mobile version

January 2013

Post image for You don’t want to be typical

School was easy for me most of the way through. I got A’s and I didn’t have to try. When I got a B, I was asked what’s wrong. The first time I got a C, I think a special parent-teacher conference was arranged.

Most of my friends were thrilled that they “passed”. Some of their parents gave them money for C’s and up.

I resented the double standard. I almost always did well, so why was I rewarded for that with increased scrutiny and disappointed faces?

A lot of times in my life I figured if I was doing better than average, better than typical, then I should be happy with my efforts and so should everyone else. If “typical” is good enough for the typical person, then hovering a little above “typical” should be more than enough, or else I must have entitlement issues.

It took me a long time to learn that typical is no good. There’s no reason to regard it as the “good enough” line. Typical health is pretty bad. A typical career is draining and unrelated to the worker’s real interests. Typical credit card debt is in the thousands. The typical level of fulfillment in a person’s life is far below where it could be with some self-examination and habit overhauls.

Having higher standards than what’s typical doesn’t mean you think you’re better than everyone else. It only means everyone is running way below their capability, and you want to make up some of the distance. It’s one of the most tragic yet also glorious truths of human beings: that we tend to live up to only a fraction of our potential, in virtually every area. There’s no reason to assume that on average people make use of 50% of their capabilities. Our species should win the “squandered potential” award.

But aren’t we the species that builds incredible buildings, writes brilliant literature, and achieves staggering technological innovations? Not really. It’s not our species that does those things. It’s always the work of individuals who are celebrated precisely because they are exceptional. All of the familiar symbols of high human achievement — the Gandhis, the Edisons, the Picassos and Gretzkys — were atypical. They had atypical standards for their work and for their conduct. They did not do what everyone else was doing. They didn’t find a comfortable place in the middle.

What keeps us all so lame? Conformity, for the most part. A fear of sticking out, screwing up, falling down. We are silently guided by an absent-minded belief that we shouldn’t do things other people aren’t doing. The safest thing is the old thing, the proven thing, the boring thing. The typical thing.

Don’t use what’s typical as your standard for yourself. Being a fear-driven person, I did for a long time in pretty much every area, and so I figured carrying a “manageable” Visa balance, for example, was okay. I thought spending $3000 a year on drinking was okay, that it was okay to leave dishes in the sink and clothes in my floor, that it was okay to eat crap food because it was apparently good enough for people around me.

We use what’s typical to calibrate our expectations for how much we ought to earn, how much time off is reasonable to insist on, how much frustration our relationships and obligations should create for us, the scale of our goals, and how happy we ought to be to be. Don’t do this.

Millions of people believe that when they finally make high five figures, have a home and kids and a faithful spouse, that they ought to be happy, even though they know they’re not. They know they meet society’s standard, but have never thought that society’s standard should have nothing to do with their own.  Read More

Post image for The most powerful force in the universe, and how to use it

Einstein is supposed to have said that the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. It looks like he probably didn’t, as nobody can seem to find a context for that remark. Whoever said it, it’s profound enough that it warrants endorsement by a famous genius.

I bet Einstein would have been someone who understood that compound interest applies to much more than money. Compounding works everywhere, and our interests concern a much broader set of values than money.

Every established blogger knows, for example, that the hardest web traffic to earn is the first few thousand hits, because they must come from nowhere. You must put in time promoting it: commenting on other blogs, making connections, manually pitching your produce to people who have never heard of you and may have no reason to give it a look.

Once you’ve earned some traffic, then more traffic grows on that initial hard-earned traffic. If your labors have built something with value, then you soon reach a point where you don’t need to promote it. You just need to maintain an active blog. The promotion you did in the past is now promoting it for you. You are living off the interest.

With money, we know that it’s a better deal to buy something that makes money than something that loses money, even if they cost the same today. The idea of harnessing compound interest is to understand the tremendous value of that that which naturally generates what you value. A thousand dollars worth of rising securities is worth way more than a thousand dollars worth of currency, because with you’re not just receiving their current value but many years of their capacity to create value.

The whole point of life is to get rich. If you would scoff at that, then maybe you define riches too narrowly. Actual wealth is the capacity to create quality of life. Money is secondary to actual wealth, because it’s worthless except for one purpose: a flexible tool for building quality of life for you and your loved ones. What you build is your *real* estate, which really only amounts to what it feels like to live your life, and your capacity for making it feel like you want.

Regular readers may have noticed a surge of money-related posts recently. I haven’t become more materialistic — this new fascination is not with money or even things, but with the power of compound interest with respect to real wealth.  Read More

Post image for I have never properly worked a day for myself

I’d like to see a pie chart representing all the days I’ve worked in my life, with a different color for every product or service my work ultimately provided each day.

The biggest slice, more than half, would be “Urban infrastructure” — my main career has been as a land surveyor for engineering firms. The slice would probably be orange or brown.

A smaller, blue slice would be labeled “Groceries.” I stocked shelves for a few years.

Maybe one tenth of it would be a yellow one called “Spotless hotel rooms.”

A similar slice would say, “Incompetently-built websites for nonprofit organizations.”

A green sliver, about 1% of the total, would be labeled “Kiwis.” There would even be a one-day hair that would say, “Traveling reptile shows,” if there was room.

These odd products are the commercial ends of my life’s professional efforts. The pie represents about 2500 eight-hour workdays, each one spent producing things I am not particularly interested in.

Ultimately, all those days were worked for myself, for money, but the purpose of the work itself — whether immaculate store shelves, salable kiwis, or working storm sewers — was never mine.

I’ve been writing for Raptitude for almost four years now. It’s not a passing interest. Nothing else makes me feel useful like writing does, and I know now it is what I will do with my life. It’s become a no-brainer. My audience has become huge, and opportunity is knocking pretty hard now. I have more willing partners and viable business ideas than I could ever have time to pursue, even if I did it full time. I have all the pieces I need to go pro.

Legwork is necessary though, and it will have to be done in the hours surrounding my day job as long as I still need one. The obvious thing to do is to devote as much evening and weekend time as possible to building a profitable business. Many of my blogging contemporaries have.

Very often I’ll have an open Saturday coming up, and I imagine I’ll be at my desk at 8:00 and proceed to plow through an article and several hours of overdue correspondence, as if the only reason any of my to-do’s aren’t done is because I was simply waiting for some free time.  Read More

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.