Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Giving is Good for You


Christakis and Fowler say social contagion could even help explain the existence of altruism: if we can pass on altruism to distant points in a network, it would help explain why altruistic people aren’t simply constantly taken advantage of by other members of their community. Last year, to test this theory, they conducted a laboratory experiment in which participants played a “cooperation game.” Each participant was asked to share a sum of money with a small group and could choose to be either generous or selfish. Christakis and Fowler found that if someone was on the receiving end of a generous exchange, that person would become more generous to the next set of partners — until the entire larger group was infected, as it were, with altruistic behavior, which meant the altruist would benefit indirectly. Read the entire article here.

Paying it forward works. I used to be terrible at being generous. I think a real turning point for me was being called out by my friend Matt in highschool/ early college. You see I used to keep track of money I owed people when they had done so much as pick up a drink for me or a ticket or whatever. I recall remembering a 1.50 debt for about 6 months that I owed to someone. Sadly the reverse was also true.

It was a terrible way to live. I realize now that then I operated from a mentality of scarcity. I felt that everything I earned I needed to survive. It was all mine and no one could have it!! Instead I’ve tried to switch to one of abundance. Everything I need is right here. Money comes and goes and I am merely a steward of it. I have so many blessings and gifts in my life. My most valued possessions are not the things I own, but the people I’ve met and the experiences I share with them. That’s the essence of joy.

We are all connected by a web of relationships, and thus what we contribute to others we contribute to ourselves. The biggest way we can change the world is to affect the lives of those around us. I encourage you to think about giving either your time and/or money to a cause you believe in this Christmas. There are a lot of great ones. If you don’t have money perhaps you can do something else to draw attention to your message.

Ps. If you want to donate to the Benevolent Beard I will match all of your donations dollar for dollar up to $500.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Grow The Beard!!


I wanted to take a post to highlight the work of one of my best friends. David Horn of The Benevolent Beard is in the process of growing out his beard and hair for charity. If you knew David you would know that this is right up his ally, he’s always done the right thing, but in a way that entertains both him and those around him.

The charity he’s supporting is Invisible Children and Doctors Without Borders, read why he chose these charities here. Each month the price to keep the hair growing will increase by a percentage. David hopes to maintain the project for two years. That's one hell of a beard. Not all of us can contribute a large sum of money, but I’m going to give you a special opportunity. I want the beard to grow for several months so for anyone who donates between now and December 31, I will match that gift amount up to $500 dollar for dollar. Just include the following in a comment to this post:

Your name
Amount You Donated
Which Charity
Confirmation Number

Note, this isn’t retroactive, so if you donated before then donate again! I encourage everyone to make an impact this holiday season either through this charity or another of your choice. We are all blessed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Understanding in a Veloute


This last weekend I went to a well done cooking class. It was an awesome experience. I learned a lot about the concepts surrounding the creation of food. My problem has always been dancing outside of the recipe and experimenting with new combinations. I never felt that I had any kind of road map. That’s beginning to change.

I made my take on a Veloute sauce for the meal I had tonight and I added some cheap white wine as a flavor enhancer. The sauce apparently tasted good to others, but I was displeased as the cheap wine flavor came through in the sauce. It was sort of tacky.

And as I stirred and stirred and got the sauce to taste I thought about the tie in between cooking and life. (Of course I over analyze, it’s what I do) In cooking regardless of how good of a chef you are; you are limited by what you put into it. If your ingredients suck then your food will suck. To have a great dish you need good ingredients. You also need talent. I’m sure a better chef could have made a much better dish, but even still if he used the white wine the cheap flavor would be there. Life is sort of the same way. We get results based on both effort and talent. Some of us are more talented then others. With practice that talent can develop, but our ingredients or effort will always limit our results. If our effort sucks then the end product will suck.

At my client there have been a lot of changes and thus opportunities. I have the option now of increasing my responsibility dramatically. I want this opportunity, but I need to improve in a big way. I have the talent, but I have to put in the effort. I haven’t at times in the past and my work hasn’t been as good. Even though I have the talent I was limiting my product by not putting forth my best effort. I used bad ingredients and got bad results.

I’m working very hard right now because I know that I can’t achieve excellent results with mediocre effort. I can have the talent, but I need the ingredients to make a great dish. Mediocrity is a waste of everyone’s time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Snow!


It's a rare treat when it snows in Houston. For one it NEVER happens here and more importantly you tend to get off of work. They like to say it's for safety reasons, but I secretly think it's because even old men like to stand outside mouth open to catch a few flakes themselves. I'm sitting at home as I type this basking in the awesomeness that is this wintery wonderland.

One of my coworkers is from Missouri and as we sat in our corner conference room staring wide eye at the blizzard he said, "I forgot how crazy snow makes you guys down here." (He doesn't say ya'll what a loser!) It got me thinking about how thankful I was for the snow today because it's different. It's rare and new. If it snowed every winter it wouldn't be half as special.

It reminded me that change is a joy. When we find ourselves in new circumstances it's an opportunity for something magical to happen. It's something to embrace, appreciate, and love. Next time you wonder if change is the right way to go think about the snow. Sometimes the new and rare brings us the most joy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

World War II- A Thought On Fear


I’ve been slowly watching World War II in HD over the past week. Its World War II told through the diaries of individuals who were there as well as original video. I am surprised that almost all of the video was shot in color. If you haven’t seen it then I highly recommend it.

I’m always fascinated listening to veterans talk about the war. They see things that men shouldn’t see and go through trials that many of us have never and will never experience. I’ve seen it said throughout the years that after World War II and many other post war economies experience a period of rapid growth after war. I thought about this fact as I watched the program and I developed a theory.

After these men almost lose their lives I imagine that their fear of going bankrupt or taking up a particular vocation to please their parents goes out the door. They come home and decide to just follow their dreams. When we stare death in the face we are suddenly faced with the truth that life is short, it’s fragile, and it’s special. These men see their friends and brothers stripped of their dreams and hopes. War is a magnifying glass of that realization.

And what’s amazing is that when you have a country where the citizens collectively pursue their passions, the country as a whole improves. There are many better ways both morally and more efficiently to increase the economy, but still I browsed Wikipedia’s list of companies started in 1946. This list isn’t comprehensive, but if you follow by year more companies were started right after the war ended (late 1945) then before the war (1940) and the number declines in years afterward. Great ideas are out there, but individuals are held back by a fear of failure. These men when faced with the reality of death realized that the fear of failure was far inferior.

I don’t have a great idea yet, but maybe you do. If you have one then I encourage you to pursue it. Take a note from our great grandfathers who pushed this country forward and take action. The great successes of our generation will be marked by those who took a risk and jumped. Our generation is a generation of dreamers and hopefully it won’t take a war for us to take action.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Passion A New Theory?


In my article last Friday I referenced a post by Scott Young regarding the pursuit of multiple passions. In response to the article Cal Newport wrote an interesting piece on what he believes passion truly is.

Cal contends that passion is the feeling that arises from having mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards. And therefore a passion is not discovered, but it is in fact cultivated.

Brief Overview
It’s an interesting theory that on a surface level makes sense. I can recall going through school and how much I loved it in the early years. It was extremely easy and through minimal effort I received high scores and recognition in every subject. As I reached junior high certain subjects not based on logic (Spanish, Geography, etc.) proved difficult because the information couldn’t be figured out without studying. Science and math stayed easy through early highschool. I remember sleeping in Algebra class and only waking up to ace the tests. At the behest of my teacher I was asked to attend the district math competition and discovered several days later I won second place. I didn’t care and never claimed the medal or the certificate. As I took more difficult math classes the material was harder than my innate intelligence. I didn’t put in any effort to learn the material and got mediocre grades. At this point school work was no longer fun, I had lost my “passion” for school.

We all have things that we do well, but mastery requires us to apply ourselves to a vocation. How does this theory apply in the professional world? Passion is not something that strikes us like lightning and all of a sudden we are there ready to do great things. Rather passion is something that is nurtured through repeated effort and realized once we achieve a high level of skill. Find something that you occasionally enjoy doing and develop a skillset and level of mastery that allows you to achieve the life you wanted. If you are the very best X in the world do you think you could set your own hours?

In application
So for me personally that means to spend time developing something I enjoy. I’ve realize that I truly enjoy leadership. At my current job running projects, overseeing/motivating people, explaining concepts, and recruiting are my favorite activities. What I don’t do is develop my talent outside of a work environment. So let’s say my goal is as follows: to be an effective leader that motivates and improves the lives of others while providing an invaluable asset to my company. I can now identify daily steps I should take to develop mastery.

As part of my goal I plan on devoting at least an hour a day to focused mastery. This can be through an increased participation in organizations, encouragement, or increasing my knowledge base. The options go on and on. The point is that I should do SOMETHING. Additionally, I must view my job as a place to cultivate the knowledge necessary to master information that develops me professionally as an asset. I’m reminded of a great quote (unfortunately did not record the source):

Today, you have the opportunity to change everything. Your whole live hinges on today’s actions. If you do not act today, if you do not grab control of your fate today, your life will take a completely different trajectory. One path leads to greatness, and the other path leads to a life where you will look back on today as the day where you could have spoken up, today is the day where you could have reached out. You will look back realizing that today was the one chance you had to change everything. Do not let this moment pass you by.

Where do your natural abilities lie? What can you master if you set your mind to it? It’s time to put in the work, today.

I hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jump!


As you stare down at 13,000 feet below you with the wind whipping through the cabin, jumping out of an airplane no longer seems like a good idea. As I prepared to jump I checked every lock and strap, and still sheer terror coursed through my veins as I knew that my life was in the hands of a cloth bag packed by someone I didn’t know.

And then you jump…

Four seconds of extreme fear followed by an amazing calm. The wind stops being so loud, you are now part of the heavens. Amazement and awe struck beauty sweep over you. 20 seconds ago you felt you had made the worst decision of your life but in this moment it is beautiful and perfect.

Going out of our comfort zone is never easy. Our initial reaction is always fear and dread because it’s not what we know. These times of pushing our limits are always where we find the most growth. When we go beyond what we know we learn something, and we change. The world is now bigger and we become better people for it.

This is especially true when we make career, social, or spiritual decisions. When we take the leap our idea of truth or norms are challenged. So today what can you do to step into the unknown. Is there something you have been wanting to do, but couldn’t quite go through with? It’s scary and unknown; chances are though on the other side you will come out a bigger and better person. In the words of a famous brand… just do it.

Do one thing every day that scares you.
-Mary Scmich, Wear Sunscreen

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Note on Passion


I have grown rather frustrated at times with my inability to find a life’s passion. Why can’t I find something that I want to become absolutely excellent at? Instead I find myself wanting to experience the world. One goal of mine has always been to run a business, and I have tried to pursue skillsets to help me in that role.

The problem was that I couldn’t find something that I wanted to be truly excellent at. So this sliver of doubt creeped in and frustrated me to no end. Steve Pavlina talks a lot about synchronicities and the fact that the world around you shows you what you should be doing. It’s a little out there and yet I see situations where I get little hints that I’m on the right path. This week for example as I struggled with discovering passion an explosion of ideas that supported my current path came to the forefront.

I downloaded and read the getAbstract version of On Becoming a Leader by Warren Bennis. Bennis mentions that leaders progressively grow and develop professionally and personally throughout their lives. Leaders often have a wide range of hobbies and activities they engage in. This allows them relate to many different types of people and a wide base of knowledge is a strength. This was refreshing because I’ve been so set on finding out the one thing that motivates me. Instead I always end up engaging in and enjoying many activities. Bennis supports and encourages this idea of well roundedness.

Scott Young wrote an article this week about pursuing several passions. Within the article is a blog post by Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert. Adams states that the reason he succeeded wasn't because he could write jokes better than comedians or draw better than artists; rather when you combined his skills: knowledge of the business world, writing jokes, and drawing he offered a skillset that no one else could match. In pursuing several passions you can become proficient at many that develop a unique perspective and skillset unmatched by your peers. Adams goes further and mentions that the one thing he tells all graduates is to focus on your speaking and writing skills. Regardless of what you career you decide on these skills will serve you well. I’ve spent a great deal of time on public speaking (through toastmaster’s and work related activities) and writing (work as well as this blog). The hours I’ve spent are extremely important to where I want to go in the future.

If you have a passion, pour yourself into that passion. The people who are the very best at what they do have put the most time into honing their craft. It is estimated that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something. It takes much more to be one of the very best. If instead you are like me and don’t seem to have one passion. Then increase your knowledge base and skillsets by engaging in lots of activities. Become well read in many areas and be able to understand and communicate with all types of people. Additionally, work on your speaking and writing skills as they are crucial in any vocation. Renaissance men and women can bring groups of talent together and create an environment where exceptionally talented people can achieve fantastic results.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Update: Spain to Italy 2010

I posted a new post over at the Spit2010 Blog. Click here to check it out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

30 Day Experiment: Getting Unfat and Energized


I seemed to have broken the bank at costco yesterday as I stocked up for my new diet. I’ve been hinting at it for a few weeks, and now that my trips, birthday, and Halloween are over I decided it was time to execute. I plan on following a Paleo diet for the next thirty days. I haven’t read much of Good Calories, Bad Calories so as I delve more into the book I will have additional information to add on the benefits of such a diet.

The main idea is simply that our bodies are made to digest things that are natural to us as human beings. It has been propagated in our culture that high fat diets lead to heart disease, clogged arteries, etc. The problem with this premise is that as people eat less fat in their daily lives (for more carbs) the chance of heart disease does not decrease (see President Eisenhower as a famous example) but has in fact increased.

What modern science has started to find is that processed carbohydrates are the enemy. Foods that are high glycemic in nature spike our insulin levels and cause all sorts of messes for our body. The symptom that I am most concerned with is the energy level fluctuations. After eating a high carb meal (note when I say high carb I’m assuming high glycemic carbs) your body spikes in energy and then subsequently crashes as well. When you replace those carbs with naturally digestable carbs such as vegetables, fruits, quinoa, etc. these spikes don’t occur and you receive a steady energy supply throughout the day. Proponents of the diet claim a willingness to be more active and energized.

So my hypothesis is that by eating a paleo style diet I will have more energy level for activity and feel more energized throughout the day. I will test it by following a paleo diet for 30 days. I will have at least one cheat meal a week since I eat out with my work team one day a week, and possibly one or two meals on the weekend. So I am committing myself to 18-19/21 meals a week.

I’m getting recipes from two blogs and will consult a few websites if I’m looking for something far out there. What’s interesting is the use of natural sweetners. Blue Agave nectar is supposedly sweeter then table sugar and yet low glycemic. I’ve reviewed interesting dessert recipes I want to try, and If I remember I will take a picture of some of my favorite meals to share with you.

In truth, I tend to follow this natural diet most of the time. I just haven’t committed myself to so many healthy meals and documented my results. I am very interested to see if I will have a significant change in energy level as some have claimed. As always, if you have any questions or comments post them below and I will respond.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Frustration of Self Improvement


Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day, at the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.
- Charlie Munger


You can’t tell someone else how to live their life, because it’s not your life to live. It’s hard being a family member or as I would imagine a parent and seeing someone you care about make poor choices. There is really nothing you can do about it.

I talk to lots of people and they seem to in general have the same routine. Perhaps they go home and watch tv or play video games or work out or whatever. Our quality of life is the summation of our daily choices. Many of the top self help bloggers mention the biggest problem they face is getting people to put their suggestions into action. It’s hard to get moving.

And I’m no saint, far from perfect. I just got back into working out regularly this week. I’ve done an activity or two a week but I could be digging deeper into what life has to offer. I have no excuses. So what’s the answer? I’m not sure how to change others and I’m no expert on even changing myself. Perhaps though Munger gets it right. Day by day do SOMETHING to make yourself a better person. It will all add up and pretty soon you will get what you deserve.

So perhaps to change others we must change ourselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brand New All Over Again


I picked up poker again. It was the culmination of two things. One: watching the world series of poker and realizing how much I loved the game. I remember sitting in Dunn Hall and playing in the tournament I had started. I loved seeing how people reacted, studying it, and finding out why they did what they did. Human behavior is something I find captivating. What causes people to act in certain ways? That always drove my interest in poker. I wanted to beat them because I knew why they were playing the way that they did. You can read more about my poker past here and here.

Two: poker is a game that falls into my skillset. I’m not very emotional at all. I stay even keeled regardless of the circumstances. Poker favors the calm; you will lose pots you should win and vice versa. It’s not something for the faint of heart. As long as I make the right play I’m not disappointed because I know over the long term it will pay off. I have a logical mind, and at the simplest level poker is a game of logical math. Calculating odds is relatively simple and pairing that with your observations is how you become successful. I don’t know what level of success I can achieve, but I want to give it one more try. My beginning goal is to play for a month and assess where I stand at that point. My bankroll is $600.

I’ve been playing since Monday now and have played approximately 800 hands and made$63 in cash games netted against 40 or so in tourney entries. Took me about a day to get back into the flow of the game. I won’t go into the details because it’s not relevant to most of you. Though I have been blogging on a daily basis my poker hijinks and keeping in depth records of my progress. If I decide to post them I will create a new blog to do so. I still have made some frustrating mistakes that have hampered my progress. I’ll start playing live tournaments soon.

I’ve always stressed to find something you are good with and then develop the skill. I got away from poker at the time because I had to in order to be successful in school. I’m not in the same life position I was then. As with all my experiments I will perform an assessment in thirty days to decide if I want to continue playing. So far I’m able to balance my time with it well and am committing between an hour and two hours a day.

Do you have an activity that you used to do well? Could it be profitable for you?

Lucid Dream Update
I am still trying to lucid dream and recording my dreams. My dreams still come and go. I’m recalling perhaps 2-4 dreams a week. I hope to improve that number. I’ve achieved lucidity once, but was woken up shortly after doing so. I haven’t tried any of the lucid techniques yet, but hopefully can over vacation when I don’t have to risk losing sleep.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sparking an Old Habit


This Sunday was my birthday. I always find them odd. Aside from ones where the state recognizes something special about you (16, 18, 21) or where you enter a new decade (30,40,50…) the day in and of itself never seems special to me. I’m 1/365 older today then I was yesterday. And still it always serves as a point of reflection.

I’ve been lazy the past three weeks or so. My workout routine was interrupted for a few days as my crossfit gym got banned from doing activity indoors. This was followed by the fact that it rained torrentially for the better part of four days. Once my routine was interrupted I settled for poor habits rather than replacing them with good. I’m far from perfect and I admit that I stifled my progress. I am back though into the swing of things so I wanted to share my method for getting back on track:

1) Go Back to the Start

My goal board helped me tremendously in the early going to achieve a level of routine. To restart my routine I restarted my goal board by listing out daily tasks I would complete to have a successful day.

2) Identify bad routines and eliminate

One of the things I would habitually do is come home and eat and then veg out for the rest of the night. I wanted to go running instead so I picked up Jenks and took my companion for a jog. This was outside my routine and I replaced my lazyness by doing something out of the ordinary (picking up the dog).

3) Don’t Overdo It

In the past I would have gone and ran 6 or 7 miles. That would have been good for one day, but kept me from working out today. Instead I ran about 2 miles and I will lift or run about the same distance today. I simply need to reestablish my habit and then work on pushing myself.

It’s not easy to start. It’s the hardest part of achieving a great lifestyle. Once you can develop a routine the process gets a lot easier. Focus on the repetition and then tweak the activity until you maximize the effectiveness. Soon I’ll be back on the crossfit wagon, but it starts with a jog.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dentist



The dentist I went to for eight years while in highschool and college was manned by a guy in his late 50s. I would walk in sit down and a hygienist would do all of the paperwork and cleaning. Every time I went Dr. McCullough would spend maybe 30 seconds looking at my teeth and then chat for 3 min and leave. “What did this guy do anyway?” I remember thinking. He got paid to spend 30 seconds on my teeth.

One day in his 30 second exam he stopped, he’d found a cavity. He pointed it out to the hygienist with 10 years of experience; chided her for not finding it. He found something in 30 seconds the hygienist didn’t find in 15 minutes. The hygienist did all the work, but the dentist had the knowledge. So do you want to be the hygienist or the dentist?

I recently have been promoted and my job is becoming more like the dentist. It’s a lot more responsibility, and a lot more is required. I’ve noticed a few differences I wanted to share with you:

The Buck Stops Here- As one in charge, you make the decisions. The higher you go up the tree the less you can rely on the past work of others. You have the final say and you’re responsible for the results.

Manage- Managing other people is important. It’s very interesting as you progress up how your attitude affects the attitude of those below you. You become the rudder for the ship and steer your crew to success or failure. Getting the most out of people and maintaining strong relationships is the number 1 tenet of a successful career.

Change- My favorite aspect is being the catalyst for change. It’s important to know what was done in the past, but now it’s your job to improve it. How can things be done better and with a better utilization of resources?

Big Picture- As you progress you become big picture oriented. What do the results mean to our project? How do we and use our results? What changes or decisions should be made based on our findings.

Become a Resource- The ones at the top are fountains of knowledge. They may not know the exact details, but they know how to do the jobs of those under them. They can teach and lead others to accomplish their tasks efficiently and effectively.

I’m still very low on the totem pole, but I’ve seen the beginnings of this idea as I’ve progressed in my career and it’s exciting. I enjoy making decisions it’s part of who I am and what I enjoy doing. I encourage everyone to step outside of their role and start to learn the affects of the information they process, or the job they do. As you gain a bigger picture you begin to become bigger than your role. That is a step for moving forward.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tipping Point


It’s good to be back. I was extremely busy at work and decided that since I had just reached 100 posts to take a week off from posting. I traveled to Lubbock this week and watched A&M snag their first win there since 1993. In between the game and fanfare I finished up Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

The book attempts to perpetuate the idea that it’s a series of little things that eventually add up to have a significant impact. For example, in the case of Boston STDs the spread increases based on the season, vaccinations offered, etc. Another fact studied is that there is a magical number of when things change. For example, Gore-Tex has found that if their plants contain more than 150 people then communication between departments break down. I couldn’t help but recall From Good to Great and how it mentioned the idea of how great companies are created by a series of little changes rather than one big change. A culture is established step by step.

The idea that stuck with me the most was the idea of how information gets moved between people. Gladwell contends that there are three types of people that have significant influence on how we give and receive information: connectors, mavens, and salesman.

Connectors are individuals who know a lot of people and are connected to many social networks. You don’t have to search these people out; connectors find you. They are extremely adept at maintaining many loose relationships. If a connector is fond of an idea they can generate buzz simply by the number of people they come into contact with. They are valued for their ability to link people together. Gladwell contends that contrary to popular belief, each individual is not linked to roughly the same amount of people, but rather it’s more of a hub and spoke system with connectors linking us all.

Mavens are purveyors of information on specific subjects. A maven is a person that offers expertise in an area. People look to them to offer value when making a decision. They also will be the ones to help you install said object. Mavens are valued for their ability to decipher information in a particular area. If you need a car you talk to a car maven before you make your decision. They can tell you the best price, best time to buy, car details, etc.

Salesmen are the most easily understood. They are the individuals who can close people on a particular idea or trend. They come off as friendly and helpful and their excitement is inspiring. A salesman wants to help those around them and very often can prompt action. Salesmen are needed to encourage others to try or pick up on great ideas. They perpetuate change.

Which One Are You

The value in this book is understanding how you can add to others. Most of us are some combination of the three above.

When analyzing myself I believe that I a maven connector. I am very good at finding expert opinions on lots of information and have done lots of different things. Therefore, if people ask me for activities to try; I can generally find something that they will enjoy doing. I am especially adept at restaurants. If someone gives me the reason they want to eat out I will find a place with good food and an atmosphere conducive to the occasion. As one of my friends mentioned I am an encyclopedia of experiences.

How to Use It
The biggest revelation for me was that we are not all the same. We don’t need to all strive to be better at everything, but rather find where we excel and offer that value to others. I tend to want to be self reliant and do everything on my own, but I need to understand that others are more gifted and enjoy things that I don’t. As human beings we have the tendency to be ego-centric and incorrectly assume that everyone acts and feels as we do.

Is it Worth Reading
If the subjects above interest you than you would enjoy the book. There are many examples of social experiments and case studies which I found very interesting; though this type of material is not for everyone. If you are fascinated by human behavior and what causes trends, diseases, or ideas to spread than this book is for you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Very Quick Update

Folks I've been really busy out of the ordinary this week. At work I have been under a deadline for a project (due today). I also have been planning a trip to Lubbock (this weekend) and the Halloween party (next weekend). All of this crazy activity has caused me to lag behind in my blog updating. I want throw out a little higher quality so I need a solid hour to get a good post together.

Things will pick back up after this week. Look for my post on my recent dinner at Catalan soon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Post 100- Time to Refocus



My 100th blog post. This is a considered a milestone in the blogging community. For me it’s been a journey in and of itself. My first few posts were sporadic and few and far between. I set out with the goal of making regular posts and improving my writing. I started with the commitment of one a week and then switched to two. Every Tuesday and Thursday for five months I have released a blog. If you’ve been with me since the beginning thank you. I appreciate the support.

I read a post a few days back by Penelope and she mentioned that if you aren’t blogging for others then you should just start a journal. It’s a good point. Regardless of my goals I release what I create because I want to add value to someone else. So why haven’t I been writing for these people? I thought about my blog theme or message for the better part of three days. I realized that my blog is about trying to discover the best life. Whether I’m talking about an activity I engage in, a 30 day experiment, a restaurant I’ve tried, or an idea I’ve had the theme always comes back to finding out what maximizes the human experience. I haven’t done a great job of pushing that theme in everything I write and that’s a mistake.

From this point forward look for my posts to always tie to that central message. This gives you the reader an expectation of what to expect when you check out my writing. I am sharing with you a piece of my journey in discovering the best life. With that idea in mind I’ve thought about how to better tailor my posts. Instead of just talking about activities I will do a better job of describing the activity, atmosphere, and who I think will benefit from the activity. For my 30 day experiments I’ll try and focus more on how the change has affected me emotionally and the benefits vs perceived benefits I anticipated before I started.

I also plan to share a lot more blog posts written by others that have both inspired and encouraged me in my journey. There are a lot of great writers out there and I should share their great ideas. In conclusion, my new focus isn’t on me anymore it’s on you. How do I turn my life and experiences into something that benefits you in your life? I love to try things and some of you guys are too busy or not interested in taking the time to try everything. I hope that I can do that for you and possibly help you discover a new passion or activity that adds value to your life. If you have an idea you’ve wanted to try then let me know about it. I’ll give it a go and let you know my results.

In the near future I have a few things coming down the pipe. I am currently reading Good Calories, Bad Calories and will probably give a 30 day extreme diet a try. I’m still documenting my dreams with the hope of going lucid. I’ll share some experiences as that comes to fruition. I’m going to write some better tailored posts for crossfit, salsa, yoga, and rock climbing under what I hope to be my new format. I look forward to the next 100 and I hope you are pleased with the changes to come.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Restaurant Review- Lucio's


I haven’t done a restaurant review in quite some time. Part of the reason is that I stopped eating out for awhile and have been busy with other tasks. In eating out less I would often settle on old favorites instead of venture into the unknown. Yesterday I went to Lucio’s, the first new place I’ve eaten at in quite some time on a friends recommendation.

It was a last second decision as sushi was going to be the fare of choice. He asked for a rain check and so I suggested the BYOB Lucio’s. I mistakenly assumed that because of the BYOB tag the restaurant would run in the $10-15 range. The entrees are more in the $20-30 with appetizers and salads running in the $8-12 range.
The décor is nice, but not overly fancy. White tables and dimly lit dining room with works done by independent artists along the walls (all for sale). When thinking of a phrase to describe it I would go with modestly fancy. The waiter was very friendly and congenial; which to me is the sign of a good things going on in the kitchen. We debated over the vanilla bean crab cakes with mango salsa or the calamari, and decided to choose the calamari. The bread served beforehand isn’t fancy but it’s served extremely warm and the crust is slightly crispy. It’s the theme of this place not too fancy but executed beautifully.

The calamari was served with two sauces. The first was a marinara sauce with cheese melted inside. The sauce was just how a marinara sauce should be. The tomatoes aren’t acidic but full flavored, spiced with a little oregano and the melted cheese adding some heartiness without being overpowering. The second sauce is olive oil (I believe) and butter with garlic and some sort of pepper called peppercini which based on my limited research is very similar to a banana pepper. The flavor is spicy enough to remember what it taste like but again all the flavors are beautifully balanced. The reason I loved it so much was the stark contrast between the two sauces gives you two different taste experiences. The hardiness and full bodied marinara contrasted with the light and spicy peppercini sauce.

For entrees Thomas selected a scallop dish with butternut squash risotto and port reduction. His dish was as it should be. The scallops were perfectly seared and left soft in the middle. The risotto was accompanied by two shrimp and the port sauce was on open plate throughout the dish. To cook truly good food the entire dish must marry together and it’s something I rarely see in Houston, but here the entire dish was buttery and light. None of the flavors overpowered, but all contributed to a spectacular flavor. I was disappointed to only try a bite.

I went with the bone-in pork chop after much deliberation. I was brought a pork chop wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with duxelle (mushrooms, shallots, herbs and butter) accompanied with mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage. It was amazing. The prosciutto wrapped on the outside was crisped leaving the inside moist and stuffed with a beautiful duxelle. The cabbage was muted with a tinge of sour and served to cleanse the pallet. The potatoes were excellent when paired with the pork. Buttered and creamy, but not overpowering.

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better meal in Houston. It was excellent and yet simple. As great food always is. I highly recommend it.

Here is where it is located

The Restaurant website

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This is going to be a sort of quick thoughts for the day. As I’ve approached my 100th post I’m going to re-approach my blog. I’ll go into more detail in the 100th post, but I hope to make the blog more entertaining, relevant, and beneficial to you, the reader.

My next thirty day experiment is going to be a very strict paleo diet. I’m trying to explore the change in energy levels that people mention in various posts I have read. I’m currently reading Good Calories, Bad Calories in preparation.

Lucid Dreaming is going well. I’m still flip flopping between very vivid dreams and almost no dream recollection at all. I’m attributing this to a change in sleeping schedule, but am still focused on going lucid. Plus, the dream recollection has been entertaining. I’ve been very surprised with the variance in dreams that I have.

I am debating taking on some meatier posts that will require some research. It will depend on if my annoyance with the issue has subsided in the next few days.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Discovering Your Best Self



“He/She is So Fake”

I don’t know about you, but I heard it a hundred times in junior high and highschool. The phrase was used to describe people that would shift from social group to social group. One day they may be wearing all out punk gear and the next dressing like an Abercrombie model. These people were shunned or made fun of, but in a lot of ways they were developing one of the most important strategies for success.

My early life can be characterized by a rigid world view of how things are. Things were black or white. In searching for the best way of doing things you very often find out that in reality there is a best way for YOU to do things. The only way to find out what’s best for you is to try doing it another way. I’ve had the rare fortune of being friends with people who are complete opposites of me in many ways. We’ve challenged each other’s ideas, values, etc. even down to mundane tasks. I’ve learned a lot about giving and selflessness. I’ve learned about acceptance and appreciation for the view of others.

This applies to activities as well. Chances are if someone tells me about an activity they enjoy I want to try it. Who knows I may find it enjoyable. In the last year and a half I’ve raced for the first time in a 5k, rode a road bike, skydived, cross fit, rock climbed, salsa danced, started a blog, planned my first cross-continental trip, etc. In each of these activities I’ve come out better for trying it. I’ve learned more about things I like and don’t like, met a lot of great people, and been exposed to ideas and cultures I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

I recently read the book Life Nomadic by Tynan (if you find travel interesting I recommend it) and he noted that when he travels the world for four to five months at a time he comes back and finds his friends in the same place doing the same thing. Nothing has changed for them. I would hope that isn’t the case for me. I was talking to an ex girlfriend the other day who I hadn’t talked to in awhile and she mentioned how much I’ve changed since college. That’s progress.

I sometimes wish I was more aggressive with trying new things or meeting new people. It’s a process. I’m not the master of change and I’m not doing anything special. I can look back though at myself from a year ago and know that I’m a better person. When we subscribe to a particular idealogy or way of living life we cut a statue from the same mold as someone else. Michelangelo’s David is a masterpiece because it’s one of a kind. If I walked into a museum and they had exact replicas of David throughout the whole museum I’d be bored after the first few. Each us of us is a unique creature with unique passions created by God for a unique purpose. Expose yourself to something new. Chisel and refine your greatest masterpiece; you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Man Behind the Curtain


A very popular blogger Penelope Trunk recently sparked controversy resulting in several video interviews. I watched one of them more out of curiosity of seeing how she talked and acted. I left feeling that she was more ordinary then I would have imagined.

Likewise the owners of the simple dollar, zen habits, and get rich slowly come off as ordinary and in some cases slightly nerdy. Whenever you see them live or see pictures the façade of a superhuman like individual disappears. I was thinking about this and what it truly means. Why do we put athletes, movie stars, and in my case blog writers on these pedestals. Part of the reason for me is because I don’t want to believe that I am capable of what they do. I can say “Well I could never do that,” and so I don’t. If I convince myself that greatness is something that I wasn’t gifted with then I can’t hold myself accountable to that standard. The truth is that a focused pursuit of a passion is what leads to success. In all cases of success the story is essentially the same. X person pursues something they are passionate about and success is a result of their hard work. That’s the key to it all. Mastering your craft and practice.

I want to again feature and write about my friend Yossi’s blog In Love With Baking. In reading it you think about all the work she puts into her craft. She experiments and creates for friends and family at essentially no costs. As I follow along I notice how her projects are becoming more and more beautiful. I always try to convince her to attend cooking school and learn even more difficult techniques, but truthfully she is achieving success right now. Her practice is really a pleasure. She loves it.

Do what you love, because when you love something you will put in the time to become great at it. Those who are successful in their fields are at the top because they do something they are passionate about. As some of my friends like to say, “there’s nothing to it, but to do it.”

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Quick Thoughts: Lucid Dreaming Update


Just wanted to provide a quick update on my dream recall for my lucid dream experiment. According to the instructions I am following I need to do this for two to three weeks before moving to step 2. Beginning with this week my dream recall has become more substantial. Many of my dream recollections cover half a page to a page. Writing it down has enabled me to recall my dreams throughout the day. I have had three very vivid dreams and a few days where I could not remember anything at all. I would guess that on mornings when I can’t remember anything it’s because I was woken up by an alarm during a non- dreaming sleep cycle.

Occasionally now I will wake up in the middle of the night and be conscious. I state in my mind to go back to sleep and lucid dream. Not sure if it is having an effect, but my biggest breakthrough came on Wednesday night. In my dream I went to sleep and woke up in my dream world. I was around two or three blinking clocks and was trying to set the alarm. David (my brother) came in to talk to me about getting his shirts stolen and then I woke up in real life. It was an odd feeling after the fact to realize that I had gone to sleep and then woken up in this dream world. I feel I was on the cusp of going lucid. Right now though I still am just playing a part in events and don’t have conscious control of my actions.

I’m hoping for a break through this weekend. I often do best on the weekends because I can sleep as long as I want and as you sleep for longer periods of time you predominantly engage in REM sleep which is a dreaming state. Hope everyone has a great weekend I’m off to Dallas for the A&M-Arkansas game!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

It's Funny How Things Work Out


As I approached 100 unique visitors which is considered a very small stepping stone in the way of blogs I waited to make my next post. I was set to hit 100 unique visitors or so this week. What I would have never guessed is that I would have hit 200 visitors on the same day I hit 100. Someone searched for 'mistress poker' on the 2plus2 forums (a popular poker strategy site) and my post on poker came up.
It’s funny because bloggers talk about how the post that becomes the most popular is rarely the one you spent the most amount of time on. The poker blog was a deviation from my main content, and yet has as many visitors as almost all of my other posts combined. Go figure.

So I suppose this is a time for some sort of assessment. I started this blog to improve my writing skills. I’m not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I can read through old posts and see that I’ve gotten better. It’s a little easier for me to form thoughts on the page and have at least a hint of eloquence at times.

I’ve had other benefits as well. This blog has been a great way for me to stay accountable to self development. A lot of my 30 day experiments have taught me more about myself and where I want to go then I would have originally thought.

It’s an interesting dynamic interacting with people when they know so much about you and you don’t know the same in return. I’ve reconnected with a few people and in a few instances individuals have messaged me that something I said improved their life in some way. A few people have started a blog after reading mine. That’s exciting; hopefully as I achieve more readers I can help others in some way.

If you read the blog then thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts. It’s been a fun year or so. Hopefully, as this blog continues the content gets even more entertaining.

Edit: I hit 300 overnight as responding to people about my post made the post even more popular. Haha go figure

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First Quarter Review of the Aggies


The Aggies are through three games of the season. In my preview I stressed the importance of getting big leads to enable the team to have flexibility to get guys reps and to give some flexibility to explore the offense. The team delivered beating their first three opponents by a combined score of 135-55. Many of the opponent’s points came at the end of games while defensive subs were playing. As an A&M fan I don’t think that you can ask for a better first three games. The Aggies did what they needed to do and blew out all three teams.

The Offense
Going into this weekend A&M is sporting the number one offense in the country. This is miraculous given the fact that A&M’s best receiver Jeff Fuller is out with a cracked fibula for 1.5 of those games and Ryan Tannehill, the Ag’s second best receiver, is getting limited reps as he is also the back up quarterback. The best part about the receiving corp is that A&M doesn’t just have one go to guy. The Aggies have thrown to thirteen different receivers. Six of them have scored touchdowns in a game. Additionally, six receivers have over 50 yards receiving. Jerrod Johnson is doing a great job of leading the offense. His accuracy on mid range balls is questionable at times, but he tends to miss away from the defender and has zero interceptions through the first quarter of the schedule. If he threw crossing routes in stride then A&M would have a few more break out plays. Sherman (one who rarely compliments) came out and said how well Johnson is audibling at the line of scrimmage. Obviously as a fan those are things I can’t know one way or the other. The fact that Sherman comes out and says it in a press conference shows the level of confidence he has in Johnson’s ability. Johnson is averaging 320.3 yards 3 touchdowns per game passing; and 65.3 yards 1.3 touchdowns per game rushing. As mentioned above Johnson has zero interceptions and zero turnovers through three games. An overlooked unsung hero has been Jamie McCoy who is the teams second leading receiver at tight end. He's blocking extremely well and is even playing fullback to confuse the personel assignments for the defense. A&M is also moving the ball on the ground averaging 244 yards per game. Christine Michael the freshman running back is truly special and through two games has averaged 93.5 yards per game. In both he played about three quarters. Michael could be the best back A&M has had since Leeland McElroy. Cyrus Gray the incumbent starter doesn’t have all of Michael’s tools, but is a great back who fights for every yard. Gray is currently averaging 67 yards per game and is the workhorse of the group. Our weakest unit on offense is the offensive line. Pass protection has been good and at times great, but I’m not sure if it will hold up to some of the more salty defensive lines in the big 12. The run blocking has been serviceable but not great. The interior guard play is decent and a lot of our break out runs are through the middle, but the tackle spot has been slow to develop. Stephen Barrera has just moved into the left tackle spot as of last game and scored out well. I’m curious to see how he and the rest of the line does against a more formidable opponent this weekend.

The Defense
If you could say one thing about this defense compared to last years it’s that they are capable of making big plays. You couldn’t say that last year. I still don’t believe it as I type it, but A&M leads the nation in sacks. Last year the Aggies had 16 sacks all year and through three games the 2009 total is already at 14. Leading the way is the national sack leader Von Miller with 8 through three games or 2.67 sacks per game. Miller is fast, plays with his pads low, and strong as an ox. He’s the real deal and the best pass rusher I’ve seen since I’ve been watching the Aggies religiously (2001 season). Featherston is also a suitable back up at the position and makes plays of his own with 1 sack and 3 tackles for a loss. The defensive interior line is the weakest unit on the field for the Aggies in my opinion. Tony Jerod-Eddie is starting to make some plays up the middle during passing downs, but the run defense is questionable for those guys. It’s rare to see them move the line of scrimmage backwards. I’m concerned about getting gashed up the middle by some of the bigger offensive lines starting with this weekend. The linebacker spot is easily the most improved unit on the defensive side of the ball. It’s great to see linebackers shedding blocks and running to the ball. The unit has about 70 tackles on the season or about 30% of the team total. Two of our top three tacklers are linebackers Kyle Mangan and Garrick Williams. As we move ahead this year I want these guys to overtake Trent Hunter as the leading tackler on the team and continue to perform against the more aggressive offensive lines of the big 12.

Conclusion
I’m not sure how this season will end up. Most importantly though this team, which is playing 30 underclassmen, is playing above its individual talent level. I haven’t seen that in a really long time. I’m not sure that we beat Arkansas this weekend, but I know that this team won’t quit and will give 110% on Saturday. For that reason I love this team and what they are capable of. My prediction for the season still stands at 7-5; if we pull out Arkansas or Oklahoma State then 8 wins becomes something worth talking about.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Team Do Stuff



Doing stuff is fun. Really through happenstance I have had an eventful two weeks; because of that it’s been a great two weeks. I’ve had 3 parties/get togethers at my house, played softball, attended A&M games, played football, taught Sunday school, done salsa lessons, started documenting my dreams, and done Crossfit. This weekend I’m going rock climbing, A&M game, Sunday School, and going to try and ride a motorcycle.

I find it enjoyable to try out activities and meet new people. I enjoy gaining a new experience and it’s interesting meeting the different kinds of people that do different activities. In fact I would say another one of my hobbies is understanding what makes people tick. I also hope that through my adventures that I will find something I am truly passionate about. Part of me though is starting to think that my passion is new experiences. I enjoy Crossfit because it allows me to be prepared to do any type of physical activity. I enjoy feeling in shape. Toastmaster’s develops a skill that serves me both personally and professionally. The activities I stick with tend to benefit me in multiple ways and better enable me to get good at multiple things.

Obviously, the advantage to this is that I get to meet lots of different people. Just this fact alone has dramatically changed who I am. We grow up with a certain understanding of how things work. You don’t even realize what you believe until you see that someone does something else differently than you do. And it’s an amazing experience to break down barriers that don’t really exist. It also strengthens for you the things that do matter. I also find that in today’s society the people that do best are those that can relate to the most people. That comes through experience.

The biggest disadvantage I have noted is that I don’t become truly excellent at anything. I enjoy rock climbing, but it’s not something I want to do 5 or 6 times a week. Which is what it takes to become excellent, I’m up to the 5.9 or 5.10 range in difficulty, but my learning curve has flattened out. Steady improvement is going to come, but I don’t forsee myself getting to 5.12 or above any time soon. Is that so bad? For me it’s not. I think it’s important to give your all in the moment, but some people also want to hone a particular skill. My grandfather is an excellent carpenter because he’s put in countless hours doing it. I can’t achieve that without focus.

So I still haven’t found out what I’m passionate about, but perhaps I’m passionate about variety. Maybe what I find most exciting is meeting new people and doing new things. I’m not sure, but if you have a great activity you think I would enjoy then let me know. I’m always open to ideas.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New 30 Day Experiment: Lucid Dreaming



I haven’t done a 30 day experiment in awhile because I haven’t found anything that is both enticing and requires a daily action. I’ve started doing salsa lessons once a week (let me know if you want to go), I still rock climb when I can, teach Sunday school, Toastmasters etc. So I’ve been implementing new activities, but starting tonight I have now found my next 30 day experiment.

I first read about lucid dreaming from Steve Pavlina a guru on self development. He is one of the more eccentric individuals that I currently read and explores a lot of extremes. He documents his results and rates them based on feeling and experience from the activity. Tim Ferriss writes primarily about life hacking, and uses a scientific method approach in discovering what works best. I am most attracted to Ferriss’s approach and tend to pay attention to his results. I didn’t realize that he studied at Stanford primarily to learn more on lucid dreaming by one of the top experts on the subject. His blog today documents his experiences with lucid dreaming.

So What is Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming is the ability of having active consciousness during dreaming. Essentially you are in complete control of your dreaming state. Think the matrix. You can fly, hang out with famous people, create entire worlds, review study material; whatever you can imagine is possible. The benefits that have been noted are reductions in stress, fun, review of material for tests the next day, training with your favorite athlete, creating athletic performance success to develop confidence and recall; essentially you get your mind back for an additional 8 hours a day.

I’m curious to try out lucid dreaming and document my results. The first step is to immediately record my dreams upon waking up. This process can take one week or more to achieve the desired level of recall. I’ll post on this topic when I feel that I have significantly made progress in this area and document results as well as step 2.

If you decide to try it as well let me know so we can discuss our results together. See the links throughout the article for more information.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's Your Scar?


Charles McMillan is the youngest coach on the A&M staff and apparently one of the most talented. Many believe that if our current defensive coordinator were to retire that McMillan would take his spot. The thing is that McMillan doesn’t want any part of that.

He has a goal and it’s to be a head football coach/AD for a highschool. For those of you who don’t know that is a huge paycut 50% or more. The thing is McMillan doesn’t coach for the money; McMillan loves kids. He wants to change lives.
When you delve into his past you find that McMillan is the oldest of seven children. He was a sophomore in highschool when his mother murdered his father and was given a 25 year prison sentence. Then McMillan was described as a role model student who was a father to his siblings and always carried a smile on his face. Today he takes the most painful part of his childhood and uses it to help kids. It’s truly inspiring.

We all have painful trials and we will all go through more as we move through life. These scars hurt, but eventually we find a way to get past it and heal. We learn something. We now have a gift; we have a painful experience and some tools to deal with the situation. And an ability to empathize with those who are struggling through the same trial. It’s why McMillan does what he does. He has turned his pain into a gift.

My parents divorce was a painful time for me; it was right before my sixth grade year. I moved to a new part of town and was running low on self confidence. Football and band were my outlets as I went through those junior high years. It was real tough. I remember feeling lonely and abandoned at times. That scarred me and I healed from that. I now teach Sixth Grade Sunday School because I know there are kids there going through the same thing. They want someone who understands. Because of my pain I can be that guy.

What’s your scar? How can you turn it into a blessing? All of us are unique and have different ways we can relate to people. McMillan went through a terrible time and has created a career and a passion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glad to Be A Guy



I don’t consider myself a person who dresses poorly at work. I would say that I am above average even. I could raise that bar as well if I dropped a little cash into my wardrobe (about $500 or so). That’s actually the plan in the near future. Apparently, how you look correlates to business success. People that are attractive tend to do better in the workplace.

Thinking about this fact gave me a higher level of appreciation for what women have to go through. There is a bar that is set for men and really it’s not that high. You can be above average by working out, eating decently well, and dressing crisply. Girls on the other hand have mounds of products, creams, makeup, heels, fashion etc. The man’s wardrobe is a dress shirt and slacks, and at least in my career anything too extreme would be considered faux paus. On the other hand girls have all kinds of clothing options I don’t even know the names for, tons of different shoes, etc. The pressure to maintain a nice figure is much higher than it is with men. I don’t envy the fairer sex by any stretch of the imagination. As females get older they seem to do more to preserve or create their looks. I’m starting to notice the level of care women put into their appearance on a daily basis.

On the extreme end of that is the modeling world. I have only met and know very few of them, and from what I have seen the industry is very cut throat. The thing about beauty is that it isn’t static and lots of people have it. Additionally, it’s hard to sell well. You can’t pander yourself as attractive; you either are or you aren’t. In the modeling world you can be hot one minute and replaced by the girl a few years younger/ slightly better looking than you in a minute. There aren’t really long term job commitments. You have to fight for every single job. That’s not how the business world works. Generally, once you are hired it’s long term unless you royally suck or drastic changes in the economy happen. There are some days where you are just not “on” I mean everyone has them. If you have to re-apply every time you need a job you have got to look your best every day. Do we really need to ask ourselves why our ozone is being depleted? It’s from the hairspray.

I debate growing out my hair because I hate paying for the cost and spending the time fixing it everyday. It could be MUCH worse. So as I ponder how many new dress shirts I should buy, or what color slacks I should add to my wardrobe; believe me I know it could be much worse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outliers My Thoughts


I just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers last night. It was a good book and a real quick read (think Freakanomics only shorter). The basic premise of the book is that luck, particularly timing and opportunity, play a key role in success.

There are many examples of how fortunate circumstances that create these outliers in the book, and it’s an interesting premise. For example, if you look at the richest people of all time many of them are Americans born in a five year span during the Industrial revolution. As Gladwell points out, it would be hard to believe that individuals born within this five year span are immensely more talented. Instead the circumstances existed for individuals, such as Andrew Carnegie, to create large business monopolies and grow immense fortunes.

My post on Friday touched briefly on this idea. Identify what your passion is and then how the world is changing around you. What is an untapped technology or area for development? In 1999 it was the idea of the internet startup. Many people born ten years before me became rich off the internet gold rush. These “bubbles” are where we find outliers. It’s obviously very hard to predict where the next bubble will occur. In my opinion it will be internet driven technology. I’m really interested in Google’s internet based operating system. It’s a phenomenal idea and Google has a track record of excellent execution. If it starts to gain steam you will see a lot of ideas branch off this technology. I’m sure there are several wealthy individuals who have taken advantage of Apple’s iphone apps.

Even if the circumstances are ripe with opportunity not everyone in any given generation will be the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. It takes dedication. Gladwell mentions several studies stating that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to excel at something. Bill Gates for example had access to a computer before most people in the US. Back when they were only owned by very large corporations and several large universities. Therefore he was able to get in key training time that put him ahead of the curve. He also was supremely fascinated by the computer and would often sleep in the computing center constantly trying his programs. By the time he wrote MS-DOS Gates had an estimated 15-20K time programming. This is why it is necessary to pursue your passion; because success is directly correlated to time spent doing a task. Could you spend 10,000 hours doing something you hate?

If this seems like an interesting topic then pick up the book, it’s a really short read and entertaining. I’m currently reading The Tipping Point by Gladwell and expect to finish that in a week or two. If you’ve read it let me know your thoughts.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Quick Thoughts The New Business Atmosphere

An interesting shift has started in the online world. We are starting to see a movement to uncopywriting or the free flowing of ideas. Seth Godin has mentioned this phenomenon in much of his writing and sold it through his Tribes book.

The premise is that now what gives people power or success is voice. The more people you can reach the more value you create, and thus eventually the more money you make. Creating niche communities is where we see people shifting. Apple and Google have both done a great job of defining their consumer. It’s more of a marketing focus then selling their product. On a smaller scale, each of us now has the right to have a voice. My blog is my voice, my facebook is my voice. Even though it’s small it has an effect. Each consumer is now more powerful than ever.
We all are our own brand. Because I have a blog I’m conveying something about myself every time I write a post. I hope to eventually find a something that I am so interested in; that I can a blog about a particular subject and develop my own tribe. Right now though my blog has the purpose of developing my writing talent and materializing my thoughts, but still each post I make develops my voice.

I’m strongly considering getting a video camera for my trip to Europe and starting to do some video blogs. It’s a larger upfront cost, but it’s a medium that is just now being explored. Plus some of the things I enjoy doing such as food reviews and event reviews around Houston would be more enjoyable I believe in a video format. I thought it would be cool if you could see the vibe of different locations for yourself before attending. I know if someone else did it I'd watch.

If you’ve read Outliers much of one’s success is opportunity, is this not the next big thing? I think that it definitely could be. I hope some of you find a way to take advantage of this new horizon. It’s coming whether we like it or not.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just Smile


A big part of my job is client interaction. I deal with people as low on the totem pole as first year accounting clerks and as high as CFOs. I’ve met probably 100 or so professionals in my 2 years at my job. One thing I’ve noticed is that the people at the top smile a lot more.

I consider client interaction one of my strong points. I am not great at it by any means and have a long way to go in terms of becoming excellent at it. How to Win Friends and Influence Others has gone a long way in improving my communication as well as organizations where I have been allowed to speak such as Toastmasters. When you carry a positive attitude with you it carries over to the people you interact with. I make it a point to say hello to people and pop in even when I don’t have a request. This allows me to develop a relationship with someone.

Probably my number 1 pet peeve is the pursed lip smile. I mostly see it in passing as I walk by. It is the closed lip smirk that conveys “I hate being here, and you probably do too… we’re in this together”. My thought is always if that is how you feel why are you still working here? If you catch yourself doing this then stop immediately! You aren’t tricking anyone into smiling.

Everyone has days when they find it hard to smile. So how do you create a good smile even when it’s not necessarily your natural reaction? First and foremost always smile with your mouth slightly open and show your teeth. This is actually something primates do as well and subconsciously lets the other person know that you mean them no harm and are willing to help them if necessary. Making eye contact conveys confidence and genuineness.

As I advance in the professional environment I’ve learned that it’s really the details such as smiling that make a big difference in how far you go professionally. Make it a point to mind the little things and over your career you will see big results.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sunday School Class 1



“Mr. Kevin is going to tell us a verse right now and the first one to turn to it wins the prize.”

This was unexpected, but I knew just the one.

“1 Timothy 4:12”

Last Sunday was my first real day as a Sunday school teacher. The introductory class was over. I had prepared a lot for the job. I read various parts of the Bible, the book Do Hard Things, and read several blog posts on unschooling and children. Several people warned me how wild and crazy sixth graders were and how I wouldn’t be able to control them, but I ignored that and instead listened to my friend Matt. He had done childcare for the better part of six years and I asked him his secret.

“Treat them like adults”
“That’s it?”
“Ya, it’s super easy”

I took it with a grain of salt until I read the book Do Hard Things. The book is written by a couple of teenage guys who have done some amazing things. Their message, break out of societies ideology that teens aren’t capable and go out and do something great.

I expected a brief discussion on what to talk about in small groups, but I was just sent some kids. It was somewhat intimidating as it was my first experience. I just decided to go with it though.

So as the kids sat down I busted out the lesson plan, but I didn’t follow it. I identified the theme and the important verses and instead started asking for volunteers for roles and gave them options for what they wanted to do. The kids became engaging and excited. They got to decide what happened next? Everyday of their lives they are being told what to do and what not to do. All of a sudden these six kids that I had seen slouching and looking around were staring straight at me. I asked questions and I received better insight from sixth graders then I have gotten from some adults. As we continued talking I asked how many of them have ever felt like an adult doesn’t give them enough credit for what they can accomplish. Every single one raised their hands.

I then explained to them the idea of a sphere of influence. I asked them to guess how many people I see at work everyday. The general consensus was around 20. I informed them it was in fact 6. I asked them how many people they saw a day; for most it was around 25-30. We then talked about how they could positively affect the lives of those around them. I explained to them how much more they were capable of doing to help their friends, classmates, and school.

I’m excited for next Sunday, because I’m the one who is learning the most. As young teens they are constantly cultivating their ideas, cores, and belief. I’m just blessed to be able to have the opportunity to direct them. I can only hope as the year goes on I am able to have a greater impact; they’ve already changed me. O yea, and the verse:

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
1 Timothy 4:12

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Where Did All the Money Go



I have been using quicken since about January 1st of this year. At first I was opposed to it and didn’t update it regularly, but now it’s become part of my routine. One of the features of Quicken is that you can track your spending by category. So today I sat down and took a look at where my money has gone over the last 8 months. Here is the breakdown by percentage:

1) Rent, Utilities, Cable, Internet, etc. 29.16%
2) Roth IRA 15.56%
3) Schwab Investment 11.95%
4) 401K 6%
5) Entertainment 4.92%
6) Vacation 4.88%
7) Health and Fitness 4.85%
8) Dining 3.66%
9) Groceries 3.39%
10) Household 3.09%
11) Charity 2.88%
12) Auto 2.63%

I am very pleased with my financial allocation right now. My number 1 cost is rent, utilities, internet, etc. The recommended rate is 30% max of your income for rent alone. Starting in July my rent actually decreased by a small margin so I expect this number to decline slightly over the next four months. My location is really convenient for work and participating in the activities I enjoy; therefore, I have no complaints paying what I do and am content with this allocation.

Items 2-4 are all the money I have currently saved not including a savings account where I currently have saved roughly one months salary. The savings plan isn’t factored in because it’s not considered an allocation of assets by quicken. I didn’t even realize I was saving this much. I am very pleased with the percentage of income I am stowing away. I have some big things coming up later in life such as marriage, children, etc. that I want to save for. Additionally, each dollar represents freedom to me. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis http://www.bea.gov/briefrm/saving.htm the average person saves about 5% of their income. So I am well above average in that regard. That said I think I could create slightly more efficiency and add another percentage or two. Additionally, I’m expecting a promotion raise and possible (though very small) bonus which will go straight into savings.

Items five and six are entertainment and vacation at about 5% each. I try to spend money on experiences and really enjoy myself. Most of my vacation costs are buying the plane ticket as and preliminary gear for my Europe trip spit2010.blogspot.com. My next largest expense is Texas A&M season tickets which I wouldn’t trade for the world. Additionally, there are some costs for going to Dallas and Austin a couple of times. I am more than content with this number and 5% is right where I want to be.

Health and fitness is roughly 5% of my income. I take my health very seriously and want to continue to involve myself in activities that make me a healthier individual. Hovering around 5% is just where I would like to be with this cost. The cost is primarily related to cycling, rock climbing, and crossfit. I would be comfortable with this number increasing to as high as 10%. I really would never want to make cuts to save in this area.

Dining is definitely something I could curb. I have been fairly good about bringing my lunch to work, but some weeks I slack off (like this week). If I could I would like to lower my dining down to 2.5 or 3% of my expenses and replace it with more groceries and savings. I wouldn’t give up dinners with friends though because this has benefits that go beyond the meal to me. I believe a 1.5% decrease would only increase my groceries by about .5% or so.

Item 10 is some household costs I have including decorative items I purchased at the beginning of the year, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent etc. This number will continue to go down throughout the year as I don’t foresee any major additional costs.

Item 11 is charity and is the item that I most disappointed with and I expect to change the most. Charity includes tithing as well as donations I have made to causes supported by friends and family. I want this number to be 10% by the end of the year. I am currently doubling my giving rate to even out the discrepancy. If still have not reached my goal by year end then I plan on making a lump donation.

Item 12 is the final expense with my car costs. Ol Dixie (my 2000 CRV) serves me well and has been a great car for me. I have very little maintenance and most of these costs are gas related. I am extremely pleased with this number. This is an area where I will sacrifice for other areas. If I’m going to Australia in a year or two why do I need a new car anyway.

Conclusion
My net worth has increased approximately 128% in the last 9 months due to savings as well as some bonuses I received for work related accomplishments. I can’t complain about that. With the power of compounding my investments should grow substantially over the next 40 years. Getting in as much as you can early is the key to taking care of your future.

This is an example to me of how to prioritize the things that matter. I don’t want a fancy car so I am able to spend a little more in entertainment and dining. I’m able to do things that matter to me (sports, crossfit, rock climbing, Europe, etc.) and still save more than a third of my income. I highly recommend quicken as it allows you to chart your progress as you try and meet your savings goals. If you have any questions post them and I will answer them as best as I can.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Just Four More Days!


In four days the football season officially begins. I am so excited about it. I’m what you would call a big fan. I’ve missed one A&M home game in 8 years. That’s a solid streak. The only game I missed was the 2002 Oklahoma game where A&M knocked off number 1 Oklahoma. Perhaps the biggest game in A&M history and definitely the biggest win while I was in school. I guess as a conciliation prize I was on the first Aggie team to place in mock trial and made the national video (hooray?).

It’s hard to verbalize how much or why I love Aggie Football so much, but a lot of it has to do with how much I love A&M. Both my parents went there and ever since I had a concept of college I wanted to attend A&M. I recall watching A&M take on Texas every Thanksgiving. Football is the embodiment of your schools spirit and fight going against another team. To be part of an 80,000 capacity stadium screaming for your team. There’s something special about that. For four hours you get to be part of something bigger than yourself. I understand completely why people who went to smaller schools don’t care as much. They aren’t watching their team. They have no inherent connection. I hate to see the Aggies lose, but even when we have a losing season the experience is so much more than that. Just seeing guys out there giving their all is enough for me. Win or lose I’ll be there. In fact, one of my main concerns with working abroad would be breaking my streak. I would do it, but I wouldn’t be happy for it and would definitely fly back for a New Year’s day bowl or better.

Aggie Football will always represent the bond shared with fellow aggies, my parents, and those early years when I sat there with my dad supporting a team I always dreamed of being a part of. For those of you who share the passion good luck to your respective teams unless you’re playing the Aggies.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lottery



One of the things that always happens during the audit busy season is teams pool money together and buy lottery tickets. It’s sort of a little ticket of hope as you work those late nights. Well the lottery is extremely high at the moment (204.6 million) so my team has gone back to this practice. We essentially have an agreement that if we win we will pay for the team to go to Greece for a month; with a minimum of a one day excursion on a yacht. We then asked eachother the question of what would you do if you won.

I’ve always had an answer for what I would do if money weren’t an object and I could do something for a day, but couldn’t keep anything afterward. I would fly a bunch of friends and family to a cool destination (Italy or Spain) and fly world famous chefs in and throw a monster party. Since I have one day I would want to maximize the happiness of as many people as possible.

If I won the lottery I’m not sure what I would do. I know I would invest roughly 50-80% of the earnings. I would set aside some to donate to causes that I care about. I actually would like to think that I would stick with my job. I enjoy what I am doing now and where I am going. If I had a better idea I would be doing it. I would probably drop my ’99 CRV (I KEEP IT CLEAN) for a new vehicle; maybe go live in a foreign country for awhile. It’s hard to say though what you would do when you get THAT MUCH money. 1-3 million is one thing, but 200 million is ridiculous.

I’ve often read that if you have a clear cut picture of what you would do career wise if you won; that you should pursue that career because that is what you are passionate about. People who are passionate about what they do are the most successful in their industry. So ya I’m not 100% sure what I would do, but I’ll let you know on Saturday.

PS. The lottery is a REALLY REALLY bad investment; entertainment purposes only!