Revisiting the American Dream

Three years ago today, author Brandon Sneed asked me what the American dream meant to me. Brandon was in the process of writing Behind the Drive: An Honest Story About What It Really Takes to Chase The American Dream, the biography of Kenny Moore, the founder of Hwy 55 Burgers, Shakes, and Fries, and he was asking various people how they viewed the American dream.

I’m internet friends with Brandon, so I appreciated him asking my opinion, but I didn’t think he would include my thoughts in his series. And yet, that is exactly what he did. I found it interesting to re-read my thoughts from three years ago. Perhaps most surprising, I still feel the same way now about the American dream as I did then.

Here’s what I had to say three years ago:

From Brandon Sneed’s blog:

There was a time several years ago when the American Dream for me was getting wealthy.  I spent my time chasing money, first in a corporate job and then in a business of my own.  At the time, self-satisfaction and self-expression took a back seat to making money.  This worked okay for a while, but I felt really empty.  I was making good money, but I envied people who were living life on their own terms.

These were people who were doing things they loved, but weren’t necessarily making much money.  I got to know some of these people and found out that with very few exceptions, they were happier than me.  These people had more freedom, lived a more adventurous life, and had stronger relationships with their loved ones even though they weren’t making as much money as I was.

It dawned on me, maybe I would be happier if I did something I loved rather than chased money.  When I did, I found I had much more freedom and could live the life I wanted to live despite the fact that I was earning substantially less money.

For me, this is the American dream.

Actually, I’m not sure it is uniquely American.  People from all over the world can benefit from this type of lifestyle, but I think it needs to be said that Americans tend to kill themselves earning a living even though they (we) have as many or more lifestyle options as people in any other country on Earth. We have a cultural expectation that values hard work, income maximization and poor lifestyle choices at the expense of health, happiness, and relationships.

I’ve chosen to abandon (or at least move away from) this American cultural expectation in favor of chasing my dream of being a writer, being healthier (a work in progress) and above all, being happy.  It took me a long time to come to this decision, so I’m starting a little late in life, but when it comes to living a happy, fulfilled life, it’s definitely better late than never.

 

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A Postmortem of the 2016 Presidential Election

President TrumpJust what the world needs, another political post. I usually don’t talk about politics on social media or on this blog. I have plenty of my own opinions, but I’ve never felt the need to convince others that I’m right. So I’ve kept my thoughts to myself throughout the election. Now that the votes are in, I’d like to share a few things I have on my mind.

Let’s start with President-elect Donald Trump (I never thought I’d type those words in the same sentence). Donald Trump is not my cup of tea. To me, he is a lying, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, bloviating self-promoter. His rhetoric is often hateful, ill-considered, and unnecessarily provocative. I’ve never felt like his candidacy had anything to do with making America great again. Instead, I felt he was out for himself. This is not the kind of person I want sitting in the Oval Office.

Having said that, unlike the Clinton camp, I’ve never considered his supporters to be hateful, racist, sexist, misogynistic people. I know a lot of Trump supporters, and none of them meet this definition. They are good, decent people who feel abandoned by the government and the career politicians who run it. They’re frustrated that they have to work harder and harder just to keep the status quo, while Wall Street bankers, who nearly bankrupted our nation, take more and more of the economic pie.

These Trump supporters are people who have followed the rules only to be left behind by those that have thumbed their noses at those very same rules. They were (and are) frustrated, and they looked to anyone who would stand up for them and be their voice. Granted, Donald Trump seemed like an odd savior for the working class, but unlike Hillary Clinton, he reached out to them and offered them hope.

Hillary Clinton and her camp never understood that Donald Trump supporters were not simply uneducated morons. Hillary showed exactly what she thought of those who didn’t support her when she called Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” She further marginalized these already disenfranchised voters who were simply looking for someone—anyone—to recognize their concerns. This was a huge tactical error because it not only strengthened the resolve of those already supporting Trump, but it showed the elitism of her candidacy, and drove undecideds into Donald Trump’s waiting arms.

In some ways, the 2016 election was a flip-flop of roles for the Democratic and Republican parties. Unlike past elections, Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, was the war hawk candidate who wanted the tentacles of our democracy reaching out to every country and every regime throughout the world. She was inextricably tied in with Wall Street, and seemed to care more for their welfare than the welfare of the folks on Main Street.

Donald Trump, the Republican, by contrast, called for more protectionist trade policies, less military intervention, and a focus on “America first.” Trump’s platform, as ill-defined as it was, was a siren song to voters who felt ignored and alienated. He was an imperfect messenger, but at least he was saying some of the right words.

What Donald Trump talked about mattered to the working class at a time when the Democratic candidate seemed to be more concerned with soliciting donations to the Clinton Foundation from foreign dignitaries, and giving high-priced secret speeches to corporations and Wall Street high rollers. We looked away for a moment and the Democratic party became bedfellows with big business and moneyed interests, while Republicans nominated a candidate that at least appeared to be a populist. When did the world turn upside down?

Just as I have many friends who are Trump supporters, I also have many who supported Hillary Clinton. Even still today, the morning after the election, they are treating Trump voters as evil and hateful. They are continuing the claim that these Trump voters are all racist, sexist, misogynistic dopes who aren’t smart enough to look out for their own best interests. They have refused to look below the surface to see the actual people who supported Trump and understand their legitimate concerns. It was arrogance, pure and simple, and it ultimately cost Hillary Clinton the election.

At the same time Clinton supporters vilified Trump, they canonized their candidate, ignoring her warhawkishness, ignoring her ties to Wall Street, ignoring the role she played in her email scandal and the questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Donald Trump was a clearly flawed candidate who almost daily reminded us why he was uniquely unqualified to be president. But criticizing his shortcomings while completely ignoring Hillary’s only served to drive potential supporters away. They didn’t want to take part in the besainting of Hillary or further the Clinton political dynasty.

The thing that I will take away from this election is the uncivility of it all. It was discouraging to watch people that I like and respect act with such disdain and intolerance for their friends and neighbors. The candidates were relentless in going after each other, offering little in the way of a vision for the future, instead spending most of the campaign in the gutter, name calling and acting like children. But I honestly thought that the supporters for each candidate would rise above this pettiness and division. I was sorely disappointed.

I’ve also been discouraged by the willingness of people on both sides to share articles from partisan spin websites on social media that clearly contained erroneous information. By doing that, these people proved that they were more concerned with winning an election than they were with being a good citizen and pushing for a better America. These websites—many set up in foreign countries with a clear profit motive—are nothing but propaganda machines designed to create a great deal of heat, but provide absolutely no light. Sometimes they spin an unsubstantiated rumor, magnifying it tenfold. Other times they create and disseminate outrageous, ridiculous lies. Sadly, the people who posted and re-posted these articles did so, not because they thought the information being shared was true or helpful, but because the information in the article agreed with their own beliefs. This “echo chamber” approach to politics is the main reason that we as Americans can’t find common ground, and continue to talk past each other rather than to each other. It is a sad commentary on what political discourse has become in the United States.

I did not support Donald Trump, but I sincerely hope that moving forward, he can be a rational, inspiring leader who runs the country in a much more unifying way than he ran his campaign. He won the election, and he deserves our open-minded support. He also deserves to be vigorously opposed if he decides to follow through on some of the foolish, odious policies he mentioned on the campaign trail.

One final thought: Like so many others, I am fearful of what a Donald Trump presidency will look like. I fear that he will try to turn back the clock on human and civil rights. But I also have great faith in the American people. I have faith that they will hold the president-elect to a high standard and will no longer turn a deaf ear to some of the more hateful things he says. I trust that there will be no mass deportation of illegal immigrants. I trust that Muslims will not be discriminated against or forced to carry special IDs. I trust that we will not turn our backs on our NATO allies. I trust that people of color will not be treated as anything other than full and respected citizens deserving of all of the rights and responsibilities afforded to all other citizens. I trust that the rights gained by the LBGTQ community in recent years will not be threatened or eroded. I trust that our democracy will continue to work and won’t allow one person to have undue power. And more than anything, I trust that our decency—what Lincoln referred to as the “angels of our better nature”—will always triumph over the hate and divisiveness of self-interest and greed.  These things are foundational to our life as Americans, and we cannot allow anyone, including Donald Trump, to take us back to a day when fear and hate played a much larger role in our lives.

As Americans, we are a large and diverse people who share certain foundational values that inform and define us. I trust that these values will guide all of us, including our president, in the months and years ahead.

Note: The best postmortem of the 2016 election I’ve read is this piece in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald. I think Greenwald has it exactly right.

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A Few Thoughts on the Mass Shooting in Orlando

Orlando

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Today was a very tough day. I woke up to the news that a gunman had opened fire on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, my former home. The first report I read indicated that more than twenty people had been killed, but fairly quickly, that number rose to fifty, with fifty-three others injured. What horrible, horrible news.

Throughout the day, I read reports of the shooting, heard calls for a ban on assault rifles, as well as the predictable backlash from those who oppose more restrictive gun laws. It didn’t take long before well-meaning people on both sides of the issue were arguing and calling each other names. Everyone thinks they have the answer to prevent future tragedies, and I have no doubt that everyone wants what’s best for their loved ones and for the country, but the vitriol on both sides saddened and disappointed me.

It would be really easy to look at the situation that is still unfolding in Orlando and get discouraged. I hate what has happened, yet I can’t help but notice the way this tragedy is bringing people together from all over Central Florida, as well as from around the world.

  • I am struck by the outpouring of love and support expressed by so many people, all prompted by the evil acts of one misguided soul.
  • I am filled with hope and pride at the way people from all walks of life are taking a stand against the hate that was directed at the LGBTQ community.
  • I am gratified to read posts on Facebook from Muslims decrying the senseless killings done in the name of Allah, and denouncing the killer’s association with Islam.
  • My heart is filled to read messages sent by some of my friends who teach at the University of Central Florida in Orlando to make certain that their students are safe.
  • I am grateful for police and other first responders from Orlando and the surrounding community who went into harm’s way to help the injured and stop the killing.
  • I am thankful that all of my Orlando friends and family are safe and accounted for.
  • I was brought to tears to witness thousands of people standing in line in the sweltering Florida heat to donate blood, and I stand in awe of the individuals and business who distributed water and opened bathrooms to those waiting in line.
  • And finally, I am reassured that every time I have seen hate rise up to consume us, love has rushed in to destroy the hate. It always has, and I am confident it always will.

I know there can be love and beauty in the midst of hate and ugliness. I’ve seen it before, and I saw it today in Orlando. Somehow, we must to find a way to accentuate the love and magnify the beauty. We cannot allow the enemy to win. We must build something good out of this horrendous situation. It’s up to each of us. We can either be weak and hopeless, giving into our fears, or we can be strong and hopeful, knowing that we have the power to create a better world. I choose the latter.

#OrlandoStrong

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The Real Secret to Pixar’s Success

PixarI’m a fan of Disney animation. I’ve always been impressed with the artistry of the films. Even so, they pale in comparison to the animated films produced by Pixar. It’s not that the animation is better. Truthfully, I can’t tell the difference. What separates Pixar from Disney is the quality of the storytelling.

Disney’s stories seem to skim the surface. They’re interesting and entertaining, but they’re almost always shallow. Pixar, on the other hand, dives deeper into their storytelling. Their characters are better developed and their plots more complicated, more nuanced, much like our real lives.

This video does a good job of explaining what is different about Pixar’s storytelling technique by focusing on why the story is being told and what greater purpose it serves. After watching it, I now have an even deeper appreciation for the great work being done by Pixar.

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The Passion of Prince, The Prince of Passion

Prince

 

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called life.” –Prince (“Let’s Go Crazy”)

 

 

I once saw a video of a pre-show sound check. I’m not sure where it was, and initially, it wasn’t clear who was preparing for a concert. As the band launched into a song, the camera panned across the empty arena, and in the distance was a small man, flamboyantly dressed, strutting toward the stage with an ornamental walking cane. It didn’t take long to realize that this couldn’t be anyone other than Prince.

As he stepped onto the stage, the band still playing, Prince was greeted by a man in an expensive-looking suit who slung a guitar around his dainty neck. He launched into a guitar solo that was as good as anything I’ve heard before or since. He stood in one place, not expending any energy except through the guitar, and then after two or three minutes, satisfied with the sound, he took the guitar from around his neck and tossed it through the air to the man in the suit. Prince then grabbed his cane, and like a peacock, flounced off the stage.

The video was mesmerizing. It captured the magnetic nature of Prince, and showed why he was one of the greatest performers in the world. And keep in mind, this was just the sound check. It paled in comparison to Prince in concert.

I can’t claim to be a huge Prince fan. I liked his early stuff, but really didn’t follow him too closely. He recorded thirty-seven albums (an incredibly prodigious number) in his too short life, but I only owned two, 1999 and Purple Rain. Even so, I had great admiration for his incredible innovation and creativity.  In a lot of ways, Prince was a pioneer, and he was an inspiration and an influence to a great number of musicians over the past thirty-five years.

To really see the genius of Prince—and make no mistake, he was a genius—you had to see him in concert. He was a performance savant, able to draw the audience into his performance with a mix of talent and passion that separated him from this contemporaries. His talent was his calling card, but it was his passion that held the audience in his sensuous embrace, leaving them exhausted and satiated when he released them from his grip.

This video from 1983 will give you a feel for the passion that Prince brought to a live performance (and I dare you not to get chocked up):

Then there’s this live performance in Milan in 2010:

NOTE: I was afraid these videos would be removed. Trust me, they were great.

Perhaps the best tribute I’ve read about Prince was written by Bomani Jones. I was worried that I was making too much out of Prince’s prodigious talent and outsize reputation, then I read this from Jones’ article:

There is no fear of hyperbole when remembering Prince. He was the best recording artist of his time, the most versatile, more influential to a broader array of artists and genres than anyone. As long as it’s not a horn, he might have been the best at playing any basic pop instrument. He was a singular tour de force, using each of his albums to defy silly record-store categories. He could be as energetic and defiant as James Brown, as traditionally masculine as Teddy Pendergrass, as unbounded as David Bowie, as vulnerable as Marvin Gaye, as insightful as Paul Simon and as electric as Michael Jackson. At the same damn time.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have worried. As Jones points out, Prince wasn’t just the best parts of so many of our greatest music superstars, he was also admired, respected and appreciated by many of these stars. Even among rock music royalty, Prince was held in high regard. A reporter once asked Eric Clapton what is was like to be the world’s greatest guitarist. Clapton replied, “I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Prince.” High praise indeed.

At the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2004, several prominent musicians, including Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Dhani Harrison (George’s son) played “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as a tribute to the late George Harrison. Also on stage that night was Prince, nattily attired as always.

As you watch this video, notice how a little more than half way through, Prince takes over. But it’s not a Divo move (although Prince was certainly a Divo). The other musicians give him room and encourage him. His guitar solo is fantastic.

In 2007, Prince was scheduled to play the NFL Super Bowl half-time show in Miami. Plans were made for an elaborate open air (i.e. no roof) stage in the shape of “The Love Symbol,” the shape that he changed his name to as part of a contractual dispute with his record label, Warner Brothers. That dispute was long over when Super Bowl XLI rolled around, but the symbol was still closely associated with Prince.

On the day of the game, Miami experienced sever weather, including hard rains, and the promoters of the half-time show feared that Prince wouldn’t be able (or willing) to perform. Instead of balking, when asked if he would be able to go on with the show in the rain, his response was, “Can you make it rain harder.”

As you watch this full, uncut version of Prince’s incredible performance, notice all of the electrical equipment out in the rain. Although it’s not clear in the video, Prince used four different guitars during the show, unplugging and plugging them in as the rain fell. Also notice the dancers around Prince early in the video. They’re dancing in extremely high heels on a wet surface, and making it look easy.

Last year, Saturday Night Live celebrated their 40th anniversary with a huge show broadcast in prime time. At the after party, several musicians got up to give impromptu performances, including big names like Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, and Elvis Costello. But in this video from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, where Jimmy talks about the after party performances, notice how he, his band, and the crowd react when he talks about Prince coming up on stage. It just shows that even those in the entertainment industry, many of them jaded by their experiences, understood the special brand of artistry Prince possessed.

Whenever I’d hear the mention of Prince’s name, my mind would conjure up a diminutive imp of a man clothed in a purple ruffled top (similar to the Seinfeld puffy shirt), skin tight black leather pants, heels tall enough to raise his height all the way to 5′ 6″, and a hat of one sort or another that defied description and added to his androgynous fashion style. He was small in stature, but a giant in personality, who was always the coolest, smoothest, most self-assured dude in the room. And he always played by his own ever-changing rules, providing testament to the fact that if you are true to yourself, no matter how different you may be, the world will open it’s arms to embrace you.

Prince Rogers Nelson was a rare breed of entertainer who combined boatloads of passion, artistry, integrity, innovation, and genius. To be sure, he could be difficult, eccentric, aloof, and mysterious, but all the great artists possess some amount of all of these ingredients. Prince just possessed them to a larger degree than most. He was a tremendous talent, and he will be greatly missed.

Rest in Peace (and Purple), Prince (1957-2016).

 

 

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The Wisdom of Brene Brown

Brene BrownElsewhere on this blog, I have discussed my affinity and appreciation for researcher/storyteller (her term), Brene Brown. I discovered Brene by accident. I picked up her book, Daring Greatly, by mistake. I thought it was about risk-taking and building a great, significant life. Instead, Brene’s book turned out to be about vulnerability, shame, and building strong, trusting relationships. As it turned out, Daring Greatly was exactly the book I needed to read at that time in my life.

The two videos I included below are good examples of Brene’s research and philosophy on building and strengthening relationships. If you’ve not heard her talk before, I’d encourage you to put a little time aside, grab a glass of wine, and get to know Brene Brown. If you already know and like her, I don’t need to convince you to watch.


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My Predictions for the 2016 Baseball Season

CubsI admit it. I’m nervous.

Today is the official opening day of the baseball season (There were three games yesterday, but for some reason, that wasn’t opening day), and for the first time in my life, the Chicago Cubs are the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series. Why does that make me nervous?

First, this is unfamiliar territory. For as long as I can remember, the Cubs were baseball’s lovable losers. Nobody ever expected much out of the team. After all, the Cubs have only had eighteen winning seasons since they were last in the World Series in 1945. For those of you who are math challenged, that’s eighteen winning seasons in seventy years, or about one winning season every four years.  In case you don’t follow baseball, that’s not very good.

Second, I’m uncomfortable with the impact these suddenly high expectations are having on some Cubs fans. These fans—primarily those too young to fully understand the soul-crushing nature of Cubs fandom—are talking trash, as if the Cubs have actually accomplished something already. As skipper Joe Maddon so eloquently put it, the Cubs are a defending third-place team. Why all the unbridled optimism?

Listen, my hopes are high for the 2016 edition of the Chicago Cubs, but I’ve been around long enough to have my hopes dashed on the rocks of defeat, disappointment, and despair by the Cubs over and over again. Now, my hopes are tempered with memories of the September swoon of 1969, the unprecedented loss of three straight games to San Diego in the 1984 playoffs, and the Bartman game (It wasn’t Bartman’s fault) of 2003. I was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003, and the Cubs collapse against the Marlins in the NLCS was still the worst thing that happened to me that year.

All I’m saying is, there’s no harm in being hopeful, but let’s not celebrate quite yet. The baseball season is very long, and a lot of things can happen. Be excited and enthusiastic. Cheer on the team every chance you get. But don’t make plans for the Cubs’ World Series party in ink. Maybe just pencil it into the calendar for now.

With those words of restraint borne of decades of disappointment, here’s how I expect the MLB standings to look at the end of the season:

American League East

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (1st Wild Card)
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

American League Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

American League West

  1. Texas Rangers
  2. Houston Astros (2nd Wild Card)
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland Athletics

National League East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets (1st Wild Card)
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. St. Louis Cardinals
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Milwaukee Brewers

National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks (2nd Wild Card)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

Go Cubs!

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The Problem with Chasing Money

Chasing MoneyI have a disease. It causes me to develop an intense, almost instantaneous interest in every business opportunity that comes my way. Flipping houses? I’m interested. Amazon FBA? Tell me more. An Internet business? Hey, I could do that. I even sometimes think about returning to a 50-60 hour per week corporate job. Sure, I’d lose all of my writing time and freedom, but I could make a lot more money. And isn’t money the way we keep score?

That last sentence is the problem. At some point in my life, I bought into the belief that the amount of money I made was the way my success was measured. The more money I made, the more successful I was. And I always wanted to be more successful, so I always needed to make more money. But even more than that, I began to equate my value as a person with the amount of money I was making. Deep down, I think I knew this was wrong, but I believed it anyway.

I also bought into the myth that money equals happiness. Again, I instinctively knew that this belief was wrong–or at least incomplete–but everyone around me had bought into it, so why shouldn’t I?

Money Equals Happiness

In recent years, I’ve been in remission from this economically-motivated disease, but every once in a while I have a flare up, and I need a reminder to resist the urge to chase the almighty dollar. This blog post from author and experiential researcher, Tim Ferriss, does a good job of explaining my struggle, and the reason anyone whose main goal is happiness should fight the compulsion to chase the money.

 

“You’re nobody here at $10 million,” said Gary Kremen, the 43-year old founder of Match.com, of Silicon Valley.

In the August 5th New York Times article titled, “In Silicon Valley, Millionaires Who Don’t Feel Rich,” he and others in the nation’s wealthiest 1/2 of 1 percent admitted to feeling compelled to work 60-80-hour work weeks just to keep up. Hal Steger, who’s banked more than $2 million and has a net worth of $3.5 million, echoes the sentiments of these “working-class millionaires” when he says, “…a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to. Maybe in the ’70s, a few million bucks meant ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or Richie Rich living in a big house with a butler. But not anymore…

C’mon now.

I live in a nice part of Silicon Valley, and I do whatever I want for less than $5,000 per month. There are more metrics to consider. More important, I’m “happy” by all conventional measurements. But I’ll be the first to admit… it hasn’t been this way for long. Only in the last three years have I really come to understand the concepts of time as currency and positional economics. Before I explain how you can use both to exit the rat race and dramatically upgrade your Lifestyle Quotient, let’s look at some numbers… According to polls on this blog:

46.88% of Americans say they would need to make more than $200K a year to be happy

63.41% of Americans, assuming prices remained the same, would rather earn $50K in a world of $25K earners than earn $100K in a world of $200K earners

74.64% of Americans would rather get Fridays off vs. a 20% raise

Would you be happier if you were richer? A recent study published in Science by a group including Princeton professors Alan Krueger and Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics, indicates that annual income is less important than anyone could have guessed. In fact, it gets less important as the per-capita average continues to grow. Here are a few highlights that foreshadow where we’re headed:

-The ways in which people with high incomes spend their time tend to make them more tense and stressed than their less-affluent counterparts.

-If personal wealth does not necessarily lead to personal happiness, then how well does gross national income reflect a nation’s well-being? Not well at all.

-Economists can add another dimension to their measurements by examining an alternative currency: time, “the coin of life,” as poet Carl Sandburg called it. The study of income and happiness featured in the Science paper suggests that time-use — how one uses one’s time — plays an important role in personal well-being, so national measures of time-use might aid our understanding of well-being on a national scale.

In the study itself, they move into positional economics and answer the question: why does income have such a weak effect on subjective well-being?…Basically, even permanent increases in income have little effect on perceived happiness, as we compare ourselves to those above us, no matter how much progress we make. Material goods give us a short-lived happiness sugar high, and we seem committed to making ourselves miserable. That sucks.

What to do? There are a few ways to use the currency of time, and awareness of positional economics, to your advantage to beat the Joneses on new terms:

1. Focus on “relative income” — defined as hourly income — instead of “absolute income,” misleading annual income that doesn’t factor in time. If you assume a 40-hour work week and 2 weeks of vacation per year, estimate per-hour income by cutting off the last three zeros and dividing in half. Thus: $50,000 per year –> $50 divided by 2 = $25 per hour. Relative income can be increased by increasing total income for the same hours, getting the same income for fewer hours, or some combination thereof. More options with more life.

2. Determine your precise Target Monthly Income (TMI) for your ideal lifestyle — the goal of most rat-race income competition — and focus on structuring mini-retirements to redistribute retirement throughout life. There’s an excellent Excel spreadsheet here for calculations.

3. Determine your “where” of happiness. It’s not necessary to permanently move to a country with depressed currency, but even temporary relocation to a domestic (check out Forbes’ publisher Rich Karlgaard’s Life 2.0) or international location with a lower cost-of-living resets your peer group and positional economics barometer. Being perceived as rich often translates into perceiving yourself as rich. Neat trick and a hell of a lot of fun. Two of my top picks for positional resets are Argentina (see“How to Live Like a Rock Star (or Tango Star) in Buenos Aires”) and Thailand.

4. Develop appreciation in tandem with achievement. Subjective happiness depends on appreciating what you get as much as getting what you want. The first step to true appreciation is perception: cultivating present-awareness. I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming as tested at Stanford University, in particular the “reality check” exercises of Dr. Stephen Laberge.

5. Develop competitive social groups outside of work. Participate in games outside of income mongering. Train or compete in a sport where income is a non-factor. That dude makes $1,000,000 a day as a hedge fund manager? I don’t care–his golf swing sucks and he has love handles. Here, it counts for nothing. Oh, and her? I know she just got promoted to national manager for IBM, but so what? I just scored 5 goals on her. In this world, I rule.

Don’t let rat racing be the only game you play against the Joneses. There is always someone willing to sacrifice it all to earn more, so let them. Just remember: it is entirely possible — in fact, common — to be a success in business and a failure in life. Take the red pill and think different.

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Interest vs Commitment

Bacon and Eggs

There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstances permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results. – Kenneth Blanchard (also attributed to Art Turock)

 

Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?

Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!

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