If you can only reach two percent.

If you can reach only two percent you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Two percent will make you a fortune.

Consider the global marketplace. It’s vast. 7.4 Billion people is an impossible market to reach. It’s unrealistic. You’ll never sell to everyone. And it doesn’t matter. Two percent is still a huge crowd. Exchange even one dollar of value with that crowd and you’re in like Flynn.

Say you can’t reach that many people. Say  you can’t create value for them all. Simple, don’t try to. Just increase your value offering. Up the ante to $10 of value created. Voila! You’re filthy rich, and made the world a better place by hundreds of millions of dollars.

You might say that’s simple, unrealistic computation. I don’t disagree. Figuring out one perfect equation would be immensely difficult. But you don’t need the perfect equation. In life, like algebra, there are plenty of ways to solve for x. You only need one of them. Just plan on showing your work.

The success of your product, idea, business, or service has never been about the number of people you reach. It’s always about the amount of value you can feasibly provide to the people you do reach.

Want a sure route to success? Don’t try to save the whole world. You’ll fail 100 percent of the time. Only throw life preservers to the drowning. For every person you can’t reach, increase your value offering to those you can.

It’s a simple as that. Now go do it.

 

Break Free From Your Nest.

“Step away from that edge, young bird!” The teacher’s stark, reprimanding voice sent me catapulting from my  day dream. “You’ll fall to your death.”

“Oh! But what if I fly?” I boldly replied.

“That’s nonsense. Get your head out of the clouds,” she said. “No one’s ever done it before. You weren’t made to fly. Now sit down, you’re disturbing the class.”

I challenged her. I was not about to give up so easily. “How do you know I won’t soar?”

“Sit down and shut up,” the teacher, not in the mood for a debate, exclaimed. “You’re putting ideas in the other students’ heads. Do you want them growing up believing myths?”

“What if staying nested is a myth?” I asked. Her lectures could not stifle my inspiration.

“Class, listen up,” she started in–the teacher did love an audience, “Let me make this explicity clear once and for all. You were not made to fly. The stories you’ve heard are simply tall tales passed down for ages. Make believe fables. There is no flying. If you leave the nest, there is only dying. Nest life is the best life. What lies beyond the edge of this kingdom is not suited for birds. One foot over the nest’s wall and you will plummet to the earth, meeting a most dissatisfying doom. You must stay here and learn. That is your only hope for survival.”

I could not take it anymore. No teacher would stifle my dreams.

“But I don’t want to survive! I want to glide! I want to feel the wind rushing beneath my wings, to sit atop clouds, to chase lightning bugs on the breeze, and to greet the morning sun with a song from the heights! I must fly! I just must!”

I ran to the edge and threw myself over, hearing gasps followed by an uproar. Then, only the violent rush of wind filling my sinuses and ears.

I hurtled downward picking up speed. Everything around me, a blur. “I might not make it!” The thought rushed to the forefront of my mind. “What if the teacher was right? What if I die?”

“NO!” A roar unlike anything ever produced from my lungs erupted. I don’t even know where it came from. The startling noise ushered from my beak caused me to flinch and toss my arms out beside me.

Everything slowed. I could see. Was I not to die after all?

“Wait a second…I’m flying!” I chirped as loudly as a young bird could chirp. Today was not my day to die. Today surely was my day to fly!

 


When a bird flees its nest for the first time, it has no backup plan. It doesn’t slink to the edge and assess how far away the ground might be. It doesn’t fall from the nest.

It jumps. It spreads its wings. It becomes what it was meant to be.

It flies.

You were meant for more than the safety of your nest.

Take flight today.

 

 

What You Can Do Today

Worry not what the future may hold,
It’s present day that is yours to mold.

In the far off land of days yet to come,
You’ll arrive only by where you came from.

It matters not what tomorrow may bring,
Today alone can you change anything.

Future value does not yet exist,
Cherish today’s before it is missed.

Create what you can wherever you are,
Pack up your bags; it will take you quite far.

Though much of this life lies beyond your control,
Embrace the uncertain and create your own role.

What you do today will be solely your choice,
So go out there boldly, in your labor rejoice!

Unmarked Graves

The most horrendous thing to me would be to die without having made a dent in the universe. To have led an insignificant life. I choose one that’s monumental…one that’s worth living.

You can live this way if you want. It’s no easy feat. But it’s not as difficult as everyone lets on either.

You’re uniquely equipped to change the world in a way no one else ever could. You were born possessing your own unique genetic makeup, personality, point of view, perspective, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet societal pressures emphasize assimilation and conformity. It’s no wonder many of us lead lives of “quiet desperation.” But you don’t have to.

When you adhere to these standards, you quash the best offerings you hold for transforming the world as it is into what it could be. These value offerings are the ones that can only come from the fullest expression of your unique traits. When you assimilate to this average of everyone else, you denounce your best abilities to live impactfully. It’s like watching the beautiful panorama of your life on a black and white television set instead of in high-definition color.

On the flip side, properly harnessing the unique traits inherent to your own personality increases your value to the world. It allows the fullest expression of yourself free reign to imagine and create. It’s this version of yourself that produces things entirely novel, authentic, and original which would never otherwise have been birthed the same way by anyone else. Dismissing those traits is like committing an abortion. It’s like killing your best opportunities to change the world before they’re given a chance to breathe.

This is why your individuality must be embraced and unleashed instead. If you’re going to make a mark on the world you can’t do the same things everyone else is doing.

Forgive the sweeping generalizations, but I highly doubt anyone wants to live unhappily, poverty-stricken, or oppressed. Deep down, just like you and me, everyone holds a desire and drive to improve their circumstances, to acquire a better hand of cards, a “pissed-off gene” that drives them each out of their caves to go hunt their own proverbial wooly mammoths or to carve wheels from stone. It’s a longing that everyone burns to fulfill, yet one that, if pursued, would look entirely different for each individual.

Given the chance to pursue this longing, whatever it may be, life might look a lot different for everyone. Consider how yours might differ. It might dramatically alter the course of the world. Or it might just dramatically alter your own world. It’s difficult to say how significant the impact could be. There’s not really a metric for measuring ‘what could have been.’

I see really only two options. Embrace your uniqueness or don’t. Live passionately or be normal. Unleash your individuality or imprison it.

Harnessing it to create the products and visions of your mind sends a ping out into the great big nothingness declaring, “I am up to the challenge. I will slay the dragon. I will scale Everest. I will live a life of meaning!” Refusing to heed this calling stifles that better version of yourself. It donates your best value offering for the world to the wind, blowing it away like chaff.

Don’t live that way. Choose to live with historical significance. Refuse to be buried in an unmarked grave.

How A Stranger Taught Me To Love My Neighbor.

Take-Home Message: Spread hope, not hate. Focusing on all the bad in the world can make you lose sight of the good in it.

Writer’s Note: This is based upon an actual conversation from Summer 2015. I have preserved the integrity of this to the best of my memory.


 

It was a normal day and I was headed to get a haircut. Since I was from out of town and driving around the city, I pulled up Yelp and searched for the nearest barber shop. The closest result showed up just a few blocks from where I was and it was on my way back home. So, I pulled in and walked up to the door.

Immediately after walking into the building, I began second-guessing my decision. In the barber’s chair sat a large Mexican man covered in tattoos, carrying on conversation loud enough for the whole building to participate. But there wasn’t anybody else but the hair dresser and me. Towering over this man was a large black woman working on a high and tight for the customer. She was humming a few bars of what she later told me was one of her favorite Billie Holiday tunes.

I thought I should leave. I pulled up Yelp again and refreshed my search for a haircut and found the nearest one almost 7 miles away. On a Friday afternoon around Atlanta, GA, 7 miles is a several-hour-long commitment, and for some reason I felt like I was being frozen in place. For some reason, I thought, I’m supposed to stay here.

So I gulped my preconceived prejudices down and waited. After a painful amount of time, the Mexican man stood up, politely thanked the woman, paid her, and headed for the door. A few paces before he exited, he flashed me a smile and asked, “How are you?” shattering my earlier notions that this was a dangerous man. “I’m fine, thanks,” I replied, disgraced by my stereotyping.

“You’re up next, Sweetie,” the warm, inviting voice of the hairdresser beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, today, young man?” she said politely awaiting my instructions. I told her how I liked it cut and she said, “Oh, that will look great on you.”

She asked me where I was from and how I made my way to her shop. She asked me what I did and how I had found my way from Oklahoma to Atlanta. I told her what I was doing in Georgia and how [at the time] I was about to go back to school. I was interested in studying law because I had a passion for helping people live more freely, I told her.

“I can already tell you’d be one of those good attorneys,” she said. “The world needs more of ‘em.” But she paused for a moment after that and seemed bothered. “I’ve had experiences with bad attorneys,” she said. “Someone I know (I think she said her nephew) got arrested for possession last year, and he’s been locked up ever since. They [the Public Defenders] didn’t really care about his case.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I told her–and I really was. I could tell that this was really troubling her.

“What do you think about marijuana?” she asked. “Do you think it should be illegal?”

A rare moment with a stranger had arrived for me. Here I was, simply wanting a haircut, and my prejudices had almost driven me out of this shop. But her kindness and sincerity had sent my smugness packing. “I don’t have a problem with it,” I told her. “In fact, I think it being illegal does a lot more harm than good.”

“Why is it that so many people don’t think that?” she asked.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain, ma’am,” I said, “But I think the world could be a lot better place if the government and law enforcement stopped interfering so much with people’s lives.”

At this she stopped cutting my hair altogether and I saw a tear stream down from one of her eyes. She took a deep breath and wiping it away said, “Young man, I think you were supposed to come into this shop today to get a haircut.”

“Thank you,” I told her. But I didn’t reveal to her that I had felt that strange sense of assurance earlier that I was where I was supposed to be.

“You know, I look around at the world and I see so much hatred,” she said. “It’s all black versus white and cops versus people and the news all riling everybody up. But here you are and here I am. I love you and I don’t even know you. I want the best for you and I just met you. I don’t think people hate each other as much as the media wants us to think,” she said. “But this ain’t anything new, Sweetie…”

When she said that, she sort of drifted off, her eyes got misty and she let out a couple of more tears. She had set the scissors down at this point and was looking directly at me.  “I’ve seen this story all my life,” she said, “People don’t naturally hate one another,” she said. “Their circumstances and the way the world treats them teaches them that. I want to share a story with you if you don’t mind,” she gestured to me.

“Of course!” I told her. I was intrigued by this point and had entirely forgotten I was even there for a hair cut. And then she began narrating a story that has forever changed me.

 

“I remember the day those men in black suits came rolling through our neighborhood,” she said. “I was only about five or six at the time, and my sister and me was out in the front yard playing when we saw this big, new, fancy car roll up to the house at the end of the street. That was back in the ‘60s, though, just a few years after Mr. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and we hadn’t ever seen a car like that before. Then these two men climbed out all dressed up, they had them a couple of black suits and white shirts, with the black tie on, looking all official and such. They just marched up to the first door and disappeared. My sister and I went running into the house hollering at Momma and Daddy telling them all about the sight we just saw. Then, one by one, them men just kept making their way down the block, one house at a time, until they got to ours. Momma and Daddy said we had to wait outside seein’ as we wasn’t old enough to talk business yet, so we did, and I tried peeking through the window the whole time. I never could make out what they was saying, but Momma and Daddy seemed a bit troubled by it.

Just a street over at the time was a huge lot surrounded by great big, tall fences. We never knew what was going on inside there, but we could hear the banging and hammering around the clock. All of us on my block kept guessing what it was that was going up, and whether or not we should be afraid of it, but the walls stayed up and the banging kept on a’ coming. Until one day, it stopped. The walls were torn down and behind them stood two great big, brand new towering buildings.

It wasn’t until Momma and Daddy told us we was moving that they explained what those gentlemen in the black suits months before had shown up to discuss. It became clear fast that the offer those men made wasn’t the best for everyone in our neighborhood, though. Momma and Daddy explained that those men were offering us one of the few spots in the shiny new apartment buildings. ‘The spots are going fast,’ they said to Momma and Daddy that day they came to our block, ‘So you’ll have to act now.’

We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but we also didn’t have reliable electricity or indoor plumbing. In fact, almost everybody on our block still had an outhouse. So when me and Sissy walked into our new home that day, we couldn’t hold back the excitement. “Our very own toilet!” I remember yelling to my Momma. “And what’s this machine over by the wall?” I asked, as Daddy swooped me up in his arms and set me atop our very own washing machine unit. That was such a happy day.

After a few days, I started to notice that very few of the other Daddies from our neighborhood had come over with the families who had moved. I asked Momma about it and she told me to stop pestering and one day when I was older she might tell me.

Days passed and turned into months. Months into years. Until one day, I was watching the news in the apartment building, an older girl now, and I saw this fancy pants man get on the screen talking about all the homeless blacks that were causing problems with drugs and violence and vandalism. He talked about how the cops were roundin’ ‘em up for disturbing peace or something like that. Most of the problem, fancy pants said, was coming from over just a block or so where we used to live. The problem was, none of those houses that used to be there was standing any more.

Just a few months after we had moved out, some wrecking crews came in and tore down all the houses. They said it was the city who had bought all the property up preaching about eminent domain or the likes of some law. They said it would be better for the whole city and that they had built the apartments and offered them real cheap for all the former residents. They said the ones who didn’t take up the offer were lazy criminals and deserved to be snatched up by the law. Some of those men were my friends’ daddies.

So I mustered up the courage to ask Momma and Daddy again about what happened to the other Daddies and why they never moved over. They sat Sissy and me down and explained what they hadn’t told us about those men in the black suits who had come knockin’ on our door for all those years ago. They said they were making an offer to move to a better life.

Those men told my parents it was $39 per month rent to have running water and electricity in the new place they’d built for us.

Daddy had a job at the time, but he didn’t make very much money. He worked long hours and Momma stayed home with us kids. Back then we wasn’t old enough for school yet. But, Momma and Daddy told us, the new apartment buildings didn’t have room enough for all the members of all the families so if the men wanted to move in with the families it would be another $9 per month. Those men in the black suits told Momma and Daddy and all the other neighbors that day that it would be a lot cheaper and just fine by them if the men stayed in the houses where they lived. They’d be allowed to visit whenever they wanted, so long as they got a permit and left by 9 p.m. And they told them the men could come and live with the families one week out of every month, too, if they got the permission from the building. But there just wasn’t enough room to fit everybody.

And so that’s what happened. Most of the families moved over to the new buildings and the men stayed put figuring they could keep more food on the table for their families if they saved the extra money per month, Momma told me. The cost of renting the houses on our neighborhood wasn’t even that much at the time, so they could use the difference to help out. Most of the men in our neighborhood worked jobs like my Daddy, too, long hours for not a lot of money, so it didn’t really make a difference where they laid their heads at the end of the night. But not my Daddy. To him, it mattered, and he told us he wouldn’t let our family be separated even if it was going to make things tight with money.

But after we moved over, the worst thing happened to those other men. When the city came in and bought up the properties, they evicted all of the Daddies who were still living over there. And some of them came over to the apartment trying to work things out but they weren’t given permission by the building to move in with their families. Maximum capacity by order of the fire marshall they told ‘em. No more room for more people.

That’s when new men in black suits came to the apartment building. The marched up and down the hallways to the rooms with a clipboard and some pens. Daddy wasn’t home when they came by but Momma told us later the men were walking by explaining how families could get assistance to help with the bills if they needed to.

“Since a lot of families are facing hard times, we want to make it known that there are options,” those men told Mamma. “We can offer assistance on a monthly rate and even more depending on the number of mouths you have to feed.”

Momma knew Daddy wouldn’t like this, so she asked those men to leave. Mamma told me that it’s because a lot of the Daddies had been arrested by the police and were out of work and couldn’t pay their families’ bills anymore.

 

She broke character after this, lightly sobbing, and began to shake her head. “After they ripped those families apart and kicked the men out onto the streets, many of them lost their jobs,” she said. “My Daddy knew a lot of them. He told me that it was like they had lost their reasons to live, so a lot of them turned to alcohol and drugs to help them escape. And then it got a lot worse,” she said, shaking her head again.

“The laws around those times that were passed were really harsh, especially on marijuana and crack rock, on the poor man’s drugs,” she said. “They’d catch somebody one time and he’d go away for a decade or more, and nobody could do anything about it. They’d just keep yelling from the news about the ghetto and drug dealers, and how it wasn’t safe unless they were all rounded up.”

“So, that’s exactly what they did. They rounded up all those men that used to be Daddies and husbands, working long hour jobs to support their families, and they threw them behind bars. Meanwhile, they were running through the families whose husbands and daddies were being jailed and they’d get them fixed up on government assistance. They had pretty much replaced the role of the husband and father with the government over the course of several years. That’s not making society a safer place. That’s destroying it. And that’s how I feel almost every time I hear about new laws for making us safe or about gang violence or any of the white noise coming out of the TV, there’s usually a much bigger problem behind it somewhere else.

And it doesn’t look hopeful still today. With all the police killings and the rioting, it’s sadness and fear and hate every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV. It’s bombing other countries and wars and arrests and politicians breaking promises. It’s people hurting people everywhere you look. But that’s not the way it has to be,” she said. “That’s not how we were supposed to treat each other. Loving one another is a choice, and it’s one I choose to make every day.”

She went silent after that. I was at a loss for words, but I wanted to give this stranger a hug.  After a few moments pause, she picked up the scissors and set to finish up on my haircut. When I finally found some words, all I could muster was to thank her for sharing her story. I was too choked up and taken aback to come up with anything worth adding.

“Mitchell,” she said, “I’m going to pray to Jesus for you tonight. I hope you get to help people like you said you wanted to. Thank you for listening to an old woman’s story. It was nice to meet you, and I hope the best for you.”

“Likewise,” I told her. “I think you were right that I was supposed to be here today. Thank you so much.”

I paid her for the haircut and left her the best tip I could afford, told her goodbye, and walked out in the warm Georgia air shaken up but somber. Her story pulled scales from my eyes about my attitude and how I look at the world. It wasn’t dismay that I found from her story, but hope. She didn’t have to share her story with me. She didn’t even have to be as kind as she was. She could have just done her job. Instead, this stranger taught me what it looks like in practice to love your neighbor, and how you don’t need a grand stage or billions of dollars to change the world. You just have to be willing to use your voice, and to see goodness where others see only bad.

 

 

 

How I Stopped Fearing Failure

Take-Home Message: Your past failures do not have to define you, nor should you let them shape who you are becoming.

We are all afraid of something and for our own reasons. There’s something about the object of our fears that gives rise to extreme vulnerability. This vulnerability stems from our expectations, I think. When we examine our experiences being vulnerable and tend to focus on the bad ones more than the good, we establish an avoidance to situations or events that resemble the bad experiences.

This is my story about how I let the fear of failure and the avoidance of vulnerability resulting from that fear control my life, and how I ultimately overcame it.


Back when I was a little tike, around four years old or so, my family had a massive chocolate labrador retriever named Beau. He was a dinosaur compared to the miniature person I was back then. His towering behemoth figure required more food than any beast I’ve ever before witnessed. So much so, in fact, that we used to keep a feeder for him inside of his outdoor pen.

One morning, the little devil of a four-year-old I was, went outside to play. For some mysterious reason, I meandered into Beau’s pen and thought it a good idea to kick his feeder. To my demise, the nest of wasps inhabiting the feeder took my rampant eviction notice to them as quite the threat. Responding like wasps notoriously respond to such behavior, four-year-old  me learned a rather abrupt less about cause and effect that’s never left me. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it definitely wasn’t a hundred sores from stings.

To this day, flying, stinging insects give me the chills. I vehemently despise all of them, even realizing the small likelihood of repeating that incident if I give them their space. Today, I think this fear is somewhat irrational. However, after much analysis of it, I’ve come to a conclusion that I think holds water for all fears.

I’m not afraid of being stung. I’m not even really afraid of these members of the Order of Hymenoptera. My fear lies in something deeper, less tangible, and entirely out of my control. My fear of these flying creatures comes from the vulnerability I once felt as a result of an ill-begotten interaction with them. As a defense mechanism to this vulnerability, my fight-or-flight instinct has adapted to kick in when one of these flying, buzzing triggers is around, and put me on high alert.

It is my belief that this vulnerability is key to understanding the nature of all of my fears. I have found this to be the control in all of the fears I have examined which have passed in and out of my life throughout the years. It’s not so much the actual thing so much as this feeling of being exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless to the inevitable. And yet, today, I believe that this vulnerability is little more than a result of poorly devised expectations.

As I examine the biggest fear that was once prevalent in my life, I can see this deeply rooted avoidance of vulnerability as the source of this fear: The fear of failure. As I look a little closer, I can track the time and places of the experiences and instances that sowed this fear and the series of decisions that led to these circumstances. But more importantly, I see the absence of considering failure as a possibility, as I expected myself to be flawless. As a result, I was totally unprepared to deal with failure when it came knocking.

I think back to the time I told my dad I could manage skating down the 10-foot slide at the local park after someone gifted me a pair of roller blades for my eighth birthday. Pride dismantled.

I think back to the time I was up to bat in little league with two outs and the game on the line and struck out. And how I ended up riding the pine for game after game following this. Whif, I blew it. I let the team down.

I think back to the time in eighth grade when I participated in my first public speaking contest and forgot the words halfway through and cried in front of a panel of adult judges. Humiliated.

I think about the time freshman year of high school when I washed my blue socks with my white uniform, dying it blue and coach still made me wear it in the biggest tournament of the year. Distractingly embarrassed.

I think about the time that I ran for Student Council President and didn’t get elected. And the time I ran for FFA Chapter President and lost to someone younger. Overwhelmingly discouraged.

I think about the time I pleaded with the leadership in my church about keeping the younger and older students together and how they refused, and how I walked out on organized religion because of it. Utterly shaken and confused.

I think about the last game of baseball I played as a senior in high school that I pitched and walking off the field knowing I would hang it up forever. Goodbye, glory days. Distraught.

I think about the first time my heart was broken as an 18-year-old boy because I had tied my identity up in a relationship. Crushed. Lesson learned.

I consider the time that I won a statewide election and my reputation was put on display for nearly 24,000 students, thousands of parents and educators across Oklahoma. And how I threw it all away for a few good times and a handful of misguided decisions. That one stung worse than the wasps. Entirely exposed and despaired.

And I think about the day I was asked to move out of my fraternity house as chapter president because on my watch someone’s life had been put in danger and I hadn’t done anything to prevent it. Some lessons hurt worse than others. Ashamed and Abandoned.

There are many more situations and experiences that come to mind when I think about the thousands of branches of this root system to my vulnerabilities. I think about how each of these made me feel and how I responded in the face of these different adversities. I think about how I could have better handled these, too, had I simply set more realistic expectations for myself or even contemplated the what-ifs if failure arrived.

In many cases, I can see how earth-shattering these failures were to me and how they altered my focus looking forward in life. I grasp now how prevalent this fear of failure became in shaping the narrative of my life. Back then, even contemplating a decision that looked like it had the potentiality of failure would cause me to shutter, much like seeing a bee or wasp. And why? Not because I was scared of facing the actual event or hurdles that stood in the way. Instead, it was because I couldn’t bear to think about revisiting the vulnerabilities that had once consumed and shaken me so profoundly.

It wasn’t even fear of failure or fear of bees or wasps, ever. All of these fears boiled down to an avoidance of vulnerability, as if being detached and tough all the time could provide me security and also happiness.

I allowed the horror of vulnerability to live rent free in my mind, and in so doing ceded the authority of my life to this force that had erected itself only by the expectations of myself I had poorly constructed.

I believed that I could not fail. And as a result, any time I caught the scent of failure looming anywhere near a pathway, I briefly flashed back to a multiplicity of failures that caused me to lose sight of my own valuation of myself; these failures that had rendered me vulnerable. Each time I did this, I cautiously, almost absentmindedly flipped my blinker and changed lanes, refusing to consider where exactly it was I was rerouting to. I only knew I had to drive as far and fast away from the possibility of failure and the feelings of vulnerability, because, after all, I could not fail, not me.


And then I began reading…

I read Atlas Shrugged and I watched as the world crumbled around Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden despite all of their efforts to keep it afloat.

And I read, too about how Ayn Rand’s works had been rejected by publishers before she ever made it.

I read about Lysander Spooner’s fight to provide cheaper mail to the United States in lieu of the postal monopoly and how he ultimately died a poor man, by the hands of thieves preventing his success at every turn.

I read about Henry David Thoreau’s withdrawing from society to be the arbiter of his own life and about the time he was thrown in jail for refusal to pay property taxes.

I revisited stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team.

I read about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, dying in exile because of his sexual orientation.

I read about Thomas Paine, the man dubbed responsible for stirring the motivations for the American Revolution, being jailed in France and then being cast out in America upon his return for his ideas about religion, and how he died broke and despised.

I read about Socrates choosing to swallow hemlock rather than to defame his character.


I read story after story about people who looked directly into the face of failure and dared not quit. I read about them overcoming defeat and vulnerability and rejection to achieve greatness. I read about their resilience and drive. But most of all, I read about these individuals as people who lived life by their own terms and refused to take a second look for the opinions of others. They had made themselves entirely vulnerable, yet found so much strength in their own valuation that the opinions of others could not stop them…

And it all clicked. I saw these dozens of scenarios in my own life where dissatisfaction, disappointment, and defeat loomed over my head. I saw the vulnerability and fears I experienced as the response to my own disapproval of myself. I saw the unrealistic expectations I had been striving to reach for what they were, and that by keeping these in place, I was setting myself up.

And with it, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw a way to overcome these and learn to respect and love myself again. I saw, finally, the point of having courage as a motive, rather than fear. And with these revelations, I unlocked the chains that had been restraining me from my own freedom and happiness.

I would like to close with two quotes, because I think they summarize these lessons nicely. Both are contained in You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts: 

“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.” –Robert Cody

It isn’t our deathbeds we’ve got to fear; hell, it’s over then. It’s the quiet moments of every single day that slip in and out of our consciousness; the ones at 3AM when our brains are finally quiet enough to turn their attention to the stuff the matters…the stuff we’ve been ignoring. It’s the slow, steady torture of our own thoughts; the thoughts that reflect the truth we’re most afraid to discover. You’re a pussy. A coward. A fraud. A two-bit has been. Your life means nothing, and all you can do is sit there with your dick in your hand, watching it pass you by.

Talk about regret.

Going out on a ledge and royally screwing up isn’t half as humiliating as not having the guts to get started in the first place.

You will screw it all up, you know. And that’s a good thing to know out of the gate, because now you can stop worrying about it. You can stop worrying you’ll make a fool out of yourself if you try and start your own business, because you can rest-assured that at some point, you will. What a relief! You can cross the fear of the unknown off the list, because now you know. You will screw up. You will suck. You will get angry. You will feel like a fool. You will fight battles. You will lose battles. And at some point, you will hate everything. And you will hate everyone.

But once you get past all that, you know what stops happening? You stop hating yourself. And that is worth its weight in 1,001 business flounders. You can look yourself in the eye again. –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

And with that, I bid you to be fearless. I challenge you to ditch the victim mentality and to go out and own whatever it is that you feel led to do. Stop your worrying and letting your fears govern you. Stop being dismayed by your feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability. You’re going to fail. Expect it. And when it happens, you’ll be able to wipe the dust off and get back in the saddle. Go take life by the horns. You can do it.

Not For the Faint of Heart

Take-Home Message: If you want to be great, you have to want it more than anyone else.

If you want to be decent at something, all you need to do is put in a fair amount of effort. You can do this at your leisure. It does not take a significantly concentrated amount of labor to develop an average level of skill at anything.

If you want to be above-average, let’s say, “good” at something, it takes a little more effort, and a little more drive. It takes maybe twice the amount of time, and maybe twice the amount of sweat. It’s still pretty attainable for just about anyone who chooses to do so.

However, in between good and great, there is a weaning process. It’s a black-tie, invite-only type party. Not everyone gets in at the door, needless to say. If you want to be great, you’ve got to be somebody, I mean, really somebody. Not just anybody. YOU have got to be somebody exemplary.

You’ve got to be able to fuel your tank with minimal sleep and caffeine, sometimes. You’ve got to know how to ask for help, and not in the crummy sort of way. You’ve got to have a vision and relentlessly pursue it. You’ve got to be able to carry the weight of your world on your shoulders. You’ve got to be able to tune out detractors. You’ve got to be able to wake up at the ass-crack of dawn sometimes and start taking names minutes after your feet hit the floor. You’ve got to want it more than anyone else.

You have to know people, too. You’re probably close friends with tenacity, resilience, and self-motivation. You probably on occasion rub shoulders with autodidacticism. You probably study frequently with someone named self-improvement. You might even hang out with a mentor, and regularly visit with others aspiring-for-greatness in their own areas.

Between good and great, winners are made. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for the guy paying the ante waiting for the perfect hand. Great is calling the flush with two suited cards and casually shoving your whole stack into the middle of the table. You don’t do it to be a badass. You do it to win. You don’t do it for the reaction. You do it from the expectation you have of yourself. You don’t do it for anyone but you.

If you want to be great, you shouldn’t be looking externally for approval, reassurances, or permission. If you want to be great, go look in the mirror and tell yourself you can every day. If truly you want to be great, the only thing that can stand in your way is yourself, but you wouldn’t let that stop you either. If you want it, it’s yours for the taking.

So, what is it you want to be known for? What do you want to be great at? Write it down, right now. Hang it up where you can see it every morning. Think about it when you wake up and before you go to bed and every spare minute in between. Find out what small steps are required in between then and now. Start working on them now.

Make a positive step toward that goal each day. Refine your vision until there’s no more fog clouding your focus. Visualize it. Write down the goals you find as necessary toward achieving the end-game, and stick to them.

Don’t fear sweat. Don’t be intimidated by exhaustion. Don’t get caught up being good. Run through the base. Go until the whistle sounds. Fight until the bell dings. Don’t stop until you get there.

You can do it. Go now.

Let Your Stuff Burn, Save Yourself.

Take-Home Message: Don’t get too worked up over stuff.

This week trying to clean up my hard-drive, I deleted 10 years of music by accident. Oops! Before I knew what I had done, I emptied my Trashcan, and sent it walking forever. (Or so I thought, I found a way to recover it, but that’s for a different post.) This accident reignited an ongoing thought-experiment about the importance–or rather, lack of importance–of stuff.

Like me, you’ve likely encountered some variety of the “burning house” scenario at a point in your life. Throughout the years, your answer to that question has likely evolved with you, too, much like it has for me. The more I grow, the easier that question becomes to answer. For one simple reason: Stuff doesn’t matter (it’s how you use it).

So, contemplate this famous question for a moment: “If your house were burning to the ground, and you could escape only with what you can carry, what would you grab?”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been contemplating the underlying life lessons about questions like this–go figure. But specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time in deep thought over minimalism. I’ve been thinking about this not as some sort of strike against civilization or mark against consumerism. I don’t really care about that angle. It’s intrigued me because waking up tomorrow without any of my stuff sounds entirely liberating. It sounds like a new kind of freedom.

It’s made me think that I could walk out the house without anything and rebuild my life, being cautious to only include the most important things. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not, because in the moment, there’s no telling how I would respond. I might be concerned only about making it out with my life, or ensuring that everyone makes it out alive. Who really knows?

The purpose of this thought experiment though, is not to condemn material things. I enjoy the material possessions I have quite a lot, and many of them greatly improve my standard of living. Rather, the point is to identify the most important things in life, so as to remove any of the idle attachments I’ve made with inanimate shit.

Most of your stuff can be replaced easily. And some of it can’t. But even the stuff that can’t be replaced is likely more valuable intrinsically than for any other reason. The intrinsic value is merely a product of your mind, anyway, so you don’t need to carry any of this with you, the value is all inside your head. As for all the other things, they are not as important as you think, really. They are just things, and you might be letting them control your life.

I really think things often can become barriers to our own greatness. When we place an unhealthy attachment on things, we tarnish our faculties for valuation. I think this is one of the most important things a rational, mature adult can possess: the ability to distinguish priority among the pointless.

Among these possible priorities, the most important one is your life. Your own life matters more than any of the shit in it. Your own life, that force of your existence, is more important than any of the things attached to it.

If your house is burning down, it doesn’t matter what you grab if you never make it out. Think about that. All of the shit is pointless without you. So, in essence, you are the thing that determines the value of all the rest of the stuff. Without you, it’s pointless. I repeat. Without YOU, all of the shit is pointless!

So, as I conclude rambling about this thought experiment, I’d challenge you to weigh the value you find in your own life. If you can properly determine this, then you’ve arrived at a good starting point to make incredible personal growth. If you know your own value first, then the value of everything else, big and small, becomes a lot easier to determine.

If you know what you’re worth, then in contrast, you can see how unimportant all of these things are without you. If you can do this, you’ve uncovered a path to self liberation.

Creativity As A Discipline: Viewer Discretion Advised.

Take-Home Message: When you’ve run out of gas, pull off to the shoulder and continue on foot.

Creating a masterpiece takes energy. Like love or war, simple passion isn’t enough. You’ll need more than sweet nothings and grenades. When the honeymoon ends or your wingman goes down, it might rattle you to your core. You might want to quit. There is always this choice: call it off and abandon ship or man the fuck up and get tough.

You can wayfare through life casually making advances on trollops of your wasted mind, hoping the shallow intercourse rekindles your flame. OR, let your fight through the drudgery reignite the heat of passion, burning in you a newfound lust for conceiving your magnum opus.

Choosing to create only when feeling inspired is like holding the face of your infant potential under two inches of water in the kiddie pool and telling it to swim. You commit a homicide on self-realization. You circumcise inches from the fullest version of yourself. You banish your love child to a preventable ending.

Someday you’ll find yourself in the trenches splattered in mud, out of ammunition, with nothing but a bayonet and a prayer: you can either face your fears or run away. You might not achieve glory. You might get shot. Either way, you have a choice to make.

One of these options transforms your shadow into a coward to follow you the rest of your days. The right choice showers light upon the darkness of your wildest fears, blinding them. It sends forth a higher version of yourself bursting free into existence from the ashes of the weary, worn, fear-ridden corpse formerly standing there.

This choice has a name. I call it Discipline. You embrace it like a long-lost lover or tremble with fear from it your whole life until it murders you in your sleep.

Hating The Other Team Isn’t Fandom

Take-Home Message: Don’t be a fantagonist. Let love fuel your passions, not hatred.

Wasn't I just a lady-killer?
Wasn’t I just a lady-killer?

I remember the first shirt my parents ever put on me with the logo. I was just a little tike at the time and had no concept of fandom, let alone team loyalty. At two years old, I rocked that tiny crop-top Oklahoma State outfit like it was my job. It paired nicely with the boots, chaps, and cowboy hat I wore a few years later, the Halloween costume turned outfit of choice on any given day. Still years later, for my 13th birthday, when my mom and sister decorated my bedroom in the colors of my future alma mater, I possessed little understanding of the qualities indicative of a true supporter. I was still in the phase where insults about the rivaling Oklahoma Sooners equaled confirmation in my eyes. Little did I know I was missing the entire point of being a fan, of wearing the colors of my team win or lose, and of simply enjoying the game for the beautiful thing it is.

Throughout the years I have explored the meaning of fandom and observed the definition in action from various capacities, through different lenses, and by vast numbers of unique personalities.

My conclusion is simple: Being a true fan requires love for your team. Riding the bandwagon does not. Rightly so, a significant difference separates the two, though it may take a trained eye to identify these differences when you are out tailgating on game day. Against the crowd, everyone wearing the team colors may appear to be a fan, but the truth is simple: real fans love their team, fake fans hate the opponent.

Think for a moment about any number of the outings in which you have participated, be it a sporting event, a political rally, a religious conference, an organization meeting, or any scenario for which you have been present where the ultimate goal rested on the advancement of some agenda, be it winning, voting, promoting, raising awareness, evangelizing, and so forth, ad infinitum. Whatever the matter may be, we naturally, when coming together for such a cause, assume that an opposition to our cause exists somewhere among society. In many cases, this opposition is readily identifiable: you can judge it by the colors worn or the flags waived, the words spoken or the rhetoric invoked. However, this process becomes greatly muddied when the people standing on the same side of the aisle as us are not at all satisfied working toward the same agendas.

The most potent example of this in action depicts the conditional fan or supporter. Here are some of his most distinguishing characteristics:

  1. He is the guy that shows up to the game more buzzed than the rest of the crowd around him (except maybe the college frat guys).
  2. He’s usually wearing the colors of the team for whom he’s rooting, though it’s probably one of the only shirts or hats of this team’s which he owns.
  3. He yells more obnoxiously than those around him. He does not know all the words to the fight song—nor does this inhibit his invocation of his own remix. He usually spends most of the game belittling the referees and other team.
  4. His stake in the game is insignificant, if existent, at all.
  5. He HATES the opponents, and all supporters of them.
  6. His cheers for the team he is representing pale in comparison to his degradations of the opponent.
  7. He will not wear the colors the following day, regardless, but he will insult anyone wearing the other team’s.

The descriptors above are meant to paint into your mind a picture of the “fantagonist.” He is around us, everywhere, in every movement, cause or group with which we have stood in support of an idea or purpose. To our demise, his presence or portrayal as a member among our group is more often than not more harmful to our cause than most of the good we seek to advance. He is the bad apple in the bunch. He is the nail picked up by our tire. He does all of this with no idea of the significance of his action upon those individuals who live outside the world of our fandom. He is associated with our cause only on the fringe, but he is contrary to all we hope to promote in our own delighted support. He is the fan that everyone from the other side thinks of, however, when they envision doing battle with us. Among us loyal fans, he is the biggest imposter, a hollow pretense cloaked in team memorabilia, but to everyone on the outside, he’s got the goods.

Even for these fans, though, there exists in play a simple litmus test to identify this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nudge them softly, though. All you must do is pinpoint the other team this fan would support over your team. Put your finger on these entities which hold more weight to this fraudulent fan, and you will have arrived at an understanding of his true degree of fandom. The more contingencies he possesses, the less a fan he is of your cause, team, or proposition. Made simple, this looks something like, “I support Oklahoma State, so long as they are not playing ________________.” The question can be reframed in any number of ways depending on the issue at hand, but the effect remains the same: People will always prioritize according to their highest preferences.

Too often in my own short life, I have embodied this same behavior. I have found myself rooting against things for all the wrong motives. I have been the loudest, most virulently hostile ringleader, at many points for causes in which, though I may have held an infinitesimal stake, my interest in said stake was birthed from ulterior motives. Most notably among these causes has been my hatred down to the cellular level of illegitimate authority imposed upon me. Until very recently, however, I viewed this hatred of authority through an opaque lens.

From my own seat in the nosebleed section, I was chanting at the top of my lungs for liberty to decimate the other team, and to do so at all costs. Meanwhile, I raged onward as a self-proclaimed fan, continually fueling my buzz and obnoxiously announcing flagrancies toward the political pundits above the cheers of my neighbors for each goal liberty scored. I was wearing a Ron Paul shirt in the 47th row of the stadium waving my picket sign, upon which, boldly emblazoned in bright letters visible to the entire crowed was the word “SECEDE!” This was not love of liberty. This was hatred of the state on display.

I was enraging the fans on both sides of the field, and I was finding little fulfillment in the cause, aside from the sick, twisted arousal I gleaned from starting forest fires of debate among the natives. I was not a true fan of liberty. I was a hate-fueled fraud. Instead of victory solely for victory’s sake, I sought victory for my own team only at the expense of all the other teams.

This hatred was equivalent to rooting for everyone to beat the Yankee’s solely because I was a Bo-Sox fan. Love of any cause, though, is standing tall during the ninth inning of a blowout at Wrigley Field, proudly smiling that I had the chance to watch my team, and making plans to come back again next week to do it all over again.

This epiphany has made all the difference to me, and it has drastically changed both my worldview and valuation of camaraderie. I want to be a Cubs fan of liberty. I want to be the Poke’s fan for freedom. Sadly, my team is not going to win this year. In fact, we might not even win next year, but I heard we are building the program from the ground up, and we have a great recruiting class the next few years.

So, in light of this, I think I’ll pack my poncho and maybe even an extra fleece in case there’s a chance of snow. I’ve even got my tent loaded up so I can camp outside the stadium and snag a front row seat. Hell, I might paint my face. It’s okay that you are cheering against my team, though; I’ll still save you a seat. Anyway, I hope to see you there, I hear it is going to be the matchup of a century.