The Rite of a $20 Coffee Maker

I don’t drink it for the caffeine.

And I don’t brew it for the taste.

But if you’ve got a minute, I’ll tell you why it percolates.

Coffee is a ritual. The starter pistol of routine.

Each morning set to brew, I do, that twenty-dollar machine.

It’s no fancy espresso maker. No pour over, nor French press.

The coffee I like best – is from a machine that makes a mess (for less).

It performs one simple function. And reliably it gets by.

All I need is just one cup to signify it’s time.

Time to start the day. And time to make the most.

The aroma of my industry, it smells like burnt blonde roast.

Go on buy your fancy gadgets. Your frothers for your milk. Guzzle super stimulants. And savor favor trade beans.

But never sell short the scrappiness of a twenty-dollar machine.

Putting Yourself In the Way of Success

There’s a story about a guy named Edwin Barnes who desperately wanted to go into business with Thomas Edison (you know, the 10,000 ways how not to make a lightbulb guy).

Anyway, ol’ Barnes didn’t have a penny to his name and he’d never met Edison. But he focused so hard on his goal he convinced himself it was inevitable. All he needed was one shot to speak with the inventor.

So one day Barnes stowed away on a train and just showed up out front of Edison’s workshop declaring he’d come to go into business with him. Impressed and taken off guard, Edison offered Barnes a job – an hourly wage job doing “work unimportant to Edison.”

Haters might say he failed. But legend has it Barnes saw the job as the start of his business partnership with Edison. He put himself in the right place. All he needed was the right time.

Five years passed. Still no sign of opportunity beyond his hourly wage job. But Barnes did not flinch. And that’s precisely when his moment came. 

Edison released a new machine which his salespeople claimed to be unsellable. The invention fascinated Barnes. Who approached Edison with a proposal. 

“Tom, just give me a shot and I’ll sell this widget like ice-cold lemonade on a Mississippi summer day.” (okay, so I have no idea what he really said, but you get the picture)

And sell it he did. So successfully, in fact, that Edison entered into a business agreement with him to sell the machine all over the country. Which made him rich beyond imagination.

But this story isn’t about getting rich. It’s about the power of intention mixed with deliberate action.

Barnes did not wait around hoping and wishing that a great career opportunity might just happen to him.

He fixated on a specific outcome. Then he put himself in the way of opportunity.


Post inspired by Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich. Originally published via a weekly newsletter I write about how to live a more self-directed life.

Success vs. Fulfillment

I think it’s difficult to find real success unless you prioritize fulfillment.

Sure. You can get rich. Gain status. And win the praise of others. But if you’re unfulfilled, does it even matter?

When I think about my own life and how I’ve defined success over the years one thing seems constant – the goal posts always move.

Each achievement challenges further achievement. Incomes goals, career goals, status goal…you name it. Anytime I’ve been prioritized “success” over fulfillment, I’ve found it fleeting.

On the flip side, when I’ve prioritized fulfillment, I’ve found something altogether different to be true – an ability to be content without sacrificing future ambition.

A Personal Tale

When I graduated college I set a pretty ambitious goal for myself: double my income every year.

It was easy at first. Year one. Year two. Even year three. But as you can imagine it became more difficult in time. Through my first five years in the real world, I almost succeeded too. But then I discovered something I didn’t anticipate. More money did not make me happier.

As obvious as this might sound to you, it was actually difficult for me to understand. Because I had a wrong notion about success. I believed success was a function of keeping score.

That belief really led me astray for quite some time. It had me looking out into the world at what others were doing. Comparing myself. And then beating myself up over all that I had not yet accomplished by my age. Which honestly got pretty exhausting after awhile.

Two Steps Back, One Leap Forward

A few years back I left an awesome job at a company I loved. I’d been there awhile. I’d climbed the ranks. And I was making great money.

But something had gone missing. I’d lost the fire for my work.

For awhile I tried to rediscover it. I tried working harder. I tried working less. I tried journaling. I tried therapy. I tried changing up my schedule. I tried changing up what I was working on.

But the more I searched the less vigor I felt for my work.

After months of battling with this, I found a new outlet – an opportunity to go work on something entirely different. To leave behind one opportunity and pursue the next. A new challenge, if you will.

It scared me. But (thankfully) after some prodding from a friend, I made the leap.

I went from big fish in big pond to a small pond where status had no bearing. I took a +40% pay cut. I left a team where I’d been around longer than almost everybody to a team where I was very much the new guy. I went from a role where I knew exactly what it took to succeed to a role that I was larger learning everything on the fly.

And a surprising thing happened – I rediscovered my fire for my work.

Somehow my status and income had both declined but my happiness increased. Who knew, right?

How To Find Fulfilling Work

Roman Krznarick has an awesome book on this topic you should check out. It’s called How To Find Fulfilling Work.

In the book he highlights five dimensions of fulfilling work. Here they are:

  • Earning Money (Extrinsic)
  • Achieving Status (Extrinsic)
  • Making a Difference (Intrinsic)
  • Following Your Passions (Intrinsic)
  • Using Your Talents (Intrinsic)

Basically, we all have our own motives for doing what we do. Krznarick explains how some of those motives originate by watching people – see also mimetic desire. Krznarick called these extrinsic motives. These are the things we all usually think about when we define success – like money, titles, where we work, who we know, etc.

But in the stories Krznarick researched, in most cases, people who pursued extrinsic factors actually ended up less happy. They were missing something.

Krznarick argued that the motives that come from within – which he calls intrinsic factors – are actually the key to unlocking fulfillment in our work and lives.

He tells stories about people who left 6-figure consulting jobs to work in non-profits. Or left their high-status jobs to pursue their art. And a whole collection of other examples where people “traded down” (lower income and status) to become happier.

People became happier as the moved closer to roles that used their talents, made them feel like they were making a difference, and stuff they were passionate about. In most cases, they made less money and did less glamorous-sounding work (at least at first).

As surprising as it might sound, Krznarick’s theory suggests it’s actually not the money or status that makes us happy. Rather, it’s the stuff that makes us come alive that leads to real success – success from fulfillment.

Searching For Your Own Answers

It’s nothing new for people to be searching for answers. What’s the meaning of life? How can I be successful? How can I live a happy life?

Questions like this have challenged people centuries. Thankfully a lot of people have kept good notes. And there’s so much we can learn from exploring other people’s struggles on these same topics.

I’m very much still on my own journey of personal development. But I’ve found a lot of answers – and a ton more questions – by digging deep into how other people have approached questions like these in their own lives and careers.

Here are a few resources I’ve found useful throughout the years:

How to Find Fulfilling Work By Roman Krznarick

How Will You Measure Your Life? By Clayton Christensen

Outwitting the Devil By Napolean Hill

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World By René Girard

Start with Why By Simon Sinek

Do What You Are By Paul & Kelly Tieger & Barbara Barron

The War of Art By Steven Pressfield

You Don’t Need a Job – You Need Guts By Ash Ambirge

There are countless other good resources out there for exploring questions about success, happiness, fulfillment and the like. It’s a personal journey. And these are tough questions to wrestle with. But it’s worth it.

Cherish the Imperfections

Can you imagine how stale life would be if everything were perfect?

The first pancake off the skillet always cooks completely through and every kernel of popcorn in the bag all pops perfectly.

But what if all those subtle imperfections in the world around us disappeared?

Today I’m grateful for all the things in life that aren’t perfect.

For the squeaky wheels. The kid screaming in the movie theatre. The gridlock traffic.

All these things form the beautiful tapestry that is the background of our lives. They grant us opportunities to improve both ourselves and the world around us. Opportunities to become a better version of ourselves – by achieving greatness or by learning humility.

Imperfections shape us, and in some way may always serves as a sentimental reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much further yet we have to go.

 

Everyday Superpowers

A friend of mine once slept in his car for three months.

He moved across the country for a girl. A few months later, they broke up.

So he needed a new plan, fast.

He had just accepted a job that was a bit out of his league, and the thought of declining because he couldn’t afford the cost of living in the city embarrassed him.

Student loans and credit card debt had piled up – he didn’t have free cashflow to afford an apartment.

So he found a parking garage.

His first night, he woke up at 3:30 am in a cold sweat. He peeked out the window from his reclined seat to find a cop parked in the spot next to him. He knew if his cover was blown, he could be arrested. So he laid there – frozen.

In time, he planned his day to a tee. He set his alarm to avoid security guards. He got a gym membership so he could bathe. It forced him to show up to the office early and leave late.

Over the three months, he paid off over $15k of debt and developed a remarkable reputation among his co-workers. Not to mention he earned a great story.

When I think about his story, I’m inspired by the lengths he went to make his situation work. He drew a bad hand – and bluffed it into winning the pot.

He didn’t win the lottery or have a miracle fall out of the sky. But he leveraged his will as a superpower.

His story makes me wonder, maybe superpowers don’t have to be the stuff of myth. What if tough situations are opportunities to develop them.

 

*This post originally appeared in my weekly Crash Newsletter earlier today – where I share inspiration, and the week’s best content on careers, personal growth, and how to get ahead. If you’re interest in learning more, sign up here!

Exploring as Catharsis

Do you ever get the urge to explore something new? I do – often.

Something about venturing out into the unknown acts as a release. Even in the small detours – like a new route home from work, or a new path on an afternoon walk.

I think exposure to new environments expands our minds, even subtle changes. Disparities from routine offer fresh perspectives.

The explorations don’t have to be geographic, either. Consider a few modest changes with significant benefits:

  • Rearranging furniture
  • Swapping light bulbs with different hues
  • Working remotely or from a coffee shop, instead of the office
  • Using noise-cancelling headphones versus the usual ear buds (cough *Airpods* cough)
  • Changing up your playlist
  • Alternating to standing from sitting

All of these small steps give me a major release – not just in reduction of stress, but in a more significant way. New experiments yield new glimpses of joy. It’s almost like each new experience unlocks one more small secret to the universe.

Maybe it seems silly. But it works for me.

Against Monotony

We live in a great big world. How much of it have you experienced? I try to ask myself that from time to time. Especially when I find myself stuck in a routine that’s begun to produce diminishing returns.

A quick change of pace can go a long way. Major alterations go even further.

The real secret is not in changing for change’s sake – there is value to be had from routine – but in changing to expand your point of view.

If you’re like me, doing the same thing over and over again eventually leads to a wall that impedes progress. Mixing things up combats against that.

Experience the Orange

A decade or so ago at a leadership training seminar, the speaker gave everybody an orange. He set the clock for two minutes. The only instructions he gave were “to experience the orange.” For two minutes, everybody observantly peeled back the layers of the orange – intently cataloging every nuance.

Suddenly I held more than some orange table fruit.

Again, it seems silly. But I still remember it.

Sometimes approaching things in a new light, gives you an entire new perspective. If you’re down and out or feel like inspiration is lacking, maybe it’s time for your to experience the orange.

Go explore something new. Or go explore something familiar in a new light. There may be some new secret waiting for you to uncover it.

 

 

Don’t Be Precious

You’re cheating yourself if you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to do your best work.

You don’t need four monitors to work. Maybe they help. But you don’t need them.

You don’t need the fanciest outfit to go to the party.

You don’t need the sharpest sword to fight.

You don’t need the suit and tie to impress investors.

All of these things may “help” but really they distract from the core thing.

You.

You are what makes all those other things assets. Don’t let them get in the way of your best work.

If you can only reach two percent.

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.

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.”

“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

What you do today will be solely your choice,

So go out there boldly, in your labor rejoice!

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!