2016 and counting…

I moved 1,200 miles across the country this year, but it hardly captures the ground I’ve made.

I’m a (human) gestation period through a yearlong personal and professional development program. (See Praxis). Since January, I’ve been apprenticing under the Founder & CEO of a tech/accounting startup–which recently closed a $4.2M Series A funding round. (See Ceterus). I’ve experienced unprecedented growth as part of both. It’s been the most difficult, stressful, chaotic, roller coaster ride I’ve ever taken. These have also been the most rewarding, invigorating, fulfilling, and actualizing months of my life.

During this time I’ve gained exposure to all the nitty-gritty business of doing business. I’ve also come to recognize the brilliance of people passionate at work to create solutions. I’ve seen the trenches and served on the frontline of what I consider to be a great entrepreneurial endeavor. I’ve experienced a few victories. And I’ve come to know defeat. I see both as allies for learning now.

I’ve never felt more limber than I have these few months. I’ve never felt more open to possibility.

In the past six months, I’ve:


This is merely a snapshot of the things I’ve been doing. It hardly does justice to all the learning that’s been happening behind the scenes. It’s been an incredible journey so far.

I couldn’t summarize what it’s taken to get here.

There have been many long hours, late nights, and early mornings. There have been whole days where I felt like I was banging my head against the wall. There have been weekends where I didn’t turn the lights on or leave my apartment and stayed glued to the couch, entirely spent. There have been dozens of late-night ice cream and beer errands.

There have also been some of the brightest, happiest, and most hopeful hours of my life. There have been dozens of “Aha!” moments. There have been countless small victories with violent fist pumps and silent cheers.

And there has been an incredible support network beside me through Praxis, my family, co-workers, and friends.

2016 has been monumental already. I look forward to sharing all that precipitates in the coming months as I continue to grow.

As always, thanks for reading.

Best,

M.E.

 

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.

 

Make America Great Again: A Journal Entry with Adam Smith.

 

The alarm buzzed and I reached to hit snooze. Who am I kidding? The alarm had been ringing for 20 minutes before I finally wrangled it into silence. Not unlike every morning the first move I made was to walk into the kitchen and flip on the coffee pot.

It’s the fancy kind that has an alarm but I don’t set it. You could make a case that I’m too lazy. I pretend it’s because I enjoy the sound of the drip-drip-dripping followed by the wafting scent of the freshly brewed ground beans. Whatever. I’m just glad somebody built such a contraption.

I prefer a dark roast ideally. Right now I’m on a Columbian kick. Something about opening up the little yellow bag and smelling the robust flavors makes me appreciate the little things in life. I bought the coffee a few blocks away at the Publix. It cost about $10 for the bag. Not to mention the tax I paid. I enjoy good coffee and I’m glad it cost so little.

I’m glad for the guy who probably makes around market wage to stock the shelves so I don’t have to hunt for it long. I’m also glad for the guy who took my money at the register and made the purchase so easy. The guy who thanked me for shopping at Publix and sacked my groceries wasn’t so bad either. I thanked him back. We both smiled and went about our own lives. Everybody wins.

In a way, I’m happy I contributed to their income. It didn’t cross my mind when I bought the groceries. I don’t think about them when I brew my coffee. I’m just glad they’re there when I need them. Providing a service. Exchanging their labor for my money. It’s brilliant.

So anyway, back to the coffee before it gets cold.

I sat down at the table to work. These days as I make my start in the mornings I pull up one page on my Macbook Air and another on the Microsoft Surface. I like screens. The more the better. What a cool world I live in where I can drink my coffee from the comfort of the house and talk with people miles away before I’ve even stepped a foot out the door.

I didn’t think about it this morning but I’m thankful for the people who built those machines. Not to mention the wireless internet. I bet the inventors weren’t thinking about me. Nor the manufacturers. Or the technician who installed the internet service. They were just living their lives. Just like I was living mine.

I finished my second cup of java and poured the remaining contents into my steel Yeti cup. If you’ve never had one I highly recommend it. I still burn my tongue in the afternoon from coffee I poured in the morning. It’s fantastic. Those two guys that created it did me a solid. I tossed on real people clothes and headed out. It’s pretty cool to lock the door and leave all of my stuff behind each day. Remind me to thank somebody for that later.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been switching between talk radio and podcasts on my morning commute. Today it was talk radio. What good entertainment. There were several riffs about Chris Rock’s monologue last night. Some demonized. Some praised. After about the fifth election ad I settled on another station. It was one where people call in and talk about terrible dates. “Who listens to this shit?” I thought to myself as I became invested in Jessica’s story about Todd. It was clear the talk show hosts weren’t thinking about me. They were each just doing their thing. I’m glad they did. I got a kick out of it.

By the time I made it to work this morning I had probably benefitted from a few dozen other people, maybe even a few hundred. I hadn’t even spoken a word aloud to any of them. I just used their stuff. The products of their labor. The stuff I’d traded money for. It didn’t cross my mind. Today was just another Monday.

I bet none of those people thought of me today on their way to work either. It doesn’t bother me. I didn’t think of them. They were each just doing their own thing. Just like I’m doing mine.

Tonight I scrolled through my news feed. I saw a million more campaign ads. I tried to ignore it. I couldn’t. I ended up watching a few spoof videos. “Little Marco Rubio…the light weight…” I laughed. I liked. I scrolled on.

I started to fall asleep on the couch. I got up. I took a shower. I laid down for a few minutes. I began to drift off and the words Make America Great Again stirred me back to life.

I started thinking about all the individual actors whose labor had gotten me through the day. I’m glad I could trade my money for their products and services. I bet they weren’t thinking about me. They were each probably just doing their own thing. Just like I was doing mine.

I thought about my coffee drip-drip-dripping tomorrow morning. America’s pretty great already I guess.


“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

–Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol 1

 

 

 

 

Fix It Before It Breaks.

I  bought into fear of innovation and change until I found a loophole. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to embrace with the right mentality. Just focus on the reason innovation matters. It’s something we all know. Every improvement makes our lives better.

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken,” they say. How broken does something need to be before we replace it with something better?

Take the iPhone for example. I’ve heard sentiment expressed about the rapid release of newer technology.  Just ask around some afternoon. Before long, you’ll meet someone who expresses contempt that a newer version comes out every year. This frustration illuminates a common misconception about innovation.

Profit-motive might drive the innovation or it might not. The innovator might or might not have sinister intentions. It doesn’t matter. The product matters. So does the improvement the product yields for everyone who uses it. Every advancement, big or small, raises standards of living. Every advancement moves the world forward from where it was.

Innovation finds no satisfaction with the status quo. Intrigue prevails over frustration during gaps in performance or errors. Innovation figures out why these occur rather than damns them.

Innovation examines the whole world as a puzzle waiting to be solved rather than as a problem or nuisance of fate. Under this microscope possibilities to create and build a better one become endless.

Innovation and its entrepreneurial counterpart are at their core anarchistic. No set structure or central plan governs the moves. They testify of benefits from the chaos prevalent the absence a system.  In such chaos, harmony and spontaneous problem-solving arise.

Don’t believe me? Look around at any group. Be it work force, team, or committee, etc. In absence of guidelines for solving problems people spontaneously generate solutions. People naturally solve problems according to the information they have. I guess you could say there’s an innovator within us all.

That innovator needs to be unleashed. It needs to be given the proper fuel to enact change.  And it needs something to practice on. Lo and behold the world is full of problems waiting to be solved. The innovator needs to be given the driver’s seat.

Innovation doesn’t glimpse out into the world and witness problems. It looks at challenges as opportunities to create valuable solutions. It knows pessimism doesn’t solve problems. It arraigns criticism through speech as a hollow approach. Innovation attacks failing systems of thought by providing alternatives.

Innovation debates through the products of its ideas. It begins with a resolve to create. Innovation has little time for thought experiments. Innovation runs field experiments, instead.

Innovation and entrepreneurship witness harmony where once before only chaos existed. They see potential in everything rather than conflict or destruction. They trade in a doomsdayer perspective for hope and belief in ingenuity’s ability to solve problems.

Innovation recognizes alternatives as possible even if they don’t exist yet. That’s the essence of entrepreneurship and I believe it’s the foundation toward achieving a freer, more prosperous society.

No License Required

Take-Home Message: These applications are revolutionizing the way we complete tasks.

One of my favorite topics involves the use of technology as a means for making our lives better. I am utterly fascinated by innovation, and the way it ceaselessly transforms our world.

Take the smart phone, for example. Even in my lifetime, this was once inconceivable. Yet, today, nearly every 11-year-old has access to a full warehouse of tools that at one point in the not-so-distant past would’ve cost almost a million dollars. (Here’s a cool article that discusses this advancement more.)

A growing trend today allows individuals to make even more use of technology to live better, more opportunistic lives. It’s the rise of the peer-to-peer freelancing industry. These softwares and applications are vast and growing, and they are revolutionizing the way people interact.

These applications don’t simply allow people to be more informed. They free us. They allow us to seek out directly the people, products, skills, or services we crave in a timely, affordable manner. They have dramatically decreased the overhead cost of running businesses, too. Imagine connecting with someone from around the globe to do your company’s billing or data entry at a fraction of the cost (which subsequently is much higher than the wages they might otherwise earn). It’s a win-win for everyone.

Here are some highlights from a few of my favorite examples of these innovations:

Upwork/Elance“Anything that can be done on a computer – from web and mobile programming to graphic design – can be done on Upwork. ” Upwork/Elance allows individuals to create accounts showcasing their talents and their hourly rate. It allows users to sort through and interview applicants, select the one they want, and rate the performance. It gives you access to over 10 million freelancers in more than 180 countries, and is a leading platform for global talent sourcing.

Freelancer“Post your project and receive competitive bids from freelancers within minutes. Our reputation system will make it easy to find the perfect freelancer for your job. It’s the simplest and safest way to get work done online!” Freelancer has similar features to Upwork and Elance, however, with the added element of allowing service providers to issue bids for the project proposals.

Wonolo: “Work now. Get paid. Live life on your terms.Don’t let job schedules run your life. Wonolo connects you with immediate hourly or daily jobs from the biggest and best brands, allowing you to work where you want, when you want, for whomever you want.” Wonolo allows users to find temporary work immediately. At the touch of a button, employers can post jobs and find someone to fill their need. Wonolo is a means to “leverage technology to create a flexible workforce to solve unpredictability in business.”

TaskRabbit: “TaskRabbit allows you to live smarter by connecting you with safe and reliable help in your neighborhood. Outsource your household errands and skilled tasks to trusted people in your community.” TaskRabbit is allowing people to take back control of their hectic lives by connecting with people who can help them.


If you are interested in learning more about talent sourcing platforms, check out this list of 50.

The Why Chromosome

Take-Home Message: One thing that separates those who change the world from those who simply watch: A Vision. 

vi·sion·ar·y
adjective

  1. a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.

Have you ever observed someone describe a deeply-held belief? What did they look like doing so? What did you look like listening to them? How did it make you feel?

The ones who impacted me most profoundly made me feel something powerful awaken inside. They made me believe. If for but a moment, I shared their vision too.

They paint with their words. Not simple pictures, but beautiful, distant landscapes, and unfathomed horizons with brilliant, vivid clarity, these artists take hold of their brushes and gently, masterfully apply stoke after stroke with seamless effort, offering us an invitation to imagine.

These artisans paint us, too. With original insight, they carefully incorporate into their masterpieces our deepest fears and the sullen images of every shattered dream we ever encountered. Then, surreptitiously, the skilled hands of a genius fast at work replaces those pagan images of ourselves with bright, beautifully-colored, novel self-esteem and faith.

They possess a fierce, yet compassionate presence. They intimidate anyone unwilling to share in the enjoyment or embodiment of their vision. Simultaneously, they welcome into their presence all who share it.

Many mock them for their baffling distortion of reality. Yet, if at all moved by detractors, they become only more driven. They exist relentlessly for the pursuit of higher ideals. In the face of defeat, they embolden their vision all the more menacingly. They refuse to die until winning many victories for mankind.

Their beliefs do not equate to fantasies. Not to them. They see what we do not, they see that which exists beyond the veil. They hold confidence in both ideas and their ability to cultivate these into realities.

Others perceive them as discontent with each new creation. They simply see more yet to be done in their time. Others dub them profit-mongers, heretics, and cheats. These accusations distract them not. Their vision propels them toward a society of more apt standards of valuation for a man’s worth.

They envision the world as it could be and as it will be. They fret not of the present. To them, the future remains static, and we must approach it boldly.

They do not ask what. Rather, they contemplate why? They do not question how. They wonder when.

They live today to create tomorrow. We call them visionaries.

Everyone Sells.

Take-Home Message: There’s nothing wrong with selling. 

A few months ago, I overheard someone having a conversation about how they didn’t get a degree just so they could be a salesperson. This reference to sales as a lowly, dark-arts job almost made me laugh. It made me consider my own thoughts about the art of selling, and how I feel when approached by a “salesperson.”

I hate feeling like I’m being sold. It’s a degrading feeling for me when someone is telling me what I need, particularly when the person has failed to ask what I want. From my own observations, this feeling is universal. We all hate being sold. It makes us feel like we’re being duped or something, I suppose. And we all hate having the wool pulled over our eyes.

So, when someone even resembles a salesperson, we immediately throw up our guard and march to a different tune. It’s like an evolved defense mechanism we all have and frequently use.

I think we should stop shirking away from these encounters so quickly, though. In fact, I think we should embrace them and use them as learning opportunities. I believe this and am seeking to combat this behavior because I think we are all salespeople in one way or another. We all believe in something, work for something, and want to connect with others on some level. To do this, and to do it effectively, we have to be able to reach out to others, and in some sense, persuade them of the legitimacy of our ideas.

Everybody has a product to sell–no matter whether you’re an employee, a founder, or an investor. It’s true even if your company consists of just you and your computer. Look around. If you don’t see any salespeople, you’re the salesperson. –Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Peter Thiel makes a compelling case in his book, Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. He discusses sales as a skill requiring immense time and effort to look flawless. He also says it’s something that works when hidden. Because, no one likes feeling sold.

But, in the world in which we live, there are an immense number of goods, services, and ideas which are being slung all around us. We are each being sold on something almost perpetually. Some people are terrible at selling, while others are so good we never see them coming. Most of our encounters, though, even if they are not situations which involve a monetary transaction, require a sale.

Because of this, I believe we should start regularly engaging the people who attempt to sell us something, be it idea, product, or service. I think each of these encounters provides an opportunity for learning and improving our own techniques.

I think in so doing, we can transform our view of sales. I personally have attempted to shift my outlook lately on this. I’ve been approaching some of these interactions with the mindset that the “salesperson” is attempting to add value to my life, rather than dupe me. It’s allowed me to have much more friendly conversations with these people, and even on occasion, learn a thing or two.

As I’ve set out on my own mission to “sell” ideas, I’ve thought it important to become a better listener to others who are attempting to do the same. I’ve learned a lot from changing my mindset to one less hostile. In the back of my mind when I’m being sold, whether it’s an idea, product, or service, I’ve been attempting to think of Frederic Bastiat’s words: “By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” 

I believe Thiel’s and Bastiat’s words both have practical importance to our lives. We are all selling things, and because we are, we can all be better off. I think it’s important to recognize the value of being better off as a result of exchange. In fact, it’s been only out of recognition of this that I’ve been able to make any ground in improving my attitude with “salespeople” who are just doing the best they can.

I’ll close with this thought because I think Ash Ambirge summarizes this transaction process eloquently.

Sales is about a mutual exchange of pleasure. The first keyword is mutual, and the second pleasure. When a transaction between a seller and buyer takes place, it isn’t because the seller is greedy and the buyer is stupid. Buyers are not stupid; they know exactly what they’re doing. And what they’re doing is giving you something you want (money) in exchange for something they want (what you sell).

–Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

15 Days of Self-Improvement

Take-Home Message: As the world evolves, so should you.

Writer’s Note: This piece is inspired by 15 days with Ash Ambirge, rather, her e-course, “You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.”

Thanks to the rapid rise in communications technologies, jump-starting the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of becomes more possible each and every day. Today, we each carry around access to a platform of permissionless innovation in our pocket. With internet more accessible than ever, there’s no time like the present to take control of your life by turning your ideas and skills into cold, hard cash.

So, how do you make it in this great big world with your ideas?

Easy. Set up shop online and allow your customers to find you. But first, let’s take a quick look at some important steps.

First and foremost, you need to think about the lifestyle you desire. What does it look like? Do you want to travel? How frequently do you want to work? How much money do you want to make? These are good starting points.

After you’ve answered those, let’s weigh in on your passions. What could you do every day for the rest of your life? What makes you come alive? What keeps you up at night? What ideas are you carrying around in your head that you’d like to turn into reality?

Great! Now, that you’ve identified those, we are are getting somewhere. Here comes the tough part. Who would want what you’ve got to offer? What’s their story? What are their hopes, fears, dreams, goals, needs, wants, etc.? What makes them tick? And, other important questions, like: Are they abel to pay for your idea? and Are they willing to pay for your idea?

Cool. If you answered yes to those, then, it’s time to start figuring out how to make them paying customers. But before you start spilling your candy in their lobby, let’s figure out how you can add value to their lives aside from your product. How can you become irreplaceable to them? What valuable tips, free advice, and attention can you provide them by virtue of your online storefront?

These are important steps, and they each need the proper attention should you like to see your business idea succeed. With the proper attention to detail and enough grit, your idea will sell itself.

So, you know what you can offer, and who you’re offering it to. Fantastic! You’ve validated your business, because you know your target demographic is not only able, but willing to pay for your product. Now, what do you say to them?

This is the imperative part. You are trying to become the go-to expert in your particular field. When you’re hunting for new customers, it’s important to take a rifle-approach, not use a shotgun. You don’t go yelling at every Tom, Dick, and Harry about your product. You speak to Tom like Tom needs to be spoken to. You woo Dick. You sweet talk Harry. You make them each feel seen.

You cater to the differences among your target audience. You make them feel like you get them, because, you do. You’re  business soul mates. If you want them to be your customers, you can’t just have things to offer them. You need to welcome them into your life and make them know you care. Give them attention. Understand their needs, and provide them with the resources to meet those.

So, how does this all happen?

Use your words, of course! As you are building your website and developing your marketing strategy, you are thinking about Tom. You are thinking about Dick. AND, let’s not forget about Harry. Each of them is important. You are crafting your message to them and making it not only accessible once they are on your site, but you are making yours site easy to find. You are using keywords and discussing topics that they find relevant. You are making the pages navigable. And, you’re providing opportunity to collect their email addresses, so you remain in control. You want to do this so you can keep them interested. It’s like asking someone for their phone number, you want to keep the ball in your court.

But why is it important?

At the heart of every business, there should be at least one important fundamental understanding: You’ve got to make money. Not just to keep the lights on, but you’ve got to make money, otherwise, your ideas can’t infiltrate the world and make it a better place. And to do this, you need customers. Paying customers. Preferably, these customers keep coming back for more, too, because what you’re offering them is so great and so important to them they’ve got to have more. (It’s kind of like slingin’ crack, except, the good kind, like, the kind that doesn’t kill anyone or make them an addict.)

Thanks, again, to technology, the cost of acquiring these new customers is diminishing. It’s what an MBA-type or economics would call, “Diminishing Marginal Cost of Customer Acquisition” or some other super-fancy jargon. But, let’s make it a habit of purging that type of talk from our lingo. We want to use words that empower our customers. We don’t want to tell them how smart we are. We want to show them how valuable we can be to them.

You can do all of this through your website, through integration of Google Analytics, and email marketing software. Here’s how: Build your website (as we discussed earlier) for your audience. Make it navigable, and use the world that will make them feel relevant. Earn their email address by showing them something of value. You will be monitoring how customers find your page and how they behave once they arrive through Google Analytics. You will be using email software to continue providing value to them long after they click away from your site.

Sound easy enough, right? I think so, too. So, let’s set to work on it together as we turn our ideas into reality. I’m going to keep learning more and modifying my answers as I develop more insight, and I hope that you’re going to begin answering some of those questions for yourself.

Let’s go change the world together. It’s simple. Now, let’s go to work.


Because I don’t want to steal all of Ash’s thunder, I kept this piece semi-vague. If you’d like to learn more, visit her site. It’s phenomenal. It’s called The Middle Finger Project. I will continue to share my insights from her course, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts,” as I trek through it. If you’d like to learn along with me, you can find her course here.

How I Work

Take-Home Message: Find what works for you.

This exercise has been circulating among my Praxis friends and colleagues, and I accept the challenge. In this post, I answer questions about “How I Work.”


Location: HQ is Enid, OK, but I travel around as I feel.

Current gig: Contracted Programs Associate with The Foundation for Economic Education; Freelance Photographer; Praxis Student

Current mobile device: iPhone 4S

Current computer: 13″ Apple Macbook Pro (Mid-2009 Series) Upgraded 8GB RAM

One word that best describes how you work: Resourceful.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? 

Google Calendar, Gmail, Square Register, Microsoft Word/Excel, Google Docs/Sheets, Adobe Creative Suite (Namely Photoshop, InDesign), Notes App, Passbook/Wallet, Maps, and Uber

What’s your workspace like? 

I work for the first few hours of every morning wherever I am (at home, or from a hotel room, etc.). I check email, social media and analytics, grab a book (usually philosophy in the mornings) and a cup of coffee to start off every day. I also run through a to-do list.

I carry my briefcase and camera bag everywhere I go. In my briefcase, I carry universal adapters, chargers, a 10′ ethernet cable, 1TB external hard drive, various-sized thumb drives, one large legal notepad, one small legal notepad, assorted pens, Sharpies, highlighters and ink refills, page-tab Post-Its, a screen cleaner, at least two books, and my commonplace book. In my camera bag, I carry my camera, alternate lenses, external flash, charge-ports, spare batteries, Square Reader, multiple memory cards, lens cleaners, and various other necessities.

I can set up shop anywhere in under three minutes (I’ve timed it), and tear down in same. I guess you could call it digital nomadism.

What’s your best time-saving trick? 

Drink lots of coffee, work through breakfast/lunch, and wear a watch. I move faster, the world moves slower.

Also, minimize windows I’m not working with so as to remove distractions. I also try to listen to music to the beat of how quickly or what type of work I’m concentrating on. This sets my pace.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Google Calendar isn’t the worst. I set alerts on my calendar for an hour or so in advance and check this list last thing before bed and first thing in the morning each day. Also, I carry various notepads with a to-do list on it each day. The fulfillment I receive from crossing items off my list is euphoric, truly.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Canon Rebel T5i. It’s light enough weight I can carry it anywhere. I shoot pics several times per week of random things. For me, it’s a a sense of escape. Beyond those three, I just need books. Always books.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Problem-solving. My work is versatile and resourceful. I’m regularly learning on the fly and adapting the new systems I learn to existing problems in other areas. Because I always challenge the status quo, I’m constantly looking for more efficient ways to do things. This helps me usually anticipate problems before they arise or adapt quickly when they do.

What are you currently reading?

I keep a running list of what I’m reading on my website here. I like to read several books at once across different subjects to feel stretched. Currently, this is my list:

Desiring God: Meditations of A Christian Hedonist, John Piper
Discover Your Inner Economist, Tyler Cowen
The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and EffectivenessEpictetus
Medidations, Marcus Aurelius (rereading)
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Religion and Politics, Jonathan Haidt

What do you listen to while you work?

I use Spotify, Youtube, and iTunes Radio. My music tastes are rather eclectic.

When writing, I prefer either silence or classical piano, some of my favorites being Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight” (Beethoven), Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 (Mozart), and Claire de Lune (Debussy). I also enjoy writing to the works of Thomas Tallis, see Spem in Alium.

When I’m not writing, I prefer Indie (Favorite Band: Frightened Rabbit), Acapella (Favorite Group: Vocal Spectrum), Acoustic or Instrumental (Michael Henry & Justine Robinnett)  or ’70s & ’80s Classic Rock (Van Morrison, Beach Boys, Cat Stevens (pre-Yusuf Islam), The Beatles, and many more). Another cool artist I like is Aino Venna. I occasionally hit up the Disney movie soundtracks, too.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I’d consider myself an “outgoing introvert.” I draw my inspiration from within and too much time around groups exhausts me. I have no problem approaching a stranger with conversation and public speaking gives me an energy in its own right. But, I need time to read, write, and reflect each day to recharge my batteries.

I’m most comfortable sitting in an overstuffed chair, with a craft beer or espresso, a good book, a notepad, my computer, and a pen.

What’s your sleep routine like?

It’s like a 16-year-old boy’s relationship status. On-and-off again all the time. Sometimes I do really well at racking up eight hours per night, and sometimes even more. But usually I operate a rolling cycle of a couple weeks snagging a handful of hours or less each night before playing catch up.

I like to stay up well into the next morning working often. When I’m on the brink of extreme exhaustion, I sometimes find a new sense of inspiration in my writing. It’s usually these times when the words simply spill out, without holding back or without over-thinking. So, I enjoy this sporadic cycle. It works for me.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see___________ answer these same questions.

Satoshi Nakamoto or Ash Ambirge. Realistically, I think everyone with a desire for self-improvement should try this exercise.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you something you know to be untrue.” –Evan Burns, Founder & CEO, The Odyssey & Olympia Media Group

I helped launch The Odyssey at Oklahoma State University in fall of 2011 with a few other students. In my second year, I moved from the creative side as an editor to managing a sales team of six–it was my first job in sales. After 3.5 months, I was the only remaining sales executive. Evan and I discussed the difficulties I faced when he shared this advice with me. He told me to stop walking into sales meetings like I was a college student and to regard myself as a professional, and as the CEO of the branch. This dramatically altered the way I approached sales– and all types of confrontation and leadership roles since.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Demand excellence from yourself in all things. You are the only one who can control the quality of work you produce. If you want better, do it.

Until Failure.

Take-Home Message: Don’t erect more barriers for yourself. When opportunity knocks, kick down the door.

Your best work could be waiting for you. Maybe you’ve dubbed yourself as someone unqualified to complete one of your ideas. Maybe you’ve given up when success was just another furlong down the path. By fabricating excuses, we erect more hurdles to jump over on our way to greatness. Whatever the case, don’t forego that greatness for mediocrity.

One famous example of this from history can be found in the story about the Sistine Chapel:

“In 1508, 33-year-old Michelangelo was hard at work on Pope Julius II’s marble tomb, a relatively obscure piece now located in Rome’s San Pietro in Vincoli church. When Julius asked the esteemed artist to switch gears and decorate the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, Michelangelo balked. For one thing, he considered himself a sculptor rather than a painter, and he had no experience whatsoever with frescoes.*”

Reluctantly, Michelangelo accepted the job and set to work on what is regarded to this day as one of the most outstanding art portrayals of the relationship between God and Man. In spite of this acclaim for Michelangelo’s work, the painting allegedly came at a great personal cost to him.

In a letter of correspondence crafted as a poem to his friend Giovanni da Pistoia**, Michelangelo mentioned various physical hurdles the painting required of him. These include an alleged developed goiter from looking upwards as well as complaints of his face making a nice floor for paint to drip upon. He also made reference to a desire to leave the project.

“My painting’s dead. I’m done.
Giovanni, friend, remove my honor’s taint,
I’m not in a good place, I cannot paint.”

–Michelangelo’s Letter to Giovanna da Pistoia

Popular conjecture even remains that Michelangelo may have developed partial-blindness from painting on scaffolding while laying on his back. While some historians dispute this claim, it no less dismisses the great physical toll this work took upon Michelangelo.

Yet, in spite of this, Michelangelo’s work prevails as one of the most hailed pieces of artistic creativity and insight. And all in spite of his initial reluctance to accept the gig, and his claims of not being a painter.

I reflect on this story because I think it holds many truths about our own pathways toward success. I often find myself analyzing any and every decision until I can come up with enough excuses to entirely dismiss the choice. This is an unhealthy practice. In fact, it’s cheating myself when I do this. I’m cheating myself not only out of an opportunity for success, but also out of an opportunity for substantial personal growth.

We are all expert con artists with ourselves, though, because we intimately know the things that make ourselves most uncomfortable and dismayed. When I have big decisions, I find it hard to overlook these self-erected barriers with the confidence that I can overcome them. Yet, each time I say to hell with it, and decide to go follow my gut, find a way and keep moving, I can feel the growth that takes place as a result–even if the hurdles have to be climbed rather than jumped.

I think this is an important element for every self-starter out there. I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life, and the more people I talk to about it, the more I find it to be a common thing to overcome. For me it has taken a conscious effort and an awareness of this to begin making strides toward eradicating the unhealthy excuses altogether. Following your gut shouldn’t be so scary. It should feel natural.

So, when opportunity knocks, stop holding out to see if it will ring the door bell and eventually leave if you don’t answer. Stop fearing the uncomfortable scenarios pursuing new chances might create. Stop squashing your chances for greatness. You might be a sculptor instead of a painter, either way, you’re an artist. Just pick up the damn brush and start painting!


*”7 Things You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015.

**http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/jun/19/giovanni-da-pistoia/