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.

 

The Conversation You Should Be Having

Take-Home Message: People love talking about themselves. Give them a chance.

“Hi, I’m Mitchell.”

“Hi, Mitchell, I’m [Insert Name]”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, Mitchell, what do you do?”

That’s the script to each new interaction I’ve been programmed to rehearse. It happens on auto-pilot. On many occasions, I catch myself regurgitating these words like lines from a play. It’s not because I’m superficially interested, either. It’s something more Pavlovian than that. It’s the response I’ve been conditioned to recite for years, as if we’re all merely products defined by our roles in society, rather than humans with passions, a family, and a story.

It happens all around us, and it walks with us through each new stage in our lives. Questions about what you wanted to be morphed into questions about your major, or any other classifying information. Whatever the question, the result is the same, and I’m guilty of it, too.

I call it qualifying by classifying. It’s really an easy recipe. You take a glassful of notions you have about an individual, add two shots of answers to surface-level questions, maybe stir in a pinch of prejudice, garnish with a stereotype, stir, and then you drink this mind-numbing libation. Add rash judgment according to your preference.

This isn’t healthy. All this does is continue a broken narrative that our existence is pointless. It adds to this group-think mentality that our own intrinsic, individual characteristics don’t matter. It adds to the propagation of society as a swarm of worker bees, beholden to the hive. It grants us each a label according to our role–rather than our personality–as if it’s our duty–rather than our choice.

But, there is still hope.

It happens by working on our delivery. Instead of asking someone what they do, ask, “What’s your story?” or “What keeps you up at night?” or even, “What are you passionate about?”

Watch the fire light in their eyes. Why? Because people love talking about themselves, detailing their passions, and telling their stories. What they likely don’t get often is someone eager to listen. This is not mere conjecture. Research has proven that the areas of the brain that respond to self-disclosure are also associated with reward. People really, truly, love talking about themselves.

Here’s the beauty of this, though. When you engage someone else this way and set them into motion about their story, you will learn more about them than you would by asking them what they do or about their major. Why? Because when you show interest, it allows others to let down their guard and make way for a friendly conversation. Before you know it, you’ll be figuring out how your aunts went to high school together or planning a cookout.

But why does it even matter?

Here’s why. Because a lot of people haven’t thought out what makes them happy or evaluated what they would do differently if they could. They’re just like you and me, moving through life, searching for answers, only to find more questions. But something happens when someone engages us and we get to talking. The wheels start turning and it awakens these feelings and inspirations that we’ve either repressed or forgotten about. Sometimes, all someone needs is to feel like they have the permission to let it all out. We can do that for other people, and it doesn’t even cost a thing.

But why do I care or why should I?

Here’s why I care. Not long ago, someone asked me what made me come alive. He asked me about my goals and my ideal life, where I envisioned myself in a few years, and why it all mattered to me. It floored me. I thought this guy was the most impressive person I’d ever spoken to. Why? Because he made me feel like a rockstar. He challenged me to provide answers to questions I had not even articulated for myself.

I walked away from that conversation remembering him. I remembered how he made me feel, too. And I couldn’t shake the questions. They stuck with me. So, over the course of several weeks following that conversation, I hashed out answers to a lot of those questions. All of this from just a simple conversation, that only took a few minutes of a stranger’s time.

Now, I’m not  proposing you do this as charity. You can approach it from a motive of self-interest. You can even look at it as a key for networking better and making people remember you. You can do it from the joy you’ll likely receive from witnessing someone light up as they describe their story to you. You can do it to feel like a good person.

It doesn’t really matter why you choose to, or even if you choose to at all. But, I assure you, you’re leaving value on the table in every interaction you have if you’re continuing to engage people solely based upon their occupation or education.

I dare you capitalize on that missed value and to join me in making this change. It’s no easy one. It requires a process of undoing years of socially-cultivated colloquial. No matter how I look at it, though, all I see are opportunities–and years of missed opportunities from just scratching the surface. The ripple effects of those opportunities turned into action are impossible to know without trying.

So, will you join me?

Why You Should Try Journaling

Take-Home Message: Journaling allows me to track my personal growth and hold myself accountable. It also allows me to free up my mind to focus on other things.

Journaling to me is like dropping breadcrumbs along the pathway of my life. It allows me an outlet for venting my frustrations, for cataloging growth, and for detailing both specific events and the progression of specific thoughts.

I highly recommend it to anyone who is struggling with finding their purpose in life, or simply seeking to grow personally. It has been a tremendous practice that has allowed me to become more empathic with others and more keenly aware of my own identity.

As far as empathy is concerned, having a journal reminds me where I’ve been, and in so doing, allows me to relate with others who are facing or have faced similar circumstances in their lives. Sometimes flipping back through the pages even grants me a viewing into perspective on a certain situation that I once possessed but lost over time.

One of my favorite aspects of journaling is that it’s like walking through an art gallery of my life. In one chapter, I can see bright, boisterous times and read about how I felt. Some pages are marred with the difficulties of a blue or dark period, and the struggles I faced during those times. In other portions, there are detailed portraits of who I want to be, and viewing them allows me to see how much progress I’ve made since. But on every page, there’s a snapshot of myself that keeps me grounded. It’s been a powerful resource for self-development and learning to overcome adversity.

Personally, I keep two journals and a commonplace book. One journal, I keep on my computer. This journal contains my most intimate thoughts, reflections on life, and a general discourse on all things that go through my mind. The second journal, I keep in the cloud through two applications: iCloud/iPhone Notes and Evernote. This is my “Idea Journal.” It’s where I record all of my ridiculous thoughts ranging from entrepreneurial ideas and reading lists to blog posts and book ideas. Finally, in my common place book, I record my favorite thoughts, quotes, and inspirations from the things I read. Sometimes I briefly scribble what these words meant to me at the time I read it, other times I just catalog it. This system works for me, but you might find a different method to work better for you.

It’s not just a tool for self-improvement, either. It can be for any reason you want; that’s half the beauty of it. If you’ve never tried, I highly suggest you give journaling a whirl. Why not today?

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.

Don’t Let It Fester.

Take-Home Message: Master your emotions or they will surely master you.

Writer’s Note: This topic was inspired by personal readings from two of the great Stoics, Marcus Aurelis and Epictetus. 

“When is the last time you lost your temper?”

I was posed that question in an interview during my senior year of college and I had no idea how to answer it. To this day, I can only guess what the interviewer’s definition of a right answer would have been. But, it most certainly was not mine. I replied, “I can’t remember.” Like I was some kind of saint or something.

My response might have been a sick result from years of cultural indoctrination suggesting that getting mad is all wrong. From what I knew about the interviewer, I was guessing he wanted to hear me say how anger is bad, happiness is good, blah, blah, blah, unicorns shit rainbows. What a moron I was.

I’m sure he was thinking quietly to himself, “This kid is full of shit.” Everyone with a pulse gets mad. Or, at least, I think we should. Man, did I botch my answer.

I failed to respond honestly based upon what I thought on the matter. And here’s what that is: I do not think anger is inherently bad. I believe it to be a rational response most of the time. What makes it bad, though, is when it goes unaddressed. When it’s allowed to fester.

Each time it’s allowed to do this, it is like pulling the pin and clenching a grenade. And then, when something else happens, and it goes unaddressed yet again, it’s like pulling another pin, and filling both hands. What happens after a while is that  there’s this walking, ticking time bomb, just waiting for someone to add another grenade to the stockpile so it can go nuclear. This is an unhealthy practice to say the least.

This afternoon, a colleague and I discussed this very topic. I confided in him about the tendency I have to allow things that piss me off to fester, and how I want to master it. I want to be a zen master when it comes to this, and not allow other people to rain on my parade. Why should I, anyway?

He had a simple suggestion for how he deals with moments such as these. “Allow yourself to get mad. And then let it go.” He said it’s a practice that he uses to address the inevitable and to move on about his life without it affecting his day. Just find some way to vent and don’t explode on anyone.

I couldn’t agree with him more. This negative energy needs to be explored and channeled. It needs to be released in a healthy way. This could be going to the gym, or yelling into a pillow. It could mean calling up a friend or sibling. It could mean hitting a punching bag, but for the love of all things good, don’t hit the person who’s irritated you.

So, with that suggestion in mind, I’m going to continue working more on becoming the master of my own life. I’m going to consider everyone as neutral. What they say and do is their business, and how I respond is mine. If they irritate the living stew out of me, so be it, I’ll go pick up something heavy and set it back down. But, I won’t lash out, and I won’t let it ruin my day. And most importantly, I’ll stop being afraid to get angry.

5 Things I Quit in 2015

Take-Home Message: Stop doing shit you hate.

Writer’s Note: This post was inspired by entrepreneur, investor, author, speaker, and personality, Gary Vaynerchuk.  


Recently, I heard some good advice about improving my life. I masticated on it for a while and have finally taken it to heart. The advice is simple: Stop doing shit you hate. I’m certain if you follow through with this advice, this can save you a lot of grief, just like it has me.

Here are some of those things that no longer cause me emotional distress (as often):

1. Working for Demeaning People: I take it as a point of pride to have made this commitment to self. After a handful of experiences working either for or with people who cut me down on a regular basis, regardless of performance, I vowed to eliminate this from my life altogether. It cost me great emotional distress, anxiety, and energy. In fact, it made me loathe these people, and it cultivated a pessimistic, cynical attitude in me. When that happens, I am no longer motivated to do my best work. So, I quit doing it.

2. Standing in Restaurant Lines: First of all, if you ever walk into a restaurant with me and the wait is longer than 30 minutes, I’ll likely tell the host they should raise their prices. It’s simple supply and demand, people, really. I decided to stop letting something that was out of my control get me bent out of shape, though, I just quit patronizing these restaurants during rush hours.

3. Finishing Every Book: I have been putting down books for years halfway through, but only recently did it become intentional. Usually, I would pick right back where I left off, no matter how much time had passed, out of a sense of commitment, and desire to finish. When I realized I was wasting my time, I decided to just stop and start reading interesting things instead. In fact, my reading productivity and speed has dramatically increased by adhering to this commitment to stop. It’s a simple idea, really, read the book until it becomes a drag. Or, open up to the parts that have something of value to you, and read until it stops generating quality input into your life. Stop wasting your time with things that aren’t helping you that are perfectly within your control. Put the book down. Find one you like.

4. Getting Upset in Discussions: I sometimes am still the world’s worst at this, but in the summer of 2015, I became aware just how badly I failed in this category. That’s when I made an active decision to take back control of my emotions when engaging others. Prior to then, when I would have a conversation with someone with whom I disagreed, it would infuriate me. I exhibited intellectual hubris, if even for no good reason. I realized this was not effective. In fact, I saw just how destructive it could be in relationships with others, even acquaintances. So, I decided to change this. It’s a work in progress, still, but I’m making significant ground.

5. Visiting Malls in December: I made this pledge at the end of 2014 and intend to stand by it. First, you’ve go to find the parking spot, which could take hours. Then you have to go out in the cold. After that, be prepared to fight your way through crowds of people on the brink of violence. No thank you. This holiday season, I’ll be sending Jeff Bezos a Christmas card, and shopping from the comfort of my couch. Thank you, technology and entrepreneurship. Instead of braving the crowds, I think I’ll maintain my good mood, brew a pot of coffee, and curl up with a nice book.

I realized by continually allowing these situations to infuriate me, I was playing the victim to my circumstances. I chose to improve my life with these few small steps, and eliminate these instances from my life to avoid the distress and irritation they inevitably cause. If you’d like to better your life by saying no to things you hate, please join me, today. Let me know what you hate in the comments section below.


Here ‘s a word from Gary Vaynerchuck, whose’s advice inspired this post.

A Tribute to Man’s Best Friend

Take-Home Message: Dogs can teach us a lot about living and how to treat others.

In Loving Memory, Amos Earl.

He was more than a dog. He was family.


I remember the day we brought him home. His jovial, genuine enthusiasm for life impossible to disguise, Amos’s nub of a tail wagged a hundred miles per hour. He possessed this strange habit, like a contortionist, of shaking and twisting his rugged, canine frame into an almost “U” shape, as if his abdomen was made of rubber. We even wondered for the first few days if we would be able to keep him because of his rambunctious nature.

He had a gentle, loving spirit, though, which ultimately won everyone’s heart. In no time at all, he had become an important part of our family. His life created a ripple, whose wake extends as an example of joy, contentment, and love for all who had the privilege of knowing him. In many ways, the lessons we can glean from this companion, friend, and dog could teach us all a lot about how to live.

As I labored alongside my dad last night, shovel in hand, tears swelling in both our eyes, I reflected on many of the heartwarming memories brought to life by Amos, and contemplated some of the instructions he gave us on how to be better people.

  1. Live in the present. Amos rarely got worked up about anything. Every moment of his life seemed to be as good as the previous or the next. Whether you found him napping on the couch, hiding, tucked away inside his kennel away from the world, or stalking the holder of any food item, he never wanted for wonder. You could always find him entertaining himself whether chewing on his paws, or licking his crotch. He enjoyed life as it came to him.
  2. Be overcome with happiness. Amos had a special relationship with each member of his family. He would do the whole contortionist, nub-wagging charade every time someone came through the front door. He  would even greet strangers similarly. He would go absolutely nuts, even if it was the fifth time you came home. He never failed to show his joy at being reunited with those for whom he shared a bond.
  3. Eat ice cream regularly. Amos loved ice cream. He would revel at the chance to choke down a Sonic soft-serve. If you ever even offered him a taste, you’d better have watched your fingers, they might have met the same fate as the cone. He enjoyed the simple things in life, and among these, ice cream was high on the list.
  4. Don’t conceal your affections. If ever you took a spot on the couch, you better bank on Amos coming to join. He had no shame in this. He shared your seat, whether there was room or not, and he would climb right on top of you. He would jump up on your bed and keep your feet warm for the night, too, if you’d let him. He had little, if any, regard for personal space. He seemed to place a high preference on quality time with his friends and family, and we could all take a page out of his book.
  5. You’re never too old to play. Amos was never big on fetch. He was more of a “keep-away” or “tug-o-war” kind of guy. He loved to be chased, and he loved to fight you off if you ever could catch hold of whatever poor toy he held hostage in his trap. Even into his older years, he made an effort to engage whoever would give him a cross look in a playful bout. Even if you riled him up wrestling, he would never bite. His gentle spirit spilled into all areas of his life, and he never seemed to take things too seriously.
  6. Say what’s on your mind. Amos was a bit quirky, too. If ever he needed or wanted something, whether he thought it time to eat or go fetch the paper, he’d let you know. He would bay and whine a whole concert for you. I’m glad for all the times he gave me a front row seat, and carried on conversations with me. He was never afraid to tell you what he was thinking.
  7. Enjoy the ride. He seemed to be at the height of happiness riding shotgun. It didn’t even matter if you rolled the window down or not, though he’d love it if you did, just riding next to one of his buddies seemed to be as good as it got for him. He gave us a good example of how we should value and cherish the time we have with our friends, family, companions, and loved ones. He treated people well, he made them feel appreciated and valued always, even in the smallest of gestures. You didn’t have to be going anywhere in particular, he was just happy to be along for the ride.
  8. Be thankful for what you have. Amos could turn a pile of trash into hours of entertainment. He could create a whole new world for himself from a ragged, old tennis ball in the backyard or a pair of dirty socks. He didn’t need much to get by and to be happy. Common things taken for granted or considered garbage by others were every day miracles to him. He saw the beauty of life all around him and embraced it. He demonstrated a higher form of living for us to consider.
  9. Be remarkable at your job. When your absence is felt, you’ve had a powerful impact on those around you. Amos did just this with his life. He held on and never complained. In fact, he never made any excuses or mention of the pain or complications spreading through his body, though, perhaps if he had, we could have caught it sooner. He just kept on loving and living. He played his role as companion and friend to each of us sensationally. And he hung on for dear life to see to it that each of his kids grew up and he saw them off to college and adulthood before throwing in the towel. He created value in each of our lives, not from a sense of duty, but from a place of loyalty, affection, happiness, and self-esteem. He never tried to be anything that he wasn’t. With Amos, what you saw was what you got, always. He never shied away from being himself, and being himself meant pawing a way into your heart. He became irreplaceable in his time here, and his absence is felt.
  10. Love unconditionally. Every dog I’ve ever met earns top marks in this category. Amos certainly does. You couldn’t stay mad at him, and he would never let you. Even after he’d ruin the carpet, destroy a shoe, or break into the trash and disseminate it across the house, those big brown eyes, cowering down behind the closest piece of furniture would melt your heart. He knew when he messed up, and he couldn’t hide his guilt. But he would always apologize in his own way. He would come nudge your hand or sing to you in his Tenor 2, or come give you a look asking permission to hop up on your lap. He would never let you go to bed mad, and would attempt to reconcile beforehand if you were about to leave the house. Even if he caught a swat from his nefarious actions, he wouldn’t change his tune toward you. He was relentless in this regard. He might shy out of the room for a few minutes, but he wanted to be around his forever family, his people, his tribe, and would soon come frolicking into the room where you were. He did not exhibit prejudice. He did not act prideful. He loved his people, and he was loved back. He was a model friend, and a great listener. He knew how to console when you needed it. He knew when to come plop down next to you and enjoy a movie, and talk you into a nap instead. He loved you whether you took him on a walk or gave him a treat, or just scratched his ears when you passed him in the hallway. He didn’t ask for anything in return. He was a giver. He lived his love for others, and he painted a portrait of how to treat others. He was the best dog a family could ask for, and if dogs go to heaven, I know he’ll be sitting there by the gates, waiting to greet every new person alike with that little nub-a-wagging, and his butt shaking.

These four-legged, furry teddy bears come into our lives and plant seeds which eventually take root. They grow to become more than just friends, but our closest of companions. They show us love, friendship, loyalty, and so many more lessons on how to interact with the world around us. Amos was a rare dog and had uncanny human characteristics. He has been with us for nearly ten years, and grown up with us. He will be severely missed. Much like he has made a difference in my family’s lives through the joy he has brought the world, I hope these reflections upon his examples can add value to your life.

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