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Innocuous

Adj.: Not harmful or offensive.Impact-Hub-Community

I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time now…nine months just flew by in the blink of an eye, it seems.  If you want the God’s honest truth, I quit writing because I didn’t have anything important to say.  I figured nobody cared if I wrote or not anyway, and no one would notice if I quietly slipped out the back door.  I kept up my journals, but felt like whatever I could put out in the blogosphere would be either overdramatic or not dramatic enough.  There were days when I stared at a blank screen for nearly half an hour before finding a topic I wanted to pontificate on, then spent a further hour or so developing it, only to figure it sucked and didn’t contribute meaningfully to society and delete the whole thing anyway.

I generally try to avoid generic platitudes in conversation with people — for example, instead of the gentle nudge of telling my students “the early bird gets the worm,” I’d probably say something like, “Get your ass out of bed and get to class on time.  Do you want to succeed at this or not?”  I do not tend to do things in an innocuous fashion, I tend to do things in a straight-forward, purposeful, matter-of-fact way.  When I do or say something, I generally expect one of  given set of outcomes immediately to happen.  Most of the time, I’m right.  So when I quit writing, I expected no one to notice — or even to care, if they did.

I was right.  Until I wasn’t.

One of my longest-running and closest friends, TheHandsomeWeasel, noticed I hadn’t written first, and was ardently opposed to my absence of blog content.  With him in Chicago and me just outside Washington, DC, we do not have easy access to each other in person.  Haven’t for over ten years, actually.  So electronic communications are important to us.  I expected it from him.

I hadn’t expected it from Moosh, my friend over at Sell, Lead, Succeed.  This guy is someone who I have literally never met, and who has so much going on (in Canada) that I’d never expect him to notice I was absent (here in DC).   And one day he sent me an email asking how I was doing, noting that he hadn’t seen a blog post from me for a while.  Then a networking contact of mine (who follows my blog and I didn’t know it) asked me just recently where my blogs went to, after our paths not crossing even once in the past six months.  Then another friend mentioned it in passing at a get-together that it’s been a while since he’d seen a post from me.

The point is that people do care what you are up to, and will notice that you are going through something, no matter how tight-lipped you might be about it.  People will notice, even if they don’t notice right away.  And then, in the most innocuous way possible, you’ll see one day that the community you have surrounded yourself with will let you know they are there, carefully keeping a watchful eye over you, whether you know it or not.

Incremental Growth.

I know it has been a few months since I last posted.  I guess life kind of ebbs and flows — sometimes I’ll have the bug to post twice a day, sometimes not twice a month.  But as this year has progressed, it fascinates me to realize that I have been growing all along and hadn’t even realized it.  This year was a very important one for me in many ways, and by the time this post is over, you might know me a little better, if you care to.  (NOTE: I say “I” way more times in this post than I typically care to, but I found it difficult not to when looking inward at my own self.  Believe me, achieving an inflated sense of self is not my goal at all here!)

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Credit: Constructivecoaching.com

You may remember a post that I wrote last year about Seasonal Affective Disorder (click the link to the post in a new window), and what it means to me.  I was a brand-newly licensed Realtor in an office that maintains a very high level of energy, and an ethos and culture of integrity, honesty, and gratitude.  I loved it.  But they would sit us in class after class, meeting after meeting, and tell us that we needed to be “setting and executing goals for our business.”  Our “business.”  Well, I didn’t have any, and I didn’t know what it felt like to plan goals for “my business.”  It depressed me that I felt like I was only going through the motions when I filled out these plan forms (because I was).  “Wait!  So all I have to do is sell six listings and six homes to buyers, and I’ll make a hundred grand next year??  <Facepalm> Why didn’t I think of that?!”  It was impossible to practically and functionally imagine the effort it would take to achieve what I was writing down, simply by virtue of the fact that I hadn’t sold even one home yet.  I didn’t even know how the home buying process worked at that point.

I was unhappy with my job instructing aircraft maintenance because we weren’t paid spectacularly well (we still aren’t), and some of the students I had were grown men who somehow found it acceptable to try to bully their way into passing grades.  (They failed.)  I was also depressed because it really can be a struggle to be so far away from my dearest friends and family.  Then, about mid-way through the year, we learned that the for-profit school that I worked at was being closed down.

It was a trying time for Alli and me both.  I held onto the school job for as long as I could before running the risk of being let go — the instructional staff was kept on to “teach out” the remaining students — but the time came for me to find a life raft before the boat sank.  I found a job as a Service Advisor at Audi, and quit the school to develop skills in a different industry all together.

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Credit: mycouponexpert.com

And then it all clicked.  I don’t know what it is, but things began to fall into place all at once, in early October.

They announced that the school was reopening, and my boss told me I was the first person he wanted to come back because I had such a great relationship with the students, and am so enthusiastic about aviation.  I agreed to return because during my short time at Audi, it became clear to me that even if I had been able to sell more homes, the minimum 60-hour-per-week work schedule wouldn’t have allowed me time for it anyway.

I had two homes close in three months.  After doing my first deal in real estate waaaaay back in March, I had virtually no activity until October, when my second home deal closed.  Given current trends, I thought that was it for the year, but then, out of the blue, a dear friend out here introduced me to a friend of his who needed to buy a home on a pretty short timeframe — five weeks.  As it happened, luck was on our side and we got it done, and that home closed last week, in early December.

I filled out my first Profit and Loss statement, and my real estate business is in the black.  It hit me as I was doing this that I do, in fact, have a business to set goals for now.  My P&L showed me in plain numbers that the business took in nearly $1.2 million in revenues, and despite only being in the black by a few thousand dollars, it’s still in the black after operating expenses and taxes.  Many businesses run at a loss for the first couple of years, so I am pretty grateful that my family and friends have given me opportunities to help.

I am a business owner.  I have wanted to “own my own business” for the better part of a decade now, talking about it as if a business is something that you can buy, polish up, and drive occasionally (but never in the rain).  It wasn’t until I realized that I have spent the year transacting business — taking in commissions (revenues), managing where the money needs to go (operating costs and taxes), and managing my pipeline and reputation as well (planning for future business) that I thought of myself as an actual, self-employed business owner.  Of course, I am not yet fully self-employed — I still rely on my work at the school for income — but I am on my way to getting there.  I have high hopes for 2014 in this regard.

I am once again a student, enrolled in Eastern New Mexico University’s Aviation Science program (it’s all online, and they give 67 full credits just for having earned the FAA’s A&P licenses!).  Hopefully in the next couple of years, I’ll finally have the Bachelor’s Degree I should have earned ten years ago!

I can feel that I am growing in very small, slow increments.  Business is getting better, now that I recognize what I need to do to earn it.  I am honing my craft as a communicator while instructing our students at the school.  I am developing the way I interact with people with a level of care and awareness that I have never before had.  I have never had this happen to me before, and it fills me with an excitement and hope that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.  Factor in that Alli and I are still happily “dating” like we were 8 years ago when we first met, and what more could a guy ask for?

I hope your year has been filled with personal growth and productivity, and that your business has boomed!  Thank you for reading this far in, sorry it’s a bit of a novel.  Have a great rest of the week!

Race-Related? Watch Your Mouth.

mistake A couple of days ago, I walked into the lunch room at our school, and into an ongoing conversation about Zimmerman being pronounced “not guilty.” I said “Oooh boy” under my breath but also out loud, as I got my lunch out of the fridge, kind of without thinking about it. You know — sort of an involuntary reaction which says, “This should be good…” even though i had no intention of injecting myself into the conversation. Then he looked at me and said, “Oh, well what do you think would happen if it was a black man killed a white man?”

I should have said, “Hey, OJ got off, didn’t he?” but instead I took the diplomatic route: “The same thing that would happen when a black man kills a black man. It’s murder, he’d go to jail.” Or, he’d be voted not guilty by a panel of his peers. Or they wouldn’t have bothered trying him at all, because the DA knew right out of the gate that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict.

I thought he was going to be alright just discussing the topic. It isn’t smart to discuss these things at work because they can get people riled, but I don’t get offended easily and am careful about the opinions I put forth. I also respect others’ right to their opinion, and don’t go off the handle when someone disagrees with me. He also kept a pretty even tone, and didn’t appear to be losing it, so I was open to what he had to say. But he somehow then managed to go straight into slavery –f*cking SLAVERY — telling me about, “Why is it right that some people get reparations and others don’t?” (That’s a direct quote, I’m not making this up.)

This is a black, late-fifties security guard, asking me this in front of another instructor of ours, who happens to be black as well. Who I happen to have a pleasant working relationship with. Way to put me on the spot there, pal.

My immediate reaction was to tell him, “Because neither you nor anyone you have ever known was a slave in this country.” He told me that his mother’s grandmother was born in 1886 (or some similar personal fact), but it’s irrelevant. Even if his great-great-great grandparents were slaves, we are five to six generations removed from those atrocities, and an increasing majority of people in this country had little or nothing to do with them. My family wasn’t even in the United States yet, while that was going on. I continued, “Also, because taking money from people who had absolutely nothing to do with what happened and giving it to people who didn’t either is wrong.”

He told me, “No, it isn’t,” and I knew that we could no longer have an intelligent, rational conversation. He made a big stink about “ending the conversation” as he left the lunch room, and after he left, all I could think of was, “WHY did he have to go and do that?”

After we got back from lunch, I told my class that sometimes, discussing things of that nature at work gets dangerous, and that once they are said, they can’t be UNsaid. They kept pushing me to give them the details, to figure out what happened and who said what; I declined but told them, “I didn’t tell you this to talk sh*t on this guy behind his back; I told you this so that you can watch your mouth when you’re in the field and working around people you don’t know.”

I realize that I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to have a family history related to that era, and for folks who do, the memory of what happened never really dies. I also believe, however, that it makes no sense for people to direct anger at each other over something that happened over a hundred and fifty years ago. Doing so is a large part of the reason that problems are the way they are in the Middle East, for example. Senseless atrocities happen all the time. There’s no minimizing them, of course, but when there’s no one to hold accountable, there’s no choice but to find a way to move on. Penalizing people unrelated to the crime is wrong, however good it might make one feel.

In any case, I want to caution you to bite your tongue at work. I am not much for ‘polite’ etiquette, but as I said to my class, you might reveal something about yourself which will change your coworkers’ — the people you see more than your own family, in some cases — opinion of you for the worse.

“You Just Gotta Get That Nugget…”

I have made a habit of asking my students, “What do you plan to do to become wealthy?”  

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The inner loop is the Rat Race; the outer border is where the rich people play.

I usually get blank stares, especially from the new ones.  They’re thinking, “Uhhh….I thought being an aircraft mechanic would do it, that’s why I’m here.”  I can see it on their faces, they’ve never been told anything else before.  I usually follow up by telling them that while they’ll make a decent living as an aircraft mechanic, no, they won’t become rich by doing it.  The main thrust is to jar their attention into what I tell them next, which is about Robert Kiyosaki’s book, “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”  (Click the link to get to the book.)  They’re usually all ears at that point.

I read this book first about five years ago, and I about fell off the couch.  I was sitting around wondering what rich people do that I don’t (because it was obvious my career wasn’t paying me like I’d hoped), and this book gave me the answer:  I keep buying crap!

Enter Robert Kiyosaki’s brainchild, “Cashflow 101.”  Cashflow 101 is a board game, and it ain’t cheap.  I asked for it for Christmas, and my siblings chided me for being weird.  (I don’t suppose I blame them, given our backgrounds.)  What’s so great about a $100 board game, you might ask?  The answer is that it goes miles to teach you first-hand how rich people think of money, and it does this by literally forcing you manage a profit-and-loss statement as you play the game.  A prime example is your home:  You probably think that your home (if you own it) is an asset to you, right?  Well, according to rich people, your home is a liability because it costs you money each month.  The only point in time where you can view it as an asset is when it sells for more than you paid for it.  Which, as we’ve seen over the past five years in particular, is not always the case.  You notice this fact when, each month on your statement, you lose money by paying bills on the home.  

Additionally, instead of buying businesses, stocks, or real estate for investment purposes, we tend to spend our money on “Doodads,” or effectively, crap we don’t need.  Extra stuff.  A night at the movies.  A trip to Hawaii.  iPads, cell phones, and other electronics.  

The point of the game is to illustrate to us why we are so averse to doing things with our money that will compound our money for us, and instead stick to the safe act of buying Doodads (crap) each month.  The fact is, when I played this game for the first time, I happened to be alone (I was so excited to play it, I couldn’t wait for Alli to come home to Tucson from Chicago at the time).  It took me — no joke — three hours to “Get out of the rat race.”  And I had no opponent.  The reason is because I was always taught to “be safe” with my money, which basically means “Pay all your bills, blow a little of what’s left on extras.”  Guess what: Playing that way only left me in the Rat Race hour after hour, making no progress at all.  The key is to eventually learn that you need to do something different.

How like life, right?  That’s what we are faced with in this country, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  The way to get out of the Rat Race is to find a way to get that first little nugget of cash that you can invest in something bigger:  A duplex to rent out, a small business (like a carwash or self-storage unit) to manage, or figure out a way to get some cash from the stock market or a home sale.  Then, take that nugget, and scale it up.  Eventually, you’ll have more passive income (read: cash you didn’t lift a finger for) than bills.  Read that again:  Eventually you will have more money coming in than bills going out.  Pretty decent, right?

Trust me, I’ve had this game for a few years now, and it’s worth every penny.   And, if you can’t afford it just yet, you can either find someone who owns it, or find a Meetup Group in your area which plays it — they are all over the place, in nearly every city.  You need to find a way to play this game.  Multiple times.  It will turn every get-your-degree, climb-the-corporate-ladder idea we’ve ever been taught on its head…and that’s a good thing.

(By the way, I’m not a paid shill or anything for the book or the game; they have literally transformed the way I view my finances and my long-term plan, and I wanted you to know about it.)

Do you have this game?  Do you have thoughts on this book?  Let me know when you’ll be in the DC area, and you’re welcome by our place for a couple of bottles of wine, a cigar, and Cashflow 101.  (Click the link for an overview of the game.  You’ll be glad you did.)

Fans And Causes

I was talking recently with one of my best friends about the power of sports — how they draw people together, how great the inequities are that athletes are paid so much to do accomplish something of (in the grand scheme of things) so little meaning…Image

One thing that I mentioned while pontificating on what my Dad used to call “The opiate of the masses” was that I, too, get riled up when my team(s) win something great.  It’s silly and I know it, because whatever just happened on TV (or live, if I’m feeling flush with cash I don’t want) isn’t going to bring us peace, or fix the economy, or cure cancer.  I also realize that everyone needs a cause, because humanity is nothing without hope.  

There is a cause for everything with an -ism: feminism, racism, ageism…hell the word itself — activism — is an -ism.  There are fans for everything, too — sports fans, political fans, music fans, book fans, woodworking fans, car fans, plane fans, gardening fans, exercise fans…for every single thing that more than one person could do together (and many that they can’t), there are fans.  

Imagine for a second…what would the world be like if people would take other people and be fans of them?  You know — root for them, contribute time and money to them, push them to perform better and make better decisions?  Hold them accountable?  Think about what would happen if you were the biggest fan of every member in your family.  If their success was your cause.  If you knew more stats about them than about any sports game.  If you fought as hard in discussions and with your money for them as you do for any sports team or politician.

Can you imagine what a world like that would be like?

“Weddings Are Always More Fun…”

Who knows the last half of the headline’s sentence?

I suppose it would depend upon the demographics of my constituency to know the answer; for anyone who isn’t married already, the sentiment goes, “Weddings are always more fun…when they aren’t your own.”Image

It might sound crass, or dismissive of your spouse to say that — after all, who could talk down about the (supposed) happiest day of their lives??  

Of course, everyone’s wedding day experience is a little different, but Alli and I have just rounded 4 years together, and we just returned from a wonderful family wedding.  if you have executed a wedding celebration in America in the last two or three decades, you know a few things:  

1.)  Costs never seem to drop.  You need to secure a church (if you will use one), and you need to make sure that wherever you decide to have the reception is open that day, too.  You also need to book some kind of transportation (limos or party buses, usually), a photographer and/or videographer, a DJ, and to rent or buy tuxes and dresses for everyone in the wedding party.  (Clothing costs are often left to the wedding party participants, but still, their costs never seem to go down.)  My wife and I spent nearly $500 on wedding invitations alone.  

2.)  Seating courtesies at the reception go a long way.  It’s silly, really, but the fact is that you’ll have as many personalities attending your wedding as you will details to worry about when planning it.  College kids all want to be seated nearest the bar, while anyone who is an alcoholic should be nowhere within sight of it; the single people will enjoy being seated together, siblings who get along will enjoy the time together, siblings who don’t will enjoy the time apart, and we can’t sit Uncle Tommy anywhere near Aunt Gina, even though they’ve been divorced for 15 years.  It’s a big balancing act, and it is made all the more complicated because every single person in attendance is emotionally invested in either the bride or the groom.  

3.)  The organization factor.  There are a lot of moving parts, and every detail is important and must be attended to.  Everything from where the photographer will meet you for pictures near the lake at a specific time, to making sure someone is in charge of keeping the box with the envelopes from walking off.  Logistically, it’s perfectly doable, but not uncomplicated.  

4.)  One other (relatively minor) thing to consider is everyone’s food preference during dinner — or at the very least, considerations for food allergies or those who are vegetarian or vegan.

There are about a thousand decisions to be made — many of them jointly — and it really becomes a test of how well two (or more) people can work together to get the whole thing done.  There are horror stories abound of bridezillas, crazy mother in-laws, and consummate drama-creators during the planning and having of a wedding, and it is definitely a time when peoples’ true colors and opinions come out.

I feel very lucky to have had a pretty smooth experience with our wedding (zero drama to be had anywhere, and lots of love during the celebration), but it’s almost universal:  Every wedding you attend after your own — the ones where you have no obligation to take pictures, rent a tux, or do anything other than give a gift, enjoy everyone’s company, and dance — will make you look at your spouse and go, “Thank God we don’t have to worry about this anymore!” 

Annoyances

ImageI’m not really a fan of spewing hate and vitriol through blog posts, mostly because it’s out there, forever, long after I’ve gone through the 5 Stages Of Grief about whatever it is I’m angry about. 

But today, I wanted to express an annoyance that has been building over at least the last six or seven years.  If I knew how to write code, I’d write an app which uses one, single username and password for every blasted website I need to access.  Okay, maybe two.  Hell, you know what?  I’d be okay with as many as five different combos (accounting for sites that require a password rotation every 3 or 6 months or something).   

Instead, over the course of the last decade, I have enough username/password combos to fill no fewer than 30 lines in an Excel spreadsheet — and yes, that accounts for what was left after I went through and got rid of the combos to sites I don’t need or never use anymore. 

The best part is that, while you are trying to figure out one of the one hundred possible combinations of usernames and passwords from the common ones you use (and after typing in your full email address twenty timesbecause it blanks the screen each time you fail), before you finally do figure out the combo to the lock, some sites will lock you out of your own account.  Then, finally (later on, if I was out) I’ll get to my stupid Excel database of combos, punch the correct one in, and have to “call customer service” or wait a full day or two to get it to let me in. 

Seriously, why is there no better way to do this?  It’s 2013, for God’s sake!   

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