optimism_man

Feb 242017
 
David Brooks' other books include The Social Animal and Bobos in Paradise.

America, God bless her, is all about capitalism, competition, and a definition of success that often leaves the successful, at least the financially successful, wondering if this is all that there is. America’s scorecard is too often the resume version, the version that focuses on winning “the game”, conquering, accomplishment in the here and now, and financial windfalls. It is not surprising that happiness is elusive, and is just as elusive to those who have landed the outsized windfalls as to the ones that have much less worldly stuff.

I have written about the rules of financial success (they aren’t all that hard to understand) and the pursuit of happiness, which I believe has gratitude at its foundational roots.

Here is another take, a viewpoint that I think makes a lot of sense. Are you living with your eye on your resume or your eulogy? I believe there should be balance, with a substantial bias toward the latter, if you hope for true success. Enjoy this thoughtful and brief five minute TED talk:

I.M. Optimisman

Feb 152017
 

Most people get old long before their bodies really give out. I’ve met 35 year olds that act like they are 70, and vice-versa. Your mental perspective matters.

Getting old, in some very important ways, is a subtle series of small choices – and those choices are more important than the inexorable realities of biological aging.

Here is my simple 6 step test for true aging and recipe to stay younger longer. If you want to stay young longer (or become younger next year), I believe that:

1. you must have sincere goals (not just lofty never-going-to-get-there goals, but goals with plans, milestones, supporting tasks, and weekly progress to make progress to reach them),

2. you must learn new, good stuff and skills regularly (weekly at a minimum, and write down what you learned (or you are likely to forget it soon)),

3. you must create stuff that matters at least to you if not others (weekly as well because if you don’t do something weekly, it won’t be a habit and habits lead to success),

4. you must make smart choices on a daily basis regarding diet (easiest way is to log your food and drink in MyPlate or similar apps because having it in writing helps a lot),

5. you must exercise because strength, health, and vitality slips away all too easily while a person sits in front of a television, and finally

6. you must make new friends and make the effort to go do fun things together.

What’s one great goal that you want to achieve in 2017? Just one. Don’t have one, with steps and plans to get it done? You might be getting old. As Lou Holtz put it in this video, you are either growing or you are dying.

Don’t read books right now? Well then, what if you decided to watch just one TED video every day, and write down the equivalent of one index card in your journal as to what you learned? TED.com is an amazing resource. It is a continuing education. You can’t help but learn.

What’s your latest creation?  Selfies on Facebook don’t count. Why not write a short story, or start a new creative hobby, or even a blog about something that you truly believe in. It will add youth to your mind.

Are you eating enough fruits and veggies? Maybe buy a Mediterranean Diet cookbook and make one new recipe a week. That’s not a lot of effort, but it has a lot of upside. Here’s another idea – go vegan for one day a week!

Are you breaking a sweat three times a week? If you heart never sees north of 130 beats / min, it is sure to be aging quickly. I started playing a new sport a couple of years ago and was blown away by how it helped my perspective and excitement.

Who is your newest friend or interesting acquaintance? Why not call them today and meet up for lunch?

Stay younger longer, become younger next year. Little steps make a huge difference. Commit your focus and energy and it pays dividends. Lastly, read this book — Younger Next Year — it offers a great perspective — you may not agree with every word, but I promise you that the authors will make you think.

I.M. Optimisman

Jan 132017
 

Few disagree that time is one of our most precious and fleeting resources. Yet, when I ask, I find that few people manage and more importantly optimize their time by using a better-than-average system. It is hard to be a great carpenter if you don’t use good tools and techniques.

First, time management is a strange phrase: we really can’t manage time, as it flows by no matter what we do. What we can do is decide how we use the time that we are given, which makes the challenge one of planning and decision making. That reality invariably leads to several important questions: what are your goals (and why), what is your foremost priority now, and what are other crucial and urgent tasks that are important to you. If you have no goals, your task management will often adopt someone else’s priorities.

What is the average system?

In a word, lists. The good news about written lists is that they outperform the average memory, but most people just jot things down, then look them over from time to time.

What’s above average?

While we are still working with two dimensional lists, I usually see four improvements:

  1. Lists are organized by project.
  2. Due dates are added to certain tasks, and alerts are triggered to remind the person to get things done at the right time.
  3. The user adopts the idea of writing everything (that he or she ‘accepts’ as a task) down, not just some tasks — this is very useful because it relieves one’s brain from periodically churning and worrying about forgetting key tasks.
  4. Your task / list system is available for you no matter where you are (which means available on smartphone and desktop for nearly all of us).

What if you want to be top 20%?

Four concepts must be added to your system (and your actual system must make these easy-to-do on an ongoing basis):

  1. Planning ahead is crucial, so that you know what is on your personal agenda for this month, this week, and this day.
  2. Tasks must be distilled to individual, actionable, next steps, so that when you decide to work on a task, you are empowered to take action without a new round of thinking and distilling.
  3. The one truly “next” task needs to be identified by project.
  4. You must have scheduled reviews to keep your system fresh and re-prioritized, with minimal effort.

In essence, you have the ability to view your tasks by various dimensions — not just by project and date. As your system becomes more sophisticated, you can view projects by priority, by next step, by status (for example, waiting on someone to get back to you), or by delegate.

What if you want to be top 10% in your time management?

Filters and blocks of time:

  1. The core idea is — assuming that you pre-plan every task — you can use filters so that you only see the tasks for today, or tomorrow, or this week, which helps with your focus and stress reduction.
  2. Filters should accommodate ‘context’ so that you only see the tasks that can be done given based on where you are (for example, you can’t mow the lawn or throw the baseball with Jimmy while at the airport, so why add stress by seeing those tasks out of context).
  3. Use calendar appointments to block your time for strategic progress bursts. Most people struggle with turning off the ever-present distractions but that is exactly what is needed. (See pomodoro technique)
  4. A bonus feature is if your system makes it easy to log how you spent your time so that you get feedback and become smarter in your approach over time.

How do you become a top 1%er?

To be a top one-percent time management black-belt, one must transcend just having a great system, learning the habit of aligning daily effort to short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals, blocking considerable daily time to the pursuit of what is truly important and strategic. This leads to saying “no” often, without losing valuable personal relationships, which is a difficult balance.  It also means habitually disconnecting from distractions, such as email and text messages, by setting the expectations of those who send you those frequent messages.

What system do you use now?

How does your system stack up compared to this best practices checklist? As you start this new year full of optimism, perhaps it is time to move to a better system. The system itself won’t do it alone — you need the crucial habits of pre-planning, breaking into actionable steps, writing everything down, filtration, calendaring — but never bring a knife to a gun fight either.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 042017
 

My gift to you for the holidays is a free app recommendation — and just in case anyone is wondering, I am not associated in any way with the developer — its just cool.

I know, I know, today is a few days after the holidays, but I purposefully waited, assuming that most people don’t check online blogs while family is visiting.

I haven’t recommended a smartphone app in several years, but found one in 2016 that is brilliant for anyone who travels often on business, stays overnight (which is 90+% of everyone on my contacts list), and eats alone at the bar or pub from time to time.

Tunity lets you listen to any muted TV over your smartphone. You simply point the phone at the TV, the app figures out the broadcast, and Voilà! — sound over your ear buds. As an added benefit, it works great at the airport or gym as well.

Hope you like it… and I hope the app stays free…

Have a great 2017!

I.M. OptimismMan

Jan 022017
 

What’s your resolution for 2017? After a lot of thought, I have decided on my one foremost priority for 2017: Improve quality on every front.

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that far too often, my workouts rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016. If I’m going to invest an hour at the gym today, why walk away with a C+? I’ve noticed that far too often, my meals rated a B / B- / or C+ in 2016 as well. If I’m eating calories to live long and stay healthy, why eat fries? Actually, on a lot of fronts, distractions, too many conflicting attentions, and too many things-to-do resulted in sub-par effort and results. Each was a decision that I made of my own free will.

I have always believed that quality is far more important than quantity, but I haven’t been focused enough, in recent times, to translate that belief into daily habits of excellence.

This year, I will focus and do something about it. I will say “no” to a few more things, I will approach every aspect of life with an eye for “smarter not harder”, and give an A / A+ effort and time to all the projects and endeavors that I choose to tackle.

Pick a great resolution that resonates with you.  I’ve always believed in the power of resolutions and goals, especially when you log your results and review your progress each month.  I love January 1st.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 262016
 

There is so much opportunity for those who are willing to try creative ways to solve problems.

Here is a great little story from Kenya that I find inspirational. I believe all of us see problems every day but few try to solve them with innovation and the tenacity to adapt, overcome, and get to the finish line:

The world belongs to those with a positive attitude who get started, put in the work, and persist to the finish line, not the intellectuals who sit in coffee houses debating on what might or might not work.

Choose to be a man or woman of creativity and action.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 252016
 

I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word priority. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: priority was singular only — it meant the single most important item.

Today, we have corrupted the word to mean “important” instead of the most important. I think we should return to the original definition.

So, as January 2017 is nearly here, what is your foremost priority resolution – yes, just one – for 2017?

I would suggest picking a self-improvement habit-of-excellence and focusing on just that one, until it truly is a habit in your life. Once your foremost priority becomes a habit, then and only then, create your next foremost priority resolution. Don’t dilute your effort with the list of 10 or 20 resolutions – that lack of focus is why most of us never seem to accomplish our long list of resolutions each year.

Once you pick your priority, leave reminders everywhere — on your computer, smartphone, and tablet wallpaper screens, your bathroom mirror, in your wallet, in your car. I really like the idea of have a calendar with red X’s on every day you made progress on your one true priority. Excellence comes from focus on building your own habits.

Some goals lend themselves better to the Red X system better than others. For a fitness goal, the Red X feedback is easy. For writing a book, break the long project into small steps, like writing a minimum of two pages or 300 words each day. For complex projects, you will need to pre-plan each day’s progress step with your first cup of coffee, but the idea is the same: make progress daily.

Although I am certain I have used this quote before, I can’t resist including it here:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

— Aristotle

Why not ask people in conversation what their “foremost priority” is — right now — whenever conversation allows. If you listen well, you will learn something of importance about your friend, and you might just inspire him to improve his focus and succeed more easily. Inspiration is a great gift to give, not only over the Christmas Season, but all year long.

Finally, build a habit of saying “foremost priority” instead of “priorities” in conversation. Let’s do our part to get back to the meaning of the word and do our part to beat back the constant distractions of our modern, smartphone, media, and internet dominated life.

Happy Holidays,

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 132016
 

As I observed last year, very rarely do people try 5 different ideas to succeed, yet an often used phrase is “I tried everything!” — the truth is no, you did not.

I ran across this article a few weeks ago. It illustrates the core idea of pivoting and changing your approach when Plan A, or Plan B, is not working out. Quitting too quickly is the norm.

The original article is available at fastcompany.com but I included the text below, in case fastcompany takes down this excellent lesson someday in the future. I do recommend subscribing to Fast Company — few magazines capture the spirit of entrepreneurship better.

The Pivot

How YouTube, Instagram, Pixar, And Others Found Major Success After A Big Pivot
Sometimes the best way forward is a giant leap sideways. Here are 10 companies that bet big on a new direction.

J.J. MCCORVEY 10.17.16 6:00 AM

1. WRIGLEY
Soap seller William Wrigley Jr. switched to hawking baking powder in the late 19th century. To drum up business, he gave away chewing gum, and eventually he realized that customers were more excited about the freebie. The gum stuck.

The payoff: Now a Mars subsidiary, Wrigley is the world’s largest gum manufacturer.

2. NINTENDO
Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo in 1889 as a purveyor of playing cards. His great-grandson unsuccessfully expanded the company into taxis and “love hotels” before hitting gold in the early 1970s with an electronic shooting game.

The payoff: Gaming domination via Super Mario Bros., Game Boy, Wii, Pokémon Go, etc.

3. LISTERINE
The mouthwash was first marketed as a general-purpose antiseptic, meant to get rid of both household grime and, um, gonorrhea. In 1914, pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert started selling it as a halitosis remedy.

The payoff: Current owner Johnson & Johnson sold $340 million worth of the stuff in 2015.

4. 3M
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (get it? 3M) originally planned to sell excavated minerals to manufacturers. But when that didn’t work out as planned, it shifted to producing finished items, such as sandpaper.

The payoff: Some 60,000 products later, 3M makes everything from Post-its to surgical soap.

5. TEXAS INSTRUMENTS
Geophysical Services Inc. made tech to help gas companies find oil. The start of WWII forced GSI to halt its profitable overseas business, so in 1946 it formed a lab to develop electronics.

The payoff: The lab grew into Texas Instruments, maker of your high school calculator and still a top semiconductor producer.

6. PIXAR
When Steve Jobs bought into the business that would become Pixar, it was a maker of graphics oriented computers. He refocused on software, and Pixar later started making animated films.

The payoff: Pixar’s movies have pulled in more than $10 billion over the past 21 years.

7. PAYPAL
Conceived as a mobile-encryption service, the company switched to cash transactions (initially between PalmPilots). After eBay users latched onto the service, PayPal developed into the leading tool for web-based payments.

The payoff: PayPal helped fuel the e-commerce boom and today is worth more than $47 billion.

8. FLICKR
Caterina Fake and then-husband Stewart Butterfield started Ludicorp to develop online games in 2002. One feature let players save pics, and it proved so popular they moved away from games and built a photo-sharing service.

The payoff: Flickr became the go-to home for digital photos and was acquired by Yahoo in 2005.

9. YOUTUBE
YouTube launched in 2005 as a video-dating site. Users didn’t bite, but the company’s founders soon noticed that people had started sharing other kinds of video content.

The payoff: YouTube is the world’s second-most-visited site (after Google). Viewers consume 3.3 billion hours of video every month.

10. INSTAGRAM
Burbn tried to be many things: a Foursquare-style check-in app, a friend-meetup service, and a photo-sharing tool. Noticing that photos were users’ favorite feature, Kevin System ditched the other functions and rebranded as Instagram.

The payoff: More than 500 million monthly users post 95 million photos and videos a day.

A version of this article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

My point is simple.  Don’t give up.  Trying many ideas to make your idea succeed. And if those don’t work, pivot, more than once if needed, with no loss of enthusiasm. Its the best way to succeed.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 122016
 

What did you learn today? What did you learn this week?

Did you make note of it?  Without writing it down in your trusted journal or your trusted system, a place where you can find it later — without much trouble — that golden nugget just learned is likely to disappear in some inaccessible recess of your mind.  I find that occasional review is the key step to assimilate everything learned into a cohesive factory between your ears.

I have often said an important test of whether or not you are old is whether or not you have goals, with a true commitment to achieve them. This week, I found a second great self-test when I saw this quote:

Anyone who stops learning is old — Henry Ford

I realized that Mr. Ford was right. Learning one thing, at least weekly, is crucial to staying young. My contribution is write it down: My current journal is Day One on the iOS ecosystem, if you want a suggestion of trusted system to use. If you choose another, test your backup methods, and backup at least monthly.

Some people become old long before their body gives out. Don’t be that person.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 292016
 

All of us daydream with a hopeful attitude from time to time. We imagine ourselves in a different state of life, often fueled by what we see on TV and in print.

Optimism is crucial — you have to believe you can — but it is important to remember to get started before all the lights turn green, be committed to your pursuit with great focus and energy, and finish no matter what for there are no credits, no rewards, no accolades, no windfalls, no satisfaction for those that quit halfway through.

Wishful thinking doesn’t help you…

  • Become wise,
  • or well-educated,
  • or loved by others,
  • or a great investor,
  • or a millionaire, multi-millionaire, or billionaire,
  • or learn to speak Spanish,
  • or play the piano, guitar, or harmonica well,
  • or speak compellingly in front of a large audience,
  • or play basketball, or squash, or racketball spledidly,
  • or do three fantastic magic tricks,
  • or ski black diamond slopes without breaking limbs,
  • or become amazing in terms of cardio fitness, or muscular strength,
  • or be the best parent you can be,
  • or smarter on any given topic.

Only doing, striving, trying, risking, stumbling, overcoming, learning, improving oneself, helps.

Today, are you mostly a do-er or a watcher? Do you make up excuses or do you hold yourself accountable? Do you set goals, and then milestones and specific plans to reach those goals? Do you embrace change and risk or do you hide from both. Do you have a burning desire to learn and grow and excel or is being OK good enough for you?

There is no time like today to decide your own DNA.

Just do it,

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 242016
 

Happiness is a state of mind, unlocked only by being grateful, not only for the big blessings in your life, but for all the little details too. I believe people are missing too much of their life by “living within their smartphones” although the smartphone is a blessing too. I searched for a quote that captured it all, but, unable to find one, I created my own:

img_8456

Happy Thanksgiving and don’t Black Friday too much – happiness is not found at the altar of commericialism and retailing.

OptimismMan

Nov 122016
 

Our recent election was a war of ideas but, more importantly, personal mindsets. Many of the ideas were half-baked at best, but they were ideas to improve the country that we should consider and debate.

What was most interesting to me was to observe the mindsets of people as they debated the virtue of their candidate’s ideas. Some were all in on one side or the other, some were all out, usually making their minds up based on the personalities and news headlines about Clinton, Trump, Kaine, and Pence, but few actually seemed to evaluate each policy proposition on its individual merits and chances of success.

That led me to this interesting video, which has nothing to do with politics but asks us to examine our our own mindset. I think the current political battleground is a perfect backdrop to grow in our understanding of self. It is a good, short watch:

As I have noted in past posts like this one (question everything), I believe in the value of the scout mindset Julie Galef outlines.

Be optimistic, while questioning everything in the quest to think and understand clearly.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 102016
 

I have often argued that change is good, and fear of change is irrational. Our election was actually a referendum on the appetite for level of change that America was ready for, cleverly disguised in less than like-able candidates, frequent surprise revelations, personal attacks, and a homogenous media establishment that lost all perspective drinking its own kool-aid, losing touch with the voter.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS9XHP

We will be better off trying new things, renegotiating new trade agreements, removing excess regulation, and focusing on jobs, the economy, healthcare, and security. Everything is on the table. Progress happens when you embrace change, strive to do your best, and fine-tune everything.

Most importantly, America now has a moment of Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Stagnation should be gone, at least for a few years. Its an opportunity to be bold and fix a number of things for the better, to earn the trust of America to keep going when the next election time arrives.

Don’t believe me that change should be embraced? Answer this simple question: Will you pay more or less if you shop and fine-tune your insurance coverage every six months, or simply stay with State Farm for two decades, sending them check after check?  Re-negotiation and re-visiting deals, policies, taxes, and government incentives, once you have the hard data from previous and recent results, makes a lot of sense.

Those who embrace change with optimism, win in life. Sure, you make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the price of trying new things. Perfection and risk avoidance are not the real goals – both lead to stagnation and a result far from perfection. In the end, you end up in a much better place, no matter if we are talking about your personal career or if we are talking about Uncle Sam’s place as the leading country in the world.

Less taxes works. Less regulation works. Making our companies more competitive world-wide, works. Bringing overseas cash home to America will result in more investment here. Investment leads to more jobs. Lets actually do stuff and try stuff, not just talk about stuff.

A lot of people who voted blue are despondent, but I believe we must become American first, not politically partisan first. Washington has been constipated for far too long, not fixing anything. Lets support change and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. Lets start working together now.

I am truly optimistic today!

I.M. OptimismMan

PS> Happy Birthday U.S. Marine Corps. We love and appreciate all you do to ensure our freedoms.

 

Oct 162016
 

I have always believed that we create our own realities. Seeing is not factual, because our brain adds filters: few people understand that we are the ultimate authors of what we see. I believe we can decide how we think and what limitations we decide apply to our own lives.

What do I mean that seeing isn’t factual? First, here is a simple example:

What do you think this stock is about to do? What does your gut feel tell you? (This is not a trick question so please don’t overthink it)

2016-10-16_0943-stock

OK, keep your answer in mind.

Now look at the picture below:

What can you deduce about the man in the picture?  Write down the first couple of words or bullets that come to mind.

Issac

I believe what we see is highly influenced by how our self image has been programmed by our life’s experiences, completely removed from the visual images streaming onto your retinas from reflected light. This is true in every facet of our life, for every visual “fact” that we think we see. When we face a change at work or school, we either welcome it or fear it, and those perspectives taint what we do, how we do it, and the results of those actions. When we face a challenge, we either believe we will adapt, overcome and thrive, or we believe we will fail or side-step the test. Because our lives are a cumulative product of thousands of daily decisions, consciously deciding our own perceived mental “reality” is crucial. This is a continuous process: we must choose our perspectives and understand our own biases, proactively dialing in our mental filters as we wish them to be.

Here is a great speech by Isaac Lidsky that is well worth watching (less than 12 minutes). I promise that it will help you see your own reality more clearly than you did yesterday:

issac-lidsky-1200x630

Have you chosen to be an optimist, one that believes your goals can be achieved? Is the next project that you face seen as a crisis or is it a golden opportunity? How are you playing the game of life, no matter what cards you hold in your hand today? Do you embrace change in a positive light? Your mental state matters more than what you see with your eyes.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Here is the rest of the story on the stocks above:

2016-10-16_0943-stock2

Were you right or wrong? Here’s the truth: there was no visual evidence either way on the first chart, yet we all saw something in the picture that was not there. That is my point about our own mental lens. Don’t believe “just” what you think you see. Know thyself.

Oct 022016
 

In case you have not noticed it, I now have the “Whole Enchilata” tab on the top menu bar of this website. This tab contains a web-based slideshow that summarizes many of the keys to living a successful life that I hope to highlight on optimisman.com.

I suggest watching the Whole Enchilata in “full screen” mode — the underlying slideshow technology that I used works best that way.

the whole enchilata - optimisman screenshow

I hope that you enjoy it. It takes 4 minutes to play and is best at a zen moment without the distractions of everyday life.

I.M. OptimismMan

Sep 152016
 

Here is an infographic that makes the rounds every so often on the internet.

I think its a great checklist to reflect on your own attitude and what aspect you should decide to improve:

mentally-strong

So, lets say you look at this chart and decide #10 is a personal weakness. What’s the first step to improve your mental perspective on “being willing to fail?” (As I have pointed out here in the past, you have to be willing to take prudent risks and fail forward if you are to accomplish great things). I’d vote for reading a book or two that highlights the value of failing early, failing fast, and failing forward. Just go to Amazon — there are numerous choices on this topic, and in truth — all the topics on this chart.

Designing your own, healthy, optimistic attitude is up to you. You can choose and develop your own mental perspectives.

I.M. Optimisman

Sep 082016
 

Most people think about goals in a far off in the future sense. Sure, goals are future-oriented but I believe it is better to look at them from both a forward-facing perspective and in the harsh light of “what did I accomplish” recently.

What if, on the first day of each month, you set an alarm on your smartphone that asked you to “write down the one goal that you accomplished last month…?”

Think back to your last four weeks. Did you accomplish one of your goals? I think many of us would say that we didn’t accomplish one of our goals — or make important steps toward a goal — but rather we just kept up with all the urgencies life throws on our plate. There is an immense difference between mission accomplished and mission started.

mission-accomplished

When we think about goals as a far off in the future concern, it becomes easy to let ourselves off the hook this week, or this month, and make no substantial progress for many months on end. No one else cares if we don’t accomplish our missions — in fact, some of the people secretly don’t want you to succeed — because it helps them feel better about their own lack of accomplishment. Most of us have no self-accountability feedback system… implementing this little alarm and reality-check on a monthly basis, while perhaps adding another reminder on a weekly basis, will change your goals momentum for the better.

The trick to momentum and accomplishment is to:

  1. have a plan for yourself,
  2. start first (contrary to popular belief, motivation come after you start),
  3. focus on one thing at a time with a specific plan in mind and full commitment now,
  4. write it down — the goal, the plan, and the progress log as it happens — and
  5. do not celebrate the announcement of intent but keep it to yourself until the mission is finished.

Finishing is everything. Completing three and a half years of college is not nearly as helpful as getting a diploma.

Build the habit of monthly progress on your goals. If you don’t, you will find that you are invariably making progress only on other people’s goals and not your own.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. If you don’t have a great list of goals defined, I have moved my free video goals workshop “GungHoLife” to youtube. You have a much better chance of accomplishing great things if you have specific targets and plans to do them.

Sep 052016
 

There has been a lot of debate in recent years about the “relative value” of a college education, especially in light of skyrocketing college costs and the corresponding student debt.

From my perspective, that’s the wrong debate. Common sense tells me that, if your goal is “to be all you can be” — to do your very best — finishing college is a given and a must. Sure, we have all heard the stories of the brainiac college drop-out who founded the next billion dollar startup. If your son or daughter has that special mix of entrepreneurial brilliance, unquenchable desire to learn on his or her own, and unstoppable drive, ignore the rest of this article. For most, however, I think the debate should focus on whether an undergraduate degree is enough.

Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?

value-of-graduate-degree

After doing a little analysis, the answer is an emphatic “yes“; in fact, I would argue that a Masters (or doctorate) is critical to improve one’s cash flow, reduce chances of unemployment, and have a higher ultimate trajectory in one’s career. A Masters offers more doors of opportunity, more chances to succeed. Unfortunately, opportunity does not always equal achievement. Higher cash flow means you have the opportunity to save and invest more each year, but that does not guarantee that a person makes that choice. You must still execute on the job and make great impressions on lots of executives to have a chance of promotions. And of course, you must recognize issues clearly, actively network, and look for new opportunities when the career track you are on proves to be a dead-end. Lots of people with advanced degrees don’t hit the ball out of the financial and career happiness park.

Most studies seem to focus “how much a person earns upon graduation” because those are simple metrics to find, and then asks how many years does it take to pay back the cost of the extra years of school. I looked at it from an investor’s point of view, including factors such as an increased rate of savings, compounded returns on investments, and improved chances of promotions and therefore future earning potential. I also tried to bake in some insidious realities, the worst of which is that people who make more money often spend more money. In the end, my spreadsheet assumes 50% of your additional earnings will be blown in spending instead of invested wisely.

While it varies by area of study, in general, Masters degrees are worth about 30% more income in many fields. That gap tends to become smaller as the value of on the job experience comes into play, but then widens again when promotions into higher levels of management occur. I decided to keep the 30% gap in the model throughout one’s career based on the assumption that these two factors balance each other out.

The assumptions in my “Is a Masters degree worth it” spreadsheet are:

  • Masters degree graduate earns 30% more before tax.
  • My Bachelors graduate saves 10% of salary and invests it at 7.5% compounding (Why pick 7.5%?).
  • My Masters graduate saves 15% of salary (because of better cash flow) and invests it at the same 7.5% compounding return.
  • Bachelors gets 4% raises annually.
  • Masters gets 6% raises annually (assumes greater promotion opportunities / and factors in better supply and demand aspects of having a Masters).
    Note that there are a number of soft benefits of the Masters baked into this 6% number — for example, having a Masters degree from a good brand name college increases your networking and credibility. Also, if your Masters degree is different from your Bachelors degree, it gives you a broader range of jobs to choose from if times turn difficult in one industry (for ex. the cyclical downturns in oil and gas that we are seeing right now are really tough on a person with only a BS in Petroleum Engineering or Geology). Lastly, your “birds of a feather” networking benefit will give you better connections across companies. All in all, this factor might be considerably higher than 6%, especially if you reach the highest levels of a corporation.
  • The cost of the in-state (yes, price paid for the degree matters) Masters degree is paid back over 10 years with no interest (assumes a loan from family).
  • No inflation factors are in the spreadsheet – but if they were, both savings numbers would reflect it the same so I didn’t see the need to over-engineer.
  • My spreadsheet models working until 65, and assume the student attains the Masters in two years time (works two years less in their professional job than the Bachelors-only graduate).

The bottom line is that the person with a Masters, given the same amount of optimism, initiative, and tenacity in his or her career — as well as equal will power to save and invest — is likely to retire / start phase three with approximately twice as much in savings / investments. In today’s dollars, the end result @ retirement was $2,034,720 in investment accounts for Masters vs $1,071,274 for Bachelors.

For the student, it boils down to this one question: Why not spend 2 – 3 extra years in school to enjoy greater cash flow, have more opportunities, and save at least $1 M more by the time you retire?

Click here to dive into the details of my spreadsheet.  I could have added more fine-tuning but the case is quite compelling without a lot more spreadsheet work. Please email me with suggested improvements or observations.

masters-spreadsheet

Here is a really interesting research paper on the topic, including details by area of study. A Masters is not worth nearly as much in certain fields as in others.

earnings-by-major

Get a Masters. Do whatever it takes. It is not even close. I believe that continuing college, straight through to a Masters, is the best way… because once in the workplace, distractions abound. Discipline is crucial to success in every phase of life, no matter if you are working on your college degrees or your nest egg for financial independence and comfort: It is crucial to start saving and investing right away — starting late makes things much more difficult, because compounding requires lots of time to do its inevitable magic (See rule 21 here within my 22 rules for financial success).

Final thoughts: Given the woeful state of social security and the changes in longevity, I believe that “normal” retirement age is likely to change from 65 to 70 before 2050. In such a case, the Masters advantage will actually become much larger because compounding gains really kick in the afterburners in the latter years of the model. If you missed it, I really don’t believe in retirement as most understand it: here are my thoughts on retirement. Lastly, success and wealth is a broader topic than savings and investments. Here is an article from a few years ago that helps a person take a 360 degree view of everything that contributes to true wealth.

I.M. Optimisman

PS. Not every career is impacted by the masters degree equally. I am a professional sales executive in the high-end computer software space, an arena where no colleges (as far as I know) offer any degree. In professional sales, the masters doesn’t help regarding direct earnings which are usually target based, although it clearly does help with promotions and outside opportunities. If you are the parent of a student that seems destined to sell professionally for a living (hmmm, I wonder if there are kids that think “sales” when in school), I would suggest creating your own spreadsheet model and sharing it — I would love to contribute. My gut tells me it is still well worth it, due to the improved odds of moving up into upper management.

Aug 252016
 

Hollywood says that it portrays better equality in the movies, but in truth, they are handily flunking the test. The message in well over 85% of movies is male, and violent, and the prize is the girl at the end of the movie. When a girl is featured, she is usually a warrior dealing out violence as well.

Parents of girls have to see the issues and messaging clearly and do their best to compensate because Hollywood is not helping, or changing anytime soon. An excellent observation in the TED talk below is that this imbalance has an enormous effect on boys as well, and how they view and treat women.

This video by Colin Stokes is well worth your twelve minutes:

colinstokes

Lets make this world better for our daughters than it is today. Every step matters.

I.M. Optimisman 

PS. Here are the previous three articles in my Have a Daughter series:
Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Aug 212016
 

For the last few weeks, we have watched the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Sport, especially at the Olympics, is the most obvious lab that proves that greatness requires optimism. Does anyone win a gold medal without hope and belief?

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It is hard for me to understand why pessimists and realists think it is better to be a pessimist or a realist.

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Make the right choice with your life.

I.M. OptimismMan