Oct 292017
 

As part of my Have a Daughter series, check out this speech by Reshma Saujani at TED.

I have written plenty of articles talking about the value of taking prudent risks and failing forward without loss of enthusiasm, but not in any specific context of helping daughters grow up well. Reshma opened my eyes to an important difference between boys and girls and how they are nurtured, and what must be done to encourage girls to take more risks at an earlier age.

You have a duty and choice: Choose to be a thoughtful, optimistic parent!

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 012017
 

It starts with “We the people…” America is not about one leader dominating the agenda, getting stuff done for the other 350,000,000 of us. Yet, it seems that we (and everyone in the news business and even everyone at Saturday Night Live) have forgotten this truth.

Here is a brilliant speech, barely 12 minutes long, by a British Rabbi — believe it or not — that does a great job in reminding us why the selfie generation is confused and misguided, why America, the land of immigrants, is special, and what all of us in America must remember: Sound ideas and ideals matter far more than Trump, Pelosi, Pence, or Schumer:

Rabbi Sacks is on point regarding the need for embracing and seeking out differing points of view with respect, the incredible need to maintain our country’s identity, and to enthusiastically embrace individual responsibility.

We can solve problems, we can flourish, we can stay true to our ideals, and we don’t have to bankrupt future generations. It takes great vision, hard work, “we the people” working together, and a lot of optimism. I’m no magical thinking “just coexist’er” — but nothing happens with no-compromise extremism. Without optimism, that real hope and belief that there are better days to come, it will not happen. Right now, about 50% of this great country doesn’t believe it can happen — but we need all of the people, not just some of them, to roll up sleeves, to compromise, to work together, and start getting things done.

I.M. OptimismMan

May 212017
 

Please watch part one first, earlier this month. These two posts work better together.

My optimism for the pace of progress continues to grow. Kevin Kelly has had a front row seat. From TED summary of Kevin, Kelly has been publisher of the Whole Earth Review, executive editor at Wired magazine (which he co-founded, and where he now holds the title of Senior Maverick), founder of visionary nonprofits and writer on biology, business and “cool tools.” He’s renounced all material things save his bicycle (which he then rode 3,000 miles), founded an organization (the All-Species Foundation) to catalog all life on Earth, championed projects that look 10,000 years into the future (at the Long Now Foundation), and more. He’s admired for his acute perspectives on technology and its relevance to history, biology and society. His new book, The Inevitable, explores 12 technological forces that will shape our future.

Kevin, on the future, recorded in 2007:

 

How can you not be optimistic about how digital transformation will add value to every life?

I.M. Optimisman

May 152017
 

Humans often — usually, in fact — have failures of imagination. We often don’t see the next leap, the next stair-step of significant progress. I find that looking back, at the imagination of future-oriented thinkers, at a point in time in the past but with proven success in the present, gives me a brilliant jolt of optimism.

Consider this TED discussion by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon in 2003, now 15 years ago. It simultaneously reminds us how quickly so much has changed, and how much more opportunity is right on our doorstep:

large_Bezos_Jeff_3

I clearly see that we are only in the second inning of wiring up the world. Do you?

I.M. Optimisman

Apr 292017
 

We have lived through a truly divisive decade and election. In just the last few months, Trump pulled off a shocker win, the Brits decided to bail out of the European Union, and the war on terror continues with senseless killings everywhere that have numbed people emotionally: a headline that dozens of innocent citizens have been slaughtered doesn’t disturb the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  A common theme through it all is that we should not help people that need help and kindness, for fear of the few radicals that strive so hard to dominate the media headlines. Many people today care less about others than ever, at least in my lifetime.

I believe we need to think about this spreading darkness, this growing callousness that is becoming all too acceptable. If we want a better society, with hope for a better future, we can’t trudge along with the herd, yelling for closed borders and constant distrust. I’m not so naive to think that intelligence should not be improved and that we should retreat from chasing the bad guys, but broad brush exclusion of needy and helpless is a steep price to pay for it darkens our own soul, our society, our future.

Pope Francis addressed this when he spoke at the TED conference this month. I hope that you click and listen, or read the transcript below. We need to keep our individual souls hopeful and believe in a better tomorrow, or the terroristic few will ultimately win an important victory.

[His Holiness Pope Francis Filmed in Vatican City First shown at TED2017]
0:15
Good evening – or, good morning, I am not sure what time it is there. Regardless of the hour, I am thrilled to be participating in your conference. I very much like its title – “The Future You” – because, while looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at the future through a “you.” “The Future You:” the future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others: life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.
1:27
As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: “Why them and not me?” I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s “discarded” people. And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: “Why them and not me?”
2:35
First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state. Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me, a flare deep in my heart that needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.
3:38
Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world. Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science – and you know it better than I do – points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.
4:27
And this brings me to my second message. How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us. How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries. Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the “culture of waste,” which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.
6:08
Solidarity is a term that many wish to erase from the dictionary. Solidarity, however, is not an automatic mechanism. It cannot be programmed or controlled. It is a free response born from the heart of each and everyone. Yes, a free response! When one realizes that life, even in the middle of so many contradictions, is a gift, that love is the source and the meaning of life, how can they withhold their urge to do good to another fellow being?
6:50
In order to do good, we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. And I know that TED gathers many creative minds. Yes, love does require a creative, concrete and ingenious attitude. Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The “you” is always a real presence, a person to take care of.
7:52
There is a parable Jesus told to help us understand the difference between those who’d rather not be bothered and those who take care of the other. I am sure you have heard it before. It is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. When Jesus was asked: “Who is my neighbor?” – namely, “Who should I take care of?” – he told this story, the story of a man who had been assaulted, robbed, beaten and abandoned along a dirt road. Upon seeing him, a priest and a Levite, two very influential people of the time, walked past him without stopping to help. After a while, a Samaritan, a very much despised ethnicity at the time, walked by. Seeing the injured man lying on the ground, he did not ignore him as if he weren’t even there. Instead, he felt compassion for this man, which compelled him to act in a very concrete manner. He poured oil and wine on the wounds of the helpless man, brought him to a hostel and paid out of his pocket for him to be assisted.
9:26
The story of the Good Samaritan is the story of today’s humanity. People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”
10:26
We have so much to do, and we must do it together. But how can we do that with all the evil we breathe every day? Thank God, no system can nullify our desire to open up to the good, to compassion and to our capacity to react against evil, all of which stem from deep within our hearts. Now you might tell me, “Sure, these are beautiful words, but I am not the Good Samaritan, nor Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” On the contrary: we are precious, each and every one of us. Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.
11:27
To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another “you,” and another “you,” and it turns into an “us.” And so, does hope begin when we have an “us?” No. Hope began with one “you.” When there is an “us,” there begins a revolution.
13:16
The third message I would like to share today is, indeed, about revolution: the revolution of tenderness. And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.
14:13
Tenderness is the language of the young children, of those who need the other. A child’s love for mom and dad grows through their touch, their gaze, their voice, their tenderness. I like when I hear parents talk to their babies, adapting to the little child, sharing the same level of communication. This is tenderness: being on the same level as the other. God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the same path the Good Samaritan took. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love.
15:23
Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.
16:52
The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us. Thank you.

Let’s not sit idle while hope is extinguished. America must stand for more than that. We are the shining city on the hill that sets the example for all.

I.M. Optimisman

Apr 182017
 

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

Mar 162017
 

Too often, we think that those who achieve something really special were born with huge advantages. Yet, if you read stories about the most successful people, the common denominator is not birthright but rather optimism, a tendency to take initiative and action without over analyzing a situation, a confidence that overrides the voices of “realists” and “pessimists” that are ever present, a willingness to take a chance when the odds looks favorable, and a belief that failures are simply little setbacks to learn from on a road of adapting and overcoming every step of the way.

A great way to look at it is “Why Not Me?

Others become millionaires in less than 10 years. Why Not Me?

Others graduate college with honors, and double majors, and masters, and Phd’s. Why Not Me?

Others change jobs, and careers, until they find a dream gig. Why Not Me?

Others have wonderful marriages, and loving families. Why Not Me?

Others run marathons, learn to fly airplanes, get in killer shape, become published writers. Why Not Me?

Others live without stress. Why Not Me?

Others are genuinely happy, every darn day. Why Not Me?

Of course you can. This is America, the land where the system does not keep the tenacious optimist from success. No one will give it to you on a silver platter, but if you define your goals clearly, create plans with milestones, and get started on the steps others have succeeded with before, you can get there.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

Mar 052017
 

Remember that failure is an event, not a person.

          — Zig Ziglar

Far too often, people call each other — or themselves — a failure. The truth is that a failure is moment in time, the temporary result that happens when you try a certain recipe to accomplish something. Failures happen for many reasons, but the wise optimist learns from the experience and fails forward.

Always remember that failure is a result of a certain confluence of effort, timing, luck, attitude, and expectations, but so too is success. If Michael Jordon remembered all his missed last second shots, he would have been unable to make the shots that won so many championships and basketball immortality.

Stay enthusiastic! No pessimist achieves greatness. Persistence and creativity matter — and never say that you have tried everything — most people barely try two or three options before they give up.

I.M. OptimismMan

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 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

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

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 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.

Jun 122016
 

It is halfway through 2016. Are you halfway done on your resolutions? Do you remember where you put the list? It is a great good time to review what you decided to accomplish this year.

I believe resolutions are a great tool to replace bad habits with good habits. Changing habits is not easy without daily focus, accountability, and willpower. For that reason, minimalist champion Leo Babauta is right: focus on one habit change at a time. Habits take time to change — usually 12 sincere weeks — so quarterly resolutions are a great idea, in my humble opinion.

Job one is to keep “it” — whatever it is — front and center. Front and center reminders might be different for different people. It might be on your computer’s wallpaper, smartphone’s wallpaper, bathroom mirror, and refrigerator door. Whatever combination works for you.

workout-willpower

The next step is to keep an honesty-with-oneself log. Let’s say your resolution is to go to the gym 15 days each month. Be specific: I believe you are better off to say 15 profuse-sweat workouts each month, because quality of effort gets targeted too. Log the days you go, what you did, and how much time you spent. Log the days you didn’t go. Review the situation daily. Pale ink helps willpower.

Finally, each of us has a finite amount of daily willpower. It is much harder to do “it” after we have struggled to overcome ten other objectives throughout our day. I recommend doing “it” as early as you can, when your willpower tank still has a lot of willpower megawatts in it.

aristotle-quote-habits

Quarterly resolutions, one at a time, are the best way to adopt four habits for improvement and success, every year. Just be careful not to lose the previous habit when you move to the next.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Idea for habits to improve, beyond the obvious fitness example above, include reading for 25 minutes per day (and writing down a couple of lines about what you read), learning one new thing per day (and writing it down of course), watching less TV each day (logging time and what you watched), or eating one truly healthy meal each day (always write it down).

In my opinion, time thrown away watching TV is right at the top of the insidious list of bad habits that is incredibly hard to improve: one main reason is that we are most like to turn the TV on after our willpower has been depleted for the day.

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

Apr 072016
 

Over the years, I have often written about the essential requirement to be 100% committed to whatever you are doing. Overcoming adversity demands it, and every one of us will run into plenty of adversity. In my life, I learned this painful lesson as a freshman in college, when — and this is most definitely not my proudest moment — I literally threw away a full ride scholarship because I was not committed to doing my best and doing what it takes to succeed academically. The good news is that after enough anguish and self-appraisal, I learned the lesson. I decided that if it was to be, it was up to me, and no excuses matter. I adapted and I overcame.

My little story pales in comparison to Inky Johnson’s story, for Inky has overcome exponentially greater adversity than I have. This is a story well worth watching, and in my opinion, more than once. It is essential to watch it when you have 10 minutes without distractions. I hope that you enjoy it. I hope that it gives you food for thought. I hope that it changes your resolve to give every day and every endeavor 100% commitment:

inky-640

Anyone with enough will, and enough belief, and a purpose beyond themselves, can achieve greatness and make a positive impact on others. Anyone.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Here is part 2 after you have absorbed part 1.

Apr 032016
 

Success is empty and hollow without sincere, good friendships. The problem of course, is that most friendships are not true lasting friendships; rather, they are shallow friendships of convenience that do not weather the storms, the misunderstandings, the disagreements, the years, or the separations. A friend is not a friend if they only show up when they need your support.

As with all worthy pursuits in life, great friendships require optimism and action. To have great friendships, you must invest valuable time and positive energy. Even the most beautiful flower withers without water, food, and sunshine.

Consider my top ten thoughts about friendship:

True friendships are one of the best measures of a person’s net worth.

A person is rich if he has three true friends to count on, no matter what happens over the coming decades.

True friendship always is based on true understanding of each other. Friends strive to understand and to be understood.

Do not plunge into friendship quickly. Be nice to everyone but intimate with few. Make sure those few have passed many tests.

Trust is essential. It is worse to distrust your friend than to be deceived by her.

You must seek, you must invest the time, you must plant the seeds and nurture the saplings of friendship, dozens or even hundreds of times, to earn one true lifelong friend.

Listening, remembering, understanding, empathizing, collaboration, and forgiveness are critical ingredients of friendship. People that only talk of themselves barely rank as acquaintances.

Keeping your friend’s secrets secret, even if she did not ask you to, is priceless.

Friendship requires that you tell your friend the truth and your sincere opinion, not what he wants to hear. 

True friends love their friend, no matter her faults, frailties, and blessings. A true friend only wishes for the best, no matter the situation.

Is there a good friend that you have neglected over the last few years? Today is the day to pick up the phone and rekindle that connection. We are all too busy — that’s not an excuse. The paperwork can wait. Don’t let him or her get away for lack of effort and optimism at your end.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 292016
 

Is learning a cool-as-heck trick hard? Probably not — it just takes time and patience and a vision.

Click to watch this video:

Why not?

What’s stopping you?

It doesn’t have to be as tech-savvy as Marco’s trick, but why not learn one thing that can amaze kids and adults alike.

Life is too short to waste it.

I.M. Optimism Man