Jul 122017
 

Far too many people think “the brilliant big idea” is the root of home run success. I believe home runs happen more often with good ideas, not great ones. The home runs come when three elements are applied — full ‘whatever it takes’ commitment, unquenchable positive enthusiasm, and extraordinary dogged persistence.

glacier_iceberg_under_water

Success is barely the tip of the iceberg above the surface for the casual observer to see.  No one realizes the amount of work it took for the successful to make it to that point. I believe when the going gets tough — really tough — almost everyone quits, because there are plenty of other options. Those options often make logical sense and your friends and family will influence you to take one of them. It is only the rare person who fights the long odds, who believes that she must see it through and prove the naysayers wrong, that ultimately knocks it out of the park.

Never let anyone talk you out of doing what you believe you were born to do.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. A great quote:

2016-05-23_1918-persistence

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

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

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 homogeneous 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.

I’m an economically focused voter: 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. Trump was not my first choice, but lets support change, experiment, and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. We live in the greatest time ever. Pessimism has been the religion in DC for the last 12+ years. I believe a lot of people will be optimistic because they think Trump will change things. Optimism builds on itself. 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.

 

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 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?

2016-07-01-Venues-thumb2

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

usain-bolt-5

Make the right choice with your life.

I.M. OptimismMan

Aug 152016
 

As you can imagine, I, OptimismMan, am a great believer of the power of positivity. But I have to confess that I have had my doubts about dedicating time to social networking and gaming, as both of these clearly seem to conflict with all my theories on investing one’s time instead of spending it in foolish ways. I’ve also explored what people regret when they are dying for clues to how to be brave and live better.

So then I stumbled into Jane McGonigal, a game designer who argues that gaming can play a role in avoiding the most typical regrets of the dying. I believe in questioning everything, so today, I’m simultaneously questioning her game-centric conclusions as well as my previous thinking, wondering if the time “spent” gaming might actually be more of a time “investment” than I ever appreciated. I don’t have a conclusion just yet — maybe I never will — but I suggest watching her excellent talk and thinking about it for yourself, especially if you have a kid that spends a lot of time gaming right now:

2016-08-21_0757-jane

Interesting, right?

I.M. OptimismMan 

Jun 102016
 

What makes one person more creative than another is hard to grasp. We all want to have more original ideas that change the world, make things better, or at least get us noticed. But, in practice, you must have the courage to have a lot of bad ideas to have a few great ones. To be an original, you have to put it out there, in the harsh light of public scrutiny. I think the greatest misconception is that most believe that they will be judged based upon their failed ideas. In truth, your chance for a great breakthrough is built on a foundation of ideas that didn’t work out, and people don’t hold your failed creativity against you.

To be original, you must take initiative and you must be brave. You must go against the status quo and peer pressure.

Consider this excellent TED presentation by Adam Grant of the Wharton School. I hope that you walk away more willing to put your ideas out there and be an original:

Fortune favors the bold.

I.M. OptimismMan

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

Feb 252016
 

Differentiation is important. People decide who they want on their team, who they hire, who they promote, who they buy from, who they associate with, and who they become friends with, based on what they perceive makes a person special and different than the rest. Personal differentiation is driving force behind who gets elected, who a person marries, who succeeds and who flails about.

What makes you special? What makes you better than the average guy? What makes you stand out? How do people describe you to a stranger? What quality will make you a success over the long-term?

For some, their differentiator for personal success if obvious. Kevin Durant’s height, athletic ability, and basketball IQ made his destiny as one of the best players in the NBA simple to see, even as early as high school. Sure, he made smart choices that helped, he had determination to persevere, he envisioned his future and did what was necessary to make it happen. But his differentiators are God given and quite obvious to all, especially the ones that had to guard him.

Most of us are not freaks of nature endowed with superhuman hops. We are born much closer to average than being an extreme outlier in terms of ability. In statistics, outliers are stats that are so far outside the averages and the normal bell curve that the data points look like bad data. Mozart was an outlier in musical ability. Einstein was an outlier. Wayne Gretzky is an outlier, as are Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.

So what can the rest of us do to differentiate ourselves?

The answer is far simpler than you think, although not necessarily easy. Far too many people search for natural traits that they were born with, rather than decisions that they can make and stick to. The trick is to find an area of life where few people make the right decision, the decision that could help them immeasurably over the long-term.

Uncompromising personal integrity is one such magical ingredient: the differentiator that can serve as the bedrock to build a great life of success. Unquestionable integrity is a choice that anyone can make, but in truth, exceedingly few people do. Yet, when a company is looking for a leader to be in charge of a division, integrity is one of the most important criteria that it looks for in candidates for the position.

We live in a desert of integrity.

One aspect of integrity is telling the truth. University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. Robert asked two strangers to have a conversation for about 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Afterwards, each person was asked to review the recording. Before doing so, the research participants told Feldman that they had been 100% honest in their statements. However, during the review, the subjects were surprised to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman’s study, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation and in that span of ten minutes, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things. If 60% lie when it does not matter in just ten minutes time, it seems logical that more than 85% will lie when there are greater incentives and the outcome really matters. A recent study of dating websites found that 81% of people lied about themselves while seeking a new mate and another found that 91% of college grads lied at least once on their résumé. Our world is a desert of integrity indeed.

Another aspect of integrity is whether or not people steal or cheat when they have a good opportunity. The fraud prevention industry has long held to a general rule of thumb called the 10-10-80 rule. Chain retailers with experience of millions of employees believe in it. The rule says 10% of people will never steal no matter what, 10% will steal at any opportunity, and the remaining 80% of employees will steal or not steal, depending on how they evaluate a particular opportunity and their chances of getting caught.

Integrity is greater than simply being perfectly truthful and not stealing, although these two aspects are black and white and therefore simpler to measure. Keeping your promises, doing what you say you will do — no matter what it takes — is the fundamental core basis of integrity.

The choice of integrity is available to you and completely up to you. Your past matters not. You can make the wise choice to live a life of uncompromising personal integrity from this day forth.

I believe that integrity should become your #1 differentiator. Choose to become remarkable: becoming remarkable is not a birthright. Less than 10% of people demonstrate integrity in their daily lives by avoiding all deceit. When you add in doing exactly what you said you will do, keeping all your promises large and small, you will discover a world few people know and understand: you will become a person who is destined for success. Others will inevitably learn that you are the rare person who they can count on in good times and in bad, the person who will do his or her very best, the person who will do the right thing every time when put in positions of greater responsibility.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Four words that have survived since the mid-1300’s. Why? Truth thrives.

I have often written about the extraordinary opportunities available to all of us. We live at an extraordinary time, a time of fantastic and rapid change, in the best country in world. I believe that the opportunities to achieve whatever one wants to achieve in today’s America are limitless.

Yet, I know a lot of people that look at the same things I do and simply don’t see it the same. They see scarcity where I see abundant opportunity. It has taken me a while to figure out why but I believe I now understand. There are three fierce guard dogs at the gates of opportunity, and it turns out that most people see the snarling beasts, they miss seeing the gates, let alone the rainbow and waterfalls in the garden on the other side.

The guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. One or more of these prevent many from jumping on thousands of golden opportunities. Today I’ll spend a few minutes discussing the first one — risk.

Young adults have a great advantage over most of the working population. If they grew up in an optimistic home, they believe they can conquer the world, they have little if anything to lose, they don’t yet listen to (or at least adhere to) the often faulty, limited “wisdom” of their elders, and they have had few disheartening experiences. There is good reason most tech start-ups are fueled by young adults.

As we get older, we tend to take less and less risk. This risk aversion invades most of the facets of a person’s life: financial, emotional, professional, psychological, personal, you name it. Yet the core truth of “nothing ventured” rules nearly every facet of life.

By the time people hit their 40’s, most don’t want to take any chances. This is a terrible mistake that shackles one’s life. Without accepting risk, all you can expect is a lousy return following the path of the risk-free herd. When you embrace good risks, you expand your possibilities and your life.

Overcoming the fear of risk is possible and comes from learning and understanding probability better than the average person. Risk is simply half of the equation: once a person learns to evaluate risk clearly, in relation to probable return, she can start making educated decisions regarding the worthiness of any endeavor. These three guard dogs start to look much more lovable.

It is easiest to understand risk vs. return in simple betting. If someone offered you 3:1 odds on the flip of a quarter, it becomes a good bet – in other words a risk worth taking, because the quarter flip will win 50/50 over time. On a dollar bet, you would get paid $3 the 50% of the time that you win, but lose only $1 the 50% of the time you would lose.

The same is true in life. If you invest $1,000 in a growing, successful company that has a current P/E ratio of 10, a historical low for the stock, because of a short-term sell-off, while all its close competitors have P/E’s of 25 – barring any skeletons in the closet, you generally have taken a good bet – odds are much better that your stock will appreciate to $2,500 (probably more (because I’m ignoring earnings growth over time in this example)) rather than falling to $500 in the future. You can further mitigate the risk by investing $1,000 in 10 companies in similar situations – even if you are wrong on 5 of 10 — and 3 of them get halved while 2 tread water and stay at the price paid — if the other five do move up to their historical P/E, your final tally would be $16,000 on a $10,000 in investments, or a 60% return. If you leave that $10,000 in a money market account at Bank of America, you will earn less than $5 per year in this crazy near “interest-free” financial climate.

Yet many people never overcome the fear of risk. My suggestion is start small and gain momentum gradually. A big misconception is that those who take risks are fearless. Not true. People that take prudent risks, after weighing the probable rewards, are courageous and smart.

I really like John Wayne’s definition of courage….the Duke said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.

It is incredibly important that a person learns to embrace prudent calculated risk during his entire life, learning from experiences as he grows older. There are always risks worth taking, and when you are 40, 50, or 60, you have a much broader base of experience, connections, and resources than when you were but 22. The idea is not to put more than you can afford to lose in any one investment or idea.

My discussion took a financial turn because it is easy to illustrate with numbers, but taking prudent risks is just as vital on your emotional, professional, personal, and psychological facets of life. If you come up with a great idea that is worthy at work, take the risk and land a meeting with your own CEO. Pitch it! You might just make Executive VP after all. Go to that job interview. Ask that girl out. Go ahead and volunteer when they ask. Speak up at the community meeting. Try helping out at the local soup kitchen or Meals-on-Wheels or Big Brothers Big Sisters — seriously! Start that little business on the side and stick to the project to the finish line. Always remember that it helps to fail spectacularly from time to time in order to become extraordinary in the end.

The great Wayne Gretzky is right when he says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Michael Jordan put it this way: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

What have you ventured this month? What have you ventured in 2015? Take more risks to be all you can be!

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 152016
 

Life tests us. Life wants to know what we are made of. One simple rule matters most: never give in. Stay true to yourself, your values, your principles, and your beliefs, no matter what.

All of us makes decisions about ourselves. In essence, we decide our mental DNA, we design our daily habits, we control our attitudes and our outlook.

n-hill-quote

One person stays gung-ho about life, even when he stumbles or encounters unexpected challenges. He decided to go from one challenge to the next without any loss of optimism, enthusiasm, or tenacity. Facing the same situation, another gives in and doesn’t swing the bat with the same gusto after a few strike outs. These two people’s lives will come out remarkably different.

quotes-success-not-final-failure-not-fatal

Giving in becomes a habit. Never, ever, ever give in, and never give up your enthusiasm.

I.M. OptimismMan 

PS> One of my favorites that I’m certain I have posted in the past:

enthusiasm-churchill

Dec 262015
 

People, especially young people, are predictable when asked what their important goals are in life, goals that specifically will help them achieve happiness. Invariably, money and fame appear at the top of the list.

Well, it turns out that there are few comprehensive studies about happiness over a lifetime. Studies are relatively easy to pull off when they only last a few years. Studying people for a lifetime, on the other hand, almost never happens.

Here is something extraordinary: a study that has focused on happiness and lasted 75 years. The conclusion is well worth thinking about:

robert-waldinger-on-ted

In previous posts, I have argued that, in my humble opinion, gratefulness is the key to happiness. Robert Waldinger makes the case that the quality of your social relationships is the most important key to achieve happiness. Maybe just maybe, gratefulness and great relationships go hand-in-hand and rank as #1 and #2. No matter, the clear point is that money and fame are not answer.

2016 might be the year to take a hard look at your own life. Are you investing the time and energy it takes to build extraordinary relationships?

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 102015
 

Hindsight is 20/20. When I was asked recently for my best advice to a struggling college student (see previous post), the discussion of finding and picking a starting job when graduating came up as well.

picking the first job

Lou Holtz has observed that we should never try to maintain a certain level: as Lou summed it up in this speech, You are either growing or you are dying, there is no middle ground. I believe this is just as true for individuals as it is for companies. I think the graduate should — first and foremost — strive to start her career at a company that is growing rapidly. With growth comes opportunity, happiness in an organization, improved teamwork, reduced politics, and a feeling of success and purpose. A company that is growing quickly — perhaps 20 – 25% a year – hires many more people, creates new teams, and has opportunities for healthy promotion and advancement.

Companies that are running near flat in terms of revenue or profit growth offer few chances for real advancement and expansion of responsibility. This is a hard environment to gain momentum, as promotion usually requires someone in management to leave and vacate a spot in the stagnant org chart.

Working hard in school, participating in extracurricular activities, adding practical experience with internships and on campus leadership positions, and being optimistic will all help expand the number of offers you receive at graduation time. If all goes well, you will have a number of choices to pick from. Pick the job offer from the firm with a healthy, growing environment.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 072015
 

There are millions and millions of pages written about how to succeed. Yet for all this nuance, fundamentals always matter most. A key aspect to success is making lasting, sincere friendships and influencing people is a positive, optimistic way. Leadership and influence is not just about title — true leadership involves having personal influence that transcends position in an organization.

Dale-Carnegie

One of the best works written on the fundamentals of this topic is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People which has clearly survived the test of time. Below is a great reminder that I stumbled upon just today:

dale-carnegie-how-to-win-friends

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 252015
 

As the end of 2015 approaches, how many good ideas did you write down this year? How many did you develop from one-liners into a solid little outline? How many have grown into a short white paper?

Albert Einstein observed that imagination is more important than knowledge. Napoleon Hill said first comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The genesis is within your imagination, but imagination must be nurtured and developed into great ideas to make a difference.

foster-ideas

Be honest: How many ideas did you simply write down in 2015? Pull out your journal, or log onto your system now, and look at them. If you don’t write ideas down, in a system that will stand the test of time, they will evaporate.

If your answer is zero or just a scant few, what will you do in 2016? What goal will you set, with reminder alerts to keep idea development top-of-mind? Perhaps one idea a month, or one idea a week? Imagine 5 years from today, with one good idea per week written down and one idea per month taken to the next level of detail and development. Could it change your life? Would it make you at least 10% more brilliant? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Idea development is a cornerstone of personal differentiation.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Don’t have a good system?

write-down-your-ideas

A paper journal works and is better than nothing, but it is exposed to loss. I like the Day One journal (if you are a Mac user) with a backup email sent to my own Gmail account, using a tag like #freshideas which makes it easy to search for later. The truth is Google is unlikely to fail, and Gmail is one of its crucial products, so an email to self at Gmail is about as safe and simple as it gets. For the redundancy backup-minded, it is easy to set up two accounts — one at Google and one elsewhere (a good bet IMHO would be Outlook.com (Microsoft)) and then email your ideas to both from your ever-present smartphone.

Nov 162015
 

I was recently asked by a parent for my one and only one best nugget of advice I would offer to a college student who is struggling a bit. Limiting any answer to such a broad, open-ended question is brilliant, because it makes you pause and think carefully before answering — I suspect I will write an article on this “limits make answers better” concept in the future — but for now, I’ll turn to the challenge at hand.

My best advice is to evaluate and then choose your best friends carefully. College (and high school for that matter) gives you a lot of opportunity to select which friends you would prefer to get close to. Unfortunately, many students fall into a group without forethought, just as many adults fall into a job.

college-friends

If you fall into a group that is more concerned about the next party than the next homework assignment or upcoming exam, the gravity of the friendship will inexorably influence you to party more and achieve less. If you surround yourself with lazy pessimists that only hope to graduate in 6 or 7 years, don’t be surprised if you join the same track of dropping classes more often than finishing them. If your friends have no vision of their future, ponder why they are there, and still believe that their parents will somehow magically arrange their future, you will too. On the other hand, if you carefully choose and cultivate friendships with individuals with passion, drive, leadership, charisma, and other characteristics that you yourself aspire to, you will find vision, momentum, and encouragement when you need it most.

It is never too late to reassess. Are your close friends helping you succeed or dragging you down? Are they true friends or are they only friends of convenience? Is their heart in the right place? What do they say about you when you are not there? If they are dragging you down, make a bold decision, change your friends for the better, and you will find that you will change your trajectory. Looking back, I was fortunate with the close friends I made at school, starting with a good first “suite” of achievers in the freshman dorm (that was a lucky break, not one of my own choosing). Like everything else, it is not a matter of wishing things were different. Change only happens when you make clear decisions and then do it, finishing what you started.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. A couple of quotes, because I love quotes.

Consider each of your friends in this context. I would add help you “be all you can be” but this quote goes a long way in capturing the essence:

best-friends-quote

It isn’t all that hard to test your friendship:

nice-things-to-say

You can’t really know until times get tough. Everyone is your “friend” when things are going well:

hard-times