Jun 242019
 

Having a great idea is not the same as making your idea happen. Having great intent to help is not the same as being of great assistance. Having a awesome goal is not the same as accomplishing it.

In this age of social media, daily posts, and group texts, we are more likely than ever to announce our intent. I believe this is counter-productive and will often torpedo your accomplishment. Why? Because all your friends and colleagues will give you positive feedback right away. “Great idea!” “Fantastic goal!” “You are the best!”

Reality check: most goals, ideas, and projects take time — lots and lots of time and determination. If you have already basked in the glow of recognition, what will help you persist? What will help you adapt and overcome? What will drive you to the finish line?

Don’t announce it. Do it first. Well done is much better than well said.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 212019
 

Success in life is simple but expect it will be hard. You have to be up to the challenge. Discipline matters. The world does not owe success to you — you must adapt, overcome, and never give up. You must be optimistic, you must believe that you can. All this and more is captured in Admiral McRaven’s brilliant address at University of Texas’ 2014 graduation. You can watch it on YouTube but I believe it is more memorable if you read it.

— OptimismMan

“Make Your Bed”

Background

This speech was delivered by Admiral McRaven as the commencement address to the graduates of The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014. 

Speech Transcript

President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT. I remember a lot of things about that day. I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married — that’s important to remember by the way — and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening, and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So, acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.

The University’s slogan is, “What starts here changes the world.” I have to admit — I kinda like it. “What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8,000 students graduating from UT. That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com, says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their lifetime. That’s a lot of folks. But, if every one of you changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those folks changed the lives of another 10 people — just 10 — then in five generations — 125 years — the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people — think of it — over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world — eight billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people — change their lives forever — you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan: A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush. In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500-pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn were also saved. And their children’s children were saved. Generations were saved by one decision, by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it. So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is — what will the world look like after you change it?

Well, I am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will humor this old sailor for just a moment, I have a few suggestions that may help you on your way to a better a world. And while these lessons were learned during my time in the military, I can assure you that it matters not whether you ever served a day in uniform. It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status.

Our struggles in this world are similar, and the lessons to overcome those struggles and to move forward — changing ourselves and the world around us — will apply equally to all.

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left UT for Basic SEAL training in Coronado, California. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harrassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL.

But, the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

So, here are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

During SEAL training the students are broken down into boat crews. Each crew is seven students — three on each side of a small rubber boat and one coxswain to help guide the dingy. Every day your boat crew forms up on the beach and is instructed to get through the surfzone and paddle several miles down the coast. In the winter, the surf off San Diego can get to be 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. Everyone must exert equal effort or the boat will turn against the wave and be unceremoniously tossed back on the beach.

For the boat to make it to its destination, everyone must paddle. You can’t change the world alone — you will need some help — and to truly get from your starting point to your destination takes friends, colleagues, the good will of strangers and a strong coxswain to guide them.

If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

Over a few weeks of difficult training my SEAL class, which started with 150 men, was down to just 35. There were now six boat crews of seven men each. I was in the boat with the tall guys, but the best boat crew we had was made up of the the little guys — the munchkin crew we called them — no one was over about five-foot-five.

The munchkin boat crew had one American Indian, one African American, one Polish American, one Greek American, one Italian American, and two tough kids from the midwest. They out-paddled, out-ran and out-swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would always make good-natured fun of the tiny little flippers the munchkins put on their tiny little feet prior to every swim. But somehow these little guys, from every corner of the nation and the world, always had the last laugh — swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

SEAL training was a great equalizer. Nothing mattered but your will to succeed. Not your color, not your ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

Several times a week, the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your hat had to be perfectly starched, your uniform immaculately pressed and your belt buckle shiny and void of any smudges. But it seemed that no matter how much effort you put into starching your hat, or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle — it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find “something” wrong.

For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surfzone and then, wet from head to toe, roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as a “sugar cookie.” You stayed in that uniform the rest of the day — cold, wet and sandy.

There were many a student who just couldn’t accept the fact that all their effort was in vain. That no matter how hard they tried to get the uniform right, it was unappreciated. Those students didn’t make it through training. Those students didn’t understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have a perfect uniform.

Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. It’s just the way life is sometimes.

If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

Every day during training you were challenged with multiple physical events — long runs, long swims, obstacle courses, hours of calisthenics — something designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards — times you had to meet. If you failed to meet those standards your name was posted on a list, and at the end of the day those on the list were invited to a “circus.” A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to wear you down, to break your spirit, to force you to quit.

No one wanted a circus.

A circus meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. A circus meant more fatigue — and more fatigue meant that the following day would be more difficult — and more circuses were likely. But at some time during SEAL training, everyone — everyone — made the circus list.

But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students — who did two hours of extra calisthenics — got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength, built physical resiliency.

Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. You will likely fail often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

At least twice a week, the trainees were required to run the obstacle course. The obstacle course contained 25 obstacles including a 10-foot high wall, a 30-foot cargo net and a barbed wire crawl, to name a few. But the most challenging obstacle was the slide for life. It had a three-level 30-foot tower at one end and a one-level tower at the other. In between was a 200-foot-long rope. You had to climb the three-tiered tower and once at the top, you grabbed the rope, swung underneath the rope and pulled yourself hand over hand until you got to the other end.

The record for the obstacle course had stood for years when my class began training in 1977. The record seemed unbeatable, until one day, a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. Instead of swinging his body underneath the rope and inching his way down, he bravely mounted the TOP of the rope and thrust himself forward.

It was a dangerous move — seemingly foolish, and fraught with risk. Failure could mean injury and being dropped from the training. Without hesitation the student slid down the rope perilously fast. Instead of several minutes, it only took him half that time and by the end of the course he had broken the record.

If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

During the land warfare phase of training, the students are flown out to San Clemente Island which lies off the coast of San Diego. The waters off San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are a series of long swims that must be completed. One is the night swim.

Before the swim the instructors joyfully brief the trainees on all the species of sharks that inhabit the waters off San Clemente. They assure you, however, that no student has ever been eaten by a shark — at least not recently. But, you are also taught that if a shark begins to circle your position — stand your ground. Do not swim away. Do not act afraid. And if the shark, hungry for a midnight snack, darts towards you — then summon up all your strength and punch him in the snout, and he will turn and swim away.

There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

So, if you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

As Navy SEALs one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemy shipping. We practiced this technique extensively during basic training. The ship attack mission is where a pair of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an enemy harbor and then swims well over two miles — underwater — using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target.

During the entire swim, even well below the surface, there is some light that comes through. It is comforting to know that there is open water above you. But as you approach the ship, which is tied to a pier, the light begins to fade. The steel structure of the ship blocks the moonlight, it blocks the surrounding street lamps, it blocks all ambient light.

To be successful in your mission, you have to swim under the ship and find the keel — the centerline and the deepest part of the ship. This is your objective. But the keel is also the darkest part of the ship — where you cannot see your hand in front of your face, where the noise from the ship’s machinery is deafening and where it is easy to get disoriented and fail.

Every SEAL knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment of the mission, is the time when you must be calm, composed — when all your tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

The ninth week of training is referred to as “Hell Week.” It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors. As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud.

The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit — just five men — and we could get out of the oppressive cold. Looking around the mud flat it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up — eight more hours of bone-chilling cold.

The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night, one voice raised in song. The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two and two became three and before long everyone in the class was singing. We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well.

The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singingbut the singing persisted. And somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have learned anything in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person — Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan, Malala — one person can change the world by giving people hope.

So, if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

Finally, in SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. All you have to do to quit is ring the bell.

Ring the bell and you no longer have to wake up at 5 o’clock. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the freezing cold swims. Ring the bell and you no longer have to do the runs, the obstacle course, the PT — and you no longer have to endure the hardships of training. Just ring the bell.

If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

To the graduating class of 2014, you are moments away from graduating. Moments away from beginning your journey through life. Moments away from starting to change the world — for the better. It will not be easy.

But, YOU are the class of 2014, the class that can affect the lives of 800 million people in the next century.

Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.

And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.

Thank you very much. Hook ’em horns.

The speech was originally published on the University of Texas website.

Aug 182018
 

Our ability to do new things, our capacity to learn new skills, is far beyond most people’s imaginations.

The problem is that most people decide to not take action, to not even try. If I had a dollar for every time I overheard the words “I wish I…” I’m certain I’d be a multi-millionaire.  People wish that they could speak a second language, or understood and had great investments, or could paint beautiful pictures, or could climb mountains, or run triathlons, or simply lost some excess weight, but have no answer if asked what they have actually done, what actions they have taken about their wishful yearning this week, last week, or last month.

There is nothing wrong with wishful thinking — ideas for accomplishment always start with wishful imagination — but you can have almost anything you want, as long as you convert your wishful thinking into a solid plan and then take decisive action to accomplish your plan, adjusting and overcoming setbacks, without loss of optimism and enthusiasm.

I’ve always wished that I remembered the names of people I meet far better than I do. Last year, I bought a book about memory tricks and techniques of the memory masters. Unfortunately, I only read the first few chapters, I became 50% better at names as I applied active focus to the mission that first month, but I then put the book and the effort aside as I allowed other urgencies overtake my time and focus. It was a perfect example that going from wishful thinking to getting what you want is rarely super-human mission-impossible. It simply takes making a plan, and following through with the actions and focus required. Finishing what you start is priceless, however, and I now have to restart the lessons, but that plan too, is simple and obvious.

Believe that you can, and you will find that you can. Make a great plan, take committed action, and follow the footsteps of others who succeeded before you.

I.M. Optimisman

 

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

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

 

Dec 262016
 

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

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

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

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

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 252016
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Aristotle

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

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

Happy Holidays,

I.M. OptimismMan

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.

Jul 092016
 

The reality today is that lots of sharp minds around the world get left behind, missing out on the value of higher education, for a many valid reasons such as financial hardship, cultural barriers, or unfortunate domino-like events in people’s lives. Without the degree, the doors to many career opportunities remain closed, although a person might have the energy, drive, optimism, and capability to excel in a particular field.

The internet is changing everything — and it is inevitable that it will re-write the model of higher education over the coming decade. Here is a mind-opening presentation by Shai Reshef, the founder of tuition-free and yet accredited University of the People. I’m certain it is only the first of many more online institutions to come:

shai-reshef

Imagine the possibilities. They are limitless. It does take vision, grit, and optimism to pull oneself out of your current situation, but it can be done, one decision at a time.

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.

Feb 212016
 

Almost every conversation I’m engaged in or overhear contains a large number of “I wants…” within. I can’t help but notice that the vast majority of those wants remain unfulfilled for most people. I hear people say that they want to earn more money, but do very little, if anything, to earn more. I hear others say that they want to lose 10 pounds, but the weight stays velcro’ed to their waistlines.  I hear many say they want to find a better more-fulfilling job, but those same folks don’t go on interviews.

I believe what is missing for most people is “all in” commitment.  The answer is to convert your average “I want…” to “I must…

lincoln

Abraham Lincoln observed:

Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality.

A great start to get this “all in” level of commitment is to write down your goal, in specific, measurable, concrete terms, and then clearly summarize in one or two sentences why this goal is important, now.  The “why” behind a goal is crucial.  Finally, a goal is nothing but dreamy, wishful thinking without a target date, so decide “by when” and write that down as well. Start right away, without delay.

commitment quote

What if you decided that you must lose 10 pounds this month, not someday in the future?  How would you approach things differently that you do now?

The iMUST method works if you concentrate and focus your attention and energy — having a dozen initiatives at the same time divides your focus and energy, and is a recipe for failure. I suggest pale ink and a little always-in-your-pocket logbook to help keep your focus and your memory accurate. If your iMUST goal this month is to lose weight, write down every calorie that you eat, jot down whenever you successfully choose the heart-healthy entree instead of the usual, accurately note your exercise achievements, and track your weekly progress.

Upgrade your attitude to iMUST. Commit, and you can and will accomplish your goals.

I.M. OptimismMan 

Jul 042015
 

I tried everything to make it happen, but nothing worked.

How often have we heard this? Actually, how often have you said this yourself?  Was this statement ever true? 

The truth is that nearly everyone gives up after trying just one or two ways to achieve a goal. Three distinct attempts is quite rare, reserved for only the most important of endeavors. People shoot themselves in the foot when they announce that they “have tried everything” because nothing can be farther from the truth. When you make announcements, they become your own limiting belief. Sadly, a lot of people get mentally stuck, simply trying the same methods, over and over, expecting different results but not getting them.

I see few examples of anyone trying multiple paths and methods. This is true for the math teacher trying to get her lesson embraced by her student, or the student who tries to memorize the key elements needed for the upcoming exam. This is true for the coach trying to help his team win, the manager striving to make his sales team hit the forecasted numbers, the entrepreneur trying to win customers for her start-up, and it’s true for millions of people hoping to improve their physical fitness. Most everyone tries only one or two ways — sometimes for months and years — and then gives up.

So how do the extraordinary few actually succeed?

Getting started as soon as possible is truly step one. Waiting for all the lights to turn green before driving across town is futile — yet many wait for the perfect moment and fail to get out of the starting gate. As I have observed in another article, getting started comes before getting motivated. Many believe it is the other way around.

But, what truly matters most — in the long-run — is whole-hearted, stake your life on it, commitment. Jumping into the deep end — with both feet — makes up for any shortcomings that you have in raw talent. Your commitment level is the single most important factor that changes how many distinct ways you will try to overcome a challenge. If you decide that “I must succeed at ________ ” instead of “I want to succeed at _______ “, you will find that your success percentages will dramatically improve.

vince-lombardi

Winning means you are willing to go longer, work harder, and give more than anyone else.

— Vince Lombardi

Imagine two people, Nick and Mike, who both hope to invent the next big thing. Nick, in his own mind’s eye, simply says “I want to” and so, he will work on his project whenever time allows, after he does his day job, hangs with his family, works out at the gym, sees his friends, checks his social media, watches the ball game, and catches up on the news. Mike, on the other hand, commits whole-heartedly and says “I must” — this one little difference makes all the difference. He etches out hours, each and every week without fail, he pivots, adapts, and overcomes, he gets to the finish line of the project, succeeding with persistence and tenacity. It is rarely about talent alone. Success is invariably about your commitment. Commitment is the seed of will power. Only the committed are relentless in the pursuit.

What’s happening in your life today? What are you trying to achieve? Where you should upgrade your commitment from “I want to succeed” to “I must succeed?

I.M. Optimism Man

 

Jun 222015
 

It turns out that common “wisdom” — the idea that announcing your goal will help you achieve it — might in fact be false.

Here is a short, simple three minute presentation to consider, before you announce that you are going to lose 10 pounds in the next 12 weeks:

derek_sivers_800x600

Try it out and see if Derek is right.

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 142014
 

Are you failing often enough?

This is a very important question to contemplate, especially if you are not in the middle of spectacular, unusual successes.

If you are not encountering failure, you are not pushing the envelope of your abilities or the opportunities that are inevitably present in your life. Trying something new and daring is the only way to significantly accelerate and expand your life, not to mention feel challenged and enthused. As Lou Holtz puts it in this video well worth watching, “you are either growing or you are dying” — there is no longterm safety with maintaining the status quo.

Unfortunately, as people age beyond 30 or 35, they take less risks and try fewer new things. It should surprise no one that most leaps in society come from the young. What’s true for people is also true for companies; as most companies evolve, they often transform from bold and innovative to conservative, plodding, and risk averse.

At the core of the problem is a myth about failure: Many believe failure is bad, embarrassing, and should be avoided at all cost, especially here in America. Even more people try to cover up their failures and hide them from others, immediately blocking them from their own minds in the cover-up process. The truth is that taking prudent risks, daring to fail, learning from failure, and treating every failure as an important learning experience is how one keeps failure in the right perspective.

sam-walton

I see failure and substantial success as gauges of “am I trying enough new things” — if I go six months without some spectacular setback or win, the alarm bells go off in my head, letting me know that I’m not trying enough new stuff, not taking enough new risks, and missing out on the successes and failures that come with pushing the envelope. Doing a few percent better this year than last is a clear indicator of wasted opportunity.

You must fail forward:

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.
– Denis Waitley

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.
– JK Rowling

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before success comes in any man’s life, he’s sure to meet with much temporary defeat and, perhaps some failures. When defeat overtakes a man, the easiest and the most logical thing to do is to quit. That’s exactly what the majority of men do.
– Napoleon Hill

Forget about yesterday’s failure. Time to try something new, exciting, and at least a little bit risky!

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. Here’s a list of rather famous and successful that failed forward:

Roland Hussey Macy

He failed at selling ribbons, provisions to miners and at a general store before going bankrupt in 1855. His next effort, Macy’s became the world’s largest store.

J. C. Penney

First store went bankrupt when he refused to give whiskey as a kickback for orders from a large customer. Penny went belly up and got a job in a drapery shop that he later purchased and expanded into 1100 department stores nationwide.

Henry John Heinz

Started his first company in 1869 selling horseradish, pickles, sauerkraut and vinegar. In 1875 the company filed for bankruptcy due to an unexpected bumper harvest which the company could not keep up with and could not meet its payroll obligations. He immediately started a new company and introduced a new condiment, tomato ketchup to the market. This company was, and continues to be, very prosperous.

Milton Snavely Hershey

Started four candy companies that failed and filed bankruptcy before starting what is now Hershey’s Foods Corporation. Mr. Hershey had only a 4th grade education, but was certain he could make a good product that the public would want to purchase. His fifth attempt was clearly successful.

Conrad Hilton

Lost all his hotels when he could not pay his bank during the Great Depression. Later, he bought them all back and built a few more. Things worked out pretty good in the end. Just ask Paris.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Famous architect lost his home, Taliesin in Wisconsin and was thrown on the street when business dried up in 1922. During the following decade, he designed some of his most famous projects.

Henry Ford

First two automobile manufacturing companies failed. The first company filed for bankruptcy and the second ended because of a disagreement with his business partner. In June 1903, at the age of 40, he created a third company, the Ford Motor Company with a cash investment of $28,000.00. By July of 1903 the bank balance had dwindled to $223.65, but then Ford sold its first car, and as they say the rest is history

Harry Truman

Opened a shop in Missouri after the First World War only to have it fail miserably. He was further humbled by having to move in with his mother-in-law. Truman later settled his debt for pennies on the dollar when the bank at which the underlying note was written actually went bankrupt itself. He is said to have learned a lot from the misadventure. And it all turned out OK in the in end. You may have heard, he eventually got a good job, in Washington, DC.

Walt Disney

His name is synonymous with Mickey Mouse and the “happiest place on earth,” Disneyland. However, Disney’s career wasn’t always a moneymaking venture. In 1921, he began a company called the Laugh-O-Gram Corporation in Kansas City, Missouri but was forced to file for bankruptcy two years later because his financial backers pulled out. It must have been fate because Disney then headed to Hollywood and became one of the highest paid animators in history.

Sam Walton

His first store was a Ben Franklin discount shop that he made among the most profitable and successful in the chain. Walton’s problem was a short lease. When it expired, the building’s owner canceled his lease and took over the store himself. Walton was broke had to start over from scratch. You may have heard, however, that things turned out pretty good in the end. After these early financial difficulties were behind him, he later created the largest company in the world and became a billionaire.

 

Jul 012014
 

Many foolishly believe that having the brilliant idea is what makes a person succeed or fail. I believe the truth is found in the value of discipline in our lives. Hundreds of good ideas come and go during any given year. If a person is not disciplined, none of them will pay off. Discipline is the ingredient that makes all the difference.

Here are ten great quotes about discipline to consider over a cup of coffee:

langkawi_sky_bridge

It doesn’t matter whether you are pursuing success in business, sports, the arts, or life in general: The bridge between wishing and accomplishing is discipline.
— Harvey Mackay

Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.
— Stephen Covey

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.
— Zig Ziglar

Discipline strengthens the mind so that it becomes impervious to the corroding influence of fear.
— Bernard Law Montgomery

Discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability.
— Roy L. Smith

Discipline is just doing the same thing the right way whether anyone’s watching or not.
— Michael J. Fox

The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline.
— Bum Phillips

It’s easy to have faith in yourself and have discipline when you’re a winner, when you’re number one. What you got to have is faith and discipline when you’re not a winner.
— Vince Lombardi

Most people want to avoid pain, and discipline is usually painful.
— John C. Maxwell

The world conspires to steal and waste your time. It takes true discipline to stay on track while television, social media, and friends of leisure beckon.
— Bob Sakalas

Bruce-Lee-Enter-the-Dragon

If you embrace self-discipline, you will go far in life. Discipline matters. Discipline is what you must be made of.

It — no matter what “it” we are talking about — will not be easy if it is a worthy pursuit. One of the disciplines that I believe matters most is the discipline of optimism and enthusiasm. Rare the success that isn’t fueled by true belief and an excited mind.

I.M. Optimism Man

May 042014
 

America is a society built on impatience. And impatience can sometimes – only rarely – be somewhat of a virtue. People with ambition are impatient for progress and it helps a fortunate few. America’s impatience has helped it become the only true superpower.

jenny-mccarthyHowever, there is a dark side of impatience, and many Americans seem to not to see it. Get rich quick schemes are everywhere – yet don’t really work. Lose weight in six weeks or less, without much effort, magazines proclaim – this doesn’t work either. Jump from one career to another – or one spouse to another – until you find what you want – well, that doesn’t work either. There is proof everywhere that impatience is not the road to true success.

Yet, people, silly people, want to believe there are effective shortcuts when in fact, there are none.

Our society’s Achilles heel may in fact be lack of patience. Wall Street is a perfect example, where titan companies lose billions of dollars of market cap valuation because they missed a quarterly earnings announcement by 1% versus analyst expectations. Yet these same analysts are often just guessing when they create those expectations. As a result, executives make damaging decisions to “fix” quarterly results, like dramatically discounting deals to customers when discounts were not needed, training customers to wait for fire sales when there really is no fire. Yet, if these same executives owned their own corporation privately and did not report to the whims of the investment crowd, none would act so impatiently and irresponsibly.

You can see it everywhere. Kids in high school are suddenly taking steroids to become stronger and faster atheletes quickly, even though the science clearly shows that there are dire health implications. People go on diets eating nothing but protein and fat that damage their health, in part because they have poor will power, but primarily because they lack patience to lose the weight at a healthy rate. It is a crazy crazy world and impatience’s dark side is very real.

patience-thomas-edison

A wise person is one that exhibits patience when patience is the right thing needed. There are few shortcuts to becoming a nuerosurgeon or for that matter a great salesperson. It takes lots of time, and experience, and learning, and patience.

The more patience you have, the more likely you are to succeed instead of giving up. Time, patience, and a little water carved the extraordinary Grand Canyon. If you decide to accomplish great things, these too will take steadiness on purpose and more patience than most can muster.

There is an interesting phenomenon in regards to patience. Careers that take the most time to train – neurosurgeon for one – are usually great longterm careers without a glut of people in the field. The reason is lack of patience. Few have the patience to study for eight more years after graduating from high school even though, if they had, it would set them up financially for life. Patience and sacrifice are closely related.

The good news is that there is great opportunity for the patient when you live in a land of the impatient. Zag when the others zig. Choose to be extraordinary. Combine initiative and creativity with patience, sacrifice, and resolve. It will yield extraordinary success.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 152014
 

No one ever succeeded because of how many projects they started but abandoned unfinished. While getting started is required, in truth, finishing is the thing that matters most.

In this day of exponential networking and explosive knowledge-sharing growth, ideas multiply like rabbits. It is all too easy to start a new website, form a new business, create a new venture, and become available to much of the planet. But for all the ease of the start, finishing is as difficult as it has always been. It is also important to recognize that in many ventures, there is a long series of finish lines, not just one. Version one rarely takes the world by storm.

If you want to change your trajectory, action is required. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Nothing great happens without optimism, decisive action, tenacity, and patience. The last two, tenacity and patience, are what it takes to finish. Finishing is the only thing that matters in the long run.

airplane-restoration

Before you start something new, I suggest weighing all your options. Plan well, which means creating not only Plan A but Plan B and C to. Plan with great detail. The value of planning is not that every step will go according to plan — it will not — but rather that you think things through with great detail and logic, and commit those plans to paper. A plan gives you a skeleton to solicit the feedback of others as well.

If you are having trouble with creating a great plan, try this trick — plan the project backwards. Start with the end in mind — the “what” you will accomplish. Then clearly write down “why” you want it. The “why” gives goals life, and fuels tenacity. Then, working backwards, discern all the detailed first downs (the “how”) that you must accomplish to get to that end-point. I personally prefer outliner tools to do this, but index cards and post it notes also work well. I believe pale ink on paper is magical.

It will not be as easy as you think it will be, but don’t let that stop you. Start less, but when you start, you must have the zealot drive to finish.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Getting Started comes before Getting Motivated

PSS> Finally, on the occasion when you do not finish what you started, be sure and capture as much learning as possible. That is the only take away you will have — don’t waste it. Once again, pale ink matters. Keep journals of ideas and lessons learned, and review your journals at least one weekend per year.

ideas-in-journals

Jan 182014
 

Life deals the cards.

We get different hands to play every week, if not every day. One hand might be great — maybe at work, you get a full house with aces over kings, while another one of your hands might be a pair of threes at home, while your relationship with your teenager might be queen high and nothing else.

You rarely can influence the hand that you are dealt this week. But how you play your hand is up to you and matters a lot.

Probability = 0.000154% (by the way)

Probability = 0.000154% (by the way)

Too many people slack off. To come out on top, you must play each hand that is dealt to the best of your ability. Approach each situation — strong hand or weak hand — with belief, with tenacity, with will power, and with a positive attitude. You have to be willing to do the work, day in and day out. Attitude matters. Excellence is never about one day.

The only true formula for success is enthusiasm, focus, discipline, and hard work, no matter the pursuit. There is no substitute for giving your all.

This is a great rule to live by: Play the hand you are dealt to the best of your ability.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS> Another great rule: don’t wear rose-colored sunglasses — understand your odds of success and take (more) risks accordingly. But never, ever try something without enthusiasm or you have sealed your fate.