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.

Nov 212018
 

This is an interesting speech by Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who has been studying stress and its effects on people’s health.

In short, studies found that stress can cause harm to your health IF YOU BELIEVE that stress is causing you harm. But in new experiments, for people who believe that stress is a normal part of life, people who believe that the stress symptoms that they feel are simply messages that their body is preparing to help them perform and succeed in a stressful situation, stress doesn’t appear to cause the same harm. Clearly, the mind is more powerful than we realize.

Please watch this video as the theory is well worth considering. Toward the end, Kelly points out that helping others and being socially involved are great antidotes to harm from stress, because it releases hormones that help your body recover from any damage that might have been caused.


I very much believe that your mind is far more powerful than most people realize, and that you can train your mind to react positively in almost any situation.

I.M. Optimisman

Oct 252018
 

Most people don’t appreciate that we code our own brain’s “operating system” by choice. A more common way to articulate this is that we are a product of our habits, and most of us find that habits are difficult to change.

But they are well worth considering, designing, and changing. Aristotle observed quite accurately that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

I have found a trick that really works to build new (good) habits. If you associate a trigger with doing a new habit, the next time you encounter the trigger, you will be reminded of the habit. For example, lets say that you decide to complete a thorough stretch routine every morning when getting up. Associate brushing your teeth with the stretching that you hope to make a new good habit. Given that you are (hopefully) already in the habit of brushing your teeth first thing in the morning, you will quickly and more easily adopt the stretching, because brushing will connect the dots for you.  Put a note on your Sonicare if necessary.

There a plenty of triggers available in your life already. Chaining one thing to another makes building new habits much easier.

In the bigger picture, we become a product of our own habits (good or bad), and our habits become our own chosen operating system. Let’s say that you struggle with stress and the road rage of traffic. Why not proactively “code” a productive, positive habit with getting stuck in unexpected traffic jams instead of beating your hands on the steering wheel?  Why not have your favorite play list queued up for the next inevitable traffic jam, or perhaps an audio book, or even decide to pray if you are religiously inclined. Traffic jams will continue to happen, but you can use the negative inevitable trigger to react positively, training your OS to deflect the stress instead of blowing a gasket.

Habits are incredibly powerful. Build new ones while getting rid of bad ones and you will be on the road to excellence.

I.M. OptimismMan

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

 

Apr 222018
 

There is no perfection in this world.

Between occasional big problems and frequent little annoyances, issues dominate our days which can lead to stress, complaints, and unhappiness.

If you listen to the news, the sky is falling and the world is ending. If you watch your social feeds, it seems like everyone else is living a near perfect, all-too-fun life, and you are missing out most of the time. If you watch the tele, the celebrities are traveling to far away beach resorts, living the dream, spending money as fast as they possibly can — and you are not rich nor famous, worried about your next test grade, or bill to pay, or your 20 pounds to lose.

If you listen too much to the people around you, they are often negative, all complaining about something 90% of the time, because 90% of the people haven’t figured it out. It is all too easy to become a lot like the people you associate with most of the time. If you try to solve other people’s problems, many times you will find that they are unsolvable, or people don’t actually want a solution, and you wind up infecting your own perspective with their negativity. Humans are wired to spend far too much time thinking about fears, uncertainties, and doubts — it is part of survival instinct back when we lived in the wilderness surrounded by dangers, but it is not all that helpful now.

Above all, you have to be comfortable being your independent self, because if you worry about how the crowd judges you, you are sure to bring yourself down. The crowd is — by definition — average, not extraordinary.

There is good news — through it all, a small independent-thinking group of people have found the key to happiness, while most people seem to be pursuing it, confused as to what will make them happy, hoping to find it someday.

The answer is simple: what are you grateful for?  You don’t need 100 friends if you are grateful for the one true friend that you have. You don’t need dozens of Jimmy Choos if you are grateful for that one pair that are just right. You don’t need thousands of followers “liking” your posted picture on Instagram, if you are grateful for your sister who loves you with all your heart. If you are grateful for the smallest of things, from a great t-shirt to a puppy that can’t wait to see you, you can be happy. After all, there is no perfection in this world.

The next time you are down, make a list of the good relationships, the family that cares for you, the stuff that you love, the freedoms that you have, the goals and memories you cherish, the awesome popsicle you just had, the fact that you live in America and don’t have to carry water from a well two miles back to your hut. Being grateful for your blessings is the answer to being happy, day in and day out. It is not a pursuit. Thankful people are happy people.

I.M. OptimismMan 

 

Dec 042017
 

Saving just a few dollars every day can make a big difference, if you invest it.  This lesson is lost on many teens, but it is worth talking about. I don’t care how you save it — I’m not trying to pick on Starbucks per se — you can do the same thing by drinking water in restaurants or simply comparing prices of everything you buy on your shopping app — but saving and investing early in your career is crucial, if you want a better financial future.

I created a little spreadsheet to prove my point, downloading the actual returns of the S&P 500 index for the last 40 years, without the added benefits of annual dividends.  This is important because actual returns would be quite a bit better than my model, but I thought it would not hurt to be conservative and realistic.

I then decided to save the cost of one Venti Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappucino per day — roughly $5.  Almost anyone, if they pay attention, can find ways to save $5 per day, once out of school and working for a living.

The difference between just saving your money vs. saving and investing it, is stunning.

The ‘saver‘ would save $73,000 over 40 years.

The ‘save and invest‘ person, assuming they religiously purchased the S&P 500 ETF over the 40 years, would have $510,000. The majority of this savings kicks between year 30 ($250,000 at that point) and year 40 (over $510,000), due to powerful nature of compounding. In truth this number would be larger due to dividends, but I think my point is simple enough.

  • Graduate school.
  • Get a job (in a career you like, at a company that is growing).
  • Don’t get into debt, other than possibly debt that has opportunity for appreciation (real estate).
  • Be careful to save money and invest it. The more you can invest, the better off you are, especially early on. Investing is a matter of engaging, taking a prudent risk, and building a habit for success.
  • 40 years for now, you are quite likely to have 700% more money than savings alone, and much more compared to someone who doesn’t save, or doesn’t save early on. Compounding takes time to work.
  • Financial success is not brain surgery but it does require a bit of discipline and foresight.

Some might say that saving and investing $5 per day “won’t make me a millionaire.”  Well, saving $7 per day would, on the same little spreadsheet that I know is too conservative. Take a quick look at the average net worth of America in this article. Even worse, CNN Money reports that over half of adult Americans don’t have savings to cover a surprise $1,000 expense and would have to rely on credit cards or family members to bail them out, although I find that statistic a bit hard to believe and question how it was determined. But the bottom line is simple — save and invest $150 or more every month, unfailingly,  starting the day you start full time work, and you will greatly exceed average.

Speaking of averages, this entire model assumes you will only do “average” as in the S&P 500 average by buying the SPY ETF shares. I don’t believe that average is in your destiny, if you question everything.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. The Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappucino is over 500 calories — it won’t hurt you to miss that too 🙂

Nov 102017
 

Life is too short and there is too much opportunity, to work in the wrong environment.

I’ve had a bit of time to ponder this question, having worked for nearly a dozen managers of all different types, from John Wayne, to Yoda of Sales, to a master ambassador diplomat, to Rambo of customer service, to a micro-manager that meant well, to Action Jackson, and more. Most became lifelong friends and role models, each with an important lesson to teach. Looking for common factors that mattered most to having a positive, empowering environment in which one can succeed, I believe my quote below sums it up:

I have had two chapters of my life when I had the privilege to take the lead and manage others. My theory followed these exact lines, but was summed up simply by Coach Lou Holtz’s simple formula for success in life — (1) Do Right, (2) Do the best you can, and (3) Treat others the way you would like to be treated — in a picture that watched over me at my desk. Anyone that has read my blog knows I admire Coach Lou — here’s a great commencement address if you have never seen Coach speak:

I believe it is the leader’s responsibility to communicate a clear vision and specific goals, then find and inspire the best out of each person entrusted to him or her, first gaining understanding and mutual respect, then adjusting his or her coaching and style to best fit each employee. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves in a ‘my way or the highway’ top-down scenario, where a manager is far more focused on pleasing his or her chain of command, rather than asking good questions and helping the team succeed. People can accomplish great things when they trust you and know you are out for their best interest.

Don’t waste years working for the wrong person. I’ve been fortunate and had great managers who simultaneously taught me important concepts while helping me succeed, inspiring me to think out of the box, take prudent risks, break barriers, and achieve new heights. If necessary, have the courage to make a move. Drawing a couple of new cards to improve your poker hand, trying new things, challenging yourself in mind-invigorating ways, makes life worth living.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Send me your feedback using the contact form. What important aspect did I miss in my quote above?

Oct 292017
 

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

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

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

I.M. OptimismMan

Sep 292017
 

If you are a frequent reader of OptimismMan.com, chances are you already realize that I believe there is a significant dark side to social media, beyond just the time that it appropriates rather insidiously. Every technology comes with positives and negatives, but often, the negatives are ignored until the evidence is overwhelming, common sense be damned.

Simon Sinek is one of my favorite thinkers and speakers. In the interview below, he covers an amazing amount of ground, primarily focused on what plagues Millennials in the workplace and in life. Lots of factors have conspired to make this generation have a sense of entitlement without hard work. Simon makes some great common sense connections to the role social media is playing, which results in far less real lasting connections and relationships, which ultimately matters in one’s happiness and gratitude.

Click below — this is well worth the few minutes to watch:

You have a choice. Everything needs balance. At a minimum, no smartphones at dinner is a great place to start.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

Apr 182017
 

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

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

Wishful thinking doesn’t help you…

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

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

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

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

Just do it,

I.M. OptimismMan

Mar 162017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others live without stress. Why Not Me?

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

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

I.M. OptimismMan

 

Mar 062017
 

Worrying about stuff that might or might not happen seems to have risen exponentially as we have become more interconnected. Facebook and the rest makes us feel like we are not succeeding fast enough or big enough when compared to all those people we personally know. Kids born today seem set up from birth to worry more than any previous generation.

Since I believe we are the architects of our own mental psyche, I believe we can train ourselves to worry less by being mindful about our own thoughts and living in the present.

Below is an article that I stumbled upon on LinkedIn.com from a guy named Brian Howe.

I don’t know Brian, but his article hits the nail on the head. Here it is in its entirety because I don’t know how to link to a LinkedIn article without LinkedIn trying to track you and acquire you as a user. If you like it, consider following Brian Howe, from Inuvo, Little Rock, Arkansas on LinkedIn:

7 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than It Should Be

Life can be a real struggle sometimes, no question about it.

As a culture, we worry way too much. In fact, we worry because we are worried that we are spending too much time worrying. We are worried that we don’t know our futures; we are worried that we don’t know exactly what people think about us and we are worried whether or not the stove was left on when we left the apartment and when we get back the building will be burnt to the ground and it will all be our fault….. Its sad that these are the sorts of things that keep us up at night. These little things can end up making your life 10x harder and drive you insane.

We live in a generation that is so anxious at every blinking moment of our lives. Here are some ways you’re making your life harder than it should be.

Sticking to a plan: You have begun to realize that life is a stage, and that you are the star of your own show. So, if life starts to stray from the Hollywood script you naturally start to panic like a middle schooler who missed their line in the annual school play.

It is common that your life is actually a lot more complicated and a lot more stressful. That scripted sitcom you’re used to watching where no-one seems to ever work but can still afford that awesome apartment is by no means reality. So, if life doesn’t follow the standard Hollywood script: its ok, no one’s does.

Dwelling on the past: Dwelling on the past can literally turn you into a crazy person and will eventually get in the way of the life you are currently living. How many times have you been standing in the shower, coming up with snappy comebacks to all the arguments you never won? Let it go – it happened 3 years ago.

Being dramatic: It’s easy to think this way. The moment something doesn’t go as you planned, you immediately think about the worst-case scenario: They’ll kick you out of college, you’ll be fired, Donald Trump will give up all his power to Putin. It never ends up being as bad as you thought, so keep that in mind the next time you feel like toasting your bagels in the bathtub.

Taking things personally: That jerk cut you off in traffic, you turned in your resume but haven’t received a response, your grandma cancelled weekly bingo with you because you’re not as fun as she thought.

Everyone makes mistakes and sometimes you’re the collateral damage. It doesn’t feel good, but don’t take it personally.

Comparing yourself to others: Its late at night, you have chip crumbs on your shirt, a diet coke on the coffee table and Netflix just asked you if you’re “still there” because you’ve been binge watching your favorite sitcom for the past 5 hours. Scrolling through your Facebook feed, you might feel the same feeling of disappointment we all do when we see another person get engaged, score a brand new job or buy that fancy new car. Heck, even the kid who ate the teacher’s goldfish in middle school got his life together. All you see is an endless stream of achievements, re-affirming your choice of bourbon for breakfast.

Keep in mind that Facebook is the highlight reel of people’s lives and they’re only going to show the touchdowns and tackles, not the part where they throw up on the sidelines or fumble the ball for a loss.

Taking risks: No one will care if you take a leap of faith and you fail – they’ll just be impressed that you took the leap in the first place.

Caring way too much: We spend a lot of our lives caring what other people think of us but, no offense, no one thinks about you all that much – apart from your mom of course. But this is a good thing: once you wrap your head around the fact that almost everyone is an egotistical narcissist, you realize that they care about themselves too much to pay much attention to you…and that’s liberating.

I hope that you enjoyed Brian’s article. Choose to worry less… just do you best today… and consider rationing your social media exposure to a couple of times per week — I believe it will help.

I.M. OptimismMan

Mar 052017
 

Remember that failure is an event, not a person.

          — Zig Ziglar

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

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

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

I.M. OptimismMan

Feb 152017
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. Optimisman

Nov 122016
 

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

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

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

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

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

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 162016
 

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

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

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

2016-10-16_0943-stock

OK, keep your answer in mind.

Now look at the picture below:

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

Issac

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

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

issac-lidsky-1200x630

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

I.M. OptimismMan

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

2016-10-16_0943-stock2

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

Sep 152016
 

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

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

mentally-strong

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

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

I.M. Optimisman

Sep 052016
 

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

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

Is a Masters degree worth the money and effort?

value-of-graduate-degree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

masters-spreadsheet

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

earnings-by-major

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

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

I.M. Optimisman

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

Aug 252016
 

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

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

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

colinstokes

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

I.M. Optimisman 

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

Aug 212016
 

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

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