Oct 262011

The uprising of the Pessimist Nation, more commonly known as “Occupy Wall Street” amazes me. It might have already fizzled out if not for the news media. When the news media covers it, interviews people, captures pictures and footage, people tend to stay around hoping for their few seconds of fame. But the news media needs stories to sell ads.

The core essence of Occupy Wall Street boils down to these key soundbytes:

  1. The richest 1% of America are making and keeping too much money, and we the poor oppressed 99% deserve more.
  2. The government needs to tax the rich more, and then redistribute the benefits to people who are not rich (us, the 99%).
  3. The American system is not fair.
  4. Government bailouts were the wrong thing to do.
  5. We are mad as hell and just want to rant.

Occupy Wall Street is a protest against capitalism by pessimists and socialists. Most of the protesters simply don’t understand capitalism and business, or are unwilling to put in the sweat equity, the saving discipline, and take the inevitable risks that it takes to really succeed financially in a capitalist society.

Sure, our system has some significant problems that could (and will) be made better. The income inequality gap has gotten larger in the last decades, but that is not “the” problem in itself — bringing up the overall standard of living is far more worthy a concern. The financial system did allow institutions to create too much leverage in the system with complex derivatives that baffled many as to the total underlying risk. Washington’s policies of pushing nearly unlimited credit for housing to people with poor credit histories was gasoline thrown on the fire. But no system is perfect and progress is made over time in logical steps. Yelling “I’m mad as hell but I have no proposals to make it better, other than the government should tax the rich more” is insanity. More taxes, massive regulation on top of regulation, taxing our corporations heavily so that they are less competitive than foreign companies, and Robin Hood plans where the government makes spending decisions for its citizens don’t work. History has proved this many time over.

I am not one of this guy’s 99%! But, the cardboard would not sell quite as well if it declared “We are mad as hell but clueless all the same…”

To be clear, when one looks at the numbers, the bailouts and other moves to shore up financial stability are not why we have a huge deficit. We have a huge deficit because the government spends way too much money on all kinds of things. Politicians stoke the populist fires with diversions like “tax the people that use corporate jets” yet this amount is so small a number that one has to laugh at the transparency of the deception.

No system is more fair or more successful than capitalism, but capitalism has serious survival-of-the-fittest aspects to it. America is the best example of the success of capitalism and personal freedom in the world. Everyone is free to become a great capitalist. There are more than a million self-made millionaires who started with nothing and made it happen. This fact alone tells any open-minded observer that the basic system is fair, but not necessarily easy.

I believe the core group in Occupy are infected with a misguided sense of entitlement and the belief that more regulation is a good fix. These pessimists have a credo of: I deserve more, even if I did nothing valuable but eat my parent’s groceries! Many are protesting for the fun of protesting — its something to build personal social cred on facebook and twitter. No one is offering good proposals to fine-tune the issues that matter. It is a heck of a lot easier to play iTunes on your laptop in a park than it is to borrow money to open your first dry cleaner location, your first restaurant, or pay a developer to create your first smartphone app.  A great many of the Occupiers seem to want to default on their student loans rather than create new economic value. It takes a lot of work and a lot of risk-taking to make any economic venture succeed, but every day, optimists succeed, or at least fail forward and learn valuable lessons. The Occupiers keep yelling about too big to fail, but they would have no opportunity at all if the banks and financial markets had failed and shuttered.

The sense of entitlement is a cancer in America, and world-wide… just look at France if you think the cancer is acute here. Few deserve a free ride when they enjoy the benefits of a safe and secure America, yet today some 50% of Americans don’t pay any federal income taxes.

It would not be fair if no one had an opportunity to join the top 1%, but in truth, hard working optimists do join the top 1% every year. Capitalism works and gives those with drive, will power, and creativity the opportunity to do that.

Washington should adopt a flat tax system, because each person paying the same percentage is more fair a game than anything else. It should not be a system of take from the entrepreneur that made it and give it to the slacker that lived in his mother’s basement until he was 42. America should stand for freedom and fairness, not jealousy and entitlement. The fairer we make the system, the more successful America will be. Consumption tax is another alternative but there is no doubt that this idea hits lower income earners harder than high income earners. I believe a straight flat tax is the best alternative.

It is high time to bite the bullet on Social Security too. The most straightforward fix is to increase the retirement age. Nobody likes to face this reality but life expectancy has increased and retirement age must follow suit. It is logical as logical can be.

Lastly, Washington must finally live within its means. Spending more than you make comes to an end. The government must reduce its expenses and every program should take some cuts. The secretive super committee must come out with a hard core plan of expense cutting and everyone on both sides of the aisle in Washington needs to echo the same message — the time has come for government to spend a lot less.

The Occupiers argue that the top 10% should fund 100% of government spending, and that the 90% should determine how the money is spent for their benefit. This is an ugly idea. America would begin to lose the best and the brightest over time. Government programs do not spend money well or wisely. It is becoming time for the Optimistic Few to stand up to the pessimist / socialists.

We don’t need people yelling “I’m mad as hell” and obstructing all progress, no matter if they are in the streets or on Sunday morning talk shows. We don’t need debates where presidential prospects show up with one dodgy vague answer after another about their plans. The price of speaking up should be well thought out proposals, written for all to see on websites. Elect me first, then I’ll show you my plan, is flat wrong. Elect me on the idea of “I’ll change something but I’m not sure what it is” is over only three years after it worked so well.

In case a reminder is needed, succeeding in a capitalist system is not hard to understand:

  • Always work as hard as you can — give everything 110% in effort, attitude, and integrity
    (ok, not everyone chooses to do this)
  • Constantly increase your skills, so that you contribute more value to the economy
    (ok, not everyone is willing)
  • With your economically more valuable skills, you will earn more money over time
    (ok, not everyone will pass this hurdle, because being ambitious and changing jobs moves you out of your comfort zone)
  • Live within your means and keep your expenses low
    (ok, many people say “yikes – but I want and deserve that new car now” and they don’t pass this hurdle)
  • Save at least 10% of everything you earn  every month, every year
    (are you kidding me!)
  • Invest your savings in investments that earn you money, then reinvest your earnings. Yes, investing involves risk but being an owner of appreciating assets — stocks, bonds, real estate, a restaurant — is how you build financial momentum in a capitalist system — its not about buying more consumer goods.
    (ok, not everyone will pass this hurdle either).

It is up to us, and our government which serves us, to make sure that everyone has a fair chance to win the game. Government should not focus on entitlements and regulations upon regulations as its primary directives.

Optimists who go out and earn their own rewards will be the most successful of all, not the pessimists demanding Robin Hood policies on the streets of New York. Capitalism is fair but not easy, and that’s why so much opportunity is readily available for the Optimist who is willing to get started. The goal is to make America fair, and do everything possible to encourage more people to succeed and become great capitalists, because thriving enterprise will ensure a brighter future for America and our kids.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 192011

We tend to think too much and do too little. Everyone is talking about “being motivated”, “getting motivated” or “lacking motivation” yet sit on their duffs watching T.V. for several hours each day.

I think everyone has this reversed. The truth is —

Getting started comes before getting motivated.

How many times do you hear “I need to find a better job” — but when you ask, you find out the person has no current resume and has not lifted a finger to look for a better job?  How often do you hear “I need to lose five pounds” or “I need to go to the gym more often” but “I can’t find the motivation.” How many salespeople want bigger commissions but have not increased the pace and quality of their sales efforts? How many people say they want to improve their investing knowledge but have not read a single book about investing in over a decade because they “can’t get juiced up” about the topic?

Getting started is more than half the battle:

  • Look for that better job and you will find one.
  • Go to the gym and you will workout.
  • Download the MyPlate app on your iPhone, start using it for two weeks, and you will lose weight.
  • Read The Little Book that Still Beats the Market or the classic The Richest Man in Babylon on your Kindle while walking on the treadmill (two birds one stone) and you will be closer to financial freedom.
  • Take a lesson and you will be snowboarding.
  • Attend a class and you will find that Spanish is not so hard.
  • Write the first ten pages of your novel and the next fifty pages will flow much more easily.

Action is what matters.

What’s the one thing you have been talking about doing but have whined about finding the motivation? No more whining! Every journey, every adventure starts with a single step. Get started today. Take that first step and then a second.

Motivation is an extraordinary gift that comes to those with the optimism, courage, and initiative to get started.

Less whining, more doing!

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 182011

If you want to start a new enterprise or have a fresh idea for a new product or you want to start a new business unit with your current company, here is an hour of YouTube well worth watching. Guy Kawasaki is one of Optimistic Few who really understands how unwavering optimism and decisive action lead to success:

Guy recommends creating a limited, 10 slide Powerpoint presentation to encapsulate your business idea for investors. I think every entrepreneur should create this presentation, even if he or she is not looking for capital right now. Summarizing things in writing clarifies one’s thinking. These ten slides, presented to your closest (optimistic) advisers, will help you get better feedback and avoid costly mistakes.

Here is one question to ponder: Have you ever proposed starting a new business within your existing company? If not, why not try? Not much to lose if the CEO says no, but there is potential to gain a lot. Most CEOs don’t find their employees asking for a meeting to propose the great next new thing — I suspect you will get the meeting if you are optimistic and persistent. Be well prepared and you will make a great impression.

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 132011

People often speak without thinking, becoming bulls in the china shops of human emotions. Others speak with bad intent — they seek to subvert others’ efforts because of jealousy, imaginary competition, and a false belief that there is a scarcity of success to be had. One of the saddest examples of this phenomenon is often seen at the workplace, where insecure managers consistently torpedo their own people, in efforts to polish their own stars. No matter the reason, lasting damage to people’s optimism is often caused with just a few words.

A person can make himself or herself invulnerable when he or she realizes this one simple truth, so well spoken by America’s former First Lady:

No one can make you feel inferior
without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Oct 112011

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
it was beautiful, magical
and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
joyfully, playfully, watching

But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
logical, responsible, practical,
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
clinical, intellectual, cynical…

— Richard Davies and Roger Hodgson

For centuries, we have followed this simple pattern of being born with joy and fun only to have society extinguish most of it, as we graduated into adulthood. It should not and does not have to be this way.

Mencius observed:
“Great is the man who has not lost his childlike heart.”

Mencius’ words have stood the test of time as he lived 300 years B.C.

My stepdad was one of the few that did not lose his childlike heart. Even in his 70’s and 80’s, Joe laughed out loud, he got down on the floor and played with my kids every time he could, he enjoyed life with a permanent twinkle in his eye. He was a great man because he never lost his childlike heart. I’m sure Saint Peter swung the gate wide open when he passed away a few weeks ago.

I think we need to take almost everything less seriously and put fun back into our lives. Being fun should not be so foreign a thought when you are north of 35 years old.

Worse yet, we are pushing adulthood seriousness into younger and younger age brackets. Why do parents of 9 year olds take “select club” sports so seriously? They act like every game is critical, coaching her all the way to the field, yelling instructions nonstop every minute played, and then debriefing her all the way home, after calculating the number of minutes she played. In addition to 2 – 3 club practices every week, they take her to special coaches for speed and agility training, and other private coaches for skills that promise to give her an edge. Some even have her practice and play with multiple teams, to keep her options open and to get more “touches” on the ball. Yikes!

These “serious-like-adults” programs are everywhere — soccer, football, softball, gymnastics, academics (after-school Kumon has 300,000+ hopeful future valedictorians enrolled in the U.S., and Kumon is but one of many academic dojos) — our hyper-competitive society is systematically taking the fun out of childhood before it has any chance to blossom. It now starts at 6 years old! Parents are suckers for the sales pitch: you have to give your kid an “edge” if he or she is to be a winner.

By the time kids grow up, fun has been extinguished for almost everyone.

Optimists must take proactive steps to remedy the situation, starting with their own families. Actions speak louder than words. When’s the last time you did anything for the simple fun of it? When is the last time you really engaged and played with your kids — really played their games and got in the middle of the action? It’s a great first step to rediscovering that you too can be fun again. Most importantly, playing with them is real “quality” time — simply watching them play at the park while you read your iPad is not really quality stuff.

If your kids are grown, don’t just meet them for Sunday brunch. Go snow skiing, go sailing, go camping, go fly kites at the beach (yes, adults can fly kites — don’t look at the computer screen so incredulously). Organize some fun for your too-serious-and-intellectual adult friends too — Ultimate Frisbee is a lot more fun than relationships via facebook.

Life’s too short to not have fun. Laugh out loud, for the fun of it.

Here’s to the pursuit of happiness!

I.M. Optimism Man

Oct 072011

Forgiveness, true heartfelt forgiveness, is one of the most difficult aspects of human life. Those that can’t live with a mental cancer that gnaws at their optimism, and optimism — as I have pointed out all year — is the key to happiness and progress.

I will offer a broader discussion regarding forgiveness soon. For now, here is a thought, well worth contemplating: Who is the one person that you have not truly forgiven? The time has come to do so. Forgive him or her today and you will find that “peace be with you” has newfound meaning in your life.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Mohandas Gandhi

Oct 062011

Pessimists tend to think most everything has already been invented while optimists think we have only scratched the surface of possibility.

I believe that we need to be reminded on a regular basis that there are plenty of serious problems that need simple, inexpensive solutions.  It is far easier to create complex, expensive solutions than it is to engineer simplicity, ease of use, and cost effectiveness.

This short video is an excellent example of optimism in action — and it lasts only 4:46 — you have 5 minutes to spare, right?

There is always room at the table for creative problem solvers that have a vision, ask good questions, keep it simple, take decisive action, and as a result, make great things happen.

I.M. Optimism Man and I find saving babies’ lives inspiring.

Oct 032011

Think back to your youth, when you were eight or ten or twelve. What are some of your most vivid memories?

Please stare off into space for 30 seconds — don’t keep reading until you have at least two clear memories in your mind’s eye.

What events did you think of?

Did you remember the doldrums of homework, chores, or repetitive practice at a sport? Did you remember the countless days of effort that you invested trying to master a musical instrument? I would bet not: Daily life, and the tasks often repeated, leave no lasting impressions. Such regular events leave few memories and have little impact on a person’s development. It is the special, unusual moments that stand out vividly decades later — these are the memories that matter — these are the events that forge our psyche.

I remember simple but personally priceless events — I can clearly remember the day I learned to shoot a .22 rifle for the first time with my grandfather, as well as the first time I beat him in a 50 yard dash (I wonder today if he let me win, but I didn’t wonder back then!), and the evening when he and I caught a 7 lb trout at sunset — those are moments that I treasure. My wife still sees the sunny day in Galveston when her grandmother helped her bring an overflowing box of hermit crabs home from the beach and the perfect hour when Grandma pulled the car over and let her run wild through the irrigation sprinklers of a Kansas farm.

Fast forward to our roles as parents or grandparents today. We are all so busy with our regular daily lives. After working long days and sitting in traffic jams, we serve as taxi drivers for our sons and daughters as we rush them from school to practice or tutors, then back home for the never ending homework, dinners, and showers. All too often, we are unwilling to plan any unexpected, unusual event to complicate the already overflowing schedule. Busy parents are tired, both mentally and physically. If there is any energy left, it is often spent at the gym or meeting the amigos for a margarita at Ole’s.

But fond memories require the unusual — the perfect moments with your kids that leave those indelible impressions many decades later. “I’m too busy” or “I’m too tired” are simply signs of no forethought. There is always enough time for things that are important. All it takes is being optimistic, planning in advance, and committing to action.

Pull out your calendar — yes, I do mean right now — and pick a day next month. Write on that day that you will take a hike with your son or daughter to watch the sunset, or perhaps go watch airplanes land at the airport. Plan something simple, but different from the daily grind. Don’t tell your kid in advance, but make it happen.

Now, flip through the rest of the calendar and mark just five more days for events to-be-determined-and-planned. Six days out of 365 is manageable, no matter how busy-busy you are. The truth is that you have no idea what events will stick, so you must try multiple things. Don’t procrastinate. Kids grow up fast. It is more difficult to make great memories when they are 16 then when they are 8 or 12. Bring that smartphone along and always take a few pictures. Get the best one developed at Costco, framed, and put on the dresser. All part of Memory Making 101.

No one, lying on their death bed, ever wishes they had spent more time in the office. You won’t be the first that does. Don’t decide that you are too busy. If you decide to take the initiative, your kids will have a great number of treasured memories of mom, dad, and family life. Such little moments and treasured memories make a lasting difference because memories like this become the foundation for your kids’ life-long optimism, and optimism is the key ingredient to happiness.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. After your six shared events over this next 12 months, plan at least six more each year — you will not regret it.