This is the best fuel for the best attitude.

I  am in the middle of a major research project on life. While the research is ongoing, I have discovered, after collecting more than four decades worth of evidence, that life is hard. My study reveals that life is hard at work, at home, in your relationships, and even on vacation. No one is immune. And there is no cure (except that 80’s band with Robert Smith).

Facing Reality

Things go wrong all the time. Disappointment shows up repeatedly without an appointment. Things break. Bills pile up. Bills lose Super Bowls. And just when you think you are in the clear, something happens to remind you that you are clearly not in the clear.

Entrepreneurship

I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, two years ago. And I have faced a constant stream of challenges, requirements, setbacks and surprises. As an entrepreneur, you have to be ready for whatever craziness comes your way. Because it will come, and it will be crazy. Like marrying-a-Kardashian-crazy .

A Common Trait

Since starting my entrepreneurial journey I have surrounded myself with other entrepreneurs. I have noticed that the rock stars have a special trait that enables them to be successful in the face of the constant barrage of adversity and the WTF-ity they will inevitably face. And it just may be the most valuable asset in their organizations.

A  Helium Attitude.

Helium is perhaps the most magical element on Earth. Because it floats! In fact, you can fill a balloon with helium and the balloon floats too! Had Sir Issac Newton seen a helium balloon float skyward as he saw that apple fall earth-ward, he would have had a much tougher time discovering the laws of gravity. Because helium always rises above the gravity of a situation. Your attitude can too. If you let your attitude get sunk by setbacks, then your attitude is not an asset.

I don’t think about having a good attitude. Because I don’t know what that means. I think about having a helium attitude. Which is a mindset, an approach and an interpretation of the facts that rises above the circumstances. A helium attitude remains up, even when your plans fall down. Thus it always provides the perspective that things will get better. This is an entrepreneurial imperative.

Lifting Others

The helium attitude helps lift others too. Someone needs to rise above the disappointment and frustration that we all inevitably face. The helium attitude bounces back quickly, and offers other people a high point to focus on as they navigate forward. Which is why it is important for parents, leaders, teachers and preachers to fill their attitudes with as much helium as they can get (#highandfunnyvoices).

Key Takeaway

Life is unpredictable. One moment you feel like you are on top of the world. The next moment, you feel like the world is on top of you. But a helium attitude rises anyway. Don’t let setbacks, curveballs, and negative people drag you down. Do what helium does, and just keep rising. Your attitude is everything in life. Make sure you fill it with the right fuel.

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A lesson from the most overlooked event in track and field.

I love track and field. I first got involved in the sport as a freshman in high school, mostly because I was terrible at baseball. But also because it was co-ed. And, I thought the fact that it was a no-cut sport significantly improved my chances of actually making the team.

Trying Everything

I have competed in a wide variety of track and field events. My resume includes the 100 meters, 400 meters, 1600 meters, high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin, hammer, 35-pound weight, 110 meter hurdles, 4×100 meter relay, 4×400 meter relay, and, yes, even the pole vault (which I approached more like the high jump with a stick).

I liked every event I ever competed in. I love the energy and atmosphere at track meets. But you know when track and field becomes really fun?

The Second Meet.

The second meet is the most important and impactful event in a track athlete’s career. In your first meet you are just setting a baseline. But once you get to your second meet you walk in with a time, distance or height to beat. And most of the time, the results in the second meet are a rewarding step forward from the first meet.

In track and field, every result is measured in minutes and seconds, or feet and inches. Which means that your linear progression is clear and quantifiable. Your undeniable improvement in the second meet gets you thinking about the third meet. It makes you think about practicing more, training harder, lifting weights, warming up smarter and getting some better hype music. You start wondering just how much better you can get. The seeds of self-improvement are planted, fertilized and watered in that second meet.

The Broader Lesson

This is not just a track and field thing. This is a life thing. The same principle applies to our careers, our relationships, our responsibilities and our hobbies. Our first attempts simply set a baseline. The second time we do anything we start the improvement process. We recognize that as we pour more energy, time and focus into any activity we get better and better. This is true of presenting a closing argument in court, hiring good employees and folding fitted sheets (although my wife, Dawn is so good at the fitted sheet thing that I focus on the closing arguments in court instead).

Key Takeaway

Don’t be afraid to try something new because you think you will be bad at it. You will be bad at it. Or at least you will be the worst you will ever be. But that first attempt creates a starting point. The climb from there is both exciting and rewarding. As you improve, remember that first attempt. Recognize how far you have come since you first started. It is one of the most rewarding reflections in life.

*To see if these posts improve over time, please consider subscribing to this blog. Like the measurements of my track and field days, I now track follows, likes and comments to see if I am getting better. And like track and field, I am happy blogging is a no-cut sport.

There is the easy way, and the Rube Goldberg way.

My daughter Ava is a good student. She just finished 6th grade and her report cards always look like they have my initials all over them. She is a self-starter and a self-finisher. Which means that while I would like to be more involved with her academics, she usually doesn’t need my help.

Final Project

Her final science project of the year finally gave me a chance to get involved. The assignment was to build a Rube Goldberg Machine that incorporated at least four simple machines (#physicstalk).

For those of you who aren’t down with RGM, a Rube Goldberg Machine is a machine, device or thingy that uses a chain reaction to perform a very simple task in a very complicated way. I love this kind of project. It combines science, creativity and whimsy (Did I mention that in college I majored in whimsy?)

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Ava’s machine mid-project, featuring ramps, teeter totters, ropes, roller skates, dominos and ping-pong balls. The yard is littered with discarded parts, thrown in frustration. 

The Big Question

The project was a mixture of problem solving fun and you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me frustration. But helping Ava with her RGM set off a series of linked thoughts in my head. My Father Brain nudged my Business-Owner Brain which produced the question:

Are organizations unintentionally creating Rube Goldberg Machines to do what should be done easily?

It shouldn’t be that hard.

Most organizations develop processes and procedures, whether officially or by default, that are way too complicated. What should take a one person a few minutes to complete turns into a complicated chain of events, with too many sign-offs, too many check-ins, too much standing in line, too much discussing and not enough doing.

Check yourself before your wreck yourself.

Chances are that you have an RGM in your organization.  But instead of being whimsical and entertaining, it wastes time, adds costs and has a negative impact on customer service.

If you notice an overly complicated process within your organization, or in your interactions with your partners, vendors or clients, let them know. Businesses need this kind of feedback. Because it is really easy to make an easy task difficult.

Taking a fresh look.

When I started the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I reveled in the opportunity to make our processes simple. I also have a long-term vision of the business that should help us avoid unnecessary complexities. But we are not perfect. We will also require regular evaluations and feedback from our team, partners and clients to make sure we are not complicating what should not be complicated.

Key Takeaway

Rube Goldberg Machines offer good opportunities to teach children about physics. They offer great entertainment. In fact, I would subscribe to The Rube Goldberg Machine channel if such a thing existed. But within organizations, let’s not overcomplicate. Let’s always look for ways to de-complicate our processes and procedures to make sure we are not wasting time or money.

In case you were wondering…

*I envisioned Ava creating a small contraption on a table in our basement. But that’s not Ava’s style. She created a large machine in our driveway, despite the fact that she would have to set it all up and take it all down every day until she completed the project.  She finally completed a successful run at 8pm on my birthday. Which meant that my birthday was spent doing a lot more tweaking of components than celebrating me. But that’s what parents do.

How in the world do you schedule your time?

My daughter Ava wants to work at The Weaponry. She is 12. While a 12-year-old may not seem like a valuable asset to an ad agency, she is a really great writer and a very creative thinker. She has a blog, she has adapted a novel she read into a screenplay, and is currently writing a murder-mystery chapter book. Oh, and she has created a series on the new Instagram TV. But she rarely makes her bed. So there’s that.

She recently asked me when she can come to work with me and help out. I told her that I would have to check my schedule to see what might work. She responded with a very simple, but surprisingly profound question:

How do you determine your schedule?

 Good Question

This made me think more deeply about my schedule in an attempt to explain it. I told her that I start with deadlines. I look at all of the things that The Weaponry has to create and the due dates for each. Then I schedule my time to focus on those projects, in order of priority, from hottest to coolest.

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Your schedule starts as a blank slate. How much time do you put into thinking about how you fill it?   

But this begs the question, ‘If it weren’t for deadlines or due dates, what would your schedule look like?’ For entrepreneurs, there is always something more to do. But this is really true of every job, right? So, how do you add tasks to your schedule that don’t have deadlines?

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If you haven’t thought deeply about how you schedule your day, maybe you need a 12-year-old daughter.

How I Do It.

I have found there are 3 things that I incorporate into my schedule, despite the fact that they don’t have due dates.

Connecting:  I am a natural connector.  I think people are the most interesting machines on the planet. I highly value my relationships. More importantly, I maintain my relationships. And when I think of someone, or have a little bell that dings in the back of my head that lets me know it has been too long since we’ve last spoken, I reach out. This is an important part of my regular schedule, and should be part of yours too.

Closing Gaps: At The Weaponry we spend time exploring the gaps between where our organization is today, and our idealized, fully formed organization of the future. As a result, we often think about our shortcomings. Although I don’t think of them as shortcomings. I simply see things that we are not doing, or don’t have yet, that we will in our ideal state. This is about improving our processes, procedures, systems and infrastructure. Entrepreneurs call this working on your business. But I think everyone can benefit from more gap closing. Except maybe The Gap.

Things that excite me: I always leave room for things that interest me. Since we are an idea generating machine, there are always exciting ideas bouncing around our office. I try to find as much time to explore those ideas as possible. This could involve a new way to look at our clients’ challenges. It could be a new product idea, an additional service, or an idea that could transform our business. I often get excited about new ideas for t-shirts, buttons, stickers or hats for The Weaponry. I love thinking about new messaging for our walls too. Most businesses could benefit from more time exploring good ideas. I do it everyday. You should pencil in some Idea Time this week.

Key Takeaway

Our lives are full of deadline-driven must do’s. They become the studs around which we build our daily schedules. But the key to making each day great is the elective activities you work into your calendar. Whether you use the same approach I do (time for connecting, closing gaps and ideas that excite) or your own formula, make sure your daily schedule isn’t simply driven by email requests and meetings. As Steven R. Covey notes in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, engaging in important, non-urgent activities is a key determinant of success. Remember that as you schedule your week.

And Ava, this Friday looks like a good day for you to come to work with me. Make sure your pencils are sharp. (That’s just an old expression. I guess it means, make sure your laptop is fully charged.)

 

The best way to find a career you love.

Our planet is full of scary things. The one that scares me the most is lack of planning. What, you’re not frightened? You’re not going to tell scary stories around the campfire about the man without a plan?

Let me explain.

I recently talked to a graduating college senior. I asked him what he planned to do next. He said, ‘Honestly, I have no idea. I’ll see what kind of opportunities come my way.’ To me this sounded like giving up on life. Or letting someone else write your story. Or signing up to become a pawn in someone else’s chess game (a pawn is a chess piece, and not another name for a shrimp, right?).

Reality Check

Without your own plan you will end up in a job that doesn’t fulfill you, in an industry you don’t care about. You will get tossed around like a plastic garbage bag in the wind, with no direction, like the opening scene from American Beauty (or was that the closing scene?). You have to push to find work you are passionate about dong. Even if the money isn’t great. Because not all rewards come in cash.

The Unhappy Drug Salesman

Had I not planned my career I would have ended up in pharmaceutical sales. I studied psychology and journalism at the University of Wisconsin. But before graduation I was approached by some pharma sales people who were recruiting college athletes, because apparently we are competitive people.

The money they offered me was twice what I would earn in an entry-level job in advertising. But I held out for a creative role. Because I had a plan. While pharmaceutical sales is a really great career choice for some people, it did not fit into my plan. Not even a little. Not on a train. Not in the rain. Not with a fox.

I stayed focused, and landed a good, but low paying job as a copywriter with a well-known advertising agency. Over the next 15 years I progressed from a writer to Creative Director to Chief Creative Officer. Then, twenty years after I started my career I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry. It was all part of the plan. And I love it when a plan comes together. #A-Team

Start Today

If you don’t have a career plan, or a life plan, start working on it today. Write down what you love to do. Write down what you are good at doing. Then find a way to get paid to do one of those things. Maybe you are already on that track. But maybe you are far away and heading in the wrong direction. You can turn around. But no one else can turn the wheel for you. That’s your job.

If you are a recent college grad, or just got out of the military, or are a career-minded alien who just landed on the planet, start your job search by thinking about your retirement. Plan your entire career with the end in mind. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll make the right decisions, introduce yourself to the right people, continue to properly educate yourself, and finish your career exactly where you wanted to be.

Key Takeaway.

You have to plan your own career. You have to find something that makes you happy. Your career will occupy 50% of your waking life. If you want to be happy in life, you have to be happy in your career. Make a plan and follow it. Don’t follow the money. Because if you love what you do, everything else, including the money, will take care of itself.

Today is the best day to declare your independence.

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. Even when it falls awkwardly on a Wednesday. Today I will hit two parades, watch fireworks, have a cookout, and tune in to watch a professional scarf down enough hot dogs to feed all the Pilgrims on the Mayflower for a week. #Murica

 

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Me and my family getting our 4th of July parade on. Notice the sign my daughter chalked in front of us.

The thing I love most.

As much as I love celebrating the 4th of July, I love what it symbolizes even more. Independence. It’s the not-so-secret ingredient that makes our country a powerful global magnet. Independence is what attracts those looking for a better life of their own making. I love that our country is powered by a population that left their native lands with the courage to say, ‘We think we can do this better on our own.’ That is so badass! Of course, Australia is built on a population of criminals. That’s pretty badass too, mate.

Career Independence

As we celebrate America’s independence I am also celebrating all the Founders who have declared their independence by taking charge of their careers. I admire the entrepreneurs who have the courage and confidence to do what our nation’s founding mothers and fathers did in establishing this country.

I am thankful for the inspirational stories and examples I’ve heard and read from Founders across the country. I love the consultants, freelancers and solopreneurs who have decided to bet on their own skills and abilities. It is the safest bet there is.

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Is it time for you to fly your own flag?

My Independence.

I declared my independence when I started by own advertising and ideas agency, The Weaponry, two years ago. I always felt I had the ability to attract great clients and extremely talented creative thinkers and doers. I was willing to bet my financial wellbeing on that belief. Today, The Weaponry is thriving. Which makes every day feel like Independence Day (no, not the creepy alien movie).

Embrace your independence.

But you don’t have to start your own company to declare your independence. Because independence is a mindset. You must believe that you are a rock star at what you do, and that you could do it wherever you want. Just as Lebron James decided to take his talent to South Beach, then back to North Beach, and now to West Beach, you need to know that whether you are a business executive, a salesperson, teacher, professional creative, or burger flipper, you have the freedom to take your set of skillz anywhere that makes you happy. Even Cleveland.

Key Takeaway

Our foremothers and forefathers founded this country with the belief that they could design a better life for themselves and for all of their cute little red, white and blue-wearing offspring to come. By doing so, they have empowered you to design your own life in a way that makes you happiest. Never forget that. Recognize and take advantage of the great opportunities that come your way. Or create your own opportunities. You always have the freedom to choose what is best for you. Nothing is more American than that.

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Happy Independence Day!

What happened to me in June.

Sometimes life gets in the way of my writing. Sorry. I try to spend an hour each day, five or six days per week collecting and sharing my thoughts here. My publishing goal is to share two posts per week. Which for the math-challenged is roughly 8-10 posts per month. But June came up significantly short. Like Emanuel Lewis. Or a Smurf.

The Numbers

I performed some June-y data analytics. By that I mean I counted some things. I only shared 5 posts. Or about 1 post per week. Then I tallied my travel over the past month. I was away from home for 17 days in June. Which means over half of my June was spent on the road. So while there wasn’t a lot of Doogie Howser-Style thought typing (comment if you understand this reference), there was a lot of travel.

In June I saw:

  • Columbus, Ohio
  • The COSI Museum
  • The place where the Kent Sate May, 4 Shootings happened.
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • The 9/11 Museum
  • The top of the Empire State Building
  • The Natural History Museum in NYC
  • Gettysburg, PA
  • The Maryland Mountains (yes this is a thing)
  • Morgantown, WV
  • Wheeling, WV
  • Lafayette, IN (#FathersDayVisit)
  • Atlanta (twice)
  • Athens, GA (twice)
  • Columbus, GA
  • Albany, GA

My friend Audrey Lowder took me and my family to the top of the Empire State Building. My kids re-enacted some Sleepless in Seattle scenes. She had a major birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday Audrey!
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My family visited this top-secret location in New York City, that I can not disclose.

People, People, People

I saw a lot of people in June. I visited clients. I saw my parents. I saw my cousin Tim in a random grocery store parking lot outside of Philadelphia. I saw former co-workers I hadn’t seen in 7 years. I saw the private equity studs that used to own Engauge, the adverting agency I worked at for 7 years. I got together with a whole gillooly of friends from my neighborhood in Atlanta. I even got to hear one of my doctor friends tell the story of how he learned to do pelvic exams.

I spent time with Dr. Demond Means in Athens Georgia, sharing new logos, tagline, manifestos and gumbo.
I got together with my neighborhood friends in Atlanta, who taught me how to scare off home intruders, who are actually your friends stopping by to walk your dog (like you asked them to do).
I grabbed a fancy beverage with my friend Nicola Smith, who has started her own business called Rebel and Reason. Billy Idol wrote her theme song in 1983.
I saw my cousin Tim in a grocery store parking lot and we were more excited than popcorn popping.

 


Key Takeaway

When I set out to launch my perfect adverting agency, I wanted to build something that would 1. Create enough demand to keep me busy. 2. Provide enough income to be able to take family vacations. 3. Offer enough scale that I could step away from the machine for a few days and the machine would keep running.

Today, The Weaponry is delivering on all three points. But I need to stay focused on getting better, to make sure that doesn’t change. So while I may not have been able to share as often as I would like in June, I can share that what I’m working on is working.

We participated in our annual Dublin Cannonballer Outing in Dublin, Ohio.