Tag Archives: goal setting

Resources: How to Fail

Seth Godin recently posted a fantastic article on why and how to fail.

Favorite line: “There are some significant misunderstandings about failure. A common one, similar to one we seem to have about death, is that if you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen.”

If you’re going to fail, wouldn’t you like to fail correctly?

Do you solve problems or select them?

Problem solving is a very important and useful skill. We face a lot of problems on a daily basis, and if you weren’t able to cope and solve them, you wouldn’t last very long.

But there’s so much focus on problem solving — problem-solving techniques, problem-solving skills, problem-solving ideas — that we start to think that problem solving is the goal. That if we can just get good enough at it, we’ll be able to solve all of our problems, and then we’ll be happy.

And fascinatingly enough, there are actually two falsehoods in that belief: that we can solve all of our problems, and that we’d be happy if we did.

Everybody has problems. 64 of them

My very favorite Buddhist story is of a man who went to see a buddha (it’s unclear whether this was The Buddha or just a buddha — a very wise man — but that’s not important to the story).

    Anyway, the guy goes to see the buddha, and says “I want you to help me. I have a wife, and she’s a good wife, but sometimes she nags me. And I have kids, and they’re good kids, but sometimes they don’t listen to me. And I have a job, and it’s a good job, but sometimes my boss wants too much. And…” On and on, problem after problem, until the buddha interrupts, and says,

    “You’re saying you have problems. And you want me to get rid of them. But I can’t help you with that. Everyone has problems. 64 of them. If you get rid of one problem, another will rise to take its place. You will always have 64 problems.”

    The man explodes. “What do you mean you can’t help me get rid of my problems? What good are you anyway?”

    The buddha smiles and says, “I cannot help you with that. But I can help you with the 65th problem.”

    “The 65th problem? What are you talking about? You said I have sixty-four problems. What’s the 65th problem?”

    “You want to have no problems.”

Everybody has problems. Always. No matter how good your life gets, the most annoying thing in your life will always be your “problem”. And since the world isn’t a fixed, static, monotonous place, solving a problem today doesn’t guarantee that it won’t be back in a week, or a month, or a year. You can no more solve all your problems forever than you can point a car down the road and be done with all your steering forever. Adjustments have to happen, and when that occurs, we call it a problem.

You cannot solve all your problems.

Also, problems aren’t so bad

    “I hear the rich man holler
    ’bout the shrinking dollar,
    cry about a luxury tax.
    They won’t let him write off
    his little 80-foot yacht…
    I’d like to have a problem like that

    – Joe Diffie, “I’d like to have a problem like that”

Whatever it is that annoys you most — whatever your problem is — there’s almost certainly someone out there who would trade you places without hesitation.

  • Gaining weight? Millions of people are starving

  • Frustrated with homework? Millions get no formal education at all.
  • Sick of your job? Thousands are unemployed.
  • Lost a loved one? Hundreds are sitting at home lonely, with no family or friends to lose.

With every opportunity comes problems. In fact, if I could put you in an environment where you have no problems, you’d be clawing at the walls within weeks. You’d be bored. You’d be seeking out problems, not because you want problems per se, but because you want challenge and excitement and fun, and those things are worth the problems that come with them.

When it comes right down to it, we’re actually happier having problems.

Do you solve problems or select them?

Stephen Covey recognizes four levels of existence: survival, stability, success, and significance.

The first two are primarily focused on problem-solving: how can I get enough food? How can I pay the bills? How can I get the kids to soccer practice?

But the latter two are focused beyond problems into long-term results. They’re asking proactively, “What do we want to accomplish? What goals do we have? What difference can we make in the world?” Someone at that level certainly has problems (64 of them), but the focus is not on solving problems for their own sake, but rather on solving problems so that goals can be accomplished, success realized, and meaningful change created.

If you decide to become an entrepreneur, you will have problems. You may not have more problems than you do now, but you may very well have harder problems. More frightening problems.

But you’ll also have problems that matter. Problems that you chose because you want to solve them. Problems that, even if you don’t solve them entirely, you’ve made the world a better place for trying.

The question is not whether you’ll have problems. It’s which problems you want to have, and what you’ll get for having them.

    “Imagine life some other way:
    a cozy fishbowl on display,
    with no chance that we might drift astray….
    so they say
    ‘Vacation in Eden…
    bring an apple a day.'”

    — David Wilcox, “Apple A Day”

Resources: Making big changes

I’ve provided a lot of information in the last couple of weeks on how to select a new year’s resolution — that is, how to decide which major change(s) you want to make in your life. But I haven’t talked at all about how to actually make those changes.

I was going to write a blog post on this, but as I thought about what to say, I realized that others have already said it.

Christopher Penn talks about the three questions to ask yourself before you jump off the cliff towards your aspirations.

Steve Pavlina talks about using the first few days of your motivation to set yourself up for success. He also explains the structure of a habit change (hint: it’s not 1. decide to change 2. change easily 3. live happily ever after), and gives an example of that structure in one of his habit changes.

Basically, it comes down to this: if you decide to make a change, you have to think about other changes that go along with it. Deciding to change your spending habits means also changing your eating-out habits and your spare-time habits and your grocery-shopping habits and your clothes-decision habits. Changing your eating habits means also changing what you order at a restaurant and which aisles you go down in the market and which foods you stock in the cupboard.

So think about all of that, and put together a plan to make it happen.

And since there wasn’t much value added to this post, you’ll also get your regularly-scheduled Thursday post this afternoon.

“Habit is habit and is not to be flung out the window by any man, but must be coaxed downstairs gently one step at a time” – Mark Twain

Homework: What do you care about?

This is a follow-up to a guest post I wrote for The Finance Geek: You don’t care about money. I argued that you only care about money because it helps you get what you actually care about.

So what is that?

    What would you do if you were going to die tomorrow?

    What would you do if you were going to live forever?

    What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?

    What would you like to do before you die?

    If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?

    If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

    If you rubbed a lamp and a genie offered you three wishes, what would you wish for?

    What one thing — object, event, or change — would be worth having, even if you couldn’t get anything else for the rest of your life? What would be worth living on oatmeal in a one-room shack if you could only have that?

Journal about this. Discuss these questions with your BFF. Answer them on your blog. Post your answers in the comments. Don’t stop until you know what you care about.

Resources for Further Reading
You don’t care about money
Homework: Figuring out what to do
What would you do if you could live forever?
What do you want from life?

Using the time you have

Trent at The Simple Dollar posted today yesterday two days ago (It appears I’m behind on my RSS feeds) a story about a guy he knew in college, who had a dead-end low-paying job as an overnight cashier at a gas station. But when Trent went to visit him, he wasn’t bemoaning his sad situation: he was using his sketchpad and pencils to practice his skills drawing perspective, lighting, shading and so on. Now he’s a graphic designer.

I’ve been talking to one of my friends who’s in high school right now, and thinking how much of a waste (US) high school is. Since the teachers have to assume that students are only paying attention about 20% of the time, they repeat everything 5 times. Which means that there’s really no point in paying attention more than 20% of the time, even if you really do care. So out of the 6 hours of the day you have to spend in class, you only get about an hour and a quarter of useful information. The other 4.75 hours are just wasted. Unless….

What could you do in your situation?

My sister wrote her first novel in high school (the teachers thought she was taking notes). I practiced my writing (primarily in the form of satire, aimed at our teachers, but hey, practice is practice.) But you could also practice:

  • Focus Being able to pay attention to what you choose is a useful skill, and one that most of us lack. Don’t believe me? Play this game:

    1. Get a stop watch
    2. Hit the start button

    3. Think about lemons
    4. As soon as you think about anything other than lemons, hit the stop button
    5. See if you can get over 10 seconds.

So the next time you’re stuck in a pointless lecture or a useless meeting, practice your focus. Try to listen to what the speaker’s saying, and see how long you can go before you get distracted.


  • Proactivity Another highly-useful skill — the #1 habit in Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — is the ability to decide what to do, instead of letting other people and events dictate it for you. Whether in a dead-end school or a dead-end job, look for places to do stuff on purpose. Ask your teacher or your boss for permission to do something different — a different focus for your assignment, or a video blog instead of an essay, or something more advanced than what you’ve been doing. Even if they turn you down every time, you’ll still get the benefit of having learned to think and choose for yourself, which will serve you well when you get out of here. And you’ll be surprised by how many times your proposal gets accepted.


  • Vision Questing This one takes some outside work, but may be one of the most useful things you can do. I wrote a while back about our culture’s lack of a vision quest or initiation to adulthood: we’re graduating high school, college, grad school, our first job, our second job, our last job… without ever learning what we could offer the world, and what we would like to offer the world. Nobody helps us identify the talents and skills that would help you find a successful niche. Nobody gives you the opportunity to think about what “success” means to you and how to achieve it. Nobody asks you what your goals are. Of course we all live lives of quiet desperation!

    But you could start. The process will take years, so you’d best start quickly. Brainstorm stuff you like to do, and stuff you find easy to do, and stuff people ask you to do. Jot down connections between them. See if any vocations suggest themselves to you, and test them out to see if you really like them as well as you thought. Journal your findings. Brainstorm some more. There are no easy answers, but if you keep asking the questions, you’ll find that the answers eventually take shape.

  • Courage I’ve written about the need for courage already, so I won’t bore you by repeating it again. But no matter where you spend your days, there are opportunities to increase your courage. Ask a cute member of your preferred sex for their phone number. Speak up in a group discussion when you don’t agree with the direction the conversation is going. Stand up to the local bully on behalf of someone else. Don’t act like everyone else around you, just for a few seconds.

    Don’t be irresponsible

    Please note, I am not advocating doing these things at the expense of what you’re supposed to be doing. You really are going to have a hard time if you graduate high school without knowing basic math, and you’re getting paid to do the work your boss gives you. So do what you have to do.

    All I’m saying is…if there’s some time left over after that… don’t let it go to waste.

    The link to 7 Habits is an affiliate link. If you’re interested in buying the book (which is an awesome book, and I would recommend it to everyone), and if you have found my blog interesting and/or helpful, you can help me out by purchasing the book through that link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it helps me keep posting stuff despite my dead-end, low-paying job. Plus you give a boost to world literacy. What more could you ask? Learn More.