Tag Archives: pre-beginner

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?

Can we all be rich?

I want you to be rich.

That’s why I’m writing this blog; in hopes that I can help you stop trying to make money from a dead-end soul-killing job, and figure out how to instead make money in a way that puts your income, schedule, and activities under your control. From there, you can use that capability to set your own goals, and change the world.

“But Raina”, I hear you cry, “We can’t all be rich!”

Ahh… but I think we can. And here’s why.

We are all rich

As the global standard of living creeps up, it’s easy to forget that it is creeping up. But if you go back far enough, it becomes obvious that it has. Let’s go back to 17th century Germany….

  • In most households, somewhere between 70% and 100% of the family income goes towards food
  • Most houses have one room. Maybe 2.
  • Dental care, antibiotics, and the germ theory of disease are all unknown (translation: doctors don’t wash their hands before operating on you.)
  • Water must be fetched from the well.

All of the following were luxuries available only to the rich:

  • Individual beds for family members and multi-room houses
  • A diet that varies from day to day
  • Glass in your windows
  • Water that doesn’t kill you
  • Chocolate
  • Multiple sets of clothing
  • Travel beyond, say, 10 miles
  • A means of transportation besides walking

And these weren’t available to anyone, no matter how rich:

  • Water at the twist of a handle
  • Indoor toilets
  • Double-paned storm windows
  • Insulated walls
  • Air conditioning / Central heating
  • Advil
  • Penicillin
  • Sudafed
  • Transportation that goes faster than 25 miles/hour

So it’s pretty obvious that in actuality, we are all rich. Every single person in the US and Europe, and many people in South America, Africa, and Asia.

But that doesn’t count… I mean someone has to be poor relative to others

Sure, but let’s take a step back here. Why would you even want to be rich?

Some people are competitive, and care about being richest. Fine; feel free — doesn’t bother me. But for most of us, being rich is not a goal in and of itself. We want to be rich in order to have the time and money to pursue what we really care about… whether that’s time with our family, deeper spiritual development, or saving the [insert disadvantaged lifeform here]s.

In fact, we’ve seen a transition over the last century towards a more equitable and level distribution of wealth: in terms of buying power, there’s no one as rich as Rockefeller and Carnegie were at the end of the 19th century, but there are a lot fewer people who are as poor as people were at the end of the 19th century. Some people think we’ve seen the end of the super-rich, and that the wealth distribution of the future will be between those with enough, and those with more than enough.

No, we can’t all be the richest person in the world. But we can all be rich enough.

But there’s just not that much money floating around

Not necessarily true, but let’s ignore that for the moment.

Maybe you won’t ever have a trillion dollars in your bank account. But again, take a step back and look at the reasons you want to be rich. I suspect you’ll find that Robert Kiyosaki’s approach is a better definition for you than any arbitrary net-worth figure:

“Rich” is not measured in money. It’s measured in time. How long could you go without working? That’s how rich you are

By this definition Thoreau, with his $0/year income, was rich, because he didn’t spend any time earning income. He could do whatever he wanted with his day, because he had no outside obligations.

Note that there’s no guarantee you’ll get to laze about all day: Thoreau actually had time constraints in growing the vegetables on which he lived and maintaining his house, and so on. But he was happy with the work he had to do, and could schedule his time however he liked, and so he was rich.

That’s what I want for you: to spend the day doing what you’d like; either because doing what you like makes you money, or because your earning money is independent of what you do all day. (Or some combination thereof). If you can earn your living by doing what you want, then I’m calling it “rich.”

We can all be rich

So yes, we can all be rich. There’s nothing unsustainable about it.

Resources for Further Reading
Is it evil to make money?
Eat Pancakes and Change the World
Forget the Lexus; Buy an Olive Tree
Homework: What do you care about?

What is “Too Good to be True?”

Let it be noted that there are a lot of scams on the internet. I mean, there are a lot of scams everywhere, but the internet is a favorite medium due to its anonymity and relative novelty. So I guarantee you that you can, with little effort, find a website dedicated to separating people from their money without providing any value in return.

Almost as prevalent are sites dedicated to helping people spot and avoid those scams. Some are better than others, but almost every single one includes the line “Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

What is “Too Good to be True”?

Am I the only person who doesn’t find that terribly helpful? I mean, yes, I agree that many con artists will try to lure you in with a deal that’s unsustainable. But it’s also true that a lot of weird $*!& goes on in the world. Who am I to say what’s realistic? I’m well-educated enough to know that (to a first approximation) I know essentially nothing at all. I’m also young enough to have seen dozens of rounds of

    It’s not Possible! ->
    Well, it’s possible but stupid ->
    Well, OK, sometimes it’s alright ->
    What are you talking about? Everybody does that.

So I just don’t feel like asking my gut to make a decision is the best heuristic. I mean, in most cases I have literally no data on the topic being discussed, and that’s what your gut uses to make its judgments. So I’d be just as well off flipping a coin.

Asking my social network is even worse: my friends’ guts are equally uninformed, and it only takes one loud idiot to make a bad group judgement.

The World is Changing

A lot of things are possible now that weren’t possible when I was born.

  • A store can make money — and drive competitors to bankruptcy — without any storefront at all.
  • An author can make more than $1,000,000 a year without any help from a publisher and without selling any paper books.
  • An advertising agency can get better results by not hiring any employees at all, and instead using only freelancers.
  • Jobs that used to require a commute and fixed hours are now done from your own house whenever you have time.

So there are a lot of opportunities out there that could only have been scams 30 years ago — it was simply technologically impossible to make them work — that are becoming commonplace now. “Too good to be true” has become not only a lot fuzzier, but a lot harder to judge.

How Does That Work?

So how about some new heuristics?

Ask When someone proposes an “opportunity” that you think might be a scam, ask them for more information. How does that work? Where do you get customers? Products? Funding? How do you get paid? What’s in it for me? What’s in it for you? What’s in it for them? Whether it’s a scam or not, you should never proceed until you truly understand what’s going on.

Research Of course, any con artist worth their salt can spin a line of BS that sounds convincing, so you should also research independently. Google is good for this, as is your local Business Bureau. Research the concept: are other people trying this? How long has this company been around? Does the technology work the way they said it does? Have other people tried this and liked it? Google “[Company name] scam” and see what comes up (do read whatever comes up — anyone can post a website saying that so-and-so is a scam, whether so-and-so is Bernie Madoff or the Red Cross. You have to judge for yourself whether either party consists of kooks, honest people, or some mixture of both).

Ask people in the industry Hollywood is forever creating tech-based plots that even fairly un-techie geeks like me can tell are flat-out impossible. Our guts don’t have enough data to make good judgement calls on most things, but there’s someone out there who can make a good judgement call on anything. So find someone who knows business to ask about this “investment opportunity”, or someone who knows tech to ask about this new “polarization regulator”.

Perform a Risk Analysis Still not sure? What do you have to lose? No, really, what do you have to lose? Knowing what you’re risking is a huge part of determining the best course of action. Plus, you get a nifty free download. :)

Let’s start making assessments on the basis of facts instead of fear.

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”

From small beginnings

A few years ago, at an otherwise hideously-bombastic, we’re-Christians-and-everyone-else-sucks Christmas Eve service, there was, nonetheless, a wonderful Christmas sermon which I’m going to share with you now.

From small beginnings come great things

From a baby boy in a tiny stable came one of the most important messages humanity has ever had.

Every great person is the result of a zygote smaller than the tip of your little finger.

The US civil rights movement started with dozens of tiny events: a decision by a single person to sit at a lunch counter, or at the front of the bus.

Google started as a class project for a couple of geeks at Stanford. Facebook started as a way for college alums to contact each other. The entire world wide web and everything that relies on it started as a way for scientists to get files to each others’ computers.

From small beginnings come great things

Your results may be small right now. Your efforts may seem pathetic compared to the volume of work yet to be done. But that doesn’t mean they will stay small. Every building was once a single stone on bare ground; every success was once a lone individual saying “I wonder if I could…”

Whatever your spiritual beliefs and practices, I wish you a merry Christmas, and hope that your small beginnings become great things in the year to come.