Tribute to an Entrepreneur

An Unforgettable 50th

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time.  In fact, I’ve wanted to write it since before I even started this blog.

It started this past September.  I had the good fortune to attend the 50th birthday party of one of my favorite people.  For the sake of this post, we’ll call him “Bill”. Bill is a self-described “serial entrepreneur”.  He was one of the owners of the start-up software company that I started working for in 2006.  At the time I was hired, I was employee #5.  Flash forward to 2012 and we had 120 employees and a thriving business when we were acquired by one of the large, publically traded companies in our industry.  The owners, including Bill, were able to exit and start their next entrepreneurial venture.

Flash forward to September, 2015 (three years after the acquisition of the company I had worked for and nearly 10 years since I first met Bill).  I’m at his house with 40+ of his closest friends and family, celebrating his 50th birthday.  As my wife and I sat outside around Bill’s pool, hanging out under the stars, waiting for the (I kid you not) full-on 4th-of-July-caliber fireworks display launched from his own backyard, I found myself reflecting on a number of different things….

The Slight Edge in Action

First, I found myself reflecting on Bill’s seeming innate ability to create success in all areas of his life.  Keep in mind that back in September, I had not been introduced to The Slight Edge.  So at the time I did not recognize it’s principals in action.  I’ll also make the disclaimer here that I have no idea whether or not Bill has read or even heard of Jeff Olson’s book.  My guess is, probably not.  But for someone like Bill, if he were to read The Slight Edge, he would probably just nod along in agreement at the principals outlined in the book concluding pretty quickly with a “Yep, I get it.” To put it simply, Bill just GETS IT and in my opinion, has things pretty much figured out.

What Bill has figured out that it took me reading The Slight Edge to clue into is the power of the “compound interest” you create through the little things you do every day.  While most of us ride the wave of success and failure, Bill is able to simply stay on the success curve.  And I’m not just simply talking about business or financial success…

Here are just some of the areas of life where I have observed Bill staying on the success curve over the years I have known him.

Health – I’ve witnessed Bill go through a physical transformation through both diet and exercise.  When we first met, he was not someone you would describe as over weight, but I don’t think you would use the word “fit” to describe him either.  However, after this transformation to his diet and exercise habits, he is now extremely fit and has remained so for a several years.  As he was firmly into his routines of eating healthy and exercising, we had the following conversation:

Me: “So Bill, what are your goals when you go to the gym?”
Bill: “Easy…I go to the gym 3 days per week.”
Me: “Yeah, I get that.  But what are your GOALS?  Are you trying to get to a certain weight? Working on isolating particular muscle groups?  You know…what are your goals while you’re there?”
Bill (looking a little puzzled): “My only goal is to make sure I get to the gym 3 days per week.  I know that if I make it to the gym, good things will happen.  I don’t worry about setting specific physical fitness goals which may only serve to frustrate me.  I know that by ensuring that I stick with my commitment to get to the gym 3 days per week, then the fitness part will take care of itself.”

I’ve thought about that conversation a lot over the years.  It makes so much sense but at the time, I was dumbfounded.  I was always an “over-thinker” and thought you had to have these complicated goals and routines in order to get in shape.  And as a result, I frankly was never able to stick with any workout regiment.  But Bill’s response captures the Slight Edge perfectly. Develop a habit that you can stick to for a lifetime and stay on that success curve!

Business – Ok, so this one seems a bit obvious, but yes, the world of business is another area of life where Bill demonstrates his knack for staying on the success curve.  When it comes to business, it is easy to simply look at the numbers of Profit & Loss or what revenue multiple the company sold for.  However, in addition to those measures of success, in my opinion, to be judged a truly successful entrepreneur, I think you also have to look at the culture of the company and the well being of the employees to determine if the business is truly successful.  In short, do people LOVE working for you? Are they HAPPY coming to work? And are they LOYAL to you?  In Bill’s case, the answer is a resounding YES.  Not only is he beloved by his employees, he is revered.  This is no accident.  Again, The Slight Edge is in action.  Bill does the little things each and every day to make his employees feel appreciated and want to work hard for him.  He constantly strives to help employees determine their strengths in order to help them reach their own potentials for success.  He sets a high bar and expects a lot out of his employees, but they constantly rise to the challenge and seem to happily strive for greatness.

Relationships – At his birthday party, it became apparent that not only does Bill have great relationships with his friends and coworkers, but he has phenomenal relationships with his wife and children.  This challenges many of our notions of the driven entrepreneur who burns the candle at both ends for his business, even at the expense of his family relationships.  But not in Bill’s case.  I have never met anyone who is better at drawing that line in the sand and maintain his commitments to his family.  Don’t get me wrong, in a business emergency, he will lead the charge and will do whatever it takes to resolve the issue including pulling an all-nighter with the team.  But he remains equally committed to his family, ensuring they receive both high quantity and high quality time with him.

One of my favorite examples of this is how Bill deals with family vacations.  Most of us struggle with completely unplugging while on vacation.  Whether it’s sneaking a peak here or there at our unread email “just to make sure nothing is blowing up” or dialing into that important conference call “just to listen in“, the fact is that so many of us have a hard time giving ourselves over completely to our vacation and focusing 100% on the people who mean the most to us there.  As hard as this is for most of us, I imagine it is 10 times more difficult for the owner of a business to completely unplug. But again, this is not an issue for Bill.  He knows how important that vacation time is with his family and he is committed to ensuring that every second of his vacation is focused on disconnecting from the business world, focusing on his family and having fun!  In the weeks leading up to his vacation, Bill will ensure that there are others in the organization who can take over all aspects of his job responsibilities.  In other words… he replicates himself.  His ego does not get in the way thinking, “Only I am capable of dealing with this.” He determines everything that would need to happen without him, even in case of an emergency, and ensures members of the team can step up and fill the void while he is gone.  Then, the last thing he does is hands a sealed envelop over to his business partner (the CEO) with all of his important information and passwords.  The meaning of this envelope is simple, “If I DIE while on vacation, you can open this envelope and access anything you need to as it relates to the business.”  And with that, he lets us all know not to try to email him, or call him, or text him.  He will be COMPLETELY UNAVAILABLE and will look forward to seeing all of our smiling faces when he returns.  His family gets 100% of Bill while on vacation – which is really how it should be for all of us.

Personal Development – Last but certainly not least, Bill has mastered applying the Slight Edge to his personal development.  Over the years, I’ve noticed how Bill is always learning and looking for ways to improve.  For starters, he is always staying on top of the latest technologies (he is a technology entrepreneur after all).  When he and his wife determined that they would eventually like to retire in Costa Rica, he started studying and is now fluent in Spanish.  Just this past year, he decided he wanted to learn how to launch fireworks and began working with a local company and participated in a number of municipal 4th of July celebrations.  Bill has embraced the concept of always pushing himself to grow and has developed the habits to keep him on this success curve.  As a result, he knows how to successfully pursue learning whatever new thing he puts his mind to and does so fearlessly and efficiently.

The Impact of Entrepreneurs

In addition to reflecting on Bill’s personal accomplishments, I also sat there thinking about how greatly entrepreneurs impact our lives and how, frankly, we usually don’t THANK them enough for what they do for us.  As I looked around at the attendees of Bill’s 50th birthday party, I realized that at least half of those in attendance were either a current or former employee or the spouse of one of those employees.  Over the years, the number of people who’s lives were impacted by just this one entrepreneur is astounding.  Employees have received checks with Bill’s signature on it.  Those checks have been used for weddings, for buying homes, for raising families, etc.

So think about it…that is just the impact of one business owner.  What about ALL of the entrepreneurs out there?  What has their impact truly been on our lives?  Even most of the larger corporations out there were started at some point by an entrepreneur.  They are the job creators.  What can be more impactful on an individual than the job that was created for them? And those jobs are what lead to so many wonderful aspects of life.  And yet, how often do we thank them?  Are we grateful for the job creators out there or do we take them for granted?

So often, I think we view entrepreneurs as somehow on the edge of society.  We admire their risk-taking and willingness to “put it all on the line” to start a business.  But then what?  I don’t think we realize how important and impactful a role entrepreneurs play in our lives.  And I know we don’t say “Thank you” enough.

____

All of these thoughts were running through my head during those few minutes under the stars last September.  As the night wore on, people began passing around a microphone and saying all kinds of nice things about Bill.  I wanted to be one of those to get up and speak, but I just simply chickened out. I’ve regretted it ever since.  If I had gotten up, I would have spoken about how much I had learned from him and how I admired him.  And I would have certainly gotten up to thank him and tell him how grateful I am that I too counted myself as one of the lucky ones to have received a paycheck with his signature on it.

In other words, if I had gotten up to speak, I’d like to think I would have delivered something like this post.

 

 

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One Mental Trick to Get Me to Exercise

I hate working out.

There…I said it.  Always have.  Always will.  There is something about the idea of “working out” that simply doesn’t “work” for me.  I have never been able to stick to any type of exercise program.  Gym memberships are a waste of my money.  I visited the “free” gym at the office building where I used to work on plenty of occasions, but no habits were formed.   And of course, there’s the sad elliptical machine hanging out at home wondering why no one makes eye contact with it anymore when we walk past.  For some reason, nothing sticks.  Sure, I go through the usual spikes of motivation where “this time it will be different” and I’m going to find a way to stick to a work-out routine.  Over the years, my wife got to the point where she would simply laugh (snort, scoff, snicker…) when I would tell her I was setting my alarm clock early to work out.  But she knew what I was unwilling to admit to myself… when it comes to me and working out – NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

So what’s changed?  Well, a lot has changed for me recently.  And I owe it all to one of my best friends.  For the sake of this post, we’ll call him “Mark”.  (To quote Dragnet, “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”)  To understand how Mark has changed my views and how one conversation has led me to completely change my thinking, it’s necessary to take a look at Mark’s story.

Excuse me, Doctor…What?!

Mark and I have been friends since college. (Those of you keeping score, I just turned 40, so we’re talking about 20 years here.) I can honestly say he is one of (if not THE) most exceptional human beings I have ever met. He’s one of those individuals who innately understands the principals of The Slight Edge without ever having read the book. Exceptionally bright, Mark graduated at the top of our class and then went on to Harvard Law School.  A gifted athlete, he is always in impeccable shape.  He’s also one of the kindest and most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet. (Yes, I know I’m gushing about my friend here – but I think it’s important to set the stage that Mark really is a great guy who seemed to have it all figured out.)  After law school and a judicial clerkship, he’s gone on to a successful career and has risen through the ranks to become a partner at his law firm all before the age of 40!

While leading what in many ways appears to be a charmed life (hard work and dedication with a great attitude will often lead to what from the outside appears to be “luck”), life wasn’t without it’s issues.  For as long as I’ve known him, Mark always had some kind of minor medical ailment going on. Whether it was back pain and needing to constantly see his chiropractor, shin splints, sinus infections, etc.  Mark just always seemed to be having some kind of ISSUE with his body.  He grew to accept this and just thought that was just part of the human experience – always some level of discomfort or pain or something that needed readjusting or realignment.  And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought that maybe there was a hypochondriac hidden away in there somewhere.

And so Mark went about his life – experiencing great levels of success but always battling his body at the same time.   To a typical onlooker, you would have no idea there was anything going on.  You may notice that he fidgets a little bit and has a hard time sitting still.  But, like me, you would simply assume it’s due to all of his energy and excitement and not realize that in fact it is because he is quite literally in constant pain.

Finally, within the last couple of years, things began to get worse.  The little pains grew stronger.  The tricks he had taught himself over the years to feel better were no longer working.  This was not normal…something was really WRONG, but he had no idea what.  He started seeing doctors and specialists of all kinds.  He had test after test after test run, but still no answers.  He had more than one doctor tell him that he was fine and that it was all in his head!

Finally, after more than a year of searching and countless doctor visits all over the country, one doctor, after puzzling over Mark’s case for quite some time, asked him a very odd question…

Doctor: “Mark, have you ever been bitten by a tick?”
Mark: “Excuse me doctor…What?!”
Doctor: “When you were a kid, do you ever remember being bitten by a tick?”
Mark: “Well sure.  I grew up on a farm. You bet I’ve been bitten by a tick!”

With that answer, the doctor’s eyes began to fill up with tears and he had to excuse himself from the room.  Not knowing what was going on, Mark simply had to wait in the examination room for the doctor to compose himself and come back in.

Doctor: “Mark, we’ll need to run some tests.  But I think you have Lyme disease.

Sure enough, the tests came back positive.  The reason the doctor had to excuse himself was that he was overcome with emotion at the realization that Mark had been living with un-diagnosed Lyme disease for MORE THAN 30 YEARS!

I have to confess, I still know very little about Lyme disease.  From the CDC’s website:

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. ….If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system….

(Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor.  What follows is my understanding based on conversations with Mark and is not meant to reflect actual medical knowledge.)

If caught early, it can be treated with antibiotics.  However, no one really understands the long term effects especially when left un-diagnosed for this long.  Brain scans have shown that not only have Mark’s joints, muscles and heart been under attack, his BRAIN has too.  After studying his brain scans, one neurologist looked quizzically at Mark and said, “I honestly have no idea how you’re even functioning right now!” Let that soak in for a second.  A BRAIN DOCTOR looked at his BRAIN and couldn’t understand how the seemingly normal functioning person sitting in front of him had a brain that looked THAT BAD in his head!

Long story short – as Mark’s joints and muscles were attacked and neurological pathways were broken down, his body would compensate – forging ahead with new pathways and new ways to use muscles and joints in an effort to function.  But these new pathways weren’t always the most ideal or efficient – hence a lot of the joint and muscle pain.

So what lies ahead for Mark is a two-pronged attack.  First, he must fight back the disease and get it into remission.  Simultaneously, he must try to retrain his body both physically and mentally to function correctly again in an effort to undo the damage that has already been done.

I’m doing it so I’ll be able to walk when I’m 80!

Beyond the shock, horror, and heartbreak I feel for my friend, this has actually had a very practical impact on me.

Shortly after I started my self-imposed sabbatical, Mark arrived for a visit with me and my family (I’m pretty sure my son thinks he is the coolest guy on the planet by the way!).  While my wife was at work and my son was at school, Mark and I spent time reviewing his Physical Therapy regiment.  He relayed the story above and informed me how he is basically having to relearn how to properly do everything CORRECTLY that most of us simply take for granted.  Things like WALKING.  

As we reviewed his PT routine, I decided to ask him about how he was always motivated to work out.

Me: “Mark,  as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been in great shape and have worked out a ton. I, on the other hand, have never been able to stick with any kind of work out routine.  What advice or tips can you give me so I can finally stick to a workout routine?”
Mark: “Work out?!  F&*$ working out! I used to be one of those meat-heads always at the gym. It’s pointless and don’t waste your time trying to work out!”

I was understandably taken aback by this response.  But he went on to clarify:

Mark: “Look. The focus should not be on bulking up, or building muscle, or even on losing weight or getting thinner.  The reason why you’ve never stuck to a program is that those motivations come and go and in many cases they aren’t even good for you.  What you, me, and everyone else should be focused on is ‘How do I get my body to continue to function properly and last me another 40, 50, or even 60 years!?’ I’m not doing my physical therapy to look good or stay in shape.  I’m doing it so I’ll be able to WALK when I’m 80!  
But here’s the best part…  If you view exercising NOT as working out in order to accomplish vanity-driven short-term goals, but as PHYSICAL THERAPY to ensure you still have a strong, flexible body deep into old-age, then those short-term goals will take care of themselves!  You’ll still build muscle, you’ll still lose weight and get trim.  You’ll get the best of both worlds!”

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is (in my opinion) EXACTLY what the Slight Edge approach should be to exercising.  Don’t “work out”, focus on your “Physical Therapy” and the long-term, compound effect of ensuring your muscles, joints, and bones all continue working together for the rest of your life.

I don’t work out.  I do Physical Therapy.

It’s been a couple months now since Mark’s visit and that epiphany. And I still don’t work out.  BUT, I do focus on my physical therapy.  I’ve even started calling it “Physical Therapy”.  And still my wife laughs.  But it’s no longer that laugh of “yeah right, like that’ll ever stick.” Now it’s more of a laugh that says”You’re weird.  So you think calling your workout’s ‘physical therapy’ will actually trick you into doing it?”

Yep…I sure do. And check back in when I’m 80.

Completed Book List

This post is actually meant to be a (hopefully) continuously updated page where I track the various books I have completed since the start of my sabbatical.

The key word in the title of this post is COMPLETED.  I have a nasty habit of not finishing books that I start – especially when it comes to business or developmental books.  Oftentimes I feel like I “get the gist” and move on to something else.  So not allowing myself to include a book to this list until it has been completed should serve as sufficient motivation to “finish what I start” and focus not only on starting books, but completing them as well.

At any given time, I should have 3 books that I am currently focused on and these books are separated into 3 categories.

  1. Developmental – These are the books meant for self improvement or education.  In reference to “The Slight Edge”, these are the books I want to develop the habit of reading at least 10 pages from every day.
  2. Audio Books – If you’ve read my earlier post, “A Little Boost from Fate”, you’ll recall that I recently discovered Audible.com and the thrill of realizing that you could listen to audio books at an accelerated speed.  I plan to incorporate listening to audio books into my daily routine during workouts, doing work around the house, etc.  I figure it’s more transformative than listening to music or my usual go-to: Sports Talk Radio.
  3. Fiction / Fun Non-Fiction – This category is where I’ll list the books I read for entertainment.  While for most people, this is typically reserved for novels and other forms of fiction, I also have some guilty pleasure non-fiction material I enjoy. Specifically over time you’ll probably see books about ancient mysteries, crypto-zoology (think Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, etc.), and other tidbits about the UNEXPLAINED.  Weird, I know. But like I said, that’s my guilty pleasure.  And if I’m going to make a “Completed Book List”, I might as well get it all out there at the beginning.

With all of the other reading that is supposed to be going on in my day, you may be wondering who would have time for fiction and reading purely for entertainment.  For me, I like to read something from this category in bed before going to sleep.  I know I fall asleep more easily and sleep better after reading. HOWEVER, I’ve also noticed that when I try to read developmental material before trying to go to sleep, it tends to wind me up.  Typically the developmental material tends to be motivating and sends my mind racing, so I’ll do my Category 1 reading earlier in the day and save the Category 3 for the end of my day.

So without further delay, here is my COMPLETED book list as of December 1, 2015.

BOOK LIST

DEVELOPMENTAL

  1. Title: The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness
    Author: Jeff Olson
    Recommend: YES!
    My Thoughts: Given that this book has inspired me to start my own blog and base that blog on my own experiences as it relates to the Slight Edge philosophy as outlined in the book, it can come as no surprise that I am emphatically recommending The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson!  When you read The Slight Edge, you’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement.  There’s nothing in this book that goes against common sense and what we ALL KNOW to be true.  Your life, your success, and your happiness are not a result of one or two big moments or “overnight success stories”.  What you achieve in life is a compilation of the little decisions and actions you make EVERY SINGLE DAY.  The slight edge either works for your or against you in a compounding affect on your life over time.  For example, eating 1 cheeseburger won’t make you gain weight.  But making cheeseburgers a mainstay in your diet over time will have a compounding negative impact on your weight.  As the author points out, positive daily actions are easy to do…but they are also easy NOT to do.  And it is this fact that it is so easy NOT to do the little things every day that have a positive, long-term impact on your life that the majority of people WON’T do them.  So as a result, the handful of people who understand and apply this concept to their daily lives over time give themselves a better chance at success and happiness than those who do not.
    While I have completed this book, I am by no means “done” with it.  I’ll be reviewing and revisiting the highlights I have taken and plan to reference The Slight Edge constantly throughout my life’s journey.
  2. Title: Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance
    Author: Jason Selk
    Recommend: Maybe
    My Thoughts: I wonder if my opinion about this book would be different if I had not just completed The Slight Edge.  My guess is “probably”.  This book by Jason Selk spends a great deal of time on goal setting and focusing on your “process goals” – those daily processes that ultimately lead to achieving your ultimate (“product”) goals.  This is very similar to the emphasis that The Slight Edge puts on daily habits and remaining on the “Success Curve”.  So since these two books focused on such similar objectives, I found myself leaning towards a preference for how this is addressed in The Slight Edge.  Additionally, I didn’t find anything particularly “EXECUTIVE” about this book.  From a personal development perspective, I was hoping for a little more insight into growing as a business leader and corporate executive.  I think a more appropriate title for the book would be “Mental Toughness” or even “Mental Discipline”.  And don’t get me wrong, from the standpoint of developing discipline and mental toughness, I think this book is GREAT.  It lays out very specific habits and exercises to be performed to help develop mental toughness and from that perspective, I think this book is extremely effective.  So my “maybe” recommendation is really based on the goals of the person looking for a recommendation.  If you’re looking for ways to develop your mental toughness, then this books is definitely recommended.  If you’re expecting a greater focus and specifics as it relates to being a corporate executive, I would probably steer you in another direction.
  3. Title:
    Author:
    Recommend:
    My Thoughts:

AUDIO BOOKS

  1. Title: Mans Search For Meaning
    Author: Viktor E. Frankl
    Recommend: ABSOLUTELY
    My Thoughts: Exceptionally meaningful and profound book. Taking from his own experiences in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl developed the school of Logotherapy which is founded upon the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans. The ability for man to find meaning even within the greatest of human suffering and even when faced with the likelihood of certain death shows our ability to transcend our physical being into something more profound.A few nuggets that really struck me were:

    1. The notion that it is a lack of overarching meaning or purpose in ones life can manifest itself in the form of boredom or depression and that when there is a void with the “will to meaning”  this can lead to a desire to satisfy the “will to pleasure” – often in the form of food, drugs, sex, etc.  Take this a step further and you can make the argument that many of the issues we face in today’s society can be linked back to a lack of meaning in our collective lives.
    2. The idea that we should not be asking the question, “What is the meaning of life?” but should be focused on “What is the meaning of MY life?” Or to be even more specific, what is it that LIFE is asking of me to accomplish and fulfill.
  2. Title: Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World
    Author: Peter H. Diamandis & Steven Kotler
    Recommend: Yes
    My Thoughts: Bold is an extremely interesting and compelling read (or in my case, “listen”).  This will truly have you thinking BIG and on a global scale as well as give you the belief that you too have the potential to impact the world.  That having been said, if you do not have any plans or aspirations to be an exponential entrepreneur or have interest in being a part of that world, then this may not be the book for you.  What is both good and bad about this book is the level of detail that it goes into around leveraging today’s hyper-connected crowd or how to design and use various types of incentive based competitions (think XPRIZE).  One of my long-standing complaints about business books in general is that most are just theory backed by a handful of examples that loosely support the theories championed by the book and lack truly specific step-by-step instructions for accomplishing the theories that are being discussed.  So from that perspective, Bold delivers very strong “how to” instructions for those wishing to pursue their own entrepreneurial ideas using the methods outlined in the book.  However, if you do not find yourself wishing to put together your own Ansari XPRIZE, you may find these sections to be a bit tedious.  But to be honest, this is just me nitpicking.  Overall, Bold is an exciting and interesting read and I definitely would recommend it for anyone looking to make an impact on the world..
  3. Title: Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
    Author: Chip Heath & Dan Heath
    Recommend: YES!
    My Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed Switch. In fact, I listened to it TWICE! I found it to be one of the most insightful and entertaining business reads I’ve encountered.  We’ve all been there (I know I have).  Meetings where countless statistics, charts and graphs have all been used to create what the presenter (including, I hate to admit, me) believes show a convincing argument for change. And yet, for all of the convincing analysis and even if those in the meeting are nodding along in agreement, change rarely, if ever, occurs.  What the Heath brothers reveal to the reader is that no matter how convincing the analytical side, without connecting with the emotional side, change is extremely difficult.  They make the comparison of an Elephant with his Rider.  The Rider is the analytical side and the Elephant is emotion.  The Rider (analytics) appears to be in control, pointing the Elephant in whatever direction the Rider chooses.  But in reality, if the Elephant chooses to go in another direction, there is little the Rider can really do about it.  The book provides a great playbook and countless supporting examples of how to not only “Direct the Rider”, but also “Motivate the Elephant”.  Lastly, a section to help you “Shape the Path” gives you a complete guide for creating change in all facets of life.  Good stuff!
  4. Title: Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty
    Author: Patrick Lencioni
    Recommend: YES
    My Thoughts: From what I gather by the titles of his other books, Patrick Lencioni likes to use the business fable as a means to get his point across and Getting Naked is no exception.  This book illustrates Patrick’s theory of “Naked Consulting” which he has used to great success in his own management consulting firm.  The concept is pretty straightforward but difficult to implement.  The idea of “getting naked” is to willing to be vulnerable in front of your customers and can be applied to consulting, customer service, sales, and almost any business role that interacts with customers.  Most of us would rather appear infallible to our customers and are afraid to show that we’re human.  But rather than eroding the confidence of our customers in our abilities, being willing to be vulnerable in front of them actually creates more trust and loyalty from our customers.  This concept is very effectively illustrated in Patrick’s book and I would definitely recommend to anyone in a customer-facing role.
  5. Title:
    Author:
    Recommend:
    My Thoughts:

Fiction / Fun Non-Fiction

  1. Title: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories
    Author: Stephen King
    Recommend: Maybe
    My Thoughts: I should start out by saying I really enjoy Stephen King as an author. Even though I am not a fan of the horror genre in general (this is true of both movies and books), I happen to love his writing style and periodically find myself returning to King whenever I’m looking for some entertaining, engaging writing.  This particular book is a collection of short stories.  All of the stories deal with death in some form or another and for the most part I found them all interesting, enjoyable and in some cases very thought provoking.  However, I didn’t find any of them to be SCARY (which was fine by me). So the “maybe” under whether or not I would recommend this book really stems from what the person is expecting when they hear the name Stephen King.  If they are looking for horror, this may not be the book for them.  However, if they happen to enjoy King’s writing style and macabre sense of humor, then this may be something they would enjoy.
  2. Title: Memoirs of a Monster Hunter: A Five-Year Journey in Search of the Unknown
    Author: Nick Redfern
    Recommend: No
    My Thoughts: I was first introduced to Nick Redfern when I read his book Three Men Seeking Monsters a few years ago.  Ever since, my Kindle has included books by Redfern as a steady portion of my “Recommended for You” section.  One of the more prolific writers in the Unknown/UFO/Cryptozology space, Nick has penned works on a wide variety of topics.  I have checked out some of his other books but none have been as interesting or entertaining as the original Three Men Seeking Monsters.  This most recent read for me was the closest to capture what first drew me to his writing.  I think I am more interested in his retelling of personal experiences over his other works which tend to be more research focused and less personal.  Overall, Nick just seems like a cool guy with a great sense of humor – someone you’d like to hang out with and this really comes through in his personal narratives like Three Men Seeking Monsters and Memoirs of a Monster Hunter.  That having been said, this book did not live up to the original “Three Men” for me.  I would not recommend this particular book but I would recommend Three Men Seeking Monsters if someone was interested.
  3. Title: SPIN
    Author: Robert Charles Wilson
    Recommend: No
    My Thoughts: I discovered SPIN on a list of the top 25 Science Fiction books of all time.  Originally published in 2005, I was drawn to this book because it was the ONLY book on the list that was first published this century.  It is truly a unique work with a grand scale.  And with two sequels published in the SPIN trilogy (Axis & Vortex), SPIN sets the stage for a much larger story ahead. The story is too complex for me to get into detail in this post, but if you’re interested you can read about it here.
    So why wouldn’t I recommend this award-winning novel? Simply put, I felt that it dragged on too long and ultimately I didn’t really care about the main characters.  In fact, I had given up on this book and stopped reading it after completing over 80% of the book!  I had not intention of going back to it until I read The Slight Edge.  It is only my resolution to “finish what you start” as part of my Slight Edge Experience that had me picking this book back up in order to finish it.  Unfortunately, even in finishing the book, it does not provide a satisfactory resolution to the story.  As stated above, the journey serves to only set up the next set of novels and there was no real closure or answers to questions.  So, unless an individual is committed to the entire trilogy, I would not recommend this novel on it’s own.  It’s possible that the payoff would be there if you read the entire trilogy, but at this point I have no plans to do so and therefore cannot recommend SPIN at this time.
  4. Title: The Martian
    Author: Andy Weir
    Recommend: Yes
    My Thoughts: With the success of Matt Damon’s film version of this book, I think it’s safe to say that most people are familiar with the plot of this book.  It is essentially a traditional castaway story except the castaway is on Mars.   Quick Disclaimer: I have not yet seen the movie and I’m glad I read the book first.  I have to say that I THOROUGHLY enjoyed this book.  It’s smart and funny and is a great story.  I also like the combination of using journal entries combined with sections of traditional narrative to keep the story moving.  This allows you to get inside the head of Mark Watney (the castaway) but doesn’t limit the story solely to Mark’s experiences by switching to traditional narration when dealing with the teams of people working on rescuing Mark.  Extremely well done.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, but I doubt it will be able to live up to the book.

Recognizing Withdrawals – When the Slight Edge is Working Against You.

The Failure Curve

When I first started this site, I thought it was going to be a fairly straightforward documentation of the little things I was doing each day to improve and over time we’d see the “Slight Edge” in action in the form of various successes.  But I’m realizing quite early on that it isn’t going to be that simple.  You see, the Slight Edge works in both ways: it works for you on the “Success Curve” OR it can work against you on the “Failure Curve”.  The Failure Curve is the compound effect of all of those little errors in judgment that, when compounded over time, lead to failure.  The longer these errors in judgment go on, the worse it gets.

Another way to think about it is with a bank account.  As you practice the daily disciplines and think of those as a daily “deposit” into your bank account, each day it grows and compounds over time.  Similarly, those errors in judgment act as a “withdrawal” from that account – depleting the funds until one day, you are bankrupt and have nothing left.  It isn’t simply a matter of needing to make deposits, you must also limit the amount of your withdrawals.  Otherwise, you’ll simply stay in the same place making an equal number of deposits and withdrawals with your bank account not growing.

So one blessing (that honestly feels likes a curse) from trying to apply the principals of the Slight Edge philosophy is the realization of where the Slight Edge is working AGAINST me and I am unknowingly making daily withdrawals.  To put it another way, realizing where I am on the Failure Curve.

For today’s post, I want to share two examples where I’ve made this realization and how I hope to reverse the trend and get back on the Success Curve.

Weight Loss 101

I’ve written previously about how I want my current “self-induced sabbatical” to be a TRANSFORMATIVE time for me.  And let’s face it, when we’re talking about transforming our lives, nothing is more obvious or easy to measure as our outward appearance – which in most cases means LOSING WEIGHT.  I am no exception.

One area where I am bound and determined to see a transformation is in my weight.  And I have to admit, for the first month of my sabbatical, I was doing GREAT!  I had been gradually chipping away at my weight and getting extremely close (within  3 lbs) to my goal weight!  I was already weighing less than I had since my son was born over 7 years ago (I guess that sympathy pregnancy weight I jokingly put on decided to stick around for a while) and I was feeling great and completely in control!

Then the Thanksgiving Holiday arrived.  And in my family, Thanksgiving isn’t simply a big meal at a relative’s house. Oh no, for our family, we use our kids’ week off from school to turn Thanksgiving into a week long vacation at an All-Inclusive Resort in Mexico!  It is obviously a wonderful time for the family and it’s great to exchange the chilly November weather at home for the warmth of Mexican sunshine.  But, staying at an all-inclusive resort means you can eat and drink whatever whenever.  So Thanksgiving is not simply one or even two big meals celebrating with family…It’s 7 days of it!

Well, I certainly tried to be good and have to say, I think I made slightly better decisions than I normally would.  BUT, upon arriving home and stepping on that scale for the first time in 8 days, I was quite surprised to see that I was NINE (9!) pounds heavier than my lowest weight right before we left for vacation.  “Don’t worry,” I told myself.  “That’s vacation weight.  It’s probably mostly just water and it’ll all drop off in no time.” And actually, the weight did start dropping off a little bit.

But then came the second whammy.  After being home for less than a week, I came down with a virus.  Probably just a severe cold, but it certainly did a number on me primarily in the form of a VERY sore throat. After going to the doctor and getting tested for the usual suspects (the Flu, Strep Throat) and having the results come back negative, I was on the path of simply needing to get rest, drink lots of fluids, and just “wait it out”.

Driving home from the doctor, I was feeling sorry for myself.  “Hey – You know what would make that sore throat feel better?” I thought to myself… “A MILKSHAKE!  Yeah, a milkshake would be pretty soothing right about now.” And that was error in judgment #1.  This started me down the path over the next couple of days of multiple errors in judgment compounding on top of each other.  No single error catastrophic on its own, but each one adding to the previous mistake.  But each time, I also had a good excuse…”I’m sick…That cookie will make me feel better.” Or “Of course I can’t do any physical activity…I’m sick.  I need to rest.  Doctor’s orders.”  Flash forward just a few days to today and the scale says I’m right back to up to where I  was when I got home from vacation.  UGH!

And that’s when I realized the power of the Failure Curve.  I had experienced the power of the Success Curve earlier in my sabbatical.  As I improved my eating habits and activity levels and saw the weight dropping off little by little, I felt I was unstoppable.  I KNEW it was going to work and that I was going to continue to lose weight until I reached my goal!  But the Failure Curve is cunning and is just as powerful as the Success Curve.  You see, the worse I ate and the worse I felt, the worse I WANTED to eat! It is so much easier to stay on that Failure Curve, making those slight errors in judgment every day slowly slipping back down, further and further way from success.

But this may be one of the benefits of the Slight Edge philosophy and why I did call it a blessing, because at least now I RECOGNIZE IT.  I can see and understand that I am making those daily withdrawals when it comes to my eating habits and my weight loss, never once making a deposit back into the account.  So each day I’m staying on that Failure Curve.  But the GOOD NEWS is that I can make a choice.  And today I made that choice to get back on the Success Curve in order to get the Slight Edge to work for my weight loss and not against it!

And that brings me to my other story….

Not-So-Much Father of the Year

As many proud father’s would certainly say, I absolutely love and ADORE my 7 year old son and in general, we have an amazing relationship.  And I want that relationship to continue as he grows up and into adulthood.  My relationship with my son is one of the 2 most important relationships in my life (the other of course being the relationship with my wife).  So naturally, you would expect that I would be making deposits on a daily basis into that “bank account” that is the relationship with my son.

But I had the epiphany the other day that this is not always the case.  In fact, very recently I’ve probably been making more withdrawals than deposits.  Something about being unemployed has had me put more pressure on myself as it relates to those things I am responsible for at home.  As my wife has put it several times, “You need to relax! You’re the most up-tight unemployed person in the world!”  And she’s absolutely right.

One of those areas where I need to relax is in dealing with my son’s school routine. Since I am no longer working, I have taken the reigns on ensuring my son gets ready for school in the morning and does his homework in the evenings.  Let me remind you, that my son is in SECOND GRADE.  We’re not talking about college prep, mind you.  But for some reason, with each passing day, I seemed to be getting more and more frustrated and impatient with my son.

It all came to a head last Thursday evening when he was having a difficult time practicing for his spelling test the next day.  After me scolding him for repeatedly making his d’s look like b’s he got to work again.  Then, while I was absent-mindedly looking at something on my phone, he decided to get up and curiously look over my shoulder at what I was doing.  This prompted a very frustrated, angry, and frankly LOUD response from me for him to sit down and get his work done, not to mention how RUDE he was being for looking over my should at my phone (something that under normal circumstances I’ve let him do on countless occasions). At this point, my son begins to cry and my wife justifiably takes his side telling me yet again to chill out and reminding me that he is indeed just in second grade.

Now, this particular incident in and of itself wasn’t “that bad” and I’m sure that similar scenes occur on a regular basis from parents who have run out of patience with their child who just won’t “get your work done!” or “brush your teeth!” or “eat your peas!” – you get the idea. And I’m not trying to make excuses for myself (although for those of you keeping score at home, the next morning is when I had to go to the doctor for my VERY sore throat – so maybe the impending illness can partially account for my irritable behavior!). I just want to be clear that this one incident was not some kind of over the top parenting disaster.

What was compelling about this one incident was the fact that, thanks to the Slight Edge, I realized that with this one incident I was making a WITHDRAWAL from the account that is the relationship with my son and I had been making small withdrawals on a regular basis lately.  What would ultimately happen to our relationship if I continue making those withdrawals?  What would happen if, compounded over time, my son started to despise doing homework or worse…despise me?!? It was that realization that I was on the Failure Curve as it relates to one of THE MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIPS IN MY LIFE that was such an eye-opening experience.

With that realization I resolved to start making deposits into my son’s relationship account and lots of them! We are going to get on the Success Curve and STAY ON IT! This weekend was a GREAT weekend of playing and laughs and most importantly from me – PATIENCE. And this morning (Monday morning) when he was running behind schedule getting ready for school, I did not lose patience or turn into the strict task-master (“Chop, chop…hurry up or you’ll be late.”) I simply stayed patient and said, “Don’t worry buddy, we’ll get you to school on time.” And we did.

So there we have it.  Two examples NOT of applying the Slight Edge for success, but in realizing where the Slight Edge had me headed for failure.

But I guess those realizations are successes after all.

A Little Boost from Fate

To Read or Not To Read

When it comes to getting things going as it relates to “The Slight Edge”, I recently had an experience where Fate stepped in to help push me in the right direction.

I have not yet reached the second part of “The Slight Edge” entitled “Living the Slight Edge” so I have not read how the author recommends tackling the challenge of squeezing all of the habits that need to be developed into a daily routine.  I am certainly anxious to see what he has to say on that subject!  But for now, I am working things out on my own.

For example, one “daily discipline” referenced early on in “The Slight Edge” is the idea of building the habit of reading educational or developmental material on a daily basis.  The idea of the compound effect this will have on an individual over the course of their lifetime is profound and speaks directly to what the Slight Edge is all about – Get a little better every day!  Sounds easy enough…

But here’s the problem: I’m a SLOW READER!  There…I admitted it… Don’t get me wrong, I’m a good reader and feel that I am very solid at comprehending and retaining the material.  I’m just S-L-O-W.  My wife has even joked that she can see my lips moving while I’m reading! (Not true at all, but point taken my dear.)  I’ve made efforts in the past to improve my speed reading, but always feel like I’m losing comprehension.  So I’ve settled on the fact that I’m simply a slow reader.  That doesn’t mean I can’t develop the habit as recommended in the book, it simply means that I will either have to spend a lot more time reading OR won’t get through as much material as I would like.  So many books, so little time.

That’s where Fate stepped in to help me out.

The other night, my wife and I were invited to a dinner & wine tasting with a handful of my wife’s friends/colleagues that she’s gotten to know through her work.  There were 10 of us there – all married couples.  To ensure that each couple didn’t simply spend the night talking to his or her respective spouse, we decided to mix up the seating so no couples were sitting next to each other.  As luck (or Fate) would have it, I was seated at the right hand of our host for the evening.  He is a prominent Dallas-area physician, is Chief Medical Officer for a number of companies, is a successful entrepreneur, appears to be physically fit and has a great wife and family as well. In other words, he struck me as someone who was already living the Slight Edge philosophy!

The doctor and I had never met, so this gave us a great opportunity to get to know one another.  Towards the end of the evening, we somehow got on the topic of books we’re reading.  I brought up “The Slight Edge” and described what I liked about it.  He pulled up his phone and immediately went to Amazon and downloaded a copy of the book.  With his phone up, he then started scrolling through page after page of titles in his digital library; recommending titles to me as he went.  I was astonished at the number of books in his library.

“How much reading do you do?” I asked.
“Well, I guess I read about a book a week,” he replied.
“Wow – that really is a lot of reading.  I would love to be able to do that.  But with everything you have going on, HOW DO YOU FIND THE TIME?”

He told me that the majority of his “reading” is actually through audiobooks.  I nodded along. When I was working, I would occasionally use audiobooks to help with my commute, but I still didn’t see how this was going to get me to a book a week.

“The trick is to not listen to it at regular speed.  You need to listen to it at DOUBLE speed.”

Blank stare from me.  Huh?

“Check this out,” he said and he pulled up his audible.com app on his phone.  Sure enough, there was a little button that allowed you to increase the rate of speed at which you were listening to the audiobook.

Then he summed it up for me like this….

“Think how slowly someone reads the text on an audiobook.  Your brain can process someone reading to you at a much faster rate than they do on an audiobook.  Start by listening at 1.5X.  Once you’re used to that speed, switch up to 2X.  I listen while I’m working out or just doing stuff around the house.  At 2X speed, I can get through a 6 hour audiobook in 3 hours! Plus, I haven’t lost anything on the retention side of things.  THAT’s how I have time to get through a book a week!”

Mind. Blown.  I’m sure the fact that you can listen to audiobooks at 2 or even 3 times the speed is fairly common knowledge to many people out there who consumer audiobooks regularly.  But to me, this was an entirely new concept and I found it truly eye-opening (or maybe ear-opening would be more appropriate)!

Naturally, today I downloaded the Audible app and am halfway through my first book on the good doctor’s recommended reading list – “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl. I don’t envision this taking away from the progress I’ll make with “The Slight Edge” or other books I will be reading, as the audiobooks fit into other parts of my day.  So I view this as a BIG WIN in my efforts to be impacted by the philosophy of the Slight Edge.

The rest of the evening was great fun for everyone involved. We all came away having made new friends and it was a great success.  But for me, seeing how one successful individual has found a way to give himself a slight edge will be the ripple effect that will have the most lasting impact.

And I owe THAT to Fate stepping in and making sure I was placed in the proper seat for the evening.

 

Getting Started…

So here’s my first blog post.  I suppose the best place to start with this particular post is to get the basics covered – who, what, why  (you get the idea).  I imagine that this will be one of my longer posts simply because we’ve got to get the backstory covered.  After this, my posts are intended to be short and sweet.  It’s also important to note that I currently have no expectations or aspirations to have this blog widely circulated or read.   The initial intent is (in my opinion) what I envision a “web log” to be – mainly an online journal where I’ll track my progress and document my thoughts around the particular topic at hand – namely “My Slight Edge Experience.”

Perhaps someday, I may share this with a few friends and there may be those who simply stumble across it by accident.  If you fall into that category – please feel free to read, comment, etc.  I wouldn’t be publishing this to the world if I was worried someone might read it.  And who knows, maybe there will be a reason in the future to try to attract more readers.  But for now, this is being written by me, for me.  Let’s see how it goes.

The Title

The title of this site probably needs a bit of an explanation.  “My Slight Edge Experience”, as the name implies, is planned to be a reflection on my own personal experiences as it relates to the book “The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines Into Massive Success & Happiness” by Jeff Olson.  I am currently  about half way through this book (or to be exact – 45% of the way according to my Kindle) and I thought it would be interesting to see if (rather than simply reading the book and then moving on to something else) I could actually try to put the ideas in the book into practice and ultimately see if the idea of compounding daily habits would, over time, have a transformative affect on my life and others.

But how did I discover this book?

I actually think this is a pretty cool story because it’s a little different than the usual “a friend recommended it” or “I noticed it had a cool cover at Barnes & Noble”.  I actually owe discovering this book to college football.  Or to be more specific – to my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.  I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1998 and while I am by no means a “die hard” sports fan, I take pride in having gone to school there and am always interested in how the Hawkeyes are doing on the national stage.

This year, it became apparent pretty early on in the season that there was something different about this Iowa football team.  So one evening, I was poking around the internet and stumbled across this article by Chad Leistikow on HawkCentral.com.  It chronicles how after a disappointing season last year, the team read and took to heart the principles of “The Slight Edge” focusing on the daily disciplines that over time will yield results and ultimately success.  At the time the article was written, it was still very early in the season (they were 4-0 at the time) and they had not even started their Big Ten conference games.  Flash forward to today and the Hawkeyes have completed their first 12-0 regular season in school history!  They are currently ranked 4th in the country in both the College Football Playoff and the AP Poll!  There is still the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State to go (where a win would have the Hawkeyes not only being crowned Big Ten champs but also being entered into the 4 team college football playoff to compete for a national title – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…).  Regardless of the results of that game versus Michigan State, this year’s season has been a MASSIVE turnaround and success for the Iowa football program where they have routinely been average (last season they were 7-6) and simply breaking into the Top 25 was something to be celebrated.  For a team to not make any dramatic changes (same coach, same offensive and defensive schemes) to see this kind of turnaround is truly impressive and while I’m sure no one would say “The Slight Edge” is the ONLY reason why they are experiencing this level of success, it certainly is a ringing endorsement of the principles outlined in the book!

So I decided I’d pick up the book and see what it has to offer…

Why Now?

So I’m at what I consider to be a very unique point in my life.  For starters, I turned 40 in September (how the heck did THAT happen?!).  In October, the company I worked for was acquired by a much larger company.  I had been thinking about moving on anyway, so once the acquisition was announced and with the unwavering support of my exceptional wife, we decided it was time for me to move on and take a break from the working world for a bit (October 22 was my last day).   I have no idea what I will be doing next professionally (and don’t get me wrong, there is still some degree of nervousness about what the long-term future holds…I mean, I just up and quit my job without anything else lined up… who does that?), but for now I am absolutely loving this first month and a half of being a stay-at-home dad to our 7 year old son.

For the first month of my self-imposed sabbatical, I was hyper focused on what I would consider very tactical accomplishments.  My wife and I had created a “to-do” list of things we had been putting off getting done around the house (things like steam cleaning the carpets, washing the windows, cleaning and organizing the garage and closets- you know, stuff that you say you should do “someday” but that never seem to actually get done) and I set to work immediately on knocking out that list.  I gotta say, I kicked the crap out of that list.  I mean I CRUSHED IT! But after a month of checking things off my list at a frenzied pace and that first month passing in the blink of an eye, I realized that I wasn’t doing anything that was truly going to have a lasting impact.  Like I said above, I was making tactical, “check-the-box” accomplishments – but I wasn’t doing anything that was TRANSFORMATIVE.  You see, I don’t simply want to look back on this time off as just “relaxing and fun” or when I go back to work simply talk about how I took the time to “recharge my batteries”.  I want to look back on this time off and say that it truly CHANGED MY LIFE.

And so that brings us to today.  I’m in the middle of reading “The Slight Edge” and am going to start trying to build those daily disciplines and habits that will create long term success and happiness.  And now I’ve completed my very first blog post.  Let’s see what happens from here.

I’d like to close this first post with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

It’s never too late to start.  It’s always too late to wait.

Let’s get started.