Monday, March 31, 2008
Today I had to handle two disagreements on contract terms. In each case I listened to the concerns of the offending party - the disagreements surrounded improper procedures - and agreed with how the dispute would be dealt with. What I find most interesting about these sorts of disagreements is how easily people will go back on their own word for the sake of keeping their money. Often they swear they never signed such an agreement, and when the agreement is presented to them they are quick to explain their lack of understanding in that area. Of course they would never have signed such an agreement had they known the true meaning. In other words, they probably did not read anything carefully and now expect the penalties for their mistakes to simply be waived. Does it matter that their word is forever questioned? Of course not, so long as they get to keep their money. Does it matter that the reason for the penalty is to keep the company in business? Again, no, because they are looking out for themselves, not the company they work for or with.
I realize that a lot of the "Me First" mentality has become ingrained in the fabric of our nation. I realize that people really started looking out for number one when their employer started considering too many of them expendable. The tragedy, though, is good employers get mistreated just as much as good employees because of these arrangements. Companies that protect their employees, vendors, and clients are very often taken advantage of, and many times those companies end up going out of business. In some instances the loyalty of the employer is rewarded with loyalty from the employee and vice versa, and those relationships grow and thrive. I feel like my business has built a reputation based on honesty, integrity, and positive relationships. I would like to see that reputation begin to pay more dividends again. Here's hoping for a bright future soon.
P.S. I realize the end of this post is extremely convoluted. I feel like I am rambling and I could not seem to bring the post to a logical conclusion.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
When an opportunity comes along to do something new, something different, something that will help me grow in my experience and knowledge, I feel inclined to consider it. When that opportunity could mean greater wealth, more flexibility of schedule, and the chance to live anywhere I might want to, again I pause and think, "What if?"
I am not typically someone who always looks from greener pastures. I do not go through life whimsically changing to suit my fickle moods. No, I'm the guy who's had the same haircut since childhood (or at least since college depending on how narrowly one defines sameness). I'm the guy who buys two pairs of the same shoes whenever I find what I want so I won't have to shop for them again anytime soon. I prefer to keep my life relatively simple.
In other words, I am not the sort of person who religiously reads job listings. I have a great job, after all. I get to spend a lot of time with my family, and I make a good living doing things I enjoy. I am what some might call "fat and happy" or at least satisfied. Satisfaction, though, should never come to one so young. Clearly, I need to branch out.
Thus I find myself looking at some wings and considering what some would call an ill-fated flight. To further muddy the waters and digress from the supposed subject of this post, I must look back nearly six years. I felt a strong leading to go back to school at that time. I knew that I was supposed to go back after a strong sign came in the form of a high score on the GMAT, the "SAT" of graduate business school. So I returned, planning to get a fairly general degree that would broaden my marketability. I already had an accounting background, so I was determined to focus away from finance or accounting in my program. Then I heard two professors speak, and I knew why I had returned to school. The first was a finance professor who explained why everyone needed to take his class, and then finish the sequence in finance to fulfill the international component of the program. The second was a professor of entrepreneurship who explained how many businesses had started from his program and how many competitions his teams had won (more than several other top schools combined). I knew I had to take both sequences, along with consulting, to focus my degree on small business financial consulting. With the work I had already done, my accounting background, and this new degree, I knew I could help people improve their small businesses.
The problem with having a perfect job description for a career is that the job needs to exist. After graduate school, I found one such job opportunity, but I was deemed underqualified by the business school offering it - they needed someone to head up small business development center. I did not even get an interview, but instead a nice letter explaining how many others had applied. I realized the job market was poor, and my chance to use my new skills would not be found. I turned back to my former business, knowing I had a better chance to use my skills there than anything else I would find. Obviously it paid off, since I now own part of that business.
Then came the email at a time when my business was struggling. "Do you know anyone who would be interested in this position?" it asked innocently. I had read about the company my MBA classmate started in his regular company newsletters and often thought, "That sounds an awful lot like what I wanted to do with my MBA. Go figure." I never did more than take notice of it, though. After all, my job was secure and my life was good. Still, the email explained exactly what they were looking for, and if it had said "We were hoping to hire Robert" in the description of necessary skills, it could not have been more clearly made for me. CFO solutions for small business who cannot afford a full-time financial person sounds a lot like small business financial consulting to me. Knowing the owner of the company never hurts, especially when I know him to be honorable, ethical, and hard-working. He and I think a lot alike, in fact. The timing could not have been more right (or more wrong if I didn't want to rock the boat). So I emailed him to learn more. The pay sounds great, the chance to learn and grow is wonderful, the flexibility of the schedule seems ideal, and the fact I could do it from anywhere I want makes it hard to overlook. The training - especially the chance to help train other people when I'm older and want to share my knowledge - and benefits package put the icing on the cake.
Then comes the second guessing. Can I really make what he suggests? Would the schedule really be so perfect? Do the benefits matter? Is the risk that I fail worth the chance that I succeed? Am I discounting what I have too much and not discounting this opportunity enough? Is my life so bad that I even need to change? On and on it goes. And so I feel like Icarus. I have flown too close to the sun, or at least my eye is on the sky instead of down here on Earth, dealing with what is already on my plate.
P.S.: I do not mean for this post to sound depressing. I know it is great to have the opportunity to choose between to wonderful jobs, especially in such a market. I just wanted to vent.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Many people find success by following the path set forth by others. Columbus followed the Chinese, others followed him. Nike ran an entire ad campaign encouraging kids to "be like Mike" meaning the great Michael Jordan. Most movies in Hollywood today seem to follow a formula that works with audiences: main character established, character struggles, character triumphs. Quite a few are so similar as to be near carbon-copies of a previous blockbuster. Many times the corporate vice presidents under a president or CEO have similar values and qualities to that president or CEO. Imitation certainly can produce positive results.
The truly successful, though, are very often the trailblazers. Michael Dell dropped out of college to build computers for a living, even though his father thought it was a ridiculous way to make a living. Bill Gates left Harvard to start Microsoft. Numerous other men and women I have known over the years cut their own path to the top of their field. Each possesses an inner drive, a willingness to color outside the lines and march to the beat of a different drummer. Some of these are imitated with mixed results. They are often studied so their success can be reformulated. Sometimes their success is even improved upon. In the end, though, I find true success comes from a willingness to stand out, to do it "my way", and to learn from my own mistakes. Some day I want to do even better at blazing my own trail, instead of succeeding by following another.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Crazy Things Heard On The Phone
While I was back there digging, I thought I might also share some other gems of wittiness from my early days that some of my newer readers might not have gotten to see.
One Of Your Drivers Just Ran Over My Car
Tony Drove Off the Side of a Mountain
I Regret to Inform You...
So, enjoy. Feel free to comment here on any of these posts, or comment there. I'll try to look all four places. My apologies if some of these stories seem indelicate. Most of them happened between five and ten years ago, if that helps.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Private insurers will still have the ability to offer insurance to those that can afford it or have employers who choose to offer it. This would certainly be a reduced pool of potential customers, which leads us to our next point.
First, and perhaps most importantly, I don't envision any single payer national health program as being mandatory. While some might argue that a mandatory program would ensure similiarity of care and keep the best providers from simply continuing to deal with those that are privately insured, I would respectfully suggest that health care providers are far more interested in providing care to those that can provide the most efficient profits, not just serving the wealthiest clientele. Layers upon layers of bureaucracy within insurers eat into their profits and hinder their ability to serve. There's no reason to believe they would not be just as willing to forego those nusances as the public would be to get their health care without them.
Under a national single payer program I see the insurers participating in a number of ways:
- Serving as contractors to process reimbursements, a skill which many are expert at and in fact could enhance the regional concept I proposed yesterday. Numerous regional insurers could leverage existing relationships with providers and cut overhead no longer needed under a single payer system.
- Continuing to offer supplemental insurance for elective procedures, which can be among the most profitable for providers (and insurers who sell such insurance).
- Managing Medical Savings Accounts. This segue into the finance arm of health care is natural for insurers, who can surely innovate new ways of offering MSAs that benefit the consumer.
- Providing low-cost options to compete with a single payer system. This may seem contradictory to my earlier suggestions but far from it. Private industry competes with government service in many ways when there are profits to be made, and instituting a single payer system could entice insurers to develop new low-cost insurance that doesn't exist right now. This could lead to higher volumes and more profits.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
On Thursday I had began a discussion of why single-payer options might be a good candidate for the type of aggressive reform in health care that I personally think we need. I should begin by saying that although I think Mr. Nader has some good ideas, I want to be perfectly clear in my disappointment that none of the three remaining candidates who actually have some semblance of a chance of being elected have formulated a plan that takes into account single payer options. Here's why I believe that:
1) A single payer option can be coupled with existing health care payment options, public and private more easily than brand new programs.
2) Single payer options can be administratively less burdensome than some of the policies currently being offered.
3) Single payer is the option that best allows drug companies and insurers to partner with the government to negotiate costs and streamline service delivery. Frankly, any option that discounts the role of insurers in the solution is shortsighted. (I should give fair credit to Sen. Obama for his plan, which in fact does involve insurers heavily.)
One of the proposals that I believe is most well thought-out and seems most likely to succeed in this country is the proposal that was offered some years ago by Physicians for a National Health Program (http://www.pnhp.org/). In the proposal, PNHP offers the same sorts of arguments that I outlined on Thursday. Namely that single payer is a method of reducing health insurer bureaucracy and freeing up resources that now are spent in billing and collections that could, and perhaps should be used to provide clinical care. But does PNHP's proposal go too far when they offer up a solution for hospital care that would in essence convert every hospital to a non-profit and mete out a monthly budget from the National Health Insurer? I believe so. We have seen India attempt the same situation with its government-run hospitals, as well as Britain. One of the major criticisms that opponents of universal health care level is that Britain, often held up as the standard for universal health care has tremendous problems with equalizing the quality of their care across clinics and hospitals and that patients often have to endure agonizing waits to get necessary care. These criticisms, by and large are accurate, and should be taken into account when we rush into believing that a universal health care system must swallow whole all of the providers to ensure the evil profit monster of corporate health care is vanquished.
As an aside, if you'd like to look through some of the most reasoned criticism on single payer health insurance Goodman and Herrick produced an excellent paper for the National Center for Policy Analysis available here.
I disagree with any attempt to nationalize health care assets because nationalizing inherently kills the competitive spirit that advances health care facility's ability to improve their quality of care. In Britain, as Goodman and Herrick adequately point out, it is not unusual to see advanced technology in one room coupled with poor technological health care equipment for other types of care within the same facility. Providers are going to be paid the same for their relative investments, why should the providers improve?
Providing avenues for profit is not necessarily a bad thing, and we quite honestly have numerous government programs that either directly provide or open avenues to incredible profits for contractors and grantees alike. Why then can we not allow a single payer system, whereby the Federal Government is the payer, to provide these mechanisms?
One way I believe this can be accomplished is through regionalization. MEDICAID, TANF and numerous other assitance programs are delegated to states to implement. It should be no surprise that any new federal single-payer program would be delegated as well. This would allow for difference in reimbursement rates among different states, to accomodate the different health care needs. The technological advancement for care needed in rural Northern Idaho will be far different than mid-town Manhattan. And truthfully, given the different standards of living in those areas, the national insurer should allow for fluctuations in service cost.
Allowing states to recommend different reimbursement rates for various services would not leave us with the same problem of skyrocketing costs. Rather, it would allow for some standardization among states for essential services and preventative care, while allowing those providers who have invested heavily in a particular speciality...say cancer treatment...to recoup their investment. True, people might still have to travel long distances to get this specialized care, but what universal program would solve this problem? It is reasonable to believe that providers will go where their services are most needed. And because these specialists will now have the added benefit of simplified billing and collections, they will be able to offer the same level of care to many, many more patients. That equals more business for them, and more profits.
Where does these leave the insurers? More on that tomorrow. The insurers will play a significant role in this process, and will even find themselves able to continue competing with other insurers and improving their ability to bring profits to their shareholders.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services..."
The US of A, whether we like it or not, has some responsibility for this statement. It seems to me the fundamental issue in any discussion about universal health care is what we believe as a society. Do all Americans believe this? Certainly not. Do most? Maybe. Do policy makers? It might seem clear by their words but by their actions or lack thereof--I don't believe so.
Lots of discussions become fruitless because human beings have a tendency to focus on the wrong questions. In this debate on health care policy we are seeing play out I don't think we (the voting public...or the non-voting public for that matter) have done a very good job of pushing this discussion toward the fundamental question posed above. Do people have a right to medical care?
Nearly 60 years ago the better part of the world's nations said they believed that people do in fact have a right not just to basic care but health care that supports and furthers their standard of living and well-being. Yet today our national discourse focuses on the various strategies available to solve a health care crisis that I would argue many Americans don't even believe exists.
As many lively discussions as Rob and I have had on international recognition of rights, he probably can figure out where I come down on this issue. I tend to agree with Article 25; I think people in a global society that values human life have to in turn value health care. We have to value it to the point that we're willing to give up some of our resources (taxes, or money through other means) in order to ensure the right we value is protected.
Whether or not we are even in a global society is an issue perhaps Robert and I will tackle another time. You'll find we have differing views on that one as well. :-)
Tomorrow I'll get into more about how a modified single-payer insurance system should be explored in this country. For right now let me list out some of the reasons why I think Ralph Nader MIGHT just be right with his plan to expand Medicare coverage for all Americans, but a few caveats of my own thrown in in the interest of reasoned fairness:
- A Single Payer system doesn't necessarily have to cut down on medical choices, and can allow for the patient to make the ultimate decision on health care.
- A Single Payer system can, using Medicare as an example, provide efficient coverage and cap administrative costs to ensure layers upon layers of bureaucracy are not created.
- A Single Payer system can continue to encourage competition to control health care costs, but also bring the added benefit of economies of scale to help keep costs down on common medical services and prescription drugs.
- A Single Payer system does NOT equate to "socialized medicine."
- A Single Payer system MAY (emphasis on may) be the easiest 'radical overhaul' of our health care system because infrastructure is already in place.
- A Single Payer system does NOT equate to "government-run health care" and can in fact foster partnership that is beneficial for health care providers and insurers.
- A Single Payer system MUST be coupled with other reforms in health care services to ensure lower costs and increased access to care for those who need it. No other country's model is perfect, and no other country's model will fit nicely into the U.S. we need a unique system that can borrow successful components from other systems.
More to come...stay tuned.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I did have a very good day, though, and feel much better about the prospects for my future thank even yesterday. I still have a lot of waiting and pondering to do, but at least it's not as onerous as it seemed before. I'll write more to explain my ambiguity as things develop.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
My Tuesday started with some real concerns about where things in my life were headed. By the end of work, I had at least sorted out some of the reasons for fearing the worst, thankfully. Still, any time something comes along with enough inertia to knock me off course or at least give me pause like that, I tend to stop and reflect. Questions like "Am I doing the right thing?", "Is this what I am meant to be doing?" or "Where do I go from here?" pop into my mind. I think it is healthy to have a little self-reflection now and then, and it doesn't always have to be positive. I spent a lot of time reflecting Monday and Tuesday night. There are still no clear answers. Is that a good thing? Time will tell. For now, I know I have some things to consider, and I still have a bit of a waiting game to play with regard to my business. We still have to wait a week and a half for the results of our bid from last month. Fingers are crossed, prayers uttered, and shooting stars have been wished on... and time goes on.
My apologies if this post makes no sense to anyone but me. I just had to write my thoughts down somewhere, and what better place than for all the world to see?
P.S. I have often enjoyed playing the song "So You Had a Bad Day" when bad things happen, thus the title.
Monday, March 17, 2008
P.S.: This post was sponsored by satirical society of self-centeredness. Now back to your regularly scheduled basic blogging.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
1) To have FUN
2) To INVEST
3) To GIVE
I wanted to read that chapter to her because those three uses are very much in line with how I think. I want wealth, but not because I want to be rich. I want to be able to take care of my family without borrowing other people's money, but after that I want to be able to help the world around me. When I was younger, I wanted to write for a living in the hopes of becoming well known and perhaps wealthy so I could actually help people with my knowledge and wealth. My writing skills were not what they needed to be, so that dream went by the wayside, but I still would like to have the ability to help people and organizations that I believe in or care about. I have seen how much my father has done for others in my life, and his influence has changed lives for the better. He has never had to be ruthless or cruel to build wealth, and he has lived as a humble, honest man of integrity. He has given a great deal to his university, to scholarships, and to people down on their luck. I have always wanted to have the same ability, but I have lacked the means. Dave Ramsey has shown me how I can get there - and what he teaches is very much in line with what I already believed on the matter - and given me hope that the day will come when I can honor my father's legacy of goodness.
It is good to enjoy wealth, to a point. If a person has made millions, or even hundreds of thousands, they should be able to enjoy some luxuries now and then. It is good to invest because it helps others build their ventures and allows the investor to grow wealth along with those ventures. Investing is how money begins to work for someone instead of someone having to work for money. The most enjoyable, enriching, positive experience with money, though, in my experience, comes from giving it away. I have felt the joy of receiving generosity from others - I went to college on scholarships and an assistantship in graduate school - and I have had seen the appreciation in the eyes of recipients of scholarships when I got to hand them checks at awards ceremonies. I have seen the tears when I had the privilege of dropping off food and toys to a family who would not have had Christmas without it. I have felt the blessings of service and of giving throughout my life, and I want to have wealth so I can share it.
I want to have a Total Money Makeover because I know that wealth can be tremendously rewarding when it is handled well, and it can be the key to bringing positive change to a world in such desperate need. I recommend that anyone who has doubts about Dave Ramsey's views read the second to last chapter in the book which describes the three uses of money. If tears don't well up... I won't make a character judgment. Truly, though, I believe in what Dave Ramsey teaches because he is not trying to make corporate moguls who crush people who get in their way. He is trying to help good people become wealthy so they can share their goodness. What a wonderful message of hope, but not empty promises, but real hope that tomorrow can be better for all of us. I can think of no better idea of success.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
How long will it wait? I now have three timelines outlined for our mortgage payoff. We can live reasonably well, pay a lot extra, and be done with it in just about four years. Eight years to pay off a thirty-year mortgage feels pretty good, and not suffering too badly to do it sounds great. But somehow I didn't feel like we were really getting in the mindset of a Total Money Makeover if we had a lot of nonessential spending still built into our budget, so I examined it again. This time, I came up with a timeline of around three years, which requires us to avoid spending money on a home improvement project we had in mind until we're done, and generally cuts out any excess above necessities, a small entertainment budget, and two vacations. Still, I wanted to see if I could come up with a way to break the three-year barrier. So I reduced the spending to essentials, one inexpensive vacation a year (think, visiting relatives), and all our entertainment budget stripped down to only include one major fun thing a month that we have committed to doing, but not much of anything else.
Two years and three months came back. I checked my inputs, thinking that couldn't really be true. Still, the chart showed two years and three months. Could we live like no one else for two years with the goal being to live like no one else forever after (across the bottom of every page in Dave Ramsey's book it says "live like no one else, so you can live like no one else"). Somehow, I think I could. I have been a college student living on a tight budget twice. My wife has lived on a tight budget much more than I have. Our kids probably wouldn't notice much if we cut a lot of the excess out of our lifestyle for a couple of years, and it would be good for them to see us do it. Children who see their parents pinch pennies learn to do it themselves in many cases. If we teach them why, they certainly have a chance to understand the value of sacrifice, which is a good lesson for anyone to learn.
Can we do it? Can we really pay off our house that fast? My mind says "Just Do It!" like a Nike Ad. My heart worries for my wife and children and the things they'll give up (my own sacrifices are much easier to me than anything I can ask of them). Still, two years compared to fifteen or twenty feels like a wonderfully short time. Can we do it? Here's hoping.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I certainly have several that immediately come to mind, but I will write about one of the most egregious because it still bothers me. For the record, I cannot prove I am right about this situation, but I have reasonable confidence that what I am writing about here is the truth.
When I was in graduate school, I took a course in Human Resources as part of a sequence of courses required to get a specialization in risk management. Of all the business courses I recall taking, I felt this ranked among the most worthless to me. The professor was terrible, and she never really attempted to teach, but instead had guest lecturers who worked in certain areas of benefits to discuss their line of work. The final project of the class was to create a benefits package for an employee pool with a given quantity of dollars and certain parameters to meet. The project was worth at least 40% of our grade. My team for this assignment included me (who has never had a job in corporate America with benefits), a Navy Officer (who never had any benefits before his time in the service), and an Indian (who came to America to get his education and had no familiarity with benefits here). Despite our lack of familiarity, we were able to create a package that met all the basic requirements of the assignment - within budget, certain minimum coverages, and certain options available - and certainly did not demonstrate we had not made a strong effort to accomplish the assigned task.
We got a 40. For those who have never attended graduate school, most professors do not give grades below C's because an overall grade below a C does not count towards graduation and can sometimes lead to dismissal from the program. To give a 40 on such an assignment suggested we had turned in something made of paper mache and crayon, not a multi-page report complete with charts, budgets, and writing explaining the package. We were all literally shocked. It could have kept the Navy Officer from having his tuition paid that term. It was not a small matter to receive such a grade. We were given the opportunity to review the grade in her office, and there was almost no writing on the report itself. Just a big 40 on the grade page with a few notes. We appealed the grade to the department, and we were denied. The professor who explained it to us told us as delicately as he felt he could not to pursue it further, because no one would overrule this professor. It was the only class she taught, after all, because her primary role was the Dean of Research. She decided who got what funding in the College of Business. No one would overrule her for three graduate students who would be gone in six months regardless. So, we dropped it.
I was talking to another classmate one day about this situation, and he shed some light on why our grade might have been so terrible. One of his jobs was to type up written evaluations given by students just before the end of class. They were typed to protect the anonymity of the student giving the evaluation in the hopes of getting an honest review of the professor's performance and the course's value overall. What this classmate told me, though, was he regularly saw professors come in and demand to see the written evaluation after reading the typed version. The reason, of course, to read the written version was to compare it to hand-writing and decide who wrote it. My evaluation of the course was scathing. I suggested the professor never be allowed near students again, or at least not until she'd had a course or two on proper teaching methods. I also suggested the course be removed from the requirement for the sequence because it had very little to do with the other two courses involved and seemed to have been tacked on primarily for the purposes of giving the Dean of Research a class to teach once a year. I was mostly tactful, but I was not kind in my remarks. Clearly she had read my remarks and chosen to retaliate on my grade.
After learning the true cause of my grade, I decided to do nothing more. I knew no one would care what had happened, and I was not going to risk my reputation and possibly my degree over my evaluation. Instead, I chose to inform every student who called to invite me to give more to my college - which I dearly love - that I would not be giving an extra dime to my school until she retired. I could not, in good conscience, support my school while they kept such an unethical person in such a high ranking position, or on staff at all. I smiled when I read of her retirement this year in the school magazine. I may not give any time soon in large amounts, but at least she is gone from the ranks of teaching, and gone from my school.
How could I have handled it better? I probably should have done what most people do and written a bland review of the class. I would have gotten a B overall instead of a C for the course, and my transcript would have looked better. That certainly was the wiser course of action. The problem is, to answer the last part of the Hump Day Hmm question, is that to take the wiser course would not have helped anyone know how terrible that course was. It did not let anyone know that a person of high rank was obviously doing something highly unethical. If I were a brave soul, I might have gone to the Associate Dean (her immediate boss) or the Dean of the College of Business, or even the University President. But I know the politics of education too well. I know nothing would have come of it. Or if it did, I would more likely be remembered as "that disgruntled MBA student who went to war over a grade" instead of my other legacies. I am glad I took the path I did and just moved past it. I just sometimes wonder who else might have suffered at the hands of such an incompetent professor because I did.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The first technique I have seen people use is to focus on being the most knowledgeable or well read on the subject being discussed, or at least be the most versed in written material on it. An example in a classroom would be a student who read all the required material, sometimes the supporting material, and took extensive notes before a class ever held a discussion on it. I went to school with several young people who made sure they would not be blind-sided by not reading the materials. In a working environment, these people will have read all the memos sent, literature provided, and often whatever else they might be able to find on a given subject before a board meeting. I always admired the work ethic involved in maintaining such a high level of knowledge based on written materials, probably because I was never one to read like that myself. The major downfall I saw to success with this technique, though, came when further critical thinking was required to demonstrate understanding, and many times the "well-read" student could not extend the knowledge in the book to consider new scenarios. Knowing is often better than not knowing, but being able to use knowledge is definitely important to finding success.
The second technique I have seen people use to find success is to build the best relationship with the person in charge (or in relationships, simply to find the most advantageous friends to achieve popularity). Some would call this technique the "teacher's pet" routine. By being the most favored student (or employee), choice assignments are often easier to come by and elevated status follows. An example would be a student who, because of a teacher's fondness, got picked to attend certain camps or meetings, or who received higher grades on assignments. In a work setting, being the boss's favorite could mean promotion opportunities, lighter workloads, receiving credit for the work of others, and many other advantages. I have seen many men and women utilize a teacher's pet technique to go far in life. The downside of this technique is that it turns off many teachers, bosses, or individuals (those who are popular often avoid opportunists) who do not like sycophants. Being the favorite of one person can be disastrous when dealing with others as well, because it creates resentment on the part of those who are not favored and because it can tie the pet to that teacher, boss, or friend. In professional sports, many coaching staffs rise and fall together, meaning the assistants are fired with the head coach.
The next technique I have seen work is most easily called the "dumb blond" routine, though it can be employed by people of any hair color. Sometimes it is easier to exude sexiness along with stupidity in the hopes that someone else will do the actual work on a project or assignment. I remember one young girl who got into Duke University pre-med with a 1400 plus SAT who regularly would pretend not to understand an assignment in the hopes (often successfully) of getting one of the smarter kids (often ones labelled as nerds) to do it because they just appreciated the attention. I have seen athletes use their status as big men on campus to get other people to do their assignments in exchange for the benefits of their friendship. In a work environment, a male co-worker of mine regularly played to my ego by suggesting "Well, you're so much better at this and do it so much faster, so will you do it?" I think he had used that to find success in the past, but it did not work so well in this case, because a month later I had his job. The danger of the dumb blond routine is two-fold: people actually believe the image over time and cease to rely on the person's knowledge, and (as mentioned) it can lead to dismissal when it becomes obvious the person does not pull their weight.
One obvious technique I have seen for achieving success is expertise. When a person truly achieves an expert knowledge of a subject, success very often follows. One motivational speaker explained to a club I attended, "Sinatra never set up his own piano." His point was that Sinatra became an expert in the field of entertainment, and he let other people who specialized in other areas support his success. By focusing on his own talents, he became a great success in his field. Professional athletes demonstrate quite often that dedication can pay huge dividends. Other stories, such as Bill Gates and Michael Dell in the computer field, show how passion for a subject can bring success. The danger of the "expert" technique is that it often leaves out development in many other areas. Family is left behind, social skills may be less developed, or knowledge in general may suffer as one subject is mastered. Nevertheless, without experts, we would have far less innovation in the world.
I started writing this post as it related to women, hoping to bring in the different ways males find success, and I found the different roles of success broke down into similar stereotypes. What worked for one gender often worked for the other. The differences between the genders probably came in the perception of their success. Women who succeed using the same technique as men might not receive the same praise as men. I also realize that not all forms of success are broken into these stereotypes. I could list a dozen more and still have only scratched the surface. That's the great thing about success: there are many paths to finding it, if the passion and desire exist to do so. Certainly some receive more opportunities at success because of good fortune (or literal fortune in terms of wealth), but with those chances can often come just as many downfalls if the desire is lacking.
Desire is absolutely the key element I find in all techniques people use to achieve success. Even someone who finds success by winning the lottery (though whether that constitutes success is an entirely different discussion) had to have the desire to win demonstrated by buying a ticket. Without trivializing desire too much, though, I truly do think that is what so many in today's world feel has been beaten out of them. People content themselves, or worse relegate themselves, to careers they do not love just to pay the bills, and over time stress builds in their lives as they find less and less reason to get out of bed in the morning. Why else do we need so many types of alarm clocks and stimulants to awaken ourselves each day? Here's to a world where the joy of living is stimulant enough to jump out of bed each day, kiss your spouse and children, and go forth into the world to a true calling, not just a J O B.
Monday, March 10, 2008
So today, if anyone is willing (and I am fine with anonymous responses if it promotes honesty without concern of anyone knowing), I would love to know typical spending on food, clothing, and anything else tracked in a family budget (preferably with an explanation of family size and income). I have ideas on what we spend, but I would love to compare it to other people's budgets to establish better guidelines for my own budgets. This post is probably the most vague I have done, so I want to clarify: I am asking anyone willing to share their budgets to do so in the comments section. Any budgeting advice is obviously welcome, too. Anyone else looking for help can find it here, too, if enough people share.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
One of my brothers-in-law asked me, "So, what'd you get Ellie?" I told him she had already received it, because she wanted it early to use. He asked, "So, you got her somethin else for under the tree, right?"
The thought had occurred to me once or twice, but because of the extreme difficulty of getting a gift to her parents' house several thousand miles (and usually two flights and two drives) away kept me from it. So I said, "No, I didn't."
He thoughtI was joking. He ribbed me a minute, until he realize I was serious. Then I realized how thoughtless it was of me not to have a gift waiting for her under the tree. All it would have taken was a card reminding her I loved her and that she had already gotten enjoyment from the gift she wanted so much (we still use them to this day). For the record, I am grateful my brother-in-law admonished me, and I have done better every Christmas or birthday (and some holidays) since at giving something I know she would appreciate but would never expect.
The one that stands out the most, of course, was her marimba. I had promised her that I would get one as soon as we could afford it, and I checked around the music stores in a nearby city for where I might acquire one. The first store referred me to a man who hand builds them in that same town, and gave me his website to look up. I checked it out, Coe Percussion, and immediately felt good about it. I called him and asked if we could see some of his work before making a purchase decision, and he was more than happy to oblige. I ordered it after letting Ellie check him out with her former percussion professor and letting her choose the size and design she wanted. We still enjoy listening to her give our family concerts, helping her give recitals in town, and letting the kids play it (gently, of course). I've even learned to play two easy songs.
The second gift, though, that was nearly as well received, was a simple book on photography, which probably only cost ten to twelve dollars. I hid it in my bag all the way from home to her parents' house (I learned my lesson, it's not so hard), having bought it at least a month in advance. I got one of my wonderful sisters-in-law to wrap it for me (I do a terrible job at it), and it was waiting for her under the tree. She has bragged about that book to more friends than I can count. It clearly helped her photography skills, too, because she has learned how to get our two digital cameras to focus on what she wants, to take in more or less light, and to generally perform to her liking. We decorate our home primarily with photos she has taken with those cameras, and I'm sure she could sell the pictures professionally if she wanted to.
I didn't write this post as my entry for husband of the year. I am just writing to help anyone out there who worries about having to find extravagant gifts. Sometimes the best gift is as simple as a good book, a simple "I love you", or just a hug. Those kind of gifts can mean more than diamonds or gold. Thank you for helping me remember the importance of proper gift giving, my brother-in-law.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
The first thing I did after all this sudden money crunch was to make sure I paid my tithing. I know a lot of people would consider it crazy to do such a thing in the midst of a money crisis, but I knew I needed the peace and all the blessings I could muster at a time like that. My mind was very much unburdened after I paid it, and I know I was blessed to come out of troubled times because of it, but I will leave my testimony of tithing at that for now.
Then, I did what this book would tell me not to do: I borrowed on my credit card. I had run through all the 0% balance transfer offers over time, and the one I had was for 1.99% for nine months. I borrowed enough to make sure I could pay them out of the funds, pay the bills we were suddenly hit with, and have a reserve in case something else came up. The exact amount is a little too embarassing to publish here, but I never plan to borrow short-term like that again. I actually never plan to truly borrow again, as The Total Money Makeover suggests. Dave Ramsey would describe last summer as the time "Murphy moved in" (Murphy from Murphy's Law that whatever can go wrong will go wrong).
This month, we will pay off all our debts other than our house, and we have no reason to expect to incur any new debts any time soon (read: never). I did not follow the plan Dave Ramsey would have suggested for my debt elimination, but I came close. I still paid into my retirement, paid of all my other credit cards as they came due (though I still used them), paid extra on my home loan each month, and then put any extra I could justify into the credit card debt. I certainly would've paid it faster if I had followed the Debt Snowball and put all the extra onto the debt, but I am thankful it never came to needing to. For anyone familiar with the Baby Steps, we are somewhere between steps three and four, but we're actually not far from moving towards six. We will have most of our necessary emergency fund built up by the end of the month, and I already invest 10% into my 401(k) each month, but we will plan to invest the remaining 5% into our Roth IRA later in the summer. The college accounts are already funded at this point, so we're planning to work on paying off our house as quickly as we can muster from now on. We've only owned our home four years, but we already own nearly half of the equity, and by year end we hope to have paid nearly half our original loan on it. Then we plan to refinance to a 15-year fixed rate loan on the remaining balance.
A couple of things will slow us down this year, but I consider them necessary to continuing our progress. We need to replace our stove to avoid a potentially dangerous situation, and our dishwasher will probably need to be replaced soon, too. We may also invest in a new closet design for our master bedroom because it would improve our ability to manage our space dramatically, which would in turn make it easier to be home more. Being home more comes with the territory of spending less, since we eat out less, go to movies less, and so forth. Our current plan is to spend the next several months really planning the closet and get it from Ikea. We've already paid for a trip to California in May for Todd's wedding, but most of the rest of our summer will be spent at home afterward.
I hope this post does not sound gloomy. I am really excited to become completely debt free. I feel less stress about money today than I have in ages, and I feel like I have a plan now to take control of my income, as Dave says to "Tell [my] money where to go instead of wondering where it went." I will probably write more about this book in the future since this blog is all about success and I think we will be successful. I haven't decided to make it a regular day of the week entry, but I might, just to keep myself on track and motivated. Here's hoping we're completely debt free in a couple of years.
P.S.: For anyone wondering, my wife was able to get her balance straight and has not had another full on migraine since. Her post on the balance issues is here.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
I have tried writing an entry several times, but I keep coming back to the feeling that it will not be well received. And each time I think that, I consider the irony of it, given what I keep wanting to write. If free speech doctrine truly protects my writing, then I am safe to write what I feel without fear of rebuke or reprisal. But the rebuke and reprisal can absolutely follow comments of dissent. Fortunately, though, in the United States, I do feel safe from government rebuke or reprisal for what I write. In so many countries around the world, the same cannot be said. News media that disagrees with the government in most Middle Eastern countries will be shut down, and those guilty of attacking the government might disappear, never to be seen or heard from again. Even in Europe it has only recently been safe to write against the "king and crown" without fear. So I am thankful to be an American, as I write about free speech without fear.
Can what we write be used against us in court? It absolutely can, in the court of public opinion. Whenever I write something on a blog that disagrees with typical crowd who frequents that blog, I can expect (and have often received) a backlash. It feels somewhat like being the "ignorant redneck" (or whatever derisive term would follow) who walks into an art show and wonders if the artist just spilled a can of paint. "He must not be refined enough to appreciate such vision, what a half wit."
How easily we turn against those who disagree with the group. I find that people of like minds congregate to avoid feeling like a lone reed in the wind, so dissent is met with ridicule. Is that healthy? Should we revile those who speak against us? Perhaps, but I think not. Rarely do we learn from sycophants and yes-men who parrot the groupthink we agree with. Watch what happens, though, when a student disagrees with a teacher - either in writing or in speech. Even if the teacher lets the comments slide, the other students often mock the student as a fool. In rare cases, the class supports the student when they agree but were too afraid to say anything, but most of the time the student who stands out is beaten down.
So, in the end, what is true of free speech? Are we truly free to write what we believe? We are, in most cases, free from the expectation of going to jail for what we say and write. We are not, however, free to write without expectation that it can be used against us.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
I love this line from the introduction to this book: "What I have discovered is that some of the most profound and life-changing truths you will ever discover are very simple." Indeed, in today's culture, we celebrate complexity as "sophistication" but often the best ways to live are extremely simple to the point of being boring. Boring does not make headlines, boring does not make it onto reality television, and boring definitely does not light the average person's fire. Unfortunately, life is seldom lived the way it is depicted in magazines or on The Real World, and so most people prefer to live life on the edge. "Buy now, pay later" is the modern-day mantra. The latest furniture sale I've heard is now three-years no interest (I can't recall if it was also no payments). Most appliances can be purchased with no payments for twelve months. Consumerism has overtaken our lives. We've gone well past keeping up with the Jones. Now many people have trouble keeping up with minimum payments. Listening to Dave Ramsey's show brings me great peace because I realize I have never gone as far into debt as many of his callers, few of whom have less than $10,000 in credit card debt (and most of them are behind on several payments).
I have been able to live my life floating on the sea of cash flow for years. I am ready to trim my sails toward financial freedom, though. Dave Ramsey can be the wind I trim them to, but I still have to captain the ship, and my family has to be on board. Here's hoping we're not bailing water again anytime soon.
Monday, March 3, 2008
The reason I am writing about this idea, though, is not to discuss third-world applications. This week, Todd and I were discussing how the principles of microcredit could work in the United States. When he proposed it, my mind immediately started reeling with possibilities. The first suggestion he had was to implement microloans in my industry, trucking. By giving small loans to individual drivers, more owner-operators (drivers who own their own trucks) would enter the market which has shown a shortage for several years. I have been told by drivers over the years that the federal government helps foreign drivers buy their equipment (I have never researched the truth of their claims), but I see no reason such loans could not be extended to citizens. My business helps small trucking companies and individual drivers manage short-term cash flow crunches by paying them quickly, and we help them find more work to keep them busy. The existence of more such small trucking businesses helps my company be more profitable. More people have jobs, the economy grows, and so on down the line. The main point of microcredit is to eradicate poverty in the world, but there is no reason it could not work here in the U.S. While I love the financial opportunity available to creditors willing to take the risk of becoming involved in microcredit, I would love to see instead what might be achieved of welfare was used in a similar fashion. Welfare recipients could receive training in a field of interest, and upon leaving their training, they could have the opportunity to receive a microloan to start a business with their new training. I certainly hope to further explore these ideas in the future.
In researching the idea, I found several links that offer the opportunity to loan money or receive loans, which I am listing here. I would love to see more links related to U.S. loans.
http://www.microcreditnh.org/ - help with getting loans for business owners in New Hampshire
1. Quoted from Wikipedia
Note: this post was not as well researched as I'd hoped. We're finally starting to get better around here, but it's been a long week.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Todd emailed this out January 14, and I have been meaning to get it on the blog for some time. I was very proud of him for doing the half marathon. Neither of us were runners in college or before much at all. I know it took a lot of commitment on his part to do a half marathon. From here down is his email.
Well the results are in. 3:01:17 for the half-marathon. Not a bad start considering I started training less than two months ago. And it gives me something to shoot for for my next half-marathon.
I didn't feel strong at all the first four to five miles, which was unusual. That said, I was right at 2:15 pace through mile five but started to fade badly around mile six and walked a good bit up until mile eight. I suppose that was to be expected considering my longest training run had been about six miles.Now that I'm suffering the various 350-pound coworkers with the Whataburger cups on their desks saying, "I think I could walk it in three hours! Three hours?Really? Wow? I bet I could beat that time." I think I've taken away some lessons learned.
-I only used two gels during the race, one at mile 5 and one at mile 10. A training partner suggested using three throughout the half-marathon next time to have some needed energy at the finish.
-The last mile was brutal. Since the majority of the mile 8 to mile 11 was uphill I blew up most of my energy in that part when I should have geared down.
-"Gearing down" was a major theme. I hit the first mile marker in less than 9 minutes, I should have paced it a little bit better and I may have been in better shape.
-I did feel good about my hydration and tried to slow down and drink plentifully at each water station, which was about every mile and a half. The weather was perfect though so that helped a lot I think.
-The synthetic Asics socks I used for the race made a huge difference in foot comfort and sweat absorption. My feet felt lighter than during my training runs with cotton socks.
-Nerves. When I would reach the half-mile point of each mile I felt like I was going to throw up. It may have been the banana in the morning but I doubt it. I felt very nervous not knowing what to expect but now that I've been through this race with nearly 26,000 people I think I'm going to be much more prepared for subsequent races and be able to keep up my pace. Overall I'm thrilled that I did it and looking forward to a possible half-marathon in Tucson in March!
Best to you all!
--Todd (posted by Robert)