The Most Valuable Asset in the World

With a title such as that, I suppose you are expecting to learn about a special class of rare coins, trophy real estate in the south of France or natural gas exploration in the Marcellus oil field. No. The asset to which I refer is much more valuable. However, every coin that was ever collected, every property ever purchased and every cubic foot of natural gas ever extracted began with the investment of this asset. And no, it is not money. Money is simply a medium for exchanging one asset for another. In and of itself, money—those little pieces of paper with some ink on them—have very little intrinsic value. The asset to which I am referring is intrinsically very valuable.

Usually things that are valuable are scarce, only a few people have them and they tend to hoard it. Not this asset. Not only is it the most valuable asset in the world, but everyone has some of it. It is how we use it, spend it, invest it, that gives it its value. For this asset, while valuable, is also easily squandered. And once it is, it can never be replaced.

This asset is what Warren Buffett, Sam Walton and Bill Gates all used to amass their fortunes. And you have some of what they had when they started. But this asset is fickle. It can be worthless in the wrong hands and worth millions to those who know how to use it.

The asset to which I am referring of course is time. The great equalizer. The richest man in the world gets the same twenty-four hours a day you do. And everyone has some degree of freedom how they spend it. Even a person in prison can choose how they spend their time using their mind.

You can do what you want with your time: drink a beer, watch American Idol, read a book, work out, write a blog, start a charity. It is up to you. Just don’t lose sight of how precious it is. And if you do not think time is the most valuable asset in the world, just talk to a dying person. Ask them which one of their “real” assets is more valuable than the time they have left.

Time is flexible, up to a point. You can savior it, use it, invest it, share it or even squander it. The only thing you cannot do is save it up. It is like a coupon with an expiration date: use it or lose it. So, what are you going to do with your most valuable asset? The clock is ticking.

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You Don’t Have to be Self-Employed to be Self-Reliant

The  truth is not everyone should start their own business and not everyone should be self-employed. And besides, the world needs employees every bit as much as it need employers. I do not think you could build a 747 with a bunch of self-employed people.

There are some things though you owe your employer if you plan to remain employed, and therefore self-reliant. The first thing you own your employer is value. You must add value to their organization. The great news is that everyone can add value to their employer. That is why the job exists in the first place. So, figure out how your position adds value and then add as much of it as you can to ensure you remain employed (and self-reliant). Employees who add tons of value are let go last and do not stay unemployed for long.

The second thing you owe your employer is knowledge. Staying up on your education is imperative in almost every endeavor. If the company pays for it, great. If not, do it on your own. Staying up on your education does not mean getting an advanced degree (although that never hurts). Anyone can read a trade journal, follow a blogger, read the industry news. Whatever it takes, the world changes too fast for you to remain at your current level of understanding if you plan to remain self-reliant.

The third thing you own your employer is flexibility. Whatever job you have today is likely to change in the future. The job requirements may change or the job may go away altogether. That is just the nature of the world today. You need to be willing to be doing something other than what you are doing today. Stay aware, stay nimble, embrace change. It is how entrepreneurs find opportunities and employees stay employed.

 

In addition to what you owe your employer, there are things you owe yourself if you plan to remain self-reliant. The first thing you must do is network. Create an interconnected web of people who you know and who know you. And then treat your network the same way you treat your employer: add value, stay educated and embrace change. I smart man recently told me he can outsource knowledge but not relationships. They are every bit as valuable as what you know.

You also need to plan for a rainy day. Due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., Lehman Brothers going out of business), you may find yourself in a situation you did not foresee. The self-reliant thing to do is to assume the worst and plan accordingly. If you assume you will be unemployed at some point in your life, you may be wrong but you will never get hurt. That means have some savings—a year’s worth if you can manage it. When it comes to spending money, the fun thing to do is to go on a vacation. The self-reliant thing to do is to build up your savings.

The final thing you owe yourself, and perhaps the most important thing, is to discover your life’s purpose and then get busy working it. I think it is much easier to add value, stay educated, remain flexible and network when you are doing what you are meant to do. The surest, and most fulfilling path to a self-reliant life is to spend each day on your journey, no matter who you work for.

 

 

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My Few Minutes With Valerie Harper

Back in the summer of 2008 I had the opportunity to meet Valerie Harper. My book, So Why Have You Never Been Married, had come out and Reuters did a piece on it. As a result of my 15 minutes of fame, the local TV station in LA decided they needed me on their morning news program to talk about single men. I was on with Greg Behrendt, the author of the book He’s Just Not That Into You.

I was pretty excited (and nervous) as it was my first time on live TV, but I kept my cool and pretended it was no big thing. I was just taking it all in. So, about 20 minutes before my set they put me the green room. Guess what? There really are green rooms.

So, I march in, sit down and scan the room. There were about four other people already in the green room waiting for their set on the morning show. And I immediately recognize one of them as Valerie Harper. She is just as good-looking in real life as she is on TV. But I didn’t say a word. Partly because I’m not into fan worship, partly because I was nervous as hell and partly because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Only a minute of two passed before Valerie caught my eye, she leaned over, extended her hand to me and said, “Hi, I’m Valerie.”  I had to fight the urge to say “No shit!”

We chatted for a moment or two and I told her about my book on middle-aged men who had yet to marry. Then she introduced me to her husband who went on to say that he had a middle-aged son who would probably never marry. What could I do? I reached over and gave him a copy of my book. Idiot! I forgot to sign it.

So, now I tell anyone who will listen that Valerie Harper’s husband has a copy of my book. My tenuous link to stardom.

The takeaway for me is that this woman, who had already amassed a lifetime of fame, took a moment out of her life to say hello to someone who meant less than nothing to her. I would like to think she sensed my tension in that moment and just tried to put me at ease. I will always think fondly of that day and of my very brief encounter with Valerie Harper. As she fights her battle with cancer, I will remember her not just for the smiles she put on my face when she was on TV, but of the smile she put on my face as I was getting ready to go on TV.

Fight on Valerie.

 

 

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The Starbucks Learning Curve

I went into the local Starbucks last week to order my usual drink: a grande caramel frappuccino with whipped cream. If you are not familiar with this drink, it is what you would order for your last meal were you ever to find yourself on death row. Heck, the calories alone might kill your before they got you to the table. It is my vice and I am sticking to it.

As I watched the young girl make my drink, I could tell it was her first day on the job. Her cluelessness was palpable. Her every movement punctuated with hesitation. And when she finally delivered my decedent delight, I noticed she had committed the ultimate sin of the frappuccino chef: she forgot the caramel topping. No big deal. I nicely asked her if she wouldn’t mind adding a little of the luscious brown sauce to the top of my whipped cream mound. After briefly apologizing for her “obvious” oversight, she did so with great alacrity.

Here is a truth we all have to come to terms with: we suck at something the first time we try it. In fact, we are usually so bad the first time out that we cannot even imagine a time when we will not suck at it. It is even worse when our initial incompetence is on public display for all to see. An accountant can hide in the back room and make their mistakes in private; a Barista cannot.

There is no doubt that I will one day soon walk into that Starbucks and witness that same young girl whip up a perfect frappacino while simultaneously juggling a dozen other responsibilities. Learning is like that. At first you cannot walk and then one day you are running a marathon.

It is sometimes difficult to remember that the initial incompetence we experience when trying something new does not last forever. In most instances it does not even last very long. But it is no doubt frustrating (and sometimes embarrassing). What it can never be is a deterrent to trying.

Michael Jordon got cut from his high school basketball team. Jerry Seinfeld froze on stage during his first standup comedy performance. We all suck at first; welcome to the club. Embrace it, just do not let it stop you from starting, and do not let it deter you from continuing on.

Your biggest fear is that you will suck in public, embarrass yourself in front of someone you know and be the laughing stock, forever. I hate to burst your bubble, but most people do not really care that you suck and they never give it another thought. Why? Because they know at some point in their past they sucked, and they may suck again in the future. And because it is just not that big of a deal. Go ahead and suck. Embrace the Starbucks Learning curve. Soon you will be making perfect frappacinos.

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The REAL Secret to Changing Your Life for the Better

I know what you are thinking. “Not another self-improvement technique. Who do you think you are, Tony Robbins?” I have to admit, it’s not really a secret, so much as it is a topic few people discuss. There have been books written on this subject, but not many people bother to read them, which is remarkable when you consider that it truly can change your life for the better. I will even go so far as to say I doubt any big, meaningful change can happen in your life without this “secret.”

First the good news. This secret does not cost any money to use and anyone can do it. Starting today. And the change you seek will begin to take effect immediately once you start. Whatever it is you seek, be it more money, a better job, lower weight, better health, independence, can all be had by using the secret.

Now for the bad news. This secret you need to use to get what you want is easy to do for a day or a week, but hard to do for a month or a year (or many years). Anyone can start to use it, and many often do, but not many hold onto it long enough for it to make a difference. You may have even unknowingly tried to implement this secret in the past, and if you did, you no doubt understand how difficult it is to stick with it.

So, what is the secret you need to use to get anything you want? Delayed gratification: the ability to wait to obtain something that you want.

If you think back on your life and see any of the wonderful things you have achieved or attained, somewhere along the way you made a conscious decision to wait some period of time to get what you wanted. Did you ever lose a substantial amount of weight? You delayed gratification. Did you graduate from college? You delayed gratification (for at least four years). Did you save money for a down payment on a house or to start a business? You delayed gratification.

If delaying gratification can get you almost anything you want, why don’t we do it more often? Because it is difficult to do, and here is why. Suppose you want a better body (who doesn’t?), but you also happen to like big, juicy burgers. Now while the pleasure of the rock-hard abs will not be realized until some unknown time in the distant future, the taste of the juicy burger is immediate—it is right now. And in the duel between pleasure now and pleasure in the future, pleasure now wins out almost every time. It is human nature.

So, what is the secret to implementing the secret? I wish I could offer some insight, but I am human too. The only comfort I can offer is to tell you that the next time you want something really bad and fail to achieve it, at least you will know why. Because you wanted a bite of that big, juicy burger right now.

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