Tis the Season to…Regift?

I am okay with regifting. I may have even gotten one or two regifts this holiday season. And while I did not give a regift, I would have if I had one to give.

giftIf you open a gift and you immediately think that someone you know would like it a hell of a lot more than you, what is the harm in regifting? They say it is the thought that counts. And if your thought is of somebody else when you open a gift, that is what counts.

Suppose, however, that you receive a gift you do not want and when you open it you cannot think of anyone who would appreciate it? That is okay too. If I got a gift I felt nobody I know would enjoy (including me), I would just donate it to some worthwhile cause. Somebody spent time making that item and somebody will enjoy receiving that item. And if you cannot figure out who that is, it is not because the item is unwanted, it is because you do not know enough people. So, give it away and let the universe get it to where it is meant to be.

Donating to charity—the ultimate regift.

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How to Start Your Life Over in a New City

About five weeks ago my wife and I moved from Southern California to Austin, Texas to start our new life—no jobs, no family and no friends. We are truly starting from zero. But it isn’t too bad because we are taking some very-well thought out steps to ramp up our new life here quickly.

Goodbye LA.

DSCN1818Step 1: The first thing we did was make a list of friends of friends and other acquaintances we could reach out to once we arrived. If you are moving to a new city there is a chance people you know in your old city know people in your new city. Of course a lot of that depends on what city you are moving to. In our case, Austin is a pretty cool city, so we had about a half dozen names on our friends of friends and acquaintances list.

Hello Texas.

DSCN1875Not long after we arrived we reached out to these friends of friends and acquaintances to see if we could meet them. I have to admit it is a pretty awkward thing to do. After all, these people are total strangers. And I would love to tell you that all of them dropped what they were doing to respond to our unsolicited invites, but that is not the truth. Most never responded, which is okay. I did not take it personally. They have their lives in place and we are just strangers trying to intrude. It did not hurt to try, and a couple of them did agree to meet us, including our real estate agent. She told us that she enjoys wine tasting, as do we. So, now we have agreed to plan a wine tasting trip to the local vineyards in the near future. A new friend in place? Check.

Step 2. I joined every Austin-based LinkedIn group that interested me. Since I will probably need a job someday and I am an entrepreneur at heart, those are the groups I focused on. Fortunately, LinkedIn makes it very easy to find these groups. Here is a list of some of the groups I joined.

• Austin Job Seekers
• Connected in Austin
• Door64 (for high tech professionals)
• LinkedIn Local Austin
• Network in Austin
• Relocating to Austin
• The Austin Entrepreneur Network

I fixed my settings for these groups to receive daily email updates. Many of these groups sponsor networking events, which I want to know about in a timely manner.

Step 3. I joined every Austin-based Meetup group that interested me. In some ways Meetup is better than LinkedIn because all of the Meetups are live events, and attending live events is essential if your goal is to actually meet new people.

Many Meetups occur once a month. That means if you sign up for enough Meetups you have something interesting to do every week. In addition to entrepreneurship, I chose Meetups for activities my wife and I like to do together like hiking, wine tasting, and of course, eating. Here is a list of some of the Meetups I signed up for.

• Local Austin LinkedIn Networking
• Austin Inventors and Entrepreneurship Association
• California Transplants in Round Rock (seriously)
• North Austin Hiking Meetup
• Central Texas Foodies
• Secret Dinning Super Clubs in Austin
• Eagles Nest Austin (a Philadelphia Eagle’s fan club, seriously)

Step 4. I attend at least two live events every week. So far I have met at least a dozen nice people, all of whom I have added to my LinkedIn network, and all of whom I expect to see again in the future at other events. I even met a man who introduced me to two executive recruiters in the Austin area for my area of expertise. We really hit it off as fast friends. I think that he and his wife and me and my wife will go out for dinner after the holidays. My wife even met a woman who is an executive recruiter for her area of expertise when we went to watch an Eagles’ game at a local pub. Our network seems to be coming together nicely.

Step 5. To balance out all the networking, I decided to do some volunteer work. There is no better way to fully immerse yourself in your new chosen city than to volunteer some of your time. The opportunities I am considering include mentoring troubled teens and working in hospice care. I have not actually done any volunteer work yet, but I do expect to after the holidays. The easiest way to find volunteer opportunities in any city is through VolunteerMatch, Idealist.org and Craigslist.

Step 6. Finally, the last thing my wife and I have been doing to ease the transition to our new city is to treat every day with a sense of adventure. There are not many advantages to starting your life over in a new city, but one of them is that everything is new, which means you can make it as adventurous and fun as you want. So far, we have gone on multiple hikes, waited 3½ hours in line for barbecue and shot pistols for the first time at a shooting range. It is all what you make it.

Starting life over in a new city is a challenge, but it does not have to be intimidating. There are plenty of ways to quickly meet new people. They won’t all become life-long friends, but a few will. And before you know it, our new city will no longer be our new city. It will be our home.

 

 

 

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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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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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