Why Life is Better if You Enjoy Puzzles

I’ve never really been a puzzle person. Crossword—can’t finish it. Jigsaw—boring. Rubik’s cube—makes me feel like an idiot. Scrabble—three letters max.

sunday-s-crossword-1238083-639x426I never really understood the purpose of puzzles. Whether you finish them or not, they seem like a waste of time. Maybe you enjoy doing them, but you’re not really accomplishing anything. It’s frustration disguised as entertainment.

I’m always curious when I come across a half-finished crossword puzzle in the back of that magazine they have on airplanes. I wonder if the person was frustrated because they didn’t complete it. Can you enjoy a puzzle if you don’t finish? Can you enjoy a puzzle just for the challenge? Doesn’t life already have enough challenges? Why seek out additional ones?

It occurred to me that one way of looking at life’s challenges is as a bunch of puzzles that need to be solved. Can’t make rent this month? That’s a puzzle that needs solving. Can’t pay your dividend this quarter? That too is a puzzle that needs a solution. Unemployed over 50? Puzzle. Diagnosed with cancer? Puzzle. Don’t know what to make for dinner tonight? Puzzle.

No one escapes. Life is nothing but one long series of puzzles. Day after day. I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, young or old, gainfully employed or borderline homeless. When you wake up in the morning, you’re facing a never-ending string of puzzles. And not every puzzle can or will get solved. But they’re still puzzles. The way I see it, you may as well learn to enjoy doing them.

So, I’ve decided, if every challenge in life is nothing more than a puzzle to be solved, then damn it, I’m going to be MacGyver.

I know I won’t solve every puzzle and that’s okay. I don’t think it’s about he who solves the most puzzles wins. I think it’s about embracing this journey called life and finding a way to enjoy each puzzle that comes along. The same way those crazy people who play Sudoku do.

 

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The New Serenity Prayer

I live in the moment, because that is all I have

I close my eyes and breath deep to remind me I am alive

I stand, bend, jump, clap and wave because I can

I think of those I love and who love me back and it makes me smile

I cannot predict the future, nor would I want to

I cannot control the future, but I can prepare for it

What comes my way I will deal with, and move on the best I can

I do not need much to be happy

I will survive no matter what

I will strive to make a difference

This moment is pure gold and I am grateful to have it

I will not live forever, but I will live now

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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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The Most Important Question You Will Ever Be Asked

The unemployment rate is high; nobody really knows how high. But I bet the employment dissatisfaction rate is even higher. How many people truly love their job? Can’t wait to go to work? Would do it for free? Turns out, not that many. Less than half.

I am sure there are many contributing factors to this statistic, but one of the most influential is the understanding that few people plan out their life, and even less have the courage to correct course midstream. Back when I was in the real estate industry I used to joke that nobody goes into real estate, then end up in real estate. That is probably how it is with most people. By some combination of random events and aptitude tests they ended up where they ended up. They got hooked on the paycheck and have been there ever since.

 

But I think it is worse than that. I think the dream inside most people is dead (or extremely dormant). Knowing what they know now, how many people would know exactly what choice to make if given another chance? Would you know what path to take if you were given another shot? So, here is the question, the most important one most people will ever have to answer, and one most people have never given a second thought.

At the end of each pay period you take home a certain amount of money. Imagine that exact amount of money—no more and no less—showed up in your bank account every pay period BUT, you did not have to go to work. How would you spend your days?

Unlike the “What would you do if you won the lottery?” question, this one does not improve you life financially one bit. You are in the same house with the same car wearing the cloths and taking the same vacations. No around-the-world cruises for you. Just the chance to spend your days differently. How would you do it?

Now for the tough love part. If you can answer that question, really answer it, honestly, and know it is the truth, then that is how you should be spending your days right now! My suspicion is that most people cannot answer that question because they just have not given it that much thought. As you grow older you become aware of this extremely unfair exchange of time for money. You give up this very valuable and very scarce (and getting scarcer) commodity called time in exchange for a very abundant commodity of increasingly questionable value called money. And then you realize that you are here for a purpose and not fulfilling that purpose is the biggest mistake of all. And time is running out.

If you do not know the answer to that question I suggest you get busy. And if you do know the answer then you need to get even busier, migrating from the life you have to the life you choose.

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Negative Consequences – The Source of Our Survival

Did you ever wonder why sticking you hand in a raging fire hurts like hell? Because if it didn’t, we (the human race) would not be here. If humans had ever learned to blunt the pain caused by fire, we would have perished long ago, consumed by fire we did not fear. In that respect, the negative consequence of putting our hand in fire, extreme pain, is actually the source of our survival. The short-term pain actually produces a long-term benefit. Viewed in this way, a certain degree of pain is a good thing. It makes us smarter, stronger and assures our survival. But what does that have to do with our lives today? Everything.

As things turn out, human beings hate pain. We will do almost anything to avoid it—it makes sense. We hate experiencing pain so much, we may even go out of our way to make sure other people avoid it. The problem of course is that when you enable someone to avoid pain you are unwittingly stealing from them the opportunity to get smarter and stronger. When our government enables you to collect 99 weeks of unemployment, their intention is to help you avoid the pain (of being unemployed). What they are unintentionally (or unknowingly) doing is stealing from you the chance to become self reliant.

When you make a mistake, it should hurt. When you are let go from your job because you have not kept your skills up to date, it should hurt. These short-term pains lead to many, invaluable long-term gains. They make you smarter, stronger and assure your survival. When we shy away from the pain, or some other party enables us to shy away from it, we actually endanger ourselves, like blunting the pain from the fire. Yes, you will not feel the pain of the fire if I numb your hand, but because of that, you will ultimately be consumed by it.

It is not just individuals that can blunt the pain—businesses do it too. When a business makes a bad decision that jeopardizes the business, it should hurt. When AIG made those terrible business decisions and it was deemed “too big to fail” by our government, they were blunting the pain of the fire. We avoided short-term pain, but at what price? We did not become stronger or smarter, and because of that we shall almost certainly go thought it again.

Every action has consequences. Do something good and something good usually happens as a result. Eat healthy and exercise, eventually your weight and cholesterol go down. Attend college and get a marketable degree, and you are more likely to find yourself employed. Conversely, do something stupid and sooner or later, some negative consequences are bound to occur. The problem is not the negative consequences themselves, for they can serve to strengthen us. The problem occurs when we, by our own  doing or through some external source, attempt to blunt the pain to avoid the short-term consequences.

The moral of the story is that as unpleasant as short term pain maybe in your life, it is necessary if you ever expect to become self-reliant. Do not shun from it. Embrace it and let it drive you.

 

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Nothing Happens Until This Happens

For the longest time I never fully appreciated the role of sales in business. When I was a young engineer, I showed up, did my engineering thing and come Friday, money showed up in my checking account. I never spent much time thinking about the fact that for me to be able to have that job, somebody had to sell something. Money had to exchange hands.

It was not until I actually got a job in sales that I had a chance to see up close the cause and effect that sales has on everything in a business. You want better benefits?  Make sales. You want a raise? Make sales. You want to develop the next generation of cool products? Make sales. You want job security? Make sales.

Whether you are in the sales chain or not, you need to have a strong appreciation for the miracle of sales. Yes, it is a miracle. Jobs get created, taxes get paid, products get manufactured, companies go public, fortunes get made and redistributed. And none of that happens without a sale. Engineers—can’t afford them. Accountants—don’t need them. CEO—huh?

People are constantly worrying about job security. Do you want to have job security for eternity? Be an effective salesperson. You will never be without work and you will always make a good income. From an accounting perspective, sales people are the only employees who are not an expense. (Technically they are “Cost of Sales.”)

Are you an entrepreneur? Until you make a sale you are a hobbyist. If you want to start a business (or keep one going) you need to become obsessed with sales. And if you are employed at a company, even if you are not a sales person, you ought to become “sales aware.” You should be able to explain your company’s value proposition to a stranger and you should know what a customers looks like. That way, if you ever sit next to one on an airplane or run into one at a social event, you can tell them about your company and maybe even facilitate a meeting with your sales department. I am always surprised by people who live in fear of losing their jobs, but do not know what their company sells or what a customer looks like. Today, everyone needs to be in sales.

I guess that is what I find so frustrating with a bloated government: too many government agencies filled with too many government employees. Most are good people trying to do a good job, but deep down they do not understand the preciousness of sales. They do not have to convince a customer to part with their money and they do not have to better their competition in the marketplace. Their paycheck shows up without anyone ever having to make a sale. Their pay magically shows up every Friday just as mine did many years ago before I learned the truth about sales in the private sector: nothing happens until that happens.

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