Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Follow Up

I posed the questions for this post in the previous post, and I as I re-read it, it occurred to me that the way we ask questions can prejudice the answer. For example -- one of the questions I asked was (paraphrasing): Can you fail at something and be happy?

Now, I don't want to get into a battle of semantics -- I'm not going to say it depends on the definition of "is", like one of our famous politicians did. However, the word fail is pejorative. Of course, it would be next to impossible to fail at something and for that thing to make you happy. At least if by fail you mean: you suck at it so bad that any layman would look at your performance and say you were terrible. You would finish in one millionth place out of a million participants. Under those circumstances, I don't think I could be fulfilled, although there might be some people that would be happy just due to the joy inherent in the activity.

On the other hand if by fail I was to mean, second best in the world ("If you ain't first, you're last! -- Ricky Bobby), then yes -- I do think you could be happy. Let's say you're the world's second best salesperson, or the the second best writer, or the second best in some athletic pursuit. Sure it would be nice to be the best, but in a planet with seven billion people, if being number one was the only way you could be happy, then we would have a planet full of unhappy people. And despite an occasional pessimistic outlook, I think we can all agree that the world really isn't like that.

That being said, I think I'll continue to accept my middle of the pack running performances as fun, satisfying and happiness producing, thank you very much!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Just spent a nice week in Indianapolis with my parents and in-laws, hence the lack of new posts over the past couple of weeks. Omaha to Indy is one long drive especially when you have seven people in the car, including two six year olds. But the visit was well worth the suffering!

I've been contemplating an interesting question over the past few days, which I will set up here, and comment on in my next post -- If you are successful at something and still unhappy, what does that mean? Does it mean that you're somehow conflicted about the accomplishment -- such as, you think you don't deserve it, or you had to bend yourself in a way that isn't natural? If you're successful at something and it makes you happy, does that demonstrate the lack of being conflicted? How about if you fail? Can you fail at something and still be happy? Because you're not conflicted?

I'm so confused.

More to come.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What's a "Boom Wrangler"?

According to Po Bronson's book, I gather a "Boom Wrangler" is someone who rides the crest of each boom, each fad, in the marketplace. The wrangler enjoys the ride, and is constantly looking for the next big thing to dive into.

As I read this description, it sounded a lot like a person who is a "learner", as was described in Gallup surveys that I took: first in YPO, then later at work. A learner is someone who loves to learn new things. A "Boom Wrangler" sounds like a "learner" on steroids. Of course the term "Boom Wrangler" sounds pejorative, but I'm sure a confirmed B-W can be happy, if they feed this need they have.

In those surveys, "learner" came out as my top characteristic (I think, it was at least in the top five). So I eagerly set out to decide if I was a natural "Boom Wrangler", who had somehow missed the "Booms" (like, dot-coms, hedge funds, selling mortgage bonds, etc.).

I've always liked trying new things, and my interest in most of the things I've tried, both career and leisure, has tended to peak and then decline over a span of two to five years. These are B-W characteristics.

As I read further, I decided, however, that this does not describe me. I don't line up in several areas:
1. I'm too risk averse. I like my risk in smaller, less scary doses. I'm okay with moderate mountain climbing, but not with jumping cars on a motorcycle. I'm okay with incremental career changes, but, up to now, have always avoided going back to the start and trying something completely new.
2. I've got too many things I definitely don't like doing, and haven't been interested in trying. Most of them involve taking social risks -- like being in sales myself, or going around asking people for money (donations, investment capital, whatever). Sure I've done some of that stuff in limited quantities -- I've had too. But they definitely aren't something I would be willing jump into with both feet.
3. I do actually have some interests that have had staying power. I like products -- like working with them, like making them better, like thinking about how to produce them more efficiently. I have always liked athletics, and continue to enjoy regular fitness. I like music -- at least my own particular taste in music. Travel, particularly international, is another preference with staying power.
4. My changes have never, ever been motivated by boredom. Almost always by that creeping fear and anger that I've discussed in previous blogs.

So, I can cross B-W off of the list of possible diagnoses. It sure is helpful to read other people's ways of thinking about transitions and what drives them, however, because I never in a million years would have ever come up with "Boom Wranglers"!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is what we say we want, really what we want?

Not meaning to be too philosophical, or anything, but do our words accurately reflect how we feel, or do we say what we think others want us to feel, and our actions point to our true interests and intentions?

When I decided all those years ago (when I was 15, I think), that I wanted to be a "captain of industry", I was absolutely certain that it was my dream. I had just read Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" and was inspired. I wanted to be Hank Reardon or Francisco d'Anconia (I hope I remembered the names correctly -- its been a few years) -- a hero of the modern economy, who would, through my own sweat and intellect, make the world a better place.

I told everybody that was what I wanted to do, and I did take positive actions to make it happen. I studied Engineering. My original idea was to get into alternative energy, but I decided that it wasn't practical (Compromise!), and instead headed toward the convenience of the automotive field. I went to business school, and moved employers, but when I made my decisions, I stuck with safe, big, public companies. I moved along the career ladder, but started to doubt that the top spot really would fulfill my dream. I became too conservative (or chicken) to take the plunge into my own business.

But was the dream really what I wanted, or was all the compromises and shifts in perspective an indication that the dream wasn't really a legit dream at all? Did I reach for a dream and have it evaporate like a mirage?

One way to explore that is to look at what I spent my time on, when not working or otherwise obligated. I wrote -- figured that one out already. I loved to read. Escapist fiction is one thing, but I also loved true stories of survival and discovery. I also would read semi-technical stuff, like in Scientific American, because I like to understand how things work, but am not terribly interested in the detailed math behind it. I love to travel, meet new people, experience different cultures and see sights. I enjoy physical challenge -- running, hiking, mountain climbing, rafting -- but maybe in a weird way -- I like the personal challenge of testing myself, but not the risk/danger that seems to drive some other people to some of these same activities.

I also discovered a few things I like okay, but didn't have staying power with me. Golf for example -- like it but I don't actually do it much. Scuba diving, fishing, hunting. A lot of these activities are fun for me because of the companionship, and the act itself is less interesting. Once the novelty wears off....

So, do we really know what we want, and can we articulate it? I'm spending more and more time, trying to watch what draws me, what gets me excited, what is interesting. I hope to set myself on a truer path using those observations.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A lockbox

I've been reading a book recommended by one of my blog readers by Po Bronson, and it poses a number in interesting questions for a person searching for their future. Over some of my future posts, I'll explore some of those ideas. For today, I want to talk about putting your dreams in a lockbox until you can afford to pursue them.

According to Bronson, he has seen precious few instances where a person had an underlying passion that they put off while just pursuing money, and then successfully revived that passion.

In one sense I think his observation has some great insight in it -- let's say that you wanted to become an artist, but you decided to spend a time (for argument sake -- say, ten years) in management at a public company making money so that you could afford to pursue your dream. Why wouldn't this work? I can think of three reasons:

1. While the dream is in the lockbox, getting nothing more than life-support, you don't develop your skills. Managing a team in a company doesn't help you improve your artistic skills. When you finally pull the dream out of the box again, you find that you are years behind others who have dedicated themselves to it, and you are discouraged.

2. When do you accumulate enough? Building wealth is a slippery slope. Spending tends to grow along with income, and it never quite seems like you've got enough. Ten years becomes fifteen or twenty or more, and then its too late to take the dream back out.

3. If you rub up against something every day for long enough, you start to take on the characteristics of that 'something'. You aren't a day-manager, but an artist at heart any longer -- you become the manager.

4. If you succeed in accumulating the money, you're perspective on what a successful career as an artist is, changes to a degree. You get used to the success and reinforcement from the money making, and its much harder to take the struggling and uncertainty of beginning for the start again.

While my situation is different -- my 'dream' was to be a 'captain of industry' and to build new an innovative products that would improve life for people -- I discovered that my dream was more of a fantasy than a dream. And my 'dream' was less a passion, and more intellectually motivated. That being said, the third point, that of becoming what you do, has left me in this strange place I'm in now -- the neutral zone.

I'm continuing to find the neutral zone to be a very odd place indeed, but not necessarily in the way I expected. After avoiding the knee-jerk desire to jump right back into non-introspective existence, I'm having a tough time finding what I'm really passionate about. I lived the 'dream' for so long, that it feels inseparable from me in some ways. Yet I know that it isn't a real passion, because it doesn't really come from emotion, it comes from intellect.

So I continue to try to kick back and patiently wait for passions and emotion to give me direction, but there isn't much happening yet.