If you are a Millennial reading this, you may not yet be able to comprehend how difficult changing your ways can be. Imagine if you would that the way you do things now will continue for the next fifteen to twenty years, including the way that you communicate, the way that you work with others, the way that you shop and the way that you consume information and entertainment.
No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t change,
But I’m here in my mold, I am here in my mold.
But I’m a million different people from one day to the next
I can’t change my mold, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
-“Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve
You reach middle age, at which time the people who are currently your bosses or collaborators retire, and then some kid who is my daughter’s age now (nearly fourteen) comes along and summarily dismisses the way that you have done things for all those years and insists that you utilize some thought-reading or movement-related technology or artificial intelligence program or automation designed to replace you.
That is where we are at now at my workplace.
The boss who had controlled everything and insisted upon things done a certain way for about thirty-five years has retired, and the elected officials want things shaken up a lot. We are being tasked with re-thinking the way we deliver services to residents and businesses in our community, and the change is hard for many of us, Yours Truly Middle Class Guy included.
This blog is not intended to be preachy in the sense of “here is how I did something and you should too” or the more popular “do as I say, not as I do,” but more of the sense that I am a widely read Middle Class Guy on the path of self-improvement through a series of baby steps that I believe will ultimately lead to an improved version of myself.
As I continue reading and learning, I am excited to share what I have learned and how regular guys like you and I are able to put those things to use. So please consider Middle Class Guy to be a “let’s become more successful, wealthy, adaptable and lead more fulfilling lives together” blog.
Planners vs. Doers
For too long, I have laid out plans, set goals and made New Year’s Resolutions that did not pan out. For whatever reason including bad luck, laziness, dealing with emergencies that come up, striving to serve my family before serving myself and lack of sufficient funds, I have not achieved a high percentage of my goals and Resolutions and most of my best-laid plans have often gone awry over the past several years.
I have found some small measure of success of late in completing smaller weekly tasks, as one of my recent posts alludes to, by using a 7 Days A Week document, which I use to list out various daily tasks. It provides a minor sense of accomplishment, sometimes a little more than minor, but never a very major sense.
For bigger things, I tend to list them out as a vague Resolutions like “be a better husband” or “fix our cars” than specific, measurable goals. Oftentimes, my New Year’s Resolutions fade out of mind as they are broken in the weeks or months following each new year.
This blog, in itself, is a tool that I use to gauge my own progress or lack thereof in many cases, but one of the things that we should strive for together, me as your humble narrator and you as my reader, is to not just plan to do things, but to actually do them.
Maintaining the Status Quo
I have been in the post-college workforce for twenty-four years as of this month, exactly half of which have been spent with my current employer.
The community that I work for enjoyed stable leadership for decades, including for over twenty years before my arrival. The elected officials and top administrator had a certain way that they wanted things done, and that’s how things were done. Basically, a painstakingly methodical, accurate and thorough process to ensure that things were done right. It took a while to learn the way things are done here, and that is how I automatically do them now.
With new leadership in place and the 2010s well underway, the powers that be are now looking at ways to shake things up. Dissatisfied with the way things are going, our new leadership tasks us with coming up with new ways to do more with less, primarily by utilizing modern technology, or in most cases, telling us how they want it done.
For those of us who had learned how to do things one way, changing everything at once creates uncertainty and discomfort.
‘Cause I’m as free as a bird now,
And this bird you’ll never change, oh, oh, oh, oh.
And this bird you cannot change.
And this bird you cannot change.
Lord knows, I can’t change.
Lord, help me, I can’t change.
-“Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
The status quo feels comfortable and steady because “that’s the way we have always done things” and much of the choice has been squeezed out.
Ambiguous changes create uncertainty, even among professionals like me who strive for adaptability and staying on top of my profession.
Should we rush some new projects through without meticulously vetting them and reviewing them like we normally would? Do we adopt less stringent regulations because the business community does not care for our more thorough regulations than surrounding communities? Should we not require detailed engineering plans and traffic analysis for new projects? I do not know. I guess that what it really depends on is how loud the wheel squeaks before we decide who gets the grease.
Granted, some of the changes that we are making are making things better and increasing our efficiency. Unfortunately, more of the changes seem to be primarily for the sake of change.
I have been around the block enough times to know that future Boards and administrators in my own town, in the town where I work and in your own town will not appreciate what the current leaders are doing, and will want to do things their own way.
As the saying goes, “To the Victors Go the Spoils.”
Translate Aspirations into Actions
It’s not good enough for us to make goals like “make more money this year,” “Exercise more” or “be a better husband.” Take it from me, I would know. I have used all three of those for New Year’s Resolutions in prior years and if I resolved to do those ten times, I have failed all ten times.
Changing and improving yourself is comprised of actions, not vague goals that neither of us will accomplish. Although I do suppose that if you go this entire year without exercising and then exercise once the following year, you are technically exercising more.
More concrete, measurable behaviors will lead to a higher degree of accomplishment and success in goal attainment.
For me, I am going to set three humble goals for June of 2017:
1) To finally do something about moving my inoperable 2001 Nissan out of our driveway. Donate it, sell it for scrap, just get rid of it before July 1st.
2) Remove some mold that is growing on our white vinyl siding. If I cannot figure out how to do it, myself, hire a local power washing guy to do it. No excuses. It has been growing for months and needs to be removed.
3) Something that I am not going to provide intimate details about, but feel free to guess. It involves my better half, who has remained married to me for twenty-one years as of next month despite my many faults. If you are middle-aged, you can understand this. During our first ten or so years of marriage, I did not have to think or plan much for this. As earlier in this post alluded to, we did not plan for it – we just did it.
As many a self-improvement guru has opined, I will be moving toward SMART goals rather than broad aspirations.
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timely.
Send Yourself a Postcard
In their book SWITCH: How To Change Things When Change is Hard, brothers Chip & Dan Heath write about destination postcards.
The authors define it as a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible. They perform double duty in showing you where you’re headed and showing you why the journey is worthwhile.
The Brothers Heath also advocate choosing a gut-smacking goal, not just one of these vague “improve yourself” Resolutions that are sure to fall flat.
Personally, I am not quite ready for a gut-smacking goal. In the past, I have resolved and even achieved some of those big, gut-smacking Resolutions, but not for some time.
I actually wrote out gut-smacking Resolutions in the past like “start a family,” “get a new job,” “buy a house,” “add to our family,” “get a new car” and things like that. The “get a new job” was a Resolution for many years, but I have not written that out as one for the past twelve years. I am certainly open to new, better opportunities but am not resolving to get a new job. With a son in college and a daughter starting high school this August, my wife and I most definitely do not want to add to our family.
A gut-smacking goal for me would be to publish five eBooks by the end of 2018. It is a SMART goal, hitting all five attributes. Of course, I could self-publish five short and shitty (is that a new phrase in the making?) eBooks or even contract out on Fiverr or Freelancer for others to write sections, chapters or whatever you want to call it.
But that’s not how I roll.
If When I self-publish those five eBooks, several of which will be comprised of these posts, I want them to be well-written, timely, relevant and worth the few dollars that a purchaser would pay.
Put One Foot in Front of The Other
My favorite part of Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town is when Kris Kringle sings “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.” I watch this with my family every December, along with many other Christmas-themed movies.
This lesson proves well when setting what the Brothers Heath refer to as a gut-smacking goal or Resolution. If I think about self-publishing five eBooks that meet the standards that I would expect, it becomes overwhelming. It is far easier to not do any at all.
If I can look at it in a different way, for example compiling twenty-five of my highest quality posts, improving on them, and adding forty to fifty pages worth of interesting and well-written thoughts and ideas on paper, viola! If I do pay someone to create a cover, I’ll have the first one done.
You cannot embark on a second until you complete a first. I will only complete a first by taking tangible steps to accomplish it. In other words, I need to put one foot in front of the other, and soon I’ll be walking out the door!
Not yet even at the beginning of attaining a goal on a destination postcard, you and I need not obsess about the middle, because it is going to look different once we get there. We must start with a strong beginning and have a strong ending in mind, and get our asses in gear with SMART goals to see us through.
A Sense of Dread
Dread is a strong word, yet dread is what I feel when I start to think of all the goals and Resolutions that I am falling short on year by year as my thirties became my forties, and as my early forties became my mid-forties.
Around Thanksgiving this year, I will officially enter my late forties, hitting the prime number of 47.
They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and this old dog dreads learning new tricks. It does not mean that I cannot or will not, it just means that there is a definite sense of uneasiness as I do my best to implement the changes that are thrust upon me at work month by month.
Part of the dread that middle aged (and older) guys and gals may feel is that our gut-smacking goals seem so difficult to attain when they involve moving out of our comfort zone, perhaps meeting and networking with new people, putting ourselves “out there” in situations that may be new to us and generally embracing a generation weaned on the Internet and social media.
Using my example of a gut-smacking goal of producing five high-quality, decent-selling eBooks on Kindle and Amazon by the close of 2018, if I think about how far away I am from that and what I need to do to get there, it creates a sense of dread in me.
What would not make me feel a sense of dread is writing twenty-five more higher quality posts by the end of July 2017, copying and pasting them into a Word document, editing them thoroughly (you most likely already caught numerous typos if you have read prior posts – I just sit and type) and then formatting them in such a way that I can self-publish them.
My graphic design skills are lacking, so it would behoove me to hire a freelancer to design digital book covers for me. That, too, is moving out of my comfort zone since I have never initiated an account at any of those freelance websites and would probably hire the wrong person, overpay or have my secret identity outed when I would prefer it not to be yet.
If I can get over some of the dread by scaling down my goals into smaller, attainable steps, the dread may turn into excitement, book sales and future posts about how I did it.
In the Brothers Heath book, the authors cite what is called an “action trigger.” For example, you might say to yourself, “Tomorrow I am going to go straight from the office to the gym and work out before I go home.” You’ve tied a specific healthy behavior (working out) to a specific situational trigger (leaving the office).
They cite the research of Peter Gollwitzer, a New York University psychologist. In one study, Gollwitzer gave college students the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paper about how they spent Christmas Eve and turning it in on December 25.
Only 33% of the students completed the assignment and turned it in on time. But some of the students were asked to set action triggers in advance – they decided when they were going to write the report and where they were going to do it. 75% of those students completed the assignment.
The authors state that “action triggers can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do.” The reason, according to Gollwitzer, is that action triggers eliminate the need for conscious deliberation by making people “pre-decide” what they are going to do, and that they “protect goals from tempting distractions, bad habits, or competing goals.”
Beating my example of five eBooks to death a bit more, over the Fourth of July weekend, instead of just drinking beer, watching fireworks, tending to my property, barbecuing and the like, I intend to spend at least two hours working on my first eBook. That is, if you do not count the 600-page tome that I self-published about ten years ago, never put a real cover on it, never looked at it again and collect about $5 or $20 per month from.
This royalty payment notification is for Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sales recorded in the US Kindle Store. Payment will be made to your bank account and should appear in your available balance within 2 to 5 business days after the Payment Date.
Details of the payment will be available on the Payment Report (https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/reports ) after it has been processed by your bank.
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$12 is better than zero, but not by much! When my payments get over a hundred, I will be much happier. As I have previously stated, my gut-wrenching goal is to ultimately make around $5K per month on my writing.
But I cannot do that if I never publish anything that anybody wants to purchase, and I cannot do it if I cannot overcome my dread of doing it.
I need some good action triggers and I need to actually do it, not just plan to do it like I am now.
Bowie Said It Best
I do not know why I have never previously incorporated song lyrics in my posts, when everything that I write reminds me of some lyric or another.
Like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird, I often feel like “Lord knows, I can’t change” or like The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, I feel that “No change, I can’t change, I can’t change, I can’t change…I can’t change my mold” but the late artist David Bowie, who is and always will be one of my all-time favorites put it best:
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time
-“Changes” by David Bowie