On Frogs, Failure and Fairness

I Ate a Frog

Many sages with more expertise than you or I have advocate for one to do the most difficult, unpleasant task of the day first thing.  I have read many books, articles and blog posts that call this “eating the live frog.”

Self-improvement guru Brian Tracy and others calls this “eating your frog,” quoting Mark Twain. Twain famously said that if the first thing you do in the morning is eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you. Your frog is your worst task, and you should do it first thing in the morning.

I was thinking of that exact phrase this past Wednesday at work when I decided to dive right into a task that I have been avoiding and dreading for the past several weeks.

As I have written, I was subject to an unexpected and unwanted transfer to another department and a new boss right after this past Fourth of July.  My new boss is young, inexperienced, brash, unsophisticated and does not fully comprehend what it is that I do and how I do it.  He does, however, recognize the value of putting more and more of the information that I have on our community’s website, and making it interactive.

So if you are reading this and are in your twenties or thirties, and for some of my middle aged brethren in our forties, you may not find it daunting to place information about various sites on a GIS-based map application platform on the community website.   I have been granted access to the password for altering our community’s website, and have been shown the tools of how to add, modify or delete property details from a listing.

For some reason, I feared doing it, most likely because it is a new and unfamiliar way of doing things.  Also, tracking the commercial, office and industrial vacancies for my community has been one of my core job functions for over the past twelve years, and I have become accustomed to updating the Microsoft Access databases every few weeks, saving the reports as PDFs, and then sending them to the webmaster to post.  Never have I gone in myself and placed all of the information on an interactive map of the community.

Thus, this past Wednesday, I recognized that I cannot continually write about confronting the things that you are anxious about and then not doing it myself.  Of course, once I added a few properties, it was not a big deal.  My younger boss was pleased Friday afternoon when I told him that I added several properties to the maps throughout the week.

So instead of reaching for something that provides immediate comfort this past Wednesday morning, like grabbing my fourth cup of coffee or checking my investments or reading a dozen blog posts, I decided to tolerate a small amount of discomfort by eating a frog and then living to write about it.

I Made This Bed

Growing up, I would complain to my parents about some unfortunate situation that I was in, sometimes seeking their advice but more times looking for some sympathy or for one of them to bail me out.  Perhaps I committed to one person before a better offer came along and my mother made me honor my commitment.

Sometimes it was something that I did not want to go to because something was too early in the morning for my liking and sometimes it was that I knew there was something that I was supposed to give something my all at something that I knew that I would fail at, like pitching my guts out in a baseball game that my team was destined to lose.

Like me with my own children, my father seemed more sympathetic, but went along with my mother.  He told me that I had to fulfill my commitments, whatever they may be.  Also, he did not really need to lecture me about being gritty and giving it my all.  All I had to do was observe him because his actions spoke louder than his words.

Although I remain bitter and anxious about my current situation at work, I recognize how these changes came about and hereby admit that I am responsible for any of my professional shortcomings.  I could have more fully embraced new technology prior to being forced into it; I could have more aggressively pursued new businesses for the community before being ordered to do so.  I could have pursued new employment opportunities that I passed on largely due to having become relatively content at my place of work.  I am not looking to blame anyone else for any times that I have not performed as well as expected.  That is all on me.

Like my mother told me when I came to her seeking a bailout for a prior decision or commitment that I made, I made my bed so now I must sleep in it.

We Can Change

Months ago, I wrote about how difficult and challenging it can be to change once you have become a man or woman “of a certain age.”  When you are taught things as a baby or young child, and then that very thing is reinforced by teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, relatives, the media and everything that you see and hear around you, it is nearly impossible to change your point of view.

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When you have worked in rigid bureaucratic structures for as long as I have, you become more attuned to “CYA” than being innovative or creative.

However, as we witness rapid changes all around us in technology, in politics, in economic forces, in globalization and the deteriorating state of our privacy, it does not behoove us to remain static.  Those of us middle aged folks who are unable or unwilling to change are the ones soon to be replaced by an app being developed by a young techie right this instant, or replaced by a foreign worker at less than half the price.

That is why I admitted to my wife getting on board this past week with adding properties to our mapping database and the fact that I am to begin shooting short videos of local businesses to promote them on our community’s social media pages, something unheard of about five years ago for a serious professional economic developer to do, yet something that every one of us does today.

This year I am mentally prepared to change.  Nobody really wants to know about how you or I did things ten, fifteen or twenty years ago.  When I spoke about renewing something that I did back in 2006 through about 2011 and will be renewing next year, my young boss flat out said “things have changed so much since then, it is irrelevant what you and [my former boss] did back in 2005.”  I could have been offended, but was not because I realized that he is right.

Back in 2006, nobody criticized everything that we did on social media and the local print and digital media did not file FOIA request upon  FOIA request to determine exactly how we spent the taxpayer’s money, who we emailed to and what was in those emails.

Writing this leads me to add yet another New Year’s resolution, which is to open my mind more to change and to sharpen my ability to recognize and respond to impending changes instead of feeling like I am getting beaten over the head with them week after week.

I feel like if I can embrace updating the commercial, office and industrial inventory on our interactive maps on a weekly basis and make short, snappy videos for local businesses, that I can also embrace the many other new things that will be thrown at me this year and beyond.  I intend to remain a high-level, professional economic developer for the next thirteen years and cannot do so by continuing to do things the same old way “because that is the way we have always done it.”

Be Prepared

I was never a Boy Scout, but I recognize their motto of always being prepared as genius.  Whether it comes to testifying at a public meeting for a new project, going on a job interview, taking an important test, playing in front of a crowd at a concert or hosting an event, those who are the best prepared are the ones who prove most successful.

The last time that I testified in front of our community’s Board on something that may prove difficult, I was prepared to answer several difficult questions.  I anxiously spent most of the night before the meeting going over different difficult scenarios in my head.  I was recommending hiring commercial brokers to market and hopefully sell a large property owned by our City and was ready to respond to questions like (1) Why now and not before when we have owned this land for thirteen years?  (2) Why wasn’t Staff successful in attracting a developer to this site? (3) Why now? (4) Why these guys? (5) Why didn’t you issue a Request for Proposals? and stuff like that.

Boy was I happy that I did not have to answer any of those inquiries, even though I had solid answers for each one.  The only question was whether a hotel chain that I had previously met with was currently interested in the site or not, which I easily answered (they are not).  After the meeting, I was pleased that my item was so easily approved, yet I told my boss that I could not believe how easy it was and that I was prepared to get grilled on the stand for ten minutes.

I have public meetings like that every month and have found that the better prepared I am, the less that I am caught off-guard, the less that we engage in the back-and-forth bickering that is best not done in a public forum, and the better the governing body thinks of me, whether the project succeeds or not.

As my new boss also told me about one of my projects last week, “Perception is reality.”

We all face situations that cause us to worry.  But when we simply fret about them and let our anxieties get the best of us, it is not helpful to the cause.  That is nothing but noise and does not help us actually solve our problems and prevail.  Millions of words have been written and spoken about the benefit of doing as opposed to only thinking or worrying about something.  If you and I can recognize our challenges, decide what the best course of action is, and then actually take that action, we will be all the better for it.

Better to write about how I routinely add, modify and delete electronic listings from a map-based GIS application than write about how it causes me anxiety to think about it.

Now I am going to better prepare for my next challenge at work, which is the production of short videos featuring various businesses throughout the community. 

Okay to Fail

A New Year’s resolution that I am struggling with the most is to fail at something.

After all, if the entire point of creating measurable goals and resolutions is to better oneself and to hold yourself accountable, then isn’t resolving to fail at something counterproductive?

Should I resolve to be a better husband and father, and then fail at it?  Should I resolve to remain gainfully employed all year and to supplement my income via writing, and then feel good about failing to do so?  I don’t think so.

All the gurus from Tony Robbins to Stephen Covey extol the virtue of failing at something.  They point out failures by such successful individuals as Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln and Steve Jobs in the hope of it spurring readers to reach for the stars, accept some failures, learn from them and then come back stronger than ever.

That may work well for a young entrepreneur setting out on her or his own, but does it work for a middle aged Middle Class Guy who must keep making ten Gs per month so that his family can keep spending and investing those ten Gs?  Would it be heroic for me to allow my true nature and feelings about things to come out at work if it costs me my job?  Should I invest our family’s savings in a friend’s start-up restaurant business?  You know the answer.

Through a lot of reading and thinking, I now know what I will most likely fail at, yet I am going to try that something anyway.  With my great desire to create more and consume less, with my creativity coming in the form of writing and self-publishing eBooks, I have realized that I am still a few thousand dollars away from being able to make these books as good as I want them to be.

Thus, I am going to become one of a million other folks asking for funds through Kickstarter or Go Fund Me next year.  I can certainly collate a bunch of posts together and then slap a preformatted eBook cover on it, but I would much rather send it to an editor and have a graphic designer design the covers.  Thus, I will be asking for a few thousand dollars, maybe two and maybe three, which would provide me the flexibility to pay people on gig platforms to help make my efforts look and be more professional-looking, and spend a few vacation days at the coffee shops and library with my laptop working on the project with whatever funds remain.

I pretty much know that it will be a failure, but it does not hurt to ask.  Pardon my lack of optimism, but if you look at Kickstarter, most of the projects requesting funding look like I would want mine to look after receiving the money, featuring slick videos and attractive Millennials requesting funds.

Would you want to donate funds to a middle aged Middle Class Guy who already spends about a hundred grand a year supporting his family and Paying Ourselves First so he could realize a dream and goal of self-publishing an eBook?  I would not, but there are probably many people out there who would.  Especially because the book that I propose is based on a real person who is extremely autocratic in nature and has an orange complexion.  The title would be “The Orange Autocrat” or something close to that.  Not naming any names, but it sure would be a cool book if I could hire graphic designers and editors.

But I’ll most likely fail.

I Say “Oh Well” Sometimes

I acknowledge that many, if not most, things in life are beyond my control.  Not that it is not worthwhile to try to gain more control and exert your force and influence upon a situation, project or to achieve a goal.  But despite our best intentions and efforts, sometimes it is simply not meant to be.

Again, in my situation much of the stress, anxiety and unhappiness that I have been experiencing for the past four months is related to my transfer to a new department and boss.  Even other people who I work with cannot believe that an oaf-like guy who was hired as an intern eight short years ago is now my boss, and boss of others with equal or greater professional experience.

I can explain how that came to be, but that is a boring to write and even more boring to read about.  Suffice it to say that it happened, and even though I am not happy about it, there is nothing that I can do about it for the time being.  Of course, I can seek out a new job at another employer, but that would entail even more unknowns and I recognize that it could turn out to be a worse or even much worse work situation.

So I say “oh well.”

I spend many hours reading, thinking about and writing these posts although I have not earned much income from them.  Soon after I placed ads via Google AdSense, Google depricated the ads from the site, sent me a new code to place in it and, not being a web designer or coder, I have not succeeded in adding the new code.  Perhaps that will become another goal and resolution for this coming year.

Oh well.

It Isn’t Fair!

I can recall feeling that a gross injustice had been done to me many a time growing up.  Many of those times, it was due to something that my parents would not let me do and other times it was them making me do something that I did not want to.

“That’s not fair!” I would object.

“Life’s not fair,” my mother would reply.

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My father was a very diligent worker and extremely gritty.  Despite his hard work and persistence, he told me on several occasions that some people had luckier breaks than others and that life is not always fair.

Rapidly approaching forty-seven years of age, I have found that to be very true.  I know people who were born to intact, supportive families with two professional parents and were sent to private schools, golf lessons, music lessons, multi-week summer camps and vacations throughout the year.  Some of those same guys eased into cushy, high-paying positions at their fathers’ banks, trading firms or manufacturing firms.  For the most part, they were set up for success from day one and have fulfilled their potential.

I know some other guys that came up the hard way with single moms in working class areas.  These guys grew up playing street ball, rarely left their neighborhoods, toughed it out at public schools, played football rather than golf and tennis, borrowed tens of thousands to go to college and/or worked their way through via work study, scholarships and frugality.  Some of these guys have also gone on to great success.  One received over ten million dollars in funding for a tech business that he has been building up for some years.

I know people who did the opposite, as I am sure you do, too.  Guys who were brought up with the proverbial silver spoon who squandered all they were given.  One guy who I grew up with nearly squandered it all on drugs and very poor choices in women.  The first time that I met his former wife I was right in the middle of being a probation officer and spoke with many heroin junkies most days.  One look at his fidgety, heavily pierced, heavily tattooed rail-thin wife with a prior baby with an absentee father and I guaranteed my wife and parents that she was a junkie.

I happen to know from having hung out with him a few times in our high school years that he used drugs, particularly psychedelic drugs like LSD.

Guess what?  I was right about his wife and, unfortunately, their marriage fell apart soon after they had a child together.  The good news is that my former childhood friend joined the military near the age of thirty and actually succeeded in gaining the structure, discipline and work habits that he sorely lacked despite having grown up extremely wealthy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many poor and working class folks have never actually been given the tools or guidance on how to become more successful and, thus, have not moved up the socioeconomic ladder.  Combine a lack of an intact family, the lack of adequate funds, shitty school systems in many areas and lack of opportunity and it is no wonder that social mobility is far less than what is preached to us our entire lives, that America is the land of opportunity and you can be whatever you want to be.  Tell that to a poor black child with a single mother on welfare who is strung out on drugs in the Englewood neighborhood of Chiraq.

Convert Your Thoughts

For far too long I have easily accepted that things happen to me, for better or worse.  I now desire to be the type of person who believes that I can make things happen.  The outcome of my life and career should not be completely subject to the whims and decisions of others.

Although I have achieved a small measure of professional success by simply going with the flow, I feel like a football team that constantly gets stuck at midfield, to use a football cliche.  There is no way that I am going to make it any further down the field by waiting and hoping for good things to happen.  I realize that to be true now, as many of my colleagues have risen up the ranks while I have not.  However, I do not believe that any of them ever have sold a single book, electronic or otherwise.  Most of them do not even read books.

Both you and I need to change the “I can’t” thoughts into “I can” thoughts, and take more tangible action steps toward becoming more successful.  Positive thinking on its own will not help you sell more than other employees do, create something that people want to buy, become a better husband, father, friend, son or brother, and it certainly will not help you gain additional income.

It is very easy to settle into our daily routines, having others make major decisions for and about us and remaining fearful, like I am, of having it all taken away from you.

Much harder is converting your thoughts of powerlessness into thoughts of power, thoughts of anxiety into thoughts of courage, and worries about money into excitement about the prospect of making much more of it.  I recently gained that excitement and am very much looking forward to publishing these thoughts and putting my plans into action.

Every day, millions upon millions of people face adversity.  Many are overwhelmed and succumb to the adversity, unwilling or unable to confront their challenges and prevail.  Others triumph over adversity through sheer force of will.  I have met many successful people who seem to just naturally overcome obstacles in their way.  Most are business owners who I have interacted with in my role of an economic development professional.  If you ever have an opportunity to speak at length with such a person, it is amazing how naturally and pragmatically they handle the challenges placed before them.

I will do the best that I can to be one of those people this coming year, and I know that you can be one too.


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