My Favorite Word

Someone once asked me what my favorite word was. It was a great question, and I had to think about it for a while. Once I thought of my answer, though, I knew it was true without a doubt.

My favorite word is “Yes.”

It’s phenomenal. It’s positive, it’s affirmative. It can signal agreement or excitement. It’s a versatile word, polite in almost every circumstance, and unambiguous. Your life will improve if you say it more.

It’s a great goal, too. It’s the desired result of sales pitches, marriage proposals, and desperate late-night inquiries at restaurants.

Seek it, give it, live it. Say yes!

Someone to Blame

Tonight while taking out the garbage, I stepped in a gopher hole. Invisible to the naked eye, this thing took me out. I went down like a sack of potatoes. I hurt my hip, knee and ankle on my right side. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem serious, but it’s definitely very painful and I’m certainly not doing any jogging tonight.

Whenever something bad happens to me, I immediately try to look for corrective action I could take for next time. I have a whole process I go through:

Step 1: Look for all the ways the Bad Thing could have been my fault. What could I have done differently? What mistakes did I make that I could correct? What lesson can I take in order to improve myself? Example: I didn’t land a client that I was pitching. What could I have improved?

Step 2: If I feel entirely confident that the Bad Thing wasn’t due to or preventable by my own reasonable actions, I then run through a second checklist – was this the fault of anyone else specifically? And if so, does this person have a pattern of this behavior, to the point where my life would be better without that person? Example: An online acquaintance has said rude, untrue things about me on one platform or another. Assuming I haven’t done anything to invite this behavior, would I be better off without this acquaintance in my circle?

Step 3: If, after steps 1 and 2, I feel very confident that the Bad Thing is neither my fault, nor the direct fault of any other individual, and is instead the result of some combination of the general state of society and/or random happenstance, I make a face.* Example: Stepping in a freakin’ gopher hole.

Like most people, I prefer problems I can solve. I’m a fixer. When a Bad Thing happens, I can accept that and I rarely get mad, but my primary way to avoid an emotional response is to leap immediately into positive action, changing things about my behavior or life to steer away from future Bad Things and towards Good Things. Sometimes, though, you just get bit by life.

On those days, I’m happy to have a blog I can vent to.

*This face:

Low-Hanging Fruit

“I just don’t know what to do. I’m so broke; I never have enough money for everything, I’m always short at the end of the month and I definitely don’t save. I feel like my health is terrible, and I never wake up feeling good. And I can’t get a date to save my life. I’m at a total loss.”

…he said, lighting up a cigarette.

Sometimes, there are really big, easy changes you can make that will dramatically improve your situation. The low-hanging fruit.

This isn’t a post about smoking per se, by the way, but it’s one of the big ones. Smoking is 100% downside – it costs money and makes your life worse along literally every metric.

When it comes to your life, and how happy you are with it, I’m surprised at how often people are really, really unhappy despite not taking care of the essentials first. I see people trying to find fulfillment in hobbies and projects, but their core foundation is cracked.

Are all your bills paid, with enough left over to keep a savings of at least 6 months of living expenses as a buffer? No? Then guess what, don’t do anything else until you’ve got that handled. Work more hours, get another job, cut out other spending. Stop your hobbies, don’t go on dates. The reason you’re stressed and miserable is because you don’t have that core thing handled. It’s important. That’s low-hanging fruit – it’s a simple, obvious thing that will make your life tremendously better. Get your financial house in order. Everything else you want to do will be easier because of it, if you knuckle down and focus on that right now.

Are you as healthy as you want to be? Can you do all the physical activities you enjoy without getting winded or hurt, are you free of random pain, are you happy with how you look? No? Then get in shape, see a doctor and dentist, and change your diet. Stop drinking until that’s fixed; don’t treat yourself to luxuries like ice cream and pizza.

Not doing things that actively damage you (like smoking), working more, and eating better are surprisingly low-hanging fruit if you get out of the mindset that you need or deserve those things.

Note the BIG caveat here: All of this is advice to help you be happier with your life. If you’re broke, out of shape, and a chain-smoker but you’re genuinely happy, then more power to you. I don’t judge anyone’s lifestyle choices. But if you’re doing those things and you’re miserable – well, now I’m judging a little. Because those aren’t mysteries. There’s no secret. You’re not going to have a rich, fulfilling life with deep, healthy interpersonal relationships and spiritual meaning if your rent’s not paid and you have a heart attack.

Get the basics in order. Once you do, the rest will be so, so much easier.

Thanks

Sincere and genuine appreciation goes a long, long way.

If you want a solid tip to make your life much better along nearly every metric, here it is: Say thank you. Say it often, mean it when you say it, and make sure you make the recipient of that statement feel genuinely appreciated.

It brightens any day, smooths over most disagreements, and makes people want to interact with you more. Be truly appreciative of everyone, whether they made you a coffee or built your house.

And by the way – thanks for reading this. I hope it made your day a little brighter.

Story Time

Once upon a time…

I’m nowhere near an expert in the field of evolutionary psychology, so I don’t know exactly the mechanism or cause of this, but we remember things better if they’re packaged as stories. We remember fables better than facts. We retain the moral lessons better if we get them wrapped in a parable. Maybe it just makes it easier for us to connect the lesson to our lives at the right time, or maybe we’re just programmed to remember things that may have happened better than abstract facts.

Remember the movie “Slumdog Millionaire?” The protagonist gets every answer correct on the show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” and over the course of the movie it’s revealed that he’s not particularly smart and isn’t educated, he just (by a series of crazy coincidences) has a personal story that has led to the exact pieces of knowledge he needed to win.

You can use this particular trait to your advantage. People remember stories. They relate to them, they absorb them. So if you want some particular piece of information to really work its way into someone else’s memory, make it a story.

If you’re in sales, don’t just list features and benefits. Tell a story about a customer that faced a problem, and how your product or service saved the day for them. Make it a parable; make it real. If you’re trying to polish up your resume, don’t just write abstract facts. Frame it as a series of events – things you did to overcome challenges. Make it a Hero’s Journey. If you’re leading a team and you need to teach them something, don’t just give a boring PowerPoint presentation and list the facts. Tell a story that uses that knowledge.

A client of mine was working with one of his own clients, who ran a fashion brand. She felt like her social media posts weren’t getting as much engagement as her competitors despite similar follower numbers. My client pointed out her problem: All her posts were just pictures of models in her clothes. They weren’t doing anything. They were facts, not stories. He advised her to create shots where the models were active – out at a party, drinking tea with a cat, anything that puts the clothes in a context the audience can relate to.

Maybe that’s the core of why stories are important. Context allows us to connect the abstract facts to our own lives, not just so we can apply them, but so we can decide if they’re applicable. Not every piece of information you learn will be relevant, and a story helps you decide if it is.

Learning to tell a good story makes you a better communicator. It’s a good skill, and worth paying attention to.

The End.

Second Chances

Whoever said “there are no second chances” was full of it. There are second chances everywhere.

You can make them. There’s nothing stopping you except for the belief that you can’t. I’ll give you a classic example – you’ve interviewed for a job and been turned down. Game over, door’s closed, right?

No way! There is absolutely a chance to turn that into something that moves you forward in some way. 99% of people won’t do it, but it literally costs you nothing except a little ego.

So you’ve been rejected for a job you interviewed for. Email the person you interviewed with, as politely as humanly possible, and thank them. This absolutely does not work if you’re even the slightest bit argumentative, snarky, or petty. You’re not writing this email to contest their decision. You’re writing this email to genuinely thank them for their time and the opportunity. And you’re going to show some humility and say that you’re eager to learn and improve. And then, with tremendous politeness, you’re going to ask if they could possibly give you some feedback as to what you could have improved as far as your skills or interview technique.

Worst case scenario: They don’t respond. You’ve lost nothing. Since they’ve already said “no,” you’re not risking anything here. You have nothing to lose.

But the other possibilities are all upside! You might get genuine feedback and advice that you can use to improve. You might impress someone enough to get a reference for another role or similar help on your journey. Or you might even impress someone enough to reconsider their initial decision! Even if any of these cases are unlikely, it costs absolutely nothing to try.

Let’s say you could spin a wheel, and 99.99% of the time nothing happens, but 0.01% of the time you win a hundred dollars. Even though the chances are very slim, it’s worth spinning the wheel if it’s free, right?

Don’t worry about odds of success. Worry about odds of success versus cost. If the cost is zero, even a very unlikely “Hail Mary” is worth throwing.

Did you lose that competition? Enter again and change your approach. Did that cake turn out terrible? You can bake another. There’s no cosmic rule that says you only get one shot at anything. There are second chances all over the place. Yes, sometimes there are truly pivotal moments, decision points, or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. But those are incredibly rare, and most things you do will absolutely not fall into that category. Most of the time, you can try again. You don’t fail until you quit.

Where Have You Been?

You’ve probably been asked more than once, “what do you do?”

I want to ask you that, too. But I’m looking for a different kind of answer than most. I really want to know, “What else do you do?”

Let me give you a challenge. Let’s say you’re a real estate agent. I want you to describe your professional skill set, but make absolutely zero mention of being a real estate agent.

Take away the “primary” thing you do. Describe everything else. Fill a resume, but you can’t say the main thing. It’s challenging! But there’s a ton of value in it. People tend to box themselves in – they label themselves as a particular thing, and then they commit to that label, hard.

You’re so much more than that one thing. You have a dozen different skills nested under that first broad skill set. Here’s a healthy exercise: Write down every skill set you have that you learned in your “primary” vocation, without writing down the actual vocation or anything that would give it away. If you’re a doctor, you could write “interviewing people who want my help but might have reason to lie to me; finding the correct solution to complex problems that have dozens of potential solutions; working under deadlines of extreme importance,” and so on. Once you have that list, take a look at it and consider: How many other professions would find those skills useful?

Then take a look at your journey. How did you get where you are? What else did you do along the way? Where have you been? For each of those, add to that list of skills and competencies. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a very long list of things you’re good at, and no particular job they have to be tied to.

Now understand how free you are. You aren’t locked into that one label.

Imagine your neighbor is a professional rock climber. She’s one of the best in the world; she can scale nearly any cliff like a mountain goat with minimal effort. Then one day her kite gets stuck in a tree and she calls the fire department to get it out. When you ask her why she doesn’t just climb up there and get it herself, she hangs her head sadly and says “I’d love to, but I’ve never climbed a tree before. I’m a professional rock climber.”

Absurd, right? Sure, they’re not exactly the same, but there must be a huge transference of the skills there, right? Of course!

It may not seem like it, but it’s almost as absurd when a graphic designer says “I could never be an architect.” Stop defining yourself so narrowly. Don’t file yourself under a specific label. You have skills, and it’s worth taking the time to really evaluate what they are.