Acknowledge the “inner battles”

We woke up this morning to the tragic news that world-renowned chef, author, and TV host, Anthony Bourdain, had taken his own life.

This was the second celebrity suicide in the span of a week (at least, that I’m aware of).

Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Bourdain’s shows, I really admired his work.

From an outsider’s perspective, he was living the dream: traveling the world, eating in world-famous restaurants, and experiencing a variety of culture from the places he visited.

He got paid to do this.

I can only imagine how many people are using this tragedy as a means to judge the man for how he died.

I can hear them now…

“If I had a life like his, I would never choose to end it”

But the truth is that few people really know what Bourdain was going through. And who the hell are we to judge this as anything more than what it is?

A total tragedy.

It’s hard to take any silver lining from somebody’s death, but I feel that Bourdain would have probably wanted this for the people who loved him, so here’s my crack at it…

Everybody is fighting their own inner battles, regardless of how perfect their lives may seem.

Forgetting this is a form of judgment, and frankly, a dangerous one.

Recognize that there are people in your life who are generally positive, negative, or neutral, but they each have their own internal struggles.

In fact, I would argue that the positive people are the ones we need to be especially careful to not neglect.

Don’t assume that a positive person is OK and always able to take care of herself. Treat her with the same love and attention that you would give to your most depressed friend or family member.

Anybody can have mental health issues, just as anybody can have general health issues.

The brain is an organ, arguably the most important organ, yet many of us still treat it as an afterthought…perhaps because it’s hard to see its issues on a surface level.

So my advice to you (and myself) is to remember to check-in with all of the important people in your life on a regular basis.

You don’t have to pretend you’re a therapist, nor do you have to ask deep-diving or intrusive questions.

Just listen.

Don’t neglect the acquaintances and strangers either.

If you walk past somebody on your way to work, try a smile instead of a stoneface.

Pay the bridge toll for the car behind you.

Send a text to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Just do something for somebody else, without expecting anything in return.

It doesn’t matter if it’s someone you know, if they’re rich or poor, or seemingly happy or sad.

We all need love and acknowledgment.

Many thanks to Anthony Bourdain for his inspiring life’s work, as well as the reminder that everybody deserves to be loved and listened to, regardless of how they may seem at the surface level.

Stop “ghosting” in business

Although I’ve done some online dating in the past, I never got to experience modern online dating (Tinder, Bumble, etc.).

And honestly, although it feels like it would be kind of fun to swipe left and right, I don’t envy anybody that has to go through with it.

One of the reasons I know modern online dating sucks is because of the pedestrian behavior known as “ghosting”.

Ghosting someone is more-or-less defined as abruptly ending communication with someone you matched with (or worse, have already met). The catch is that you don’t tell this person off, you just stop talking to them, likely leaving them hurt and confused.

You disappear like a ghost, get it?!

Well, although it’s not unusual behavior, it’s still pretty shitty behavior.

And not surprisingly, this shitty behavior exists in the modern business world as well.

You may interview for a job and subsequently follow-up with the hiring manager, but then you never hear from them again.

Or maybe you submitted a proposal to a prospective client, only to wait endlessly for a decision. Again, you follow up, but you don’t even  get a “no thanks”.

Not only is this shitty behavior, but I think it is also pretty pathetic behavior if I’m being honest.

Sure, maybe I’m a little bit salty from my own personal experiences, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that it isn’t an admiral thing for somebody to do.

In fact, there was a time where I tried to discourage prospective clients from behaving this way by charging for my proposals.

After all, I was giving them both my time and some very specific actionable advice on how they could improve their AdWords campaigns.

Was it wrong to expect them to pay for this?

“That’s just the nature of business, Benji…”

I hear ya. I really do. In fact, I eventually stopped charging for proposals because I realized ghosting just comes with the territory of modern sales.

However, we come from a society where it’s expected that one should say “no thanks” or at the very least “no” when they don’t want something.

When did people start chickening out when it comes to courteously declining something?

So here’s my advice to you…

The next time you have to make a buying decision, especially in a b2b setting, please, for the love of god, have the cajones to tell the seller “no thanks”.

I know I am guilty of this behavior myself, and I’m really ashamed of it.

I recently had a company incessantly bug me to get on the phone with them to start using their services.

My initial behavior was: ignore, ignore, block, block.

Finally, I simply emailed them to politely tell them I wasn’t interested, and I haven’t heard from them since.

By simply putting an end to my ghosting behavior, neither party wasted any additional time.

And we all lived happily ever after…

The opportunity costs of everyday life

Some days are inexplicably frustrating.

Lately, I’ve been marveling in the fact that every thing I want to do in a given day takes up so much time.

It’s that, or I’m simply trying to fit 10lbs of sugar in a 5lb bag, as my Pops likes to say.

And maybe that is the problem: my focus is in so many different places that there is no time left over to focus on the most important thing right now, in this moment.

As I type this, I’m currently cooking dinner (passively, lasagna is in the oven), and I still need to go to the grocery store.

Tomorrow, I know that I need to prepare at least one client report, yet I also have a load of laundry to do.

And it’s not that I’m complaining, because this is life…however, as I’ve packed more personal things into my day-to-day, I’ve realized that there really isn’t much time available to waste.

There is literally something important I can be doing at every waking moment of the day.

Yet I still find myself getting sucked into my phone, or obsessing over YNAB graphs, browsing my favorite reddit subs, or going down YouTube wormholes.

Distractions fly from every direction, and this is on top of obligations that are already smacking us in the face.

What this means to me is that every thing we do throughout a typical day has a very high opportunity cost.

Why?

Because there will simply never be enough time for us to do everything we want to do in a day.

As such, each decision we make to do one thing is taking away time to do the other thing. And with a lot of “things” going on, there is not a lot of time left over.

This had me thinking…

How can I kill more birds with one stone (figuratively speaking, of course)?

I’m not talking about multi-tasking per se, more like “habit stacking”.

So instead of just finding a park bench to meditate, why not bring my lunch, a book, and my travel guitar along with me?

I could basically knock out 3 good habits (meditation, guitar, reading) and one necessity (eating) in about an hour.

We can always be more efficient, and to me, this seems like a good potential solution to my struggle to meet all of my daily goals.

Let’s call it “minimizing opportunity cost with habit stacking”.

We’ll see if it makes just as much sense in practice as it does in theory.

Bursting out of the comfort zone

It’s easy to fall into complacency.

If we don’t have to struggle to make some desired result happen, why bother?

We’re comfortable…and isn’t comfort a good thing?

In many ways, I’m very comfortable.

I have a roof over my head. I never have to struggle for my next meal. I have a business where I can choose my own hours.

It’s pretty damn comfortable from a relative perspective, and I’m grateful for it.

The problem I see with comfort is that it doesn’t inspire necessary action.

You see, at any moment I believe that I can lose everything I have that makes me comfortable.

Yes, this may be an extreme and pessimistic perspective, but I’m pretty sure that the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about me (there’s a book with this title, and I agree with its sentiment).

So if I lost everything in my comfortable state, how would I cope with trying to recover?

If I didn’t know what it was like to be uncomfortable, the struggle would probably be more than I could handle.

As such, I’m trying to force myself into uncomfortable situations every day.

One example of this is networking.

I’ve hated that word for as long as I can remember. Not just because it makes me uncomfortable as a natural introvert, but also because everybody salivates over its value.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

If I had a dime for every time that quote was used…well, you know the rest.

But who’s to say that it isn’t true?

Who am to say it isn’t true if I’ve never really tried?

I didn’t have my first business cards until last year.

I’ve only ever attended 1-2 conferences/meet-ups in my life.

I work at home and barely interact with anybody, aside from my team members, clients, and weekly mastermind group.

I’m pushing myself into the zone of discomfort though, at least as it pertains to networking.

I’m attending Craft + Commerce at the end of the month, a conference designed for bloggers, artists, and internet entrepreneurs.

I recently updated my LinkedIn profile and connected with people I’ve worked with in the past, both of which are things I basically had never done.

I also started using an app called Shapr, which is kind of like Tinder and LinkedIn had a baby.

Basically, I’m doing things that I’ve always rejected in the past, simply because they make me uncomfortable.

But guess what?

Entrepreneurship is really uncomfortable.

So why not continue to seek out the discomfort?

I’m going to keep this at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis.

We’ll see how it goes.

My business goals: 6 month review

Now for the hard part: reviewing my business goals halfway through the year.

Although I do strongly believe in transparency, bringing it to the business arena is honestly a little bit uncomfortable.

I’m not going to share any super-specific financial numbers or “income reports”, because I think that’s nobody’s business but mine and my wife’s. However, I will try and be transparent about how the numbers fluctuate in terms of percentages.

Coffee Concierge Business Goals

  1. 3x Coffee Concierge revenue
  2. 66% of total business revenue from Coffee Concierge
  3. Update Coffee Hacks to its Second Edition and sell 100 copies
  4. 1 million website visitors
  5. 5,000 email subscribers, maintain >40% open rates
  6. 104 new posts published
  7. 10,000 YouTube subscribers

Other Business Goals

  1. Revive searchandperch.com
  2. Launch benjiwalklet.com

Now, these are business goals I wrote out at the beginning of this year.

Ironically, the only two goals I’ve achieved halfway through the year are not related to Coffee Concierge, nor are they SMART.

The other interesting thing is that while I’m still focused on growing Coffee Concierge, I’ve been way more focused on growing Search and Perch this year.

I’m still fairly certain I don’t want to run a digital marketing agency for the rest of my life, but in the last year I’ve been able to figure out how to make it both more enjoyable and more manageable.

Because of this, my mindset has shifted from grow one business and ditch the other to grow two businesses and supplement one with the other (and vice versa).

Sure, there might be a point one day where I’m forced to choose which business to focus all of my time on, but I don’t think I’m anywhere close to this point yet.

And honestly, in hindsight, thinking I was at the point where I could commit the majority of my time to Coffee Concierge in 2016 was probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made as an entrepreneur to-date.

Yes, it was my highest revenue year ever (by a significant margin) for the site, but it still wasn’t enough to get me to leave Search and Perch (my “day job”) behind completely.

The end of 2016 also introduced changes in the Amazon Associates program that would significantly impact my earnings for Coffee Concierge.

I don’t need to go into the details of this, because it doesn’t really matter.

Don’t rely on a platform you don’t have control over

This was one of the earliest lessons I learned as an entrepreneur, courtesy of MJ Demarco. Yet, I was somehow still blinded by the warning until it actually impacted me.

Amazon changed their commission structure, and it was totally in their rights.

It was my fault for putting so many eggs in that basket and not diversifying my revenue streams enough.

So now I’m approaching almost a 2 year decline in traffic and earnings for this business.

The good news is that scaling Search and Perch is more straightforward and predictable, and because of this I can re-invest the profits back into Coffee Concierge.

And since time is an even more finite resource than money, my primary investment needs to be in people.

If I’m a solopreneur for the rest of my life, I can only go so far.

With talented people working alongside me though, my output can continue to not only grow, but also improve from a quality perspective.

There’s still time to meet a lot of the goals I’ve listed above for 2018.

But in the end, I think the most important thing is to not beat myself up if I don’t get there as soon as I had hoped.

Just gotta keep moving forward.

My personal goals: 6 month review

Last week, I wrote a post about how it took me almost 32 years to start setting goals.

I mentioned that I would eventually share my goals for the year once I had them written out on paper.

Well, it turns out I had already completed this task at the beginning of the year to present to the mastermind group I’m in.

In said mastermind, we usually share our weekly wins and challenges when we meet every week. But at the beginning of every new year, we review the previous year and share our goals for the year to come.

I separated my goals into business goals and personal goals, and today I’ll be sharing my personal goals, as well as my progress so far.

Personal Goals

  • Waking up at 6am 5 times per week
  • Journal every day
  • More trips than I went on in 2016
  • Guitar for 15 minutes a day, 3 times per week
  • Meditation 5 times per week
  • Read one new book a month, no business books in consecutive months
  • Find an office or dedicated video production space
  • Pick up a new sport or hobby

As you can see, I’ve been able to consistently meet about half of my personal goals for 2018.

While I haven’t been able to consistently wake up at 6am (it comes in waves), I think I will be able to accomplish this in the latter half of the year.

My system has been to leave my phone (aka alarm clock) in the bathroom so that I’m forced to not only get out of bed, but also go to the room where I can quickly splash water on my face and take a shower.

The number of trips I take is still TBD, since a lot of them aren’t planned out too far in advance.

As far as reading goes, I’ve really dropped the ball.

For one, I’m still only reading non-fiction.

Secondly (and the bigger issue), I’m simply not making the time to read.

My hunch is that screens are to blame here.

I read on my phone. I read on my computer. I read on my Kindle.

I can’t escape the damn screens, which makes me think I just need to force myself to start reading physical books again.

Yes, I love the convenience of being able to download any book instantly, not having to carry around any extra weight, highlighting and saving notes in one unified place, and not taking up the finite space in my Shoebox apartment, but this is really where the benefits of eBooks end for me.

I’m not getting away from the screens.

I’m not able to flip to random pages.

I have to worry about battery life.

Why make reading harder than it already is?

/tangent

The last personal goal of mine is to find a dedicated office space that I can work on both of my businesses.

I’ve considered WeWork in the past, but considering I already have an insane amount of expenses in this high cost-of-living city, it’s been really hard to justify paying at least $400/month for a shared workspace.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind sharing at all.

The main issue is that I would like to have a workspace that could double as a small video production studio.

I currently shoot many of my videos for Coffee Concierge in my horribly lit kitchen, which already has less space than my bathroom.

This just doesn’t work, especially if I’m going to scale and improve my content creation.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find this dream space where I currently live, but if I’m ever going to be able to find it, I will need to work with what I have so I can hopefully budget for it in the future.

I’ll check in on my business goals tomorrow. Hint: so far it has been a much bigger struggle.

Getting back on the horse

I made it to 18 consecutive days of meditation before the streak finally ended on Sunday.

It’s ironic that I couldn’t find the time for it on such a leisurely day, picnicking at Lake Merritt.

I guess socializing demands just as much attention as a typical work day.

Memorial Day was my second consecutive day of not meditating, so I officially have a streak in a negative direction.

A negative streak, if you will.

How’s that for a pessimistic approach?

Still, I think it’s good to be as aware of our bad streaks as we are of our good streaks. This way, we have a growing count of the things we probably shouldn’t be doing.

From here, we can use these negative streaks as an incentive to “get back on the horse” and start a new streak in a positive direction.

For me, I have a two-day negative streak for both my writing and meditation habits. I also have about a 4-5 day negative streak for journaling before bed (last night’s excuse was not being able to find a pen, lame).

The good news is that it only takes one day of practice to start a streak back in the positive direction.

I’m a few hundred words away from getting my writing habit back on track, and by the end of the day I expect to start a new journaling and meditation streak.

It was definitely deflating ending an 18-day streak, but missing two consecutive days is far better than never meditating again.

A friend of mine told me that she had a 367-day meditation streak. However, since the streak ended, she hasn’t gotten back on the horse.

She says that there was something so psychologically deflating about it, that she feels she can’t get started again.

But I think starting over is the most important thing one can do.

Starting again is what really proves you’ve developed a habit. Otherwise, you’re only doing what you’re doing for the streak itself, right?

We should probably start measuring our progress more in terms of the percentage of days we’ve completed a task rather than the number of consecutive days.

Sure, 18 consecutive days of meditation sounds like a big accomplishment, but how good does it sound when you find out that it’s only 18 of the last 365 days?

So if you’re feeling bummed about a positive streak coming to an end, try:

  1. Counting your negative streaks
  2. Calculating your habit as a percentage (# of days completed/# of days not completed)

I’m going to keep these things in mind as I move forward this week.

Either way, I’m gonna keep getting back on that horse.

 

Why I don’t get too upset when the Warriors lose

The Golden State Warriors have been my favorite sports team since around the year 2000.

I distinctly remember this era in Dubs history, because it felt almost like a rebirth for a team that was already on the decline.

Freshly renovated arena, check.

New logo and mascot, check.

All-Star game host, check.

I was also transitioning from childhood to adolescence, so I realized it made a lot more sense to root for the home team than a team with a logo or player I liked (Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, the ’97-’98 Indiana Pacers, etc.).

I was fortunate enough to not only attend most of the festivities that All-Star Weekend in 2000, which included the historic dunk contest with Vince Carter, Tracey McGrady, and Steve Francis, the Jason Williams elbow pass, and the All Star game itself, which was full of future hall-of-famers.

This was a time when the Warriors were consistently out-matched, night after night. They were so bad in fact, that you actually appreciated it a lot more when they were playing well.

It’s almost like when the sun is shining in Ireland: given how much it’s constantly raining, you appreciate the sun just a little bit more.

Fast forward to 2015, when the Warriors were playing for their first championship in 40 years.

There was an ephemeral relief when the Dubs finally won.

The loyal and bandwagon fans alike were elated. All was right in Warriors world.

Only problem is that with this success, came an unwarranted expectation.

Fans all of a sudden made losing an afterthought.

The team goes on to win 73 games in 2016, take a 3-1 lead in the NBA finals, only to eventually lose to LeBron’s undeniable will to win.

To say I wasn’t broken-hearted at first, is an understatement.

But eventually I accepted that anything after that 2015 championship was just a bonus, there was no need to be greedy.

And frankly, it pissed me off that so many of these so-called “fans” were losing their shit about rooting for a team that lost in pretty much the most upsetting way possible.

But this isn’t anything new for a Warriors fan.

We’re used to blowing 20-point leads to the Kobe-led Lakers.

We’re used to passing up franchise players in the draft for the likes of Todd Fuller.

This fan base was built on an appreciation for the small wins. A love for basketball. The excitement and unpredictability of hope.

And unfortunately all of that passion and loyalty got covered up in the midst of the team’s insane success over the last 5 years.

Instead, all Dubs fans are labeled as bandwagon, crybaby fans.

It sucks. We’re not all like this.

After their Game 5 loss last night, my friends figured I would be despondent. But as I already said, at this point everything the team achieves is just a bonus.

They’ve been champions twice in the past three years, and while I would love more championships, I also wouldn’t mind if they came back down to Earth a little bit.

As a Warriors fan, I’m always gonna be rooting for the squad, regardless of how well they’re playing.

Yes, it’s a lot more fun when they win, but it’s still a lot of fun when they lose.

Call me crazy, but when you’re at the top, what else is there for you to achieve?

More championships? Sure.

But isn’t the journey to excellence what’s most exciting?

Maintaining excellence plays second fiddle if you ask me.

It took me almost 32 years to finally set goals

I’ve always kind of internally rolled my eyes at the concept of goal-setting.

I’m not exactly sure why this was the case, but my guess is that I’ve just always assumed that a rough idea of where I want to go is good enough, as long as I’m taking steps toward that abstract “place”.

The problem with this is that while I may be moving closer to these abstract goals, it’s happening at a slow, meandering pace.

Since I have pretty liberal control over how I spend my time, I should be using this to my advantage as a catalyst to getting where I want to go.

But I haven’t really known where I want to go.

I figured knowing where I didn’t want to go was good enough.

And sure, knowing what you don’t want is arguably just as important (if not more important) than knowing what you do want.

When I was fresh out of college, I spent a lot of time uncovering the things I didn’t want.

I didn’t want to be another depressed sardine on the train, commuting two hours to a job I hated, 5 times a week.

I didn’t want to have someone a year older (and arguably, dumber) than me, treating me like a peon.

I didn’t want to have to answer to entitled parents about disciplining their spoiled children.

I didn’t want to learn esoteric software in the trenches of the slow-moving and often, unrewarding world of academia.

My intolerance to doing things I don’t like has been something that has quickly steered me in the right direction. But the “right direction” has always come by accident, since I’ve never really had a concrete roadmap for where I want to go.

So today I’m putting my lack of goal-setting to rest. And what better way to do that than share my goals publicly to an audience that doesn’t exist.

OK, I lied. I’m not quite ready for that because I don’t want to rush or intermingle this project with my daily writing habit.

However, I will get started on putting these goals together today.

Once I have something I’m satisfied with, I will post it here on the interwebs so I’m held accountable by at least myself, and maybe you?

Testing Your Optimal Awake State

I’m trying my best to not turn this into personal journal, since this really holds no value to anybody else who stumbles upon this, but the 6am wake-up I’m aiming for was easy today.

This was ironic in a way, because I went to bed with a somewhat negative and deflated feeling.

I left my actual journal downstairs and couldn’t even be bothered to write in it before bed, as I usually do. I feared I would just unleash more negativity, so I really just wanted to put the day to bed (kinda literally).

I guess when my alarm went off this morning, I was simply motivated to not repeat yesterday.

Of course, I can’t predict what will happen throughout the day, nor how I will feel, but I felt pretty certain that getting my day started early would set a good tone for the rest of the day.

So far, I’m feeling good about it.

I’m writing this post at 8:39am as I type these words, exactly one full hour earlier than yesterday! Makes sense, considering I woke up 1 hour later than I did today.

*Pats self on back*

OK, I promise to shift away from personal-journal mode now.

It has been said that we all have different times of the day where we are in our most focused, optimal state.

Some of us function better in the morning, some of us function better at night. This isn’t a new concept.

But how many of us actually know if we’re better morning people or evening people? It’s easy for one to say they’re not a morning person if they haven’t ever bothered getting out of bed before 7am.

And what the hell makes someone a “morning person” anyways?

I don’t think anyone likes being woken up from a deep slumber. Is enjoying this struggle the pre-requisite to being a morning person?

I would think that you can’t draw a conclusion about when you function at your best until you’ve been awake for at least an hour or two, and tried it more than one day.

In other words, we don’t give mornings a fair chance!

Evening people are presumably awake for many hours before they are doing their best work, morning people are not.

Evening people have likely worked more in the evening than they have in the morning.

So here’s what I think would be helpful in determining one’s optimal working hours:

  1. Spend two weeks working for 2 hours in the morning*
  2. Spend two weeks working for 2 hours in the evening

*give yourself at least an hour to wake up

Since most of us have day jobs, I’m not talking about the kind of work we do every day. I’m talking about “hustle” work. The work we squeeze in during the hours we are tempted to be doing something else (sleeping, netflix and chill, staring at our phones on the couch, etc.).

By giving each time of day its fair share, we can truly prove if we are indeed morning or evening persons.

I’ll do the same and report back.