Vibrant Life Lessons from People of Earth

Alien Dickery AfootPeople of Earth is a sitcom on TBS that just launched its second season. Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) plays Ozzie, a journalist interviewing a group of people who claim to have had alien encounters. He starts out mocking them, but finds repressed memories of his own, and soon becomes a member of the group.

I think I am going to join them.

Alien Encounters

No, I have not been abducted and probed. But something weird is going on in my life right now that I can’t explain in normal terms.

As Ozzie and his new buddy Jerry are piecing together clues of an alien presence on Earth, Ozzie coins a term that’s been stuck in my head all week. I think it will be my new explanation for all of the mysterious forces at play that make life so hard. Ozzie blurted out…

“There is Alien Dickery Afoot”

I know, the language is a bit coarse, but it got past the TBS censors so I’m thinking it’s okay for this blog. Ozzie and Jerry add up the clues, realize what’s going on, and call it out for all to hear.

Alien Dickery. Afoot.

This could explain what’s been happening to me.

We’ll start with afoot. Monday, I woke with a sharp, piercing pain in my foot. Friends suggested it could be gout or plantar fasciitis, but whatever it is, it’s killing me.

I couldn’t get a doctor appointment ’til next week, so in the meantime I’m popping Ibuprofen and hobbling around with a cane.

Worse, it’s gotten into my head, and made everything in my life look and feel bleak. Really freaking bleak.

But Wait, There’s More

Last week I was in a strange souvenir shop in Kissimmee, Florida, looking at alligator heads. Actual alligators, chopped off at the head, their eyes replaced with marbles. Even stranger, I was actually considering buying one, when my phone rang.

It was my therapist (yes, I see one regularly) and I picked up. But it wasn’t my therapist – it was her colleague. Suddenly I knew there was alien dickery afoot. The colleague broke the news. My trusted coach and counselor, the one person who always gave me validation and encouragement, had come down with flu-like symptoms two weeks ago.

Then she died.

It was some sort of bizarre infection that led to renal failure. I’m mourning the loss of her, and the huge help she’s given me the last four years. I’m having a good cry right now.

Who’s Mocking Who?

But it occurs to me that there is some form of dickery afoot. Because this renal failure happened to a very important person in my life.

Named Rena.

Yes, let that sink in. Rena died of Renal Failure.

Tragedy or a New Beginning?

At first I thought it was some cosmic message that her time had come, and now it was time for me to sprout my wings and fly on my own. To the next level. To greater success and happiness. So I won’t be Rena’s Failure.

I’m crying again, knowing that a good woman, who helped me and many other people, was cut down in her prime, while she was still healthy and very productive. If this is a new beginning, why does it feel so bad?

Because that’s not what this is. I now know this for what it really is.

It is Alien Dickery Afoot.

So What Now?

All we People of Earth can do at this point, is band together, forget our differences, and fight off the pending invasion. Laugh and cry at the alien dickery afoot that fills us with encouragement one minute, and despair the next.

That, and follow along on TBS Monday nights to find out what Ozzie and friends will do to save themselves. Have yourself a good laugh.

Meanwhile, I’ll have a good cry. For Rena. She taught me Yiddish and how to go easy on myself. My mentor and cheerleader, Rena saw  my humor as my greatest weapon to fight the battles in my life.

She’d approve of my irreverent tone here, and encourage me to find the humor in all of life’s pain. It’s what I’ll need to do now to get by without her. I’ll cry for a while, then I’ll find a way to laugh.

At those fucking aliens, their dickery, and my foot!

How To Use Jedi Mind Tricks For Fun And Profit

Obi-Wan Kenobi, Master of Jedi Mind TricksObi-Wan Kenobi was the Master. He showed us the way with his Jedi Mind Tricks. Call it guile, charm, persuasion or influence, this is a vital skill for Manic Impressives. It’s how we get past our Stormtroopers and remove obstacles designed to stop us from moving forward.

Case in point.  While trying to penetrate the Death Star’s defenses (parking lot at Disney’s Animal Kingdom) the other day, I came face to face with a Stormtrooper  (parking attendant). He greeted me civilly enough, but he was looking to get into my wallet. I was looking to slip past him and save my wallet for overpriced crap still to come.

Step One – Disrupt Their Thinking

Obi-Wan was dealing with highly trained, disciplined actors working from a script. When he said, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for“, he was guaranteed the results he wanted.

I was dealing with a highly trained Disney employee working from a script, guaranteed to get the results Disney wanted. So I had to get him off script. This is the key to successful Jedi Mind Tricks.

I did it with a powerful left jab, metaphorically speaking. An open-ended question designed to throw him off his game.

I led with, “So what are we doing here?”

“Matthew” (in quotes since it was clearly a stage name for this “Cast Member”) was momentarily dazed, no doubt because the thousands of drivers before me had never said anything like that to him before. But he staggered back to his script.

“That depends on what you want. Regular Parking is $20, and Preferred Parking is $40.”

Step 2 – The Counter Offer

“What I want is Preferred Parking for free.”

It’s important to let people know they’re in a negotiation. Especially people in charge, used to enforcing rules. Just because everybody else complies doesn’t mean you have to.

Stunned by a right hook to his midsection, “Matthew” leaned against the ropes. In a flash, my tag-team partner was on him.

Step 3 – The Reasoned Argument

My wife came back with a classic that had worked before“We’re not parking. We’re just going to go into the park for a bit, go on some rides, eat some lunch, buy a few souvenirs, and then head right back to the car.”

Once you’re in a position to negotiate, you need to do their thinking for them. You must give them the words they need to justify giving you what you’re asking for.

Step 4 – The Close

Obi-Wan closed by controlling their minds. You have to close by controlling their logic and emotions. You do this by giving them the justification for what you’re asking, being charming, funny and nice, and then, this is key, you shut up and let the silence work its magic.

After my wife gave the Reasoned Argument, I closed with, “So we’re not really parking.” All I had to do then was shut up and keep a straight face.

“Matthew” complied. “Alright then, since you’re not really parking, you can go on in.”  Score – Disney 0, Us $40. A knockout by any measure.

Jedi Mind Tricks For Fun And Profit

Using Jedi Mind Tricks is tremendous fun and can be financially rewarding. They come in handy in dozens of situations every day.

It worked for Obi-Wan, and it will work for you. Disrupt Their Thinking, Counter, give a Reasoned Argument, then Close with a straight face and silence.

Ask for what you want, even if you think it’s impossible to get. When I blurted out, “What I want is Preferred Parking for free”, I felt unbridled glee. I guarantee that no one had been audacious enough to say that to “Matthew” before.

I won the round, and that alone could have been my prize.

But by continuing my influence with “Matthew” I achieved my actual goal. No, I didn’t really think it would happen. But I did it with a straight face anyway because I believe in The Force. It has rewarded me enough times over the years that I do not doubt it.

It’s real.

And so are the two 20-dollar bills still sitting safely in my pocket.

 

 

 

What To Do When You Reach Your Goal

The Prize, and what to do when you reach your goalYou set a goal so you get the prize at the end of your struggle. The harder your struggle the bigger your prize. This week I got a big prize from a hard struggle and it felt great. Made me want to dance around and shout GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLL!

Like a spanish-speaking soccer announcer, I wanted to draw out the scoring of the goal as long as I could. To really feel the win, and honor the struggle.

The High

Luckily I was in the right place to do this. For about 30 seconds Saturday night, at the National Speakers Association annual convention opening session, the world revolved around me. The announcer pronounced my name right, I climbed the stage, the committee chair draped a medal around my neck, and the president shook my hand while the photographer stepped in to capture the moment. I received the highest earned designation they have to give, the CSP – Certified Speaking Professional award.

It was the culmination of 6 years of work and a grueling application process. I had to submit an hour-long video and be judged by a panel of CSP holders, charged with determining whether I was good enough to become one of them.

The celebration started the moment they called my name, and lasted four days. They insisted that my 41 new best friends and I wear our medals throughout the entire conference, and told all 2000 attendees to honor our accomplishment.

A Manic Impressive dream – to have hundreds of people come up to congratulate you and start a conversation.

The Crash

But even as I was drinking it all in and savoring the win, I knew it was all going to end. The convention would wrap, everyone would head to the airport, and like the host at the end of a rocking house party, all the guests would leave and I would be all alone again with a mess to clean up.

The crash from a high that great would come, and it wouldn’t be easy coming down.

So now I sit all alone, my new best friends scattered, the phone quiet. I’m back to being just me. Now what?

Begin With The Feelings

You met your goal and the party’s over. Now what? Yes, time to set new goals. But first, it’s important to recall the feelings you had at the start of your goal.

Remember the nervous excitement of thinking you might, just might, be able to reach this one. Remember why you chose to go after it. What it would do for your career. What it would do for your self-esteem and your confidence.

Now think back to all the times you doubted yourself. Those dark moments when you didn’t think you would follow through, when you thought you’d find a way to sabotage yourself. When you thought others wouldn’t think you were talented enough to deserve your prize.

Preparing For The Dark Thoughts

You had them before and you will have them again. Whatever you set your sights on this time, know that you will have to  come up against your demons. They will set upon you when you are tired, weak, and full of self-doubt.

But this time you have some proof. The goal you achieved proves you are talented and disciplined enough to earn another prize. Your resilience will pull you through the darkness of self-doubt, and you will come out the other side with more than you had before you started.

You accomplished this goal and you will accomplish the next one. You just won’t know what it will look or feel like when you do. All your problems won’t magically disappear. You will have to drag them along with you as you crest the next hill on your life’s journey.

The New Struggle For The Next Goal

You’ll get an incredible view for a few moments, then you’ll drop back down into the forest for a while as you struggle to mount the next peak. You may not see the sun for a while, you may slog through mud, mosquitoes and poison oak, and the view may be crap for a bit.

But if you keep moving, one step at a time, you’ll reach a higher peak. You’ll dip down again, struggle in the muck, then reach another, even higher peak. You’ll do this repeatedly until you’re too old and frail for the trudge.

In time, you’ll look back and be amazed at all you achieved despite your flaws and weaknesses.

And that, my Manic Impressive friends, will be your biggest prize.

 

Why The Big Sick Is What You Need To See Right Now!

What you need to see right nowKamail’s Nanjiani’s awesome autobiographical movie The Big Sick came out two weeks ago and scored 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. What you need to see right now, is this poignant story of a struggling comic overcoming huge challenges to become a world-class artist.

This movie shows how to commit to a path, endure the pressure of family expectations, support others through difficult times, and what’s most important in life. What we all need to do to be successful Manic Impressives. What you need to see right now.

More importantly, we all need to do this to be successful Americans. As another 4th of July slips by, we need to help each other commit to our dreams, and support each other through the tough times.

That’s what America has always been about.

Committing To A Dream

Kamail emigrated from Pakistan to the US as a teenager. Born a Muslim and transplanted into a culture hostile to his heritage, Nanjiani uses his journey as a platform for his art. He doesn’t beat you with it, but uses charm and deadpan humor to win your heart.

Kamail struggles as comics do to get his time on stage. He works hard at his craft to get better, but doesn’t let failure set him back. His painful moments are broadcast on YouTube for all to see, and he bombs so badly at times you wonder how he can get back on stage.

But he does, despite crappy living conditions and in-your-face USA, USA! type racism. He gets kicked down plenty but keeps going. His commitment to his art is unwavering, and a lesson to all of us creatives.

Growth Through Struggle

Though it’s natural to seek comfort in life, there is no growth there for us. Manic Impressives must take risks and lean into the struggle. Kamail is a great role model. He is drawn back to a failed relationship to support a family in crisis, and along the way is forced to confront his own painful shortcomings.

His pattern has been to hide out, deceive his family to stay connected, and sell out his own relationships to keep the peace. But there is no peace in this strategy. Like all of us must, he learns he has to confront his family and carve out his own path.

Kamail grows up during an intense struggle with his family’s expectations for him, and learns to rebel in a productive way. The scene where he finally confronts them is both heartbreaking and hilarious. If all of us can learn to channel our humor in this defiant yet healing way, Dr. Phil would be out of business in a weekend.

The Power Of Supportive Community

The biggest lesson here for us is the need for support. His main competitors are also his biggest supporters. Comedians must compete, but they have a habit of collaborating and supporting each other in ways many of us don’t. When a Letterman or a Leary or a Foxworthy makes a breakthrough, he reaches back and pulls his friends, former competitors, through with him. He creates more success for himself by helping others succeed.

At one point in Kamail’s journey, his closest rivals come to him with the news they are going to New York. They don’t give him a choice. We’re going and you’re going with us. We will struggle, it will be tough, and at times it will suck. But you will come with us and it will be great. We will succeed together.

This is how we do it folks. With the help of our rivals, who become our biggest supporters, our most honest critics, and our network that opens doors for us. When one gets through we all get through.

What You Need To See Right Now!

Look around. See the people who are your rivals, your competitors. Who is struggling in the same direction as you? Link up, give and receive honest feedback, and push each other.

No one succeeds alone.

So you must see this movie right now. Take your spouse or someone who could be your spouse. Take your rival or someone who dreams your dreams. But it’s something you need to see right now before the beer and the fireworks wear off.

 

3 Things You Should Never Say To Yourself

If you’re trying to be more than you are today, you need to watch your self-talk. Because there’s a part of you that’s always listening, and it can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction.  Your subconscious believes everything you say, then triggers your feelings, which in turn dictate your actions. So there are things people often say, that you should never say to yourself.

“That’s My Story And I’m Sticking To It”

We tell ourselves stories all the time. It’s normal for humans to observe the behaviors of others, make assumptions about their intent, and assign judgements to them. It’s how we make sense of the world around us.

But we need to be careful about the stories we tell ourselves. Have you ever seen a guy driving faster than you and called him a jerk? Sure you have. But what if that guy just got bad news about his wife’s cancer and was rushing home to comfort her? Maybe he’s a deeply compassionate husband more concerned with his mate’s feelings than the posted speed limit.

Your sub-conscious mind can’t differentiate between facts and opinions. Especially when it’s in your own voice. If you’re the one saying it, your brain will believe it. Then it will act accordingly to cut off that jerk who’s just trying to take care of his ailing wife.

Now who’s the jerk?

Be careful about sticking to your story. It’s often an excuse for bad behavior. Because what usually happens is your story sticks to you.

Never say “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Tell a better story instead, and you’ll trigger better behavior.

“I Don’t Feel Like It”

Manic Impressives fail to produce when they give in to these words. We love to start things, but often run out of steam before we finish our creative projects and launch them into the world.

Mel Robbins, a speaker, writer and coach, wrote a brilliant book about this problem called Stop Saying You’re Fine.  It’s loaded with case studies of Manics who yearn for more, but chicken out when it really matters.

She states that when you say “I don’t feel like it” to yourself, the very thing you don’t feel like doing is the most valuable thing you can do in that moment. It’s what will move you forward in your life toward the things you want.

If you want to be more than you are today, you must get better at doing the things you don’t want to do. Like sending out inquiry letters for your book,  imposing on others to buy your beer-can sculptures, or making phone calls to get that dream job interview.

If you don’t feel like it, it’s a sign that it’s probably the thing you should do right this minute. Not when you magically feel like doing it at some mysterious point in the future. Use Mel’s 5 Second Rule. Whenever you start thinking about something you should do, take immediate action within the first 5 seconds of having the thought.

Never say “I don’t feel like it” if you want to be a successful creator.

“I’m Tired”

You may have great reasons to say this. And at bedtime it’s a great thing to say. Your body will respond and it will be easier to crawl into bed and go to sleep.

But if you say it at the wrong time, your body will sink into your alleged tiredness and resist further effort. This is dangerous to say when you need to do more in order to be more. Especially when you come home from work and there are things you need to do to feel good about yourself. Like exercise, clearing clutter, or getting your gear ready for the next morning.

Sure you’re tired. But your body doesn’t need to know it. Not when there’s a short-story to finish, a blog post to write, a spouse to listen to, or a child that needs you. Save these words for bedtime.

“I’m tired” is a trigger to stop. Never say it when there’s more to do.

Never Say Self-Limiting Things

Okay, never is a pretty strong word. You’re going to say these things at times. But if you start listening to yourself, you may find the self-limiting language your subconscious hears that causes you to be less than you could be.

Listen up, rewind and restate, then take immediate action within 5 seconds. You’ll finish more of what you start, make progress toward your dreams, be a little less Manic, and a lot more Impressive.

How to Survive the Blazing Heat and Stay Motivated

Don’t know how it’s been where you are, but it’s been blazing here. 107 on Sunday, 105 today, and not our usual heat that lets up at night. We’ve had Fresno heat this past week, where it’s hot all night long and you have to seal yourself inside your house and blast the air conditioning. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated in this heat.

I’ve sort of melted down to a lethargic pile of goo. Feeling swollen, cranky, bored and blue. Very hard to pursue my goals in this weather.

Fighting The Malaise

I suppose everyone has to deal with this at some point in the year. For some it’s rainy weather. Others struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder when the days are short and overcast. But we’re nowhere near the Dog Days of Summer and I’m acting like a bored teenager. Nothing seems interesting or fun, and Summer is just two days old. I may be in trouble here.

Sure I’ll rally. I’m on deadline and that keeps me focused. And a lot of this will pass along with this heat wave. But just in case, we better make a plan. We must stay motivated.

The Antidote Is Water

Got to get in or on a body of water. A dunk in the pool always feels good. Just need to get there and throw myself in.

Wading in a river, splashing in the ocean, it’s been mankind’s answer for centuries. Migrate to cooler climates in summer and hit the water. Leave the sweltering valleys for the coast or the mountains.

It takes more effort, and I’m weak right now, but getting the kayak out on the water would be good too.

Music

Summer is the season for free concerts. I stumbled upon X Factor’s Jason Brock today, in of all places, the cafeteria of San Francisco’s Zuckerberg Memorial General Hospital. Though he opened with a Sade song (I hate Sade!), despite my lethargy and foul mood, he made me feel good.

Music always makes me feel better, and hearing it live and for free makes it even sweeter. Check out your city’s Park & Rec department for their free concert series and bust out your lawn chairs and ice chest. They’re everywhere this time of year in parks, farmer’s markets, libraries, shopping malls, and even hospital cafeterias.

If you can make your way to Fremont tomorrow evening, there’s a great one featuring Big Bang Beat at Shirley Sisk Grove by New Park Mall. I’m a bit biased, as the bari player is my brother, but these guys are an awesome party band. They’ll make you forget the heat, and I’ll have a little something in my ice chest for you. Maybe even some…

Cocktails

I hate to advocate substance use to change one’s emotional state. But hell, it was 107 and the ceiling fan in the bedroom died. We’re talking survival here, and we must stay motivated.

So a little social lubrication could be worth a try. Get a little buzz on and relax. Loosen up a bit and see the big picture. Forget about the present. Reminisce about the past and fantasize the about future.

If it’s good enough for Manic Impressives like Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King, it’s good enough for you. In moderation of course.

Rum is good in hot weather, right? Maybe a refreshing Mojito. Or a little vodka and citrus, like a Salty Dog, or a classic, frozen Margarita. Perhaps an ice-cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or a Pliney The Elder Imperial IPA. This is a battle, and these are my weapons.

Stay Motivated!

Soldier on, everyone. Keep creating and stay motivated. This heat wave too shall pass…

The Cheap Bastard Guide To Frugal Summer Travel

Cheap Bastard Guide To Frugal Summer TravelIt’s the summer travel season and we’re all looking to hit the road. But the Fed just raised interest rates, gas is over 3 bucks a gallon, and nothing’s going to be cheap. Lucky for you, I’m not just a Manic Impressive – I’m a Cheap Bastard too.

I once made it from Calgary to San Francisco on less than $40. Okay, things were cheaper back then, and I was hitchhiking with a full backpack and slept on the ground. But when I got down to my last two traveller’s checks (remember those?), I stuck out my thumb and made it back to San Francisco with several bucks to spare.

But that was then and this is now. 

6 Tools Cheap Bastard Uses For Frugal Travel

The family frowns on hitchhiking and sleeping on the ground. So I’ve mastered these tools to vacation in a style they can enjoy.

Airline Miles

We use credit cards for everything throughout the year (groceries, utilities, doctors, insurance) to rack up free airline travel. The bills are paid in full each month automatically with Auto-Pay, so we’re not paying interest and running up debt.

Last year we flew free to Maui, Nashville and Phoenix, and this year we’re flying free to Orlando, all with airline miles. We get rental cars free too. Just gas for the car and a few bucks in fees per airline seat.

Chris Guillebeau is the master of this. Check out his website for the latest mileage deals and tips on how to use credit cards to fly free.

Priceline

William Shatner may be a hack actor, but he truly is the “Negotiator.” The Cheap Bastard secret to Priceline is the bidding feature. I know, it’s scary to book a hotel without knowing which one you’ll get. But we’ve stayed in Hiltons and Marriotts for pennies on the dollar by bidding.

You need to work it a little. They rate hotels by “Star” level (1 Star = Crappy, 5 Star = Luxury), so learn which hotel chains land in which “Star” levels for the area you want. Then check their “Express Deals.” We’ve gotten good deals here without bidding, but mostly you go here for research.

Once you know which hotels they have, pick the Star level you want and start lowballing. They’ll reject you flat-out if you’re too low. That’s okay. You’re establishing the going rate. They limit your bids to once per day per account. But Cheap Bastard is sneaky. He has multiple accounts, so he can bid multiple times per day.

Bid repeatedly, a few bucks higher each time. When you get close to their best rate, they’ll actually tell you how much to bid to get what you want.

A little research and you can master this site. This is how we got a suite at the Anaheim Hilton, a mile from Disneyland, for just $64 a night. Bid low, then creep upward until you land your deal.

A Coffee Grinder

Let’s be honest. I’m a coffee snob, I’m totally addicted to caffeine, and I bring my own coffee when I travel. Partly because I’m particular, but mostly cuz I’m a Cheap Bastard.

It’s crazy what hotels and Starbucks charge for coffee. A pound of whole beans costs me $16 and lasts about a month. You couldn’t last a week at Starbucks on $16.  I travel with freshly ground beans, filters, and the skill to jerry-rig any hotel room system to brew my own. I get way better quality for a fraction of what most people pay.

So consider taking coffee with you on the road. You’ll get a better fix and save enough for a fancy dinner out.

The Nutri-Bullet Blender

Amazing what you can fit in a suitcase. I pack my Nutri-Bullet and portion my protein powder and fiber in little zip-lock baggies. Pick up strawberries and kale along the way and you can start each day with a healthy breakfast smoothie.

Hotel Mini-Fridges and Barbecues

Eating out with the family can run hundreds for a week’s vacation. So do what Cheap Bastard does. Make breakfast in your room and sandwiches for lunch. Use your hotel mini fridge for smoothie ingredients, yogurt, or milk for cereal, and the microwave in the lounge for oatmeal. Hit a grocery store when you land, pick up a cheap (bastard) cooler, get all the ice you need for free at your hotel, and cut your food expense in half.

Most hotels also have barbeques you can use. Take advantage. We often grill at our hotel, meet our frugal neighbors, and enjoy a nice sunset over dinner.

My friends Molly and Raul once flew to Hawaii with an ice chest of steaks, fish and ribs packed in dry ice. They ate in style their whole vacation for what you’d probably pay for one fancy dinner out.

Follow these dining tips and you’ll save enough to splurge on some nice restaurant meals without stressing over the tab.

Cheap Bastard Travels Well

I’m not the only Cheap Bastard around. Learn from the frugal, use your creativity, and you’ll be able to travel more, eat better, and give your credit cards a rest.

Now, take a moment and share your Cheap Bastard travel tips with the rest of us…

How To Get From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

  1. From deep in debt to solvent and secure

“Debt Kills Creativity”,  Damian Mason

There’s no bigger dream-killer than being deep in debt. And there’s nothing worse on a relationship than financial stress. So in 1995, with over $20,000 in consumer debt and barely one job between us, my wife and I did what anyone should, to get from deep in debt to solvent and secure  – we fled the country.

But not to a place with a lower cost of living. We quit our jobs, rented out our house, put our stuff in storage and bought one-way tickets to Tokyo. The most expensive place we could find. Then we signed contracts for two very low-paying jobs.

You’re right, that’s totally nuts. Crazy financial strategy right there. But 2½ years later we returned to the States completely debt-free with $10,000 cash in hand (100,000 in yen, actually) to re-start our American Dream .

How did we do it? With a change in financial philosophy and 5 simple strategies you can copy.

Pay Yourself First

If there’s one overriding piece of advice to follow, this is it. Pay yourself first. Let everyone else get in line. We’d gotten lulled into thinking we could “afford” a bunch of things we hadn’t yet earned. This causes a lot of people to pay their bills first, squander a bit on luxury, then put what’s left into savings.

Absolutely not. If you’re doing this, stop it right now!

Take 25 percent off the top and sock it away. Then pay your bills. If there’s money left over, great. Have a good time. Buy ridiculous, impractical things. But only when you’ve paid yourself first.

From our first payday in Japan, we sent one paycheck home to pay off our debt, and lived off the other. We paid ourselves first, then lived off what was left.

For Everyone Else, Use Auto Pay 

Living in Japan in the 90’s, we were surprised to find there were no checking accounts. The Japanese paid their routine bills automatically from their bank accounts and used cash for everything else. No checks or credit cards, no late fees, interest or overwhelming balances. Just debts that were settled in full, every month, automatically.

Manics, more than any type of people, have trouble with details like writing checks, finding and addressing envelopes, hunting down stamps and remembering to get things in the mail. That’s five steps for every bill. Neither smart nor lazy, that’s a procrastinator’s path to late fees.

I should know. I’ve paid thousands in late fees. And not because I was broke. But because my process was broke. It required too much discipline. Other types of people live neat, orderly lives. But not us.

So when we returned to the U.S., we set up all our recurring bills on auto-pay. No more late fees, and more importantly, no time, thought or effort. Smart and lazy!

Live Within Your Means

This was tough in a place so incredibly expensive. At home we paid $1 for 4 ears of corn. In Japan we paid $4 for 1 ear of corn. We paid 25 cents a pound for a watermelon at home. In Japan watermelons were $25. Each.

With seeds!

So we adapted, and learned the most important lesson of all. We had to get over the shame of being humble about our spending, instead of  digging our hole deeper to save face.

When a group goes out to dinner in Japan, they split the check evenly no matter who orders what. It only took a few $100 tabs for a bowl of miso soup and a salad to realize we couldn’t afford other people’s extravagance. So we stopped going along with the crowd when we couldn’t afford to, and caught up with them after dinner.

Move To The Cash Standard

When credit is easy, it’s tempting to buy first and pay later. But credit card debt is the number 1 killer of financial dreams. If you’re carrying consumer debt, you’re digging a hole that will be tough to get out of, no matter your income.

In Japan we each made only 250,000 yen a month. That’s $2500 American dollars. Since our credit cards were tapped out, and no one wanted to let a Gaijin (filthy devil foreigner) run up a tab, we had to stop spending when the cash was gone. We walked instead of hailing a cab, and cooked at home instead of eating out.

The upside was losing weight from all the walking, and finally getting full after a meal (Japanese portions are tiny!).

It was tough for a while, but over time we stopped digging the hole and started filling it in. Today we carry no consumer debt besides a mortgage. Yes, we use credit cards, to earn airline miles and track our spending. But we pay them in full automatically each month from our checking account. Because they’re all on auto-pay.

From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

Suzy Orman likes to tell people to “stand in your truth.” It can be painful at first, if your truth is deep dept. But the path to solvency and security is through knowing exactly where you stand financially.

So we put it on paper. All our debts subtracted from all our assets. A classic but simple balance sheet with a bottom line. At first the bottom line was ugly and very red. But we moved into the black with conscious effort and honest acknowledgment of where we stood.

It didn’t happen all at once. But by the time we moved home we were solvent. And we’ve stayed that way ever since by following these 5 simple strategies.

If you want some help with this, let me know. I’ll send you a template of my balance sheet to get you to your bottom line. Then you can go from deep in debt, to solvent and secure. Or to patting yourself on the back for already being financially awesome.

It’s a very good feeling…

 

5 Strong Manic Impressives You Should Know And Love

I’m often surprised when people who seem much different from me (together, disciplined, grown up) admit to sharing my Manic traits. Since it’s sometimes hard to identify someone’s style, I thought I’d give you some examples. So for purely academic reasons, here are 5 strong Manic Impressives you should know and love.

Popeye The Sailor Man

Popeye showed several strong Manic Impressive traits. He was an advocate for others with a strong sense of justice.  He was assertive, and would take action when others wouldn’t. While they cowered and ducked for cover, Popeye stepped up to take down the bully.

And he had a strong sense of self. With his own personal branding statement, “I Yam What I Yam,” Popeye was a strong, confident, somewhat existential, working class poet-philosopher.

He was also a bit forgetful and got in his own way. Ever watch him babysit Sweat Pea? Constantly allowing that tyke to wander into traffic, construction sites, and other life-threatening situations.

And yes, he was a substance user. Possibly an abuser. But like all Manics, Popeye needed to be inspired to perform. It may seem like a weakness, but let’s face it, when Popeye downed his spinach, he always kicked ass. He made no excuses for it either – it was right there in his theme song – “I’m strong to the finish, when I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailorman!”

Peter ‘StarLord’ Quill, Guardians Of The Galaxy

“Starlord” as he wants to be called, models Manic behavior in several ways. He is a rule breaker. He is a smartass. He starts out as a delinquent and falls into his role of Guardian by accident. He usually means well, but often falls victim to his bad habits and dysfunctional childhood.

And like Popeye, he relies heavily on inspiration. But instead of using a substance to trigger his inspiration, StarLord’s trigger of choice is music. This is an extremely Manic trait.

But not just any music. The R&B pop hits from the 70’s, the favorite music of his mother, who died when StarLord was just a kid. There’s a reason Manic Impressives can never seem to get enough attention, and it’s often rooted in childhood abandonment issues.  This guy is a classic Freudian fuck-up hero.

But like most Manics he is completely loveable. Even when he’s breaking all the rules, you just want him to win. Because he’s a scamp, he’s audacious, he thumbs his nose at authority, and he loves his mama. All the qualities we love in a hero.

Anthony Dinozo Jr., NCIS

You may not have realized this one because he’s in the by-the-book field of law enforcement, he’s a former jock and, yes ladies, he’s extremely handsome. But look at his behavior on the job. He’s a classic smartass constantly needling his co-workers and getting slapped in the back of the head by his boss.

Tony is irritating.  He gets under people’s skin with his constant razing and hazing. But he’s impressive. Not as a specialist like his computer geek sidekick or martial arts badass love interest. He’s a generalist who uses his intuition and perception to solve murders and identify the killers.

He too uses the arts as inspiration, and often makes breakthroughs in a case with his extensive knowledge and obsession with cinema, often to the great annoyance of those around him. To them it looks like he’s screwing around. But he’s actually using his knowledge of popular culture to think outside the box, in a highly imaginative way.

Tony, though often inappropriately playful at work, is a strong leader. But his antics lead others to underestimate his work ethic and intelligence. A true Manic Impressive, he never lets the seriousness of his profession get in the way of a good time.

Deadpool

Wade Wilson, former Special Forces badass turned super-antihero, is a vulgar smartass. And like most Manic Impressives, he uses his biting, dark humor as a weapon, and also as a shield, to protect his tender feelings and insecurities.

He is one seriously fucked-up dude, having become a mutant in an effort to cure his terminal cancer. But the disfigurement caused by his treatment creates incredible self-doubt, a trait common among Manics. So he covers it up with his costume and his raging sarcasm.

Deadpool’s need for revenge drives him to do regrettable things, and to many people he comes across as a total a-hole. But underneath his mask is a deeply misunderstood soul that longs for the intimacy he constantly pushes away in his relationships.

But oh is he impressive. Not just in his fighting ability and his quest for justice. He is impressive with words. His profane, guttural, wicked humor puts him in a class all his own. This guy is hilarious, with a wit sharper than his weapons of choice  – two razor-sharp Japanese katanas. Deadpool is a deadly smartass’ smartass.

Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MASH

Hawkeye Pierce, an amazingly skilled physician, was the heart and soul of the team at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Though an inveterate rule breaker and prankster, Hawkeye was a dedicated, conscientious, and deeply caring man.

He just found the conditions of a field unit in the Korean War too much to bear at times, and did what any good Manic Impressive would. He attacked the stupidity of the army rule-makers and installed a moonshine martini still in his tent.

He never lost sight of his mission, to care for the sick and wounded, but he went out of his way to poke fun at his leaders and make an untenable situation  as human and compassionate as possible. This meant taking on every chance to seek justice, and making a pass at every attractive woman in sight.

Without Hawkeye’s brashness, the downtrodden and low-ranking personnel would have had to suffer in silence. But he was their champion and took his role seriously, in true Manic fashion. He mocked, ridiculed, pranked and shamed anyone who put rules above logic, and order above decency.

Hawkeye was a strong leader, and a huge smartass. But everyone loved him for it, and the show (and movie) would have been unwatchable without him.

Leading By Example

All five of these fictional characters were strong leaders, and constantly put themselves in the spotlight when it mattered most. They sacrificed their own comfort to make life better for others, and took advantage of every opportunity to seek justice and punch lines.

If all of us can just channel their energy, bravado and humor in our daily lives, the world would be a much happier and funnier place.

 

 

 

You May Be Closer Than You Think

You May Be Closer Than You Think
Stargate

My chance encounter last week got me thinking about the barriers that separate us from success. How one lucky break can get us through to a dream job interview, a new social circle, a whole new venture. Singular moments where your world collides with possibility, proving you may be closer than you think to your dreams.

It’s like there’s a thin membrane that separates us from the next big level in our lives. Like that portal thingee in Stargate.  If we can just break through this thin barrier, we can step into another dimension of success, using the talent and experience  we already have.

Challenging The Laws Of Physics

Try this little experiment. Get a cup of water and try to float a paperclip on it. If you’re like most people and most paperclips, you will fail. It will sink to the bottom.

Now, take a second paperclip, bend the inside loop 90 degrees to form a letter ‘L’. Then place the first paperclip on this ‘L’ shaped clip and lower it gently to the water’s surface. If you’re like most people and most paperclips, it will now float on the surface.

Amazing right? How can this piece of metal float on water? It’s because of a thin membrane of surface tension caused by air pressure pushing down on the water.

How Surface Tension Keeps Us From What We Want

Like the membrane on top of water created by surface tension, you may be stuck behind a thin membrane separating you from success.

A flexible barrier caused by opposing simultaneous forces. The outside force, pushing inward, is life’s circumstances that keep you in check.  Lack of  time or money or knowing the right people. Things that can be solved with effort, patience, and a little luck.

On the inside pushing outward, is the pressure from your internal beliefs. You create this in your head, thinking the things you want are so far away and require huge shifts in your circumstances.

Self-limiting beliefs cause the internal pressure that forms the thin membrane separating us from our desires.

You May Be Closer Than You Think

So, what if we lessen the internal pressure? Suddenly the membrane weakens. Our thinking can pierce the pressure that holds us back. Then it’s just a matter of  hustle and patience and persistence. Things we have. Things we can control.

We need to see what’s possible, and listen to the little whispers of our deepest desires. Yet most of us are afraid of our desires. They’re scary because they challenge our current circumstances. We can’t be stand-up comedians because we have families to support. We can’t be wealthy because we’re afraid of losing money in the stock market. We can’t be artists because we can’t make a living right now with our music, our acting or our poetry.

How We Self Sabotage

Those fears keep us from doing what we can do – chip away, little by little, with the discretionary time we do have.

Our desires are so scary that we actually manufacture situations so we can tell the little whispers they’re not practical.

We procrastinate little unimportant things, like paperwork and filing deadlines, until they become urgent. Then we tell ourselves that we can’t chase our dreams. We have to do these other things or the lights will go off or the IRS will garnish our meager wages.

In the end, we’re so afraid of trying and failing that we create situations that rob us of the chance to try.  We tell the little whispers to be quiet and go away – until we retire, or our ships come in, or our big breaks materialize.

Little Breaks Are All We Need

Big breaks are great, but what we really need are little breaks. Little cracks in the membrane, enough to allow us to squeeze through. To taste enough success to know our talent is real, our skills are valuable, and our dreams are achievable.

If you reduce the internal pressure on your membrane, you can start poking holes in it. Then you can take action and breakthrough to the success that is waiting for you on the other side. 

Gloria Estefan sang it best:

Get on your feet, get up and make it happen

Get on your feet, stand up and take some action…

So get out your paperclips. Bend them, float them, and once you see how you can challenge the laws of physics, use their little pointy ends to poke holes. Holes big enough to step through – in the direction of your little whispered desires. Because your dreams may be closer than you think