With The Dawn of the Era of Self-Driving Cars Comes…More Pitfalls For Seekers?

[Another whipped-out installment of my professional development, “Unpolished and Rambling Blog-A-Week Project”]
I’m not at all an anxious person by nature. But being a parent to teenagers, even (especially?) good kids earning strong grades, feels way too much like watching a slow motion train wreck. I think this may be more so if you’ve been successful at creating an environment where your kids needs have always been met, if you’ve been a “good parent” and sheltered them from adversity. Here, I explore why, through the context of my personal lenses of entrepreneurialism and having known too many people who’ve never been excited by the jobs in which they spent over a third of their lives.
Most people hate Mondays. That’s a problem, and it’s going to get worse. I think it’s solvable.
We all seek. What we seek, what accomplishments we chase, often morphs over time. In my first career, as a soldier, I pursued professional competence. It was a both point of pride and required to both save and potentially take lives. Later, after having squandered a few years in corporate cubicle life before curing myself of a compulsion to work for others, I busted my ass to convert a few meager business skills and an unusual breadth of background experience into a second career as a business founder. Among the plethora of other reasons that drives anyone to hazard the risks and hassles of building their own business, I was at that time a passionate Seeker of (a) freedom from the psychological oppression of working for others and (b) personal financial independence.
Then I retired for awhile. Now, at mid-life (unless I embrace newly available, outlaw life-extension technologies), I seek new achievements.
To me, apparently, seeking = life; living without Seeking is just waiting to die.
There’s a platitude that says: “Life’s about the journey, not the destination.” I interpret that to mean you should drive your life in a direction that thrills and challenges you with the day-in-and-day-out of that Journey, otherwise you’re either tracking on the wrong destination or you’ve passively elected to let others steer your boat toward their dreams at the cost of your own.
Why would someone do that with their one and only life? I couldn’t.
As a result I evolved into a compulsive entrepreneur. So even when it’s not my primary professional focus, I constantly conceptualize businesses that might change the world for the better in some small way. I’m obsessively attracted to the idea of blending social good with making money. So while I’ve come out of early retirement to pursue a third (!) career by working to develop the skills necessary to make professional writing pay, I’m easily distracted by crowd funding friends’ visions, angel investing, and thought experiments about tech startups.
As part of that latter preoccupation, and in the context of choosing a profession, I’ve been experimenting with a framework for helping people identify, choose, then realize their dreams, despite the risk that anything I do will result in a mass-market demonstration of the futility in leading a horse to water. But my conviction is that having concrete dreams fueling one’s day-to-day energy strengthens chances of success and increases happiness. And I wish more of the people I interacted with were happier, that more of the people I know were either living their dreams or at least making remarkable, excited progress in that direction.
But it’s not easy figuring out your dream life and then transitioning that into accomplishment. If it were, people would be defined more by their progress toward identity fulfillment than self-classified by an occupation, a job, they actually consider a dream-killing, energy-sucking distraction forced by the need for an income source.
Which one of those two opposites applies to any given individual? That’s easy: If you suddenly had all the money you’d ever need and could do whatever you wanted in life, would you choose to keep your current job (or other time sink taking most your waking hours) for the next five years, or would you give your two-week’s notice so you could devote your energy to something else? Way too few people have charted their lives so that they’d choose the former. Way too many people hate proverbial Mondays — one of the surest indications you’re not working in your dream profession doing something you love.
I think about that common condition. Because it’s a pain point. And where there’s pain, there’s opportunity. A pent-up demand whose satisfaction could create social good (and profit).
Bookmark that thought: Where there’s pain there’s opportunity.
Sometimes, when the direct route toward happiness is obscured by malaise or inexperience, you can at least begin tracking in the right general direction by identifying and avoiding the common ruts that entangle lives and strangle joy. With introspection and a modicum of  professional development, you can at least groom yourself away from having to take jobs that will predictably lead toward diminished satisfaction with one’s work life. At the entry level, and maybe beyond, ongoing development of core skills related to your passions becomes akin to positioning yourself to fail upward. In this manner, you increase your contentment by avoiding easy paths leading to discontentment. The earlier you takes these actions, the shallower the ruts from which you must climb before finding your own True Path.
Simple, in theory. But applying this blinding flash of the obvious to teens (and even boys in their early twenties), whose prefontal lobes are barely buds and thus almost physiologically incapable of envisioning, let along building, complex plans for the future is no small challenge. Hence teens’ stereotypical answer to questions like: “What excites you? What profession might you be passionate about? What do you want to do with your life?”
“Um, I dunno.”
So their first job usually ends up being doing something soul-crushingly boring to their young hearts, creating and cementing the expectation that work sucks and life is what you live outside of work. But you have to accept it because employment is one of life’s necessary evils. That belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because entry into that environment encourages you to grow out of your dreams; you begin to accept pale substitutes and life goes by. Suddenly you’re old, and you wonder where you abandoned your dreams.
But that’s fixable, isn’t it?
I think so. Thus I contemplate the behaviors of young people who, through lack of any life-sustaining dream development, have either fallen, or are at risk of falling, into whatever poorly suited job their too often random, undirected searches turn up via quick trolling through parentally relayed news of help-wanted signs or path-of-least-resistance perusal of the classified help-wanted ads. That inserts kids and young adults into the teeming throngs of the discontented who, years down the line, realize they’re living for the weekend, hating Mondays, and trying to remember — or perhaps forget — once-cherished dreams. These are the myriads who default into that too common, life-interrupted fate of spending 40-50+ hours a week making a living but not a life. Because they wouldn’t or couldn’t summon the energy or hunt out the coaching to find, develop, and pursue a personal passion outside of play time.
Why is passion important? Because globalization, and the flattening of markets and the competition that brings. Without passions drive, mustering and sustaining the enthusiasm for the incessant skill development and its attendant competitive edge ensures mediocrity. To create stable income out of your dream, it takes passion to build your talent into top 5%…or 2%.. levels of performance. Passion is required to compete with people like you who want to live their dreams. Very, very few can do that with grinding self-discipline alone. If your energy levels aren’t passion-fueled, doing something that creates a life and not just a living becomes a bridge too far. Without the passion that ties happiness to excellence and as a result drives constant growth in expertise, you risk falling behind those with whom you must inevitably compete. It takes passion to become great, certainly the best, at something — even in niche or small markets (characteristics that are also becoming obsolete due to technology’s march).
Let’s bookmark that thought, too: If you’re not passionate about what you do, you’re at risk of falling behind those who are.
Pulling another thread into this, I think about professional options and career “opportunities” that lure the majority of people aging through their teens and twenties (or worse, their thirties). My premise is that time spent working at something that bores you, that you’re not passionate about, is lost time. So I contemplate the societal ruts whose siren songs pull those struggling under a dearth of internal motivation when it comes to identifying, developing, and pursuing a personal dream. That lack yields a low-energy approach toward charting one’s future. Then that too often creates a downward spiral which, over time, saps one’s ability to muster the kind of vigor and focus it takes to keep a dream alive long enough to fulfill. So dreams die, and people end up hating Mondays.
Then there’s this driver: I have teenagers, so I spend some of my idle time thinking about what kind of world my kids are going to enter once they’re booted lovingly out of the house, encouraged to seek (and hopefully complete) some amount of free (to them) higher education, and are forced to select a career — ideally one that will provide happiness and subsistence without private or public subsidy. A “failure to launch,” a growing societal trend, is not an option. It’s evidence I’ve not done my job as a parent.
Like most teens, mine are uninterested in such introspection. Historically, that’s par for the course for teens. I think that’s been true for ages. It was for me in my day and if you’re educated enough to accept nature being as great — or greater– influence than nurture, it’s clear that my kids are encumbered by my genes when it comes to their timely professional development. But I had workplace and environmental luxuries my kids won’t. I grew up in a less competitive labor market, in an age where tech and globalization were primitive. What’s maddening is that the Information Age, with its democratic access to the world’s information should off-set that, but rarely does. Perhaps growing up in today’s risk-averse, over-sheltering and incessantly nurturing environment makes the condition worse. Adversity and independence are the mothers of ambition and innovation, and I’m afraid I bought too far into society’s deleterious mores when it came to balancing between hover parenting and encouraging free range kids.
‘Nuther bookmark: Overly sheltered kids are more likely to grow up dependent on external guidance, if not outright pushing, when making early professional decisions. That guidance — especially if it’s coming from the public educational system, colleges selling their majors at a premium, or uninformed parents — is likely to be hopelessly out of date before it’s even given to the kids.
Want an example? How about Joe Average looking for that first job and falling into the insurance industry, or perhaps a retail position in an auto-parts store, or perhaps with a manufacturer in the auto or one of the supporting secondary parts industries. Historically, these have been stable, if not glorious jobs for those who (almost certainly) never mustered a passionate enthusiasm for something more emotionally rewarding. But, hey, it’s a living and a steady paycheck, right?
This is how lack of foresight like that unravels a life.

Here we are in Spring, 2015. Cars with increasing amounts of automation are entering the mainstream. On the mundane side, multiple manufacturers already offer cars with 360º obstruction and approaching vehicle warning, self-parking, and even collision avoidance systems that will literally take over from you and stop the car if you’re about to drive into something.

A recent software update for Tesla cars introduced features that enable your car to automatically change lanes for you with a simple flick of the signal stalk, automatically match the road’s speed limit based on either GPS (digitized road map data) or the car’s visual sighting of a speed limit sign as well as other self-driving functions. Autonomous cars will be here, soon.
Are you still thinking that sci-fi stuff is far in the future? Even now the number of states with legislation passed and on the books allowing the operation of autonomous  — another term for self-driving — cars is increasing. Google already has a car in production that has neither a steering wheel nor pedals and is testing it on public California roads. It’s been almost two years since Google reported having about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and over 300,000 autonomous miles driven.
Conservative pessimists suggest that autonomous cars won’t be mainstream until 2030, but that by 2040 the concept of a driver’s license will be obsolete. Visionaries driving us into this future (heh — see what I did there?) free from idiot and distracted drivers screwing up our roadways, predict fully automated driving in five years! And by “visionaries,” we’re no longer talking futurist crackpots and starry-eyed pundits. Both Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Tesla owner Elon Musk are working aggressively toward this rapidly approaching time to market. Elon Musk, who I submit is a pretty savvy dude, has gone so far as to say that in 2015, a Tesla will be 90% capable of auto-pilot. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has predicted that they will begin selling self-driving vehicles by 2018! That’s just around the corner!
Coolio! It’s classic capitalism. We have sufficient infrastructure to handle the traffic, but it’s too frequently clogged by humans too lazy and ignorant to learn to drive properly, and too stupid to realize how much they endanger others with their frequent misprioritization of focus while piloting a 3500 lb, 250+ hp murder weapon. Those oblivious and unskilled people create over 11 million traffic accidents and kill 30,000 to 40,000 of their fellow countrymen a year in the US alone. It’s a pain point, and nothing creates commercial incentive (and profit) like addressing pain points, with convenience and better safety being the most low-hanging fruit!
So, autonomous cars are coming, and they’re going to get here fast.
So, I wondered, what does that mean for the heretofore mentioned young adult, who in the absence of a driving dream just sort of fell into a “stable,” if unfulfilling job in one of those previously mentioned industries?
Well, it’s a no-brainer that autonomous cars are going to be safer and the auto-insurance industry is looking with trepidation at the deleterious effect that self-driving cars could have on the insurance business. That’s a diplomatic way of saying parts of it are going to implode. Similarly, industries like manufacturing and retail — most notably in auto-parts — and collision repair, are all forecast to see reduced demand (read: business closures and unemployment) in an era when cars aren’t running into each other and other things willy nilly like they have for the last hundred years. So that’ll be another nail in the coffin of employment prospects for generally unskilled labor. And, poof, suddenly that young adult, who couldn’t be bothered to chart a more exciting course for his life, and obsolete job skills and is on unemployment.
Can he recover? Maybe. But he’s put himself, or he’s allowed well-meaning but misguided others to put him, behind the professional power curve. He’s moved out of the time of his life when that proper dream analysis and development could have given him an advantage.
With technology’s rate of change, an incredible number of the majors being sold by financially hungry colleges are going to be obsolete by the time gifted entries today work their way into middle management. So as a society we have to find a way to help our youth find their passion, develop their dream, and Seek a smarter, happier course through the disruption ahead.

Long-winded Review: “The Peripheral,” by William Gibson

Few things worth accomplishing can be achieved without working for them. This sentiment is rarely applied to works of fiction that don’t aspire toward classic literature, and when it is, it’s often in a derogatory sense. That is perhaps even more so for works of science or speculative fiction. But it is applicable to William Gibson’s 2014 novel, “The Peripheral,” in a good way, despite my sense that Gibson makes a conscious choice to be inaccessible to many readers, and perhaps even some of his long-time fans.

It’s an interesting artistic decision, at odds with commercial success. If you enjoy reading his prose, always tight, imaginative, and multi-sensory, you feel as if you’ve been admitted into a fairly exclusive club — not everyone will be able to share the experiences he constructs. If you’ve tried Gibson and found him wanting, you probably consider his stylistic decisions lazy, his prose opaque. After all, a few sentences here, a couple explanations there, and the worlds Gibson crafts in exquisite, layered detail would be so much more conducive to early immersion.

Rather, Gibson writes characters who, having lived in an environment, treat it as commonplace. They never stop to explain the mundane any more than you would in your day-to-day. Oddities, environmental warts, power struggles, economic and technological realities draw no special consideration, however alien they might be to our own frame of reference. So books like “The Peripheral” require the reader to throw themselves into a swollen river, too deep for footing. Like an inexorable flood, the narrative cares not whether you drown before your flailing for purchase evolves into thrill at such an unpredictable ride.

I apparently inhabit the low end of Gibson’s expectation of spec-tech cognition, barely clawing my way into the Venn Diagram intersection between voracious readers and relaxed-minded imagineers from which Gibson pulls his fans and for whom he writes his stories. It took me two tries to get far enough into this book for the narrative to sweep me away.

In my first attempt, I made the mistake of starting “The Peripheral” while still reading another work of science fiction and studying my way through an unrelated work of non-fiction, one such book of which I’m usually trying to absorb at any given time. I was also involved in flexing creative muscle, writing one story, plotting another, while straining toward struggling into developing a sustained pace of publishing a personal blog post per week. My aged, distraction-addled brain wasn’t up to meeting Gibson’s thrown gauntlet. I got 10% of the way (a measurement by which Kindle readers identify each other) into “The Peripheral” and found myself realizing I had almost no idea who the main, let along the secondary, character were, what they were doing, from where conflict might enter, or where the plot might go. I was constantly lost in the common jargon of the times. I  found myself in that weird Gibson’esque experience of loving every isolated paragraph of beautifully sculpted prose while being completely frickin’ lost in the narrative woods. My understanding was as lacking as my metaphors were mixed.

Accomplishment always stems from navigation of decision points. Anyone who’s ever achieved anything of merit has faced innumerable decisions, chose courses of action based on facts, their perceptions, their predictions, the market — whatever — and stuck with it with the tenacity to wrest success from the myriad inevitable forces working against. At that 10% mark, I put the book down, contemplated the possibility that I might have finally come to the Gibson book I couldn’t love, let alone finish. A sad first, I thought. Neal Stephenson did that to me years ago; I hated to lose another favorite author. They’re hard to come by and it hurts when they decide they don’t care about you anymore, because you’ve bored them and they want something new!

I’m perfectly capable of quitting, of adjusting, if not abandoning, a course of action that’s begun to prove unsuccessful, when conditions or the reason for continuing have shown to be illusory, or the environment has changed to the point where sunk costs will not provide ROI. I’m less accepting of quitting when the lack of success might in any way be due to lack of dedication on my part. So I finished the other books I was reading and started “The Peripheral” again, from the beginning, with more allocated focus this time. At the 10% mark, I was still struggling, but found I was glimpsing the unifying threads that wove the story, that would tie the narrative together, allowing me to relax a begin enjoying the rushing current.

Once I crossed that event horizon, there was no going back. Having worked hard enough to sort the characters, understand the interaction between near-future and far-future (only 70 years, given cataclysm and technological pace of change), the story, the characters, the conflict, just rocked.

I loved this book. It proved worth working for. I mark it as one of those works of fiction that vaults over the high walls separating pulp and commercial dross (which I admit to enjoying, probably too much), landing firmly in the fortress reserved for remarkable literature.

If you’ve not read Gibson, start with some of his less demanding work. If you’ve acquired a taste for Gibson, give this book the focus it demands, and you’ll be paid back in spades. Five stars.

Do People Change Their Minds? (Yes, more than most realize!)

In a guest post on Scott Adam’s Blog, Diana Wales poses the question: “Have You Ever Changed Your Mind?” She writes: “Humans are stubborn creatures. For most people, once they pick a side, their decision making is over – forever. Any evidence that might indicate that maybe there is a better option is ignored or derided, unless they perceive obvious and significant personal benefits for making a change. And even then they might hold fast. I used to live in Chicago, and I knew some Cubs fans that were more likely to change their gender than their allegiance to the Cubbies, despite a century of disappointment.”

And we all know people like this, so it’s an easy premise to accept. I think her observation is flawed, but it’s still a great post because, like so many that Scott writes, it encourages introspection and suggests spending some brain cycles on thought experiment, which can so often result in productive connections elsewhere in one’s life.  So when Diana asks, “…have you had some other epiphany that caused you to change your stance on a fundamental choice, like your political affiliations, religion, right to bear arms, or choice of smart phone, and if so, what was it? What does it take to change a mind?” I was compelled to answer.

While it may not constitute true “change,” in his book “How to Fail…” Scott influenced me to re-evaluate my view of goals vs. systems and how I use both. Am I more change-minded than most? Probably, but still…

Yes, humans are stubborn, often irrationally so, but contrary to her premise I believe that change is more the norm than the exception — unless one constrains their observation to the short term or limits their definition of change to full diametric shifts.

Certainly by the mid-twenties (if not the late teens) peoples’ beliefs and behavioral parabolas have solidified, often requiring external pressure or catastrophe to shift. But major changes can come over time, driven by a steady drumbeat of media, evolving social mores, economic incentives, or accumulating frustrations. Or, some might argue, aging. Not as dramatic as an epiphany, granted, but still substantive change, right?

“Find a Boss; Be a Boss”

Use a Dream-Pursuit Training Partner to Progress…at Anything.

At age 54, though pretty much retired, I decided I still had a dream. I wanted to accomplish something more. But I’d fallen into the habit so common to people with free time on their hands of doing a little of this and a little of that until I’d spent that free time and reached end of day. Worse, I’d fallen out of the habit of working hard – something that had literally defined my adult life. Without momentum and external pressure, it’s hard getting started on major endeavors that take creativity and sustained effort!

And this thing I wanted to achieve was going to require skills I’d never developed, a level of effort rivaling starting another business from scratch, and was intended to make a bigger difference in others’ lives than my own. All those considerations made the prospect of getting started even harder.

To make matters worse, I have the attention span of a goldfish. I have a middle-aged brain that’s become more comfortable with generalities and high concepts than specifics and weedy details. As a result, I’ve developed a history of coming up exciting ideas, starting things, and then abandoning them once the initial thrill of making easy progress wanes.

So the first thing I had to do was develop a process that would get me back into the habit of working toward my dream and then sustaining steady progress for the duration. Along the way, I added a second minor objective: helping at least two other people define and achieve one dream each. The first of those two is now my Dream Buddy – a phrase I’ll explain in a moment. I don’t know who the third person will be, but they’re the one for whom I wrote this blog post.

If you’re out there, and you’ve come across this parvum opus and decided you have a dream, too, I hope it helps you and that if it does, you’ll let me know how it might have helped you more. On the chance you’re still young and hungry, not old and busted, my entrepreneurial training partner (aka “Dream Buddy”) and I developed this methodology based on the acceptance that earning money (slaving for others) and direct, familial responsibilities already take at least 60-70+ hours per week; but, if you’re honest with yourself, you find a little time every day (and probably more on days off from work) for some things you truly love…and even some things you don’t.

The first part of this essay addresses figuring out one thing that will make you happier, one dream you want badly to achieve. It spends a little time examining why that’s still a dream and not yet one of your many achievements. The second part of this essay leverages that dream into becoming happier.

Feel free to read this in any order you want. There’s nothing wrong with skipping over examination into why you aren’t already happier and getting right down to changing that.


You do still have dreams, right? You do harbor at least one unfulfilled vision of personal joy or thrilling accomplishment that you know in your heart would move your personal happiness needle toward the green, don’t you? Take a quiet moment to think about it.

Because that’s important. If you can’t think of one SINGLE thing right now that would make you happier with your life, you should:
1) Pat yourself on the back. You’re living The Dream. Woot!
2) Either stop reading (this article holds no benefit for you) or give yourself license to daydream.

Fire up that imagination! Everybody wants SOMETHING! What do you want? Complete this sentence, right now:

“I want to…”

That word, “to,” is important. It makes your dream actionable. Without that “to,” what you’re doing is wishing. You’re tip-toeing safely around commitment. That’s no more productive than shoveling smoke. But if you “want to,” you’re framing an activity, you’re forced to use a verb, you’re building a vision you can pursue.

This can be harder than you might think. We’re almost conditioned as adults NOT to think about this stuff. Like dwelling on the lack of something your heart wants, that you know would make you happier, creates feelings of discontent? That’s crap. Discontent is only a bad thing if you resign yourself to living in that state and then begin to resent others for a decision you’ve made for yourself.

Viewed through a lens that isn’t being held by someone with an interest in manipulating you, discontent is hunger. Hunger is a motivational influence.

There’s nothing wrong with ambition, with dreaming, with harboring a hunger to grow, with wanting to seize the day and by so doing earn that satisfaction that comes from deciding where happiness lies and then striving for it. Short-sighted people might say spending time on your dreams is selfish. That’s crap, too. When you’re working toward your dreams, you’re growing; when you grow there’s more of you to share than there was before. If you think about it, the example you set for those close to you embraces values so many preach, but so few live.

Are you still here? You admit you have a dream worth pursuing? A vision for increased happiness and an example you want to set for people you love? An objective you really, honestly, hunger to achieve? Something you’re sure you want to accomplish? Awesome! Goals matter! Review your concrete, one-sentence summation of its essence in your mind.

“I want to…”

Make it simple, make it shareable. Speak your dream. Keep it in mind. Write it down if you have to (and you should). Proudly put your simple dream as the wall paper on your workstation, the lock screen on your smart phone.

Is it a good dream? Is it an honest one?

This thing must be something that, if you had it, if you achieved it, would make you happier. Or it must be something that, if removed from your life, would absolutely, positively, decrease your unhappiness. You get to a happier place by achieving things you want or eliminating things you don’t. Both are valid paths.

Apply three tests:

1) Will you know when you’ve accomplished it? Is it measurable? If not, force yourself to find a way to make it concrete. You have to know specifically what your objective is or you’ll never know if you get there! This is true even if your happiness thing is more of a journey than a destination. And, no, your dream can’t be “to be happier.” That’s too vague. Happiness is a state of mind that’s contributed to by other things, other conditions in your life. You have to name the lack of one of those things, whether tangible or intangible, right now. Do you pass test one? Great, continue. If not, back up. If your happiness is important, you dream is worth the effort to define.

2) Is your vision, this thing you want, a one-step dream, such as something you want that you already have the skills and knowledge to achieve; or are there intermediate accomplishments you’ll have to achieve on the way toward accomplishing your big dream? If so, have you made accomplishing that first step your dream and defined exactly what is? Make sure it’s the best first step that you KNOW puts you on a direct path toward achieving your big dream. Make that “I want to…” lead directly to a solid second step that’s also clearly enroute to that ultimate dream that you really, really want.

3) Is your dream, once achieved, sustainable? If it’s not, it’s not necessarily a flawed dream. But part of breathing life into your dream must involve conquering an interim step that you’ll want to include in your path toward achievement. Even dreams have logistical realities!

If you’ve focused this dream with the above steps, you now know what you want and the one most-important step you must reach for a bump up in your happiness. Say it out loud. Does it ring true? If not, start over and be more honest with yourself. Remember to articulate it as “I want to….”

What will happen when share your dream with those close to you? What do you think will happen when you share that you’re going to achieve your dream? Is the likely response going to change your mind about what you’ve just said you want for yourself? Why? If you receive negativity, what will your response be? Your odds of achieving your dreams go way up if you can be honest with yourself and those you care about, if you have the support of those around you.

Now, how do you get started and keep moving toward your objective?

There’s this long-running meme on Slashdot, a news and comment Web site frequented by people who self-identify as smart, where commenting wits will commonly boil a poorly articulated plan for success down to three easy steps:
Step 1: [State a vague goal]
Step 2: ???
Step 3: PROFIT!

The meme’s sarcastic disregard for the complexity and work required to achieve success at almost anything harkens back to an old “South Park” episode from 1998 and is often rewarded by lots of up-voting as “funny.” That’s because a dream without a plan and the dedication to pursue it is kind of a sad joke.

Of course, if working toward a dream were easy, the self-help and goal achievement industry wouldn’t be helping itself to more than $10 Billion per year in rabidly purchased, rarely consumed, usually ineffective coaching that unfortunately helps its prolific advocates more than those trying to figure out how to actually accomplish something important. Caveat emptor to those permanently stalled dream seekers.

Ultimately, if you want to achieve something and you’re starting without momentum from a previous, related success, you’re looking at a dauntingly Sisyphean undertaking. Then, when you go searching for some external guidance, some inspiration, some way to self-help yourself by your bootstraps, this is the sort of guidance you find:

“Just do it.”

“Do the work.”

“Take your turn. Dump your fear.”

“Exploding Kittens.” –okay, that last one has very little to do with self-help. But let’s be honest, this is the internet, and no search for assistance goes on for long without leading you into the Intarwebz nether regions, and thence to something like The Oatmeal to restore your morale.

Dude. Here’s the problem with self-help paradigms: If you were the kind of person who could manage dream achievement by reading simple maxims or simplistic books, you wouldn’t be the kind of person who was having problems making progress toward fulfilling your dreams. Welcome to the 99% of population where we mortals dwell. In fact, if you’re like most people, you’ve actually gone the other direction; you’ve made a habit of not working toward your dream. You’ve embraced responsibility, duty, the daily grind. You’re a good person. You’re carrying your weight. You’re taking care of others.

You’re telling yourself you’re doing those other things…instead.

You’re doing okay. Yay.

But you could be happier with your life, yourself.

Let’s do some more dream testing. Because it would be ridiculous to strive for something that will make you less happy, right?
That dream you named a few minutes ago. What was it again? Say it out loud. Remember, don’t start it with “I wish…” Start with “I want to…” Even if you want your dream, your goal, your achievement, your happiness, for you and someone else, this is about you doing something as an individual.

Examine your dream: Is it really something that would leave you happier with your life if you could accomplish it, say, in the next six months? Or if that’s not realistic, if defined as an intermediate objective whose accomplishment would carry you far enough in the right direction to make you feel really good about having arrived one step closer to your ultimate dream?
Say it again. Is this thing you want REALLY something you REALLY want? (For a second, embrace being bombarded by adverbs here.) Are you absolutely convinced that deep down you don’t see this thing you’re saying you “want” as one of those “Be careful what you wish for” things that you shouldn’t achieve after all? Because it might turn out to be a bad thing to have accomplished, leaving you unhappier or at least no more happy? Are you sure it’s not just something someone else wants you to do, that you feel duty bound to pursue because maybe you should? Because if any of those are true, screw that nonsense.

Finding a way to work toward something you don’t care about is a different article.

Actually, Part Two of this article will probably still help you with that, too, but why would you choose that over a real dream? This is about making yourself a little happier. It’s about dream achievement. That other thing isn’t a dream. It’s something else–probably more of a dream killer.

What’s your dream sentence again? Say it out loud. “I want to…”

And look, if you’ve gotten this far and you’re not completing that sentence, you should really stop. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200. If you have a dream, if you want something for yourself, go back to the beginning of this article and take it seriously. You need to be done with just reading about how to make progress and ready to actually begin making that progress.

So, you’re completing that sentence. Now let’s test your dream with a little adversity. Let’s rub you the wrong way.

You’ve articulated this vision whose accomplishment would make you happier with your life. If it’s really burning within your breast, you can change the “I want to…” to “I need to _____, to be happier in my life,” and have that statement ring true to the depths of your soul.

Quick, what are the biggest barriers preventing you from working toward this dream? Name two or three reasons you feel are valid reasons you aren’t making daily or at least weekly progress in the pursuit of your dream. Make them good ones!
These obstacles are important to recognize because everything you’ll ever accomplish that’s worth anything will get accomplished in spite of adversity. Because you found a way to get over, past, or through something that was in your way.
Acknowledge those things that so frustratingly keep you from achieving your dreams. Are any of them names or people or faceless organizations or oppressive responsibilities? If you’re like most, they probably are. Most people, having made choices that they’re not happy about, find a way to blame others for their discontent. But if you’re being honest with yourself, some of the things you’re thinking about are also pastimes or distractions you enjoy or at least tolerate. Things you find easier to do.

Is time your shortest resource? Most people claim that.

Try this. Name two or three or five things you do that, taken together, fill at least five hours a week, most weeks of your life. Don’t count: Work, sleeping (up to eight’ish hours a day), time spent exercising (up to an hour a day), meal times you share with others, or concrete responsibilities toward your kids and family that involve actual focused time. Those things are the Big Five. They’re sacrosanct and we won’t consider them reasons you aren’t working toward a happier, more dream-fulfilled you.

But DO count things you do for relaxation or “mental health,” or to avoid doing other things you find less fun. Count time spent watching television, going to bars with friends, reading, idly browsing the web, recreational shopping, texting friends, snap-chatting, Facebooking, and any of the myriad other things that aren’t in the Big Five, but which you spend time doing, even if only here and there as part of your day.

Here’s what that list is: five or six elective things, maybe more, that your actions indicate are more important to you than your dreams.


For each of those things, try this. Take that sentence you crafted, that you said you believed in. “I want to…” (or, by now, “I need to….”) Then go through your list of those electives you routinely grant time to. Let’s say you spend time each day scanning your Facebook newsfeed for a total of an hour (and don’t kid yourself, ten minutes here and ten minutes there add up — those ad revenues from your “quick” newsfeed scanning are why Facebook is now worth more than $200 Billion). Compare that elective time against your dream. In the above case, you would say out loud, “Scanning my Facebook news feed is more important to me than achieving my dream of…”

Of course, said out loud, that sounds ridiculous, unless your Big Dream was to find time to scan your Facebook newsfeed, and that was the single-most important thing you lacked if your life to be happier (not that there’s anything wrong with that — this is a no judgment zone…). But, really?

Alternately, let’s say you like to watch “Big Bang Theory,” or “Gray’s Anatomy.” That’s 30-60 minutes a week. Whatever that elective is, you’ve assigned some importance to it. Ask yourself why. The answer will usually boil down to, “Because it’s the least crappy choice I have to escape from other things demanding my time that I like even less.” Talk about damning with faint praise!

Even if that elective is something you enjoy, it’s still worth contrasting against that one thing you told yourself would make you happier. Anywhere you examine the sentence, “Spending time doing _______ is more important to my happiness than accomplishing my dream of ____________,” and its not true, change it to this:

I am not as happy as I could be, because of _____________________. And insert that thing you’re spending elective time doing every day, or every week. You can see what the next step is, right?

If someone came to you for help and said, “I am not as happy as I could be because I spend an hour a day scanning my Facebook newsfeed” (or “watching ‘Gray’s Anatomy'”), or “eating brownies,” what would you say (assuming you really wanted to help)?

Here’s your next step. Substitute that elective activity in the sentence above with the word, “Me.” It’s an important thing to say, to hear yourself say. But not because it’s productive to beat yourself up. It’s not.

Here’s why: Blaming others for our own dissatisfactions is the most insidious of dream killers. Do you do it? Don’t feel bad; most people do. It’s bullshit, of course, but God, it’s so easy, so comfortable! Blaming others puts a warm cozy over our chilling fears. External blame is that sheltering pair of dark sunglasses that keeps us from having to look ourselves in the eye when we stand in front of a mirror wondering why we’re not as happy as we want to be.

Return to your list of things that are stealing time away from your ability to progress toward your dream, your vision, whose accomplishment will make you happier than you are right now. Pick out one or two of the biggest time sinks. Those are your “candy” distractions. They’re your mind candy. Like sugary candy, they give you an instant fleeting bit of pleasure so awesome you willfully ignore the tiny but additive long-term detriment.

Doing this is especially important for those whose favorite excuse for not making progress toward their dream is, “I don’t have time.” It’s the number one excuse most people use, according to a study I just made up because I didn’t have the time to search for something that had been peer reviewed for validity.

Every time you read or listen to something that encourages you to point at another’s actions as a contributor to your unhappiness, you’re contributing to someone else’s dream at the cost of your own. Scanning Facebook? Congratulations, you’re contributing to Mark Zuckerberg’s dream at the cost of your own. Watching television? It’s so awesome of you to contribute to the dreams of Comcast shareholders and executives, and the dreams of the show’s producers and actors, at the cost of your own. That’s mighty grand of you.

Unless the way you’re spending your elective time is not actually making you happier (and it’s probably not).

Blaming others for our unhappiness is magical. It makes us feel better without actually doing anything!

Now you’ve identified your dream, tested it so you know it’s YOUR dream and not some half-baked adoption of someone else’s dream for you that you don’t really care about. You’ve proven to yourself that you do indeed have time available in your day when you could be working toward your dream, your increased happiness.

Are you set to achieve it yet? Hell no!

If it was that easy, more people would be working toward and reaching their dreams instead of constantly searching for new and novel ways to idle their hours away. But take heart, when it comes to problem solving, most people bolo (fail) on the first step: Identifying the problem. You’ve gotten past that and gone even further. But you’re still at risk of stalling and reverting back to the lack of momentum that causes dreams to grow old, die, and be abandoned.

The hardest steps are the next two: Getting started, and keeping your momentum. If you can do that, you can do the work. If you do the work, you will make progress toward your dream’s achievement. Just doing that bumps most people’s level of happiness. But let’s focus on how you’ll actually bring your dream achievement about.

Part Two: Find A Boss, Be A Boss!

People who exercise know that having a dedicated, supportive, workout buddy vastly increases your success at starting and stick with a fitness program.

The same applies when it comes to the path toward dream achievement. So you’re going to find your intellectual or entrepreneurial or visionary dream buddy. This is what you’re looking for:

  • Someone who is not your spouse or significant other.
  • Someone who’ll be reliable, and that you will be reliable to right back.
  • Someone who is not a good friend, or such a good friend that you can
    • Talk straight, unvarnished, truths to,
    • Hit with hard judgments without having to sugarcoat them,
    • Take hard judgments from, and
    • Accept and enforce standards you agree upon.

Ideally you will find someone who has their own dream and determination that matches or exceeds your own.

You’re going to form an agreement with this person. Not only are you going to agree to hold yourself accountable, you’re going to agree to hold each other accountable. And when it comes to performance evaluations, you’re going to treat the other person like they are your boss. They’re a boss who has your best interests at heart, but a boss nonetheless. They are someone you must not let down.

You’re going to meet or conference with this person at least once, ideally twice per week. If you meet twice a week, you set and commit to your week’s objectives on Mondays, and you have your status meeting to go over the commitments you met on Friday’s. You can pick other days, of course, but leave a couple days out, sort of like a “weekend,” which you retain for elective time, or to catch up if you’ve failed at accomplishing one of your weekly objectives. You’ll be surprised, now that you’ve finally begun to OWN your dream, how often you find yourself using those two “free” days to make even more progress. And how good that will make you feel on Monday when you meet to set the next week’s goals.

Important: You will NOT let other crap supersede your meetings. If something unavoidable comes up, you will both reschedule for a date and time as soon as possible, and then get right back on schedule. You owe it to your Dream Buddy to be a good boss and they owe it to you. Look each other dead in the eye, acknowledge the importance of the responsibility each of you has to the other, and affirm it every meeting.

Next, you’re going to enlist a support group, whom you can depend on to cheer you on. These can be family members, Facebook friends, or some other group. You’re going to ask them to help, and you’re going to update them with your progress.

You’ve now “hired” one person to help you set and reach your goals, week by week, and keep you grounded, and hold you accountable. Ideally, you’ll be doing the same for them, which you’ll find also feels pretty damned good. And you’ve recruited a group of cheerleaders, who’ll be cheering for you. They’ll also be inspired by you, and that’ll feel pretty good too.

Just as importantly, you are committing to feel shame when you report a lack of progress to them, because if it happens, it will be reported without excuses. This is one of the reasons pursuing a dream takes courage, but you have that in you.

If you and your dream buddy meet on Mondays and Fridays, you’re going to publish your week’s objectives as promises to your cheerleaders, and you’re going to provide them with a bullet-point status update on Friday to show your progress – and collect your accolades.

This methodology works even for people who’re fundamentally lazy, only mildly creative, not particularly sociable, and have years of having a hard time self-starting. If this process will work for them, it can work for you.

Start With This Framework

First meeting:

  • Set meeting days, frequency and format. You and your Dream Buddy will pick a “Commitment Day” for the start of each week and a “Status Reporting” day at the end of each week.
  • Identify and commit to accountability level.
  • Psychologically, commit to thinking of the other person as your Boss when you’re creating, working toward, and briefing the status of your progression. They will do the same for you.
  • Identify your project, your Dream.
  • Define the problem: What’s keeping you from your dream? Articulate your dream achievement steps. If it is a long-term or complex path, or requires multi-step, interim successes, break your dream down into 4-6 month chunks of well-defined effort, each of which are on your critical path to ultimate dream accomplishment.
  • Make sure you validate your Dream Buddy’s dream.
  • Define concrete success criteria for the most immediate (4-6 month) objective. If possible, identify external tests that can validate your personal success.
  • If your dream is complex or your path toward your first objective is not clear, bring three possible courses of action that you (and others whose opinions you admire) decide have the best possibility of success and will best move you one step closer to achieving your dream. Hash these out with your Dream Buddy and your cheerleaders, then pick the best course of action. That is your immediate dream.
  • Discuss resources, limitations, and constraints within which your work must be addressed, at least for the forthcoming months (or quarters). This is your reality check. No pipe dreams allowed, because this is something you’re really going to achieve.

Discuss how you will set priorities when you have multiple tasks you will be working on in any given week.

Employ some “combative creativity” with your Dream Buddy to test your prioritization. Combative creativity is like the opposite of brain-storming. You want your Dream Buddy to test your statements, to play devil’s advocate, to name obstacles or call out wishful thinking. Only the soundest and strongest ideas and the achievable declarations should survive. The goal is to ensure your priorities are on the critical path toward dream accomplishment. You do this because it’s very easy to assign priority to comfortable, easy, or more-fun tasks, rather than the less enjoyable or scarier tasks that may be better uses of your time.

The job of the Dream Buddy is to keep the other person tracking along the most productive, best path toward accomplishing their objectives.

Identify and record quantifiable measurements that will provide progress validation. To know whether you’re being successful, you have to have first correctly identified your objective, and then you need objective, externally-verifiable measurements that can be applied to milestones or progress.

Optional: Discuss and decide on the tools you will use for task or project management. They don’t have to be fancy, but they do have to support recording, sharing, and progress/completion of tasks. It can be very helpful if your tools are always available (desktop + mobile access), as that can extend your productivity envelope if your objective is something you can work against regardless of location.

For some objectives, Outlook or a simple notepad are perfectly acceptable task management tools. Evernote also works for simple task and project management, though it’s not purpose-built for it (with the bonus that Evernote is awesome for lots of other information storage, too).

For larger projects, Fog Creek Software has some great, affordable tools, like FogBugz (originally bug tracking but can also be used for task management) or Trello (project management). However, don’t let the search for the perfect dream management software distract you from your true, immediate objectives, and don’t pick a tool that’s going to take too much time to learn. You have better things to do with your valuable time!

On Commitment Day, each week:

  • At least three hours before the meeting, send your project-specific items for discussion and your commitments for the week to your Dream Buddy.

At the meeting:

  • Spend a little time in free-ranging discussion of things you’ve read or heard that you find interesting and worth exploring, especially as they relate to your (or your buddy’s) dream. You might highlight or debate issues of the day. Stimulating ideas or conundrums. These help get your creative pumps primed.
  • Name/review the top over-arching challenges or goals that this week’s tasks support or develop and how they relate to your overall Dream. You may continue to refine these as conditions change or your dream evolves.
  • Take feedback from your Dream Buddy, you training partner. If applicable incorporate changes in the market (if you’re developing a business-related dream), interim research, or other developments in your life or elsewhere.
  • Define this week’s missions to be accomplished (concrete progress that will be made, or tasks that will be completed).
  • Define (or discuss changes as to) why these are important.
  • Evaluate and validate these priorities on a week-to-week basis, and affirm criticality of tasks.
  • Forecast addressable obstacles and discuss resolution to the extent possible.
  • Identify unsecured resources required for success. Address how those will be reduced or secured to allow the progress to which you’re committing.
  • Make commitment to level of dedicated effort for the week. Forecast how much work you will do; what time you will dedicate to bring about The Vision, the Dream.

As a Dream Buddy at this meeting, your job is to guide, coach, and encourage. It is also to vet the other person’s priorities and time management to keep them tracking against their dream. You’re a Boss!

On Status Report day:

  • Pre-meeting discussions: Issues of the day. Stimulating ideas or conundrums. These help get the creative pumps primed.
  • Report on the overall degree of success you achieved toward Doing The Work (committed to on Commitment Day).
  • Report the progress you made; what tasks did you complete?
  • Report where you fell short, or where are you fell behind schedule, and why.
    • For every item, state your plan for fixing that failure. Articulate how your plan will reduce the chances for this same kind of future failure.
    • When you’re falling short of your expressed objectives, lay out targeted issues killing your momentum, so you and your dream buddy can mull over possible solutions.
    • Set unresolved or unanswered reasons for specific failures as an agenda item for volleying ideas back and forth on the next Commitment Day, so you both develop thoughts for brainstorming / problem-solving your obstacles.
    • Identify external dependencies that will impact the coming week’s (or weeks’) progress, and commit to managing those in advance.

End of Month Dream Review Meeting:

Post mortem for the month: How did you do? What were your noteworthy successes? What were the failures?

You are making progress toward your dream. Discuss how that’s making you feel. Discuss how that’s changing your behavior. Many people find themselves needing less mindless-vegetable or “mental health” elective down time, because they’re more energized. When you discover this happening, bring it up with your Dream Buddy. Build that mutually supporting enthusiasm for where you’re going with your life. Strengthen your hunger for your dream!

If you feel the need, discuss or propose refinement or evolution of this process, reach agreement with your Dream Buddy, get commitment, document your mutual decisions, then use them going forward. You’re not constrained to this process if there’s another approach that will work better.

Be generous, but do not sacrifice accountability.

Did you make as much progress against the over-arching objective(s) as you should have this month? Where the answer is “No,” what are the concrete actions you will take immediately to ensure your performance next month improves and how will you measure it?

How much closer are you to your dream? Celebrate the approach of that achievement!

I hope this helps you. Remember: The person who says they can and the person who says they can’t are both right.

The Lure of Content Consumption vs. Productivity

I just had a conversation with a friend about electronic/video gaming. I have a lot of friends who are or were gamers, and I’m raising kids in en environment where games’ lure is constant and getting evolutionarily more compelling with each generation of technology. The friend with whom I spoke is the kind of gamer who’ll replay a game, often many times, to explore every aspect the designers included.

To me, that practice of replaying games is a little amazing, and totally alien. I read so often about people playing games over and over (and usually on increasingly difficult settings) and it’s mind boggling to my world view. Like his, much of my thrill  is in the exploration of a game, not just of the world, but the plot and the key story elements. But having played through once, my attitude tends to be that there’s no longer enough new content to discover, or not enough meaningful differentiation in the story or the conclusion to warrant the vast amount of repetition involved in re-experiencing the game in the interest of pursuing a few, usually inconsequential or temporary plot or experience forks. Then again, you’ll almost never catch me re-reading a book or watching a movie multiple times. It’s not that I don’t understand the value to be gained, just that for my cost/benefit calculation there’s more value in the NEXT story than a slightly altered retelling of the last one. I’m sure it also has a lot to do with what challenges I gravitate toward and the realization that choices have to include consideration of energy levels. Easy choices and avoiding effort are a guaranteed path to sub-achievement. Weird that I still feel that way, even though I’m (mostly) retired.

Too, I’ve also grown to view the dozens (if not hundreds) of hours spent in a game as pleasurable, but ultimately sub-optimized hours I should be applying toward something more productive or meaningful. So game playing usually feels like a guilty pleasure whose almost addictive lure I savor while maintaining a strong grip on the vision of things I *could be* accomplishing with that time. At some point I must have internalized the philosophy that in order to change (some small part of) the world, you have to spend more time as a content creator than a content consumer. As a fundamentally lazy person, it’s WAY too easy for me to surrender to the lure of others’ content. :-/

Are you a gamer, and has your approach to and view of the game industry changed as you transitioned life phases?