Old Media: Why it is Often Better than New Media

I never used to pay much attention to old media. You know, old books, old music, old movies. I am a very future-oriented guy, and it didn’t make sense to me to waste my time on old stuff. But over the last few years I have changed my opinion. More and more, I am finding the old stuff to have some real benefits over the new stuff. It can even help you to be freer tomorrow.

Let me explain…

There are undoubtedly ways in which the new stuff is better. For example, technology continues to advance every day. As a result, the special effects in newer movies and recording/playback in newer music are technically far superior to those in the old days.

But there are several things about the older stuff that make it appealing than the newer stuff, despite the old stuff’s lower technical quality. I’ll start with some ways I have seen others describe, then get to the ones that got me thinking about all this. As you’ll see, it is something that could be very useful to you as you seek a freer life in the future.

90% of Everything is Crap

While being harassed about the low quality of science fiction stories in the 1950’s, author Theodore Sturgeon agreed that 90% of the science fiction being written at the time was crap. However, he pointed out that not only was 90% of science fiction crap, but “90% of everything is crap.” His point was that most new stuff that is created isn’t very good. If you think about it, you will probably concede him this point.

“So what does this have to do with new media vs old media?” you ask. A lot, actually.

Assuming Sturgeon’s Law is true, let’s do a bit of math. For the sake of the example, let’s assume that there are 1000 pieces of new writing published every year. I know that number is ridiculously low but go with it.

New Writing

Applying Sturgeon’s Law to the 1000 pieces of new writing published this year, we see that there will be 100 pieces that aren’t crap and 900 pieces that are crap. So the vast majority of the new writing you see this year is gonna suck.

Pretty depressing.

Old Writing

Now what about old writing?

It works exactly the same. Last year there were 1000 pieces of writing published. 100 were good and the rest were crap. So our old writing collection contains 100 good pieces just like our new one.

However, the old writing collection includes more than just last year. It includes the year before that. And the decade before that. The century before that too. Even a couple of millennium during which writing was done.

While much of the really old stuff has been permanently lost to us, the old writing pile includes the best and the worst from at least hundreds of years of work. So we have hundreds of times as many good (and bad) works to choose from.

But do we really? People have certainly put a lot of effort into preserving the best writings of the past. That’s why we still have works like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, first published in 1870; Don Quixote, from 1612; and The Odyssey, published more than 2,000 years ago (sometime in the 8th century BC).

don quixote statue

Great old media works like Don Quixote get preserved through the ages.

People will probably put effort into preserving this year’s best writing too. But how much effort are people going to put into preserving the worst crap that gets published this year? Not much.

Likewise, nobody put any effort into preserving the crap that came out the same year Homer published The Odyssey. As a result, the old writing pile is going to consist primarily of stuff that was good enough to be preserved through the years. The stuff that sucked has been lost to history.

It Works the Same for Other New Media and Old Media

Apply the same basic logic to other media and you will find that even if the quality of the work has been the same throughout all of history, the old media pile is going to include a much higher percentage of good stuff than the new media pile.

Old Media is Often Inexpensive, or Free

Another argument I frequently see for using old media is that it is frequently inexpensive, and sometimes completely free of cost. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that much older stuff is no longer protected by copyrights. Once a work is out of copyright, anyone can do anything they want with it. This applies particularly well to written material.

As a result, it is often possible to get your hands on old written material for little or no cost. Sources like Project Gutenberg make over 53,000 written works available for free, in ebook formats. In addition, you can often find compilations of popular old works on Amazon for a minimal cost.

New Media is Often Derivative

One of the ways civilization advances is by building on what came before. Science, technology, engineering, they all build on what came before. So does much of the media world. While there are many original works published every year in every medium, there are also many derivative works. this is logical and understandable, but it can also lead to problems.

Most Subjects Have Already Been Covered

I’ve seen this issue both as a consumer of media and as a creator. I used to read a lot of self-help books. They helped me get through some tough times and to the life I have now. However, the more of them I read, the more they sounded the same. A new book would come out and it would turn out to be only slightly different than the one I read the year before.

This is completely understandable. If you decide to write a self-help book, you will find that there are already hundreds of books written on the subject. And at the core, that subject is human nature, which hasn’t really changed in thousands of years. All the basics were covered long ago. Unless you are writing about a truly new discovery about humanity, your book has to be derived from works that came before.

There was a time when I made a big part of my living writing books for publishers like McGraw-Hill. I mostly wrote about new products or technologies, so it was relatively easy to write something original. But I also wrote a bit on other subjects, such as genealogy. That was hard.

There were hundreds of previous books on the subject. It was a “research and compile the best of what others wrote before” job, rather than create something original. Wherever possible, I tried to add unique insights and new information, but mostly, it was just embellishing on what had come before.

Most Publishers Seem to Prefer Derivative Works and Remakes/Reboots

During my stint in the book publishing world, I learned a lot about other types of publishing too. One thing that surprised me was the discovery that most publishers seem to prefer derivative works to new ones. And not just in book publishing. This appears to be a particularly big thing in the movie business. Search online for phrases like “film remakes” and “movie reboots” and you will find lists of dozens of films that are getting this kind of treatment.

Once again, this makes sense when you look at it from the perspective of the movie studios. Movies are hugely expensive to produce. A couple of flops in a row can put a studio out of business. So the studios tend to be highly risk-averse.

As a result, studios supposedly prefer projects that are similar to something that has worked in the past, rather than something totally new. In other words, pitching a project along the lines of, “like Terminator but with a transgender cyborg” would generally be easier to sell than, “I have this great idea that no one has ever done before.”

Note: I wasn’t in the movie industry myself, so the above is only second-hand reporting.

The same kind of logic applies to other new media. That’s why when a book sells big, you often see similar, derivative books appearing shortly thereafter. And I suspect it is part of why modern popular music all sounds the same. Reportedly there are just a handful of writers that create the songs for all the top performers. They have a formula that works, and it is more profitable to have star performers do variations on what has been proven to work than to try to create something totally new.

Going to the Source

As this situation sank into my head, I found myself more and more going back in time, looking for the original works in fields I was interested in. By going back to the earliest works on a subject, you can see the original insights. The style of old media may be archaic, but the actual content is often clearer, since it hasn’t been embellished on by generations of additional creators trying to make their own names in this field.

And One More Thing…

There’s one more big reason to go back to old media. And it ties directly into becoming freer tomorrow. But there isn’t room enough in this post to cover that subject. I tell you all about it in the next post.

 

Travel light like this guy

Travel Light, Expect Problems

Travel Right and Be Ready for Anything

Even when you plan ahead and travel right, weird stuff can happen. For example…


Republic of Malta, August 18, 2007 (FT)

“We will keep the girl as ‘collateral’,” he said, “hurry back with our money.” If I couldn’t come up with enough cash soon, it was unclear what would happen to ‘the girl’ who just so happened to be my daughter. Worse, this wasn’t the kind of situation the police could help me with. I started running toward town. I needed to find lots of cash, fast.


As I mentioned in the previous post, I am convinced that if you want to be freer tomorrow, you need to do some traveling. I also believe there are ways to travel right, ways that make the experience more beneficial. That doesn’t mean crazy shit won’t happen to you on your adventures. It will. But if you travel right, and keep your wits about you, things that could be disasters will turn out to be great adventures.

Let’s get to it.

#1 Pack Light to Travel Right

To get the most out of your travels, you need to try to experience your destination. That’s hard to do when you have several huge suitcases full of stuff with you. When you bring everything you own along on your one-week trip to your exotic destination, you are building a cocoon around yourself.

For sure it’s more comfortable to have everything you could possibly need right there at your fingertips. But you pay a heavy price for this. The drawbacks include:

  • Hauling several large suitcases around with you is an expensive, time-consuming struggle. You will have to pay excess baggage fees to the airlines. And you will probably need someone to help you handle your bags.
  • When you bring lots of stuff with you, you will find yourself thinking about it. Having all that junk along with you is a distraction. Which suitcase contains my favorite slippers? How am I going to transport all this to my next destination?
  • You make yourself a target. This might be unfair, but when I see people with a massive pile of luggage at an airport, or trying to stuff it into a taxi, or checking into some hotel, I immediately think one thing, “clueless tourist.” You can bet that any local pickpocket or thief is thinking the same.
  • This might be unfair too, but the same mindset that leads to traveling with 4 big suitcases also leads to staying at big international hotel chains that cater to travelers with lots of money (and luggage). And those places are pretty much all the same, regardless of where you are in the world. That’s part of their attraction, the same experience wherever you are. But if that is what you want, there’s no point in going anywhere interesting. Just pick the hotel nearest your house and spend a few days there.
  • You isolate yourself. A big part of traveling right is interacting with the people at our destination. When you bring everything you could possibly need along with you, it reduces the chance that you will interact with anyone other than travel industry workers. You will benefit more from one trip to the store to buy something you didn’t bring, than you will from a week’s worth of interactions with the staff of some international chain hotel.

The solution to these problems is simple: pack light.

How to Pack Light

Packing light is simple, but not necessarily easy. Assuming you are going someplace warm, all you need to do is limit yourself to what you can carry onto the airplane. That typically means one carry-on bag and a backpack or laptop bag. As long as you have some way to wash clothes, you can do just fine with this much luggage on a multi-week trip.

One Carry-On! That’s Crazy!

If you’ve never traveled this light before, it might sound crazy, but it isn’t. Think about it. You will be wearing one set of clothes while you travel. Add another pair of pants (maybe some shorts and a swimsuit). Several sets of underwear. Several shirts that match the pants. A change of shoes. A hat, a Kindle or other ebook reader. Any special meds you might need. Throw your computer or tablet and associated cables and chargers into the other bag.

Or check out this video where a pilot shows how he gets everything he needs for week+ trips into one carry-on bag:

That’s it. What else do you really need? Toiletries? Maybe, but remember that liquids are a hassle to travel with. I usually just bring a toothbrush and toothpaste.

Does this mean that I’m always smelly and have dirty hair when I travel? Of course not. Unless you are going someplace really far off the beaten path, I can guarantee that you will be able to find things like deodorant and shampoo at your destination.

Remember what I said about the benefits of interacting with regular locals rather than tourism industry workers? The need to buy shampoo or something similar as soon as you arrive forces you to start interacting immediately.

What if I Forget Something Really Important?

What if you forget something that’s really important? That depends on what it is. Is this important thing something that you can replace quickly and easily at your destination? No problem. Follow Tim Ferriss’s strategy of setting aside a couple hundred dollars for emergency purchases.

Most of the time, if something is really important enough to worry about, you won’t forget it. But if you do, you will have the cash on hand to replace it. This frees you from the impulse to take everything you own in case you might need it.

What if the important thing is something you can’t easily replace at your destination? The first option is to do without it. Those of us who grew up in the USA or Europe are often spoiled. We get so used to having everything that our perspective gets skewed. Our ideas about what things are really important tend to be exaggerated.

Forgot your Kindle with that novel that you’ve been dying to read loaded onto it? Is the world really going to end if you don’t read the damn book this week? Deal with it. Maybe you can spend the time interacting with local people instead.

I once read a blog post about a couple that decided they couldn’t stay in Ecuador because they couldn’t live without some of the things they were accustomed to from back home. I don’t remember her issue (it may have been the thread count of locally-made sheets), but his was that he couldn’t find his favorite brand of pretzel in the local supermarket. The trauma was so great that he had to return to the USA. If this attitude makes sense to you, I suggest that you are reading the wrong blog. There must be something on TV you can watch instead.

Think hard before declaring a crisis over the whatever-it-is that you forgot to bring.

The Thing Truly is Important and Hard to Replace

If the thing you forgot is truly important, and difficult or impossible to replace at your destination, your best bet may be to get someone to ship you a replacement from back home. This will probably be hugely expensive. And in many cases, the thing might not arrive until after you return home!

The other option is to talk to your home country’s consulate or embassy. When all else fails, they may be able to save the day for you.


Republic of Malta, August 18, 2007 (FT)

My bank in the USA had inexplicably put a hold on my credit card, leaving me unable to pay the tab for a week at one of Malta’s best hotels. With my daughter being held by the hotel manager as collateral, I ran toward the heart of Valletta, the Maltese capital. It was the weekend, so going to a bank and asking what to do was out. I did have a backup cash card, so that was a plus.

The trick was finding ATMs in a strange city, with very little time to search. Worse, I needed ATMs that would work with one of the networks my cash card supported. I had to find machines from two different banks because the outstanding balance of the bill was greater than the daily withdrawal limit from each bank.

Try searching out an ATM around here!

Fortunately, since most Maltese speak some English, I was able to ask people for directions. And by hitting different banks and pulling the maximum from each, I was able to get enough cash.

Drenched in sweat (the Mediterranean sun is really hot in August), I dashed back to the hotel. After trading the manager cash for my kid and our luggage, we sprinted to get a taxi, then ran through the airport, barely making our flight to Rome. I was very happy that my daughter and I had decided to travel right by packing light. We would never have made it if we had checked bags to deal with.


What would I have done if I didn’t have a backup card or couldn’t get enough cash to pay the hotel? I would have been reduced to contacting the US Consulate in Malta for help. We would have missed our flight, and I would have felt like an idiot, but the folks at the Consulate would have made sure my daughter was liberated and got us home somehow.

Lessons So Far

So what did we learn on this adventure?

  • Travel Light. It helps you interact with the locals more, gets you out of the hotel, and makes it easier to get around quickly when you have to.
  • Have Multiple Ways to Get Money. Even when credit card companies know that you are traveling in a certain region, they sometimes freeze your card for no apparent reason. Having multiple cards, ideally from different banks, increases the odds that you will be able to get money when you need it.
  • Ask for Help. As awkward as it may be, asking a stranger for help is sometimes your best possible move.
  • Know How to Contact Your Consulate or Embassy. When it all hits the fan, these are the folks who can bail you out.

But Wait! There’s More!


Rome, Italy, August 18, 2007 (FT)

So we made our flight to Rome, the first leg of our journey back home. But the catastrophes did not end when we went wheels up over Malta. We landed in Rome on time, and hustled to make our connection. When we arrived at the gate, we were told that we were too late and would not be allowed to board our flight.

What the heck?

We hurried over to the Alitalia ticket counter, where the attendant looked into our problem. He told us that the online service I used to book the trip should never have allowed that combination of flights as it was physically impossible to make the connection. We were pretty upset, but my daughter and I both kept our cool instead of taking out our frustrations on the poor guy from Alitalia.

After hearing our story about what had happened to us so far that day, he rebooked us for the next morning. Having pity on us, he even waived the $200 per person flight change fee that I would otherwise have needed to pay for the new connections. This was a real life-saver since my credit card was still frozen.

Pushing My Luck

So here we were, trapped in Rome, with a new flight booked for the next day. The attendant directed us to a hotel that was accessible from the airport terminal so we could get a room for the night. I booked the room using my backup debit card.

There was only one problem: after paying the hotel in Malta, there wasn’t enough cash left on my debit card to pay the bill the next morning!

We didn’t even have enough physical euros to make up the difference. But we did have enough cash left on the card to buy 15 minutes of Internet time (free WiFi wasn’t a thing back then). After my daughter and I spent a couple of minutes thinking about what I should say, I quickly logged on and wrote an email to my bank. I told them what had happened, where we were right then, and begged them to unblock my card so we could come home.

No response.

As you can imagine, neither of us slept much that night.


Rome, Italy, August 19, 2007 (FT)

Once morning came around, we waited until the last possible minute to check out, hoping for a miracle.
Finally, we went downstairs to the front desk. I handed the cashier my credit card, and both of us crossed our fingers behind our backs.

The charge went through without problems. Someone from my bank had seen my email and unblocked my card in time. We hauled it out of there and headed back into the terminal to make our flight. Once again, not having to check luggage bought us some crucial time.

Will We Ever Get Home?

Making it through Customs and all that was no problem. But once we reached the waiting area for the flight we realized that it had been quite a few hours (like 18 or 20) since we had anything to eat. There were no shops in the area where we were waiting to board the plane, just a cruddy-looking vending machine. Which only accepted euro coins.

All we had left was my daughter’s handful of souvenir coins. She sacrificed her souvenirs so we could share a croissant and an orange juice to keep us going.


From here on out there were no more troubles. We were a little nervous about whether my credit card would still work when we picked up the car at Logan Airport in Boston. But we made it home without further issues. A day late, very tired and hungry, but home.

What Did We Learn This Time?

We learned several more lessons during this part of the adventure:

  • Make Sure Your Reservations Make Sense. I should have been smarter. I should have looked more closely at my connections and realized that there was no way we could disembark, cross the airport, and get through the boarding process in time.
  • Problems Tend to Cascade. Missing our flight could have resulted in hundreds of dollars in charges, as well as disrupting every following leg of the trip. I had enough money available through my backup debit card to handle one big expense, but not a string of them. Instead of assuming that at most one thing will go wrong, think through the chain of events to see all the possibilities.
  • Have a Way to Contact People Back Home. If you have a way to contact the people back home, you may be able to resolve otherwise ugly situations. Being able to contact your bank, or get your cousin Joe to wire you some money right away, could make a huge difference.
  • Ask For Help. Just as us guys hate to ask for directions when driving, we hate to ask for help. Fortunately in this case, I was desperate enough to ask for help from the airline attendant as well as my bank. Both of them came through for me and prevented a mess from turning into a really big mess.
  • Most People Are Good. Taking the “ask for help” theme one step further, in this and other travel adventures I have learned that most people are good. Most people you meet are willing to help someone in need, or at least point you toward someone who can help. Even the guy who held my daughter for collateral at the hotel in Malta wasn’t really sinister. He was simply trying to find a way to get what I owed him (paid for a week in their hotel) with the least problems possible. He could have just called the cops when my card wouldn’t work, instead of letting me try to scare up the money.

Conclusion

Travel is good for you in many ways, but don’t expect it to be without complications. At the same time, don’t blow those complications out of proportion. After all, it is very rare (at home or on the road) that a problem will truly be life-threatening or insoluble.

In fact, the very act of overcoming the inevitable problems will change you for the better. As stressful as the end of our Malta trip was, a lot of good came from it. I learned some new things to do to make travel easier in the future, while gaining confidence in my own ability to deal with unexpected trouble.

Also, I learned that my daughter was able to deal with big problems without losing it. I became more confident in her ability to navigate life watching her deal with issues without the kinds of tantrums or crying fits that many young women would have thrown.

To wrap up this meandering post, I’ve summarized most of the important points below. Here are the things to do if you want to travel right:

  • Travel Light – Go with only stuff you can carry onto the airplane
  • Interact With People – You’ll get more out of one trip to a store locals use than out of a week of guided tours
  • Set Aside Cash – That way you can replace anything important that you forget
  • Have Far More Cash Available Than You Think You Will Need – In most situations, cash will go far to get you out of trouble.
  • Notify Your Bank – Let your banks and credit card issuers know when and where you are going. This does not guarantee that your cards will keep working, but it improves your odds.
  • Have Multiple Cards – Multiple cards from multiple banks keep you from getting stranded.
  • Check Your Reservations – Make sure your travel plans make sense, even if they were generated by a computer.
  • Control Your Emotions – In most cases, losing your temper or breaking down emotionally will just make things worse. Save the screaming, crying, or vomiting for after the crisis is resolved.
  • Have Faith In Yourself And Your Travel Companions – People tend to underestimate their ability to deal with the unexpected. If you get into trouble, don’t panic.

Do you have your own travel horror stories to share? Post your best one in the comments below. The more we share what happened to us, the better prepared others will be when they hit the road.

Why You Need to Travel

I honestly believe that if you want to be freer tomorrow you need to travel today. And I do mean you, even if your image of being freer includes staying right where you are. Give me a few minutes of your time and I will convince you that you need to travel, at least a little, at least right in the beginning, if you want to be freer tomorrow.

Bad Reasons to Travel

Before we get into good reasons you need to travel, let’s cover bad reasons to travel. Here are a few:

  • Because it’s cool
  • Because you’re running away

Don’t Travel Because it’s Cool

These days, its cool to say that you are an Internet Nomad, or whatever the current term is. Books like the 4-Hour Workweek popularized this lifestyle, and inspired a lot of people to get off their asses and try something new.

The typical deal involves living out of your backpack in South-East Asia or someplace like that, while earning money with an Internet-based business. Hundreds (thousands?) of mostly young North Americans and Europeans have at least tried this lifestyle. Doing that can be cool, and it is definitely an adventure you can brag about to your office-bound friends back home.

But that lifestyle is only for a small percentage of us. And it is usually only temporary. If you check back a few years later with people who tried this lifestyle, you’ll find that most of them have given it up and settled down somewhere. There was a time when I thought that this would be the life for me.

I did things like spend a month in Ajijic, Mexico, where I knew absolutely no one, spoke basically zero Spanish, and paid the bills with the money I made writing for clients I met through the Internet. I scouted out several countries including the island nation of Malta (more on Malta later).

you need to travel - ajijic, mexico

New experiences are one reason you need to travel.

But that living out of your backpack (or a carry-on bag in my case) stuff gets old. I planned to spend 3 to 6 months in each of the best countries in South America and stay on the move permanently. That was six years ago, and I’m still in Ecuador. The perpetual traveler, Internet nomad thing isn’t necessary to get the freedom-building benefits of travel that we will be talking about.

Don’t Travel Because You are Running Away

Some people travel to run away from something in their lives. It might be an unhappy marriage, a debt they can’t pay, or government policies they don’t like. They might even be running from the law. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. They might escape whatever it is they are running from. But they aren’t going to get the kinds of benefits that I’m thinking of.

Imagine you are one of these people. You’ve fled something bad back home. Now you’re in Brazil (no extradition treaty with the USA) avoiding whoever or whatever it is that you ran away from. You know you can’t go back home. You may not be able to go anywhere at all without getting busted. You will always have that problem hanging over your head. Hell, if you did something bad enough, you might find the FBI or Interpol knocking on your door one day. Not a good situation for gaining the benefits I’m thinking of.

Here’s Why You Need to Travel

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about why I am certain you need to travel if you want to be freer tomorrow. It’s all about perspective.

Unless you are an “army brat” or someone else whose life requires constant moves, you have probably lived in the same place for years. You have a (probably small) group of people that you spend your time with. And you are used to everything going on around you. You have your comfortable daily routines.

Beyond that, you have a set of unconscious assumptions about how things work. You have a pretty good sense of things like:

  • How to go food shopping
  • Where to find replacement parts if you need them
  • How to act in social situations
  • Every other thing that you do every day

Travel, particularly to someplace significantly different than where you live now, can blow up all of that. But to get the benefit, you can’t just be a tourist. Staying in the Hyatt, eating at US-style restaurants, and taking guided tours to the standard tourist traps won’t accomplish much. You’ll have a bunch photos of stuff, maybe with some local people in them, but that’s about it.

Living It

To really benefit from travel, you have to try to experience life like a local. Obviously, you will still be a visitor to the country. But the difference between staying in a hotel that caters to travelers, and living amongst the locals for even a few weeks is huge.

I tried to be as prepared as possible before leaving for Cuenca, Ecuador on my first extended international stay (aside from a 3-month work assignment to Mexico years earlier). I rented a furnished apartment from a company that works with foreigners visiting the city. And I read everything I could about the local customs and how to act. My daughter was with me so I wasn’t even a stranger in a strange land. Even so, I was constantly confronted with differences.

I recognized some of the stuff at the grocery store. But a lot of it was a total mystery. The names of everything were in Spanish, so I was confused by that. But it was even more basic. There are something like 19 different varieties of potato that you can buy here. And lots of liquids come in plastic bags instead of rigid containers (don’t ask how many times I made a mess with that). And guinea pigs aren’t pets here–they are a dinner delicacy which all my new Ecuadorean friends wanted me to try.

Figuring out where to buy stuff like batteries and light bulbs was a mystery too. Instead of mega stores like WalMart or Target, here there are thousands of tiny tiendas, many of which specialize in just a few things. It isn’t quite to the point of going to one store to buy a needle and another for the thread, but sometimes it seems that way. I was recently looking for a cable for a computer. So I visited several computer stores, none of which sold cables. I eventually had to go to another part of the city to visit one of the two stores that everyone knew carried computer cables.

Just today, I went to the major department store in the city. I had purchased a pressure cooker there a few months ago and the gasket had failed. But they didn’t have replacement gaskets, even though the exact same model of pressure cooker was stacked high on the shelves. When I asked for help, the woman told me that they had stopped carry those a year or more ago. She consulted with another worker and they said they thought there was some little shop a few blocks away that sold gaskets for things like that. Maybe I will find that shop before I lose patience and buy a new cooker!

Even Being Polite Can Be a Challenge

And then there are social situations. In a different country even knowing how to greet someone can be bewildering. Here for example, you use, “Buenas” to say hello in a formal manner, and “Hola” if it is informal. You generally use the formal greeting if the person is older than you, or more important (a government official for example), or if you don’t know them well. You shake hands with the men, and give the women an “air kiss” next to the right cheek.

That is, you do the air kiss thing unless the woman is from the US or Europe, in which case you probably kiss her on the lips, which many locals consider somewhat scandalous. Then again, she could be from one of the countries where you air kiss both cheeks. Or maybe she is a foreigner but has been in-country long enough to have adopted the local greeting style. Some prefer to shake hands instead of kiss.

The results can be funny, even painful. I can’t count the number of times I have head-butted some woman because we were using different greeting protocols. There is also an etiquette to hugging during greetings, but you get the idea.

What’s Your Point, Bill?

My point is that the kind of travel we are talking about here shakes you out of all your built-in assumptions and routines. You see the world differently. It becomes clear that the way things are done “back home” aren’t the only way to do things. The customs and rules of home aren’t the only ones that people live by. While this is easy to grasp intellectually, you need to travel to get it at a gut level.

Note: You may have heard that only about 10% of US citizens have passports. I know I have heard, and used, that number in the past. According to a post I read this morning (Jan 12, 2017) the correct number is something over 40%. Someone actually did the work of going to the State Department website and getting the approximate number of active US Passports. That number came out to be over 130,000,000 million active US passports.

So while the majority of US citizens still do not have passports, the number who do is much, much higher than generally believed. Travel, even international travel, doesn’t make you part of some lunatic fringe group.

Thanks to ZeroHedge for pulling together this article.

A big part of being free is knowing your options. The way you have always done things is not the only way to do things. There are other approaches to life than the one you are used to. This applies to people from every country on Earth. But the lesson is particularly relevant for those of us who grew up in the USA.

USA logo

People of my generation were taught from birth that the United States of America is the best place in the world. It is #1 in everything, and anyone who questions that is wrong, if not actually a traitor or some kind of foreign agent. We didn’t learn much about the rest of the world or the way things were done there. Why should we? Everyone wanted to be like us.

Ignorance is Not Bliss

One result of this is that we grew up ignorant of other possibilities. Don’t like working your ass off to buy more and more crap you don’t need? Opposed to an ever-growing government with ever-more control over your life? Tired of seeing your friends and relatives dying in some foreign swamp to bring democracy to the world. Too bad. That’s the way life is. Just shut up and accept it.

But the ways of your home country are not the only way to go. From something as simple as whether you sell liquids in bags or bottles, to how you work, live, and love, there are always options. You need to travel because traveling exposes you to some of those options. You are then free to choose the options that seem best to you.

This doesn’t mean that once you travel a bit you will abandon your current life. Not at all. Many (perhaps most) people who do this kind of travel are quite happy to return home and continue with their old life. But when they do so, they are making an informed decision. They have seen other ways to live and have chosen the one they want. They don’t end up somewhere out of ignorance.

Applying the Theory

Years ago I made a conscious decision to expose my daughter to as many different cultures as I could. I figured that way she could at least make her own informed decisions about where and how she wanted to live her life. She’s been to several countries and exposed to different lifestyles. No one can predict the future, but I have to believe that she will be better for it in the long run.

If nothing else, we’ve had some memorable adventures. Which brings us back to Malta. I haven’t forgotten to tell you about Malta, but I have stuff I need to do today and I’m tired of writing. I’ll tell you about Malta in the next post, where we discuss the best way to travel and being prepared for some of the crazy **** that can happen when you travel.

Lessons from: How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World

by Harry Browne

Finishing my series on how to get what you want in life inspired me to reread this book. I first read it several years ago and have to confess that I didn’t remember much from it other than discomfort at much of the advice it contained.

Rereading this book didn’t eliminate my discomfort, but the book does contain some very useful advice for anyone trying to get what they want in life. So instead of doing a typical book review, I’m going to give you my rendition of these useful ideas and techniques.

Accept People as They Are

Think about being freer tomorrow. To make that happen, do you feel that you need to change someone? Maybe your spouse? Your boss? An entire group of people, like your neighbors? The politicians who make the laws that are keeping you down?
One of Harry Browne’s biggest insights is that trying to change other people is a terrible idea. People have literally spent their entire lives becoming the way they are. Their very identity is tied up in the way they act and think. How much chance do you really have of getting someone else to change?

This doesn’t mean that you can’t bully or pressure someone else (or even some group of people) into doing what you want. But to do so, you are going to have to waste time and energy making them do what you want. Then you are going to have to keep the pressure on to ensure that things keep going the way you want them to. It doesn’t seem like a good way to become freer.

Even if it seems that what you would gain makes it worthwhile to force someone to do what you want, is this the kind of person you want to be? We’ve all had someone in our lives who bullied and pressured us to do what they want rather than what we want. It happens frequently. And it feels terrible.

My dad forced me to join the football team at my University because he himself had failed to make it as a college football player. I wanted to concentrate on getting my engineering degree. Besides, at 5’10” and 160 pounds I was way too small to play my position in college. Still, Dad insisted that I try out for the team. Not surprisingly, I quickly got injured.

I finally had the courage to quit the team. The coach was understanding, but Dad went nuts. The next day, he drove 6 hours from his house to the university to try to convince me to rejoin the team. I stood my ground but it was ugly.

This happened 35 years ago. Dad died 6 years ago. And still, one of my strongest memories of my deceased father is him making me miserable to live out some failed fantasy from his own childhood.

I tell you this story not so you will feel sorry for me. Crap like this happens to all of us. It simply illustrates what happens when you succeed in forcing someone else to do what you want instead of what they want.

Is getting someone else to do what you want really worth being remembered this way for all time?

A Better Approach

As Browne points out in his book, a much better approach to life is to accept people as they are instead of trying to change them. But this doesn’t mean that you have to accept a crappy life, or stay in situations you don’t like. The key is to make choices that don’t depend on other people.

If you look hard enough there are almost always ways to deal with people problems that depend only on you. This doesn’t mean that you have to change yourself, or learn to accept the situation you don’t want. It means that you look for solutions that depend only on your own choices and initiative.

Some examples will help:

  • Your neighbor’s kids keep running around on your lawn and smashing your prize roses. You could complain to him, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead, you could relocate the flowers to the other side of the yard. Or build a wall along the border to keep the rowdy kids out.
  • Your Cousin Joey is a racist jerk. You could try to explain to him why his ideas are ridiculous (try to change him). Or you could stop going to his house for the holidays and not have to listen to his BS anymore.
  • Your partner never wants to do the things you like to do. You could pressure them to do what you like, “for the sake of the relationship”. Or you could end it and find someone more compatible.

The theme here is that in each case, there are solutions that depend on only you, not on changing someone else. It can be hard to spot these kinds of solutions since most of us are trained from birth to sacrifice what we want for the sake of others. But these kinds of solutions almost always exist.

And you can apply this approach to more than just people problems…

Become Freer Tomorrow by Choosing Direct Alternatives

The examples above illustrate what Browne called Direct Alternatives. As he describes it,

“A direct alternative is one that requires only direct action by yourself to get a desired result.”

This is in contrast to the way we usually try to do things, which is through Indirect Alternatives. An indirect alternative requires us to do something to get someone else to do what we want. If you want to be freer tomorrow, you need to learn to find and apply direct alternatives to get what you want.

Why Direct Alternatives Are Better

Browne goes into a lot of detail on why Direct Alternatives are better than Indirect Alternatives. Boiling it all down, here are the big benefits that I see:

  • Direct Alternatives allow you to get things done. When you are the only one who has to do something, you can simply do it. You don’t have to spend the time and effort trying to convince someone else to do what you want them to do.
  • Direct Alternatives put you in control. When you get someone else to do something, you have no guarantee that they will do exactly what you want them to do. You have no guarantee that they will do it the way you want them to do it. And because they are doing something you want them to do instead of what they wanted to do, you can pretty much guarantee that they won’t work at it as hard as you would.
  • Direct Alternatives make you freer. Because you aren’t dependent on others to get what you want, you are freer. If you want to do something, you just do it. If you want to change something, you just change it.

Let me give you an extreme example. I grew tired of working 60+ hours a week to pay the bills and have the quality of life I wanted. I could have chosen the Indirect Alternative, spent years creating a lobbying group to try to convince the government to increase pay rates or otherwise make it possible for me to live the way I wanted while only working 20 hours a week. By gathering followers and convincing them of the righteousness of my cause, I could eventually have put some pressure on some politicians to talk about someday possibly doing something.

Instead, I chose the Direct Alternative, and moved to Ecuador where I live well working less than 20 hours a week. I didn’t have to convince people to do things for me or follow me or anything like that. I simply had to get on an airplane and do it.

It Isn’t Always Easy

Choosing the Direct Alternative isn’t always easy. We humans like to fit in, to be part of the herd. Taking action on our own frequently leaves us out in the open. That makes us a target, a threat to the status quo. “Bill didn’t like the way things were going here in the USA so he moved to South America. What a traitor/ingrate/coward/loser he turned out to be.”

Also, society has a vested interest in preventing us from seeing and choosing Direct Alternatives. Every organized group out there wants followers. They want people who will work toward the group’s goals, and put those goals ahead of their personal goals. They need you to take the Indirect Alternative in every case. Otherwise, you will go off and do what is best for you, and not serve them.

indirect alternative

Indirect Alternatives leave you no better off than these sheep.

To summarize, finding and choosing Direct Alternatives is the way to freedom. But our schools, churches, families, jobs, and governments all teach us to fit in, to choose the Indirect Alternative, to be a part of their herd of followers. Choosing Direct Alternatives involves conflicts and hard decisions, but it is the best way to get what you want out of life.

Reducing the Emotional Impact of Conflicts and Hard Decisions

If you are going to get what you want out of life, you are going to have conflicts. You are going to piss off people who want you to do something other than what is right for you (like your family, friends, boss, etc.). Even if you aren’t upsetting anyone else, you are going to have to make hard decisions that could upset yourself. There is no way around it.

Doing stuff like this is tough. People will often stay in a bad situation, or sacrifice something they want, just to avoid the pain of conflicts and hard decisions. But you will never be freer tomorrow, never have what you want in life if you can’t face these key moments in your life.

Happily, you don’t have to turn yourself into some kind of unfeeling hardass to do what you need to do. Browne offers a nice technique for reducing the impact these kinds of situations have on you. It is a way to desensitize yourself while also preparing yourself for the tough situation to come.

How to Reduce the Emotional Impact

To make this concept more concrete, let’s use the example of telling your parents you are dropping out of medical school despite their lifelong pressure on you to become a doctor.

  1. Find yourself a quiet place and set aside 10 or 15 minutes where you won’t be disturbed.
  2. Close your eyes and picture yourself sitting down with your parents to tell them what you are going to do.
  3. Imagine exactly what you are going to say to them.
  4. Now imagine their response. Imagine them really losing it, worse than they ever have before. See them trying to manipulate you into changing your mind, in the way only your parents can.
  5. As best you can, hear them and see them in your mind’s eye, in as much detail as possible. You need to make it as realistic as possible.
  6. Ride it out all the way to the end of the confrontation. Go through it all and visualize it as clearly as you can. It won’t be fun, but just do it.
  7. Give yourself a minute to catch your breath and remember how you felt while going through it.
  8. Do it again. That’s right, go through the whole confrontation again, in as much detail as you can. If you think of some other crazy shit your parent’s might do, include that in the mix.
  9. Think about how you felt going through it this time. It probably wasn’t as painful as last time.
  10. Go through the confrontation several more times in your mind. You should soon reach a point where it just doesn’t bother you. You’re ready to do it in the real world.

Why This Works

I think there are two things going on here. When we think about something bad or uncomfortable, we usually don’t have an exact picture in our minds of what will happen. It is just this vague cloud of badness.

By visualizing what will happen when you confront your parents, it changes this vague cloud of badness into concrete things. These concrete things are almost always less scary than that cloud of unspecified bad stuff. Instead of, “oh this is going to be horrible,” you end up with, “they are going to yell,” “mom is going to cry,” “dad is going to insult and criticize me.” I’ve dealt with that crap before. I can do it again.

The second thing that happens is you desensitize yourself to what could happen. You can only get worked up about something so many times before you become desensitized to it. The first time something happens it can be a big deal. The 5th or 8th or 20th time, not so much.

Realize that while this technique is very useful, it isn’t foolproof. You could still get upset during the actual event. And something could happen that you didn’t expect. Still, you will be much better prepared for what’s to come if you apply this technique beforehand than if you go in cold.

Conclusion

I consider a self-help type book worthwhile if it contains at least one idea that I can apply to my own life. While much of this book makes me uneasy, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World offers several useful techniques for thinking about your life, as well as for dealing with the results of your decisions. It is definitely worth reading.

Living Abroad: Patience and Resilience Required

For people living in the USA or Europe, one of the best ways to become freer is to move to another country. There are lots of places in the world that offer more real freedom than the place formerly known as “The Free World.”

Ecuador is one of those places.

Many people find this to be a surprise, since Ecuador is officially a Socialist country. People really do believe in that stuff here too. Several of my local friends are avowed socialists. Everywhere you go, you see pictures of Che Guevara.

There are even Ladas (a car brand from the old Soviet Union) on the roads here. But in many ways, we are much freer here than back in the United States.

  • People are generally more relaxed about life. The priority is family and friends, not money and prestige.
  • Taxes are low.
  • The government mostly leaves people alone.
  • The endless flood of marketing BS you get in “the West” isn’t nearly as endless here.
  • There isn’t the all-seeing government and corporate spying that goes on up North.

che guevara image
As a result of these and other factors, North Americans are flooding into places like Ecuador. In particular, they are coming here to Cuenca, a city that is often billed as the best place in the world for North Americans to retire. My brother is one of those people. He retired here almost 4 years ago and reports that he is very happy with his decision.

But no place is perfect, and living in Ecuador requires some patience. Flexibility, a sense of humor, and some luck can help too.

No Place is Perfect

Let me give you some examples. These are all things from my own life, all of which have come to pass in the last few months.

  • Getting government services can be a pain. Ecuador got its government bureaucracy from the Spanish conquerors hundreds of years ago, meaning it is slow and unpredictable. And everything you do requires filling out lots and lots of pointless forms. But if you need something done for use in your home country, it gets even worse. Notarizing some documents for my mom’s estate involved scheduling an appointment with the nearest US Consulate several days in advance, and a 3+ hour drive each way over the Andes to get there. Once there we had to pass through multiple layers of security, then spend a few hours sitting around with hundreds of other people. Everyone was friendly and helpful, but what would take a few minutes at your home town bank it took all day. And $140 for the guy who drove us there then waited for us in the parking lot for hours. And the Consulate charged $50 per item we needed notarized.
  • Non-government services can be a pain too. Construction in this part of town has been causing frequent rerouting of traffic. That has resulted in trucks and busses driving on smaller, tributary roads. And that has resulted in scenes like the one below, where something big hit the cables on a side road, bringing my part of town to a screeching halt. The electricity was back on in several hours, but it took my ISP 4 days to get Internet access restored. Then it happened two more times (in different locations) over the next few weeks! In total, I lost almost 2 weeks of service in a five-week stretch. I also lost an online client due to this, as I completely blew a deadline for delivering some documents.
downed-lines-living-abroad

Big vehicles detoured onto local roads can make a mess.

  • For the second time in a month, thugs attacked a mining camp owned by the company my wife works for, taking hostages, wounding several people, and killing one cop. The second time it took the Ecuadorean Army to drive the attackers out of the camp. While my wife was not present at that particular camp during either assault, the idea of a loved one being held hostage (or worse) by a tribe of former headhunters was not something I planned for when moving here!

Conclusion

Happily, things aren’t always like this. There have been long stretches where I have lived the stereotypical dream of many North Americans who have come here. Relaxing outside a coffee shop on a sunny afternoon while my friends back in New Hampshire are freezing their butts off shoveling snow in sub-freezing temperatures. Experiencing stuff I never would in the US, like a traffic jam caused by a herd of llama. You know, all that good stuff that causes people to move.

The big takeaway here is that to really be freer tomorrow you need to develop personal characteristics like patience and resilience. A sense of humor helps too.

Fight For What You Want

We’ve been talking about getting what you want in life. Sometimes it goes smoothly. Sometimes it goes more like this,”You ask nicely for it. No luck. You lean into it for a while. But it still looks like you aren’t going to get it.” What’s left? It is time to fight for what you want.

Fighting Ain’t What it Used to Be

Sometimes the more subtle ways to get what you want out of life fail and you may need to fight. But in today’s world, fighting for what you want isn’t so straightforward. You can’t simply whack Gronk over the head with a club and take his stuff. In this post we will talk about when and how to fight for what you want in the modern world.

Once upon a time, fighting for what you wanted entailed exactly that: whacking Gronk with your club or pummeling him into submission with your fists. But there are several problems with taking that approach in the modern world. For example…

Gronk might be an ex-Marine who will kick your butt despite your club…

Or Gronk might have a concealed-carry license and trump your club with a pistol.

If nothing else, the authorities seem to frown on the idea of whacking somebody with a club. Even an old-style fistfight is likely to get you into legal trouble in most Western countries.

So how should you fight for what you want in today’s world? The answer depends on the situation. But before you start fighting for something, you need to…

Figure Out How You Got Here

How did you get to the point where you are considering fighting for what you want? Knowing this will help you decide what to do next. Did you ask for what you wanted and get told, “No!” Have you been leaning into it but not making any progress? Did something totally unexpected happen?

Fighting always entails risks, even when it doesn’t involve physical danger. You may have to make sacrifices. You might fail to get what you want. Or you might lose completely. The stakes are high when fighting for something, so think before you act.

Make Some Lists

The idea of making lists before a fight may sound crazy. And if you need to act fast, it probably is. But you often have some time to consider your options before getting into a fight over something.  Assuming you do have time, you can start by making two lists:

  • What Can I Win?
  • What Can I Lose?

What’s the point of these two lists?

Let’s start with the “What Can I Win?” list. Of course, the first thing on the list is whatever you are thinking of fighting for in the first place. But that probably isn’t the only thing you could win. What about some secondary benefits to doing this? Self-respect for fighting for what you want? The respect of others? Skills or experiences you could benefit from in the future? The more of these secondary benefits you can win, the more “appealing” a fight becomes.

How about the “What Can I Lose” list? Thinking about what you could lose might be harder. You could of course lose (or fail to gain) the thing you would be fighting for. What else? Self-respect? The respect of others? Other things that you could do with the time and energy you will spend fighting? Your job? Your family or friends? Your freedom? Your health?

Think hard about the secondary effects that could result from battling for what you want. You might win the thing you are after but tarnish your reputation or lose a good friend (see Pyrrhic Victory). You might lose the fight but still win big by developing new skills or contacts that will help you later.

Whether this exercise causes you to change your plans or not, you will be making a decision based on what you perceive to be in your best interests, rather than the passion of the moment.

List Strengths and Weaknesses

If you will be fighting against another person, persons, or an identifiable group, you should consider making a few more lists. These lists of strengths and weaknesses can help you decide on a strategy to use. They can also help you see whether or not you have a real chance of winning.

Create these four lists:

  • My Strengths
  • My Weaknesses
  • Their Strengths
  • Their Weaknesses

For each of these lists, try to include as many strengths and weaknesses as you can, even if it isn’t obvious that they apply to the coming fight. The more information you have here the better.

For example, your opponent might be higher in the corporate hierarchy than you (his strength), but most people in the company like you better (your strength). You might be horrible at confrontations and unable to stand up to the woman who keeps stealing your parking space (your weakness) but she might be violating company policy by parking there (her weakness). Anything you can think of here could help you make a decision, so write it all down.

Consider Your Morals and Values

Consider your morals and values too. You might have strengths that would allow you to win the coming fight, but that would go against your morals and values. You might be a trained assassin and able to eliminate the other guy competing with you for the promotion. But hopefully doing so would be against your morals and values!

consider your morals and values too

Don’t lose sight of your morals and values.

Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for, and if you have a realistic chance of winning that fight. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.

Time to Decide

Once you have made your lists, it’s decision time. You need to look at those lists and decide if this is really something worth fighting for. Are the things you could win worth the risk of what could happen if you lose?

If the answer is yes, you need to figure out if you have a realistic chance of winning the fight. The Strengths and Weaknesses lists could be very useful here. You may simply be overmatched in this case with no realistic chance of winning. Sometimes it is better to walk away than fight.

I Am Going to Fight! But How?

What if you decide that you are going to fight? How do you go about it?

This is a tough question, because the tactics depend totally on circumstances. But the lists you made can help you to formulate a plan of attack. Try to devise a plan that takes advantage off your strengths and exploits your opponents’ weaknesses. At the same time, try to minimize the risk of losing things that are important to you.

You will often have to trade off, losing some things to gain the things you want more. Don’t be surprised if your first few plans turn out to have some fatal flaw. You’ll probably go around several times before you find your best plan of attack.

At this point, it would be great to give you a pep talk about how you can’t lose, or feed you a bunch of examples of how this plays out in real life. But a pep talk would be irresponsible and I don’t have too many examples for you. Fortunately, I haven’t had to reach the “fight for what you want” stage too many times. Hopefully the following examples will help.

Ways to Fight For What You Want in Life

Here are a few examples of fighting for what you want from my own life. How you would go about it depends on your specific circumstances, as well as your own morals and values.

Persistence in the Face of Adversity

Sometimes, simply continuing to work toward your goal despite circumstances is fight enough. For example, I came from a family where everyone’s goal was to get a job in a big corporation and retire 45 years later with a gold watch and a fat pension. I hated that idea and wanted to be self-employed.

My parents and my friends told me I was crazy, and tried to convince me to give up such a dumb idea. But I persisted. I worked a regular job during the day, 40, 50, even 60+ hours a week. Then at night and on weekends I worked on my side businesses to move myself toward the self-employed life I really wanted.

It took several years of too little sleep, and many sacrifices to do it, but I eventually reached my goal.

Corporate Combat

Many of us have to fight for what we want at the office. This involves some kind of ritualized corporate combat. You might be competing with a co-worker for a coveted position and have to work smarter, faster, or harder to get the promotion. You might have to go golfing with the boss, or start hanging out with the “in” crowd after work. This kind of thing is fairly common in the USA. It can be stressful but is usually pretty straightforward.

Man working overtime to "fight for what he wants."

This is a modern way to fight for what you want.

Or you might have a boss who wants you to do something you think is unethical or immoral. Then you have a different kind of battle on your hands.

I once had a boss who insisted I do exactly that. She wanted me to help her shift the blame for her own failings onto another part of the company. The business was dying, and she wanted to be sure that the fallout from her bad decisions landed on someone else. It was sleazy, and not the kind of thing I wanted to be a part of. When I refused to help her, she banned me from the office and gave me an ultimatum. Agree to do what she wanted or lose my job.

I put a lot of thought into this one and eventually decided that it would be better to lose my job than to do something so dishonest. Fortunately, I didn’t have to. I won the fight to both keep my job and do the right thing. But to do so, I eventually had to violate the usual corporate rules of behavior and go over my boss’s head to get help from her boss. As you can imagine, it was a highly stressful few days, but after an internal investigation, the company backed me and terminated my boss.

Conclusion

Sometimes you have to fight for what you want in life. Even though “fighting for it” probably won’t involve physical danger in today’s world, it is still a messy, risky situation to be in. Hopefully the ideas I’ve given you here will help you decide if fighting is really your best course, and help you to win if you do go for it.

Good luck!

Lean Into It to Get What You Want

I started this series planning to do three posts. But along the way, I realized I was skipping one of the most important steps and needed to change my priorities a bit. It is one that I would credit with most of my success in recent years. You have to “lean into it” to get what you want in life.

I know it’s a very catchy phrase and all that, but you are probably wondering what exactly it means to “lean into it.” I wish I could remember where I first read about this approach but I can’t. Looking it up online didn’t help either. I did find a definition in the Urban Dictionary, but it isn’t what I mean at all:

Lean Into It - Urban Dictionary

This isn’t what I mean by “lean into it.”

In fact, this usage is the opposite of what I mean. My definition is much more traditional. When you lean on something, you put your weight or some other pressure on it. You don’t apply all the force you can. You simply put steady pressure on it. And you keep the pressure on for a while.

You can apply this same kind of approach to getting the things you want in life. There are times when you can simply ask for what you want. And there are times when you have to fight for what you want. But there are also times when the best approach is to simply apply pressure in the direction you want to go, and keep that pressure on for a while. You lean into it.

How to Lean Into It

Here’s an example from my own life. I knew years ago that I wanted to live in Latin America one day. But given my life situation at the time, it wasn’t something I could do right away. I didn’t need to ask anyone for it, and I didn’t need to fight for it. I just couldn’t do it right then. Instead, I leaned into it by constantly keeping the idea of living in Latin America in the back of my mind.

Whenever I had to make a decision, I tried to choose the path that took me closer to what I wanted. When I was deciding where to vacation, I chose a Latin destination. When I wanted to work on self-improvement, I chose to study Latin American Spanish instead of any of the other options. I was still stuck in the USA because of circumstances. But doing these things helped me prepare for life in Latin America.

vacationing-in-ecuador

A street scene in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Beyond gaining specific skills and experiences that were eventually very useful, leaning into it like this helped in another way. It made the whole thing more real. Lots of people say they are going to do lots of things. But few people actually do them. By constantly doing things that took me in the direction of the life I wanted, it became more real. Over time, the whole concept went from “wouldn’t it be cool if,” to “I think I can really do this,” to “when I move to Latin America next year.” Because I continued to lean into it, it changed from a cool idea into something definite that just had not happened yet.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

Last night (March 23, 2016) my brother Tom was hanging out at a local club watching a soccer match. Part of Tom’s long-term plan for his life includes buying a big parcel of land and building a house here in Ecuador. While he is retired and not looking to overload himself, he is interested in trying to grow at least some of his own food. While sitting at the bar and watching the soccer, he got into a conversation with the guy next to him.

Tom mentioned his long-term plans to the guy and they started swapping stories about farming and the like. It turned out that the guy had until recently been involved in an organic farm here in Ecuador, is a retired mechanical engineer, and is looking to invest in a new project. Whether anything will come of it is unclear. But if Tom didn’t have an idea of what he wanted to do and wasn’t already “leaning into it,” there wouldn’t even be a chance. Check back in a year and we’ll know what happened!

You Can Lean Into It Too

You can apply this approach too. Use it whenever you can’t get what you want right now. Whenever you need to make a decision, think about which option will help you get what you really want. If none of the options will help you directly, try to choose the option that takes you even a step closer to what you want. If you continue to “lean into it,” chances are excellent that you will eventually get there.


What if leaning into it doesn’t get you what you want? More drastic measures may be required.


NOTE: If you are wondering why I haven’t posted for a while, November 2016 has been a time of leaning into it for me. Between illnesses, a house full of guests, dealing with mom’s estate, and so on, I haven’t been able to write much. I thought that last week things would finally get back to normal. But then a tribe of former headhunters attacked my girlfriend’s company and we had to deal with that (I kid you not). Sometimes all you can do is lean into it and wait for circumstances to change!

Changed Priorities Ahead Sign

Freedom to Change Your Priorities

Today I was going to publish the third post in the series on getting what you want from life. But something came up. So instead I am going to talk about the freedom to change your priorities. Here’s the story:

My brother and I have been working on a geeky project. We live high in the Andes mountains, about 100 miles south of the Equator. When the sun shines here, it is incredibly strong. Bad for our pale gringo skin. Good for anyone who wants to build solar energy projects.

We have a ton of ideas we want to try out. But being computer guys, we’re looking past things like solar hot water systems toward “smart” solar systems. We want to build systems that incorporate computing power to get better results.

To be the brains for these kinds of projects, we’re looking at the Raspberry Pi single board computers. They’re super small, super cheap, and are designed to make it easy to connect them to real-world stuff. Here’s a photo of one:

Raspberry Pi with Broken Case.

I had to change my priorities to get this little guy working.

These little beasts are not as easy to find here in Ecuador as they are in the USA or Europe, but last week we found a supplier. So we bought the computers and got to work getting them working.

Much swearing and snarling ensued as we couldn’t get the things running. I don’t know about you, but having a piece of equipment sitting around that doesn’t work drives me crazy. It is definitely the kind of situation that can make you change your priorities.

We dropped everything and put all our efforts into getting the machines working. After battling with underpowered power supplies, out of spec / defective memory cards, crappy instructions, a broken case (see photo), even a lightning strike that caused a power failure, we got both machines working by last night. I am writing this post on my Raspberry Pi right now.

NOTE: If you want to know more about the Raspberry Pi, tell me so in the comments.

Instead of another long post about getting what you want, I wanted to share this with you. And to point out that I could do what I did because I don’t have a boss. In general, I set my own priorities. And I am free to change my priorities, to work on whatever I want, whenever it suits me.

This can be dangerous of course. When you are free to set your own priorities, you have to have the discipline to do it. As I know first hand, it is easy to drift into not doing much of anything for days, weeks, even years as I did. But if you can muster the discipline, the freedom to set and change your priorities can really improve your life.

Ask for It (What You Want)

Ask For It to Get What You Want

Welcome back to our series on how to get what you want in life. Last time we talked about the importance of knowing what you really want. Not what would make your mom happy or what society expects of you. What you, personally, really want in your life.

Hopefully you’ve spent some time thinking about this and have decided what you really want. If so, it’s time to go after it. In this post, we are going to talk about how to “ask for it” to get what you want in life.

We’ll start by clearing up a little confusion.

You Were Taught the Wrong Way to Get What You Want

If you’re like a lot of people, you are probably wondering why your life isn’t already the way you want it. You work hard. You follow all the rules. You’re a loyal employee doing everything the boss asks of you. You’re an all-around good person doing what you are supposed to do. Our parents did this and made out much better than we have. So is there something wrong with you?

I don’t think so. I mean, you could be some kind of screw-off who has wrecked your own life. But the fact that you are reading a blog like this tells me that isn’t it. I believe there are a lot of reasons you are in the mess you are in. And most of them are totally out of your control. Mega-factors like changing demographics and stupid government policies can explain much of why our generation isn’t doing nearly as well as previous generations. But there is one big factor that you can do something about.

To understand it, let me give you a 60-second history lesson.

A Quick History Lesson

The Industrial Revolution gave us huge leaps forward in productivity and standards of living. But an industrial society requires a certain type of worker, someone who:

  • Works hard
  • Follows the rules

Over time the whole of Western society was geared toward turning normal people into hard working, rule following, interchangeable factory workers. Schools trained kids to behave like this. Our parents pounded the idea into our heads too. Employers and the government also extolled the virtues of this kind of behavior. Characteristics like initiative and flexibility could actually gum up the works.

At first, this was a pretty good deal. Sure, working in that manner is dehumanizing. Still, if you did your job and didn’t cause problems you could count on regular raises, the occasional promotion, and a comfortable, company-funded retirement. The system provided for most people pretty well without them having to take much initiative.

Working Hard & Following the Rules Isn’t Enough

But the world has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. The old industrial system is breaking down. The tacit deal of “work hard and follow the rules and we will take care of you” has collapsed. For the vast majority, getting what you want in life is much harder than it used to be.

If working hard and following the rules like you were told doesn’t work, what should you do to get what you want? You need to take the initiative…

You’ve Gotta Ask for It

If you want something in life these days, you have to ask for it. I know that can be a big issue for people, especially people in their 50’s and older. We had the old way beat into our heads from childhood. It is a hard mindset to break out of.

I spent much of my life living that way. Into my 40’s I thought if I just followed the rules and worked really hard, it would all magically turn out right in the end. No luck there.

I realized I had to change my thinking. Some of the old self-help gurus talked about asking for what you want. It was clearly the way to go, but it was hard. You need to muster the huevos to do it. You not only have to be willing to tell someone you want something from them, you have to face the fact that they are quite likely to tell you, “NO!”

Eventually I learned to ask for what I wanted. It wasn’t fun. Worse, it didn’t always work.

Over time, I learned that there is more than one way to ask for something. It is usually more complicated than simply saying, “Please sir may I have the keys to that Lamborghini over there?”

Lamborghini, ask for it.

To get this you need to ask for it the right way.

How to Ask for It the Right Way

I learned that the right way to ask for something varies depending on circumstances. Asking someone to pass the salt while sharing a meal is pretty straightforward. Asking someone to give you something of significant value simply because you want it seldom works.

When you want something of real value, or getting the thing is really important to you, you want to propose a mutually-beneficial exchange. You get something you want in exchange for giving them something they want. This way both sides gain. A couple of examples of this might help:

  • Walking into a dealership and saying, “Please sir may I have the keys to that Lamborghini over there?” isn’t going to work too well. But adding the phrase, “Here is a cashier’s check for $200,000” is much more likely to get you your car. You’ve turned a crazy request into a mutually beneficial exchange.
  • At one startup where I worked, the boss had a reputation for being stingy. The other managers constantly complained that they couldn’t get purchase requests approved. Yet the first time I submitted one it was approved instantly. Why? The boss gathered us all around and explained it himself. “This request tells me not only what Bill wants to buy, but shows exactly how letting him buy it will save me far more money than it costs me. Of course I approved it.”

In both cases, to “ask for it” includes showing the other person why or how giving you what you want will benefit them. If you can muster the initiative to not only ask for what you want, but to ask for it this way, your life should start improving almost immediately.

Understand Their Needs When You Ask For It

Here’s a third example. My daughter and I were on our way to visit family in Pennsylvania and had stopped at a rest area on the NY Thruway. When we came out of the building, we saw a bunch of people staring from the parking structure out into the access road. They were staring at two guys who were standing next to their cars talking. Their fancy Lamborghini sports cars.

My daughter is a big fan of those vehicles and said she wished she could see the car better. I was in the middle of training myself to ask for things that I wanted, so I swallowed hard and walked the 15 yards or so to the two guys. I told them my daughter loved their cars and wanted to get a closer look.

One of the guys smiled, threw me the keys and said my daughter could sit in his car if she wanted! This was the result:

Jenn Mann in Lamborghini

You have to ask for it to get the good stuff.

Once I broke the ice, all the people who were watching from the parking garage came flooding over. There were people everywhere staring at the cars and asking the owners questions. Everyone was having a great time. And then…

…another Lamborghini arrived, and another, and more and more. By the time they were done arriving, there were at least 60 of these super cars there.

It turned out to be a meeting of a group of Lamborghini owners from all over the Eastern USA who were making a run up to Canada. They were gathering at this spot to start their trip and were more than happy to show off their cars to us regular folk.

Bringing this back to the subject of this post, doesn’t this show that you can get the good stuff by asking? After all, I didn’t offer them money or anything like that.

In retrospect, it is pretty clear that these guys loved their cars and wanted to show them off. And they probably wanted a crowd of people in place to “ooh” and “aah” at their buddies as they arrived. They just needed one of the bystanders to get up the guts to come and talk to them. I offered the car owners exactly what they wanted in exchange for them letting my daughter sit in their car.

These days I try and look at things a little deeper. With enough information about the other party you can usually find something they will accept in exchange for what you want. Like everything else, you’ll get better with practice and won’t need to rely on the kind of luck I had that day.

What If Asking for It Doesn’t Work?

Now realize I am not guaranteeing that this will always work. There are lots of reasons someone might not give you what you want, even if you ask for it the right way.

  • You might not have anything to offer that they want
  • You might not be willing to offer what they want in exchange for what you want
  • What you want might not be theirs to give
  • They might dislike you too much to give you what you want

So what should you do if you can’t get what you want, even after asking for it the right way? That depends heavily upon the circumstances.


We’ll talk about the various possibilities in Step 3 of this series.

chimp doesn't know what he wants.

Know What You Really Want…Or Fail!

In previous posts, we talked about some of the ways you can be freer tomorrow. In the next few posts, I will be focusing on getting what you want in life. Unless you are incredibly lucky, the things you want in life are not going to just drop into your lap. Getting what you want in life isn’t easy. You’re going to need the personal strength to work for them. It is a multi-step process. Happily, each step helps build the strength you will need for the next step. Step 1 is to know what you really want in life.

How do you figure that out? The “follow your passion” approach is quite popular. Unfortunately, it is also quite wrong.

The Failings of the “Follow Your Passion” Approach

If you’ve spent some time working to improve yourself, you’ve probably noticed something. Most of the “self-help” advice being published these days really sucks. I’m seeing a lot of, “follow your passion and the universe will reward you” crap. It all sounds lovely. Just get that basket weaving degree and get cracking.

You will love what you are doing and somehow, everything will be wonderful. The world will recognize your genius and passion. You will become rich. Your ideal partner will find his or her way to you. Everything you want will materialize for you because of your passion for weaving baskets.

But life doesn’t work that way. Especially when times are tough like today. No one will give a damn about your baskets. You won’t become rich and famous. The man or woman of your dreams isn’t going to miraculously find you and bring you endless happiness. All the passion and wishing and affirmations in the world won’t make it happen.

There are two flaws in the “follow your passion” approach. The first is that passion is enough to somehow bring you success. All you have to do is think this through to see the fallacy. Tens of millions of kids have a passionate desire to be Olympic athletes. And only a few thousand make it.

 

Know what you really want or you will fail to get it.

Sadness will be your fate if you don’t know what you really want.

Know What You Really Want or You Will Fail to Get it

The second flaw to this approach is built in right at the start. You need to “follow your passion” for basket weaving or you won’t be happy.

Really?

Do you really want to build your life around some job (whether you are passionate about it or not)? Do you really want this to be the focus of your existence? When you’re on your death bed, do you really want to look back and say I was the best damn basket weaver in the world?

Or do you want all that other stuff instead? Do you really want the:

  • Money
  • Fame
  • Wonderful life partner
  • Happiness

And all that other stuff that is supposed to come your way when you “follow your passion?”

You Must Decide What You Really Want

Figuring out what you really want in life can be hard. In the USA, most adults know what they are supposed to want. The media tells you what you are supposed to want, and believe, and do. Advertisers use the latest psychological research to manipulate you into wanting whatever $#!+ they are selling. But digging out what you, personally, really truly want can take some serious work.

I’m not the guy to tell you how to figure this out. I wrestled with it for a long time, and I am sure there are more efficient ways of doing it. If you think it will help you, leave me a message at the end of this article. If enough people are interested, I’ll try and reconstruct the path I followed and do a post about it for you.

Your best bet is probably to consult wiser heads than me to help you figure this out. I suggest you:

  • Look for someone who has similar life experiences to you and has moved past them
  • If their focus is more on your job than the rest of your life, look elsewhere
  • If someone tries to convince you to “follow your passion,” look elsewhere immediately

NOTE: After publishing this post I did decide to post one technique that helped me a lot.

You Must Accept What You Really Want

Or perhaps the problem is that you know what you want and it isn’t what you are supposed to want. Society has expectations for us. It puts massive pressure on us to conform to those expectations. And part of that pressure is to like certain things and dislike other things. To want certain things and to not want other things.

An awful lot of us know what we want in life…and we know it isn’t what society says we should want. We might want something that we are unwilling to admit to others because we know they won’t approve. Our parents want us to be doctors, but we want to be video game designers. Society wants us to work our asses off to buy crap we don’t need, but we want to live a minimalist lifestyle.

We know that if we do what we want to do, it will upset someone. We will disappoint Mom. The people around us will rag on about how we’re wasting our potential. If we care about the opinions of others, this noise can make us feel bad about ourselves. It can make us pursue things in life that we don’t really want, in order to avoid upsetting expectations and feeling bad about ourselves.

This is something you need to get over if you are going to be freer and happier in the future. The pain of violating expectations, of pissing off your friends and family, is real. But it goes away. The pain of living a life you don’t want, just so someone else isn’t annoyed, never goes away.

Again, I am not an expert on doing this, but you have to do it somehow. If it takes professional help, go for it. You can wreck your life living this way.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Or maybe you really know what you want and accept it. But you know that others won’t accept your choices. In today’s crazy world, people think they have the right to force you to think, to live, the way they want you to. So you may have to take steps to protect yourself.

For an extreme example, look at the 2016 US Presidential election.

People know they are supposed to want Hillary Clinton to be the next President. The media says so. The government says so. Screaming mobs of professional protesters demand that they support Hillary. If someone says they don’t support Hillary, they are asking for trouble. People might call them names. Their friends might shun them. Their Twitter account will suddenly disappear. Or even worse. As a result, many people in the USA are unwilling to say that they support Donald Trump for President.

So what’s the solution? When friends ask, they say what they are expected to say. When pollsters call, they tell the caller what they expect to hear. Or they hang up. They keep their mouths shut and their true feelings to themselves. They keep their true feelings to themselves to avoid unnecessary trouble.

keep your mouth shut when you know what you really want

Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut.

They May Have to Lie. You Might Too

When pressed, they may have to lie to protect themselves. It sucks that they need to do it, but there is nothing wrong with this. Remember that this is a response to people trying to force them to do what they don’t want to do. To live their lives the way someone else wants them to. To think the way some self-appointed authority wants them to.

You may need to take this approach too.

I know that it is very “in” to tell everyone what you are going to do. It can definitely help you achieve goals when your friends and family will harass you if you don’t. However, where people won’t accept what you want to do, keeping your mouth shut is probably the way to go. Over time, you are likely to end up with a new set of friends that actually agrees with you, and supports you, but that’s a topic for another post.

This is Step 1

Once you know what you really want in life, you are facing in the right direction. Are you guaranteed to get everything you want? Hell no. Are you guaranteed to get any of it at all? No! But you at least have a fighting chance now. One that doesn’t rely on dumb luck or supernatural intervention. You’ve taken your first step.


In the next few posts we’ll talk about getting what you want once you know what you really want out of life. Start with this one: Ask for it to get what you want.