thankful not to be

It’s probably a bit of a cliche in the blog world to do a post on Thanksgiving about what we’re grateful for, but I’ll add to it. I finished my current client project and as of tomorrow I am embarking – terrified and anxious – into at least a brief period of uncertainty and freelancing and finding a new direction.  I’m excited and nervous at the same time, but I’m also grateful that I’ve got the time to spend with my family, who mean a tremendous amount to me.  I’m grateful that I’ve got the opportunity, at least in brief spurts, to examine interests that are close to me.  I’m grateful that January 20th is approaching.

And most of all, I’m glad to be well rid of working for a corporate client whose very existence – at this point – seemed to contradict most of what I believe in, at least in terms of good citizenship and responsible action. It’s easy to dismiss concerns about what a company DOES when you earn a living from them, but those concerns eat at you in the small hours, I think.  They did for me, at least, and I’m glad to be clear of the foul miasma that is Wall Street.

I’ve been struggling with computer repairs.  Our notebook’s been in for repairs two times in the last three days, making posting difficult – but I’m a problogger as of, well, now, so stay tuned for some cool stuff I have planned.  I’m debating buying a new laptop, but I’m seriously considering – for the first time – buying an Apple or a Linux machine because I just can’t take the bloat that is Windows Vista.  Argh.  All I want is a clean boot and a web browser….

And finally, in a blogging sense I’m deeply grateful for, well, you. If you weren’t reading, I’d still be doing this, to be honest.  At the same time, anyone who tells you they don’t love feedback from readers is nuts – getting comments and emails (bripblap at is an amazing experience for me.

Thanks, and enjoy Thanksgiving Day.

Excuse a personal note here 🙂 Since I know she reads this on a bit of a lag from the time I write it, I’m thankful more than anything for my Bubelah 🙂

photo credit: Windy Angels

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do you need a bailout?

photo credit: GreyHobbit

“I am never going to get ahead in this economy unless I get a bailout like all of these companies.” – overheard at work

The news seems to get worse and worse. The casual mention of billions to this corporation and billions to that one can skew your perceptions of what the money is worth, and how our society rewards risk and conservatism.  Companies that took unreasonable gambles are saved (but some aren’t).  People who took out safe mortgages with sizable down payments watch others who leapt into mortgages they couldn’t afford for houses they didn’t need get assistance.  401(k)s and IRAs collapse while executives get golden parachutes.  The times make it easy to despair:  playing by the rules won’t get you anywhere.

I feel the despair personally – my retirement accounts have been blasted. I’ve been laid off.  I’m looking at a horrible job market in a struggling industry.  And the most negative influence has been working in the corporate headquarters of one of the companies mentioned almost daily in the “bad financial sector news” section of your local paper.  Positivity has been at a minimum.  Layoffs and insincere cheery messages from the CEO about the company’s employees – apparently the best and brightest in the industry, just like the other 5 companies who’ve been my clients in the last 5 years have said about their employees  – put a grimace on my  face, too.

Yet I am amazed at the idea that “a bailout” can help an individual conquer their bad habits. Sure, a bailout can help you in the short term.  If you’re heavily in debt, having someone throw you a few hundred bucks right before Christmas can help you keep the lights on, but once that money’s spent – where are you?  If the bailout’s applied to a debt, great, but how many times can you go back to that person for another bailout?

Here’s a secret:  YOU are your own bailout.  Only YOU can fix YOUR problems.

I’m not saying you can’t have supportive family or friends, or use some help from informative blogs or books. It all helps.  But without YOUR committed effort you’ll never fix your problems.

If you think someone is going to pay off your debt, or lose your weight for you, or fix your crappy job for you… you’re wrong. Only you can do it.  Sure, there are people who win the lottery, but if you want to play those odds you’re wasting time reading blogs on the internet – go get your ticket.  Hard work and positivity on YOUR part will pay off that debt.  Focus and discipline will help you lose weight.  Networking, acquiring new skills and focusing on what you really want to achieve will make that crappy job a memory.

If you want to wait for a bailout, go ahead and wait… but for truly successful people, a bailout’s not coming – and not needed.

one more hill

Italian Lake(lake of Como)

The Story

I went once to the wilderness with some friends. We thought that spending time in nature would be pleasant.  Once we were there, we saw a hill and decided to climb it.  We thought that the summit of the hill would be a nice place to see the sun set.  When we reached the top of the hill, we saw another hill that was even higher, and we decided to forge on before the sun set to reach the summit of the higher hill – surely the view was clearer and further from the peak of that hill.

Once we reached the second hill we sat and looked around and noticed a third hill, almost a mountain, rising in the distance.  That hill blocked our view and we decided that nothing would satisfy us than to hike to the top of the third hill to witness the sunset.  We set off across the valley between peaks and ascended the summit.  When we reached the top, we looked around at the view and realized that we could see a limitless vista – but we had missed the sunset while we were climbing.

The Moral

Too often we chase the next summit while missing the overall goal. Seeing the sunset from the second-highest mountain is still the achievement of a goal – missing the sunset while ascending the third-highest mountain is not.   It’s important not to miss the goals you wish to achieve in life because you are seeking perfection.  There’s a clever line:  perfection is the enemy of the good.  Thinking that everything in your life has to be perfect (or nothing) may be the enemy of making everything good.  To summarize:  stay put on the second hill, and enjoy the sunset.   Anything else is wasted effort.

photo credit: galahad86

what is ROWE and how does it affect the workplace?


Let’s talk about ROWE – a results-oriented work environment. Here’s a good primer.  It’s very simple in the most distilled form:

ROWE, or Results-Only Work Environment, (also known as Results Oriented Work Environment), is a management strategy created by CultureRx and used by Best Buy.  In this model, employees are paid for results (output) rather than the number hours worked. The goal is to keep workers who deliver results while firing those who are not productive.

ROWE in practice means “each person is free to do whatever they want, whenever they want as long as the work gets done.”  Employees control their own calendars, and are not required to be in the office if they can complete their tasks elsewhere.

I’ve read about ROWE and I think one of the primary objections will be on the part of many employees, oddly enough. When companies start realizing that they had 8 people sitting around browsing the web 7 hours a day and working 1 hour a day, they’ll be able to start cutting employees.  I know as a consultant I’m expected to be on-site simply to satisfy the client’s desire to know I’m “working”, when in reality I can complete most of my consulting work in a couple of hours a day.  But as long as companies expect “core hours” they will build inefficiency into the system AND overpay employees (and consultants).  Would most people be happier working in a ROWE environment?  Sure – if they are paid a salary.  If you’re in my shoes and can only bill 2 hours a day in a ROWE environment, but 8 if required to be on site – I don’t know how many people would happily agree to that.

ROWE certainly seems like a step in the right direction, but it’s embraced mainly as a transitional step from traditional employment. I think the future will be much more freelance-ish.  Employees will be treated more and more like freelancers (or will actually BE freelancers).  Companies will use them when they have work that needs doing, and let them go when they don’t.  If it wasn’t for the lack of national health care in America, I think we’d be even closer to that already.  ROWE fixes one problem:  employee dissatisfaction with core hours.  What it doesn’t fix is the problem of salary inequality.  Someone who works 20 hours a week at the same skill level as someone who works 60 hours a week shouldn’t be paid the same.  ROWE seems to assume that salaries are the norm – you’re paid a flat rate to do project work.  The more logical idea will be to start paying employees an hourly rate for effective time.  If you need three hours to complete a project, you get paid for three hours’ work.  If ROWE tells you that you get paid for a full eight-hour day when you only needed three hours to complete your work, then ROWE’s doomed to failure.

The future of American work is – hopefully – the smart convergence of a flexible workplace with government-provided healthcare and diligent knowledge-based workers. I like the idea of a lot of freelancers, or semi-freelancers, providing services to companies on an as-needed basis without fears about health care or retirement savings.  It may be a bit of a dream, but hey – that’s how I’m trying to configure my life so at a minimum I’m doing my bit to move the economic model that way.  I just wonder if that’s REALLY what everyone wants – to actually be paid for what they accomplish, rather than just the amount of time they are clocking in at the job.  I could be wrong, but I suspect most people want to be paid for showing up, not for delivering the goods.

photo credit: Isa Costa

Hunter has an interesting post on this subject that I commented on; it inspired this post.

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creative visualization versus buddhism

Yonggwang (Glory) Station, Pyongyang Metro, North Korea

In the early days of this blog, when I was still using Google’s blogger service, I wrote this article.  I think about 10 people read it.  So take a quick read and see if it’s worth reading, or whether I should’ve left it buried…

Probably like a lot of other self-improvement junkies I have always been mildly interested in the idea of Buddhism if not the actual practice of Buddhism. I have not really been exposed to it very often, and honestly most of my knowledge of it comes via movies like Seven Years In Tibet and Little Buddha. I also was very fond of a book, Zen Buddhism, which helped me learn the practice of clearing my mind before sleeping. I don’t think that was the point of the book, but the ability to fall asleep in 5 minutes or less every evening has been a great gift throughout my adult life.

Continue reading…

photo credit: yeowatzup

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who is the client?

Whether you work as an employee, a consultant, a small business owner or an entrepreneur you probably find yourself in a client relationship from time to time. In my case, I’m always serving a client.  Over time I’ve realized that a good question to ask yourself, as someone in client service, is “who is the client?”  I’ll approach this question as a consultant, but I think it applies to almost anyone who works with clients or even works in a company where they have to treat other employees as clients.

photo credit: gcoldironjr2003

Asking this question might seem stupid, but I think that it’s easy to confuse yourself. As an example, I usually have two (or more) people who might be THE client.  The first is a day-to-day manager, who lets me know what he or she needs and expects.  The manager might not be just one person, but for the sake of argument we’re just talking about a single person (I’ll call him or her or them The Manager).  The second person who might be THE client is the person who signs the invoices and – basically – pays me.  Usually the second person is the manager’s manager (or even a couple of times removed).  I may have some minimal relationship with that person (I’ll call him or her The Executive) and probably don’t get much daily direction from them.

So when conflict arises between The Manager and The Executive, who do I need to worry about? I know that my first instinct is to guarantee that The Manager is happy, since he’s the guy I have to deal with on a daily basis.  He has a better chance to judge whether the product of my work meets requirements or not, and if I don’t meet his requirements I’m going to be in trouble.

On the other hand, The Executive pays the bills. If she’s not happy with something I’m doing, or something The Manager is passing on to her that I’m doing, I may not have that client on my list much longer.  The Executive is the one hobnobbing with other executives and influential people in my industry, and a bad word here and there could really hurt me (and a good word could help me).  The Executive may not understand what I’m working on and may not be in a position to judge my work fairly, so a lot of my interaction with The Executive is probably brief presentations at high level meetings where a smile and a confident speaking tone make a bigger difference than the details of the work.

The easiest answer is to say “take care of both of them.” The truth is that in many consulting relationships (and this goes for employees, entrepreneurs, etc.) the consultant is usually swimming in turbulent waters.  The desire of The Manager to look “more useful” to The Executive than the consultant is often eddying just under the surface.  The Executive is often more concerned about how the consultants present in a meeting – can they sell the project?  make it look snazzy? – than whether the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed.

So given that you can’t please everyone all the time, what’s a poor consultant to do?

Early on in my career, I worked with a senior accountant on a difficult project – in the example above, he was The Manager.  I didn’t see eye to eye with her most of the time.  However, I was lucky to form a friendly professional bond with the overall project manager, who became a mentor to me and was The Executive.  I had some tough times with The Manager, and The Executive heard about it.  The Executive, however, knew me well enough to push me forward to other higher-profile projects and laud me to other executives.

In retrospect I was probably unfair to The Manager but I learned my lesson – please The Executive. Or did I learn my lesson?  At various times in my career on other projects I got carried away with the day-to-day tasks and forgot about The Executive.  When the project ended, The Manager looked like a star and The Executive barely knew who I was.  Again and again, I realized that the consultant who won the next project was not the detail guy, or the smartest guy, but the guy who forged the best relationship with The Executive.

That’s not to say that you can get by schmoozing without doing good work, but good work won’t do much for you without schmoozing. The relationship with The Executive is always critical to landing the next client.  The Manager may be able to help you as well, but chances are good that they won’t talk you up TOO much, fearing a reduction of their own image.

Identifying your client won’t always be easy, but it’s a part of the job that can’t ever be overlooked. If you can please everyone, congratulations – you’ve found an easy client.  If you can’t, make sure you know who The Executive is, and make sure they know who you are.  I think you’ll find that it makes all the difference – not just now, but in the future, too.

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what desperation looks like

I am going to be laid off soon. I know that sounds terrible, but I’m prepared for it. We live within our means, I have an alternative income stream (and I’m working on more of them) and I am always looking to earn more than I spend. I work with a lot of consultants and terrified Wall Street employees who don’t think the same way – their terror is “being laid off.” Their reaction to an arbitrary mass layoff is to scramble to the next mega-employer who is just as likely to lay them off in the next round of downsizing as their previous employer was.

Island in the stream
photo credit: James Jordan

The same people who crave stability and the idea of “never being without a paycheck” are often in the most unstable positions – they just don’t realize it. They are so dependent on the next paycheck that they can’t begin to imagine even two or three weeks without a paycheck. There are other people who never anticipate a paycheck – they are always working on freelance gigs or alternative income. I’m somewhere in-between; I welcome the chance to work on my alternative income streams when my paychecks from clients run low. For me it’s a challenge, and I think it’s largely because I’m willing to think of life without a paycheck. Too many people think that life without a paycheck almost literally means death and despair.

Many of the employees around me are in total terror of a single week without a paycheck. Their expenses continue without pause and their income stops at the drop of a hat. I am much more comfortable knowing that some of my income will trickle on even when my consulting income stops, and far more comfortable knowing that I have a long-term plan of succeeding with my alternative income – something far too many of my colleagues don’t even admit is possible. Most are consumed with worrying about their IRAs and 401(k)s that they aren’t eligible to touch for years and years. Their time would be better spent worrying about what they can do to make more money on the side, NOW.

What all of these people fail to realize is that the instability they feel in uncertain times like these arises from their own lifestyle, and not from the government or the corporations or “the economy.” Learning how to build prosperity, not just surviving paycheck-to-paycheck, is a big first step. Learning to live within your means gives you a more stable life. Learning to think more about making money than saving money helps create stability. Creating alternate wealthstreams in your life gives you stability. Getting a paycheck twice a month doesn’t guarantee any sort of stability at all.

Desperation arises naturally when people face an unknown future with limited choices for action. Creating more choices for yourself is the best way to avoid desperation. Being an employee is a necessary evil for a lot of people (and there are still, believe it or not, people out there who love their jobs). Health care benefits are a big reason. The idea that being employed is “more stable” is hammered into many of us from school age. Even an entrepreneur can tie up too much of his or her wealth into one stream. The real answer to desperate times is to constantly look for ways to start new “wealthstreams.” Just as a chair with four legs is more stable than one with three, a person with multiple income sources is always going to be more stable than someone with only one income source – regardless of who makes more in total.

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heading to the feds

Citizens of Canada
photo credit: ItzaFineDay

I’ve noticed an interesting trend recently. The trend isn’t based on a statistical study or anything other than anecdotal evidence, but I’ve noticed that more and more professionals are leaving the private sector and heading to governmental and other public jobs.  Why?  Quite simply put, the value of pensions and health care are starting to outweigh the cost of salary cuts.

I worry almost daily about the value of my 401k and my IRAs (and Bubelah’s). When we are older, these accounts will be the sole source of support for us, other than our children’s generosity.  Right now, those accounts don’t exactly look like a goldmine.  I am confident that my earning ability (and Bubelah’s, when she eventually returns to work) will be sufficient to support us, but at the same time I have no desire to work until I’m 70.  At a minimum, I want to be working solely for the joy of it by that point – I want my retirement savings to cover my living expenses, and my work to be solely for the sake of my own personal interest.

But given the current economic conditions, a lot of people are going to opt for the (currently) stable prospect of government employment. A pension, fully-paid health care and almost-guaranteed employment are tempting alternatives in the current maelstrom.  As people continually seek stability versus risk, government jobs are going to become more attractive.  I don’t think they provide the long-term growth potential than corporate (or especially entrepreneurial) positions do, but they don’t carry the risk of layoffs and the tedium of being judged on your merits, either.

My aspirations still point me to entrepreneurialism, but I understand the desire for safety in an uncertain world.
I simply find it amusing that once government and public sector jobs were looked down upon, but increasingly it appears that these jobs are becoming desirable.  Times they are a-changin’….

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the big social media post

Conversations Silhouettes by Kirsty Pargeter
I’m not entirely sold on the “social media” thing, but I’m trying it all out. I give almost every new service that drifts across my radar a shot. I love StumbleUpon and; I’m less sold on the value of some of the other services. That having been said, I recognize Twitter’s reach and FriendFeed’s potential.

If you have any interest, here are my social media links:

YouTube (nothing there yet – I plan to start putting vids up, though)

I’d also recommend pfbuzz and tip’d where I’m also operating under – surprise – bripblap.

photo credit: b_d_solis

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one more time

I wouldn’t recommend watching this unless you’re happy about last Tuesday.  In any case, it’s a very impressive summary of the events of the evening regardless of how you viewed the election.  Enjoy – I did.

what has changed in personal finance?

Like many people, I watched in amazement on Tuesday night. I also spent some time listening to people’s reactions over the last couple of days, and I realized that I wanted to get a few things off my chest.  A lot of people are expecting a lot of things – some negative, some positive.  I don’t think it’s the time to think about what might be.  Some basic lessons are still true:

  • You still have to spend less than you earn. Personal finance hasn’t changed since Tuesday.  It won’t change on January 20th, either.  The actions of the government have never mattered when it gets down to the basics:  pay yourself first.  Invest in yourself.  Work smart, not just hard.  Diversify your income streams.  Don’t stop
  • People who sit around fretting about “socialism” or “socialized medicine” or “higher taxes” or anything like this are not the next generation of rich people. Investors and business builders and ambitious salaried people are still forging ahead, and will always adapt and overcome.  Fortunes were made in the 40s when the top tax rate reached 95 percent.  Fortunes were made at every point in American history, regardless of where the government was headed.  I’m not saying smart planning isn’t valuable, but don’t start imagining the Russian Revolution of 1917.  The time to start saving, investing and building wealth is now; don’t worry about what might or might not happen tomorrow, or a year from now.
  • This election proved once again that for all of us focus, discipline and vision are at the heart of success, NOT biography. For the fifth straight election, war veterans lost to men with lesser (or no) military credentials, and I would argue it had nothing to do with experience and everything to do with the fact that the winners focused on the future, not on the past (their biographies).  This lesson hits me hard – and should hit anyone coasting on their laurels hard.  A little background:  I was rapidly promoted and given enormous responsibility early in my career because I was the guy willing to take the big clients, move overseas, and aggressively move up in the organization.  Then I plateaued.  I intentionally took a step back and coasted into contract consulting.  I did it because of my kids, and I’m not sorry I did, but my point is simply that it takes enormous effort to continue to excel in your career.  I would hope that even President-elect Obama’s opponents would realize that his dizzying rise to the presidency required, if nothing else, massive focus and discipline.

We are all alone.  We are all interrelated.
These two seemingly opposite statements are becoming more and more true every day.  We are alone; increasingly working Americans are forced to provide their own education, retirement, health care and child care.  You can argue whether this is a good thing or a bad thing – but the simple fact is that we are on our own more and more these days.  At the same time we are more and more interrelated; the fate of our community or city or state or country weighs on us heavily as individuals.  That $700 billion bailout is not going to be paid by “other people,” after all.  If you aren’t worried about millions of Baby Boomers retiring with minimal savings, you should be – it’s going to impact all of us.  We are all on our own, but our fates are all interrelated.

Nothing has changed in personal finance. Your goal has to be to live within your means, create wealth and once you have enough to support those close to you (friends, family, community) who need help.  Nothing the government does or doesn’t do alters this basic mission.  I won’t lie – I can’t see how our new president could be any worse than our current president, and honestly I think he’s going to be a lot – a LOT – better.  But that’s just my opinion, and only the passage of time will tell.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep saving, investing and diversifying my wealthstreams.  I’m not waiting for anything to change.

photo credit: Untitled blue

I am amazed

barack obama

After Senator Obama passed 270 last night, I went to sleep. Hopefully now that the presidential election’s over I’ll be able to return my full attention to problogging, wealthbuilding and personal finance.  A good time, though, all in all – I love presidential election campaigns.

But today, I am quite happy.  As a Southerner, I never thought I’d see this day and I’m glad I was wrong.  America has the ability to continually amaze.  There are no limits for ANY of us…

photo credit: patrick dentler