the only impediment to change is yourself

tomorrow

I entered accounting for a simple reason. Having spent time in Germany during high school as an exchange student, I wanted to get back.  I realized two semesters into my mathematics PhD that getting a PhD in math was clearly not going to help me achieve this goal.  I also thought that it wouldn’t achieve another goal, which I believe at the time was critical: making money.  So I dropped out my PhD program and spent a long time trying to come up with a list of career paths that would make money and let me live a jet-setting life.  Be careful what you wish for.

My MBA helped me achieve one of my goals: I lived the jet-set lifestyle.  I traveled for ten years to all corners of the globe – from Siberia to Indonesia to South America to Boston (Boston was colder than Siberia).  I made a lot of money.  I thought this was what a career was, and by any measure I was quite successful.  I zipped right up the corporate ladder and thought the progression up was itself purpose and goal, wrapped into one.

During that time I had one – 1 – boss I liked working for, out of maybe 5 or 6. That’s not a good ratio.  A saying I heard once – I wish I remember where – was that the only common element in all of your bad relationships is you, so I’m sure that some of the bosses weren’t bad – I was just a bad employee.  That may be.  I always had the skills to do the job, and I did my job well (at least that’s what my performance reviews and clients always said).  But something was wrong, and it got worse as time went by. That’s when I realized that the net enjoyment I was getting out of my job had turned negative.  Long hours, tense relationships with bosses, and a stressful profession started taking their toll.  After I got married I knew things had to change.

I like to think of myself as a risk-taker when it comes to my career, and yet at the same time I am risk-averse. I abruptly changed career paths in college, going from a mathematics PhD program to an MBA program.  I went to live and work in Russia during the chaotic 90s.  I have worked on audits and frauds where I had bodyguards to protect me.  But I hated taking risks and my risk-taking muscle atrophied over the years – or maybe it just got strained from overwork.  I wasn’t ready to leap from paycheck world to entrepreneurial world, so I took a halfway step, going to contract consulting.  I just couldn’t imagine going further, even though I wanted to – badly.

In retrospect this was a mistake. The early aughts (whatever we’re going to end up calling this decade) were a good time to take a chance.  My wife was still working, we didn’t have kids yet and the market favored individuals, not companies.  Most importantly, I needed to do something different.  If I learned one thing from my half-hearted shift to consulting, it is this little nugget, oft-repeated and seldom heeded:

THERE WILL NEVER BE A BETTER TIME TO MAKE BIG CHANGES IN YOUR LIFE/CAREER/HEALTH/WEALTH/ETC. THAN RIGHT NOW.

Don’t think that next year will be the year you can finally get fit, or get out of this dead-end job, or start paying down that debt, or get around to skydiving or writing that novel or having kids or…well, whatever. It is time-worn advice, and I know many people (including me) dismiss it – eh, I’ve got the thing coming up with the people and the stuff… maybe tomorrow I’ll get on it.

I knew I was sick of corporate life. I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore.  I still don’t.  I have not missed it at all.  I thought I might be more nervous, or miss the interaction or the environment but I don’t.  At all.  And I can pinpoint the moment at which I got sick of working in this environment – the moment at which the net enjoyment went from positive to negative for the first time. You want to know the awful answer?

My first week at work after I graduated from college.

Yep.

As I said, there were points when I was traveling to places I never would have gone (or chosen to go) when I was deeply grateful for my job. But I could have spent my time earning less money and taking more time off as a teacher after getting a math PhD and traveling (on a budget, admittedly) to the same places.  Traveling for business took me to some neat places, but some – like Warsaw, for example – I remember in conference rooms and hotel rooms and hotel bars and restaurants.   Many nights I ate dinner at 10 pm in the Warsaw Sheraton at the bar after another 16 hour day.  The only time I ever got to “see” Warsaw was when I took a day off after three weeks of 16 hour days to spend time with a former colleague of mine and her sister.  I saw the city for the first time after working there for three months.

But the big paychecks and the big travel and the big meetings all failed to deliver net enjoyment. I realized that I enjoy being at home most of the time, reading, writing, learning and maybe even playing. I know the pay’s not as good, but the net benefit to me is tremendous.  The net benefit to my family is significant.   I took risks to leave the US and work in a chaotic and dangerous country (at least, it was then)  once before.  Should I be scared to leave the corporate world?  Yes, but that shouldn’t stop me.  I left behind hundreds of colleagues who are OK with that kind of work – the pay makes it worth it, or the sense of self-worth from working on Wall Street or just the opportunity to get away from home a few days a week.  Not for me, and if it’s not for you, you shouldn’t wait until the perfect time to make a change either.

photo by taiyofj

6 things to study for the well-rounded mind

smart-drug

What are the best subjects to learn for business – and life – success? If anyone sat down to identify the perfect secondary (and maybe college) education, I doubt they would come up with today’s average American curriculum. While there are plenty of courses in basic skills (reading, writing, mathematics, and so on) many other just as critical basic skills are overlooked (personal finance, homemaking, health/physical education). What are some of the critical components missing from our national curriculum?

From my own personal experience, I can suggest a few, but there are probably many more you can think of easily. I could also bash a few courses I took, but an argument can always be made for “knowledge for knowledge’s sake.” I believe that sincerely. I have never, for example, “used” A Tale of Two Cities in my day-to-day life, but I’m glad I was forced to read it, stuck with it and finished it. Experiences like that created a love of reading for me. Other subjects I guess can be chalked up to “generally good to know although not terribly useful.” For me this included subjects like biology and mythology (one semester of “English” was actually spent studying mythology, which apparently means “Greek mythology” since we didn’t study anything else (not even the excellent D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths). While those subjects were sometimes interesting, I didn’t learn much from either except that I don’t like biology and that you shouldn’t steal fire from the gods.

Here are a few subjects that are very useful, and why:

1. Typing. Out of all of the courses I’ve taken in my life, this one has made the most profound difference in my daily life. I took a typing course in high school, back when it meant learning to pound out “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” 500 times on a MANUAL typewriter. However, the experience taught me how to type, and very, very well, which means I can blaze away typing even while carrying on a conversation or reading something else. I doubt I have to explain to anyone who uses a computer why lightning-fast typing speed is useful.

2. Speech. I took a public speaking class that changed my life. Before that class, like everyone, I was nervous about speaking. After it, I was still nervous, but I learned that it was a temporary nervousness and that anything was possible. We had to give speeches to groups, recite monologues, debate, take questions and almost any type of “speaking in front of a crowd” activity you can think of. To this day I am relaxed and confident speaking to any group; I have addressed 2000 people or 10 board directors or 1 interviewer with equal calm.

3. Personal finance. I didn’t ever take a personal finance course, and I wish I had. Everything I learned about finance before college came from my parents, my grandparents about money, part 1 | brip blap or my own reading. A course that taught me things they weren’t as familiar with or not as proficient with – real estate dealings come to mind – would have been a great learning experience for me. That having been said, I’m sure personal finance would use textbooks sponsored by Capital One and tout the benefit of home equity loans to consolidate credit card debt.

4. Physical education. As a varsity athlete I was exempt from physical education, but I wish I hadn’t been. Learning to do some very basic “normal” training would have been helpful. I focused all of my energy on preparation for one sport (tennis) rather than general fitness. This had disastrous results later in life.

5. Homemaking. Don’t laugh. I think learning how to cook could save this country billions in health care costs. Imagine if people could actually prepare healthy food at home. My mother is a terrific cook, and I never had any motivation throughout high school to learn how to cook. I went straight from there to a fraternity house where meals were provided. When I finally started living on my own, my gourmet best was frozen pizza…

6. Civics. I took a civics course, but it was ridiculous. My wife, who is an immigrant, was required to undergo detailed testing before she obtained US citizenship on the Constitution, US history and civic life. Now, it may not be necessary for everyone in this country to know how many Congressmen there are or how many Supreme Court justices there are (although they should) but everyone should know the Bill of Rights and their civic duties (jury duty and so on).

Optional Bonus #7: A foreign language. Now, many people might disagree with me on this suggestion, and of course many people feel a certain nationalistic need to defend English as “America’s language” or French as “Belgium’s language” or whatever.  I don’t really think most people need to become fluent in a foreign language, and I’ve been a great proponent of the world agreeing on a true lingua franca – a second language everyone would learn.  As of today, that language might be English – it’s fairly easy to learn and already quite widespread.  But 100 years from now it might be Portuguese, or Spanish.  Who knows, who cares.  The point is that foreign languages open up your mind.  Studying a foreign language helps you understand that different people think differently.  That’s invaluable, in my opinion.  My life so far has taken a vastly different direction than it might have thanks to my study of foreign languages – especially Russian.  You can see why by reading an old post of mine, “boosting your career with an overseas stint“.

You could go on, but these are some basic courses that would make a big difference in the US population. They are not taught often enough, and it’s a shame they aren’t. I am amazed to this day when I see people hunt-and-peck on the keyboard – not because I blame them, but because that’s not a basic required course for graduation from high school today. The same goes for the other 5 subjects up there. It’s hard to say when they will be required – or if they ever will be – but we can hope.

The Pros and Cons of Being Self-Employed

Owning your own business can be both challenging and rewarding. There are some things that you will want to consider before taking the plunge and opening your own business, especially if you are new to working for yourself. Here are some of the basic rewards and concerns that most new business owners have experienced.

Becoming the Boss

Working as your own boss is one of the pros of owning your own business. You may find that you like going to work every day when you are the one in charge of running the operation. Being the boss is also challenging, no matter what the size or type of business you are working in. You will be the person that has to deal with any problems and will need to multi-task throughout the day to ensure all of the details are taken care of. It does take a lot of commitment to become the owner of a small business.

Business owners are among the busiest of all employees. You are the person that deals with customers, employees, production, and may be in charge or hiring and firing employees. If you are just beginning a small business, it does take a little time to adjust to all of the demands of owning a business. Of course, being your own boss and making all the decisions are also very rewarding, as well.

Work Ethic

Owning your own business can be very time consuming. As the boss, you may find that you need to spend more hours at work than ever before. being able to make most of the decisions does mean that you are responsible for the outcome, but it also means that you are able to enjoy the rewards, too. If you think that owning a business will allow you to just hire someone to do your work, the truth is that you will be disappointed. Working hard is the key to making your business successful.

Once you business has become successful, however, you may find you get to work less and enjoy more time away from work. Having a business that runs smoothly is the ultimate reward, since you have less to worry about and more time to enjoy the profits of your business.Since you are in charge, however, you also get to determine your earnings.

Profits

Along with being your own boss, you also get to decide how important profits are. While you may not get a traditional salary when you own your own business, you do get to determine how much money you make. With a successful business, the profits can quickly become surprisingly high. If you are committed to making your business successful, you can easily meet your goals to earn more profits than you have ever imagined. With the right business plan and some hard work, you can see a small business blossom into a booming enterprise.

The more profits that you earn, the more you have to enjoy. While you do have to pay the overhead for your business establishment and your employees, the profits are all yours to keep. You can decide where your profits go, too, whether you choose to expand your business or you want to begin saving for retirement. All of the responsibility are yours when you own your own business, but so are all the profits. You may decide that running a small business is something that pay off well in long-term rewards, despite the many challenges that you face.

Your Personal Beliefs

Another benefit of owning your own business is that you can meet and exceed your personal expectations for running a business. For example, if you are concerned about the environment you can begin selling eco-friendly alternatives to products that are popular on the market today or you can use Earth friendly manufacturing practices. Owning your own business is a wonderful way to ensure your personal expectations for quality and customer service are met. You also get to decide the type of business you own, with choices that range from service based to manufacturing.

Making all of the decisions takes some time to become accustomed to, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t own your own business. After a few weeks of running your own business, you will find that it becomes much simpler and less time consuming than you may have expected. There are many benefits to owning your own business, so don’t be intimidated by the challenges that you will face along the way. You will eventually be able to relax and enjoy more profits for much less work than you could have ever anticipated.

Miles Walker is a freelance writer and blogger who usually compares car insurance deals over at CarinsuranceComparison.Org.