The 5 Lies of Entrepreneurship

image of kittens in cat carrierI was past 40 before it occurred to me that I could really be an entrepreneur.

Even the word always seemed to carry so much stress.

Mortgaging your house to make payroll. (And then having the company die anyway.) Dumping an unfair workload onto your spouse. Broken promises to your kids.

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The Law of Anti-Attraction

image of a tiara
I recently got an email from someone whose comments aren’t going through on that other blog I write for.

I let him know that the spam plugin Akismet was probably snagging them, and he responded to let me know that was a “piss poor” answer.

Apparently I should dig through the tens of thousands of spam messages to find his comments. Which, given the tone of his email, I’m sure were constructive and insightful.
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How to Quit Being a Badass

biker guyI have a friend who’s creating a business.

Actually, I have lots of friends who are creating businesses. And this is a story that reflects many of their journeys. One person inspired this particular story, but her story is the story of many people I know.

She got an idea she was passionate about. She collected great advice. She worked out a plan. She dreamed big. She found her courage. She leapt.

You know that expression “leap and the net will appear?” The net didn’t appear. In fact, it looked like it was the floor that was going to appear. Quickly.

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Oprah, The Biggest Loser, and Your Success

keepfitbehappy
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I do get to the gym a few times a week, generally right when Oprah is on. (Could be a lot worse. Jerry Springer, for example.)

A few weeks ago, she had some of the old contestants from the reality show The Biggest Loser. This is, to me, vastly more interesting than watching the actual show could be.

It’s one thing to lose tons of weight while at a ranch where there’s nothing to do all day long but work out and get yelled at by trainers. (Still an incredible and impressive amount of work. But not reality.)

It’s another to make the choices every day to maintain a healthier weight and lifestyle.

One gentleman in particular made a big impression on me. “For 15 seconds, I weighed 182 pounds and won a game show,” he said. His weight has gone up quite a lot since then, although he’s still managed to consistently stay 100 pounds below what he weighed when he first appeared on the show.

If you’re still a fat person in a skinny body, nothing’s going to change

He understood (intellectually) what to do. He knew all about working out and nutrition. And he wanted to be thin.

But his mindset didn’t match his temporarily sleek exterior. And as soon as he wasn’t in the hyper controlled environment created by a TV show, he started to revert to what his mindset told him was his “true” nature.

Money works exactly the same way

I’ve been working for the past few weeks with a money coach. (Actually, Gary’s more of a financial and business and lifestyle and happiness and freedom coach.)

A lot of what we work on is getting me to get what I already know. Internalizing it. Making it real. Strengthening my self reliance. Weakening my tendency to be cheap with myself. And knocking holes in the idea that Nice People Don’t Make Money.

To be successful, you need three things

You need good-quality information about ways to create success. (There are lots and lots of ways to do it. You just need to focus on one that suits you, and to make sure the information you’re getting is reliable.)

You need the will and the ability to translate that information into action. If you’re locked in Guantanamo, you won’t be able to do much to create the results you want. That’s true even if your Guantanamo is mainly psychological.

And you need a mindset that won’t set off little booby-traps to undermine all your work.

The thing about working on mindset is, if you get it in the right place, the first two become a whole lot easier.

Of course, you still need to take action. It’s not the Law of Attraction or magic beans in any way. It might look and feel like the universe is shifting around to take care of you, but actually it’s just what the world looks like when you get out of your own way.

As we weather the massive “economic climate change” that’s occurring all around us, we’re going to need to think about the world very differently.

We’re going to need to unlearn the mental habits we picked up by working for companies. Even good companies.

We’re going to need to re-evolve, from cube dwellers to hunter/gatherers on the open plain.

It’s more fun. It’s more stressful. It’s more difficult. It’s more dangerous. It’s more rewarding.

I don’t believe it’s optional, personally. The corporate cube isn’t the safe haven it was even a year or two ago. We need to find our true self-reliant nature again.

P.S.

My coach, Gary, has a new group program available with really excellent introductory pricing. If you’re looking for someone who can help you gently but effectively shift your thinking, I can highly recommend him.

This isn’t an affiliate link. I don’t make a nickel, whether 1 person signs up or 100 do. I’ve just gotten so much out of working with him, and I’d love to see more people benefit from what he has to offer. Max Life Coaching

I’m going to be Gary’s first guest speaker, so if you want to hear our call on the real way to use social media in your marketing, that’s how you would do that.

P.P.S.

Gary and I are also working with a terrific designer to make his site look less generic and show more of the warm, nice, generous person he is. So if the design makes you think it might be too corporate or business-y or “not you,” keep that in mind.

P.P.P.S.

The self-serving bit for me, of course, comes when you have a killer financial mindset and are ready to start or grow your business. Then you’ll be in a great position to buy lots of marketing information from me. So really it’s all about me and my needs. Pretty sneaky of me, eh?

What I Love About My Job

super-yay
So yesterday I gave a talk at Naomi Dunford’s membership site, SpeakEasy. (SpeakEasy is closed to new members now, but I’ll let you know if/when it opens up again. I’m a member myself and I think it’s an amazing value.)

I got to talk for an hour about all the things I’m a total dork about. Then I got to answer questions for another hour and a half.

This is pretty much like saying “I got to have an ice cream sundae and then homemade raspberry croissants and then chocolate cream pie.” It’s a good thing.

It really made me think about what a wonderful job this is. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts with you about that.

Helping people!

Seriously, it’s an amazing feeling when someone asks a question, you think, Cool, I have a really good answer for that, and you can share your experience with them and get them moving again.

It’s not at all about being some kind of creepy guru. It’s just about having done a bunch of stuff and seen what works and what doesn’t, and sharing that experience with someone who can use it.

It rocks. So much.

The friends

I’m reluctant to even start listing names here, because there are so many amazing people I’ve met since I started blogging.

Brian, of course, who has taught me so much. Naomi, who was one of the first people who started hanging out here, and who I fell in love with at first sight. Jon, who knocks me out daily. Dave, who wants to save the world (and is so productive that I think he might). Charlie, a magnificent wall of support and wonderfulness. Joanna, with her gimlet eye and her wise, warm voice. Pace and Kyeli, who believe the world is awesome, and make us believe it too. Karen, the world’s most reliable source of sunshine. Janice with her panache and the color in her words. Michael, the cranky un-guru who makes me laugh. James, my pesky little brother (big brother? I can never keep track) who I love. The other James who is so damned smart and who helps me to remember to be optimistic. Jeff, who has been so kind and so generous. Brogan, the most big-hearted guy I’ve ever met.

Shit, I’m forgetting people, and I think someone is going to cue the Oscar music.

(If you’re not on the list, it’s because my brain just melted from gratitude and amazement and I couldn’t think of any more names. But I love you too!)

Seriously, the people in this thing are amazing. Every day I meet smart, funny, active (hyperactive), kickass people who are doing something. Some of these folks are rich and some are still working on it, but all of them are working every day to help other people.

I’ve never experienced that before, at least not to this degree. It’s completely exhilarating.

The money

Um, way better than corporate life. That’s all I’ll say about that.

The stress

Specifically, the kind of stress.

When you’re in a big organization, your stress tends look like this:

I know this idea would rock and make money and not cost a lot and make our customers love us. I also know that it will die a premature death because someone who makes 20x what I do will veto it for a reason we will all agree makes no sense whatsoever.

My forehead has permanent dents in it from crashing it against the wall of my (admittedly nice) corporate office.

When you do what I do now, your stress looks more like this:

Oops, that thing worked completely differently than I thought it would. Now I need a new sales letter, new sign-up page, new autoresponder, new order form and new blog. In the next four hours. Fire up the espresso machine, mama needs to kickstart those brain cells.

The stress in this gig is fun. Still stressful, but fun.

The security

When I left corporate life, people wanted to know, “Aren’t you worried about security?”

You know what? I’m not going to lay myself off.

If my business model quits working, I have a dozen more models I can implement. I know a hundred ways to give value to other people, and a hundred ways to get paid for that.

That’s security. Or as close to it as you get in this world, anyway.

The partnerships

If there’s anything I miss about corporate life, it might be working on a team with incredible people. I had my share of frustrations, but I also have to say that I’ve worked with some people who just took my breath away. (You guys know who you are.)

But, hey, I can still have that!

When I talked with Naomi at South by Southwest about doing something together, she said “Yes” so fast it made me a little dizzy.

(OK, the dizziness may have been aggravated by the margaritas.)

Since then we’ve been talking on the phone and by email, cooking up really juicy stuff for our nice people. (I’m hoping this will be the first of many. Naomi is way fun to work with, and we feed off each other’s energy. And people seem to find us entertaining. Or maybe it’s just my attempt to keep up with Naomi’s cursing that they find amusing.)

Yesterday on the SpeakEasy call, we announced the first project in what we’re calling Marketing for Nice People.

If you’ve been waiting, yep, this is the Third Tribe. It’s marketing reality, not just marketing ideas. It’s what works now, even in this bizarre economy and crazy sea of marketing clutter. And it won’t make you want to put your eye (or other body parts) out.

This is about a business that pays your mortgage and feeds your heart. At the same time. Go figure.

We’re kicking it off with some good free stuff to get you rolling. One piece of which is the recording of the SpeakEasy call, which was about “non-sleazy copywriting.” It was a terrific call and people seemed to get a tremendous amount out of it. (Caveat, the audio quality is not great. Sorry. Working on it.)

If you want to get that teleclass and some other high-quality goodies, you can sign up for them here. And no, we’re never going to spam you with a lot of creepy high-pressure sales messages. That would be pretty lame.

Sign up for the good free stuff

Thank you

I want to thank everyone who reads this blog and Copyblogger. And more thanks to the lovely people who follow me on Twitter.

Thanks for your time and attention, thanks for letting me go on about my passions, thanks for buying our products and letting us share what we know.

I hope you find as much fulfillment, excitement and connection on your own path. Something tells me you will.

We’re just getting started.

(5/8/09 P.S., duh, can’t believe I forgot to point you guys to the Sonia and Naomi interview on Copyblogger. It’s got entertainment value, at least, but also some pretty smart advice from the asterisk queen.)

Do We Really Need Brass Balls?

Along with the notion that an entrepreneur has to be a ruthless warrior, there’s another metaphor that gets used a lot for small business owners–you’ve gotta have brass balls.

Apart from the irritating implication that only people with certain kinds of plumbing get to be successful, once you start meeting a lot of extremely successful people, you realize that this “requirement” is completely bogus.

I’ve done quite a bit of work with a gentleman who founded a billion-dollar company. He’s about as decisive as a squirrel trying to cross the street.

He’s prone to massive anxiety (and creating the same in the people who work with him). He makes a lot of fear-based decisions. He can be a little hysterical.

He’s also smart, resourceful, knows his customer incredibly well, and has boundless enthusiasm and energy for his business.

I’m not going to speculate on the makeup of the man’s testicles, but I don’t think anyone would use the term brass.

I know another entrepreneur, a woman who runs a top-of-the-line consultancy. She manages a team of 20 coaches who transmit her expertise to her clientele. She’s better than anyone at what she does because she’s more empathetic and more perceptive than her competitors, so she creates better solutions for her customers.

Is she a confident, self-assured businesswoman? Sure she is. Does anyone tell her she has brass balls? I suppose it’s possible, but that’s probably the last way you’d describe this woman’s warm, elegant style.

For various reasons, I’ve come into contact with many people at the height of success. They vary quite a bit. Some of them are megalomaniac control freaks. Some of them are head cases. Quite a few of them are low-key, quiet types that you would never guess made millions of dollars a year.

Success requires a commitment to consistent, focused action, and the ability to figure out the right kind of action to focus on. It requires either luck or talent. (If you’re lucky enough to get both, you can make it happen faster.) Usually it requires mentors, or at least good models.

Brass balls, however, are entirely optional. You have my permission to succeed wildly without them.

(Yes, I know the picture is of brass bells. But sorry, I am not going to sully my nice blog design with a photo of trucknutz.)

Why This is the Best Time to Finally Break Free

I’ve been thinking about Moscow again.

I was there in the late spring of 1997. I can still remember gripping the arm rest on the plane as we circled the dachas outside the city.

I was terrified. I thought of Moscow as the “Wild, Wild East” (It turns out it had calmed down considerably since, say, 1994, when the mafiya is reputed to have used subway cars for target practice–while the commuters were still in them.)

But I was researching a novel and somehow I was more curious than afraid.

I fell in love with the city immediately. I loved the energy, the half-intelligible murky soup of Russian, the Caucasian grubbiness of the “things market” and even the black-and-gray crows. It wasn’t anything like the Orwellian clichés of anti-Soviet propaganda. It helps that the city was celebrating its 850th anniversary, so the mayor had ordered that the whole city be given a good paint job.

But it wasn’t really the Byzantine golden domes or the breathtaking scale of Red Square that got me. It was the people.

Every person I met was reinventing himself

Russia had completely overturned its economic system. Everyone needed to find a new way to make a living. The old rules had been thrown out the window, and no one knew what the new rules were going to be.

I remember spending an afternoon with a cynical hipster named Yuri. Before glasnost, he’d been a third-generation propaganda artist. His family had the official license to reproduce Lenin’s signature for political posters. (And before glasnost, political posters were the only kind of posters there were.)

When Yuri was 20, he figured he’d copy Lenin’s signature for the rest of his working life, as his father had done. When overnight that turned out not to be viable, he became a Photoshop wiz and started hitting up the new breed of entrepreneurs. He started teaching them about this whole advertising thing, even while he was learning it himself.

On the side, he was a rock star. Rock stars still needed day jobs in 1997.

That was Moscow.

The illusion of privilege

Yuri was also a documentary filmmaker. He showed us some video he’d just shot in Paris, of three sullen French boys in black leather complaining about unemployment.

We watched it and laughed until tears ran down our faces. Even me, who had only been in Moscow a few days.

It was preposterous to watch these overgrown children sit on their Versace-clad backsides and bitch. These were not the lean, angry boys from outside the city, who truly are locked out of opportunity. They were privileged kids with superb educations whose parents had tony apartments in fashionable neighborhoods.

It was shocking to listen to them whine about the fact that not everything was being handed to them any more. To watch them smoke cigarette after cigarette and wish things would get more comfortable, so they could go back to sleep.

Watching them from Moscow, a cauldron of hustle and reinvention and drive, was ludicrous. But if I’d first encountered them through friends in Paris, I probably would have felt badly for them.

I’m not calling you a crybaby

Believe me, you’re nothing like these three pouty boys were. I have no patience with people who say that the recession has been “manufactured by the media,” or that the sickening economic crisis is “just in your head.”

If you’ve just been laid off, that’s not in your head. If your mortgage is due and you don’t know how to pay it, that’s not manufactured by anyone. It’s hard and it’s real and you have my empathy.

We’ve all been shaken up hard. You have every right to be scared.

Maybe this shake-up isn’t quite glasnost, but it’s getting there. Maybe we aren’t in Moscow yet, but we can see it from here.

So rather than freefalling, leap.

Obsessively study something new. Take massive action. Throw away your TV. Find the partner who will put the last piece into place. (Yes, Partnering Profits is closed now, but it will open up again.)

Start a side business or a second job or a third, something that can break you out to a completely new place.

Feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels?

Have you been trying to create a business online, or to build a content net that can support you? Trying to make something happen, but not seeing any movement?

Maybe you haven’t been spinning your wheels after all. Maybe you’ve been getting ready for take-off.

In 10 years, look back at this as the time you faced disaster by reinventing yourself and creating something truly new.

The winds are shifting. We’re rewriting all the rules. This is the time to be more curious than afraid.

How to Survive the End of the World

A six-mile wide chunk of cosmic trash came screaming toward us faster than a missile. In 10 minutes, the face of the earth changed forever.

No one could have seen it coming, telescopes being short in supply at the end of the Cretaceous period (and T-rexes not being very good at fiddling with the focus knobs).

The year that followed was literally hellish. The Gulf of Mexico vaporized nearly instantly. A rain of molten debris set off forest fires that engulfed half the earth’s wooded areas. Uncontrolled swarms of insects hatched to feast on the corpses of the 76% of the earth’s species that had suddenly become extinct. And a cloud of soot and space dust created a night that lasted for six straight months.

(Thank you, PBS. Have I ever mentioned my love of nature programs? Heroes and Lost have nothing on this.)

Sound familiar?

Is there maybe a teeny tiny little part of you that thinks this is a pretty good metaphor for the cascading crashes we’re seeing right now in the economy?

Who survives the unsurvivable?

So what made it? Some birds, a lot of bugs, a few weird looking little proto-mammals, and crocodiles.

It turns out that crocodiles are exceptionally good at surviving unimaginable awfulness.

So can a tough, formidable lizard teach you something about making it when things get really, really bad? Maybe.

Adaptability is king

Any dinosaurs that might have survived the initial meteor impact (and subsequent tidal waves and forest fires) were probably killed off by the six months of darkness. Plant-eaters don’t do too well when there’s no photosynthesis. And predators don’t do too well when there are no more plant-eaters to munch on.

Crocodiles, on the other hand, eat both live and dead prey. Their stomachs can tolerate just about anything. All that gross bacteria in dead stuff? Not a problem.

P.S., they can see in the dark. While T. Rex was stumbling around looking for a light switch, crocodiles were efficiently eating their way through an all-you-can-eat buffet.

It’s easy to assume crocodiles are as stupid as most reptiles, but they actually can learn new tasks surprisingly quickly. (This according to studies carried out by extremely brave scientists. Let’s face it, putting a crocodile through a maze has got to be trickier than doing it with a lab rat.)

Crocodiles may not go through the philosophical and playful mental gymnastics that we primates do, but they’re surprisingly wily at solving the problems they need to solve.

A crocodile can also, if pressed, go about two years without eating. So things can get pretty darned bad for quite awhile, and they’ll pull through.

The original 80/20 rule

Crocodiles don’t do a damned thing when there’s nothing worth doing. If there’s no food around, they lie there. (It probably helps that they can slow their heart rate to 3 beats per minute.)

When there is food around, they become incredibly fast. When it’s time to act, they act, with horrifying efficiency. When it’s time to lie low, they lie low.

Crocodiles don’t thrash around in a panic when there’s no point. Instead, they lie there (in that creepy way they have) getting ready for the next opportunity.

Sometimes it’s useful to just be a mean SOB

Crocodiles don’t spend a lot of time wondering if they deserved to survive the worst thing that ever happened on earth. They don’t mourn all the other cool species they used to hang out with. They don’t spend their time missing the tender and delicious creatures they used to snack on in the good old days.

Crocodiles take what’s available and they make it work. I’m not advocating adopting a crocodile’s meanness, but we could all do with their lack of self pity.

So should we be crocodiles?

 

I don’t think I’d like the life of a crocodile. It’s too narrowly focused, too selfish, and too heartless.

But I’m willing to adopt some of their more admirable traits. I’m willing to expand my repertory of ways to make a living, and to develop multiple strategies that will work together so I can thrive no matter where I find myself.

I’m willing to learn to navigate weird new environments.

I’m willing to scale back when that makes sense, and to scale up again when the time is right.

I’m willing to save my energy for projects that will pay off, instead of racing around squandering my energy on ego-driven tasks that will never bear real fruit.

I’m not willing to be mean, but I am willing to move aggressively toward what I want. And I’m willing to quit whining about how easy it used to be.

How about you? What traits are you calling on to survive the great meteor blast? Let us know in the comments.

If you like this post, please link to, Stumble, or Tweet it!

Flickr Creative Commons images by Tom@HK

How to Get Delightfully Rich
(and Still Keep Your Soul)

Thinking about the post I would write for Blog Action Day, I started to realize just how powerful this “poverty” idea is. In the developed world, swimming the way we are in material abundance that we can’t really see, just changing your thinking about poverty can have profound implications for the kind of success you can start to create.

I don’t believe in the Law of Attraction, but I know from experience that you tend to see more of what you focus on. Focus on poverty and you’ll see more poverty. Focus on wealth and you’ll see more wealth. And just like keeping your eyes on the road ahead when you’re driving, you have a natural tendency to “go where you’re looking.”

I see two patterns that tend to shape the lives of both rich people and poor people.

Rich People Learn from Experience that Taking Action Leads to Results

Poor People Learn from Experience that Taking Action Is Pointless

Now here’s the interesting part:

If You’re Reading this Blog, You Get to Be in Group #1

You have Internet access. Which means you either have a computer or at least access to a good library. You can read. You live in a place with infrastructure. You have access to components that you can put together to fix people’s problems and create success for yourself.

Just as important as any of this, you have essentially unlimited access to models of success. You can find the stories, techniques, tactics, resources and mindset of thousands of successful people. Do what they do, and you’ll start to succeed. Do a little more, and you’ll succeed faster.

You have the privilege of deciding to believe that if you take action, you’ll get results.

Now you do need to keep one thing in mind:

The Odds of Failure Are Pretty Close to 100%

If something’s worth doing at all, you’re going to have to work through some cycles of “huh, nope, that wasn’t it.”

Because rich people know that taking action leads to results, this doesn’t bug them. What some of us call “failures,” they call “data points.” They figure it’s a particular approach or technique or vendor or marketing message that didn’t work, and they try a different one. They know that if they take enough action, they’ll get a good result. So they just keep taking action until that happens. Tweak and relaunch, tweak and relaunch until the thing starts moving in the right direction.

Successful people fail as quickly as they possibly can so they can find the thing that won’t fail.

Poverty Is Not an Illusion

It’s become chic in successful circles to say that poverty is all about mindset, that it’s just a bad dream and all the poor need to do is snap out of it. Essentially, that poor people are poor because they are stupid, lazy, or just misguided.

This is bullshit. Lack of infrastructure is not an illusion. Catastrophic crop failure is not an illusion. The complete absense of success models is not an illusion. The limitations faced by a woman with HIV who can’t get out of bed, and the 10 orphaned kids she can no longer take care of, are not an illusion.

You Can Take Action to Eliminate Poverty in Our Lifetime

That woman with HIV? Your donation can get her antiviral medication. An organization ships the medication to her country. A volunteer gets on a bicycle and brings it to her house, and shows her how to take the drugs. She gets out of her bed and starts to take care of those orphaned kids again. It’s called the Lazarus Effect, and it’s happening every day.

The thing that kept her on that death bed wasn’t her illusion, it was ours: that HIV is too big a problem to stop, that the millions who are dying, and the children they leave behind, are beyond our hope. Better not think about it, because it’s too big a problem to fix.

Except it isn’t. We in the developed world can make donations, and incredibly passionate, energetic people will turn those donations into saved lives.

We take action, and that action leads to results. We are rich.

Your Success is an Obligation

I read something recently–that the word “opportunity” should be replaced with “obligation.” (Was this in Chris Brogan’s latest newsletter? I’m dying to reread the quote but I can’t find it.)

No matter how freaked out you are about the economy today, you aren’t dying on a mat on the floor, too weak to move, with no idea how your kids will eat tomorrow. You are, in fact, gloriously wealthy and successful. You are awash in abundance, and if the TV news has been making you forget that, turn off the TV news.

You get to make a decision. Keep your head or lose it. Focus on finding the path to more success than ever before, or focus on how frightened you are, and become too weak to take care of yourself or anyone else.

All this economic garbage doesn’t mean things will get worse for you. These are millionaire-making times. When a lot of people face big scary problems, you can create a lot of success for yourself in solving those problems.

The keys to wealth are confidence and a habit of action. You can create more of both for yourself by making a donation to help the genuinely poor. (And yes, there are plenty of genuinely poor people right in this country.)

Not because you feel guilty. But because when you take action that helps someone who needs a hand, you benefit and they benefit.

A Lot of Us Think these Two Outcomes Are Mutually Exclusive

  • There is less suffering in the world.
  • There is more money in your pocket.

These two things in fact can go very nicely hand-in-hand. Believing otherwise is the most toxic illusion of all.

No one succeeds because you fail.

Here are some charities I like a lot because I can easily visualize how they turn my dollars into action. I can recommend that: pick an organization whose story you find motivating. That will keep you donating and keep you connected to this most important of all ambitions–to help relieve the suffering of people who are hurting.

As I’ve written about before, I donate 10% of my self-employment income to these organizations, or ones similar to them.

This practice makes me very ambitious and very energetic. Send an invoice to my clients, receive some money, send a piece of that along to save a little kid’s life. It feels amazing. Please give it a try.

Smiletrain. These guys take a disfigured, isolated and in some cases physically starving little person and fix her up so she can smile, receive love from her parents, go to school, make human connections and live a full human life. It’s the best $250 bargain you’re going to find. (If $250 is a lot, which of course it is, contribute what you can today and then keep chipping in. You’ll get there.)

World Vision. These are the guys who educated me about the Lazarus Effect. They do a lot of great work for kids in various kinds of horrible trouble, all of which are exaggerated by poverty. They are a Christian organization and I am not a Christian, but that doesn’t bug me too much.

Unicef. Yep, good old boring Unicef. They send mosquito nets to places infested with malaria, and anti-parasite medication to kids with belly worms that are killing them. I still dig Unicef and I still contribute to them.

Of course there are thousands more. Lean, cutting-edge new ones like The Acumen Fund or Room to Read, old faithfuls like Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross. Some of them are very efficient. Some are less so on a percentage basis, but they still deliver a huge amount of relief to folks who need help. If you have another favorite, let us know in the comments about what they do and why you love them.

The worst thing you can do is get knotted up about whether an organization is perfect. That’s poverty thinking. Find a good group whose mission speaks to your heart. Use a guide like Charity Navigator to do some quick due diligence. Then make a habit of donating to help people who need help. There’s nothing else you can do to more quickly reset your poverty mindset to a wealth mindset.

Are You Participating in Blog Action Day This Year?

If you have a Blog Action Day post you’re proud of, please post a link in the comments. I’ll post every non-spammy link in this post. (If you can’t write or post it today, don’t sweat it. The offer stands all week. Find your own take on this topic and let it shine.)

Blog Action Day posts as of 2:15 my time:

  • Why Jessie Won’t Go to College. Brian Clark uses his copywriting skills to let us know about Jessie (a real person), who’s doing everything she can to take care of her siblings, leaving not much room for any kind of future for herself. He’s also donating $25 for every donation of at least $10 to Save the Children. (I donated $100 because some folks peeved me in the comments. So there.)
  • Poverty Snowball: What Is Your Life Worth?. Get-your-damned-life-where-you-want-it Uberninja Dave Navarro talks about the fact that you matter (a lot), and challenges you to make the most of that.
  • Solving Poverty. Lori Cole talks about the role of heroes, commitment and education in tackling poverty.
  • How $10 Can Actually Make a Difference. Zoe Westhof blogs about her friend Lisa Nesser, who founded a nonprofit to help educate hill tribe kids (who have no official government IDs or access to services) in Thailand. These folks run a fantastic project on a skimpy $1500 a month.
  • The Lack of Chances is the Source of Poverty. Daniel writes about seeing poverty up close, and how education can make profound changes.
  • Four Easy Reasons to Ignore World Poverty Charlie Gilkey addresses a pet bug of mine–the nagging voices that tell us “this can’t be fixed, it’s too hard, let’s not think about it too much.” I particularly loved this quote: “Imagine if we saw the starving children as a personal problem that we need to do something about rather than an issue.”
  • Helping Those Less Well Off. Ultra Rob talks about how you can turn your love of biking into good ways to help others.
  • When Did You Last Show Anyone How to Fish? Janice Cartier posts a beautiful little personal story about taking one little action, human to human, and making a connection that touches a kid’s life forever.
  • The Roots of Poverty Mary H. Ruth talks about poverty and state of mind, and the idea that “none of us is saved until all of us are saved.” Very nice.

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Flickr Creative Commons image by the incomparable babasteve

Beatrix Kiddo’s Guide to Making It Happen

Kiddo

Did you happen to see Kill Bill? Quentin Tarantino, in his infinite wisdom, swirled two good and completely incompatible movies together to create a pair of interesting but confused train wrecks. I happen to like the slow-moving parts, because I’m weird. People hacking each other up with swords bores me, but I really like long conversations where we Find Out About Everything.

I hadn’t thought about this pair of movies since they came out, but lately Beatrix Kiddo, the triumphant and sometimes reluctant heroine, keeps springing to mind. I can see her calm, determined face as she sets herself to the task in front of her and starts methodically punching.

One, two, three . . . one billion and one, one billion and two, one billion and three . . .

Whether she’s recovering from a four-year coma or punching her way out of a six-foot-deep living grave, Beatrix Kiddo’s got something I need . . . focus.

Punching through to the next level

That image of Beatrix methodically punching had been flashing itself into my consciousness for weeks before I figured it out.

Now the complete flake’s way of getting things done has been working extremely well for me for years now. It’s brought me a terrific life. Great job, the world’s most wonderful kid, happy marriage, beautiful garden, and a little blog I love to death.

But I’ve been feeling a call to take it up a notch. The Men with Pens have issued a challenge as they’ve been working on my blog re-design. Do I want to stay little and comfortable, or do I want this blog to really convey something remarkable?

Eek.

It’s so nice, so comfortable to just stay here where I am. To stick with what works pretty well. If I want to really grow, I have to do things I don’t yet know how to do. I have to try stuff that freaks me out. God forbid, I even have to make embarrassing mistakes.

So how do I do all that?

Punch punch punch punch punch.

Knowing Why You Want What You Want

Quentin Tarantino gave Beatrix a pretty strong (some might say cartoonishly strong) reason for moving forward. On her wedding day, when she was 9 months pregnant, the villain (that would be Bill) shot up her wedding, killed her bridegroom, shot Beatrix in the head and put her in a coma, and stole her unborn child. Getting revenge on all that is pretty good motivation.

I’m pretty glad I don’t have that kind of motivator. But I do have two forces that drive me to work nights and weekends, get up early and go to bed late, and focus my naturally flaky mind on getting my projects done and pushing through to the next level.

The first is the freedom of self-reliance. When I was 17, I went on an extended wander around Europe. I was 100% responsible for my own well-being. If I needed more cash, I scrounged a job. I went where I wanted, how I wanted, when I wanted. Ireland looked cool, so I made my way over there and spent about two months hitchhiking the circumference of the island. (Note to 17-year-olds reading this, don’t hitchhike, it’s a terrible idea. Besides, this was about 1,000 years ago, it’s more dangerous now.)

I still remember what it felt like to make my own circumstances. When you rely completely on yourself, you actually become more secure, not less so. You’ll always be able to take better care of yourself than someone else will.

I lost that habit along the way, but I’m taking it back again with a vengeance. Punch punch punch punch punch. I’m creating my own wealth, my own opportunities, my own (and my family’s) destiny.

My second motivator is the millions of little kids around the world who desperately need some help. They can’t make their own destinies. They’re too little, and there’s nothing to make a destiny out of. AIDS orphans, disfigured kids whose parents can’t afford to fix their cleft palates, kids who are just plain hungry because there’s no way to grow enough food.

I contribute 10% of my remarkable communication income to helping kids in bad circumstances. My two favorite groups right now are World Vision and Smiletrain. The more money I make, the more kids I can help. I have some pretty optimistic financial goals, fueled by the idea of helping hundreds and eventually thousands of kids.

Steve Pavlina has a pretty neat exercise to discover your life’s purpose: keep writing down possible answers until you write one that makes you cry. This one’s mine. It helps me think big–not playing the game for “comfortable” or “good enough,” but playing to win on a big scale.

Practice, Man, Practice

You don’t learn the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in an afternoon, you know. If you want to get really good, you’ve got to practice.

I’ve been writing for a long time. I’ve written plenty of stuff that’s no good. I’ve written blog posts I thought would be popular, that ended up fizzling out. And on the other side, I’ve written stuff that got an amazing response far beyond my expectations.

If you want to get good, you’ve got to keep training yourself. Punch punch punch punch punch. You train when you’re tired. You train when you’re in a bad mood. You train when you’re short on time. You train when you have no ideas left in your head.

I’ve written pretty close to every day for about 20 years. (OK, I did take four days off for the C-section.) Writing comes more easily to me than it does to some, because my instincts are bone-deep at this point. But I also put more time and effort in than a lot of writers, because I care more.

Don’t let any of this freak you out or scare you off. Just know that it’s all about showing up. Keep showing up and you’ll start to get really good. Time’s going to pass anyway, so you might as well spend it working toward something remarkable.

At the End of the Day, Connect

One of the things I like about Beatrix Kiddo’s character is she’s not cold. Sure, she’s a ruthless assassin who can win a fight by tearing out her opponent’s (remaining) eye, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a warm person.

It doesn’t really work in the movie, but it works for me. There’s a dopiness and a humanity about Beatrix that shines through the kung fu cliches and Tarantino’s giddy affection for violence. Underneath it all, even if she is the deadliest woman in the world, she’s just a mom with a mission.

Beatrix’s happily-ever-after doesn’t come from killing everyone. (Although it does come after killing everyone. That’s the difference between Beatrix and me. I’m destroyed by guilt if I squish a spider.) It comes from finally making the connection with the human being who matters most to her. So go ahead and strap on that Hattori Hanzo katana sword, smite your enemies and triumph over the evildoers. But then make those connections. That’s where your real success will come from.

Punch punch punch punch punch. Wish me luck.