I took the train and inadvertently rejoined humanity

I’m a big fan of change and trying new things. My problem is that I’m usually too scared to try things outside of what I’ve grown up thinking is normal or expected. Which is ridiculous when you realize that I constantly rail against the status quo and start to go crazy if that terrible word “routine” gets a foothold in my daily life (this could be why I blog in clusters).

Recently, though, I’ve rediscovered my love of new things and the unexpected rewards/consequences that come with them. This story starts with my hatred of I-95 and ends with me riding on a train.

I hate I-95 – well, maybe I just very much dislike driving on I-95 – or any other major, crowded, highway. There are too many moving parts and I find that I’m constantly flipping through the list of possible stupid actions that the cars around me could take, which has saved me from a few crashes along the way but makes me ‘dislike’ the drivers around me. See, when I expect someone to do something stupid and then they do that exact stupid thing, it really gets to me. I figure that if can tell that you’re about to do something stupid, you should be able to see it to; and if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot.

OK OK – that’s not my point, but you get the source my inspiration. This is in addition to the cost of gas and wear and tear on my aging car (anyone have $1000 for new struts?).

Image

I found the solution to my traveling woes in the humble South Florida mass transit system. Specifically, Tri Rail. I realized that I could easily drive to the station near my house, ride the train for 20mins and then walk 5 minutes to my job.

Brilliant.

Fast forward about a month. Having figured out the logistics of getting to and from the train I took the red pill and followed the rabbit hole a lot further than I expected. (In case you missed the reference).

Image

I sat on the train and looked across at the passenger facing me.

“Hi, I’m Mike.”

What? Did I just say that? Who is this dude and why am I talking to him?

“I’m Jeff, nice to meet you.” (probably not his real name because I totally can’t remember it)

Just like that – I was conversing with some guy I’d just met … on the way home from work.

Maybe that didn’t click for you.

I was pleasantly speaking with a person who, had we been in separate cars, would have been my sworn enemy for 20 miles of roadway. In a car I would have written this guy off as some idiot who was out to kill me, but on the train we were practically BFFs.

And that’s not all. I thought back to my time waiting for the train and I realized that there were real people around me. Like, poor people, rich people, white people, black people, etc… And we were all there for one reason:

To take the freaking train.

Who knew that you didn’t have to loath people with whom you traveled? Now, instead of waiting for one of them to cause my early death in a 12-car pile-up, we all found out seats in unity, hoping, together, that train wouldn’t derail and explode in a fire-ball, killing us all.

And that’s a camaraderie I haven’t felt since my last bumpy plane ride.

Is Sleep Only for Broke People?

I’ve always enjoyed being a night owl and then sleeping-in but now that I have a baby daughter and a job, I don’t get to sleep much past 7am. My problem is, though, I still like staying up late.

My wife often says, “Why don’t you just go to bed at a normal time like the rest of us? Maybe you won’t be so tired in the morning.”

Because that’s boring – plus, when would I get important things done like reading or blogging (or playing video games)?

The answer is: I wouldn’t – and that would be a bummer. So, like usual, I’ve been staying up late, occasionally getting to sleep by 11 if I’m particularly tired (or if I’m afraid my daughter will be waking up multiple times that night, as she is wont to do). Then, a few days ago, my buddy posts this video on his Facebook wall:

Did you catch the part where 50 Cent is quoted as saying, “Sleep is for people who are broke. I don’t sleep.”?

I did – and I can’t get it out of my head.

Ever since I watched that video, and rewatched it a few times, I’ve been thinking about this idea of a focus and determination that is so strong that I would give up sleep to be successful at it. One could say that I was almost obsessed with the idea and when I’m obsessed with an idea I’m constantly on the lookout for new information about it. That’s about the time that I saw a new blog post by Seth Godin.

The blog post is “Time doesn’t scale.” In it he argues that people who put in extra hours for a job soon find that there are only 24 hours in a day and when you reach that limit your time spent working can no longer afford you an advantage.

So, I’m torn. In one hand, I have determination, drive, passion, inspiration, and ambition that say “this is your one, single goal and focus; do anything and everything you can to accomplish it.”

In the other I have intentionality, planning, and forethought that say, “Don’t waste time on unimportant tasks, think about what you’re doing so you can do it well, do it creatively and do it right the first time.”

What if, though, I combined what I have in both hands? What if I have enough drive, passion, and inspiration to make a certain goal my number one priority and have enough intentionality, forethought, and planning to make sure the actions that I’m taking towards this goal are creative, thought-out, and done well? I imagine I could achieve just about anything that I want.

But, let’s go back to the original question for a moment, “Is sleep only for people who are broke?”

Yes, I think it is and here’s why: If you value sleep more than you value being successful (in whatever way that happens to be), then you probably don’t want it bad enough. Earlier in the video the speaker said that being successful needs to be more important to you than breathing – and we can all agree that breathing is more important than sleeping.

To Seth’s point, however, you’re not going to get anywhere by just grinding away at a job for long hours to the detriment of your family and social life. You need to combine your passion with your skills and plug them into creative, thoughtful work that accomplishes more in less time.

When was the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Or maybe, when was the last time you were so absorbed in something that you forgot to eat for a while?

 

Finding my Voice

My intro to writing professor in college led us through a curriculum on ‘finding your voice’. It all made sense at the time – it’s what your words sound like on paper, it’s your style, your rhythm. I get that.

What I have always had a hard time figuring out, however, is how to pick out MY voice from the myriad of voices that are in my head.

I’m not schizo; I’m a good imitator. I can pick out a person’s tone, cadence, inflection, etc… and will alter how to speak to better resemble that person. It’s automatic and it helps me connect with people; it’s really a nice talent to have.

The problem is that I can can easily start to dislike my own voice.

I’m not sure if this is all made worse because I was never really a cool kid. People generally liked me (and I assume still do), but simple comparisons to other people who I thought were better than me made me disappointed with who I was.

Oprah session aside, I think I’ve mostly come to terms with who I am. In fact, I would like to think that I am happy with who I am. This doesn’t stop my super-competitive side, however, from constantly comparing myself to everyone else to measure how well I’m doing. If I think that someone else’s voice is funnier, smarter, more like-able than mine, I’m tempted to copy it.

And, like we found out earlier, I’m good at copying voices.

A few years ago, I started a sarcastic blog inspired by the hilarious dude at Tremendous News. All three people who read it (thanks Mom) liked what I wrote.

Actress and singer Eri Kitamura

Via Wikipedia

(I don’t know why I put this image here, but I know Tremendous News would have)

I only posted 2 articles.

That’s the problem with imitation – it drains you. When you are intentionally trying to be someone else, you have to think like they think; be motivated by the things which motivate them; and create like they create. That’s just not fun…

…and writing should be fun.

Writing should allow you to create something new.

Something that is your own.

Something that sounds like you.

I don’t know if I’ve really found my voice, but I definitely feel like I’m much closer to it.

The Power of a Blog – Ending Slavery

As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.
– Benjamin Franklin

There are dozens of ways that I wanted to start this post, but the most honest opening is to admit that I don’t really know how to start. So I just will:

An estimated 27 million people are held in slavery – right now.

27,000,000 – That’s more than the population of the top 13 cities in the US combined (1).

Staggering.

There are three problems with a statistic like that:

  1. 27 million is a number that is hard to imagine.
  2. The idea of people being enslaved doesn’t seem possible; especially because it’s not right here in front of us – we’re all so far removed from the slavery we read about in history books that it doesn’t mean much to us as a society any more.
  3. Even if we can wrap our heads around the situation, how could you and I ever have an impact on a problem that is so monumental?
While I can’t do much for the first problem, I have two simple ideas that will help with the other two issues.

1. Learn about modern day slavery

This is the internet, you can find information on everything and this is one of the most important Google searches I think you’ll ever do. (Here’s a good place to start: http://www.ijm.org/our-work/injustice-today)

2. Do whatever you can to help

My motivation for writing this post is to give you a place to start, one that I think will make a world of difference. There is a letter being sent to President Obama asking him to stand up for freedom. They need 27,000 signatures and I am one of them. You should be, too.

Sign Your Name Stand For Freedom

Leave me a comment after you sign the letter and let me know why you decided to stand for freedom.

 1. Wikipedia – List of United States cities by population

Facebook, huh, yeah, what is it good for?

Absolutely something…

To be honest, this was almost a post about the unfortunate increase in terrible, useless and mind-numbing content that is starting to clutter Facebook. But then…

…then my friend asked about SEO.

And I helped him.

All of a sudden, a light illuminated my keyboard and Facebook became a place of connection, a place where friends can get help from friends, a place of hope. OK, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but the truth of the matter is that Facebook, like any number of social media tools is only as good as it’s content and filtering.

While I was brooding over the mass influx of LOLCATS variants and useless pictures (like a list of numbers 1-15 with the words “Like when you find the mitsake” [sic]) screaming for “likes” and comments, I considered sitting back and blasting the downward spiral of social media culture.

I decided instead to take control of my situation. 

It’s something I learned a few months ago: “If you can’t predict the future, create it.”

So, I thought for a minute and realized that I could easily unsubscribe or – *gasp* – unfriend the worst offenders, thus clearing the way for me to see important updates – like what my buddies ate for dinner or how my sister’s new dog is fitting in. I did the same with my Twitter account (@thestosbias) a few weeks ago.

It makes sense, really. My mom used to call it “operator error.” Some people call it “garbage in, garbage out.”

What I’m cliche-ing about is simply this: Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, etc… are part of the internet and the internet is a place of mass ‘user-generated content’ which is code for ‘some good, but mostly really really bad stuff.’ The power of these tools comes from the ability they give you to categorize and filter what you see.

This is bigger than just avoiding annoying people. When we clear out the garbage content, we allow ourselves access to the small percentage of the really good content that is out there. It also opens us up to share that exceptional content with our friends and, as a result, spreading content that is worth digesting. All the while supporting and encouraging the content creators.

Take a look at your Twitter, Facebook, et al. feeds and ask yourself a question: “Am I contributing to the mass of crap floating around the internet, or am I being a conduit of thoughtful, useful content?” (no matter your definition of ‘useful’ – I trust you)

Have you noticed an increase in garbage from well meaning people who are trying to get some lulz? Am I being too harsh? Leave me your thoughts in the comments (and please, only one LOLCAT pic per person).

When it Clicks

“We can never see past the choices we don’t understand.”
- The Oracle from The Matrix

I’m not sure where my motivation to write came from – I’ve tried a few times in the past, but always ended up giving up. This time, though, it feels different.

It feels like change.

It feels like my decision clicked.

And that’s part of the problem with decisions that endure: it’s hard to tell why some click while the rest fade away. It seems as though there is an internal need that becomes so strong that you would be fighting against yourself if you continued to ignore it. Bill Hybels said that you need to “get fed up” before you’ll really take action.

I saw this in practice while watching a new show called “Fat Chef”. The stories of two chefs were presented as they tried to lose a significant amount of weight. One of them, a guy, lost 100lbs in 16 weeks; the other, a woman, lost 30lbs. And the weird thing is that I could see something in man’s eyes that told me that his decision to lose weight clicked.

His voice; his demeanor; his… everything said “I’m in.”

The woman, however, was faking it.

She would say things that she thought were the right things, like: “I want to live for my son.” or “I don’t want to die young.”

But she didn’t mean it. It didn’t click.

I’m still not any closer to grasping what makes a decision ‘click’, but I know that when it does – it changes you forever.

“…you’ve already made the choice. Now you have to understand it.” - The Oracle

Of Music and Inspiration…

After thinking about my last post a little longer, I realized that finding something you really love to do often takes inspiration. This idea has changed some for me in the past few years because I have a wife and daughter who I love simply to spend time with. So, when I talk about needing inspiration to do something I love, I’m looking to do something productive that reaches outside of my family.

In that regard, I’ve found inspiration in a number of things. Music, though, has always proved to be a powerful motivator. I don’t know if it matters what type of music, but it helps if it’s either loud or at least playing through headphones because music is meant to be felt – not simply heard.

It’s sort of a mood-thing – the right music for the right time. Right now I’m listening to some mixes at designers.mx; I started on Let’s Make Sweet Pixels 2, then moved to How Each Friend Departed for a few songs and then realized that I needed something more mellow and… I’m not sure what to call it, but I found it on Night Tremors.

Sometimes I think that I use the music to help block out a portion of the crazy thoughts in my head long enough to focus on creating something.

Whatever the reason, whatever the inspiration, just find some and then do something you love – something that will shake the world and make it better because you found your inspiration.

1 Step to Happiness and World Transformation: Do Something You Love

This post is simple – Do something you love today.

In fact, do something you love – every day. I can’t image a better way for us to transform the world than for us to sit down and think “What can I do, create, change, etc… today that would really make me happy?” and then do it.

Some would argue that I’m empowering people to live self-indulgent lives and even do things that would harm others.

I would tell those people that I’m not concerned about bad people doing bad things – they’ll do those things if I encourage them to or not. I’m concerned with encouraging good people to do good things. And doing good will come naturally to good people because it’s what they really love to do. I’m convinced that happiness can only be maintained by doing good consistently.

And I’m sorry if you don’t agree.

Well, maybe I’m not. Go do something you love and let me know if it made you happy – if it didn’t, maybe you should reevaluate what you love.

“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
– Unknown

6 Things You Can Learn from Groupon’s Marketing

I’ve been on Groupon’s mailing list for a little while and have noticed their freakishly fast growth. I wondered if there were some magical marketing ideas that I could glean from them. So, in the spirit of “talent borrows; genius steals”, here are 6 things that we can all learn from Groupon’s marketing machine:

1. Have a Mobile Version of Your Website… That Works.

I’m not sure how else to say this, so, a lot of mobile websites suck. They are hard to use, they don’t have all the main features of the full site or they have features that don’t work. Groupon’s mobile website, however, is like a cool ocean breeze on a hot day of bad web programming.

This dawned on me the other day when I opened a Groupon e-mail on my iPhone and clicked (tapped?) a link. Up came my browser with the expected content in a readable font with a few, big buttons as calls to action that gave me all the options I needed and wanted (including a large “Buy Now” button, since that’s what they ultimately want users to do).

And that is exactly what we need in our mobile sites: speed, clarity of content, big, easy-to-tap buttons and relevant calls to action that look good on a phone.

2. Be Consistent

Green and dark gray. That’s who Groupon is. From their e-mails to their website to their mobile app, you are always well aware that you still in the Groupon ‘system.’ And it’s basically seamless – the image they use in the e-mail is the same image you see on the landing page and is the same image they use in the app. Why? So users don’t get lost.

I’m going to say that again “they are consistent so their users don’t get lost.” No one wants to reorient themselves when they click a link – they’ll just leave your site and find another that is more simple; and trust me, there are other sites that do what you do.

3. Focus Your Message

Why do people use Groupon? To buy products and services at a discount. So, why would Groupon want to talk about or promote anything else?

They wouldn’t.

And they don’t.

I’m not sure I can be any clearer than that.

4. Maintain a High Level of Quality

I would never dream of seeing an e-mail from Groupon with a typo – maybe it happens, but it would definitely be the exception. Their bar-setting quality standards go beyond just making sure they’ve proof-read their communications (I mean, we all do that… right?); their clean, high-quality look is accentuated in their layouts, choice of colors and images they use for their deals.

Let me be bold enough to say, “If you don’t have a super-creative graphic designer on your marketing team, you need to hire one or get a contract with an outside agency.” It’s no coincidence that Groupon’s website conforms to the 960 Grid System (www.960.gs) or that their main color is green (the color of cash); most importantly, it’s no accident that they proof-read their writing. It’s a very intentional level of quality from very creative, very professional graphic artists and writers. And you need some of those.

5. Participate on Facebook A LOT

Groupon posts a status update every couple of hours – from links to their deals to job listings to videos of llamas, they are active with share-able content and their followers love them for it.

Their sales team loves them for it, too. Why? Because they are keeping Groupon top-of-mind for their customers and giving people ample opportunity to share a Facebook post with their friends, thus getting more fans. Sales people love fans because fans buy things.

I’m not suggesting you start posting non-sense on your Facebook wall – but if you want people to talk about you, and interact with you, you need to post things that your target audience will enjoy reading and, more importantly, sharing. And you need to do it with a frequency that lets people know you’re still there.

6. Have Fun with It

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Groupon shared a link on Facebook to a video of a llama and a cat interacting with each other. On top of that, their posts look like they were written by a real person.

That might be the bigger thing to remember – your customers are real people and they expect to interact with real people. The best way for you to show that your company is full of real people is when you can have fun with what you do. You don’t have to post links to llamas on your Facebook page or website, but you need to find a way to bring a human-touch back to your marketing.

 

*Full disclosure: at the time of writing, the author has no relationship with Groupon outside of occasionally using their service. And I like coupons.

Did I miss something that you think is important? Or do you not agree with any of those? Let me know in the comments – I’ll make sure to argue loudly if I don’t agree.