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Archive for November, 2010

Getting a “Good Deal”

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Sometimes, what you already have is better than what they want to give you, even from the best of resources.

I just rediscovered this important fact with my insurance provider, whom I think highly of, and an offer with Fed Ex.  They were offering members of this insurance providers network the chance to get some really sweet discounts on FedEx services.  I ship a lot of stuff.  I like discounts.  I need discounts to make some projects make sense to even pursue.

But I already have a discount with Fed Ex, arranged as an Amazon Advantage seller.   Could the new offer be better?

In some ways yes, and in some ways no.  I needed  to look at both offers.  Looking at the new offer meant I needed to “register.”  So I started that.  And the process was very transparent–they laid out the size of the discount for each service quickly once you stepped into the process.  I also needed to see what the existing arrangement was providing.  If I weren’t such an information hoarder, that might have been a problem, but it turns out I saved the 2007 e-mail from Amazon in my file about “shipping.”

Okay, call me anal, but it did turn out to be useful information.  The FedEx services I use almost exclusively had twice the discount under my existing deal than were offered in the new one.

I’m not bringing this to your attention to gloat.  It’s an important lesson I just relearned and I’d like you to learn it the easy way–from reading this.  When you are going to switch anything, make sure all the promises of the shiny new plan are the things you really need.  Make sure that you aren’t going to lose the parts of what you already have that are most important.

In other words, don’t assume the bells and whistles of the new option trump your current solution.  Compare your choices in terms of what’s most important to you in what you’re arranging.

Don’t roll your eyes and pretend you always do that.  We buy everything from underwear to cars based on current hype rather than a clear look at what’s really there.  We shouldn’t.


Adversity: Enemy or Ally?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

What do you do when things go wrong? Get upset or learn all you can?

The current situation has plenty to get upset about—foreclosure rates and related bank screw-ups, the interminable length of unemployment when it hits, the nasty political season that is now finally ending. It’s easy to feel like a victim, bombarded by unfairness and beaten down by bad news on all fronts.

But does that help you? Does that help anybody?

Victim status has been unduly venerated for decades but that doesn’t mean you want to end up in that pit. Yeah, friends and relatives—maybe even total strangers—will feel sorry for you. But what does that get you?

A fleeting moment of attention and a lifelong sense of helplessness. Seeing yourself as a victim means you give up on the notion that you can change what you need to. (And right now, there’s a lot that’s ripe for new directions!)

If you mutter things like “Why me?” or “Not this” or “Not this again!”, you’re on the brink of victimhood. It really doesn’t help to go there. Adversity has been around as long as humans have. It’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping us sharp and helping us grow.

So instead of feeling sorry for yourself, ask the only question that’s really going to help: What can I learn from this?

Sometimes the lesson is obvious and easy. Learning that you should not buy more than you can afford is an example of that.

But sometimes the lesson is far more convoluted. This is especially true with job search right now. There are many talented, experienced people who can’t even elicit eye contact with hiring decision makers. They are capable, skilled, and have great track records full of amazing achievements, but…

But what? That’s the lesson. Maybe it’s time to move in a new direction. In that case, the lesson is to let go of that former identity and become a new learner again (a very difficult lesson for most of us). Maybe it’s the need for an entirely different network. Maybe it’s the push you need to go into business for yourself. Maybe it’s a case of figuring out you need to flip to the opposite side of the business you’ve been in.  A friend of mine went from being a geologist to selling mining and construction equipment and was highly successful at it.

Seeing adversity as a negative is like assuming winter is a waste of time for plants. Sitting in the dark helps things germinate. Adversity is a source of that velvet black thinking time if you accept it.

When things go wrong, you’re back in school, whether you realize it or not. Learn all you can:

What’s the situation itself teaching you? For example, a job search now is not like what you did in 1968. Learn all you can about the current process. Get proficient with today’s tools. Become crystal clear about the reality of the moment and what that means relative to what you already know.

What skills are you developing that you never needed before? Well, maybe we have needed them but just haven’t had a reason to learn them….like how to be smooth and calm when things are not going well. That kind of patience is golden, and adversity teaches it well.

What’s this difficulty preparing you for? At a minimum, the things we’re working our way through now are making us stronger for the long haul emotionally. “If I can get through that, I can do anything” is probably going to be our national theme song for the next decade. But when hard times are pummeling you, there are things you’re learning that will serve you on a more specific, pragmatic basis as well. You may come up with a whole new version of community living that revolutionizes lifestyle choices for the second half of life. You might create a specialized lending library. You might discover you’re good at something you’ve never explored before–that you want to do for the rest of your life. Adversity is often the source of a life-enhancing nudge.

How are you better because of this adversity? This is the crux of a life well lived–seeing whatever comes as the perfect gift. Learning more, doing things a better way, getting on with something you’ve yearned to do but haven’t been able to fit into a too full life—all of those and much more grow out of adverse situations.

Life was never intended as a cushy lounge in the hammock on a beach where it never rains. Life is a challenge because as humans we need challenges to learn, grow, and thrive. So when something bad happens, forego “Why me?” and ask “What’s to learn here?” And then get on with learning it.

If You’re 50+ and Want Your Own Business…

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Sometimes, a book is an incredible resource. If you want to be your own boss and are over 50, Ed Rogoff and David Carroll wrote one  just for you.  The Second Chance Revolution:  Becoming Your Own Boss After 50 covers everything from concept to cash flow as well as touchier subjects like getting the family involved.

Dr. Rogoff is Chairman of the Management Department in the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York.  He’s been studying entrepreneurship for decades and has great advice for older entrepreneurs.   Mr. Carroll has written 33 other books, mostly about business and self-help.  Together, they offer a thoroughly readable  guidebook for going it on your own.

The book also has good news.  Those who start their own businesses after 50 are more likely to succeed.    Older entrepreneurs know more about business in general, are typically better capitalized, and have more well established networks.  These things make a big difference when you’re trying to get a business off the ground.

The book looks at the pros and cons of buying a franchise.  (Read this if you are salivating for the chance to buy in on the newest coolest franchise thing!)  It looks at the benefits and difficulties of work-at-home options and offers key pieces of advice for that approach.  It goes into financing options, tax considerations, and much much more, whether you’re looking at buying an existing  business or starting from scratch.  It balances real life stories with practical advice to provide a solid sense of what going into business for yourself entails.

If you’ve never run your own business, read The Second Chance Revolution before you start spending money.  It could save you a lot of grief.  Besides, the stories of others 50+ who struck out on their own will inspire you and help you see the right path for your own commercial adventure.


Halloween Candy and Political Partisanship

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The ability to get along with people who aren’t like you is one of the surest indicators of maturity.   At a point in time where the population is aging across the globe, this skill seems to be in incredibly short supply.   What’s going on?

In some ways, what we’ve watched as acceptable behavior in politicians–in the US and elsewhere–would suggest these people never learned how to get along with others.  I refuse to believe that.  Why?  Because of what I’ve just learned from Halloween candy.  (It’s nice Halloween and the election came so close together this year.  I probably would have missed this “aha!” moment otherwise. )

What’s happening in the US Congress and other political arenas around the world is somewhat akin to what happens when you have a huge supply of Halloween candy left over after Oct 31.  You know how to eat healthfully–just like you know how to be respectful. You know that eating that candy is a bad idea, but…  it’s so easy to have one piece.  It’s small.  No worries.

But one piece leads to another and pretty soon you are behaving really badly, snarfng the empty calories without even enjoying the taste.  In politics, it starts with one rude remark.  Something said to make you look good at the expense of your “opponent.”  Maybe even something said that was well put, but barbed.  You know you’re being less than what Mom and your third grade teach taught you.  But it got a rise and was kind of fun, so you do it again.

Pretty soon, that’s all you do.  It’s like eating Halloween candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  After a while the notion of  vegetables–or actually working WITH someone who doesn’t agree with you– has zero appeal because you’re so accustomed to the bad stuff you’re doing.  Now, to get back on the more effective track takes a major effort.

We  need that major effort now with our politicians.

Why do people who have both been elected by the public to make decisions for the common good see themselves as “opponents?”  And when did it become okay to disrespect the people on another team simply because they’re not on YOUR team?

We’ve gotten way off in the weeds on this.  We have important problems to solve that need attention now.  Using the time and energy so desparately needed to do that for taking potshots at each other instead is unthinkable.

Today’s local newspaper included an Associated Press article about how President Barack Obama and John Boehner, the assumed new Speaker of the House don’t like each other and don’t have much in common.  First, shame on the media for yet another effort at making news by chanting “Let’s you and him fight!”  But more than that, what the hell is going on with these two adult men?  Who in the world planted the idea that you can only get work done if you get to work with your favorite people?  Get over it.

We all need to respect people we don’t agree with.  When we share a common task with such people, we need to do all we can to understand that other perspective.  That’s not just a case of listening respectfully.  It’s a matter of asking questions and digging deeper until the real core belief comes clear.    More often than not, once that kernel is exposed, it’s a shared ideal.  At a minimum, clearing away the rhetoric and empty words of posturing leaves a lot more room for innovation.

Rather than asking this just of our lawmakers, it’s time we ask it of ourselves and each other though.  Every chance you get, try to solve a problem in a way that both “sides” get what’s most important.  Liberals don’t really want to just spend money, they want to do good.  Conservatives don’t want to do mean things, they are looking to be fiscally responsible.  Why not focus on doing good in fiscally responsible ways?

It’s time to ditch the entrenched notions of “them” and “us”–and the related insistence on “my way” as already defined.  When the Founding Fathers were hammering out the U.S Constitution, they started with the word “We.”  Let’s all try to get back to that.