How to Think Yourself Free

Perhaps you’re feeling stuck, or even trapped, in some area of your life. Maybe a job or a hobby which you once loved has turned into a chore – or a relationship has gone sour.

The problem is, you can’t quite imagine giving it up. You’re still clinging to the early hopes you had, or desperately trying to regain your past enthusiasm. Maybe you’ve been in your job, or engaged on a particular project, for so long that there really doesn’t seem to be an alternative.

There is: and to create it, you need to start by thinking yourself free.

What Would Happen If You Lost It?

Let’s say you’re not enjoying your job. (You wouldn’t be alone: statistics show that more than half of us dislike our jobs.) You might have been enthusiastic about your career field once, but now, you simply go through the motions.

If quitting seems unthinkable, try imagining how you’d feel if you were laid off, or if you had to leave due to circumstances beyond your control. Once the initial shock had passed, would you feel a sense of relief? Would you feel as though a burden had been lifted?

I’ve never had a problem with quitting jobs I disliked (it’s how I became a full-time freelancer, a year ago) – but a few months back, I was ploughing on with running a blog when my enthusiasm for it had died. It wasn’t until someone emailed me, asking how much it would cost to buy the blog, that I began to find the mental space to let it go.

(I didn’t sell it – but I did decide to only do minimal maintenance on the site. The funny thing is, nearly all the advertising revenue I’ve had from it has been since I stopped actively blogging there…)

Of course, quitting your job is a lot scarier than simply giving up on a blog or on another project that you’ve lost interest in. When I was working on leaving my day job, I asked myself…

What’s the Worst Case Scenario?

If you abandon the project, job or relationship that’s holding you trapped, what’s the worst that could happen? Think this through: would you be homeless? Starving? Broke? Or would even the worst possible consequences be ones that you could quite easily recover from?

When you clarify the worst case scenario in your mind, you’ll notice some interesting things:
• The consequences aren’t so dire as that vague cloud of fear in your mind suggested
• You can already see plenty of ways to recover if the worst does happen
• The worst case scenario seems pretty unlikely anyway
Don’t stay with the doom and gloom, though (even if it doesn’t seem so bad after all). Think about…

What’s the Good Stuff That Will Happen?

If you left your job, there’d be some negative consequences (like a lack of income), but there’d also be a ton of positive ones. Write down the ones that mean the most to you. Maybe:
• Having time to spend with your kids
• Not having to work with a boss or colleagues who don’t share your values
• Finally getting to pursue your dreams
• Being able to sleep better at night

Leaving a situation that has you feeling trapped will always result in a massive, empowering sense of freedom. Allowing yourself to visualise all these positive consequences can help you create the desire to actually get to them.

Getting There

Once you’ve liberated yourself mentally from the chains of your dull job, draining relationship or flogging-a-dead-horse project, it’s time to take action. Spend a few minutes really visualizing your success: hold on to that sense of freedom. Then write down some immediate steps you can take to get yourself closer. You don’t need to know every single step on the path – you just need to have a map for where you’re going next.

In some cases, the steps might be pretty short. Perhaps you want to wrap up your project to make sure you still get something out of it: this could mean anything from selling off your materials to finding a suitable “end point”. If you want to drop out of college, perhaps you’ll decide to stick out the semester in order to get the credits for classes you’ve already started on.

If you want to leave your job, there are likely to be a few steps you want to take to avoid that worst case scenario. For many people, the first task is to establish an emergency fund (or to add to an existing one). Keeping your goal in mind can help you stay motivated to cut your spending and put money aside each week or month.

Keep thinking yourself free. Keep imagining your life without the situation that’s dragging you down. However tough life seems, or however trapped you feel – you’re not. There’s always a way out, and the first step to creating it is to imagine it.

Bio: Ali Hale writes about getting more from life on her blog, Aliventures: if you enjoyed this post, you’ll probably enjoy Life: Choose Your Own Adventure. Ali is also a freelance blogger for a number of other sites, and is taking a postgraduate degree in creative writing.

Finding The Right Location For Your Business – At The Right Price

In this post, I am going to detail my experiences finding the right place for our business at the right price.

We found it, and last week, we signed the lease. We are remodeling and moving in over the next six weeks.

We’ve been planning to move from our home to a commercial bricks and mortar operation for years. The most perplexing question we had was:

How do we find the best possible location at a price that will allow us to grow?

The problems we faced:

High Taxes

Several years ago, we almost opened a traditional retail book store, and we wrote this post on negotiating rent. We never signed the lease. The rent was right, but the taxes were too high. In Minnesota, retail tax rates are out of control. In our case the taxes were 4x the rent. High tax rates keep small family owned business like ours out of the prime locations. The problem is, no one in government seems to care. When I recently mentioned the problem to a government official, she replied, “If you can’t afford the taxes, you can’t afford to be in business.”

How we solved this problem:

We decided against renting traditional retail space, in high rent areas (for now). Even in a recession, when the landlords reduce rent to attract tenants, the government doesn’t budge on taxes. The only viable solution for us was to rent a location zoned showroom/industrial where the taxes are 1/3rd of traditional retail.

Over Leveraged Commercial Property Owners

During the real estate boom, investors bought up properties under the false assumption that real estate couldn’t drop in value. Many made these investments using unsecured debt. During our search we found several owners sitting on vacant properties, but unwilling to negotiate a reasonable price.

In one instance, the owner had purchased an entire corner of a busy intersection. It included four buildings which all sat vacant. When we investigated, we learned that the owner had purchased the property at the peak of the boom planning to flip it to a national retailer. When the economy went sour, so did his plan. Christine and I and others tried to make an offer that would generate income for both us and the owner, but were flatly refused. Being over leveraged gave the owner no room to negotiate when tough times hit. I wish him the best, but the properties are still sitting vacant today.

How we solved this problem:

We had to be patient and keep looking. We sought veteran landlords who are likely to own the property outright, who have been through economic downturns and understand the current conditions, who have seen successful startups rise from the depths of a recession, and who understand the power of building long term business relationships.

Cities Are Bulldozing Low Rent Areas

In recent years, affordable commercial property became harder to find. Cities like to pick off older low-rent properties with eminent domain, bulldoze it, and replace it with new high rent/high tax property. It is another case of shortsighted greed. To grow, our economy needs low tax/low rent commercial property to serve as incubators for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.

How we solved this problem:

Persistence. After a while, we didn’t bother looking at the new developments, and focused our search on older areas. And the recession helped. While in recent years we’ve watched old retail and industrial parks knocked down and replaced, right now, there is almost zero commercial development.

Last Minute Lease Changes

For whatever reason, be it mistakes, disorganization, or outright chicanery, the lease terms you verbally agreed upon are different the day you sit down at the table, ready to sign. My father-in-law, who has negotiated dozens of commercial leases over his lifetime warned me about this. It is standard procedure – expect it. These last minute changes are NEVER in your favor.

How we solved this problem:

Don’t sign the lease. Walk away and keep looking. Think about it. Imagine, at closing you said, “I looked the lease over, and I made a mistake, it’s more money than I can afford,  and much of the square footage isn’t useful, so I adjusted the rates down 20 percent, and I need you to cover the utilities, so I wrote up a new lease for you to sign today.”

Leasing Agents Didn’t Help

I talked to at least a dozen of them. Some of them were great… others… not so much. But none of them represented us. They each offered a few properties out of hundreds of possibilities. Some gave us bad information, but mostly they gave us incomplete information.

How we solved this problem:

We had to do the search ourselves. We found property on Craigslist and other websites. The property we eventually rented was a property I drive by every day but I didn’t bother calling. I thought it was out of my price range based on information leasing agents had given me. One day, I decided to call, and the leasing agents were wrong, we could get 3000+ sq ft, at a price we could afford. Never quit searching and never accept the word of experts without finding out for yourself.

Keeping Costs Down

In business you need to make more money than you spend. If you can’t do that, you don’t have a viable business. And if you need a bricks and mortar location for your business, rent/mortgages can wipe you out.

But keep in mind it has to be a win-win for you and the property owner and finding the right location is going to take time. We have been passively looking for years, and actively searching for over nine months. When I first started calling leasing agents, I didn’t think this was possible. For a comparable space, agents were asking for 2-4x the rate we eventually negotiated.

It isn’t trendy, or hip, or pretty, or posh. But it’s functional and affordable

And we’re cleaning it up

We are going to remodel, knock down some walls, put in a new floor, and paint.

And it’s a great spot for a 4 year old to ride his bike.

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The Secret to Getting Things Done: Acceptance, Love, and Patience

Are you like me? When you decide to do a thing, you want to act immediately. You strive for constant progress toward your goal, then you run into obstacles… things that are out of your control… like other people who have other plans… but you need them to reach your goal. Then you try to force progress by pushing and prodding and pulling, which only seems to cause others to push back harder. The harder you push, the slower the progress and the higher your frustration. Sometimes you want to quit. Other times you blame others and start to think they are incompetent or lazy. Maybe you eventually give up. You believe you did everything right. If only the other people had “stepped up” everything would have worked. You believe you are a victim of bad breaks, laziness, and difficult people.

The above is called self-will run riot and it is a sure recipe for failure.

But you’ve had the opposite experience too, haven’t you? You’ve had moments in business, or golf, or parenting, or marriage, when everything is perfect, the zen moment. It’s almost like the universe is running everything perfectly and you are just observing it in all its perfection. In these moments, you are experiencing something very close to the truth about reality.

What I’m describing here are two polar extremes. Most of us live somewhere in between.

On one side we have the misguided idea that we can CREATE BY FORCE, but clearly we can see in our own lives, that attempting to create our future by force results in the exact opposite, destruction and failure.

Why do we believe this nonsense about force?
Answer: We live in a culture where we are taught from our earliest days that problems are solved by the application of force. Popular culture action heroes and athletes delude us into thinking we can create a better world via physical strength, will power, and force.

But it is a lie. Force is only justified when someone else has initiated force against us, and even then it isn’t creative. It can only attempt to end the destruction so the natural state of creation can begin anew.

In truth, creation is a process you set in motion, but you can’t control. It’s like a magnificent story that unfolds before your eyes. You focus your thoughts and your actions on your goal and you seek acceptance voluntarily. Creation is the act of allowing. Acceptance and allowing require love and patience. They require humbling yourself to the immense creative power of the universe. It requires “getting over yourself” while simultaneously knowing “the only thing you control is yourself.” All the rest of creation happens on it’s own.

Lessons in Organic Bootstrapping – Growing Your Business

Have you heard that 50% of small businesses fail in the first year and 95% fail in the first five years? Let me tell you why.

Most small businesses fail becuase they can’t handle debt, get buried by rent, or get pushed into risky decisions by impatient investors.

I’ve seen a lot of business fail taking the “Big Bang” approach to small business start up. They put together a fancy business plan and they execute it perfectly. They take out a bunch of SBA loans, have trendy digs, hire talented people with a proven record, maybe even build a building or two. Sometimes this approach works, with dramatic success, but more often than not, it fails.

The problems are:

  1. They never tested the market, so when the sales don’t materialize immediately, they are under capitalized, and go bankrupt in a few years.
  2. They spent too much on fluff. In the quest to look professional or hip, they overspend.
  3. Instead of adding employees once demand is established, they add them before the first dollar is earned, banking on potential sales to pay the wages, and burn through too much capital too quickly.

Making mistakes is the secret to learning. You learn what you need to know about business through your pain and failures. Organic bootstrapping allows you to learn as you go without going broke, the “big bang” approach does not.

Christine and I are pushing hard this summer to grow Christine’s Books. We’re moving her store out of our house.

It needs to move because:

It’s taking over the kids play areas

And is creeping into every other area of the house

To expand, we need employees, and our house wouldn’t be a good place for others to work.

In 2003 when she first started selling books on the internet, she invested $500.00 in inventory, and kept it on a 6 ft table. By 2004 we had run out of space in our house, and bought a new house that was triple the size. That gave us five more years. Now we plan to lease a showroom and warehouse space that is as big as our entire house. We are hoping that will last 3-5 years and allow us to quadruple sales and add several jobs to the local economy.

While looking for the right location, I’ve had the chance to meet a few entrepreneurs who have grown the same way we have, by organic bootstrapping. Roger at Business Systems International sells refurbished phones. He started in his garage and now owns multiple commercial properties, and has branched out into the software business. Opportunity begets opportunity and success begets success. Roger said, “Every time I moved to a larger location my revenues doubled.”

I talked with Brian at Sunlite Windows and Doors and he had a similar story. He started in his garage, then built a bigger garage with the profits, then leased a shop and warehouse. He said, “When we rented our first shop, I said, we’ll never use all this space. Three years later it was time to move. Now I have triple the space and we own 50% of the window market in this area.”

If you are interested in how small businesses start and grow organically, you’ll be interested in the coming series of posts.

Next post: we’ll talk about finding the right location at the right price.

Is Living Dangerously and Risk Taking Critical to Your Hapiness and Success?

A friend and blogger ApplePieMom brought an idea to my attention yesterday in her post Living Dangerously.

The idea that living dangerously enhances life is a conundrum that rolls around in my head frequently.

I understand AppliePieMom’s point that simply taking a few economic risks isn’t the same fighting in a war zone. No doubt. The difference is one of degree. Are you risking your life, your job, your money, your marriage, your freedom, your health, or your reputation? We clearly put different values on each of these things.

But that doesn’t get at the fundamental question…

Is Living Dangerously and Risk Taking Critical to Your Happiness and Success?

It is to me, but it is nuanced and complex.

Almost everything worth doing is risky.

I was driving down the freeway and my son yelled, “Dad the speed limit is 70 and you’re going 78. The policeman is going to take you to jail.”

I thought about it a minute and I said this to my son…

“First, no one is going to take me to jail. If I get caught I’ll have to pay fine. Second do you notice how everyone else is going even faster? If I drive slower we will be in more danger than if I keep up with the flow of traffic.

One of the most important things to learn about life isn’t to obey all the rules. It’s to learn the rules, know when you’re breaking them, and what the consequences are if you get caught.”

Risk taking and danger doesn’t always involve breaking the rules, but more often than not it does.

The need for risk and challenge can manifest itself  in harmless ways…

When a golfer first plays a clean round of golf, they can find it isn’t what they thought it’d be. They thought it’d be exhilarating but instead it was boring. Why? It is more interesting to get yourself into a mess and get yourself out than it is to execute near perfection.

manifest itself in incredibly destructive ways…

Claude Steiner writes about this in The Games Alcoholics Play. He states alcoholics and addicts don’t find “normal” life interesting. They are caught in an destructive obsessive form of risk taking, consistently digging themselves into a hole and recovering. This is why they are more likely to relapse when life is going well than when they are having problems. They crave not only alcohol but the risk that goes with it.

Some people climb mountains, others jump from airplanes, and some put their life savings down on a startup. These activities make them feel alive.

What do you think? Is living dangerously critical to your hapiness and success?

For me it is. Too much safety and comfort bore me and lead to apathy. But there are a couple of caveats…

  • The risk must be calculated and intelligent, not a blind gamble or reckless endangerment.
  • The likely result of my risk taking should be constructive and positive.

ApplePieMom shares her experience as the mother of a 26 year old soldier on the ground in Afghanistan.

Another Unoffical Lesson Taught in School

The lessons kids learn in school that aren’t part of the official curriculum are the most powerful lessons taught in these institutions. John Taylor Gatto wrote about the unofficial lessons he taught in school.

Today I have one to add to his list.

Respect can be achieved through the purchase and acquisition of status symbols.

Let me explain.

I work with a guy who has two teenage boys in a large suburban public high school. Parking in the school lot is by permit only and costs $180.00 per year.

However, students can park in the lot across street for free but few do.


Student culture has labeled the free lot the “loser” lot.

I would think that the intelligent kids, the entrepreneurial kids, and the healthy kids, would park in the free lot. It’s good exercise to walk a hundred yards more to school and you’ll save almost $200 a year. Why would you throw your money away?

Simple, kids believe having a parking permit makes them a ‘winner.’ Why? They, or more importantly, their parents, can afford to throw money away on a piece of paper. Only ‘losers’ can’t or won’t spend money on a piece of paper that gives them membership in a herd. The parking permit isn’t a parking permit at all, it is a social status symbol and a subtle symbol of conformity.

Can You Live on 50% of Your Income?

Let’s talk about money. Someone will probably call me insensitive or naive for posting this, but I don’t care. It’s important. Please keep in mind, I’m talking about people with normal to above average incomes, not senior citizens on SSI or single moms on state assistance. I understand there are hard cases.

I heard a 60+ year old man say this today…

When I was 18 I made a decision. I decided I never wanted to be under financial stress. I have lived that decision my entire adult life and have never experienced financial stress. How did I do it? I saved 50% of my take home income without exception. I’ve had months I’ve made $100, and other months I’ve made $100,000. But regardless, I still saved 50% of my income. My income has fluctuated but my saving percentage hasn’t. This has enabled me to purchase several business and a large ranch without incurring debt. I hear people say ‘I couldn’t possibly live on 50% of my income.’ Oh! baloney, you choose not to. Sure it’s harder once you have a 400K mortgage and kids in private colleges, but you decided to live that way. You don’t need to live that way. And if you had decided when you were younger to live differently, you could have your 400K home and private college today without a dollar of debt.

I’m not trying to preach. I don’t save 50%. But I know everything this man said is true. I could have saved more, and if I had, I’d be much better off today.

I’m aiming the following list at the 18-25 audience. Why? Most older people are already working like slaves to pay off debt and can’t imagine living on 50% of take home. A huge percentage of people are living paycheck to paycheck by 30 with college loans, cars, credit cards, and mortgages. Once you’ve accumulated your debt, living on 50% will become impossible due to the choices you made earlier and your financial stress may never subside. Creating financial freedom starts young, requires disciple, and must become a habit.

Here are some ideas you could use to help you save 50% when you are just starting out in life:

(Keep in mind that these lifestyle sacrifices would be temporary – delayed gratification)

  1. Live in a small apartment with roommates
  2. Avoid buying a car. Cars are money pits. If you must purchase one, buy a cheap used car with cash. Never buy a car on credit
  3. Don’t indulge fashion trends. Instead wear practical durable inexpensive clothing. If your friends say you look like a dork, find new friends
  4. Avoid high-maintenance boyfriends/girlfriends
  5. Avoid expensive vacations. Instead make them local and cheap. Maybe go camping or biking.
  6. Don’t eat out
  7. Warning – this one is blasphemy – Avoid student loans. Pay cash (Community College) or learn free on the internet
  8. Don’t upgrade your home, your car, your education, or your clothes until you can pay cash

You may not want to live this way, but you certainly could live this way, if you chose to.

Most people say they can’t live on 50% of their take home. When in reality, they mean they won’t live on 50% of their income because they aren’t willing to make the trade offs. Or maybe they don’t think the trade offs are worth it.

I genuinely want to discuss this with you. Is saving 50% reasonable? I don’t know if it is. That depends on who you are, right? But for many people it is possible. What would happen if your income was cut 50% right now? Would you go bankrupt? Would you die? Would it destroy your marriage? Or could you survive for years?

Today’s post was inspired by Episode 63 of The Focus Society of Overachievers podcast.

Are You An Extraordinary Person?

Before you attempt to answer the question “Are You an Extraordinary Person?” read this story.

After my mother-in-law watched our interview with Jonathan Fields on Career Renegades she mentioned to Christine, “I wish Steve wouldn’t talk like he was this regular ordinary guy. Why does he do that? We know that he isn’t ordinary at all.”

Let me explain why I describe my past that way.

For the first 30 years of my life I viewed myself this way:

I grew up in an ordinary family, in an ordinary middle-American city. My dad had an ordinary job. Just like every other boy I knew, I did shitty in school and I hated it. I was told by authorities that I’d never amount to anything, that I’d be lucky to get a job that could pay the bills, and that my generation was the first generation who would have it worse than their parents. I worked jobs I hated so I could come home, sit on the couch, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and watch TV. I wasted my weekends watching televised sports. I was in debt and I couldn’t see myself getting out.

I was told that without a higher education I would never amount to anything. I saw myself as working class. I accepted the social sorting our schools and institutions had applied to me. I became what I believed I was. I felt like I was an ordinary working class guy and that’s all I would ever be.

I felt guilty when I wanted more. I should be happy, right? At least I had a job. I had a cracker box to live in. I had a wife who loved me unconditionally. I had so much food I was getting fat. When I’d dream for more, I’d hear a demon in my head shouting “What do you want more for? You ungrateful little bastard, you’ve got everything you need. Quit feeling sorry for yourself.”

Was I ordinary? Yes, I was ordinary because I thought I was ordinary. Who am I to presume I am extraordinary?

If you listen to the news and the lessons taught in our schools you’ll hear the same message again and again. Ordinary people are helpless victims.

Do you want to know the truth?

It’s a lie. There are no ordinary people. You are all extraordinary. You are all gifted creators. Everyone of you has amazing things to offer.

I’m a slow learner. It took me almost 30 years to learn this.

It is my story and I am compelled to share it with you in the hope that it won’t take you 30 years to figure this out.

I was what I thought I was. And now I am what I think I am. And that’s what you are too.

Christine and Steve Olson on Career Renegade TV

Jonathan Fields was kind enough to interview us on Career Renegade TV. We loved doing this interview. Jonathan is a great guy and makes you feel at ease. We planned to do audio only but at the last minute we decided to go for the video. Let us know what you think.

We talk mostly about Christine’s home based business, Christine’s Books and we also talk about entrepreneurship, family life, social media, and the current economy.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to talk with Jonathan, a published author who has interviewed web superstars like Gary Vaynerchuk.

Here’s the interview:

The Great Fargo-Moorhead Flood of 2009 – Amazing Pictures

Off-topic post…

As some of you know, I grew up in the Red River Valley where the flood of the century is happening. Three of my brothers are still there.

My brother, Paul is a photographer and hasn’t had time to document as much of this historic event as he would like. He has been sandbagging for days on end.

He posted some pictures of the area where he was volunteering today:

The family who owns this house is winning the battle for now. What you can’t see in this picture is the makeshift sandbag dikes which run for miles and miles on each side of the river. What these folks have done is absolutely amazing. I was told that if the average citizen hadn’t volunteered to save this city, 80% of the city would be underwater right now.

They have 18 inches of snow on the ground and are praying for cold weather so it doesn’t melt. Another blizzard is on the way early next week and that’s better than rain.

What you aren’t hearing in the media As Bob Collins is reporting at MPR, these makeshift dikes leak and need to be manned 24/7 with pumps. As the water leaks in they pump it back out.

To win this battle they are going to have to keep this up for another week.

The city has built contingency dikes outside the the dikes pictured above.

The National Guard patrols the streets, but looting and anarchy aren’t a problem. These people have come together as a community to fight for their property and their lives. You can’t imagine how miserable these conditions are, how hopeless the national weather service told them it was, and they refuse to quit. There’s no whining and no complaining, only smiles and a little gallows humor. No one knows if they will win, history will be written after the snow melts and the floodwaters subside. And still, able bodied men and women are going door to door offering their help to anyone who needs it. The biggest problem is – too many volunteers.

If you’d like to see more photos from Paul E Olson’s coverage of the Fargo Moorhead flood of 2009, visit his website.

He’s taking a walk downtown this evening to capture more scenes, and if they have a story to tell, you’ll see them here.