It may seem like your hobbies don’t fit into this discussion, and you’re partially right. They don’t fit because they could be an entire discussion of their own. At the start of this we talked about music, art, and literature. Things we all enjoy because others have developed talents so well that we are willing to pay to listen, see, and read them. Hobbies are often described as things we like to do, but often they are things we have others do so we can enjoy ourselves. We like to listen to music others create. We like to watch movies others act in. We like to read books others write. We like to watch sports others play.
At some point, these hobbies will be hollow to you. Maybe they already are. You will know all of your favorite books and won’t be able to find another that gives you the same experience. Sports seasons will always end leaving you disappointed. Movies will all seem underwhelming. Why? Because consuming follows the law of diminishing returns. The value and enjoyment you get out of consuming things other people create will decrease over time. After a while, your brain will not be stimulated as it used to be.
Before we reach this point, we should pick up our hobbies and make them our own. This is the true challenge, the true hobby, and the way to really enjoy and appreciate something.
Instead of spending hours and hours listening to music, spend one hour a day or week learning an instrument and making your own music. Rather than just reading books, write one. Rather than just watching sports, play them or coach them.
If you take an active role in your hobbies and become an expert in them, you will find more enjoyment in life, more confidence in yourself, and (here’s the kicker) you will add value to those around you. Rather than just consume what is out there, you may create music for authors to listen to. You may play sports so well others enjoy watching you. You may write books so good musicians will read them. Those younger and less experienced than you can gain from the value you create.
If we never get to the point that we create value in our hobbies, we are doing our children, and countless others a disservice. We are a drain and nothing more in that particular arena.
I recently saw a t-shirt that said, “my hobby is internet”. Don’t let this be a commentary on your value. Don’t get lost in the amount of information that is out there and fool yourself into thinking that reading a bunch of articles like this or following other people’s lives is an accomplishment.
As one blogger put it, “There isn’t an article online that would make up for all the time you have wasted in life.” Ouch, but true.
Take charge. Manage your time, your effort, your investments. Create value and improve your life and the lives of others.
Let’s talk about the interest rate portion of the time value formulas a little more. In terms of money, we know the interest rate is the fraction of the principle paid each day, month, or year that your money is lent out. Each time interest is paid, the principle grows and becomes more valuable.
Your value over time grows in the same way. Let’s say you get up 30 minutes early every morning to read the Wall Street Journal. After several months of doing this, you use information from several articles you read to make a strategic move against a competitor—and you’re successful. Your boss is amazed by your insightful move and lauds your performance.
You are the principle.
Reading the WSJ for 30 minutes every morning instead of sleeping is the investment. (You lent yourself out for 30 minutes a day for several months, which adds up to 45+ hours of your time).
The interest rate is your effort and engagement during those 30 minutes.
The knowledge you gained is the interest earned. It accrued every day, week, and month that you lent yourself to read the WSJ.
That new knowledge increased your ability to contribute and create value for your employer. It increased your personal value just like the interest earned on a monetary investment increases the value of the principle amount.
Though interest is the key driver of value over time, context matters.
A 15% interest rate on your investment may seem like a great rate, but what if inflation rose from 1 to 5.5%. Suddenly, that interest rate is not nearly as impressive and may not even meet your needs for the year.
Similarly, you may have used information you learned about a competitor to secure a new account and bring in substantially more revenue for the year, but if you belittled people that work for you, lost your temper with your manager, or stole credit along the way, how valuable are you really?
When determining the value you create, you need to consider:
What you produce, do for others, alleviate, improve, etc.
Your price tag
Your salary, your negative attitude, how you treat others, your mistakes, work you can’t do because you lack the skill or knowledge, your tendency to talk too much and bug co-workers, etc. What do you cost to be there?
Does your boss need you to plow ahead and figure things out or wait for instructions? Does your co-worker need someone who is sociable or someone who is quite so work can get done? Is your company going through dramatic changes and needs you to be adaptive? Do those you work with need training or additional knowledge to accomplish their work?
We cannot be happy or successful if we focus in one area alone. Though some people may appear incredibly valuable at work, they may be total deadbeats at home or drains on their community. We cannot be happy succeeding in only one area of our life. It just is not possible.
A good friend of mine got home from running errands on a Saturday and as he got out of his car and crossed the parking lot of his apartment complex, he noticed a woman carrying several bags of groceries and trying to corral her kids toward her apartment. As my friend got closer, he realized the woman was several months pregnant. He offered to help her with her groceries. He carried groceries and the woman herded her kids up several flights of stairs to her apartment.
Before entering the apartment, my friend asked if she had more groceries out in the car—she did—and offered to get those as well. She accepted his offer. The woman unlocked her door and they stepped in. My friend was dumbfounded to see her husband sitting on the couch watching a football game, hardly looking up as everyone came in. He didn’t even acknowledge my friend carrying groceries. The woman did not ask her husband to help get the rest of the groceries. Frustrated, my friend went back to the parking lot and got the rest of the groceries.
Does it matter how successful the man on the couch is at work? Does it matter if he provides nice toys for his kids or a brand car for his wife every year? Context. What are the real needs compared to what we are contributing? What are we costing our families?
Do not be that man on the couch. Do not be that kind of spouse or that kind of parent.
- Do you listen more than you talk?
- Do you create more dirty dishes than you clean?
- Do you do more alone than you do with your family?
- Do you compliment your spouse more than you correct them?
- Do you adjust your effort and contributions according to your family’s needs? As your kids grow do you ask more questions, play more games? When your spouse is stressed do you do more around the house or with the kids?
Thinking of your family life:
What are your contributions?
What do you cost your spouse or kids?
What is the context of your contributions (family’s actual needs)?
Now, I know most of you are familiar with the time value of money concept, but let’s do a quick refresher:
At it’s core, the time value of money is determined using the two formulas you see below, where “r” is the interest rate and “t” is time.
The important thing to know is that together, these formulas tell us a $1 today is worth more than the same $1 tomorrow. Why? Because inflation and lost investment opportunities cause the dollar to lose value over time.
More specifically, the future value formula allows us to figure out how much our money will be worth in the future if we invest it at a certain rate.
The present value formula helps us figure out what it would take to end up with a certain amount of money in the future. It helps us know how much, how long, and at what interest rate we need to invest.
In both formulas, the interest rate is the key driver of value over time.
Let’s look at what $100 looks like over ten years at different interest rates as an example.
After ten years, your $100 could be worth:
1. $77 with no investment and left at the mercy of inflation
2. $150 if invested at 5%
3. $250 if invested at 10%
4. $400 if invested at 15%
Doing nothing with $100 essentially costs $433 over ten years. Not a huge number, but most of us are dealing with much more than $100. I know this is over simplified, but it serves as a good example.
The $100 is our present value. In front of us, ready for the taking, are several future values. We can place our $100 under our mattress, or we can invest it at 5%, 10%, or 15% depending on the future value we want to achieve. Why wouldn’t we go for the $400 if it is a viable option? We’d be crazy not to choose that investment option. The only reason I can think of is that we can’t spare the money for 10 years. We may need it sooner. We may need it now. That is understandable.
This is where we leave the money example, though. I’m not just talking about money, I’m really talking about your value and my value over the next ten years. I’m talking about our present value and our future value.
Let’s look at our value at work over time as an example.
Just like we have various investment options with money, we have various investment options with ourselves. Our personal investment options fall into four categories:
1. Checked out
4. Investment (squared)
I worked with a man who had been in the same role for 18 years. Over the 18 years he was offered promotions and more responsibility but he turned them all down. He was stuck on old programs and technology and did not learn as quickly as new hires. He also didn’t want his job description to change, which it naturally needed to over time. Was he worth more after 18 years than he was when he started? Absolutely not. 18 years of annual merit increases (not based on merit by the way), Christmas bonuses, awarded vacation days for longevity with the company…he was way over compensated. He was worth much less than he cost. He created less value than he consumed. You don’t have to be in the same role for 18 years to cost more than you add. How many co-workers have you seen that are completely checked out, doing nothing but the minimum required to keep their job if even that?
These people go where the road takes them, and then look back and say, “see how far I have traveled?” Working as a content manager for eight years is not an accomplishment by itself. Surviving is not adding value.
These are your star players. I worked for a manager that invested in himself regularly to keep his skills sharp, to stay knowledgeable about his trade. He consistently looked for ways to develop people around him and raise his hand for work he saw as valuable to the company. On a smaller note, he took the time to use a calendar so he was never late to a meeting and never missed a deadline.
There is no limit to the amount of value we can add. Just when you think you are a star player, you’ll meet someone better than you. We don’t all have to be at this level in all areas of our life. It is healthy to recognize that some people are better investors than we are, and that is okay. But, it is important to learn from them and make wise investments ourselves. Chances are, we will be in this category far more than we think.
Again, the rate at which we invest is the key driver of value- just like in the time value of money. There is no limit on what we can achieve with smart investments.
The key to creating more than we consume at work, and in other areas of our life, is to be mindful of our present value and what investments we’ll need to make to reach our desired future value.
If you continue working as you are, where will you be in 10 years? Will you be happy with that?
If you want to be a Director or VP in 10 years. What do you need to do to get there?
One of my favorite songs right now is Counting Stars by One Republic.
What I love about it (and so many other songs), is that someone created it and I know I could never duplicate it.
I like art for the same reason. I can’t draw. I can’t paint. But I am amazed at the talent artists have of putting their thoughts, their imagination, on paper for others to enjoy.
Authors are similar to artists. They create characters, plots, and settings that capture our imagination and interest.
We benefit all the time from the value other people create. But do we create value that benefits others?
The problem today is there are more value consumers than there are value creators. The deeper problem is that this trend is continuing not just in an aggregate sense, but on an individual level. This is not just about the total number of value creators vs value consumers. This is about the quality of life we achieve and the quality of life we help others achieve.
For society to function well and to maximize the chance of success and happiness for all people, each of us needs to create more value than we consume.
The way I see it, our current creation to consumption rate is our present value. And, by value I don’t mean personal worth. As human beings, as friends and family members, as children of God, we have infinite worth. Even someone who takes more than they give is worth loving, serving, and helping. What I am talking about is value in terms of maximizing our own happiness and the happiness of those we interact with.
There are times in life when we need to consume more value than we create. For much of our early life, we consume more than we give. We learn from the example of our parents at home, teachers at school, coaches on the field, and friends at play. We certainly add value by the laughter we share, the good deeds we offer, and the example we set for others, but overall we consume more than we contribute while growing up. Most of our needs as children were taken care of by others. We learned by consuming what someone else created.
At some point, however, the scale of consumption and creation needs to tip so that we are creating more than we are consuming.
For many of us, that scale is tipping far too late in life. For others, it never tips at all. In either case, we need to realize that you and I are likely more valuable to our family, employer, and community now than we will ever be in the future if we don’t do something different.
The value we add today may be enough (though it is likely already underwhelming), but our job responsibilities will continue to grow, our communities’ needs will grow, and our families’ needs will grow. If we’re not growing with them, if we’re not creating value that matches or exceeds their needs, we will be taking more than we give. We will be leeches.
There is a nice little principle that can help us out of this hole, though. This principle has been the basis of financial theory for hundreds of years and is called the Time Value of Money. It turns out that this principle applies to much more than money.
I call this new application of the theory the Time Value of You.
What do you do to create value?
What value are you glad someone else created for you to enjoy?
My wife and I, and our 14-month-old son, just got back to Provo, Utah after spending three months in Texas for an internship with Hewlett Packard. After the trip was over, we were a little surprised to see that we drove a total of 6,000 miles during those three months! It is only 1,300 miles from Utah to Texas, so that means we drove 2,600 miles getting there and back, and 3,400 miles while in Texas!
To us, the 1,300 mile trip each way seemed like a big deal. We had the car checked out, mapped several possible routes, planned out lunch stops and hotels, and packed enough food to feed everyone on the freeway system between Provo and Dallas a pretty solid meal. We were prepared. Little did we know we would travel much more than 1,300 miles once we got to our destination. The real trip began right after we arrived. The two big milestones we planned for turned out to be small compared to the miles traveled in between.
Small trips, quick excursions, and everyday errands turned into 3,400 miles of travel over the summer. Though we did not pack snacks, plan breaks along the way, or get the car checked out ahead of time, these little trips had a much larger impact on our overall experience than the two “big” road trips did. This may seem like a no-brainer for road trips- but I think we ignore this principle in regular life far too often.
What if the things we think matter are actually just tiny little turns compared to all the miles in between? How often do we think: Once I get a promotion, I will relax and spend more time with family. Once I graduate, I will have more time to serve at church. When we move into our new house, I will get to know the neighbors. When my kids are a little older, I’ll have time to….
We travel many more miles between our life milestones than we realize, and it is those in-between miles that matter. It is up to us to decide what we do with those miles and make sure they are not wasted. If we are not careful, we’ll realize too late that milestones come and go and it is the life we live before and after them that really matters, not the milestones at all.
The question is: How do you keep everyday moments in focus while working towards larger milestones?
I recently started reading a book called Give and Take by Adam Grant, a professor at The Wharton School. It is an incredible book you should read. period. I won’t ruin it for you, but I want to touch on one subject that really hit me. We have all heard of givers and takers. Well Adam Grant highlights a third group called Matchers.
These people maintain a healthy ratio of give and take. They tend to give only when it appears they will receive something in return immediately or in the near future. They will not take if it means they have to give more than they are comfortable giving. It is all about balancing give and take.
Well I am/was a Matcher. I didn’t really know it until recently, but I usually do keep track of what I do for others so I know who to ask favors from later. I find it hard to help people I know will never reciprocate. I have a hard time recommending anyone but close friends for jobs because I feel the potential harm of that person failing at the job outweighs the potential good of that person succeeding.
Right before I started reading Give and Take, I reached out to a Google employee through LinkedIn who graduated from the same MBA program I am currently in. We had not personally met, but we did share a few common contacts. I asked him if he had any knowledge of a program called @GoogleTalks or if he knew someone close to the program that I could talk with. I explained that I hoped to learn more about how the program originated and how they maintained it so well. This individual accepted my connection request and then responded, ” I am not comfortable sending you to the people who manage the program, since I don’t know you other than an intro email on LinkedIn. Nothing personal.”
His response irritated me. What was he worried I would do? I wondered. Am I that untrustworthy right from the get go? I felt a little offended that I was assumed to be unworthy of someone’s good will just for being unknown. He could have offered to connect first and find out more details. He didn’t bother. This man was a Matcher at best and a Taker at worst. There was no benefit to him so he saw no reason to help. Considering Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, I found this situation ironic.
I learned a valuable lesson though. I did not want to treat anyone the way he treated me. And then I started reading Give and Take. Givers do not need anything in return for helping someone. They are happy to lift someone by giving advice, sharing resources, listening, or making a critical introduction. They are not reluctant to help strangers. A giver thinks if the benefit to the other person outweighs my own discomfort, I’ll give. That is an important point. Usually we think, will the benefit to me outweigh the potential harm or discomfort of helping? For most of us, thinking about the benefit to the other person first is a fundamentally different way of thinking.
I decided to start giving more- wherever I could. I soon found that opportunities were everywhere! A colleague I had not spoken to in almost 8 years posted on facebook that he was looking for work. I took 3 minutes to make a connection with a recruiter I knew and put them in touch with each other . I took a few minutes to write a few LinkedIn recommendations for some coworkers. I reviewed a friends resume and gave him a few suggestions. I took more time to play with my son when I got home from work.
Small opportunities to give have not stopped coming. I now realize how many chances to help people I know well (and some I don’t know so well) I was passing up each day. Now that some time has passed, I am learning that I have stronger relationships with people I care about. I notice people’s needs and remember their goals more. I am happier. I am not busier, more tired, poorer, or anything like that. So, there really is no downside to giving more.
Are you a Giver, Taker, or Matcher? What keeps you from giving more? What motivates you to give?
Experience teaches only the teachable.
– Aldous Huxley
Have you ever blamed just about everything and everyone else only to finally realize you were the problem all along? It is a humbling moment. How do you stay teachable?
You have much more control of your life, circumstances, environment, skills, habits, strengths, and weaknesses than society will ever admit.
A 2012 Gallup Poll shows that 54% of Americans believe they are thriving in life. On a 10 point scale, those Americans rate their current life a 7 or higher and their future life an 8 or higher. Given that we are in the middle of one of the worst economic disasters in recent history, 54% is decent.
I won’t ignore the remaining 46% though. Sadly, 43% of them say they are struggling and the remaining 3% – suffering. If you fall within that 46% now or in the future, I encourage you to learn from Steve Jobs. Before he returned to Apple and made it the world’s most valuable company, the following clip was taped by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association.
Could he make his point any easier to understand? Push on life and something will “pop out the other side.” In other words, nothing will change unless you push, poke, or prod opportunities around you. In the next few posts, I will discuss a few ways you can push on life to change it. Your push should be deliberate, well thought out, specific, and prudent. For now, the important hurdle for you to clear is understanding that you can change. Life can change for the better.
“Embrace it. Change it. Improve it. Make Your Mark Upon It.”
What do you feel is the biggest obstacle to reaching your goals?
Info interviews are critical to networking and actually achieving personal success. If you are wondering what an info interview is or why you should conduct one, check out my earlier post.
The 4 Keys
1. Interview The Right Person
This first step is often botched. Too many of us think too far down the road. You may think “I want to be the VP of marketing,” so you seek out a VP of marketing to interview. The problem? You are currently an intern for the marketing department of a billion dollar company. Intern to VP is a pretty huge leap. Don’t forget the positions in between your current job and your dream job. Find someone that currently holds the position you will most likely transition to next. Your best bet is to interview a marketing associate. Once you are a marketing associate, interview the senior manager of marketing, then the director of marketing, and finally the VP of marketing. Be smart and get information that you can actually act on instead of information that simply educates you about a job you are not and will not be qualified for in the near future.
(a) Research the interviewee’s company and position. Make sure you know the company’s history, products/services, recent achievements and struggles. Be familiar with the interviewee’s basic job functions and what education/skills it takes to fill that position.
(b) Write down 15 to 30 questions ahead of time and make sure the questions are succinct and helpful. Don’t waste time asking questions you can easily find answers to on the company’s website.
(c) Be prepared to answer the question, “what can I do for you?” In other words, make sure you can clearly state why you are conducting the interview and what you hope to gain from it.
3. Control the Interview
You run the interview – period. Do not wait for the interviewee to ask you questions or give you some magic signal that it is your turn to talk. Make sure you take control from the very start of the interview. Thank the interviewee for meeting or talking with you and reiterate that you will only take 20 to 30 minutes of their time (Do not go over time unless they specifically tell you they have more to tell you after the 30 minutes is up). Introduce yourself and explain why you want to interview them. You should control the interview, but remember they are doing you a favor by meeting with you. Yield to the interviewee if he or she starts talking, even if it is slightly off topic. Always bring it back around by asking another question that steers the conversation in the right direction. If you have a prepared list of questions, this won’t be difficult.
Structure your questions in a logical way. For example, you may first ask how the interviewee decided to pursue their particular field of work. You may then ask what skills and education helped them get to where they are now. Then you can ask them several questions about their current position (responsibilities, culture of the company, needed skills, work-life balance, etc.).
To signal that you are ending the interview (to be respectful of their time), you should thank them again for making time for you and sharing their experiences. Ask them if it is okay if you stay in touch as you utilize the information they provided to ask any follow-up questions you may have. Lastly, always ask for names of individuals you should talk with to learn even more about the company and/or position. This will help you expand your network and set up additional info interviews.
4. Send a Follow-up Thank You
Send an e-mail, LinkedIn message, hand-written note, or a bike messenger for all I care. Just make sure you send a follow-up thank you to let the interviewee know you really appreciate their time and advice. Neglecting this is irresponsible and will make it more difficult to get future meetings with the interviewee.
What do you believe is the most important question to ask during an info interview?
Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures. He is the chairman of the HDTV cable network HDNet and stars on ABC’s Shark Tank. Oh, and he’s a billionaire.
Skip Bayless is a sports journalist and television personality for ESPN. Bayless is reportedly a millionaire.
Mark Cuban recently appeared on ESPN and made Bayless look like an idiot. Cuban’s point is not directed at Bayless alone, however. Many of us make the same mistake Bayless makes over and over in the ESPN clip. Watch the clip and cringe. This is how you should feel every time you use Bayless’ approach to understanding your own shortcomings, failures, and successes. Without Cuban’s approach, I guarantee you will not be able to take your success (skill, ability, salary, title, whatever means success to you) to the next level.
Cuban points out that Bayless deals only in generalities. It is impossible to accurately describe a cause and effect relationship using generalities. Cuban points out how commentators were saying Miami “wanted it more” or the Mavericks “didn’t play hard enough.” That is how they attribute success or failure to professional teams. The problem is that you cannot improve generalities. How do the Mavericks “want it more” or how do they “play harder?” Actual improvement requires more concrete detail. Have fewer turn overs, manage the clock better, keep so-and-so out from under the basket, etc.
We need to avoid this problem in our own professional lives: did you get passed over for that promotion because you didn’t want it enough? The other candidate wanted it more or tried harder? Were you ‘just not feeling it’ the day of the interview so it didn’t go so well? Was the interview just awkward for some reason? If you want to get that next promotion, you need to improve in specific ways. What questions can you answer better? How can you improve your image as a reliable employee who would make a strong manager (be on time to work, turn in high-quality work before the deadline, volunteer for projects, etc)? How can you make an interview comfortable for you and the interviewer (smile, make light conversation, make eye contact, etc)?
Learn from Cuban, deal in facts. What do you need to improve to take your success to the next level?
What common generalities hold us back on a daily basis?