Are You in the Rat Race?

Are you a participant in that thing called the “Rat Race?” I certainly was, and I look around and suspect a lot of people are. It’s where you kind of just race to the next, bigger-better job, bigger-better salary, or bigger-better whatever, without really wondering why you’re doing it, or what the finish like looks like.

It’s because a lot of us just succumb to what our culture tells us we “should” be doing. We “should” go to university. We “should” get a job. We “should” get married and have kids. Should, should, should.

But why?

There was a point in my life when I got really depressed about it. I mean, I had a great job that I enjoyed. My family and I went on great vacations. We had a nice apartment at the time, and a good number of friends. What was there to be depressed about?

It’s because all I knew about work is that I needed to keep “moving up.” I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but it felt like a better salary, a better title, that kind of thing. And the idea of just doing it without knowing why started to gnaw at me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s where Be the Master was born. I sat down with my family and defined success. Money is a part of it, of course; you need money to have things like housing and food. But how much did I need? And what else did I want in my career that would make me happy and feeling fulfilled? It’s how I realized I was closer to success than I’d realized, but that I wasn’t lining up my daily actions toward what I really wanted. It’s when I broke out of the rat race and started to do my own thing.

It really does work.

Drivers and Passengers

I’m sure you’ve been in a taxi or a ride share at some point, right? Think about what that felt like.

You were a passenger. Yes, you got to express a strong opinion about where you wanted to go, but really, if you think about it, you were just being aspirational. The destination was a thing you wanted.

The driver decided if you got it or not. True, if they didn’t you might complain, give them a one-star rating, or not pay – all valid outcomes. But you weren’t actually in control. At most, you had a potential for after-the-fact revenge, but that’s not the same as control.

The driver also decided how you got there. They chose the roads. They decided whether or not they’d hit another car, or a pedestrian, or a street light. They had an immense amount of control over what has happening, and what the outcomes were.

In day to day life, a lot of us are passengers. We kind of make a vague statement about where we’d like life to take us – maybe – and then we kind of just sit in the passenger seat and see what happens. Sure, if something goes horribly wrong, like running into a streetlight, we might slide into a different car, but we’re not exerting a lot of day to day control.

We know where we want to go, but we’re not really focused on how we get there.

If I could sum up Be the Master in just one concept, it’s this: the book helps you slide out of the passenger seat, get behind the wheel, and take control over whether and how you get to your destination.

It starts by teaching you how to enter that destination into your Life GPS by defining your success. It forces you to think about the tradeoffs you’re willing to make by defining yourself (am I in a rush, or am I willing to take in some scenery along the way?). And it lays out a system that forces you to make weekly decisions about the drive, so that each decision is active. Maybe some weeks you’re not working toward your success – fine, but you made a decision about that, rather than just letting it happen.

Give it a shot. It costs zero to try. And, if you like it, I’d love a review on Amazon, to help other people understand what the book’s all about.

Do Not “Believe.”

I’ve been trying to make a change to the way I think and speak. It’s an important one, for me. It’s a subject I’ve written about before elsewhere, but I’m trying to apply it to my daily life: I do not believe.

That can sound pretty weird, so let me explain.

I have opinions, of course, just like everyone else. I have reasons behind them, but my opinions are not objectively right or wrong; they’re simply opinions. They’re subject to change based on new information, and I’m often happy to share them if asked, as well as explain what led me to them. I might say, “in my opinion, this government policy is a bad idea.” I try not to say, “I believe the policy is bad idea.”

Beliefs are, for the most part, things that are held forth as facts, but which cannot be substantiated or proven. I might believe in a particular deity, for example, but that doesn’t usually have a place in my professional life. I don’t want to argue about that belief, and I have no intention of trying to prove or disprove it, and it’s probably not something I’m really open to changing. See, that’s the difference between belief and opinion, and it’s why I try to use the correct word for what I really mean.

Most importantly, especially in my professional life, is the theory. I might theorize that our customers are behaving in a certain way for a certain reason; I would never state that I believe they are doing something for one reason or another. A theory can, given time and data, be proven or disproven; a belief cannot. My clearly stating that my statement is a theory, I let my colleagues know that I’m open to proving or disproving it, discussing it, and so on. Were I to express a belief, my intentions are perhaps less clear.

Outside of perhaps my religious beliefs, I try not to have any beliefs. I try to have opinions and theories. I try to be clear about which is which. And most especially at work, I try to stick with theories and proofs as much as possible. My opinions, by and large, have little place in the business; what’s good for the business are for me to state my theories, and then either prove or disprove those based on objective facts. Or, in some cases, fail to conclusively prove or disprove them, showing that I had a poorly-formulated theory.

Expertise != Omniscience

One of the problems I think we all have, in almost every field, is a good definition of expert. Experts don’t necessarily know everything, right? Take a neurosurgeon – definitely an “expert” by anyone’s reckoning, but they’d likely be the first to tell you that they’re always learning new things, too. So, being an expert doesn’t mean “I know all the things.” Go read “Timothy the Blacksmith” if you need a different perspective on that.

So if knowing nothing makes you definitely not-an-expert, but expertise exists somewhere short of knowing everything, then what, exactly, makes an expert?

I’ll offer a taxonomy for you to consider. This is based on Part 4 of Be the Master (which you can get for free by signing up below).

A beginner is someone who is just getting started, as the name implies. Someone who doesn’t yet know enough to work in a field on their own, but is still learning the basics. Call this an “apprentice.”

A practitioner is someone who can operate independently in their field. A practitioner in one topic, in one organization, will be different than one in that same topic in another organization, right? That’s because their two jobs probably have slightly different demands, which they have evolved to meet. But they’re both holding down a job, so they’re both practitioners. Call them “journeymen.”

An expert is someone who can help someone else learn. Perhaps a beginner. An expert isn’t necessarily someone who can impress other experts; they’re someone capable of helping a beginner, and likely a practitioner. Experts often create improvements in their field, perhaps through a streamlined process, an innovation, or something else. Experts never stop learning, but they’re also able to teach. Call them “Masters.”

Where do you find yourself on that scale? Are you “merely” a practitioner? I doubt it. If you’ve learned enough to hold down a job in your field, then you can certainly teach some of those things to other people. And that, I would argue, makes you an “expert.”

“Success” Doesn’t Have to Mean a Rat Race

I had a fantastic conversation with some folks last week around the idea of “success.” One gentleman said something to the effect of, “I’m fine where I’m at. I make enough. I don’t need success, and I frankly don’t want the rat race that goes along with it.” I thought it was an especially pithy comment, but I disagreed. In the end, I brought him around to a different perspective.

I do agree that the rate race sucks. I agree that “growth for the sake of growth” sucks. When Greg Shields and I owned Concentrated Technology together, we were both working really hard, almost all the time. That’s not a complaint: we made good money, we could take the time we wanted to take for vacations and such, and we enjoyed the lifestyle the company let us live. People would occasionally ask us, “when are you guys going to hire someone?” We’d ask why we should, and they’d say, “well, it’s probably the only way you can grow, right?”

Sure. Except we didn’t want to grow. We were fine right where we were, and we didn’t see the point in growing just for the sake of growth.

You see, growth ≠ success.

Promotion ≠ success. Payraise ≠ success. Job title ≠ success.

I know what growth means. I know what promotion means, and payraise and job title. What I can’t define is “success.” At least, I can’t create some universal definition of success that everyone will agree on. Sure, our culture pushes us toward a better job, a bigger paycheck, and so on. People who are “passengers” in their lives will often take those, much as you might tae a free upgrade on a plane. But the upgrade isn’t necessarily getting you anyplace. Drivers look at promotion opportunities and ask themselves, “how is this getting me a step closer to my success?”

Key word: my.

Only you can decide what “success” means for you. In the case of the gent I was speaking with, he’d already achieved much of what he needed to be successful. He was making as much as he needed, he was getting the time he wanted with his friends and family, and he wasn’t “paying” any more in job stress than he was okay with. He’d never actually written those things down, though, so he was still thinking of “success” as some thing he hadn’t reached and didn’t want, when in reality, he’d already come really close to it.

So define your success. It’s the first step in The Grind™ for a reason. And if you don’t know what that means, I’ve got a book you should download.

Bonus Listen: A Round Table on OpEx, CapEx, and Business Finances

A bonus pilot episode for you this week! This is a potential new format for the podcast, where we take a relaxed, freewheeling approach to a particular topic. This episode: ever wonder what OpEx and CapEx are, and why some companies prefer one over the other? Wonder what a P&L is and how it’s used? All that and more are on the table.

[politics] An “Independent” Justice Department?

Because it’s been in the news – and not just for our current administration; this comes up a lot – I thought I’d look at the Justice Department, and comment on its “independence.” This came up in a recent conversation with a British friend of mine, who drew some interesting parallels I hadn’t realized. Anyway…

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