Business

High and Cold (brew): A Love Story

Anyone who says they cannot be bribed simply doesn’t understand what their price is.  Everyone has something important to them, and therefore would be willing to give up that which is less important in order to obtain the item of utmost importance.  I suppose perhaps a person’s integrity might be the most important thing, therefore rendering them physically unbribable, but that would make me question their lack of transcendently important things such as: family, children, coffee, and (of course) love.  Point being everyone has a price.

So with all that said, this post has nothing to do with any sort of bribery, (as much as it may sound like it at certain points.)

I discovered cold brew coffee in my hometown of Seattle.  Tully’s coffee is more prevalent up there than it is in Florida (where I reside now) and they offer it mixed with some kind of “Madagascar Vanilla” that makes for a really tasty combo.  I liked it better than my typical iced coffee at the time, but didn’t realize exactly how special it was.  Maybe because of the vanilla, maybe because I wasn’t paying attention.  Probably a little of both.

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Cold Brew – Looks like science!

For those not yet introduced to cold brew, it’s essentially what it sounds like.  It’s coffee, but it’s never introduced to heat.  So in essence, the ground coffee beans are steeped in water so that it can absorb the flavor and caffeine.  The upside to this is a FAR less acidic and smoother cold coffee.  The downside is that in this case heat is replaced with time.  So making your own “instant” cold brew is impossible (though it IS easy to buy it instantly…  we’ll get to that in a few.)  A typical batch of cold brew takes around 20-24 hours to brew, but it’s well worth it.  Added benefit to those of us who are caffeine junkies, is that the longer you steep the cold brew, the stronger the caffeine content (to the point where even the adventurous addicts find themselves cutting it with water or some kind of milk.)

Even a couple of years ago, cold brew was nowhere to be found in Florida (at least, not that I and the general population here was aware of.)  I figured it was a Northwest/Seattle thing since coffee is a cultural obsession there.  But then I heard that Starbucks was test-marketing cold brew in it’s stores and I became very, very excited.  Of all places, surely Florida, the only state that competes with Hell for total heat and humidity was deserving of this cold brew!  Naturally, I was wrong.  Of all places, primarily the northern territories (including New York, Boston, and Seattle) were the test markets.  Why?  Who knows?  Population maybe?  Regardless a friend of mine working for Starbucks told me there was no sign we would see it in Florida anytime soon, and every other barista I asked agreed or didn’t even know what cold brew was.  So my enthusiasm was curbed, but I kept asking from time to time.

Finally, I was in Miami for a job interview last year and I randomly decided to ask the barista in Starbucks about cold brew… the answer was pure hope: “Oh yeah, we’ve already got some of the materials in, we’re just waiting for the next shipment.  Probably have it next week.”  Wait.. WHAT?  I asked again and was assured it was true.  Cold Brew had finally made it to Florida.

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Starbucks Trenta Cold Brew: Sleep is not an option.

What followed was months of extreme caffeine and discovery.  I learned that I didn’t need
to mix anything with cold brew and it was far more potent than an equal amount of iced coffee.  Then another friend who manages Starbucks clued me in on the potency of cold brew.  It was so strong that Starbucks HQ gave them strict orders to cut it in half with water.  So what I had been drinking and buzzing off of was only half strength!  As a regular I eventually convinced the folks at my Starbucks to serve me full strength for my overnight Uber runs.  The taste obviously took some getting used to (it is VERY potent stuff) but it kept me buzzing all the way through an overnight Uber run with some to spare for the next night.  It was my go-to for many months until I returned to fulltime work and found my caffeine needs reduced.

Regular coffee has been so easy to come by now that I had only sought regular, cut cold brew on days I needed that extra pick me up.  That was, until, I found High Brew brand cold brewed coffee.   I randomly saw High Brew on sale at Target one day when I was searching for a companion to my lunch sandwich.  It was on sale, and I was intrigued by the idea of canned, single-serve cold brew, so I thought I would give it a try.  As is typical of me, I snapped a picture of this experience, and a member of the Highbrew marketing team commented on my photo.  My one lament was that the Mocha flavor I tried had dairy milk, and I prefer my coffee either black, or with an alternative milk such as coconut or almond milk.  Fortunately they responded that they did, in fact, have a “Black and Bold” version and would happily send me a sample if I dropped them a line via e-mail.  Of course I jumped on the opportunity.

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Social marketing at it’s best!

Weeks later my “sample” arrived, and let me tell you, the folks at Highbrew know their social marketing.  They sent me several cans of the “Black and Bold” version to try, along with several more certificates good for a free can, along with a personalized note from the girl who commented on my instagram (Thank You April!)  Also, High Brew gets a ton of points for originating in Austin, TX (the coolest city in Texas and one of the coolest in the country.)

So naturally I did three things with my samples: 1. I searched for places I could use my free coupons (target doesn’t carry the black and bold I like!)  2. I tried the other flavors (all are good, but the milk kills it for me.)  and 3. I did a taste test between a can of Highbrew black and bold and fresh Starbucks cold brew with a comparable amount of sweetener (Three pumps of classic, to be fair.)  Here’s how it went:

Taste: High Brew

At first High Brew seems almost a little watered down, but that’s a part of it’s consistent drinkability and flavor.   Starbucks suffers from an inconsistency depending on the brew, and often has a funky sort of aftertaste (as this one did.)  Lately I’ve been ordering my Starbucks with coconut milk, which would give them a boost, but to keep it fair I’m comparing the same style.  High Brew would benefit from a dairy alternative flavor I think.

Smoothness: High Brew

As I mentioned above, High brew is SO easy to drink.  It’s best chilled, but it doesn’t have to be.  On ice as served, Starbucks is sometimes pretty close, but it tends to have more bite along with an occasional aftertaste.

Caffeine Content: Starbucks

In roughly 6 oz of Starbucks I feel more energetic than I do from the 8 oz can of High Brew.  There’s a good possibility that Starbucks is steeped longer resulting in both the stronger taste and higher caffeine content.  It certainly gets you through the day on it’s own while it (happily) takes at least two High Brew to get me through a long day (when I need this sort of intake.)

Price: Starbucks

High Brew ranges from $2.00 – $2.99 / can. (8 oz) A similar amount of Starbucks will run you about $1.62. (based on $3.25 for a 16 oz Grande)  The $2.00 price point I found for High Brew is the four-pack from my local Fresh Market where it’s been on special.  But even with that close race, you get more caffeine for your money via Starbucks.

Convenience: Tie 

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SO. MUCH. COFFEE.

Starbucks is everywhere, and High Brew is mostly in Whole Foods and similar stores.
(Target appears to be phasing some of it out, and doesn’t have Black and Bold.) However, if you can find a local distributor on their website like I did, you can get and STORE the cold brew in your fridge for first thing in the morning, backpacking, etc. So more portable and convenient form factor, which is why lately it’s been my go-to for the office. (It just so happens my boss sends me to shop for him at the Fresh Market that sells these.)

(And… After this review.. having drank both… I can see sound.)

What’s awesome about all this is that cold brew is catching on to the point that Starbucks and High Brew are only two of many options showing up on the market (including a tasty one made with almond milk!)  But even more awesome was the personalized effort by High Brew to demonstrate to a potential customer and share their brand.  I can easily say I’m sold as I buy a minimum of two four-packs a week and show no signs of slowing down.

If you’re an iced coffee drinker, I strongly recommend you try cold brew.  And if you haven’t checked out High Brew, give it a shot.  Besides the Black and Bold that I prefer, they also offer Vanilla, Mocha, Espresso and Caramel flavors with milk that are quite good.  If you decide to try it out, drop me a line and let me know what you think!

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I’m shameless, I know.

 

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Uber Tales: Why Taxis Are Scared and Uber is Good For People.

Taxi drivers hate Uber drivers like me.  I’m being literal, they really, really do not like us.  It’s not so bad here in Orlando where I drive in the late night / early morning hours (I get glared at occasionally), but in major cities like New York and other countries where Uber hasn’t already been banned, taxi drivers will actually become violent towards Uber drivers.  It’s not hard to see why; they’re being beaten at their own game.  Taxi service has been around since before we had motor vehicles.  Over the years as places like Manhattan grew into the sprawling metropolises they are today, public and alternative transportation became a huge necessity, which gave rise to the booming taxi cab service that would become a major component of city transportation and a prominent cultural icon.

For nearly a century cab service was without competition.  Sure, there were different cab companies, but they all abided by the same general rule set and system.  They were competitive with each other’s pricing and most often operated the same style of vehicle.  Sure, you had different levels as you do today: Private, higher end “town car” service and localized “pedal cabs” for getting around downtown, but for the most part the position of the taxi cab in our society went without competition or alternative for many decades… until now.

Originally only upscale cars.

Originally only upscale cars.

Where Uber Came From:

In 2008, Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon (which he sold to Ebay) got together with another web visionary named Travis Kalanik.  Both were coming off of previously successful ventures and looking for their next big thing.  They teamed up to tackle the taxi problem in San Fransisco, and the original “UberCab” prototype app was born.  By 2009, Camp had re-taken over StumbleUpon and hired Kalanik to directly control and develop their ongoing UberCab application.  After much testing and development, UberCab was launched in San Fransisco on July 5th, 2010.

However, even from the beginning, challenges arose.  By October of 2010 the city of San Francisco served UberCab with a cease and desist order for operating a cab company without proper licensing.  So Uber dropped “cab” from their name and officially became “Uber”, an “upscale ride-sharing service” just as AirBNB allows hosts to share their apartment.  Using this model, the founders raised significant capital from eager investors and launched in New York City by May, 2011.  Following that success was Seattle, Washington DC, Boston, Chicago and even Paris as the first international expansion.

In some places it's almost warfare.

In some places it’s almost warfare.

Up to this point, Uber had been primarily based an affordable premium vehicle (“Black Car”) service.  But just as they began to face some backlash regarding surge pricing and fares over the holiday, the unveiled their next secret weapon: UberX.  Based on the above mentioned AirBNB philosophy, this service is cheaper and focuses on newer model hybrid and sedan drivers to get customers where they need to go.  This facilitates expansion into more cities and draws even greater ire from taxi services and cities seeking to regulate the quickly growing trend.  By 2013 Uber was facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines and new competition from other ride-sharing services like Lyft and Sidecar.  However, that same year, California officially recognized “Ride-Sharing” as it’s own official transportation category, providing specific regulations, but paving the way for Uber and other services to operate without the previous fines and roadblocks they had faced.

However, opposition is fierce for Uber, from competitors like Lyft and especially from large, well-established taxi companies and unions.  Because of this, less progressive states are slow to act on regulations regarding the status of ride-sharing platforms.  Much of it is because of outside pressure and in other cases they simply don’t know what to do with it.

Why Uber is Important:

With the history out of the way I can relate a bit more personally to you.  With all the politics involved and the headlines, what you don’t see is the actual good that Uber and it’s drivers are doing for the everyday person.  Allow me to give you a few examples:

"Are you my Uber?"  "No."

Perfectly normal night for an Uber driver.

A few weeks ago I got an early AM request in the Winter Park area.  Shortly after accepting the ride through my app, the client called me.  He had a flight leaving in just over an hour, and the taxi that he had requested a day earlier “couldn’t make it”.  This was for a very important meeting,in Chicago that day and he could not afford to be late.  I didn’t promise I would get him there because the time frame was tight, but I was at his door within five minutes and had him to the airport with about thirty-five minutes to spare.  I don’t know if he made it or not, but he was grateful to have some kind of hope and without Uber he never would’ve had a chance.

Fast forward to about four nights ago and a much more severe situation.  Around five-thirty in the morning I get a request from a neighborhood nearby.  As I’m traveling to the address given, the client calls me and I pick up.  She says: “Hello? Listen, I need you to help me.  I don’t know where I am and I need you to get me out of here.”  I tell her that I’ve got her location on GPS and I’ll be there in a couple minutes.  When I arrive in the area, I find her walking down the side of the road in a black dress with her phone flashlight on for visibility.

She gets in the car and immediately thanks me.  She explains that she had been downtown and had foolishly come back to this guy’s place.  When she arrived she discovered she was alone with he and three of his roommates, and while he had been relaxed and laid back while they were out, he had become aggressive and “creepy” when they arrived at his place.  When she politely (tactfully) tried to defuse the situation, he had put his hands around her neck and began acting more aggressively (to be clear, not violent yet, but implying that things could escalate if she wasn’t cooperative.)  Keeping her calm, she managed to talk her way out of the house by telling them that her friend was worried about her and was already on their way to get her.  Once outside, she used the Uber app to request me so that I could find her and get her home safe.  She relayed this story to me as we were driving and said things like “you probably saved my life”.  While that might be an overstatement (she was already out of the house by the time I got there,) the fact is that a taxi would never have made it to her in the five minutes it took me to get there (especially at 5:30AM in the morning.)  She believes that if she hadn’t gotten away soon, he would’ve come looking for her and it could’ve ended badly.  We stopped at McDonald’s along the way and I dropped her off at her apartment with the trip costing her somewhere around fifteen dollars.  Small price to pay for “salvation”.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

Uber makes it a lot easier to be responsible.

The two above are specific examples, but I also want to talk about the huge number of drunken college students and downtown dwellers that might otherwise decide to try to drive if not for Uber.  I’ve heard numerous stories from people who’s friends have been killed in alcohol-related crashes and others who have had their licenses suspended.  The general consensus is that taxis often take too long, cost too much and the drivers are often rude and/or “creepy”.  In contrast Uber is “cool”, “fun”, comfortable” and usually much cheaper than their taxi counterparts.  This social standing and minimal financial impact makes a huge difference with the (often underage) college students to whom conserving image and money are their primary concerns.  At two in the morning, when the partying is either done, or ready to move to the next location, people don’t have a lot of patience, so they want something quick, easy and that doesn’t require too much thought.  Uber fits that description perfectly and that’s why despite opposition the company is growing at an exceptionally fast rate.

Why taxi cabs are scared:

Taxis are working on an antiquated dispatch system that is unreliable at best.  Larger companies like Mears Transportation have launched apps to attempt to compete, but that’s only a surface improvement.  In order to really have a chance their entire system needs a modern overhaul.  The general consensus is that taxi cabs are more expensive, far less reliable,  have lower quality and/or dirtier cars and have drivers that are either not personable, angry or (once again) “creepy.”  I think this has a lot to do with the structure.  Most cab drivers rent the car from their company.  They pay something along the lines of $100 to take the car for a twelve hour period.  That means they begin their day in the hole, having to make that money back before they begin to make money for themselves.  Then, they are pushed to maximize their twelve hours in order to make as much as possible.  This means that breaks, meals and naps are all discouraged during their on time.  I’m not sure about you, but after ten hours (or less!) sitting in a car, I’m ready for a nap, and that’s with several breaks.  It’s no wonder that a lot of cab drivers are irritable.

Realistically... this doesn't happen... (at least not involving the driver...)

Realistically… this doesn’t happen… (at least not involving the driver…)

In contrast, Uber is modern, easy and convenient for both the driver and rider.  As the driver It’s my car, so I’m inclined to keep it clean and take good care of it.  I drive when I want, for as long as I want and take breaks whenever I want to.  That means the only time you’ll see me driving is when I want to be driving.  If I don’t feel like it, I can simply shut the app off and take a walk, take a nap, or meet a friend for a meal.  Combine that with an app that allows the customer to summon me or another driver in three taps or less and you pair up happy riders with happy drivers.

Meanwhile for the rider you have an app-based, cashless system (your credit card is attached to the app.)  There is no worry about tips (you CAN tip, but as drivers we never expect it and don’t get grouchy about it… the point is to keep it all in the app) and no need to fumble for cash or a credit card.  You simply get in, get where you’re going and get out quickly and comfortably.  On top of that, in my experience Uber is about one-third to half the rate of a taxi during normal pricing.  Surge pricing can close that gap some, but it needs to be nearly three times our normal rate to match up in most cases (and if you wait twenty minutes the surge will probably reduce or go away completely.)

Orlando has only had Uber for about a year now, and it’s continuing to gain in popularity.  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions about riding or driving Uber.  I strongly recommend you give it a shot, and if you plug in a promo code given to you by an existing driver before your first ride, it will be free up to $20 (which can get you a long way!)  I shamelessly dropped my promo code a couple posts back, but since we’re on the subject, it is P9W5KUE.  You can use that for your first free trip and also if you’re interested in becoming a driver for some kind of kickback after so many miles.

They aren't slowing down.  At all.

They aren’t slowing down. At all.

I’m not so much concerned about any extra bonuses as I am getting more of you into using Uber though.  I really feel like it’s an ideal solution for modern transportation that is being embraced by all walks of life from the poor college student to the rich celebrities and everyone in between.  Furthermore, it builds connections between people that might otherwise not exist and enables those who otherwise wouldn’t have feasible transportation to more easily get around.  Whether the taxis like it or not, this is the future of private transportation and it’s good for everyone involved.  Their only choices are to evolve and keep up, or get left behind.

For a great and well-written article on typical Uber rides via GQ, check this out: http://www.gq.com/story/uber-cab-confessions

Thanks for reading!  

Martial Arts University 2015 – Day 1: Prologue

**On the plane to Raleigh** – 9:12 AM

Four years in a row I was Grandmaster’s Assistant for these events.  I was there during a key time when MAU evolved from a mind-numbing week in a single hotel conference room, to a trip into nature that was at some times magical and other times maddening.  I was a special classification that kept me out of the majority of the classes and isolated with Grandmaster and one or two other chosen assistants for the event. As the assistant it was a grueling, non-stop and often nerve-wracking as every attempt had to made to preserve his mood, condition and mindset. Simply put, he had to be utterly focused on what he was going to present, so it fell on me to make everything about him. There was little time to lose focus, move slowly or relax… for essentially four straight days it was all about Grandmaster, all the time, nonstop.   It was here in 2013 that in front of hundreds of my peers with Grandmaster seated directly in front of me, I shattered a block of concrete and earned my Black Belt.

And then, a bout a year and a half ago, shortly before the 2014 Martial Arts University, I left.   Many people told me it was a very different Grandmaster that presented their seminars that year and the event overall was said to be a great success. I thought perhaps my departure had made some sort of impact. It remains to be seen for sure though.

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? ;)

Does that Ginger Ale look a little dark to you? 😉

One year later I am in the air over Georgia heading to Greensboro, NC by way of Raleigh. But this year it’s different. This year I am a guest, and it’s weird. I had no intention of attending this year, I have only been attending class sparingly and doing occasional favors for the company president (who is truly one of the best men I know) as I very much respect and feel I owe him. But he and Grandmaster reached out to me and went through a great deal of trouble to request my presence here. Finally, the company president asked me directly to assist him here, and I know that he needs it, so I didn’t wish to refuse. That and watching a friend and former companion of mine test for her second dan and instructor certification are my reasons for being here.

But Grandmaster is happy to have me here, so much that it is odd. I am not expected to carry his bag or hold his door. I offered my business class seat to him and he politely declined (I was keeping my free drink ticket regardless) and overall it seems like he is almost awkwardly attempting to cater to me however he can. He appreciates me, he has told me that much, even though I left him. He too, for all my previous disagreements with him (and there were more than a few) is a good man. At the same time though it is almost a little awkward to accept so much (they are paying for meals and such) while not being in direct servitude. Before it was part of the package, now it feels unearned. They have both said that the things I help them with occasionally now combined with my previous service more than make up for it. Perhaps they are right and I’m selling myself short. Just last night I lost sleep staying late in their office to help with final revisions on a flyer.

With that said, Martial Arts World supported the majority of my previous cycle, and I do feel that on some level I owe them for the great years they gave me. Those experiences and people will stay with me indefinitely. It’s also true that even now the organization makes connections for me I wouldn’t otherwise have. So how much influence it will have over my current cycle remains to be seen as well.

So I’m not really sure what to expect this round. I want to feel useful, because that’s what my mindset going into these weeks

The gorgeous weather doesn't hurt.

The gorgeous weather doesn’t hurt.

always have been (I’m a “tool” after all.) But it seems like they want a bit of it to be about me. So I will try to take some time, try to enjoy myself while still being useful. This year I might keep my sanity intact and relax a bit. Maybe. Obviously I know what the real endgame here is; they want to bring me back into the fold. But if that’s ever going to happen it will be a long process involving a lot of evolution that I’m not certain is possible.

For now, because of the travel and unusual circumstances I am taking a break from Ramadan fasting (this is accepted in the Muslim religion anyway) and I’m having to re-adjust to operating in the daytime, so it’s a refreshing change of pace before I return to the grind. The moon is full, so the timing on the break is good and as usual everything seems to make perfect sense as it falls into place. With everything that led up to my ending up on this plane (I very nearly didn’t make it to this year several times for several reasons) I feel like I’m meant to be here. As for the “why?” is anyone’s guess, but I’ll certainly try to keep you posted.

**10:31 PM** 

I need to wrap this up quickly as I am utterly exhausted by my four hours of sleep in the last forty-eight hours (I’m dozing as I write this.)  After the ridiculously massive lunch we had provided for us in Raleigh by Grandmaster’s good friend, it was a miracle we had room for the dinner provided to us by the camp this evening (I kept remarking that I had forgotten how much we eat on these trips.)  During dinner a group of familiar faces arrived to round out the initial group of leaders.  One of them sat next to me; a tall slender Korean man from another organization who had been a friend to me at many seminars in the past.  He regarded me for a moment before remarking quietly: “You’ve matured.”  Being that it had been at least two years since I last saw this man it was a pleasant compliment, and one without any sort of innuendo or side meaning.

A short tour before the meeting.

A short tour before the meeting.

After dinner we had a brief tour for those new to this location and then all met for the opening meeting.  Despite my having been away for some time now, I am included in the inner-circle as I was when I worked here.  The meeting drug on for a while with the familiar and predictable goals to make this year the best MAU yet while maximizing the return on next year.  While many good point were brought up, the fact remains that these points are not new, they’ve just never been fully and thoroughly implemented each year.  So the secret lies more in the execution than the discussion.  I had been fighting dozing for a fair amount of the meeting, so afterwards I checked to be sure I could retire, showered and called it a night (this is the last thing I do before bed.)  I should get a fair amount of sleep tonight (at least six hours,) but this is the calm before the storm.  Everyone arrives tomorrow and MAU 2015 officially begins.

Grateful Relationships

Five+ days later I finally get a moment to (hopefully) finish this.  A lot has happened, I drank entirely too much scotch at my company party (though I maintained my composure to the very end!)  I’m also now cat-sitting for some friends of mine who live a ways from me (some 30 min… not too bad), so the logistics are interesting.  But what’s been in my head recently is the idea of gratitude, and how a lot of people (including myself these days…) take important things for granted.  Especially in terms of your relationships (generally speaking, not just romantic) sometimes it’s hard to draw the line where you’re being grateful, or allowing somebody to take advantage of you, but I think if you can step back and try to see things objectively, it all boils down to the situation, and what you feel you owe somebody.  The fact of the matter is that personal debt (not financial) is just that: personal.  What has any particular relationship done for you, and what do you owe that relationship as a result of it?

Some relationships aren't about people...

Some relationships aren’t about people…

See what I did there?  I took it away from the people, and made it about the whole relationship.  I think this is important because the individuals in a relationship are two (or more…) major parts, but they are not the whole at any given moment. There are circumstances and history that come into play that contribute to a greater sum.  Very often extremely beneficial connections are damaged because somebody is angry or hurt in the moment and forgets to look at the big picture.  Though many of the strongest relationships involve very strong emotions, it’s those same emotions that threaten to undermine your gratitude for all that specific people or relationships have done for you.  Remembering your gratitude can save a lot of positive relationships.

I suppose key to this is remembering the times you’ve been indebted to any specific relationship.  When you get your paycheck, it’s because you indebted the company to you through your actions for them.  On a baseline level this is the core of a healthy personal relationship (whether it be friendship or something more.)  Naturally you are usually happy to help your friends, family or (some of…) your lovers.  For this you tell yourself you need no repayment, perhaps you’re simply grateful to have such a great friend, but it’s actually not that simple.  If this attitude is reciprocal, then you’re automatically getting your repayment in the from of their gratitude and generally equivalent actions towards you.  But if over time you give in this manner and you receive no gratitude, resentment naturally begins to build.63b1afb6e21cf632dc7bdffa2fb418c7

Some people accept this, they bury their resentment because they fear damaging the relationship.  They continue to do as much, or more, for less.  This is when somebody is being taken for granted.  One of the most damaging aspects of any relationship are when somebody involved stops feeling grateful for the same things they’ve been consistently receiving and (sometimes unknowingly) reduces what they return.  Perhaps it means a change is needed, and that can be brought about by communication, but even when that’s the case it’s very difficult for a relationship to break down when both parties are truly grateful for each other.   The unfortunate thing is, when you’re being taken for granted, that resentment doesn’t go anywhere, it builds and if it’s not addressed it will instead attack the person causing it.  Unfortunately, by allowing the relationship to continue in this manner the fault also shifts to you.  Now, you resent the person who is not grateful for you AND you resent yourself for continuing to show your gratitude when perhaps it is not deserved.  This is what sets nearly any relationship: friendship, professional and even love on a path to destruction.

The underlying issue is two-fold: First, the hedonic treadmill (elaborated in a previous post) applies to your relationships too, so over time the high they may have once given you returns to a base level of happiness if the routine stays the same.  So when once all you had to do was walk into your new office to feel fulfilled at work, now you need something more, and your appreciation for that office diminishes.   Second, along with routine and comfort often comes a breakdown of deep communication.  Surface communication is abundant, but many lose the talks about how people are feeling or what their personal priorities are.  Dreams, goals, feelings and life give away to routine, what to pick up at the store, what report to finish and what social media you need to update.  Your appreciation for surface communication diminishes quickly, and just talking about nothing loses it’s appeal.  The solutions to these things are simple and obvious, but not easy.

You really don't want to lose that...

You really don’t want to lose that…

The most obvious and direct way to appreciate anything again, is to lose it.  Human nature is very reliable in always wanting what you can’t have, especially if you already considered it yours and feel you deserve it.  However, this is also highly destructive and doesn’t fix anything in the long term.

Instead, to keep a relationship (again, on any level) alive, you have to invest in it.  Keep it fresh, positive, alive.  When most living things in this world go “stale”, they are dying or decaying.  The status of a relationship can be associated with that.  Individual lives can easily begin to feel stale and routine if they are not tended to, and it’s only natural that this will spill into the relationship if it’s not helping to fix the problem.  Comfort is a wonderful thing, but people lose their appreciation for all comfort all the time very quickly.  They get bored and take a good situation for granted.   But to keep it fresh, you have to have ideas, and those ideas come from real, deep communication.  I want to stress that though this absolutely applies to to romantic relationships, it is equally important in friendships and associates at work.  The best bosses are the ones that know who you are, where you want to be and allow you to be straightforward with them.  This helps keep them from taking you for granted.monday-quotes-gratitude-quotes-111

It’s easy to think “I just need to appreciate everything more, all the time!”  That’s absolutely right!  But it’s much, much harder than it sounds.  So while you’re reminding yourself to appreciate every little thing, actively to do things that help that appreciation happen naturally as well.  Change it up, try not to be bored (the world is too big!), and above all communicate so that you’re grateful to those around you that communicate back.  If you can do this and you’re still being taken for granted, then you might be in a toxic situation and you honestly might need to distance yourself.  But first, try, be the best you can be, do your part, be grateful for everything you can and see if maybe your appreciation will rub off on those around you.  Even if it doesn’t work for the relationship you want, it might just make some other great ones.

Work / Life (Im)Balance

I’ve struggled with the concept of a good work/life balance for many years now.  I’ve always been a very firm believer in the line between personal life and what we do for work.  As the saying goes, we “work to live”, not “live to work.”  But then there’s the other philosophy that says if you love what you do, then it won’t feel like work.  To this day I struggle with where the right balance is, and what sort of lifestyle is worth the work you put in.  Can you really love what you do so much that it doesn’t feel like work?  (Especially when you’re as inherantly lazy as I am?)

As an Executive Assistant (what I do when I’m not writing long-winded blogs) my hours can be fairly erratic.  When I was serving my last Chairman I was salary (the norm for this sort of position) which made the extended hours a bit upsetting at times.  Now, I’m hourly (no overtime pay but still a step up…) and my current CEO demands (as nicely as possible) I put extra time in.  This last week especially I’ve had a lot on my plate and found myself taking it home.  Great for my paycheck, but not so great for having any downtime.  Downtime and decompression time are very important to me to the point I often take extended lunches to remove my brain and start on my blogs.  But when you find yourself struggling to get enough sleep and having little “you” time, at what point do you decide if it’s worth it or not?  There’s no real standard, and I’m NOT complaining about where I am in life, but I do seek the balance for the sake of myself and my employer as I believe many people do.

Executive Assistant Life

Executive Assistant Life

So what’s the solution?  It’s said that you have to work hard and put in your time in order to improve your lifestyle and make money. But is the money worth it if you don’t have time to enjoy it?  I know that I’m not willing to give up my lifestyle at this point, and I want to build on it, so the most logical conclusion is to keep my nose to the grindstone, kick ass, work the long hours and reap the rewards….eventually.  But I’ve always believed it’s a mistake to put your happiness into a far off goal or dream.  It must be a balancing act that involves working toward your eventual dream (I’m not even sure I have one…) while taking the time and providing yourself with the experiences that make your life worth living now.  Regardless of how much you work, you have to be happy!  Sometimes that means pulling yourself away from the grindstone and investing time in you or those you love.  If only it were as easy for us to be as happy at work as many company founders want us to be!  But you can’t blame them for not understanding why you aren’t.   

I’ve spent years working for company founders now.  One thing many of them don’t understand, and that you may not realize is that it is psychologically extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you to have the same level of connection / ownership to the company that they do.  You may care deeply about your company, you may even “love your job”, but the person who brought that idea into the world built it out of their experiences, thoughts, beliefs, feelings and even some of their imbalances that you will never have.  It is an extension of them, and therefore when they are investing time in the company, they feel fulfilled in a way you essentially can’t because they are actually investing time in themselves.  It’s not impossible to try and mimic this mindset, but when you go home and open that laptop at night, neglecting personal time to catch up on your e-mails, it simply won’t feel the same to you, because for them, even if they would rather be doing something else, catching up on those e-mails IS personal time.

So, assuming you don’t want to give up your lifestyle and become a wanderer, your options boil down to four or five situations:

If you can't stay rich on that, you made some bad choices.

If you can’t stay rich on that, you made some bad choices.

1.  You win the powerball or get rich quick somehow.  Come find me so I can help you think of awesome ways to both manage and make the most of the money while using it to perpetuate your own happiness and that of others.  Thank you and your welcome!

2. Start your own business.  This is the only way to experience the “founder” level of ownership and satisfaction in your work. However, the founders that I speak of and who are employing you have already “made it” to some extent, and thus are in the phase where they can actually enjoy it on some level because they (obviously) have employees and income.  I never said they didn’t earn it (in most cases anyway) by working harder, smarter or both.  In the beginning and even well into the green (profit,) owning your own business can come with huge levels of stress that can make that personal connection to your company very difficult to handle.  There is a reason many of the very successful founders and CEOs you hear of are often quirky, odd, eccentric or sometimes straight-up batshit insane.  They have to be in order to be obsessed enough with themselves and their company to push it to astronomical levels.

3. Do something easy that you “love”.  When we’re teens and young adults we often joke about doing what we perceive as super fun to get paid for.  Acting, starting a band or writing a best selling book (or god forbid.. being a reality show “star”.) Obviously, some people really do achieve this, but it’s not easy at all and often requires a lot of sacrifice.  For instance: a lot of late teens/early twenties (especially but not exclusively guys) joke about doing porn because who doesn’t want to get paid to have sex!?  But naturally the industry often doesn’t live up to the fantasy image in some people’s head.  Beyond that, many quickly find that once they are forced to do whatever hobby/activity they really enjoy casually under “professional” guidelines/circumstances (another example: Video Game Tester,) it loses it’s fun pretty fast.  A few weeks later it’s no longer a dream career, it’s just another job that’s making you not want to have sex or play video games on your own time any more.  That said, some types people are cut out for those respective industries and it doesn’t ruin it for them (usually because they can drastically differentiate the two in their head,) But either way,  work is still very much work and for those average people it will put a damper on their outside life too.  So, while “doing what you love” is a great idea, it’s harder than it sounds, takes a lot more work than one would think and is usually tough to find/break into.  Even after you get there, it is impossible to know if it will be as fulfilling as you hope. That said, for some people it IS worth it, IF you can really make it.

Literal.

Literal.

4. Set a goal to become something difficult that you “love”.  This falls a little in line with starting your own business in that it really can pay off the way you hope it will, but you will have to go through hell and high water to get there (and I mean years of it.)  As an example I have several friends who grew up wanting to be veterinarians.  I’m happy to report I personally watched some of these people become the 1% of 1% of 1% or something like that.  They achieved their “dream” to some extent.  I say it like that because some didn’t end up doing what they envisioned themselves doing, some fell massively into debt and the others that really made it did so by sacrificing years of their time working and studying (long AFTER the hell that is Vet School) at really odd hours under immense amounts of stress and pressure to finally, finally emerge somewhere close to where they wanted to be.  The reward is that yeah, they are most often better off financially and more fulfilled than your average Walgreen’s clerk.  But it’s still work, and sometimes they get up in the morning (12:01 AM) and don’t want to do it,  but they still have to.  I should also point out that some of these people end up owning their own business.  So, essentially a different path to option 2.  That said though, if you can make the investment early on, this is arguably the best, most consistent outcome beyond the powerball option.

5. The rest of us.  Circumstances happened, and we’re not where we wanted to be or thought we would be by now.  Hell, some of us didn’t even know where we wanted to be and still don’t know where we’re going.  But we’re still adults, and we haven’t given up and become vagrants just yet, so work happens and bills gotta get paid.  This brings me back to the importance of enjoying your life along the way.  Because with this option, if you don’t, you’re probably miserable.  The work/life balance in this situation is essential because you don’t have the ownership and you don’t have the long-term dream that you achieved.  You are working to live.  That’s really okay so long as you don’t lose sight of why.  The balance isn’t always about a set amount of hours, it’s about whether or not your work allows you to do what you enjoy.  That means both the time, and the resources to be happy in your life outside of work.  It doesn’t have to be everything you dreamed just yet, it just has to be enough to have fun, be happy, and make progress.  So working those extra hours is totally worth it if it makes you feel better about your work and gives you the extra funds to treat yourself and/or those important to you.  But if you feel like a slave to your job and go home miserable only to crash and repeat the next day; get out.  No amount of money will save you from that, and the more you make, the more of that scarce life they will ask for.

Don't be THOSE guys.

Don’t be THOSE guys.

This brings me to a few guidelines for maintaining that balance (be realistic):

1. Don’t be afraid to say no.  Draw your lines, draw your boundaries and don’t back down from them.  Do NOT allow a job to corner you into making compromises that will make you miserable.

2. Know what you are worth and ask for it.  If you research and feel you deserve a specific wage, ask for it.  If they won’t work with you to at least make a plan to get there, move on.  The same goes for benefits you need for you and your family.  Often these are arguably more important than base wage.

3. Ask for the time you want in advance. Know what you are willing to give and not to give and barter that time as needed to be certain you have the time that is most important to you.  This can be a specific schedule or specific days.

4. Along with number one, be honest and communicate about all the above needs.  If you aren’t seeing what you want, give your employer a chance to accommodate you before you just get fed up and leave.  It looks better on both parties even if something can’t be worked out.

5. Have a contingency plan.  We’d all like to be “lifers” with a great company, but shit happens, and it happens fast.  Make sure that you have the cards up your sleeve to be willing to walk away from the table if you need to.  Feeling trapped in a job you don’t want to be in is a very quick way to demoralize yourself.

Finally (and yeah.. this post got long…)

6. Make sure whatever you are doing for work leaves room for you to BE HAPPY about your life outside of work.  This means having time to have a life outside of work, having enough money to enjoy your life outside of work and having a job that doesn’t make you feel bad about you your life inside or outside of work.  The work/life balance isn’t about a specific number of hours per week or a wage you make, it’s about how it enables you to live, and how happy you can be in the process.

Errr...Maybe Allen is hollow inside? ^.^;;

Errr…Maybe Allen is hollow inside? ^.^;;