Want personal growth? Drop your sense of entitlement

No one owes you anything.  Not your parents.  Not your government.  Not your job.  Not your spouse.  Not your kids.  This is one of the hardest lessons to learn in life.  Understanding this is one of the biggest steps you can take on the path to maturity and long term happiness.  When you walk around thinking that the world owes you something you have accepted the victim mindset.  You have decided that instead of creating, you will spend your time collecting.  Sounds great doesn’t it?  After all, everybody loves hanging out with the tax collector.

As small children, we need the protection and sustenance that our parents provide to survive.  As a small child, that care and sustenance becomes our universe and we locate ourselves smack dab in the middle of it.  At some point, around age nine or ten, we discover that we are NOT the center of the universe.  Other people populate this world with us.  Strangely enough, those people have needs and wants that aren’t necessarily the same needs and wants that we have.  Many times, their needs are different or even OPPOSITE to what we want.  Nauseating, I know.  My youngest daughter is in third grade right now and understanding this is her biggest challenge.  Why don’t all the kids do what I want to do?  How dare they have their own opinions and desires?

Once we start to figure this out, mother nature backhands us with the awkwardness of adolescence.  Then we spend the next several years trying to communicate with all these other humans through a haze of hormones.  This puts us in a super clear mindset where we make decisions that only a mescaline fueled Hunter S. Thompson would approve of.  We call this rite of passage high school.

On the other side of that gauntlet lies an invitation to autonomy.  Most of us accept it.  Too many of us accept it with strings attached.  The majority of us, in first world countries anyway, now believe that we are entitled to a college education.  Those of us who feel entitled typically don’t get a lot from it.  We approach it like a four year camp with a participation certificate attached.

jaded-rich-kids.jpgThroughout this experience, we have all met the jaded rich kid.  They typically spend Christmas break in Bali and they believe they have seen it all.  They have this malaise that is rooted in this fear that there are no more great experiences for them to have.  Everything has been provided for them.  Every problem resolved.  Every whim catered.  Every pleasure seen to.  I’ve known too many of these folks.  Most of them are incredibly unhappy.  Not all, but most.  How is this possible?

The primary reason for that unhappiness is that they have stopped growing.  They have stopped trying.  When you feel like the world exists to serve you, what reason do you have to improve?  These people end up as stunted man children that poison the air around them.  They never had to earn it.  They never had to enter another person’s world.  They never learned empathy.  They believe people owe them respect.  These are the people that treat wait staff like crap.  That same staff will smile to their face then go spit in their soup back in the kitchen.  Unearned respect can’t feel good.  A lot of times it’s not even their fault and honestly all I can feel for them is pity.

Sadly, this problem is not limited to the rich.  Too many of us find a level of comfort within our personal tribe.  We then have the mistaken impression that this comfort should be untouchable.  This group could be your neighborhood, this could be your political tribe, this could be your clique from high school or college, this could be your work crowd, this could be anywhere that you have some sense of status.  When change is introduced into that group especially if it impacts your identity OR, even worse, your status within that identity, we panic.  We point at that change and say, “We were here first!  This is our club!  Damn you women!  Damn you immigrants!  Damn you millennials!  The world owes us  advantages for getting here first!”

What a load of crap.  The world owes you nothing.  If you feel like the world is passing you by, that’s your fault, and nobody else’s.  The only way to avoid it is to drop your sense of entitlement and engage.  Put the time in.  Understand the change.  Understand the other point of view.  Allow your mind to be changed.

What happens when we allow our minds to be changed?  We learn.  We grow.  We improve.  We become better people.


Why is generosity awkward?

Awkwardness of Giving

Valentine’s day is tomorrow.  We all know that guy that swears he will not be celebrating because it is a corporate holiday that was invented to sell more greeting cards.  That’s not actually true.  It was first a pagan fertility holiday called Lupercalia that was annexed by the church in much the same way that we have on Easter Bunny to celebrate the rebirth of Jesus.  You gotta give it up for those popes, they knew how to market an idea.  What is true is that there are a ton of holidays out there that were created by Hallmark like boss’s day, secretary’s day, grandparents day, etc.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, it is self-serving for Hallmark but it does give us an excuse to be generous.

Awkward-face.jpgSomewhere along the way, being generous became awkward.  I’m not talking about giving to a charity or giving to the poor, these options carry none of the awkwardness.  I’m talking about giving a gift to a friend or picking up lunch when going out with a colleague.  The social contract has changed so much that offering to do these things has become almost taboo.  It’s still perfectly acceptable for a boss to take an employee out and buy them lunch (especially if they are expensing it) but there is no way that’s ok the other way around.  A corporate lunch involves the market contract, so much so, that many times the employee doesn’t even feel compelled to say thank you.  Yet buying coffee for a friend comes laden with all these weird feelings.  What happened?

We’ll unpack this in a second but first I’d like to share a personal anecdote that got me thinking about this.  I have been going through a lot of the Headspace meditation packs for the second time and I’ve found myself back on the generosity pack.  One of the meditations asks you to give a gift to somebody throughout the course of the day to heighten your awareness about generosity.  It’s not supposed to be something big and the receiver of the gift shouldn’t know that the gift is part of an exercise.

This got me to thinking back to the first time I had done this.  I ended up buying one of my colleagues a cup of coffee.  She graciously accepted and I felt pretty good about myself.  Several days later I found that she kept trying to return the favor.  It clearly bothered her and she felt somehow that I put her in my debt.  Obviously not my intent.  I did let her buy me that return cup and she felt good about it partly from the generosity but more I think because by doing so, the social checkbook had been balanced.

The Experiment

So, I decided to conduct a social experiment.  At the time I was leading several teams that each had anywhere from four to seven members on them.  I randomly approached one member of each team and gave them twenty bucks.  I then asked, “please spend this on somebody on your team.  You can spend it on yourself too but make sure that some of it goes to somebody on the team.  You also can’t tell them that it came from me.”  I read business books constantly, so I think I stole this idea from one of those books (may have been Adam Grant’s Give and Take) or maybe a Ted Talk.  I didn’t ask them how it went.  I acted like it never happened.  A couple of weeks later, I gave another person from each team a twenty with the same instruction.  I didn’t tell them that I did the same with anybody else.  I repeated this with new people a third time several weeks after that.

The results were interesting.  The communication levels in all the teams rose.  The productivity in most of the teams rose.  In the smallest team, it rose the most.  On that team, they actually started a habit of going out to lunch together where one person would often pick up the bill.  Generosity had become much less awkward and the team was better because of it.  However, in one of the teams, productivity had actually fallen.  That team had a member on it who was always happy to accept free stuff but he never did his part to provide it.  This pissed people off.  He worked in much the same way but this experiment exposed that in a social context as well.

The problem with a person like that is they bring everyone down to their level.  Nobody wants to be taken for a chump.  When someone is not doing their part everyone around them feels devalued and morale drops .  Needless to say, we let that person go not too long after and I berated myself for not picking up on it sooner.  The problem with this guy was he was very agreeable and he did a good job of calling out every accomplishment of his regardless of how minor.  In other words, he was good at managing up.  It was a valuable lesson learned, the increase in productivity was a great bonus and all it cost me was a couple hundred bucks.

Some of the Reasons

Back to generosity.  As kids we loved giving presents.  It gives us a shot of oxytocin and makes us feel like saints.  My youngest daughter will still go into her room and wrap up random stuff and give it to us on any given week night.  Where does that go?  Why does it become weird?

There’s a lot of reasons.  The first is that we sometimes receive gifts we don’t like.  Like if you ever get a piece of clothing and you just know it’s something you’re never going to wear.  The giver always says, “there’s a gift receipt in there, feel free to take it back.”  Jim Gaffigan had the best response ever for this – “oh thank you, you gave me a chore for Christmas.”  We know that we don’t want to give something that someone doesn’t like so sometimes we obsess over getting the best gift for that person and often we just say, ‘screw it, I’ll just give em a gift card.’

Another reason is that we don’t want that person to feel indebted to us.  Even though we know it feels good for us to give we don’t want it to feel bad for someone else to receive.  That may sound cowardly but that doesn’t make it any less true or any less awkward.

Though I’m sure there are a host of other reasons it got awkward, the final reason I’m going to talk about is that we don’t give because we have a hidden fear that someone is going to take advantage of us.  This fear makes it awkward to even contemplate generosity.  We’ve all had the experience that my teams had with that self-serving jackwad that took and took but never gave.

Give and Take

Adam Grant articulates this incredibly well in his book Give and Take.  He says that all of us fall into one of three classes.  Most of us are matchers.  A matcher believes that if I give you something I expect that you will match it at some point down the road.  This has become the normal social contract.  Then you have the takers.  The takers are those that receive but never give.  Finally, you have the givers.  These are the folks that give and give often without expecting anything in return.

altruismHe then looks at success of each type over a broad sample size.  He found that those that were the least successful were the givers.  These are the folks that gave and gave until they burned themselves out.  They had nothing more to give, even to themselves.  Surprisingly, the most successful people were also the givers.  Takers would often do pretty well until people found them out.  Givers that understood the perils of giving were far and away the most successful.  Helping other people, especially the right people (not takers), paves the road to success.

Remember, there are many ways to be generous.  It doesn’t have to be gifts.  You can be more generous with your time.  You can give heartfelt counsel when asked.  You can be there for your friends or family when they need you.  You can celebrate each and every one of the Hallmark holidays if you need an excuse to be generous.

Whatever you do, just give.  It’s good for you.


The Rudy Fallacy

Rags to Riches

We all love a good rags to riches story.  The very term rags to riches comes from one of the forefathers of this great US of A, Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin was one of the true polymaths of early America.  Before he zapped himself into history with his notable kiting excursion, Benjamin Franklin was the poor son (one of 17 kids) of a soap and candle maker.   He wasn’t born into fortune or fame but created both with persistence, drive and a whole lot of luck.  The rags to riches phrase comes about from when he got into the printing trade as an apprentice to his older brother.  At the time, much of the paper used for printing was made from old rags.  Since Franklin made his fortune in the newspaper biz – the term rags to riches was born.

Rags-To-Riches.pngWe love the underdog story.  Damn near every year, Hollywood releases yet another sports story about how a team or a player defied all odds, personal hardships, bigotry, aliens, or whatever the hell else it might be to come out on top.  ‘Based on a true story’ holds a special place in our hearts because it means somebody actually lived through that story (or something close to it) for reals.

Rudy is one that always sticks out in my memory.  Rudy was about a poor kid growing up in a steel town in Illinois back in the 60s.  His dream was to one day play football for Notre Dame.  The problem was he just wasn’t very talented or big or fast.  Early in the movie, he gives his dream up and accepts the day to day grind of working steel, until his best friend blows himself up in a mill accident.  This brings him to a come to Jesus moment where he decides he will follow his dream regardless of the odds.

Turns out, not only is he untalented, slow and short, he’s also got some serious learning disabilities to overcome.  He fights through these while attending a junior college and finally makes his way into Notre Dame.  At that point, he becomes a ‘walk-on’ for the football team.  In this role, he is essentially an animated tackling dummy that gets the snot beat out of him on a daily basis.  He fights through the pain and the hardship and ultimately gets the chance to dress for the final game.  He rides the bench until the final play where a reluctant coach ultimately puts him in and he is able to close his career with a sack of the QB.  He gets carried off the field by his team as the only player in the history of the program ever to do so.

Inspiring stuff.  Unfortunately, the way it’s presented is mostly horseshit.  More on that in a second.

The Train Wreck

Let’s look at the other stories we love to fill our time with – the train wrecks.  The only thing we seem to love more than an underdog story is the converse, the drama of a good riches to rags takedown.  There’s a reason why every checkout line in your local grocery Broke-Monopoly-Dudeis filled with tabloids.  You ever wonder who reads those things?  Riiiiight.  Admit it, you do.

As a country we celebrated the demises of our little pop goddesses Britney and Lindsay.  These are kids that were basically exploited since childhood.  They somehow made it on to the big stage and publicly rebelled from that exploitation.  Once that rebellion turned into a train wreck, the country collectively applauded their fall with a joy only paralleled to Romans watching Christians get ripped apart by lions.  What the hell is the matter with us?

Why do we love these meteoric rises and falls with such passion?  A part of it is this need to know that we can change our stars.  When we see the underdog make it, we put ourselves in his or her shoes and think, even if just for a moment, “I could have done that.”  We live vicariously through film maker’s eyes.  As the protagonist realizes their dream we, in some small way, do too.  It shows us that dreams can be realized and that fills us with hope.

On the other side of the coin, we want to see justice done when the entitled take too much.  We want to be assured that nobody is untouchable.  This allows us the fantasy of a fair and just world.  Even when we know that the slice owned by the 1% continues to grow at an exponential rate.

Why traditional self-help sucks

Back to the horseshit element of these stories.  The fallacies arise because the whole story is never being told.  In the underdog story, two big factors are typically neglected or outright omitted.  The first is the sheer volume of hard work required for the underdog to find victory.  Sure, this hard work is portrayed, typically in the form of some type of montage, but it makes up a very small part of the movie.  The other factor is luck.  Every true underdog story needs a heavy dose of luck; a stunning combination of coincidences to make victory even possible.  You can’t blame Hollywood for this.  A movie that showed nothing but some dude working out for four hours wouldn’t sell any tickets.  The same is true with luck.  Luck is a lot of things but inspirational is not one of them.

As for the downfall stories, we rarely see the amount of crap that these poor public pariahs have to put up with on a daily basis.  All of the parasites that hang on to them.  How their families have cashed in on them.  How lonely a life they actually live.  I honestly can’t imagine anything worse than that type of fame but that realization comes with maturity.

Meteor.jpgClearly, we love the meteoric part of the rise and fall as much as we like the rise and the fall itself.  Meteoric implies speed.  Speed implies that silver bullets may actually exist.  That’s what we want to hear.  We not only want to know that we can change our stars but we want it to be easy.

That’s what a lot of traditional self-help sells.  A lot of self-help has great advice but with zero accountability and no real road map of the hard work required to find success.  Self-help is the Hollywood of positive psychology.  First and foremost it needs to sell you a story.  To do that, it has to summarize the advice into a couple of silver bullets that will look good on a book jacket.  It has to make the hard work look montageable.

That’s the Rudy Fallacy.  There are no montages in real life.  You can’t fast forward the hard work.  You have to put the time in and when luck does strike, you have to have the skills and the eye to see it for what it is.

About the Biz, Methodologies

Why can’t personal development be fun?!

Why Self Help Sucks

Look around the blogosphere today and you’ll see a ton of advice out there.   Here are just a few examples of recent titles:

  • How To Develop Mastery, Make Millions, and Be Happy
  • 7 Crucial Lessons People Often Learn Too Late in Life
  • You Make Or Break Your Life Between 5-7 AM
  • Surround Yourself with People Who Hold You to a Higher Standard than Yourself
  • 19 Tiny Habits That Lead to Huge Results

Most of this is really good advice.  We read it and we say, ‘someday I’ll pick up some of those habits.’  OR, we get a strike of inspiration and try one of the bits of advice for a day or two until we forget about it.  We forget about it because it doesn’t provide immediate results or some other piece of advice butterflied it’s way in front of our brains and we then focused on that.  Even more likely, we thought about trying it and realized it was just too hard.  So, I have to get up at 5 AM?  Really?  Who’s going to know if I get up at 5:15 or hit the snooze button until 6:45 anyway?  We then convince ourselves that we probably didn’t need that advice anyway.  Yeah, our lives aren’t great, but they’re not sooo bad, right?

Change IS hard.  Most of us fear it.  It is far easier to stick to the comfortable.  If you put yourself out there you could look like a fool or even worse, you could FAIL.  Oh, the horror.

I was talking to a life coach acquaintance of mine and she shared a really disturbing figure with me.  In her experience, life coaching only works for about 5% of all the people she coaches.  Five Percent!  That’s with people that have actually made a commitment and shelled out $250 an hour!   She stays sane because the 5% that stick with it make it worth it.  I don’t think this is an anomaly.

My wife is a family physician who has a fair number of patients with behavioral health issues and many more that deal with issues with diabetes or have serious trouble with medication adherence.  This is another group that sees a professional, works out a plan and universally struggles to stick with it.  Thankfully, her numbers aren’t as bad as 5% but they’re not a whole hell of a lot better either.


So what’s happening here?  When reading articles online, minimal attention is given to these good ideas.  They pass through the brain like a pleasant thought and last just as long.  There is zero accountability when it comes to reading self-help.  The exception is whatever accountability you impose upon yourself.

Accountability-personal-DevelopmentNobody cares if you hit your goals or not.  That’s why many self-help experts ask you to make these goals public and surround yourself with a support group.  Doing so raises the stakes and attempts to make people care.  These are great ideas – in theory.  These ideas are super hard to put into practice.  You know how busy other people are and you don’t want to impose.  It doesn’t matter to your lizard brain that your friends would probably be happy and honored to help.  It just sounds so cheesy and requires a level of vulnerability you’re probably not comfortable with.

Accountability is only part of the puzzle.  According to my life coach friend it’s only about 5% of the puzzle.  That’s primarily what her clients are paying her for, accountability.  I would personally put the pie slice quite a bit higher when accountability is applied, more along the lines of 20%.  This can soar far higher when a group dynamic is applied.  If you put group pressure in place by making things public or by adding an element of competition, we’ve seen the numbers get as high as 83% with our own experiments.  That percentage comes with a serious caveat, you only get those high numbers from competition when the majority of the group engages.  If only a minority engages, you end up back in the 20% range.  My wife sees higher accountability due to the authority of her role as well as the potential mortality of the consequences.  Things crystallize a bit when death is on the line.

Awareness and mindfulness

Mindfulness.jpgSo what other factors are in play?  After speaking with a bevy of life coaches, they all agreed that awareness and mindfulness were another big factor.  When we review our goals or talk about them with a coach or therapist, we leave those conversations or reviews feeling very inspired and pretty clear on what we should be doing.  However, when we smack into the stresses of real life, these great intentions vanish quicker than a hamburger at a Vegans Anonymous meeting.   Having the mindfulness to stick with your goals out in the real world is hard as hell.  If only we could program a little angel to be sitting on our shoulder to remind of us of our goals when the shit hits the fan…  That’s part of what the folks at the Track your happiness project are doing.  They have you check in on a regular basis throughout the day just to see how you are feeling and why.  Just participating in the project is having a positive effect on people’s overall happiness because they are made aware of it.  That’s the power of mindfulness.

Play / Fun


I think the biggest reason by far is that self-help or personal development is typically not very fun.  Coming up with your goals is fun.  Building the vision boards is fun.  Imagining how successful you’ll be when you hit those goals is fun.  But doing the work…not so much.  Remember when you were kid and you had to get your chores done?  I know I would either put it off for as long as possible and then slog through it dragging my feet.  Or, I would make a game out of it somehow and have fun getting it done.  Kids have been able to turn chores into fun since time immemorial.  Yeah, they typically don’t do as good of a job as an adult because the focus becomes the game, but they still get work done.

A good story on that front: my youngest daughter picked, quite literally, the shittiest chore out of the chore hat for last year – the weekly cleanup of the dog poop out of the dog run.  Every Sunday when it was time to get it done, the waterworks would turn on.  Keep in mind, she was only eight.  “I hate that job <deep breath, huge wail>; how come I got the worst job <sob>.”  So I started to help her out with it.  In this case it was me that turned it into a game.  We would always start by looking for the grossest poop of the bunch.  Then we would both point at it, take a deep breath, and yell ‘ewwwwww’ at the top of our lungs until we were out of breath.  But then, she picked it up.  Next we would look for all of the hidden poops, those that were under leaves or dog toys – a poop scavenger hunt.  And she picked those up.  By that time, all that was left were the easy ones and she got through those pretty quickly.  Before we knew it, the job was done.  I’m not going to say that left her looking forward to doing the chore the next week, but she always got it done.

One of my eldest daughters chores last year was to cook one dinner a week.  She likes to cook so this was not a huge deal for her.  Regardless, whenever I could, I volunteered to be her sous chef.  So she was the boss.  And that was definitely a good time for her.  It was also a great time for me.  I gained a ton of insight into her thinking patterns.  It was also a great chance to deepen my relationship with her.

The fun approach should be a guideline for life anyway.  Who are the teachers you remember most growing up?  They were always the ones that made learning fun.  The whacky science teacher or we even had a math teacher who was one of the coaches who just didn’t get most of the subject he was teaching.  The fun and funny part was that he was very open about it, happy to share his vulnerability and even getting the kids to help him figure out problems on the board.  In retrospect, I truly wonder if he didn’t really get it in the first place and that was just his style of finding engagement.

It’s easy to be the downer.  It’s a lot harder to pick people up.  To be the fun one.

So, how do we make self-help fun?  This is what Jane McGonigal has been spending her time doing for the last six years, trying to gamify life.  Her story is a truly spectacular and is really worth the 20 minute TED talk if you haven’t seen it already.  She has proven that some of this stuff can be made fun with her game SuperBetter.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the game but I love the idea.

I can’t remember who said it but I read it somewhere – “Flow is playtime for adults.”  Once you can really get into a task and your brain fully engages, it becomes fun.  We just need to figure out how to make it fun to get your brain to that point in the first place.  That’s one of the challenges we’re taking on in our software.

As you start thinking about your next attempts at personal development, think about those three factors – accountability, awareness and fun.  Any of the three will give you a better shot at success but if you can figure out a way to hit all three marks, you’re on your way to a better you.