Teachings from Steve Pavlina and Jesus, and what it means to be lucky

Teachings from Steve Pavlina and Jesus, and what it means to be lucky

Its been awhile since I last posted about something cool I found on the internet.  (Which is unfortunate, since that’s really why I started this blog.)

This morning I found myself reading Noah Kagan’s blog (which I have just recently found and subscribed to), which then led me back to a popular favorite: Steve Pavlina’s blog.  I don’t even know how many tabs I have open right now.

I just finished an article by Pavlina aptly called The Parable of Talents.  For those who are unfamiliar, The Parable of Talents is a story told by Jesus in Matthew 25  of the Bible (Matthew 25:14-30.)

Its about a master who gives his servants different sums of money (aka talents).  One gets 5, one gets 2, and one gets 1.  The one who gets 5 goes off, invests it, and returns with 5 more, totaling 10.  The one with 2 does the same, doubling his to 4.  But the one who had only 1 chooses instead to keep what he has and bury it, rendering it ultimately useless.  The master is very pleased with his first two servants and shares his joy with them.  But he is disappointed in the third servant and casts him away.

Pavlina gives a commentary on this story in the broader context of personal development.  The first thing that struck me about his article is how he notes that each servant was given a different starting position, and how this parallels our own lives.  Some of us are blessed with more talents than others (whether we’re talking here about money or the more colloquial meaning of talent).  But its what we do with what we’re given that matters.

“Jesus acknowledges the unfairness of life, but he also suggests that our starting conditions are irrelevant.  One person earns five talents, another earns only two, but both are congratulated equally.”

This concept is something that I’ve really been noticing lately, and trying to remember.  Having the understanding and acceptance that everyone has their own story, their own journey – complete with a unique starting point – really helps me keep things in a realistic and appropriate perspective.

Its so easy to look at someone who is more successful, more fit, or more giving, and feel down about oneself.  We see where they are right now, and we compare it to where we are right now.  But we don’t consider that we may be at our starting point while they are nearer completion; or perhaps we have spent equal time travelling, yet our starting point was farther back than theirs.

And really, its those times when we overcome a difficult starting point, and achieve something great, that is noteworthy.  Even if our achievement is only that we’ve come as far as we are now, its still quite impressive when you consider the obstacles we’ve overcome.  Now compare that to that “lucky” person who had everything at the start!

In a few areas of my life, I feel that I have been blessed with a good starting point.  I haven’t had to work as hard as some other people to achieve the same things.  In these areas, I’ve always considered myself “lucky”.  But take note of this point Steve Pavlina makes:

“If you happen to be one of those who receives five talents, don’t pat yourself on the back that you’re already above average.  If you have abundant talents, you should expect even more from yourself.”

For too long now, I have overvalued my starting point.  For example, my family has never really struggled with money, so that’s a reality I’ve been “lucky” enough to avoid.  As such, it was always assumed that I would go to school, make something of myself, and be successful in return.  I didn’t have to work as hard to prove myself, because I was born into a situation where it was already proven.  (In a sense.)

Similarly, I was able to pass my classes without too much effort.  So, naturally, I used that to my advantage, rarely studied or did my homework, and somehow ended up with a high school diploma.

Okay, so now that we know my starting point, let’s take a look at where I am now:

…Kind of nowhere.

I have such a high standard for myself, that I don’t want to do a lot of things most people do.  Like graduate college, get a “real job”, etc.  I’ve been fortunate enough to live with my parents and not have to pay rent (which is especially convenient considering the no degree and no job bit).  Because of this, I still consider myself to be “lucky”.  Hey, I don’t have to work or go to school, and I can live for free!

So why have I put “lucky” in quotes every time I’ve mentioned it?  Because taking a look at me, blessed with the great starting point, coasting through school and life up until this point, and now looking at what I’ve made of myself – and then comparing that to someone who may have had a much worse starting point, who may have had to put in many long hours studying and working and doing things that weren’t enjoyable, and now they have a successful career and a fulfilling life – which one is really “lucky”?

“What matters isn’t what we’re given — it’s what we do with it that matters.”

Reading Steve Pavlina’s post is yet another reminder to prioritize where I am vs. where I should be; to realistically evaluate myself not on where I’ve started but on where I’ve gotten myself and continue to get myself.

So – why have I let myself coast and sit around, and not take advantage of the great start life gave me?

Pavlina brings up another point from the Parable: the reason the third servant chose to hide his money instead of use it, was out of fear.  He only had 1, and didn’t want to risk losing it.  But in so doing, the money really didn’t serve him at all, as if he had none to begin with.  So basically, he was living as though his worst fear was his reality.

That’s pretty much my life to a T.  I worked hard at a minimum wage coffee house job for a year, saving up money so that I could go travel or move somewhere exciting, or do something with my life.  But, I ended up not going, and now those savings have been sitting in the bank, useless, dwindling away slowly over the last 6 months.  I’m not using them for the fun they were meant to buy.  So I might as well not even have them.

But the worst part is, having that money gives me another [false sense of a] good starting point.  I think, “hey, I have these savings – I could go places [if I wanted]!”  Its really just giving me a false sense of security, and a false sense of accomplishment.  Because in all practical terms, I have nothing.  Money just sitting in the bank, is nothing.

So how does one brush off these unrealistic self-perceptions, these lies we tell ourselves to feel better about ourselves when we haven’t done anything?

I think perhaps the key is in the next point Pavlina draws, when he poses the question, “What would have happened if one of the servants who invested the money realized a loss instead of a gain?” – i.e., if your worst-case scenario comes true and you utterly fail, then what?

Pavlina conjectures that the master would have praised the servant for trying and failing, because any action is better than inaction.  The third servant was reprimanded for inaction.  The first two servants were praised – but for their action, or “faithfulness”, not their results.

“However, given that Jesus doesn’t directly address this condition in the parable, he may also be suggesting that faith itself is the path to success — a common theme in his other teachings.  So perhaps if you use your talents faithfully, you aren’t really going to lose.”

And finally, Pavlina points out that the servants’ ultimate reward isn’t the money itself (as it was their master’s money and investments, not theirs).  What they receive is to share in the happiness.  The happiness of helping their master, of taking action, of doing well.

I hope you’ve taken something away from this post.  What I took away from Pavlina’s was a reminder that action is always better than inaction – and that even failure is a better result than inaction.  And that all the things I consider myself “lucky” to have, are really not giving me any real benefit at all.  Sure, they give me some baseline happiness and temporary life-support; but if anything, they are inhibiting my development.  And its really high time I stop being so dependent on them.

Do you consider yourself to be lucky?  Have you had a good start or a more challenging one?  What action have you taken since?

How I almost became a boutique owner

How I almost became a boutique owner

There’s a reason I haven’t posted in the last three weeks.  The first two weeks were spent being insanely busy becoming a boutique owner.  This last week was spent being depressed that it didn’t work out.  But now I’m ready to talk about it, and even look on the bright side of things.

Here’s what’s been going on:

My mom and I decided to open a boutique.  A boutique selling handcrafted items.  I think I’ve mentioned before that my mom is quite crafty and makes a lot of things.  I do, too, but not nearly as much as her.  We’ve thought of setting her up with an Etsy account to sell her stuff online, but we’ve also sort of joked like, “you know, we should just open up a store in town!”

So, a few weeks ago, we drove around just for fun, to see if there were any places for rent on the square downtown (we live in a small town).  We ended up finding the perfect space in the perfect location, called the landlady, looked at it, loved it, and decided right then and there that we were actually going to do this crazy idea and open up a store!

For the next week and a half, we planned like crazy, and even ordered some things for the store.  It was the hardest I’ve worked on something in a long time.  Maybe ever.

We had given the landlady the deposit, but not yet met to sign the lease.  When we first met her and saw the space, she was super accommodating and awesome.  When we went back to see the space again and sign the lease, half the things she said she would do weren’t done.  (“Well I never said I would fix that!”)  And, the lease was absolutely ridiculous.  English is not her first language and there were tons of spelling errors for one.  For two, the lease contained crazy things like that if the furnace broke (the building is 100 years old) then we would have to pay for it!  Crazy.

So, anyway, between the crazy lease, going back on her word about a few things, and her changed attitude, we felt like we could no longer trust her.

And now, we are no longer going to open a store at all.  You might think that that is a rash decision, but honestly I am so disgusted at the rental market in my town (I had an almost identical situation two years ago with a different landlord regarding an apartment I was going to rent) that I am just so discouraged and want nothing to do with any of it.

We still could look around for another space, but half the appeal and reason we even decided to go ahead and open a store was because we found a space in a great location.  So without that, we worry we wouldn’t be as successful.

The bright side of all this is that it was a crazy learning experience and a great life lesson.  Here are a few things I learned:

  • Don’t give a deposit until you see and sign the lease.  And until you write down all the things that the landlord agrees to fix, and he/she signs that.  I’ve learned this lesson twice now and I think this time it’s stuck.
  • There are so many different kinds of gift boxes, bags, ribbons, and mailing envelopes.  And, you have to buy them in huge bulk quantities.  (Papermart.com was the cheapest I found, and the one we ended up going with.  I don’t even want to tell you how caught up I got in that site and how many hours I spent on it.  Which brings me to my next lesson:)
  • Don’t get caught up in frilly things.  Like colored gift boxes.  And coordinating ribbons.  And whether or not you want to offer free gift wrapping, and therefore which colors you want to offer.  All this is great to think about a few months down the road, once you see that you are successful and can afford this service.  But I thought of this right away and then spent way too much time planning it (and being overwhelmed with choices) when there were more pressing matters at hand.
  • Starting a business isn’t nearly as difficult as it’s made out to be.  It was a ton of work, yes.  And it would have been even more work had we kept going with it.  But we also learned that a lot of steps could be skipped, such as getting a business license and an accountant.  (In some states and for some business types, a business license is required.)  We just met with a consultant (for free!) from the local community college whose job is to help small businesses get started, and he explained everything to us and we were quite pleasantly surprised at the lack of paperwork, etc.
  • Getting over the mental hurdle of “can I actually do this?!” is one of the hardest things and the biggest obstacle to get over.  We literally joked about starting a business on Friday, drove around looking at spaces on Saturday, and met with the landlady, saw the space, and gave our deposit on Sunday.  And we told ourselves we’d open in 4 weeks.  It all happened so fast (in large part because someone else was interested in the space so we had to give a deposit lest potentially lose it.)  And all the while we were simultaneously excited and wondering if we were crazy.  Normally, we might have been considered crazy.  But.  I think that the fact that we went so fast was such a blessing.  Because the fact that we gave ourselves little time to think and to doubt, is what propelled us forward.  We could have easily decided we would open a store, then “research” for 6 months, then start looking for spaces, and really look at a lot to gauge the commercial rental market and find the “perfect” space, and then take another two months to choose paint colors and the store name, etc.  But what would that have accomplished except push us back another year?  We did ALL of that in two week’s time.  And while we feared that we didn’t know what we were doing, and felt that we should “research” more, I kept reminding us that there wasn’t really anything to research.  And that that was just an excuse and a delay.  And I think that so often, with myself and with countless others, we fool ourselves into thinking that we need to “prepare” because “starting a business is a big deal”, while really we are just giving ourselves permission to stall and stall and then possibly never actually take action and reach our goal.  So the fact that we just went for it is something that I am still really proud of.
  • Monthly costs add up.  This one should have maybe been a bit more obvious than it was at the time.  We had rent, which we were cool with.  But then utilities on top of that, phone and internet, and insurance – not to mention the costs of materials/stock and shopping bags, etc.  Which each new cost we remembered, that meant we’d have to sell that much more inventory each month, which got to be pretty daunting and intimidating.  But again, maybe if we had realized all this in the beginning, we would have let it delay us or even give up.  So maybe the gradual realization helped ease the scariness of the whole thing.
  • You don’t need nearly the startup capital that you might think.  Luckily we didn’t buy too much before the whole lease fiasco, but even the things we did buy were ridiculously cheap.  We bought some furniture pieces, to display our inventory, from Goodwill and other second hand places around town, and some paint.  We primed and painted the furniture to all match and look way more expensive than it was.  We also planned to bring in some furniture from our house that we were thinking to get rid of anyway.  With a bigger store, this would have been more expensive, but for our small space, we were able to get like half the tables we’d need for like $10 total!  And again, this was in only two weeks!

So, after this whole experience, I feel a few different things.  Pride.  Happiness.  Anger.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  Disgust.  Shame.  Curiosity.  Relief.

Relief because I don’t have all that work to look forward to!  But in the end, I am glad that at the very least I can take away multiple lessons from this – ones that I do think will serve me well in the future.  And the fact that I now have experience starting a business – and the awareness of what it takes and what it doesn’t take – will be a great head start for my next business.  Whatever that may be.

11 things everyone should learn how to do (before heading off to college)

You’re about to meet people from all different walks of life.

You’re about to see people doing things you do not approve of.

You’re about to do things your parents do not approve of.

And you’ll probably wear some awful outfits and take fewer showers than you should.

This.  Is college.

(The following are the things I learned/wish I learned while in college.  They might not all be relevant for freshmen but you should definitely know them after a few years.  I have broken them down into 4 categories: living on your own, finances, life decisions, and learning/studying.)

 

Living On Your Own:

You’re moving out of your parents’ house.  Scary.  Exciting.  Now you’re about to live with a bunch of strangers.  Chances are you’ll have more than one roommate throughout your college career.  Whether its in the dorms or in an apartment, these are the things you’ll be glad you know when you find yourself living away from home in a new city.

Cook something healthy.  If you’re a freshman, you might just eat at the campus dining hall all the time.  You might have a kitchen in your dorm room, or you might just have a microwave.  But if you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen, take advantage of it!  Learn to cook yourself some basic entrees.  Vegetables, pasta, and if you’re really daring, chicken or something else substantial.  This is a great thing to learn before you move out of your parents’ house.  Its also a great way to bond with your mom in the last few months you live with her.

Clean up after yourself.  Now that you’ve made yourself a fabulous dinner, please don’t leave the dirty pots and pans in the sink.  I got into so many squabbles with my roommate because I never cleaned up after myself.  Be smarter than I was.  A great way to solve this problem before you have it is to come up with a cleaning schedule with your roommates and assign tasks for yourself.  Just make sure everyone respects this agreement and actually follows through with their commitments.  Even if you live on your own, you’ll feel  a lot better without junk all over the place.  College can be chaotic enough without living in chaos, too.

Tolerate other people, be willing to compromise.  You might find that you and your roommate like to live pretty different lives.  One of you wakes up early, the other stays up late; one of you likes the place clean and the other couldn’t care less.  Be prepared to sacrifice a little – afterall, you’re sharing a small space with this person for a year: its best to be friendly with one another.  Your first or second day moving in together is the perfect time to fill each other in on your likes, dislikes, and pet peeves.  Work something out together so you can both be happy and both do well in school.  Be supportive of one another, and respect any agreements you establish together.

Get yourself up reliably.  You wont succeed in school if you sleep through your finals.  (Yes, this happened to me.  Luckily (?) it was a small school and my teacher called me and woke me up and asked if I was planning to come in that day.  Oy.)

Navigate your city via the bus system.  You’ll probably want to go explore your city without getting lost.  And when you have an apartment off campus, it will be good to know how to get to your classes, and how to get to them on time.  Buses are often late, so look at the schedule and see if you’ll need to get on the earlier one just to be safe.  Navigating bus systems is a great skill to have outside of college, too.  After living in LA and getting around there, I feel confident that I could go to any major city and figure out how their bus system works, even if it varies from LA’s.  (P.S. If you live in a big city, there’s probably an online schedule of all the bus routes, and maybe even a handy-dandy trip planner.  Check it out!)

 

Finances:

Finances don’t have to be scary.  And chances are, you have your parents to fall back on during the next couple of years anyway.  Take this time to try and be financially independent and learn some things about money before you really have to be financially independent.

Pay your bills.  If you’re living in a dorm, you might not get any bills (unless you pay your own cell phone bill or something, but if that’s the case, you’re probably used to doing that back home anyway.)  Once you get an apartment, you will have utility bills and probably a credit card to pay.  You’ll need to keep your desk organized so you don’t misplace or forget these.  Online bill paying is an easy solution to this.  Also, you should know how to do some simple math so that you can divide your utilities by 2 or 3 if you split them with your roommates.  General financial awareness is a good practice to get into.  I love using Mint.com to manage my money.  It keeps me from overdrawing my account and also provides some organizational tips like creating a budget and saving up for future goals!  (And its free to use and safe.)

Understand student loans.  This is a big one.  I am now out of college and I still don’t completely understand them.  But let me tell you what I do know: college is expensive – very expensive.  And if you are between the ages of 18-21, chances are you do not have much money.  Because I got loans and didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket while in college, I was sort of in a comfortable state of denial that I would ever have to pay for my education.  Living ‘without paying rent’ was fabulous.  Getting ‘free’ meals on campus was fabulous.  Finishing school and getting a huge bill was not fabulous.  Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.  I don’t in any way mean to discourage you from going to college.  I’m saying to go to college – just make sure you’re informed.  Take a minute and think about the reality of paying tens of thousands of dollars in a few years.  Will you have a job by then?  Maybe.

(I don’t mean to be a downer but ask anyone between the ages of 21-30 who has been to college, what they think of student loans.  Chances are they’ll have some stress associated with it.)

 

Life Decisions:

College is often thought of as a time to ‘find yourself’.  But its also a time to party like crazy and get into some situations that you can look back on and laugh about when you’re 40.  While I encourage you to have fun, I also encourage you to take a real look at yourself and what your goals are for college, and where you hope to end up after these 4 years.

Think really hard about what you want to do with your life, and the value of college.  Now that you’re possibly questioning whether or not you want to pay for college, I will advise you to think long and hard about it.  What do you want to get out of college?  Do you expect to learn a ton of stuff and become super smart and prepared to be an adult?  Will you finally feel ready to be on your own once you get that degree?  Will it change everything?  Will it give you confidence?  Will it guarantee you some jobs offers after graduation?  Be careful.  I had a totally inaccurate expectation that college would teach me everything I needed to know and that I’d step out a mature, responsible, and prepared member of society.  Then, before I knew it, I was about to graduate and felt as though I had learned nothing, wasn’t at all prepared to get a job (emotionally nor in terms of skills/ability), and felt only marginally more mature that I did in high school.  Needless to say, I had gotten myself into a situation where I owed a bunch of money on student loans, and didn’t have much to show for it.  Again, I don’t want to encourage you not to go to college.  In fact, I strongly encourage you to go to college.  But meet with your advisor and think about what you’re getting out of school.  Maybe you should change your major?  Maybe after a year or two, you’ve gotten all you can out of college and its just time to leave?  The mistake I made wasn’t going to college – it was staying in college for longer than I should, because getting a degree was “the thing to do”.  If it stops working for you, its no longer the thing to do. Be honest and keep checking in with yourself to see that you’re on the right track.  For you.

Stand up for yourself, don’t put up with BS.  Throughout your college experience you will undoubtedly encounter some difficult people and difficult situations.  Its important to realize that its all BS and that you don’t have to put up with it.  Colleges have a ton of students to keep track of, so cut them some slack if they mess up your room assignment or class schedule.  Just not too much slack.  If your college does something to screw you over – may it be difficult teachers, outdated requirements, inefficient departments and staff, etc – do stand up for yourself and try and fix your situation.  Be polite, but firm.  At the end of the day, you’re the one paying for your education, and thus they work for you.  (Again, be polite.)

 

Learning, Studying:

I’ll assume that you know some basic general study skills by now, such as keeping yourself and your papers organized, having a system to remember deadlines, etc.  (If not, there are plenty of tips online.)  Here are some study tips more unique to college:

Be resourceful, internet-savvy.  Know where your campus library is.  Know how to do basic google searches to find information.  Understand that Wikipedia is generally not an accepted resource for research papers.  You might want to check into the MLA standards (how to properly/legally cite your sources for academic papers).  And feel free to go to said campus library and ask the librarian for help.  Or your teacher.

Have good study habits, be able to self-teach.  I was surprised when I got to college to find that I was expected to read the textbooks in order to learn the material that was on the tests.  Very different from high school.  Honestly, in some of my classes, the teacher didn’t even seem necessary.  She would give a lecture that was like a general overview on a few chapters – only the basics.  I thought, “wow, this test is going to be easy”.  But no – the test wasn’t on any of the basic stuff.  It was all from the textbook.

Note: Beware though, because for some classes, you will not need the book at all.  I spent so much money buying books that I literally didn’t open once.  Also, and this is key: do not open (unseal) your textbooks until you get to class.  I’ve had classes where we get to the class on the first day and the teacher says to disregard what the website said, we don’t actually use the book, go ahead and return it.  (The students who already took off the plastic wrap just lost out on like $50.)  If there is any way you can find out from previous students in that class if you’ll actually need the book, that’d be great.  Also, you could try not even buying any books until after the first day of each class, where they’ll probably go over what you’ll need.  Just make sure there will be enough books left by then or you’ll be out of luck.

And actually, I need to make point number 12.  Buy your textbooks used as much as possible.  Often, the school bookstore sells them both new and used, but they’re still ridiculously expensive.  Try half.com for great deals.  Or Amazon.  Or just Google Shopping results.  See if you can buy a previous edition, too.  99% of the information will be the same, so it should work.  Only downside is some of the exercise problems at the end of chapters might be different, so your homework might end up being different from everyone else’s and you could lose points.  So this will work better for certain kinds of textbooks than others.

I hope you found this post useful and have a fabulous time at college.  Good luck!

And for those of you who have already been to college – did I miss anything?