I first encountered Shopify when one of my best clients jumped off the Joomla bandwagon to try out the still green, but now more hulk worthy, eComm platform. It was (maybe not) coincidentally my first brush with an unapologetically human business.
Here's the email I dug out of the archives:

8/19/11
to SmallBizTriage

Hey Everyone,

My name's Brian Alkerton, and I'm part of the Guru program here at Shopify. If you've been with Shopify for a while, you may not be familiar with who we are and what we do, but the short version is that we're dedicated to making sure you've got everything you need to succeed at your disposal. Want marketing advice? We can help. Unsure of how to make a couple edits to your store's template? We've got that covered too.

I'll be in Seattle next week for Penny-Arcade Expo, but I'll be arriving a few days early. This coming Wednesday and Thursday, August 24th and 25th, I'll be in the city, and since my plan was to spend most of those days working, I thought it might be fun to hold some "open office hours" and meet some of our customers in person.

If you've got any questions about working with Shopify, need a bit of hands-on help to get up and running, or just want to say hi, I'll be at the Top Pot Donuts located at 2124 5th Ave. Wednesday afternoon from 1pm-5pm (and yes, coffee and donuts are on me). On Thursday, I'll be at Office Nomads, at 1617 Boylston Ave. all day from 9am-5pm.

The whole thing's going to be fairly informal so there's no need to RSVP or schedule a specific time, just drop in and say hi - you'll be able to spot me by my MacBook with the Shopify decals on it. Of course, if you've got any specific questions you can feel free to send them my way at [email protected] and I'll make sure you get the info you need.

Hope you have a great weekend, and look forward to seeing you next week!

Regards,
Brian Alkerton
Shopify Guru
[email protected]

I met up with him, had coffee, learned some Liquid (Shopify's 'language' for customizing their stores). Can't remember a lick of Liquid, but can't forget the personalized approach they used. A few months later, Tim Westergren (founder of Pandora) held a town hall style get together at the Seattle Public Library. Unapologetically human business events became a permanent fixture in my life from that point onwards.
Shopify is now our go-to platform for anyone trying to sling a physical product online (with WooCommerce and BigCommerce nipping at their heels).
Take a look at this ridonculous 61 Facts About Shopify infographic.

My Three Words is an annual tradition started by unapologetically human marketing phenom Chris Brogan. Why three words? It’s way more effective - and easier to remember - than a long list of likely to be forgotten resolutions. It's also a useful tool in the same flavor as Warren Buffet's two list approach.


Hey, we also did a podcast version of this. Listen below for the real talk behind our respective word trios for the year and get a few bonus rounds for the trouble:

Last Year's 3-Words

Nate
Human, Anchor, Flow
Seth
Balance, Scale, Loop
David
Drop, Change, Focus

So, how'd we do?

NATE: I made a lot of headway on the 'human' side of my life. Even started writing about it exclusively here and Seth and I podcast about it there. Flow is something that I've had to tackle more out of necessity than some intrinsic motivation. Shifting out of my shallow work default into a deep work 'flow' has been getting easier with reps, but still hasn't become habit. I lost touch with my why in a huge way earlier this year, but had a strong finish creating some previously impossible(ish) to form habits.

SETH: I think I balanced my life *fairly* well in 2017 - Balance requires a lot of small readjustments over time so it's an ongoing battle. Same with looping success back into itself. As far as "scale" goes - I'm giving myself a goose egg for 2017, but I am optimistic about the prospects in 2018. All that balancing and looping shouldn't hurt either.

DAVID: My 3 words were *intentionally* all tied to my habits. Admittedly, I didn't drop much (I still find myself hitting up the Taco Bell drive through once and a while, though I guess there are worse vices). I was able to achieve a change in my worldly perspective with a trip to Morocco and Spain. This spatial adjustment helped me dial in what I really wanted out of life, and therefore, I've shifted my focus to achieve these goals. I'll take 2 out of 3 for now, and stay after it in 2018.


And now onto our three words - well a straight dozen to be particular - for 2018.

Our Twelve Words for 2018

NATE

Human - This one deserves a repeat. I've set some downright ludicrous goals in the event, workshop, teaching space, so it deserves to be top of mind. Additionally, I've doubled down on investing more of my fiscal resources towards human coaches for therapy (mind), kickboxing (body) and ... well not sure on the spiritual front. A client/friend is convinced that Bikram Yoga will balance me out - after 'acclimating' to Muay Thai short-shorts, not sure if hot yoga won't push me over the proverbial edge. Guess we'll see.
Structure - A large chunk of my days are unstructured ... I'd say 80%. Leaves too much room for ebbing anxiety, low flowing productivity, and on bad days - lazy binges on food and TV. Of course, I'll need to make a deliberate effort to avoid letting more structure devolving into low-impact busyness.
Fight - the most useful advice I received this year was, "Your fight isn't Nate vs. <insert villain here>. It's actually Nate vs. Nate". Framing my life in this way has helped me dodge the oh-so-dangerous blame game that erodes our goals and motivation.


SETH

Duff - as in "get up off your..." Having seen some success in balancing my energy across the day and year, I find that I still do in fact have a modest reserve of youthful vigor to spare. Don't know how much longer that'll stick around though, so no time like the present to have a few more ill-advised adventures?
Scale - Carried over from 2017, I would *still* love to add another member or two to our team to manage and deliver projects with the same level of quality our existing clients know to expect (or higher, why not?) so I can spend more time on long rambling newsletters and whatever else.
Recover - I always thought it was funny that the word "adventure" is just "venture" with a negative pre-fix thrown in. As though by definition an adventure will tax your resources. That said, this word is at least a half cop-out so I will remember to keep an eye on the daily balance of resources that were represented last year by the words "Balance" and "Loop". Recover wasted time, recover spent energy, and then spend what you have reclaimed doing something awesome. If I'm going to roll with "Duff" as a word for the year, recovery, like breakfast, is not going to be something it is healthy to skip.

DAVID

Aim - We're all familiar with the classic, "Ready, Aim, Fire!" but it never fully resonated with me. If we're talking firearms here, shouldn't you aim until you're ready, then fire? Anyway, my point here is to aim for an achievable goal, then when my sights are set, get after it!
Sharpen - No matter what you're good at, whether it be skiing, fire juggling, or some insane combination of the two, you can always get better. I intend to work on all aspects of myself, the good, the decent, and the downright mediocre. I once read something on a gym wall, "You're stronger than yesterday". Makes sense, unless you've ever tried to double up on your weekly leg days...That being said, I intend to upgrade every skillset in my arsenal, making sure to have a healthy rotation to achieve overall improvement.
Push - Through I'm no longer 16 and ready to hit the ice and skate ladders until I puke, I've recently re-discovered my motivation to go further than "enough". I'm not using this word strictly in reference to physical activity but in all aspects of my life. The easiest way to identify where I can go further is a heavy dose of self-discipline, easier said than done of course, but I've got to start somewhere. In the most disheartening of times, I find that I can sometimes trick myself with the "one more set, one more mile, or one more minute" tactic. After I hit that "one more" marker, I keep the mindset and push onward!  


COREY

Lead - I need to shift out the "managerial" role into a stronger and more effective "leadership" posture. Vision to execution, instead of task to completion.
Me - Giving gets me into trouble. I'm the classic case of they guy helping everyone else put on their oxygen masks, before I don my own. And it finally bit me in the ass in 2017. I spent nearly two months of the past twelve battling illness. Kind of hard to lead anything when you are bed ridden.
Surge - Mediocrity is enemy number one in my world. True slow and steady usually wins the race. But in a competitor laden landscape, the ability to surge ahead as a team makes you unstoppable.

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"This is just stupid!" I roared from inside my boss' windowless office. Thankfully no windows meant good acoustics for rage-Nate.

Debra, my boisterous, blond boss had been trying to teach me the lost art of cold calling. After surviving the third hardest college program in the world, and eking out a short but high-impact career in the Air Force, then managing a rapidly growing small business, I had tripped headlong into the lowest point in my professional career: calling strangers and asking them for money.

Our cookie-cutter cubicle jungle in Bellevue, Washington had been an easy ride up to that point. Reviewing piles of resumes, interviewing geeks and up-selling them to local companies' tech departments. Some days I even got to play with gnarly advanced Google search strings to scratch my own nerdy itch. But this ... this felt like punishment. An exercise in embarrassment. Miles away from any sort of authenticity. Dialing for dollars.

But my boss' boss has made it clear that everyone on the floor had to sell or risk a jobless existence in 2008. For those that don't remember, '08 marked the second largest depression since the greater one before WWII.

Anyways, back to rage-Nate. My boss - in her 50s - had seen it all, and never stopped smiling throughout my tirade.

"Nate, who's next on your call list?" Debra asked. I mumbled out a name and gave her the contact's phone number.

She wrote it down and picked up her phone and started dialing.

"Whoa, you can't call him. I'm not even sure if it's the right person." Her smile remained steady as the phone rang.

Then I got a master class in phone sales in the span of 4-minutes. It was like watching Jackie Chan in the Drunken Master, a raw unscripted ramble of words, bobbing and weaving around two gatekeepers and eventually onto the calendar of John ... or was it Jake. Debra messed up the guys' name twice with one of the receptionists and again with the actually guy. And she still got the meeting.

Rock bottom me immediately started my own self-deprecating ramble. "I can't do that." "Of course you're better at it - you are my boss." "I don't belong here." "Can I just have my old job back? You know I'm good at that." Blah, blah, blah. Excuse, excuse, excuse.

Debra's advice was simple.

  1. Just pickup the damn phone.
  2. Smile when you talk ... they can tell if you aren't.
  3. Be genuinely curious.

The first two are common to nearly every sales training program in existence. That third nugget has changed my life ... well ... in some curious ways.

Now I eventually got fired from that job. I started my business in the wake of that experience, and it has supported my family and the families of 100+ freelancers over the past 8-years. And those three commandments have fueled much of my survival and success since then. But it wasn't until the past year that the power of curiosity really rocked my world.

When applied to interacting with people, curiosity can elevate your level of connection rapidly. In the now classic film 40 Year Old Virgin, Andy's work buddies coach him to "Just ask questions" - it worked a little too well, and hilarity ensues. Point is, it works. Of course when conversing with socially savvy folks, faux interest in their problems, fears, happy's and sad's can be spotted a mile away. That's where *genuine* curiosity comes into play.

Now here's the rub. People can be bland creatures. Average Joe's and Jill's rarely reveal the interesting bits about themselves. It's kinda hard to blame them. Uncovering the unique aspects of yourself can feel like emotional nudity in the wrong environment. How can you be genuinely curious about someone when they are the human equivalent of a generic brand of white bread?

Here's the deal. There is always something. It may take a well crafted question to tease out enough material to trigger genuine curiosity. And often those well-crafted questions will make you feel uncomfortable yourself. I make an effort to put in reps in this area at grocery stores. Checkers are trained to ask, "How are you today sir/ma'am?" And I'll always answer with uncomfortable honestly. Here are my back-pocket answers to that generic question for cracking open a chance at an unapologetically human, gritty conversation:

Whenever I drop one of these odd little guys, I get one of three responses:

  1. [awkward silence]
  2. Oh, I'm doing good. [an awkward laugh for effect]
  3. Me too. [and if I'm lucky, a mini story about why]

This year, I learned a way to take genuine curiosity a step further, a few inches deeper, a few grains grittier. Meditation practitioners teach the importance of transforming fear of you own thoughts into curiosity. Why am I sad / depressed / scared / lonely / dejected / anxious / etc... ? It's an unsettling exercise, and to be brutally honest, I still have a hard time examining my own internal landscape in this way. However, my initial gains have been large enough to keep me going down that uncomfortable path.

More curiosity brings more clarity. And for me, that clarity creates quiet, a rare sensation in such a noisy world.

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It's that time of year again.  Below you'll find our list of favorite reads (and listens) of 2017. Some were published this year, some many moons ago. Some are business-focused, others flagrant fiction. So, without further achoo, here's our list of Essential Reading (and Listening) for the Small Business Owner. Most of these are my rec's, but Seth, David and Corey snuck in a few as well.

Must Read Books for Small Business Owners - 2017 Edition


Books Good for Your Business

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson) ... Business. Life. Love. And all those gnarly in between bits. I actually drops a whopping $4 / month for the premium content on Mark's blog as well.

The Lost Art of Closing (S. Anthony Iannarino) ... Changed the way we think about taking clients from strangers to trusted partners. Breaks the sales process into a distinct chain of commitments. Required reading for B2B hustlers.

Be Obsessed or Be Average (Grant Cardone) ... everyone's favorite Scientologist. Kidding. Sort of. Seriously though, Grant's narration in the Audible version is off the hook, guidance spot-on and energy off the charts. Shattering the hustle paradigm.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (Cal Newport) ... this critical perspective on productivity separates shallow work from deep work (with its flow state) has transformed our busy work days into a lifestyle of massive impact.

Re-reading: The Obstacle is the Way (Ryan Holiday) - best crash course in Stoicism out there.

 

Books Good for Your Sanity

The Bobiverse Series (Dennis E. Taylor) ... What happens when the brain of a dead, snarky software engineer is uploaded into a robot and becomes sentient and saves the universe? The Bobiverse is what happens.

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (Michael A. Singer) ... 2017 was an awe inspiring and fear inciting year for me. One of my clients, Chris Mahne, insisted I listen to this audio book. A bit woo woo, but the best translation of eastern philosophies into something digestible by former Western bible thumpers like me.
Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman) ... A master class in storytelling. On their own, the Norse myths are fantastical tales of Odin, Thor, Loki and a myriad of strange creatures. Retold by Neil Gaiman (the audio book is also narrated by him) the are elevated to a whole new level. My favorite story involves the human boy who challenges a giant to a footrace.

The Gone Away World (Nick Harkaway) ... Nick made my list for two of his books last year, so I figured I should read his first novel. Holy. Effing. Shite. On its own, the story of two best friends plunged into a messy war is perfectly told. Then it gets weird - mystical, surrealistic, post apocalyptic, crazy.

Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior (Richard O'Connor) ... a perfect companion to the untethered soul, this dense, compact self-help book will reveal why you keep f---ing up your life ... on a scientific level. And bonus - it covers why the people you love piss you off so much.
My Struggle (Karl Ove Knausgaard) ... This series has dominated Seth's reading list for the bulk of 2017. Here's his blurb about it: It is hard to imagine a series of books more rich in detail and unapologetic human-ness than this. In a refreshing turn in the digital age, the author offers no apologies or rationalizations for his own behavior, even/especially when he must paint himself as a villain. The result is a human life, with all the failures, mistakes, and occasional triumphs however small captured on the page. How does a book that spares no detail, even when the author is not doing anything more than cleaning a bathroom or cooking dinner, become something magical? I don't know. Maybe ask Karl Ove. Props to the translator Don Bartlett for bringing this magic into the English Language with finesse.
 

Podcasts

Welcome to Night Vale ... This podcast and its sibling members of the Night Vale Presents family are consistently weird, creepy, and entertaining. If you like dark humor, or you just want to hear Charlie Day's version of Macbeth, you'll find a lot to love.

Hello from the Magic Tavern ... Seth turned me onto this whimsical podcast hosted by a smattering of improv comedy veterans from Chicago playing Arnie and overweight nerd, Chunt a shapeshifting talking badger, and Usidore a wizard with a really long name.
Small Biz Happy Hour ... yeah, we are *that* narcissistic. That being said, it's a good listen. Insightful, Delightful and Uncensored (we even had to add the E for Explicit to the podcast feed to stay out trouble with the media).
 

Finger Tappin' Beats

NOTE: David represents the segment of our family that's allergic to books apparently. Here's his tuneful addition:?
If you work a sedentary gig and are a self-proclaimed "Jimmy Legger" like me, then you know all too well that you've gotta keep something moving. Usually, it's my right foot, jumping up and down and tapping my heal against the floor like a never-ending drum solo. The beat moves through my leg, up my torso and inevitably into one of my hands to continue the rhythm and mix up the sound, usually tapping my desk or the plastic on my laptop.
"But David, why don't you just try sitting still?". "Oh, I guess I could give that a shot" - he said with heavy sarcasm. Fact is if you're like me, sometimes the mannequin challenge is just not possible.
Luckily I've found myself a workaround wit music. If I'm gonna be working my fingers anyway (say, typing up this newsletter), I might as well focus my efforts. That leads us to my music choice of the...uh... year I guess. When I've got copy to write or anything that requires some form of thought, I prefer the Chill Step Playlist on Spotify. It's a mix of light drum and bass mixed with the occasional soft vocals. If I'm looking to power through a more monotonous task, I'll be cranking up the ALT Rock, ranging anywhere from Silversun Pickups to Queens Of The Stone Age.
Whatever gets you moving, just be sure you're going the right way.
 

Blogs, Newsletters, Shorts

These are the only newsletters we subscribe to anymore:

 

See 2016, 2015 and 2013 Versions of Small Business Owner Reading Lists

*** NOTE: Yes, we've got some juicy affiliate links buried on this post. Who knows, maybe we'll get a check for $5.66 from Amazon again.***

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An ex-friend (we'll call him J) called me out of the blue today. I had a hard time remembering why we were 'ex' friends, so I took the call and he told me about the last few chapters of his life story. In the past few years, J's lived what I like to call, the story worthy life.

When he was living in Seattle making a living digging graves, his girlfriend had an aneurysm while they were sleeping. He said he, "woke up to her cold and dead." He spoke at her service, and buried her that same day. His family bought him a ticket to Alaska for a strange way to deal with his grief ... in the form of a working Howitzer cannon leftover from WWII. The mountain opposite the borrowed gun is still pockmarked with his sadness projectiles.

After wandering and walking thousands of miles all over the Western US, he picked up work as a ranch hand in Wyoming and learned to be a farrier (puts shoes on horses). Still dealing with volumes of pain, J would take long directionless walks, then turn around and walk home after his head cleared. On one of these walks, a young black bear attacked him. His farrier tools still attached to his belt, J was able to fight back. After a violent tussle, he killed the bear by stabbing it in its face and eyes. After the hospital stitched up multiple gashes on his back, he got back to work and met a cowgirl and fell in love again. He's grown a bit smarter, and now remembers to bring a rifle on his therapeutic walkabouts.

In my own pursuit of the story worthy life (a philosophy I adopted after my 2005 divorce), my perspective on what it actually means has changed in huge ways. A bit of background first.

A story:
1) has a beginning, middle and end
2) includes at least one character
3) shows the character dealing with some sort of conflict

Now, using that framework, anyone's life would be story worthy by definition. But I've always wanted to live a life worth a retelling or three.

A great story:
1) has something in it that rings familiar
2) develops contrast to highlight something novel, something new
3) shows the character starting in one state and ending in another state

Familiarity is most commonly injected into Hollywood stories by sticking to a variant of the old as time mythic structure known as the Hero's Journey (think STAR WARS and THE LORD OF THE RINGS). Also, involving some archetypal characters or tropes (think of the hero, sidekick, femme fatale and wise helper characters in BATMAN) makes strangers into acquaintances increasing the familiarity and evolutionary pattern recognition.

Contrast is created with a standard setup ... the hero does X expecting Y to happen, but instead Z happens.

A character's change in state (called value change in screenwriting) is a binary tactic. If the hero starts sad and hopeless, then he'll end happy and hopeful.

Now how did I apply this to my life?

In the beginning, I obsessed about contrast. Stepping out of my comfort (and moral) zone in a nearly compulsive fashion. Dating undateable women - recovering polyamorists anonymous anyone? Working in jobs I was grossly unqualified for. Moving into neighborhoods I couldn't afford. Driving a rusted out '68 Dodge Dart (complete with broken gas gauge) as a commuter vehicle. Taking one way trips, without the scratch for the return ticket. You get the point.

And you know what? It totally worked. In a few cases, those violent detours from my norm, brought me new friends, stronger community and a business that has been feeding my family for nearly a decade. And in the majority of cases, the skills I had to develop to wriggle out of the jams I consistently got myself into, made me strong as fuck. They were some entertaining stories at worst. However, my lifestyle made me emotionally ragged.

The next few chapters of my life read like a boring journal of my relentless pursuit of a new normal and the seemingly familiar. In a Hollywood blockbuster, it would have been compressed down to a 30 second montage of family life - shuttling the kiddo to Karate class, walking the dog, teaching Anna how to ride a bike, swimming in a nearby creek, cooking at home, cutting down a tiny tree for Christmas.

And it totally worked. I can't say that I was overjoyed / happy / blissful, but I had found peace. It felt uncomfortable for a long while, since I don't think i had ever found any lasting peace before.

The few chapters after that moved back into 'busting outta the comfort zone' mode. And that also totally worked. The stories ran the gamut of fetal position failures, to 80's slow clap public success. Naughty love scenes, to crying fights. Slow dancing, to a boisterous Charleston. Folger's moments, to hellish realizations. Explosive inspiration to explosive bowels. Story worthy. Hard. Entertaining in hindsight.

And now? I'm not sure. I'm faced with a few choices:

  1. Start writing / living a new chapter
  2. Create a spin-off series ... same universe, same faces, better characters, better stories - think American Horror Story.
  3. Rewrite my story ... I recently learned in my studies in psychotherapy that 'story editing' is a useful method for reframing your wins and losses, pains and gains, etc... to make room for more lasting peace and happiness in future chapters.

Getting back to J ... Near the end of our long conversation, he confided in me that he felt lost. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do next. Everything is so confusing." I gave him what little advice I had earned in that department, and said bye. It put in me into a mega-thoughtful space for the rest of the day. In the end, I realized that my credo of the story worthy life was missing one gigantic element.

The supporting characters in my story, are ALL trying to be the heroes of their own stories.

Most of the happy moments and chapters in my life were wholly unintentional. When a page of my story helped someone live a happy scene in their story, I felt whole and perfect. (Sci Fi nerds know this as the crossover episode).

Until I get some hot-flash of epiphany-ridden inspiration, my cocktail napkin plan for living my next volume of The Life of Nate Wright, will likely look like this.

  1. Start a writing a new page ... not knowing / caring if it's a page, chapter or volume. But knowing that the previous pages were painful means that I need to plot a path to a value change. Pain to pleasure. Fuck knows how I'll pull that off. Maybe I should take my own advice on the subject.
  2. Rewrite some previous chapters ... If I'm being brutally honest with myself, I've painted myself as the hero when I behaved like the villain, and weakly when I was actually the strongest. My throughline is a bit jagged in places.
  3. Listen / watch hard when interacting with other people's stories ... and whenever possible, help them live a better page to make their next chapter that much better. Some days that will be listening, some days a kind word or helping hand, and some days will require taking massive action.

I'll close out with one of my favorite quotes on writing from the fellow with the parrot:

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

- Gene Fowler -

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"Move the big rock"

At first glance, it looks suspiciously like a vague Buddhist proverb, or mis-translated Kung Fu movie, or Native American nugget of wisdom shared only while smoking a peace pipe at a crackling fire.

Nope. That brutally simple piece of advice came from a sales coach. Yep, a stoic, suited, ultra-professional sales guy.

So, I've been obsessing lately about this funky idea of unearthing great wisdom from unconventional places. Specifically, people (me included) seem to tell ourselves to seek advice and support in a linear fashion.

Want to lose weight. Seek out a fitness trainer. Study fitness.
Want to write better. Seek out a writing coach. Study good writers.
Want to get comfortable speaking to large groups of people. Seek out a presentation coach. Study TED Talks.
Want to argue less with your kids and spouse. Seek out a Marriage and Family Therapist. Study communication techniques.

You get the idea. And it makes complete sense. Want to solve a problem? Find an expert at solving that particular flavor of problem, and immerse yourself in the topic. Make the changes. Oila!

Here's the flaw in that reasoning - problems are *not* linear in nature. Our happiness-obstacles are cemented together in oddly-shaped lumps, and the uncomfortable habits that make those rocks so heavy are rooted in strange, hard to reach places. They intertangle with other problems that compound if unaddressed. Think of it like your Christmas box. Christmas tree lights in a tangled mess, little ornament hooks stuck in that lump as well, some unwrapped, sticky candy canes meant for decoration that some drunk idiot (Nate circa 2007) licked for a quick sugar rush. Do you need a master untangler? An expert hook remover? A deep cleaner? A dumpster? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?

Instead of trying to solve that emotional calculus problem, I've opted for the unapologetically human, non-linear approach.

Here's a recent example: How did I lose - and keep off - 37-pounds over the past year and a half?

First, my autistic daughter needed a radical change in diet (gluten free), so the food I bought simplified greatly. Then, my belly started hating me for eating greasy and spicy foods to the point where I'd (unwillingly) throw up my favorite meals. Then while studying office productivity, I learned the importance of *measurement* of progress, so I bought a scale. Then a photographer showed me the importance of environment, so I moved the scale next to my front door. I became lonely, so I started producing dances and seeing pictures of my pooch on full display. Then I fell in love with a wonderful woman who's a brilliant nutritionist and pilates trainer. And she filled in all the gaps. Water. Sleep. Injury-free exercise.Walking. Oh, and more dancing ;^)

Everytime I tried a direct approach - calling a fitness trainer, who recommends "get a smaller plate", or studied paleo diets and body weight workout routines - the change never stuck. However, the "scenic route" led to permanent change.

Another example: When I was seeking out direct advice on selling to medium-sized organizations, I called up the aforementioned sales mentor. He reminded me that I still need to find my "big rock" and move that first. At the time, my big rock was accepting the fact that my small-biz flavored services just weren't adequately effective in larger organizations.

Did I work on moving that big rock? Nope.

Instead I applied that concept to solve my erratic moods, performance and overall happiness. After moving medium-sized rocks I thought were big (e.g. budgeting), I stubbed my toe on THE big rock: my Netflix addiction. Late night marathon TV binges were destroying my sleep, my mood, my career and also my family. I moved that rock eventually - got rid of my TV, removed the app from my phone, installed and app to keep me from reinstalling the app. Took a few years, but I eventually broke that boulder into small enough pieces to smuggle them out of the prison cell I'd built for myself - Andy Dufresne-style (he's the guy in Shawshank Redemption).

Did I ever move that business rock? Sure did. But I had to talk to that fitness trainer (the one I fell in love with) first. My old man knees were getting worse and I wanted to find out why. She patiently explained the critical nature of core strength, and a crash course in stretching complementary muscle groups.

Did I work on that big rock? Nope.

Instead of doing more sit ups and hitting the foam roller, I looked at my business problems through that lens and realized my core business strengths was laughably atrophied. I needed to  grow stronger. That meant more reps of selling, writing and training. My service set became strong enough to go after bigger businesses.

Now that the business rock is manageable, I've just started tackling actual core workouts, foam roller rituals, intentional recovery, etc... for my old man knees.

Ok, ok, I suppose we are overdue for the 'big reveal' a.k.a. The Point.

1) Rocks are rocks. They don't care what category they belong to - bad habits, toxic relationships, unhealthy diets, whatever.
2) Rocks are heavy. And the biggest rocks in our lives are likely so heavy that we aren't strong enough to move them ... yet. But if we find the bigger rocks blocking our progress, we will grow increasingly strong enough to move the bigger ones, and so on, so forth.
3) You NEED help to move those rocks. Otherwise, you would have kicked them aside years ago.

Admittedly, I wish the direct route led to stickier change in my own life. It would help me find peace and happiness that much faster. In my case, embracing the detours, examining radically - and seemingly unrelated - perspectives, and patchworking advice and insights, has helped me overcome countless scary large obstacles. I'd like to think that, in time, I'll learn to practice this form of self-improvement cross training with more deliberate, intentional focus.

Photo Credit: South Dakota Apologetics

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I've been off my game for a bit - well, five-months to be specific. And as I fall back into the comfort of the fall school and work routine, my subconscious has been slooowly untangling the messy "why" ... or perhaps, "what the f*** just happened?

When looking back on my life thus far, it hasn't fallen into the typical peaks and valleys of the normals. Instead it's more like a tug-of-war with my enemies ranging from my personal demons to life-scuttling a**holes to radical circumstance.

I'm straining and straining against the rope in the futile hope things will get better, shit will stink less, progress will be made, enemies will lose ground. It's in these moments/chapters of my life that I start to fool myself, "Wow, I'm trying hard. I'm sweating. I'm grunting. I'm hurting. I must be making some progress."

Nope. In fact that's typically when I start losing ground, losing momentum, losing myself.

Tug-of-war pro's - yes, they exist - win in steady, rhythmic surges of power. Give a little to recharge, yank hard with your entire body and progress an inch at a time. It's seems slow and incremental to onlookers. You are still sweating, grunting and hurting, but now you are gaining ground.

Here's the deal. I know this already. I should have learned this lesson fifty-times over by now. Hell, my first (and only) time in my life I won first place in any competition was on the Tug of War team, when La Paloma Elementary School destroyed Team Bonsall. I was in the 4th grade.

When I fast forward through all of the lessons imparted to me since then, a few wisdom bombs pop-up in the highlights reel.

1) Re-gaining lost ground is really hard - accept it. When I first started training to pass the USAF Academy's fitness test, push-ups were my biggest weakness. In my junior year of high school I couldn't even do ONE proper push-up. How in the hell do you make incremental gains when you can't even complete one measly rep? In my case, my sets consisted of 1/4, then 1/2, then 3/4 pushup reps. It was ugly and damn embarrassing, but over time I hit my number.

2) Strength is a requirement - grow stronger. In the universally underappreciated film, The 13th Warrior the main character travels from Persia to Norway where he accidentally ends up on a  mission to rescue a village being attacked by strange creatures. In one scene, a gigantic viking casually tosses one of his large swords to a young Antonio Banderas, "You'll need this," and nearly knocks him over. He grumpily retorts, "I cannot lift this." The viking sagely replies, "Grow stronger."

3) You cannot do this alone - maintain community. Seems like a no-brainer, but it's really, REALLY easy to slip into the me against the world mindset when life slings shit at you from all directions. You all probably have some friends, family, co-workers, vendors, bosses and/or mentors - hell, even a senile old man down at the nursing home - that could spare an ear. Tough times are the wrong time to cave it up. Not saying dump your effed up life in their laps, but keep the communication lines open.

Okay, okay, enough metaphor for now.

Here's some concrete examples of how I'm executing this cocktail napkin "Master Plan for Getting Nate's Life out of the Crapper" ... and before you say it, I know they are out of order. People make consistently stupid decisions when nearing burn-out, and effing up the ideal order of things has been my premium weakness.

Maintain community - I started reaching out to friends and mentors, just to see how they were doing - and secretly hoping they wouldn't ask me any hard questions that might make me ragey or weepy. Most of 'em could smell the pain on me and reminded me of the advice I had given them in the past. Now, I have a few folks cheering me on from the sidelines, and a couple who have jumped in to help me heave-ho in the tug of war against Nate's pesky demon squad.

Accept it - I wrote it down all that advice as reminders on every single mirror in my house using a bar of soap. And I write it down every day on my favorite lined yellow legal pads. And on the rougher days, I write it on the most relavant bits of my left hand in .7mm blue gel pen. "Expect turbulence" pops up the most often to remind me that my demons ain't gonna let up just because I'm having a bad day. I wipe off some of the idioms with a rag because the advice isn't suitable, but putting wisdom billboards in your house can do no harm.

Grow stronger - one of the pieces of advice I recently received was to listen to an audiobook about integral theory, Kosmic Consciousness by Ken Wilber. My main takeaway: weakness in seemingly unrelated areas of life can trigger injury in areas that you are typically strong. I re-looked at the physical, mental and emotional components of my life. Physically, I'm now working out (nearly) everyday and just joined a Muay Thai kickboxing gym - not too excited about the glittery blue short shorts, but they'll keep me humble when I start getting all swole ;^) Mentally, I've added and diversified my reading/listening habits. A diesel punk thriller, that book on integral theory, and a sales book on closing philosophy are currently in rotation. Emotionally, I opted for a blend of therapy and aggressively turning down the temperature on ancillary relationships that can just wait. Essentially, creating space and time to heal - and hiring a therapist to patch up the rest of the injuries.

I'll keep you posted on my progress on all fronts, interspersed with some recent lessons sourced from the oddest places (like Norse Mythology). Stay tuned.

Humbled, yet still unapologetically human,

- Nate -

P.S. Hat tip to James Clear - his blog on designing a better environment and his dynamite keynote on incremental gains helped cement my regain routines.

 

Photo Credit: Andrew Jones

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UPDATED: 8/18/2017

WONDERFUL-TOYSEssential Tools for the Digitally Savvy Small Business Owner

"Where does he get all those wonderful toys"
- Joker (Batman, 1989)

Seth and I get asked all the time about what's 'under the hood' at Small Biz Triage. Soooo, in the spirit of transparency, here's our current toolkit, some freebies and some we happily pay for.


Email
* GSuite - $5/user/month
Storage
* Google Drive - aka our collective digital consciousness. $9.99 / month for 1TB package.
* Dropbox – slowly phasing this out, but for clients with image-heavy needs, it’s been helpful. $9.99/month.
Project & Task Management
* Zoho Projects - doesn't quite check off all the boxes we'd wish for in a project management tool, but is the closest we've found without being over-featured.
CRM / Sales Tools
* Pipedrive - $25/month/user - Awesome as a standalone CRM, but soon to be replaced in full by Accello
Computers & Hardware
* Windows 10 - desktop and laptop
* Acer 14 Chromebook
* Android Phone and now a jailbroken iPhone
* Logitech ClearChat Comfort USB Headset
* A cheap printer
Accounting
* Freshbooks – best small biz accounting platform ever (for now)… $29.95 / month. Seth and I even have non-business accounts to manage our personal finances. The sad news is that we’re not terribly psyched about the new interface, so about the time they force us to switch our biz account over is about the time this may be transferred to the “this sucks now” heap. We are working on figuring how Zoho can fully replace the need for freshbooks.
Website (CMS, Plugins, etc…)
CMS: WordPress
THEMES: Divi Builder ($89/year)
PLUGINS:
* WooCommerce
* WooCommerce Subscriptions ($200/year)
* WooCommerce Authorize.net CIM ($29/year)
* WooCommerce Freshbooks Integration ($79/year)
* WooCommerce Google Analytics Integration - Free
* WooCommerce Order Status Control ($29/year)
* WooCommerce Order Status Manager ($29/year)
* Disable Comments – will disable comments site-wide … an oddly difficult task to do manually with older posts – free
* MonsterInsights - free (replaces Google Analytics by Yoast)
* Gravity Forms ($199/year) - best MailChimp <> WordPress integration on the market, hands-down
* SendGrid for WordPress - free plugin, $79/year for the dedicated IP
* Yoast SEO - free
Google Chrome Extensions
* AdBlock - Free
* Awesome Screenshot ($19.99/year)
* Facebook Pixel Helper from LeadsBridge - Free
* Inbox When Ready for Gmail - Free
* LastPass ($12/user/year x 5 users)
* RescueTime ($72/year)
* Timer - Free
* Uberconference ($15/user/month x 5 users)
* Wappalyzer- Free
* ColorZilla – free
Services (human and digital)
Iubenda – a slick privacy policy generator – $27 / year
* ScheduleOnce – see it in action here. This tool has tripled our rate of emails >>> meetings. $19/month/user (we have 6 users)
* Wells Fargo for banking
* FattMerchant for merchant services - $79/month + fees
* Authorize.net for online payment processing - $29/month
* Audible.com – cheaper than an MBA, and probably more effective. Our road-tripping addictions are fueled by some great audio books (see them on our Annual Reading List). $14.95/month
* Upwork.com freelancers ... we've paid $6 - $66/hr for all sorts of things there.
* Fiverr - quick and dirty logos
* Dialpad - $49/month - 2-lines
* RocketLawyer - $59.95/month
* Business Insurance - The Hartford
Website Hosting
* WP Engine – if your business relies on the uptime and speed of your WordPress sites, than this is a must have. A bit costly, however, the site speed bump (which is great for SEO), killer automated backup setup, and one-click staging server creation makes it worth it. $29/month/site.
* GoDaddy - for parking our domains, typically $14.99/domain/year
* CloudFlare - DNS Management - free
Software
* FileZilla – best FTP client out there – free
* Office 365 - $9.99/month for the team – only use it for Word and Excel, and rarely. Still handy to have in specific situations. Otherwise, Libre Office is a fine and free substitute.
* Google Chrome – lean, fast-loading and awesome extensions – free
* GIMP – poor man’s Photoshop. Steep learning curve, but handles basic – free
* EditPad Lite – best text editor out there. And free.
* XnView – slick tool for managing high-volume, monotonous image editing tasks - free
Notable Exclusions … what we don’t use (anymore)
* Join.me
* Gusto
* Zenefits


Our Favorites of 2017

1) ScheduleOnce - this tool has transformed our business, eliminating email ping pong trying to nail down a meeting time. And its joint availability feature is clutch. We've been using this service for years now and they have never given us any reason to look for a replacement.
2) WP Engine - for WordPress super users, this will be a breath of fresh air. Hosting optimized for WordPress, slick back-up setup and a ridiculously easy staging server system.
3) Divi - Makes everyone look good, even people who have no business messing around with code.
4) Google Drive - Still crazy reliable after all these years.
5) Corey the Goddamn Canadian - Not technically a "tool", more like a maniac mechanic, and easily a 2017 top five fave to the rest of us.


That's it for now. We'll update this occasionally as we upgrade and swap out tools.
For more of our toolkit, check out our updated Essential Reading List for the Small Biz Owner
 
 

* Yes, there's a handful of affiliate links buried above. These are products we actually buy.

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My third fight  happened the summer before my senior year of high school.

Several months earlier, I had received my second denial from the Air Force Academy. So I scammed a copy of a previous year's application to find out what bubbles I needed to fill out to get their attention. On a long list of super-duper exciting leadership activities  - Eastmont High Class Treasurer, anyone? - I found one that didn't sound too horrifically boring - Boys State.

I wrote an awful essay about how attending would change my life so I can change the world. The acceptance came quickly. A little too quickly. My country bumpkin high school had three slots, and a whopping three dudes applied.

Boys State was actually pretty cool, all things considered. Six long days of hands-on workshops, government exercises and mock political shenanigans for hundreds of incoming seniors across the state. They booked us in dorms on a college campus in town. Most of us were typical nerds who read books or knocked out extra credit assignments between activities, with a smattering of academically-inclined athletes, football captains, wrestling champs, etc... During one of our breakout sessions, I referred to karate as a sport within earshot of this burly minority.

Yah, stupendous idea.

We'll call our antagonist Meathead Mike. So MM corners me in the dude's bathroom of all places and asks to wrestle for fun. Weird, but I said sure. To make it clear what I agreed to - imagine a 140lb, 6 foot tall, wiry version of me, and a 200lb, 6 foot tall varsity wrestler, football player athlete extraordinaire. After about a minute of wrestling, MM thinks it would be funny to lift me up - by my hair. Yes, you asshole readers out there - I used to have hair on my actual head. And it effing hurt.

Muscle memory kicks-in from my 'pussy karate kid shit' as MM calls it. I throw a short hook punch to his kidney and rapidly removed all of the oxygen from his body. Within 42 milliseconds of catching his breath, he goes all berserker mode on me and shoves me back into the tiny bathroom. Meathead Mike's meathead friends pulled him back before things got too gnarly. A few bruises, and a shattered ego was gratefully soft consequence of my babbling.

I was badass for a moment, and helpless the next.

Helpless. It sounds so weak. Doomed even.

Hell, the thought of needing help at all makes me cringe. Not I, the great and almighty Nate, conqueror, survivor extraordinaire.

But as fast as my grit has empowered me to make bolder decisions, I just as quickly found myself in a number of situations where I was no kidding stuck with zero real options. When logic, training and circumstance fail you, and all options are stripped away, all that is left is helplessness or hope. Now, hope can manifest in some plain and exotic blends of emotional cocktails. Faith of the religious variety. Belief in rescue from some good Samaritan. Focus on a never-before-seen superhuman surge of strength. You get it.

But, helplessness and hope cannot co-exist in the same moment. They flip flop as the situation and/or your outlook improves or devolves.

Hope is one those airy fairy romantic ideas that I firmly believe in with zero doubt or reservation, like most humans believe up is up and down is down. Why? My rudimentary conclusion: hope seems like the lesser of evils in a dire situation.

I don't really know what hope is or how to trigger/create/manifest it when shit hits the fan. But I do know that hope is one of those oddities that makes my fellow mammals human. And given the choice between helpless and hopeful, I choose the latter.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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Last month, I clocked just shy of two thousand miles driving zig-zagging all across California. House hunting. School hunting. Business hunting. Sanity hunting.

Short version: it stressed me the fuck out. Usually, long drives help mellow me out into an almost zen like state. My zaniest ideas, and gnarliest life-detours were birthed on road trips. So what made this one so heavy?

Up until a few days ago, I hadn't a clue. Then I complained about my sore legs, and my fiance morphed into trainer mode. Next thing I knew she had me flopping around on a foam roller. Admittedly, my legs felt better afterwards, but the bigger impact was her explanation of the muscles and the difference between soreness due to exercise (indicating you're getting stronger), and pain due to injury (which requires rest to heal from).

It got me ruminating. Does emotional stress work the same way?

I'm no psychologist, but the idea does pencil out. Let me take a crack at balancing this equation:

SCENARIO 1
13-hour work day.
+ 2-hours of traffic to get home.
+ Back-talking kids complain about breaking their $623 cellphone.
= EMOTIONAL SORENESS

SCENARIO 2
Boss or client tears a passion project to shreds.
+ You vent to your best friend, and they *helpfully* remind you that it happened to you - again - for the fourth time.
+ Best friend twists the knife by laughing at your bad luck. Something your ex-wife used to love doing.
= EMOTIONAL INJURY

Now we can take it a step further if we take a look at what happens when *regular* stress remains unchecked.

SCENARIO 1  x  17-days straight = EMOTIONAL INJURY

I experienced this in college, running 5-miles a day for a year plus without stretching. It took knee surgery and 4-months of rehab before I could walk straight again. And I experienced it again on an emotional front last month, pushing myself (and my family) at a very much NOT sustainable tempo of house prep, work projects, trips and budgetary olympics. I grabbed breaks here and there (the 9-hour drive back to Chico, for example) but I never quite healed, and slipped back into a hypersensitive state daily - think emotional 14-year old with an adolescent crack in his voice.

So how does one heal emotional injury?

Enter Grandma Lynn. Whenever I call blubbering, pleading for some magical emotional ointment to heal my wounds, she would inevitably say "time is on your side". And as with most of her best advice, it took me nearly a decade to actually understand what the hell she actually meant.

Time to sleep. Time to breathe. Time to heal.

Now don't try to bombard me with excuses, because I've already reserved the very best one for myself. "My biggest stressor is lack of time" - bullllllshit. Find it. Make it. Steal it. The most dangerous side effect of emotional injury, is that left untreated, it will cause no-kidding physical injury.

I don't have any awesome advice for *avoiding* emotional injury. That type of vulnerability is what makes us human. And I'm not about to start apologizing for that.

 

Photo Credit: WW2 Medical Research Centre

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