January 2009


I’ll be out of the country for a little over a week, so I won’t be able to approve comments or post info until I get back… and I’m recording the Super Bowl –  at least I won’t miss the Titans.

My wife and I went to Cirque Du Soleil last weekend.  I think that’s French for “these people are out of their minds”.  You would not believe some of the acrobatics the performers pulled off.  The show was held at Atlantic Station in Atlanta.  If you’ve never been there before, Atlantic Station is sort of its own little city within the city of Atlanta.

 

The show was great.  Dinner after the show was great.  Finding our car and getting home was a nightmare.

 

Before the show, we parked in the massive labyrinth of the underground parking deck.  After being directed through a maze of cars, the parking attendants led us to the completely filled parking area where we were left to find a spot on our own.  It was here that I fully expected we would have to fight off a dragon before proceeding to the show.  We finally found a place to park and I looked up and noted our section. 

 

G-12…  got it. 

 

When we tried to find our car, I realized that there was apparently no reasoning behind how this parking deck was laid out.  We were in section G, looking for G-12, but we were nowhere near our car.

 

We wandered around with all of the other confused people who were repeatedly hitting their keyless remotes like a young child calling for their lost dog – hoping that familiar horn would honk and Lassie would come home.  Did I mention that this place is HUGE!  Oh yeah, and it was dark… and cold… and my wife was in heels.

 

We finally found our car.  Now we just had to find an exit.  We made our way out of the parking area and thought we were home free.  Wrong.  All I needed to do was get on I-85 North and Atlantic station is right next to I-85, so I thought it would be pretty simple.  Wrong again.  In order to get on I-85 north, you first have to go south on connector streets, get on a ferry, cross the Florida state line, click your heals together three times, and say “there’s no place like home”.  Ok, it’s not that bad, but it’s close.

 

Frustrating does not begin to describe my feelings at this point.  Here we were, right next to the road that we needed to get on.  We even drove over it a couple of times, but there was no ramp.  There was no way to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.  We just drove around hoping that we would eventually find an on-ramp.

 

This sort of thing happens to us more than we probably realize.  We know what road we want to be on, we may even be right next to it, but there doesn’t seem to be any on-ramps.  We’re driving along another road in hopes that it will eventually lead us where we need to be.  If you desire to find significance in your work and begin to live your passion, you have to do more that simply discover what road you want to be on.  You have figure out how to get there from here.  You have to build a ramp.

Several people have inquired about how the book sales are going, so I thought I would give you an update.

I don’t know.

There are many misconceptions out there regarding being a published author. One of the biggest is that you make a lot of money selling books. Unless your last name happens to be Rowling or Grisham, that is very unlikely. For every one of my books that sells on Amazon, I get about a dollar. When you consider the cost to hire an editor and cover artist, the first financial milestone is simply breaking even.

The second big hurdle is differentiation. With even less money available for discretionary spending, it is extremely important to offer something that sets your book apart from the millions of others. When my book was listed on Amazon, there were around 14 million other books available. Mine made it up to around the top 70,000 at one point, but has drifted down to around 1.9 millionth on the best seller list. I honestly have no idea how many copies have sold and, surprisingly, am not that concerned. My goal was not to be a best-selling author, but to impact a few lives.

When I got my first shipment books, I was frustrated to see a few grammatical errors that I thought I had corrected. I was also frustrated when I thought of wording that would have better communicated my message. Ultimately, I became very critical of my work. This frustration; however, was alleviated by emails and messages from readers that told me that the book really hit home with them and got them to carefully consider some of the struggles that they were having in their careers.

I realized that my self-critical approach was actually going against the foundation of the book itself. When I began writing the book, my desire was to put my experience on paper so that others could read it and hopefully realize that it is ok to question a career or direction in life that doesn’t feel right even if it does bring them a decent measure of “success”. When I began judging the book on a different basis, I was looking for false success. Remember from the book – success is the achievement of a desired outcome. In this case, that desired outcome has already come to pass. From here everything else, book sales included, is just gravy.

I do like gravy, though.

A stumbling block that prevents many people from ever trying to live a life in pursuit of any kind of mission is that we are overwhelmed by all of the needs in the world. We see poverty, famine, diseases, and social injustice and feel that we are too insignificant or lack the skills necessary to make any impact. I think the main problem here is that we are focusing on what the world needs when a better approach might be to focus on what we have to offer.

I am preparing to go on a mission trip to a country that was once part of the Soviet Union, where I will teach English classes. Many of the people there already speak English, but their training came from people who learned English as a second (or 3rd… or 4th) language. The students are very eager to converse with people for whom English is their native language.

I made this trip last winter and it was remarkable. Here are few things I noted:

First of all, we have it very good here. The economy may be in bad shape by our standards, but we still have it pretty good.

Secondly, you have no idea how much the students value these classes. I remember, as I was preparing for the trip last year, thinking that the students would be disappointed. I wasn’t a teacher, I wasn’t an English expert, I couldn’t speak Russian, and I knew very little about their country and culture. What I found was that the students were thrilled to have a “teacher” who was born in the United States and spoke English as their native language. They didn’t care what my credentials were, what my teaching style was, or if I slipped in a “ya’ll” periodically.

Finally, I was amazed by the relationships that I built with my students over a very short period of time. I grew up during the Cold War and the realization that I was building friendships with people from a country that was once considered my “enemy” was startling.

This particular country where I am teaching has been named one of the “Outposts of Tyranny” by Condoleezza Rice. Its government is corrupt and its people lack many of the liberties that we take for granted. If I were to only look at all of the social, economic, and political issues that the people of that nation face and then was asked to do something to help them, I would be paralyzed by the overwhelming need. But that is not our approach. We are focusing on what we have to offer – in this case speaking English as our native language. How simple is that?

What do you have to offer?

I should have posted this weeks ago, but my book is also available on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com in addition to my publisher’s website. Amazon has free shipping with orders over $25.

spongebob1

 

I recently read an article in Best Life magazine that discussed the pervasiveness of marketing to children. Boy was it scary! The article stated that toddlers as young as 2 years old will ask for a particular brand of food or toy based on the advertisements they see while watching cartoons. Think about that. We’re teaching our children consumerism before they are even out of diapers! It’s no wonder that our society is so consumer-centric. We are bombarded with branding before we can say the alphabet. In the past 25 years, marketing to children has grown from $100 million a year in holiday ads to $17 billion in a year round quest to fill our children’s minds with licensed characters and branding.

As a kid, I was a big Star Wars fan (ok, I still am). This was one of the first large-scale attempts to combine on-screen entertainment with merchandising. I spent countless hours recreating scenes from the movies with my action figures… thank goodness George Lucas didn’t have access to computer animation in 1977.

Now the whole idea of branding has gone to the extreme. It no longer consists of just movies and action figures, but now includes clothing, toothbrushes, Band-Aids, web sites, DVDs, furniture, video games, Happy Meals, etc. Kids can even go on ToucanSam.com where they can play games and watch cartoon clips while being immersed in the sugar-laden branding of Fruit Loops. Think about that dangerous loop. Kids see an ad on TV, go online and play games, and see more ads online, some of which direct them back to television. This is a complete immersion in marketing and consumerism.

Think about the implications this has on our kids. Just the other night, my three year old daughter got upset because we left her Dora the Explorer toothpaste at Grandma’s house. She was forced to use her Thomas the Train toothpaste, which apparently is all of the sudden inferior. This seems harmless enough now, but she is only three! Fifteen years from now, she may be throwing a tantrum because she had to settle for a Chevy when she had her marketing induced mind set on a BMW. Who am I kidding? Chevy won’t be around in 15 years, but that’s a different story. And if you think you can avoid this trouble by limiting non-branded items, think again. Just try to make a trip to Wal-Mart or Target to buy household items for your kids without licensed images pasted all over them and you will quickly find that your options are limited.

When I was a kid, I wanted a Millennium Falcon because it was in the movie and Han Solo was pretty cool. Now, kids want I-Phones without even understanding what an I-Phone is. Does a ten year old really need to have streaming stock quotes? Of course not; they just want something cool that other kids will envy.

Now I hope that if your 10 year-old asks for an I-Phone, you shoot that request down promptly. But think about the example you set. Did you really need that 128,000 Btu grill with booster rockets and GPS or would something a little more reasonable suffice?