A “Real Cost” Paradigm For Achieving What We Want


Up until two years ago I consistently read “success” and inspirational literature for close to a decade straight.  I’ve read hundreds (literally) of books on the subject and have consistently applied the various suggestions to my life to try to achieve certain results that I want.

I think that we are all the same in many ways.  We may not all seek out books or models to learn “how to achieve” but we all consistently operate in a way that suggests that we move towards what we what, and move away from what we don’t.

This is the essence of being “goal oriented” in my opinion.  Somebody may say that they “don’t have specific goals”; however, if you analyze closely their behaviour you’ll see that they still operate in a goal oriented manner.  Their time, and actions, are organized around obtaining what they want.  This is consistently programmed into everyone.

I’ve found that most “success literature” is full of inspiring stories but over time it can feel quite repetitive, perhaps even overly marketed, and sometimes we are made to feel that we “need” it when in actuality the answers are quite innate in us.  

I can say that in all the years of reading “success literature” I’ve only really come across a few lessons that have been really, really, important.

Now that I understand these lessons I can honestly say that I’ve moved away from “success literature” and now spend my reading time in either fiction, philosophy, religion, science, and historical or biographical non-fiction.  I haven’t bought a “self-help” book now for several years.

Here are the “lessons” that really matter in my opinion.  I call it my “real cost paradigm for achieving what I want” .  I’ve created it by taking what I learned from the various books I’ve read, applying them, gauging feedback, deciphering what was most important, and then simplifying the process into an easily duplicatable model.

It is quite simple, and involves three simple steps:

1.  We must know, with clarity, exactly what we want

Clarity allows us to control psychic entropy, focus, and trigger flow in our actions.  Clarity also allows us to find the most effective plans to achieve what we want, engage the most helpful resources and mentors, and avoid distraction. Clarity truly is power.

2. Clear goals require “objective outcomes” 

We have to be able to know when we have obtained what we are seeking.  We need to know when we actually achieve the goal.  For example – if our goal is “happiness” that is a goal that is wrought with difficultly because we never “arrive” at happiness.  Happiness is always a part of the process (and in my opinion happiness is the by-product of continually achieving emotional states of flow in the pursuit of our objective outcome).

3. Each goal has “real costs” associated with it.  I have to pay these costs to achieve my goal. 

The “real costs” are both fixed and variable for each goal.  They are fixed in that certain results require a certain “quota” of action that cannot be shortcut.   But the costs are also variable in that everyone has a different skill set, and access to resources.  As a result certain people may be able learn and progress faster in (and thus “pay the cost” in a quicker time).

Allow me to illustrate this principle by using specific goals in my life. Over the last two years (among my other business and personal pursuits) I have been writing books, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).

For me – writing is easy, BJJ is hard.

Writing comes naturally.  I have an easy time sitting down each day. I hit flow naturally.  I am constantly full of ideas.

BJJ isn’t as natural. I’m not naturally flexible.  I struggle with some of the movements, and physical confrontation is a fear that hasn’t been easy to overcome (and I still struggle with it despite having attended dozens and dozens of classes at this point).

Now let’s analyze both of these activities from my “real cost paradigm”, using two specific goals.

BJJ: Get a blue belt (the first progression rank from white)

To get a blue belt I must learn and be able to apply in a real setting (BJJ enthusiasts will know this as rolling) certain techniques.  This is the real cost.

The variable component is that certain people will understand these techniques quickly, apply them easily, and not have to deal with the same fear in applying them (as BJJ is a full contact sport). They will be able to obtain the blue belt faster than someone who struggles with these. The person can who struggles can still “pay the full cost” and get the blue belt, but it will seem like the cost is much higher (hence the variable cost metaphor) because they aren’t naturally inclined to the sport.

Writing: Finish a book

To write a book you have to organize your thoughts in a coherent fashion that ends up (generally speaking) in 50,000-100,000 words around a central theme or thesis. This is the real cost.

The variable component is that some people will find it easy to write 1000 words a day.  Thoughts, organization and content will flow easily.  Other people will really struggle with this task.  The person who is inclined to write will get the book done much faster (and likely produce a much better book) than the person who struggles.  The person who isn’t naturally inclined to write can still get the book done but the cost will seem much higher (hence the variable metaphor).

Can you see how this model applies to all goals for all people? 

With me, in the last two years I’ve finished two books (one published, one in the editing phase), but I haven’t gotten my blue belt.  The variable costs for me in BJJ have been much higher than the variable costs in writing.

However, both goals are possible if I pay the appropriate real costs.  I have paid the costs in writing, but not yet in BJJ. 

All goals are theoretically possible by all people using this model.  If you pay the “real cost” for any goal, then you can achieve anything. However many people aren’t willing to pay the real cost, particularly because the “variable cost component”  for certain goals will make the cost seem much higher (since they aren’t naturally inclined for the behaviour). 

I can get a blue belt, but it will seem much harder than someone naturally inclined to BJJ.

I do write books however much easier than someone who isn’t inclined to writing.

The reason that I like this model is

1) it actually works (every time)

2) it causes me to be “honest” with myself.

This model forces accountability.  If I’m not achieving a goal it is because I haven’t (or I’m not willing) to pay the cost.  I cannot place the blame with anyone but myself.   If I pay the cost then there is nothing that I can’t achieve under this model.  This gives me hope and encouragement, while holding me accountable at the same time.

Don’t Wait To Get Picked, Pick Yourself Instead


pick yourself

Remember what it was like when we were kids and we had to choose teams?  There was usually two captains (often self appointed) and everyone else would line up, and one at a time, a poor kid’s self-confidence would either be validated or weakened.

I was always big for my age, and a decent athlete, so fortunately (at least I thought at the time) I was usually in the top half of the group.  But I can remember, distinctly, the look on the faces of the kids who were picked in the lower half  – particularly the kid who was picked last.  Often that kid would turn instantly into the comedian – which I believe now to be the only coping mechanism that they had at the time.

I can remember more than once however a look of sadness on the face of the boy or girl who was picked last.

The look of sadness knowing that they waited and waited, with anticipation, to be picked, but no one wanted to pick them until there was no one else to choose from. 

From an early age our socialization conditions us to gauge the quality of our experience by how our efforts, or abilities, are received, and judged by others.  This creates a habit of passivity – we take a passive approach to our experience, and our fulfillment.  Many of us come to believe (at least subconsciously) that our life is not entirely in our hands – how we feel is highly influenced by how others feel about us or our work.

We love playing baseball until we are picked last, then we aren’t sure we want to play anymore;

We loved doing that science project until our teacher gave us the C-, then we stopped loving science;

We learn to wait – wait for approval, and wait for enjoyment.

For a lot of people, this “waiting to get picked” stays with them into adulthood, perhaps even throughout their entire lives.

They wait for their company or their boss to notice how valuable they are and finally reward them for what they’re worth. 

They wait for that recruiter to find them and offer them the job of their lifetime.

They wait for that pay raise so that they can feel good about their contribution.

They wait for that vacation so that they can find peace and enjoyment.

They wait for the day that never seems to come.

We don’t have to wait anymore.  We don’t need to be picked.  We don’t need anyone’s permission to be fulfilled. 

The Internet has completely changed the game.  It has created opportunities for business, expression, publishing, learning, and relationships, beyond anything even imaginable fifty years ago. It has completely changed the way that we do business, the way that we communicate, and the way that learn.

It can also completely change the way that we view our lives. We don’t need people’s approval, validation, or acceptance to feel good about ourselves. We can feel alive and fulfilled on our own. 

I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the many biographies of unique, authenticand innovative people that I’ve read reveal something that all of these people seem have in common:

They didn’t fit in the “conventional” model. 

Isn’t that telling us something?? Perhaps that the “conventional” model of life, success, what we are supposed to be, do, learn experience, is wrong – or maybe broken?  Shouldn’t we instead model those innovative people and intentionally try not to fit in the conventional model?

Many of the most successful people were picked last.

Many of the most unique and authentic people didn’t have anyone’s approval – at least at first.

Many of the most creative innovators were social outcasts, couldn’t find success in school, and didn’t fit in the box that society had created for them.

If this is the case then why would we ever want to be picked? Why would we even care one bit whether or not we had anyone’s approval.

Now is the time that we can pick ourselves.

Want to create a business?  The Internet has made it easy start.

Have an opinion you want to share?  Throw up a blog, within minutes you could have a meaningful discussion.

Do you have art to create?  Create it and share it with the world.

You don’t need fancy degrees.  You don’t need an institution’s permission, or the approval of a boss.  You don’t need anyone’s permission for that matter.  You don’t need to wait to get picked.

You just pick yourself.


15 Practical Questions For Every Start-Up Business


This weekend I am participating as an entrepreneur Coach with the Startup Weekend EDU Calgary.

The great thing about this initiative is that it is designed to create business plans for young entrepreneurs that result in “implementation” not just idea incubation. This is critical for an entrepreneur to understand – especially someone who is embarking on their first start-up.

For each team that I’m working with I’ve been encouraging them to find an answer to the following questions.  This makes them look at their business as a real entity, from the beginning – not just a theoretical idea.  I want to get them in the mindset that this is real, and not just a weekend project (because if it’s not real when why do it?).

Here are questions that I believe every entrepreneur should be able to answer.  They are “practical” questions that I believe really separates a business plan that is merely “theoretical” from one that is “real” and can be implemented:

1. What problem does your business solve?

2. How do you know this is a problem?

3. How does your idea solve this problem?

4. Who else provides a similar solution?

5.  How is your solution different from theirs?

6. Why should I choose your solution over theirs?

7.  What does it cost to produce your solution?

8. Who is going to purchase your solution?

9. How will you find these customers?

10.  What will it cost to find these customers?

11.  How will this business make money?

12.  What will it cost for you to earn your first $1.

13.  What will it cost for you to run this business for a year?

14.  Where is this money going to come from?

15.  Who is responsible for getting sales?

What Are You Willing To Do To Achieve Your Dreams?

Lewis Howes, DJ Irie

This podcast (The School of Greatness Episode 94 by Lewis Howes) is well worth the hour and a half investment of time to listen.

DJ Irie (Official DJ for the Miami Heat and the FIFA World Cup) worked full time for free for seven months straight because he knew it would open the door to greater opportunities. What are we willing to do to achieve our dreams?


Why Long Term Planning Can Limit You In Your Life

Long term planning

What is your 1 year?  Your 5 year? Or your 10 year plan?  What do you want to be when you grow up?  How do you want to spend the next 20 years of your life? What’s on your bucket list?

These are all questions that we have asked ourselves (in one form or the other), and it seems like at least having an idea of the answer to these questions is universally sought.

A person who knows what they want out of their life has their head screwed on right?  They are going places, and they will accomplish things……right?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the only way to live, and in fact you could make the case that specific long term planning is actually a very limiting way to live.

What??? How could that be?  That’s what we’ve been told by every mentor, and “guru” that we’ve ever come across. Set goals.  Have a specific objective. Clarity is power, and if we know what we want we are more likely to get it.

Well that might be the case.  But a question remains:

Will we actually enjoy it when we have it? And if we don’t enjoy it, then what was the point of making the long term plan in the first place?  Could there not be another (perhaps even better) way?

I am living proof of this concept.  In my early twenties I made a very specific long term plan involving higher education and success in the “corporate world”.  I achieved my goals only to find myself discouraged and depressed.  I realized that I valued certain things (like freedom, risk, and creativity) that I wasn’t getting to experience on a frequent basis.  I walked into the uncertain world of entrepreneurship and have been remarkably happier since.

When I left that “other world” I didn’t have a specific long term plan.  In fact I rejected the notion of one.   I just wanted to live each day what I valued.  I stopped thinking about 20 years from now and started to only focus on now.  I wanted to live entrepreneurial freedom, creativity and adventure.   I want to communicate and contribute value to others every day.  Now every day I get to do these things, and I am happy.

The last several years I have seen things come into my life that I probably couldn’t have even planned for – experiences, opportunities, business interests, speaking engagements that have been wonderfully fulfilling, but that probably wouldn’t have been in the “long term plan” had I made one 5 years ago.

By not having a long term plan I have allowed myself to experience incredible things that I wouldn’t have had the foresight to even include in the plan in the first place. 

Allow me to make the case why specific long term planning can be detrimental to our life

1. In almost all cases, we underestimate what we are capable of achieving

We make our “long term plans” from the perspective of what we believe we are capable of.  In almost all cases we underestimate ourselves.  As a result our “plans” become limiting self-fulfilling prophecies. By not having a long term plan we keep the door open for an incredible future that we wouldn’t have even otherwise imagined.

2. When we are so focused on a path, we don’t look up to see the incredible opportunities around us. 

Having very specific goals may actually keep us from noticing a variety of opportunities that will come into our path.  If we allow ourselves flexibility in our approach then we keep ourselves open.

3.  It becomes very stressful – the pursuit – and we often are so busy “fighting for success” that we don’t enjoy the process

When this happens it is a shame.  All of us know people like this (perhaps we are, or have been, like this ourselves) – so busy achieving that we never stop to “smell the roses”.  People like this are boring, and not very fun to be around.  Overly ambitious, status driven people (in my experience) are also very internally unsettled as well.

4.  Failure becomes catastrophic – and a reflection of self worth – under this model.

When life is a mystery, an adventure, a wonderful engagement of uncertainty, then the odd failure or setback is merely feedback, even education.  But when we are “do or die” on our pursuit of success then failure destroys the meaning of the journey.  All becomes lost if we can’t achieve.  This is sad.

We set specific goals because uncertainty – for many people – is not an option.  Their brains can’t handle the entropy.  Driving it into a tight little controlled plan allows for a sense of “mental control” and this feels good.  Also, it seems like the “responsible” and “prudent” way to live life – and we all want to be conscientious citizens don’t we?

So what is the alternative, and why should we consider it?

Great question – I’m glad you asked :)

1. Understand what you value.  

What makes you come alive?  What makes your heart sing? Do you love creating stuff?  Do you love helping people?  Do you want to solve complex puzzles?  Are you a communicator?  Do you want a life of adventure and risk, or safety and security?

2.  Each day do what you value

Make sure that your life (and your career) is aligned with what you value.  That way you get to actually “experience” the things that are meaningful to you and your whole life isn’t about waiting – you know waiting to achieve, waiting for the paycheque, waiting for the reward. You want to be living – not just waiting. If you are doing what you value you will hit flow daily.  You will enjoy the ride.

3.  Do the very best in everything you do

Good work gets recognized.  When you get recognized you open the door to future opportunities (maybe even opportunities that you wouldn’t have even believed you were capable of had you been making a “long term plan”)

4. Work as hard as you can every single day

Work yourself to exhaustion, every day, doing the things you value.  You will meet the right people.  You will open the right doors. You will put in the time to achieve mastery.  You will overcome your fears.  There is very little that your life can’t have if you are willing to hustle each day.

5. Put your ass where your heart wants to be

Show up in the places (literally) that you want to be.  Talk to the people in the industries that interest you.  If you dream of having a business then simply start one. If you want a book, then shut up and write every day.  Do the things that you dream of.  Go out and talk to the people you dream of talking to.

6. Embrace the mystery 

Life is fun this way. Who knows what will happen in your life. Don’t feel the need to control every aspect of it.  Let it go.  Embrace the mystery.  If you live this way (while working your ass off every single day) you’ll probably achieve far more than you even believed you were capable of when you were making your long term plan.


Unsuited Book Signing, Thursday October 16th, Indigo TD Square Downtown, Calgary

unsuited book

I will be at Calgary Chapters / Indigo Downtown (317-7th Ave. SW, this Thursday, October 16th from 11:00am to 2:00 pm. for a book signing for my book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice And Find Empowerment

Are you unfulfilled in your career?  Are you wanting to get more out of your work? Did your experience with school leave a bad taste in your mouth  Learn how work, on it’s own, independent from anything else, can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your life. Find purpose and meaning in what you do and create a truly authentic life.

First Time Entrepreneur? Take A Step, Observe Feedback, Adjust and Repeat

Entrepreneur Take a Step

As part of our business I work with, and have coached, many, many first time entrepreneurs.  Being an entrepreneur is tough, even for the most seasoned start-up veteran.

Being a first time entrepreneur – especially if you have a long prior career as an employee – can be brutally stressful, not just financially (in terms of the uncertainty that you feel) but also emotionally, and mentally.

The constant state of anxiety – wondering what we should do, questioning if we are taking the right actions, thinking about whether or not we will be successful and what we can do differently – has the capacity to derail a first time entrepreneur’s career before they have even experienced the fruits of their labor and tasted the wonderful freedom that comes with business success.

But it doesn’t have to be this way – at least emotionally.  The process can be simplified, and demystified, in a way that will allow you to take detached (and over time effective) action.  

Effective action is the ultimate secret to entrepreneurial success.  You want to take the “right” actions, and take them often.

When you are an employee the “right” actions are clear to you – they have already been defined and they are presented to you as part of your job description.  You just have to show up, punch the clock, do your work, and collect your paycheque.

As an entrepreneur it isn’t that easy.  Sometimes you don’t know what the “right” actions are.  Other times there may not be a clear “right” action to take (for example if you are introducing a product or service to the market that has never before been introduced).

If someone (or some company) has previously found success marketing a product, or service that is similar to yours then you can model their actions.  You can do what they did that brought them success.

This may or may not bring you the same success that they had.

If no-one has ever attempted to market your product or service before you can try to implement marketing strategies that you learn elsewhere – applying them to this product.

Again – this may or may not bring you success in your venture. 

So what is a first time entrepreneur to do? How does one find success?

There is actually a fairly simple process – it is a “feedback mechanism”.  You start with the premise that you are looking to figure out the “most effective” way to run your business and market your product.  So to start you model the actions of those who have gone before (and found success).

Take an action (that you learn from them)

Then observe the results.

If you get a result that you want – this is positive feedback.  This means that you should take more of these types of actions.  If you don’t get a result that you want – this is feedback as well.  You adjust your actions accordingly, and take new actions.

Granted – you will need to try certain actions more than once to truly gauge their effectiveness.  But over time you will have data. If by modelling someone else’s actions you find success then you are on your way.

But what happens if you model someone else’s actions and you meet failure (even if you test the actions long enough to have a reasonable data set)?

Well then in that case the process still applies.  Nothing has changed in the methodology

You take an action (this time however you have to come up with the action using your own imagination).

You gauge the feedback (after you have done the action long enough to have a reasonable data set)

You adjust your actions (in light of the feedback).

Then you take more action.

This process occurs over and over and over again.  This is the ultimate discovery feedback mechanism for the entrepreneur, and it is why being an entrepreneur can be so rewarding  – you get to constantly play amateur scientist.

So are you a first time entrepreneur?  Just take action.  Then gauge the feedback.  Adjust your results.  Then take more action (based on the results that you get).

One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time. 


Authenticity, Fulfillment and Flow


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