The Yin and Yang of It All (Part 1)

yinYangMy wife is going to read this and hold it in front of me any time I become negative about anything, that could be why I am writing it.  She is such a bastion of positive thinking that when ever I am having doubts or slipping into the negative space, I turn myself around by realizing that I may be damaging the one thing that is saving us from oblivion, her belief that everything is going to be okay.

My ability to succeed is based primarily on ignoring or redirecting the negative and focusing only on the positive.  Not in a hallmark kind of way,  I think I have a genetic aversion to the sickly sweet false happiness that has become synonymous with insincerity.  But on the other side of the coin, there are people out there who thrive on negativity and will do anything in their power to discredit positive thinkers, just read this article in the New Yorker.

It is important to note that the author of that article is a professor of marketing at a New York Business School.  If I understand anything about marketing and capitalism, it would be that the best consumers are people who are isolated and miserable. So it makes sense that, if you are going to succeed in business, or teach at a business school, you have to be a conduit of negativity, it’s a business tactic, for every winner there has to be a looser.  Unhappy people often take refuge in purchasing material things and driving the consumer economy.  But I digress.

Problems and Solutions

I have always wanted to be regarded as a positive force on the people and situations in my life.  My childhood was a rough one, full of tragic moments and lonlieness.  I chose, a long time ago, to stay away from defining difficult moments as “problems”, choosing the word “situation” instead.  It is what turned my life around.   I am a firm believer in the idea that if you want to manifest change, the first thing to do is question the use of language.  It is interesting to note that the world ‘problem’ exists in almost every language in the Western world, spelled almost exactly the same way everywhere you go.  No matter where you are you can say “problem” and everybody, no matter what language they speak, will nod their head and know exactly what you are talking about.   I suppose you could say that, in some strange way, the word “problem” brings humanity together… which, in the short term, is a positive thing, but overall a hugely negative thing.

I find it odd that the word ‘solution’, on the other hand, is vastly different from country to country. You actually have to know what this word is in any given language to ever have the hope of finding one.  If you say the word ‘solution’ after saying the word ‘problem’ in a room full of non english speakers, you will likely be greeted with silence and a lot blank looks.   If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would think that some team of business people went around the world a long time ago to make sure that word problem was ever present because, let’s face it, you can’t sell a solution unless you have created a problem.

Agents of Darkness

I recently had to move my family to a completely new city.  I had quite suddenly lost my job and in order to recover from the situation we had to move to a city that was bigger than the one we were in.  After doing some research and making some calls, we got in our car and drove across the country and ended up in the place we thought would work to our advantage.  I had a few friends and business associates there and so I set to the task of finding work.

I have an expansive skill set  and volumes of experience, so I figured it wouldn’t take too much to get myself going.  Ultimately I have a postive outlook and because of that I exude success and attract good fortune.  In a matter of a few months I managed to stabilize our lives and start planning a future.  Had I allowed anything negative to enter my head, the result could have been catastrophic.  I think it was Nietzsche that said “If you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you”.  The power of positive thinking is the single most important thing to me, so it stands to reason that when someone assails my positive position, my impulse, and my failing, is to defend that position.  I call these people “Agents of Darkness”, other people might call them “Trolls”.

One afternoon I was working in my garage when one of my neighbors came over to smoke her cigarette and say hi.  I said hello back and asked her “How are you?”  She is an older woman and every time I ask her that question she responds the same way.  “Oh well…I’m okay, I guess, could be better”.  She asked me how I was, “I’m good,” I chirped.  I’m always good, even when I’m not so good I’m good, it’s part of the strategy.  If I am grumpy there is no real point in sharing that with anyone unless I want to be a nasty son of a bitch.

“Have you found any work yet?” she asked.

“Well, I’m looking around, submitting applications.” I replied

“What kind of jobs are you looking for?” she continued.

“Oh, well, I’ve got a great skill set, so I’m keeping myself open.  Teaching has always been central to maintaining good mental health, so I’ve been applying for some teaching positions.”

And then she dropped the bomb,

“Oh, yeah.’  she sighed, “that’s going to be hard.  It’s hard.”

There is something about the sighing and that specific  combination of words that fills me with a blind rage I can’t even begin to quell.  The first thing that happens is that my eyes start popping out of my head.  Then a low rumble begins to emanate from my stomach, my breathing becomes laboured and an unbearable pressure builds in my head.

I want to be a positive person, but THIS, this threatens to undo me.  Things ARE hard, I don’t need to be reminded that they are hard.  I pause for a moment using every ounce of energy that I have to contain myself and then I look up and lock eyes with her.  Up until this moment there has not really been any extended eye contact, but now it seems that this is what the situation requires.  Intense, focused, deep eye locking.  Words begin to form and my lips, teeth and tongue prepare themselves to unleash…something…

“I’m curious”, I spoke in measured tones, “what do you hope to achieve by telling me that?  Are you hoping to see some sort of defeat in me by presenting this point of view?  Why would you say something like that? What is your point? Don’t you think I am aware of how hard it is?  And if I’m not, what is it about you that you feel a deep rooted need to reinforce that for me?  Should we just give up?  Should I just go up to my apartment, euthanize my wife and child and then commit suicide?”  Then I shut up, realizing that I had lost my resolve.

She looked at me a bit stunned, stammered a bit and then said “well, it IS hard”.  Then, in some weird turn of attitude she put out her cigarette and said “have a good day”.  She had gotten what I think she wanted, to undermine and infect me with her essence.  As she walked away, I continued to berate her, and all like her, in my mind.  “Why do you have to be like that?  What made you like that? Does doing this entertain you? Do you enjoy being passive aggressive? Are you a sociopath? How will I stop you from continuing to have an effect on me”

I was brooding and needed a solution to get myself back to that positive place I love so much.  Then, quite spontaneously, I came up with one.  A really good one, and everything was okay.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

So…You Want to Be Famous!

Me Thinking

Excuse me, I have a question.

The biggest change that has occurred in my life time is a the shift from living in a meritocracy to living in a mediocracy.  I have always been a hard worker.  I love to study and, when I was young, I  was told by my teachers and mentors that if I studied hard, applied myself and invested completely in each job I took on, success and career longevity would be imminent.

For over two decades I was very lucky to have been able to rely on my reputation alone.  Most of the work that I was given, around the world, was based on referral.  People had often heard of me or seen the quality of my work and, in turn,  wanted to retain my services so that they could have their business or event benefit from that quality.

I did very little advertising because I knew most of my clients personally and understood how each of them came to know of me.  None the less, every year I spent about 10% of my earnings on advertising because those selling me the advertising told me that I needed it.  After some years of record keeping , I did the math and came to a disappointing understanding.  While I had spent 10% of my annual income on trade listings, attending business conferences and mailing stuff, this expenditure was responsible for only 1 or 2% of my annual revenue.  8 to 9 % of my hard earned cash was being sucked into a black hole called “Advertising” and that advertising was having no effect.

Since the dawn of the “age of stupidity”, being knowledgable or good at something is no longer all that is needed.  As the years have passed, the marketplace has expanded and there is a lot of new talent out there.  As the employment landscape changes so does the means of access .  The work I get is still mostly by referral, but as I get older, I am now expected to increase my annual investment in advertising to stay competitive.

Then there’s this guy , Ice JJ Fish, who has put out some songs and videos in the past few months and, overnight, has over 4 million hits on his video.  I expect that he didn’t spend a dime.  He has got to be seen to be believed, truly a representation of what kind of mega talent is needed to succeed in this media saturated reality we call the 21st century.  All at once tragically bad and strangely compelling, you can witness his free advertising HERE.

One of the market streams that I operate in is custom song and music composition.  I released an album recently called “The Ukulele Bandito” to celebrate the first birthday of my daughter with  16 songs I had written.  I am very proud of the album and hope that revenue from the sales of it will go towards the future of my new baby daughter.

I think when anyone releases an album of songs they hope that one of the songs will get heard, go viral and help to sell a million copies of it at  99 cents each, thus creating financial independence and, ultimately, freedom.  But there is a lot of music being made, like the stuff being churned out by Ice JJ Fish, and getting heard and seen is the key to success.  That’s where the advertisers get their hooks into you.

I was recently approached by a music company, who, in a personally addressed email, asked me if I wanted to be discovered as a musician through a song contest by some industry professionals including the likes of Hall and Oates.  I was euphoric, my internal answer to this invitation was a resounding “YES!” so I clicked on through to the web page where I could submit my songs for international recognition and, of course,  the immediate stardom and money that follows.

On arrival at the song contest entry page I discovered that they wanted me to spend $30 per entry.  I almost fell for it.  I started calculating how much I would need to spend to enter my 10 favorite songs, because the more songs I entered the more likely my chances of winning my place in the sun, right?  I was going to have to spend $300 to enter.  So I wrote that number down on my wish list and continued on to see where else I could promote my interests.

I figured I would concentrate on developing a fan base using social media.  If I had $300 to spend, maybe it would be best spent being  on Facebook advertising. I already have close to 2000 friends, but Facebook only lets 30 or 40 see my posts so  I decided to spend $30 as a test to see if I could generate more interest in my Facebook Page and the Online Music Store that I have there.  With in a few weeks, I had managed to increase the number of likes on my page, but something wasn’t right, no one was buying the album and there were no comments,  None of my 2000 friends seem to be any wiser about my prolific music adventures.  If all I was buying was “Likes”, I couldn’t see how this was going to help me on my way to financial independence. After all, you can’t pay for groceries with FB “Likes”, at least, I haven’t tried to do that yet.  Who knows, maybe Facebook likes will be the new currency in the post banking economy.  I started to write this blog about my plight on Facebook and then this guy made a video that explained the whole FB advertising paradigm and I decided to let him explain it to you.  He really nails it and you can hear what he has to say on YouTube in a video that he made called Facebook Fraud.  It is very revealling.

Another market stream that I have worked in most of my life is film and television.  I have quite an extensive reel of media appearances over the years, but as with all things that have to do with gettin golder, this part of my career has taken a bit of a hit, so I decided to find a new agent and get myself back on track.  I produced a demo reel this week, you can see it HERE:

After finding a new agent I was told that I would need to register and pay for a few services to help me with my visibility.  I bought new photos for $150 and registered at several talent based websites for a cost of $65 each.  When registering at the websites, there is an option to register for the premium membership which is usually $250 or so.  Paying this premium fee is supposed to get you better placement with the casting directors.  I guess if you are a non talent, but have money, you can effectively buy your way into a job over a person who has talent but limited financial resources.  Alternatively you can be IceJJFish and just be you, that seems to be working for him.  He hs accumulated another 100,00o views on the video link above since I started writing this.

Then of course there is the question as to whether or not I should join the union (of course I will, but the cost, oh the cost).  Non union members get paid badly, usually minimum wage which works out, where I live, to about $100 a day for a 10 hour day, the same rate people got paid for a days work in Canada in 1984 (Thank you Mister Harper for keeping Canada in the dark ages).  If you are a Union member you can get paid a minimum of $200 a day whether or not you are there for 8 hours.  Even if you only work for 1 hour, you still get paid for 8.  Of course to be part of the Union means paying a membership fee of anywhere up to $1500 AFTER you get cast in some shows as an apprentice, accumulate vouchers…and so it goes.

This sort of “pay for access” model exists in almost every employment sector in the marketplace.  It is quite a profitable revenue model for the advertising companies and individuals that are successful enough to suck in enough uneducated wannabes.  Of course, from time to time a young upstart has to be given a break otherwise every body looses faith in this ridiculousness, but those breaks are far and few between.  PT Barnum once said “There’s a sucker born every minute”, and this being the Age of Stupiidity, I don’t expect that this nauseating form of  exploitation is going to end any time soon.

It becomes painfully apparent that you have to be prepared to spend a lot of money if you want to be seen, get out there and work.  Finding work is becoming a full time job that requires a huge budget.  The most tragic thing about all of this is that, even if you do spend the money on everything you are ask to spend money on, there is no guarantee that you will ever get paid enough from the jobs that you get  to recover those costs or live a respectable life.

The truth is that anyone, no matter how unqualified, can rise to the top of the heap like IceJJFish and, once there, screw everything up for those who may actually have talent.  But maybe the world has moved beyond talent and now all we crave is embarrassing episodes of real life because there is nothing more entertaining than watching some guy sing about rape to a woman with large breasts in an untrained voice that beckons like  siren song after its been put through a meat grinder.

So in the final analysis, working in the mediocracy during the Age of Stupidity is becoming over rated. I can’t see why anyone would want to spend what money they have to get a job that only allows them to spend their life in indentured servitude, earning next to nothing, when not working produces the same results with far less effort.

Are you a “friend” or a “fiend”?

I am a scale model of myself

I am a scale model of myself

I recently had a couple of situations arise where I lost friends.  When I speak of friends, I do not refer to the arbitrary label placed on people who frequent Facebook, but the real thing.  Or at least what I want to believe is the real thing.

The first friend I lost, I managed to get back without too much fuss.  The situation we found ourselves in was sort of ridiculous, the result of several Facebook exchanges at the conclusion of which he un-friended me and then blocked me from communicating further with him before I had a chance to set the record straight.

I went to the trouble of writing him an apologetic email which led to a real time Skype call and within the space of a few hours we apologized to each other and realized that we were both being drama queens and made up.  It was one of those warm, feel good moments that makes your bottom lip quiver and your stomach rumble.  As  result of the exchange, the complication and how we solved it, I feel that he and I will be great friends forever.

In the end I said how silly I thought it would be if he and I ended a friendship over a Facebook exchange where he could not hear the intended tone of my voice.  It was obvious that not speaking to each other in our real voices is what created the confusion when a comment, written tongue in cheek, was misinterpreted and remolded to become a catalyst for something completely unexpected.

Lesson:  Never take a Facebook conversation at face value.  When in doubt, try to put your emotions aside and talk about it, real time, on the phone!

The second friendship I lost may, in fact, be lost for ever because the offending action was far more damaging.  It has been said “never mix friendship with business”, but I have a problem with that statement because I have done business with many friends and it has all worked out okay

There have been a couple of occasions when it has not worked out and my theory about these failures is fairly basic:  The person who claimed to be my friend was not my friend at all because, when push came to shove,  there was no parity in how we valued each other.  Ultimately, they didn’t give me the value and respect that I believe I deserved.  Let me be clear about this.  When conducting business with friends, I go out of my way to provide them with exceptional customer service because, as my friend, I believe that they deserve my best on all levels.

I have a simple philosophy regarding friendship.  The people that I regard as friends have been awarded the highest value in my life.  They rate higher than anyone else because I respect them, I must if they are to truly be my friend.

Recently, one of my newer friends had taken an interest in my diverse skill set and was trying for months to figure out how to get me involved in his business.  After looking at my on line portfolio, he started suggesting that I could be his company’s “Brand Manager”.  I was grateful, but also wary as I didn’t want to jeopardize the friendship. He said that our friendship was solid and all he wanted was to put my skills to work for his company.

Several months later, I woke up one morning to find about a dozen business related messages from him in my mailbox requesting help on several things, an offer of wages totaling $1000 a month and a deposit in my paypal account of $400.  He seemed very serious, and aggressive, about retaining my services, so after reading all of his emails,  I gave him a call, talked about what he needed and then, after a lengthy conversation, set to the immediate tasks he had asked of me.

He contacted me several more times over the course of the day.  I sent his $400 back to him because he had, without asking me, deposited the “retainer” to the wrong account.  I instructed him to re deposit the funds to a local account.  He had asked for some help in creating video storyboards and print materials that he needed to take to a conference 48 hours later.  I dropped what I was doing and  spent about 16 hours on that first day sending him drafts, making changes that he asked for and fulfilling a few other tasks he had requested.  It was a busy day. I didn’t give much thought to the fact that he did not re deposit the funds in the proper account.  He was my friend, so I just trusted that he would do it eventually.  I began work for him in earnest and on good faith.

Before the day ended we had a conversation about how much I would charge him for a day’s work.  I told him that a 16 hour day would cost him about $300.  I explained that I was giving him a 50% discount on my actual hourly wage of $37.50 because… he was a friend.  He only had to pay $18.75 an hour and would probably get a little extra attention… because…he was my friend .  He told me, rather bluntly, that he was hoping for a better rate than that and seemed a little indignant.  I told him that I simply could’t work for less and that, at the end of the day,  it was simply about the overall cost of living equation I had to live by.

He asked me to give him a quote on what $3000 would buy him in terms of my time over the next three months.  I was happy to oblige him.  He had asked for a lot of things, so I did my best to include as much of it as I could with out being unrealistic about my time.  In the end the quote reflected a 50% discount on my standard fee.

The next day I got an angry email from him telling me that i was out of line and that I was charging him way too much.  Upon reading his email, I gave him a call.  I didn’t get to say much, he railed on, angrily, about how he was trying to do me a favor and asked me how I could be so thoughtless as to charge him so much.  The first thing I said to him was that I was happy to go over the quote in detail, perhaps negotiate it further and, secondly, if he thought that my quote was outside of his budget I would understand completely if he withdrew the opportunity.

No harm no foul.  Meet you at the pub for drink  later?

I could not understand why he chose to get angry over a quote.  At one point he said “I’m trying to help you out” to which I responded “I have to charge what I charge, would you prefer that I work for less than my value?  Do you have a budget, do you need this job done for free?  Maybe you don’t need me, maybe you would do better to hire somebody who is fresh out of school”

He hung up on me and then sent me an email telling me that I had offended him by suggesting that he wanted me to work for free.  He also went on to tell me that charging him $300 for 16 hours of work was unacceptable and that he was only going to pay me $150 for the day’s work and that he didn’t think I should even be getting that.  I had done some great work that day and he was on board during all of it giving great positive feedback and requesting changes, so his reaction seemed really out of place.  I was dumbfounded and, genuinely interested in salvaging both the friendship and the business relationship, I wrote to him to explain the equation that determined my hourly rate.

My wage equation is, like my definition of friendship, reasonably simple and straight forward.  I base what I charge for my time, firstly on my expansive skill set, then on my decades of experience and, lastly, on how much I have to spend every month to stay alive and build a future for my family based on ever changing market forces.   At the heart of this equation is the cost of our home.  We rent because we re not in  a position to own, although we would like to be.

Our monthly rent is about $2000.  The cost of feeding our family comes to about  $1000  month.  The cost of servicing our home, paying for utilities, fuel, insurance and our car comes to about $1000 a month.  I have to consider the future, so I try to save the same amount that I pay monthly in rent, because at some point I want to retire and I also have a family to raise.  Finally, I want to be a good consumer and do my part to drive the capitalist model which means having about $250 a week to spend on consumer goods, coffees, vacations, clothes, dance classes, accidents, equipment, furniture, whatever. We are not excessive people and don’t actually need that much.

When tallied together I need to earn about $6,000 a month in order to live a moderate life as dictated by capitalism.  If i shoot for $6000 a month then I need to charge $1500 a week, or $300 a day.  I could charge $250 a day if I work a six day week, but I want to spend time with my family and not be an absent father or husband.

My hourly rate needs to be 37,50 an hour.  That is what I am worth and anybody who calls me friend and respects me should accept that value I have placed on myself without question.

Buy giving my friend a 50% discount on the cost of the job,  I decidedly give of myself and my family and forgo much needed capital.  If, after making this concession, the friend disputes my rate and gets angry about a quote, then I must assume that he does not respect the value I have given myself.  Because he does not respect my own perceived value, I must, therefore, deduce that  he never was a friend, only a business operator who was looking for some one to exploit so that he could get ahead and using the cover of friendship to do so.

Am I sad that the “friendship” is over?  A little.  But that’s just me being emotional.  Lesson:  In the grand scheme of things he was never a friend because there was no respect, so in reality there was no friendship to loose.

Still, we live in funny times and the whole experience left me feeling a little empty and undervalued. The fact that this person refused to  calculate the effect that his greed would have on my 22 month old daughter’s future blew my mind.  Maybe he did know and refused to care.  To quote an old platitude “with friends like that, who needs enemies”