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Where’s the Beef?

Photo by Christopher Flowers on Unsplash

Two brief quotes from two separate friends:

Quote #1: “As a hiring manager, Chik-fil-a was always a slam dunk. Everyone I ever hired who had worked for them was awesome.”

Quote #2: “It’s better to have to answer “100 happy meals” than “nothing yet, but..” to the question “What have you actually made and shipped?”

In my post on the Praxis blog entitled Four Reasons to Stop Despising Your So-called Menial Job, I wrote the following:

Business is not the art of playing dress up. Business is the art of solving other people’s problems or satisfying other people’s desires in a way that’s unique enough to make them willing to pay you for the services/products you provide. If you’re doing those things, you are involved in the business world. If you’re not doing those things, you’re not involved in the business world. Yes, you may have designed pretty business cards. Yes, you may have built a cool website. Yes, you may have dubbed yourself the CEO of Me, Me, & Me. But until you have something to sell and someone to sell it to, you’re just playing a game of dress up.

A person who puts in a hard and honest day’s work at McDonald’s is much more involved in the world of free enterprise than someone who calls themselves an entrepreneur without actually doing anything that creates value for customers. When you look down on menial work, it makes it easier for you to fool yourself about this kind of stuff. The moment you buy into overly romantic ideas about what it means to do business, you start to see yourself as successful based on superficial things that have nothing to do with customer service and revenue generation.

There are thousands of hard working people at places like Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s who walk around with their heads hanging low because they’re comparing themselves to some guy who calls himself an entrepreneur and who takes pictures of himself “working” on a laptop at the beach. I don’t hate the guy who takes pictures of himself working at the beach. I hate the fact that people are hating on themselves because they think they need to be *that* guy in order to be successful.

There are people who are ashamed of anything in their employment history that doesn’t look “entrepreneurial” or “freelance.” And when these people create resumes and go to job interviews, they try to hide the fact that they flip burgers for a living because they mistakenly believe this says something negative about them. They would rather talk about business ideas that they haven’t even executed than discuss the empirical evidence of character that their 3 years at the pizza parlor might indicate.

Here’s a take from my colleague Derek Magill:

There’s a ton of noise out there right now. The temptation is to join in on the noise because everyone seems like they’re successful and having the time of their lives and you’re being left out. The vast majority are total nothings. So much can be faked today but you can’t fake doing your job consistently well. You don’t need a vlog or a side “hustle” or a social media following or some accolade like “20 under 20” (LOL), or “most influential youth entrepreneur” or a 1 sentence per line viral Linkedin status.” Just do your job.

Derek is advocating substance over style here. Back when I was a kid, there was a Wendy’s commercial campaign call “Where’s the Beef.” There were these three older ladies staring at an empty looking sandwich asking “Where’s the beef?” They saw the outer trappings of a burger, but there was no substance to it. This is what the world of entrepreneurship is at the risk of becoming.

If you’re working at a fast food job, here’s my message to you: You da real MVP!

Anyone can stay at home and try to get rich on the internet without ever having to deal with the complexity of real human interaction, but you’re the ones who know what it’s like to serve customers when those customers are difficult to serve. You know what it’s like to smile at people and treat them with respect not because you’re positive, but because you’re professional. You know what it’s like to maintain composure even when people treat you like crap. Anyone can talk smack about following their passion, but you know what it’s like to show up and work hard even when you don’t feel inspired to do so. Everybody is tolerable when working for themselves. But you’re the ones who know how to be pleasant to work with when you have to be accountable to something other than your own preferences. Anyone can talk about their side hustle or their personal brand, but you’re the ones who have an empirically verifiable track record of making things happen and keeping your word when other people are relying on you.

Being a self-proclaimed entrepreneur is the new status quo. The rebels of today are those who know how to do something for a customer in an environment where they’re expected to be consistent day in and day out even when the work doesn’t feel entrepreneurial.

Here are some wise words from Gary V in an article entitled Stop Asking Me About Your Personal Brand, and Start Doing Some Work:

For the first decade of my professional career, I kept my damn mouth shut. Seriously, go and Google it. You won’t find a single piece of content from me that pre-dates WLTV. So what the hell was I doing? I was working. It stuns me that people keep asking about how to start a personal brand; how to be a “YouTube personality” without having a clear understanding of what comes before that, which is actually knowing something about something. It’s this notion that is so prevalent right now, which is that you can just come out of nowhere and build your brand through various tactics.

So this new quick hack of using social media and modern tech to build up your brand isn’t enough. It just isn’t. There is no substitute for honest hard work. You have to earn the privilege of building a “personal brand”, and the only way to do that is to actually execute.

Some people are great to grab a beer with, but horrible to go to battle with. If I’m grabbing a beer, I want to go with the person who has a TEDx talk about how much he travels. If I’m going to battle, I want to go with the person who hustles his or her butt off at Taco Bell for a couple of years. Give me a co-worker or employee who’s held down a fast food job for 1 year over any of these “CEO of Me” types with fancy titles, pretty business cards, millions of vague ideas, and zero evidence of even knowing how to take out the garbage for longer than a month.

“Being entrepreneurial” is just like “being creative.” It sounds impressive to people who are addicted to attending conferences, but it means absolutely nothing apart from the willingness to show up and get things done.

You want to get ahead in life? Do your job and do it with pride….even if it’s fast food. Professional freedom isn’t the by-product of your label, it’s the consequence of your mindset and your work ethic. Wherever you are, show up and get things done.

A Quick Question About That Brilliant Idea You Have

Photo by G. Crescoli on Unsplash

What’s so good about it if you’re not acting on it?

This is not only a question for artists, entrepreneurs, and other people who identify themselves as doers. It’s also for philosophers, thinkers, visionaries, and self-proclaimed “idea guys.” If you truly find a concept to be fascinating, why not create space in your life to play with it, to experiment with it, to see where it takes you when you combine it with a little initiative? If you’re really moved by an idea, then why aren’t you actually moving?

Why settle for saying “I have a bunch of good ideas” when you can share those ideas with the world?

Critical thinking isn’t just about what you think. It’s about what you’re committed to creating. And being creative isn’t just an ontological state. It’s a pragmatic function. You only get to *be* a creative person when you *do* creative work.

Don’t just believe in your ideas. Bet on them.

I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more: Dreams don’t come true. Decisions do.

The Power of Asking Better Questions, The Dangers of Trying to Make Your Family Proud, & Why Respect is More Important Than Approval (Office Hours)

I have two episodes of Office Hours that I’m excited to share with you this week:

In the first, Isaac and I talk about the power of daily challenges and we answer the following four listener questions:

  • How do I get a job after a failed startup?
  • How do you answer a question about weaknesses in a job interview?
  • I’ve been at my current job for three years and my boss has never brought up the topic of giving me a raise, is this a bad sign?
  • I have so many things to do that I often feel overwhelmed and don’t get started on anything. How do I start working towards my goals?

In this episode, we cover topics like non-zero days, daily challenges vs. big end goals, going from a startup failure to finding a job, what are employers are looking for when they ask applicants about interviews, how to ask for a raise, taking responsibility for assessing your own worth in a job, getting overwhelmed by wanting to do too many things, and much more.

In addition to listening on on iTunes, YouTube, direct download and all major podcast platforms, you can get started simply by clicking “play” on the below video:

In the second episode, Isaac and I riff on a recent blog post by Isaac about the idea of work-life balance and then answer the following questions:

  • How do I find my passion and make my family proud?
  • How do you ask more relevant questions and take action according to the answers?
  • How do you tell your family an important truth that you know will disappoint them?

In this episode, we cover topics like the guilt lurking behind work-life-balance questions, what it means to do good for your family, the danger of trying to make your family proud, taking responsibility for your professional development, asking for critical feedback, why parents are invested in their kid’s decisions, why respect is more important than approval, and how to be clear about what you want going into a hard conversation.

You can check out this episode below:

Don’t hesitate to leave a comment letting us know what you think. And if you have a question you’d like to hear us address, leave a comment on YouTube or send me a tweet.

I hope you enjoy and I look forward to hearing from you.

Create a great day,

T.K. Coleman

Why I Listen to Christmas Music Every Day

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

My favorite uncle’s name was Cleatus. We called him “Uncle Cleat” for short.

In many ways, he was like my Santa Claus. He was always jolly, somewhat chubby, and never failing in his ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. My parents never taught me to believe in Santa, but with people like him in my life, I never lacked a sense of Christmas magic.

Uncle Cleat owned a furniture store on a busy intersection of the south side of Chicago. It was called Custom Corner. Every year during the holiday season, he would decorate the store with holiday ornaments and Christmas lights to prepare for the big revenue generator of the year: selling Christmas trees to all the families on the south side.

My father would take my brothers and I to the furniture store to help out. I don’t ever remember doing any actual work. I was the baby of the family and was allowed to wander around and hang out while my older brothers and cousins helped customers carry their trees to their cars. I remember how huge the store seemed to me. I would get lost looking at all the bright lights and cool trees of different colors. At times, I felt like I was an actual visitor to the North Pole. There was even a huge stock room in the back where the workers would take breaks and clown around. I often fancied that this was what it must have been like to hang out with Santa’s Elves.

And then there was the radiant presence of Uncle Cleat. Everyone loved him and his smile lit up a room as wonderfully as any Christmas tree. “What’s up Teeek-Man” he’d yell at me whenever I walked into the room. He always had a silver dollar or a new toy to give me whenever I saw him too.  One of the best things about Uncle Cleat was that he looked exactly like my dad, but he was much more of a goofball. So it was kinda like having a serious dad and a silly dad all at the same time. I honestly can’t think about him without smiling or laughing. Not even possible.

As life is bound to do for all of us someday, it abruptly ended for Uncle Cleat. I wasn’t a kid anymore when he died, but there was nothing about being in my early twenties that made it an easy loss to handle. Uncle Cleat was my man. Whenever I felt self-doubt, he would say “Lift your head up, man. You’re a Coleman.” And his confidence would transfer to my spirit like magic. Whenever I got into a stupid argument with my parents about something, Uncle Cleat was the guy that would have my back. He would talk my parents into taking it easy on me and he would talk me into taking it easy period. When I would come to him seeking guidance on life, he would remind me of how important it was to live with conviction and let go of my paranoia about making the wrong decision. He was an acnhor for me in more ways than I describe.

I didn’t always listen to Christmas music every day. Like most people, I enjoyed holiday songs during the holiday season and I rarely thought it about besides then. This is how life was until about the age of 21. Then one day, there was a Christmas in July special on television and I felt the spirit of my Uncle in the music. I could sense his silliness, his optimism, and his unflinching confidence flow into me through the music. And every single time I’ve listened to Christmas music since then, the experience has been the same. Whether in April or August, I can feel the aliveness of all the magic and motivation that my Uncle Cleat represented for me when I listen to Christmas music. And that’s why I listen to it every day. It’s not only how I keep my uncle alive, but it’s also how I keep a very important part of myself alive. It’s a way of connecting to an energy that I hope to embody for my nieces, nephews, and everyone else that might look to me for inspiration some day.

My hope is that when life comes for me as it once came for him, someone somewhere will keep the tradition of magic and motivation alive by firing up a little Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby in the middle of those April showers. And maybe this will inspire a few more people to believe that you don’t need to wait on a holiday in order to experience its cheer. Sure, people may laugh at you as they have laughed at me, but as long as they’re laughing, the spirit of Christmas will never die.

Take a Walk on the Dark Side

Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

“One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.” Remember that one?

Here’s an often overlooked application of that idea: it also applies to your concept of being positive.

We all get the idea that one person might love video games while another person hates them. We all get the idea that one person might love visiting museums while another person finds it to be a drag. We all get the idea that one person might love having lots of alone time while another person sees that as a nightmare. When it comes to hobbies, entertainment, and recreation, we all understand the idea that different people are turned off and on by different things. But when it comes to our ideas about what it means to be a positive person, we tend to act as if there’s only one right way to think.

Case in point: Back in my college days I worked with a guy who was always perceived as a “negative nelly.” The reason was because he always focused on bad news whenever anyone asked him what was going on. And the funny part about it was that he would reach as far as he needed to reach in order to have some bad news to share. That is, if nothing was going wrong in his life, he’d make it a point to find something negative to report about someone else’s life even if he didn’t know them. Bill focused on other people’s problems with same degree of intensity as he focused on his own.

For instance, if you were to say “Hey Bill, what’s going on?” He’d look around and lower his tone as if he were getting ready to tell a grave secret. Then he’d say something like “Do you know John, the guy that works in the kitchen? Well, he has a friend named Sandy whose cousin is having a real hard time right now. Apparently Sandy’s cousin has a best friend who was supposed to be in the olympics or something like that and he got injured some kind of way and the whole family is just a mess because of how hard he’s taking it.”

Bill’s stories were always so tough for people to listen to because they required you to feel bad and say things like “I’m so sorry to hear that” unless you were okay with seeming like you were a total jerk who lacked empathy for others. It didn’t matter what day, time, or occasion it was. If you asked Bill about anything, he’d give you a story about something bad that happened to someone somewhere and you’d end up feeling a little less happy about the fate of your fellowman. Sometimes I would fantasize that Bill was a kind of superhero whose sole purpose was to remind people of the Yin/Yang principle.

The funniest thing about working with Bill, though, was all the fruitless effort everyone would pour into trying to make him more positive. People would always tell him to cheer up or they would try to direct the conversation towards something positive. Some people would awkwardly say things like “Hey Bill, did you do any FUN & EXCITING things this weekend?” That never worked though. Bill would just say something like “No, it was way too crazy for any of that. I had to talk to my girlfriend Sheri for like 5 hours because her son has just been driving her up the wall this week.” If you tried to beat Bill in an energy battle, you would lose every single time.

I don’t think people really cared all that much about Bill’s happiness. I think they were just trying to protect themselves from having to listen to his stories because it negatively affected *their* happiness. What I realized about Bill was that he actually enjoyed *sharing* bad news. For Bill, that’s the kind of stuff that was most worth talking about. Based on his value system, it gave him a sense of belonging and purpose to play the role of the guy who was always aware of bad things and always there for the people who were going through them.

One of the reasons Bill always had so many bad stories to report was because he was always spending his time listening to people talk about their problems. And if no one was around to talk about their problems, Bill would go search them out. I wouldn’t say that Bill was particularly “happy” in some stereotypical sense, but I would definitely say that he found great meaning in the practice of focusing on other people’s unhappiness. When people would try to make him become more positive, I would just think to myself “What he’s talking about may be garbage to you, but it’s treasure to him.”

I love horror movies. Not the blood and gore kind, but the suspenseful thriller kind. Movies like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, Get Out, Mama, The Witch, Sinister, etc bring me to the edge of my seat and they inspire me to think deeply about the nature of the universe, the possibility of the supernatural, the problem of evil, and how we can improve our ability to deal with the shadows in our own lives.

My wife, however, hates horror movies. And it’s not just a matter of aesthetic taste either. If she watches the kinds of horror movies I like, it ruins her sleep and it will freak her out for at least a few days. The experience of watching horror movies, for her, is a form of negative thinking. To watch a movie like Sinister would be the equivalent of making her imagination a breeding ground for fear. But here’s the funny thing: she loves to listen to me talk about horror movies after I watch them. She likes it when I tell her stories and philosophize about them. But she credits this to my personality, not to any messages or insights that are actually in the movie.

Like Bill, I find great meaning by paying attention to things that others might find depressing or frightening. That doesn’t make me negative. It makes me negative to be around when you’re the kind of person who seeks meaning in different types of things.

I once read in a self-help book somewhere the following advice: “Never try to force another person to be positive.”

I think that’s good advice, but we should take it one step further: Never assume that your definition of being positive is the same as the other person’s. The kinds of thoughts that you treasure might be boring or bad to someone else.

In your quest to make the world a more positive place, be open to the possibility that the people you’re trying to inspire are already enjoying themselves far more than you think.

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