“All The Others” Around Us
There is a pattern to each of these stories, I assure you.
1. Ice Braking
I learned to stop my car while driving on almost-pure ice, when I lived in Flagstaff AZ. There’s tricks to it – pumping your brakes, sliding your car half a car’s width to the right so the tires are on the part of the ground that has more traction (middle and edge of road), which works especially well in Flagstaff where they sprinkle cinders on the road to melt the ice and give traction – the middle (and edge) of the road have not been flattened-down and slicked-down yet by lots of tires – you can stop relatively quickly this way to avoid crashing into the car in front of you.
But the car behind me doesn’t know these tricks. When the car in front of me suddenly began stopping for no visible reason, I was able to stop in time because of my knowledge and skill with using the above tricks. Of course the car behind me didn’t know these tricks. Why should they bother to figure them out or learn them from others? Resulting in a 15MPH fender-bender, rear-ending my car. That was many years ago; very little damage, except for feelings; and wasted time exchanging insurance information; and missing one of my classes on the first day of class.
I learned Test Driven Development, writing Unit Tests and then writing the code to meet the tests; modularizing my code in ways that are easy to test and debug. It’s so powerful and fun, it’s clearly the right way to program from now on. But very few other developers I’ve ever worked with have bothered to learn this or care about it in the slightest, after much encouragement from me, so their code is horrible to look at and work with and horrendous to debug – which I have to do on a regular basis. All my life I’ve had to work with other people’s code that has horrible bugs that my code never has, because I don’t accept that level of pain in my life anymore – I found ways of completely eliminating entire classes of bugs from my programming. Sometimes the original author has to find these bugs they created, and sometimes I have to find their bugs, which really is no fun for me. Sometimes hundreds of people (“customers”) are inconvenienced by these horrible bugs. And nobody cares. Management doesn’t care. The team doesn’t care. The customers don’t care, even when they’re the ones damaged by the bugs. And after an exceptionally huge bug, and customer complaints, and management investigations, and reports and analysis, nothing changes, so that it happens again, and again, and again. And it hurts me deeply.
Before I learned these advanced programming skills and discovered how great programming could be, I didn’t care about working on my coworkers crappy code, because I was just like them, writing equally crappy code myself. We were one big happy crappy-coding family. I got in trouble once in a while with these bugs, but who cares? Everyone else did too, so I was on equal ground. Now that I know better and do better, I should feel better, too – but other people’s code is so painful to me now, and I don’t have time to fix it all, and even if I did, nobody would notice, and they’d just crap it up again. And this seems to happen at every company I work for. And I put up with it, week after week, month after month, year after year. I’m good at fitting in and not raising a ruckus. Deadlines are looming; let’s just get the code working by then, OK?
3. Organization Skills
I organized my life and my projects and tasks in such a way that I’m not late for meetings, I never have to say “oops, sorry, I forgot to attend your meeting!” I don’t forget tasks assigned to me, I get them done and on time, after being told just once about them – dozens of them, even hundreds, some weeks. Because I have a mechanism for recording and tracking what people have asked me to do, I even volunteer to take on work that I know I can do, where I’m the right person to do it – instead of avoiding everything, trying to hide, trying not to take on any new work, like most other people I’ve ever worked with throughout my 30 year technical career. Not everyone is like that, in my experience, just, most people. People don’t realize that I handle tons of tasks from work, and an equally large number of tasks in my home life. It takes hard work and effort, but I’m able to keep it all running fairly smoothly. So now it pains me deeply to have someone ask me a technical question, but bring no pencil or paper to write down the answer. I love explaining! I love being the go-to person! But they stand there looking at me, and make no attempt to write down the web site I told them about, the trick, the technique, the task I assigned them. (“Can you email it to me?” yeah, sure, I guess…) Then they can conveniently forget all about it later. I feel disrespected when they have no recording device with them, and they have no idea I could possibly feel that way, because nobody ever brought it up with them before. But this is a business! Isn’t it? So they end up having to be reminded 3-4 times to do the thing they agreed to do, and then they get angry about being reminded a 5th time, a week after they promised it would be done. But whose fault is that, really? They should be mad at themselves, not me. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m clearly demonstrating a weakness in your system. Fix your fucking system.
Before I learned to be organized, I was just like them, and we all would forget 20% of all tasks, miss 5% of all meetings, always be late everywhere we went, and it was all OK, just our bosses would get angry from time to time; but you know how the human mind is, you can’t remember everything, right? Lame excuses – it worked for me. I didn’t care back then. Now I care, and I do so much better myself – and it pains me to experience everyone else’s cockassed lack of organization and follow through. Have some respect for yourself, and for me, while you’re at it! Can’t you do what you agreed to do? Do what it takes to not fail. Then you won’t feel like a failure so often. Don’t you care?
I learned all about risk, and how business people think about risk – and discovered the 4 aspects of risk that you need to consider when evaluating any risk (what’s the chance of it happening, what’s the consequence of it happening, what can be done to mitigate the risk, and what is the cost of mitigating the risk). It could be any kind of risk – to your business, to your family, to your life. Now it pains me deeply when I say “I own a rental house,” and before I can finish the person I’m talking to interrupts with “ooohhh- I heard about that, my friend used to do that, he had this one renter who was absolutely horrible – punched holes in the walls, shredded the carpets, trashed the lawn, stole all the furniture, burned the house to the ground, jumped up and down on the ashes, and then the whole neighborhood exploded into a big crater, filed a lawsuit against my friend the homeowner, and LASTLY – stole the little flag off the mailbox in the front yard. I don’t ever want to have a rental property!” Oh really, well, good for you I guess, for giving up on something potentially valuable without doing any real research, or having any rational thoughts of your own. Did you know you can have a management company handle tenants for you? Did you know you can do credit and background checks on potential tenants to help you find good ones? Did you know you can buy insurance to protect yourself against many of these things? How frequently did that actually happen to your friend, or is this a one-off story your friend told you? Because stories of happy tenants aren’t very interesting to tell? All I heard from your childish blathering was “I might get a bad renter who will cost me more in damages than I made in rents”, which I guess is sort of true, at least I can understand this purely-emotional fear as a basic risk that needs to be considered. How about attending real-estate investing meetups for free, and asking 2 dozen people about their experiences with good renters and bad renters to get a balanced view? Because everyone has a horror story. Can you find out how frequently the horror stories occur? Can you discover if there’s anything that can be done ahead of time to make sure you don’t get one of those bad tenants? And if you have a bad tenant, can you evict them before there’s a catastrophe? How does the law work with that? Is there any kind of communication you can do with them to ameliorate it before it escalates to the maximum level? You don’t have to be a lawyer, you can just ask people who have been there and done that. Ask them what they are doing now to prevent it? And if they say “oh, I don’t rent properties anymore, I stopped some time ago,” then you have to just say, OK, I’m sorry that you gave up… Next! I’m done talking to that person – I’m moving on to somebody successful. If you can’t find any successful people, then your bullshit detector will go off, and you know not to waste any more time. But this is property investing, so every fourth person at these meetings is secretly a millionaire, and it really works, and you just need to learn what it takes to do it and overcome your fear.
I learned that risk can be understood, estimated, and mitigated – and that in the event of total catastrophe, there are steps you can take to protect your property and your business and yourself; there are many, many ways to be protected. But this lame person I talked to with the scary story didn’t bother to learn any of that. And nothing I say to them at this point will change their mind. It can’t be done, in my personal experience, so I just shut up and slink away. Which hurts me even more, because I’m here to help. I love helping, teaching, sharing, encouraging. People want to stay in their pretend bubble, living their bubble existence, which is fine for them I guess. I kind of understand because I was like that at one point in my life. Would I have appreciated someone bursting my bubble when I was like that around age 20-25? Hell no. So I should probably leave them alone, as painful as it is for me to not introduce them to a small snippet, at least, of what a better life could be like – to overcome their irrational fear of evil destructive tenants. I listened to their irrational someone-else’s painful 1-off story; can’t they listen to my rooted-in-reality experiences of success in the same area? The answer of course is: no.
I’ve learned that I can do a lot to reduce risk, but there’s always going to be some risk – and I’m going to be OK with that risk after all reasonable arrangements have been made, and keep moving forward, no stopping. Because a meteor could always come screaming down out of the clouds and flatten me like a coyote in a roadrunner cartoon – but I don’t worry about that risk because the chances of that happening are so infinitesimal, and there’s nothing I can really do within my budget to mitigate the risk of giant meteors – so I don’t waste my time and energy and emotions and mental thought about it. In fact, I’m sorry I brought it up. I apologize.
I used to be one of the homeowners that would bitch about the stupid HOA, “they’re always fining everyone, complaining about everything, and charging money for everything.” But then something interesting happened: a friend of mine was on the HOA board, and invited me to join them. I thought, oh what the heck, might as well, I’ll learn more about our community, I’d be interested to see how much money they kick around every month anyway. So I became a board member for 2 years, and did my best to work with the other HOA members, and really saw things from their point of view – they are ordinary homeowners just like me, with a thankless job to do, having to balance the expenditure of moneys entrusted to them according to a set of bylaws that they did not invent, and cannot change. So many decisions have to be made where we understand BOTH sides, and you can’t have both sides win – one side has to win, and one has to lose. So we make our decision. And somebody hates us. The HOA tries hard to create consistent beauty and commonality within a neighborhood by keeping the lid on out-of-control neighbors, so nobody tears out their grass and leaves it dirt for 6 months; nobody parks their broken down 50’s pickup truck in their front yard and hangs the greasy engine from a nearby tree for 10 years, and nobody paints their house bright purple/orange/green/blue stripes because they personally like primary colors and fuck everybody else’s personal taste. Each of those individuals bitches about the HOA leaning on them, and the rest of the community has no idea that the HOA has kept their neighborhood beautiful (or at least, consistent-looking), which maintains the value of the homes much better so if you ever have to move and sell your house, you’ll get many thousands of dollars more for your house than you would have otherwise. So now it pains me to see people complain about the HOA fining them for leaving their ugly trash can languishing at the street curb for an entire week, when everyone else put theirs away behind their gates like you’re supposed to in this neighborhood to keep it looking nice and allow visiting cars to park on the street. It pains me to see anyone complain about the HOA without attending a single meeting to ask why the rules are the way they are. If they just would do that, they’d see that the HOA members have no other choice than to do what they’re doing, and if you were a member, you’d do the same thing yourself. And if EVERY HOMEOWNER IN THE COMMUNITY came to the meetings and agreed that the rules were stupid, they could change it easily – because a majority vote by homeowners is how these rules get changed. But nobody knows these things, or bothers to find out. Changing stupid rules almost never happens, because truly, nobody cares. They don’t want to vote, even when it’s in their favor to do so. They don’t want to learn about the HOA, because they don’t want to change their mind, they are happy to have an enemy, and they don’t want to see the other point of view because they think it lessens their own point of view in some way that I don’t understand. It’s crazy. This is a truly crazy world we live in.
6. Money Management
It pains me now to see poor and middle-class people wasting their money on stupid stuff, spending every paycheck 100%, sometimes 120% by way of credit cards and other debt – then spending the rest of their life paying huge sums of Interest to lending companies, which does nothing more than weakens their own spending power! If you make $2000/month, wouldn’t you like to have the spending power of $2000/month? You don’t, because you’re paying $750 in interest every month, so you only have $1250 to spend. Some of the interest you’re paying right now is for the stupid stuff you don’t even remember buying many years ago. Such a travesty. Every month you’re paying credit card interest, car-loan interest, house-mortgage interest, student loan interest, and if you don’t make the interest payments you’ll get late-fees which are even worse than interest. Have you ever sat down and calculated how much mortgage interest you’re paying over the 30-year-mortgage you got on your house? You might actually be paying more than a complete other house worth of money. You can easily pay for 2-3 houses, but you end up with just 1 house! And its totally legal. People who spend all their money every month – you’re going to get old, some day. Are you not saving and investing for the future? Simply saving money in a bank account won’t do it, not that anybody even does that these days. Simply investing in a 401K or other lobotomized investment “tool” won’t do it either, except for highly compensated individuals who work their entire life and always contribute to the 401K at least 6% continuously, and never tap into that money for any reason before retirement. Those individuals need about $3,000,000 worth of investment-savings in their IRAs and 401Ks to retire at a lifestyle matching their working one – I calculated it once. I see it instantly now, very clearly, in all the people around me, and it pains me greatly.
7. Knowing but not Sharing
Sometimes knowing the truth about something, understanding how to relieve painful happenings, isn’t enough, especially if you can’t implement the knowledge you have. Or in my case, I can implement it in my own life, and I’m proud of what I’ve done when I see it all working – then it hurts me doubly that (a) nobody wants to hear about it, (b) nobody wants to take fucking notes because it’s great fucking knowledge that could change their lives, and (c) nobody wants to implement it in their own lives to reduce their own pain and agony.
Maybe they don’t really feel pain as painfully as I do. If they felt it half as much as I do, they’d reach out to anyone and everyone immediately, looking for better ways of living their lives; they’d listen with open ears to every word anyone had to say on the topic, they’d look to learn things they didn’t already know, they’d take notes in the day-planner or to-do app on the phone they carry around with them, and they’d implement what they learned for themselves – to see if it works or not. They would never dismiss something as stupid or “not for me”, without testing it out, seeing it first-hand, before deciding to discard it.
8. Learn Other People’s Great Lessons
There are great lessons that the richest people in our world have mastered – which have been written about in books, and taught as lectures, which you can search out and learn for yourself, for free, or for a very low price. Mostly free, now, thanks to the Internet and local meetup groups. I mean this for many variations of the word “richest” – financially, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, creatively, cooperatively, etc. You can learn real investing, and do far better than any stupid lobotomized 401K or IRA after a bit of practice. You can have the worst memory of anybody you’ve ever met due to the horrible childhood illness of Asthma wherein you spent dozens of sleepless hours at a time sitting upright in bed, struggling to breathe every breath, your brain oxygen-starved for permanent brain damage, year after year after year, and survive. And hide, keep to yourself, the knowledge that you will never be able to get good grades in school because of your disability. And nobody notices. And you discover that in the real working world, you’re going to fail at job after job, because you can’t remember anybody’s name, you can’t remember all the masses of technical details you need to remember to get your job done. And still, nobody notices. Until you figure out a few coping mechanisms on your own, one by one, to barely scrape by. And then you’re shown the Getting Things Done techniques of David Allen, life organization and balancing skills of Tony Robbins, how to think like a rich person to understand how our economy, business, and investing really works by reading Rich Dad Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrant books by Robert Kiyosaki, the organization systems of Franklin/Covey, the emotional-healing techniques of TAT and EFT that can literally cure you of certain hangups (and even some physical ailments) quickly and save you decades of expensive therapy, and finding spiritual leaders who really talk to your heart despite what anyone else in your family/life has trained you for. And you read the books not once but many times over, watch the videos many times over, listen to the audio books and podcasts over and over, and implement the techniques for yourself, your own way, over time. And then you re-read, re-listen, and add more and more elements as new things make more and more sense to you over time.
Oh … did I say “you”, in that diatribe? I meant me, of course. Sorry about that.
There is a pattern to all of these stories, which is this: you don’t live in a vacuum. You should absolutely do everything you can to improve yourself, make yourself the best “you” you can be! But understand, also, that much of your fate belongs in the hands of everyone else around you. Just because you learned to brake on ice, doesn’t mean that you can never get into accidents now on ice – actually, you may have just signed up for an entirely new type of car accident, in some ways caused by your new learnings! I cannot express how infinitely frustrating this is for me. But it’s part of how our world works. I don’t know any way around it, because you can’t force everybody else to be “like you” – the world doesn’t work that way (and it shouldn’t). I guess you just place each newly learned thing into your “bag of tricks”, and then try to use the best tool for the job each time you encounter each new situation, and hope for the best. That’s about the most you can do, I think, the rest is out of your control. I need to learn to relax when thinking about that.