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    College Made Stupid Simple
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  • Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
    Citadel: First Colony: Book One of the Citadel Trilogy
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    Citadel: Paths in Darkness (Volume 2)
  • College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
    College Made Stupid Simple: A guide to getting more than a diploma
Thursday
Apr042013

budgeticity 

Last night was "Week 3" of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. In general, the message for the evening was "Tell your money what to do or you'll wonder where it went." We learned about the importance of sitting down and planning a budget, finding an assignment for every single dollar that comes into your hands, and doing that every month for the rest of your life.

Sounds kind of scary when you put it like that.

And yeah, when the class started I was a bit intimidated by the whole concept. Budgets, for me, have always felt like shackles. They were something used to limit me. Whatever I wanted out of my life, it definitely did not involve allocating every dollar to a task, every month, forever.

But then, what exactly did I want out of my life?

See, there's the problem, right there. I have had no plan for forty years. No real goals. Yeah, I've had a list of wants, things I was keen to accomplish. Wealth has always been on that "list." I've even gone so far as to figure out my own definition for wealth:

Wealth is the freedom and ability to do, have, or be anything I want, including the ability to give to others and to help others achieve a wealthy lifestyle.

That definition changes all the time, actually. I modify it as I learn more. You should have a definition of wealth of your very own. Just keep this rule in mind: Wealth is about more than money. 

Having a defintion is great, but the problem is I had no plan. How, exactly, did I intend to get to wealth? I know the destination, but I don't know the route. I haven't sat with it, written out a plan of action, set milestones and goals that will continuously get me closer.

That's the biggest reason I enrolled in FPU in the first place. I recognized, eventually (FINALLY), that I lack a financial education. Or, at the very least, my financial education has some major gaps in it. I understand business, I understand strategy, I understand marketing and consumers and how industries and markets can move and grow. I don't understand money

And even though wealth and money aren't the same thing, you're going to have a much easier time achieving wealth if you have control of money. Money is a resource, a tool, that helps you achieve your goals faster.

Think of building a skyscraper. 

In theory, you could start searching the Internet for everything there is to know about building a skyscraper, from building techniques and materials to local laws and restrictions. You could go and interview people who have built skyscrapers, from contractors who put up the support beams or dug holes or laid tile in the lobby, all the way up to the guy who oversaw the entire project, from blueprint to majestic tower, rising into the sky. You can learn everything there is to know, and then move on to gathering materials. Mining and then smelting iron into beams. Making your own cement from scratch. Building a factory that churns out any and all materials, from floor tiles to window glass to the flag that will wave from the building's roof.

That's a lot of work. So yeah, in theory, you could get it all done, and nary a penny might leave your pocket. You may also be the approximate age of Methuselah by the time you turn that first shovel-full of dirt for starting the foundation. 

But let's say you have a few hundred million dollars at your disposal. Wouldn't that speed things up a bit? Pay an architect to design the building. Pay a builder to oversea operations. Pay contractors to do the labor. Pay for materials. It all happens so much quicker with money. Money is like a time accelerator for getting stuff done.

Common sense, I know.

And yet, this is not how we tend to think about money in our personal lives. We think of it as the end, not the means. My own theory on this, from my own experience, is that we don't have plan for how to use the money we make. If we have a plan, a budget, money stops being the end in and of itself, and starts being the tool we use to get to what we really want.

We tell our money what to do, instead of wondering where it went.

My skyscraper analogy isn't mine. It actually comes from the Bible. Check it out:

28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Luke 14:28-30

Whaaaaaat? The Bible is telling me to plan how to use my money? Set a goal? Manage things? 

And look at what you can accomplish when you do that. You can build a friggin' TOWER. If that's your thing. Or a small business. Or a large business. Or a house. Or a vacation to Europe. Or college for the kids. Or a debt-free life. Or steak dinners every night. Or a million other things that all add up to ONE thing: Wealth.

I haven't done this. I'm doing it. I can't tell you it works for me personally, but I bet I'll be able to soon. I do believe, though, that telling your money what to do is what God wants from you, as a good steward.

Be faithful with a little and you'll be entrusted with a lot. That's from the Bible, too. 

 

Wednesday
Apr032013

discernmentation

One of the things that always frustrated me when I was looking for "answers" to some of the "big questions" in my "life" (this quote thing gets "addictive") was the fact that I constantly read, hear, and watch material from experts on business, lifestyle design, and philosophy, but never seem to find any real, practical advice.

And that extended to the Bible as well. I would read a passage in the Bible, and I might find some inspiration from it, but I couldn't see how it would immediately impact me, or how I should act on what I was learning. I'd read books by Christian authors, books by business leaders, books by or about great figures in history, and I could see how they lived their life, but I couldn't seem to spot any literal, actual steps I should take to live the way they lived.

That information was there, of course. It's just hidden. Hidden in plain sight, most of the time. Because, frankly, even though I was exposing my heart and mind to the right messages, I was missing a vital component. I was skipping one of the most important steps for learning from the world around you. 

God hides wisdom from us. Not in a malcious way. More like an Easter egg hunt. It's a jewel, a prize that you really, really want (even if you don't know you want it), but to get it you have to actually search for it. 

And God isn't mean about it. He gives you hints. He nudges you in the right direction. In fact, He's armed you with the perfect tool for finding wisdompray for it, and then start looking for it. You'll find it. I guarantee that. 

In Proverbs 24:32, Solomon wrote the formula for finding wisdom in the world around us. It's so simple, you probably breeze right past it when you read it. Read it in context. I'll even highlight the bits I'm talking about:

30 I went past the field of a sluggard,
    past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
31 thorns had come up everywhere,
    the ground was covered with weeds,
    and the stone wall was in ruins.
32 I applied my heart to what I observed
    and learned a lesson from what I saw:
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
34 and poverty will come on you like a thief
    and scarcity like an armed man.

 Proverbs 24:30-34

My trouble has always been keeping my mouth shut long enough to learn from what I'm witnessing in the world around me. I talk too much, or I write too much, or I think too much, and instead of seeing wisdom right in front of me I end up being critical and closed-minded and self-aggrandizing and I learn nothing. Then I have the audacity to complain that there is no wisdom to be found. 

So I'm going to stop short right now, and pay attention to this message myself. I'm going to apply my heart to what I observe, and learn a lesson from what I see. Try it yourself. Let's see how much we grow.

 

 

Tuesday
Apr022013

struggleation

Sometimes there's a whole lot of tough stuff hitting you at once. Money gets tight just when your air conditioner breaks down, and your mother calls to tell you her apartment is flooded and she needs a place to stay for a few weeks, and one of your cats gets injured and has to go to the vet, which ends up costing more than a house payment, and while you're coordinating all of this you get a flat tire. For a nice cherry on top, while trying to find a parking spot at the grocery store, someone zips in ahead of you without so much as a wave. 

I've always handled things like this very poorly. I get mad. I say things (paint-peeling things that could make a sailor blush). I make rash decisions and take stupid actions. More than once I have hopped out of my truck to confront the jerk that just cut me off, or the one who won't back up and let me get out of a parking space, or the one who was just minding her own business but happened to be in my way on a very bad day. 

Not good. Dangerous, even. But beyond that, so outside the scope of what God wants for us it's unbelievable. 

Here's a news flash—bad stuff happens. It's like it happens all the time, am I right? 

It's true. Even when we are fervently praying that nothing bad will happen, something always seems to go wrong. Scary stuff that makes us feel like we're alone here, like no one, but especially not God, is looking out for us. We're on our own.

And it's true. We really are on our own. 

What ... you expected something different?

Here's the truth—when we are focusing on the things that scare us, that make us angry, that make us worry, we are on our own. God is there, of course. Always. But he's more or less hovering just a bit away, waiting for you to realize that you're thrashing and struggling and trying to stay afloat in a situation in which you have no hope of surviving.

I like the lifeguard analogy.

I heard this from my pastor, Mark Hartman, at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land. Lifeguards are trained to scan the waters for danger, for swimmers who are struggling. And when they see someone, they leap into action. They grab their rescue board and dive in, they swim to the person who is struggling and drowning and then ...

They stop.

Whazzawhozitnow? Stop?!? Hello! Drowning victim here! Struggling, barely keeping my head above water, trying desperately to hold on to something, anything that will keep me firmly in the "living" category! And you choose now to take a break?!?

The thing is, if a lifeguard immediately rushes over and grabs the person who is drowning, panic will cause that person to resist and struggle even harder. They'll grasp onto the lifeguard, clinging for life, and end up dragging both of them down. There's a greater chance that they'll both drown out there if the lifeguard doesn't stop, assess, wait just a beat, and act only when the person has stopped struggling.

That's God. He sees us struggling, he knows that we're drowning and that we are scared, but until we stop the struggle He's going to wait. Until we realize that there's nothing we can do—that it was us that got us here in the first place, that if we could swim our way out we would have done so already—He's just going to wait, just out of reach. 

We can swim toward Him, of course. That means that we've calmed down enough to be rational. We're focusing less on the struggle and the danger and more on the positive things in our life. We've realized that our struggle is getting us nowhere, and if we don't get a grip we're going to go down. We can move toward God, and He will open up His arms and take us back to shore.

More often, though, we can't seem to get out of the struggle. We're focused on everything that's wrong about the situation. We can't find our footing, we can't find anything to grip on to, we can't seem to calm down enough to even out and take smooth, steady strokes, to follow a pattern that will get us back to safety. In those cases, God waits. He's not going to let us down ... He's still there, still cares, still knows exactly what to do. And eventually He acts to save us, because He loves us.

Of course, some of us keep strugglng for a long, long time. We've been treading water for so long, we have no idea how to stop. We're so afraid of sinking that we expend massive amounts of energy resources to keep our head above water. And it seems like it's working for a time. From the outside, from anyone swimming nearby or walking on the distant shoreline, we may not even look like we're struggling. "I'm OK," we say. "I can do this. I can keep kicking, keep paddling, keep struggling until I suddenly fly out of the water and glide safely to land on a cloud of my own making!"

Get real.

This is the kind of swimmer I've been for years. I struggle, but I largely keep it hidden. God sees me, though. He knows the truth. He's a trained lifeguard, able to see all the signs. And he's just waiting, waiting, waiting. Immortal, omnipotent deities seem to have way more patience than we mere mortals do, am I right?

If you're facing struggles in your own life, it's OK. It's OK that it bothers you. It's OK that it scares you. It's OK that you don't know what to do or where to turn. God's there, waiting. He won't let you down.

Sometimes we lose the things we're trying to hold on to—our home, our job, our pets, our family, our health. That's going to happen. Everything has its time in our lives, and when that time is over we have to deal with the grief of loss. God is there, too. He's waiting for you to come to him for comfort. We can't always understand the "why" of loss, but we can have faith that there is a reason for it, somewhere, somehow, and that it's tied to the love God has for us.

Our child playing with something dangerous—it could be fun for the kid, and it could hurt their feelings if they lose their toy, but we take it away for their good, whether they know it or not.

A student is punished for cheating on a test and has to miss out on after-school sports—no fun, and they don't get the benefits of being part of the team, but when they have to retake the test they learn and grow in a way they would have missed out on before.

A drowning man, struggling in the waves as a lifeguard floats nearby—he's afraid, panicking, and not thinking clearly, but someone is there to rescue him, once the struggling stops.

Lots of things happen that aren't pleasant, and that seem to bring no good at all. In the end it's about our perspective. What are we capable of understanding in that moment? Not much, really. That's why faith is so important. We have to know that God is aware of our struggle, and beyond that He knows how to use our struggles and pain to make us safer, stronger, better. 

Believe that, and act on it in faith, and the things that you struggle with become less frightening. Look for a way to learn and grow from every experience, and count all of the good that you have in your life, even during the hard times, and you will live a fuller life with less fear and pain. That's the point. That's the plan God has for you. Accepting it takes a leap of faith, but living it makes for a grander life than you ever imagined.


Monday
Apr012013

addictectomy

The adage goes, "Addiction is a disease." I like Mitch Hedberg's quote, "Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only disease you can get yelled at for having." Drug addicts and alcoholics have managed to contract the equivalent of an STD for their souls—a disease that they've willingly infected themselves with, and that controls them even when they know better and want more out of life.

The thing about addition that makes it so harmful is that it really IS a disease—a disease that infects everyone else in the addict's life.

Addiction is strange, because it's broader than you suspect. I've never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, but I've rarely passed on a bowl full of chocolate or a pile of chicken wings. I used over spending to comfort myself when I was single and lonely, such as when my Granny died and I was feeling a keen pain, deep in my soul. 

Addiction to drugs and alcohol was never the bondage I turned to, but it has has touched my lfe. And it leaves an ugly stain wherever it sits. The addict has no idea just how much they are hurting everyone around them. They aren't thinking rationally. When you speak to them, you're not speaking to THEM but to their sickness, to the thing that has control of them. Want to seen modern day demon possession? That's it. That's what it is. It feeds on the victim until there is nothing left, and it tries to feed on every relationship in the victim's life in the same way. And it will, if you let it.

I am always trying to control everything that happens around me, and frankly that's when things fall apart fastest. I take responsibly, even for things that have nothing to do with my own decisions, because that's what good leaders do. But there are times, many times, when you have to step back from taking action, and instead you have to set rules.

I like to create processes. I have a process for everything in my professional life. Now I need to focus on creating a process for my personal life. 

We're commanded to love others as we'd love ourselves. But even in love, even in unconditional love, there are rules. I have to write those rules down, to use the gift God gave me for creating by using words. I have to write that I will always love the people in my life, unconditionally, but there are rules to interracting with me and my family and my home. If you can obey those rules, you can be with me. If not, I will love you anyway ... from afar.

I can't have an addict around my family, around my home, lying to me and stealing from me. I can't have a realtionship with the thing that has control of them. I love the addict, I hate the addiction. I will be here, any time and every time. "Here are the rules."

Addiction really is a disease, but it's a disease that infects the family and friends and community of the one addicted. For some diseases, the only cure is amputation and cauterization. 

The toughest part about addiction for the people in an addict's life is simply acknowledging that there's nothing you can do. It's all on the shoulders of the addict ... until they ask for help. So here we are, sitting and waiting for them to ask, so that we can finally DO something. 

That's the same relationship we have with God. As sinners, we are addicts to our own nature. But God is waiting there, loving us, ready to help as soon as we ask. But He has rules. He has requirements of us, if we're going to have a loving relationship with him. We have to die to sin. We have to repent and turn away. We have to love others. We have to love the Lord, our God, more than we love anything else on this Earth. He will love us no matter what. He will have a realtionship with us only if we die to sin.

When you look at that list, you start to realize it's not such a tough bunch of rules. We just have to choose to obey them. We can have the rewards of a loving relationship with God, with family and friends, with ourselves, if we choose to turn away from what binds us, and instead enslave ourselves to God's will for our lives. It's slavery that comes with more freedom than you've ever known. 

Friday
Mar292013

hopeitude

I was reading Following Your Bliss, Right off the Cliff on the New York Times website. Long and the short of it, "Following your dreams is risky and sometimes you fail." 

Duh. But yeah, it's true and it's something to think about during the planning process for your business (or your side business, or your community program, or wherever your dreams fit in the scheme of things). Sometimes the dream isn't enough.

There's some science in this article, about the part of the brain that controls worry and the pain that comes from it. And to overcome that physiological reactionso that we can take action and attempt to make our dreams come true, despite the risk of pain and failurewe feel hope.

I love this line from the article:

As paradoxical as it sounds, [Michael Derring] said, “If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome.”

Stop worrying about the outcomes? Yikes! Most of the time, it seems like "worrying about the outcomes" is all we do! But there's a sweet sort of logic here.

The article is more or less saying, "Don't let your emotions become invested in the business." Don't put your self-worth on the line for a shoe store or an auto shop or a novel. If you fail, you'll believe you are the failure. But that's not how failure works. A person isn't a failure. Only actions can be failures. A person is a decision-making, action-taking, hope-and-faith-having machine. We make decisions, we take action, we have hope and faith that it will work out. And if it doesn't ...

If you approach a business or any other endeavor with the attitude that, should it fail, it isn't the end of the world, you can pick up and recover, you're chances of success actually increase. You're willing to take more risks, for starters, and risk is the price of momentum. You may take actions you wouldn't have taken before, in a more cautious mindset, and those actions lead to results, and those results may end up bringing you increased benefits. Or they may blow up and fade out. It happens.

From a financial standpoint, this is why you want to be smart about the way you invest in a business. Make the decision early on to stay away from debt. Take on investors, but don't take on loans. Investors know that they're taking a risk, and that it may not make a return. Lenders don't care either way if you succeed or fail, they expect repayment with interest and they'll try to destroy you if you don't follow through. Investors empower, lenders enslave. 

Trust me on this one ... I'm enslaved to a lot of lenders at the moment.

From a spiritual standpoint, this is why you want to ensure that your business is built to glorify God. God likes it when we do things that are empowering, that build something that brings good into the world. Staying focused on God's Ultimate Rule—Love your neighbor as you love yourself—means you're doing everything right. You won't have to worry about mistakes coming back to bite you in the ... assets. The business may fail, due to a lack of demand or bad timing or myriad other reasons, but it won't take you with it. 

So what happens after failure? Learning. This is the point where you pray and ask for wisdom. "Show me, Lord, where it went wrong. Show me how I can pick up and start again. Show me how to change my plan and build something that glorifies you." God never denies the request for wisdom. He just requires you to commit some brain power and effort to it.

This article ... I'm on the fence about it. I get a real "don't pursue your dreams because they're risky" vibe from it. But there are points made that are more encouraging. Hope—that's a good message. So read it as a cautionary tale. Have hope, but also have a plan. Have a goal, but don't worry about the outcome. Invest, but don't enslave yourself to the dream. You belong to a greater power than dreams.