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April 14, 2018

The One Skill To Get Your Career Moving Faster

There is one thing you can do to instantly raise your credibility at work or any other area of your life. This one thing will set you apart from your colleagues because people will perceive you as a confident leader. This one thing will raise your profile because you are able to do something nobody else wants to do.

That 'thing' is public speaking.

I hate public speaking. It causes me immense stress. Getting in front of a crowd freaks me out. Then there's the massive amount of preparation required.

When It Comes to Presentations, Preparation is Key

For every slide I present I generally require an hour of preparation. A 30 minute presentation with 15 slides will require about 15 hours of work, including research, storyboarding and practice.

The entire process is excruciating. But preparation means the difference between confident orator and rambling buffoon. Don't let this scare you. Anyone can do a great presentation if they invest the time and energy.

Of course, someone who has been presenting for years will do a better job than someone who rarely presents, but they can both do a great job that impresses their audience.

Presentations Are An Investment in Your Career

The investment will pay off. I have used this strategy at my work over the past 6 years to manufacture my personal brand. I hate it but it works. By speaking on numerous occasions about forward-looking research topics, people now perceive me as an analytical thinker. While I do find industry research and competitive intelligence the most interesting part of my job, I don't live to share my insights in a public forum. Yet I do because this is the best way to shape how others perceive me.

Indeed, because of this manufactured perception I have been able to purposely adjust the calculus of my job so that I spend more time doing industry research. On the whole, by doing something nobody else wants to do I have bought myself more freedom and flexibility to plan my day.

Take The Initiative and Start Small

Whatever your job - no matter how menial or stimulating it might be - you can benefit from taking the initiative to present in front of a group.

Your presentation doesn't have to be directly related to your role. Talk about something interesting related to your industry. Or talk about something you recently learned that others might find helpful.

Start small and start with a topic you know well. Start with an audience you already feel comfortable with. Even these small wins will set you apart from your colleagues. 

Over time, you will become somewhat more comfortable. However, even the most accomplished presenters like Sir Laurence Olivier get stage fright. So don't expect it to go away completely. Instead, develop coping strategies - the most critical being preparation and practice. 

If you don't take the initiative to develop your public speaking skills, your career will eventually hit a wall. Almost all mid-level and senior positions require the ability to communicate verbally to a crowd. So investing in this one skill is critical to setting yourself apart and keeping your career moving in an upward direction.

April 9, 2018

Poverty at 40 is Not Cool

When I was 20 years old, somehow I lived off $50 a week and still managed to eat, go out and mingle with the ladies. I probably managed this because – other than my own education – I had few responsibilities, shared a tiny shack with roommates and mooched off various people.

Now that I’m in my 40s I often joke that I make much more money but have much less to show for it.

The truth is I earn a decent paycheque and have a lot to show for it: a house, car, kids, savings, etc. I am doing things I could not have done during my sardines-on-toast-eating 20s.

Let’s look at this another way. How would I be living today if I had the same income as I did in my 20s? 

I’d probably be living exactly how I did in my 20s: sharing a small apartment, no car, likely alone. 

Maybe I’d have a sugar-momma, because that’s probably the only way I could afford anything beyond peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. But what kind of sugar-momma material is a 40-something year old, balding guy with a little extra cushion? This is why I think most sugar-mommas cut off their boy toys at age 30.

Poverty at 20 is cool and artsy. That's what we all reminisce about. We had nothing, yet we had it all. We had newfound freedom and were discovering life. Our curiosity and the value and energy of youth made up for whatever we lacked. Plus, most of our friends were in the same boat.

Poverty at 40, however, is a very different story. It's no longer edgy, it's no longer grassroots, it's no longer artsy. The broke people who surrounded you in your 20s have grown up, built careers and saved money. Not everyone becomes a Rockefeller, but flat broke at 40 is just sad. Perhaps this is for good reason, as it signifies a lack of foresight and discipline. Even people pursuing the most noble of causes have bills to pay and want to enjoy the occasional nice restaurant meal.

If you’re reading this and you are in your 20s, picture your life in a decade or two. Picture where your friends will be. Ten bucks says they will have done something with their lives. They did this by working hard on themselves - even though they claimed they enjoyed SPAM as their primary source of protein. I suggest you invest heavily in your brain and body. Because you’re going to need at least one of those things when you’re my age.

April 4, 2018

Is Your Scarcity Mindset is Holding You Back?

Forgive me for oversimplifying, but generally, there are two types of people: those with an abundance mindset and those with a scarcity mindset.

I have a scarcity mindset and I believe it has held me back.

Growing up, I was the child of divorce living with my mother who was constantly on the edge of poverty through no fault of her own. She worried about money and I internalized her thoughts, even though I didn't necessarily understand them. Life was OK and for the most part I had a decent childhood, but the underlying uncertainty never left. At times it culminated into acute anxiety over the highly improbable.

My concerns about the ground being removed from beneath me may have been unreasonable, as I'm sure the other half of my family (which is well-to-do) wouldn't have let me live on the streets. However, the worry was palpable and shaped my view of the world.

As a child, I envied how other families (including other parts of my own family)  lived. They had cars, had lots of interesting food in the fridge, traveled, went out, sent their kids to camp. When I was young I wished I had these things. However, as I reached my mid-teen years I rejected anything that was an unnecessary expense. It was my idea to cancel the cable and newspaper subscriptions. I cut my own hair. I never asked for money because I knew it had a bigger purpose than my frivolous needs. I had little immediate control over what money came in, but I sure as hell would tighten my grip on what went out, in fear of the day when the bottom drops out. This is the scarcity mindset.
As I look back, I can still feel the ball of anxiety in my gut. That has never left me.

Poverty was something from which to escape. Although I had my share of f@ckups, when it mattered I worked hard and studied hard to overcompensate for my predicament. Some might say this made me successful. It's true that I have had a good career and income because of my drive for financial security. My financial security is probably now in the top proportion of Canadians, so by that measure I am a success. However, my scarcity mindset has been an inescapable hurdle.
My scarcity mindset has kept me from pursuing potential opportunities because it forced me to prioritize the preservation of security. I've stayed in toxic jobs, shied away from new challenges and kept to myself because I didn't want to give up job security or lose credibility. I've consistently undersold my capabilities, likely giving up potential salary as a result. I have hoarding tendencies and hate wasting money, so I rarely buy stuff. I haven't taken a proper vacation in years, because I'm always sure the money could be put to better use.

While this behaviour has helped build me a decent nest egg, it has hindered my personal growth. I see 20-something, overconfident, entitled know-it-alls rocket to positions of seniority. They're great at playing the corporate game because they have no fear. Many of these folks haven't spent a day of their lives worrying about money or having a roof over their head. Even as they breeze through young adulthood, they still know that they can rely on the 'bank of mom/dad' to bail them out. They feel like they're owed a better job, fatter salary and thousand-dollar handbags, because they have an abundance mindset. They don't worry about losing their job (and financial security) because they 'know' there's another one (perhaps a better one) waiting around the corner. It's moral hazard at the personal level, yet these are the types of personalities that rise to the top.

At this point in my life, I'm not sure how much I can change or if I even should. I think there is a whole class of people out there like me who value financial security (and ultimately financial freedom) over prestige and power.

The world eventually sees the balance sheet of our lives, exposing the hidden truths of individuals with the scarcity vs. abundance mindset. By that point, however, the winners have already been decided. Still, I can't help but think that there's an optimal balance between both mindsets.