Stamina, Focus, and the Good Life

An hour and a half ago I was at the tail end of a ninety-minute Bikram class and it struck me that of all of the things that may have contributed to whatever measure of success I might have achieved thus far, one of the most powerful has been stamina.  I can’t think of a time in my life where I was tested so often for pure stamina than the ten years I spent fishing in Alaska, where we were routinely asked to stay up 24 hours or more while offloading 1000 frozen tons of frozen product and fishmeal.  Fishmeal was particularly tough because the bags weighed 70+ pounds apiece and there were thousands of them.  I always stayed to the end, and I remember once at the tail end of one of these marathons one of the BIG guys — and I mean 6-8″, 270 pound big — exclaimed “You’re one of the toughest little fuckers on this boat!”  which I took as a pretty decent compliment. But there’s this zone, or whatever you want to call it, that you must find in trying situations where you simply have to keep going no matter what (like 70 minutes into a Bikram Yoga class), that will help you through.  And I believe that a lot of this has to do with focus, and the quieting of the mind.

Not that I’m a model for a quiet mind — far from it, but if you can reduce the things that you are chattering away about inside yourself you will find a place where there is only the awful thing that you are trying to complete.  Nothing else.  If you breathe, focus, and REDUCE … you will make it.

Needless to say, this can work on a macro level as well.  Like if you are going through a particularly difficult, say, month … it’s the same thing.  It’s just a bit slower, and you must work to pace yourself.  The sine wave of your battle in that case is long — maybe days long — but the more you can focus and let go of the crap that plagues you from inside, the more stamina you will find to finish out the tough ride.

It would seem that we should be spending as much of our waking effort on a daily basis to structure a life that is not subject to a roller coaster effect, whether it be financial, emotional, or even physical, but we generally don’t.  Instead we just hold on and ride.  If that’s all we are capable of, then at least we need to learn how to ride, and focus and stamina are a couple of very good resources to draw upon.

So …. breathe, focus, and quiet the mind.  Repeat as often as possible.

Bikram Yoga

Today is Iophase Internal Administration day, which means between crises between clients, I spent virtually the entire day in this tiny office driving myself crazy working on IT, mainly for my own stuff.  For me this is a special form of Hell, and today is no less a nightmare than any other.  At this very moment, one laptop is 20% “upgraded”, and there are hundreds of GB of data being copied here and there using another laptop, and this machine — my Ubuntu desktop that I just love, or at least I love the idea of it, is available.   The day started out with an important backup routine completely failing for a client, with important data lost, followed by failing USB external enclosures for another client and for myself, reesulting in more lost data, and now hours of moving data around here and there in a panic to preserve what I can.  The office is a shambles, but I don’t have it in me to lift a finger to even try to organize it, so, it’s time to write something.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention in these pages this incredible thing I have been doing lately.  I would venture to say that it’s the best thing I have done for myself in about 10 years or more.  It’s Bikram Yoga (note, this link may die because the High Priests at Wikipedia think it’s an ad – reminds me of the DMOZ in the olden days …), which is a relatively new type of Yoga that is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees.  My wife suggested it, probably because she was tired of hearing me complain about losing my flexibility , and generally kvetching about growing old. Well, If I can do this two or three times a week consistently, there won’t be much more of that.  The classes last 90 minutes, and every class features the same relatively simple 26 exercises, each repeated twice.  The first half is standing, the second is mainly lying down or kneeling.  The heat, which at first seems completely insane, adds a sort of endurance element to it, so if you are the type that won’t do yoga because it’s not “challenging” enough — this will kick your ass.  I don’t care if you are a Triathlete, this will kick your ass.  At least the first few times, anyway.

But it’s not about kicking ass, really, it’s about putting your body through a very nice set of deep stretches and balanced poses that will make you feel better in lots of ways.  It happens to be perfect for me because of where I am in my life — 48 years old with four little kids, and so I am in desperate need of flexibility, the ability to stay lean, and complete silence for 90 minutes a few times a week.  This affords all of those benefits and more.

Coming from a Pilates background, I guess my body was somewhat prepared for some of the exercises, but it’s quite different in many ways.  The objectives are different, while many of the benefits are similar.  Pilates is designed for core strength first, and flexibility second, whereas it seems to me that Bikram is designed first for flexibility, with some core strength required, especially for the balacing poses.   I would say that if you really care about your health you should do both.  (Not that I do … but if I can figure out how to adjust my professional life to provide more time, I sure will!)

The place I go is just across the street from my office, and like everything else in Irvine, its success has a lot to do with clever marketing (“Stay Hot”) and a strong sense of professionalism.  Because Irvine is full of professionals, they demand complete and utter professionalism, and this place delivers.  They have it down — you walk in, wave your card, grab a towel, a mat, and some water if you need it, change if you need to, drop your shoes on a rack before going into the room, do the class, exit out the back door, drop your towel in a bin, grab your shoes off the rack that they have pushed to the back of the studio, shower, grab another towel, change, and leave.  Everything is simple, efficient, and all taken care of.

I’m told that this method of Yoga is polarizting – you either hate it, and run screaming from the room, or you love it.  Judging from the attending which seems to keep growing each time I go, I guess the latter reaction is winning out.

UPDATE … OK, just had to add what happened with the laptop upgrade — just trying to go from Vista Home Premium to Ultimate.  It sits there for three hours, basically spinning, reboots a couple of times, and then the last thing says “Windows failed to configure a component”.  Please reboot and restart the installation.  Great. So I’m ready to call MS and give them a piece of my mind, so to speak, and on the box I see it says, “Upgrade Vista — may require clean install.”  Typical Microsoft.  My wife had a good analogy — they are like the employee who sits in a room for 8 hours, lost on a difficult project, and at the end of the day says, “Uh … I can’t figure it out…” and you just want to say “You could have told me you were having trouble six hours ago!!!”  Compare that with compiling software on Linux, which tells you every step of the way how (and what!) it’s doing.  Or, compare it with Mac .. which just works.

Getting Fired – Why Corporate America no Longer Deserves You

It may have been putting the cart before the horse to talk about “Managing Fear as an Independent” as I did last month, since that kind of information only applies if you are, indeed, independent.  At this point I would like to make the case for why you should become independent of a “job” if you are not already, and for those of you who are now free of a job through a decision not your own — well, I would suggest that you take a deep breath for about a month before you rush out to find your next soulless grind.  For you folks that are without a job, look for future posts that will help manage and hopefully maintain that status comfortably.  This post will be a sketch, with the intention of filling in the blanks in later, more detailed posts.

First, the premise:  There may have been a time, long ago, when the social contract went something like this — you willingly offer your time, energy, intelligence and work in exchange for money, security, insurance, perhaps a pension, and any other perquisites that might come with full time employment with a kind and beneficial company that looked after you and yours, and truly cared about your success.  The company might offer incentives for production, and maybe even a program to help you improve by skills training, college education and other benefits to help you grow.  Why would they do this?  Because if you get better, the company gets better, profits more, and everyone is happy.  That’s the theory, anyway.

By now it’s pretty obvious to just about everyone that this social contract is mainly null and void.  I’m sure there are some companies that are still attempting to operate along these lines, like perhaps Google or Cisco or a few others.  In fact, there was recently an article about the “Top 100 Companies to Work For”, and that’s all well and good, but we cannot all work for Google and the fact remains that with very few exceptions, companies provide less and less benefit, and demand more and more production. Despite this, every year millions of wide-eyed, hopeful college graduates go searching for a company to hook up with with the same naivete as the previous generation.  And companies are always in search of the best and brightest to inject the energy and intellectual capital it takes to compete in this world at this time.  But let’s have a look at what these grads are hoping to find:

1. Security — the perception is if you have a job with a large corporation, you are somehow more secure than if you work for a smaller company, or for yourself.  This is simply untrue.  You are welcome to search for your own statistics, but look at it this way — if you think of yourself as a company that provides a service (which is what you are — you are providing a service to a company that employs you), would you rather derive all of your income from one customer, as it were?  What if you had a falling out?  What if their fortunes changed, and they went out of business?  Your business would be in serious trouble.  If you had, say, five companies that provided the bulk of your business, and one fell away, you would lose one-fifth of your revenue, not all of it.  So what is more secure, the one company you devote all your time and energy to, or the five that you work for part-time?  The five, I would say.  That’s not to say that you need five part-time jobs.  Instead, work towards a model where you provide services for multiple companies who pay you well enough to create and pay for you own benefits.

2. Prestige — there is something to be said, I suppose, for having “Verizon” on your resume, but it has to be asked — who are you trying to impress?  The hiring officers of other large companies?  It may certainly help you get another job with another company, and if that’s what makes you comfortable, then it may be worth it to pursue that line of thinking.  If the prestige of working for a large company is something you find valueable, I would argue that you can market your services as an independent contractor to those large companies, and the prestige will take you just as far, except you make about twice the money.

3. A “Career”.  Actually, is anyone seriously looking for such a think anymore?  I don’t think so. At least not tied to a single company.  There may have been a time when companies fostered the careers of their employees, and wanted them to grow within and without the organization, but with few exceptions those days are gone.  Now, benefits are grudgingly given out and mainly to stay competitive within the Human Resource marketplace.  Companies still understand that they need intellectual capital and human energy and drive.

And that brings me to my point.  They don’t deserve it.  Not anymore.  For what possible reason should you willingly give up your life energy, your intelligence, your drive, your ambition to a company that doesn’t know who you are or what you bring to the table, couldn’t care less what your talent is, and can’t wait until you leave because you cost too damned much money?

But, see, this is the deeply ironic part of the story.  Because even though you might be making, say, $80,000 / year in salary, you are far, far more expensive to them than that.  That’s why they won’t think twice of laying off your entire department in favor of outsourcing the whole thing to someone who will do your job for nearly twice the hourly pay you make, but with no benefits, and no HR overhead.   So your strategy should be that person that gets hired at twice the rate and pays their own taxes and insurance.  And why in the world would you want to do that?  Because, you can take on three companies as clients in this manner, triple that income, and enjoy a relative sense of security as you collect your income from three sources instead of one.

But what about the logistics of managing three clients that are “full time” or close to such?  Efficiency.  Through a judicious combination of remote work, strategic outsourcing (yes, you yourself can and should outsource!), and careful time management, you can easily accomplish the work of what used to be three “full-time” employees.  And that huge evil company that sucked you dry of everything you had while you were there now rarely sees you, and happily pays you more than they ever did before.  They are now a client, and the people who pay these higher bills does so with the same distant and impersonal  ennui as they did when they paid you your salary, or when they fired you.

There are a number of things you have to do to make this work, but if you are still employed, you should start planning your escape now.  Future posts will systematically show how to do this, step by step.