Ten ways I could have predicted my own failure

I think I may have laid the cynicism on a little thick in that headline, but I got you to click so mission accomplished.

Truthfully, this article is not about wallowing in my self-pity. It is about some very important predictors of whether or not a person will follow through on his goals, and where I score on those predictors.

In my daily internet search for that magic bullet which will help me get out of my own way and finally take action, I came across Brendon Burchard and his High Performance Academy. He shares a free video (with accompanying worksheet) that outlines ten factors which collectively can predict if a person will take action on his goals. It was compelling enough that I watched the entire 40 minutes, and I thought I would share how I scored myself in the context of trying to create an online business.

I’m going to assume you at least checked out the worksheet I linked above, so you understand what each of these ten points refers to. If not, go do that now. Also, I answered these questions in relation to my current project, which is to help young men quit playing video games and improve their lives.

1. Future Identity

The first one is possibly the hardest to answer, because it forces you to push out all the other possible future identities you could see for yourself.

I’m 32. There are still a lot of pivots I could make in my career, and a lot of options that are still on the table for me. Out of all those options, do I see myself as a dude who helps other dudes stop playing videos games? I mean, I already do that to some extent by being active in forums, but it’s not part of my identity at this point. In fact, the only reason I’m doing it in the first place is because I thought it might be a possible avenue to make an online business.

I know for certain that I don’t want my future identity that would result from following my current career path, and continuing to work a job where my overall contribution to the world is forgettable at best and regressive at worst.

I’d give myself a 6 on this one.

2. Intrinsic Value

This is actually something that has developed as I’ve spent more time working on my idea. I started reading and posting in the StopGaming subreddit as part of my research, but eventually I found that I could actually be pretty helpful to the other people there. Helping people improve their lives is intrinsically motivating, for sure. Could I do this even if I won’t ever get paid for it? Yeah, I think so, and that merits a solid 9.

3. Utilitarian Value

This is a little tricky, because it can be hard to see what the ultimate results might be. If I had faith that I could definitely end up as one of those guys who makes five figures a month on about 20 hours of work, then the utilitarian value would be clear. But what if I eliminate the monetary incentive? If, at best, this business idea might break even, then is there any other useful benefits I could gain?

The cynic in my head says no. Or rather, he says that the benefits are trivial compared to something else I could be doing with that time. For example, I could go back and learn how to code, and that would provide much more obvious utility than whatever fuzzy skills I might get from the mess of trying to start a business.

On the other hand, this whole process has already knocked me well out of my comfort zone. I know that discomfort is the seed of real growth, so I can’t deny that this experience will make me a better and stronger person. I just can’t see what those benefits are, so I discount them. I’ll be generous and give myself a 6.

4. Opportunity Cost

Ahh, shit. This is, hands down, the number one factor that has consistently eroded my motivation to work on my business idea. What am I giving up in order to work on this crazy, uncertain project?

First of all, by choosing this one niche in which to create a business, I am giving up other niches that might be more lucrative or enjoyable. I’m giving up spending extra time to develop skills which might make me better in my job, and lead to a higher salary. I’m giving up spending time on learning a totally new set of skills which could allow me to jump to a different, more appealing career path. I’m giving up time I could spend with my family, or that I could spend reading more books.

Given the potential long-term benefits to be gained from building an online business, I’m willing to give up some of the things I listed above. But the uncertainty is what kills me! If all of this ends in failure, then any of those other options would have been a better choice!

This is my Achilles heel when it comes to motivation to follow through on my online business idea, and I suspect it is the same for many others like me. I can’t give myself anything higher than a 3 on this one.

5. Delay Time

You know, believe it or not, I actually do think that I could get results pretty quickly. At least, it won’t take me long to figure out if this is worth my time or if I should move on to something else. It’s not like becoming a doctor, with a decade of expensive and arduous training before you get any real financial return. I’ll give myself an 8 here.

6. Personal Control

Theoretically, can I make this happen, all on my own? Yes. I don’t need anyone’s permission or assistance in order to make this happen. This is definitely a 10.

7. Social Support

This is one area where I have improved my prospects by purchasing some coaching and getting to know others who are also on the long, strange journey of trying to build an online business. On the other hand, I don’t have any particularly strong support from anyone in my family. My wife has withheld her opinion, which is probably a good thing.

Right now I’m sitting at about a 6 here. But this is one factor which I could probably ratchet up to a 10 by adjusting my time commitments to the social circles that I am involved in.

8. Bandwidth Belief

I do have enough time for this, assuming that I make the tradeoffs implied by the opportunity cost. I have total control over the time commitment I am currently making to this, so there is no real reason to say that I don’t have enough time. This is a 10.

9. Resource Availability

Yes, I already have the resources. Starting an online business requires an internet connection, and that’s about it. Anything I could ever want to know about how to make this business is available on the internet. I’ve got every resource I could need. Another 10.

10. Autonomy

This is exactly why I want to do this in the first place! Starting an online business will give me complete autonomy over my work and creative efforts. There is no one who can second-guess my decisions or tell me no (except, perhaps, my wife). Finishing strong with another 10.

And the total is…

78! That’s actually a lot higher than I expected. As you can probably guess from the title, when I started writing this post I assumed I would fail to meet Brendon’s threshold of 75. But I passed, which means I have incontrovertible evidence that I will definitely take action to move forward on this idea.

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel any better though. Perhaps I was too generous in my scoring, like on opportunity cost. I suspect that this result makes me uncomfortable because it means I can’t use it as an excuse.

There are many possible barriers that can prevent us from working toward our goals. But for my goal of starting an online business, most of these barriers do not exist. What does that mean?

It means… that I am my own barrier.

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It’s not you, it’s me

That was the message I delivered to my realtor yesterday.

In truth, I knew all along that right now was a bad time to start looking to buy a home. But I was tempted by the promise of “building equity” in a property instead of flushing my rent payments down the toilet, and so I started the search.

What was I thinking? The housing market in Seattle right now is insane, and prices are being bid up to ridiculous levels. Furthermore, I have no idea where we are going to be in two years. I don’t have any reason to believe I will stay in my current job long-term, and buying a house would only reduce my flexibility if I wanted to look for something else.

But you know, it was a good distraction from the important things in my life that I don’t want to face. I could spend hours poring over listings and building spreadsheets to calculate the ROI of owning versus renting.

It played into my scarcity mindset perfectly: “If you just stop renting and start building equity, you can save thousands of dollars a year! It’s practically free money!” Never mind that the whole process of purchasing a home consumes countless hours of my precious time, and after that I will have the privilege of handling all of the upkeep and maintenance myself.

Do I want to own a home eventually? Yes, absolutely. Just not now.

The funny thing is that it only took a couple weeks for me to realize that I had made a mistake, that now was not the time to buy. And yet… the realtor would send me a couple listings each week, and I inevitably opened that email just to take a look. What’s the harm, right?

Even after I had already convinced myself that I was going to stop looking for a house, I would immediately forget my decision once I opened one of those emails. I’d spend another few hours obsessing over the details of the neighborhood and the financing. How far is my commute? Is there a nearby park within walking distance? What about schools? What would the monthly payment be?

I didn’t really make the decision to stop looking until I broke up with my realtor yesterday.

It was on good terms, of course. I assured him that when we are ready to start looking again, he will be the first person we call.

This whole episode got me thinking about the other sources of distraction in my life. This morning I opened my email inbox and had messages from Ramit Sethi, Sean Ogle, Chandler Bolt, and Ian Pribyl.

All four of them are excellent at crafting emails that get opened, and I am a sucker for it. And what happens once I open an email? I inevitably end up looking at a few articles, which leads me to a few more, and then two hours later I’m considering a new online business idea that I hadn’t seen before.

I think it’s time to break up with all the mailing lists that I have signed up for. They haven’t gotten me any closer to creating a business, but they have provided plenty of distraction in the meantime.

I know that I need to say no to everything except the one project that I’m pursuing right now. But as long as I keep opening those emails just to see what’s inside then I haven’t really made this decision.

If my business idea was a girlfriend, then I am basically telling her that we should be exclusive but then using Tinder behind her back. I know we are right for one another and should spend the time to develop the relationship, but… you know, I want to keep my options open, right?

I’m such a shitty boyfriend wannabe entrepreneur.

One of those days

Today I had one of those days. You know, the ones where your job has sucked every last bit of life-force from you and still demands more.

The ones where you had a huge pile of mundane but urgent work to do, and couldn’t concentrate on any of it because you kept imagining what life would be like if you didn’t have this job, and now you’re panicking because tomorrow you’ll have to try and face the same pile of work plus a little more.

The ones where it takes you 20 minutes to compose a three-sentence email because every few words, you stop to sigh and stare out the window.

The ones where you open up a spreadsheet, not to do more work, but to try and calculate how long you could pay your bills if you quit your job today, and then ask yourself if that would be enough time to find a new source of income.

The ones where you go and read all the marketing emails from your mailing lists that cater to wannabe entrepreneurs, and almost convince yourself to buy another online course when you haven’t even taken the time to follow through on the last one you bought.

To be fair, it could have been a lot worse. I was working from home today, so I had the luxury of taking breaks to go work out, play with my son, and take a walk around the block. If I was stuck in an office then my only relief would have been mindless internet browsing.

I’ve had days like this in every job I’ve ever worked. That may be a big reason why I still have the distorted but stubborn belief that finding a job I really love is a pipe dream.

I’m going to go to bed tonight, wake up tomorrow morning, and face the same job. I’ll get through it, one way or another, and perhaps it won’t be quite as bad as today was. But I’m not going to forget this day.

Why? Well, because I wrote a blog post about it.

Stupid ways to make money, Vol. 1

I’ve already talked about how my deeply-rooted scarcity mindset leads me to make decisions that are at odds with my long term goals of starting a business and creating a lifestyle entirely of my choosing.

One good example of how this manifests itself in my life is the weird things I will do to make an extra buck. After all, an extra $200 can buy me a few priceless days of freedom, right?

A few months ago I discovered the not-so-lucrative technique of opening new checking accounts at banks which are offering sign-up promotions. Generally, they range from $100 – $300 and require some kind of direct deposit to both get the bonus, and avoid monthly fees. Websites like NerdWallet and Doctor Of Credit will periodically publish lists of current offers and which are the easiest to get.

So far this year, I’ve made $900 in cash bonuses though these promotions, by signing up for new checking accounts from four different banks. Not bad, right?

Well, if you consider the amount of thought and effort that has gone into it, it becomes a lot less attractive. Each bank has different terms for the offer, so I had to do my homework and make sure I knew exactly what I was signing up for and didn’t accidentally pay fees that would negate the value of the bonus. Filling out the account applications took some time as well. I also had to micromanage my direct deposits, adding and adjusting the value of the deposit flowing to each bank from my biweekly paycheck to ensure the requirements of each offer were met.

On top of this, the worst part is yet to come—closing the accounts. Most of them require you to keep the account open for six months to avoid early closure fees, so in a few months I’ll have to start closing them so I’m not stuck with an account I don’t want to use. One of them requires a notarized letter, but there is no address provided to send the letter to. Some of them don’t have any instructions about how to close the account, so I’ll probably have to wage war with customer support to do it.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. It has been a tedious process, for sure.

But to relate this back to my initial point, these choices were driven by my scarcity mindset. I looked at these offers and thought “free money!” and there was no reason not to do it. Whether it was worth my time and effort seemed irrelevant.

Suppose I’ve spent 20 hours over the past few months orchestrating this thing. What could I have done for my business ideas in that time? The scarcity mindset will answer:

Maybe a lot! But… maybe nothing. It might have ended up a total waste of time. You just don’t know. On the other hand, look at what you got from those bank account bonuses: $900 in cash! That’s a sure thing, in your pocket right now. Isn’t that worth way more than the uncertain and dubious outcome of spending time on your crazy business ideas?

My scarcity mindset leads to self-sabotage

Taking stock of where I am right now is important, because it sets a good baseline to see if I’ve made progress when I look back. So one of the topics I’d like to cover early on in this blog is the mindsets and beliefs that are buried underneath much of my behavior. It is these hidden parts of my psychology that lead me to take actions that are actually at odds with my stated goals.

One mindset which is particularly corrosive is a scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset is, fundamentally, a fear of not having enough. I imagine that it was pretty common among my grandparents’ generation, who lived through the Great Depression. Mindsets are most often acquired as children from our parents, and I’m pretty sure I developed this one through my mother who acquired it from her mother.

Common “symptoms” of a scarcity mindset include hoarding, being overly price-sensitive, and working all the time even though you dislike your job.

So how is my scarcity mindset sabotaging my goals to start a business? I didn’t actually realize this until I was having a conversation with a good friend the other day, and in the middle of explaining my inability to make progress, he just blurted out “Scarcity mindset!” Here is the discussion led to that outburst:

Right now I have a job that pays quite well: consulting. However, there are more than a few aspects of the job that I strongly dislike, and it certainly isn’t flexible enough to ever allow me the kind of lifestyle that I seek.

Looking back through my life, I’ve actually never had a job that I truly enjoyed. Jobs have always been a distraction that I just had to put up with so I could make enough money to pay for the costs of life. With this attitude, then money becomes freedom. Having more money means I can stop working earlier.

However, this leads to a more dangerous conclusion, which is that spending money delays my freedom. So, I get uptight when I think about the cost of a vacation because in the back of my mind, there is a voice chiding me, “Oh, you wanna drop four grand to take your family to Europe? Have fun being a slave for another six months to earn that.”

In the context of building a business, this means I hesitate to spend money on things like courses and coaching that can actually help me make my dream a reality.

Why? Well, let’s be honest, there are a lot of people who buy these courses but never actually start a business. What if I’m one of those people? Then I just blew all that money and now I have to work more to make up lost ground.

Once you factor time into the equation then the opportunity cost really becomes apparent. Say I’ve spent 200 hours on my business and it goes nowhere and I give up. How much does an Uber driver make? $20 per hour? I could have simply started driving my car around in that same time and made enough to buy a couple months of my freedom.

I know these are bullshit arguments. I know they are based upon assumptions that I have never bothered to test, and that are rooted in a scarcity mindset that I unknowingly acquired through my upbringing.

The problem is deep in my gut, I still believe them. I still have a creeping fear that I will try to start a business and it will be a total waste of time and money no matter what I do. That fear doesn’t go away simply by reading some articles by Ramit Sethi and telling all my friends that “I’m really going to do it this time!”

How do I move beyond that fear? How do I break the grip of this corrosive mindset on my behavior? That… is a topic for another day.

I don’t have an online business

There are an abundance of websites out there catering to people who want to “break free from the 9-to-5,” “live and work from anywhere,” and “build recurring passive income.” Most of these websites center around the story of an unwitting young protagonist, trapped in the miserable grind of a demeaning desk job, who takes a huge risk and wins big by building a business online. And now, he’s going to show you exactly how he did it so you can live a life you’ve only dreamed of.

This is not one of those websites. I don’t have an online business, and I have no idea how to build one.

I do have an MBA which left me with about $70k in student loans, but fortunately that same MBA landed me a consulting job that pays quite well. So, I can probably pay off the rest of the loan in a year or so. On the flip side, I don’t enjoy this job at all. So there’s that.

I also have a wife who doesn’t work–well, technically, she has a temporary job working from home as a Google Ads rater for $15/hr but it’s only part-time. We have a son who will turn 2 in June, and tentative plans to maybe try for another child within a year. So I’ve got some people to support with my income.

I’m just a dude with some pretty typical circumstances at the ripe old age of 32.

And yet… I am absolutely mesmerized by the idea of running my own business, especially an online business. Some of the internet hawkers have caught my attention, and I have even spent some money on courses to help me build an online business. I’ve done some of the work, and made some progress, but have more or less stalled out.

In other words, I’ve followed the same trajectory as probably 90% of the people who buy these courses.

I’m not giving up yet though. I recently came across Sean Ogle’s website, which at first glance follows the standard script for a website selling “lifestyle design.” I did sign up for his list though, just to see what kind of advice was offered, and the first major task was to start a blog. Not a blog with the goal of selling something, but just a blog, to write whatever the hell I wanted to write about.

So, I am going to write this blog about my haphazard and sometimes comical attempts to start an online business. I’m not writing for an audience and I’m not writing to sell something. I’m just writing because I find it therapeutic and because there is a remote possibility that someone else might find some value in the stories I have to tell.

Welcome to my blog.