Branch out or hunker down?

The worst decision you can make is no decision at all. That’s where I feel like I’m at every time I reach a familiar fork in the road. Do I branch out and start my own entities? Or do I hunker down and become a superstar at my day job?

Both have their perks. To brach out is to learn on my own and make money based on my own efforts. It’s a bit scary, and has the potential for time wasted. But it also has the greatest potential return. Put in a ton of work on my own sites now, and they can pay off big time down the road (and maybe modestly in the near term).

To hunker down on the day job is to become an industry superstar. Yet do I want that? Not in one sense. But I do want to earn a reputation as a guy who can clean up a fucking site and rank it.

Is there room for both? No, there is not. We need to find focus in our lives. I’m writing more now, and that about crowds my channel capacity. I can’t write and do great work on the day job and create my own sites.

(Unless I create my own sites as experiments, write to create content for them, and use them to make decisions about how to act on behalf of clients. That could work.)

Acting today for a better tomorrow

Are your parents on medication for high blood pressure or other physical issues? Are you?

I know someone whose dad died recently. He was in his 60s but if you’d just met him you’d think he was 80.

If you opened his medicine cabinet, I’m sure you’d find it full of prescriptions. Worse, I’m sure if you opened his pantry it would be filled with boxed, packaged, and otherwise processed foods.

My parents are also in their 60s, but they take no medication. If you opened my mom’s pantry you’d find some processed items, but mostly you’d see cans of tomatoes. At 6:30 a.m. you’d find them at the local YMCA.

Perhaps genetics plays into this, and if it does I won’t complain. But my parents do take care of themselves. They didn’t always. Raising four kids takes all of your time and induces stress that only parents of four or more can understand.

I don’t want to see people my age look 80 when they’re in their 60s. I don’t want them dying before they reach their 50th wedding anniversaries. Even more so, I want them to enjoy life into their 70s, 80s, even 90s, if they make it that far.

How do you increase your chances for a better life in the later stages? By taking care of yourself now. It might be difficult for people to see.

But then look at the friend who just lost a father. What if he’d taken care of himself starting in his late 20s or 30s?

I don’t want people to have those what-ifs.

Helping people change their mindsets to create healthier, more fulfilling lifestyles

Goal: to launch my own business

How in the world is anyone going to achieve that goal? The only aspect resembling specificity is “my own,” meaning that I will own the business. Great. What’s the business? When will it launch? And what constitutes a launch?

The business focuses on helping people change their mindsets to create healthier, more fulfilling lifestyles.

Not a bad elevator pitch if I do say so.

Fitness excites me, but I’m far from an expert. Guys who have been at this since their teens, such as Ben Greenfield and John Romaniello, know their shit from top to bottom. They spent years in the trenches, training clients one-on-one, before they built their fitness empires. If I want to emulate them, I stand no chance.

Why does fitness excite me? Because it’s about positive change through hard work, discipline, and a focused effort. The lessons we learn when executing a fitness program we can adapt to other areas of life.

Yet most people don’t get half that far. Maybe they’ve joined a gym, even worked with a personal trainer. But they’re not putting in hard work, they’re not disciplined about their fitness, and they’re not focusing their effort while they’re in the gym. It’s frustrating as hell to see.

Looping back to the original excitement, it’s not just about fitness. I’m also excited about learning new skills, about finding healthy yet delicious meals, about little routines that can lead to big improvements in performance. More than just fitness, I’m excited about changing my entire outlook on life.

Watching a second love slip away

Ask me, at age 16, what I wanted to be when I grew up and there was only one answer. Rock star. Despite having played in front of an audience just once, despite having two bands crumble around me (because of my own ego, which I didn’t realize at the time), I was going for broke. At 17 I was writing riffs almost every day. Almost all of them were rip offs, but that’s how young artists get started. Right?

By 18 I let that dream take the backseat. I was headed to college and had to think in more practical terms. I’ll just work on the business side, I thought. And so I filled out a course schedule based on a recording engineering major. It even included choir chamber, despite my complete inability to sing on key.

Standing in line, waiting to get the course sheet signed, something in me changed. To this day I can’t name the feeling. Likely it was some form of fear. But before I got to the front of the line I turned back to the table and remade my course schedule: English Composition, Sociology, History, Philosophy, and Mass Media.

What the hell happened?

Fear might have incited me, but reality loomed in the background. Much as I loved guitar, I wasn’t actually good at it. I had dreamt of Berkely School of Music, but they would have laughed me out of the audition.

It hurts even more in reflection. At that point, age 18, on the cusp of college, I’d spent more hours playing guitar than I had on anything else. What did I have to show for it? I could play Stairway, not particularly well, and some Metallica songs. My subconscious knew that the jig was up, that it was time to focus on something else.

Yet my conscious refused the obvious. My English Comp teacher told me how good a writer I was, and I knew that I could pursue that. But it was almost the knowledge that I could pursue another art that gave my conscious the freedom to continue pursuing guitar.

I spent thousands of dollars on equipment.

I spent hundreds of more hours playing, but not practicing.

At age 19 I decided to audition for a metal band not far from where I lived. They weren’t half bad, and we seemed to get along. Yet the songs they wrote were a bit above my technical capacity. Perhaps I showed them something when we jammed on some Ozzy tunes. They handed me a CD of their stuff and said to practice it, that we’d be back in touch.

I drove away that night without the CD. I’d left it on my car roof and drove away. Typical Joe, my friends and family might have said. So absent minded. But I firmly believe that my subconscious did that on purpose. It knew that my conscious wouldn’t have the discipline to sit down, practice, and learn those songs. So it gave me an easy out.

When I see the same tendencies creep into my writing, I cringe. How can I let myself make the same mistake twice, with two disciplines I, by all internal indications, love?

Sometime between my freshman comp teacher praising my writing and graduation I decided that’s what I wanted to do for a living. Yet I hadn’t joined the school paper. I didn’t set aside time every day to write. To friend I talked about all the material I was gathering for the novels I’d write.

But I never got down to the writing part.

Finally, unemployed and living with my parents at age 23, I started writing daily. The practice grew. Then I got a job that somewhat involved writing. Before I turned 25 I launched a blog that forced me to write every day, and took a job that required daily writing.

For a while it was mostly play. I wouldn’t go back and edit my work. I typed from the mind and heart, and it was better than at least 50 percent of what existed online. People praised my work. And so I saw little reason to improve.

It was music all over again. When I was 16, I was better than most guitarists I knew just because I played all the time and there weren’t that many guitarists. By age 18 almost everyone I knew had surpassed me. Even if they practiced an hour a week, they were getting that much better than me.

By age 27, the internet had become crammed with writers. I might have still been better than at least 50 percent of them, but there were a lot more people, by definition, that were above average.

For the first time in my life, I actually practiced something.

My dad, encouraging my career track, sent me half a dozen books about writing. One in particular hit me with the exact advice I needed at the time. At that point I started using Sunday nights to review everything I’d written the previous week. I took notes. Then I woke up Monday morning, knowing what I needed to work on.

Five years later, writing is again going the way of the guitar. I started neglecting it in early 2013, when my daily habit sputtered and stalled. Writing felt like a chore at points, mostly because of the droll shit I had to write for my day job. By early 2014 I was looking for anything I could do on the job that didn’t involve writing.

What the hell happened?

Career ambitions took over, I think. Something happened last week that I’d rather not detail, but suffice it to say that it made me realize how far away from writing I’d moved. I didn’t write every day, and it showed. Articles that would normally take two hours, took four or five. Distraction consumed me. Everything I wrote was so flat, so milquetoast that I sought anything that would let me avoid it.

That’s not the way life was supposed to go. I already let guitar slip away from me. It’s a love that is far behind; I haven’t picked up my guitar more than twice in the last year. That can’t happen with writing.

If I’d seen this blog challenge a year ago, I’d have thought it a ridiculously amateur move. I’ve been blogging since 2005, son, I don’t need some challenge.

Only, I do. Ideas have rattled around in my head for years now, and if I don’t execute they’ll get stale. Worse, someone else will do it better than I ever could. The only way I can prevent that from happening it to start, so that I can get so good that anyone who tries to imitate me won’t stand a chance.

That doesn’t happen by avoiding the work. That’s what this challenge means to me. It means removing excuses and not letting anyone outwork me.

Of pride and the Yankees

By 2007, the realm of Yankees blogs was pretty well established. People had gravitated towards Bronx Banter, or Replacement Level, or Pinstripe Alley. Almost everyone read NoMaas.

Or so it seemed to us, the people reading and commenting on these blogs. No other team had nearly as many blogs. The best had maybe two solid ones. Then there was SBNation, which had a blog covering each MLB team. Most Valuable Network also claimed widespread readership.

Where would a new competitor fit in?

My personal Yankees blog attracted tens of readers in its best months. Moving to another Yankees blog, the MVN one, put me in front of a greater number of readers, but it still felt small. Pinstripe Alley, the SBNation Yankees blog, attracted far more comments. From what I knew then, commenters were the majority of readers.

It’s nice to be wrong in these cases. Sick of the clickbait style of writing the higher ups at MVN imposed, Ben, the founder of the Yankees blog there, and I decided to start our own venture. We decided to also bring along the Yankees minor league blogger on MVN, to add some variety.

That decision alone can be considered my proudest moment. We walked away from a growing network with a decent audience to start something on our own — something both Mike (the minor league writer) and I had failed at in the past.

Why did we make this decision? We wanted to control our own destinies. Mainstream sportswriting seemed clumped into two categories: bland factual updates, and sensationalist columns. Once we saw the same thing happening at MVN, we knew that the profit-driven mindset of the founder and his crew would only make matters worse for us.

Plus, it wasn’t like we were getting paid anyway.

Crazily enough, we attracted an audience by being honest with our readers. Some readers accused us of pushing a sabermetric-driven agenda, but that’s ridiculous. Perhaps I’d bought in on sabermetrics, but I had no vested interest in promoting it. Even a few years later, when I joined sabermetric thought leaders FanGraphs, it wasn’t about advancing some agenda. It was about expressing the thoughts I had about baseball.

That’s why creating RAB was my proudest moment. Because we invested our own time, our own effort, and our own ideas into something. We could have lobbied the SBNation Yankees blog to take us. It would have increased our readership even further. But we did it independently.

Our reward came in trickles. By mid-2007 we had enough of a readership to make a little money off ads. I sent an email in 2007 that connected me to one of the highest trafficked baseball blogs. More importantly, it connected me with the owner, who shared many of his successful revenue tactics. In 2008 we doubled readership and caught the attention of the YES Network, the Yankees’ broadcast partner. From there we forged a relationship that eventually turned into a lucrative partnership. It exists today.

We were lucky, in that we all had day jobs and could let the site grow organically. But luck factors into the success of anything. We had convictions and stuck to them. We worked hard to make the site appealing. We explored new paths, and continue to explore today.

Yes, launching River Avenue Blues ranks among my proudest moments.

Thanks for what?

When people thank me, it’s for doing what’s expected. The only time someone has thanked me for doing something not expected of me is in writing. In saying something that needed saying, in a way that connects with people.

It doesn’t happen often. Hasn’t happened often since a very long time ago, at least three years now. Back when I wrote about what I wanted to write about, baseball, and damn all the rest.

Sean offers thanks all the time, but it’s always for merely doing my job, or doing something within my job description. Same with Rae. They’re not thanking me for going out of my way to do something awesome. Maybe I’m going out of my way, but it’s only a little, and it’s to do something completely within my responsibilities at PushFire.

Chris has thanked me for advice. A few people have thanked me for advice. But who doesn’t get thanked for advice? Maybe some people give really bad advice. There’s a chance that I’m an above-average advice giver. Chances are most people consider themselves above-average advice givers, just as most people consider themselves of above-average intelligence.

Writing about something that matters to me, in a way that connects with the people around me, is the only thing people thank me for that isn’t already expected of me.

This is an encouraging, revealing thought on one hand. It comes at a time when other events have made me reconsider my writing.

At the same time it is a discouraging thought. To think I’ve reached age 32 without having people thank me for much beyond the things they should expect from me in the first place: friendship, loyalty, advice, and doing my job.

The world lies, and we believe it

It’s not the lies themselves that anger me. It’s that we believe those lies.

Every day someone with a vested interest in something tells us something that’s not true. The CEO lies about his company’s intentions. The marketer lies about the benefits of her product. Everyone from the second grader who wants your lunch money all the way up to the President of the United States lies.

Can we blame them for lying? We’re all looking out for our best interests. It’s inevitable that some people use deception as a tactic. Many of them will perform mental gymnastics to justify these lies, assuring themselves that telling the lies is in everyone’s best interest.

We don’t have to believe them. Yet it seems that only a tiny fraction of the population expresses any skepticism.

Skepticism is not pessimism. We’re not looking at the world with a glass half empty if we don’t believe everything that everyone says. We’re simply acknowledging that people have reasons to lie, that they might even believe their own lies. It might not be part of human nature, but it is a way that humans act.

If only a few more people started expressing skepticism at the lies we’re told every day, our society would be in a better place. But as long as we continue believing lies, we’ll continue on a path where the powerful usurp a greater piece of the pie. And the pie isn’t getting any bigger.

Adventures in time travel

Traveling back in time

Hardly a day passes when I don’t travel in time. Revisiting my past, I imagine how life might have changed had I acted differently. Now I’m envisioning a different present day, which typically involves me having it easier.

Everyone engages in this behavior to some degree. Why do you think humans appear obsessed with creating a time machine? We can all travel back in time and view our past mistakes, but we’re helpless to change them. With a time machine we could take our imaginations one step further and actually act differently.

This is not at all a healthy mindset.

The past is unchangeable. No matter how often we revisit our past failures, we cannot change the outcomes. What do we gain by dwelling on them? Absolutely nothing. We face the same present when we return from the past.

Frequently traveling back in time can hurt us more deeply than the very failures we regret. Instead of dealing with reality, we create a fictional one. How can we thrive in the present if we’re arguing with reality?

Time travel hurts us not just with the fruitless thoughts it inspires and the false reality it creates. There is an opportunity-cost component. When we time travel we pretend to change our presents by changing our pasts, instead of acting to change our presents in the present. We play pretend instead of acting.

Only the present exists. It is the only state in which we can act, the only state from which we can effect change.

Is your present state really so poor anyway? While some surely find themselves in terrible situations, many time travelers merely find the present unable to match their unreasonable expectations. Instead of accepting the good and working to change the unsatisfactory, our minds drift into the past and wonder where we went wrong.

The next time you catch yourself reimagining the present by changing the past, ask yourself this question. Could you have acted differently? If you knew then what you know now, perhaps, but could you have known it then? Was your mind ready to internalize that critical concept?

As a teenager my father dispensed some great advice. I heeded none of it, to my own peril. When I time travel, I often imagine life if I had listened to my old man. Reality returns when I remember my mindset at the time. I couldn’t internalize that advice. I wasn’t ready.

Were you ready? Could you have even lived that fantasized life? Or would you have gotten in your own way no matter how you acted in the past?

We can time travel whenever we want. We can even learn about ourselves, and perhaps a nugget about human nature, in the process. But to wish a different past and a different future is folly. Only from the present can we change the present.