Bucket-List

Got a Bucket List? Take a quick survey.

Bucket-ListI’m conducting a survey about bucket lists (also known as a life list). This is a private research project and all responses will be kept confidential. The survey is very basic and should only take a few minutes. You can even choose to remain completely anonymous if you’d like.

What is a bucket list? According to Mirriam-Webster, a bucket list is “a list of things that someone has not done before but wants to do before dying.” A little macabre perhaps, which is why I prefer the term “life list.” (The idea of a bucket list was popularized in the 2007 Rob Reiner film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.)

Many people have bucket lists, some have them documented, and some have gone so far as to start tackling their bucket list one item at a time. No matter where you are on this spectrum I’d love to hear from you, so if you’re willing to answer a few questions please click here. When you’re done, please share it with friends and family. I’m trying to collect as many responses as possible.

Take the survey here.

America: The Violent?

Why are we so violent?

Is it because of pop culture, mass media? Turn on any major network television station during primetime hours and after the reality TV garbage there’s violence on nearly every channel. Cop shows, hospital shows, ESPs chasing down criminals before they act violently – all primetime fodder for our society. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. Turn on FX and watch American Horror Story, a program I confess to watching but a program that is perhaps the single most violent, gruesome, gory program I’ve ever seen on TV. The Walking Dead, a program where well-armed survivors roam a world dominated by flesh eating zombies, blasting through the zombies with everything from arrows, machetes, shotguns, pistols, revolvers, and what seems like a never ending supply of ammunition. The special effects are amazing: The shotgun slugs blast through weak and tender zombie skeleton like a baseball to a watermelon.

Or wait, is America violent because it’s part of who we are, it’s our history, our heritage? We have a right to bear arms don’t we? Don’t we have the right to take up arms against our government if we, The People, decide that’s what needs to happen? It’s revolution baby! Well-formed militias are our constitutional right. Our entire history is story after story of violence. Be it the explorers who landed on these shores, the colonists who ultimately took up arms and violently rebelled, or the north and the south waging horrific violence there’s a long heritage of firearms and violence in America. Today we use remote control airplanes to bomb anyone who is a threat to our national interests, with extreme precision, or so they tell us, and we turn a mostly blind eye to their collateral damage.

And we love it. We love the violence. We pay to watch it. But forget about television shows and movies, we love stories of World War II atrocities followed up America’s heroics, as we marched, as we drove, as we shot our way through Europe, freeing and liberating the poor people who couldn’t have done it without us. We convince ourselves that America’s heroics are solely responsible for the defeat of the Axis Powers and that Russia and the Eastern Front wasn’t a major factor. America, the heros, the honorable. And we love stories in the news of mobsters who live by their code, of gangsters who remain loyal, who because of omerta must uphold their way of life. We excuse violence if it’s honorable, or so we tell ourselves.

Or are we violent because we’re becoming, as data suggests, a more godless society?

Is it because we’re becoming, as some will inquire, void of family values? (How does one quantify this? Violence is not a direct corollary.)

Have we lost our way so much that the kind of violence we witnessed in Connecticut is, tragically, to be expected? Are we becoming even more desensitized?

Fact: Violent crime is down in America, pretty sharply too.

I was in Paris a couple weeks ago when I heard the news that New York City passed a day without a single report of a person being shot, stabbed or subject to other sorts of violent crime for the first time in recent memory. The irony being that I was an American in France, a very non-violent society.

Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke University, made this graph of “deaths due to assault” in the United States and other developed countries. While we are the clear outlier violence has dropped to its lowest point since what looks like roughly 1963.

As Healy writes,

America the ViolentThe most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—and recently, decline—there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself.

Healy tweeted an interesting thought last night,

Assault Death Rates is one of the few topics where many Americans will rush to compare the USA to South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, or El Salvador.

Meanwhile 2nd Amendment advocates are stocking up on guns and ammunition in the wake of the election fearing an Obama administration crackdown. Some worry if they don’t do it now they won’t be able to get the weapons they want, or rather, they need. Their basis for this is almost nonexistent, especially given that the first four years of Obama’s presidency saw him signing legislation that allowed loaded firearms in some national parks and Amtrak trains. With that one exception both parties, both candidates, but especially democrats, have been largely mum on gun rights, barely touching it during the debates and gun control was the most unpopular issue during the campaign. But if gun rights advocates have mostly baselessly feared Obama over the last 4 years, the recent shootings will certainly change that. Not since George W. Bush let the assault weapons ban expire in 2004 has there been any serious public policy discussion on gun control.

Fact: gun stocks are sharply up

Fact: gun ownership is up

Fact: violent crime is down

This issue is already very complicated, and it stokes the passions of everyone. The roots of our society’s violent tendencies, people often argue, span a broad range of issues often starting with mental illness, a lack of social services, to a national identification system, to nuanced legislation on what kinds of guns people can buy, to family values, to a morally vapid America that’s increasing consumed with itself, with social media, with its own narcissism and self-importance, to an increasingly godless culture where fewer and fewer people go to their church, their synagogue, or their mosques. The public dialogue also includes opinions about immigration, about drug policy, about prisons overflowing with non-violent criminals while violent repeat offenders are parolled and allowed to walk the streets, yet pot dealers do twenty years hard time. The discussion includes zero-sum solutions ranging from arming everyone to arming no one.

One day after the senseless tragedy in Newtown Connecticut the conversation is already heating up, and one thing is certain, America is about to have the most intense and prolonged discussion on gun control that she’s ever seen.

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Point Counterpoint: Entrepreneurship

There are a lot of gainfully employed people out there who are considering the entrepreneurial path. I meet them all the time. Some are nascent entrepreneurs who have the idea but they lack the courage to just do it. They point to many things as reasons, excuses, rationalizations, what have you. Oftentimes these folks are listening to their gut – which is a good thing. They’re afraid of something, and they don’t quite know what it is. Having been on both sides of the equation, I thought I’d present my own version of Point Counterpoint based on some of the things I’ve heard wannabe entrepreneurs say to me. But first, a little history to create some context.

After futzing around in sales for a bit, I jumped into the high tech industry in the mid 1990’s and worked in a wide range of roles for Fortune 500 companies like DEC, GE Capital, Bell Atlantic, among others up until late 1998 when I joined a Cambridge, MA based dot com. That variety of work in the high tech and Internet industries provided me with incredibly valuable exposure, experience, and skills. It also fanned the flames of an entrepreneurial spirit that I think I’ve had all my life. After surviving several rounds of layoffs at the dot-com, my day came on January 4, 2001. The next morning, I woke up and told myself I was done being “an employee” and decided to start my own company, using the skills, experience, passion, gusto, and entrepreneurial energy that was now almost uncontainable. Hindsight being 20/20 of course, I started that company for a mix of the right and wrong reasons. The second company, CitySquares, I started for all the right reasons. I don’t need to walk you through my next 10 years, so I’ll jump ahead.

On January 4, 2011 (10 years to the day), I became “an employee” once again, not at a company of my own founding, but as Litle & Co.‘s new Vice President of Marketing. It’s been six months in this new role; at a successful, profitable, 200 person company, with a 12 person Marketing team, and I can say with both pride and joy that I’m very happy.

Having a solid decade of hard-nosed, scrappy, sometimes bloody, mostly enjoyable, and relatively fruitful entrepreneurial experience has given me an entirely new perspective and approach to being “an employee.” The kind of professional maturity, growth, and development that being an entrepreneur provides simply can’t be gained with any schooling or, I believe, traditional employment.

Point 1: I just can’t work my ass off, put in long days, week after week, month after month, year after year, all while putting up with someone else’s bullshit, stupidity, and politics with no real upside and payout at the end. So, being an entrepreneur puts me closer to the end-game, puts me in the drivers seat, and because I’m in charge, my success or failure is almost entirely up to me.

Counterpoint: That sounds really nice, and I said the same thing 10 years ago. The reality is that while, yes, you do end up in the drivers seat, you are in charge, your success or failure is almost entirely up to you, you still need others to get there. Unless your Tim Ferris, you’re going to need some partners (of some form), some staff, legal and financial services, and if you have half a brain you’ll leverage an advisory board. You might even need capital, and hence you’ll end up with interested shareholders, perhaps a board of directors. So yeah, now you’re the one creating the bullshit, the stupidity, and politicking. While you’re the one in charge of your success or failure, you’re also the one in charge of everyone else’s success or failure too. How’s that for pressure? How’s that for long days, weeks, months, years? The likelihood of “success” is no greater or lesser because you are in charge, if anything you just created more obstacles for yourself. It really boils down to one thing: how you define your success. Success means different things to different people, I’ve opined on this quite a bit here on this blog. So think about what you really expect out of this move you want to make, and sit on it for a while.

Point 2: I’ve got a killer product and I don’t want my employer to have a piece of it – it’s my idea, so I’m going to start my own company.

Counterpoint: Really? The only way is by yourself? I’m glad Christopher Columbus didn’t say that, or Neil Armstrong. Even Leonardo DaVinci had help from the Catholic Church. So OK, you’re the genius with the killer product, but you need to do product stuff right? Cool, and congrats on that title by the way, it’ll come in handy when the going gets tough, or when real business matters need attention – cuz you’re pretty much off the hook. Oftentimes you hear the “product entrepreneur” say, “I just need a partner, someone who can help me raise the money, move some product (aka ‘sell’ the product) while I build it.” There is nothing more annoying to me. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to do that stuff too, jerk! So, because you’re the nerd with the new gadget you get to scurry off into a corner somewhere while everyone else protects you from the bad people who want to make money off it? How dare they! Maybe you should go start a non-profit then, or build it and give it to a third world country – all so you can sleep better at night and keep your moral high-ground. Face facts Wozniak, you need to get some skin in the game too. Being an entrepreneur is about making business decisions, not product decisions. You don’t get to bake your cake and eat it too, while others sell the cakes, clean the bakery, and stock the shelves. You need to develop some real business skills, skills that will pay off for you in the end. If you don’t develop those business skills, everyone else will figure out a way to take your toy from you while you’re picking your nose. Trust me on this, those bad people who want to take your toy and get rich, they got skills – they’re trickier than you are. You might be a genius, but they’re snakes. Smarten up, and think twice before you hit the streets with your fancy new toy. In fact, given all this, if you really don’t have the chops, really don’t have what it takes, maybe you wanna reconsider talking to your employer about it – but talk to a lawyer first (you know, the bad people who do law stuff).

Point 3: I have big dreams, man. I wanna live this life, I wanna go places and see things, but I wanna do it in style – like on my own yacht, with my friends. You know, I wanna be a pimp!

Counterpoint 3: Playa please! I can’t even respond to you without wanting to punch your mouth. Ya know what – you’re right. Go out there, baller, get that money. I’ll be right here when that album you were gonna drop falls through the cracks, or when your steroids website costs more to build than it ever generates in cashflow, or that “super connected” club promoter ends up being shady and stops returning your calls. Yes, lightning does strike and some people in this world (out of 6 billion) do get rich quick. But if you get struck by lightning, it ain’t gonna make you rich, it might make you a bit brighter though… we can only hope.

Point 4: I just can’t work for someone else. I need to work at my own pace, in my way, with my style.

Counterpoint 4: You must be a millenial. I bet you went to a Charter school too. Hey, I mean that with respect – you are indeed one of god’s special creatures. This world is going to be a much better place once those baby boomers and gen-x’rs are outta the way. I honestly don’t know what to tell you, Moonbeam. I think you have some really really hard lessons ahead of you, and you’re going to find out that mommy and daddy learned the hard way too. They tried to protect you, they really did, but they were kidding themselves and actually doing you quite the disservice. Where’s Tiger Mom? Can you spend a couple days with her? I think she’s onto something. No one appreciates the beauty with which you see the world, and no one quite understands that the world can be a better place if they’d only _____. I think you should lead the way. The fact of the matter here is that no matter what I tell you, no matter what anyone tells you, you are a special creature that needs to experience real pain and suffering before you will listen to anyone. Sorry, that was advice.

Point 5: Life is short, I don’t want to spend it working in a cubicle, or on a construction site.

Counterpoint 5: See above. Also, what’s wrong with work? You know, that’s just a part of life right? You realize that Julius Caesar worked hard, right? You realize that Bill Gates still works his ass off right? You know those special ops guys who killed Bin Laden, Team 6? Yeah, those guys work their effing asses off. Are you better than them? If you don’t want to work, drop out of society and backpack around the world. Or better yet, find something you’re truly passionate about, and find a way to make a living doing it. It’s simple. Now stop whining and get back to work.

I’ll stop there. I hope I’ve made my point. Entrepreneurship is really effing hard, and when people go into business for themselves (be it their own bakery, their own manufacturing company, their own high tech company, ad agency, whatever) – it’s work, it’s hard work. Entrepreneurship is no yellow brick road, Dorothy. It can be, yes, it has the potential to yield wonderful results. You really need to consider the reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. That’s what needs assessment, not how you’ll do it, but why you’re doing it.

Am I better off now than I was when I started? Oh hell yeah. Did I fulfill the dream I had when I started? Oh hell no. But that dream changed with time. I started down the entrepreneurial path when I was 25. I’m 35 now – I’m a different person, with different values, different perspectives, different dreams and goals.

After 10 years of entrepreneurship, personally speaking, I’m a much happier and healthier person, no doubt, and I’m a better member of society. Professionally speaking, I feel like I’m just getting started.

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This American Pendulum

The older I get the more I find myself interested in politics and economics. However, among my peers I’m one of the only ones. I wouldn’t consider myself passionate about politics and economics, just aware and well informed. I try to get all sides of the stories I’m interested in, from niche blogs, political comedians, pundits, national news sources, and the like. Again, though, I seem to be alone amongst my peers. I’m not sure if that says something about my peers, or my generation, or America at large, but I tend to think it’s the later.

What amazes and shocks me no less than ever before is how little people know about our country, about current events, the political climate, economic realities, America’s place in the global community, etc. Now look, I don’t want to come across all high and mighty, but I think that be being well informed, learned about these things is a responsibility that we have as citizens and members of our community. For me, it’s no different than being an informed consumer, or an informed driver, or an informed employee. Yet ask the average American to name the three branches of the US government, and they struggle – and I mean, they really struggle. Ask the average American to name the leaders in government, or where Libya is on a map (heck, even it’s continent), or what the hot topics in politics are, and you’d be shocked (or maybe not) at the lack of awareness.

Here’s where it get’s shameful for me. Ask the average American about Charlie Sheen, and they have answers. Not only do they have answers, they’ve got a scoop. Ask them about American Idol, about Ashley Judd’s memoir, about all sorts of (in my opinion) useless pop culture news, and you’ll find them to be very well informed. Ask them about what it really means to buy locally, to participate in public service, to be charitable, to really be active (if not well informed) in their community, and yet again you’ll get blank stares.

The state of America’s society is in a shameful, embarrassing, arrogant, naive, and simply sad place. I wonder, though, how long we can keep this up? Is it just where the pendulum happens to be right now? Am I not being fair, not seeing the full picture, looking in the wrong places? I’m sure I am, to a small degree. I’m generalizing, I know that, but I’m not far from the mark.

Is the media to blame? Entirely? Really? It’s totally the media’s fault? Is it also the fault of the media that teachers make a small fraction of what the average white collar worker makes? Who’s fault is it that firemen and women aren’t getting their pensions? Who’s fault is it that celebrities and professional athletes are who our children look up to, instead of astronauts, scientists, the First Lady, or Army Generals?

I think I know who’s fault it is. It’s my fault. It’s your fault. It’s your neigbors fault, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your friends, colleagues. We are to blame for the state of America’s society, political climate, economic condition, joblessness. We are to blame for the disgusting behavior of people like Charlie Sheen. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. The more bullshit we consume, the more bullshit we produce. If you eat shitty food, you shit stinks to the heavens (pardon the crude analogy). If we, Americans, spent even one hour per day consuming less of the things that do not matter, and consume things that do, imagine how many hours of importance it’d produce?

The empire that is America is about to come crashing down. I mean that, truly. I don’t think I’m overreacting at all (and rest assured that America is an empire), I think I’m stating what informed people know. When it comes crashing down on us, we’ll be so fat, stupid, hopped up on sugar, porn, celebrity gossip, and mindless entertainment that we’ll end up looking like the movie Wall-E. No, seriously. Fat, dumb, deaf, and blind – staring at, consuming, eating, injecting whatever orgasm is put in front of us by each other, by the media, the corporate giants producing it, the greedy vampires orchestrating it and banking on it.

I do have hope though. I have hope that America is suffering from a momentary lapse in reason, good judgement, common sense, and that the medicine is coming – in some form, some shape, some place. Maybe America like a man suffering a mid-life crisis, rejecting his old ways, leaving his family, breaking his own rules, driving a red sports car, carelessly getting laid, recklessly imbibing, and avoiding the reality check that is coming, the reality that his kids now hate him, his dog doesn’t know who he is, his wife loved him and still does, he was lucky to even have the job he had, etc etc. I have hope that this pendulum is reaching that moment where it pauses and changes direction.

The pendulum will swing. It will reach the center, and find another extreme.

I feel better now. Thanks for reading and please, take what I write with just a small grain of salt.

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I’m a Happier Person, Thanks to My Mac

mac-pcNo, seriously. I can honestly say that I’m a happier human being because of my MacBook Pro. My entire life I’ve been very into art, music, and especially the digital forms of those things. So I guess in some respects I’ve always been somewhat of a closet artist, but hadn’t really found my medium yet. With a knack for computers and technology those two things (computers and art) never converged for me. Why? Now I know. Because I was stuck in Microsoft land. And let’s face it  – there’s nothing artistic or creative about being a Windows user. Being a Windows user does not inspire creativity. And lets face something else  – something that took me years to admit – doing visual arts or music on a Windows computer is extremely difficult.

Case and point: A good friend of mine, Aaron, is a brilliant musician. He’s not only multi-instrumental, but he’s a brilliant song writer. In the 1990s he and I used to dabble with MIDI instruments, synths and a variety of other music technologies, all at his house or in one of his studios. All the while he had a Windows computer. Yet he’d always complain about how difficult Windows made things for him. He’d frequently ponder getting a Mac, and for some ignorant reason I’d convince him not to bother with a Mac. I look back now and I regret being so stinking ignorant!

There’s so many other stories I could tell similar to that one. One about a friend Liz who was a talented graphic designer. She used a Mac and I used to pick on her for it. Why? Cuz I was an ignorant Windows guy.

For enterprise purposes, a Windows machine is a great machine, always has been. But once Apple stopped building their own processors and finally started using Intel processors, all that changed. That’s when I got myself a Mac, well, a little later.

I got my MacBook Pro after having a fit of rage (a silent one) on a train to/from NY in March of ’08 years ago (read this for the story). I’ve never looked back! I feel like some once-pious Christian missionary who’d preach all about the ways of Christianity, to only find himself miserable and converting to, I don’t know, Buddhism. What I mean by that is, I regret being so ignorant for so long. I’m sorry to all those Mac people who I dissed so many times! I’m sorry to any Windows people who I steared wrong.

Today, I find myself a healthier person – and I mean that. I’m healthier because I have those creative mediums at my fingertips like never before. I have a small home studio that I use to make music. I have a synth (thanks Aaron!), and some killer studio monitors, a crappy little electric guitar, and dual monitors – and I use a bunch of professional grade studio software apps for this. I’m learning, and I’m having a blast. I’m learning to use Final Cut Pro. Holy crap that’s a beast. But I’m lovin it! I’m also a semi-pro photographer using Lightroom and Photoshop and a bunch of plugins. For the first time in a long long time I’m once again a closet artist. I have a bunch of little projects I’m working on and I’ve never felt more inspired and creative. And I would not be doing any of these things if it weren’t for that fateful day on the Acella Express when I finally had enough of Windows and made the switch.

If you’re like I once was, an ignorant Windows jerk who for some stubborn reason would “never” switch to a Mac – well, good luck to you. You don’t have to be ignorant, or a jerk either. But if you are looking to really have fun with technology, fun with a computer, and create and inspired – get yourself a Mac.

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