Curious

He is the crazy mastermind behind coaching/consulting practice Protagonist and serves as lead Valor Consultant. With his sharp mind, specialized training, and deep empathy, he guides others toward what they really want out of their business . . . and has fun with them along the way. Life should be fun, after all! Curious is also a serial entrepreneur who centers his projects on bettering the lives of others.
He is the crazy mastermind behind coaching/consulting practice Protagonist and serves as lead Valor Consultant. With his sharp mind, specialized training, and deep empathy, he guides others toward what they really want out of their business . . . and has fun with them along the way. Life should be fun, after all! Curious is also a serial entrepreneur who centers his projects on bettering the lives of others.
Why Your Mindset Is Killing Your Dreams

Why Your Mindset Is Killing Your Dreams

What kind of crap do you put up with? As an entrepreneur, I used to put up with all sorts. I’d let customers trample all over me in the effort to make a sale or close a deal. It was exhausting!

With that said, it makes me so sad to see all the people in my Facebook feed who hate their jobs (or lives). It’s a weird juxtaposition between half of my friends and the other half – one half, mostly entrepreneurs, love what they do and keep forging ahead regardless of how challenging life may be in the moment. The other half–let’s call them ‘9-5ers’–complain regularly about their jobs, lives, or situations. For a good long while now, this dichotomy has fascinated me and, quite possibly, contributed greatly to my list of reasons why I started Protagonist.

What is the difference here? Do half of my friends know some sort of black magic the other half doesn’t?

Let’s take a look at one of the mindset differences: outlook. My entrepreneur friends generally see the world through lenses of endless opportunity. To them, there is nothing that can’t be done; one just needs to spend the appropriate amount of time or find the right resources. On the other end of the spectrum, the 9-5ers seem to have this lens that casts their world into the shadow of passive hostility and a lack of control. To them, many problems are insurmountable because of the obstacles in their way.

Let’s take a quick peek at another element – control. What do you have control over? I promise you if you start asking yourself that question and giving it some honest, objective thought, the answers may surprise you in a good way. Entrepreneurs seem to be masters of their lives. Want to know why? I’d argue that they started asking a question like that early on and began finding answers. Creative or not, they found out that they could exercise control, or at least influence, much more than they were led to believe by society, their parents, company management, etc., and decided to do something with it. Do you ever feel more at ease when you feel you have things under control? I do.

These mindsets can come from a variety of different places. Everyone has their own catalyst, and there doesn’t necessarily need to be a ‘stars aligning’ moment to get there. It’s a lifelong journey that brought each of us to where we are today. The ‘stars aligning’ moment is generally what is needed to get one onto a different track, though. Unfortunately. And most of the time this moment cannot be ‘manufactured’ in the sense that a given individual, say a therapist or coach, guides you to it. There’s a certain magic when deep down you decide you’ve had enough and need a change. Call it chemical reactions, spiritual awakening, decisiveness… There’s a certain resonance that happens that seems to give us permission to do what we need in order to make changes. And it can only happen inside you.

Now, I’m not discounting the elements of depression or anxiety or any other psychological ailments. These play a huge part in one’s mindset to be sure! As a friend of mine once put it,

“When you have depression, you may be overwhelmed with sadness for no reason at all. Logic plays no part in it – regardless of how you try to logic yourself out of it, you get to be so sad that you don’t want to do anything. Congratulations.”

This illogical beast that can strike from the shadows is something more people deal with than you might think. The 9-5ers aren’t alone in that! Elon Musk (Tesla) is a perfect example of an entrepreneur who dealt/is dealing with with depression. According to one study done by Michael Freeman M.D., about a third of the 242 entrepreneurs he tested reported having depression. If that’s any representation of the group as a whole, that’s a lot of people!

One question I have been asked (and one that I have asked others) is ‘how do you get through the tough times?’ I know we’ve all asked that question at one point or another and the answer is different for everyone, everywhere. In my opinion our upbringing plays a large part in not only how we see the world, but how we deal with the dark times. If you were always told to ‘suck it up’ as a kid, chances are you’ve been doing that for years (which may or may not have anything to do with depression/anxiety/etc.). On the flip-side though, if your parents acknowledged the pain you were feeling and helped you through it, you probably have some personal methods and tools for coping when the going gets tough. For me, the best way to get through tough times is to talk. I hop on a call with a friend or ask them to go for a walk with me so I can unravel the tangle in my head. Not only do I feel better because I’ve been able to bring what’s inside out, but my monologuing (let’s face it, it’s usually not a discussion but me talking to myself in the presence of another) helps me understand the angles of the situation. It may even turn on a light that allows me to think differently and more positively.

So what the heck is one to do when life doesn’t just give you lemons, but starts cramming them down your throat?

I will be up front and say that I don’t have a perfect answer. There is no cure-all that will magically make your troubles disappear. Find a place to yell and scream and tear at things. Write. Exercise. Find a happy place, either alone or with someone you really care about who understands. Regardless of how illogically our brains may work or how tough life may be, we always have a choice in how we respond. That is where we can take a stand and make sure our needs get met.

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Why We Never Achieve Our Goals (And What to Do About It)

Why We Never Achieve Our Goals (And What to Do About It)

Habits. Goals. Persistence. Tenacity. Drive. Aspiration. Those words sound exhausting, don’t they? How the heck do people muster the energy to achieve such great things? That is an excellent question, and one that I still seek the answer to on occasion. We all have our ‘bucket list’ or shortlist of fun things we would like to do sooner rather than later. The big question is – Why is it so hard to make those things a reality? Some say it’s a matter of finance. Others, a matter of time. And still others argue that it’s just not important enough. Maybe it’s a mixture of all those varying elements.

In any case, I would argue that with a high enough desire to make something happen, it can be accomplished. Let’s take a quick look at those aforementioned elements that some very motivated people call ‘excuses’. Finance, time, and importance.

Let’s begin with my favorite – finance! For years (and presently) I have hated numbers. Math and accounting were my arch enemies throughout school, and don’t get me started on statistics. My brain was just not built for the manipulation and understanding of numbers. Basic algebra is about as far as I can comprehend reasonably well (which, quite frankly, is more than enough to get most of us by just fine I would argue). Many of us love the phrase ‘I don’t have enough money.’ As true as that may be in the moment, I would make the point that we geeks are nothing if not creative problem solvers. We solve puzzles, decipher codes, and find a way to beat the odds frequently in the games we play all the time! Why not apply those skills to the game of life? Different rules, same principles. ‘How can I save more/make more? What am I spending money on that I don’t need? Why I am I spending it on that?’ These are a few questions to start with.

Moving right along to time. Time is the one resource everyone gets the same amount of. Father Time doesn’t care if you’re more wealthy than god or the poorest person on the face of the Earth. We all get twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week – non-negotiable. What we choose to do with our time is just that, a choice, and one we have a lot more control over than we like to think. Yes, we all have to work to a certain extent in order to pay for the things that we want and need. However, and here come the questions again, are we spending our time wisely? I’m not saying we need to allocate every waking moment to an activity that is considered ‘effective’ or ‘productive’, but if we spent one more moment a week doing something to better our situation, that adds up over time. Time waits for no one, but should we be waiting for time? Heck no! Make the time if something is important enough to you. Which leads right into the last element – importance.

If nothing else, we are in full control of what we consider important. Society’s rules be damned! What we call ‘society’ has its own agenda and, frankly, it doesn’t give a hoot about what we want. We need to hold our ground more often when it comes to what is important to us. Yes, we all have drastically different circumstances. That doesn’t mean we need to be prisoners to the wills of others. Importance is a hard one to justify to bosses, elders, lawmakers, etc., because they all have their own collection of things that are important. Finding a way to get what you need to be a moderately happy human shouldn’t be one of force or anger (unless you really want the proverbial hammer to drop for some reason), but again one of creative problem solving. How can you have your cake and eat it too? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. Others, it’s a matter of negotiation (another word people seem to fear). Either way, the path to what makes you smile may be simpler than you think – but you have to willing to try.

In closing, my opinion about goals and habits is that there is a lot to gain by having them. A perfect example is brushing your teeth. An investment of less than five minutes a day means that we keep the ability to chew the food that we love! Above that we have all the health benefits of not getting weird mouth diseases and sicknesses that in extreme cases can kill us. Just because we have a goal in mind, does not mean we need to have these flowery, elaborate plans and mechanisms to get there. In some cases ‘boring is best’, as Ryan Reynolds says in Hitman’s Bodyguard. Do small, simple things as often as you need to in order to make things happen and before you know it, they will! No master’s degree in underwater basket weaving required.

It’s things like these that I love helping people with.

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What I Have Learned from Frustration

What I Have Learned from Frustration

“How does that person view this?” That question has been on my mind lately. The more people I interact with, the more that question seems to come up. And, more importantly, the more relevant it becomes.

I work as a project manager for a software company by day. This puts me in touch with many different people—those who work within the same company as me, and also a number of our customers. Now, as a project manager, I need to understand two sides of an equation: on the one hand, I need to be conscious of my what my company wants, and on the other, what the customer wants. My job is to “be an advocate for the customers I work with” and the process has taught me a lot.

Occasionally, my internal team has been frustrated because we have done everything we can (and more) for a certain customer, but the customer is still unhappy. Circumstances like these have prompted me to start being more conscious of what others may be dealing with. In one case, a customer receives a ton of pressure from their executives, which was why it felt like nothing we ever did was good enough. I had a discussion with them about that feeling, where I was completely open about how my team felt. Our frustrations coupled with the feedback we were getting was not doing good things for morale, let me tell you!

During that conversation, I was reminded of the importance of perspective and the lenses through which each of us view the world around us. We choose some of our own lenses, consciously or not, while some lenses are chosen for us. Our elders, mentors, and bosses all have their own lenses too. The only difference there is that they have the influence and ability to impress those lenses onto others. Now, when I say that some lenses are chosen for us, I mean just that—like it or not, we have to look at things in certain ways because others want us to see them that way, whether the reason is money or some other influencing factor.

Let’s get back to my story. As an outcome of the conversation with that customer, they were perfectly willing to discuss morale not just on my side, but theirs as well. We outlined the criteria needed to achieve success and could then go pursue it. As I write this, that customer and I are still not out of the woods yet, but just having that understanding has gone a long way! My team and the customer’s team are both more focused and able to communicate better because we took a moment to understand each other’s “lenses.”

Lately, I’ve talked with a couple people about depression and anxiety. I’ve had the good fortune to have my life enriched by people who deal with these conditions, from whom I’ve learned a lot. I consider these to be lenses that we don’t get to choose—be they yours or another’s. As far as my limited understanding goes, these chemical imbalances choose our lens for us and can create quite some misunderstandings with folks who are less considerate or empathic. The biggest lesson to come out of my relationships with my friends and colleagues with depression or anxiety is one of patience. Personally, I live in a clockwork world of logic and almost Swiss efficiency, and I must admit that when something does not have logic to it, I end up extremely frustrated, mostly because I want to be able to help, or at least to understand. The second biggest lesson is that sometimes others just want to be heard without judgement or fear.

My intent with this post is not to confuse business with serious matters like depression or anxiety. My point is that we could all benefit from a dose of consciousness in our day-to-day lives. As our attention gets pulled in more directions by technology and information continues to move faster than ever, it is easy to lose sight of one’s own needs, much less those of others. Next time you catch a look of disgust aimed your way or feel that you don’t really understand where someone is coming from, give that some thought. Chances are, things can be straightened out with a little time and an ounce of patience.

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Corners – How I Found Myself In One

Corners – How I Found Myself In One

Have you ever been in a spot where you feel like you have no options? I have. In fact, as I write this piece, I’m in that spot right now. In spite of all my abilities and the resources I have available, it just feels like I don’t have a way out of my current situation.

At least…not a pleasant one.

I’ll be brutally real for a moment and give you a little insight into what’s going on. If you’re familiar with me at all, you know I have had a few other businesses besides Protagonist, the most recent being an IT service business that I managed to sell. Now, before your imagination runs away with you, that doesn’t mean that I made a boatload of money off of it. In reality, I didn’t even make enough to take a significant chunk out of the debts that business had racked up. So, as of the release of this particular post, I still deal have to deal with that debt. Even with the well-paying job I have, I don’t have enough money to go around—just to make things clear.

The point of this post isn’t to complain about my situation or lament the fact that I have to deal with it. No, I want to talk about how I am approaching it and some of the things I have discovered along the way.

First off, and this is a big one—I have discovered that I am mentally stronger than I anticipated. The amount of stress that I could acknowledge is monstrous and potentially crippling. Note the word ‘could’ in the previous sentence: I know there is an opportunity to be stressed, but I have chosen not to let it bother me…much. This has brought to light the scary discovery that I have the ability to completely rationalize away my emotions. By looking at things from a completely objective point of view, I have kept a reasonable degree of calm and assessed everything for what it actually is, rather than what it feels like. And let me tell you—there’s a big gap between what we feel and what is. Through this, I’ve been able to come up with plan after plan as the sands beneath my feet shift, and to keep the demons of stress, depression, and anger at bay.

Second—there are ALWAYS options. However, the list of options varies greatly depending on a variety of factors, such as what you are willing to do or put up with, your moral footing, and your available resources. If you feel overwhelmed (especially if you feel overwhelmed!), talk to people you trust who have good judgment or professional experience. Throughout this process, I have had conversations with my mentor, mother, girlfriend, accountant, and a couple different attorneys. Each has a different perspective and unique background, and together they have provided me with all sorts of data that my little brain has simmered down into the actions that I will take.

Which leads me to my next and final point—action. Without it, nothing changes. If nothing else has driven this point home for me, this situation has. If we want things to change (especially in a positive direction), 99.99% of the time we have to be the ones to create or catalyze the change. If you leave it in the hands of others, you probably won’t like the result.

As I wind things down here, I want to touch on the point that sometimes life just sucks. In my case, I got myself here, but sometimes we don’t get the option of choosing where we wind up, or how, or why. I do want to remind you that we always have the power to choose how we deal with it. And that, combined with a level head and little perseverance, can see you through the toughest of times.

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Journaling – Five Weeks of Persistence

Five weeks on this goal so far! On the one hand, now that I’m getting so close to reaching my goal, it has become a part of my routine before bed. On the other, it’s still a fragile objective. As I mentioned earlier, there is a danger to easy things. While easy to do, they are also easy not to do.

And that is where we are at today—28 days in.

In two days I will hit my goal of thirty consecutive days and “cement my habit.” What does this mean to me? Well, a number of things. First, I can start building another habit or work on another goal. Second, I can start being more conscious of the journaling habit in order to better shape it to a purpose. Third, I have gained a little insight into myself over the last month of nightly writing.

I plan to continue my writing each night for the foreseeable future. With a little thought at regular intervals, and a change here and there, it will develop into a valuable habit that may have an impact on my life course. I think a bit of reflection each night, with a longer bit of reflection each weekend, will prove to be more fruitful than my previous cadence of several hours of reflection once a month. While that provided some good insights and brought some great discoveries to light, it was a long process that I never really felt like doing. It’s especially less appealing now that I have a full time job that doesn’t allow me to do that reflection consistently on the first of each month.

Of the many things I have experimented with over the last several years, I have discovered a big point of consistency that most people share: we like to expend as little effort as possible. However, in order to get what we want, we need to expend some effort. It all depends on how quickly we want to achieve something. I’ve found that developing positive habits that are small, continuous steps towards what I want gets me to my goal more consistently than periodic bursts of focus. The habits maintain themselves and evolve over time to accomplish what I want. Once they have served their purpose, they are just as easy to drop as anything else…or maintain for the sake of positive results.

I’m enjoying this goal-setting and goal-reaching process, and look forward to continuing to do it publicly!

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Reflection on Week Four

Okay. So I missed the reflection piece last week. That happened. At this point I don’t even remember why I couldn’t fit it in. Let this be a lesson in priority, Curious: if you can’t even remember why you didn’t do something, then it probably wasn’t all that important in the first place.

All in all, though, I have journaled every night for the last three weeks. That puts me a little more than a week out from accomplishing my first publicly tracked goal! Woo! In a previous post, I mentioned the boon that came out of the lack of premeditated structure for this habit. That sentiment still stands. Letting your thoughts frolick (or trundle, depending on the evening) onto the page makes this habit so much easier to maintain and actually a little more engaging in certain respects. Let me detail an example quick.

There was one bit last week where I started out thinking I didn’t have a whole lot to write that evening—just not much of substance floating in the ether of my skull. While I will continue to keep my journaled thoughts private, I will mention that I ended up writing a question to myself that prompted me into filling most of the page. With one little question that came to mind while writing the two lines I thought I had at most, I uncovered some powerful insight. The rest of that page helped me better understand something about my life through simple deduction.

If I had stuck to a standard template of what to write about, chances are I would not have come across that insight at all.

Now, I understand the arguments for both sides of the structure augment. If I had stuck with a template, I may not have ever come up with the insights from that night. However, if I had decided on a structure for my journaling, I may have stumbled across something completely different due to having a set focus from the beginning. I don’t have any pressing things on my mind that require that kind of intense scrutiny at the moment, so it makes sense to just continue jotting down what comes to mind. I will continue to do so.

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Journaling – Week Two Thoughts

This was certainly an interesting week, with the eclipse making people do weird things and maybe affecting my energies. It was strange; the day after the eclipse I was super tired and dizzy, and I could not tell you why. Anywho…

I managed to journal every day this last week! Hooray for me! I realized that having a complete lack of structure can be a good thing sometimes. Being able to write about what came to mind, instead of pigeonholing myself into a specific topic, definitely made things less difficult. Some nights I wrote shorter entries, but the exercise right now is to just write to get into the habit. Once the habit is solid (remember, 30 straight nights without any missed), I can focus on doing more with it and shaping it as a tool. For now, it’s really just nice to write. That’s another discovery for me: I do like writing. It just depends on context and parameters.

This experiment has been fun so far. I look forward to continuing and seeing what else bubbles to the surface as we progress!

Posted by Curious in Curious - Goals, Goalsetting, 0 comments
Week One – A Success?

Week One – A Success?

My, what a long, quick week this has been! Due to my participation in a kaizen event for my day job, the week was much shorter than I am used to, at least in terms of my free time. Fifty-five hours of ‘normal’ work eat up a lot of time when you factor in a commute and sleep. Nonetheless, I only missed two nights out of the week for journaling.

When I started this habit, I was of the mindset that it would be relatively easy to pick up, but maybe not the easiest to maintain. The concept ‘easily done is also easily not done’ came to mind. Frankly, ten minutes a night to jot down some thoughts is not a huge time commitment. The reason I missed two nights was simply that I was completely brain-dead and exhausted from the day’s earlier activities. The take-away there is that we can’t always control our circumstances, but we can always learn something from them—if we take the time to do so.

As a final thought—having done what I was able to do over the week, I found some insights into questions I wanted to ask as well as other activities that needed doing. The writing process allowed me to draw out small ideas that normal thinking did not.

Here’s to week two!

Posted by Curious in Curious - Goals, Goalsetting, 0 comments
Journaling – A Noble Goal?

Finally! I am taking action to start a habit that I think will benefit me greatly. For a few years, I have kept hearing about the power of this one simple habit and, while I have employed it on and off to some degree, I don’t think I have realized how powerful it is without the simple act of repetition.

What am I talking about? Journaling.

Not necessarily the kind of journaling that might come to mind immediately – with musings about romance, and how rainy it was, etc. Maybe a touch of that here and there, but overall the content of the journal will be mostly reflection on the day. What went well, what was hard, what was unexpected, and most importantly, why. The plan is to gain deeper insights into myself and my life through 10-15 minutes of journaling daily, getting my thoughts and questions on paper to better process them and get my mind more engaged. It is through this simple (yet surprisingly hard) routine that I intend to take my life to the next echelon and make strides both personally and professionally.

I invite you to follow along in my journey of self improvement. Every week I will post an update that will be a reflection on just the process and habit (reflection on reflection, anyone? ).

Buckle up. ‘Cause here we go!

Posted by Curious in Curious - Goals, Goalsetting, 0 comments