Hustling in the Margins

For two years at the end of my graduate school career, I was borderline obsessed with work. I had relatively strict wake-up times set for myself. When the alarm went off in the morning, I would head straight to the computer and start tackling items from my to-do list that mainly involved writing.

My goal at the time was simple – get my writing to as many places as possible.

I was sending out pitch after pitch to various publications. In a normal week, I might submit 2-3 articles on top of also writing a handful of posts for my blog. At the end of each month, I would organize all of the submitted projects into a spreadsheet where I could track performance and keep an eye on payment for my work.

It was terribly exhausting and energizing at the same time.

I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a side project in their back pocket that keeps them excited and gives them something to work on and develop outside of their normal 9-5. It fuels the fire and creates a desire to do/learn/achieve more. For many, the side project could be practicing their dream job until they’re good enough to earn a full-time living from it. But, a side project doesn’t have to be about making money nor does it have to be something you intend on doing full-time. It could be about injecting some good into the world through starting a charity or just perfecting a skill that you’ve always wanted to learn.

The guidelines are loose, but the goal is clear: find something that gets you excited.

Trial and Error

I was fortunate to find that something largely by accident. I was reading through fitness blogs and thought to myself “I could probably do that.” For others, that something is hard to come by. The only way to figure out what you love to do is by doing a lot of different things. Experiment, read, interview others.

When I was in college, I spent the first few months of my senior year working in the Strength and Conditioning Department at the University of Florida. I had the opportunity to work with collegiate sports teams and help program their workouts. I also had the exciting opportunity to clean every piece of machinery in that gym.

I hated it.

After about a month and a half, I quit. My supervisor was noticeably angry with me (I would surmise because he had no one to clean equipment now), but I didn’t care. I didn’t know much at the time, but I did know life was far too short to do something you hated every day.

Prior to that experience, being a Strength and Conditioning coach was my dream job. If I didn’t give it a try that semester, I would have moved hopelessly down a path that I would ultimately hate in the future.

No one is born with their passion stapled to their forehead. So, the solution is trial and error. The problem is that we’re so afraid of the “error” part that we avoid the “trial” in the first place.

If you think your passion is drawing, take 30 minutes each day to draw. If you think it’s playing guitar, buy a cheap guitar from a pawn shop and strum it a few times a week. The same goes for photography, baking, or anything else. The key is to work with what you have, not to acquire what you think you’ll need to get started. As Austin Kleon put it in his book Steal Like an Artist:

Don’t make excuses for not working—make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.

Protect Your Passion

At some point, you’re going to stumble across something that you’ll be hooked on. You’ll find yourself spending extra time during your day reading/learning/practicing that thing. Everything else in your day will just be an obstacle that gets in the way.

Once you find that something, work on it whenever you can. I’m a big believer in working in the mornings since you can invest your energy into something you love. To quote Micah Baldwin:

If the first thing you do in the morning isn’t 100% for you, selfishly, then the rest of your day will be spent not doing anything for you.

The key is to treat it as something important. Once you find that thing, protect it ferociously from the rest of your day. Block off time to work on your passion project. Turn off your phone. Turn off your WI-FI. Do whatever you can to focus solely on getting better at what you love to do.

Share With Others

Once you’ve found that thing you love to do, open up to others. Let them know what you’re working on and how you even managed to find a passion at all.

When someone starts talking to you about what they’re really excited about, it jars you. It’s not normal. People aren’t normally that excited about any part of their day. The excitement disrupts the normal ebb and flow that occurs in conversation.

That disruption can spur action in others. Maybe the person you’re talking to has wanted to pursue another project but has been to scared/lazy to take the next step. Hearing how you’ve invested your time and built something you’re proud of can inspire others to do the same.

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” —Annie Dillard

Having a passion or “hustling in the margins”1 shouldn’t be about the output. It should be about the input. What does this activity give to you? In some cases, the passion directly translates to an increase in income or an increase in production like when you’re building an app in your free time. Other times, you might not produce a damn thing, but production isn’t the point. Investing your time in something you do is the point.

1. The phrase “Hustling in the Margins” is borrowed from this episode of Beyond the To-Do List.

Make Personal Training Work for You

In a previous life, I spent nearly every waking moment in a gym helping clients to get healthier. I was investing all of the energy and time I could muster up in order to help them lose weight and get their life back. Although they were paying money (and quite a bit of it), I would say that 90% of my clients weren’t putting forth the same amount of effort. They weren’t getting nearly the full amount out of their training sessions. That inspired me to write this post for DailyBurn. Here’s the intro:

Personal trainers offer a wealth of information ranging from topics like exercise technique and programming to healthy lifestyle choices (like not keeping Oreos in your pantry). That information appears to be valuable as 6.4 million Americans are working with a trainer. Still, 47 percent of clients only stick around for one to two years max. Since supervised workouts have been shown to boost results, why are so many people ditching their trainer so fast? Maybe it’s cost; personal training definitely isn’t cheap — ranging from $30 to $100 per hour on average. Or maybe it’s that most clients don’t see the value, or they don’t fully cash in on their paid workout sessions. To get the most out of your training sessions and truly “level up” on your fitness knowledge, don’t pay another cent before reading these four tips.

You can read the full post here.

Vivofit Review

Garmin Vivofit

I’ve reviewed several fitness trackers for DailyBurn, but I haven’t been too impressed by any of them so far (Atlas may be the exception). The Vivofit definitely left me impressed. One thing I really hate is constantly having to recharge batteries for my devices. With a one-year battery life, Garmin finally released a fitness tracker that can keep up with your active lifestyle without needing to be charged every week.

You can read my full review here.

Your Words Matter

Jeff Goins wrote a tremendous blog post detailing one of the biggest struggles for writers and bloggers:

Most writers struggle with the same thing. It’s one little thought that threatens to destroy their message before it ever leaves their fingertips:

What I say doesn’t matter.

I’ve struggled with this many times over the past few years, wondering why I even take the time to post content here on my blog when maybe only a handful of people will ever read the words. Then, I remind myself of two things:

Writing is for you.

It’s not all about the audience. Regardless of whether you’re trying to build a large following or just keep your family up-to-date with photos of your kid’s latest antics, writing and blogging can be intended for you, the writer. I’m a firm believer that everyone should write. There’s a lot to learn from sharing your experiences with others. You can reminisce about the past, bringing old memories to life or reflect on past decisions, weighing the pro’s and the con’s. Whatever you’re sharing, the process of writing or typing out your thoughts makes you think about them more. Everyone can benefit from that.

Shooting for one.

When I sit down to share something or write a blog post, I never hope to inspire millions by clicking publish. Instead, I shoot to influence one person. If one person reads something from me and is inspired to take action, I have achieved success. The thought is that one person could inspire another person, who inspires another, and so on. All of the sudden, a few words have inspired a handful of individuals to do something they otherwise may not have done.

Writing Routine

One of my main goals throughout all of 2014 is to improve my writing. I started back in 2011 as an outlet to share some fitness ideas and knowledge that I was attaining through my own research and working with clients. Eventually, it spawned into something bigger, allowing me to freelance quite a bit in 2012-2013. Despite writing a few hundred words on most days for other publications during those years, the amount that I write has tailed off quite a bit recently. As a result, I feel rusty.

I recently stumbled across my notes from Talent is Overrated, wherein Geoffrey Colvin covers five key elements that define deliberate practice. I started thinking about how I could apply those elements to my writing habit to improve on a daily basis. Here are my thoughts so far and how I’m planning on integrating the key elements into my writing routine:

Designed Specifically to Improve Performance

This was perhaps the hardest element to address within my writing habit. One of the main reasons I enjoy writing and blogging is that I find it fun and enjoyable. As a result, much of my writing is off the cuff, particularly on this blog. That’s not really going to change as I view this blog as a personal outlet, not a professional piece of work that I want to scrutinize over. However, I am taking a new approach to my freelance writing.

Previously, much of my freelance pieces started off the cuff as well. I would have a topic in mind and a rough idea of how I wanted to structure the piece. Then, I’d sit down and start writing. Initially, the piece would be terrible. But, over time, it would shape into something that was suitable for public consumption. However, recently, I’ve begun to put a lot more effort into the planning stages. Stealing some of Austin Kleon’s advice for creative professionals, I’ve begun to start each piece in a notebook. I take 30-40 minutes to write down every piece of information I want to convey in the article. I draw, annotate, scratch out, and scribble my thoughts as fast as possible. I make a point during this phase not to touch my computer. I don’t want to take any time to look anything up online. This serves mainly as a brain dump to get everything on paper. Then, I take that paper and rearrange the topics into a semi-coherent format. That’s allowed me to jump into writing with a better idea of what I want to say.

Another way I’m attempting to improve is by reading the work of others. This is a pretty obvious technique – read the work of writers you enjoy to hopefully adopt some pearls of genius from their words. Lately, I’ve been taking it a step further, stealing an approach from Ben Franklin. In order to improve his writing, Franklin famously would rewrite essays from writers he enjoyed. Then, he would cut out the sentences and scramble them up. After a little while, he would attempt to rearrange the slips of paper back into the “correct” order. In doing this, he hoped to learn how to structure sentences and thoughts in the best way possible.

I’m not going that far, but I have made it a point to slow down when I’m reading and take a deeper look at the intricacies of a post/article (sentence structure, organization, etc) rather than just getting a sense of the general idea.

It can be repeated a lot

I’m a firm believer in the idea that writing and creative adventures are like a muscle; they respond and improve after being worked. As a result, I’ve been making a point to use them as much as possible. This includes writing on a daily basis (goal is 500 words) and flexing my idea muscles as much as possible.

Lately, I’ve been carrying around a small pocket journal and making myself write down as many ideas as I can come up with on a daily basis. This includes pitches for freelance articles, blog posts, and the occasional business idea. To quote James Altucher:

Every day I wake up and write down ten ideas. I’m a firm believe the only way to have good ideas is to every day exercise the idea muscle.

Feedback on results is continuously available

Feedback for blog posts is available in the form of shares, views, and comments. However, I don’t think those elements really reflect accurate and thoughtful feedback. As a result, I’m starting to ask specific individuals that I look up to writing-wise for specific feedback on a piece. Rather than just passing off the article and asking for overall thoughts, I accompany the piece with specific directions. “Do you think I communicated XYZ clearly enough?” “Does the ordering make sense or could it be improved?” This type of direct feedback on specific elements helps to get another opinion on my writing.

It’s highly demanding mentally AND it isn’t much fun

I wrapped these two elements into one as I think they are similar in practice. The truth is writing can really suck at certain times. While I do enjoy it, some days at the computer are an absolute drag. It seems like I’ll never be able to put together a coherent sentence that anyone else would want to read. This type of day exists in any profession or hobby. I remember when I was racing competitively, there would be days where I would go out on a run and feel absolutely terrible. My legs would feel like jello, and I would feel like I had absolutely no energy in my body. Those days were the worst. I have days exactly like that in front of the computer screen.

There isn’t a magical solution or strategy that will make writing fun and productive at any and all points. The key is to push through the terrible days so that you can enjoy the good days. So, I don’t have a strategy here other than just writing on a daily basis.

Get Fit in Half the Time

Fact: Most individuals waste a ton of time in the gym. Then, they complain about not having time to workout. Recently, I had an article go up on the Huffington Post that I had previously written for DailyBurn.

Don’t have time for the gym? You’re probably not the only one. Lack of time is one of the top reasons most individuals skip out on their sweat session. Despite the numerous benefits like reduced stress and improved mood, workouts often get moved to the back burner, replaced by chores and errands. Between packing a bag, driving to the gym and actually getting moving, workouts seem to take a large chunk of time. But with the proper tactics, it’s more than possible to get an effective workout in a short amount of time. Rather than skipping out on a workout when running short on time, use the following tips to get in and out of the gym in 45 minutes or less.

That’s right – 45 minutes or less. Read the tips here.

Professional Amatuer

My goal is to be the dumbest person in the room.

In Portland recently, I grabbed some beers with Nate Green, a writer and fitness leader that I respect. We were talking about the fitness industry as a whole and discussing why we both decided to leave personal training. Nate currently works for Precision Nutrition as their marketing and ideas guy. I took the career switch in a different way entirely and hopped on board at Automattic.

Nate was asking me why I felt the need to leave the fitness industry entirely. Why not just work in corporate fitness or for a fitness company of some sort doing something other than personal training? After all, that would have gotten me out of a commission-based income while still keeping me in a field that I really do enjoy. My answer was that I needed to feel like the dumbest person in the room again.

That seemed a bit cliché. Everyone uses the phrase “dumbest person in the room” to describe the benefit of consistently being surrounded by smarter individuals. But, I think it means far more than being the person with the least amount of knowledge or experience.

I worked in the fitness industry for seven years, which isn’t too long at all. There certainly are thousands upon thousands of trainers that have worked in the industry for 20+ years. I was fortunate during those seven years to meet and work with some truly outstanding folks. I was also able to travel to quite a few conferences and listen to the top minds in the field discuss up and coming topics.

One day, I remember sitting in a small conference room listening to someone else give a presentation. The topic of the talk was surrounding how to assist your clients through the weight loss process. The talk definitely wasn’t high level. Most of the trainers in the room were very familiar with the information on the slides.

During that presentation, I found myself completely disengaged from the presenter. Rather than listening to him speak, I was thinking inside my own head about how I would do it better or why I would do it differently. It was almost like I was waiting for a slight break or a question session so I could prove how much smarter I was than him.

This desire to show-up your colleagues isn’t just present in the fitness industry. I just used it as an example.

I know I wasn’t the only one that felt the need to demonstrate how smart I was that day. In a field like fitness, part of the road to success is to build a name and a reputation for yourself. Ergo, there’s a drive for trainers to prove that they know more than their colleagues.

What a shitty mindset.

The “Dumbest Person” Mentality

Part of my drive to switch careers was propelled by my desire to feel like I didn’t know it all again. The know-it-all mentality isn’t good for anyone. It shortchanges the industry because there’s less constructive conversation. It shortchanges you as an individual because you’re too immersed in your own awesomeness that you fail to consider the valuable additions of others. It shortchanges your clients and customers because your product/service may fail to improve.

It’s easy to misinterpret the “dumbest person” advice to mean you have to be the individual with the least amount of experience or knowledge in the room/company. To me, it doesn’t mean that at all. Instead, it means:

You’re open to change. You’re open to the idea that perhaps your way isn’t the right way 100% of the time.

You listen to others. They probably have something valuable to say that you may not have thought of.

You’re constantly learning. Mastery isn’t the goal. Constant improvement is.

You recognize the importance of a team. You aren’t the most important person in your career field or industry. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice personal pride for the benefit of the group and to put out a better product.

You definitely do not have to switch career fields to experience this mindset, and like I said before, it has absolutely nothing to do with intelligence. It just requires a different, unselfish way of thinking.

Writing is For Everyone

Writing forces you to think about the subject more critically. Because writing is so personal, the connections you forge with the topic are deeper. It can help you cement a position on a topic (even when you think you didn’t have one). That can lead to ‘ah-ha’ moments,and those moments are the ones we are constantly in search of.

This was an awesome piece on the Ooomf blog discussing the major benefits of writing and why anyone and everyone should write in some fashion. When I talk about writing or blogging to many of my close friends, they definitely don’t “get it”. Why on earth would someone spend so much of their time in front of a computer composing words that few individuals are ever going to read? The answer is that writing is more for me than it is for anyone else. I find the process of writing to be very relaxing and helpful when I’m trying to work out the solution to a problem or solidify my thoughts on a particular topic.

As the article mentions, I think everyone should write in some fashion or another even if it’s just to journal in your Day One app.

You can read the full post here.

March 2014 Review

I’ve always found it helpful to do a short review at the end of a month to recap all that I was able to get accomplished and to look forward to what I’m going to work on next month. It helps to put things into perspective and highlight where I fell short and where I excelled. My main goal in March was to read for 30 minutes a day. While I started out the month wonderfully, I ended up slowing down a bit towards the end of the month. According to my Lift app, I managed to read 17/31 days during the month, which is just over half of the time. Here are some books I got into:

Show Your Work (Austin Kleon)

Steal Like and Artist (Austin Kleon)

10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said (Charles Wheelan)

I would highly recommend each of those books. Wheelan’s book is terrific for any recent or soon-to-be college grad. Kleon’s books are mainly for those that work in the creative field, although that’s not mandatory.

As for articles published, March was a slow month. However, I have a few awesome pieces in the pipeline that I’m hoping will be published soon.

So, what’s up next for April? One of my big focuses is going to be on meditation with the help of the Headspace app. I’ve never meditated before in my life (that I remember) so this should be interesting. We’ll see how it goes!