In Defense of the Individual

In Defense of The Competent Individual

A pervasive ideology of group-think and group-identity has been slowly infiltrating the college system in the West over the last 40 years and has finally made its way to the center of the political and social arena as a consequence.  The post-modernist philosophy that has fueled this is based on resentment of Western culture, a rejection of the importance of the individual (post-modernists believe essentially that all individuals are constructs of their society, especially their race, gender and sexuality). In other words, to the post-modernist, you are your race. You are your sexuality. You are your gender.  You are part of an identity group and all groups are in a struggle for power because of the existing dominance hierarchy. In other words, the entire world can be seen through the lens of the Oppressor vs. The Oppressed.   The result of this thinking has manifested itself all over the West.  Identity politics has taken center stage in the 21st Century political discourse, with various groups demanding that supposed existing power structures in societies be toppled by force. 

Us vs Them 

Surely dominance hierarchies do exist and they always will. (They will also exist within certain groups themselves which shows the futility of the post modernists attempts to take down the existing power structures.)  Humans are animals and all animals fight to find their place in the pecking order of life. However, the problem with seeing the world through the lens of US vs. THEM is that it is a poor philosophy to live a good life.  A problem with all ideologies is that, by adopting them exclusively, you are willingly sacrificing your ability to reason as an individual actor in the world.  Instead, you have opted to engage in the collective thinking of the group.  By engaging in group think you are likely to adopt a mob mentality, one that lacks reason, empathy and compassion.  The result of mob mentality is almost always violence.  Some post-modernists are okay with violence. In fact, some leftist politicians have even called for it. When mobs rule, regardless of the ideology, the rights of individuals will always be trampled.   Without the importance and protections placed on all individuals disaster occurs, even genocide.  This has been the case in Marxist countries and the atrocities have been well-documented.

Western culture is based around the idea that the individual has rights and those rights are not to be usurped regardless of what the majority of people believe.  In other words, the individual has value in the world and they must be protected by the law. It’s worth repeating that there are no “group” rights. There are only individual rights.  You have rights because you are a human being, not because you happen to be identified with a certain group.  Any time you hear the call for group rights or new laws to protect certain groups of people, you should be suspicious of the people making the demands.  What are their motives?  Who will suffer as a result of the new laws?  Who will benefit?  Whose rights are being favored over others? Another question to ask is, “What are you against?”  See, every political party and ideology says what they are for, but rarely do they say what they are against.  The reason is often that they are against other groups of people entirely.

However you may identify with a certain group, your potential as a human being is not determined by the categories in which you believe you fit. All individuals have nearly unlimited potential, being limited only by their unique characteristics and beliefs. By allowing yourself to identify as a group rather than an individual, I am suggesting that you are damaging your potential due to the rigidity of your beliefs.  You are not poor because someone else is rich.  You are not fat because someone else is fit. You are not depressed because someone else is happy.  Life is not arranged in such ways, although having a scapegoat may make you feel better. Labels create division and animosity between people.  It would be wise, before lumping people into certain “oppressor” or “oppressed” groups, to look at the individual situation pertaining to people. If someone has done well, it could very well be that they are competent, not that they were given something not earned.

The world runs because of competent individuals.  Regardless of whatever group you are identified with, the number one factor in regards to personal accomplishment is still competence.  Mastering a trade or skill, being effective in communication, and performing a duty that others see as valuable is the number one way to rise above in any social hierarchy that values the individual and individual accomplishment. Today, there is confusion between extremely competent people and the so-called “privilege”.  Groups of people are made to feel guilty because they were born with a certain skin tone or an XY chromosome, when in reality these people have no responsibility to make right the sins of their predecessors, whatever form those sins may have come. Personally, I think the attempt to label groups of people as “privileged” and suggest whatever success in life they have is solely a result of them being born into a certain group is atrocious.

  Competence and privilege should never be confused.  There are many people born into financial privilege who end up miserable, depressed failures.  Likewise, there are many people born into “under-privileged” groups that end up massively successful.  In the end, the greatest determining factor in how well a person does is his or her own personal philosophy and desire to achieve.  Social hierarchies do exist in the world, but aiming up and taking action is the best way to get ahead in them.  What I am really suggesting is that all this political discourse should be focussed around the protection of individual liberties, not mandating an equality of outcomes.  Should a student who earns A-plus grades be required to give some of their grade points to those who have not done as well so all can have the same grade?  Will that make us all feel better? That instead of celebrating someone who has done exceptional work, we can celebrate that all outcomes will be equal?  This is what the post-modernists want in truth.  They cleverly hide behind the false excuse that a white male dominated patriarchy has led to inequality in outcomes and if we could just eliminate this social hierarchy, everyone would have equal outcomes.  When in reality, if you look at other groups, the outcomes compared to others inside those groups are often unequal as well in regards to finance, education and other important markers in life.  

By demonizing certain groups, a philosophy of resentment takes hold in the minds of people.  Those who feel oppressed begin to resent anyone who they feel has more than them and blame them for the unfairness of life.  On the other hand, those who have been declared oppressors or privileged will begin to harbor resentment for those who call them such.  Thus the cycle of the politics of envy and resentment continues as groups are pitted against each other thanks to such ideologies.  The truth is that the competent individual is the one to be admired, because no one is quite like anyone else.  Each person is unique and cannot fit conveniently into whatever philosophical boxes that certain people would like.  Every person is a mixture of both good and evil, determination and laziness, compassion and indifference. If systems are rigged to limit opportunities, they should be fixed, but to fool ourselves into thinking that equal opportunity means equal outcomes is ridiculous.  Each person determines his or her own outcome based on their talents, intellect, physical attributes and competence.  All of these gifts vary from person to person, so outcomes will never be the same because people are not the same.  That is something to be celebrated—uniqueness.  Instead, groups of people tear each other apart in the street because they think the world is rigged, US vs. THEM.

We have seen where this ideology has led.  Let us not go down that path. 

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Diseases of the Workplace

What Kills a Business Culture?

Out of the top things that stress out people the most, work and finances are in the top three. The other is anxiety about the future, but I think most of that anxiety, if really investigated, could be traced back to unhappiness with work or finances. As a business owner and former employee of various industries, I have seen firsthand how stressful the workplace can be. In my experience, very few people are actually satisfied with their workplace and much of their dissatisfaction comes from the culture of the business itself. A business is really only made up of two things—people and a culture. Both affect each other. People create the culture, but the culture can change if people’s attitudes change or new people are brought into the culture. With that in mind, here are the biggest diseases that will destroy a business culture and lead to a decline in sales and happiness amongst staff.

Habituation—Do you remember what it was like to drive a car for the first time? Were you nervous? Did you check your mirrors multiple times and turn down the stereo so you could focus? When you first undertake something, a good amount of attention and action is required to perform the task. However, after we get used to doing an activity over and over, less effort is required. This is called habituation. Now, you may drive with one hand on the wheel, another on a cup of coffee while the stereo is blasting. What used to be hard and required intense focus is now somewhat easy and less focus is given. The problem is that over time, habituation can lead to a degradation of the quality of the business systems and culture.

Consider this—a new hire is likely to perform to his or her best ability and take an active interest in learning the job. After a while, however, as the employee becomes used to the job the attention to detail and willingness to learn and grow often decline. Whereas a new hire may go the extra mile to impress others, the employee who has been on the job a while will likely not be looking for an opportunity to go the extra mile. The new hire will pick up the dust ball in the corner because they see it does not belong. After time, the old employee will not even notice the dust ball. They have become habituated to the job.

“Not my job” disease—This may be the worst and most common of them all. I would venture to say every workplace I’ve ever been a part of has a fair share of employees who do not even try to help our their coworkers or employers because they consider a certain task to not be in their job description. Not only are these people not willing to go the extra mile to help out, they won’t even go the first mile. The person who only does the bare minimum to keep their job destroys the culture because the attitude is infectious. Soon, others will say the same thing. What these people do not realize is that a business is like a ship—if things are going well, the ship can hold extra personnel and cargo for a time. But, if things begin to turn downward, only the people who are absolutely necessary to the survival of the ship will be a part of the crew. Those who consistently refuse to go the extra mile to help out the crew will be among the first to be let go.

Staff doesn’t know the mission—Why does the business exist and what is the mission of the business? These two questions must be answered very clearly by the ownership and every single associate of the business must understand the answers so clearly that they can repeat the answers with confidence. If the staff does not understand why the business exists or what the mission is, they cannot be in alignment with it and that will lead to dysfunction in the systems and operations of the enterprise. You would be surprised how many employees do not know what their place of employment actually does or why it is important. Every single staff member must understand and believe in the mission of the company to create unity, harmony and a positive working culture. Without alignment on the mission, the business is doomed and the workplace culture will reflect that.

Lack of communication from all levels—Communication is key to any enterprise, relationship or any other undertaking. It’s vitally important that every person in an organization is able to properly communicate with other coworkers, management and ownership. So many organizations have staff that don’t speak to each other or even resent other individuals in the business. If there is a lack of communication in the workplace, basic functions of the organization will not be able to be carried out properly. Moreover, mistakes will not be caught or voiced to ensure that systems are put in place to keep the problems from occurring again.

Perhaps the most important reason for great communication is that people thrive when they feel they are a part of something special. They need to be reminded what the mission is, what needs to be done, how it should be done, who needs to do it and why it is important that tasks are accomplished. Much like a relationship, all parties need to feel like there is an open line of communication so that growth can occur, both for the individuals and the company as a while. Without it, employees will begin to resent the business and other staff and the business will suffer.

No focus on harmony—I’ve written previously about the importance of harmony in a relationship and a workplace. I’m a strong believer that harmony among all associates in a business is necessary for a happy workplace. If discord or animosity exists even among a few employees, it will quickly sweep through the entire organization like a virus. Soon, the happiest, most productive people will find themselves subject to the unhappy that comes with a lack of harmony. It should be that we all strive to work together with each other to achieve a common goal or mission. To do this, harmony is required. Watch out for people with negative mental attitudes. They will destroy a culture and kill a business. My advice would be to look closely at your own actions and beliefs to make sure that you are not the one guilty of a negative mental attitude. Hint: if you believe that everyone else at the job sucks except you, you’re probably the one guilty of spreading negativity and ruining the harmony in the workplace.

Not enough focus on growth—Nature requires growth from every living thing. If you are not growing, you are vulnerable. If a relationship is not growing, it’s declining. The same is true with business. If a business is not growing, it may as well be dying. Inflation and competition will eat away as a stagnant business until there is nothing left. Growth is required to thrive, and every associate in a business must understand this concept. Considerable attention must be given to acquiring new customers, not just keeping the ones you have. All growth comes from new customer acquisition and the future referrals from them. Growth focus looks like this: New Customer Acquisition—> Deliver Incredible Service—> Referrals. The cycle then repeats. If every associate is not focusing on this cycle there will be stagnation in the business and that will lead to dissatisfaction and disappointment in the workplace. People need to feel like the future is going to be better than the past. Progress equals happiness. Growth equals excitement and energy. Stagnation leads to boredom and a lack of care. The culture of a company must have a focus on growth in order to succeed.

“I’m the only good worker” disease—This belief is so common and so deadly in a workplace culture. In life, it’s easy to believe that we are all the stars of our own movie and every else in our life is just a supporting role. Although it may certainly feel like you are the “good guy” and everyone else isn’t the real star, this type of thinking can quickly lead to the belief that no one else cares, or that you are the only one who does a good job. If you think poorly of your co-workers, not only does this suggest a lack of harmony is present in your workplace, it also suggests that you have a negative attitude towards others. If you are truly the best worker in your business, your efforts should be to help everyone else where you are able, not speak poorly of them or their work ethic.   If you are a leader or an influencer in an organization, this is especially important. People should look to you for leadership and guidance on how to improve and be better. This will not happen, however, if you bash others as being inadequate or poor performers. Instead, they will come to resent you and that will lead to more discord in the workplace.

There you have it. There are, of course, other attitudes and behaviors that will destroy a workplace culture, but these are the most important to recognize and correct. At the end of the day, a workplace culture can be as great or as poor as the people who comprise it want it to be. If you want to be a part of an incredible workplace, make sure it does not suffer from the above listed problems. Moreover, make sure that you are not guilty of the attitudes listed.

Health is Wealth

The True Path to Riches

            In my journey through this life, I have had the pleasure of meeting thousands of people in many different industries and occupations. As I have progressed in business and expanded my dealings to include real estate and other investments, I have been very fortunate to meet many individuals with a very high net worth. In other words, they are what we call wealthy or rich. The knowledge that I’ve gained from the individuals is truly priceless when it comes to making money and dealing with the stresses of business. However, most of the conversations that I have with the wealthy people steer in a direction towards health and fitness. I would even venture to say that most of the time spent in conversation is me answering fitness and diet questions that they have. I find this interesting, because most of these people are much more financially successful than I am, but nevertheless I am the one giving advice. This has led me to an interesting conclusion: that true wealth lies in being fit and healthy.

Sure, money is important. To say that it’s not is to kid yourself. Nothing can replace money in the areas where money is concerned. Money is very important. But money can be replaced with more money. Most rich people have lost money in different investments only to earn it back later on. What are even more important than money are the things that cannot be replaced. Namely, health and time. The quality of life you have and the amount of time you have to live are by far the most important things in life. Being fit and healthy is the best way to ensure a high quality of life, as well as longevity. I’ve found that having a high level of fitness is also one best paths to self-satisfaction. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, if you are dissatisfied with your body or plagued with health problems, the quality of life will not be any greater than someone who has much less money and is perfectly healthy and athletic. A BMW or Ferrari or a mansion cannot replace a healthy, lean and toned body. Although, a lean and toned body in a Ferrari or BMW is mighty fine…

This leads me to my next point: the greatest investment you can possibly make is in your physical and emotional well being. I mention emotional because emotion comes from motion. By changing your physiology, you can dramatically alter your emotional well being. Studies show again and again that exercise is more effective than antidepressants and other drugs to promote an overall feeling of well being. I can personally testify that I cured my depression after being diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis by going to the gym and transforming my body through weight training. Now it’s a regular part of my life (almost daily) and I love it because it puts me in a great mood and makes me feel powerful as opposed to powerless against a disease. I train earlier in the day because I feel it sets me up for a good day. I’m able to deal with the stresses of life much better having already trained my body and elevated my mood. Being fit gives me a sense of power and control over my world. I don’t feel like life is happening to me, but rather that life is happening for me.

Of course, the other big factor in fitness and health is nutrition. Although I believe exercise is one of the most important things anyone can do to improve their life as a whole, diet is just as important. Because diet and nutrition are such a stigmatized subject and many people don’t like hearing or reading about it, I’ll keep it simple. There are foods and supplements that feed and nourish your body and there are foods and substances that harm it greatly. Your body is fueled by the nutrients you give it and your physical performance depends greatly on this fuel. Not giving the body proper nutrition is akin to making a bad financial investment over and over again without learning the lesson. I cannot even tell you how many “rich” people I have met that are severely overweight, out of shape and very unhealthy. You would think these people, who clearly have great knowledge of how to produce income in the marketplace through wise investments decisions, would understand the need to invest the body. Perhaps they do, which is why I get asked for training and nutrition advice so often by affluent people. But as we all know, it’s easy to understand something intellectually. It’s another thing to actually take and act on advice.

If you’re fit and healthy, congratulations! Stay on the path and live life to the fullest. If you are fit but haven’t quite made it in the marketplace yet, don’t worry. The wealth will come as long as you stay healthy and make good decisions. If you have affluence, but have failed to stay fit and healthy, remember this… there is only one true path to lasting wealth. And that, my friends, is to do whatever is in your power to achieve a healthy and active lifestyle.

Communication 101

There’s a popular book by John C Maxwell named Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. After reading it, and from my experience in the marketplace, nearly 15 years, I’m convinced that most people are not communicating well, although they think they are. In fact, I would break down all communication into three categories, which I will explain below. I believe that most people never truly make it beyond the first category. My belief is easily supported by the lack of harmony in the workplace, governments, and even in partnerships and marriages. Perhaps the hardest thing in life is to effectively communicate so that others not only understand what you are saying, but can logically and maybe even emotionally connect with what is said and take action. Let’s explore what I believe are the three levels of communication:

SAYING SOMETHING. This is the most basic level of communication. We all say things through speaking, writing, signing or some other form of communication. Unfortunately, much of what we say is not necessarily heard, read, or seen, and much less is fully understood by our intended recipients. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve asked a manager about some unfinished task or some other issue and was met with the reply, “I told him or her to do it…”. Therein lies the problem—just because something was said, does not mean that the message was understood well and acted upon. I believe most communication falls within this first category—things are said, memos are written, laws are signed, but they are not effectively communicated so that the recipient truly understands the message.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION. This level of communication occurs when a message is properly understood by the intended recipients and can be repeated back essentially verbatim to the person who originated the message. I rarely see this in relationships or companies anymore. We are so distracted by smart devices and screens in our cars, kitchens and even bathrooms that it is difficult to understand what is being communicated to us and even more difficult to understand the messages being conveyed. Moreover, often the message being communicated doesn’t effectively state why the intended recipient should pay attention to the message. Too often we ask people to do things without explaining exactly why it is important that they do it. Without a sense of importance, no message will be effectively communicated.

CONNECTION. This is the ideal in regards to communication. Connection goes beyond just speaking and effectively communicating, it creates an emotional response in the recipient that causes him or her to reflect on what is being said and possibly take action. Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Winston Churchill, Ayn Rand, Ralph W. Emerson and even Karl Marx and Hitler went beyond speaking to and communicating with people, they all connected with and influenced people on a high level. The ultimate goal of any leader is to connect with people. I believe this is the reason leadership is so difficult. It’s very difficult to actually connect with people on a high level. It’s easy to “say something” or even have your message understood. Connection is hard.

When you are speaking, writing or engaging in any form of communication, it may be useful to ask yourself, “What level of communication am I engaging in?” It could very well be that you think you are connecting with an audience, when in reality you are merely speaking, and what is being said is just as easily being ignored. It’s difficult to connect, especially in our very distracted world but connection is the key to building real relationships and creating massive action. Connection is the ideal when communicating, although it is rarely achieved. My suggestion would be to work on effectively communicating so that your recipients actually understand what you are saying and why you are saying it. Too many words are wasted nowadays. Don’t let your words be wasted as well!

Winning Friends, Influencing People

I am often asked what books or people influenced the most in my life. There are so many books, quotes, poems and stories that have changed my thinking and helped form me to become the person I am now. There are however only a few books that I return to almost every year when I feel that I need to review the lessons written on those pages. I just finished re-reading a classic by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been read by countless leaders and influencers over the past eight decades since it’s original publication. If you are looking for one of the most powerful and useful books ever written, read How to Win Friends and Influence People. The lessons are timeless and applicable no matter who you are. It is a textbook on how to communicate with others and influence others to your ways of thinking. At the end of each chapter is a recap about the lesson of that chapter. I have listed those principles below because I believe they may help others. For more in depth stories about how these principles have been used throughout history, you will have to read the book in its entirety. Enjoy… and take notes.

How to Influence Others
1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Making People Like You
1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
2. Smile.
3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound.
4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
6. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.

Win Others to Your Way of Thinking
1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong.”
3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
4. Begin in a friendly way.
5. Get the other person saying, “Yes, yes” immediately.
6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
8. Try to honestly see things from the other person’s perspective.
9. By sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.
10. Appeal to nobler motives.
11. Dramatize your ideas.
12. Throw down a challenge.

Be a Leader:
1. Change people without resentment
2. Begin with honest praise and appreciation.
3. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.
4. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
5. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
6. Let the other person save face.
7. Praise the slightest improvement and every improvement.
8. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
9. Use encouragement. Make the faults seem easy to correct.
10. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

Where Are You Going?

Know Where You Are Headed

I don’t know if you feel the same, but I’m sick of hearing that “life is a journey” and that “it’s about the journey, not the destination”.  These cliches do very little good for anyone and more that’s likely believing them can actually hold someone back from achievement.  I agree that it is important to be mindful of what you are experiencing in the moment and be grateful for the experiences we have in life, but I would argue that if life is a journey, all journeys should have a destination.  In other words, there should be a direction or a target in which you set out to reach or you will end up aimless and drifting though life.  In my experience, the majority of unhappy people are not unhappy because they failed to reach a goal or hit a target.  They are unhappy because they have no idea what they want, where they are headed and feel like they have no control over what is happening in their life.  In other words, if you don’t set a destination for your journey, life will happen TO YOU, not FOR YOU. 

While hitting targets and reaching goals is important for a sense of fulfillment and importance,  I would suggest the real power lies in setting the goal, not reaching it.  Making a decision about the direction your life is headed in shows yourself and others that you have agency in your own existence.  It’s not possible to always achieve every goal we set due to unforeseen circumstances that are outside our control.  But missing a target is much better for a sense of well being that having to target at all.  Aimlessness is a tragedy that will throw your life off track.  Having a sense of purpose and direction is vital to feeling alive and happy in my opinion. That is why we must be careful about internalizing platitudes that are perpetuated online if they allow us to rationalize away the fact that we have not decided what we want from life.  We have to decide what we ask from life.

I admit that it is difficult to know exactly what we want in life at all times.  This is especially true when we are young.  But having a general sense of what makes us happy and what type of life we would like is important.  If you have no idea what you want from life and your philosophy is that “you are just here to enjoy the ride” or some other similar philosophy, I can guarantee you that at the very least you will continually wonder what your purpose is and you will often be at the mercy of others who have a created a plan for their life.  Of course, plans change and destinations must be adjusted or postponed for external events- that’s just life.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up on setting goals and targets for ourselves.  These are essential for our well being.  If life is a truly a journey, it would do us all well to remember the final destination is death.  It is up to you to decide what destinations you’d like to see along the way before the journey ends. 

What Do You Have a Right To?

Enough About Your Rights

            This post will be short and may sound like a rant, but I feel the need to clarify the difference between actual “rights” and things people wish they had. In today’s social media environment, there are so many millions who like to say that they have a “right” to free education, a “right” to free healthcare, a “right” to a certain income. These are not rights. These are wants. No one has a right to ask something to be free while others are paying for the service. In fact, there are only a few rights that exist to humans. Among them are the right to life, liberty and property. That’s it!

This means that you have a right to your life—no one else has a claim on it. You have a right to own property, which comes from the fact that you own your body and what your body produces via work in the marketplace. Lastly, you have the right to liberty, meaning that no one else has a right to initiate violence or aggression against you, nor do you have a right to do so to anyone else. Liberty means that so long as you are not violating another person’s life or property, or initiating aggression against another, you are essentially free to go about your business. These are really the only rights that exist for all humans. Just as you have no right to a free car, because you would be violating someone else’s property and liberty by taking one, you also do not have a right to free college (because someone would have to pay to service your education—a violation of their property, their money and time). The same goes for health care. As long as someone is spending time and energy to service your health care, they must be compensated. You do not have a right to ask others to pay for what you are receiving. That would be a violation of their property, their money. You have no right to a “universal income” without producing valuable work to earn income. Even if the government is paying, other individuals are truly the ones on the hook for what the government spends.

I apologize if this all sounds harsh. You may have been told you have endless rights to many things. Much of this is due to that fact that the government is engaged in other activities and spending on programs besides concerning itself with protecting your liberty and property. Government should exist to protect your rights and that’s it. You do have rights after all. You have the right liberty, life and property. You have the right to not have others violate your rights. You do not have a right to violate other’s life, liberty or property. You do not have the right to ask for a product or service for free, because someone must spend their labor and money to support that product or service, so asking it for free would be a violation of their rights. It’s also worth noting that groups do not have rights, only individuals have rights. You do not have special rights because you identify with a certain group of people. Nor do you have fewer rights because you’re a part of a group. We all have the same rights—life, liberty and property.

In Liberty,

Sean