Do you know what you value? Prove it by using that knowledge to say 'no' to great opportunities that would otherwise create a conflict of interest.
A tiny mountain of sand stood in my path, created by a community of ants who probably spent years of their life (days of mine) constructing a tunnel into the Earth. The thought of placing my foot down felt wrong and selfish.
I do a lot of thinking. I take every idle opportunity to think deeply and consider what I should or should not be doing.
When I'm walking around and looking down at the ground with a blank state of mind, I'm thinking about where I want to place my foot next, what spot makes the most sense.
The other day while I was walking to the train station, I approached a puddle in the road and found two doves sipping from the waters' edge. They began scuttling away as soon as I approached, keeping an equal distance from me with each step I took forward.
Doves have always struck me as an odd creature, more relaxed, as if they love not flying, as if they'd rather not be bothered to needlessly expend energy if they can avoid doing so.
It was then that I realized I had a choice: I could walk to the right of the puddle (closer to the doves) and they would surely feel outpaced and take flight, or I could walk to the left and they would remain on the ground, at ease with my distance.
So which way should I go, left or right?
In the end, either choice would take me to exactly the same place on the other side of the puddle, but it was obvious to me that one of those two choices would have would have a drastically different effect on the world around me.
If I felt a sense of entitlement--if I felt that my being born as a human gave me some inalienable right over all other life--then I might not care which direction I stepped; I'd feel entitled to do whatever I wanted.
But the simplistic notion that all life resides somewhere on a food chain, and that anything below your spot on the food chain is somehow worthy of less respect, is ignorant to say the least.
Life is more than a hierarchical order of things.
Carrying the Best Intentions
My friend Niall Doherty--not to pick on him, but because he recently wrote something that helped me learn more about myself--quit being vegan after two years of sticking with it, siting serious doubts around the three arguments that initially led him to the vegan lifestyle.
Reading through his doubts I quickly realized why I've always found myself drawn to veganism: it's not about the effect my diet has on the environment, or about avoiding any needless killing, or even about taking care of my own health.
For me, those things are just practical and logical bonuses on top of the real reason that I gravitate towards veganism.
It's the same reason why, when given a choice, I avoid stepping on an ant or scaring away the doves: my actions, no matter how trivial they may seem, affect the world around me and, as the one responsible for my actions, I have a duty to ensure that my actions carry the best intentions.
How many people do you know who wouldn't tense up or put their foot over the brake when a squirrel or any other small animal runs in front of their moving vehicle? A small animal poses absolutely no threat to the person inside the vehicle, and yet we risk danger to ourselves by slamming on the brakes or swerving on the road.
When our subconscious is presented with a choice between life and death we instinctively choose the action that preserves life, because non-violence is an integral part of human nature.
While all life has meaning, purpose, and value, a human existence grants me something unique to the animal kingdom: the ability to make conscious choices based on rational and empathetic thinking.
Because I'm human, I can choose left or right based on conscious thought.
Because I'm human, I can look at the world around me and ask myself how my small, seemingly insignificant actions today will affect the bigger picture tomorrow.
I'm able to think about how my actions are going to affect not only me, but how they're going to affect everything around me, and not just for today or tomorrow but for generations to come.
No other species on this planet can make such conscious and globally empathetic decisions. No other species can consciously recognize that its actions may be copied by others and therefore amplified to create change on a greater scale.
Setting a 'good' example that I would want others to follow is important to me, but so is feeling good about the choices that I make. Making choices that I'd want others to follow, it just so happens, usually leads to choices that make me feel good too.
I doubt that anyone saw my instantaneous decision to walk left around the puddle, but it felt good, just like stepping over the mountain of sand and choosing to eat plants instead of animals.
Perhaps I think this way because of an innate understanding that what affects everyone and everything around me eventually ends up affecting me too.
Globally Conscious Personal Choices
Earth is an ecosystem, a community of life, and we're all born with an innate understanding that what affects the community eventually affects us too.
Good choices, then, are those that are not only good for us, but also good for the community.
For most of human history, our community has consisted of a few hundred people, or a few thousand at most. Today we're living in a global community of more than 7 billion people, a community where what we buy, what we eat, and what we choose to do with our time has a measurable affect on all corners of the globe.
It's not enough to just think globally. We must also live globally and that means making globally conscious personal choices, choices that are made while being conscious and informed of how those choices will affect everyone else.
If everyone on the planet copied your personal choices would that be good or bad for the global community?
A few years ago, on a hot summer day outside a cafe in Los Angeles, California, I met Lynn Fang1 in person for the first time and, after a stream of increasingly existential questions and cautious probes into each others thoughts on the existence of extraterrestrials (a stream dotted with moments of awkward silence), we found ourselves coining the term, and discussing the concept of, lifestyle support, the idea that people should be so transparent in their lives (online and offline) that their lifestyle would be an incentive for others to support their work.
By being honest and open about how we live, we can give the people who gravitate towards us (or who work with us by matter of happenstance) the ability to make a conscious decision about whether or not they want to support our lifestyle by paying for our work and doing business with us.
I had mostly forgotten about this discussion with Lynn until a few weeks ago when my friend Ali Dark2 recommended that I read Breaking the Time Barrier3, a free ebook for anyone recognizing that selling your time--one hour for X dollars--eventually creates a barrier to earning more income.
I’m not a collection of hours,” Karen said. “I’m the accumulation of all my skills and talents. I’m wisdom and creativity. I’ve stopped seeing myself as a punch card. My clients don’t see me that way either. Yes, sometimes, I’ve had to change my client’s mind-set. But it starts with me, first, just as it starts with you. You have to forget selling time. The best thing you could do for yourself is to get the concept of time out of your head.”
a value-based approach to pricing your services is a powerful way to break through the time barrier.
The book shares an empowering perspective and I highly recommend it. It's a quick and fun read that uses storytelling to convey knowledge.
While I found myself nodding in agreement to most the book, there was something on page 27 that caught my attention and reminded me of the meeting with Lynn a few years earlier:
"Should a client be asked which lifestyle they want to support?”
I believe the answer should be 'yes'. I believe that people should ask themselves what kinds of lifestyles they want to support. They should buy products and work with people who are in alignment with the values that lead to the lifestyles they agree with.
I don't believe in the lifestyles of "the rich and famous", the owning of multiple mansions, yachts, and private airplanes. I wouldn't want to work with people who follow those lifestyles or even seek them out. I wouldn't want to pay them money or buy products or services from them because doing so would be a vote for their lifestyle, a vote that says I agree to help support such a lifestyle (or the pursuit of such a lifestyle).
I realize, as I type this on my MacBook Air, that in today's world of monolithic corporations it's hard to know what lifestyles you may be supporting by buying certain products or services.
But corporations are nothing more than a big collection of people, so we can start there. If we start with the people first, then we have to start with ourselves.
Is the lifestyle of the people you do business with important? Absolutely.
Your act of doing business with someone else helps to support whatever lifestyle they lead. If they're not leading a lifestyle that you agree with--if your values and their values are not at least somewhat in alignment--then supporting their lifestyle will violate your own values by supporting opposing ones.
If someone else believes in the lifestyle you lead--if someone believes in the values that drive your lifestyle and the values that influence the choices you make both personally and professionally--then they will want to see more of those choices made in the world and that will be a big incentive for them to support you.
The more I think about this, the more I realize that lifestyle support goes way beyond business transactions. The emotional support you give others--spending time with them, meeting them for lunch, agreeing to attend parties, etc.--supports their lifestyle too. And perhaps that's why I'm so selective with my time and so careful about who I relate with.
The term "guilty by association" is usually used in the context of a criminal act, but when it comes to your lifestyle, you really are guilty by association. Your actions say a lot about your lifestyle and that in turn says a lot about what you believe and what you value, which in turn says a lot about you.
I met up with Lynn Fang after connecting with her online because I felt that we held a lot of the same values. I stayed with my friend Ali in Australia for a few weeks last year for the same reason.
The Internet opens the world up to us and lets us find people with similar values and similar belief systems, but we need to be transparent and open about who we really are for them to find us. Connecting with such people and openly sharing ideas and thoughts leads to discussions like the one I had with Lynn, which in turn leads to the development and sharing of more ideas and more discussions, thereby making the world a better place.
If you believe something--if you hold certain values close to your heart--then ask yourself if you're associating with and supporting people who hold similar beliefs. Ask yourself if you're leading a lifestyle that reflects what you truly believe.
Congruency is compatibility, agreement, and harmony. If we're living in congruence with ourselves, then our actions are in harmony with our beliefs. Things we want to see in others, we consciously strive to exude from ourselves. Our actions reflect a commitment to our values.
If we’re not living in congruence with ourselves, then we will say one thing but do another. We will seek things in others that we ourselves fail to strive for.
I’m always looking for ways in which my actions are not congruent with my beliefs. I ask myself, am I acting the same way I would want others to act? Am I making choices that I would want others to make?
I recently realized that my Journal offering — a $7/month subscription — was not in alignment with what I look for in other subscriptions, nor was it compatible with the way that I make monetary contributions to others.
Recognizing this, I’ve made a few changes to the Journal that are going into effect as of today.
There are now monthly and yearly subscription options, along with a one-time donation page. If you make a one-time donation of at least $7, you automatically receive access to the Journal; the duration of access is determined by the amount of your donation.
For the monthly and yearly subscriptions, the minimums are $7 and $40 respectively, but those amounts can be adjusted as long as they remain above the minimums.
Of course you can choose to do nothing and keep your current monthly subscription. However, you now have the option to switch to the yearly subscription, or cancel your recurring subscription and make a one-time donation. Whatever you decide, I’m very grateful for your support. 🙂
So far this year I’ve made monetary contributions to [person requested name be removed], Joy Holland, Sui Solitare, Lynn Fang, Niall Doherty, Thom Chambers, Ando Perez, and Earl Baron, along with several other donations to small independent software developers.
In each case, I might not have made the contribution if I wasn’t able to choose the amount of my subscription or if I wasn’t able to make a one-time contribution.
The freedom to choose, I realized, is quite important to me. I also realized that despite its importance in my life, I wasn’t holding myself to the same standard.
The options for subscribing to my Journal have been, until now, quite limited: you could subscribe for $7/month or not at all. Even the donation button was removed from my site in early 2011.
However, with these new options in place my offering now feels congruent with the rest of my life; I’m now presenting things in way that I would want to see if I visited a site and felt the desire to make a monetary contribution.
Do you have any thoughts on living in congruence with yourself, or on the power of choice? Is there anything in particular that you wish you saw more of, whether from me or from others that you follow?
Amit Sonawane writes about a letter received by Ayn Rand:
To say 'I love you' one must first know how to say the 'I'.
Rand responded with the following letter.
(Source: Little Big Book Of Life)
May 22, 1948
Dear Ms. Rondeau:
You asked me to explain the meaning of my sentence in The Fountainhead: "To say 'I love you' one must first know how to say the 'I."
The meaning of that sentence is contained in the whole of The Fountainhead. And it is stated right in the speech on page 400 from which you took the sentence. The meaning of the "I" is an independent, self-sufficient entity that does not exist for the sake of any other person.
A person who exists only for the sake of his loved one is not an independent entity, but a spiritual parasite. The love of a parasite is worth nothing.
The usual (and very vicious) nonsense preached on the subject of love claims that love is self-sacrifice. A man's self is his spirit. If one sacrifices his spirit, who or what is left to feel the love? True love is profoundly selfish, in the noblest meaning of the word — it is an expression of one's highest values. When a person is in love, he seeks his own happiness — and not his sacrifice to the loved one. And the loved one would be a monster if she wanted or expected such sacrifice.
Any person who wants to live for others — for one sweetheart or for the whole of mankind — is a selfless nonentity. An independent "I" is a person who exists for his own sake. Such a person does not make any vicious pretense of self-sacrifice and does not demand it from the person he loves. Which is the only way to be in love and the only form of a self-respecting relationship between two people.
This is a lesson that took me many years (and a few relationships) to learn, but it's a lesson so incredibly important that I felt compelled to share this note here.
It's so easy to lose ourselves -- to neglect ourselves -- in the name of love or selflessness. The greatest gift we can give the world is to embrace who we are, thoroughly and without reservation. Until we do that, our gifts are a cheap excuse for mediocrity.
I've long resisted using social media in a way that didn't match how I socialized offline (which is to say, not very much). Despite all the online advice telling me I needed to be heavily involved in social media to grow online, I've refrained from this because it didn't feel true to my core.
This bit from a recent letter by Thom Chambers, How to be Antisocial and Become a Better Writer (subscription required), explains succinctly what I felt intuitively:
Your business is your chance to create your very own utopia, your ideal lifestyle. When it comes to your writing, it’s far more honest to have a setup that you want to maintain indefinitely. If you were a best-selling author, would you tweet?
The answer to that may be "yes", in which case great. But if you’re just putting on a facade of sociability in order to build an audience, then two things will happen. One, you’ll build the wrong sort of readership who come to expect you to be someone you don’t enjoy being. And two, you’ll probably get found out.
Being antisocial might very well mean it takes longer to get where you want to go. But at least you’ll end up at the right destination.
A few weeks ago I was approached with a job offer. I turned it down. That's not to say I didn't need the work. Money was very tight and there was no income in sight. I had maybe a hundred dollars in the bank and I needed every job I could get.
In fact, I had been browsing the "gigs" section of CraigsList to see if there were any easy manual labor jobs that I could do. I'd even thought of applying at Starbucks or the grocery store.
Sure, working a "normal job" wouldn't be interesting or challenging, but it would give me a consistent income and allow me to continue working towards my real income goals (to earn a simple living through my writing).
Since quitting my job almost two years ago, I've been using my technology skills to earn income through accepting any freelance work that comes my way. While the work is generally easy and pays very well, it is in no way consistent.
And that's no surprise because I've been relying entirely on word-of-mouth referrals. I refuse to market my services because that's not the direction I want to invest my time. I want to earn a living through my writing, not through my tech skills.
So when a client asked to hire me on a monthly retainer basis, it sounded like a good fit. The work was relatively straight-forward and it would give me a regular income.
But there was a catch: The client worked for a global network of non-profit organizations whose mission was the opposition of civilian militarization.
In a Skype call the client warned me I might be watched and questioned by the FBI. I would be helping manage the organization's servers and if I was pressured by the government, the organization needed to know that I was "on their side".
On their side? I don't pick sides.
But I needed this job.
What if I did some quick introspection and picked a side so I could get this job and return to focusing on my writing? What if I quickly figured out what my beliefs were and dealt with the repercussions later?
These thoughts felt wrong. They felt alien, like little monsters quietly being directed by a greedy overlord. I knew that intelligent decisions were never made by greed, so I put off making a decision to distance myself from the whole situation for at least a day.
During this time, a friend stepped in and reminded me that I don't compromise my values for anything. She knew me as that person. She knew me as someone who doesn't bend their values just because the circumstances call for it. And she was right.
That was the reminder I needed to gain clarity.
I emailed the client and politely turned down his offer. I wouldn't compromise. I'd rather live homeless on the street than bend my values to greed. If I was meant to have money, the universe would find another way.
So I turned my focus back to making a living with my writing. I knew it wasn't realistic to expect overnight success once I put out an offering, but I had to get started. I had to keep moving forward.
I had my first offer in mind, a monthly subscription to my Journal, and I just needed to work out the technical details.
Instead of outsourcing the distribution of my writing to services like Letter.ly or MailChimp, I wanted to publish everything on my site and simply hide it from the public until I decided to release it (as part of my income ethics, I'm releasing all paid-work within one year of its publication).
I also wanted to keep the entire payment process on my site and leave room for growth when I start offering other products.
I looked around the web for a WordPress plugin that I could use and after a bit of searching, I found a plugin called s2Member, provided by a company called WebSharks.
The free version had everything I needed to get started and the Pro version, which cost $69, had all the features that would allow me to grow with my paid offerings.
Community involvement is a big thing that I look for when choosing software. I like to know that lots of people are using the software and that any future bugs will be addressed. The s2Member community forum was very active, so I registered for a free account.
A note on the registration page caught my eye: Help out on the forum and you may be selected to receive a coupon for a free copy of the Pro version.
Since money was tight, this sounded like an excellent opportunity. Many of the questions on the forum were related to WordPress and I was fully capable of answering them. So over the next few days (in between setting up and learning s2Member for my own site) I answered a dozen or so questions on the forum.
A few days later I received an email from the lead support guy at WebSharks, Inc.
He wanted to know if I was interested in being hired to help out on the forums. No commitments and no minimum hours; just do my best to learn s2Member (which I was doing anyway) and spend some time helping out on the forums (which I was also doing).
WebSharks would pay me a weekly salary and I would receive a free copy of the Pro version of s2Member.
I accepted! After signing an NDA and faxing over a W9, I was hired.
For the first time in two years, I have a regular income again. Not only is it regular, it's an income that allows me to work wherever and whenever I want while also learning a piece of software that will help me move forward with my own business goals.
The small team at WebSharks is friendly and lead developer shares many of my values.
I couldn't have asked for a better fit. In fact, I couldn't even imagine a better fit. Had I taken that first job a few weeks ago -- had I compromised my values and bent to monstrous will of greed -- perhaps the universe wouldn't have offered this to me.
Instead of settling for something that would've been good enough, I chose to continue climbing towards something better, towards the path that I knew my heart was set on following.
I had no idea how I would continue on that path with no income, but when I put my trust in the universe, it presented me with exactly what I needed, when I needed it.