Lately I’ve been on a kick to see what my body can do since I’ve already figured out a good idea of what my mind can do. Since I don’t like running like Kev does, I decided I would fall back to walking and hiking, which I truly enjoy. Athena seems to enjoy it too, which is a positive, but she seems to enjoy anything we do that isn’t in the house. Last Saturday we decided to go for a quick day hike and I picked Crater Lake (Washington, not Oregon) as a good candidate since I hadn’t been there in 20 years and wanted to see it again. Ryan came with Athena and I as an added bonus. =)
Children are an embodiment of the raw power of creation. They’re also savages.
When I blurt out “Children are savages”, I get the strangest looks. It took me a long time to figure out why, but in the end I realized it’s because I tend to see things in black and white, not the shades of grey that are so popular nowadays. So when I say “Savage” I mean the literal definition, with my normal habit of using the ‘historical or literary context’ definitions of words. Which means my statement of “Children are savages” is simply me pointing out that they are primitive and uncivilized. Maybe it’s a bit overly dramatic, but that’s kind of how I roll in life. Back to the topic at hand though.
Like I said above, children (and most especially infants) are an embodiment of the raw power of creation. As infants they’re adorable little bundles that don’t do much but sleep, eat, and poop. Having seen three children move through this stage, I can say with confidence they’re actually somewhat boring the first few weeks of their lives. Cute, but boring.
Then they get older, and that’s when we have the honor to witness the decades long shaping of the boundless energy they are imbued with at birth. If you’re lucky and give them the space and support they need, you’ll witness them focusing that energy into an utterly amazing drive to gain more knowledge, to better themselves of their own volition, and to dive deep into topics that interest them. [Read more…] about Channeling Childhood Potential
Yesterday, Athena and I got lost.
Not really lost, but lost enough that I actually wondered where the hell I was a few times. It turns out that Lake Sammamish State Park is a whole lot bigger than I thought it was. At 512 acres with over a mile of waterfront, I now understand how we could meander 3.2 miles through the park and still not hit any boundaries.
That’s not really the whole point of this post though. I was inspired to write this because, well, I enjoyed getting lost, and I fully intend to do it again.
I never really know what to write about for these, until I start writing, which means what you’re about to read is mostly stream of consciousness. Enjoy.
I’ve been working on a longish post for the past week or so – one which I may or may not ever click “Publish” on – and it started me thinking about something. My son, whom we packed up and moved cross country with at 9 months old, is no longer 9 months old. He is in fact only a couple of months away from his 17th birthday. For those not counting at home, that is only one year from the age of majority in the US.
If the pattern holds, it is likely to be a year that will fly by faster than the years leading up to it, after which my son will start the slow process of moving on and living his adult life, thus setting the stage for my better half and I to eventually see just how well of a job we did with our first pass at this whole parenting thing. Given that our youngest daughter will officially be a teenager in a couple months as well, I’m sure the next few years will be interesting.
I was waking up this morning, planning my day as one does, when I remembered the kids were home today due to a teacher walkout. “Huh,” I thought to myself “I’m curious what it would be like to go on strike.” Having been vehemently anti-union most of my life, to the point of arguing with my manager at Fred Meyer when I was 17, I had – and still have, really – zero practical experience of what going on strike is actually like. So, me being me, and continuing on with my promise to myself to try everything possible this year, I made the only logical choice: “I will go on strike today!”
After I realized what I had said, I became a little concerned and followed that up quickly with “For a couple of hours at least.”
It was actually quite nice lying in bed, aimlessly browsing the web, reading through non-work related emails – there weren’t many, I’m not a prolific communicator outside of business – and generally doing a great deal of nothing. Once 10AM rolled around, I decided I’d been on strike long enough; it was now time to reflect on what I’d gained from this experiment.
After ten minutes furiously thinking, the answer was twofold really. A new found acknowledgement of how much I truly enjoy working, combined with the sting of realizing I’d lost two billable hours I’ll have to make up somewhere down the road. I’m curious how many teachers are realizing the former at the moment.
Regardless, I do support the goals of the walkout, as they are ultimately very good ones. Having performed hundreds of interviews over the past 10 years, with many of the candidates being recent high school graduates, I am firm in my belief that if we don’t increase funding to education across the board in this country, we may as well just lay down our swords, wave the white flag and announce boldly to the world “We give up! Would you like to purchase a nice national park?”
I’ve heard many times that you should create the life you want to live. It’s sound advice, but I think it presupposes that one knows the life they want to live. While I have an idea of what I want to accomplish, I came to the realization that I can’t get there with the chaotic schedule I currently attend to, so I began researching time management<fn>Anyone who knows me should be aware of the fact that managing my own time is not one of my strong suits.</fn>. Among a huge amount of people trying to sell me something I found Ben Franklin’s Schedule, which intrigued me greatly.
After reading more about it, I have decided to give it a try for a bit to see how well it works. Being who I am, I started searching for an Excel template and quickly found a large number of them, but decided to use the one I found on Wolf & Iron to build my own Daily Schedule from.
I don’t know that I will want to stick with this for the long term, but I’m going to this schedule on for a while to see if it will work for me. Just in case this doesn’t work, or there is something better out there, do you have any recommendations I could look at?
After discovering that I’ve been an independent IT consultant for quite some time, I’ve had quite a few people ask me how they too can enter this most exciting of careers. Since I recently typed up some advice around this for the 3rd or 4th time, I figured it would be worthwhile to put it in one place to refer people to. I’m not going to cover a lot of the more detailed items – some things I will happily leave to lawyers and accountants – but rather I’m covering the high level items. These are the things that usually turn people off from the idea anyways; if you’re still interested after this, contact me and I’ll help you further.
Note: I’m sure parts of this will come across cynical. They’re really not, I’m simply trying to lay out the facts – both pretty and ugly – around becoming an independent consultant.
Further Note: I am not a lawyer. I am not an accountant. Like I state below, you should talk to both a lawyer and an accountant prior to embarking on a journey like this. If you make mistakes, the penalties are ludicrously large. Don’t blame me if you do something wrong.
Carefully Consider What You’re Doing
When people ask me how it feels to be my own boss, I can’t help but laugh. In the movie The Patriot, there is a specific line that always resonates through my head: “Why should I trade one tyrant, three thousand miles away for three thousand tyrants, one mile away?” Now, I’m in no way comparing my customers to tyrants as they’re usually very easy to work with, but I can’t stress enough that while independent consulting gives you freedoms most don’t have, you are in fact trading one boss for dozens of bosses. You report to every single one of your customers all the time.
Obviously this results in quite a bit of juggling, which requires a certain mindset that most simply don’t have: You need to possess both a willingness and ability to switch your train of thought on the fly, and you have to be able to please multiple people simultaneously while still turning out excellent work product. Luckily you don’t have to do it in 8 hours because there will be plenty of days you get to put in 12-16 hours making sure everything gets done.
Figure Out What You’re Good At
The first part of this is quite obvious; find something you’re really, really good at. It doesn’t have to be a ‘white collar’ profession either. I personally know IT consultants, sales consultants, marketing consultants, supply chain management consultants, and wholesale distribution consultants; even Cesar Millan is really a consultant in the end. The key is that it needs to be something you’re excellent at that you truly enjoy doing.
Oh, and it also needs to be something that you can demonstrate enough value in that people will happily pay you to do it for them. I’m not going to cover how much to charge here as that is a blog post in and of itself.
If You Choose A Niche Field…
Personally, I’m in a niche field. While I’m an IT consultant and advertise my expertise across a narrow(ish) spectrum of services, I spend most of my time doing systems integration for messaging and directory infrastructure in the merger/acquisition/divestiture space.
Moral of the story? If you can’t find enough customers local to you, you’re going to end up traveling. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Get A Business License
Quite simply, business licenses are mandatory, even if you’re a Sole Proprietorship. There really isn’t any justification needed for this – it’s just the law of the land. Also some companies (mine, for example, when I subcontract work out to others) require a business license prior to putting you on a contract. LegalZoom has a good article on the subject.
You’re likely going to want insurance to cover both Errors & Omissions and General Liability, at a minimum. A good insurance broker will be your friend here as the cost of the premiums can be all over the board and they can tell you what you actually need. You know, instead of the likely completely off base suggestion I gave earlier in this paragraph.
If you end up in the IT consulting field, I can’t recommend TechInsurance enough. I signed with them a few years ago and never looked back.
Note: As I state below, you’ll probably spend a good amount of time sub-contracting through other companies. I’ve never seen a single contract that doesn’t require seven figures of insurance.
Find An Accountant
This really shouldn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyways. Unless you’re a CPA yourself, go find a CPA to work with. If you’re in the Seattle area, I can recommend Mark Bennett without any reservations. If you’re not in the Seattle area, ask around for a personal reference.
I’m not saying “don’t do your own books” here by the way. Rather, contact your accountant with specific accounting questions and then pay them to review your books on a monthly basis. Or something different if they recommend it.
Consider an LLC or Corporation
There are a number of benefits, both legal and financial, to running your business as an LLC or Corporation. Talk to an attorney and accountant to make the right choice for you, but at least consider it.
While I firmly believe that QuickBooks is developed by SatanSoft, Inc. it is quite simply the gold standard. Once you learn how to use it, it is quite simple and most accountants will only work with QuickBooks. Note that many don’t want to work with QuickBooks Online as it doesn’t deliver all the features needed.
Yes, I know there are many other options, but save yourself some time. The money you save isn’t worth it as an accountant fixing your books down the road will negate all the cost savings, cost you some more on top of that, and give you a huge headache.
Send Invoices to Customers
Don’t just expect your customer to pay you. Even if they’re willing or offer to do that, don’t do it. If you’re going down this path, you’re not an employee and you don’t want to risk being retroactively classified as one down the road. Personally, I don’t pay sub-contractors unless they send me an invoice for a number of reasons, most having to do with maintaining the employee vs contractor boundary.
Also, don’t expect to get paid right away. I work with a couple companies that pay on receipt, but the remainder are on Net Terms. Oh, did I forget to mention you’re also going to be a money lender now? <grin>
Expect To Be a Sub-Contractor
When you start, and likely for quite some time afterwards, you’ll be solo. This will make large companies shy away from working with you directly. However if you’re good at what you do you’ll likely find a lot of “partnering opportunities”, which will allow you to come in as part of a larger team, offering your specific expertise to help complete a broader project goal. For example, I’m currently part of a five person team working at one of the largest businesses in the US.
Build Your Network!
You’ll be surprised where some of your most lucrative work comes from. I’ve landed business from friends, family, former colleagues, even strangers on planes, a train, two hotel bars, and – once – a NYC subway car. Strike up conversations with people around you; if you can work with them exchange business cards and follow up. It will not always pan out, but if you don’t let anyone know what you do, nobody will ever hire you.
Sometimes as I wander through airports with a smile on my face, I get strange looks from people. Then I realize I’m one of the few people smiling and it starts to make sense; many people see airports as either frightening or rage inducing. I can almost understand them being unhappy or shocked that I’m enjoying my stroll through the terminals.
I’m continually amazed how peaceful I find airports.
— Jeremy Phillips (@jerephil) February 23, 2014
Not everyone finds airports peaceful, I get it. I didn’t always either.
@jerephil that may be a warning sign my friend
— Tony (@UCsip) February 23, 2014
Like most things in life though, it’s about making a choice.
@UCsip It’s a choice I make to look at the bright side. ;)
— Jeremy Phillips (@jerephil) February 24, 2014
Easier said than done though, right? Yeah, but there are a few simple things you can do to make sure you have a smooth(er) journey. I’ll go over them at a high level in this post, but feel free to ask me questions in the comments or on twitter if you have any specific questions.
I enjoy watching people get ready for travel. Don’t ask me why, I just do. It’s interesting to see the different attitudes that people use to mentally prepare themselves as well. Some people see travel as an adventure, full of new and exciting places and events that they’ve possibly never experienced anymore; this is me. Some are indifferent and treat air travel as nothing more than a large bus, which is probably the most rational mental state to be in as that’s really all it is. The rest of the people I see are pretty evenly split between either sheer terror, rage at the idea of walking through security and getting on a plane, or a combination of the two.
I freely admit I’ve been through all these states myself when traveling. However only two of them are really healthy for your psyche, and only one of them is any fun, and why not have fun? Treat the whole thing like an adventure and you’ll enjoy it more, especially considering you’re going to be stuck in a magical metal tube miles above the earth’s surface for hours on end.
Oh, and don’t think about the physics keeping the ~100,000 pounds of metal, jet fuel, and humans ~35,000 feet above a corn field. Most people wouldn’t understand them anyways and when you’re looking out the window, trying to rationalize the fact that you’re actually flying, you could find you need to borrow a Xanax from the single serving friend next to you if you’re not careful. If you have to take benzodiazepines while flying, you’re likely not treating it as an adventure.
Take Your Time
When I see people rush through airports and then wind up at the gate next to them, where they still have 40 minutes left until their flight is even scheduled to board (let alone actually board), I’m really quite curious what is driving them to ignore all the cool murals and such along the way, like this super happy one in Denver, CO:
Seriously, take your time and enjoy the sights. Spend 5 minutes walking down a hall way and you could find a hidden nook filled with rocking chairs facing floor to ceiling windows overlooking the runways like in Buffalo, NY. If you have 20 extra minutes and there is a SkyTrain, take a spin or two around the airport; I’ve seen gorgeous sunsets from the SkyTrain in Dallas and awe inspiring sunrises from the SkyTrain in Detroit. The theme here, in case you missed it, is to engage your inner child and explore! You’ll be amazed what you can find.
Ignore the TSA
I find conversations about the TSA to be quite possibly the most interesting, mainly as the thought of TSA agents used to be rage inducing for me. Why? Simple, they have no standards – not even between shifts at the same airport, let alone between airports – and they are frequently just not nice people. I don’t worry about it anymore though. I check my luggage and I’ve pared down my carry on to bare essentials so it takes me less than 30 seconds to get everything out of my bag, off my body, and in the tubs for the x-ray. I don’t even mind the full body scanner anymore, but then again I’ve already had all the kids I plan on having. ;)
Quite simply, all you need to do is take off your coat or sweater and put it in a bin with your belt, put your shoes on the belt, put your laptop in a bin by itself and walk on through. You will get randomly popped for various things, but it’s not as common as you’d expect. Probably one out of every 50 times I spin through, I get pulled aside for either random explosives screening (they just swab your hands and look embarrassed while you both wait for the results) or they want to dig through my bag because “You have too much [change|cables|stuff] in your bag and I need to check it”.
I find that if you stand still and smile at them silently the whole time they go faster with whatever they are doing, and if you end up in a pat down a “good job” combined with a smile and a wink makes a world of difference to the speed with which they finish patting down your nether regions. Who knew spreading cheer could effect a work ethic so positively?
Have A Meal
For your own sake though, don’t make it fast food. The pressure in the plane will be screwing with your body anyways. Instead go find a restaurant and have a quick meal, or even just an appetizer. Yes, it will be mildly overpriced but most (not all) airport restaurants make pretty good food. Not only do you get some tasty – and hopefully healthy – food prior to takeoff, but there is something to be gained from the peace you’ll find in munching on a BBQ quesadilla.
While you’re eating take the time to drink some extra water as you’ll end up dehydrated on the plane otherwise, which isn’t as fun as it sounds when you’re the one slowly shriveling up.
Bring A Book
I stopped counting the number of people that I’ve watched get on a plane and end up either sleeping or staring at the bulkhead because they didn’t bring anything to read, naively expecting there to be in-flight movies on every flight. Yeah, there isn’t. So do yourself a favor and bring something to read, either a book or a stack of magazines. If you prefer a Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader, you can now use them from takeoff to landing on most airlines, provided you disable all WiFi and/or cellular functions.
Again, if you have any questions, or completely disagree with me for some reason, feel free to either comment below or hit me up on twitter.
In a recent blog post I mentioned that I’m currently listening to 40+ minutes a day of podcasts and I’ve had a couple people ask me about what they are. Since it’s a bit of effort to put the list together – tracking down URLs and such – I figured I would post them in one place so everyone can reference them. First, a note though: I have rather eclectic tastes. I’m almost positive nobody I know will want to listen to all of these, but I hope you’ll pick and choose the ones that make sense to you and give them a shot. Also, this is a fairly fluid list; while going through the list I found a couple I didn’t enjoy much and axed them so I can focus on the ones that I believe to have a positive influence on my thinking.
TravelCommons | The first podcast I ever listened to. For quite some time – years in fact – this was in fact the ONLY podcast I listened to. It’s focused on business travel, with a tagline of “It’s more about the journey than the destination” and covers airlines, hotels, rental cars, and all the unique and entertaining experiences related to traveling. Website is located here.
The UC Architects Podcast | A (roughly) weekly podcast covering Unified Communications, focused on Exchange & Lync. This one I honestly have a love/hate relationship with, for no particular reason that I can discern. Sometimes I enjoy the whole episode, sometimes I stop listening ten minutes in. I met some of the guys on it at MEC last year, and found them to be great people. It’s worth a shot and the information you get out of it is priceless for anyone in the UC space. Website is located here.
HBR IdeaCast | “The analysis and advice of the leading minds in management” is how this podcast describes themselves, and that’s pretty much what it is. Produced by Harvard Business Review staff, the usually short episodes do pack a punch with the amount of information they manage to include. Occasionally I completely disagree with everything they say in an episode, but that in and of itself is more than enough reason to listen to it. Website is located here.
NPR: Car Talk Podcast | Mostly entertainment, with the occasional factoid about auto maintenance thrown in. The hosts are hysterical (yes, I’m that guy laughing to himself in the car whenever I listen) and since it isn’t time sensitive you can listen whenever you want. Website is located here.
this WEEK in TECH | While I don’t necessarily agree with their self description of “the last word in tech”, it is definitely entertaining. I usually learn a few new things with each episode as well. Interestingly, I just noticed they also have “This Week in Enterprise Tech”, which I’m going to try out for a few weeks to see if I like it. Website is located here.
This American Life | This is a tough one to describe, so I’ll just copy and paste from their About Us page. If you’ve ever heard the show, then it’s a no brainer. If you haven’t heard it before, give it a shot. “There’s a theme to each episode, and a variety of stories on that theme. It’s mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always. There’s lots more to the show, but it’s sort of hard to describe.” Website is located here.
I’ve also got a few new ones in the list, but I can’t recommend them yet so I won’t.
One last thing | While it isn’t a podcast per se, I would highly recommend obtaining some of Alan Watts’ recordings. He was a very interesting man and his recordings, even though they’re centered around Zen Buddhism, which I don’t practice, are peaceful, enlightening, and they force me to think about the choices I’m making in life and how I interact with the world around me. If you’ve ever watched Life, these are the recordings Charlie Crews is listening to all the time. Here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry, which I would also recommend reading through if you have ten minutes to spare:
Alan Wilson Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. Born in Chislehurst, he moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York. Pursuing a career, he attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, where he received a master’s degree in theology. Watts became an Episcopal priest then left the ministry in 1950 and moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.
Watts gained a large following in the San Francisco Bay Area while working as a volunteer programmer at KPFA, a Pacifica Radio station in Berkeley. Watts wrote more than 25 books and articles on subjects important to Eastern and Western religion, introducing the then-burgeoning youth culture to The Way of Zen (1957), one of the first bestselling books on Buddhism. In Psychotherapy East and West (1961), Watts proposed that Buddhism could be thought of as a form of psychotherapy and not a religion. He also explored human consciousness, in the essay “The New Alchemy” (1958), and in the book The Joyous Cosmology (1962).
Towards the end of his life, he divided his time between a houseboat in Sausalito and a cabin on Mount Tamalpais. His legacy has been kept alive by his son, Mark Watts, and many of his recorded talks and lectures are available on the Internet. According to the critic Erik Davis, his “writings and recorded talks still shimmer with a profound and galvanizing lucidity.”