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An Entrepreneurial Challenge

Monkeys Grooming

Why So Quiet

I know that it’s been mighty quiet around here lately. I haven’t been ignoring the blog though. I’ve actually been recovering from unexpected surgery.

That annoying stomach ache I was getting more and more frequently turned out to be a very swelled gall bladder. So I finally went to the doctor and was scheduled for surgery the next day (the Ultrasound specialist said that my gall bladder looked scary”).

A Plethora of Firsts

This was an experience of many firsts for me – first time for surgery, first time I’ve ever been under general anesthetic and first time I’ve ever been in the hospital. I do have to say that none of these are an experience I wish to repeat. Although everything went smoothly and the health care professionals that I worked with were excellent.

Luckily, they were able to remove my gall bladder laparoscopically (minimally invasive surgery), which meant a shorter recovery time. The doctor told me that I would be out of commission for a week. “No problem,” I thought. “I can handle a week off.” So I prepared my businesses the best I could and went in for surfer. Things didn’t proceed quite as planned, however. While they were operating on me, they discovered that I also had a hernia (I had no idea!) so they operated on that as well. Unfortunately, the recovery time for that is not quite so fast (no lifting or straining for 6 weeks). But as of right now, I’m on the road to recovery.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

I do have to say that this is one of those times that can be challenging for an entrepreneur. I can’t just call a boss and tell him or her that I won’t be into work for the next 6 weeks. Nobody is going to step in and do my work for me or deal with my clients. There is only me. So this meant that the day after surgery, I was answering e-mail and talking to clients over the phone. Less than two weeks after surgery, I had a two weddings and a rehearsal over the same weekend.

For just a second (OK – maybe longer than a second), I thought about how nice it would have been to simply be able to call in to work and not have to worry about anything work related — to completely rest for the next several weeks and know that my paycheck would be deposited to my account. I might have even briefly questioned my decision to become an entrepreneur.

But these fleeting thoughts quickly disappeared. In reality, I would never willingly trade my freedom for a cubicle. Even though there will be challenging life periods like this one from time to time, I still prefer working for myself. I love the fact that I can explore my creativity and do the work that I want to do, not work that someone forces me to do. I love the freedom to schedule my days as it suits me. I love the fact that I can explore new creative paths on my own. I even came up with some great ideas while lying in bed convalescing.

Yeah, being your own boss can be a pain at times — but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

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Why It’s Important to grow and evolve

Image of Guy Surfing

“Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” ~ Auntie Mame

I ran across a friend recently whom I had not seen in over 30 years. He had aged (like all of us do) but apart from that, he had not changed a bit.

He still works at a restaurant as a short order cook (which surprised me — when I knew him, he had plans to go to med school). He still has the same interests. He still smokes. He still parties like crazy on the weekends. He even still watches the same television shows. He told me how much he loves “The Young and the Restless” and asked me if I still watch it. It took me moment to realize what he was talking about. He was referring to a soap opera we watched when we were barely out of our teens.

I don’t find lack of change to be a good thing. If you don’t change, you don’t grow — and I believe that it’s part of being human to grow, to change, to evolve. By growing and continuously learning, we discover and live up to our potential. We grow into who we are meant to be. We learn how to be better people and in so doing, motivate those around us to become better people.

By not growing, we often feel empty inside, sometimes even lost. We have the feeling deep down inside of us that there must be something more to life that what we are experiencing. We become exiles from one another and from our community, wandering to and fro like a homeless zombie.

An acquaintance once said to me:

“I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up — but I know it wasn’t this.”

We need to stop and look down into our untapped creativity and potential and then, bring it forward. But wishing, yearning, dreaming and hoping won’t do it — only concrete action will.

So how can we move from sleepwalking complacency to growth, from exile to inclusion?

  • By engaging with people, both old and new.
  • By engaging with life, not avoiding it.
  • By reading books, both fiction and non-fiction.
  • By connecting with nature (the ultimate teacher of change and growth).
  • By slowing down and appreciating the moment.
  • By taking classes and/or workshops.
  • By taking on a new hobby
  • By engaging with teachers.
  • By remembering your dreams and then taking first steps — even tiny ones — to bring those dreams closer into reality.
  • By trying or learning something completely new, even if it scares you. Trying doing something that you’re not good at.

There are many ways to get started but most importantly, you have to get started. I have found that creating a list of all the things you want to be or learn — or dreams you have ignored or put on hold — is a great place to begin. I personally did this several years ago and rediscovered photography, a dream I had put on hold.

Now you may say that not everyone wants to change or grow. That may be true — and that’s fine. But often, it’s not that we have made a conscious choice to stay the way we are, but rather we just forgot to follow our dreams. We became complacent, lazy and simply accepted our circumstances.

If you are exactly the same as you were twenty, ten or even five years ago, ask yourself, “Is this the life that I want? Am I happy with the way things are? Or do I feel a yearning to grow and evolve in a different direction?”

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Evaluating Our Tools

iMac ImageI’ve been a Mac guy pretty much for the past 12 years (please – no ‘Mac vs. PC’ rants: I’ve heard them all) and had been working with a 2008 Macbook Pro. Over the past few weeks/months, I’d noticed that the machine had really begun slowing down, especially since upgrading to Lion, the latest version of the Macintosh operating system. It was taking forever to carry out routine tasks and I was beginning to get frustrated. I performed all of the required computer maintenance, ran various cleanup scripts but the darn thing still chugged along like a locomotive with three broken wheels. I looked into adding additional memory but sadly discovered that 4 gig was as high as I could go.

Now in addition to being a fiction writer, I also write technical manuals so I tend to need quite a bit of computing power. Finally, I decided to break down and get a new computer. But instead of buying directly from Apple’s main online store or one of their retail stores, I thought I’d give their Refurb Store a try. I checked back daily for awhile until a listing finally caught my eye. It was a speedy New iMac that was greatly discounted — almost four hundred dollars less than the list price (the price found on the Apple Store). After hemming and hawing (and fearing the inevitable buyer’s remorse), I finally pulled out my credit card and bought the darn thing.

But I wasn’t finished yet. The machine shipped with only 4 gig of ram (the same amount as my old Macbook Pro). I I headed over to Crucial’s Web Site and purchased 16 gig of ram (it was quite a deal!). A couple of days later, my computer and ram arrived and since I have been one happy camper. I couldn’t help but wonder why I had endured so much frustration for so long? I knew for awhile that it was time to upgrade some of my aging equipment as it was taking me longer and longer to get my work done. I am now considerably more productive with less anxiety.

The moral here is that we need to evaluate our tools from time to me to make sure that they are still working for us. Take a look at what’s out there and see whether it can make your workload a little lighter, a little easier and a little less frustrating. Sometimes, upgrading to the latest version can make all the difference in the world. I know it did for me.

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Looking Ahead

Image - man looking through binoculars

December vacation all wrapped up.  So now it’s time to get back to work.  I have to admit that it’s been a tad difficult getting back into the swing of things.  I did spend some time reflecting on the past year and have decided to work on goals for the upcoming year, Chris Guillebeau style (I think he calls it his annual review).

At first, I felt that I did not accomplish that much in the past year.  But once I started thinking about all that I did, I realized that I wrote 15 books last year.  OK, so they weren’t great novels but rather computer courseware manuals for Office 2010 (I’m a technical writer in my other life).  While it may not seem like a huge amount for work, each manual runs between 250 – 300 pages.  So it is safe to say that I did, in fact, have a productive year.  I also did finish my fiction novel – working on the edits now.

Looking forward to another good year.  I have a lot on my plate for 2012 – which I’ll talk about a little at a time as the months progress.

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The Art of Keeping a Journal

Journal Image

Photo by Barnaby

I have faithfully kept a journal since 1980 and because of that, I have a record of the important times, places and people in my life over the past 30 years. I have recently begun transcribing my journals into the computer and as I read through them, I recalled people, events and places long forgotten. Through my written words, I was able to relive experiences that I had when I was barely out of my teen years and as I continued to read, saw myself develop into the man I am today. My earlier entries – the one’s that took place when I was in my early 20’s – were obsessed with love and romance – I wrote about little else. Funny to see how the focus of my life has changed. What I find particularly interesting is how much I’ve changed – I barely recognize the immature boy I was back then who constantly bemoaned his relationship setbacks.

Yes, I am a strong believer in keeping a journal – and in my opinion, the reasons to do so are many.

WHY KEEP A JOURNAL

Keep cherished memories alive

Even though we may not believe so at the time, the majority of the experiences that occur in our lives will be forgotten. People I was certain that I would always remember – always be in contact with – were completely gone from my memory until recently, when I rediscovered them on the pages of my journal. Without my journal, I would not have 30 years of cherished memories at my fingertips. All of them would be gone forever.

It’s Excellent Therapy

Many people in the mental health professions recommend journaling to their clients as part of the recovery process. I can’t tell you how many times I have “journaled out my anger” rather than taking it out on someone else. Just writing about all my emotions and feelings often provided clarity about a situation or problem.

Problem Solving

Journaling can also help solve problems. By writing down the pros and cons of a difficult situation, I have more than once received flashes of insight which then helped me to move forward. Moreover, taking your time and putting a troubling issue to paper may help you to see the situation from a different perspective, which may then lead to a solution.

Receive New Insights

Writing out your thoughts and feelings can lead to some interesting insights about your life – aspects that may not have come to your attention before. When I worked as computer programmer in a hectic corporate environment, it was journaling that helped me to realize that I was in the wrong profession – and that what I really wanted to be was an entrepreneur and create my own business. Sometimes simply writing it all out can provide you with both motivation and a starting point.

Additionally, reading old journal posts aid you in realizing how much you’ve grown (or perhaps how much you’ve strayed from your original goals), especially once you revisit all the mistakes you made!

Learn About Yourself

For many, one of the most important uses for a journal is to learn about yourself. A habitual journaling practice can help you to define who you are and what you believe in. By writing regularly about an issue or a topic in my journal, I found that I was more than ready to discuss the topic intelligently and confidently when it came up in real live conversation. In this way, it has helped to clarify my opinions and beliefs – basically help me to decide who I am.

Creativity

Journaling can spark creativity. I know of several people whose journals gave rise to an entire novel. I personally have had many new ideas pop up into my head while writing in my daily journal. This blog post was one of them. Journaling regularly can also make you a better writer. There’s an old adage that goes, “If you do something every day, you can’t help but become an expert at it.”

Proof That You Existed

A friend of mine, whose mother passed away a few years ago, told me that the most valuable treasure she has ever received was her mother’s journals. Her mother, an avid journaler, documented her entire life on paper, ever since she was a young girl. My friend says that reading those old journals keeps her mother alive in her memories. She also told me that reading her mother’s thoughts and feelings is like getting to know her for the first time. Think how much your children and grandchildren will enjoy reading about your life. Who knows? Maybe your journal will someday end up in at a historical society or museum and will provide others insight into what life was like for someone of your time period.

Stress Management

Journaling regularly helps counteract the negative effects of stress in your life. When I had gone through a particularly challenging period in my own life, I discovered that journaling about it made me feel much better afterwards. Be releasing my anger and frustration on the page, I felt calmer and more relaxed.

Goal Planning

Journaling can also help you to achieve and stick to your goals. Writing about the achievements you’ve made and the milestones you’ve attained can help you to keep on track. Sometimes just logging your achievements on paper provides ample motivation to see your goals through to the end.

Logging Daily Activities

A journal can also help you to keep track of daily events and activities in your life. This can be quite helpful if you ever have to remember or prove what you did on a particular day. You can even use your journal as an expanded version of an event calendar.

Hand-written journal with pictures

Hand-written journal with pictures

Photo by sushi♥ina

HOW TO KEEP A JOURNAL

The way to being successful in keeping a journal is to find the journal medium that is best for you. A friend of mine asked me what is the best type of journal to get? I told her, “the best journal to get is the one that you will write in.” Don’t buy an expensive Italian leather-bound journal book if you wouldn’t write in it. The first step is giving some thought as to whether you want to keep a paper journal or store it electronically on your computer. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

Some possibilities include:

Bound Journal Books – these can range in price from about $15 to several hundred dollars. Sometimes just having an impressive looking journal book can give you motivation to write.

A Notebook/Tablet – this can be as simple as basic black & white speckled composition notebook. Keep in mind however, that cheaper paper may yellow over time. This is the issue I’m currently facing – one of the reasons that I have begun transcribing my older journals into electronic format.

Blog – Some people keep their journals electronically “in the cloud” using blogging software. Most of the popular blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogspot and LiveJournal allow you to keep your posts private, for your eyes only. You also have the option of sharing specific posts (or all posts) with others, if you so choose.

Journaling Software – There is a wide array of journaling software available for both the PC and the Mac. In addition to text, most of these applications also allow you to add videos, photos and other media to your journal posts. I currently am using MacJournal (Mac only) to transcribe my old journals. I find it stable and quite flexible.

Looseleaf Binder – more flexible than using a bound book or a notepad. Using a looseleaf binder allows you to move your pages around – or even group them by topic.

Information Gathering/Database Software – There are many software packages used for information gathering that make an excellent platform for journaling. An example is OneNote for Windows — or EverNote or DevonThink for the Mac. Like journaling software, you can also add photos, videos and sound files to your entries.

Scrapbook – Scrapbooking is a favorite activity among many folks and a nice visual way to record your life. You can include text, pictures, ticket stubs, flyers, newspaper/magazine articles and much more to your scrapbook journal. This is an excellent choice for creative folks.

HOW TO STICK WITH JOURNALING

Find a time that works for you to journal and stick to it. Try to be consistent as possible. The longer you journal at your designated time, the more it becomes an ingrained habit. I personally make journaling the last thing I do before I go to bed – no sleeping until I’ve journaled. Some people do their journaling first thing in the morning. If you’ve had an especially hectic day and find ourself too exhausted or too busy to sit down and write a full entry, write one sentence – heck, write one word if that’s all you can muster up. I came across one journal entry in my journal dated October 22, 1992 that simply stated: “Disappointment” ‘Enuf said.

WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

When deciding to keep a journal, there are many possibilities available to you. You might keep a daily journal of your thoughts, emotions and events in your life. Or you could keep a theme journal such as:

  • Art/Sketch Journal – a place for all of your drawings and sketches.
  • Child Journal – a place to record all of the memories and events related to the raising your children. This can include such things as first words spoken, funny sayings or phrases your kids come up with, the ideas your kids have, milestones in your child’s life — basically, anything you want to remember.
  • Creative Writing Journal – a place for all of your creating writing – poems, songs, short stories, fiction, non-fiction – any way you express yourself creatively.
  • Dream Journal – a place where you record all of your dreams.
  • Exercise Journal – a place where you keep track of how you exercised, how much you exercised, your caloric intake, food consumed, your weight, etc.
  • Gratitude Journal – a place where you record all the things that you are grateful for – the people and things in your life that really matter to you.
  • Grief Journal – a place where you write all about the grieving process. Such a journal can help with both long-term and short-term healing.
  • Hobby Journal – a place where you record all the details about a hobby – materials, patterns, projects, costs, etc.
  • Idea Journal – a place to jot down any ideas that come to you during the day. A fleeting idea could be the premise for your next big novel.
  • Mood Journal – a place where you track your emotions.
  • Nature Journal – a place for you to record all that you see, feel and experience while out in nature.
  • Prayer Journal/Spiritual – this is a place to help you connect with the Divine and your spirituality.
  • Reader’s Journal – a place where you write about the books you read. Include such things as what you liked/disliked, synopsis, techniques the author used and important points you want to remember.
  • Vacation Journal – a journal that lists not only places you visited during your vacation, but also your thoughts and feelings about the places you visited. Many people’s lives have been permanently altered by an eventful vacation.

The possibilities for theme journals are endless. I keep a daily personal journal that pretty much includes anything I want it to – stories, songs, poems, quotes I heard during the day, my moods, thoughts, what I did, creative writing ideas, scribbles, drawings and more. There are no rules for your journal – write whatever resonates with you. What’s important is that you fill the pages.

You never know – journaling may even cause you to go out and search for adventure! I remember once reading a quote from a man who journaled. He said, “Journaling forces me to lead an interesting life so that I have something to write about.” Maybe it will do the same for you.

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Take a Walk – It’s Good For You

I usually try to get out daily for a walk, weather permitting as I feel it is one of the most therapeutic forms of exercise you can do. Not only is it easy to do but there is no need for any expensive workout equipment or gym memberships – all that is required is a good pair of walking shoes.

Studies have indicated that walking helps reduce the risk of heart disease, helps ease arthritis pain and reduce levels of stress and anxiety. I find that it especially helps relive depression in the darker, winter months when many people are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Walking can also help prevent osteoporosis – a common disease that causes bone loss, leading to skeletal fractures, height loss and pain. The key to preventing the disease is to get enough vitamin D and calcium – and the most natural way to get vitamin D is to expose your skin to sunlight several times a week (you will also need to make sure you receive the recommended level of calcium as well).

In addition to the physical benefits of walking, I have found that it can help your creativity. I get some of my best ideas and inspiration while I’m out taking a walk. Most of the time, our mind is so cluttered with what it next on our to-do list, that we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to generate ideas and and to just simply contemplate. As we walk in sunlight and fresh air, the mind tends to clear and often inspiration is right around the corner. In fact, Julia Cameron, the author of The Artists Way, has incorporated a 20 minute walk, several times a day into her creativity program. You just might be surprised by what pops into your head while you’re out taking a stroll.

Below are just a few benefits of walking:

  • Reduced risk of heart attack
  • Reduced risk of stroke
  • Reduced risk high blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Helps prevent obesity
  • Increased level of fitness
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Increase levels of creativity and inspiration
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased levels of clarity
  • More appreciation for our natural world
  • Increased feeling of connection to the natural world
  • Increased longevity
  • Better levels of sleep at night
  • Continued mobility as we age
  • Reduced traffic congestion

Walking just 30 minutes a day can improved your overall outlook and the quality of your life. And by keeping yourself in good health, you increase your chances of remaining independent and mobile as you age.

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Florentine Opera at the Lake

Forentine Opera at Alterra on the lake

One of my goals for this summer was to take more advantage of many wonderful free concerts in the Milwaukee area. So last night I hopped on my bicycle and pedaled down to the Alterra on the lake for an evening of music with the Florentine Opera. The Florentine Opera is one of Milwaukee’s oldest and well-known performing arts companies (they are celebrating their 75th anniversary) and I have be fortunate to attend on of their operas a while ago.

But opera…outdoors! This was something I hadn’t done before. The concert featured R. Stuart Mitchell (who was a bit late as he got caught in traffic), Jason Melik, Doug Clemons and James Barany, with Anne Van Deusen at the piano. All I can say is…why haven’t I attended any of these before? The singing and music were awesome. I was more than impressed by the range of the voices and the talent of the performers.

The repertoire of music was also quite varied – we had songs from West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Kiss Me Kate, Carousel, Mexican Hayride, Man of La Mancha and more. They sang several of old favorites that most people would recognize as well. The song “If you’ve only got a mustache” was especially fun.

The concert took place right in front of the coffee shop, with guests spread out on blankets and portable chairs on the lawn (the grassy area is quite large actually). Some folks brought picnic baskets, complete with high-end wine and cheeses. Others enjoyed the array of sandwiches, desserts and coffee offered by Alterra. Alterra had a tent set up outside making it convenient to purchase goodies during the show. I was pleased to see that there were a couple of portable restrooms set up as well.

I’ll close by saying that I was thrilled by the performance and am already looking forward to their next one on July 23rd. It will once again be held at the Alterra, located at 1701 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive across from McKinley Marina.

Forentine Opera at Alterra on the lake

If you’d like to find out more about the Florentine Opera, visit their Web site for news and information about their upcoming performances.

Forentine Opera at Alterra on the lake

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Camping at Nelson Dewey State Park

View from campsite at Nelson Dewey

View from campsite at Nelson Dewey

I went on my first camping trip of the season at Nelson Dewey State Park (named after the first governor of Wisconsin) in Cassville, Wisconsin. Now I have heard about the park several times over the years but this was my first visit – and I was truly impressed! I didn’t realize what an awesome place this was. The sites are on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. We chose one of the four secluded walk-in sites right on the bluff. Talk about the million dollar view! The first thing you see in the morning when getting out of the tent is the breathtaking panorama of the Mississippi river.

View of the Mississippi River from my tent

View of the Mississippi River from my tent

Right across the street from the park is historic Stonefield, a recreation of an rural village from the 1800’s. I took the tour which featured Wisconsin’s typical dairy farms and farming equipment of the era, and a typical downtown street in a farming village – complete with barber, grocery store and undertaker. The tour concluded with a tour of the estate of Governor Dewey in all of its slendor.

Stonefield Village

Stonefield Village

Close to the park was the town of Cassville. I must say that there was not much going on there. We enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Rivers Cafe – the servers there were a hoot! Not only were they fun and friendly, but also quite informative about the area. The only other place we ate at was the Town Pump. They had a minimal breakfast menu (eggs only!) but both the server and the cook were a tad on the surly side. Perhaps they were just having a bad morning? Not a place to which I would probably return. Cassville is an extremely quiet town so if you are looking for action, you’d probably want to head across the river to Prairie du Chien.

Now if you are the kind of person who has to be continuously on the go, it is important to note that there is not much to do in the park. There are a couple of short hiking trails but mostly, it’s a place for peace and quiet. There are, however, things to do in the area. At Wyalusing State Park, which is not too far away, you can paddle through the river sloughs as well as fish, bike and picnic. I have both canoed and kayaked the backwaters of the Mississippi there and the wildlife is both varied and abundant (you can’t spit without hitting an eagle!). There is also the city of Prairie du Chien across the river, if you want to get away from nature for a bit.

We did spend an afternoon hiking at the Effigy Mounds National Monument. There, one can find 200 burial mounds, many in the shape of bears and birds. Supposedly, the mounds were creating by American Indian tribes over 1,000 years ago. The mounds are dispersed over a beautiful picturesque landscape. Many are on top of the bluff, which is a bit of a climb initially – but the view from the top is more than worth the effort. The hike along the bluff is quite beautiful. I remember years ago taking a full moon hike there – I wonder if they still do that?

Effigy Mounds effigy_1.jpg

All in all, a very fun trip. I think I may plan another excursion there in the fall once the leaves change color.