Saturday, August 4, 2012

Week 88: The End

An amazing thing happened. A friend of mine who follows this blog, and who was also playing a game to aggressively pay down debt called me. My friend told me that they appreciated the inspiration I had given them, and that they would like to pay off the remainder of my student loans. No strings attached - just an expression of good will, and the realization of a goal.

As I write these words, my student loans are paid in full - 8 weeks after my self-imposed deadline. The game is complete. I am at a total loss for words.

The only thing I can think about is this quote from the Alchemist: when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

88 weeks ago, I was unemployed and concerned about how I was going to pay rent. I hated that situation, so I decided to play a much bigger game than just making ends meet. I declared a big game, to pay off more than $60k in student loans by my 30th birthday. 14 weeks later, I was off of unemployment, and making end meet without getting a 'job'.  In the weeks and months that followed, I continued to play my game, posted (almost) weekly updates about my progress, and about life along the way.

During that time, I supported my girlfriend as she graduated from law school, I traveled all over the country and beyond. I got engaged, moved to Alaska, ran a marathon, started a company , and paid $25,000 of my debt. Week 80 came, and I turned 30, less than half-way to my goal. I fessed up and took the game into extra innings.

Then, in a miraculous act of generosity, someone helped me complete what I started.

I've been looking for a lesson or a moral to this story - Some grand thing that I have learned through this process. Here it goes:

There is a dangerous myth in our culture. Its the one that talks about one person preserving against all odds and in the face of great adversity to achieve some great, impossible thing. If I have learned anything on my 80 till 30 journey, it is that - contrary to the myth - you, I, can't do it alone.

It makes sense if you think about it. If you want to do something bigger than what you alone have been able to do so far, tell people what you are up to and ask for help. I didn't plan this ahead of time, but 80 til 30 became a public accountability system, and many of you offered to help, and held me accountable.

The result was that even when I felt like quitting I knew that I couldn't because you were watching. I also knew that if I ever needed help, you where there. In the end one of the people who came on this journey with me, became the one who would help me complete it, but WE did this. Not me.

I am so deeply grateful to all of you for your kind words, your encouragement and your demands for new videos when I fell behind. Thank you.

The only thing the quote from the Alchemist doesn't say, is that in order to get the Universe conspiring for you, you have to first tell the universe what you want :). So, readers, I invite you to declare something huge, tell everyone you can, and get to work. Take it from me, amazing things will happen. 

This game is now over. It's time for a new one, but not here.  This is the final post for 80 till 30. If you'd like to know what the next game is, and be kept in the loop, please 'like the Facebook page here. In a few weeks, we will launch it officially.

And in the mean time, I am helping at least one person take on a big game the same way I took on mine. Meet Bobby Palmer and follow his progress as he completes: The Alaska Agreements.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LHS Graduation

I was the "honored speaker" at Lakewood High School's graduation ceremonies this year.  I'm working on video of this and will post it here when I have it, but in the mean time, here is the text of the speech.

In preparation for this speech, I looked on Facebook for everyone I could find that graduated with me in 2000, and I spammed them all with this question: What do you wish someone had told you when you were gradating from High School?  I got a ton of responses.  Everything from “Love life and it will love you” which, I think is very important, to “Wash your Undies” – Which, well, is also very important.

But it was really interesting to see that there were a few very common themes in the responses I got.  Whether they graduated as valedictorian, with a full scholarship to a top university, or they barely made it to graduation day and never set foot in another classroom, based on the responses, there are a few lessons we have all learned.  So here you go – 3 things the Lakewood High School class of 2000, thinks the Lakewood High School Class of 2012 should keep in mind.

1. Expect Change

I started by asking people if life today looked like they thought it would 12 years ago.  I think the following sums up their responses, and I quote: No. One of my classmates said, "I thought I was going to be a successful, wealthy lawyer by now.  I also thought I'd be single and own lots of cats.  Instead I'm writing books and I'm married to a great guy who's allergic to cats.”

Here’s the deal – you can do anything you want.  You. can. do. anything. you. want.  But know that the path to your goal is never a straight line.  There are all kinds of twists and turns headed your way.

I think people give up on their dreams because they make plans that will work if everything goes well.  Things don’t always go well.  A lot of people fail and give up.  If you want to reach your goals, you need to expect change and make plan to succeed at something whether things go well or not.

When I left Lakewood 12 years ago, I went to college for theatre and found a passion for politics that brought me to DC. While working in Congress I met the love of my life who was moving to LA.  I quit my job and joined her, only to find a better job, a year later we moved to Boston and I found an even better job. Then I started a side project, spent too much time working it and got fired.  Now I have the best job ever, working for myself, doing social media consulting so when my then girlfriend, now fiancĂ© got an incredible opportunity in Alaska, we moved to Anchorage – and I took my job with me. Expect Change.

2. Work Hard

I’m sure this is not new – but let me just share this "What no one told me in high school was that sometimes you can work really hard and still not get what you were working for.  You may not get into the college you wanted, or lose out on a promotion, or it may take you a really long time to find a job.  Working hard sometimes doesn't get you what you want, but *not* working hard means you *definitely* won't get what you want."

The thing to remember here is, you want people to be able to count on you to do what you said you would do.  A lot of times you won’t feel like it, but working hard and doing what you said anyway is what will have opportunity come your way.  On the contrary, if you say you’ll do something, and don’t do it – I don’t care what the excuse is, opportunities will dry up.  Most people will be too polite to tell you why, but trust me.  At work or school, in relationships, with your friends and family, do what it takes to do what you said you would do.

In late 2010, I found myself unemployed in the worst job market of my lifetime. I declared a huge goal, that somehow I would make enough money to pay for my living expences and pay off my $60,000 in student loan debt by my 30th birthday, which was 80 weeks away.  14 weeks later, I was off of unemployment, running my own business.  My 30th birthday was last Sunday, and I have paid $25,000 of my student loan debt.  While I failed to meet my goal, I said I’d pay off those loans, and I will by this winter.  Work Hard.

3. Find what you love 
 My classmates nailed this one:
“contact people you admire or who do things you find interesting. Find out what they do and how they came to do it. and who they look up to, and then look that person up.”

"Go to other countries. (and not just Europe!) you don’t have to have lots of money to do it..  go backpacking. go somewhere cheap. get a part-time job there.. do a study-abroad if you have the option...whatever it takes."

"Do what you love, and you will be happy. Instead of chasing a career that you think will make you wealthy or viewed as a success, spend time identifying what you love doing, and chase that. Your life will be better for it."

Point is, you may not know what you want to do and where you want to be yet.  Even if you think you do. Go try stuff out.

I've been an actor, a movie theatre manager, a clown, a waiter, a congressional aide, a PR professional, and a Social Media Consultant, but what I really love is the side project I mentioned that got me fired.  It's called ERIC.  The Environmental Research and Innovation Center. It is based on the theory that if we knew the environmental and human rights record of companies and products, we would prefer not to spend our money on things that harm the people and places where they are made.  At scale, that would mean that people like us could transform the global economy to create the kind of world we all want.  Find what you love.

So let’s review – If you can #1 Expect change and roll with it without skipping a beat.  #2 Work hard and do what you said you would do. And #3 Find what you love, then you can build a life that doesn’t have much space for things you don’t want because it is too full of things you do want.

I'm really honored to share this moment with you.  Look out world, its graduation day for the Lakewood High School Class of 2012! 

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I'm writing from my seat on a ferry coming back from Catalina Island, where Cari, Lysh and I spent the day. Today is my 30th birthday and It has been a great one. We went kayaking and saw a bunch of seals and pelicans, we found a beautiful private beach, and even came upon a group of small sharks in the shallows.

We also rented a golf cart and toured some of the island, stopping at a great overlook to enjoy a snack and some cold ginger beer.

A last-minute push on the student loan front resulted in another $1,000 payment since my last post. As you know, that leaves me well short of my goal.

All day today I was checking my email in hopes that I would get word that the grant that would enable me to pay off the rest of my loans had come through. No such word came.

As the sun (which is eclipsing at the moment) sinks into the ocean off the coast of California, it is time to officially declare that I have failed in my goal to pay off my $60k student loan debt in the 80 weeks before my 30th birthday.

When I declared this game 80 weeks ago, I was recently unemployed and I was unsure how I was going to make rent, let alone aggressively pay down my debt. I started playing in part to get me thinking bigger than just making ends meet- and it worked.

By week 14, I was off of unemployment and I have never gone back. I have been able to make ends meet and handle many extra expenses like travel, taxes and medical bills. On top of it all, I've paid off almost $25,000 in debt. To call the game a failure, while technically true, doesn't tell the whole story.

I've done some thinking about what is next for me and my goal to be debt free by 30. I considered just leaving it here, and finding other things to do with any extra income I have. In fact, that is a very attractive thought.

I don't think I've mentioned this yet, but a few months ago, my high school asked me to be this year's graduation speaker. I get to give my speech to the class of 2012 on Saturday. In preparation, I reached out to some of my class, the class of 2000, to see what advice they had for the graduates. One of the dominant themes in our shared experiences is that life hardly ever goes according to plan, but if you can work hard, embrace change and adapt your plans accordingly, it will work out in the end.

So, with regard to my goal to be debt free, I'm choosing today to take the game into extra innings. I'll continue working to meet my goal, starting next week, week 81, and continuing until I'm done.

I'm getting lots of birthday texts and Facebook posts with messages of encouragement and support. Thank you for all of that, and as the game continues, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Week 80

T-Minus 4 days.

I am crazy busy and booking clients left and right.  In addition to my sentiments in the video, this is how I feel.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Week 78

With 2 weeks to go, I have paid off two of my 6 loans.  Business is nuts.  I have nearly $10,000 in work booked that will pay before the end of the game, and I get new stuff every day.

After I pay the money I know I have coming, I will still need another $31,000 to win.

Impossible?  Never.

Here is how it could happen.  I have been written into a grant that would have me documenting a scientific experiment north of the arctic circle.  It is a 5-day shoot and requires lots of time to edit everything that I film and post not only summary videos, but also the raw footage to facilitate peer review.

Bottom line, if that grant is approved, I'm done.

If it doesn't get approved, then I don't know what will happen.  Whatever does happen though, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week 76

It has been far, far too long since I have posted.  This is a good thing and a bad thing.

It is good because I have been REALLY busy with work.  It is a bad thing because, as usual, I have been shooting video for the past few weeks, and with each day that goes by, the project of 'catching up' seems bigger and bigger.

I do have a couple things to share, and a video is coming, but it is not here yet.

I have a bunch of work coming out, but the first big project (new website, videos) is done.
I have $36,000 left to go on the student loans.
I have more than $70,000 in proposals pending.

I told my story last night at Arctic Entries (coolest show in Anchorage) and here is video of that.

And I went to Talkeetna, AK last week to do a social media training for the Talkeetna Chamber of Commerce - this is a clip form that: