Everybody else knows what you should do with your life

Do you know what you want to do with the rest of your life?  No? Well I bet everybody else could tell you what you should do!  I’ve got a great career in the computer software field and I’m about to graduate from massage school.  I’m getting really tired of people assuming that I should do one thing or the other.   Their assumptions are particularly frustrating because I could use some good conversation and feedback.

There’s the majority of people that assume that I should keep my high paying, visible, successful career.  They seem to be focused on the salary and the fact that it’s a "successful" career.  Then there’s the group of people that assume because I went to school and I’m graduating, I should do that for a career.

My problem is that I don’t know what I want to do and I want to talk to people about it but it’s really hard to have a productive conversation when they’ve already decided what I should do without even knowing how I feel!

For example here’s a conversation I had on Sunday:

Friend: I think it’s so great that you’ve put all this time into school and you’re about to graduate, start a business, have flexible hours and be able to spend more time with your kids.  What a great thing you are doing.
Me: I’m not planning on quitting my job and going into massage.
Friend: Stormy! You’ve got to. You can do. You’ll be able to spend more time with your kids!
Me: Quitting work and starting a massage business wasn’t really ever the plan. 
Friend: It’s tough to start a massage business but you can do it!

And the conversation I want to be having is about what do I want to do.  Not how I can do it.  I’m completely confident I can work out the details of whatever I want to do, if I could only figure out what that was!

Luckily, I live in a time when we are all going to live long enough to have three or four careers so I don’t just have to pick just one!  I can be a software geek and then a massage therapist and then a doctor and then a librarian.  Or maybe a book scout.   Or I could just try to do them all at once!

Selling used books online

I love books so when I stumbled across a blog post about creating your own online used bookstore, I read it and then googled some more and then read some more.  Supposedly there are people that scout for books at estate sales, thrift stores and used bookstores and then sell those books online.  Sounds kind of fun.  Spend all day looking at books, find treasures and sell them.

What I can’t figure out is how they make much money.  Let’s assume you want to make $50K/yr.  You’d have to make $2K/wk which
means you’d have to sell 20 books a week at $100 profit (how many of those can
there be??) or 200 books at $10 profit (still not a lot) or 400 books
at $5 profit (most likely.)  That means you’d have to find 400 books/week!! 

How many estate sales and garage sales would you have to go to to find 400 books worth $5 used?  Even if you found two $100 books and 100 $10 books, you’d still have to find another 160 books that were being undersold by $5.  That’s a lot of books.

It sounds like a better hobby than a career.


So I thought about this some more and realized that I was wrong because I forgot about inventory.  From what I’ve read, you can assume 30% of the books you list sell in the first month and that each month you sell 10% of your inventory.  That makes $50K/year much more realistic.  Here’s the logic:

  • To make $50K/year, you have to make $1K/week.
  • Assume 4 weeks/month for simplicity reasons.
  • If you find $4K/month (in profits, regardless of what the books sell for), you’ll sell $1200/month of that.
  • You’ll put the remaining $2800 into your inventory.
  • Assuming your inventory has $28K in profit, and you sell 10% a month, you’ll sell $2800/month of that.  And the stuff you found this month that didn’t sell will replenish that.
  • So you:
    • found $4000
    • sold $4000 ($1200 of what you found plus $2800 from your inventory)
    • maintain an inventory of $28000

So all is good.  And finding $1000/week in profits sounds hard but much more doable than my original assumptions.  Assuming you work five days a week, you can find 20 books a day for a dollar that will sell for $11 or you can find 2 for a dollar that will sell for $101.  Not easy but perhaps possible.


Is life too easy in the Peace Corps?

My cousin Kelsi is in the Peace Corps and people have been giving her a hard time that she’s got it easy.  She’s really been enjoying the Domican Republic and writing some great stories about the country and the people there.  Having been in third world countries and a lot of Carribean countries, I don’t think it she has it easy.  I’m really glad she’s enjoying the good parts.  In her email today she shared one of the negative sides for the first time:

The first thing I saw when I got to my house in La Cienega was the hugest rat I
had ever seen being chased by the family dog.  I about started freaking out on
the spot, but since it was the family´s first impression of me, I held it
together as much as I could.  They reassure me that there are no rats in the
house, but I have the dog and cat sleep in my room just in case.

It reminded me of a hotel in Honduras where I was sitting at the pool and two rats tried to climb up on my chair.  I pulled up my feet and let my friend continue to sleep in the other lounger.  What else could you do?  I certainly wasn’t going to go anywhere while they were there!  I wish I’d had a dog!

Five Easy Ways to (Maybe) Discover What You Are Meant to Do With Your Life

Pamela from Escape from Cubicle Nation has these five questions she recommends answering to find out what you should do with your life.  I answered them for fun and then I debated posting them here as they could be a bit personal but I thought it would be fun to see if you guys can figure out what I’m passionate about by reading them.  Your ideas are welcome!

What is your favorite movie?  Pelican Brief – she solves a mystery, writes a brief, it gets noticed by important people, she’s in New Orleans – my second favorite city, trying to hide – I like the challenge of how you would hide, trying to right a wrong.   My next favorite would be an action movie – any of the Tom Clancy movies with Harrison Ford, or that one where Harrison Ford proves he’s innocent of murdering his wife because a one man arm did it or the Saint or that one where they track nuclear weapons to New York City.  Action all the way.  With a challenging mystery that the main character solves.

What are your favorite channels on television?  Channels?  Frank tapes all the shows with the DVR.  All I know are the names of my favorite shows – not even what day they come on!  ER and Gray’s Anatomy would be my favorites although they tend to get a bit soap opera-ish.  I also enjoy watching CSI with Frank.  If there’s anything else on … well, I’ll never know if I like it unless Frank tapes it and says I should watch it.

What kind of art museums are you attracted to?  Art.  Hmm.  I liked seeing all the dinosaurs at the Smithsonian.  Does that count as art?  If I had to pick an art form, it would be photography.  There’s a photographer here in Colorado who has studios at the airport and in Broomfield and he takes amazing pictures of wildlife.  But I like pictures of people best.  They don’t have to be people I know but those are the best ones.

What kind of music do you love? Country music.  Time Marches On and Any Man of Mine and the one about the girl (as the boy grows up) are probably my favorites.

What kind of outdoor environment makes you the most happy?  Summer.  Sitting outside at a restaurant in downtown Fort Collins.  Preferably with friends but alone is still fun as long as there’s lots of people around and lots going on.  Sitting on the Ramblas in Barcelona rates pretty high too.  As does the River Walk in New Orleans.  And parts of New York City and San Francisco.  Busy, hot cities in the summer.

So what do you think?  Do you know what I should do now?

Will our current corporate culture change?

Escape from the Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim has a podcast by Dr. Srikumar Rao, Columbia and London Business Schools, author of Are You Ready to Succeed?  My favorite quote was:

I don’t have a work life and a personal life.  I have one life and either it’s working or it’s not.

If you are the same person at work and at home and if you are unhappy at work or at home, you’ll likely be unhappy both at work and at home.

Pamela thinks the corporate environment is so broken that so many people will start leaving to start their own business that corporations will have to change in order to keep people.  Maybe I’m a cynic but I think it’s much easier for people to go into work everyday and collect a paycheck than it is for them to dream up a business model, quit and run a business.   I think corporations and the current corporate culture is around to stay for a while.

One of the reasons that many small business owners are not successful is because they want to do what they love, not run a business.  For example, massage therapists go into massage because they like massage therapy and want to help people and then they discover that you have to run your own business.   Giving massages is not the same as advertising, making business cards, renting an office, scheduling clients, etc.  Running a business is a lot of work.  If you just like writing code or giving massages or fixing cars, you might not be willing to quit your job to start a business of your own.  You might spend a lot less time actually writing code or giving massages.

Which would you prefer, more money or more friends?

I just read a very thought provoking article, Why Having More No Longer Makes Us Happy by Bill McKibben.  The author argues that pursuing more wealth worked well in the past when we didn’t have much material wealth but now that we are a relatively wealthy nation, pursuing more and more wealth is making us less happy not happier.   His main points are:

  1. We are pursuing more and more wealth because it worked in the past,
  2. We are spending less and less time with family and friends,
  3. We are busier and more isolated,
  4. And it isn’t working anymore.

He points out that if you are rich in relationships and poor, more money might make you happy, but if you are poor in relationships and have plenty of money, a new friend will make you much happier than more money.  If you are a peasant in China with lots of relationships and no money, a little money can go a long way towards making you happier but a sixth person living in your house won’t.  On the flip side, if you are an American living in a 2000 square foot house, another friend might make you a lot happier than the money for another coffee maker.

He argues that in the pursuit of wealth, we’ve lost our community.  We spend less and less time with family and friends and more and more time isolated: commuting, working, watching tv, surfing the internet.  And yet studies show that it’s social networks (the real ones, not the virtual ones) that keep us happy and even healthy.  Robert E. Lane, a Yale political
science professor writes that "evidence shows that companionship … contributes more to
well-being than does income."

One point he made that really struck me because I can’t tell you how many people told me that college was going to be the best years of my life and I kept asking, "Why?  Does it go downhill from there?"  Apparently it does if you look at the quality of your relationships.

Why do people so often look back on their college days as the best
years of their lives? Because their classes were so fascinating? Or
because in college, we live more closely and intensely with a community
than most of us ever do before or after?

Something I read recently said that the number of friends we have drops off dramatically after our 20s.  Recently, I’ve realized that I really miss the number of friends I had in my teens and 20s.  I did things with large groups of friends several times a week if not every day.  Now we are lucky if we squeeze something in once a week.  And even when you have time (like when I was on maternity leave), your friends likely won’t have time!

So think about it.  Increasing the time you spend with your friends and extended family will do more to make you happy than a raise at work.  And I’d even argue it’d make you happier than winning the lottery!

Would you save 2500 kids?

I sit around and wonder what to do with my life.  What’s my purpose in life?  And then I read about someone like Irena Sendler.  This amazing woman saved the lives of 2500 children!  Can you imagine?  She helped 2500 Jewish children in Poland find homes with Catholic families so they would escape the concentration camp.  She herself was tortured but she didn’t give away any information about the children.

I’m sure she didn’t go out looking for ways to save the world but when the opportunity presented itself, she stepped up to the plate.  She saw a need and stepped in to help at great cost and expense to herself.

How do we make sure that if the opportunity presents itself to us, that we recognize it?  And how do we find these opportunities?  My first response is "well, we all won’t get the opportunity to save children from the Nazis" but then my next thought is "no, but there’s probably even bigger opportunities today." 

Irena Sendler is now 97 years old and her only regret is that she didn’t do more. 

Winning the lottery isn’t all it’s cut out to be

Why do we all play the lottery when it’s been proven that winning the lottery won’t make us any happier?  Lottery winners are no happier six months after they win the lottery than they were before they one.  Many of them are considerably unhappier.

I wrote a few days ago about how money isn’t evil.  The flip side is also true – money won’t solve all your problems.   I think we play the lottery because we don’t want to go to work everyday and we think we want a new car, maybe a new house and fancier vacations.  The real problem is that we don’t know what we want – we don’t know what would make us happy.  While money is certainly an enabler and I believe having money is a good thing, it won’t help you figure out the purpose of your life.  Money won’t help you figure out what makes you happy.  It won’t tell you how to spend your day. 

The key to happiness isn’t winning the lottery, it’s figuring out what makes you happy.  I guarantee that if you know what makes you happy, what you enjoy doing every day, you can find a way to do that and pay the bills.   But no matter how big the jackpot is, it won’t tell you what to do with the rest of your life.