“It’s less than two weeks until the next ad runs. If I make a new video, do you think you can switch the webpage by then?”
I was asking my long-suffering webmaster and technical expert. After recovering from my despair over the failed advertising campaign…
I stepped up to “get shit done mode”
The awful results were the perfect cold-water-in-the-balls moment to realize several things:
Fortunately, this situation wasn’t a total loss. I had a back-up plan: Put in place the advertisement I had originally crafted myself – the one the esteemed “expert” pooh-poohed.
Around the time I informed him of the ad campaign disaster…he disappeared
However, after pondering this for a while, I don’t believe he snuck away to avoid the stench of failure. I honestly think it was one of those intriguing energetic events where I was meant to witness idols crash around me. And I hold no ill-will against him.
Fortunately, my webguy determined there was a chance everything could be transferred in time. It wouldn’t be perfect, but with another thousand bucks on the line, it was better than nothing.
Days went by. I created the new marketing video for the product. It looked like everything was going to work out…
Which wasn’t much solace considering it was New Year’s Eve and I was poor, alone, with a failing business
While sitting in my apartment, a random thought came to me in a moment of subtle awakening: I’d often fantasized about the simple things I’d enjoy, once I became wealthy. One of them was eating delicious, gourmet pizza at a local Denver restaurant, without a care or worry of the cost.
“Why not enjoy that now?”
Good point. So, I sauntered over to the grocery store. Instead of buying a gourmet pizza, I’d make one. Using a gift card (thank you again, Jim Anderson) I bought a pizza cutter, flour, yeast, more than one kind of cheese, whole tomatoes, spices, and mushrooms.
That evening, I spent New Year’s Eve alone, poor, with a failing business…
But I created and baked my own damn pizza, and enjoyed every last bit of it
Soon after, the day came for the new ad to launch. Once again, I got up and prepared for work. However, unlike the previous time, I couldn’t even wait until the evening – I booted up my computer and checked my stats right then and there. My excuse was that I just wanted to make sure everything was working.
By that time in the morning, six orders had been placed, for a total of almost a couple hundred bucks. Okay, cool. These results already laid the smackdown on the other ad campaign, that was for sure. I breathed a sigh of relief, and focused on my workday.
Outside, the weather was nice. I listened in fascination to the Steve Jobs biography audiobook, and genuinely forgot about the marketing campaign for most of the day.
As I drove home, admiring the yet-to-be-taken-down Christmas lights, I wondered…
“Hey wouldn’t it be amazing if the ad brought in over $1000? Nah, there’s no way… but it would be cool…”
Once I got home, I settled in front of my computer, logged in…
…and the stats revealed it brought in over $1,000.
The warm glow of brain chemicals swept over me. There was a brief wrinkle where I quickly checked to make sure there wasn’t some error with the software, or someone hadn’t accidentally ordered five times (you wouldn’t believe the crazy stuff that can go wrong). But it was legit.
I sat, basking in the results. The best part was…proof of concept. This wasn’t about the thousand dollars. I could have thrown it all away right then and there without caring. The real gold was…my marketing worked. And if it worked here, it could work elsewhere.
It could work all over the place.
So now it was just a matter of mathematics:
Find where to spend money…and get back more money
Then scale up.
Just for the sake of something to do, I walked to the grocery store, striding up and down the aisles in a daze.
I could barely get to sleep that night, and didn’t mind a bit…
…until the next morning, when I got up feeling a little under the weather.
I calculated I should leave half an hour early, so I could swing by the post office before work, to fulfill on the orders I received. This turned out to be a gross underestimation. There was a line when I got there. It moved slow. Post office slow. Then, when I finally made it to the front, the machine broke. Of course it did. Post office. I gaped at the postal worker there.
Finally, I mailed the packages, bolted outside, and said, “excuse me” as I nearly ran over a little, old lady.
By the time I barged in the door seventeen minutes late for work, I was fuming
The snowy weather didn’t help. While bracing myself against the cold wind, my mind kept looping on my lateness… my foul mood… and why the heck did I feel so angry anyway?
It seemed so bizarre:
Nothing that made me feel so blissful the evening before, had changed. Nothing. The successful marketing was still real. So was the money. I couldn’t figure it out.
Only a couple years later did I realize the truth. What made me feel bad that morning was exactly what made me feel so good the evening before: Hormones. First, dopamine surged my system, as if I were binge drinking on the stuff.
Then came the inevitable morning after, and very real withdrawal
Ever since then, when I feel a blissful power as the result of a sudden success, I remind myself of what’s truly going on. And to see myself with understanding eyes, when the power seems to evaporate the next day. I refer to the dynamic as ebbs and flows. As a result, I’ve witnessed how, instead of my life ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide… and ultimately remaining at the same level… it’s steadily risen. As if the tempering allows the system to upgrade.
Like I said, it took me a couple years to claim that realization. However, it didn’t take me nearly as long to realize the sudden success of my advertising… would not last.
As I kept stumbling forward, investing money, and measuring results…
I learned many things about marketing and business that I never read in books
And I certainly never heard them from any grinning man promising “you’ll achieve financial freedom when you attend my meetings and use this turn-key system!”
I’ll write about them next, and why my struggle was far from over.
“Oh man I wonder how it’s going to do…I hope it profits…I’ll know by tonight…just shut up and don’t think about it…how’s it going to do…”
My brain looped and looped on this as soon as I woke up that day, and accelerated as I went through my morning meditation and drove to work. All I could focus on, whether consciously forming words about it or not, was how it was going to do.
My advertising campaign set to launch that very morning
For months, I had obsessed over a new marketing campaign for an internet business of mine. I pushed most of my savings into it, spending thousands of dollars on a contractor who came highly recommended for his ability to bring in customers.
The whole experience had been outside my comfort zone. I desperately wanted it to work, and had never handed someone else control of the marketing. But I also understood the value of outside expertise. So each time I felt gnawing fear in my gut, I pressed through it…and spent more money.
Today was the acid test. Would it pay off?
Or would I be stuck in my sign-spinning job for many, many more months?
That morning, I showed up for work and introduced myself to a new buyer. As I shifted around my bags, trying to shake hands, I dropped a full plastic water jug and it exploded all over the floor.
From there, my day remained relatively unpleasant.
A Zen mindset is to wait without expectation. That day, I waited with obsessive expectation and yearning for something to happen. My brain was like a whining dog, barely containing itself by the door, praying to be let outside. For hours.
I just wanted the day to be over so I could drive home, get on my computer, and check the stats of the ad campaign. Then I would know for sure how it was going.
Finally, the time came.
I drove home, parked at my way-too-expensive-for-me apartment, went up the elevator, scampered inside, fired up my computer, and logged onto my online software for tracking my business
I had spent a little under a thousand dollars for the advertisement. Based on its deployment schedule, I was hoping to make back most of that within a day.
I tapped on some keys…and clicked to open the page that would display the numbers. And I was greeted with…
I slouched in my chair, slowly slid off onto the floor, and curled into the fetal position
After a couple minutes, I attempted to rise, dry heaved, and remained on the floor.
Soon I became too physically exhausted to feel so distraught, so I got up and walked like a zombie to bed. I was scheduled for work the next day, and needed some sleep.
The next morning, I awoke, went through the same morning meditation, and drove to work.
Along the way I pondered how I thought of this event as such a monumental “litmus test.” I felt chained to my job, forced into menial labor for eternity.
Then a shift took place
I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but this is how I began questioning myself:
“Nate, are you going to let this stop you?”
“So this is just a bump in the road, right?”
“One that you’ll look back on years from now, and remember fondly as the time you were in the thick of struggle, working your way out to eventually succeed?”
“So why not feel that way right now? Why not take pride in it, and even enjoy yourself in a perverse way?”
I had to admit… I had a point. And, my mood shifted. I decided to feel okay in the moment, and even relish the setback.
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about that morning
And, typing this now, I have to smile and admit… it came true. Not just a little bit, but 100% true. Of course, the turnaround didn’t happen overnight.
In fact, just a week later, I tested out another ad. This time, one created by me. The results were dramatically different… and lead to a very strange outcome. I’ll write about that next.
“I’m going to scrub this nasty toilet so clean, you’ll be able to eat off it!” I thought to myself, before attacking the public bathroom with the feverish intensity of Pollock dripping a painting.
From the outset of landing my job as a sign-spinner, I knew I had an opportunity on my hands and I wanted to maximize its value to me. Specifically:
I’ll cover these in order. The first is simple: I wanted to keep my job. I was paranoid I’d be tossed out like trash due to the expendable nature of my position. This happened to dozens and dozens of my co-workers. But not to me. In fact (and I’ll get into this later)…
I was figuratively and quite literally one of the “last men standing” during the company’s lifespan
There were many reasons for this, but I believe it started with a simple one:
The number of times I showed up late, I can count on one hand. Keep in mind, I worked at this place for years. I performed every little responsibility (taking out the trash, cleaning the windows, mopping the break room floor) to a greater degree than expected.
Sometimes I messed up, like adding way too much window cleaner to the bucket. But I never knowingly neglected things. In fact, my first day, I didn’t know how to properly dispose of the trash bag (the buyer had already left)… so I simply took it home with me (and then threw it out at my apartment complex. I didn’t, like, set it up on my mantelpiece or anything).
Anyway, this sort of follow-through made it much easier for me to make myself heard when I wanted to advance my career.
To my second point about learning and growing, I showed up my first day with headphones and an MP3 player already loaded with audiobooks. Very soon, my biggest problem was not enough material for all the hours I spent outside (a good problem to have, I surmised). I picked out audios on business, marketing, self-development, that sort of thing. Also some biographies. Steve Jobs was a biggie. So was George Washington.
I still remember one day, while listening to the story of George Washington marching his troops through the woods in winter, I stood outside in the middle of a blizzard
I was like, “Yeah! I’m George Washington baby!”
In order to show up for my shift virtually always on time, I came early and read a book while waiting for the store to open. Later, I’d just spend time breathing and quieting my mind.
To my third point:
I had 30 minutes for lunch. To maximize the time allocated, I’d first arrange my meal on the table in the breakroom, and then do a relaxing, seated meditation for the first half of my break. Then I’d use the remaining time to eat. I virtually never missed a lunchtime meditation doing this.
Because my job involved standing for hours five days per week, I figured I wouldn’t be able to do standing meditations at home due to physical exhaustion. For the first week or so, I held back doing them. Later, I experimented and realized I could indeed do stances. So, after a day of working outside in a standing position, I’d come home and almost immediately settle into an hour of standing meditations. It’s amazing what the human body is capable of, if you just do it.
At a certain point, I bought a pair of big ceramic magnets and would bring them outside with me, whenever I was working a store that didn’t require a lot of changing my physical position. And if it did, I still used the magnets in the breakroom for breaks and lunch. I also stretched regularly, but not every workday.
Often, I’d use one of my 10-minute breaks to call a media company about an advertising campaign I was arranging for my business.
Sometimes I’d smile…
Wondering what the person on the other end of the line would think, if they saw the person they were chatting with was sitting in a dingy breakroom wearing a 100-dollar bill costume dripping with melting snow
Sometimes, the amount I was spending on these advertising campaigns exceeded my monthly income from the job. This did not stop me (well…until I ran out of money. That stopped me. Until I saved up more…then I started again).
Also, throughout this time (and for most of my adult life) I’ve kept a regular journal of my daily experiences. So I have a detailed recounting of all the weird stuff I went through. I’m going to go through it to start pulling specifics I can write about. That was another advantage of this job:
My daily routine was so repetitive, it became a backdrop of sameness I could test new ideas against, to see how they affected me physically, mentally, financially, spiritually, etc. My sparse, routine, simple life became a wall I could throw stuff against, to see what would stick. My lack of responsibility and attention became an advantage.
Earlier in life, I often pondered how being stuck in a prison cell could confer certain advantages in terms of focus…
Later, my life took on those aspects as I cancelled my cable TV and devoted my non-working hours to working on my business.
Anyhoo, this post doesn’t have as many amusing anecdotes and actual stories as I’d like to include, but I’ll make up for that. This sets the stage of what my average day was like, as context for more specific events. Like when I called 911 for the first time in my life… stood in awe of a beatific cloud of dandelion seeds blowing through the spring air… and, in the summer, sweltered deliriously in 100-degree heat…
“You’re, uh, okay with wearing a costume, right?”
“Yep,” I replied, with zero hesitation…although I took a moment to inwardly ponder what my life had come to…
I was at a job interview, which consisted only of my future manager confirming I had a car, was able to work fulltime, could start that Sunday…and that I was willing to wear a giant hundred-dollar bill costume. Or Santa Claus, during the approaching Christmas season.
It was easy to understand why the application process for this gig was so perfunctory. My responsibilities would consist of dancing, waving, and spinning around a sign on various street corners, to attract customers into a store where they could sell their gold and silver.
“This is too good to be true,” I kept thinking, “It’s so perfect.”
Let me backtrack and explain why my life had arrived at this point.
Especially considering I had a goal to become a millionaire by this age…
Instead, I was facing an impending bankruptcy. Roughly a year ago, a business of mine dried up. In another that I was involved with, a principle partner (who controlled the bank account) opted to stop sending me checks. Suing would have been more trouble than it would have been worth, I surmised, so I let that go and focused solely on improving my own lot.
After a year of trying to prime the pump on my sputtering business, I knew I needed to get a job for food and rent money. Pronto. Just a temporary gig until I got back on my feet.
I was living in downtown Denver, CO, in a nice apartment I could no longer afford.
If I didn’t have my financial head up my ass, I would never have signed a lease for it in the first place
So when reality hit me like being force-fed a tray of ice cubes, one day I sat down and tried to figure out what kind of job I was qualified for.
In my mind…not many. I had no college degree. I’d been out of the workforce since before high school (not counting self-employment). Getting a gig in a marketing position would be tricky. It might take a while. I needed money, like, right now.
So I hopped onto Craigslist, and selected the category appropriate for the other strength I brought to the table: General Labor. I was 25 years old and in good shape.
That’s when I saw the ad for a full-time sign spinner
I fantasized how awesome it would be: I could show up…do my thing…listen to audiobooks all day…and then go home and work on my business. Imagine getting paid to do that! I figured it wouldn’t happen…
…but it did. Two weeks after replying to the ad (and by that time I had forgotten about it…interesting, eh?) I got a phone call from a manager at the business, so I drove on over. And shortly after I affirmed I was cool wearing a costume, he hired me.
That Sunday, I drove to the store to begin my first shift. Like I mentioned before, the business was a chain of stores buying gold and silver. This was in December, 2011, and you might recall the value of gold was rocketing up. People with gold jewelry were eager to sell for cash. This business, along with a bunch of competitors, sprang up out of nowhere and by the time they hired me, they were already five locations strong and were opening more.
Important side-note: For the past several years, I had been socially isolated. So not only was this my first time working an actual job as an adult, but a big leap into interacting with other people on a daily basis.
It shook me to the core…
What was interesting, though, was how this job seemed tailored to ease me into the experience, like dipping a sore body into a hot tub. Let me explain:
Each “store” was really just one room with a waiting area (a couch and TV) and a “buying station” that consisted of a buyer at a desk, who tested out the gold and silver and made the potential customer an offer. The buyer was my de facto manager for the day. So unlike a large retail or grocery store that bustles with people, every workday was just me and a single buyer. 80% of the time, it was a cute girl around my age or slightly younger. Again, interesting how the universe works. Not only was I getting paid to interact with attractive women (and I seriously needed the practice) but they were my freaken managers as well. As I’ll get into later, this was both a great… and often painful… learning experience.
Anyway, my first day was a blast. I cranked up an audiobook, headed outside, and waved to traffic while holding my sign. After a few minor pointers from the buyer during my first break, I was practically a pro.
Before beginning, I wondered if this job would enable me to practice standing meditations, but the constant movement precluded that for the most part. Still, as I’ll detail later, I would be able to meditate in many ways.
So that Sunday was a cinch. Monday would be a little trickier…
…mostly because it was around 20 degrees out the whole day, and a blizzard
I wore a Santa Claus costume on top of my three layers of winter clothing, which helped protect me from the bitter cold. Now, imagine this:
My job was full-time. I was required to be out the door by 10:05AM. From there, sign spinners like myself were encouraged to stay outside for a full two hours before coming in for our first break. Constant movement and waving of our signs, was emphasized. We had to make sure to always face oncoming traffic at all times, from our position on the sidewalk in front of the store. We were allowed three, ten-minute breaks per day, plus half an hour for lunch. We were allowed to come in at 5:50PM to begin cleaning up for the day.
At all other times, we were outside, pretty much no matter what the weather… no matter how tired we felt… or anything else.
Five days per week.
Many guys who were hired, quit their first day. Sometimes, in the first hour…
Me? I loved it. Standing on my feet was easy. The weather, I could prepare for. I brought a jug of water with me. I prepared a list of audiobooks. And, instead of stressing out all day over interactions with people and performing mental tasks… I just had to move around and wave a sign. For someone with my goals and disposition, it was almost blissful. Almost.
Like I said before, it was almost like the universe handpicked this job just for me. Which is probably why, instead of being a temporary gig, I stayed at the company for almost three years. In fact, eventually I’d completely take over their marketing, partied with the owner, had shouting matches with managers, and experienced bizarre spiritual events while outside that I still regard in awe when I recall them today.
This was in between bouts of getting shouted at and flipped off by people in cars
And harassed (sometimes physically) by people walking the streets. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is enough for a first post. In the next one, I’ll get into some of the weird things I experienced while standing on my feet on a street corner alone for hours and weeks and months on end, and neat lessons I learned. All of them would come in handy as my life transitioned and I eventually became prosperous…