How The Denver Direct Response Business MasterMind Was Born

Published December 15, 2017 in Marketing - 0 Comments

Many times, during my 3+ year stint in Boulder, I curled into the fetal position on my condo floor, and cried.

For several months, I started every day with a glass half-full of a vodka/energy drink mix. You could have called me a “glass-half-full morning kind of alcoholic.”

In the midst of this isolation and warped sense of self, I scrambled to build various online businesses. All my partners and vendors were out-of-state, except for a DVD duplicator. So I was not working alongside allies in a bustling office. Instead, I languished in a dead-quiet apartment – save for blaring television and computer screens.

A couple years later, I filed for bankruptcy.

I feel fine about that. Shit happens. And, if you’re lucky, so does rock-bottom.

What I don’t feel fine about… is how long it took me to get back on my feet.

For almost three years, I earned $10-12 per hour waving around a sign while standing on a street corner. I wore a goofy costume shaped and colored like a $100 bill. Car exhaust and dirt caked the fabric until it looked like I wore a tattered dress. Hundreds of people flipped me off, screamed at me, waved at me, and cheered me on. A crackhead grabbed me. I called 911 once. Someone made a goat noise at me. It was a blast.

Until that company went belly-up and I got a job unloading trucks. That was pure torture.

Finally, in 2014, I packed up all my stuff and drove to Baltimore for a life-transforming career. After I established myself, I moved back to Denver.

This time, I was determined not to make the same stupid mistakes twice.

And I’m not talking about the bankruptcy or the risks or starting new businesses.

Less than 24 hours after getting my new apartment keys – before my bed even arrived from Amazon – I had dinner with a friend who lived in Fort Collins. I asked him who else he knew in the Denver-area, in the same industry we were in.

He thought of a few peeps.

So I asked for introductions.

Every time my friend introduced me to someone via email, I asked that new contact if we could grab coffee.

Roughly 90% of the time, we ended up meeting. Getting to know each other was easy. We could talk about how we knew our mutual friend. What our businesses were. Our goals. Who we learned from. How we could help each other.

80% of the time, we clicked.

“You know,” I said to a few new friends, “There’s so many of us direct response marketers in Denver, but we don’t really know each other, and we never meet. It’d be cool to have a casual MasterMind where we get together and share ideas.”

They all agreed. But nobody was doing it.

So I did it.

I emailed everyone I met with some tentative dates, a few weeks in advance. When enough people confirmed they could attend, I reserved a small meeting room downtown. Actually, a new friend lent a meeting room he had access too – so it was free.

We gathered around a table, and I thanked everyone for coming. Then I asked everyone to introduce themselves and tell a little about their business. We went around the table.

Then we did “hotseats.”

One person at the table would described a project he was working on, and get feedback from everyone else.

I have no idea why it’s called a hotseat.

Maybe because the person gets nervous about being on the spot, and sweats on the seat?

Everyone loved the meeting. So I made sure to host more. About every six weeks.

The meetings grew in size and scope. People had ideas on how to improve them. But I knew better. My top priority was keeping them consistent, on track, and making sure everyone who attended was a great person.

Someone I met for coffee suggested I film videos promoting the event, and post photos of it on Facebook.


Someone came up with a plan where new members would pay $20, and the referring member gets a piece of that.


Someone else suggested I start a Facebook group.


There were some private rules I came up with, to make sure the meetings didn’t mutate into lame, shitty events people tolerate once or twice and then abandon.

My goal was to build something sustainable.

As months went by, my friends introduced me to more contacts. Some were a fit for the MasterMind. Some weren’t. The meetings evolved. One thing didn’t change: I held them roughly every six weeks – to keep the momentum going.

That was almost two years ago.

The group has survived and thrived. We’ve watched our careers and businesses shift, and helped them grow. We make deals. And introductions to trusted people. We’ve helped each other through scary leaps of faith. During dinner after one meeting, I shared how I was weeks away from paying off $96,326.31 in IRS debt (and later, I texted my friends a photo of the Certificate of Release of Federal Tax Lien, when I did).

My stupid mistake that kept me so miserable in Boulder, and kept me trapped in financial starvation after my bankruptcy, was remaining alone. Working in isolation. Not fostering a dynamic group.

When I moved back to Denver over two years ago, I vowed not to make that mistake again. And I succeeded.

You can do the same.

If you feel stuck in your career, or growing your business, you can build a network like this. It’s a long-term play. Your chief aim is to create a group of dynamic people who can help each other. You keep them on-track (I joke that my job is to “herd cats” during these things).

You must guard your group against wolves. And well-meaning people who will bring the energy down.

You have to put in the extra work to keep everything running smoothly.

And you pay. Everyone else enjoys the meetings for free. A-players won’t jump at something they must pay for, until you’re very established. Even then, you still might not want to do it. It’s like investing in a stock and receiving dividends. Do you take the cash or reinvest? It’s hard to go wrong reinvesting.

The day I wrote the bulk of this, I scheduled the next MasterMind meeting – on the day before my birthday. I’ll probably open the meeting by saying something similar to: “There’s only one thing I can think of that I’d rather be doing right now.”

That’s how valuable these meetings are. They’re a completely different animal than regular networking. And you don’t have to slog through a bunch of strangers to get started. You just need one friend. And then another. And another. The other players in the group might shift around, but if you become the sun the draws everything in, you’ll grow a powerhouse asset.

Should You Quit Your Job Cold Turkey To Start A Business

Published December 7, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

One early morning, while it was still dark outside, a friend of mine bolted awake in a cold sweat.

Even though he lived under a roof with his wife and five children, he felt completely alone. Because, instead of providing for them, he was leading the entire family into a death spiral of debt.

Just a few months earlier, he’d quit his secure job to start his own consulting business. His savings evaporated. He burned over $90,000 in expenses, while earning only a few grand in return.

Financially, he was steering himself right off the cliff, and taking his family with him.

Years later, we had dinner together.

He told me he chose the right path. According to my friend, the shock of losing that illusory safety net, was exactly what he needed to get his ass in gear.

I struggled to believe he was right

Hindsight is – supposedly – 20/20. It’s usually sharper than your vision in the moment, at least. And who knows what could have happened, from taking a different path?

Nevertheless, I thought my friend was nuts. Because I jumped straight into being an entrepreneur, without a full-time job as a safety net. It kicked my ass.

So is it always a bad idea to leave your career cold-turkey to start your own business? Should you moonlight instead? Or… perhaps… is breaking your handcuffs as an employee, your only hope?

Rather than declare one as “the” truth, here are five reasons to stay at your job, and five reasons to quit.

Five reasons why it’s insane to quit your job

  1. If you tear apart your safety net – as phony as it might have been – you might stress about it, which limits your creativity and turns your business vision myopic.

Despite what some motivational gurus might say, putting your back to the wall in a situation of near-panic, rarely inspires genuine and healthy creativity. Especially for making money. Instead, it spurs you to take irrational risks and blinds you to opportunities.

  1. You limit your cash reserve – and choke off its growth.

As old acquaintance once told me over a decade ago, about business, “Things like this always take longer than you think.”

I replied, “Yeah and sometimes they happen faster!”

I was much younger then.

He shrugged and nodded…

… and he probably continued to make millions of dollars while I went bankrupt a few years later.

Things take longer than you think. They’re more expensive. This can be a problem when you have limited seed capital. Especially when you’re also using it to buy food and shelter.

  1. You risk burning a bridge that could come in handy later.

When I worked for a gold-buying business five years ago, a fellow employee gave two weeks’ notice. She asked the owner if she could ever come back, if things didn’t work out at her new job. He said yes. She said something to the effect of, “Oh good so I can have you as a back-up!” He almost fired her on the spot. She meant no harm or disrespect. But any time you transition, there’s no guaranteed you can push the factory reset button.

  1. Your motivation might mutate into malaise.

Think you’ll be fired up to take action, because you got rid of your safety net and claimed all this free time? Ha! Don’t be surprised if you park your butt in front of your television instead. Your brain will come up with all kinds of soothing excuses for sitting on your duff.

You need a bit of relaxation…

You’re letting the creative juices stew…

You’ll work later in the day (and you never do)…

You’ve got other responsibilities, like cleaning your fridge for the third time…

You’re hiding from fear.

You’re avoiding the discomfort of doing something new.

You’re fortifying yourself well within your comfort zone.

In this case, your free time works against you. It convinces you that you can relax your pace. You’ll lose your sense of urgency. You’ll be like the hare, taking a nap as the gainfully-employed tortoise slowly catches up…

  1. You lose out on valuable lessons a workplace can offer.

If you’re an employee at a functional company, then you’re getting paid to attend a magical business school. Every meeting, project, criticism, test result, and interaction is a chance to learn how to grow a company. And you’re getting paid to learn it all!

Same deal if you’re working at a dysfunctional company. You get to see what causes meetings, projects, criticisms, test results, and interactions to fail. Take careful mental notes (or even written notes and turn it into a book!) of what goes wrong and why.

But if you quit to start your own gig, you miss out on these lessons.

Now the flipside. Here are…

Five reasons to leave your soul-sucking job

  1. Your co-workers are keeping you in the bucket.

Building a business is tough enough, without a bunch of crabs reaching out with their claws and clasping your legs, dragging you back into your shared dungeon. This is where making a clean break could be a life-saver. It’s hard for “friends” to make snide comments or lead you astray, when they can’t get ahold of you. Or, more realistically, it’s just a tad too difficult to get ahold of you, for them to overcome their laziness.

  1. Your job might not be so soul-sucking, leaving you in a “golden handcuffs” situation.

Do you have it so good that the big, scary world of entrepreneurship is just a little too foreboding for you to make the leap? Then you might have golden handcuffs syndrome! The cure may be to focus on your level of personal fulfillment, and recognize no amount of security or income can fill that bucket.

Or the cure could be just ripping off the band-aid.

  1. You don’t have enough bandwidth to give your business a solid go.

If you stumble home mentally exhausted every night at 10PM, then you don’t have the momentum you need to start something new. This was why my old sign-spinning job was so perfect for me. I’d stand on my feet all day outside. Very little mental effort. Then, I’d come home and engage my brain at night.

  1. Cutting your safety net really does motivate you.

Sometimes, having your back to the wall actually does work. More to the point, it’s the only situation that works for you. If so, start some fires and let them push you towards that wall!

  1. Your job really is soul-sucking… and it prevents you from growing out of it.

Sometimes, a shitty job can inspire you to climb out of it. Other times, it strikes just the right balance of shitty-ness, easiness, and mindless routine to destroy your oomph. In this case, consider simply changing your job, rather than diving off the entrepreneurial cliff to see if you’ll fly.

And here’s a bonus #6 for both options:

Consider how valuable your networking opportunities are right now. Huh, I get a little “blech!” reaction every time I type the word “networking” but, well, shit… it’ll do. Anyway, your current job might be giving you valuable opportunities to meet potential partners. Without as much time pressure. And you’re getting paid to do it. That’s a very good reason to stay at your job.

On the other hand, maybe your job is occupying your time and mental space in an industry completely different from what you want to dive into. So it’s actually barring you from the networking (heh, I’m starting to like that word again) that’ll help you.

So which route to take? We’re back to the age-old question asked by frustrated employees yearning for more:

“Should I quit my job and jump into building a business full-time? Or build my business in my off-hours, while keeping my job?”

What’s the true answer? Because I listed reasons going both ways, I bet you can guess…

As the perpetually-chilled-out denizens of Thailand like to say, “Up to you.”

People hate that answer. Especially non-entrepreneurs (take note of that). You need to diagnose your situation and identify which choice will work best for you.

Me? After diving into the deep end – and hitting my head on the bottom – I eventually got a job… and back on my feet. Then I seamlessly transitioned to self-employment. And now I’m also building a business.

My friend? After getting beaten up enough, he figured out how to grow his consulting business. Now it runs on word-of-mouth. All his children have moved out. I think he’s a grandpa now. And he doesn’t spend even a microsecond worrying about money.

Which is right for you?

“Up to you.”

School Principal Changes My Life

Published December 1, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

The school hallway loomed as large as an airplane hangar as I paced towards the Principal’s Office. Without the crowds of kids shuffling from class to class, or dashing out the door to busses, everything felt eerily quiet and empty. Especially to a small nine-year-old.

I was in trouble for something. Most of the time, I didn’t know what, until someone told me. Then I remembered. It was usually because of a fight.

After arriving at the main office, they directed me to wait on a bench. All too soon, I found myself called into the Principal’s Office, where I sat and stared up at him, as he read through some files about me.

He was so bald, his head shone, and he sported a big, wacky, bushy beard.

He spoke with a booming voice that was too jubilant to be God-like.

I waited.

He fussed with the papers a little more. Then he turned, looked down at me, nodded his head, and boomed, “You’re a… you know… YOU’RE A GOOD KID.”


I was?

Okay, I was a good kid.

I had never consciously considered the idea, one way or the other. But in that moment, a perfect storm of psychological sparks came together. I was visiting one of the most authoritative figures in my existence. I was scared, but my guard was down because I deferred to him.

And he declared something about me with complete conviction.

His words didn’t just seep into my consciousness.

They zipped inside like light beams shooting through the universe.

Invisible until they hit something.

Sure, I had my problems for years after that. Awful ones. But what’s striking is how I never stole cars, dealt drugs or abused the hard ones, or became a criminal. Some of that was probably because I was too alone and lacked the creativity… but I wonder how much the Principal helped that day. Along with everyone else who affirmed I was inherently okay.

Thank you, Principal, for reminding me of a truth I needed to hear.

It’s horrible that some children hear the opposite. A sick tragedy. They’re growing and absorbing as much information as they can… completely unable to sift and sort like they should… and someone tells them they’re bad.

The programming slips right in… folds itself into a deep crevice… and runs for the rest of the child’s life. Into adulthood.

Unleashing yet another cycle of pain.

I still need to remind myself that I’m a good kid. It’s interesting how one’s self-image can vary so much, based on splintering one’s life into sections. Money. Sex. Appearance. Parent. Boss.

But the reminder is so simple. If your heart’s in the right place, you’re okay. You’re human. Yeah, you make mistakes.


What To Ask Before You Talk Shit About Someone

Published November 23, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

A couple evenings after launching Should You Date Nate, I stood in my bedroom doing a brief standing meditation. Similar to a practice called zhan zhuang.

After a couple minutes, I sensed a peculiar, pleasant energy flowing to me from all directions. And from many, many different sources. As if I were standing in the middle of a packed stadium, feeling the rumbling crowd resonate through the air to envelope me.

Suddenly, I found myself thinking, “So that’s what he meant.”

An old teacher of mine had said over and over, “Celebrate your critics and naysayers because they give you energy.”

I’m sure virtually everyone who heard that, assumed he meant critics can motivate and inspire you to prove them wrong, and keep you “on your toes” (a funny and mostly dysfunctional position for a grounded response, now that I consider the phrase).

He was pointing to something deeper. I know, because that night I had the visceral experience of what he actually meant.

I was curious to discover what inner healing and empowerment I’d experience. Already, some hate mail from my ad was flowing in. I knew the tsunami was warming up.

The campaign changed my perspective on talking shit about someone. Now, whenever I’m tempted to “know” the story of someone else, I stop to wonder if my assumptions are true. And if the information is true.

Another seed was planted in my mind, when a more recent teacher, Lama Tantrapa, taught me “Yi dao, chi dao.”

Where attention goes, energy flows.

That seed sprouted right before my official “get up” time one morning, a couple weeks ago.

Our society is addicted to talking shit. Most people take perverse pleasure in hurting others, so they can feel the effects of a brain hormone cocktail. However, some criticism is valid and helpful. Both for the object of your critique and, in the case of, say, a politician, a warning to others.

So how to tell the difference?

I came up with a useful rule to gauge.

Here goes. Before you criticize, ask yourself this:

“If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”

If thinking about what an asshole that guy is, actually sends him a tiny blessing – straight from you – would you still devote your mental energy to it?

If gossiping about someone at work who you think is doing a terrible job, actually enriches her life in some small way – would you still say anything?

Changes your perspective, doesn’t it? And your priorities.

Even if you think the idea of transmitting any kind of energy through communication or thought or emotion is silly, consider this idea’s usefulness as a framework. It gives you a system to objectively measure whether to spend your time and effort to criticize someone.

This question is a polished mirror you can use, to see the value of what you’re doing.

You’ll see how pointless your thoughts are. Or even how they help foster the opposite of what you want.

But sometimes the answer will be different. When you ask: “If writing, or even thinking about this person I want to criticize, gives them positive energy… would I still do it?”

… you might decide yes. Because your criticisms might serve as a fair warning to others. If you’re a commentator with a platform, you can alert people to corrupt politicians, unethical businesses, or even lousy restaurants.

In these cases, the light you’re shining on them, might be worth the chance they receive some positive energy. That’s for your judgement.

However, you can now see – and perhaps experience in a tangible way – how useless and backwards virtually all criticism, gossip, and arguing truly is. Every comment on social media. All mindless chatter at work. Your thoughts about people you can’t stand.

What if you were secretly, and inadvertently, empowering all those people?

What if this triggered you to finally stop? Or at least direct your energies more diligently?

Yi dao, chi dao. Where is your attention going? Your energy?

I know I’m more careful. I’m learning to withstand other people sending me helpful vibes. And being more considerate of where to send mine.

3 Solutions To Free Up Your Time

Published November 17, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

“It’d be nice to be locked in a prison cell,” I thought.

I sat in my condo in Boulder, Colorado, facing a television set. Tuned to some blaring nonsense. Papers were strewn about my floor. Outside chirped a world full of distractions.

I was pondering productivity. Going deep – mastering something.

“If I were locked in a prison cell, I’d have nothing to do but focus on just a couple simple tasks. Writing. Meditating. No distractions or obligations to interfere with my progress.”

This was a bullshit assumption for a couple reasons (both obvious and not-so-obvious ones) which I’ll cover in a moment. But there was also a grain of truth.

The most pervasive bullshit often has some wisdom mixed in. That’s how it survives and reproduces.

A couple years after thinking this, I called my cable company and switched off my service. Then I donated my television set to Goodwill. After two days of withdrawal, I noticed how much calmer I felt. I stopped compulsively checking to see if it were 7PM, or 8PM, or whatever time my favorite shows were on – a habit which took a while to subside.

I used my freed-up time to meditate. And write.

I never went out because I was too broke and shy. For several years, I didn’t see a single movie. No travelling except sometimes for Thanksgiving. All savings went towards business.

This was when I discovered a prison cell isn’t a panacea. Prison sucks because you can’t leave. It’s dangerous. And it’s not a meal ticket to productivity.

Because you can eliminate all your distractions and still steer clear of what you want to accomplish.

Think of it like a piece of paper for a writer or a canvas for an artist. If it’s already filled with writing or drawings, it’s useless for creating something new. But a blank page, or canvas, can be just as useless if you’re intimidated by it.

An inspired writer with fortitude can compose a novel during lunchbreaks. Or transform a line at the bank into a writing nook. A devoted artist can make a napkin worthy of framing.

But wannabes who’ve freed up all the time in the world, and eliminated distractions by going on a retreat? They can still fail to create. Just like someone can waste away in a prison cell, even with all the time in the world to practice mindfulness and meditation.

They’re both shackled.

If you can free yourself – and you’re on your own, there – then time restrictions or clutter are mere trifles.

With that in mind, here are three ways to deal with them:

  1. Ditch your television set

Before you do, list out all the positives and negatives of this action. On the positive side, you’re eliminating an expense and saving money as a result, you’re eliminating a source of disheartening and fear-inducing misinformation, you’re deleting a major distraction to more fulfilling activities, and you’re creating a more peaceful environment in your home. On the negative side, you’re… uh… well maybe you can think of some negatives.

  1. Stop visiting useless websites

I know it’s fun to read about sports or politics or gossip or whatever you humans enjoy. Arguing about them is even better. It triggers pleasurable brain chemicals in just the right way to keep you addicted. If you’re okay with being an addict, have at it. Otherwise, go clean and reap the benefits.

  1. Restrict your email-checking time

There’s rarely a need for some self-important “I’m only checking email once per day” message. Just check it only once per day. Observe how nobody cares.

Take a moment to consider how much of your daily time is eaten up by a cycle of checking your email… your social media pages… reading about politics and current events… arguing about politics and current events on said social media pages… and checking email and starting the cycle all over again. While your television is blaring in the background.

Actually, instead of just taking a moment to consider this, measure it in real-time. Write down how many hours (I bet it’s hours) you devote to this cycle. Then write down the benefits of engaging in this daily cycle.

Is this how you want to spend your life?

In the past, I meditated for 3-4 hours per day. Right now, I’ve cut back to just 1 hour. For now. I also write. Both marketing and a journal and various personal-development notes and this blog and correspondence and plans for my business. And research. And work with clients. And exercise every day. And read. And travel. And, more recently, go on dates. And I’ve got plenty of free time to relax.

Not having a spouse or children helps. So much so, that I’d feel funny preaching productivity tips to those raising a family, without acknowledging that damaging admission. So there you go. Still, if you have a family to take care of, then consider whether television, websites, or your emails are more important than cherishing time with them.

When you say, “I don’t have time” make sure you’ve already thrown your television in the garbage, stopped visiting useless websites, and check email only once per day. But that excuse will be dead to you anyway. Because you’ll be too busy experiencing the richness of life, for you to devote any energy to bullshit excuses like “I don’t have time.”


*Bonus tip: In the past, I’ve read articles like this and then stewed about how they didn’t apply to me because I had [insert seemingly special reason here].” I wonder how much time I wasted with those complaints?

Why TED Talks Suck

Published November 11, 2017 in Marketing - 0 Comments

“When I was three years old, my pet squirrel died. And it taught me… ”


A friend of mine and I were driving to a barbeque lunch in downtown Baltimore. We were mocking all the seminars we’d attended in the weeks prior, where every presenter made the exact same kind of speech. First, they gushed about some childhood or parenting experience, then droned on about how it helped them learn some lesson.

A child’s discipline problems led to learning how to look deeper at things. A death in the family at an early age led to appreciating life.

So we figured talking about the death of a pet squirrel would make for a great opener. Call it an Anti-TED Talk. (I also suggested a TODD Talk or a TIM Talk but Anti-TED Talk seems better.)

We never got around to what wisdom the squirrel would impart

“I want to know the guru gathering all these guys together and teaching them this model. He must say something like ‘alright start with some heartfelt story, and then choose one self-help point to drive home…’”

I wonder if it’s the same guy teaching marketers selling from the stage to put too many slides in their presentation and then speed through a select few, claiming “I don’t have time to go through all this with you.” You’d think after so many years, they’d get their timing down. Hmmm.

Anyway, whoever this guy is, he either taught all TED Talk speakers, or learned from them.

Because TED Talks are a prime example of what I call “learn porn.”

And much like ogling food porn or watching classic regular porn, you’re not actually doing it

The stories in TED Talks are designed to engage your emotions – which shuts down your reasoning and critical thinking.

The time is kept short to cater to cratering attention-spans.

Not only that, but reading the book TED Talks gave me an interesting window into the bias they present. Like a talk espousing how charities should not necessarily be condemned for lavish CEO pay and low margins, if they’re more effective as a result. No mention of how a charity’s effectiveness is measured, or its negative knock-off effects on the entrepreneurial economy.

Perhaps the book’s best part, was breathlessly describing how Al Gore’s irrefutable evidence of global warming was sometimes ignored… because of political preferences within the audience.

Never mind the ice shelf-sized presupposition of that statement

Perhaps it’s time for Anti-TED Talks to trend. Their concept is simple:

  1. Open with a story (just like a regular TED Talk – see I’m not trashing them completely)
  2. Teach something – however long it takes to do so effectively – with no regard for some 18-or-whatever-minute timeframe
  3. Instead of bloviating while basking in the spotlight, get the audience involved – if you truly want to challenge them and change their views, then see how what you’re presenting applies to them in real-time
  4. Instead of giving just one talk, set up a series and include projects and experiments and tests in-between
  5. Watch as the crowd who loves TED Talks stampede for the exits because they can’t face actually doing something, rather than sitting and watching and getting off on learn porn

This isn’t to say TED Talks are entirely worthless

I think they’re excellent vehicles to help sell a book. Or solicit donations. Or funding. Basically, they’re fantastic for selling. Which is why they follow an excellent format for selling.

  1. Attention-grabbing opening
  2. Emotional story
  3. One thread
  4. Answer objections
  5. Close ‘em

Learning and growth? A handy, occasional side-effect.

Vicodin – Tony Soprano – Capital One – Almost Homeless At Guru MasterMind

Published October 31, 2017 in Origin Story - 0 Comments

In 2008, I flew to Los Angeles and took a shuttle to some hotel, with drugs in my bag and anxiety about my finances stewing in my brain.

Writing this almost a decade later, I don’t remember the name of the hotel or which month it was. Heck, I’m fuzzy on the year. Just a bit ago, I spent way too much time trying to figure out that pointless trivia (well, not entirely pointless – specificity of time and place increases engagement when beginning a story).

Anyway… it was late as I stood in line to check in. I wanted to crawl into my room and hide, before the Guru MasterMind marketing event began the next morning.

Finally, I got to the head of the line and gave them all my info.

“Mr. Rifkin, your card isn’t working?”

Huh? I specifically paid that one off, so it wouldn’t decline. At that time, I was swamped by so much debt, it felt like I spent every moment trying to sweep it away with a push-broom, only to watch it slosh right back towards me.

I told them it must be a mistake. After a few more attempts, the lady at the desk called up my credit card company. I think it was Capital One. And waited. And waited.

The line grew behind me.

After some back-and-forth, she handed the receiver to me and helped the next person in line.

Amidst the background noise, I struggled to hear what the problem was. The person on the other end kept saying the hotel charge was over my limit. I affirmed I’d paid off enough of my balance. Then I figured out what was going on.

Capital One looked at my shitty payment history, and my nosediving credit, and decided to lower my card’s purchasing limit

Just like that. Overnight, without me knowing. So even though I’d paid off perhaps a thousand dollars, it didn’t matter because my lower limit evaporated that available credit.

Shit. Shit!

I asked how much I had available. It was something like less than $100.

I asked the hotel to charge exactly that much, and then I scrounged together most of my cash to pay the rest.

For one night.

My flight back home wasn’t until three days later. If I didn’t fix this, I’d be homeless in L.A.

After tossing my bags into my room, I hustled across the street, to nearby hotels

Nobody took checks.

Then I got back on the phone with Capital One and explained that I was travelling with no cash, and needed my limit temporarily raised to where it was. I probably also mentioned that it wasn’t fair to lower my limit without warning, when I’d been paying off the balance.

They said they’d see what they could do, but the department that handled that sort of thing was closed. It opened at 7AM Eastern Standard Time.

I said I’d call back then. 4AM my time.

It was close to midnight. In just a few hours, I’d find out if I were homeless or not.

In the meantime, I took some Vicodin, popped on the TV, and began watching The Sopranos

By sheer luck, I watched a couple episodes with one of the more revered storylines.

The titular character, Tony Soprano, was in a coma. Most of the episode focused on his quasi dream/hallucination, where he was a completely different person.

Instead of a tough mob boss, he was a meek salesman on a convention trip. Through some mix-up, he lost his wallet but acquired someone else’s. Without any funds or ID, he used the stranger’s wallet to check into a hotel.

About the Vicodin I took…

A couple weeks earlier, a car hit me as I crossed the street. I felt fine when I got up… but had to drag myself to the emergency room that night because of my ankle pain. After some X-rays, they gave me 10 days of Vicodin and a prescription for a month’s worth.

The morning after the emergency room visit, I felt fine. So, I threw out the prescription. But kept taking the 10 days’ worth. For fun.

Almost a decade later, a co-worker would describe Vicodin as “God massaging your temples”

I can’t think of a better way to say it. So I enjoyed tossing back one or two pills… and regretting throwing out the prescription for more.

My evening in the hotel was surreal. I worried about being homeless… but felt blissed out from the opioids. I watched Tony Soprano sit in his own hotel room, stare at the phone, then gaze outside to see a strange beacon of light, as Moby’s When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die plays in the background. Before the credits roll.

I slept.

The alarm clock woke me up a little before 4AM. I dialed up Capital One. Within a few minutes, a cheerful woman in India informed me that I could rest easy and enjoy my travels, because they raised my credit limit back up. I thanked her profusely.

They gave me the fix I needed. An opioid-like wave of bliss washed through me.

I attended the marketing seminar, barely learned or met anyone, and then flew home.

My financial situation spiraled even further out of control, until I filed for bankruptcy three years later. But, despite some efforts to try otherwise, I never took Vicodin again.

Einstein Quote Shows Self-Help Books Are Bullshit

Published October 26, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

Back in 2009, I remember driving from Boulder, CO to my relatives in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Past endless corn fields, elegant New York woods, and plenty gas stations in between.

I was broke and scared

Both the conscious and subconscious parts of my brain were wired for fear and panic. Creatively, I was completely shut down and pervasively ruled by my ego. This ego was so adept that I had no idea it was in control.

As I rolled across the country, I played the audiobook Think And Grow Rich in my Nissan Altima’s CD player.

Over and over again, I’d listen to self-development audios like this, and read the usual books. Sometimes they’d jazz me up. Sometimes not… but I always felt like it was a good habit. Something that, whether I felt was immediately useful or not, it’d nourish my future.


I fell into a trap millions of desperate people are caught in. Years later, I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it… and I’m still trying to suss it out.

As I began to truly crawl out of the financial hole I’d dug myself into, books like Think And Grow Rich loosened their grasp on me. I began to wake up and realize, “Hey wait a minute, this stuff isn’t the end-all, be-all, and merely listening to it does NOT help… and, come to think of it, taking action on it doesn’t help either. Wait, what action do these books even recommend taking?”

This was when the veil began to drop.

“Well, wait a minute,” I said to myself, “Maybe the reason you feel this way, is because you graduated from these books, and you internalized their lessons.”


I’ll play nice for a moment, and argue as if that’s true.

Fine. Then why does there exist a culture that obsesses over self-help and positive-thinking books touting how to make millions, treating these materials like endless companions? Aren’t they just one little stepping stone, something to quickly hop over before you really get to work? (And if you used them with success as a stepping stone – that’s wonderful – and I’d wager the success had everything to do with you, and little to do with the book.)

More to the point…

Don’t these people realize that by immersing themselves in such material, they’re preventing themselves from growing into and beyond it?

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you want to master the game of tennis.

So you pick up a couple books on the mindset of tennis. Aha! Because that’s where the real key is. You spend time every day reading about overcoming fear of tennis… how you’re secretly self-sabotaging your tennis efforts… and how it’s important to develop the success habit of playing tennis.

Whenever you’re feeling down, you grab your trusty tennis books, and the mere act of reading triggers pleasure hormones to gush through your brain. Ah, much better! You’re back on track.

You seek out other books on tennis and devour them. You build – with pride – a whole library of tennis books.

Perhaps you even attend seminars on the inner game of tennis. They claim they’re going into more depth than the cheaper books. Good – it’s always beneficial to attend seminars proclaiming to go in-depth into things.

You worship the presenters at these seminars and the authors of these books. Not in a crazy sort of way, of course. You just know – deep in your soul – that following their teachings is the way to success. The only way. So, to stray outside of them is stupid. Insane. And anyone who doesn’t follow their teachings is stupid and destined for some cataclysmic failure that you can’t quite identify but you’re sure will befall them.

Meanwhile… completely outside your awareness… your next-door neighbor has taken a different approach

He also developed an interest in tennis.

So he grabbed a racket, and joined a club. He devoted hours to playing. Working with coaches, teammates, and entering competitions. Always making little tweaks here and there. Sometimes suffering humiliating losses. Far more than you’d think. Then, eventually… growing and competing at higher levels.

You never meet your neighbor. For one reason or another (perhaps relating to your methods of learning and growth), you just never enter the same social circles. But – outside your awareness – he’s actually got a couple acquaintances in common with you.

He knows the authors of the books on tennis you worship. In fact, he’s been approached by them to do interviews and speak at events. But he turns them down. He thinks the whole industry is a little silly. He’d say something like, “I mean… it’s pretty simple. You practice. You find people who can help. You play with those at your skillset. And you help others who aren’t as far along the learning curve. Then it’s just a matter of how obsessed you can be while remaining open to improvement. You have to customize your own lessons based on your self-awareness.”

The authors and presenters plead with your friend to teach this wisdom. “That’s great stuff! Yes, please come share at our events how important it is to take action on what we sell!”

“But…” he replies, “I don’t think that’s the real problem…

“I don’t know if the issue’s the kind of customer you attract or the culture you create. Maybe it’s both. But, somehow, you keep people stuck. Your entire paradigm of learning is actually non-learning. You’re actively preventing mental growth while verbally affirming mental growth is necessary, and getting your audience to nod along with you. Maybe they never have a chance to succeed at what they want so desperately, but you sure as heck aren’t their key, even if they do have a chance.”

For a while, as I turned this idea of self-help books being bullshit over in my mind, this was all I could come up with. Something was missing. Probably more than one thing. I know there’s more wrong with this paradigm.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place when I stood inside an old building in Baltimore, on the phone with a man who teaches businesses how to grow, and sometimes invests in the companies.

He explained to me how he wanted to advertise people who wanted to start businesses, and deliver them training online.

It’d been seven years since my cross-country trip where I bathed in the soothing self-help affirmation, and after actually accomplishing what those books preach… I’d developed a more skeptical mind.

“I’ve seen businesses in the ‘make money’ niche establish themselves online. And from what I’ve seen, they attract a customer who isn’t really capable of building a business. The marketing itself acts as a filter, only attracting the wrong type of customer. That’s my perspective, but I’d like to hear yours.”

He understood my concern

He replied with a few good points. One of them became another piece of the puzzle for me:

He doesn’t teach how to make money, or even emphasize that aspect. Instead, his focus is on teaching how to build and grow a business.


If an advertisement (or a culture, or a paradigm, etc.) emphasizes making money or getting rich… who is attracted? Those who feel the most frustration surrounding money, and are most desperate for it. Most of these people are not ready to actually create and build a business. They’re still too bogged down in psychological pain surrounding money, commerce, and selling.

But what if an advertisement emphasizes building a business?

Who is attracted? Those who have already gotten over their frustration surrounding money. Or are at least in the process. They are ready to create a business, because they understand it’s the next logical action-step. They’re over their inner pain. Or perhaps they never felt it. And as far as riches are concerned… it’s automatically implied that building a business will generate income. To emphasize that point would be ridiculous… crass… laughably-obvious… and perhaps even a creepy signal that someone hasn’t reached the necessary level of psychological development required for building a business. I wonder if there’s a single word for what I’m trying to get across?

Whatever it is, that word would be kryptonite for anyone in the bullshit self-help space.

Another piece of this puzzle fell into place when I read the Albert Einstein quote:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

A book about some law of attraction, or explaining how to set goals, keeps you stuck at the same level as your problem. Most of the time, the author is stuck at the same level. Or they’re a sociopath who understands they can make the most money – within the limits of their skillsets, ethics, and behaviors – by keeping you stuck at that same level. And never telling you to put down the book.

What I Learned From This Stranger On A Train

Published October 20, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

Close to midnight. Thursday, October 12, 2017. Feeling melancholy.

I sat on the light rail at Denver International Airport, headed downtown. Finally coming home after almost a month of straight travel.







… and back.

On the flight from Cabo to the layover in LA, I talked with a nice woman on her way home to Vancouver. She was reading a book by Ray Kurzweil. We talked travel, introversion, career…

One of the first things I asked her was “Any suggestions where I should move?”

“Well… who are you?”

“Hmmm… I’m a marketing-obsessed, capitalist pig who’s into health and meditation.”

“Ha! … New York?”

After landing, we navigated the international check-in.

“How close is Vancouver to Seattle?” I asked her.

We almost made it to the gates. Then I saw the TSA-pre line. Time for us to part ways.

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other on the other side,” I said.

We never saw each other again. It would have been nice to say goodbye.

A couple hours later, I sat on the light rail as it rested on the track, reading an article on my phone, waiting to go home. A kind-looking man sat down next to me, and asked a couple questions. I nodded.

He kept asking about the light rail, and making comments. I could tell he wanted to talk.

Years ago, I would have kept to myself and hoped the person would get a hint. More recently, I’d still keep to myself, but always with a vibe of love and respect. Even more recently, I changed again:

Nate, I know you can be perfectly content sitting in silence, but this guy sat next to you for a reason. Listen to him. Whether you hear something amazing or you simply lend someone your ear, it’ll be worth it.

I asked him if he had visited Colorado before, and listened.

He told me a story of perseverance. Near the end I took notes.

“By the time I got to the Denver Mint, tickets were completely gone…”

The man was visiting from Texas, just 10 miles from the Mexico border. He wanted to tour the Denver Mint… and wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

When he found out tickets were gone, he moseyed into the gift shop. And asked about tickets.

“I knew they’d say no.”

They did. So he asked where people with tickets were supposed to wait. They told him… and affirmed he couldn’t get in.

So he set himself up where all the ticket-holders were, and began asking everyone in line if they had an extra ticket. Nope.

“I did the same thing at a Paul McCartney concert in Scotland. I managed to get tickets for me and three friends.”

Finally, he spoke to a manager. He explained why he couldn’t get there early enough to get a ticket that morning, and asked if he could get in if someone didn’t show up.

The manager said everyone was there.

He said he noticed someone didn’t show up. He had no idea if this were actually true. They let him in.

“I told them a story. I was very nice. They turned away a dozen people before me. But they let me in.”

He got to see the Denver Mint.

For the rest of the light rail ride, we talked about travel, commuting, crime, empty buildings in China. Then we arrived at Union Station. Before parting ways, I properly introduced myself to him.

Then I walked home.

By this time, it was Friday, close to 1AM, October 13th, 2017. I meandered across the quiet city of Denver, thinking about the man on the light rail. Thinking about the woman on the flight from Cabo. And wondering where I’d call home in a few months.

Gut Instinct, Fear, And Why You Need To Know The Difference – Plus Vomiting

Published October 14, 2017 in Mindset - 0 Comments

On Sunday evening, I sat at a 334-year-old restaurant in Cabo, hoping I wouldn’t throw up my meal.

Not because I worried about the food. Instead, it was because I’d puked earlier in the day. Right when I was supposed to be doing a consultation for my business.

It happened about five minutes after I was escorted to a private conference room, to meet a new mentor. We didn’t know each other. The woman showing us the way asked me, “Are you okay?”


We cancelled the meeting… and I stumbled into the bathroom

That night, I sat next to the same person I’d cancelled on earlier. Things were going much better.

We talked about advertising on the internet. He said, “I don’t use Facebook at all. I got sick of trying to make health offers work and getting banned. You get tired of pulling your hair out and crying. I’m serious.”

Later in the evening, the man sitting on my other side introduced himself to everyone. He mentioned he advertises online using only Facebook.

So I sat there between two guys, who both found success using opposite approaches.

This was going to be fun.

The man on my right said to the man on my left, “I admire you. You stuck with it and make Facebook work. I just gave up!”

The man on my left said to the man on my right, “No I was just stupid enough to stick it out. You made the right choice to find something better.”

Who was right?


Was anyone wrong?

It reminded me of a question on a Facebook Live interview the night before. Someone asked me: “I criticize myself harshly and I’m dealing with a lot of fear as I try to start my own business. What should I do?”

My answer, paraphrased below:

“Well, keep in mind that it might not be fear. Sometimes we have powerful gut feelings, which are pointing the right way for us to go, or pointing out the wrong path to take. But we mistake them as fear because we’re dead-set on doing one certain thing, even if it’s a mistake. Start paying attention to the difference between a gut feeling and a genuine fear. You’ll know the difference because you can plow through fear very quickly. You can evaporate fear in five seconds, with movement. But gut feelings will stick with you longer. And I can tell you can make this distinction because you mention criticizing yourself. Actually, being able to step back and analyze your actions is a wonderful gift, and it shows some self-awareness. It’s only a problem when it becomes too harsh and irrational.”

What’s the right choice?

Give up? Or keep doing something that scares you and brings you pain?

Don’t pay attention to fear. Plow through it.

Listen to your gut. Do what it says.

And learn to tell the difference.

Both guys sitting at that dinner table made the right choice. I’m sure each of them had a gut-check moment. One realized he needed a different platform for building his business. The other realized he needed to stick it out. I was honored to hear both talk about how they did it.

I kept the meal down. Even the scoops of vanilla ice cream I had right at the end.

And today I hope to get another chance at that consultation. Just to be safe, I’ll skip breakfast.