New Website

Regular visitors to my site will notice that I've launched a new website. It's something I've wanted to do for the last year or so but haven't had the time to do it until now. 

The biggest reason for the change was that I wanted something that would look good on phones. That goal has been achieved. There were other technical changes I wanted enabled as well, including the ability for people to subscribe to blog posts.

There is still more work to be done. Over the next couple weeks I'll be launching a new and improved store for those who'd like personalized copies of my books. Other improvements, including tweaking the look and feel a bit, are on their way too.

I'm still finding some bugs on the site. If you happen to notice something, please send me an email or leave a comment below and I'll work to resolve them as fast as possible.

Thanks for reading.

Taunting Death -- Twice!

The photo below are mayonnaise packets from the break room. They are bursting at the seams, just waiting to explode. If I survive the initial explosion, do I taunt death yet again by putting the contents on my sandwich?

How to Be Rich by Mark Cuban

In my Worth Reading II post on Saturday, I linked to a great post by Mark Cuban titled “How to Be Rich.” It’s a great read and it’s something that anyone who wants to be rich should read. However, there’s one specific part of Cuban’s post I want to comment on. Cuban writes:

The 2nd rule for getting rich is getting smart. Investing your time in yourself and becoming knowledgeable about the business of something you really love to do

It doesn’t matter what it is. Whatever your hobbies, interests, passions are. Find the one you love the best and GET A JOB in the business that supports it.

It could be as a clerk, a salesperson, whatever you can find. You have to start learning the business somewhere. Instead of paying to go to school somewhere, you are getting paid to learn. It may not be the perfect job, but there is no perfect path to getting rich.

This is invaluable advice – and one that most people won’t tell you. Most people will tell you that the path to success lies in the form of a college degree. While it’s true that those with college degrees earn more money than those that don’t, it doesn’t mean that a college degree will make you rich.

A college degree (or any degree for that matter) is valuable but it only goes so far. What’s far more valuable – as Cuban states – is knowledge. A bachelor’s degree simply means you had four years worth of endurance to write enough papers and jumped through enough hoops. It doesn’t mean you know squat about the subject your degree is in or will become a success.

Think about it. How many people with bachelor’s degrees actually work in the field that they graduated in? How many more are underemployed despite having a college degree?

Let’s face it. A bachelor’s degree is quickly becoming equivalent of what a high school diploma was two generations ago – a security blanket that will open doors to a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle. It also makes it more likely you’ll be stuck in a boring 8-5 job for the rest of your life (or until you either save enough money or your 401k grows to the point where you don’t have to live off it).

The devaluation of college degrees is result of our public school system pushing to get more and more people into college – whether or not college is the right career path for them. As a result bachelor’s degrees have less valuable. And it shows. From 2000-2007 the median income for those with bachelor’s degree fell 3%. (So did the median income for people with Master’s degrees and Ph.Ds. Only those with professional degrees – doctors and lawyers – saw an increase.)

It may not be a bad life, but a college degree in and of itself isn’t going to make you rich.

Cuban continues:

The nature of our country’s business infrastructure is that it is destined to be boom and bust. Booms are when the smart people sell. Busts are when rich people started on their path to wealth.

The current economic climate is creating opportunities for those that are ready. Instead of looking for those opportunities, a lot of people are going back to school. While this choice might make sense for some people, it doesn’t make sense for everyone. Instead a couple of online or certification courses might make more sense and using that as leverage to get hired in an industry that will help you learn what you really need to know to be successful.

Depending on what you want to do with your life, college may or may not be a good first step. But college isn’t going to make you or anyone else rich. Instead working hard and dealing honestly with others is the first step. Then learn everything you can about the industry and field you want to succeed at and figure out how to get your foot in the door is the second. The third, as Cuban writes, is having the patience to wait for the right opportunity.

Then you’ll be rich.

How Big Oil Killed Popeyes

Casper, Wyoming

My dad has some unexpected surgery last week, so I took the two boys on a quick two day trip to Casper, Wyoming over the weekend to see him. (He’s recovering quite nicely, for those who are curious.)

It was interesting returning to a town I haven’t lived in for over a decade and haven’t visited for over five years. For the most part, it appears the town has changed for the better. There’s a lot of growth on the east side and there’s plenty of jobs thanks to the energy boom Wyoming is experiencing. (More on that in a minute.)

The first thing I noticed driving in was a Popeyes. Popeyes! I would have fallen over if I wasn’t already sitting down. Marathon Girl and I first had Popeyes back in Houston and loved it. When we find ourselves out of state, we always hope we see a Popeyes so we can eat there.

Of course my first thought was: How on earth did Wyoming get a Popeyes before Utah?

Then I thought: I get to take the boys to Popeyes! Marathon Girl’s going to be jealous!

Then I noticed the giant For Sale sign in front of the building. My hopes were crushed. There wasn’t going to be any Popeyes for me or the boys. How can the people of Casper not support a Popeyes? Don’t they know there’s not a chicken place in the entire state that’s better than this?

We arrived at the hospital a short time later. After taking to my dad for a bit, he asked if Casper had changed much. I mentioned the Popeyes I had seen on the drive in and said something about the people of Wyoming not being ready for such tasty food.

“It was getting plenty of business,” my dad said. “The reason it closed was because they couldn’t find enough people to staff it.”

I asked my dad what he meant and he explained that a lot of people were now working for the oil companies and making a lot of money doing it. As a result there was a shortage of workers in Casper. And despite paying about $10 an hour, the local fast food establishments can’t find enough people to work there.

Admittedly, I was a little skeptical. An abundance of jobs wasn’t something the Casper I lived in for two years had. Any job that could be found didn’t pay much higher than minimum wage.

An hour later, I took the boys out for dinner so my dad could rest. As I drove around town, it did seem that just about every fast food place I passed had a sign in the window or words on their marquee saying they were hiring – always a sign of a strong economy IMHO. Still, I remained skeptical.

Then on the way out of town the next day, I stopped at McDonalds (instead of Popeyes) to feed the boys before the long drive home. Since it was a Sunday afternoon about two, I was surprised to find a long line at the McDonalds. Had I been traveling alone, I would have skipped McDonalds entirely and eaten elsewhere. But the kids love McDonalds and since I actually wanted them to eat something before driving home, I opted to stand in line.

The McDonalds was understaffed. A total of four employees ran store. And though they were working hard and fast, there simply wasn’t enough of them to get the orders out fast enough. As a result, I stood in line for nearly 30 minutes before ordering. (Boys, know I must really love you to do that.)

Behind me in line stood a husband and wife dressed in camouflage. They had spent the morning in the mountains hunting and come to town to eat and got a kick out of watching my boys trying to behave while we waited in line. We started talking and I started asking them about the job market. They confirmed my dad’s observations about the shortage of labor and a lot of people going to work in the oil fields. When I brought up Popeyes, they too said that it had been a popular place to eat but the owner couldn’t find people to work there. The guy mentioned that there was no reason to be unemployed in Casper and, if you were, it was your own damn fault.

After feeding the kids, we headed back on the seven hour drive home. I was a little more observant on the way home and noticed a plethora of new oil wells and exits raps that dotted the sagebrush along I-80 as well as a huge open pit coal mine East of Rock Springs and two giant windmill farms East of Evanston. Apparently the Wyoming economy is doing quite well despite the economic problems the rest of the country is experiencing.

Observations aside, the trip was a great bonding experience for the three guys in the family. Despite 14 total hours of driving, the boys really enjoyed having time alone with dad in the car talking, singing along with whatever CDs dad put in the stereo, and learning the difference between cows, antelope, deer, and horses.

Though the circumstances of our unplanned trip weren’t optimal, I’d be up for another long drive with the boys anytime.

Swimming: My Respite from Reality

When temperatures are routinely climbing past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it makes me glad I’ve incorporated swimming into my gym routine once or twice a week – depending on my workout schedule. Yesterday after giving my abs and shoulders a good workout, I headed for the pool. The water was nice and cold compared to the hot sweaty gym. The water felt so good that after my 20 minute swim, I didn’t want to leave the pool. Just wanted to float in the water and pretend there wasn’t a crushing load of work to deal with back at the office or that I’d be sweating in the hot car again after heading back to the office.

Since there was no one else in the pool I closed my eyes and floated on my back letting my breathing and heart rate slow, enjoying the still water and the silence that comes with having your ears below water.

For a few minutes my mind wandered.

I thought about what a better swimmer I am now than I was when I started swimming last month. I’m still the slowest swimmer in the pool, but my time, technique, and endurance have improved tremendously. Michael Phelps may not have to worry about me in the 2008 Beijing Olympics but he and the rest of the American swimming team better look out in 2012.

I ruminated over a problem I was having with one of the characters in my novel and whether or not I should eliminate him from the story altogether.

I wondered what Marathon Girl was doing and hoped she was taking some time to rest. Between taking care of three young kids and have a fourth one on the way, she needed those afternoon breaks when the kids are down for naps.

I started to think of something else but there was a disturbance in the water. I looked up. In the next lane a swimmer was barreling down the lane, toward my end of the pool. I watched him flip as he reached the end of the pool and headed back to the other end.

My respite from reality was over.

It was time to get back to work.

Make Cake Not War: The Songs of Sean Keogh

For those in (or who will be in) the New York City area, my brother's songs will be preformed by cast members from Cry-baby, Wicked, and Saved June 29. Information below is an article from Playbill News. Make Cake Not War: The Songs of Sean Keogh June 29

By Adam Hetrick June 24, 2008

Cast members from Cry-Baby, Wicked and Saved will take part in Make Cake Not War: The Songs of Sean Keogh at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on June 29.

Keogh, who has penned the musicals Rainy Day People, Be Like Joe, and Playtime, is the inaugural recipient of Vermont's Weston Playhouse New Musical Award.

Announced to perform in the 7:30 PM concert are James Snyder (Cry-Baby), Matt Castle (Company), Ben Liebert (Wicked), Britta Ollmann (A Catered Affair), Alex Brightman (Glory Days), Robin Lee Gallo (Spelling Bee), Douglas Ullman, Jr. (The Fantasticks), Jason Michael Snow (Saved), Jessica Burrows (Dr. Zhivago), Julia Burrows (Happy Days), as well as Kelli Bartlett, Michael Maricondi, Jill Kerley, and Ryan Speakman.

Christopher D. Littlefield is the musical director for the evening of songs exploring "single mothers, cookies, antidepressants, cake, rock stars, Barbies, and love," according to press notes.

Make Cake Not War features additional lyrics by Kyoung-Ae Kang and Heidi Heilig, as well as additional music by Erato Kremmyda.

There is a $10 cover and $15 food/drink minimum for Make Cake Not War. Reservations are available by e-mailing musicofseankeogh@gmail.com.

The Laurie Beechman Theatre is located within The West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42nd Street.

Writing Confrence and a Contest

Read below to see how you can win a free copy of Room for Two. This might strike some as a strange confession, but I’ve never been to a writing conference before. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to check one out but, for one reason or another, things have never fallen into place so I could attend. So I didn’t know what to expect when I presented at and attended Cedar Fort’s writing conference on Saturday.

Thankfully the writing conference turned out to be a fabulous experience. I did a good job on my presentation (or so everyone told me) and it was nice to meet people whose blogs I read or have only communicated with via email. Additionally I was also able to meet some writers whose books I’ve read and others whose books I’m looking forward to reading. (There’s a big pile of new books to read on my nightstand – which Marathon Girl has already begun to devour.)

The best part though was a piece of advice the keynote speaker gave at her presentation on what all successful writers have in common. Her advice gave the extra push I needed to make some small changes in my life and sprint toward finishing the first draft my next book. (I wrote an entire chapter last night!) Coincidently, this same piece of advice was subtly reinforced by an article in an essay titled “The Running Novelist” (sorry, no online version is available) by the Japanese writer Haruki Murkami in the June 9 & 16 issue of The New Yorker that I read Sunday afternoon. (No, it’s not running.)

I’ll tell you what this common trait is and how Murkami applied it to his life, and the small changes I've made in my next entry. Until then, I’ll offer a free copy of Room for Two to the first person that correctly guesses what trait all successful writers have in common. Guess by leaving a comment below.

Note: Those who attended the writing conference are ineligible to participate. :-)

Update 1: Per an email I received: 1) Yes, you can guess more than once but each guess has to be a separate comment. 2) I'll announce the winner (if any) on Friday.

Update 2: Four of the five comments are close. Yes, writing every day is important. But think of a specific trait or characteristic that describes the ability to do that. This trait isn't something that is unique to successful writers but to successful businessmen and women, sales people, and other highly successful professionals.

I Need a Vacation

I’m exhausted. I can barely keep my eyes open and its only 2:54 p.m. Writing my second book late into the night and waking up early is finally catching up with me. I ran four miles today during lunch and didn’t have the energy to run at my normal pace.

It’s not that the extra effort hasn’t been worth it. In the last 30 days I’ve completed 11 chapters – nearly half of the book. And if I keep it up, I’ll meet my personal goal of having the book done around the end of April.

Still, my non-stop life it taking its toll.

I think I need some time off from work and writing.

The best way to do this is with a fun-filled vacation with the family.

Marathon Girl, you reading this? Let’s plan something.

Houston: My Kind of City

Houston, Texas

This article makes me want to move to Houston. The article, I think, accurately portrays the city as one of opportunity and growth. And even though I was only in Houston for a few days, it impressed me much more than other "trendy" cities I've visited.

The article makes a similar point:

Ultimately, it’s a question of defining what makes a city great. Many city planners today focus largely on aesthetics, the arts, and the perception of being “cool.” Academics and many economic-development experts link urban success to cities’ appeal to the “creative class” of college-educated young people. In this calculus, the traditional practice of gauging a city’s success by studying patterns of population or employment growth, or noting the opportunities available for working-class or middle-class families to flourish, rarely registers as important. One prominent academic, Rutgers University’s Paul Gottlieb, has even offered an elegant formula for what he calls “growth without growth”—focusing on increasing per-capita incomes without expanding either population or employment. Indeed, Gottlieb suggests that successful post-industrial cities might well do best if they actually “minimize” the influx of new people and jobs.

Such an approach may work, at least superficially, in an attractive older city such as Chicago, New York, or Boston, but it’s an unlikely model for most cities in a country where the population is expected to reach 420 million by 2050. Growth-without-growth cities might be great to visit, and they might prove exciting homes for the restless young or the rich, but it is doubtful that they can create the jobs or the housing for more than a small portion of our future urban population. For these and other reasons, the Houston model of the opportunity city—welcoming new jobs and new families—may prove far more relevant to the American future.

Marathon Girl and I spent several days in the Houston area four years ago and loved it. In the next five years -- before our kids are too old -- we'd both like to move out of Utah and establish roots elsewhere. Ever since our trip to Houston, that city has always been in the forefront of our minds as a good area to move to. (Followed by Denver, Phoenix, and Seattle.)

No one knows what the future holds but I wouldn't mind becoming a Texan if the oppurtunity presented itself.

To Blog or not to Blog, That Is the Question

The Job Hunt

After reading my post on job satisfaction, Littlest Bird emailed and asked why I hadn’t blogged more about being unemployed, looking for work, and the entire job search process back in November.

Here’s why: Blogging under your own name is VERY different than blogging anonymously. Anyone who knows your name can find your website with a few clicks of the mouse. It’s made even easier when you have unique name like mine.

The day after parting ways with my old job I started sending out resumes and queering friends and family about any writing-related jobs they might know about. Within 48 hours I noticed an uptick in Google and Yahoo queries for my name – most of which could be traced back to potential employers. It was amazing to watch how many potential employers were spending anywhere from one minute to 20 minutes on my website.

This, in and of itself, wasn’t a bad thing. I haven’t posted anything that would make an employer think twice about hiring me or calling me into an interview. (At least I don’t think I have.) And where I was mostly applying for writing-related jobs the fact that this website generally highlights some of my more creative writing efforts tends to be a good thing. Additionally, there’s a hidden URL on this website that contains my professional writing portfolio. (Don’t bother searching for it. It’s password protected.)

Based on the number of interviews and job offers I had from employers who ended up on my website (both the public and password protected section), I’d say the website was by far more of a positive than a negative. I even had one employer bring up the password protected and public part of this website during an interview and we talked about some of the documents and blog entries I had written. (He made an attractive job offer the next day.)

Yet this website could have just as easily been a negative. For example, the last thing I wanted was potential employers to know how good or poorly the job search was going. I didn’t want someone to come to the site and see that I had multiple offers and decide not to even call and see if I was interested in working for them or, conversely, see that the job hunt was going bad use that as leverage to lowball any salary or benefit things if a job offer was extended.

I’m also under the opinion whether your blogging anonymously or under your real name, what you write about and say about others says a lot about you so I generally try to blog and post things that I wouldn’t have a problem with sharing with a stadium filled with people I don’t know. It’s not that I care what people think about me, rather, I believe that if you wouldn’t spread malicious gossip or say certain things when actual people are present, you should have the same decorum on your website or blog.

It’s not that I didn’t want to blog about it -- I just thought it wasn’t in my best interest to keep those thoughts and feelings private. And, yes, I did keep a detailed account of that time. However those are safely stored in my journal to which only Marathon Girl has access.

Everyone else can read about it after I’m dead. :-)

Satisfaction

Work, Home, Life

Go_Go Yubari was recently approached by a large company that was interested in employing her. They whisked her off to a big city and wined and dined her in order to persuade her to come join their team. Despite their persuasive sales pitch, she decided to stay where she was at because, in part, the proposed employment reminded her of an old job and the long hours and stress that accompanied it.

After parting ways with a well-paying but highly stressful job back in November, I applaud her choice. There’s so much more to a job than money, fancy titles, and the strings those usually accompany those two things. It’s not that I don’t find compensation or what I do for a living isn’t important. I do have a family support and life’s more enjoyable knowing you can make a mortgage payment and put food on the table. And writing makes me happy. I would perform much better at a job that required lots of writing as opposed to doing something else.

In addition to the above, a good job has always had three other important elements: 1) One that allows me to come home in a relatively stress free 80 percent of the time, 2) one that allows me to spend time with Marathon Girl and the kids and 3) doesn’t deplete my (creative) energy so I can write books after the kids are in bed.

When I set off on a job hunt back in November, I hoped that I could find a job that met all the criteria. Five weeks into my search, I ended up with three solid job offers. All paid very well and involved writing. So the determining factor was how well the job would allow me to accomplish the things I wanted to do after I came for from work. Like Go_Go Yubari, one of the offers reminded me too much of my old job in all the wrong ways. I turned it down. Two jobs left. My gut kept telling me which one to take. And since my gut feelings have never turned out to be wrong, I took the one I felt good about the first time I interviewed with the company.

I’ve been at my new job about four months. The family is clothed, fed, and has a roof over their head. There’s no worries about finances. I’m doing more writing with this new company than I ever did with my previous employer and seeing more results from my efforts. I usually have a good two to three hours to spend with the kids after work. And despite all the writing I accomplish during business hours, I’ve managed to make tons of progress on my second book after I kiss the kids goodnight. In the last two weeks, I’ve complete four chapters – about the same amount I was able to accomplish in a previous year with at my old job. Last night I went on a writing tear and wrote two thirds of another chapter in just under two hours.

Yeah, I made the right choice.