Even More Random Thoughts

First off, it’s Thanskgiving here in the United States. Canada had theirs last month I think it was and I’m not really sure about the rest of the world. But I think it’s good to have a day where you stop and take stock of the things that are going well and that you acknowledge what you do have as opposed to what you want.

Far too often we get fixated on what we don’t have. Or what we’d like to have. Or what we’re striving for.

And Goals are good, don’t get me wrong. I am all for forward progress.

But it’s easy to miss what’s there already. The family, the friends, the pets, the home, the hobbies, the job that isn’t your forever job but that you actually like, the peace, the money in your bank account. Any of which could be gone tomorrow.

So take a moment, even if you’re not American, and count up your blessings.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about a few concepts.

One is the idea of incremental improvement versus exponential improvement. The last few years I’ve seen a steady 15% increase in profit each year. But a few years back I had a 700% increase in profit year-over-year and going even further back I had a 2200% increase in profit one year.

Why the difference? Why did I see such a big jump in certain years, but not in others.

Simple. In those big years I made a drastic shift. Both involved writing something completely new.

Ironically, the 2200% increase was one I didn’t stick with. It wasn’t for me long-term so I didn’t build on it.

But I kept writing and trying new things and then had the 700% increase year.

(Quick comment here: Not everything new that you try will do that. You have to not only try something new, but have it “hit” to some degree compared to where you were.)

Now here’s the trick, though.

I think one the hardest business choices to make is to be at a point where you’re making that steady 15% more profit per year on something that’s “good” but you’re not where you want to be.

Taking that leap into the new and unknown to see if you can find the 700% market instead is not an easy decision to make. Because you often have to sacrifice the “good” path to get to the “great” path.

Earlier this year there was a Wharton talk I listened to. Can’t remember if I mentioned it already. But it included the guy who started SkinnyPop. And one of the things he mentioned is that he didn’t start with SkinnyPop.

He started with a gourmet popcorn idea that was profitable but not at the level he wanted. So he and his business partner took the risk of working on a new line of healthy popcorn. When that new product started to show promise they sold off the old business even though it was doing fine.

That old business is still viable, but it wasn’t a $320 million business, which is what the founders were able to sell SkinnyPop for.

So when do you set aside the viable business for the shot at the superstar business? Do you make the leap? Maybe that leap is jumping right off a cliff? Maybe a little patience would’ve transformed the original idea into something that was enough.

Because note that the guy isn’t running that business anymore. If what he really wanted was a storefront where he interacted with happy customers every day, that man actually didn’t succeed.

Which is sort of a secondary thought to the whole incremental vs. exponential growth question.

And leads me into my final area of thought these days.

Because at the same time I’ve been thinking about revenue and profitability and all of that jazz, my mind has also been on a completely track. (My mind often operates on about four levels at once but usually one whole level is music, because I’m weird. Anyway.)

A while back I read The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson and it felt like that next step past CliftonStrengths for me. (That’s an affiliate link to Amazon by the way, but you can find it on all major retailers.)

For those of you familiar with Strengths, I know I will always be a Strategic-Achiever-Learner-Relator.

Put me in any context and that is who I am at my core. I am that person who will quickly learn what it takes to survive and then set about doing so while only bringing a limited number of people into my inner circle.

I don’t have to win, I’m not high Competition, but I do have to survive. (It’s part of the reason I have to be careful what environments I put myself in.)

I accept that wisdom I gained from Strengths. But it seemed to me there should be more to the story.

Because who I was at twenty-five and what I valued is not who I am at forty-five and what I value.

I have even found myself at times feeling very uncomfortable in conversations with friends who are currently where I have been.

For example, I met a friend for a meal a while back who was in a power struggle at work. And I knew that five years ago I would’ve reacted the exact same way they were to their current situation. But by the time we met the idea of spending that much mental energy on a work conflict repelled me. Like, what a waste of the limited time we have on this earth to be fighting over widgets.

But applying what I’d read from the Pearson book I could see that my friend was in a Warrior phase of their life. A phase they needed to go through. This was someone who needed to learn to stand up for themselves. So they were right where they needed to be.

I just wasn’t there any longer.

The Pearson book gave me an insight into the different psychological stages that we might all go through.

Now, keep in mind this worked for me. And I am not going to get into some lengthy debate with anyone about Jung and how accurate his work is or whether it can be scientifically proven, because at the end of the day something like this boils down to “Does it help you move forward in your life? Does it give you insights that let you better communicate or thrive?”

For me it does. For others it may not.

The book also gave me insight into why certain genres might appeal to certain readers. Many readers like stories around the Innocent archetype. They want to read about being rescued and taken away.

So that book was helpful to me both in terms of which stories I should be trying to write and in terms of understanding the personal conflicts in my own life. I’ve recently been reading Awakening the Heroes Within and it reinforced for me the concepts from the first book.

(Now I will say that at online they seem to have changed their test and I don’t resonate with the results of the new one and probably wouldn’t recommend it. But the books have an assessment in them that still works for me.)

Where to from here with all those thoughts percolating?

One idea is to make sure that the next fantasy I write incorporates characters that include each archetype. (In this recent book she makes repeated references to the Arthurian legend as an example of a story that incorporates many of the archetypes.)

Another is to lean into where I am on my own personal journey right now and choose the story idea I have that is most in line with the archetypes currently active in my own life.

If I look at the incremental versus exponential idea, then another option is to write something completely new. (I have a domestic thriller idea that’s been percolating for example.)

But I think I’m also coming to a really hard realization. One I may not be able to achieve fully.

And that’s that so much of what I valued in my early career has no meaning to me now. And if it has no meaning to me then I need to fully let it go, which is scary because it would mean fully letting go of fallback financial security.

Right now I’m pretty sure I could go back to consulting or corporate work and even if I took a position a few steps back from where I left I think I could excel at it again. I think I know at least three people who would help me get back in the door.

But knowing that is keeping me from fully stepping onto the path to wherever I go next. I am coming to the realization that moving forward from here requires me to fully let that possibility go.

Which is scary. Because that path represents wealth and financial security. And it also contains people who will not understand where I go next and who I may not understand anymore either.

Now, I should be clear here that this isn’t about “choosing to be a writer”. Because I know many authors who do exceedingly well financially with their writing.

And they have a level of reputation and clout that fits in very well with the path I want to step away from.

This is more me talking about writing something that’s so different and challenging and may not even work that it’s very likely ten other people will get it. And finding joy in that because it lets me explore the themes that matter to me. It’s about finally acknowledging to myself that other than books and a secure home and vehicle that possessions really do nothing at all for me. And about accepting that that may put me in a place that others can’t follow because they don’t get it.

I don’t know. I don’t know if I can make that leap. Or if I need to take that step to then come back into a more material life under the Ruler archetype with the knowledge that success for me won’t be about the money or being put on a pedestal, but on the ability to spread my truth far enough for it to have an impact.

Which sounds incredibly arrogant and pompous and all of that fun stuff, but that’s part of the whole journey discussed in those books. Setting aside those outer judgements so you can do what you need to do to move forward in your life.

ANYWAY. Count your blessings today. And if you think you have no blessings, remember you are still alive and there’s still another day for things to get better.

(And if it turns out they get worse but you didn’t count the blessings you had, well then clearly you were being an ass who refused to acknowledge what you had and you should try again.)

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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