Taking a Deep Breath, Preparing for Success

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 03/21/2009

I’m 38 years old going on 40 in 1.5 years, and my life is just beginning. Until now, I was living the life of a white suburban middle-classer, stumbling my way from disappointment to opportunity until ending up in New York City with a wife waking me up to who and what I am. Instead of heading into a mid-life crisis, I have 1.5 years to ensure I’m heading into a celebration of life, achieving my dreams, financial independence, and somehow making the world a better place. My likely way of improving the world will to try to become someone like a Guy Kawasaki or Tony Robbins style of helping others achieve theirs–but with a decidedly technological twist.

At this time, it’s a matter of getting myself organized in thought, environment and affairs. That includes the tools I use day-to-day, and what I’m doing in working for my employer, because I have not gone the entrepreneurial route yet. I work for a digital marketing agency–rated one of the top-3 by Forresters. Professionally, I plan on helping them become unambiguously #1, but while doing so, turning myself into the archetype of a knowlege-worker in the spirit of business guru Peter Drucker. It’s going to be a balancing act between doing right by my employer, and aligning that work and what I do in my personal time towards something high impact and tied uniquely to my person. As Peter Drucker points out, that unique thing that you bring to an organization as a knowledge worker is in you.

So, I’ll be using the heavy symbolism of turning 40 to propel this endeavor forward, which means I have 1.5 years to get organized and prepare. Those tuning in at this point are going to see it all play out. That gives me 1.5 years to guess where technology and the world is going, and position myself correctly. When I think back over the past 30 years, I have accurately predicted like 80% of the important facts, right down to a black president, which I argued for during the Colin Powell heyday of the first Gulf War. I predicted proximity tech like bluetooth coupled with ubiquitious always-on tablet PCs like the iPhone. Maybe I’ll start doing longbets.org.

But beyond being a mere futurist, I actually invented stuff like blogging software before Blogger, an agile framework before Ruby on Rails, SEO-friendly content management before WordPress, Web-based CRM before… well no, SalesForce.com came first. But my system unified more business functions than they did, and I really danced around the edges of a Facebook-like system, but for business. And today, I’m no richer for it. Each of my systems was made for an employer, and when I left, my systems didn’t go with me. But I have learned a lot. I’ve learned 40 years worth of stuff that I plan on putting to work for me now.

The good news is that the world is turning my way. I’m like… yeah, I thought of that… I invented that once… I’ve been waiting for one of those. It’s almost like the near-term sci-fi world that existed in my head like a Michael Crichton novel is actualizing around me–like every day. Those head-slapping moments make one feel a little like a prophet, until you realize that it’s much easier to realize after the fact you should have done. So my principle challenge now is to have a slightly sharper view of things looking forward, and make exactly the right decisions to put myself in the path of inevitable trends. MikeLevin.me is about this journey.

So there are some broad sweeping decisions that need to be made. The most fundamential is the use of time, because it is the most finite resource in life. When you run out, you’re done. Thinking things through and planning allows your time to be spent purposefully, as opposed to aimlessly or at the whim of chance. And since control of circumstances is 50% illusion, what you’re really doing when planning is preparation for when opportunity comes along. And the opportunities are not big recognizable events, but rather easily overlooked details. So another part of planning is practicing one’s skills of observation.

So the first decision is to deliberately and frequently think out loud in a narrate-your-life style like The Wonder Years or Scrubs. Yeah, it might sound funny, but that almost painful self-awareness is a characteristic of almost everyone I admire. They take little little snapshots of what they were thinking–most often journals. And we know this because it ends up in autobiographies and memiors. Ben Franklin one prototypical example, but there are countless others. You can see from their writing that this process helped equipped them with the mental tools needed to design their personas and lifes like a product.

So, making the time and environment for this type of thinking and writing is important. That’s going to be a big focus of this 1.5 years. Not since I programmed HitTail, when I was single and living in a studio apartment with 2 kittens and was given the time to work from home for a number of months, was I able to truly focus. And with that tiny window of time, I was able to achieve one of my greatest professional accomplishments. Before that, you had to go back to 2002 when I was working in a closed-door office that I was able to really focus, and at that time I reformed a company’s anti-success culture and drag it kicking and screaming to profitability. When I can focus, I can do great things. When I can’t, I’m average. And today, I work in a cubilce in the agency environment, and am a newlywed with a house full of pets. So focus on the work-front and the home-front are both equally difficult.

A year and a half is probably barely enough time to address this issue.