Robinhood, the Crypto Gateway Drug

Featured image by YIFEI CHEN on Unsplash

How I moved from slingin’ stonks to cryptocurrencies

It all started with a birthday check from Grandma. I’m 40, but I still get birthday checks from my grandparents. Cute, right?

The pandemic was in full bloom, and there wasn’t much for me to do with my birthday bucks — so I decided to head to everybody’s favorite virtual casino: Robinhood.

I was classic dumb money, investing in a certain electric car company — let’s call it Schmikola — and other less-bad-but-still-bad choices. I learn from my mistakes, though. With every misstep, I became a little smarter.

I moved from following the herd to making better, educated decisions. I was diversifying. I decided ETFs were better and started putting money into them instead. Things were growing and moving in a positive direction.

But then I realized I have a 401k for that. I asked myself:

What am I trying to do here?

That’s when I ripped it all out and put it into bitcoin. (Keep in mind that “all” is my original birthday money plus weekly investments of about $50. We’re probably talking about $500 at this point — not my life savings.) Can you guess what happened next?

Source: my Robinhood portfolio

That’s how my fascination with bitcoin and cryptocurrency began. I started exploring outside of Robinhood and discovered an entire world of choices and freedom. It’s become my number one hobby, and that’s what brings us to today.

I’ve since moved all my funds from Robinhood and into exchanges, wallets, and investments. Robinhood’s okay for getting started if your only goal is to have some skin in the game. It’s crypto with training wheels. You can’t make as many mistakes, but you also lose all freedom.

There are two things Robinhood steals from you: choice and opportunity. You’re limited to the handful of cryptos they offer, which is less than ten in a sea of thousands. And since you don’t have control of the coins themselves, you can’t use them for investing — and the investment returns in the crypto space are mind-boggling good.

That’s how my journey began. After leaving Robinhood, I began to explore the various exchanges and opportunities. I started researching lots of different cryptocurrencies. I’ve learned a ton, and I’ve had a lot of fun along the way.

In my next article, I’ll talk about how I’d start if I could restart from the beginning. There’s free money available if you know where to look. I could easily double my same $250 birthday investment in less than 6 months, and I’ll show you how. Stay tuned!


Please note that this is my hobby. This is not financial advice, nor am I qualified in any way, shape, or form to give financial advice. Learn with me; have fun with me, but do your own research and only gamble with money you expect to lose.

I’ve Read My Last Free Article for the Month

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Could big media profit from paying its readers?

You know the moment I’m talking about. The one where you read that irresistibly juicy headline and have no choice but to click. But when you do, you get the message.

You have no free articles left this month.

Great. Well, I guess my world will have to stay right-side-up for now.

I get it, though. News providers like the New York Times and Washington Post deserve to get paid for their product, and the paywall solves that. To what end, though?

Some people will avoid those sources. I’m one of them. I’m very choosy about which headlines I click because I know I’ve only got so many clicks. I ask myself, Do I really want to spend a free article on this topic?

And yea, I could subscribe. It’s just a couple of bucks, right? I don’t want all those subscriptions, though. I only care about a few articles from each of these sites per month, and other outlets cover the stories themselves.

The relationship between news providers and readers is symbiotic. These sites cannot exist without revenue, and readers are revenue, whether directly through subscription fees or indirectly through advertising. Given the interdependency, why can’t we find an honest, mutually-beneficial solution?

I believe one already exists in the form of a cryptocurrency: the Basic Attention Token (BAT).


Meet Brave

Brave is a browser that focuses on privacy. It has nice features like built-in ad blockers and protection against tracking and data collection. Given that ad prevention is one of its key selling points, it feels somewhat ironic that another feature it offers is Brave Rewards, which lets you opt to receive more ads.

Two things are really cool about Brave Rewards. First, it’s entirely optional. If you don’t want extra ads, no problem — don’t enable ’em. But, if you do turn them on, you get a cut of the ad revenue.

This makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? Companies buy ads so consumers will see them. Consumers don’t really have an incentive to view ads, though, and will do their best to ignore, block, or avoid them.

Ads that people pay attention to are more valuable — look at the Super Bowl. So, why not take a small percentage of that ad revenue and pay it to people who are eager and willing to participate?

That’s Brave Rewards in a nutshell. You earn BAT by viewing ads. The ads are pretty subtle, too. Just a small OS notification that you can dismiss if not interested. You can make several tokens a month using the browser, and the tokens are currently worth about $0.50 each. So, a couple of bucks.


It’s a win-win-win

So, here’s a novel idea: apply the same opt-in, profit-sharing strategy to news providers.

Think about it. A large provider could give its users two account types. There could be a free plan where readers earn BAT by reading articles that contain paid advertisements. The reader has an incentive to view the ads because it makes them money. The amount earned would be proportional to the amount paid by advertisers, and advertisers would be willing to spend a lot because of the huge audience exposure.

Not everybody likes ads, though, so there could also continue to be a paid plan that removes them. And what if this could be delivered in BAT — the same BAT earned using the Brave Browser?

It feels like the perfect win-win for these media giants. If I could earn BAT by reading articles at the NY Times or Washington Post, they’d quickly become my most-visited go-to sources instead of the paywall landmines that I try to avoid today.

Traffic would be way up. Ad revenue would be way up. Subscriptions would be way up. It could catapult them to the forefront of relevancy and influence.

And it all starts with the simple idea of paying people for their attention instead of treating them as a revenue stream.


This article was originally published in ILLUMINATE on February 17, 2021.

2 Productivity-Boosting Mental Jumpstarters

Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash (modified)

Thoughts to think when you feel stuck

I’ve been living in leadership books these past few months, and they’ve given me all kinds of wonderful insights and fresh perspectives. Each one seems to be more enjoyable than the last.

Every day seems to be rife with opportunities to apply what I’ve learned, too. I feel like a leadership book version of Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, witnessing manifestations of these sacred texts’ teachings in the air around me.

There’s no doubt, these books have made me a better, more thoughtful leader, but there’s a pair of statements that have lingered in my brain that have had a profound positive impact on my own productivity. I don’t think of myself as much of a mantra person, but I’m hit with situations daily that trigger these affirmations to playback in my head — and they help.

Image from The Hangover via meme-arsenal

In addition to improving my own personal productivity, they’ve also been useful tools for mentoring and coaching. We all get stuck, we all need a little motivation sometimes, and we all feel frustrated about things happening — or not happening — around us.

Best served with an eyes-closed cleansing breath, these mantras will help you fight through those moments of stagnation, find a goal, and push to make it happen.


One important thing each day

I can’t remember what I did yesterday, and I’m not sure what I’ll do today.

We’ve all given that update, right? You know, when you show up to your team’s daily status meeting a little underprepared and struggle to articulate what meaningful progress you made or what you plan to do next. I’ve certainly been in that boat — more times than I care to admit.

That’s what I love about this first mantra. It addresses both parts of the feelsbad daily status report.

It’s inspired by the book A Sense of Urgency by John P. Kotter. Kotter explains that having a sense of urgency doesn’t mean you’re always running around creating a flurry of activity. Rather, it’s having a goal and making consistent progress toward achieving it without the stressful, frantic flurry. He writes the following:

With an attitude of true urgency, you try to accomplish something important each day, never leaving yourself with a heart-attack-producing task of running one thousand miles in the last week of the race.

This is my go-to self-talk when I catch myself spinning on tasks but accomplishing nothing, like when I’m flipping between email and Slack, searching for something new begging for my attention. That’s not a productive way to work. It’s entirely reactive and, at best, keeping up. It’s certainly not a mode that will lead to much progress.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

In those moments, I take a breath and think, “One important thing each day. What’s something important I can do?”

This helps me pause, take inventory of everything that needs to be done, and determine what’s actionable. When done at the beginning of my day, it pushes me to prioritize and set immediate-term goals. It can also help with personal or team roadblocks by shedding light on instances where the most important thing can’t be done.

Completing a meaningful task each day gives you a place to hang your hat. No matter what else happens, you accomplished that one important thing. You set a goal and achieved it, and you’ll remember it when it’s time to give your update in the team’s daily status meeting.


Be the leader you wish you had

Toward the end of last year, I watched Simon Sinek lecture about his then-upcoming book Leaders Eat Last. During Q&A at the end of the lecture, a woman asked, “If you find yourself in a place that you consider unsafe, is your best strategy to exit?”

This was his response:

Absolutely not. The best strategy is to step up. The best strategy is to be the leader you wish you had. The best strategy is to find someone you trust and say, “We have each other; let’s look after each other, but let’s also commit to looking after everybody else.”

He explains how toxic leaders use isolation and fear to control groups, but it’s always the group that ultimately holds power. The group controls the leader.

Sinek speaks about it in the context of toppling a dictator, but I find it to be applicable in many non-authoritarian situations, too. It’s easy for friends and colleagues to complain about what’s swirling around them, and it’s in those moments when the line creeps into my head: be the leader you wish you had.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I think of these words, I feel empowered to do the right thing. I’m permitting myself to step outside the bounds of my role for the good of myself, my team, or my company. Energy spent on complaining is redirected toward solving. Instead of being frustrated about what isn’t happening, I take actions to help make it the way I believe it should be.

Think about this when you find yourself frustrated. Who could make it better? What do you wish they’d do? What would happen if you did that thing? What else can you do to address it yourself? Be the leader you wish you had.


Put ’em together, what d’ya have?

These two mantras are both pretty good when used independently, but they get really powerful when combined. Like, power-level-over-9000 powerful. It’s setting them up and knocking them down. It’s taking names and kicking ass.

“One important thing each day” forces you to lock-in on a target, and “be the leader you wish you had” permits you to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

It’s taking solution-oriented to the next level because you’re not just coming up with solutions; you’re implementing them. You’re making problems go away. (Hey! Common sense here. Make sure you keep the people that matter in the loop in your decision-making. Feeling empowered is good; recklessly creating controversy isn’t. You’re trying to be productive, not stage a coup. Usually.)

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes, or think about what your team will say. Nobody’s going to complain about how you do important things, like, every day. They won’t be disappointed that you identify solutions and work through roadblocks instead of sitting on problems until the next team meeting.

In fact, it’s going to be the opposite. Your boss will be very excited about that level of proactivity, and the team’s going to notice when you show up every day with tales of glory and meaty contribution.

Recognize when you’re unproductive and lack direction. One important thing each day.

Don’t wait when you know the answer, and don’t be penalized for others’ inactions. Be the leader you wish you had.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 16, 2021.


Interested in learning more? Be sure to give the books mentioned in this article a read! Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

The Grass is Brown Everywhere

Photo by Trevor Littlewood via Geograph

Don’t sacrifice what you have in pursuit of what you don’t

You should switch jobs. Life would be better at a different company.

I mean, they’ve got better perks, better teams, better brand, better mission, better everything, and with none of the problems of your current company. Things would be so good over there. Right?

The reality is, there’s a pretty good chance the new company won’t be much better than the one you’re with now — but maybe that’s actually good news.

Two traps like to catch us all. First, there’s the “grass is greener” syndrome, where we fantasize about all the things we don’t have. The other is good old-fashioned pessimism, which makes everything look unfixable and hopeless.

When these forces collide, the desire to opt-out becomes incredibly strong. That’s when we start looking for a new job or become susceptible to those pokes from recruiters.

Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash

Now, it very well could be true that it’s time for you to move on, that it’s time for a change. The truth is, though, that every company has its own set of problems; the grass is brown everywhere. The secret to satisfaction is realizing what’s important to you, finding a place that checks enough boxes, and embracing it for what it provides.

How do you know when enough is enough, and how do you take inventory of what matters most? Let’s start by digging deeper into why the next might not be better than ex.


The company you work for doesn’t matter

Lie number one in the book Nine Lies About Work is that the company you work for matters, i.e., it doesn’t.

Authors Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall explain that significant research has determined what makes happy, productive employees. The way this is done, they say, is by asking lots of questions to lots of teams. Then, you take responses from the highest performing teams and compare them to responses from average & low-performing teams, and look for the trends.

Through this process, the ADP Research Institute has determined that the following eight specifically-worded aspects are strong indicators of a high-performing team:

1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company.

2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.

3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.

4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.

5. My teammates have my back.

6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.

7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.

8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

These “pulse statements” are genius. It’s not obvious at first glance, but they aim to measure an employee’s sense of self (even numbers) and team (odd numbers) in each of four different categories: purpose (1 & 2), excellence (3 & 4), support (5 & 6), and future (7 & 8).

High marks indicate someone who feels good about themself, their team, and their company. Given the reliability of these indicators, one would assume the best companies have higher scores than bad companies.

But that’s not what Buckingham & Goodall found.

Instead, they discovered that companies good & bad alike tended to have the same distribution of responses. There was more variance between teams within the same company than between different companies. In other words, your team matters; the company doesn’t.

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

But what about all the articles and research that goes into those “best places to work” lists? Buckingham & Goodall tell us these are important influencers of why we join a company. The culture and perks are there to sell future candidates on the promise of lush, green pastures.

However, those coveted perks like 20% time, gym memberships, and free lunches lose their luster quickly, and then you’re back to the reality of being mostly at the mercy of your team. Their research supports this, too. They found that members of a good team at a bad company will stay longer than those on a bad team of a good company.


Taking inventory

Okay, so it’s the team that matters. That doesn’t change the fact that things might not feel super rosy where you’re at. How do you know when enough’s enough?

That’s a very personal question — one that’s going to be very different for everybody since we’re all at different stages in our lives & careers and have different needs & values.

Indeed, a great place to start is by self-reflecting on your own responses to the eight pulse statements above. If you’re feeling bad on most of ’em, that’s a red flag. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope, but it’s not great for your long-term outlook. (If you’re in that boat, my suggestion is to have a conversation with your boss. Tell them about ADP’s research and your responses. Consider a similar conversation with the team.)

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

I also love this article by Jessica Donahue, PHR. She describes a coaching conversation she had with her boss where her boss asked her to “take stock of what’s important to you at work and put those things through a force-rank.” Her boss asked her to consider things like the people she works with, growth opportunities, job flexibility, and how much money she made.How to Help Your Team Figure Out What They Value Most in a Job
Because no job or company is perfect all the time.medium.com

In other words, find what matters most.

And in her case, she determined that her company’s lack of profitability — the thing that had her questioning if it was time to move on — wasn’t as important as the things her job did provide. Her top 3 needs were being met really well. That realization helped her to overcome, in her words, a piss-poor attitude. She ultimately stayed with the company through bankruptcy and liquidation.


Conclusion

Every career is going to have its ups and downs. We’re all going to have moments where things feel less than great. It’s impossible not to look out the window and dream about what could be.

Consider what you’re leaving behind before you jump ship, though. Acknowledge that no matter how careful you are — no matter how much research and diligence you pour into searching — you’re about to enter into a game of team roulette that will ultimately decide your satisfaction.

The team matters most, and leaving a great team for a lesser one isn’t easily undone. Make sure you’re not already sitting on a great thing before being lured away by another company’s shinies. Know what’s important to you, and discuss your needs that aren’t being met. You might find it’s easier to unlock happiness by fixing your everything-except situation than it is to throw everything in the air and hope for something better. Fixing it benefits everyone.

Finally, if you go through all this — your engagement scores from the pulse statements are low, you’ve determined your most important needs aren’t being met, and you’ve had conversations with your boss to no avail— then maybe it’s time for a change. Part of the gamble is that you might end up in a better place, right? Take solace in knowing that you’ve exiting for the right reasons, and find that better something.


This article was originally published on ILLUMINATION on February 15, 2021.


Thirsty for more? Try the book mentioned in the article, Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

Writing Tips for Time-Starved Folks

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

From a decade of making it happen on a strict time budget

I’m tired and annoyed by these “how to be a better writer” articles with advice about finding your flow state and writing entire drafts at a time. I’m a parent. With a job. I don’t have time for a pre-writing routine to do daily before losing myself in my writing for hours at a time. I can’t schedule multi-hour blocks on alternating days for writing and editing, and I can’t write and publish every day. Time is the scarcest of all resources.

I do love writing, though. It’s helped me immensely throughout my career as a software developer, manager, and parent. (Turns out there’s a lot of overlap between professional leadership and parenting. I recently experienced this through the irony of yelling at my kids while writing an article about the importance of being present and reducing multi-tasking, but I digress.)

Each year seems to bring a few more distractions and a little more responsibility, but I’ve managed to keep blogging for more than a decade now. Finding the time to write and meet my own increasingly high standards isn’t easy. It requires dedication and discipline. In this story, I’ll discuss the tactics that keep me going, publishing regularly, and improving along the way.


One goal to rule them all

There are two primary trains of thought in the when-to-publish debate. There are the folks who say not to be a perfectionist. They advise you to get your article to what you feel is 80 or 90 percent, then pull the trigger and move on. The other camp argues that you shouldn’t stop until it’s the best you’re capable of because there’s enough bad content out there, and a great article will outperform a poorly written one by orders of magnitude.

Have an overarching priority

Both philosophies are valid, and that’s why the single most important thing is to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Your specific goal has a significant impact on the relevancy of most of the other advice you’ll find. Consider your key metric for success. Is it the number of articles, views, likes, dollars, follows, or something else?

It’s kind of like asking a business to focus on product versus sales versus marketing. The truth is, you need all of them, but with limited resources, you must prioritize. So pick one — quality, quantity, or distribution — and make it your top priority.

Adjust the dials

Picking a top priority doesn’t make it your only priority. In the beginning, I was entirely focused on writing as many articles as I could. I think I was aiming for two articles per week at one point. The articles weren’t terribly deep, and the pace was unsustainable. I was publishing things as quickly as possible to keep up, and I’d stress or lose momentum entirely when I’d fall behind.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Quality and enjoyment were being sacrificed to maintain consistency. It wasn’t worth it. But, by dialing back my commitment to a single article per week, I’ve found a much better balance. My writing quality has improved because I’m not rushing to get things out the door as quickly as possible. Stress is down, enjoyment is up, and I stay focused and committed.

Set deadlines

With your overarching goal in mind, set deadlines for yourself. My number one goal is to publish regularly, so I strive to write one article per week. This helps with the whole when-to-publish dilemma because I only have so much time. If I want to meet my deadline, I need to find good enough and stop.

However, if my goal was to provide deep, insightful content, I might target one article per month, so I have adequate time for research and analysis. In this case, it would be beneficial to invest the extra time to make my writing as perfect as possible because the stakes are higher when you publish less frequently. You’ve still got that finish line drawn in the sand to keep you honest about when to move on, though.

Work ahead

Sometimes I get ahead of my deadlines. An article comes together quickly, and it’s done several days before I intend to publish. I stick to my target schedule, though, and begin the next piece.

When articles come easy or when I have extra time, I keep pushing to build some buffer. This helps a lot in the long-term because I don’t stress about an unproductive week here and there. No time to write for two weeks? It’s okay because I’ve got four weeks of material scheduled and ready.

The buffer also lets me take a breather when I’m tired or low on inspiration. Instead, I can take a few weeks to read or focus on other things and come back reinvigorated.


Be ready to throw down

It’s Saturday. The kids just went outside, and you’ve got about 30 minutes to be productive. Go.

You need to be ready to take advantage of the time when it becomes available. Optimize your writing process for fragmentation so that you can use it effectively when you have a little bit of time.

There are two primary influencers of what activity I can do at any given moment. First is where I am and what’s available — like, physically in the world. Am I at home? Do I have a computer? The second is the state of in-progress work.

Being stuck somewhere with a little bit of time but no computer is a great opportunity for phone-friendly activities. You can brainstorm new ideas and create story stubs or develop outlines. It’s hard for me to do actual writing from my phone, but I can begin filling in notes for sections. Phones are good for proofreading and light editing, though. I read a lot of articles on the go; why not experience my own content that way?

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

A quick disclaimer on the phone thing, though. Many of us suffer from some form of digital addiction. Don’t choose to edit articles instead of enjoying the company of your friends and family. Be present — it makes life better. It’s those times we find ourselves obsessively checking story stats, investments, and social media that are our opportunities. If you’ve got 15 minutes alone in the car while waiting for your partner to grab a few things from the grocery store, that’s the perfect time to put in a little work instead of re-checking your various feeds.

The actual writing process at a computer is a little different. For a new story, I try to focus on a single section at a time. Usually, I’ve got at least an outline with notes that I can expand upon. As the work draws closer to completion, effort shifts toward reading & revising, repeating until I’m either satisfied or up against my deadline.

The point is when you don’t have the luxury of being able to schedule consistent blocks of time, you need to make effective use of the time you do get when it’s available. Try to view content creation as an incremental process. Start with a skeleton. Expand it to an outline. Write sections one by one. Add images, headlines, & headers. Proofread and revise. All these tasks can be completed in short bursts.


Make it part of your job

I had no aspirations of being a writer when I started blogging. As a software developer, I was constantly learning about new technologies and figuring things out. I’d solve the problem du jour and move on. Inevitably, 6 months later, I’d find someone else who was bumping up against the same problem, but I’d long since forgotten the details.

So, I started writing to create a repository of things I’d learned that I could refer back to and share.

It became part of my job to document my findings into succinct little packages. These weren’t the kind of articles I write today. They were tiny, how-to articles about whatever I happened to be working on that week.

You know what, though? In my first 5 years, from 2009 to 2013, I published 215 posts this way. These weren’t deep, insightful pieces, but they were valuable practice. They were “putting in the time” and learning to write. I was curious how bad my first post was, so I dug it up — it’s less embarrassing than I was expecting.

However, the most important thing is that I didn’t have to find time outside of work to hone my writing skills. It happened as part of my job. Even if work isn’t your passion and the thing you really want to write about, all that practice is valuable and makes you better.


Find a robot editor

No matter how many times I proofread, I always notice small mistakes while reading the published article. It drives me crazy. As a result, I’ve embraced Grammarly as my editor.

Is it as good as a human editor? Probably not. Does it find a lot of small mistakes that I might’ve missed otherwise? Yup.

When I first learned about Grammarly, I was a little smug about it. I know how to use a comma, thanks. It’s pretty good, though. I like that it checks for things like passive voice and can optimize for conciseness. I also like the score it gives — it feels good to get the thumbs up from my robo-buddy.

All this can be a little distracting. It’s hard to ignore the squiggles while you write and easy to do too much ad-hoc editing as a result. (Even though I poo-pooed it earlier, there’s a reason people like to suggest separating writing & editing.) Good outweighs bad by a lot for me, though. When up against a deadline, it’s really helpful for quick cleanup. I definitely suggest employing Grammarly or a similar tool to sweat the small stuff.


You got this

Writing, parenting, working, and everything else in life are almost entirely about doing the best you can with what you have. Parenting and a full-time day job take up a lot of time. Like, a lot a lot. That doesn’t leave much for writing and all the other things you want to do.

With what precious little time you have left, it’s important to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and do the things that most effectively move you toward your goals. There are many important parts of the writing and publishing process, and you need to dip into all of them to be successful. So, investing time in any of them is valuable and makes you better — that’s how “practice” works.

Identify your overarching priority. Adjust the dials, so time spent is invested in the right ways. Set deadlines to motivate yourself and promote productivity. Approach writing projects iteratively and chip away at them in all those little free spaces. Finally, find ways to make writing part of your every day; use them as a reason to write instead of an impediment.

Do these things, and I promise you’ll write more, get better, and sustain it for a long time.


This article was originally published on The Writing Cooperative on January 29, 2021.


I’m not an author, but I play one on the internet. If you’re looking for real writing, try the wonderful Mulrox and the Malcognitos by my friend & colleague Kerelyn Smith. Note that I use affiliate links when linking to products on Amazon. Thank you for your support!

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