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Below is an article I wrote for Christopher Lowman’s Moving Towards Peace newsletter, on why I think the current mess will be healthy for us all in the long run – even if it’s incredible painful in the short run.

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Americans are dealing with the worst financial and economic trouble in decades–and, unfortunately, it’s going to get worse bhutan-hjumpbefore it gets better (sorry!)  Why then, you might ask, will this ultimately be a good and healthy thing for us, i.e., the ‘us’ that decides to take advantage of it?

The path to business success is shifting from one based on ‘promotion’ (i.e., selling to anyone, anyway, for the sake of making money), to one based on ‘attraction’ (i.e., growth based on making customers successful, which then attracts more customers). This latest meltdown is a necessary part of this shift, as it’s causing us to shed toxins and unhealthy habits … ultimately teaching ‘us’ that the old paradigm of business isn’t the path to happiness, success, and independence that we were trained to think it was.

Whether you’ve been laid off, had your compensation cut, or are suffering from a real estate hangover–these are all situations that can force you out of your mental ruts and cause you to reexamine what you really want to do with your life. As painful as it might be, this is, in actuality, a blessing-in-disguise … a unique opportunity to reevaluate and make a positive change in what you’re going to do with your business life.

Many of the millions of people who have and will lose their jobs will end up starting their own companies, ending up happier and wealthier for it.

This is how you can use the financial and economic trouble to your advantage. If you were assured of success and could do anything, what would be your dream business? Start by reflecting on what adds meaning to your life and what you enjoy doing or sharing. How can you practice those enjoyments in ways that are meaningful to others? How can you mash your enjoyments up (say old cars, travel, teaching, video and …?) into a dream business that combines several of your passions, so that you can make a living by doing the things that you love to do?

It can take two or three years to generate steady income from a new business, so maintain a day job for income while you work on your ideas a few hours a week. Just don’t stop taking baby steps in the direction of manifesting your dream business!

You can do it. I escaped corporate America to realize my dream business, and am now helping others to do the same. I’ve dedicated my work to helping people ‘make money through enjoyment’ and my dream business, PebbleStorm, is the vehicle for my personal mission. Click here to watch the replay of PebbleStorm’s launch webinar (audio improves at minute 20), or here for the slides without audio.

Aaron Ross founded PebbleStorm to help people “make money through enjoyment.” Prior to founding PebbleStorm, Aaron Ross was an EIR (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) at Alloy Ventures, a venture capital firm with over $1 billion under management. He is an Ironman triathlete, graduate of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School, and volunteer mentor at SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business.”

UPDATE: a great example from someone still in transition: “Abundance Mastery: What I Learned From “Going Broke” by Claire Burstein

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It’s good to be back ‘online’ here!  I just returned from an amazing 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in North Fork, CA (near Yosemite).

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There were 120+ other people there, evenly split between men and women and ages from 20s-60s.  Dhamma.org, describes Vipassana as: “This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.”

And a booklet from the retreat continues:

What Vipassana is not:

  • It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
  • It is neither intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
  • It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
  • It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What Vipassana is:

  • It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
  • It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
  • It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

How I benefit from regular meditation

Even before this retreat, I’d been meditating for about a year (simple observation of my breathing, not Vipassana) because:

  1. Meditation enhances my ability to focus. It creates mental ‘space’, helping me distinguish “activity” versus “productivity”. Ever feel like you’re so busy doing ‘stuff’, but when you look back, none of it felt like it mattered?   It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working to climb that mountain…if you’re climbing the wrong mountain.
  2. It opens up my creativity – I’ve had some great ideas come through!
  3. It enhances my happiness and contentment
  4. It’s enjoyable – calming and relaxing, like a mental massage 🙂  

How I got started with meditation – slowly; babysteps!

I started about a year ago, after beginning to work with an Ayurvedic nutritionist (which is also when I stopped drinking coffee and alcohol). I started with just a few minutes at a time in the morning, and slowly built from there.  Even now I don’t meditate every day.  For the past six months, it’s been about 3-5x per week, for 10-30min, and slowly getting more consistent over time.  I am increasing that now after the retreat.

Attitude makes all the difference

I’ve found my attitude makes a huge difference.  When I started a year ago, meditation felt like more of a chore, as if my conscious was a mom saying “eat your peas, dear”.  OK ok…grumble, grumble.  However, once I got the hang of it and stopped resisting, I began to look forward to it as an enjoyable, relaxing mental space, like a mental spa break ☺ Do you look at going to the spa as a chore?  The kid grew up and realizes they not only like peas, but even looks forward to meals full of them!  (Please ignore this analogy if you don’t like peas as an adult.)

I heard about Vipassana from a friend about three years ago, and even though I wasn’t meditating at the time and had no idea what Vipassana was, I immediately had a feeling of “I want to do that!” (someday).

The retreat: 10 days of silence to calm the mind and enable the study

It’s called “Noble Silence” – no communication during retreat with other students or the outside world, either by voice, glance or gesture.  The purpose is to calm the mind, to enable one to really learn and apply the technique. You can see ask the teachers questions, and their is instruction, so it’s not totally silent.  I found the silence actually very easy, and it did make the practice easier to learn.

Walking into the retreat, and leaving behind iPhone, camera, etc., and knowing I wouldn’t have access to email or my phone for 10 days, my mind immediately calmed down…

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How it went & what I got (including an unintended addiction)

We had a suprisingly busy schedule, beginning at 4am, of meditation, breakfast, meditation, lunch, meditation, evening tea break, meditation, and then evening discourses. I was asleep by 9:30p each night. During the long meal breaks, I’d nap or take walks on the walking paths.  The food was amazing!  I became addicted to Celestial Seasoning’s “Bengal Spice tea“, a form of chai without black tea or caffeine. Yum!!  Don’t worry, caffeine addicts – they had instant coffee there too.

Although some people had a really tough time in the first couple of days with the silence and hours of meditation, I found it was surprisingly easy; a piece of cake.  I had some tough days (Day 8 was a low one for me), but it was all worth it.  I was surprised that it was harder physically than mentally for me, because I wasn’t used to sitting like that for so long.  Many other experienced meditators brought their own cushions and backrests. For novices like me, the Center had a ton of cushions and benches there for people to try out and use. It took 3-4 days to figure out my ‘seating system’.

Here are some of the specific things I got from the retreat:

  • A practice that will increase my happiness, calmness and awareness in all situations in my life
  • Clarity/confirmation that what I’m doing with PebbleStorm is exactly what I should be doing with my life
  • A GREAT image for PebbleStorm, using a tree to illustrate four levels of happiness, and how PebbleStorm helps people tap into the most enduring, meaningful forms of happiness.  It’s only sketched in pen now, I’ll have to play with it before I’m ready to post it here.  First a Sun, now a tree…I sense a trend here in using natural images in addition to my circles…
  • A shift in my thinking of the balance of buddhism/happiness thinking and capitalism in PebbleStorm (a topic for another day).  I used to think it was 50/50, but really the mix is more like 80% buddhism/happiness and 20% capitalism. By the way – if you’re unfamiliar with buddhism, its core isn’t religious at all, though sects have added rites and rituals. It is simply a system to help people achieve lasting happiness (“enlightenment”).

Did I mention the 10-day retreat was free?  It’s 100% donation-supported.

And by the way, the course is free.  Yes, lodging and TASTY meals for 10 days.  They do ask for a donation at the end, “to pay for others”, but it’s by no means required and there is really no pressure at all.  The entire worldwide organization, in 120 countries, runs on a donation and volunteer basis.  This is how strongly people feel about how Vipassana has impacted their lives!

A worldwide non-profit driven by genuine, passionate commitment

Both the practice itself and the non-profit organization teaching it at more than 120 centers around the world are fascinating.  Run by volunteers (even teachers aren’t paid), it’s a worldwide, well-oiled machine. The retreat ran like The reason the organization works so well is because of people’s passion for the benefits they receive from Vipassana…and they want to help others receive the same benefits.

Now: integrating it to my (daily) life

They recommend, as a minimum, an hour of meditation in the morning, and an hour in the evening.  Rather than start out strongly and probably have some discouraging breakdowns in the practice, personally I know I’ll be more successful with a gradually building practice (this is me – what you need to be successful might be very different). It’ll take me some time to figure out my routine and to really make it a part of my daily life. For the next three months, I’m going to do it as much as possible, at least once a day, but realize that I have some experimentation to do.  Especially since I’ll be traveling and moving quite a bit between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires…and any kind of travel plays hell with my routine.

“I could never meditate, my mind is too busy/I have ADD…”

I’ve heard this from so many people.  If your mind is so agitated, isn’t that exactly why you should work to tame it, to put it to work for you rather than being at its mercy?  Jumping into a 10 day silent retreat might be too much at first, but there are plenty of ways to try it out in smaller steps.

A 3-minute practice and simple steps you can try

Please Leave A Comment!

Do you practice?  What works for you?  Leave any suggestions in the comments!  And I’ll share updates on my practice monthly as it builds.

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Below is an email I recently sent to a group of inspired entrepreneurs in Washington D.C., organized by Klia Bassing of www.VisitYourself.net. I feel this note could help others see a new perspective on what’s going on with these financial and economic earthquakes. As painful as they are now, they’re helping us in an important transition in business, from a “pushing/pestering” energy to a “attracting” energy.  For most PebbleStorm readers, even if you don’t understand exactly what I mean by this, I’ll bet that idea or those words resonate for you. This isn’t an overnight change, and it will take more years to fully realize.  Meanwhile, the harder people and organizations hold onto the ‘prior’ way of doing business, the more painful it will be for them and their communities…

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Hi Seedbed’rs!

I hope everyone is weathering both the literal storms and financial market storms. The financial market problems are one symptom of a massive change in how business works, from one of  promotion (driven by a hunger for money and prestige), to one of attraction and receiving (driven by a desire for enjoyment and inspiration).  This will be, it is, a very painful shift for many people and entire organizations.

I’m sharing here a v1.0 handout I created for the PebbleStorm Open House event I had recently in Los Angeles.  The intention of the handout, and the idea of “unique genius”, is to help you or anyone reflect on what kind of dream business you would create for yourselves. Once you have a vision of it…you can begin to make it!  Even if it might take years…better to start now than later 🙂

Download the Unique Genius Handout – 090308

Here is one other exercise around pausing to reflect on “what do I really want for myself?”
http://pebblestorm.com/2008/04/17/the-original-small-pebble-big-wave-self-manifesto/

All the best,

Aaron Ross
aaron (at) pebblestorm (dot) com
PebbleStorm.com: “Make money through enjoyment”
CEOFlow.com: “Make money through enjoyment” (for organizations)
BuildASalesMachine.com: “Create predictable revenue”

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In a post in May, The Power of “Why Not?”, I outlined some reasoning for “why not do some work from kauai?”  A half dozen people agreed, and here we are now 😀

It’s my first time here, and Kauai is amazingly beautiful!

For the first part of the trip, Will Jessup (founder, www.CitrusByte.com), Tony Wong (founder) www.DigitialOnionInc.com, and Patty Yun (CitrusBuyte/MBA, USC) came out.   We quickly discovered that the Grand Hyatt Kauai, on the south shore, has an excellent office area:

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The view from our office (with one of my favorite books, and a key inspiration of www.CEOFlow.com):

Initial thoughts on this kind of trip

To any of you skeptics – we really are working here in Kauai in addition to enjoying ourselves at the beach 🙂  The most valuable part of this trip isn’t the amount of work we crank out with our analytical left brains.  The value is giving ourselves some mental space to breathe, getting clear, and letting our creative right brains make those “aha!” and “why didn’t I see that sooner?” leaps of intuition. Sometimes this happens while we’re writing, hiking, driving, sometimes while sketching… but it’s the kind of thinking that happens rarely when we’re overloaded from work back home.

Great Place to Stay in Princeville

Ever want to stay at a townhouse in Princeville?  I’d recommend where we are: http://www.kauaitownhouse.com/

More Trip Pictures

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2134583&id=218087

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A “5th Work Option”

July 13th, 2008

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In 2007, while thinking quite a bit about what I wanted to do next in work and life, I realized along the way that what I wanted wasn’t among the most common work options you can jump into:

  • A corporate job (working for someone else? Nah.)
    – I’m including “start a company that takes outside financing” in this category as well…because you’re still working for your investors.
  • Consulting (you’re always “on the clock”)
  • Non-profit (work on changing the world, but the stable income ain’t much!)
  • Artist (work through authentic passion, but good luck supporting yourself)

My goal changed from uncovering the next opportunity to creating my own perfect working world, combining the best parts of all.

Why can’t I have:

  • The stability of the corporate world
  • The independence of a consultant
  • The financial upside of a starting your own company
  • The passion of an artist / purpose of a non-profit

The goal: create an environment that enables a workstyle of “more fun, more freedom AND more money” – without compromising anything. I’m not willing to sacrifice my health, personal life or purpose for work.

What does the ‘5th Work Option’ actually look like?

A business based around your passions or life purpose (or as I’d say, your “Unique Genius”), that generates a steadily growing flow of passive income. It often begins either as consulting or time-based services or a side project/hobby…and then over time develops into a business that sells products, programs, information or anything else that requires only a little bit of your time. Also, through the process of building the business, you develop enough of an ‘audience’ and base of True Fans (who actively spread word-of-mouth for you) to generate a plenty of income.

Easier said than done, right?

PebbleStorm

The thinking of “how I can I make this a reality?” led to the development of PebbleStorm, and my life purpose of “to help people make money through enjoyment.” PebbleStorm is a roadmap to this 5th Work Option, to make it easier, less lonely and less risky to get there.

Why is my purpose about helping others make money through enjoyment? Because the more like-minded people there are who think this way and help each other stay focused on making money through enjoyment rather than just making money…the easier achieving the 5th Work Option becomes – for us all! This is why one of the most important parts of PebbleStorm is community – connecting people at similar stages of development to share information and to support each other.

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I’ve been thinking about a PebbleStorm presentation that leads people through a series of questions. The objective is to walk them out of the day-to-day work mindset that traps people, to awaken them to the fact that they have amazing, untapped potential already there inside themselves…if they’re willing to discover and explore it.

1. Are you meant for more?
If you’re here on this site – the answer’s probably yes.

2. Can you achieve the independence you want, financial and otherwise, by working for others?
Unlikely.  People stay on the corporate treadmill their whole lives thinking “just a few more years…”

3. Do you believe it’s possible to make money through enjoyment?
Many people believe you can either enjoy your work OR make money.  Do you have a mental block that will hold you back from believing you can make money through enjoyment?

4. What is your unique genius?
We’re not taught in school how to find our life purpose. What do you love to do, that you have a special talent for, and that adds meaning to your life? Related to life purpose, your calling, your superpowers… Also see What Is Your Unique Genius? for suggestions on figuring it out.

5. What is your own 5th Work Option?
Your perfect, uncompromised, working life?

6. Are you thinking in “I might” or “I will” terms?
Words have power. Words can create commitment. Try saying out loud “I will own my own business.” or “I will make plenty of money through doing what I love.”

7. What’s holding you back right now?
…from taking the next step to starting your own business? Is it one of these three things?

8. What is your next babystep, your next bite-sized chunk?
The smallest step that will move you, even infinitesimally, further along the new business path. It could be as small as reserving a URL or telling your spouse that “I will start my own business.”

9. Again: are you meant for more?
Then commit to doing something about it!


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How did you make your last career move decision, whether between companies or within a company? Are you considering a career move soon? Will you take the next step up (a promotion/upgrade in your current function) because it’s easy and will be more immediate money, or will you decide to look for a right, non-obvious move that fits your inherent interests and unique genius, making you a future independent superstar (but taking longer)?

As you consider your options, here’s something to keep in mind – 50% of the reason a hamster gets on the wheel is because it’s in front of them.

Rather than doing more of what you’ve been doing, what do you really want to do?

And one sure way to avoid finding your unique genius (which is already within in you, waiting to be found) is to ignore it.

Just for good measure

Steve Pavlina’s 10 Reasons why you should never get a job

An excerpt from reason #3 Lifelong Domestication: “Getting a job is like enrolling in a human domestication program. You learn how to be a good pet.”

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…and it’s true whether you’re an entrepreneur or CEO. True, in the past work did have to be exhausting – no one ate unless the fields were planted. But the only reason we still make work so damn hard on ourselves is our conditioning and cultural habits. We’re trained to believe that “enjoyment” and “success” are mutually exclusive. But enjoyment (channeled in the right directions) increases success.

Perhaps “work can be energizing, not exhausting” would be a better title for the “Pull management” vs “push management” systems v1.0 post…?

And yes, I understand people will immediately say “Yeah right. How?”

It can be done.

I’m personally living it today, and packaging it up to share and teach it to others. Part of the system includes collaborating with other like-minded people (hence the PebbleStorm groups and Meetups). I will continue to share more and more practical information here over the next three months, leading up to rolling out some PebbleStorm programs in early September.

Programs for people or companies at three different stages

1. Discover (“I know I’m meant for more, but I’m not sure what yet”)
2. Play (“I’m testing and playing with new business ideas/projects, but they are self-sustainable yet”)
3. Evolve (“I already have a successful business, but I want to grow it faster or reinvent it”)

UPDATED 7.1.08: Just posted about the “Five Stages

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I’m living as virtually as possible these days. As my Small Pebble, Big Wave Self-Manifesto says, my “perfect working world” includes working on what I want, when I want, and with whom I want (and I’ll throw in now, ‘from where I want’).

I’ve structured my work and projects (both setting expectations or turning down business) so that I’m only needed periodically in person. I keep expenses low, to lower how much income I need for it to be ‘sufficient’. So –

Why not go to Kauai, since I’ve never been there?

Why not pick a random, fun idea to launch a company / website around with a great friend, if it only takes a few weeks of half-time work and a few thousand dollars?

Why not start a PebbleStorm retreat, where I and some people I want to collaborate with (like (catwalkstudios.com) can break away from the distractions of their days, to spend some time braincracking and/or building companies or websites for fun, and relatively small amounts of time and money?

Why not combine all three? Why not just do it now?

I couldn’t come up with any good reasons not to do it, so:

Upcoming PebbleStorm Events, including the Kauai Makers Retreat

If we can do one company, then why not more than one? Why not see if there are a few other like-minded people who want to join us, either to work on their own ideas or to help us? (Hint: email me at aaron (at) pebblestorm (dot) com)

Next time you feel yourself hesitating to commit to something outside your comfort zone: ask yourself why not? Maybe it’s just your work conditioning that’s keeping you back.

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1. Lack of awareness of what they enjoy, their purpose, their unique genius… or that they could even begin envisioning a 5th Work Option. It never occurs to most people (at least until they get fired or have some other serious life change) that until they step back and clearly rethink what their ideal working life should be, they won’t get it. They just take whatever comes their way.

I’m going to include “lack of money” and “lack of time” here under the awareness bucket, because many people are unaware of how easy it can be to start on the path.  Commitment is step one.  Take the first step right now just by saying “I will start my own business.”   Now keep each next step as small as possible – tiny babysteps.  As for lacking money to start a business – all you need is $9 for a URL.  Businesses can be started with very very little money today – passion and patience is much more important!

2. Fear (mostly unconscious) of change, fear of new ideas, fear of telling people their personal ideas, fear of telling themselves that they want more out of life, a fear of committing to themselves that they’re going to do something about it… I’m not sure why fear plays such an enormous role in blocking people, but I see it everywhere. I’m convinced by reducing the fear factor here, we’ll enable huge numbers of people to blossom as entrepreneurs.

3. Bad habits (including working for the wrong reasons). In the United States/the West, we’re trained to think that money, titles, prestige and ‘stuff’ lead to happiness. So in our search for happiness, we go after the wrong things – ‘stuff’ that does not lead to sustainable happiness. It’s really hard to break these lifetime habits. When people work with the intentions of acquiring power, prestige (a title) or more money, it’s a rare path that leads them to contentment and happiness.

Here’s a disturbing observation: some of you who read this will associate “contentment and happiness” with being lazy, poor, or unsuccessful...!!! How have we gotten to the point in a society when contentment is denigrated? Not necessarily publicly, but it does happen in casual conversation or body language.

Contentment does not equal lack of activity or laziness. I’m incredibly content while working on multiple projects, clients and new companies (I’ve lost track of how many…), because everything I do is aligned with my purpose, through PebbleStorm. More to come on this.

Project 2057

April 17th, 2008

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This 50-year vision came to me in a flash on August 9th, 2007, at lunch with Zaw Thet in Palo Alto. Ah I can remember the moment like it was yesterday 🙂    I wondered, what kind of big, hairy audacious goal would help inspire and focus not just myself, but the entire PebbleStorm community?pebblestorm-project-2057-sketch-small

[1] Help 100 million people make money through enjoyment

[2] Help them create $1 trillion in new wealth

[3] Find ways to measure and increase their happiness with work

I’ve only updated Project2057 a couple of times since August07: the original point 1 said ‘change the way 100 million people think about work’…which has since evolved to the “Help 100 million people make money through enjoyment”.