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The Curse of Debt…

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Got this in my inbox from Early to Rise this morning. I can’t agree more with the author’s words… the worst decisions I’ve ever made are the ones that have made me a debtor.  Hopefully, you’re not in that situation, and you can take these words to heart:

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A Self-Made Millionaire’s Guide to Dealing with Debt

By Mark Ford, editor, The Palm Beach Letter

I had my first serious run-in with debt when I was 30 years old.

My wife K and I were renting a condominium in Washington, D.C. Our landlady came to us with an exciting opportunity: We could buy the condo for $60,000 with no money down. For just $100 a month more than what we were already paying for rent, we would be paying a mortgage. It sounded like a great deal, so we took it.

What we bought was a negatively amortizing mortgage with a three-year term and an 11% interest rate. That meant, every three years we were paying $19,800 in debt service and another $3,000 in closing costs.

We didn’t realize what was going on because our monthly payments were only $550. I was too foolish then to ever ask myself, “What is the cost of this debt?”

I tried to find another bank to take me out of this scam but none would. The mortgage we had signed was not backed by the government (Freddie Mac/Fannie Mae), which meant that no other bank would touch it.

I learned that when banks make it easy to borrow money, it’s not because you are a nice, deserving person. I learned that if you can get a loan despite poor credit (as ours was at the time), there is usually a scam involved. It also taught me to always ask the two critical questions about debt, “How much will it cost?” and, “Can I afford it?” It was an expensive lesson.

Many of us view debt as a necessity. We buy homes with it. And cars. And boats, and toys, and vacations. Some use it to buy the basics: clothes, food, and furniture.

Debt is not necessary. It is a luxury. Sometimes debt is useful. Sometimes it is wasteful. But debt is always dangerous.

It is unnecessary because there are always less expensive ways of getting what you want. And it is dangerous because it can sometimes be very expensive.

Let me give you two examples.

Let’s say that, like most Americans, you are in the habit of buying things with credit cards. After a while, you notice that you have accumulated $30,000 in total debt. You decide to cut up your cards and repay your debt. You can devote $400 a month to paying it back. How long will it take, and how much will it cost you?

The answer may surprise you. Assuming an interest rate of 10%, it will take you 10 years to pay off the credit card debt. And your total payments will be $47,275. Of that, $17,275 will have been in interest payments.

Or let’s take a $150,000 home on which you take a $120,000 loan with a 6.5% interest rate over 20 years. The mortgage payments are $894 a month, which you can afford. But how much will that house really cost you? Including interest payments? You will end up paying $244,725 for that house. Almost 40% of that – $94,725 – will have been to interest payments.

The commercial community (bankers and manufacturers) doesn’t want you to be afraid of debt. And neither does the government. These institutions want you to like debt. They want you to use it. They want you to go into debt because it is good for them.

When you take out a mortgage to buy a home, or sign a lease on a car, or use credit cards to pay for your lifestyle expenses, the commercial community profits. The manufacturers make money on products you may or may not need. And the banks make money on your debt.

The mainstream financial media rarely talks about the dangers of debt. That’s because they make their profits from the financial institutions and manufacturers whose advertisements support their publications.

And the government actually encourages its citizens to take on debt. This was the recommended strategy for getting us out of the Great Recession that the (second) Bush administration (and the Federal Reserve) advocated and it’s the same scheme that Obama’s people are advocating today.

Here’s what you should know about debt:

As a general rule, you should live without it. You should find less expensive ways to acquire the things you need.

Unless you are wealthy, don’t lease your car. Buy it. Buy the car you can afford, not the car you believe will make you happy. Any non-appreciating asset (such as a car) will never make you happy if you have to pay its debt service. I didn’t buy my first luxury car until I was a multimillionaire.

Don’t buy anything with a credit card. Keep only one credit card for renting cars. Use a debit card to buy clothes and groceries. If you don’t have enough money in your bank account to use your debit card on a purchase, don’t buy it. If you don’t have enough money in the bank to buy something, it means you can’t afford it.

If you can’t afford the debt on your house, sell it (if you can) and buy something cheaper. In any case, start paying off the principle balance of your house (the amount you owe, not the interest you will owe) as fast as you can. Make it a goal to own your house free and clear as soon as possible.

If you have debt, pay it off as fast as you can, but not before you have filled up your bucket for emergency savings. By emergency savings, I mean money you will need to pay your bills if you lose your job. Six months’ income is what some financial advisors recommend. I’d recommend a year. It may take you that long to replace your lost income.

Pay off your debt even if the interest rate is low. In theory, you should put your extra money elsewhere if you can earn more on it than you are paying in interest. If, for example, you can get 4% in municipal bonds and you have a student loan at 2%, it makes more sense to buy municipals bonds and pay your student loan off slowly. But in reality, the extra 2% you are earning on the spread is not worth the risk in carrying the debt.

When I started earning money, the first thing I did was get rid of that terrible loan on the condominium I told you about earlier.

The next thing I did was pay off the mortgage I took on a home. I paid it off in two or three years, even though it was a 30-year mortgage. I loved the idea of owning my home free and clear. So I put every extra dollar I had toward paying down that mortgage. The bank didn’t like it, but the day I tore up that mortgage… I felt like I had been emancipated from financial slavery.

Finally, if you are troubled by debt, know this: you can get out of it just as I did.

[Ed. Note. If you’re not happy with your financial situation, you’re in the perfect position to change it for the better – right now. At The Palm Beach Letter, we can show you how. For the equivalent of a tank of gas or a dinner out ($49)… you are getting a whole year of realistic investment and wealth-building advice. Click here for details.]

 

photo credit: understandingtheworld

The Seven F’s

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

I haven’t read the book, so I can’t recommend it, but based on this short synopsis it seems like it might be worth picking up.

I found this post at kiwiflossnz:

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The book What Really Works – Blending the Seven Fs for the Life You Imagine is by Paul Batz and Tim Schmidt, and without a doubt will be the next book I buy from Amazon. Their theory is that instead of trying to balance one’s work / personal life, we are better to blend the Seven Fs into our lives. So if you want to read the book, go here, and if you want Batz & Schmidt’s summary of the Seven Fs then read on.

Faith: Our spiritual life. Spirituality is a peculiar and amazing thing. We are all  spiritual beings — regardless their chosen religion, most humans find a source of identity and strength by listening to and nurturing their spirituality.

Family: Our loved ones. In the research for the book, more than 1000 college-educated, knowledgeable workers rated “family” as the most satisfying of the F’s, and they also said family was their highest priority for increasing their satisfaction.

Finances: How money funds our priorities. While some see our income on the rise, most people today see the opposite. Here’s the deal about finances: The only way to be truly satisfied with our finances is learn to be grateful for what we  have, not spiteful about what we don’t have.

Fitness: The health of  our body. In our survey, fitness finished dead last in satisfaction, and dead last in priorities. Fitness really should be easy, except for the fact that we have to eat less (and better), drink less alcohol and break a sweat more often. How’s your fitness — really?

Friends: The people who share our joys and disappointments. Our research reveals that women tend to be more satisfied with their friendships, and they also place a higher priority on friends. How are you doing with your friends?

Fun: The part of life that is playful and joyful. With so much of our life spent working, can’t we make it more fun? Would the people you spend the most time with describe you as fun?

Future: The hope that we have for ourselves and others. Future is less about optimism and more about the commitment we make to a better world. Future is a major driver for many entrepreneurs. How about you?

 

photo credit: online-coloring-pictures

Do What You Love…

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Got this in my inbox this morning, and thought I’d pass it along. It came from Early to Rise.

 

How to Do What You Love

By Dan Ferris

I turned 50 last Friday. I had a great time Saturday night with friends and family. We drank some great wine (Lindstrom and Del Dotto cabernets) and had a fantastic meal, prepared by a guy I believe is the best chef for hundreds of miles around these parts. I’d never heard of Moroccan anchovies or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, but they’re both delicious. Over the weekend, I sat around and did little but play the guitar. It was a great 50th birthday celebration. I’m a really lucky guy.

It’s hard to nail down the most important thing I’ve learned in 50 years of living, but one thing I learned in my first year of college comes to mind before all the others. Longtime subscribers will remember that I’ve told this story before, but I think it bears repeating…

When I first began studying music in college, I found the work of Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach tedious. It put me to sleep. Just drop the needle on the record player, and if Bach was on the turntable, I’d be out in five minutes. Needless to say, if I was going to be a music major, I had to get over this.

Then, one day, I noticed everybody loved Bach but me. Every teacher and student was ultra-passionate about Bach. You could hear students and teachers alike struggling to play his difficult music in the practice rooms. I remember Reynaldo Reyes, a virtuoso pianist, telling me Bach was hard to play… but he also said it was worth whatever you had to put into it. It was that rewarding.

So I decided to suspend my doubt and listened to little else but Bach. Within weeks, I was hooked. I was soon learning some of his works on the guitar (even though it took months to gain competence on a simple three-minute piece).

Now, instead of putting me to sleep, Bach’s music energizes me. Sometimes, I play it at a low volume while I work. No other music helps me focus better. Most music distracts me while I read and write. Not Bach. It keeps me on task.

But that’s not the real breakthrough… The real breakthrough for me was that I could teach myself to fall in love with something I deemed worth falling in love with, and use that newfound passion to gain some level of competence, or even mastery.

Bach once said of his great musical prowess, “Whoever is equally industrious will succeed… equally well.” You may doubt that, but I don’t. Bach worked constantly… similar to the way Steve Jobs worked… or the way Warren Buffett works. They fostered a love for their craft and kept at it in a focused manner. I think anyone can do this, if they’ll only believe it long enough to keep working to gain competence and, eventually, mastery.

As a child, I never demonstrated any musical talent. I didn’t have much of an ear at all. But I loved it and kept at it. Eventually, I got a college degree in music, played in music theatre orchestras, and even once played in an opera at the Kennedy Center under the direction of Placido Domingo.

Similarly, I knew little about investing back in the 1990s. I’d spent years playing music and doing theatre. I couldn’t hold onto a dollar to save my life. But now, if I stopped working tomorrow, I’d never have to worry about money again because of what I’ve learned about investing. And I started out with investing the same way I started out with Bach… trying to stay awake!

Love is what’s most important in life. Doing what you love, being where you love, and with whom you love. Developing a method for falling in love with any worthy pursuit has helped me lead a really fulfilling, wonderful life. That’s one of the greatest secrets I learned in my first 50 years. I hope passing it along to you has some value for you.

[Ed. Note. Dan Ferris edits the 12% Letter from Stansberry Research. It is a monthly investment advisory with one clear objective: To help subscribers collect a steady, reliable “paycheck” (in the form of dividend payouts and fund distributions) and earn a safe 12% return every year. Click here to learn more.]

How to Succeed In Your Career

November 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Found a new blog today called “Adventures in Personal Development”. It’s pretty entertaining, and there’s some good content there. Here’s the post I liked the best:

Why do some people manage to climb to the top while others struggle to even make it to management? Why don’t the hardest workers always get promoted the fastest? The answer is as easy as pie: Performance, Image, and Exposure.

I first heard of this model from one of my mentors at my current company. It really resonated with me at the time and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s a very simple model that applies to anybody who is interested in moving up into positions of greater responsibility.

Performance

The first piece of the pie is Performance. This is your entry ticket into even being considered for the next level of responsibility. Every day you should be coming in to work with the goal of creating as much value as possible. We all see things in our companies that could be changed for the greater good of the organization. Be the one who steps up and helps see that change through.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Make a difference on every job and perform every day with the goals of the organization in mind.
  • Develop a reputation for delivering results.
  • Do everything with a sense of urgency and a drive to win.
  • Take on stretch assignments… always be on the look out for the biggest challenge.
Your performance is key. You must continue to grow to stay above the bar as it is being continually raised.

Image

Think of image as your personal brand. The way that others perceive you is important because often times “perception is reality.” The only way to truly understand how others see you is to simply ask. This can be done informally or formally through 360 degree feedback.

Many of us have heard the statistic that 93% of communication is non-verbal. This means that a mere 7% of what we are communicating are the words coming out of our mouth. Image includes your confidence, attire, demeanor, and attitude. Whether you like it or not, people take notice of the way you carry yourself.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The only way to see yourself as others see you is to ask others for an honest assessment of what they see.
  • If your goal is leadership, it is helpful to take a measure of your image and compare it with the qualities of other successful leaders in the business.
  • You can always change your image if you are open to self-improvement.
Comparing yourself with the qualities of other successful leaders that you admire does not mean you have to totally become that leader and lose your authenticity. Take the best characteristics of each leader and build your own personal brand. Never stop being yourself.

Exposure

Exposure is all about managing your network. You own your own career and you are responsible for creating connections and opportunities for yourself. By being visible to those who can influence your career, you’ll find yourself being presented with a greater variety of opportunities. Learning to get to know others on a personal level and really listening when they tell you about themselves are important skills in any profession.

Remember, the word networking has the word “work” right in the middle of it. Which means it takes hard work! Successful networking requires the productive time of time and resources to achieve your desired outcomes.

Something that a lot of people forget is that the main goal of networking should be to create value for other people. Understand their needs and help them to come up with solutions, preferably by leveraging someone else in your network that might be able to help.

Things to keep in mind:

  • The main goal of networking should be to help other people.
  • It’s far more important to understand their needs before you tell them about your needs.
  • Always try to provide as much value as you can.
  • Develop the habit of introducing people.
  • Keep in touch through social media, lunch, phone calls, messages, emails, and personal notes

And remember, networking is important, but your performance always comes first. Without solid performance, all the networking in the world won’t help you a bit. It might actually hurt you.

Putting The Pieces Together

Performance is a given in a high performing organization. Everyone is smart and everyone gets their work done. So it’s the other two pieces of the pie that will really help you advance in your career.

You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s not fair! Why do I need to worry about all this other stuff rather than simply be recognized for my hard work?” Because companies are not like schools. There is no simple gradesheet that ranks everyone by their work.

Companies today need lots of employees, but for the few that they promote into leadership roles, they need more qualities. They need visionary, inspirational, passionate leaders who will be able to rally the organization together in the purpose of a common goal.

So always be conscious of how you are showing up in the office. Really think about the qualities that you need to be a great leader and start to internalize those. And if you’re not quite where you want to be yet, simply “fake it ‘til you make it.” One day you will wake up and find out that you have turned into the leader that you have been striving to become.

Role Modeling For Success

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Every morning I get an email from Early to Rise, and this morning’s message was really powerful. I’ve re-posted it here for your benefit.
Role Modeling For Success
By Ryan Murdock

Do you struggle with Goal Setting?

I’m not surprised.

“Goal setting” has either been beaten into unbearable dullness by the anal retentive authors of certain business books, or it’s been co-opted by unicorn-riding New Age “thinkers” who tell you all you’ve gotta do is imagine really hard and that Lotus Esprit will show up in your driveway. So you’re either doomed to drooling boredom or confined to strait jackets and padded rooms.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Goal setting is simple, and it forms a key pillar of the Shapeshifter Lifestyle strategies I share with my fitness clients.

So you’ve got your big dream. You know what you want. But how do you break it down into concrete, achievable steps? That’s exactly what one of my readers wanted to know…

Dale asked me: “I know what I want to achieve, but trying to set all the little goals to get to that point kills me. If your goal is something you have never achieved, how do you realistically know the steps to get there?”

It’s an excellent question, and an honest one. Your goal is pretty much always something you’ve never achieved. Otherwise why would you bother? But how the heck do you orient your compass when you don’t have a map?

It’s actually pretty easy. You just map the process of another person who has achieved the same or a similar goal.

Find a “role model” who has the sort of lifestyle you’re trying to create. What did he or she go through to get there? What specific things worked, and which “dead ends” should you avoid? What skills or traits does this person embody?

Compare these details to where you are right now. Then figure out what’s missing from YOUR equation – and how you’re going to get it.

I’ll share a personal story that illustrates exactly what I mean.

When I’m not helping average folks redesign beautiful bodies with the Shapeshifter fitness program, I’m also a professional travel writer. How did I learn to write well enough that magazines would want to send me on expeditions at their expense? I didn’t have a teacher, that’s for sure! I did it by myself, sitting alone in a room. Writing isn’t something you can be taught – but it IS something that can be learned.

When I was first starting to write, I devoured the work of a writer whose style and worldview I admired. His name was Lawrence Durrell. I read absolutely everything he published, right down to the most obscure collection in university libraries. Then I read his published letters. Then I read all the biographies that had been written about him. Finally, I read critical articles about his work to see if I agreed with the opinions formed by these authors, or if I’d missed any nuances.

By the time I was finished I knew so much about Lawrence Durrell’s life, and I’d followed his creative process at such a deep level through his work, that I had a pretty clear sense of the skills he developed and how he got there. I also assessed myself – clearly and honestly – to see where my own writing fell short. And then I worked backwards from my vision to my current state to build the skills I needed, step by step.

Yeah, that sounds like a lot of work. But it wasn’t enough…

I followed this same process with every writer whose work resonated with me on a deep level: Paul Theroux (who I consider the greatest living travel writer), Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Arthur Rimbaud, and Steve Kilbey.

I lived and breathed my craft. I read the classics. I read poetry to understand how to manipulate images in original ways. I read history and psychology to inform my work. I read old explorer’s journals to honour those who came before me. And I’m still doing it a decade and a half later.

So yeah, that’s it. That’s how you do it.

Mapping is a sure fire way to discover the path to the dream you want to live rather than just wish for. All it takes is a little work.

So who do YOU admire? Who has the type of business you aspire to create? Who lives with the kind of energy and joie de vivre you’d like to experience? Who has surrounded themselves with the kind relationships and friendships you want in your life? And who embodies the career of your dreams?

Pick one person and start your own modeling process. This person can be someone close to you, someone famous, or even a fictional character. The important thing is to go deep and truly feel, know and understand what makes that person someone you admire. How do they act, think and feel? What would they do in a given situation?

Then start imagining, practicing and applying those actions and reactions to yourself.

[Ed. Note: Ryan Murdock is coauthor of the Shapeshifter Body Redesign program. When not helping people rediscover the body of their “glory years,” Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. Ryan’s work has also appeared in Alo Magazine, the anthologies Traveler’s Tales Central America and Traveler’s Tales China, and Toronto’s Eye Weekly. His Outpost feature “Taklamakan: The Worst Desert in the World” was nominated for a National Magazine Award in Canada.]

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My Two Cents: Goal setting is really what this blog is all about. If you’d like to learn a simple step-by-step process that will help you achieve your goals and dreams, download the free e-book that’s available here.

How to Get Promoted

November 14, 2011 Comments off

Another great article from LinkedIn:

When you want to get a promotion or move to the next level in your organization, it is critical to position yourself as a strong candidate for the role.  Just being good at your current job isn’t enough.  Consider what your boss or the hiring manager looks for when deciding who to promote, and translate those needs into specific actions you can take to increase your chances of success.

The hiring manager probably has several candidates, internal and possibly external as well, to choose from.  She wants to make the right choice for the team and the business.  Here are some of the primary factors she will most likely consider:

Can you do the job?
The manager wants to make sure you have the skills needed to succeed.  These may be technical skills or “softer” skills such as customer service, supervisory, or communication skills.  The manager has identified a list of skills and performance characteristics that she considers important to the success of the role.

What you can do:  Identify your own skills, strengths, and experience. Actively manage your personal brand at work to become known for your best attributes, particularly those valued at the next level.  If there are skill gaps between the role requirements and your own experience, invest in training, volunteer for projects to gain experience, or find a mentor to help you obtain the necessary skills.  Make sure you handle your current responsibilities calmly and capably; if you’re consistently overwhelmed at your current level, it will be hard to make the case that you’re ready to take on a larger role.

Do you want the job?
The fact that you want the job may seem obvious to you, but managers are not mind-readers, and she wants someone she knows is interested in the role and the responsibilities involved.  Many people make the mistake of assuming that “someone” knows they want the job, and waiting to be offered the position.

What you can do:  Before proceeding, first make sure that you really want the job – that you will enjoy the role and responsibilities, and the change will help you reach your personal and professional goals.  Then ask for what you want.  Clearly state your interest in the position, and ask to be considered for the role.  Be prepared to share why you want the job and why you’re the right person for it.

Will you make me look good?
The manager wants to find someone who will help her achieve her objectives, and whose presence will make her look good to her bosses.

What you can do:  Pay attention to the characteristics, actions, and thinking that people already at that level demonstrate, then behave and dress like you’re already there.  This shows the manager that you’re up to the task and will conduct yourself accordingly.  Identify what goals are important to your manager, and align your actions to help achieve her metrics and objectives.  Focus on completion of tasks and achieving “wins.”

Will you make my job easier?
The hiring manager prefers to find someone who will be able to step into the position easily, handle the responsibilities, and solve problems.   If she thinks a candidate will require a lot of training, hand-holding, or create problems or headaches for her, she will look elsewhere to fill the position.

What you can do:  Cultivate a solutions-focused mentality.  If you need to highlight a problem to your manager, also provide a possible solution.  Keep problems off her desk, rather than piling more on.  Complete tasks well and on time.  Be credible and consistent – others need to trust that if you say you will do something,  you will do it.  Cultivate positive relationships with colleagues and demonstrate the ability to work well with others.

By focusing on how you solve the needs of the manager and the organization, and clearly showing how your value aligns with the responsibilities of the position, you will look like the ideal person for the role.  Having a solid record of accomplishments and achievements using the core skills the manager is looking for indicates your ability to handle future roles as well. Just don’t forget to speak up and ask for the promotion too.

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My Two Cents: If getting a promotion is a goal you’d like to set for yourself, remember that a real goal is something that lies within our control. That means that “I want to get a promotion by the end of the year” isn’t really a goal – after all, we can’t control whether or not the hiring manager chooses us. What we can control are all the behaviors that are highlighted in this article. Set goals that will allow you to develop the necessary skills and show your interest in the job, and rest well knowing that you’ve done everything within *your* control to get the job you love…

Problems vs. Possibilities

November 14, 2011 Comments off

I’m a member of several personal development groups on LinkedIn. Today I got this story in my Inbox, and thought I’d share it with you:

“This is so disturbing!” thought Albina as she looked at the polluted river and vacant lots filled with trash and reeking of garbage.

“Hey, don’t dump your garbage there!” The youngster just shrugged at Albina as he threw the trash and ran.

Albina Ruiz became aware of the growing problem of the lack of effective waste management in her native Peru while studying industrial engineering. After receiving her masters in Ecological and Environmental Management, she came up with an idea. What if she could create a community-managed waste collection system?

Albina chose El Cono Norte in Lima as her neighborhood guinea pig. She knew the municipality’s waste collection was able to process only half of the community’s trash. Not only did people not use the service, when they did, they rarely paid their bills. It was a vicious cycle.

People were tossing their garbage in the streets, rivers and vacant lots. The result was not only a smelly, ugly environment – it was also causing serious health problems. People were not only getting sick from their groundwater being contaminated, they also were being negatively affected psychologically by the whole situation.

Her idea was fairly simple – find entrepreneurs – small business people – who would take charge of collecting and processing the garbage. This would result in two things: more efficient waste management and reverse unemployment. Albina helped people (mostly women) set up their businesses. They arrived at the fee of $1.50 a month for the service. Next she came up with all kinds of creative marketing ideas – including gift baskets – to get families to use the service AND pay each month on time.

The new business owners go door-to-door collecting garbage and the fees while educating people about the importance of respecting and protecting their environment. Some of these entrepreneurs have even built profitable secondary businesses by creating products like organic fertilizer out of the trash they collect.

Albina started this project (Ciudad Saludable – Healthy City) nearly 20 years ago and now oversees projects in 20 cities across Peru. She employs more than 150 people, has over 4,000 small business owners, and serves over 4 million residents. Her model is so successful she has been asked to create a national plan for Peru. Other Latin American countries have also expressed interest in her program.

Albina stays in contact with the people within her organization. She still visits other cities overwhelmed by garbage, checks in on the neighborhoods involved in her program and meets with government officials.

Albina says, “where most people see a problem – I see a possibility.” And her ultimate goal is to change the way people think.

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My Two Cents: As we learn to see life’s challenges as opportunities, our days become more invigorating and exciting. Everybody loves the feeling that comes from overcoming what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. Next time you encounter an intractable problem, “flip the switch” and train yourself to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Happy goal getting,

Justin