Career development, fulfillment, and happiness explained via the barbell strategy of “and” not “or”

It was around 2001 or 2002 when an office coffee customer took me into the back room to show me a Keurig machine.  “This is going to change the coffee business” he claimed.  No more glass pots and “who left the coffee maker on?” burnt smell.  What’s more, people can now make a fresh cup to their own choosing, opening up all kinds of premium blends for the consumer.

I got it immediately.  Like my customer, I knew I was staring at innovation right in front of me.  We were both excited.  I could feel his energy like a shot in the arm.  As a dutiful corporate soldier, I reported this information up my flag pole.  My boss deflected me over to Marketing.  Marketing’s response: “what’s a K cup?” sent me back to them with more enthusiasm of how this innovation was going to change the game.  But over time, and declining interest in anything new or emerging, I realized that our company wasn’t in the innovation game.  I was still young and naive.  I thought big companies had big resources to invest in new ideas.  Maybe some companies are driven this way, but not the company I was working for.  Innovation for us is line extension.  A new flavor.  Maybe a new pack size.

My wife was not working, choosing to stay home with our two young children at the time.  My corporate job was a good job.  A company car, 401k, and lots of stability.  What a foolish consideration to leave all this to chase rainbows.  The grass is not always greener, as they say.

So I trudged on.  Marching as a corporate foot soldier.

I saw the gradual decline of products and categories I was selling in the food business.  I saw the rise of emerging, more healthy products (Kind Bar) and more functional products (Red Bull) and, of course, more convenient products (K cups).  I learned how to navigate within a big company, and how to produce results, without rocking boats.

But I was desperate for a shot in the arm, the energy that comes from creativity and innovation.  Every once in a while I would try to fulfill it within my day job, developing a promotion or a nice looking flyer with a compelling tag line, but mainly these efforts were little recognized (at best), or ended up giving me more work with no more pay or accolades (at worst).

The corporate job wore down my innovative spirit to a dull axe.  It became not even worth trying to swing for change within my company.  I sought knowledge and guidance.

I read The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson.

I read Free, by Chris Anderson.

I read A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink.

I read The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.

I read The 4 Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss.

I read The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin (and then every other thing he’s written).

I began to understand that my employer does not owe me fulfillment.  I would perform the duties of my “day job” while maintaining enough energy and free time to actualize fulfillment with things I love “on the side.”  Hobbies, they call them.

But I didn’t want to go bowling or collect stamps.  I had the entrepreneurship bug.  How can I be an entrepreneur and be a corporate soldier at the same time?

I got a personal laptop.  It would sit on my desk next to my company laptop.  I took the advice of the books I was reading and started a website about something I love and believe in.  A friend framed up the site and helped me think clearly about focus areas within the subject.  I would perform the duties of my corporate job while at the same time, researching, posting, “giving away” free relevant content about my interest.

I figured out that I could invent something, something not too close to my day job.  And I did that.

I figured out that I love building wood burning saunas, so I started building saunas for others.

I figured I could write an ebook about building saunas, to help others, and I did that too.

I realized that the more fulfillment I got from my side gig, the better corporate soldier I became.

Then I read Antifragile, by Nissam Taleb:

Some of Taleb’s advice is solidly practical. If you’re interested in a high-risk career such as acting, he suggests using “the barbell strategy” by pursuing acting along with another stable career, like accounting, thereby exposing yourself to maximum positive risk. In the worst-case scenario, you’re a respectable accountant engaged in the local theater scene; at best, a superstar actor who never had to starve.

My advice for people with an entrepreneurial itch is to apply the barbell strategy.

  • On the left side is your day job, your stable career, that which puts food on your table.
  • On the right side is your side hustle, your muse, your entrepreneurial endeavors.  Your passion.

Before Taleb, I would challenge my oldest son: “it’s about AND not OR.”  We don’t have to make sacrifices to spend time doing what we want to do (or “make the angels sing,” as Pressfield calls it).


Contrary to popular belief, time is not fixed. Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” is in step with the axiom “if you want to get something done, give it to someone who is busy.”  Saying that “I don’t have enough time” means that we are simply afraid to make time to do what we are set out to do (very Godin-esque).  It also means that we haven’t figured out systems to be more effective (4 Hour Work Week).


Doing what we love seems to take very little energy.  Spending time doing what we love actually fuels us, and gives us energy.  We can spend all day doing what we love and have tons of energy, or we can spend hours doing what we hate and be exhausted.  But it’s not always easy to make money doing what we love.  Those with tons of energy have carved out the time to do what they love.


And there’s an argument that trying to make money doing what we love can turn what we love into a job.  (I believe this!).  Someone may love surfing but they may easily start to loathe surfing by trying to become a professional surfer.  There are all kinds of statistics that indicate that after about $100,000 in annual income (after needs are met), most people are not any happier with more money. Once we rationalize this, we can start to accept that making a ton of money may very well not make our lives any better.  Once we accept this, we can pursue our endeavors “without dollar signs in our eyes” and without the pressure of turning our side gig into the next big thing.

Those with enough money have enough freedom of time and energy to do what they love.

Like a hike in the woods, the journey is its own reward.

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Decisions we make should be about AND not OR.


Is silence a sign of disinterest?

We’re all busy, but when the ball is in our court, it’s our turn to act.

If we’re waiting for the best time to do our best work, we may wait forever.

It’s better to do a good job now, than a great job late.

If we’re too busy to get to it, let the other person know.

  • Silence is a sign of disinterest: not good.
  • Communication is a sign of engagement: better.

Stop pucking around.  Get it done.  Then we don’t have to talk about this.


Every entrepreneur needs to be able to absorb the body blows

The Innovative path is never straight.  There are twists and turns, obstacles, and seemingly insurmountable boulders and blockages.  Some days, we are filled with excitement from the adrenaline rush trying to create something remarkable.  Other days, we are filled with anxiety and self doubt from any number of things that will go wrong trying to create something remarkable.

When we feel like we’ve been punched in the stomach, we can try humming:

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
“Let it be”

We are all sensitive.  We all have feelings.  We all have weak stomach muscles. We may retreat to the couch and wallow away for a few hours or a night, but something inside us wakes us the next morning, and we get up, and get right back at it.  We entrepreneurs are driven to create.

Entrepreneurs can’t let it be.


  • “That which blocks our path creates a new path.”  The obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holliday
  • “Embrace Constraints.  Constraints are advantages in disguise, as they allow us to think creatively”, Rework, Jason Fried & David Hansson
  • “Recognition is a huge step.  Some avoid what’s bothering them, or can’t even isolate it”  How to untangle the wires in your head, Glenn Auerbach
  • “Knowing that you’re facing a Dip is the first step in getting through it.”, The Dip, Seth Godin

We entrepreneurs need to be able to absorb the body blows.

Who was the guy who first decided to use the backup Zamboni?

Between periods at a hockey game, some of us stay seated and end up watching the graceful, calming dual Zamboni dance.  Like magic, the white snowy ice turns into shiny clear ice behind.

But those of us old enough remember a day when ice refinishing was done with just one Zamboni.  Sure, every NHL rink had a back up Zamboni, in case the main one broke down, but nobody ever thought to use the back up Zamboni and get the job done at half the time.  Then one day in 1985, folks at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota put in an order for an additional Zamboni.  “Ralph, quit leaning on that broom.  Get out there with #2 and help Carl with that ice.  We’ve got a game to play.”

Dual Zambonis between periods

It’s fitting that the idea came from a Minnesota rink manager or Zamboni driver.  Minnesotans, of course, understand ice.  Those of us who used to turn on the rink lights with a 6:50 am ice time understand that ice that has been allowed to “cure” or “set up” after resurfacing is really good, hard ice.  For NHL players, stepping onto freshly resurfaced ice that has set up just an extra couple minutes is that much better ice.  Whoever this guy was, he changed ice resurfacing forever.

Back on the bench, we can consider: who was the first player to squirt a little water out of the bottle before taking a swig?  Surely it must have been a germ conscious player.  And the player was probably not so much a hypochondriac,  but was probably a player fully understanding the havoc that a flu bug or the mumps can have on a team.  But no hockey players suck on the water bottle,. so, why the extra squirt?  Superstition?  Maybe.  But ridding any idea of germs in the water bottle becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.  We all know that getting sick can be very very much mind over matter.  One ounce of water sacrificed for piece of mind is a good investment.  Who was that first hockey player?  Whoever he was,  he changed swigging out of a water bottle forever.

A little squirt before taking a drink of water

Back on the ice, ever wonder who was the first defenseman to flip the puck up high, up and out of the zone?  It used to be that a hard shot around the boards, about the height of an opposing players private parts, could do the job.  But players are too good.  Cups are too strong.  And if the puck gets by the defenseman holding the point, well, the puck goes all the way down to the other end.  An icing call, back in the zone.  Somewhere along the line, and it was recently, defenseman found an effective way to get the puck safely out of the zone, out of reach from snarling opposing defenseman, and turning defense into offense.  Just like (insert favorite quarterback name here), defenseman are now like skilled quarterbacks, lobbing a forward pass to drop right down for a rushing teammate, creating havoc for the opposing defenseman.  Who was the first hockey player to develop this skill?  Whoever he was, he changed the game forever.

flipping puck out of the zone

Where in your day can you see a way to change the game forever?