There is so much noise in the world it’s easy to lose track of what you really think versus what you’ve heard or read or watched.
Here is how to find time for your own thoughts…
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How to Find Time for Your Own Thoughts
Welcome to another episode of the Ryan Hanley show.
Today’s is going to be me and you and the audio on this episode is not going to be as good as it normally is, because I’m actually driving.
I’ve got about four hours of windshield time heading from my home and Watervliet, New York to meet up with some of my oldest and best buds. A lot of us played college baseball together. Our last unmarried friend is a few days away from tieing the knot. We’re very happy for him and we will be celebrating the last few days of his bachelorhood here in Buffalo with a nice night out on the town followed by a Buffalo Bill’s game.
Hopefully tomorrow they will stomp on the Washington Redskins. That gives you some context as to when I’m recording this.
But as I was driving and to my friend’s house where I’m going to be staying at, I’m just thinking about him and our relationship and we’ve known each other for 20 plus years and he’s helped me through a lot of stuff… some of the hardest times in my life and just good times, bad times, all that kind of stuff.
He was the best man at my wedding and I was thinking about something that he does as I was driving.
He doesn’t listen to music or podcasts when he drives, he drives in silence.
For the longest time, I thought that was weird.
I would ask him, “Dude, you don’t listen to any music? You don’t listen to podcasts?”
I love podcasts when I’m driving. A lot of times I’ll listen to podcasts and I always used to give him a hard time for that. And it hasn’t been until later in my life that I’ve really started to appreciate what his habit really means.
But before we get into that, I want to share with you a story.
The title of this story is When Opportunity Lies at the Bottom of a Dirty Blue Trash Can. You can read the story in its original form by following the link.
It’s actually the very first story that I tell in my book Content Warfare, which I wrote back in 2014. It’s all about content marketing. It was my truth at that time.
A lot of the core principles still hold up today.
The 12-Year-Old Entrepreneur
When I was 12 years old, the town that I lived in was, Nassau, New York, not Nassau County, that’s down on long Island. This is about a thousand-person village.
I guess you could say about seven or eight minutes from the Massachusetts border, basically the middle of nowhere for upstate New York. That’s the closest to the middle of nowhere that you can be and still be close to somewhere.
I guess that’d be a good way to describe it. Another way to describe it is the criminals live in Nassau, they didn’t rob and steal in Nassau. So we grew up in kind of a lower middle, lower, lower-class town and basically what was the middle of nowhere.
It wasn’t a tremendous place to grow up. If I’m being honest. Anytime I would leave that town, any of the friends that I had that didn’t live there, it was like a stigma.
Growing up in Nassau was a Scarlet letter to a certain extent.
They called us Nass-holes. This wasn’t super, but that’s not really the point. The point was if you lived there in general, your parents did not make a tremendous amount of money. Cause otherwise you wouldn’t choose to live there. That was the case for me.
As I said in the book, we weren’t poor. But we did not live in luxury either.
So I had to make my own money and to do that at 12 years old, I would wake up every Thursday morning at 4:00 AM and I would take three 50-gallon trash bags and I would go out and collect bottles out of people’s recycling bottles.
It was a recycling day and there were blue bins and everyone just put their recyclables in the blue bins. At 12 I could easily dig through them and I would pick the cans out.
I didn’t start with three bags. I started with just one bag and I would go out and I’d fill that bag up and I would make seven or eight bucks in bottle returns. You know, I was looking for the 5 cent bottle returns, Coke cans, beer cans, beer bottles, you know, whatever I could find.
Then I realized that if I could do two trash bags. But that was all I could carry. If I wanted more, I needed to be able to pull them because the way I set my route up and where my house was to get all this done before I would have to go to school that day, it didn’t bring me back by my house so I couldn’t drop the bag off and I didn’t want to leave a bag of recyclables on the side of the road because someone would definitely grab that and take it.
My mom, you know, was taking care of my sister and I had her own job to get ready for her. So it wasn’t like she was gonna follow me around and could pick it up. This was on me, this is my thing. So I got a wagon or found a wagon, to be honest with you I can’t remember if I bought it or found it or someone gave it to me.
I got a wagon, like one of those radio flyer wagons and with the radio flyer wagon, I could pull three bags. So with the three bags, I can make about 25 bucks.
That’s basically how the math works. It’s not a hundred percent important, but in the time period that I had, I can get about three bags worth of stuff and I just kept doing and optimizing my route until I figured out how I can get three bags worth of bottles consistently in the shortest amount possible.
Then I would have $25 at the age of 12 to spend and save. And I saved most of it, spent all the rest on baseball cards and candy and other crap that kids spend money on. And it felt good to have money in my pocket because otherwise, I wouldn’t have had money in my pocket. And, and it was my first soiree into being an entrepreneur.
I also sold some baseball cards. Not a lot though. I didn’t do like shows or anything like that and mostly just swapped him with friends for stuff. It was more of a barter system deal, you know, you want that Wiffle ball bat or whatever. I did shovel driveways and shoveling driveways can be very lucrative except it had to snow enough for you to miss school. Because knocking on people’s doors at 6:00 AM to shovel their driveways, that didn’t go over so well, at least in my neighborhood.
So it had to be people who were home on snow days. So there was a limited amount of cash that you could make there. And I guess in hindsight, could’ve set up deals with people to shovel their driveways. But I didn’t do that.
I didn’t have that wherewithal at that age to do that. But that would have been a good idea set up, I guess subscription service you could say. But probably most people that would pay for that subscription service would have just hired a snowplow guy.
So needless to say, I had this entrepreneurial spirit and all the money I made, I made through getting jobs or doing these types of entrepreneurial things.
I got my first job at 13. I swept the floor and a local car garage. That was terrible because of the fumes and I just didn’t like being in that environment very much. So I worked at a golf course until I became old enough to work at a Wendy’s. And then from Wendy’s I went to Hannaford, which is like a local grocery store. So I’ve always been working, always been making my own money.
You know, I paid for every car I’ve ever owned. I paid for them myself. I’ve always paid for my own insurance. Like I’ve never relied on my parents. My parents helped me a little bit with college. They signed the forms and help co-sign the loans and stuff. But you know, I came out of college basically with all that debt. That was mine. Which is fine. All that is fine.
The point of this story in the book was centered around the idea that we all have this entrepreneur inside of us and that when we don’t know any better at a young age, we’re so willing to take the risks of being an entrepreneur.
We’re willing to get up at 4:00 AM in 10-degree weather and throw parkas on and wade through dirty, disgusting bottle bins, which is essentially just garbage for 5 cents a pop.
Like we’re willing to do that and we’re willing to have people scowl at us. And you know, I’d see blinds move, they’d hear me out there, digging through their bins. And the funny part about that is eventually one of my neighbors got wise to what I was doing, who an adult, and just started driving around and plowing through all the bins before I could get to them and essentially put me out of business.
Which was a bummer, but for the solid 10 months, this is how I made my money.
As a kid the potential for shame or ridicule or questioning or failure… it doesn’t matter.
You have nothing to lose when you’re a kid.
Then something happens.
Entrepreneur No More
And for me, my goal, as much as my parents were amazing and did everything they could for me, was get away from where I grew up.
I’ve never felt anything but love and had a wonderful childhood. I still knew that I never, ever, ever wanted to live in the town that I was raised ever again. Like I never wanted to have to go back to that place. I wanted to get out of there and be done with that place once I was gone.
My dad worked for the railroad and he was a union guy and my mom worked essentially for the state as a secretary or receptionist and still has that same job. So the path was to get a job at someplace safe and conservative where you could do a good job and have stability.
And that’s a wonderful mindset.
But the problem with a safe mindset is it is tough to ascend. I wasn’t taught entrepreneurial-ism, not that they poo-pooed it. They certainly did not. And they encouraged me and supported me in the different things that I wanted to do, but they weren’t entrepreneurs.
I wasn’t ever exposed to the entrepreneur life. And neither one of them went to college. So I wasn’t pushed towards college. Again, they didn’t poo-poo college and if anything they supported me when I decided that I wanted to go, but it wasn’t pushed on me.
I had no idea how I was going to get out of Nassau.
And so one of my teachers, my junior year of high school asked me, “where are you thinking about applying to college?” And I was like, oh my gosh, I can go to college.
Collage was something that actually could happen. I have good enough grades, I could potentially go. This is how I get out. This is how I get out of Nassau. This is how I never have to go back to that town. Going to college, getting a degree and then leveraging that degree for a job and that job will be someplace else.
That job will be in some city someplace that isn’t here and I have no idea what that’ll be, what it’ll look like. And frankly, I don’t even care. I just don’t want it to be here.
And so, so that’s what I did. I focused on getting good grades, focused on getting into college. I’ve leveraged some athletic ability to get some scholarships and I went to college and I had no idea what I wanted to do.
I told myself I wanted to be an engineer because that seemed like the safest job that also had a stable and healthy income.
A few semesters in with a 2.1-grade point average, I realized that engineering was not in my future.
So I scrambled and scraped and scratched out a math degree and graduated from college with no idea what to do next. My goal had been, I just always assumed like you get a college degree and then the college degree turns into a great job and the great job turns into safety and security and the ability to never have to go back to the place that I was raised again.
I obviously go back all the time to see my mom cause I love my mom and she’s the best. I just didn’t want to live there.
What Came Next
The interesting part and I don’t go into any of this in the book, is the next phase.
I got the degree and I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I literally had no idea what to do next. No idea.
So I got an office job. A bunch of my buddies moved to DC that I played baseball with. That seemed like as good a place as any. So I followed them to Washington DC.
I lived on a mattress in the living room of a three-bedroom house in Washington DC which was amazing. I mean, we had a tremendous time, but having a tremendous time does not equal moving forward in your life.
So I got an office job and the office job is terrible. I mean it was $32,000 a year. Hawking spreadsheets. And then you know, I got another job which paid me $5,000 more a year. And that was hawking spreadsheets again because I had this math degree. I was decent in spreadsheets and good with equations and stuff like that
I also had some decent analytical skills. I was able to leverage this one skill set I had over and over, but it was terrible. These were awful jobs. I mean, nothing against those specific companies, but the jobs themselves were mind-numbing.
I could do the work that needed to be done in the first hour that I was there. And then I became really good at falling asleep at work without anyone noticing. I can fall asleep with my hand on my chin. I was good at that.
I also memorized every baseball stat for just about all 760 plus players that were listed in the Yahoo fantasy sports website and became really, really good and really, really dedicated to fantasy baseball.
That was my life.
I had no stress.
I didn’t think about work.
I also didn’t have any money.
I would live off of $5.50 of 7-11 convenient store food a day.
I get my breakfast from 7-11. I would steal muffins or whatever type of office treats or office food there was lying around for lunch and then I would eat on about $3.15 of 7-11 for dinner.
That’s how I lived in my life. And like I said, it was fun. It was eye-opening. It was also awful.
Being broke and constantly maxing out credit cards and knowing how to leverage credit card off of credit card and knowing who wouldn’t charge a penalty for certain periods of time, even though they would tell you they were going to charge a penalty so then I could skip certain months and not pay it.
It was a constant game of being behind the eight ball.
Feeling like in any given moment, I just would have all this debt and everything would come crashing down on me and I would be screwed.
And I hated my job.
I lost all sense of the entrepreneurial kid that would dig through garbage cans with zero shame for $25 a week.
That kid was gone. I wasn’t that person. I had wanted safety and security of a regular paycheck because I didn’t know what the alternative going out on my own felt like and it was terrifying.
And it wasn’t until I hacked my way through a few more of those jobs and I ended up meeting my wife and ultimately getting offered a job by her father that started to change.
Becoming a salesman, which is maybe the closest thing to an entrepreneur without actually owning your company that you can be in my opinion. Salesman, salesperson, saleswoman, you know, you gotta go out and do it. People aren’t going to hand you anything if you want to be good… if you want to make it.
In sales, you have to think like an entrepreneur.
You have to think like a business owner. You have to use ingenuity and creativity and you have to be disciplined and form good habits. You have to be able to build a network and you have to be charming and knowledgeable and kind, generous, giving and constantly learning.
Even though I was absolutely terrible at sales when I started, over the course of a period of time, seven, eight years, I became more and more adept that these skills… I started to regrow that entrepreneurial spirit back.
And fast forward, here I am at 38 years old, going to be 39 in a few months. I feel like I could be nothing other than an entrepreneur.
I don’t know how to code and I don’t have any good ideas for projects, products I guess, but if you define an entrepreneur as, “someone who creates and gives value and does it on their own terms,” if you want to define an entrepreneur in that way, I don’t know how I could be anything else.
When I’m doing those things, I am my most happy and it makes me sad to a certain extent that it took me 26 years to regain the entrepreneurial mindset I had lost.
But I’m glad that I found it again.
I’m glad that I feel this calling to record podcasts, create videos and write articles because the creativity is just flowing out of me.
It’s a little disjointed.
I think this is because the flood gates are still wide open and I’m just allowing that to happen right now as I try to figure out what this entrepreneur journey is going to be.
How to Find Time for Your Own Thoughts
But I’ll tell you that bringing this all the way back to the beginning of the show when I said I wanted to share this story with you because my friend, the friend that I’m going to stay with, he’s an entrepreneur himself… and he doesn’t listen to music or podcasts in the car.
For a long time, I couldn’t understand how he could travel in silence, but now I do.
He was allowing himself to be with his own thoughts.
I consume a massive amount of other people’s content and ideas. I love it.
I love dissecting the way people think, taking it in and passing it through my own filters and finding ideas that resonated with me.
However, sometimes I feel like I work with too many thoughts from other people in my head.
I don’t allow enough time for my own thoughts.
I get too caught up in what other people think, what other people do, how other people act.
I was seeking safety in the ideas of others.
I lost my entrepreneurial spirit by believing that somehow college was a guarantee to the safety and security that I thought was necessary for adulthood.
I lost the 12-year-old entrepreneur.
If you’re listening to this and you resonate with it at all, the reason I wanted to share this story with you is that you can get your entrepreneurial spirit back.
I have it back today. It took a long time to get it back.
How exactly did I get it back?
I’ve spent more time with my own thoughts.
I tried to drive my car in silence. When I walk the dog, I’ll do a couple of laps around our neighborhood a podcast and then I’ll turn it off and I’ll do a lap or two without just in silence, just me.
Sometimes my mind goes blank. Other times I let it race and find things.
When you spend time with your own thoughts you find yourself thinking about all this crazy (interesting) stuff.
In the moments when you’d normally just shove someone else’s thoughts into your brain, spend a little time with yourself.
It’s scary as hell because you don’t know what’s going to happen. And half the time you feel guilty for having thoughts or uncomfortable with thoughts that you have even though no one else is listening.
It’s just you and your brain, right? Your mind, it’s whatever you actually are, your soul, your essence, whatever you want to call it.
The physical mind that operates and interfaces with whatever this reality is. If you spend time in that place, you start to realize what you actually want, what actually makes you happy.
And in those moments you can start to dial in on the things that are going to provide meaning to your life.
Joy versus Happiness
I just had an incredible conversation with one of my buddies who’s an entrepreneur in any insurance space.
We were talking about joy versus happiness.
I shared with him my philosophy that happiness is a derivative of meaning and meaning is a derivative of responsibility.
That’s Jordan Peterson, not me.
I believe in the construct in which I operate and I don’t seek out happiness. I seek out responsibility. And I find that the most meaning comes from placing the responsibility on myself to create value for a group of individuals who are seeking more out of their life.
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That’s the work that I do on this podcast. The interviews, I take them very seriously. The articles that I write, the videos I create. I take responsibility for the work.
I’m trying to help you find some nuggets, some little things, some twist of words or idea or example or case study or thought or statistic that triggers some tumbler in your mind that opens you up to whatever that thing is that you are searching for.
That sounds very ethereal and, but I think it’s okay to go below the surface and I think we should spend more time below the surface than on the surface.
And what I mean by that is we operate at the service levels for so much of our day.
You gotta do things, you have responsibilities, and it’s just how do I get from the time I wake up to the time my head hits the pillow? How do I survive that time? How do I not get into a fight with my boss or my spouse? How do I make sure my kids are fed and get to where they need to be and how do I make sure my clients aren’t bitching at me?
I find the more I allow myself opportunities to go below the surface and dissect what’s happening in the interface between my soul and my mind that I start to figure things out.
I can provide people with more value.
I can be a better spouse.
I can be a better father.
I can add more value to those I work with or work for or work for me.
I can be a better mentor.
I can be a better mentee.
I can put more positivity and abundance into the world.
I’m more apt to hold the door and smile for somebody at the local convenience store.
Instead of putting that negativity into the world I just operate in a little more abundance and I think that comes from spending time with your own thoughts.
Obviously I want you to listen to this podcast and these are my thoughts, not yours.
But it’s about balance, finding moments for your thoughts and being intentional about it.
I’ve been much more intentional about finding time for my own thoughts and it has been that work, that discipline, the habit of finding time for my own thoughts that have broken me from the fear and anxiety, and I guess you could say, the shackles of not feeling worthy or not feeling able or having the confidence to be my own man, to be my own person and to ultimately control my own destiny.
I do not know what the next iteration of my life will be, but I now have the filters in place to make sure that whatever that next thing is it, it provides me with the meaning that I need to experience the moments of happiness that allow me to be the best version of myself for the people that I care about and want to add value to.
If that makes sense to you, then I hope that this podcast helped.
If it doesn’t, then I’m sorry I just wasted 31 minutes of your life. But this was just something I was thinking about as I was cruising along…