I just posted a new article on GasBuddy’s blog about the “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment. There’s also a cool graphic showing what an average week looked like for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
My day job ended last Friday.
I received a phone call informing me that the company had gone out of business for financial reasons. There was no advance notice, and I suppose I should’ve been upset, but the angry emotions never came.
I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
Since the latter part of 2015, I’ve worked hard new and better opportunities outside of the day job. And although my plan was to leave when I was better-established, it’s not like I’ve been left in a bad situation.
I’ve been paid to speak, write, and share my thoughts on a range of issues. Through my “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment and my exposure to more than 1,000 convenience stores in 24 states, I’ve been able to bring an outsider’s perspective to various organizations within the c-store industry—not just to promote the sale of healthful choices, but to share more broadly what works, doesn’t work, and what can be improved.
But there’s a reason why I did this.
A number of years ago, I was forced to realize a cold, bitter truth: despite having done many amazing things, I didn’t really “fit” anywhere in the marketplace. As I’ve written previously, my decision to turn down law school meant—in the eyes of employers—that I was just another random social sciences major. Nor did my two years with Teach For America count for anything.
After hundreds of applications and few responses—and after working mundane jobs that either weren’t right or had no future—my fight or flight response kicked in. Either I create my own opportunities, I realized, or I’m never going to have the kind of life that I want.
So that’s what I did.
I’ve spent more than fifteen years writing and learning the craft, so I wrote. I enjoy self-experimentation, so I designed an experiment that had never been attempted. I’m passionate about helping people transition into healthy, active lives, so I put my message out there.
And now that my former employer has gone out of business, I’m glad that I did it. Although I’m not quite where I want to be, I’ve got momentum and a chance to do a lot of great things.
That’s why I want to share what I’ve learned. If you’re where I was a few years ago and considering something similar, then perhaps I can help.
THE DAY JOB
Until recently, I was hesitant to talk about my day job.
I didn’t want people to assume that I had intentions of staying there, but I didn’t want to broadcast that openly on social media or my website. That could cause issues if it got back to the employer, and I wanted to be mindful of the message it sent my coworkers. I respected them a lot, and I didn’t want it taken personally.
But for those of you who’ve wondered: I worked with cell phone towers.
It’s not what I had in mind when I applied to law schools, but it wasn’t a bad job. I went to the airport on Monday, returned home either Thursday evening or sometime Friday, and generally enjoyed three-day weekends. I was able to see more of the United States than many people ever will, and the pay wasn’t terrible.
Most people don’t notice cellular towers, but they’re everywhere. Look around when you’re driving at night. See those flashing stacks of red lights?
I didn’t construct them, mount equipment, or install modifications, but I did climb them. Many were between 150 and 300 feet, but I’ve been as high as 1,100 feet—and that was in the dark after midnight.
My job was to inspect the towers and the sites at which they’re located. I verified that construction crews did their work properly, inspected towers and facilities that had been recently purchased, and provided the engineering team with the data they needed to determine if towers needed modifications or could handle extra equipment.
My coworker produced this video of a 999′ tower we inspected in Joplin, MO. The music is loud, so turn it down if you’re at work.
But I had no intention of staying, and I realized this about a month into the job.
That’s why I took advantage of the situation for my benefit. The extensive travel made my “30 Days” experiment more interesting than it would’ve been if I’d just stayed around Des Moines, and I quickly realized that I was able to gain exposure to stores all around the United States. I examined them from every angle, took photographs, and looked for innovative products and solutions. Having visiting more than 1,000 stores in 24 states, I’d like to think I did alright.
And things began to go my way.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED SO FAR
As I mentioned, I’m still not where I want to be.
The game-plan is to continue to develop the “personal brand” and take advantage of other avenues that exist, but I may also jump on-board with the right company if there’s a chance to do it. It just depends on the situation.
But perhaps these lessons will be useful to you if you’re just getting started. Just remember that they’re reflective of my experience and may not apply directly to yours.
Lesson 1: Take action. Don’t over-plan.
As I’ve written before, people sometimes spend so much time planning and searching for answers that they avoid taking action. This is a critical mistake. While it’s a poor idea to rush into something recklessly, remaining in stasis doesn’t solve anything.
I’m reminded of something that Stephen King once said. I wish I could find the video, but he did a Q&A at a college campus and was approached by a student. She explained her situation, her desire to be a writer, and asked Mr. King if he thought she should do it.
“No. You shouldn’t,” he said, in his characteristic, blunt style—more or less in these words. “Because if you truly wanted to write, then you wouldn’t give a fuck what I have to say about it.”
Harsh? Perhaps. But he’s right.
Writers write, singers sing, actors act, and entrepreneurs create businesses and innovations. They take action and move forward.
Lesson 2: Some of the best opportunities are unplanned
Action is important for another reason. Some of the best opportunities are unknown and unplanned, and we only encounter them after we move forward.
I initially viewed the “30 Days” experiment as a fun way to prove a point. Maybe I’d get lucky drive heavy traffic to my website.
But I didn’t anticipate what actually happened. How could I? At the time, I wasn’t even aware of many of the organizations that eventually paid me to speak and write.
Put yourself out there and see what happens. You may be surprised.
Lesson 3: Don’t be needy
When you’re in a room full of people who have the ability to change your life with just one phone call, it’s difficult not to unpack the reality of how badly you need their help. Maybe you are needy. Maybe you need a break more than anyone realizes.
But please: don’t be the that person. Nobody responds well to it.
Consider it from the perspective of others. Would you want to work with someone who’s desperate and needy? Do you think anyone came to a conference hoping to meet that person?
There’s a time and a place to be blunt, and you may have to press an issue here and there. But try to make decisions from a position of strength—even if you’re only strong in appearance.
Lesson 4: You may not earn money immediately, and that’s okay
Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness had only 90 subscribers after nine months, despite publishing five articles per week. That’s a lot of time and effort, and I’m sure it was difficult.
After all, we want to be rewarded for our hard work.
But sometimes you have to do the work with little or no compensation in return. Maybe you write articles on your own website with limited traffic, participate in podcasts, submit articles to larger websites that don’t pay, or undertake a time-intensive diet experiment on top of 14-hour workdays and stay up late to produce and maintain the documentation. Maybe your first big break at a conference doesn’t pay, or maybe it pays less that you think it’s worth.
Whatever the situation, it’s important to remember that we all start somewhere. Build a solid foundation and prioritize the long-game over short-term income.
Lesson 5: Well-meaning people will let you down. Let it go, and move on.
People will over-promise, forget to reply to your emails, and lead you to believe the situation is better than it really is. It’s irritating, but it’s just what people do.
It’s okay though. They’re human. Just let it go, and don’t take it personally.
But don’t do what they do. Be professional and reliable.
Lesson 6: Don’t rush
Work hard, but remember that your enthusiasm may not be shared by those around you. You’re starting something on your own, and you’re probably operating with more intensity than someone who is coming to work at a job they’ve been at for a number of years. This isn’t right or wrong. It’s just normal.
Likewise, sometimes things take longer than you’d expect. It may take a few weeks to determine if you get a certain speaking fee, and an email that generates no response in three days may come back in another day or two.
Lesson 7: Keep your expenses minimal
If I had enormous expenses right now, then I would be in a bad situation. But I don’t.
I live in an inexpensive (but nicely decorated) apartment, drive a 2005 Honda Civic that I own, use my phone as a hotspot rather than paying outrageous fees for internet, and I’m very nearly debt-free.
If I had a mortgage and a large car payment or two, then I might have to prioritize getting another “good job” instead of pursing what I actually want. The way it stands right now, I can easily pick up four nights a week at a restaurant and still save money while having a flexible schedule and the time I need to do this.
Lesson 8: Project positivity—not negativity.
Last year, I shared a picture from a Sheetz in North Carolina. I drew attention to the area around the registers: there were apples, bananas, and other healthful items located within an arm’s reach. I thought this was fantastic. They partnered with the Partnership for a Healthier America and made it a company policy to have a minimum number of healthful items located near the registers in new stores. Pretty cool, right?
Not according to a message I received.
This person pointed out that candy and other junk food was still available. She argued that it’s an example of stores loading up the checkout area with junk and, and she said that I was going too easy on Sheetz—that I should be more critical.
But wait a moment. Yes, stores have loaded up the checkout areas with junk for years; and yes, that’s a problem. But here’s a store that’s selling bananas, apples, dried broccoli, and other healthful items near the registers! So what if there’s also candy and scotcharoos?
I just don’t see the point in complaining about it.
And besides, which strategy is more effective? Imagine if the Partnership for a Healthier America had created a scorecard, graded all of the convenience stores harshly, and adopted a tactic of publicly shaming the lowest performers. Would that lead to improvement? Perhaps. I don’t know.
But I do know that three additional, industry-leading organizations voluntarily partnered with them in October: Core-Mark, Ricker’s and Aloha Petroleum.
And I’m certain that we accomplished more when we work together.
It’s also worth reading this article from Vox about Michelle Obama’s efforts to improve the nation’s health. As the author writes:
I learned that some of the very things that made Michelle Obama sometimes appear soft — the industry collaborations, the emphasis on exercise — were part of the shrewd strategy that made her effective. Through her leadership, the Obama administration seized on a moment when America started paying attention to food, and made fighting obesity a top priority — both symbolically and legislatively.
Lesson 9: It comes with a cost. Be willing to pay it.
As Epictitus says in the Encheiridion, you must be willing to pay the cost if you want something.
Grinding out a side-gig and trying to make it into something more can affect your social life, romantic life, finances, recreation, and at times—it seems—even your sanity. You need to decide if that’s a price you’re willing to pay. If not, make peace with your situation and forget about it.
Additionally, many people won’t understand what you’re doing. Although we constantly hear about the importance of doing what you love and following your dreams, we don’t really encourage people to do that. We promote practicality. Safe careers, good jobs. Work hard and retire. The result is that people make peace with mundane situations, and some learn to endure jobs that they actively dislike. They should just be grateful that they have one, right?
Expect some push-back if you want better. Many people will take it personally because they see it as a rejection of their values. Others will think it’s silly and childish—kind of like that friend who perpetually talks about his great business ideas but never actually tries to make them happen.
Lesson 10: It’s worth it
Even a little bit of initial success feels incredible. It’s liberating. At the end of the day, you don’t have to wonder what would’ve happened if only you had tried.
EDIT: As of March, I accepted a position with GasBuddy as an Analyst/Evangelist for Convenience Store and Retail Trends. Using the experience and knowledge I gained from my travels and speaking engagements—and the hard work I’ve invested on the side—I was able to drastically change my life and land a position doing what I love.
As always, feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you think. Good, bad, full of nonsense? I want to know. Social media shares are always welcome as well.
I’m not talking about the wrong diet, the wrong tips and tricks, or even the wrong form of exercise, but rather the way we think about weight-loss.
When we set a goal weight and focus on reaching it through temporary strategies, we fail to address the reason we got fat in the first place: the way we live our lives. Nor do we learn the necessary long-term behaviors to avoid regaining the weight we lose.
Obesity is a primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs; and by following the traditional framework, we treat the effects and ignore the problem itself.
But there is a better way.
THE PROBLEM: GOAL WEIGHT
When many of us begin our weight-loss journeys, we do so with a certain number in mind. Maybe it’s what we weighed when we fit into “that pair of pants”, or what we weighed before we began gaining weight. Whatever the reason, we make the number the goal and search for strategies to reach it.
Diets. Fitness bootcamps. Maybe even something from one of those gimmicky books or “documentaries” that suggest we’re suffering from too many toxins (we’re not) and a lack of green smoothies. (not that either)
Even if we do settle on a seemingly reasonable strategy, it’s doubtful that we’ll sustain it in the long-run. After all, there’s a perception that successful weight-loss is characterized by grit, determination, and a degree of suffering. We buckle down and begrudgingly follow a plan in order to reach that magical number on the scale. Do you want to live like that for the rest of your life?
(And before my bodybuilding friends harass me for including “paleo” on my comic: I understand that many people enjoy following the paleo diet in the long-run—which is great—but the proponents of the diet camps often promote their diets as The Solution For Everyone when that’s clearly not the case)
Some people eventually reach their goal weight, but many never do. Most diets fail. And while some people experience initial success, many regain the weight and fall into a repetitive habit of yo-yo dieting where they lose, gain, lose again, and gain again. It’s enough of a problem that many people have given up and decided that they’re helpless victims of factors outside of their control—things like genetics, environment, and addictive, unhealthy food.
But the trouble isn’t that we’re incapable of losing weight, it’s that we’ve been attempting to do it with a flawed framework. This strategy, which I refer to as goal weight, is based upon a misunderstanding of the problem itself.
Here’s what I mean.
Extra weight isn’t something that “just happens” like when we catch a cold, nor is obesity a disease that’s transmitted through air, fluids, or contact with other obese people.
Obesity is primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs. The extra weight we struggle against—even though it may be affected by factors outside of our control—is a side-effect of the way we live our lives. I’m talking about our assumptions, mindsets, and the resulting behaviors. Things that we actually can change. This may require a degree of effort, but only in the sense that habits are stubborn and and honest introspection can be challenging.
Diets and bootcamps don’t fix the problem. They focus on the effects. The goal weight strategy would have us endure a plan until we reach a specific number on the scale, but then what? Are we going to stay on the diet forever? Do the diets and bootcamps teach us what to when we’re finished? Probably not. These plans may deliver weight-loss, but not the behaviors and mindsets needed to maintain it. When finished, we return to a lifestyle which largely resembles the one that made us fat in the first place.
That’s the most significant problem with the goal weight approach, but it’s not the only one.
How do we know that our goal weight is even realistic? How do we know if it’s what’s best for us?
A person might say that his goal weight is 165, but really: what does that even mean? The scale doesn’t measure health. Nor does it tell us about the quality of the life we live. This isn’t to say that there’s difference between 400 and 165, but rather that a person’s goal weight may not be his best weight.
Think about it. Why 165? Why not 170, 180, or even 160 or 155? Is it because 165 reflects an nostalgic time from a few years ago? A favorite pair of pants? Or perhaps it’s just a number that’s considered “acceptable”.
We need to remember that our weight—as I’ve mentioned—is primarily a lifestyle-induced state of affairs. This means that for each of us, different weights will require different day-to-day behaviors.
I could probably squeeze a few large pizzas a week into my life and manage to stay around 180 or 185, but I can’t do that and remain at 160. It just doesn’t work. Likewise, a person may discover that his goal weight requires behaviors that he doesn’t enjoy. Or he might discover that the life he actually enjoys living results in a weight that’s lower—or higher.
The point is that we don’t know. Unless there’s a specific reason why we need to be at a certain weight, the goal weight strategy is based around an abstract number.
We can’t assume that’s what’s best for us.
THE SOLUTION: BEST WEIGHT
Instead of searching for temporary solutions to reach a goal weight, wouldn’t it be better we focused on living the healthiest life we’re comfortable living and accepted whatever number shows up on the scale?
That’s why I propose thinking about weight-management according the best weight framework.
If you want to succeed with long-term weight loss, it’s crucial that you embrace both reality and imperfection.
Remember, too, that your best efforts will vary. Your best when facing a challenging time in life will be different from your best when everything is hunky-dory, just as your best on your birthday, or on a vacation, or at a holiday meal will require indulgence.
The truth is there will come a point where you can’t happily live any better — where you can’t happily eat less and you can’t happily exercise more — and your weight, living with that life, is your best weight. In every other area of our lives we readily accept our best efforts as great, and we need to do that with weight and healthful living too.
This solution gets to the root of the problem rather than attempting to alter the effects. It keeps us focused on what matters: the way we live our lives.
People who use the best weight framework will focus on cultivating healthy, sustainable mindsets and behaviors. That’s because they’re playing the long-game rather than looking for a short-term fix. They also recognize that weight is a side-effect of the way they live their lives, and they can avoid harmful weight-gain my living their lives in a way that doesn’t cause it.
Of course you might be wondering: what if someone’s best actually keeps them overweight?
That’s why I included the flowchart in the above picture. I promote best weight as a cyclical feedback loop that enables us to be adaptable and responsive. If a person honestly believes that he’s living the healthiest life he can live, and his weight plateaus at a level that he’s not comfortable with, then he’s going to reflect on this and reassess the situation. Perhaps he can do better. Perhaps his priorities have now changed and he’ll focus on healthier behaviors than were previously acceptable. Or maybe he’ll just accept that this weight is his best weight.
Regardless of the outcome, a person who’s honest with himself and follows this framework will be in a far better situation than someone who’s always on the lookout for the One True Diet.
And let’s be honest: the people who aren’t struggling with their weight—your friend who runs marathons, or that family member who always raves about healthy living—it’s not that they’ve found the right diet, life-hack, or set of tips and tricks; nor is it that they’ve discovered some elusive secret that nobody else knows.
They live their lives in a way that doesn’t produce serious weight-gain. That’s it. And we can do the same by internalizing the best weight framework.
It works for me, at least. I rarely step on scales, and the goals I set have nothing to do with reaching or maintaining a certain weight. If I achieve my fitness goals, eat a healthy diet that I enjoy, avoid lifestyle-induced illnesses, and feel good about what I see when I look in the mirror, then who cares what the scale says?
Just remember that it takes time. Success in this area is about playing the long-game, reflecting, reassessing, and making continual improvement when possible. Embrace the journey, enjoy being a lifelong learner, and step outside of your comfort zone and embrace new experiences.
Figure out what’s really best for you, and do it.
Did you enjoy this? Am I wrong? Leave a comment and let me know. If you think it’s great, I always appreciate shares on social media.
Not only did I speak at this year’s NACS Show in Atlanta, but I searched the exhibit halls looking for the best, most innovative products. In the style of my “30 Days of Gas Station Food” experiment, I wanted to see what better-for-you products were available from the vendors.
The result? I discovered a fascinating story about KIND working to modernize the Food and Drug Administration’s definition of ‘healthy’, found a lot of fantastic products, and probably spent a bit too much time at the RedBull booth.