Meeting with others interested in startups

This story starts the way a lot of things in my life start:

A lack of motivation

I’ve been struggling to get back into my amateur entrepreneurship since the summer ended. I have a few excuses for why time hasn’t been sufficient, but I’ve been struggling to get my motivation up. It’s a lot like getting back into music practice: knowing how much I’ll have to do, just to get back into the material is a bit of a hurdle.

Still, because the IndieHackers podcast emphasizes learning from other founders, I’ve been looking to get into contact with others. In spite of a lot of imposter syndrome, I wanted to start talking to people about the worksheet generator. I wanted people who would get excited about the idea as a business, rather than putting up with my enthusiasm.

So I organized a meeting

At first, I checked Meetup.com to see if there were groups for founders. There were, but they all seemed defunct (or, in the middle of some kind of summer break). I was discouraged.

Then, I rationalized: I have nothing to lose.

In each group–they were free to set up–I started a conversation saying “I want to meet other founders–and people interested in founding–to have a beer.” Then, I put all of the people who seemed interested into a group chat and we started working out a time.

Meeting with others

The meeting was just what I said it would be: people talking over beers. Of the four of us, there was a software engineer who was a dad, a recovering engineer, a student, and me. It was fun to get together and start talking about business ideas.

I was the only one with code written, and it was encouraging to hear them say “this sounds like a great idea,” and to tag on with their own ideas.

It was interesting to hear that they were plugged into a lot of English-language startup things I was interested in. Even more, it was interesting to hear about German-language “celebrities” in the world of startups and marketing… though I still haven’t bought any of the books mentioned. (I think I should, but where will I find the time?)

Next steps

It was nice to feel like I had an idea, I thing I wanted to get done, and that it happened. I even got one of the people at the meetup to signup for my worksheet maker, report a bug to me (oops!) and then start using it to help his girlfriend learn English.

Perfect.

Will it get me back to work on the worksheet generator as a business? I hope so. It got me to fire up the code editor and fix the aforementioned bug. That’s nice.

Will I organize another meeting? I’m not going to rule it out. But not this month.

The burpee experiment

I have an infatuation with burpees. Along with pull-ups and rope climbing, they’re the exercise that has the most mystique. In fact, maybe I like them most because I can actually do at least a few burpees at a time. (I can do a single pull-up, I cannot climb a rope… the kids play on the one I hung in the tree outside.)

A month or so ago, I watched this video.

You can guess what happened.

Naturally I didn’t think I was up for kicking into fifty burpees a day right away. I’m getting older and I’m very afraid of hurting myself. But I did go right out and do a total of fifty burpees in who knows how many sets.

And I felt it the next day, just like I expected to.

So I took a day off. And I started writing down when I did the burpees.

It felt good to see the list grow and occasionally calculate how many I’d done in total.

Being on vacation, burpees were a great exercise to feel like I was getting something done without checking out from the family for an hour for a long run (with the consequence that I now have to break back into running).

My goal: Do fifty burpees six times a week for six weeks, starting in September. I’ve had goals like this before, but we’ll see.

Piano in Dresden

I’ve been more serious about playing piano lately. “Serious,” by the way, means that I’m doing it more often and I try to practice things that are hard for me… I’m in a big practice practicing phase at the moment.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a local hotel bar has live piano music on Fridays and Saturdays. That got me looking, and there seem to be a few places in Dresden where I can go and hear live piano.

I’ve resolved to visit them all. Here are the ones I’ve found:

  • Hotel Elbflorenz: Where my wife and I went on a date and I was surprised to hear the piano. I’ll be going back soon.
  • The Maritim Hotel: There’s a “piano bar” that apparently always has live piano? I’ll call and confirm before I go.
  • The Innside in Dresden: Funnily enough, I learned about their live piano by finding it in an angry online review. Apparently, you can hear it the in the rooms directly under the piano…
  • Klavierhaus Dresden: Probably the only place I don’t plan to visit, they mostly sell pianos (and I have one) and organize what look to be the kind of piano concerts I’d feel compelled to dress up for…
  • Champagner Lounge Dresden: I’m least excited about this one, because it seems to be reaching for a clientele that seems to be comprised of people who would annoy me.

Have I missed any? Does anyone expect that I’ll be frustrated by the experience? This isn’t the sort of thing that I usually do, so I’m unsure myself if I’ll like it.

Every day is better than occasionally

This might seem like an obvious statement to make — especially regarding fitness — but I’ve learned that every day is better than three or four times per week.

I’m still not in a routine that ‘just fits’ or a routine that I can’t imagine not doing. I’d like to get there, but, for me, exercise is a thing that I consciously choose to do because I know what it can do for me afterward.

And I struggle with making it a routine.

Enter, the idea of every day. For a while now, I’ve been using a 4-week challenge app on my phone as my ‘strength training.’ In fact, I’m restarting the challenge for the second time (I’ve been through it at the first to levels of difficulty.)

My January activity

You don’t need to open a dictionary to know that ‘every day’ means something different from what I accomplished in January. But, in January exercising four times a week — my old stretch goal — was a bad week.

I think that counts for something.

Even more, I’ve been feeling the changes to my own body, which is a nice thing to be able to report.

I still have the beer belly (“gas tank for a sex machine!”) that I want to get rid of, and I’m not pushing the scale much. But, when I hold my increasingly heavy kids, I can feel my core is stronger. Back pain has become so rare that, when it does rear its ugly head, I almost always realize “hmm, yeah, I haven’t exercised this week like I should.” (And that means that there’s a sort of positive-reward cycle that encourages me to exercise.)

In fact, as I’m going through the challenge again for the third and last time, I’m starting to wonder where I’m going to find my next every-day workout routine. The app I’m using (here, in the Google Store) offers workouts tailored to individual muscle groups “shoulders and back” and “chest and arms” or whatever. So, that’s the logical starting point, but I’ve been enjoying the simplicity of knowing that I have to free up a bit of time, start the app, and just do what it says.

So, we’ll see what happens when I ‘graduate’ out of the challenge.

I do get a bit of motivation out of these stats… 1100 minutes (18 hours)

To-Do lists and timers

Maybe I’m late to this party, but a I’ve tried to get more done in my days, I’ve learned to really appreciate the value of a good to-do list and timers on my phone. In fact, they may be the thing I use my phone for most — after photos, perhaps.

Concentration is a mixed blessing

I like to think that I’ve been blessed with pretty good concentration. I can focus on something longer, I think, than most and actually enjoy blocking most of the world out.

When I’m supposed to be doing things in parallel, though, that’s not always a blessing. Food that was boiling on the stove may be burning by the time I remember to check it. A kid who was told “twenty more minutes of Minecraft” may easily get forty minutes if I’m distracted somewhere else. (Though, really, shouldn’t the kid monitor the time on his own?)

I’ve found that, for these situations, teaching myself to set a timer on my phone every time I think “I’ll check that in ten minutes” — and then teaching myself not to turn the phone off until I’m on the way to check — has really made me more effective.

Sticking to something

Similarly, when I realize action isn’t required of me for another week or so… well, a timer won’t work. For that, I’ve found an app that will give me notifications that can’t be brushed away without being marked done or ‘snoozed.’ (It’s called “Tasks: Astrid To-Do list clone“)

Again, it’s been a question of teaching myself to realize “this is something I’ll forget, I’d better add it to my to-do list,” but it’s meant that I get a lot more done… and on time.

Even more, things I want to do often — liking writing postcards once a month the family — can be entered as recurring tasks. Maybe other people just think “hey, I haven’t written a postcard in a while” or “I just did my monthly invoice, that’s a reminder I should write some postcards,” but that doesn’t seem to work for me.

My recurring reminders include fitness, and cleaning the balcony. (I feed birds on the balcony, and don’t want a certain wife I know to think it’s too poop-encrusted.) Every three days, I even get a to-do notification that I should check my calendar for the next three days, so that I don’t get any surprises.

Some things — mostly coding — I keep track of on paper. When it’s time for me to code, I get out the paper I was using to take notes and keep track of things to do and look where I left off. For everything else, though, there’s a timer or a to-do list.

Call me childish

I get that “I only get done what my phone tells me to do” seems a bit childish. Or, maybe, millennial. But, I’m focussed on getting more done with lest frustration and, for now, I’m happy to have found something that works for me.

What do you do? How do you maximize your time?

Practicing practice

A memory of my dad

I think that the biggest thing that my dad gave me to take into adulthood is my memory of him constantly learning, constantly growing. The kids were often (involuntarily) part of his quest to learn new things. These ranged from reading about the Civil War and visiting battlefields (not my favorite vacation memory) to teaching himself amateur radio and morse code or getting qualified as a physics teacher only a few years before his retirement.

From my dad, I have the idea that I, as a human, am really never finished growing. It’s given me the courage to pick up new skills (such as coding, or piano) as an adult.

And, because I’ve loved it, it’s something I want to give my kids.

Not the kind of thing you can preach

We all know parents who believe in “do as I say, not as I do.” I’m not a big fan of that for several reasons (I’m 38, can you really expect more willpower from a 5-year-old?).

But, this is especially the kind of thing that I can’t preach to my kids. (Which is not to say that I don’t, I won’t be upset if they have “you just have to practice” echoing in their ears as adults.) But, it was watching my dad that brought me to that realization.

So, it seems logical that it’s something they have to see me doing.

And so, I’m practicing practicing

For a while, when I thought about this, I thought ‘well, I code, and the kids can see me learning that.’ But they can’t see me learning that. They just see Papa standing at the computer concentrating. I could be doing anything, as far as they’re concerned.

So, I resolved to get my good example game on.

I’ve started playing piano again. And, in fact, because I’m going to teach myself to practice a skill in the hope that my kids will know it automatically, I’m focusing more on drills and scales and the likes than I did the last time I played.

I draw. Art was always the domain of my little sister, but it’s a free hobby and something the kids can do with me.

I’m still plugging away at Latin. The kids are officially learning with me, but more so that we can talk about it and that they can know I’m working on it than as any kind of test prep. They’re learning individual nouns (arborpuella).

The idea is that these are activities I can do a little bit every day (or, most days) rather than standing at the computer not really accomplishing much because the kids are distracting me. They’re activities (maybe not Latin) where the kids can appreciate what is good and bad and realize that it took me a long time to learn a new song on the piano and hopefully understand that they can learn new skills through practice.

I can’t say it will work. But, on the other hand, I don’t think I’m responsible to make them into the kind of adult that I am. I think I’m responsible to be the best adult I can be, and to make sure they know the tools I used to get there.

Sharing to attract teachers

So, after reflecting on my strategy to introduce the EFL worksheet generator to the world, now seems like a decent time to reflect on how it’s going.

My blog for EFL teachers is slowly coming together. It turns out I have more to say that I realized, and the act of reflecting in a deliberate way has helped me feel more confident as a teacher. So, either way, that’s a win.

Recently, I pushed myself to write a post on how to use reading activities in EFL classrooms, because I have a lot of EFL reading worksheets that I can share. (I hadn’t planned for there to be so many links in this page. Is it good SEO? Bad?)

The idea is simple. I started at ISLCollective.com, a site for teachers to share worksheets they’ve made. There aren’t many reading worksheets for adults (which is why I made my own, but also a chance for me to stand out) so I figured I’d cross-post some there.

After adding a second page to the worksheets that begins with “Hello teachers! (Do not print this page)” I introduced myself and included links to the post on how I incorporate reading in the lesson, as well as to the website hosting them. And, after two days, they’ve been downloaded more than a hundred times and I’ve had my first click-throughs to my blog.

Sure, it’s only two, but it’s two more than I had.

Now, I rationalize I can post the beginning of another series of stories (I have two, at two different reading levels, at the moment). And, because there are a lot of things that are not available for download, as I make them for myself, I can post them as a way to attract more people.

After writing all this — there is a genuine benefit to thinking in writing — I realize that I should also be making resources to help new teachers organize and think about their lessons. (New teachers are the people I’m trying to attract.)

I just checked at ISLCollective and there are a total of seven downloads available as ‘teacher training material.’

I guess I know what I need to do.

The mythos of the ‘finisher’

I’ve said before that I like the title of ‘maker.’ More than teacher, I think that’s the title I’d like to go by. Teaching is a skill I have, one I can reliably trade for money, but it’s not who I am. Making is a skill I want to have, something I’d like to trade for money, someone I want to be.

My derivative creativity

And, in fact, I think I’m blessed with an ability to see past “what is there” to “what could be.” A lot of what I think of is derivative (in the sense that “the Tinder of apartments” would be a derivative app) but nonetheless creative. (Fun fact, I wrote that first and then googled it. Of course, the tinder of apartments is a thing.)

I don’t think derivative is bad. After all, schools began as “a house, but for learning.” If you realize that there’s something missing in the world, there’s nothing wrong with using the vocabulary of what is to describe it.

Finishing vs making

A friend of mine and I once started work on an awesome collaborative novel. Eventually, he bailed on the project, telling me “we’re better at starting projects than at doing them.” That comment has haunted me, because it was true.

I start a lot of things (see the Papa’s Work app idea — which remains a good idea) but there are so many things.

When I finally got my worksheet generator off the gound and running, I felt a rush of exhilation. My understanding of who I am changed. I made something. I was a maker.

That friend was wrong. (I doubt he remembers the comment, or could know how much it bugged me.)

But the goalposts had moved.

Yeah, I made a webapp and used it to prepare my lessons. But nobody used it, except me. You might think that should be enough, but if people tried it and said “Toby, it’s not for me” I’d get it: I had an idea that only I liked.

That wasn’t the situation. I’d made software that only I could use. (I learned that by sharing the link with colleagues and realizing they had no idea what they were supposed to do.)

Software that only I could use would be fine… Except that wasn’t how it was conceived. It wasn’t finished. I’d become a maker — I could have an idea and work on it long enough to actually produce something — but I wasn’t yet a finisher.

I aspire to be a finisher

So, I’ve decided to become a finisher. The worksheet generator will be finished. When it does, expect the celebration to be great.

Before that, the The Obstacle is the Way project will probably reach its conclusion. (That’s part of why you see so many posts on it here.) It’s a ridiculously simple project, but it’s a goal I’ve set for myself — and something that’s brought me benefit — and the new, finishing me is going to see it through to the end.

Don’t worry, when I think I’ve earned the title of ‘finisher,’ I’ll claim it here. You’ll know.

In pursuit of failure

“Fail forward” is a sort of mantra in the startup world. (Or, that’s how it seems, watching that world from the outside.) The idea, as I get it, is that you have to fail often and fail fast, as long as you learn from your failures and get up meaner and leaner for your next adventure.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I guess that what I mean could be called muscle failure. But I think it’s more than that.

Back it up a bit

I guess that today’s The Obstacle is the Way chapter on Building Your Inner Citadel got me thinking about something that haunts me periodically: my own troubled relationship with willpower. And, perhaps, my weird linking of willpower with manhood.

This will be a disjointed blog post.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know if I’ve ever reached muscle failure. I mean, I’ve collapsed after a set of push-ups. But, as I stood back up, I’ve been haunted by the fact that I might have been able to do a few more push-ups, if I’d really tried. After all, push-ups seldom are connected to any real consequences.

Fun random aside:

One of my father’s favorite stories from the Army was in some training camp or other where he was the platoon leader, and there were only enough truck to transport two of the three platoons back to the barracks. One platoon was going to have to march.

The way the seargents on the scene decided to allocate the trucks was to have the platoon leaders compete doing push-ups. “I knew I didn’t have to win,” my father always says in this story, “I just couldn’t lose.”

According to the legend, he did over a hundred push-ups in this story. I’ve never done that many push-ups, and I often wonder if I would have the mental fortitude to really push myself, if I had to.

So, I wonder, is there a way I can engineer my own muscle failure. Can I set myself up to try hard at things and fail, knowing I’ll come away stronger and wiser? (Or with a reinforced Inner Citadel, whatever that means.)

I don’t know.

The Army Combat Fitness Test

Part of what’s got me thinking like this is the news that the U.S. Army is introducing a new physical fitness test. Up until I stopped doing sit-ups (word on the street has it they’re bad for your back) I’ve been silently measuring myself against the existing Army Physical Fitness Test. After all, my first encounter with the idea of ‘minimal fitness’ was with the Army, and it’s nice to know (or think) “I could check all those boxes. I am fit.”

The new test may or may not be an improvement over the old test. What it is, though, is a departure from the days when I could do the exercises at home and say “Yup, that was enough push-ups.” or “I smoked my old two-mile run time.”

Conclusion

I don’t know if there is a conclusion. The point is, I wonder about my ability to push myself until my body simply doesn’t have more to give. I get that I’ll probably never need to do that.

But I want to know that I can. And I don’t know how to teach myself that.

A headstand is also a burpee

This post could be titled “Burpee challenge, modified” and is inspired — like the whole burpee challenge thing, by a post on lifehacker. In this case, it was a post about getting a hundred burpees done.

How things are now

I still do burpees most days. Following my initial math, I worked up to sets of ten, by managing to get twenty done in two minutes.

The thing is, it’s not as fun as it once was, and I’m not seeing improvement. I get at least one burpee done (the old minimum) at least six days a week. And on one day, I managed seven sets of nine — in competition with my daughter who takes some liberties with form.

Still, I’m feeling more and more like I’m plateauing. The number of burpees I can do is not going up. I’m not getting more pull-ups done in a single set. And, adding burpees to my runs (the kill-two-birds-with-one-trip-outside strategy) means that I seldom run much more than a kilometer without a ‘break.’ (To be honest, the running feels like a break.)

How I want things to be

I don’t have a clear answer. I want to get back to feeling like I’m getting stronger, to being proud of my workouts, rather than just getting them out of the way.

I genuinely want to feel stronger.

A good fitness memory

Here’s a thing we did not long ago that made all of this seem a little more worthwhile: getting the kids outside (one of my biggest summer priorities) we found an oak tree that had a lot of branches that we could reach. Of course, we climbed it.

I haven’t spent much time in a tree in a while — though that is a long-term goal — and was surprised to see how effortless it seemed to about using my arms and shoulders to support a lot of my weight. I wasn’t doing insane rock-climbing stuff, and there was still a lot of weight on my legs.

None of those caveats, though, takes away from the feeling I had — not much more than two meters in the air — of being somehow stronger than I was used to being. And being strong enough to help my kids climb.

I loved that.

You can bet we’ve been back to that tree — and others, though that’s the one that seems to need my arms the most — often, as much for my benefit as for theirs.

So, here’s what I guess I want: to continue doing workouts that impress me (without injury, I might add!) and to have more of those moments of relative strength.

The way forward

I don’t know what the way forward is. Often, I make these posts after I’ve come up with an idea I want to try. Instead, I wanted to make a record of how things stand right now.

There is one change I’m making now, as I look at how to continue this fitness adventure. And, unfortunately, it revolves around an experience I had in which I felt less strong: headstands.

There was a time when my sister and I had a competition to see who could do the longest headstands. I could count to twelve and back down while standing pretty reliably on my head (not, I should add, my hands). It was one of those things that made me feel strong.

And then back hurt and I got into planks, and from planks into burpees.

Then, recently, my daughter has become interested in headstands, handstands, cartwheels, the like. And she asked me if I could still do a headstand (she’d seen them)… and it was hard. I got my legs in the air, but not with the confidence I’d had before.

So, I guess I’m going back to doing headstands. And that’s okay. I’ve just rationalized that I’ll try to substitute headstands for burpees on those days when I’ve realized I haven’t done enough burpees.

Maybe I’ll join my daughter in her handstand/cartwheel goals.