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Straight Up From ‘Scratch Beginnings’

Straight Up From ‘Scratch Beginnings’

    With nothing but $25 and a backpack, Adam Shepard set out to prove whether the American Dream still exists. He headed for a city he didn’t know — Charleston, South Carolina — with the goal of having $2,500, a car and a place to live by the end of the year. Shepard chronicled his experiment in Scratch Beginnings. The book holds a few gems for average people working on their own lives — and you don’t have to be completely broke to learn from Shepard’s experiences.

    The Attitude of Success

    In Scratch Beginnings, Shepard makes it immediately clear that his goal is not to create a rags-to-riches story. Instead, he set out to refute Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, along with similar books that claim that “working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever.” Shepard’s goal was to discover whether, with self-discipline and the attitude of success he could actually move beyond homelessness in under a year.

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    The Long View

    Shepard first stop in his experiment was a homeless shelter. The majority of the book is devoted to the seventy days he lived at the shelter and the men he met there. Those men fall into two simple categories: the guys with plans for lives beyond the shelter and those who have become utterly complacent with their lives. It’s a simple lesson. The guys with plans couldn’t be sure that their plans would work, but the guys who had stopped looking to the long view were certainly not going to make progress.

    Many residents of the homeless shelter Shepard landed in relied on a local day labor operation to provided them with money.

    The attraction of just showing up and working and getting cash at the end of the day is, to some people, superior to working a real job. True, some of the laborers are temporarily unemployed, and some are working while they have days off from their permanent jobs, but still others simply come to work a few days a week whenever they need cash. If they don’t fell like working, there’s no need to call the boss faking an ailment or yet another death in the family. They just don’t go.

    It’s an easy way to get by when you don’t have a long-term plan. You can cover your basic needs and just sort of continue along without a particular course of action. It took Shepard only a week to understand that his priority had to be getting a permanent job. But making a long-term plan, whether you’re living on the street or making ends meet, is the only way to move forward. Without plans and goals, we’re all stuck exactly where we are today.

    Guts Get the Job

    Few employers are willing to take a chance on a worker who’s only address is the local homeless shelter. But there’s one thing that can overcome just about every obstacle in getting a job: sheer guts. Don’t have the skills? Don’t have the education? Don’t have the address? Going into an employer’s office and asking for an opportunity anyway takes guts, but that can be enough to land you a job. Shepard learned that fact the hard way, by getting passed over by a moving company uninterested in a prospective employee who lived at the local homeless shelter. Shepard made the moving company a particularly gutsy offer:

    Let’s make a deal. You send me out for one day with one of your crews. Any crew. And I’ll work for free. You will have the opportunity to see me work, and it won’t cost you a dime. If you like me, super, take me on. If not, well, then we will part ways and I can promise you I won’t be a thorn in your ass, coming in here every day begging for a job.

    Not only did the manager say that he’d never heard an offer like that, he was impressed enough to hire Shepard on the stop. That willingness to be bold got Shepard through a few other rough patches chronicled in his book and it’s one of the greatest lessons I think most people can learn. You don’t win big when you won’t play big.

    In The End

    Adam Shepard wound up cutting his experiment short by three months: his mother had cancer and Shepard went home to help her. He’d more than met his goal, though. Nine months through his experiment, Shepard had already purchased a used truck, rented and furnished an apartment and saved $5,000 — double what he had hoped to save in 12 months.

    He did it without the connections and advantages many of us take for granted. He landed a job through sheer guts, not listing his college degree and other qualifications on his applications. He figured out frugality on his own. He even earned a raise during his experiment. Shepard’s story proves unquestioningly that it really is possible to reach your goals and beyond, even if you start from scratch. I think he more than made clear that success — at every level — isn’t so much about the opportunities you’re offered. It’s about the opportunities you make for yourself, your willingness to plan big and your efforts to chase your goals. Scratch Beginnings is certainly worth a read, especially if you want a little inspiration without saccharine sweetness.

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    More information about both Shepard and the book is available on ScratchBeginnings.com.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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