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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 4, 2020

    The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

    The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to master the Gentle Art of Saying No:

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    1. Value Your Time

    Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”

    2. Know Your Priorities

    Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

    For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.

    3. Practice Saying No

    Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

    4. Don’t Apologize

    A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.

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    5. Stop Being Nice

    Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets.

    Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

    6. Say No to Your Boss

    Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no,” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning.

    But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

    7. Pre-Empting

    It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

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    “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

    8. Get Back to You

    Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them:

    “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

    At least you gave it some consideration.

    9. Maybe Later

    If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

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    “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

    Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.

    10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

    This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

    Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

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    Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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