The Pursuit of Happiness

IMG_0056 - Version 2“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Declaration of Independence

The only person who is responsible for your happiness and success is you. You are the arbiter of your fate and you will rise or fall based purely on your own actions.

Notice that happiness is not a given, it is different than liberty and life. The PURSUIT of happiness is the unalienable right. In your lifetime you will be offended, you will be unhappy, you will be uncomfortable. The sooner you become mindful of these facts, the sooner you can refocus on what matters; your own actions and motivations. Through these you will build your own bliss.

We, the able-bodied and responsible citizens of this great nation must realize that no one owes us anything, and that in the same breath we have unlimited opportunities. The resources we have are exponentially greater than anything else this world has ever seen. Nothing worthwhile is easy and everyone is fighting a tough battle. However, that which you build with your own hands is that which you cherish most.

I agree with Joseph Campbell, “follow your bliss.” But let me put it in my own words:

Take stock of the life around you, find the fire within yourself, source your fuel wisely, and stoke that flame until you are an unstoppable engine of drive barreling down the path of your own rapture.

-M

Small Business Saturday

About a week ago, I received notice that our company was officially accepted and registered with the state of Texas. To say that I was excited is an understatement.

We chose to file as an LLC, given that the only two employees at the moment are my wife and I. In addition, since we are a small business without much income yet, it gives us a great deal of flexibility and leeway.

There how-tos scattered amongst the Internet, and I would encourage you take a look at those and also speak with a legal representative. For myself, I first filed with the IRS for an employer identification number (EIN). Afterward I filed with the Texas Secretary of State online for our LLC. Both were fairly straight-forward and easy to accomplish.

We have a friend of ours finishing up the last touches on the logo, and once I have that in hand I will publish our name and logo here.

Having the LLC officially registered is not only exciting but also opens up a number of new avenues. I feel validated in referring to myself as the founder my company, and so when I reach out to manufacturers and factories I can do so as a company owner rather than an individual. I feel this distinction is significant in their minds, as it shows I’ve already invested my time and money into establishing myself, as opposed to being an inquisitive individual. Thus they can rightfully assume that I’m looking to conduct business, not waste their time.

Speaking of which, I came across two companies that seem to be exactly what I need as a small business owner.

 

Maker’s Row (www.makersrow.com/)

“Maker’s Row is an online marketplace that connects American manufacturers and product-based businesses. Our mission is to make manufacturing easy to access and simple to understand.”

Holy hell has this been a great resource in hunting for American manufacturing. If you’re looking for manufacturers, sign up for the one-month $19 trial. If you’re a manufacturer, get on there and help the community grow. Seriously, do it now.

 

ProtoLabs (www.protolabs.com)

One of our products will be a metal cooking vessel. I’m very excited about it, but I’m not an engineer or an industrial designer. So to get a foot in the door to get a product prototyped, sweet Odin is it tough. With this context in mind, I called ProtoLabs, and they were equal parts professional and responsive. While they do not design in-house, they connected me with an American design firm with whom I’m currently working. I couldn’t be happier, and for this reason alone I intent to circle back and be a patron of ProtoLabs once we’re further along in the process.

Anyways, some big reveals will be coming along in the not-so-distant future, so be sure to tune in.

-M

Small Business Sundays

A huge force in my life right now is the plan to build my own veteran-owned small business, backed by those near and dear to me, but ultimately driven by my own passion and focus. There is a deep-burning desire that I fed as I left the service to build something I could call my own, wholly and fully.

It started small as I found blogs of world-travellers and successful business owners, and stoked into a red-hot furnace as I researched more and found success stories. I realized that while my career had given me a fertile ground to grow specific skills in, for the most part I’d been fighting my natural talents. Why the hell shouldn’t I focus on those talents, those interests, and make truly useful goods for like-minded people? If I only live once, I better make it a damn good one rather than crushing myself with the typical nine-to-five grind pouring myself into mind-numbing, soul-crushing databases.

Let me pause here and state upfront that I’m not some disillusioned rose-tinted dreamer; this will not be easy, this will not be straightforward. But if it works, oh boy will it be worth it.

It’ll be mine. I’ll define the hours, I’ll define the goals, I’ll define success. And it’ll breath and soar or sputter and crash based solely on my own hard work.

 

For awhile anyway.

 

See while the plan is to build a small business my desire is to build more than a brand, more than just sell things and make money. I want to build a community where people come together to grow and to learn. I’m looking for those who are self-made, do-it-yourself types, people who thirst for freedom and liberty, cultivate their own self-reliance and responsibility, and want to live a full life with tales to be told with friends and family. I want to expand beyond retail and partner with atypical businesses, and expand my own competencies to offer unique professional services. I hope that I can one day hand it off, so the brand will live on its own regardless of who is at the helm.

It’s not a straightforward road, but again I’m thankful first and foremost for my support network. In addition, I’m thankful for the resources so readily available. Being a veteran opens a few more doors, and while I’m careful not to abuse the label, I also won’t shy from any help freely given.

My ground level resource has been the small business development center (SBDC). I learned about the SBDC when I took the Boots 2 Business two-day seminar on base. They assigned me an advisor when we started down this path while in California, and I sought their help again when we arrived here in Texas. Our advisor in California was great, and while she had no background with the military, educated us immensely on the industry of soft goods and apparel. She had connections and input, and really helped shape our company concept.

Working with my second advisor was…not quite ideal. He was well intended, but did not quite understand my vision, and his own professional background seemed to color his suggestions. Thankfully he was able to put me in contact with another advisor, one who came from the retail industry.

Our third advisor’s been an excellent fit for the company, and has leveraged the SBDC assets to really help us out. He’s also quite encouraging of the company vision and model, which I think it essential to a small business. Everyone has a word of caution, I just roll with it.

Not all SBDC operate the same. Not all small business assistance groups are SBDCs. Be aware that some operate from federal funding, while others operate based on loans they’re able to sell. Do your due diligence and pick the right one for you. Our local SBDC has a resource librarian who has helped us crawl the inter-webs and databases in search of suppliers for us.

I’ve had my company name chosen for quite some time (more on that in the coming days, I’m very excited about it) so I chose to register it first as an assumed name (“Doing Business As”) with my county clerk. It cost less than $10. I’m filing for the LLC currently, which based on my research seems to be the best fit for the company initially*. We are a small company, and I want to work with existing American companies to produce our designs rather than doing so in-house.

After that, I took a quick trip to my local postal resource center and setup a business address with them. It’s not a PO Box, but similar in concept. This creates distance between personal and business matters. There are other options I’ll pursue moving forward, such as renting a commercial space of office and warehouse, but we’re not there yet.

At the present time, I’ve been tirelessly searching for local prototyping resources. Through Craigslist I may have found our apparel and soft good manufacturer. I’ll check out the local renaissance festivals and fall festivals for local artisans. I need a hard goods machinist, but may have found an option for that as well.

There is much to do, and less time to do it in.

-M

NOTE: I am not a lawyer, or your counselor, nor your religious leader or parent. I’m just a man recording my story. I hope you can learn from my trials and errors, but none of this is to be taken as professional advice. If you follow my path and fall flat on your face, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.

My week at Dragonfly Mountain Japanese Swordsmithing School

My trip to Dragonfly Forge in Coos Bay, Oregon was quite the experience. Master Michael Bell and his family are directly responsible for just how much I enjoyed this trip.

DSC00755I’m really quite impressed by the whole environment Master Bell and his family have created. Everyone contributes to the relaxed and supportive atmosphere. His wife Anna is welcoming, an excellent cook, and really makes you feel like a guest. The Oregon coast is also a wonderful location, with cool evenings and warm days without dipping into the extremes in either direction. It made me nostalgic for life in New England.

DSC00702 - Version 2Master Bell has lived what I’d call an author’s life. Without stealing any of his thunder, it’s suffice to say he has a compelling anecdote to accompany any topic of conversation. John, Master Bell’s apprentice, has several layers of knowledge that segue smoothly into his ability as a bladesmith including martial arts and bush craft skills that capitalize on the rich environment that is Coos Bay, Oregon. Gabe, Master Bell’s son, is a wonderfully gregarious individual with a keen eye and exceptional artistic talent. Each craftsman lends a hand well beyond simple instruction, and make sure that you’re on the right path and your blade geometry is tidy before you move onto the next phase. This is key, as it ensures you’re not further deviating from the golden mean as you progress.

It’s important to note that this was only the basic forging class.  In traditional Japanese swordsmithing, each phase of producing an entire sword is actually a separate profession; The smith, the habaki maker, the polisher, and the koshirae maker are traditionally separate professionals with their own assistants.  MAster Bell is masterful in each sequence, and offers classes for each phase (http://tomboyama.com/the-school/)

The morning of our first day was spent learning how to forge weld, and how Master Bell transforms logging cable into bar stock. The mechanics and metallurgy of this process is a college level course in itself, and is such an effective medium to work in.

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The second half of Monday and all of Tuesday was spent at the anvil and forge shaping and refining the bar stock into a wakizhasi blank. Each student found they were more comfortable on either the toe or heel of the hammer face, and worked studiously to improve on their weakness.

DSC00685Tuesday evening we normalized the metal in preparation for the grinder work, and removed the “bark.”

DSC00689Wednesday we moved onto the grinder and files to further refine the shape. Filing is slower than grinding, but I found it easier to create and keep a plane, while grinding was more efficient given our time constraint. Master Bell doesn’t use any guides or jigs at the grinder, and encourages the students to build up the necessary feel for the work at hand.

DSC00715Thursday we learned to draw file and how to clay coat our blades. The application of the clay and the purpose behind it is quite fascinating.

DSC00724Friday we successfully heated and quenched our wakizashis before returning to the grinder and file. We also received a primer on how to use the Japanese wet stones to “smith shape” the blades (a follow-on class all by itself). Filing and grinding a hardened blade is tough work.DSC00765

DSC00768The course is not easy per se, but it’s deeply satisfying. I’d even say it was meditative. You’re able to comfortably lose yourself in the task at hand, while also earning a deeper appreciation of just how much time a steady hand takes to develop. At the end of the course, you have a living blade that you yourself have shaped and created, and a wealth of knowledge. It’s a beginner’s level course, but you leave empowered and equipped to return home and continue your education via honing your skills until you can return to Coos Bay for the next class.

For more information, please see: http://tomboyama.com/

Mid-week update

This will mostly serve as a place-holder for a few days while I tidy up my upcoming posts.

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind these past few days.  I was only home for a few hours from the serenity that was Coos Bay, OR before I had to sprint back out the door to a hiring conference in Dallas.  Damn shame too, I feel like I didn’t give my family the time they deserve.

After the two-day conference I bolted to Austin next for another job interview.  I was able to tack on some mentorship from BiGAustin, which I really appreciated.

But, finally home. And now, bed.

My Campsite Apartment

I don’t feel much like living the hard life just to live the hard life. I enjoy camping, especially tent camping, because I of the green spaces, the quiet, and it’s fun to tackle small challenges as they creep up. Plus, without indoor lighting I’m forced to adopt a natural sleep cycle which can only be healthy for me.

What I abhor is poor sleep. What’s worse than poor sleep is cold sleep. So I took a chance with the Lawson Blue Ride Camping Hammock. I’ve tried hammocks in the past with only moderate success. I liked that the Lawson was mostly all-inclusive; hammock, bug next, rain fly, bivy tent just in case, and all at a reasonable price.

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It took a bit of tweaking, but last night was easily my greatest night’s sleep while camping, and I owe it to the Lawson. My first night, however was quite cold. I was well aware of “cold butt syndrome” whereby the cross breeze wicks the heat out from you and your sleeping bag compressed against the bottom of the hammock. My first night, I combatted this effect with a Thermarest sleeping pad. However, my pad proved to be too narrow, and kept moving out from underneath me. So, I took a quick trip to a local store the next day to find a wider sleeping pad. I was unsuccessful in that regard, so in the interim I bought a simple twin size eggcrate mattress topper. Success. I’ll need to find a suitable pad at a later date, but for now this will work as I live out of my camping apartment through the end of the week.

Also, not a negative per se but just a word of caution; for myself in my current conditions, I’m required to string up the hammock quite taught, which means that it can feel a bit precarious when you shift around inside it. I’ve not yet flipped, and doubt that I will,  but it can startle you a bit in the middle of the night.

Now, onto coffee.

I brought my Tanors coffee mill, which slips nicely into my Aerobie Aeropress. I brought along just enough coffee beans, and it all slips into a small shaving bag. I heat up my water every morning with my camping burner, and presto, great coffee.

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I mill my coffee, use the Aeropress in the upright orientation, add the grounds, add the non-boiling water, cap it all with the plunger for a moment, give it a quick stir, and depress. It’s great, and everything packs down small and light.

Just because I’m camping doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the little things.

-M

Bladesmithing

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Oregon for a week to learn the basics of forging and shaping swords and blades in the Japanese style under the tutelage of Master Bladesmith Michael Bell.

Bladesmithing has been an interest of mine since middle school, but this will be my first formal class and I’m quite stoked. I plan to do several follow-up post on how to setup a functioning smithy.

While I’m in Oregon I’ll be camping at a local State Park, so I’ll get to test out my Lawson Hammock, my Aeropress in the wild, and a few other tools. If I have a bit of time I’ll do some exploring, but I think I’ll be focused in quite keenly on the task at hand.

Enjoy your Labor Day everyone.

-M

A New Chapter

While attending training at Glynco, GA in 2009, I ran across a poster in the gym that read;

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

This clicked with me, and left a lasting impression. Later on I learned this was Heinlein’s definition for “The Competent Man.” The Competent Man is a literary figure describing a polymath, a renaissance man or woman. They are a jack-of-all-trades in the original sense – a form of praise describing someone who has many talents and a broad base of knowledge. Forget “master of none” it’s a useless addition that popped up in the 1700’s.

Historical polymaths include such notable individuals as Leonardo Da Vinci, George Washington Carver, Aristotle, Hypatia, Sir Isaac Newton, and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Men and women of all races and backgrounds who innovated, collaborated, and made huge strides across multiple fields.

I’m striving for a life of Competence, which really is a pursuit without end, rather it’s a drive for constant improvement. It’s a concept I intend to pass onto my young daughter; never stop learning, think critically, think disruptively.

Today I officially conclude my six-year career as an officer and federal agent with the US Air Force. It’s been quite the experience, but I realize my passions and strengths lie elsewhere, and it’s time to follow a road less traveled.

There is a world out there of skills and abilities I wish to learn, and so I will pursue them. I shape my own existence, I am the arbiter of my fate. I’ve decided that given the opportunities I have before me, both acquired and given, I will strive to be a better father, husband, son, and brother through patient and methodical development.

Through this blog, I will detail my pursuits. Primarily I’ll focus on the development of my family, the start of my own business, skill acquisition, and adventures I undertake.

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
(William Ernest Henley)

-M