Confessions of a Failed Internet Hustler – Part 1

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Before continuing the RV Saga, I thought it would be nice to explain what I was doing with all my time besides the RV in the past 2 years

I was a hustler, an internet hustler. Or, I’m the one that got hustled. For over two years, I learned all the ways to make money on the internet. I know both the ways of the “whitehat” and “blackhat” wizards. I can explain the legitimate way to monetize a blog or start an online shop. I also know the ways of the online hustlers including the spam emails, porn websites, and those free iPad surveys. If you had asked me five years ago, there’s no way I would have endorsed any of this. Back then, I was clean, straight as an arrow. In the beginning, it started off with good intentions. I just wanted to make a profitable online store. But the dream of fast money quickly hooked me in to darker methods. This is my confessions of a failed internet hustler.

Academia's Best Looking Ivory Tower

Academia’s Best Looking Ivory Tower

The Problem

It started in the midst of an identity crisis at the beginning of my graduate program. I went into academia to become a professor so that I could enlighten young minds to think for themselves. I was inspired by my past teachers and mentors who had done the same for me. Once in graduate school though, I immediately felt out of place. I kept reassuring myself that I just needed more time, that I would adapt. It’s the same way that beaten wives tell themselves it’s their own fault for being hit. Of course, a lot of graduate students feel like a fraud starting off, but I wasn’t even interested in the content. I remember asking my professor what the hell is this Reason with a capital R that everyone is talking about? He asked me what I thought it meant… Another professor I could not respect at all and openly challenged him in class. I ended up getting a B in that class which is really a D in graduate school. After months of agony, I submitted to the fact that I wasn’t cut out to be a humanities professor. This academic life wasn’t for me, at least not in this field. I felt horrible and anxious. I had spent the past two years to go to graduate school and now I felt like it was all for nothing. I spent the next year redefining myself in the opposite direction.

The Gateway Drug

The Gateway Drug

The Gateway Drug

One of my biggest changes was a growing interest in business and entrepreneurship. In the beginning, I picked up Seth Godin’s “All Marketers Are Liars” from the college library based on its interesting title. The book challenged my rational way of looking at business, products, and the world. People don’t think rationally. We buy into stories. We choose and buy things that make us feel good. It’s why inferior products, leaders, and life decisions often win over the better options. [On a side note, Seth Godin is a great writer, I’ve read almost all his books and his blog. Highly recommended.] Later, I read 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. The book’s thesis is that anyone can join the new rich by quickly starting an online business that once established will generate profit automatically with minimum work by you. It was a revelation; my gateway drug. I was hooked. I wanted to find and make an online business to replace my day job and allow me to live the adventuresome, world traveling life I knew I deserved and wanted.

A growing market

A growing market

My First “Business”

My first business idea was a Korean clothing, online shop. At the time, there was only one serious website where you could purchase Korean clothing. The only other competitors were on ebay or had horrible websites. I could make a better website, have better prices, and offer an American presence. I was so excited and certain that this was a sure hit. I told everyone about it. Even my parents were excited.

Who wouldn't pay $55 for this?

Who wouldn’t pay $55 for this?

I spent my entire Spring break just doing research. There were so many questions. How do you process credit cards? Well, you could do Paypal, Google, or any one of dozens of credit card processors. How do I even make a shop? Well, there’s free ecart software like Magento or even shop hosting companies like Shopify. What about custom fees for shipping Korean clothing to America? Well, technically, the custom fee must be declared and paid by the buyer. But if you ship the box as a “gift” then no one pays anything unless your package is randomly inspected. Of course, under the new Korea – United States Free Trade Agreement, these tariffs will soon be eliminated.

In the end, the shop was dead before it ever got of the ground. My brother in Korea wasn’t very excited about the idea. More importantly, I couldn’t figure out how to get around the international, high shipping cost. It was a catch-22. To get reduced shipping costs, you needed more volume. So, I gave up on it and moved onto to faster, darker paths…

In the next post, I’ll talk about the various methods I learned about and some that I tried including my full time Philippines worker. Also, how to protect yourself from them.

What is Brave?

Yesterday, I was at the Under 40 Meditation night at my local Shambhala Center. After the sit, we did a group discussion on the question of what is bravery?

A lot of people said some beautiful things. One guy echoed my thoughts by saying, courage or bravery is doing something despite feeling terrified.

After the talk, I chatted with another person, and he expressed his dissatisfaction with the answers. So, we dug deeper as I also had felt like something was missing.

To me, it seemed like we were placing courage on a pedestal. Obviously, courage is a virtue, and we are all lacking in it to some degree. I wish I could do what I know is right or good more often instead of letting my emotions gain the upper hand. But, the ideal state of character to me isn’t being brave all the time. That would be exhausting.

The ideal is playfulness. Courage or willpower is like a boat that can be used to cross uncomfortable waters. But once you reach the other shore, you can let go of courage and be playful again.

A lot of times, I think we are our own worst enemies placing limitations on what we think we can do. For example, I know when I first began going to the gym, I was really terrified. I thought everyone was staring at me, judging me. It took some amount of willpower and bravery to  stay in the gym and later to return again. But, now, I couldn’t care less. I’m not self-conscious anymore because I know everyone’s just focused on themselves. The same is true about public speaking, playing music, or any public activity. Once you get pass the obstacles and self-conscious nervous feelings, you can relax into a state of play rather than brute force.

Being brave means you feel discomfort and likely fear. Where does the fear come from? The fear stems from anticipation of an unknown, likely horrible outcome happening. Courage is persevering despite this fear and discomfort. But, once you see behind the curtain and realize there’s nothing to fear at all, you can return to play.

What Would A Monk Do?

Last night, I read some old emails to friends outlining my big dreams. I felt discouraged at how little I had accomplished compared to my original plans. I saw the same recurring themes over the years from dissatisfaction with my job to wanting to do a long term meditation intensive. This morning, I woke up feeling pretty bad too. My body was sore from running the previous day. But, even worse, I had dreamed about a person. A person I didn’t realize just how much I missed and not sure I’ll ever see again. That put me in a rather sad mood of not wanting to do anything.

I said one of my life goals has been to do a long term meditation retreat which would require quitting my job and leaving everything for a while. A leap of faith I haven’t been willing or needing to do yet.

But I also had another familiar thought this morning, “why couldn’t I live like a monk right here? In the city with a job instead of at a center? Isn’t that the more challenging task?” After all, in a center my life would be regimented. I would wake up at 5am, meditate at prescribed times, and eat the same meal at designated times. I wouldn’t have access to television or video games. I wouldn’t waste hours browsing reddit, facebook, hacker news, sc2casts, and so on. My daily options would be rather limited in a center yet it would also be quite liberating. So, why can’t I do it here and now?

Is it because there’s too many temptations? Because I want to seem “normal” or accommodating to my friends and family? Because of the job stress? Because there’s no external pressure to comply with? While they all have some influence, it seemed silly to me that such things would prohibit me from living a monk life here.

So, throughout the day, I wondered, “what would a monk do?” What would I do if I was in a monastery right now?

Thus, after work, I started exercising in my room for a hour.

I made a nice dinner and actually ate at the dining table instead of in front of a computer or television. I savored each bite just like I would at a meditation center.

After dinner, I coded for a hour and added a new feature to one of my programs.

It wasn’t a perfect day. But, I got back three hours or more that I normally would spend hopping between mindless activities and thoughts.

I often thought that we pay a lot of money to academic institutions, trainers, and certifications not because we need their knowledge. Information is everything and free these days. But, we want the external pressure to force us to do the good things. Good things that aren’t as immediately rewarding or stimulating as a game but have much better long term dividends. But maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to sustain a productive, good lifestyle without needing a therapist, a trainer, or a meditation center. Just a little mindfulness of what would I do as a monk now?

Most importantly, just accept that this is what is right now. I woke up this morning craving a dream, an idea, a memory that’s no longer present. Once I can let go of that thought, of my idea of that person then I can live again here and now.