Anatomy of a crypto con (review of The Missing Cryptoqueen by Jamie Bartlett)

OneCoin’s just the latest chapter in the never-ending story of fools being parted from their money.

It’s estimated that a million people were conned in the $4 billion global Ponzi scheme.

OneCoin was dreamed up by Ruja Ignatova, an Oxford University graduate and two-time Bulgarian Businesswoman of the Year who’s fluent in five languages.

Ignatova pitched OneCoin as a world-changing cryptocurrency for the masses. She promised it would be bigger and better than Bitcoin.

The original plan was to have 2.1 billion OneCoins in circulation – 100 times the number of Bitcoins. But just 18 months later, Ignatova announced at a sold-out corporate event in Wembley Arena that there would now be 120 billion OneCoins. The coin would still be worth just shy of $10 CDN. And every investor who got in early was having their OneCoins doubled in a show of appreciation.

“With the click of her fingers, Dr. Ruja doubled the wealth of every single person in the crowd,” says Jamie Bartlett, tech journalist and author of The Missing Cryptoqueen. “Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of investors who hadn’t made it to London. It didn’t seem to matter that she was breaking rule 101 of economics: that when the supply of something goes up, the price goes down. Nor did it matter that she was breaking her own promise: that there would only ever be 2.1 billion OneCoin in circulation and that ‘fixed supply’ was the whole point of cryptocurrency. So how was it possible to increase the number of coins by a factor of 50? And without affecting the price?”

Ignatova pulled off this magic trick because she was running the biggest scam of the 21st century, says Bartlett.

While there were other cryptocurrencies, OneCoin was the first to embrace multilevel marketing. Promoters were paid generous commissions for selling the coin and signing up family, friends and strangers to do the same.

“The single most important word in multilevel marketing is momentum,” says Bartlett. “It happens when a team is big enough to start growing by itself, just like when a virus reaches an unstoppable tipping point. Most new MLM companies never reach that moment and peter out within a year or two.”

Instead of selling coins, promoters sold education packages at different price points. The packages came with training videos, a plagarized PDF and free tokens that would someday soon be converted into OneCoins. The starter package, which cost just over $150 CDN, came with 1,000 tokens. The “Tycoon Trader” package sold for nearly $8,000 and included as many as 48,000 tokens.

A blockchain was needed to convert the tokens into coins. Think of this specialized piece of software as a public diary for each coin that lists every transaction and continually updates itself every few minutes.

OneCoin never built a real blockchain. A fake one was posted on its website. Ignatova made up the price and no coins were ever traded. “OneCoin’s blockchain display looked like the real thing but it was some kind of pre-programmed ‘script’, an off-the-shelf piece of kit that was running phoney and meaningless transactions between imaginary wallets,” says Bartlett.

“The display was just a clever ruse to fool investors into thinking their coins were held on a brand-new mathematically secure state-of-the-art blockchain. But all they owned were meaningless entries on a database. A million people had bought Ponzi tokens. Monopoly money that was controlled not by computer code, but by Ruja.”

Momentum eventually stalled, top promoters bailed, OneCoin was exposed as a scam and the pyramid scheme collapsed on itself, says Bartlett. Investors lost their money and life savings. Senior executives went to jail. And Ignatova, who’s one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives, has been on the lam since 2017.

“Good scams aren’t about facts or logic,” says Bartlett. “They are built on the manipulation of common human irrationalities: hope, belief, greed and, above all, by the nagging ‘fear of missing out’. Although OneCoin investors were victims, they weren’t entirely without blame. FOMO is driven by a desire to get rich quick, a willingness to replace work or effort with a risky bet.”

If you’re looking for a safe bet, bank on a future scam that dwarfs OneCoin and parts even more fools from their money. It’s the story that never ends.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Exposing the deny and delay corporate playbook (review of Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook)

I’m professionally conflicted.

My days are spent in the company of scientists who are doing their part to build us a brighter world.

I also work in public relations. It’s an industry that’s helped corporations wage a decades-long war on science and scientists.

“PR firms have been essential to scaling and disseminating denial campaigns locally, nationally and globally,” says Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor with the department of environmental studies at New York University and author of The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies and Make a Killing in the Corporate World.

Denial’s an investment for corporations and delay’s the deliverable for PR firms, says Jacquet. Their mutual goal is the indefinite blocking of litigation, government regulation and swings in public opinion.

“The risks of scientific knowledge are as much about the public’s understanding of those risks as they are about the evidence of those risks. Therefore, the defense against scientific knowledge occurs on a battlefield of communications.”

There’s no bigger battle than global warming. Corporations are using the same playbook dreamed up by PR firm Hill and Knowlton back in the 1950s, according to Jacquet.

First came the Manufacturing Chemists’ Association, which hired the firm to help block the introduction of mandatory testing of the food supply for chemicals. Big Tobacco followed, wanting help in discrediting the link between smoking and cancer. The deny and delay was drafted. Cigarette makers got together and funneled $450 million to the Council for Tobacco Research which in turn funded more than 7,000 “scientific” papers. Other Hill and Knowlton clients included an asbestos company in the 1960s and the plastics industry in the 1970s which wanted to “refocus public and congressional attention and to reshape the national debate about the effect of plastics on American society.”

The well-used deny and delay playbook wages war on science and scientists across four fronts. “After a century of scheming, during which the tactics have been refined, disseminated, scaled and globalized by public relations firms, it is clear that corporate scientific denial also has a particular gestalt, with a four-pronged pattern to the approach and the arguments: challenge the problem, challenge causation, challenge the messenger and challenge the policy.”

So how do corporations challenge the problem of scientific findings that can devastate the bottom line?

Start by hiding or destroying internal evidence. “The destruction or concealment of internal knowledge is easier than destroying or suppressing knowledge that was created outside the corporation,” says Jacquet.

Deny outright that there’s a problem. “The complete denial of a problem is a bold stance but one that has proven effective.”

Pledge to look into the problem but acknowledge it’ll take time because it’s so complex.

Make the problem small and unworthy of a big fix. “Minimize the problem by showing it is inconsequential or affects a very small number of people.”

Point out there are bigger problems to worry about.

Announce there’s no longer a problem because it’s in the past.

Change language to eliminate the problem. The tobacco industry once called cancer “biological activity” and the fossil fuel industry managed to replace “global warming” with the less scary “climate change” back in 2002.

Play with statistics to eliminate the problem or change the scale of analysis to minimize the problem.

Point out that people are better off not knowing about the problem – what they don’t know will hurt them less.

And if all else fails, declare that it’s not the corporation’s fault. “Denial of causation is arguably the bread and butter of scientific denial. Scientific knowledge is at its most remarkable and perhaps most vulnerable when establishing a causal relationship.”

As Jacquet shows, corporations don’t have to fool all the people all the time. To throw sand in the gears, corporations only need to confuse enough of us to sow doubt and confusion. And sadly, there’s no shortage of hired hands who are schooled in the darks arts of denial and willing to roll out the playbook for a generous payday.

“The outlines of the strategy to challenge science can be elusive and it can take years or decades to even partially make sense of, in no small part due to secrecy of the corporation and its network of accomplices,” says Jacquet.

She’s done us a favour by skillfully exposing that secrecy and showing how we’re being duped. Jacquet also offers a playbook of her own to defend science.

This review first ran in the Aug. 12 Hamilton Spectator. Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Life’s a beach but for how much longer? (review of The Last Resort by Sarah Stodola)

There’s trouble in paradise for the beach resorts we flock to in the dead of winter.

Journalist Sarah Stodola has traveled the world to report on the economic and environmental impact of beach tourism, with stops in Thailand, Bali, Ibiza and Hawaii to Fiji, Miami Beach, Portugal, Barbados and Cancun.

“I enjoyed the snorkeling and the views, but I found the sanitized bubbles in which resorts existed curious,” writes Stodola in The Last Resort: A Chronicle of Paradise, Profit and Peril at the Beach. “To be honest, beach resorts weirded me out a little – their insistence on indolence, and on forgetting the world outside, both the one back home and the one immediately beyond the property.”

Our hothouse Earth is getting impossible for resort owners to forget and ignore. Rising sea levels threaten to wash out beaches, extreme storms are trashing properties and insurance companies are charging ever higher premiums. Soaring temperatures will make whole parts of our world uninhabitable, even for tourists lounging poolside with bottomless margaritas and mojitos. Mix in political instability triggered by ecological collapse and millions of environmental refugees and those of us who can still afford to travel may chose to stay closer to home. 

That’s a problem because tourism is big business. It’s the third-largest global export, provides more than one in every 10 jobs worldwide and accounts for around 10 per cent of global gross domestic product.

Based on what she’s seen from her travels, Stodola offers some strategies to make beach resorts more sustainable and resilient for the tough times ahead.

Rein in long-haul flights. Airplanes are responsible for around five per cent of global warming.“To become environmental allies, beach resorts need to address the problem of air travel.”

Source locally and regionally. “Resorts continue to import most of their food, sometimes because of unavailability in the local market, but sometimes simply because resorts want to serve their guests food with which they are familiar.”

Build more sensibly and flexibly. “Developers need to stop building with concrete next to beaches.” Those concrete high-rises that pack in tourists block the flow of sand and erode beaches.

Start welcoming locals. “The idea that a resort might be built for both visitor and local runs counter to its working definition.”

Quit planting palm trees. “Palm trees provide little shade, require huge amounts of water, have shallow root systems that don’t do much to prevent erosion and don’t absorb carbon as effectively as other trees can.” Plant canopy trees that deliver all of these benefits and regrow coastline-protecting mangroves that thrive in shallow, salty water.

Make resorts pay their fair share for maintaining and renourishing beaches and repairing the damage their operations and tourists inflict on the environment.

End the green certification racket, which Stodola calls nothing more than a moneymaking operation. “Certification is big business and has conflict of interest built into it: those applying for green certification are paying the certifier.”

Limit the number of tourists to let nature take priority. Resorts are realizing they can make more money catering to fewer well-heeled tourists who’ll pay a small fortune to escape the maddening crowds.

Stop building golf courses, the enemy of beachfront health. Courses need hundreds of thousands of litres of water every day and fertilizer run-off causes algae blooms that smother coral reefs. “The white sand common to tropical beaches is most often composed of broken-down coral. Lose the reefs, lose the sand, too.”

Deemphasize beaches and focus instead on cultural tourism. “Officials in beach destinations are beginning to understand that relying completely on their vulnerable shorelines for tourism revenue may spell economic disaster down the line.”

Stodola predicts tourists will still seek out surf, sand and sun but resorts will change in fundamental ways. “It will be farther away from the equator and farther back from the shoreline. It will forgo palm trees in favor of those that provide shade. For many of us, it will be prohibitively expensive. It will cater to Chinese and Indian tourists as much as to Western ones. It will be portable. It may even be intentionally temporary. It might not be at the beach at all, as long as there’s a killer pool to lounge around.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. This review first ran in the July 29th edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

How to make your workplace a safe space (and why you should). Review of Alphabet Soup by Michael Bach

It’s not enough to just pinkwash your logo, install rainbow painted benches or sponsor a parade float during Pride Month.

If you’re serious about recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2+ employees and their allies, you need to do some heavy lifting year-round.

Job one is transforming your workplace into a safe space where everyone feels welcome and free to be themselves. “The world is not a safe place when you don’t fit into a certain box,” says Michael Bach, CEO of CCDI Consulting and author Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work.

“This concept is difficult to understand if you are in the majority. Most women who have been sexualized or objectified, or who have otherwise been the target of sexism, understand it. Most people of colour understand it, having experienced subtle or overt acts of racism. Most people with disabilities understand it, having been forced to navigate a world that is designed for the able-bodied. And most LGBTQ2+ people understand it, because even if they have never personally experienced violence or discrimination because of their sexual or gender diversity, they’ve certainly witnessed it.”

Bach says most LGBTQ2+ people won’t come out at work until they know they’re in a safe space. “If you don’t give them that signal, they’ll quietly keep their heads down and stay in their closet – and they won’t be as engaged or productive.” They’ll also be gone from your organization if there’s another employer that’s offering an inclusive and welcoming workplace.

So how do you create a safe space at work? Start with human resources. Are your policies and procedures inclusive or are some people being inadvertently or deliberately excluded?  For example, do you have a maternity leave policy or a parental leave policy? Do your policies talk about husband and wife rather than partner or spouse? Do you, like the Ontario Public Service Pride Network, run a Positive Space Champions program? Do you have gender-inclusive restrooms? Do you have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to harassment and discrimination and is it enforced? “The first time you don’t, you completely devalue the policy and no one will ever believe you again.”

Do you offer optional one-and-done training or is the education mandatory and ongoing, especially for leaders and employees who are fence sitters, foes and fighters of change?  “There is not only a woeful lack of education about LGBTQ2+ inclusion, but also a real problem with (1) how the education is being executed and (2) how the education is perceived,” says Bach.

Building an inclusive safe space at work requires a committed and sustained effort. Know that you’ll lose whatever trust, loyalty and goodwill you’ve built up by making even a single and small contribution to a politician or group that traffics in homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.  

“You cannot have it both ways. You don’t get to be advocates of LGBTQ2+ inclusion and then donate to candidates who are actively working against that. If you’re an organization that has ‘values’ or a corporate credo, you must decide how important those values are to you. Unwavering support means you draw a line in the sand and donate only to candidates who are aligned with those values.”

You’ll not only lose LGBTQ2+ employees and customers. You’ll also lose their allies. Lots of us believe that everyone – our family, friends, coworkers and even perfect strangers – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Given what’s happening south of the border and the hate that’s metastasizing on social media, we need to become far more active and educated allies at work and in our community.  “An active ally is more than willing to use their privilege (usually as a straight cis person) to ensure that the space is inclusive of LGBTQ2 people, even when they’re not in the room. What is needed is for you to lend your voice and support to the cause; to yield to members of the communities; to advocate when it is required. Do not monopolize or patronize. Don’t feel the need to be the leader. Be part of something bigger.”

And if you happen to write business book reviews for your local newspaper, maybe you can do better than waiting 23 years before finally reviewing a book about LGBTQ2+ inclusion at work.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

All the world’s a factory (review of Christopher Mim’s Arriving Today)

I did my Christmas shopping last year in under an hour thanks to a century worth of technological innovation, supply chains that stretch around the world and a legion of industrial athletes.

While we were in the thick of a global pandemic, the gifts starting arriving on my front porch the next day. How that happened was a miracle and a mystery that journalist Christopher Mims reveals in his book Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door – Why Everything Has Changed About How and Why we Buy.

Mims acts as an international tour guide, inviting us to follow a USB charger from a factory in Vietnam to a front porch in the United States.

“Along the way, you’ll become convinced, I hope, of this astonishing fact: You live inside a factory,” says Mims. “We all do. And you are also a worker inside that factory. As are we all. By the time you finish this book, I hope that you will never again be able to take a package from your front step without feeling a tiny shiver at the gobsmacking effort and complexity behind its delivery to your home.”

Mims’ tour starts at Cai Mep International Terminal, one of the largest container ports in Southeast Asia. “Manufacturing in the twenty-first century isn’t material in, finished products out, as it was in the days of Bethlehem Steel and Henry Ford,” says Mims. “Today’s manufacturing is waypoints on much longer supply chains, a string of factories transforming raw materials into parts and subassemblies before final assembly in some other facility.”

Mims then boards a cargo ship that’s the length of four football fields and carries up to 6,600 shipping containers. It’s about half the size of the world’s largest cargo ship, which is as long as the Empire State Building is tall.

“If you look around the room you’re in now, it’s almost certain that all or nearly all of what you can see came by ship.”

Once back on shore after a 22-day crossing of the Pacific Ocean, Mims takes us through the Port of Los Angeles, the cab of a fully wired long-haul semitruck and into an Amazon fulfilment centre. “Graft Willy Wonka’s sense of whimsy onto Henry Ford’s pragmatism, hire M.C Escher to decorate and Rube Goldberg as chief engineer, then crib the scale of the place from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which a warehouse of crates stretches to the vanishing point. Make the ceilings snow white, the floors polished concrete, and fill the guts of the thing – miles of curving stainless-steel conveyor – with tens of thousands of daisy-yellow plastic totes.”

Mims’ tour ends with us riding shotgun in a UPS truck. Delivery drivers are industrial athletes, averaging 135 stops a day during a 10 or 12-hour shift.

“In the twenty-first century, how things get to us matters as much as how they’re made,” says Mims. “With manufacturing of even a single object spread across ever more intermediary stages, factories and countries, in many ways the supply chain and the factory floor are now indistinguishable. Adding you, the consumer to the equation and molding your behavior to make it more compatible with this system, through algorithms and marketing tricks, is trivial compared to all the effort that comes before you click the Buy button.”

Mims delivers on his promise of leaving us gobsmacked by the technology, logistics and networks of factories, ports, ships, barges trains, planes, trucks and warehouses that deliver the world to our front door.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. This review first ran in the Dec. 17th Hamilton Spectator.

Time to retire retirement and opt for rewirement instead (review of Michael Clinton’s Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life (Before It’s Too Late)

I know I’m getting old because I’ve had the talk.

This is when you can retire and this is how much money you’ll have in the bank, said my financial planner.

I wanted to ask her if I’m richer than I think but that’s a different bank and my financial planner is all business.

Don’t check your retirement savings plan balances every day, she said while handing me a folder stuffed with charts and figures. Remember, these are longer term investments. Markets fluctuate.

I’ve ignored her advice. While I check the balances daily, I’ve sent only one panicked email wondering if I should switch to investments with little risk and no return. Cooler heads have prevailed.

I’ve also started reading the emails sent by my employer, inviting me to retirement planning workshops on Zoom where I can learn how to retire without debt, master the basics of investing and pick up strategies for navigating taxes.

This is all very helpful and much appreciated. But what I could really use is some “rewirement” planning. Michael Clinton’s book Roar Into the Second Half of Your Life is a good start.

“Let’s banish the word retire and call it refire or rewire instead, as many people are living extraordinary lives after they leave their main profession,” says Clinton. “The traditional construct – marriage and a couple of kids, a job at a company for 30 years or more with a pension and a comfortable retirement – is being blown up every day. You may have lived that life once, but now there are ‘reimagineers’ among us who are redefining what might be beyond the first half of one’s life.”

Clinton, who rewired his own career after serving as president of Hearst Magazines, interviewed more than 40 fellow reimagineers and surveyed 630 individuals between the ages of 45 and 75.

He took what he heard and came up with a concept he calls ROAR. It’s about reimagining yourself, owning who you are, acting on what’s next and reassessing your relationships to get you there.

Your mighty ROAR starts with a question.

What’s your favourite future?

Maybe your future looks exactly like the present. You love what you’re doing and wouldn’t change a thing. Well done you!

But maybe you’re ready or long overdue for a change. Maybe it’s a new job, a new career, a new place to call home or a new relationship. You know a change would do you good but you’re hazy on the details. You’re not alone.

“ROAR was actually conceptualized before the pandemic, but as an idea it was never more relevant than in such fraught times as so many of us began reassessing our lives and looking for inspiration from those who have successfully crossed over into a new second half,” says Clinton.

“The Great Pause, as it has been called, has made us reflect and ask: what is important in our lives? Are we on a path that will satisfy us individually? Do we have a lot of unlived moments that we pine for? Do we have a clear view of our future and what we truly want?”

Give yourself time to work through the four steps of ROAR and find the right path for you. Clinton says this could take between one or two years. It’ll be hard, soul-searching work. But don’t put if off indefinitely.

Time is not on your side. Life is short. And being a miserable SOB who’s stuck in a rut will likely force the changes you’re reluctant, afraid or unwilling to make.

“You need to put your life on hyperspeed until your dying breath, regardless of when that might be,” says Clinton. “To ROAR is to contradict and challenge all of what you thought about getting older, to have the imagination, the self-awareness, and the self-confidence to start anew. Your dreams are yours to make happen. It can start today.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.  

How to figure out what makes you come alive at work (review of Sparked by Jonathan Fields)

Planning to join the Great Resignation and jump ship?

Park those plans until you’ve righted your own ship first. You may find that you only need to tweak your job rather than change employers.

It’s good advice I could’ve used at the start of my career

I’ve changed jobs five times over the past 28 years, with three of those moves happening in my first decade after graduating from the Harvard of the North. Lucky for me and my family, every move to a new employer’s panned out and been a great experience (my bosses and colleagues may have a slightly different take).

But I may have stuck with one employer longer if I’d known earlier what kind of work makes me come alive and what wears me out and trips me up.

Jonathan Fields knows. According to the Good Life Project founder and author of Sparked, I’m a Sage. That’s one of 10 Sparketypes that Fields has identified based on insider-intel from half-a-million individuals and organizations plus 25 million data points.

“For sages, illumination is your call,” says Fields. “You live to share insights, ideas, knowledge and experiences with others in a way that leaves them in some way better, wiser, and more equipped to experience life differently – and maybe sparks something in them that makes them want to learn more.”

Along with sages, there are Mavens who live to learn. Makers create and bring ideas to life. Scientists figure things out. Essentialists create order from chaos. Performers turn moments into magic. Warriors gather and lead people. Advisors coach, mentor and help others grow. Advocates serve as champions for others, amplifying their voices. And Nurturers listen, care and help others in personal, hands-on ways.

A free online assessment at sparketype.com will identify your primary and secondary Sparketypes and your anti-Sparketype. For the record, I’m a sage and maven and definitely not a warrior.

“For most people, discovering your Sparketype is like meeting your true self,” says Fields. “There is an immediate, intuitive knowing – an undeniable truth that explains so many past choices and outcomes. It empowers you to not only understand who you are and why you do what you do, but also how you contribute to the world on a very different, more intentional, and fulfilling level.”

Fields starts and ends his book with a warning. Don’t blow everything up once you know your Sparketype. He calls this the premature nuclear career option.

“There can be a strong tendency to convince yourself that the pain and disruption and financial upheaval of walking away is nothing in comparison to the existential angst of unfulfilled potential you currently feel,” says Fields.

“But you know what else is real? The very painful cost of dynamiting your current reality, the emotional groundlessness it can lead to, the fissures it often creates in your relationships, the relentless stress it can foster; the and the devastating effect it can have on your emotional and physical health as you realize your next thing isn’t dropping into your lap with quite the speed or ease you’d hope.”

Instead of blowing up your career or jumping ship to pretty much do the same job somewhere else for a bit more money, rethink the job you’re already doing. “Ask what might happen if you stayed where you were, but did the work needed to reimagine and realign your current job, position or role to allow you to more fully express your Sparketype.”

Your boss and colleagues would appreciate the change in your mood and productivity and you’d likely get assigned more of the work that makes you come alive and perform at a higher level.  

Maybe you’ll still jump ship but you’ll leave with a much better sense of the work you should be doing.

“You’ll do it from a place of not only far great conviction, but also embodied self-knowledge and the sense of alignment and radiance that often generates a level of possibility not available when your exit is more ‘cut and run’ than ‘I did the work’.”

If you’ve spent the pandemic dreaming of a new job or career change, Fields can help you figure out what to do next. Jumping ship isn’t your only option and it shouldn’t be your first move.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

The five-year plan for becoming an overnight success (review of Dorie Clark’s The Long Game)

Itching to ditch your day job for your dream job?

You’re not alone. Record numbers of workers are quitting in what’s being called The Great Resignation. The pandemic’s served up a wake-up call that’s reordered our priorities and left many of us wanting a different, better and more meaningful way to earn a living. Maybe you’re dreaming of writing a book, launching a business or going out on your own as a consultant or coach.

But what if you’re a little hazy on the details of your dream job, like what it is, how to get there and how long it’ll take to reinvent yourself.

Again, you’re not alone.

It’s easy to sail through life on autopilot, frenetically filling our days and years with busy work that keeps us distracted, makes us feel important but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

“So many of us today feel rushed, overwhelmed and perennially behind,” says Dorie Clark, author of The Long Game: How to be a Long-term Thinker in a Short-term World.

“We keep our heads down, always focused on the next thing. We’re stuck in permanent ‘execution mode’ without a moment to take stock or ask questions about what we really want from life.”

Here’s how to break out of execution mode and find your way to more meaningful work and a happier life.

Start by making tough choices. Decide what you won’t be good at. Learn to say no. Yes, people will be disappointed when you turn down their requests and pass on their offers and opportunities. But to be a strategic, long-term thinker, you need lots of what Clark calls white space.

“Being so busy may seem like the path to success – but without time to reflect, an ominous possibility looms: what if we’re optimizing for the wrong things? We need to give ourselves the opportunity to explore what a successful life means to us.”

Clark also recommends “optimizing for interesting” to find what’s most meaningful to you. What piques your curiosity? What are you already doing that you enjoy? Where are you volunteering your time and talent?

You’ll also need to get better at three types of networking so you have the right people connecting, coaching, advising and mentoring you along the way. There’s short-term networking when you need something fast like a job or a new client. “Do it sparingly and only with people you already have close relationships with,” says Clark.

Use long-term networking to connect with interesting people who you admire, respect and enjoy. “These people may be potentially helpful to you in the future, but in indeterminate ways.”

You should also build relationships with fascinating people in diverse fields through what Clark calls infinite horizon networking. “You’re building the connection out of pure interest in them as a person.”

And finally, keep the faith. It’ll take years to become an overnight success – Clark says five years is a realistic timeline. There’s no quick and easy pivot from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. “Here’s the thing about playing the long game,” says Clark. “At times, it can be lonely, maddening, and unfulfilling. It’s worth it in the end. But in the moment, it often feels like a complete, humiliating waste of time.”

Strategic patience will get you through the inevitable false and slow starts, setbacks, rejections, failures, self-doubt and the second guessing from family and friends who can’t believe you quit your day job.

“In the short term, what gets you accolades – from family, from peers, from social media – is what’s visible: the stable job, the beach vacation, the nice new car. It’s easy to get swept along. No one ever gives you credit for doing what’s slow and hard and invisible.

“But we can’t just optimize for the short term and assume that will translate into long-term success. We have to be willing to do hard, laborious, ungratifying things today – the kind of things that make little sense in the short term – so we can enjoy exponential results in the future. With small, methodical steps, almost anything is attainable.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager in McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. This review first ran in the July 3 Hamilton Spectator.

Reclaiming your time and living a happier life (review of Time Smart)

Dreading the return of your daily commute? I’m not.

Before the pandemic, I walked to work through a residential neighborhood and sometimes a forest. It took 20 minutes.

That walk holds the record for longest commute of my career. Short and stress-free commutes is one of the best perks of working and living in a mid-size city.

Could I have made more money working out-of-town? Probably. Would longer commutes have been worth the bigger paycheques? No.

“Commutes suck,” says Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard University, behavioural scientist and author of Time Smart. “Mega-commuters burn weeks of their lives in high-stress, unhappy gridlock. Bad commutes are, generally speaking, the by-product of a disconnect between one’s desire for a certain type of work and one’s desire for a certain type of home.”

It’s also a reflection of how we value money more than time. While we can always make more money, we can’t make more time. Everyone’s days are numbered and many of us don’t fully appreciate how few we get.

“No matter our age, education or income, we share the same reality: none of us knows how much time we have left,” says Whillans.

“One day, time runs out and tomorrow never comes. This is one of the core discoveries I’ve made researching time and money: we don’t understand well that time is our most valuable resource and it is finite. People tend to focus too much on working and making money and not enough on having more and better time.

“Given how precious time is, we should put it first. But many of us focus on our careers, constantly giving up more of our time in exchange for more money or productivity.”

Whillans is on a mission to help us put time ahead of money. It starts by avoiding six common traps that leave us time poor.

There’s our constant connection to technology that interrupts and fragments our free time. We’re scrolling and swiping our way through life.

We’re obsessed with work and making money. “We are taught and (incorrectly) believe that money, not time, will bring greater happiness,” says Whillans. “Chasing professional success at all costs is a cause of, and not a solution to, our feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.”

We’ve turned busyness into a status symbol that shapes our identity and defines our self-worth.

We’re quick to give up lots of time to save a little money.

We’re averse to idleness. Doing nothing makes us feel guilty and leaves us bored, restless and reaching for our phones.

And we’re overly optimistic about how much time we’ll have in the future. We say yes to any and all requests that fill our work and social calendars. “The cost of saying yes in the present is low (and it feels good to say yes to people) and the future seems like a place filled with open time – that is, until the future becomes the present and we often wish we could take back the things we said yes to.”

To avoid these traps, start by figuring out where your hours are going.

Think about what you enjoy doing and what gives you a sense of purpose. It’s probably not a two-hour daily commute.

Find small pockets of time each day to do more of what you enjoy.

Now think about what you don’t enjoy.

Spend less time doing what makes you miserable. Quit doing it altogether (drop out of meetings where you have no value to add) or pay someone to do it for you (housekeeping, mowing the lawn).

Block out the free hours you’ve found and funded and then enjoy it without guilt or interruption.

 “If something makes us happy or gives us purpose, we need to hold on to it,” says Whillans. “We need to do whatever we can to prioritize it, to care for it, and to not let distractions disconnect us from it. All of us are living lives that are slowly slipping away. In an era of constant distraction, without careful planning our seconds will pass easily and unhappily.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.