Top 10 Meaningless Things People Apply Meaning To

Universal or not, these 10 things only mean something when you apply meaning to them.

Thumbs Up

  1. Laughter – a loud bellowing from one’s mouth. For most people this conveys to others that they found something funny, but it could mean that they have a lot of air in their lungs they really want to get out quickly.
  2. Honks – a loud bellowing from a vehicle’s horn. For most people this means the driver is warning another driver or that they are unsatisfied with a recent decision they made and they must be punished with sound.
  3. Clapping – the smacking of one’s hands together. This simple act is often accepted as confirmation of an achievement but it takes hardly any effort from the one clapping other than social involvement from others.
  4. Thumbs up – a single finger is raised in the air. This symbolizes that you did something good or that it is okay to proceed, but it may as well mean that you found which way is up or that you like looking at your fingernail.
  5. Middle finger – the longest finger is raised in the air. You are so proud of your longest finger you decide to showcase it to the world. It also comes in handy when trying to reach the thing farthest from your body.
  6. Two fingers – better than one finger at a time is two. Facing frontwards, you are letting other people know you still have two fingers. Facing backwards, you are letting people know you mean peace, or something.
  7. Winks – one eye is meticulously closed as to call attention to it. This may indicate that one eye is operating in a different dimension or time vortex where it blinks at a much slower rate than the other eye. Not to be trusted.
  8. Smiles – a way of showing as many teeth as possible. To dogs, this is a sign of aggression, but to most people it’s a sign of kindness – unless betrayed by the eyes, in which case the smile is usually a sign of danger.
  9. Speech – air blown through the mouth in specific tones. The melodies of speech used by different cultures means something only to those who choose to understand it, but is meaningless to everyone else.
  10. Writing – a difference in contrast between the surface where it’s written and the objects being written. These characters are, like speech, useful only to those who understand them, but are mere decoration to everyone else.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty debuted in the United States on December 25, 2013. This review focuses on the how the film is an essay on the transition from analog to digital – made for and by the children of the 70’s (otherwise known as Generation X), the “analog vs. digital” and “disrespect for the past” themes, “the purpose of life”, and symbolism in the film. Most of this is from memory and is my own opinions. I have not read any other reviews on this movie, but have seen the movie and trailers.

* Spoiler Alert * This article contains information about the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, please consider watching it first. * Photos credit 20th Century Fox *

Walter Mitty and Cheryl Melhoff

Generation X

In #Mitty, the movie, the actors and the director are all Generation X. Stiller was born in 1965 and is currently 48 years old. To give you perspective on the person writing this article, I was born in 1980 which makes me part of Generation X, Y, and the Millennial Generation, however I’m most likely Generation Jones. While I was able to pick up on a lot of the references and music used in the film, there are still things that I didn’t ‘get’ like the name on the t-shirt Mitty’s mom kept for him.

The movie is full of references to Generation X. Mitty’s sister is auditioning to be Rizzo in Grease, a movie that came out in 1978. She gets him a Stretch Armstrong (debuted in 1976) doll for his birthday. Mitty has a Jansport hiking bag (popular in the 80’s). At the end of the movie Mitty is wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, a leather strap necklace with a copper hex nut, and friendship bracelets. There are also several scenes referencing “Major Tom“, which is a fictional character created by David Bowie in the late 60’s.

You can always tell about how old you are based on what music appears in commercials and it’s becoming apparent that the markets have begun marketing less to the Baby Boomers and more to their children, Generation X. No where is that more apparent than in this movie, which is filled with product placements tucked in and tied to the story line from eHarmony to Papa Johns to LIFE.com, but with nods to Conan O’Brien, TBS, Cinnabon, Dell, CareerBuilder.com, KFC, Instagram, the iPhone, and American Airlines.

Generation X was the last generation to graduate high school and enter the workforce before cell phones and Internet access became ubiquitous. Ben Stiller’s directorial debut, Reality Bites, which came out in 1994, was the same year Netscape started. The World Wide Web had just begun and yet it was already clear that things were changing. It appears that Ben Stiller, despite the success he’s had since then, still longs for a time when things were more simple, more analog – and is betting his audience does too.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie Review

Analog vs. Digital

When Walter Mitty goes to give Rich the longboard at Cheryl’s home, there are at least three 70s-era cars on the street, which is very unusual for a movie set in 2013. In that same scene, on a wall, drawn in chalk is the words, “Here Comes the Sun,” which is an allusion to a Beatles Song of the same name from the album Abbey Road, which came out in 1969. On the cab ride back to his mom’s house, Walter Mitty wants to turn the cab’s digital video off to which the cab driver says ominously, “It stays on.”

Walter Mitty has an analog clock in his apartment (not pictured, but you can hear it ticking in the background) and he wears an analog wristwatch with a leather strap. Although the watch is never specifically referenced in the film, it plays a small part in the short story by James Thurber. For a sense of how Thurber thought about watches, in The Gentleman in 916, he writes, “Even the sound of a wrist-watch prevents me from sleeping, because it sounds like two men trying to take a wheel off a locomotive.”

While Walter Mitty does have a computer, it’s an older model, Dell laptop, which echoes his cell phone, an older flip-style phone. In contrast, Cheryl’s character uses a modern smartphone with Internet access. She still uses terms like “buffering” when searching the Internet (something she probably doesn’t have to do and isn’t a term used much any more). On the flip side, the photographer, Sean O’Connell does not have a phone at all – nor does any place Sean is currently located (ie. a shipping boat).

While on the shipping boat, a deck hand takes a picture with his smartphone for Instagram, and asks to be Facebook friends. This foreshadows Mitty’s meeting with Sean O’Connel in Afghanistan who doesn’t take a picture at all, instead choosing to remember the moment as “me”/himself without the camera. This lost desire to be ‘in the moment’ shares a sentiment with those who identified with Charlene deGuzman and Miles Crawford’s I Forgot My Phone video which  went viral in August of 2013.

Ben Stiller's Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie

Disrespect for the Past

Walter Mitty works with analog film, something Kodak stopped making in June of 2013. Mitty’s co-worker, Hernando (which means “bold voyager”) has a man-crush on the photographer, O’Connell for still using film, which acknowledges he is well aware that although he is surrounded by film negatives, digital pictures have largely replaced analog film. Mitty states that he has never lost a negative despite “over a million” negatives passing through his care over the last 16 years he worked at TIME magazine.

“Negative Asset Manager” is Mitty’s job title, but it’s also a metaphor for the deprecation of ‘everything that’s come before’. In the final scene of the movie, Mitty tells his former boss that the magazine has been built by many people over a long time, which the new boss is now treating as a negative asset on the balance sheet that needs debited or written off. The message is that businesses are created and ran by people, not balance sheets, and should be treated with more respect, even when things change.

When Mitty’s boss, Ted Hendricks asks Mitty where the picture was, Mitty says it’s in a “silver bath” to which Ted does not even try to understand. He later asks someone else to look it up only to conclude that it “doesn’t exist.” Of course it exists, but simply Googling “silver bath” will only give you shiny pictures of bathroom accessories. You have to know that it was a part of photo processing, which is something older generations, even Generation X, understood – even if only in context.

The most visual disrespect for the past occurs as Mitty is entering LIFE magazine for the last time and movers are literally dropping art onto the floor as they violently remove it from the walls. All of the desks are empty and covered in drop cloths like dead bodies, a symbol for the lost jobs and the lost magazine.  After working at the magazine for over 16 years, during his 17th year, the job ended – a ‘death” which could be a metaphor for the death of his father, which happened when Mitty was 17.

Walter Mitty Purpose of Life

The Purpose of Life

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty movie, LIFE Magazine’s motto is, “To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.” This motto is written on the wall of the lobby and is repeated in the wallet O’Connell gives Mitty and in the background of the movie as Mitty leaves for Greenland. However, on the wallet, O’Connell added one more sentence, “That is the purpose of life.”

Off the coast of Greenland when Mitty jumps into the ocean, the captain of boat yells, “Don’t fear the porpoise,” which sounds like, “Don’t fear the purpose.” In this movie, Walter Mitty is 42 years old. In real life, Ben Still was 47 at the time of shooting the film. While younger than Brad Pitt, he still may have fears about the purpose of his life, just like Walter Mitty. Just like us. Just like me. He doesn’t want to be the old man bringing the news on a telegram.

Film Symbolism

The most blatant symbolism used in the movie was with allusions to 35 mm film reels and negatives. From the lights in Mitty’s apartment hallway to the windows on the outside of his apartment building, to the dots on the glass in LIFE magazine lobby, to the fuselage of the Greenland airplane at night, the film perforations, also known as perfs or sprocket holes and rectangular acetone film frames themselves were apparent throughout the beginning of the film.

The word “Life” was used throughout the movie, not just as the name of the magazine, but also in conversations Mitty had with Cheryl and his mother. It’s also referenced on the bottom of the longboard Mitty traded for in Iceland. In large print it says, “LIFIO”, which is Icelandic for “can survive”. Similarly, Cheryl comments to Mitty “last in, first out”, which is commonly shortened as “LIFO” in business process management. Find any more? Leave a note in the comments.

From the Garden to the City: The Epic Entrepreneur’s Story

Every entrepreneur has their own version of the classic “entrepreneur’s journey”. They usually share this story at the beginning of an interview or podcast. I’ve never been interviewed or been on a podcast so I decided to write my own. I’m choosing myself. 🙂

White Lamborghini Toy Car

Family Background

From the time I was born my family moved about every four years. Two of those houses were in Missouri and two were in Indiana. When I lived in Missouri I was young, but I remember I had this white, Lamborghini Hot Wheels car. I remember telling my dad I wanted to start a Lamborghini car dealership when I was older so that I could sell Lamborghini’s to kids like me for a $1. I remember my whole family laughing at me.

My mom volunteered at church events as a clown. She would come up to me and say, “I’m your mom,” and I’d say, “No you’re not!” and run away in fear. She sold Tupperware on the side. I remember her having Tupperware parties, but mostly I remember how much Tupperware we owned. I still use some of it today in my own house. This was my first view into entrepreneurship, which I sort of later followed when I was in Amway for a year.

My dad worked at GM during the night and during the day would volunteer at the church doing maintenance work. He would change out light bulbs in the ceiling of the sanctuary using a giant ladder. I remember watching him and wondering if he was going to fall. I’m scared of heights. We did a lot of land sculpting at every church we ever attended. For some reason, my dad just liked moving dirt around. He liked how dirt shaped water’s direction.

My First Businesses

One day after moving to Indiana I was walking through a shopping center with my older brother and we went into a Hooks Drugstore. He bought some baseball cards with his allowance and I was hooked. I collected baseball cards, bought Beckett Magazine price guides, and traded with friends. I never made any money, but this was my first experience with buying, collecting, and curating something with the intent of future earnings. I had a trader in my neighborhood in Southport that shared with me his dream of opening up his own baseball card store. This inspired me. I wanted to open up my own baseball card store. One day he setup a professional-looking stand in his garage and operated a neighborhood store for a day. I really looked up to that guy and always wondered how he turned out. I don’t remember his name though.

I also had small stints in buying candy and gum from the grocery store to sell at school. There was a time when “sour balls” just came out, which weren’t available from vending machines at school. I’d go to the grocery store, buy a bag, and sell them at school for 10 cents a piece. I actually didn’t sell any though. It was a complete failure. By the time I got into the game, I was already too late, the market was already saturated with other sellers. You see, it wasn’t my idea. I stole it from someone else – someone who had greater access to capital (their mom) and more prone to risk (willing to ask for the sale). Not only did my competitors have these things, they had prior experience selling Big Red and other types of gum. This is the same guy who later shot me in the back with his BB gun and gave me a bad haircut.

His name was Joey. We were both in 5th grade and one day Joey and I were walking home from that same strip mall in Southport. We started to come up with a plan for a new type of business. We both liked going to the local Putt-Putt and playing arcade games so we thought it’d be cool to start a small theme park or game center where you could do things like ride go-carts or fly small aircraft in addition to your standard arcade. We drew out pictures and made grand plans. We were doing it for kids like us who didn’t have a place like that. We were our own customers. We were scratching our own itch. It was “selling Lamborghini’s for a dollar” all over again. It never happened.

Business Education

Middle school was pretty much the dark ages of my entrepreneurial journey, but in high school I really ramped up. I started an antique business with a friend, started taking business classes at school, began editing websites on the side, started a band, and subscribed to INC and Entrepreneur magazines. When we had Career Day at school I told a speaker I wanted to “own my own island”. I was rude and full of hot air. I didn’t understand at that time how much value I would have to provide the world in order for me to one day afford my own island. I didn’t learn that until much later.

I kept studying business in the various colleges I attended. Each one taught me a little something different. At Kentucky Christian College I learned about how much I don’t like accounting. At Milligan I learned that first impressions make a lasting impression. At Ball State I learned about art. And at IUPUI I learned about computer science. I took 3 classes on Microsoft Office, 2 speech classes, and 1 marketing class. I took 2 years of Accounting in high school and 2 years of Accounting in college. I joined every business club I could find and failed 3 out of 4 of my math classes.

I don’t feel that I learned that much from college, but there were a handful of professors that made an impact on me. Dr. Charlie Starr, a literature professor at KCC, taught me about symbolism in movies, and although I can’t remember all of their names, the most impactful teachers were my literature teachers. Those were the ones I seemed to connect with the most in high school and college. The other most impactful professor was Andy Harris at IUPUI. He taught me about computer science and STAIR, which is an iterative method of problem solving, similar to customer development.

Business Development

I made the mistake of thinking that a college education was the key to any sort of financial windfall. In fact it had the opposite effect. I became debt-ridden and after I graduated I was no better off in the job market than the day before I graduated. I even asked my employer at the time, Old National, for a raise, but they said no. It wasn’t until I went back to school at a technical school for a specific skill set that I was able to get a higher paying job. However I later learned that the thing that actually helped get me that job was what I was doing on the side: web design. They wanted someone who could do IT work and help out with their website.

In my last year of IUPUI, Jason and I worked together to build a computer repair company called Neighborhood Geeks. After I graduated college, instead of going to classes in the morning I started going on IT service calls. I had no formal education as an computer technician, but I knew a lot about how Windows XP worked and had a good idea of how to troubleshoot problems. Google, like now, was our friend. After two years of not getting ahead in my day job at Old National, I started get CompTIA and Microsoft Certified. I still couldn’t find a better job so one day, I just quit.

A coworker asked me what my boss, Corey, said when I quit. He said, “You filled out the wrong form.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Old National didn’t use to have a formal “2 Weeks Notice” form so years earlier Corey had me make one up for our department. I used the form I had made, but by the time I quit, Old National’s HR department had come up with their own form. I had worked there full time for 6 years. It literally took me an hour 1-way to get to work everyday. I drove through rain storms and snow storms. I made stupid mistakes that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I essentially grew up there, but it was time to move on.

Career Development

2 days later I got a job at a call center helping teachers learn how to use web-based software to make tests and quizzes for their students. It was brutal, but even in that environment, I added value. There was a particular problem that no one knew how to fix and people would often call in about it and we’d have to say we didn’t know. One day I decided to dig into the problem and I discovered what was causing it and how to work around it. I was one of the few people who didn’t get laid off during the slowdown, but that’s when I got the opportunity to work at IBM’s call center, so I left after working there 2 months.

I worked at IBM 3 days before I got the job doing IT full-time. The first job I ever had was washing dishes for $4.25 an hour. I started Old National in Muncie at $7.47 an hour and ended in Indianapolis at over $12 an hour. The call center in Lebanon paid $10 an hour and IBM paid $11 an hour. My new job as an IT professional paid $20 an hour, which was quite a big jump for me at the time, but I stayed at that same rate for 5 years. Despite moving on to a business analyst position at another bank for 3 years and working as an interim manager at a dental office for 9 months, I stayed at that same rate until I went back to being an IT professional for a new rate of $25 an hour.

But I was tired of “trading dollars for hours” like Robert Kiyosaki talks about in Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Even for the year in which I ran my own consulting business doing IT and web services I was still trading my time for money. I longed to move beyond the employee or self-employed roles (or the technician role in The E-Myth Revisited) and into the business owner or entrepreneur role, respectively. I needed a product or service I could sell systematically that took my time out of the value equation so that I wasn’t the one holding myself back from earning the income I wanted to fulfil my vision for the future.

Vision and Mindset

I’ve spent a lot of time learning about how to start a business. I’ve read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. I know you need to start with a mantra, make meaning, and have milestones. I read Jim Collin’s Good to Great. I know that you first have to get “the right people on the bus.” Eric Ries’ Lean Startup says to start with the product and ask people if they want it. There are many ways to start a business, but I know some of the worst include choosing a business name, buying business cards, incorporating, and designing a logo. None of those things bring in new customers or revenue. That’s how I developed the theme of #SellFirst, and it’s a tag I own on Twitter.

Sell First” is a mindset that says, “before I invest more time, energy, and money into this new business, I am first going to ask someone if they want to buy it.” I believe that sales is essentially “asking someone to buy something.” In high school Jason and I called this “spontaneous asking”. We found that when we asked for something, we were much more likely to get it than we did not ask for it. This seems obvious after the fact, but there is much fear in asking, which may be part of the fear people have of selling. I certainly still have that fear, but it’s something I’m learning to get over as I view it as more important than marketing. Marketing Supports Sales.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and motivational speaking lately and several reoccurring themes have emerged. The first one is the need for a vision of what you’re future will look like. This sets your mind in the direction it needs to go. The second is the need for mentors and education that gives you the information you’ll need to get to where you’re going. The third thing is hard work and the ability to temporarily discomfort yourself now for a better future later. Extraordinary effort now is greater than the same amount of effort spread out over time. The fourth thing is your product. When given the choice between working on anything else and your product, always choose to improve the product.

Product Development

I live in Tipton. I’ve lived there for most of the last 10 years. It’s a small town with little to nothing going on. I have to drive at least a half hour in any direction to see anything other than cornfields and pickup trucks. But it’s from this location that I’ve worked professionally for 10 years, developed and ran side and full-time businesses, and raised a family (I now have 5 kids). It’s out of this desolated place that I’ve come to shape my ideas of place and community. It’s how I came up with the ideas for Seektivity and Outure. I believed that it didn’t matter as much where you were, but who you were hanging out with and what you did with the situation. Even Tipton could be a cool place with the right people, the right knowledge, or the right stuff.

I had a vision of a mobile app that allowed you to post and activities and things to do around you. If you discovered a tennis court you could add it to the app and tag it with “tennis” and the next person who came there might add “badminton”. In the same way, someone might find a baseball diamond and first tag it with “baseball” while someone else might tag it with “Wiffle ball” or “softball”. If Foursquare is for tagging places to go, Seektivity would be for tagging what there is to do at those places. There may be a hundred different fun things to do in Tipton, but without an informational tool like Seektivity, I would never know about them. In this way, people can transform their communities into more active and happier places to live.

In late 2012 and early 2013 I started getting interested in physical products and ecommerce. That’s when I got the idea to create products to help Seektivity users get more out of their communities. Outure was developed out of a need to facilitate “activity in your own backyard.” I felt that outdoor adventure companies often glorified exotic places like mountaintops and sunny beaches while most of America lives in mostly flat, mostly dry areas of the country. That doesn’t mean there isn’t fun things they could be doing if they just had the right information, similarly interested people, and the right equipment. By providing the people with the gear to have fun in their own backyards, my mantra in both products is to “facilitate play”.

Outdoor Adventure with Outure

The Reality

The reality is I’m not as great as I thought I was. I never finished making Seektivity. I got a minimally viable product (MVP) and stopped working on it in February of 2013. That same month I stopped being an entrepreneur and went back to work for a company that made me extremely uncomfortable for 7 months. In August of 2013 I switched jobs and began working on Outure and everyday I take a little step forward by posting a picture to Instagram or commenting on Facebook or tweeting on Twitter. I hired a VA in November to help write reviews of urban activity equipment sold on Amazon as an affiliate, but hope to one day open my own e-commerce store. That’s my vision and this is my reality.