2010 Focus

Happy New Year!

Around this time of year, I like to decide upon a primary focus for the upcoming year. I’ve held to this practice for several years now, and it’s never failed to stimulate major breakthroughs within the area of focus. I like to blog about my annual focus publicly because it helps solidify my commitment, and I’ve also learned that many of my readers enjoy having a preview of things to come.

In 2008 my focus was health, and I became a raw foodist that year, which has yielded many benefits. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve had so much as a cold now; eating raw certainly does wonders for the immune system. I still eat cooked food on occasion, mainly for social convenience, but I keep returning to raw foods as my default. Although it was a significant challenge to convert to this diet, it’s rather easy to maintain it now.

In 2009 my focus was intimate relationships. Since other people were involved, and it was important to protect their privacy, I didn’t blog about my explorations in much detail, but suffice it to say that I experienced some major shifts during that year. The most obvious result was my separation from Erin in October, which helped us move beyond a major impasse in our relationship. I realize that many people see that as a negative, but the end result has been extremely positive. That was a pretty intense year, and I’m very grateful for how it turned out.

After spending two years back to back with a primary focus that was largely personal, this year I desire to create more balance between my personal growth and my professional growth. So I’ve decided to choose one primary focus for my business and another focus for my personal life.

Going Direct

My major professional aim this year is to shift my business to a direct sales revenue model.

Currently my business generates most of its income from commissions on third-party sales, including joint venture and affiliate deals. Some people have a hard time understanding how I could be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from StevePavlina.com, especially since I don’t sell any advertising. They may be surprised to learn that my site typically generates around $100,000 in sales per month, and I receive healthy commissions on those sales. This income is largely passive for me and is very easy to maintain.

This has been a very lucrative business model for me for the past few years and continues to run smoothly. However, I perceive it to be a dead end for me.

One problem is that I’m extremely selective about which products I’ll recommend. So I typically have to evaluate dozens of different products just to find one that meets my criteria for a personal recommendation. I also check out the product publisher to make sure they take excellent care of their customers. This work can be rather tedious. The worst part is when I spend many hours evaluating a promising product, and in the end I conclude that I can’t strongly recommend it because of one flaw or another.

Another problem is when I find a product I can recommend wholeheartedly, and for whatever reason, it just doesn’t sell as well as I hoped. Sometimes otherwise great products are just a mismatch for my particular audience. Fortunately the hits more than make up for the few bombs, and due to the risk-free way these deals are structured, I never have to risk losing money. However, I can lose a great deal of time on a mediocre deal, so I have to consider the opportunity cost of that.

Yet another factor is that this business model no longer excites me. It’s a bit too boring for my tastes. One of the reasons I became an entrepreneur in the first place is that I love risk and excitement. I don’t derive much excitement from doing risk-free deals where the results always seem to fall within a predictable range.

If I want to increase my income with this business model, I have to recommend more products. Every time I recommend a new product, my income goes up, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently, depending on the longevity of that particular offer. But because I’m so selective in what I’m willing to recommend, I’m unwilling to do what it takes to increase my income significantly, such as recommending marginal products I don’t feel good about. On many occasions publishers have given me some very juicy offers to do just that, but I always decline.

And finally, this business model doesn’t align well enough with my desire for creative self-expression. I feel there are better ways to use my time than reviewing other people’s products and services in an attempt to find the few gems that would appeal to my readers. I also know that there’s plenty of demand for new products and services that I can create myself. I suspect that once I get a certain flow going, I’ll be able to create a new product in less time than it takes me to find one to recommend.

So my primary goal for 2010 is to shift my business to a direct sales model. I may still recommend high quality products from trusted sources that come my way, but I don’t intend to evaluate tons of products just to find new ones to recommend.

I’ve known this transition was coming for a while, and I’ve blogged about it previously, so I’ve already been taking steps in that direction. For starters, I’m generating direct sales for the Conscious Growth Workshops. I plan to hold 3-4 of these workshops in 2010. The next one is January 15-17, and then most likely we’ll have one in the Spring (probably April or May), one in the Fall (September or October), and maybe one in the Summer too. Based on the current sign-up rate, I estimate that these workshops will generate an extra $150-200K in revenue in 2010. Of course there are expenses like the costs for the hotel ballrooms and some staff and materials, but since I can promote the workshops for free via my blog and newsletter, this is a good step towards a more direct business model. I also happen to love doing live workshops, and based on the results of the first one, it’s clear they’re highly beneficial for attendees as well.

If the workshops become a bit more popular, I can spin off more workshops to go deeper into certain topics. For example, I’d like to have a Conscious Career Development Workshop, a Conscious Wealth Workshop, and a Conscious Relationships Workshop.

I suppose my main challenge this year is going to be taking all the micro-steps to make this actually happen. It may sound like it’s not that big of a shift on the surface, but for me personally it’s a major change. It requires refactoring my entire workflow for starters. It’s one thing to write a book or deliver a workshop one time. It’s quite another thing to set up structured processes and systems for creating and releasing new products and services repeatedly as part of the normal course of business. I suspect that making all the necessary shifts in my personal work habits is going to be the most difficult part of this transition for me.

So what effect will this have on my blogging? I doubt it will have a significant impact because most of this transitional work will take place behind the scenes. However, I’ll likely blog about topics related to this transition that could benefit others, such as setting up business processes, how to succeed with a direct sales business model (already did that with my games biz), habit change, streamlining workflow, boosting productivity, boosting income, etc.

I expect that I’ll still be generating indirect revenue for many years to come, especially since it takes very little to maintain those revenue streams. I have no problem with that. But for me the path of growth for the future (and the path with a heart) is to build and release my own products on a variety of topics.

Alternative Relationship Styles

Next I’ll share my personal focus for the year, which is going to take us in a completely different direction, but I need to share some transitional background info first, so you can understand where I’m coming from.

After Erin and I separated, it took a while to adjust to life as a single guy once again. I hadn’t been single since 1994, so it’s been a long time. Being single today, however, isn’t remotely the same as what it was like at age 22. Back then I was fresh out of college. I’m just not the same person I was at that time, so I can’t simply recall what it was like the last time I was single and return to those habits. Otherwise I’d be eating way too much Taco Bell. 🙂

The rest of the world has changed dramatically as well. For starters the Internet was a lot smaller back then.

As I think about my social life and relationships going forward, I feel very grateful. We have such amazing social resources available to us today, and they’re constantly improving. The last time I was single, I didn’t have access to smart phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Back then I thought 3-way calling was a pretty cool technology, especially when planning the next poker game with my friends. And instead of the Internet, I mostly used a local dial-up BBS. No high-speed access was available either — it was all dial-up with a modem. And I had only a desktop computer, no laptop. I had email, as did all my geek friends, but most other people didn’t. And of course there were no blogs to speak of. It’s truly amazing to have 24/7 web access in the palm of my hand these days. I feel socially and technologically spoiled compared to how things use to be. A lot has changed in the past 16 years.

I’m also in a very different situation socially than I was at age 22. Back then I mostly connected with a small number of local friends. Now I have more friends than I can keep track of, located all around the world, not to mention a hugely popular website. I have a constant flow of new people coming into my life, and that’s going to continue indefinitely. You could say that socially, I have a very unfair advantage compared to most people, and I’d be inclined to agree.

All of these factors taken together have me feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the options available to me socially. When I thought about where I wanted to go next in my relationship life, I honestly didn’t have a clue. You could ask me each week, and I’d give you a different answer. I know that a few of my friends found it amusing to watch me stumble my way forward during the past few months. I felt a bit foolish proclaiming I’d figured out what I wanted to do next, only to reverse course a few days later. I was flapping around like a Twitter bird with its head cut off.

Unfortunately it isn’t very healthy for me to remain stuck in the space of not knowing what I want in this part of my life. I’m at too great a risk of being outgoaled, meaning that someone else — or outside circumstances in general — will eventually decide for me. When I noticed that was starting to happen and that I was heading in a new social/relationship direction that didn’t feel quite right to me, I decided I’d better back off from further explorations until I could create more clarity. So for a short time, I actively held the intention “Back off, people! Please keep all women away from me!” to give myself some space to ponder what I wanted to explore next.

During that time, I solicited advice from a number of close friends, asking them, “What would you do now if you were me?”

People loved being asked that question, and it generated some interesting responses. Some suggested that I sign up for match.com and start dating a lot. Others said, “Go out and f— as many women as you can. Live it up!” And still others had totally different ideas about what I should do next.

While these answers didn’t surprise me, none of them felt right to me. In fact, each possibility seemed utterly boring and pointless. The thought of dating or having casual sex seemed only slightly more interesting than doing my dishes.

How could it be that with all this freedom and all these options available to me, none of them really excited me? Even the thought of going out and having sex with different women did nothing for me. My reaction was, “Eh… why bother?” It seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I certainly enjoy sex, but to pursue it as a goal unto itself was more of a turn-off than a turn-on. It was as if someone suggested I take up drinking as a hobby.

Some of my friends seemed really excited on my behalf at the thought of me going out and enjoying more sex partners, and they jokingly teased me about what a fun ride I’d be in for. But I didn’t share their excitement, and I had to ask myself why. Why were others able to get more excited about that idea than I was? I know I like sex, so why doesn’t this excite me?

I had to ask myself if maybe on some level, I was afraid to pursue that course. Is it possible I was pretending that I didn’t want it, so I wouldn’t have to push myself beyond my comfort zone? That’s a common problem in personal growth. If we fear a certain path, we pretend we don’t want it, even though we wish we had the courage to pursue it.

But no, I couldn’t see any evidence that fear was holding me back. In fact, the real problem turned out to be just the opposite.

Eventually I realized that the problem wasn’t that this pursuit took too much courage but rather that it took too little. It seemed too easy for me, and because it was too easy, it felt utterly pointless. It might have been a challenging goal to pursue in my early 20s, but today the idea has no bite. It’s too bland and too boring and too vanilla for me. I need a much bigger challenge. Only way I can be satisfied. 😉

I realized that something that’s been missing from my relationship life for way too long was the intensity. I thrive on intense experiences. For example, I have to run a business because a regular job would leave me bored to tears. I couldn’t handle getting the same paycheck month after month. I need the risk and excitement of not knowing what’s going to happen next.

It was this same need for intensity that got me addicted to shoplifting when I was a teenager. It was also this same drive that enabled me to go through college in only three semesters. It’s a very powerful part of my psyche, one that’s been relegated to the back burner for far too long.

In 2009 I explored intimacy in great depth. But in 2010 I’m going to explore the intensity side. I’m going to explore different ways of relating to women that truly excite me, and that definitely isn’t the path of a traditional dating or relationship style. I want to try new things that are big enough to scare me and thrill me at the same time.

The thought of doing anything that would be considered “normal” in terms of relationships makes me nauseous. This includes regular dating, having sex, having a girlfriend, or getting married again. I don’t judge other people who thrive on those forms of connection though. If that’s your cup of tea and you’re happy with it, I’m truly delighted for you. At various times those patterns were my delight as well, but if I were to revisit them now, I’d feel like I was living a rerun. For whatever reason, I can’t derive any further joy from such pursuits, at least not at this time in my life. It would be like eating jicama for every meal, which is the most boring food I can imagine.

One of the key lessons I learned in 2009 was to stop trying to label my relationships. Once I let go of the labels, a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. I realized that I had a lot more freedom in terms of relating to people than I previously assumed. I’m not stuck with such limited frames as date, girlfriend, wife, friend, lover, etc.

Now let’s get more specific…

What’s a relationship style that really does excite me?

If you’re a very religious or judgmental person (is that redundant?), this is the point where you should stop reading. Otherwise you might have to go to confession or something. Continuing to read this could lead to impure thoughts.

A general rule of thumb is that if you’re going to dabble in alternative relationship styles, then you want to make sure that your explorations are safe, sane, and consensual. As long as all parties involved are willing and able and are staying safe, then psychologically speaking, the exploration is just as valid and healthy as any other relationship style. The main risk is that the rest of society may judge you harshly, but if you can handle that, then the door is wide open.

I began exploring some of those other possibilities, initially by reading about what else was out there and by talking to friends who have very non-traditional relationship lives. And I came upon something that excited me greatly and that I was eager to explore. It falls loosely within the scope of BDSM.

BDSM is a complex acronym. The BD stands for bondage and discipline. The DS stands for domination and submission. And the SM stands for sadism and masochism. These methods of relating to a partner can be sexual, but they don’t have to involve sex at all. They’re basically ways of stimulating intense feelings and sensations.

B/D doesn’t really do much for me. I dabbled with that a little in my early 20s. It was fun at times and certainly spiced up some sexual experiences, but overall I could take it or leave it. I still feel the same about it today. Some people are really turned on by this though, and I certainly don’t judge them for it.

S/M is largely a turn-off for me. I’m just not into giving or receiving pain. I can understand why some people are so into it, but it’s of no special interest to me. Again I don’t judge those who are into it though. I understand how certain people can be neurologically wired or conditioned to perceive otherwise painful stimuli as intensely pleasurable.

D/s, on the other hand, is immensely exciting to me. D/s is basically role-playing with a power exchange element. One person chooses to surrender to the will of another. This can be done with roles like Master/Mistress and slave or any other roles that involve an asymmetrical power distribution. I also dabbled in this in the distant past, and I remember how exciting it was at the time. Since then I always wanted to explore it in more depth. Note: The s is intentionally written in lower case to indicate that the sub is below the Dom in terms of authority.

I’m definitely on the D side, meaning that I like being the dominant one. That means in a D/s session, I would want to interact with a sub. A sub isn’t a submissive person per se. In real life the person may be very dominant, but in a D/s exchange, they consciously agree to submit to their partner’s will. Some people are switches, meaning that they can handle either role.

Some say that if you’re very dominant in real life, then you’d enjoy being submissive in the bedroom. For some people that seems to be true; however, overall there isn’t much of a pattern as to which people are Doms vs. subs vs. switches, at least not that I’m aware of. There are many different factors that can influence someone’s personal preference.

According to the Kinsey Institute, 5-10% of American adults regularly engage in sexual D/s. That stat is very dated though, so I don’t know if this figure has changed in recent years. I expect it’s probably a lot higher in countries that are less sexually repressed (Thanks, Puritans!). For the most part though, this aspect of people’s lives stays behind closed doors. You surely know a lot of people who are into it, but they probably aren’t talking about it with you either because they don’t think you could handle it, or they worry you’ll judge them for it. However, if you were to out yourself as being BSDM-friendly, they’ll likely come out of the woodwork and make their presence known to you, in sort of a “Hi, Welcome to the club! Let me show you the secret handshake.” fashion. This happened to me when I started posting about D/s on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, and most likely it will accelerate now that I’ve blogged about it. The same thing happened when I started blogging about polyamory. I had no idea so many people in my life were already poly, but they only told me so after they could tell that I wasn’t a muggle.

D/s can be isolated to the bedroom, or it can dictate the terms of a whole relationship (aka Lifestyle D/s or 24/7 D/s). My current interest is somewhere in the middle. To date I’ve only experienced the bedroom version, but that’s about to change later this month during what is likely to be an immensely fun and playful week with a willing play partner. 😉

To get a sense of what the D side is like, ask yourself if any of the following appeals to you:

  • Being able to command your partner to do anything you want, sexual or otherwise, and having them immediately and willingly obey you without resistance or hesitation
  • Setting up rules that your partner must follow, like having to kiss you immediately whenever you say a certain keyword
  • Being addressed as Master or Mistress by your partner
  • Having your partner say, “If it pleases you, Master (or Mistress)” instead of “yes”
  • Getting all the physical touch and affection you desire, in exactly the way you desire it
  • Prohibiting your partner from touching you or doing anything to you except when you grant permission to do so
  • Commanding your partner to dress a certain way, like wearing the lingerie you like best, or to wear nothing at all
  • Commanding your partner to dance or strip for you
  • Commanding your partner to do things that sexually arouse you, and pushing yourself to see how long you can resist the irresistible
  • Commanding your partner to bathe you, shower with you, groom you, brush your hair, etc.
  • Commanding your partner to undress one or both of you
  • Commanding multiple subs to perform sex acts with you and/or each other
  • Receiving as much stimulation as you desire (oral sex, massage, kissing, etc) in exactly the way you like, for as long as you like
  • Commanding your partner to say or whisper anything you wish to hear at any time (“I love you, Master.” “I adore you, Mistress.”)
  • Not having to ask permission, just giving orders and knowing they’ll be promptly and obediently carried out
  • Stimulating your partner to the edge of orgasm and mercilessly holding them there until you’re ready to let them climax
  • Creatively “punishing” or disciplining an ornery sub
  • Seeing your partner unbelievably turned on through acts of submission to you

And for the s side, consider how you might feel about this:

  • Surrendering yourself completely to the will of a partner you trust
  • Not having to make any decisions at all; simply listening and obeying
  • Addressing your partner as Master or Mistress while being addressed as slave yourself (or something similar)
  • Being “forced” to do things that please and stimulate your partner
  • Becoming the instrument for fulfilling your partner’s every desire, knowing that you’re the source of their ecstasy
  • Being irresistibly desired, seeing your partner get so turned on that they can’t hold back any longer and must surrender to their passion for you
  • Being intentionally ornery in order to trigger a “punishment” that is in fact your delight
  • Being commanded to do things you might otherwise never consider, and being “off the hook” for the responsibility because your partner is assuming full responsibility for all decisions
  • Being commanded to perform sex acts with and/or to another sub
  • Being brought to the edge of orgasm but not being allowed to climax until your partner gives you permission
  • Being lavishly rewarded for your obedience
  • Being deeply appreciated for your submission

And for both, you get to let it all go and return to your normal life afterwards once you’re done playing together.

For some people aspects of one or both of these roles can be huge turn-ons. For other people they’re turn-offs. And still others may not care either way. Your reaction is your own to contemplate.

On the other hand, if you need to take a break from reading and go take care of yourself right now, I understand. 😉

Keep in mind that all of this is done consensually. It’s a form of play that’s entered into consciously by all involved. As such it can be a tremendously pleasurable growth experience. I can’t cover all the growth aspects now — I’ll have to save that for future articles. But perhaps the simplest growth aspect is that if you have more fun in one part of your life, it can easily spread to other parts… and to other people.

Now if you decide to explore such things, how do you find a willing partner?

Some people use personal ads or join a local BDSM support group. My approach is to use the Law of Attraction plus courage. I started by imagining what it would feel like if this was already a part of my life, and then I focused on holding that vibe. At first the vibe felt too exciting to hold onto, but eventually it calmed down and began to feel more integrated and “normal.”

Additionally, I focused on extending the vibe of abundance into this part of my life. Abundance is a vibe that’s already familiar to me (ala financial abundance, social abundance, intimacy abundance, etc.), so all I needed to do was extend that vibe to create the sensation of D/s abundance. What would it feel like if my life were already overflowing with all the abundance I could possibly desire in this part of my life? I sat on my couch visualizing this “fantasy” as already real.

That’s enough to get the ball rolling. It’s enough for potential partners to start showing up. The next step is to work through any blocks, such as worrying about what other people might think. “Oh no… they’re gonna kick me off the planet for sure this time!” You have to summon the courage to receive what you’re now attracting, including all the potential consequences. That’s usually the most difficult step and often involves saying to yourself at some point, “Ah, screw it. Let’s do it!”

After receiving plenty of criticism in 2009 for exploring polyamory and later for separating from Erin, I can’t see the feedback on this decision being any worse, especially since BDSM seems to be a lot more popular than polyamory. For me this is a very rich, excting area of exploration, and the potential positives vastly outweigh the negatives. Either that, or I have too much courage for my own good.

I took the time to work through my feelings about this during the past few weeks, so I feel quite comfortable writing about it publicly, knowing full well that some people will have a tizzy cow about it. Maybe I am a masochist after all though. 🙂

I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to blog about this in terms of details. Partly it depends on a few things. My top priority is to protect the privacy of anyone I’m involved with, to whatever extent their privacy is important to them. I’m not a particularly private person myself, but I know how unfair and critical the public eye can be, and I understand that most people wouldn’t want to deal with that. I certainly can’t blame them. So unless a sub happens to come along who’s either very brave or very masochistic, I’m not going to share any specific details about who’s doing what to whom.

That said, I’ve already been discussing the possibility of publicly exploring a D/s-style relationship with someone in particular, but it’s too soon to say if we’ll go public. For now we’re keeping our exploration private by default. I’d find a public exploration to be lot of fun, but obviously it would have major consequences for her if we do that, and I feel rather protective of her. How can I feel otherwise towards someone who refers to me as her Master?

I would never pressure her to share anything publicly; it will only happen if she truly wants to do it, and she does seem turned on by that possibility. But first, I’d like to see how people react to this blog post on the subject, and I’m sure she’s curious about that as well. I do NOT want to see people doing personal attacks on her. Maybe I can’t prevent that from happening, but I just might have to go S/M on anyone who crosses that line, not to mention sending an army of subs after them. I’m not much of a sadist, but in that case I’ll make an exception and pull out the pincers and blowtorch.

I’m looking to see how much maturity my readers can summon in terms of watching me explore this path without going kittywompus, especially since other people are involved. In the past I’ve been largely disappointed, but perhaps the New Year will bring a new level of genuine acceptance and curiosity.

Another factor that I’ll have to determine based on feedback is whether or not enough of my readers actually care to learn more about this subject. If there isn’t much interest, I’ll just keep it to myself and won’t blog much about it. But if I see a lot of curiosity and questions, I can justify sharing more details.

I must admit that I am immensely excited about 2010. This is already shaping up to be an exquisitely delicious year. I suspect you’ll be seing some unusually happy posts from me in the coming months. 🙂

If you can get past your fear of rejection and summon a modicum of courage, it’s not that difficult to find a play partner. You don’t need a full-on relationship first. You don’t need to date people either. You can just let a potential partner know that you’re up for playing together, and see what they say. It’s even easier if you publicly out yourself first, since then people will come to you. Of course it helps if you’re known to be very open, honest, and trustworthy, so that people who get involved with you can expect that everything will be done in a safe, sane, and consensual manner, not in an unsafe, crazy, or creepy way. The whole point is to co-create a fun and exciting experience that leaves everyone happy.

I should mention that my interest in D/s is partly sexual and partly non-sexual. It’s the power exchange aspect that turns me on the most. If I had to choose between doing a D/s session without sex vs. having vanilla sex with no D/s aspects, most of the time I’d probably choose the D/s play. However, I’d much rather explore D/s with a sexual element than without. It’s a lot more fun that way.

I expect to devote a big chunk of my personal life to exploring D/s this year. Nothing else on my radar excites me quite as much as this. I can’t predict where it will lead, and I rather like that. I like that it challenges me in so many ways simultaneously. I get to work with the Law of Attraction, conscious communication, building trust, unconditional love and acceptance, self-discipline, emotional resiliency, and more.

Some people don’t like the D side because it’s too much work. They don’t like having to make all the decisions. It definitely can be a lot of work, but that’s a challenge I rather enjoy. Maybe it’s the former game designer in me. One of the most appealing aspects of D/s to me is being granted the power to interactively discover what most excites a woman, and then taking her through an intense emotional and sensory journey. It’s like being the GM (aka Game Master) in a classic pen and paper role-playing session — plus a whole lot more. When role-playing I always liked being the GM more than being a regular player. That’s the most difficult role to fill, but it’s also the one with the most flexibility and choices available. I thrive on being responsible for other people’s enjoyment and having the power to interactively create a fun and unique experience for them.

Perhaps on some level, the game designer part of me is still present, and he sees this as a good way to creatively express parts of himself that have been denied a proper outlet for too many years.

Maybe you regard this decision as yet another of Steve’s insanities, but for me it makes perfect sense. I’ve had regular sex thousands of times, and I doubt I’ll gain much from doing it a thousand more times. I’d rather head off in a new direction (which a friend jokingly reminded me sounds the same as “nude erection”) and try something a bit more spicy and exhilarating. The nice thing is that D/s can be combined with just about anything, such as tantra, so all sorts of delectable combos are possible.

I completely understand that some people may not want to out themselves as being interested in this, so feel free to email me privately via my contact form if you have feedback to share and don’t want to do so publicly. I can’t answer all the questions people send me, but I’ll use the feedback to gauge interest and to generate ideas for future articles.

I hope your 2010 is as fun and tasty as mine is likely to be.