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Twenty Unusual Things You May Not Know About Me

D.R. Fideler — Walking up the hill to my home in Sarajevo.

Twenty Unusual Things You May Not Know About Me

Now that we’ve gotten all of those serious matters out of the way, here are Twenty Unusual Things You May Not Know About Me . . .

Ever since I was very young, I’ve tried, failed, and succeeded at many things.

I am very grateful for having had such a strange and amazing life!

Isolated open book

I grew up in a publishing family, which gave me an unfair advantage. My dad started his own company and published social studies textbooks long before I was born. So when I arrived on the scene, I was surrounded by good books. As I grew up, I had an unfair advantage by being exposed to publishing, what it’s like to run a company, marketing, graphic design, and book production. It’s very good to have an unfair advantage. What’s yours? It could just be something you are really good at that most others aren’t. If you don’t have an advantage now, you should start to cultivate one.

chess-player

I was the #1 chess champion in grade school and high school and even had trophies. Could I have gotten better? Maybe. But I didn’t have many people to play with later in life. The last time I beat my wife, she threw all the chess pieces on the floor. So I pretty much stopped.

My photo of Comet Hyakutake that was published in Sky & Telescope magazine.

My photo of Comet Hyakutake that was published in Sky & Telescope magazine.

One of my life-long passions is astronomy. I built a small astronomical observatory in the Michigan countryside to discover asteroids — but only ended up taking photos of galaxies and other things. After working all day on computers, searching for asteroids was too much to handle.

A few years earlier, my astronomy friend Andy Harwood and I would drive to the darkest places we could find, take photos of comets, get them developed first thing in the morning, and race to get them posted on the website of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One of my photos of comet Hyakutake was published in Sky & Telescope magazine. It was like a game … and one of the most fun and memorable periods of my life.

Thomas Moore, author of the best-selling book Care of the Soul, speaking at the educational center I started in West Michigan.

Thomas Moore, author of the best-selling book Care of the Soul, speaking at the educational center I started in West Michigan.

I started and ran an educational center. I built a conference room in the barn behind my house, next to my offices, and started a humanities center in West Michigan. I did it as an experiment after teaching at the local university. It offered 40 educational programs during a one-year program and attracted 1,500 people, who loved the events.

When I was a kid, I built a full-size hang glider for a science fair project, made out of wood and plastic sheeting. I ordered the blueprints from some magazine like Popular Mechanics and got a little help from my uncle, since I’d never built anything before. The day before the science fair, some other kids and I took it to the local park to see if it would fly. It did! I was airborne, but didn’t land well, and crashed my head through the keel. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet.

I hold a PhD in philosophy and the history of science and, for a year or so, was a full-time professor at a university. I’ve had an encyclopedia article published in The New Dictionary of the History of Ideas and have worked on many scholarly publications. But now I’m working on this blog and a series of books and online educational courses because I want to help people in a more practical way.

In addition to my scholarly work, I’ve run a marketing communications company, and worked as a professional copywriter. I also serve as an advisor to the marketing program at a college in the United States and have contributed to a widely used textbook on direct marketing.

I have started over half-a-dozen different businesses. And now I’m starting more. You can never have enough punishment!

I started and ran a traditional book publishing company for 20 years. Back then, we thought we knew something about how publishing worked. But now everyone is confused!

alexandria-1

I started an edited an annual journal, published in book form, called ALEXANDRIA. Each “issue” was 400-pages in length. I published five volumes of it and raised close to $100,000 from subscribers in order to make that happen. Readers loved it and some famous subscribers included Phil Lesh (bass player for the Grateful Dead), Ray Manzarek (keyboard player for the Doors), and the actress Ellen Burstyn, who wrote to me and said, “Alexandria is my favorite publication ever.” One day I received a fifteen-minute phone call from Ray Manzarek out of the blue because he wanted to check in and send me a CD. It was amazing.

I currently own a company that designs, edits, and produces books for some of the most respected publishers in the world. Over the course of my life, I have helped to bring over 100 high-quality books into print. To do this kind of work, you need an obsessive–compulsive attention to small details and be able to keep the big picture in sight too.

atomic-idea-machine-200

Every day I write down a list of 10 ideas to keep my idea muscle in shape. I learned this technique from James Altucher. It changed my life. During the first month, I wrote down over 400 ideas, including complete business plans. At that point I was sold on this practice, and it inspired me to start this website.

Since 2011, I’ve lived in Sarajevo, which is one of the most amazing cities on the entire planet. When I moved here, I didn’t tell my clients in the United States for nine months, because I didn’t want them to worry. You can read the complete story here.

I’ve spoken around the world, including some unusual locations. I have given talks and presentations all across the United States. I’ve also spoken in a Renaissance Villa in Italy designed by Palladio; in the reconstructed Library of Alexandria, Egypt; in Athens; in Sarajevo; and Mostar. If you’d like me to speak at your event or appear on your podcast, hit me up.

One of my favorite writers is the Stoic philosopher Seneca. While I don’t agree with Stoicism (or nearly anything else) 100%, I’ve read his complete letters at least four times, usually at lunch. And when I’m not reading them, I’ll often review the passages I’ve underlined.

I’ve now been alive for a long time and have experienced nearly every kind of personal and business catastrophe possible. I survived these excruciating hardships — and had many successes too. This has inspired me to develop a personal mentoring service, to help people cut down on their learning curves, and to help others create their own business opportunities.

Rick Wakeman of Yes. I could see myself playing all those keyboards and wearing a cape.

Rick Wakeman of Yes. At the age of 20, I could see myself playing all those keyboards while wearing a cape. But while I don’t mind speaking in public, playing music makes me nervous.

When I was growing up, my musical fantasy was to be able to fill in for Rick Wakeman of Yes. I started playing keyboards and writing music at age 20. But I could never play quite that fast and always had stage fright when I tried to play for audiences. So I did recording instead.

During the nine most humiliating months of my life, after selling my publishing company, I had a job selling beds! It was so embarrassing, I haven’t even told my wife about it. You are the first to know. In the future, I will write about it, and what I learned from it. Within two or three years after leaving that job, I created four separate businesses so I would never have to do anything like that again. (Now my wife will be asking me, “What else didn’t you tell me?!”)

mad-scientist

Since childhood I’ve been a certified mad scientist. In my early teens, I tried to make some rocket fuel using a formula I got from a book. It needed to be heated, and I tried to make it in the microwave. But the experiment went awry. It ignited, filling the entire house with thick, black smoke. When my mother came home, I was crying and thought she would kill me. I recovered fully from the incident. But the microwave never did.

When it came to getting paid, I was the repo man.

When it came to getting paid, I was the repo man. I always got paid, even from companies that went bankrupt.

During the twenty years I owned the book publishing company, I had three distributors go bankrupt. Despite that, I got paid in every case. And I watched others lose everything they were owed. I always get paid. Except from the book dealer who purchased my library and who said, “I have the cash” — because he was my friend and I trusted him.

My wife and son.

My wife and son.

At the age of 50, I had a beautiful baby boy with my lovely wife. Having a child is the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. Life is a miracle. Appreciate what you have every day!