Less Little Lies

bear2A friend asked what it has been like to step back from athletic competition. Much of what follows applied when I left jobs, peers or habits – any of which might not have fit my life anymore.

The immediate impact is usually relief and a realization of the unnecessary cost my choices where imposing. Quite often, the relief is followed by sadness at leaving old habits, even negative ones.

In terms of “what’s it like” to compete less – it’s exactly the same, just less fatigue and soreness. All my “issues” follow me wherever I go!

What is available is an opportunity to look at the impact of a competitive, or corporate, lifestyle.

I often cloak a selfish reality with talk of benefits outside myself. Shareholder value, national prestige, competing on an international stage, earning money for my children… these little lies are repeated until they become my reality.

Fooling myself isn’t necessarily a problem. I spent my teens and twenties solely focused on my personal outcome. It worked at the time.

In my 30s, I broadened my circle to help other people assist with achieving my personal outcome. It still worked for me.

That lifestyle was a form of greed – more more more.

With a spouse and kids, the lies have to increase to justify continuing the choices of my youth.

Long-term competition isn’t a problem. The problem is the thinking that results from turning away from my spouse, my kids, my family and my community.

We tell ourselves that we will change when we have X, or achieve Y, or become Z.

What I’ve done is tell myself…

I’m going to look directly at my flaws, a diseased friend, a homeless beggar, a hysterical child or a demented hospice patient.

Whatever it is that scares me. I’ll look at it.

I’m going to acknowledge that I can’t fix the situation but I’ll try to do something small to make life better.

Working towards overcoming the difficulties of my inner life is similar to the pleasure of overcoming others through competition.

The reward is just as sweet and others do not pay a price for my success.

 

Fatherhood: Giving Myself A Break

disneyDuring the school year, my son and I have a routine. When I come back from my afternoon workout, he takes a bath while I have a shower. It’s a win-win-win as the two of us end up clean and my wife likes a fresh family.

Last week, as I was heading out the door for date night, my son asked me to help him get clean.

One of my reactions was fear.

  • Fear that if I gave into this request then I’d never get out of the house.
  • Fear that if I gave into the request then the requests would never stop.

Fortunately, I was able to pause before I acted on my fear.

While pausing, the thought arrived that I MUST break this pattern of behavior in my boy.

What pattern was that?

Loving me, or wanting to spend time with me? ;)

Pausing a little more, I thought about everyone in the situation.

  • The Sitter – being left with a dirty, unhappy four-year old
  • My Wife – sitting outside, content with her apps
  • My Boy – wanting his dad to spend time with him
  • Myself – feeling a wall rising inside me as I’m tempted to close out my son

I sent my wife a text that I’d be a bit late, enjoyed giving my son a bath and everything worked out fine.

+++

I share this story because it highlights a dangerous habit that is easy to create.

Closing my inner life because I’m scared of future demands.

If you look for this pattern then you will see it everywhere.

  • Gifting – refusing to help now, to avoid being asked later
  • Parents – giving into the desire to break the child now, to “help” them later

Inside me, the habit feels like a form of revenge.

I’ll turn away from you now, because that’s “easier” than having to say no later.

Looking deeply, I’m the one that is hurt by this habit (and I’m robbing myself of the feel-good benefit of being a nice guy).

Harsh people think their hardness is a long-term favor to the people in their lives. They probably learned this habit in a difficult childhood.

My heart tells me that I’ll be OK with the risks of staying open to the people in my life.

Be brave.

Can’t Be Bought

bearLooking forward to 50, I will find myself with 10, 7 and 6 year olds living under my roof. Those are great ages to accompany a 50-something man as he explores the world.

There remains a lot to look forward to.

The key advice that I give myself, and offer you, is to approach life with the understanding that you can’t be bought.

The reality is, often, we can be bought. If that describes your current position then keep your mind open to the possibility of increasing your price until you remove it all together. That’s what I’ve been working towards for the last 20 years, or so.

What’s your price?

I must remember the dissatisfactions have come from letting money influence my life choices. I’ve taken on assignments because I thought I should, rather than because they fit my principles. I’ve sustained a double-whammy when those assignments took me away from the people closest to me.

What are better principles to guide my thinking?

  • Lean towards marriage, family, friends, local community – let’s call these Core People
  • Share experiences with Core People
  • Pay attention to spending that has an immediate beneficial impact – my highest utility spending is childcare that enables me to share experiences or spend time alone
  • Aim to help all people – keep broadening my circle of altruism
  • Set aside time for continuous simplification – automatic bill pay, empty time in my schedule, reduced admin, streamline possessions
  • Don’t pay for luxury – adversity makes fond memories

Every day offers a chance to turn toward my principles.

Looking At 50

unitedIf I followed the path of the majority of my mentors then 50 would see me gearing up for a Big Push. The push might be towards athletics, or business, or a career path that I neglected earlier in my life.

Instead, I find myself asking, “How can I make a lasting difference for my family?”

That’s surprising, based on my younger self, but not surprising if I take the time to learn about the natural progression of men in my situation. So that’s been a clear lesson, the illusion of individual experience. If you can’t see this illusion in yourself then spend some time with a teenager.

Late last year, I had lunch with a young man that works in finance. He lives in Hong Kong. He drives a wonderful Italian sports car. He makes plenty of money. He’s one of the fittest employees in his firm. He’s engaged to a fantastic Chinese-Canadian woman.

It got me thinking.

You see… I was having lunch with a man who was living my former life in Asia.

It was humbling. Humbling because it drove home how I’m prone to fooling myself about success being due to the special nature of myself.

Don’t take the good, or the bad, too seriously. Take time to learn from the many who have walked before us.

Ultimately, all that we will be left with are memories of what we’ve done:

  • taking action that serves the collective
  • being open to those that love us
  • focused time on marriage, family, friends, community

Choose wisely.

When To Review Strategy

dad_axI’ll start with my answer… now is not the time to change strategy because I know…

  • The more often I change, the greater my opportunity for error and increased costs
  • The more changes I make, the worse I’ll do

+++

Q2-2015 marked the completion of the five-year plan that I put together at the end of 2008.

When to consider change?

A major life event is a good time to consider change.

  • In 2008, I was faced with unemployment.
  • In 2000, it was a divorce.
  • I’ve seen friends face criminal charges, bankruptcies, health emergencies and deaths.

A crisis can be a sign that, absent change, things are likely to deteriorate. It can also provide a nudge to endure the discomfort of change.

In my case, a high-spending rate combined with unemployment to tip me off that I was heading towards a major problem.

The plan required us to move (twice), establish new careers, achieve a dramatic reduction in spending and change the allocation of 95% of our balance sheet.

I expected the changes to be costly and forecast our balance sheet to decline by 20%. I was wrong. In reality, the balance sheet increased by 2% per annum.

Why?

  • I’m good at cost control – we made changes early, and severely.
  • We maintained exposure to favorable events – things like promotions, bonuses, babies, cheap mortgages, new friends, equity options.
  • Despite my fears, the world tends to improve.

I was also wrong about the price that we would achieve for the assets we sold. On average, we sold 10% under my estimate of “fair value.”

The Endowment Effect shows that we overvalue what we own. It’s valuable knowledge to be reminded that I’m prone to the standard forms of human misjudgment.

These two lessons are important to remember:

  • Things are likely to turn out better than I expect
  • I overvalue what I possess (jobs, assets, habits, the status quo)

I paid close attention to my “good days” since 2008. They were nothing like I expected and have influenced my thinking in how best to spend the next 1,000 days.

Time Enough For Love

loveA conversation that I’ve had with a few friends.

A friend shared that he noticed that he hates being rushed and he also aims to be early for every appointment. His solution is to compromise sleep so that he’s able to arrive early for every appointment.

When I look closely, I find that it is impossible to enjoy anything when I hurry. I was surprised by how little I need to slow down to increase enjoyment.

Later in our conversation, he shared that his doc simultaneously recommended that he reduce his stress load and start testosterone supplementation.

I advised against because, you’ll simply cram more into your life and not address the underlying cause of your fatigue.

+++

Later I shared my own story…

Rather than focusing on what’s important, I have been asking, Who is important? Who are the people on my list?

My list is spouse, kids, family and a couple friends. That’s who I’m truly working for.

I then asked myself, “Am I willing to change to be truly available to those people?”

I’ve decided to start small.

Write a list of five people (the important) and drop the urgent when you have the chance to be with them.

Dropping everything sounds severe but, in reality, it consists of looking away from a book or computer screen.

In the evening, it can be as simple as sitting between my daughters on the couch and doing housework after they go to bed.

+++

What does being available to the people that love us have to do with being rushed, high stress and testosterone supplementation?

Put another way, why am I rushed, stressed and exhausted?

If you look deeply then you may find a core belief that you have to cram MORE into your life to serve your family and win the respect of others.

However, this will never satisfy because what your family truly needs is YOU, your presence, your love, your time.

A Valuable Legacy

bike_dadWhen I think of the word legacy, I might see tangible assets being left to my children, family and community. This type of thinking flows from my background in finance, where success is measured in dollar bills.

As a father, I’ve come to see that many of my successes are hidden.

  • The conflict not engaged in
  • The harsh word not spoken
  • The anger not acted upon

Might the absence of certain experiences be a valuable legacy to leave my children?

  • The absent father not indulged
  • The distant mother not reinforced
  • The angry parent not encouraged
  • Keeping myself from becoming a casualty in my later years

In working on the above, I might make my kids aware of my faults, my failings and the techniques that helped me manage them.

A different, but valuable, inheritance.