My various careers have provided insight into the men and women that have significant influence over our societies (our leaders, our elites, and the very wealthy). Over time, contemplating their lives has made me grateful, rather than envious.
If I could choose one trait that protects me from envy, it is a desire for freedom over consumption. My key family finds living beyond our means painful. These feelings run deep and across the full socioeconomic spectrum we have in our family tree.
Separate from being biased towards “free and frugal”, I’ve been careful to set my life up with daily “wins”
- in my school days I had favorite subjects
- in my early business career I worked with passion on project after project
- as an elite athlete each training session completed was a small victory
- as a father, there is pride from creating a life where I work towards being a world-class parent
Arriving at my mid-40s – I see how one can create a deep satisfaction from the basic goodness of one’s life. Service to my marriage, my kids, my family, my athletic team… is deeply satisfying.
It wasn’t always so.
In 2006, I was advising a friend who was having trouble fitting his triathlon training into a busy life. He was a partner of his firm and had a long commute most days. The solution seemed obvious, I recommended that he hire a driver. The driver would enable him to start his work day when he got in the car, rather than when he arrived at the office. I figured that it was worth at least 9 hours per week and I recommended that he add that time to his triathlon training.
A couple months later, he got back to me and said that he had applied my advice with one slight adjustment…
…he was taking the bus!
He thanked me for getting him thinking. His reply got me thinking… …somewhere between 28 and 38, I had lost my real-world perspective.
When I started my career, I was the most efficient employee in the firm.
How did I lose my way?
The Great Recession of 2008 was extremely useful to me as it highlighted (somewhat embarrassing) inefficiencies about the way I was living.
I spent twenty years in the financial services industry. A polite way of describing our role to society is that we are excellent at extracting the value we create for ourselves. A less charitable observation is that chronically overpaying people detaches them from reality. A recent US election provided numerous examples of this point.
Like my friend, who takes the bus, the recession provided me with a wake-up call.
At four my daughter is showing encouraging signs with regard to understanding what I’m writing about this week.
She has developed a habit of picking up spare change and sticking in her piggy bank (which is actually a bunny bank). Putting “money in the bunny” makes her, and me, happy.
The other skill is saving ice cream “for next time” – when I eat ice cream with her, we can make a single pint last over a week vs 12 minutes when I’m left alone!
Happiness from saving and a desire for delayed gratification. These two points reduced the scale, and negative impact, of the mistakes I made in my 20s and 30s.
In Boulder, we live in a bubble (fitness fanatics), inside a bubble (Boulder socioeconomic level), inside a bubble (Colorado’s limited diversity), inside a bubble (U. S. A. – U. S. A.).
Our life is separate from the reality of the rest the planet – you have to experience the Boulder Bubble to appreciate just how different it is. One of my local role models, makes frequent efforts to get his kids (and himself) out of the bubble. I’m starting to make these efforts with my oldest daughter.
Fortunately, we don’t have to leave the continent for a dose of reality, we merely have to drive to the mountains. We don’t go to Vail (the 1%), or Aspen (the 0.001%). We’ve been going to Leadville – real people, working daily to take care of their families. Some making ends meet, some struggling and some not making it. By way of example, there’s double the level of foreclosures (and far less homes) in Leadville than Boulder.
I’m not sure what they think of us – the guy that’s always wearing bike clothes and his hyperactive little daughter. The locals are welcoming and Lex loves them as much as I do. In fact, she’s working on getting all the guys (coffee shop, bike shop, pizza place) to know her by name.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I love Leadville:
- sits high in an open valley
- looks down on water
- trees, but not dense forest
- bright light and blue sky, backed by mountains
- the thin air making me a bit high
- a traditional, conservative population
- the fact that I’m so busy with Lex that I severely limit my time online
- a simple routine with a kid that’s giving me hugs all the time
I think about the perceived drawbacks (guns, violence and drunks). Looking deeply, I realize that conditioning is creeping in. We have all those hazards in Boulder and a lot more sexual crime.
In Leadville, our routine is swimming, picnics, pizza, playgrounds and riding. We spend all day together. In some ways it is far from life in the bubble (Buddhist preschool, yoga, swim team, babysitters and gymnastics). In other ways, it is exactly the same – eat, sleep, play, love.
An older buddy, with teenage kids, shared a central truth about family – kids want to spend time, not money.
I think that a more accurate description would be that his kids want to spend his time, not his money. My pal has done an excellent job of passing along a love of the outdoors to his children (while living humbly in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the world).
I’m unlikely to override the influences of Boulder peers, the media and a toxic popular culture towards young women. However, I can lead by example and share alternatives to what may seem to be a fixed reality.
(Trying to) keep it real.