Beware Of The Fun Police

Can you write a list of the things that make you laugh?

Since last summer, I’ve been working on three traits:

Humility – taking the appropriate space for a situation. My work with hospice challenges me to listen, to not-solve and to focus on quiet presence.

Equanimity – practicing not-reaction, not-replying and letting it roll. First in my actions, then in my words and eventually, I hope, in my thoughts. To challenge myself in this department I’ve opened up my social networks a bit. I’m doing well with not replying in writing – less so with not replying in my head!

Enthusiasm – I’ve noticed that the best parents and teachers have managed to hold onto their childish enthusiasm. Discipline, divorce, insolvency, fraud and positive feedback from being serious… have driven away most of my boyish enthusiasm. It takes a lot of exercise, or alcohol, to get me to let loose.

Why is fun important?

I’m awful at predicting what will make me happy. My default response to stress – sleep more, drink more, do less, eat more and take it easy – is a personal disaster for me.

It’s been this way for a very long time and I have learned to cope via two main strategies:

The Big Hairy Goal – via external validation – I wrap my identity around achievement of something most people find too difficult. The “can’t” of others becomes my reason to live.

Habit – flowing from the BHG, I create a plan that requires me to get out of bed and do work.

I’m not convinced that my method works for serving my wife, kids and family.

So I’ve been paying attention to what makes me laugh.

Laughing happens at times, that are very different to what I believe will make me happy.

  • Adversity – especially extreme weather adversity
  • Riding uphill at altitude
  • Jogging in a forest – trees (and oceans) make a difference to every experience
  • High quality coffee – strong – as in, coffee you feel
  • You Tube – the Fun Police would look down on the stuff that makes me laugh
  • The Onion – my #1 news source
  • Memories of Molina, my buddy KP and Penfold – I’m grateful that my mind skews my experience
  • Being with my wife
  • Aussies – the more abrasive the better
  • Chris Rock – this one makes sense
  • My son, Axel – laughing with a two-year old? I thought “less toddlers” was the answer
  • Sunrises – isn’t getting up early supposed to be a hassle?

Combos are even more effective – riding uphill, after strong coffee, in the snow, thinking of Molina… that’s a powerful laughter inducer.

The most dangerous fun police are the ones living in my head.

Staying Young

Following my Endurance Corner article last week, Alan wrote a blog with ideas about what’s required to stay young. Alan excels at capturing the psychological reality of being an athlete.

Specifically… What’s truly driving my compulsion for excessive exercise and performance?

What rang true to me was Alan’s observation about “staying young.” When I think about my fears, and choices, that desire explains a lot.

Past 40, my athletic errors have started to stand out. Some of these errors make me feel “old.”

Would it surprise you to find out that big training screws up my sex drive. I could supplement around the issue but I’ve made a choice to experience things more naturally. This is a seriously adverse side effect from athletic greatness! When I was crushing it, and living alone, it was a weird sort of blessing.

Take home point: if virility is a consideration then high training load will impair off-the-field performance.

Strength training, particularly anabolic phases where I lift heavy on my legs, boost my recovery response, and sex drive.

+++

When it comes to performance, if you’re focusing on age then you’re missing the point.

For highly active populations, aging isn’t the real concern. I have coached world-class athletes into their 70s, the key thing that screws up fitness is injury, specifically the loss of strength that results from taking a forced break. Injury is mostly caused by bike crashes.

Cycling is the most dangerous thing I do and the statistics greatly under report the injuries that cyclists sustain. I denied the reality of cycling danger because I knew that I had to maintain high cycling volume to achieve my reason for living (AKA my athletic goals).

Tip the balance in your favor by:

  • Becoming a more polite, more cautious, cycling version of your current self.
  • Protecting the capacity to run daily. Daily running is more important than great run workouts. A daily easy run, when combined with twice weekly strength work, captures everything you need from long term sport.
  • Stay strong – the difference between a soft tissue injury and orthopedic surgery is often the amount of lean body mass you have (on impact).

I’ve gone further by shifting most of my cycling volume to a full-suspension 29er (disc brakes and fat tires are safer) and avoiding most highways.

+++

I also had to face that my ambitious race goals were encouraging me to make poor decisions.

However, I can still remember when ambitious race goals were my top priority.

How to balance?

If performance matters then know that you are playing a game of attrition. To stand out, you must become crafty at managing your total stress load. Injuries, divorce and lack of motivation are, at their root, a product of excessive stress.

Every great athlete that I have worked with has been caught by the season-ending trap of:

  1. Fit
  2. Fitter
  3. Fittest
  4. Totally Blown

You must get crafty!

Specifically, change your focus from chronic load to acute load. If you can keep your life in reasonable balance, and your body ticking along then you’ll be able to “act like you’re 25 again” for 2-3 days a month with your pals. With the realities of our busy lives, that’s going to yield nearly all of the benefits and have minimal costs.

Every few years, the stars will align with your family, job and connective tissue… when that happens you’ll be able to hit-the-gas for a month and get yourself into great shape.

The best case study that I know is Molina’s race report from Ironman New Zealand.

My buddy, Scott Molina, just went 10:10 at Ironman New Zealand, on his 54th birthday. That blows my mind! I know he wrote the race report so he can remember that day for a long time.

When Scott was my age, he used to smile and tell me, “I’d rather look fast than be fast.” More and more, I understand Scott’s decisions.

At the end of my elite career, I felt sore, blown and kinda old. A few years on, I’m grateful to be feeling much better. I can’t dominate my pals but, like Molina, I can sneak in a KOM when they are distracted.

Whatever your current path, remember that it’s OK to change. The tenacity that serves us well as young athletes can cause us to make choices that hurt ourselves.

I didn’t expect to have this much fun from doing this little training.

Working For Your Spouse – Family Tax Planning

In finance and sport, we find participants that make a lot more money than their spouses (bankers, executives, athletes, doctors, lawyers). Even when a couple files jointly, there can be benefits to splitting income.

If you are an athlete then you might want to hire a coach or agent.

If you are a professional then you might have a separate consulting business that requires the services of an administrator, executive assistant or bookkeeper. This separate business might need it’s own office premises and these premises could be located in your home.

Providing there are real services exchanged, at fair market values, there can be benefits to your family with having your spouse own, and run, a separate services business.

The benefits come from:

  • Improved financial power dynamics within your relationship.
  • The ability to compensate a member of your family, for services that you’d have to hire independently.
  • The ability for a younger, or lower earning, family member to qualify to make their own retirement account contributions. See single-k for more information.
  • A reduced overall tax burden by bringing business expenses (occurred by outsiders) into the family’s allowable deductions. Examples might be travel or professional fees.
  • Improving the credit rating of a family member, thereby saving the family money on it’s overall cost of borrowing.

What’s reasonable will vary on your situation and an experienced tax accountant can guide you on what’s appropriate.

Parenting with Objects and Belonging

More tips from Dad School.

Being social creatures, we share a deep need to belong.

Early in our development, the need to belong manifests through objects. If you’ve ever taken a two-year old’s favorite toy then you’ve seen this need in action.

Toddlers can get locked between tasks when they don’t belong to anything. This is when many meltdowns occur. Quite often, during a transition or when they are feeling nervous, my kids will reach for an object. My son (2.75) loves to pick up a rock when he’s transitioning. I have a pile of rocks and sticks at my front door.

It’s important for me to remember his need for an object. I can push him over the edge if I try to get him to walk without any object.

With our oldest, her need for objects was so strong that she was constantly picking up cigarette butts and bird poop covered leaves! It would have been helpful to have my current experience back then. It was a hopeless task to try to get her to walk empty handed. Wasted over a year on that effort.

Anyhow, the object focus can’t be removed without freaking the kid out. So I’ve grown to accept it and look for props – blades of grass, sticks, small box at the grocery store, tissue, penny. It’s not about the specific thing, it’s simply about having something.

+++

As my kids grow up, the belong shifts towards doing. An engaged mind is a calm mind.

It’s tempting for me to calm my daughter (5.5) by using the iPad, with headphones, to zombie her out. However, far more effective is getting her engaged in a story, especially real-life stories about me, or working on a coloring project.

Tip for the coloring project. Have her pick out the picture (kids coloring pages on Google Images). Set her up with a work station near you (kitchen, office, living room) and start her out on the project.

My oldest generates 150+ pieces of art/coloring a month and she’s slowly teaching herself how to write/spell. It’s a win-win but takes a little more energy than defaulting to electronics.

+++

By the way, getting the kids engaged in their own project is a much better option than continual banishment via time outs. Time outs were our previous strategy but they were becoming ineffective with our oldest, and most spirited.

We were getting into power struggles and it was making everyone stressed out. A far more effective approach was to address the underlying lack of engagement/belonging and setting her up with her own project.

+++

Final Tip for a multi-kid household – if we want our kids to use words, rather than physical actions, then we need to back them up when they use their words with their siblings.

I also need to use my own words carefully and follow through, even when inconvenient.

 

The Cool Kids

Every so often I find myself captivated by someone that entertains me by being a complete dick to strangers.

Careers and fame are built around this quirk in human psychology.

Look to the opposite side of a polarizing issue and you’ll find yourself attracted to someone that uses “justified hate” to bring down one of your opponents.

I might even find myself wanting to appeal to the bullies for approval – to fulfill my own need for acceptance.

Bullies love to build teams around themselves – you don’t want yourself, or your kids, on those teams.

I’m grateful that I can see it…

…and not act on it.

+++

Protect yourself, and your kids, from people that don’t like themselves enough to be kind to strangers.

Be particularly wary of bullies in positions of power – when I think about the most dangerous priests, teachers and coaches that I’ve known – the bullying was a red flag visible to all.

The secret lives behind the self-loathing, reflected in wanting to bring down strangers, were tougher to see.

We have a choice with who we follow, what we read and what we share.

 

Moving Into An Equity Position

A friend asked how to gain equity exposure via the stock market.

I recommended John Bogle’s Book and shared what I do for my own family.

Decide what pot of money to invest – in order of priority

  1. Tax deferred retirement accounts for me and my wife
  2. Tax deferred 529 accounts for my kids’ education
  3. Taxable investment accounts for my family

In Colorado certain 529 accounts also have the benefit of a 1-for-1 deduction from state taxable income in the year of investment. However, the 529 accounts have a higher expense ratio than the funds I access for our retirement accounts (0.45% vs 0.05%). The Colorado state income tax rate is 4.63% so the tax savings helps me justify a higher cost.

For #1 and #3 I prefer to use Vanguard’s Admiral Shares for their Total Stock Market Return Fund (VTSAX) – it has an expense ratio of 0.05%.

I always compare expense ratios for products. For active managers, and fund-of-funds, make sure you get the total expense ratio that looks all the way through the final investment products. Many advisers have a financial incentive to layer fee-generating products and you may have additional taxes due if your portfolio has a lot of (largely unnecessary) churn.

It is important to remember that most people lose the majority of their return via investment churn, taxes and expenses.

Let’s use an actual case study with numbers…

If I wanted to invest $100,000 then I’d move into the position gradually with a fixed dollar amount of VTSAX purchased each week. An example would be $10,000 initial investment (to qualify for the Admiral Shares) then $360 automatically purchased every Wednesday for the next 250 weeks. Five years later, you have your position.

The toughest part about the above strategy is leaving it alone. There will be times when you want to invest more, or less, depending on the emotions involved with following the market. Research shows that our emotions are lousy investment guides. So…

My recommendation is to set the automatic investment at a level that you can sustain FOREVER and leave it alone. Let surplus cash build up in another account and use that for opportunistic investing.

Don’t believe the fallacy that you need a portion of your portfolio “for fun.” The purpose of investing is to earn a return on investment, period. When I want to have fun I go for a bike ride with my pals, I don’t speculate with my family’s capital.

When I do a portfolio review, I look at my total exposure by $ amount and asset class. I review the position “right now” as well as how the position is likely to change, based on future investments, earnings and expenses.

If I’ve lost you at this point then you’re not alone. Sitting down with a financial planner can be extremely valuable. Make sure your adviser makes money by advising you, not selling you products. Firms, like Vanguard, offer financial planning services for a very reasonable fee.

Last week, I shared that I felt over-invested in Real Estate so I’ve made a decision to reduce my holdings. Once I’ve reduced my exposure to real estate, I need to figure out what to do with the cash. Today’s blog post is one option (buy equities over five years). Another option is do “do nothing” and wait for the next crisis. It’s really hard to “do nothing” so, perhaps, I’ll do something really slowly and buy equities over 10+ years.

A long range projection of your family finances (5-10 years) is useful to figure out what dollar amount it makes sense to invest. Consider if you want to retain cash for opportunistic investments: examples might be starting a company; buying investments in a crash; or buying real estate in a recession. In my own life, a handful of opportunistic deals have been what made a difference to my portfolio. These deals were made possible by the ability to deploy cash quickly.

Consider a cash reserve to cover unexpected illness or unemployment. Here’s my post on Lifestyle Insurance. Over and above insurance products, I feel better when I have at least one year’s gross expenses held as a cash reserve. In terms of life changing financial security, here’s my post on Taking Money Off The Table.

I’ve yet to regret selling early – I’m easily frightened by bull markets. A recent trip to the Bay Area set off all kinds of warning bells!

What I’ve described is more generally known as “dollar cost averaging.” John Bogle’s book explains how to use this strategy to give yourself financial security. Highly paid professionals (dentists, doctors and lawyers, particularly) are prone to exploitation by my peers in the financial services industry. Read the book.

A bull market is an ideal time to pause, take stock and ponder long term positions. Right now is when it’s most easy to adjust portfolio strategy.

Preschooler ABCs

I wanted to pass along two tips that I learned from attending “Dad School” in January and February.

Always Build Competence – it’s tempting to “save time” by doing things for a little person. There’s no greater time saver than up-skilling our kids.

The first ABC leads right into the second…

Always Build Confidence – little people have ZERO ability to differentiate between their actions and themselves. Poor performance, failure, losing… these are devastating to a little kid. Living in a highly competitive, athletic town, it is important for me to remember to protect my kids from environments that they can’t handle.

If my goal is to build confidence, through competence, then it’s all about trying. Backwards letters, messed up spelling, “breaking” the rules at simple games – I need to remind myself that the main goal is to support persistence and joy from effort.

I’ll end with some ancient wisdom…

Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.