Thriving In An Imperfect World


At the start of the month, my wife received some “bad” news. She was reminded that one of our pals was probably cheating. It’s wasn’t a big cheat. Well below a felony. But it created some cognitive dissonance for her.

She sighed… “but I thought he was one of the GOOD guys.”

It’s a thought that I often have myself…

…especially in February, when frauds and felons can become the focus of my endorphin starved brain!

I’ve been coping much better this winter and want to share some quick tips that might help you thrive in an imperfect world.

Parenthood has shown me the value of loving an imperfect person

You might think that I’m talking about my love for my kids.


It’s is my kids’ constant forgiveness of my own shortcomings that is most valuable. Their forgiveness helps me become a better person.

So, I remind myself that it’s OK to love an imperfect person.

That said, past choices are a powerful predictor of future outcomes. Put differently, people that consistently make poor choices are more likely to have bad outcomes.

So, it’s OK to file away that I don’t want a close relationship with someone that doesn’t share my values. I will even go so far as to write it down in my diary. I’m a sucker for charismatic charlatans!

The other observation I shared with my wife is that she is a good person. It is transformative to believe in the goodness of the people around you.

What’s the inner emotional trigger when we find out someone has been naughty?

That the world might find out about all of my own shortcomings!

So the best antidote might be to own my disappointments and fix them in myself.

Finally, even with all the shortcomings, it’s great to be alive.

Freedom of Occupation – Choosing Personal Freedom

Lexi_airportOver the last year, I have been offered attractive opportunities to return to full-time work.

In evaluating the opportunities, I realized the interaction of two variables.

  • The value that we can add to a situation. Call it my “value-added per hour.”
  • My core cost of living.

In the course of my career, I’ve lived the life of an athletic coach as well as an executive. Sometimes I’ve done both at the same time.

An excellent coach, or personal trainer, might net $35 per hour.

A skilled executive will be closer to $500 per hour.

Who has more personal freedom?

When I was younger, I was inclined to believe that more pay results in more freedom.

I’m not sure.

When I think through my pals, the individual who’s daily life most closely resembles my own isn’t who you’d expect. He is a $35 per hour consultant. My friend can live well on $500 per WEEK and has no net assets. He’s created a life where he has freedom of occupation and can say “no” to anyone.

Because of the value-added per hour differential, my buddy works about 25 hours per week. He nets more than his baseline needs. He lives an abundant life, free from financial pressure. He travels internationally. He can work from anywhere and enjoys freedom of location.

What about the executive?

A corporate lifestyle is highly variable, bouncing from 20 to 65+ hours per week. Sleep is often sacrificed and it’s common to spend much of the year nudging health back on track. Vacations are spent immersed in passions that take a back seat to the primacy of career (hobbies, sports, marriage, family).

My point is we all make trades => to get more, of what we think will make us happy, we can be tempted to pay in health, in failed relationships, in reduced freedom and, occasionally, in ethics.

When I speak with highly-paid professionals, they focus on the need for increased assets, and passive income, to attain the freedom they desire.

They ask my help to create a plan that results in freedom.

Freedom to do what?

The freedom to be healthy, to be serene, to be a great spouse, to do my job the right way.

Freedom might be closer than you think.

Managing My Endurance Passion

G-BoraRecent media reports have linked “extreme” exercise to shortened lifespan (versus moderate exercisers). There is not an agreed definition of what constitutes extreme but, even at my current noncompetitive level of activity, I qualify.

My endurance pals have responded like Charlton Heston at an NRA rally.

If you want me to change then you can pry my fitbit from my cold, dead hands…

Ultradistance athletes are the true believers of endurance sport (links to classic book).

Many of us have replaced a previous passion, sometimes a negative addiction, with endurance sport.

Some of us are managing our “bad habits” via exercise.

All of us are terrified about the implications of change. Listen to our thoughts about anyone with a normal BMI.

Having watched friends revert to previous lifestyles, and having no desire to make a return myself (!), I thought I’d offer some practical ideas for managing our passion.

As always, I start by asking myself questions:

  • Where can things go wrong?
  • Is a multi-decade strategy to continually rip the legs of my aging competition wise?
  • What’s the minimum change required for maximum harm reduction?

Hands down, the worst thing that can happen to any aging athlete is losing the ability to train. Physically, strength losses are slow to return. Mentally, we are prone to depression via inactivity.

I’d be willing to compromise quite a bit to protect my ability to keep on trucking!

You are not going to get a lot of lifestyle modification by telling me that “strenuous” exercise isn’t good for me.

Not going to happen!

You see, I know how I was living without exercise in my life.

You might get me to change a little by pointing out the risk of:

  1. Dying via bike crash
  2. Orthopedic damage
  3. Concussion risk
  4. General malaise from soreness and fatigue

In fact, you didn’t have to bring it up. I see it all around me and have modified my lifestyle to take the above into account.

  • Highway riding avoidance
  • Adding front/rear lights for improved visibility
  • Rarely train in a group
  • No more bike racing
  • Main bike is full-suspension mountain bike

These small changes have improved my risk profile but I have ignored them when training for an event that required them, and when spending time with friends that could care less.

So, like any behavioral modification, my changes are only as sticky as my ability to choose wisely with peers and events.

I’ve written about low standard deviation training HERE and HERE.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Aim to train every AM and PM
  • Workout defined as leaving my house
  • Focus on frequency (AM/PM), not duration, not load
  • Wide variation in effort, from walking to max
  • Lots of hills
  • Don’t measure (other than a weekly weight check)

I end up with 11-14 doses per week and remain inside the “extreme” segment of recent physiological studies.

I’d estimate my current plan at 30% less hours, 60% less load and 90% less fatigue/soreness.

I exercise a lot, but less than I used to. I suspect the taper will continue as I age.

The small changes have improved my risk profile and increased the non-competitive benefits I receive from exercise (mood, motivation, creativity, sex drive).


I don’t expect you to change…

…but this is an alternative that reduces the chance you might have to shut down your endurance passion

…or end up replacing it with a prior negative addiction!

In times of injury, stress, divorce, despair… I hope you will remember this article.

Exercise has been a very good friend to my family.

The Fountain of Youth

2015-02-10 16.55.59When I was a student at McGill University, I took a course about insurance. Our teacher worked in the life insurance industry. He had us fill out a lifestyle risk assessment.

I was surprised that my risk was off-the-charts.

Of course it was.

It’s adaptive for young men to be clueless.

As I tell my wife…

Men under 30 lack the capacity to access risk 

Some of us grow out of it.

Some don’t.

To make it easy for the guys, the teacher gave us three things:

  1. Don’t speed
  2. Wear a seat belt
  3. Don’t smoke

All three became life-long habits.

What’s that have to do with aging?

My professor was recommending that we eliminate choices that kill students early. He was speaking to lifespan (don’t smoke), and what kills teenage men (speed and seat belts). He knew that telling us to drink less would have been futile.

I have been reading about healthspan (links to Washington Post article).

Healthspan means optimizing my choices for independent living and being able to share experiences with the people I love.

If you’re smoking and/or speeding without a seatbelt, then focus on those first.

How do we extend, and protect, our healthspan?

Treat being mortal like heart disease

Via diet, stress and exercise

My recipe

  1. Identify and jettison stress
  2. Move my body in nature
  3. Eat real food
  4. Sleep enough that I often wake up before my alarm

Keep it simple.

What is your value added – Streamlining low-value busy-work

ax_valThis was a coaching question but it applies to anyone with a boss, client, student or colleague.

Novice coaches often mistake inefficiencies with dedication.

Spending hours, upon hours, on administration and busy-work that add very little value to their client, or boss.

Specifically, there is a reluctance to use templates and recycle work. In fact, they think that anything not built from scratch is cheating.

Under what conditions are templates cheating?

  • don’t work
  • not fun
  • lower compliance
  • fail to meet goals

What to do?

  • Aim towards continual efficiency improvements at what you do
  • Save your work – you have limited number of keystrokes in your life
  • Check with bosses, supervisors and clients on what they value – so you can work on the right things!
  • Pay attention to what limits your performance and enjoyment – admin will make you miserable, especially when it can be avoided
  • Notice, and keep, what works
  • The cost of (an inefficient) status quo is hidden
  • Frequently pause and ask… What is important now?

As an advisor, remember that performance is driven by behavior, not protocol – the best protocol is the one that motivates effective behavior.

Personal inefficiencies don’t motivate effective behavior in others.

What are your most effective behaviors?

Be the brand.

Keep it simple.

The Beer and Rice Noodle Cleanse

valentineOne of the most poignant memories of my childhood is being a “fat kid” and wishing that I could have a second chance with my body. I’m certain childhood pain drove a lot of my ambitions as an adult.

Across my life, I’ve been given second, third, fourth, fifth… chances at health and fitness.

It’s only been the last eleven years that I’ve managed to hold a stable weight.


Towards the end of January, I noticed that I had edged over my “winter ceiling weight.” I have a range that I move between (165-170 pounds).

Because my weight can move 4 pounds in an hour, I watch trends over time. For example, I need to be over 170 pounds for a couple weeks before I’ll take that weight as real.

Typically, when a little heavy, I will schedule a week-long cycling trip and sort myself out by adding a ton of exercise. However, that’s not possible this year so I needed to come up with something different.

I start by looking at the low-hanging fruit…

The week before I decided to take action, I had eight beers and four dinners of Pad Thai noodles. So I latched onto that and came up with the cleanse.

The fact that I was choosing a lot of beer and noodles told me something about all of my choices!

Keep everything the same, ditch two things that are holding me back.

The game is..

  • Little changes, early, before I need them
  • Microchanges are more of an inconvenience, than painful

The result => I’m highly likely to make the changes stick

Then sit back and see what happens.

This leads me to the next stage and I’m reminded that…

Good things happen slowly => I thought I’d be off this thing in less than a week but, absent excessive exercise, my body changes slowly.

Look at the why => week three of living without the “comfort” of beer and Pad Thai showed me that they really weren’t comforting at all. I feel the same. Maybe a little better!

These two “facts of life” are obvious from the outside but I’m prone to fooling myself and need reminders.

This cleanse is relatively easy. The tougher changes are the one’s that touch on our spiritual, emotional and intellectual nutrition!

How Leverage Kills

Ax_snow2In 2008, I was invited to give a strategic overview to a board meeting. One observation that I worked into my presentation was, “the assets aren’t generating any net cash flow before interest expenses.”

One of the directors asked me to clarify, “Do you mean after interest expenses?”

“No, there isn’t any cash generation before interest.”

The CEO talked about timing issues with the refurbishment of existing properties and the conversation moved onwards.

A little over a year later, the entire group was insolvent. The CEO filed for personal bankruptcy and left the country.


How is the above relevant today?

Once again, debt is readily available to finance assets with low, no or negative yields.

This is a good mantra to repeat out loud.

I will never borrow money to buy an asset with a cash yield lower than my cost of borrowing


You will never, ever, ever, ever… have the same discipline with borrowed money as you do with a cash investment.

  • Land speculation
  • Gold & silver
  • Residential buy-to-rent
  • Vacation homes
  • Fancy cars, boats and RVs

By forcing ourselves to pay cash, we buy far less of these assets.


Why do we like to borrow?

  • We can consume more, earlier
  • We can buy more, quicker
  • We can increase the rate of equity appreciation

When greed and ego are involved… pay cash!


For whom does leverage work best?

  • Managers that receive a share of gains but have no responsibility for losses
  • Brokers that receive commissions when you borrow or buy
  • The owners of firms that are valued based on assets under management

Look for the above when advisers tell you to borrow more.


Many asset classes have had three, or more, years of gains. Our brains are hardwired to assume the last 1,000 days are going to continue indefinitely.

When low yields combine with momentum and easy finance… things can get ugly suddenly.

We’re all going to live through bear markets. They will happen.

Bear markets crush people with debt service greater than operating cash flow.

My friend, the CEO, had personal debt service of $50,000 per week, then his bank went bust, then his employer went bust, then he went bust.

Some risks aren’t worth taking.


This article was triggered by hearing an Australian lawyer rave about a (negative cash flow) buy-to-rent deal. I thought it was going to be decades before I saw that asset class overheat again. Same story, different hemisphere!