Your Life

2020-02-22 07.55.12

Last May, I challenged myself to publish 50 blogs.

The process was triggered by an article encouraging me to embrace small failures. There is a little bit of risk associated with publishing, and risk makes me feel good.

I have a policy whereby I only publish if I’m ok with the article being the last thing on my site. This is a good email policy as well. I only publish/send something if I’m OK with it being my last interaction with you.

The final two goals were to leave a record of this period for my kids and find out if we (reader/writer) have overlap in our areas of interest.

The goals were useful, especially the practice with risk-taking.

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Two things were even more helpful.

#1 – document the key strategic decisions in my life. Do not trust your memory, or your ability to remember over time. Our memories are selective and self-serving.

#2 – talent, hard work, luck => their impact is real. However, the largest impact in your life is knowing what you want to achieve. Most people never compare their daily choices to their goals. Writing helps me get straight in my head.

Marriage => athletic wife, who is kind to me

Home Life => kids who respect my desire for harmony

Financial Life => simple, low cost, long term gain oriented, enables me to spend most of my life exercising in nature

Physical Life => able to do fun things with my wife and kids, separately

Each of these implies a certain “what to do.”

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I am bombarded daily by ideas about how to pack more into my life => my need is not more. I have plenty to do!

The “what to do” helps me prioritize => for example

  • an athletic wife implies supporting the athletic aspect of her life
  • harmony at home implies routine and adequate sleep for the kids (and using incentives for them to change disruptive behaviors)
  • financial life goals are a filter for eliminating ideas that will take time away from my real priority (of exploring the Rockies)
  • physical life goals get me lifting weights early in the morning – start every day with a win

The best filter I have is my early wake up. It encourages me to say “no” to a lot of attractive stuff.

Another “not to do” is overlaying “my” goals across my spouse. It is endlessly tempting to help her improve her life (by being more like me).

Finally, watch that your journalling doesn’t become a never-ending list for Santa, or your ego.

Your life only has to make sense to yourself.

Choose wisely.

How Wealth Endures

2020-02-11 12.19.27

Over time, human nature does far more to address income inequality than the policies of your favorite politician.

Families that succeed across generations have certain traits we can learn from. While you can’t control your birth situation, there is a lot you can do to influence family wealth.

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My great-grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in Canada and I have an early memory of seeing him on the cover of Fortune magazine. Down my branch of the family, the magazine cover endured longer than his finances, which found their way back to society within two generations.

On the other side of my family tree, my great-great-grandfather was wealthy, but not cover-of-Fortune wealthy. A small amount of his money will eventually pass through to my children. I get a kick out of this as he was born in the mid-1880s.

Living rich is different than living well and it takes generations for this difference to become apparent.

2020-02-09 14.12.13

A favorite quote, “there has never been a more expensive time to be rich.”

Dropping this gem will likely get you a smirk and an eye roll from most young people. However, it touches on a truth of our time and provides a warning to wealthy families.

Over the last 40 years, a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Lifting the bottom of the wealth curve has impacted the top of the curve.

While we were lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, “the rich” started to live differently. Morgan Housel’s article touches on these changes and reminded me of a valuable legacy from my great-grandfather (the one on the Fortune cover). A non-financial legacy that made it four-generations down my family tree.

Camping.

The fondest memories of my childhood happened at a YMCA summer camp. A camp largely unchanged from when my uncles attended 20 years before me.

40 years on, I ask myself:

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, you may develop “requirements” that increase your baseline cost of living. Your “requirements” are your business. However, know that your luxuries will become your children’s baseline.

These cultural baselines have unintended consequences in family systems. The kids who can keep up with their spending aspirations have a greater risk of neglecting their families in favor of money. The kids who can’t keep up are more likely to reject you, to protect their self-identities.

I’ve known five generations of my family and have witnessed this pattern across each generational transition => the increasing spending of the ascendant, and the pain as the descendant fall out of their childhood demographic.

I believe there is a better way.

I’m going to offer three areas for you to consider.

I’ve made mistakes in each area. Having kids later in life (highly recommended), the main people who have had their values skewed by my errors are my wife, and myself.

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The three areas are vacations, housing and education.

Your first filter is to ask: Are we living well, or are we living rich?

To keep yourself honest, search for your reaction when other people live a certain way.

2020-02-09 10.39.37

VACATIONS

Cultivate interests that hedge your need for cash flow.

Camping, driving distance from home, has a very different long term cash flow impact than Surfing in Kauai, via private jet.

I’ve spent a small fortune trying to make family trips work (catamaran charters, seaplanes, traveling staff, ship’s captain with deckhand).

Everyone had a blast but what did I achieve?

I increased the hedonistic baseline for my wife, my kids and myself. Not a big deal to make a mistake. However, if I create a habit then what happens when three kids, and five grandkids, scale my choices across their lifetimes?

Simple, one-on-one trips in nature is where I focus these days.

We will come back to the scaling effect.

2020-02-09 07.54.22

HOUSING

Housing is the most consequential capital purchase most of us will make and it’s a tricky one because of the changes happening in many of the places where we grew up.

My wife and I went to high school in cities (Boulder/Vancouver) where many of the graduates are unlikely to be able to afford to live in their childhood homes. The winners of global wealth creation have bid up local real estate values.

My notional share of my great-great-grandfather’s estate is about $100,000. Money that would have proven very useful if I had chosen teaching, rather than finance, for my first career.

If you ask my seven-year old what type of house she’d like to live in then she’ll describe something that looks a lot like my grandparent’s homes: 1,500 sq ft per person, swimming pool, grounds… you name it. She’d put us into a 7,500 sq ft mansion with seven bathrooms.

She’s not alone. As soon I as I had the cash, I bought myself a monstrous house. Buying at the top of the market, I was lucky to avoid financial disaster.

Am I willing to constrain myself to get a better outcome for my children’s future selves?

Yes I am.

Coming out of the last recession, we downsized and bought two rental properties in our school district. I’m positioning the family to do a similar thing coming out of the next recession.

The kids were disappointed to learn that the next house was going to be smaller but I’ve been watching what they do, rather than their aspirations. When my kids can pick, they want all of us jammed into a bunk room => they love a seething, noisy mess!

Beware of the preferences of others and pay attention to where you are happiest, rather than what you think you should like.

What you don’t see when you “get the house” is the life you don’t lead as a result of living there. The time you don’t spend together, the energy spent managing a large asset you don’t need.

Once again, these lost opportunities for connection scale across time for your grown children and grandchildren.

2020-02-07 12.30.10

EDUCATION

Graduate debt-free with skills enabling you to get paid

This implies a few things:

  • working in high school, and for a long time thereafter
  • public education, as long as possible
  • parents who are willing to let you fail, experience poverty and learn from your own mistakes

Unless your family is exceptionally wealthy, or you are an outstanding student, you are going to be much better taking the bulk of your family’s education dollars and investing them over a 20-25 year time horizon. The goal being to enable your family to (continue to) live in a great public school zip code.

For example, the Boulder Valley School District isn’t (yet) priced out of reach. BVSD just built a school in the eastern part of the county and we have strong political support for local investment in education.

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Are you seeing how all of this fits together?

  • Moderation of spending, regardless of being able to afford it
  • A modest allocation in personal real estate assets
  • Over time, yields long-term capital within the family system
  • A focus on helping the family stay local and avoid shackling themselves with education loans
  • When graduating debt-free, young adults repeat the cycle

This works so long as everyone pays their own way, for the way they wish to live.

Collectively, the family system avoids subsidies towards personal consumption.

Each branch, and generation, of the family defines their values, and lives with the consequences of their choices.

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Further Reading

Athletic Beyond 45

2020-02-02 13.12.35Middle age is going better than I expected.

Why?

Because choices that made sense when I was younger have been replaced by a lifestyle that’s a better fit for where I want to take myself.

Let’s run though the major adjustments.

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You might not want what you think you want: athletics is the best way I have found to keep myself engaged and apply energy. Look around and you can see plenty of examples of middle aged men getting themselves into trouble by not managing their energy.

So I will sign up for a race to keep myself out of trouble? Not so fast…

  • Engaging in athletic competition is different from being athletic.
  • Fit for competition is not fit for an engaged life with meaning.
  • To be the sort of father/husband I want to be, I need to avoid athletic competition.

The requirements of racing well, and my competitive peers, exert an inevitable pull on my life. A pull I enjoy but one that takes me away from where I want to be in 5-10 years time.

There are different ways to define excellence and the traits that ring most true to me don’t have a clock attached to them.

2020-02-04 19.10.10

The most specific component of race fitness is the least valuable to my wife and kids. 

In your mid-40s you will notice a change in how you respond to training. Specifically, sustained tempo is a lot more fatiguing. This intensive-endurance pace is a core part of training for performance.

As a middle-aged athlete sustained tempo will gobble up your energy and leave you spent for other aspects of your life. If you are in the clutch of negative addictions then this can be a very good choice to make! However, you will have nothing left towards building a life that your future self will value.

This reality was tough for me to face. I know how valuable tempo training is to athletic performance. It was made easier by stopping racing, and reminding myself that I didn’t want the family lives, and marriages, of my competition.

Letting go of deep fatigue enabled me to re-establish consistency, which was being shot to pieces by minor injuries, slow recovery, illnesses and low motivation => all of which stemmed from giving myself more load than I could absorb.

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About those injuries… stop hurting yourself.

Somewhere in my recent past, I realized I was constantly managing low-grade calf injuries. At the time, I wasn’t training for a race, or even doing much mileage. There was no reason to endure the constant setbacks.

You’re likely to have similar moments and the performance gurus will encourage you to grind through. I’d encourage you to pause and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Where is this likely to take me? Elective orthopedic surgery?
  2. What is my goal here? Alienate my spouse and estrange myself from my kids?
  3. Is there a better way to achieve my goal? Or perhaps a better goal to achieve!

In my case, I replaced the running with hiking and functional strength training. I can do these before my family wakes up or alongside my family. My best athletic memories of my 50s are shared experiences, in nature, with my family.

With a young wife, and three kids, I’m slowly filling the state of Colorado with happy thoughts. When I’m 70, they can carry the backpack!

2020-02-06 19.03.33

Reality is enough for me. If you’re tempted to use drugs then something needs to change.

Shooting your knee up like an NFL lineman, boosting your hormonal profile to beat an athlete who’s spouse just walked out the door, taking health risks to train alongside college kids…

  1. Where is this likely to take me?
  2. What is my goal here?
  3. Is there a better way to achieve my goal?

A focus on athleticism puts me in a continual state of rehabilitation from the process of aging naturally => functional strength, quickness, range of motion and extensive endurance.

Being freed from external requirements lets me do the right thing for my health, year round.

  • Place a demand on yourself, then recover while working on a project that benefits your larger life.
  • While expanding your life beyond athletics, remove whatever screws up your sleep patterns. My 4:30am wake-up makes poor choices obvious, immediately.

This approach will enhance your biochemistry naturally and not mask errors.

To learn by iteration, it is essential to physically experience my mistakes.

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Victory and Vanity

How are you going to feed that part of your personality that craves recognition, thrives in adversity and wishes to dominate others?

Can you see your desires? Have you considered what is driving your desires?

You might simply be over-scheduled and seeking socially acceptable personal space.

It’s worth looking deeper.

When I looked deeply everything was there, positive and negative. There are many ways to spin our motivators.

Recognition can come from my children, who are hardwired to be impressed by me. I look pretty jacked to a seven-year old.

Personal growth through facing adversity can come from the final few reps of a set (or simply getting out of bed some mornings). My endurance mantra… many people would like the ability to do this right now.

Domination is a tricky one, especially when surrounded by women and children. At my best, I turn it inwards and seek to overcome my negative traits, specifically my urge to resort to force, rather than skillful engagement.

We often let each other off by saying things like.. “everyone is different”, or “you need to find your own way.” I disagree. We are very, very similar within our cultures and wired to follow social proof.

If you want to change your motivation then change your location.

I’m parked in the fittest zipcode in America, training in nature, with a young family, thinking daily about a handful of men who are presenting their best selves to the world.

2020-02-01 08.45.45

Finally, remove the friction between your current habits and the life you want to lead.

I have a home gym, I wake up at 4:30am and there aren’t any email/social apps on my phone.

I created a situation where there was nothing for me to do between 5 and 6am in the morning.

So I write, or train => activities that leave me satisfied in hindsight and help my future self.