Today I’m Going to Challenge You

Unknown, but interesting looking buildings in East Downtown, Houston

It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.

However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather, the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations. So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality. This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.

Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals, thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results. But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was necessary and everything changed.

What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend working through them all to find the ones that help you.

But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident. Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.

This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work? When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.

So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when you have to.

At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’ lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the blessings in your life until the mood passes.

This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones. If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the results. So leave a comment or email me at admin@healthwealthpower.com and let me know how it worked for you.

A Day of Triumph and Reflection

It was immediately rewarded with a tasty fortune cookie so this fortune was, in fact, correct

Today was a very big day for me. This morning I was informed that I recently achieved one of the sought after milestones of people in my line of work: a five figure payday from a single deal! So I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my moment all day and now I want to reflect a little bit, both to mark this for myself and to hopefully inspire someone else to keep fighting the good fight even when it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything.

First and foremost, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Only a few years ago, I was working a salaried office job where I didn’t get any bonuses at all. If that version of me could see me today, I don’t know if he would believe it. It was just impossible to see even the possibility of a day like this from where I was at that time. A very small portion of the population knows what it’s like to be able to make this much money this quickly – probably a single digit percentage. It is an incredible privilege to be among them and even more so given that this isn’t even a terribly unusual occurrence in my profession.  

Of course I have worked very hard to get here. This particular deal took weeks of back and forth and culminated in a whirlwind trip that included a flight to Memphis, driving halfway across the state to Jackson and back, and another flight to Chicago, all in about a twenty four hour period. And of course I have also had some good breaks. Those do typically come to capable people who work hard. But I also got plenty of help from some incredible people. One woman was willing to go to bat for me with a good friend of hers (now a good friend of mine) who happened to be a superstar with my current employer before I even knew the company existed. My manager treats me very well, works his ass off every day, and does an amazing job making everything I do possible behind the scenes. Most of my fellow sales reps have been welcoming and helpful but a few have treated me like family and provided endless mentoring, advice, insight, and support all along the difficult journey from brand new, first time sales rep to whatever it is that I am today. Obviously my life isn’t perfect and neither is my employer. But I have gotten better and better at focusing on the positive side of things and the results have been wonderful. I couldn’t be more thankful for the many people who have contributed to my ongoing success and I will be lucky to pay it all forward if I live to be 100.

Gratitude is obvious on a day like this. And of course part of me is incredibly excited. But I also surprised myself. Part of me just kind of shrugged this whole thing off. How does that make sense when I’ve been pursuing this day for almost three years? I think this is where the “it’s the journey, not the destination” quote comes in. Sure, longing for this “destination” has fueled a lot of my activities for a long time. But somewhere along the line, it became about something else. As I started to succeed with deals that led to big paydays, of course I was happy about the money. But I noticed that I derived more satisfaction from the personal growth that had allowed me to make it. These deals were the kinds of opportunities I had failed to convert on or possibly not even noticed at all just a year or two prior. I don’t think there is any feeling in life quite like the one you get when you realize you can do something now that you couldn’t before.

And today is similar. Yes, I scored a big one. But there is a very good chance I will do it again this year and possibly more than once. I have a handful of deals nearly as big in the works as I type this. I probably won’t close every one. But I will almost definitely close some of them. The incredibly fortunate reality is that I am on a relatively lucrative career path and am at the point where things are starting to go my way more consistently. The excitement I feel over this win comes from viewing it through the window of my past whereas the feelings of pride, contentment, and joy are from where I sit today.This can be an amazing life if you work hard and position yourself in such a way that it is likely to pay off. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself a good education or taken advantage of the opportunities in the not so great jobs I had before this one. There were plenty of days when I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and sometimes I didn’t want to go to work at all but I did it anyway and did my best to learn more than my job required and go above and beyond in any way I could. I also wouldn’t be enjoying my current success if I hadn’t worked hard resiliently in this job. For every day like this one, there were probably a few dozen where I struggled mightily and didn’t come away with a win at all much less a big one like this. Even today, while basking in the glow of my good fortune, I was hung up on while making some cold calls. Life never stops being difficult but if you do the right things consistently, your capabilities will never stop increasing either and you will win more and more often. When I started this job, being hung up on would have bothered me. Today I simply shrugged and moved on to the next name on the list. That change didn’t happen by itself and it wasn’t easy. But if I hadn’t done everything it took to make it happen, today would never have happened either.

That’s all for now. Have a wonderful night, sleep well, and go out and be the best possible version of yourself tomorrow! You never know what might happen if you do.

You Can Do Better than a One Sided Relationship

Since this blog is supposed to be written to the children I will never have, I want to write about an important lesson I’ve learned much too slowly in life. It has recently become relevant again with someone who was a close friend years ago but has long since drifted away. This is one of those things that can really hurt until you figure it out and feels like a weight being lifted off of your shoulders when you do. It may seem obvious to some folks but it didn’t come all that easily to me so in a way, I’m writing it as a reminder to myself. If it helps someone else, all the better.

There are so many things in life that are difficult to let go of but that require just that. Relationships can fall under that category as well and do for many of us. We all have that friend who only responds and never initiates. Sometimes even that can be too much to ask. Calls aren’t answered, text messages aren’t returned, plans you try to make never seem to be taken seriously. If called out on the behavior, these people will typically make all kinds of excuses about how busy they are.

For years of my life I let this kind of interaction bother me, especially since there are usually legitimate reasons I’m drawn to this person. Maybe she’s a lot of fun to get a drink with, maybe he gets exactly why I like a certain kind of music, maybe you have great memories together. But for whatever reason, there is less and less interaction or it’s consistently one sided. This situation used to really frustrate me and even occasionally had me questioning what about me was causing it. This usually resulted in me trying even harder to interact in a meaningful way. But thankfully, now I have a very different approach to these people. Fuck ‘em.

Here’s the thing. We’re all busy. I run from 6am to usually around 10pm with fairly few breaks in between. I have one very demanding job that often involves travel and a growing side business to run. I enjoy a long list of activities outside of my income generating pursuits. I have friends and family to keep up with. No matter what I’m doing, I’m choosing to prioritize that activity because I value it more highly than any other alternative at that moment. And that’s the only way anything gets done by anyone – if it is viewed as worthy of being prioritized. So when that “friend” tells you he is busy, he hasn’t finished the sentence. The completed version is: “I’m busy – with activities I prioritize higher than interacting with you.” Sorry, but it’s reality.

There are plenty of people on this earth. If one person isn’t willing to invest even close to as much in you as you are in them, there are over 7 billion others you can give it a shot with. I’ll bet everything I have that you haven’t met them all yet. So why are you trying so hard to make it work with someone who obviously cares less than you do? Rather than trying to shoehorn that person into your life or vice versa, you could be investing that time and energy into a mutually positive relationship with someone who truly values what you bring to the table.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you should disown someone if a single call isn’t returned. What I am saying is that if there is enough of a pattern that it bothers you, it means you are trying to force something that isn’t there. You can try bringing it up with the person if you want. But you will probably find that any changes that result from the conversation won’t last long if it yields any at all. The reality is that whatever the person is doing without your intervention is what he is choosing to do and that is very unlikely to change if he is made aware that you prefer he do something different.

The good news is that you don’t have to have a falling out or a big confrontation with anyone. You can simply let nature take its course. If someone isn’t responding to you, divert your efforts to someone who is. If the first person cares, you will hear from her and you can resume the relationship. If she doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything because there was no relationship to lose. Regularly look for new people to add to your circle – but only in cases where it truly makes sense. You will know without having to think about it because the interaction will make you feel good. And remember that people change and relationships change with them. Two people can be great friends at one time and have too little in common to support a relationship at another. And there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s the way life works.

While Facebook would have you believe differently, people are not items that can be collected. They are individuals who think and act however they choose to. You can’t simply decide who you want to “let in.” It has to be a mutual decision that comes from both of you or it will be exactly the kind of one sided relationship you want to avoid. If you try to collect people, you will become one of those people whose efforts are spread far too thin. You will have hundreds of Facebook “friends” and no interactions more meaningful than “happy birthday!” with anyone. I would much rather have ten truly good friends than ten thousand happy birthday messages from people I don’t legitimately know. So double down on the good investments and cut your losses on the rest. This is somewhat different from financial investing, mind you, but that’s another post for another day.

A Happy Night of Insomnia

The McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, TX

It’s 2am and in spite of the very comfortable bed in my hotel room, I woke up and can’t get back to sleep. Insomnia is nothing new to me but it is unusual lately which has been a wonderful improvement. But the cause is even more unusual. I can’t seem to stop my mind from racing out of sheer joyful awe. This is going to get pretty personal so if you don’t want to humanize me, stop reading right now.

The last few years have been a whirlwind for me. In 2016, my marriage fell apart in catastrophic, but sadly fairly typical fashion. I lost most of what I loved and cared about in life. For at least a year after, I went through a tunnel of depression, terrible decisions, and little noticeable improvement. Not only had I lost my wife, I had also made a major job change soon after. It was a dramatic step up in both challenge and compensation but at a time when my personal stakes were already very elevated and my mental state was volatile at best. I had lost almost any sense of security exactly when I needed it most. Of course security is mostly an illusion so I wasn’t really any worse off. But it certainly felt that way and I nearly broke on numerous occasions.

And the situation got worse before it got better. One enterprising soul used my weakened emotional state as an opportunity to manipulate and take advantage of me for personal gain. I’ve forgiven this person but also discontinued any form of relationship as I believe any prudent person would have. I am not mentioning this to disparage anyone, but simply to illustrate my story more effectively. Anyway, it sounds strange but this sequence of events seemed to hammer home lessons I somehow hadn’t fully learned from the divorce. This was all very painful at the time but I certainly wouldn’t want to give any of it back now as the incredible value of the experience is mine for the rest of my life. Today I probably err on the side of being too guarded but at the advantage of being much less likely to be an emotional plaything for anyone. Most importantly, I got through it all. And two primary factors allowed me to do it.  

First, I had some amazing people in my corner. They are all flawed human beings like anyone else but they were instrumental to my recovery. So much love flowed from this group. I don’t come from a warm family of people and that’s nothing against any of them, it’s just the way they are. But for that reason, this overwhelming outpouring of nearly unconditional love was like nothing I had ever known before. It came from a variety of sources including people I hadn’t even known long and it was exactly what I needed to remind me that the person in the previous paragraph was the exception and not the rule.

Second, I took responsibility for my own health and success. The pity party had to end for a full recovery to be possible and it had only continued so long because I had developed the bad habit of leaning on people’s sympathy. Consequently, this is exactly how I had become an easy mark for someone masquerading as a sympathetic figure. Fully embracing this new total responsibility to myself was a crucial turning point. Ever since then, my mental health and stability have been reaching new heights on a regular basis and I have even been able to pay forward some of the support I received.

This brings me back to my insomnia. Where am I today that such a rush of positive sentiment is keeping me awake? Right now I’m on a short business trip. I’ve been accomplishing all my big picture goals one way or another but I’m also taking a little time tomorrow (ok, today now) to tour a historic mansion. I expect I will love it and go home richer for the experience in a way money can’t buy. I’m also eating delicious food, getting decent road workouts in, and generally enjoying myself in the process of this trip. When I go home, I will enjoy a weekend full of great football (that is as long as the Seahawks and the Texans win, fingers crossed) and spending some time with great friends. A somewhat disappointing December on the business side has turned into a January that is suddenly on the brink of success early on. Overall, I don’t believe I have ever been this happy.

I’m not a religious man but I can’t help but notice the parallels with the old testament story of Job. I lost everything not long ago but I have gained back much more than I had in the first place. I thought I was happy but it turns out I didn’t even have a clue what happiness could be. Life has a way of clearing out what doesn’t belong to make room for what does. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time but that is exactly what happened for me. I decided to take a little break from my tossing and turning to attempt to record the genuine euphoria of this moment. I don’t know if I will ever be this happy again but I do know I’m going to make the most of it while I can. Be well, folks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some sleep now.

Update: I was not able to. But I got through the day and managed to be creative and patient enough to overcome a big setback to salvage half of a profitable deal against fairly long odds.

Introduction

In the eyes of many people, I am a failure. And worse, a failure by choice. I have a relatively fulfilling career that allows me to live quite comfortably while still saving and investing roughly the median household income of the United States. If that isn’t enough, I’m working on ramping up a fledgling side business that appears to have a reasonable chance to become a high paying, low effort semi-retirement occupation one day. My health is great and my physical fitness level is very high. I make friends and “more than friends” almost at will and have as many treasured relationships as I have time for. I got a good education from good schools and ultimately a world class university, I have wide ranging interests, and since I love to learn, my knowledge base is always growing. I am happy and healthy in almost every way someone could be and I do what I can to give back and make the world a little better place to live in.

So how am I a failure? In the “survival of the fittest” sense. I will never reproduce and thus, my exact set of genes will not be passed on to the next generation. Or from a more common perspective, my life will always be missing that fundamental checklist item; you know – a loving spouse, a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 children, a dog, a boat…

I don’t hate children or anything. I simply don’t want any of my own. As expensive as they are, I could certainly afford them so that isn’t my reason. There are plenty of other drawbacks in my view but again, no one is my reason to opt out. I won’t do it because it is an all or nothing decision. Children aren’t like a favorite board game you can take out and play with when you want to and then put it back on the shelf until next time. They are there 24/7/365 until the day either you die or they do. By deciding not to have them, I am simply being honest about the fact that there is absolutely nothing on earth I want to do THAT much. So I feel I owe it to myself, my unborn children, and the world they would inhabit, to not reproduce given my strong reluctance to make this most serious of commitments. After all, we have more than enough half assed parents in this world. If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news and watch for as long as you can stand to.

But just because I don’t want to go all in on reproduction, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to contribute. One aspect of having kids I acknowledge I will miss out on is the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience in an effort to help someone grow up and become a worthwhile human being. And one day while we were talking, a good friend told me I should start a blog. I told him that’s become such a cliché and no one would read it. But he told me he would and that’s good enough for me. And it brings this introduction full circle. By doing this, I hope some folks will consider me less of a failure since I will be passing on the most valuable part of myself to anyone willing to read it. Just kidding. I don’t care what other people think of me. And you shouldn’t either. It is very difficult to be happy or successful that way. And that is as good a first lesson as any.

So anyway, why should you read this? I can’t answer that since only you are qualified to make decisions about how you spend your time. Are you sensing a theme yet? But to help inform that decision, here is a little about what you can expect to read here. I am a finance man by trade and most of what I write will be about that area of life either directly or indirectly. I consider myself a financial hacker in that I evaluate everything myself and reject anything that does not pass my standard of optimum. If you want to get rich, I can certainly give you the information you need to do it. Of course that information is widely available already and without adding time, effort, and capability to the equation, you will accomplish little with it. I enjoy sports, cars, women, several types of art, and learning about all sorts of things so I will probably work a little of everything in. But in general, I’m going to write whatever the hell I want about whatever the hell I want. Read it or don’t.


One disclaimer. I believe in tough love. I want to help people but coddling is rarely the way to do it. Usually if someone needs help, it is because there are changes that need to be made. If you want coddling, go talk to your mom. This blog is for people who want to do very well in life and understand that like anything else, that has a cost. Those who want to be comfortable at all times should re-evaluate that desire as it is very unlikely to lead to any form of success.