Happy Friday everyone! Here is the conclusion of Wednesday’s post.
Now let’s look at the high end. A six figure salary is yesterday’s news since everyone has one now, right? Wrong. An annual income of $100k puts you in about the 90th percentile as an individual or the 75th as a household. Keep in mind, we are back to US only numbers now. And I want you to see how steep things get from there. Want to be in the top 5% of earners? That’s about $150k. And that top 1% that is always being demonized by the media? Roughly $300k. Not nearly as much as you thought, I’ll wager. And that means everyone making any amount larger than $300k is in an increasingly smaller fraction of the top 1%. There really aren’t that many of these people.
Not quite the common perception, is it? The distortion is
caused by free and easy credit. Fifty years ago, if you were driving a Corvette,
it meant something. Today, you see them everywhere because any idiot with some
combination of a halfway decent income and a halfway decent credit score can
buy one brand new. You don’t necessarily even need both of those to qualify
anymore. Subprime auto loans are starting to blow up now that the recession is
most likely in progress, but they’ve been handing the damn things out like
candy on Halloween over the last several years.
The point is this: appearances mean nothing. Zilch. Most
people have been so busy maxing out their credit to show off how successful and
important they are for so long that they didn’t even notice when what they were
doing ceased to mean ANYTHING. Women, here’s a special PSA for you. That guy
driving the fancy car might be the hyper successful whatever that he claims to
be. But more likely than not, the story is a lot more ordinary than that and
he’s either borrowing Daddy’s car or he’s just maxed out his credit to sell you
something a little different. It’s called peacocking and it’s extremely common
– and a fairly logical response to a phenomenon called hypergamy. Women don’t
usually do it because most men don’t care about the finances/career success of
the women they date. They put on makeup and get breast implants to make
themselves more marketable. But that is a whole different topic for another
When I was growing up, there was a very exclusive
subdivision in our area where every single house was a million plus and living
there almost seemed to make you a celebrity. And in fact, there were some
living in there, even in lowly Wisconsin. A certain Green Bay Packer who once
got in the wrong hot tub and suffered some pretty serious consequences for it
was among them. Anyway, this was one small suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Today I realize there aren’t enough jobs within fifty miles of that subdivision
that pay $300k or more for someone holding one to have been living in every one
of those houses, let alone every similar house in all the other similar “rich
people” enclaves in the metro area. Most of these people that I thought were
living fairy tale lives were in fact living in financial prisons they
themselves had built. I don’t need to know every one of their personal
stories. The statistics make what I just said an undeniable fact.
There is a wonderful book called The Millionaire Next Door
that I highly recommend to everyone. It goes into detail on this very thing and
I still remember specific parts of it to this day that just blew me away. The
summarizing message is that now that almost anyone can appear to be wealthy, it
has obscured the fact that most people who are actually wealthy don’t care very
much about appearances. The lesson? If you want to actually BE wealthy, you’re
pretty unlikely to get there by trying to LOOK wealthy. In fact, spending
everything you have on trying to keep up appearances will almost guarantee that
you will never actually have much of anything.
This is a seemingly obvious concept. But everywhere you
look, style is being valued more highly than the actual substance it supposedly
represents. Most of what you see is fool’s gold. And bringing it back full
circle, don’t let these peacockers fool you. Live your life reasonably and be
happy. Remember that a very tiny percentage of the people who have ever lived
on this earth have had things as good as you do. This is whether you make $30k
a year or a million or anywhere in between. Perspective is incredibly valuable.
It’s easy to lose it in a culture like ours where results are often valued more
than the principles and the processes that produced them. But fight back
against that. It’s only a feeling. The facts are much more relevant to your
success or failure in life. And I want every one of my readers to have the
In this crazy world we live in, everywhere you look, someone is showing off their wealth. Million dollar houses, hundred thousand dollar cars, exotic vacations, you name it – these things are all so commonplace that we barely even notice them anymore. Social media has only amplified this trend, with millions of people taking to the internet to post snapshots of their lives that have been carefully curated to show them only in the best light possible. Especially if you live a pretty typical life, and even if you don’t, you can be forgiven for getting the sinking feeling that you’re being left in the dust – especially financially. And that’s exactly the feeling I want to challenge today.
I’m going to use cold, hard facts – statistics in this case
– to do it. When you’re looking at statistics, it’s important to make sure you
understand the context. In the case of income statistics, you can start by
ignoring average (or mean) and going straight to median. Why? Average income
numbers are pulled way up by the highest earners. Median income is a much more
accurate concept of what is “normal.” For example, the average household income
in the United States is over $70k a year, while the median is roughly $60k. And
that brings me to my next point. Household income seems to be the most commonly
reported. And that’s fine. But if you’re a single person household like me, an
individual income number is a better means of making an “apples to apples”
comparison. And in this case, the median individual income is only a little
north of $30k a year, while the median household is nearly double that at $60k.
You can also drill down deeper using all sorts of other factors. The Bureau of
Labor and Statistics (BLS) collects tons of data and it is freely available to
Now that we’re starting from a realistic point, we can begin doing some comparisons. if you live in the United States, or any of numerous other countries with modern economies, you are already better off than a stunning percentage of people in the world. There is a really interesting website called Global Rich List that aims to bring awareness to poverty around the world. If you enter the $30k figure from above (again, this is someone dead in the middle here in the US), you find that this seemingly small income would put you in the top 1.23% of people worldwide. The federal poverty level in the US is roughly $12k a year for one person. But even a person making that little is in the top 14.5% worldwide. And roughly that same percent (14) of the US population lives at or below the poverty line. So if you live here, the odds are overwhelmingly likely that you have more to be thankful for than you might think. You could do the same type of analysis with net worth numbers instead of income and get similar results.
This is without even getting into a historical discussion.
If you started making comparisons with all the people who have ever lived on
earth, you’d be looking at almost infinitesimally tiny fractions of a percent
of people who have lived as well as even the poorest among us today. And that’s
without even factoring in all the technological advances humanity has made. For
example, air conditioning was invented in 1902, which means that before then,
even royalty didn’t have it. Airplanes were invented the very next year, so the
nobility of the past couldn’t travel anywhere nearly as fast as we can. And
don’t even get me started on being able to hold the knowledge of the entire
world in one’s hand. Before the printing press was invented in 1455, books
themselves were very rare because they had to be copied by hand. But today you
can carry thousands of them in your pocket – and they’re updated automatically
as knowledge progresses!
I’m pretty sick of the superhero trend in Hollywood. But over the last decade or so, one particular franchise was the exception to that. Ok, two if you count Deadpool; but I would argue that those movies offer much more than just another superhero series. Anyway, when I saw The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, I went in expecting a crescendo from a trilogy that had started off strong with Batman Begins, and then taken a giant leap forward from there with The Dark Knight. Sadly, I came away bitterly disappointed. However, while there is no denying that the movie was a step backwards from the Dark Knight, and possibly from Batman Begins as well, a subsequent viewing convinced me that my initial expectations for it had been unreasonable and left me feeling that it was a much worse movie than it actually was. Today I believe it was an overall solid movie with moderate plot problems that relied excessively on Michael Bay-esque large scale destruction in a flailing effort to emerge from the giant shadow its predecessor cast over it. And also, that it has more to say than I had given it credit for at first.
Early in the movie, as he squares off with Batman for the
first time, Bane tells Batman that “Peace has cost you your strength; victory
has defeated you.” He then proceeds to toy with his clearly overmatched
opponent until he gets bored and finishes the fight, pounding Batman until his
mask literally breaks and finally, lifting him over his head and cracking him over
his knee. Unrealistic? Yes. Brutal, visceral entertainment that culminates with
shuddering on the part of any audience member who has ever dealt with back
pain? Also yes. But the red meat of the fight is in Bane’s quote. It would
appear that life has been pretty comfortable for the caped crusader since the
events of The Dark Knight. But that comfort costs him the ass kicking of a
lifetime at the hands of Bane.
Fast forward to the near the end of the movie – before the
plot REALLY falls apart – to Batman’s second fight with Bane. This time, the
preparation has been anything but comfortable; in fact, it nearly broke him.
But as a result, he has come back much stronger than he was at the beginning of
the movie. Admittedly, he gets a little lucky in this fight when Bane’s mask,
which appears to be necessary for him to breathe, breaks. One does wonder how
that never happened in the first fight, given that Batman landed several
uncontested punches to Bane’s face in that one as well. But Hollywood magic
aside, Batman soundly defeats Bane in their rematch, if not quite as
dramatically as Bane won the first fight. This is not an uncommon lesson in
stories, but I chose this as an example because I love the way Bane articulated
Life has a way of putting us in uncomfortable situations.
But with the proper mindset and work ethic, we can turn these difficult
circumstances into gifts for our future selves. Growing up, I mostly lived with
scarce resources. This discomfort led me to learn everything I could about
money so I would never have to face those conditions again and today, it looks
very unlikely that I ever will. Fast forward to my MMA training. Early on, I
distinctly remember having my ass handed to me many times by smaller, physically
weaker men who had gone through countless hours of hell learning their
techniques. Going through that myself made me a much more capable fighter –
both physically and mentally. Later in life, I lost my wife in an excruciating
manner. I have heard plenty of people say that a divorce is significantly more
difficult to get through than the death of a spouse and while I acknowledge I
have only experienced the former, I would still tend to believe that is true.
It was a severe, complicated form of pain and it went on for the better part of
a year. But that terrible sequence of events motivated me to reevaluate
everything about my life and change most of it, and I am now immeasurably
better off for having gone through it.
But when life isn’t putting us on our asses, sometimes that
can be more problematic. Just like Batman, if we aren’t challenged, we atrophy.
Recently I was reminded of this when I began the process of learning to fly. I
challenge myself as often as possible whether it be in the gym, in doing a very
difficult job, in learning how to run my side business on the fly, in reading
about new things daily, practicing Spanish and German, etc. But I have been working
on most of those things for a long time now and while I’m certainly not an
expert in any of them, I’m far from that day one ass kicking experience in all
of them. I may be improving, but nothing is forcing me outside of my comfort
zone. But being handed the controls to a small airplane fixed that. Within
seconds, it became very obvious to me that I knew absolutely nothing in that
context. It was a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a while.
Part of being older and wiser is being excited and thankful
for that feeling and that is how I feel now. There is a profound happiness in
admitting your beginner status because it means you’re in the best position to
learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Life puts us there fairly
often, but I don’t think that’s quite enough. I believe we should continuously
be actively looking for opportunities to be humbled. If something is too easy,
then it simply isn’t enough of a challenge to facilitate the dramatic growth we
should be seeking out each and every day. So today, I encourage each and every
one of you to go find something that will knock you on your ass. Then, work at
it. Stick with it and get better. I believe that is the best way to grow.
Anyone who knows me, or who has been reading this blog for a while, knows that I was divorced in 2016 and that while I was about as devastated as humanly possible at the time, I have since come to view it as one of the best things that has ever happened to me. No, that’s not a vindictive swipe at my ex-wife, who I still believe was (and likely still is) a very admirable and impressive woman in most ways. We are all flawed; she has things to work on just as I do. Anyway, without the inherent compromise of that relationship influencing things, my circumstances have since changed dramatically, in ways they likely never would have otherwise, and I have grown immensely in the process. Terribly heart wrenching sequence of events? Absolutely. Wonderful, life changing blessing? Also absolutely. Very few incredibly valuable lessons come cheap.
Recently I’ve had another apparent setback in the form of learning my days in my current job are numbered. Given that I mostly love it and regard it as by far the best job I’ve had to date, that could have been a devastating blow. But it didn’t hit me that way – not even when I first found out. And given what I’ve learned in recent years, I believe I’ve reacted correctly. Almost every time I’ve been knocked off course in life, I’ve soon found myself on a more productive one, and have usually enjoyed significant personal growth for having been through the experience as a bonus. I fully expect that this time will yield the same result and I firmly believe I’ll be writing a triumphant, ecstatic post about that in the coming weeks.
This got me thinking back to earlier parts of my life. For
example, early in my grade school years, as most young lads do, I began to
realize I was fascinated with certain aspects of women. Our school was small
but there were a few young ladies I took a private interest in. At the time, I
would have been thrilled if one of them had displayed a reciprocal interest in
me – even if I didn’t understand exactly why I felt that way quite yet. But I
was a shy, skinny kid with an acne problem and it didn’t happen. At the time, I
thought that sucked. But thanks to the mixed blessing of Facebook, I’ve observed
how time has treated most of them in the decades since. And you know what?
Every single one of the women I’ve dated or had any sort of fun with has been
substantially more attractive than the adult versions of any of the girls I
lusted after as a boy. If my wish had been granted and one of them had shown an
interest, who knows what would have happened? We may have turned into one of
those “first and only love” couples and I may have missed out on the company of
numerous much more attractive women – including ones I haven’t even met yet. My
past disappointment has turned to present gratitude, and even relief. And as a
side note, being a late bloomer rocks!
Fast forwarding to my graduation into the worst economy since the Great Depression, neither my then fiancé or I (yes, we did that way too young!) was able to get a good job. In fact, both of the jobs we did eventually manage to get were unfulfilling and paid around $20k a year less than the type of job a recent college graduate could expect to get in even a mediocre job market. However, we worked hard to differentiate ourselves, moved up steadily, and within only a handful of years, we both wound up making about double what great jobs would have paid had we been able to get them upon graduating – and with dramatic additional growth potential from there. Looking back, what if I had gotten that “good” job right off the bat? I see two likely outcomes. Instead of having a fire lit inside me, I probably would have gotten comfortable and even with better than average annual raises, today I would likely be making roughly half what I do now at best. And I definitely wouldn’t have benefited from the same “tough love” lessons that taught me how to not just stretch every dollar and save/invest the proceeds, but to do it almost effortlessly. I could literally have lost well over $100k of net worth in around half a decade if I had received the “good fortune” I wanted at the time.
You hear this plenty but I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen
it time and time again in my own life; if something doesn’t work out, something
better is probably going to happen instead. In this post, I’ve shared just a
few of my own examples. I’m sure if you look back at your past, you will find
some disappointments turned triumphs of your own. I’m personally not at the
point where bad news equals me being excited – yet. But if I can turn my recent
career setback into a substantial upgrade, as it looks like I very well may,
then the evidence supporting that mentality will be just about stacked to the
ceiling. We will all be knocked down in life. Part of being the man I want to
be involves viewing it as an opportunity, getting back up, and making something
amazing happen. Mentally, I’m working on making that process automatic. I
encourage all of you to do the same. Remember, successful people have bad days
too. But they know how to turn present pain into future success. And that is
what sets them apart from the herd.
With this post we’ve reached a milestone on Health, Wealth, Power. By my count, this is post number 50. So far, readership has been going up steadily and that has been very exciting. To those of you who have been coming here for a while, I’m glad to have you along on this journey. To anyone who has started reading more recently, welcome. Today I want to highlight both some of my most viewed posts and some of my favorites that haven’t been seen as much – in many cases because I posted them before many people were reading the blog at all. Thank you to everyone for reading and here’s to the next 50 posts (and many more) to come!
A window into my raw thought process on a recent night when
I got some seemingly devastating news about my career. I wrote this almost
immediately when I got home so I would have a good record of my immediate
reaction to look back at later. I’m still in the midst of dealing with this
situation but I have a very exciting recent development that I’ll be sharing
This is one of my personal favorite posts so far. It is a
nostalgic look at the way the most difficult event of my life so far has
spawned so many wonderful changes. While I and my life will never be quite the
same as before it happened again, that is mostly a good thing.
Health and fitness is a topic that’s near and dear to my
heart. Medical science is keeping people alive longer and longer today. But
what is it worth? My argument is that we’ve long since passed the point where
quality is much more important (and elusive in many cases) than quantity. This
post is my attempt to lay out the basics for anyone who feels similarly and
wants to do something about it.
I’ve written a number of posts on this theme now – the value
of finding the positives in situations that don’t seem very positive at face
value. But this was one of the first. As someone who has put a ton of work into
thinking more positively and seen firsthand how dramatically that mentality
shift can change life in often unexpected ways, it is very important to me to
share my experiences in this area.
I wrote this post for people who struggle with depression or
have in the past. It’s not comprehensive and I’m no mental health professional,
but it’s a discussion of some tactics and information that have helped me in
the past when the weight of the world seemed to be crushing me with no sign of
relief. If it helps one person, it was worth far more than the time it took to
I’m trying to be less of a bastard in life. But I do tend to
temporarily suspend that effort when it comes to fighting back against what I
view as unethical tactics. In this post, I illustrate how I’ve been mostly
successful at keeping the shenanigans of those damn ISPs from succeeding in
robbing me blind.
Simply put, the methods I described in this post have saved
me five figures by this point in my life. One of the many benefits of living in
the richest country in the history of the world, particularly at a time when
technological advancement has been unprecedented as well, is that extremely
marginal compromises can result in enormous savings. There is an almost constant
chorus in the media about the retirement crisis in the United States. That
means that for most of us, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of
opportunities like this to get so much in return for so little.
I was working on a very different post for today but that
one is going to have to wait since something else has grabbed hold of my
attention. This is going to get into the “way too personal” category but since
this blog has turned into a sort of journal for me, since I’ve intentionally
maintained a high degree of anonymity so I can post things of this nature if I
want to, and since I hope that this post might be valuable to someone out there,
I’m going to write it. I am writing this in real time; I found out the news I’m
about to share with you less than four hours ago. So I’m writing it without the
benefit of “sleeping on it” and I decided to do it because I want to preserve
the moment as authentically as possible.
It would appear my employer is heading into troubled waters.
I certainly am, in any case. My boss visits everyone in the field periodically
and this week was my turn. But while it is usually a fun and enjoyable
experience, this time he had to do something that I’m sure was very difficult
for him. Tonight he told me I’m effectively on notice and that barring a
dramatic performance improvement over the next few months that is unlikely if
not impossible, I’m going to have to find something else to do with my time. Furthermore,
this same message is being delivered to most of us, save the top handful of
performers. So either he was trying to cushion the blow with that last part (I’ll
find out soon enough) or this is a lot bigger than just me. I believe he is a
man of integrity and I have no reason to doubt him but it really doesn’t make a
lot of difference either way.
My performance has actually been very good for quite a while
in some ways and I’m very proud of the way I have grown, both as a salesman and
as a person, and how I have succeeded many times against very difficult odds. I
have shortcomings and limitations like anyone else, however, and the bar is
being moved above what I believe is possible when all circumstances are
factored in. I have no ill will towards anyone. My boss didn’t make this
decision and delivering the news couldn’t have been easy, especially if he
knows he has to do it several more times over the coming weeks. He has always
been a decent man in my experience and that is far more important than anything
else in my book. His boss probably didn’t make this decision either and even if
he did, I have nothing but respect for him and appreciation for everything he
has done for me over the years. His boss probably did make the decision. But
while I have only met him very briefly, I’m sure something like that wouldn’t
be easy for him either and even if it was, he did it because he has a boss to
answer to as well – in his case, the investors who collectively own the
company. At the end of the day, almost everything in business boils down to
economics and it appears either revenue needs to increase or expenses need to
decrease. We salesmen live and die by that reality. And regardless of growth,
positive aspects of my performance, or any other factors, I have not done
enough to remain viable under current conditions. Many, many people who work in
sales will face this day and today is my turn.
I have struggled with negative thinking all my life but I
want to promise myself and the world, here and now, that I’m going to ace this
test that has been put in front of me. And I don’t make promises I have any
reason to doubt I can and will keep. My first thoughts after I got the news
gave me that confidence. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude – for the incredibly
lucrative run I’ve had with this company, for the personal and career growth
the opportunity has resulted in, for the many good people and the handful of truly
amazing people I’ve met that I hope to keep as beloved friends, for the fact
that I run my finances ultra-conservatively and thus am in an excellent
position to withstand any loss of income, for having a solid resume with a
great school and solid experience on it, for being given notice and a fairly
specific timeline, and on and on. My response to my boss was along these same
lines. Of course I’m going to do my best to raise my performance to the new
standard. But he and I both know the odds of me (or several other people)
getting there are remote. The reality is that his job may not last much longer
than mine and in fact, that could even be true of everyone in the organization
on a relatively short timeline. At least I’ve been given some sort of chance to
both try to change the situation and prepare for it in the event that my
efforts to do so come up short.
My subsequent thoughts were also all really good ones. I
remembered the proverb about the Chinese farmer, which is one of my favorite
concepts of all time. If I were a tattoo man (I’m not), and there were some single
artistic concept that could remind me of the parable, that is probably the
tattoo I would get. I don’t know the source but I believe its origins date back
plenty far enough to put it in the public domain so I will put it at the bottom
of this post for anyone who hasn’t read it. It has gotten me through some
difficult days and inspired me on some good ones. I thought about all the
things I can go out and do to try to shoot the moon or at least keep my job as
long as possible. I thought about some of the many well-connected people I can
reach out to in an effort to find a new job. I thought about how lucky I am in
so many ways: no dependents, enough cash on hand to live with no income for
well over a year, enough overall wealth to do so for close to a decade, having
been born in the richest country on earth at the most prosperous time in its history
to date, and on and on. I thought about how I took a very hard hit (a fairly
sudden divorce from a woman I loved with all my heart) in 2016 and how three
years later, my life is better in many ways than it was before that happened. I
thought about how thankful I am to have my closest confidant; then I called her
and told her the news and thanked her in as many ways as I could think of for
the wonderful impact she has had, and continues to have in my life. I thought
of what an unlikely closest confidant she is and how I met her near the depths
of despair. You just never know when something awful might turn into something
This is just another opportunity dressed in ugly clothes. It’s an opportunity to prove I’m the man I aspire to be against the backdrop of difficult circumstances. It’s an opportunity to use those same circumstances to grow stronger than I am now. Nothing does it like adversity. I truly believe that. Hell, this is an opportunity to upgrade. In a few months or a year, I could look back on this as a day that forced me to turn away from something good and towards something even better.
Undoubtedly, there are tough days ahead. There will be
rejections – just like every other day, except that I myself will also be
getting rejected as I pursue other opportunities. There will be moments of
weakness and I will have to fight through my nemesis, depression, for hours,
days, or longer. Anxiety will probably be in the mix as well. I could even
experience one of my greatest fears – being fired and having no employment
income for some period of time (even that is something to be thankful for; how
many people on earth face realities infinitely worse than that every day?). But
I can’t afford to let any of it beat me. This is a crucial time and I need to
be at my absolute best. I’m going into a storm, like it or not. I can either
cower in fear and drown, or I can embrace the challenge and fight. Fear is ok
and in fact, it is only natural. Failure is neither. Who we are is determined
by what we do every single day. But some days are a little more important than
others. I’m going to go get that sleep now. After all, tomorrow is a big day.
The Parable of the Chinese Farmer
A wise man once told me that back in the day, there was a Chinese
farmer who lived with his son. He was very poor and only had one horse that he
used to plough the fields. The Farmer was elderly and relied on his son and the
horse to do all the work on his farm.
One day his son left the gate to the horse’s pen open and the
horse escaped. The Farmer kept sending his son out to find the horse but it was
nowhere to be found.
When the Farmer’s friends and neighbors found out they came round
to commiserate with him and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied
After many days of searching, the Farmer’s son found the horse. It
was grazing with a group of other horses. When the Farmer’s son returned with
the horse, its new friends followed. And when he closed the gate, there were
seven horses in the pen.
The Farmer’s friends were delighted and all visited to celebrate,
telling the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The son set about breaking in the horses so they could be sold at
market as tame rather than wild. When he was working with the last animal, he
fell off and broke his leg. Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors visited to
commiserate and told him how unlucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe”.
The very next day, the Chinese army passed nearby. They were on
the way to a huge battle with the Mongols and arrived at the Farmer’s house
saying they had heard there was a young man there and he must come with them to
fight. The Farmer showed them in so they could see that the son had a broken
leg. They left without him.
Again the Farmer’s friends and neighbors arrived delighted and told the Farmer how lucky he was. The Farmer replied “Maybe…”
Howdy folks! I just got back from a couple days on the road and I’m exhausted. But I wanted to write a quick post about something I wish I had handled better today. I ran into a setback. I didn’t do anything wrong to cause it and no one else did either. It was simply bad luck and it will wind up costing me around $300 when the dust settles. The nature of the setback isn’t important and that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I want to discuss my reaction to the setback and why outlook is so important.
I didn’t have an easy childhood. While we didn’t live in poverty or anywhere close, we were squarely in the lower middle class category, with emphasis on the lower part. Money was a dirty word as far as I was concerned – a word that usually meant I couldn’t have something I wanted. At the time, it felt like a terrible burden. Today, I look back and see how lucky I was. I learned that if you want something, you have to work for it. And I learned that if you have something, you had better not waste it. I’m sure those harsh, but invaluable lessons have played a huge role in allowing me to get to where I am today. A lot of kids who seemed luckier than me at the time missed out on these lessons until later in life and if the statistics have anything to say about it, it cost many of them dearly.
But my successful mindset isn’t without its costs. And today’s situation was a great example. When I realized I was going to lose $300 and there was no way around it, I was furious. As I mentioned, there really wasn’t anyone at fault for what happened, so I automatically directed my rage at the same person who usually gets it – myself. For about an hour, I was in a terrible state. And unsurprisingly, Houston’s trademark rush hour traffic didn’t help. Luckily, business hours were over, or my rotten mood could have destroyed a deal and cost me significantly more money. But a bad attitude can cost so much more than that. If you allow that kind of darkness a regular place in your life, it can cost you relationships or even your health. It certainly contributed to the failure of my marriage and there is plenty of time left for it to do the latter in my case as well. And yet, even after having paid so much, I still don’t have this under control.
But there is still hope for me. After brooding for a while
and cursing the traffic a little more than usual, I was able to use perspective
to get beyond it. $300 would be a real problem for many people. It might mean
having to choose between paying one bill or another in many cases. This could
start a downward spiral that could be difficult to pull out of. But for me,
this is an afterthought. Hell, I’m so fortunate in life that $3000 would be a
minor setback and nothing more. I save/invest more than that every single
But in my head, I’m on a treadmill 24/7/365. In front of me is the financial independence I want. Behind me is the scarcity of my childhood. In reality, it would take a serious sequence of mishaps for me to go off the back of the treadmill. It’s certainly not an impossibility but at this point, it’s unlikely at best. Claiming financial independence, on the other hand, will happen in the next three to five years, or ten at the absolute most, barring any catastrophic setbacks. And I’m much closer to thirty than to forty and only started making significant financial progress in my late twenties. So I should really just throw the treadmill in the garbage and focus on enjoying the moments of my life while making sure I stay on track with the big picture stuff behind the scenes.
For tonight, at least, the demon has been slain. I am calm
and back to being thankful for how well my life is going. But even for someone
as fortunate as I am, this can be very difficult. And it will undoubtedly be
difficult again. However, it is important to look at this in a balanced way.
There was a time when I could have gone into a tailspin of depression, anxiety,
and anger over something like what happened today. But this time it only cost
me an hour of misery. I will never fully escape my past or my tendency to
occasionally let emotion cast a dark cloud over my actually sunny reality. But I
can work at it and improve. In time, maybe I’ll get to the point of avoiding
the negativity altogether.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may be aware that I sprained my ankle and wound up on crutches a while back. I’m happy to report that last week, I was able to start walking without the crutches and for the last few days, I’ve been walking with no limp at all and have resumed my regular workout schedule – albeit carefully! I am very happy and excited to get back to full throttle in the gym and all other areas of my life very soon.
Over the years, I’ve been through a lot of these situations
but I haven’t always handled them very well. This time, my attitude was much
better than ever before and it really helped. For one thing, it made the whole
experience feel like much less of an inconvenience. But also, while I certainly
can’t prove this, may even have helped to speed up my healing process. This was
a serious ankle sprain; we’re talking about a joint being in the wrong position
when it hit the floor, going much further in that direction, and causing immediate
and fairly severe pain. I was on crutches over a month as a result of a
previous sprain of similar severity. The mind can be incredibly powerful and
this has been documented plenty of times in medical contexts. In this case, I
believe that by having mine in a good, healthy state, I put it to work on
healing my ankle faster.
Whether or not that is true, the whole episode has been a
great reminder for me. Each and every one of us has so much to be thankful for
in life. It can be very easy to focus on negative things that appear more significant
in the moment and ignore the positives. Believe me, I have spent far too much
of my life looking at things that way. But when you lose something fundamental –
like the ability to walk – you suddenly realize the fallacy in this. Or at
least I do. There are plenty of people who would give almost anything just to
be able to walk ever again. Temporarily experiencing a taste of their reality for
myself gave me a valuable dose of perspective. Every morning, when I got out of
bed and realized I would need the crutches to progress any further, I got a
fresh reminder. Thankfully, this condition didn’t last long enough for it to
stop surprising me when I woke up!
Of course this experience will fade to some deep, dark corner of my memory bank before too long. But this time around, my goal is to slow down that process. Remember my challenge from a few posts ago? It would make it much easier to get started and to excel at it if the threshold were as low as being thankful to be able to walk, run, jump, work out, etc. And why not set it that low? Gratitude can enrich anyone’s life to an almost infinite degree and if you can get the ball rolling, even just a little bit, you’re moving in the right direction. It doesn’t matter how you do it.
This is where I have to call myself out. As disappointing as
it is, I’ve allowed myself to get bogged down with some frustrations in my work
over the last week or so. I’m doing all I can to improve the realities of these
few situations and while I wait for my efforts to hopefully produce results,
writing this post is helping me to refocus on what’s most important. Writing
this blog often does, which is a big part of why I enjoy doing it. And to keep
that going, I’m going to lay out a new challenge for myself and for anyone who
would like to join me.
The next time I get frustrated with a situation, I’m going
to look at it as an opportunity to improve myself – because that is exactly
what any problem is. My goal is to avoid reacting rashly and instead, to think
about the situation logically – starting with taking responsibility, which is
so crucial. What actions of mine led me here? What could I have done
differently? What can I do now that is likely to make things better? Once I
have a game plan for both current and future improvement, I can focus on
executing it. This process will be much more effective than letting emotions
take over and complaining about it. Of course, like so many worthwhile things
in life, this is a simple concept that will be difficult to implement. I’m
going to try my best to be up to the challenge – whenever I do get my next opportunity.
Hopefully you will as well if you choose to do this with me!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and
let me know how it worked for you.
And just like that, I’ve come crashing right back down to earth – quite literally in fact. I tried not to be too over the top as I celebrated my good fortune in my last post but the universe noticed anyway. Literally the next morning I suffered a severe ankle sprain in a basketball game and I’ll likely be on crutches for at least a month or two. That’s the way life goes sometimes. I’ve found that particularly if you haven’t faced any difficult situations recently, you can expect that to change before too long. And no amount of money will exempt you.
I get frustrated with these situations like anyone else.
Crutches certainly aren’t very convenient for a guy who spends a lot of his
time driving around; and neither is a painful right ankle the size of a
softball for that matter! But life isn’t any more willing to take a break for
me than it is for anyone else. So I’m driving very gingerly and maintaining a
much longer following distance than usual. And yes, I’d be lying if I said I
didn’t have a few choice words for the couple of folks who forced me to slam on
my brakes today in spite of my efforts to avoid having to. To be fair, they
weren’t singling me out; they’re just as reckless and negligent around the vast
majority of people on the road whose ankles are healthy. But this post isn’t
about the horrible drivers in this town so I digress.
When I’m forced to deal with a situation like this, I try to
focus on being thankful for things I normally take for granted. For example,
it’s awfully nice to be able to walk to my car without crutches and carry items
in my hands instead of in the backpack I’m using now. It’s a privilege to be
able to seek out extra exercise through the course of a day rather than having
to avoid it. I know these things every day but today, they’re right in my face
to the point where I have no way to ignore them. Normally it’s fun to be able
to play a round of golf or even a game of pool but today any attempt at either
would be painful and futile. All day, I’ve been mentally adding things I would
never give a second thought to otherwise to this list and although I’m annoyed
that I can’t do them right now, I’m doing my best to look on the bright side.
After all, there are people who will never walk again – not
even with crutches. Hell, there are people who have never walked at all and
never will. This experience gives me a window into the perspective of someone
living that kind of life. I will be fully functional again before too long but
hopefully I will have this in the back of my mind the next time I see someone
who isn’t and have more empathy than I did before. This isn’t my first time
living the temporary crutch life. But I’m older and wiser than I was last time
so I believe I will learn my lessons more effectively than ever before. If I’m
able to look at this experience with the right attitude at least part of the
time, it can be an excellent opportunity to improve myself.
And that is the case with every challenge you face in life.
Every single one. My divorce was far and away the most difficult one I’ve faced
so far. But I’ve easily grown more as a person in the years since it happened
than I had in the entirety of my life leading up to that point. I understand
myself, others, and life itself much better than I ever could have before I
went through that. I still remember a guy from high school who had been
paralyzed from the waist down, was confined to a wheelchair, and even with his
hands had only limited motor function. But I don’t remember him for any of
that; I remember him because he was simply phenomenal. He couldn’t change his
past or even a lot of his present but he was absolutely determined to make the
most of what he did have control over and it came out in a seemingly
unstoppable positive energy that immediately lit up any room he entered. At that
age I barely understood what I was looking at in him but he had taken an
incredibly unfair event in his life and used it to turn himself into someone
truly awe inspiring. Most of us will never have that caliber of bad luck but
all of us will have some and we would do very well to handle our situations with
the attitude he handled his.
We all know a perpetual victim. Something is always
happening TO him or every time you talk to her, she has something to complain about.
Those people are never going to grow unless something wakes them up. I know
because for many years, I was one of them. Your life literally IS all of the
things that happen to and around you, whether good, bad, or anywhere in
between. Eat and drink the joy of the good moments with all your heart but when
the bad ones come, those are the opportunities. If you take advantage of them,
you will turn even the bad moments into more good ones and yourself into a
better, stronger, more capable person. If you add it all up, it equals a better
and more significant life. It isn’t easy. But what worthwhile thing is?