“Clean your room.” Such a simple concept, but so chock full of brilliance. I wouldn’t call myself a Jordan Peterson disciple. While I regularly find myself almost wanting to scream “get to the damn point, man!”, I agree with him a lot of the time, especially when he’s talking about using personal responsibility and discipline to improve yourself and the world around you. But I can’t abide his stated view that this personal responsibility must also extend to having children and that it is impossible to reach self actualization without doing so.
First, I believe we already have plenty of people on this planet
to pose a serious threat to its continued support of us as a life form. The
changing of Earth’s climate at a more rapid pace than has ever been previously
recorded, war in all its forms, hatred, chronic and unnecessary freeloading,
and many other problems seem to be progressing well enough without the help of
even more people to further intensify the constant, and often brutal competition
for the limited available resources. So I’m not sure that more procreating is
the answer. Second, I believe one benefit of this sentience thing we’ve evolved
is that we can make lifestyle choices for reasons other than biological urges alone.
I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to have children, provided they have the resources
necessary to take care of them and the intention of doing so. But I feel I can
live a full, meaningful life and contribute almost anything I want to the world
around me without ever reproducing. I guess we’re going to find out in any
case. Frankly, my genetics seem to be average at best and ya’ll should probably
be thanking me. But I digress. The man has a lot of very important things to
say and “clean your room” is one of them. Why?
A lot of people dismiss Peterson’s call to action as too obvious
or not enough to move the needle. But that’s the point. It’s an easy step one.
Look around you, figure out a way you can make your surroundings better in
about ten minutes, and do it. I believe that is closer to the exact words he
used. And anyone who has ever dealt with depression understands exactly why we’re
starting small. Sometimes anything more seems like an unscalable mountain and
then the end result is the same inaction that has already been taking place. But
just clean up a little in the room you’re already sitting in? That seems pretty
A funny thing happens once you make that small improvement.
Even in the depths of whatever you’re going through, you suddenly feel
something different – a tiny sense of accomplishment. You took ten minutes you
could have wasted and instead, you used them to impact the world in a positive
way. Suddenly you notice something else that could use doing. It’ll take a
little longer than the first thing, but those first ten minutes didn’t turn out
to be a waste, so what the hell? Twenty minutes later, you look around your
home and realize you’re really getting somewhere. That feeling gets addictive
and before you know it, your whole house is clean and it didn’t take nearly as
long as you would have guessed from your favorite spot on the couch.
But this isn’t just for people who have let things go a
little at home. You can apply this concept to any part of your life. Let’s say
your career seems to be going nowhere. You would love to take the next step in
your career, but it would require you to go back to school and finish your
degree, plus putting in a bunch of overtime, plus the position you want isn’t
even open at your company. That is a big pile of obstacles and if you only look
at it that way, you might rot in your crappy job for the rest of what will
likely be a pretty crappy life.
But then you remember “clean your room.” What if you just
went and asked the boss if there is anything extra you could do to help out? It
would be a simple enough conversation and there is almost no chance of an
adverse result, so you give it a try. The boss gives you some extra grunt work
and you do it. You realize it wasn’t so bad and it actually made the day go by
just a little quicker. So you do the same thing the next day. And the next.
Eventually, the extra grunt work turns into something a little more
challenging. You find yourself learning a new skill. Once again, it isn’t so
bad and this time you even enjoy yourself a little. Fast forward a few months
and the guy in the job above you leaves. Your boss approaches you about taking
over the job. Sure, you would have to take some classes, but it turns out the
company has a tuition reimbursement program and some of the classes can even be
done on your lunch hour. Now you’re getting somewhere. But it never would have
happened if you didn’t take that simple first step and discover in the process
that it was easier than you thought.
Regardless of what you think of him, it is pretty
indisputable that Jordan Peterson is a very well read, insightful man. He doesn’t
just understand psychology, he knows how to apply it to your life effectively.
I believe just about anyone could learn something from him. Yes, he is long
winded and meandering at times. And yes, his voice might sound just a little
like that of Kermit the Frog. But I’ve learned that valuable information can
come from just about anywhere. And it can certainly come from this somehow
controversial Canadian gentleman. It has for me in any case. If you’re
struggling to get things moving in the right direction in your life, you may
want to check him out and actually listen to what he says. You may be surprised.
Another week is almost behind us! Over the last few years, I’ve decided that one of the best ways to determine whether you’re living a life of significance is to pay attention to that. Do your days drag on in the seemingly endless pursuit of weekends that seem to melt through your fingers almost as soon as they arrive? Or do the weeks fly by to the point where you often forget what day it even is? Living in the latter category has been very satisfying for me while the former was often terrible.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about my will lately – or rather,
my current lack of one. In addition to distributing my assets when I die, it
will need to unwind my business activities in a way that is as minimally
disruptive to my business partners as possible. I really need to get on this.
But this same line of thinking also leads me somewhere else. Somewhere most
finance blogs never quite seem to reach.
Saving and investing is all well and good, but what happens
if I die before I’m ever able to enjoy the fruits of any of that? Other people
have their own aspirations in life and while they may be happy to inherit my
money, it’s also quite possible that it may be disruptive to them in the long
run. After all, I firmly believe that struggle is what leads to personal growth
of all kinds. Money typically reduces the degree of struggle in life and I
would much rather help facilitate growth than stunt it. I have a lot of figuring
out to do in this area. But it is far from a foregone conclusion that my money
will do more good for people who didn’t earn it than it could for me while I’m
The people in life matter to me more than anything. This is
why I went to Austin this weekend to visit a friend who was there for a
conference. We go back about a decade at this point and it’s always a thrill to
see him. My career has taken me all over the United States since I met him,
while his has taken him all over the world. It’s a wonderful thing to bring all
of our experiences together against the backdrop of reminiscing about the past,
and usually in some novel new place.
This time, we had just enough time to get to an old favorite
– The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas – to
enjoy some of the best bbq on our planet along with the restaurant’s BYOB
policy. If you’re ever in the Austin area, I highly recommend you pick up a six
pack or three and give it a try. It’s a three to five hour undertaking once
wait time is considered, but that’s why you need to do it with good friends.
You drink in both the beer and some good company in their covered outside area
while you wait for your buzzer to go off, then go inside to enjoy some
incredible bbq when it does. It’s not a terribly cheap date, although the BYOB
policy balances things out a little since alcohol is usually marked up quite high
Is it economical to drive 150+ one way miles to see a friend
for an afternoon and then back in the same day? No, not particularly. But life
is about so much more than being economical. I’ll remember this particular
afternoon fondly for some time to come – maybe years. And that is worth so much
more than the money it cost me. So why am I writing this post? I just want to
remind the people like me, who may be a little too careful for their own good
at times, that you can’t take it with you. Don’t forget to drink in the moments
along the way. Most of the time, you can accomplish that without spending much
money. But don’t pass up truly special opportunities just because you can’t.
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.
I’ve been pretty open about my struggles with depression in the past. Many people who deal with this very stubborn affliction know all too well how it can make even the best of times in life seem bleak. It can color current events darker than they actually are and it can barrage you with obsessive thoughts about the worst moments of your past. And it can even be life threatening if it gets you to the point of thinking the only way out of the fog might just be to stop being alive at all. But over the last several years of my life, I’ve been having more and more success fighting back against all of this.
Today, although things are mostly pretty good, I’m dealing with a somewhat difficult moment. My job is in jeopardy and even my employer may be. And while my finances will most likely withstand whatever comes, our current economic conditions and trajectory make this an unfortunate time to be in such a predicament. Additionally, I’ve been frustrated by my lack of progress in building up a social life here in my new home of Houston, Texas. I think a big part of the problem is the paradox of the big city – or at least this one. While there are tons of people around, most of them seem to be here for a very specific, career oriented purpose. The norm seems to be to come here for a new job or a promotion, hang around for a few years, and then leave for the next one. Of course there are people who stay long term too. But they tend to be family oriented, which means they have neither much spare time, nor much in common with me. That said, I’m making some progress on these problems.
On the career side, I’m working on finding a new job, even as more companies go into panic mode and hiring rapidly decelerates. I’m taking things day by day in my current job. I actually had a record month in May in spite of increasingly dismal economic conditions, so all is not lost just yet. And finally, I’m working on expanding my side business in the hopes of moving it closer and closer to capable of funding my living expenses by itself. The good news there is that the worse the economy gets, the more opportunities there are likely to be in the real estate market – even as rent is likely to keep going up.
On the social side, I’ve kept trying and have had some
successes. I’ve met people through a local financial independence oriented
group, even as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated that most of them have kids
and are almost exclusively interested in activities oriented around them. I’ve
met people playing sports like basketball and tennis and particularly with
tennis, I appear to be gaining traction in terms of getting a regular group
together. Finally, I’ve met people doing random activities. The reality is that
I enjoy spending time with a fairly small percentage of people and as a result,
meeting people has a very low success rate, meaning it’s the dreaded “numbers
game.” But I’ve definitely made progress.
Overall, I’m in a solid mental place. Life is never going to
be problem free so that is the wrong thing to hope for. Working towards being
capable of handling as many problems as possible successfully is a much more
viable goal. And I’m proud to say that for the most part, the problems I’ve
described above are not threatening me. I believe they’re each putting an
appropriate amount of stress on me to keep me actively working on solving them
without being overwhelmed or obsessed.
So what is messing with me now? Somehow, my past has crept back in. 2016 and 2017 both held some pretty serious disappointments, particularly romantically. So that is always an easy place to find myself mentally mired, especially as I get tired in the evenings, since it is relatively fresh. And then, of course, there is my childhood. Historically, I’ve avoided thinking about it as much as possible. To this day, simply speaking to my mom or my sister can be enough to get me down because it reminds me of a time I so desperately want to forget. Freud may not be quite the widely revered figure he had been anymore, but he was definitely on to something with his focus on childhood.
Anyway, last night I had a bout with some of these past oriented negative thoughts. But thankfully, rather than the nightmare of insomnia, it was ended with a revelation I think could be really valuable. It’s a simple concept and it may seem silly, but within maybe ten minutes, it completely pulled me out of what could had been a spiral into a bad place I’ve visited way too many times and helped me relax and get to sleep. For anyone who doesn’t already know, good quality sleep is probably the ultimate weapon against depression and a host of other struggles, both mental and physical. I’ll be talking more about that in another post very soon.
But for today, what was this revelation? It was a metaphor. The world, both spatial and temporal, is a giant wooded area that I’ve been walking through with the resulting paths being my life so far, and my current location my life today. It’s true that some of the paths I’ve followed up to this point have led me through ugly terrain I would have preferred not to traverse. But I don’t have to go backwards and experience those things again. I can, but it is a wildly ineffective way to live. Instead, I should be using the lessons I’ve learned and my mental capabilities to plot a better course from here based on what I really want. So much of my pain has resulted from not having much of a plan at all. How can I complain about where I’ve wound up if I haven’t even had any particular destination?
I think this concept could have great potential in combating depression and even suicidal thoughts. Whenever I’ve thought about suicide, it has been for primarily two reasons. One, I have felt that the pain I was in would never subside and the only escape was death. Two, I have felt that I had screwed up my life so badly that there was no possibility of “coming back” and making it into something I wanted it to be.
Let’s go back to the woods. If you’re thinking about
suicide, this is what I would say to you. You feel you’re in a bad place now,
which is a result of the paths you’ve taken. But is there a place you would be
happy to be in? If there isn’t, then chances are you need more help than this
metaphor can provide and I suggest you get it. But if there is, think hard
about that place. What does it look like? What about it makes you happy? And
here is the most important question. Is there ANY way you can get there from
where you are now? If there is, why kill yourself? You have just admitted that a
path exists that will make you happy if you follow it. And sure, you may be
facing long odds of success. But dying will reduce your odds to zero. Plus, if
you try to follow this path to the place you believe would make you happy, it’s
very likely that you will find some measure of happiness even if you don’t end
up making it all the way there.
Maybe this concept will work for you and maybe it won’t. But I’m telling you, it worked for me last night. My favorite part about it is that it didn’t just turn me away from darkness. It turned me towards light. If you follow the thought process I just described, it should be much more difficult for you to think about negatives when you’re finished because you will have replaced them with positives. Instead of thinking about bad paths you’ve already walked down, you will be thinking about a place you actually want to be in and what it will take you to get there. And sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day. I get that. But if you map out this path to this particular place you want to be in, you will have a mission. And if you work on chipping away at that mission, you’re going to have less room in your head for thoughts that don’t relate to it. Maybe I’m way off base with this. But it helped me through a dark evening and I intend to revisit it as necessary in the hopes of repeating that success. If you’re struggling, maybe it’s worth a try for you, too.
Happy Monday, Everyone! This is the second post in my Annual Expenses series. If you didn’t see the introduction post that summarizes all of my expenses, check it out here. I plan to go into detail on every category with a post on one each Monday. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $2100 on cash donations. In most areas of my financial life, I feel pretty comfortable that I know what I’m doing. But since I have only been relatively wealthy for a few years now, this is one area where I’m just getting started and as a result, I’m still figuring things out. For that reason, any feedback or suggestions would be greatly appreciated – even more than usual. So far, the money I’ve spent in this category has mostly gone to either charitable organizations or personal causes people had. I’m no expert on this yet but I have figured out a couple of things.
One, lots of charitable organizations are questionable at
best in terms of the way they’re run and the percentage of funds that are
actually put towards their causes. I’m not opposed to reasonable costs that are
necessary to run an organization, including paying what the market necessitates
to employ highly talented people. However, it is pretty clear that some of
these organizations are excessively lining the pockets of individuals in one
way or another, which is disgusting given that the money is donated for
Two, once you donate to a charitable organization, it will
pursue you relentlessly trying to get more out of you. While I lived in
Wisconsin, I donated to a couple of very location specific organizations whose
mailers have followed me through two different Texas addresses already. It is
baffling to me that no one in these organizations has made the connection that
I’ve obviously moved and haven’t sent a dime since. I also wonder what portion
of the money I donated they are going to spend on sending mailer after mailer
before they finally (hopefully) give up. Is it really possible that the
entirety of my donations will eventually be spent that way?
While I’m no expert at charitable giving, I have developed a
few guiding principles for myself. First, I believe in making sure you are able
to donate before doing so. After all, if you’re living on the edge yourself and
you donate money, that could be the difference between your being independent
and you needing help yourself, which would likely cost society more than your
donation helped in the first place. As such, my donations have gradually
increased as my personal wealth has and will likely continue accordingly.
Second, I believe in helping those who either try to help themselves or have
been dealt such a terrible hand that it is almost impossible for them to. I
believe there is a distinct limit to how much money can help anyone – the “teach
a man to fish” concept. I believe the capability to earn money is much more valuable
than the result itself. So I’d be much more inclined to give money to someone
who is dealing with a misfortunate setback or set of circumstances and would
otherwise be a productive person than to someone who has never made a serious
effort to do anything productive. Not only do I want to do the greatest good
for society, but for the individual. I believe there is a huge psychological
benefit to being self sufficient.
I don’t have any particular target in this area in terms of
the amount I spend as it is pretty new for me. I think it is crucially
important that people with resources help the less fortunate and I am certainly
in that category. But trying to do so in a way that is both effective and not
frustrating has proven difficult. I’ve had some success volunteering in local organizations,
getting to know how they operate, and then donating additional money once I’m
comfortable doing so. But that doesn’t stop the endless hounding from following
me to the ends of the earth. I’m nearing the point where I will only donate
money if it can be anonymous. I don’t itemize deductions on my taxes yet, so
that isn’t an issue and I don’t care whether people know what I donate or not
so recognition isn’t either.
Here is a particularly egregious example in my opinion. My
alma mater has been after me since the day I graduated and I’ve never even given
it a dime. My reasoning there is pretty simple. Tuition was raised by the state
allowable maximum every single year I attended. This happened to be in the
early part of the Great Recession and in spite of this economic backdrop,
perfectly good buildings were constantly being torn down so fancier ones could
be built in their place. This struck me as being very out of touch with both
the mission of the school (presumably to provide a high quality education to
people from a wide variety of backgrounds – including those who, like me, grew
up relatively poor) and the reality of the times. A couple years after I left,
it was discovered that the school had been sitting on a slush fund in excess of
$100 million. I believe the tuition increases immediately stopped to avoid
making the PR disaster even worse. But at no point was there any mention of
doing anything to make things right with the students who had unknowingly
contributed so much to that slush fund. Many of my former classmates seem to have
similar reservations since they went through the school during the same
If I were going to send any money in this direction, it
would be directly to a student or group of students from a financially
disadvantaged background who had already continued to demonstrate a good work
ethic and continued to do so. I think both elements would be important for me
and I would need a way to ensure that both were present to feel good about what
I was doing. Additionally, I don’t think I would want to have my scholarship,
or whatever form it took, be school specific. But I haven’t started looking
into how to do any of that yet. Maybe it will be my first substantial
charitable endeavor. For now, I typically donate a hundred or two when I see
something that moves me to do so. Like I said, this area is a work in progress.
We’ve nearly made it through another week – at least those of us who work conventional hours have. Here are some quick tips and recent observations to celebrate the coming weekend.
Listening is a lost,
but crucial art.
Back when he was just a regular NFL quarterback and not the center
of a controversy the media hasn’t completely stopped exploiting for ratings,
page views, etc to this very day, Colin Kaepernick was in a commercial for some
incredibly overpriced noise canceling headphones that involved him easily
ignoring very hostile Seahawks fans. At the end, the slogan “hear what you
want” is displayed. Much like paying a premium price for very pedestrian
headphones, the slogan was rather unproductive.
This week, I had a conversation with a customer that made it
painfully clear he had been taking this approach quite literally in numerous
conversations we’d had over more than a year. Not only had he missed some
fundamental, incredibly important points, but he had apparently been operating
under the assumption that what he “didn’t know” (I put that in quotes because
I’m still not sure I believe anyone could have every one of the conversations
we had and still not know things that were repeated so emphatically, so many
different times, in so many different ways) couldn’t hurt him, and that
everything would work out in a very advantageous, but tragically impossible way.
Based on this wildly inaccurate view, he wanted to make a decision that would
likely have cost him tens of thousands of dollars over the remainder of this
year and much more in the long run. I like the guy, but the sheer absurdity of
what he apparently believed almost made my head explode. It was a visceral
moment that forced me to understand that my efforts are simply not
accomplishing anything in his case. Anyway, when I informed him of the almost
certain consequences of the decision he wanted to make, he immediately changed
his mind. But clearly this was the first time he had ever listened when I told
him these things and he had managed to walk all the way to the edge of a
financial cliff while ignoring me repeating them again and again.
Listening doesn’t always have implications that expensive,
but sometimes they can be even more important. How many relationships have
broken down because one person stopped listening to what the other was really
saying? How many medical mistakes has this caused? How many decisions that
affected thousands of people have been made based on faulty or incomplete
information as a result? The costs of this phenomenon aren’t even quantifiable.
But one thing is certain; we can all do better in life if we go into
conversations with the goal of gaining whatever information the other person is
trying to share with us first. Not only will we make better, more informed
decisions, but relationships will improve. I’m working on improving in this
area myself and I recommend everyone do the same!
If you’re buying a
greeting card, the dollar store is your friend!
Obviously if you want something to last a while, the dollar store is a questionable choice at best. But if you’re buying a folded piece of paper with canned words on it for the strict purpose of having something to give someone versus not, you’re about to save some money. Rather than paying the ridiculous amount of $3-5 (or more!) for something that will most likely be in the garbage within ten minutes of receipt (multiplied times goodness knows how many per year), you can buy the same damn thing for a buck – or even fifty cents if you choose certain cards! Will this turn your financial situation around on its own? Not likely. But it will save you 80% or more on this particular purchase, which happens to be repeated many times, year after year. And perhaps more importantly, it will help you stay in the mindset of being financially intentional – accomplishing 100% of your goal without spending more money than you have to. This mentality will save you a ton more money if applied to all areas of your financial life.
Game of Thrones is
The ending, along with the entire final season, was ever so
slightly controversial. I don’t believe in ruining good entertainment for busy
people so I’m not going to post my thoughts on it yet. And besides, my opinions
are still swimming around upstairs as they form, almost solidify, break down,
form again, etc. But rest assured, that post will be coming in the next couple
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.
Spoiler warning: If you haven’t seen this documentary yet and want to, you may not want to read this until after you have.
This is going to be a different post from any I’ve written
before. I’m not exactly sure what it is. It’s not quite a review, although the
documentary named above inspired it and is addressed. It’s also not quite a
psychological evaluation as I’ve had no formal training in psychology beyond a
handful of college classes, a lot of private reading, and some personal
experiences that seem instructive in this case. But whatever it is, I hope you
enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.
As a guy who is fascinated by the true crime genre, finance,
dark triad personality disorders, and the uncanny tendency of all three to
intersect with one another, the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos story is a boatload
of intrigue that I’ve been keeping a morbidly fascinated eye on for quite a
while now. When I found out the best producer of movies that currently exists
(even though the company technically produces tv shows) had done a documentary
on the topic, I had to check it out. And it did not disappoint. I think this story
is very important because it highlights a major problem I see in the collective
psyche of much of our society today in a way that perhaps nothing else has yet.
Specifically, people seem to care far more about recognition than about whether
or not it is actually deserved. I’m not so naïve as to think this is a new
phenomenon. But I do think the advent of social media has amounted to not just
pouring gas on the fire of this human weakness, but throwing a stick of
dynamite or two in for good measure.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Theranos was a company
created by Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes for the purpose of making her
famous in exactly the way Steve Jobs was, except with the added bonus of the
halo that comes with being in the medical field. Note the way I worded that. It
appears the end is the only thing that mattered to Holmes. The means were
always negotiable. She was convinced she had solved the fairly minor problem of
the pain people feel when blood is taken from them for testing purposes.
Supposedly, her idea, which eventually took the form of Theranos’ Edison
machine, could accomplish many medical tests using a tiny amount of blood
relative to existing methods. Many people, including both one of her professors
at Stanford and a renowned scientist she and her management team employed and
subsequently helped drive to suicide via overdose of psychological abuse, told
her in no uncertain terms that her concept was impossible; and at least as of
today, they were correct. This minor detail failed to stop her, however, and
she went on to use it to both bilk investors out of hundreds of millions and
subject innocent people to medical tests she was well aware would not produce
For me, there are two primary questions in this story. One,
while Holmes certainly appears to score extremely high in traits of all three
dark triad disorders, is she so out of touch with reality that she genuinely
believes she and her company did nothing wrong? Second, how on earth did she
dupe so many highly sophisticated people into investing huge amounts of money
into, and staking their reputations on, an idea so unsound based on current
science, without showing any sort of evidence that it could even possibly work?
We’re not just talking about multiple past presidents, a respected general, and
other extremely successful people here; we’re talking about the leadership of
two massive corporations and the majority ownership of a third. This wasn’t
some Nigerian royalty email scam targeting people who barely know who they are
anymore, much less how the internet works.
As for me, I believe Holmes is absolutely culpable of her
actions and was wholly aware of the reality of what she and her company were
doing. I was so close to being prepared to admit she probably didn’t know her
actions had been morally wrong because she was most likely incapable of
discerning right from wrong at all. But one key pattern of behavior convinced
me otherwise. For me, the smoking gun was the way she responded when the shit
began to hit the fan. After the Wall Street Journal article came out and the
whole world was talking about the fraud that was Theranos, she went into damage
control mode. In particular, she denied having been aware that the Edison
machine had been used in any commercial blood tests.
There is almost infinite evidence that she had been aware of
that, but that’s not what seals the deal for me. Instead, I’m focused on the
psychological subtext. If someone absolutely believes she is innocent, then she
is almost certain to double down on her position in the face of any accusations
to the contrary – no matter how many or how damning. But Holmes did the opposite;
in attempting to disavow personal knowledge of certain activities her company
was being accused of, she implicitly admitted the validity of the accusations
that those activities had been morally wrong. Thus, at least on some level, she
did have a moral compass and at a minimum, it did tell her she was in an
indefensible position. Instead of fighting back as she had for virtually her entire
life, usually by denying reality and convincing people that hers was better,
her self-preservation instinct kicked in and her greatest delusion – that fame
was absolutely the only thing on earth that mattered and that it was a bargain
at any price – seemed to vanish. Could the sudden change have been the result
of fervent advice on the part of an attorney? More than likely. But had she
been totally, 100% insane, no advice could have pierced her perception of her moral
I believe I’ve seen the question about how she sold her idea
answered more than once in my personal experiences and numerous times in books
and other educational contexts. Over the course of my life so far, I believe I’ve
encountered two very strong dark triad personalities. By the by, those who know
me will be aware that no, my ex-wife is not one of them. Anyway, my experience
with each of these two individuals could be summarized the same way. While I
found their actions deplorable and had almost no doubt about that, I couldn’t
help but feel so deeply drawn to these people that I ignored the blaring alarms
going off in my head and made decisions that seem impossibly stupid in
hindsight. Other people’s experiences with these two individuals appeared
almost universally similar to mine. This is an important point to note. If you
think you’ve met a Nelson Mandela or a Mother Theresa, take a good, long,
objective look at how you arrived at that conclusion. The odds are at least
equally good that you’ve met something closer to the opposite and are currently
in significant danger. Remember, if Hitler hadn’t been able to charm a ton of
people, we wouldn’t use his name as a superlatively pejorative term because
almost no one would have ever heard it in the first place.
Going back to Elizabeth Holmes, much has been made of the
fact that most of her “suckers” were old, white men. The implication, of
course, is that a pretty blonde girl did what pretty blond girls are well known
to do and used the men’s small heads to render their large ones useless. But
there’s a problem. If any of these men were unusually susceptible to that brand
of chicanery, they would either have failed to attain such levels of wealth and
power or at least had both consistently chipped away at while developing certain
reputations as a result. Aside from Bill Clinton, I’m not aware of any of these
men possessing such reputations. And all of them are, in fact, rich and
powerful, or Holmes would never have been talking to them in the first place, much
less soliciting their investments or help in other forms.
Plus, as a man who often feels terrifyingly vulnerable to
such female manipulation, I don’t see that capability in Holmes. She is just so
thoroughly asexual. Aside from photo shoots, and even often then, she almost
never appeared well put together and even if she did have a good body, no one
would have ever known since she wore her Steve Jobs costume every single day.
Then you have to factor in the fake man voice. Plus, she has a case of crazy
eyes so severe I think the term would have been invented for her had it not
already existed and I believe I would find that to be very de-arousing even if
every other part of her were an LA 10 and she even had the kind of personality
an LA 10 almost couldn’t by definition. Throw in an extremely self-righteous
brand of absolutist thought pattern and that’s a hard no from me on the
loneliest, most desperate night – and for plenty of reasons besides that I’m
old enough to know to “never stick my dick in crazy” (again…). And bear in mind
that while I’m doing pretty all right for myself in life, I don’t have anywhere
near the number or quality of options that a Bill Clinton does.
What I do see in her is someone who hypnotized people into
thinking she was something truly special. And again, this is coming from
someone who has been taken by this type of messianic figure – twice – and has
performed every bit of the obsessive post analysis one might expect out of
someone who isn’t accustomed to being anyone’s fool. In only one of the two cases
was I after sex and even then, sex was only a minor part of the equation. What
I felt made even that most powerful of desires seem almost secondary. It was an
irrepressible, unexplainable impulse to be involved with this person in any way
I could – and against literally all logic. Based on every description of Holmes
I’ve read, whatever “that” is, she has it. And it is a very common feature of a
dark triad personality.
So going back to the documentary where this all started, do
I think it’s worth watching? Unequivocally yes. It does a fantastic job of
framing the story in context, bringing viewpoints both diverse and valuable
(Dan Ariely’s brilliance is heavily featured, for example) into the discussion,
and avoiding taking the easy road of outright indictment. It could have simply
turned into a laundry list of charges and a mountain of damning evidence. But while
even the most unbiased retelling of this story is going to have plenty of both
in it, this documentary did the heavy lifting and as a result, it had more than
just that. To the extent that people have positive things to say about
Elizabeth Holmes and had the balls to do so on camera, they were allowed to.
And some of the most viscerally shocking evidence was left out altogether. For
example, the fake voice was entirely ignored and neither the constant canine
sidekick, which was treated better than almost any human (another very loud
dark triad alarm), nor daddy’s less than illustrious, and not entirely
irrelevant resume, was even mentioned. I don’t believe those omissions, or any
others, were due to a lack of thoroughness. Instead, I believe the people who
made the documentary prioritized piquing the interest of the viewers so they
would do their own research and come to their own conclusions above hitting
every bullet point. I believe that was the most valuable approach and my personal
conclusion is that as usual, HBO has done it again.
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.
I’d like to start today’s post with an old joke to illustrate a simple, but incredibly important concept.
A man is trapped in his house during a hurricane so he prays
to God for help. God answers and promises to spare his life. Not long after, a
man drifts by in a boat and offers to rescue him. “No thanks,” he replies, “God
is going to take care of me.” So the boat leaves. The water gets higher and the
man is forced up to the second floor of his house. Another boat comes by with
another offer of help but the man turns it down as well. Finally, the water
level gets high enough that the man has no choice but to climb onto his roof. A
helicopter hovers over and a voice calls down, once again offering help. But
once again, the man turns it down. Soon after, he drowns. Later that day in
heaven, the man asks God why he hadn’t come through on his promise to help him.
God sighs with frustration and says, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
I was reminded of this joke after dealing with a
particularly difficult customer whose business probably won’t survive the year.
I’ve seen plenty of other customers go through situations like his and come out
better and stronger for the experience. But unless he changes his attitude, he
won’t. Where the customers who ultimately succeed see opportunities, even as
they struggle through setbacks, he only sees the odds stacked against him.
Where members of the first group take responsibility for their situations,
learn their lessons, and improve their tactics, he blames anyone except himself
for everything that happens. I’ve tried to bring this to his attention in the
most delicate manner possible, but I bet you can guess what the response has
Admittedly I’m not great at softening my tough love, but in
his situation, I’m one of the men in the boats or in the helicopter in the
joke. I’m offering him help but it isn’t the help he wants and he assumes
other, more preferable help is going to come. Of course, it won’t, and even if
it does, it probably won’t be quite the help he wants either. People like this
very rarely succeed in the long run. And I’ve learned that once the initial
offer of help has been offered and turned down, it isn’t worth losing any sleep
over the situation. You can’t help someone who refuses to help himself and you
can’t force someone to see an opportunity. If you could, far more people would
What I’m trying to say is that opportunity doesn’t usually
visit us when we prefer, nor does it usually appear in the form we want or
expect. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Opportunities are all around us.
One of the major differences between those who succeed and those who fail is
that some of us see opportunities, grab them, and make the most of them, while
others simply complain that they don’t have any opportunities. Obviously most
people want to be successful. I would have thought it was everyone at one time
in my life but I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary.
So my goal isn’t to help the people with zero ambition or
zero personal responsibility. Unless they find at least some of both, I can’t
do a thing for them. Instead, I want to help the people who want to be more
than they are but simply haven’t figured out how yet. I also want to help
people like me who are already successful but want to keep that going and/or
increase it. Today, I’m trying to do that by reminding everyone not to be like
the man in the joke. If you think you don’t have any options, you’re wrong.
Understand that there are people who find options in absolutely any situation
and with that in mind, look again. And don’t just look. Opportunities aren’t
for ogling. They need to be taken and combined with effort. Only then will they
turn into successful results. If you can change the way you think, you will
eventually change the results you are getting out of life. I encourage you to
be on the lookout for opportunities because they definitely will cross your
path whether you spot them or not. It all comes down to who you want to be and
only you can answer that.