Let it never be said that I’m using this blog the way most people use social media – presenting a highlight reel as if it accurately represented the entirety of my life and there wasn’t even a hint of a struggle anywhere. On the contrary, my struggles are the only reason I have been able to attain the highlight reel moments and the only reason I have been able to enjoy them. Yes, I’m successful in many areas of life and I want to help others attain success of their own. But I believe I would be doing a disservice if I led anyone to believe that success would come without a price or that it would mean an easy life from that day forward. There is no utopia or lasting easiness in life and if you spend your time wishing for it, you will ruin your opportunities to enjoy the happiness that is actually possible.
In a recent post, I mentioned that I’ve dealt with depression for most of my life and that while the situation has improved dramatically, I’ve accepted that the disease will always be a part of me. And as it so happens, I’m contending with it today. It started early yesterday evening during a real estate investing webinar (that is my side business; as it progresses I may write about it here). It had been a very solid day. I wound up crossing literally every item off of my to do list, something that rarely happens because I aim very high. Just about every aspect of the day had gone well. Sure, there are some storms lurking on the horizon for me and yes, a couple of them are almost certain to get very ugly. But this is nothing out of the ordinary in my profession; with great privilege comes great responsibility.
I ended last night the way I always try to. I got to bed
reasonably close to on schedule, I hit every point on my checklist, and my last
thoughts before I fell asleep were about events of the day I was thankful for.
It isn’t uncommon for me to get depressed at night but usually my regular
routine, which is designed largely for this purpose, is enough to ensure that I
wake up feeling back to normal. But this morning, the depression was still very
noticeably present, pressing down on every inch of me like a giant, invisible
lead vest. This is far from my first rodeo so I know what usually works. I
ignored the feelings and worked through my routine, confident that by the time
I finished my morning workout, momentum would have built and pulled me through.
But again I was wrong. I had a good, solid workout. No personal records were
set but it was a little over an hour very well spent. And yet, I still didn’t
feel any better.
At that point, I decided I needed to take the situation more
seriously. One of my favorite depression fighting techniques is called a
thought record. Basically, it involves systematically pinpointing the thoughts
that are causing the depression and weighing the evidence for and against them.
Usually, I am able to conclude that the thoughts are not an accurate reflection
of reality and disregard them, and usually the negative feelings dissipate
pretty quickly. In this case, I put a lot of effort in, but it ultimately
became clear that I was already thinking in a balanced way. There are plenty of
legitimate concerns in my world right now and I am neither exaggerating, nor
minimizing/overlooking them. For anyone who thinks life is easy once you’re
doing very well financially, I can tell you that it isn’t. Yes, things get
easier financially, although there is a strong diminishing return effect due to
the progressive nature of our tax code. But the reality is that you’re being
compensated for taking on additional stress. There is a great saying about
this; if it was easy, everyone would do it. Only you can determine what makes
the most sense for you, but many people choose to have less money and less
stress and I’m pretty sure I will turn back in that direction in my own life
But as I said, I work in a high stress job and this is not
new. On any given day, I’m likely to be at odds with customers, dealers, various
service providing entities, and maybe most of all, people in my office.
Conflict and high pressure comprise the medium in which most of our business
gets done. Many people can’t handle it and in fact, my job was only open in
this territory because the last man to hold it had a very public nervous
breakdown. And that is not uncommon in this line of work; tons of people wash out.
But the point is, I’ve learned to handle ongoing conflicts of varying intensity
and I can’t remember too many times over the last few years when I’ve had none
to speak of. It could be a situation where a long enough duration of fighting
has worn me down to the point where I can’t handle any more, but I don’t think
so. I don’t feel like I’m in that place or anywhere near it. I’ve been feeling
consistently great lately, in fact. So while I can’t rule it out as a cause, I
doubt my current bout of depression is coming from this particular source, even
if it does appear to be the simplest and most logical explanation.
And that’s where I’m at now. I’m about to head downstairs
for my evening cardio and certainly there is a possibility I will feel better
after that. But it’s also very possible that I won’t and that it could take me
a few more days, or even weeks, to get through this fog. I know a number of
things that help me – exercise, fresh air, sunlight, doing the right things and
building momentum to truck right through it, analyzing my thought patterns and
challenging their logic as objectively as possible, and talking to people I
love. I tried most of these methods during the course of today and I will
continue to pursue them because the continuation of this particular episode of
depression is not a foregone conclusion, like a minimum number of years to be
served on a prison sentence. I can break out of this at any moment and at some
point in the near future, I will. But sometimes the answers don’t come immediately
and rather than present this as a problem that is easy to solve with a
systematic approach, I wanted to use my present circumstances as an example of
how it can be more complex than that. Just like anything else worth doing,
breaking out of depression doesn’t always come easily, even if you have a lot
of experience doing it. Be well, my friends.
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!
More and more folks have likely heard of the FIRE movement. Lately it seems to be a popular target for potshots from mainstream media personal finance hacks who want the average person to keep reading their recycled bullshit advice and fueling their viewer/reader numbers without ever being able to graduate to something better. And FIRE advocates have “fired” right back. Sorry, it had to be done. FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. You might be surprised to learn that I am not 100% on board. I had been at one time. But my perspective has evolved a little over the last few years.
I love the FI in FIRE. In the richest society in the history
of the world, we can all aspire to be financially independent if it is a high
enough priority. Sadly, it will never happen for most people because shiny
objects, slick sales pitches, lifestyles they feel obligated to live or
provide, neighbors that have to be kept up with, etc, always seem to be more
important. But for anyone who ever wishes he could say no at work with zero
fear of potential consequences, financial independence would make it possible.
For anyone who wants to go on vacation without planning it months in advance or
having money be a limiting factor, same thing. I could keep going but I think
you get the idea. There is nothing you can buy on this planet that is quite as
satisfying as knowing you will never again have to make a decision based on
such a crass factor as money. Or put another way, if you can think about money
for long enough, you can reach the point where you never need to again. The
FIRE movement is mostly about reaching that day as soon as possible so you can
enjoy the rest of them more.
I think most people can agree that financial independence is
a worthwhile goal. But many seem to object to the RE part. There is even a lot
of disagreement about the exact definition of the term. Some FIRE detractors
say it’s cheating if you work in any way, shape, or form after retiring early.
Others say it’s not worth “living like you’re poor” your whole life just so you
can retire at a young age. My take is that the term can be useful to anyone
regardless of exactly how you choose to define it. If it makes sense, you can
think of it as “retiring” from money being the most important factor in what
you do – or a factor at all, for that matter. I would also say that your living
standard is your choice and no one else’s. If you are happy and you aren’t
hurting anyone, tell them to go pound sand. The FIRE community welcomes people
all along the spectrum, from one extremely disciplined, analytical blogger who
lives on about $7k a year all the way to another rather neurotic one (I mean
that with love, Sam – and yes, it takes one to know one!) who seems to fear that
even the $200k+ his investments earn annually, combined with his incredible
intellect, might somehow not be quite enough.
Bottom line, FIRE can be whatever you want it to be. Unlike
with religion, where it could be considered a little hypocritical to be on the
ala carte plan, this is a very open and welcoming school of thought. Take what
you like and use it to make your life better; ignore what you don’t. I enjoy
hanging out with a local FIRE group and some of them take frugal to a level I
would never want to approach. Others seem to live higher on the hog than a man
of my humble origins is likely to ever want to – although I reserve the right
to change my mind on that point. It doesn’t matter. Everyone brings something
to the table and everyone benefits from both building relationships with
similar minded people and from being exposed to a wide range of ideas and
What is my personal FIRE struggle? At some point in your
life, a guidance counselor probably asked you what you would do if money didn’t
matter at all. That’s it for me, right there. Unless I veer pretty far from my
current path, I’ll reach financial independence in the next five to ten years but
I have absolutely no fucking clue what to do with my life when I get there. My
job has its tough moments but it is also incredibly rewarding on many levels.
Should I keep doing it and simply start finding ways to spend more money? I
suppose a mansion or two, a garage full of high end vehicles, or any number of
possible luxuries might grow on me. Or if I didn’t want to spend the unstoppable
excess on myself, I could give it to causes I care about. Altruistic or not,
that could be a great way to maximize the financial value of my life and put
that value into whatever I want to impact most. After all, the argument could
be made that if you can make a lot of money and benefit humanity in some way in
the process, you should. Or maybe I should tell the boss I’m retiring when I’m
roughly twenty years his junior and still younger than the vast majority of
people who do my job in any territory, or at any company for that matter. I don’t
hate the man by a long shot but something inside me wants to correct him and
say “no, I’m not resigning; I’m retiring” and demand a gold watch, or at least
a cake. And of course, there are a few choice people within the company who I
would absolutely love to see turn some shade of green at my party.
But what would I do then? Sure, this is a good problem to
have and I am immensely grateful for it. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Sometimes it feels like a personal failing that I have a difficult time
deciding on a way to spend roughly half of my life without money being a
factor. Sure, I could go lay on a beach and drink beer somewhere or I could
travel the world and see all kinds of amazing things. But I have a feeling I
would get bored pretty quickly. And I’m not alone. Studies regularly show that
this can be a problem for lots of people – even at more traditional retirement
ages. One’s sense of purpose tends to get a little wrapped up in something if
you spend half your waking hours doing it year after year. And I think that’s
to be expected. If I had to guess, I’d say that there are probably a lot more
mes out there than there are Elon Musks. And a sense of purpose is an enormous
part of what makes life worth living, no matter who you are.
So I wrestle with that problem all the time and until I get
it figured out, I’d be lying if I said I don’t use it as an excuse to justify
the occasional large expense. After all, there’s no sense rushing to get to a
destination if you don’t know if you will like what you find when you get
there. This was a lot easier when I was in love with someone and genuinely
wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, no matter what we were doing.
Even if I meet someone who means just as much to me somewhere down the line, I
don’t think I can ever put that much stock in another human being again – and that’s
a good thing. But it’s only one more thing I’ve realized does not answer what
will probably ultimately be the most important question of my existence.
But all that said, my general financial philosophy is
currently that as long as I stay on the path to be financially independent by
40 at the latest, I doubt it will lead anywhere bad. I consider staying open
minded, especially about trying new things, to be a crucial investment in my
future. My advice to anyone else is really about the same. I’ll end this post
with an excellent quote from Martin Luther King, Jr: “You don’t have to see the
whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Time for a fun post. This one is going to be long, opinionated, and speculative. But bear with me because I think I’m onto something here. The media won’t let us forget it; millennials are not buying houses at the rate members of other generations have. They have a hundred theories about why – most of which involve student loans, rising real estate prices, stagnant incomes, structural economic shifts, or simple lack of “good old fashioned American gumption.” Of course I don’t know everyone or everything, but as a millennial with an at least above average understanding of business, finance, and economics, I believe I’m as qualified as your average pundit to do some positing of my own on the subject. From my perspective, while each of the issues I mentioned plays a role, they aren’t contributing to a crisis at all. To the contrary, the nonstop hand wringing isn’t necessary and in fact, things are actually moving in a very positive direction.
Who am I? I’m a millennial who went to a consistently highly
ranked public university and graduated right into the heart of the worst
economic crisis the country has seen since the Great Depression – and into a
local economy that was struggling more than most for that matter. Between my
college girlfriend and I, we had a pair of decorated academic records, close to
$100k in debt, and zero jobs to speak of when we walked across the stage in our
gowns and funny hats. Our graduation speaker’s summarizing message was “we’ve
destroyed this once great country, you’re screwed, good luck.” It was about the
most depressing speech I could have imagined and also rather redundant since
our reality more or less already matched it. A little optimism would have been appreciated
and appropriate as well.
Over the next few months, both of us scratched, clawed, and
begged our way into the workforce. We each started out as underemployed temps
(so no guarantee of tomorrow much less benefits or work that was in any way
challenging or meaningful) serving in office drone functions making roughly
$30k a year each and well aware that we were lucky to be that well off. It
wasn’t an easy time but we were determined to get through it. Mortified by our
pile of debt, we made a plan to pay it off in a maximum of five years and stuck
to it, no matter how lean our life together had to be. We lived in a small one
bedroom apartment and drove one car together to work since our jobs happened to
be in the same direction. Luxuries like eating at restaurants were kept to a
minimum. Over the next few years, things gradually got better. We each
differentiated ourselves at work and got hired full time with small raises. My
girlfriend became my fiancé and my fiancé became my wife. And yes, it was a
relatively modest wedding – although a wonderful one as well. We both upgraded
jobs a couple of times and suddenly things looked much different. We bought a
pair of new cars – no luxury hood ornaments, but all the nicer features like
leather, fancy rims, touch screens, etc. We upgraded our living arrangements from
small one bedroom apartment to two bedroom condo style apartment to three
bedroom duplex. We did all of this while remaining on schedule with our five
year student loan repayment plan. A house might have been the next big step but
we were not about to consider that until our student loans were 100% eradicated.
But that never quite transpired. We had married too young
and while we had accomplished some impressive things together and grown
immensely as people, that growth had taken us in separate directions. We
divorced fairly abruptly, parted ways, and have never spoken again. Almost
simultaneously, I got my current job and my income doubled overnight and
continued from there. I worked hard and learned a lot and after a couple of
years, a significantly more desirable territory opened up. I lobbied for it
with all my might and got it and today I’m in Houston – over a thousand miles
away from the part of the world that never managed to feel like home in over
two decades of my living there. It has taken some time to develop this new
territory and that is still a work in progress but my income has increased
significantly since coming here. Plus my investments have continued to grow and
I’ve started a profitable side business as well.
While my post college life (and pre as well) started out
relatively bleak when compared to previous generations, I consider that an
advantage as I look back on it. I learned to separate wants from needs early on
– and significantly, I learned that before I had developed a taste for a more
expensive lifestyle than the bare bones existence of a student from a low
socioeconomic background. Gradually, in spite of the dismal economic
conditions, I was able to grind my way into a successful career path. And today,
well under a decade after setting out on that journey, my income has cleared
the 90th percentile. I’ve developed a taste for the finer things in
life but it has happened gradually and with the lessons of the past ever
present in the back of my mind, I am unwilling to spend more than half of what
I earn regardless of the circumstances.
Why the mini financial biography? I think the background of
my basic experience helps to illustrate the point I’m going to make. By my age,
most people in previous generations had a house and kids. I have neither.
However, my net worth is substantially higher than that of almost anyone of
previous generations at this point in their lives – adjusted for inflation, of
course. Barring a total disaster, it will be in the seven figures less than ten
years from now. At that point, I may or may not own a residence. But once again
barring a total disaster, there will be no kids. I think extremely logically
and have almost completely divorced myself from emotion when it comes to making
financial decisions. Kids made sense when each one repaid the parental
investment in full and then some, often in the form of free labor on a farm or
in the family business. Today, a kid will cost roughly a quarter million
dollars if you are a capable enough parent to prepare him or her to leave the
nest by eighteen – otherwise more. This is one of the most important financial
decisions anyone can make. Any argument in favor of having kids is 100% emotion
based and thus, irrelevant to me. No, I am not a robot. But I am willing and
able to override my feelings in order to put not just surviving, but thriving,
squarely in the number one spot.
Obviously I am not a typical millennial. But I believe that
more than members of any other generation, millennials reflect my way of
thinking on at least some level. For example, the rate of reproduction has
plummeted – in almost a perfectly inverse correlation with education level
attained. Millennials aren’t ruining everything; in many cases we’re ruining
bad things and making room for better ones. Motorcycles are about the most
dangerous form of transportation imaginable and guess what – very few of us are
buying them. Harley Davidson motorcycles are easily the worst possible variety
of motorcycles. They are big, ugly, egregiously loud, and they have zero of the
motorcycle’s three actual advantages – ridiculous speed, low cost, and great
gas mileage. Here again, millennials seem to have it right; Harley is on track
to be bankrupt in less than a decade because we simply do not buy their products.
How about beer? Entire generations drank nothing but piss water and apparently
it never occurred to them to ask for anything better. Millennials didn’t ask.
We demanded. And today, quality beer is widely available while the mass
producers of swill fight for dwindling market share with sort of clever
commercials as they quietly buy up every craft beer brand they can.
On to home ownership – the foundation of the mighty American
economic legacy. It’s true. We aren’t buying them in very high numbers. And
yes, all of the problems I mentioned are playing a role. But I fought through
all of them and could now buy a house without financing if I wanted to. Most
millennials aren’t quite there, but plenty are succeeding in fighting their way
through. The American economic engine has been finding creative ways to make
things affordable for people who can’t actually afford them for a very long
time – since before the Great Depression, in fact. I really don’t buy the
general argument that millennials have just gotten such a raw economic deal
that it can’t be done yet again. I think the biggest issue at play here is
choice. Just like crappy, obnoxious, overpriced death machines (yes, I hate
Harley and can’t wait to see everything related to the company relegated to
Pawn Stars and similar shows) or piss water at any price, we are not buying
houses because we do not want what is available.
Back to the example of my life since it’s what I know best. Yes, I am “throwing my money away” on rent from the conventional perspective. But am I really? I spend just shy of $1200 a month on a very luxurious arrangement. Sure, it’s only a 700 square foot, one bedroom apartment. But that is plenty of space for me, the few possessions I chose to keep when I came here, and the even fewer I have acquired since. It was built in 2013 and has granite countertops, hardwood floors, ten foot ceilings, beautiful track lighting, and a balcony overlooking a resort style pool complete with gas grills all around (the view from my balcony tonight is the featured picture for this post). In addition to the pool areas (yes, there are more than one), the complex has gated entrances, security guards on patrol, a serviceable gym (and I’m pretty picky about them), a clubhouse with a very nice pool table, coffee, and light refreshments, a computer room, several lounges that can be used whenever or even reserved for private events, a yoga studio, trash pickup at your door, about a hundred huge tvs everywhere you go that anyone can turn to any channel they like, and I’m probably leaving a bunch of stuff out. And by the way, I left out the best feature of all – portability. This area hasn’t turned out to be for me so in a little over a month, I’m moving to an even newer complex with even better amenities and in an area I think will be a better fit. And it will cost me roughly the same. If I were offered a better job in a different city, I could make a similar choice without having to worry about selling a house. Anyway, my current complex also happens to be located in an area where you’d be hard pressed to find a piece of real estate priced below half a million dollars. My new one will be in a somewhat more affordable market – if you consider $300k+ affordable when the median household income is around $60k a year. For the record, I do not.
And even if you were willing to spend that kind of money,
you literally couldn’t buy what I’m renting because it doesn’t exist. The
average American house has been growing consistently and today, it is around
2600 square feet. That would have been excessive when the average family was
twice the size it is today. Every one of those square feet has a cost –
mortgage interest, property taxes, time spent cleaning and maintaining,
utilities to heat/cool, more money spent on accumulating and maintaining
clutter, and more. The palaces people think they own are actually financial
prisons and worse, they take up tons of their time as well. This is
unsustainable. It was unsustainable in 2006 and society had a great opportunity
to learn that. But somehow that didn’t happen, just like it hasn’t in so many
other past opportunities, and the average house has only continued to grow.
I want exactly what I have – an appropriate sized residence
with premium, modern features and amenities and as little maintenance as
possible required – or preferably none. Sure, I could find a house or condo
with less than 1000 square feet. But it would probably be old and either
falling apart or shoddily renovated to attract buyers with as minimal an
investment as possible. And that’s because for a long time, we’ve been building
mostly modern mini mansions the average household can’t actually afford and
almost no appropriate sized homes. As a millennial, it certainly seems like far
more of my peers live in households of one or two than in households larger
than that. Even among those who have kids, very, very few have more than one or
two. And like it or not, millennials are now the largest generation in this
country, which is why all of this is so significant. So why do we continue to
build houses that could shelter small armies when almost no one needs more than
2000 square feet and most could get by with considerably less?
In theory, you should be paying more for rent than it would
cost you to own something comparable. That’s the premium you pay for bearing almost
no responsibility. But there are numerous, widespread scenarios where that isn’t
the case and that’s if appropriate properties are even available to buy in a
given area. My situation certainly falls into that category. Find me a property
in my area reasonably close to the size of my apartment that offers even
remotely similar amenities for $1200 or less and I will buy it and pay you
every dollar of equity I build in the first year as a finder’s fee. That’s how
confident I am that it’s not possible here. And I’m serious about that offer by
the way. I could go into an in depth analysis of the numbers and maybe I will
write a post on that one day but for now, suffice it to say that I’m a finance guy,
I look around and run the numbers regularly, and this isn’t even debatable in
I think we’re going to see housing change over time and I
believe the process has already started. We’re already seeing it on the margins
in the form of some extreme concepts like tiny houses, which started off as
media curiosities and today are growing common enough that most people have
heard of them. There is actually a market for those things and my guess is that
if builders were to start building new, modern houses of a slightly more
practical size, they would find that there is a huge market for those. Let me
rephrase that. When they start doing that, they will find that. I think we will
see a dramatic increase in premium featured houses being built in the 1000-1500
square foot range. In fact, if I see a builder doing this, I will seriously
consider investing. In time, I think the average size will drop to 2000, and
maybe even below, while the average age will decrease dramatically as tons of
houses are built to accommodate smaller household sizes and the weight of those
numbers pulls in that direction.
And we will all be better off. We as a country do not
benefit when such a high percentage of people are “house poor” to the point
where they are a few unexpected expenses or a moderate injury or illness away
from foreclosure. I don’t believe it benefits the economy when all factors are
considered and it certainly doesn’t benefit us as a society to have a bunch of
people living in such a terribly stressful situation. It certainly doesn’t
benefit us to have so much of our economy resting on the house of cards that is
the mortgage backed security system. And no, that has not been fixed since the
Great Recession. Just like the several previous times it has collapsed on
itself, some politicians slapped some wrists and introduced some new, “this
time we’re actually serious” sounding legislation that really just towed the
wreck of the Titanic in to port, threw a tarp (no pun intended here) over the
gaping hole in the hull, rearranged a few deck chairs, and sent it right back
out to sea. The problem won’t actually be fixed until we address the real, underlying
cause. But naïve optimist as it may make me sound like, I believe we will do it
– at least to an extent that will make a substantial improvement. I believe we
will “right size” houses and when the dust settles, it is going to be a very
good thing for everyone. The media and society at large loves to rip on my
generation and certainly plenty of it is warranted. However, I believe we have
been brought up in just the set of circumstances necessary to have made us
exactly the people to do what several previous generations have failed to.
Disagree? I would love to hear your reasoning.
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?
Today was a very big day for me. This morning I was informed that I recently achieved one of the sought after milestones of people in my line of work: a five figure payday from a single deal! So I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my moment all day and now I want to reflect a little bit, both to mark this for myself and to hopefully inspire someone else to keep fighting the good fight even when it doesn’t feel like it’s accomplishing anything.
First and foremost, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Only a
few years ago, I was working a salaried office job where I didn’t get any
bonuses at all. If that version of me could see me today, I don’t know if he
would believe it. It was just impossible to see even the possibility of a day
like this from where I was at that time. A very small portion of the population
knows what it’s like to be able to make this much money this quickly – probably
a single digit percentage. It is an incredible privilege to be among them and
even more so given that this isn’t even a terribly unusual occurrence in my
Of course I have worked very hard to get here. This
particular deal took weeks of back and forth and culminated in a whirlwind trip
that included a flight to Memphis, driving halfway across the state to Jackson
and back, and another flight to Chicago, all in about a twenty four hour
period. And of course I have also had some good breaks. Those do typically come
to capable people who work hard. But I also got plenty of help from some
incredible people. One woman was willing to go to bat for me with a good friend
of hers (now a good friend of mine) who happened to be a superstar with my
current employer before I even knew the company existed. My manager treats me
very well, works his ass off every day, and does an amazing job making
everything I do possible behind the scenes. Most of my fellow sales reps have
been welcoming and helpful but a few have treated me like family and provided
endless mentoring, advice, insight, and support all along the difficult journey
from brand new, first time sales rep to whatever it is that I am today.
Obviously my life isn’t perfect and neither is my employer. But I have gotten
better and better at focusing on the positive side of things and the results
have been wonderful. I couldn’t be more thankful for the many people who have contributed
to my ongoing success and I will be lucky to pay it all forward if I live to be
Gratitude is obvious on a day like this. And of course part
of me is incredibly excited. But I also surprised myself. Part of me just kind
of shrugged this whole thing off. How does that make sense when I’ve been
pursuing this day for almost three years? I think this is where the “it’s the
journey, not the destination” quote comes in. Sure, longing for this
“destination” has fueled a lot of my activities for a long time. But somewhere
along the line, it became about something else. As I started to succeed with
deals that led to big paydays, of course I was happy about the money. But I
noticed that I derived more satisfaction from the personal growth that had
allowed me to make it. These deals were the kinds of opportunities I had failed
to convert on or possibly not even noticed at all just a year or two prior. I
don’t think there is any feeling in life quite like the one you get when you
realize you can do something now that you couldn’t before.
And today is similar. Yes, I scored a big one. But there is a very good chance I will do it again this year and possibly more than once. I have a handful of deals nearly as big in the works as I type this. I probably won’t close every one. But I will almost definitely close some of them. The incredibly fortunate reality is that I am on a relatively lucrative career path and am at the point where things are starting to go my way more consistently. The excitement I feel over this win comes from viewing it through the window of my past whereas the feelings of pride, contentment, and joy are from where I sit today.This can be an amazing life if you work hard and position yourself in such a way that it is likely to pay off. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t gotten myself a good education or taken advantage of the opportunities in the not so great jobs I had before this one. There were plenty of days when I felt like I wasn’t making any progress and sometimes I didn’t want to go to work at all but I did it anyway and did my best to learn more than my job required and go above and beyond in any way I could. I also wouldn’t be enjoying my current success if I hadn’t worked hard resiliently in this job. For every day like this one, there were probably a few dozen where I struggled mightily and didn’t come away with a win at all much less a big one like this. Even today, while basking in the glow of my good fortune, I was hung up on while making some cold calls. Life never stops being difficult but if you do the right things consistently, your capabilities will never stop increasing either and you will win more and more often. When I started this job, being hung up on would have bothered me. Today I simply shrugged and moved on to the next name on the list. That change didn’t happen by itself and it wasn’t easy. But if I hadn’t done everything it took to make it happen, today would never have happened either.
That’s all for now. Have a wonderful night, sleep well, and
go out and be the best possible version of yourself tomorrow! You never know
what might happen if you do.
Since this blog is supposed to be written to the children I
will never have, I want to write about an important lesson I’ve learned much
too slowly in life. It has recently become relevant again with someone who was
a close friend years ago but has long since drifted away. This is one of those
things that can really hurt until you figure it out and feels like a weight
being lifted off of your shoulders when you do. It may seem obvious to some
folks but it didn’t come all that easily to me so in a way, I’m writing it as a
reminder to myself. If it helps someone else, all the better.
There are so many things in life that are difficult to let
go of but that require just that. Relationships can fall under that category as
well and do for many of us. We all have that friend who only responds and never
initiates. Sometimes even that can be too much to ask. Calls aren’t answered,
text messages aren’t returned, plans you try to make never seem to be taken
seriously. If called out on the behavior, these people will typically make all
kinds of excuses about how busy they are.
For years of my life I let this kind of interaction bother
me, especially since there are usually legitimate reasons I’m drawn to this
person. Maybe she’s a lot of fun to get a drink with, maybe he gets exactly why
I like a certain kind of music, maybe you have great memories together. But for
whatever reason, there is less and less interaction or it’s consistently one
sided. This situation used to really frustrate me and even occasionally had me
questioning what about me was causing it. This usually resulted in me trying
even harder to interact in a meaningful way. But thankfully, now I have a very
different approach to these people. Fuck ‘em.
Here’s the thing. We’re all busy. I run from 6am to usually
around 10pm with fairly few breaks in between. I have one very demanding job
that often involves travel and a growing side business to run. I enjoy a long
list of activities outside of my income generating pursuits. I have friends and
family to keep up with. No matter what I’m doing, I’m choosing to prioritize that
activity because I value it more highly than any other alternative at that
moment. And that’s the only way anything gets done by anyone – if it is viewed
as worthy of being prioritized. So when that “friend” tells you he is busy, he hasn’t
finished the sentence. The completed version is: “I’m busy – with activities I
prioritize higher than interacting with you.” Sorry, but it’s reality.
There are plenty of people on this earth. If one person isn’t
willing to invest even close to as much in you as you are in them, there are
over 7 billion others you can give it a shot with. I’ll bet everything I have
that you haven’t met them all yet. So why are you trying so hard to make it
work with someone who obviously cares less than you do? Rather than trying to
shoehorn that person into your life or vice versa, you could be investing that
time and energy into a mutually positive relationship with someone who truly
values what you bring to the table.
Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not saying you should
disown someone if a single call isn’t returned. What I am saying is that if
there is enough of a pattern that it bothers you, it means you are trying to
force something that isn’t there. You can try bringing it up with the person if
you want. But you will probably find that any changes that result from the
conversation won’t last long if it yields any at all. The reality is that whatever
the person is doing without your intervention is what he is choosing to do and
that is very unlikely to change if he is made aware that you prefer he do
The good news is that you don’t have to have a falling out
or a big confrontation with anyone. You can simply let nature take its course. If
someone isn’t responding to you, divert your efforts to someone who is. If the
first person cares, you will hear from her and you can resume the relationship.
If she doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything because there was no
relationship to lose. Regularly look for new people to add to your circle – but
only in cases where it truly makes sense. You will know without having to think
about it because the interaction will make you feel good. And remember that
people change and relationships change with them. Two people can be great
friends at one time and have too little in common to support a relationship at
another. And there is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s the way life
While Facebook would have you believe differently, people
are not items that can be collected. They are individuals who think and act
however they choose to. You can’t simply decide who you want to “let in.” It
has to be a mutual decision that comes from both of you or it will be exactly
the kind of one sided relationship you want to avoid. If you try to collect
people, you will become one of those people whose efforts are spread far too
thin. You will have hundreds of Facebook “friends” and no interactions more
meaningful than “happy birthday!” with anyone. I would much rather have ten
truly good friends than ten thousand happy birthday messages from people I don’t
legitimately know. So double down on the good investments and cut your losses
on the rest. This is somewhat different from financial investing, mind you, but
that’s another post for another day.
It’s 2am and in spite of the very comfortable bed in my hotel room, I woke up and can’t get back to sleep. Insomnia is nothing new to me but it is unusual lately which has been a wonderful improvement. But the cause is even more unusual. I can’t seem to stop my mind from racing out of sheer joyful awe. This is going to get pretty personal so if you don’t want to humanize me, stop reading right now.
The last few years have been a whirlwind for me. In 2016, my
marriage fell apart in catastrophic, but sadly fairly typical fashion. I lost
most of what I loved and cared about in life. For at least a year after, I went
through a tunnel of depression, terrible decisions, and little noticeable
improvement. Not only had I lost my wife, I had also made a major job change
soon after. It was a dramatic step up in both challenge and compensation but at
a time when my personal stakes were already very elevated and my mental state
was volatile at best. I had lost almost any sense of security exactly when I
needed it most. Of course security is mostly an illusion so I wasn’t really any
worse off. But it certainly felt that way and I nearly broke on numerous
And the situation got worse before it got better. One
enterprising soul used my weakened emotional state as an opportunity to
manipulate and take advantage of me for personal gain. I’ve forgiven this
person but also discontinued any form of relationship as I believe any prudent
person would have. I am not mentioning this to disparage anyone, but simply to
illustrate my story more effectively. Anyway, it sounds strange but this
sequence of events seemed to hammer home lessons I somehow hadn’t fully learned
from the divorce. This was all very painful at the time but I certainly wouldn’t
want to give any of it back now as the incredible value of the experience is
mine for the rest of my life. Today I probably err on the side of being too
guarded but at the advantage of being much less likely to be an emotional plaything
for anyone. Most importantly, I got through it all. And two primary factors
allowed me to do it.
First, I had some amazing people in my corner. They are all
flawed human beings like anyone else but they were instrumental to my recovery.
So much love flowed from this group. I don’t come from a warm family of people
and that’s nothing against any of them, it’s just the way they are. But for
that reason, this overwhelming outpouring of nearly unconditional love was like
nothing I had ever known before. It came from a variety of sources including
people I hadn’t even known long and it was exactly what I needed to remind me
that the person in the previous paragraph was the exception and not the rule.
Second, I took responsibility for my own health and success.
The pity party had to end for a full recovery to be possible and it had only
continued so long because I had developed the bad habit of leaning on people’s sympathy.
Consequently, this is exactly how I had become an easy mark for someone
masquerading as a sympathetic figure. Fully embracing this new total
responsibility to myself was a crucial turning point. Ever since then, my
mental health and stability have been reaching new heights on a regular basis
and I have even been able to pay forward some of the support I received.
This brings me back to my insomnia. Where am I today that
such a rush of positive sentiment is keeping me awake? Right now I’m on a short
business trip. I’ve been accomplishing all my big picture goals one way or
another but I’m also taking a little time tomorrow (ok, today now) to tour a
historic mansion. I expect I will love it and go home richer for the experience
in a way money can’t buy. I’m also eating delicious food, getting decent road
workouts in, and generally enjoying myself in the process of this trip. When I
go home, I will enjoy a weekend full of great football (that is as long as the
Seahawks and the Texans win, fingers crossed) and spending some time with great
friends. A somewhat disappointing December on the business side has turned into
a January that is suddenly on the brink of success early on. Overall, I don’t believe
I have ever been this happy.
I’m not a religious man but I can’t help but notice the
parallels with the old testament story of Job. I lost everything not long ago
but I have gained back much more than I had in the first place. I thought I was
happy but it turns out I didn’t even have a clue what happiness could be. Life
has a way of clearing out what doesn’t belong to make room for what does. It
certainly didn’t feel that way at the time but that is exactly what happened
for me. I decided to take a little break from my tossing and turning to attempt
to record the genuine euphoria of this moment. I don’t know if I will ever be
this happy again but I do know I’m going to make the most of it while I can. Be
well, folks. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some sleep now.
Update: I was not able to. But I got through the day and
managed to be creative and patient enough to overcome a big setback to salvage
half of a profitable deal against fairly long odds.