Telling the Truth — Practice Helps

Telling the Truth — Full Truth Does Not Reveal Itself in a Flash

Telling the Truth

Those seeking to tell the truth first need to know it well enough to state it clearly. I have recently told a good number of truths (at least I hope they are!) about the Efficient Market Disease in articles posted to this site. On the morning of May 13, 2002, when I put up the post that kicked off The Great Safe Withdrawal Rate Debate, I doubt that I could have told you what the Efficient Market Theory was. Six years later, I’m so sure of myself re its manifold flaws that I refer to it as a disease. How did I get to be such an expert?

Not by reading books. Not by attending lectures. Not by working calculators. I did it by stating out loud one difficult truth that I was sure of, and then seeing where that led my thought processes, and then stating out loud a second difficult truth, and so on and so on. I’m not saying that books and lectures and calculators don’t matter. I’m saying that truth is often something that has to grow on you. If you rely on books and lectures and calculators to feed you truths whole, you may never grasp them. You need to take the information bits you come across and work them into something by defining them and clarifying them and extending them.

I have often found truth to be like a photograph that develops before your eyes. You start out with a hazy idea of what it looks like. Apply patience and courage and elbow grease and you end up in time with something that is sharper and more colorful and more compelling.

Telling the Truth — Soft Truths Last Longer

Billy Joel has a song in which he complains that “honesty is hardly ever heard.” Paul Simon’s complaint is a different one; he asks for “some tenderness beneath your honesty.”

I relate more strongly to the Simon song. People do have a hard time being blunt, but often for good reason. Things that seem simple are often not so simple when you look deep. Hard boastful truths are often empty truths. Truths that come with the edges sanded down have a staying power that aggressively worded truths often lack. That’s because they are more true.

Telling the Truth — Hard Sayings Need to be Said

So when is it the right thing to be blunt?

Examine why it is that you are holding back. Are you worried about the effect that your hard saying will have on others or about what you may experience if you give voice to it?

I don’t think that doctors should sugarcoat the realities. If I am going to die, I want to prepare for it. I want to know. It is wrong for a doctor not to tell me what I need to know because of the small anguish he would feel as the result of causing me a big anguish that I need to get about the business of experiencing.

Telling the Truth — The Truth Will Set You Financially Free

The cause of most financial problems is a weakness in telling the truth.

Road Divides

On the first year in which my wife and I kept a budget, I checked the receipts from one day of Christmas shopping. The truth was that I had spent more than double what I thought I had spent. We lie to ourselves all the time.

I think this is why many of us do not like to keep budgets. It’s not that they are difficult or boring. It’s that they are so darn truthful.

You have to want the thing that the budget is going to get you enough to permit the darn truth-teller a room in your house.

Telling the Truth — Opposite Things Cannot Both Be True

Valuations affect the long-term value proposition of stocks.

Valuations do not affect the long-term value proposition of stocks.

Both things cannot be so.

This is a controversial claim I am making here. It shouldn’t be. Both of these propositions cannot be correct. Aristotle came forward with the Law of Non-Contradiction a good ways back.

Maybe they should require that those offering investment advice take a course in Greek Philosophy.

Telling the Truth — Opposite Things Can Both Be True

Aristotle didn’t know everything.

It’s possible to “retire” from some aspects of paycheck dependence while holding onto other aspects of paycheck dependence. Maybe you have saved enough that you no longer need to do corporate work but do need to earn something with work you enjoy more to supplement the amount thrown off by your investments.

You will deny yourself access to important truths if you become so mushy in your thinking as to believe that opposite things can both be so. You will deny yourself access to other important truths if you become so rigid in your thinking as to believe that you must stick with the conventional definitions of things.

Telling the Truth — Emotion Is a Check

It’s a good idea to add numbers two different ways (perhaps once by calculator and once by hand) when you want to be sure to get the calculation right. You might repeat the same mistake if you do the calculation the same way twice.

Look for checks to verify your thinking. Is it only logic that supports your truth? Does the claim feel true? Does it satisfy the demands of common sense? Does it fit in with other things you know to be true? Does it give rise to disturbing puzzles? Does it offer a solution to disturbing puzzles?

Some people think that all truths come from the use of reason. I do not believe this even a little bit. We cannot even turn the reasoning software in our brain on until we find the emotion that permits us to do so.

Telling the Truth — Emotion Is Not a Check

The trouble with paying attention to emotions is that they can mislead you without leaving a paper trail.

When I was putting together my Retire Early plan, I was checking all sorts of things — books, numbers in my budget, numbers in other people’s budgets. I wasn’t really looking for strategies; I was looking for confirmation of the efficacy of strategies I had already decided on. I’m capable of independent thinking. But I don’t know that any of us are able to totally ignore being influenced by what other people think.

Money Lies

There are times when thoughts can become emotions and there are times when emotions can become thoughts. The dividing line between the two is not as sharp as we think it is (or is that as we feel it is?).

Telling the Truth Opens Doors

One truth leads to another and that to another and that to another. Telling the truth is often a scary business. It’s scary because it is the opening of a door and you don’t know for sure what is on the other side. Still, it is by opening doors that you get places.

There are all sorts of jobs that I am qualified for today that I was not qualified for on the day when I first began examining the financial freedom concept. I won’t be offered the chance to work in most of those jobs. But I might someday be offered the opportunity to work in one of them and you only need one job you love to live a rich life. By the time I get to The Door That Counts I will have opened dozens of less significant doors.

You’ve got to make sure that the first door has lots of good doors behind it. You need to rely on intuition for this. You cannot see what is behind the first door. You sometimes can gain a sense of where it might possibly lead.

Telling the Truth Is like Playing with Legos

Each piece is something small. The end product can be magnificent.

Telling the Truth — Truth Gets Tired, It Gets Old, It Gets Weak, It Dies

The New School will someday be replaced by The New New School.

I could not on a bet tell you today how it is going to happen. That’s because, while I have risen above The Old School, I am still influenced by it. I was able to imagine something better than The Old School, but my imagination is big enough to take only a single jump. Some hotshot who grows up on The New School will be able to see its flaws and take us higher.

I’ll no doubt experience an urge to shut the guy (or gal) up. I can only pray that I resist it.

Telling the Truth — Truth is Sometimes Cold and Hard and Cruel

I am all for telling the truth. But I think it romanticizes truth to say that it is always for the best. Some truths are extremely difficult to take in. Perhaps we will understand why this must be so when we get to heaven.

I like to think that the most awful truth serves some good ultimate purpose. It’s hard to see how with the eyes we were given to work with during our journey through the Valley of Tears.

Telling the Truth — Going to Confession Helps

Who Can You Trust?

If you want to learn how to tell the truth, start by telling the truth about yourself. That gives you an idea of what your medicine tastes like, eh?

If you can take it, perhaps you are ready to deliver some truths to some others. Feeling the sting helps you develop the sympathy needed to take the rough edges off those hard and sober truths and transform them into something soft and fair and balanced and real and more true.

Telling the Truth — Truth is a Community Event

I suppose that there is such a thing as an independent truth-teller who offers pronouncements from a rock.

I see a community truth as a better developed and more sophisticated truth. The difference is that communities are comprised of multiple personality types. The lone truth teller can only know what an individual can know. A community can speak paradoxes more effectively, and it is not uncommon for truth to be paradoxical.

This is why song lyrics and punch lines and parables can communicate truths effectively. Song lyrics and punch lines and parables carry in them more paradox (and more community too in most cases) than declarative sentences.

Telling the Truth — Truth is a Solitary Path

Sometimes one has to break off from the community to gather the pieces of a truth that the community needs to consider. All communities include within them lone wolves (paradoxically enough).

Telling the Truth — Pain Can Lead to Truth

Everybody likes truth. No one likes pain. But the two often travel as a couple.

It is by having our hearts broken in two that we create the space by which a new love enters.

Telling the Truth Gets Harder as You Age

Breakthrough

You are able to tell the truth about more things as you age. You know more.

But the older you are the more you have invested in your current beliefs. Who wants to admit having been wrong about something he has believed for 50 years?

The most difficult aspect of truth telling is not gathering information. It is gathering courage. Find some way to hold onto courage as you gain experience, and you’ve got it nailed.

Telling the Truth — Truth is Powerful

Dylan likes to tell a story about a fellow from the old days who could take on a king with just a guitar and a harmonica. It happens.

Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow

Rule #1 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Unique Content Is Not Enough.

It’s a sea of information out there.

Writing for the Internet

You must have unique content. I don’t mean “unique” just in the sense that your material is not an exact duplicate of material available elsewhere. I mean that your material must discuss important ideas not considered elsewhere. It must rock people.

The internet surfer is like the employer who places a “Help Wanted” advertisement in a town where the largest employer recently went out of business. He is looking to impose filters on the flood of material being directed his way. He’s on the look-out for good content, just as the employer is on the look-out for a good worker. But he has learned that he must direct most of his mental energies not to seeking information bits but to avoid being drowned in them. Having too much information to sort through is not much better than having none at all.

No one is going to fall in love with your site without first paying attention to it. No one is going to pay attention unless you provide him or her a compelling reason to do so. Unique content is not enough. Putting up unique content is like sending in a resume showing that you are qualified for the job. That only gets you past the first of many filters. You need compellingly unique content, knock-their-socks-off stuff.

Rule #2 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Long Is Strong.

One response that many recommend for dealing with the sea-of-information problem is to keep it short. The reader is pressed for time. Keep it short, and you place less of a burden on him. Keep it short, and maybe you have a chance.

I see the logic, but I don’t buy into the strategy. Keeping it short conflicts with the goal of developing knock-their-socks-off stuff. How many important points can you get across in 500 words? You certainly do not want to include unnecessary words; wasting your readers’ time will get you nixed fast. But you’re better to go long than to go weak. You must have knock-their-socks-off material, and, if it takes some time to develop the points you need to make, then it takes some time to develop the points you need to make.

Rule #3 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Money Can’t Buy Personality.

There’s been a big change in the past five years (this article was posted in December 2007). Big corporations are taking over the internet. They’re tough competition. Money buys a big edge.

You can’t beat the corporations at their own game. You cannot match their dollars. All the money in the world cannot buy a corporation a personality. Your best hope is developing the thing that makes you special to its fullest. Don’t aim to fit in. Seek to stand out.

Rule #4 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Search Will Become Increasingly Customized.

Search engines are not smart. They are dumb. What makes them look sort of smart is that they are so darn fast. Search engines do dumb stuff really, really, really, really fast.

The ideal search engine would be one in which humans ranked the sites responsive to a query. That one has been tried and has failed. Humans do better work than the machines but they cannot keep up with the volume. Machines are the more economical choice. We’re stuck with them.

Still, every push to improve search results is a push to make them more like what they would be if prepared by humans. The most promising idea being explored today is having a machine remember what sorts of search results you have liked in the past so that it can provide you similar results in response to future search queries.

Bookcase

I like long stuff. I like thoughtful stuff. I’m not so crazy about numbers. I like “soft” emotion-focused stuff. It’s a dumb search engine that responds to my request for information on “how investing works” only with results citing conventional thinking and statistical studies and jizz-jazz like that. I prefer a different sort of jizz-jazz! My guess is that I will be getting it on the internet of tomorrow.

There are lots of strategic implications. I face a lot of competition getting ranked for the phrase “buy-and-hold.” But I know of no one else writing on the internet who puts forward the take on how to succeed at buy-and-hold that I put forward. As searches become more customized, I expect that I will stand a better chance of ranking for search queries relating to buy-and-hold investing. I won’t rank for all such queries. I’ll rank for buy-and-hold queries put forward by searchers who have demonstrated a preference for long, thoughtful, non-numbers-oriented, soft-side stuff.

I write that sort of thing today with the hope that searchers looking for that stuff will be able to find me tomorrow.

Rule #5 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — The Techhead is Dead.

Techies found the internet first. For obvious reasons. They have come to believe that they own the playground. They do not own the playground.

Normals are becoming a more important force on the internet. All sorts of implications follow. There will be less of a focus on libertarian politics (I have nothing in particular against libertarian politics, but libertarian voices are absurdly overrepresented on the internet of today). Articles that present a multi-discipline take on a topic will stand a better chance of being noticed (techies tend to go deep but not broad). “Poetic” headlines will become more popular (techies like lists). Articles offering more than one side of a story will get more play (techies are not comfortable with ambiguity).

Rule #6 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Combine Informality with Professionalism.

Google has a thing they call “Trust Rank.” Bizarre worked well on yesterday’s internet, but is not quite so winning a take on today’s.

That doesn’t mean that we are going to get stuffy. People warm up to informal. People are turned off by stuffy.

The idea is to win over people’s trust with an informal but professional approach. One “trick” that I use is to be up front about my weaknesses (I write about personal finance but am not good with numbers) while demonstrating that I can be trusted (I take a hard stand against the analytically invalid Old School safe withdrawal rate studies).

Rule #7 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — No Internet Writer Is An Island.

The greatest power of the internet is the power it provides to create communities. To make this thing work, you gotta have friends. When you become part of a community, the influence of everything you produce is leveraged.

There was little information available on early retirement when I began researching the topic in the early 1990s. There are today thousands of sites and blogs that deal with this topic in some way. If I cannot add anything unique to the mix, I need to hang it up. To be able to create something perceived to be of value, I need to tap into the power of the community of people interested in this topic, find out what they care about, and focus my energies on learning something special about those questions.

Making Money on the Internet

You cannot be a lone wolf. You need to be part of a group. You need to stand out from the crowd too, though, or else your content will not be sufficiently unique for you to be heard above the crowd noise.

Rule #8 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Be True.

Sayings become clichés for a reason. When people say that you can’t trust what you read on the internet, they are saying something real. I should know.

That’s not the whole story, however. There is a sense in which you can trust what you read on the internet more than you can trust what you read in a book or in a magazine article or in a newspaper article. There’s more of an opportunity for feedback from a variety of perspectives to be advanced on the internet. That’s a big plus for this new communications medium.

I often write about how big-name investing advisors play word games when offering advice on stocks (because those heavily invested in stocks will become angry with them if they reveal all they know about how valuations affect long-term returns). I don’t think that’s going to fly too much longer. It’s too easy today for someone to run a search on an expert’s name and compare what he said in one place with what he said in another place. Fudging it is becoming a dangerous strategy.

I think you are making a mistake if you act like you know more than you know. Don’t apologize for what you do know. Sometimes you have to toot your own horn a bit; I think that can be justified on grounds that you want to be sure to get the word out to those who need to know what you do know. But there are too many people watching on the internet of today for those putting on an act to get away with it for long. That’s only going to be more true on the internet of tomorrow.

Rule #9 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Find an Expandable Niche.

It makes all the sense in the world to identify a niche and come to own it. You want to be the best at writing about what you write about and it takes a lot of time to become the best in an area where there is lots of competition. Niches are limiting, however. Only a tiny percentage of the people who see your stuff will be serious enough to engage in transactions putting money in your pocket. To make a living on the internet, you need at some point to reach beyond your initial niche.

I don’t like the idea of building multiple sites. Lots of people follow this strategy and perhaps my bias is unjustified. Building multiple sites is putting your eggs in more than a single basket. I question, though, whether you can gain sufficient expertise in multiple niches to offer compelling material relating to all of them.

I recommend seeking an expanding niche, an area that can be explored small for a time but can at some later date be blown up into a topic broad enough to appeal to lots of readers. Early retirement is my niche. This article is about writing for the internet. Does it belong? My sense is that among the type of people interested in early retirement there are a good number interested in writing for the internet, either for the fun of it (after achieving financial independence) or as a means of supplementing a corporate salary or the income provided in retirement by investments. I think that this article fits (just barely) at a site exploring a blown-up version of the Retire Early story.

Rule #10 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Avoid Clutter.

The reason why I don’t carry advertising at this site today is not that I don’t like my writing efforts to generate money. It’s that I worry that the clutter that comes with low-payout advertising would make it harder for me to get my message across.

Building Community on the Internet

I’ll go with some form of advertising someday. My hope is that I will be able to grow the site large enough that I will be able to go with a form of advertising that brings in a significant amount of money without cluttering up all the pages of the site. If that idea doesn’t come through for me, I may break down at some point and accept advertising clutter as a necessary evil.

My point here is that advertising is not cost-free. Too many advertisements make your site uninviting and your arguments hard to follow. We all have to pay the bills. But I think that many site owners need to give more consideration to the downside of putting up too many advertisements.

Rule #11 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Each Generation Reads Less.

Most people don’t like to read. The way it is.

Articles with graphics work better that articles with only words. Articles with audio work better than articles with graphics. Articles with video work better than articles with audio.

Repent! Repent! The End Is Near!

Rule #12 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — It’s a Winner-Take-All Game.

There’s room for very few winners. Those who make it to the top make out like crazy.

We all know this. It’s hard for us to accept on a deep level just how true this really is, however. The pyramid concept is a counter-intuitive one. We expect there to be some reward for those who get close to the top but not quite over the hump and for there to be some limit to what those who reach the top can take away with them.

The more I learn about this game, the more convinced I become that it is all but impossible to exaggerate how much this is a winner-take-all game.

Rule #13 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Friendliness Does Not Hurt.

The fact that it is a winner-take-all game does not suggest that you need to be a heartless competitor. Quite to the contrary. The reality is that the odds are so much against any of us making it to the top that it is silly to worry that helping out a competitor is going to cause you harm. In the unlikely event that someone you help out gets over the hump, that will end up being a plus because your friend will enjoy such an embarrassment of riches that even a decision by him or her to throw you a few crumbs could turn into something significant.

Rule #14 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — The First-Mover Advantage Is Real.

It was easy to get to the top of the search engines with ordinary articles 10 years ago. Then those who were first with audio went to the front of the pack. Then those who were first with blogs went to the front of the pack. Then those who were first with video went to the front of the pack. Then those who were first with social media went to the front of the pack.

It’s a whole big bunch easier to stay at the front of the pack once you get there than it is to get there in the first place. So it makes sense strategically to chase new technologies and new trends. It does not make sense to chase them all. Dividing your efforts will cause you always to get to the finish line a few steps too late to make things happen. Choose your spots with intelligence and then put everything into a race to get high enough in the rankings for a time to build something of permanence.

Rule #15 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — The Steep Climb Works to Your Benefit Once You Get to the Top.

There’s one good thing to be said about the steep climb to the top. It makes it hard for anyone to displace you once you get there.

Rule #16 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Don’t Link Around.

Rob Drinking Coffee

I have a tough linking policy. Well, it’s not tough on my readers. It’s tough on site owners seeking to “trade links.”

A link sends a message. The message is “I urge you to take some of your valuable time and spend it checking out this other site.” It worries me that it sounds rude to tell a site owner seeking a link exchange “no.” But my first loyalty is to my readers. Even wonderful sites do not merit a link from me unless they are wonderful sites for my particular community, a community of people interested in the topics explored in depth at this site.

I do what I can to help out fellow site owners. I answer their questions when I can. I offer any benefit there is in knowing about anything I’ve learned from my limited experience playing this game. But I don’t give links unless it helps my readers for me to do so. A writer crafts messages. A link is a message. If you allow your message to be cheapened by giving links for the wrong reason, you undermine your efforts in a serious way. That sort of thing catches up to you.

Rule #17 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Don’t Worry Too Much About Search Engine Optimization Stuff.

You need to pay some attention to the rules of search engine optimization. You’ll be unfairly penalized if you do not.

I cannot bring myself to care too much about that stuff, however. Some of the rules are just too dumb. The headline is only supposed to be a certain number of characters. The key search term must appear near the front of the title; near the back isn’t good enough. Site section titles must state clearly and precisely and plainly and instantly what the section is about (no “Retire Different!,” no “Upsizing,” no “Investing for Humans”). I hurt myself by not following the rules. But I believe that hurting myself in this way gives my site more zip and that the penalties imposed for breaking the rules will be less onerous as time passes.

It’s a mistake to dumb yourself down too much for the benefit of the search engines. The engines will get smarter in time. Then you’re going to feel foolish for having dumbed yourself down.

Don’t break the rules just for the sake of breaking the rules, however. That’s even dumber.

Rule #18 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Get People Mad at You.

I am a go-along-to-get-along guy by nature. I don’t like getting caught up in controversy. I don’t like standing out. One of my friends from my Motley Fool days said that I posted in those days “like a puppy dog.” And it’s so, it’s so!

Still, I’ve made some people mad with things I have said about stock investing in recent years. Look to the tabs at the left-hand side of this page. Do you see the one entitled “Stock Drunk”? There are people who do not care for that sort of thing. My writing pisses those people off. Big time.

So be it, you know?

That’s not really the way I feel about it. The raw truth is that it hurts my feelings when someone visits my site, sees that I talk about what it means to be stock drunk and puts the slip of paper with my telephone number on it in the trashcan. But there comes a time when you have to accept that you have a job to do and you gotta do it well.

The next line in the song is: “You gotta give the other fella hell!

Making a Living on the Internet
I don’t recommend that you court controversy for the purpose of generating “link bait.” People see through fakers. Stick around a bit and you won’t need to fake it, though. If you are learning enough about your niche to become the king of it, there will come a time when you won’t go looking for controversy but it will come looking for you. When you are the only one who can say something in the way that it needs to be said, you need to do that. That’s the job. That’s why you’re here.

Be kind. Be humble. Be fair. Be balanced.

But also be strong. Be firm. Be passionate. Be bold.

If some people get mad, some people get mad. I’ve thought about this one a long, long, long time.

Rule #19 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Don’t Fall Into the Trap of Thinking that People Are Dumb.

There’s a subtext to many articles of the nature of this one that suggests that people can be manipulated, that people are dumb. I hope that I have not fallen into that trap. People are not dumb. People are smart.

People play dumb sometimes. That’s because they’re smart. People sometimes keep quiet because the discussion is focused on something outside of their areas of particular strength. That’s smart. People will sometimes seem dumb to you. That’s usually because it is you who are dumb. If you were smarter, you would remember each time you started thinking that people are dumb that people really are smart.

Rule #20 for Writing for the Internet of Tomorrow — Learn by Doing.

I don’t write articles on topics I know little about. That would obviously be a bad use of my time.

I don’t only write about topics that I know like the back of my hand either. Sometimes you have to stretch yourself. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there more than just a wee bit.

Sometimes you fall flat on your face. You feel like the largest Elizabeth in the world. That’s one of the prices you agreed to pay when you signed up for this gig. That’s how you learn.

If you take a look at your best stuff, you will find that it came about as the result of a process in which you first took a few failed runs at the hill and then later came back at it and got to the top. If every article is a winner, you are not taking enough chances. The job is not just to educate your readers. It is to educate you too.

Taking Risks Isn’t What It Used to Be

They say: “Whisky will kill you.”
But I don’t think it will.

–Dylan, “Hattie Moore.

Taking Risks by Leaving Home

There was nothing wrong with the neighborhood I grew up in. I knew that I wanted to leave it as soon as possible. I was influenced by songs and movies that suggested that that was the thing to do.

Taking Risks

One way in which what I did was wrong is that I allowed myself to be influenced too much by those songs and movies. It would have been braver in a way to have gone against the tide of conventional thinking and stayed home.

One way in which what I did was right is that leaving home made it easier to make other life transitions. If you don’t make a break from home in your early 20s, it gets harder to do so as you age. If you make that big break, it’s not nearly as hard to make a second break from a place you have called “home” for only a few years.

Because the pace of change is swift today, there’s a benefit to be had in reinventing yourself occasionally. That allows you to jump on the latest trend. The other side of the story is that, if you make too many changes, you can lose sight of what you are and you can go to pieces.

Taking Risks by Getting Married

I remember an older person telling me not to get married young. I didn’t hold off getting married as a plan. It wasn’t until I was 35 that I was sure it was the right thing. Actually, I wasn’t so sure. I was sorta kinda sure and sick of not being sure.

Getting married is not taking the safe path, in my assessment. Getting married settles you and gives you roots. Being secure in this one area of life frees you for taking risks in other areas of life.

I don’t meet as many interesting (in both the good and bad senses of the word) people now that I’m married. I don’t go to Blues Alley nearly as often. I think it has made me a better person, though. And I have someone with whom to talk over my adventures who is better able to follow the storyline because she recognizes a significant theme when it resurfaces.

Taking Risks by Having Children

People say that they are not quite ready to have children. It’s something that no one can ever be ready for. Being ready to have children is like being ready to be born. You have no idea what’s on the other side. How can you prepare for an experience you cannot imagine?

Having children is the anti-consumer choice. It’s the opposite of everything they try to sell you on TV. I don’t object so terribly much to a lot of what they try to sell you on TV. But we need a break from that sort of thing. Children definitely provide a break.

I miss vacations that I haven’t taken a little. I miss cars that I haven’t driven a little. I miss houses that I haven’t lived in a little. I miss kids that I haven’t raised a big bunch. I have two and I thank God for those and I wish I had four.

Taking Risks by Changing Jobs

Taking Chances
I’m never satisfied. There was a time when I wanted a job as congressional correspondent for Daily Tax Report more than anything else in the world. God answered that prayer. Six years later I was plotting my next move. Does it have to be that way?

I think that it has to be that way. There is no permanent perfect job; there are only jobs that are perfect for a time. If the job doesn’t challenge you, it’s not perfect. If it does challenge you, you are forced to rise to the challenge to survive. If you rise to the challenge, you now possess a new skill set and can only be satisfied by a new brand of challenge. If your only thought is to stand still, you’re not happy, you’re dead.

There’s a lot of risk involved in changing jobs. You need to learn new skills. You need to fit in with a new group of people. You need to tie your future to a new corporate entity. You often need to move. I would be very much disinclined to change jobs solely to obtain an increase in pay. If I were stagnating at my current job, and the new job offered the promise of more long-term fulfillment, I would find it hard to say “no” no matter how great the risks.

The trouble is that it can take years to figure out whether the risk involved in changing jobs was justified or not. By the time you know for sure, you are beginning to wonder about the new job. And the stakes get higher with each job change. Walk away from the specialized sort of job that you can only obtain when you have a good bit of experience in the field, and you may be walking away from something that will prove hard to replace.

This logic chain argues for sticking with a good-enough job if you are up there in years. The counter-argument is that when you are up there in years, you don’t have too many more grabs at the brass ring left in front of you. Each chance is precious when there aren’t so many left.

Taking Risks by Buying a House

The house you live in makes a big difference. You are far more likely to exercise regularly if you live near a bike trail. You are far more likely to have people over if you live close to town and run into people daily. And lots of people have accumulated a good bit of wealth as a result of their investment in their house.

One big downside of buying a house is that having the space to store stuff encourages you to accumulate junk. I suggest buying a house not too much bigger than what you absolutely need.

I resist moving. I need a really good reason to go to all the hassle involved in a making a move.

Taking Risks by Buying Stocks

You already know that you need to take valuations into account.

Another risk is that the world is changing and that makes it hard to anticipate how stocks will perform. I use the history of the U.S. stock market as my guide to what to expect, but I am not sure that that’s a completely reasonable thing to do today. The problem, of course, is that it is not at all clear what better guide is available to those of us buying stocks during this transition to a world economy.

I don’t fret about this too much because I don’t see that those of us pursuing early financial freedom have an alternative to investing in stocks. However, I think it makes sense to keep your eyes open and to avoid becoming too complacent.

Taking Risks by Starting a Business

The potential payoff is huge. The potential downside is also huge.

Risk Tolerance in the Real World

One way to look at this is that it is best to start a business when you are young. That way, you cannot lose too much even if you fall on your face.

The counter idea is that it makes sense to work for big corporations when you are young and learn what you need to know to give it a go on your own down the road a stretch. Do it that way, and you can view any learning experiences from your corporate days as part of your compensation for having to turn over to someone else (often not even a someone else but a something else — a corporate thing lacking a spine or a heart or a brain) the right to make the calls.

I chose the latter path. Some swear by the former path. Of course, they would, wouldn’t they? The ones doing the swearing are the ones who made it to the other side of the river in one piece.

Taking Risks by Retiring Early

It’s still a live question as to whether I should have stayed at my corporate job a few years longer and thereby accumulated a good bit more financial security before making the shift to the far-more-risky writing career. The plus of having more money in the bank is obvious. The downside is that I would have been several years older by the time I got to where I am now in my writing career. Not good. One complaint that you rarely hear come from my lips today is that I wish I were older.

I of course understand that the sorts of risks that I took on are not for everybody. However, I am uneasy with the idea of retiring in your 40s or 50s with the thought of never again working for money. I worry that the amount that you think is enough money in your 40s or 50s might not seem like so much later on. You greatly reduce your risks if you stick with some kind of money-producing endeavor after retiring from full-time corporate employment.

I don’t like the idea of being totally dependent on a paycheck and I don’t like the idea of being totally independent of a paycheck. I am drawn to a middle-ground somewhere between the two. If I sold my book for $1,000,000 to a big publisher, my guess is that I would craft new goals that would keep me working hard on the second and third books. As noted above, I’m never satisfied. When they’re taking me away for burial before the body begins to stink, I’ll be asking if I might have the time needed to complete just one last post on safe withdrawal rates.

Taking Risks by Going to School

School was a great deal for a long time. It was fulfilling work, you met lots of interesting people, and you increased your income-earning potential in big ways. I think that school was so good a deal for so long a time that it earned a reputation that it couldn’t live up to. I see too many people today going to school because they are not sure what else to do and school is the most respectable of a number of not-too-compelling choices.

There’s no more expensive way to find yourself than to find yourself in school. If you are not sure why you are there, you probably will not be learning that much. School takes you out of the job market for years, which means you give up not only years of earning a salary but years of learning experiences. And schooling is expensive today; the availability of loans just makes it more expensive in a long-term sense.

You Can Do It

Schooling provides a fantastic payoff in the right circumstances. However, I see going to school as generally being a high-risk move today.

Taking Risks by Saving Money

The domain name for this site has the word “saving” in it. So I feel obligated to put forward a comment relating to that topic from time to time.

Saving is risky. If you go on a vacation today, you know what you are getting; the value proposition is solid and clear. If you save, you don’t know how much that money is going to help you out later on. It might be that it will keep you from going hungry. It might be that it will allow you to pursue an opportunity that will make you rich. It might be that you will get so many raises between now and the day you retire that the money you save by not taking the vacation will end up just being extra money to give to your heirs.

I believe that a big reason why people don’t save is that they appreciate on some level how risky a money move it is. What people need to understand is that risk is not bad. The trick with risk is to calculate it. It’s smart to avoid unnecessary risks or risks with far more downside than upside. Risk itself is unavoidable, however.

The more you pay attention to the questions involved in taking risks, the more likely it is that you will come to appreciate the strong value proposition offered by saving. In the right circumstances, the payoff from saving is huge. Spending is the money allocation choice that permits you to enjoy life a bit more. Saving is the money allocation choice that takes you to a place to which you have never been before, that sets you on fire.

Staying Young at Heart

Staying young at heart requires taking on new challenges.

Staying young at heart requires taking on new challenges, ones that test you as much as the challenges you have now mastered tested you at an earlier stage of life.

Staying Young at Heart
We look back at youth as an idyllic time because we have a clear recollection of the ways in which it is easy to be young and a foggy recollection of the ways in which it is hard. We think: “If only I had the energy I had then.” Or: “If only I weighed what I weighed then.” Or: “If only I had the good health I had then.” We don’t often think: “If only I were as uncertain of myself as I was then.” Or: “If only I knew as little about how the world really works as I knew then.” Or: ”If only I had as little judgment as I had then.”

The best that those of us trying to hold onto a bit of our youth can do is to hold onto the sense of excitement that comes from facing a challenge and overcoming it. It’s got to be a real challenge, one appropriate for our age. At 15, it might have been a challenge to ask a girl to dance, or to show someone an essay you wrote, or to perform at a piano recital. Those won’t do for most 55-year-olds (there are exceptions to that statement, to be sure). An appropriate challenge for a 55-year-old might be finally to make peace with her sister, or to get serious about photography, not for money now but just as a hobby, or to agree to play the organ at church even though it would be the softer and easier path to say that you are too busy.

If you stop running regularly, you get to a point where all you can do is walk. If you stop walking regularly, you get to a point where all you can do is sit. If you stop pursuing goals that are hard, you get to a point where you don’t see much point in being alive anymore. That’s old and tired thinking.

Staying young at heart requires coming to terms with death.

Accept death, and you’ve got life beat.

I’m not morose. I don’t think about death all the time. I do think about it, though. I think about death in about the way I thought about financial freedom at age 35. I see it as the focus of the next big project on the horizon. I don’t expect to die anytime real soon. I would like to be ready, just in case. And I would like to come to terms with death long before it becomes a pressing everyday concern.

I think everyone should do this. It is part of what is involved in living on purpose. If you really and truly believe in God and heaven, death should not be such a big deal. Letting it in that it is not such a big deal should help you in your effort at staying young at heart. I can’t speak as well on behalf of those who do not believe in God and heaven, but my thought is that the same is true for them to at least some extent. If you really and truly believe that it all ends when they bury you, then death is at least not such a horrible thing — it’s going to sleep, not going to the fires. Again, though, you need to really and truly believe in this view of what happens at death to be at peace with aging. You need to be sure you’re not going to the fires (or, in the case of the religious person, you need to be sure that you are not going to sleep for good).

Be What You Are

Think through what death means, research all of your questions until you arrive at answers in which you possess at least a good amount of confidence. That’s the only way in which you can hope to succeed at your effort of staying young at heart. Trying not to think about death as you get up in years is like trying not to think about the word “pistachio.” The harder you work to keep it out of your mind, the harder it is going to fight to get back in. And those struggling with thoughts of approaching death have a hard time staying young at heart.

It’s easy for young people not to think about death. For them, it’s something that happens to other people. It gets harder and harder to have confidence in that lie as the years tick off. When you get to the wrong side of 50, as I recently did, you need to stop putting off the job of coming to terms with the grim reaper. Tell him that you are not running anymore. Tell him that you’ll meet him underneath the highway at dusk and that you’re going to punch him in the nose so many times that he’s going to wish he had been born without a nose. Try to say it like you mean it. He doesn’t scare easy.

Staying young at heart requires a sense of humor.

Humor is not jokes. Humor is perspective.

Perspective is what makes it possible to be okay with the fact that you can’t run marathons anymore. When you were young, you were able to do more things each year. Now things are closing in on you. Marathons are out because of the knees. You wish that they printed books in a larger type. You can’t remember the last time you slept nine hours straight. First they stopped adding new things. Now they’re actually taking away things that you’ve enjoyed for a long time.

They do it that way so it won’t come as a shock when the whole thing gets taken away. Can you imagine what it would be like if you could run marathons right up into your 80s and then one day it would just be “poof!” and no more nothing. Things are strange enough as they are.

It hurts to have things taken away. The one thing you’ve got going for you is that you’ve been around long enough to have come to at least a dim recognition that it’s all a gift anyway, so the right attitude is to be happy for the things they haven’t yet taken away. That’s humor. That’s perspective.

The trick is to be not just saying it but believing it deep down. There’s a story about Edmund Campion that I find very funny. He was in prison and the time of his torture was approaching. The fellow who had turned him in came to visit and acknowledged that he had done wrong. Campion told the fellow that he was willing to hear his confession. The fellow said: “What, you could forgive even me?” “Oh, sure,” said Campion, “but the penance will be severe.

Loving Life
Getting old is going off to your torture. Not in as dramatic a way as Campion did, but the basic concept is pretty much the same. You’ll enjoy the feeling that goes with staying young at heart for more of the remaining days if you can make jokes about it than you will if you cannot. Jokes that truly express how you feel are funnier and have more magic power than those you put forward because you know that this is the sort of thing you are supposed to joke about.

Staying young at heart requires learning new things.

It’s pretty darn easy to learn when you are young. You don’t know anything. If you get the urge to walk somewhere, you need to learn to tie your shoes. If you want to get places faster, you need to learn how to drive a car. If you want to have money to finance your eating habit, you need to learn how to make a good impression in a job interview. It’s one natural learning experience after another.

My mother told me one of the saddest stories I have ever heard. I was reading a lot of Somerset Maugham for a time and she saw a copy of Of Human Bondage on the table. She said: “Oh, I read that!” I was amazed. I asked when she read it. She said that she read it before she got married. She used to work in a factory, then go to dances at night, and then go home and read in bed before getting a few hours sleep and heading back off to the factory. So how come I never saw her reading books like Of Human Bondage? “You stop doing all the things you really enjoy after you get married and have children.”

Oh.

My mother had a good life and a happy marriage. And wonderful kids! Her answer can be easily misunderstood. I tell you about it, however, because it gets at something important that happens to a lot of us as we age. Every now and again I’ll put on my Monkees CD collection (LIsten to the Band) to see if they really were as good as I once thought they were. The work product holds up. They really were good. So were the Hollies. So were the Turtles. So were the Lovin’ Spoonful. They were all just great. So why don’t I make time to listen to them much anymore?

Other things take up the time. I was learning about the big bad world by listening to those songs, and now, while the songs are still enjoyable, I already know a good bit about the big bad world, so the message being delivered is not so urgent. So I’ve let the other things go to the top of the list. In other words, I’ve stopped doing all the things I really enjoy now that I’m married and have children.

That makes sense. There’s a time for the Turtles and there’s a time for moving past the Turtles. The Bible says so! It says something like that anyhow. I’m sure of it.

Don't Act Your Age
You’ve got to be learning something new, though, to succeed at your effort at staying young at heart. Now I’m learning about the internet search engines. Now I’m learning about writing longer, books instead of articles or columns. Now I’m learning about raising children. I’m not learning the lessons contained in “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” or “Happy Together.” But I’m still learning.

That stops and the entire machine shuts down.

I think that’s why Dylan warns us never to stop working. It doesn’t have to be for pay. But you better always be working at something. Otherwise the machine shuts down. Once it shuts down it’s real hard to get it moving forward again.

Staying young at heart requires accepting that you are old.

Speaking of Dylan, he’s always been a master at presenting an image. He doesn’t try to look young in his photos, at least not in an obvious way. If anything, he plays up his age. He puts on an act that argues that he is older than he is and that causes your mind to resist the act and to argue “oh, he’s not that old!” Which is of course just what he wants you to do.

There’s a way to be young when you are old. It is not to fake youth. There really is such a thing as an old person with a young spirit. One of the elements of a young spirit is confidence. By pretending to be something you are not, you blow that one right out of the gate. Those staying young at heart should have a greater confidence than the young. What appears to be confidence in the young is often just bravado. With those staying young at heart, there is the true confidence from actually having witnessed much of what life has to show.

Staying young at heart requires taking the focus off of yourself.

Back to that Bible passage. It’s natural for the young to be self-absorbed. Young people are preparing to take on the big bad world, and don’t want to make a mess of it. So they have a lot of self-oriented stuff to figure out.

That stuff is supposed to be behind you when you are old. The way to be young when you are old is to reach outside of yourself. That’s the edge you have over the young gunslingers. The young gunslingers can draw quicker. Try to outdraw them, and you’re going to end up face-down on the street. You can outfox them. You can win at a young person’s game by playing it by an old person’s rules.

Make a Fresh Start

I read in a book about how it is possible for an old person to develop a side of her personality that she was not able to develop when she was young. Say that you have always been great at fixing things around the house but not so hot at listening to people’s troubles and giving them advice. When you get old, you gain an ability to do that. People who could never cook learn how to cook. People who never had patience develop patience. People who were never deep think deep thoughts. People who were never silly think silly thoughts.

Why does this happen? You’re not fighting anymore to be “you” when you’re old. You’ve already fought that battle, and you experienced some wins and some losses and some rain-outs. You are able to accept the battle as over. You are able to ease up a bit and do some things that have nothing to do with the success of that idea that you used to carry around about what was “you” and why that was such an important thing to be.

This is why grandparents can do things for children that parents cannot. The parents are probably handling things in the way that the grandparents did back when they were parents. The grandparent stage is a chance to do it different. A grandparent who handles a child in a different manner than how he handled a child when he was a parent is starting the adventure over again. He is in an important sense staying young at heart.

I caught you! You’re thinking of the word “pistachio,” aren’t you?

Staying Married Just to Be Different

Suggestion #1 on Staying Married — Have Kids.

Some people cannot have kids. Some who can have them worry that they might place strain on the marriage rather than strengthen it.

Staying Married -- Just to Be DifferentIt certainly is so that there are cases in which having kids creates strains. In an overall sense, however, I believe that having kids strengthens the marriage bond.

It’s when you work with your spouse to build something of long-lasting importance that you come to see that person as attaining a significance in your life that no other person could ever attain. Working together to find a home and then furnishing it and keeping it in repair does that. So does planning a vacation. So does creating a financial plan and updating it regularly.

Nothing does this like having kids.

It is my recollection that even J.R. Ewing’s marriage to Sue Ellen lasted longer than it otherwise would have because of the kids. J.R. was a cartoon-character bad guy. But even he had hopes for his kids. And even he couldn’t deny that his wife had something to do with the reality of them showing up in the photos taken of the family living at Southfork.

Suggestion #2 on Staying Married — Take Long Walks.

Marriage is a struggle in modern days because the pace of change is so swift. If you change careers or if you change interests, it can cause changes in how you relate to the person who fell in love with the old you.

We can’t avoid change. So we need to keep our spouses apprised of the changes that we are going through. That happens in long uninterrupted conversations. Long walks are good for this. Or long drives. Or dinners out.

Suggestion #3 on Staying Married — Don’t Lose Your Religion.

I’m using the word “religion” in a broad sense here. The other way to protect against the damage that can be brought on by too much change is to stay rooted to the beliefs that you had before you got to where you now are.

It bothers me when someone like Frank Sinatra ditches the person who was standing behind him when he was a nobody. I don’t mean just that I see it as a moral violation. I also think that someone like Sinatra hurts himself when he turns on his past. Part of the fun of making it is knowing inside that you remain a skinny kid from Hoboken. You need to stay rooted to that stuff or you lose not only a spouse but important connections to yourself as well.

Suggestion #4 on Staying Married — Appreciate Paradox.

Avoiding Divorce

My wife and I have very different personalities. This makes for a great marriage when things are going well because she is strong in the areas where I am weak and I am strong in the areas where she is weak. However, there are times when it causes communication problems. There are times when I just do not make any sense! Well, the reality is that at times she just does not make any sense, but I am bending over backwards to be diplomatic here.

What to do? What to do?

I have to accept that I married her because she is so different, that she supplies me with a way of looking at the world that I am not able to tap into on my own. There are some moments at which this is a bit harder to pull off than it is at some other moments.

The best strategy that I have come up with is to appreciate paradox. In a moment at which your spouse is doing something that is not something that you would do, you will be tempted not to acknowledge his or her good points. You need to play it just the other way. Make a special effort to point out the good stuff just at the moment when the crazy stuff is making a memorable appearance.

Doing this will often not entirely defuse a tense situation. It almost always helps. It can sometimes make you laugh to acknowledge how great your spouse is at a moment when he or she is driving you nuts. It makes you laugh because the paradox of greatness (in your eyes) and craziness (in your eyes) is so absurd.

Your spouse might not even get it. But he or she will be grateful that you are making an effort to be fair. And seeing the humor of things will undercut any anger you feel.

Don’t require your spouse to be the one to point to his or her good points. That’s your job! Don’t ever let yourself be taken in by the crazy idea that it goes against your interests to undercut your side of the argument. No! An argument with your spouse is an argument with another side of yourself. This is not a courtroom encounter. You truly want both sides to win.

Suggestion #5 on Staying Married — Don’t Duck Stuff That Cannot Be Forever Ducked.

I’m a talker. I find it hard to duck stuff. Sometimes that’s bad. Some things are better off ducked.

There are some things that cannot be ducked, however. That stuff you want to face down as soon after it is uncovered as is possible. Of course the tricky part is being able to distinguish the one sort of issue from the other.

Making Marriage Fun
I like to tackle things. I do it too much. The good side of this tendency is that successfully resolving an issue leads to a greater level of intimacy. I’ve seen this happen numerous times.

Suggestion #6 on Staying Married — Write Life Plans.

There’s an article elsewhere at the “The Self-Directed Life” section of the site on “Financial Intimacy.” It bums me that money advisors so often observe that money differences kill many marriages.

I don’t doubt that this is so. The other side of the story needs to be told. When a couple works together on money issues, it strengthens the marriage. Money differences should not always be viewed as creating problems. Money differences can create problems. Money differences can also create solutions. View your effort to attain financial goals as akin to climbing mountains together. It’s hard work, but it’s fun work, and it’s work that can bring you closer to your partner in the wonderful adventure.

Suggestion #7 on Staying Married — Don’t Ever Crush Someone’s Dream.

Say that you need to move to keep your job. Say that that means that she has to move too and that that means that she has to make a career sacrifice.

Sometimes it works out like that. Sometimes there are no totally fair solutions to a problem.

It it has to be that way, it has to be that way. If it’s no big deal to her (or to him), then forget about it. If it is a big deal, do not forget that there needs to be a make-up for the step backwards she (or he) was required to make. If career success is a dream, you must be certain not to do anything to crush the dream.

Your spouse has different sorts of dreams than you do. One of the benefits of writing a Life Plan is that it helps you learn what they are. Do not forget. Distinguish the things that are important from the things that are not. You cannot make a fuss over every little thing. You must make a fuss over things that your spouse sees as part of his or her conception of what comprises The Good Life.

Suggestion #8 on Staying Married — Don’t Be a Wimp.

I don’t think you can solve differences by always giving in. Your spouse married you for a reason. He or she wants you to be you, not another him or her.

Making Marriage Last

It’s sad to see marriages fail because one party tried too hard to avoid frictions. Living things create friction. The way it is. Always show respect and warmth. But don’t hold back from putting up a fight when that is what is required. The seesaw works only when both riders bring their weight to bear at the appropriate moments.

Suggestion #9 on Staying Married — Don’t Force Solutions.

I don’t think it is healthy to avoid the discussion of problems. I also do not think it is healthy to insist on finding solutions to problems.

Some problems can be solved quickly. Some hang around for a time. Again, the way it is.

One benefit of adopting a practice of not forcing solutions to problems is that doing so will make it less likely that you will feel tempted to ignore problems until they become unmanageable. One of the reasons why people avoid discussions of problems is that they believe that problems discussed must be solved and they fear that no solutions are available. If no solutions are immediately available, no solutions are immediately available. Talk the problem over, then put it aside for a bit.

It might solve itself. You might forget about it. You might come up with a good solution later on.

Suggestion #10 on Staying Married — Remember That Everyone Has Troubles.

We all know this. We all are tempted to believe in the picture that another couple presents to the world, a picture that suggests that their marriage is the one without troubles. If you start thinking that some have figured out a way to make this easy, you are playing mind games that can cause your confidence in your marriage to falter.

True Love
Keep the focus on your marriage and on the Life Goals of the two people that comprise that marriage. Comparisons with other marriages and the spouses that comprise other marriages rarely help.

Suggestion #11 on Staying Married — See the Value in the Testing Process.

You don’t get paid in dollars for the work you put into a marriage. That can make you want to throw up your hands.

You get paid in a different way. Each test of your love teaches you something and makes you a stronger person in some way. A life without struggle is a life that doesn’t go anywhere.

It would be asking a lot to ask you to enjoy the struggle. I ask you to understand that there’s a payoff and that the payoff goes beyond just preserving the marriage.

Suggestion #12 on Staying Married — De-Emphasize Gifts.

The usual advice is to buy her flowers after you have an argument. Does anyone actually fall for that?

If she likes flowers, there’s something to be said for buying flowers, argument or no argument. To resolve an argument, say the words that need to be said to put any hurt feelings behind you. Don’t let the flowers do the talking. You do the talking, Big Guy!

Sex Is Overrated (Or So My Wife Often Observes)

 Sex is overrated because of the efforts of people trying to sell us stuff.

Sex is overrated and that’s a money issue because thinking sex is more important than it is causes you to spend on the wrong sorts of stuff.

Sex Is Overrated

The job of advertising is to get you to buy stuff you don’t need. This is not done by listing the pros and cons of various spending options. It is done through an appeal to the emotions. Advertising is always going to contain a lot of sexed-up stuff in it because sex is the great universal irrational drive.

I do it myself. I call my approach Passion Saving.

That’s fighting fire with fire. I play to win.

It’s okay when I do it because I’m on your side. (I’m joking — kinda, sorta.)

Sex is overrated because it’s something we all have in common in a world in which we feel increasingly isolated.

Sex has always been used for nefarious purposes because of the power it provides to persuade people to do things they otherwise would not be inclined to do. The problem has gotten a lot worse in recent decades.

Today’s world is more under the control of big corporate interests. A mom and pop grocery store could only increase its profits by a wee bit by coming up with a sexy advertising jingle. For a huge chain, it’s worth the expense to hire the sorts of people who in earlier days would have been writing hit songs for the Monkees to make a purchase of their convenience foods irresistible. I swear that I once saw a billboard with a sexed-up enticement to buy a premium brand of lettuce!

Forming a real connection with another human is a difficult business. It’s a hard sell getting people to buy what they need to buy to feel less lonely. But we all “get” sex. As marketing becomes more and more efficient, more and more of the pitches directed at us promise sexual intimacy to the millions in dire need of the real kind.

Sex is overrated because the negatives are often overlooked.

Sex has its good side. It forces us to slow down, for one thing. I think of that Elvis Costello song “Busy Bodies.” If it weren’t for the sex drive, some people would never put down their cell phones.

Still, sex hurts an awful lot of people. People open themselves up and then get torn apart. This should be talked about more frequently in this free-discussion society of ours.

I don’t like the smell of cigarettes. But I bet that free sex has hurt more people than the Marlboro Man. Illicit sex should come with a warning label.

Of course, it’s not my place to say that people should not engage in illicit sex. I avoid controversy whenever possible; I’m a “push not the river” sort of individual, like my friend Wanderer. I’m merely suggesting that the consumer advocacy people look into this free-and-uneasy sex business and provide us with some tips for not getting our hearts crushed into bits and that sort of thing.

Is There Sex After Marriage

The point here is that they don’t ever put up advertisements reminding us of the bad side of sex. People don’t tell jokes about it. There are some songs about it, but they usually are placed on the flip side. Yet the dark side of sex is very real. The wrong sort of sex is a dream crusher.

Buyer beware!

Sex is overrated because it draws attention away from life activities of more enduring satisfaction.

The real problem is that sex sucks up energy that could be going to other purposes.

Say that you daughter never gets pregnant and has to drop out of school. Has she escaped the reach of the negative power of sex? Not necessarily. What if she directs too much mental energy to boys and not enough to learning how to draw or to studying organic chemistry or to swimming laps? People still do those things, to be sure. People are smart! But do we put as much effort into those things as we would if we spent less time and effort and money pursuing sex and sex substitutes? I wonder.

When Mick Jagger complained about not getting satisfaction, it wasn’t just a complaint about the sex not being good. It was really a complaint about our Consumer Wonderland not always satisfying every desire. My thought is that the Consumer Wonderland would serve us better if we maintained our ability to think straight by not getting too caught up in the messages fed to us in the sexed-up advertisements.

Is rock and roll a shout of joy over sex or is rock and roll a shout of joy over independence attained?

I think it can be taken either way. I remember the Beatles opening that door in A Hard Day’s Night and shouting “We’re Out!” They were overcoming repression but it was not necessarily sexual repression that had been holding them back. My sense is that some people interpret songs about independence (“Get Up, Stand Up!”, “Dancing in the Street” , “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”) as being about sex. I try to take it the other way. I make an effort to interpret songs about sex as being about independence.

I was bowling with my wife and boys last Sunday and they were playing “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” I was singing along a bit and then I thought “Well, this isn’t quite right.” Then I told myself that it’s really a song about the quest for independence and self-assertion, that the song need not be taken as being entirely about sex.

Rationalization will get you everywhere in Hoco-World.

Sex is overrated because it draws attention away from simple stuff to which we should be paying more attention.

One of the first things I learned when I began saving effectively is the importance of being thankful for the good stuff in your life. The ultimate advertising slogan is that one that says “It Costs a Little More, But You’re Worth It!” We all want to hear that.

Purpose of Sex

If you take note of all the good stuff you’ve got going on in your life, you feel less of a drive to accumulate junk. Saying grace before meals leaves you less vulnerable to all sorts of marketing pitches. When I pray, I make a point of saying thanks for all sorts of simple joys that I otherwise might forget to appreciate — the incredible variety of foods we have to taste, the thrill of a good conversation with another human, having been born in a place where people don’t live in huts and the police don’t carry machine guns. If you remember to be thankful for all that, you feel less intense of a desire for a red sports car.

The best value propositions lie in taking the time to enjoy the simple things. You can read a great novel. You can take a long bath. You can look at old photos. They don’t often show you a girl wearing a short skirt to get you interested in that stuff because there’s not much profit in it for them for doing so. So you need to create your own non-sexy (or ultra-sexy, depending on your point of view) advertisements in your head to sell yourself on that sort of thing.

It’s not enough just to know what matters in a “yes, I get it” sort of sense. When walking through a Consumer Wonderland dominated by photos of girls in short skirts (who in all likelihood are kind and generous-spirited people as well, it should be noted), you need to focus on the alternative. Sex hurts most by taking our attention away from non-sex stuff that counts for more in the end.

Sex is overrated because it always ends badly.

Sex doesn’t go anywhere.

Love goes somewhere. Friendship goes somewhere. Raising kids goes somewhere. Marriage goes somewhere.

I see sex as being an exclamation point to sentences comprised of words telling a non-sex message. Sex has its place. It’s a limited place, though. Sex by itself doesn’t go anywhere. Let sex get too big, and it ruins your fun instead of adding to it. Sex can add something significant to a positive trip with a non-sex purpose. Sex trips end badly. Make sex a condiment, never the main course.

Why is it that sex trips end badly? It’s because we are not sex machines (James Brown is an exception — that’s the entire point of his song on this topic). We can handle sex as part of a mix but ignoring the non-sex machinery causes it to act up. The human machine strips a gear when the volume control for sex gets turned up too high.

Sex is overrated because the urge is too darn insistent.

Sex is like a song that is all drumbeat. It’s too darn demanding. When the message keeps getting repeated and repeated and repeated, I get distrustful. If it’s so, why do they have to say it so many times?

I am not anti-drums. I am not anti-sex. I just like to see the other side of the story get a hearing from time to time. I see so many advertisements for sex all about me that I feel a need to write a different sort of song.

Sex is overrated because it too often contains a self-destructive component.

Sex Happens

The way they say it in the songs is “I’ll give up everything for one night with you!” It’s an exaggeration, but there’s some truth in it. Do you not know people who gave up too much for sex? Have you not ever been tempted to give up too much for it yourself?

That scares me. There are few other urges that tempt us to give up so much for so little.

I’d rather live without sex than live without reading. I’d rather live without sex than live without running. I’d rather live without sex than live without conversation. I’d rather live without sex than live without music.

I think most people are like me. But I also think that most people are tempted at times to give sex too high a place. Sex is too demanding! I don’t trust that urge.

Sex is overrated because it is forgettable.

Sex is intense. I’ll give you that one. That doesn’t mean that it’s memorable.

What we remember is things associated with sex. You might remember seeing her standing there and your heart going boom when she crossed the room or you might remember talking things over in the restaurant or you might remember having the fight and that feeling that comes when you see that it’s more important to make up than to be proven right. That’s different than remembering the sex itself. The sex itself is not what stays in your mind. It is intense but not memorable. There’s a difference.

Sex is overrated because songs about it are better than the real thing.

There are many good songs about sex. Maybe they’re not really about sex. Maybe they’re about a quest, or whatever.

Ray Charles scored a bunch of hits by turning gospel songs into sex songs. He should be ashamed of himself! That was a very, very naughty thing for him to do. That was just too much.

Still, they were good songs. There’s no purpose served in denying the obvious realities.

Is Sex Worth It?

Dylan turned the tables on his Time Out of Mind album. The songs all appear at first to be about relationships with women. When you listen carefully, you discover that they are about a relationship with God. This guy really enjoys messing with people’s minds. And the Time Out of Mind songs are good too!

God seems to like the idea of presenting us with seemingly contradictory visions of what it takes to get closer to Him. You figure it out! God knows I can’t!

When you get older, it makes more sense to be thinking about your relationship with God. So we need to de-emphasize the sex stuff a bit. I cannot give up on all those great songs. I cannot turn my back on much of the Consumer Wonderland, even though I don’t entirely trust all its claims. My encouraging thought for the day is that there is non-sex stuff to be found even in the most sexed-up songs once you stop letting the advertising guys tell you what to think.

 

Smart Vacations Recharge Your Batteries

Don’t view a vacation as time off from your pursuit of the self-directed life, but as a time to recharge your batteries and thereby make quicker progress.

Pointer #1 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Let Your Mind Wander

Recharge Your Batteries A vacation should not be an exercise in hedonism. The goal is recreation. That is, re-creation, a creating again.

The thing that you are trying to re-create is your Life Plan. You want to become newly enthused, newly committed, newly determined.

A vacation gives you the free time you need to let your mind wander and come up with new ideas for pursuing new life goals. There’s a time to limit yourself to coloring within the lines and there’s a time for a more freethinking approach. The purpose of taking vacations is to ensure that there’s time in your year for the freethinking approach.

Pointer #2 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Give Your Mind a Jolt

What if you left your job? What would happen?

What if you moved to a different part of the country or a different part of the world?

What if you gave up television, or took up exercise, or changed your eating habits?

You can’t think about this sort of thing all the time. Life is too busy. A vacation gives you a long stretch of time in which to ponder such thoughts. Don’t just spend more time entertaining the same thoughts you entertain when you are not on vacation. Come up with a bold idea and see where it takes you.

Pointer #3 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Do Something You’ve Never Done

If you have been wanting to begin running but have found it hard to work it into your schedule, you could run each day on your vacation. You certainly will have the time. After running seven days, you might be inclined to make more of an effort to find time in your ordinary schedule for daily runs.

Or you could begin playing cards on your vacation, if that’s an idea you’ve given vague consideration to for some time but not taken action on.

Or you could give up coffee for the week. You certainly can’t argue that you need the caffeine to wake up and be fully alert for your vacation responsibilities, can you?

Pointer #4 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Talk with People Taking Different Paths

Bring Out the Kid in You My wife and I take a lot of our vacations at bed-and-breakfast inns (at least we did in the Days Before Kids — I like that line in the Paul Simon song where he says “You are the burden of my generation, I sure do love you, but just get that straight!”) Some of my favorite memories from those trips are of conversations we had with people over breakfast. In theory, you could have the same sorts of conversations in regular life. In reality, you rarely do.

It’s an unfortunate reality of regular life that we come to associate mostly with People Like Us — people who do similar kinds of work, people who live in the same general neighborhood, people who don’t rock our boats too terribly much. There are often opportunities on vacations to meet people doing very different sorts of things and coming from very different sorts of places. These learning experiences are invaluable. You can learn so much from talking with someone with a different perspective that these conversations alone can make the many dollars directed to a vacation pay off.

Pointer #5 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Think Back Five Years

I have much stronger memories of my vacation weeks than I do of the other 51 weeks of the year. If I am at the beach, I always take walks as one of my activities. I find it easy to think back five years and recall the life goals that I was pursuing at that earlier time and the obstacles that were then in my path. I can recall the songs that I dared to sing aloud on the deserted sections of the beaches too!

Thinking back five years is a good way to gain perspective on the problems you are struggling with in the present. It suggests to you the types of solutions that are possible. Sometimes things work themselves out by taking an unexpected path. There are lessons to be learned from taking a close look at those crazy paths from the past that can be applied in the construction of good paths taking you forward from where you stand today.

Pointer #6 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Think Ahead Five Years

Think ahead five years too. Toy with different ideas as to how you will get from where you are to where you want to be.

Then jump about in the waves for a bit.

Then bake in the sun a bit.

Then toy with a few more possibilities.

“Rinse and repeat” really does work. It’s only when it comes to washing your hair that it’s not such a hot idea.

Pointer #7 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Identify Your Life Story

I once read an article about divorce in which the author argued that one of the hardest things is that divorce requires us to rewrite our life stories. For one thing, all of those old photographs have to be hidden because they have the smiling face of That Other Person in them!

You're Only As Old As You Feel

A life is not a series of random events. A life is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. All sorts of pain and frustration and disappointment becomes bearable when it fits into a story that in an ultimate sense is meaningful. Our trouble is that we have only seen the early chapters and not the later ones. The point of the story shifts from one thing to another over time.

You need to go back from time to time and craft a new story line. Identifying the meaning of your life energizes you and steels your determination.

Pointer #8 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Give a Title to Your Life Story

It takes a long time to come up with a good title for a chapter of a book. It needs to say precisely what that chapter is about.

Think up a few words that summarize your life story. If you were a corporation, this would be your mission statement. People make fun of mission statements because most of them are dumb. When it’s done right, writing a mission statement is not a waste of time.

If the title for your life story is “Helping People,” you need to work it harder.

If the title for your life story is “Freeing People to Live to Live Richer Lives by Doing High-Quality Handyman Work and Charging a Fair Price for It,” you might be onto something.

Pointer #9 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries –Wake Up Refreshed

Aim to play hard enough so that you sleep well and long and wake up refreshed. You don’t want to be in a haze for all the important stuff you have planned for vacation week.

Pointer #10 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Take One Practical Step

The idea of Passion Saving is to combine the dreamy with the practical. Your vacation week is not generally the week to be doing things; it is the week to be reformulating your thinking about what you should be doing. But you need to take one practical step to keep it real.

If you run one mile a day, you’ve taken a practical step.

If you go seven days without drinking one can of soda, you’ve taken a practical step.

If you remember to compliment your spouse one time each day, you’ve taken a practical step.

Take a practical step and all the thinking amounts to something.

Pointer #11 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Read a (Completely) New Book

Having Fun in the Sun If you never read novels, read a novel.

If you only read novels, read a nonfiction book.

If you usually read stuff that relates to your work, read something about baseball or music or history.

Pointer #12 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Go for a Long Drive with a Close Friend

Driving a long distance to get to your vacation spot can be a good thing if it is possible to do this without running into serious traffic. There are things that come to mind only after a conversation has been going on for some time. We usually walk away from conversations before they get too deep. You can’t walk away if you are only one hour into a five-hour drive.

Pointer #13 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Go for a Long Walk Alone

First obtain input from others. Then think it over by yourself. You need fresh inputs. But you need to be the one integrating the new ideas into your existing Life Plan.

Pointer #14 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Ponder Your Next Vacation

Planning vacations is half of the fun of them. You don’t want to get bummed when your vacation comes to an end. So starting pondering your next trip before the current one comes to an end.

Pointer #15 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — List Additional Practical Steps

You only have time on vacation to perform one practical step in pursuit of your new Life Plan. You can list others, however. That positions you to get things off on the right foot when you return home.

Pointer #16 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Let It In

Smart Vacations Lift Your Spirits Don’t make the mistake of thinking great thoughts, getting excited about them, and then forgetting about them. You cannot take in new ideas all in a flash. Let you new ideas sink in over time. Expect that it’s going to take time to polish the ideas and plan for that.

Pointer #17 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Fire Your Accountant (For a Week)

You don’t want to be counting pennies while on vacation. You paid a lot of money to get where you are, so take advantage of what is available to you for this one week of your life. Then return to the thrifty habits that permit you to enjoy expensive vacations.

Pointer #18 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Don’t Get Swept Away

Don’t get so carried away with new ideas of what your life can be that you start thinking of yourself as an entirely new person. You want to take significant steps but avoid rashness.

Pointer #19 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Don’t Get Divorced

Don’t get so caught up in the idea of making changes that you decide to change life partners. That would make old Farmer Hocus very sad.

Pointer #20 on Using Smart Vacations to Recharge Your Batteries — Eat an Ice Cream Cone (Or, if You Do This All the Time, Don’t Eat an Ice- Cream Cone)

If it’s been too long since you’ve enjoyed an ice cream cone, a vacation is the perfect time to experience the feeling again. If you have them all the time, a vacation is a great time to enjoy the feeling of denying yourself an ice cream cone.

Smart Vacations Expose You to Something Different It really can be an enjoyable feeling to deny yourself an ice cream come. Vacations are a time for testing ideas like this. If you return home with personal experience of the pleasure that can be had by denying yourself an ice cream cone, you will likely have accomplished more on your vacation than you would have accomplished by spending the week doing more of the same old thing.

Vacation time is not a time to shut down your mind. It is a time to engage in a different sort of learning experience, a less reliable one but a potentially deeper one. Smart vacations make the other 51 weeks of the year more productive, both for the company that employs you and for You, Inc., too.


Live the Good Life and Avoid the Goons that Haunt It

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #1 — Jealousy

If we lived in a perfect world, people would look up to those living the good life and seek to emulate them. We don’t live in a perfect world. Live the good life and some are going to hate you. It’s called “jealousy.” It’s a depressing reality. It’s a reality all the same.

Live the Good Life

Don’t flaunt your wealth. Most of all, don’t flaunt your independence. Independence is more rare than wealth. It provokes more jealousy.

Don’t mention to coworkers that you plan to retire early. Don’t even let thought of your plans cross your mind when your boss is in the room. He or she might be able to read it in your eyes. Be cautious even among neighbors and family relations. You do need to share your exciting plans with someone. Limit sharing to close friends, who understand the difference between confiding and boasting.

One thing you have working in your favor is that the path to The Good Life heads in a different direction than the path to consumerism. You probably will not be driving an expensive car or wearing expensive jewelry. A chip on your shoulder can be just as showy, however. Be happy, but be humble happy.

Don’t think you can convert people. If they ask questions that indicate a sincere interest, then sure, offer a helping hand. If the person showing sincere interest is a coworker, describe your interest in early financial freedom as something you are exploring. Make it sound as if it’s an odd idea you happened across, one that you are not sure whether to take seriously or not. Better safe than sorry. If the coworker comes back to you a week later with his or her mind on fire, it might be prudent to take small steps forward on what could become a special relationship.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #2 — Insecurity

There’s no such thing as security. Not in the Valley of Tears.

I recall the financial worries I had over having children. People who grew up in an earlier day had more children at an earlier age and never gave the financial aspects a second thought. It’s because they had less that they worried less. Insecurity comes from a perception of risk. We sometimes perceive things as being worse than they are and we sometimes perceive things as being better than they are. The better things are, the more we take note of things that could send things in a downward direction.

So there’s no escaping feelings of insecurity. The more you have, the more you worry that you might lose some of what you have. Frank Sinatra sang a song (“I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing”) about this phenomenon:

Folks with plenty of plenty,
They sleep with a lock on the door.
Afraid somebody’s gonna rob them
While they’re out making more”

He suggests that the thing to do is to be content with having a girl and a song and a blanket for a picnic. That might be taking a good idea to an extreme. But I do think there’s something to be said for recognizing that, if you are one of the highly fortunate ones and you suffer a big loss, you’re still one of the fortunate ones. Warren Buffett makes the point that the single biggest contributing factor to his massive accumulation of wealth was his luck in being born into one of the modern industrialized economies. Warren must have spent a lot of time in his youth listening to Frankie. How else could he have gotten so smart about money matters?

There’s a healthy kind of insecurity. That’s the kind that keeps you pushing, pushing, pushing. I’ve got plenty of that. I push hard. You could hand me a million dollars and I would continue to push hard. Pushing hard is a price that I am almost always willing to pay. It’s fun to push hard. It keeps the blood moving. That’s why I don’t see the push-urging insecurity as a Goon Insecurity.

I’ve got some of the Goon insecurity too. I remind myself that, had the idea of pursuing financial freedom never entered my mind, I would have a steady paycheck today but less in the way of savings. I would be better off in one way and worse off in another way. Overall, I would probably be a bit worse off. Bringing that reality to mind eases up the Goon Insecurity a bit.

Avoid the Goons That Haunt Those Seeking the Good Life

Don’t ignore realities. That makes the Goon Insecurity stronger. Ignoring realities causes you to lose confidence in your own judgments. Properly so.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #3 — Uncertainty

Uncertainty is different than insecurity. It’s a broader concept. Live the good life and life becomes uncertain in all sorts of ways. You don’t have a regular schedule. You don’t see the same people every day. You try different kinds of work more frequently. You might move more frequently.

Like a fast dog that chases a taxicab, we are puzzled when our dream of catching freedom comes true. It looked so good in the dream. In real life, it looks like uncertainty piled on uncertainty.

Remind yourself that this is what freedom looks like in the flesh.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #4 — Old Age

If a young person were to take the advice at this site to heart, it would do him or her wonders. How often does that happen? Most of us need to suffer a serious life setback before seeing the appeal of financial freedom strongly enough to do the work it takes to attain it.

Those who are older get the idea quicker. It’s harder for them, though. They cannot pick up stakes and move as easily. They have locked-in responsibilities. They have spouses who may or may not get the idea as well. They have incomes less likely to rise significantly in years to come. They have fewer saving years open to them.

There are circumstances in which it makes sense to stay with the safe and steady job, dream be darned. Sometimes you need to make a compromise. Perhaps you can give on the big dream and construct a more modest dream to chase. I see nothing to be ashamed of in that. It’s good sense in some circumstances. It’s the responsible and even the charitable thing to do in some circumstances. You’re not letting the Goons win if you scale back your dream to a manageable size.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #5 — Inexperience

I sometimes wish that I had chased my dream when the thought first occurred to me. I gave it thought lots of time. i didn’t have the courage. Or perhaps I had too much sense.

It’s easier to take chances when you’re young. The trouble is — there’s so much that you don’t know. I feel that one of the forms of payment I received from my corporate jobs is that I learned about work and about people and about myself before I laid my own money on the table.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #6 — Failing Health

I’ve always been lucky in this department. It amazes me what some people are able to accomplish despite failing health. Perhaps carrying the weight helps them learn to run harder and to have confidence in their ability to run even harder yet if the need arises. That’s the impression you get from some of the stories you hear.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #7 — Death

Death to me is the ultimate motivator. People today hate the idea of death. People talk about scientific breakthroughs that will permit us to live for centuries.

I don’t know. I can imagine a Twilight Zone episode showing that this would not be so hot a development. I would not have taken the chances I took had I known that I had 200 years to write my book. Writing a book is like engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the devil. Why do it today if you don’t really need to do it for another 150 years?

Life Is Good

I’m a reporter. I do it on a deadline. I always turn my copy in when it must be turned in, not three minutes early and not three minutes late. It’s a matter of professional pride. Reporters say that they hate deadlines, but they know that life as we know it would be impossible without them. I think it works that way with death, the ultimate deadline. God put it there to prod us along.

“Remember, man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return.” That’s one of my favorite slaps in the face ever. I think about that one all the time. People who say that religion is too mushy forget about the hard sayings.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #8 — Consumerism

I’m the least anti-consumerism of all of the anti-consumerism writers that I know. Consumerism is a drag because of the ways in which it holds people back from being able to live the good life. It has its place, however. There is lots of good stuff available for sale today. I don’t see spending as being bad per se.

Know the cost of consumerism. That’s the thing. If you know the cost of something and you make a conscious decision to pay the price, that’s one thing. If you tumble through life taking on debt and not seeing how many opportunities you give up by doing so, that’s a drag. Uninformed consumerism is the greatest enemy of those seeking to live the good life.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #9 — Lies

It’s not that you need more money than anyone else to live the good life. It’s that you need more self-honesty.

There’s safety in numbers. Those walking the usual path hurt themselves in lots of small ways and that can over time add up to some big hurts, but they do avoid the cliffs that await those chasing a dream mindlessly. You’ve got to be careful and responsible when putting together a plan to live the good life. You need to be sober.

Get Rich Quick schemes are everywhere. Our fallen human nature is drawn to them. They cannot get you to fall into the trap without first getting you to buy into flattery and lies. Insist on honesty. Especially from yourself.

Live the Good Life and Avoid Goon #10 — Negativity

How Sweet It Is

Everyone opposes negativity. Me too. It’s not negativity to me, though, if you check something out and see that you are going to need to put off your plan to live the good life for another year or two or three or four. Acknowledging reality is not negativity.

Negativity is when you let a temporary defeat become a permanent defeat. My experience is that some aspects of your plan turn out better than you expected and some aspects of your plan turn out worse than you expected. Always remain open to restructuring of the plan. You let in the discouraging news because it would be playing to the Lies Goon not to do so. You respond with energy and optimism and creativity because it would be playing to the Negativity Goon to let a setback become a crusher.

Only the Death Goon is a crusher. And the good thing about the Death Goon is that he does not leave you anything to worry about when he takes you. When he takes you, he takes it all, the worry included.

Thou art dust. Thou art off the hook.

Except perhaps with the Devil Goon. That’s a different article.

Learning from Mistakes — I Never Should Have Bought That Leo Sayer Album

If you stick at it long enough, you eventually get lucky. You get what you wanted.

The other side of the story is, if you enjoy success long enough, you make mistakes. You blow it.

Learning From Mistakes

Lasting success requires more than luck. Lasting success requires learning from mistakes and using what you learn to move on to greater victories.

Learning from Mistakes re Overeating

My overeating problem played a role in leading me to discovery of the Passion Saving approach to money management. I learned that I am not good at self-denial. For me, what works is to add something to my routine (exercise) rather than to try to subtract something from my routine (cookies).

Most people who struggle with weight issues have had times when they achieved at least limited successes. Think back to those times, identify what is different about them, and use what you learn to develop an effective weight-loss plan for today.

Two other things that have worked for me are being busy and not having snack foods readily available to me. When I was in my first year of law school, I was living in a dorm without a refrigerator. And I was too busy to eat out of boredom or to spend much time tracking down favorite foods. I was amazed to realize one day that I had lost a good bit of weight without making any effort to do so.

What kills me is stress. That’s another reason why I see exercise as the best solution to a weight problem. Not only is exercising adding a positive rather than subtracting a negative. It is a big stress reducer — running or biking gets my mind off my troubles. There’s also something about exercise that naturally causes stress levels to drop; it may be that there is some sort of chemical thing going on.

My guess is that others experience similar patterns. You need to become aware of the patterns and focus on what works for you. Losing weight is not just about looking good. It helps with confidence and it helps with increasing energy levels. It is very much a money topic. People who are happy with their weight are more successful.

Learning from Mistakes re Dating

We all follow patterns of behavior. Each girl that I dated seriously was different in important ways. But now that I have a good bit of distance from those days, I can see the patterns. I dated one girl because she was smart and could introduce me to books and movies that I wouldn’t discover on my own. I dated another because she was, in the words of a family friend, a “pistol” in the personality department (and, no, it wasn’t Claire Danes, despite what Ataloss may tell you!). I married my wife because she possesses strong character.

The similarities are not obvious. I think that the common trait is that each of these women possessed an unusual strength of some sort or another. Joni Mitchell had a line – “You don’t like weak women, you get bored so quick; and you don’t like strong women because they’re hip to your tricks.” I relate to the first part, but not the second. My wife is hip to all of my tricks. Good for her, you know? And good for me too. We all need someone in our life telling us the straight story if we hope to be learning from our mistakes. Stuff that I pass right by is obvious to her.

One mistake that I made that I imagine lots of others make (but probably not to the same extent) is that I assumed the existence of feelings in dating partners that were not present. We are so caught up in what we are looking for that we assume that others are looking for similar things. That is often not at all the case.

To some extent I agree with people who say that you should consider whether a potential dating partner is responsible with money, and to some extent I do not. It is of course a plus. But I rank other things as higher priorities. On reason why it is a good idea to look at how a dating partner handles money is that someone who has his or her head on straight about money probably has his or her head on straight about lots of other things too. It takes a lot of work to get your head on straight about money today. Those who have done it have some brain cells working.

The Three Magic Words Are

The other side of the story is that some who are doing well financially just happened to fall into lucky circumstances for a time. You need to consider whether the good financial circumstances are likely to be permanent. Also, arrogance about financial success is not uncommon among those who have achieved it. I find this a turn-off. It’s one thing to do well yourself. It’s something else to put yourself above those who are struggling.

Learning from Mistakes re Career Decisions

I once had a guy tell me that it is a bad idea to take a job that pays less money because it promises more fulfillment. There is a sense in which I have not followed that fellow’s advice at all. A big part of my pitch for financial freedom is that it permits you to do more exciting things with your working hours. (because you can choose work without having to worry much about what it pays).

What the guy said stuck in my head, however. He was right to point out that people measure their self-worth by how much they earn. Self-fulfillment is hard to measure. Dollars are concrete. When you’re feeling insecure, knowing that you are earning a big salary can be a pick-me-up.

My view is that you must seek to do important work. You will lose the sense of adventure that energized you as a child and as a young adult if you do it just for the money for too long. There’s more than one way to be a whore and I don’t believe that whores ever really feel good about what they do. But you must watch the practical side too. You no more want to feel that you are a doormat than you want to feel that you are a whore.

The best of all worlds is to for a short time do work that pays enough to leave you free to take wild risks after only a short time of intense saving. Another reasonably good bet in the right circumstances is to do work that is highly fulfilling but that stands some realistic chance of bringing in the big bucks somewhere down the line.

Learning from Mistakes re Friends and Family

Is it not amazing how fights with loved ones are so often about the same things? You cannot learn to have a different personality. Nor can your friend or your spouse or your sister.

You can learn how good it feels to admit where you are wrong and to praise the other person for what she or he adds to your life. The best thing about disagreements is that they bring on pain, which brings on introspection, which brings on growth.

Learning from Mistakes re Spending

It sure makes you feel dumb to see something in a closet that you never once wore. This shows the power of emotion to influence spending decisions. More and more all the time, we don’t buy stuff to serve rational purposes but to inspire feelings within us as to who we are and what our lives are about. The lesson to be learned is to pay closer attention to the emotional side of money allocation decisions.

Learning from Mistakes re Schooling

Those Darn Humans

I wish that I had learned Latin and I wish that I had taken even more Shakespeare courses than I did.

I think that there are a good number of people today going to school to hide out. They are not clear on what career they should pursue or on how to get started on the one they would like to pursue and school seems like a safe place to think things over. It’s an awfully expensive Free Space.

I have sympathy for what those starting out are up against today. Job are more specialized and it is easier both to hit the jackpot by lucking into a high-potential job and to fall into a rut by making a less than ideal choice. It’s harder to make a call when there is so much riding on a decision and when it is hard to obtain good information about the pros and cons (many jobs being pursued today didn’t exist 20 years ago).

Learning from Mistakes re Free Time

It is more important today to make effective use of free time than it ever has been before. There are more choices available to us today. We can take advantage of opportunities only if we make time to explore possibilities that are not presented to us on a plate. Listen to stories of how people who attained early financial freedom did so and you will surely hear stories of people making effective use of free time.

I don’t mean to suggest that all free time should be directed to practical pursuits. I see it as a bad thing to go too many years without reading a novel. I see it as a bad thing to go too long without picking up a new non-practical skill (like skiing or playing the piano). I like to think that I am learning a bit more about God and why He put me here as time passes. My thought is that you need to mix up the practical with the dreamy. The dreamy becomes real by being given roots and the practical becomes powerful by tapping into the energy of a dream.

Learning from Mistakes re Beliefs

I read in a magazine article that one of the good points of hitting 40 is that you have developed enough confidence in what you are that you no longer feel as much of a need to obtain the approval of others. Part of the thrill of gaining in confidence is being able to say “I was dumb.”

I was wrong to buy that Leo Sayer album. I was wrong to leave the Church for so many years. I was wrong to stay single for so many years. I was wrong to be afraid to have kids. I was wrong to waste so much time following politics. I was wrong to spend so much time reading newspapers. I was wrong not to exercise regularly for a time. I was wrong to go so many years without even giving thought to writing down a Life Plan. I was wrong to take dumb risks, like I did that time I drove a car after attending a party to celebrate my graduation from law school. I was wrong not to work up the courage earlier in life to take some risky career moves that stood a reasonable chance of generating a big payoff. I was wrong not to visit my brother more often when we lived so close together that it was easy to do so. I was wrong not to recognize earlier signs of Alzheimer’s in my father in the years before he died. I was wrong to read so many magazine articles, thereby limiting the time that I had to devote to reading books. I was wrong to believe the Phillies of the late 1960s when they claimed each Spring that they had some rookies coming up who were going to turn the team around.

My hope is that I will be able a year from now to see clearly what’s wrong in some of the dumb stuff I do and say today.

Warning: I Talk to Goons

BigMoneyJim posted a comment to the blog a few weeks ago (this article was posted in April 2008) acknowledging that he is a regular at Greaney’s Goon Board but arguing that “the funny thing” is that there are 4,000 more posts at that board with my name on them than there are with his name on them. It’s true — I talk to Goons! My guess is that there are some others who find this odd. Hence this list of reasons for why I post at a spot on the internet that I have on numerous occasions referred to as a “Stinkhole.”

Reason #1 for Why I Talk to Goons — They Are My Friends.

Goon Posters Most of the Goons were friends of mine in the days before I “crossed” Greaney by posting honestly on the safe withdrawal rate topic. I do not believe that one highly dishonest and highly abusive individual should be able to require me to seek out new friends. I like the Goons!

I don’t like their reliance on deception, intimidation and word games to destroy Retire Early boards. But it does not seem right to me to pretend that goonishness is all that they are about. A good number of the Goons have posted constructively on other topics or at other times. Some even argued in support of the idea of permitting honest posting on safe withdrawal rates in the days before their turn to The Dark Side.

I hate goonishness more than anyone else in the community. I don’t think it follows that I need to hate the particular individuals who post as Goons as people.

Reason #2 for Why I Talk to Goons — There are Some Diamonds Mixed in with the Manure.

The vast majority of posts you see at the Goon Board are hateful, mean-spirited, low, smelly stuff. Not everything posted there fits that description, however.

I engaged in some edifying correspondence with Scott Burns not too long ago that came about as the result of me learning in a Goon Board thread what he had said in a column about safe withdrawal rates. A poster named “Schroeder” has put up several threads on Robert Shiller that contained interesting information bits; for example, there was one that said that Shiller has a 60 percent stock allocation today (mostly in non-U.S. stocks).

I founded the Retire Early Community to create a valuable learning resource for all of us. The sad reality is that today all of our boards have either been burned to the ground or ethically compromised. One of the drawbacks of this destruction is that we need to wade through mounds of manure to get to the good stuff. Is it worth it? Every now and again, that payoff is big enough that it is.

Reason #3 for Why I Talk to Goons — We Need to Keep the Lines of Communication Open.

I have never viewed the ban on honest posting on safe withdrawal rates and other valuation-related investing topics to be a permanent thing. The idea that there will never again be a place on the internet where people will engage in honest discussions of how to put together a successful Retire Early plan strikes me as more than a little absurd. If the ban on honest posting is not going to last forever, it follows that someday it is going to fall. It seems to me that we all should be doing all that we can to see that that happens as quickly as possible.

We need to keep the lines of communication open. The vast majority of the community has made it clear on numerous occasions that it wants to permit honest posting. The Goons have made it equally clear that they will fight the idea to the death. I occasionally use my posts at the Goon Board to advance ideas for taking things in the direction that the vast majority of us has made clear we would like to go.

Reason #4 for Why I Talk to Goons — I Don’t Believe that Running is the Answer.

People Do Stupid Stuff When They're Angry

The reason why the small number of Goons has been able to take over a number of once thriving boards is that the majority that favors civil and honest posting is far less intense about its preferences than the relatively small number of Goons are about theirs. We all like the idea of civility. The Goons hate the idea and they hate it with an undying passion. Too many have concluded that the way to respond to abusive posting is to abandon the board at which it appears.

My experience is that when the best people leave a board it only makes the situation worse. My sense is that the Goons love it when posters of intelligence and integrity announce their departure. It is my view that it is those who build a board with their years of constructive posting who truly “own” it. We have built a number of amazing learning resources during our first eight years together. I think we need to learn how to defend them from attack.

We need to do that without getting into the muck with the Goons, to be sure. I try with my posting at the Goon board to lead by example by showing my fellow Normals how this can be done. I often object to the Campaign of Terror. I have never put forward a single abusive post of my own. I think that’s the combination that will win us our boards back in days to come.

Reason #5 for Why I Talk to Goons — Our Findings Need to Be Tested.

There are four proofs of our investing findings of recent years. One, they are in accord with common sense (this cannot be said of ideas rooted in the Efficient Market Disease). Two, the historical data backs them up. Three, a number of the best-informed experts have put forward statements in accord with the fundamental principles that direct our work. Four, thousands of highly motivated investors have been unable to identify any serious flaws in close to six years of discussions.

I don’t want to lose access to the fruits of community discussions during the time in which the ban on honest posting remains in place. The Goons post dishonestly in the vast majority of the posts they put forward. But if they ever came up with any legitimate objections to any of our findings, I am confident that they would post about them at the Goon Board. That information is valuable to us (and it is helpful too to know that they have not been able to come up with anything of significance thus far).

Reason #6 for Why I Talk to Goons — A Doctor Need to Get Over His Fear of Blood.

I am as grossed out by the ugliness of the Goon mentality as anyone. My guess is that I am more grossed out than a good number. The reality, however, is that we all need to learn about what it is that makes the Goons tick.

I am convinced that we all have a bit of that ugliness inside us. I held back from posting what I knew about safe withdrawal rates for several years. Why? Was I not a coward? Did I not worry too much what people would think about me if I posted honestly about how long-term stock investing works?

If we want to heal ourselves of Goon Disease, we need to roll up our sleeves and mess around a bit in the muck. By learning what makes the Goons tick, we learn what to avoid in the formation of our own investing strategies.

Getting in Touch With Your Inner Goon
What is it that they are afraid of? Why are word games so appealing and comforting to them? How is it that emotion comes to overwhelm their reason in the investing area when it presumably does not do so in many other areas of their lives? These are the sort of questions that I believe that we can learn about not by ignoring the Goons but by examining them and seeking to come to terms with their destructive (and self-destructive) drives.

Reason #7 for Why I Talk to Goons — It Is Unhealthy and Unnatural to Ignore the Goon Phenomenon.

John Bogle ignores the Goons that post at the Lindauerheads board. He even gave his permission for that board to use his name in its official title. He also ignores the Goons that post at The New Vanguard Diehards board. We never heard a peep out of him during the two years in which the Lindaurheads were burning The Old Vanguard Diehards Board to the ground. The only public statement that I am aware of Bogle having put forward on this matter is a statement that he put to the Lindauerheads board asking “Why can’t we all just get along?”

I find this exceedingly odd. To ignore the Goons is like walking over dozens of dead bodies on the way to work and not saying anything. I mean, come on. Today’s dominant model for understanding how stock investing works assumes that investors are 100 percent rational — and yet this! People need to look at this and come to terms with it and come to understand what it means.

To act like nothing exceedingly weird is going on is itself a form of sickness, in my assessment.

Reason #8 for Why I Talk to Goons — It is Critical that Investors with Different Viewpoints Communicate with Each Other.

Goonishness Is Sin It is critical that investors with different viewpoints communicate with each other. I am strongly opposed to the idea that momentum investors should only talk with momentum investors and value investors should only talk with value investors and bulls should only talk with bulls and bears should only talk with bears. It is through the interactions of different ideas that learning takes place and advances are achieved.

I don’t know that one can call my discussions with the Goons “communications” in the way that most people think of the word. I talk, they shout insults. Still, I am trying. I believe that trying is important. I believe that by trying to communicate with people who are not willing to engage in communication I develop reaching-out strengths that I will be able to use to communicate with more reasonable humans. I sure hope so.

I talk to Goons. Say a prayer for my soul, fellow Passion Saver. And say a prayer of thanksgiving that it’s me and not you who found himself walking this long and lonesome (and scary!) road!