Guiding Positive Change

KP and me, at the start of a wonderful partnership.

If you came to KP and asked him to turn you into a champion then he’d start by having you dive into a cold pool, predawn, three days a week. At the beginning, it didn’t matter to him what you did at the workout. The key was getting there, and diving in.

There was a lot behind Kev’s instruction: wake up early, face the predawn, make a habit of tolerating discomfort and rack up an early win.

It’s a form of superpower.

I’m ticking down the final workouts in an eight-module series. It’s the longest challenge I’ve ever completed, going to take 60 weeks.

Expert level stuff, due to the pandemic.

Normally, I aim for focus block of 105 days (15 weeks). Stay put and make sure the first thing I do every day is one positive step towards my target.

I was in my 30s before I ever truly applied myself. The results were life changing.

My strength training history runs 37 years into my past, to a rickety Universal Gym in high school.

To “win” at strength training… dive in, and stick with it.

Over 37 years, the specifics don’t matter as much as I tend to think.

I like strength training for a few reasons:

  • You can always find something to improve.
  • It doesn’t take much time, to capture most the gains.
  • Done properly, it’s useful.

To contrast different meanings of “properly”, I’ll share a story from a Kiwi friend of mine. He used to train “hard”.

  • Hard… as in, bring a chair into the shower so you didn’t have to stand after swim practice.
  • Hard… as in, needing to pause walking up two flights of stairs after a track session.

His more moderate friends asked “why” and “what’s the point” => well, he was trying to get good. In his case, “good” for triathlon.

Proper training, getting good, optimal time allocation.. it helps to know the larger goal sitting behind your daily routine.

Where are my daily actions likely to take me?

I’m aiming towards being highly functional at 60 yo. For my kids, the techniques are similar but the goals are different.

So let’s take some lessons from sport and apply them into the larger world.

These techniques work.

The most important thing to remember is Coach KP’s advice to DIVE IN!

Above, is a picture of the swim finish at Ultraman Hawaii. I’m 33 yo and leading out. Just before my 30th birthday, I’d started swim training. When I started, I wasn’t able to swim more than 100m of freestyle without stopping.

Ultraman is 10,000 meters, point-to-point, in Hawaii. Because the coast is curved, there are times when the athletes are more than a mile offshore.


I’ve gone from zero-to-decent in a wide range of activities.

Passing skills to my kids, and my readers, is the main way I impact the world.

Let’s start by addressing what holds us back from diving in…

It takes way less than 10,000 hours to get proficient at something.

3 swims a week, every week, for three years, was enough for me to get proficient – defined as 57-minutes for an Ironman Swim.

From proficient to outstanding => the diminishing returns kicked hard… about 1,000,000 meters for each minute reduction in Ironman swim time (down to 50-minutes for 2.4 miles).

If I told myself the path to swimming greatness required 10,000,000 meters then I might not have started.

Here’s the thing, I captured most the value in my first 1,000 days of swimming – 30 to 33 yo.

In weightlifting… 15 to 18 yo.

In calculus… 18 to 21 yo.

In finance… 21 to 24 yo.

Think about your own skill development. There is a 1,000 day ramp up, after that, it’s about depth.

At the start of the pandemic, our schools closed and we had to figure out home school. One of our most popular sessions was Art-with-Mom.

My son didn’t think he had any talent. He had fallen prey to the hazard of thinking his current ability reflected his potential.

Turns out the kid is great, but he had to start to find out.

You might think you’re stuck in your ways. I’m not so sure. The capacity to change does not have a sell-by-date. Radical change can happen from seemingly small choices, done daily.

The picture above… What’s happening there?

Consistency => since my kids have been able to stand, they have done at least one swim workout per week, every week.

One session a week will not get you to the top.

However, a decade of consistency, might get you to a position where you can get really, really good by doing 10-sessions a week for a few years.

Option Value for Excellence => an opportunity to take myself some place interesting (but I got to dive in).

Regardless of outcome => positive habits are useful, to crowd out bad habits and surround one’s self with go-getter peers.

Sport, languages, art, academics, learning to read, vector math…

How might one go about making dramatic progress?

Set your daily hurdle at the 1,000-day rate.

Let’s use teaching a kid to read for example. Learning to read is the highest return activity I have ever come across. Improving reading comprehension yields a durable competitive advantage.

The best way to teach a kid to read is… “reading aloud with a kid.”

Thing is that’s often inconvenient for the parents. Fortunately, it takes very little support to change the life of a young reader.

5 minutes, AM and PM, every_single_day, for as long as it takes.

We saw progress after 15 weeks, about 1,000 minutes of my time.

Roll forward 1,000 days and my kids start each day with 20-minutes of reading.

A year ago, we tacked-on Spanish with a 5 minute daily hurdle. The younger kids started with Spanish School Bus and our oldest with Duolingo.

This summer, we progressed to hour-long classes with an online tutor. The progression seemed natural to the kids. We’re Zooming into Guatemala for the classes.

Five minutes, to 20 minutes, to an hour.

Nobody noticed…

The Power of Incentives is always under-estimated, not just in executive compensation!

I pay for achieving a streak.

The first 100 days of the minimum is worth a $100 gift.

  • Paying off a summer reading streak was how I bought my way into the 20-minutes every morning.
  • With a top-up from his grandparents, my son rolled a 300-day Spanish streak into the lego you see at the top of this section.
  • My daughter did a deal for a guitar by committing to 100 lessons.

Track your streaks, and don’t mess with them!

Positive Cascades Start With Action Before Dawn

I pay attention to what I do before 7am.

There seems to be a positive cascade that results when I can get something useful done before 7am.

If you have kids then getting them on this schedule also makes bedtimes easier => for years, bedtimes were the absolute toughest part of my emotional life.

If you have trouble falling asleep then don’t worry about it. Consistently wake up early and start getting stuff done. Your sleep will sort itself out, or not. Either way, you will be better off.

Back to 37 years of strength training…

Focus on completion, not results.

For my kids => focus on staying in the game, building good habits and playing well with others – it’s easy to peak a kid WAY too early in life.

I’m glad I saved my downhill slide for adulthood… πŸ˜‰

For myself => Pay attention to what screws up tomorrow.

  • Increasing my hurdle to the point where I get hurt, burnt out or lose interest.
  • Creating a crisis so I skip the minimum.
  • Travel, late-nights

Now that I’m able to look back 30+ years, there isn’t any session, day, week or year that stands out. What made a difference was consistent positive action.

If you miss, or start to dread, the minimum then you’ve set the bar too high.

Two things I learned from watching kids and parents:

  • Less is OK, quitting is not.
  • (Just like us…) kids don’t know what they want.

Back to that cold pool, in the dark, before sunrise… well, sometimes the pool is warm, you’ve had a nice breakfast and you still don’t want to dive in….

How do you deal with that?

With myself, I focus on the result. To get the result, I need to accept what’s required.

What’s required? Action before dawn, or a lower daily target.

With our kids, sometimes we need a little bit of negotiation… we agree to “less” so long as we hit the minimum => of weekly swimming, or daily reading, or whatever our current focus area. With the minimum set at the 1,000-day level, we can maintain a streak without undue strain.

The idea here is to stay in the game, today, while creating an option to become great, later.

By the way, the road to greatness can be different than we imagined (see below).

I often hear athletes say, “I need an event to get out the door.”

Here’s the thing about anything… …for me to do it right, I am tempted to take risks with my health, my relationships and my future.

I’ve found this lesson applies to high-performance everything.

Along with diminishing returns, came increased risks.

As a young man, my one dimensional periods were a mixed bag – athletics, by far, the least harmful of my single-minded earthly pursuits.

Choose Wisely.

Limits of Knowledge

A online physics course reminded me of the ways we get ourselves in trouble. I tried to explain this to a buddy and he replied, “there’s simply too much to worry about.”

I’ll give the explanation another shot.

Better thinking is not building the capacity to worry constantly, about more things. Better thinking is about training ourselves to focus on making a limited number of excellent choices, given imperfect information.

  • When to worry?
  • Where to focus?

Limits to Knowledge

Snowflakes: even if a human mind could know everything there is to know about water molecules, it would not be possible to predict a snowflake’s structure.

Mobs: understanding individuals, in isolation, tells us very little about the actions of mobs, or markets, or cities, or nations.

Lots of other examples: DNA to elephants; Neurons to consciousness; the patterns of a sandbar; the shape of a cloud, politics, wars, life sciences.

Clouds are a current favorite of mine – a reminder to stay humble with any bet that requires me to be correct about outcome.

I’m currently debt-free. As a result, I’m able to make more mistakes, be less correct and less impacted by outside factors. The value of this position doesn’t show up in conventional analysis.

Properties that emerge, at scale, make prediction impossible. Joe Norman’s presentation at RWRI helped open my eyes to this aspect of our reality.

I don’t need to become a complexity expert to apply this knowledge. What is essential is understanding the nature of the system in which we find ourselves.

  • Are we in a complex system?
  • Are we in a system subject to extreme events?

To answer my friend’s question, “when to worry?”

Complex systems, subject to extreme events… exposures here are worth the time to carefully consider.

You don’t need to be the CEO of AIG to get bitten on the butt by complexity. If you’ll get fired for the mistakes of one of your direct reports then, given enough time, you’re fired.

Sudden unemployment is one way the nature of universe can come home to roost. Happened to me in 90-days at the end of the last boom.

Here’s another… if you woke up and discovered an undisclosed $20 billion dollar loss in an important counterparty then what would that mean to your life?

What about your family, your employer and your portfolio?

Concentration is a risk we can mitigate. It’s why I have unrelated jobs and several cash flow sources. Here again, conventional analysis fails to capture the value of this position.

In 2021, in a very benign financial environment, we’ve seen multi-billion dollar losses pop up in a week, or less. Rapidly emerging, massive losses are a feature of our system.

Things, that have been stable for a very long time, can disappear quickly.

Prediction: our minds love to predict, to assign causation and to tell stories about the world around us.

Grasping for a “why” is a waste of time.

When operating in complex environments, most importantly when surprises can bite me in the butt, I need to constantly remind myself NOT to make predictions.

For myself, I actually need to go further, I need to implement a policy of NEVER making predictions and NOTING surprises. There is useful information contained in every surprise.

Even further, I shun input from individuals (especially smooth talkers) who make predictions. A reason why I try to never watch videos — too persuasive.

I’ve found that even a little prediction, it leads me down a path of wasting thought.

  • What’s likely to happen – what happens to me if the opposite happens?
  • What’s the worst that can happen – can I mitigate?
  • Does the situation appear reasonable – given the above
  • There are games, investments, relationships and opinions… I don’t need to play, make, engage or have

There are a lot of business where “the burden of the worst” falls outside of the beneficiary class (government, general partners, VC, private equity, OPM, CEO-class, banking).

We can waste a lot of energy railing against the system, I’ve found it much more useful to make sure I understand…

My family cannot afford to take the same risks as my employers, my shareholders and my government.

This is a lesson I learned through, rather expensive, experience when I left Private Equity.


No Prediction => focus on getting rid of ruin => subject to not becoming a casualty myself… education of youth “buys” more than portfolio returns, or my personal savings rate.

Conventional analysis fails to capture the present value of teaching how to avoid future mistakes.

Risks => practices that make sense for large entities, given time, will wipe out my family

So my point was…

There is more to reality than we are capable of comprehending.

Stable situations can become fragile at scale.

There are certain domains where acting “irrationally conservative” can make rational sense.

We are going to be surprised over, and over, and over, again.

Philosophically, one could say reality is pointing towards a deeper form of intelligence.

From a more linear point of view… the next time you are on an airplane, write a list of your concentrations and counterparty risks. Blow them up, one-by-one, and carefully consider if you need to mitigate.


The capacity to see beauty

I was going to take a break from posting but this topic gives me an opening to share something useful with you.

So here goes.


First, I know next to nothing about crypto.

Fortunately, my life has been set up to take into account that I am clueless about many things!

I think we can start by agreeing that crypto is volatile.

So I’d suggest you start by thinking deeply about how you, your significant other, your family and your coworkers tolerate volatility.

I don’t need to think deeply. My family abhors volatility. They get nervous about stuff we don’t own.

Personally, I tolerate volatility but tend to sell early. By way of example, I am absolutely certain that I would have sold Amazon 20+ years ago. Grateful I didn’t short it.

So, regardless of the fundamentals, I’m not a good fit for the asset.

About those fundamentals, I can’t see them.

I could learn about crypto but, while learning about an asset class that isn’t a good fit, I am not working on something else.

Let’s repeat that… while thinking about one thing, I am not thinking about another thing.

The opportunity cost of mis-directed thought.

Say I get there – I’m comfortable with the asset class, and I’ve gotten myself and my investment committee past the volatility issue.

Will it make a difference?

Buying, not buying, selling, not selling. Being right will not make a difference in my life.

The opportunity cost of incorrect focus. Big one.

Shades of green

If asset classes don’t make a difference then what does?

I was thinking about this on my run this morning. So let’s start with that… dropping fat, maintaining a stable weight, daily movement in nature, improved strength… big difference!

Since shifting my primary focus away from money, my body has had the opportunity to do a lot of cool stuff.

Trying to get more, of what I don’t need, can prevent me from getting something useful.

A flower

Leaving => I wrote about considering if an asset is a good fit for an owner. What about life?

Leaving makes a difference.. every single time I realize I have different values than my peers, I exit => patiently, quietly, doing a good job on the way out.

I need to watch this tendency. Making a habit of leaving is not going to take me where I’d like to go. Stay where I belong.

Building => Don’t look for easy money, build something.

I helped a friend build a business. Unfortunately, he lied to me and stole money from the investors. Interestingly, when the dust settled, that didn’t make a huge difference. If someone isn’t trustworthy then it’s better to know, as soon as possible. In the end, I learned a lot and walked away with 25-years living expenses.

Learning, while building capital => made a difference, up to a point of rapidly diminishing returns.

A reminder of my first kiss with my wife

As you age, I recommend you transition your focus from money to relationships. Because…

Family => marrying well, raising my children to be exceptionally kind and athletic… makes a huge difference, much more than spending the last ten years building wealth would have done.

Having the courage to change, so my kids’ values are a better fit with my own.

My smiling, lovable savages. You have my eyes…

We tend to over-value what we see.

We see crypto rocketing and we think it must be a good idea. It might be. Like I said, I know nothing about it.

But what we don’t see is often more important.

Thinking about that on my run… the decision “to not” has helped in ways I will never see.

Errors not made.

Not smoking, not using scheduled drugs, not taking sleeping pills, not giving into anger, not quitting…

1/. Will this make a difference?

2/. Will “not this” make a difference?

A useful filter on where to focus, and what to avoid.

Midlife Athletic Philosophy

Our oldest turns 13 this summer and our youngest turns 9. So we have ~5 years until our kids are fairly independent.

Additionally, I’m 52 => so I have 5-10 years until my next physical transition will begin. I noticed a shift at 45 yo and suspect I’ll see another in my late-50s.

Optimizing For Life

Peloton recently added heart rate tracking to their platform. As a result, I see how y’all are training when we’re on the same workout. 2-3 zones above me.

I want you to know there is HUGE upside from learning to train against your impulses – particularly your urge to maximize your numbers, any numbers!

At some point in the future, all we will care about is the CAPACITY to do fun stuff with friends, (grand)kids and spouses. Spending mojo to temporarily pop our 20-minute bests gives us nothing in our larger lives.

But it’s worse than wasting time. Focusing on athletic top-end generates fatigue that prevents us from creating something useful: relationships, career, a home or sub-max capacity.

What is sub-max capacity? I have two main constraints I place on myself:

  1. No impact on my larger life.
  2. Feed myself with real food (outside of training) and water (inside of training)

I spent my pandemic being very consistent and got my performance to 3 watts / kilo in my comfortable zone (<122 bpm, my HR max is low-170s). Good enough.

Push a bit and I can generate 900KJ in a hour. Much above that output I need to start adding sugar to my diet.

Pay attention to the habits that nudge you towards adding sugar (or alcohol, edibles, sleeping pills, pizza… you get the drift).

I have made a decision to LEAVE MYSELF NUTRITIONALLY UNDERTRAINED FOR SPORT. This is tough to do.

I used to be a Jedi-Master of oxidation and carbohydrate uptake. It’s tough not to use a key strength, especially as I really, really like to eat! πŸ™‚

Why? Choosing a higher-sugar lifestyle does nothing for my health, life and body composition.

Also, enabling a higher-output lifestyle reduces the energy I have available for my strength training.

Strength Training

Since I turned 50, the bulk of my fatigue comes from strength training.

Three reasons…

Efficiency. Strength training is the best fatigue generator for minute invested – better than running, with no range-of-motion cost. I can keep my aerobics “good enough,” ride everyday and maintain my capacity to do fun stuff.

Invert! If I don’t challenge myself with strength training then a weaker future will happen sooner.

Error avoidance. If I challenge myself with strength training then the urge to “maximize the short” is held at bay. The “short” being short-duration and short-term.

Finally, if three hours of my week generates most my training fatigue that leaves a ton of time for working on key relationships, writing, reading => things that might be useful tomorrow.

Ask older friends, and the oldest members of your family, what they value (and what they lack).


Choosing certain race goals implies certain training protocols.

Certain training protocols imply certain lifestyles.

Goal => Protocol => Lifestyle

Metabolic and work-rate training // beyond an hour, beyond comfortable tempo efforts… imply nutritional habits that prevent me from optimizing my health. Something to consider.

Related, look around at the causes for “things going wrong” => injuries, burnout, chronic fatigue… basically anything that causes us to lose consistency.

The Pandemic forced us to be reasonable. Sanity worked way better than I would have expected.

1/. Consider your 1,000-day protocol.

2/. Understand the lifestyle implied by your goals.

Death Valley 2021

We decided to take advantage of the second-to-last week of daytime childcare (i.e. school) and do a quick couples trip.

Post-pandemic, I’m aiming for one adventure each month.

Vegas Pants…

Tuesday morning we caught a 7:30am flight out of Denver. Gaining an hour, we rolled out of Vegas by 10am and were hiking by 3pm.

At the Mesquite Dunes, M demonstrates the huge vertical of a top ultra-endurance athlete…

The idea was PM/AM hikes to get some overload in preparation for a September trip to the Grand Canyon.

In the background, Charcoal Kilns from way back.

Wildrose Peak, 2,200 vert, ~8 miles, trailhead (at ~7K) was 20F cooler than Stovepipe Wells, which was 102F.

A well-made trail climbs through PiΓ±on Pine and Juniper

After the Wildrose Peak hike, it was time to get to the campsite.

From the 2WD lower trailhead, it is ~2 miles to the 4WD upper trailhead. I’d rented a Jeep and was grateful we didn’t have to haul our camping stuff up the road, or camp lower down.

In Colorado terms, it’s a good dirt. I would have felt OK giving it a shot in a Honda CR-V or a Subaru.

That said, the consequences of a double-flat, or torn oil pan are high… 60 miles to the nearest mechanic.

No water, but a clean toilet and 10 sites

Upgrade! Big Agnes, Copper Spur UL3

Arriving at the trailhead, we were surprised to see a couple sedans up there. I was grateful for 4Lo in the Jeep, a smooth drive up for us.

A rock had been placed in front. Unfortunately, an unlucky driver powered over the rock and dropped his low-clearance sedan onto the wooden spike.

One guy managed to tear open his gas tank, while backing up close to our campsite. It was 7pm. He declined an offer to get a message out via satellite communicator and decided to deal with the salvage operation the following day.

We had periodic cell reception on the high ridges – not enough for the web but good enough to send a couple pics/texts to our kids.

~13 miles round trip and 3,250 ft of climbing (3,000/250)

Telescope Peak is the highest point in the Park. The first two miles of the trail had a little exposure and the last mile to the summit is exposed to rockfall if parties are above you.

The prior day’s hike (Wildrose Peak) was mellow. Great trail with no exposure, or rockfall.

We started just before dawn, which was about as late as I’d recommend. Doing it again, I’d roll 75 minutes before sunrise.

I did an online weather course this spring. It’s increased my appreciation of the world around me.

Fun fact, if you start from the Death Valley side then you can climb >10,000 vertical to the summit of Telescope. However, the route wasn’t clear and the valley is a reminder that, sometimes, nature wants to kill us.

Looking down, I could see water in the canyons, no idea on salt content.

A moderate section for an hour in the middle of the climb. The route switchbacks up, behind the looker’s left skyline coming down from the peak. This picture is taken from the west side of Bennett Peak, wonderfully cool in the morning.

The dead Bristlecone Pines reminded me of The Tree of Woe from Conan the Barbarian – lots of signs of lightning activity on the Death Valley side of the trail.

~11,000 at the top

On the way back down, I could have done with lighter options for sun protection.

We left the stranded motorist a spare gallon of water and crossed paths with a Ranger on our drive out.

Here’s a link to the NPS write-up on Telescope and Wildrose.

Hot wife…

For peak conditions, I used OpenSummit.Com to track the forecast (Telescope Peak). Zion was our back-up plan if wind, or weather, wasn’t favorable.

The Trails Illustrated map of Death Valley National Park saved me more than one wrong turn.

These days, quick trips are where I point my fitness. Avoiding the incentives associated with racing is a better deal for my marriage and myself.

Create the life you wish to lead

Teaching About Teachers

My daughter is at the age where she’s able to articulate two things about grown-ups.

1/. We can be caught doing something different than we say.

2/. We often talk about things we don’t know very well.

This gave me an opening to pass along my principles about teachers, BS and integrity.

Step back from the teacher.

What’s your goal with learning?

My goal is to implement the best ideas from experts with specific domain experience.


Put another way => pay careful attention to the best ideas from people who have done, repeatedly, what you would like to do… …pick one idea… do it… repeat.

Sounds easy, it is not.

My mind always wants to engage in debate, to point out flaws, to distract itself from what matters => one good idea, implemented in my own life, over and over and over.

Another risk: once I become an expert in one area, I think I know about everything!

I need to change my advisers as I change domains.


I need to stay humble about my current knowledge. The example I use with my daughter is the “hotshot 12 yo athlete.” Fun at the time but the game still has 50+ years to play out!

Know your role.

The student’s role is not to engage. Take the ideas, and implement.

Gain enough experience to be considered a peer, then we can have a discussion.

In doing, you might discover that one-on-one engagement isn’t a productive use of your time! Why do you think I have a blog… πŸ˜‰

Many great teachers have lives that are a mess. Remember, it is not the student’s job to sort the teacher. Our job is to implement the best ideas of the teacher.

Sometimes the best idea is to see the teacher’s strategy won’t work for where we want to take our lives.

I’ll give you an example, in sport. In my early 40s, with a young family, I took a deep look at the family lives of my peers and competitors. By this stage, I had a very good idea of what was required to excel at athletics. By looking around, I was able to see that athletic excellence was likely to take me somewhere I didn’t want to go.

A decade earlier, it was the same deal with finance. I got a look under the hood of the lives of the very best, and decided I wanted a life that was different.

Athletic excellence, nope. Financial excellence, nope. Excellence to my spouse and kids => a better fit.

Not easy, not always fun, usual better!

I’ve spotted, and hopefully avoided, a few dead ends => seeing where my actions were likely to take me.

A helpful teacher is someone with a good idea that I can implement. The opportunity to learn is everywhere – keep your eyes open!

A coach, or mentor, is something different. This individual has a system for living that we can emulate. This goes further than useful tips we can apply. A mentor is an individual with a values system we can apply to improve all aspects of our lives.

Mentors share the same risks with regard to venturing beyond their area of expertise, but you’ll find they have much better alignment between what they say and what they do.

In fact, your ability to notice a misalignment between word, and deed, is a useful tool. When you detect a misalignment, you’re probably in a student:teacher relationship rather than working with someone you want to emulate.

Take all that energy you have… the energy to correct others….

…and apply it in your own life.

Make a habit of implementing the best advice of others, and do what you say!

Your life only needs to make sense to you.

Quests and Expeditions

Here’s a favorite quote I learned as a young coach:

We do the minimum necessary to achieve our goals.

There’s a lot in there.

For me, it’s a reminder that a goal balances my tendency to slide away from excellence.

For my family, it’s a reminder to listen to, and support, their dreams.

Related is an observation by a former Olympian, now the mother of a young family:

My life is so challenging right now, I have to give myself every advantage.

This touches on a technique I use in my own life.

Fully commit to a simple goal… “train every_single_day before my kids wake up”

Then let the simple goal nudge me away from my unhelpful habits.

Olympics, marriage, parenthood, business… we can find meaning when we commit to doing whatever is required to give our best.

Choose wisely!

I have a scrapbook from my last mountaineering expedition, May/June 1998 to Denali.

Looking at the photos, I remember nothing!

What I do remember is spending the mid-1990s, sitting in my harbor-view office, wishing I was living the life I have now.

Glad I had the courage to change.

Anyhow, my son loves big mountains and he’s got it in his mind that he’d like to do a trip to Alaska with me.

So I’ve told him that he’s going to have a series of tasks to complete before we’re going to be able to consider something that large. Things like…

  • Skin a 40# pack to the top of Vail
  • Do it again, this time tow a sled, then ski it down two-man style
  • Carry the same pack to the top of a 14er
  • Camping trip from Fish Hatchery to Shavano Trailhead via Collegiate Peak Wilderness
  • Rainier in a day
  • Run the navigation for the family, for a year
  • Backcountry First Responder course

The life that results from the process – a good life, that crowds out a lot of potential difficulties.

I was fortunate to replace mountaineering with triathlon. Endurance sport enabled a daily fix of incrementally working towards my big goals.

As my life become more connected => spouse, kids, community => the nature of my goals grew simpler, but the essence of the game stayed the same…

One positive step, each morning, avoided a lot of self-generated angst.

Creating an incentive to reach towards better.

As The Pressure Comes Off

It’s the time of year for Rocky Mountain Supercells

In the news this week, Pfizer might be authorized for kids 12+ next week. Another positive development to get our schools back to normal.

A paradox! As the pressure comes off, we see a return of mental health issues.

Not just mass shootings. I’ve felt it in myself, and noticed little bits of “slacking” at the edges of my life. When I was on a pandemic footing, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to back off. Survival is a worthy purpose!

This new observation is the flip side of “the pandemic didn’t hurt as much as expected.”

The recovery didn’t help as much as expected, initially at least.

Same guy rolling along – some better habits, though.

Training => throughout the pandemic, I asked myself what would happen if I rolled 12+ months of base training.

Well… my strength, range of motion, health, mood and sub-max performance are all at 5+ year bests. Fun when I’m training but not much impact in my non-athletic life.

I have to admit, I expected outstanding fitness to make more of a difference. Oh well, not the first time achieving a goal turned out differently than expected.

Creating Space for Surprises – my wife is leading the way here. Coming out of the pandemic she’s making an effort to get out of the routine of pandemic life. Hiphop dance, new strength routines, backpacking, there’s even been discussion of a surf vacation with a friend.

New skills, new energy… good volatility!

Taxes are in the news. The changes have been exceptionally pitched.

First, send a cheque to 160+ million households. Then do it again. Then do it again. Then tweak the tax code to get the main beneficiaries of global monetary policy to contribute more.

I hope the changes slow the rapid asset inflation we have been seeing. My zip code is up 10% in the last 60 days and my tenants are sending unsolicited bids to buy. With 0% rates, this won’t end well.

Before moving to save money on taxes, three things I’ve learned:

  1. Beware of the costs of moving away from friends and family.
  2. While remembering #1, live close to natural beauty.
  3. Surround myself with people who are living a life I wish to lead.

A good way to look at the true cost of taxation is “total tax bill” as a percentage of net assets. I track this at a personal and “family system” level. Get this number down and tax policy has very little impact on your life.

When it comes to taxation, the arguments that resonate most are incentives and winners.

Government is lousy at picking winners => a program that comes to mind is student loan debt – a well-intended program that rapidly inflated the cost of education, reduced the productivity of colleges and created multiple generations of wage-serfs. Great idea, didn’t work and now we’re considering forgiving the least deserving borrowers.

Incentives => government has zero incentive to spend wisely. The whole system is operating on an expense account. All organizations have a bias towards self-preservation and incremental increase in power via budget inflation.

In the private sector, bad ideas blow up, eventually (even with 0% interest rates). In the public sector, they live on. On balance, I liked sequestration, it gave a real world incentive to government (productivity) and a justification for removing the worst ideas/people in the system.

Another “T” => technology. My email adjustment has gone well.

The main change is removing pressure to respond quickly. This lets a thread work itself out before I offer input which, in turn, improves the quality of my input. Scheduled Send in gmail has been a boon (my mean “reply” is 72 hours).

Still haven’t figured out trimming my addiction to news headlines – I think the only way to limit will be to turn my phone off. Once the summer hiking season starts, I’ll have more days out of cellphone reach.

Two more Ts => Trauma and Time

Here’s one to watch. It applies to everything in my life – not just kids.

My experience is different than their experience.

Sounds obvious, yes?

It isn’t.

When my children argue, bicker and fight… afterwards, there is nothing between them. They revert to a clean slate with each other. They are like water.

Me, on the other hand… watching people argue, I (re)experience all kinds of trauma. Memories of my life return, but not as memories. They return first as anger – but that’s just what my brain calls “warming with pain’.

As the experience goes deeper, what’s happening is nausea, headaches and sadness. It’s like watching a sad child form – a good night’s sleep usually sends him on his way. Sometimes, two nights are required.

Exercise helps, move the energy around. As does acknowledging, release the experience.

How does one deal with trauma?

It helps to remember that time will free me.

Everything will sort itself out in time. The kids will grow up and my traumas will be released.

One way or another.

Ski Math

The tiny dot in the middle of the frame is my son hiking up from a yard sale, in a gale, at the top of Pali Chair. FIVE minutes later he said, “Dad, I’m glad you’re as good a skier as me.” I’d kept my skis during the traverse! They have such short memories.

Our family ski experience is like my Pandemic Predictions => I got a lot wrong.

When I was shelling out for childcare/preschool, skiing struck me as a very expensive way to do a lot of driving, without much cardio.

Not interested.

A friend, with four kids (and a jet), made the observation… “you gotta be able to do something as a family.” Given his role, as the smartest guy I know, we decided to give it a try.

My wife didn’t believe me when I said, in advance, “We’re making a million dollar decision here.”

Frankly, I took it easy on her. The math is daunting…

But wait, there’s more.

Add-in the inflationary effect of surrounding yourself with the largest spenders in our society.

And… have a look around the parking area, with the smell of legal weed wafting across the empty beer cans… Is this an environment where I’d like to leave my teenaged kid unsupervised?

Still… “you gotta be able to do something as a family”.

$175,000 worth of opportunity cost later, I can ski any run, with any member of my family. This makes me happy during a time of year I used to dread.

Total immersion (5 million vertical feet, in three seasons) let me achieve my goal quickly… Something outside, at a high level, with any member of my family.

Unexpectedly worth it… but only after I figured out our family’s cash burn.

I cope with the “demographic” by focusing my energy on seeking to ski like an instructor, with the fitness of a ski patroller. These goals provide structure for my athletic year.

Like much of my outdoor life, my participation is conditional and always one major crash away from ending.

Stay variable.

Family Values 2021

Here’s another topic from our Couples Retreat.

How do I know, deep down, that I’m a good person?

Implementing my answer has become a source of strength and satisfaction. The answer has to do with core values. Values I use to guide my interactions, and actions.

Why do we believe all family is optional?

By leaving ourselves free to take no-action, we avoid a habit of manufacturing drama, and victimhood, to justify our opinions.

The habit of victimhood is easiest to see in others, but it lives in me.

Living this value takes the pressure off. It’s a whole lot easier to avoid unhappiness than be happy.

Put plainly => there’s no need to manufacture a “slight” to take a break.

Look beyond the slight.

Look inside and you might find unresolved grief, pain from your childhood or other trauma.

Maybe it’s simply a bad habit, of keeping little bits of pain alive.

By making “all family optional” we create space.

Breathing room spreads across our lives – especially when combined with a habit I wrote about last Friday. Letting other people make mistakes.

This could lead to forgiveness, or not. Perhaps, we start by deciding to stop recycling pain by telling stories about “how we were wronged”. Let it go.

To break the chain, we give everyone the right to opt out.

I’m grateful I gave myself permission to opt out.

We’re out, we are free!

To enjoy our freedom, we need to make positive contributions.

I’m a bit money-centric, so my first stop is personal cash flow. Easy to measure, so always given too much weight!

Pay my own way => helpful, but not sufficient.

I had my cash flow sorted by the time I was 21, yet my personal life remained cluttered.

Eventually, I realized too much freedom was a very bad idea. My choice was to embrace the challenge of creating an enviable marriage and household.

The choice to make continuous contributions is a good one => especially when you consider what is likely to happen with the inverse.

It takes time to see what happens when a spouse opts out of their family. The slow-burn bitterness, building to the point where someone burns the family structure to the ground.

Even if everything seemed fine…. Would opting out be winning?

Remember, I’m seeking to know, deep down, I am a good person.

So this freedom-to-opt-out takes the pressure off and lets me have a look around.


I’m not bitter. I’m not filled with resentment.

What do I see?

In my case, I see the wisdom of becoming the sort of person who helps others when he doesn’t need to.

Keep coming back to this.

Shed the drama, talk like everyone is in the room, get back to work.

By not binding ourselves together, all interactions become gifts.