Night and Day

Yesterday afternoon, my wife commented that the difference in my personality from April to September is night-and-day. Success!

What changed? I’ve worked with hundreds of athletic parents and the conversation is nearly always about seeking to fit more in their lives. My answer has been a devotion to less. 

I touched on aspects of my changes back in July. Cutting social networks and sitting quietly for ten minutes a day are changes are available to everyone, immediately, and cost you ZERO net time. Frankly, when you factor in all the time we waste processing social clutter in our minds, you can put hundreds of hours into your year by dumping Facebook alone.

Most people won’t be able to pull off what follows – my friends in their 60s and 70s understand my choices more than my pals in their 20s. I’m not recommending this path – just sharing what was required for me to achieve peace of mind in a house packed with young children.

The month before, and after, my move were emotionally tough. However, three months in, the family prefers the smaller, more convenient location. We’re in a rental and have been discussing where we’d like to live after we sell our old place.

But the benefit of the move isn’t in the house, or the street. The move enabled me to change the way I live.

  • Three days a week, I jog a mile to my daughter’s school (she rides), we play a bit then I either walk home, or continue my run.
  • I can walk to meetings and social events in downtown Boulder – I try to arrive 15 minutes early so I can walk slowly and relax.
  • I take at least one kid for a walk every night.

So I’ve inserted eight walks per week of about 15 minutes duration. I’ve read about walking meditation and that’s not what I’m doing. The main benefit is being unplugged.

Unless I’m going to a business meeting, I walk without phone, watch or time pressure. Previously, I would drive everywhere because my day was crammed with things-I-had-to-get done. I now have less to do because:

  • I released myself from the self-imposed pressure to perform athletics a high level.
  • I accepted the possibility of a permanent reduction in my financial standard of living.

It is surprisingly difficult to train and work less. Looking deeply into my life, I saw my external successes as illusions. Still, it’s difficult to leave them behind.

The key illusions are my drive to do more and spend more time on generating external validation of my passions. Far better to do well and focus on repeating what gives satisfaction.

There is a disconnect between what I think will make me happy and what actually happens on the days when I am most peaceful. So across the summer I took notes on my good days and realized that life-is-better-when:

  • I’m fit
  • I write
  • I’m underscheduled
  • I spend time (individually) with my wife and kids
  • I have a cold room to sleep in and get the rest I need

In August, my wife asked me how much I spent per annum as an elite athlete – a deeply-satisfying period of my life with immense personal freedom. I thought about it and my core expenses were $50,000 per annum.

I compared my core expenses (me alone, not with three kids) to my net worth and earning capacity. I came to the conclusion that my good days were indicating that I’d be happier living in a trailer park (with great air conditioning) than beating myself up to provide for a life that has nothing to do with what makes me happy.

It’s about this time that I started talking about living in a double-wide and having a fulltime nanny. My wife never understood what that was about – now she knows.

Over the past year, I took a gamble that if I made myself happy, I would be able to transform myself into a world-class parent and husband. In becoming a better man, I would surround myself with love and that would compensate for the reduction in external living standards.

When life is good, ask why.

Financial Support

As part of planning my kids’ financial education, I’ve been asking myself a series of questions. I’m going to kick off a blog series about family finances.

A paradox about family finances is the most financially qualified family members often need the least help. As well, I can take pride in not asking others for help so I fool myself when looking backwards. I have had to think very carefully about the nature of financial support in my life.

At 43, I ask myself, “What level of financial support made a difference at various stages of my life?”

17-20 years old (late 80s) – I had an academic scholarship and worked as a teaching assistant so my core university expenses were covered. Over and above that, $12,500 per annum made a big difference to cover living expenses. That’s about $25,000 in today’s dollars.

21-28 years old – (90s) – I learned how to “live cheap” in university and could survive, quite comfortably, in my early career on $25,000 per annum (2012 equivalent). It was easy for me to hit this minimum once I found a job. So the main support that helped was introductions, rather than financial.

Thinking about my early career, any level of day-to-day financial support would have held me back as there were a number of times that I considered leaving my job. 

By 28 years old, I saved ten years worth of core living expenses and considered leaving my first career. Learning to save was a habit from early childhood and reinforced by being standalone in my finances. A key calculation, for me, was knowing that I could live very cheaply and follow my passion for triathlon training.

32-40 years old – this covered my career as an elite athlete and I was able to live comfortably on $50,000 per annum. When I spent more, it was driven by either non-essential (luxury) expenditure or travel related to my work in financial consulting.

Several things that I failed to anticipate in my 20s, and 30s:

  • I wasn’t going to work in a high-paying field forever
  • I was likely to take on dependents in my 40s
  • I would value time with my family
  • End of life care

With three young kids in the house, the ability to work part-time and invest in them is precious. Equally valuable, is the ability to fund preschool and childcare so that I can have time away from the kids. I value these two points at $25,000 per kid. I have friends that are double that number as well as less than half that number. My point, is there will be some number that’s appropriate for your family. Working less and childcare are the big numbers with young kids and the most valuable.


Confidence and Clarity

Yesterday, Endurance Corner published my article on athletic confidence. This piece is a continuation from that opener.

One of my favorite things about adult sport, is applying its lessons into my non-athletic life. In doing that, there are a couple of traps that we need to watch.

Equating (athletic) performance to self-worth – business, and sport, show a clear link between daily choices and future results. This is a great lesson! However, if we are prone to obsession then we can become attached to our results and confuse results with self-worth. To keep myself balanced, success around the house is measured in “I Love You”s. Kids keep-it-real!

If some is good then more is better – there are diminishing returns to the time that we invest in athletics, and business. Now that I have three kids in my house, I have no idea how people can train for Ironman events (or start companies) with young children in their family. To perform at a high level outside of the house requires me to let my parenting and marriage slide.

There is no quicker way to erode self-worth than fail to meet your obligations to the people you live alongside (and the man or woman in the mirror).

Back to my friend’s observation that opened my Endurance Corner piece:

One thing about your writing is that you seem sure of yourself in the moment. Do you ever feel uncertain in your pursuit of excellence and sense of control?

I’ll answer first but are you seeking my answer?

I changed my life to become world-class with the amount of time I give my family. While I could give more to them, I am comfortable that I’m giving enough to them. I’m living in a house where I’m constantly reminded that I’m doing a good job. This required radical change – I moved, I shrank my work life, I reduced my athletic expections, I constrained my personal expenditure. Totally worth it and I’m the only example in our peer group.

But my answer may not be what lies behind the question.

Let’s invert the question and approach from the opposite direction. What creates uncertainty, a lack of excellence and a feeling of being out of control? Let’s call this situation “stress.”

If you have multiple interests then going “too far” towards any direction, will create stress. So consider if you’ve gone too far. If you go too far then create systems to prevent yourself from repeating your mistakes. Publishing is my most effective system.

But, you say that you enjoy going too far! I do as well. So schedule your year so you have a few weeks where you get to go too far. The rest of the time keep yourself in balance. You may gain a new perspective on the “too far” aspects of your life when daily living comes into balance!

Consider if you might be hooked on stress. Being out of balance feels exciting, but is it really? Have a look around and talk with the people that are closest to you. Many people, myself included, take pride in their idiosyncrasies – take pride in achieving positive change. 

Have an honest look at the level of drug use in your life – including sugar and insulin overdose via overeating. If you’re triggering disordered eating and needing a stack of drugs to get through your week then something needs to change. Overeating and coffee are my drugs of choice – when those crank up, I know I’m out of whack.

If you’re seeking control and confidence then trim away stress sources, gradually. I’ve been peeling away at connectivity, low margin commitments and my compulsion to train. I’ve changed my approach to email and focused on efficiency gains in my work life. I create space before I create change.

Confidence comes from meeting commitments to the people closest to me and avoiding the trap of giving myself too much of what I need.

Financial Karma

Having been raised in a Judeo-Christian household, I used to define karma with reference to “sin.” For example, karma is my sins coming back to haunt me. 

Over the last year, I’ve learned a wider definition that goes like this… historical and current choices result in the life I have right now. I prefer that definition as it reminds me that I change the future with decisions today. At 43, our family’s balance sheet is an expression of my financial karma. 

I grew up in Canada, a country where there’s a social contract. The system isn’t perfect but it works for many Canadians. Living in the US, most prefer a model with greater self-reliance. Both systems have their strengths and create different incentives.

The book I referenced last week, makes the point that, historically, people relied on family, rather than government. What are the areas where family support can assist, without screwing up incentives?

As a young man, being an aggressive saver made me happy. I have no idea why, likely a habit that was built from a very young age. With three kids in my house, my desire to sacrifice today, to enable security tomorrow, remains strong. At a deep level, it feels like the right thing to do.

Boulder is an environment with a lot of financial wealth. The focus in Colorado isn’t as consumption-centric, as my previous homes in London and Hong Kong, but my reality is a far more expensive life than what I had created in New Zealand. 

Part of my annual review is asking myself the question, “Am I getting value for money within my current life?” Being honest with myself, the answer is “not yet.”

A key part of this year’s review has been completing a five-year plan to get my family to cash flow breakeven. When I became unemployed at the end of 2008, I gave myself a pass for five years to take stock and see what happened. The four year anniversary of that decision is approaching and I have a good idea where I want to take the family.

Long term, I have been considering the life I want to live in front of my kids. A parent’s life choices are powerful lessons on effort, consumption and strategic management.

I see a benefit to the kids of taking my consumption down. Expectations management is something the Kiwis do very well. All my pals in Christchurch understand the relationship between work-results-satisfaction. It is a very grounded society and I enjoyed my time there.


  • What are the most useful elements of financial wealth?
  • What does my life say about my attitudes towards wealth?
  • Are my current choices aligned with my family values?
  • How best to give my kids a chance to be successful: in their own terms, relative to their peers and relative to myself?

I’ll end with book recommendation: Wealth in Families by Collier. Another title that is valuable regardless of your net worth – the sections on anchors and family management contain a lot of good questions for parents to consider.

I measure true wealth in freedom.

Talk To The Hands

…because the head don’t want to know!

Consider how you move your body when you are nervous.


We had a meeting with my daughter’s preschool teacher to chat about whether she was ready for kindergarten. Lex is big for her age and her default approach is physical. We wonder if bumping her forward a year might give an incentive to negotiate a bit more. I was always the youngest in my class – not great for my physical self-esteem but it worked well for my academic drive, which carried through to my adult life.

Separate from fretting about the academic track of a three year old (who’s going to be fine whatever we decide), I wanted to get tips about managing anxiety in kids.

An anxious young woman, growing up in Boulder, with two former elite athletes for parents… I’m smart enough to see that our daughters will be at a high risk for eating disorders. Equipping them with the capacity to relax is one way I can help them prepare for young adulthood.

So I was holding forth with great pride about how I explain behavioral psychology to my (three year old) daughter. The teacher was patient and said that was a useful approach. However, something else I should remember is young kids don’t have the capacity to connect their body to their heads.

Oh yeah, she’s three, not thirty-three!


When Lex is anxious she does one of three things:

  • bites nails
  • pulls fists inwards to her body
  • grinds teeth

My own markers are:

  • shoulders rise
  • tightness in my jaw
  • turn body away from source of stress and look upwards

Rather than speaking to the head, help the child (and yourself) by releasing the physical tension.

Literal Dad: Sweetie, remember that you have a choice about how you feel. Choose to be happy and relaxed.

Effective Dad: Sweetie, have a look at your hands. How do they feel? How do they feel when you open them up?

As a coach, using physical pathways to effect psychological change immediately hit home. Much of the value I receive from coaching comes from watching a physical pursuit improve an athlete’s internal life.

I wanted to pass this tip along, as my change in approach was immediately effective at helping her, and me.

Look for the physical expression of anxiety, release the body, the mind will follow.