Structuring A Family Day

We’ve been tinkering with getting the kids into a routine that starts on Friday night. I thought I’d share because we are close to the point where everyone looks forward to it.

Friday afternoon – I wrap up all urgent work projects, ideally by mid-afternoon. Some weeks I grab a late-afternoon massage then do my final errands to prepare for the weekend.

Pulling The Plug – I power down my iPhone and computer by 6pm, Friday. This is huge for me.

Family Dinner – I start by having the kids pick out small candles for each person in the house, special relatives and our cats. We have 6-10 candles each week, depending on what’s up. My oldest lights the candles and we share our favorite part of the week with each other.

When we started these dinners (kids are 4, 2 and 7 months), it was chaos but we stuck with it. It took the kids four weeks to get into the new routine and now things run as smoothly as can be expected given their ages. A spin-off benefit was they were really well-behaved at my grandmother’s memorial dinner.

We take the opportunity to discuss any tricky issues that the kids have brought up during the week. Examples are: (a) wanting to destroy another child’s artwork; and (b) how we speak to each other.

Saturday morning – I’m usually first up and relight the candles for everyone to see as they get up. Some weeks I get a window for quiet time by myself.

Monica heads out the door around 8am for her long run. I stay with the kids and start doing the housework. Some weeks I focus outside, other weeks inside. Visible vacuuming is golden for my marriage!

Late morning, Monica takes a kid (or two) goes shopping and I stay at home, still cleaning. She comes back, grabs our oldest and takes her to do something just-the-two-of-them. This time is very valuable to our oldest, who competes for time with her mother.

By lunch time, the house is clean, the groceries are bought and we have a sitter arrive. I head out for my workout (usually a ride).

Monica returns around 2pm, all the kids nap and we get to spend time together.

Evenings are either with friends, each other (date night) or I take one of the kids out to dinner (usually our oldest).

I’m back online late afternoon and can still offer 24-hour turnaround on urgent matters.

Forcing myself to stay offline creates space for the little things that I tell myself I’m too busy to achieve (cleaning, decluttering, taking the kids to the park, reading, organizing).

Memorial Celebration

One of the challenges with funerals is nobody likes them and a lot of people skip them as a point of principle.

By using a mixture of coercion and incentives, we did a great job of changing that with my grandmother’s memorial. Here’s what we did.

All descendants were hosted by the deceased’s estate. We stayed at the same hotel and every adult descendent was invited to bring a friend or partner.

We spread the memorial over three days.

Day one was a family dinner at a private room at an informal restaurant.

Day two (fell on Fathers Day), we did a Dads, kids and teenagers trip to Grouse Mountain. I ran up the Grouse Grind, the rest of the crew took the gondola and we visited the two Grizzlies bears on top. For days we told the kids that we would go on a ‘Bear Hunt.’ They loved it.

As a bonus, we watched the lumberjack show, which mesmerized everyone 4 yrs and up. Bella won a souvenir chair that they chainsaw’ed up as part of the show. On the way home, I managed to get the chair through the US agriculture inspection. A great souvenir for the kids and Monsy.

Day two dinner was adults and teens at a local steakhouse.

Day three was the memorial, with reception. Three speakers at the memorial about 35 minutes long. If I get a chance then I’ll probably cut a video for my own, Andy Kaufman style.

A few of us stayed extra days to sort estate admin and visit. I took Lex, my oldest, to where my great grandmother and grandmother’s ashes were dropped, a beautiful location.

We scheduled the memorial weekend for six weeks after my grandmother’s death. This let her kids recover emotionally and ensured the greatest attendance, with the least amount of disruption to everyone’s lives.

I told Monica that this was a dry run for my own memorial. If mine goes this smoothly then it will be a great event for the family.

We told everyone that all events were optional. This is my approach to everything family related, and reduces feelings of obligation/resentment.

We had a single family member organize all logistics and sort payment. This is particularly appreciated by people close to the deceased, who are often overwhelmed immediately after death.

Eulogy From A Life Well Lived

I spoke at my Nana’s memorial this morning. Highlights…

I feel blessed to have my last grandparent die when I was 44. I learned so much from the experience of helping Joan with her last two years.

Little gestures mean a lot, particularly to the elderly – Joan gave a lot to her community, and the community gave it back when she needed it. To honor her memory, I’ve signed up to volunteer at our local hospice.

In life, everyone has a simple thing that makes them very happy. Search for that thing, when you find it, pay attention to it. Joan’s thing was telephone calls – she loved them. To create a double-whammy, we also paid her phone bill.

Favorite Memory – we used to tease her that she’d put the broccoli on the stove at the same time she’d put the roast in the oven.

Life Lessonwe can change late in life. Joan quit smoking in her 60s. More importantly, she changed her attitude in her 60s and 70s. This transformation to acceptance served her very well in aging, and in death. She was joking with all of us two days before she died (at 88).

Favorite Memory – helping her clean out her kitchen and finding canned goods older than me!

Joan loved her Dad, Wren. She was a reserved woman and the closest that I saw her to sadness was thinking about his early death. The love she held for her father has made me a better man, and a better father to my children. I’m the bridge from Joan to her great-grandkids (five total, three in my family with Monica).

Favorite Memory – Joan would track the price of gas all over the city. She always knew the best location and day to purchase.

Joan’s Values:

  • Self Sufficiency – she prided herself on independence and not being a burden on anyone
  • Humor – she had a great sense of humor, especially in private – she enjoyed many jokes, even on her death bed
  • Discretion – she was reserved
  • Family – her home and her support was always welcoming to family – she helped many people without any expectation of return

Favorite Memory – she loved to track the USD:CAD exchange rate to the 1/100th of a cent. It was a BIG moment for her when we hit par. “You know dear, we’re at PAR, now.”

What did Joan teach us about aging:

  • Growing old is unpleasant (and isn’t made better by complaining)
  • She aged, and died, very well
  • Why?
  • She came to accept life – a particular watershed moment was her 75th birthday, she felt grateful for the party that was organized

Two years ago, she told me that she had had a wonderful life and had been able to achieve everything she wanted. At 44, I try to bring this attitude of gratitude to my own home.

How do we make peace with time? Joan taught me:

  • Be open to friends and family
  • Contribute locally
  • Live within our means

I love you, Nana.

Vanity And Victory

Kids have an amazing capacity to reflect and absorb the world around them.

I can see this ability, most clearly, in how they pick up the phobias and idiosyncrasies my spouse. With regard to my own traits, I see my strengths reflecting in the kids. By the way, my wife sees the same thing – just reversed.

There is a great scene in the movie, Parenthood, where Steve Martin exclaims, “I just can’t figure out where he gets this obsessive behavior from!” I think about that quote a lot and smile at myself. I own obsession in our household.

As an elite athlete, I valued physical power, domination and winning. You can see these characteristics expressed in other fields (finance, business, perhaps the military). These values have strengths and weaknesses. For a young person, they help you get a tremendous amount of work done (good) but they can leave you blind to the feelings of others (less good). Lacking empathy isn’t always a bad thing, say if you’re combat infantry. However, when that value flows up the organization, it can lead to harassment and corruption.

Over the last two years, I saw the risk of maintaining my values of vanity and victory. I became aware of corruption and scandal throughout the lives of my peers. We always tell ourselves that we’re different but the evidence was so overwhelming that I had to admit that I was fooling myself. Elite performance is a high risk field for ethical strength.

Most athletes sort the world into fast/slow and fit/fat. This differs from business, expressed as rich/poor and beautiful/ugly.

I get resistance when I point these splits out of people (they are obvious in my own thinking). If you can’t see them then listen to other people talk about individuals with mixed characteristics. For example, fast/fat and slow/fit create confusion in athletic populations.

Back to the start of this piece – my children learn little from what I say but they learn most everything from what I do. Bringing them up in a household that prizes winning, and looking good, above all else might not be the best way to play it. They’re going to get plenty of that in the local Boulder community.

Widening the net, consider an individual that achieved the difficult task of creating a lot of wealth. If your #1 value (expressed in peer admiration) is wealth then you are setting up a conflict with your kids, who crave your admiration. If they reject you then they might be protecting their self-image from realizing that they can never be successful on the terms you prize. Look outside your family for examples, they are easy to see.

Millionaire, Champion, CEO… these are difficult to achieve – you deserve respect for the work required to achieve.

  • Achievement become identity
  • Identity becomes values
  • Values become skewed
  1. Remember that the value lies in the work, not the achievement
  2. Goodness requires neither beauty nor money
  3. Listen to how your friends speak about others
  4. Consider if you may need to adjust your friends

As always, I’m talking to myself, not you.

Mid Life Transformation

In 2003, I shared a conversation:

“Gordo, you know what a REAL mid-life crisis is?”

“Tell me, buddy.”

“It’s when you realize that the woman, the job, the body that you think you just might be able to have (if conditions were juuuust right). Well, you realize that there’s no way that’s going to happen and you are forced to look at the reality of your life. That can be hard. Seeing that your dreams ain’t going to happen.”

A longtime reader asked me to look back and share how I found the journey from my mid-30s to my mid-40s.

I started the process by making a list of all the “bad” things that were done to me. Isn’t this how we tend to see the past? A series of challenges that we have had to overcome.

Our personal history is created by our minds back fitting a heroic (or tragic) journey where we arrive at the present. We take credit for the heroism and assess blame for the tragedies. Sitting in judgement over everyone with whom we’ve shared our journey.

So I have my sh*t list and two thoughts come over me:

  1. “If I could wave a magic wand over my list then where would I be today?”
  2. “What use is sharing this list with ANYONE?”

I’m prone to depression but I’ve never been so depressed that I wanted to swap places with anyone.

I’m also aware that we never see the tragedies that we’ve avoided.

So, I thanked my list for delivering a wonderful spouse, three great kids and a family to serve.

Then I asked myself, what’s useful from the last decade?

Reread my buddy’s quote and you’ll see mention of the three gods of the modern world:

  • External validation through sex
  • External validation through money
  • External validation through vanity

If you look at the motivations of men then these gods feature highly. As a former elite athlete, much of the honor we receive is related to the gods of vanity and victory.

It would be easy to write that I transcended these false gods through meditation and fasting!

Truth is, at times, I took each as far as I could and had a lot of success at what others told me would make me a successful person…

…and I saw it wasn’t very satisfying.

My advice would be to look past the sex, money and vanity. What’s on the other side? Is penetration, wealth or beauty going to transform your life situation? Or might they bring a host of new problems along?

My sh*t list, particularly the worst setbacks, gave me an opportunity to ask what’s important and work on being a better person.

What lies on the other side of goodness?

I arrived at my 40th birthday (2008) and my world was falling apart. However, I was a much better person, and that helped me manage my way through. Five years on, I look at my life and am grateful because I missed setbacks that would have been far, far worse.

I’m the age (today) that my friend was a decade ago when he shared his advice. What can I offer that’s useful?

You’re going to be fine.

Keep working on yourself.

If you choose to have children then you will be faced with a choice. The choice is one of openness or closing yourself off. If you choose to be open then you will have to release many of the self-centered beliefs you’ve created. If you choose to be closed then you are likely to feel regret once the window for a relationship passes.

Either way, you will be fine.

Choose kindness.

Taking Money Off The Table

With markets high and interest rates creeping up, some people might be thinking about selling portions of their holdings.

I’ve had the opportunity to “cash out” on more than one occasion. Looking back, I completely missed how freakishly lucky I was to have the opportunity to choose.

One time I didn’t take the money, the other time I did. Both decisions worked out OK so I’ll share my process.


First, when I make a buy/sell decision I try to value the asset independently as well as consider what the situation is worth to me.

For example, my current business (consulting) is worth far more to me than it would be to a third party. Unique benefits are: gives me a voice, allows me to get paid for what I like to do, allowances for vehicles/home office, gives me an opportunity to help my local community, brings me close to my friends.

Always consider the non-financial benefits of your current situation – these are hidden to third parties, who rarely give you value for them.


The biggest decision financial decision of my life was when I chose to hand back a partnership in a private equity firm. I was 31 years old and, while the opportunity cost was huge, I figured that I could get back to my old situation if I was willing to take a pay cut.

Again, I completely missed my extreme good fortune to be able to choose. Not surprisingly, my peers and family thought I was nuts.

Take Home Point: my downside position was my old life back with less money coming in.

Take Home Point: once you get five years living expenses off the table, it gives you flexibility in an uncertain world. I achieved that goal early in my first career and it gave me freedom to take risks. With this goal, the toughest part is lifestyle humility. I was lucky to start my career working for a very humble man.

Implications of Failure/Black Swans: Getting things wrong at 31 wouldn’t have been that big a deal as my fall back plan was asking for my old job back. Consider your fallback plan.


Roll forward five years:

I was out of the PE business for five years, recently married and co-founder of a company that did property development. In the intervening five years, I co-founded a fund management business that was doing well.

Age – 36 years old, still young but now with a wife and new life that wouldn’t make it easy to return to Private Equity.

Net Worth – illiquid with a personal g’tee into the General Partner of the fund management company. I had placed myself in a position where I could lose more than my total net worth. Not smart!

Implications of failure/black swans – personal bankruptcy, loss of personal freedom, starting from scratch, return to big city living – highly unattractive, especially given my love of inexpensive living (cycling, forests, reading, writing).

I told my business partner that I wanted to sell out and would accept any terms that worked for him. He bought me out over three years at a 50% discount to third party offers we received. He wanted control and the price was good enough.

In this case the intangibles (control) made the deal highly attractive to the buyer. I didn’t get wrapped up in fair value, what I needed was a deal that was “good enough.” When you are selling to the operating management, you are very likely to take a discount on fair value.


From twenty-five years of spending time with the 0.001%, here is what I’ve noticed about money and wealth.

A – having 5 years living expenses, in cash, gives tremendous flexibility. Whatever that # is for you, it represents the highest utility aspect of your financial life. Nobody can make you do something you don’t want to do when you are able to hit the road and know that you’re OK for a long while. This is huge.

B – if you’ve built a successful business then you’ll never be out of work unless you are permanently disabled (insure that risk now). That said, consider if you are comfortable with the worst case scenario. Reading Taleb saved me from personal bankruptcy.

C – depending on your age, there is a magic number where you will be able to survive without working for the rest of your life. Most the wealthy folks that I know (call them the 2%) scale their lifestyle so they never get there. They don’t even get to the enviable position of being able to work at what they love.

Keep it real. Spending time with people that have 5-10% of your net worth is a smart use of your time.

With fitness, and finances, most people aspire to spend time with people that have FAR MORE than them. This screws you up.

If you want to feel good about your life then teach people that have less.

A couple weeks each year I live like I did when I was a student – I look forward to these weeks as they keep me grounded and get me OK with personal downside scenarios.

Small businesses have limited exit windows. Part of what pushed me to sell was a funding environment that seemed crazy to me. Separate from my views on valuation, I knew that the easy money wouldn’t last. I got the timing wrong on the contraction but it came eventually.

Less Misery, More Efficiency

It’s been over 1,000 days since I realized that my relationship with email had to change. Not only was my inbox making me miserable, it was consuming my life.

What follows is a summary of how I spent three years changing my workflow and improving my life.

#1 – Reduce the fire hose of inbound flow by:

  • Using inbox-zero techniques
  • Making your default reply not more than two words long. For example, “got it” or “ok” work well. What works even better is my preferred response – “can I delete this message now.” Delete, delete, delete, delete, delete
  • If you’re in management at company that doesn’t use a threaded email client then you should be fired. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then switch yourself, and your company, to gmail.
  • Let others reply for you – wait a day before you dive into mass email threads.
  • Unsubscribe as much as possible – if it’s important then you’ll track it down. Once you unsubscribe to everything, you’ll realized that most of the internet is waste and noise.

Recognize that your subconscious mind is terrified of being out of the loop!

Until you remove it, you won’t see how the noise in your life is ruining your capacity for effective thought AND making you miserable.

If you can’t see it in yourself then look around. Most people are not informed – they are filled with useless, and ever changing, noise.

If you find that describes everyone around you then what makes you think you’re different? This was a powerful, and painful, realization for me. Email, social networks and constant connectivity were making me miserable AND clueless.

Once you’ve created the space to think…

2 – Improve your ability to retain information by:

  • Take one slow breath (in and out) before reading any email that you can’t delete, or unsubscribe.
  • Take two slow breaths before any reply that will extend beyond one line – you’ll find your composition is better.
  • Give the sender what they need and no more.
  • Take one slow breath and re-read every reply before you send it. You’ll be amazed at the number of type-os you catch.
  • Take an honest inventory of your productivity across an entire week. At best, you’ll be productive for three hours per day (broken up into 2-4 segments). Once you realize that you’re spinning your wheels go for a walk.

If you think the above sounds hokey then pay attention to how much you hold your breath when working, driving and waiting in line.

Walking is useful to consider, and compose, your best work.

3 – When you must do your best work:

  • Exercise early
  • Eat a healthy meal
  • Wear earplugs
  • Close the door
  • Shut the internet browser
  • Write it out by hand
  • Review when you transcribe it into your computer

Let’s review…

A – reduce the fire hose of inbound to create space for thoughts that matter and reduce the misery you’re experiencing with email

B – stop holding your breath and triggering irritation with your current habits

C – with a less cluttered mind, create a routine for producing high-quality work

The above will make you FAR more happy with your work life and this will make you a better employee, spouse, parent and person.

Living behind a screen, and the back-and-forth nature of email, reinforces habits of inefficiency. Once you start to increase your own free time, be proactive about not wasting other people’s time.

  • Schedule a telephone call for any email that will require more than three replies
  • When you set a call, specify two choices and a preference
  • In advance, send a written agenda
  • Take notes
  • Write (or review) a summary of the call

What I tell myself:

  • It’s incredibly hard to say no and reduce the background noise in our lives.
  • Keep chipping away.
  • Change is difficult but worth it.

Start to pay attention how your current work habits are making you feel.

Even if you are the only person that changes, it’s still worth it.

Be grateful that you had the courage to change!