An Enduring Source of Happiness

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Clayton Christensen died last week and he left us this article, which was written ten years before his death. His questions…

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

Articles, like Clay’s, encourage us to take positive actions to guide our life path. However, particularly when I was young, I had no idea about my future self.

Frankly, it was tough for me to understand myself in the present => ruled by passions and an energy I could neither understand nor control.

I had radically changed my life when I came across Clay’s article. These changes were heavily influenced by another HBR article, Managing Oneself, which I read annually. Combining the articles will give you more than applying them separately.

For me, it remains a whole lot easier to see “what not to do.” To see where I don’t belong and to consider where my repeated mistakes are likely to take me.

Every mistake, not addressed, will repeat and strengthen.

Via Negativa – defining a life with meaning by knowing what it is not => from 15 to 30 years old… my life was a case study of what not to do.

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Clay makes the point that you need to get going with creating your ethical anchor because, otherwise, you’ll get too “busy” to address the stuff that’s likely to wreck your life!

Career, family and self => here is a question I asked myself for 1,000 days around my 30th birthday…

If this behavior continues then where is it likely to take my career, my life and myself?

Initially, I was focused on other people’s shortcomings. What they were doing to me, and around me. Eventually, I started to look inward, at my own role.

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I was very fortunate to start my career in finance, a field where you can build capital in a relatively short time => 3-7 years learning the ropes => 3-7 years saving money, keeping my personal burn rate down and building the courage to leave.

In finance, winning is defined by making money and, looking back, the people that stand out were the ones unwilling to bend their ethics to make money. My first team was led by these sorts of people and I loved it.

What wasn’t working for me at the time was my personal life, which was filled with periodic alcohol abuse and consistent overeating.

I lacked a central anchor around which to make myself a better person => sport, religion, family, ethical work… there are many ways to “solve” this core need.

My firm, and friends, tolerated my personal shortcomings and tried to nudge me towards better behavior.

I smile remembering their nudges.

If you’ve tried to reason with a belligerent, and aggressive, person then you’ve probably discovered that polite nudging is ineffective.

What works better is time, and the inevitable smackdowns that life delivers to us all.

You might get fired, you might get really sick or injured, your firm might go bust, a close friend might die…

These painful episodes can provide an opportunity to reflect and ask, “Where are my choices likely to take me?”

By 31, the path ahead was becoming clear and it was likely to be filled with regret.

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In my early-30s I decided to spend a lot of time in places filled with people living in a way I wanted for myself => an outdoor life with friends.

I also found a central anchor, endurance sport, which provided a framework to address (some of) my personal shortcomings => binges were pushed into my offseason…

Turns out my “career” after finance wasn’t going to be elite sport. Two problems there. First, I wasn’t able to make much money! Second, another values misalignment with the concept of winning => we excuse awful behavior in our athletic champions.

My central pillar was going to become family, but not because it is fun. Rather because it is extremely difficult in a way that provides meaning and satisfaction.

My problems are an ideal fit for molding me into the person I want to be, forcing me to connect with others and providing me with an enduring source of satisfaction.

Getting yourself to the “right” set of problems can be more useful than solving everything coming across your plate. In my 20s, I was highly productive but not getting anything meaningful done!

Print the two articles out, make notes and take one positive action each day.

Where are my actions likely to take me?


Marriage Mindset


I’ve found these helpful.


At its core, what’s marriage?

Marriage is an agreement to never intentionally harm each other.

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I have a strange, and recurring, expectation => a desire to see my spouse happy doing things that I find difficult.

It is unreasonable to expect my spouse to be happy doing things I find difficult.

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Early in our relationship, I made a wise decision.

I gave up trying to teach my wife anything about nutrition.

I should have extended this attitude across a wider range of topics.

I didn’t marry for the opportunity to teach competency to my spouse.

I married for the opportunity to serve.

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Our children have two habits that cause problems in our house: (1) “accidentally” physically hurting each other; and (2) the use of biting “humor” to tweak each other.

Make a habit of avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Start by noticing, there is a lot of it, particularly internally.

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Winners want the ball.

To be fit for leadership, I need to figure out how to deal with this.

“This” being whatever happens to be upsetting me at the minute.

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I don’t need to “figure out” everything.

What I need to figure out is my reaction to the normal ups and downs of life!

I am absolutely certain, my future self will say I could have chilled out more.

Make a habit of yielding as much as possible.

Basic Week Parenting

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When I was training seriously, I’d start most seasons with 13-weeks where I would “stay put and roll the week.” Having a simple, basic week is a powerful tool for getting stuff done and avoids the cost of variation.

The cost of variation is the energy required to consider alternatives, to choose and to negotiate for “space” for ourselves.

When you are at the limit of your ability, patience or capacity to recover => eliminating unnecessary variation (and associated conflicts) can be a big help. I’ve brought a similar approach to my family.

I’ll use my son’s schedule as an example, here’s what he’s doing November to April:

  • Monday – school/soccer
  • Tuesday – school/water polo
  • Wednesday – choir/school/jiujitsu
  • Thursday – school/swim lesson
  • Friday – school/go to mountains
  • Saturday – ski group/movie night
  • Sunday – family ski/back home

Every-single-morning, he’s going to read for 20 minutes before doing anything. He is usually reading by 6:31am.

Despite everyone “knowing” the schedule, we write it out and place it on the kitchen counter. This lets everyone have a look and get comfortable with the plan.

There is variety between the days, but little variation between the weeks. For example, I don’t need to worry about what we are going to do on a rainy February weekend.


The bulk of my “life” fits into the time before my kids wake up, when they are at school and my “days off.” In the winter, many weeks, my wife handles the kids from end of school Thursday to Friday evening.

Bedtimes, my own included, are set so we can wake up and keep the week rolling. When we start to get run down bedtimes move earlier and earlier.

I give myself zero flexibility with my own wake-up time => “no excuses wake-up” eliminates energy spent on choice.

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Some principles we use.

Sleep, school work and healthy eating is our highest priority. Create the habits and energy to outperform.

Kids don’t know what they want. Our minds are hardwired to complain about every single change and variation => just look inside! Absent a repeating schedule, you are certain to have endless negotiations. Exhausting, when you don’t have energy to spare.

My kids want: love, to demonstrate competence and acceptance => the schedule needs to provide everyone with a chance to meet their basic human needs.

Clear ownership of responsibilities. Who is doing what? The kids are hardwired to compete for your time. Lay out the mommy/daddy times, make it equitable. With our preschoolers, showing them their “mommy days” was very important to reduce conflict and let mom see she was doing enough.

Keep it rolling at grade level. I do not care about the relative performance of my kids. I am most interested in identifying holes. If you have a future Rhodes scholar in the house then it will become apparent in its own time. However, if you miss the fact that your little one doesn’t know how to read then it will severely damage self-confidence, their attitude toward education and their capacity to teach themselves.


My constraints are extremely useful as they keep me from over-doing-it. I have a track record of burying myself with fatigue.

My goal is to do what needs to be done, strengthen my marriage and have peace of mind => to know I am executing to the best of my ability, most days. I know what I want.

Because I witness my internal dialogue, I am constantly reminded of my shortcomings!

Meeting a reasonable basic week gives me an anchor and avoids the temptation to increase my expectations of myself.

Simplicity and repetition.


Diversity of Thought – Things we can’t imagine

2020-01-05 14.39.11-1.jpgA popular theme in the media is handwringing about the divisive nature of political discussion. Everything would be much better “if we could just get along.”

I’m not sure.

Social systems tend to overshoot, overreact, over-everything. When we have widespread agreement (think totalitarian states) humans tend to drive the bus off the road.

Can you name an area where we have wide-spread agreement across the political spectrum?

I can.

Deficits, borrowing, bonding.

Left-right, north-south, east-west, up-down, local-state-national-continental => near total agreement on the benign nature of government debt.

Because disagreement limits the size of potential errors, total agreement worries me.

A surprise in my 2019 was my state’s voters not approving a change to our taxpayer’s bill of rights. It is the only constraint, on the ambitions of government, I noticed last year.

We should not expect government (or friends & family) to “do the right thing” in advance of a crisis. Human nature isn’t designed to work that way. An increase in our collective tolerance of regulation and taxation (ie pain) doesn’t happen until after a crisis.

Our collective problems won’t be addressed until after they blow up.

My individual risks, however, can be addressed right now.

A collective belief in the benign nature of debt is self-reinforcing. While the debt cycle expands, asset values are inflated, consumption is pulled forward and economic growth is nudged upwards. Because of its ability to feed on itself, debt expansion can continue for a very long time, particularly with interest rates near zero. Ultra-low rates enable lenders to fool themselves about the credit quality of the marginal borrower.

What to do?

Life is not filled with only bad news! Am I able to take advantage of unexpected positive surprises?

It’s counterintuitive but I’m positioning myself to borrow a lot of money. My 2020 project is creating an option to borrowing 30-years fixed at an interest rate that none of us can currently imagine.

How might unexpected negative surprises wipe me out?

Consider who is getting out of hand with their current borrowings. What’s the credit quality of… your employer? your family? your largest customers? your local/state/national government?

Do you work for a high-leveraged company, in a state with massive unfunded pension liabilities, while rolling your credit card balance each month?

Hidden liabilities lie (mostly) hidden. Ponzi schemes, unfunded retirement benefits, promises for future spending, fixed price contracts… think about your life. Where do you have exposure to a single person, CEO, manager, employee, fund, investment? In an easy-money environment, it is possible to hide significant liabilities.

Things we can’t imagine are likely to be underpriced.

Kinda tough to imagine the unimaginable! What seems impossible to imagine? Inflation, interest rates at historical norms, rapid nominal growth, credit crisis in a large sovereign, large hot-war…

For me, the goal is not to predict the outcome. My main goal is to protect my lifestyle from shocks and surprises.

To make it real, I ask, “what could blow up ski season?” Health, injuries, illness => my current risks are more human, than financial. Think beyond the money.

To focus on new ideas requires us to reduce the noise in our lives. Are you engaging in a policy of constant distraction?

There is a lot we can do to manage our exposure to the errors of others. Bad companies, bad relationships, bad government… many of us have the ability to pack up and leave. I’ve lived and worked in eight different countries, on three continents. Gradually working towards a situation where the main person who can hurt me is myself!

As a young man, I spent many years exposed to the errors of a single individual (my bosses and my business partners). More common is exposure to the errors of a single corporation.

With preparation, you can benefit in times of stress, but first you must survive.