Challenging the Status Quo

Three nights in Mexico last week. Very enjoyable.

The cost of the status quo is hidden.

It simply isn’t possible to see both (a) what the future could be; and (b) the drag of accepting the way things are.

Over Thanksgiving my kids reminded me of this fact. They were amazing.

After a decade of fatherhood, they chilled the entire flight, enjoying each other.


Earlier in the year, I told them that I was done spending time with all three. No “full family” trips.

I stuck to my guns. When it came to kids, I was 1s and 2s across the year. Much less refereeing between them.

But they missed hanging out with each other so they started a get-along campaign.

See Dad, we get along now.

Reminded me of another favorite lesson => to be sick of sickness is the only cure.

The part of me that likes to say “no” was a little sad at their improvement. Strange thing human nature!

I share the story as a holiday reminder that parents have a choice with regard to the status quo. It does take a lot of patience, skill and persistence to help everyone get along with each other.

While I can’t control the actions of others, as a parent, I can influence the incentive structure.

Even getting the incentives correct, change was slow and took many months, to become obvious.

Personal Recovery

Another thing that’s been frustrating is my lack of recovery. In my 50s, I simply do not bounce back from anything very well.

I’ve noticed that the days with “more” cardio are a whole lot easier for my mental health. So, with an eye towards “better”, I got myself an Oura ring to gain insight into resting HR, HRV and sleep quality.

This process was another reminder… Two things are necessary for progress: (a) make mistakes visible; and (b) have the courage to see, then address, uncomfortable truths.

You see, I bought the ring so it could tell me what I wanted to hear!

Unfortunately, the data has had other ideas. It’s early days, so I’ll skip the specifics until I’ve gone a full season.

Suffice to say, the message appears to be that my appetite is greater than my tolerance. The only way I’m going to fit in “more” is to go a whole lot easier (most of the time). This reminds me of an observation I shared with KP (when he was my age).

I used to do a lot more easy training than I remember.

He liked that quote so much, he hung it above his desk. As I near 53, I’m glad the memory came back to me.

Anybody over 50 who says “age is just a number” isn’t paying attention, or may be trying to sell you something. 🙂

A recurring theme across my fatherhood journey… remembering it is OK to be sensible.

Anaerobic Tolerance

Another observation, this one physiological, each time I give myself a novel anaerobic stimuli, it kicks my butt for at least a month.

The first month of something new kicks my butt. Being wrecked is obvious to me. Thereafter, the fatigue gets more subtle.

Mark Allen quote… just because you feel better, doesn’t mean you are better. At the time we were talking about over-reaching but it applies more broadly.

In other words, adaptations are continuing even when I can’t “feel” them.

A well worn race shirt

The shirt pictured above is from the last time I was “fast” in a conventional sense, August 2012. We had a 3 year old, a baby and my wife was 8-months pregnant with our youngest.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to pause the racing. That one choice started a positive cascade of consequences that continue to benefit my family.

The “pausing” racing choice was a big one to make. I had a lot of my identity tied up in my relative performance.

I also had a mistaken belief that the process of race preparation was essential to look good. As I age, I’m bumping into the same fear.

Just like with my household, changing the incentives can lead to better.

Boom Time Real Estate

Some quality kid-art, right there!

We are living through boom times in our local real estate market. Houses are selling quickly, at the equivalent of 50-100x annual rent.

Everything, other than debt pricing, looks expensive to me. So… I’m looking to move, borrow and increase the assets in my portfolio that generate cash flow.

A simple way to view this… (a) split the equity in your existing house in two parts; (b) borrow 30-year fixed and buy a new place with one part of the equity; and (c) place the other part into a rental property.

The explanation follows, with a 25-year overview at the end.

In 2010, I purchased two rental properties as a hedge. Specifically, I wanted to hedge against the risk of my family being priced out of our home market. I thought I was protecting my kids. Turns out I was protecting myself.

The idea was to get paid (via rental income) to hold: 3 units, 10 bedrooms and 20,000 sf of Boulder land. The locations were excellent, the properties dated.

The 2010 purchases worked out well, not just because they performed. The purchases put significant cash pressure on me. The pressure improved my spending choices and motivated me to sort a business which was hemorrhaging cash. In a sense, having tight cash was a form of forced savings.

In 2013, we downsized, borrowed and moved across town. By staying in the same type of neighborhood, and borrowing modestly, our equity appreciation in the smaller house ended up the same as what we would have earned in the larger, unleveraged house.

My ego likes headline numbers and struggles to accept this reality. Something about real estate => the gross, headline numbers are more emotionally salient than the net cash flow reality.

Once again, I’d like to free up time, and reduce admin, by moving. The price I’m going to pay is time/hassle from the move, bringing some deferred taxes forward and agent’s fees.

With the run up in asset values (2015-2021), my family has a much larger allocation to “dead assets.” Dead assets are assets that cost money to hold => for many readers, this is the house they live in. Given recent capital appreciation, the cash cost to hold has been ignored by many.

Downsizing, and locking in 30-year fixed debt for a portion of the new purchase, enables me to keep the amount of “dead assets” modest within the family portfolio.

My ego is tempted to size up, and add a ski place. The better financial move is to improve the quality of our rental portfolio, while reducing my housework and driving.

30-year fixed debt on the family home is one of the best deals going. Given the borrower’s option to repay, it’s a one-way option that could be worth big $$$ in the future.

A word to the leveraged.

Now, like 2005-2007, is a great time to be heavily indebted. You will take comfort in your ability to unwind any financial difficulties.

You are correct.

However, if you truly “need” to unwind financial positions then we are likely in a market like 2009, unpleasant.

So be cautious with opting-in to risks that don’t add to your long-term strategy. Most particularly, any arrangement where an outside party has the power to force a sale. While I am seeking to borrow, total debt will remain modest relative to assets and cash flow.

Breaking it down, building wealth across decades.

  • Resist the urge to up-size your life, particularly by adding negative yielding assets.
  • Rather, seek to build up 2-4 rental units. Pay attention to location, lot size and bedrooms.
  • Unless you want to get into the hotel management business, rent unfurnished to long term tenants. Inverting I have learned… furnished, short-term rentals bleed expenses, emotion and time.
  • For your long-term rentals, use a local property manager – their cost as a %age of capital value will be tiny compared to the value they add, and the hassle you avoid. This frees time to make money in a field where you have an edge => whatever you were doing when you built up the $$$ to purchase rental properties. Side Note on taxes: tax bill as a %age of net assets is a number you should track.
  • Use your personal home for shelter, as an entry in the best public schools in your state, as a cheap source of fixed rate debt and a tax-favored investment. If this asset appreciates to the point where you have “too much” invested in non-yielding real estate then downsize, get a new mortgage and repeat the cycle.
  • Aside from the roof and HVAC… spend no material capital on any of your properties. Instead, spend time with the people you love (and buy more assets that generate cash flow).

If you start the above when you get married then you’ll have 1-3 moves by the time you are empty nesters. At that point, you’ll have built yourself an inflation-proof, tax-effective retirement annuity. You can constrain your spending and pass it to your grown kids OR run down the assets as you see fit.

That’s the financial overlay. You also have the ability to use trust structures within this strategy. I’ll get to those in a future post. Put simply, when I say “you” it’s possible to put a trust in “your” place. That can protect your assets from the unexpected which, over a 25 year time horizon, is nearly certain to happen.

Ideally, you graduated debt-free from college and made a habit of maximizing your retirement contributions in the first 10 years of your career. Don’t be in a rush to get into real estate, I’d been working/saving for a decade before I had the capital, and geographic stability, for a purchase to make sense. While a favorite form of security for lenders, real estate is chunky, a pain to manage and expensive to sell.

What Would That Look Like

The 50m pool at Coronado – not a hardship posting!
First person who took me here was Coach KP, 20-ish years ago.
The Big Dog is always with me. Love you, buddy.

I flew out to San Diego to have a chat with a friend.

I had a hunch he’d come up with something and he delivered via a well-timed question.

What would that look like?

At the time, I was stuck talking about everything other than what I was going to do about my life.

Put another way, I was talking about what life was doing to me… rather than what I was going to do with my life.

So here goes.

Last time, I outlined what better would look like in my marriage.

Scheduling time for our three “weeklies.” Six hours a week plus a 20-minute planning meeting => huge return on time invested.

This has been great and I have noticed a useful change in my thinking. After a month of rolling our weeklies, my thinking shifted towards my actions to improve my life.


With better thinking I noticed…

Time => this year I added 800 annual hours of driving to my life, without noticing!

Two schools across town, birthday parties, swim meets, swim workouts, jiujitsu, climbing… throw in dishwashing, laundry and picking up clutter… 2021 is up over 1,000 annual hours of s*** work.

Why would anyone learn to take care of themselves when they are offered catering, limo rides and daily maid service at their beck and call?

Have you ever quantified the dead miles from your commute? We are making 450 trips per school year. At 7.2 miles per round trip it is 3,240 miles. Tack on after school activities and we’re over 5,000 miles.

But wait, there’s more… cut cleaning AND driving => downsize into a place that is walking distance from where my kids will be going to school for the next TEN years.

Having lived through the challenges of running a 6,000 sf house, then a 5,000 sf house… I’d like to pull 2,500 sf out of our footprint, while reclaiming 5,000 hours over the next decade.

1//. I wasn’t able to see until I settled my mind to the point where I noticed how my time was being spent.

2//. When I am too busy, I get caught blaming the situation, rather than guiding the situation to a better outcome.

To notice, consider then act appropriately… I need empty space in my life.

Side note for my real estate pals — I’m all set, no need to drop me a line. 😉

Opening Day, Vail 2021

Something else I realized about time…

I have no more than 1,500 days left to directly impact my kids.

Somewhere beyond 2025, they are going to stop listening to me as they transition to adulthood.

So I’m going to make time for 1-on-1 trips, my best forum.

Also last week. Time well spent

Another story, this time about spending.

Just before the pandemic, my identity was stolen. It was stolen to the point where someone was able to call up my bank and get the bank to believe they were talking to me.

Huge pain in the rear. Not because I lost any money. More because I had to change every single thing I could to lock the buggers out — that took time.

Things have settled down but my security protocol means that my watch buzzes every time a nickel leaves my life. This has gradually made me miserable!

Recently, my watch died and the buzzes stopped.

It was wonderful.

I’m going to shift all notifications off my body.


Back to those 1,500 days with the kids. Why are we doing this?

I want my kids to be equipped with the skills to self-direct their lives.


Because if you lack these skills then you run a much greater lifetime risk of being abused – literally, figuratively and financially.

A key value of knowing the why, is being able to discard the noise that surrounds us… politics, markets, crypto, workplace drama, status anxiety…

Also, consider the noise that surrounds parenthood… popularity, college admissions, athletic performance, academic performance, status anxiety, unresolved childhood trauma (being addressed via proxy)…

If the goal is to enable a child to self-direct their life then much of the above can be jettisoned. This enables the family to focus on things that could prove useful…

  • Getting along with difficult people
  • Knowing when not to engage
  • Letting others be wrong
  • Building marketable skills
  • Modeling the capacity to live within one’s means
  • Daily movement in nature
  • Understanding, then avoiding, ruin
  • Absence of addiction, abuse, disease, ill-health

So the filter I am using with regard to my kids is… is this a reasonable constraint on my time to up-skill them?

My driving and housework are beyond reasonable, which means I’m not doing my best work with the useful.

In life, and the bouldering gym, I struggle with balance moves.

To fully answer my friend’s question, “how would that look?” I need to get specific with regard to myself. I need to own the actions required to improve.

Say “yes” more often => people who are good at building capital (and fitness) receive an uncommon pleasure from deferring joy. Improving my yes-no balance requires a mental adjustment.

To create the space for better thinking, I’m going to spend 3-5 days exploring, in nature, tech-lite, each month in 2022. I failed to pull this off in 2021.

Something I learned 30 years ago, “there’s always a good reason to postpone the vacation.” In 2020 & 2021, there were many good reasons to say no to myself. Keeping myself far away from the urge to dismantle my family life is a good reason to say yes to creating some space.

Keep iterating towards better.

My plan for last Friday afternoon didn’t have “spend the afternoon doing autobelays with your kid” in it.
I said “yes” to him and had a great time.
One Positive Step.

More and Less

My kids love it when I dress up

I view my negative emotions as feedback and, when they persist, I change my approach.

My summer had some unpleasant moments. Moments which spurred the resolve to reach for better.

The first thing I noticed…

If I am going to do something mean then it’s going to happen at home, after spending the day alone.

I can’t remember a single unforced error happening after a day outside. The errors I do remember start with a slow boil starting at my desk!


I have stickers facing me while I type away on my screens…

Whatever I truly need… it’s not to be found in a chair, looking at screens.

Another lesson I’ve learned, this time about marriage.

Schedule time to enjoy each other.

I don’t know if we’d gotten “too busy”, or complacent.

Either way, when I’m getting jealous of swim meets then it’s a sign we need to increase our us-time.

  • Tuesday – train together (outside), then lunch
  • Thursday – starting after Christmas break, ski together
  • Saturday – date night (and our oldest can handle the sitting)

Three opportunities for “together” each week.

Have fun together and avoid forming a habit of preparing a list of grievances for each encounter, yes I have done this.

The Thursday means we need to help. When I first raised the idea, it was…

I want you to get childcare so I can take an entire day off. Every. Single. Week.

My wife had no idea what, or why, this was important.

Nothing happened, for months.

When I explained the downstream idea (ski together each week), help was found within 12 hours.

Good ideas do better with effective communication.

These ideas were put together with an understanding of enduring drivers of satisfaction in my life…

  • Exploring, together
  • Being outside, together

The three “weeklies” put me in my best environment, so my wife isn’t interacting with me in my worst environment (the house after a day alone).

We had a bit of an issue with restaurant selection so we rotate choice, by week, with a no-veto policy.

Kid #2 completed their reading challenge!

John Hellemans notes there are three plans in any athlete-coach relationship. I goes something like this…

  • The plan the coach believes the athlete is given
  • The plan the athlete actually does
  • The plan the coach believes the athlete did

It’s a reminder to be cautious with assumptions, and pay attention to clues that point to reality being different than expected.

A version of this extends to all things in life…

  • What you think you need
  • What you actually do
  • What you think you did

Consider money…

  • What I think I need to spend to make myself happy [A]
  • What the family is actually spending [B]
  • What I think my family wants me to spend [C]

The punchline here is TIME.

When you are enjoying each other, your family will enjoy inexpensive hobbies.

INVERT => no amount of spending can overcome a lack of meaningful connection

What’s been bothering me, quite a bit as it turns out, was the ratio of B to A. The $5 of family spending that follows each $1 I find useful in my own life.

I dug deeper.

What I’ve arrived at is equity. Equity of contributions and benefits. We’re working on it. A simple change, that is difficult to implement…

I will not burden myself with the task of removing the consequences of another’s choices.

Basically, if someone calls an audible, repeats a bad habit, makes a poor choice… then I’ll limit myself to polite emotional support, while calmly showing the connection between their choice and the consequence.

Then I’ll move on.


Getting What I Want

With the money I think my family wants me to spend… I just smile at myself.

First, because my wants are driven by my peers, my values and the advertising industry => my family is the solution, not the issue.

A bit of effort with my media filter dials down my greed, and dials up useful traits. A simple change… unsubscribe reduces useless spending.

Second, my “wants” are transitory. They come and go, just like moods. I don’t need to take them seriously, they change all the time.

A better question:

What’s it going to take to raise my kids, the way I want, and set myself up for the next stage of my life?

The price is a cost of doing business.

The actions are where to focus.