How do you deal with the risk that your body lasts longer than your mind?
Serve the young.
A pregnant wife is the start of an outstanding opportunity to de-risk the back end of your life. The skills required to take advantage of this offering are likely to be very different from what you’ve been using so far.
You don’t need to be a father to take advantage of these posts – young spouse, young students, other people’s kids, grandkids, neighbors… the key element is consistent service to others.
Now, in my own case, it wasn’t a desire to “get” future help.
Rather I had a strong desire to “avoid”.
Avoid another divorce.
Avoid the pain of future regret.
Still not sure? Listen quietly while grandparents talk about their life decisions.
One other quick note: one of my wife’s friends sent us three picture frames. The idea is each kid gets to put a favorite Andy memory into their frame. Wonderful gift idea that I wanted to pass along. Our oldest added a note at the bottom of her frame, “Thank you Andy for being a great uncle.” Gratitude in the face of grief.
OK, now an idea about relationships for you.
When death, divorce or another life changing event takes place, we might have a feeling that we need to rebuild. Rebuilding, after everything fell apart.
Alternatively, we might get caught in a victim mentality. The shock of the event leaving us feeling angry, hurt or disoriented – feeling like the world, or a specific person, did us wrong.
We’ve been done wrong!
Two things I shared with my oldest daughter.
Yes, your uncle dying is the worst thing that has happened to you. However, it’s unlikely that this moment is going to be the worst thing that happens in your life. [I avoided the temptation for us to brainstorm future tragedies.]
No, we are not being singled out. Death is a natural and universal human experience. Everyone you meet will have their own story about death.
In terms of tough moments, I have a buddy who started 2020 with his spouse dying after a long journey with cancer. I followed them for many years. They packed a lot of living into those final years.
Roll forward into COVID, into grief and he shared an observation about a person he’d met.
We have an opportunity to build a life together.
Opportunity, Build, Together
I wanted to pass those words to you because they are very different from the way I saw relationships as a young man.
My ideas of the past, at best, were to find someone to share MY experience with ME.
Or perhaps, someone to follow MY instructions and serve ME.
Far more useful to be thankful for the opportunity to have loved, to have had the opportunity to raise kids and then focus on what’s next. Life after children, life after his spouse has died.
When I place myself in my friend’s mindset, certain things become clear.
Don’t seek to nudge others towards my view – share experiences and change together.
Know that shared experiences, particularly struggles, are what it’s all about. Embrace the opportunity to face life together, as those will be the moments that bring us together.
If my time allocation reflected my values, then what would it tell me?
Be grateful for an opportunity to build better together.
Half a century is more than enough time for choice to impact outcome.
Here’s how I stack the deck.
Understanding three things greatly simplifies decision making:
Who bears the worst-case scenario
In most cases, knowing the above eliminates the need to make any prediction (of an unknowable future).
In investing, you can bet big when someone else bears your downside (non-recourse leverage, other people’s money). At home, you will want to be more careful.
You are going to be tempted to spend most of your time predicting an unknowable future.
Instead, figure out the payoff function, what’s the worst that can happen and who bears that downside.
Previous writing touched on the payoff functions for fame, financial wealth, strength training and personal freedom.
Tim’s blog did a great job of laying out on his worst-case scenario – shot in his own home as well as a brain dump of everything that can go wrong, and right, with fame. It was an enjoyable read but life is too complex to perform cost-benefit analysis for every choice.
Sounds good, doesn’t scale.
One of my favorite shortcuts is to teach myself the areas of my life where I have a lousy track record, and defer to my expert advisor(s). I look for advisors with domain-specific experience and a temperament different from my own then… …I do what they recommend.
There’s deep wisdom in stepping outside ourselves => What Would Jesus Do, or Buffett, or your coach, or whomever you think knows better than you.
Each time I choose, I open the opportunity to make a mistake. To reduce unforced errors, there are filters I use to eliminate the need to make a choice and to make the correct choice obvious.
First level filter => repeat my choice for a decade, where’s this likely to take me?
The first three are obvious, but that doesn’t stop many, many people from surfing close to the edge, or getting an emotional rush from having charismatic risk-seeking friends.
Sometimes I need to phase out a relationship, sometimes I need to adjust my own behaviors.
With marriage, specifically, it’s impossible to “see” just how challenging your life will become if you have kids. You’re going to be really, really stressed out for a decade. Every single one of my prior bad habits tried to make a re-appearance in my life!
There’s no easy way around it but you can significantly reduce your chance of disaster if you pay attention to how your potential mate approaches risk.
Personally, I like to drive with people. You can learn a lot about someone by chatting, and watching, while they drive in traffic.
It is difficult to let charismatic sociopaths out of our lives. These people are a lot of fun to hang around with, especially when we aren’t the target of their ire. It gets easier with a few bad experiences.
When you need to make a change, resist the urge to justify your choices.
Learn to ghost with grace.
What if we are the person that needs to change?
Owning my choices and considering where they might take me.
Mountaineering, peer choice, alcohol use, cigars, bike racing… as my life changed from “just myself” to “my young family” the following became clear to me…
The people who were bearing the downside had no choice in whether to take the risk.
To make myself feel better, I took out a long-term care policy. The insurance reduced the financial burden if I was disabled but didn’t address the mismatch between who was taking the risk and who was bearing the downside.
In my 40s, severe permanent disability could have been worse than death. In 2013, with three young kids and an impaired balance sheet, I was in a very different place than I hope to be when our youngest graduates high school (in 2030, or so).
Perhaps I’ll add back risky stuff in my 60s… right now, I doubt I’ll have the energy.
Divorce, violence and self-harm => the bottom half of the list.
Nobody gets married hoping for a divorce.
Nobody starts a drive hoping to get their car shot up in a road rage incident.
Nobody repeats a pattern of justified rage hoping to create a crisis.
But these things happen, and their seeds are small choices, repeated.
I try to be alert to habits that can lead me astray.
Anger remains a challenge for me.
I pay attention to situations and habits that reduce my faults.
I focus on better.
Making a habit of the first-level filter, tosses all kinds of stuff into the forget-about-it pile.
Reminder about the 1st Filter => repeat for a decade, where am I likely to be?
The first filter very quickly gets rid of (most of my) bad ideas.
Here’s how I set priorities and shape my “to do” pile.
When I was an elite athlete, every decision I made was passed through a filter of, “Will this help me win in August?” At that time, the filter worked very, very well.
In 2005, I married and quickly realized my filter (of winning) would, if applied over many years, make a second divorce more likely. Deeply seared from my divorce, I really, really, really didn’t want another divorce.
I wanted a different result so I needed a different approach.
I needed to change my filter to…
“How will this impact my marriage?”
Your situation is likely different, but your need to know, and direct, your filter is the same.
Baby, or COVID, arrives… “How will this impact my family?”
Allocating time week-after-week… “What’s my real priority?”
Trivial irritations, the opinions of strangers… “Who gets my emotional energy?”
Every single person we meet has a filter => victory, vanity, external wealth, fame, likes, validation, please the person in front of me, attention, minimize conflict, how do I feel right now, what is the last piece of advice I heard… lots of people, lots of different filters.
It’s tempting to think that more money will result in less financial conflicts. However, I haven’t found that to be the case.
The habits that lead to conflict follow us up, and down, the socioeconomic ladder.
Similarly, if I can make a habit of de-escalation in one area of my life then my approach will follow me into other areas.
Earlier this year, my wife had her eye on a very nice jacket. For some reason, I became obsessed with the cost of this jacket.
Where did my feelings come from? I have no idea but I knew my feelings were unproductive. I knew because of the filter I apply to my marriage, “Where are these choices likely to take me, and my marriage?”
I knew it would be helpful to move on but I wasn’t able to shake my opinions.
So I funded the jacket.
Actually, I funded 7x the cost of the jacket.
That jacket was a massive write-off…
I placed the money into an account that is invisible to my internet banking.
I asked my wife to pay cash so I would have no ability to track her spending.
I felt better immediately.
It was one of the best deals I did pre-COVID.
I’ve been running my financials since I was 16 and managed to save 50 cents of every dollar I earned from 16 to 40 years old.
My first job out of college was in finance. My mentors made two observations about spending that stuck with me:
From the Managing Partner, “We could keep a better eye on the small stuff but that would make this place a lot less fun to work at and it wouldn’t make any difference to my financial life.”
From a Young Up-and-comer, “If you ever want to get someone then start by auditing their expenses.”
Apply these to myself
=> make sure my choices can survive an audit (by anyone, but especially my spouse)
=> being a stickler for fine detail will make the people around you miserable (especially if you have a life that can’t survive an audit)
As a leader, what does that actually mean?
In 2009, unexpected unemployment left us facing a financial crisis. I started by cutting my personal budget by 80%. I laid that out to my wife and said we needed to cut our family budget by 50%.
We made a budget, we implemented the changes and we went on with our lives.
Good enough was good enough.
Endless optimization makes everyone miserable.
Often there is a fear-based motivator that is driving our attention to fine-detail.
It can be near impossible to transcend fear-based habits!
Two things that might help:
1/ Set a “give a hoot” threshold.
Each year, I set a dollar-amount that is my “give a hoot” threshold. If something is below that threshold then I promise myself that I_will_not_give_a_hoot.
My total spend in the “give a hoot” category is ~2% of my total budget. The 2% spend cuts 90% of my external annoyances and gives me a lot of internal credibility when I say “we don’t have the money for that.”
Not getting wrapped up in the little stuff makes my internal life better and gives me the authority to direct the big stuff.
This policy is a bargain (but letting go is oh-so-tough).
2/ What about when the threshold is triggered?
When something big pops up, I like to pause and distance myself from the decision.
I’ve set my financial life up to create friction in my ability to spend money. The friction gives me time to ask…
What’s the goal? => How does this choice benefit my family, my marriage, myself…
If it won’t make a difference then wait.
Another filter => Am I willing to spend this money on someone other than myself? If not then wait, again.
Investing and spending => I do a lot of waiting and that’s OK because anticipation is often better than reality.
I spent yesterday afternoon at a car dealership and traded my car for a newer model. The new car will be “my wife’s” and I’m going to roll in the oldest car we own.
Knowing that my family is seeing me roll in the “old car” will make me at least as happy as a new car, which I can always get later.
Your spouse, your kids, your unborn descendants… all will be impacted by the choices you make with regard to spending and investment.
Today’s my 15th wedding anniversary. I thought I’d leave something for my daughters.
I was born Canadian and figured if you’re going to marry an American then best to do it on the 4th of July.
In normal times, the benefits of a strong domestic partnership aren’t obvious. These aren’t normal times!
Being locked down with my wife is great. The other night I shared, “I could roll this for another 75 weeks, no problem.”
I saw my wife’s silent reply in her eyes… 75 frickin’ weeks?! Anyhow, she might not feel the same way about lockdown but she’s happy for me.
That might be a good first tip => the capacity to be happy for other people.
I had zero empathy through my 20s. Which bring us to the next tip…
End bad relationships early
You’re unlikely to get to a great marriage via a rocky courtship.
How will you know it is a bad relationship? Turn that question on its head.
Is it going to be the greatest mistake of your life if you let this person go? That’s how I felt when I proposed to Monica.
Be willing to be alone
A good marriage is an outstanding deal. It is worth a lot of effort to get there. There is so much stuff I don’t have to deal with.
However, there’s no rush to get there. It wasn’t until my 30s that I started to show any potential to be “marriage material.”
Don’t marry the prettiest girl in high school
This observation isn’t about being pretty, or being female.
It’s this… being treated like you’re special, for no good reason, from a young age, will skew your perception of the world.
All my best relationships, male and female, have been with people who grew up lower middle-class. The exceptions were financially comfortable but had to overcome significant emotional challenges growing up.
Pretty, gifted, athletic… from an early age… can make the rest of your life seem like a downer.
Don’t peak in high school.
How to spot a husband
Is he kind? Kindness takes time to develop in many people.
Will people work for him? You’ll be doing a lot of work together.
If people like working for him then you’re less likely to resent him. Female-to-male resentment is the #1 trait I come across in unhappy marriages.
Helping => unless you’re a board-certified medical clinician, working in a professional capacity, you will not sort this person out => you need an exit
Obligation => this is a big one for people caught in a multi-year abusive relationship => you might feel that the person’s place in society (boss, relative, child, spouse, priest, coach, doctor) requires you to put up with their abuse => hell no => you need an exit
I struggled with the above in my 20s, so it’s probably going to take you a few years to get it right.
Some family systems train their members to put up with abuse across multiple generations => break the chain, if not for yourself then for your children.
Protect your exit – there will be many attempts to pull you back in => block, filter, never reply, don’t answer unknown calls, don’t open letters, don’t post your travel schedule, change your mobile number… whatever it takes. I’ve done it all.
The craftiest manipulators will use people close to you to advocate for them. These people will be happy to do so – in the hope that they will successfully pass the abuser off to you!
I defeat these attempts by asking an advocate, “Do you want more of XXX in your life?” and noting “I don’t have any interaction with them and that is plenty for me.” We then share a smile and move on.
Over time, there will be fewer and fewer attempts to rope you in.
It is no fun to “play” with a person who never responds and you must remember, never respond to sociopaths.
Don’t poke the bear.
I use similar rules on Social Media.
One strike you’re out => mute button on twitter, unfollow on FB => much less triggering than blocking, allow difficult people to move along to their next obsession.
How do they make you feel? Some people bring out the worst aspects of my personality => politicians, of every political stripe, do this on purpose => mute them down. Don’t water the worst seeds of your personality.
Discipline is freedom => execute my advice and pay attention => Is your life better without the drama? It is easy to develop a habit of engagement, of not leaving well enough alone.
What are you trying to achieve? Don’t rope yourself into a mess, just to give yourself something to do.
Fill your life with something more than emotional highs from justified rage and lows from sadness.
My daughter and I are doing a summer essay project. I wasn’t able to get this quite where I wanted before hitting my writing duration limit of two weeks. So I’ll pull the key points to the start and publish:
Marriage is an agreement to never knowingly hurt each other. Digging deeper, this implies a promise that I will take the time to absorb my spouse’s value system.
If you’re not sure then wait. Wait until you are willing to constantly offer yourself. Getting out of a poor marriage is awful and being in a great marriage is fabulous. Choose wisely.
Renew vows every morning. Every new choice provides the opportunity to leave the mistakes of the past.
You have a hidden superpower. You have the ability to create your spouse. First and foremost by who you become in the years ahead. Secondly, in the aspects of your partner you choose to support.
Finally, your relationships, your life => it only needs to make sense to you and your partner.
There’s a paradox. My current marriage, which works very well for us, depends on a path of going through my first marriage, which ended in divorce.
Success via failure.
Marriage Life Cycle
With each passing year, the “getting married” becomes less of a factor in my life. As we near fifteen years together, the “staying married” has been stable for a long time. These days, where I focus is the enjoying of marriage.
Getting => Staying => Enjoying
Prior failure is painful evidence that I might not be as smart as I think I am or, perhaps, I’m not in the right spot to find what I’m looking for.
Can I articulate what I am looking for? If I can’t articulate my needs then I’ll default to a set of criteria outside myself, outside my true needs. This is the old advice to start with the end in mind.
A kind companion with whom I enjoying sharing all aspects of my life => that might be a good starting point. Sharing “all aspects” has a decent shot at enduring through the stages of life and reflects a core value of openness.
For me, the step after that was to park myself in a place (two places, in fact) where there were a lot of people who shared my interests.
Arriving at a point where I had a shot at success was an achievement.
However, even at that point, my relationship CV was horrendous:
Five divorces in my immediate family, including my own
Blindly heading towards financial ruin
No sustained success in relationships
No proven ability to stay put
Addiction, alcoholism and mental illness throughout my family tree
All of the above were extremely useful as I gradually inverted my personal history => with a crystal clear idea about how to screw up a marriage => just do the opposite.
July 4th, 2005 => I embark on my second marriage with a clear thoughts on:
What I didn’t want in a relationship.
Where I didn’t want to live.
What it takes for me to ruin a relationship.
It was easier to figure what I didn’t want, than what I did. Most importantly, the pain of my prior mistakes left me motivated to change.
Where is this behavior, this choice, likely to take me?
I knew where my past choices had taken me – not where I had wanted to go!
Caring Enough To Change
Being motivated to change is not unique.
I’ve met many people with a passionate drive to overcome themselves. Often, this drive is applied towards conventional success => monetary wealth, power and sexual partners. I was this person. I had an opportunity to achieve a world-class marriage but decided to apply my energy elsewhere.
Our prior mistakes do not need to be renewed each morning!
The starting point in my own transformation was giving up on relationships. I spent 1,000 days seeking to make myself the absolute best (athlete) I could be. The physical outlet of this pursuit let me burn away a prior life of achieving what others valued. Extreme fatigue was a useful way to peel the onion and figure out who I wanted to be.
Marriage is journey:
facing common challenges
about which you have limited experience
Time => success is very different at 25, 50 and 75 years old.
Stress & Adversity => across long time horizons you are guaranteed to face adversity:
Babies and toddlers
Near death experiences of kids and each other
Death experience of parents and grandparents
Alcoholism and addiction
Menopause, cancer, dementia, heart disease
Stuff happens to everyone, regardless marital status. We face these major events largely clueless about how to deal with them. How you handle stress, within your relationship, will have an outsized impact on outcome.
How To Love is a great resource on this topic and will help you increase the odds towards relationship success.
How do you get to a marriage that is better than you ever expected?
Wait until you are ready to continually offer yourself.
Looking back, I think my first marriage was driven, at least in part, by an unwillingness to be alone. However, I am cautious about memory because I am an expert at fooling myself and back-fitting a coherent personal narrative.
On the other hand, the failure of my first marriage was absolutely due to an attitude of what I was going to “take” and a disregard for bringing anything, other than money, to the relationship. It’s an attitude that followed me for many years, in many different parts of my life. It didn’t serve me well.
What would I tell my younger self, or my kids, about marriage?
There’s no rush, rather than searching for what you think you need, turn inwards and work on becoming the person you want to marry. Once you are married, you’ll be able to apply this habit into supporting your spouse. Together, you will each become better partners.
Create your spouse => I look for ways to support anything that builds my spouse into the person I’d like them to become.
Often when I read advice on how to love, it centers on what to avoid in a partner. Rather than avoidance in others, seek to self-cultivate the traits you want to receive.
Last May, I challenged myself to publish 50 blogs.
The process was triggered by an article encouraging me to embrace small failures. There is a little bit of risk associated with publishing, and risk makes me feel good.
I have a policy whereby I only publish if I’m ok with the article being the last thing on my site. This is a good email policy as well. I only publish/send something if I’m OK with it being my last interaction with you.
The final two goals were to leave a record of this period for my kids and find out if we (reader/writer) have overlap in our areas of interest.
The goals were useful, especially the practice with risk-taking.
Two things were even more helpful.
#1 – document the key strategic decisions in my life. Do not trust your memory, or your ability to remember over time. Our memories are selective and self-serving.
#2 – talent, hard work, luck => their impact is real. However, the largest impact in your life is knowing what you want to achieve. Most people never compare their daily choices to their goals. Writing helps me get straight in my head.
Marriage => athletic wife, who is kind to me
Home Life => kids who respect my desire for harmony
Financial Life => simple, low cost, long term gain oriented, enables me to spend most of my life exercising in nature
Physical Life => able to do fun things with my wife and kids, separately
Each of these implies a certain “what to do.”
I am bombarded daily by ideas about how to pack more into my life => my need is not more. I have plenty to do!
The “what to do” helps me prioritize => for example
an athletic wife implies supporting the athletic aspect of her life
harmony at home implies routine and adequate sleep for the kids (and using incentives for them to change disruptive behaviors)
financial life goals are a filter for eliminating ideas that will take time away from my real priority (of exploring the Rockies)
physical life goals get me lifting weights early in the morning – start every day with a win
The best filter I have is my early wake up. It encourages me to say “no” to a lot of attractive stuff.
Another “not to do” is overlaying “my” goals across my spouse. It is endlessly tempting to help her improve her life (by being more like me).
Finally, watch that your journalling doesn’t become a never-ending list for Santa, or your ego.