What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?
As a young man, I thought the answer was having a million-dollar net worth.
I was wrong, five-years living expenses was the key point, ~$125,000 in the mid-1990s.
For 15 years, everything beyond that point merely generated lifestyle inflation.
Later, as an elite athlete, I spent five years acting as if the answer was “winning Ironman Canada.”
I was wrong, the choice was switching from mountaineering to triathlon.
September 1998 was the moment of change, or perhaps leaving my house for a walk in the fall of 1993.
1986 => I made a choice to study finance over law or medicine. This was key, and I spent 15 years learning about money.
The lesson here might be to assume, coming out of high school, you are going to work your tail off for ~15 years in whatever field you choose for your major in college. You might not, of course, but it’s a fair assumption.
1999 => I made a choice to exit my marriage and leave Asia.
Career, friends, life structure and geographic location – all different in the space of 18 months. I was working remotely as a financial consultant and learning how to become a triathlon coach.
It’s tempting to tell myself that remote work in an exotic location was useful. It was fun but it didn’t transform me.
Here’s what I got right – incidentally, it paraphrases advice given to me by a happily married woman after my divorce.
Marry someone who lives in a way, and comes from a background, you’d like to emulate.
My marriage contains different reflections of the same principle. The principle is how I choose friends, advisers and coaches.
Field of study, relationships, where I live, how I spend my time… all traditional areas for change.
The birth of our second kid was another key inflection point.
Fathers think our lives are changing with the birth of our first child, and they do, but they don’t REALLY change until the second one arrives and we’re faced with a choice in how we will support our wives and marriages.
My choice was to drop racing to free up time, and energy. It was a big change but it didn’t “change everything.” Roll forward a decade and my life feels similar to how I lived as an athlete, just less training volume and more housework!
For 30 years, I thought powerful changes could only be driven by major adjustments in my external life => Winning, Work, Wife, Wealth and Geographic Location.
Then the Pandemic arrived.
The hard lockdown of Spring 2020 had me running home school, without tutors and with a lack of experience.
For the first time in my adult life, I was locked into a two-block radius of my home.
Most my discretionary time disappeared in a flash.
Eventually, I made a choice to do whatever was required so I could train before my kids woke up – my choice grew out of a decision to wake up before my kids.
Waking up before my kids was good, but I found I was simply scrolling Instagram and drinking coffee. Certainly, better than drinking beer in the evening (and scrolling) but it didn’t change my life.
The second step, exercising every morning before my kids wake up, proved transformative => self, spouse and kids => one year later we are all in a better place from the cascading impact of one choice. Through my writing the benefits of this change flow into the world.
I wanted to pass the observation along.
Because my ego taunts that I’m trapped in a never ending Groundhog Day of cleaning toilets, meal prep, dishes and laundry!
It’s easy to talk myself into a mild depression about the grind of fatherhood.
Government is setting a lot of preferences in my city, state and country. I don’t mind, per se. I’m no better than government with regard to the future and I’m insulated from the impact of the downside.
I’m not writing about COVID restrictions – we’ve done a good job compared to the rest of the world => based on… what we knew at the time, and the constraints of how we set up our society.
What catches my eye is the massive amount of capital being allocated by all levels of government.
Always well-intentioned, often inefficient and an incentive for re-election, rather than long-term value.
The consequence of easy money is wasted funds and lower initiative.
I read an excellent book on Colorado Snow. It’s called Hunting Powder. Fun to read.
The author writes about being involved in close calls, body recoveries and making conservative choices in avalanche terrain.
This gives me an opening to remind you… when your downside is death, especially when you have kids, the conservative choice is to not take the risk.
Even if you don’t have kids… Gary, Henry, Andy and all the others we’ve lost to accidental death.
Every death resonates far beyond its immediate circle.
I feel the death of remote folks, every single day.
After a year of COVID-training, I’m in good overall shape. As a high-performance athlete, it would be time to ‘sharpen’ and race a bit.
At 52, I chuckle at the thought of spending my summer tired and moody… while chasing external validation.
I’ve had enough winning in my life.
Instead, I’ve been asking…
What aspect of fitness might I miss at 60?
Stamina – capacity to tag along on outdoor trips with my grown kids
Strength – but go deeper and be specific!
On, and up from, the floor capacity
Eccentric load tolerance (downhill and soft surface loading)
Agility – the ability to move skillfully under light loads, and balance under heavy loads
Sex Drive – it’s more than sex, it’s overall hormonal status for recovery, mood and life experience
Looking at the above, none of what matters is easily measured.
It’s gets even more obvious when I step into my “real” life.
#1/. We overweight metrics that are easily measured
#2/. We combine these metrics with our most salient memories
#3/. Our most salient memories are the joys of youth and the recent past
Beauty, pace, VO2, VAM, race placing, net asset statement, followers, likes, segment timing… hang around long enough and all will decline.
What I’m trying to say…
The stuff I can measure doesn’t have much to do with where a wise person would take himself.
A question I asked my 40-something wife, “Where do you want to be five years after menopause?”
I asked the question to create mental space between (a) the memories of the past and (b) the actions required for a desired future.
Each of us will have a question that helps us make the split and see more clearly.
Older is going to be about three things.
Patience, always patience – In March, I caught myself yelling at my Alpha Tween. Not the best way to enter the teen years! So I made an offer, “$100 to any kid that catches me yelling.” Haven’t had to pay out so far.
Small incentives can have large outcomes.
Cultivate the kindest girls/women in my life – The last year has had a strong bias towards up-skilling my son so he can hang with me, in any terrain, in any month, in the mountains. We’re there – all that remains is load shifting from my backpack to his.
The next 12 months my focus will shift to our youngest and continuing to have fun with my spouse, who’s been talking about Rim-To-Rim at the Grand Canyon. I’ve started negotiating for Rim-To-River.
Keep on keeping on – Radical change isn’t required.
I’ve been publishing for 20 years and wanted to pass along what I’ve learned.
Giving away good information for free is effective marketing, and good karma. It works best if you start by going to where the clients are and always write to your target audience. Only engage those who bring out the best in you.
Related, there is huge option value in creating a higher personal profile, but beware the costs (links to Tim’s blog on fame). The higher profile part of my life worked best when I was tucked away in a small town in the Southern Hemisphere.
Once I realized I had much more success than I needed, my reasons for continuing to publish changed:
Catharsis – if an idea stays with me for a long time then the easiest way to clear my head is to tell the whole world about it. It’s my version of Crocodile Dundee’s Just Tell Wally (link is YouTube clip from the movie).
If publishing doesn’t do the trick then it’s a sign my values aren’t aligned with my life situation. I’ve made two big changes using this test (leaving finance and elite competition). Taking the time to “think-write-publish” is as a reality check on how I’m living.
When my tone turns negative, it’s a sign I’m not living right. It has nothing to do with the subject of my writing.
Legacy & Mortality – Leaving lessons for my kids’ future selves gives comfort. Each of us learns a lot as we move through life. I’m grateful to the writers who came before.
Publishing started around 1999.
Before 1999, I wrote.
35 years and counting.
My published material generated, and led me towards, money. As a young man, it also forced me to get-my-story-straight about who I was and what I believed worked.
My unpublished material generated wealth, connection and greatly improved the quality of my life.
Worth repeating – my most useful stuff has an audience of one, maybe two.
Writing is the quickest way to flush out my blindspots (COVID, the future, how I’ll feel next Tuesday). I need constant reminders of where I’m clueless.
It is also how I identify where I have the capacity for good judgement (fitness, finances, family).
If you’ve had success in any area then your mind will try to fool you into thinking you have been successful in every area. I’m told this is an occupational hazard for great surgeons in the mountains, or markets. It certainly applies to me whenever I stray outside my core competencies. Talking to a surgeon about medicine for example… 😉
Writing is my system to counteract this feature of human misjudgment (link to Munger’s famous talk).
While I forget most of what I write (Catharsis is real), I have access to a valuable record of what I was thinking at each key decision point in my life. I spent this past week reviewing budgets and financial projections from the last decade.
With searchable email you have the same thing. Make it even better by writing a one-pager before key decisions, or simply jot down ten thoughts to start each week. 500 thoughts a year. You will see patterns, you’ll learn about yourself.
My older material teaches me to be cautious with personal memories. My memories change over time and are magically back-fitted to actual events. The principles of a decision are much more sticky in my mind.
What you’re looking for is principles that work and remembering how often reality surprises us.
The act of writing is a step, on a journey of daily action, that creates incremental improvement.
Writing isn’t magical but the continuous compounding of small daily actions will appear to be.
We’re not vaccinated but it’s clear we are on a glide path to exit the pandemic.
March 13, 2020 is the day we pulled out kids out of school and battened down the hatches for a few weeks.
March 13, 2021, we’re going to bake a cake and eat ice cream.
Things that surprised me:
1/. We sure didn’t pull together as a nation. We did pull together as Coloradans. I really appreciate the school, city, county and state leadership (thank you to my civic-minded friends who read my stuff). Our system worked.
2/. Being scared of Amazon packages.
3/. Shopping for shotguns (last April) when young men were roaming our neighborhood trying to get into occupied houses in broad daylight.
5/. How well simple actions work. A truism for health is “focus on reducing smoking.” Before the pandemic, I was skeptical of the role of basic hygiene. No more. This has been my healthiest 12 months since before I had kids (2008) – all due to masks, hand washing and social distancing.
6/. No financial impact – in a year where my net earned income went to zero.
7/. The power of routine. It was a HUGE pain to get ourselves into a series of useful habits. Now they run on autopilot. Big gains happen during crisis management.
8/. I kinda knew this final one from investing… take pain early. Hit yourself very hard when the setback comes. Human systems adapt very quickly to pain. I always underestimate human resilience. This was a key Federal mistake both now, and with 9/11. Politicians have an incentive to avoid pain => pain works to drive change.
Embrace my difficulties.
Be seen to support measures that benefit the collective.
Take pain early and have faith you’ll adapt.
Routine and discipline are a source of deep comfort in turbulent times.
Simple actions work. Stay focused on core competencies.
Ditch the habit of staying tuned to the next-big-crisis.
We still have work to do – particularly with regard to equal justice under law.
At the end of the last year, I marked my calendar for a vibe check on February 14th.
As we rolled into Feb, the mess of The Other Guy’s administration was still playing out. So I pushed things to March 1st.
How you doing?
I’m really proud of my family. Lots of personal growth for us.
Current best guess is I’ll get my first shot of the vaccine before Easter. Our governor shuffled the eligibility and, as a 50+, I’m going to get green lighted before they declare open season to the entire population.
That’s one year after we battened down the hatches. We’ve scheduled a COVID birthday party for March 13th. Cake will be served.
American life-science tech is absolutely amazing. Getting back to a somewhat normal life this summer will be a payoff for relocating myself to the USA.
Take time to notice good judgement.
Who were the least reliable sources of information over the last year?
I’m always fine-dining my filters. Now would be a good time to dial some folks down, and others up.
Our bad sources of information are obvious. Let them go.
What generates feelings of gratitude?
This surprised me.
I get more benefit from good science fiction than the legacy media.
Over the pandemic I read Dune (1-8), Three-Body Problem (1-3) and Foundation (1-7). Science fiction generates feeling of gratitude in me – gratitude for my routine life, gratitude for my wonderful marriage and gratitude for the opportunity to educate my kids.
An unexpected bonus, from venturing outside my typical reading genres.
What areas of your life uncovered blindspots?
I do a little public service work in our local community.
It can be frustrating because I’m not very good at interacting with groups of live people! Zoom was a blessing – especially as my default is submitting written comments, in the chat.
I stick with it because people respect tell me I’m helpful, despite my limitations.
If you don’t step up then someone else will, and they might be clueless.
You can see this effect in the major US cities where a large chunk of the smartest parents have opted out of the public school system, and their school boards appear to be losing their minds.
Second, and third, order effects.
What’s on your must-keep list?
I’m reading No Rules Rules about Netflix’s corporate culture. I’m reinterpreting for ideas about leading multigenerational families.
One of their rules for employees is you need to be on the must-keep list to stick around. Good enough is not good enough.
What habits are holding me back from excellence? Still anger management.
What’s on my pandemic must-keep list? Pick one thing. I’ll go with “challenging strength training 2x per week.” It’s the one thing, where its absence, will make a big difference when I’m 60.
What are you doing when you feel serene? Spending time with my wife – she has a heavenly vibe that calms my soul.
1,000 days from now, the pandemic will have faded from collective memory.
If you feel like you lost a year then be sure to keep the lessons.