Zen and The Archer


I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately in the area of Zen Buddhism. 

One of the main teachings of Zen Buddhism is to respect the process of any pursuit over the end result.  I recently came across a story that illustrates the point perfectly.

It seems there once was a young Buddhist who wanted to study archery.  He sought out a Zen priest, who was also an expert archer to teach him.  The priest took his new student to the edge of a high cliff at dawn.  He slowly set up a target and strung his bow.  Each movement he made was deliberate and meticulous and it seemed to the student as if the priest were completely focused on each tiny detail.

 Just as the sun was rising over the hillside the priest took a deep breath and drew the arrow into perfect alignment with the target.  With the bow taut he suddenly turned and fired to the side of the target.  The arrow soared majestically over the edge of the cliff and out of sight. 

The priest turned to his stunned student and said, “Just hitting the target is not the point, it is a side effect of a way of life.  A life lived on purpose with focus leads to the Way.  Once you no longer need or desire to hit the target, the Way will lead you there.  The Way begins with humility.  Now go get the arrow.” 

I’ve been a Financial Advisor for almost ten years.  For the first 8 or 9 of those years I worked myself crazy trying to hit imaginary targets.  It wasn’t until I began to recognize that the only thing that I could control was how I work, and that too much of my targets were dependent on other people, that I began to find my Way. 

Setting sales and productivity goals is the wrong way to think about hitting the target.  In fact, as the priest said, just hitting the target is not the point.  Instead, focus on the process, focus on the Way.

 It wasn’t until I stopped trying to hit arbitrary targets and just focused on perfecting the process that I started to hit them with any consistency. 

String the bow, draw the arrow, aim it and release.  That’s all you can do.  It’s the arrow that hits the target, not you.  Once it’s released it is literally out of your hands. 

Trust the process.  Become one with the Way.  Release the arrow. 

Community


Buzzwords Pt 2

Noun – a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

dictionary.com

My second buzzword for this season of life is Community. 

There are two common definitions of community, one focusses on the physical, a group of people living or working in close contact with one another, the other focusses on the emotional.  For my purpose I am much more interested in the later.

Google co-founder, Eric Schmidt in his book “The New Digital Age”, states that:

Everything is equidistant in virtual space.

Eric Schmidt, co-founder Google

In the age of social media and online communication, that means developing close community with individuals is less dependent on physical proximity and more a function of shared interests and goals. 

Last time we talked about the decline in truth and trust that has occurred as a result of fake news.  The same forces that are creating polarization of thought through social media are also providing an unprecedented opportunity for people to find each other and form communities. 

Right now, I am spending my time working and developing relationships through three distinct communities. 

First, I am a member of a vibrant expression of online church.  My church community meets weekly for a live stream presentation, similar to a traditional in person gathering and then during the week in small groups, for learning and discussion, also currently online.  COVID has necessitated that these meetings take place online but as Eric Schmidt has reminded us, because distance is irrelevant in virtual space, we have members in both the large weekly gathering and the small groups logging on from every corner of the globe. 

Second, I am a member of a business community that until recently functioned within a limited geographic area.  Now, due to the need for physical distance, technology, and the fact that  I am governed by a provincial licensing body I have been able to expand my reach across a much larger area without having to leave my home office.  Before COVID I never would have dreamed about soliciting business in cities more than an hour’s drive from my home, today I regularly video conference with people not only in a different city, but in a different time zone.   

Third, I am a developing friendship with fellow triathletes, literally all over the world.  This is perhaps the most surprising development to come out of COVID.  Last summer, I posted a photo of myself completing a run workout to Instagram.  That photo triggered a conversation with a triathlete in Australia!  To date I have opened dialogues with fellow triathletes in Winnipeg, Utah, Australia, and South Africa that never would have happened without the ability to form community online.

These communities, as the definition describes are predicated on common interests and shared goals.  But for them to work, they must also be built on a shared understanding of my previous buzzword, trust.  It is extremely easy for communities like these to become echo chambers where only like-minded voices are heard and all other information is filtered out both innocently through passive filtering and through active exclusion of conflicting ideas. 

In order or prevent this “siloing” of ideas we must actively seek out diversity on two levels.  First within the communities themselves and second in the number and types of communities we join.  The more ethnically, socio-economically, and educational diverse we are within each community the less likely additional biases like those around political affiliation are to creep in.  And we must be careful to seek out different communities that serve to represent a diversity of interests within our own selves.  In my case I strive to remain active in spiritually, athletically, and commercially diverse communities. 

Remaining active and connected within these various communities is part of being a well rounded, wise, and emotionally intelligent individual.    

What communities are you a part of?  How has COVID impacted your ability to stay connected?

Debt is Mounting and Canadians are Worried


Good Morning!

A new survey, out yesterday, has revealed that at no point in this pandemic have Canadians been as concerned about their finances as they are right now. 

How are you feeling?  I hear it from you guys everyday and now The MNP Consumer Debt Index, released yesterday has confirmed what we all have seen coming for months – Canadians Are Worried! 

“Almost one year into the coronavirus crisis, the financial confidence of Canadians has reached a low point.  The virus has understandably created significantly more financial anxiety for those directly impacted by job loss, declining wages and business closures. The Index shows that financial pressure is mounting for a large proportion of the country,” Grant Bazian, president MNP

Here are some of the more striking numbers:

43% say they are not confident they can cover their living expenses for the next year without going further into debt.  42% are concerned about their current level of debt and 45% regret the amount of debt they have taken on.

And perhaps most worrying, 61% thought that with interest rates low, now is a good time to buy things that they otherwise could not afford.

“Those who are already cash-strapped, saddled with debt, and struggling to navigate, risk being lulled into a debt trap.  The results can be disastrous when individuals in financial trouble try to cope by taking on additional debt.  It’s like trying to fill one hole by digging another.” Caryl Newbery-Mitchell, insolvency trustee MNP.

Almost half (47%) said they were afraid that if interest rates go up they could land in financial trouble. About a quarter said their debt was keeping them awake at night.

Many of you know my story.  For about 5 years, before I moved to Ottawa and started working with Freedom 55, I struggled with debt, at one point even having to work with an insolvency trustee to get back on track.  I know firsthand how easy it is to get locked into a cycle of borrowing just to stay afloat. 

When I started working with clients, I made it my mission to help people understand how debt could hinder their chances at Financial Freedom.  Over the years I have fine tuned my approach and developed an effective program that helps people Eliminate Debt, Build Wealth and Leave a Legacy.  People who work with me now tend to pay off all of their debts (including mortgages) about 8 years sooner, retire 4 times wealthier and pay significantly less tax along the way. 

I know many of you have already taken steps with me to be in a position to weather this storm and for that I am proud of you.  But if you haven’t, and you count yourself among the nearly half of Canadians who are worried about paying their debts long after the coronavirus has past, I have redeveloped my debt management program to help you reorganize your finances and stay on track.  Reach out to me anytime for a no judgement, no obligation, and no bull assessment of your current situation and recommendations for getting back on track the right way, (without additional debt).

Lauren

Trust


Buzzwords, Part2

 Noun – firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

dictionary.com

Last week I set the stage for a discussion of the buzzwords that I have chosen to guide my thinking and actions for this next season of life.  In case you missed it, check that post out here.

I am a word guy.  When speaking or writing, I choose my words carefully. I recognize that words carry powerful meaning and misunderstandings easily arise when words are used carelessly.  To that end I have chosen four words to help focus my thoughts and actions over the next while.  Today I want to focus on the first of these words.  Trust.

In the age of COVID, Social Media, and Donald Trump trust has been increasingly tested, manipulated, and weaponized by unscrupulous actors promoting an agenda.  Social Media in particular, is designed to keep our attention so advertisers can sell their wares.  The Social Media companies do that by continually monitoring our behavior, learning our preferences, and feeding us information that fits with and confirms our biases.  The longer we stay engaged, the more they can sell our data to the highest bidder.

In the film, The Social Dilemma, one of the whistle blowers drives the point home by saying that, if something is free yet boasts massive profits ask what the product is.  The answer, you, or more importantly, your attention is what is being sold.   

In my previous career as a music industry executive, I would regularly have a similar conversation with recording artists about radio airplay.  The music industry does not pay to have their artists played on the radio, it is the other way around.  Radio stations pay the artists a royalty for the right to play their music and hold the listener’s attention between advertisements.  Just like on social media, the real product of traditional broadcast media has always been your attention. 

This is where things get sinister. In the new world of social media, to hold our attention, truth, nuance and ultimately trust are sacrificed on the altar of conformity.  When a radio station focusses their airplay on a particular genre of music, that’s innocent demographic targeting.  If you change your mind, your preferences evolve, or you are just in the mood for something different you can easily find it somewhere else on the dial.  But when a social media platform targets news feeds to focus on a particular bias it becomes more and more difficult to find information that does not conform.  New information and varied perspectives are filtered out, growth is stunted, and opinions calcified.

When I say that I am focusing my attention on trust, what I am trying to do is twofold.  First, I must remain conscious of where I am placing my trust, so as not to become fixed in my thinking and unable to learn new things.  Second, I must be mindful of who has placed their trust in me and continually strive to remain worthy.

Trust is a precious commodity.  Regardless of where you place your trust it will have a profound impact on your quality of life.  When you place your trust in someone, or something, you are giving that person or product incredible power to shape your life. 

My advice, (if you trust me) is to trust experts because they know more than you.

Consider the court system.  In a court of law, when an expert is called, they spend considerable time explaining their credentials before giving any testimony.  They do that to establish trust so that what they say is taken seriously.  It is the opposing counsel’s job to cross examine the expert and cast doubt on their ability to provide trustworthy information.  The system works, (most of the time) because experts are, by definition, trustworthy.

But what if you disagree?  Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply disagree with a bonified expert.  You also need compelling evidence to the contrary, something to discredit them, or proof they have ulterior motives.  It is best if you can do more than one of these at the same time.  Unless you yourself are an expert, this can be exceedingly difficult. 

Trust as a buzzword for me means, do due diligence, test credentials, and cross reference sources.  And once that is done, trust the experts and continually strive to be a trustworthy expert in your own right. 

Who do you trust?  And why?

Buzzwords


4 Words I’m Using to Guide and Define My Next Chapter

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. 

Those of you who know me well, know that I firmly believe that if something is worth resolving to do, it’s worth doing now – not at some predetermined date in the future or tied to an arbitrary point on the calendar. 

But I do believe in planning and usually at some point in the fall my mind starts drifting toward what I want my next year to look like.  Making a plan is not the same as making New Year’s resolutions.  For me at least, plans are a guiding framework, not a checklist to be followed or a major “about face” that needs to be resolved and completed by a sheer act of will. 

I was recently introduced to the concept of buzzwords as a touch point for planning.  Rob Hatch, co-founder, and president of Owner Media Group, has written and presented several books and courses on leadership and management for business owners.  He recently sent out a newsletter that highlighted his use of buzzwords in is personal planning.  Honestly, I don’t remember if he used that term, but that’s how I remember and interpreted what he was saying. 

Dictionary.com defines a buzzword as:

a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context.

To me, it’s a word that anchors thought, directs conversation and guides action.  As I focus on my business planning for 2021, which is itself an ongoing and fluid process, I have begun using the concept of buzzwords in this way.  The following are the four buzzwords that are currently anchoring, directing and guiding my thoughts, conversation, and action.

Trust

To have trust is to believe in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something.  2020 has shaken our collective trust in the structures and institutions of society worldwide.  As a result of corruption and betrayal, cracks have been forming in our societal trust for decades.  In many ways COVID-19 has been a catalyst in forcing open many small cracks into wider gaps that are polarizing thinking and breaking down the bedrock of trust that holds us together. 

As part of rebuilding and resetting we all need to double down on trust.  Trust in experts, trust in institutions, trust in media and trust in each other.  Trust in this way is an act of humility.  It says, “I don’t have the answers, so I am willing to learn from others, trust their knowledge, have my assumptions challenged and grow”. 

But we also need to be worthy of trust.  Being a trusted expert, or a trusted advisor requires constant learning and constant listening to be sure your advice is correct and properly received. 

Experts and institutions are worthy of our trust not because they are never wrong but because they are ever evolving and learning themselves.  True experts are willing to admit when they are wrong, and course correct when their errors are brought to light.  By naming trust as my first buzzword I am building my plan around a thirst for knowledge and wisdom through the humility of my own ignorance while offering gracious thanks for the trust people place in me.

Community

When I think of community, I think of a series of nesting bowls or concentric circles.  Starting in the centre with my immediate family and working outward through my social groups, work colleagues, clients, the businesses I frequent, fellow citizens of my city, province, and country all the way to the loose connections I share with every human on earth merely because we breath the same air.  These ever-widening circles of concern are held together with weakening bonds of influence and shared interest.  The closer you are to the centre of my circles the stronger the bonds. 

A strong sense of community is what drives people to collective action and provides the catalyst for social change.  Black Lives Matter, climate activism, and advocacy for the homeless are all community movements that are driven by strong social bonds.  I’ve chosen community as a buzzword to help frame my thinking and actions around how best to impact the lives of those closest to me.  Both in physical proximity and shared values.  And as a reminder that in the broadest sense we are all members of the human family, if you look hard enough, we all have something in common. 

Health

Of the many things we have learned in 2020 one thing that has stood out to me is the value of a strong physical constitution.  Deaths from COVID-19 have disproportionately fallen on the elderly, the weak and those with “underlying conditions”.  I will turn 49 in 2021.  I can’t stop aging, but I can slow down some of it’s more debilitating effects with a healthy, active lifestyle. 

By elevating health to buzzword status every decision I make will need to be thought of in the context of how it will affect my health.  Not only that but placing it along side the rest of the buzzwords forces me to think of health not just in my own context but also within the context of trust, community and even prosperity which I will get to in a moment.  And it’s not just physical health but mental and emotional health as well. 

Decisions about what (and how much) I eat and when I go to the gym are the obvious ones.  Less obvious in the context of heath are the decisions about how I build my workday, and recreation time, and the people I choose to associate with.   Maintaining health starts with maintaining balance between activity, nutrition, and rest in all areas of life. 

Prosperity

As a buzzword prosperity is difficult to define.  The popular connotation of prosperity is to think of it in terms of material wealth, however, the Latin etymology of the word has little to do with materialism and more to do with favor, fate and an element of luck. In ancient Rome to be prosperous was to enjoy the favor of the gods, however that was manifest. 

Wikipedia further defines prosperity as flourishing, thriving, and good fortune.  In using prosperity as a buzzword for my thinking I am choosing to focus on and acknowledge that to thrive is dependent largely on forces outside of my control.  By focusing my energy on prosperity, rather than an arbitrary definition of wealth or success, I can strip away the things that are out of my control and concentrate only on the things that are within my control, the way I work and how I interact with people.   The resulting success, wealth, or even personal satisfaction, while desirable and worth striving for, is ultimately in the hands of God or fate.  By framing success in this way, I am free to be prosperous without the need to be wealthy by anyone else’s definition.

Conclusion

These four words, Trust, Community, Health and Prosperity, form the framework of my worldview.  They are the glasses through which I look at and interact with the world.  I hesitate to call my buzzwords values because they might change.  As the world slowly evolves these buzzwords will evolve but for now, this is how I look at things.

The process I went through to come up with these buzzwords was through meditation.  As I continue to meditate on these words and look for direction in how to use their influence I am growing in my commitment and understanding more each day.  

You should try it, pick a word that feels right and meditate on it for 5 minutes, make note of what comes to mind and then do some research on the meaning of the word to make sure it fits with how you feel.  If not, pick another word until you find something that closely aligns with your personal desires.  Do this until you have 3 or 4 words that you can meditate on daily for 5 to 10 minutes each and let them guide your thoughts and actions throughout the day.  You might be surprised how often your buzzwords come up as you go about your daily life.  They are a great touchstone for guiding your decision making. 

Focusing on the right words will transform your life.  Try it and tell me what your experience is like in the comments below.       

FREE INSURANCE! (SORT OF)


Have you ever wished you could test drive a life insurance policy?  (No? Just me?)  Well now you can!

From now until December 1st, if you sign up for a 20 or 30 year Term Life Insurance Policy, Canada Life will pay your first 4 months of premiums for you.  (We’ll do it on a Term to Age 65 policy too, but you have to be under 45 to apply.) 

Call it what you like, 4 months free, 33% off, or don’t pay until May (I kind of like that one, it rhymes).  The bottom line is if you apply and pay the first premium before December 1st, once the policy is approved, Canada Life pays the next four months for you. 

That’s huge!

We’ve never done anything like this before.  In fact, when I started in the life insurance business, I was told that rebating in this industry was illegal.  But our lawyers checked, and they talked to every regulatory authority in the country and guess what – it’s not! 

So, the lawyers, talked to the accountants and the accountants talked to the underwriters and everyone agreed that it’s high time somebody turned the stuffy old insurance industry on its head. 

Now, accountants being accountants and lawyers being lawyers they won’t let us do this forever.  So, don’t delay, December 1 is only 10 days away!  Call or email today! (more rhyming, what can I say?)

Cheers – Lauren

PS – for those of you in B.C., the insurance regulators there told our lawyers we could only pay for three months of premiums for you.  Sorry about that, but you have killer whales and Bryan Adams so quit complaining.

PSS – early in January I will be hosting a webinar on the investment outlook for 2021.  Stay tuned for more details. 

The Wisdom of Biker Gangs


Business Lessons Learned from the Sons of Anarchy

When you only do it because you need the money, mistakes are made, and people get hurt.

Jackson Teller – Sons of Anarchy

I recently started watching Sons of Anarchy on Netflix.  I realize I’m a little late to the party, the show went off the air in 2014, but I like to put TV on in the background while I do housework and I usually get into stuff that is a little edgy.  This fit the bill, even if I am over 10 years late.

I have never been in a gang, much less a biker gang.  But I have spent most of my career working in small teams that depend heavily on everyone doing their part to survive.  When you strip away the Harley’s and leather jackets, and substitute the gun running, illegal narcotics and sex trade, for something a little less “outlaw-ee”, what is a biker gang, if not a business?

I am not saying that Sons of Anarchy is an accurate portrayal of life in an outlaw biker gang.  How would I know?  But it does portray some important business lessons in a unique way.  Here are 3 things I have learned about business from the outlaw bikers of Charming California.

Make Strategic Alliances

It is a bit of a cliché, but a dirty cop is an outlaw’s best friend.  In the show the local police chief is in The Sons pocket and continually looks the other way while they ply their illicit trade.  But the alliance only goes so far.  For their part, the gang never leaves a mess for the police chief to clean up.  The Sons of Anarchy live in Charming, but they do their business elsewhere. 

The alliance works because if either party were to break it everyone knows that all hell would break loose.  While they might not be as dramatic, strategic alliances in business all tend to work the same way, each party gets what they want while holding the other accountable through an unspoken promise of mutually assured destruction. 

Steven Covey called it a Win-Win Solution.  It is the only way strategic alliances work in the long term.  Everyone needs to win, or the losers will eventually decide they can get a better result through rebellion.  Rebellions are bloody and usually attract unwanted attention, like the FBI, and nobody wants that. 

Trust and Loyalty are Everything

The good of the team is of utmost importance.  You trust the guy riding next to you, or somebody gets hurt.  Not only that he has got your back but that he is capable of his job.  If you are constantly worried that someone else is not doing their part, your part will suffer. 

I remember a job interview years ago in which I told the interviewer that I could not handle worrying that someone else was going to drop the ball and make us all look bad.  I doubt it was that comment that sealed the deal, but I eventually got the job and spent 12 years working with the most coherent and loyal team I have ever seen.  I trusted my team and I never once worried that someone was not going to do what they were supposed to.  As a result, each team member was able to focus on their own job and achieve our collective goals.

It Cannot Just Be About the Money

As Jax said in the first season; when you do something only for the money, mistakes are made, and people get hurt.  It does not matter who, sometimes it is the customer, or the company or even you.    When money becomes the primary motivator in any deal everything else takes a back seat, alliances are strained, trust and loyalty are tested.  Everyone needs money, but when it becomes a means of keeping score and defining winners and losers it kills everything. 

Money is a means to living a comfortable life, but you cannot achieve that at the expense of other people.  Greed destroys relationships.  Zig Ziglar said that the key to customer service is to help as many people as possible get what they want and you will eventually get what you want, including money.  Just be sure to keep the money in its proper place, second to relationships.

So, there you have it, 3 business lessons from a story about a biker gang.  What do you think, should I buy a Harley and cruise the open road?

Leaving a Legacy in Uncertain Times


Charity isn’t Just for the Wealthy, and It’s not just for the Good Times

Lately, whenever I bring up estate and legacy planning, I get one of two responses. 

  • Isn’t that what the wealthy people do?  I don’t think I have the kind of assets that would warrant anything like that.
  • During a pandemic?  Shouldn’t I focus on myself and make sure I’m not one of the people who needs help?

Honestly, I understand the questions and the concerns. And the fact is, we live in a wonderful country with an excellent social safety net.  But there are still some very important needs that the government cannot completely meet, either for ourselves or for the people and causes we care about.  By all means, take care of yourself and your loved ones but a some point it pays to look beyond your own back yard and do your part to help the most vulnerable.     

The government does provide a lot of support, but sometimes people need more.  Food banks, medical research facilities, environmental organizations, these places can’t do their vital work on government handouts alone.  That’s where you come in, while some of us are able to provide periodic gifts to worthy charities, others need to hold back our accumulated wealth just to survive through lean times and have enough to manage in later life.  It is important to remember that each of us regardless of our current situation can leave an important and lasting legacy in our Will. 

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference.  Every little bit helps, as they say, and a legacy can be so much more than money.  Volunteering time and expertise can be worth more and as we age and move into retirement we often gain back our time in ways we couldn’t imagine, perhaps gifting yourself to a charity is the best way for you to give something to a worthy cause instead. 

But if you have some accumulated investments it is important to consider what the Canada Revenue Agency provides as advantages for certain types of giving. 

For example, if you own company stocks when you die your estate must pay capital gains but if these same stocks are gifted to a charity in your Will the charity can give a receipt for the full value while the estate does not have to declare the capital gain.  Check with your accountant before putting this in your Will, as there may be other things to consider but for Canadian Controlled Corporations this is generally true.

Life Insurance policies are another great way to leave a legacy after you have passed away.  Many of us purchased Life Insurance policies when we were younger to protect our families.  Now that the children have grown the need for this coverage may have dissipated and it might even be fully paid up.  Rather than cash it out and pay tax on the gains, it is possible to name a charity as the beneficiary or transfer the ownership of that policy to a charitable organization now and receive a tax receipt for its full cash surrender value.  The charity can then either hold on to it until you pass or cash it out early to fund a current need, once they own the policy it’s up to them what to do with it. 

Of course, I am not a lawyer so any moves that affect your Will and estate taxes should be handled with expert legal and accounting advice.  But these general strategies are great ways to leave a legacy and benefit your favorite causes even if you aren’t wealthy and while we are dealing with the ongoing fallout of a global pandemic.

Squeezing the K


How to Bridge the Gap of Inequality and Justice in a Post COVID-19 World.

When the stock market crashed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic a lot of people hoped it would be short lived and the economy would recover quickly and strongly to the benefit of all.  And if you could measure the strength of the economy with just one metric you could make a strong case that is exactly what happened. 

Stock markets all around the world hit record highs in late February, lost approximately 40% of their value by mid March and had recovered about 90% of their February highs by mid April.  A classic V-shape that proponents and cheerleaders have been pointing to as evidence that the worst is over, and life will soon be back to “normal”. 

But the economy is not just one number.  Deeper thinking economists are increasingly pointing to a widening gap between the classes.  Those who could take advantage and buy while prices were low are reaping the rewards those that those who couldn’t, the ones who lost their jobs, even for just a few weeks, are still struggling and will continue to struggle for months and maybe even years to come. 

And it’s not just the uber-wealthy who took advantage.  The upper side of the middle class has made out like bandits too.   Owing to lock down restrictions on when and were to spend, savings rates and investments in home improvements have gone way up.  According to this article from The Huffington Post, (https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/debt-insolvency-canada-wealth_ca_5f870abec5b6c4bb5471e28c) when you’re stuck at home but still working and earning an income, one of the only things you can do is work on your house.  Home ownership was already a stretch for many younger workers and those in the service sector, now with all the renovations being done, prices across the country have increased by 8.6% on the year.  The greatest gateway to lifelong financial security, personal real-estate, is almost certainly out of reach for large swaths of the population. 

Large wealth disparities between the classes is a recipe for social unrest and economic collapse.  It’s what spawned revolutions in France and Russia, coups in Iran and Chile, and the civil rights movement in the United States.  Even peaceful revolutions like the ones that ended Apartheid in South Africa or triggered the reunification of Germany had roots in economic inequality. 

In the spring of 1969 NBC aired Season 3, Episode 21 of Star Trek (The Original Series) called “The Cloud Minders”.  The plot was progressive for it’s time but has become a familiar one in dystopian literature and film since.  While on a diplomatic mission to a new planet, Kirk and Spock are caught up in a revolution in a society where intellectuals and artists live in a utopian city in the sky while the rest of the population toils in mines on the barren surface below.  At one point, after being attacked by rebels on the plant’s surface Spock muses,

“This troubled planet is a place of the most violent contrasts.  Those who receive the rewards are totally separated from those who shoulder the burdens. It is not a wise leadership.”

Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 21, Gene Roddenberry, NBC

One of the things that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront is that the people who support the vast majority, the so-called front lines in health care, food service and consumer goods are grossly undervalued.  Revolution may not be imminent like it was in the days of the Czars or the fictional world of The Cloud Minders, but revolutions rarely start quickly, they simmer and grow over time.  COVID-19 is a wakeup call.  With the right kind of leadership, the K-shaped recovery could be the beginning of a revolution in the way we value certain types of work.  The question is, will it be a peaceful revolution or a violent one?

The way I see it we need at least three things to help the revolution evolve along the most peaceful path possible. 

First off, we each need to re-evaluate our place in society.  Back in June my father, best known to my loyal readers as Pastor Dad, wrote an op-ed for an influential Christian Magazine called “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.”  In it he asserted that the way of love, or more specifically the way we show love for our neighbours, is to wear a mask.  Meekness or mutual submission to authority is not a sheepish game of follow the leader, it is a powerful assertion of collective strength in protection of the weak and vulnerable.

Second, we need to invest in the infrastructure of justice.  Let me be quick to point out here that justice is not shorthand for law and order.  Law and order without peace and justice leads to violence and oppression.  A just society is one that values each person’s contribution with equity and compassion and provides access for those without resources.  A just society closes the gap of the K with things like free health care, public education, housing, laws that are applied equally and punishments that fit the crime. 

Third, we need to exercise patience and grace.  Regardless of where you find yourself on the K, a return to “normal” will be long and far from smooth.  Some people will come out of this recovery stronger than before, but many more will struggle with new realities that the post COVID world will bring.  As a collective society we must recognize that while we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.  Some, those with the most resources and the best access are sailing through on luxury cruise liners, while more are clinging to life rafts and praying for a break.  Grace can take many forms, it can be as simple as following Pastor Dad’s lead and wearing a mask, staying clear of large gatherings, and supporting local businesses.  But for those with more resources it should also be active support of hospitals and charities that help the poor and vulnerable. 

At the beginning of the pandemic we were all encouraged to do our part to flatten the curve.  As a second waive moves around the world we need to remain vigilant in that regard and as we move forward into a post COVID world we need to be mindful of those on the lower rungs of society. 

Keep flattening the curve and work diligently to squeeze the K. 

Canada’s Government isn’t Likely Forgiving Your Student Loans


Here’s What You Can Do Instead

Last Tuesday, at a townhall campaign event in Miami, Joe Biden pledged to eliminate student debt for college students who went to a state school and who’s parents make less than $125,000 per year.  He further pledged to reduce everyone’s student debt by $10,000. 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/adamminsky/2020/10/07/biden-affirms-i-will-eliminate-your-student-debt/#4167eee258a7

Just how much that could end up costing the American taxpayer isn’t known but according to MSNBC the cost could easily exceed $750 billion. 

There is no doubt student debt places a heavy burden on recent graduates and slows their ability to purchase homes, start businesses, invest for retirement and make other kinds of purchases that move the economy forward.  By some estimates the total amount of debt recent college graduates are carrying exceeds $1.5 trillion.  I’m not qualified to debate the validity of Biden’s plan and to be honest I have a hard time seeing the relevance of it for Canada. 

Here in the Great White North we enjoy a number of federally sponsored programs that serve to reduce the amount that people are required to repay, a kind of government backed default insurance and preferential interest rates but the fact still remains, according to debt101.ca that Canadians owe approximately $22 billion in student loans.  As a measure of per capita that works out to $578 owed for every Canadian and a whopping $4573 owed for every American. 

Clearly the student debt load in the United States creates a significantly greater burden than it does here in Canada.  But that should not belittle the fact that student debt is still a concern for recent graduates in Canada too.  According to Stats Canada the average graduate finishes school with a little over $26,000 in debt. 

I had the opportunity to work with a recent university graduate and while everyone’s situation is different here are a few things we did to help alleviate his stress and set him on track to be debt free.

1 – Don’t panic and give yourself a break   

While $26,000 might seem like a lot of money to a broke college student, in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t that much.  In today’s interest rate environment and with the government guarantees attached to most student loans it’s possible to negotiate a 10-year payment plan around $200 per month. 

2 – Start with a Zero-Based Budget

Also known as a Reverse Budget, start every month by estimating your income for the coming month and spend every penny on paper before the month begins.  Although temptations, like a night out with your buddies will come, don’t deviate from the plan! 

Take any excess and put it toward long term goals, like debt repayment and savings.  Unlike mortgages, there is no penalty to pay off your student debt faster so get after it and pay as much as you can as fast as you can.  Using this strategy, I’ve seen people cut their repayment time down by as much as 80%. 

But…

3 – Don’t forget to save

I often recommend splitting your excess cashflow 50/50 between debt repayment and savings to start.   First set up an emergency fund.  Experts disagree on how much you should have ready access to but while you still have debt, I side with those who propose a modest emergency fund.  $1000.00 – $3000.00 should be enough to pay for car repairs, emergency travel, uninsured dental injuries etc.  Once the debt is repaid return to this and bump it up to a full 3 months of expenses, (6 months if you’re self-employed) and then open an account for a down payment on a house and a retirement fund. 

What constitutes an emergency?  Again, experts disagree but I say an emergency is anything you didn’t see coming and can’t put off.  There is no such thing as an emergency trip to Cancun unless your dying grandmother lives there.  There is also no such thing as emergency snow tires or an emergency birthday gift, those things are obvious to anyone with even a modicum of fore thought. 

So, there you have it.  While student debt has reached crisis levels in the United States, I don’t think we are going to see any serious attempt by a Canadian politician to eliminate student debt here any time soon.  But with a little planning and discipline most recent graduates should be able to pay off their student debt in 10 years or less without placing a significant burden on their ability to live life. 

For more information on how I work with recent graduates and help them to eliminate debt, build wealth and leave a legacy, reach out any time at lauren.sheil@f55f.com or call me at 613-295-4141.