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.

Unity


Moravian Church, Crest and moto, “Our Lamb Has Conquered, Let Us Follow Him”

I recently took up the spiritual practice of the Moravian Watchwords.

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest protestant denominations in the world, dating back to the Bohemian Reformation of the 15th century.  They fled Bohemia (western Czech Republic) to Saxony (southeastern Germany) in 1722 to escape religious persecution and settled near the town of Herrnhut.  From there Moravians have spread across the world.  Today the Moravian Church counts approximately 1.2 million members throughout Europe, North America, Africa, The Caribbean and Latin America.

Every year, for the past 290 years, the Moravian’s have published a devotional text known as The Watchwords.  A daily set of two verses, one from the old testament and one from the new testament, paired to provide a framework for meditation and prayer.  For three centuries millions of people have relied on the watchwords as their introduction to the scriptures and as a guide to prayer.  I started using them this summer after I finished my reading of the Psalms and when I heard that one my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, credited them with keeping him grounded while in prison for opposing Nazi rule.

Today’s watchwords where from Isaiah 53:5 and John 11:51,52.

“By his bruises we are healed” and “Not for the nation only but to gather all children into one”.

It has become increasingly necessary for Christians all over the world to recognize that we are united by grace.  We gather, from all economic realities, all walks of life, all countries, and all political affiliations, at the foot of the cross to be washed in the blood of Jesus our hearts sustained by the water of life that gushes from his side and sent forth into the world as one humanity.  He took our punishment upon himself and healed us.  Caiaphas thought that by killing Jesus he could save the Jewish nation, (John 11:50) but he did not realize that Jesus’ death would save, not just the Jews, but all nations and make them one.

My childhood church used two hymn books.  One a traditional, red hard cover tome filled with all the old classic hymns from yesteryear.  The other a small, green paperback full of more modern folk songs and spirituals called the “Sing and Rejoice”, songbook.

One of the songs that I remember from “Sing and Rejoice” was called “Unity” by Gerald Derstine.  Derstine was a charismatic Mennonite pastor active from the 1950s to the 1990s who was well known in certain Mennonite circles for his evangelical teaching style and spiritual song writing.  He wasn’t a particularly prolific songwriter however but with a bit of digging I managed to find this version of Unity on YouTube as performed by the Mennonite Covenant Choral.  Close your eyes and let the words wash over you.

In these polarized times, Jesus, help us live in unity.

You Are Here


Every so often my wife sends me to the mall with a list and instructions to visit specific stores and pick up specific items.

Being a man my mission when I go to any retail establishment, especially the mall, is the get in and get out as quickly as possible.  I’m a hunter, not a nomad, I bag my prey and go home.  I don’t have the time or the patience to wander around looking for something.  If it’s not exactly where she said it would be or I can’t find it in about 30 seconds they don’t have it.

Because I am always in a hurry, the first thing I do when I go to the mall or any large unfamiliar place is look for the map or seek out an associate who can point me in the right direction.  Most people when they look at a map will spend most of their time looking at their destination.  Of course, that’s important but knowing where you are going is only half the battle.  You also need to know where you are right now so you can plan a route.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the most direct route, or the most picturesque, or the one that takes you past the Dairy Queen so you can get that banana split you’ve been craving.  It just matters that it gets you from where you are, to where you want to go.

That’s why every mall map has a bright red dot marked “You Are Here.”

Personal financial planning is kind of like a mall map.  It’s all well and good to have clearly defined goals but without a clear understanding of your current situation, and how you got there, all the planning in the world is really just staring at your destination and wandering around without any clear idea of how to get there.  You might make it you might not but more often than not you’ll end up spending your whole life in the food court eating banana splits and wondering why your dreams never seem to come true.

There are key moments that occur in every financial planning relationship.  Usually sometime after, but sometimes before we determine some goals, we need to have the “you are here” discussion.  This is where we gather the data, look at what you’ve done up to this point and map out the route from where you are to where you want to go.  It doesn’t have to be the most directly route, there may be a few detours along the way.  Just like going to the mall, family members have a way of pulling you off course.  Goals and circumstances can change and sometimes that banana split, new car or dream vacation just calls out to you.  That’s okay.  But a financial plan, just like a mall map, only works when you have a clear understanding of where you are at any given time.

Now, here’s where the analogy breaks down a bit, so stay with me.

Once the plan has been established it’s the job of the financial planner to be your constant “you are here” dot.  Continually reminding you of where you are and providing route options to get you to your destination.  If you take a detour or break for a banana split, the planner is there to help you get back on track or reassess your goals.  The last time I checked the dot on the mall map doesn’t move around with you, a good planner does.

So, how does your planner keep you on track?  Let me know in the comments.

I’m off to Dairy Queen, I suddenly have a craving for a banana split.

“When in Doubt, Castle”


What Kurt Vonnegut Taught me about Chess, Swedish Cars and Financial Planning

Kurt Vonnegut is best known for his 1960s novels, Player Piano, Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-five. The later of which he admitted was written specifically so he could cash in on the movie rights and retire to fabulous wealth and fame. The film adaptation of Slaughterhouse-five was released in 1972 to critical acclaim but was a box office flop, which just shows, making art is rarely an easy path to financial security. Vonnegut would continue to struggle as a writer for another 40+ years, gaining a measure of fame but never achieving the kind of fortune he dreamt of in the late sixties.

Vonnegut’s last published work before his death in 2007, was a memoir of sorts called A Man Without a Country. I recently finished reading it and I can say it reads more like a one man play, or a 200 page monologue than a traditional book. It’s basically a riff on everyone from Jesus Christ, to George W. Bush and everything from reality TV, fossil fuels and a new communication medium called The Internet. I tend to write in a similar style, so I loved it but if your politics leans a bit to the right, be warned, Kurt Vonnegut was a liberal humanist, with a capital ‘L’ and some of his insights into the human psyche will make you uncomfortable.

Vonnegut opens one of the chapters of A Man Without a Country with the phrase above and then goes on to tell a story about his brief time in the early 1980s as a car salesman. This was 10 years after the film catastrophe of Slaughterhouse-five and while still very much an artist, he took a job selling SAABs before they gained their yuppie-chic appeal. You gotta pay the bills, right? Back then a SAAB was little more than Swedish made Volkswagen Beetle. The way he tells it, in the 70s and early 80s a SAAB was what happened when an aeronautics engineer decided to build a car on the weekend for kicks. Which is pretty much the truth. Then sometime around 1984 a yuppie stockbroker bought one and drove it down 5th avenue, suddenly they were parked in every second driveway from Connecticut to Long Island. But Vonnegut washed out of the car business before he could cash in.

Anyway, back to the quote. I played a little chess in high school. While I never really kept track my lifetime record it is probably something like 2 and 25, mainly because I got bored easily and after about 10 minutes would stop paying attention. Accounting for my short attention span, my record is probably more like 2, 20 and 3, where 20 of the losses are just the result of apathy. My signature move though, was to castle. I did it just about every time.

For the uninitiated, castling is the only move in chess where you get to move two pieces at once. Provided, you’ve never moved them before, you take your king and move it two spaces toward either rook, then you take the rook and move it one space to the opposite side of the king. Thus, putting the king in a more easily defensible position in the corner of the board and the rook in a more aggressive position in the middle of the board. I would then build a little fortress around my king using pons and the rook and wait for my opponent to attack. When I got bored, usually about 2 minutes later, I would move the rook out into an attack position, leaving my king defenseless and eventually lose the game.

Most chess experts will tell you that castling, when done correctly, is both a defensive and offensive move. It protects the king while freeing the rook to be available as an attacking piece when the time comes. My problem was that I rarely waited long enough for the opportune moment to attack and wasted my advantage.

So, what does this have to do with Financial Planning? Well, some financial planners have a castling move of their own. Something that can be viewed both as a defensive and offensive move. All you need is a bit of foresight and patience. It is called Cash Value Life Insurance.

Cash Value Life Insurance provides a guaranteed death benefit and secures your defensive position protecting your loved ones from financial hardship should you die too soon. It also builds up a cash asset over time that can provide an additional offensive tool for income later in life. Most people view their life insurance as a purely defensive tool but by castling with cash value you can use it to provide valuable support for your purely offensive wealth building activities without sacrificing any of its defensive properties.

Like my little fortress on the chess board, the longer you hold the life insurance policy in its defensive position the more cash value it can accumulate. If you hold it all the way to death it has the potential to grow to Elephant Gun proportions, completely offset all income tax on your estate and create a significant legacy. The return on investment on a life insurance policy held for this purpose is often in the triple digits, it can literally cost just pennies to generate thousands. The key, like in chess, is to resist the temptation to cash in too early and hold it in its defensive position for as long as possible.

So, there you have it. Kurt Vonnegut reminded me of a key component of financial planning while talking about chess, a poorly performing movie, and the selling of Swedish cars. If you are curious about how these things can relate to your financial plan lets have a chat. But if you prefer we can just riff about Swedish cars and movies, that could be fun too.

 

Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer


How Social Isolation Is Leading to Societal Reckoning

I’ve never been an overly social person.  I work in a solo environment, I prefer to be self-directed and self-motivated and have always gravitated to jobs, goals, tasks, and hobbies that are best done alone.  That is why Triathlon is my sport of choice, I would much rather take my bike out, alone, for a 50 km ride than walk around a golf course with 3 other guys for 4 hours.

You could say that makes me an extreme introvert.  But it’s not the whole story.

My work is necessarily social.  I go out and talk to people, listen, and interact on a very personal, some might even say intimate, level.  I’ve never enjoyed live networking events, too loud and superficial, so over the years I have perfected the use of tools like the telephone, email and social media to facilitate the personal connection required while still providing the physical distance I crave.  A certain degree of physical distancing is comfortable for me and serves to make it easier to achieve the level of personal connection required to do my job.   Somehow speaking to a disembodied voice on the phone is less threatening than revealing the particulars of life face to face.

At the beginning of this pandemic I slipped into the new protocols, the elimination of in person meetings in favor of video conferencing and more phone and email interaction etc., like an old shoe.  We all had to learn new ways of doing things and for the most part we’ve done pretty well.  Humans are nothing if not adaptive.  But this prolonged level of isolation and introspection has pushed much of society to consider and examine things in ways that we aren’t used to.  Once the pandemic’s initial shock wore off and we started to settle into a different routine the cracks in our society made up of social, racial, and economic inequality, began to show.  These cracks are not new, it’s just that before we could cover them up with our busyness, now we have to sit with them and ask “what does this mean to me, and to our collective experience?”

Ashlee Eiland, author of the book “Human(Kind); How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together” recently likened the experience to cleaning out a junk drawer.  She said that it’s as if the junk drawer of society has been dumped out and we are now being forced to sort through it, deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

Here are a few observations learned listening to her and examining my life these past few months.

1 – We must rethink how we interact with and serve one another. 

Beware of a creeping sense of judgmentalism, it’s one thing to say you respect everyone regardless of race, sexual-orientation or religion, it’s quite another to put into practice especially when those things lead to differences in the way people think and act.  Are you engaging with people through self-righteousness or a genuine desire to value the individual?  Are you open to learning from those with a different perspective?

2 – Much of the work ahead will be conducted in the hidden places.

Real change happens when people of different backgrounds get in proximity with one another and begin working and learning together.  This does not happen on the streets or the television screens, it happens on the shop floors and boardrooms of society.  And it does not happen overnight.  How long does it take to cultivate an authentic relationship?  No one really knows.

3 – We must be willing to move forward without fear.

Someone will say or do the wrong thing, someone will be misunderstood, and someone will be offended.  When people of differing backgrounds get together we can’t avoid these things, but if we act with humility they can be easily addressed and corrected before they cause too much damage.  This will be a long process and we must not grow weary.

The heart of the matter is this; when we allow grace and humility fill us it flows out into the world like a overflowing river quenching the longing of a thirsty world.  We’ve been in the desert for a long time, the world is crying out for water, grace and humility are the eternal spring that we all need to drink from right now.

How do we do that?  Come thirsty but stay humble.