My Friend, The Rastafarian


In my previous life as an Artist Representative at an independent record company, I used to hang out with some interesting characters. 

One of my friends was a Rastafarian named Dee. 

Dee is quite possibly the only person I have ever met who completely embodies the saying “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  I have never once seen Dee stressed or agitated in any way.  He is a true example of Jamaican cool. 

Dee made Reggae Music, toured the country in a ramshackle old van, sold CDs and other merchandise from the side of the stage and when money got tight, he would take the odd gig writing web code until he’d saved up enough to head back out on the road.  

After a few years of this gypsy lifestyle Dee had saved up enough money to buy a farm in Prince Edward County, down by Belleville, where he built a recording studio, got married, and became a dad.  To this day he continues living solely on his terms, making music, touring, writing the odd bit of code, and generally loving life. 

Dee is 45 years old, and you might say he’s been retired for at least 10 years now.

How does he do it? 

Dee is a proponent of what has been termed The FIRE Movement.  FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retired Early.  In his twenties Dee made a conscious decision to live a minimalist lifestyle on a fraction of what he made, invest heavily in both his art and investment markets, and look for opportunities in unusually places.  By following this strategy, he was able to quit his day job before he turned 30 and within few more years, he had built up enough assets to live comfortably, (yet still frugally) for the rest of his life.

What is FIRE?  According to financial blog Hardbacon.ca, FIRE is a mindset that starts by looking at money as units of time.  If you make $15 per hour and spend $150 on something, you have really traded 10 hours of your time for that thing.  When you start to look at money this way, you start to view all purchases, whether for necessities or luxuries differently.  You start to think of goods and services in terms of the amount of time they cost, and your priorities begin to shift.  You also start to look at money and investments not as a store of value, as the economists define it, but as a store of time. 

When you embrace the FIRE movement the goal of investing becomes how quickly can you store up enough time, in the form of money, to become financially independent? 

Back in the early 2000s, when Dee would take a coding gig, he would talk about in terms of how many days it would buy him.  A few days of coding could buy him up to a month on the road.  Today he talks about his investments in much the same way.  He knows that if he keeps making an 8% return, he only needs to spend 10 weeks on the road and do 4 or 5 coding gigs to live comfortably and not deplete his savings.  COVID changed the math a bit, but he’s not worried, last summer he got to stay home more, played with his daughter did a bit more coding and recorded a whole album’s worth of new songs.   

I met Dee several years before I became a financial advisor, he introduced me to Reggae music and showed me how to ride a long board, but I remember him most often now when I’m working with my clients.  He is a living example that with the right attitude and a little planning, early retirement, or at least financial independence is possible. 

To put FIRE to work for you, you need three things.  You need to be debt free you need to be willing to live frugally, and you need a broad base of good growth investments.  I am here to coach you in all those things. 

Check out this blog post on hardbacon.ca (https://hardbacon.ca/en/financial-independance/financial-independence-retire-early-in-canada/) and get in touch if you want to learn more about FIRE, my previous life in the music business, or general financial planning.  We could even put on some Reggae and chill like we’re Buffalo Soldiers, but sadly, my long boarding days are over.

Lauren

I got my Income Tax Notice of Assessment last week, did you?


Like about a third of Canadians I waited until the last minute to file.  I hit submit on the Turbo Tax software package I use at about 3:00 pm on April 30th.  Not literally the last minute but awfully close. 

About two weeks later the government sends you your NOA (that’s financial advisor language for Notice of Assessment) which confirms what you submitted.  It’s not the final word, you could still receive the dreaded audit notice but for now your taxes are officially filed, Yippee!

There is a neat little line item on everyone’s NOA, that I think most people know about but that still bears a bit of explanation.  It’s your RRSP contribution limit. 

As a financial advisor I get a lot of questions about RRSPs.  A few years ago, I noticed that there seems to be a bit of a seasonal pattern to the questions I get.  Most of the questions come in February as the annual contribution deadline looms but I also get a batch of questions in September, as the kiddies are heading back to school, and we are all waking up from our summer slumber, and right around now as people receive their NOA and see that little line item at the bottom of the page. 

In case you are wondering here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions, in no particular order:

1.What is the contribution limit and how is it calculated?

There are lots of factors that go into calculating your contribution limit each year, but the simple math is 18% of your previous year’s income minus any contributions made to a pension, employer sponsored share-purchase plan or group RRSP. 

Any unused contribution room from previous years is carried forward into the next year indefinitely or at least until you reach the mandatory dissolution age which I will explain in a minute. 

There is also a maximum income that can be used towards the calculation, this past year if you made over $151,277 your contribution limit is capped from there on up at $27,230.  

2. Where Should I Invest My RRSP?

A lot of people have opened an RRSP at their bank and yet have no idea how that money is invested.  I’ll be honest, that drives me crazy.

Usually, it’s because they filled out a risk assessment questionnaire which told them if they were an aggressive or conservative investor and their banker told them which mutual funds fit that profile.  Essentially, they did what their banker suggested without doing any further research.    

The problem with that approach is at least twofold:

  • Most people when asked will almost always err on the side of caution.  The pain of loss, or even the anticipation of loss is always more acute and long lasting than the joy of gain.  The questions asked when you open an investment account are designed to make you more conservative than you are so that the banks don’t get sued if your investments lose money.  Nobody thinks about the long term lost opportunities if you stay too conservative for too long.  There are better ways to hedge your bets than investing in so called conservative funds, but nobody asks the right questions.
  • Mutual Funds are not always the best option for your investment funds, yet they are often the only option presented by advisors.  Not a lot of people realize that RRSP money can be invested in stocks, bonds, real-estate, ETFs, and cash, to name a few.  Again, you just need to ask the right questions.

3. How Do I Make A Withdrawal From My RRSP?

The hard truth on this one is that unless you are retired or facing bankruptcy (or using one of the approved economic incentives like the Home Buyers Plan), don’t.  The second R in RRSP stands for Retirement and while it is technically possible the government has built in quite a few disincentives to taking the money out prior to retirement age. 

  • Withholding Tax: The financial institution where you made your RRSP contribution will hold back anywhere from 10-30% if your withdrawal and pay it in tax to the government. 
  • Income Tax:  Any money received from your RRSP will be considered income for the year in which you take it out and could increase both your immediate tax payable and tax bracket for all other income as well.  This could add up to a lot of extra tax at the end of the year. 

If you anticipate needing this money for any purpose prior to retirement, don’t put it in an RRSP.   TFSAs, non-registered investment accounts and simple savings accounts are far better short-term savings vehicles when you consider the tax consequences of early withdrawal.

4.  What About Those Economic Incentives?

There are two scenarios in which you can withdraw money tax-free from your RRSP:

  • Home Buyer’s Plan: You are permitted to take out $25,000 from your RRSP to make a down payment on your primary residence if you have not owned property in Canada in the past 4 years.  The borrowed amount must be repaid back into your RRSP within 15 years or be considered taxable income.
  • Lifelong Learning Plan: You are also allowed to borrow up to $20,000 over the course of your life for the purpose of education and retraining.  The maximum a person can withdraw in any year is $10,000 and any borrowed amounts must be repaid into the RRSP within 10 years.

5. I’m Retired, What Now?

When you are ready to start taking money out of your RRSP as income you need to convert it to a RRIF.  You can do this at any time, but it must be completed before December 31, of the year in which you turn 71 (mandatory dissolution age).  Once converted to a RRIF you can no longer make any deposits to the account. 

As money comes out of your RRIF it is taxed as income but because most people are no longer employed their income tax rate is lower in retirement than it was when they were working.  The government also requires that a minimum amount comes out each year based on the individual’s age so that there isn’t a large sum left over when you die.  This isn’t an exact science however a lot of people die with money still in their RRSP.  It’s important to make provisions in your will and estate plan to deal with potential tax consequences if money is remaining when you die, but that is a discussion for another time.

Have you received your NOA yet?  I hope you filed your taxes on time.  If you have any questions about your RRSP contribution limit or how to take advantage of the many investment options available to you, feel free to reach out any time. 

Lauren

P.S. If you are looking for a quick snapshot of your financial security needs why not fill out my financial planning forecaster assessment at: https://form.jotform.com/211354286658058  I will get back to you with a financial security report within 48 business hours.

Psst… I’m About to Reveal My Secret Identity


There is a piece of my past that I don’t talk about much in the daily course of business but as we go deeper, it’s time you knew.

I’m a P.K.

I bet most of you are wondering what the heck that is.

Well, before I tell you, just know that I am in good company. 

Denzel Washington for instance is a P.K, so are Alice Cooper, Katy Perry, and George Stephanopoulos.  Looking back in history, Aretha Franklin was a P.K, so were Malcolm X, Vincent Van Gogh, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. 

Give up? 

What if I told you Martin Luther King Jr was a P.K. too, would that give it away? 

A P.K. is a Preacher’s Kid. 

Surprised? 

You shouldn’t be.  If I’ve been true to myself in all our interactions to date, the signs have always been there. 

Growing up a P.K. you experience life differently than most kids.  When your dad, (or increasingly your mom) is front and center of a community, teaching life lessons, counselling parishioners and leading by example, your perspective is altered.  Speaking from experience, it’s not enough to be kind to your neighbour, P.K.s are held to higher standard, it’s almost as if the community thinks we are God’s grandchildren or something.

A lot of us crack under the pressure.

Look at those names again, there no angels there, but they do all share a couple of interesting traits.  They all understand the power of words, the art of oratory and the importance of being true to your convictions, even if the ideas they eventually claim as their own aren’t exactly in alignment with those of their parents. 

I’m no exception. 

I won’t bore you with a laundry list of my indiscretions, just know that they happened, just like yours, and let’s move on. 

Pastor Dad, as I sometimes call him, taught me to study the words and teaching of many great philosophers and teachers (not just Jesus) and come to my own conclusions.  Through that study I found the work of a little-known theologian by the name of Paul Tillich. 

Tillich lived and worked most of his life in Germany but had to flee to the west late in life after publicly opposing the Nazi party. Embedded within his body of work are five important lessons for living your best life that I wanted to share. 

1 – The best life is a rich and varied one.

We are wholistic beings.  You can’t separate one aspect of your personality from the other without losing something.  Your values and beliefs interact with and influence the other areas of your life.  You must embrace complexity, diversity, and nuance, so that you can live a rich and fulfilling life.

  • Avoid compartmentalization.
  • Think holistically and take the time to assess how each of your choices will affect each aspect of you and your values.

2 – In the face of life’s uncertainties, be courageous.

You must learn to hold onto yourself, keep a firm grip of who you are and be brave.  Courage is not the absence of fear but “self-affirmation in-spite-of.”

  • If you believe in yourself, affirming yourself despite whatever difficulties life throws at you, you become your own anchor in a swirling sea of uncertainty.
  • By accepting anxiety as inevitable, but always conquerable, we can courageously bear the weight of existence, no matter what life throws at us.

3- Overcoming loneliness involves embracing the joy of solitude.

Truly appreciating the difference between loneliness and solitude is the key to unlocking self-acceptance and meaningful connection.

Loneliness is the pain of being alone, while solitude on the other hand, is the glory of being alone. Embracing the glory of solitude, and learning to love alone time, is the best antidote to loneliness.

  • We will all spend periods of our lives alone, this we cannot control, but we hold immense power over how we respond to this aloneness.
  • By embracing solitude, alone time can turn from lonely to truly joyful.  There are ways to turn aloneness into a positive experience.

4 – Life is about transformation.

Each of us has the ability to embrace change and transform ourselves into a newly courageous and joyful individual whose life is rich and fulfilling in every sense.

  • Allow yourself to step out of your Old Being into your New Being by embracing the power of change.
  • Accept transformation and change as a positive, spiritually enlightening experience.

5 – Without self-awareness, true fulfillment is unobtainable.

If preliminary concerns like work or politics take up a large amount of space in your life, care should be taken to make sure that these do not dominate you.

  • Try to remain mindful of your beliefs, those spiritual aspects of your life that shape and guide you and that comfort you in times of boredom or trauma.
  • By embodying spirituality, and living ethically and faithfully, you can use preliminary concerns as a lens through which ultimate concern comes into sharp focus.

So, what do you think?  What are some of your ultimate concerns?  How can we work together, through your financial plan to bring things into focus and help you live your best life, aligned with your values?

Let me know how I can help, talk soon…

Lauren

An easy way to protect your credit


Creditor insurance is a safety net for you and your family. It can help you pay your debt or keep up with payments if you are diagnosed with a critical illness, become disabled or pass away. 

Have I ever told you about my friend Stan? 

Stan met my wife in university, and we’ve all been friends for over 30 years.  When my wife and I got married Stan stood up with us as we pledged our lives to each other.  (Ah, what a sweet memory).

Anyway, about 10 years ago Stan got a headache while attending a funeral in New Brunswick.  It was a hot day and he just figured he hadn’t eaten enough the day before.  That night, after a long, stressful day, Stan sat down and logged in to an online chess match to relax.  

That’s all he remembers.  

Stan woke up 24 hours later in the hospital and was told he would need major brain surgery.  Turns out he’d had a seizure caused by a golf ball sized tumor pressing against his ocular nerve. 

Thank-fully it wasn’t cancer but at just 39 years old his world changed forever.  He couldn’t walk due to vertigo for 6 weeks, couldn’t work for 8 months, and couldn’t drive for almost 5 years. 

As scary as Stan’s situation was, this isn’t a bad news story. 

You see, Stan is smart.  Just a few weeks before he flew to New Brunswick, Stan met with his financial advisor (not me, I wasn’t in the business yet), and they determined that he needed some additional Life and Disability Insurance.  His Group Benefits at work wouldn’t be enough to maintain his lifestyle should something happen.  The policy he bought went into effect literally two days before his big seizure.  Good thing, because without it, Stan might have lost his house while he recovered from his multiple surgeries. 

What Stan bought was essentially creditor insurance.

What is creditor insurance?

When you get a house, loan, line of credit or a credit card, you want to know you won’t lose them should anything happen to you.  You also want to make sure your loved ones aren’t stuck with debts they are unable to handle.

This is where creditor insurance comes in.  Sometimes known as creditor protection, it can pay your mortgage or loan balance or help make debt repayments on your behalf, in case the unexpected happens.

The unexpected can be a critical illness such as life-threatening cancer, heart attack, stroke, your death or any involuntary health related time off work, like Stan’s tumor.   

How does it work?

Creditor insurance can make a lump-sum payment towards your loan or make regular payments directly to your lender.  The maximum amount and number of payments, and other terms of coverage, may differ depending on the lender and loan product.  They will be specified in your certificate of insurance provided on enrollment.  

What can you insure?

  • Your mortgage
  • Your loan and line of credit (personal or business)
  • Your outstanding credit card balance

How do you get it?

You can apply for creditor insurance directly from most banks and other lenders when you arrange your loan.  You can also apply for a standalone product through a financial advisor like me.  The cost of insurance or the premium will depend on the coverage you enroll for.  You will need to fill in a separate application for insurance and may need to answer a few health questions.  However, in many cases you may even automatically qualify for coverage.  If you decide to cancel your insurance later, you’re free to do so at any time.  

What does it cover?

  • Critical Illness
  • Disability
  • Health related job loss
  • Death

I’ve been helping people with their financial plans for just about 10 years now.  One of the reasons I got into this business was that I saw how a good financial plan helped my friend Stan.  He’s doing fine now by the way, a testament to some great doctors a patient family, and of course, a solid financial plan.  Things could have tuned out so much worse. 

What about you?  Have you, or anyone close to you experienced an unexpected health related job loss or work interruption? Did they have enough insurance to weather the storm?

Tell me your story in the comments….

Lauren

Enough Already


A slightly longish lament about lockdowns, mental fatigue and overtraining. The end is in sight but we’re all over it. Now is not the time to relax, hunker down and let’s get through this thing.

Food is Fuel


And other random thoughts on nutrition, exercise, and a three-point prescription for a balanced life.

I recently changed my diet, again. 

During this latest lockdown, the 4th time in a year that “non-essential” businesses have been forced to close, I’ve had to take all my training outdoors and focus almost exclusively on the running part of my triathlon journey.  But this time around I am also focusing more on nutrition and proper fueling for my workouts. 

Previously I had toyed with a paleo approach, but that never really stuck.  I found the lack of grains, especially at breakfast nearly impossible to maintain and in preparing meals for the rest of my family I was often forced to compromise as they insisted on potatoes and pasta.  After a few days of watching them enjoy these staples while preparing extra salads and veggies for myself, I would inevitably give in and end up eating what they ate. 

This time around I am taking a more wholistic approach, eating a broader range of foods and focusing less on what I can’t eat and more on eating what I can.  If you can attach my approach to anything I’ve been following what is known as The Endurance Diet by Matt Fitzgerald. 

Mr. Fitzgerald is a journalist and exercise physiologist who has covered some of the world’s most successful Olympic and professional athletes across a broad range of endurance sports, marathoners, cross-country skiers and of course my favorite, triathletes.  Over his career hanging out with these elite endurance athletes Fitzgerald has noticed, and subsequently written about what he calls the 5 key habits of endurance nutrition. 

  1. Eat Everything
  2. Eat Quality
  3. Eat Carb Centred
  4. Eat Enough
  5. Eat Individually

Fitzgerald argues, and the evidence both anecdotal and scientific agrees, that the key to dieting isn’t in eliminating any one food or type of foods but in balancing a broad range of high-quality foods to meet your daily requirements of vitamins nutrients and calories. 

All this got me thinking not just about how best to balance my diet as an amateur triathlete but also how to balance my life as a human across the broad spectrum of demands placed on me both personally and professionally. 

Every first-year psychology student knows about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In 1943, Dr. Abraham Maslow published a landmark paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the journal Psychological Review.  In it he proposed that every human being on earth is constantly working to fulfill 5 sets of needs, Physiological (survival) Needs, Safety (security) Needs, Love (belonging) Needs, Esteem (ego/respect) Needs and Self-actualization (purpose/achievement) Needs. 

Maslow felt that each of these needs built on each other like a ladder, or pyramid as they are often illustrated, and it isn’t until each successive need is met that we can move on to the next.  The reality is that each of these needs are so inter-related that beyond survival and a minimal amount of security it is impossible to think of them separately.

So what?

How did a book about exercise nutrition lead to an 80-year-old psychological theory and what does it have to do with business?  I am so glad you asked!

Just like we need to build a balanced diet we also need to build a balanced life.  Through my triathlon journey, professional and spiritual life I have come up with a prescription for balance that works for me.  It may not work for you, but I believe that if you pay attention to your basic needs and follow a framework like what I have built more often than not you will find balance and peace enough to pursue your goals and achieve self-actualization, or as Oprah calls it, to live your best life. 

1 – Move your Body

The physical and psychological benefits of exercise are indisputable.  As little as 15 minutes per day of purposeful movement has been proven to increase both.  For me that means an average of an hour a day of swim, bike, run but you don’t have be a triathlete to reap the rewards of daily exercise, just get out of your chair and move. 

2 – Engage your Mind

Another one that is not really in dispute, although there is less science to prove it, reading helps to both calm and stimulate in different ways.  Not to mention the increase in knowledge you can gain.  I read an average of 30 minutes per day at a pace of 24 pages an hour.  That’s 4380 pages a year, or about 15, 300-page books.   Since I started doing this, about 13 years ago I have read over 400 books on everything from business theory, philosophy, economics, history and even a few love stories. 

3 – Calm your Spirit

I’ll be honest, I’ve had mixed results with meditation.  Some people swear by it and claim it’s what gives them an edge in their daily lives.  People who meditate for 20 to 30 minutes per day report lower blood pressure, less anxiety and better clarity of purpose.  Personally, I find I get much the same benefits from exercise or reading.  Instead, I use meditation is more of a reset button throughout my day.  Whenever I feel tensions rise or I’m being pulled in multiple directions, a few deep breaths, and a repeated mantra of “I’m okay,” or something similar is usually all it takes to calm my nerves and help me to regain focus.  If you are one of the millions of people who prefer longer, more focused meditation, I’m glad it works for you, I’ve never experienced that and find the shorter “mindful breathing” that I do to be just as effective. 

So, there you have it, my rambling decertation on nutrition, exercise, and basic psychology.  I hope I didn’t bore or confuse you too much.  Everything is interconnected and my brain just does this sometimes.  Let me know what you think about any of the topics discussed, and how they inter-relate in the comments below. 

Your True South Star


Using the Negative to Define Your Positive

We also have an internal North Star.  It’s that little nudge that tells us if we are on the right path to fulfilling our potential, or on the wrong path wasting energy traveling somewhere we don’t need to go.  So my advice to you is, pull out the compass every once in a while and make sure you are navigating in the right direction on your journey. 

John C. Maxwell, (facebook post, December 26, 2014)

We are all familiar with the concept of a North Star.  Since the earliest days of navigation travellers have used the North Star to guide them across vast distances.  The North Star is that one star in the night sky that never seams to move while everything else revolves around it.  It does this because of its position in the cosmos, almost directly in line with the North Pole.  As the earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun, the North Star never deviates from that spot.  It’s that fixed nature that makes it valuable, if you know where you are in relation to the North Star you can set a course for where you want to go. 

It’s basic math, trigonometry really, the science of spatial triangulation.  If you know the location of two points on a triangle, its relatively easy to calculate where the third point is.  This is also the basis for our modern GPS systems.  By triangulating our position with a satellite in orbit above the earth our phones can use mapping software to tell us, within a few meters, exactly where we are and provide us with detailed maps of how to get where we want to go. 

I was recently introduced to the concept of a South Star while listening to a podcast by the author philosopher and theologian Rob Bell.  In philosophy the idea of a North Star has been used to describe a set of internal absolutes, or unchanging values, the fixed core of who you are or who you are becoming.  The North Star, as leadership expert John Maxwell put it above, is that little voice within each of us that tells us if we are on the right path or not.  As you can imagine, according to Bell, the South Star is the opposite of that.  While a North Star pulls us toward something a South Star repels us. 

Sometimes when we are trying to define and refine our values it can be helpful to start from a negative.  Rather than figure out what you want, instead define what you categorically don’t want and define your desired outcome by process of elimination.  That is what using your South Star is all about. 

In my business and in the way I approach financial planning for my clients my South Star is debt.  I teach my clients to get as far away from debt as possible.  In fact, the fastest way to build wealth and get on the path to achieve financial security is to eliminate debt.  That may seem like basic math but in actual practise it is extremely difficult and when I first started to build my financial practise many experienced advisors told me not to talk about debt with my clients. 

I can point to more than one conversation where a veteran advisor, upon hearing me speak against debt, would pull me aside and say something to the effect of; “Don’t talk about debt, everyone has some form of debt, and everyone knows it’s bad, by pointing it out you might make people feel bad about themselves and they won’t want to do business with you.”  Or, “Don’t lead with the debt talk, it’ll attract the wrong kind of client, you want to attract people with money, not people with debt.” 

I listened politely, thanked these veteran advisors for their advice and then ignored them. 

More than that I viewed these interactions as indications that I was on the right track.  The idea that people with debt make bad clients, or that by talking about debt I’d turn good clients off helped to define my South Star.  The idea of it repelled me.  The more resistance I felt from my own colleagues the more convinced I became that there was a huge under served market for a financial planner that is willing to work both sides of a client’s balance sheet.  By developing strategies to simultaneously reduce debt and build wealth I could accelerate, no turbo charge, my client’s results. 

This South Star thinking helped define my brand and my value proposition.  It rolls off my tongue effortlessly now; “I help people eliminate debt, build wealth and leave a legacy.  People who work with me tend to pay off all of their debts (including mortgages) about 8 years sooner, enjoy increased cashflow, retire four times wealthier and pay significantly less tax along the way.” 

Contrary to what my veteran colleagues tried to warn me about, by leading with debt, I have not only attracted clients who need help but who understand the value of leverage and the multiplying effect that reducing debt has on increasing wealth. 

South Star thinking is more than being contrarian.  It’s about using a clear definition of what you don’t want to propel you in the direction of what you do want.  Even if you can’t clearly define what that is. 

When I first started speaking out against debt, I didn’t know how to read a balance sheet, structure a consolidation loan or leverage equity into cash.  What I did know was that high interest debt payments were dragging down good, hard working people and making it difficult for them to get ahead.  It was this knowledge that was the wind at my back pushing me away from the notion that people with debt couldn’t be good clients or that talking about debt would make people feel bad about themselves. 

Over time I was able to develop the process that I use today but at first it was just about being repelled by the old school notion that debt management was not the purview of a financial advisor.

Zig Ziglar once said that you can get everything in life that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.  Helping people get what they want is a North Star. 

In my world, most people want financial security.   The way I help them get there is by working both sides of their balance sheet, eliminating debt and building wealth at the same time.  The approach works whether you are drowning in debt or swimming in wealth.  And there is no reason for anyone to feel negatively about it.

So, what’s driving you?  Are you drawn by a North Star, or repelled by a South Star?  Either way, you’re probably headed in the right direction. 

Pay Attention!


Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome from AD 161-180.  Throughout his life he kept a book of meditations, really just a series of random thoughts, that largely followed the Stoic and Epicurean philosophies of his day.

Today, thanks to some fantastic Greek and Latin scholars, we can still read much of what Aurelius was thinking and writing nearly 2 millennia ago.  The manuscript that has survived, published under the simple title “Meditations”, was most likely compiled by Aurelius during his final military campaign to the German frontier between 175 and 179.  For those of you unfamiliar with the genre of ancient wisdom literature it reads a little like the Biblical book of Proverbs, only less poetic and more disjointed. Reading Meditations today is bit like trying to follow a squirrel on crack cocaine as Aurelius jumps from one unrelated thought to another. 

But if you slow down enough to examine and consider each thought before moving on to the next, you can begin to recognize much from our modern world within the Stoic and Epicurean philosophy of late antiquity. 

This morning, during my reading time, one of these thoughts struck me as a great lesson for each of us during these times. 

Apply your thoughts to what is being said.  Let your mind enter into what is coming to pass and what is causing it to be.

Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180)

In other words, pay attention, think about what is going on and try to figure out why. 

We live in an age of conspiracy theories, alternative facts, populism, and arrogance.  Evidence based policy, nuanced reasoning, and compromise is becoming a thing of the past.  The COVID19 pandemic and the politics of public health has only served to amplify these issues.  Solutions to today’s problems are not black and white, and they will not be found by succumbing to the populist fears of Orwellian overlords, or end times theories about the mark of the beast and the reign of Satan. 

We must learn to get comfortable with discomfort and hold seemingly contradictory ideas together before we can find a path forward.  The answers to today’s problems are not binary.  We cannot continue to form a path by answering questions as right and wrong.  The decisions of tomorrow will be made between options that are “less bad”. 

For the Stoics and Epicureans life was not a question of good and evil, it was a question of fate and survival.  It is high time we let go of our childish ideals of right and wrong and instead embraced a more nuanced understanding what it means to survive. 

The world is not black and white, and the goal should not be to live anything close to a perfect life. 

In many ways the Stoics had it right; the goal is survival, and the path is unclear. 

Thoughts from a Commonplace


How I Organize Ideas, Aid Memory and Remain Focused

“There can hardly be anything more useful as a sound help for the memory than a good and learned digest of Commonplaces.” 

Sir Francis Bacon, 1623

Recently, quite by accident I might add, I realized that I have been using a 500-year-old technique to aid my memory and organize my thoughts.  

I’ve been a journal writer off an on for most of my life.  It’s that journaling habit the spawned this blog and started me on the path to becoming an author.  About 8 months ago I realized that I was getting ideas for things to write about, or new things to try in my business at weird times.   Sometimes late at night or on the weekend when my computer was turned off.  In order not to lose these ideas I would pull out my iPhone and try to record my thoughts in a notepad to review later. 

I found it exceedingly difficult to write coherent thoughts on a small hand-held device and would often forget about them as quickly as I hit save.  Days and sometimes weeks later I would find these little thought fragments saved on my phone with little or no context to make sense of what I had written.  Not to mention the fact that sometimes my ideas come to me in the form of pictures and diagrams that are impossible to record with typeset words. 

So, I decided to go old school and bought a notebook to write and draw in.

As a physical act, notebook writing does two things.  First, it helps cement what you are thinking about in long term memory more so than tapping on a keyboard.  Second, the book itself is a physical reminder to review what you wrote down.  Since I started recording my thoughts in a notebook, I have managed to hold on to more of my ideas and ultimately get more done. 

The thing is, until this morning, I thought I had invented this technique, certainly no one, but me carries around a ratty old notebook anymore.  Even school children are taught to record their lessons digitally these days.  Cursive writing is no longer taught in schools.  Long handwriting of anything more than a grocery list may soon be a thing of the past.  But me, I still need to write things down. 

During my reading time this morning I learned that my technique is not so unique after all.  I’ve been reading “The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains”, by Nicholas Carr.  Carr’s main thesis is that every new technology changes the way humans think and rewires our brains on a molecular level such that we have physically different brains from one generation to the next.  The internet, with its incredible storage power and speed of recall is encouraging the human brain to evolve and sacrifice nuance, deep thinking and long-term memory for immediate, binary, and narcissistic decision making. 

Our brains, in essence, are taking on the form of the computers that drive the internet.  The robot uprising has already begun, we are becoming the robots ourselves.   

In the chapter on memory and how the internet is encouraging humans to sacrifice personal internal memory for collected and stored data, Carr reminds us of the original information storage device, the written word. 

The Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) is widely believed to be the first teacher to encourage his students to learn by writing.  He encouraged every student to keep a notebook, “so that whenever he lights on anything worth noting down, he may write it in the appropriate section.”  The act of writing, and reviewing regularly, according to Erasmus, would help to ensure the information remained fixed in the mind.  He viewed these written notes as “kinds of flowers,” which could be preserved in the pages of memory. 

Over time, Erasmus’ notebooks became known as Commonplaces because all a learner’s thoughts on a particular subject could be located and retrieved from a “common place”.  It is also where we get the colloquial meaning of “common place” for something that is considered mundane or widely understood because it would show up in multiple notebooks from different students.

My mind is a constant whirlwind of thoughts and ideas.  I often liken it to a caged tiger, brimming with power and energy but locked up by circumstance and poor timing.  Through COVID the tiger has at times gotten so restless as to give way to violent outbursts followed by shame and deep depression.  The physical act of notebook writing has so far been the only thing I have found to calm the raging tiger and prevent depression.

If you’re an ideas person like me, what techniques do you use to keep a clear head and remain productive?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. 

Livin’ La Tempo Giusto


Life at The Speed of Right

I was about 21 when I started my entrepreneurial journey. 

Sloths aren’t really lazy, they just don’t get in a hurry about things

When you start a business in your 20s you don’t quite have the experience to understand what happens when you inevitably get stretched too thin.  When you try to do too much too fast on too little sleep quality suffers all the way around. 

Over the course of a few years, it gradually dawned on me that quality in business and relationships are both connected to time management.  A few years after that, I began to realize that traditional time management is a myth.  Time isn’t something you manage, it just is. 

I shifted my focus to what I called priority management.  One productivity guru I read at the time described it as putting things in four buckets, the things that are urgent and important, the things that are urgent but not important, the things that are important but not urgent and the things that are neither.  The goal of priority management is to delegate the things that are urgent but not important and forget about the things that are neither so that you can concentrate your time on the things that are both or merely important.  Over time the goal is to reduce the urgency of things so that you can concentrate on important matters with less stress in your life. 

Lately though I’ve begun to realize that priority management doesn’t really work either.  There are too many competing factors and what one person deems important or urgent isn’t often the same as what you do.  Instead, as I have begun to explore what I can only characterize as Zen Spirituality I’ve started to settle on an entirely different understand of time.   Time management is still a myth but urgency is really just a matter of perspective. 

What it comes down to is doing the right thing at the right time with the right level of intensity.  Or as the Italians say, Tempo (pace) Giusto (proper).

The question then becomes, what exactly is “right” when it comes to the timing and intensity of the work you do? 

Spiritual author and teacher John Mark Comer once had the chance to meet one of his heroes, the theologian and author Dallas Willard.  Like any aspiring author/ theologian, Comer wanted to know how Willard the master, managed to maintain a busy teaching schedule while at the same time penning several best-selling books and travelling the world as a sought-after public speaker. 

Comer was expecting to hear a detailed explanation of Willard’s time management system, instead what he heard were three words that turned the whole idea of time management on its head and changed the trajectory of his life.  When Comer asked Willard for the secret to his incredible productivity Willard paused for an uncomfortably long time and finally said,

You must, ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Dallas Willard

Comer wrote that down and hurriedly asked, “what else?”  Willard paused again and very slowly said, “There is nothing else.”

Hurry, among other things, sucks the joy out of the room, distorts priorities, causes mistakes and ultimately ends up increasing the time it takes to complete a given task.  It may sound counterintuitive but hurrying through life is detrimental to long term productivity and satisfaction. 

After that interview Comer embarked on a years long study of productivity and found that there are four keys to “ruthlessly eliminating hurry” and increasing productivity.  They are, according to Comer, Silence, Sabbath, Simplicity and Slowing. 

Silence. 

Over the years, I’ve tried meditation several times and in different ways, but nothing really stuck.  My mind tends to race and nothing I do seems to be able to calm it.  What I have found instead is that the simplest and most effective way for me to relax is to just live, in personal solitude.  I get up at 5:45 every morning and spend the first 45 minutes to an hour of every day in absolute silence.  Depending on my mood I might pray, read, or just sit quietly and think.  What I am doing with my mind is secondary to the fact that it is done in complete silence.  Without the distraction of sound, I tend to find a level of calm that I can carry with me throughout the rest of the day.

Sabbath.

Once a week, usually on Saturdays, I take silence to the next level.  I shut down everything that is remotely work related and spend a day doing as much, or as little as I feel like with no agenda.  Read a book, tend the garden, listen to music, watch a movie, go for a long walk, or take a nap.  One day a week of complete mental rest, even if I am physically active, helps to cleanse me of all the residue of the world. 

Simplicity.

When faced with a complex task most productivity gurus will tell you to break it down into a series of smaller, simpler tasks.  The smaller and simpler the better.  Anxiety is often the result of an inability to see the small and simple tasks in the shadow of the large and daunting one.  The more we can break a task down, the more productivity becomes a matter of doing the little things consistently.  Over time this series of successfully completed tasks add up and compound until before you know it, and without working yourself to exhaustion, you’ve completed something great. 

Slowing.

Accuracy is always attainted by first slowing down.  I type a lot and I always find that when I type more slowly, I make fewer mistakes.  That’s a simple example but it’s an easy one for most people to recognize.  When you race ahead, you may get somewhere quickly but then be forced to go back and retrace over the same ground again.  That’s a lesson most of us learned in elementary school.  Do it right the first time and you won’t have to waste time doing it again later.  If you want to eliminate the perceived need to hurry, do it slowly and accurately the first time.   

There you have it.  Ruthlessly, eliminate hurry and live life tempo giusto.  You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and still get lots done.  I promise. 

PS – This post took me 12 days to write.  There was no hurry.