“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.

 

The Only Thing That There’s Just Too Little Of


In the spring of 1965 singer Jackie De Shannon released the single “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  By mid-July the song, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, had worked its way up the Billboard Hot 100 to peak at number seven in the US and number one in Canada.  Written during the Vietnam War it is a folk anthem originally intended to bring people together regardless of their political views.

The song popped into my head recently while I was flipping through some journal notes.   A few months back I wrote, “every community of love can love more”.  As I read those words, quite unbidding into my head popped the lyric:

It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of.

We live in anxious times.  Back in February I heard that over a quarter of Canadians surveyed said they would be fearful of being around someone with a serious mental illness.  I get it, mental illness has a unique capacity to make us all feel helpless.  If you have ever spent time with someone suffering from anxiety or depression you know that it doesn’t take long before you are feeling completely inadequate to help.  At that point it’s just easier to walk away and leave the afflicted to the “professionals” but the fact is that people suffering from mental illness need community more than they need clinical intervention.

And that was also before COVID, before we all started dealing with enough severe stress and anxiety to be classified as mentally ill ourselves.

It’s true that perfect love drives out fear, but repeated exposure just desensitizes us.  So the best way to manage fear and anxiety is to suck the drama out of it and just admit that it is part of being human.  Draw together, do not run in fear from one another.  We are designed to bring healing and wholeness through one another.

In addition to love at times like this we could also use a bit more justice and a bit more hope.

“Lady Justice” – there is a reason she’s always blindfolded

Justice has been a big topic lately, ever since race relations successfully bumped COVID19 off the front pages of newspapers around the world.  But we don’t want just any justice, we want the kind that puts people and things into right relationships with one another and justice that doesn’t add burdens to the already over-burdened.

And we need hope, the kind that is tied up with honesty.  We need the kind of hope that says we believe things can get better while acknowledging that things aren’t right at the present moment.

So, I guess there is more than one thing that there is just too little of, Love, Justice and Hope to name a few.  But that wouldn’t make for a very good song.

 

 

 

 

Three Cups of Tea


The Balti Theory of Relationships

I’m a coffee drinker.  This is a story involving tea but that shouldn’t matter.

I’m not a fan of a lot of fancy coffees.  Just straight up brewed coffee from a pot or Keurig machine is all I need.  If I am going to splurge on something exotic, I go for a strong espresso or café americano, nothing too foamy or overly sweet.  I always drink my coffee black, mostly because I am lactose intolerant but since I discovered that, I have found I prefer the fuller taste that milk or cream can tend to dull.

I used to do a lot of business networking in coffee shops.  Until recently there was no better place to have an informal, meet and greet with a new or perspective client.  Of course, COVID19 has changed all of that.  Now all my meetings, regardless of purpose have gone virtual.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it saves a lot of time, no more driving across town, paying for coffee, looking for a table etc.  Even though I do miss the atmosphere of a good coffee shop and I feel for the entrepreneurs that run them I can’t say I’ve really missed a beat by moving my meetings online.

Regardless of where our networking occurs, one thing has not changed.  It’s still all about personal relationships.

I learned what I call The Balti Three Cups of Tea Theory of Relationships from educational activist Greg Mortenson.  He learned it while building schools in the mountains of Pakistan.

Mortenson’s story was first published in the 2006 book, “Three Cups of Tea”.  In a nutshell, back in 1993, while climbing K2 he got separated from his party, ended up injured and stranded in a remote, underserved region of Pakistan.  There he discovered a Balti village tribe where the children had to walk several miles, over treacherous mountain trails to the nearest school.  In winter, the trail would be impassible, leaving the children without access to basic education for several months at a time.

After spending weeks among the Balti people, recovering from his injuries, he promised to repay their hospitality and build them a school.  Over the next decade Mortenson would return to Northern Pakistan several times and oversee the construction of over 50 schools across the region.

Since the publication of Mortenson’s story, the details and results have been called into question.  It seems when one person sets out the change the world there are no shortage of others who want to tear him down, but that’s a different post.  The point of this post is how Mortenson learned to build relationships across a religious and cultural divide, not to mention a significant language barrier.

The Balti people do business over tea.  According to one of the village elders that Mortenson worked with, the first time you share tea with a Balti you are a stranger, the second time you are an honored guest, and the third time you are family.

I’ve been in business for nearly 30 years, the last 10 of which have been in my current capacity.  Before COVID I used to joke that I’ve met with clients and prospects in every coffee shop from here to Deep River, (about 200 kms away) and I have found the Balti theory to be remarkably accurate.  It takes an average of 3 meetings before enough trust has been built to get anything done.  I have also found that each meeting must be approached in its own unique way to maximize your effectiveness and move the relationship forward.  Poor execution at one meeting can seriously damage your chances of getting the to next one and ultimately to the sale.

Here are some of the things I have learned moving relationships forward.  While we can’t meet in coffee shops right now these tips and tricks for execution are still incredibly useful and tend to work just as well in a virtual environment.

The First Cup

“The first time you take tea with the Bakti you are a stranger.”

Likewise, the first time you meet with a prospective client.  It has been my experience that no real business ever gets done in the first meeting.  People don’t do business with strangers.  The purpose of the first meeting is for the prospective client to get to know you.  Start by asking a lot of open-ended questions about their business, their personal life, how they got started, and what their hopes and dreams and plans are.

By asking those questions and letting the prospect talk as much as they want you will gain a ton of information without being aggressive or sounding like a salesperson.  When they start to run out of steam ask a few follow up questions about what they have done to achieve their goals, who they have worked with in the past and most importantly, what their experience has been with individuals similar to you.

That last one is too often overlooked, and it is key in moving out of the stranger pool.  Everyone has a bias or preconceived notion about you and what you offer, even if they won’t admit it.  By asking point blank what their experience and impression has been with people like you, you immediately uncover what that bias is.  Once you know that you can tailor your offering to address their specific needs and concerns.

Now it’s your turn to talk.  Don’t forget, at this point you are still a stranger so don’t be aggressive or say anything that could make the prospect feel uncomfortable.  Repeat back some of the things they have said, affirm their goals and dreams, congratulate them for their accomplishments and acknowledge their concerns.  Then make it clear that you do business differently and that you have a unique approach that can make a significant impact on their goals.

After I have determined the prospect’s main goals and biases, I finish off with one last question that sets the stage for the next meeting.  “If I could show you a way to achieve x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”  That answer is almost always yes, at that point it’s time to wrap it up and book the next meeting.

It’s important at this point not to pitch a product.  You are still a stranger, by piquing their interest you are on the verge of becoming a welcome guest the next time but you haven’t gained enough trust to ask for a sale.  That comes later.  Go away leaving them wanting more and looking forward to your next meeting.

The Second Cup

“The second time you share tea with a Balti you are an esteemed guest.”

If you did your job in the first meeting, the prospect will want to hear from you again.  When I arrive at the appointed time and place of this second meeting, I sometimes visualize a grand welcome like how you would expect a visiting dignitary or celebrity to be greeted.  I rarely get the literal red-carpet-treatment but it helps to build up my confidence and put me in the right frame of mind, remember, the prospect wants you here, you are an esteemed guest.

In the previous meeting you not only listened to their goals and dreams, you affirmed them.  And then you heard their concerns and gave them hope.  You’ve gone from stranger to welcome guest.  You aren’t yet family, but you potentially hold the keys to a better tomorrow and for that you will be honored.  The stakes are exponentially higher in the second meeting, now you must deliver value.

At the end of the last meeting we left the prospect wanting more by leaving the open question; “If I could show you a way to x without y, would that be a conversation worth having?”   But you haven’t gathered enough details about their unique situation yet so this time I like to bring a full proposal that answers a similar question but is based on a completely different client’s set of details.  I use this as an example to show the kind of work I do for people with similar concerns as the prospect.

By using a different set of details, I accomplish three things in a non-threatening manner:

  1. I show the prospect that they are not alone in their concerns, alleviating any doubts they may have that their issue is, or isn’t a big deal.
  2. I show deep expertise in the subject matter at hand.
  3. I show them that there is a solution.

After walking the prospect through the solution that I used with another client I can then ask for the exact details of their situation.  If I’ve done my job to this point, the prospect will almost always give me everything I need to build a proposal for them.

Once I’ve gathered all the personal details I need, I set a time to come back a third time with their unique proposal.

The Third Cup

“The third time you share tea with a Balti, you are family.”

If you’ve made it this far in the relationship you know a lot of personal details about the prospect, you’ve been invited in and are now family.  In fact, you probably have a more intimate knowledge of certain aspects of their life than some actual family members do.  The trust you have been given is sacred and the care with which you present your solutions must rival that of a doctor laying out a treatment plan or a priest counselling them through a major life event.

Forget about the red-carpet this time.  When I arrive at this meeting I like to visualize standing on holy ground and presenting the prospect with the tools to embark on a sacred journey.  Again, I am rarely treated like Gandalf or some other mystical guru, but the mental exercise helps set my mind on the monumental importance of what I am about to share.   I present the solution with a level of reverence and respect that shines through to the prospect and helps cement my position as the one who holds the key to unlocking their goals and dreams.

It might take a fourth meeting to fill out an application and collect a cheque but if I’ve done my job to this point, validated their goals and dreams, affirmed their concerns and presented appropriate solutions, the sale is all but assured.

 

I’ve presented this process as three neatly planned meetings.  The reality is that it there can often be several months of telephone, email, and other discussions between each of these meetings.  It takes time to build relationships but given enough time, Gandalf always wins.

 

How Does your Garden Grow?


Learning to Speak (and Listen) with Wisdom and Intelligence

I fancy myself a bit of a gardener.

I don’t grow anything exotic or even all that special, but I have about 100 square feet of flowers in my back yard and another 50 or so square feet out front. It’s mostly bulbs and other perennials, things like tulips, daffodils, and lilies that I supplement each spring with a selection of annuals. I like looking at the variety of colours as they come and go throughout the season and there is something primal about digging in the dirt that satisfies my caveman instincts.

This year I got brave and added a strawberry bush, here’s hoping.

I planted everything this past weekend and when I was looking at my handy work, I was reminded of something I heard a long time ago. The 13th century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, more commonly referred to simply as Rumi, once said –

Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that makes the flowers grow, not thunder.

The meaning here should be fairly obvious; when faced with conflict or embroiled in a heated discussion Rumi advises not to yell but to speak with wisdom and intelligence. People learn and grow best when information is presented calmly, like a gentle rain, not through loud and violent outbursts.

We live in a very polarized society. You are either conservative or liberal, capitalist or socialist, inclusive or exclusive, with us or against us. It seems more and more that people are less and less likely to listen to anyone who expresses opinions contrary to our own, let alone have a calm and intelligent discussion about them. How are we to learn and grow if all we do is loudly dismiss and discredit anything we disagree with?

Last week I talked about confirmation bias, which in one sense is our tendency to look for and associate only with people with whom agree. The best way I know how to combat confirmation bias is to listen and learn from people from all walks of life and those with whom we might disagree. Associating across various socio-economic and political lines might not be enough to change our opinions about things but we might at least learn something.

Remember – You don’t know what you don’t know, so raise your words, not your voice. Who knows, you might win someone over and gain a new friend or at the very least learn something new that you hadn’t considered before.

 

What are you looking for?


Be Aware of Confirmation Bias

What do you expect out of life?  Not, what are your goals and dreams but what do you truly expect?

Do you think people are basically good or full of evil?  When you make plans and set goals do you expect to finish what you started and achieve your goals or do you, somewhere deep inside, expect to fail?

Confirmation bias is a real psychological phenomenon.  What it means is that in many ways we are hardwired to notice only the things that confirm what we already believe and too easily dismiss as anomalies the things that contradict our beliefs.

For example, do you believe in climate change or think it’s a hoax?  Depending on what you are looking for, this past week’s weather patterns would confirm your bias in different ways.  Snow in May?  Any thinking person can see that cannot possibly fit with Global Warming; climate change is a hoax!  Snow in May!  Any thinking person scan see that weather patterns are shifting; climate change is real!

This may seem like the Law of Attraction, but it’s not.  The Law of Attraction, as conceived of by Napoleon Hill and popularized in recent years by Rhonda Byrne is bunk.  It says that you attract what you think about.  You cannot attract anything just by thinking about it. Instead you tend to find what you actively look for.  The difference may seem subtle, but it is significant.

I contend that whatever you actively look for, you will find simply because there is action involved.  The world is a big place and if you actively go out and look for things there is a good chance that you will eventually find them.  If you want confirmation that you are smart, sexy, athletic, or fill in the blank, all you have to do is go out and look for people who think the same way you do.  And you will find them.

Likewise, if you think you are a loser and do not deserve love, you can find people who agree with you on that point too. Make no mistake, this is not the Law of Attraction, it’s confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is not necessarily a bad thing.  To become successful at anything you first need to find people who agree with you.  To sell a product you need to build a tribe of individuals willing to part with their money and support your idea.  Where confirmation bias turns evil is when you are actively looking to confirm a negative emotion or thought and are closed minded to contradictory input.

Politicians and thought leaders are masters of manipulation when it comes to confirmation bias.  They will insert themselves in existing tribes, feed them curated information that fits with their already formed biases and declare themselves the only ones with the power to influence things in favor of the tribe.  That is opportunism.

Case in point, a few weeks ago here in Canada the Conservative Party leadership candidate Derek Sloan attempted to tap into anti-immigration sentiments and fears surrounding COVID19 by openly questioning the loyalties and credentials of Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health because she was born in China.  For people who already have those fears, his comments confirmed what they were already thinking and raised his profile among their tribe.  The fact that he alienated an entire ethnic group and lost credibility among those outside the tribe meant nothing and did not hurt his standing because he was already unlikely to garner many votes from ethnic Chinese and pro-immigration tribes anyway.

We have a saying around my office;  “You don’t know, what you don’t know.”  It’s meant as a check against biases of all kinds, especially confirmation bias.  Don’t just look for confirmation of what you believe and when confronted with information that does not fit don’t dismiss it.  This is how you grow and expand your horizons.

So, the next time you go looking for something, beware of your confirmation bias and keep an open mind for new information.

Go Slow to Go Fast


The Enduring Value of a JAM Session

A lot of endurance athletes train slow in order to race fast.  I believe the concept works just as well in business and life as it does on the Iron Man or marathon course.

Here’s the 1000 foot view of the theory –

Training slow builds your endurance capacity, when you intersperse your training with hard but short speed sessions, you tax your muscles and encourage growth.  It’s essentially the same concept that weightlifters use when they push heavy weight and then back off for a few sessions.  As a result, over time your slow sessions get faster and on race day, when the adrenaline kicks in you can hold a slightly faster pace through the entire length of the race.

By contrast, people who have not prepared themselves for the faster, adrenaline induced race pace tend to fade at the end.  The goal on race day is to have enough left in the tank to run the last mile as confidently as you ran the first.

We can transfer this concept to business by incorporating what I call a JAM session into our routine.  A JAM session is a short burst of intense work where all distractions are blocked out and we focus on one thing for as long as it takes.  Turn off the phone, close the email and social media feeds, shut to door and go to work.

By doing these JAM sessions on a regular basis and when the situation warrants, we can increase our productivity and crank out some real quality work in intense bursts.  Like anything else, the more we do it, the better we get at it.  And it trains our brains to focus better when we aren’t jamming.  The end result is greater productivity overall.

Try it and let me know how it feels.

Here’s a video I produced on the same subject just the other day.

Construction Project


Clearing Away the Debris and Starting Something New

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and –streams in the wasteland. [Isaiah 43:19]

Have you ever visited a construction site?  Especially at the very beginning of a new project it seems like there is more destruction happening than construction.

I have been passing by a new condo development on my run each morning for the past few weeks.  What was once an overgrown meadow has been cleared of brush, leveled, and filled with gravel.  An elevator shaft now sands off to one side towering approximately 8 stories high but other than that there does not seem to be much real construction happening on the property – yet.

Growing up I took part in my share of construction projects.  My dad is a do it yourself kind of guy.  When I was four years old, he built the house I grew up in.  When I was ten, he built a barn.   We were always building something.  It often seemed as though our entire life was one big construction project.

At the start of anything new there is always a phase of preparation that involves demolition and clean up.  It might not seem like much is happening in this phase, it might even seem like you are moving away from positive change.  But clearing away the old, used up or broken bits it a critical part of creation, you have to clear the pallet so the speak, for something new to rise in its place.

This past month has felt a lot like the preparation phase for a big construction project.  We are being forced to clear away the unproductive, unimportant and unnecessary bits of life.  It has been painful for many.  Some, who work in secondary and tertiary industries may never fully recover.  But through it all we have been reminded of what really matters.  We have gained a new appreciation for emergency services, medical professionals, consumer staples, transportation infrastructure, farmers, and the entire food supply chain.  Our forced isolation has also reminded us of the importance of family and community.

Isaiah 43, which I quoted to start this post is not a happy chapter of the bible.  It was written to rebellious people, soon to be exiled from their land as punishment for their sins.  But regardless of the dire circumstances these folks would soon find themselves in, the tone is one of hope and renewal.  Even in the wilderness God makes a way.

I am not saying that COVID19 is punishment for sin.  I am not qualified to make such a statement and even if I were, it would not be helpful.  The apostle Paul said that our fight is against bad ideas, (Ephesians 6:12) not each other, pointing fingers and talking about sin at a time like this is an extremely bad idea.

What I am saying is that as we rebuild from this time, we have been given an incredible opportunity to reset our priorities and right some wrongs of the past, prioritize the things that matter, family, community and the core requirements of a healthy and sustainable life.

Much of what we are seeing in the news and online today is generating fear and judgement.  That is not helpful, and it is not the voice of God.  Mr. Rogers once responded to a child in his audience who had questions about scary things with the gentle reminder, “look for the helpers”.  In these challenging times we would all do well to not only look for the helpers but to look for opportunities to be one.  One of my weekly motivational goals is to give something back. Whether that is as simple is donating a few dollars to the children’s hospital, buying a few extra groceries for the food bank or something else on a grander scale, everyone can be a helper.

Our post COVID19 world is under construction.  Let us build something we can be proud of.  Take a minute right now to think about how you can contribute and let me know in the comments.  I would love to hear about it.

 

 

 

Locked Down Blues


Three Keys to Battling Depression and Staying Motivated During The Coronavirus Lock Down

“I think I’m depressed.”

Until last week, I had never uttered those words in reference to how I feel about my work.  Not once, ever!  Sure, I’ve gotten the blues over personal matters and had less than stellar days, but I love my work, I love helping my clients and I love life.

That is until recently.

Since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown started six weeks ago, I’ve managed to remain pretty up-beat.  I closed a large deal just hours before the lockdown went into effect, so my income has remained stable to this point.   I started out looking at quarantine as an opportunity to integrate some exciting new technology into my business, clean up some lingering projects and make myself ready for the big wave of recovery that I was convinced was just around the corner.

Well that’s all done now.  I’m video conferencing like a pro, my inbox has never been so clean, and I have officially run out of new projects.

Last Wednesday, at precisely 10:10 am I had completed every item on my to do list and was done work for the day.  And that’s when it hit me.  Without a clear plan and a to do list long enough to topple the CN Tower, I started pacing the floor like a Caged Tiger and after a few hours of that I just sat down and moped.

It didn’t take me long to realize what had happened.  I wasn’t taking my own advice.  For weeks in this space and over on my video channel I’ve been telling everyone that this is going to be a long recovery and the world will likely never be the same again.  But somehow, I convinced myself that my business would be fine, I’d recover quickly and pick right up were I left off sooner and stronger than everyone else.  But when the phone stopped ringing, and the busy work went away I was left to face a stark reality, I am completely unprepared for a long wait.

As I thought about it, I began to formulate a plan for how to stay motivated and keep doing business over the coming weeks and months.  Here are things I am thinking about that have, so far, pulled me out of my depression and given me a renewed sense of purpose and hope moving forward.

It’s Not About Us

I find it always helps to keep a little perspective in times like these.  Not that there have ever been times quite like these before but that’s kind of the point.  To date, worldwide over 3 million people have contracted COVID19, 208 thousand have died. By way of comparison, official estimates place the number total deaths during the Vietnam war between 200 and 300 thousand.

In Canada, over 48 thousand have the disease and 2,700 have died.  The impact of the economic shut down is staggering, with just over 1 million people having lost their jobs and having to rely on government assistance to pay their rent and buy groceries.

The human suffering that this pandemic continues to bring is beyond anything I have ever experienced.  As far as the history of pandemics goes it’s still relatively small but this is currently the largest death toll of any infectious disease since a strain of flu swept through Hong Kong and killed a million people between 1968 and 1970.  With no vaccine in sight, COVID19 could easily surpass a million deaths by the time it’s over.

The slowing of our businesses and social isolation pale in comparison to these statistics.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the millions who are sick and the hundreds of thousands who continue to die.

Control What You Can Control

You can’t control the outcome, but you can control the input.

I made a list of 10 tasks to complete everyday that will have a significant impact in moving me closer to my goals.  Each of these 10 tasks are 100% within my control.  Achieving my goals depends on other people reacting favorably, I can’t control that, but I can control the things I do and when I do them.  If I complete these 10 tasks everyday, I will put myself in a good position to capitalize on the reactions of others.

Not all these tasks are related to business success, some are purely personal and mental health related and that’s okay.  Having some personal goal specific tasks are key to living a balanced life.  Some of my daily tasks include, 15 minutes of meditation, making cold calls, responding to correspondence and checking in with friends.  Having a well-rounded list helps to keep both business and personal life in perspective.

Celebrate and Reward Success

What happens if I don’t complete all ten tasks in a day?  In short, I haven’t done my job and in the long run I will fail to achieve my goals.  Achieving a goal might not be enough to maintain motivation though.  It’s important to have something to look forward to.

If I complete all ten tasks every day for five days, I can reward myself by taking a day off.  If I achieve certain other benchmarks, I do other things, play a round of golf, buy a new toy, take a vacation etc.  These are the prizes that keeping things in perspective and consistently completing specific tasks will lead to.  It’s important to take the time to enjoy the fruits of your labors otherwise what was it all for?

 

I’m happy to report that I don’t feel depressed anymore.  By paying attention these simple keys, I hope to stay positive for a long time.  How are you staying motivated during these difficult times?  I’d love to hear from you, write me a note in the comments below.

 

The Sun Will Come Out Eventually


Faith, Optimism and The Continuum of Hope

I’ve spent a lot of time these past few days mulling over the differences between Faith and Optimism.  It seems to me that at this cultural moment people are clinging to worldviews that are crumbling from our grasp like handfuls of sand.  What once seemed solid in our hands is slipping through our fingers while the world quakes, we tremble and the concept of normal is best left to philosophers.

The concepts of faith and optimism tend to be used interchangeably but they have vastly different meanings.  It was while watching some video content from another coach this week that I was struck with this common misinterpretation of language.  While he paid lip service to the etymological differences and traditional definitions of the two words the bulk of his video teaching focused on faith almost exclusively and he missed a great opportunity to delve deeper into our collective psyche at this moment in time.

Looking at faith and optimism in context with today it helps to look back at previous world shaping events.  War analogies have been popular among politicians and writers of late, President Trump continues to say that we are in a war with an invisible enemy.  But the war imagery doesn’t sit well with me, it’s just too violent.  Doctors and research scientists are not soldiers, in a bloody war, they are dedicated healthcare providers working to prolong human life.

As a Canadian and an endurance athlete I prefer to think of it in terms of winter and marathons, two things that suck and can seemingly go on forever.  We all know that winter and marathons eventually end, we just don’t know how much pain we are going to have to endure before we get to the finish line.  Nor do we know how long that pain is going to linger afterwards.  The current COVID19 pandemic and the sociopolitical fallout that is sure to follow are a lot like running a marathon in a Canadian winter, just one storm after another with no end in sight and the distinct possibility of a stress fractured ankle ruining our summer.

So, what about Faith and Optimism?

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived the holocaust then spent the rest of his career counselling and studying victims of long-term trauma.  What he found was that those who started out the most optimistic rarely survived.  The optimist might say “things will be better by summer”, but what happens when summer comes, and nothing has changed?    As the continual disappointment of missed deadlines and failures mount, the optimist suffers a broken heart and dies a little each day.  He tends to put too much stock in his own ability to influence the outcome and bend reality to his picture of how things should be.

The person of faith on the other hand recognizes that he is but one piece in a massive machine full of autonomous and often conflicting moving parts.  As such, he rarely makes predictions that depend solely on his or anyone else’s ability to complete a specific task.  The person of faith instead places his trust in the concept of better and celebrates incremental improvement along a never-ending continuum of progress.  While the optimist can only look forward to an arbitrary point in the future the person of faith can look both backward and forward noting how far he has already come and have hope for even better days ahead.

Which brings me to hope.

If you are looking for a word to pair with faith the concept of hope is much more congruent than optimism.   Hope, according to the author of Hebrews is the driving force behind faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. [Hebrews 11:1]

Without hope, faith is formless and provides no measure for progress.  Hope provides the continuum of growth with a touch point we can stop at and say, “look what we have accomplished” without placing too much emphasis on our own abilities or discounting the influence of outside forces.  Hope also does not rely on an arbitrary end point but rather leaves open the possibility of continued progress than we could ever have conceived from the start.

Little Orphan Annie said, “The sun will come out tomorrow” and whether it did, or it didn’t she had nothing further to add or look forward to.  The person of faith and hope says, “The sun will come out eventually” and when it does it’s just another event in the continual march of progress.

Surviving COVID19, like every other history shaping and personal growth defining event, is going to take faith and hope, it is not going to require optimism.  Optimism can set you up for failure, faith and hope are built to survive setbacks and endure long roads of recovery.

The road is long, there will be setbacks.  Keep the faith.  The sun will come out, eventually.