The Rewards of Reading


Lose yourself in a good book and boost your overall well-being

I’m an author. I’ve written 2 full length books with a 3rd in the works and several more in the concept stage. There is also a work book related to my day job and all these blog posts. I write about 500 words a day and I endeavor to read about 1 book a week.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that I consider reading to be an essential part of everyday life.  It’s basic to communication, via email or text message, paying bills and even navigating traffic. But did you know that reading for personal enjoyment and learning is not only a good form of low-cost entertainment, but it also brings with it a whole host of other benefits? Here are some ways reading can have a positive impact on your life.

It sharpens the mind

Regardless of your age, the more you expose your brain to information the better it can learn and remember. Research by Live Science.com, has shown that neurons in the brain have the ability to change structurally in response to new experiences. Reading ranks as the number one activity we can do to promote ongoing improvement in our knowledge, vocabulary and intelligence. Keeping our brains active engages our mental pathways, potentially reducing the risk of cognitive decline in old age and could even prevent dementia. In fact, a recent study from Prevention.com found individuals who frequently participated in intellectual pastimes over the course of their lifetimes had an approximately 32 percent slower late-life cognitive decline than those who didn’t.

It reduces stress and improves well-being

In the constantly connected and always on world of today, finding an effective way to slow down is highly important. Enter reading. A summary report from Canada’s National Reading Campaign notes that among traditional relaxation strategies, reading ranks as number one. Curling up with a good book has been proven to reduce stress levels by as much as 68 per cent. And it doesn’t take a lot of time either. According to the report, it only takes six minutes of reading to effectively slow your heart rate and ease tension in your muscles.

Reading has been linked to other positive physical and social effects as well. Book readers are 28 per cent more likely than non-readers to report very good or excellent health, and 15 per cent more likely to report a very strong satisfaction with life.

Social benefits exist for fiction lovers as well. There is evidence that reading fiction helps to promote empathy, boost self-esteem and improve social skills. When you identify with the emotions of a novel’s characters you are activating the same areas of the brain that light up when you experience real-life issues.

It helps children succeed in life

Parents who read to their children positively influence how much their kids like to read. Reading for fun enhances comprehension, vocabulary and attention span, and increases children’s confidence and their motivation to read throughout their lives.

Reading levels among youth are also a key indicator of future success in both education and life. A report by Statistics Canada found that those in the top reading levels in junior high school are up to 20 times more likely to attend university than those in lower reading levels. A similar study indicated that children with higher reading skills went on to have higher incomes and more professional roles in adulthood.

So, why not pop in to your local library or bookstore and see what catches your interest. You might be pleasantly surprised to discover a page-turner that you just can’t put down – plus a rewarding endeavor that is oh so good for you!

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Why I Write This Stuff


The following is a excerpt from the introduction to my first book – Meekonomics, How To Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy. 

I’m not sure why, I think it might have something to do with the current political climate around the world, but there has been a recent up tick in interest in my writing.  So I’m going to start republishing portions of my work on a semi-regular basis here.  Questions and Comments are always welcome, and feel free to click the link above to purchase a copy of the book…

I realize that it is an act of sheer hubris to attempt to write a book called Meekonomics. The meek don’t write books do they? Especially Mennonite kids from Southern Ontario with no formal education in either economics or theology.

I grew up in a small town surrounded by family farms and working class individuals. When I graduated from High School I wanted to be a record producer so I spent 19 years in the music business. In my mid 30s I read two books that unlocked my love of economics and theology; The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and Simply Christian by NT Wright.  

There followed nearly 8 years of prayer, research and reflection on two things that have driven me for almost as long as I can remember; God and Money.

Although I have always held a strong faith my relationship with money has been an extreme roller-coaster from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I’m an entrepreneur. I started my first business at the ripe old age of the age of 10, I had an opportunity to become a millionaire before my 26th birthday only to fall victim to an unscrupulous fraudster and ended up bankrupt at 33.

My drive to understand money and reconcile economics with my faith started to take root in the fall of 2005 not long after I first filed my bankruptcy proposal. What I soon realized is that reconciliation of the God and Money issue is not just a personal question, although personal finance is a big part of it, it’s really required on both a micro and macro-economic scale if our society is to survive.

Call it what you will; estate or retirement planning, investments, pension plans etc. It all comes down to the storing up of treasures on earth just as Jesus warned us not to do.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. [Matthew 6:19-24]

What you will find in the pages that follow is a journal of sorts. After my bankruptcy I set out to learn all I could about how this whole God and Money thing works. Anyone who has ever gone through something like that knows how devastating it can be. I was wounded, I needed healing and so I used the study of God and Money as the start of my healing process.

As I studied I took notes, those notes became a blog and that blog became this book. Most authors will tell you that they write for a specific audience, my friend Tim Day, author of “God Enters Stage Left” told me he first started writing for his kids as a way to help explain his faith in case he passed away before he had a chance to teach them in person. If I’m being honest I write just for myself, it’s a way to frame my thinking so that I can move forward in life secure and grounded in what I know to be true.

I first published the blog as a way to share what I was learning with my closest friends and family around the world, I never dreamed anyone else would be interested in what I had to say but I soon had over 100 readers on-line encouraging me to go deeper and publish more. The idea for the book came out of that interaction with the on-line community.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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The Image of God – Pacifist Lamentations


I haven’t written about this for a while but I was recently challenged by a friend to clarify and explain my position. This is going to take a while and require more than one post so I’ve decided to start series that I’m calling Pacifist Lamentations.  Maybe there are other bloggers out there who want to join the conversation.  Comment below or write your own post with the hashtag #pacifistlaments and maybe we can start a healthy conversation about this important issue.

soldierfrombehindThe first thing everyone needs to know about living life as a pacifist is that it is a very difficult path to walk. I came to this position through years of struggle and holding onto it is a constant exercise is submission to what I believe to be the overarching will of God. It’s that point, in part that gives a lot of people fits. Many of the people I have discussed this idea with vehemently disagree with me that pacifism, even in part, could be God’s will. But before I attempt to explain my point here I need to back up a bit.

I was raised in a Mennonite church in Southern Ontario. Mennonites are perhaps the most visible minority group that publicly identifies as pacifist. As a kid I took that position at face value. It wasn’t until the first Gulf War, when I was just 18 years old that I really started to examine what it meant. My best friend at the time decided to join the army reserves as a summer job and as I started my own job search for the summer I said to my mother that as a Mennonite I didn’t have that option. She challenged me on that comment. She said that sometimes she felt that a lot of Mennonite teenagers hide behind the pacifist banner without ever really examining it, they don’t understand why they are pacifists they just used it as a convenient excuse not to make hard choices about what they stand for.

That stung a bit. It stung because it was coming from one of the most important people in my life. And it stung because it was true.

A few days later I told my mother that the reason pacifism made sense to me was that I believe all human life is sacred. That satisfied my mother and I filed it away as a catch all answer for anyone else who would question me on it.

And that worked for about 20 years.

Back in 2007 I moved and joined a new church. For the first time since I was seven years old I started to attend a church that isn’t connected to the Mennonite denomination. The church I now attend is a part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. If the Mennonites are in the minority within the Christian church, the B.I.C. are an even great (smaller?) minority. And I soon discovered that this particular church at least is even more committed to pacifism than my Mennonite brothers and sisters growing up. Once again I was forced to re-examine my position on the matter.

This time I embarked on a journey through scripture that is still unfolding eight years later. The deeper I go the more convinced I become that God’s will is for his people to remain on the side of pacifism and non-violence.

It all starts in Genesis 1.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27]

Just twenty-seven verses into the word of God it’s that one word “mankind” that brings me up short. It’s inclusive. There is no one, not one person on the face of the earth, in all of history or the future to come who is not, and will not be made in the image of God.

The implications of that realization are infinite.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

For one thing it means that you are made in the image of love. “God is Love” [1 John 4:16]. It means you possess within you the potential for infinite love. And it means you are infinitely valuable.

So as a pacifist I lament the loss of this realization in my fellow Christians. We have become isolated from one another and we have forgotten that we are all intended to be family.  The image of God is broken.  War, indeed all violence seeks to dehumanize the “enemy”. But I can’t support that position with scripture.

kidonabusWhen I see pictures and videos of men, women and children committing violence to one another my heart breaks, and I am convinced that it breaks the heart of God. When I see images of refugees wandering in the wilderness, hungry and cold, I see God. When I hear my fellow men and women complain that there are too many of “those” people in our neighborhoods and how we need to protect ourselves from anyone who is different, I mourn the loss of community and connectedness.

We are all image bearers of God. We may be broken and distorted images of Him. Many of us may have forgotten our divine connection to another. But we are all made in the image of love and I for one cannot justify violence toward anyone in whom I see the face of God.  And in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s everyone.

“To love another person is the see the face of God.” Victor Hugo

For more #pacifistlaments or information on The Meekonomics Project write to:  themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

 

4 Things to Know For Tonight’s Webinar


webinarGood day!

Tonight is the night. My first ever live on-line seminar!

I’m about to spend the next few hours putting the finishing touches on the Power-Point that will go out over the internet for all the world to see. It’s exciting and a bit nerve wracking at the same time. I know this material, and I’ve presented it in small intimate gatherings before. That’s not the issue. I’m just nervous that a) nobody will show up, b) so many people will show up that I will be overwhelmed, c) the technology will somehow fail me, or d) I will be asked a question I can’t answer and the audience will become hostile. Even if some of these fears are unfounded, or worse, all of them come true, I still need to be as prepared as possible so that nothing goes horribly wrong.

If you are planning on joining me, here are a few things you need to know going in.

1 – This is all new to me.

As I said off the top, I’ve done these seminars before but never on-line. The technology looks relatively simple but if something goes wrong technically please don’t hurt me.

2 – I am genuinely passionate about what I do.

I hope it’s already obvious but sometimes I get carried away and even a bit emotionally when I’m presenting. Passion can be a good thing when properly channelled, I hope I can do that and remain and effective presenter.

3 – I am licensed to sell investment and financial risk management products in Ontario, Canada only.

The principles I teach are universal but some of the specific products I mention may or may not be available in your jurisdiction. I apologize in advance if that’s the case.  Feel free to contact a locally licensed representative to help you out. If you don’t know anyone I have lots of contacts all over the world, I’d be happy to help you find someone.

4 – At the end I am going to try and sell you something.

I recognize that there will be some people who will want to go deeper and I am available for one-on-one coaching, for a fee. If there are any of the concepts or programs that I mention that you are interested in, and I am able to help you (see 3 above) I will be more than happy to.

So there you have it. If you would like to join me on-line the seminar starts at 8:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time. Here’s is your log in information….

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/959869893

Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

United States: +1 (213) 289-0021

Australia: +61 2 8355 1039

Austria: +43 7 2088 2172

Belgium: +32 (0) 42 68 0180

Canada: +1 (647) 497-9379

Denmark: +45 89 88 05 39

Finland: +358 (0) 931 58 4588

France: +33 (0) 170 950 589

Germany: +49 (0) 692 5736 7301

Ireland: +353 (0) 15 360 757

Italy: +39 0 294 75 15 37

Netherlands: +31 (0) 108 080 116

New Zealand: +64 9 801 0294

Norway: +47 21 51 81 86

Spain: +34 911 23 4248

Sweden: +46 (0) 852 500 516

Switzerland: +41 (0) 435 0824 41

United Kingdom: +44 (0) 330 221 0099

 

Access Code: 959-869-893

Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

 

Meeting Password: October2015

Meeting ID: 959-869-893

 

Not at your computer? Click the link to join this meeting from your iPhone®, iPad®, Android® or Windows Phone® device via the GoToMeeting app.

See you tonight!

For more information on The Meekonomics Project or if you have any trouble logging into the meeting, write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

Stop Sharing My Videos! – No really stop it…


My second video in the series running up to the release of the rebooted 6 Steps to Financial Freedom Coaching Program is out.

 

I’m following Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula whereby marketers are told to release a series of “teasers” ahead of the official launch of a new product. So far I’ve released two videos in as many weeks. Each time I’ve sent announcements to an email list of about 140 subscribers, posted on twitter to my 3000 plus followers, linked to them on facebook, linkedin and pinterest for about 500 more people and of course blogged about them here.

As a result, according to YouTube I have received a grand total of 0 – count them ZERO views!

(If you go now and look at them the count is actually about 20 views between the two of them but all of those are just me going there to grab the link so that I can tweet it, post it or embed it in emails.)

What gives?

I can understand if you don’t like my videos, or they don’t resonate with where you’re at right now but to have no views at all, after posting to almost 4000 followers across all of my social media accounts? That makes no sense to me.

I’m following all the rules about Social Media Marketing.

  • I’m posting regularly
  • I’m using hashtags
  • And I’m following up on all my retweets and favorites

Actually that last one is the most mind-boggling of all. So far I’ve received about 20 favorites and retweets from people who haven’t even watched the videos themselves! What’s up with that? I even had one guy forward it to a friend with a comment “you should watch this”, how could he know?

There is something very wrong with the way we engage with new products on-line.

Social Media is a relatively new phenomenon when it comes to product marketing. We’ve been taught that the key to a good marketing campaign is the social share, the more people share what you are posting the better. I’m getting shares but the sad fact is sharing is not engagement. In order to sell a product you need people to engage with it, not just say, “hey this looks cool, check it out.”

What’s worse in my case at least, people are saying “check this out” without having checked it out for themselves! How can you endorse something if you haven’t used it? Not only is it killing your credibility it’s damaging my brand in the process!

So, I never thought I’d have to say this but: please stop sharing my videos, unless you’ve actually watched them.

The third and final video in the series will be posted next week. You can watch both of the current ones here – https://youtu.be/olaDR2KhPOE and here – https://youtu.be/FJ8rWYxLTGw

Please watch, then comment, then share if you are so inclined.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and our newly re-launched 6 Steps to Financial Freedom Coaching Program write to themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

New Video – Our Mission


I’m really starting to like this video medium for explaining the various concepts I use in my Financial Coaching practice! I just finished producing my third teaching video and posted it to YouTube, check it out here;

https://youtu.be/cW7TWwwGBsE

I’m still learning the software but I’m getting better every time. I see a whole series based on the concepts I developed in my book and expound upon in my practice daily. You can follow all of my videos as I post them here on the Video Teaching page or by subscribing to my YouTube channel

As always your feedback is always welcome. Thanks – Lauren

LeaderSheep – #HowILead From a Posture of Submission


The following post has been written and inspired in response to the call from LinkedIn Pulse for submission on #HowILead and contains excerpts from my upcoming book project “LeaderSheep; Leading from a posture of submission in Business, Life and The Kingdom of Heaven.”

sheep

“You’re a great worker and a fantastic salesperson but you’re not a very good leader.”

That was how my boss started my performance review back in the fall of 2003.

I was 31 years old. I had started at the company 4 years earlier as a local territory salesperson and risen to the rank of national sales manager. My first big project in my new role had been to oversee advertising sales for a nationally published industry directory. There were two other people on the project with me. After a cursory training in our target demographic and a quick talk about phone etiquette I divided the lead list among the three of us and turned my team loose on the phones.

The campaign lasted two weeks. In that time I sold four times as much as my two other team members combined. When either of them had questions or ran into difficulty I repeated the “training” from the first day and walked back to my desk. Halfway through the campaign one of them simply stopped showing up for work and the other quit shortly after we wrapped it up and paid out the commissions.

In hindsight I realize now that my boss was being kind. While the campaign itself was a success, we sold every square inch of advertising space available and at one point had to convince the publisher to add a few more pages just to satisfy the demand we had created, as a leader I had utterly failed.

Leadership means something different for everyone depending on where you draw your worldview from. While my boss was looking for a strong leader to step up and direct the project, inspiring, teaching and driving to the goal. I was far more interested in my own success and felt that “leading by example” would naturally inspire those around me to follow my work ethic and find their own motivation.

Was I wrong to think that way? Not exactly, but I was wrong to think that everyone else would agree with me and my “one-size-fits-all, just do as I do” approach backfired. My personal success on the project, while the rest of my team struggled, actually served to alienate the team rather than inspire them.   My lead by example style ended up coming across as aloof and arrogant.

When my boss told me that I was a terrible leader I was crushed. I had never considered that my example was anything but inspiring. My reaction to the worker who stopped showing up was to write him off as lazy and the one who quit just didn’t share our future vision for the company. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me, could it?

When I realized that in reality it had everything to do with me I repented of my arrogance and set out to learn as much as I could about leadership and business. What I found, quite frankly, disturbed me.

Most of the conventional wisdom on leadership espoused a macho version of personal branding and self-help. Too often leadership it seems is seen in terms of a sports or military metaphor.   Indeed some of the best selling business and leadership books of all time have been written by former athletes, coaches and military commanders.

The men who write these books, and they are almost always men, tend to have very little practical business experience. While running a sports team may technically be a business, and there may be some transferable skills learned in a military uniform I can’t help but wonder how any of these celebrities and commanders would fare in the “real world” of business. Or if they would have ever gotten a book deal in the first place if they hadn’t hit .300 for the New York Yankees umpteen years ago?

It’s as if the business press has nothing better to say than macho men know how to get things done and the rest of us just better learn to do it their way or be left behind. “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” as Thomas Paine once said.

Paine is arguably the most influential leader in American history. It was his 1776 pamphlet entitled; “Common Sense” that crystallized the patriot movement and helped to start the revolutionary war. Thomas Paine was a writer, philosopher and a political activist and it is his leadership maxim that has shaped our thinking on the subject for nearly 300 years.

Paine places people into three distinct camps, according to him people are either leaders, followers or a nuisance that must be pushed aside in the name of progress. It sets up a caste system and tends to promote the type of macho arrogance that comes out in almost all of the leadership writings I have seen and of which I was personally accused over a decade ago.

However, Thomas Paine neglected to consider that there are people who can both follow and lead at the same time and sometimes getting in the way of a wrong-headed idea is the only way one can show leadership and affect real change.

As I researched the ideas surrounding contemporary leadership I also went back to my Evangelical Christian roots. As my previous writing on the topics of economics and ethics has shown before I draw any conclusions I always test my thoughts against what the Bible, and most specifically what Jesus has to say.

Jesus, never said anything remotely like; lead, follow or get out of the way. The over arching message of Jesus on the topic of leadership was to serve.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. [John 13:13-15]

In recent years the term servant leadership has become a buzz word in and of itself. But the over arching message I find there is still the same. A good leader is still in control, he or she may be trying to serve those whom they are leading but they are still overwhelmingly considered to be the ones in charge. In a weird way just because we slap the label “Servant Leadership” on something, we haven’t really changed the message. The servant leader is still afforded a certain amount of macho swagger.

Vary rarely do we see an example of true servant leadership in business today. Especially outside of the church or faith based ministry. Why that is should be fairly obvious. True servant leadership is a contradiction in terms. A servant leader must lead from a posture of submission; submission to another person, to a greater good or to the direction of a collective ideal. For many the whole notion of submission is contradictory to the idea of leadership.

A herd of sheep is a great metaphor for the type of servant leadership I am trying to describe here and why I have coined the term LeaderSheep.

Sheep tend to wander. If left to on their own without a shepherd sheep will put their heads down and simply graze through a field with absolutely no sense of direction. Many people see this as a weakness that must be tamed and brought under the control and direction of a strong outside force like a human shepherd or a dog trained by to keep them inside a restricted area. Shepherds have convinced themselves that they do this for the sheep’s own safety and wellbeing but really they are doing it for no other reason than to protect their asset.   If the sheep were allowed to wander they would get lost and fall into the hands of predators, or so we have been trained to think.

sheepherdBut take a closer look at the wandering sheep and you will begin to notice something. They aren’t wandering aimlessly at all. A herd of sheep functions as a unit, they maintain a collective desire to stay together for protection and to find the best grass to graze on. From time to time one might find a particularly juice patch of grass and lead the herd in that direction. Once the objective is accomplished that particular sheep will disappear back into the ranks allowing another sheep to step into leadership when the opportunity presents itself. This cycle of leadership and submission repeats itself continually as the herd moves about the pasture.

Knowing when to step up and use your gifts to accomplish a goal and then just as importantly knowing when to step down are two of the hallmarks of a good LeaderSheep. If Thomas Paine had understood the difference he might have said something more along the lines of “Lead, follow AND get out of the way.”

Here are what I believe are the marks of a LeaderSheep. First off LeaderSheep have a strong sense of purpose, they work well as part of a team and they are not put off by the size of the task or any apparent inexperience or under-qualification. They understand what must be done and they do it.

Second, LeaderSheep are driven by and conscious of results, they are above reproach and they are respected by their peers. There is no point in leading if you don’t know where you are going or what progress you have made toward your goal. Integrity is key and maintaining the respect of those around you is paramount to holding on to a position of leadership.

Lastly, LeaderSheep understand the limitations of their role. They are not afraid to stop doing things that just aren’t working or even let go of the leadership role when it’s just not their turn. Submission to the will of something greater, be it God or the group is the final act of a great LeaderSheep.

As I said at the outset, I’ve lived a lot of life and learned a lot since my first failure in leadership. In a way this is written as a warning to my 31 year old self. Since I can’t go back and change the past, I can at least make my thoughts, learning and perspective on leadership known. I hope I can teach you as much as I have learned in the process so that no one else has to work for an inept leader like I once was or endure an awkward performance review like mine all those years ago.

For more information on #HowILead and the upcoming book “LeaderSheep; Leading From a Posture of Submisson in Life, Business and The Kingdom of Heaven” or any of my other writing on the subject of Leadership and Behavioural Economics write to themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or visit www.themeekonomicsproject.com

 

My First VLog


Today I am launching a new feature on The Meekonomics Project! Welcome to my new Video Blog.

I have to admit that I personally have never been much into the whole on-line video thing. I subscribe to TedTalks but I rarely watch them and I usually just click past any videos that are posted by any of the other people I follow on line. The reason is simple, I absorb information more quickly and completely if I read it.

I find videos distracting I spend more time wondering where a person found their cool shirt than thinking about what they are actually saying. As a result the amount of information I actually absorb in a 2 minute video is far less than I could obtain by reading the transcript of their speech.   Not to mention that fact that what it takes the average person 2 minutes to say, takes less than half that to read.

That being said I have found that a lot of people like Video Blogs and Infographics and by not using them I’m limiting my audience.

According to stats posted on YouTube’s own site they have over 1 billion users, ever day people watch hundreds of millions of hours on YouTube and generate billions of views.  Compare that to WordPress, where this site is hosted, which hosts just 72.4 million sites and sees just 500,000 new posts a day it’s obvious that on-line video has far outpaced text only blogging in just a few years. Only 800,000 of those billions of videos on YouTube, are linked in some way back to WordPress.

Until now one of the things holding me back was technology. The only video camera I have is the one embedded in my iPhone. Granted that’s a pretty good video camera, but the memory is limited and the editing capability almost non-existent. I did briefly consider purchasing a GoPro but I was worried about how I might come off as a “talking head”, you see I tend to do most of my writing early in the morning, pre-shower and nobody needs to see that.

And then I discovered Animaker, a free video animation tool.

Bingo!

I can write a script, create an avatar to “speak” for me, drop in a few props, sound effects and some background music and presto, I am now the proud manager of a Video Blog. Simple, direct and I now have access to the billions of people who prefer to get their information from a video than read a text only blog.

I don’t know how many of these Vlogs I’m going to make. They are time consuming, this two minute video took me about 8 hours to create but I’m just learning the software and I should be able to cut that down considerably with practice. I had a lot of fun doing it though and I have ideas for several more.

So here’s my first ever Vlog Post – I call it “The Elevator Pitch” – It’s about how I got where I am today and why I started writing in the first place, I hope you like it!

The Index Card Theory


Back in 2013 University of Chicago professor, Harold Pollock told freelance journalist Helaine Olen that all you really need to know about personal finance in the United States could be written on one index card. She said really? Prove it. So he did, took a picture of it and sent it to her. The picture went viral.

indexcard

About a year later while out for a walk I thought of something similar and wrote it down on a sheet of standard eight and half by eleven note paper. My resulting picture did not go viral, life is so unfair…

Six Steps

Pollock is a professor at a world renowned University and a famous economist. I am a nobody financial security advisor in a smallish city. While the two pictures differ in the order of operations and the specific names of the vehicles used, I’m a Canadian so I can’t use or talk about things like 401ks or Roth accounts, the point of both of pictures is that personal finance doesn’t need to be complicated.

I call mine The 6 Steps to Financial Freedom and I keep it pretty general in terms of specific investment vehicles. Get out of debt, regulate risk, rule retirement, set-up sinking funds, take control of taxation and leave a legacy. Pollock is a lot more specific in terms of where to invest and what investment vehicles to use but his advice does not always translate across borders. So here is my Canadian Translation of Pollock’s Index card.
1 – Max your 401k or equivalent employee contribution.

    • The 401k is the US version of an employee sponsored Defined Contribution Pension plan. If you’re employer offers one, take advantage of it, it’s free money; you’d be a fool not to.

2 – Buy inexpensive, well diversified mutual funds.

    • This one does cross borders. But it’s important to note that not all mutual funds are equal. Just because you are in a diversified fund does not mean you will make great returns or that you will be taking on the right kind of risk. As a general rule you should be more aggressive (more stock based) at a younger age and more conservative (more bonds based) as you get older. But with interest rates (bonds) at all time lows that conventional wisdom is changing. A good financial advisor can help you determine what mix of stocks and bonds is right for you.

3 – Never buy an individual securities.

    • This one translates too. Pollock’s reasoning is spot on, the person selling the stock always knows more about the company than you do and they have a lot of incentive for you to purchase their stock than someone else’s. Remember, promoters of individual securities are sales people, they have a built in incentive for you to buy what they are selling.

4 – Save 20% of your money.

    • This is just too hard and impractical in a Canadian context. We get a tax break on the first 18% of money saved under the RRSP program but nothing beyond that. We also get taxed on any money taken out of these investments. There is no real incentive to save more than 18% across all of your investment programs. Especially if you’re just going to have to pay taxes on it later.

5 – Pay your credit card balance in full every month.

    • Another one that is pretty much universal. I question why Pollock has put it so low on the list, I think it speaks more to his personal situation that it does as a priority for most people. I doubt Mr. Pollock has much debt at this point in his career. For people who carry debt, or who know what it’s like to live under the crushing weight of high interest payments this should be the number one priority. Carrying any kind of debt, especially debt that grows faster than your investments is the single biggest drag on wealth building in the developed world. It’s like an anchor that keeps pulling you down, cut it away as fast as you can.

6 – Maximize tax advantaged savings vehicles like Roth, SEP and 529 accounts.

    • These are your American Versions of TFSA, RRSP and RESPs. The point is the same, pay less tax now, grow your money and pay less tax later.

7 – Pay attention to fees. Avoid actively managed funds.

    • Actively managed funds generally have higher returns. It’s a trade off that you have to be prepared for. The real issue isn’t the fees; it’s in understanding what you’re paying for and making sure you get value for your money. If the fee is 1% higher but the returns are 2% better than the market, you come out ahead. Rather than trying to avoid fees look for investments with a long track record, at least 10 years, of consistently higher returns than the average and stay invested for the long haul. Nothing erodes your returns faster than jumping in and out of the markets at the wrong time.

8 – Make financial advisor commit to a fiduciary standard.

    • This is the law in Canada. Everyone who sells mutual funds or any kind of investment product must be licensed to do so in their respective province. As a part of licensing we must all commit to a fiduciary code of conduct and can lose are license if we do not follow very specific and at times onerous compliance regulations. That being said many advisors will sign an additional code of conduct directly with you if you ask, in fact we welcome it. It shows you care and that you view us as professionals who are there to help you meet your goals and dreams.

9 – Promote social insurance programs to help people when things go wrong.

  • To be honest I’m not sure what Pollock means by this. The social safety net in Canada is a well established program and there is no sign that it is going away any time soon. Employment insurance, welfare and health care programs are part of the “welfare state” and are designed to protect citizens from the worst of a personal financial crisis but I am a huge proponent of philanthropy, especially when it comes to helping the poor. If you have extra, even if it’s only a little extra there is nothing more helpful and noble that you can with your excess than give it to those in need.

So there you have it, everything you need to know about personal finance really does fit on one Index Card and it really comes down to just three main points; get out of debt, save your money and take advantage of tax incentives.

Oh, and don’t be a selfish jerk about it.

Attention Fellow Bloggers – You’re Doing it Wrong!


I read a lot of blogs. I follow even more people on Social Media. I am very active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I spend an average of 2 hours a day on-line, not including e-mail and the cloud based applications I am required to use for my day job.

In short, I spend a lot of time looking at what people are doing and how they are using the internet. Quite honestly I think what a lot of my fellow authors and “social sellers” are doing is about to blow up in their face because they’re doing it wrong and it’s starting to piss me off.

look at me

The internet and social media has done a lot to democratize business. Today anyone with an idea and some time can open an on-line store and be in business for free in a matter of hours. My own on-line presence didn’t cost me a dime. After a few months I did decide I needed my own domain name so I pay a few bucks a year for that privilege but really in the grand scheme of things I haven’t paid anything to be on-line. I have 4 active social media feeds, a word press site and an e-commerce page powered by PayPal to sell my books.

All FREE.

And you can do it too.

But here’s the catch. The internet is set up to provide free access to information for anyone willing to take the time to look and learn. The minute you start trying to profit from you presence online you need to be aware of one key thing. Unless you are willing to invest in a physical product, that will carry some production and shipping costs, there is likely someone, somewhere online who is willing to give away what you are trying to sell. So stop hiding your “unique” information based product behind a pay wall. We see what you’re doing and we don’t appreciate it, we’ll just keep looking for a free version somewhere else, thank you very much.

E-books, On-line video courses (especially the ones about how to make more money on-line), live chats with the author etc. Snake oil, every last one of them!

The worst are the bloggers who write about how to become a better blogger. They are constantly trying to sell courses that amount to nothing more than teasers on how to buy more courses. You know what I’m talking about.

Watch this video (only $5.00, pay here), the video says, come to an evening seminar (only $500, pay here), the seminar says come to our weekend course (only $1500, plus airfare, meals and accommodation, pay here). And what do you learn after dropping all those thousands of dollars? The same thing you could have learned at your local bookstore for about $25.00. Or free at the library.

So here’s my advice for how to stop these on-line charlatans:

Number 1 – If after you add someone to your twitter feed the first thing they do is send you a note about how to buy something, especially more followers, un-follow them immediately. They probably aren’t even a real person.

Number 2 – If you go to their blog and they have a pop up about a product behind a pay wall, stop, don’t read any further. Free e-books are okay but pop up adds in general are annoying. We’ll get to your product page eventually if you show us the value of your offering elsewhere. But don’t rush us, that’s just rude.

Number 3 – If they start sending you unsolicited emails about products behind pay walls, stop, delete them immediately and subscribe. This is the equivalent of telemarketers calling you at dinner or sales people following you around the store. Just stop it!

Number 4 – If every post on their blog is really an advertisement for a product behind a pay wall, a video course or seminar, stop, delete them immediately. This is not a blog; this is a store and probably a scammy one at that.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some legitimate marketers and products on line. Almost every serious retailer and author has a web page where they sell their products and services. That’s not the problem. The problem is when you assault your audience with advertising from the start and never let up. It’s like a used car salesman who follows you around the lot chatting in your ear the whole time. This tactic went out with plaid sport coats. It’s not the 1970s anymore we’ll buy when we’re good and ready.

Most people on-line are just looking for information and a little advice, if they want to pay for something they are no different than any other customer. They want value and most of them can spot a scam a mile away.

So give the people what they want. Give them information and show them were they might be able to make a purchase if they want to and then shut the hell up. Otherwise people will leave your store in disgust never to return.