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stoic

Lifestyle, Small Business

The Gift of Karma and the Art of Pay It Forward

endlessknot03dI settled back with a good book on a quiet New Year’s Eve back in the early days of my accounting practice. Mrs. Accountant goes to bed early and was already tucked in. We rarely party or go out on New Year’s Eve. To us it is just another day.

My tax office back then was the remodeled basement so I was always close to work. Since the accounting part of my business was many years into the future, there wasn’t much to do around the holidays except enjoy some great reading. A few preparations for the upcoming tax season were as far as they could go.

Cable did not enter our house back then and network television did not interest me. The World Wide Web was just coming into existence and wasn’t a household phrase yet. Internet service was America Online accessed by dial-up. There were fewer distractions to drag a guy away from a good book in those days.

I was reading one of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books that New Year’s Eve as memory serves. (I consider Will Durant one of the best writers to have ever live. His 11 volume Story of Civilization series is some of the best writing on human history ever.) My cup of tea was on the table next to my recliner where I was reading.

I lived in town for a few years back then to establish my practice. The living room had a bay window looking out toward the street. It was my custom to keep the curtains open so I could see if anything was happening outside.

A blood-curdling scream pulled my eyes from my book. Out the bay window I saw a woman falling from the passenger side of a car! She fell hard. The car sped off.


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Black Pride Meets White Privilege

text-1442218_960_720There is something wrong with this community. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. My experiences and worldview didn’t allow me to see the problem. Then it hit me. The personal finance conferences I attend and even the readers of this blog are predominantly white. I felt the issue was so huge I had to write about encouraging minorities, especially the black community, to join our group. Fearful I might come across as a dick, I delayed and delayed. I started writing this post and then threw it away. It was all wrong. How can a white guy from a very white community reach out to the black community?

Then I got the wake up call. I published Overreacting Solves Nothing, where I attempt to calm the crowd after Trump won the election. A few days ago I was called out by a reader. SKG writes, “Easy for you to say not to overreact, you’re white. It’s a whole different story for people of color.” The gauntlet has been tossed and at the risk of coming across as a dick I have to reach out to this massive group of people filled with great pride in their heritage.

As white as the community I live in is, I still have a few black clients. I don’t call them black either; I call them clients. There are more Hispanic people in my community and, as a result, I have more Hispanic clients. Minorities never bothered me. My biggest problem with non-white clients is that sometimes I can’t understand them. Most Hispanics speak English just fine, but some have a strong dialect which I have to concentrate on to understand. When they see me struggle they revert to using Hispanic words because it is clearer for them.


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Lifestyle

So Much to be Thankful For




happy-thanksgiving-greetingWe live in strange times. One day—and for most of us only one day—we take time to give thanks as we gather with family, enjoy an awesome meal, and watch football (in America; I don’t know what the rest of the world does on their Thanksgiving festival). Then the next day we kick the shit out of our neighbor so we can save a hundred dollars on a flat screen. I‘m beginning to wonder how thankful we really are.

Feelings of gratitude and expressions of thanksgiving should not be relegated to one day per year. We live in the best of times where we should feel thankful non-stop. People in times past found the expression of gratitude an admirable trait. People actually worked hard to remember to feel thankful for the gifts life has bestowed upon them. And we have it so much better today!

In my short 52 years of life the world has changed so much and for the better. One gift I still can’t get over is the one you are using right now: the internet. I have the largest library ever collected at my fingertips; I have the ultimate communication tool. Has it ever been easier to communicate with people with shared interests from around the world? Never! I think of all the people I would never have met or known all because of this awesome gift called the internet. And the World Wide Web didn’t exist 25 years ago.Continue reading

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Reality Check: Calm in the Face of Panic




img_20161109_031304

Pinky could care less who won the election. She is happy with a clean litter box, a bowl of fresh food , and a scratch behind the ears.

It is 3:30 in the morning and I just discovered who our next president will be. I had a nice nap earlier, but tend to sleep in fits and starts which is great for quiet writing time in the middle of the night. I’ll probably take another nap later this morning so I will be awake and alert. Back to the election.

The news reports say the Canadian immigration website collapsed from the deluge of visitors. Stock markets are down around the planet, but from what I read it is better than what it was earlier. One newsfeed had pictures of crying Hillary Clinton fans. It seems like the world is ending for people who worked so hard for their candidate.

There will be pain in the weeks and months ahead. There would be pain in the weeks and months ahead regardless who won the election. This is reality. America is undertaking a grand experiment. It isn’t the first time we walked the road less traveled. My political position is unimportant, but I will share my vote so you understand I am not writing this from the victor’s side. I voted for Hillary and had my reasons. None of that matters now. Trump will be the next President of the United States.

The Root of Panic

There is plenty to be concerned with. An untested politician jumps straight to the top. What could go wrong? Well, lots can go wrong. But a lot is always going wrong. We lived through a Civil War, two world wars, victories and defeats. And life kept chugging along. Now is not the time to panic. (There is never a good time to panic.)Continue reading

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Lessons Learned: Raising Children with Disabilities




Ice creamIn the winter of 1995 Mrs. Accountant and I were a young married couple anxiously awaiting our first child due in late February. Winter in NE Wisconsin has a tendency to get bitter. The winter in question was no different. The holidays were still fresh in our mind on January 7th. My business was a remodeled basement; the following year would be my first with a store front.

The air felt colder than normal and Mrs. Accountant was feeling the effects. The stress of pregnancy coupled with the weather had her bed-ridden. Early on the 7th she got up and wandered to the couch. Then the world turned upside down. Her water broke seven weeks early. Dumb as I was I still knew this was really bad.

I rushed Mrs. Accountant to the hospital. The doctor decided the longer the baby stayed in mom the better. For two days my wife suffered. The doctor finally relented and had Mrs. Accountant transferred to a hospital with facilities for such a premature baby.

It was an intense delivery. I was not allowed in the delivery room. Our first baby entered the world seven weeks early and spent 19 days in intensive care. If I had not worked out of my home at the time I would have never stayed in business. Working from home allowed me all day with my wife and newborn daughter.

The medical problems were only beginning.

Chapter 2

Five years later Mrs. Accountant and I decided we wanted one more child. Two seemed like a good number and we had it in our heads if we only had one child she would be spoiled. (We spoiled her anyway, with love.)

The doctors were taking no chances this round. The ultra sounds were all normal; all tests were normal. It did not matter to Mrs. Accountant and me the gender of our child so we waited for our baby to enter the world to know.

Shortly before the due date the doctor decided a C-section was the safest course. This time I was allowed in the delivery room. The operation went smooth. As the baby slid from mom’s belly one doctor said, “Congratulations, sir. You have a son.” Another doctor said, “Look again doctor. You have a girl, sir.” All I remember was muttering, “It’s both.” The room was silent the remainder of the procedure.


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The Book of Gratitude




img_20161018_081240Marcus Aurelius hoped for a period of peace when he returned to Rome in 175 after spending much of his reign fighting wars and natural disasters. He secured the borders along the Rhine-Danube after spending most of three years in Carnuntum. A year later Marcus and his son returned to the Danube as hostilities flared once again. It was here, between the battles, where Marcus started writing reflections on life and how to live he titled To Himself. These writings later became Meditations.

Of all the Stoic writings from antiquity, Marcus speaks to me clearest. Whereas Seneca wrote letters which feel polished for publication and Epictetus gets preachy at times, Meditations has the comforting feel of a man reminding himself how to live an honest and good life. There was no need to impress the reader; the only reader would be Marcus himself. The honesty Marcus shared with the world is his greatest gift to humanity.

Start with Honor

Meditations is divided into 12 short books. The combined text reaches 99 pages in the copy I carry with me religiously. I find myself reading bits and pieces daily while reading the entire text from beginning to end slowly in an endless cycle. Because Marcus was writing to himself it feels like he is speaking to me, right to my face. With each passage I can’t help but think he was the greatest political leader to ever have lived.

In a time where emperors demanded the heads of any who would commit the smallest slight, Marcus was quick to forgive. His gentle soul made him loved by the people. History has called him the last of the Five Good Emperors. Rome was at her greatest when Marcus ruled.

The problems faced by Marcus daily are beyond anything I will ever experience in my life. In under 100 pages I can find guidance, warmth, and compassion for anything I am struggling with. Marcus had the power to crush his enemies and people who annoyed him. No one could hold him accountable if he did. Yet he chose to do the right thing, to live with honor and integrity. He is the kind of man most of us would follow into war.

As Marcus began writing to himself he started with a book of gratitude. The 12 books that comprise Meditations are untitled. In my mind the first book is called On Gratitude. He lists family, friends, and acquaintances that molded him into the person he became and thanked them all. In our time when politicians can’t wait to pat themselves on the back, Marcus began his self-reflection with a list of all the things he learned from others. He gave them credit.Continue reading

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Lifestyle, Small Business

The Acid of Arrogance




crow-741168_960_720There is a heaping plate of steaming crow on the kitchen table cooked especially for me. It all started a year and a half ago. After all these years in business, I was starting to feel my oats. I would brag about the list of clients I had put together. My tax practice was serving some very wealthy and well known people. A few rock bands were in the fold and even a board of director from a company connected to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway graced my client list. I had a sales pitch for anyone willing to listen.

Then a brainstorm hit. I would move to the next level by landing a business deal with an influential personal finance blogger. It went better than I ever expected. Instead of inking a collaboration, I got a collaboration and a client and a massive promotion for my tax practice. There was no doubt in my mind I could handle it. I lived through worse. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t let people know about it.

That was the moment I allowed arrogance to turn me into a dick. By biting off more than I could chew clients were left in the dust. It became impossible to respond to all the emails. Emails were not simple acknowledgements to read. Each had a long request requiring time to answer and respond to or I had to disregard them.Continue reading

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Lifestyle

Enjoying Life Versus a Happy Life

IMG_20160727_091802When you read the Stoics and personal finance blogs in the vein I write you quickly learn the goal in life is happiness. Money, retirement, and financial independence are all cash words we use to make our case about happiness. Saving and investing a large portion of our income building a solid nest egg allows for less work and more happiness.

Then I wonder if there is more. I’m a happy guy no matter where I am. I am content with what I have; I have all I need or want. Happiness is a state of mind. Anyone can be happy any time they choose to do so. All you need to do is learn your happiness triggers and then trigger them.

But what about enjoyment? How do we trigger enjoyment? If happiness is something we choose to be, can we also choose to enjoy? These are interesting questions I want to explore.

Harvesting Good Feelings

When I am not working my business or writing this blog, I farm. Since I am already happy, farming does not create happiness or make me happier. Happiness is not a matter of degrees. Either you are happy or you are not. I enjoy farming. Working with the animals gives me pleasure.

Take a distasteful job on the farm: cleaning the chickens. Chickens make a mess and it stinks. Cleaning the chickens is a job I don’t volunteer for; I do it because it needs doing. Cleaning the chicken coop has no effect on my happiness; I am happy and will remain happy even while doing the distasteful job.

You can learn to enjoy something if you allow yourself the pleasure. (How do you like that play on words?) Hard work brings me pleasure because I know it is healthy for me. Cleaning the chicken area is actually something I enjoy once I get going. There is a satisfaction to seeing the area get cleaner with each push of the shovel.

It is hard to see the difference and why it matters in such a case. Maybe we need another example.


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