It’s easy to forget to feel grateful for all the awesomeness in our lives. We get lulled into a false sense of superiority in our abilities when the blessings flow unfettered. Only when the boom is lowered do we begin to look around and notice how lucky we have been.
It’s the Thanksgiving holiday here in the States on Thursday. Families from around our nation will gather at the dinner table for good food and stories. Anticipation of the mouth-watering food means we quickly recite a prayer and quickly dig in to the abundance displayed on our table.
As soon as we stuff our face we waddle to the couch for football and a nap. A guy has to work hard to make room for the pies and ice cream later.
I’m not immune to whining. When I think I’ve been treated unfair or my life has experienced a minor inconvenience I quickly bitch about the inequalities of life. I forget too easily how good I have it.
The question really is: How bad is my life? Has it ever been really bad? Am I really so unlucky or inconvenienced? Let’s examine.
When I was thirteen years old my dad took us hunting often in the early autumn. I wasn’t a big sportsman, but walking the outdoors in autumn is always a welcome pleasure.
Back in those days we were religious. My parents still are. It was pheasant hunting season and we belonged to the Eastshore Sportsman’s Club. The club rented land from various farmers and planted pheasants. Our hunting party consisted of my uncle, brother, dad, our church’s minister and his son.
Our party walked a fence line of farmland northeast of Chilton rented by the club and planted with pheasants. Our dog worked the fence line like a pro. As several fields came together the fence branched off in the shape of a T. Our group took the fence line to the right.
Another lone hunter came from the other direction and walked the opposite side of the fence line we were on slightly ahead of us.
Our dog flushed a pheasant in front of my dad. My dad let the bird get in the clear, raised his gun and fired. Score!
My dad was a good shot. As the pheasant died it flopped a bit as it fell so that it would land between the sole hunter on the opposite side of the fence line and us. The sole hunter turned, saw the pheasant falling and raised his gun. He followed the bird as it came down and when his gun hit head level he pulled the trigger.
Can You Hear Me Now
Our minister, his son and I went down. The sole hunter had a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. If he’d have pulled that second trigger you would never have known I existed.
BBs from a shotgun are unlike a rifle wound. We went down, but didn’t stay down. We were peppered with BBs but relatively unharmed.
We were rushed to the hospital. The doctor took forever being we were at Chilton’s Band-Aid Stand as our local hospital is sometimes called. The doctor and hospital really did do a good job. No speed is fast enough when suffering a gunshot wound.
God was watching out for us that day. He allowed stupid to happen, but protected our rag-tag band from permanent harm. He also left several warning calls to remind us how fortunate we were.
Our pastor wore thick glasses. A BB broke one of the lenses. If his sight were true he would have likely died that way. There is a blessing in needing glasses sometimes.
Our pastor’s son was a friend of mine until we graduated high school and he moved out of the area. His name is Aaron. Aaron was the luckiest of the injured having the fewest BBs.
All the BBs in me we superficial injuries save one. A BB hit my Adam’s apple dead center. If you feel your neck you will notice a groove in your Adam’s apple. The BB hit that spot on me perfectly in that groove and stopped less than ¼ inch (one centimeter) from my larynx. Just a bit more and the talkative me would not exist.
Thank God I was Shot!
The doctor removed the BBs without any problems. My vital signs were taken. The doctor heard a strange heart murmur. Another odd thing, my blood pressure was high in my upper body and low in my legs.
The doctor suspected heart issues and ordered a cardiac catheterization to see what the heck was wrong with me. Time was of the essence because of the suspected high risk to my life.
Cardiac catheterization isn’t that big a deal. It makes you sick when they push in the dye, but otherwise it wasn’t bad. The surgeon cut a vein on the underside of my elbow and inserted a tube with a camera at the end.
I had what is called a coarctation of the aorta. In laymen’s terms this is a narrowing of my body’s main blood supply. The fix was simple in theory, but major surgery in 1978. All the doctor had to do was cut me open, stop my heart, clamp the aorta tight on each side of the coarctation, cut the narrowed portion out, pull it together and sew it up. Simple! Oh, and restart my heart before closing the door.
And hope there are no leaks.
The narrowing was serious and would become a greater problem as I aged. It was decided I could finish the school year before going under the knife. I was shot in the fall of 1977 and had surgery the first days of June 1978.
Back them they separated my ribs to get in there and change the oil. If you ever see me shirtless (unlikely since I don’t like running around half dressed) you will see a scar starting under my left armpit and ending above the shoulder blade. The scar is J shaped.
I spent my fourteenth birthday in recovery.
Gifts Never Stop Coming
Back in 1978 there was a disease going around doctors had no what it was. The CDC worked frantically to figure out how the disease spread. Today we call this disease AIDS or HIV.
Blood wasn’t screened back then and even if it was the medical profession had no idea what to look for. All doctors knew was an autoimmune disease was striking down homosexual men and drug users.
My surgeon died a few years later of HIV complications. All it would have taken is one nick of the glove.
Pass a Tissue Please
When I start to count my blessings the minor annoyances of life begin to pale. My life growing up on a farm in the middle of nowhere was a generous gift it took me decades after the fact to realize. Now that I appreciate the blessing I would like to go back and do it again. Right this time.
But it doesn’t work that way.
I was always lucky in business. I’ve had plenty of failures and times of acute anxiety. Business can do that to you! In the end it always worked out. I work the job I love as the boss and make an above average income.
Before the FIRE community was cool I learned to save and invest with intensity. Grandma and Grandpa Accountant lived through the Great Depression so saving was ingrained in us kids from little on. Those were hard times! Another tissue please.
Today I had the brainy idea of checking how much the stock market has climbed during my adult life. I turned 18 in the summer of 1982. The DJIA was around 800 back then and is approaching 24,000 today! Gawd, my life is hard. The market “only” increased 30 times in my adult life. A measly 3000%. What do I have to be thankful for? Really?
I worry people may talk behind my back spreading rumors, true and false. I complain of too much work in my business due to the unexpected success of this blog and the kindness of other bloggers sharing my story. Like really sucks!
Less than two years into this blog and its won an award for Best New Blog of the Year. Just hand me the box of tissues. I can’t take it anymore.
Humility and Gratitude
Life has been good to me and always has been. I bet its been darn good to you too.
I came this close to losing my life to AIDS without even knowing the name of the disease that would have killed me. My business took hard work, but always kept the family fed.
If I were not shot my heart condition would have gone undiagnosed. The doctors estimated it would have caused a heart attack by around my 30th birthday. Good thing I took lead.
Simple mutual fund investments have been straight to the moon for 30 years! Sure, I made dumb decisions and lost money and paid the price. I wouldn’t change any of it for all the money in the world.
You, kind readers, are a special gift. I never expected you’d be stopping by. It was only a fluke that forced me to write this thing for two years. It’s hard to believe I published 600,000 words here already. Your support has been overwhelming. I am humbled and filled with gratitude.
I am human. I make mistakes; I have feelings and emotions. Perfect I am not. Through it all my heart was in the right place even when I swung and only caught air.
All the things I mention above I am thankful for; the glorious successes and the educational failures. But more than all those things I am most blessed with the most wonderful woman to ever walk the earth and the two best kids any dad could want. Some of you might want to disagree. Protest all you want. I know how good I have it and always did. (Give a shout out to the greatest mate and children in the world in the comments section, guys.)
My life has been a litany of things to be grateful for. I can barely grasp the scope of my blessed life. It takes my breath away.
You also have as many things to bow your head in humility for. You’ve had challenges and problems. Nelson Mandela could have given up hope in prison. Instead he kept hope close and eventually brought democracy and a voice to his people. Stephen Hawking could cry and people would understand. Yet he continues to excel without complaint. He is grateful and thankful for his blessings of family, friends, modern technology and his mind.
You are as lucky as I am no matter where you are.
You are alive reading this right now. Excluding the level of my writing skills that is a gift! You are on a piece of technology only a mere two decades old. I am reaching out over space and time to touch your mind and leave a message of hope. We are all very blessed.
I give thanks for my family, health and mind. I give thanks for awesome clients and forgiving readers.
Now please pass the gravy.
The Gallup World Poll publishes a report on their findings involving the happiest people on Earth every year. This year National Geographic magazine has an article in their November issue discussing the results, written by Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones of Happiness.
Certain nations top the list every year. Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore report more happiness than other nations. The United States, a nation fond of bragging about its freedoms, isn’t all that happy.
Money isn’t the overriding factor either. Costa Rica, for example, is relatively poor compared to the U.S or Canada. There has to be something other than money causing people to report unusually high levels of happiness.
The National Geographic article starts with a Costa Rican who socializes virtually every day with a select group of friends, sleeps seven hours a night, walks to work, eats healthy foods, loves his job and the people he works with, volunteers weekly, attends church services and enjoys soccer. It sounds like an awesome life! I encourage you to buy the November 2017 issue of National Geographic to read the details yourself (or see your library).
Before we get too excited (or defensive) we need to examine what criteria are used to determine happiness. Five questions were asked about social life, financial health, community, physical health and purpose in life in the poll. The poll asked about positive and negative experiences.
For most nations (and people), Western views of happiness (having a lot of stuff, early retirement, travel) are not overriding determinants in happiness. Yes, free time makes a difference in the level of happiness people experience, but total retirement doesn’t lead to overall happiness if your life isn’t already in balance. Having lots of “stuff” is considered something which makes people happy. In reality it appears the opposite is true. Once the basics are met, more stuff makes us less happy.
Costa Rica, Denmark and Singapore top the list while not always recognized as First World nations. They are! I’ve been to Costa Rica and personally experienced the happiness the people of this nation experience.
Denmark and Singapore are small nations based on geography. Both nations have a relatively high level of income and standard of living. Taxes are high in Denmark, providing a safety net which seems to reduce economic levels of stress. In Denmark when the water rises all boats float higher, unlike in the U.S. where there are decided “haves” and “have-nots”.
The Happiest Place in the U.S.
Even though the U.S. is modestly happy, some areas of the country are happier than others. My good friend, Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, would be happy to know Boulder, Colorado is listed as the happiest place in the U.S. Pete lives a hop, skip and a jump from Boulder and continuously espouses the benefits of living right and happiness.
What makes Boulder, Colorado and the surrounding area such a great place to live? First, you have to credit the people and the way they chose to live. Biking, walking and other outdoor activities are an integral part of life around Boulder. Outdoor activities lead to better health and more positive interactions with neighbors and the community.
Buildings are limited by law how high they can be. Rather than fund more roads and parking, taxpayers voted for 300 miles of additional bike routes. How many communities are so enlightened?
In some parts of the nation the soda tax is contentious. Chicago eventually ended their soda tax after so-called negative experiences and reports of lost sales by retailers to surrounding areas. Boulder didn’t have such issues with a soda tax. Boulder voted in a soda tax and kept it, using the funds raised to provide resources for health programs for kids.
Another hotly debated issue is food stamps, aka, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The city of Boulder, not the state of Colorado, pays recipients of SNAP an equal amount compared to the federal benefit, effectively doubling the payment. This allows the poor to eat better quality food which leads to better health and a greater opportunity to secure gainful employment sooner. No wonder Colorado led the nation out of the 2008 economic crisis. What blows the mind is how stubborn other regions of the U.S. fight such obviously successful programs. And Colorado does all this with a below average tax levy.
A Man of Our Times
Pete Adeney is man ahead of his time. He retired at 30 and still provides massive benefits to his community and the world. He has preached many of the fundamentals of happiness in his blog.
His message is relentless even in the face of opposition. He believes people should bike or walk virtually everywhere. Living close to where you work, shop and play are vital in his philosophy. Only rare travel outside one’s city is the only time a carbon fueled vehicle should ever be used.
On the surface most people think this means Adeney is encouraging human powered transportation to save money. While this is true at some level, his attitudes are based upon “living right” and maximizing happiness, as well as environmental concerns. Walking and biking are healthy activities which allow people to enjoy life. When you are limited due to health, happiness declines.
Recently Adeney bought an old building in downtown Longmont, where he lives, and remodeled it as his blog’s world headquarters. It serves as a community center where people can meet and educational programs are provided. Of course the venue will contain heavy doses of his philosophy. And it should. When one of the happiest guys I’ve ever met has something to say, I listen.
The community center is only the start. I’ve noticed a change in tactics recently from his Twitter feed. No longer is he satisfied with preaching the good word, he now encourages people to become active in their local community by voting and attending meetings where elected officials discuss issues with the public. He acknowledges he doesn’t always get his way, but is always optimistic. He should be. He is a happy guy in the happiest place in the United States.
How Happy Are You?
Now we get to the real issue of this post. Maybe you don’t live in Boulder, Colorado or anywhere near all the wonderful people of the surrounding communities. Maybe you never had a chance to break bread with Pete or his kind.
I hear the complaints already. Our community doesn’t have bike paths or that you live 38 miles from work. There are two things you can do about it: keep complaining or change the circumstances.
Guys like Pete are smart. They are not disillusioned. Progress is slow even in the great state of Colorado and the happy communities of Boulder and Longmont. Pete recently reported attending a public meeting with officials to present his ideas. The results were mixed.
He didn’t give up! In the last week he tweeted a local voting guide. Adeney knows national elections get all the press, but local elections are where you can make a real difference! Your vote has more punch in a local election. Fewer votes mean your vote is a bigger piece of the pie. And every decision a local official makes affects you locally. National politicians make decisions that may have nothing to do with your community at all.
Happiness is between the ears. Several factors contribute to how happy you feel. Belonging tops the list after health. If you are healthy and feel wanted by family, friends and your community, you are well on your way to feeling happy.
Weather, incidentally, has only a marginal effect on happiness. I live in a cold part of the U.S. (NE Wisconsin) and it has some effect on my well being, but only a small amount. Outdoor activities are different where I live. Skiing and other winter sports occupy several months of the year. Biking is difficult in January (even dangerous), but hiking and walking are possible in almost any weather. Those who partake in seasonal outdoor activities report higher levels of happiness.
Doing Something about It
You can complain or do something about your level of happiness. When you are actively involved in the solution, even when results are limited, you feel better about yourself. Demanding someone else do something about it still leaves your opinion unheard!
You have significant control over your spending, even if income control is somewhat limited. Side gigs can fill the income void if necessary. Keeping spending reasonable compared to your income is your choice only, with the exception of people with medical issues.
Socializing makes people happier. You can always find a group who welcomes you. Groups who exclude others are less happy as they need to justify their negative behavior. I recommend a social life with people who energize you.
Purpose in life is something you must find through personal examination. Once you determine what juices you, pursue the dream! No one can stop you except you. There is always a way as readers of this blog will soon discover as I share a personal story of redemption and growth. Hardship isn’t the issue either; it’s the opportunity to expand beyond what you dream possible.
Physical health is largely a product of your eating and exercise habits. Eat good food; walk, hike and bike. The secret formula to a long happy life.
Finally, community provides an environment for you to live in. Make it a good one. All the members of a society compose a community. Your active involvement makes all the difference.
Never let anyone put you down. You will fail. That is not a character flaw; it is life. Failure doesn’t define you. How you deal with failure does!
Happiness is partially a choice. Many of the happiest nations are happy because they choose to be. Your active participation is what determines your level of pleasure and happiness. Climate and current conditions are only minor obstacles of the way to a happy life.
You can choose to move to a happy community, but you still need to be active in the new community or it will be just like the one you came from for you.
Or, you can make your community a better place to live. The choice is yours. Because the happiest place on Earth is in your head.
I’m such a loser. My whole life has been one failure after another and I’m sick of it.
How many times have you felt this way? More than once, I bet. Life, no matter how fortunate, throws periodic curves. This is not a character flaw; it’s life.
Hard times define you more than success. Success lulls you into a false sense of superiority. When things start to fall into place too well for too long you fall into the trap you are somehow better than you really are. Learning turns off and it’s unhealthy.
The good news is you can still learn from your wins and good fortune. You must be aware success is a poor teacher and be willing to challenge your inclination to think a win means you are right. Plenty of winners have been wrong throughout history. In driving they have a term called “dead right.” You might be right, but you’re still dead. It’s an important distinction!
Edison didn’t invent a working light bulb the first try. Failure precedes success every time. EVERY TIME! There are no shortcuts.
Your reason for visiting this blog, kind reader, could be one of a legion of reasons. Maybe entertainment is all you seek. For the remainder of the crowd they are searching for answers. And answers mean you have tried and failed and are on a journey of discovery. Welcome.
Failure is the best thing that can happen to you early on. Lessons learned early provide a foundation to build on. Child actors provide ample proof early success breeds the illusion of being right. All too often it ends in tears. Sports stars by default enjoy early success followed by financial hardship a few years after their career ends.
Before we point and laugh at sports figures and child actors, we might want to look long and hard in the mirror.
Life has been beyond good for me lately. Business is good, investments are smoking hot (have you checked your index funds lately?), I’m adjusting to my newfound business growth and my writing has been honored with a nomination for two Plutus Awards. Life is great and I’m worried. Now is not the time to become complacent; now is not the time to become arrogant. There is no doubt I’m on a roll, but it is a matter of when, not if, newfound challenges will poke their head above the waterline.
You’ve experienced the same thing. Maybe a relationship is awesome. Maybe you found the job of your dreams or have reached your financial independence (FI) goal. Then life intervenes, or worse, you do something stupid. Don’t worry. We all do it. Bellying up to the bar of stupid is not an exclusive club. You are born with a membership and membership has its privileges.
And good thing!
If everything always turned up roses life would be boring and (sorry guys), but you’d be stupider than a box of dull thumbtacks.
Tragedy and Crisis
I’m writing this the night before this is published while sitting in a hotel dining area at FinCon. What an awesome opportunity! FinCon, that is. The people I get to reacquaint myself with is a great pleasure. New people grow my circle of relationships and influence.
Yet, things can go south fast. What if I don’t win the award I covet? I can feel proud of the winner and her success or I can act like an ass. Or I could hedge my bet and smile while secretly loathing. Only genuine pride for the winner is allowed. The other is the first salvo of the war against myself.
Other tragedy can also rain on my parade. Illness, disease, or death of a loved one can mess up a sunny afternoon.
Not all problems are self-inflicted either. You can do everything right and still get crushed.
The real question is: What will you do if the big one hits? Most issues in life are minor inconveniences. However, what if the unthinkable happens and you lose it all?
Careful planning doesn’t prevent fraud or theft from destroying your best laid plans. Your business or side gig not only can fail, but a lawsuit could rob you of all you have worked so hard for decades to build. It can happen.
CNBC recently published an article where Richard Branson was asked what he’d do if he lost everything. His answer was revealing. Branson said he would review his notebooks for ideas he never had a chance to try and now try them.
What an attitude! He lost everything and his first impulse is to learn from the loss and go right back to building something important.
More important, most people probably missed the hidden message: you can’t try every idea!
Smart people know several streams of income are better than one. Successful people like Branson and Elon Must hedge their bet with the pursuit of several ideas. They also are smart enough to know some ideas, even good ones, are not realistic to attempt under the current workload.
The Winner’s Circle
Disaster is not the end unless you die. Death isn’t a bad end either. We all get it right the first time.
Failure is a grand opportunity to undertake ideas you couldn’t previously consider. There is no doubt in my mind every successful person will be right back where they are now, if you take all their stuff away, within a few years or a decade, at most. Winners know how to win! It’s like riding a bike.
The only difference between a phoenix rising from the ashes and the current superstar is the area they will excel in. Elon Musk started with PayPal and morphed into Tesla, Solar City and (who would have thought) The Boring Company. The path is different, but the path still leads to the top. Once again, winners win.
The same applies to you! Your prior losses are only learning experiences. You know what doesn’t work! People who never try don’t even know that.
Business failure is common. Some of my business ideas turned into painful lessons. I’m NOT exempt!
When Branson says he would review his old notes for new ideas he means it. He knows some of those ideas could splatter upon contact. He also knows many ideas, executed properly, are winners.
The winner’s circle is littered with people who understand the value of multiple streams of income. They also know Warren Buffet wasn’t tax on all of his billions of net worth. Most of it is unrealized gains.
What you will not find in the winner’s circle are people who never tried or people who try every idea which poked from the inside of their temples (jack of all trade, master of none). Winners understand balance.
The top of the food chain loves to share their story. They know there is no real competition. Your blog doesn’t compete with mine. Your tax office (even if across the street) doesn’t compete with mine. You are your own competition. Don’t screw it up!
You must work on multiple streams of income, but you don’t have to bust tail on every revenue source! Dividends, interest and rents are income streams you don’t need to handhold daily.
A business or side gig can contain several revenue streams within the corpus of the main business. Think of your friendly accountant. My tax practice earns revenue from tax preparation, plus bookkeeping, consulting, payroll (most of that was sold for a different revenue stream) and this blog and all its sources of revenue.
Failure WILL happen! And thank the gods that be it does. Life would suck without value lessons. Imagine how boring this blog would be if I told you story after story of all the glorious things happening in my life with nary a hic cup. First, you wouldn’t believe me and second, you wouldn’t have read this far into this post. Crap happens and it makes life worth living.
The good news is most crises are minor bumps in the rearview mirror. You can come back and relive the thrill of starting all over again, this time with a boatload of experience. It may never happen, but if it does, what a grand opportunity to try all those ideas you couldn’t shoehorn into your busy schedule.
And that is why you should, like Branson, keep a notebook of your ideas. You never know when you might need it.
Here are my working notes on this post. The idea was born weeks ago and finally breaths life. Writers might find value in where I started my writing process on this post and where it all ended up. Enjoy.
For a life of success to happen you must first expect a life of failure. Many ideas will fail even with the greatest of care taken when planning.
Richard Branson recently said in an interview, if he lost all his money he would review his notebooks for ideas he never had a chance at trying. Successful people try a lot of things and frequently fail. They also work multiple ideas at once so when one falters there are more in process to work on. It’s a lifelong commitment trying many things.
You need multiple streams of income. You WILL fail. A lot. You only need a few a few hits to do well; one home run is a life changer!
Therefore, the most optimistic thing you can do is embrace a life of failure.
This is all a lie; none of it is real. Everything I told you is an untruth, an illusion to get you to do what I want. And even that is an illusion.
For nearly two years now people have followed and watched and read this blog. Nobody, until I pointed it out this moment, knew it was one big, fat fiction. The worst part is you are as much an illusion as I am.
Nothing you or I say matters. Deny if you must, but I will expose you in the next thousand words as I reveal my greatest fault.
The evidence is all around you. Clues are everywhere! You probably missed them. But as I explain each piece of the puzzle you will know I am correct.
Oh, who am I fooling? You aren’t even real! A character in a video game is more real than you. I write this for me. Only for me. There is no one else to listen; no one else to care. Nothing matters and never has.
I lie naked in a room typing these words desperate to find meaning in a universe where I am the only thing that exists. The ghosts that walk these halls evaporate in the morning sun, leaving me alone with my dreams.
The Guinea Pig
How can I live in such a gilded age? History books speak of a hard life and myriad lessons learned by mankind over the eons. Still, I do not die.
Everything seems to work for the best. A heart condition in my youth was cured my modern medicine; a cure only a few years available. Lucky me, I guess.
The doctor died of AIDS, but never infected me. Lucky again.
Hard lessons in finance growing up on a farm where the family is bankrupted just as I entered adulthood still didn’t stop my progress. Go figure.
I mentally wander for years and find the woman of my dreams and she loves me back. What are the odds?
I start a business involving something I love and am addicted to. It seems the miracles never end.
Now I write a blog, another dream I needed fulfilled. I scratch frantically at the slate chalkboard of life looking for recognition my work has purpose, meaning. And then, after a few years of work, it is all coming together. The recognition I crave is happening. There are thousands and thousands of blogs and somehow, like cream in a bowl of fresh milk, I rise to the top.
One of these things I might have bought, but not all of them? No way can there be that many coincidences. Luck? If I were truly lucky I would win the lottery or inherit a massive sum. Nope! No such luck. Yet everywhere else it is all golden.
There is only one explanation. I am a game of some vastly more intelligent creature examining my every move. This is a cage! A CAGE!
The brutal truth is some child has created a game, a game with a sentient creature, me, to test and examine. If only she would not have programmed me for pain.
The alien child tests me. She gives me great fortune to see if I handle it with poise or if I turn tyrant and cruel. Questionable politics is a test of my endurance to do good. If only there were clearer clues.
It took a while. When I realized this was all an illusion, even my beautiful wife and children, I began to cry. Solomon was right: Vanity, oh, vanity! What does it profiteth a man to gain the whole would and lose his life. Oh vanity!
The whole world is mine. The universe in its entirety is mine for the taking; to enjoy as I see fit. But I am just a child’s plaything. Still, the nagging clues.
The child tests me as she giggled at my Neanderthal responses. She is too subtle.
The child sent Stephen Hawking to reveal a truth of the universe. Hawking discovered the information contained in a black hole is in direct proportion of the inverse square of the event horizon! The ghosts I walk through life with might not understand, but the child examiner gave me the capacity to realize the implication of this discovery.
The event horizon of a black hole has no signposts or markers. It is an invisible line in space you don’t even know you crossed, but once you do there is no return! To the outside universe you just disappear.
But how can an invisible point in space contain all the information within a black hole? There was only one explanation. The universe is a holographic projection!
Space is expanding. Scientists have said it for years. Space isn’t expanding into anything either; it’s just expanding. At the current rate the universe will double in size in 12.2 billion years. And the bigger the universe gets the colder it gets.
If the universe is a holographic projection from this so-called edge of space, then the information contained within this universe is expanding as more space is created! Maybe I’m not alone. Maybe the experiment continues elsewhere.
Still, the truth eludes me.
Elon Musk was sent to hit me beside the head to get my attention. Musk said there is only a 1 in 1,000 chance any of this is real. I get it. The child’s school experiment needed to see my response to such obvious facts. How would the sentient being react to knowing he was only an illusion? The guinea pig must be prodded further.
The victim, me, does not know what to do. If only any of you were real I could ask for help. But we are all only projections from the edge of space; a non-real entity. I am the reason all this is here. Soon it will end. The child wants only to spend a bored afternoon watching the wild accountant struggle with existence. To me it is an eternity, a lifetime. To her, a way to pass a rainy late summer day.
How can she make me dance? Add more clues!
My insatiable reading has educated me to a great many things outside the normal realm of someone in finance. For example, I know the emptiest of space really isn’t exactly empty!
Like a computer game there are pixels comprising the smallest areas of space. In my world it’s called Planck space or Planck length. This is the smallest piece of reality, shortest distance possible. The distance can no longer be divided. Just like a computer game.
Things to the side are fuzzy until I turn to look. Things beyond my horizon don’t exist until I either go there or look in that direction. The child’s computer seems to have an upper limit of computing power.
But what about this empty space that still has energy? There is no zero energy space! None. This non-zero energy is called dark energy in my world and is pushing my universe apart, expanding space.
The detail piques my curiosity until I realize it is all a projection, unreal.
I am provided great leaders and thinkers to read and listen to. Some mesmerize me. Business leaders especially.
Steve Jobs is an interesting projection I can’t seem to shake. In his commencement address to the 2005 graduates at Stanford he said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”
I close my eyes hard until tears form at the outside edge. What if it is real?
Steve also said to, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
How can I reconcile all the facts? The evidence is irrefutable! I am alone in a universe of vast size. Probably part of a multiverse. In each of these bubble universes I can imagine another experiment happening. Another victim just like me.
For the longest time I felt the alien child a cruel tormentor. But why such an elaborate game?
There is no doubt I am writing to myself to ease my mind; a form of therapy. I am no more alive than the pictures on a movie screen. Nothing is real.
The clues don’t make sense. A grand universe with so many wonders just for me? It seems such a waste.
What can I make of Jobs and Musk and Hawking and pixilated space made up of Planck units with non-zero energy? What about all these wonders! Just for one illusion! One. Me!
Then I finally figured it out! This is a ruse. Yes, my world is a projection and you don’t exist. To you, I DON’T EXIST! We all have our own world.
In the end I will die, as Jobs declared. I have nothing to lose. There is no excuse to not try. There is no excuse to quit. In the end it doesn’t matter. The projection will end, the experiment over.
There is nothing to be afraid of. I can live my life by my terms. I can do what gives me meaning. I am naked. On the verge of death as the projector runs low on film.
I will do great things because that is who I am! When I do it for you, I do it for me because you don’t exist. You are an illusion.
The child’s toy is running low on power. The program needs to recharge so I sleep. The world disappears when I sleep.
As I lay my head on the pillow I dream of things I can do. Important thing. As I drift into slumber I mutter:
STAY HUNGRY. STAY FOOLISH.
I have nothing to lose.
Notes: When I write something as surreal as you just read it requires a minimum of an explanation. There are hidden messages laced throughout this post. No hidden codes, but many, many messages underneath the text. The links are required to unravel all the meaning. Below are my original working notes. If you can figure out how I got from my notes below to the post above, let me know. I can’t figure it out.
Elon Musk says there is only a 1 in a 1000 chance this is real and not a computer simulation.
Stephen Hawking discovered the information contained in a black hols is the inverse square of the event horizon, a non point in space.
Steve Jobs told the Stanford graduates the most humbling thing he knows of is that someday he will be dead.
If this is all an illusion, you have nothing to lose by trying: business, family, life.
No zero energy even in empty space.
Planck space is smallest size possible for space; a pixelated space, like a computer game, is granular.
Universe is like a video game. Only stuff in view is clear. All else is fuzzy or is created when needed.
There is an old story on Wall Street about a young stock broker during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The world hung in the balance as President Kennedy came on television to inform the American people 50 Soviet cities were targeted by U.S. nuclear weapons if the Soviets attempted to run the blockade of Cuba.
Those who lived through it say it felt like the world would freeze. Tensions were high. Such threats under such an intense situation could only mean the Soviet Union targeted their nuclear weapons on U.S. cities as well. One misstep, one accident and the human race would end in the flash of an instant.
The stock market started to decline as fear grabbed Wall Street. The young broker started to scream, “Sell!” An old broker with over 40 years experience working next to him barely showed any concern. The old broker touched the young broker on the arm and shook his head. “Buy,” he said calmly.
“Buy! Are you insane! We could be destroyed in a nuclear war!”
“True,” said the old broker. “But if the missiles don’t fly the market will go back up and then higher as the crisis passes. And if the missiles do fly the trades will never clear.”
Fear and Panic: The Enemies of Wealth
Once again we find ourselves with the real possibility of a nuclear attack. The promise of the end of the Cold War has finally reached an end as massive risks still exist for life on our blue planet. North Korea continues to test ICBMs as they work frantically to build a rocket capable of carrying a nuclear, or even a thermonuclear, warhead to major cities around the Pacific.
Each nuclear test and missile launch sends the markets into a fray.
The whole exercise is pure insanity. If North Korea even twitches with a nuclear tipped ICBM, the U.S. is certain to retaliate. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is back. One miscalculation, one accident could send a series of catastrophic events into motion. How can Russia, with 8,000 nuclear warheads, and China, with 250 nuclear warheads, remain natural when the U.S. retaliates against a North Korean nuclear launch at an American city or one of her allies? It is probably too much to ask the Russians and Chinese to stand pat when U.S. nukes are headed in their direction. It would get out of control quickly.
Each launch and detonation by North Korea ups the stakes. Each weapon is stronger; each missile more advanced. The world is on course for a head-on collision with nuclear weapons involved. Nothing deters Kim Jong Un. History has come full circle. The Cuban Missile Crisis is back, only on the other side of the planet.
Fear and panic are natural responses. It’s easy to connect the dots with no possible way to win. It feels like late October 1962 all over again. The only consolation this time is we take comfort in knowing North Korea doesn’t have thousands of nukes to launch our way. Regardless, one city anywhere hit by a nuclear weapon would be beyond devastating even if it didn’t escalate. The economy would collapse as the world froze.
Crises are nothing new. If it isn’t the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s the sub-prime mess or a terrorist attack or higher interest rates. Markets are always looking for a boogie man around every corner.
We are very lucky as I write this. We have gone a long time without a serious crisis. It is unheard of in this nation’s history to go an entire decade without a major market calamity. Some would say we are due. Are you ready?
Let’s recap the list of world ending crises of the last 120 years. In 1901 President McKinley was assassinated followed by the Panic of 1907, one of many market panics driving down prices on Wall Street over the centuries.
The next decade brought us World War I. The 1920s started with a recession, but nothing too overwhelming. We almost made it through an entire decade without a calamity until the Smoot-Hawley tariff and the 1929 stock market crash.
The 1930s were consumed by the Great Depression followed by the 1940s occupation with World War II.
The Korean War (remember that; it’s important later in our story) launched the 1950s followed by an identity crisis for Americans when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The nice thing about the 1950s is Mr. Market was happy and content climbing higher at a nice clip. Wall Street seemed content to skip panic selling for at least the 1950s.
Vietnam occupied our minds in the 60s. Then we wanted to feel special in the 1970s by having Watergate, high inflation, oil embargos, American hostages in Iran and a flailing stock market. Sometimes a guy needs something to get the blood flowing.
Who can forget the double digit interest rates of the early 1980s coupled with two debilitating recessions to start the decade? Then things looked up. . . until 1987 when the Dow Jones Industrial Average took it on the chin by the largest one-day percentage drop (22.6%) in history.
The 1990s were pretty quiet. We did get the first Iraq War so we had a wonderful buying opportunity on Wall Street at the beginning of the decade.
Then we start the new millennium with a bang. Terrorist attacks on 9/11 set the tone. Stocks declined by 50%. But once isn’t enough! 2008 was a wonderful time to start a banking crisis due to lax lending standards and housing. This provided another 50% market correction buying opportunity.
After the 2008 crisis didn’t end the world we have been practically straight up. This is currently the second longest bull market in U.S. history. The current bull market is 101 months old on September 9th. People are understandably worried about our good fortune.
The Eternal Optimist
There is always something to worry about. The world is always ending. As soon as one predicted date for the end of humanity passes another steps forward. It’s a mindset sure to keep you poor.
Just because we haven’t had a market correction (10%+ decline) or a bear market (20%+ decline) in a while doesn’t mean we are actually due for one. There is no law saying a market decline must happen within a certain timeframe. However, given time, these events will happen again. Some market pullbacks are based on flimsy excuses. Other market declines are connected with political or social events. Either way opportunity awaits.
Worry is a waste. Warren Buffett has made a career (and a darn good one at that) by being an eternal optimist. He coined the phrase: Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.
It takes a special person to pull the trigger on an investment or add to an index fund when the night is darkest. But if you want to succeed at building serious wealth you either must invest in quality companies when they are artificially on sale or invest in index funds and forget it. Time will heal all wounds in a broad-based index fund.
Here is why it always turns out okay. When the economy heads south or an event suggests it will the Fed tends to pump money into the system. More money in the system is eventually going to end up in sales and hence, profits. All companies as an aggregate will reflect all the additional money pumped into the economy. It’s not if, it’s when, stock prices reflect the growing business climate.
Optimists always win. Buffett is the poster child for the optimist of the century. No matter the event, he loudly proclaims things will be fine and then get better.
And Buffett has been right though a Great Depression and an 89% DJIA decline, a world war, numerous regional wars, high interest rates, terrorist attacks, a President’s assassination, a President’s resignation over scandal, and banking crises. The market keeps churning higher through it all with only a short hiccup to mark the event on the charts.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average started the 20th Century at 68.13. The Dow is at 21,784 as I write this. We had a bit of a run.
All of the wars, turmoil and social unrest, banking collapses, terrorist attacks and economic recessions were only a minor temporary blip in the upward march of equities. Businesses grow and keep growing. And as long as businesses grow, so does their value which eventually is reflected in their listed price.
Now is not the time to be afraid. The days ahead will have scary moments. Threats will be made and the matter in Asia could turn hot with guns blaring.
One thing is certain. The market’s current muted stoic response will give way to panic selling because the world is ending, for real this time. Staying the course and adding to your investments when it looks hopeless is how you will build a massive net worth.
And if I’m wrong the trade won’t clear.
Every experience in your life until this moment was a dress rehearsal for now. Comfort is your worst enemy. Change is the only path to a brighter future. And fear and doubt follow in step.
Mediocrity is what we get when we say “life is good enough” when a new opportunity knocks. It happens in all areas of life: business, investing, job, family and relationships. A chance to improve is delayed or denied because we say, “I’m okay with where I am.”
The real truth is we are afraid; we have doubts. What if I marry this person and they stop loving me? If I leave an abusive relationship, where will I go? How can I possibly save more of my income? Index funds aren’t guaranteed and can lose money! What if I fail at this business or side gig?
When we get comfortable we begin to settle for what we have. That is why so many opt for early retirement when they have so much to share and such great skills at creating and building wealth. It’s much easier to travel, painful as traveling can be, than to expose yourself to failure before your peers. Anything, but that.
We must break through our doubts and fears to reach the next level of enlightenment. Every religion and philosophy teaches this on some level. That is what we will do today. We will break through the debilitating fears and doubts that suck the enjoyment and excitement out of life.
A Personal Journey
Sometimes change is thrust upon us. Other times it sneaks up and is dug in deep before we realize what has happened.
You fall in love and you have few choices. You can move the relationship forward and live together or get married. You can break free of the relationship. You can tread water and hope for the best. Each choice is fraught with danger.
Your fear is not about rejection or failure. Your fear is that it will end with pain. Humans, nearly all life forms, will expend massive quantities of energy to avoid pain. Doubt is a close cousin to fear. The doubt you feel is less about the relationship than about the pain the relationship will inevitably cause. In many cases pain is possible in any direction you choose. We can choose guaranteed pain now to avoid an unknown pain later. So many relationships have suffered as a result and the other partner thinks she is at fault when she did nothing wrong at all.
Saving and investing also contains plenty of opportunity for pain. If I sacrifice something I want today and invest, the market could go down and I am out the money and the item I wanted. It takes a lot of faith to delay gratification. But it is the only way to wealth. The more gratification you delay the more wealth you are likely to have.
Businesses and side gigs are the worst. Nine out of ten businesses fail in the first five years. It is a damning statistic. Yet, it is a half truth.
Many businesses fail because they were never given a real chance. In my office I see people set up an LLC and then never even do a thing to run the business. These aren’t real businesses in my mind. Keeping yourself busy doesn’t mean you are working on your business or side gig. You’re screwing around and should call it what it is.
Real businesses have a much higher success rate. Over the years I have run numerous businesses, many times connected to my practice. The latest idea is this blog. This post is number 284. The Wealthy Accountant is only slightly older than a year and a half. That is a half million words and I write other blogs and business letters and emails, et cetera. Looked at another way, I am writing and publishing the equivalent of four to five full length novels every year on this blog alone. For the record I have over three millions words published in all venues combined to date.
Starting a blog is riddled with fears and doubts. Exposing your deepest thoughts and events of your life is nerve wracking at times. What if people think I am a fraud? Some subscribers unsubscribe, you know. Talk about doubt.
Fear is rampant even for a seasoned old accountant. What if I fail? Worse, what if it takes off?
That is where the story really begins. This blog. Traffic started with a bang and settled in for a normal grind higher as I published more and people noticed.
Eventually a critical mass is reached and a decision needs to be made. Do I quit and bury my head in the sand? If I don’t this thing will take on a life of its own?
The alternative is to expose myself to cruel ridicule as more people, many from outside the demographic and less forgiving, discover my work. Think your favorite accountant is exempt from fears and doubts? Think again.
My greatest fear is I might make a mistake. My greatest doubt revolves around my lack of a formal education. What if I am wrong? rattles around in my brain incessantly. People could be hurt, lose money. In something as complex as taxes or investing, mistakes are bound to happen. Heck, even different branches of the Tax Court disagree on areas of tax code at times. It’s not if you’ll be wrong, it’s when and how often.
Talk about fear. And don’t get me started on doubts.
But the emotional intensity gets worse. This blog has been around long enough to have caught the eye of a few influential people.
I have numerous offers to guest post on successful blogs within the genre. One individual stated he would see to it my guest post on his site was front and center before national media outlets. I’m a country boy from the backwoods of Wisconsin and I take a deep gulp when I hear this. Time to put up or shut up.
Pushing my work in front of a large mainstream audience means a lot of people, very intelligent people, will read what I have written and some are bound to disagree, vehemently. My ego is small, but it exists and feels pain as well as the next guy’s.
The guest posts are certain to be written (at least three are open offers at good sources with good traffic). I even know what I am going to write. It’s my creative process. I think about it for a while and formulate a storyline involving something personal and then write. Or procrastinate because I am afraid of what the post will do.
Guest posts have a way of generating excellent traffic. If you resonate with the new audience you end up with a nice bump in new regular readers. Then you have the “Oh, my God!” moment.
The Wealthy Accountant would then move well within the critical mass range and people will be watching—and waiting—looking for an opportunity to pounce. Fear. Plenty of fear. And no shortage of doubt either.
The Worst Fear
Growing my practice has always been easy for me. Working a local audience only, I had control over the growth and ultimate size of the business.
The blog is a different animal. Much more traffic and a larger footprint are needed to create a viable venue. And control is less a part of the process.
With that in mind I am headed to FinCon in Dallas this October. It’s getting close and I don’t envy the travel or the assault I will face. My dislike of travel is legend. What people don’t always know about me is my fear of larger groups.
Don’t get me wrong. I love talking to groups of any size. But FinCon will be different. I have so many offers to buy me a beer when I get there I could easily go on the biggest bender of my life. I will not have time to talk with everyone I should—or can help—and that is what bothers me about larger groups.
Then the fear sets in: Do that many people really know of me? Then the doubts: What do they think of me?
I reviewed the list of people active in decision-making at FinCon. I know a fair number of these folks and I like them all. I think most like me at least a little. One in particular has taken a fond liking of me.
In the back of my mind I start thinking about the Plutus Awards. This guy is an insider of FinCon and the Plutus Awards. He recently told me my work is better than 99% of what he sees and he sees a lot (his words).
Could I be nominated for an award? Could I *gulp* win? What an honor! What a boatload of fear and doubt. How do I live up to that?
This is why I wrote all those hours. Fear and doubt are part of the process. I want to be nominated; it would be a massive honor. To win would send my mind reeling, but, oh, so worth it. (If you see me vomiting in the corner know this: all things end.)
If you haven’t voted for your favorite blog, do so here. I humbly submit you vote for a certain accounting blog with a semi-crazy writer. Regardless, vote your conscious. I’ll never know you tossed me under the bus.
A Good Pain
The naked mole rat doesn’t feel certain kinds of pain. The rodent lacks a neuropeptide called Substance P which is critical in the transmission of pain. As a result the naked mole rat is frequently used as a laboratory animal.
Life without pain is a life unlived. Doubt is normal; pain will happen.
There is a rare disease called CIPA where those who have it feel no physical pain. Your first thought might be, awesome! But, it isn’t. Here is a story of how bad life is when you feel no pain.
People with CIPA get hurt frequently because they have no feedback from the body to the brain and injury results, often times serious injury. Pain helps us change to a safer way of doing things. Without pain we risk serious injury or early death. A pain-free life isn’t an injury-free life!
As hard as it is, welcome pain. Without pain you become a lab rat in your own mind and risk serious injury. Feeling pain means your system is working! Pain is good.
What It Means to be Real
There is a story from my childhood I always enjoyed. My mother would read me The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real and I’d beg to hear the story again when she finished.
The story begins with a Christmas present of a velveteen rabbit given to a young boy. The rabbit was fat with all his whiskers. In the rush of all the other presents the rabbit was soon tossed to the side and forgotten.
The rabbit was tossed in a box with many other toys. He lived there a long time watching other toys come and go. Some were shiny; some were fancy windup toys. All the other toys were played with until they broke or were heavily worn, except the velveteen rabbit.
The only toy who would even acknowledge the rabbit was an old Skin Horse. The Skin Horse was the oldest of the toys. His hair was missing in patches and his seams were opening. The rabbit wanted to feel nursery magic so he could be like the loved Skin Horse. One day he talked with the Skin Horse:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.
“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
I lift my glass to all those with doubts and fears: doubts about loving the woman or man of your dreams intensely with a promise of forever; for bringing a child into this world to love and teach about the beauty of life; to the business owners who follow their dreams; to the people who delay gratification for a better life tomorrow; to the bloggers who expose their soul to the world for review and ridicule.
For you are Real. Always.
Previously our discussion started with a review of Ryan Holiday’s book Perennial Seller. We covered most of the book and I provided enough information for you decide if purchasing the book was worth your hard earned money.
We skipped lightly over the marketing section of the book for a reason. I wanted to share an observation from the book I’ve been making to my clients for years and to encourage you to steal my work. You read that right. Before this post is over I’ll have you feeling good about plagiarizing me into infinity and beyond.
In Perennial Seller Holiday covers marketing well. One area stuck out for me however. Holiday states almost everyone overestimates the value of traditional PR. Not only is it expensive, it doesn’t work. I agree.
For years I have advised business owners about advertising opportunities that come their way. It is rare for these offers to have any real value and in many cases drive zero clients your way while emptying your wallet.
It is so bad that I blanket state all promotions that walk in your door are worthless while promotional idea you personally have enjoy a fighting chance of generating at least a modest profit. The stuff walking in the door comes via a salesperson. Of course they have the best deal ever. I have been warned numerous times over the last three decades I would soon be out of business if I didn’t use their offer. After all these years I am starting to hope they are right. Man’s gotta retire sometime.
What has worked? Well, a lot of my promotional ideas have worked well while costing nothing or nearly so. I walked flyers I printed in my office in the early years of my firm. Gained a large number of individual tax returns in the process and became profitable too.
Two other promotional methods I used successfully are radio talk shows and public speaking. Radio talk shows I did over the phone, rarely showing up at the studio unless it was local and convenient. Many organizations were happy to have me talk about taxes and finance. All this was free and gave me credibility and exposure. And more clients.
This blog is carrying on the tradition. I haven’t done radio talk shows for this blog . . . yet. The public speaking part is going strong, however, in a slightly different manner. I speak at conferences and provide free help (or if money is charges all the funds go to charity). Once again credibility increases and readers keep coming.
Marketing in my mind is simple. Most effective marketing is low cost and your own idea. Most people can’t market so they are glad to charge you to have them market your stuff. Oooookaaaay.
Marketing is getting in front of people so they know you exist. The rest happens by word of mouth, which happens to be the most effective marketing of all.
Steal My Stuff!
Here is where the tire meets the payment. I want you to steal my blog posts. That’s right! Steal them. Simply copy and paste to your blog when you need a filler. My gift. Don’t worry. I will not sue you or defend my copyright.
Why would I do such a sick thing; encouraging people to steal my hard hours of work? The answer is simple. Sometimes you get tight for time and need material to meet a deadline. I understand. My hope is you lift the post verbatim and do me a solid by telling your readers where the material came from. If not, no worries.
You might lift the post and leave the links in place so I generate some revenue. Once again, if you change the Amazon links to your affiliate I will understand.
As insane as this sounds it is actually a marketing ploy and a way to build my platform. Your readers will see the different writing style and ask what gives. Eventually you will tell them you got it from me. In the end it all works out fine.
It also saves time. I can write a guest post for you, but you might like something I already published. Authors have republished their work since the beginning of time. It works. Hungry writers can increase their income and create a quasi pension for themselves. In the modern world you get to republish for me! Isn’t that nice?
Once your readers know I wrote it they will be glad you published it. You have happy readers. They then read you and me. Now I have happy readers too. (Have you ever seen a wealthy accountant dance?)
Cory Doctorow is a master at this. He is a science fiction writer who also happens to run Boing Boing, one of the most successful websites on the planet. Cory is a smart cookie! He demands his publisher allow him to share his work for free online. People get to steal his stuff! And he is more successful for it.
You see, the risk any blogger faces isn’t piracy, its obscurity. People stealing my stuff spread my work around. I want people to see my stuff. A lot. So please steal my stuff. It does us both good.
When my stuff is worth pirating it means I am getting good enough to pirate. Many brand names today actually pirated their own work to get the free marketing they needed to lift from unknown to significant. Some even pirated their work under a well known brand name hoping the dupe would stick around and like what they hear when they discover the ruse.
Maybe I should try that.
Did it work? Dang!
Last weekend CNBC had two interesting weekend reports. The reports had some significant similarities to things I’ve recently published here. Unfortunately they did not give me a plug. I accept that.
You can be the judge if CNBC lifted some of my work for their site.
Wealthy Accountant: https://wealthyaccountant.com/2016/11/08/credit-card-secrets/
Wealthy Accountant: https://wealthyaccountant.com/2017/07/10/change-nothing/
The Change Nothing post had a comment suggesting I incorporate my program with the Defy organization. It seems CNBC took their article a bit further than mine. Least they could have done was invited me to be a talking head for a 30 second spot. Such is life.
You might think I’m offended by this. You might be offended if it happened to you. Don’t! I get my ideas from reading and the writers over at CNBC may have discovered a story they wanted to tell based on my work.
One thing CNBC didn’t do was lift the post word for word. I wouldn’t expect them to.
There is one final piece to the marketing puzzle: word of mouth. Nothing works better than word of mouth. People respect an unsolicited endorsement of a blog, book, song, et cetera.
Please steal my stuff. Okay? But also spread the word. I love what I do, but traffic builds relevance. Reprint a post; let your readers know where you got it from. It’s also the professional thing to do.
Tell your friends, share on social media, spread the word. I have some control over where I speak or which conferences I attend. Only you control who you tell about me.
If I make you smile or brighten your day, let a friend know. If I save you some money or help you reach your financial goals don’t keep it a secret. Share the love.
Pay it forward.
And don’t forget my platform. Subscribe. Thank you.
Tax season is officially over and not a moment too soon. As much as I love the work, when months go by without a day off it begins to wear on me. The worst part is the sitting. Too many hours planted in a chair coupled with sleep deprivation and health is not getting the attention it needs.
Loving something as much as I love tax work is also a challenge for people around me. Mrs. Accountant is an angel, allowing me the opportunity every year to disappear for months to help complete strangers and semi-strangers with their tax, accounting and financial problems. My daughters have learned from an early age dad is a very intense man when it comes to his work.
Work has never been a four letter word for me. (Considering my profession you would think I could count to four better.) Growing up on a farm meant everything was work, but not work. Running to the creek to fish was something you did. Planting in spring was fun, not really work. Harvesting was an addiction; sleep was hard to achieve until the crops were off the field. I know of no greater pleasure than watching a barn filled with bales of hay, placed there by my own hands. There is no greater thrill than to see the milk cooler fill each day to the rim. A full bulk tank meant money, and therefore, life. It was a good life and I had no idea what the real world was like outside my vision horizon.
Formalized work is another story. Working on a farm is just doing stuff you feel like doing. Calling the cows for milking was more pleasure than work. Even the farm dog knew when it was time to sic’em. Our worldview was narrow, yet innocent. And there is something to be said for ignorant innocence.
But I was smarter than the rest of them. And restless. Never satisfied, I had to know what was on the other side of the hill. “Greener”, you say? Well, I gotta see that for myself.
The family farm was reaching the end of its lifecycle and the world would open before my eyes. With an optimism only the ignorant can feel, I headed out into the world as the family farm took its last gasp in bankruptcy court. The cows were gone and some of the land. The homestead and most of the land (the core holdings, for sure) were preserved in the family name. I had different ideas.
On one hand I say work doesn’t bother me, but you may have noticed I have yet another hand. Neat, huh? With this extra hand I’m lazier than shit. I wanted nothing to do with the daily grind and obligations of milking cows. Working for the man would never cut it.
Well, of course, those lazy-ass business owners have it made. Hire a bunch of slaves, ah, I mean employees, aka team members, to do all the work while I did the one thing I really enjoyed: counting the money.
This whole early retirement thing is an alien concept to me. Retire early? From what? My plan was to never start! Take that Mr. Money Mustache. Work until you’re 30. Pftt!
Unfortunately the world is not always kind to idiots, ah, innocence. I had a plan and life had a few plans of her own for me.
The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men
The best part of living in the middle of nowhere is that you never develop the bad habits of the world at large. As a kid, my biggest expense in life was dropping money into the plate Sunday morning. My senior year of high school I think my entire spending for the year never broke $200 and most of that was enforced school spending which pissed me off to no end. Come to think of it, I still have a burr in my shorts over it.
By nature I was fiscally tighter than a rusted ring shank nail. Working at saving was like saying I have to work to keep my heart beating. The darn thing does what it does without any conscious input by me. Money, saving and investing worked on the same rules for me. And good thing. If the world had taught me the bad money habits most people have you would not be enjoying this wonderful story this very moment. (I am not conceited. But I am right.) It was thrift which gave me a fighting chance to pull the stunt I was planning.
I needed to find a business where I could work very part-time and screw around whenever I wanted. My preferred screwing around was books. I loved to read and still do. I read every day. That is one better than eating because I periodically fast.
Out of high school I was still working on the family farm. A few months later it was gone. With few options available in the Rust Belt during the early 1980s recession I went to work for my dad’s agricultural repair business. Talk about work. This was nothing like farming! Hundred hour work weeks for minimum wage or less (I worked for family) educated me about the “real” world damn fast.
Bookkeeping, taxes and payroll all looked mighty good. Sure beat crawling into another dirty silo. (My brother, on the other hand—remember, most of us have two hands—enjoyed the silo work and still does. To each their own.) My dad hated paperwork so the task fell to me. For a few years I had my side gig while busting tail another 80 hours a week turning a wrench. Don’t feel sorry for me though. The lessons learned from hard work are never lost.
I learned I needed to get that side gig going and going fast. Sick of the ag industry, I left the family business and moved into my own home. I was 22. For the first time in my life I could indulge my reading habits with reckless abandon. Lucky me. My side gig was 50 or so tax returns each spring. Investments rounded out the rest of my financial needs.
My first home wasn’t much to look at. Houses are cheap in the boondocks. I paid $12,000 and change. Don’t quote me; I don’t recall the exact number, but I am close. I had money; I had books; I was happy as a pig in shit.
Then I met Mrs. Accountant.
From the FIRE to the Frying Pan
I would never have amounted to anything if Mrs. Accountant hadn’t found me and shown me the way. A year after we met we were married. Now some folks would say I went from the frying pan to the fire, but it ain’t so. I was in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) and Mrs. Accountant kicked me back to the frying pan. And good thing.
Frugality allows for some serious laziness. When needs are small and desires nonexistent, so are money needs. Without debt, the required money needs are rather small. Any side gig would do. But the one thing I love was unfulfilled.
As Mrs. Accountant and I prepared for married life, the minister marrying us required we take marriage counseling. Innocent enough. As the counseling reached its end the minister commented on my lack of employment. He offered me a job as janitor (that’s custodian to you!) for the parochial school attached to the church. What could I say? I accepted. As memory served, I fought back tears at the time. Once again I was working a dreaded job by the clock. I thought nasty things about God. In his house, of all places.
Don’t let the whelming tears in my eyes cause you any emotional trauma. The work of a janitor is honest work and I took to it like a duck to water. The main reason it took so well is I discovered a janitor can get his work done in a fraction of the time needed. This allowed plenty of time for reading on the clock. God was coughing up a hairball for your favorite accountant!
Regardless how honest the work and wonderful the people at the church and school, I had other plans. It was during this one year swilling toilets, picking up puke and mopping floors that I decided on my official side gig: tax preparation.
I had it all figured out. I’m a smart guy and I’ll tell ya about it if you ask. If you don’t ask I’ll tell ya anyway and wonder what the hell is the matter with you. Tax preparation was the perfect job for a guy that really wanted to spend all day reading. For two and a half months I worked reasonably hard (don’t take on too many clients now) and for nine and a half months I do . . . nothing! Ye-Haaaaa!!!
Back Into the FIRE
Remember how I told you I was a smart guy? Well, I lied!
The first few years in my retired side gig life were peachy. Mrs. Accountant and I had a new home and my office was in the remodeled basement. Life could not have been better. This is where a medical condition I have affected my so-called intelligence.
I record everything in business. I knew how many returns I did every single day. I still have the handwritten pages next to my desk going back decades. I can tell you how much money came in on any given day and how many returns I prepared that day. It was a sickness. Now the records are computerized in QuickBooks and Excel worksheets so I can micro-analyze the data even better.
There was only one goal I ever had in life: beat last year’s numbers. At first this was a noble endeavor. The numbers were small and tacking a few onto last year’s performance was no big deal. But compounding, as we all know around here, takes on a life of its own.
No longer satisfied with my performance, it was time my side gig went viral. (This is before there was such a thing as “going” viral. Back then viral meant you needed to see a doctor for that little indiscretion you had while traveling overseas.)
I wanted back on the farm so I bought my current office building and farmstead. The year was 1995. A mere five years after starting my serious phase of the tax side gig I was going all-in. The side gig was now a full-fledged business. I had employees working in my basement, but now we were putting on our big girl panties. (This is a family blog so there will be no pictures of people in big girl panties.)
I was back in the fucking rat race. (So much for a family blog.) An office building and more employees meant . . . WORK! You may not know this, but I have a life threatening allergic reaction to work. I break out in hives and need plenty of rest to recover from any such incident.
Truth is, I was happy. The business had plenty of room to grow. And grow it did. A storefront sent a bulging client list into obesity. It worked for a few years.
Payroll and bookkeeping were minor parts of the company. A one-man (or woman) summer staff was all that was needed. Seasonal help made the office hum like a beehive. I lived for the thrill of tax season.
But I still had the sickness; beat last year. And beat it, I did. Within a few years I blew past 2,000 tax returns and was turning people away. Stress showed up about the same time. It was too much. My disposition was not conducive to this kind of business. I was never going to be a Bill Gates or anyone who would take a small tax practice to a multi-location regional or national firm. I knew what the price would be and refused to play. It was time to stop beating “last year’s numbers”.
I honed the client list down to 700 over the next few years. I was happy again. I was doing what I loved most: reading a lot, preparing taxes and researching tax issues. I was a pig back in the schmoo.
But . . .
Do we see a pattern here?
All that reading and knowledge really should be put to work. Right? Well, smart as I am, I started thinking. I pay property tax for the full year for the full building. I pay for building upkeep. I pay for computers. On ad nauseam. My thinking was simple. Computers cost exactly the same whether I use them for three months a year or if they are used all year long. What a concept!
So I started adding more payroll and bookkeeping clients. I felt I could hire and retain better employees if I could give them full-time work instead of seasonal jobs.
For several years I turned my practice into a job. Bookkeeping and payroll burst through the seams. Since my focus was tax, the payroll and bookkeeping never turned a profit of any size. Toward the end it even lost money. I’m a tax guy and know it.
I built strategic alliances for bookkeeping and payroll (yes, I know I still owe you guys a post on this outsourcing program). Most payrolls are handled outside my firm and bookkeeping is headed in the same direction. Yes, computers don’t cost more if they are used all year, but if there is no profit, why bother? Now the strategic alliances turn a profit, so feel free to contact my office for payroll and bookkeeping. We do it better and cheaper now. No stress for me; better service and price for you. And I make money. And last I checked that is the reason I am in business; side gig or no.
Danger, Will Robinson!
Tax season is over. I am writing from home. The office is quiet. My office manager and one tax preparer are all that remain. Friday’s are very short days. Only one full-time employee will haunt the halls of my practice until the next tax season. Even the office manager is on truncated hours. And me? I am writing, reading and speaking. My schedule is full. Too much traveling for my taste, but necessary for the life of a blogger who wants to turn it into a real business.
And now we get to the real issue of this blog post. I hope you read this far.
I share my story because I want you to understand the dangers of a side gig. There is one last thing I haven’t told you yet. It is the worst possible thing ever anyone is forced to do.
My practice is more a side gig than ever again for the first time in years. The long hours of tax season are over and my lusts have been satisfied. I accomplished a lot and missed a few things I really wanted to get done for clients. Now I look into the maw of a summer without payroll issues. Some tax work still comes in. It is easier to finish a couple hundred tax returns over nine months than a thousand in two and a half. Yet my heart is heavy.
It is not lack of work to fill my days weighing on my soul. It is the people. My employees. Summer work is done and what started as full-time opportunities turned into seasonal work. As this tax season progressed I knew what had to be done. Good people, people I enjoyed working with, would no longer have work to do in my practice.
I am a coward in these matters. My office manager broke the bad news. My front desk: gone. Tax professionals: gone. Karen, my office manager, keeps the place running smooth. Dawn, an undiscovered tax prodigy (Don’t let it get to your head. Dawn likes to read this blog so I need to keep it real for her.) who somehow wandered into my sphere of influence is the sole remaining full-time employee. There is enough work for her to do as long as I send her on research projects for upcoming blog posts and for extensions and wayward taxpayers seeing the light.
Two years ago Mr. Money Mustache gave me a great honor by pointing out my office and work. He meant well and we get along fine. I do his tax work and even advise MMM on tax matters. When I feel punchy I tell people I’m the financial consultant of MMM. It impressed the shit out of people. He is a fine man and I will always be grateful for what he did for me.
Two years ago it created a huge challenge in my business. The side gig became the worst job ever. MMM has a huge following and it is hard to control the flow. A blog is easy by those standards. More readers are relatively simple to manage. Not so a massive influx of tax clients. There are only so many hours in a day and they were then all consumed. I learned new skills from the challenge.
Two years ago some people got jealous of my success. Why did I get such an honor from MMM when they deserved it? Worse, I had two jealous employees sabotage the business. They couldn’t stand an ‘ol farm boy doing well on such a large stage. Those employees went and the ones they poisoned.
New employees arrived and were trained. Life moved on and my practice grew in the right ways. There is still room for improvement and you can expect that from me as we move forward. There was no doubt I was out of my league two years ago when things hit.
And that is the danger of a side gig. Loving something can quickly turn into an obsession. A seasonal or part-time side gig means you will let good people go. Make no mistake, I fully understand the consequence of my actions. Families are affected.
And I never realized how many times I would have to tell people “no.” There is only so much of little ‘ol me to go around.
That is the real danger of a side gig. You do it because you like doing it. Then it takes over. Learn from the experiences of an old accountant from the backwoods of Wisconsin. Love can be very painful. It is not a character flaw; it is life. Know this before going in.
The side gig is the greatest thing on Earth. It will take you further than you ever imagine. Whoever though my practice would do taxes for Americans on the other side of the planet? Not me. Not even a wet dream. (Not even a wet dream.)
It started when I had a great business proposition for MMM that went beyond anything I could imagine. If I would have known how my life changed the second MMM interrupted my presentation three years ago in Seattle, I would have run from the room and never returned. You can’t mentally handle what the world has in store for you. You just have to take it as it come.
I’m still a farm boy from the middle of nowhere. Things like this don’t happen to people like me.
It was just a side gig, for Christ’s sake. What the hell went wrong?