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Depression and Personal Finance

If you are feeling suicidal, please seek help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Find a trusted friend or family member to stay with you while you are suicidal.

 

Break the cycle of debt and depression. Loneliness, sadness, depression and helplessness are natural responses to serious money problems. #money #moneyproblems #debt #depression #suicide #breakthecycleDepression knows no boundaries. Anyone at any age can experience debilitating depression. No one is exempt: male or female, young and old, every ethnic background, every religious belief and every level of the economic spectrum.

Depression is hard to treat since it comes in so many flavors. Some people experience mild or seasonal depression, sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression can be brutally severe or cycle between periods of hyperactive behavior followed by an equally severe depressive episode. To complicate matter more, manic-depressives can cycle fast or slow.

Medication doesn’t help everyone and for many only provides mild relief. Frequently external factors trigger an event. Overwhelming debt can bring the walls crashing in.

But external triggers are not necessary for those with a tendency for depression. Successful and wealthy people are not exempt from external triggers causing depression. Eliminating debt can go a long way for many people in regaining mental health. But not always.

 

The Dear Debt Mission

Melanie is an incredible young woman who writes the Dear Debt blog. What started as a public journey to break up with debt brought an unexpected consequence. People started reading her blog and contacting her with their stories of unmanageable debt. Melanie also noticed in her analytics program that many people finding her blog were suicidal due to their debt load.

It might be forgivable to bow our head in silence and move on feeling there is nothing we can do. Not Melanie. Every September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Melanie has a Debt Drop program where she encourages bloggers to join her in creating a web of posts focusing on suicide awareness and prevention. A heavy dose of debt reduction is encouraged. I added to the list a few times myself. Here is another entry.

It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved due to Melanie’s efforts. Certainly the number of people helped is tremendous.

But that isn’t why I’m writing today. There is another group of people in desperate need of help I want to address.

 

Living the Dream or Living in a Dream

Before we continue I must make a confession. The author is a rapid cycler manic-depressive. The dark days of winter can cause SAD, but I also suffer awesome bouts of efficient hyper-activity followed by crushing depression. It can happen any time of the year.

When I was a boy I was diagnosed with the disease. Later doctors tried a cocktail of medications to tone down the highs and lows. Lithium did nothing. Prozac and similar drugs were ineffective. They even tried scary drugs that really messed with my head. Eventually the medications were ended and I attended therapy to understand my triggers and methods to control an episode.

Here is the funny thing. I never had an overwhelming debt burden in my life. I grew up poor on a farm in rural Wisconsin, but we always had food, family life was good and I never felt like we were poor until I got older and the outside world reminded me what I am.

Later I married the best woman on earth and she blessed our household with two incredible daughters. Home life has always been good for me. I got lucky. With a predisposition for mania followed by depression, I found a way to create a life that minimized triggers. Like I said, lucky.

 

Money Doesn’t Solve Every Problem

When people are deep in debt they think money will solve all their problems. It doesn’t! Money will solve some issues in your life. Money can reduce and eliminate debt obligations. This is a major stress reducer.

Lots of money also opens doors unavailable to the poor. Money makes it easier to retire young or choose the job of your choice since you have resources to weather the time between fulfilling jobs. Money means you don’t have to settle for any job offered just to put food on the table. If you enjoy traveling money certainly helps with that too.

Money can solve financial problems. It can’t fix a broken marriage or resolve a drug problem. Money can buy quality healthcare, but can’t cure every ailment. And money can’t stop the demons of depression from crushing you down.

 

Dealing with Depression

To someone deep in debt it may sound strange to hear someone is suicidal when they have a quality home life and financial wealth. But depression doesn’t work that way!

Mental illness carries a social stigma. It shouldn’t. Depression is not a sign of weakness. Depression is a disease and must be treated as any disease.

Debt can cause serious depression. Not knowing where to turn is normal. Get your life back. #debt #suicide #depression #personalfinance #studentloans #creditcarddebtLeft unchecked it can destroy things of value in your life. Medication is an option for some. I encourage you to have a serious talk with your doctor on your situation. If medication doesn’t work for you, as it doesn’t for the author, you need a different set of tools. I will share some that have worked for me.

I was hesitant writing this post. After nearly a decade of controling excessive bouts of depression (I am less successful controlling the manias) I am in the deepest episode in nearly a decade.

Age gave me experience in handling triggers. Small bouts of depression would set in, but it was manageable. I have ready mental tools to get me back into life and motivated again. Manias are the worst because they make you feel so good as you get stuff done. I even managed to reduce the downside after a mania. Encouraging a mild mania is a valuable tool for an accountant during tax season. It is also dangerous. But when tax season spills into the remainder of the year the energy needs to come from somewhere, or so goes the crazy thinking.

Now is a good time to review the tricks I’ve learned to deal with depression since I’m struggling right now:

  • Triggers: Even if medication helps, controlling triggers is vital. Dark and short winter days can trigger depression in some people. It was an issue for me when I was younger, but it has been a non-event in later adulthood. Sunlight or sun lamps can help.

OTC medication or mild stimulants can trigger an event. For me large amounts of caffeine can trigger a mania. It’s easy when the workload increases to pound the coffee. You should constantly observe your response to foods, beverages, medications and recreational drugs (legal and illegal).

Stress is a huge trigger for many people. This is where a heavy debt burden comes in. But money isn’t the only stress. Other illness or the death of a friend or family member can do it. An unforeseen event can lift the stress level and start an uncontrollable spiral into depression.

  • Communicate: I have a very close relationship with my wife, Mrs. Accountant. We talk all the time. We can feel each other’s moods. Mrs. Accountant frequently knows I’m headed for depression before I do. She can see the outward signs I’m not paying attention to.

A trusted friend, family member or counselor is a tremendous benefit. Let people around you know when you are going down. Make sure a plan is in place to protect you if you become suicidal. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. You know the helplessness of depression. When the depression passes, only then do you realize what you would have thrown away if you ended your life. And the damage to your friends and family lasts decades and longer. Do the right thing. Have a support team in place.

  • Train Yourself: Many people benefit from motivational tapes if they only have mild depression or borderline personality disorder. The upbeat message of optimism from speakers like Zig Ziglar have helped millions.
  • Diet and Exercise: Finding the right diet and mix of aerobic and strength exercises has made an incredible difference in my life. It’s those times where running a business cuts into running in the park conflict when I eventually get into trouble. Then diet suffers and the sodas go down the throat during the day and Jack at night. It all ends badly. Discover what foods cause attacks. And consider a sensible exercise program developed with a professional (trainer, doctor, et cetera).
  • Sleep: Lack of sleep is a serious stressor. Depressive episodes for me are usually preceded by a bout of sleeplessness. Lack of sleep even messes with people who don’t have depression. Get your sleep. It might be the most important thing you do all day. Cut the caffeine if it disturbs your slumber.
  • Avoid alcohol: For some reason people with depression think alcohol will deaden the pain. It might a first, but alcohol doesn’t deaden the pain long and the risk of addiction is real. Alcohol is no solution for depression and is fraught with problems.
  • Avoid important decisions while suffering a depressive event: Depression is a funny thing when it comes to decision making. I can prepare a mean tax return without issue while struggling with depression. The reason is the decisions are less about a choice and more about application of facts. The decisions best avoided while depressed include financial decisions.

Important financial decisions are best avoided while suffering deep depression. Your judgment is clouded when you are suffering. Cashing in a retirement account is a bad idea when you should be focusing on healing. Major expenditures are also to be avoided at these times. Now is not the time to shop, buy a new car, home, et cetera.

When depression strikes deep I start to eliminate things. I cut back on life demands. Depression causes me (most people) to withdraw. I try to cut back on projects or even eliminate them. I’m not saying this is a good thing because this in itself is a decision with consequences long after the depression ends. Unfortunately, you don’t always have a choice. Life doesn’t go on as usual when you suffer depression. Something has to give and certain activities need to be curtailed. Things you don’t want to cut back are your relationships and job. Your family and friends are your support group in your time of need. And you may need that job later when the fog lifts.

  • Seek professional help: It isn’t easy to seek help for depression. When you are suffering the blinding tunnel vision of depression you don’t think anyone can help and don’t even know you need help many times. When not depressed you think you are okay now. You must break out of the trap and seek appropriate medical attention.
  • Don’t be alone: Depression can do strange things to good people. If you are suicidal, call the number at the top of this post. Help is available. Whenever possible, have someone with you.

 

Remain Strong

It’s not always possible to control triggers. A surprise stressor can come out of left field. Some people are lucky enough to grow out of some types of depression like SAD or borderline personality disorder. Regardless, the illness is always there. Like any serious disease, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Seek help. There are solutions.

And most of all, remember, you are not alone.

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. Quickbooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

A cost segregation study can save $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Finding Focus in Chaos

Focus might, just might, be important at a time like this.

The world is crazier than it is sane. People complain about having no money and then get rid of what they have as fast as possible. How many people can’t make it until the following week without money issues? A short week and most people are already down to fumes. Thank God, payday is Thursday so you can stop at the bar on the way home. Anything to relieve the stress of money.

Chaos is all around us. Concerns over an overheating stock market and economy are always present in the background. If it isn’t the economy being too good, it’s the bad economy. There is no just right.

Before anyone forgets, there’s plenty of chaos from politics. Talk about a distraction! Best if we all stand alert in case Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, calls us for advice. One never knows.

Talking about politics, it’s hard to get any useful work done when a fat guy from the backwoods of Korea (not necessarily close to the backwoods of Wisconsin where your favorite accountant resides if anyone’s concerned) is waving missiles and nuclear weapons around.

It’s easy to get distracted with the chaos all around us. Traffic, work, a screaming client, the wife and kids all add to the endless disruption of our natural flow of productive activity.

Complaining doesn’t help; it only encourages complaint! There is good news, however. Great men and women throughout time have all had the uncanny ability to focus on the important while the world burned around them. If you don’t believe me, ask any mother with an infant.

An American Hero

President Herbert Hoover is an unlikely hero to most Americans. Most people consider him a failure because all they remember is the Great Depression starting about the same time as his presidency and he was unable to solve the issue. It’s the wrong impression. The Great Depression would have started when it did regardless who was President. If Hoover weren’t President, he would have been the guy called in to fix the problem.

I had the same distorted disillusion of Hoover most of my life. My interest in Hoover was more about the market collapse than about the man. Then a recent issue of The Economist recommended a book by Kenneth Whyte titled Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. I love books and knew this one had the promise of heavy use for years so I bought it.

Over the years I built a spotty sketch of Hoover and his life. There were plenty of gaps and misconceptions. Whyte set me straight. So much so I have a planned post comparing Hoover to Trump since we sometimes hear the two Presidents have much in common. No they don’t! I think it’ll be an enlightening read once I get the words spanked onto the digital page.

Focusing on the sublime.

Today we will focus, ahem, on one facet of Hoover’s personality: his ability to focus under extreme conditions.

My favorite story of Hoover and his can-do attitude started in England.

On June 28, 1913, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated. It didn’t seem like a serious issue on the surface. Life went on as usual, but behind the scenes a diplomatic disaster was in the making. Then, a month later, the world exploded.

Americans were vacationing in Europe as usual on the eve of the Great War, as it was called until we decided to do it again even better twenty years later. It can be argued Europe was resting from November 12, 1918 until August 31, 1939; a sort of war halftime to regroup for the second half. (Yes, I know many consider WWII started when Japan made her move in China in 1931. We’ll stick to the European theatre for this installment.)

Hoover was in London with no warning of the impending armies gearing for war. When the fighting started a large number of Americans needed to be evacuated. A humanitarian disaster was certain if someone didn’t find a way to fix the problem.

Hoover never hesitated. He orchestrated the evacuation of Americans with unimaginable efficiency.

Once the continent was cleared of vacationing Americans, another even greater problem arose. Belgium was caught between the warring powers and the Belgium people were suffering. Food was scarce as the country was virtually quarantined.

People were dying! Civilians. Women and children. And neither side cared to help over concern it might bolster the opposing side.

Herbert Hoover with King Tut. The human side of an extraordinary man.

Herbert Hoover never wavered. He worked relentlessly with the Germans, British and Americans to provide relief for Belgium.

Germany controlled Belgium. Germany requested the right to cross Belgium in her run for Paris at the start of the war and moved within days without waiting for an answer. Belgium was defenseless and at the mercy of the German military. The suffering in Belgium during the Great War was some of the greatest human suffering in history.

Amidst the chaos Hoover went to work. He traveled to Berlin to seek aid from the German government to no avail. Great Britain didn’t trust the Germans and Hoover wasn’t even British!

Hoover built a relief effort rapidly, saving millions from starvation.  The U.S. government reluctantly, at Hoover’s incessant prodding, provided limited funding and permission to organize the American farmers into producing the food necessary for the relief effort. President Wilson, along with the British, feared the relief effort would help the Germans by diverting food to the German troops.

Enemies allowed Hoover free rein to travel across borders without restriction. He was the only man alive allowed to do so by both sides. His constant drive built the Commission for Relief in Belgium that helped American farmers produce more, raise private and public funding to deliver the goods to Great Britain and get the food to the Belgium people in desperate need.

Hoover visited Belgium several times during the war to see firsthand the devastation and suffering. His mind was always going, working on solutions to the intractable problems of feeding the Belgium people during the war.

At its peak the Commission had an $11 million a month budget with 78% provided by government grants. Over 10 million people were fed daily at the height of the effort.

Only when the U.S. entered the war did Hoover’s relief effort end. Germany would not allow an American behind German lines after that point.

Blocking Out the Noise

Hoover’s ability to focus when distractions were everywhere is legendary. Most people have a hard time reading a book unless there is silence! Hoover could concentrate in any environment.

The ability to focus during chaos will determine a large part of your success. If minor distractions, such as the stock market, can derail your financial plans you are in big trouble.

Marriage, or any relationship for that matter, will have distractions. Successful marriages don’t require all parties involved to never notice other people they find attractive. There will be attractive people! There will be kind, caring, attractive people willing to weasel into your relationship when you are under duress. Especially when you are at your weakest! The marriages that survive a lifetime find focus on the commitment to the relationship. It’s a team sport even when the night is darkest.

Business is the same. Do you really think owning a business is all fun with loads of money pouring in? Heck no! There are good days and bad days. Then a recession comes along and tests your grit. Fewer businesses survive than marriages. In my years as an accountant serving business owners I can attest most issues business owners face involve the lack of focus. Business owners want to do everything until they wear out and fail. Everybody thinks they can be Elon Musk, running 78 ½ different Fortune 500 companies. You’re not Elon Musk! And for the record, the jury is still out on Elon. The boy is amazing, but he has a full plate with no guarantees.

Happiness at the Focal Point

You and I don’t have to be Herbert Hoover. We can have Hoover’s focusing talent by following one simple rule:

  • Define your goal in its simplest form.

Hoover’s goal was simple: Feed the Belgium people.

My 30 year marriage is based on a similar simple rule: Remain faithful to Mrs. Accountant. All too often we try to focus and several things at once and fail. In my marriage I always focused on Mrs. Accountant. I would always try to take the path that would cause her the least anguish. Of course I failed at times! Focus isn’t about never failing. But my failures were relatively minor. I never cheated and never felt tempted. I know where I have it good because I focused there. Stupid mistakes happened, but faithful to my relationship with Mrs. Accountant I always was.

Moments of serenity can help build the focus muscle.

You need a focal point. I hear people with the financial goal of financial independence (FI) all the time. Well, what exactly is that? FI is a simple enough goal, but it’s not a defining goal!

A simple goal presented correctly will cover all the “how’s” later. FI is not clear so it misses the focal point. Define FI. Does this mean freedom to travel, retire to the country or run your own business? Focus when you set your most basic of goals.

A better simple goal: To attain a liquid net worth large enough to live off investment income without worry so I can pursue my dream of (travel/running my dream business/pursuing philosophical studies).

The how-to automatically fills in as you focus on the goal. The 4% Rule comes into play without mentioning it in your goal. Saving and investing are automatic in your financial goal.

Focus is a learned trait. Herbert Hoover was in London for business when the world called his name. No other man alive was in the right place at the right time to do what he did. Once tragedy arose there was no time to practice; you’d better be prepared for the unexpected.

You may never face the challenges of Hoover during the Great War. Then again, Hoover never realized his number was about to be called the day before hostilities broke out.

Your eyes must be trained to the focal point at all times.

You never know when they’ll call your name.

 

 

How Rich Am I? How Rich Are You?

Over the years I have been accused of being a millionaire by clients. The quest was to discover how much wealth their accountant had. I was mum.

Few of my local clients read this blog; only the few who do know the scope of my wealth and understanding of money. The inquisitors would have been excited to know the truth.

The allegation began the same every time. A discussion on money and wealth building led to the client asking, “You must be at least a millionaire?” I smiled and shrugged. Like my grandfather, I kept my mouth shut about what I had.

Before I reached the seven figure level I felt comfortable with people believing I had more than I did. For some reason people think you are smart if you have more than two nickels to rub together. Money does not make you smart! I could give plenty of examples, but I must protect the guilty.

It took me years to understand I was rich all along. When a client suggested I must be a millionaire it was because they wanted validation of my intelligence when it comes to money. But smart people are usually the worst with money. Think of doctors. Most doctors have a net worth far below what their income and time earning that income would suggest. Attorneys are almost as bad as doctors. Accountants and tax professionals as a group are terrible with money. Some do exceedingly well; most are flat broke.

The worst offenders of all are financial advisors. Those high-earning folks empowered to help us with our excess funds earn and spend as similar levels. I could tell stories, but client confidentiality forbids.

The best people with money are as dumb as a box of thumbtacks. Smart people always believe they can outsmart the market by either timing or investing in crazy alternative investments. Usually both.

Dumb people shouldn’t be confused with stupid people. Dumb people can be very intelligent, but rarely walk around bragging about it. Professionals have a status to keep so clients think they are successful! Doctors spend under pressure from peers. Attorneys have clients to impress; accountants have clients to impress. But the semi driver doesn’t have to impress anyone!

Some of the wealthiest people I know are in professions you would not connect with lots of money. Hate to break it to you, but the local junk yard dealer has more cash tucked away in the market than you. I know many truck drivers and mill workers with massive amounts of liquid investments. I know just as many broke attorneys.

Define Rich

The title of this post indicates you and I might be richer than we think. The title has done its job.

Before I crossed the seven figure barrier I was richer than I ever imagined. My net worth was measured in the hundreds of thousands, but the power of that money, and even much more modest sums, could be leveraged into a fortune.

Back then I could walk roads and hiking paths all over God’s Green Acre. Hiking, biking and driving was essentially free. I paid nothing to drive from my home to the library or my parent’s home. If I owned a car, a bike or a good pair of sneakers I was ready to go. Roads are free. A few toll roads are out there, but I can get anywhere I want on free roads.

The path between my home and library was worn deep. I love books! Call it a sickness. I’m big into mental masturbation. (I said that because I notice people quoting me lately and I wanted to provide something quotable in this post.) And the library is free. You can’t imagine all the great stuff to be had there outside of the normal books you would expect.

“Wait a minute!” I can hear you say. “The roads aren’t free. I pay TAXES!” Yes, you do my friend, but you don’t pay for the entire road, yet you use the whole darn thing. You pay taxes which include the roads and other infrastructure. People with high incomes pay more than their pro rata share of use while those earning less get a free ride until they are high earners.

As long as we are discussing it, let’s not forget that wonderful library. It costs pennies per person per year to fund your local library. For pocket change in taxes you have at least a million dollars worth of stuff you can borrow at any time without question even in a small community.

Even the poorest people in the community can use the library. My oldest daughter runs her tutoring business out of the library. I read voraciously for years every book from the library and still frequent the place more than all other establishments combined. Libraries are the best deal going and turn everyone into a rich person by default.

Leveraged Wealth

While we’re at it, your money goes a heck of a lot further than you think. How much does a cheap plane cost? A hundred grand? More? Well, for $500 (or free with credit card reward miles) you can fly anywhere in the country on a fancy jetliner, chauffeured by the finest trained pilots and served by cabin staff. Even First Class is a bargain when you think of it.

A small wad of small bills buys you more than a mega-million dollar plane with staff to take you where you want to go. Before the plane takes off you get to use the fine airport facilities and the runway to get the plane into the air.

One simple flight makes you sound mighty rich. For a $50 Uber ride you are driven to the airport in a $25,000 car on roads that would have cost you millions, tens of millions. Then you hop on an $85 million plane flown by trained pilots; no driving necessary on your part. Add the $50 Uber ride to the $500 airline ticket and you leveraged your way into using a couple hundred million dollars of infrastructure. As a percentage it is darn near free.

Gratitude Attitude

I have always been extremely rich, even before I had money. It can be argued my current net worth in direct proportion to the books I read from the library. Without those books I probably wouldn’t be here.

I was introduced to this philosophy by Tony Robbins in his first Personal Power tapes. I had my foster kids listen to Tony on a regular basis so I heard this stuff again and again. Some of it actually sunk in as noted by a foster child returning years later to thank me and by my business and family success.

Listening to this powerful message convinced me I was born the luckiest guy in the world. I was super rich before I earned my first dime.

I call it the Gratitude Attitude. There is no doubt my success in my marriage, business and raising my children is all related to my Gratitude Attitude.

None of this is new. Tony learned it somewhere and shared it with me. Now I am sharing it with you, paying it forward.

I make a point to realize how much I have with every step I take. Driving to the office is a multi-million dollar advantage. Books are free to borrow at the library or for twenty bucks you can own the thing. Of course the printing press, editors and distributors would have to charge me an arm and a leg if they only produced one copy just for me. Lucky for me I was born in a world of unbound riches.

How Rich Am I?

Only a cursory look tells anyone willing to notice I have always been rich. I was born into a rural farming family, but had untold riches around me from the moment I hit the table and my mother breathed a sigh of relief her labor was over.

I have health and freedom and a loving family. My childhood was filled with awe and wonder. Sure, other people had different riches, but I was rich as rich can be all the same.

Now, added to all the riches I was born into, I am blessed with financial wealth. After all these years I sit in awe and shock at my great fortune.

How rich am I? The richest man to ever live.

How Rich Are You?

As rich as I ever was.

Now pay it forward.

Fear and Doubt

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.

The Government Paid Me a Visit

Teat cups hurt like hell when hit by one, or seven.

I knew this day was coming. I did my best to hide it from you, dear readers. The government has had it in for me for decades. They tolerated my antics as a small town accountant, but now, with a blog growing in popularity, their patience has reached an end.

In the past I was given subtle warnings. Yesterday, and now this morning, the warning were not so subtle. It really isn’t that bad. They offered me the job on a regular basis in the past. The rules are simple: no more blogging; no more tax office. You work for us now.

My heart is heavy. After serious consideration I am accepting their offer. The pay is a solid six figures and all I have to do is spread misinformation getting taxpayers to overpay their taxes, thereby giving the government more control and power. For decades I have been the solution, now I have joined the problem.

Don’t hate me! They are very persuasive. Very persuasive. They sent seven dudes, I mean really big guys, to help me in my decision. They took me into the back room at my office. Even Karen, my Puerto Rican office manager, couldn’t stop them! The government guys had rubber hoses. Well, actually, they had teat cups. I included a picture so you guys know what a teat cup is. Only a farm boy can understand how much a teat cup hurts when you get hit by one.

I was dancing on my tippy-toes and squealing like a girl getting asked to the prom. It was not pretty. That six figure paycheck with a full line of benefits started looking mighty tempting after three hours of teat cup treatment. All I had to do was throw you guys under the bus. Hell, after three hours I volunteered to drive the bus. A few solid contacts from a teat cup on the back of the leg and you would modify your thinking too.

So there you have it folks. I sold my practice for a reasonable price. (The seven government goons are standing over me with teat cups ready as I write.) I work for the other side now. Disregard all the stuff I told you about reducing your taxes. It was all a lie. A good, God-fearing American is always willing to pay extra taxes to protect the freedoms we hold so dear.

The next time you see me at a conference, remember, I am a plant from the other side, there to gather information to get more money from you to the government. Never mind the steroid monster men holding teat cups by the doorway. They are there to help me do my job.

And the welts? Sure, teat cups leave serious welts, but they heal nicely. And while they are healing I have a nice reminder of the job I need to do now.

Before I leave, please check the date on this post. Have a pleasant April Fool’s Day. I knew you guys didn’t believe it once I said Karen couldn’t stop seven government goons. If that were to really happen, Karen would fuck those boys up good.

Tricks to Beat Procrastination

img_20161221_091909I’ve been putting off this post for a while. Now is as good a time as any to get it done.

Now that I got the obvious joke out of the way it is time we discuss a serious issue facing us all: procrastination. When we least need it, our desire to finish, or even start, a task is put off. There are a variety of reasons for procrastination. The job might be distasteful, it might be a large project, or you might not fully understand the task.

Fear keeps us from acting. We all have had experiences where we put something off and put it off and put it off, only later to find out, once we started, the project wasn’t that bad after all. Many times procrastination begins when we are mentally overwhelmed by the task. Either your to-do list is longer than Santa’s on Christmas Eve or you started a task and hit a road block. Once that dreaded file is put to the side it is in a kind of purgatory. Starting again is almost impossible.

There are various tricks I use to get massive amounts of work out the door. Rather than focus on different scenarios, I will hone in on issues surrounding my office work. We will deal with email, phone calls, social media, and tax returns. Think of my stack of tax returns as the pile of work in your office or the long to-do list at home.

The Dreaded File

Beating procrastination starts with saying no. My gut reaction is to always help. I give advice; people pay me for that. Then they want me to actually handle the process I suggested. This leads to:

Keith’s Rule #178: (Yeah, I know I missed a bunch of rules, but if I went looking for the last Keith’s Rule # I might stop writing and never get this post out.) Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

This has been a real issue since this blog began. The amount of work I can take on has exploded. Worse, when consulting I offer suggestions outside the normal workload my office handles. During weak moments I agree to facilitate the project. Because the task is not something I do often (I just know how it works) I don’t have resources to get the job done quickly. It turns into the dreaded file on the far corner of my desk I can’t get the ambition to start.

The second type of dreaded task is the stutter-start. This is where you take on a project, roll up the sleeves and have at it. Progress is made until you hit a roadblock. Figuring out the problem and restarting the task is hard so it gets put to the side when you have enough free time. That could be months! If ever.

The last dreaded project for me comes from overwhelm. It usually strikes during tax season, though emails qualify too any time of the year. It goes like this: Tax season starts and I am a rockin’ and a rollin’! I am knocking out return after return like a machine on a mission. Then I start to get tired. A tax return requiring research shows up and if I focus on that return several other returns will go unprepared. Overwhelm not only causes the problem file to get put to the side, but because I feel guilty, I try to force the issue on that return and end up not getting anything done. Now I have even more clients on the phone wanting an update.

Fixing the Problem between the Ears

Procrastination is all mental. All the dreaded projects listed above and any you face in your personal life are not as bad as first thought once the project is started. Once you begin it goes faster than anticipated. It feels good get the job done, but guilt is still involved because you left the client wait so long. We need to find a way to start. Once we start the rhythm takes over and we are back in the saddle killing our to-do list.

So how do we start? Since it is all a mental roadblock we need to change the way we think of a project. Rather than one big project, I break it down into very small pieces. Doing just one tiny piece of the task is progress even if I wait until tomorrow to take the next tiny step. Most of the time it is about getting started. The first tiny step takes only a few seconds or a minute. Once that minor victory is in the books I may as well do another small step. Before I know it I have the task finished and I feel relieved. I am always amazed at the feeling I have at the completion of a dreaded task. It was never as hard as I perceived it to be.

img_20161221_091920Email, Phone Calls, and Social Media

Modern society has given us a new plague. If email were around when Moses was explaining things to pharaoh, God would have saved the locusts and hit Egypt with an email blast. There is no doubt in my mind the email blast would have been more effective than locusts.

My email folder runs like ocean waves: at times the volume is manageable, other times it is Biblical. Weekends have improved. Weekdays I get 100 or more emails per day. As tax time approaches the number rockets to 300. If the emails were simple it wouldn’t be so bad, but emails I get have tax issues to deal with. Regular clients get a response as soon as possible. Other emails get read, but I respond to only a fraction. It feels cold. There is no way to 300 emails with the attention they deserve so I build walls.

Phone calls are not as bad as I have a better system in place to screen calls. You probably don’t have an administrative assistant as I do. I actually have three assistants: a full-time administrative assistant, a part-time seasonal admin, and an office manager. They are busy cooking the volume of requests into something I can digest.

In the past I always had someone else handle my social media. If you saw me on Facebook, Twitter, or the million other venues, it probably wasn’t me. Blog posts publish automatically and there were times in the past when more than 5 people were tasked with creating my online persona at one time. Social media is the way you promote and grow your company today. Since this blog started I have people communicating with me more via Facebook, et cetera. I still don’t put much on social media (my people do), but I do use it as a communications tool. My only defense is: They started it!

Solutions

Now we need to find a way to break through all the mental obstacles to clear the inbox, phone calls, and projects cluttering our thoughts.

The type of project does not matter when using tricks to destroy procrastination. Whether it is tax returns piling up, email, phone calls, or cleaning the garage, the most important step is starting. The only way to start is to take a large project or pile of tasks and break it into small pieces. Cleaning the garage is an afternoon project. Rather than think of it as this 4-hour task, start with something as simple as putting one bag of garbage in the barrel. You don’t have to write out the task. Just commit to looking at the job—the smallest of all steps. Look at the garage and find one small thing to do to move the project forward. Once the first small victory is in hand look for the second step. Soon the task will take on a life of its own. With each victory the burden lifts from your shoulders. Before you know it, the job is done.

The same applies to email and phone. Commit to doing just one. Make one phone call, deal with one email. Make it an easy one. A quick 20 second phone call or an email that needs no response is perfect. In less than a minute your workload is one less.

Here are more suggestions:

Whack-a-Mole: Phone calls and email can feel like Whack-a-mole. Deal with one email and two more pop up. It leads to overwhelm and procrastination. Close the door when dealing with email. Working on email offline is simple and keeps distractions away. Email is a distraction that can be distracted by more email, meaning you don’t get your email done. Just writing that gives me vertigo.

The same applies to phone calls. When on the phone turn off the ringer and turn on voice mail. Make your phone calls where you can’t see if new calls are coming in. Leave a message if you get no answer. If they call back they end up on voice mail and in the next batch of phone calls.

Start Small: I handle the most complex tax returns in my office. After a while the mind goes to mush. Lack of sleep and too much sitting take a toll. Rather than allowing myself to bog down, I grab a simple return or three to get momentum back. Working a full day and not seeing a single tax return completed while 30 more returns came in the door is a massive form of distraction. My team can get most tax returns done, but I grab some of their returns anyway when I need motivation. When I see I finished three returns in an hour I know I finished something for the day and it isn’t even 6:00 a.m. yet. Even if I don’t finish the big return on my desk I still feel good. I got three returns out early in the morning.

Make it a Game: Back to email. What happens when you get bogged down? Instead of doing what you want to do (should do), you turn to a video game or dick around on Facebook. I know you; I’ve been watching. Well, as long as games are how you procrastinate, how about an email game? The link is to an online program which forces you to handle your email in order and fast. The whole thing is turned into a game where you earn points. So, instead of another Sudoku puzzle, you can play the email game and get work done at the same time.

Phone: The cell phone is a massive distraction and procrastination tool. Take social media off your phone! I never have and never will look at Facebook or Twitter on my phone. There is no reason. Turn the phone off when you are working. No buzzer either. I know, I know, it might be important. Well, if your house is burning down they should call the fire department, not you. What are you gonna do, carry a bucket of water? If someone has died, it can wait. Unless you can perform a resurrection there is no reason you must take the call now.

Confession

I can hear you through my computer yelling: HYPOCRITE!

Yes, your favorite accountant is a major fuck up in this area. The blog made it worse by bringing in greater volumes of work. I am still building the infrastructure to handle it. I’ll get there. But that is not the confession I want to make.

I have one of those dreaded files on my desk right now. It has been sitting there a while and I need to explain how I got to this point and how I intend to remedy the issue. First I have to make a disclosure. The client I am talking about reads this blog. I will never share names or details which could lead anyone to know it was a certain client. My goal is to provide solutions other can use; to learn from my mistakes. That said, don’t take it personal if you are the subject of my story. I am never upset with a client who wants their stuff done. Trust me when I say I want it off my desk worse than you want it done. Each passing day causes my guilt to grow.

What Happened: A regular tax client asked for a consultation on finances. It was determined a hodgepodge of investments needed consolidation into index funds at Vanguard. Moving the variety of high fee accounts will take time and work. I agreed to help with the transfers. (I consult on many issues. I need to stop volunteering to do the work.)

The Mistake: Back in the 1990s when I sold investments, I had a back office to handle all this stuff. I no longer have a back office at a brokerage firm to handle details. I also don’t have access to resources to move funds fast and easy like I do with tax issues. I took the job because brokers will want to put the client is their fee-based products which means they may as well stay where they are at. I end up the only one in the office who can do the job and no third parties that handles this type of account either. Remember Keith’s Rule above.

Roadblock: I took the project before Labor Day! I needed to talk with Vanguard to handle transfer issues. First I was told the client had to be present so I set an appointment. During the appointment Vanguard had high phone volume so we ended up on hold until we gave up.

Now the problem was pushed to the side. Taking the next step is mentally difficult. A half day was wasted already with zero progress. Where to begin is the first question.

The Plan: This thing has been sitting there long enough. Rather than think of this as one huge project, I need to break it down. A personal account, several retirement accounts and a kid’s account all need service. It is overwhelming! My commitment today is to give 15 minutes and work on their non-qualified account only. If I can complete one small step I should be on my way. Completing one transfer will make the client happier; it will make me happier.

Outcome: When this project is done I will wonder why I waited so long. Once I get started I know it will go faster than anticipated. If I remember I will give an update.

Time to end this post I have been putting off priorities long enough. All I need to do is take one small step and I am back in the driver’s seat.

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.

The First Cut is the Deepest

Five years ago I worked so hard I busted a gut. Actually, I twisted wrong and caused a hernia. It was small, but painful. After careful consideration I decided it was time to go under the knife.

As the anesthesiologist put me under I was the happiest man on earth. Since I have two hands I can say, “On the other hand I did not enjoy the idea of surgery.” There was no pleasure in having a painful hernia nor did I enjoy the idea of surgery. However, through the whole process I was always happy. In my mind life is always good. The alternative, death, not so much.

Learning to Enjoy

Happiness is easier because you can choose to be happy anywhere at any time for any reason. Learning to enjoy a process or your position in life takes some effort. Like cleaning the chickens, I learned to enjoy the work. Sure it stunk to high heaven and the work is hard. But there was a reward at the end (actually, a reward as I worked); the chicken coop got better, cleaner with each shovel of stuff removed. And I enjoy watching the chickens jumping around with glee at their new, cleaner surroundings. After it is over I get to enjoy a nice hot shower.

Learning to enjoy process is one of the fundamental keys to success. Just because you reach financial independence or land your ideal job does not mean things are all roses all day, every day. There will be mundane jobs you don’t want to do. Imagine starting a business you always wanted. The business grows and is wildly profitable. You are happy! Then the day comes when you need to fire an employee. I know this from personal experience. I remain a happy individual who happens to not enjoy firing employees. It does not have to be a traumatic event. It can be a learning experience you learn to tolerate.

Using the Difference to Grow

By now you should understand the difference between happiness and enjoyment. This provides an opportunity to grow. You are happy as long as you can say, “I have enough.” A young person dying of an incurable disease can still find happiness knowing they have enough because they have a life to lose, a life where they experienced and lived.

Finding enjoyment in distasteful tasks can turn a negative into pleasure. One thing I hate with a passion is flying. It’s not the plane or the up in the air thing; it’s the airport. What a waste of precious human life. In January I am speaking in Florida at Camp Mustache SE. I love standing in front of a crowd and sharing ideas. I already feel anxiety over flying there.

If I am going to teach and share ideas I may as well apply them to myself. (Physician, heal thyself.) How can I learn to enter an airport and feel less anxiety? Is there a way I can turn the traveling part of traveling into pleasure and enjoyment? There is! I could focus on the endgame where I have the awesome opportunity to meet great people and share. Problem with that is I still need to go home. After the endgame comes the Ick! part. More airports.

Here is my solution. We will see if it works in January. The airport and time on the plane is something I consider wasted. I read, of course, but it is harder for me to read in such settings. I also tend to fall asleep if I read sitting for a long period, so my normal reading style is up, down, and all around. (I see no one is surprised who knows me.) At home I have sound cancelling headphones. I’ll bring them with me this trip to see if I read better. I will also write during this time. I never write while in airports or on a plane. This time I will. I can write anywhere for some reason.

IMAG0227The final piece of the puzzle includes my Stoic training. I’ve preached Stoic principles in the past. Now it is time for me to use the training. By letting go and accepting the situation I can relax and enjoy a good book, a quiet nap, or some writing time (probably all three). If I find a way to close the door while in the airport and on the plane I will feel the time was wisely spent. In normal life that is the kind of thing I enjoy immensely.

What about You?

You should always be happy, even during challenging times. Pleasure has many meanings and some things are out of our control and unpleasant. What brings you enjoyment? How can you turn distasteful tasks enjoyable?

The Stoics taught negative visualization where you sit back, close your eyes, and imagine the worst that can happen. When you open your eyes you realize how lucky you are because none of these things have occurred. Seneca practiced poverty once per month by dressing in old clothes; he was a very visible Roman statesman and an advisor to emperor Nero. He realized the worst that could happen to him was not all that bad.

Even the end of life can be enjoyed. All you need to do is commit to the experience; you only get one shot at it. By ending worry about dying you allow yourself the pleasure, the enjoyment of living the process of dying. It sounds crazy until you accept there is nothing you or anyone else can do about it. We will all die. How you die is up to you. Enjoy it.

Destroying Fear with Stoicism

20131025_173740Fear destroys dreams and happiness faster than any other thing can. Fear of failure prevents us from starting a business; fear of rejection causes us to pass on a dream date; and fear of the unknown forces us to keep working a job well beyond the point we could retire. This simple four-letter word pushes us back against the wall, draining all the vitality of life from us.

Fear paralyses. The opportunity to speak to a group is unrealized because our stomach turns and our heart stops due to fear, as if the audience will rush the stage and beat you. (Well, there was this one time I was speaking. . .) All the happiness you deserve in life is passed each time you allow fear to rule your decisions. There will be failures and rejections. Once you understand this is part of life you can focus on the important stuff and say “yes” to the opportunity for a date with the girl of your dreams or start that business.

Fear is nothing new. Mankind has felt the fight of flight response from the beginning of time. The ancient Stoics knew uncontrolled emotions destroy faster than anything known to man. And it is all self-inflicted!

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

It is all in your head. Failing at business is a possibility. When you see as many business owners over the years as I have you start to see a pattern. It becomes obvious who will fail. Most businesses fail because they neglect to take appropriate steps, which all lead back to some sort of fear. If we do that we could lose clients. If we invest in the company we might not earn the investment back. And, of course, once you allow fear to rule it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But sometimes it does not work out! You build a relationship with a beautiful woman and discover you are incompatible or she is not into you; there is no chemistry. The business you busted tail on for years is not working. That is life. There is no guarantee.

Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor of the Roman Empire, knew life would throw pain, suffering, injury, loss, and death at him. These things were not to be feared. It boiled down to character. Marcus said, “If anyone despises me, that is their problem. My only concern is not doing something worthy of contempt.”

Before turning down that speaking engagement that could build your career, consider Marcus’ words, “It amazes me that everyone values themselves more highly than anyone else, yet values other’s opinions of them above your own.” What is the worst that could happen if you got up in front of a group? Zig Ziglar said he only knew of one person who died while publically speaking. He took that to mean public speaking is a very safe activity.

What could happen rarely does. And even if it does, so what! Fear, that false evidence, wants to take control of the situation. Bullshit! Yes, you could bomb with the crowd. Once again, so what? If you have it in your mind you are going to have a good time and share ideas only you will determine the outcome of the presentation as it relates to you.

Know What You Control

You have no control over how the audience receives your message. You have no control over how the client will use the information you provide. You have no control how the person of your dreams will react to your proposal. It can go wrong! It will go wrong many times throughout life.

Trying to control things you have no control over will drive you insane. Unforeseen circumstances always crop up. Sometimes they destroy your happiness temporarily. Even finding the woman or man of your dreams does not guarantee you will always agree. It does not guarantee he/she will live to a ripe old age. Life has a cruel way of testing our resolve.

You can do everything right and still fail. That is not a character flaw; that is life, so said Captain Picard to Data when Data lost confidence because he lost a game he should not have. You have zero control over the weather or what people think of you. What you have absolute control over is how you interpret the world around you and how you respond. Marcus Aurelius said you cannot be harmed until you first feel harmed. Only you allow yourself to feel harmed.

What Would You Do If You Had No Fear?

It’s a valid question. What would you do? Take some time to think about it. If you knew you could not fail would you save and invest more knowing you are guaranteed an early retirement? Would you start a business if you knew it would be a wild success? Would you walk across the dance floor and ask the awesome woman for a dance if you knew she would say “yes”?

Well, I have news for you. You will never know if you do not try. You have to ask the woman; you need to open the business; you need to give the speech; you need to make the investments. Some will go wrong; some will blow your mind.

Some failures are a blessing. Suppose you see a woman you know across the room at a party. You are sweet on her and she knows it. She has made some indications of interest. You comb back your hair and make a move. She is everything you want in a mate. You build the courage to ask her for a dance only to be turned down. Your heart sinks. Then she puts her hand on your forearm and says, “I’m married, silly. But my sister, here she comes,” she waves to her sister to join you, “likes you. You remember Sally, don’t you?” After a wonderful night you find you have even more in common with Sally than the woman you wanted to date. Best of all, Sally is a frugal gal with some serious investments. She was looking for the right man to enjoy an early retirement with. Damn, I hate it when I get rejected like that.

Some failures are complete failures. Most are a stepping stone to the next level. You don’t want everything to go your way. Sometimes a loss or rejection is the best thing that can happen to you. Once you understand you have no control over the outcome you can open yourself to a world of possibilities. A bloody lip now and again is not bad. It is a lesson to learn.

Can you imagine Steve Jobs saying, “I don’t know if we can do that. Might not work.” What about Elon Musk? Bill Gates? Any successful business leader? You know as well as I that people that do the seemingly impossible are the ones who conquer their fears. Steve Jobs wasn’t born a master presenter. But he grew to be one. Check any YouTube video of Jobs at an Apple product launch. He was a master on stage. He got there by doing it.

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You cannot conquer a mountain until first conquer your fear.

The Old Adam

When I was a little tyke I was required to attend confirmation classes at the Lutheran church. Without getting into religion, there was a lesson we can apply to fear. The minister talked about baptism pushing down the old Adam and bringing forth the new Adam, without sin. That is how it works in life. We must continually push down our fears so the new you can rise and do awesome things.

Zig Ziglar said, “You are born to win, but to be a winner you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.” Zig was a Stoic and never knew it. What you think about all day long is your reality. If you allow fear to rule then you will suffer the consequences. Only you decide. Only you control your thoughts. Only you allow fear to rule or evaporate.

Fear is an illusion with teeth a meter long or a toothless old woman, you decide. You will never know the love, pleasure, happiness, and friends you would have had if you did not allow fear to rule.

Fear destroys. Mankind has known this from the beginning. The question is: Will fear rule you?