Christmas Every Day of the Year

Find some place comfortable to read this post.

Sit back, relax. Close your eyes. Empty your mind of all thoughts and worries. 

Now I want you to go to a special place, a place in your memories. The memory is of a good time, a happy time, a time you want to last forever. 

The memory might involve a family gathering or a time of recognition. For many, the memory is connected to a holiday or social event. For many in the Western world it will be a time from childhood and Christmas time.

Hold that memory. We will return to it shortly.

 

A Modern History

Johan Huizinga begins his book. The Autumn of the Middle Ages, with these words:

When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had  much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child.

It is impossible to understand the deep despair of an event unless you lived through it. We can read all we want about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1921. You still only know facts. There is no risk to you from the event; it is history.

 

I am writing this for Christmas 2021. Contemporaries will understand what I am about to explain; those who stumble across these words decades from now will never understand what it was really like to live in 2020 or 2021. Rather than spew facts, let me do my best to convey the emotions of the event.

January 2020 was a time filled with preparation and hope. Another tax season was upon my team and me. Plans were in place for a smooth execution of affairs. Client work would flow through a well designed process to assure accuracy and timely filing.

Early February was like any other tax season and I had no worries. There was a rumbling in the news of a disease in China that was spreading the planet. I paid no heed. 

Within a few weeks nervousness took hold as the virus was spreading rapidly. Hospitals were filling and people were dying. Rumors began of locking down the United States. This kind of thing hasn’t taken place here in living memory.

It still wasn’t in Wisconsin, where I live and work. I prayed this virus would hold off long enough to finish tax season. Then the calendar turned to March.

On March 9th two Wisconsin residents tested positive for COVID. The writing was on the wall. This would be a tax season like none experienced before.

Two days later a basketball player tested positive. Game over.

March 13: All Wisconsin public and private schools were closed by order of the governor until April 5th. Any hope I could finish tax season before the full force of the pandemic hit home evaporated. 

Three days later several counties closed bars and restaurants.

Another three days and Wisconsin now had 155 confirmed cases of the virus. Hospitals were filling fast and people started dying. 

March 23: Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, by order, closed all nonessential businesses. I called my attorney to find out if I was required to close my business. It wasn’t. It didn’t matter.

Soon, an eerie quite descended. It is hard to explain the sound or the lack thereof. The closest I can come is a particular Christmas morning. I wrote about that experience here

You have no idea how much noise humans make. The sound of machines is everywhere. Even out in the boondocks where I live it is noticeable. Now it was all going to stop.

The sound of traffic disappeared. There wasn’t a plane to be found in the sky. With nothing to do, I walked out my office and stood in the middle of the normally busy highway. There were no cars in either direction as far as the eye could see. All sounds of human activity had stopped. It was surreal.

Eighteen months later 6% of my clients would be dead.

 

Personal History

More than 1 in 17 clients died in the following year and a half. I may have attended more Celebration of Life ceremonies during this time than the rest of my career combined. 

COVID did not kill them all. In fact, the virus played a relatively small role in direct deaths. However, the restrictive rules (wear a mask, social distance (even from loved ones), shelter in place) took a toll. Many clients that left this world were clients from the early days of my practice. People do get old and die sometimes.

I would tell you about how old I feel, knowing I have worked my business for so long clients who seemed young when they first arrived have aged and now died. Perhaps the feelings I feel is a late arrival mid-life crisis. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m getting older, too. I don’t feel old so that can’t really be it.

Yet, I would be absconding my duties if I did not share the story of a client who died a few months ago.

It was about this time of year. Not Christmas, but New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember the exact year, but it had to be somewhere in the years 1992 -1994. I know this because my office was in the basement of my home at the time. 

Christmas is important; New Year’s Eve, not so much.

It is rare for me to leave the house on the last day of the year. Normally I stay up late and read a book until midnight. I smile at the new year and go to bed. This New Year’s Eve would be different.

Around 11 I was snuggled into my easy chair with a book on my lap for the year in question. Mrs. Accountant was in bed and we had no children yet.

A loud scream interrupted my reading. I turned to look out my living room window to see a woman fall from the window of a car. She fell hard and lay curled like a child on the pavement. 

Earlier it rained, turning to freezing rain. The ice on the road had sharp dimples.

The woman cried as she lay in the roadway. She was half clothed and was not wearing shoes. If a car happened by she would be hit and killed, or worse.

I quickly put my book down and ran out the door. 

“You can’t stay on the road, ” I said to the woman as I reached her side. “If a car comes you will be hit. You need to get to the side of the road.”

She tried to stand. The cold, sharp needles of ice and a heavy level of intoxication made it difficult for her to move. I held her hand as she gingerly made it to the curb.

I questioned her about what happened. She stammered about her abusive boyfriend. 

Getting nervous he might come back, I encouraged her to let me take her into my home. She could not walk the distance in her condition so I carried her. I set her down inside the entranceway. She slid to sitting.

I told her I was going to call the police. She begged me not to call the police. “Call my brother. He will pick me up,” she said. She gave me the phone number.

“I have an office in the basement. I will call from there. I will be right back,” I said. I went to my office and called the police.

Within minutes the police were in my home and Mrs. Accountant was awake wondering what her husband has gotten into now. The injured woman ducked when she saw the red and blue lights. The police made her nervous. 

Paramedics came. The woman was helped. The boyfriend returned to the scene of the crime before the excitement was over. The police had a serious talk with him. Then, all was quiet. Like the moment on the highway 25 years later.

By now it was midnight. Time to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new. 

But the story doesn’t end there. The gooseflesh part of the story is yet to be told.

 

A few months later I was deep into tax season and totally forgot about the prior New Year’s Eve’s event. A husband and wife client came in to drop off their taxes. They owned rentals and the husband even did some repairs and maintenance on my rentals owned at the time.

The wife started telling me this story about a tenant that was in an abusive relationship and was pushed from a moving car New Year’s Eve. “A kind man helped her, even taking her into his home and calling for help,” my client said.

A lump developed in my throat.

The client told me how the injured woman finally was able, due to the events of New Year’s Eve, to leave the abusive man.

I finally said, “I know about the woman pushed from the window of the moving car.”

“You do?”

“Yes. It happened between my driveway and the corner,” I said pointing in the direction of the road.

I paused, concerned about what my client would say if I told her my involvement. Finally, I said, “I was that nice man.”

We filled in details for each other on the woman’s situation for the next half hour before life once again returned to normal. Well, as normal as this accountant’s life ever seems to get.

 

What are the odds? I lived in the Fox Cites at the time. The metro area has something like 300,000 people. What are the odds a woman would be thrown from a moving vehicle in front of my home and that she would be a tenant of a client? How long are the odds I would help a woman in an abusive relationship before the year is out when less than an hour of the year remains? 

100%, it seems.

For some reason, everything we do comes full circle. You have experienced similar situations where one action leads to another that leads to another that brings you around back to the beginning. 

All our thoughts and feelings do not happen in a vacuum. What you say, do and even think, will play a future roll in your life.

And that brings us full circle in this blog post. Remember how I asked you to close your eyes and think of that wonderful time and place in your memories? Well, we are ending up at the beginning.

Father and child. One of the best memories you can have.

Christmas Every Day of the Year

In Huizinga’s quote he lays out the dichotomies in life from time past compared to the present. He states how in times past the highs and lows were much wider, and that only the experiences of “that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child” comes close to the extremes of historical times.

How can anyone reading this even come close to knowing what it felt like to live as the middle ages crawled to a close? Can anyone in the room understand what it was like in 1918? With a war raging in Europe and a disease killing by the truckload? Not a chance.

Kind readers, even if you lived the pandemic I currently live in, it will be hard to fully grasp the world I describe. Your children and children’s children will have no clue what the world of 2020 and 2021 was like. The pain is so great many contemporaries deny the reality of what is happening. What is the chance a future generation can comprehend what we are living as I write these words?

Those memories of wonderful times will be different for each of us. They will not be the same as being there, of course. Like the stories above, there is no substitute for living heightened emotions of the time as they happen.

Yet, there are only a few things you can do that nobody can stop you from doing. Namely, you can control what you think, about how you interpret what happens to you and to others around the world. You control how you respond mentally, unless you give that up, allowing others to think for you. 

You can be forced to take a vaccine or refuse to take the medicine that ups the odds of ending the pandemic sooner.

You can wear a mask or rip the mask off another. The choice is yours.

You can act responsible, talk responsibly. This is not 100% in your control. People or natural events can restrict any physical action you take. 

But not your thoughts! What you think, how you think, that is up to you and you alone. You choose. The only way to loose that right is to give it away voluntarily. 

Marcus Aurelius reminds us: Feel as if you have not been harmed, and you haven’t. 

This is knowledge as old as the Stoics. It is their major tenet. We can learn a lot from wise people of history.

 

People are dying. They always have been. And in the end we are all dead. It is what we do in the interim that counts. Do we go to that special place in our memories? That place where life was carefree? Back to our childhood and Christmas Eve? Or do we give away the only thing we have complete control of?

Do we get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do or do we whine about our rights? Yes, vaccines are not perfect. But the vaccine will up the odds the pandemic ends sooner and that we survive if we get our virus lottery ticket. We also reduce the chance that we spread the disease. Do you come to the aid of an abused woman, pushed from the window of a moving car? Or are you the kind of person that worries about your comfort so much, that the abuser may return while you are present, that you turn your back and risk additional injury or even death to an innocent victim?

The same applies to wearing a mask, social distancing and other behavior that reduces infection risk.

The latest variant of the virus, omicron, is very contagious. More contagious than any pervious variant. The good news so far is that it seems to be less deadly. 

Still, old variants continue to roam the populace. And omicron still kills, if only at lower percentages.

You might get the infection. It may not harm you. But. . .

As every gambler knows you have to play to win. You only need one ticket to win the lottery. 

 

Merry Christmas

and a 

Happy New Year

to all.

Hold your dearest memories close and commit to doing the right thing as you create new memories.

It is all any of us really have.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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

Blockfi pays high interest. (Currently 9%)

Personal Capital 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 Capital is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, 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.

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.

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

Leadership

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When the boss misbehaves he gets tied up. Karen, the office manager, was out that day.

Leadership is a skill far beyond bossing people around and delegating workload. Leadership skills take years to develop with careful grooming to prepare for the day you step into the leadership role. We think of leaders as politicians or business owners, but we all take leadership roles in our daily life. Parents are leaders of their children for good or bad. Cultivating the most desired traits of a great leader in ourselves allows us to make a difference in the world around us in a positive way. Without these traits you can lead you and your followers off a cliff.

Many years ago I had a CPA employee who wanted a management position so bad it hurt. I was dubious of his leadership ability but he had a decade of experience with me and he was due for a promotion. My fears came true immediately. The CPA emptied his desk on everyone else and bitched at the entire staff for not performing while he sat at his desk watching the stock market all day. His tenure as a manager was over before it began. As a leader I know the characteristics of good leaders. Bossing people around is not one of the desired characteristics.

Bad leaders are easy to spot. We point out the flaws of our elected officials and sports figures. We also notice awesome leaders like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Their great leadership skills are hard to pinpoint because they make it look so easy. Take Steve Jobs as an example. He started a company that in his short lifetime became one of the biggest and most profitable companies before his death. Yet, when we analyze his leadership skills we sometimes think of his short fuse and how he treated people poorly. He may have done these less than desirable things, but he also instilled admiration and respect. Jobs’s abusive behavior must have taken second seat to his ability to inspire people to their best or he would never have accomplished as much as he did.

Desirable Traits

Leaders delegate and push their people hard to reach difficult goals while maintaining a sense of decency. Leaders do get angry and demanding; it is part of the job description. Sometimes they hurt feelings and fire people. Also part of the job. A leader does the hard things because that is what good leaders do. One person’s rights don’t supersede the rights of the group. Making a judgment call when you know the decision will cause pain and suffering takes all the skills a good leader has. Poor leaders stand with their hands in their pockets while the world burns around them.

Here are some traits we need to cultivate in our life so we are good leaders at home, work, in the community, and as a business owner:

  • Empathy: Leaders have a tough skin, but underneath they feel just as intensely as the rest of us. When you hurt they also feel the wound. Bringing a local politician to task or firing an employee is not a path to pleasure unless you are a sadist. Great leaders feel the pain yet still make the difficult decisions.
  • Cheerleader: Awesome leaders motivate their team to achieve their best and expand their skill sets even further. Think of all the great leaders. They had the ability to help intelligent people do more than they could on their own or even thought they could. Leaders know how to get people to believe in themselves and inspire them to greatness.
  • Powerful Communicators: Getting a message to your team is the only way to accomplish a task. The best leaders can communicate difficult tasks simply.
  • Guidance: For a team to realize its potential a leader needs to keep the group focused and on task. The leader’s job is to steer the boat to where you want to go. The guys down in the engine room can’t see where the boat is going; all they know is “full steam ahead”. The captain takes the raw energy and directs it to the proper goal.
  • Humility: The greatest leaders of history knew to step back when the task was done. A leader demanding all the attention is unlikely to be followed again. A humble attitude serves a leader well. Stand back and allow the team to take a bow for all the hard work they did. Without them there is no need for a leader.
  • Building Superstars: Awesome leaders take great people and turn them into superstars. The leader generally will not have the skills or training to do what their team does. Leaders help people dig deep to find the best they can be. You know you are in the hands of a master when you accomplish a task you did not know you had the ability to do. The greatest people of our day all have a leader helping them reach for the stars.
  • Professionalism: False leaders lack integrity and professionalism. They hog the limelight and belittle those who do not serve his personal agenda. True leaders, to the best of their ability, do the right thing. True leaders are human and make mistakes, too. They own up to their mistakes and adjust to prevent future failures. A true leader takes one for the team when things go wrong and steps aside as the team receives praise when things go great.
  • Relationships: To be the best leader you need to cultivate relationships with important people, including: employees, customers, members of the community, and even the boss. Leadership requires trust. If you do not have the trust of your team you have serious trouble on your hands.

Leadership Style

There are several leadership styles. Authoritarians stand out from a crowd and can be hard to work for. I tend towards a hands-off approach to leadership. I give my people the tools and the authority they need to get the job done. Feedback is always welcome.

As much as I prefer a laid back management style, I understand different circumstances require different leadership methods. When I am undecided I want more input from my team. It almost becomes more democratic in nature when I do this. I prefer not to rely too heavily on the democratic process because leadership is not a democracy; neither is a business.

As mild mannered as I think I am there are some who would disagree. These people felt my wrath usually in the form of a termination over misconduct. The authoritarian leadership style stuns people used to my more laissez faire leadership styel. All I can say is: It is good to keep them on their toes. I only use the authoritarian style when left with no other choice.

Different people require different leadership styles. Highly motivated and talented people are best served by giving them the tools and standing back. A more challenging team may need a firm hand and I am not afraid to use it in these circumstances.

Applying Leadership Skills in Life

Now it is time to apply the information you learned in each area of your life.

Home: Leadership skills are required everywhere. Years ago I was called to jury duty and, wouldn’t you guess, they made me jury foreman. Never be afraid to step up.

Parents have an awesome responsibility when raising their children. Whether you know it or not, you are engaged in a leadership position. Your kids look up to you long before the world gets their attention unless you sit the tykes in front of a TV and walk away. Even bad parents are leaders with the results you expect from poor leaders.

Both parties to a marriage are in a co-leadership role. In relationships, jobs are generally led by one partner and supported by the other. Sometime you use a democratic leadership style to handle a situation, other times you demand the process. Strong relationships are not harmed by a strong leadership role. Respect is increased by strong leadership skills. Mrs. Accountant makes most of the decisions around the house and I make most the calls involving business and money. Sometimes things go wrong. There are never recriminations. We either lead or support as our role in the matter dictates. Even a supporter can show empathy and encouragement to the leader of a project.

Work: This is from the prospective of an employee. The lowest employee in the company still needs to exert leadership skills, if over no one individual, over themselves. The first taste of a promotion and the accompanying responsibilities also mark the first taste of failed leadership skills. Leadership can be a lonely place to stand. Your personal feelings have nothing to do with your decisions, which are made for the group as a whole. As your ability to inspire other team members to greatness expands, so will your leadership responsibilities. Leaders do not say, “That isn’t my job.” Leaders find a way to get it done.

The hardest part of leadership is building a cohesive team. Personalities will always clash. Your job as leader is to turn the differences into strengths. If a team member is too disruptive or not pulling their weight you need to make the tough call in terminating them from the team. After decades of leadership in my own life I admit differing personalities have caused me the greatest challenges. Sometimes good people just don’t fit on the team and it breaks my heart because their talent and skill will be missed.

Community: You have a responsibility to the community you live in, even if it is a prison cell. The greatest societal failures happened because people did not care enough to take a leadership role in their community. There is a responsibility attached to your membership in a community. Leaders need support and reminding of their duties from the people they serve.

Every community needs people who care. When people disconnect, a community begins to fail. Witness the failure of my community when elected officials and the police absconded their responsibility to the people they serve. A Netflix documentary exposed a dark side to my community and all people there suffered due to the bad press. The illusion my community is a bad place to live is the direct result of those people in a leadership role failing in said role. We have a duty to take responsibility where wrongs are done and act like leaders, guiding our community to higher ground. The work is never done. In my county some of the same people are covering up the truth even when Netflix showed us the truth with our own eyes. Now federal courts are overturning decisions we, as a community, lacked the courage to do on our own. I think we made a difference by installing a new district attorney with integrity. Only time will tell. If more leadership is needed by the citizens we all have a responsibility to take that leadership role.

Business owners: After elected officials business owners have the greatest leadership responsibilities to the community. The only difference is elected officials are vetted by the election process and business owners can hang a sign and be ready to go. The barrier to entry for a business owner is small, but the responsibility is massive. The business owner faces challenges from all directions and must constantly push back. Government, customers, employees, and the community all demand something from the business owner.

With all the responsibility a business owner has, it is coupled with great risks to the community. All the goods and services come from business, so do the jobs and a large portion of the tax revenue to run the public portion of the community. All these demands are pulling at the business owner for a larger share. No wonder 9 out of 10 business fail within 5 years. What they don’t tell you is the 1 out of 10 who survive are heavily medicated by the time 5 years pass.

There is nothing like business ownership. The responsibility is large for good reason. Not everyone is cut out to run a business, just like political leaders and police require a special set of skills and a mindset to do the job well. I sometimes hold a flame to the feet of law enforcement, but make no mistake; I fully support the men and women in blue. Without their courageous efforts our community would be anarchy. As much as I support police I also act like a community leader by holding them responsible for their actions, regardless how tough their job is.

Now It Is Your Turn

One short blog post will not turn you into a world class leader. Leaders constantly train and learn. Reading more on leadership is imperative. Learn from the best in your field. Business owners should study Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and The Wealthy Accountant. (Okay, I just wanted to break the tension and see if you were paying attention. Still, you could learn a lot from my successes and failures.) Elected officials should study the best political leaders of history. Police have a responsibility greater than most people appreciate. The news is filled with police actions called into question. Of course we need to hold police officers accountable; we also need to support their work. It is what good leaders do.