It is 3:30 in the morning and I just discovered who our next president will be. I had a nice nap earlier, but tend to sleep in fits and starts which is great for quiet writing time in the middle of the night. I’ll probably take another nap later this morning so I will be awake and alert. Back to the election.
The news reports say the Canadian immigration website collapsed from the deluge of visitors. Stock markets are down around the planet, but from what I read it is better than what it was earlier. One newsfeed had pictures of crying Hillary Clinton fans. It seems like the world is ending for people who worked so hard for their candidate.
There will be pain in the weeks and months ahead. There would be pain in the weeks and months ahead regardless who won the election. This is reality. America is undertaking a grand experiment. It isn’t the first time we walked the road less traveled. My political position is unimportant, but I will share my vote so you understand I am not writing this from the victor’s side. I voted for Hillary and had my reasons. None of that matters now. Trump will be the next President of the United States.
The Root of Panic
There is plenty to be concerned with. An untested politician jumps straight to the top. What could go wrong? Well, lots can go wrong. But a lot is always going wrong. We lived through a Civil War, two world wars, victories and defeats. And life kept chugging along. Now is not the time to panic. (There is never a good time to panic.)
Talk of leaving the country will solve nothing. Do you really think a major disaster within the U.S. would not affect every other nation on Earth? Running is not what we do around here (unless it is for exercise). And we damn sure don’t panic!
There is a primal fear of the unknown. America has waded deep into the waters of the unknown since its founding. There have been a few bloody noses and sure to be a few more. The unknown increases anxiety until we get comfortable with the new condition. There is no guarantee this will end in disaster. It could, but there is no guarantee it will.
A Story to Sooth the Soul
Back in the 90s every tax office was supposed to get into the securities business. It was a perfect fit for accounting offices and complemented the services we already provided our client. Your favorite accountant took the plunge.
I was a top 100 producer within six months of joining H.D. Vest Financial Services. Each year there were two major conferences organized by Vest. One year they had Nick Murray as a keynote speaker. He was a top producing mutual fund salesman in the 60s and early 70s when mutual funds were not the cool investment. Nick told us several stories. The one that stuck with me the most was a phrase he used when selling to clients. Murray said, “I can’t guarantee you the next 10% move in the market, up or down. I can’t tell you the direction of the next 20%, 30%, 50%, even 90% move in the market. But I can guarantee you the next 100% move in the stock market will be up, not down.” He was telling his clients the risk is being out of the market, not living through a temporary down market. Murray continued, “The stock market has always doubled and then doubled again. If it stops doubling, it means the world came to an end.”
There is another story I remember from my high school days about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Two stock brokers, an old seasoned broker and a young broker, watched as President Kennedy came on the air and informed the public the U.S. has target 50 Soviet cities with our nuclear weapons. The stock market collapsed. The young broker started yelling to sell. The old broker held him back and said, “Buy!” “Why?” the young broker asked. “We could be destroyed in a nuclear holocaust.” The old broker smiled and nodded. “If the crisis ends well,” the old broker said, “stocks will rally smartly. If the missiles are launched, our world comes to an end. The trades will never clear.”
The point is important for every reader: DO NOT PANIC! I know there is loads of fear. Never give in to fear. A decision made at the height of fear comes back to bite you in the ass with rare exception. Like Murray, I have no idea where the market is going. The only thing I can say with absolute confidence is that the next 100% move will be up, not down. If I am wrong there will be no civilized world around to hold me accountable.
Who Really Wins?
No matter the economy there are always winners and losers. During the Great Depression some people managed to excel. During the boom of the 1990s a large number of people managed to build no net worth at all. Go figure!
Now is the time to take a deep breath and assess the situation. We are in a challenging economic environment, as always. Markets go up and down, as always. Yes, we are in new territory, but so was the country after the Federalists lost the Presidency after only two Presidents. I think history agrees with me when I say President Thomas Jefferson did okay as the third President.
Winning the game of financial independence or your goals toward early retirement (or any retirement, for that matter) has not changed. They will not change. What worked in the past is all that still works. Reduce (or better yet, eliminate) debt. Save like crazy. Saving half your income is more powerful now than ever. You build financial security and can buy lots of juicy index funds at a discount if the markets panic. (I love sales on Wall Street.)
Nothing has changed yet. For all we know this could be a great opportunity for America. If not, and all goes wrong, your frugal behavior has prepared you for the worst. By learning to live happily on less and with an ample nest egg, you can live as you always have without much problem. Heck, economic calamity just means a lot of stuff is sold cheap by people less frugal.
Your fear comes from an anxiety about something that may never happen, from the desire to control something you have no control over. In the Stoic philosophy, Epictetus tells us some things are in our power and others not. From the Enchiridion: In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning from a thing); and in a word, whatever are our own acts: not in our power are the body, property, reputation, offices (magisterial power), and in a word, whatever are not our own acts.
Nearly 2,000 years ago Epictetus foresaw the recent election. He warned us “offices (magisterial powers)” are not in our power. We did what we could, what we had control over; we voted. For most readers there is nothing else to be done. Maybe someone in power will read this and engage their position to facilitate a positive outcome. You never know. I do what I can.
Epictetus continued: And the things in our power are by nature free, not subject to restraint nor hindrance: but the things not in our power are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, in the power of other. Epictetus went on to explain that confusing the things you can control with the things you can’t control causes you to blame others for your misfortune. Marcus Aurelius said it best when he said if you choose not to feel harmed, you haven’t been.
You need to relax if the election has caused you mental distress. Let it go. You can control how you live and spend. Your job could change tomorrow, but how you interpret the world around you is 100% in your control. The next 100% move in the stock market is up, not down, maybe. I could be wrong. Your life will be just as blessed by making the investment even if you never get a chance to use it later or if the world ends. By wanting less you find happiness in the moment. It matters not who is in a political office. It is only interesting background noise at best.
George Carlin said, “When you’re born, you get a ticket to the freak show; when you’re born in the U. S., you get a front row seat.” He was right. We are but actors on a stage, as the great Bard said. Most of our roles are small on the national or world stage, one fraction of a millionth percent. All pain begins with an elevated sense of self. You can control your opinion, therefore you control if you are offended or harmed by recent events. If you choose not to feel harmed, you haven’t been harmed.
Sometimes we think we are making such an awesome difference. Most of you know Pete from the Mr. Money Mustache blog. When I visited him the first time I thought he would be a well known character in his small town since his blog had so many readers. Of course many people did know Pete, but many more did not. It was a reality check. No matter how much good you do it will only scratch the surface. Most of our efforts will fall to dust over the years or eons. Understanding this allows us to put all events into perspective. All that matters is how we live, how we think, how we feel. It is our interactions with each other that give life value, meaning. I for one am glad you are with me. My life is brighter because our lives passed like two ships in the night. That is my worldview. For a brief moment we are able to communicate a message of hope. It is all any of us have.
Let go of trying to control things outside your power. Control you, control your mind. It is the only way to happiness; the only way to be free.
In the winter of 1995 Mrs. Accountant and I were a young married couple anxiously awaiting our first child due in late February. Winter in NE Wisconsin has a tendency to get bitter. The winter in question was no different. The holidays were still fresh in our mind on January 7th. My business was a remodeled basement; the following year would be my first with a store front.
The air felt colder than normal and Mrs. Accountant was feeling the effects. The stress of pregnancy coupled with the weather had her bed-ridden. Early on the 7th she got up and wandered to the couch. Then the world turned upside down. Her water broke seven weeks early. Dumb as I was I still knew this was really bad.
I rushed Mrs. Accountant to the hospital. The doctor decided the longer the baby stayed in mom the better. For two days my wife suffered. The doctor finally relented and had Mrs. Accountant transferred to a hospital with facilities for such a premature baby.
It was an intense delivery. I was not allowed in the delivery room. Our first baby entered the world seven weeks early and spent 19 days in intensive care. If I had not worked out of my home at the time I would have never stayed in business. Working from home allowed me all day with my wife and newborn daughter.
The medical problems were only beginning.
Five years later Mrs. Accountant and I decided we wanted one more child. Two seemed like a good number and we had it in our heads if we only had one child she would be spoiled. (We spoiled her anyway, with love.)
The doctors were taking no chances this round. The ultra sounds were all normal; all tests were normal. It did not matter to Mrs. Accountant and me the gender of our child so we waited for our baby to enter the world to know.
Shortly before the due date the doctor decided a C-section was the safest course. This time I was allowed in the delivery room. The operation went smooth. As the baby slid from mom’s belly one doctor said, “Congratulations, sir. You have a son.” Another doctor said, “Look again doctor. You have a girl, sir.” All I remember was muttering, “It’s both.” The room was silent the remainder of the procedure.
I died that day. Everything you read about me or from me is from a man who did not exist before that day in the delivery room.
Numb, I went to the office and told Bev what happened. Bev, now retired, is a friend of my family since I was born; she is also friend and was a longtime employee as well. I told her I was not coming back. It was over. Nothing in life mattered anymore. It was the closest I ever came to quitting what I love doing so much.
The medical problems of an intersex child are legend. The mental problems were also hard to handle. My youngest daughter’s birth certificate reads: gender: “unknown”. The birth certificate was later reissued. Normally a Social Security number is issued at birth. We had to wait until we knew the gender for my child.
The hardest part is talking with people. You know the first question asked of new parents: boy or girl? I could not stand it. I was crushed. How do you say “both?
Under stress and distracted, Mrs. Accountant and I had serious decisions to make. Our baby was going to die within a few months if we did not act quickly. The gonads didn’t drop and were pre-cancerous purplish masses that had to be removed: surgery one. My child’s genital were malformed and neither truly male nor female. The urinary tract exited a penile structure and internally. Infection was imminent if the issue were not remedied: surgery two.
The doctors did a DNA test. It was discovered my baby was conceived male, but the Y chromosome became isolated after a few cell divisions. My child’s body was 15% XY (male) and 85% X (androgynous). The second X was missing. In the absence of a sex chromosome the human body tends toward the androgynous, or more feminine. In our minds our baby was a girl. It was also easier for the doctors to construct a female than a male. We had two daughters.
A Social Security number was issued and the birth certificate updated.
I was racked with guilt. It was my fault. Something about me caused this failure. Of course this is not true, but back then I felt that way. Deep down, I still do.
Two children; two children with serious medical problems. As I wrote Chapter 2 and 3 above I broke down. After all these years the emotions run deep and cause immense pain.
Support groups are hard to find. The closest thing to intersex is transgender and they are not the same. A transgender has a choice in surgery, my daughter had none; it was either create genitals or die. How would you like that choice as a parent? And if you guess wrong . . .
The therapy for mom and dad did not last long. I discovered quickly most people with children like ours were messed up in the head. They kept it a deep, dark, dirty family secret, as if the child was somehow an abomination. Mrs. Accountant and I took the opposite approach. It isn’t a secret; it is what our daughter is and if you can’t handle it , that is your problem.
Our attitude allowed our daughter to grow up normal. There was a sigh of relief when she took to girlish things. I started joking I had 1 ½ daughters. Some people were offended. They can re-read the last sentence of the last paragraph. We laugh and joke about it. It isn’t a secret and she is not abnormal; she IS normal. A normal girl. (I also joke I have 34 kids of which two have survived . . . so far. The rest had an accident in the pond. I am waiting for the police to show up and dredge the pond for bones. I have sick sense of humor. I have to; it is a survival technique.)
Medical Bills, Money, and Work
More than ever I had to be a parent. Work was secondary. As a business owner with employees I was allowed ample time from the office until my head was set straight. Money, which was not an issue since early adulthood, returned. We lived in the hospital. Surgeries were handled at Children’s Hospital a two hour drive away. Mrs. Accountant always stayed; I sometimes went home and to the office. The truth is I had to get away. It hurt too much.
Insurance covered many of the medical bills, but not all. It was a burden. Ample savings and investments allowed us to survive unscathed. Thank God for frugality at a young age! I shudder at the thought of having to leave my wife and daughters to go to work each day during such an extended crisis.
Once the first few years passed the medical bills declined. Then puberty showed up, or, well, was induced. You see, without gonads or naturally occurring estrogen, my little angel would stop growing around age 10 and would go straight to old age, brittle bones, and death. The medical problems have re-escalated.
This kid of mine has gone through several more surgeries. She had three this year, but we look good for a while now. Gall bladder removal, kidney stones, and migraines are all part of the course. She has an allergic reaction to estrogen so it is difficult finding a balance. She stand 4 foot 8 and will never grow another inch. She is all girl, for sure. A very petite girl.
What about the Oldest Daughter?
My oldest daughter felt left out and jealous at times. She had a point. As she got older she adjusted and understood. The medical issues she had were less life threatening at the time, but have grown as issues as she has grown older. She suffers from Scleroderma and Raynaud’s. I hyperlinked the terms allowing the professionals to explain the details of each disease. In short, Scleroderma calcifies the skin until there is no feeling and Raynaud’s causes limited blood to fingers and toes. Cold turns her fingers and toes black. She lives in Wisconsin, but 80 degrees F can be considered cold at times for her. She could lose digits and her love is art. Life is all too often cruel.
Mrs. Accountant and I care deeply for our children. We have been hit with a one-two punch and remained standing, as resolute as ever. The prescription medications and doctor bills are one of the largest of our household expenses.
Managing the Minefield of Major Medical Bills
Medical has unloaded well over $1 million from my net worth. There was never any real choice. I will never walk away from my kids! I can live with poverty. I chose my children and Mrs. Accountant over financial wealth if that is the only choice I have. Fortune has granted me both. I am luckier than words can say.
And still, my medical problems are small compared to many. I fight back tears when I see a client with medical issues well beyond anything I have had to deal with. My children are alive! Not everybody is allowed such a gift.
Medical issues affect how we plan financially. Making too much money can leave you with less. Medical bills topped $1 million the first year of my youngest daughter’s life. Picking the right insurance becomes the most important financial decision each year. Social Services help cover many medical bills when the children are very young and when they strike out on their own because they earn so little.
There are other related costs most families don’t face. Doctor visits frequently are a full day drive away. A 15 minute doctor visit can easily top $500 and is not always covered by insurance. The prescriptions are unreal for my girls. The youngest takes pill like a 90 year old. She has no choice. When certain medications are stopped she goes straight to menopause, old age, brittle bones, and death. There is good news! I am in awesome health and take no medications and rarely require doctor visits.
The answers are not simple, nor do they fit in a neat package. My goal here is to show you how lucky you are if you don’t have medical problems. My goal is show you are not alone if you do. My children are a gift I would never give up. I can live with a challenge. Keeps life interesting.
More than ever, if you have medical risks you need to adopt frugal and responsible financial habits. If your income is low, consider Social Services for help. Many costs can be covered. Also consider your income. Sometimes earning another $10,000 will cost you more in insurance and medical costs than the additional income. By living a reasonable lifestyle you can protect yourself and your family.
I know I dumped a lot on you, kind readers. I can only teach what I know. This post was in the queue for months and it had to be written. We talk money around here and nothing affects financial wealth more than health. Even in countries with socialized medicine (just about everybody, except the U.S.), health problems still affect finances and quality of life. Medical issues take you away from your job or business, the engine of earned income. Investing early creates a buffer protecting you and your loved ones from such serious body blows. It also allows you the chance to step away from work so you can be with your family.
And to my friends suffering the same issues or worse: Never give up. Money is nothing, only a tool. Life is everything. Live every moment of every day. They will not last forever. Love. Love with every fiber of your being.
I am not a religious man (I found my way back to faith since the original publication date) so I will close with a verse from the Bible:
Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
Marcus Aurelius hoped for a period of peace when he returned to Rome in 175 after spending much of his reign fighting wars and natural disasters. He secured the borders along the Rhine-Danube after spending most of three years in Carnuntum. A year later Marcus and his son returned to the Danube as hostilities flared once again. It was here, between the battles, where Marcus started writing reflections on life and how to live he titled To Himself. These writings later became Meditations.
Of all the Stoic writings from antiquity, Marcus speaks to me clearest. Whereas Seneca wrote letters which feel polished for publication and Epictetus gets preachy at times, Meditations has the comforting feel of a man reminding himself how to live an honest and good life. There was no need to impress the reader; the only reader would be Marcus himself. The honesty Marcus shared with the world is his greatest gift to humanity.
Start with Honor
Meditations is divided into 12 short books. The combined text reaches 99 pages in the copy I carry with me religiously. I find myself reading bits and pieces daily while reading the entire text from beginning to end slowly in an endless cycle. Because Marcus was writing to himself it feels like he is speaking to me, right to my face. With each passage I can’t help but think he was the greatest political leader to ever have lived.
In a time where emperors demanded the heads of any who would commit the smallest slight, Marcus was quick to forgive. His gentle soul made him loved by the people. History has called him the last of the Five Good Emperors. Rome was at her greatest when Marcus ruled.
The problems faced by Marcus daily are beyond anything I will ever experience in my life. In under 100 pages I can find guidance, warmth, and compassion for anything I am struggling with. Marcus had the power to crush his enemies and people who annoyed him. No one could hold him accountable if he did. Yet he chose to do the right thing, to live with honor and integrity. He is the kind of man most of us would follow into war.
As Marcus began writing to himself he started with a book of gratitude. The 12 books that comprise Meditations are untitled. In my mind the first book is called On Gratitude. He lists family, friends, and acquaintances that molded him into the person he became and thanked them all. In our time when politicians can’t wait to pat themselves on the back, Marcus began his self-reflection with a list of all the things he learned from others. He gave them credit.
The Unperfect Man
Marcus was the first to admit he still had much to learn. He was the first to admit he did not always live up to the standards he set for himself. That is why he started to write To Himself. Marcus was the epitome of a Stoic. He knew life was a journey filled with pitfalls. He accepted there would be times he would not live to his high moral standards. The measure of a man, to Marcus, was not perfection, but to strive constantly toward that end.
He had ample opportunities to hate or be angry. Marcus had a morning ritual where he would say to himself, “You will meet some really stupid and ignorant people today who will annoy you. Now that you know this, act honorable to all, including them.” Marcus reminded himself people would annoy him. Sometimes the slight was intentional, other times not. Regardless, Marcus, the most powerful man on Earth, reminded himself to use restraint, to let it go, to forgive and pardon.
That is what made Marcus the great leader he was. He was far from perfect and he acknowledged it. By acknowledging his imperfection, he was closer to the ideal man, the ideal Stoic, than any other. And then I ask: What is my excuse?
I am not perfect by any means. Business can drive me crazy at times. I am also my own worst critic. My ego is easily bruised when someone I admire gently rebukes something I say or do, even when it is obvious they said it to help me improve myself. This blog is my latest baby and something as petty as traffic can affect my ego. Ego is the enemy.
It is at moments like these when I pull out my copy of Meditations and remind myself, Marcus was a great man with much more on his plate than I’ll ever know, and he found a way to handle situations with integrity. If I were half the man he was I would be legend. I toil on.
The Running Man
For most of us we are either running from something or to something. After significant time in reflection I discovered I am running from something. Part of my writing on this blog is in the vein of my personal Meditations, knowing full-well there is a growing audience watching and forming opinions of me. It affects what I say. Why should I care what people think if I am honest in my confessions?
Your story is different. Your worldview, shaped by your lifetime of experiences, are different from mine. I can’t tell you what to do. I can suggest and no more. Self-discovery is of vital importance if you want to find happiness (as opposed to only pleasure).
During my impressionable years the family farm went through a wrenching bankruptcy. The extended struggle to preserve something so ingrained into the fabric of my family left an indelible scar. No matter how hard I try or how much I accomplish I always feel like a failure. I am running from my deepest fear, the fear I am not good enough. Deep down I know that is why I refuse to hang up my cleats and relax.
There are precious few people who find the answer. These people find a place where they are neither running to or from anything; they live life for what it is. These people are easy to identify. They are rarely driven to anger and quick to forgive. They sometimes offer a gentle nudge in the right direction, but allow you to make your own path. They are the Marcus Aurelius’ of our era.
Our Book of Gratitude
Like Marcus, we should write our own Meditations. Marcus was correct to start his reflections with a book of gratitude. Reminding ourselves of the people who shaped us is the most important step in growth. Family will dominate the early verses of our Meditations for most of us. When enough time is spent in quiet reflection you will discover, as I did, the vast list of people who made you who you are. And the list grows daily.
When I was a child I always looked up to older people. It felt natural. And I thought it would always be that way. In my mind the greatest age was the 40s. At family gatherings the people in their 40s seemed to have it so together. Now I am 52 and I still look up to people, except some are younger. As strange as it sounds, it still feels natural.
Learning is not confined to chosen peers. Ryan Holiday is a young guy with a fascinating life story. He is also a Stoic. I also learned more from him than I can list. Ryan is 29.
Younger people teach lessons we sometimes forget. When I watch young adults discovering life it helps me remember what life was like when I was younger. I think young people are awesome at seeing the wonder of the world. Age coupled with routine sometimes clouds the adventure of discovery.
Like Marcus, I am starting my own book of meditations. I will begin, as Marcus, with a book of gratitude. Unlike Marcus, the Meditations will never see publication. My meditations are personal and a reminder to me of how I should live life.
I invite you to start your Meditations. Your book, like mine and Marcus’, will be short. It will take years to write. Wayne Dyer said, “It is the silence between the notes that make the music…” It is the silence between the words that convey the message also. It takes years of quiet reflection to communicate a message to yourself. Unless alone, I have a hard time closing my yap. A personal Meditations might allow me to stop running. As I stand still I should experience a whole new world of wonder. I can only hope.
Meditations are never really finished. Each day we add a verse to our collected personal knowledge. On the last day, when the book is closed for the last time, there is a record on why we lived, on how we lived a good life to the best of our abilities. May whatever god there is smile on us.
There is a heaping plate of steaming crow on the kitchen table cooked especially for me. It all started a year and a half ago. After all these years in business, I was starting to feel my oats. I would brag about the list of clients I had put together. My tax practice was serving some very wealthy and well known people. A few rock bands were in the fold and even a board of director from a company connected to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway graced my client list. I had a sales pitch for anyone willing to listen.
Then a brainstorm hit. I would move to the next level by landing a business deal with an influential personal finance blogger. It went better than I ever expected. Instead of inking a collaboration, I got a collaboration and a client and a massive promotion for my tax practice. There was no doubt in my mind I could handle it. I lived through worse. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t let people know about it.
That was the moment I allowed arrogance to turn me into a dick. By biting off more than I could chew clients were left in the dust. It became impossible to respond to all the emails. Emails were not simple acknowledgements to read. Each had a long request requiring time to answer and respond to or I had to disregard them.
It gets worse. One client I accepted got nervous when only half the work was done. He paid in advance and asked for a partial refund. The email got lost in the shuffle. He contacted me earlier this week to see if I would finally respond. I felt like shit. Here is a client who trusted me to help him and I over extended. Then I dissed him when he only wanted fair treatment. Instead of a partial refund, I returned the whole fee.
Before you sing my praise, I still acted like a dick. The solution was more than fair . . . to me. The client was gracious and thankful, offering his excitement to meet me some day and tip a bottle over conversation. I am not so sure my Stoic training would have served me well if our roles were reversed.
Food that disagrees with us usually feels good going down. Only experience tells us the price will be paid later. Arrogance is like that. It is the disease that makes everyone sick accept the one who has it. The disease is insidious. When you least expect it, there it is.
Arrogance is the acid which destroys the vessel that holds it. In a business it is death rattle if not excised quickly; in a marriage it destroys intimacy; with friends it destroys trust. The key part of arrogance is “destroys”.
The line between confidence and arrogance is thin, indeed. There is nothing wrong with having awesome clients, a wonderful mate, successful friends, and living in a progressive community. The moment you think any of these things make you better than someone else you have crossed the line. Like me, you become a dick.
Successful and popular clients do not make me better; it means much is expected of me because much has been entrusted to me. Easier said than done. Right? When life is firing on all cylinders it is easy to think it is all ME! I did that! Well, I have news for you. You crossed the line into arrogance and the price for arrogance is heavy. It ends the same way every time. In disgrace. Or, as in my case, a full refund to a client. And deep down you know you still did not make it right.
I AM GREAT!
Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Cities were named in his honor. But Alexander did not know humility. Once, while drunk, he got into a fight with his close, and perhaps dearest, friend. Before it was over Alexander accidentally killed his friend. When arrogance rules your life, life will inflict humility upon you whether you want it or not. Alexander was so distraught he could not eat or drink for three days.
What good is success if it is squandered in wanton masturbation, for lack of a better word? Stroking your own ego, as I did mine, always pollutes the thing you are so arrogant about. Yes, I have a successful business. It is okay to use that as a tool to keep growing the business. Grand standing is not pride, nor is it going to help you continue to grow.
If you really want to be great, you must first be humble. No matter how good either you or I are, it is worthless if we abuse our good fortune with an arrogant attitude.
Jesus washed his disciple’s feet. Without getting into religion, we can learn a lot from the actions of people like Jesus. Only when you can prostrate yourself before others have you really become great. The moment the nose goes up the greatness is over. The greatest act of all is humility even when you are the best at what you are doing.
Why expose my failings and shortcoming publicly? This blog talks a lot about taxes and personal finance, but also a lot about living right. I have shared some really awesome successes I’ve had. What you learn from those successes in far smaller than what you can learn when a successful man faces defeat or humiliation.
Humility and humiliation are two different animals. Humility is how we act by our own volition; humiliation is what is inflicted on us, whether deserved or not. Of my own will I expose my failures. This is humility. I still need to be careful. The leap is small between “I show you my shortcomings” and “Look at me, I am so great because I show I have weaknesses”. False humility is the worst. Where arrogance sickens, false humility destroys all trust.
Your favorite accountant is lucky. In the tax profession there are plenty of opportunities to experience humility. The tax code is huge. No one person knows it all. Every time I think I am getting good at this stuff I realize I missed a point. Sometimes I beat myself up too much when I miss a salient point. I think it is a healthy response. I want to do the best thing for my client (and you, my readers), but sometimes I get it wrong. The salve of praise from a client knowing I gave it my all is still only a salve over an open wound. People pay me to get it right and on time. Plenty of opportunity for humbling experiences.
Exposing who I really am is not a weakness. As you read this I bet you are thinking of some moments of arrogance and/or humility in your life. It might even be a current event. It might be an accidental slight or intentional. (It seemed like a good idea at the time!) Regardless your religious faith or if you have any religious faith at all, kneeling and washing feet instead of drinking heavily and accidentally killing your friend is preferable.
It is never too late to live humbly. Muhammad Ali said, “I’m young; I’m handsome; I’m fast. I can’t possibly be beat.” And, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” Ali lost 5 fights in his career, two during the height of his career: Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Ali did beat both Frazier and Norton twice in rematches. Then age injected humility. Ali lost the last three of his last four professional fights.
Marcus Aurelius said it best: Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. We are all a very, very small part of this grand universe we live in. When you understand this simple truth humility is easier. Christ knew it; Alexander the Great and Ali did not.
Who would you rather spend an afternoon with? Marcus Aurelius or Alexander the Great. Me, too. Killing a friend in a drunken rage is the ultimate arrogance.
Acid is only powerful until you throw some baking soda on it. Arrogance is neutralized when our head is bowed and we allow someone else to step into the limelight. Writing a blog and even owning a business requires a bit of showmanship. We need to be recognized so we get more clients or readers.
There is nothing wrong with me saying I have over 30 years of experience in the tax field. It is okay for me to ask you to subscribe to this blog. (Please do.) Pride in having successful clients and doing awesome work is the kind of confidence clients need to see. Biting off more than I can chew because “I am awesome!” is a sickness. Arrogance.
If you feel the tug of arrogance taking over in your life you can stop by my house. I have plenty of leftover crow in the fridge.
When 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.
The 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.
In the course of a normal week I write three blogs, run an accounting practice, jog three hours, lift 3 hours, and read 3 or 4 books. I have thousands of books in my home and read countless more from the library. Some weeks I read fewer books, some weeks none at all, but I still spend plenty of time reading online and during the course of my work.
How can someone read so darn much while running a business and keeping his body fit? You smokin’ somethin’ WA? No, I am not smoking something. Besides, I always understood cocaine was supposed to keep you going until it burns you out and I don’t do that either. (Can you smoke cocaine?)
There is some truth about my sleep habits. During a normal week I sleep approximately 30-40 hours and meditate 10 hours. Meditation time can happen while walking or while sitting in a quiet room alone.
So let’s add up the numbers. There are 168 hours to a week the last time I checked. For arguments sake we will say I sleep 40 of those hours and meditate 10. I spend 40 hours dealing with issues in my tax practice and another 25 hours writing blog posts. Exercise takes another 10 hours (3 hours running; 3 hours lifting; 4 hours light aerobic). Mrs. Accountant and the junior accountants get 20 or so hours of my life each week. That leaves over twenty hours for reading and research. In fairness I sometimes read at the office (okay, I read a lot at the office).
There is one thing missing from my normal week compared to the average Americans’ life: TV. I watch limited amounts of TV and do not play video games or Pokémon. Any TV I watch is either background noise or educational videos. On rare occasion I will think through a problem while playing a mind numbing computer card game.
How the Wealthy Spend Their Time
Most weeks I do not finish four books. Over the course of a year I read 100-120 books, a bit over two books on average. Some weeks go by without any book completed. This week I drove a stake through The Fountains of Paradise, by: Arthur C. Clark; Meditations, by: Marcus Aurelius; The Fortress in Orion, by: Mike Resnick; and The Obstacle is the Way, by: Ryan Holiday. The remarkable thing about this week’s reading list is two novels are in the batch. Novels are less than 20% of the books I read and rarely for pleasure only. Novels I read generally illustrate a lesson I want to learn. For example: A Man in Full, by: Tom Wolfe is a great novel about Stoic living. A recent documentary mentioned a space elevator and The Fountains of Paradise, hence the addition to this week’s reading list.
Some books have more meaning than others. I have read Meditations online, but wanted a copy to take with me to read when I have a few minutes available. Meditations is the kind of book you read again and again. It is a short book, but takes time to read as each passage has meaning requiring reflection.
Therein lies a truth. There is a direct negative correlation between how much TV you watch per week and your income. The wealthiest people in our society watch modest amounts of television and what they do watch tends to be educational videos. Meaningful books are the one alternative to TV that will affect your income positively. What you learn from books has a direct application to real life.
The more books you read the more people think you are a speed reader. Nothing is further from the truth. I tend to read on the slow side and, with the exception of novels, go back a re-read some passages to fully digest the meaning. Where I get the volume of my reading in is during the 20 or so hours per week allotted to reading.
Those dead times in between tasks is also great for reading. Like Charlie Munger, sometimes people think I am a book with legs and arms sticking out.
Buy the Damn Book
A thousand or so books adorn my humble abode. My frugality is tested when books are involved. Many of the books I read I return to and review them again so owning them makes sense. There are times I read library books and later buy the book so I can return to it again and again at will. My vast reservoir of knowledge is not from some magical elixir. I know you want to be frugal, but knowledge is not where you practice frugality. I am into wealthy: wealth of knowledge and financially.
Books are cheap. Amazon sent me Meditations for $1, shipping included. I have Amazon Prime at the office so shipping is free. But come on. $1? I’ll wear Meditations out as I lug it everywhere reading passages at every opportunity. You read books like that again and again. Trust me, I’ll get my $1 out of that book.
The Meaning of Life
There is no other way to acquire the knowledge of the ages straight from the source other than books. Movies and videos cannot show you great men and women from past ages; they can only give an abridged and modified (to fit the format of television) version of the original. Stoics shared a wealth of knowledge from 2,000 years and more ago; I can hear their voices in the words they wrote. I can’t call Thomas Jefferson and jawbone ideas of polity; I can read the volumes he wrote. Even people still alive do not have time to tell everyone all the knowledge they wrote in books! Imagine all the stuff I share on this blog. If you stand around me long enough you will get a strong flavor of my beliefs, values, and ethics. But when you read this blog you get something more, plus you can return again and again reading and re-reading the information. It may sound strange, but I have to go back to my own work at times to relearn a lesson. Keeping all your knowledge front brain is not possible.
The other part of reading is travel. You can live in a hundred places in a thousand ages with books. You can travel strange new worlds and times all in one afternoon. You can be a child again or experience old age. You can join Viktor Frankl in the Nazi concentration camps without any risk. You can learn and experience with books.
Why Do I Read So Much?
This is a crazy question to my ears. How can you not read so much? Turn off social media and the idiot box and crack a book. Training videos can teach a lot, but nothing beats a good book. When I hear statistics like the average American does not read another meaningful book once they leave school I am perplexed. College is only a start, not an end game! Your education never ends. Only a small fraction of your education is formal and that is if you even attended college.
Every day you breathe. Every day you eat and drink to nourish the body. If you do not also feed your mind daily you will die just as fast as or faster than if you forgot to eat or breathe. I read so much because I am alive.
The Things which hurt, instruct. —Benjamin Franklin
Good intentions can lead to disastrous results when the premise is faulty. There is a dark side to the Wealthy Accountant left undiscussed until now. People walk into the office, call, email, text, and leave comments asking for help on a variety of topics. Accountants typically want to help those in need: real or imagined.
This desire to help sometimes crosses over into a dark realm. Not everyone wants help, even those asking for it. A cry for help in too often a cry for attention and your friendly accountant is often too slow on the uptake to realize it is a ruse until it is too late. Employees, clients, readers, and people in general all want a piece of someone willing to feed their addiction for attention.
I see a pattern emerge in my behavior when I hear a cry for help. People profess to want life better and I am willing to share ideas to help make their life better. Usually it involves money since I am an accountant. Before long it becomes obvious the individual requesting help is not really interested in help; they want a willing accomplice in their personal dramas.
The closer someone is to me the more likely they can pull me into their dramas. The mere fact of increased time spent together increases the chance of a dependence developing. Kind soul that I am, I feel people prone to drama still need help when they call out. We might pass a stranded traveler on the side of the road, but what about a client or employee? When you see a client weekly or an employee daily a co-relationship develops. Each party begins depending on the other for support and acknowledgement.
These relationships are inherently unhealthy. Employee/employer and client/accountant relationships need a solid wall between the individuals. Without the wall a player in the drama will eventually want to dig deeper into the other person’s personal life to increase the drama further because there is no other way to increase the drama. I hate drama, but sometimes people want to inject drama into my life and that is when I pull back.
Thirty years of business creates a lot of stories of clients and employees who have used my gentle nature to their advantage. Once I understand there is no desire for self-improvement I start to disengage from the matter. The drama-master always seems to want to turn up the volume to keep the co-relationship alive. That is when the kind Wealthy Accountant becomes an Ass (yes that is a capital A).
Walking the Line
There is a fine line between helping and sticking your nose where it does not belong. A few years back I had a client (also handled the office IT) who went through a divorce. He was in the office every day and refused to leave. He wanted to talk for hours about how bad his wife was and how to stick it to her. In most cases divorces are the result of behavior by both parties; this case was no different. My empathy was low from the start because I knew some details from prior conversations. After enough of my time was wasted it was easier to hire a new IT firm than listen to more drama. He was a nice guy, but I just did not have the time or the desire to listen to such talk.
Employees can be worse! Because I have a small office and see employees daily it is too easy to get caught up in their personal lives. I try to dissociate, but periodically my empathy rises off the charts over problems an employee has. It always ends bad as bad luck turns to drama and then I finally reach a breaking point and take a pass. Once again I am an Ass.
My empathy is high for most people. When someone suffers a loss I feel it too. I try to keep distance with employees. However, the closer an employee is to my office the greater the risk her dramas will spill into my life. If money is tight I am willing to share ideas I share with readers here. I encourage people to read my work so they can use my experiences to their benefit. Special cases require personalized advice. Money issues are generally easy to fix if you want them fixed. If you are unwilling to cut back or quit smoking I can’t help you; if another tattoo is more important than dealing with money issues my empathy evaporates. Mrs. Accountant has even babysat an employee’s child until she could find permanent daycare. As you can imagine it ended bad. In less than a month the drama spilled into my life and it was all over. For the client or employee is goes from bad to worse. They are their own worst enemy.
Breaking the Bond
My ability to help works best when I keep a professional distance. Employees still tell me about their life in passing and it allows me to understand where they are in life. Most people want to share without trying to manipulate the other person; they just want understanding or need to get it out. I’m okay with that.
The danger zone comes when the passing interest is turned into a raging demand. Everyone backs away different. In my case I tend to start paying less attention. You are still the client or employee and your life is none of my business. I listen because I care about you, but after a while you need to take action and responsibility for your own life. By backing away slowly, some people consider this an insult and retaliate. Gawd, I hate that! I still care and want to help, only from a greater distance. It is your life.
The drama queen/king takes the insult personally. It usually devolves into personal attacks. A recent employee had serious personal problems and decided when I was no longer willing to listen to her problems daily and make her the center of attention she would dig into my life and hurt me. You can’t hurt me, but you can hurt yourself. (We can all make this statement. You allow yourself to be hurt; no one can do it to you.) Talking behind my back or using any failure I ever had in life will not increase my empathy; it will end all empathy. I am an open book on my life, including failures. I don’t dwell on failure, but I sure like to learn from the experience.
Once trust is betrayed by someone I helped the dark side of the accountant emerges. I will take some abuse, understanding everyone has days. After a pattern of manipulation and abuse emerges I move on. The dichotomy must make the diss more acute. I go from genuinely caring and helping to total disregard. How can a relationship go from one extreme to the other? For most of us, especially me, it is disrespect of my time and compassion. If you want to use me as a weapon or tool I am going to turn on you eventually. The kind of tool I am talking about is from a negative context. If you use me as a tool to improve yourself or learn a new skill or build a business I am fine; if you use me as a tool to play games or manipulate others katy bar the door.
Walking Into the Light
Optimism comes naturally to me. I think the best of people even after they betray me. In my opinion people do what they do for reasons that made sense at the time. I could be wrong (would not be the first time). I tend to forgive easily.
What people forget is how many people want a piece of me daily. The request for help from clients, family, friends, employees, and readers is unrelenting. We are not talking about a few minutes of advice either. This is full-blown work! There is no possibility I could do all the work myself.
I have a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends. My distance should never be construed as a lack of interest or not caring. As a member of the human race I need quiet time to think and reflect. Some people get it, others not so much.
It feels good to be wanted. When I am asked to speak to a group I feel good inside. It also allows me an opportunity to know the group more intimately for a few days without as many outside demands. After the conference is over I remember the people I met, but don’t keep close connections with most. I hate that too. I wish the world were smaller so I could have a more in-depth relationship with people like me. Life is not that kind.
The world changes the more people demand from you. The way I treat clients and employees evolved over the years as demands on my time grew. It brought out the dark side of the accountant. I tend to demand more than ask in business settings. I also tend to have less tolerance for drama; either fix the problem or live with it. As a business owner I have no choice but to outline the project and expect everyone on the team to participate.
The Kind Man of Cruelty
The working title of this post is the header of this final section. My original notes were to discuss how I handle stress. I wrote: I am not a yeller or swinger when upset. But I can be a real ass and not let it go until I burn it out. Dealing with emotions as a Stoic to just let stuff go. I knew what I wanted to write about once I had enough time to think it through. I changed the premise of the post to suit my new thought process. I still want to address the original thought.
I am not violent ever. I don’t think I ever raised my voice to a client or employee; I don’t hit either. My real problem is I want to over analyze a situation after it fails. In a way that behavior helps me learn lessons; it also causes problems as I can’t move on until I let it go. When I finally reach that place where I write someone off I don’t immediately move on. I allow an opportunity for redress. It never really matters. I moved on long ago, while still holding on to the old, destroyed relationship. The emotions are wiped clean.
Stoics should know better. By holding something in that long and letting it burn you up is counter-productive. As a stoic I have a lot to learn. Stoicism is a journey, not a destination. My writing shows I remember stories from a long time ago. What you read here really happened with only modest changes to make the story fit the format here and sometimes to protect characters in the play. A long memory is good and bad. If you learn from it without angst it is good; if you dwell on it endlessly without a lesson learned it is bad.
There is a solution for dealing with people like me. (Okay, just me.) When I pull back it probably means nothing at all. Staying in touch is never a problem. The problem starts when the person I back away from forces themselves into my life. My backing away is really a request for respite. Give me my respite and our relationship will continue on into the future. You, me, everyone needs a break now and again. A relationship can be destroyed for no other reason than someone was not given enough room to breathe. If I pull back due to some unwritten offense, it will pass as I digest it. There is no reason to confront you on a slight that is no more than my interpretation of words or an event. After I digest it I will move on as if nothing happened because nothing did. If the issue is forced, out comes the dark side.
Now I am going to take a nap. Don’t bother me. It has nothing to do with you.
Over the years I have met some truly awesome people. Mrs. Accountant and I used to frequent science fiction conventions and stalk authors I enjoyed reading. You would be surprised how many were thrilled (they acted thrilled) to break bread with the missus and me. Many of my heroes have either died or are getting up in age. I miss Zig Ziglar; I have a picture of me shaking hands with him over breakfast. Tony Robbins was busy as heck but still took time to talk. Beside my office desk I have a picture of me, Mrs. Accountant, Newt Gingrich, and Mark Green. Newt was Speaker of the House at the time and he was promoting his Contract with America. For the record I vote both side of the isle; it just happens the opportunity to have my picture taken with the Speaker of the House came up so I took it. Also sat at a round table with the Speaker and five other people in Green Bay talking politics and taxes.
There are more people I would love to meet. Unless you run in a tight group you may not know many of these folks. It’s okay. You can look them up. Most are writers; writers always thrill me. I met Pete Adeney (Mr. Money Mustache) a few years back and as readers here know I am now his tax guy. The problem with meeting some people is it costs money. Either you need to attend a conference and there is little opportunity to spend any real time with the mark, ah, I mean gentleman, or people like me never have a real chance for a sit-down lunch with the victim because the victim is too famous.
I know you are licking your lips so here is my short list of people I would love to chat with over a beer or a light meal:
Warren Buffett: Warren is one of the most interesting people I can think of. He auctions off a dinner date with him once a year for charity to discuss anything you want. The winner pays over a million dollars for the opportunity. Mere mortals don’t have a chance. The closest I will ever get to Warren Buffett is a client who is board of director for a company financed by Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s company. I put this one first because of the 2,500 people who visited this blog in the last month one might have been Warren Buffett. (Yeah, right!)
If Buffett ever allowed me to have personal time with him over a meal I would ask him about happiness. Here is a guy who has lived a long time, made a lot of money, and still seems happier than the day is long. He found meaning in life when all the creature comforts life can offer were never in doubt for a long time. I would ask: What makes it all worthwhile? What makes you proudest?
Stephen King: Over the years I met a lot of writers, including several New York Times bestselling writers. But when you want to sit for twenty minutes with Stephen King you might not get the same reception. He sounds like a great guy to shoot the shit with. He gave up alcohol (my understanding) years ago so a bottle of Coca Cola would do just fine for our conversation. I would ask Stephen about the language and when to break the rules to communicate more accurately. I spend plenty of time writing and struggle. King knows how to push a noun up against a verb; me, not so much. Sometimes I don’t even know I am screwing up grammatically. I would ask Stephen how he knows when to look things up.
If Stephen King ever granted me an audience I would beg “pretty please” to have a tour of his home and office. I am curious how the guy that thinks up such deliciously spine-tingling stories lives. Ah, he’ll never give two shits about a country boy like me. I’m sure I’d be disappointed to learn he puts his pants on one leg at a time anyway.
President Bill Clinton: Now that Hillary leads in the polls it might be time to ask Bill what he plans on doing in the White House with all that free time (Don’t answer that!) President Clinton is an interesting man to me and it goes beyond politics. I would enjoy an afternoon on the ranch with President George W. Bush too, but they have guns down in Texas and Weesconsin boys might not be welcome.
The thing about Bill Clinton is he is sixteen years from his presidency and his wife looks to be heading for the job next round. I would ask Bill (can I call him Bill?) what his proudest accomplishment in office was and what he hopes Hillary would accomplish should she win. Outside the scandal and sex stuff, I would ask what he felt was his greatest error. After the first ten or fifteen minutes and the third beer I would hope the conversation drifted toward the simple pleasures of life like, What makes a good day? Presidents always make for a good afternoon conversation.
Now we move from the impossible to the someday-it-could-happen.
Ryan Holiday: Holiday is a writer with a long career in marketing. He is 29, but is wise well beyond his years. Reading his books you have no idea a young man is writing it; you would think a man with a full life behind him was writing the book. His career started by manipulating the media for his own gain or that of his clients. He has matured.
My questions would be simple for Holiday. He has studied and practiced stoicism from a young age. My questions would be more of a conversation on how to live life well following stoic principles. An afternoon (I would need the full afternoon) would only be the beginning. Holiday is the kind of guy I think I would like to call friend after a heart-felt afternoon of shared ideas.
J.D Roth: You would think this one is possible since Pete Adeney and J.D. are friends. Roth started the blog Get Rich Slowly and now writes for his newest blog, Money Boss. My time with J.D. would revolve around life choices. I have a difficult time letting go of work and career. I would pick his mind for ideas to live a full and meaningful life. J.D. enjoyed a very extended road trip with his family and I would love to hear more (he wrote plenty) about the trip. Not the details of where he went and what he saw, but, how did he handle life away from home for so long? I think a sit-down with J.D. would include Pete, beer, and a lot of shoot-the-shit conversation. Just the way I like it.
Leo Babauta: Leo does not know me from Adam. He writes the blog Zen Habits. I love his work because he helps me do something I have a hard time doing on my own: relaxing. I don’t think readers here understand how little sleep I get. I frequently write these posts late at night and edit them next morning. It is 10:30 P.M. as I write these words. I will go to bed, but I usually sleep on the couch so I don’t disturb Mrs. Accountant. I toss and turn a lot. I get up several times overnight; my mind never stops. Leo’s work has slowly helped me declutter my life.
An afternoon tea with Leo would hopefully help me relax. Of course I could always spend serious money to attend a conference to see him, but it would not be quality time. An afternoon chatting with Leo would probably allow me my first night of full sleep in decades. I would ask Leo how to turn it off. My mind is always racing with ideas. It would be a blessed respite for the voices to stop for just a day. Until then, I’ll keep reading his work.
Tim Ferris: Ferris is the guy who writes the 4-hour books. The 4-Hour Workweek is his most popular work. My question for Tim is simple: What the hell you do with all your free time? For Christ’s sake, when I had fifteen spare minutes one day I bought a farm to fill the wasted time. Life is easy today, no doubt. The amount of work required to satisfy “needs” takes, like Tim Ferris postulates, about 4 hours a week. After that it all goes into investments or stupid spending. Guys like me who need constant activity (constructive and productive activity) to calm the demons needs to know how guys like Ferris pull off the stunt. It sure eludes me.
Now we move to my last “must-see” person I would love to share an afternoon beer with:
You, My Readers: Anybody who suffers through my writing must be special. I love it when I get comments. Everyone sounds so awesome. I can’t meet each and every one of you. I just checked Google Analytics and it tells me 2,568 different people showed up here in the last month. That number has been growing about 50 a day lately; this thing is really starting to take off. As the numbers grow I know my chance to personally touch each and every one of you dims. The sheer volume will eliminate any chance I have of knowing you personally. I hate it with a passion. I am a people-person. I live for the stories people tell about their life. Maybe we get lucky and have a few moments to connect someday. I hope so. Most of you are only a computer screen to me.
And now this post is at an end. I miss you already.