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.

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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.

Learning to Accept Praise

We all know people who cannot accept praise for what it is worth. Any acknowledgement of a new outfit, lost weight, or new hair style is greeted with a qualifying remark meant to downplay the praise. These people lack the self-esteem to accept praise for what it is worth. The answer to someone saying they like your outfit is, “Thank you.” There is no need to downplay or qualify your acknowledgment of the praise, minor as it is.  When your retort is, “This old thing” or “I got it off the dollar rack” you are slapping the person in the face for their praise. They love your outfit regardless how long you owned it or what you paid.

Qualifiers are the other end of downplaying praise. Some people need to qualify praise received. “Wealthy Accountant, you have an awesome and successful business.” “Why, thank you. I work really hard, sometimes seven days a week to keep this baby going. Should’ve retired decades ago.” It is hard to say “thank you” and leave it at that. Accepting praise is difficult due to low confidence and a deep seated fear we are unworthy. Lacking the ability to accept praise at face value can have catastrophic effects on one’s happiness, well-being, and financial security.

PraiseGet a Raise, Get Fired

People react negatively to praise, even when deserved. Over the years I have had employees who cried when I expressed my confidence in their work and gave an unexpected pay raise. Two employees in 30 years actually self-destructed after getting a raise. It blows my mind when I think about. In my office new employees have a probationary period. Years ago I had an awesome young lady killing it at her job. I cut her probationary period short by three weeks and gave her a raise greater than originally indicated for the end of the probationary period. You could see her fall off a cliff after receiving the praise. It wasn’t that big a deal. She did good work and I compensated her for it. But her self esteem was so low she could not handle the praise. She worked hard for two months to go from a raise and praise to fired.

41oP29YgLtL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Ahhhh! Money! Take It Away!

I see the same behavior when it comes to money. Young people more than ever are saving and investing for financial independence and early retirement. The other day I saw a young lady jumping for joy she reached her $100,000 milestone. What an awesome accomplishment for someone in their young 20s! I could also see a bit of regret. Do I deserve this wealth? You could hear it dripping from her words. I wanted to scream “Fuck, yeah!” Of course you deserve it. You earned it and acted responsibly by spending less than you earned and investing wisely. As an accountant I confess I can’t get most of my 60 year olds to take such responsible money habits.

The issues are different for people who have money. I have told stories here about people with money dealing with people trying to get a piece of the action without earning it. Starting a life together, whether as a married couple or co-habiting, money is a serious issue to deal with before the relationship gets too serious. Our minds have a regulator, a governor, if you will, that keeps you where you belong. When things start going too well we do stupid crap to put us back where we think we belong; when we lose ground the regulator kicks in, taking steps to re-attain our former position we feel we deserve.

Low self-esteem does not prevent people without money from wanting yours. If they get your money it will go the way of the dodo. The mental regulator will kick in immediately when they have access to your money and their brain will think of all the ways to piss it away.

The difference between those with financial resources and those without is a few simple habits. Since the habits are so simple everyone should be rich. The reason so few are rich is because of their mental state. They have convinced themselves, with plenty of help from marketers, they will only be happy giving up their wealth. Except they are not happy; they are miserable. Money made them unhappy; the stuff money bought did not fill the void. Money magnifies your emotions. If you are happy, it will make you happier; if you are miserable, you will end up more miserable.

Enter the Stoic

Much of my life has been shaped by Stoic thinking. The great minds of antiquity shared their insight into happiness and living right. The Stoic training drips from my work, especially when I interpret stories I tell. Before we apply Stoic thinking to praise, wealth building, and happiness, we need to define what Stoicism is. Outlining the entire Stoic way of thought is well beyond the scope of one blog post. However, we can get a solid understanding when we boil Stoic thinking down to three elements of control:

  • Things we have no control over: The weather, war, floods, the stock market, and the economy all fall into this group. A Stoic realizes he has no control over these issues so he does not worry about them. There is nothing he can do to change it and worrying about it is a waste of time.
  • Things we have some, but not complete, control over: This category covers the vast majority of events in our lives. Stoics carefully review what is happening and then determines what he has control over before taking action. Some areas you have virtually no control over; elections, for example. You have one vote only. You might support a candidate with a contribution to their campaign, canvas, or encourage others to vote. That is where your ability to affect change ends. Worrying about the outcome is a waste of time since you have no control over the outcome. You have more control over your finances. You control your spending habits and where you invest the excess; you do not control a medical emergency that decimates your finances. Stoics know you change what you can and stop worrying about the rest because you have no control over it.
  • Things you have absolute control over: There is only one thing you have absolute control over: your mind. Even your body is something you only have limited control over. A heart attack or violent assault is out of your control. You can be imprisoned without any control over your physical conditions. The only way you lose control of your mind is to give it away. Nothing is more important than controlling how you interpret and respond to what is happening. Once you find the ability to control your mind and how you respond to events around you is when you will find contentment, peace.

It all sound so logical, so easy. In reality it is much harder to practice. Attainment of complete control over one’s feeling is not the endgame. You must spend your entire life working to control your interpretation of events around you and of what is happening to you. Your response is determined by your level of mental self-control.

51XA9J-WPOL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I Can Keep the Money

How do you feel when a juicy dividend check is deposited to your investment account? Of course! It feels great; no big issue here. You earned you share of the profits in said company or mutual fund. Do you downplay it, like a compliment on your outfit or qualify the dividend by explaining it away? I hope not.

The Stoics taught us to accept our gifts and compliments graciously. How you respond to a compliment is more important than the compliment. Stoics tend to be wealthy. Epictetus was a slave. He won his freedom and taught Stoic values. Over two millennium later we still read Epictetus’s words. Everything is a gift. Imagine: two prisoners looking out the window of their cell one evening; one sees the desolate yard, the other looks up and sees the stars. The choice is yours.

Good fortune is a gift best accepted with graciousness. When we are mentally unprepared for a gift we rely on old habits. Too often those old habits are self-destructive. The correct answer to a compliment is “thank you”. No minimizing or qualifying required.

Finding a life mate is difficult in the best of situations. Back in my college days I was sweet on a young lady in Macro-economic class (this was before I met Mrs. Accountant). I slicked back my hair (I had hair back then) and made small talk. Before long we found common ground. I wanted a relationship with her so bad it hurt. Then it was time for the serious questions. Her worldview on money was different than mine. It would never work. Her spending habits would never jive with mine. We stayed friends for a while, but later we moved on. I hope she found what she was looking for in life; I did. The gene pool for people responsible with money is certainly smaller than for the spend-happy crowd. Having the discussion up front can prevent lots of problems later. I never played the field, nor did I get to jump into bed with a bevy of females (no unwanted pregnancies or STDs either). No matter. I knew what I wanted and I waited and planned accordingly. It was something I had control over.

You have the same control. Happiness comes from in here (pointing to the head), not out there (pointing to the world at large). Stuff will never bring happiness, money will not, either. Happiness comes from feeling satisfied with what you have. The feeling of ‘enough’ is where happiness comes from. Could you imagine The Wealthy Accountant wanting a younger woman because Mrs. Accountant had the audacity to grow old? Me neither. I have what I want. I feel happy where I am every day no matter where it is I am standing. You can, too.

By the way, that is a nice outfit you are wearing today; it looks nice on you.