Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Streamline Your Mind

From successful businessmen to politicians and entrepreneurs to investors, a penchant for reading seems to be a common trait existent in many of the world's top leaders.  From President Obama to former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton, many start their days scouring the local and national newspapers and favorite blogs. 

"The Week" published a wonderful article in 2013 describing Warren Buffett's and Charlie Munger's reading habits.  Here's an excerpt:
Warren Buffett says, "I just sit in my office and read all day." 
What does that mean? He estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking. 
"You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours," Charlie Munger commented. 
When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said he "read 500 pages like this every day. That's how knowledge builds up, like compound interest."

The article goes on to describe how possible Buffett successor, Todd Combs, has heeded his bosses advice and reads up to a thousand pages on some days! 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Confirmation Bia$

The recent attacks in Paris, I hope we can all agree, were tragic.  As the friends and relatives of the victims continue to mourn, we turn on the news every morning to updates on the search for the suspected attackers.  And, in the aftermath, social media fills up with opinions on the Syrian refugees immigrating to America in search of a better life and, more importantly, peace.  Fear abounds as to whether potential terrorists will use the opportunity to enter the country and plot further attacks on our own soil. 

Log in to Twitter or Instagram to find yourself inundated with fiery opinions and impassioned debates of commenters either siding for or against the 31 governors who have decided to not welcome Syrian refugees into their states.  58 comment responses later and nothing has been resolved.  The end result:  a lot of mud-slinging, anger-fueled rage, hot tempers, and little resolution.  What we DON'T have is a significant amount of level-headed, clear minded, well reasoned discussion.  How does this happen every time a new hot button issue arises?  How do we not improve our ability to better resolve a discussion and not take the bait some attention seeking poster hangs out there in a Facebook rant?  Why, after so many of these episodes, do we still constantly let our emotions impede our reasoning?

Well, one reason might be that social media provides a platform for this type of conversation - a back-and-forth exchange where one can take time to flesh out his argument, use a thesaurus to find a bigger, more complicated word, and dial up a Wikipedia article or two to find under-scrutinized pieces of information to back his side prior to hitting "reply".  But the root of the problem goes deeper than that.  We are pushed to partake in these disputes because of Confirmation Bias.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Of Wrestling and Life

I am extremely biased, but I strongly believe wrestling is one of the toughest, most challenging, character building, and valuable activities that a person can participate in.  Few other sports pit one competitor against another in an environment that requires as much mental preparation as full-body strength, endurance, and coordination.  MMA may be one of the few exceptions.

I was fortunate enough to have had a semi-successful high school wrestling career - placing 8th my junior year and 3rd my senior year at the Indiana State Wrestling Tournament - before walking on to a Big Ten wrestling team.  On the nurture side, outside of family influence, the sport probably did more to shape my life, my values, and my belief system than maybe any other external factor to this point.  Wrestling involves many intricacies that can be applied to numerous - maybe most - obstacles encountered throughout a lifetime.  With that, I have compiled a list of lessons wrestling can teach that apply to life in general:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Instant Gratification in Poker and Investing

Poker and investing are similar activities.  Each a game of skill, where the end result doesn't necessarily reflect how well the game was played in the short term, but long term results are heavily influenced by constantly playing hands that offer positive expected value.  In the short term, randomness plays an important and unavoidable role; in the long term, those vagaries flesh themselves out.

Poker player, value investor, and Seeking Alpha contributor, Bram de Haas participated in a brief Seeking Alpha Q&A session that highlighted many of the similarities.  de Haas discusses that "one difference is that a hand of poker is settled in a matter of minutes or seconds . . . " while an investment can take years to come to fruition.  Timeframe is a factor that needs to be considered with the investor that the poker shark can ignore.  He further notes that he is less prone to judge his investments by their outcome as opposed to analyzing his application of value investment theories in reaching an investment decision.  His goal, it seems, is mastery of the approach; the results will take care of themselves.  His methods may need some tweaking every now and again, but he won't change course on a whim.  Lessons derived from the RESULTS of an individual poker hand or an investment are meaningless. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

We Are Wimpy!

We, as a society, are wimpy.  We become more and more sensitive to every news article or Twitter post that rubs us even slightly the wrong way. We turn to social media as an outlet and believe it exists only as a means for us to vent our perspective.  If we don't like something, well, instead of doing something productive to change it, we voice our frustration in a Facebook rant.  Seven likes later - there, you feel better.  You DID do something about it.  You just changed the world, didn't you?

I'm not blaming social media for the current state of our culture; it had to be expected as the world grew more connected.  We all have a right to be heard - I'm not denying that - it's just that now we can easily access an audience for our tirades instead of chewing the ear of our significant other or neighbor or co-workers over the water cooler.  In fact, I don't even mind the obsession our society has with "being heard" and "making a point".  I think it even offers an advantage to the "doers" over the "talkers". 

Why do the "talkers" do what they do (or, don't do what they could do?)?  It starts young.  Parents these days (man, I'm sounding old!) do everything in their power to ensure that their kids are comfortable, regardless of how much they are being set up to fail.  Megan McArdle opens her book, "The Upside of Down" with a discussion on how schools are set up to let children fail later in their lives.  Parents side with their kids over teachers, grade averages are increasing - not due to smarter students, but out of convenience, multiple valedictorians are named in the same school - sometimes in the 30's and 40's - because "no one wants to make a distinction between the kids".  In general, everyone gets a trophy for participating.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Why Knowing it All Makes you Dumber . . .

A difference exists between confidence and arrogance - between being well-informed and believing you have all the answers.  Why are we so reluctant to say, "I don't know"?  Or, "I'll have to check on that"?  Instead, when pushed into a corner or pressed for more information, we succumb to a recency bias and blurt out anything we can recall on the topic at hand.  Regardless of whether the information we are spouting is correct or not - we only say it because it is the most easily accessible information our brain can provide at the moment - we feel the need to sound informed.  Or, more likely, we have a fear of being regarded as uninformed or, worse yet, unprepared. 

Volunteering the most recent information that comes to mind may get us out of a temporary pickle, but it will catch up eventually.  The problem is, once something comes out of our mouth, we own it; we tend to believe and defend it even more than before the statement was made.  The vicious cycle continues with confirmation bias, where we now begin to search only for information that supports our position, building additional mental support for a stance that we were once not really sure we even agreed with.

Monday, November 2, 2015

"Waiting for the Universe to Respond to What You've Been Manifesting"

Over the weekend, I stumbled upon this picture on Instagram:

It was so ridiculous and pointless - just like most brain-drain social media posts, I suppose - but it was also one of those images that became stuck in my head.  How often do you feel like this?  I mean, REALLY feel like this?  I've felt this way more lately than I can ever remember - and it's tough.  Anxiety has got to be one of the most difficult emotions to suppress.  If you're like me - and I'm assuming if you're reading this then we likely share number of similar characteristics - it is not in your nature to sit back and watch the world go by.  You need to be doing something; you need to be planting some seed or nurturing one that you've previously sown.  Sitting and watching is next to impossible. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Will vs. Living Trust - From a Stockholder's Standpoint

Numerous articles have been published regarding the differences between wills and living trusts - I'm not going to recap that here.  However, unfortunately, I have had to learn a thing or two about trusts in the aftermath of the passing of a relative.  The trust does not involve me, but I have been privy to some of the details of the settlement of the trust and, as I am intrigued by anything markets/investing/stock trading, I picked up a few gems that could save a bundle of cash (for you or your heirs) if handled correctly.  Keep in mind, I am not advocating that you set up one over the other; I am simply going to dissect the difference from a very specific perspective:  the giving of stock to relatives in the event of a death.

A trust is set up by a living person who wants to place stipulations on how their estate is handled.  For example, a trust can define the terms under which a child takes control of an asset - possibly stating that the child must turn 18 or earn a college degree.  A trust does not require settlement through "probate", meaning it basically stays out of the courts.  A will does enter probate (of course, there are some exceptions to the rule).  Also, a trust is worthless until it is funded with assets.  The trust and the assets may remain in control of the trustee until he/she passes away, then the beneficiary can take control of the assets.  Those are basic differences - many more specific technical differences can be researched here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Investing in Others' Dreams

I recently have had the opportunity to invest in a small startup restaurant in my home town, the owner being a high school friend/acquaintance from years ago.  He is only looking for a little startup capital - rent and labor in our town is so cheap; the downtown building he wants to lease/purchase will cost something like $700/month and it is in the heart of our town of 20,000 people.  Our downtown used to be more vibrant.  Or, at least, that's how I remember it growing up.  We have an old courthouse in the center of town that gives the town character and a welcoming feel, our Fourth of July parade is packed every year, we have nice clean lakes that are great for boating and fishing, and the downtown area has potential if the right people were involved.  The compassionate, nostalgic part of me wants to give him his money and hope he succeeds.  The logical, business side of me says, "Restaurants fail.  Bad investment" - even if it is a relatively small sum.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Entity and Incremental Learning

From Business Insider
I've been on a bit of a psychological kick lately digging into books like "Bounce" and "Thinking Fast and Slow" - which is quickly becoming one of my favorites and, by far, one of the most informative I've ever come across.  "Bounce" mentions some of the work of Carol Dweck, who was the author of "Mindset", which contains some mind blowing information on how our minds work and how we can condition them to focus on success.

While her book was a great read, I had forgotten - or, more likely, didn't yet understand - how enlightening her concepts really were.  That was until a couple of months ago.  Not only did her writing continue to pop up in a number of books I had been reading, but my son was born.  After seeing how fast little babies pick up new habits and how quickly they learn, I began to think about the best way to raise him from a psychological standpoint to empower him to live the best life he possibly can.  I remembered Dweck and gave myself a refresher of her teachings, which took on an entirely different meaning than the first time I plowed through "Mindset". 

One of the tenets of "Mindset" was the distinction between entity and incremental learning.  Entity learning was the belief that brainpower and intelligence were innate and could not be improved.  It gave the individual a sense of entitlement.  On the opposite end of the spectrum was incremental learning:  the belief that "the novice can become the master" (quoted from "The Art of Learning").  Empowering! 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Deliberate Practice in Pursuit of Goals

For years now, I've been enthused and passionate about investigating the role of talent in shaping the person we become in our lives.  Books like "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin, "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, and "Mindset" by Carol Dweck had huge impacts on shaping my perspective about innate abilities and showing evidence that we all truly have much more control over our lives than we initially assume.  I have recently read "Bounce" by Matthew Syed, who was an Olympic table tennis player for Great Britain.  He had won numerous European table tennis championships as well as Commonwealth Championships - but readily admits to choking in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  At that point, he began to investigate the intricacies of success, why some experts choke, and the role of genetics in shaping our talent.  The book was phenomenal (I hope to do a write up on it soon).  Syed knows a thing or two about success in athletics at the highest levels, which gives the book some validity over the others, who were written by psychologists and journalists.  "Bounc" is like "Talent is Overrated", "Outliers", and "Mindset" on steroids (in fact, Syed even talks about steroid use in sports!).

Anyway, it was another eye opener into what we are truly capable of accomplishing with, as Colvin defines it, "deliberate practice".  Deliberate practice can be thought of as hours of focused practice - not going to the driving range to hit golf balls, but going to the driving range, focusing on the grip for hundreds of swings, then focusing on the backswing for hundreds of swings, etc.  Ideally, you'd be able to film yourself or receive immediate feedback so you can make minor adjustments.  Watch this talk from Colvin.  While this task is much different than perfecting a golf swing, the message remains unchanged:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Suggestion, Anchoring, and the Adjustment Heuristic

I've recently been reading (listening on audio!) through Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" and one idea struck me that I haven't been able to get out of my head:  Anchoring and the Adjustment Heuristic.  Here is the Wikipedia definition:

Anchoring or focalism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions.
Kahneman and Amos Tverskey Kahneman goes over numerous examples of this bias; one involved asking study participants if Gandhi was 144 years old when he died.  While this question is obviously absurd, as 144 years is longer than anyone can live, it sets an "anchor" from which the participants "adjust" from.  Participants adjust down from 144 to reach their answer. 

In another example, real estate agents were given sufficient information to assess the value of a house.  Within this information was the list price.  Some agents were provided information with a very high list price while others were given a very low list price.  The ones given the high list price produced a significantly higher value of the home than did those who were given the low list price. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Trips Over Gifts

My wife and I have an agreement:  If at all possible, we don't buy each other gifts for birthdays or holidays, but instead use that money towards experiences.  This agreement forces us to use our imaginations to come up with something fun to do for special occasions and compels us to step outside of our comfort zones to try new adventures.  I'm not saying we haven't ever bought each other something, but the idea is that an experience, if at all possible, takes precedence over material goods.  And they don't have to be huge, expensive experiences - just something thoughtful.  A nice night downtown or a   A few of my favorites have been:

-Hot air balloon ride in Asheville, NC. 
-Great American Beer Fest in Denver and offseason stay in Vail
-Deep Sea Fishing in San Diego

Each of these coincided with a trip that we already had planned.  With sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, these types of experiences can fit within a budget.  I'm not going to try to tell you that they are cheap, because they aren't, but they also don't need to break the bank.  There are many activities that can be enjoyed for much less than a gift would ever cost. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Review: "Getting There" - Gillian Zoe Segal

"Getting There" may be my favorite book of 2015.  Gillian Zoe Segal does a fantastic job compiling anecdotal stories of successful people from all walks of life.  The book is structured such that each story is approximately 2-4 pages long, with some biographical information on the subject.  Each section concludes with lessons, or "pearls", as Segal puts it, that the subject has picked up throughout their journey.  Segal's background as a photographer is obvious with a beautiful portrait of each subject at the beginning of the respective chapter.  The book in itself is a piece of art. 

Her compilation spans the globe and covers subjects from all ends of the spectrum, from Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, to Laird Hamilton, big wave surfer; from Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School Dean, to Michael Bloomberg, former New York Mayor and founder of Bloomberg L.P.; and from investor Warren Buffett to Sam Adams brewer/founder, Jim Koch.  Anderson Cooper shares his journey in journalism and discusses the sacrifices he made along the way to becoming a CNN news anchor and host of his own show.  John Paul Dejoria discusses surviving off of 99 cent chips and chicken wings and a trucker's special breakfast, while living in his car and hustling his hair products.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Shyp in Chicago!

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend a "fireside chat" at the General Assembly in Chicago with Kevin Gibbons, CEO and Co-founder of Shyp, and Antonio Gracias, CEO of Valor Equity Partners and board member on Tesla.  Mr. Gracias moderated the discussion and had some very interesting questions Mr. Gibbons. 

In case you are unfamiliar, Shyp is a company designed to make shipping easier and "frictionless".  You simply download the app, take a picture of the item you intend to ship with a pick up address, and a Shyp courier swings by (usually within 20 minutes) to pick up your package, wrap it, package it, and send it. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lessons of an Investing Addict Part 3: Margin

Using "margin" means borrowing money from your broker to purchase more stock than you could afford using only your available cash.  Think of it like a credit card that you can only use to buy stock.  In this case, there can be a tremendous upside to taking the risk of utilizing margin, but there is also a significant downside if the investment goes against you - even more of a downside than just the interest you pay on the borrowed money.

The Federal Government (Regulation T) allows you to borrow up to 50% of the initial purchase price of a position, called "initial margin".  Beyond that requirement, brokerages require a minimum equity maintenance to be kept to minimize potential losses to you and to them.  These minimum maintenance requirements can vary. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - Robert M. Pirsig

In one line, I'd summarize my thoughts on this book as, "Not worth my time" . . . or, more like, "What was that?"  I definitely stepped outside my comfort zone on this one, as I usually gravitate towards finance, investing, and social psychology books.  However, Zen showed up on a number of "must read" lists, so I figured I'd give it a shot. 

The author of this book, Robert M. Pirsig, is much smarter than I'll ever be - I'll admit it.  I struggled to follow some of the complex, abstract, and esoteric concepts described within and felt that a passing grade in an introductory course of Greek philosophy should be a pre-requisite to turning the first page.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Opportunity Cost of Fantasy Football

I have recently been the recipient of verbal office jabs for my choice to abstain from Fantasy Football this year.  My retort?  The opportunity cost of drafting, managing, and discussing Fantasy Football does not warrant participation.  I played last year.  I enjoyed it.  I enjoyed it a little too much, spending Sunday's refreshing my phone at the local B-Dubs, telling my wife I need some obscure receiver to catch at least 4 passes for me to lock in a playoff spot - as if to include her in my predicament.  The end of the season was a welcome relief, maybe as much for me as it was for her.  No matter how many times I have vowed to not let FF take over my life, I still found myself sucked into the office banter throughout the week and a zombie - a shell of my non-football self - on Sundays.  I am STILL being sucked into the office conversations, and I'm not even playing this year!  That's power of Fantasy Football!

What is the tradeoff for that time and stress?  What am I missing out on?  Am I getting more out of participating than I would from some other activity?  What are the opportunity costs?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Beer Economics: To Brew or not to Brew . . .

We all have our "thing".  The "thing" . . . you know, the one that you, savor extraordinaire, just won't budge on.  It goes against every principle you try to uphold on a daily basis.  It's material, it's expensive, it's unnecessary, but it's sooooooo good!  Maybe it's coffee?  No, you would never frequent Starbucks each morning for a $5 Pumpkin Spice Latte with your name spelled incorrectly down the side - that would be asinine.  But there are still ways to get your fix, to feed that craving, and conquer that one weakness for a reasonable price.  Maybe when you're at the grocery store staring at that wall of Folgers and Maxwell House, maybe you can't help yourself but reach for a bag of Peet's for only $1 more per bag, or 15 cents more per pot.

Mine?  Mine is craft beer.  My dad had been brewing beer long before it was hip.  I sidestepped the Icehouse college phase.  I never "moved up" to the expensive Coors Light.  Nope, my first "bad" beer was Sam Adam's.  At that point, I was doomed.  It's a one way track.  A guy can move from Iowa to California and he'll understand what he had been missing, but you can't expect a Californian to relocate from San Diego to Des Moines and survive.  It's a step backwards, in his eyes.  After my dad's craft beer, there was no turning back. 

But craft beer exploded.  Now, a six pack of Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Extra ale will set you back $9.99, if you're lucky, and that's before taxes.  You want to buy Ballast Point Sculpin in Chicago?  How about $13 minimum?!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Utility - In Another Sense

Utility, in an economic sense, is defined in Investopedia as:

"Utility is an abstract concept rather than a concrete, observable quantity. The units to which we assign an "amount" of utility, therefore, are arbitrary, representing a relative value. Total utility is the aggregate sum of satisfaction or benefit that an individual gains from consuming a given amount of goods or services in an economy."

I became familiar with the term "utility" in this regard from Jordan Ellenberg's "How Not To Be Wrong" and it intrigued me.  Business Insider and Smithsonian give nice summaries of its use in the book here and here respectively.  The gist of it is that everything comes with a cost and you need to ask yourself what cost are you willing to pay for a level of comfort.  It is an "inconvenience factor" and Ellenberg measures it in utils.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Like Diamonds, Cycles are Forever - Premature Thoughts on a Stock Market Crash

It is a bit early to call this past week's action a "crash" or to state that the market is in the midst of a crash, but it is also always wise to plan ahead for various possible future scenarios.  From a value investor's standpoint, crash = opportunity.  The last few years since the 2009 financial crisis, may have been a bit rough for value investors.  While the rising tide of the market over the last 6 years has inevitably raised all boats, those who focus solely on a Graham-esque value strategy may have been left in the dust as growth stocks have been the been doing the heavy lifting.

Bull runs of this nature are difficult for a value investor to stomach.  He likely invested in the 2009 crash, enjoyed the gains until he sold out at what seemed a fair valuation, and subsequently watched agitatingly while the overall market continued to appreciate.  He has likely either converted to mostly cash or focused on commodities, energy, and possibly retail stocks, which have lagged behind the rest of the market sporting low P/E's and P/B's.  Energy and commodities, specifically, have been absolutely hammered this year, while the Dow finally appears to be leveling off after the 5 year bull run.  He follows all of the rules he has picked up from Graham, Buffett, and gang, yet it appears those around him blindly throwing money at in-vogue stocks like Tesla are the ones celebrating!  He has flashbacks to 1999-2001.

But bull markets must come to an end and, like diamonds, cycles are forever.  Love him or hate him (I, for one, am not a big fan), Jim Cramer makes some valid points in "Real Money" when it comes to cycles.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Lessons of an Investing Addict Part 2: Book Value Strategies

“I’m not very good at judging people. So I found that it was much better to look at the figures rather than people. I didn’t go to many meetings unless they were relatively nearby. I like the idea of company-paid dividends, because I think it makes management a little more aware of stockholders, but we didn’t really talk about it, because we were small. I think if you were big, if you were a Fidelity, you wanted to go out and talk to management. They’d listen to you. I think it’s really easier to use numbers when you’re small.” -- Walter Schloss

In Part 1 of this series, I talked in generalities about laying the groundwork for becoming a successful investor.  I discussed some good literature to get you started down the right path and suggested familiarizing yourself with economic cycles.  Finally, you should choose whether you identify yourself as a speculator, a trader, or an investor and then to get your feet wet by putting a minimal amount of funds into a discount brokerage to get a "feel" for the market.

I have spent years researching different methods of equity investing and learned some expensive, but valuable lessons along the way.  My ego has led me to believe I could trade stocks and beat the market; convincing me that somehow I had the gift to outdo the money managers who live and breath this stuff all day, every day.  I have since moved on from the guessing game and built an investment strategy around the techniques of Graham, Buffett, and my favorite, Walter Schloss. 

If you have any doubts about the effectiveness of a long-term value-investing approach, I highly encourage you to read "The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville", a speech by Buffett to a class at Columbia.  Buffett does a fantastic job articulating the school of thought that these "Superinvestors" adhere to while dispelling the argument that randomness is solely responsible for an investor's success.

Monday, August 17, 2015

You Win! Now What???

"If you don't continually revise your goals, the only place you've got to go is down." - Laird Hamilton, World Renowned Surfer

I've written extensively about the process of goal setting and listed some literature that expounds on those ideas (e.g. "Think and Grow Rich", "The Art of Learning", and "Mindset" - take a look at the "Good Reading" page for additional suggestions).  However, what happens when a goal is within site or attained?  What do we do next?  How often do you see professionals who seem to mentally "check out". 

The first one that comes to mind (as football season is drawing near!) is (former) NFL quarterback Jake Locker. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lessons of an Investing Addict Part 1: The Groundwork of an Investor

I've discussed in previous posts that keeping a tight budget is very important in reaching your financial goals.  A Google search will turn up hundreds of articles providing ideas on how to trim your budget and an entire blog community exists full of participants trying to outdo one another on who can live in the most frugal manner.  I think that is a little extreme.

Instead, I want income growth to be the main driver of my financial independence.  I tend to focus much of my free time and energy on stock investments and I will outline my strategy here.  Disclaimer:  I also mentioned in a previous post that I don't necessarily agree with Jim Cramer's overall investment philosophy, but from his book "Real Money", I wholeheartedly agree with his concept of dedicating a minimum of 1 hour per week per stock to research. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Financial Freedom - July 2015

I recently (better late than never!) came across a couple of blogs that I really enjoyed on personal finance:  Root of Good and Mr. Money Mustache.  Both blogs focus on early retirement and different techniques to become financially independent - my goal numero uno.  Mr. Money Mustache has a way of conveying to readers the proper mindset one needs to go down this path and the differences between those who achieve this goal and those who do not.  My favorite part of Root of Good is the financial update and transparency he provides into his family's financials with monthly updates. 

After being inspired by these two blogs of men who have successfully obtained financial freedom, it occurred to me that, while it is extremely beneficial to read about the reflections of those who have succeeded, it may be even more beneficial to document the journey as it unfolds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Personal Goals - Ultimate, Tangible, and Intangible

My Goals:


1)  No regrets
2)  Maximize time with family and ensure happiness
3)  Financial Freedom by 1/1/2020
4)  Relocate family and purchase home in Chicago area.  Accomplished 3/31/2015
5)  Purchase/Open Business
6)  Travel as much as possible

*Doing all of this with integrity in a way that would make God proud and with the end result of leaving this world a better place than when I entered it.

As you can see, some of these are more tangible than others.  No regrets?  Maximize time with family?  It is difficult to quantify whether or not these are accomplished.  I'll tell you that I KNOW when I'm NOT spending enough time with family, but how do you really know if you have maximized it? 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Overcoming Weakness

How can you expect to improve in your area of expertise, your chosen field, or as a person in general by focusing solely on your strengths?  Everyone has a weakness; what differentiates those who succeed from those who do not is how those weaknesses are dealt with. 

In "The Art of Learning", Josh Waitzkin discusses the necessity to identify your weaknesses and work on improving them until they no longer hold you back.  In case you are not aware, Josh is the subject of the book and movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer". 

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Power of Silence

-"Brevity is the soul of wit.  If you've got something to say, say it and stop talking.  If you don't have anything to say, you're doing yourself and others a favor by keeping quiet.  If you can't make a contribution, don't slow down the people who can."  -Craig Newmark, Craigslist Founder, "Getting There"

Listen more, talk less.  Try it.  As with any exercise in discipline, it is difficult at first, becomes easier with practice, and, once accomplished, is EXTREMELY empowering and fulfilling.  So many people feel they have to make a statement about all topics that come up in casual conversation.  Why? 

What it boils down to is protection of ego. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Problem with Self-Help

It seems everywhere you turn these days, someone is trying to help you help yourself - with either rah-rah infomercials or "You Can Do It" blogs. Here are a few problems I see with these:

How much time and money are you spending on these products?

Think about what you could accomplish in the time you expended constantly reading self-help blogs and ebooks online? Think about what you could do with the money you spent on purchasing products from these gurus. You could save it up and buy some weights, if your goal is go become more fit.

Monday, January 26, 2015

8 Minor Adjustments to Maximize Productivity Towards Your Ultimate Goal

I don't think an entire blog needs to be dedicated to changing your daily life.  I think you can get the point across in a single post or two.  Once you have a handle on it, you should be able to assess your own life and optimize your actions - no further blog reading or research necessary on how to maximize the time in your day.  So . . .
Each morning offers the opportunity to start fresh . . . a new beginning, a clean slate.  Many people wake up and immediately begin to stress and dread about what they have to do that day.  That mentality sets the stage for an unorganized, unproductive day.  Others use the morning to plan out tasks they intend to accomplish that day to help them reach their ultimate goal.  That small difference can have an extraordinary compounding effect and create a drastic advantage for that person over others.  For a quick analysis of how little changes can make a big difference, check out a previous post comparing Al and Joe and the differences in their routines.

Making slight adjustments each day can create the foundation for a healthier, more productive life, set you up to ultimately achieve your goal, and pay dividends in your future.  Below are 8 suggestions for maximizing your time each day:

1. Workout in the morning

Planning to workout in the morning can mean an improved chance that you actually do workout that day. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Like Billy Beane Playing Small-Stakes Poker

Small-Stakes Texas Hold 'Em is based on a series of bets that are capped after three rounds of betting.  For example, the first round of betting, after the cards are dealt in a $3-$6 game, requires a $3 bet, nothing more, nothing less.  After subsequent cards are turned (the 'flop', the 'turn', and the 'river'), betting is capped at $6 per round. 

These betting rules play a significant role in strategy and have a tremendous psychological effect on

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of Ambitious Al . . .

. . . and his friend, Regular Joe.

Ambitious Al and Regular Joe are friends and coworkers at Wilde, Guess & Co. an investment bank in Chicago.  Both are well-educated, intelligent individuals.  In fact, Joe ranked higher in his graduating class than Al.  Joe talks about becoming a VP and hitting it big time, but talk is what he does best.  Al, more reserved, is goal oriented and, after moving as high as he can at WG&C, plans to open his own hedge fund.  Let's take a look at how each spends his day, while tracking the hours each productively works towards their own individual goals:

5:00 a.m. - 6:00 a.m.: 
Al: Wakes up, stretches, and heads to the gym. (1 productive hour - healthy body is the foundation of a healthy mind!; 1 hour cumulative)
Joe:  Sleeping. (0 productive hours; 0 hours cumulative)

6:00 a.m. - 7:00 a.m.
Al:  Heads back from the gym, cools down,

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Roots of Laziness

"All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today."

-Pope Paul VI

Laziness is innate; it was a necessary trait for survival from our distant ancient ancestors.  In Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, early hunter-gatherers would constantly – and probably unconsciously - weighed the risk-reward of their expeditions, with the goal of obtaining the most calories for as little effort as possible. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Art of Discipline

"We must all suffer one of two things:  the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment."
-Jim Rohn

Attaining success requires discipline - no surprise to anyone.  Sidenote:  I'm a big advocate of definitions as too many discussions have lacked resolution and too many articles have left the reader confused by not properly defining the parameters of the subject under consideration.  "He has too much talent!"  "She just got lucky!", etc.  Talent?  Luck? 

So, what does "discipline" mean?  One dictionary.com definition defines "discipline" as:  "activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training."  This is the definition we are going to use.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Success: One Man's Definition

Success is personal fulfillment.  It doesn't need to be flaunted or advertised or even noticed by others for it to matter.  It can be a goal to become the next Michael Jordan, Warren Buffett, or super-dad.  To play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or to be the first of your family to graduate from college.  Success is how you perceive your own life - not how the outside world perceives it and especially not how much money and material goods you can accumulate.  This isn't just a rah-rah cliché - it's the facts.  Ask people who you perceive to be successful about how they reached that level.  Research what people did before they became famous.  I guarantee you that you will find a common thread between their stories.  They didn't do it for the money, they did it because of their love of the pursuit of excellence in their chosen field. 

To begin, I have come to believe that four categories of people exist as it pertains to success:

1)  Those who achieve success and stay on top.  These rare people are "bred" for success - they are brought up from day one training toward a certain goal or who somehow recognize the opportunity early on and have the wherewithal to seize it.  They also accumulate the life skills required to stay on top.  These people may have been guided by a parent or mentor from an early age, but the passion to succeed in their chosen field came from within.  They somehow recognized an opportunity and seized it.  Examples may include:  Warren Buffett, Beethoven, Michael Jordan
2)  Those who reach success, but eventually fall from grace.  They have the technical skill acquired from just enough effort to be able to reach a certain level, but they do not have the mental fortitude to stay on top and, therefore, eventually sink back to the realms of the regular Joe – or worse.  These people may have been pushed beyond their limits by a parent to participate in some activity as a child, without possessing an actual passion for that activity.  Or, they may have lost their senses and control of their own life to a non-desirable trait, like greed or envy or addiction. Examples may include:  Jamarcus Russell or Ryan Leaf; One hit wonder artists; Tiger Woods, to some extent; Bernie Maddoff.
3)  Those who slowly, surely, work towards success.  These people are not brought up knowing what they are going to do or accomplish from an early age, but they eventually come to the realization that, to get what they want out of life, they need to prepare differently from others – train more rigorously, study more intensely, etc.  They understand and possess passion, which leads to goal-setting.  That passion eventually consumes their lives and everything they set out to do in some way is a step towards achieving their goal.  This is the category most successful people fall into and the category anyone can become a part of.  These people tend to have the strongest foundation and, once they achieve success, they tend to stay on top.  They know failure; they’ve felt it most of their lives, but they do not view these missteps as setbacks, but instead as building blocks to a stronger foundation.  Examples may include:  Steve Jobs, many pro athletes.
4)  Those who never achieve success and never strive to, either.  Not much explanation is needed on this one.  We all can name a handful of people who never seem to want anything out of life.  They stay on the sidelines watching others, often critiquing, but rarely participating.  The most frustrating of this category is the man who is blessed with a good brain, a strong body, or an ear for beautiful music, but who fails to recognize these features as gifts and don’t utilize them or develop them to full potential.  Even worse, some bank on these gifts to just “get by”, diminishing the need to develop other life skills along the way, and creating a ceiling on their potential as they progress through life.  Whether the root cause is a lack of awareness of the power of their gifts or pure laziness, the couch is home, instead of the gym, the office, the concert hall. 
My purpose for writing this blog is to focus on #3; if you're reading this blog, it is highly likely you fit into this category.  I hope to provide inspiration for the individual who possesses the tools - they have the courage, drive, and passion - to succeed, but may lack direction.  I hope to show you how others have overcome these obstacles, giving you stepping stones to assist in your journey to a life of fulfillment.