Look

My friend Kregg’s clear-eyed view is this: that when we start with self-control, you’re on to something.

Self-control and self-discipline – the latter is my addition and they are not the same thing. But they lie at the heart of success. Personal success.

Also. I add prioritization as the second requirement for a strong life. Ability to control ourselves means more when we understand why we impose discipline and to what end. That’s the art of setting a priority, stating and working towards one goal and ignoring others…for now.

Allied closely with setting priorities is RE-prioritizing. Our list of priorities is like a prized garden; constant attention, replanting, pruning and changing emphasis with the seasons is a part of the deal.

IMO priorities should change with seasons, not overnight.

Which leads to my third point of success, which is knowing when to change. This is probably the trickiest, the most like an art and least technical. If the headline three years hence is X, what are my priorities now, and how should they change?

Look. Looking to the future. It’s a murky business.

We Are Nuts

Butthole

Ask a smoker why they smoke. The answer they give will swirl somewhere in the region of:

Because it makes me feel good.

That’s the nicotine.

Ask a gambler – a desperate, frayed, loser gambler – whey they throw money away. Mostly they talk about the thrill of the chance at winning big.

That’s the dopamine in their brain.

Ask a drinker why he drinks. He will tell you that he only drinks socially, that it loosens him up, makes interacting easier, takes the edge off.

That is the alcohol doing its thing.

We’re nuts. We deliberately set out to kill, ruin and destroy ourselves. We choose this way, because the alternative appears worse.

Now tell me we’re rational.

All Quiet on the Western Front

My friend, Bronwyn, works for a listed company. I have known Bronny for fifteen years now, and she’s a mercurial dynamo not given to worry. Stuff always works out for her.

Until now. That listed company is in trouble. Revenues for the immediate past quarter are down by a quarter. Margins are tiny. Staff reductions are a weekly event. Competition is savage.

Noticing the shrinking office population and awful financials, Bronny is quite reasonably scrambling to figure out her future. This is not like her at all. Talking to her on the phone last night, she’s stressed, looking to change a lot of her priorities. For the last three years she’s been on a steadily rising income and responsibility gradient. Her annual salary is within a few dollars of $100,000 plus plus. And yet the prospect of being turfed out on the street is closer than she ever imagined: she has no buffer.

By buffer I mean savings, no padding for the unexpected. But that’s not all. She has no back-up plan, no alternative means of finding income, not really any assets to sell. She is bright, attractive, flexible and hard-working, but the real possibility is that she’ll be forced back to hourly pay. What happened?

In my opinion, human nature happened. When the going’s good, it’s natural to think that the current circumstance will continue. That’s a recency bias in our thinking, the belief that the immediate past is more valid than the more distant past.

We talk about stuff like passive income, savings, being on a budget, and she did even pay a budget advisor for a while. Tellingly, he was the first to point out that her spending exceeded her income, and that the slack was on Visa. Discipline took over for a while, but with the next pay raise, her spending resumed and the budget fell behind a drawer somewhere.

The truth is that a job is not a cure for financial ills. A job is merely a tactic, but it’s a tactic in which we do not control much. A job is outsourcing your power. And that’s fine, and works for most people. But there is much we can do to balance that lack of control. Spending discipline is one thing – Bronwyn’s coffee bill, we once figured, amounted to $4,000 per year. Another is the idea of creating your own job, if only part-time. A few hours each week spent on moneymaking projects gets you in the mindset to be your own boss.

Minor entrepreneurship is a form of vaccination. Once you have the antibodies, activating them when you need them is infinitely easier. If Bronny had a side business, no matter how small, she’d be focused on how to ramp that into a full-time gig. That would give her a measure of calm, and, importantly,  insurance against her both being fired and subsequently not finding another job.

I like that concept. You cannot buy insurance against job loss. But job-loss will likely be the biggest financial catastrophe to hit most people. Hence the value of providing yourself with a job, or, better still, passive income. That’s real insurance.

Men: Change or Die

Skyler and Walter

The open secret is that men are less skilled at adopting to change than women. As a matter of generalization I guess men know this, but on an individual basis, probably not.

So let’s state it out loud: Men, you must learn flexibility in your work and professional life, or risk irrelevance or death.

Yes, that sounds dramatic, but it happens also to be true. We risk death at our own hands at an increasing rate.

They are all part of a “sandwich generation”: they sit between the baby boomers and the digital natives. And they are a group who have, according to recent statistics, lost their way. The Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report for 2014 shows that men aged 40-44 are the demographic group with the highest rate of suicide, nearly four times that of women the same age; for those aged 45-54, the rate is roughly three times higher for men than women.

This is from an article that, if you are, or know a middle-aged man, is worth a read. In my social and work circle, the biggest underlying phenomenon is this notion that women have adapted to the enormous changes in work and money-making in the last thirty years: men remained the same.

And because we stayed the same we are “remaindered”. No-one much needs the qualities and skills we have any more. We’re powerless and therefore have fewer freedoms than our fathers’ generation. The modeling we had from our fathers and grandfathers is not useful any more…but we are often too lazy or unwilling to see it.

I think this is a good summary from the article that I paraphrased:

Men need relationships, men need to be connected, men need to be heartfelt.

Whatever the opposite of bah humbug is to that.