3 Essential Happy Life Rules

I have immersed myself in so much learning the last four years. While most of it is noise, regardless of the lesson at hand, it resulted in a lot of self reflection. I’d take the lesson, examine it, see if it fit into my values or plugged a hole, and move on to the next. After hundreds of these types of exercises, I think having a fulfilling and happy life boil down to basically three basic lessons.

1) Thoughts become things.

If you are unhappy, you have two options:

A) Change your perspective

B) Change your circumstances

…that. is. it.

It doesn’t sound complicated, but there are obviously many nuances to these.

buddha

Let’s start with Thoughts Become Things. It really is as basic as it sounds: what you think about will become reality. Here are the nuances. Your conscious and subconscious are not always on the same page. Think of your conscious as the driver of an automobile.  Think of your subconscious as the navigation system. You may think you (your conscious) is in control, but if your navigation system tells you to go left, you go left. If it tells you to go right, you go right. You may disagree and go your own way from time to time, but more likely than not, you’ll follow your navigation system.

What we think programs our navigation system. It hears the main words. So if when you talk to yourself  (and we all do) and say “I don’t like the way I look” your subconscious hears “I .. like the way I look.” Instead we need to say to ourselves “I want to look fit and healthy.” Instead of dwelling on something you hate, state what you want. Instead of “I hate my job,” state “My dream job is just around the corner.”

Your brain is your most powerful organ. What your brain can envision, will drive you to reach that goal. Give it the food it needs to drive you towards your goals. Picture where you want to be, not where don’t want to be. This can be done in many ways. I am a fan of the Vision Board. You look and reflect on pictures of things you want, or where you want to be.  This starts to set this desire in your subconscious. You have to know where you want to go. Not where you’ve been (or are), or what you don’t like. That type of shit gives you no navigation points for the future.

If you want a place where your family can be happy, think about that. It may not come in the way you expect, but focus on the end goal, not the steps or the process. That will come on its own.

Change your Perspective – If you aren’t happy with a situation, one option is changing the way your mind views it. Mine away the good parts, and find happiness in what you can while discarding the crappy part. I’ve read books on monks imprisoned in Chinese camps who found peace and happiness there, despite the awful situation. You can throw in the towel and give up, or you can acknowledge the obstacles, say “this is somewhat overwhelming, but I’m going to stay positive and keep moving in the right direction.”

Let me illustrate how perspective can change things by hypothetical dudes Jim and John. They both work the same job but Jim hates it and John loves it. John is thankful to have a job in this economy. He knows it isn’t his long-term ideal, but he looks at the positive. He’s got an income, which is good. He has insurance. He has work flexibility. Life is good. Jim, on the other hand, looks at what he doesn’t have. He wants to make more money, since his wife nags him about why he needs to ask for a raise. He is looking at MegaFirmX down the street and they get better bennies, so feels slighted. And let’s bring in married life for a minute. Jim has sex with his wife once a week, same as John. Jim HATES that, since he’d rather be doing it 4x per week, and resents that fact. John however, thinks once a week is great. Sure, more would be even better, but he’s improved his and his wife’s sex life from once a month, so to him, he’s practically swimming in it and his marriage is way better. Perspective. You can work to change it too.

Change Your Circumstances – if you are more Jim than John, then stop living in the same situation and start doing something to change it. You are in debt and people are hounding you, yet you’re still buying new cars and going on vacations. Get your shit under control. Get a temporary extra job.

You hate your job, and want to pursue your life’s calling. Start getting the training or education you need, one day at a time, and one day, you could be doing it. Circumstances are not static, and if you aren’t happy, move – do anything, or life and happiness are likely to pass you by. Or at least stop bitching about it, the rest of us don’t want to hear about how your circumstances suck and is causing you grief.

Thoughts Become Things. Change Your Perspective. Change Your Circumstances. some brief thoughts on finding a way to get what you want, and to be more happy.

Mind-Tree

I’m no angel (that time my wife saved my life from drugs)

I’m no angel. I try to be good, but I am weak. I am always true here, and this is my story – good and bad.

After college, I moved to New Jersey for a fresh start from the Midwest. I applied to the East and West coasts – I needed to try something new. Seattle, New York, Portland, Boston… it didn’t matter to me. Rewind a couple of months and my girlfriend had given me an ultimatum of sorts – be with me and and I will go wherever you go, if not, fuck off. As a guy who was drifting, I decided to stick with my life raft (of only about 6 months) as opposed to going it alone. What was maybe a hedge-betting move at the time, was probably the best move I made in life.

I graduated a few months ahead of Holly (who switched majors 2/3 of the way) so had a head start in New (fucking) Jersey. It was an adventure. I subletted with a few dudes from Rutgers, got a new puppy, started my job, and all was fucking good…in the sense that riding a whitewater rapids was good. Life was an adventure. Alone. Starting out. No money. I was grasping for anything of anything. My roommates sucked, but were fun. I met Ruthie from the Real World at bar about 1/2 mile from my apartment (she was a Rutgers grad and regular there, circa-1999). ruthie

My life is always pretty serious, and despite the fact that there may have been a few joints passed around in NJ, my goal was to get established in my first job, get my new pup Buzz pottytrained before Holly came on the scene, and generally try and act like I knew what I was doing in a crazy new world. I faked it ’til I made it, and the pottytraining did occur (after a long time, on lawns about 10′ by 10′ in size – crazy for this midwest dude), and Holly did arrive after graduating… on her own life raft – no job, just a dream of being with me. WTF. Is this how others started their life? Looking back, there is no way this should have worked.

She got a job at a hair-stylist (despite her degree – where she makes more than me now), and we moved out of the apartment with the 2’x2′ shower you could knock down with your fist. But for awhile there we were on two different planets. I had already connected with the crazy lifestyle my coworkers (and New Jersey in general) provided, and she was still the innocent midwesterner.

One night, we went out to one of those crazy clubs. One I had been to before. With the black lights, techno music, and people getting fucked up. I had never done anything crazy during such a night before except drank a little too much and had a Fat Sam off one of the Grease Trucks. FatSandwichThis particular night, either Holly didn’t go with me, or wasn’t feeling it, so headed home early. I don’t really remember. The black-light club wasn’t really too inviting so it wouldn’t have surprised me either way. And since I was (am?) an asshole, I still stayed or went out without her.

I hung out and stayed out with a guy I worked with, along with a skank I worked with (I think she liked me, but skanks have a wide variety of dudes). At some point the three of us (skank, work dude, and me) left the goofy black-light brigade with the express purpose of DRUGS. Probably having too much to drink, and generally being down for most fun times, I went along. We went to skank’s apartment. We had a beer, and then work dude or skank brought out the coke. I had never even seen it before, while they were at least somewhat familiar with it. After tasting my gums, I tried a line, maybe two. Then Holly called. I was feeling good. Totally fucked up. After talking only a few moments with her, she knew something was up (despite my denials) and came right over. She basically dragged me out of there. It was embarrassing, and saved my life in so many ways.

I’m no angel. I’m weak. Me and my whole family (dad, brothers, and others) have an addictive personality Who knows what would have happened that night, or subsequent nights if she never showed up. I’m eternally grateful for her intervention and have never done hard drugs like that again. After she undressed me (verbally) that night, we never have, and probably never will, talk about that night again. She made it very clear about what it meant. Even as a life experimenter, I agree. Pot and softer things (which we both did together, many years ago in college, and before the story in question) is a different path than what I partook in…As an aside, I’m still friends with the dude (though have no idea on the skank), who has a great life and wife, and presumably has also found purpose without drugs.

This isn’t an anti-drug message, just a story that helped cement my personal bond with my wife. With no friends and likely intimidated by mine, she was able to cut through the bullshit and come to my rescue – at least that’s how I see it. For that, I feel indebted to her and feel in many ways she built and saved my life. We, like nearly everyone, don’t have a perfect life, but we have a substantial one built on navigating the pitfalls of the past. Hopefully, you – like me – won’t throw that away for stupid mistakes that sometimes occur. Marriage is a mine field. Hopefully you can navigate it and make it out together since it’s hard to make it out alone. Fight for your partner through the times that you could easily let you drift away, and hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

That’s a brief snapshot of one of our stories. They aren’t all puppy-dogs and ice cream, but that is life. Live yours and find your story. Hopefully love and forgiveness is part of it. Peace.

 

Slaying the Dragon – Doing Your Own Investments (IRA, 401k)

Financial stuff can be VERY intimidating, especially since most of us had no real training or education on it. I totally get that. You have friends in the financial industry, they get you to meet with them. They give you a shiny folder, with a great mix of funds for you. It shows you how well it has done the last few years and there are lots of bright-colored charts and graphs. “Now if you put your money with me, or roll-over your old 401k, you’ll see some great returns !” they say with a smile. financial-advisor

While these people may have their place, I think many would be better slaying this dragon and going at it with their own management, with passive index funds. I have been sitting at a desk getting the sales pitch. A few of my friends are financial advisers too. I love them still despite this stuff. And remember, they are trying to make a living too, so it’s all good. But you don’t have to take your money and put it in their pocket, which is often what you’re doing with these fee-based adviser firms. You can totally do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell your friend “no,” or pull your stuff out of their great investments at their firm. If they are really your friend they’ll shake their head and understand, and still be your friend over beers or football or whatever. If not, they were just a leech. For me, most people get the benefit of the doubt and live up to my life expectations, and after their sales pitch falls flat to me, we’re still cool. Your experience may vary.

So anyway, why you should take over is another matter. First, when you do your research, you’ll find that most financial adviser firms will charge between 1-2% for fees on any fund they recommend. That means, any gains you see, get subtracted by that amount. Any losses you have from your portfolio in reality have larger losses. In addition, they also tend to recommend “front-end loaded” or “back-end loaded” fees (vs. no-load fees). These are expenses that get added onto the annual fees. So, an average front-end load fee that your “dude” may recommend is 5%. So automatically reduce your earning potential by that amount with a front end load fund. Instead, maybe they try and confuse you by contingent deferred sales load (CDSL) or back-end load. Don’t be fooled. They simply grab your 5% on the back-side when you sell or move to a different fund. This is in addition to gross expense fees that all funds have, though index funds tend to be very small, while (as I noted above) the fees typical firms charge are 1-2%.

What your adviser friend is going to sell you is that even after fees, they are “beating the market.” Maybe they are the next Warren Buffet, but more than likely they aren’t. The number will vary from year to year, but on average, only 30% of funds beat a broader market index such as the S&P 1500 (largest 1500 stocks traded in U.S.). And the thing is, those that do beat it, even for years, will change management and end up back with the herd. This little article at Forbes talks about this a little (along with 5 other reasons your funds underperform the market). So while maybe your firm has beaten the market for a short while (and who knows why – my adviser friend told me his “best” and most recommended fund right now is a leveraged stock fund, which may be killing it right now in the bull market, but I would expect would get creamed if the tides suddenly turned).

I promise, we’ll get into nerd-math in a minute. As you likely already know, Index Funds have minimal fees. My Vanguard total fee for my whole diversified portfolio is just above 0.10%. I want to leave that as a benchmark. For my administered 401k (with S&P 500 index, bond fund, international), I’m at about 0.3% fees. This is heavily weighted in S&P 500 index fund, that has a fee around 0.10%. For the sake of argument, let’s say your two options you’re evaluating against are 1) the fund the investment guy is trying to sell you, that has beat the market by 1% over the last 3 years, has gross expenses of 1.5%, and a front-end load of 5% and B) a vanguard index fund (say a Vanguard Target Fund – which may or may not meet your risk tolerance, I am only using it to illustrate my point). These funds are roughly 0.2% expense fee (it’s actually lower), and no loads.

For assumptions, I’ll use a $10,000 lump sum investment, 25 year time horizon, compounding at 7% for Option B, and 8% for Option A (NOTE: you can play with these numbers, the AFTER inflation annualized return was 8.4 for the last 30 years, so 7% may be conservative. Check out this moneychimp calculator if you want to see the returns before or after inflation for any historical period) that assumes that your managed fund bucks all historic trends and continues to be totally awesome (which it likely won’t). Also, interest assumptions compounds continuously (365 times per year). The outputs, after fees are then:

1) $48,238

2) 54,730

So despite your managed fund totally kicking ass for 25 years, you are still have 12% less money than simply letting it ride in an index fund. The reality is, your managed funds (whether in a 401k or other investment or retirement account) has a number of disadvantages compared to passive index funds. Your managed funds are trying to beat the market, so are constantly churning their funds looking for deals. Frequent trading results in more fees. Second, frequent trading results in more taxes paid (capital gains). Then you have the fact that actually hitting on the right funds, can be a roll of the dice. Even Warren Buffett and Jim Cramer recommend index investing over managed funds.

I talked about my experiences rolling over an old IRA/401k into Vanguard. It’s pretty easy, even for a taxable account.  The hard part is breaking up with your adviser. They’ll talk you out of it, since you’ll be taking money from their pocket. They may even reluctantly invest in Index funds on your behalf, but just be aware of their fee structure for doing that. Change is hard. Slay the dragon and you can succeed by empowering yourself. Selecting your funds can be as easy as a Target Fund, or you can slice and dice to get the allocation you want. But that’s an article for another day.

If you’d like to know more on the subject, the two Boglehead books are great resources:The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing and The Bogleheads’ Guide to Retirement Planning

 

An Ounce of Luck

Like many early teenage boys, about 25 years ago I got my hands on my old man’s playboy stash. While I enjoyed the photos, I also read all the articles, stories, jokes, and advice columns that were contained therein. One of those magazines, from September 1989, had a short story that I still remember today called An Ounce of Luck. It had to do with a magic bag that went around the owners neck that had 30 magic pills in it, all 1/30th of an ounce. If I remember correctly, the pills had to all be eaten within 30 days, or the bag would strangle the owner. Each of the pills were a physical form of Luck, that rendered the user with the immense ability of luck while the pill was in effect. What you come to find out is that half of the pills are good luck, and half are bad luck. Once the owner finishes all the pills, the bag comes undone and fills again with a new owner where the process repeats.

The story starts out as one would expect, a game of chance with the bag owner eating his final pill, wins big. Gives the luck-bag to an unsuspecting new owner telling him it will change his life, but the new owner doesn’t realize bad luck is also involved. Without giving too much more away (it really is a good story, though can only be found in the magazine or on iPlayboy’s back issues apparently, I did find the start of a crappily transcribed copy here at Highbeam Business which just teases it), the new owner has an accident and breaks his leg, or something along those lines. He figures that’s a bad luck pill, executes a plan to ensure that he will end up with good luck, only to find out that the secondary result of the accident was an amazing stroke of good fortune that results in immense wealth, leaving him with impending bad luck to look forward to.

So coming to my point. When we’re going through life, wishing and hoping for things to happen – for that girl to go out with you, for that dream job you interviewed for, for you to sell your house – sometimes, the best luck is what seems like bad luck at the time. Turn of events can make that negative more of a positive than you imagine. Like when that one girl turns you down (and you end up with a better one, who turns out to be a great wife and mother), or that employer doesn’t hire you (connecting the dots to a better job, and eventually to your own business), or by not selling your house (you end up timing the market better the following year, and as a result you move to a neighborhood that better fits your family).

Think back and you’ll likely see this is true in your life, as it is in mine. Right before Holly met me she broke up with her boyfriend of a while, and her cat died. Bad luck. A week before I met Holly, an ex-girlfriend I had dumped earlier but was trying to get back together with (she was nice, a real cutie, and bisexual to boot – and I was more lonely than really looking for something serious) wasn’t ready to jump back in with me. Holly and I were both separately bummed out about our lack of luck. Then we met each other, and the rest is history (I am really allergic to cats, so it probably wouldn’t have worked if her cat she immensely loved was still around).

I also think most people make their own luck, bad or good. A few people I work with are just shitty people, and constantly have bad luck happen to them (lock their keys in their car, someone smashes into their car, someone breaks into their apartment, constant drama that is “never their fault”). Others just seem to be lucky all the time. Why is that? As they say, Luck is what happens when Opportunity meets Preparation. If you are in a bad mood, you aren’t paying attention to opportunity, no matter how prepared you are. When you’re putting off a raincloud vibe, you will not be inviting much interaction, and opportunities are likely to be missed or never get initiated.

By contrast, if you’re whistling while you’re walking and smiling, you’re looking all around in the moment, and can find opportunity (or opportunity finds you). A positive energy vibe invites people to you who may provide you an opportunity. You will be surprised what good things happen from seemingly chance encounters.

Luck

Another thing about lucky people is they listen to their intuition. Something is telling you to take a different way home. Or to call that old friend. As a result, maybe you avoid an accident, or find your old friend is providing you a great opportunity, or you simply reconnect and reestablish a bond that has other impacts on your life. Intuition, if in tune, is a learned trait and one that can really guide you in the right ways to a better future. But you need to be listening, pay attention, and act on the intuition – even against patterns and sometimes against common sense.

So be prepared, have an open mind, and seize that Good Luck as it glances against you uninvited.  And remember, just because things aren’t going your way now, or seem like you’re in an unlucky stretch, sometimes these times are purposely setting you up for something better.

5 tips for making more time

As I was dropping Dum-Dum the dog off at the groomers this morning, I was reflecting on how crazy our lives are. I’m guessing many of you have similar life circumstances that if you actually take a second and look at closely seems utterly insane. My wife and I probably spend close to 50 hours a week at work or commuting to/from work (includes lunch, which is usually eaten at desk). The mornings are spent getting us and the kids ready, the after-work time is spent picking up kids from After School program, getting ready for kid activities (this season is soccer, with occasional piano lessons), then home from activities, make dinner, clean up, homework, getting ready for the next day, and try to spend some time as a family. This usually takes us to about 8:30 p.m. when the kids are finally down and we have an hour or more depending on if we’re waking up early. If we are motivated, we can find a way to get exercise in, and for my wife and I to spend time together talking and connecting. Most days I try and make small progress on projects and goals, but sometimes life or wife priorities take precedent.

Time-Management

I still put the pillars for a successful life as a family man as:

  • health – eating well, making homemade meals, not crap or fast food
  • fitness – working out, however you may define that, helps with feeling good about yourself and has tangible health benefits
  • finances – income in minus expenditures minus savings should be positive. This usually necessitates working, and results in a time squeeze noted above, though lowering expenditures can relieve this stress and free up time
  • relationships – making time to build, grow, and nurture personal relationships
  • finding passion – finding something that calls to you, and making the time to pursue that interest
  • children – allowing kids to be kids, but introducing them to various activities and things that can foster creativity, discipline and values.

Balancing all of that on a day to day basis is very challenging. If only I had more time! I have come to realize that time really is the most precious commodity. As such, here are a few things that I think can help reach those core pillars above while saving time.

  1. Making large batches of food at a time – Having homemade kid lunches, breakfast items and dinners is a high priority for my family. We eat mostly paleo, so fast food and frozen store items rarely work for us. Instead, we make large batches of food that refrigerate, freeze or simply store well and use that to avoid cooking all the time or relying on “bad” food due to convenience. Example – we made a large batch of chili last night (about 4 lbs of meat) that will serve as two family dinners and at least a couple of lunches. Holly has been making large batches of these egg/biscuit things from 12-18 eggs at a time, along with coconut flour. She’ll make different versions, like cheese-jalepeno, or bacon, or apple-cinnamon. These serve as breakfast or lunch. Making pre-made dinners on the weekend, when larger chunks of time can be found, also work. You simply freeze, thaw and reheat. This approach also saves us money.
  2. Squeezing things in between “dead” times – Your kid has practice, or you have some time dedicated in the day for lunch. Make use of this time for something productive on that list. I’ve seen people go on a run or bring things to work out with while their kid is booked for an hour. My favorite move is working out at lunch while at work (we do have showers, which helps), but if that doesn’t work for you, obtaining more knowledge or insight on a passion by reading a book or doing some workbook exercises is a good use of time rather than simply looking at the latest deadspin article or facebook like everyone else.
  3. Schedule time for what you prioritize – Feel like you’ve been slacking in the spouse department? Know you need to work on that passion-project? Put it on a mental schedule list and knock it out. It is so easy to lose an hour or more decompressing on your favorite websites or television or Facebook, instead of using it productively. As you are going through the day, mentally say “I’m going to use the time from 8:30 – 10:00 p.m. to work out, or read that book on Photography, or do that genealogy research, or whatever.” If you don’t mentally lock down that activity int hat time slot, you’re likely to fritter it away.
  4. Involve the kids – this can be involving the kids in your exercise (you run, while they bike; you play soccer together as a team, or make a backyard Ninja Warrior obstacle course), involving the kids in your passion or hobbies (Do you help improve the local park or trail system? Bring them along to learn and help), or involving them in chores like laundry, cooking, making lunches, and cleaning up. Our kids are now old enough (newly minted 7 and 9) so we can assign them a task and know it will get done. If they forget to bring a snack in their lunch, they live with the consequence. Or forgetting to throw their wet clothes in the dryer is a learning experience. This is a good thing to remember, and key part of growing up.
  5. Get up early – as a non-morning person, it pains me to write that, but my most productive and satisfying times have been when I’ve gone long stretches getting up early and doing a task. Usually, this has been working out, but I’ve also used this early a.m. routine to knock out writing without distractions. This then means establishing a good night-time routine, shutting stuff off, and getting some good shut-eye. If you can get your partner on a similar schedule, there is usually some connection time opportunities with bedtime talk or more. Use the 5:15 a.m. (or whenever) alarm as the motivating force to get your butt into bed by 9:30, and see what happens from there.

You may not be able to do everything everyday, but if you’re generally balancing the key pillars, and using time management strategies to do so, you’re going to make your chances of success and happiness, and of feeling fulfillment and love, more likely. So put phone down, and get to work!

Tough Mudder is not that tough, but still fun

tough mudder walk the plank
I have done Tough Mudder (TM) two out of the last three years, and while I may rain on some people’s parade, it’s not very tough. Now while my moniker may suggest otherwise, as some people have pointed out, I’m not that “average.” [I am a two-time Ironman finisher (incl. a Kona qualification), was a member of a skydiving club back in the day, and don't really care about completion of races so much as the self- or group-made challenging shit leading up to them)]. Hence, my perspective is skewed.

Realizing that even some of my “lunch box list” (my version of the “Bucket List”), is pass/fail (such as thru-hiking a major trail – yeah, I think big), for most, making something pass/fail is an easier way of shooting for a goal while minimizing the mental risk of failure. No shit, that’s cool, and a great start to a rolling snowball of success.

Snow ball I appreciate the fact that most just want to be a part of something cool. For you, anything is a start, and you could do a lot worse than Tough Mudder to get the seed planted for getting motivated, having fun, and getting fit. The TM is not that tough, as I’ll show in a minute, but is still something most people would probably have a blast at.

They bill themselves as “Probably the toughest event on the planet.TM” Puh-lease. Off the top of my head, things that anyone can sign up for or do (thus, something like the Iditerod would be excluded) that I think are tougher:

  • any trail marathon, hell, even a competitive (i.e. not really walking) trail half-marathon is way harder
  • any 100 mile to 200k bike ride (especially those with any elevation gain or mountain climbs. For that matter, I would put any 10 mile mountain climb with say 3000-4000 foot of gain [call it a HC or Cat 1 climb in Tour de France lingo] way harder than the TM. For example, here’s one I’ve done several times, bike climbing from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch to the top of nearby Mount Figueroa in California. This is a climb US Postal team used as a training route with cheater Lance Armstrong back in the day, about 3700 feet of elevation gain in roughly 10 miles.)
  • The Ironman Triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run [full marathon]
  • any ultra-marathon, especially those in the 50-100 mile category (and the Badwater Ultra is just redonkulous)
  • Running a 3:30 marathon (not many people can do this, while nearly anyone with very limited training can run/walk a TM)
  • Playing the knife and hand game

Some of those aren’t really that fun, and to boot, require a lot of time. Even I wouldn’t recommend training for most of them.  Still, physical improvement is important. I’d put the toughness (or challenge or dedication needed) for completing the TM somewhere above running a 22 minute 5k. Basically, if you can run about 5 miles, you’ll have a really fun time at this event. And literally, if you can run 1 mile straight, you’ll complete the event. I know I’m in the minority, but I was way more pumped for trying to PR (personal record) local running races (even a 5k) or trying to beat friends at some shitty local race, than I was to complete is essentially a fun run + obstacle course. I was way more excited about hiking a 10 mile hike with a 50# weighted vest with my friend. This ranked at about the level of a somewhat challenging training run on my psyche. So much so that I didn’t read the instructions, and nearly forgot to print my ticket or my mandatory waiver. That’s not to say it’s not slightly intimidating, or offers something beyond a basic running race, it’s just that it’s not really tough.

First of all, it’s not a race. It’s an event. That means there is stuff like teamwork and comraderie and doing stuff out of your comfort zone. That’s really cool, and leads to the dedicated participants. They put you in an ice-bath, they throw some minor electrocuting/shocking stuff that hit you a couple of times, there’s some monkey bars and mud. And lots of running. Both times I went into it (with two different groups of friends and acquaintances) and didn’t even know what the obstacles were. The first time, I was surprised it was 11+ miles (I thought it would be about 5) and neither time did I do anything beyond my normal workouts for training. This year, the most I ran at any one time was 5 miles, and that was over a month ago, before I sprained my ankle.

Which leads me to the people on my teams the last two years, all who finished with the group:

  • a couple of people well overweight who couldn’t really run more than a couple of miles at time, one who hurt their ankle at Mile 1 this year
  • a 50 year old dude who had should replacement surgery over the winter (and still had issues)
  • a friend my age with a gimpy knee
  • Me this year (38 years young) with a sprained ankle still healing, along with a gimpy shoulder
  • some weekend warrior men and women who enjoy mostly running as a form of exercise, ages 25-40. One dude lost 80 lbs from his first TM to this year’s.
  • While not part of my group, I saw about a 350 lb. dude finish the race, including getting over 10′ walls with the help of his team

Not exactly athlete material, in any sense of the word, though there were some good athletes who participated. It’s just that you didn’t need to have any athletic skill or even cardio or strength to complete, just some gumption and a little grit. Most people don’t even have that. I saw some really impressive athletes (former D1 players) at some of the Crossfit comps, and those guys and girls could move. This event is the equivalent of a 10k race or fun run on steroids.

Now that I’ve proceeded to make fun of it a little for it’s lack of toughness, it does a lot of things well.

  • First, it appeals to the masses. They want something to challenge them, to make them feel alive. For most of us, life is mostly pretty boring. Pretending you’re doing something most can’t do (even if they really can, but choose not to) makes you feel like a bad ass. Most people don’t really want to get dirty or get some minor shocks or be uncomfortable, so for that, participants are above the masses and they feel like they accomplished something extraordinary, which in some ways they have.
  • Second, it is fun to partake in events with friends that push your abilities and challenges you a little. It creates a bonding moment that you can reflect upon and touchstones for work or friend relationships. This is probably the best part. I partook both times because my friends did, not because I really wanted to. And both times I had a fun time sharing moments with my friends in a unique environment.
  • Third, the organization is very well done. They get you pumped at the start (Eye of the Tiger playing, MC getting people riled up, that type of thing), they yell at you to keep going. Obstacles are now well organized (a couple years ago they were much looser, but after a death at TM, things have changed, for the better).
  • Fourth, it encourages entrants to support Wounded Warrior Project, benefiting service members getting integrated back into society after injury. Worthy cause.
  • Fifth, they gives you beer at the end. Dos Equis is a sponsor, complete with models and photo ops. Great tasting beer at that point, but Natty Light probably would have been just as good after running 11 miles.

Things many don’t realize:

  • None of your entry fee (as far as I could tell) actually goes to Wounded Warrior Project. The TM is a for-profit organization, making a shitload of money (no fault with that in and of itself), but they make it out to be that they are a primary contributor to that charity and some of your entry fee goes to that, even if they don’t say it explicity. This seems especially true when you see volunteer service-men and -women, or their families, on the course. The Wounded Warrior Project sleight of hand makes it extremely attractive for many people since they can point to those beneficiaries around the water cooler, making it seem  more than what it was doing a personal pursuit (an obstacle course). According to wiki

    None of the revenue generated from Tough Mudder admissions sales goes directly to any charity.[31]

  • It’s really expensive (even if you don’t get a hotel), and these owner/organizer dudes are making money. The owners have gross revenues of over $115 million (in 2013) and are expected to increase. Not sure what net (revenue) is, but it has to be pretty decent. It takes a lot of effort, and capital, and I saw what looked like brand-spanking new yellow iron to dig all the stuff (this from a construction guy – excavator, dozers, backhoes, lots of ATVs, etc), plus lots of outside local help (police, EMS, fire, volunteers). Still, if much of your support is volunteers or sponsorship (like Met RX for food/aid stations and Dos Equis)  you are likely raking it on entry and misc. fees. Depending on when you sign up, you pay between $100 to $200 entry fee, plus (usually) money to park ($15 for us), money to check your bag ($10), and of course, refreshments/food.  Plus they charge $20-40 for spectators (WTF!?). Figure between 15,000-20,000 attendees per weekend at $150/person average, and you have a gross revenue of $2.25-$3 million per event (not counting extra fees). They advertise 55+ worldwide events. You can figure the math.
  • You very well may get injured. Unlike the local 5-10k event, there is a higher chance for injury or even death. We saw a lot of cramping and twisted ankles, but members of our team this year were first responders to a NASTY broken ankle that was “dangling by a thread” after being twisted in mud. I may have passed this individual towards the end of the race, as it was probably less than 50 yards behind us when we heard the literal CRIES for “MEDIC” coming from behind us. One of our slower members was a former military medic, and thus a first responder, and said it happened right in front of them and it sounded like a branch breaking. Eww. Dude helped until the event EMS could arrive. They couldn’t bring the ATV on the trail because it was too muddy, so had to navigate the board on foot. Hope you don’t have a heart attack, or you’re probably screwed.
  • Start times are only a suggestion. They don’t check, start whenever you feel like on the day you’re assigned.
  • It’s a sausage fest. Even the website states it’s 70% dudes/30% chicks. The upside is the chicks are usually young and in-shape, and wear yoga-shorts that get wet. Walking behind an 18 year old hard-body up a 10% grade while she’s wearing something like below is worth the entry fee. tough mudder hot chick tough mudder hot chick 2 tough mudder hot chick 3

Bottom line is, if you’re bored of running races and charity runs, try Tough Mudder. It’s really not that hard (especially for the time invested) and a lot of fun. Just don’t expect it to change your life or anything. You’d have to invest a significantly more amount of time or effort to make something truly hard or unique, so for that, TM succeeds at a nice inflection point where cost, time invested, and challenge meet.

If you want to compare to the other versions of the same thing (usually shorter distance, and nearly as expensive) do your research. Here’s a post comparing Spartan Race vs. TM vs. Warrior Dash. Figure it out for yourself. With my main friend I did it with, we had a blast and he said it was one of the hardest thing he’s done, and one he’ll do again. It is fun to do them, but unless the prices is right, I will be finding some other challenge, likely my own (like hiking/running a trail run with weighted vest, maybe in the mud and with friends of the same ilk –  you can have fun without the corporate sponsorship). Have fun out there and always continue to challenge yourself, regardless of how you do it. Getting muddy is fun too. Peace.

Introverts & Extroverts – Relationship Understanding

Understanding basic foundational and inherent principles of who your spouse is often provides new perspective for relationship. It is often harder to be critical of someone when they are simply being true to themselves. For example, Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages gives people the tools to understand how their spouse most feels appreciated and loved (or how they feel most criticized and hurt). Understanding is power, and can help to improve things as you can better put yourself in their shoes.

Introversion and extroversion is often misunderstood as well. And if you are married to the opposite, it can be difficult as your idea of a fun time with your spouse may be completely different and cause strife. If you’re an intovert, a nice evening may be staying in, reading a book on a couch. An extrovert wants to go out with friends and stay out late. How do you work with such a chasm of difference?

Well first, what is introversion or extroversion? It’s really a nice way of packaging up the complex way people draw their energy. Extroverts draw their energy from social environments, and are usually outgoing, talkative, and feel energized in social situations. Introverts, by contrast, draw their energy from having personal time and feel energy-drained in more social situations. It is considered a continuum, so you can be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in the middle. The Myers-Briggs, and other personality tests, allow you to determine where you fall on the spectrum. You can Google “free Myers-Briggs test” if interested. Here’s one I found.

ExtrovertVSIntrovert

My wife, Holly, finds herself pretty far on the extroverted side. When I take this test, I almost always score 5-4 in favor of introversion, fairly moderate but we still have our issues. In your professional life, your aptitude and work success are somewhat dictated by this, but depending on your title, you may find yourself either energized or drained after dealing with work stuff all day. You should recognize this about your spouse and their personality. For example, your spouse is an introvert, and worked her way up to manager of staff and required to be in meetings and put on a good social face all day. When they get home, they may be very drained and need time alone to regain their energy and mood. If you’re an extrovert in the same position, you may be in a great mood after the same situation, and come home energized. Alternatively, if your spouse is an extrovert, and has a job where they have to deal with stuff by themselves all day, they will want to talk and socialize and chit-chat when you get home to regain their energy.

This is often very confusing to people, especially if you combine both situations (an introvert dealing with a lot of social situations, combined with an extrovert that deals in a solitary work environment). One wants to withdraw into a quiet space and work on individual projects (writing, art, working on small machines, reading, video games) and the other wants to be together and share discussions and social time. This can be very difficult as usually both sides aren’t getting their introversion/extroversion needs met and chasm starts to be created.

Here are some things to help you understand your relationship better. You likely know what category you and your spouse fall into, but let’s start from the beginning to define where you are on the introversion/extroversion spectrum

  1. Have you and your spouse both take the Myers-Briggs test (noted above)
  2. Based on that, have a basic discussion about what situations you both crave-dispise, what you hope/expect your wife will do to help you in those situations. You need to talk about this and put it out in the open, instead of both harboring hidden expectations or resentment (isn’t most of marital strife about poor communication?). For example, you (introvert) absolutely HATE work parties (but are ok with say, mingling in a friend party or house), but is important to you or her career.  Your wife (extrovert) loves social interactions. You may make the compromise that you you stay at the work party for a short while going somewhere after to get her needs met. It’s a compromise, but at least you both aren’t miserable.
  3. Work together to develop new interests or friendships. Often, introverts make smaller, select group of friends who they remain friends with for life. What usually happens is extrovert has social group, drags introvert along. Introvert feels ill at ease, or left out, and withdraws, not having fun. If you are able to start something together, and start from scratch (book club, dancing, MMA, running club, small engine repair, whatever) the introvert usually will find a few people who he can connect with organically on his own, while the extrovert can chat up anyone they desire.
  4. Occasionally compromise 100%. If you want to stay in and she wants to go out, agree this weekend you’ll go out into a social environment, and next weekend, you’ll stay in with quiet time. Even though it is tough for one person (at a time), it can usually be good. You can learn something (from other people, or from a book), you’re spouse may feel energized and therefore you connect as they’ll be happy and energized. Sometimes, you can split up and both get 100% what you want, though without spouse. So if your spouse is out drinking and having fun, just make sure you connect when you get back togeter when both your energies are high. This reinforces the relationship bond, versus both being 100% out for themselves when you get back together.

dopamine introvert extrovert

I think if you haven’t explored this, it is time to do so. Often, kids influence this and if you don’t have family in the area, you can find yourself on exile-island despite your personality. This may be a big result of the “I’m Boooored” comments, and lead one party to feel completely unfulfilled (while the other may be perfectly happy – I’d hypothesize this frequently occurs and the extrovert isn’t getting their dopamine fix, and eventually leads to the I Love You But am Not In Love With You speech – since one party isn’t getting their needs met or the spouse isn’t willing to compromise to make sure that excitement and energy for the other is happening).

Also, even though this is a relationship post, your kids have their own love languages too, and are also introverted or extroverted. This has issues of its own, especially if you’re the opposite of your child. Again, making you aware of these issues does provide you knowledge, and knowledge is power to make improvements and do what you can to support the needs for everyone in the family. Will everyone be 100% happy 100% of the time? No, but if everyone is getting their needs met some or most of the time through compromising, that’s brings up the overall group.

 

The Average Married Dad Book (free for a few)

I recognize this may be generally poor form for the altruistic among you, but those of us who put in the effort to entertain and provide content to the masses, I think you’ll understand.

Those who do this aren’t above stating our intentions to both grow our own brand or book, as well as increase the betterment of our fellow man (or woman).

I was reading my book again tonight (Average Married Dad’s Guide to Health, Wealth, and a Sexy Marriage: For 30- to 40-Somethings) and despite a few comma issues, I thought “This is a pretty great book! I wish someone would have given it to me 10 years ago.”

Anyways, the point of my post tonight. I appreciate all the people who have already bought my book, or have said kind words about it. It means a lot to me. Regardless of whether you liked it or not (though, I obviously hope you like it), please take a few minutes and review it on Amazon. It does help me.

Second, I’d like to reward four people who hopefully regularly read this blog, and who may not have purchased the book, with an electronic copy of it. However, there are some fairly innocuous conditions attached. If you can agree to these, I’ll send you four a copy of the book in a drop-box type download situation. Here’s the gist of the process, and your role:

1) the first four people to e-mail me at TheAverageMarriedDad dot gmail dot com with “Book” in the subject will get a free e-copy. Please use a real e-mail address as that is what I’ll use to provide info on download.

2) I will then send you an e-mail through a distribution site that will allow you to download a copy of the book

3) You agree to not redistribute the book (if you do, I will hunt you down and shame you. I have hacker friends with no sense of shame)

4) You agree to actually read the book within 2 weeks after downloading

5) You agree to provide an honest review on Amazon within 2 days following completion of the book (Review it honestly and anonymously (if that’s your style) – please.  I’m not coercing you in any way. If you think something sucks, tell me. One day, I hope to release a second edition with some of the warts I see fixed and maybe some improvements made that you may even recommend – though 5-star is the best – remember that :) )

5) That’s it. Send me an e-mail with “book” if you fit the bill. I won’t be contacting you directly with any other stuff, this is a one time deal.

EDIT: This is now closed. I have people who e-mailed me last night. I will be taking care of this Saturday night as I am traveling today. Thanks again to everyone for reading, I appreciate it.

 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka and Mix It Up

 

Life_Lemons_Vodka_T_SHIRT_black_midnight_swatchTwo things going on in my otherwise great life that are really putting a damper on things. One is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, the other much more so. I’m working to dig out, and I plan to have some positives here instead of being Mr. Whineypants, since we’ve all been in shitty life spots before.

First, a badly sprained ankle or ankle ligament, along with some sort of shit going on in my shoulder, is limiting greatly my ability to exercise. As you know, this is a touchstone and one of the centerpieces of my life. I’ve had to scale back immensely to even do anything. My legs aren’t exactly going Stephen Hawking atrophy, but they’re weak. It sucks being injured, especially with an obstacle-course style race coming up. I’m not 100%, but I’ll get through it.

More importantly is, I’ve caught the work motivation cancer. You know it, maybe you’ve been there. That’s where for whatever reason, you hate your job, have mentally checked out, and there’s no going back to happy times even if things improve. Every time I’ve moved on from an employer, I’ve caught this disease, and in all cases, moving on was the right decision and expanded some aspect of my life for the better. Right now, I’ve got work stuff keeping me up at night, causing me major anxiety, and generally raining on my parade. Even if the root causes of this stuff goes away, I’m still uninspired, unfulfilled, and maybe just bored with what things are. Again, I am not some special snowflake asking for your pity, just stating it like it is and using those negative emotions as fuel to make changes. That’s what this is about, the winds of change are in the air, and it’s time to mix shit up again.

So here are five things I’m doing right now to deal with the situation at hand

1) Continuing to Work Out

Though I can’t do everything, I can do some stuff. I can bench press sometimes with my craptastic shoulder. I can do some upperbody stuff and situps. So that’s what I do. Pullups, pushups, kettlebell swings, curls. Anything to maintain at least some strength and to get the heart rate up. This has made me feel somewhat better, and not like such a sack of shit, even if I only can do it a few times a week.

2) Continue to Work on Side Things, Improving, and Learning

I haven’t let my long-term big picture goals go off track. I haven’t taken to the bottle every night to cope (though I will admit there may have been a night or two where I did imbibe, and it did have some short term calming effects). I continue to read, to get my plans in place. I listen to Tony Robbins or Neuro Linguistic Programming CDs on the way to work. I try to eat well. I try and do something, one step even, each day that I can jot down in my journal as tangible evidence I’m improving somewhere. Constant And Never-ending Improvement. Even in the tough times.

3) Polished up my Resume, and Applying for Jobs – Fishing Big too!

This was on the horizon for awhile, so have had a recent resume since May. But polishing and tweaking as I’m applying for new positions. I’ve come to the point where I’m doing some deep sea Moby Dick-style fishing. You know – over the years you accumulate random skills and projects that you can then custom craft for a variety of positions that are really outside and above what you Really know how to do, but still in that general ballpark. So these new positions are definitely stretch positions, and everything will need to be tailored just right to get in the door, and going against likely more experienced persons. I am thinking big, since you never know what may happen. I’m hoping to leverage any relationship, project experience or alumni connections to swing for the fences. Even if I don’t land Moby Dick, and simply get away from the cancer, that would be a success.

4) Discussions with my Wife

I’ve been very forthcoming with Holly as I go through this stretch. Having some massive anxiety, doubts, worries are not a burden anyone should have to carry alone. She’s been great and supportive, and has been my cheerleader in even submitting on some Ahab whale-hunting jobs. Nothing is off the table (except quitting at least – while Holly actually makes more than me, I feel an obligation to contribute to the family unit and suck it up. My dad worked at a job I know he didn’t like, as have millions of men, for the betterment of their family. For a duration, I can as well).

There’s even the possibility (much lower on my list of preferences though) of working for the company she works at. I’m a little hesitant since the life dynamic may be weird if that happens. We worked together once before, at the same professional firm right out of college, doing more-or-less the same type of duties. And Holly (a red-pill feminist, at least on women in the workplace issues) is still pissed (15 years later) that she got paid less than me. If this option were ever fleshed out, it would almost be a situation where I would ask for less money than my wife, just to keep her happy and not mess up the dynamic or create resentment. She cares about money, and maybe moreso what it means in regards to respect within a firm (and how management views or values women employees).  I could give two fucks about my salary, or how we compare as long as I have a stimulating environment in work I generally like and am paid fairly. She uses salary as a dick-measuring device, a game I don’t like to play, so usually let her win since it is obviously important to her. Anyways, getting side tracked a little, but working together would be interesting, but I’m not sure I want to go there yet (though I’m sure I could be hired there in a minute).

5) Continuing to have gratitude, and asking “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?”

This is simply remembering to ask empowering questions and being thankful for all the other abundance in my life. Work shit may be stressful, but it is temporary in the grand scheme of things. Being thankful for my kids, and the wrestling moments and silly times, and a sexy wife, and reflecting on that, can change my outlook from gloomy to happy instantaneously. And when chasing new job or life opportunities, realizing there is no reason these opportunities can’t go to me. Instead of wallowing in the mud, by a few simple questions (“What do you love about your kids?” or “What is your favorite part about living in our neighborhood?” or “What small step can you do today to get closer to your dream life goals?”) I can shift perspective and focus again on what really matters thereby immediately altering my mood.

I ran across James Altucher yesterday, and his blog. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His writing style is straightforward, and while I don’t agree with everything, he’s got a unique perspective on life, and I like his core beliefs on self-improvement. I thought his post How to be THE LUCKIEST guy on the planet in 4 easy steps was solid advice. I also really like his guiding principles:

  1. I want to be happy
  2. I want to eradicate unhappiness in my life
  3. I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.

Isn’t that what we’re going after? And don’t we have some control over those principles? If you’re unhappy, you change your perspective or change your circumstances. I’m attempting to do both. Time to mix things up again. Ain’t life fun? Like a sine-wave, ups and downs, rarely flat. Good times.

Married (lack of) sex – you are your own worst enemy

I talk with married men both in real life and online and see a number of patterns emerge. First, many men are dissatisfied with the quantity of sex. Maybe the quality too, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s hard to be pissed about the quality, when you don’t have much to compare it to. It’s like, you’re out in the desert, and someone hands you a bottle of water, and you’re complaining because it’s not Evian. It just doesn’t happen. If you’re drinking gallons of water all the time, maybe then you might complain about it having an off flavor, but not if you’re thirsty since any water is good water.

Anyway, while both sides share the blame, husbands (or the high-desire spouse) can often be their own worst enemy, doing things that either don’t get them to the launch pad, abort the launch process, or self-destructing once in the act of launching.

Some things to avoid:

  1.  Not initiating –Many have been rejected so much that they don’t even bother initiating. You may be a better person now. Maybe you’ve lost weight or feel better about yourself, but the remnants of the old rejection haven’t gone away. Therefore, real or imagined obstacles settle into your brain, paralyzing your actions. So instead of there maybe not having sex, by not initiating you’ve guaranteed there won’t be any tonight.
  2.   Not going to bed when your spouse does –Yeah, it’s a swell ball game on television, and your wife is tired before you. That happens in our house frequently, as I’m more of a night owl and my wife is more of a morning person. But if you don’t go to bed at the same time, you won’t have that bonding experience or have the opportunity to create intimacy, and you won’t be having sex tonight. Now maybe you’re more in the routine of morning sex as a real option, but for me, this is a much less frequent occurrence what with morning routines and young, unpredictable kids.
  3. Perceived “no’s” versus actual “no” –Coming back to the rejection idea. You feel the moon has to be shining in the window just the right way, and she has to have had a good day, and the kids will need to be in bed early, and she has to have exactly 2.0 glasses of wine, then she’ll be in the mood to say “yes.” Stop putting conditions on when or how you are initiating. Most days are not fairy tale or perfect. She and you will not always be “green lights,” sometimes one or both will be yellow. She may say “I’m tired.” Or “I am not in the mood.” Those are not “no’s,” those are just some light excuses. Now I’m not saying she won’t give you a hard “No,” but she hasn’t yet, so don’t pull the eject handle on yourself. Women especially get turned on when their man has passion for them. When their husband is so turned on and NEEDS to have sex with their woman or they’ll explode. If you meekly ask if she’s in the mood, what do you think she’s going to say? Grow a pair, sidle up to her and get her in the mood. Initiate overtly, not covertly. Maybe she’ll get in the mood, maybe she won’t, but until she says “No” it’s really a “maybe.”
  4. Ignoring non-verbal communication, circumstance –She tells you she’s not in the mood, but she’s had a couple glasses of wine, and has been laughing and spending quality time with you all night. Like 3) above, this isn’t a “no” by any means. And maybe she’s even initiating in her own way, giving you non-verbal clues. Why women do that is unknown to me, but I miss my wife’s non-verbal signals all the time. Just being aware that she may be open, and willing, but isn’t going to say it directly is something that many men miss.
  5. Taking things too seriously – You’re progressing towards sex, and your wife says something like how your breath stinks or how you are massaging her wrong or whatever. Instead of reacting negatively to the comment due to a bruised ego, or her unintentionally deflating the desire balloon, or ruining the moment, just roll with it and laugh it off. If you respond negatively, you could very well blow the whole thing up. More than likely, your spouse didn’t mean anything by it, so let go minor off-comments or bad-jokes without taking them seriously.
  6. Not taking what is given to them – Maybe you were flirting in the morning, talking about some nighttime fun to come. But when you actually get through the day, pay bills, get the kids to practice, and finally get in bed that flirting seems like it happened in another life. So maybe you were thinking about hot sex, with all the bells and whistles that evening, but in reality, all your spouse has the ability to do is be into you enough to let you have mannequin sex with her. Take it, and enjoy it. She’s showing you she loves you by letting you use her for your own pleasure. Now if she always lies back and thinks of England that’s a problem. But if this is not the norm, and she’s giving herself to you, smile, enjoy yourself, and stop making a big deal about how it isn’t as hot as what you had built up in your mind.

Building desire and improving your sex life are topics for another day, as are all the other things that impact hormones and attraction. But if you aren’t having the sex frequency you want, at least stop being your own worst enemy and shooting yourself in the foot. And if you have emotions of frustration about the situation, please use that as a signal to improve things where you can. Lose weight, have some man friends (many men are sorely lacking in male friends and masculine hobbies) that get you out of the house. And so forth. Be positive and make small improvements. You know the drill. When you stop accepting mediocrity in your existence you’ll find you’ll improve your perceptions and confidence, your family life will improve, and your sex life will improve. Funny isn’t it?