Invisible Man

No, not the Ralph Ellison book Invisible Man (which is a must read), but simply being ignored. And I’m not getting into the whole Beta men who are invisible to women thing either, that’s a whole nother topic. No, I’m talking about leaving job and how you become invisible.

Today is my last day at a company I’ve worked at for about 4.5 years. Several people here I’ve worked with for 10 years total, counting a previous employer. When you give your notice, and if you’re lucky enough to work out your two weeks, you end up being mostly ignored. It’s sort of like you died. People refer to you in the past tense. They don’t want to catch what you have, and are already looking ahead to life without you. It’s very weird.

When leaving a firm, like leaving a girlfriend, you try to leave with your head held high and leave them in as good of shape as you can. No reason to have collateral damage or burn bridges. Get your house in order, transition all your work, and walk out the door. That’s how I took care of my previous employment leave, and look, that’s where I’m going back to work at.

It’s been no secret this job has resulted in a lot of stress over the last couple of years, and the viability is currently tenuous at best. There were layoffs last week, and I certainly wouldn’t be immune to that as my workload is very light right now. So despite a few mixed feelings, I’m happy to be headed to a new opportunity and feel the timing is right as well. So punching my last few hours here, cleaning out my desk, doing my timesheet, and then I’m out of here.

 

Have a good weekend all, I’ll feel light as a feather next week (not working) before heading into some new responsibilities and a new adventure (including now coaching my kid’s soccer team – another new one for me). Adventure is Out There! (Don’t be afraid to chase it! :)

adventure

 

Tips on Setting Goals, Getting to Where You Want to Be

I would bet that if you gathered 10 random people and ask them what their goals are in life, right now, you would get mostly hems, haws, and blank stares. Or if you do get an answer, it would be very generic like: “spend more time with my kids,” or “lose weight.” That’s not a goal, but a dream, or wish. If wishes were fishes, the sea would be full.

When talking with people; clients, neighbors, friends, even my wife and sometimes me, if you ask them they just don’t know. They haven’t challenged themselves to define it in concrete terms. Hence, they get less than excellent results. These people may generally be doing pretty well on things like diet, exercise, life balance, even happiness, and that may be good enough. But whenever I’ve been in this spot, without a beacon or goal, I’ve always felt a little listless. Without purpose I’ve felt lost.

ship without a rudder

While I wouldn’t expect you to have an answer for “What is my purpose in life?” that is something that should be in the back of your mind as you figure out yourself. I’ve pondered this larger question for some time over the last few years, and for me, I’ve boiled this big question down to a couple of guiding principles for right now: Helping Others Accomplish Their Goals and Being a Good Steward to the Environment. These have unknowingly been guiding me my entire life, and with that in mind at my forefront, help me to establish my smaller goals. 

Don’t despair if you haven’t figured out who you want to be when you grow up. I’ve heard this phrase so many times over the last few years. Being a corporate drone and making money for someone else often leaves us feeling unfulfilled, hence we are looking for things that make our spirit sing. If we don’t get that from our career, we carve out fulfillment through other ways. Volunteering. Our children. Being healthy. Cooking. Whether helping the world, or helping ourselves, being better and shooting for greater things is healthy for our soul.

So how do you establish even small goals? You may not have pondered “What do I want my life to look like in 5 years [or 3 years, or even 3 months]?” but you should. What do you want to look like? What skills do you want to learn (language, sport, music, dog training, how to start a business, what?)? This may be tough, starting out it will be somewhat shapeless, like trying to catch fog. But when you start to think about what makes you happy, what may drive you to feel better about yourself, then you can start to establish goals.

I am a supervisor at work, and in addition to those I work with coaching on the site, I work with friends, my kids, and staff on helping them establish goals. I’ve had training in this area using the SMART Goals program. If you haven’t seen this before (I believe I’ve touched on this before), SMART stands for:

  • Specific – what do you want to accomplish? Why? It may be something like: I want to lose weight so I can look good in a swimsuit this summer. I will do this by healthier eating and regular exercise.
  • Measurable – How much, how many? This could be pounds, or chords on a guitar, or new healthy dishes, or a class enrollment with the gaining of new skills.
  • Achievable – I prefer to get people achieving early wins to get the ball rolling, so establishing a bigger goal like Lose 25 Pounds is great, but break it down even smaller – like “I will lose 1 pound a week average over 25 weeks” is more achievable. Be realistic with your time constraints, life obligations, and finances. You may not dig out of credit card debt this year, but if you set monthly goals on chipping away and making sacrifices t reach this priority, you’ll make it easier on yourself mentally.
  • Relevant - Does this improve my life or fall under my bigger umbrella of life purpose? Is this the right time to pursue this, or would I be better off completing other goals? Athol Kay has a red light, yellow light, green light evaluation of your various life segments. If you are 100# overweight but also want to save an extra $100 a month by spending 20 hours a week on a side hustle what do you think is a better use of time to achieve maximum life satisfaction if you could only choose one?
  • Time Sensitive – If you don’t have an end goal on when this is to occur, you’ll never get there. How can you break down a goal into bite sized quantifiable pieces if the finish line isn’t there? The answer is you can’t. You’ll keep kicking this to the future indefinitely.

Once you have your goal defined, WRITE IT DOWN! Then tell someone who will hold you accountable or will help you succeed, then put up the goal/list somewhere where you can see it – the fridge, the mirror in the bathroom, in your car or at your desk. Make a Vision Board. Then get the equipment, classes, CDs, knowledge, videos, books, personal training, knowledge, bank accounts set up, whatever that will put in the place to succeed. Make a calendar with your goals written down, and “X” off the days you succeed. Celebrate the small successes and stack wins on top of wins.

If you’re like me, getting from springtime body to summertime body is a goal. I’m choosing to run twice a week, am on Week 4 of a Hatch Squat Cycle (it is nice to have a program to follow for weights or exercise rather than noodle around on your own), am doing other weight training along with short conditioning, and am intermittent fasting and eating paleoish with no drinking 5 days a week. My goal is to lose 10 lbs of fat by June 15 while maintaining my muscle mass and hitting my squat numbers. While I’m also working on a few other goals in the background, like being more focused in my own relationships and locking up the phone at night (a trap many of us have fallen into over the last couple years I am guessing). But I’m aware that my plate is pretty full and there is only so much attention, focus, and energy to go around.

But setting goals are motivating. They make you feel like you’re actually moving rather than floating through life. Spring is a time for rejuvenation and cleaning. Take the time to do this in your life as well. If something is an anchor to your happiness or well being, figure out why and set a goal to rid yourself of that energy vampire.

And finally, since these smaller goals are important for happiness, finding or searching out your purpose can be something that has the potential to be quantum leap. Plus I like Venn Diagrams:

Life Purpose

venn-diagram

 

 

Making runs in life

I’m not a huge college basketball fan until March Madness hits and then it becomes a centerpiece as I get together with old friends  and we have some beers and wings, and talk smart rooting for our brackets and Alma maters. It’s a tradition. Anyway, one thing I love about these games is the runs that are made on a microcosmic and macrocosmic scale. What I mean is teams will make big point runs in a game (10-0, 15-2) to blow it open. But then they’ll go cold, and the other team will come roaring back. Very exciting. On the bigger scale, you have teams that go on runs through the tournament, making those smaller runs in games to pull ahead for the win, and stacking wins on top of wins.

Remember the run this guy made a few years back?

Remember the run this guy made a few years back?

Life is like that too. You may have long stretches of grinding (lead changes, ties, staying even – that is, things are steady, not much excitement) and then maybe things go south and life runs on you – a job loss, miscarriage, bankruptcy, death in the family. But then your team goes on a run – lots of excitement in short time frames, making positive moves that you hope will set you up for a big winning streak.

When you find yourself in one of those runs, you have to stay strong and not flinch. It’s easy to lay back and your haunches and not keep attacking your opponents or stop trying to keep catching lighting in a bottle. That is, I think, what makes people successful, versus those that get complacent. It’s not easy to keep the pedal on the medal and not sit back the fruits of your labors, but it is the accelerant to continue that propel winners forward.

We’ve had both kind of runs this year already, but the few months have been runs of various sorts and the last week or so things are roaring:

  • Several job interviews starting in December where you have soaring hopes and crushing losses when you just miss the position you were hoping to land
  • News of another hip surgery for Holly coming in April
  • Grandfather died
  • Starting officially coaching a few folks, which is exciting and brings positive energy, but certainly takes some time out of my other obligations
  • My mother-in-law’s mental health issues have reared their ugly head again, making Holly and her brothers somewhat miserable
  • Working through yet another interview and then dealing with the stress of negotiating an offer that is worthwhile
  • Giving notice and quitting a job, stressful as well for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is changing insurance just before a surgery.
  • My wife finally decided to pull a trigger on a minivan, which meant the stress of trying to sell her car that as Captain I took care of (and made nearly $2,000 more than trade-in price) – which happened yesterday. Smooth transaction but still, on top of the job change was something to pile on- plus the whole purchase a new car deal. On the plus side, we’re gonna “break in” the minivan this weekend if you know what I mean (wink! It was my wife’s idea, believe it or not. Love that woman)
  • After we talked about our Sexcation (edited of course) with family and friends, my brother-in-law and his wife couldn’t sign up fast enough for a resort trip of their own. The plan was to have their kids stay with my MIL, but since she’s gone off the reservation recently, they are staying with us that week (while they’re on spring break). It ends up working out well since I’m officially between jobs that week, but will add a fun, yet crazy, dynamic at our house.

At the end of the jig-jag line that resembles the stock market, all signs are pointing up. Since the end of 2014 to now, our household gross W-2 income has increased about $10,000 , we received annual bonuses for 2014 which were another 4% of our salaries, I’ll be moving out a job that has been a major life drain for awhile and into one with great potential (and is a known commodity), Holly’s hip will get repaired and won’t be in pain, and in general things are on the upswing with the weather improving and outside time increasing. Everyone is happier these days, which propagates even more positive energy.

It would have been easy to extend some of this stuff out, to not try and compact so much stuff in a short time, in some instances to keep making excuses into the future, but why not keep shooting if you’re feeling it? We’re stacking years upon years of small improvements and when we look back, we can barely remember how we began our journey together – dumpster diving for furniture and boxes to set my 13″ television on as we slept on an air mattress on the floor. Remembering to have gratitude for all you have and celebrating your runs (no matter how small they are) is one of the important keys to happiness.

Hope you have your own winning runs this spring season and start to stack successes in preparation for the rest of the year, and the rest of your life. Now, I’m off to watch some upsets and buzzer beaters with some old friends. Peace!

 

The Art of Salary Negotiation (incl. our story), Plus a Milestone

First, I just noticed the last post was my 500th. I’ve slowed down a little recently, but still, I’m guessing that 90% of bloggers never get close to 500 posts before shutting it down and going to the next shiny object. So, anyways I got that going for me, which is nice…Total Conciousness

I’m not a natural at negotiating, but I still do fairly well. When my wife and I have bought cars together, I’m the natural “bad cop” and am seriously ready to walk when things aren’t venturing into the specific territory where I want to go. So yeah, not as bad as I may put myself out to be. But still, for me, it’s always a somewhat painful and stressful process. Patience and fortitude are key to a good negotiator. So let’s talk about negotiation to maximize your livelihood.

You want a new job. You apply for those that fit. One, or more, call you back. You interview. You impress. You get a  job offer. Maybe it’s even your dream job, or at least your dream job right now. Life should be great, right? All you have to do is say yes. Maybe you are unemployed. Maybe you are underemployed. Maybe you hate your job so fucking much you can barely stand another day. Maybe you’re just seeing what is out there. No matter what you spot in life you are in, you shouldn’t just take the first offer. It’s a dance. A stressful dance, but one that could make a big difference in your future. If you take a lower salary now, it often makes it easier for future employers to bump you up, but keep you lower than others since you’re starting lower.

I’m just coming out of this negotiating experience, so it’s obviously fresh in my mind. But more on that later. This post is something I wish I had read when I was 22 or 25 years old.

negotiate cat

Ok, what do you do?

  1. First, say “THANK YOU!” They’ve offered you a chance for something new. Maybe it is a dream job, or maybe a shit job, but they’ve offered you something new and some new experiences, which no matter what is different than what you’re doing now. And that’s why you interviewed in the first place.
  2. Remember that the interview process is a two-way street and if it’s not a great fit for what you want, don’t feel pressured to take it because your other options are limited. Due your own due dilligence. Check out sites like GlassDoor to get a feel for the culture (one I’ve used a lot in filtering potential fits or not on the personal side of things – what they don’t put into the posting). Out of the frying pan, into the fire as they say. Go with your gut. If it’s not the right fit, walk.
  3. So let’s say you want the job, Play. It. Cool. Most employers or hiring people do not expect an immediate response. Don’t say “yes” or “no,” instead say you need some time to think about it. Ask for an amount of time (a day, three?) to contemplate, or ask when they expect an answer. Also express great enthusiasm, but hedge your bets by saying things like “if things work out, we are going to do great things,” in the hypothetical. It’s a fine line to walk, but you can do the aloof enthusiastic dude.
  4. Now the ball is in your court. Is this a job that you want? Due to:
    1. long term prospects,
    2. the people you work with (don’t underestimate the people you’ll work with every day, they have the opportunity to make or break your happiness),
    3. fit for your personal beliefs (again, don’t underestimate how going against your ethics or morals will impact your long-term happiness),
    4. working hours and
    5. work-life balance (among other things).
  5. What do you do? To start to negotiate you need to understand the overall compensation, not just salary. Look at things like time off, vacation, holidays (those are usually more or less set), and salary. Look at things like intangibles like free soda or coffee or food, allowance for vehicle or phones, flex hours, working from home, 401(k) match percent or other bennies, and the cost of insurance. Those are all tougher to quantify, but may have a big impact on both your happiness and bottom line. For salaries, get an understanding by checking out Payscale or (again) GlassDoor or SalaryWizard to get an idea on what your company or industry pays (you should do this in advance of an interview even, as they are likely to ask). Then pound it into that thick skull of yours that you are wanted, and you have some leverage. Now what are you going to do about it? You shoot for what you think you are worth. Now this will likely be hard for you. It always is for me, no matter how much you believe your worth. Many people don’t negotiate their salary for fear, or perceived lack of skills. You’re not most people, and by simply asking for more (within reason), you stand a good chance of getting more.
  6. Recognize that companies have internal policies and rules in place that may prevent you from getting what you think you might be worth, so there is always a ceiling. They often research, and put you in a range of salaries that are typical for your industry or position both internally and externally, but often the initial offer is not at the top of the range since they understand you may try to negotiate it higher. While you may overshoot the top end of the range, shoot for what you think you are worth, and recognize it may come in below that price. So you start by saying something like “Thanks for the opportunity, I’m really appreciative. However, my research on (website: Payscale, Bureau of Labor, Salary.com, whatever, hopefully all) shows the average salary for someone with my experience in this industry is $X. I bring value because I know Y and Z that should help the company win Q client/or increase R productivity/or S technical skills so I am looking in the range of $M to N.” If you have any other leverage, like another offer or interview, or even a job that pays better (or has better overall compensation), now is the time to play that card. If you have a job, it is easier to compare compensation and see how they stack up.
  7. Then you wait. yodaMaybe it comes immediately – you offer your counter, they counter back. Or maybe you talk to your future boss, or hiring manager, and they defer to HR or a higher power who have the keys to the vault. So you wait. Be it five minutes or 3 days. You better have your bottom line in place, and figure out when you’ll take it, or when you’ll walk. When you’re in a spot you hate, or unemployed, your point may be lower. So be it. Accept that sometimes the situation is better even at a lower salary, with more future opportunity, and if you are worth it, you’ll make it up in the long run.  Ask how they do raises or bonuses, and if you’ll be eligible to go through the process as a newer hire – that may make up for a lower than hoped for starting number. But as with any negotiation, if they don’t meet your request, and it doesn’t hit your bottom line, don’t feel resigned to take a job — walk away and keep looking or go back to your old job. Maybe they’ll come back to the table, but unless your skills are unique or your fit perfect, or the company very small, don’t count on it.
  8. When you do accept, get the final offer in writing, indicating salary, starting date, other ancillaries (health insurance, disability insurance, time off, etc.). Never accept a verbal offer, as you’ll have no recourse if you quit your job only to have the verbal offer be reneged. Make sure you talk to HR about the specifics of benefits. When insurance starts, vesting plan, cost, deductibles, etc. You may need to pay for COBRA or some other plan if they don’t start immediately.

I’m about to enter my fifth post-college professional position in a few weeks, in fact, I just signed the final paperwork tonight. The first three I don’t remember doing any negotiation, I was so excited to jump from where I was at, I didn’t really care what I was being paid. Mistake. I matured over the last 10 years and now negotiate every offer. My wife has done the same and we’ve done well to make some big bumps in our family’s income over the last several years. For me:

  • Position 1 was first one out of college. dogI had four summers of internships in my field, I could have demanded more as it was an easy transition, and my employer was notoriously lower-than-average on salaries. Hence, I chose adventure and a spot 1,000 miles away from home (in New Jersey – and it was pretty damn fun) as a priority over making any money. It was a bad start, but it did get better less than two short years later.
  • Position 2, I just wanted a good job and my future wife wanted to get out of New Jersey (no offense John Andre!). Again, good fit for the company I went with, and they gave me some nice bumps and promotions while there, but I could have negotiated for more at the start and come out even more ahead.
  • Position 3 I took so I could stop my extensive traveling. Holly and i were now married, and wanted to start a family, and I was on the road sometimes 3-5 months at a time (home every second or third weekend). Hence, Position 3 offered me a chance to learn more skills and be at home, and again, I didn’t negotiate and actually took less money to get out of Position 2. I generally liked working at Position 3, learned a shit-ton, was promoted several times so started to finally make pretty good money. But I had the opportunity (and was being pursued) to work with my mentor from Position 2 who had started a new office for a different company. Since nothing was driving my departure from Company 3 except desire to get in on the ground floor of a smaller company that had potential, I had some leverage. Plus, I did like my job.
  • Position 4 (my current position): I negotiated a 10% salary increase to come over to #4 (and I was fairly paid at Position 3 by the end). I had a lot of good experiences here, learning new skills and, at least for awhile, being an integral part of growing the business. Now I am just a cog, an important cog, but a cog nonetheless. Hence, time to move on…
  • Position 5 (upcoming), in a few weeks, I will be making 6% more than I was a month ago. With Position 3. Yep, returned to an old company – a big reason to always behave professionally and not burn bridges. You never know how you’ll end up. At the end of the day, I will be making almost 30% more with Company 3 than I was when I left 4 years ago. Switching jobs for new skills can pay dividends, and this is a good example since returning full circle, I’m not sure this salary increase would have come organically.welldone

My wife bounced (in just the last 4 years too), from past firm (call it Firm-1), to 15% salary increase in totally new opportunity (with lots of travel, and learning super new skills), was fired (not her fault), dropped about the same amount back for a year (started a new branch of a small company-great growth opportunity that wasn’t quite right), then returned to Firm-1. She’s now making about 20% more than she was 3 years ago, partially due to the new skills learned when she left. She negotiated (hard) each job switch.

So my final thoughts:

  • Even if you like your job, keep an eye out for other opportunities
  • Leverage those into interviews/offers
  • If you like your job, use those offers to increase your current salary, or be prepared to jump. That’s a topic for another day, but you can and should, use an offer as a negotiating tactic for your current company if you love your current company (except for the pay). The grass is not always greener. Oftentimes a known situation of mostly good is better than an unknown story of promises and expectations.
  • If you don’t like your job, or if you lose your job, and get an offer, negotiate the shit out of that. Many people find themselves with better long-term salaries by switching jobs on occasion and by compounding raises and salary bumps.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a pay cut for better opportunity, new skills, better intangibles (flex time, work from home, insurance, people) that may make your life SO MUCH HAPPIER! Don’t be a slave to the dollars.
  • In life, negotiations are always tricky – often both sides feel a little slighted. That is par for the course, but if both sides feel like they won, that is better. Do what you can to show your value to what you can provide, and likely, if you deliver, all sides will be happy.

Best of luck!

musial negotiation

 

 

The Two Sides of Lance Armstrong

Last night I was watching the Lance Armstrong documentary Stop at Nothing (2014) on Netflix. I thought it would provide interesting commentary on striving for “winning” and personal integrity. You all know one of the things that I find important is striving for excellence. While many get wrapped up in the outcome, the process is really what is important. To go through that trial by fire with courage, integrity, and honesty and come out the other side (regardless of the end result) means you can be that person that is held as an example and withstand scrutiny when the spotlight is on. And despite a lot of good things that Armstrong did, that’s ultimately where he failed.

Lance Armstrong

But let’s back up for a minute. Like most in the early to mid-2000’s, I was inspired by Lance Armstrong. He came out of nowhere to win the Tour de France in 1999 and he put cycling on the map. His 2000 book It’s Not About the Bike chronicled his cancer survivorship and you couldn’t help but be inspired by this Hollywood story about the scrappy, charismatic kid from Texas who nearly died but rose from the ashes like a Phoenix to smash down on some frenchies. And then to do it year, after year after year…what a run! I got into cycling there for awhile, so this may get a little geekish for some.

Those with cable got a front row seat in some great moments. “The Look” to Jan Ullrich on L’Alpe d’Huez. Riding with Beloki on Mont Ventoux in 2002 (a stage that he let Pantani win in 2000). Beating Ivan Basso in the 2004 L’Alpe d’Huez time trial. Time trial victories (le Train Blue was my favorite – the team time trial win in 2003). And who could forget the cyclocross deal where he had to mountain bike through a switchback shortcut because Beloki crashed right in front of him.

He made you want to get on your bike and ride. Which is what I did. In 2002 my wife joined a bike club (women’s racing team), and one of my coworkers was doing an Ironman triathlon, so I started riding too. And did I ever ride. This was pre-kids and my wife and I spent a lot of time together with friends riding and training. I got pretty serious into it, and went out to California to do some week long bike camps in 2004 and 2005 (shit, it doesn’t seem like 10 years ago). We rode some of the same mountains and routes that the U.S. Postal team was doing (5000′ climbs, winding roads in California wine country north of Santa Barbara).

You know that “Six Degrees of Separation” idea, where we know someone, who knows someone, who is related to someone, who knows the Dalai Lama? Well I was one degree of separation away from Lance Armstrong. The guy running the camp was a former professional cyclist turned pro triathlete. Lance was a pro triathlete (as a teenager) turned pro cyclist, and at one point trained at the Olympic Training Center, as did my guy, an easygoing and funny dude who was driven in his own way. He said that he and Lance butted heads a little there as Lance was always fighting to be the Alpha dog, but while they weren’t friends, they weren’t enemies either – they just viewed life differently. He mentioned that he saw Le Train Blue out on a training ride near our camp (where he lived), and got a chance to sit in for awhile and catch up with Lance. However, my friend eventually left pro cycling because of all the shit he had to see and deal with, including extensive drug use (the performance enhancing kind) and the grind that is pro cycling.

With that brief aside over, let’s turn our attention back to Armstrong and cycling at the time. First, I believe performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) were really common at the time (as is born out by doping scandals with Ullrich, Basso, Cantador, Vinokourev, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, Leipheimer, Schleck), but I’m strongly of the opinion that the ends don’t justify the means. The documentary shed some interesting light on what was going on behind the scenes in the Armstrong camp. Cloak and dagger liaisons with PED doctors, lies and cover-ups, Lance directing his teammates to get on the sauce too so he could keep winning. He would do whatever it took to win. And he was a charismatic guy who could lie with the best of them. I believe one of the people interviewed in the documentary called him a sociopath. When caught, he dragged people through the mud, used intimidation tactics or bribery to keep people quiet, and if you didn’t serve his purpose, you were discarded.

On the public side he was all smiles, gallivanting with friends like Robin Williams and Matthew McConaughey. Even these friendships became strained when he finally admitted to doping.

But despite these behaviors, his legacy will live on in a positive way. He started the Livestrong Foundation that cranked out those yellow bracelets in the millions (wiki says 80 million sold), and he was a huge focal point in raising funds for cancer research. His foundation apparently generated more than $500 million in funds for this cause. This is his greatest contribution and is something that regardless of how he was as a person, lives on as a positive thing in the lives of many. Cancer is a motherfucker.

So my takeaway from the whole situation is this: It doesn’t matter if you reach the top of the mountain if you have lie, cheat, or steal to get there. Be a man (or woman) of integrity, strive for excellence, and be good, and you’ll have the admiration and respect of those around you, and most importantly, yourself. I always liked this poem: The Man in the Glass

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

 

Laughing During Sex – You’re Doing it Right

As I’ve written about before (in 12 Types of Sex for Married Couples) sex is not always going to be some passionate affair out of some RomCom or 50 Shades. You all know that, but sometimes it just seems like we take sex so seriously. Especially if you aren’t having the quality or quantity that you really want, it can be a sort of burden that we stress about. In turn, this stress or overthinking can lead to less than satisfying endeavors. While it often happens organically due to funny noises our bodies make, random thoughts, pet FAILS, kid FAILS, or just funny situations, lightening the mood while sexing is a good thing, and is something I think we should try to strive for more. If you’ve both had full days like Holly and I regularly have with deadlines and basketball practice and dinner, I have found the heavy dominant approach or full 7-course sex dinner with all the bells and whistles isn’t likely to happen or isn’t the right flavor – maybe save that for a weekend night. Better to laugh and lighten the mood.

It is so easy to get into the married couple sex routine. “You want to take care of business tonight?” is very common across the country for married couples. While setting the table with passion and romance, sexting, flirtations, butt grabs and winks is the long-play, many days the energy drain that is work and activities and chores and kids makes something like this difficult. However, the short comedy play can make a boring, serious evening of disconnect lighter and set up for some laughing and silliness. And if you are chitchatting and smiling and laughing in the actual process of sex, that’s good too.

Sex is intimate, and a stress reliever. Our internal dialogue or walls that we keep up to keep our shit together often come down during times like this. We can relax and have fun with our spouse, hopefully without the worry of being judged. When researching this post, I came across a Reddit thread on the topic which confirmed that this is a common thing.   And here’s another five pages on the topic I found at the PlentyOfFish forum. No surprise here. And especially after climax, when you feel loopy and half-drunk, smiling and laughing should come naturally.

So what are some ways to try to lighten the mood, and make your wife (or husband) smile in laying the groundwork for some funny sex? First, go to bed at the same time, that’s usually where the magic happens with kids at home. Second, you need to be over the top confident when you go after one of these, strutting around. You can’t half-ass it. You may not be happy with your bod (but you’re working on it, right?) but confidence can help you pull this off and get a laugh, and hopefully lead to some loving. Here are some things that have worked for me:

  • I am a fan of the “Naked Man” from time to time. Even when Holly is not in the mood, it always gets a smile. And almost always works for me.
  • Similar to that, naked jokes are always funny. For example, your wife is in bed reading, or watching a show. Yell something from the bathroom or closet in an excited voice about seeing a snake, then after a brief pause walk out (naked) with a sly grin and say “…but it’s a friendly snake.”
  • Again, on that track, the Winnie the Pooh look of t-shirt and naked below is always good for a laugh. (As an aside, some people certainly have different turn-ons – different strokes if you will. I Googled “Winnie the Pooh Naked” which I was hoping would give me a PG-13 image of a dude in just a t-shirt, but in retrospect was a bad idea. People really get off on cartoon porn apparently.)Winnie_The_Pooh
  • Don’t be above accessories either. Imagine a (clean) sock on your cock, or maybe rocking some funny underwear (“I heard this is the bird mating season,” while rocking these $8 underwear):
  • Or maybe show your wife your penis origami skills with Puppetry of the Penis (SFW) ideas (they did a segment on HBO’s Real Sex a while back). Things like “The Watch” or the “Batwing” are pretty easy to do. Eye rolls or laughs? Not sure, but I think it’s pretty funny.
  • Or try “the tuckback,” and ask your wife if she’s ever been with a woman, or use the Buffalo Bill voice (from Silence of the Lambs) – creepy but funny if done right.

I fully expect a 50% crash and burn rate with my sophomoric humor attempts, but because my wife is a junior high boy trapped in a woman’s body, she usually laughs. Sex and foreplay and our bodies shouldn’t be so damn serious. Relax and have some fun with it from time to time.

Most of the time we laugh during or prior to sex due to organic things, not my shenanigans above. The dog staring at us or getting in our business. A kid knocking on the door. My wife running her mouth. Bonking a head or knee against something. Some funny noises. It’s all good. Certainly a laugh is better than the quiet corpse sex that occurs on occasion. Hopefully you are both comfortable enough and have a good enough relationship with your partner to relax a little and explore your silly side during sex from time to time.

Personal Finance: Calculating Your Personal Savings Rate

I thought Google was lacking here, so hopefully maybe my SEO hits will drive you here if you aren’t a regular reader.If so, congrats because you are at least looking in the right direction.

I thought a former boss of mine categorized savings pretty succinctly: maximize those things that gain in value and minimize those things that lose value. I personally use that as a barometer to if it’s saving or spending.

Maybe you read somewhere you should be saving 10%, 15%, 20%, or like some “retire early” dudes, 50% of your savings? How do you calculate that percent? There are million ways to do it, and a million questions. Like:

  • Do student loans count to savings?
  • Does a car loan count as savings?
  • Does a house mortgage count as savings?
  • How do Roth (post-tax contributions) vary compared to traditional 401k (pre-tax)?
  • What about other post-tax investing?
  • What about college savings?
  • What about saving for other things like presents, or vacations?

You can see that what sounds easy on the surface can get complicated, and everyone could have their own way of doing it. The government calculates it as percent of “disposable income” that is saved. And in early 2015 that rate hovers just under 5%. Here’s how they figure it:

  • You earn $4000 gross in a month
  • You pay $1000 in taxes
  • That leaves $3000 “disposable income”
    • Let’s say you put $500 in “savings”
    • And spend $1000 on credit card debt
    • Plus spend $750 on rent
    • and another $750 on car/food/life
  • They consider that savings rate as only $500/$3000 = 16.7%

So let’s agree there are different ways to figure this out, and my way is by NOOOO means bible. If you have a different way, that’s fine. And if you are calculating the age-old question: “What percent do I need to save to have X retirement?” this isn’t the site. But here are my basics:

  • If you are paying for something you bought in the past that LOSES or has lost value, you are not savings. Hence, paying a credit card is not “saving,” nor is paying off a car loan.
  • Like my rule above, paying off your old student loan is not saving either. Hopefully it was an investment, but it is something spent, and you’re paying off a debt. It doesn’t count as saving in my opinion (or IMO as the kids say).
  • “Saving” for a new car, or a vacation, or Christmas Club isn’t really saving either. It may reduce stupid-ass interest, but it I don’t believe it should be considered saving to simply spend it on a depreciating asset.
  • Saving for a kid’s college I do consider saving, since you are purchasing a potential investment.
  • Saving cash for emergency fund, or to invest is saving.
  • While this one is all over the board on how people view it, I do consider the principal payment on a mortgage saving, but for me, I only use the pre-payment or overpayment above the required as “saving.” You are obligated to pay that base mortgage payment, but overpayment is essentially saving interest, or getting a direct positive benefit of the interest rate, so I consider that saving. So if you pre-pay on a 4% mortgage, you are essentially getting  a 4% return on your investment. Some people will see this as a sunk illiquid cost, I’m ok with that, but I consider this saving since it does increase your net worth, and you could alternatively blow that money on “stuff.”

So below is how I calculate my savings rate, and is probably ok in determining if you’re on the right track.

Step One: Calculate your personal savings; include the following:

  • Personal contributions to retirement accounts – don’t worry too much about pre- or post-tax (regular or traditional 401k/IRA vs Roth) as a percent since either way you end up paying taxes. So if you set your 401k up as 10% just use that number of your gross as the amount saved for the calc. below. Likewise, if you spend $5000 on a Roth IRA, don’t worry about gross or net income. It’s noise for my simple calc.
  • Employer contributions to retirement accounts. Personally, I don’t count this in the “income” category since it is sort of a bonus and not something I see except as savings that someone else is throwing into the pot. Technically, this should be added to the income category, but unless you are saving anyways, you never see it. I call it a “saver’s bonus” in this calculation. If you’re lucky enough to have a percent matching in your 401k, it may add an additional 3 or 4 percent (for most, though I’ve heard of very generous employers matching 5 or even 10% – makes a huge difference in your savings rate if you get this. My employer matches 4 and my wife’s 2.5%)
  • Other contributions to saving or investment accounts with intention of beneficial purchases that increase or remain net neutral in value (rental income, cash-savings position, CDs, Peer-to-peer lending, etc.)
  • Amount of overpayment to mortgage
  • Amount paid to college funds
  • Call this “A”

Step Two: Calculate your total income less taxes

  • Subtract taxes (state, federal, local, social security, medicare, etc.) from your gross pay. I also subtract pre-tax payment of health/dental insurance since to me that shouldn’t be included in “discretionary” spending column, since it is mandatory (and Mr. Obama and the tax code thinks so too, penalizing people who don’t have insurance)
  • Add any other income (less taxes as appropriate), from side hustles, passive income, rent, social security, pensions, interest, etc.
  • Call this “B”

Step Three: Calculate Savings Rate

  • Divide Savings (A) by Income-less taxes (B)and multiply the result by 100 to change the decimal to a percentage.

This is pretty similar to how the they calculate savings in the United States.

So to illustrate:

  • A married couple contributes $30,000 per year to a 401k from pre-tax dollars
  • They also get a 4% match (say, as a 1:1) on the first 4% of employee contribution, or in this case, let’s call it $7,000 based on  hypothetical earnings
  • They also have automatic savings set up (with post-tax money) for for the following:
    • $2,000 per year for their child for college
    • $5,000 per year for a Roth
    • $,5000 per year for a taxable brokerage account (invested in Mutual Funds)
    • $5,000 in prepayment to mortgage principal above their mandatory payment
  • Take home pay on the year is very healthy $100,000 (to make math easier) after the 401k contribution.

Hence A = $30,000 + $7,000 (bonus match) + $2,000 + 5,000 + $5,000 + $5,000 = $54,000

and B = $100,000 + $30,000 (401k pretax contribution) = $130,000

Hence A/B * 100 = 0.415 * 100 = 41.5% savings rate (very solid). If everything was half (say $50,000 take home- roughly equal to the median household income in the U.S.- and with half the savings above) it would be the same percentage. How does this couple do this? They are frugal, drive paid off, used cars until they are unsafe or too expensive to keep up, keep consumption to a minimum, and value long-term freedom more than having depreciating items today.

  • this percentage is higher compared to some calc’s due to the employer matching contributions, but if you added that back in on the Income (B) side, it would reduce savings percent to 39.4%, not a huge deal

The thing is, if you use this method to calculate your savings rate, your 10% automatic savings rate in traditional  401k does become a higher savings amount in this analysis since your net income goes down and makes the percentage higher, especially if you get a match. Now this approach doesn’t really account for taxes, since you’ll have to pay those later, so is generally going to look a little better than a 10% post-tax (i.e. Roth or Roth 401k or taxable account) savings.

I’m not going to prescribe a goal for you, but use my old boss’s credo (maximize appreciation, minimize depreciation) and you’ll do well. I think a good goal for the normal folk is to be mostly debt free, save at least 15% towards retirement if you really want to kick ass, and if you can, towards things like college. Solid, if not spectacular when most save less than 5% in the U.S.

I know us, and other iFriends (like the former Captain Power) don’t want to settle, so are looking for more. Unless we fire up the old Flux Capacitor, we can’t go back in time and be FIRE (financially independent, retire early) at 30 like Mr. Money Mustache, but we’ll have the opportunity to have some FU money sooner rather than later.

Using the formula above, this year we’re on track to save 36%, the highest year yet. We came from nothing, and simply grinding savings each year, we’ve accumulated a good nest egg. If the market has an “average” year, we’ll be damn close to breaking a half-mil in just tax-advantaged retirement accounts by Christmas, before my 40th birthday. Pretty amazing to this guy who grew up with handmedown bikes and thriftstore clothes for most of my childhood years. And the thing is, we fucked up early in life, but got on track in our twenties and GRINDED to where we are today.

To do this, here are a few general rules, prioritize as you see fit for your circumstances:

  • If you work somewhere with a 401k or matching retirement contributions, contribute at least up to the match – it’s free money. Set it and forget it. Do this before maybe anything else. And don’t take a loan from this account.
  • Work to eliminate credit card or other high interest debt; then all debts to the extent you can
  • Build an emergency fund. Set up somewhere away from your normal account (I use Capital One, but others pay better interest). Set it and forget it (small automatic savings deposited to this account) until you hit 3 to 6 months of savings. It may take several (or more) years, but this is for EMERGENCY, not for a new TV or some other bullshit you don’t really need. I think of it as a “peace of mind if I ever lost my job Fund” and you should too.
  • Bump up your 401k (or equivalent, like 403b, or Roth or even a brokerage account if you don’t have anything else) to 10- to 15%, do it slowly if need be, say a couple percent a year. Some will say an automatic Roth IRA here is better (after you hit your match), and with lower fees it likely is, but I also recognize most of us are lazy and simply bumping up this percentage is easier than setting up and tracking another account unless that’s your only choice.
  • Work to create other cash funds for cars or other items. You may or may not have enough to pay cash for everything, but you’ll at least reduce the amount you finance, saving money in the long run.

Do this and you’ll be ok, but coupled with reduction in spending and you’ll hit your goals faster. My book has a nice 60 page chapter that consolidates personal finance strategies for those that are starting out or coming up for air after life happened, and is one of the key components of my life and my message.


Best of luck on finding your own sweet spot in personal savings!

 

Potpourri

I haven’t exactly been a geyser of posting recently. I thought I’d get into it a little bit, and some of the thoughts that have rattling around in my brain. While I have 36 draft posts in various states of progress (with titles such as: Dealing with a Strong Woman, Raising Kids/Finding Balance, Low Energy/High Energy, and It’s Not Always Going to Work Out) I haven’t had the muse or gumption to button those up quite yet, so will give you some micro-thoughts that I didn’t feel like fleshing out right now. So this is a bit random today.

  • The death of my paternal Grandfather took the wind out of my sails more than I thought it would. It was the first death in the family that my kids were old enough to see, and they described it as “weird.” Seeing the family was good, but some underlying family drama and battles being fought behind the scenes were very near the surface – my dad’s sister dropped an F-bomb at the church towards their other brother. Nice.
  • Piggybacking on this, my Grandfather created a legacy with some of the things he did in his life. Was the founder of an organization that provided an outlet for many people, in addition to his influence on his circle of contacts in general. Reflecting, I want to make steps to continue to touch other peoples lives, and believe I am on that path. How are you touching others’ lives? Pushing values and skills and love down to our kids is the minimum, but our circle of influence should be more than our immediate family. Think about this for a bit and see how you feel about how you’d like your legacy to be seen when you are gone.
  • Trying to get out of my current employment situation has been an energy sink as well. I’ve had 4 interviews in total since the summer, the last one was a gub’ment position that I’m not sure would have been in my salary requirement anyway – but I was a top 2 candidate before they pulled the position due to budget issues. I’ve been in discussions with my last company (that I generally liked, but moved for better opportunity/more money), that I expect to progress. My old boss is on his last couple years before he hangs them up, and I hope to move into that role, but we’ll see. Still, all the hurdles and interviews and thinking about this stuff, while generally working at a company that “has issues” takes it’s toll on a dude. More so than I’d like to admit.
  • About once a year I look back on financial goals and work on breaking down ways to improve. I’m not quite Mr. Money Mustache but have a lot of those characteristics and am trying to incrementally get my wife on board. Big picture: she is, but can’t get past the “I deserve it” or the “kids should have it” for her dream minivan and kid clothing specifically. Still, things are good. We refinanced this week which will save us theoretically nearly $85,000 and 7 years of payments compared to our previous situation due to additional amount going to pre-payments. Also, this month we’ll be paying off our the car I bought new (in 18 months, much faster than is the norm), bumped up our savings, and finally setting up a taxable account on top of retirement accounts. Small steps – we’re looking out 15 years and have to take these incremental steps to reach our goals.
  • In the dredges of winter, it is easy to go into hibernation mode. Dark still comes too early, cold outside, kids and everyone inside trying to find stuff to do. If you aren’t careful, you end up seeing life as shades of gray (and not the 50 Shades type), including your wife or husband who is in the same spot every night. Take the opportunity to mix it up. Get planning for that spring garden. Start thinking about ways to spice it up in the bedroom. Find a way to get the kids off the XBox and doing projects. Start doubling down on workouts. Spring is just around the corner, and the time spent moving in the right direction will pay dividends later.
  • I’m still lifting, running, rowing through the winter. Maintenance mode (not really following a program of any sorts right now), and still recovering from a shoulder injury, but still making progress on most of my lifts and am feeling better than I have in awhile. Am following more the powerlifter approach (still using many of the form tips and even programming in the great book Starting Strength, 3rd edition), though I do mix up sets and reps a little, as well as add some supplementary exercises. I’ve also been doing some yoga, which helps to balance things out a little, but more importantly does a lot to calm my active mind and relax a little.
  • Other news that is dragging Holly and I down a little include her having to have a second surgery on her hip (had one last year) in a month or two, and her dad’s best friend passing this week (which means another visitation – as we knew him well too).
  • Had a post rattling around in my head that never made it to the light of day about making sure you men are spending adequate time male bonding with friends or brothers. Get out of the house and have some fun being masculine. I’ve been Skyping and getting set up to podcast with some Bros for fun, and have been trying to get out of the house for man-dates with my friends. We’ve gone ice fishing, to comedy clubs, and seen other shows. It makes me happy doing these things and breathes new life in during a long winter.
  • Speaking of podcasting, I needed a break from learning and audiobooks and new languages on my commute, so have been listening to the My Brother, My Brother, and Me podcast (humor podcast where three brothers give advice/answer Yahoo! questions). Pretty damn funny – I download to my phone using the Android podcast addict app and hook up to my car.
  • Finally, the show Spartacus (former Starz! series, which if you’re unaware is an HBO/Cinemax competitor) is back on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, it has bucketloads of fake CGI violence and lots of really good looking naked people having sex. If you aren’t ready to watch couple’s porn (which I write about here, in a post that is always my top ranked), then Spartacus is both a good alternative and can help bridge the gap. I swear, it’s like catnip for my wife, an almost guaranteed lay whenever I put it on. Your results may vary, it is not everyone’s cup of tea for the reasons above. The story is actually good, and the first two seasons are worth watching (though Spartacus actor was changed after season 1 actor due to cancer – it was too bad because he was excellent in the role). You can read an LA Time review of the first season (opener) here.Spartacus

Anyways, I am still around, but my mental energy isn’t here right now to write much. I hope that in the next few weeks that changes, and I can start banging out more posts. As always, thanks for reading!

Just. Do. It!

Listen, for any major decision, we never feel ready. Like ever. We all have self doubt, even those who have done all they could to prepare for the moment. That moment when you are standing at the precipice looking to jump. It’s hard, but have faith and just do it.

dont think just doIn my relationships, I’ve both fallen victim to the paralysis by analysis, as well as taken a leap without thinking. My freshman year in college, I really liked this girl. We spent tons of time together, and it was obviously that she liked me too. We spent over a semester just hanging out and setting up for the inevitable instead of just going for it. She was as afraid as I was. On the last  night of the semester, before everyone left for the summer, we hung out all night in her room talking. In the morning light, of the day we were leaving, I finally found the courage to make my move. It literally took until the last minute when the clock was winding down to zero. We ended up dating off and on for several years, but that tentative bullshit was a theme in our relationship, and led to it’s demise (the timing was nearly always off and the theme of no one leading was a major theme-the lessons of youth, that many carry with them to adulthood).

Now contrast that with the situation where I simply made a crazy move early on – a Hail Mary if you will, without thinking. I’ve told the story before of how I met my wife Holly. I threw rocks at her on a college field trip. Didn’t know her name or anything. That snowballed and we are where we are now.

Whether you want that promotion but are afraid to ask, or are thinking of quitting and starting your own business, or want to write a book but are afraid people won’t like it and will judge you, let me tell you something: It is damn normal to be afraid of the ramification of your decision. Self doubt is a motherfucker, and it is so easy to take the easy road and never make that move. In fact, that’s the path most take. They suffer in silence thinking they’re never good enough, or smart enough, or that people will hate them or their product that they put out there. The ego crush will be immense, something we can’t really handle. Or so we tell ourselves. I’ve been there, it’s something I still struggle with. Just like all of you. Fuck that. Fuck your pride and ego. You need to put that shit away, and you’ll find immense rewards. It’s hard to let it go, but Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (one of my favorite books of all time) deals a lot with shutting up your ego and winning at life.

Does anyone except the very best ever think they’re good enough? No. But those that end up slaying these internal monologues are the ones that are most successful…that have the least regrets…and end up happier when they put their head down at night. They take a chance, make it happen, through grit or determination or luck or skill or some combination thereof. They fight and won’t accept failure.

So stop making excuses, and instead start working towards what scares you most. Maybe you really aren’t ready, so what do you need to do to get there? Take that class? Read that book? Actually start writing? Ask for help? Actually address your weaknesses? Start putting in some extra time? Face those demons and put one foot in front of the other, and then, when you are ready…take that fucking leap. Just. Do. It. Stop analyzing and just make it happen.

impossible

When you look back, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. You’ll wonder what you were afraid of. You’ll laugh at your old self. Because we all have the ability to be more than we are today. A better version. But it takes courage. It takes the ability to shut up those naysayers in our own head. And when we look back, we won’t even necessarily know how the hell we had so much success, because there are so many more qualified people who are smarter, better looking, thinner, taller, stronger, more charismatic. The answer is: we actually jumped when everyone else stood at the precipice scared.

Jump!

 

Stay present. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the trials and tribulations. That’s ultimately what makes the rewards so rewarding. You won’t wonder how you got here, because you’ll know. One lifetime. Don’t waste it with the “what ifs.”

My Grandpa

I always loved this short segment in Pixar’s Up. Loving and sad, my wife and I talk about how we’ll be this old couple still in love and having that magic. Well my grandparents were married 66 years, and had some version of this I suppose.

My Grandpa passed away yesterday at 86 years old. He was the quiet patriarch of the farm, raising five kids on a small dairy farm that is still in operation today. He married my Grandmother at 20 years old, and took over the family farm that my father grew up on. He worked hard, never complained, loved his dogs and family. He was a simple, strong man of yesteryear. In post retirement, he was a lead volunteer in the snowmobile club, grooming trails when they had enough snow.

Some of my fondest childhood memories were spending time on the farm in the summer (where we were dropped off for a few weeks of free “Summer camp”) and allowed to get into all sorts of trouble rural kids take for granted. Feeding the calves, shoveling shit, bringing the food scraps to the 30 barn cats (half-feral, missing eyes, all full of piss and vinegar, but still would allow a 10 year old to pick them up and pet them), making homemade rivet guns/crossbows, milk from the stainless steel tanks so thick you had to skim the cream off. Those who grew up know the drill, like heaven for any boy.

We would walk or snowmobile out the half-mile to the steep wooded section of their farm, and sled for hours on toboggans and sleds on the cleared path, drinking hot chocolate and having a winter picnic. We always had Christmas at my grandparents, and it always special! We’d roll in late in the night since we had to travel hours to get there. The cuckoo clock lighting our way as we tried (quietly, but usually unsuccessfully) to enter the huge, old farmhouse. We’d sneak upstairs to the rooms, seeing our breath in the cold winter farmhouse air, and snuggle in, excited for Christmas morning.

Always an extravaganza, Christmas was. After chores, great farm food prepared by Grandma and the aunts, at a large table with all the relatives. Later, opening gifts in the living room, Grandpa sitting in the recliner watching over it all.  After he’d fall asleep in the chair, the grandkids (he had 10) would decorate him with bows and wrapping paper. Always a good sport, he’d laugh and clean himself off after he woke up.

My grandfather holding me as a newborn.

My grandfather holding me as a newborn. Looks a little like Johnny Cash, without the black.

My brothers and I will be part of the pallbearer group. It’s an honor,and while we weren’t particularly close, lessons learned from observing him (and hence passed on to my own father) still reverberate through my life. Work hard. Take care of family. Enjoy the small things. Don’t complain. Be quiet unless you have something to say. Marry for life. Be the king of your domain, and let your wife be the queen of hers. Be kind to your neighbor. Give back to those causes you love. Simple is often better than complex. Love your dog like your kid. Save money, so when things (milk prices) turn to shit, you are still able to stay solvent. And finally, family and friends are priceless – continue to keep those relationships alive – especially that with your wife.

Rest in peace Grandpa. We’ll miss you, but your legacy will live on.