KidSave’ accounts may be part of a long-term solution to the retirement income problem.
In the presidential debates, we’ve heard more about Donald Trump’s anatomy than what may be the most pressing financial issue directly in front of millions of boomers: Where will they find monthly retirement income that is guaranteed for life?
The retirement industry can talk about almost nothing else, which in hindsight seems a predictable turn. Did we really believe Americans would manage their 401(k) plans well enough to stash away 25 years of post-career financial security? We haven’t come close, and in this sense the 401(k) has been a colossal failure. Now the first wave of pensionless retirees is about to land, and politicians have almostnothing to say on the subject.
One reason is that there are no quick fixes, which is why it may be time to dust off a long-term solution first floated in the 1990s and still championed by one of its architects, Bob Kerrey, the former democratic senator from Nebraska. He would like every child born in the U.S. to receive $1,000 in a “KidSave” account that would compound over 65 years before being tapped. “For most people it’s not income that matters,” says Kerry, now with investment firm Allen & Co. “It’s wealth accumulation.”
In other words, retirement security is less about what you earn and more about how much and how soon you save. Compound growth over seven decades can do a lot of heavy lifting.
Kerrey reiterated his support for what he calls “wealth accounts” last week during a discussion on the financial impact of longevity, hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch at the Museum of American Finance in New York. These wealth accounts would be funded at every child’s birth through a government loan, to be repaid when the child enters the workforce some 25 years later.
The initial $1,000 by itself wouldn’t make a huge difference: at 6% a year over 65 years it would produce just $44,145 in tax-deferred savings. But the existence of a wealth account from birth would encourage more saving, Kerrey believes. These accounts would be strictly off limits for 65 years and in his estimation could be enough to guarantee adequate income that will never run out later in life. If parents or grandparents, say, kicked in $20 a month for 20 years the nest egg would swell to more than $240,000 at the child’s retirement.
KidSave accounts enjoyed bipartisan support years ago but stalled amid efforts to boost other types of savings accounts and shore up Social Security. As previously envisioned, the initial deposit might be $2,000, indexed annually for inflation. That alone might produce $250,000 at age 65, Heritage Foundation found in its assessment of the program nearly two decades ago. Another version of the program called for $1,000 at birth and five annual payments of $500, which could generate a nest egg of nearly $140,000.
Why dust off KidSave accounts now? They are a relatively painless way to address a retirement income shortfall in the, yes, distant future. But as the youngest boomers and then Gen Xers retire with virtually no guaranteed income other than Social Security, the shortfall will only grow. Everything is on the table now as policymakers try to fix the retirement income issue via things like expanded Social Security, guaranteed retirement accounts, 401(k) annuities, better home reverse mortgages, and breaking down legal barriers to working longer.
Kerrey noted that without change every American now under age 40 will receive a 25% cut in Social Security benefits at retirement. We need interim steps. But we also need a long-term plan. The candidates have touched on ways to fix Social Security and cut ballooning student debt.
If you’ve put off saving, investing or even thinking about it, just take a quick look at this
I personally have had ups and downs, and I used to save a lot, used to invest, then when things got tough, I just started putting things off, avoiding it, deferring it, or just plain pretending like I never thought of it, yet it was always in the back of my mind. So many people don’t talk about finances, don’t think about it, and just keep pushing it out until a later date for all sorts of reasons.
Please don’t. Please think about it now…..it is easier than you think. People with less brains and less talent have done it, so you certainly can.
Finance doesn’t have to be hard. You just have to think of it in simple terms.
How to think about market volatility: Pick a million random people from around the world every day. Some days, 51% would be in a good mood, 49% in a bad mood. The next day maybe it’s the opposite. Other days, random chance could mean 8% of people are pissed off for no explainable reason. This is basically what the market is on a day-to-day basis.
How to think about hedge funds: Probably 100 are legitimately talented and can consistently beat the market with below-average volatility. They won’t take your money. The rest charge ten times the fees of mutual funds for half the performance of index funds, pay half the income tax rates of taxi drivers, and have triple the ego of rock stars. Basically a conduit between public pension funds and private jet brokers.
How to think about (many) economists: A car mechanic who says your air conditioner is fixed if you just assume there’s cold air coming out of it. Your car doesn’t even have an air conditioner. This doesn’t change his opinion.
How to think about recessions: Everyone wants to see Kobe Bryant play all game. But sometimes he can’t. You’ll wear the poor guy out. He needs to sit on the bench once in a while. The sponsors will say, “You can’t do that! We don’t make money off him when he doesn’t play!” They’re right, but only in the short run. Everyone – the team, the fans, the sponsors, and Kobe himself – will be better off in the long run if you let him take a break once in a while. He needs to rest his overworked knee and learn from the mistakes he made last quarter. Don’t worry; he’ll be back.
How to think about IPOs: There’s a new movie out. It looks awesome. You can go see it opening night but the lines are probably really long. Or you can wait a few weeks, go see the same movie, without the crowds, and pick a better seat in the theater. Do that.
How to think about dividends and capital gains: Dividends are your annual salary – pretty steady and even, and you should consider it a huge part of your overall pay. Capital gains are your Christmas bonus – big some years, nonexistent other years, and no one will feel bad for you when it’s volatile.
How to think about pundits: People who profess to have knowledge about things that can’t be known. Combines the skill of an actor, the ridiculousness of a comedian, the believability of priests, and the credibility of politicians.
How to think about margins of safety: You’re building a foot bridge. You can design how much weight it can hold. The heaviest you’ve ever been is 165 lbs. An engineer says, “Let’s build it to hold 166 lbs.” You think that’s crazy, and say it should be able to hold 250 lbs. The engineer doesn’t understand. After a freak illness causes you to put on 50 lbs., he gets it.
How to think about Warren Buffett: If Michael Jordan looked and sounded like such a normal guy, you’d think you could dunk from the free-throw line, too.
How to think about economic data: Ideally we’d have 500 years of unimpeachably perfect data. In reality we have about 50 years of so-so data. If we had the former, we’d learn that so much of what we’ve learned from the latter is wrong and incomplete.
How to think about patience and investing: A guy pulls grapes off a vine, smashes them in his hand, drains the juice into a cup and says, “This wine is awful.” Someone tells him he needs to let it age first. An hour later he says it still doesn’t taste like wine, and gives it to his friend. His friend stores it in his basement for 20 years and has the best wine you’ve ever tasted.
How to think about long-term investing: The labors of your past self work hard while your current self does nothing so your future self will be better off.
How to think about compound interest: Little slaves that work for you while you sleep and breed like rabbits.
How to think about chart patterns: Palm reader with an Etch-a-Sketch.
How to think about bubbles: The masses lose their minds ever 10 years. Afterwards, you fool yourself that you won’t lose yours 10 years from now.
How to think about bull markets: Most businesses, CEOs, consumers, and countries wake up in the morning wanting to do a little bit better and make the world better off. Rising stock prices over time reflect their progress.
How to think about bear markets: They overdo it sometimes. Not a huge deal. Everything that lives and breathes needs a break once in a while. Let it rest and wait for it to get back in the game.
How to think about people who disagree with you: Guy from Minnesota says it’s cold in the winter. Guy from Mexico disagrees, says it’s hot in the winter. Both have a hard time realizing they’re each right based on their own unique life experiences. They call each other idiots in the comments section of news article that has nothing to do with weather.
How to think about the intersection of politics and investing: As little as possible.
The 3 Decisions That Will Change Your Life
From entrepreneur.com Nov 19, 2014
— Decision 1: Carefully choose what to focus on.
At every moment, millions of things compete for your attention. You can focus on things that are happening right here and now or on what you want to create in the future. Or you can focus on the past.
Where focus goes, energy flows. What you focus on and your pattern for doing so shapes your entire life.
Which area do you tend to focus on more: what you have or what’s missing from your life?
I’m sure you think about both sides of this coin. But if you examine your habitual thoughts, what do you tend to spend most of your time dwelling on?
Rather than focusing on what you don’t have and begrudging those who are better off than you financially, perhaps you should acknowledge that you have much to be grateful for and some of it has nothing to do with money. You can be grateful for your health, family, friends, opportunities and mind.
Developing a habit of appreciating what you have can create a new level of emotional well-being and wealth. But the real question is, do you take time to deeply feel grateful with your mind, body, heart and soul? That’s where the joy, happiness and fulfillment can be found.
Consider a second pattern of focus that affects the quality of your life: Do you tend to focus more on what you can control or what you can’t?
If you focus on what you can’t control, you’ll have more stress in life. You can influence many aspects of your life but you usually can’t control them.
When you adopt this pattern of focus, your brain has to make another decision:
Decision 2: Figure out, What does this all mean?
Ultimately, how you feel about your life has nothing to do with the events in it or with your financial condition or what has (or hasn’t) happened to you. The quality of your life is controlled by the meaning you give these things.
Most of the time you may be unaware of the effect of your unconscious mind in assigning meaning to life’s events.
When something happens that disrupts your life (a car accident, a health issue, a job loss), do you tend to think that this is the end or the beginning?
If someone confronts you, is that person insulting you, coaching you or truly caring for you?
Does a devastating problem mean that God is punishing you or challenging you? Or is it possible that this problem is a gift from God?
Your life takes on whatever meaning you give it. With each meaning comes a unique feeling or emotion and the quality of your life involves where you live emotionally.
I always ask during my seminars, “How many of you know someone who is on antidepressants and still depressed?” Typically 85 percent to 90 percent of those assembled raise their hands.
How is this possible? The drugs should make people feel better. It’s true that antidepressants do come with labels warning that suicidal thoughts are a possible side effect.
But no matter how much a person drugs himself, if he constantly focuses on what he can’t control in life and what’s missing, he won’t find it hard to despair. If he adds to that a meaning like “life is not worth living,” that’s an emotional cocktail that no antidepressant can consistently overcome.
Yet if that same person can arrive at a new meaning, a reason to live or a belief that all this was meant to be, then he will be stronger than anything that ever happened to him.
When people shift their habitual focus and meanings, there’s no limit on what life can become. A change of focus and a shift in meaning can literally alter someone’s biochemistry in minutes.
So take control and always remember: Meaning equals emotion and emotion equals life. Choose consciously and wisely. Find an empowering meaning in any event, and wealth in its deepest sense will be yours today.
Once you create a meaning in your mind, it creates an emotion, and that emotion leads to a state for making your third decision:
—— Decision 3: What will you do?
The actions you take are powerfully shaped by the emotional state you’re in. If you’re angry, you’re going to behave quite differently than if you’re feeling playful or outrageous.
If you want to shape your actions, the fastest way is to change what you focus on and shift the meaning to be something more empowering.
Two people who are angry will behave differently. Some pull back. Others push through.
Some individuals express anger quietly. Others do so loudly or violently. Yet others suppress it only to look for a passive-aggressive opportunity to regain the upper hand or even exact revenge.
Where do these patterns come from? People tend to model their behavior on those they respect, enjoy and love.
The people who frustrated or angered you? You often reject their approaches.
Yet far too often you may find yourself falling back into patterns you witnessed over and over again in your youth and were displeased by.
It’s very useful for you to become aware of your patterns when you are frustrated, angry or sad or feel lonely. You can’t change your patterns if you’re not aware of them.
Now that you’re aware of the power of these three decisions, start looking for role models who are experiencing what you want out of life. I promise you that those who have passionate relationships have a totally different focus and arrive at totally different meanings for the challenges in relationships than people who are constantly bickering or fighting.
It’s not rocket science. If you become aware of the differences in how people approach these three decisions, you’ll have a pathway to help you create a permanent positive change in any area of life.
This piece was adapted from Tony Robbins’ new book, Money Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.
Being rich is all about having the right habits. That’s the message from Tom Corley, who spent five years observing how rich and poor people lived, worked, and even slept. Then, Corley wrote about his research in a book called “Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.”
Here’s what he found:
First: Be an early bird. Because among people making six-figures a year, about half wake up at least three hours before they have to be at work. Then, Corley says they use that extra morning time to focus on self-improvement like reading and exercising, because those things help them be more productive at work.
Another daily habit that can make you rich:Don’t gossip. According to Corley’s research, wealthy people are a whopping 14 times less likely to say they spread gossip, compared to people earning less than $30,000 a year.
Also: Spend less time using the Internet. Corley says most people who struggle with money spend at least an hour a day surfing the Web, or watching TV. But rich people are HALF as likely to go online every day. Instead, they spend that extra hour connecting with others in the “real world,” doing things like networking, socializing, and volunteering.
Another helpful habit: Make more “to-do” lists. Because wealthy people say they cross off 70% percent of the tasks on their to-do list every day – including short-term and long-term goals, meaning, rich people love getting stuff done.
Finally: According to the book, wealthy people are calorie counters. They generally limit alcoholic consumption, keep their junk food snacks to less than 300 calories per day, and weigh less. And it makes sense that successful people would weight less, 75% of executives in a recent survey said that being overweight is a “serious career impediment.” Overweight people are 3,000 times more likely to get passed over for a promotion. And fair or not, overweight applicants get turned down for jobs more than any other group.
You know, we’ve all been there in one way or another: we’ve been tense and focused on money, maybe stressed, maybe short with our spouse, maybe short with our kids….and in that moment when we’re stressing about money, we’re missing the world around us.
You know what I mean when I say “That awful feeling in the pit of your stomach because you feel like you have to worry about running out of money at the end of the month.”
I’ve been there, then back on “top”, then stressed again, a few times in my life.
I heard a funny thing the other day; someone was saying how they thought ‘rich people’ always think about money and ‘rich people’ are all shallow.
Maybe some are shallow, but in my experience and from what I read, when you had enough money to pay the bills and to live in a decent way, you’re NOT thinking about money much at all. When you have enough to cover the bills, you can think about fun things, about things that you WANT to do in your job and career, and things that you can do for or contribute to others – you can choose to enjoy life a little more.
When I was struggling with income and bills, and when I observe others that have the same struggle to pay bills and meet their obligations, they think about money all day long.
There is a great book that I highly recommend called “Bridges out of Poverty”. It helps explain how people struggling in poverty are constantly thinking about how they are paying the bills, food on the table, tires on the car, utility bills, etc.
Even if we aren’t at the poverty level, we can sometimes have some traits of the poverty mindset……we worry about money, about paying the mortgage, about our jobs, etc. This never creates a good feeling inside, does it?
Again, as someone that has been back and forth, here is some wisdom that I’ve learned from a few others and I believe that it really can help:
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want – instead of focusing on the bills and lack of cash, focus on the things that you really want, the freedom, peace of mind, better health, better relationships, enjoying life, security for your family, etc.
Watch your self-talk- we all talk to ourselves and ask ourselves questions throughout the day. There is enough negativity in the world, don’t add to it by bringing yourself down. I was someone who beat myself up for many things and once in a while still do – if you do also, STOP. Reflect on accomplishments, look for references why you’re good at something, ask yourself questions like “Why do I deserve this?” and “Why am I so lucky?” instead of things like “Why can’t I earn more money” or ‘why is this such a struggle’ or ‘why don’t I ever win anything?”
Have a vision – ok maybe your life isn’t where you want it to be now and you want to improve – almost everyone does….create a vision. It doesn’t have to be a major complicated thing – something as simple as some bullet points or a paragraph or two is fine – create a simple story of you as you want to be – make the story in present tense as if you already have it – as if you are already “THERE” and you’re looking back on today, when you are struggling. Make sure that in the story you talk about how you’re proud of the steps you took, the hard work, the good attitude, and how you changed for the better. Remember, tell the ideal story of your life as if it is already done!
Enjoy the present, live in the moment – when we worry about the future or fret over the past, we miss moments and experiences right in front of us. I recall a time when my wife and I had time alone and I sat there worrrying about something that never even happened. Another time I recall worrying about something and basically ignoring my daughters when I had a free day with them. We all lost and nothing was gained. Take a moment to look around, be aware, and live today’s life. Things can happen in a moment. Look for miracles. You gotta celebrate life’s moments no matter what. There is no rehearsal.
Here’s something that can be the toughest for any of us – do the above each and everyday. We can all do things for a while or on occasion, or here and there. We have to ask the right questions, focus on the good stuff, reflect on our vision, and enjoy the present every day! We all must take action – even if they are just baby steps each day. Ask, ‘what thing, regardless how big or small, can I do today?” You don’t have to spend long on it – but at least 5 -10 minutes. Can you turn off the TV, put down the phone, or walk away from the computer or ipad for 10 minutes if it makes you better?
Remember, people with much less smarts, ability, education, opportunity have done great things, contributed, made money, helped others, and been successful , you have the ability, you have the power inside, you just need to take action.
….so that fall I returned to college a new person….really I felt like a man for the first time ever. As I mentioned, people treated me differently. I had a new confidence and self-respect. I can tell you that my relationships, grades, and life were affected.
I went to the fitness center 4 or 5 times a week. I ate better. I worked in the office and carried a 90% load of schoolwork. My grades improved greatly. My professors noticed my change. I began to think differently.
My parents now went to Florida from January to April. They bought a small place there and had a great time – they deserved it. My dad played volleyball 4 or 5 days a week and softball once or twice a week. My mother and father rode there bikes around the park most of the day and they socialized. They looked and acted years younger.
Besides some basic challenges, the year went on well. My father had a minor set back the next year but recovered quickly. I continued to run the business mostly on my own, using my dad as a valuable consultant. I would bounce ideas and situations off of him and we’d work together. My father and I did travel together to some larger clients, some tradeshows and other business. I got to spend time with him as a boss, partner and for the first time friend. It was a great time and I am forever grateful for that time. As time went on, I began to inject more of my own ideas and personality into the business. I had much to learn.
The next year of college came and I continued to maintain the balance of work, school, and social life. I began to enjoy the bit of extra money that I started to gather. Life was good.
I began to really taste independence. When I say that, I mean it in a few ways….I tasted what it was like to earn money, to save money, and to invest it. I saw my money grow in my investments, so I understood the passive nature of investing.
By the nature of our business, we set up dealers, home centers, and distributors. They sold our products. We earned commission. That was pretty cool. We earned money whether we were golfing, driving, sleeping or whatever. Sure we had to offer support, service and coordinate deliveries….and yes set up new dealers, but it was cool when I understood that there was a recurring revenue of sorts happening there.
The other part of independence was that we were living one about 30 acres – about 10 acres of fields in front of the home and office, and the balance behind us in beautiful woods. There was a small hillside on the on side of the property so that we were in a nice little valley. Not far in the woods, we had a creek. You could sit in the office in mid-summer and open the windows to a great cool breeze. You could hear birds sing, hear the bubbling creek, and look out and see deer.
If you wanted to take a walk, go fishing, it was all possible. There was an independence so that we were not tied to a city building, hampered by a commute and traffic. We weren’t tied to one employer. We had the freedom of recurring income. The independence that all people experience when they first reach a certain level of income was there. Life was good.
Later in my life I got away from many of these things. I worked in the city and had a very long commute. I worked for controlling employers. I would spend years longing to get back to that independence – the feeling that I controlled my own life. I lost the recurring revenue and the almost passive nature of the income. For many years, sometimes on purpose, sometimes because of circumstances around me, I lost independence. I can tell you this, it is much better, in so many ways, to be as independent as possible. I’ve had it and in some ways, I lost it.
As with any life event, I learned lessons. Among others, I learned the WORDS TO LIVE BY: Independence. Being free to act on your own, free to live where you want. I encourage you, define what independence means to you and what types of it are important to you.
I really grew over a few years. I learned a lot. I took some risks. I made some mistakes. I had successes.
One of the companies was about 90% of our income. We were independent but when you looked at the finances of our business, we were very dependent on one company. It wasn’t by design but because that company had such a diverse nature of products and because of how the territory simply developed, we were tied to them.
One spring we got news that this company hired a new set of sales managers. We got the call that one was coming to our area and we had to set up some visits. We approached it with a great attitude but he was pretty tough to deal with. Even though he knew nothing of the industry, he came across as egotistical, typically interrupted people, and was not a pleasant guy to spend the guy with…..
….he came into town a few times that summer and he’d typically tick off clients wherever he visited. We’d ask for help solving problems but he never solved one of them. He often was late for appointments and was disrespectful to me and my father. Then one day he asked us to meet him somewhere far. So we got up at 5am, drove to see this guy and we got fired.
That year, that company let go of any and every representative like us across the country and they went with some in-house salaried people. (Within 12 months that company also let go that sales manager!) Things change. You must adapt!.
So we drove all the way home on that beautiful summer day. I could tell that my dad was very upset that suddenly the business had lost 90% of its cashflow and the legacy he wanted to leave was not going to be the same. We tried to enjoy the day and we discussed the exit strategy….we also began to think about what the next step would be………
….so my dad had a heart attack and was in the hospital…..I woke the next day and went to the hospital. My mother was actually there alone as they had taken my father to a hospital in Pittsburgh by helicopter. He was going to have open heart surgery.
We drove to Pittsburgh together. My mother was a strong woman. She never showed weakness. In this case she again was in control. I saw no tears, no shaking, no signs of fragility. She was in control and leading the way. We covered things about my dad’s business, the home, who to call, relatives to contact and that sort of thing. We acted like a team. We had a common goal and we were passionate about it.
My dramatic, self-centered nature from the day before had vanished, it seemed.
My sisters came to the hospital and my father went for surgery. I was still pretty confused and in shock. I recall getting all the information from the doctors and surgeons about the procedure but in that state I all just seemed to pass through me, I must have been glazed over. He was getting a multiple bypass, his heart was badly damaged. I remember someone saying he should have died with all that damage – that he should be dead now…., I remember then thinking that that person should have thought before they spoke.
After hours of waiting, pacing, visiting the cafeteria, walks around the block, my father came up from surgery. We went into his room as a family – my mother, my sisters and I. My dad was laying flat on the bed no pillow, no blanket or sheet. His arms were spread out wide with tubes in them and there were plastic ‘boards’ taped on his arms keeping them stiff. His bare chest had a very large bandage right down the center where they did open heart surgery. He had tubes down his throat and was still on a breathing machine. It was shocking. I wasn’t prepared for it.
Amazingly, he woke up. Of course he couldn’t speak and for some reason his eyes were tired and he couldn’t keep them open. But he wanted to communicate with us. I remember that he took our hands and tried to spell something in our palms; ala Helen Keller. My sisters and mother couldn’t get what he was saying. He moved to my hand and I felt his clammy cold hand, different from his standard warm grip. He spelled some words and I seemed to get them right away! A breakthrough. He said somethings that I don’t now recall. Then I remember him saying it was not pleasant to breath with the machine. Then he joked that he was full of hot air. He always had a good sense of humor.
He was moving his feet and toes a lot and my mom told him to relax. I think he spelled back that someone told him to move his feet and legs to keep the circulation going.
At one point it got quiet. We were all standing around the bed looking at my dad. It was such a wonderful moment. I think we all held hands for a quiet long moment. For many years my oldest sister had been living in Florida, my other sister was going through a divorce, I was away at college….we were now together with one mission,…..more importantly we were together. I’m not sure what everyone else was thinking but that moment was one I won’t ever forget. We were a family, a single unit. I’m not sure how long it lasted but it was magical.
The next weeks were spent at the hospital with challenges, progress and set backs. My mother basically lived at the hospital. My one sister moved home from Florida to help. I was driving a little over an hour to the hospital and home, trying to keep things going. We had support from many friends and some relatives.
I questioned myself. I was thrust into the role of taking care of the home, a fairly big one; all the property; the family business, and all that sort of thing. Suddenly I had to get up much earlier to meet the delivery guys, I had to deliver things and coordinate logistics. I had to place orders for kitchens and products. All this with about a day’s experience.
I recall when my dad came home. It was a nice day outside, shining sun, birds chirping, a pleasant breeze blowing….. However the recovery wasn’t over. He was still tired and couldn’t do much. My mother was on him to behave and first showed some signs of stress. My sister was now living at home and trying to put in her two cents. She was a nurse, had lived alone for many years, and she had her way to do things. My mother was strong willed and had her way. They bumped heads. Neither was right or wrong, just different from one another.
My sister thought I was just a kid (I basically was) and often treated me like that. Yet I had to do all the things a man had to do.
I was making progress and I knew it. But I still had to deal with my recently sloppy academic record. I remember trying to call the Dean’s office at the college. My intention was to stop or ‘catch’ my report card before it got home. I spoke to the Dean herself telling her my dad had a heart attack, that my grades were not good, and the report card could upset him more. Looking back, it sounded like a typical scam, I suppose, but I was truly worried. I even enlisted another professor to plead my case. No luck. The report card came home.
My parents really didn’t get upset, they were just disappointed, which actually hurt more. They didn’t say much. I recall my dad sitting there quietly – he wasn’t really a quiet guy – then asking me if I was serious about school and if I thought I should stay on campus next year – or even attend next year. I emphatically said I was serious and that next year would be different.
With that said, I signed up for a summer accounting class – a class that I had just got a “D” in – I was going to retake it. I didn’t have to retake it, I was told by my professor, but I chose to do so.
So I’d work the business, do things around the house to keep things running, then I’d go to class, return and work on the business more. One day I came home from the summer class and my mother came right out in the driveway and said simply and rather abruptly, “The water isn’t working, you need to go up on the hill and fix it.”
We had a pretty cool system for water. There was a large hill by our house and this very powerful spring ran a high volume of water all year long. It provided great tasting, safe water for our home. The overflow went to our pond and was a nice thing. For some reason it stopped working.
Again not knowing what I was doing, I climbed the hill in the mud and poison ivy. I dug and dug. I searched for the problems. I recall thinking that my mother was so mean not even saying hello to me. She just came up and said she wanted something. How dare she?
Then something jumped into my mind. I recalled doing the same thing to my parents. I recall being abrupt and selfish with my parents. Except it wasn’t about water or some basic needs, I wanted something dumb and silly that I can’t even remember what it was now. I remember doing this multiple times and then thinking how my parents must have felt.
The next day my dad’s friend Don joined me on the hill and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t figure out the problem. More days went past and the consensus was that the spring “moved” as it does sometimes and the spring was no longer viable as the primary source. So we had to drill a well.
We got the well guys out there to our house. My dad had a minor set back so he was definitely not able to interact so my mother and I worked with the well drillers…. and they tried to take advantage of my mother by not fulfilling their promises to do certain things and fill in the ditch, complete the job, and generally did a half-baked job. I had to stand up to them a few times and it was a first for me standing up for the family. I didn’t like it yet it felt good to ‘defend’ my family and get our money’s worth – and hold them to their Word.
That summer brought lots of challenges in the way of the family business…….
During this an other challenges in my life, I learning key lessons. One was the WORDS TO LIVE BY: Keep Moving. Sometimes when you’re in a storm of sorts – or it seems like it is – just keep moving. To me at this age and this time, my dad’s health, the responsibilities of the business and being the ‘man of the family’, and other challenges seemed overwhelming. Sometimes I let myself become overwhelmed. I even thought of escaping, withdrawing and just going to live at the beach or something and letting my family pick up the pieces. But when I took a breath, relaxed a bit, smiled and just kept moving ahead looking for solutions, things weren’t that bad. All of a sudden people gave me good feedback, good things started to happen, and more than anything, I got through it. Looking back, it wasn’t all that bad. Just keep moving, have faith in yourself, in others, in God/the Universe/the Source or whatever you believe. Sitting still whining and feeling sorry for yourself won’t help! Ask for help then take action, any action! Mistakes are OK – in fact mistakes will help you learn and be a better person.
(This is one of a part of a series of WORDS TO LIVE BY. This series grew out of a workbook I first made for my young daughters and discussed at the dinner table. These Words include values, good ideas, and Words to aspire to….and learn from….enjoy!)
Clarity is something I think, as a whole, society, us, most of us, lack.
What do I mean?
Are you really clear about what you want in life?
Are you clear about your desires, dreams, goals?
For instance – I know many people, including myself, often talk about earning more and having a home business or something independent. We know we want more money, more independence. We know we want some sort of money set aside for a nice retirement, but then we stop there.
Clarity provides an idea, goal, understanding, transparency that we need.
If you can sit down and clearly write out your goal/plan/intention/idea, if you are clear what you want, all parties benefit.
How many times have you felt uncertain, uneasy about something? You just don’t feel right about it – often because you’re unclear about it, undecided, on the fence, etc.
I’ve had situations where I was in a bad financial jamb. I was cooked for the forseeable future.
For a long time I just tried to ignore or avoid the problem.
I felt uneasy, upset, stressed, confused, etc.
Then one day I told myself I’d sit down for 5 minutes and review all my statements and paperwork. Just 5 minutes.
Even though my situation didn’t improve, reviewing the problem – becoming clear what the situation was, did help.
Then I took a piece of notebook paper and wrote a very simple plan to move ahead.
I assure you that the plan was not complicated, high-tech, creative, or brilliant.
But I was now clear on the problem, and clear on action steps that I could take.
I felt a lot better. A simple step helped!
I confess that my wife told me I seemed happier. I saw a friend that day and he said I seemed more relieved (He knew my situation).
My wife and I have had challenges in life and we approach them differently for all sorts of reasons. Like any relationship, we had to communicate our expectations and come to some sort of agreement.
Many times, relationships are stressed because people don’t communicate, they don’t share expectations, and they aren’t clear with each other.
Now my wife and I sit down and spend just a few minutes on our budget, expectations for the week, for the next few months, for our common goals – we work together to get clear on our life.
It is a simple step that we didn’t take before and it added to our financial problems.
When you’re working, going to school, doing anything worthwhile (even not-worthwhile), being clear about what you want makes such a big difference.
How many people do you want to reach today with your message?
How do you want to contribute to the world/society/family/life?
How much income do you want to earn this year/5 years/10 years?
What kind of work do you want to do? How many pages do you want to write?
What things do you want to improve upon in _______?
WHat does freedom/independence/the ideal life really mean to you? What is the ideal day life for you?
What do you want people to ‘feel’ when you talk to them?
What is important to you – GET CLEAR!
We so often go through the motions, get lost in the noise, listen to society.
Our inner voice is so much better, so much more powerful.
You may believe in something else, but I believe in some sort of Creator.
I believe that the power or Source or whatever you want to call it is not just “out there” but it is IN US.
We are part of this Source/Creator/God.
If we get quiet, listen to ourselves, and get clear on what WE want, and let our inner voice guide us, rather than someone else, I believe that we can act with guidance from the Source/Creator/God – it is almost divine guidance.
It doesn’t need to take long either. Just take a few minutes and get clear on one thing….right now.
Below are some more thoughts on Clarity……
Think about the recently famous Felix Baumgartner’s Supersonic Jump from the Stratoshpere (on October 14th, 2012). Have you seen it or heard about it? If not – it’s OK – I wrote a post about it here on this site.
The reason why thoughts of that jump filled my mind is because Felix Baumgartner accomplished a very clear goal he set for himself about 5 years ago… it took him that long to train for it… but his intentions were crystal clear even though that goal 5 years ago might have seemed a little unrealistic.
I know it took him 5 years to accomplish it but you’d be surprised what you can accomplish in 30 days.
Just as an example, when I got laser focused on my blogging almost 60 days ago now, my blog traffic went from daily visitors in the teens and twenties to hundreds .
I sometimes listen, watch, and read stuff from a marketing guy named David Wood. David Wood spends close to 2 hours on the subject of clarity in this one podcast (and much much more) and how to set goals in such a way that they become so crystal clear that you can actually feel them as being accomplished.
Also, here is a video by Tony Robbins where he emphasizes how important clarity is to accomplishing goals.
What Tony Robbins says in that video is right on the money…
“Life Will pay whatever price you ask of it.”
Without clarity, you cannot accomplish any goal that you set for yourself.
You too, can have clarity, implement these methods in your business and start making the income that you deserve.
Do you ever get so busy with the details of your life and the countless things you need to complete, that you end up feeling exhausted and disconnected?
The result: Your mind becomes clouded and unable to focus and you start to make poor decisions regarding your priorities. You end up working hard instead of working smart.
What do you do when this happens? Do you take the time to step out of the situation to regroup? Or do you continue with what you’re doing, all the while feeling that you’re running out of time, besides you still have a massive list of tasks to complete. In the past, my natural inclination was to do the latter and, in the end, I would be left feeling burnt out with my spirits down.
Lately I’ve been running around preparing for several major changes in my life. I’ve felt my mind becoming consumed by the problems revolving around these changes. My eating schedule became irregular and my decisions felt clouded. When my clarity started to fizzle, I found myself making decisions and judgments based on emotions rather than on logic or intuition arising out of clarity.
The following is a simple technique I’ve used to reconnect myself to what’s most important: my inner self. In doing so, Clarity came.
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of a Spiritual Day or a Clarity Day, in which you spend the whole day disconnected from the information world and the many distractions of modern life, and start to connect within yourself.
If this sounds too mystical, don’t get caught up with the words, they are just linguistic symbols to communicate ideas. When you really get into such a day, it can become a source of great bliss and understanding of one’s self. During these times, we can experience tremendous personal growth, peace, and satisfaction.
This is also the perfect chance to clear out the noise and mental clutter that collects in our inner space from the hectic demands of our life. Through better understanding of ourselves and our surroundings, we gain more than clarity, we gain self confidence.
Similar to Self Dates or Alone Time, on a Clarity Day your goal is to spend an enjoyable day on your own and away from everyday distractions. Aim for minimal planning, so that you spend the day following your heart and enjoying the spontaneous expressions of the present moment.
Here’s an example of how I spent this past Saturday, when I deeply needed clarity and to connect with myself:
Basics – From 8am to 8pm. I was doing everything on my own, without friends or family. All distractions such as cell phones, home phones, computers, and TVs, were turned off.
Salon – I’ve always enjoyed getting my hair done. My favorite salon straightens my hair at each appointment. I sat there with my eyes closed and enjoyed being there. The girls kept asking me if I needed a magazine, and I would say “No thanks. I’m happy just sitting here.”
Walk – I walked out of the downtown Salon and drifted randomly uphill to the Capital Hill neighborhood. The day was so beautiful. I enjoyed looking up at the sky and passing by families of tourists and Saturday shoppers.
Café – I found a comfortable corner seat by the large windows at a local café. I pulled out my book and my journal. Periodically, I would sit back with my book in my lap and enjoy watching people. People are so interesting, and if you try, you can sense what people are feeling. I had a fantastic seat for people watching and deeply enjoyed the experience.
Meet a Stanger – I started talking with an interesting new friend who sat next to me. We talked about happiness, art, and creativity. It was very simulating and felt good to connect with another human being; they add meaning and dimension to your life.
Read – I read Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle. A short but enlightening read. It is full of bite sized wisdom to help find the stillness within you.
Meditation – 35 minute guided meditation. When I opened my eyes after the meditation, I felt like I was seeing the world with new eyes. I felt calm and happy. I followed this up by lying down on my yoga mat and visualizing all of the things I am grateful for. I got up feeling incredibly centered and present.
Journaling – with my new found clarity, I wrote out my thoughts and feelings. In doing this, it gave me a chance to organize my thoughts (which were the source of my problems), along with options for dealing with them. I’ve learned that recording emotional events and personal realizations in a journal can be a fulfilling experience. Especially when you read the entries several years later.
I stepped out of the day in a peaceful state and had regained my clarity. I felt like my spirit had been recharged. It also became clear that my problems are only as big as I perceive them to be, in my mind.
Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that most people (‘the mass of men’) live lives of quiet desperation. Most of us probably wouldn’t describe our daily experience as ‘desperation,’ but there may be an uncomfortable feeling that we are drifting along, not having a clear aim, not having achieved what we dreamed about in the past and yet not knowing quite why.
Usually, this feeling is not painful enough to drive us into making any real changes, so the danger is that we can drift along like this indefinitely. Many people who have made significant advances in life have had periods of intense discomfort which have forced them to go inside, reflect and become more aware.
For most of us, there are things we can do to become clearer about where we are, what we want and how to get there. These practices may be less radical that sudden upheavals and painful experiences, but they can be uncomfortable – learning new things usually is – and a gentle persistence will be an important attitude to adopt if you attempt them seriously.
The kind of meditation the Buddha is said to have taught is most closely reflected in Vippassana or ‘insight’ meditation. The technique is extremely simple: no special apparatus or prior knowledge is needed, just a quiet place and a period of time. All you have to do it sit comfortably with a straight back and observe your breath. Nothing more. In time, the practice is intended to bring about clarity and insight into the nature of the self, and that of reality.
Some years ago, I attended one of S. N. Goenka’s famous ten day Vippassana retreats. The Goenka organization is a worldwide group dedicated to teaching the practice of insight meditation. The retreats are tough – many hours of meditation, only two small meals per day, basic communal facilities such as dorms, and a strict code of silence. Attendees are not allowed phones, books, journals or any other form of intellectual stimulation.
The Goenka courses are excellent in the sense that they force you to meditate – there are quite literally no distractions, and one is forced to face up to the many obvious – and subtle – ways in which we try to avoid a practice which is so alien to our restless mind and which forces us to face some uncomfortable realities. But for those not quite ready to take the plunge, there are plenty of online courses available, such as those offered by Wildmind. It is also usually possible to find a local meditation centre offering guided evening sessions.
Meditation is a way of focusing on the present moment in a very intense kind of way; the practice of mindfulness is a way of being present throughout the day. It just means watching yourself, being a silent witness to your own feelings, thoughts and reactions, in order to gain clarity about everything you do, feel or think. We usually move through life in a fairly unconscious state, responding to circumstances in a conditioned way, unconscious repetition of learned behaviors.
Becoming more mindful is not easy – it requires a great deal of practice but will, in time, lead to a great deal of clarity and insight into what drives us. With this knowledge, we can make better choices and exert more control over how we respond to situations and hence what we experience.
Two books I particularly recommended are Awareness by Anthony de Mello and Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. De Mello’s book is full of anecdotes and stories which underline the importance and the (sometimes surprising) consequences of being more ‘awake .’
Our connection with the natural world
Although we might sometimes be tempted to see ‘nature’ as ‘something out there,’ separate from our experience, we are, of course, very much a part of the environment, and we naturally feel more centered and clear when we are close to our natural environment. We haven’t been living in houses and apartments for very long, and city living is a particularly new innovation which can be very stressful.
It is helpful to find time regularly to spend time in a more natural environment. This doesn’t have to mean trekking through the jungle – even walking through a park or a garden can bring great benefits. In Hong Kong, where I have lived for many years, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and the opportunity to get out into nature, but it is possible, and making a conscious effort to do so enables me to maintain more balance and perspective. If I can do it here in Hong Kong, I think almost anyone can!