Core Values

I’m reminded how two persons from the same family culture with similar core values can look at the same picture and see something entirely different, consider words said, and draw different conclusions, or perhaps read something and gather different impressions.

My most recent reminder of this is a person I genuinely love, who was wearing a shirt with a provocative statement on it. It said “Every saint has a past and ever sinner has a future.” I had to give pause, as a Christian, for a moment I almost took offense to that. Should I consider that a criticism or something entirely different. Then I considered it from a biblical perspective, and it is true. Every saint truly does have a past (the sinful aspect of which is forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ as offered in salvation being accepted). Yes, every saint (saved sinner) has a past. What does it say about somebody when they wear a shirt about that? Admittedly I don’t know. Is it a criticism of a person’s faith, or rather a reminder that in a clamoring world that we all desire equality, understanding, and acceptance in a sometimes inhospitable and inequitable world.

Cynicism or optimism? I choose hope and optimism and although I can remember in one moment in time the number one selling t shirt in America was a shirt with Bart Simpson on it that read “Underachiever and Proud of It.” I celebrate the humor, the non conformity, and the individual freedom of the person who proudly owns that T-shirt. As for me, I simply smile and laugh and simply choose not to wear it.

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Relationships; foundation of much of our personal joy, laughter, energy, and sometimes sorrow. As much as I genuinely care about my relationships, I have to admit sometimes I am pitiful at honoring my relationships and generously investing in them as I should, so they will be nurtured and grow like a watered seed spreading through the soil. Sometimes I shake my head and wonder why I act so abruptly in a situation and then I remember the story.

In his book, ” Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” the late Dr. Stephen Covey writes the following story. Stephen is a business leader and an executive travelling on the New York City subway to a business engagement. He is a quiet, centered, buttoned down guy, just enjoying perusing the paper before he arrives at his destination. At one of the stops, a man boards with his young children, who are fidgeting, getting rather loud, and causing a disturbing ruckus. After several minutes, Stephen feels his ears getting red and simply says, “Excuse me, sir. Is it too much to ask that you try to quiet down your children?” The man slowly turned to Stephen and with swollen eyes and said, “I guess I should, but you see, we just left the hospital and my wife just passed away. The kids don’t know how to handle it and quite honestly, neither do I.” At that moment, Stephen wished he could shrink down into his dress shoes.

A reminder here for me that perhaps I need to be less critical of other people’s behaviors or motives. Maybe I just need to press pause because if they are reacting to me in a way I feel may be unkind, perhaps they are just going through a difficult struggle. How would I know? Maybe I need to defer on the side of grace. If someone is being abrupt with me, maybe they are going through a sorrowful heartbreak I don’t even know about. We all make judgments, sometimes appropriately so, but this is a reminder for me to step back, take a deep breath, and press pause before responding. My words have power, as do yours, and I always want to speak soothing silk words versus words that break down and destroy that perhaps would not be appropriate had I known the struggle they were going through.

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The Past Few Weeks

Reminiscing, it’s been an amazing past few weeks, though a sobering few weeks as well.

First, the Patriot Day marathon bombings in Boston that shakes the city to its core and the discovery that terrorist’s from Chechnya, Russia are in our midst. Second, the incident in Waco where a fertilizer plant blows up, which ultimately appears to have been an accident. However, both incidents have galvanized America’s attention. Then, the reaction of the father of the bombing suspects, denies any allegation that they were involved, stating they were set up. In stark contrast, the uncle who lived outside of Washington, DC, says the boys were losers and brought shame upon the heads of their families, and would gladly kneel at the feet of the victims to beg forgiveness.

Regardless of how this unfolds, one thing I am certain of as Americans, we are reminded not only of our vulnerability but also the compassion and goodness provided by those who offered assistance and support to those immediately shaken after the bombings, such as the restaurant owners who sheltered people to keep them safe from harm during the ruckus out in the street.

This speaks well to the American spirit and as much as tragedies like this are sobering, I truly believe Americans will survive and thrive, as long as the American spirit of freedom, generosity, and kindness amongst each of us, continues than we can preserve our land here in the United States of America.

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Poor Richard’s Almanac

I’ve always loved the folksy home spun wisdom found in Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Specifically, I remember Ben Franklin, that great old sage, talking about how to create economic security for oneself. He notes there are two ways to accomplish this. The first is to earn more money and the second is to spend less money. The best way, however, to achieve financial prosperity is to focus on doing both of these things at the same time. Profoundly simple common sense that today is not very common.

In a world where people spend money first, often times borrowed funds, and worry about paying it later, the idea of not taking your milk money to the roulette wheel is not entirely fashionable. When we look to Washington for partisan or bipartisan leadership, you find that both sides argue for a scenario that will force the squandering of some money either from increased revenue that will not be accounted for through vigilant accountability or spending cuts that may not be properly made. The best we can all do individually is to remember the sage wisdom of earn more money and spend less.

Set yourself up for financial prosperity by saving first and you’ll never regret the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’ve established these priorities and held dear to them as a sacred trust.

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Think Different

I’m reminiscing about the Greek Mythology story where in the island of Samos in the Acarian Sea, a story unfolds. Particularly, this is the story of Icarus, who succumbs to the frailty of his own arrogance. Both he and his father have been banished and incarcerated on an island in the Acarian Sea for his father’s working to sabotage the king of Minos’s sovereignty. In devising an escape plan, for him and his son Icarus, Daedelous architects a set of wings for each of them. They are meticulously made of feathers, sealed together with wax. Excited as they are about ready to cast their brilliant plan for flight and rise above the island, Daedelous carefully warns his son not to fly too high. Later, while in flight, Icarus, enamored by the son’s becoming brilliance, he flies higher and higher still until the wax melts, feathers give way, and Icarus tumbles to his death in the sea.

Famous tribal thinker and blogger, Seth Godin, postulates that the concern today in the United States of America isn’t necessarily the thirst to fly too close to the sun, but rather the settlement of living too close to the Earth’s ground. Is it possible that the next generation of Americans will not set their sights too high but rather, too low, where the threatening moisture of the sea below could have destroyed the wings just as equally, had Icarus flown too low instead? All around us, you hear the media clamor about the “Fiscal Cliff” and sequestration, a basic ubiquitous sense of entitlement and the lack of inspiration to rise above for achievement. How does this square or contrast with the individual whose creativity, adventurous spirit, and meritorious efforts which would be necessary to think and be different and do something truly extraordinary. True, such thinking is no guarantee of such success. Still, we must consider our heritage – Franklin, Edison, Carnegie, and Gates. Innovation and entrepreneurship are what has always been the springboard upon which America has fueled a brighter future. The revival of the American sprit to have the audacity to think and believe big and as Steve Jobs is noted to have said, setting no limits but rather to “think different.” Such an outlier belief, uncommon in the American citizenry today, I believe must be revived, as it will be the best assurance of creating a revival of this nation’s heritage and toward a pathway for future prosperity for which my generation can collectively be proud and the next generation will be thankful to receive.

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The Magic Number

For the ages, retirees and pre retirees have been asking the thoughtful question, “How much can I withdraw from my savings and investments without risking outliving my money?” Stated a little bit more bluntly and in a more negative connotation, “Will I outlive my money?” It’s an important question to ponder. For years, the Harvard Study advocated that if you had a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds and are well diversified you should be able to withdraw between 3.8% and 4% after fees, taxes, and expenses, to support your lifestyle throughout your retirement years. This iconic and prophetic magic number has become the generally accepted dogma and disseminated as such by the Wall Street Community.

That makes the article that just came out, “the magic withdrawal number and a low interest-rate retirement? You’ll Be Surprised,” by Darla Mercado, in Investment News on February 7, 2013, more startling. Specifically in this low interest rate environment, noted for easy monetary policy and historically (and might I had artificially low) interest rates, there’s been cause for a reformulation of the original Harvard dogma. This new article declares “it seems that a 2.8% withdrawal rate over a retirement period of 30 years with a 40% allocation to stocks is the recipe for a 90% success rate – if interest rates continue to stay low, according to a recent study by David Blanchet, head of retirement research at Morningstar Inc.’s investment management division. Wow! That’s a rude awakening and still a 10% possibility you will outlive your money. For this and other reasons it is good to take pause and begin consider evaluating your retirement needs early and consider safe money strategies designed into your retirement planning. The goal to achieve an abundant cash flow and manage the longevity risk so no matter how long you live, you will always have the assurance of an abundant retirement harvest.

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The Meaning of Success

Success! What does that word mean? I’ve heard it said that the only time you’ll find ‘success” before “work” is in the dictionary. While that certainly rings true, let me suggest an alternate universe idea of the word success. To do this I’d like to share a story from the chapter I’ve written for the book I’ve co-authored entitled, “Victory.”

A very prominent Wall Street Investment banker has taken a little time to retreat to a sanctuary from all his international travel and private equity transactions. On this day, he is enjoying a secluded ribbon of sand beach down in a verdant area of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. As he raises his eyes up onto the beautiful turquoise and azure waters he can’t help but notice a wooden canoe with outriggers bobbing out in the ocean, three Mexican men aboard working hard to harvest fish. At first, it is just an innocuous glance, but eventually he finds himself entranced as he watches their system of casting and running in a figure eight pattern a series of nets in unison to pull the fish together and harvest an abundant amount. It is something truly amazing to watch. Later, when he sees them come in to the dock, he decides he has to go over and have a conversation with them, with the spring in his step for a potential new opportunity.

He reaches them and begins a friendly conversation by asking, “What do you plan on doing with the fish that you’ve caught, and why did you come in so early? At the rate you were going you probably could have caught fish all day.”

“Oh, senor, we most certainly could have,” they answered, “but we only want to catch enough fish in our nets to feed our families. Then we can take our mid afternoon siesta, enjoy a lovely fish dinner and fine wine with our friends and family and play some music with our amigos. That’s really our joy in life.”

The investment banker, looking perplexed inquired, “Why wouldn’t you continue to fish the rest of the hot afternoon and sell your fish to the fisheries? Eventually you could become profitable enough to open your own cannery, then look at creating joint ventures for international distribution lines and some of the unique fish to these waters could be shipped internationally.”

The Mexicans look at each other, contemplating, and then ask, “Then what would we do?”

The investment banker answers, “Then you basically become so successful that some of the big food companies would want to buy you out or you take your company public through an IPO, and once you did that, you’d be multimillionaires.”

The Mexicans then ask again, “Then what would we do?”

“Then you could return to the Yucatan, retire, enjoy fish with your family and friends, drink fine wine, and play music with your amigos.”

“AHA and ouch!!”

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Ben Carson for President

It’s a quiet Saturday morning and I’m enjoying my coffee as I peruse the Wall Street Journal. In the opinion section, there is an article titled, “Ben Carson for President.” Intriguing. Reminiscing about it, I remember Dr. Benjamin Carson from the book he authored, “Gifted Hands,” which portrays him as a young African American inner city youth growing up during hard times in Detroit. He was a wayward student and prone to a quick temper. How did he come from these auspicious beginnings to become the chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University Hospital?

On this particular morning, Dr. Carson is addressing a prayer breakfast in Washington DC and in attendance is President Obama. Dr. Carson lays out the biblical tithe or ten percent as a principal upon which a flat tax could be instituted. Specifically, he speaks about how although wealthy people should pay more and not be treated equal to others, what they pay in taxes should be equitable. He introduces the principal or proportion. Second, in observance of Obamacare, he states that at birth, all children should receive an electronic medical records and a health savings account to which money can be contributed pre tax. For those who are indigent, seed money would be invested. Over the passage of time, periodic withdrawals can be made to pay for care, and if there is anything left when you die, the amount can go to your family. If not, so be it. Pithy, yes. Simple, yes. Workable? Perhaps or perhaps not, but will this concept be embraced by your inter beltway circle of Washington politicians? Probably not. In an era where it’s more politically correct to demonize achievement and entrepreneurship, Dr. Carson’s comments stand in stark contrast. However, to me reading my paper this Saturday morning while enjoying a cup of java, it is a breath of fresh air.

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