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colossal

Today’s as good a day as any to be grateful. I have long been a cynic by excellent and consistent practice, but I have traded in my rehearsed standard countdown toward trendy temporary dooms. Instead, I started the long walk to another new beginning. I’m returning to the classroom.

It brings mixed emotions for me, but not in the ways you might think. I have spent the last thirteen months trying different paths in earnest. Some worked better than others. I found out that I am not cut out to work in sales–at least, not in sales that do not bring meaning to me, or for me. It’s a curious selfishness, but with a wide angle, it makes perfect sense.

My grandfather was an insurance agent. It wasn’t the kind of career that defined his entire life, the way some people’s jobs account for more timelines than they ought to. It wasn’t, “Yeah, he was an insurance agent” and nothing more. This was something I had not considered when I put a couple months into studying and testing for that career shift.

In retrospect, I guess that was easy to forget, as my focus was singular: I was looking for a job to substitute substance, when I knew it wouldn’t. It can’t. At the end of last year, I even had a part-time night gig in higher education. Even though it was entry-level, it was enough light to see where I had taken a wrong turn.

Then came a few other opportunities. I have long been fascinated by financial markets–not so much in the get-rich-quick schemes and subscribe-here-to-know-the-secrets advertising cramming my inbox and social media, but more of a How do we actually retire? or How should money be working for us? kind of approach.

I wasn’t a good fit to be a financial advisor, but I am thankful for the forty-six days I spent in the vetting process. An education start-up spent another twenty days on me before they decided I wasn’t what they were looking for. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t disappointed in both cases, but a larger truth emerged. My strengths do not lie in another rebirth. They are sitting on a shelf in a classroom, right where I left them.

The big a-ha moment of the year so far: the lights we placed in all directions start to show the thousands of ways we can move. I didn’t even realize how many points of light were already there. Some of them I put down absent-mindedly a long time ago. They still give the faintest glow–enough for me to find my way back. I have a long way to go, but I get to pick up where I left off, which is sometimes all we need.

I hope to see some of you this year, even in those little frames that we pretend don’t exist while years speed by. If we don’t get a chance to sit and share a sip or a laugh, I hope we find another way.

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High-speed shifts and Seven Marches

A tremendous two days in Nashville with Ashley have left me overly-optimistic about the rest of the year ahead.

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On Sundays twice a month, we clean the house. Ashley specializes in the downstairs, while I tackle the upstairs. Some trash-talk ensues, mostly from my side. I like to highlight the speed with which I accomplish the task. Honestly, Ashley is more thorough, but I like to pat meself on the back, likes, then take a drink. It’s very satisfying.

With the Venturi effect pulling a breeze through the front side window in our “office” through the back of our bedroom, it’s a perfect time to pause to say Hello to all of you.

Some years ago on the line at Uncle Sam’s, Marco and I stood in front of blazing Vulcan Wolves (Wolfs?), slinging piles of chopped steak and onions. Truthfully, I always overcooked mine a little bit, but it seemed to all balance out by the end of the first swallow. There’s a metaphor in there, somewhere, but let’s let sleeping dogs lie for the now.

Anyway, Marco had a theory that every March had been bollocks for quite some time. He had evidence to back this up, as well–several anecdotes that did, indeed, feature large degrees of nonsense and unnecessaries. With a light perspiration clouding my judgment and some non-linear customer-related shenanigans, I did agree with Marco. March was proper Bollocks, based on his foundations.

In the years since his cheese steak confessional, though, I find that my revelation is quite the opposite. I am not semi-prepared to thoroughly explain, I instead will offer this: I find March to be the early redemption of each year. I have put some thought into this.

Ashley and I are both big December people. We now live in the (fairly) Deep South, and there is precious little snow to be had, so it’s never a proper December whilst we’re here, but we do what we can. Truly, I love mid-November all the way through the end of the year with you, Ashley. After the holidays, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. There are no snow days. There are no comparable Februaries than those with you.

My sister Amanda’s birthday is after Christmas and right before New Year’s Eve, so that’s another reason to celebrate. Cheers, Sis.

My father’s birthday is in March. We have little in the way of proper Irish heritage, and yet I have always been fascinated that his birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day. Truly, a fine holiday, and celebrated every year to its proper extent by yours truly and his constituents. Slainte, Da!

So, here we are, a week after St. Patrick’s, and spring has maybe sprung. A glorious concert of Mumford & Sons in Nashville, and a possible giant shift in the Dynamic.

What a year!

Marco, this March has delivered. I humbly over-cook this sandwich and slide it behind us to be finished.

To everyone else, I sincerely hope you can say the same. To your health!

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The Merits of Struggle

“Struggle” is a tricky word. Long before the interconnection of IoT and the ever-changing way “We” communicate with each other via related channels, a simple exchange might go something like this:

“Hey–how’s it going?”

“Not so great. Some struggles lately.”

“Oh, wow–I’m sorry to hear that! Is there anything you might like to talk about?”

And then the conversation could progress. Or not. Very fluid, the process, depending on who was involved.

I’ve noticed a different trend over these last several years. I’ve seen or read some folks say or write “I’m experiencing some hard times” or “I’m struggling,” and the immediate feedback has too often been something like, “Oh yeah? Here’s why your struggle is less significant than this other topic.”

Before I proceed, let me first take a moment to humbly acknowledge that I have definitely had the same knee-jerk reaction in many cases. This is something I work with daily and continue to evolve as part of becoming a better version of me. Just to be clear.

Lately I have been ruminating on the merits of struggle. Since hardship is relative to the one who experiences it, I first went back to philosophers to see what they had to say, which was enlightening–as it usually is. It’s my own way of calibrating my thoughts before I attempt to grow. Results vary by person. You may have a better method. (If you do, please feel free to share it.)

I have now spent the last year in sales. This was an unexpected turn for me, and as difficult as it has been to transition to a career that is not a natural fit, I have learned more in the last three hundred days than I had acknowledged the previous thousand.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Once you know what you are supposed to do, you should pursue that.
  2. Once you become good at what you enjoy doing, you should strengthen that.
  3. Once you modify your viewpoint of what you can do to make the world better, you should offer that.

These are, of course, vague enough to be applied in whatever fashion you prefer, but I will expand on each of these. What you are “supposed” to do could be seasonal. Plenty of people gave their all for Something that worked for them for a long time, and brought value to those around them. Later, maybe not so much. Becoming “good” at something is in itself a nondescript qualifier of what it means to be “good” or to considered proficient or worthy of consideration in something. I think most people who are “good” at something enjoy becoming better. Therefore, even if it were just for the sake of improvement itself, such an endeavor would prove to be time well spent.

The last one is the most difficult, and as it is so highly subjective, here is what I mean “by making the world better.” For me, one of my chief motivators in life is to show others how “A to B” works. Specifically, going back to my classroom days, my favorite thing was to show the ups and downs of thoughts or actions to learners in the largest sense possible, for nothing more than the hopes that a percentage of students would be able to benefit from such experiences. Broad? Vague? Maybe. Here it is in the plainest fashion:

  • I want More for others based on what I have experienced.
  • I want others to skip hardships or have an easier time with them based on what I learned from similar difficulties.
  • I want everyone I meet to become better by having communicated with me, even if only for a few minutes. This includes people who do not like me and do not appreciate anything I might offer. In such cases, those people are made better by knowing that I am not “for” them, and that is okay.

Some people’s lives fly by and they are clever enough and able to grab onto what matters most to them. They may improve lives or the general condition of things accordingly. They may have no impact at all on the improvement of others. This is also okay. I don’t think that cosmically we are all supposed to function in such manners. However, I think that anyone who might consider the cosmic application of our existence is capable of having significant impact.

That brings us to the struggle. I ask each day for meaningful struggle in that I may do more with my life in the time I have. I don’t mind rolling the boulder, but if nobody benefits from it, I am keenly aware that decades may pass, and I could have nothing at the end of my life except looking back and extolling the virtuous effects of wasted efforts.

That is not a cosmic purpose. That does not work for me.

Here is what I hope for everyone who reads this: I hope your struggle has merit. If you truly believe in what you really struggle to realize, I hope you achieve it. I hope it brings you value, and I hope that you will not waste too much of the time you do not have convincing others the worthiness of your struggle, which may prove to be yours alone to bear.

Broad? Vague? Maybe. Then again, maybe these poor, poor words will mean something to somebody. Maybe this is just the smallest speck of what somebody needs at the beginning of another week.

Let these thousand words swim through you or let them pass right on by. But, if you wake up some days like I do and think that there is probably something a little bit more that you could be doing, please feel free to share that realization in some way.

I am heading back to the classroom when I can. I am thankful for the difficulties of this last year, and as I work to make the most of my time each day, I hope I can be a little more than I was yesterday.

And I hope the same for all of you.

 

Rust

stopped to look at Orion briefly

I stood on the street and looked into the quiet night sky

and wondered how many more years would pass

before I might be filled with

wonder

once again

 

and remembering how small all of us are

and how quickly all of this goes

I gave up on today

but Just For Today, I told myself

these defeats run deep

and corrupt slowly, over time

 

it’s hard to be careful

and to know the lengths

to which we can go

before the rust has broken through

and ruined what

we waited so long to build

Try Again, Fail Better

I haven’t written anything in months. A career opportunity fell into my lap at the beginning of December, and I rode it until the end, which came today. “Thank you for your interest, but no thanks” type of thing. It’s funny how quickly things accelerate, and it’s always a shock when all momentum is lost in an instant.

This is a minor post. It’s kindling, to catch the spark again. I thought of a lot of things these last forty-five days while I explored a highly unlikely “What If.” It’s always disappointing when doors close, but when I gave it a few minutes to let the letdown settle, I realized how far I’ve come.

Thirty-nine and a half isn’t young, but it sure isn’t old. I’m hoping that a good night’s sleep and a re-calibration of mind and spirit takes me back to wherever I was when I lost the energy of doing. I’m of the philosophy that each day is a new chance, but I don’t think that most of us have the capacity to really run with that. We get sidetracked. That’s okay, I think, as long as a few decades don’t pass by.

I’m looking for stability, spontaneity, and wonder, all wrapped up in one package. I don’t know that I’m using the right divining fork. I think these things might be segmented. So, here’s a farewell to January, and a hello to the rest of the year.

See you soon. And more often, I think.

We’ll…call it (fall)

For the record, I always thought late summer was far superior to June and July. Of course, we operated almost exclusively on a school calendar for the better of three decades, so it’s strange now to be six months removed from a year being measured in terms of August-May.

What a difference! The weather is shifting, but will still be unseasonably warm (for my permanently adopted Northern blood) for a few weeks, I’m sure. The classroom schedule moved into my veins sometime over the last ten years. I still think instinctively in those terms, and the only Inception Totem that brings me back to this level is that I don’t have papers to grade or lesson plans to submit.

Tomorrow is the official beginning of autumn, and a necessary milestone to gather myself in various forms to look out across the abyss and survey the streams. Current report: steady movement, but direction and speed are unknown presently. Good enough to go with the flow, for now.

I’d like to take a moment to express gratitude for hidden opportunities. I didn’t move down expecting to set the world on fire, and the old gods and the new know that some weeks haven’t been easy, but the relocation did ward off stasis, and for that I am thankful. I think it’s easy to be lulled into a trance at 30 only to wake up after 50, wondering how that job and those years went by so quickly. I’d also like to tip my hat to those who haven’t had the turning points for which they have sought. I think they’re coming for you.

(Keep looking. It’s there.)

Less than one hundred days left this year. I’m looking to avoid all of the usual bloated I’m gonna statements and try something new this fall. A little more living in the days ahead. Here’s to all of us.

Financial Reading: Start with Fundamentals

Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to be Rich was a good read. It took about two days to finish, but I was committed, and Sethi’s style is pretty unconventional, as far as finance books go. I don’t think most finance books would go that quickly for me. A month ago, I decided to start reading more, and since I’ve become fairly consumed with why we don’t learn how to harness money, I thought IWTYTBR would be a good jump-off. I wasn’t disappointed.

Background: I paid off most of my egregious debt with a steady seven-year run of side gigs. I’m sure I could have done it in 3-4 years, but there were many bad behaviors that I needed to continue for a while, apparently. So, just less than two years ago, on a whim, I started to teach myself about investing. That’s an entirely different and much longer story, so I’ll cover that elsewhere. I don’t have it all figured out, but as with most things, you have to jump in and learn as you go to really make progress. Regardless of your income level, if you haven’t yet opened a brokerage account, you really shouldn’t wait. Even if you want to start with “safe” investments, you can easily start with $50, which is less than your last bar bill. Don’t wait, and don’t be afraid. If you are only putting your money in a bank, you’re making a mistake. Awesomely enough, my first main investment contact/spectator partner is a former student, which is pretty fucking cool.

Sethi’s book is accessible. Check out his website and social media presence if you are unsure, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Most of us who aren’t “in the know” regarding certain industries are often crippled by analysis paralysis, which is pig Latin for scared and/or lazy. Systems approaches don’t really work super-well for me, but I do appreciate the “6-Week Program That Works” that Sethi sets up throughout the book. The real value, in my opinion, is how Sethi breaks down what a lot of people think are complex financial concepts. Here’s a hint: they’re not complex. No, you won’t come out ready to test for a Series 7, but it’s nice to know that there are authors out there willing to buck the system that often presents as elitist–to help the “little guy” understand how investment really works. I think a huge shift has happened in the last fifteen years, and at this point, there really isn’t a reason to not be at least micro-investing. Check out Acorns to know more, or if you’re ready to start actually investing, head to Robinhood  to get started with the least amount of commitment possible.

If you’re the type that posts or retweets things like, “Public school didn’t prepare me to manage finances,” this is a perfect book for you. That’s not a dig, by the way. The whole time I was in school–first as a student and later as a teacher–there was always at least one elective course in finance, and I learned how to balance a check book in math class. I know not everywhere is like that, so think of this as a great introduction into adult financial math. You should be investing. You know you should be investing. The best way is just to start. By the way, that retirement plan you have through work? It’s probably not going to be enough, if you’re honest with yourself.

Finally, check out Ramit Sethi’s blog of the same name here. It’s the best free place to see how you might start taking control of your financial future, which is exactly what any solid advisor wants for you.