In 2014, Accomplish More By Doing Less

DO LESS-01Instead of bullying yourself into adopting new practices that are designed to overhaul your life for the better in 2014, consider finding the path to success by simply doing less.

The arctic blast of our fledgling 2014 offers a chilling reminder that the kindred warmth of the holiday season is over.

That’s enough being. It’s time to get back to doing.

“So, how’s it going?”

“Good. Busy. Super busy.”

“Me too. Never been so busy.”

It’s as if there is a self-worth contest sure to be won by the contender most frazzled.

But busyness is no virtue. If anything, it makes us—me included—distracted, forgetful and often late. It diminishes our capacity and saps our creativity.

That’s why we can actually accomplish more by doing less.

But how do we decide which activities absolutely must stay and which might have to go?

Five Minutes to a Leaner You

This quick and simple exercise should give you several top candidates for the chopping block. You need only one piece of paper with a line down the middle (or click HERE for a printable form). On the left side, write LIFE-TAKING, and on the right side, write LIFE-GIVING.

life-taking-life-giving---blank-2Fill the Life-Taking column with the roles (or tasks within roles) that drain you. They’re onerous chores, not labors of love.

On the Life-Giving side, list the opposite—those practices you can pursue for extended periods of time, wondering where the time has gone. You might be tired after a long day of life-giving activities, but you’re not weary.

I should be clear that this exercise is not a license to shed roles to which you’ve pledged yourself—like being a good parent or spouse—or common duties that appear on no one’s life-giving list—like changing diapers or cleaning dishes. Heck, the president of my company, Drew Tignanelli, washes whatever dishes he finds in the company kitchen sink.

But if the majority of your roles and the duties you’ve accepted are life-taking, I encourage you to consider making some difficult decisions in an effort to improve that ratio. That may mean saying yes to something, but it almost certainly means saying no.

Two caveats:

1)   Following through on this exercise may be simple, but it’s not easy. Stakeholders are likely to be disappointed, whether you’re giving up a board seat, book club, church committee or poker night. Your income may also be reduced if you sacrifice an activity that creates income, change jobs or invest in furthering your education.

2)   Many activities are not wholly life-taking or life-giving. For example, last year I decided that maintaining a presence on Facebook took more life than it gave. I certainly derived some benefits from being on Facebook, connecting with friends and family, but the net effect was life-taking. (By the way, I dumped FB six months ago and don’t miss it at all.)

Addition by Subtraction

You can cause a monumental shift for the good in your life and work by simply removing life-taking activities. Your performance in life-giving roles has room to flourish, increasing your productivity and satisfaction. Even more surprising, some activities will move from life-taking to neutral—or even life-giving—after your overall burden is lightened.

Hitting the delete button on even one or two life-taking commitments can make you a better partner or parent, boss or employee, friend or family member. And especially for those whose vocations fall under the creative heading, creating more blank space on the canvas is essential to maintaining and improving your art.

Special thanks to Josh Itzoe, a colleague and good friend, for encouraging me to undertake this exercise several years ago.

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Top 5 Posts of 2013

Top Blog Posts of 2013-01One of the great blessings of my career—heck, my life—is the opportunity I’ve had to communicate through the written word.  Thank YOU for reading my work.

In 2011, my bucket list daydream of having a book published came true; then in 2012, I began actively contributing to Forbes.com, for which I write a weekly blog post.

I enjoy the creative process enough that if only one person read a post, article or book that I wrote—and benefited from it—that would be reward enough for me.  The pleasant surprise of 2013, though, was that far more people read and responded to my work than I ever could have imagined.

Even more of a shock, however, was the subject matter of the posts that became popular and garnered the most attention.  I’m a financial planner who writes about the intersection of money and life, but my most viewed posts definitely skewed toward the life part of that equation.

In case you missed any of them, here are the top 5 most viewed posts of 2013:

5. Haiti Doesn’t Need Our Help (Forbes.com) — Though it only ranks fifth in views, I think this would be my personal favorite—and most important—post of 2013.

4. 10 Days Is the Magic Vacation Number. Here’s Why (Lifehacker.com) — This post was initially published on my Forbes blog, but Lifehacker republished it (with permission), where it racked up an even higher number of views.

3. Two Reasons Why Copying People Won’t Make You Successful (Forbes.com) — On this most recent post within the top five, I got to work with two of my favorite “success authors,” Michael Hyatt and Laura Vanderkam. We discussed why the path to success isn’t necessarily found following someone else’s footsteps.

2. What you don’t know about Social Security can hurt your retirement (CNBC.com) — I’ve had the privilege of working with CNBC for several years on video projects, but this article was my first contribution on the written front.  I’m looking forward to more of these in 2014.

1. 7 Reasons I Dumped Facebook (Yahoo! Finance) — I’m still dumbfounded by the popularity of this post.  Yes, I decided to quit Facebook and hesitantly chose to write about why.  Apparently, this sentiment happened to hit the online airwaves at just the right time, because after getting more views than anything else I’ve ever written for Forbes.com, it was picked up by Yahoo! Finance and went viral on their site. Crazy.

I’m really looking forward to 2014, excited about the opportunity to bring money to life—and life to money—in writing.  I’m soaking up wisdom from the Forbes editorial staff, have two new book projects in the works and was humbled by CNBC’s invitation to join their inaugural group of 20 financial advisors making up the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council.

But I’d love to hear what YOU want to read more of in 2014.  Please shoot me an email at tim[at]timmaurer[dot com] with your thoughts.  (Yes, I know email address is not “spelled” correctly; it’s so robo-spammers don’t snag my email address.)

THANKS AGAIN, AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you'd like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

20 Lessons We Can Learn From 20-Year-Olds

20 YO Graphic-01It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings.  I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.

Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:

In LIFE…

Nobody responds well to being lectured.   Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply.  Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so.  Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.

Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized.  Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most.  But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).

We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be.  There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie.  He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it).  The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.

Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth.  Busyness is no virtue.  It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness.  And it’s exhausting.

We are human beings, not human doings.  We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally.  Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.

 “American” is not actually a language.  Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted.  They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.

Traditional education is overvalued.  While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.

In WORK…

Being a slave to work is no badge of honor.  Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are.  Which message do you want to send?

We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times.  Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).

Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated.  That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.

Success is overrated.  Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so.  Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem.  This isn’t even a generational thing.  It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger.  Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.

In MONEY…

You don’t have to “get settled down” right away.  Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”

Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion.  30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money.  Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.

We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too.  Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things.  Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy.  Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.

The acquisition of real estate is overrated.  Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not.  Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.

We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives.  The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures.  Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.

Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing.  Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.”  Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.

Experiences are more valuable than things.  David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.

The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal.  Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time.  They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement.  They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.

You can do well and do good at the same time.  Profit or charity—take your pick?  The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder.  In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.

Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same.  Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change.  Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission!  But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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5 Things The Most Successful People Do In The Bathroom

Bathroom4Please don’t feel misled or manipulated by this parody title—I’d have clicked on it too.  But before you read another three-to-three-hundred bullet points on how you can be more successful, please consider that doing so may actually be unproductive or counterproductive without a proper frame of reference:

We wake each day on a quest for personal validation that we apparently believe is found in someone’s definition of success.  We then presume that rote replication of the habits of the supposedly successful will directly correlate to similar degrees of success in our own lives.

While appealing, this logic fails—for two primary reasons:

1)     You’re not them.

2)     They’re not you.

You’re Not Them

Michael Hyatt is a leadership/writing/speaking/creative/success blogger whom I’ve been following for a few years.  He is a certified member of the successful people demographic, especially as a best-selling author and sought after speaker.

Michael blogs on a host of valuable topics and has introduced me to many productivity and technological tools, some of which (like Evernote) are now a major part of my life.  But what attracts many if not most of his followers is that Michael is what his readers hope to be—a professional writer and platform speaker.

If you want to be a professional writer or speaker, I highly recommend Michael Hyatt’s blog.  He offers oodles of free content on blogging, self-publishing, finding a literary agent and getting published.  He also sells e-books on writing a book proposal, books on building a platform and conferences on launching a business as a public speaker.

Having personally consumed a wide range of Hyatt’s free content and paid-for products and services, I can attest to their benefit.  But none of Michael’s followers (myself included) should delude themselves to think that by following Michael’s precepts to the letter their own success is guaranteed.  Why?

You’re not Michael Hyatt.

You don’t have a lifetime’s worth of experience in publishing.

You weren’t the “Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S.”

You might not even be a good writer or public speaker.

While Michael Hyatt’s success is certainly at least a byproduct of the tangible habits that he has practiced and well-articulated to his followers, it’s possible—if not likely—that his success is contingent even more on the personal intangibles that he—and only he—possesses.

They’re Not You

I say this not to discourage you on your path if you’re an ardent follower of Hyatt’s or anyone else’s, but instead to affirm that the innate gifts you were born with are almost surely different from those with which Michael was endowed.

You might become Michael’s next contemporary co-headlining conferences with him—or you may be an even bigger commercial success than Hyatt pursuing a completely different methodology—BUT you also might be a better editor, copywriter, photographer or literary agent—or maybe a doctor, a sailing instructor, a stay-at-home dad or a rock-star plumber.

Laura Vanderkam is another successful person who has written extensively on successful people.  Her What the Most Successful People Do e-book series is well-researched, artfully written and entirely practical.  One of the books focusses on what the most successful people do before breakfast, outlining many of the great benefits of early risers.

I was shocked, then—and more than a little relieved—when Laura told me that she is NOT particularly a morning person.  (Neither am I.)

Instead, Laura has designed her mornings to cater to her strengths.  She has learned that her most productive hours are between 8:00am and 10:00am.  Those two hours are sacred writing and creating time for Vanderkam.  Phone calls, appointments and emails are never scheduled or touched until thereafter.

Who are you?

Sure, there’s a piece of me who wishes I was one of the star football players featured prominently for my beloved Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoons.  But if I took one hit from an NFL safety while coming across the middle on a slant pattern as a receiver, you’d be reading my obituary, not this blog post.  I’m not made to do that.

What were you made to do?

Once you get that far, once you declare who you are and what you were made to do, then it’s time to analyze how well you are applying your skills with the limited time that you have.  “Know how you’re spending your time, so that you can see where space is available,” Vanderkam said (and she’s written an entire book on that practice alone).  Only then is it time to start analyzing best practices of the people you most admire and integrating them into a regimen designed specifically for you, your skillset and your calendar.  “You have to apply it through the filter of what will work in your life and what will not.”

“People should strive to be the very best version of who they are,” Michael Hyatt told me.  “There are many paths to success.  The best one is the one that allows you to use and develop your innate strengths.  Those will look different in different people.”

The worship of success and successful people has become so aggressive in the blogosphere that I wouldn’t be surprised if we do see an article in the future instructing us on what the most successful people do in the bathroom.  But we shouldn’t hope to find significance in being deemed successful (by whatever measure).  Instead, when we cultivate our own unique significance through a perpetual cycle of self-examination, education and practice, success becomes a natural byproduct.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you'd like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

7 Steps To Creating The Best Personal Task Management System With Trello

7 Steps-01I have tried more productivity systems and tools than could possibly be productive.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits are deservedly legendary, and I’m better for every habit I’m able to employ.  David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology was even more helpful for me, especially because it seems to hone the best of Covey’s principles to a more elegant simplicity.  But both of their complete proprietary systems proved too much for me to maintain long-term.

After keeping up for a few weeks—even past the 21 days that supposedly cement a new habit—I always failed to maintain the system after a reliably random task turned into a seemingly wasted day followed by a week of piled emails and unfulfilled pledges (and all of the guilt and shame to boot).

Another reason I’ve failed to maintain well-meaning systems is that after the initial novelty wore off, the checklists and to-dos all seemed to become rote and, well, boring.  I needed something more visual and engaging to hold my attention.

Then Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, introduced me to Trello (via blogger Leo Babauta).  Trello is a highly visual (free) online collaborative project management tool (with access online and on iOS and Android devices), but Carson re-engineered it to become his go-to personal task management system.

I’ve been using it for five months now without fail, synthesizing everything from Covey and Allen that stuck, along with Carson and Babauta’s wisdom, to create the only task management system that’s ever really worked for me.  Here’s how it works for me and could work for you:

skitch

1)     After creating a Trello account, create a new “board” and call it Tasks.  Each board is comprised of vertical “lists”—these will function as your task prioritization system.  Then, each new “card” you add to a List represents an individual task.

2)     Create your lists.  My lists are a conglomeration of what I’ve learned from Covey’s 7 Habits and Allen’s GTD.  My first list on the left is called “Big Rocks”—the priorities in life that I want to consume the majority of my time.  Next is “Today,” the list of items that I hope to accomplish today, followed by “Incoming,” new tasks that have yet to be prioritized.  As you might guess, “This Week” houses the tasks I hope to accomplish this week; “Later,” those tasks I’d like to get to eventually but are not yet urgent; “Waiting On,” that which I’ve accomplished but requires action on another’s part; and “Done,” a list of the tasks I’ve accomplished that day.

3)     Whether you call it Big Rocks or Big Picture (Carson) or Most Important (Babauta), create a list under that heading with your biggest priorities in life.  Mine are Spiritual, Family, Health, Writing/Speaking, Business and Personal.  Now, click on your first prioritization category listed; you’ll see an option to “Edit Labels.”  I recommend making each of your Big Rocks a specific color, and clicking “Change Label Titles” will allow you to give each color a name corresponding with your Big Rocks.  Now, each time you add a new task, you can color code it with an appropriate label.

4)     Add tasks.  If you’re importing tasks from another system or just want to do a brain dump, add all of your tasks to Incoming and then decide where to put them later.  Click “Add a card…” at the bottom of the appropriate list and type a brief description describing the task to be performed.  Before you even hit the green “Add” button, hit the drop down in the bottom right corner and that will give you the option to add a label.  Once the task is added, a host of new options can be seen by clicking on the card itself.  Here you can give the task a longer description, create a checklist within the task, attach a file or give it a due date.  Preferring the GTD approach, I keep it simple and trust my daily prioritization ritual.

5)     After adding a bunch of new tasks, it’s time to prioritize each one by placing it in the appropriate list.  Simply click and drag the card with the task you’d like to prioritize and move it to the appropriate list.  If your lists span beyond the edge of your screen, you can simply hover on the screen’s edge and watch the board traverse in that direction, allowing you to place the card in the list of your choosing.  You can also grab and drag the screen in any direction you choose.

6)     The one essential habit you must form for this—or any other task management system— to work is to perform a review of your tasks board each morning.  Ryan Carson recommends taking 19 minutes to start every day organizing your to-dos.  “Limiting this to 19 minutes,” he says, “keeps you focused and ensures you don’t spend all your time prioritizing instead of doing.”  First, add any meetings or calls on your calendar that day to Today with a precursor (M) for meetings and (C) for calls, along with the time. Then, relocate new Incoming tasks to the appropriate list.  Review This Week to determine which tasks should be completed Today.  Then, review Later to see which tasks should be bumped up to This Week and scan Waiting On to determine if you need to nudge someone else.  Only keep tasks that were completed for a single day in the Done list, purging this list each morning by either moving the task to Waiting On or archiving the task.  You can archive individual tasks by clicking on the card’s drop down, or you can “Archive All Cards in This List” by hitting the list’s dropdown in the upper right-hand corner.

7)     Now, the fun part—getting things Done.  If you spent 19 minutes reviewing your board in the morning, you shouldn’t need to look at any lists except for Today and Done for the remainder of the day.  Throughout the course of your day, move completed cards to Done and reprioritize Today, leaving the next action to be performed at the top.

One of the perpetual faux-tasks that leads many of us astray from the completion of actual tasks is our email.  As Claire Diaz-Ortiz reminded me this week, “Email isn’t work.”  It certainly feels like it, but email is more a conduit leading us to tasks than a task in itself.  Your email inbox is also a horrendous task management venue because it distracts us from the next task on our priority list, but we do often send and receive tasks through email, so Trello provides us with an answer:

Hit “Show sidebar” in the top right of your Trello screen; under the Menu header, click on Settings, then click on Email settings.  This will allow you to copy and paste a specific email address that will send emailed tasks from your inbox to the board and list of your choosing.  (Be sure to create a contact for that email address—something like Trello Tasks—and you won’t have to remember the email address.)

Trello is intended to be an interactive project management solution for groups, but it has become my highly-individualized, personal task management system of choice.  The interactive, visual nature of Trello is what attracted me to it and has kept me using it, but the best part about it is that you can create your OWN system within Trello.  Once you do, or if you already have, I’d love to hear about it.

If you enjoyed this post, please let me know on Twitter at @TimMaurer, and if you'd like to receive my weekly post via email, click HERE.

Revolutionary Retail: Test-Driving Warby Parker And Dollar Shave Club

Eyeglasses and razors are two notoriously high-margin personal commodities for which we’ve been overpaying for decades, but two companies have declared war on these monopolistic product lines.  Using vastly different marketing strategies, Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club sell eyeglasses (for men and women) and men’s razors respectively, almost entirely online and via mail-order—at a fraction of the prices we are accustomed to paying (as little as $95 for prescription glasses and three bucks a month for razors).  But are they worth it, and what’s the experience like?  Since I’m physiologically incapable of recommending anything I haven’t experienced, this largely late-adopting guinea pig offers the results of his experience here:

A Rebellious Spirit and a Lofty Objective

Let’s start with Warby Parker, as they were founded first.  According to co-founders and Wharton grads, Neil Blumenthal, Andrew Hunt, David Gilboa and Jeffrey Raider, “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to create boutique-quality, classically crafted eyewear at a revolutionary price point.”  Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anti-establishment world-changers, especially those who save me money, but I had to be sure Warby Parker would meet the high expectations they set for themselves.  Here’s how the process worked for me:

1)     I chose 5 sets of glasses online.

glasses1

2)     A few days later, I received this package in the mail:

glasses2

3)     I suffered through two NO WAYs, a NOPE and a MAYBE before finally reaching a YES from my wife and kids.

4)     I sent the box of five back in the same packaging in which it arrived (postage paid) and ordered my new glasses online through an intuitive, step-by-step process that included plugging in my prescription.

5)     I received my new glasses in about a week.

glasses3

What if you don’t like any of the first five pairs of glasses you try on?  They’ll send you another five at no cost.  What if the final product isn’t to your liking?  Returns are also free.  What about anti-reflective coating?  It’s included in the price.

The all-in pricing was, for me, the most satisfying part of the entire process.  We have a pretty basic vision insurance plan at work, but I was shocked at how little that actually got me when I went to one of the mainline brick-and-mortar eyeglasses carriers (not to be named, but rhymes with Crenshafters).  There, I got an eye exam at no charge.  Then, I had $45 to put toward frames and $52 for lenses, separately priced even though they both play a pretty important role.  The only frames priced anywhere close to my reimbursement rate looked like they were rejects from the bargain bin at the Dollar Store.  I was already a couple hundred bucks out-of-pocket just for frames that I was willing to put on my face.  Then, unless I was willing to live with a painful glare when using my glasses where light was present, I had to pay extra for anti-reflective lenses.  More still was tacked on if I preferred not to view the world through scratched lenses.  At Warby Parker, there were no extra add-ons—everything I actually wanted in a pair of glasses was included.  And true to their pledge, the glasses indeed look and feel as though they are higher quality than my name brand (rhymes with Bayran) spectacles.

How do they do it?  They cut out the middlemen by creating their own designs and selling directly to consumers.  According to Warby Parker, high end brands sell their recognizable names to the companies who design and produce the glasses.  The production companies then mark-up their final product to the optical shops who then boost the prices by another 200-300%.  Don’t you love being taken advantage of?

On top of that, like Toms shoes, Warby Parker gives away a pair of glasses for every pair they sell to paying customers.  The icing on the cake was that I learned my health insurance will actually reimburse Warby Parker, so my new and improved glasses will cost approximately zero dollars.  Viva la revolucion!

Downsides

While Warby Parker has worked to eliminate virtually all of the hesitations we might have of buying something online with their home try-on service, what they noticeably lack is opportunities for customization.  Although their frame selection continues to broaden, most of the frames fall under the vintage heading with a hipster vibe, so if you’re going for a Bono look, you’re out of luck.  If you need bifocals, progressive lenses or transition lenses, you’re not going to get them at Warby Parker, although they pledge to be working in that direction.  And while I found their customer service by phone to be very helpful, you obviously won’t have a Crenshafters employee to clean your new glasses and place them on your lovely face.  You may even want or need to take your new purchase to a local eye specialist for an adjustment.

Shave Time. Shave Money.

Dollar Shave Club attacked the high-margin world of razors from an entirely different angle than the high-minded Warby Parker.  They’ve used humor—almost exclusively—to attract and retain customers.  I heard about DSC the way most men did, through a hysterical, irreverent video featuring the company’s co-founder, Michael Dubin, and decided it was worth the minimum $3 investment to check it out.

They offer three different razor/blade combinations with corresponding price points:

1)     The Humble Twin, “Reliable; this is the ’82 wagon that starts when the temp’s below zero,” at three dollars per month (including shipping) for five blades

2)     The 4X, “The Lover’s Blade,” six dollars per month for four blades, or

3)     The Executive, “The final frontier; it’s like a personal assistant for your face,” nine bucks for four blades

Per blade cartridge, that’s $.60 per Twin, $1.50 per 4X and $2.25 per Executive.  To put those prices in perspective with comparable Gillette razors, my previous blade of choice, you’ll pay $2.30 per Sensor Excel cartridge, $2.90 per Mach 3 Turbo and $3.62 per Fusion Proglide, premiums of 283%, 93% and 61% respectively.  (The Gillette pricing comes via Amazon.com.  It requires you to buy in higher quantities and may not include shipping and handling.)

As any good financial planner would, I opted for the cheapest Dollar Shave Club offering to start and have been pleased enough with the Humble Twin for over a year now that I see no need in upgrading.  And the humor keeps coming; each month when I receive my new set of blades, it comes with an accompanying card featuring a funny profile of an employee or patron.

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Downsides

For the Humble Twin, at least, the handle and the blades are noticeably disposable, but that’s what I expected and I’ve yet to suffer as a result.  Dollar Shave Club, as one might expect, is now branching into presumably higher margin product lines, like their “Shave Butter” and “One Wipe Charlies, flushable moist wipes” for men, but they will eat into your shavings savings.  I’ll stick with Barbasol and TP.

Conclusion

I’m not an early adopter prone to trying every new product trend, or a frugal fiend dying to shave pennies off of every single purchase I make, but Warby Parker saved me $200-$300 on my new glasses and Dollar Shave Club saves me over $100 per year for products that are as good or better than those they’ve replaced.  It’s possible that neither will suit you for numerous reasons, but they offer no- or low-cost entry points making them worthy of exploration.

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Boomer Esiason: NFL Great Turned Life Insurance Advocate

Things are super at the Super Bowl“Today is your day to go out into the world.  You’re going to be great!”  This affirmation is one of a precious few memories that National Football League great, Boomer Esiason, can vividly recall about his mother, who died when he was only seven.

She was the “Belle of the Ball,” according to Esiason’s grandparents and older sisters—a beautiful singer, dancer and piano player who “would light up a room” with her blond hair and blue eyes, inherited by her only son.  But Boomer was not old enough to own these recollections himself.  Those memories endear him to the woman he can barely recall, but his enduring memories are limited to only two.  The first was sitting on his mother’s lap while she tied his shoes on the first day of kindergarten, whispering prophecies that would indeed come true.  The second and last memory was being denied access to her hospital room as she died of ovarian cancer.  Young Boomer was relegated to sitting in a courtyard, the scene emblazoned in his memory, as his mother would occasionally come to an overlooking window to catch a glimpse of her boy.

Living With A Broken Heart

Almost 30 years later, in 1996, Esiason found himself at that same hospital visiting his maternal grandmother shortly before her passing.  But that time, as an adult with children of his own, he recalls looking from his grandmother’s room, fixating on the very courtyard where he once sat contemplating the loss of his mother.  There was so much that he didn’t—couldn’t—understand as a child that he was able to comprehend as a husband and a father.

Boomer’s father, Norman, was a member of the Greatest Generation, a World War II veteran who took advantage of the G.I. Bill.  He worked his way into a solid job, but his wealth was in his family, not his balance sheet.  The loss of his wife—her income, of course, but especially her presence—had a significant negative impact on their household.  But quiet, reserved and proud, he never once considered complaining or outwardly lamenting the financial difficulties he endured after the passing of his wife, even shielding his children from the reality.  Boomer recalls at the age of 16, lingering as his dad finished the weekly examination of household finances so that he could ask for five dollars to take his girlfriend out, a favor he was rarely denied.

“I know that he lived with a broken heart,” the younger Esiason confessed.  “He died in 1999 on Thanksgiving, of all days, at the age of 77.  But from the time that my mother passed away in 1968 to 1999, I never saw my father with another woman in all those years.  He raised me with a broken heart and I think I was his escape.”  Indeed, Boomer gave his dad something to cheer about.  After setting 17 school records at the University of Maryland, he was drafted into the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1984.  In 1988, he led the Bengals to the Super Bowl and was voted Most Valuable Player of the league.  His dad was also able to see his son retire from football and begin a successful broadcasting career that continues to this day.

Today, however, Boomer’s passion for football seems eclipsed only by his desire to pass on the life and financial lessons that he has learned through experience.  So when Boomer was asked to be the spokesperson for Life Insurance Awareness Month by the LIFE Foundation, it was an easy decision.  “This absolutely fits what has happened to me in my life for a number of reasons,” Esiason told me as he opened the window into his life beyond the gridiron.  “When I became an NFL football player and decided to have kids in the early 90’s, I recognized that I didn’t want to have happen to my kids what happened to us, as [we were] struggling when I grew up.”

Further compounding the importance of life insurance for Boomer and his wife, Cheryl, is the fact that their son, Gunnar, has cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that primarily attacks the lungs and often compounds the impact of other illnesses.  Day-to-day medical expenses are high, and the cost of finding a cure, higher still.  So in addition to the $100 million raised by the Boomer Esiason Foundation to benefit all CF patients, Esiason sees life insurance as vital to ensuring that his son has the financial resources necessary to continue his push toward a cure.  “If I don’t protect [Gunnar’s] future and I don’t protect my family’s future, then if we ever found ourselves in the situation that I found myself in when I was seven, it would be an unmitigated disaster and my kids and my wife would not be able to sustain the life that we’re fortunate to live now.”

Boomer and his best-friend, Tim O’Brien, made the decision to acquire adequate life insurance for their respective families together in the early 1990’s.  Later that decade, O’Brien helped move the Boomer Esiason Foundation headquarters “closer-to-heaven,” to the 101st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.  While thankfully all of the Foundation’s full-time employees were absent the morning of September 11, 2001, Esiason lost over 200 friends, among them, Timothy O’Brien, husband and father of three children, ages seven, six and four when he died.

There is no financial strategy or product that can return a life when it’s been taken, but the life insurance conceived in Tim O’Brien’s foresight allowed his family to grieve properly and to move forward deliberately, without fear that their livelihood was also at risk.  There is no athletic accolade that will reprogram Boomer Esiason’s brain with memories of tender moments with his mother at his high school or college graduations, his wedding or the birth of his children, but the financial and life lessons learned from her loss and the endurance demonstrated by his father are already being passed on to future generations.

“My business is me.”

“I don’t have stock options and I don’t own companies,” Esiason told me.  “My business is me.”

Although I’ve never been asked to provide color commentary for the Super Bowl, and most of the people I know have never been voted the MVP of the most valuable sports league in the world, the same can be said for most of us: My business is me.  Your business is you.  Have you really done adequate financial and life insurance planning to ensure that those you love would be cared for even beyond the demise of your business—you?

Most people avoid conversations about life insurance because we generally don’t like to brood over the topic of our own demise, and many attach a hard-sale stigma to the life insurance business, using that as a rallying cry for inaction.  Death’s inevitability considered, a fear of it is certainly understandable, but meaningful discussions on the topic can be surprisingly life-giving.  And while the entire financial industry has more work to do in its evolution from sales to advice, the stereotype of pushy life insurance salesmen coercing you to sign your life away is grossly overstated.  Besides, neither of these concerns reduces the importance—the responsibility—of planning for the unexpected.

Boomer Esiason doesn’t sell life insurance.  He’s an ex-pro football player, an NFL commentator and the chairman of a foundation in support of the cystic fibrosis cause.  I don’t sell life insurance.  I’m a fee-only financial advisor, an educator and a writer.  Both of us, however, wholeheartedly support the LIFE Foundation’s initiative to bring awareness to the vital role of life insurance within financial planning in the month of September.  Consider utilizing their life insurance calculator and description of the different types of life insurance as a first step in that journey.  Feel free to ask me questions about your specific situation in the comments section or via email at tim at timmaurer dot com.  But please don’t let “Look into life insurance” be another important to-do left undone.

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Men Want It All Too: Work And Family

Mr._Mom__1_“I wanted to be able to change diapers.”  That’s what Tim Donohue told me when I asked him about the life-altering choices he’d made regarding the elusive work/life balance.  We had both just read the recent New York Times article, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” revisiting the topic of women with Ivy League pedigree and promising career prospects who’d “opted out” of corporate life to dedicate themselves wholly to the art of maternal domestication.  Judith Warner’s findings were decidedly mixed, but with all of the talk of women on the “Mommy Track,” I was left to wonder, What about the dudes?  What role do men play in weighing their obligations at home and the office?

The debate about working moms is now so ubiquitous that we must conclude it’s a real issue—that women are wrestling with this topic so consistently that the battle waging within them is genuine.  Women, as a whole, seem clearly to want both a) to play a formative role in the upbringing of their children and b) to satiate the desire within to capably accomplish tasks of seemingly greater import than changing diapers or organizing class parties or even holding office within the school PTA.  Regarding the now public discourse over this internal wrestling match, men have done largely what they should—if they know what’s good for them—remain silent (sitting behind their three-olive martinis, newspapers and crossed feet adorned with the slippers June brought to the front door).

I am not fool enough to break that silence, but I do seek to explore whether there is any similar angst, any similar wrestling over this topic regarding their own roles, in the realm of men.  As it appears, there is and they are.

The 60-Hour Work Week

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Tim, Lesley and Louise

Tim and Lesley Donohue live in Denver.  Tim is a mortgage banker, Lesley is a nurse, and they both played a meaningful role in bringing Louise, their beautiful newborn baby girl, into this world.  What makes them unique and relevant to this discussion is that they’ve been planning—for years—to also both play a meaningful role in Louise’s day-to-day care into the future.  They intend to accomplish this with Tim working (roughly) 36 hours per week and Lesley 24, co-parenting along the way.  Why 36 and 24?  They’re compelled by the logic of philosopher, author and theology professor, Gilbert Meilaender, who suggests that in order for a family to support itself financially, practically and relationally, the parents’ aggregate occupational efforts should consume no more than 60 hours.  “We simply can’t have it all,” Tim told me.  So he will don the Baby Bjorn while Lesley works two 12-hour shifts per week.  Tim will fill in the gaps with his flexible work schedule, and maybe they’ll need six-to-eight hours of childcare per week.

No, you don’t just up and decide to do this.  Tim’s been planning on it for over a decade, since well before he even met Lesley.  I can corroborate that because I recall him telling me, very specifically, at a coffee shop, about ten years ago, that he was engineering his work-life to accommodate his life-life.  He wanted a job that offered good pay, lots of flexibility and a boss who trusted his employees to get the job done without being micro-managed.  “I wanted a career that was a good expression of who I am, but that also gave me plenty of space to be who I am.”  Fifteen years ago, when he made these career decisions, Tim was a mentor to high school and college youth.  Today, he’s a husband and a father, a son and a brother, a friend to many, and an active member of his community.

But Tim knew it was going to take a lot of effort to put himself in that position.  In a volatile business that is 100% commission, he started socking away money very early.  He knew that an overabundance of income one year could turn into a drought in another, so he worked to save one, and then two full years’ worth of living expenses as an emergency reserve.  He saved cash to buy a car with no debt.  He bought a house in a high cost-of-living area north of Baltimore, and aggressively paid his mortgage down with every shred of excess income, so that when he and Lesley moved to Denver (with a lower cost-of-housing), they were able to buy a house without a mortgage.  In their mid-thirties.  With two years of living expenses saved.

What makes Tim and Lesley so successful in finding a healthy balance between work and life is that they don’t consider it to be a balancing act.  Instead, they have successfully integrated work and life.

Is it possible that our notion of work/life balance implies that these are two opposing forces, and furthermore, that positioning them as competitors creates inertia that keeps them from being more successfully integrated?

Tim and Lesley make it look easy because of their forethought and the deliberate steps they took years ago to make a more integrated personal and financial life possible today, but most of us didn’t do that level of planning and are entrenched in seemingly irrevocable roles today.  Or are we?

Opting-IN

Women may not be the only ones giving up elite Northeastern educations for parenting purposes.  Andrew Ritter has two degrees in geological sciences (one from Colgate) and plied his trade up the stalactite ladder (or would that be stalagmite?) all the way to Project Manager, around the time he met his wife Jennifer, an attorney.  But as Jennifer’s legal career gained momentum, Andrew was burning-out of…whatever it is that geological scientists do.  He decided to punt his degrees and valuable experience, starting up a residential remodeling business, the work he did during college.  Andrew didn’t fall prey to the “Mancession” of late.  He simply decided that killing himself in 70-hour-a-week increments was not the way he was going to spend the majority of his adult waking hours.

Therefore, when baby Wilson and his little brother Ridgely came along, and as Jennifer’s career arc soared, Andrew had the occupational flexibility to opt-IN to being a part-time stay-at-home dad.  “There’s no question,” Ritter told me, “that it has been difficult financially.”  In a high cost-of-living area, they feel sometimes as though they’re just treading water.

“Was it worth it?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t trade these years for any corporate accomplishment.  I get to walk my kids to school every morning, and when Jen is in trial—leaving at 6 am and returning at 2 in the morning—I can be here to make sure everything runs smoothly at home.”

Maybe the key to “having it all” is simply a willingness to redefine our “it all.”  Or maybe the secret is to pursue our “it all” with less.  (Or both?)

Messrs. Ritter and Donohue both agree that the choices they have made are their choices—they’re not universal and worthy of widespread adoption.  But there are themes here that very few of us would dispute:

  • It’s becoming increasingly difficult for a household to live comfortably and save for the future with a sole source of income.
  • Both moms and dads struggle to know exactly how to allocate their time between the individual purposes to which they feel called and their chosen roles as partners and parents.
  • Dedicating ourselves to a work/life ratio that feels out of kilter eats at us, and can leave us dissatisfied with our efforts in the office and at home.

Our attempts to balance work and family have failed.  But resourceful, forward-thinking moms, dads and companies are getting more out of work and life by creatively integrating the two.

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10 Reasons To Take A 10-Day Vacation

10 Day Vacation-01For only the second time in my adult life, I just completed a vacation of more than seven days—10, to be exact.  Corroborating my first experience, I am now convinced that there is a certain magic to the 10-day vacation and have resolved to make them an annual habit.  Here’s why:

1. Most importantly, a 10-day vacation gives you the time necessary to surrender, to capitulate, to truly vacate.  It wasn’t until fully four days into our Grizwoldian adventure that my wife was able to observe a genuine change in my demeanor.  “You just seemed to visibly loosen up in that moment,” she told me.  The moment she was referring to was when she, our two boys and I got caught in a torrential downpour in the middle of a bike ride.  I wasn’t an overbearing ogre early in the week, but I was still in work mode; a tad too productive, efficient and compliant for vacation.  It took me the first four days of vacation to transition from being a hesitant bystander to a willing participant.

2. Travel consumes a lesser percentage of your total vacation time.  If you’re going someplace worth going, you’re likely sacrificing a day getting there and another getting back.  Whether by plane, train or automobile—and even if the actual travel time is only half-a-day—the stress and logistical maneuvering consume a full two days.  That’s almost 30% of the seven-day vacation, but only 20% of a 10-day break.

3. Because travel consumes proportionately less of the 10-day vaca, it also opens the door to a traveling vacation with multiple stops.  With the family truckster fully loaded, we drove to Charleston, South Carolina from our home in Baltimore for three days prior to heading northward to Williamsburg, Virginia for another week—a highly improbable feat if you only have seven days to spare.  This change in geographic context gave our single vacation the feel of two separate trips, each with their own set of lasting memories.

photo4. You’re gone long enough that you’re forced to off-load your duties at work.  If I take a three or four-day weekend, I rarely even set my email out-of-office notification or update my voicemail message.  I’m effectively taking a vacation while still on the clock in my mind.  When I take a seven-day vacation, I’m hesitant to completely check-out of my work responsibilities and even feel guilty asking for help.  But if I’m going to be missing days in more than two different work weeks, I really have no choice but to arrange for enough back-up help at the office to truly separate myself from the duties I’m hesitant to relinquish.

5. You’re gone long enough that you’re forced to budget financially for the vacation.  Heeding Carl Richards’ advice, I don’t take a trip of any length without having budgeted for it.  It takes away from the refreshment I seek when I have to wonder how I’m going to pay for the vacation when I get home.  The additional time and cost of a 10-day vacation really demand budgeting in advance of your departure.  Additionally, I recommend seeing where you stand financially five days in so you can recalibrate if necessary for the second half of your trip.

6. A 10-day vacation leaves sufficient time for the creation of memories through experience and the catharsis of do-nothing relaxation.  One of the books I enjoyed over vacation was Laura Vanderkam’s, What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend.  I found much of the wisdom therein applied just as well to vacations as to weekends.  Vanderkam suggests that we “set anchors”—activities to which we apply some forethought, with the aim of memory creation—and allow relaxation to fill the gaps in between.  None of us wants vacation to feel like work, filled with have-to-dos, but these anchors are, in contrast, want-do-dos.  For us, a couple anchors were to take a horse-drawn carriage tour of downtown Charleston and to ride our bikes as a family into historic Williamsburg for Colonial-era root beer and ginger cakes.

photo[1]7. You have the time to actually develop rhythms of life unique to that particular vacation.  One of my favorite things to do on vacations is to find new rituals that seem to apply to that particular area and our family’s phase of life.  Personally, I try to maintain some semblance of a workout regimen so I don’t feel quite so guilty about over-exposing myself to the local cuisine, so I found a fitness center I could ride my bike to most mornings.  Our boys, Kieran and Connor, are at those ages (nine and seven) when they could swim all day if you’d let them, so most nights we went for a night swim to cap off the day.  But it takes a few days to explore and find the rhythms that will work in a particular place and time.

8. You get the joy of seeing the week and weekend vacationers leave—while you’re kicked back “working” on reading your second novel by the pool.  There is nothing fun about leaving an enjoyable vacation, but when your vacation begins or spills over into the middle of a week, you get to watch other people yell at their kids for slow-playing the departure process while you order a fruity umbrella drink.  Those days on which everyone else is travelling and checking in or out are also great days for planning an anchor event (see #6) when you’ll likely have less competition.

9. You can avoid the dreaded vacation hangover.  Long weekends can feel torturously short and seven-day vacations often leave you wishing you could go back in time, but by the time a 10-day vacation is over, you’re starting to warm to the idea of getting life and work back to normal.  The idea of sleeping in your own bed has increasing appeal, eating out has started to weigh you down, spending money like the Greek parliament has begun to feel self-indulgent and you’re almost anxious to get back to the daily rhythms of work and rest.

10. You come home a better spouse, parent, employee­—a better person.  A 10-day vacation has the highest probability of providing the rest, relaxation and lifelong memories that we all hope to get, but rarely do, from the highlight of our summers.  Conversely, taking fewer days often leaves a residue of dissatisfaction that leaves us perpetually wanting more.  So go ahead, tack a few extra days onto your next vacation.  We’ll all be better for it.

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How To Win $120,000 Playing Poker

poker_hand1My wife, Andrea, won $120,000 at Resorts Casino in Atlantic City playing Caribbean stud poker in 1997, before I even knew her.  She parted with exactly $16 in that fateful hand, and received 7,500 times her investment after being dealt a royal flush of a-girl’s-best-friend diamonds.  For the abstainers, that’s a ten, jack, queen, king and ace of the same suit—the best possible hand in poker.  The chances of being dealt such a hand are one in 649,740.  To put that in perspective, the odds of getting struck by lightning throughout your lifetime are one in 3,000.

Luck Be a Lady

After playing for over four hours with a $100 budget for the night at the Caribbean stud tables, Andrea was down to six dollars in chips and expecting it to be her last hand.  Indeed it was.  She made the minimum blind bet of five dollars to play and anted up an additional dollar to be eligible for the progressive pot.  The progressive pot fills up (and up and up) with the aggregate of the one dollar side bets at a collective of tables in the casino until someone with a qualifying hand earns some or all of it.  The dealer shuffled and dealt.  Andrea peeked at her five cards to reveal a royal straight flush arranged in the following order, from left to right: ace, king, queen, ten, jack.

As she choked down her leaping heart, she realized she needed to borrow a $10 chip from a friend to satisfy the minimum raise to win.  But even then, the dealer had to have a qualifying hand of at least an ace and a king, the hand that falls just below a pair of twos.  If the dealer has bupkis, so do you, receiving only a doubling of your initial bet—and no progressive pot.  The dealer qualified.  Then his face turned white when he saw Andrea’s hand.  Then everyone at the table saw Andrea’s hand.  Then everyone in the casino heard Andrea’s table erupt with a noise that sounds like corporate joy, but actually represents exasperated, alcohol-soaked, oxygen-infused envy.

Everyone now darted their gaze to the centrally located progressive pot sign, as the dealer struggled to turn the key to stop the number from rising, faltering enough to add a few more thousand dollars to Andrea’s winnings—in  all, $118,529.  The dealer was whisked away by the pit boss and Andrea was escorted to the casino teller as zombie-eyed gamblers pawed her in hopes of a mystical transmission of luck.  After tapes were reviewed to confirm she hadn’t gamed the system and taxes were withheld, Andrea walked with a pocketful of cash and a check for $81,786.  Not bad for a night on the town.

Survivorship Bias

THIS is the story the casino wants you to hear.  (They don’t want you to hear that Caribbean stud offers some of the worst odds at the casino.)

THIS is called survivorship bias, and it’s the foundation upon which casino empires and the “success business” have been built.

Survivorship bias draws our attention away from the failures which are more numerous to the successes which are fewer.  It makes us think that because Andrea won $120,000 off of a $16 hand of Caribbean stud poker that it is somehow more likely that we will.  Survivorship bias inclines us to believe that following the prescription of someone who’s enjoyed abnormal success—in their career or marriage or parenting or investing or any number of pursuits in life that require an incalculable number of variables to align in our improbable favor—will help us achieve a similar level of success, when the success guru du jour may have simply been dealt the 649,740th hand.

David McRaney gives a much more thorough explanation of survivorship bias in his article of the same name, warning us that “the advice business is a monopoly run by survivors,” invoking Daniel Kahneman’s brilliance: “If you group successes together and look for what makes them similar, the only real answer will be luck.”  But McRaney’s is not a pessimistic manifesto for underachievers.  He addresses the noticeable differences seen in the lives of those deemed lucky contrasted with those who aren’t.  Based on compelling research collected over a decade of observance, the following conclusions are reached:

Unlucky people are narrowly focused…crave security and tend to be more anxious…remain fixated on controlling the situation…as a result, miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by.

Whereas:

Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences…tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often…exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky peopletry more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else.

This, however, is far from the self-deceptive “gotta play to win” approach off of which casinos have thrived.  The lucky put themselves in situations where they have a chance to succeed today, but never take such enormous risks that they lose the ability to take a chance tomorrow.  Yes, the optimist who falls down indeed gets back up, but the overly-optimistic gambler who gets hit by an 18-wheeler typically stays down.  As McRaney puts it, “success boils down to serially avoiding catastrophic failure while routinely absorbing manageable damage.”

In keeping with this theory, Andrea’s big take in Atlantic City wasn’t her first or last display of luck.  But to her, suffering the embarrassment of, say, calling a radio station for the chance to win a trip to the Emerald Isle, is a small price to pay.  And this gent of Irish descent very much enjoyed that trip.

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