Is Your Money Sub-Optimized – 6 Methods To Making The Most Of Your Money & Life.

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“I think we’re doing the right things with money but we feel sub-optimized.”

money burning

Twenty-four years guiding others through financial challenges, thousands of words, and oddly I experienced personal angst over this one -“sub-optimized.”

It’s rare the word arises, if at all. There was something about it that captured my ear and mind. I wondered about the obstacles that create what I call “dollar drag,” whereby the highest and best use of our money is overlooked or ignored.

Sub-optimization is an equal opportunity offender. We all are afflicted, even if our track record of handling money is better than average. There can be great intentions, even respectable core money habits and yet sub-optimization thrives because we’re human.

As in the case of this forty-something couple: Six-figure wage earners, ambitious savers who set aside 20% of income for retirement, well-funded 529 plans for young children and saddled with dangerous credit card debt levels due to a failed real estate venture.

Overall, I give them high marks when it comes to handing their money however a simple solution to reduce the high-interest debt was clearly in front of them and they couldn’t see it. They couldn’t wrap their minds around their financial condition in its entirety. There was a mental barrier between the personal and business debt even though they were the business. In other words, the burdensome interest charges affected their household net worth.

As a financial professional I realize nobody can avoid some degree of sub-optimization or dollar drag. Much of it stems from a failure in our logic called mental accounting.

See, we like to compartmentalize money: We create mental walls that prevent us from considering how each dollar can flow freely through and across various goals to the final and best destinations on our household balance sheets.

Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and New York Times best-selling author helped me understand how to position “highest and best use” in my mind. He said “every financial decision has an opportunity cost. You cannot make the best money choices in a vacuum.”

You must revolve around each decision and control where your money lands.

full circle thinking

So, how can you make better financial choices and think full circle?

 Random Thoughts:

1). Break it down and look around. Don’t perceive every financial challenge as a straight edge with a beginning and conclusion. It leads to narrow thinking and sub-optimization at the point of action.  Round out your thought process. Go where you never been before. When presented with a financial decision, break down the walls, goals, compartments and picture how all your dollars can flow free from their different types of accounts and work together to achieve the greatest impact to your bottom line.

When performing this exercise with my fiscally responsible couple, we concluded that utilizing an existing home equity line of credit at less than 4% interest, to pay off the credit card with 21% interest rate, was an optimum conclusion.  It was a major improvement never considered because the mental barriers were thick between business and personal accounts. Once those barriers were removed, a solution was obvious.

2). Grab every opportunity to assess the opportunity (cost).  I’ve gone overboard with this one. I take lessons seriously from influences like Dan Ariely and share them with anyone who will listen. I now examine the “full circle” of every money choice. I’m obsessed with dollar drag.

During a recent evening out, before ordering at an iconic Texas barbecue place, I stepped back and thought of what else I could do with the money.  Was this the “highest and best use” for my $28 bucks? I took away the walls and permitted the money to flow through other options including eating at home. I had to weigh the opportunity cost until I either returned full circle to the current choice, or stopped on a better solution. Better doesn’t always mean cheaper, either. When it comes to opportunity cost you need to input much into the calculation including what your time is worth and qualitative factors.

If anything, this type of exercise will allow you to pause before making a purchase and create awareness about other options that may bring greater satisfaction and value.

And yes, I went for the pork ribs and fixings.

omg bbq

3). Think rooftop, not basement. When you bust down the walls between dollars, you begin to think bigger (and smarter). You’re up on the roof looking out and over the landscape of your finances. You begin to see how fungible money is.

Most of the time, we rummage in the basement where it’s dark and narrow because of the laser-focus on the problem.  Unfortunately, the longer we concentrate, the less we observe lucrative options hiding in plain sight. That’s why financial decisions should begin from a holistic perspective (roof) and then narrowed down to the basement or specific issues at hand.

For example, when gasoline prices were shy of 4 dollars a gallon, I was inundated with inquiries about trading in paid-off automobiles for new gas-efficient options. In other words, I was being asked whether spending $32,000 was worth the saving of $600 a year at the gas pump. The numbers didn’t work out advantageously. Once you consider the opportunity cost of spending five figures, well, you’re on the roof and seeing things from a clearer perspective. From there, dollars may flow to higher uses or in these cases, not flow inefficiently to paying additional debt from automobile loans.

4). Hire a navigator. The navigators are out there. The best financial advisers are sensitive to their own emotional biases and can help others navigate through theirs. There’s a synergy and greater satisfaction when a financial partner can help reduce barriers and encourage breakthrough or “a-ha” moments. You always appreciate the highest and best use of a navigator. Ostensibly, your net worth should be affected positively, too.

5). Live your retirement plan optimization. The majority of people I meet have a retirement strategy. It exists in their heads but not in writing. Those who have a formal, written plan tend to weigh opportunity costs or are at the least, sensitive to the implications of their financial choices.  Since plans take into account your entire financial picture they direct you to focus on the big picture. Eventually, emotional walls fall, and you can easily think full circle and assess how every decision made today affects your retirement start date.

6). How sub-optimized are your relationships? As you grow as an individual, a force, you must consistently optimize your relationships to determine who is worthy of your inner circle. All the others must be cast away. They’re weights tied to your spirit and they will pull you down to shitsville.  Surround yourself with those who are smarter than you (not just book smart, but also will expose you to learning experiences outside your comfort zones). Also, people who make you laugh inspire optimization.

Oh..

Now that you’re in the mood to bust boundaries around money, keep in mind that any account can be a retirement account. Just because it’s not held with your employer or doesn’t have “IRA” in the title, doesn’t mean the dollars you save aren’t applicable to retirement. Society, to a degree, has encouraged mental accounting by sanctioning retirement vs. non-retirement accounts.

As part of your change in thinking, consider all money in one pool. You decide how it flows to its most honorable (and hopefully lucrative) conclusion.

Sub-optimization optimized my thinking; I hope it’s sparked a new perspective for you.

A clearer journey.

Without barriers.

And less drag on your dollars.

It’s time go full circle.

 

How to get over, over. A Survival Guide for Riding Life Rails.

“If you keep crying, they’re going to mug us. Or worse!”

F train

It was my good friend Michael. And Me. A duo. Buds. – in the grip of a humid, restless haze. Saturday morning at 11. August, 1974. Off to a Coney Island adventure. My idea.

Bad idea.

 On an elevated subway. The “F” line. Nothing smelled Brooklyn summer like stale urine, heat and metal grinding as the train made its regular stop at the Avenue U station.

“This is going to be so great,” Michael said as we sat.

Then I noticed them. After a few seconds. It was too late.

The travelers.

Two cars down. Then one.  Even though the yellowed, scratched Plexiglass of the exit doors between cars kept bouncing, turning, as we headed closer to the destination, I could see them. Trying to get over. Over other riders. Fear and intimidation were the first weapons of choice. And if they weren’t getting anywhere, most likely a weapon was waiting – ready to make an appearance. Usually a knife. Stiletto blade. Sharp. Sharpest.

I glanced over at boy wonder. Staring out the window. He could barely stay in his seat. Turning his head toward me, talking rapidly about all the cool things we would do in urban America’s (in)famous amusement park. Michael was younger. Two years. Unaware of the travelers. I chose not to alarm him – It was too late anyway. The psycho train had left the station. Next stop was an eternity away. Best now to figure a way to get over, over the travelers. 

Two of them. On my fear radar. I felt panic rise and settle in my throat. I couldn’t swallow. No matter how many times the travelers find you there’s fear and panic. There’s a throat collapse.

Frequent riders had a sixth sense about this stuff. They always knew when travelers were closing in. After a few trips, you just felt when their cold shadows were near. They rode the rails at all hours. Young, angry, looking for prey. Money mostly. But if you set them off and god knows what set them off, they would hurt you. Urban train ghouls.

Michael kept squawking  One long excite-ence. Strings of syllables peppered with exciting thoughts – rides, games, food,  more rides, games. food! It all comforted me. Nobreathinbetweenwords. His energy was contagious. This morning I needed to catch it. His positive vibe was my strength.

“Where you kids headed?”

We looked up. Travelers above us. Facing us. Towering over, over our minds, our thoughts. Overwhelming. They were kids too – but old. Old, evil souls. Having the upper hand must age travelers. I kept a mental note.

Michael knew quick. I could see it in his face. Fast learner. His excitement stopped. It was there and gone. In a second. From chatty to quiet. Split-speed breathless. I thought I could hear his heartbeat. Or was it mine?

“We’re headed to Coney Island.” I threw in: “Our parents are meeting us at the station.”

I could see the parents commentary threw them off a bit. They weren’t expecting that. Time to throw another blow before they could continue their terror-sales pitch. You see, years ago, travelers would warm you up to a mugging. Feel you out a bit. You can detect them – mentally processing a next move. Go in for the take or travel on. To others. Was it worth it this time? Could I hold a poker face? Who would win the game in the tunnel shadows? I looked down casually. I could see the switchblade. Gleaming white, oyster-like handle. I slowly, casually, moved my eyes higher to meet theirs. The travelers.

“Yea, my father is a cop. He works Coney Island. Tough dude, too.”

I could see progress. It was working. I was calm, collected. Solid delivery. It was all in the delivery. The belief. The get over, over was in the belief. Then delivery.

But

Michael.

He can’t get over, over.

Shaking, sobbing. Slobbering. Strengthening the travelers. Crawly traveler fingers working toward the knife.

“So your daddy is a cop, huh,” Traveler #1 snickered.

I maintained my composure. Surprisingly calm. Living in the moment.

“Yes, a good one. For years. He’ll be waiting for us at the station.”

In my mind, “dad” became, he WAS: Roy Scheider in “The Seven-Ups.”

Bad ass.

seven ups

Then it happened…

An over, over.

Random Thoughts:

1). Decide. Now. Right Now. Who Get’s Over, Over: – Life will overwhelm you. Ride over you. It’s a bitch traveler. We are travelers. You’re a traveler. Looking to get over. But who gets over, over? Who wins? You must. Size up your overs. They are in your life now. They’re there every day. A mindless boss is an over, a partner who saps your strength, a person who says they care, then they don’t, the guy who cuts you off in the parking lot. All travelers. Your mind is the ultimate traveler. Ready to knife you unless you can get over, over. Until you can convince it not to. True belief. Cool delivery. Think ahead. Work backwards.

Analyze a situation from the conclusion you seek and work backwards to create steps to get over, over. Oh, you’re in for a mugging. You can’t avoid it. It’s ok to be Michael. To wobble. To sob. Until it’s time. To turn it over. In your mind build the over, over muscle. Keep fighting. You will die without the over, over. Or face a life worse than death. Always afraid of the travelers.

2). Someone is going to get hurt in the over, over. Blood will spill. Your blood will run because you ride both tracks. To and from your destination the travelers await. You must board the train knowing the over, over is a healer. You’ll live to ride again. More aware of travelers than ever before. Cold shadows – warm now. You’re behind the over. You’re strong enough to get over, over. What’s in store for you on your next trip? Your next business venture? Failure is an over. How do you get over, over to succeed? How will you climb the carcasses, ghosts of past travelers?

3). Get over, over your financial derail. A mistake you can’t get over. Because you make the same mistake consistently. You sit on losing investments thinking they’ll “come back.” You can’t get over, over. Intel was at 90 bucks a share in 1999 and it’ll over, over at 100 again. Your cost basis is a traveler. Anchoring in on the price you paid for an investment is a mugger. It robs you of money. Instead of experiencing the cut, the blood, you sit and wait. Forever. When the money could have been over, over in a winning investment.

Michael was crying. Still.

“And what about you fat ass? Is your dad a cop, too?” Traveler #2 laughed. Directed his question. In Michael’s face.

“No,” Michael said. My dad is in the army. And he taught me something.”

Suddenly, Michael was standing. He grabbed the knife handle sticking out of Traveler #1 pants. Out of nowhere. Suddenly. He had the blade exposed in a second. Moving it rapidly, slashing at the cold shadows.

Red. Traveler #1 – Cut. Shocked. An over, over.

More red. Traveler #2 cut. Slashed on the forearm. More over, over.

Even. More. Red. In the over, over I was cut. Below the right ear. Blood will indeed spill in the over, over.

The wounded travelers fled. Gone. Michael was shaking. He dropped the weapon. I didn’t know. His dad taught him how to fight. How to disarm. The crying was a tactic for Michael. He was working backwards, acting vulnerable. Until the over, over.

“Did I do good? Your talking gave me time to think.”

I hugged him until we reached our destination. The candy. The rides. The happiness in the over, over.

I remember.

I know.

We create fear.

In others.

In ourselves.

You can feel it coming.

We are the travelers.

You are the over.

Work backwards.

Disarm the travelers.

Surprise them.

Feel fear move on.

Watch it flee.

Embrace it on the next trip.

You’re now over the over.

There’s peace.

And a great ride ahead.

Governing Money – Lessons from the “Governor.”

In a former life, the world before hell and earth went inside out, Philip Blake was a husband, father. I think he sold insurance (and wasn’t very good at it). He probably carried too much debt, drank too much  - I’m certain erectile dysfunction was a grim reality.

I bet he fantasized about having sex with the twenty-something barista at Starbucks or even worse - the overweight college dropout with crooked, yellowed teeth and soured look from behind the register at the local Piggly Wiggly convenience haven. In other words – HO HUM. Mundane. An existence we all mistake for a life because we were told that’s what life is, ya idiot. Or as a friend would say – lame ass!

And now?

He’s bigger-than-life in a world shrinking (literally) from decay. Ain’t that a bitch!

walking dead zombie A former insurance prospect? You betcha!

The “Governor” as he’s been proclaimed by the inhabitants of the fictional town of Woodbury, exists, rules, and on occasion, thrives (code for: gets some). You know what that means. Wink, wink.

It appears the whole end of the world thing has added pep to his step. He dons cool vests and brandishes a big-ass knife low on his hip. He’s handy with an automatic weapon. Yep - he’s discovered his true, higher calling, although the path he takes on occasion, would classify him as certifiably insane. Well, if the world was as it was, once upon a time - the one of sales calls, stopping for beer and milk on the way home to the mortgage payment; praying to get it up on a weekend for the wife he’s long tired of. But in this new world?

He’s the king, baby!!

the governor hip

The Governor appearing calm, collected in front of Woodbury residents. Notice the power stance (I’ve eaten a great breakfast at the coffee shop behind him and was able to leave town, peacefully).

But this new normal is truly abnormal. It requires a huge (over) dose of out-of-the-box thinking followed by unorthodox actions to keep him and his close-knit brood, alive. Fight or die. Stay alert because at any moment you may become a food source for ravenous, rotting flesh eaters and/or victims to the living who want what you have, what you worked so hard to build. All you possess can be gone in an instant. In this place, you fear the living and dead, equally.

His life demands tremendous inner reflection, strong leadership, a healthy dose of paranoia, an intense hunger for knowledge of the deademy (my zombie bon mot for enemy,) stamina, charisma, a penchant for strong tea, an instinct to survive and on occasion, cold-blooded murder of his own species (the living) which is an odd way to re-populate the planet. The deeper he believes in his mission to preserve what’s left of the human race, the more he perceives outsiders as threats. Appears almost everyone is an outsider.

fish tanks

The Governor laments the “experiments” that just didn’t work out.

The end of the world definitely raised his stature. Forced him to rise above. Imagine a former insurance hack re-born as a new-found savior. Only in the America of the living dead. Bittersweet (bloody) success. Climbing the ladder of what’s left of the human race.

The Governor fights passionately to protect what he’s re-created - a tree-lined, bucolic microcosm of once was; the time before this time or whatever this putrid shit is now. He preserves, behind big makeshift walls made of of fat tires and metal, the lives and well-being of his followers. The ones who still breath and don’t seek to eat each other.

In this Georgia sanctuary, residents adhere to daily routines like doing laundry, taking the kids to school and on occasion, they gather together to enjoy a hearty zombie gladiator fight in the center of a dilapidated makeshift arena. Hey, we must have our sports events no matter what, right?

Born from the imagination of master comic-book genius and creator of the concept for the hit show, “The Walking Dead,” Robert Kirkman’s “Governor,” is possibly one of the most complex characters to bridge the annals of comic and television history.

the governor walking dead

The Gov, played by Brit actor David Morrissey, in a pensive mood.

Something has gone dreadfully awry on the road to Woodbury (when it’s not dressed up for television this town is really the peaceful haven of Senoia, GA). You can see it in the eyes of the town folk. They’re scared of Philip Blake. Philip Blake who knocked on their doors once trying to push term insurance. In that old life, they didn’t open the door or got the dog to chase him. Maybe a family pet bit him.

I guess change happens when you can no longer self-regulate (or have no reason to try) - you create the rules, acquire minions to reinforce them. Ostensibly, a bit of sanity erodes as you’re tormented by the memories of those you lost, those you cherished, to wide-mouthed bites of growling corpses who drool black goo. When your back is truly against the wall – you shake things up.

Ponder the horror long enough and the snap-crackle in your mind ostensibly goes pop. You’re no longer who you were. The person inside, the one who worried about following the lawn fertilization schedule to the letter on weekends, is in a dark place now. Deader than dead.

The Governor has allowed the demons to occupy a great portion of his psyche and they rest on his mind on a full time basis. He can’t win against them any longer, so he commands them steer them to push him forward. Hey, when in Rome!

Black inside, tortured but he’s moving. Getting shit done. Every day.

He’s been re-shaped, reborn, by the end of the world he knew and the path he cuts to cling desperately to what was. After observing him you cannot decide who’s more rotted inside – him or the staggering corpses who meander around the parameter, tripping over debris, bumping into burned-out husks of rusted autos of drivers not lucky enough to escape from rotting marauders of warm flesh.

To the people he protects, the Governor is the best thing around. He’ll do whatever is necessary to guard his flock from strangers – living or dead – as long as they’re loyal. There’s something admirable about his rise to power, his grandiose vision to take back a human race most likely lost forever; yet, his actions at times are so horrific, his thought process so cold blooded, you almost wish to take your chances with the ghouls outside the walls of Woodbury.

He does have his heartwarming moments. Like when he talks soothingly to the chained and straitjacketed pre-teen zombie  who once was his daughter Penny. He keeps  her nestled in what appears to be a human kennel, deep inside his quarters. He brushes her hair (which falls out), sings to her.

Penny snarls and snaps at him as he releases the chained collar tight around her neck – her jaws make a  sharp snap sound, directed toward his warmth, like a blind ravenous canine searching for a steak in the dark. She’s so long gone, however. Yet, it’s Philip’s very last cling to hope, to who she was, the young life with so much potential she represented. Represents still, as he works with a genius professor geek deep in the bowels of Woodbury who works fervently to discover what makes these dead things tick. And perhaps, just perhaps, a cure!  He denies the fact there’s truly no cure for what ails precious Penny (except a bullet to the brain).

Penny

A heartwarming moment as Penny noshes on body parts of the once living who faced the Governor’s wrath. 

And if you watch AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead,” you’ve been fascinated by the Governor and his actions. Why? Because you know (oh, you do), that you can go bat-shit wacko if faced with the same horrific circumstances. You would be altered in ways you cannot imagine. You would work effortlessly to cling to what was, because what was there and now is gone changes you. Lose enough people you love, then you tell me.

There’s a little bit of Philip in all of us. 

There’s a bit of anger, insanity, in all of us. 

There’s a bit of bad behavior where the living are slaughtered, the dead walk (figuratively) in all of us. 

There’s a bit of motivation to protect Woodbury, the safe haven, in all of us.

And when we sit alone and stew about this stuff, allow the demons to play handball against  our psyche, then we are no longer insurance salespeople, stockbrokers, artists, psychologists, the “sane” ones. We are indeed – governors.

Random Thoughts:

1). Construct the walls around you (carefully). Just be mindful of the materials you use. Employ love, civility, warmth and mix in a small dose of paranoia for those who attempt to enter your Woodbury. On occasion, you’ll let undesirables through however, do what the Governor does – dispose of them quietly and explain to yourself how that person, entity, drug, drink was endangering the lives of your minions (or brain cells).

2). Be open to what breaks your current mindset. Recently, I had a revelation after an e-mail exchange that allowed me to easily remove someone from my Woodbury. Realize that Penny isn’t gonna return, put your own back against the wall, get winded. Then wake up. Instead of changing for the worse (as you’ll see in the Governor in the remainder of season 3 and 4), bounce hard against that wall and propel forward. Philip Blake has been broken by the horror of his experiences. He had good intentions in the beginning, but something really bad happened along the way. Watch your path. Create guardrails to not veer off to blackness.

3). Don’t be afraid to retaliate now. As the economy improves, I’m personally seeing, hearing, about people breaking the chains of their old employer and discovering healthier ways to make a living. Something I predicted in my book “Random Thoughts of a Money Muse.” Check out the link below, here’s a blurb from a recent CNBC article outlining the trend:

The steady drumbeat of “you’re just lucky to have a job” that played through the recession is finally starting to fade and employees may be getting ready to say, “I quit!” and bolt for the nearest exit.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100359891

Don’t feel bad – be slightly angry about how you’ve been treated. Rise above. You’re the Governor over your fate and as the economy slowly recovers, you should get your mental minions to focus on a brighter future.

4). Get shit done. Every day. For a time you’ll seethe, give yourself that. Then go ahead and continue to tend to your walls which surround the quaint town in your mind. Eat healthier, exercise more, find better conversationalists, seek friendships where you didn’t look before. Read a book. I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks at this time.

5). Be bad. It’s ok. Just don’t appear to be above, criticize, or correct others. You’re not perfect and on occasion, you rot and stink worse than the walking dead. And your opinion is just that especially when wrapped in judgmental tone. You’re getting tuned out, too. Fast. The Governor has convinced himself that even the horrific things he does is for the good of his little community. He’s lost the ability to judge his behavior, self correct. You cannot do the same. Oh, unless the dead want to eat you. Then feel free. Have a glass of wine, a dessert, kick a wall (I accomplished all three last month).

6). Appreciate what you have. Now. Before the dead come back and the world goes to hell. Learn to appreciate those you care about. Feel good about your possessions; realize there’s a point when too many possessions eventually own you, especially if you’re taking on debt to “own” them.

7). Appreciate and gain protection. I know I’m making fun of Phil being a pain-in-the-ass insurance salesman in another life, but do not discount the need for life insurance. Bypass the salesperson. And think term insurance. It’s the cheapest, purest type of insurance. One of the best life free life insurance needs calculator out there is here:

http://www.lifehappens.org/life-insurance-needs-calculator/

For insurance quotes investigate http://www.selectquote.com or http://www.matrixdirect.com.

8). Know your enemies. Inside and outside your skin. Which emotions hold you back? Are there people in your life who do the same? Self assess, write it out, drink some strong tea or coffee and take some time to analyze. Then toss out of Woodbury, those threats to your well being.

9). Learn to let go. When the Governor lost his beloved Penny to a samurai blade to the head, you can tell how broken he was and about to become (terrific acting by Mr. Morrissey). You need to let go of what’s dead already. A love, a longing, a feeling, a thought, a friend, a lover, an actual shopping cart with wheels that work at the supermarket. Learning to let go means less stress. Laugh more.

10). Stand like the Governor. I mean it just looks cool, right? Hands on hips. Your body language says a lot about you.

DSC_0370

The set of “The Walking Dead.” Note the tire, metal walls. Also, the building in the background (with ladder) was the place where the Governor & Michonne fight was filmed. 

11). Don’t lose yourself in anger and regret. With his beloved Penny gone, the Governor has lost all hope (and sanity). He is consumed with the torment that goes along with surrender of the traits which make one human. And a white-hot anger about his failure to protect Penny was enough to break his sanity. Regret and anger has now overwhelmed every thought, each motivation. Perhaps a cure against living death was close.

It didn’t matter now.

It was sweltering on the “set” of Woodbury during Season 3. Then he emerged. Walking behind us. David Morrissey. In his cool signature Governor vest. Carrying a script.

When I asked my daughter why she sat off to the side instead of joining me in a discussion I was having with him, she said bluntly:

“Dad he scares me. He’s the Governor.”

Comic Gov

The Walking Dead comic-book version of the Governor.

Impressions are everything.

Aren’t they?

From mental imprints, projections are born.

Out of grief.

Fear.

Anger. 

Regret.

Don’t let them consume you.

Work to break free.

Today.

I have faith.

You’re not the Governor.

A new season of “The Walking Dead” begins October 13, on AMC – 9pm/8pm CST.

 

What Are Your Shackles? Understand the Ties that Bind.

1974: Coney Island Hospital, Brooklyn New York. 1AM.

Your father wants to see you, he’s really hurting,” the man in the white coat said.

“He’s not my father. He tried to kill me tonight.”

“Now, there’s no reason to be ashamed, he has a problem.”

“Yes, he’s an addict who has bad aim with big kitchen knives.” Bob just missed my sleeping face and there was a pillow at home with a chef’s knife still sticking out of it to prove it.  I craved to stick it in a doctor that night.

“Your mother even says you’re the son.”

“My mother is nuts, too.”

I never witnessed anyone in real life in a straitjacket before. I didn’t believe there were such things as real padded rooms either, except for what I saw on on Looney Tunes cartoons. I loved what happened on my tiny black and white TV screen because it wasn’t supposed to be real. It was a wonderful rabbit-eared escape that kept me sane.

To this day I don’t understand the popularity of reality programming. I watch TV to escape all semblance of reality. At the time of this writing I’m reading how sit-coms are making a strong comeback. Thank God. Haven’t we all had enough reality for one lifetime? And the real cruel game God plays on us now is we all live much longer. He’s like the cat who toys with the mouse before he rips its head off. I can’t spend 80 years obsessing over Kim Kardashian’s ass and be healthy. Can you?

How far from reality can you go on a bottle of wine?

There I was-God’s mouse in a cage. Locked in a padded room (I heard the heavy strength of the door as it closed tight behind me). Alone with the asshole who tried to kill me a couple of hours earlier. He was sitting at the edge of a long steel table. Secured in a straitjacket. Rocking back and forth. I remember the room was cold. Super cold. Like morgue cold.

I remember this man. After many decades. And not because he tried to kill me. Mom’s boyfriend number 30, or something like that. I recall how incredibly tragic he was. Didn’t seem to mind being restrained. What was another chain, another demon, I guess? He was overrun, overpowered by the chains. Alcoholic, drug addict, bad hair, a greasy ducktail from the 50′s, and fortunately for me, bad aim with a chef’s knife.

He begged me to move closer. I did. Through his tears, through his repeated apologies, his bouts of anger, this boy toy was a curiousity to me. I wanted to understand how he ticked so I wouldn’t tick the same. His clock was way off from the rest of the world, the functioning people. In this room, his clock appeared oddly at home. Calm. Like his clock found the proper wall. Or off-the-wall. His eyes were dull. For a moment, I thought I could see demons floating in his pupils. Perhaps that’s what it means to have that “crazed look.”

Is this crazy enough for you? I’ve been there.

Never forget: We’re all shackled. We’re always three bad actions from insane. Granted, some people are shackled more than others. Some indeed require to be chained more than others. It keeps the rest of us alive and safe. Yet without shackles, you’re not alive. You’re not human. And God has already decided you’re going to live longer. Great huh.

Random Thoughts:

1). Know what shackles you.  Let’s face it. We have them. We own them. Several were created by others because we allowed it. Many were created in our own minds and have no basis in today, the now. Because kids called me fat in grade school, in my mind I’m still fat. No matter what. I have a fat shackle. Frequently, I’m amazed, as I observe myself, others, how as society we fail to have a solid grip on the chains that bind us. List them. After all, you’ve been living with them a long time now. Feel the weight of them. In your head. Around your wrists. Strangling you.

2).  What are your shackles made of? Understand the compositions. Some shackles will be thicker and harder to break than others. Like addictions for example. Identify and prioritize which shackles to work on cutting first. And don’t be shocked to see how long it takes to completely sever the bad shackles. And don’t be shocked to grasp how the chains are never truly broken. You will need to be aware of them the rest of your life. And as you know, you’re probably going to live to be 100.

3). What shackles your ability to gain wealth? Bad money habits most likely were passed on through your observations of others’ chains. How did your parents handle money? What is your very first money memory? How has early money behavior affected your current situation? It’s never too late to change it up. Cut the mental shackles that prevent you from becoming financially independent. Since you’re going to live a long time, it doesn’t matter if you’re 40, or 50. Just start cutting. Now.

4). Not all shackles are bad. Positive chains like saving, not misusing credit, studying, writing, exercising, sleeping are all healthy. List the good shackles too. Learn to make them stronger. Every day. Over time they will be thicker and stronger than your weaker links.

5). What’s your padded cell made of? Is it really so bad to be locked away? Where do you go to recharge? What do you do to recharge? Sharpen your saw. Love the quiet. Don’t be afraid to be alone with yourself. Still. You need the padded cell more than ever.

“I’m sorry I tried to kill you,” padded Bob said.

I shattered his nose. Hit him perfect. Apology accepted.

On occasion, I understand broken shackles can be fun.

No matter how long you live.

 

Stop Thinking Now – 3 Ways to Shut Down and Live Again.

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death,” Eckert Tolle.

Reliving the past is draining. After I recall memories of the past to write a blog in my present, I can feel brain cells dying. I can sleep for two hours. The world loses color like I’m living in a black & white movie. Everything becomes one dimensional. The spirit and gift of the present-gone.

Focusing on the future and where you want to be is exhausting. And then when the future becomes the present you can’t enjoy it and you’re edgy-ready to focus on the future again. It’s the fucking hamster wheel of our nature but then sooner or later the hamster dies and the mate in your Habitrail feeds off your carcass.

It’s time for you to live in the present. Shake off the past. Fuck the future. You’re alive right now. Today. The present is a beautiful thing. Focus on the moment. Stare at your boss for an hour and realize the type of asshole you deal with on a daily basis. In the present. Get angry.

Ain’t it the truth?

Yes, you’re brain dead but the mind wheel keeps spinning. And you’re getting nowhere. What the hell is going on?  You see, corporate America has figured this out about you so they paid you to run on the wheel.  Underneath it all they don’t truly want you to stop either. They don’t want you to take vacation or get sick or pick up your kid at school.  Then, after the financial crisis, they discovered you were willing to run harder even when they had decided long ago, to never give you another pay increase. And now that you still (run) like the wind, I’m convinced you’re never going to see another raise.

Corporate drones have been trained to forget the past. Your past performance. The revenue you created, the account you saved, the lunch you didn’t take, the extra 10 hours you worked last week? Old news. What have you done for me today? Right now. I need a report at noon about deals you closed between 8-11am.  My goal was (is) to serve people, not shareholders.

What are you doing reading this blog when you could be making another phone call? In an odd way, I admire middle management’s ability to look in the face of a solid employee, a decent employee, a loyal employee and deliver with a straight face: “I need to make a case for your job TODAY. EVERY DAY. I admire upper management’s ability to get middle management to deliver the message with straight faces.

How fast can you run the wheel on Thursday compared to Wednesday?” You see, job security is a memory too. Frankly, the case your supervisor is making is to keep his or her job. If it’s down to your job or the supervisor’s, you’re gonna lose. In the present. Right now. You. Loser.  So many hamsters eager to take your place. They breed like crazy those hamsters.

Publicly-traded (stock exchange) corporate america has grabbed the brass ring of the present. How about you? What have you grabbed? Circles under the eyes?

Corporate drones make promises for the future. Corp America also knows you’re a sucker for a good story. A better future they’ll help you achieve: There’s the carrot dangling that promises a raise in the future, more employees in the future so you’re not doing the work of three (yet your impossible goals haven’t changed). You’ve heard the stories: If we can increase revenue by 1,000% ( a “reasonable” goal today)  we can “make the case,” for paper clips.

All these carrots swinging in the wind of the future. Think about it. How many of these motivators have you actually been promised since 2010? How many of these carrots have you actually savored since then?  I’m thinking you got your blessed paper clips. Maybe. What was the real price you paid for them? Go ahead: Sell your soul for a highlighter next. Corporative executives, shareholders, have realized as you observe the neighbor next door and across the street lose jobs, they own your present. They will keep you from your family and your life even though they promote your well being through health programs.  And if you give up your present, (like no summer vacation with the kids but they’ll send you photos), the future is going to be so much brighter for you, right? But is it? Why would it be? Please understand now, in the present, those promises are false because when the future is now, your past performance earlier than the previous week (day) will be long forgotten. It’s not you. It’s them. Short-term memory leads to long-term profits.

Random Thoughts:

1). Understand your Now. In all fairness, not every company exhibits this behavior. As I follow trends, I interpret the general themes of the times, the present. This theme is prominent and disturbing. It’s up to you to objectively assess your present and if this is your situation, how do you change it? Are you happy in your present? How does your family feel about your slavery to shareholders? Ask them. If you’ve been experiencing this dilemma then you know the harmful impact there’s been to your spirit and possibly your physical health.

2). Drop the Past. Take a lesson from the company! Your past is a drag on you. Promises made to you will not be fulfilled. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Hold it for 20 seconds. Imagine your past is dead. Die before you die. Allow the image of the carrot to disappear. The carrot is in you, by you, from you.

3). The Future is a Seductress. How long is it before the future is the present and you’re still stuck in the same place? On the wheel. Stale carrots replaced with new carrots that you’ll never have an opportunity to bite. The future is today. Understand the environment. If you must run the wheel due to financial obligations, try to form a game plan for exiting the wheel. I’m not saying it’s easy. However, if you want to live, it could be necessary. Your entire life may depend on it.

I’m reading Eckert Tolle daily. Pick up “The Power of Now,” it will help you understand.

“And sometimes I actually start to think human life is just as cheap to corporate America as animal life, so long as there are big profits to be made.” Tom Scholz.
How will you enjoy your present, forget the past and ignore the seduction of the future?

I found your corporate head shot!

Don’t Go Crazy on Purpose – 3 Ways to Understand the Power Inside You.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

1959:  The same Long Island Rail Road schedule followed every week. Sundays. When most people were asleep. When humans of the mainstream were hiding under bed covers to escape personal asylum, he embraced discomfort. He ventured out in it. He traveled on the fringe of time. Early. On Sunday.

Like a soldier who accepted and knew his duty. He carried on. Tired. Only one name compelled him to tremble. It was rarely spoken. Except for Sunday. Sunday was different. Her name was all he could think of. On the long trip he tried to remember what her voice sounded like. He worked hard at this. At times, he was upset with himself because he felt her voice slip away deep into the past.

The Sunday ritual should have been comfortable. Or at the least, accepted by then. Nineteen years of the same routine, facing the same distant stare from a bed. His wife. His Josephine. It starts all over again. Every week. His journey to the silent. The only women he ever knew and loved. Gone for 19 years but still breathing. A shell.

Two hours from now he would enter a tiny room, lead painted white, half battleship gray. Eternally cold. Even in summer. At least that’s what I remember. Joseph told me so. He was solemn as he entered a world that would remain silent. He respected what he couldn’t understand. Perhaps it was out of respect. Out of loss. I know he screamed a lot inside. He told me that, too.

Kings Park Psychiatric Center was Josephine’s home for close to two decades. Immediately after she gave birth in 1940, something happened. Something bad. She suffered a stroke as soon as the baby was delivered. By the time the baby, a new daughter, was cleaned up and presented, Josephine could barely speak or move her arms.

Joseph lost it too. He was an immigrant from Italy, his English broken,  but he was able to clearly mutter two words. Again, from what he told me. From what I remember.

My God.”

Allegedly, Kings Park was haunted. I believe it.

This Sunday, 1959, November was different. Joseph was able to borrow his boss’ car. A Buick. The Kings Park doctors were going to allow Joseph to take Josephine on a road trip to Brooklyn. Her daughter was going to be married in a few weeks. Josephine was aware, sort of aware. Partly in this world, one foot in another. She couldn’t speak any longer. No voice at all. She knew she had a daughter, however. Josephine sort of knew her mother was raising the child as her own.

It was to be Joseph & Josephine together again. For a road trip. For an introduction. The cover was going to come off, blown off, a family secret.  Revealed to an 18 year-old girl who was told her mother died during childbirth. And now at a pre-wedding party she was to be told the truth. In front of family. Two weeks before her nuptials. At a party.

Joseph purchased Josephine a new dress for the visit. It took him a month to save for it. He stocked food shelves for a small store in downtown Manhattan, lived in a tiny apartment close by the store. Never remarried. His daughter lived in a nice house with his mother-in-law, raising his only daughter. A subway ride away. In Brooklyn. His only real family. And he lived separated. As I mentioned: He existed on the fringe. For his wife and daughter. Oh, the in-laws adored him. His sacrifice. His dedication. But it wasn’t the same for him. He spent all his free time (for what it was) with Josephine and his only daughter. He was always traveling. A life on trains. He told me.

Joseph bought me a battery-operated aqua-colored locomotive that puffed real smoke. It was 99 cents. He told me that’s what it cost. I never forgot. He told me about all his time on trains. His thoughts while sitting. I felt how tortured he was. I heard the despair in his voice. I hugged him. I wanted to take the pain from him. I felt his chest sob. I still remember his tears on my forehead.

“Passion and love can cause tears.” He said that. I remember it. He was right. As I get older I realize how truly spot on grandpa was. I didn’t understand at the time. For a grocer he was the the most intuitive man on earth. He wasn’t ashamed to cry. I bet he cried a lot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Words Mean Everything. What you say to others counts. I imagine each word immediately gains 100 pounds when it leaves my mouth. I can feel the heaviness on my tongue. A sentence weighs a thousand pounds. Don’t say what you don’t mean. Mean what you say. Mean it deep. Last month, I received a twitter message from a person I haven’t spoken with in 15 years. She told me how words spoken by me changed her life for the better. Then I got to thinking: What have I said to others in the past that may have changed lives for the worse? I was a friend who provided sincere encouragement at the time. Remember your words weigh heavy. Screw all this “actions speak louder than words,” bullshit you hear.

2). Words Mean Everything. What you say to yourself counts. If you speak to yourself negatively, good things won’t happen. On occasion, bad things will. If you tell yourself you’ll be financially secure, your mind will work toward it (even without you knowing from a conscious level). If you say to yourself that you will be better – physically, mentally, it will happen. Never underestimate the power of words.

3). Words Written or Spoken Lead to Self Discovery. The more you communicate, the more you weigh the words, the more you shape the tone of those words, the more people can see you mean them (and they will) the more influence and power you’ll possess. The right people will love you more. The wrong will hate you more. I used the word “more,” more on purpose. Deal with it.

1974: “She went crazy on purpose because she had you!”

I screamed those words at her. Mom. She was pushing my buttons. Hard. She was drunk. She hit me. I hit her back. There was blood everywhere. From her nose. My nose. I meant it too. Josephine went insane because she saw your future, mom!! She saw what a miserable human, horrible mother you were going to turn out to be and the disappointment was too much!!

She sat there. At the edge of the bathtub. Bleeding. She said: “I’m sorry.” That’s it. I stopped her in her tracks. My words hit harder than a palm against her face. I knew they would.

Grandpa Joseph told me about his mistake. He saw a change in his girl. When he wheeled in Josephine and introduced her to his daughter. He said the words he knew changed his daughter forever. But it was too late.

“This is your real momma, honey.”

I barely remember what Grandpa Joseph looked like. I can’t recall his voice at all. But I remember the words he spoke to me. I remember what he told me.

Like it was yesterday. I remember the words I said to mom. Like it was yesterday almost 40 years ago.

Who will remember your words?

Today.

40 years from now.

Will those words comfort you or drive you insane?

You choose.

Your Personal Declaration of Independence – How to be Reborn on the 5th of July.

“The brick is on fire!” Donna screamed.

Pointing feverishly to the Armeggedon in front of me. She was long at my back. Way back from my back. Like to the doorway to the exit to the floor below.

Are you lighting the right passions? What is your focus?

And it was.But if (when) you stepped away, the bricks engulfed in flame was the least of my problems.A good part of the apartment building’s roof was engulfed. It was a super-hot Fourth of July, too. 1976.

The tenement building’s roof was my personal summer sticky playground and now my playground was in danger of melting.

At least if a Brooklyn FD unit was in my future, I was wearing pants this time around. The last time fire trucks showed up I had my bare bottom stuck to hot asphalt. This time? I was prepared! Pants locked. Secured.

It all happened so fast. This was supposed to be the best fourth ever too. Portable radio, new hibachi (tiny, best BBQ ever), and $200 worth of assorted fireworks (that was a fortune for me). A fortune for 1976. Hey, it was the bicentennial. A big deal. I wanted a big bang to celebrate (from Donna too who wore a July 4 themed tube top ready for removal).

For those of you too young to know what “Hibachi,” is.

The wind was unusual. Air was still. Then a gust. Still. A gust. Let’s say it was damn unusual. I placed the first (of what I thought would be many) of the colorful fireworks, cone shaped, on the ledge of the roof facing the street.I was going to orchestrate the most impressive pyrotechnics display these sweaty bastards ever saw. Happy 200th birthday, America!!

I lit the fuse and stepped back. Excited. Then it hit me. A formula for disaster was right before my eyes.

Wind Gust + Huge Paper Grocery Bag of Fireworks On Roof Floor + Ignited Fuse =

Brooklyn rooftops were both beautiful & dangerous.

I couldn’t have planned a  more perfect disaster. The wind knocked the cone directly into the bag. Then the real show began.Before it was over, there was a flaming pile of ash and a trail from the wind swirling remnants of fiery trash now starting fires all over the roof.Flaming fireworks were now raining down on the courtyard too.

I dreadfully imagined the emergency call to the FDNY this time:

“The roof of _____? Is it the kid who had his genitals stuck? He’s at it again?”

Hey, it wasn’t my fault!!!! I didn’t plan this!!

Or did I?

Fuck off!! I’m the victim here!!!!

Was I?

I needed to face smoldering facts. I was turning into a human I didn’t want to be. A person worse than a hoodlum. My soul was on fire.

My mother always blamed everyone else for her troubles, her fate, even though she was responsible for what lit her fuse and how she crashed and burned. Over and over again.

Turning into my mother was the worst thing I could imagine. In the flames I was still. I was hoping to burn. Donna? Long gone. On the phone with the fire department.

I was next. Ready to burn. Ready to be consumed by the hell fire of a victim’s mentality.

I imagined myself a scarred drone. A victimless victim. An ash hit my face. I left it alone. To wake me up.  I was not going to fall for the hypnotic bad flames around me. I was bigger than the fire now.If there was indeed going to be fires, I was going to make damn sure I was responsible for them. I was going to use them to fuel my path. Out of this neighborhood. No more rooftops. No more bare ass to asphalt. And I was going to make sure my fires were mostly for good things. Not for ruining property. My beloved roof. Scarred forever.

At 12 years old I declared my independence. Never looked back. Little did I know when my mother left town forever a year later with a guy she knew for a week, this move would serve me well.

On July 4 we celebrated. We took back America. The one we remember or at least, like to remember. The one of loyalty, love, faith, friendship. The old of glory. The flames of patriotism and of course, independence.

Then July 5 rolls around. And it’s over. We are slaves again. Slaves to debt, slaves to overwhelming bosses and the corporations they serve, slaves to politics, slaves to shit we don’t need. We lose ourselves in the bad flames. Next 4th of July we’ll restore our faith again. Not good enough. It’s time to light your fuse.

No. A year is too damn far away. Today, July 5. You will be reborn. Today is your personal independence day. How will you create and serve this noble purpose?

How would you begin your PDI? What will be your Personal Declaration of Independence?

Random Thoughts:

1). Burn (or blow up) Bridges. Set to flame those people who don’t ignite your passions, your creativity, your strengths, your will to live. You’ve already identified them you just haven’t had the guts to set the bridges on fire. Not literally. Put away the lighter fluid. Don’t even call these pricks. Just stop communication. Walk out. Get an attorney if you’re married. Nothing wrong with using the laws of the land to light the dynamite.

2). Be a Firestarter. Direct your fire slowly to those activities, the people, the materials that enhance your intelligence, bolster your wealth, lighten your mood and encourage you. Light the spark every day. At the end of the day, be thankful you were able to set good thoughts ablaze. Be thankful for the firestarters.

3). Who Holds the Fire Extinguisher Now? Or who is out to hose you? I’ve identified real false fire gods. They lurk in the coals of corporate America. You think they’re mentors. They are. Up until you stop chugging the Kool-Aid and speak out against an action that’s inappropriate to the customers or clients you serve.

Do that and you’re dead. Even if you speak out once. Dead. Covered in white foam. Your career fire is out. Just like that. What the hell happened?

Create a personal, small rebellion (which will turn out to be BIG) against corporate America. Corporate America is no longer your friend if you’re an employee. Although, you’re extra, extra special as a shareholder or a bondholder.

As a worker, you’re drudge at the bottom of a drudge bucket. Yes, there are exceptions but not as many as you think. Every corporate action that is taken and will be taken going forward will be to drain more life out of you and take time away from your family. All for the sake of fatter profit margins. All to appease Wall Street analysts. You work for Wall Street now. It doesn’t matter what your check says. Your corporate mentors will spoon feed you, pacify you until you speak up. It only takes one time.

After the financial crisis in 2008, behind the doors of mahogany boardrooms I’m thoroughly convinced that corporate decisions makers know they have you over a barrel. They’re willing to take advantage of the situation for as long as possible. They want the fire in your soul until there’s nothing left.

You’ll work longer hours for less pay. You’ll progressively be thrown lofty goals soaked in management hubris, which will be increasingly impossible to meet. And when you don’t meet or exceed these hurdles you’ll be written up or threatened with firing.

The future indicates you’ll need to deal with greater “innovation” from middle managers who consistently need to work off your sweat equity to enhance their miserable careers. You have now become a flesh cog in the corporate machine until the scales balance more in labor’s favor. It will happen someday. They’ll be more workers seeking to break free. For now? You’re screwed.

Don’t be a victim. What actions can you take today to further strengthen your personal declaration of independence. Knowing your enemy helps. Some dress well and talk sharp. Take what you can get. Be respectful. But never trust corporate mentors.

4). Positive Fires Rage through Humility. I’ve heard America likes overachievers. I don’t believe it. People will sincerely appreciate your help but don’t fall too in love with yourself. Remain humble and grateful in your life and in your delivery of guidance. Overachieve in your heart and be thankful when people recognize and commend your fires.

God will bless you and people will actually heed your words. Humble also means you have a fire to constantly gain knowledge. You can never know or learn enough.

I never went up to the roof again. I left everything. For all I know, the Hibachi  and the radio are still up there.

The person I was remains in the brick of an urban hearth. The person I  was died in flames on July 4, 1976.

On July 5th,  I was reborn.

How will it happen for you?

Although on occasion, I miss the dirty beauty seen from a Brooklyn roof.