November 2008


With the economy in the tank and the Dow dropping like eyelids at a 30-hour Matlock marathon, we have heard the same advice repeated endlessly – stay the course.  Almost any financial expert will tell you that if you give up on your stocks now, you will lock in your losses and waste the investment that you may have taken years to grow.  “Don’t panic,” they tell us.  It may take some time, but the market will recover – it always does.  Experts agree that the best thing to do now is to continue investing.  If we will consistently invest during times of economic uncertainty we will be thankful later.

 

If only we were as loyal to our personal relationships as we are to our mutual funds.  What happens when relationships take a nosedive of the same magnitude as our current economic crisis? We usually end up selling and locking in our losses.  We stop contributing; thinking that further investment into a failing relationship is a waste of time.

 

Whether your current relationship struggle is with a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker, I urge you to stay the course.  If you continue investing during times of relational uncertainty, you will be thankful later.

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My wife and I welcomed our second daughter into the world just over two months ago.  With a 3 year old and a 2 month old, we are beginning to understand why people actually think that mini-vans are a good idea.  I’m not getting one, but I understand.

 

Maybe my memory is a bit cloudy but it seems like when I was a kid, my sister and I just piled into the back of the Buick and off we went.  Car seats?  I guess those weren’t invented yet.  Back in those days, we didn’t even wear seatbelts.  Half of the long trips were spent sitting on our knees looking out the rear window or trying to get comfortable enough to sleep on the floorboard without the hump causing sclerosis.

 

Nowadays things are different.  Our two car seats look like they were designed by NASA.  They take up the entire back seat and by what I can tell from the car seat laws, they will continue to do so for the next six years.  The stroller for our infant unfolds to approximately the size of a Geo Metro and any additional space in the car is quickly consumed by toys, diapers, wipes, food, etc.  Oh yeah, and don’t forget the DVD player and two monitors (one for each kid).  I was one of those parents who said I would never use a DVD player to mindlessly entertain my child in the car… then I took a two year old on a 6 hour road trip.  We now have DVD players.

 

The catch here is half the stuff we cram into the vehicle never gets used. We simply pack it in “just in case”.  As a society, our lives are following the same pattern.  We now have access to more information, more entertainment, more people, more activities, more hobbies… more everything.  We have to be careful not to dilute our lives to the point that we do a little bit of everything and not much of anything.

 

As this year closes, this is a time for renewal and making plans for the upcoming year.  Each year, I make a list of goals and break it down into things that I want to accomplish on a monthly basis throughout the year (I know – I’m an engineer, I can’t help it).

 

This year, I’m making an additional list.  I’m making a list of all the things that I am not going to do.  I encourage you to do the same.  Make 2009 a year of simplification and focus.  It’s great to have big plans and grand intentions, but if you don’t eliminate all the junk that prevents you from doing the most important things, you’ll just be spinning your wheels wondering where all the time went.   So go ahead and give yourself permission not to do all of those things that pull you away from doing what is important.

I’ve been a dog lover all of my life.  When I say “dog lover,” I am talking about real dogs not those yappy, manicured, four-legged mammals that more closely resemble a really loud and obnoxious cat than man’s best friend.  I had an encounter last week that has caused me to rethink my interactions with the pooches of the world.

 

During one of my runs last week, I came up behind a young couple walking two large dogs.  I passed one of them, a chocolate lab/mastiff mix and nodded at the owner.  The second, a bullmastiff, was slightly ahead of the other.  If you don’t know what bullmastiff is, think Turner and Hooch.

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I’ve never had any fear of dogs and didn’t think anything about running past this animal that looked more like a small horse than a dog.  As I passed the dog, it decided to say “hello” by taking a bite out of my right hindquarter. 

 

When I tell this story, I can’t help but use a Forrest Gump voice and explain that “I was just running” when “something jumped up and bit me.”  I’ve roughhoused with dogs and got the little play bites before, but this one actually tore my shorts, broke the skin, and drew blood.  I currently have ten tooth marks and a nice bruise.  

 

To make matters worse, 38 cases of rabies have been reported this year in the county where I live.  I checked with the owners to make sure that the dog was current on its shots because I didn’t want to start foaming at the mouth until someone took me out in the woods to end my earthly existence in the likeness of Old Yeller.

 

I’m not sure where I am going with this, but it’s not every day you get bitten by a 150 pound dog.  It seems that the things that end up hurting us the most are not the things that we fear, but the things that we are comfortable with.  The irony of this is a lot people spend their lives avoiding taking chances and trying new endeavors because they are afraid they may get hurt or fail.  But in truth when we take a chance, we are more cautious and alert.  It is when our daily existence is nothing more than going through the motions that we can be lulled into putting our lives on autopilot.  When we live a life of routine, boring adequacy we sometimes overlook the pitfalls of leading such a life.

 

I’m not saying that we always need to be on the lookout for danger and living in a constant state of paranoia.  I am imploring you to make decisions that require you to be alert rather than just mundanely running through life with a false sense of security.

Take a minute and ask yourself what you would be willing to die for.  Whoa, that’s a big question to get hit with right off the bat!  But think about it.  For what would you willingly give your life?  Have you thought of few things?   

 

Now, what would you be willing to live for?  Well… they should be the same things, right?  If you would be willing to sacrifice your life for something, it only stands to reason that you would be willing to live for that same thing on a daily basis.

 

What were you thinking of when asked what you would be willing to die for.  The typical answers are your family, close friends, religious beliefs, your country, social justice, etc.  Did any of you think you would be willing to die for your career, a promotion, a raise, a bigger house, or a new car?  Of course not – that’s ridiculous, right?

 

Now, what do you really live for?  I’m not talking about the rare occasions where you get to take center stage for your noble cause.  What do you live for on the average, run-of-the-mill day?  If you’re like most people, you’re probably focusing your efforts on those very things that you would never be willing to die for.  Don’t you see how we’ve got this totally mixed up?

 

When you live for the things that you would be willing to die for, your life becomes filled with your passion for those things.  But most of us chose to place our daily efforts on our careers and our own selfish ambition.  We waste time worrying about our house, our bank accounts, or what other people think about us, leaving little time and energy to dedicate to those things that we said we would be willing to die for.

 

You can only die for something once, but you have the opportunity to live for something every single day.