Take the 30 day gratitude challenge

 
 
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

 
Life is a series of up and downs and if you are not currently fighting a storm I can assure you that one is on the way. It is easy while in the midst of a difficult time to forget all that we have in life to be thankful.
 
That is one reason that for many years now I have begun most days with a mindset of gratitude. Most mornings and especially on Mondays I make an effort to reflect on the many things I have to be thankful about in my life. How can I have a bad week when there is so much good around me?
 
I try to affirm daily the good in my life and begin my day with thanks for what I have now and the opportunity to have even more in the future. I do this with a prayer thanking God for the present blessings in my life and for the opportunity a new day represents. Doing so only takes a few minutes of quiet reflection.
 
Example: 
“Lord today I thank you for ____________ and pray you will lift this person up and bring joy to their day”

“I thank you today for my ________ help me to appreciate it and all the other good things I have in my life.”

“Thank you, Lord, for this new day and the new chance to be my best and to serve others. I will honor this blessing today through my actions, my attitude and my results” 
 
Having gratitude for others is important since we never win alone. Do I have bad days and times when I am grumpy? Absolutely! These are the days when taking a moment for reflection and appreciation mean the most.
 
The belief in a day of success with a reflective moment on something positive begins momentum the right direction. It is on the days when I do not do this that I tend to falter.
 
Prayer works for me and may work for you as well. At the very least as you begin your day start it by affirming something and someone positive.
 
Next state your absolute belief success will follow as you go through your day.
 
My challenge to you is the try this for a month and see what happens. When negativity creeps into your mind as your day progresses repeat your prayer from the morning and commit to reset your attitude. I know that no matter what storm you are in now or what storm is coming there are things in your life that you have at this moment that you can take 2 – 5 minutes each day to give thanks. Just the fact that you woke up to face another day is a blessing as opposed to the alternative.
 

Try giving thanks each morning for the next 30 days. You will be amazed at the difference it will make.

 

Planning to win

Imagine you are standing at the end of a washed out bridge with people blindly driving your way all unaware of the fate that will behold them if they do not change their direction right away. You would, at the best of your ability, do all you could to get them to stop and go another way.
 
As a 50+-year-old genX-debt free-cancer survivor, I feel this way about many topics. Marriage, parenting, health, career, finances are all areas that by this point in life I have learned many lessons. Some through my own great mistakes and many through educated hard work successes.
 
My strongest obsession now for several years is a desire to retire without want. The journey began early in my working life when I first read The Millionaire Next Door. I was at the time single and making less than $25,000. It was amazing to learn at my young age that there is a path to wealth even for the average person. 

That seed of hope was small and at the time did not take full root other than to get me started on a low level of 401K saving.
 
I went on to live a normal life of spending and debt just like most people. Then in the spring of 1998 cancer came in another effort to wake me up. Now I had a fear of possible unmet family needs. Would we have memory building experiences? How would the son afford college? If I were to die, would my wife be left with financial security? Along the way, I also experienced job insecurity with layoffs occurring around me on average about every 12-18 months. Thinking of retirement was not a priority in part because I was unsure really if I would have a job or live that long.    
 
This little stew of experiences in some ways has left me pretty messed up.
 
So here I am soon to turn 52 and looking back while at the same time looking forward to a new stage of life. Retirement seems like an old man word but it looms as a possibility in just a few short years. Time does fly indeed and every day counts. 
 
According to this source, the median savings of someone my age is $117,000. Twenty-five year old me would have considered that to be a lot of money. Fifty-two year old me understands it to be terribly out of whack compared to what will be needed by most people to retire at a reasonable age with dignity. The person with $117,000 most likely does not realize that to have even $48,000 in income at retirement a nest egg of 1.2 million is recommended. That is a slap you in the face keep you up at night big number. Of course, you have to be aware of the number and care about it for the hand to be motivated enough to give yourself a whack.
 
Dear people wake up and realize the end of the bridge is coming and there is no reason to keep driving towards it. You know what to do. Get out of debt, live below your means and start saving now for a future that is many years away for some and just around the corner for others.
 
Whys and whats are easy to dream about. It is in the hows that we get hung up but the reality is that with the plethora of resources available to us today there no excuse not to win. Those who do not are doing so by either conscious or unconscious choice.
 
I plan to win. Just as importantly to me, I want you to win too. Here some resources to get you started. Join me and we will win together. 
 
 
 

20 Years Today

I can still remember that morning as if it were yesterday.

I was in the shower as usual and while washing under my arm I felt a lump. After just a few moments of pressing, there was no doubt in my mind what it was.

Cancer

Cancer was not a stranger to me as I had a mole removed from my back that was melanoma five years before and my mother had passed away recently after several years of her own battle. So strong was my concern, that prior to asking Michelle to marry me I had visited the oncologist to ask about my own risks. He told me at the time not to worry and go live my life. Little did I know that this same doctor would design the battle that was to come in an effort to keep it.

I got dressed that morning without saying a word and dropped eight-month-old Conner off at daycare as if nothing was wrong. Next was a call the oncologist and a visit to hear from him.

In the exam room the dr. pressed under my arm to confirm the lump was indeed there along with a second smaller tumor. “What about the lump on your neck?” he asked. “How long as that been there?” Oh my! That was another surprise.
How and the world could I have cancer? I was still at the dawn of life with a young son, young marriage and a career that was just starting to find a path to success. My father had died when I was a kid dramatically impacting my view of the world and of myself.
Was my son now destined to grow up the same? No father memories and childhood fantasies of how different things would be if only I had a dad.
The official tests did indeed confirm that I had two tumors under my arm and one near my neck. The initial determination was dire as the under the arm tumor was so large that the surgical team thought there was not much to be done. The tumor on my neck was also in a precarious position which would make it difficult to remove. Nothing could be accomplished without first administering several rounds of chemo in hopes the tumors would shrink.  

The chemo was a surprise success with the tumors shrinking significantly making the surgery to remove them possible. It was also decided to remove the lymph nodes along my neck and arm. Unfortunately, along with this procedure came the next round of bad news.

The surgeon met with me in the exam room and sat several feet away in the corner with his clipboard and results.  While not making eye contact and with a grim voice, he proceeded to tell me that although the procedure went well it was clear that the larger tumor involved more than the lymph nodes meaning cancer had traveled through my bloodstream. The even worse news was that most of the nodes that had been removed clearly showed signs of cancer. He then proceeded to give me what seemed to be a well-practiced talk about preparing for the worse. I do not remember much else from this talk other than the clear message that things were not good.

Still, perhaps it was denial, I had hope in the future. So much so that Dr. Clipboard, sitting in the corner, added a comment to his notes that I would see later. “The patient does seem to understand the seriousness of his situation”. Well, in my mind getting further down emotionally or planning for an impending doom would not make any difference so there was no point really in worrying too much about it. The only choice was to just move forward with hope and to place my future completely in the Lord’s hands.  

The fact that I am writing this to you shows the power of our hope and the miracle of the life I have.

Today marks 20 years since my final cancer treatment. I have always thought of it as wonderful to have had that final radiation on Christmas Eve. After all, Christmas morning as all about hope, joy and a new beginning.

The day after, the next day and every day since has been a gift. Like many of the packages we open, I know I have not appreciated it as I should much of the time. I am far from the person I could be, have much to learn and a long way to grow. Nonetheless, for today, I am simply thankful. Thankful for this life and thankful to tell those around me that I love them.

I hope to move forward worthy of this gift of time and to never forget. I also hope that you never have to feel a lump or experience a trauma to be reminded of what life is really about. Make the most of each day as a gift as we do not know what may be waiting for us tomorrow.

Where is happiness?

Our family spent a few days in Colorado recently and it was wonderful to soak in the cool mountain air and view the beauty that can only be found in the great American west. I have kiddingly said many times that my happy place is on a mountain rock contemplating life. On this trip however, I took time to realize that my happy place is really not a place at all. It is a moment.

It is a simple time on the couch with my wife talking about our whacky dog. It is the conversation with our college age son about his current success and plans for the future. It is that moment on the bike side by side with others striving for personal fitness while enjoying some great comradery. It is at work when a new employee shares excitement about starting a job here and what it means for their life.

Happy is not a place. It is an ability to recognize the small moments that really make this life worth living and taking time to smile in the moment. As a new week begins, I am challenging myself (and you) to see the moment and know that these rocks are everywhere.

Let’s do this!

Life after 50

There are many men that when they pass a certain age lose their way. Statistics show that divorce rates and depression for men after 50 are growing with male suicide rates now peaking after 50. Little is known as to the reason why but my best guess is that many men turn to this decade of life, join the empty nest then look around and say, “now what?”.

Looking back there were once dreams of big jobs, big houses, big bank accounts, and small waistlines. Instead for many men we look around and find life has not quite turned out as expected.

We think

“Retirement is coming but I have no plan”
“Our child-centered marriage has changed and left my wife and me with little in common”
“Our friends were based on our child circle and they have moved on”
“The job of my dreams is now just a grind”
“The body I see in the mirror is of an old man. The athlete in me is gone”

“Now what?”  “Now what?”

Most men by nature keep these deep fears to ourselves and avoid sharing. If not addressed properly these inner demons can grow toxic leading to despair, poor health and broken relationships.

Wake up, brothers! These can be the best of times as you dig deep into the new you. You can get on track to retire with dignity with some intense actions.  You can fall even more deeply in love with your wife as you discover the joy of pursuing her again. You can use your new time to find renewed joy in your current work or perhaps a new path to a dream you thought would never happen. You now can take time to honor your body with a turn to a new level of health.

The truth is that in this day with information and examples of success so easy to find there is no excuse for not educating ourselves, setting new goals and then taking massive action to make it happen.

Fifty and beyond does not mean life’s journey is coming to an end. Instead, it can be a time to spring into an even more fulfilling life. Make the decade of your 50s the best years of your life with even more joy to come.  Go for it!

10 Tips for Getting Debt Free–like me!

“If you want to live like no one else tomorrow, you have to live like no one else today” -Dave Ramsey

A saw a statistic the other day that said the average American consumer is carrying over $7,000 in credit card debt. The skyrocketing cost of college has also resulted in student loan debt at 44 trillion dollars with an average debt load of $37,172 for each person. These numbers do not include other debt “normal” people carry including a mortgage and a car. Add all of these elements together and you can understand the pressure people are feeling regarding their finances.

It seems most folks see debt as just a part of life. “You will always have a car, credit card, and a house payment”

Really?

Is this statement true? Why!

Having been 100% debt free now for four years and I can without a doubt say it does not have to be that way. It is possible to get out of debt and to stay that way.

Really, since being out of debt I find it very hard to imagine digging a new hole for my future. Lord willing I will never have debt again.

So how do you live a life without debt? Really it is a matter of mindset followed by habit.

Here is the simple solution:

  • Don’t buy stuff you can’t afford 
  • Don’t buy stuff you don’t need 
  • Live below your means 
  • Save Automatically 
  • Marry right 
  • Chose your career wisely 
  • Learn to enjoy free stuff 
  • Save today for the future you want twenty + years from now
  • Be content and grateful for what you have
  • Never stop learning 

The keys to a debt free live are there for everyone to grab. Now that I am there, I wonder why I ever lived my life any other way.

You can open this door as well with some planning, education and time. Just listen to the stories from Dave Ramsey callers for a week and I guarantee you will leave believing you can do it.

Why are you waiting?

Chasing Success

Many years ago when I was a young man new in the corporate world met a fellow that was just about to retire. I remember he was super old like 55 or something (I am 50 now) and had a plan to hike the Appalachian trail. I do not recall his position with the company but I am sure it was not an executive level or anything like that. 

Learning that I was a new parent, he decided to give me some advice on how to have a happy career and retire early. He told me a story about a high school friend of his at a recent reunion that had given him a hard time about not having climbed higher on the corporate ladder. 

“I congratulated him on his career success and then asked him a few questions” 
“How many times have you been married?”

The answer was 2

“How many kids do you have?” 

The answer was 3 with two from the first marriage and 1 from the current

“Do you pay alimony and child support”

“Yes”

“Do you see your kids every day?” 

“No, my first wife has remarried and lives in a different city” 

“Are you going to be able to retire on your own terms and with money in the bank?” 

You can kind of see where the conversation was going. My new buddy told me that early in life he set his priority to be the best husband and best father that he could be. He on purpose then passed on job opportunities and promotions that would have taken him away from his primary mission.

In the organization, he was at this time, not a CEO or anything like that but he was a high-level manager with a lot of responsibility. He was also very respected by his team and I could tell was a solid leader.

He had a career that was well done.

Along the way, he lived a conservative lifestyle, gave of his time freely to others, and invested heavily in his family. The bonus reward for all these choices was just around the corner as he was about to embark on a grand adventure to follow his dreams. The man just oozed joy and this 20-minute conversation really changed my perspective on life. 

Twenty years later I still remember that conversation and the impact it had on me. Looking back I am happy with the choices I have made along the way with my family, finances, and career. Yes, there have been many mistakes along the way but overall life is good. Looking forward, we are on our way to our next stages of dreams and that path I pray will be as full of joy as that I saw in the face of this man.

Life is going to be full of choices, I learned on that day to decide who I wanted to be and to not pay a price for success by losing things that were far more important and long-lasting.

Know your values. Know your goals and never waiver.

How Diet Coke almost stole my retirement dreams

I still remember the day I realized that my daily diet coke habit was stealing my retirement dreams.
At the time, Coke was running a promotion using a code from a bottle cap to get prizes. You would save your cap, enter the number on a website and points would add up for something fabulous. I kept these caps in a desk drawer and it did not take long for these to really pile up since I had a long time frequent habit of visiting the machine at work several times a day. There was the before work Coke,mid-morning Coke, lunch Coke, mid-afternoon Coke and usually something towards the end of the day.
One afternoon I looked at the pile of caps wondered how much in cost that represented. Next, I began to think about cost over time and if I continued this pattern what it would mean in the long term. The final kicker was when I plugged in my average monthly diet coke spending into a savings calculator and considered how much $5 a day applied to retirement could mean if saved for the next 20 years.
The result was mind blowing. Over the course of 20 years these drinks would cost me $59,307 in opportunity. That is real money and a real chunk of change.
I decided at that moment to dig deep into my spending habits to find savings anywhere I could and then apply that savings to my get out of debt, save for kid college and retire comfortable plan. That was close to 20 years ago and I bet I have not visited a coke machine more than a few times at work. The savings redirected over this long period of time has made a real difference in the direction of our dreams.
We all have our cap pile spending excesses and most people put little thought into how these seemingly minor everyday expenses can add up to steal our future. This can be retirement, college for the children and more.  
Here is a typical pile for the average person in a month:
  • $100 sodas or fancy coffee ($5×20) 
  • $160 lunch ($8×20) 
  • $80 Snacks ($2×20)
  • $50 Gym Membership
  • $12 Netflix
  • $10 Spotify 
  • $12 Premium cable channel upgrade

 =$424 a month
These “small” charge items if instead invested with an average return over time:
Would equal $251,463 total saved in 20 years at 8%
Would equal $622,495 total saved in 30 years at 8%
Would equal $1,423,526 total saved in 40 years at 8%
Notice that on this list I am not including things like expensive vacations, dinners out, designer clothes, new cars, weekend fun or any other items many people tend to overdo. For many, these are just the basics.
If you are in your 20’s and 30’s listen to me now and wake up! Your small choices here and there to ensure you are saving will compound and open doors that only a savings calculator and your mind can imagine. You must start now if you want to have the freedom to do what you want as you get older and not live in poverty at retirement.
My journey to the golden exit is coming quickly and I am thankful for that day so many years ago when a pile of Diet Coke caps helped trigger a dream.  
You can do it too. You just need to educate yourself, write down where you want to be financially in the future and start today making the changes today that will secure your future tomorrow.

Take action
What is one thing this month you could give up and then re-direct to saving opportunity? Even a 1% increase to your 401K or IRA will make a huge difference over a long period of time.


How to write goals for success

If you read my previous post you understand the importance of goal setting to reach success. You must also be committed to joining the 9% club by following through with what you want to achieve.

Everyone is different and how you organize your goals need to be your own but I thought I would share what has worked for me over the years.
A Key thing to know is that goal setting is not a one-time event. Goals are to be in progress at all times and there is nothing wrong at all with having things that will take years to accomplish. This is why having them in writing and updated regularly will help you.
If you need a model for structuring your goal there is always the classic SMART format.
Specific–What do you want?
Measurable–How will you know you have achieved it?
Attainable–Is this goal even possible?
Relevant–Will the goal make a positive difference for you and/or others?
Time–when will you start, what are milestones along the way and when will you finish? (this is important)
I go a little extra by adding an E and an R.
E–what about this goal excites me so much that I am willing to make sacrifices and overcome the obstacles that will come my way?
R–what is the reward?  When the goal is accomplished and just as importantly when the goal is in progress what is going to be the outcome benefit of having gone through all this effort.
Breaking your goals down into great detail takes a lot of time but the long-term benefit to going through this process will help you see things to the end.
I also break my goals up into specific categories to ensure I have a well-rounded focus for the year. These categories are:
Faith–how will I grow this year to be closer to God and to serve others?
Family–how will I grow as a husband and as a father?
Career–how will I demonstrate excellence in my work to better serve those around me?
Finances–how will we keep our life debt free while building a future for retirement?
Fitness/health–how will I stay fit and healthy?
Fun–What adventure will we have for the year?
I know this can sound like a lot and I guess it is. However, since I have been using these same categories for many years and since I review these often, really after the first time subsequent years become simply tweaks.
If all this seems overwhelming I suggest you start with just one category and then dig deep into your SMARTER plan to make things happen. Once you see the results of this effort you will get motivated to expand your planning to every area of your life. Soon as you start checking off milestones along your journey you will meet your three new best friends–Mo, Men and Tum.
When they join your team. Nothing will stop you!
So what are you waiting for?

Stop Resolution Failure and have a breakout 2018

“The person without goals will end up working for someone that does”
Yes, it is that time of year again. As we near the flip of the calendar many people get excited about the psychological turn to a New Year and set goals. I think we have all been there with plans to lose weight or to finally make that life-changing career move. It is reported that 41% of us “usually” set New Year’s Resolutions and 42% of us never set make a resolution.

Sadly of the those that do set goals, only 9.2% feel they have experienced success in achieving them. Given this very poor result, it is no wonder so many do not bother and it shows the power of optimism that so many keep trying.
I am a goal setter. It is not something I do as much as it is part of who I am. Going back over 15 years I have my goals and result of these goals documented. It is interesting each year to reflect on some of my older objectives as they provide insight into points of time in my life.
Some success highlights looking back are:
  • Go back to school and get Masters degree 
  • Run a marathon
  • Complete a half ironman
  • Become 100% debt free
  • Enable son to go debt free to college
  • Pass the SHRM-SCP exam
I could also list many goals where I missed the mark or that are still in progress. My lesson learned looking back is that goal setting is not something that is set and forget.
We (I) fail when the goal is fleeting and not backed up by action to make it happen. I can see over the years that it has been the goals that were backed by a massive why and followed by a well-executed how that became a reality.
Here is how to turn your resolutions into success.
It really does all start with why.
Your reason for any goal has gotta be so powerful that it drives you to your end state no matter what obstacle may rise to get in the way.
Losing weight is cool and all but WHY? Eating poorly and not exercising is easy. To change this behavior we must replace the pleasure trigger of addictive food with something better than that extra slice of pie.
Getting a promotion is cool but WHY? Is it just for some extra money or extra prestige?  These things sound great but for most people are like the sugar from the pie. Money and ego lifting pleasure last for just moments and then soon there comes the crash of the daily work grind. What will this promotion mean for you in the years to come? How will it make a difference in the lives of others and for the success of your organization?
Going back to school sounds hard, is going to cost money, will take a lot of time and does not guarantee any change at the end. So why?  I went back for my Masters as an adult for the stereotypical reason of job growth but my compelling why was for my son and for my wife. I saw it as a way to have a better future for them and I knew studies show children of educated parents are more likely to experience success with their own education. This is especially true if the going back to school occurs with the child old enough to be aware of your work in progress.
After you have figured out your why the next most important thing is to have a well established and documented how. A why in the head is nothing more than a wish if not backed up by action with the hands and feet.
The good news here is that whatever you want most likely has been achieved by someone else starting in your situation or even worse. Want to lose weight? Find that person that did so years ago and has kept it off. Want to get out of debt? Look for a person that has done the same and as a result, has achieved something you want.  
There is no reason to start from scratch for anything when there are so many people that have failed and succeeded to do the same as your want. It is simple.
Find out what people who fail do wrong and don’t do that!
Find out what people do right and do that!
This is the ultimate R&D. Most of my success has been by ripping off and duplicating the strategies of others while also avoiding their mistakes.
Do not know any successful people? Then dig deep through reading, podcasts, and your own people research to become a success expert. With the world of information we have at our hands, there should be no barrier to your movement forward.  
Are you ready to join the 9% club? Write down the why along with a vivid and compelling description of the end state of your life after this goal has been completed. Next, write down a detail how including some simple milestones that can be celebrated soon along the way. Finally, get busy by taking massive action to make it happen.

Make 2018 your year to be on the journey to be the best possible you.