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I think I’ve found a way to reverse the aging process.  Do what you should have done 25 years ago.  Instead of preparing for the end of your career at a large corporation join a startup.  The benefits are endless including the following:

  • You don’t have to worry about climbing the corporate ladder because there’s nothing to climb.  In addition, you don’t have to worry about back stabbing because you don’t have anything your handful of fellow workers would want.  Every position comes with the same salary and benefit package…none.
  • You get to have any position you want in the company.  You want to be an engineer?  Put on the hard hat and start designing something.  You want to be head of marketing?  Open up Powerpoint and start building presentations.  You want to be the president?  Start calling investors and begging for money.  In no time you’ll be working 100 hours a week.  And think of the benefits to your resume!
  • You don’t have to worry about your spouse compaining that you’re spending too much time in the office.  There is no office to spend time at.  Indeed, by working virtually (translation: at your dining room table) you get to spend all sorts of “quality” time with your spouse.  And before long they’re ready to find an office job themselves.
  • You don’t have to worry about becoming entangled in a career-ending office romance.  In fact, you don’t even have to worry about the distraction of conjugal romance (see the previous point)…allowing you to spend more time on your startup.
  • You don’t have to worry about when and where you’ll take your 2-3 weeks of vacation.  Who needs it?!  Vacation is for corporate types who only work 50 hours a week. 
  • And, best of all, you don’t have to pay taxes.  With no income and no benefits what’s to tax.  Take that Uncle Sam!

So, if you’re one of the few people still drawing a regular salary, benefits, and an office you call your own, you might want to reconsider your situation.  What do you have to look forward to?  Early retirement?  More time reading novels, puttering in the garden, or walking the beach?  By working for a startup you get to deplete your savings and improve the odds you’ll be working long after your peers retire.  And, by my logic, if you don’t retire you can’t get old.  Eat your heart out Ponce de Leon!

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Dear Kelsey,

I know this past weekend was difficult for you.  You worked so hard and believed so much in your team that it was tough to take the losses you did.   But, above all else, you should be proud of your accomplishments.  You have shown yourself to be a true leader and earned the respect and affection of your teammates.  As a result, your team is a TEAM.  Everyone cares for each other.  Everyone is willing to make sacrifices for each other.  And everyone truly enjoys being part of the team.  I have no doubt that if there was an award for team solidarity Queen’s would have won it.  And you led the way. 

In preparation for next year let me share with you some observations on what Queen’s women’s lacrosse needs to do to improve.  First, your team needs to be more disciplined in its play.  There is too much scrambling and not enough good decision making on the field.  Your team has very good passing and catching skills but you often look bad on the field because passes are rushed and forced into coverage.  The other teams knows this and they crowd one side of the field to force bad passes.  Learn to move the ball from one side of the field to the other to avoid the pressure – even it means moving it backwards.  It’s a big field – use all of it!

Next, remember the three most important things of any team sport  are position, position, position.  What you do when you don’t have the ball is more important than what you do when you do have it.  Another reason your team often passed into coverage is that team members who did not have the ball weren’t doing a good enough job of getting open.  Everyone has to be thinking of ways to get open at all times.  Again, even if that means moving backward temporarily.

Finally, learn to adjust to your opponents.  Western was a very fast team. How do you deal with speed?  Play keep away.  If they don’t have the ball they can’t use their speed.  Toronto had a number of smart, tall, good shooters who were dangerous cutting across the front of the net.  How to defeat that?  Crowd the area in front of the net.   Don’t allow them to clear out the front.  Anyway, I think you know the main story line of last weekend.  Your opponents made adjustments and you didn’t.  Something to think about for next year.  And, if you’re lucky, you might even have a full time coach like the other teams!

Now put this note away for next year and get back to your books!   What do you think I’m paying for anyway??  Varsity sports??

Love,

Dad

I started running a couple of years ago.  Not every day and sometimes not every other day.  But certainly a few times a week.  So now that I’ve done it for a while what can I say about it?  Well, to start with, it hasn’t gotten easier!!  I still have to drag my butt out the door to get going and I can’t say I notice any endorphin-like effect after I get going.  So, you ask, why do it?  Must be because it keeps me in some sort of shape, right?  No, that’s not it either.  It’s because it keeps me sane.  It helps me clear my mind and come back mentally refreshed.  Let’s just say every time I go out I’m running out of my mind. 

Can you get the same effect from other activities?  Can you walk out of your mind?  Or cycle out of your mind?  I don’t know.  For me it’s a function of pushing myself enough that I have to focus on my running and breathing…not too hard in my case!  So, I suppose if you power walk, cycle hard, etc. you can get the same effect.  But I do think you need to avoid too much external mental stimuli (take note you “stationary bicycle in front of the TV” folks).  And I think you need to set out with the intention of clearing your mind.  But everyone’s different in this regard so let me know what you do to clear your mind (there is a comment section on the blog).

Which leads me to the state of mental health in this country.  (Healthcare is an obsession, isn’t it?)  I’ve known enough people – friends, family – that have struggled with mental health issues that I can’t help thinking about why and what can be done about it.  I think it’s fair to say that it’s directly related to stress and the lack of regular stress relief.  And I think we can all agree that stress is not going to go away.  I get a little irritated with people who preach stress-free living.  Stress is part and parcel of living.  In fact, it may very well be necessary to living.

So, if stress is not going away what’s to be done about it?  This is where the tricky part comes in.  There is no one size fits all solution.  Everyone’s biochemical makeup is different and everyone’s tolerance for stress is different.  But it helps to think of stress in the context of its origins.  At its root it’s related to fear.  And our evolutionary response to fear is flight or fight.  Yet when we’re sitting at our desk absorbing the stress of a day’s work we can’t very well jump up and run out the door on impulse.  And we can’t very well get up and start a brawl with the boss or coworker that’s driving us crazy.  Although both actions would probably be very effective at reducing our stress levels!

This is where you need to develop your own responses to stress.  I’d be lying to you if I told you that I’ve always had ways to deal with it (and I’d be giving Paula an excuse to write a very long comment on my blog).  But I’ve had enough experience with it that I feel I can offer a few recommendations.  First, try to understand the sources of your own stress.  If it’s dealing with incompetent, thoughtless people then recognize it for what it is and don’t internalize it.  Remember that bad behavior is usually a result of someone else’s weakness, not your own.  They’re not likely to change just because you think they should, so learn to neutralize them (in your mind at least).  It took me 20 years to realize that the Peter Principle (people rise to their level of incompetence) is very much a reality and the best way to deal with it is to recognize it.

Money (or lack thereof) is another major source of stress for many people.  Of course, what we consider short money would be laughable to our parents and certainly our grandparents.  But, then again, they didn’t have to own such large houses, expensive cars, and eat out so often.  It’s not easy maintaining such a high level of consumption!  Afraid to say so, folks, but there’s only own one way to deal with financial stress – get a better handle on your finances and, if not, keep reminding yourself that retirement is overrated.  Going back to my previous point about difficult people, if you can’t beat them, outlast them!

If your retirement keeps retreating into the future like mine then you better find ways to deal with stress today (I love circular arguments).  You need to develop your own flight or fight strategies.  In my case, I’ve come to the conclusion there has to be a physical component to it.  I can’t get rid of the mental stress without creating a little bit of physical stress.  For many people running is not an option but, whatever it is – walking (briskly), cycling, yoga, or competitive lawn bowling – you might want to look for ways to “run” out of your own mind.  At least it will feel good when you stop!

No I haven’t gone partisan.  But, yes, I have offered to help with Steve Pagliuca’s campaign to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death.  And I don’t know Steve from Adam.  What I do know if that he’s a successful businessman from modest beginnings who understands the value of hard work.  He’s been questioned about his ideology (supported Romney, Bush, Weld and is now running in the Democratic primary) but, as you know from my last blog, I don’t care much for ideology.  I care more about competence, commitment, and compassion and, based on his background, I believe he’ll bring all of these to the job.  And if I find out otherwise I’ll bail on him.

The assumption when someone with money runs for political office is that they are simply dilettantes looking to put a feather in their caps.  And, in fact, a certain Boston Globe columnist stated as much in the process of dismissing Pagliuca’s campaign.  But who would want to run for office these days given the intrusive and abusive nature of political campaigns.  No, I believe someone with Pagliuca’s background runs for office because they believe they can make a difference.  Accuse him of being naive, but don’t simply dismiss his campaign as being motivated by the self importance that often comes with wealth.  There are easier, more certain ways of feeding one’s ego, no matter how large.

We need to be careful in putting too much stock in the opinions of the talking heads that populate the media.  They share something in common with professional politicians – an occupation that puts a lot of emphasis on posturing and self promotion.  And, to a certain degree, they depend on each other.  So when an “unknown” enters a campaign there’s a little bit of “where the hell did he/she come from and what dues did they pay?”  Its human nature just like its human nature for professional politicians to not bite the hand that feeds them.

Now that’s one thing I like about independently wealthy candidates.  They are not beholden to lobbyists.  Influence peddling is a problem in every society but – in terms of its size and power – nothing can compare to the Washington-based lobby community.  Meaningful healthcare reform – that is, reform based on logic and efficiency – didn’t have chance once the various lobbies in Washington got mobilized.  (BTW, did you know that Senator Baucus received substantial campaign donations from the insurance industry?  So much for healthcare debate neutrality.)

So I’m supporting Steve Pagliuca’s Senate campaign until someone convinces me that he doesn’t stand for competence, commitment, and compassion.  And being (relatively) incorruptible.  Most politicians can make a credible claim to being committed and compassionate but most fail the test of competence and we’re all susceptible to corruption.  But I like the odds of a self-made multi-millionaire who can’t easily be bought.

Pagliuca faces an uphill battle because he won’t get the support of the Democratic political establishment, including the Kennedy diaspora.  All I can ask of you when you vote – in Massachusetts or elsewhere – is pay less attention to what is said and more attention to the character of the men and women you vote for.  Remember: It’s your money they’re playing with.

[Correction from last week’s blog: Polly Eriksen (my mother) sent me the article from Thomas Friedman via good friend Polly Goldstein. Not the other way around as I stated.  Sorry Mom!]

Just read Bill Gross’ latest commentary on the “New Normal” economy (http://www.allianzinvestors.com/commentary/mgr_billGross09012009.jsp) and I’m a bit conflicted.  I agree with him that we’re in for a period of slower growth.  And I agree with most of his financial recommendations.  But I struggle with his overly pessimistic view of the future.  Maybe because he’s a – no THE – bond guy and I’m just your average schmuck.  But I like to think its more than that.

I’m a technology guy.  Always have been.  But not your typical technology guy.  I’m not a geek.  But enough of a technology guy that I feel embarrassed when a friend asks me to fix their computer and I’m unable to do so.  As they say, I know enough to be dangerous.  My excuse is that I’m a “big picture” guy.  Which leads me to why I’m less pessimistic than Bill Gross.

We haven’t seen the end of the technology revolution.  Mobile technology is still in its infancy.  The Internet is still in its infancy.  Wireless technology is still in its infancy.  And nanotechnology is very much in its infancy.  We may not be in the early innings of a nine inning game but the starting pitcher is still out there.  There’s still plenty of technology driven innovation and growth in our future.

The other thing that I believe (and these are beliefs so don’t bet your retirement on me) is that globalization is not done.  You think the Brazilians, Indians, Chinese, etc. are prepared to go backwards now that they’ve tasted the fruits of rapid economic growth?   And how many other countries are sitting on the sidelines waiting to get into the game?  Who’s going to pick up their toys now and say they don’t want to play anymore?  This is no time to be myopic so don’t get caught up in it!

So I tend to be more optimistic than Bill Gross.  I hope I’m not wrong because the alternative is not slow growth but global discord and conflict.  Yes, the U.S. might be in for a period of slower growth in the near term but as long as we don’t lose our cool we will continue to benefit from an expanding global economy and the fruits of the ongoing technology revolution.

 Bill’s focus, like any good bond guy, is on the flow of money and the end of the easy money era.  And no doubt less easy money will put a damper on growth.  But if the “New Normal” means the end of Wall Street inspired financial engineering and a return to growth driven by real gains in productivity and an ever expanding global middle class then call me a fan of it.  Maybe we should just call it plain old “Normal.”

[I have to give a shout out to good friend Polly Goldstein who sent me a great article – via my mother Polly Eriksen – by Thomas Friedman (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/opinion/20friedman.html?_r=1&emc=eta1).  He really hit the nail on the head with regards to our politicians.  Their motto should be: “No hard decisions, please, we’re American politicians.”]

Paula gave me the idea for this post when she told me that Dr. Oz (of “Highway to Health” show fame) said that cirhossis of the liver is caused more by food than alcohol.  Wow!  And all these years I’ve been curtailing my alcohol consumption for nothing!  (No comment from the peanut gallery.)

Truth be known I’ve always felt we have been too quick to ascribe our health woes to our sins (alcohol, smoking, and ???).  Do you really think a beer or a cigarette is worse for you than a Twinkie??  It just goes to show that the food lobby is stronger than the tobacco and booze lobbies.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting tobacco and alcohol consumption.  I just think that we should be a little more even handed in what we demonize and attempt to tax out of existence.  Maybe we should tax junk food as if it was bad for our health.  How about that for a novel idea?  And what if we used the proceeds to fund a national health plan.  Any arguments?

Which, of course, brings me back to my favorite subject – the government.  I think people who read my posts are confused about where I stand with regards to government.  And I a liberal?  A conservative?  A libertine?  Oops, I meant libertarian.  So here it is (drum roll please).  I’m for accountable government.

We sometimes get so wrapped up in ideology that we forget that government is simply an institution that, for our tax money, provides services that the private sector can’t perform.  If we spent more time focussed on government accoutability and less time on taking positions we’d get better value for that money.  Whether its healthcare, financial regulations, or national security we should be holding our politicians accountable to delivering results, not simply rhetoric.  How does that translate into votes?  Instead of voting for a party, vote for the man or woman that has proven to be good to their word and has delivered results…as opposed to pork.  Which brings me back to food…

Don’t expect the government to get it right when it comes to your health.  Remember the four food groups (meat, milk, fruit & vegetables, and grains)?  Did you ever wonder how milk got its own group while fruits and vegetables had to share one?  Two words: dairy lobby.  (By the way I have a son that thinks dairy is the only food group.)  Now that we have the food pyramid, meat and milk products have lost some of their clout.  Does this mean that our nutritional needs have changed?  NOT!

So, food can be bad for your health but listening to the government’s guidance on what to eat can be worse.  Better to listen to words of the Oracle of Delphi – “know thyself” and  “nothing to excess” …except on holidays…and birthdays…and weekends…and Red Sox game nights…and…

I’m sitting here watching the U.S. Open final and, surprisingly, Juan Martin Del Potro just upset Roger Federer.  Not only that but early on in the match it looked like Del Potro was heading for an early defeat.  So, once again, it’s been proven that it’s not over until its over.  Which brings me to the stock market…

Everyone is nervously waiting for the market to correct after a huge run up since March.  But with the stock market its true more often than not that it’s not over until it’s over.  In other words, better not to allow the nervousness permeating the press coverage of the market to dictate your decisions.  Let the market itself tell you.  One the most reliable truisms of the market is that it climbs a wall of worry.

That said, I don’t believe we’re out of the woods when it comes to the economy so if you’re not already in the market you should be very selective with how you get in.  Actually, you should be selective because it’s going to be a stock pickers market for some time.  So if you’re not a stock picker then have a good stock picker (such as proven mutual fund manager) do it for you.

Or you could do what I just did and join a portfolio sharing service like Covestor (http://www.covestor.com).  I put my own portfolio up there for the world to see (member name leriksen) but, most importantly, I get to see what other investors who share my investment philosophy are doing.  It’s free to sign up – no catches.  I’ll keep you posted on what I think about it as I start to use it more.

Yesterday was a strange day.  I woke up with a running nose and some feelings of a mild allergy.  Not that I know much about allergies because I haven’t had much experience with them.  But I knew it wasn’t a cold (which I’ve had plenty of experience with).  And it wasn’t just one of those morning things because it persisted all day.  I kept thinking it must be something in the air – but what could it be this time of year?  Today I woke up and it hit me.  Saturday night (the night before I experienced the allergies) I had a large bowl of Pad Thai (a Thai noodle dish with peanuts in it) and I’m slightly allergic to peanuts.  I didn’t recognize it because I’ve never had that kind of a reaction the following day.  I usually just notice some immediate sneezing as well as mild skin reactions. Maybe my diagnosis is off but given that I don’t have any of the symptoms today it’s the best I can come up with.

Which leads me back to the subject of healthcare.  I read an article in the latest Barron’s about a guy named David Goldhill who penned a provocative article on healthcare in September’s Atlantic magazine.  It’s provocative because David is a businessman and card carrying, check writing Democrat and his proposal is one previously championed by Republicans.  You’ll have to read the article – or at least a review – to get more information but I will tell you his prescription.  He advocates health savings accounts because they put control back in the hands of consumers and take it away from the insurance companies.  It doesn’t eliminate health insurance; it simply relegates it to its original function, namely providing insurance against major medical events.  I like it but I doubt it will take root because just about every vested interest will fight it.  Insurance companies will fight it because it diminishes their role and will force them to shrink.  Medical device and pharmaceutical companies will fight it because it’s harder to sell expensive procedures and treatments when the consumer is paying the bill.  And liberal Democrats will fight it because it doesn’t bring them closer to their cherished goal of government run healthcare.

So what do allergies and the current healthcare debate have in common?  Simply that I don’t want someone to tell me how to treat my allergies – or any other health issue I might have.  I want to be able to choose between natural remedies, drugs, or simply modifiying my diet.  I don’t trust governments or insurance companies to make the right decision for me.  As I’ve said before I’m not ideologically opposed to government run healthcare – my experience is that they do just as well as the insurance companies.  I just don’t see how adding a government option on top of the current mess gets us any further ahead.  And I don’t understand how we can get costs down without consumers being responsible for the bill (major accidents and illnesses being covered by insurance).  Maybe someone can enlighten me.

One argument made for government run healthcare is that the average consumer is not capable of making the right decision when it comes to his/her own health.  But that’s an education problem that can be addressed by the government without controlling healthcare resources.  Maybe the government should get involved by funding community health centers and other organizations that promote health and wellness.  That will do more to reduce overall healthcare costs than any other initiative I can think of.  And, for those of us who feel we understand what we need to do to stay healthy but are sometimes reluctant to spend after tax dollars on the our own health, legislate before tax health care savings accounts.  But don’t tell me how to use the funds!  Anything that has anything remotely to do with health – doctors’ visits, homeopathic remedies, health club memberships, smoking cessation programs, massages, etc. – should be allowed.  Talk about driving innovation in healthcare and improving outcomes!  I know, I’m dreaming.  But, hey, we have a black president in the White House so anything is possible.  Maybe he’ll have a healthcare dream himself…

“Adversity is the prosperity of the great.”  (Chinese fortune cookie I opened on the week-end.  Really!)  The summer of ’09 is the summer I find out just how great I am…at least in my mind’s eye.  Let’s see…I have one paying gig, one gig that’s about to pay (or so they tell me), and another that I need to raise capital for before they can pay me.  I think I need someone else to run the accounts receivable side of my business before I go broke!  About that college education kids…

Speaking of adversity let’s talk about the healthcare debate…or is it a debacle?  Will the real healthcare system please stand up.  We seem to have one that’s just fine, one that needs a remodeling, and one that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.  Personally I’m in American healthcare purgatory – in between the one that was OK (it paid most of my bills, most of the time) and not having one at all.  But I’m sure the President and Congress will have to come to an agreement by the time I need it.

I do sometimes look back with nostalgia on the years we lived in Canada.  It was pretty simply – pay your provincial health premiums, bring your healthcare card to whichever doctor you like where it was swiped just like a credit card.  Of course the doctor had to deal with the government to get paid but that was his/her problem.  I got what I needed.  But, wait, that’s where my first two kids were born, you know, the ones whose college education is now at risk because my healthcare coverage costs are going up.  (Just kidding kids.  BTW, my wife had to stand in line for hours with other women in labor before she was admitted.  NOT!)

But what if I don’t want a healthcare system.  What if I just want good health?  Will the government deliver?  Just like my friends at the (fill in the blank) insurance agency have done for me over the years?  I can just see it now.  I pay a visit to my local branch of USDOHOPE (United States Department of Health Outcomes and Personal Emergencies) and I will be given my week’s supply of vitamins, an exercise regimen, and a bottle of red wine (Californian, of course, because they need their own stimulus program).  Now that’s a change I can believe in!  And worth waiting in line for!  So there Canada!  Beats waiting in line for heart surgery.

But I digress.  What were we talking about?  Healthcare?  Government?  Let’s talk about the latter some more because its so fun.  Great job they’ve done in turning around the economy, eh?  I attribute it to the cash-for-clunkers program.  Unfortunately, I’m not a beneficiary because my 11 year old Sienna with 175K miles on it that conked out on the Mass Pike while coming back from Canada for a medical trip (OK, that last part was made up)  is too fuel efficient.  So instead of getting $4500 towards a new car I put $2700 into a new transmission.  And if I had qualified I would have gotten a new $15K car loan with the deal!  The things I miss out on.

But it’s not just about cash-for-clunkers.  Look at all the good work the government has done in the financial sector.  And I, personally, haven’t had to pay a dime.  In fact, my retirement portfolio (you know the one that still needs 20 years of triple digit contributions and double digit returns for me to retire) is back to where it was a year ago.  Except the part that was in my company 401K which was limited by, yes, government regulations and big company rules.  Which reminds me.  I also need to tell you about the 529 plans I was using for my kids’ education.  Like my healthcare savings account loss mentioned above, my losses in my 529 exceed any tax benefit I got from using it.  But I just know the government’s stimulus plan will have me back in the black on that one by the time my youngest starts college four years from now.  I just know it.

 So the moral of the story is the government has our backs …which positions them well for piling debt repayment on us when the time comes to pay the piper.  You know the old story, pay me now, or pay me later.  But as my good friend Jack likes to remind me, we (the baby boomers) won’t be the ones paying.  No, the flood of retirees will give grey power new meaning.  Sorry, kids, you get the bill.  Make sure you get a good college education (a touchy subject, I know) so you can pay those big tax bills.  Remember, adversity is the prosperity of the great.