Dangers of Winter in Young-Adulthood

When I initially read the Strauss-Howe generational theory, so much of how and why our world is the way it is became clearer to me. In the United States we are obviously in a winter season. Institutional mistrust is very high, racial tensions flare (after being largely dormant for a while), and politics is more resembling a circus than an efficient machine to meet the needs of the people.

This series of articles will describe the dangers and opportunities of facing a winter season as a young adult. I can relate to these insights because I myself (a Millennial man) am braving this winter as a young adult. As a young adult, one would like to be advancing in their career, starting a family, and building wealth. Of course, all of these tasks would be best suited for a Spring season, but all of us (if we live long enough) will have all four seasons, so there is no basis for complaint. Bad break? Perhaps, but we must make the best of it.

Dangers

Of course winter is when very few things grow. This is true in a metaphorical sense of our current situation. Our health, relationships, wealth, and economic prospects are uniformly bleak. In a brighter season, we would still feel the effects of mental health crises, but nothing like what we have now. Record numbers of young adults feel mental and emotional despair. A financial crisis, divisive politics, and a pandemic have made our hopes for the future dim. It is no wonder that many young adults are feeling anxious and depressed. When we should be starting families and building wealth, we are more focused on surviving.

Intersexual dynamics have also shifted out of our favor. Due to the divorce boom circa 1980 many young adults have grown up in broken homes, never intimately interacting with a functional male-female relationship. Women have been taught that they should pursue their careers (which is fine), but now feel the pressure of starting a family. Men are receiving messages that they are potentially toxic and need to watch themselves. As with all things in winter, starting a family seems very hard.

Perhaps most talked about is the effect of this winter season on wealth creation. The Great Recession and Coronavirus pandemic tamped down Millennials’ earning potential and income disproportionately. Job losses are also disproportionately effecting Millennials. Record numbers of young adults are actually moving back home at a time when they should be buying homes. No generation since the GI Generation had to endure such bleak financial prospects in the young adult phase of their lives.

Understanding the Seasons

I write a lot about the seasons in my blog. After reading The Seasons of Life by Jim Rohn, I began to have much more perspective about what was happening in our world and specifically the united States.

Winter doesn’t last forever, and also presents some opportunities (albeit the least of any season). Just like winter on a farm, the best time to prepare was last spring (which we were not alive for), and the second best time is now. Winter is a time for introspection and seeking to rebuild community. Although opportunities are rare, we can emerge from the winter season stronger and wiser. In my next article, I’ll talk about the lessons and opportunities in this winter season for young adults.

Why you Shouldn’t be a (False) Optimist

Optimism is a foundational value of a good life. If we don’t believe that we have any agency to improve our lives, we can quickly fall into stagnation and then decay (moral, financial, relational, or otherwise). What I suggest we be wary of is a sense of false optimism. This is a slight play on the idea of indefinite optimism described by Peter Thiel. False optimism is a close concept to the idea of determinism; the idea that things are the way they are because of events outside of our control. While it is certainly true to say that there are influences beyond our control, it is a defeatist mentality to say that those are the only (or even most important factors) in our success or failure. We would call a farmer who doesn’t plant in the spring and then complains in the winter a fool. Likewise, we wouldn’t call a farmer who plants in the spring and a blizzard wipes out his crop lazy and entitled.

When we want to advance, we have to take advice from definite optimists. I have written about this before. Successful people suffer from selection bias. Many successful people are indeed self-made, but some have hidden advantages that run unaccounted for. For example, being a good sprinter is determined largely by your muscle fiber composition aka genetics. So if we take advice from an elite sprinter, chances are we are getting advice from someone who is successful in spite of their advice, not because of it. Does that make sense? Similarly if we take business advice from a Harvard graduate, they will likely fail to tell you (to no fault of their own) about the importance of industry connections and support systems.

Things will “Sort Themselves Out”

Things don’t always sort themselves out. And if they do, there is a curse hidden in that blessing. A false optimist will overestimate internal factors and underestimate external factors. For example, when a baby-boomer tells a millennial to “get a job” and “start a family” they think that the external conditions that were present for them are present for millennials. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Graduating into a recession, seeing the highest income inequality in decades, and continual government non-intervention are factors that are present in the experience of millennial but mostly not present for baby boomers while they were coming of age.

On the other side of the coin, a false optimist is also likely to underestimate internal factors and overestimate external factors. This is the danger of being too extreme in either direction. Religiosity can be a form of false optimism. Instead of taking steps to improve a situation, someone could say “it is what it is”, or “let go and let God”. While these statements are true at times, we must always do our due diligence. I had a co-worker explain this perfectly when saying: “Pray like it depends on Him (God) and work like it depends on you”.

A true optimist has balanced expectations. They study both the internal and external factors that are working for and against them. They know that their actions will determine their future, but they are not simple-minded in thinking that there are no external factors at play. Lending back to the example of the farmer, they do their part to plant in the spring and tend in the summer, and they have hope that they will harvest in the fall. But they are not naive to think that forces outside of their control (an early frost for example) have no effect.

I think everyone should be an optimist. Optimism requires that we do reconnaissance of our situation and plan and execute to the best of our ability. There will certainly be things out of our control, just as likely as there will be things in our control. If we plan and take action, we can rest easier, both in our successes and in our defeats.

The Dangers of Forming a Negative Identity

If we happen to be the type of person that wants to make the world a better place, we automatically assume that our approach will work. In 2020, an interesting phenomenon is that in an effort to make the world a better place, many well-meaning activists take on what I will call a negative identity.

Frame in the Positive

Let’s say I’m concerned about the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system. A noble cause indeed. I write articles about what is wrong with the criminal justice system and call out people who are complacent in it. This is valuable work. But I want to put out a note of caution. If we are always against a particular thing, what are we actually for?

One of the first Laws you read about when learning about affirmations is to always phrase your intentions in the positive. Not to get all woo-woo, but setting the intention to avoid danger and setting an intention to lead a fulfilling life produce different results. In order to avoid danger, you must effectively look for it (and you will certainly find it). If instead you set an intention to lead a fulfilling life, you would seek and find opportunities to do just that.

So perhaps instead of fighting an unjust criminal justice system and pontificating on how bad it is, we can create a positive vision for criminal justice. One of the main reasons why I was so impressed with Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign is because he made it a point of saying that the state of our country isn’t just Trump’s fault, and that to get ourselves out of it, we need a positive vision of a new America. I think this resonated with a lot of people. We are so used to hearing what is wrong, and we are starving for someone to create a compelling vision of a better life.

Negative Voices are Loud

Negativity spreads much easier and faster than positivity. It is much easier to tear down than to build. It took many (probably 20+) hours to create my dining table. Any fool could destroy it within a matter of seconds. It is easier to point out negatives and tear things down. I’m not saying that there isn’t a time to destroy, but rather that in any effort to destroy, we should have in our minds the greater thing we will build in its stead.

There is great danger in forming a negative identity. The biggest danger is becoming stuck. If we fixate ourselves on the negative, we can ignore or even sabotage when something good comes along. Thanks for reading!

Balancing Doing and Non-Doing

This article is going to be largely philosophical. I have always enjoyed sharing and dissecting ideas. In life, healthy people always have a balance between doing and non-doing. For example, a successful writer knows that they must write, but they know that they must also take time off to get new ideas and inspiration. Any athlete knows that recovery time is just as important as training time. When we skew towards one side, we experience uncomfortable (non-beneficial) stress. As many people are learning from the coronavirus pandemic, non-doing can impart a kind of stress as well. Similarly, too much doing is a type of stress that should be apparent. As with most things, we have to experiment and adjust along the way to find our correct balance of doing and non-doing.

A man resting and relaxing

Doing and Non-Doing are the Same

Duality is a key teaching in Buddhism. The idea that “this is because that is”. The defining principle in making strength and/or physique gains is progressive overload. Basically that your body needs to do more in order to change. But there is deep nuance in that idea. When you train for a while, you learn that the other side of the coin is fatigue management, basically recovery. It becomes clear that you cannot have one without the other. If you fall out of balance (too much work or too much recovery), you won’t make progress.

This applies to nearly all areas of our lives. If we work at our job too much, we get fatigued. If we are slack in our work (we should) feel guilty and miss opportunities for advancement.

Rest is when Growth takes Place

When we think of making improvements, our mind pushes us toward thinking of them solely as products of exertion. For example, a bodybuilder is usually thought of as becoming so by lifting weights. This is certainly true. But, every bodybuilder knows that the true improvements come during rest. Once we exert ourselves, adaptations do not begin until we rest. As alluded to earlier, there is a balance. Too much rest, no improvement. Too much work, no improvement.

Time is peculiar in that it is necessary for all achievements, but is not able to be manipulated. If it takes four years to get a college degree, thats just how long it takes. Perhaps some genius could squeeze it out in three, but for the most part, it is what it is. The hardest part of working toward any goal for most goal-oriented people is waiting and resting. We usually find that taking action is invigorating and sometimes immediately rewarding. We also have to remember that rest and time are also two key components.

Getting what we want usually requires a balanced blend of action (doing) and rest (non-doing). How do you balance these seeming opposites in your life?

Enjoy the Process

When we want to achieve a specific goal, we can often lose sight of why we chase goals in the first place. Anyone who has ever achieved a goal knows that actually winning is surprisingly anti-climactic. And even if it is a big adrenaline filled last minute buzzer beater, the actual feeling of accomplishment is rather short lived. Once you achieve a goal you quickly begin to realize that the fulfilling part wasn’t necessarily achieving the goal but improving and becoming a better and more efficient person as a result. Understanding the processes in place helps you enjoy the process.

enjoy the process

Value all Growth

When we think of how to enjoy the process, it becomes clear that one of the main keys is seeing and recognizing growth. When I began weightlifting, I had a specific goal of being able to bench press 225 pounds. As I made progress toward that goal, I felt a sense of accomplishment with each step I got closer. When I actually did finally bench 225 pounds, I was rather underwhelmed. I was happy, but it was short lived.

Our brains and bodies are wired in such a way that progress is satisfying. When we complete a task or achieve a goal, our mind automatically reorients toward another goal because the fulfillment came from the process and not necessarily the result. So the next time you feel stuck or discouraged, be sure to measure and celebrate how far you’ve come and not how far you have left to go.

Who have you Become?

A common saying in the personal development real is “It’s not what you get, it’s who you become”. When we set out to achieve a goal, it seems as if we are primarily acting upon the outside world, when in reality, the bulk of our work is internal. When someone decides to become financially independent, they save money and build wealth. But they also build discipline, future-oriented thinking and other valuable skills in the process. When a self-made person begins building wealth, they become a wealthy person. Even if they were to lose all of their money and possessions in a fire, the skills they developed would help them get that money back and perhaps more.

Enjoy the process by understanding why we set goals, and remembering not to get lost in the pursuit. The small growth and development usually turn out to be the most rewarding parts of the journey. Thanks for reading!

How to Get Good Advice

One of the benefits (and subsequent drawbacks) of modern society is that everyone has a voice. Everyone. So Joe Shmoe from down the street can post on twitter how to become a millionaire with no credentials, and potentially have a successful (albeit fraudulent) business. Getting good advice in the 21st century means vetting all of your sources of information. Hopefully anyone who intends to advise us has achieved the results we want or at least is on the path.

Do Grape Vines make Apples?

The Bible has a parable in which Jesus says we shall know people by their fruits. What that means is that we will know who people are and what they stand for by their results in life. If someone claims to be compassionate, but abuses their spouse, there is a big disconnect. This is different from the innate imperfections and intermittent mistakes of well-meaning people, but I think you get what I mean. In order to get good advice, we must first find the people who have success where we wish to have it. Preferably self-made people. If you want relationship advice, who would be better? A newly wed couple or a couple that has been married for thirty years?

Unfortunately we also have to be on the lookout for fakes and cheaters. Let’s say you are an aspiring fitness enthusiast, and you are looking for good information. There are many people qualified to give you information, but there’s a twist. Someone who takes performance enhancing drugs may look like they know fitness, but they have a little secret. So even if they are well-intentioned, when you take drugs, the rules largely no longer apply. Some of my favorite fitness icons have recently admitted to taking hormones (or bio-identical hormone replacement). I’m not judging that decision, but good advice given to someone taking drugs vs. a natural is astronomical. It’s like a trust fund baby giving advice on how to become a millionaire. Laughable.

Good advice

How to Spot Bad Advice

Luckily for us, there are a few “tells” with people who are con-artists (or even well intentioned people with bad information). The first big “tell” is a short-term philosophy. All self-made success (with very few exceptions) is a long term game. There are no get rich quick schemes that work. A 30-day body transformation is questionable at best. Always look for good advice to be focused on consistency over the long term.

The second “tell” is aggressive marketing. Good advice need not be free, but you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by marketing. All reasonable people are willing to pay for value, but it can be pretty clear when someone wants to make money more than provide value.

Lastly, bad advice often comes from conflict ridden people. If the person is constantly involved in “beef” with others and can’t seem to escape the news cycle, there may be personal issues that are complicating their ability to be a good teacher.

Hopefully you got some good strategies for vetting information in our modern information overload world. Thanks for reading!

Advice for Times of Stagnation

Life presents us with many challenges. Some of them are of our own making, and some of them we have nothing to do with. We all feel at times we should give up. We think we should stop following our better eating patterns, slack off in our work, or stop saving money. Most advice about why you should keep going even in the face of setbacks is sentimental rather than logical. Meaning, once the feeling of motivation runs out, we have a good excuse to quit. There are, however, logical reasons that we can remind ourselves of that can keep us working toward our goals. Effective advice for times of stagnation can help us remember underlying principles and stay the course.

Changes can Happen at the Micro-level

When we embark on a new journey, we actually begin to change for the better the instant we decide to do something. Whether we know it or not, connections are being made in our brains to aid us in achieving our goal. That being said, visible and measurable changes take time to come about. A person who begins working out doesn’t see results after the first week, or even the first month. But sure enough, if they keep at it they can see results after three months and even a new physique after a year (working consistently).

This is because change happens continuously, but some changes are so small they cannot be seen or detected yet. They are certainly taking place, we just can’t see the results. It may seem like the progress has stalled, but micro-improvements are still being made. Plateaus are not indefinite, but rather temporary (seeming) stagnation before the next level. When you want to give up, remind yourself that change is happening, you probably just can’t see the results yet. Telling yourself this can help you keep going, even when things look like they have stalled.

Advice for Times of Stagnation: Growth is non-linear

When we think of growth or achieving a goal, we usually think linearly. remember Algebra class? Linear means a consistent rate of change. Many natural processes are more cyclical or seasonal. For example, a child can expect to have a number of “growth spurts” as they reach full development. No parent says “Darn he stopped growing for a week, guess they’ll be this small forever…”. We know (and accept…this is important), that growth doesn’t happen on a particular schedule, but rather cyclically, and often sporadically. When we feel discouraged we can remind ourselves that perhaps every season is not a season of growth. And that’s okay. This can help us keep going because we know that consistent action will reap rewards, even when we don’t see them yet.

The path to any meaningful achievement is seldom linear. There are times of stagnation, slowed growth, and perhaps even regression. If we can remember that this is all part of the process, it makes the pill a little easier to swallow. Thanks for reading!

Discipline is a Habit

When people think of discipline they think of a particular instance of not acting on an impulse. Discipline is treated as a special force we use to do what we know is right. And it is! But like most things in life, discipline has to be cultivated and practiced to thrive. Theoretically discipline has no limit, but in practice it does. For example, let’s say all of your friends and family are obese. Would it be possible for you to be fit and healthy? Of course! Is it likely? Definitely not!

Discipline and Environment

Our environment can be conducive to our goals or counterproductive. In the example above, being fit has so many micro-goals associated with it, that the amount of discipline needed to turn the tide would be Herculean. Not only would you have to eat separate meals, you would have to go to the gym (probably alone), and endure questioning and heckling from your loved ones. Some would say that’s no excuse for failure, but if we put away our virtue signaling for a moment, we can admit that it is very likely a losing proposition.

It isn’t always feasible to dramatically change your environment. Sometimes you can’t just quit a job, or leave a bad situation. But what you can do is be aware of the consequences of an unsupportive environment and take reasonable action to change it. Perhaps you can find an online fitness community. Maybe you can invite your mom to walk with you every other day. The key is to make discipline easy. We don’t win an award for making things harder than they need to be. If the path of least resistance aligns with your values, why make things harder on yourself?

People who seem to have a lot of discipline usually have a lot of systems in place to make doing the right thing easy. I was a vegan for five years. I quickly learned that if I wanted to stick with it, I would need to plan for being around non-vegan food (essentially always haha). This meant making and bringing vegan dishes to Thanksgiving, and lugging vegan treats to parties. I didn’t just go to these events and resist eating animal products because of an iron will, I made it easy on myself. Interestingly enough, I became almost completely impervious to non-vegan food, and very little discipline was required to stick with it. Later on, I decided to give up veganism, and I went back to eating animal products with no sweat lol.

Discipline is a Muscle

Once you do what you can to mold your environment, you begin to find more ways to be disciplined for your benefit. With each small act of discipline you become stronger. Partially due to increased will power, but also due to (as we discussed above) making your environment conducive to discipline. For example, once you begin living within your means, the next step of aggressive saving becomes much easier. You begin to think about the ways to automate it and make it easier on yourself. You become better at identifying potential difficulties and planning for them.

Of course we want to make sure that we live lives of balance, so make sure not to be too disciplined. Remember to stop and smell the flowers along the way and splurge every now and again. What are some of the ways you make discipline easy? Thanks for reading.

The Importance of Delaying Gratification

Many of you have probably heard of or read about the Stanford marshmallow experiment. In the experiment, a child was given the choice between a small reward and two small rewards if they waited. Many conclusions (some controversial) have been made about the results of the study, but the basic takeaway is that the children who were able to wait for the second reward did better in life. This should come as no surprise. Life offers many choices and roads, and often the road that is a little more difficult is the reward that leads to better long-term results.

We will make Sacrifices Regardless

Everything in life requires a sacrifice. From the most mundane to the most consequential, life is a series of trade-offs. For example, if you choose the pleasure of smoking, you also choose the likely consequences of smoking. If you choose to take advantage of others, you will reap consequences (eventually) accordingly. If you choose climbing the corporate ladder over playing catch with your son, you sacrifice investing in one of the most meaningful relationships in your life.

So the question isn’t whether we will make sacrifices, the questions is what are we willing to sacrifice for? This is where delaying gratification comes in full force. When we make a decision we should think, what are the long and short term consequences of this decision? For example, if you buy a brand new car outside of your means, the short and perhaps medium-term consequences are pleasure and status. The long term consequence may be added years until retirement. If we can keep long term consequences in the forefront of our minds, we will make better decisions. If instead we buy a modest car and invest what we would have spent, that money would bring us dividends for decades to come. Sometimes you just want the nice car. I get that. Just remember what you are sacrificing in the process.

Success is a Long Game

When you throw out the outliers of the extremely lucky and gifted, the trust fund babies, and the con men and women, success is always a long game. I read an article by Brian Tracy years ago and its lessons have stuck with me and held me in good stead. I don’t think I can say it any better than him, so I will quote directly from his website.

In 1970, sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University wrote a book entitled The Unheavenly City. He described one of the most profound studies on success and priority setting ever conducted.

Banfield’s goal was to find out how and why some people became financially independent during the course of their working lifetimes. He started off convinced that the answer to this question would be found in factors such as family background, education, intelligence, influential contacts, or some other concrete factor. What he finally discovered was that the major reason for success in life was a particular attitude of mind.

Banfield called this attitude “long time perspective.” He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he would achieve greatly during his career.

Brian Tracy

Imagine the rewards bestowed upon those with the longest time perspective. Think of those beautiful ornate medieval castles, or the beautiful streets of European towns. They didn’t look for the cheapest material and the fastest building time like we do now. The people who made them (whether well intentioned or not), knew that future generations would marvel at their grandiosity. I have a hard time imagining future generations fondly remembering McMansions. Our forefathers gave their lives in war to afford us the luxuries of our present. A dad with a modest job can set up his family for two or more generations of financial abundance with hard work and intelligent financial planning.

Delaying gratification is a major key in creating the things we want in life. Paradoxically, to enjoy long term comforts, we must overlook present luxuries. How far into the future do you look when you make decisions? Thanks for reading.

Why Success Isn’t Always Possible

I touch on a lot of this theory in my article Success is Cyclical, but I know anything insightful is worth repeating. Most people who are into personal development learn early on not to make excuses. We learn that our lives are our responsibility and we have to take action to get results. But as you mature, you realize results don’t always happen and aren’t always possible. You encounter numerous situations where the underserving get success and the intelligent, effective, and kind get ridicule. The reason this happens is because all living things are subject to cycles of growth and decay. “Good” things and “bad” things just the same. So the next time you feel like you want to be hard on yourself, gently ask “What season am I in?”, and you may get insight into your next moves.

Growth and Decay are two sides of the same Coin

Let’s take the stock market for example. Everyone loves when the market is up and hates when it’s down. Everyone, that is, except the wise. Wise people know that the stock market going down is both useful and necessary. When the stock market crashes, it forces companies and people to reorganize. After the first stock market crash we saw more legislation and federal protections from fiscal disaster. In 2008, we saw the Dodd-Frank Act. And, I believe, in the aftermath of the Coronavirus, we will see a push for Universal Basic Income.

A market crash can provide lower buying prices for a commodity that (we hope) will always go up. The point here is that when anything grows for too long, its outdated practices and inefficiencies necessitate a correction. This is why all successful companies, people, and organizations continually analyze and change as they gain more feedback over time. All those systems that don’t eventually fail.

Rewards and Recognition are Arbitrary

Speaking in generalities is a little dangerous. Of course rewards and recognition are good things usually given to the deserving, but not always. If you ever saw someone get promoted and you can’t wrap your head around why, this is why I say rewards are arbitrary. If you were a high-level executive at Enron, you would be rewarded and recognized for being dishonest. I think this happens in far more businesses than we would like to acknowledge. On the other hand, if you worked for an honest organization, you would be rewarded for hard work, ingenuity, and your ability to produce results. So if you took an honest, intelligent, hard-working person and put them in an executive position at Enron, chances are they would not be rewarded for their work (and hopefully the toxic culture doesn’t change their character).

Does that mean they aren’t doing the “right” thing? Of course not. It just means they are not doing the right thing to be rewarded under those circumstances. That’s why it is important that we screen all of the intimate relationships in our lives (work relationships, money management, romantic relationships, friends, etc.). We need to make sure our values are aligned with the values of the people we work closely with.

Hopefully this serves as some solace when you see things going sideways. Remember that success is not always possible, and that is a good thing!

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