Three steps to making your new approach stick

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I described a process for changing your approach. Two weeks ago I described three indicators that your current approach is not working. In this post, I will share three steps for making your new approach stick. The steps are easy, but as we all know making a change stick is not. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Implement it – don’t expect anything to be different until you implement your new approach. This step is actually the easiest to complete – all you have to do is start. But, it can also be the most difficult. I cannot count on my fingers and toes how many times I decided to make a change but never implemented a new approach. Several times I even spent a lot of time and energy crafting a new approach, but never got around to making it happen. The main reason I think implementing a new approach is difficult is fear of failure. What if it doesn’t solve the problem? What if your new approach does not work better? What if it actually makes things worse? Many times these fears are unfounded. Bottom line is that you will not know how well your new approach works until you try it.

Don't get stuck in the starting blocks
Don’t get stuck in the starting block

2. Measure progress – it will be hard to tell if your new approach is working, or not unless you measure your progress. Come up with the metrics you will use to determine if you are actually solving the problem. For example, I have been in debt numerous times. One time the amount of debt I had accumulated troubled me greatly, so I decided to change my approach. The approach was somewhat radical. I implemented several changes that wiped out the debt quickly. I was not confident that this approach actually addressed the root cause of the problem – more money going out than coming in. I decided to measure both the amount of debt I carried and how quickly it grew each month. After only two months, the same problem started to surface. I knew my solution worked in the short term, but would not suffice for the long term. After this analysis, I implemented a different approach – I changed jobs to make more money. I continued to measure my progress using the same metrics. This time the change worked. The problem was finally solved. More income than expenses equals no debt.

Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working
Measure your progress to determine if your approach is working

3. Stick with it and make tweaks – sometimes you will make progress after implementing your new approach, but improvements are not happening fast enough. You may ask yourself what do I do now. Should I stick with my new approach, or stop it and try something else. I recommend making tweaks rather than abandoning your new approach. Tweaks are different than major changes. They are small adjustments you make to your new approach. For example, one time I changed my approach to eating in order to lose some weight. As I measured my progress I recognized that I was losing weight, but not as quickly as I hoped. In fact, I would lose five pounds and then regain five pounds, and then lose the same five pounds. My weight was going up and down like a yo-yo. Overall my approach was working but I had to make some tweaks. One tweak I implemented was to start drinking black coffee rather than put cream and sugar in it. This one change made a positive impact and helped me achieve the result I was looking for. Make tweaks to get to the finish line. Don’t abandon your new approach to quickly. Give yourself some time. On the other hand, if your new approach is not working at all, then it is time try something different. You may end up trying several approaches until you find the one that works.

'I must say, that was quite a tweak you came up with.'
Tweaks can make a big impact

In this series, I have attempted to pass along my advice on how to implement positive changes in your life. Talking about it is easy. Making it happen is difficult. Enough talking – get out there and make it happen.

Process to change your approach

If your approach is not working, then you may need to change it. I am doing a short series of blog posts about this topic. Last week, I discussed three indicators that your current approach is not working. If any or all of these are true, then you should seriously consider making a change. In this post, I will describe how you do it – the process to change your approach. The process is easy and described below. I hope you learn from my experience and do not make the same mistakes.

1. Determine where you are – the first step in changing your approach is figuring out where you are. When I was in US Army Ranger School we would navigate through various terrain to include mountains, swamps, and deserts. If you were in charge of the patrol it was important to always know where you are. At some point during the patrol, the Ranger Instructor would ask the patrol leader to point out where you were on the map usually with a pine needle. You were not allowed to use your fat finger and fake it. Pinpoint accuracy is what they expected. If you were wrong, you were in trouble, and you knew it. They drilled this expectation into us because it is really easy to get lost if you have no clue where you are. Any path will work. I think the same can be true in life. If you have no idea where you are on the map of life, then how will you know if you are lost.

Determine where you are on the map
Determine where you are on the map

This step sounds simple, but it can be a real struggle. The reason why is that many of us are overly optimistic when it comes to evaluating where we are on the map. Are you ahead of schedule, or behind? Are you on a mountaintop, or in the valley? Have you crossed a bridge, or not? For example, if you have changed jobs, then you have already crossed the bridge. If you determine that the new job is not working out, and a change is needed, then you need to decide what to do next. Walk back across the same bridge (assuming that you did not burn that one), or find a new bridge to cross by finding another new job.

Have you crossed a bridge, or not?
Have you crossed a bridge, or not?

Based on my own experience, I tend to overestimate my current situation. In my head, I picture that things are not as bad as they seem, and will work out in the end. What I have learned is that I need to be honest with myself when determining where I am. You may need help determining where you are. Friends, family, and colleagues can provide perspective. When in doubt, ask you heavenly father for help in determining where you are. He sees all and may open your eyes to see a bigger picture than what is right in front of you.

2. Seek guidance from others – after you determine where you are, next you should think about what you will do next to change your approach. When I was younger I tended to try and figure out most things myself. A stupid mistake that really limited my options. Nowadays, I am a big fan of getting help from others. I have learned over the years that I do not know much. Others possess wisdom, knowledge, and experience that can benefit me. Why not take advantage of their life lessons. Don’t be afraid to talk with your friends, family, and mentors about your situation. They may have dealt with what you are going through, and have ideas for a better approach. In addition to seeking guidance from people you know, you can also learn a lot from experts. The number of resources available to you from experts in all fields is staggering. You can read books, watch videos, listen to podcasts, and research on the internet. Remember everything you find on the internet may not be true, or helpful, but there is plenty of great content available to you. Take advantage of all these resources when trying to figure out how to change your approach.

Seeking guidance from others can help
Seeking guidance from others can help

In the last blog post I mentioned that my approach to running was not working. I trained hard, probably too hard, to maintain the same pace and race times as I got older. But, it came at a price. My body suffered. I experienced multiple injuries and did not feel well almost every morning. Just getting out of bed was a painful event. Something needed to change. I spoke with several of my friends who also run, and they noticed the same thing. They were experiencing more pain and suffering than normal. I listen to a podcast called Fitness over 40. During one broadcast the guest was two college professors who created a training plan for runners to keep running into their later years. I read their book, and it really opened my eyes. The research they conducted shows that too much running is bad for you, and results in injuries. Duh – exactly what I was doing to my body. The book contained the training plan, that I implemented earlier this year, and I can already tell the difference. I feel better physically, and have a much better approach than the one I was using the past decade of my life. I can only imagine how much damage I would have done to my body if I kept to my old approach. I am avoiding all that pain in misery because I was smart enough to seek the guidance from others. BTW – I let all my friends know about the book. It is shown below.

Train smart to run forever
Train smart to run forever

3. Craft your plan – the last step in changing your approach is to craft your plan. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what changes you are going to make. Go ahead and craft your plan with all the details you will need for success. I am a big fan of actually writing down your plan. Writing it down forces you to really think through the details. I tend to get more clarity when I commit my plans to paper. In fact, I write down my goals for each year. Last year, I read Michael Hyatt’s book Living Forward. Michael recommends that you create a life plan, and offers other life planning tools that I used for the first time this year. The tools really helped me craft my plan for the year. I highly recommend both the book and tools to others. It is one thing to craft a plan for a new approach- that is the easy part. It is another thing to implement the new approach. Next week I will cover that topic.

Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt
Living Forward by MIchael Hyatt

Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue

This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while serving there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For a three-week period, I am sharing the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Two weeks ago I wrote about the first lesson – leaders go out the door first. Last week I wrote about the second lesson – train until it hurts. Below you will find the third lesson.

In our country right now, there is a lot of discussion about diversity and division. Racial tensions are high. We are having a debate about our history. Who should we honor? How should our shared past be remembered? What about the Confederacy, and its leaders? What about the founding fathers? Can we have monuments to those who built our country without erasing the ugly parts of US history? How do we move forward without tearing the country apart? Great questions that do not have easy answers. Diversity is a tough and complicated topic. I do not pretend to have all the answers. I do understand diversity because I have seen a successful model before while serving in the 82d Airborne Division which is also known as the All American Division. It was constituted, originally as the 82nd Division 100 years ago, shortly after the US entered into World War I. Since its initial members came from all 48 states, the division acquired the nickname All-American, which is the basis for its famed “AA” shoulder patch that is pictured below.

82d Airborne Division patch
82d Airborne Division patch

When I arrived in 1991 it was still known as the All-American division because its members came from all parts of the US. We had paratroopers from every state, every US territory, various education levels, economic backgrounds, race, gender, creed, and religion. You name it and there was probably someone in the 82d that came from that background. You saw diversity in all parts of the division. I am not going to pretend that everything was perfect. Nostalgic perspectives are not helpful. We had our challenges, but somehow our diversity was not a stumbling block. Rather it was a strength. Everyone brought their best to accomplish the mission. It was an important phase of my life when I learned that people of very different backgrounds can work together successfully. When I reflect on that time I think there are three reasons why diversity was and is a force multiplier in the All-American division.

1. Leadership can be learned – the leaders in the 82d Airborne division come from all walks of life. The first battalion I served in, 1st Battalion of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, had officers from several sources. There were numerous West Point graduates, many ROTC officers, and prior enlisted soldiers who were commissioned through the Officer Candidate School. The diversity of our Non-Commissioned Officers was even greater. It did not matter much where you came from because leadership is not an inherent trait that only a few possess. There is not an elite segment of American society that provides leaders for the rest of us. No, our leaders come from all over the country. Leadership can be learned. I saw this first-hand in the 82d. I learned about leadership from numerous mentors and watched others learn and grow during their time in the division. We were taught important lessons like leaders set the example, and leaders go out the door first. Leadership lessons that stayed with me over the years. The good news is that any of us can learn to be an effective leader – no matter what you background. If you don’t believe me, then watch this short video.

2. Standards are standards – all US Army paratroopers are expected to meet stringent standards. No one gets any slack. When I say no one, I mean no one. Does not matter if you are enlisted, an NCO, or an officer. Does not matter if you are black, white, yellow, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, male, or female. You either meet the standard, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are sent away. It starts in Airborne school, continues with Jumpmaster school, and various other airborne training events you are required to complete in order to be a member of the All-American Division. These demanding standards cause an interesting effect. It builds trust. You trust everyone else on the plane during a jump because you know that they have what it takes to be a paratrooper. In case you are not familiar with what it takes to become a paratrooper – this video explains the training. It is old but still accurate.

Nowadays it seems like some people are always looking for shortcuts to success – hacks for life. I am a big fan of trying to figure out ways to improve my performance by working smart versus just working hard. Many experts can help teach you better ways of doing things. But, make sure you are not cutting corners to get around standards. They exist for a reason – to make sure you are proficient. You build trust with your team members, and demonstrate that you have what it takes.

3. Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue. I have served in other US Army units, and they just don’t have the same camaraderie as the All-American Division. It is a special place. My observation is that paratroopers understand that we all wear green uniforms, maroon berets, and bleed the same color. When I was at Fort Bragg, the community experienced several tragic events to include two planes colliding that resulted in the untimely death of numerous paratroopers in the 82d. I recall the sadness of that event and the heroic deeds of many during and after the accident. It was difficult days for the Division. Everyone came together in a special way to make it through. Nothing new for paratroopers – we have been doing this for over 100 years. The current Division Commander recently gave a speech about the unit that is well worth watching. It sums up what I said above. Paratroopers bleed the same color – red, white and blue. Airborne, All the Way!!

Train until it hurts

This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while serving there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For a three week period, I plan to share the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Last week I wrote about the first lesson – leaders go out the door first. Below you will find the second lesson.

Lesson two – train until it hurts. The mission of the 82nd Airborne Division is to, within 18 hours of notification, strategically deploy, conduct forcible entry parachute assault and secure key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of U.S. national interests. In other words, the division goes wherever it is needed to deal with the enemies of our country. Simply put – you have to be prepared to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. You are constantly preparing for war. It is what you do day in, and day out. This short video shows what the 82d does.

I mentioned in my last blog post that my father served in the 82d as an Infantry Lieutenant. When I arrived at Fort Bragg, I did know what I was supposed to do. I was school trained but lacked experience. I had completed the Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School at Fort Benning and was Jumpmaster certified. I was as prepared as you could be as a young officer but lacked confidence, so I called my dad seeking advice about how to be successful at Fort Bragg. My father emphasized above all else that “if you take care of your troops they will take care of you”. I asked him what is the best thing you can do to take care of troops. His answer was clear – don’t coddle them. Train them hard so that they are prepared for war. You must learn to train until it hurts, and then keep going.

Training became a major emphasis for me. First, I increased my physical training. Paratroopers have to be in shape. Jumping from an airplane can be physically demanding. You must be able to jump with your equipment (which weighs well over 50 pounds with a full combat load) and carry it with you wherever you go after landing. My unit conducted physical training every single morning. We did lots of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, other calisthenics and ran. We ran a lot – miles and miles every week. I worked for one company commander who had the officers perform physical training separate from our troops. At first, I thought it was odd. Shouldn’t we train with our platoons to make sure they were in top physical condition? He said the NCOs would take care of that – he was right. What I learned is that he trained us even harder than the troops. Many mornings we would start a run without knowing how far we would go. He didn’t know either. We simply ran until he got tired…which felt like never. All this physical training worked. I ended up being in the best shape of my life, fully prepared for the physical demands of airborne operations. I did not enjoy the pain of all that physical training, but it was necessary. As this video shows, running is a tradition for everyone in the 82d Airborne Division.

Next, I focused on operational training. We spent a lot of time in the field and performed many airborne operations. It is difficult to simulate what it is like to jump out of a plane fully loaded with equipment, so we practiced on a regular basis. When I served as the Division Assault CP Commo Platoon Leader my platoon jumped a lot – much more than most units. And when we jumped – it was almost always with our combat equipment. Sometimes a unit will jump with only their parachutes, not their field gear. These jumps are referred to as “Hollywood” jumps. They are worthwhile since you are still performing an airborne operation. But, as you would imagine, they are much easier than combat equipment jumps. My platoon jumped with our equipment because I wanted to make sure they could handle the heavy loads we had to carry. The more practice the better was my approach. Occasionally I would hear grumbles from my platoon, but all that training paid big dividends when we performed full-scale airborne operations. My platoon was always prepared and performed magnificently when it counted. As an added bonus I was able to earn my master parachutist wings in less than four years.

I also pushed the envelope when it came to the equipment we used. We would experiment with our gear to try and get the best performance possible. Once I remember that we were having trouble getting a strong connection with our satellite radios on the drop zone, so we decided to jump in a much larger antenna than normal. The larger antenna would not fit into a normal rucksack or equipment bag. We had to pack it inside a Dragon Missile Jump Pack (DMJP). That meant somebody had to jump the DMJP, so several of us went through the special training required to jump this piece of equipment. In case you are not familiar with what the DMJP looks like – there is a pictures below. It is a big piece of equipment, and awkward to jump.

Dragon Missile Jump Pack
Dragon Missile Jump Pack

Well, it came time for our next airborne operation and it was decided we would jump the larger antenna. I volunteered to jump the DMJP since leaders go out the door first. Man was that jump an adventure. I immediately went into a rapid spin after exiting the aircraft door. My risers were twisted all the way down to my neck. I bicycle kicked and pulled at my risers to clear the twists. That step seemed to take forever. It was hard for me to tell how high off the ground I was. I decided to go ahead and lower my ruck and then the DMJP to avoid landing with it which would have been painful. When the DMJP reached the end of my lowering line I started oscillating more than normal. Swinging back and forth like a pendulum – not good for landing. I heard my equipment hit the ground and I hit next. Ugly landing – hit like a ton of bricks. Damn that hurt. I stowed my chute, and then humped my way over to our assembly point. The antenna worked well and the operation was successful.

Afterwards several of my troops asked me about the jump. How did it go? I lied and told them that it went fine and the landing did not hurt much. Why would I stretch the truth…because I had been taught to train until it hurts, and then keep going. What can you learn from this lesson? Training counts and makes a big difference. Figure out what kind of training you need to be successful, and then get after it. One final thought – don’t jump the DMJP. It sucks – trust me. All the Way!

Leaders go out the door first

This blog post is my 82nd one. The number 82 has a special meaning in my life. When I hear the number 82, I think of one thing…the 82 Airborne Division also known as the All-American Division. This year the 82nd Airborne Division is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The division was created way back in WWI. It is a famous unit with a storied history. It also has a special place in my family’s history. My father served in the 82nd Airborne after graduating from West Point. It was his first duty assignment as an Infantry Officer. Many years later I followed in his footsteps. I joined the 82nd in 1991 as an Infantry Officer. My first assignment was rifle platoon leader in Bravo Company, 1/325 AIR. After that role, I transferred to the Signal Corps and joined the 82 Signal Battalion. While there I served as a Signal Node Platoon Leader, Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. Yes – I was a platoon leader three different times. I finished my time at Bragg as a Company Executive Officer. These jobs were with the same unit, A Company, 82 Signal Battalion. The 82nd is a great unit, and I learned a lot while there. Lessons that have served me well over the years. For the next three weeks, I plan to share the top three life lessons I learned while serving as an All-American paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division. Below you will find the first one.

Lesson one – leaders go out the door first. The 82d has a somewhat unique culture, full of traditions that have been created over the years. One tradition regarding their leaders is that they jump first during airborne operations. This tradition started back in WWII. What does that mean – leaders jump first. Basically, the most senior leader of any airborne operation will go out the door first, before anyone else. For example, if the Commander of the 82d (a two-star general) is part of a jump, he will jump first followed by the rest of the paratroopers. During WWII legendary commanders like Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin jumped and fought along side their paratroopers. No cushy office for them. This act is not one of privilege, but rather of leadership in action. This tradition visibly shows all the paratroopers in the plane that you are willing to lead them by jumping first. The 82d expects danger when they jump into combat. Its leaders are expected to face this danger first. This tradition clearly demonstrates that the leaders are willing to do what they are asking their followers to do. It is a powerful way to show others that I am with you and fully committed, just like you.

General James Gavin getting ready to jump
General James Gavin getting ready to jump

I learned this lesson firsthand while serving as the Division Assault CP Platoon Leader. My platoon’s mission was to support the Division Command Group with communications capabilities. We jumped in the radio equipment the Divison Commander and other senior leaders used on the drop zone during airborne operations. Many times we jumped from the same plane as the Division Commander. He would go out the door first, followed by his Aide, and then members of my platoon. For larger airborne operations that involved many planes, my platoon would be split into small groups and jump from several different aircraft. Usually, we would be one of the first to leave the plane so that we would land near the command group members. I remember one mission where jumping first was somewhat troubling to me. For this operation, we were jumping into Puerto Rico. The drop zone was not big so we jumped from C-130s. The Division Commander was in the first plane. I was in the second plane and would be the first jumper from that aircraft. Everything en route went fine. As we approached the Puerto Rico, the Jumpmaster gave me the command to “stand in the door”. That means I am positioned in the door, waiting for the jump light to turn green. When it does, you jump. Usually, you stand in the door for less than 30 seconds. As you stand in the door of a C-130 you can see out of the aircraft. When I looked out I noticed a potential problem – all water, no land. I am a good swimmer, but I certainly did not want to experience a water landing. I peered at the jump light – it was still red. Thank God. I watched and waited, hoping that the light would not turn green until we were over land. I kept waiting for what seemed like well over a minute. Eventually, I saw land, then the drop zone, green light, and I jumped, followed by my fellow paratroopers. What I learned later was that the jumpmasters decided to put the first jumpers in the door earlier than normal because there was real concern that all the jumpers would not be able to exit the aircraft in time because the drop zone was so small. They did not want any paratrooper to miss the drop zone, and have to ride all the way back to Fort Bragg.

After the operation was complete I thought to myself what would have happened if the light had turned green while we were still over water. I knew the answer – I would have jumped. I would have done what paratroopers have been trained to do for decades. The light turns green, and then you jump. I could not turn to the paratrooper behind me and say why don’t you go first, it looks kind of dangerous with all that water. No – I had been trained as a leader in the 82d that you jump first, and deal with whatever happens next. You lead from the front, not from the rear. That lesson has served me well in many other situations. Sometimes when I find myself in a somewhat scary situation I think of my days in the 82d, and what it taught me as a leader. You go out the door first. Airborne.

For more about the 100th Anniversary, see this video below from All-American Week.

Why go to college?

Nowadays some people question whether or not it is worth it to go to college. Let’s face it – college is not cheap, and it typically takes at least four years to earn a degree. In fact, it is expensive to attend college, especially if you go out of state, or to a private school. For both of you, I am estimating that it will cost close to $100K for your four-year degree. As you would expect, I have thought about this topic, completed some research, conducted my own analysis, and reached the conclusion that college is worth the investment of time and resources. Here are three compelling reasons why you should go to college.

1. You will learn about yourself – college offers the opportunity to figure out who you are…really. At college you get exposed to a lot of new things – new people, new places, and new ideas, to name a few. All these new experiences will help you learn more about yourself. I think it is critically important to take the time to learn more about yourself before entering the working world. You can do this through classroom experiences, social interactions, as well as self-reflection. While in college, it is likely that you will have more free time than any other point in your life. Take advantage of that time to learn about how you are wired, identify your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions, etc. Recently I had both of you complete the Myers-Briggs personality profile assessment. You learned about your personality – what you are like. In college, you can take this data and learn even more about who you are. It is worth it to know about yourself before venturing out into the world.

Personality types
Personality types

2. You will learn about the world – the academic experience in college is much different than in high school. You finally get the opportunity to take classes in subjects that interest you and learn more about the world. The working world offers many choices. Most colleges offer a plethora of choices when it comes to classes, majors, and research topics. College degrees range from technical subjects like computer science to the liberal arts like English, and everything in between. Some students will be preparing for the business world by studying marketing and finance, while others will focus on becoming an expert in playing a musical instrument. The choices seem endless at some colleges. It is easy to get overwhelmed. My advice is to take a diverse set of classes the first year, or two to figure out what interests you. Then, declare your major, and focus your studies on the topic that will become your job afterwards. Don’t lock into a major too early like I did, and definitely don’t take forever to figure it out.

3. You will position yourself for the future – let’s get practical for a moment. The research shows that on average college graduates make more money than those without college degrees. Simply put – employers pay more money for college degrees than for high school diplomas. Some will argue that some of the richest men in the world didn’t complete college (e.g., Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg). Yes – that is true, and there are others. But, they are the exception, not the rule. See the graphic below for more data about earnings potential.

Earnings potential based on education
Earnings potential based on education

I am not saying that money is the primary driving factor for getting a degree. I am saying that it may be challenging to earn a decent living in the United States without a college degree. I would not enter the workforce without one if offered the opportunity. There are counter arguments to everything I have written. I looked for a video about this topic with a perspective from someone more your age. The Youtube video below discusses this question. I actually agree with what they say regarding reasons why you would not go to college. If you know exactly what you want to do in life and getting a degree is not required, then it is worth considering skipping college. But, I would not make that decision lightly. A good college education has been a critical success factor for many in our family.

I am putting a warning here about the video. It does contain some profanity, so if that upsets you do not watch it.

Follow the 10-10-80 rule

Gavin finished his first summer job recently. He earned a fair amount of money and asked me about the process I use for managing my money. Gavin is just learning about money. I recommended that he keep it simple, and follow the 10-10-80 rule. This formula represents how you should allocate the money you earn – save 10%, give 10% (some call this tithing), and spend the remaining 80%. I cannot remember when I learned this rule, but I have tried to use it over the years. It seems to work well, although it can be tempting to spend more than 80%, especially if you experience a windfall.

1. Save 10% for yourself – there are multiple reasons to save 10% of your paycheck. First, it is helpful to have an emergency fund to deal with surprise situations that may arise. Opinions vary about how much money you should have in an emergency fund. One month salary is a good starting point. Second, you may want to save money for a specific purchase so that you don’t have to borrow money and pay interest. In general, I like to stay out of debt as much as possible, but I think it is okay to borrow money for some purchases. For example, you will likely need a loan if you decide to buy a house. Third, you will need money for retirement. In fact, you will likely need a lot of money. Start saving early for retirement, so that you don’t have to play catch-up later on. I did not save nearly enough early on in my career and am paying the price now. Avoid this mistake if you can. Most companies offer employees ways to save for retirement. Take advantage of these savings opportunities. Here is a video that talks about various ways to save for retirement.

2. Give 10% for a worthy cause – it honors God and helps those in need. I would love to say that tithing is easy, but it can be a challenge to give away 10% of your money. I recommend starting early so that it becomes a habit. Don’t tell yourself that you will give money away when you earn more and can “afford it”. I think it actually becomes more challenging the more you make. Once again, keep it simple. If you are a member of a church then you should tithe to that church. The tithe is intended for the church to operate and support the local community. If you are not a member of a church then look for a worthy cause to support. Plenty of them exist. I have taken different approaches when it comes to charities. One year I decided to support as many as possible – even with only a small amount. More recently, I decided to focus my donations to a few specific charities that I am passionate about. For example, this year I am focused on the Lead the Way Fund. They do great work. Lastly, some charities are not worth supporting. They spend too many resources fund raising, or other events, rather than making sure the money gets to those who need it. For example, I used to send money to the Wounded Warrior Program, but stopped due to a recent scandal about how they were wasting donor’s money.

3. Spend 80% to live your life – this part covers the rest of your expenses like housing, food, utilities, clothes, and other bills. 80% sounds like a lot. Not spending more than that seems easy, but I will warn you that it is not easy. What is easy is spending more than you earn by using credit cards and other methods for borrowing money that you do not really need. Trust me, it is really easy to buy stuff, esecially nowadays. You don’t even have to leave your house to shop and they will deliver many things straight to your front door. I am a big fan of online shopping, but it can be a slippery slope when it comes to spending money.

Lastly, I have warned you before about the dangers of credit cards, and will reiterate to be careful. At one point in my life I wracked up over $10K in credit card debt and had to refinance our house to pay off the debt. Really big mistake on my part. You should not be shocked to learn that the credit card company never called me to ask why I was spending so much money. The reality is that we had just moved and it cost a lot more money getting the new house set-up than I anticipated. The credit card company did not care because they make money out of the deal. The more I borrow, the more they make.

Managing your money can be tricky. I recommend keeping it simple, following the 10-10-80 rule, and avoiding debt as much as possible.

Here is another video in which Dave Ramsey and Chris Hogan answer a question about retirement from someone who is 23 years old.

Be picky about being picky

In America, we have a lot of choices when it comes to the things we buy. Think about it. When is the last time you bought something and there were no options – only one item for purchase. If you go to a restaurant you will usually receive a multi-page menu describing all the various options. The Cheese Cake Factory menu is thick as a book. It can be overwhelming. Visit an American grocery store and you see how many different kinds of Ketchup there is. I like hot sauce. It is amazing the number of options you have when it comes to buying hot sauce. Let’s talk about Starbucks – the options seem unlimited. It is a pet peeve of mine to stand in line behind someone who takes forever to order their drink. It is not like you are making a life changing decision, but you would think so based on how difficult it is for some patrons to make a selection. Even after you order the barista may ask you more questions about what you want – whip or no whip? Really.

I am a big fan of not overthinking things when possible. With that in mind, I recommend that you not waste your mental capacity on trying to figure out what to buy. Look at your options, determine what you like, calculate what you can afford, and then buy it. Don’t spend too much of your brain power trying to buy just the right thing. You can drive yourself nuts if you do. If you get it wrong, it probably will not be a big deal. There are three exceptions to this approach that I want to share with you so that you can be picky about being picky.

1. Quality vs. quantity – you will buy many items in large quantities. Don’t waste too much time picking these items. For example, I run a fair amount and like to drink Gatorade afterwards. Gatorade comes in many types and flavors. I like G2 because it is low calorie, and am not that picky about the flavor. When shopping for Gatorade I buy whatever G2 flavor is on sale. If none of it is on sale, then I buy one of my favorite flavors. Problem solved. Wristwatches are another matter. It is unlikely that you are going to buy multiple watches at the same time. In fact, you will probably only buy a few over your lifetime. In this case, do some research so that you make an informed purchase. I don’t have a lot of money, so really expensive watches are out of the question. I own two watches – one informal, and one formal. I wear a Timex weekender watch that I really like. It costs less than $100. You can change the straps on the watch to match the clothes you are wearing. For work, I wear an Invictus watch. It is stylish and only cost a few hundred dollars. Nothing fancy for me.

Timex weekender wrist watch
Timex weekender wrist watch

2. Premium purchases – you will buy a few things that cost a lot of money. Cars, houses, and college tuition are top of list for me. When spending a lot of money like hundreds of thousands for a house, you should spend a lot of time looking, researching, analyzing, and comparing before making a decision. Work with a good real estate agent who can help find you the right house, at the right price, in the right neighborhood. Some shows on HGTV make it seem like you can find a house quickly. I prefer to take my time and spend a lot of time thinking before buying. Bottom line – you should love the house you buy. If you don’t love it, then hold off until you find one you do. When it comes to cars I never buy the first day I visit a dealer. I don’t want to make an impulse buy. It is an easy mistake to make when buying a car. I prefer to visit multiple dealers, do a lot of research, and spend some time thinking about the purchase. Three car purchases I made were good – the Accord, Tacoma, and my Jeep. The Lexus I bought was a mistake. I should never have spent that much money on a car. Choosing a college is similar – do lots of research to include visiting each school before making a selection. The good news is that researching cars and colleges is much easier these days with all of the online tools. These did not exist back when I was your age.

Jeep wrangler
Jeep wrangler

3. Money makers – you should save and invest some of your money with each paycheck so that you can retire one day. When it comes to investments there are an overwhelming number of options. Be picky about who you allow to invest your money. Many financial institutions will promise high returns and low risk. They use this marketing lingo to justify charging you high fees for managing your money. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you spend on management fees is one less dollar that gets invested. It is really hard for money managers to “beat the market”, and they know it. I have done a fair amount of research on this topic and decided to keep things simple. I invest in index mutual funds with low management fees. Several reputable companies offer these type nowadays. I would never attempt to invest my own money in individual stocks. It takes time and energy, and expertise that I don’t have.

In most cases I don’t think there is much value in being picky about what you buy. There is a time and place to be picky. I recommend the three listed here. In case you are wondering why we have all of these choices, the video below explains why:

Blondie Forever

This week I saw the band Blondie in concert at Wolf Trap. Beforehand I was not overly excited about the concert. I was looking forward to tailgating in the parking lot with friends but did not have high expectations of the band’s performance. You may not know a lot about Blondie. They were a moderately famous band from the 70s and early 80s. They had multiple radio hits and were pretty well known back in the day. Blondie’s greatest hits album is a good representation of their early musical career if you want to sample it. Boy was I surprised when Blondie took the stage. They were really good and put on a great show. Afterward, I thought about why Blondie was so much better than I expected. I can think of three reasons.

1. Be your best – Blondie opened the show with the song “One Way or Another”. It is a really up beat song, and one of my favorites by them. They really set the tone by starting the show with a bang. I noticed right away that their lead guitarist was not one of the original members. He was a rather young man full of talent and energy. I appreciate the fact that Blondie was not afraid to augment their line-up with new members. It made them a stronger band and helped them be their best for their fans. Don’t be afraid to include others who can help you be the best that you can be, even if you become rich and famous.

2. Continue creating – Blondie played several songs from their new album, Pollinator, during the show. I have listened to their new album several times, and it is actually pretty good. Not their best album, but better than most new music I have heard this year. Whenever a famous band puts out and plays new music they are taking a risk. Their fans are always going to compare the new music to their old hits like I just did. This comparison is not really fair, but it happens nonetheless. I appreciate the fact that Blondie continues to create – writing new songs, recording them, releasing them, and playing them live. One of my favorite bands, U2, takes a similar approach. They continue to put out a new album every few years. In contrast, many other bands stopped creating new music years ago. Instead, they rely on their past accomplishments and simply play their greatest hits during their concerts. Simply put, this approach is lazy. Artists should continue creating. I want to encourage you to continue creating over your lifetime. Don’t stop and rest on your laurels, relying on your past accomplishments to carry the day.

Blondie new album
Blondie new album

3. Keep kicking – Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry, is no spring chicken. In fact, she is over 70 years old. But you would never guess that watching her perform in concert. She does a great job singing their songs, moving around the stage, dancing to the music, raising the energy level of the audience. I was really impressed with her performance. Let’s face it – it is probably no easy task for Debbie to complete a concert. Rock-n-roll is a young person’s profession, but you would never guess that watching Blondie in concert. They are still touring, and keep kicking. I sure hope I have her kind of energy and enthusiasm when I am over 70 years old, and I hope you will too.

Just so it is clear – I am not endorsing Blondie as model citizens, or saying that you should act like rock stars. Rather, I am exploring ways to learn something new from them. I think we can learn something from everyone, as long as we are paying attention.

Here is a video from Blondie’s early days – probably their most famous song, “Heart of Glass”. It was filmed in a disco – old school.

Here is a video from their new album. The song is called “Long Time”

Learning something new

As you know I decided to start my own business. It is a new adventure for me, and requires that I learn a lot of new skills. Learning something new can be a challenge. The reality is that it takes time to learn something new. In fact, according to some experts it takes at least 20 hours to learn something new. In this TED talk author Josh Kaufman explains the learning process. It is worth watching.

We live in a culture that is big on figuring out better ways to do things. Hacks, shortcuts, and cheat codes seem to be all the rage these days. I am a big fan of learning. It is one of my strengths. I look for ways to learn things quickly, but I recognize that you have to put in the time. I am experiencing that fact first hand right now as I download new software tools and teach myself several new skills. It is taking some time. I am making steady progress, and will get there. During your lifetime you will need to learn many new things, so I want to pass along a few observations based on my own experience learning new things.

1. Starting out is usually ugly. When you start something new you do not know what you are doing, and it shows. It is going to be ugly. I remember the day Jill and I decided to play tennis together. She is good at tennis. She has played for years, taken lessons, and knows how to play the game. I, on the other hand, have played very little, never had lessons, and don’t really know how to play the game. As you might guess – it was ugly. She stood on her side of the court and simply hit the ball over the net repeatedly while I ran around like a mad man trying to figure out what I was doing. An odd thing happened the next time we played. My play improved, just a little each game, and we actually ended up having a competitive game. I still have not beat her in a game, but I bet I could if I practice on a regular basis.

2. Practice takes time. If only 20 hours is required to learn something new, then it should be easy to learn new things quickly. Right. The reality is that 20 hours is actually a fair amount of time. As Josh Kaufman points out in his TED talk, you will improve a lot the first few hours – which is great. But, you will need to press on and keep practicing if you want to actually get proficient. Riley – you are learning to drive right now. The DMV requires that each driver spend many hours behind the wheel before you get your license which is a good thing. Every drive knows that it takes awhile to learn how to drive and get used to the various speeds and obstacles that you will encounter. Put in the practice and get your 20 hours in. Don’t rely on hacks or cheat codes to make you proficient.

3. Get the help you need. The good news about our modern culture is that you can find help easily. We have numerous ways to connect and communicate with others. When I announced that I was going to start my own company on Facebook several friends reached out to me, offering encouragement, and potential help. Many of them have experience that will help me a lot, so I plan to talk with each of them. In addition to your own friends, experts exist, coaches are available, and the really good news is that you can find most of them online these days. In fact, you can learn a lot from others, and get help for free. Youtube is a gold mine of information. You may remember the time when I could not figure out how to change the tire on our old Lexus (it had wheel locks that the manual did not mention), I went to Youtube and found a video that explained how to do it. Most of these tools did not exist when I was your age. Take advantage of them. Leverage the expertise of others, and get the help you need.

I hope that both of you learn new things on a regular basis. It will help you grow and become a more rounded person. Gavin – you are excellent at playing the guitar. I encourage you to keep learning and become an expert. Riley – you are a great soccer player. I hope you keep playing later in life. It is a great sport, and will bring you a lot of joy. Scoring a goal never gets old. Trust me.

Learning never exhausts the mind.
– Leonardo da Vinci