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

Dunkirk Reveals Human Nature

War is hell. We all know that – at least I hope we all know that. We are reminded on a regular basis about both the horrors and heroics of war. Bottom line – it brings out the best and the worst in mankind. We have many books, movies, television shows, videos and monuments all aimed at giving all of us insights about war, and what it is like. As you know, I served in the military, but I never deployed into combat. I did spent many years preparing for it, studying it, and learning about it. Based on what I know and have learned from others – we get unique insights into human nature by learning from previous wars.

Occasionally a movie comes along that reminds us how awful war can be. Dunkirk is one of those movies. It is a grim reminder that WWII did not start well for the Allies. In fact, it was a military disaster on all fronts. The Germans were able to conquer much of Europe quickly. I watched Dunkirk last night, and really enjoyed it. The director lets history tell the story and attempts to personalize it by focusing on a small group of individuals who are caught in the action – soldiers and civilians. The movie is intense, and I think it points out three things about human nature that are worth reflecting on after watching the film.

1. We are all selfish. The battle of Dunkirk focuses on the fact that a large part of the British Army was surrounded by the Nazis early in the war and needed to be evacuated back to England before it is annihilated. It is a dire situation. The movie does an excellent job portraying how bad things were for the British. The enemy is closing in. All the British are trying to get out of France, and the only way out is via the English Channel. There are not enough ships for everyone. Time is running out, so various characters in the movie start to take matters into their own hands. It is an “only the strong survive” type situation which leads to selfish behavior. It should not be surprising that people get selfish. It is in all of us – the will to survive. It comes out especially when the stakes are high. Putting other first is a difficult choice to make, and does not happen naturally. Usually our basic instinct is to take care of ourselves first. Something to think about anytime you are in a tough situation. Look for this behavior in others, and monitor it in yourself.

2. We can all be heroes. The evacuation of Dunkirk ended up being successful because of the extraordinary deeds of many average people. The British government send out a call for help, and many answered. The film focuses on one family who joins in the action and plays their part in the evacuation despite many challenges. The director does a nice job keeping these everyday participants anonymous during the action. He does not treat them like super heroes. They don’t have super powers or any special abilities. They simply do what is necessary to get the job done. The same holds true for many other participants to include the Air Force pilots who fought bravely to keep the evacuation ships safe. Remember – heroes come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. Don’t be fooled by marvel and DC comics – there is no real Superman or Wonder Woman. They are not coming to rescue us. Rather it is up to normal people like you and me to be heroic when called upon.

3. We can fight another day. When WWII begins – the Nazis are prepared. No other country really is ready and it shows. Dunkirk is a pivotal point in the war. The French are defeated, and England evacuates in order to prepare for a potential invasion. British leadership is forced to make some really tough decisions. They are outmatched, and they know it. They need a new strategy. They decide to do something a little different than normal – they celebrate their retreat from Dunkirk. Normally in military operations any retreat is seen as a loss and should not be celebrated. But, British leadership realizes that the evacuation allows them to fight another day, and fight they will. The movie ends with Winston Churchill’s stirring speech that finishes with “we will never surrender”. Anytime I hear this speech – it inspires me. Also it reminds me that some days you will lose. In fact, you may need to retreat, regroup, refit, and prepare to fight another day. Notice that I did not say quit, but live to fight another day. It is a perfectly suitable strategy in some situations.

If you have not seen Dunkirk – I suggest that you do. Below is a link to the trailer for the film. Hopefully you get a lot out of the film like I did.

How to spend the summer

We are in the middle of summer – the weather is hot, the days are long, and you do not have school. You have more free time than usual during the summer, so the question becomes what should you do with all this free time. When I was your age I did many things during the summer to include sports, travel, work, and spending time with friends. I recommend that you do something similar. Don’t waste the months sleeping in late every morning, watching endless hours of Netflix, and texting back and forth with your friends. Instead I recommend working hard, having fun, and doing some physical training.

Working hard is an important habit to gain during your younger years. I am a big fan of getting a summer job. The work itself may not be exciting, but that is not really the point. The experience is what matters, and earning a little extra money is not a bad thing either. I worked several jobs during high school and college to include delivering pizza, helping out at the local movie theater, and cleaning up at a sheet metal plant. Each job was different, and taught me new things. I developed the habit of showing up on time at work, learned the importance of interacting with customers, and how to get stuff done without having to be constantly monitored. This summer Gavin is working and learning many of these same lessons, and earning some money for college. Riley – you will start working next summer.

The summer should not be all work and no fun. You have extra time, so enjoy some of it. When I was your age I had the opportunity to go to Europe multiple times to see and experience a different part of the world. I met a lot of new people, experienced new things, and really expanded my perspective of the world. Luckily for both of you I still enjoy traveling and already take you to Europe during the summer. I plan to continue taking you there each summer. Both of you have also been able to spend a lot of time in the Outer Banks at the beach. We have great memories from the many years we went to Duck. I encourage you to considering doing more of this as you get older, and the summer is one of the best time to go. Other things I enjoyed doing at your age during the summer was going to the movies, seeing the bands I liked in concert, visiting the beach, and hanging out with friends. I know that times have changed a lot, so I am not saying you should do the same things. Rather, make sure you enjoy your time off. Some of my best memories from my youth are from the summer time.

Summer months offer you an excellent opportunity to spend some time getting into shape. One excuse I use a lot when it comes to physical training is that I don’t have the time for it. That is not true for either of you this summer. You have plenty of time, so make it happen. The weather is perfect for getting out there for a swim, a bike ride, or a run. Going to the gym is another great option. I was on the local swim team at your age, so we would spend most weekends at swim meets which took a lot of time. As you know, I never pushed you to be a swimmer since neither one of you were very interested in the sport. But, that doesn’t mean that you should lay around the house doing nothing. Nowadays, I do some of my hardest training during the summer months. I recommend you do the same.

Trust me when I say that it is not likely that you will have more free time on your hands than you do right now. At my age, you get vacation days that you have to use wisely. With that in mind, I highly recommend you spend a little time thinking about how to spend your summer, and make it happen. Fall will be here before you know it. When someone asks what you did over the summer, avoid having to answer, “nothing”. A better answer would be I earned some money working, went to Europe, and got in much better shape.

Summer nights and my radio
That’s all we need baby don’t you know
We celebrate when the the gang’s all here
Hot summer nights that’s my time of the year

– Van Halen

Lessons from the Tour de France

July is here and that means it is summer time. A major international sporting event that happens every July is the Tour de France. It is the most important bike race in the world, and it is brutal. It always has been. Basically 200 bike riders race all over France until the winner is declared. This year the race includes 21 different stages that cover over 3500 kilometers. The graphic above shows even more statistics about the race. I like the Tour, and enjoy watching the race, even thought cycling is generally boring. Just a bunch of bike riders peddling around the countryside. One of the reasons I enjoy the tour is that it teaches many lessons that you can apply in life. Here are three that come to mind.

1. Life is a team sport. Many people think that the Tour de France is an individual event due to the fact that there is a single winner. The overall winner is awarded the coveted yellow jersey. The reality is that every rider belongs to a team, and it takes a team to win. No single person will outperform everyone else. Instead you need the help of your team whether it is drafting off them on the flats, or following behind them on the climbs. I think life is a team sport also. You will need help along the way, and be willing to help others. To go it alone would be a tragic mistake, and lead to misery. Life is tough. Don’t go it alone.

2. Keep peddling, especially in the mountains. The Tour is a really long race. Day after day the riders have to cover hundreds of miles. Some have compared riding the Tour de France to running a marathon everyday for three weeks straight. Ouch. One of the things that makes the Tour so difficult is the mountain stages. All the riders have to navigate up and over towering mountains to include rides in the Alps and the Pyrenees. I have driven a car over some of these mountains and they are really tall – up in the clouds. Some riders specialize in climbing, but these stages are tough for everyone. If you are a sprinter, the mountains are especially difficult, but they still have to ride over them. They are not allowed to skip these stages and wait for the next flat course. I have watched these stages for years, and I remain amazed that anyone can make it through the mountain stages.

I think there is a parallel in life in that we all will face tall mountains, obstacles that we have to get over. How do riders get over the mountains – they just keep peddling. They use different techniques, different gears, and different approaches to make it over. It is not always pretty. In fact, for many it is rather ugly, but they make it. Sometimes we have to do the same thing in life – head down and just keep peddling. Don’t quit, keep moving forward, dealing with what life throws at you. The easy way out would be to quit. Many people do. But, I want to encourage you to keep peddling, even when it gets ugly. You will find joy after you reach the peak, and enjoy the ride down the back side of the mountain.

3. Play by the rules. It is well known that cycling has experienced many scandals over the years. The most famous is Lance Armstrong, who used to be a hero of mine. Lance “won” the Tour more times than any other rider, and became a sporting legend around the world. But, the reality is that all those victories are tainted. They were taken away because he cheated to win. He broke the rules repeatedly, lied about it, and was finally caught years later. He has been dealing with the shame of these revelations the past few years. Many years ago, I was a big Lance fan. I wore a live strong bracelet, read the books he wrote, and really enjoyed watching him ride. But all that admiration was based on a lie. Learn a critical lesson from Lance, and that is to play by the rules. No victory is worth breaking the rules, and cheating to win. In life, you will be tempted to cheat, to bend the rules to your favor. The reality is that many cheaters don’t get caught. Even so, don’t fall into this trap. It will take away the joy of victory, and you will always know what you did, even if others never find out.

For anyone not familiar with the Tour this video helps provide some context about why it is the most challenging bike race in the world.

Travel Journal – Lessons from French Culture

This summer we visited France, spending numerous days in Paris, Normandy, Brittany, and a few other locations. We saw a lot of great sites, and were able to experience numerous dimensions of French culture. Like almost every country in Europe, France has a unique culture. Well, it is just very French. I will not pretend to be an expert on French culture (I don’t even speak the language), but I have visited this beautiful country numerous times and have taken note of a few things I really like about French culture…and a few things that I would not emulate. Please note that I am not trying to stereotype an entire country’s culture based on my limited exposure. Rather I just want to note some things that you will remember from our recent journeys that I think can inform how we live our own lives. First, three things that I enjoy about French culture.

1. They enjoy a good meal. Let’s face it, the French know how to cook tasty food. As you can tell from my size, I do not have the most sophisticated palate, but I do eat like a King when I am in France. The list of French foods I enjoy is long, but not endless. I really enjoy croissants, croque monsieur, escargot (yes – the snails are delicious), baguettes with cheese (not the really stinky blue cheeses), onion soup, steak and mussels with fries, beef burgundy, andouillette, and crepes to name a few. Just typing that list makes me hungry. To be fair there are several dishes I don’t like such as liver pate, tartare dishes, or creme brulee. French food enjoys a good reputation worldwide, and it is well deserved.

2. They look good walking around. France, particularly Paris, is known for its fashion. You notice this walking around Paris, and other cities. Simply put, I have seen few French dressed like slobs. You can tell that most people spent some time thinking about what they are going to wear before going out the door. We here in America tend to be much more casual than many countries. I am not saying that is a bad thing. Rather I am saying that it is probably worth investing some time and money into looking nice. I used to dress really casual all the time, but try to dress more appropriately these days. I don’t think you would ever witness a French person walking around in their pajamas, and I have seen more than one person in Reston Town Center who looked like they just rolled out of bed.

3. They appreciate art. We saw so much great art in France. Their museums are full of masterpieces. In fact, the Louvre has so much art that I would never attempt to see all of it during one visit. The Orsay has a wonderful collection of impressionist art. We visited Monet’s house in Giverny. The garden there was as beautiful as you would imagine. I see their appreciation for art spilling into the colors and designs they use in everyday life. I am not an artist (no talent at all), but I do notice how prevalent art is throughout French culture.

France is a great country, but not all is sunshine. There are a few things I will note that could use improvement in France. Some of these are obvious, so I will not elaborate in detail.

1. Many people still smoke. The negative affects of smoking cigarettes are well known, but I guess the French don’t care. I was surprised by how many people still light up cigarettes on a regular basis…to include with coffee over breakfast.

2. Many people are working less. The short work week is a reality, and many stores are closed during lunch hours. Trying not to judge, but it just seems like the French work ethic is much different than ours. Granted, Americans probably work too hard, but it is noticeable.

3. The dog poop. I know it sounds crazy, but there is dog poop all over the place in many cities. For those who have been to France, you know this is true. For others, it is probably shocking. It seems like no one invented the plastic bag to pick up dog poop in France. Pay attention when you are walking around, or else you may get an unpleasant surprise.

As always, I enjoy traveling and learning from other cultures. In case you are looking for a humorous perspective on French culture, check out the video below from a You Tube travel channel that I watch on occasion. Yes – he talks about the dog poop too.

Tips for Traveling – France

As you know one of my goals is to visit Europe on a regular basis. In fact, we have taken a vacation there the past three summers. This year we went to France. I thought it was a great trip. We saw a lot of great art, walked through awesome cathedrals, strolled through half-timbered houses, visited historic sites like the D-Day beaches, ate wonderful food, met new people, created memories, and learned a little about what it is like to be French. There are a few specific reasons I like to travel, and enjoy showing you different parts of Europe. I think it is important to see other parts of the world. More importantly, you learn a lot while you travel. You learn things about yourself, about others, and how the world works. Below are three travel tips from our most recent trip to France. They are focused on the trip itself, not what we learned from the French while there…that will be in the next blog post.

1. Detailed planning helps make the trip go smoothly and creates lasting memories. Traveling is not easy. Things will go wrong. In order to avoid our vacations becoming a chaotic mess, I spend a lot of time planning the trip before we board the plane. You know this – you have seen the slides I create that describe the trip in detail. I know my approach is kind of geeky, but it seems to work really well for us. Some would argue that it is better to just “wing it” when it comes to travel. The idea is to show up without a plan, and just “make it up as you go along”. I am not a big fan of this approach, especially when you are traveling as a group like we were this year. I would rather invest the time researching and planning so that we make the most of the trip. The last thing I want to happen is for us to spend a few weeks in a country, shell out a lot of money, and not really enjoy it. To avoid this scenario I will map out the route, design an overall schedule, and a basic agenda for each day. That does not mean that every minute of every day is planned in advance. Rather, I like having a basic structure so that we get to see what we want to see, and get the most from each day at a pace that is comfortable. We always leave time in the schedule for unplanned excursions that arise during the trip. For example, this year we decided to drive down the Normandy coast rather than take the main highway. It was a beautiful drive full of amazing sites that we would have missed.

2. Use the resources that are available to stay organized and avoid mishaps. There are a lot of great tools available nowadays to help you plan for travel – books, websites, blogs, videos, etc. For example, I use booking.com for our hotel reservations. This website allows me to search for hotel rooms at all the cities we will visit. It includes reader reviews, photos, and detailed descriptions. The site allows me to track all of our reservations in one location. I almost always book rooms with a free cancellation policy, because you never know when you plan will change and you need to cancel a room. I also use trip advisor for researching, but rarely will book rooms through their site. There are several great websites like kayak and google flights to use when buying plane tickets. Let these sites do the searching and tracking of prices for you. It is amazing the price difference you may see in flight prices. For example, this year we stayed an extra day because it was cheaper to pay another day for the hotel room than to fly on a Sunday back to the states. YouTube has a ton of travel related content that is useful. I will watch numerous videos to extract tidbits of information about where we are going, what to see, and what to expect. Lastly, investing in a travel book is worth it. The reality is that a trip to Europe costs thousands of dollars, so it makes sense to spend the $30 on a good travel book about the area that we are visiting. As you know, I am a huge Rick Steves fan. His books, TV show, website and videos have taught me a lot about travel, and saved me a lot of grief while wandering around Europe. This year, we spent a lot less time waiting in long lines for tickets based insights gained from his France guidebook.

3. Live like a local when you can. One of Rick Steve’s mantras is to try to live like a local while you travel so that you actually experience the culture. It is easy to stay in comfortable hotels away from the action. Many enjoy this type of travel. I prefer to see what life is like for the locals. It is much more interesting than being holed up in a fancy hotel built for foreign travelers. For example, based on Rick’s recommendation, we actually stayed on Mont St. Michel for one night. Sure – it was expensive, but it was worth it. I knew that we should arrive late in the day as the day trippers were leaving, so that we could experience this unique site without hoards of tourists around us. We did, and have many awesome pictures to prove it. Another good decision we made was to spend multiple days in the Rue Cler neighborhood in Paris. We stayed in a funky modern hotel, and were able to see how the locals live in this pedestrian zone part of the city. Each day we ate breakfast at the local bakery where locals sip their coffee while eating a croissant, chatting with their neighbors about current events, and smoking cigarettes. As you learned the French still smoke a lot. At night we ate and drink in one of the local cafes watching Parisian life pass right in front of our eyes. I felt like we learned a little about what it is like to actually live in Paris – one of the greatest cities in the world. For anyone considering visiting Paris, this video gives more insights about staying near Rue Cler. BTW – the best croissant I have ever eaten came from the bakery on this street. It was dripping in butter and goodness.

Master your craft – lessons from a Jumpmaster

This week our country celebrated the 73rd anniversary of D-Day. Despite many challenges the invasion was successful and turned the tide of WWII. Many brave men participated in this operation to include multiple US Army Airborne Divisions. Paratroopers actually jumped into France the day before D-day to secure critical roads, bridges, and other strategic objectives. Their bravery, valor, and courage contributed greatly to the success of the invasion.

My first duty assignment as a brand new Army Infantry Officer was with the 82 Airborne Division. My job title was rifle platoon leader, and one of my roles was serving as a Jumpmaster. A Jumpmaster’s job is to make sure all the paratroopers aboard the planes exit the aircraft safely so that they can land and complete their assigned mission. Jumpasters play a critical role in every airborne operation. It is expected that all leaders in the 82d complete Jumpmaster training, and serve in that role. I learned a lot as a Jumpmaster. Below are the top three lessons.

1. Master your craft. The title Jumpmaster says it all. You are expected to become a master parachutist. Jumpmasters are required to complete intense special training to earn the title. The training includes multiple hands-on tests during which you have to clearly demonstrate you know your stuff. I remember being extremely nervous before one of my exams because so many students did not pass it. Once you complete that training, you are required to serve as a Jumpmaster on a regular basis so that your skills stay current. Over time, Jumpmasters earn special awards (senior parachutist badge, and master parachutist badge) to recognize their expert skills and experience. I think it is important that you master your craft over time. Become the best that you can at whatever it is you decide to do. Don’t be satisfied with just getting by.

2. Realistic rehearsals enhance execution. Before every airborne operation Jumpmasters walk everyone that is jumping that day through several realistic rehearsals. The first rehearsal takes the paratroopers through the steps involved when jumping. As the Jumpmaster talks the paratroopers simulate exactly what will happen to them during the jump. The rehearsal also covers things that could happen such as your parachute does not open, or you have to land in the trees. In case you are wondering – tree landings are scary. Next, everyone practices landing…BTW it usually hurts when you land. After that, all jumpers practice “actions in the aircraft” as a group. During this step, you literally rehearse everything that happens in the air on the ground. The reality is that everyone has jumped before, so you are not teaching anything new. Rather, you are practicing as a group so that every jumper knows exactly what they are supposed to do once you get in the air. No one wants any surprises in the aircraft.

I have jumped over 50 times, and I can tell you that all these rehearsals work well to enhance execution. On more than one occasion something went wrong in the aircraft, or during the jump. For one operation the Air Force pilots flew along the edge of the drop zone thinking that the wind would blow us over the target. It didn’t. In fact the opposite happened. Every jumper was forced to land in the trees. After exiting the aircraft, I gave the pilots a middle finger salute thanking them for their incompetence, and then executed all the steps required for a successful tree landing. I recommend that you use realistic rehearsals to enhance execution in your own life. Practice every step as realistically as you can. It will pay dividends. I know from my own experience that rehearsing before any presentation is a really good idea. It prevents gremlins from showing up.

3. Confidence calms fears. Jumpmaster are trained to be calm at all times in the aircraft. You job is to set the example for the jumpers to follow. Jumping out of a perfectly good plane at 800 feet with over 50 pounds of equipment, many times at night, is not a natural act. In case that does not scare you – every piece of equipment used in the operation, to include the plane, was built by the lowest bidder. It makes perfect sense for every jumper to have fear and/or anxiety as you prepare to jump. I know that I was nervous during every jump I ever made.

To counter this fear, the Jumpmasters guide the paratroopers through a series of steps using loud and clear commands. The way it works is that the Jumpmaster yells the commands to all the jumpers along with a visual signal. The paratroopers all echo back the command indicating they heard it, and then perform the action. These steps are completed so that everyone is ready to jump when the doors open. Once the doors open, the Jumpmaster inspects it and gets the first jumper ready. The pilot will turn on the green light and everyone exits the aircraft. It sounds simple, but it can be scary. Reality definitely hits you when the doors open and the light turns green. No time for fear at that point.

The final lesson to learn from this old Jumpmaster is that it is okay to have fear. What you do with that fear is important. If you master your craft, and conduct realistic rehearsals, then you will have the confidence needed to overcome any fear. You will be able to jump when the time comes.

For anyone who is not familiar with airborne operations – this video is a nice summary. All the Way, Airborne!!

If you only have a minute, try this one. It is about Jumpmasters.