Awhile back, Harvey McKay told us about the fulfillment gained by helping others. He also reminded us about a series of steps that would make life easier and more satisfying.

One of the steps he called attention to was “don’t let the little things bother you.”

This is a theme that was started about 1975 or so, when Richard Carlson wrote “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…a=And It’s All About Small Stuff.” Over 25 million people bought that book and obviously are trying to subscribe to that suggestion.

I certainly can’t argue with that advice, particularly in light of all the people who tend to worry or react emotionally to the things they can’t control.

On the other hand, people who learn and grow in their career and/or life stream should pay attention to observe the small stuff and learn how you might do it differently.

Here are a few examples of small stuff you can learn from:

1. The constant need to change passwords.
2. Ads that don’t clearly indicate the location of the advertiser or how to contact them.
3. Salad bars that don’t allow participants to take from either side—or put the plates or silverware on the wrong end.
4. TV shows that have unrealistic plot circumstances; i.e., the wife of a governor running for attorney general or the father and son both becoming police commissioner in a big city.
5. Travel operators who put the highlight destination at the start of a tour.
6. Movie theaters that don’t provide enough light to see the seat numbers.

I’m sure you can add a dozen more.

Here are 16 top quotes from Richard Carlson and his pioneering book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”:

“Being listened to and heard is one of the greatest desires of the human heart. And those who learn to listen are the most loved and respected.”

“Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.”

“When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”

“Your heart, the compassionate part of you, knows that it’s impossible to feel better at the expense of someone else.”

“It’s the recognition that other people’s problems, their pain and frustration, are every bit as real as our own—often far worse. In recognizing this fact and trying to offer some assistance, we open our hearts and greatly enhance our sense of gratitude.”

“Thinking of someone to love each day keeps your resentment away!”

“As you put more emphasis on being a loving person, which is something you can control—and less emphasis on receiving love, which is something you can’t control—you’ll find that you have plenty of love in your life.”

“So often, either consciously or unconsciously, we want something from others, especially when we have done something for them—it’s almost as though we keep score of our own good deeds rather than remembering that giving is its own reward.”

“Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It’s absolutely true that, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

“We tend to believe that if we were somewhere else—on vacation, with another partner, in a different career, a different home, a different circumstance—somehow we would be happier and more content.” Probably not!

“One of the mistakes many of us make is that we feel sorry for ourselves, or for others, thinking that life should be fair, or that someday it will be. It’s not and it won’t. When we make this mistake we tend to spend a lot of time wallowing and/or complaining about what’s wrong with life. ‘If’s not fair,’ we complain, not realizing that, perhaps, it was never intended to be.”

“Indeed the important question in terms of becoming more peaceful isn’t whether or not you’re going to have negative thoughts—you are—it’s what you choose to do with the ones that you have.”

“Ask yourself the question, ‘Will this matter a year from now?’”

“If we would just slow down, happiness would catch up to us.”

“We live our lives as if they were one big emergency! We often rush around looking busy, trying to solve problems, but in reality, we are often compounding them.”

“The first step in becoming a more peaceful person is to have the humility to admit that, in most cases, you’re creating your own emergencies. Life will usually go on if things don’t go according to plan.”

“We forget that life isn’t as bad as we’re making it out to be. We also forget that when we’re blowing things out of proportion, we are the ones doing the blowing.”

It was all good advice then and still good today.


Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


Here is the other half of our series on our most outstanding trips.


It’s a huge country so we didn’t see all of it, but there were three outstanding highlights: Salvador de Bahia, Manaus with the Amazon and Igasu Falls. Let’s take them one at a time.

Salvador de Bahia – about an hour’s flight north of Rio is a colorful, exciting city with a rich history in Afro-Brazilian culture. It was the principal port of entry when the slaves were brought in from Africa; many of whom remained. The buildings are all bright and faded colors and there is an air of carnival all around the town. A delightful surprise.

Manaus is the gateway to the Amazon and to our surprise a good-sized, somewhat modern city with a great fish market and an outstanding opera house, who delivers some outstanding performances. The Amazon is three or four days on a small, 20-plus passenger houseboat. It is an interesting adventure into another world.

Then there is Igasu Falls. Absolutely the most spectacular waterfall in the world. It’s interesting from the Argentina side, but so much more from the Brazil side. Lots of great hikes and torrents of water from the mile-wide waterfall. You’ve never seen anything like it.

Red Mountain Resort – Nestled at the foot of Snow Canyon, a red-rock hiking paradise, the Red Mountain Resort is a surprising retreat at modest prices. It’s just a few miles outside of St. George, Utah, barely two hours north of Las Vegas.

Whether you drive or fly, it’s well worth the trip They have fitness classes all day; stretch, water aerobics, and there is a spa, but the highlight of this location are the organized hikes each morning. It’s near enough to Bryce and Zion that you can go for an extra fee.

Daughter Ellen introduced us to this delightful non she-she place 20 years ago and we’ve been going ever since.

Kenya/Tanzania – This is a trip through well-appointed tented safari camps in Kenya and nice hotels in Tanzania. What you go for are not the accommodations but the animals, and there are plenty of them.
The safaris in each country are wonderful and sleeping in the well-appointed tents with a guard outside is a real treat.

If you’re lucky (and we were), you see the migration of thousands and thousands of animals who cross between the two countries twice a year. It’s a sight you can never forget.

The British Isles – There are many parts of England well worth visiting; the Cotswalds, Bath, Wales, York, Stratford, Oxford, but London is absolutely the best of cities. The museums are a real treasure, the theater is wonderful and if you dig a little, the food is top drawer, plus great shopping in the best stores.

We’ve been to London many times and enjoyed it every time. The underground (subway) is easy to use and goes everywhere, including the airport.

Off the beaten tourist path are two museum-like townhouses that are a secret delight. The first is the Duke of Wellington home on the edge of Hyde Park. And then there is the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square. Two very large old residences that offer a glimpse into a bygone era of upper crust living.

Ireland is a green garden naturally landscaped to give your eyes a treat everywhere you go. Dublin is a delightful city that offers many treats.

Scotland is not as warm or as green but interesting in a very different landscape Edinburgh is a great city to visit.

Santa Fe, New Mexico – Over 100 galleries of art and jewelry and the charm of a Mexican revival town. The galleries feature a lot of Native American art, but many others as well. Good, tasty food to eat and great surroundings in Taos, Bandelier and the remnants of old Indian pueblos everywhere.

It’s a great weekend.

Australia/New Zealand – It you’re going that far, you ought to see both. Australia has friendly folk and lots to see in Melbourne and Sydney. The Great Barrier Reef offers a great water-oriented side trip.

New Zealand is a wonderful green country and offers some very interesting and different areas in Auckland, Christ Church and Queensland.

Canada – A big country with three distinct areas; west, central and east. Let’s look at each.

In the west you have Vancouver, one of the most beautiful and charming cities in the world, along with the wonders of British Columbia, including Victoria, Whistler and the spectacular Canadian Rockies. It’ all a WOW!

Moving into the central area, you have the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls, as well as the charm of Montreal and Toronto.

When you get to the east, you have the old French city of Quebec, and then it’s on to Halifax and the Canadian Maritimes.

Great country, terrific neighbors, and lots to see everywhere.

Alaska/Denali – Cruising the inside passage of Alaska north of Vancouver, Canada, is a really special trip. The scenery is green and spectacular, and then you get to Glacier Lake. You have the chance to see bears, whales and other assorted wild animals, as well as caving glaciers up close and personal. The towns of Ketchikan, Haynes, Fairbanks, Sitka, Petersburg and Juneau are a tour through olden times.

Upper Amazon – An hour flight out of Lima, Peru, you start an amazing seven-day trip into another world. First you start with a 100-mile car trip through a close-up look at old country Peru. Then it’s on your houseboat home for an exciting trip on the great river. You’ll see pink dolphins (yes, pink) and the biggest collection of colorful birds you can ever imagine.

The villages are a little more advanced than the ones further upriver near Manaus.

Keep traveling! You’ll never regret it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


Here is an interesting special report from the N.Y. Times on the amazing growth of the “Dragon Country.”

The Chinese economy has grown so fast for so long it is easy to forget how unlikely its metamorphosis into a global powerhouse was, and how much of its ascent was improvised and born of desperation.
China now leads the world in the number of homeowners, internet users, college graduates and, by some counts, billionaires. Not so long ago, three-quarters of its population endured extreme poverty. Not it’s less than 1 percent. An isolated, impoverished nation has evolved into the most significant rival to the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Money helps China become a superpower

Under the muscular leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has cast off previous restraints, rejecting deference to an American-dominated global order.

Mr. Xi has sought to fill a vacuum. He has cast himself as the leader of the rules-based international trading system, even as China faces accusations of stealing intellectual property, subsidizing state-owned companies and dumping products on world markets at unfairly low prices.

Now, China is using its funds to make foreign investments, particularly in overseas infrastructure, with different terms from those offered by other nations.

Western money comes with rules. Investment from Europe, for instance, is conditional on protecting labor and the environment, and requires that projects be awarded to companies on the basis of competitive bidding.
China tends to distribute funds with simpler demands. Chinese companies must gain work, free of competition, while Beijing secures an international ally. In offering to finance infrastructure, China has positioned itself as an alternative to many Western development funds.

The renminbi is rebuilding the world

China is using its power and money to build a vast global network of investments and infrastructure that will reshape global finance and geopolitics.

Think of it as a modern-day version of the Marshall Plan, America’s effort to reconstruct Europe after World War II. But China’s strategy is bolder, more expensive and far riskier.

The NYT analyzed nearly 600 projects that China has helped finance in the last decade. Some highlights:

• 41 pipelines and other pieces of oil and gas infrastructure help China secure valuable resources.
• 203 bridges, roads and railways create new ways to move Chinese goods around the world.
• 199 power plants—for nuclear, natural gas, coal and renewables—open new markets for Chinese construction and equipment companies.
• Large ports in Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—three countries along a major oil and commerce route from the Mideast and Africa—could someday double as naval logistics hubs.

China has financed infrastructure projects in at least 112 countries. Many of those initiatives have focused on neighbors—Pakistan in particular—to strengthen geopolitical relationships. Others, in volatile countries like Nigeria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe, involve risks that many other nations try to avoid.

Spinning up high-tech manufacturing from scratch

Now that it rivals the West, China wants to build homegrown champions in cutting-edge industries that stand up against companies like Apple and Qualcomm. That’s not just about powering growth: It’s also about national security and self-sufficiency.

But its approach has been unconventional:

• Instead of following the well-worn development playbook—first make shoes then steel, next cars and computers, and finally semiconductors and automation—China is trying to do all of them.
• By 2016, China had moved into more expensive good like cellphones and computers. And it was making even more of the cheaper stuff.
• The next step is vital, but difficult. China can’t make chips as small and as fast as the United States. Unless it catches up, it will remain reliant on other nations and vulnerable to global geopolitical pressures like a trade war.

China’s huge economy was built on its own terms

The nation’s explosive economic growth since the 1990s has been based on a heady mix of Western methods and its own, more authoritarian, approaches.

A prime example is the country’s membership in the World Trade Organization:

• To achieve the growth it desired, China had to join the W.T.O. In the process, it yielded to global demands—slashing tariffs, lowering trade barriers in finance and telecoms, and curbing subsidies.
• After it joined in 2001, exports doubled in three years, and almost tripled in four. Global manufactures moved entire operations to China; consumers around the world were able to buy cheaper stuff.
• But China didn’t really change. It has been slow to open up parts of its financial system. Other essential areas, like telecommunications, remain cut off. China has nurtured businesses aimed at meeting its own technological and political goals, and hasn’t fully relaxed its grip on the value of the country’s currency.

Next stop: conflict?

China’s rapid rise, and the acute sense of grievance and insecurity it has stirred in the United States, has led some to conclude that these two giants are destined for war, writes NY Times’s Mark Landler.

• For at least a decade, Americans have blamed China for shuttered factories and jobless workers. Public views of China swung from positive to negative in 2012, according to Pew Global Research, and have remained underwater since.
• But the current chill in the relationship seems different. It’s less a temporary rupture than a searching reappraisal of what a status-quo superpower should do about an ambitious, formidable challenger.

Now, amid an escalating trade war, tensions are ratcheting up:

• Conflict with China is intensifying amid unresolved concerns about American leadership and overreach that built up during the era of globalization, and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other distant battlefields.
• The Trump administration is torn over what comes next. Some of President Trump’s advisers, like Peter Navarro, cast the situation as an epic struggle over who will control the commanding heights of the 21st-century economy.
• Others, like Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and the director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, have tried to put the brakes on Mr. Trump’s most belligerent trade moves.

How likely is it that trade war turns into real war?

Graham Allison, a Harvard professor who worked in the Defense Department to reshape relations with former Soviet nations after the end of the Cold War, argues that a rising power like China is likely to come to blows with an established one like the United States.

But some China experts note that other areas of dispute, like Taiwan, have not become more fraught in recent years. Whatever the issue, they argue, a disastrous miscalculation is more likely without persistent engagement.

There seems no question that America/China relations are in transition. Will we end up as friends, rivals, competitors or outright enemies?

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


The Midterm Elections – A Split Decision

Unless you started your winter hibernation a little early, you know we had an election last week. There were no great surprises; the Dems took the House and the Repubs widened their lead in the Senate.

Both sides are claiming victory. The Blue Wave didn’t materialize. A divided Congress will produce gridlock and stagnation and a lot of noise in the House about investigations and impeachment, all of which will go nowhere.

A few interesting things: there are now 100 women in the House, first Native America and Muslim woman in the House, and the first openly-gay governor.

Granting Asylum Complicates the Whole Problem

Whether you’re talking about seven people or 7,000 all huddled together in a caravan, it’s easy to tell an immigration official that you want asylum in America. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

1. This is a business, a well-funded business by a group like Pueblo Sin Fronteras who organizes and recruits.
2. How do you check the accuracy of asylum claims in countries like Honduras?
3. If you claim asylum to a proper border official, they have to let you in—it’s the law.
4. You join a backlog of 700,000 and growing who are waiting up to three years or more to have their cases heard.
5. Even if you wait that long, do you bother showing up?

We can’t just open our doors and tell the world “you’re all welcome.” We would have chaos and costs.

Out of Wedlock Births Soar

In 1970, 10% of births were out of wedlock. In 2018, that number is 40%. The figures from the UN Population Fund breaks down: Whites, 30% out of wedlock, Asians 27%, Hispanics 57% and African Americans 73%.
Average for a first child in America is now 27. It was 22 in 1970.

Political/Sexual Correctness is Going Crazy

An actress, Kristen Bell, you probably know her. I mean, she’s got two little daughters, five and three. She tells Parents magazine that she is concerned about the message and Snow White the cartoon which was released in 1938. It’s 2018, so let’s do the math. This is 80 years ago.

Snow White was released, a cartoon, about a princess who is given a poison apple and falls asleep and is awakened by the kiss of a handsome prince. They fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after. That’s Snow White.

So, Ms. Bell says no! NO-NO-NO! She says to the Parents magazine, “Don’t you think it’s weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission, because he cannot kiss someone if they’re sleeping.”
Where’s the “MeToo” movement when we need them?

State Licensing is now Required for Lots of Jobs

Licensing directly affects more workers today than union membership and the minimum wage combined, but it wasn’t always this way. Some government restrictions on who can perform what job have been around for decades. In the 1950s, one in 20 workers needed government permission in the form of a license to work. Today, licensing has ballooned to ensnare one in four workers.

Licenses are now required not just for doctors, dentists, and lawyers but also for shampooers, makeup artists, travel agents, auctioneers, and home entertainment installers. According to the Council of State Governments, 1,100 occupations were licensed in 2003.

When the President and the Press are at War, Everyone Loses

One of the strategies of guerilla warfare is for resistance forces to cause constant mayhem, thereby making it impossible for the establishment forces to govern. During the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong communists were expert at disrupting the South Vietnamese infrastructure. That eroded the people’s confidence in the Saigon regime and drastically weakened it.

The same thing is happening today in America. While President Trump is branding many media outlets as “the enemy of the people,” he may be missing the larger picture.

Read almost any newspaper or watch network or most cable news, and you will absorb negative stories about the Trump administration ad infinitum. The latest being the President is partially responsible for the terror bombs and the Synagogue massacre because of his persona and rhetoric.

The cold truth is that the vast majority of the American press is fighting a guerilla war against the President, hoping to wear him out and turn public opinion against him. In turn, Donald Trump counter attacks and creates ill will toward the press by disparaging his constant critics.

Then the media complains about the “harsh rhetoric.”

This is one of the biggest cons ever perpetuated in this country. The fix was in the moment President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. The media chieftains and their corporate masters immediately launched a guerilla campaign to bring down the Trump administration. And that’s what we are seeing playout. It is far beyond ideological disenchantment. It is a brutal war of words designed to destroy.

Medicare For All – At What Cost?

The current Medicare plan for people 65 plus is a great plan; however, as the deficits keep rolling along, it will be bankrupt in five years or so.

At the same time, we have the progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and former president Barack Obama ginning up support to have Medicare for all.

According George Mason University, the additional cost would be 150% or 1-1/2 times our current national debt.

Doesn’t sound too practical to me!

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


Several blogs ago I wrote about “Three Experiences That Shaped My Life.” In the interest of space, I didn’t try to explain how each affected me. Here in today’s blog, I’ll try to explain what I took away from each of those experiences.

My college experience at UCONN, as part of an inter-cultural fraternity, was such an important factor in my life because it validated all my early beliefs that people were people and that race or religion didn’t matter. You would like someone or not as individuals.

I not only got to know the 70 odd members of that house individually but I was the House Steward, nominally in charge of the kitchen and dining room (the chef really was) but I did the bookkeeping, learned a little about a very small business and dealt with the vagaries and problems the members had with the menu and/or the food (two meals a day).

My biggest problem was my friend Morty who always wanted credit for a meal “because of his ulcer” and then I would find out he ate at the greasy spoon called Fred’s off campus.

I became the third president of the fraternity after the two founders graduated and had to weather the storm of a few people who wanted a quota system on new members.
All-in-all, it was a genuine learning experience about people and the operation of a small, very small, business.

My eight or nine years as part of the Phoenix Jaycees was meaningful on a number of different levels. First, it was a lot of fun and learning on a whole different scale. I gained a lot of experience in planning and executing community affairs, as well as in non-partisan politics. The projects that benefited the community were satisfying and fulfilling and led in no small way to my career in association management and producing tradeshows.

As treasurer of the 500-member organization, I was again involved in the business operations of an organization, including the renting and operation of our own building.

The Jaycee experience gave me a chance to spread my wings and expand my horizons beyond just trying to make a living and support a growing family.

Most of all, I learned about myself. Having lost two elections for president (a record), I found out I was not an out-front personality; and although I had some interest, I would never be a good political candidate. On the other hand, I was a very good backroom staff planner. That was my forte.

The exhilaration and excitement I felt on coming back to my first personally produced Arizona Home Beautiful Show at the Phoenix Coliseum that Friday night has never been surpassed. I had arrived in a number of ways.
I saw the crowds and I saw a bunch of business executives somewhat befuddled about what to do. The Fire Marshal instructed the coliseum staff to stop selling entry tickets. There was a confused waiting crowd trying to get it. The crowd inside was somewhat confused as well. They couldn’t get through the aisles or find floor seats to watch the Dancing Waters Show.

I put some sponsor executives in the ticket booths and had them start to resell tickets and then I had the chains removed to the seating areas and allowed people to have comfortable seats to watch the show. Lucky for me, all the coliseum management had left to go home.

I’m not sure exactly how, but I was able to take charge and direct people to do what was needed. I’m not even sure how I knew, but I did.

I was hooked. I learned that this was something I had to do more of. It was too good to be over.

The exhilaration I felt was a high and the satisfaction of reorganizing and solving a crisis was very fulfilling.

The Labor Day Fishing Derby, the Christmas party for the southside children, the model legislature, the mock constitutional convention and the extended effort to try modernizing the Arizona Constitution with me as chairman, as well as participate in the 4th of July fireworks show and the annual rodeo and parade—they were all eye-opening experiences.

I certainly learned from many other experiences, but perhaps none more forcefully than these three. They each made an impact that formed the parameters of my career, the start of my business, and my personal life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


Voters will confront 11 different statewide initiatives on the November ballot, in addition to three for the City of Los Angeles and one for the County. For more than a century, some of the biggest policies in the state have been enacted at the ballot box, and this year is no different. So here’s an early look at some of the initiatives you are being asked to decide.

If you’re read my advice on ballot issues before, you know I have a bias to reject most propositions, especially those that are initiatives rather than legislature proposals. That’s because they are generally not written well and are hard to correct.

So here’s my read on the 2018 cast of ballot propositions.

Prop 1: $4 billion in bonds to fund specific housing assistance programs – too little, too late – legislature proposal – Vote: NO

Prop 2: $2 billion in bonds to fund existing housing programs for individuals with mental issues – somewhat repetitive – legislature proposal – Vote: NO

Prop 3: Water bond: And what would a California ballot be without a water bond? This is a $4 billion bond to pay for water projects in a state that is facing increasing demand (and diminishing supplies) of water – initiative proposal – Vote: NO

Prop 4: Another $1.5 billion in bonds for construction of children’s hospitals – initiative proposal – need not demonstrated – Vote: NO

Prop 5: Allows certain property owners to transfer their property tax base. Eliminates $100 million loss in annual revenue – constitutional amendment – Vote: NO

Prop 6: Gas Tax Repeal: Count on this being the biggest initiative battle this fall. Overturn the gas tax passed by the legislature to pay for $5 billion in road and bridge maintenance every year. Gov. Jerry Brown will lead the defense: He has embraced this as his final fight before he retires, warning that a repeal would upend a plan critical to the state’s economy. Opponents say taxes are high enough and California should find another way to pay for needed repair. The repeal measure is being financed in part by national Republicans looking to increase turnout in critical congressional elections; however, we need it. Vote: NO

Prop 7: Daylight Saving Time: Californians are voting on a plan to make daylight saving time permanent: No more turning back the clock. This is another one that would require federal approval should voters decide they want more light in the evening. The only drawback is some children will be going to school in the dark. Vote: YES

Prop 8: Regulate what outside dialysis clinics can charge – initiative proposal – Vote: NO

Prop 10: Rent control: At a time when housing costs in California are skyrocketing, this initiative—backed by tenant groups—would restore to local communities the power to impose rent control. This could be another big, expensive battle, played out against the context of what this state can do to both reduce housing costs and creative more housing – although I’m not sure what will happen. Vote: YES

Prop 11: Requires employees private ambulance services to remain on call during work breaks – initiative proposal – Vote: YES

Prop 12: Establishes new standards for confinement of certain farm animals. Californians already voted to ban cages – initiative proposal – Vote: NO


L.A. City
Charter Amend B: Allows the city to establish a financial institution or bank. Vote: NO

Charter Amend E: Reset city and state election dates in even numbered years to be in March. Vote: YES

Charter Amend EE: Reset L.A. School District election dates to be in March with the state. Vote: YES

L.A. County

Measure W: Flood Control District – parcel tax of 25¢/S.F. to fund improving water quality, capturing rain water and prepare for future drought. Vote: YES

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog


As outlined in the N.Y. Times last month by a number of their reporters, the “FIRE” movement, which stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early,” has attracted a lot of followers.

In a nut shell, the millennial FIRE followers have cut living expenses to the bone and saved as much as they can to avoid their “high pressure jobs” so they can retire in their 30’s.

What a different world. In my world, work was a stimulating addiction, the pressure came from within. If you were successful in finding a career you enjoyed, it became a passion that helped you attain fulfillment. Apparently that is not the way of the FIRE people.

Before we dismiss the millennials’ new crusade, let’s explore more of what the N.Y. Times reported.

Why These Millennials Hate Work

Quitting the rat race isn’t a new concept. From the shakers of the 1700s to the back-to-the-land hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s, a strain of Americans has always embraced simple living. One of the bibles of the FIRE movement, “Your Money or Your Life,” which teaches readers to reduce their spending and value time over material gain, was published in 1992.

But Vicki Robin, who wrote that financial guide with Joe Dominguez, said the FIRE crowd is a different breed of dropout than those in the ‘90s. “Our aim was not just to have a whole bunch of people quit their jobs,” Ms. Robin said. “Our aim is to lower consumption to save the planet. We attracted longtime simple-living people, religious people, environmentalists.”

The FIRE adherents are, by contrast, “very numbers oriented, fascinated by the minutest of taxes and accounting,” Ms. Robin said.

They are also benefitting from a lengthy bull run in the stock market and, in some cases, the privilege of class, race, gender and background. It’s difficult to retire at 40 if you work a minimum-wage job, say, or have crushing student-loan debt, or did not have the same opportunities as others because you grew up poor in a crime-ridden neighborhood.

But if, as Ms. Robin said, FIRE adherents “don’t have the aspirational part” of earlier generations, why are they so determined to quit the work force? Many millennials haven’t been working longer than a decade, if that.

That accurately describes how Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung felt. The married couple became minor celebrities when they retired from their tech jobs in 2015 to travel the world full time. They were in their early 30s at the time.

Ms. Shen’s wake-up moment came when she watched a fellow I.T. colleague collapse at his desk after clocking 14-hour days and get hauled away in an ambulance. For several years before that, she and Mr. Leung, following the same path laid out by their parents, had tried to buy a house in the ever-escalating real estate market.

But, Ms. Shen said, “it didn’t matter how much you saved, it was a goal post that kept moving. And I was seeing people stressed out paying their mortgages.”

Though they had good educations and well-paying jobs in the booming tech sector, Ms. Shen and Mr. Leung faced the looming threats of outsourcing and artificial intelligence, and had no hope of a retirement pension, or even that their employers would exist in five years.

At the same time, their jobs were all-consuming, their work hours basically 24-7. Rather than chain themselves to a costly mortgage, and therefore to high-pressure jobs, the couple decided to pour their money into an investment portfolio and phase out.

“The rule books our parents have given us is advice that’s perfect for 1970, Ms. Shen said. “We have to throw out that rule book and write a new one.”

Mr. Leung spoke of the challenges his generation faces more bluntly. “We don’t have jobs that will take care of us,” he said. “We have to take care of ourselves.”

Go Where It’s Cheap

By ditching a big city, Ms. Shen and Mr. Leung exemplify another underlying reason for the popularity of FIRE: the high price of urban life, especially in places like New York and Southern California. There’s the insane housing prices, the high cost of child care, the temptations of so-called lifestyle creep.

“We were spending nearly $3,000 a month on rent, and that was considered a good deal,” said Scott Rieckens, 35, who along with his wife, Taylor, 33, and their infant daughter until recently lived in Coronado, Calif., a pricey beach town across the bay from San Diego. “We made something like $160,000 between the two of us, but we didn’t have a whole lot left over.”

After hearing a podcast interview with “the Frugal Guru,” Mr. Rieckens became fired up. He told his wife they should ditch their leased BMW and quit eating out several nights a week.

But even with those lifestyle cuts, the couple couldn’t increase their savings rate substantially unless they relocated to a cheaper community, a deleveraging tactic the FIRE crowd calls “arbitrage.”

The idea, The Frugal Guru said, is “to reap the high salary” of a place like Silicon Valley, “then take that nest egg out to any of the thousands of nice, affordable cities and towns we have in this country and begin a second stage of life on your own terms.”

Last year, the couple left Southern California in search of a community that would give them more financial freedom, a journey Mr. Rieckens, formerly a creative director for an ad agency, is chronicling in a documentary, “Playing With FIRE.”

They ended up in Bend, Oregon, where there’s no state sales tax and they could afford to buy a house. Gas for their used Honda CRV with 186,000 miles (they got rid of the BMW and downsized to one vehicle) is a dollar-per-gallon cheaper than in San Diego.

“The whole retire early thing is unimportant to me. It’s more about gaining control of your time,” Mr. Rieckens said. “If you dive into the definition of retirement, what you’re retiring from is mandatory labor. It’s not necessarily about pina coladas on the beach.”

When You Retire Before Your Parents

Mr. Jensen with his daughter, Daphne, and his wife, Mindy, are in Longmont, Colorado.
In retirement, Mr. Jensen and his wife and two daughters plan to live on roughly $40,000 a year generated from investments. Because his wife currently works, they have yet to draw on those accounts. But already, it’s a life rich on time but short on luxuries: Groceries are bought at Costco, car and home repairs are done by him.

“People always assume there’s an external circumstance: “Oh, you must have received an inheritance,” Mr. Jensen said. “We’ve just chosen to live far below our means. That itself is a radical idea.”

Equally radical is opting out of the work force in your 30s or early 40s, a time of life when men and women are normally leaning into their careers, or, less happily, enduring the daily grind to pay the bills until Social Security kicks in.

Jason Long, a pharmacist in rural Tennessee who retired last year at the ripe old age of 38, said his father had a hard time understanding why Mr. Long couldn’t continue to work and collect his $150,000 salary.
But Mr. Long said he was deeply unhappy in his job, where over his career he witnessed drug costs skyrocketing, sick people battling with health insurers and the over-prescription of opioids and the resulting addiction crisis. His customers, angry, confused, financially stretched, often lashed out at the person behind the counter.

“There were days when I had 12- or 14-hour shifts where I didn’t use the restroom, where I didn’t eat, because so much work was piled up on me,” Mr. Long said.

Like Mr. Jensen, he had been saving a sizable portion of his income over the past decade, and he and his wife had a paid-for-house and an investment portfolio worth a little more than $1 million. Why stick around?

A retirement that starts well before you go gray and lasts 40, 50 even 60 years is an anomaly in modern life. How do you fill all those days, months, decades?

Fearing boredom, Mr. Jensen at first took on way too much, and he found it strange to be at the local rec center exercising alongside senior citizens, or shopping at empty big-box stores on a Tuesday. He also beat his own mother to retirement, which made for awkward family get-togethers.

But one year in, he has settled into his life of leisure, enjoying time spent raising his daughters, making sure they never see him vegging in front of the TV. Mr. Jensen also practices an activity that for man FIRE achievers seems to be the new golf: writing a financial advice blog.

I certainly can’t say they’re wrong with the FIRE approach. I can say they maybe missing an opportunity to find a real passion in life and they have quit before they accepted a goal of finding a job, a career path and a calling that could bring a new diversion to their life.

To each their own.

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog