Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Retirement Living for the Twenty-Something

Retirement. By the time the average man retires, he should be richer and wiser than he ever was, even while in his prime. What will you do one day with all that wealth?

This is not a post about financial planning or investing. There are a lot books about how to get retired, but far too few on how to be retired. Unless you have (or are) a financial planner, you may think it's too early to prepare for that phase of life, but

What if you knew that how you live today reflects how you will spend retirement?

A friend in real estate recently told me about an elderly couple who, for the last twenty years, didn't do much more with their time than eat, watch TV, and sleep in the home they were about to sell. They were reasonably healthy. Their full-grown children had lives of their own and they had enough money to fund the remainder of their lives at a retirement home. Now, to some people, this is not a bad setup. But to my friend, this was a tragic waste. "In retirement," he told me, "you have more money, more knowledge, and more time than you've had your whole life leading up to it."

"Well, what should retirement look like?" I asked him.

He shared his vision for the winter years of his own life, which reflected his desire to redevelop communities, invest in local churches and overseas missions, make his family prosper, and teach young men to love God, live and succeed. But here's the kicker: these are all things that he is already doing when he's not selling homes.

When I shed some light on that fact, he gave me this gem:

"Retirement will look like whatever you do now in your free time, just more of it." 

He continued, "If all a person's life consists of is work and rest, retirement will be all rest. If it's work and play, then retirement will be all play." In other words, people don't suddenly have a radical shift in values when they turn 62. How we spend our resources today will accurately depict how we will spend our lives years from now.

I could talk about all the things I would do if I had more. Maybe you could too. Here are a few for me:

If I had more money I would be more generous
If I had more knowledge/skills, I would write a book
If I had more time, I would be more intentional in my friendships

But if, in the mean time, all my free hours are spent on Facebook, Netflix or in bed; if my money is spent on pleasure in the form of food, drink, or grown-up toys; if I am not giving/writing/loving with the resources I have now, chances are I will be doing none of those things when I have more.

Maybe we haven't been doing the things we want to be doing in the future. But that's the beauty of the gift of today. We currently have no control over yesterday or tomorrow. But by God's grace, we have power to choose how to spend our lives today, which will tremendously impact tomorrow.

The best thing I can do for my retirement, more than saving and investing, is to create a beautiful life with the time and resources I have now. Be generous today. Spend time with the people I love today. Learn new things, enjoy nature, lend a helping hand, give hope today. 

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Success Is Not the Point

I got a rejection letter today. Two weeks ago, I sent "Overhead" to a big-time record label requesting to be considered for distribution. Their reply was one I've never heard before, that due to the high volume of music they handle, they are unable to give my music the time it deserves to be reviewed.

I was unfazed by the news, much to my surprise. Once I figured out what the letter was saying, I put it in my desk drawer and continued on with my day as usual.

What has since occupied my mind was not the rejection of my product, but my emotional detachment from the experience. How did I arrive at a place where I am okay with the labor of my heart being passed up and delivered back to my doorstep?

I began to think of my earlier days as a student athlete at a rural public high school. We could not accomplish a winning season in a single event. Throughout my four years there, I could count the combined wins of every team sport on one hand. Losing was simply a part of student life. I often wondered what it would be like to attend a school that won at everything. Further, I wondered what effect that would have on my character.

What is accomplished in a man who perceives failure as the norm?

If the "progress principle" indicates that little wins instill us with confidence and sense of competence, shouldn't losses have the lasting effect of perpetuating a "loser psyche"? That's what I concluded in my blog titled, "How to Be a Loser" (check it out HERE). But I recently read an article that causes me to rethink my previous assertions. Author Jim Collins, who was invited to be a guest lecturer at West Point, observed a connection between failure and character ... 

"Well, let's talk about failure," said Collins. "How many of you have experienced failure?" They all nodded or raised a hand.

"Failure is part of life here," said a diminutive female cadet, Kiley Hunkler. "There's a recurring sense of inadequacy," she says. "For a 200-pound linebacker, it's having to do a cartwheel. For me, it's the survival swim in full combat gear."

"Does anyone get through West Point without feeling that sense of inadequacy?" Collins asked the group.

"No," they said, more or less in unison.

Later, while participating with his students on an indoor wall climb, he had this conversation with a struggling cadet:

"Why do you keep throwing yourself at this?" Collins asked. "All it does is give you failure upon failure. Why go back?"

"Because success is not the primary point," Caldwell said. "I go back because the climb is making me better. It is making me stronger. I am not failing; I am growing."

Whereas small losses tend to make big losers, big losses have the potential to produce great character. 

In my mind, this is the difference between a "small loss" and a "big loss": A "small loss" is failing to achieve something I know is within reach. For instance: I could have worked out today, but I didn't; I could've met the deadline, but I slacked off instead; I should've told the truth, but I chose to lie. These "small losses" chip away at the inner man and perpetuate a "loser's psyche".

On the other hand, a "big loss" is failing at something just beyond what I know I can achieve. It is the bitter-sweet failure we experience upon attempting to do something great. For Cadet Caldwell, it was climbing that wall. For me, it was getting a bigger label to distribute my music. In the days to come, I hope to try my hand at even bigger things, accepting full well that failure is not only possible, but probable.

From Abraham Lincoln to Jeremy Lin, history and pop culture spew forth examples of men rising up bigger and better after defeat. Where are you at this moment? Relishing in victory or recovering from a devastating loss? Wherever you may be, here are some words of inspiration:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

-Theodore Roosevelt

The righteous man falls seven times but rises again.

Stand strong,

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why We Get Tattoos

I got my first tattoo when I was 19. Like many young Americans raised in Christian homes, I wanted something that would set me apart from stodgy conservatives but also ingratiate me to the young badasses I was now surrounded with at the University. The obvious middle path: Christian tattoo!

At that time, various artistic renderings of the Cross had been all the rage among my peers, but were now on their way out. Words or phrases in biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew ... but not so much Aramaic) were totally in. Not entirely sure whether the first era had passed, I opted for yet another middle path: a cross inscribed with the Koine Greek words for "Live" and "Love".

We often hear that tattoos are statements of identity. I believe this is only partially true. Any coward could pay someone to ink the Roosevelt coat-of-arms on his shoulder without exhibiting an inkling of courage or moral character. But what would drive a young man to do such a thing is the desire to move from his current reality into a greater one.

The tattoo is an indicator of the transitions we desire to make, from one identity to another.

As a Laker fan, I recall being perplexed by Kobe Bryant's "religious" tattoo following the rape allegations in 2003. It depicts a crown and angel wings and a reference to an Old Testament psalm. Bryant had never been known for being very religious (as is still the case), so a seemingly Christian tattoo wouldn't make much sense if we hold to the idea of ink being reflective of current character. It makes much more sense if we see it as an illustration of a transition he hoped to pass through in his own life: from unfaithful to faithful; from sinner to scripture-bearer; victimizer to vindicated.

But why a tattoo? Why not a new car or a haircut? I believe it is because tattoos carry with them two elements we seem to desire in times of change: Permanence and pain.

In the face of change, we desire permanence. Change is uncomfortable, so in order to tackle this discomfort, we seek out something that will not change. Because the tattoo indicates the desire to progress from an inferior state to a superior, we desire permanence on that higher plane.

In the face of change, we subconsciously seek out pain. Most humans understand that pain is necessary to attain a higher quality of life, to move us from addiction to recovery; amateur to professional; busboy to boss; chump to champion. A great deal of suffering is endured by anyone who achieves greatness.

And so the tattoo offers, at least for the moment (and rather cheaply), exactly what we desire in a time of transition: pain that leads to permanence. And for a little while, it's thrilling. But after two weeks to a month of being stoked, many of us awaken to the realization that the coveted transition has not been made at all.

Seldom is the tattoo itself truly a catalyst for change.

Our tattoos then merely memorialize the impasse. Whereas the pain of the needle is physical and momentary, the kind of pain we have to undergo to change our character -- and become better men and women -- is spiritual, daily.

My tattoo failed to make me a more life-embracing, more loving Christian. But just as I bear the mark of desire to become a better man, I also bear the responsibility to see that it comes to pass.