Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Transitions – Part One

Posted: December 5, 2018 in Finances, Philosophy, Tools

Over the last few years (2014-) our lives have progressed through several transitions.  We both changed jobs, we added a few pets (admittedly not high on my list of favorable transitions), some kids legally became adults by hitting their eighteenth birthday (I will talk about that a bit in an upcoming post) and I began walking us down a more intentional path towards our “golden” years, though my target is to get us there sooner, through a process that has become known as FIRE (financially independent, retire early).  This last transition is one I will spend some time talking about in this post.

For those not familiar with the term, let me start with a bit of background.  FIRE is the goal of “buying your freedom” from work and making the conscious decision to be much more intentional with your decisions on what to do with your money with the goal of increasing our saving rate and/or lowering your expenses.  You can find a lot of detail about the math and the ideas on sites more devoted to that, and since my goal right now is to not convert this blog into a FIRE site, I will leave you to dig around on those sites if you want to get into the nuts and bolts, but I will likely talk more about concepts related to this as I go forward as it has become a big focus for me basically beginning in 2016.  You can find people who retired in their 30s.  I just read an article today about a woman who retired at 28 in New York City.  The variations on the how and why are endless and as the reaction moves from “you did/are doing WHAT!?” to “tell me more” the mainstream media is starting to take notice of this not-so-new lifestyle choice that prioritizes a meaningful and enjoyable life over the consumption driven lie that Madison Avenue likes to convince us is how life works.

So our unique story is that the E part of FIRE, by the nature of when we began is not so early.  As things sit now if all continues on the plan I hope to walk away from a job I must do about ten years earlier than I would have if I stuck with the traditional model and worked until my federally approved retirement date.  I am still about ten years from that point (a little less, but we’ll deal in round numbers), but the focus being shifted coupled with a less than joyful work situation for me in the last year has raised the level of urgency in my head quite a bit, which leads me to things like writing this post about it.  I’ve spent the last few weeks looking at houses in areas we have thought we might want to retire to, beginning in earnest a retirement budget in our budgeting software we use so make sure that the target level we’ve set really works for us (I plan to spend 2019 refining that and capturing expenses in enough detail that my wife and I can sit down and look it over and see if it seems comfortable and know our target seems solid).

I’ve always been relatively frugal (by American standards anyway), doing what I thought was a good job as keeping stupid expenses as bay.  As I got better jobs and the higher pay that came with it I was never a fan of keeping up with the Jonses.  I drove what I felt were relatively reasonable cars while colleagues went with the luxury lines, massive SUVs and sports cars that tend to come with a typical middle class American dream.  The inflatable house was never something that drove me either, feeling the need to expand the square footage per person available just because the bank said I could, like so many people fall prey to.  I was pretty proud of myself, that is until I started to learn about FIRE and get exposed to the thinking of the community.  It began to show how far I still could go.  My particular journey began as many do, with a quest to validate something I felt was right with some evidence.  In my case it was the long held belief that the insane amount in retirement calculators from large investment firms like Vanguard and Fidelity were not realistic and that we’d be just fine with less.  A lot less.  When I ran numbers in those calculators I kept getting values between $5-$10 million dollars as what I should be targeting, and try as I might, I could not envision how that was explainable.  I set out in late 2015 to find some discussion, with strong logic and math behind it, to back up what I felt in my gut was true.  I was expecting to find something that showed a decreased, but what I cam across was nothing short of life changing, a transition of massive proportions. I searched for a long time, finding more of what I thought was garbage, and eventually I stumbled upon a site that had been around for a few years at that time but one I had never heard of called (known as MMM for short).  The specific article I started with was ‘The 4% Rule: The Easy Answer to “How Much Do I Need for Retirement?”’  As I read it, I felt I had found exactly what I was looking for, but little did I know I had found so much more.  I had heard of the 4% rule before but it was couple with the 80% rule as well, which was what was spouted off by the investment firms who said you need 80% of your income to retire on, so if you did quote well at your job over time and got a salary a ways into six figures, which in my field of technology is certainly quite possible you would need $4+ million which was better than the calculator numbers but not by much.  The part of MMM’s philosophy (what I came to learn was a core principle of the FIRE community) that hooked me was that if you could get your expenses down you could retire on less.  A lot less.

I sampled a few other posts on the site and was amazed as what I was seeing.  I very quickly followed a link he had on his home page that let you start at the first blog post and then spent the next three months reading every single post consuming it voraciously, until I was done with the hundreds of posts.  It’s been joked from time to time that Mustachianism is a cult and boy was I hooked.  I now am a frequenter of the forum section where like minded folks can talk about all types of topics.  It really is a great community and if the FIRE concept intrigues you in the least, I’d suggest a visit to the site.

As I was moving through this material and sharing with my wife, the transition began.  I had a new focus for the retirement target and it was not to wait until 67 and it was liberating because it was clearly doable.  The challenge we have is that we came upon this concept quite late in our lives and have the baggage of some poor (by FIRE standards) choices that were made, but as a wise man once said, “you have to begin where you are”.  The discussions at times became heated because I would share what I was learning, and my wife was thinking just because I spoke about something, that I wanted to go do that.  The most obvious one of those was MMM’s focus on a car being a huge drain on savings and so you should bike everywhere and only use the car for long road trips or when you had to transport things you could not on your bike, like construction supplies.  I clearly understood that our bed was well made at that point, and was not proposing we sell our cars and bike thirty miles to work (MMM does bike year round in Colorado and has several posts about not whining about biking in winter).  I was just sharing to show some of the radical thinking that could be used to drive down costs that help you get to the 60%+ savings rates needed to get to FIRE in a 10 year period.  The part that was missed in this was that using the principle of begin where you are, we were not starting out from $0, so we can still hit the 10-12 year window without being so radical.  I did however want to make as many changes as we could that fit within our reality.  We also have the added challenge/goal of being at the phase of life that we want to help with our kids college costs, though not at the fully funded level that is still lingering with some parents.  With six kids though, even a partial funding is still substantial.  So we have not moved, nor are we planning to move, to within a few miles of our jobs so we can bike, but we are being conscious about our car expenses, looking for the cheapest gas with Gas Buddy, waiting for sale where possible on big ticket items like tires (just replaced the tires on my car after 83,000 miles during a sales event where I got to buy 3 and get the 4th for $1, and replaced them with the same Kumho tires with the target of getting 83,000 out of this $300 set), and likely not buying new cars going forward (since I keep the cars till they fall apart I always figured getting new was best and frugal, but not so sure after reading many articles about it in the FIRE community).  This has shifted my mind set to a much more engineered and focused exploration of how to maximize our dollars for happiness, including the happiness of retiring early.

We are targeting around $40-$48K per year as our expenses so that translates into $1-$1.2 million in savings, a much more palatable (and possible) target.  This is well below the 80% of what we make target that is most popular out there, and therefore makes for some interesting conversations with family and friends when it comes up.  The load lifted by not having to figure out how to support a much crazier target is immense.  That target is still pretty generous by FIRE standards and I am hopeful we may be able to lower it a bit however we need to plan for a target that is doable for us, not simply accept what others have accomplished.  There are some people in the FIRE community, known as Extreme RE who do things on $12K per year and love it.  The accepted FIRE level is $25K or less.  We are moving into what is known as “fat FIRE” with our level because we know we are leaving excess luxuries in the budget, but I still do not feel like we are going hog wild because I’ve seen a lot of fat FIRE targets of $60-$80K and we are still quite a ways below that, so I feel great about what I will call our Goldilock’s FIRE level.  Not to small, not to big, but just right, especially for us.  I do think we could do $30-$35K pretty easily but targeting a bit more gives us some added things which may be important as we want to travel with the kids or be able to host a bigger event or two each year that may cost a few thousand dollars and we have that room to do that.  We’d then have our social security on top of this as we move into normal retirement age and that gives us even more cushion (and also why I think we may settle on a lower number as we’ll have the added money later).  The benefit of a lower number is we hit the target sooner and can make the ultimate financial transition that much faster.

So that is a lot about one of the biggest transitions we’ve gone through in the last few years.  I will get into some of the others in future posts, and as I said at the start, I know more will be said about how frugality and maximization is impacting choices.

This philosophy was a short synopsis for my parenting style that I heard at one point, and recent events as I’ve watched other parents around me over the last year just made this rise to the top of things I wanted to share on this blog.

The most recent example of “preparing the road for the child” is helicopter parenting, but it existed in other forms before that in coddling etc.  Some people, my wife included, feel I’m too harsh in my goal to never have our kids come home after they finish with college, for example, but this stance is bred directly out of the desire to prepare the child for the road.  I’m having to live in the same world they if they were to come rushing home.  My preparing them to understand that one of the key tenets of not having to do that is not spending above your income they should have no reason to need this proverbial “safety net” that has become all the rage lately and for some reason seems to have brainwashed otherwise rational adults into thinking that somehow “now is different”.  It’s not.

There have always been challenges.  In the 70s when inflation was over 10% and interest rates were even higher, there was not talk of kids moving back home.  When unemployment soared during the Great Depression people were struggling and such but there has not been anything I could find of this mass movement back in with parents.  Why?  Because the parents were in the same world they were in and this shift of making it OK to prepare the road for the child was not as prevalent as it seems to be today.

If the situation existed that I am a financially astute and responsible adult and the world is in such a state that I could only survive by dipping into savings each year, then we have a rational argument for a younger adult, not having built up that savings, to be unable to make it on their own.  That however is not anywhere near the situation in the US today, contrary to media hype of the sky falling.  Preparing kids for the realities of life puts them in a much more resilient situation.  There was a recent discussion I was involved in with folks trying to figure out how much they pay for for their high school kids.  One mom was feeling guilty because her daughter wanted to do dance but every week’s competition to team went out for a fancy dinner instead of doing something like a pasta party at a parent’s house, got their hair and nails professionally done for a hundred dollars a week and a bunch of other expenses.  She was uncomfortable telling their daughter this was just not doable in their budget and she’d either have to pick another activity, forgo some of the pre and post activities the other girls did or find a way to cover those expenses herself (like a job).  Some other parents were trying to convince her of all the reasons she just needed to find a way to suck it up and go into debt for her daughter to have this high school experience.  I knew my viewpoint was in the minority so I caught up with this person later and shared my perspective and it led to a really good conversation and she was relieved to hear someone who was not just buying into the spend, spend hype because it would somehow damage out kids if we did not make this happen.  It was another example where people were just killing themselves preparing the road for the child and the wondering why they hit to the rock or the pothole in the road later on because mom and/or dad was not there to pave it over or push the rock on to the shoulder.

The learned helplessness this creates in children is often overlooked.  A slight hiccup occurs and the child cannot figure a way forward without immediately calling the parent.  Somehow then people are surprised when this behavior continues for decades after their kids are “adults”.  I feel we do a disservice to our children when we do not prepare them to be independent, autonomously functional human beings.  There are fewer and fewer guardrails in the world these days.  More institutions lack customer service on any level and unless you understand how what you are asking for is to be delivered you will struggle your entire life ending up on the short end of the stick.  Everyone would like the easy way out, but not having that grit or resilience comes with a cost that is many times not understood until the emotional and relational damage is far too great.  I’d much rather coach my kids through the bumps and bruises and have them excited when the achieve something through hard work of their own than clear the obstacles entirely and then when I’m not there they stumble and fall and are clueless why.

I may not be the most popular parent in the room, but I know that if I focus on giving them the tools that is far more valuable.  We seem to have forgotten as a society that if you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, but if you teach them to fish you feed them for a lifetime.  In the same way if you make your guide “prepare your child for the road and not the road for the child” you give them what they need to handle the eight-lane highway, the treacherous mountain road, or the unpaved cow path all on their own.  It gives them more sources of pride and gives you a lot more energy back to handle all the roads in life you have to deal with yourself.

Normally when I reference another post, I’ve got something to add.  In this case there is nothing more to say other than READ THIS.  I have followed Leigh’s blog (incaseimgone) for quite some time and she is always insightful and very thought provoking.  I hope sharing this will allow you to think about how you in your life can help improve the world we live in by making changes to stop the situations she refers to.  Especially if you are a man and reading my blog, take the time to understand what Leigh has to say on this topic and make sure you and the people you influence in your lives, children and other men, get it.

As I start to wrap up the posts about our most recent family drama, I come to another one of those things that as a Christian I look at and see as the hand of God working for our good, but that a non-believer would call luck or coincidence.

So around mid-June (June 19th to be exact as I looked at my Amazon order) we were made aware of an excellent book called “Divorce Poison” by Dr. Richard Warshak by the mom of the kids half-brother involved in the incident most recently.  She had heard about it from a friend, was going to look it up, and recommended it to my wife given how Bert functions.  This was the same reason it was recommended to her.

I had quickly read through the book in about three days and found it excellent and very indicative of what we had seen Bert doing through the children.  Were it not for having read this book just weeks before the ordeal that began in early July I would have had a much more difficult time not only understanding but not quickly building resentment and anger towards the kids for their false accusations.  After all I knew Bert was likely to accuse me of doing something inappropriate to the kids at some point, but I felt confident that there was no way one of the kids, when questioned by other adults, would stick with their lies.  I was certainly upset when this occurred, but was able to deal with it because I had read the book.  Had God not orchestrated these events to prepare us, this trial would have been even more difficult to bear.

The premise of the work is that either accidentally or deliberately (we know Bert proceeds with this deliberately because he did the same things to my wife when she was married to him and abused by him) a parent (termed the favored parent) will attempt to turn the kids against the other parent (the rejected parent).  There have been several studies about this phenomenon and Dr. Warshak talks about this a bit.  There are levels of this process and bad-mouthing and bashing of the other parent are the tools used most often.  This can lead to alienation, where a child wants nothing to do with the rejected parent and is hostile, contemptuous and totally negative to them.

In our case, we do not feel we are at that point yet, as the kids come over and have no problem showing affection to their mom when here, but in the presence of Bert they will not even come over to my wife and hug her or even acknowledge her presence in anything but the most cursory manner.  Dr. Warshak likens this to programming or brainwashing, and it can occur just because a divorced parent is upset and talks too much in front of the kids or where they can hear to other people, or makes it clear they do not want to talk about the other parent.  Many people do this by accident, and this book tries to open parent’s eyes to the fact that this is unfair to the children.  Again, with Bert we know this is not random but deliberate as he denigrates everyone he can to further his goals of being in control and important.

The real lynchpin of this entire book is that the conventional wisdom from many counselors, attorneys and others when this type of behavior is occurring is to just wait it out and things will work out.  The kids will see for themselves.  Just ignore it as you do not want to bad mouth in reverse.  Dr. Warshak says this wisdom is dangerously wrong and by the time you realize it, you can have a real mess on your hands, possibly with children who have nothing to do with you at all as you react inappropriately and tell them to stay with the other parent until they want to see you, a tactic we were contemplating earlier this spring with Marcia when she wanted to move to Nan’s for a time.  Luckily out gut told us to do what we have now learned was the right thing and not allow contact to be restricted because it would only feed into the path to alienation rather than “show” them how their decision was wrong.   Dr, Warshak teaches you how you can speak up with facts and not bad mouth, but teach them what is really going on.  As an example when the kids say, “you never did anything fun with us” you can respond “You are mistaken” and show them videos or pictures of events.  The problem in our case is Bert kept all those, perhaps in an attempt to make this type of factual sharing more difficult, but we pray we continue to not get to full blown alienation and that the kids will remain open to clarification.

There is also a video to watch with your kids on this called “Welcome Back Pluto” that is available from Dr. Warshak’s website where you can also find a bunch of other resources on this problem.  Since we have had our family back together this is part of what we are doing to raise some awareness amongst the children about what they should be aware of and not have to deal with.  They provide an excellent guide on how to introduce the video to the kids, even if they are fully alienated and have no interest in not hating you.  They have you run through it as something that the company needs feedback on from kids on how they can improve and that has seemed to work for our group, though again, we do not feel the kids are to the point of alienation yet but we worry about the danger and as Dr. Warshak explains in the book, it is much better to stop it before it gets to that point than trying to recover from alienation or full blown estrangement where you have no contact with the kids at all.

Based on what we have learned we have definitely modified our approach to not simply sit by while we hear the kids parrot the bad-mouthing from Bert but to set the record straight and give them good examples.  Dr. Warshak explains how to subtly teach your kids how they can be manipulated by using advertising as a teaching tool about how you an be made to believe something that might not be entirely true with careful placement of messages.  We have spoken with the counselors about this and they all think it is an excellent idea and method and to use the tools we have from Dr. Warshak to try to keep the situation for getting any worse and hopefully to reverse it.

If you suspect any of this type of behavior in your divorce, intentional or accidental, I would highly recommend looking into the resources at

Managed fear

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Lessons, Parenting, Philosophy, Tools

Today is one of those days.  Those days when paraskevidekatriaphobics (those who fear Friday the 13th) allow their lives to be controlled by something unreal and self made rather than managing their fear and living the lives they want or are meant to live.  I found out last night that there are three of them this year, and thank goodness for the paraskevidekatriaphobics, after today only one is left in July.

Just as with any fear I’m sure there are some paraskevidekatriaphobics who, at the start of the year, look at their calendars and find all the Friday’s that have that evil number 13 on them and plan their lives to avoid doing anything significant, and yes I’m sure in some cases ANYTHING, on those days.  Then there are others who might just shake a bit when they wake up or the day approaches, but have learned in some way to not have their fear define them.  The goal of course, should be for anyone to back away from fears like this, that others without the fear would look at as inconsequential.

There are certainly legitimate fears.  There are things that have a good chance of killing us.  I have a fear of falling, or as I like to jokingly call it in my attempt at management it’s actually a fear of landing AFTER falling, due to the injuries or possible death that can result from a fall of sufficient height and landing on certain surface types (I think medium sized jagged rocks from any height for example are a really unforgiving landing platform).  Fear of being struck by a moving train is probably a good one to live your life by.  Also fear of impalement on pikes. 

The absurd point I am trying to make is there are things that 99% of the population can probably agree on as being good things to avoid, but when we really analyze it that list is very short.  As humans we tend to make it very long.  Only through long internal therapy have I gotten from my original fear, the more common fear of heights, to what I view as a frivolous and funny fear of landing after falling.  Yet, making this change, and most importantly getting my brain to internalize this change, is a big part of my managing it.  As a child I was not willing to climb to high on the money bars (beyond one foot off the ground), roller coasters were a demonic device conjured up my maniacal scientists just to torture me and make me think about my fear, and tall buildings with glass walls were tough.

By understanding that I needed to manage by fear and not let it manage me, I have gotten much better and a big part is that I really am more limited to getting caught by this fear when I really can fall and die, which I think everyone would agree is much more reasonable.  I love roller coasters now, I can get into elevators and not immediately have the thought of them falling down the shaft even enter my head, and as my fiancée can attest even though I’m not perfect, I can go up in the Willis Tower SkyDeck and walk into the hanging see through ledges to some degree.  Sure I had to slowly shimmy out and then I did not exactly want to linger, but I was able to do it without a lot of effort and hand wringing because I understood that while it was just an engineered box hanging off a building like a wart in a windy, cold and wet city so that the girders COULD have rusted to the point that they could not support my overweight body and we could plunge to our deaths (I was very certain landing after falling 110 stories was going to be deadly), I could also manage the fear to understand that was very unlikely.  However, walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon to the very edge, that will not happen.  I understand the fact that rocks can be loose and they are not always visible and there is very little extra value to seeing the Grand Canyon with 3 inches of rock between your feet and the mile long fall or 3 feet.

My belief as with the personal example I just went through is that putting things in perspective is crucial to not letting your life be controlled by worry and doubt that are not worth your time.  The concepts of not sweating the small stuff or only dealing with what you can control are good thought points to guide you.  The more you know about something the less power it has to make you afraid.  It is important though to not go too far in the opposite direction and enter denial for there are real problems there.

Denial has an interesting and insidious side effect.  For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn’t so, the fall they take when victimized is far, far greater than those who accept the possibility.  Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes constant low-grade anxiety.  Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).  (Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear, Chapter 1)

My understanding that I will not fall out of a roller coaster just because it is high in the air, and understanding the engineered safety features as I got older helped me to learn to love them for what they were.  A way to provide a sense of excitement in a fully controlled environment, where the laws of nature work to make my primal senses feel “fear” with physical sensation.  One can certainly make the case that that’s what attracts drug addicts to their medications of choice, but some of our poorest behaviors are a result of coping with unmanaged fear and worry.  Do you know someone who is an alcoholic, drug abuser, or physical abuser?  It is amazing to see how many times the root of that behavior was a coping mechanism for some fear they had, real or unreal, that was not dealt with in a productive way, but instead they turned to a substance or action.  The bullying problem in schools has taken center stage in recent years and we have all heard how many times the act of bullying is a protection mechanism for someone who feels unsafe themselves so they choose to bully to control rather than be afraid that someone will control them.

As a parent we create “fear” not just for ourselves but for our children.  As humans we have come to be “afraid” of too many things and we come up with stupidly long words ending in phobia for them as I started this post with.  Mr. de Becker makes an excellent point when he says, “…any time your dreaded outcome cannot be reasonably linked to pain or death and it isn’t a signal in the presence of danger, then it really shouldn’t be confused with fear.  It may well be something worth trying to understand and manage, but worry will not bring solutions.” 

This is the trap we can so easily fall into, especially as parents.  We worry that our kids are not learning enough to get into the right college, we worry that our hair will make us look silly and we won’t be taken seriously, we worry that Timmy has too few friends and what does that say about him socially.  Once again some words of wisdom from de Becker.

Worry is fear we manufacture—it is not authentic.  If you choose to worry about something, have at it, but do so knowing it’s a choice.  Most often, we worry because it provides some secondary reward.  There are many variations, but a few of the most popular follow.

Worry is a way to avoid change; when we worry, we won’t do anything about the matter.

Worry is a way to avoid admitting powerlessness over something, since worry feels like we’re doing something. (Prayer also makes us feel like we’re doing something, and even the most committed agnostic will admit that prayer is more productive than worry.)

Worry is a cloying way to connect with others, the idea being that worry about someone shows love.  The other side of this is the belief that not worrying about someone means you don’t care about them.  As many worried-about people will tell you, worry is a poor substitute for love or for taking loving action.

Worry is a protection against future disappointment.  After taking an important test, for example, a student might worry about whether he failed.  If he can feel the experience of failure now, rehearse it, so to speak, by worrying about it, then failing won’t feel as bad when it happens.  But there’s an interesting trade-off: Since he can’t do anything about it at this point anyway, would he rather spend two days worrying and then learn he failed, or spend those same two days not worrying, and then learn he failed?  Perhaps most importantly, would he want to learn he had passed the test and spent two days of anxiety for nothing?

In Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman concludes that worrying is a sort of “magical amulet” which some people feel wards off danger.  They believe that worrying about something will stop it from happening.  He also correctly notes that most of what people worry about has a low probability of occurring, because we tend to take action about those things we feel are likely to occur.  This means that very often the mere fact that you are worrying about something is a predictor that it isn’t likely to happen!

Thinking back in my life I certainly see how this rings true.  I can count very few occasions when worrying has done anything productive.  Instead it causes me to focus on the thing I am worried about, which is never pleasant.  There is enough challenge in our lives, and if we can learn to manage our concerns and productively address them, it will help.

I end with the steps laid out by de Becker, which he admits are not simple, but should be our pattern.  This assumes you are really only fearful about things as defined for fear earlier:

  1. When you feel fear, listen.
  2. When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it.
  3. If you find yourself creating worry, explore and discover why.

What color is your flag?

Posted: March 7, 2012 in Communication, Tools

One of the best experiences I had was attending a seminar by a pastor by the name of Mark Gungor.  Mark is pastor at Celebration Church in Green Bay, WI and is one of the most sought after speakers on marriage and family.  He also has a daily internet radio show which can be found at and his website for seminars and materials is

Mark tours the country and presents a two days session lasting about 6 hours entitled, “Laugh Your Way To A Better Marriage”.  It was a terrific experience and one I would certainly share with my fiancée if and when Pastor Gungor comes this way.  In this seminar he talked about something called a Flag Page, which is what I am going to focus on in this post.

For those of you who work in a white collar job you are probably familiar with things like the Myers-Briggs or the Conflict Resolution Test.  Businesses have us go through them and many others to determine how we are likely to react or how we behave and it is mainly meant as a tool to help ourselves improve or change from within.  The Flag Page is different in that it takes that stance that you are the way God made you and the best thing you can do is share with those you love how they can best interact with you.  In short, what you learn from this process is what energizes and drives you.

The process is pretty simple.  It does cost $10, but for what it provides it’s well worth it.  I truly encourage anyone who wants to really get a interesting and beneficial view of themselves to get their own Flag Page.  You begin this process at and after you pay your fee it takes about five minutes to answer the three screens of questions.  It really is well designed and explained.  A virtual Mark will talk you through every step. 

Once you are done you get some information.  The first thing is what “country” you prefer.  The concept here is that just as with real countries you communicate best in the language of your native country, and if people understand what Home Country you are from they will know how to speak with you.  You do not talk to someone from Germany is French and expect to have great results.  The countries are Fun, Perfect, Control and Peace.  In your scoring you will have leanings towards all of them, but one will come out on top.  You also find out what is your Adopted Country.  When things are not working out this is where you will head in most cases.  After you understand this you eventually get to see your Flag which is where the Flag Page gets its name.  This flag is made up of your top 5 motivations.  There are 56 that can be selected and in the process the system narrows you down to 5, very, very quickly.  These are the keys to your happiness.  If these five needs are met you cannot be unhappy.  You know this because you selected these things in the process of answering the questions to get your flag page.  It really is a fascinating tool and I again encourage you to check it out.

In our case my Home Country is Fun Country and my Adopted Country is Peace Country.  My fiancée is the opposite and her score are much stronger than mine for each country which indicates that she is more firmly rooted in her countries than I am in mine.  It is interesting in how things play out between us and how I can quickly think back to our flag pages and figure out what is going on.  I tend to like to have fun.  This makes sense since my country is Fun.  But my fiancée is at Home in Peace country and at times when I push the fun too far (make little comments) she can get upset because she is more serious and fun can be taken too far.  I don’t normally have that hang up and it can cause of to not communicate too well.  Since I understand this I can quickly recalibrate when things are going off track and since my Adopted Country is Peace country I can easily shift to speak her language anyway. 

When you get to our flag pages it is very interesting.  Of the five talent colors, my flag incorporates four of them.  As I said I am much more evenly scored amongst all countries.  My fiancée on the other hand has only two colors, and of her five sections of the flag, four of them are one color, so she is much more definitively people driven.  As I look at her choice of career and what makes her light up, it is so obviously correct.  I love the insight the flag pages provide and I use it often when I need to be reminded about what makes my darling tick.

The five motivations are ranked too, so anyone you share your page with can quickly understand what the driver to your happiness is.  In my case the top three motivations are Competent, Faithful and Fun.  My fiancée’s top three are Thrives on encouragement, Loves People, Sincere at heart.  I will work on things until I can do them in my sleep.  My fiancée lights up when she is praised for things.  Just last night we talked about how she has been receiving feedback on one of her jobs that she is so much better than her predecessor and how smoothly things run.  I can hear the excitement in her voice and you can see it in her body language.  It powers her like no other; since it is her #1 motivator that makes sense.  Me on the other hand like encouragement like anyone else, but I am fine knowing I did a good job and not really caring if anyone comments on it.  It is just not something that I need to make me happy.   

The site gives you a lot of detail explaining how to use your flag page and describing your makeup from what comes out.  It really is an amazing process and one of the few things I really get excited about, but it has been so helpful to me and those around me.

One of the really neat things is that they provide a kids version via a game that lets you get Flag Pages for your children.  As a parent we like to think we can pick up on things, but we were shocked to see where some of our kids ended up.  More importantly when we started playing to their motivations it was amazing to see how differently they responded. 

The key to this tool, is that I think it is easy for us to understand ourselves.  When I look at my Flag Page I say, “yup, that’s me”.  The challenge is explaining to others is a really good way what drives us.  This inexpensive tool gives you a way to do that.  By ranking things it also helps pinpoint what is important.  I certainly can see that my fiancée lights up when she is praised so I know that it is important, but I’m not sure that even she herself could have told me it was MOST important.  Being around her and listening to her for months it is reinforced by what she enjoys doing, and how she does it.  I’m not sure it would be so clear to see.  Relationships with others and our kids are challenging enough.  This tool helps you make them a good deal easier.  It will be the best $20 you ever spend if you and your significant other complete it and understand it.

The devil loves texting

Posted: February 16, 2012 in Communication, Consequences, Tools

Ever since man has been using tools we tend to screw it up by pushing too far.  You’d think we’d learn.  We created knives to hunt and skin our food, and then we decided to use them on each other.  We created the internet to share information, and then we use it to anonymously convince people to send us their bank account numbers so we can transfer $20 million there for safekeeping.  We discover nuclear energy, and then we turn it into a bomb to kill others.  I swear the devil must love our creative thinking.

In the era of cell phones eventually we created texting.  I am convinced this is the latest tool that the devil just has to dance over. 

As I said in the last post, if my fiancée wants to let me know to pick a pizza up for dinner as we meet for the weekend, texting is great.  If my daughter misses the bus and sends me a text, “Missed bus, can you pick me up?” it’s great.  Anything more than that?  Not so great.

This last weekend we had discussed (in person, not via text) beginning to go to Sunday school.  On the weekends we have the kids obviously all of us will go to our respective sessions and on the weekends they are with our exes, my fiancée and I would meet up for the adult class we would attend, so for us we’d go every week and the kids every other, but it was the best we could do. 

When the time was approaching to leave I received a text from my fiancée (I’ve deleted the texts from my phone as it was out of memory, so I need to paraphrase) indicating she was having difficulty getting her three kids to want to go.  Since the devil encourages us to walk into stupid situations, instead of calling her, I engaged in texting.  I’m serious when I say I think we need an amendment process to the Ten Commandments to say “Thou shalt not text anything requiring more than a ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘OK’ response”.  At this point, my kids were getting their shoes on and I let her know we were almost out the door.  We’ve not really reached a critical point here as no choices were being made.

She responded back after a few minutes (which to me indicated she was dealing with all out meltdown) that she would try to get them there but they would probably be late.  A few moments later I got the “text that changed everything”, “I believe we are engaging 1 while alienating 3” or something along those lines.

So now let’s step back from the phones and enter my head.  First I’m confused because we discussed going last night and I thought I was clear in indicating it was just an idea not a requirement that we go.  I was a little taken aback as I took the tone of the message (written text has no tone, but the devil convinced me it did) to mean that she was thinking this was a stupid idea and since I suggested it therefore some of said stupidity must splatter on me.  I’m pretty calm so I was not angry or anything, but certainly confused and beginning to fume a bit.  Ah, the things the devil loves were starting to play out.  My next thought was that this meant she was going to make little effort to actually make them go.  After all, if I feel I’m alienating my kids on something we said was optional, I will back off and regroup.  So when my two youngest started complaining about how long we would be there since it was now Sunday school and the service, I thought, “Well,  my fiancée and her kids are not going, so no point in pushing this right now”.  I proceeded to make it very clear that we would not be debating this in two weeks next time they were home.  Everyone understood.

Now back to the texting part of our story.  I’ve now handled the physical situation and kids are deciding they will eat breakfast and settle in until we need to leave for service in about an hour.  In the interim my fiancée had sent a text indicating our original plan of waiting until the summer and why we had done that.  This however is the point that things may have been salvageable if one of us had picked up the phone, but alas it was not to be. 

Since I was feeling I was being told I made a poor choice to suggest we go this week because of the reiteration of the summer plan and the resentment her kids had about changing churches and therefore a little stupid (read “waaayyyy too complicated a topic to handle with text, but hey we have it so what the hay”) I texted to ask if she was having second thoughts and added in exasperation that we talked about it last night and why did she not bring this up then.  Basically threw up my texting hands and told her to let me know if we are going next time or if we are waiting to the summer and I’ll explain to my kids either way.  Imagine if peace treaties were negotiated via text.  I promise we’d never stop having the war.  We’d go right back to it.  Somehow this fact escaped us both and we kept texting.

After a few minutes of no reply, I again make an assumption.  She must be upset that I asked about second thoughts and this texting thing is causing a problem (I felt the devil’s influence finally).  I called.  She answered and hung up.  In case you’re lost step back to my assumption and re-read, it helps to understand what I did next.  I now am in a bit more of a huff, so I text, “So now you won’t even talk on the phone?”  I’m assuming she’s mad and that she’s just sitting around because her kids did not want to go and she was not making them since they were feeling alienated.  Since she was taking a long time to text back I figured it was nuts over there, but I later found out it was not that bad.  Do you start to see what a ball of crap texting can create?  This is all in about 15 minutes. She’s not answering the phone so I feel she’s acting childish so I’m getting mad.

A moment later I get a response, “If you keep texting me I can’t get them out the door”.  At this point I see all our assumptions were wrong.  I was thinking she was not going.  She was assuming I was, but I had stopped after the alienating text and my kids pushing since we had wanted to try to get them into this stuff together.  So I text in all caps, “WE ARE NOT GOING AT 9”.  Text stopped.  Whew.

At that point it would have been too much added havoc to change plans again, so I stayed home until service and she went.  So what initially seemed as us going and her not, through texting hell turned into us staying and her going, though as I found out later her going was not in question, I just inferred it was.

This ties to the other brief caveat I want to add to this tirade about texting being evil.  I think it might be possible if both parties are VERY, VERY clear on their communication styles to have a conversation like this effectively via texting.  After all the Apollo 13 astronauts did make it back because some guys figured out how to get a square filter to work in a round hole and relayed all the instructions on how to build it accurately from Earth to a spacecraft around the moon.  So it should be possible to do something like work out if we are dragging the kids to Sunday school in a given week via text right?  It’s not like saving a space craft and human lives.  Oh, but wait…..  The Apollo guys relayed the instructions by talking to each other not via text, so scratch that.   There is no way to text effectively with anything but the most simple of missives.  That’s the message my kids and fiancée will get from me.  If you are just sending me some information I do not need to respond to with anything other than ‘yes’, no’ or “OK”, text.  Otherwise call.  If not don’t be surprised if the devil plays with our intent and the result we have is not at all what we expected.