About Richard M. Rosso, CFP

I'm a money manager; a writer at heart. I love to observe the imperfections and dig into my own. On occasion, it's a bloody ordeal.

The “Bird Box” Path to Sanity in 2019.

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We all have a Bird Box.

We just don’t pay enough attention to our internal Bird Box: It’s called “the gut.”

A flutter which arises when things aren’t quite right – although on the surface it appears to be biz as usual, a tingle, a quiet thought that seems to come out of nowhere attempts to cut through the noise and gain our attention. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore our gut when it advises us to flee – whether it’s a cancerous relationship, a job we hate, a family member that causes grief – we talk down to or discount our “Gut Box.”

In a popular Netflix movie, Sandra Bullock and two children are focused to escape an ominous force that motivates observers to commit suicide. Victims stare into nothing, hear voices of deceased loved ones, perhaps experience their greatest fears, their pupils get weird and then BOOM. Suddenly, poor bastards are jumping in front of cars, stabbing themselves in the neck with scissors. Blindfolds are a necessity.

Birds can detect when this invisible death mist is rolling in. They go into a frenzy. The heart of the film is a blindfolded crew of Bullock and two children who must travel a treacherous river to safe haven. Ironically, a home for the blind located downstream.

Our three protagonists have the ragged clothes on their backs and death-grip on a box with a strap. The box has holes. Inside the box? You got it. A couple of birds. Nature’s ADT against “the thing that causes you to horrible things to yourself.” Personally, I thought it animal abuse. I mean, aren’t there enough birds to pay attention to in the sky without having to keep captive two parakeets in a tiny box?

But I digress.

Anyway, you don’t need play to hunter or hit up Petco to stock up on birds. Inside your body is the best primal warning system on the planet. I thought about calling it a “Turd Box” but that’s gross.

So, How do we trust our guts more often? Why do we tend to ignore when the birds start flutterin’?

Random Thoughts:

Remain vigilant with each human encounter no matter how minor it appears.

I was involved with a person who exhibited signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Over the last 3 years, I’ve spent hours reading all I can about narcissism only because the word gets thrown around flippantly – I truly wanted to understand it. Most important, I wanted to figure out who I was and why I fell so hard for someone with this alleged condition.

The gut nudged me on numerous occasions to get the hell away. However, my thoughts, mostly my heart, promptly suffocated the birds; I carelessly discounted my Gut Box. I was in denial. I thought it would get better. It didn’t. It got worse.

Only rivaled by a negative experience with a former employer, this was the worst association of my lifetime (so far). I have nobody to blame but the person who stares at me in the mirror. I’m fortunate it’s happened once. I know people immersed in repeated instances, entrenched patterns with those who are unhealthy for them.

Now when my Gut Box flutters, I listen. I am conditioned to conclude, depart, and never look back. It took pain to awaken my respect for the Gut Box.

Never be afraid to walk away or at the least, fully explore what your inner voice is telling you.

Don’t discount the feeling because…

Your gut is a survival tool. The best early-warning system you got. Ignore it at your own risk.

Ignore the “Bird Box” and the next step may be a pine box (or whatever they use for caskets these days). In reality, ignoring the Gut Box may cause death, too. It’ll just take longer and possibly be more painful than anything Sandra Bullock would need to deal with if she dared to remove her blindfold.

Your inner warning system deserves attention. Stop the attempts to rationalize or squelch the voice. As children, we observed people through clear lens. As adults, our lens are smeared and warped by life experiences and biased perceptions. The more proficient you become at verbal and physical cues, the stronger a gut sense will become, too. The gut is the ultimate people “decoder.”

Be an observer. Work out your core Gut Box. Stand outside life and look in a bit. 

Sit in a coffee shop or any populated public place with pen and paper and notice how those around you behave. Can you pick up on verbal and physical cues? Anything you can do to sharpen observation skills will help to work out your core Gut Box.

It’s acceptable to disengage with those who set off your internal sense of danger. No questions asked. Sure, you will mess up a couple of times. The collateral danger is worth long-term health and sanity.

Ironically, a well-toned Gut Box can make you seem psychic. You’ll deftly anticipate whether an association needs to conclude or a relationship is worth the effort.  A Gut Box will allow you to engage with the world and not cut yourself off based on negative episodes of the past, thus making you increasingly socially adaptable!

So, watch Bird Box. Personally, I thought it was meh. No big deal. Too many holes in the script, but enjoyable.

Focus on the Gut Box in 2019.

It’s the best early-warning system you got.

Discard the blindfolds that life has placed over your eyes.

It’s a matter of life or death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Your Flame – 2019 Edition.

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Marcus Aurelius referenced ‘Amor Fati’ often in his work.

Amor Fati –  Love of fate. Every moment, every encounter- happiness, suffering, loss – treated as a welcomed visitor. 

Embrace the stranger or friend forever at the door. Amor Fati – the zealous acceptance for all that crosses our path.

Author and friend Kamal Ravikant would deem Amor Fati as the light of truth and only in that blinding bright can one discover who they are, who they’re meant to be.

Nothing dark survives in in Amor Fati. We are bigger than any obstacle, even death.

Image result for embrace death

Perhaps a radical acquiescence of suffering and all that is “meant to be,” is truly the Holy Grail of happiness. To fight Amor Fati is to burn inside. Wedged within the hot space between where we wish things were in place of gratitude for how things are, festers a debilitating friction. Ironically, to fight, to wish things were different, is to fall victim to despondency and self-pity.

I admit Amor Fati is a great challenge. Daily, I must focus on what I’m grateful for (even if it’s an unfortunate event), and train my brain to feel happy about all that enters my space. It’s interesting how after months of focusing on gratefulness, I am increasingly sensitive to friction and adept at correcting my course. Like when a car starts to veer into another lane. A spark goes off in the brain, you take corrective action.

My continued challenge in 2019 will be Amor Fati (that loveable scamp). What will you do to accept it into your life?

How can you make Amor Fati a reality?

Some ideas.

amor fati

Random Thoughts:

CONSIDER THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN.

Your brain turns what you believe even if it’s false, into reality. It doesn’t know any better. In other words, if you focus on the pain, you’ll feel the pain. If you consider the worst that can happen in your life then realize it hasn’t occurred, a wave of gratefulness (relief) will take over. I call it ‘endorphin pinging.‘ Turning on the HAPPY TAP.

What you’re doing is training your mind to ponder negative consequences (why bother with positive, we like when good stuff enters our lives), and rewire how you deal with adversity.

I’ve made it sort of a game. On the way to work I imagine I have a blowout and wonder how I’d react; at work I’ll consider losing my best clients then reach out to talk to them grateful they are happy over some life event, or share concerns with me. Get it? Do it.

DOCUMENT GRATEFULNESS DAILY.

Yea, I know. Pain in the ass. At least I thought. Then at night before sleep I started to document 3 things I was thankful for. Some of it was stupid shit like not spilling coffee on my shirt which tends to happen often.

On rough days when nothing seems to go right or I feel like I’m deep in the badlands of dickhead city, even then I find a moment to find something positive. Surprisingly, I find myself grateful for the assholes; I’m able to deal with a situation with grace, not envision the satisfaction of hitting somebody in the head with a bat (obviously, I’m a work in progress).

EMBRACE ADVERSITY WITH VIGOR. Well try at least :/.

Just because you embrace adversity doesn’t mean you sit there and get rolled over. Just the opposite. I had a health scare a couple of years ago based on an aberrant blood chemistry. For an hour I was frightened. Frozen. I became detective Columbo to understand what I may be ahead for me and the latest medical diagnostics available to determine whether I really had something to worry about.

Long story short, I found a prominent specialist who believed in the advanced medical testing I suggested and although expensive I was able to avoid an unnecessary (and highly inaccurate), biopsy procedure. The more research you undertake to understand your obstacle the less you’ll fear it. Trust me.

EXPECTATIONS = 0 = AMOR FATI SQUARED.

Best. Math. Ever. I have 0 expectations of anybody I know, anyone I encounter, every engagement. Truly zero. And with that process comes zero disappointment. It was like my mind subconsciously established a test, set some bar that others needed to pass or jump for me to feel happy. Now? NADA.

This revelation has sparked encouragement to seek the good or at least pleasant, in each encounter and engage the present moment. I’m delightfully surprised on many occasions (hell, it’s not tough to exceed 0). It’s sort of gotten weird because if the experience feels too good, too easy, or events turn out perfectly as planned, I question the outcome.  Sound strange? Yes, a bit. However, it keeps me grounded as I realize nothing is permanent.

AMOR FAT(I) SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

The healthier my savings account, the warmer my embrace of Amor Fati. Perhaps having cash to deal with adversities makes it easier to buffer financial fragility and remain calm enough to think a situation through. I don’t know how much cash equals Amor Fati to you. However, an emergency buffer of a year’s worth of living expenses sounds right. Two years sounds even better.

VISUALIZE YOUR FLAME AND UNDERSTAND HOW THERE ARE ALWAYS ASHES IN THE END.

I visualize tossing wood into a fire. I see a stone hearth, raging flames. The core of a log connects with a color I feel at the peak emotion of an event: Blue for heavenly, amber for warm, red for anger, yellow for apathy. All that meets us, crosses us = leaves us. Good or bad, what fate provides and (including us), inevitably turn to ash and forgotten. Each flame is beautiful. Each flame is different. Each flame dies. Within glowing ambers, it is all the same. In this unity and calm of an ending smolders Amor Fati.

So, how will you incorporate Amor Fati into your life in 2019.

May nothing black survive your cleansing process.

 

 

 

A Christmas Tree Story: What is Yours?

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vintage five

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

And maybe that’s one of our problems.

Well, some do. Unfortunately, trees are so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk. Nostalgia neurons burn cobwebs, fire hot in my brain. I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood curiosity and just a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell remain fresh and raw for what feels like an eternity.

A Christmas tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality. To me, anyway.

Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.

I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado. vintage four

Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.

Ornaments that adorned real pine, plastic, and even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles . Lights that that stick around, never to be extinguished In my mind. The beauty refuses to burn away.

Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff straining branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).

Some memories joyous many sad.

A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.

You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.

Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.

When I think about the 4 city- block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree. In my mind, every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house? In my imagination, these sentinels guarded against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.

vintage three

So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.

Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.

On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year. The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big  toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.

However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.

“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”

“Thank you!” Big smile.

I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.

He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).

He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.

Random Thoughts:

Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year. Even if the stories are sad, they now go down like a fine bourbon – in 5 seconds you’re overwhelmed by warmth.

Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, the memories never die. Nor should they. They are you. Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.

Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.

Our trees are dying every day.

Vintage two

So what’s your Christmas tree story? Can you remember it today? Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?

vintage one

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

Perhaps there’s a good reason.

Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.

Can you feel the joy again?

In this moment like a last moment?

Can even the sad be cathartic?

Try it and see.

It’s fine to be surprised by feelings that are unpacked and adorned for all to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Things I Know. The Rest Is Bullshit.

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Sometimes everything at once. Sometimes just the sky.

Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I fuck up a lot.

I try. I fail. I try again. I stop trying. I regroup. I attract some of the worst people on the planet and work to process how they don’t represent the masses.

On occasion, I win, I learn, I grow. My biggest issue is I’m not grateful enough for the flowers, the victories, the end products. I’m loving the seeds but minimizing the impact of the blooms. There’s something noble about toil and decadent about the results. I am no longer impressed by decadence. The effort turns me on.

Jordan B. Peterson in 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote To Chaos, wrote – “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

The dirty stuff learned through toil and experience means everything.  Happiness is in the ‘grit’ as my friend Byron Kidder calls it: At the crunch beneath a footfall an idea forms, a road is begun. One word leads to six, then ten. Then a page. As my friend Randy Lemmon garden-expert extraordinaire says:

“It’s all about the soil.”

Life is a robust mixture of experiences –  sorrow shadows, bullshit rules that society deems honorable but as we age make no sense, boundaries crossed, beautiful offerings, misfit gifts if unwrapped reveal lessons when needed the most.

Let’s face it –  life is finite flesh & blood dichotomy – what you put into it can grow beautiful. However, you best know the weeds and kill them quick.

Otherwise, they take over.

As I focus on lessons learned, lived, loved, (hated at times), I realize how these tenets align, allow me to re-focus on what’s important.

That damn flower. I’ve finally found comfort in inevitability; that flower is gonna die. Can’t do a thing about it. I’ll enjoy everything about it while it’s here. I take notice how light accentuates grooves in the pedals at low sun; I can observe, sort out without mental drift, how and why it has a reason to exist (so I can enjoy it, others can, too!).

In the quiet times, when it’s just me and the sky, I document observations, write script dialogue, have colorful conversations between my ears. I ask questions to the 25 trees at the homestead. Depending the direction they sway, answers are revealed. And yes, they sway when queried. I also know whether it’s a no-stop-go. Or just a stop. Trees are nature’s Magic 8 Ball. I’m convinced.

Here are the 11 things I know. You have your personal doctrine. I have mine. They’re not up for disagreement or discussion. Doctrines serve best those who create not criticize them. Share yours.  Write. Follow.

Writing is inky-swear oath to yourself.

Random Thoughts:

Not everyone deserves forgiveness. You however, must forgive yourself.

Listen it’s rare, but some people do not deserve a free pass. Their intentions are untrue. They seek to use, inflict damage upon others. They follow a script that serves only them.  It’s fine if duped. You’re human. I say let the universe deal with these types. They’ll never be happy, never learn. Until karma finds a way to strike them, they’ll live their lives and not give a second shit to setting yours back.

Life is a 50/50. 50% shock, 50% awe.

If you don’t have chaos, you don’t have change. If you don’t change, you die. Or worse. Get stuck in a life you hate. Learn to weather the shocks, enjoy the awe. What’s the alternative?

If you’re gonna a hater, be a good one. If you’re a lover, be a great one. If you’re hated, make sure you’re really, really reviled. If loved, make sure it’s the best love ever.

Love and hate is fire and ice. Both burn. Both can motivate. Both can kill. Be the best at both. Leave your mark on others. Burn them or freeze them. Nothing in between.

Love is infinite. Humans and technology block the flow of it.

Adults manifest mind-garbage. Over time, a multiplying, rotting dump of negative experiences must be bulldozed aside with each new person met. Ultimately, the debris is piled so high and deep, you can no longer bulldoze it. Instead, you’re consumed by it.

What I’ve noticed is that garbage people always leave a little bit of debris with you after they’re gone. The flow of love, the give-and-take of understanding, empathy, suffocates and dies among the rubble. Technology, especially social media has the ability to accelerate the build-up of garbage in the dump.

Be comfortable sitting in the back.

All throughout elementary school, high school and college I had to sit in the front row. I have no idea why. I believed my focus on the lessons would be better. I considered all who sat in the back as slackers and losers. Nobody taught me that. It was just my perception. Boy, was I wrong.

Sit in the front, die from myopia. Sit in the back, see the big picture. Feel less pressure. Yea, I sit close to or in the back. Sitting up front is too narrow a perspective for me now.

Consider the lack of magnificence a mark of virtue.

Want to feel small? Focus on the sky.  Twice a day, 25 seconds. Just when you think you’re the shit or “all that,”  vastness of the never-ending injects poison into an ego. It’s a freeing “I can die in my driveway and the waste management dude can cart me a way,” kind of feeling. Don’t perceive this as negative. Far from it. Humility realigns focus on how to be a better iteration of a human. It allows you to give yourself a free pass, shake who you were at another time. Any other time. Who you were doesn’t matter. Who you are now means everything.

As Rick Warren said:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” 

At all costs, avoid the “Dust People.”

Dust People. My term for the darkest breed of narcissists. Those who use others for career advancement, sex and social status. They do nothing but lie and blame to divert from their true motivations. All the while, they create the ultimate relationship escape plan. They always have prospective new lovers (suckers), waiting in the shadows.

Once Dusters have fed off their victims, once their fake game is up, they shake ’em off (like dust from old jeans),  move on to the next and newest conquest. Ostensibly. the lethal pattern continues. They morph into the lives of new love/lust connections until their true self is revealed, thus leaving another victim shattered emotionally and/or financially.

I’ve been immersed in the trials of the Old West -New Mexico Territory specifically, as preparation for a screenplay – “The Rifleman – Origins.” The back story of how an ordinary farmer and rancher named Lucas McCain became a legend. The Rifleman was a hit television series from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The saga of a proud father who alone raises his only son Mark McCain.

In the brown-dirt land of New Mexico Territory the parameters of law are newly forged. Boundaries between life and death are easily blurred and crossed with devastating consequences. Lucas’ noble intentions to begin a new life, revitalize an abandoned ranch and keep his son safe in the middle of this tumultuous period, are frequently tested.

Lucas’ stalwart friend, father figure and new lawman in the town of Northfork is a creased and lean former gunslinger with his own healthy share of sleeping demons.

Micah Torrance, known equally for his sordid past and change of heart due to personal tragedy, had friends in high places like Granville Henderson Oury, a well-known American politician, lawyer, judge for the New Mexico Territory and fierce soldier who managed to survive the Crabb Massacre of 1857 where 100 Americans were killed after an eight-day battle with Mexican forces.

Micah and Granville fought side-by-side through several bloody skirmishes. Granville personally handpicked and deputized a reluctant and skeptical Micah to protect the recently-organized town of Northfork which in Granville’s view, was to become the West’s shining example (experiment), of how the law can protect and help citizens thrive. And as Micah would lament – “Big Ol’ Granville usually gets what he wants.”

It’s amazing how much I learned about dust, yes dust, writing this monster. Dust could be feared as it was associated with drought and drought portends ruin. The abrasive nature of dirt and dust had the ability to rot clothes, rip bare skin, which made it important for cowboys to dress and protect accordingly. Scarves, heavy canvas, denim and tartan long-sleeved shirts.

The irony is Micah is a reluctant lawman; he possesses little faith in humanity and grapples with why he should bother to protect it. “Just let people do what they do, it’s no concern of mine. If they do or don’t figure it out, they’ll die, just the same.”

It’s feigned optimism and protective care for Lucas and Mark that motivates Micah to take Granville up on his offer to galvanize and protect Northfork. Perhaps they remind Micah of his own son and grandson slain by vengeful Apaches.

I’ll share some dialogue between Lucas and Micah when it comes to dirt and dust:

After a six-month drought, the abandoned Emerson Ranch, three miles north of Northfork, appears dead and hopeless to Lucas McCain. He bends his lanky frame at the knees to observe a single flower that grows from the dust. The dry powder he picks up to rub between his fingers disappears easily into the heat. Lucas looks up and across what’s left of worn fences, dirt-blasted barns and a wood and stone structure that would be home for him and Mark. Micah is behind him. Purposely silent until the quiet was 10 minutes too long.

MICAH

Well, the price is right.

LUCAS

I should be paid to take it.

Micah

Yea, if life worked that way it wouldn’t be called life or whatever this shit is we go through.

Lucas

The dust. It’s in my nose. My clothes feel like they’re rotting from the inside out because of it.

Micah

The dust is in your head, Lucas. Turn this into something. Get out of your head and into the toil. Nothing stays the same. The rain will come. Your head will clear. Your thoughts will clear, Lucas Boy. The earth will show you what it can do. You’ll build something here. For you and Mark.

Lucas (finally stands from his crouched position)

It’s tough for a man to think clear in the dark, Micah.

Micah

The dark is no bother to me. I ain’t afraid of it. Can’t get to the light if there isn’t dark first. I bet when the sun comes up over that ridge, it’s a sight to see.

Lucas (looks over at Micah and smiles lightly)

You trying to sell me something that isn’t for sale, Micah? (Silence). Alright. I’ll give it a thought.

Micah (gestures over to barn entrance where Mark is smiling and waving to catch the adults’ attention).

Looks like Mark already has.

Lucas

Yea. I was afraid of that.

****************************************************************

There’s a point we all must make a choice to cultivate dirt and make it something better. Dust people you cannot change. You must detect and walk.

Or you’re going to lose so, so much.

Recognize every person you meet is not the best or the worst. Just something in-between.

We are marginal at best, mired in the comfort of status quo. The best and the worst of people have lots of energy to share. It’s fine to spend time with those in the middle. They’re on a path to best or worst and exciting to listen to, understand what drives them to move from the middle to the outliers. I also find it fascinating what keeps them mired in middle. Is it security, fear, complacency, low T?

There’s a point you’ll be afraid of the dark and joyfully anticipate the light which follows.

You’ll appreciate the light all the more when the dark is behind you. Enough said. You can figure this one out on your own.

Life is 110% conflict – 109% with yourself.

Our minds and egos create alternative lives of “what would happen if,” that have nothing to do with the present state. Whatever we fight internal or external, we are drawn to or own a piece of it.

Until you find out and destroy what you’re contributing to the battles, they’ll never cease. One party needs to drop the weapons. If smart, it’ll be you. If not, you’ll continue to fight imaginary wars and lose all who are close to you.

Bad experiences are unwrapped gifts that provide lessons only when opened.

I’m not a big fan of the “everything is a lesson,” mantra. A lesson should mean I don’t repeat the same mistake or if placed in a similar negative situation, I respond differently. I’ve had many bad experiences but few lessons. It’s fine as the opened gifts are exponentially greater than the ones I continue to leave unwrapped.

We all have rules, subconsciously or on our sleeves for others to see, we follow every day.

In this society, at this time, your spirit is in constant jeopardy. Make sure your ingrained tenets aren’t major catalysts for the death of it.

 

Dedicated to “The Rifleman” co-writer and “Mister LA,” Kelly Raymer.

4 Simple Ways to Live a Happier Life.

“In the dark of light, there’s no life in sight.”

Your IPhone when you stare into the screen.

Reality alert: As humans our tendency is to complicate everything, or close to everything. This penchant to complicate festers the longer we live.

Once I believed that with age came wisdom and clarity. Now, I’m not so sure.

With each passing year, the build-up of negative experiences saunter like heavy suffocating shadows.

We over-stuff our heads with negative episodes of the past. Personal baggage pressed at the seams appears at the ready to spill poisonous contents on innocent poor bastards thus destroying any hope of connection.

Facebook has a blocking feature where you can make people quickly disappear.

Blocking is a healthy addiction. Too bad we can’t find a way to permanently block debilitating thoughts. At least long enough to allow another to share a comforting word without skeptically searching behind it for a motive. Too much searching. Not enough listening.

We are overstimulated and overstimulation leads to overthinking which culminates in complication.

Opportunities to connect with a clean slate, with minimal if any expectations, are rare.

The worst part?

Our inner sparks go cold. Nothing excites us anymore. We think smaller. We can no longer find the humor. We lose hope.

This will be my first Christmas without a tree. Oh, I own one. Purchased a new eight-foot evergreen beauty with colored lights from Wayfair last month. Surprising to me, I have very little motivation to release the damn thing. Like opening the box means imminent doom. It’s a warning sign that something isn’t right. One I won’t ignore.

I think about how our brains shrink as we age. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m just not feeling the tree thing this year.

It’s all about perspective and not falling into a dark well with a bottom that never follows through. Talk about perspective – I know a few males who can’t ‘get it up’ any longer and they’re happier as hell. Happier than they’ve ever been.

Having sex, thinking about sex, working to get sex, steers precious mental resources away from important, life-changing ventures. So they tell me.

One head may be dead but the other – Teeming with ideas?

Amazing what happens when the bar is raised high from the low of which you focus.

Simplicity in a world dominated by narcissistic grandeur is a daily challenge. One must work at it. Stay focused. Of course, it’s healthy to have a positive self image. However, there’s a deteriorating marginal utility to self-adulation when every photo on your personal Facebook page is a selfie (and they all look the same after a while, BTW).

In the social media age, seductive headlines, each inflammatory phrase, is deftly crafted to over-stimulate the limbic system of the brain, the amygdala, or plainly, the primal ground-zero of personal fears.

Fears that we’re not the smartest, the prettiest, the sexiest, the most popular; that our dicks are too small, asses too wide; our politics are rot and conflicting opinions don’t count for shit. Today there exist endless algorithms of headlines which gorge negativity.

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Social media obfuscates how we truly measure up with little understanding why we try so hard to do so. We’re constantly competing, seeking something (or someone) smarter or betting looking, always striving to one-up. Instead of competing with ourselves, we’re competing with the fabricated, select Facebook lives of others, most of them strangers.

It’s an anxious, mystifying state of purgatory. The hamster wheel to nowhere. No rewarding endgame. Just exhaustion.

At the end of all the mental bullshit gymnastics, I wonder:

What the fuck do we accomplish?

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As I purposely tighten up my personal space and establish new boundaries which includes a reduction of social activities, purposeful quiet has allowed me to re-group and take inventory of the physical, mental and spiritual contents of my life.

Calm has finally arrived after a prolonged stint in a mentally abusive relationship, the worst I’ve experienced with another human; a prolonged period of anger, mourning, and ostensibly, apathy, blissful apathy.

It’s also been an amazing period of career growth. Embedded throughout there has been this yearning, insatiable desire for simplicity.

In a plugged-in 24/7 world that seems to thrive on complexity and drama, I cogitate over simplicity as the true path to dissonance reduction. Inner quiet emerges from disconnect, not the connect.

Achieving small, however you define ‘small,’ allows control and control creates choices that lead to fulfilling accomplishments. At the least, your perspective won’t feel “blocked” or “polluted” by the miasma of complexity.

Listen, people are catching on to the concept of simple. It’s not a fad. It’s becoming a way of life for a generation. Oh they’re online connected but ironically they’ve found the way to use it to their advantage, I guess.

Forget Millennials. Consider Gen Z or those born after 1998. They strive for small yet enriching lives.

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According to Goldman analysts Robert Boroujerdi and Christopher Wolf, Gen Z is more entrepreneurial and pragmatic about money,

“Raised by parents during a time marred by economic stress, rising student debt burdens, socio-economic tensions and war overseas, these Gen Z youths carry a less idealistic, more pragmatic perspective on the world.”

What are 4 ways to live a simpler life?

Random Thoughts:

Downsize

Living lavish appears great in movies. In reality, not so much. Big mortgage, big car payment, big liabilities in general, are certain to curtail the breathing room and proper perspective to allow consideration of  life-changing choices that can lead to enriching wealth however wealth is defined.

Generally, people will stick with what feels safe such as a job they dislike, solely to meet financial obligations. They may even compromise their personal ambitions, seek happiness in the very possessions that chain them, prevent them from achieving personal and financial self-fulfillment.

Downsizing begins in the psyche. Start small. Take inventory of material items no longer used then release them. If you must purchase a durable good like an auto, exclude models with unnecessary bells and whistles.

Need a kitchen appliance? Basic models freeze, clean, bake at 30% less; seek out floor models or slightly dented. I’ve always been amazed by consumers who are turned off by an undetectable scratch on a refrigerator door.

Downsizing will help you reclaim some of the rhythm of life choked off by a complex, debt-fueled existence.

Cut

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The wrong people can chip away at your sense of well-being like a cancer. Complex reasons exist for keeping around those who treat you badly, cut you down or make you feel rotten about yourself. I won’t go into them. Look back and I’m certain you can come to your own conclusions as to why you stay longer than you should. We’ve all gone through this.

Cutting people you dislike out your life is one thing; removing those you love because their energy isn’t healthy is a supreme paradox.

Those who thrive on drama or negativity battle a special kind of demon. Usually, due to a great loss or void in their lives their perspective is closed, or off kilter. They’re not out consciously to cause harm.

Frankly, more of the damage is to themselves; their release of energy or what I deem the “after burn,” is what those close to them feel. It’s like standing near a blazing fever or taking in the bittersweet odor of a person close to death from metastasizing cancer.

The easiest path to a cut is simply, avoidance. Frankly, under the guise of being busy it’s plausible to rarely be in the same place at the same time.

Regardless of the method, to remove people you like or possess no-ill will is a difficult conscious choice to cleanse the negative and establish fresh boundaries.  It’s the saddest of breaks, however it could be necessary.

Journal

Self-reflection with journal and pen (not computer), even if it’s only 15 minutes a day, is a healthy way to blow off steam and deal with the energy-draining trials of the daily toil.

Whether it’s author James Altucher’s daily habit to generate 10 ideas a day on a waiter’s pad of all things, documenting a morning ritual or short sentences of gratitude, writing is a healthy addiction that provides balance.

As I’m up at 4 am daily (I’m a morning person), I favor The Morning Sidekick Journal.

Abstain

Abstinence is a discipline even if it’s not a forever deal. An extended period of isolation or limiting activities which fog the mind, is a self-nurturing act.

I have a friend who for three months a year abstains from alcohol, fried foods, staying out past nine and updating social media. It’s her line in the sand. A time of rejuvenation and renewed purpose. Those months are not boring, they’re filled with organization, writing, physical self-improvement and documented reflection.

You know what complicates lives?

Pondering over endless brands of paper towels and toilet paper that choke up long aisles at retail stores.

How much fluff and fragrance do I need to wipe my ass or clean counters? Also, keeping up with every social media channel and figuring out why we take on such a task is beyond rationale.

Recently, at Best Buy with my daughter I was overwhelmed by 4 rows of washers and dryers. Waves of whites and stainless steel blocks vying for consumer attention. Front load. Top load. Multiple dials, buttons.

Overall, I felt paralyzed and sort of stupid. When I need to replace appliances I’ll look to hire an appliance consultant to make sense of it all.

Washing machine

Am I launching a space shuttle or cleansing my briefs? You tell me.

Strange how with all the modern conveniences and innovations designed to make our lives easier, simplicity has been push-buttoned and dialed away.

Maybe ’tis the season let go. Get crazy: Don’t look for reasons to believe a person you recently met is going to disappoint like an ex or another asshole.

Set your expectations of others to zero. 

Well, I’m feeling better.

I may put that new Christmas tree up after all.

Check with me next week.

Dedicated to my close friend Lori Pinder who searches and defines her personal simplicity every day.

 

 

 

10 Things You’ll Remember: 10 Seconds Before You Die.

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“Two boys gone. The land is mine, Roy.

They’ll never build on it.”

Johnny Cash was awkward at consoling his friend.

Johnny and Roy

I marveled how he lived. Perpetual discomfort in his own skin, especially when the topic turned to human hardships, death or separation from people he had embraced once or a thousand times. He was touched easier than most people.

His heart was meant to be touched.

There was an eternal itch he couldn’t scratch, a wound that never healed and occasionally those souls festered and formed into poetry, often set to music. But mostly, scribbles on wrinkled college-ruled. I possess a few of those scribbles.

He took in those he cared for. All the way in. No one who touched him was ever gone. They continued to tap him on the shoulder, sometimes a bit too much.

Death or disappearance didn’t matter.

Souls gone but never gone, faded to an image of a re-lived last goodbye or emerged as hard reverence.

A graceful testament to those he loved. Especially the tortured ones.

Mostly. The tortured or hurt ones. The frail who couldn’t go on and took matters into their own hands.

Like he was singing to God to let them in.

Pleading for their mercy.

Let. Them. In..

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The Faron Young Memorial. The country legend. A suicide.

They slunk like shadows out of nowhere to follow him.

Around the edges dark of light.

At times, he was ahead of the demons. Then black days existed. He was captured.

Unfortunately,  like ill-timed the public always seemed to be around for those moments.

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He was heartbroken and haunted over deaths of youth. They were his losses. In a way, J.C. anxiously sought to absorb the pain because that’s what you did for people you love.

He never was able to release from the death of his brother Jack.

He shuffled the heels of his favorite house shoes.

Back and forth in the dirt like an anxious child with an agitated hitch in his step, or nervous tic. Forming nervous heel arcs in the dirt.

Solemn words delivered deep and straight and without compromise.

Cash was like that with promises.

Those he made to others were kept. Promises made to himself – not so much.

As we admired a big, slung-low orange sun disappear in slow motion beneath the glass-like water of Old Hickory Lake, the conversation shifted to Roy Orbison who lost two of his three children to a house fire.

The Cash and Orbison families were next door neighbors in 1967.

Perhaps it was the Tennessee high-octane that gave me the courage to pull the past into this moment, dig into the scars of heartbreaking tragedy.

The fire fascinated me. Fire always fascinates me.

JC’s overwhelming act of love fascinated me more. As I watched him ponder, perhaps relive that moment, I asked a question that popped into my head.

What do you think goes through your head 10 seconds before you die?

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I don’t know why 10 seconds. It was a question that popped into my head because it was supposed to, I guess.

10 just rolled off my tongue. Little did I know at the time how important the thought of 10 seconds was going to be. And asking the question. Over the following decade I was to lose everybody I cherished.

He spoke in deepest baritone. Vibrations circle and settle in my ears.

In the middle of the night I can hear that voice resonating under my head. Shaking my pillow.

I listen.

I always listened…

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John Gilpin was testing out his camera when he accidentally caught a 14-year-old stowaway’s fall.

The last seconds of a life are staccato sparkles which ignite eyes to free your eyes.

To see.

A thousand firecrackers. Energy agitated, ready to flee, anxious for release.

It’s you pushing out to the next you, whatever, whomever that is.

It’s the wave before the crest.

The smell of a season.

The crisp of air that kisses sharp on the cheeks. Tiny blades of pain and comfort that are rarely never forgotten because it coupled with a first kiss.

The eternally burned anguish of the unrequited.

The glimpse from afar before the lids seal tight.

The sound of a distant cry.

A final goodbye never delivered.

Oh, I’m no expert on death.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in the wrong places at the wrong times. Or have I?

“What are you thinking?” has been my question.

I’ve asked my grandfather, my father, mother, a good friend and a music legend.

The last glimpse of a life from the inside out or inside the inside.

There are snap shots I’ll never forget. Nor do I want to.

But when I asked JC, when I asked him what he believed his last 10 seconds would be like, what would he say?

Quiet. Then.

5 responses:

“I’d see my demons move on. Defeated.”

“I’ll remember how proud I am of my kids and I’d tell them once a second. Ten times.”

“June and I would travel around the planets in a camper.”

“I’d hug Jack for as long as Jesus would allow me. And then some.”

“I want to compose great music to keep the heavens shining.”

Loved ones. I’ve lost many but I’ll stick with my top 3. Their “close to last” words stick with me. They surround me but never wall me in. They encourage embrace.

So, what would your  last 10 seconds on this planet be like?

What will you remember?

Write them. Feel them. One second. Slow it down. Turn it into 10 minutes, 10 hours, 10 days. Then know you have more time than 10 seconds.

Slow it down.

You’ve been given 10 seconds, 10 lifetimes, of second ten chances.

Are you holding something back?

Are you not telling people in your world how much you love them?

10 seconds goes a long way to shattering a lifetime of regret.

So, 10 seconds is a title. A thought. Headline candy. Nobody is talking anything coherent 10 blood-beats before life energy is released to the universe.

Dad: “Why didn’t we spend more time together?”

Mom: “Will I ever see you again?”

Me. So far: “I never stopped loving you. I never will.”

To live fully is to die a thousand times in one life.

The resurrections make you who you are.

And then there’s the shit that sucks.

Like things you meant to say to those you love before they go.

But you didn’t.

And now you must think those words and hope they carry to a place they may hear them and hold you.

This post is dedicated to radio personality, incredible husband and father, and special person who will be missed  by thousands for an eternity.

A good man. A really good man. A noble man.

Matt

Take courage when the road is long.

Don’t ever forget you are never alone.

I  want you to live forever. 

Underneath the sky so blue….

Diversification In Its Present Form Is For Suckers. So, Don’t Be A Sucker.

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“If you have large cap, mid-cap, and small-cap, and the market declines, you are going to have less cap.” – Martin Truax


The financial services sales forces as mass storytellers, have morphed once noble, efficient constructs into treacherous fairy tales.

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Tenured financial concepts which define the core of advice in the brokerage industry go relatively unchallenged. Investors, due to lack of experience about such matters, have a difficult time challenging the status quo or ask the right questions.

The easiest way to convince investors to “stick with an asset allocation or investment plan” is to use the past as a pacifier, regardless of current market cycle. In other words, if it’s broken there’s no need to adjust the guidance.

The industry just needs to isolate and showcase a cycle where the old confines worked, push that specific period of time into the present and extrapolate the positive, perpetually into the future.

Hey, it’s what the industry does best.

I believe nothing changes in practice on financial front lines, as the priority remains pushing products. Brokerage firm margins are embattled by the profit-draining effects of lower-for-longer interest rates.

I don’t blame the mouthpieces as much as I do the senior management and compliance departments that channel, reward or benefit from the behavior.

As a regional manager at Charles Schwab told me:

“It’s always about shareholders first.”

There are Holy Grail concepts that are rarely revisited except by academics and a select few in the private sector and for their work, I’m grateful.

From experience I’ve experienced how somewhere between academia and implementation in the field, updates or improvements to dogmatic strategies` get lost or ignored, especially when they conflict with the short-term focus on shareholder and analyst expectations.

The insidious or naïve (take your pick) roads most selected are designed to mollify fears and at the same time, leave investor wealth exposed unnecessarily to danger.

An egregious stretch of the truth emboldens the heavily-protected sanctuary of diversification.

It’s a word that makes investors feel good.

It rolls sweet off the tongue. It represents warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer, the scent of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.

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However, don’t be duped. Today, diversification as pitched by your broker, is a wolf dressed as Red Riding Hood. Many financial professionals have fooled themselves regarding its effectiveness. At least the way it’s defined, currently.

You must understand what diversification is and most crucial, what it isn’t. Certainly, it’s not the panacea it’s communicated to be.

The outdated definition of diversification requires a tune up. There’s no ‘free lunch,’ here, although I continue to hear and read this dangerous adage in the media.

The word gets thrown around like a remedy for everything which ails a portfolio. It’s the industry’s ‘catch all’ that can lull investors into complacency, inaction.

So, who buys into this free lunch theory, again?

After all, what is free on Wall Street? Investors who let their guard down, buy in to the myth of free lunches on Wall Street, ostensibly find their money on the menu.

Due to unprecedented central bank intervention, there exists extreme distortion in stock and bond prices. Interest rates ‘lower for longer’ and in several cases, negative, have created a frenzied reach for yield in dividend stocks. Global risk-averse investors have purchased bonds with a voracious appetite.

A way to effectively manage risk has morphed into two disparate perceptions. The investor’s definition of diversification and that of the industry has parted, leaving an asset allocation plan increasingly vulnerable.

Today, the practice of diversification is Pablum. Watered down. Reduced to a dangerous buzzword.

First, what is the staid, mainstream definition of diversification?

According to Investopedia – An internet reference guide on money and investments:

  • Diversification strives to smooth out unsystematic riskevents in a portfolio so the positive performance of some investments neutralizes the negative performance of others. Therefore, the benefits of diversification hold only if the securities in the portfolio are not perfectly correlated.
  • Diversification benefits can be gained by investing in foreign securities because they tend to be less closely correlated with domestic investments. For example, an economic downturn in the U.S. economy may not affect Japan’s economy in the same way; therefore, having Japanese investments gives an investor a small cushion of protection against losses due to an American economic downturn.

Now let’s break down the lunch and examine how free it is.

 

Unsystematic risk – This is the risk the industry seeks to help you manage. It’s the risks related to failure of a specific business or underperformance of an industry.

To wit:

  • This is a company- or industry-specific hazard that is inherent in each investment. Unsystematic risk, also known as “nonsystematic risk,” “specific risk,” “diversifiable risk” or “residual risk,” can be reduced through diversification.
  • So, by owning stocks in different companies and in different industries, as well as by owning other types of securities such as Treasuries and municipal securities, investors will be less affected by an event or decision that has a strong impact on one company, industry or investment type.

So, think of it this way: A ‘diversified’ portfolio represents a blend of investments – stocks, bonds for example, that are designed to generate returns with less overall business risk.

While this information is absolutely valid, the financial industry encourages you to think of diversification as risk management, which it isn’t.

Here’s what you need to remember:

Ketchup (consumer staples) and oil (consumer cyclicals) all run down-hill, in the same direction in corrections or bear markets. 

Sure, ketchup may run behind, roll slower, but the direction is the one direction that destroys wealth – SOUTH.

Large, small, international stocks. Regardless of the risk within different industries, stocks move together (they connect in down markets).

Consider:

What are the odds of one or two companies in a balanced portfolio to go bust or face an industry-specific hazard at the same time?

What’s the greater risk to you? One company going out of business or underperforming or your entire stock portfolio suffers losses great enough to change your life, alter your financial plan.

You already know the answer.

Diversification is not risk management, it’s risk reduction.

  • When your broker preaches diversification as a risk management technique, what does he or she mean?
  • It’s not risk management the pros believe in, but risk dilution.
  • There’s a difference. The misunderstanding can be painful.

To you, as an investor, diversification is believed to be risk management where portfolio losses are controlled or minimized. Think of risk management as a technique to reduce portfolio losses through down or bear cycles and the establishment of price-sell or rebalancing targets to maintain portfolio allocations. Consider risk dilution as method to spread or combine different investments of various risk to minimize volatility.

Even the best financial professionals only consider half the equation.

Beware the lamb (risk management) in wolf’s clothing (risk dilution).

The goal of risk dilution is to “cover all bases.” It employs vehicles, usually mutual funds, to cover every asset class so business risk can be managed. The root of the process is to spread your dollars and risk widely across and within asset classes like stocks and bonds to reduce company-specific risk.

There’s a false sense of comfort in covering your bases. Diversification in its present form is not effective reduce the risk you care about as an individual investor – risk of loss.

Today, risk dilution has become a substitute for risk management, but it should be a compliment to it.

Risk dilution is a reduction of volatility or how a portfolio moves up or down in relation to the overall market.

Risk dilution works best during rising, or up markets as since most investments move together, especially stocks.Think about betting on every horse in a race.

  • In other words, a rising tide, raises all boats.

So, why is risk reduction but not risk management, the prevailing sentiment?

Sales Goals: Most financial pros are saddled with aggressive sales goals. Risk dilution is a set and forget strategy. Ongoing risk management is time consuming and takes time away from the selling process.

Diversification can be stronger than it is right now. Unfortunately, the financial industry as a whole, has watered it down and widened it so much, it’s become absolutely ineffective as a safeguard against losses. One reason is the sales targets that forces financial representatives to spend less time with client portfolios.

Compliance Departments: A targeted diversification strategy places accountability on the advisor and poses risk to the firm. A wider approach makes it easier to vector responsibility to broad market ‘random walks’ so if a global crisis occurs and most assets move down together, an advisor and the compliance department, can “blame” everything outside their control.

  • “Hey it’s not our fault, it’s the market!”

Convenient excuse, isn’t it?

Diversification requires a shake-up, a smarter approach.

The Clarity team decided to go back to the drawing board. Consider how investors perceive diversification, then create a thoughtful definition which incorporates part of the old along with important enhancements.

My revised definition of diversification:

  • A targeted selection of investments designed to manage risk within an allocation that’s behaviorally connected to who you are and the goals you seek to achieve. An allocation that fits the macro-economic environment driven by specific investment buy and sell disciplines.

That’s diversification for the new world, post-great recession.

Revised diversification strategies require actionable rules.

The following guardrails should help you identify and avoid the pitfalls that define diversification as it’s practiced in the field of financial services.

Random Thoughts:

Watch for over-diversification. Too much of a good thing can increase risk. That’s not your objective. Do not allow your financial advisor to spread your investment dollars too thin: All you’ll do is create an expensive index fund alternative.The more investments you own, the more a portfolio may mirror or move in unison with the underlying markets (you can do that on your own in a less expensive manner).

Control the number of securities you own or add. Proper diversification can be achieved with as little as 5 to as much as 15 separate investment to represent stocks and fixed income options. You must understand the reasons behind every new investment. Is it additive to increase return or lower risk, or is it duplication of an investment you already own? Most likely it’s duplication.

You don’t need to own every asset class at all times to be diversified from a risk management perspective. For example, where is it written that a portfolio must always hold international stocks when most domestic or U.S.-based companies have formidable international revenue streams?

Why must small, mid, or large-cap stocks be eternally represented in a portfolio, never to be fully liquidated? An active approach to risk management may exclude several asset classes. Frankly, at times it may help returns and reduce risk.

Think outside the box for real diversification. For effective diversification consider passive income from rental real estate, development of human capital (your skill set) to increase earned income, perhaps fund a privately-held business (a riskier option). Remember ‘owning ketchup & oil’ through turbulent markets may not be an optimum risk management strategy.

And speaking of risk management…

Without a sell or rebalancing strategy, diversification can only go so far. This step is more work for your advisor, but that’s what he or she is paid for. To help minimize losses, a portfolio requires periodic rebalancing to take profits and a liquidation component to reduce losses that may be tough to recover from.

Beware the “lunch room effect.” You own 3 mutual funds from the same fund company, XYZ Financial. All have different names, different managers, and different objectives. Every day, the three fund managers have lunch. They discuss the weather, the hometown sports team, and their investment choices.

Manager # 2 based on the parameters of the mutual fund, likes what Manager # 3 has to say about Acme Corporation. She eventually decides, after further investigation, to add Acme Corporation to her fund holdings, too. This is stealth, industry-specific risk that destroyed tremendous wealth during the tech bubble. So the lesson here is to never own more than one mutual fund per fund group to avoid overlap.

The tendency is to perceive diversification a panacea, a Snuggie that allows portfolios to be forged then forgotten, as diversification is considered the ultimate free lunch (that’ll wind up eating your lunch).

Diversification today is a convenient cop-out or weak replacement for risk management.

Schedule a meeting with your financial partner to discuss your concerns.

Ask for a definition of diversification. See if you agree.

If not, it may be time to move on.

And save enough money through risk management to happily purchase your own lunches.