10 Shots At A Life Worth Living From The Rifleman.

“Guns don’t make you strong, they make you hesitate and respect the value of human life.”

Lucas McCain

With a foundation in New York, now a life (or mid-life), in Texas, I’m sensitive to the frenzied disparate bombardment of opinions.

About everything.

On social media it’s North meets South, again.

Gun control, border walls, homegrown terrorists. Workplace violence.

Kim Kardashian.

Donald Trump.

Rhetoric, vitriol.

Electronic bullets.

People blown to bits in 140 characters or less.

Makes me realize.

People are shooting off their mouths indiscriminately.

The world needs The Rifleman more than ever.

Let’s return to September 1958, shall we?

Turn the clunky black dial flush to a rich, mahogany console. Fire up the RCA Victor, boys and girls.

TV tubes resonate a low hum. They sound like the wings of a thousand agitated bees until a black & white moving picture emerges. Out of nowhere from behind thick glass.

 

RCA 1958

No matter how clear the picture, a perpetual cinematic room for a clearer clear exists. You toil endlessly with dual rabbit-ear antenna rods.

Feverishly you orchestrate two straw-thin antennas, stare at the screen. Stop. Work again. An awkward tango with thin aluminum arms. You’re expecting magic. Only you know when it’s found.

Battling rabbit ears is lost to the annals of American household pop culture. The endless search for medieval high-def is history. Dead.

Warmth seeps in on air waves. Vacuum tubes that resemble bulbous laboratory vials glow yellow. Heat rises. Conjures a musty, heady aroma from a warm brown felt grid stapled to the back of the set.

Cozy up to a screen of the thick glass. Watch your arm hair come alive, tingle to attention from static electricity.

You feel good all over.

And then.

Mom bellows from the kitchen because of course, she knows everything.

“Don’t sit too close, you’ll ruin your eyes!”

The Rifleman, a half-hour western drama, ran for five seasons: 1958-1963. Prime time on ABC.

Chuck Connors portrayed chisel-jawed Civil War veteran Lucas McCain. A widower raising a young son Mark McCain, alone. Building a life, a ranch, in the fictional town of North Fork.

I feel the ladies fading fast.

“I don’t like westerns.”

OK, The Rifleman is officially a western. You got me. However, life lessons roll larger than thunder arteries blistering the clouds in Oklahoma skies. The  guns, bullets, dust, horses, and saloon brawls are set dressings for stories of challenge and perseverance. True grit.

Now, let’s get those ladies corralled into readin’.

A 6’6″ Lucas McCain holds a rigid stance against the searing heat of nature. Overworked boots. Heels in dry dirt. His broad shoulders glisten wet under the blistering New Mexico summer. The straight-line high blue gushes the same color as his eyes. Jaw clenched in determination, he removes his hat, the felt brim dark with sweat.

The salty sting in his eyes feels good. He’s alive. One with the land. His land.

Cotton is wet-heavy. A blast furnace against his skin.

Soaked with the fire of his toil.

He pauses to toss his shirt. Abruptly, it lands with a thick thud and soaks the parched earth underneath. A seldom breeze lands cool on his back. At 37, Lucas is fit, perhaps more so than a decade earlier.

His bare torso is lean. Working the earth, relishing the ‘sodbuster’ way of life has made him hard in body, sharper in mind. His farming a cleansing of where he came from, buried under black-pitch soil mixture of the present. Hopeful yet guarded for the future.

For him.

For Mark McCain. His boy.

Lucas reaches for a nearby bucket. Drinks deep from it. The sweet liquid from the ladle is lukewarm but invigorating. He carefully pours the precious liquid over his upper body. Drops embrace and crawl down his tired muscles.

The anterior of his right shoulder is tight but pliable. It had to do. Only a short time for a breather. There are more chores before sunset.

Lucas returns to his regimen. The thick spade handle grips small in large, callused hands. It comes alive. Ironically, his hands could kill yet it was easier to save a life. Grow it, too.

rifleman one

Whew, the ladies have returned.

Lucas McCain. A man of determination and wisdom formed by serving as Union lieutenant in the Civil War. Behind steeled eyes that witnessed the worst of the human condition, Lucas McCain became a master of placing himself in another’s veins. He knew when to strike and when, as a man of wisdom, back down.

Yea, there’s much one can learn from watching, no observing, The Rifleman.

rifleman three

Random Thoughts:

Shot #1: How much pain will it take to release the truth inside? 

The emergence of your internal compass, a definition of truth as it breaks away from the fence lines of long roads traveled. How does this happen?

An uncompromising life philosophy.

What I call “Rifleman’s Awareness” is not born of happy or pretty.

It’s not of sunshine.

The source is internalized writhing maggots. Thick layers of spilled blood that attach to every cell. A tight-wedged coagulation of unhealed festering wounds that slither from unresolved torment under relentless pressure. A billion lifetimes in the making.  The rot of past trials go back that far.

Sharp enemies of the past, the ones that carry and cut with rusted blades, never die. They continue to pierce until an injured limb goes numb and severed. At that point, you’ve won against fear and pain.

The opportunity has arrived for you to crush hideous demons into beautiful diamonds.

Nothing can hurt you. The higher plain is no longer fallowed grounds but an endless bounty.

You must learn to train these devils to do your bidding or allow their disease to stick to you. Consume who you are. Who you can be. Until you’re dead.

The Rifleman corralled and controlled internal torment. He could aim and fire the perfect dose of justice every time. His skills with a rifle were legendary. Known for miles. His words were delivered with similar velocity as bullets.

It’s safe to assume from binge watching  what moves Lucas forward is life earned (and learned) –  a bloody war, the loss of a spouse, a vigilance over his only child.

It can take years, decades (perhaps never) to develop a personal truth, an internal guide that motivates daily actions. The release of wisdom from a greater guide than self is an exhausting, ongoing process.

Beliefs that seed in the soul can break away to help you conquer the renegades in black hats. The gatekeepers. The enemies. When forced to protect everything you hold dear, those seeds will grow to mighty oaks.

Your personal rule book will be lived only after you’ve tamed the beast of fear. That mastery comes from confronting and melting the freeze that is born of it.

But first, you’re going to need to understand who makes the rules and why.

If you feel sick going into work every day, ostracized for disagreeing with your boss, shunned by co-workers, well then you sort of know already.

You’re walking the path of The Rifleman.

Recently, my friend and greatest teacher James Altucher wrote about personal rules on Facebook.

You see, he appears to be a nerd. However, he’s a self-aware rifleman (armed with pen and a waiter’s pad):

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES?

The government has rules.
Schools have rules.
Society has rules.
Parents and then family have rules.
Relationships have rules.

I tried to follow all the rules. I was a good boy.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. The rule book is too big.

And then I got the phone calls. Why didn’t you follow that rule?

I don’t know. It didn’t make me feel good.

Well, if the only thing that is important to you is feeling good you would just kill and steal and lie to people all the time.

Why would any of that make me feel good?

Well, what does make you feel good?

Talking to you on the phone makes me feel good.

Aside from that.

Walking outside and looking at people. Feeling the last remnants of sun on my cheek before the winter comes.

Being kind to someone when they least expect it. Surprise makes me feel good.

Knowing that every now and then I can still make my teenage children laugh.

I gave a talk a few months ago and I heard my youngest laugh. That is the best feeling I’ve ever had. She laughed right after I said something that felt like it was breaking the rules (I forget the statement: I was describing either lying or stealing or saying something about my mom).

Seeing the smile of a woman up close after a first kiss. That makes me feel good.

Being with friends who love me and I love. Anybody else…and I don’t feel so good. I feel sick.

Feeling like I’m improving at something I love. Because that grounds me and let’s me enjoy the company of others with the same passions.

Feeling like I need less than I thought I needed. Because needing less allows me to float into the sky without feeling scared, without feeling burdened to the ground.

Feeling always like I’m exploring.

Writing something really really awful. Because who gives a fuck.

Like this.

—-

So many times I hear from people who say: I have to follow the career (or marry the person), my parents want.

Or someone says: I have to go to college or nobody will give me a job.

Or someone tells me: you should be around these people. They can help you succeed. (But I don’t like them so what should I do?).

Or someone says: I want to have ten million dollars to relax. And own a big home so I can feel roots.

Or someone says: You have to vote in order to have your voice heard in society.

Or someone says: I feel stuck because I can’t quit my job because I have all of my family responsibilities.

I built a prison for myself also. It had triple locks. It had lots of guards. It had solitary confinement when I was bad. I didn’t much like my fellow prisoners but they were in here with me so I figured I would be with them.

I felt ashamed when I broke the rules of the prison. When I went broke. When I didn’t take the career I was supposed to.

When I didn’t return the calls or network with the right people or when I quit without warning the job I didn’t like or lost the homes I could no longer pay for.

Or when I was thrown out of school or when I didn’t pay the IRS or when I didn’t love enough the people I was supposed to love. Or the things I have done when I was so scared about money I thought I would go broke and die.

Or when I tried to live in a homeless shelter just to meet women or when I demanded love back from the women who didn’t love me or when I cried because I was scared that my life would disappear and nothing would be left behind.

This was solitary confinement. And it was lonely and I was afraid.

And one day I walked out.

And nobody ever saw me again.

That is some Lucas McCain kind of shit.

Lucas McCain Shooting

Lucas’ motives are consistently noble. No. Perfectly noble. Even when he’s left little choice but to use his modified Winchester Model 1892 to take out villains, he is delivering  justice. His guide is a higher calling. A shiny key to living a life in the rough.

When you do a Lucas on who or what threatens you (and you will; rifle not required), be noble in your intentions. Standing for something you believe in is important to not only you, but to others.

Half-assed nobility is better than none.

I worked for (was enslaved by) Charles Schwab. Plainly speaking, my perception, my code, defines them as bad guys in white hats. Difficult to detect a rotted underbelly unless you’re homesteading within their bowels for a spell (cowboy lingo).

They hide behind edicts created by terrifying gatekeepers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vigilante attorneys to intimidate and in many cases, destroy others. They’ll lie in cold-blood to slaughter the warm blooded.

They live to frame you for horse stealing or cattle rustlin’ and immediately call for your neck in a noose and a swing until you’re dead.

Underneath their so-called ‘code’ rolls an insidious dark residue of unethical dissonance. I know their employees work in fear. At least 100 of them have contacted me. They reach out from the shadows. Punch smartphone keys from hidden places. They ask me questions about how to break free. I’m happy to provide information.

It’s part of who I am. Help others. Don’t ask or seek anything in return.

I cut the wire fence. I spoke out. I did a Lucas McCain.They tried for years to wipe me out. High-noon style. I was willing to go broke exposing them. Ultimately, they were exposed for who they truly are. I’m still damaged. It’s fine. I learned. I won.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Every noble effort requires spilled blood. Your own or others. Not literally, silly. Well, perhaps, but let’s not go there. Could be money, an internal organ, a relationship.

Be prepared to lose something close or dear to you.

However I now live according to my own definitions. Rifleman-style.

Most likely, aggressively staking out villains is not for you. I don’t recommend it. Like The Rifleman, know when to take pressure off the trigger.

Those with personal codes think clear. Even under tremendous stress. They’re in control. Admittedly, I’ve made mistakes. Lucas rarely outed the rogues or took violent action unless those he loved or he, was in danger.

Recall what James wrote: Walk. Never be seen again. Fleeing from a cancerous environment can prevent well, cancer. Or worse. A long meaningless life within an unhealthy, suffocating environment.

“There’s dark corners in everybody’s lives. Sometimes it’s doesn’t pay to poke around in them.”

Lucas McCain

Like Lucas McCain did on several occasions, retreat from the gatekeepers. But walk with your front to them. Don’t take your steeled glance off them.

Don’t blink.

Never trust the fuckers.

Heed The Rifleman: Sometimes it pays to stay out of dark corners.

Be at peace. Take your ego out of it and understand you cannot change those who harm others even if they do it unintentionally. However, you have a choice. They can’t fathom a choice. In their minds, their worlds, there are no other roads.

Hey, you can move to another town (North Fork is coming along).

Perhaps you require more time, life experience, sorrow, regret, before you act. That’s OK, too.

Your time will come. No need to exhaust all your ammo right now. I’m not saying you won’t need to fire multiple shots. I’m saying it’s not required for every situation.

You’ll choose what’s right. Live to die. Or die to live. Codes don’t need to be complicated. Simple and powerful will get the chores done every time.

Go ahead: Get ready to fire your first shot. Tap into the diamond of your greatest powers. What are your personal beliefs? The ones the gatekeepers seduce you to believe cause grief for them and great obstacles for you.

The ones that scare the rule makers out of town.

“The rules tell me I can shoot. My own rules tell me that I hate gunfightin’ and will avoid it until I can’t.”

Lucas McCain.

Shot #2: Be Lucas McCain for only an hour a day. What you tell your brain, it will believe. It’s that simple. For an hour a day be – The Rifleman. Embrace his spirit of uncomfortable wisdom. Navigate a tough, admirable road you’ve been afraid to travel.

Like my friend Tanya. She’s battling a bully. She’s relentless to seek justice against a predator and helping other victims to speak up. The episode has affected her health. However, she’s steadfast and has a deep passion for justice.

The Rifleman lives in Tanya.

Like her, take one uncomfortable action that will draw you closer to understanding why you were put on the planet. One heroic act before you go.

Never be afraid to question your personal code. Lucas did. He was willing to listen when people he trusted advised him of a misconception. He kept an open mind. He was seasoned enough to adjust his thinking. Humble enough to apologize (and mean it).

 

badlands one

People tell me The Rifleman isn’t real.

I call those renegades out at high-noon to face their bullshit.

Perhaps I’m immersed. Too deep in writing for television. Regardless, fiction and fact are cut from two sides of a blade. One man’s reality is another man’s fiction. Fiction and fact co-exist and shoot from the same barrel.

One hour a day to heed a higher calling, an enriched life.

Not much to ask.

See those eyes? Lucas McCain is watching (I advise against resistance).

rifleman steel eye

Shot #3: Don’t let bad guys off the hook until (unless) they have proven change. Lucas’ history collided with his present, often.  He knew he couldn’t escape (for long) the bad inflicted on people or the horrific marks others have left.

In many episodes, the karma coach rolls into town. Like a wagon wheel across the mid-section. Straight out of the Oklahoma territory.

Lucas’ dark place.

Ironically, the beasts entered North Fork frequently (drama folks, is good television). At times, he overreacted to their presence. He relived what they did to him. Like it was yesterday, he recalled their evil behavior.

Those who had proven redemption were forgiven. The others? Well, a dead-eye trigger finger took care of them. Lucas believed everyone could change, even the vilest of characters. If not, western justice was served.

You’ve lived long enough to be fooled by the bad guys. I bet they outnumber your good souls 2 to 1. Most of them can’t change. Too far gone. You can’t shoot them. I wouldn’t advise it.

Unless ‘The Purge’ becomes a thing, then go for it. I keep my ‘purge’ list fresh.

Hey, you never know.

The purge two

Nah, you don’t need to resort to anything ugly. As a matter of fact, even under the intensity blasts of an August New Mexico sun, beauty will eventually appear out of the dirt for a patient sodbuster.

The strength in beauty bursts from heat. Cold is death.

Heat is life.

So don’t forgive the bad ones. Whatever you do. Don’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness just for the sake of it, for nothing, is death by ice. A soul in deep freeze. It signals you’ve given the bad ones a free pass. It’s you crawling belly down through the tundra, all the way cutting your gut open, dragging entrails.

Forgiving those who never seek redemption is a crime against your own heart.

Forgiveness foolishly exposes your hand, weakness. The seasoned poker players of North Fork would shoot you dead before you back away from the table. Embrace the anger. Let it take you. Allow it to scorch a personal path to victory.

The anger furnace will fuse your internal organs into barbed wire. Every cell grows sharp and deadly. You’ll become a master at detecting the presence of those who put your mental health at risk and seek to drain precious internal resources.

Because if you don’t learn, it’ll keep happening. Until the darkness saddles up alongside you and sticks to you forever like the spiny wings of Canadian thistle.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

One early Saturday morning, Marshal Micah Torrance found out some disturbing news.

Micah

A woeful cloud recently rolled into town.

And he needed to think fast.

Or a friend’s life held in the balance.

Behind heavy-iron lattice of a lawman’s office office, Micah appears to require Lucas’ assistance with reinforcing a shelf to the deep interior of the middle jail cell.

For 62, the silver-haired lawman is surprisingly swift in gait. With Lucas holding the shelf against the wall, ready for the marshal to secure it, Micah makes his move.

Backwards exit.

On quiet footfalls. Steady. Micah clears the heavy cell door, shuts it quickly with a loud clank. Lucas at first believes his old friend is reciprocating a prank that embarrassed Micah the night before.

Far from it.

Micah was protecting Lucas from himself.

Reef Johnson was back.

Reef Johnson.

Once Lucas’ best friend.

Until.

He shot him in the back.

Until.

He left him to die.

Until.

He attempted to steal Lucas’ wife.

Ten years had gone by. For Lucas, it was a minute.

It was said that Lucas and Reef could pass for brothers back then.

A decade later, Lucas cared only about one thing.

To find this man. Track him. Destroy him.

No pass go. No collect $200. Just a death wish fulfilled.

Locked behind the cell door, the rage in Lucas’ eyes turned bars into molten steel.

“Micah, let me out of here. NOW!”

Tough lives roll the travails of revenge road.

Both parties lose a piece of themselves in the gravel. Their souls forever connected in a demon’s gambol. They spin and grind worn under the passage of time, or death.

Or confrontation.

From behind stark-black lines of shadows. Into dust-frizzed daylight that slivers through wooden slats of an old barn wall, a man emerges from a distant corner.

Tired of running.

As the enemy moves into half/dark half/light, Lucas full of anger, gun sharp and raised. He is a thick step closer to get a better look at the fire, his invidious focus.

As slit light slashes across Reef’s face you can’t stare. You can’t look away.

His hair matted, disheveled.

Deep lines across his cheeks, facial skin as sallow as worn leather.

“I’m here, Lucas. I can’t run any longer. Kill me! Get it over with!”

This man. What’s left of this man. A man who once resembled Lucas McCain, smooth of youth, clear of eye was nothing but a shell. He looked 77, not 37.

Lucas lowered his rifle. Revenge no longer held captive the ready grip on the trigger.

“Lucas! You can’t leave me like this! Please!”

As The Rifleman created distance between himself and that barn. That place where his anger ceased. The place he left in silence, yet heard the screams for miles…

He realized.

What he felt was pity.

The heave in Lucas’ chest was sorrow.

This wasn’t forgiveness. Release wasn’t forgiveness.

Never forgive those who shoot you in the back and leave you to die.

Time and the universe will take care of those villains in the proper manner.

In due time.

Sit back. Tend to your fields. Nurture the ground.

Be patient.

rifleman four

Shot #4: Forge strong financial boundaries around you and yours.

The financial landscape post-Great Recession is enemy territory.

Oklahoma badlands.

Your money isn’t safe.

There’s not enough barbed wire to protect the homestead.

And the soil. Underneath the dirt, a bounty in stocks for 6 years or so, is over. Frankly, many retail investors didn’t participate in the 159% total return of the S&P 500 off the March 2009 bottom, anyway. They’re still trying to recover from the 2000 tech wreck and a flat-lined market from 2000-2013.

It’s still a whirlwind ribbon of dust.

Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist revealed his truth, discovered his rifleman years ago through his thorough, no-spin analysis of the stock market and the economy.

Refreshing. Rare.

The accounting magic used to prop up earnings, the foolish optimism of estimated earnings, profit-margin reversion.  It’s all here, folks.  You want fiery shots of wisdom in your gut? Read it.

And people call The Rifleman fiction and the stock market reality.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

pensive

Lucas is not amused by this information.

You shouldn’t be either.

Shot #5:  Always teach and always expect nothing in return.

One of the greatest rewards in life is teaching others and expecting zero.  It’s a positive rate of return to the world, the universe. It makes the stars shine brighter above a blue-black New Mexico sky.

The Rifleman shares memorable words, bits of shotgun-wisdom with his son Mark. He never holds back. Even when Mark doesn’t quite get it.

Doesn’t matter.  Eventually Lucas’ invaluable guidance kicks in. On occasion, it saves Lucas’ hide.

 

“How can a man be so good with animals and so mean to people?

Lucas McCain: That’s a sign you’re growing up.

Mark McCain: What do you mean, Pa?

Lucas McCain: The older you get, the more questions there are without answers. ”

lucas and mark

Today, I teach young investors how to not get killed by the buy-and-hold investment mantra and how true diversification includes investment in personal education and health.

I guide gifted financial services pros away from big box financial retailers and direct them to havens that have fiduciary intent. It’s a part of what I do. They’re my Mark McCains. My kids. I set them forth with noble intentions and a different world view.

How will you teach today? Who will you inspire?

Will you seek nothing in return except the stare at the stars in the sky?

Shot #6: now the difference between dumb fear and smart fear. Those who are reckless with your heart, your money, your emotions. Predators who dig beneath your vulnerability and then rip you apart from the inside, should be feared and avoided.

Individuals who have a track record of apathetic and non-empathetic behavior should never be allowed on the ranch.  You’ll know them. You’ll be sickened by what you’re feeling. You’ll ignore what your intuition is telling you.

That’s plain dumb fear. And that will eventually leave you out in the desert with no water.

Vultures circling. Dead meat. You’ll crawl to safety but some part of you will be gone forever.

However, smart fear will keep you alive.

How do you develop smart fear?

Unfortunately, smart fear only comes with experience and knowledge.

You’ll require a construct. Questions are a solid foundation for said construct.

Create a simple framework to identify, fortify your defenses against enemies.

Start small. Big results.

All you need are three questions to get to the heart of anything.

My humble opinion.

Here’s a trio I use for dating (based on personal experience – yours will indeed, differ).

Let your inquiry flow naturally. You’ll become The Rifleman at separating friend from foe, now from forever, life from death.

How would you describe your long-term relationships with friends and family?

Big one. If she doesn’t have any close ties, or they’re full of weird sexual or resentful experiences I’m dodging a bullet.

Have you ever broken off an engagement? 

Sure, nobody’s perfect: I’m just looking for an inability to commit, serial monogamy. Murder. “He fell from the upper deck on a Carnival cruise.”

How many times have you accused others of something you’re guilty of yourself?

Somewhat inflammatory. Granted. On purpose. We’re all guilty. I’m seeking to get a handle on frequency, accusations, assumptions. “Never” is not a good answer either.

Three questions.

For everything.

To create a personal SFDS – Smart Fear Detection System.

“It’s the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it’s manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

 

Remember – SMART FEAR SAVES A LIFE. YOURS.

Shot #7: Get in or cause trouble for the right reasons.

My favorite bullet. Hits me in the heart every time.

There’s a point in your life where you don’t give a shit any longer about what others think. You’ve been living your code. Those who fit in stay. Those who don’t, go. Life gets simpler. You begin to figure shit out, you begin to help others figure shit out.

The ranch is humming along, the crops are bountiful, the soil is the right composite, the enemies are at bay.

Then there are times when the trouble in your life resembles weather systems. When the turbulence begins, you also know it will pass. Makes it easier to deal with the aftermath, the cleanup. Healing.

And you can create your own weather. Spark your own thunder as the needs arise. For the right reasons.

Shot #8: Don’t be afraid to confront a person with their truth.

Lucas will place himself in precarious situations. Smack in the middle of the rough.Tip toe on the blade.

He’ll go out of his way to wake people up. Help them understand their truth. Most of us live in a state of denial. We hurt others, we lie, we make promises, we kill, we have little empathy and yet we want to be perceived as ‘good’ people.

Frankly, most people are assholes. They use you for what you can provide and then move on. That’s fine.

But make sure to tell them they’re assholes and deal with the consequences.

Perhaps you’ll enlighten. Regardless, you gave them some shit to chew on whether they like it or not.

Shoot the asshole a verbal bullet. Then walk.

You know how to eat shit, right?

Best not to nibble.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Because if you deliver, you’ll eat it, too.

Comes with the territory.

Shot #9: Learn when somebody confronts you with yours.

If you dare to shoot, you must be willing to be shot. You can’t protect yourself from a gunfight. The key is for bullets to graze, but not kill.

You must respect your opponent, however. That’s the key.

Hey, if you’re going to learn a tough lesson best to get it from a person you respect for whatever reason. Doesn’t need to be a grandiose reason. There’s just something about this individual you admire.

When Lucas shoots his mouth off and Micah gives it to him straight, Lucas doesn’t like it but he listens because he respects the marshal.

“Lucas, I think you’re wrong about this one.”

If someone provides constructive criticism, it’s acceptable, normal, to hate it at first. It’s fine to feel the sting of the words like bullets, and bleed out.

Right there on Main Street, North Fork.

Just as long as you step back, dig out the fragment. Feel the pain. Examine it. Ponder why you were shot. Was it one of the best shots of your life?

Learn from the bullets that hit and take you off balance.

Just as long as you respect the shooter.

Otherwise it’s an enemy and you need to return the blast.

Rifleman-style.

Shot #10: Stick your neck out for those you love. Place your neck in the noose if it means someone you love remains happy, moves on, sticks around.

What else you got?

Sacrificing a part of yourself for someone you cherish isn’t a bad thing. It’s walking like McCain.

I did it for clients and a fiduciary right to care for them.

You’ve done it for children. Parents. Friends. Animals.

Recognize, remember, reward yourself for sticking your neck out for those you love.

Heck, you’ll be called horrible things. I know.

You think everybody loved Lucas?

Why do you really think he needed that rifle?

lucas rifle

The thing in this life is to stay alive. Ride easy.

Like in the old west.

Lucas McCain never spoke the words at the start of this blog post.

As I write dialogue for television I place words in mouths of fictional characters. The commentary would have been delivered perfectly however. I can hear the deep-baritone voice of The Rifleman resonating right now.

You don’t get endless shots at this stuff because eventually you’re in adult diapers and drooling into a liquefied breakfast.

Give yourself a number. I chose four.

Four bullets in my rifle.

I believe Lucas suffered from overwhelming, lasting grief that he channeled into something bigger than himself.

Last, I learned from Lucas that death isn’t frightening.

Bad memories?

Ghosts from the past?

Now they’re frightening.

They haunt, relentlessly.

Yet there’s something good that arises.

When the demons dance.

They create.

Riflemen.

Dedicated to radio host,  veteran broadcaster, all-around good guy and most important: Hard-core “The Rifleman” fan – Gary McNamara. 

Special mention to dear friend Tanya Bilisoly, Austin realtor extraordinaire who is taking on a bully, living her “Rifleman moment,” right now.

 

 

Five Financial Sanctuaries that Place your Retirement in Jeopardy.

Featured

Originally appeared in MarketWatch’s Retirement Weekly.

In the AMC smash-hit television drama “The Walking Dead,” a group of road-hardened survivors of a zombie apocalypse seek protection from the undead (and the living who pose greater dangers than cannibalistic walking corpses.)

The fifth-season opener finds the weary characters fighting for their lives against a community of cannibals who lured them to a so-called safe zone called “Terminus.”

terminus

Handwritten signs and maps along roads and rails of rural Georgia guided the crew to a final destination, sanctuary was promised for all who arrived.

Sanctuary

On the surface, it appeared to be a dream come true. Warm smiles, comforting words, hot food.

Underneath, Terminus was nothing as promised or perceived. Victims were lured in to be placed in rail cars like cattle and eventually slaughtered.

rail car

As there is a fine line between fact and fiction, this harrowing situation got me thinking about portfolios in retirement.

 Stay with me.

Think sanctuary and think safety. A false tranquility can disarm and open the gates to great risks without your awareness. What lurks underneath your financial safe havens may eventually place your money and retirement lifestyle in jeopardy.

When making financial decisions and monitoring progress based on those decisions, you need to accept when the environment changes; make a move when safe havens turn to Terminus.

Here are five financial sanctuaries that can place a secure retirement at risk right now.

 Random Thoughts:

1). Stocks. Market sanctuaries can turn unrecognizable and hostile very fast. As the stock market reaches new highs there’s an ominous feeling of complacency among investors. It’s been over three years since the S&P 500 hit an official correction or greater than a 10% drop from a previous closing high.

Consider October’s volatility a wake-up call as early in the month, the S&P 500 was rapidly moving into correction, small-company stocks and international stocks were officially there and bond yields moved lower (100% of economists predicted that bond yields would be higher by fourth quarter 2014). October concluded much different than it started – with domestic markets headed to new highs.

Underneath the surface of stocks it looks nothing like a sanctuary – Large and mega-cap indexes have outperformed, a sign of a late-stage bull market phase, small-company stocks are recovering but underperforming, which points to risk abatement. It shouldn’t be ignored how cyclical stocks like energy, or those considered beneficiaries of economic expansion, are lagging defensive stocks (think utilities, consumer staples), currently. The outperformance in defensive sectors is usually indicative of market tops and economic peaks.

The Federal Reserve’s conclusion of quantitative easing  (bond purchase) program in October signifies a reduction of central bank liquidity that can increase volatility as investors and traders seek to figure out what the next tailwind for stocks is going to be.

The S&P 500 is 24.5% above its three-year moving average (36 months) -one of the widest dispersions from the moving average since fourth quarter 2007. Like a rubber band, over time market returns will stretch far above and below long-term moving averages. Although it’s impossible to know when the band will snap back to the moving average, historical downside going back to 2000 shows when the market does contract, the process is damaging. The worst contractions were 38% and 40% in 2002 and 2009, respectively.

Stocks are protection against inflation until they’re not and you’ve lost 5 years making back what you lost and inflation becomes the least of your problems. By then, you’ll feel trapped and look to re-pave the path of retirement. Whether it’s returning to work, reducing household expenses, cutting how much you withdraw from investment accounts – you’ll be prepared to do whatever’s necessary to preserve capital and slow the bleeding of investment assets.

Create an allocation to stocks that won’t cause you to panic when the bear market arrives (and it will). Don’t be overconfident. Remain vigilant and make sure to follow rules-based rebalancing where you trim gains on a periodic basis. The fourth quarter of the year is a good time to tax harvest – sell positions with capital losses in brokerage accounts to offset capital gains.

2). Index funds. It appears that index fund enthusiasts will stand strong and proudly absorb the blow as their stock sanctuary turns against them. Indexers believe that losses are temporary because in the long-term, stock markets always recover; paper losses aren’t real, they’re perceived as a bump along the path, par for the course. Like the befallen travelers who arrive at Terminus, they are not in touch with the reality of the situation they’re up against.

behead

A sequence of anemic returns or losses in the face of periodic withdrawals can dramatically decrease the longevity of a retirement portfolio. In other words, index funds are no protection against increased drawdown and market risks. At least fees make the losses less painful (or do they?).

The battle among “passive” indexers and “active” fund advocates is growing more heated as the fourth longest bull market in history continues.  I consider most of the discussion noise; the headlines are a distraction from the real perspective investors in retirement should maintain:

No matter what you hear out of most financial professionals, stock index funds are not passive. Every investment should be treated as active as soon as it is added to a portfolio.

Look beyond the attributes of stock index funds (and there are quite a few) like low fees, wide industry and company representation, tax efficiencies, and face the traps that will eventually put you in a position to fight or perish.

For example, index funds will experience the full brunt of a bear market attack (because generally they represent the market) which means you as the manager must decide the degree of loss you’re willing to accept. Staying invested is an action; reducing exposure to a losing index investment is an active decision. You are always in control, you always have a choice.

The preachers of passive seem willing to stand by and hope for the best. After all, you can’t control or predict the direction markets. That’s true. However, the amount of capital destruction you’re willing to absorb, is in your control. Consider the potential damage and recovery rate. Your back is against the wall. Are you ready to fight? If your portfolio suffers a 20% drawdown you’ll require 33.33% to break even.

Specific purchase and sell rules must be attached to each investment under consideration. Risk management never ensures against all portfolio losses, it minimizes the damage so you can come back and fight another day. It’s all about survival when it comes to the end of world (and your money).

Also, when you invest, depending on stock market valuations, is extremely relevant to future returns.

According to market historian and writer Doug Short, $1,000 invested at the peak of the market in the S&P 500 on March 24, 2000 would be worth $1,248 (adjusted for inflation) as of November 2, 2014, which equates to a 1.53% annualized real return.

Despite the mainstream marketing message (especially among indexers) designed to convince you that “time in the market” is a sanctuary, there have been many periods in history where you simply “ran out of time.” When adjusted for inflation, there are several 20-year periods in history where market returns have resulted in either low or negative outcomes.

Index funds have most likely outperformed your managed investments on the upside during this bull market; that doesn’t mean they’ll hold up better through market declines. And when you buy, based on market price/earnings, has a significant impact on future returns. At nearly 26 times earnings based on the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio, “time in the market” may not be as beneficial over the next 20-years. It just may be a Terminus for your portfolio.

3). Retirement account withdrawals. The 4% withdrawal strategy is too generic to be effective yet it’s treated like a universal rule and preached in mass to new retirees seeking comfort after a long journey of employment. It’s as worn as the warped, wooden signs guiding The Walking Dead survivors to a place they perceive as refuge, but really is a trap.

Based on work by Sam Pittman Ph.D. and Rod Greenshields, CFA of Russell Investments, the first step to creating a retirement withdrawal that protects against longevity risk, is to calculate the ratio of current assets to the present value of forecasted retirement spending. This is called your current funded ratio. It’s a popular method pension administrators use to determine the fiscal health of their expected payouts for participants. Few advisers will consider this method and go straight to a withdrawal rate calculation that doesn’t account for an individual’s overall financial situation or household balance sheet.

The current-funded ratio method requires matching assets to liabilities to determine whether there’s adequate coverage over living expenses and inflation throughout retirement. A ratio of 100% or greater, especially during the first decade of retirement, is indicative of a greater chance of avoiding outliving a nest egg. If the present-value funded ratio is estimated to be less than 100% in ten years, adjustments to withdrawal rates or living expenses can be made before withdrawals occur. The ratio should be calculated every three years or after a sequence of below-average portfolio returns.

The strategy is called adaptive investing. Ask your financial partner about it to see if makes sense as part of your retirement planning process.

4). Company stock concentration at the beginning of retirement. Many retirees are hesitant to manage their net worth tied up in company stock, especially in the early years of retirement. Their human capital may have left the company and enjoyed the retirement party but the emotional attachment to the stock continues strong, and is possibly dangerous.

More than 25% of liquid net worth in company stock, leaves a retiree either “the butcher or the cattle,” a philosophy the tenured residents of Terminus believe. It’s a great tailwind to net worth and retiree psychology when an overconcentration to company stock is performing well hence the butcher. When the investment is performing poorly, a vulnerability to the retirement plan arises which becomes an emotional and financial drain to the retiree and others in the household.

A formal plan should include an exit strategy for company stock within 5 years of retirement. Work down to a 10% allocation which will satisfy your attachment need but won’t derail the early years of retirement. In addition, it can allow you greater diversification potential and liquidity to meet living expenses.

5). Your broker. Someone asked me once – “Are you a broker?” I replied – “No. I’m not here to break anything, I’m here to help.” Joking aside, you may be very comfortable with your current financial relationship; consider if you have an understanding of the motives behind your adviser’s employer. Perhaps you never gave it a thought.

 Ask this question: “What is your sales goal and how do I fit in?”

Yes, most in the financial services business are salespeople. Nothing wrong with it as long as your needs are met and full disclosures are made. However, maybe you’re looking for something more. I believe this question gets to the heart of a financial firm’s true motivation. Then ask: “How do you feel about your sales goals?” Are they perceived as fair by your financial partner? Ask another: “How much time will you spend with me, my planning needs and investment accounts?”

Get specifics. Ponder the answers, then consider: Are you a one-time sale or an ongoing relationship, or a bit of both?

In a recent podcast interview with self-help author and investor James Altucher, success coach Anthony Robbins shared candid insights from the experiences writing his new book, “MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.” He explains how the financial system is designed to prosper the needs of shareholders, not investors.  My take: A key is to know what questions to ask and seek answers that are simple and transparent.

“There are 312 names for brokers, today,” Tony mentions. “I’m so supportive of people that are fiduciaries, people that are trained and who are legally required to look out for you. I’m looking for people who are fiduciaries and sophisticated.”

I believe disclosure of sales goals is important. Understanding if your adviser is a fiduciary and focuses on your interests first, or a broker that has his or her employer’s objectives as a primary focus, will help you find the right long-term partner or clarify a relationship you currently enjoy (or question).

The investing climate for retirees can be scarier than fleeing from flesh-eating zombies.

Even worse are times you believe you’re safe; conditions change, you fail to acknowledge the shifting environment or realize that a financial sanctuary has turned hostile.

 It’s always better to be the butcher than the cattle.

butcher or cattle

Perhaps that fiendish Terminus crew were on to something after all.

 

 

 

Inflamed: The Red Stain Goes Deeper. 4 Steps To Resurface.

“You gotta stay who you are, not who you were.

Places like this..

You have to put it away.”

What if you can’t?

“You have to.

Or it kills you.”

broken heart Here.

Rip open what’s been sealed tight and the past will bubble up on airy ringlets of regret. Pain grabs and fuses with it on the journey higher – they rise as one, gather momentum, and then explode into a fog of thick fear that absorbs you.

You’ll feel a boulder hit in the gut when this creature surfaces.

Everything you love or thought you loved will crumble. Ashes.

You don’t know it yet but you’re fighting a force you can’t beat.

But you’ll fight all the same.

And the stain begins to take hold.

blood spray

You hate every minute of its movement.

You feel the crawl. It’s cold.

Your initial response is to resist.

Resistance is an inflammation that blisters from a white soul red.

Resistance is a malignancy; it’s your ego constructing walls to protect itself and destroy you in the process.

And yet you’re still fighting.

You’ll need to face this thing. You know.

Your instinct says rage and battle when you really should relent.

To victory.

Standing breathless in the cold. Or a journey into darkness.

To another side, another life, another dimension. Wherever that is.

A mission to cut out what’s malignant about yourself.

Extracting a part of you that’s been around for decades.

And you’re reeling.

Search desperately for perspective.

A faint light of faith erupts.

But it burns out too quick.

And the stain continues to spread, thicken. Go deeper.

How do you restore your faith when the stain blocks out every source of light?

It’s black pitch from the start. Shaky and sticky underneath. Each step is a blast furnace full force inside your chest.

Lead. Coals.

hot coals

The urge to go back is strong. Where is back? Perspective gone. You’re frozen but moving. Stiff. Halfway. Into the dark. Partially across.

Stumbling.

The red stain is all over you now. It’s forming tentacles. Wrapping you in a crimson vise.

Sweltering.

Look up at the sky.

Catch a breath.

Peace.

For a second. You rise above the stain.

Hope calls out.

Faint. A vibrato that takes over.

It wants you closer. To nurture you.

Pull you in.

Everything feels right for a second.

Then it’s gone.

The light fades.

Did you imagine it?

But you do remember.

What it said.

The voice.

Three words:

Do not fight.

It’ll be better.

But.

You’re not ready.

You don’t believe.

You refuse.

You mock.

This voice.

You don’t recognize the tone.

It’s gentle. Soothing.

Too loving. 

Too real.

It speaks the truth. That you know.

On a blue breeze.

Air around you is clean.

You shake it off.

Fall back.

To the hot red of the past.

When you were told.

You’re not supposed to feel good.

People. Those you trusted – they told you you were not supposed to feel good.

Most of who you love. Gone. You watched them die. You helped a few along.

Questions remain unanswered.

The sharp edge is ready.

Still three

And before you rise to battle once more.

There’s the voice again.

It’s almost musical.

It pleads: Release the past.

Let it burn.

But you can’t.

Still.

Because it’s comfortable to stay where the past lives.

You choose to fight once more.

With alcohol and anger as your weapons.

The damage is self-inflicted.

You raise the dagger of blame.

Blame for everything that went wrong because it feels better.

There’s a tug on you. At you. A thousand magnets. Drawing you away and in.

You reach out wildly to grasp on to what meant everything.

And now means… 

“Why you keeping all that stuff?”

Beth Greene.

burn money

Nothing.

The stain is thickest.

Dead weight.

The past is dead weight.

One more attempt to pull out of internal quicksand.

Last gasp.

A final attempt to return to.

Who you believe you are.

Who you were.

And this time it’s too much.

The puncture is fatal.

It pierces your heart.

Red flames escape; lick at your soul.

red burn lady

You understand. Finally.

No longer will you be able to thin the thickness of the stain.

With resistance.

You shut others out.

The stain shows itself.

And you let it swallow you. Finally.

Surrender.

Then death.

A mourning.

You can no longer return.

The prison that protected you is ablaze.

Gone.

daryl deeper

Accepting the past is a wound you must not run from. You must fall to its blade. Own it. It needs to puncture the third dimension of you. A last layer.

To create and re-direct the light.

To build again.

You must extinguish.

The past that governed your present.

But it will need to drive up to your gates first.

And puncture you and those you love.

And the red-black will bleed out.

Good people in its wake.

Part of you is gone, too.

Still four

Your wounds are exposed.

Your mind is ready.

Open now.

The silence and beauty of surrender dissipates the fog.

The voice is clearer. Louder. Out from the shadows.

You can make it.

You go for it.

It’s strong now.

So are you.

You’re about ready to.

Resurface.

Five ways.

Random Thoughts:

1). Regret is living death. The word “maybe” will destroy you. It’s a disharmonious life footfall. I’ve learned even more so lately, that nothing is by chance. Everything happens with purpose. Good or bad. Be open to the signs of the universe. With ego out of the picture and the red stain fading out, you will believe again and the word “maybe” will never spill from your mouth. It’s a foul word. Maybe leaves a door open for the mental zombie hoard to eat your brain. Maybe is a downhill path for the red stain to roll.

“If you think about it, how much time do we spend in our heads wishing things were different, beating ourselves up, beating others up, crafting a different past, wishing for a different future? All of this is resistance. All of that is pain.”

Kamal Ravikant.

Still five

“Maybe because I gave up.” Daryl Dixon.

Some of the best words (and I’m the fortunate receiver of great words) from friend and mentor James Altucher resonate here.

Remove the dead weight. Daily, I write down one negative thought, one bad habit from the past, and toss it.

“I find that if I dig deep and throw one thing a day (on my shelf, in my head, an ugly memory, in my heart a small anxiety in my stomach a frown, a doubt, an insecurity a person who drains my energy) fewer things upset me, fewer people bother me; I have fewer regrets about things long dead and buried, fewer anxieties about a future that may or may not exist.”

James Altucher

2). The reddest stain of finance. Is the worst of damage inflicted. A foreclosure. Lost savings on an investment that went sour, got suckered in by a “Nigerian prince” because greed got the best of you, the hot babe needed new dresses. Whatever. I have a section of a notebook I document all my bone-headed financial decisions and purchases (yes financial advisors do stupid things with money). Some of them include – flowers, beanie babies, more shirts and ties than I’ll ever wear in a lifetime, so many watches. All the investments I ever lost on, all the people I invested in who turned out to be a bust. Lessons I never forget. They stay with  me. Teach. The red stain abhors knowledge and acceptance. If you don’t accept you messed up, you’ll continue the mistakes.

3). It’s acceptable to give up. Throw in the towel. Say fuck it. Burn it. Hell, I’m all for burning things. I’m Italian. I do dramatic crap all the time; it’s in my DNA. Buy me a gift and I don’t see you anymore I’m sending the shit back or carting it to a charitable organization. Somewhere in Houston there’s a bunch of homeless souls who are walking around in nice t-shirts and jackets emblazoned with the logo of my former employer. It’s beneficial branding for them. Not really. Good.

4). Be the last man (or woman) standing. How? It’s easy. The best solutions come down to a single, present action.

A personal stand that cuts through the smoke.

And helps you rise above who you were.

Your middle finger.

Yep.

That’ll work.

That’ll work just fine.

Don’t go back inside.

Open your window. Your mind.

There’s the place.

Your heart is lighter now.

Lift.

The weight is off.

I opened the back door.

Finger is up.

I thought I heard the squirrels.

Cheering me on.

The red stain is a spot.

Contained.

Outside of me.

I gave it the finger, too.

Your turn.

Still two

To Be The Best Feel The Worst: 6 Ways To Ride The Red Stain To Happiness.

I realized early on how perfect my parents desperately wanted me to be.

perfect boys

I’ll go ahead and say the entire planet from our modest Brooklyn apartment appeared more perfect than anything going on in my universe.

However, that didn’t matter. I was the “punching bag” for everything that went wrong. I took it upon myself to be the designated martyr for a bad marriage.

Isn’t that what perfect boys do?

I  fought for perfection inside my own head for years. I tried to control outcomes and then my actions which is ass backwards. Stupid. I was controlling the end of the road but not the construction and direction of the path (thank you for the awakening, Kamal Ravikant).

Flashback 1973. Nana’s Sunday dinner: Outnumbered by 30 hairy fingers grasping for semolina Italian bread, feeling overwhelmed before the big guns, the heaping platters of her finest creations were carried out from the kitchen – I was instructed (threatened) to never allow tomato sauce to meet my crisp button-down white shirt.

Huge challenge.

Ten minutes into the meal uncle Tommy screamed at dad, dad stood up, gave the finger and uncle Tommy would begin hurling Nana’s cannonball meatballs soaked in sauce like we were in the middle of an indoor snowmeat fight.

There I was.

In the red line of fire.

red stain

Dead husky boy. Sitting target. Praying. Watching the skies. Catching mom’s eyes staring at me with that menacing “remember what I told you about sauce on your shirt” look.

Awaiting the inevitable saucy fate to treat my shiny buttons a landing strip.

And I was.

Praying, praying, praying…

For a meatball to fall neatly on my plate.

Praying hard because the odds were not in my favor.

When the inevitable happened.

Red liquid was splattered across the front. Hot in my eyes. All I could think of was that scene in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone gets it at a toll booth. My dad dragged me to see the iconic flick at the Marlboro theater in Brooklyn.

I was shell shocked then.

And I was almost every Sunday.

Sonny Corleone.

Set up.

At the toll booth (dining room table).

sonny corleone

I believe if Sonny Corleone was smart, his guts and perseverance would have made him as popular as Charlie Gasparino, but what do I know?

“What did I say about getting sauce ON THAT SHIRT?”

Not easy to stay tight white when it’s raining marinara.

Yep, my fault. Again.

Always my fault.

You win.

I have no excuse.

Again, a pudgy Sonny Corleone hanging limp like a soaked rag doll from the driver’s side.

I had no chance.

And I lived my life as such.

For a long time.

Always avoiding the splatter that comes with trying new things.

Not allowed to mess up.

Or be in the vicinity of a mess up.

Afraid to fail.

Always stupid until proven different.

I had no chance.

And it almost killed me.

Because life lived with zest is the pulsating exhilaration of a red stain.

If it wasn’t for the fear of god being placed in me about the sauce perhaps I would have ripped that stained white shirt off and sucked on the dripping Sicilian culinary art Nana Rose created with the reckless abandon of a 9 year old.

I would have loved it. Instead I was forced to act like a 40 year-old in a 9 year-old’s body.

Maybe I would have lived for the stain, not for the avoidance of it.

My brain was dying after decades of reliving those dinners.

And.

The rules. So many rules.

  1. Don’t sit on the couch, you’ll mess the pillows (everything was coated in plastic so what was the big deal).
  2. Never go out without a belt, your pants will fall down (no they won’t).
  3. You must wear socks AT ALL TIMES (to this day I’m hairless where the crew socks meet skin).
  4. All your shirts MUST BE WHITE AND THEY CAN’T GET DIRTY especially during Sunday dinner when your crazy relatives are THROWING FOOD AT EACH OTHER ABOVE YOUR HEAD.
  5. Don’t leave the Barbie doll alone and naked inside the GI Joe Headquarters.

So many rules my head would swim.

They owned me. I was a rules bitch. Rules created by others.

Not me.

I carried them through adulthood; it limited my life to a tiny square mental box.

When it came to taking risks.

Because it was always about the stains.

Stains were bad.

And the parents were clear: You cannot have stains on your white life.

And a stainless life is lifeless.

white shirt

I began to read more.

I started talking to thought leaders like James Altucher.

People in my field told me I was pretty good at what I did.

I started asking questions from those who knew more than me (I still do).

I freely shared my knowledge (regardless of what dad thought or my last employer believed – I’m not cattle, I have a brain).

My teachers have been there. No rules, broke rules. Created new rules.

I realized the rules enforced upon me in corporate America (the worst), married America, financial industry America needed REVISION.

I was out of my own skin with revelation. My mind was gone.

Three years lost in discovery.

I blanked out and was enlightened at the same time.

“Did you know you have a garlic press?” asked my friend Amy.

“I do?”

“Did you know you have spoons?”

“I do?”

“Do you see you have about a thousand ties?”

“I do?”

There was wear and tear to break the chains of the rules.

Real bloodshed. An organ and half. Gone.

A lawsuit.

Libel.

Slander.

My rewards for embracing the stain. Questioning the cooks in the kitchen who were adding poison to the food (that’s poetic license people, nobody got poisoned. Well, perhaps their money did) is not good for one’s health if you continue to swallow it.

To bust apart the rules society established for me (along with Catholic school nuns and deceased parents) I needed to feel and go through the worst.

To live.

Break through.

I learned to love the worst. I felt alive.

I was able to taste food again (I thought my taste buds were gone everything felt dead like cold mashed potatoes).

I began to explore new things.

I spoke up.

I began to write and share my mistakes.

I became aware and appreciative of the present moment.

I slayed my ego (needed a big knife).

I discovered I owned a garlic press and about 60 shirts with sales tags still attached to the sleeves.

garlic press

To be the best.

To create your rules.

You’ll need to go through some shit.

Wrestle with ghosts of the past until they let you go.

Because people are going to mock your rules.

You will knock them, too.

Because it’s not normal.

Or is it?

And who defines normal?

Society?

To do what society says you must?

That’s normal?

Fuck them.

Buy a house.

Go to college.

Don’t splash tomato sauce on your white shirt.

eats spaghetti

Whatever.

On occasion the paved road is a horrible way to travel. Once in awhile you’ll need to hit a pothole, go over an embankment.

To awaken.

Random Thoughts:

1). Be Clean. But understand it’s ok to get dirty when you need to. I’ve enjoyed tussling with a corporate bully, getting dragged through the worst muck of human behavior and beating myself with fear and anger.

I now enjoy the smell. There’s something gritty in the process of choosing and finding yourself. The bruises take on greater significance. I will spend the rest of my life helping others understand what this former employer truly is behind its “wholesome” facade.

“You learn to warrior up,” I imagine my friend Andrea saying that. I’m not afraid of the stains anymore. I greet them, earnestly.

2). Forget White. Be proud of your stains. You can’t avoid them. If you seek to reach a new level of thought, or feeling, or emotion the white shirt cannot remain white. White is colorless. Sure – You’ll fall, get beat, lose a piece of yourself. Marks will fade, scars will heal but they will always be a part of who you were before you were better. Good reminders. Rip open a scab on occasion. Feel the pain.Stain your life a bit. It’s fine.

3). Enjoy Meatballs.  I’m not ashamed. I got smacked for eating errant meatballs that made it to Nana’s linoleum floor. Never let anything get in the way of pursuing your meatballs no matter how messy it seems or how bad you look to others. Keep your eye (mouth) on the prize. I learned who accepted me for who I was. Nana did. Who are the people in your life who accept you for who you are, faults and all? Love them. Tell them you’re not perfect. They’re not either. There’s beauty in the rough edges of the human condition.

4). Think Simple. Managing your finances comes down to rules you follow, consistently – Rules based on behavior and attitude towards saving and debt. Even if you suck at investing (investing is icing on the cake, anyway) there are several core habits you’ll want under your belt first to accumulate the capital to invest when you feel comfortable to do so. If your consistent behavior is to funnel most of your take-home pay to reduce debt or make minimum payments on credit card balances; or if you’re an impulsive consumer without a budget, you’re never going to have the cash to invest and increase wealth. No meatballs for you until you face and correct your financial pitfalls.  Improvement begins today.

As my friend Linda says “you don’t have to humor me. I’m a godless pagan with a short temper and too much credit card debt.”

Be honest with yourself. Create your own rules that will lead to financial success. Seek an objective financial partner to hold you accountable. It’s ok to employ humor to make it through. Keep it real. So you fucked up. You needed those $300 shoes. It’s ok.

5). Don’t Overthink. As a kid I anticipated the most horrible things going on during those Sunday dinners. Like when uncle Vinnie cursed dad in broken English or Italian slang and the food would fly. Our brains, out of fear, will lead us to believe the worst is going to occur. Most of the time, your brain is wrong and the worst doesn’t happen. I can recall many dinners at Nana’s where everyone was civil. Imagine! And we enjoyed cannolis for dessert.

6). Forgiveness is for suckers. I don’t seek it; I don’t provide it. I’ve learned to appreciate the weakness in the human structure and absorb the lessons. Red stains that never fade. Every lesson adds dimension to the thought process.

To forgive is to ignore the gifts, bypass the wisdom of others. Refusing to forgive sharpens the blade. I’m happier to not forgive my parents for trying to make me “perfect.” It’s helped me appreciate my imperfections and form them into diamonds. Forgiveness saps energy and taps your resources that are designed to help you learn, teach, survive.

You’ll feel better holding on.

To the stains of others.

Converting them to energy.

“There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet. No matter where you live. There will always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”

The Mountain Goats – Up The Wolves.

There’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.

Imperfection is a wolf.

You own it.

Train it to fight.

Tear. Create edges.

Persevere.

Embrace the red stains.

Taste them.

And live again.

wolf

More to come on the red stain with insights from master wolf James Altucher and The Walking Dead’s Beth Greene and Daryl Dixon. 

The Deputy Comes Full Tolle: 4 Ways to Step Back to the Present.

“We let go of all if it & nobody dies.”

Let’s face it.rick grimes four

Rick Grimes has come to know his truth, especially as of late.

Slammed into what is. Punched out of what was.

Confronting rage in attack mode from within and outside fences will shower demons all around you. The confrontation will startle you into where you must be right now. It’s a trigger of sorts. A switch in your head that the primal core of survival, clicks on.

You choose to fight. Stand up for what you believe.

Or.

You fall apart.

Go insane.

Full steam down the road to nothing. The path with no light and a dead end. The gate closes. Locks on you. You can hear it. You shouldn’t travel this place, but it’s too late. The snap in your head is just too loud to resist.

You’re.

Steadfast. Blinders on.

Nothing left.

Die alive.

An alkaline spray fills your mouth, your throat surrenders.

Now you’re chewing on rust.

Liking the taste.

Before who you are drains.

Into blackness.

If you fail to accept the present and fall to the prison of the past, you’re doomed to make the same mistakes.

“Not after Woodbury. Not after Andrea.”

And Philip Blake fades to black.

Forever.

governor gun He was too far gone.

From the inner core of what made him human, humane, the former Georgia lawman had fallen in and out of inhumanity.

An old man believed perhaps a deputy was too far gone.

Until.

The stagger. A right foot. A step back. There it was. Did you see it in the mid-season finale? The empathetic-driven acting of Andrew Lincoln. 

To step back from the fence. I’m sure many didn’t notice. It was just a subtle move. A motion.

But it was important.

It motivated me enough to write this blog post.

It was raw acceptance of what is. Full engagement in the present.

Because we’ve all stepped back when an outside element so threatening shakes us. Erupts from a place inside so deep you can’t describe it.

change

It was a jolt, the shock of the blade. Ready to steal another from his inner circle. From a place behind the heart. Deep.

The moment Rick Grimes knew what he needed to do, to say. The moment he stepped back to push forward into the present. A re-focus on actions, not the outcome. A focus on what he was meant to do, to be.

governor sword

The deputy had indeed arrived (again).

“We all…can change.”

And it caused an old man to smile…

The thought of sacrifice rolled over the aged, former farmer.

Herschel knew. His work was done. And not wasted.

Rick understood the power of what was going down.

He’s shed blood. Lots of it: Those he cherished have bled. Young and old.

Too many times.

He’s mercifully released the living from walking death; others, he let them wander – a rotting stagger penance in-between life and eternity.

dead girl

“Everyone who’s alive right now.. Everyone who’s made it this far..

We’ve all done the worst kinds of things.

Just to stay alive.”

rick grimes five

The former deputy has been there – rotted in the mind.

Memories that linger and rattle like diseased bone. The past gripped Rick’s brain. Poisoned icy tentacles – the old bloodlines have long shriveled. He won’t let them die.

They walk through his head.

I understand.

You do it, too.

zombie lori

Rick allows the past to possess him; it controls his thoughts, guides his actions.

Until the moment.

The devil arrived – forced a response.

When all he’s counted on – the fences, defenses, were suddenly close to annihilation.

the gov kill them all Kill them all!

Everything you care about is in jeopardy.

There’s imminent danger of losing everything, including yourself.

It’s at that point, you change.

Live or you die.

Or die and you live.

Grasp for the black or the light.

It’s time to choose.

Think..

rick grimes two

What will you focus on right now to stay alive?

What stimulus initiates a bold action?

Anger from the past. Anxiety over what’s ahead.

“But we can still come back.”

How does one die to live again? To come back?

The Deputy decides.

“We get to come back… I know.”

Random Thoughts:

1). What will force you into the present? For me: Step back, then a tumble. A corporation I dedicated 14 years of time and blood turned on me, worked me out. The loss of a close friend. Financial distress, physical challenges, choked me into the present.

I gasped for air.

I felt myself go under. I went below surface.

Inside a mental steel trap I never thought I would be.

I found myself eating, sleeping, breathing less.

Saddled with nightmares for the hour a night I did manage to sleep.

For more than a couple of months in 2013, I died.I was walking but I was gone. I contemplated an exit to complete the circle. Thought it would bring relief.

I sought escape. Isolation.

I reached out to teachers: The Altuchers, a Ravikant. God, Buddha, John R. Cash.

rick grimes three

I wanted out of my skin. My diseased brain.

I was exhausting every resource fighting and resisting what was happening to me.

All the resistance caused further damage.

And.

Just as I was about to give up. 

A force out of nowhere slayed my demon.

governor death

A sharp sword of words pierced me.

“If you think about it, how much time do we spend in our heads wishing things were another way, beating ourselves up, beating others up, crafting a different past, wishing for a different future? All of this resistance. All of this pain.”

Kamal Ravikant.

As I feel the warmth and light on my face in 2014, I know the roads traveled to get to the present were indeed for the best. I don’t seek to look back at what’s caused me to begin to live again.

For you? The step back into the present will come from a pain so strong it will feel like your soul has been scorched. Whatever that is for you, you’ll know.

Keep an open mind, it may arrive out of nowhere.

Like a tank at a prison.

What a blessing it will turn out to be.

Although at first it will appear a curse.

dont look back Carl, don’t look back!

2). What actions will you focus on right now to stay alive? The present is all you have. The rest is ego. Vapor. Heavy mist that burns away. Are there words you can share that have the potential to alter someone’s path, make a positive impact, create laughter? What small action can you take after reading this, to choose yourself? Can you do it every day? How can you shed ego to face and release who you are? How much pain will it take to wake up? Everybody’s thresholds are different.

3). Do you fight or relent? Can you accomplish both? Try not to fight the change, it’s gonna happen anyway. Your ego will do anything and everything to hold on. Even if it means killing you to do it.  All the fight. The wear and tear. Just decide now to let it go. Make the decision. You’re facing the enemy today: It’s you. From that point, you can step back and then move on. Otherwise you’ll be stuck for a lifetime in blackness.

4). Be present in your financial footsteps. Every financial action you take now generates a ripple effect throughout your entire household balance sheet. The path of light when it comes to money is to control what you can – avoid ongoing credit card balances, don’t miss out on a company retirement plan match on contributions (this happens often), don’t compare (and beat) yourself to others who may appear to be in better financial shape than you are.

Friends (strangers) like to remind you how they have better stuff, more money saved, great investments that return more than the market.

Be skeptical.

Human nature motivates us to value something more simply because we own it. It’s called the endowment effect.

We’re also fraught with overconfidence when it comes to interpreting the returns on our investments.

To be truly aware, understand that people “embellish” to impress. It’s never too late to begin good financial habits. Comparisons to others will deter and frustrate. You’ll be stuck in an ego-driven, negative financial mindset.

You’re not too far gone.

No matter how old you are. 

And no matter how little you think you are.

Never underestimate your true bold nature.

To survive.

And prosper.

kids

What lessons learned – out of love from others – will come in handy right now?

To get your head straight.

“If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place. As soon as you honor the present moment, unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.”

Eckhart Tolle

And a loved one, perhaps an old soul.

Smiles just for you…

Somewhere.

herschel smile

Happy Financial New Year – Five Different Paths to Money Success.

Media is flooded with pundits spouting 2014 financial resolutions. Heck, I’m on radio and television talking up the same.

talking head

Increase savings in retirement accounts, pay down credit card debt, check your insurance coverage for gaps – all good advice.

But.

We already know this stuff. It’s drilled into our heads.

Every year.

It’s fine to be reminded of the healthy financial actions we should take.

Yet, what stops us from following through?

Before you ponder money improvements for 2014, think outside the box – deviate from the worn financial paths you have attempted to walk before.

This time you’ll succeed if you take five different paths.

1). Don’t save everything for retirement. You read it right. It’s been drummed into you how a secure financial future depends on maximizing contributions to tax-deferred options like 401(k) accounts.  But how important is it, really?

A.J Leon, writer, motivator, world explorer, big thinker, in his book, “The Life and Times of A Remarkable Misfit,” outlines 16 simple steps to make money and lose respect – Step 4 is: “Never invest in yourself. Instead sock every last penny in a 401(k) that may or may not be there to greet you when you turn 65.”

Many employers have a difficult time understanding retirement plans. From the hundreds of plans examined, I notice an overwhelming trend of bland choices coupled with high fees.

For some it’s best to settle on government-approved choices called “target-date” funds. They’re the prevalent cookie-cutter choices in your company retirement plan. Basically, they’re an all-in-one mix of mutual funds packaged and wrapped in another mutual fund, thus called a “fund of funds.” The mix of stocks, bonds and cash is designed to match up to the year you decide to re­tire.

For example, it’s 2012 and you’re 40 years old. You are planning to retire at 65 (good luck). You decide on the “BlahBlah Fund 2037.” Easy.

The logic behind a target date fund is simple even though underneath, the design is com­plicated and investment philosophies can deviate dramatically depending on the mutual fund family your employer utilizes. In other words, the returns of the Blah-Blah Fund 2037 compared to the returns of your buddy’s La-La Fund 2037 will most likely differ, some­times radically.

Let me clarify: Each fund creates a “glide path,” which means the blend of investments should gradually become less aggressive the closer one gets to retirement or the target year.

Per research by Zvi Bodie, the Norman and Adele Barron Professor of Management and Jonathan Truessard, Lecturer, both at Boston University in a 2007 paper “Making Investment Choices as Simple as Possible: An Analysis of Target Date Retirement Funds,” target date funds are approximately following the well-known rule of “100 minus your age,” for the stock portion of the mix. And this smelly piece of financial dogma needs to be abolished. Now.

Target-date funds require refinement. For those who invested their tax-deferred dollars in 2008 target-date options, hoping to begin withdrawing the money in 2008, were in for a rude awakening when their accounts suffered by over 21%.

Consult an objective financial advisor; select a balanced fund. If your choices are limited to the target-date variety, cut the “maturity” date in half.  Your estimated retirement date is 2020. That’s six years away.  Go for fund 2017. Be prepared for a 2008 surprise.

Contribute up to the employer match. Don’t leave free money on the table regardless of choices, either.

According to Federal Reserve data, the average U.S. household maintains an outstanding credit card balance of over $7,000. Based on numbers provided by www.bankrate.com, the average annual percentage rate or APR for variable-rate credit cards stands at 15.37%; fixed-rate cards stand at 13.02%.

Maybe, just maybe, your 401(k) account returns exceeded 13-15% in 2013 so it was worth carrying a credit card balance. Long term, it’s a bad financial choice. Instead of maxing out saving for retirement right now direct financial resources to pay credit card debt off in full.

2). Consider your human capital. Quantify your worth. You are your greatest investment. I know it’s tough to think this way, to choose yourself, but it’s true.  Return on self-investment is wealth yet to be achieved.

How will you increase your value in a challenging marketplace? Perhaps it’s a new skill necessary to move ahead and above a nascent U.S. economic recovery.

If a continuing education opportunity exists or improvement options are available to increase your income, do it. You’re probably never going to retire anyway and when you do decide, it’ll be much later than age 65 so maximize the ROY (return on you) today.

Check out a Human Capital Calculator here.

3). Get your head straight.  My friend Shanna and I discussed this topic, recently.  If you are jealous of those who have prospered financially and you communicate negative sentiment to others, you’re digging a toxic mindset hole that will be tough to escape.

Don’t talk yourself out of empowering money habits. It’s the lazy way out. Jealousy is an energy sucker, a cash drainer. Change your mind set in 2014. Your brain will believe what you repeat to yourself, to others.  Ask more questions of those you “envy:” How did you meet your goals? What are the daily habits you follow to gain greater financial independence? What did you learn from your mistakes? Learn from others, don’t push them away.

jealousy

Teacher, mentor, investor, best-selling author James Altucher advises:

“You have a house. You need to keep the house clean so the right guests can arrive and feel comfortable. If you clutter it with anger or envy or scarcity or fear then abundance won’t feel comfortable moving in. I say this not from a position of comfort but because when i was dead and buried, i had to clean the clutter to make my life work. And it was hard because when the house is cluttered, your mind gets depressed and lazy.”

4). Stocks are not an end-all investment. Don’t be pushed into believing stocks are the panacea the financial industry tells you they are when it comes to fighting inflation. According to Jim Otar, creator of the Retirement Optimizer and author of several books on retirement planning expanded on this topic for a recent interview:

“Many advisors are under the assumption that stocks always beat inflation. This is not true. Equities beat inflation only during the long-term bullish trends, which occupied 43% of the last century. During the remaining 57% of the time, equities did not beat inflation.”

Rental properties, oil & gas interests, angel investing (can be RISKY), inflation-linked securities, deferred-income annuities can also battle inflation and diversify a stock portfolio.

5). Stop the competition.  I hear it often: My friends are the same age and they have: More cars, more savings, more stuff.

Stop.

First, friends embellish.

It’s called the endowment effect.

Second, your best financial life begins today.

Don’t look back.

It’s never too late.

Third, forget the stuff.

Travel lighter.

Down five alternate paths.

And discover long-lasting financial success.

financial success

Ribbons of Green – 5 Ways to Wrap Yourself In Green and Find Happiness.

The wind of positive change swirls green around me.

In circling ribbons of warmth and awareness.

Acceptance.

acceptance

Green gets it. Green believes even when you refuse to. Green is faith undetected but always present. Green knows you’ll find your way out. To the green.

Green shoots live in the actions you remain steadfast to pursue, even when they feel tiny and worthless. In the small daily rituals to find a clearer path the genesis of a spark appears in the spring of green.

Green is tenacious. It never gives up.

Every action was (is) progress.

It moves to its own rhythm. It pulls you forward. A big strength in the small. Every move is important. Counted. Your mind pulsates to the beat. A ribbon from heart to mind. In a flowing cadence of green.

When green arrives or returns, outcomes don’t matter anymore. Finally, it hits you: You can’t control the uncontrollable. The ego has fooled you all along, laid a trap.

Fooled you.

FRIEND

You’ve been duped.

And green knows it.

Green doesn’t laugh at you.

Green is a teacher.

Not an emerald temptress.

And then.

A warm entrance to a moment.

A clearing.

A sign.

Here.

In shiny-bright green shades of now.

Green – the late arrival of calm.

Green – physical and mental reward for finding methods to slay fear and anxiety.

Green guides thoughts.

Green uncovers methods designed to turn the tables.

Gain control over enemies.

Yourself.

And now – an inner peace I haven’t experienced in years has returned.

I’ve turned back to the green page.

After so long. Years.

The next chapter of me has arrived.

New & improved (beaten lightly).

A wiser presence standing. Sharper around the edges than the shadow of who I was.

Broken free from those who mastered over me.

Green is robust. Thick. A fighter.

I am no longer the reflection in a mirror.

I’m me. In deep-green three dimensional color.

green ribbon

Green is a complete acceptance of what is.

How things are now.

It’s not the path that got me to the place.

It is the place.

Although I’m tempted by the past, which is yellow.

I won’t go back.

To the stain.

I’m armed with silk ribbons of Chartreuse.

Encircling. Ever engaging me in the present.

Green prevents me, guards me from the mistakes of the past.

And I don’t want green to leave again.

I still remember when it disappeared. Bled to white in 2011. Gone forever.

I was sure.

Without green.

It was all over.

And after the fall.

A white winter never arrived.

A shade of green emerged.

What an interesting trip back to now.

Floating on a color.

And green is happiness in many forms. Self-defined.

Find your green.

Here’s the wrap.

Random Thoughts:

1). Green Is Not A Destination. It’s an arrival. As you focus on your daily actions, green grows. Friend and mentor James Altucher found his green, created a Daily Practice. Start a daily practice of your own. Whatever it is. Pick your battles. Then do the work, do the work, do the work to succeed. Train your mind. Every day. Repetitive, positive actions ignite green. Choose the words to yourself carefully, they will set the pace of the day. The words you hear inside will prevent green from leaking out.

2). Green Assures. You are finally back on the right path. New growth seals your progress. You start to recognize who you are, not who others expect you to be. The rules created are your own and if they’re true, honorable, then nobody can take the green away. It will be sealed inside so deep others won’t penetrate. Those who say you can’t succeed, I don’t love you, your rules are unusual fold into the shadow of who you were. Not who you are. They are hidden entities now. Camouflaged in blends of green. And gone from the path. And you’re now grateful.

3). Happy money is green.  Clean green. Let’s face it: What is money? Dirty paper steeped in salmonella. The authors of the book, Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending outline the robust green of money. Spending doesn’t lead to happiness, at least not long term. Short term spending is designed to stroke your ego; when the excitement fades you’re back at it. A slave to the high. The art of smarter spending is based on the authors’ research into what I call “green-satisfaction” spending.

Five principles that can lead to monetary bliss:

Buy experiences, not stuff: Spend on memories that will enhance your life colors.

Make it a treat: Keep buying junk you don’t need and the novelty wears off. Research reflects that the category in which people spend the least becomes a greater source of happiness. Track your discretionary spending (fun stuff) for a month. Determine where you spend the most. Do you still derive as much happiness from the spending activity? If not, cut it back. Make it special.

Buy time: Sure, buy that nice house in the suburbs. Get a better bang for your buck. Now sit for four hours a day commuting. See how much you care about all the money you saved. It’s not worth it. Time is worth more than money.

Pay now, consumer later: Studies show paying for an item, service now but consuming later creates happier, greener money than doing the opposite. For example, I love being able to purchase music immediately through ITunes. However, when I pre-order a movie, album selections and receive an e-mail a week later from Apple notifying me that my “pre-order is ready for downloading,” I get more excited over the purchase. Yes, we want everything now, we’re Americans; purchasing and waiting may be a greener way to go.

Invest in others: I love purchasing gifts, giving more than I enjoy receiving. It’s is the basis for research into this principle. According to the authors, a Starbucks gift card provided the most happiness when people used it to buy coffee for someone else.

Happy money is green. Unhappy money is well, bacteria-filled fiber.

dirty dollars Ew?

4). Never Force Green. It will arrive when you’re ready to arrive. Not before. You’ll be driving. At the mall. Wherever. And boom. It’ll hit. I can remember day, time and where I was when green re-engaged. Focus on your daily practices and before you know it – Green. Don’t rush it.

5). Green is victory. You reached a goal, lost the weight, made the bonus, fought the enemy. And you won. All the hard work has paid off.

As I fight a corporate giant seeking to strip me of everything including my career, I see with each move, my green is growing deeper. And I will spend the rest of my life making sure they know it. Others will know it, too. Many others.

I will fight a terrorist, lying organization.

For as long as it takes.

In private. In public, eventually.

And humble them to the green of honesty.

For as long as it takes.

No matter how many organs I sacrifice.

For the right.

For the truth.

For the green light.

To keep on rolling.

green light