Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unplugging to Reconnect

Author Alain de Botton said, “Journeys are the midwives of thought.” My wife and I recently returned from a roadtrip to Florida during which we saw our families and thawed out at the beach, and it got me thinking. I turned 50 earlier this year and, while I turned down an AARP membership, I am mindful of my stage in life and that none of us is getting any younger, no matter how hard we try to maintain our youth.

On our journey south, we had the pleasure of visiting not only with family but also with several friends that we hadn’t seen in the year since we last visited Florida. Most are our age or older and some had experienced health issues during that time, even severe ones. My dad turned 90 at the end of last year and has had his challenges, including surgery to remove a cancerous growth. All in all, our loved ones are fine, but this life is temporary.

The other day I saw a poster that captured this very sentiment: “All that we called our own, as it turns out, was borrowed.” Not only are our lives not our own yet gifts from our Maker, but all of our stuff is on loan also. Yes, all of the stuff that we strive so hard to obtain, maintain and retain…it is all temporary, people. The only thing that remains after this life is over is our spiritual being and our relationships with other people. That is it!

As I am writing this on the one-year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s passing, I can’t help reflecting on her godly heritage and the gracious gift she gave me in the guise of her daughter. I am grateful to God for her and glad that she is enjoying her eternal reward. As for me, I enjoyed a special time visiting with my mother the other day, a chat into the late evening as a result of my inadvertently unplugging a cable, wiping out the television.

To place this event in its proper perspective, it is important to understand that for talking to replace television in my parents’ household practically takes an act of God, so it was no minor miracle that my mother and I had the opportunity to catch up with one another and discuss things that would never have arisen if the television had been operating. Perhaps the moral of the story is that we must unplug in order to reconnect with what matters.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Unconventional Wisdom

I once heard billionaire investor Warren Buffett say that the time to invest is when the herd is trying to get out of the market, as that is when the deals are to be had. In other words, he was advocating a contrarian philosophy of investing, which requires one to disregard conventional wisdom in favor of the unconventional type. It is not always easy to do or else everyone would do it, but it pays rich dividends.

And it takes guts to think and act counter to popular culture also. When the American Dream is defined as owning your home and you opt out to try a different mode of living it can cause people to question your sanity. I know because we’ve experienced it. While most of our loved ones have been supportive of the transitional lifestyle we embarked upon about three years ago, some simply didn’t get it, and that’s okay. But the rub comes when you step out to follow your dreams anyhow.

When I was asked in college by a fraternity brother during the initiation process to describe myself in two words, I replied: “conservatively unorthodox,” and I still think that comes pretty close to capturing it. Standing out isn’t that hard to do if you are willing to question assumptions and challenge the status quo. As the saying goes: “it’s hard to fly with eagles when you flock with turkeys” [and are too chicken to try].

Speaking of fowl, I am reading a profoundly insightful book called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and he writes: “Not matching the idea of success others expect from you is only painful if that’s what you are seeking. You stand above the rat race and the pecking order, not outside of it, if you do so by choice…You have far more control over your life if you decide on your criterion by yourself.” Amen.