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Archive for February, 2009

The Terror of Passive Income

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Most of us have spent our careers looking forward to the day when we don’t have to actively work to have money. The pension. Social Security checks. Investment dividends. Money that comes without us having to continue the daily grind. Just a nice steady income stream whether we spent the week at the beach or working on a Habitat house or helping the oldest grandchild move into a new apartment half way across the county.

Well, that’s the way it was supposed to work anyway.  Right now, this kind of income is probably one of the most terrifying sources of cash flow imaginable.

Because it is, well….passive.  Since what we do isn’t tied to what it does, we don’t have a whole lot of room to make it go in a better direction when the current one is looking downright dire.

Right now it’s so bad that a lot of us are afraid to spend money on anything because the value of our passive sources of income is so wobbly.  This is not comfortable, but it’s important to know.  If we are aware that this possibility is part of the range of performance for passive income, we can build in ways to help ourselves cope when we get to this bumpy part of the road in the future.

We need to know this little secret about passive income as we plan what we want to do with the last third of our lives.  So this downturn has given us another unexpected gift–the chance to feel really deeply the helplessness of not being able to get our money to do a better job.  And feeling that feeling will help us build ourselves some escape routes from here on.

For some of us, it will be a matter of looking for a way to earn again.  For some of us, it’s teaching ourselves to stay calm in the midst of the economic hurricane.  For some of us, it will be refocusing on what’ s important and finding ways to keep going on that with a leaner budget.  And for some of us, it’s an adventure in how to cut costs.

You think I’m kidding on that last one, right?  Nope.  If the passive income situation is leaving you anxious, the most important thing you can do is act.   Taking action to cut the amount of money you need to live on is a good thing to do every once in a while to make sure that you are truly focused on your authentic needs.  So this is a good time to do that.

Notice I did not suggest you suck way in and not do things.  I said evaluate.  I said find a cheaper way to get what you want.  But just plain retreating?  Bad idea!

That makes you feel deprived as well as afraid.  And that’s an invitation to depression and poor health.  This situation is a test of our mettle, individually and as a culture.  The better we are at facing it,  acknowledging the scary feelings, and doing something to improve our situation, the bigger it is as a blessing.

Having investments lose value is awful.  Letting it intimidate you into not living your life is worse.

Loving What You Do

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Quite a few of us are rethinking whether we are going to retire soon–or ever.   Before you opt for being a permanent member of the workforce, there’s one thing I beg of you.  Love what you do.  If the thought of doing what you are doing now until the day you die feels like drinking a large glass of vinegar, please make plans to do something else.

Once we’ve been at a kind of work for a while, it’s comfortable to just keep doing it, even if it never was fun.  But you lose in five different ways if you use that strategy.  It makes heaps more sense to love what you do.

Job Satisfaction The first reason is, of course,  that it makes your life more satisfying.  People who love their jobs are happy to go to work and come home in a good mood.  That translates into better health, too.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  No job is going to go well all day everyday forever.  But if most days have you humming while you grade the papers,  write the report, adjust the machine, or flip the burgers, you’re onto something.

If, on the other hand, just showing up at the old grind makes you want to throw up, you have a little remodeling project to take on.  You need to make your work match yourself or you are in for a steady dose of negative energy.

This sounds simple, but quite often it isn’t.  For some of us, it’s a matter of getting to the flashpoint and then saying, “That’s it.  I’m outta here.”  That works, but being “outta here” without knowing what you are going to do next can be pretty stressful, especially with the current economy.

There are some great books on how to help yourself figure out what you really want.  (Mine for example– Supercharged Retirement.)  But if you’re tired of reading what I have to say, try something by Martha Beck or Barbara Sher.  Use them all, one after another.  Use a life coach.  Do  a Vision Quest.  Contemplate you left thumb for fifteen minutes everyday until the light starts to dawn.

It doesn’t have to be what everyone else does to be the right thing, but it has to give you a calm sense of confidence when you start to explore it.  Be sincere about looking for the real answers.  And be open to what comes.  (Thinking you knew before you really did got you to the job you’re hating.)

Talent Match When you do what you love,  the probability that you are truly suited for it goes up exponentially.  I have a long time friend I met in college who was a good geologist.  But when he started to use his natural sales skills along with what he knew about rocks, his prospects skyrocketed.  He sold mining and construction equipment, and it was a great fit.  He could sell salt water in the Mariana Trench.

Perceived Value The fact that you love what you do does not go unnoticed either.  People like to work with those who are happy with what they are doing.  And if you are doing what you love, you are probably doing it really well.  So customers want to work with you. The plum placements on the dream team also go to those who are really into it.

This is not a case of faking it for the sake of advancement.  There’s an intuitve piece to this that you just can’t counterfeit.  If you like what you do, people like working with you to get that done.  So find what you like.  Find what you LOVE.

Job Security Right, loving what you do will not guarantee you never get laid off.   Not even working for yourself guarantees that anymore.  But when you love what you do, you find other ways to use what you know to be able to keep doing it.

If you are told they don’t need you as the team lead manufacturing elephant harnesses and you love leather, there are other ways to work with it.  If you love to work in a kitchen and just got let go as a short order cook, you may hire on with a caterer, or start cooking nightly meals for clients who can then look forward to your delicious deliveries after a long day of their own work (also at something they love, I hope).

Longevity You can try to make yourself like what you are doing, but that’s a short term fix.  The real answer is to find something you love doing whether you get paid for it or not.  That  solution gives you one last plus–something you will be happy continuing to do–in some form–for as long as you live.

Including for money if you need to.  There are lawyers still lawyering at the age of 99,  and my favorite centenarian story is of the woman who was still a proofreader for the St. Louis Dispatch at 100.  Do what you love and use it to thrive–for a long time.

What’s Your Pain Teaching You?

Thursday, February 5th, 2009


Right now, there’s more than enough pain to go around. The pain of losing a job .The pain of losing your dream home. The pain of being one of the survivors in the all too frequent announcement of yet more downsizing. The pain of watching loved ones go through one or all of these things.

We’ve got plenty of physical pain right now, too. Flare ups of stress-related health problems. Accidents, which just seem to be more prevalent when things are not going well. Colds and the flu hit more frequently when people are under stress, too

Yep. There are a lot of ways we’re “feeling the pain.” And we are probably telling ourselves, “This is not right. I should not have to feel pain.”

That’s only true if you’re dead. There is a reason for pain. It helps you move fast to change what you are doing.

Hand in the car door? Yikes! You changed that fast. Even slow pain helps you learn quicker. Remember your first love and how much it hurt when it ended? You vowed “I’m not doing that again!”  And the next time you probably were a bit more discerning, a little pickier, maybe even a little slower with the “I love you’s.”

How about the pain of doing something physically dumb? Like putting your hand on the oven rack after you’ve had it preheating at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes. Next time you will use the over mitt. Right?

Pain can tell us something needs attention, too. That “hot spot” on your left ankle? Use some moleskin now or you will have a nasty blister by the time you’re done with the hike .The stomach cramps that come when you have yourself convinced that only YOU can do everything remains to be done between now and Easter—of 2010?You’re on an express bus to StressCity. Get off now!

Pain tells us there’s a problem. Maybe it’s physical, like a stone in your shoe. Maybe it’s systemic, like a finance industry gone totally mad. Every time there is pain, there is a chance to deal with a problem. We need to use pain–to help us pay attention to our legitimate problems.

We need to watch for it and wring every single morsel of intelligent action out of it.

The only tragedy in feeling pain is if we don’t change course as a result of the warning. That’s true whether it’s knee surgery or the balance in your checking account. Pain helps you grasp the need to stop doing what you’re doing much more quickly that you would in its absence.  Pain is a good thing.

The bad thing is when we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling it. There is a lot of money going into advertising built around the message that we should never feel pain .We can all eliminate all pain in our lives if we just take the right drugs, buy the right consumer goods, and drive the right cars. With that as a back drop, it’s easy to resent pain instead of embracing it so you can use it.

Pain comes to help us go in a new direction. It hurts—no doubt about that. But that doesn’t make it bad. The pain of childbirth or athletic achievements demonstrate this well. To do what we value, what we dream of, what we think is the most important thing in the world to get done is going to involve pain sometimes. Beats a blinking arrow every time for encouraging a change of course.

Use your pain.You don’t have to love it—in fact if you did, I’d worry. But respect it.It is an honored teacher and a difficult but genuine friend.