Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wealth: The Freedom to Choose

I recently had the pleasure of spending a day on the beach with two childhood friends, Dan and Mark. After catching each other up on our journeys since our last interaction, we began talking of our current place in life and general plans for the future. Dan nonchalantly made a simple statement..."True wealth is maintaining (or enhancing) our freedom to choose." Though we were speaking in terms of the housing market and the number of people upside-down on their house because of poor decision making, I gave much thought to that point during my drive home that day and saw many applications across the spectrum of life.

How many of us can truly...

...choose to move out of the area?
...choose to take a new job?
...choose to start a new career?
...choose to get a new (insert material liability here)?

As we bobbed up and down in the waves, Mark shared his experiences of protecting his wealth (freedom of choice). A few years ago Mark was a lawyer and on the brink of partnership when he left the firm to avoid "the golden handcuffs." He then explored various business opportunities before adding an MBA to his already storied academic resume. Upon graduation, he went to Wall Street in pursuit of monetary wealth and he was well on his way. It took only a year for him to realize what he was giving up in pursuit of riches. He saw the empty lives of his extremely wealthy peers and mentors and decided to leave. He moved on for all of the right reasons and is one of the wealthiest people I know (again, in terms of choices).

It strikes me odd that so many of us measure wealth in a monetary sense and as we pursue our collection of material liabilities (a large mortgage is the ultimate liability disguised as an asset), we give up our true wealth. Trapped in a location we might not like, doing a job for which we have no passion, so we can add to our pile of liabilities as we live a cookie cutter life, I am reminded of the theme song for the television show "Weeds," entitled "Little Boxes."

Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses all went to the university
Where they were put in boxes and they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course and drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children and the children go to school
And the children go to summer camp and then to the university
Where they are put in boxes and they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business and marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.

A thoughtful comment by a reader on one of my previous blogposts simply stated, "...everything we do is a choice, so many collegues forget this, and when they are faced with ultimatums they forget it was a dozen choices already made that made this most recent one seem so hopeless." So, be mindful that the decisions we make today have cascading affects that will determine our future true wealth.

Mark and Dan, thanks for giving me much to think about. You are both even wiser and wealthier than I remember.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Beginning, The End and The Journey Connecting Them

It doesn't necessarily take personally witnessing death to realize how short life truly is. In fact, death needn't be involved at all to be reminded how quickly things come to an end. As mentioned in an earlier post, last month I was in Great Lakes and had the pleasure of talking with new recruits about their future. Two weeks ago I was in Newport speaking with recent OCS graduates about the journey ahead. Last week I was honored to be the Presiding Officer in the retirement of one of my favorite Shipmates, LT Jennifer Lovejoy. Each of these three opportunities to speak with, to and about Shipmates was unique, but there was a common thread...all were focused the journey. The new members of our Navy were not interested in charting out their career or identifying a path to a certain paygrade or job. Instead, they were focused on "having fun, doing "cool stuff" and making a difference." Not surprising, the retirement ceremony was a celebration of a Shipmate who did just that during her career.

As I stated in my remarks at the ceremony...

"Today we celebrate not the end of Jennifer's Navy adventure, but the journey itself. For those of you in the audience still enjoying the privilege of wearing the uniform, please consider following Jennifer's example...

- Appreciate the journey
- Recognize it is not about promotion; it's not about "checking boxes"
- It's about making a difference, adding value and leaving a legacy."

Over the course of one month, I saw the circle of a career in time-lapsed images. In the backdrop, I couldn't help but see my career and realize my Navy journey could be over in as few as two years. Whether it is two years or twelve, I will continue to give the Navy 100%. I know it will be all but impossible to truly measure success in a commonly accepted way at the end of this journey, as we have no formal metrics. My hope is that we measure our contributions by the expressions of gratitude from Shipmates, our ability to create true value for our Navy, and the furthering of a collaborative, self-synchronizing culture.

I am reminded of Jim Rohn who used the headlights of a car to illustrate his point of focusing on the journey. When we drive our car at night towards a destination, we are never looking beyond the distance of our headlights. We don't because we physically can't, attempting to would distract us from effectively making more immediate decisions, and quite honestly anything over the horizon isn't all that relevant until it comes into our field of view.

Life is too short...Do good, make a difference, enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Roots of a Nomadic Family

Every couple of years the Navy provides us with the opportunity to move to another part of our great nation or even beyond its borders. Though the purpose is to facilitate the professional development and optimize the contributions of the service member, it allows us an opportunity for exploration and adventure as a family.

Some families dread the transition period that comes with another move, but for us it is arguably our favorite. It provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the friendships and contributions made during our last stop and fills us with excitement as we ponder the possibilities that come with a new temporary home. This transition, though the most enjoyable to date, has been slightly different. We left our home five weeks ago and will not move into our next home for another week. Six weeks of homelessness makes many people quite uncomfortable (even we were a bit apprehensive). Fortunately, I am blessed with a wife who is all about the adventure and because we choose to homeschool we have created the flexibility to embrace the transition so many others believe to be an inconvenience. Many people feel sorry for us (or at least our son), as we move from place to place unable to establish deep roots. Our perspective is that the strength of the family tree is just as much about the breadth of the root system as it is the depth (and arguably more so). Our roots may not be as deep as others in a single location, but they extend from Alaska to Italy, Maryland to San Diego and Rhode Island to Tennessee...and we are not done yet!

We are enjoying our last few days of homelessness, as we turned a burdensome transition into an opportunity to see friends of duty stations past, explore new territories and relive milestones of yesteryear. We are recharged and ready to fully invest in the expansion of our root system in Pensacola no matter how long (or short) our stay.