Sincerity Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 7, Q4

Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

Personal notes:

  • Such an important one to practice;
  • Especially with friends & family;
  • Be an open book to the ones you love.

Before this year, Sincerity was sorely lacking; brevity and levity, rather than “innocently and justly.”  The simple “you look beautiful” or “I love you,” was hidden, and shared a quarter of the time it was thought. The words were always there, shouted within, but crushed in their infancy. To clarify, these weren’t childish impulses or outrageous declarations, but mature, reasoned statements I could not say, and I could not understand why. Why keep such innocent thoughts locked away? Why is so much left unsaid?

We guard our true words and noble thoughts. We lock them away out of fear and shame. It takes courage to say these words, courage to let them see air. Paradoxically, we live in a world where it’s easy and expected to share glib, ignoble thoughts — quickly slipped into breath, free from hinderance and depth. Silence is a very big part of Sincerity. The more I was silent, the more my thoughts could settle and mature, the more I could distill what I meant to say, the more I could remember, remember my bearing, and remember to be just.

This past weekend, courage failed me. I saw my grandmother. She is dying. Most of what I wanted to say was left unsaid. Instead, I sat there and held her hand. That was all the Sincerity I could muster.  What was so scary about telling an old lady I love her, and that I am sad to see her go? I don’t know, but the words were trapped — I heard them in my mind, and felt them wither in my chest.

What is scary about telling a child you love them? Or that they make you happy? Nothing. Nothing is scary about it. I know because I say it every day to my children. Why then, is it scary to say these same words to an adult? Even one so close as your wife or grandmother. I don’t know. I certainly don’t have the answer. But I do know that after a year, I am getting better, getting closer. Sincerity is a paradox, it is born from restraint and silence and it takes courage to ensure it is not bound by them.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 8, Q4

Justice: “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Personal notes:

  • Be true to others;
  • Act honorably;
  • Avoid expediency.

As we approach the New Year, what could be a better than starting off with a promise to live a more Just life?

Industry Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 6, Q4

Industry: “Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cutoff unnecessary actions.

Personal notes:

  • Fully engage with what you’re doing; immerse yourself;
  • Shut off distractions;
  • Find fulfillment.

At my last job, I worked towards deadlines without interruption — “cutoff unnecessary actions” — but the work had no depth: good enough analysis that got the job done. Spare time in the pre-deadline lull was spent cruising the internet rather than learning or improving. I wouldn’t call it laziness, not at all. The problem was, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fake it; my heart wasn’t there. When I fall in love with something, it consumes. When I don’t, I move on. Work was an Industrious lie: shut out distractions, half-assed product.

When I completely give into something, I become absorbed by and obsess little details. I lose myself completely. Unfortunately, it can’t be manufactured. I’m amazed by folks who pick something up, anything, and find it fascinating. Honestly, I find it boring — call it a hangover from the military. Imagine trying to convince a wild animal the value of an industry report. Not going to happen. I’d sit there restlessly at my desk, like the tiger walking back and forth in its cage. It wasn’t a good feeling, but it was there, and as we eventually learn on Saturday mornings, you need to get past the hangover.

In the beginning, Bens13 left me hungover. I found it difficult to wake early on a Monday and write something of value. Grammar and composition were ok, but the reflections were half-assed. I wasn’t providing depth — not the depth you and I deserved — and I wasn’t in love with Bens. To be honest with you, I’m still not in love with Bens, but somewhere along the way, something changed. Over the past year I learned that I owe it to you and to myself, to do better. I owe readers, family, and friends better. This is not for the “A” chased by a wide-eyed college student, but the tired and haggard better of sincerity and sadness. I had to be better and, most importantly, I had to be honest.

Thanks to Bens, I think I got there, or at least started the journey. I learned that true Industriousness requires Depth. Even if you don’t like something, hate it actually, but have to get it done, you owe it to yourself and others to do it well. But more than that, when you work at something long enough, play with the words and rearrange the sentences, stare at the spaces and fill the crevices, somewhere along that road, something magical happens. Between the lines and the letters you find meaning, and there is no greater work than that which is meaningful.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 7, Q4

Sincerity: “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”

Personal notes:

  • Such an important one to practice;
  • Especially with friends & family.

For me, the most important words for this week are: “think innocently.” When I think about those words, I think about my kids and how they make me feel. They make me feel like Christmas. What better time than now to be Sincere?

Frugality Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 5, Q4

Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.

Personal notes:

  • Only purchase necessary items;
  • Be cognizant of cost;
  • Give special attention to Christmas presents.

We did a lot this year to cut costs. I mean a lot. And I’d like to think Bens13 helped bring it into focus. The biggest item we cut was rent. We cut it by almost 50 percent! No joke – it was a major downsize – and the benefits weren’t just financial, there was a big decrease in anxiety (anxiety is still here, but more manageable). I still make mistakes though – I’m a sucker for the kids and good food – but, as my wife says, “We have to live,” and we are indeed living. If you want to know what we did, here are a few steps we took, but the biggest lesson we learned was the lesson to live smaller.

First, I made a pretty substantial spreadsheet with all our expenses. This is brutal — unless you love excel (nerd) — If you don’t love excel, it takes time to make, and you may want to research programs like Mint that’ll track expenses for you. Why was it important? To be honest, at first I thought it a waste, but then at year end I was appalled by some of our totals. They were jaw-dropping. If you’re a Starbucks junkie, make Starbucks a line item, and then imagine the Caribbean vacation you could have taken with that three grand. We grind our coffee at home now.

Tracking our expenses manually was more painful, but it forced me to focus on trends and outflows. For us, the most substantial costs were our fixed costs. Yes, we cut cable and saved money in other places — 20% Amazon Subscribe & Save, Verizon family plan, etcetera — but the big money was fixed: rent, car, student loans and a few others. If you can cut one of those, it makes a big impact. For us, it was our rent but we targeted additional fixed costs. Without going through all the specifics: we paid down credit card debt; paid off the balance each month; found a card with good cash rewards (we use Amex Blue 6% back for groceries, pays for the card and then some); and got interest on student loans below 4%. We used SOFI.

We rent because it’s favorable for us to do so (check out this handy NYTimes calculator to find out what’s best for you). The problem was our first apartment. It was super nice but too big for what we needed. As a result, we were needlessly throwing away money while funding our jackass landlord’s vacations. Downsizing was necessary but tough. Moves are demanding and expensive, but it’s already paid for itself. Most importantly, it taught us we don’t really need what we thought we did. We are far happier in this smaller space then when our kids had a playroom, a backyard, and plenty of space they didn’t use. They didn’t want any of that, we did, they just wanted us.

Aside from rent and credit cards, the other fixed costs were tough to trim. We need our car (a modest Mazda), childcare and insurance. Medical and dental trips seem to (always) pop-up. One-time miscellaneous costs are actually every month. And little feet don’t stop growing. We also found it helpful to increase our cash reserve/savings by automating as much as possible. We automated to the point we’re almost stressed by the monthly budget. But the pain is worthwhile (we were able to save a lot in a short period) and it forced us to be hyper vigilant about the small stuff.

It’s fair to say we don’t have everything under control — I think that’s impossible — but we’re on the right path and have successfully saved this year. The one thing I would emphasize above all else is to live smaller. We thought we deserved certain rewards, we felt we earned a bigger space, we made a lot of excuses. We convinced ourselves because we wanted (not needed) the big and fancy. Now that our space is smaller, the girls are happier, our bills are manageable and our savings increased, we realize how much better smaller could be.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 6, Q4

Industry: “Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cutoff unnecessary actions.

Personal notes:

  • Fully engage with what you’re doing;
  • Immerse yourself;
  • Shut off distractions;
  • Find fulfillment.

Super tough to do as the Holidays bear down on us, but essentially necessary to survive. Good luck getting through these next few days. May Industry be your guide. 

Resolution Q4

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 4, Q4

Resolution: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Personal notes:

  • Determine key tasks this week;
  • Ignore unnecessary items;
  • Act with purpose.

Not gonna lie, writing this blog was difficult. Took a lot of Resolve to get here: One year commitment; How much to reveal each week; How honest to be; 5 am Monday morning; etcetera. To be honest, I wasn’t always completely honest; some things were better left unsaid, or said over quiet conversation. Most posts were transparent, some weren’t – especially Chastity. Chastity was best left unsaid, or said to my wife over quiet conversation. What I can say is this, when I started this project, I didn’t realize the Resolve it would require to get here, but I’m glad I committed to you, and I’m glad you had the Resolve to help me through. In fact, the only thing that kept me going was you. Thank you. Stating a goal publicly was one thing. Knowing folks were reading this was another.

Resolve to perform what you ought. Over the year, I realized this project was something I ought to do. I was holding onto too much anger from the past and became anchored to it. For me, it was the military; I defined myself in that mold and didn’t achieve my goals. It’s hard to write, but for the past 10 years I’ve felt guilt and anger. I was ashamed I wasn’t with my closest friends at the times of their greatest peril. I’ve shared this with a few folks, and a good friend once told me: “That right there is something you need to just get over.” He was right but, until this year, I didn’t have a framework to get over it.

Quitting is easy. I’ve thought that many times. I’ve thought about quitting this blog. Every other week I’d say: no one’s reading this nonsense; who cares if I don’t finish; half of it is crap anyway. The problem with Quitting is that it is easy, and it feels great in the short term. Quit something once and it’s terribly easy to quit again; it becomes a drug of choice. I’m not talking about quitting a miserable job/relationship/situation, I’m talking about quitting ‘the good’ — where you give up on the good in your life because it becomes difficult. Stray onto that darker path and it’s increasingly difficult to get right. Quitting becomes subconscious; self-destructive decisions prompt others to quit you.

Resolve is a hard one, especially compared to the short term rewards of giving up, but if you choose to persevere, there are rich rewards. Perform without fail what you resolve. I view this year as one of the most rewarding I have had in a very long time. Resolving to take a year of reflection has truly helped put a lot of this pain behind me and helped gain new appreciation, and love, for friends, family and life. Getting there was not easy; but I can say without fail, I’m glad I did it. Everything has changed for the better: not over-confident, not over-sure, not perfect, but grounded, happier and in a place to navigate life without self-destructing. For me, the key to Resolve was making it public, finding support, and forcing repeat. Repeat until it becomes habit, and Resolution becomes Disposition.

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Next Week

Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week 5, Q4

Frugality: “Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.

Personal notes:

  • Only purchase necessary items;
  • Be cognizant of cost;
  • Give special attention to Christmas presents.

Great to keep this one in mind as the Holidays approach. Drinks, dinners, presents, decorations, trees: the list goes on. Focus on being generous and charitable; don’t focus on buying the biggest and shiniest. 

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