Nearly midnight now.

Back in 1999, 2000, I started writing on a site called opendiary or something. My diary may still exist there. But what I found was I always did my writing late at night. Something about being up in the dark, thinking about the day, the world, the future.  I don’t know, it prompted a lot of introspection and creativity. Those years of college I wrote something like 500 pages of thoughts. I know, I printed it out once, single space, 8 point font. I was pretty impressed.

I went on the mission and suddenly I couldn’t spend the hours writing like I had. It was hugely frustrating. Without the time to consider my feelings and thoughts it was hard to manage my emotions and concerns. I did get over it, though.

But here I am again. Something like 3 years since I last wrote anything on this blog. And I can’t sleep. Summer heat, thoughts of the future, thoughts about identity and self determination keeping me up.

To be honest, one of the things keeping me up is the idea of “what do you want?”

I saw an ex-Mormon post on reddit.com about how his active Mormon friend had “changed his personality so he could achieve his goal of being a stake president by age 30.” It made me wonder, if I were to focus on being more “adult” would I start getting called to bishoprics and stake presidencies? Is that what you want?

Today somebody pointed out a new mission president is a 35 year old with 4 kids. His callings in the church are almost exactly the same as mine. I ask myself “is that what you want?”

I have friends who sit up late working, earning tons of money, but being “plugged in” to the job pretty much all the time. Is that what you want?

I have other friends who just scrape by, always stressed about money, but living relatively leisurely lives. Is that what you want?

You get the idea.

 

I’m sorry for the post about nothing. I’m just up late. Unsure of myself. Feeling a little too adult for comfort.

Sometimes it’s the future that keeps me up, but just as often it’s the past.  Tonight it’s high school and choir memories.

I remember how I was standing in line at disneyland and the guy in front of me found out I was in “That choir from Utah,” and said “Yeah, we’ve heard about you.  We were really upset when we found out you would be in the competition because that pretty much guarantees we can only get 2nd place at best.”  And I thought, “This kid comes from a high school with a population three times larger than my home town.  How can they have heard of us?”  But they had.  And he was right.

I remember singing at solo & ensemble and how students from all over the state poured into the classroom when it was our turn to sing.  I guess they had heard that it was a pretty good show.  And it was.  We usually got the judges to laugh.

I remember after one competition in California the judge said “Okay, first: Basses can all sit down because they were better than most college choirs I’ve ever heard.”

I remember sitting on the stairs at the front of the bus and just singing a song I liked. The choir director sang along and when the song ended the whole bus clapped and the choir president told me it was the best she’d ever heard me sing.

Later, in college, I tried out for the ‘select’ choir even though I wasn’t a music major and they said that you pretty much had to be a music major to get in.  When I sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic” the directors said to each other “He’s got a great, untrained voice.”  When I sang the sight reading part of the try-out they didn’t say anything, but their eyebrows went way up.  I got in.

Later, when I wasn’t in the choir, I heard how there was an opening and that the choir was going to New York.  I walked in a month before the trip and asked to be let in.  A month later I had the chance to sing Mozart’s Requiem in Carnegie Hall with the group.  It was because the director knew my sight reading skills were good and that I knew how to take direction.  Stuff I learned in high school choir.

Good memories.

I hope that 5 or 10 years in the future I’ll look back at this time period and find just as many good memories.  I wonder what my nights in 2020 will be spent thinking about.  Maybe what I did for work?  Maybe the kids?  Probably the events and accomplishments.

I think the important thing to do is to have accomplishments to look back on.  It helps a person feel good.  Setting and achieving goals is how we feel relevant and useful as humans.  Perhaps the link between work and happiness has something to do with that.

I’m grateful to people who helped me learn how to make memories back in the day.  I look forward to seeing you again.

Up late again,

Greg

The strangest of holidays…

December 28, 2009

The past week has been an unusual christmas holiday for our family and those around us.

Because both kayeleen and I are in ward leadership positions, we keep abreast of illnesses in the ward.  Last week we had a family go to the hospital because the husband had an obstructed bowel.  It required surgery and the removal of 6 inches of his colon on christmas eve.  We brought the wife dinner and Kayeleen tried to comfort her as best she was able.

The morning before christmas eve I helped Bishop move a member into her mothers home.  She and her husband had decided to split up.  It’s sad because I consider them both to be friends, though I’ve not been able to spend much time with either of them.  The next day the husband was stabbed twice in the back by a co-worker.  He is currently in critical condition.

The day after christmas I was sitting at my parent’s home after having just made the 2 hour drive.  I had a bit of a backache start and within 10 minutes we had to go to the hospital because the pain had grown tremendously.  It was a kidney stone, but it luckily passed very quickly and I was home before dinner, though very tired.

Today Johnathan has vomited several times and is dehydrated enough to need an I.V. at the doctors office.  He’s grey and lethargic.

Weird weird holidays.

I think it was the moment when Johnathan stood next to me with his little plastic cup that I thought: “I had better update my website. I should let people know what’s going on. The general public has a need to know that Johnathan just used his plastic cup to drink toilet water.”

Then there was some yelling and grabbing and washing of the hands and face.

I plan on updating any and all who care on the subject of my kids and family life, but for the time being I want to explain what’s going on with work.

Back in June we were on a family vacation and my belt broke.  I was a little dismayed.  I remember the moment, looking down at the floor, and thinking “I can’t afford a new belt.”

It was actually a big shock to me.

I had been working quite a bit over the past year or so since graduation.  At first, business went very well, but as the recession deepened I found that my meetings were less and less productive.  Income went from “getting by” to drying up entirely for about 4 months.  I remember it was that moment that I knew it was time to look for work.

I am very very sad to be leaving such an amazing company as Northwestern Mutual.  They’ve treated me extremely well over the last couple years.  The bottom line, however, is that I need to have an income stream rather than the dangerous hit-and-miss of commission only work.

I’ve signed on to work with American National Insurance.  This means I’ll be offering the same types of products and services, but with the addition of Home, Auto, Farm, and Business insurance.  American National is a very strong company, which is good; and they pay their claims promptly and without fighting their policyowners, which is the most important thing to me.

Anyway,  It should be good for my family and good for the people who I can work with and serve.

I wrote an article almost 3 years ago about my mission. I’m re-posting it here.

The roadThe last couple of weeks I’ve fallen asleep each night in memories of my mission to Taiwan. My thoughts are in Chinese, and I find myself wondering what ever happened to a certain person or what’s new in a certain city. Most of my place marks on Google Earth are in northern Taiwan, making it seem I know Taipei city better than I know the United States.

It’s because I mark the most unusual things there. Here’s the place with the attack dogs. Here’s the place they dedicated Taiwan. Here’s the temple. Here was my house. Here’s where I saw monkeys. Here’s brother so-and-so’s house. Here’s my favorite fried rice shop.

I think it’s because America is always here for me. But when I see that view of the Taiwanese streets from 850 feet or so I worry I’ll forget something. I’ll forget that road between the apartment and the church in Banqiao that I took every single morning for 3 months. The one that led right through the morning market. I think I’m afraid I’ll forget even the incidentals of the most valued experience of my life so far.

The mission is a chance to see what you are truly capable of. To let you find out what happens when you focus all of your energy all of the time on one thing. You never love as deeply and as powerfully as you do while on your mission. If you do it right, eventually you can’t really help it. You see somebody and you feel love for him or her.

My mission is full of memories and experiences that are so intense in emotion – particularly love – that I can’t adequately express it to anybody. Even those who have gone on missions can’t really explain it to others who have gone. All we can do is smile at each other and say “Yeah.” It’s like saying “I was there. I know.” Some compare it to being brothers in a war having returned from fighting the greatest battle.

And it makes me sad, too. Because what I would like to do more than anything else is pull the feelings from my chest and place them into the hearts of those who haven’t experienced such depth of experience. But perhaps part of what makes the emotions so strong is the fight to earn them.

From beginning to end, the mission was greater than the part I played in it. I was changed far more than I changed anything or anybody. From day one there was never any doubt that there is a God, and that this is the work He wanted me to do. And looking back from the end of the mission it was clear in the same way that the sky is blue that this God is good, that He is in control, and that He loves me, and that He loves every person on the planet. That He knows our names and our thoughts. That He moves with power on this earth even today.

The words represent feelings and knowledge that are so much more profound than the words are capable of describing. I use sentences like that and it just sounds religious – but it’s so much more than what we think of as religion. I imagine climbing a mountain only to find you’ve conquered a foothill.

I can’t and don’t feel like describing the events of my mission right now, but I feel it important to mark now how I feel almost 5 months after being back. To those who read this and are members of my same church – serve, if you are able, and be prepared to learn far more than you ever imagined you didn’t know. For those who are not members of my same church I say: seek miracles and be prepared to accept them in places you didn’t expect to.

I know that God lives and is with us.

-Greg

In my work I’ve had many opportunities to meet with college age families and individuals. I’ve also met with many young professionals. In these meetings there is a certain “type” that appears about once every ten or so meetings. This is the self-help / retire early / get rick quick person. These are the people who not only watch the seminars from the rich gurus, but decide they want that lifestyle for themselves.

I have no problem with the changing attitudes about retirement. Retirement is no longer the age where your body can’t work any more so you sit in the lay-z boy and watch Jeopardy all day. Now it’s the time of your life where if you don’t want to work, you don’t have to. That’s great! There’s nothing better than working for yourself rather than for money.

The problem is the increasing attitude of “and I want it NOW!” That pervasive sense of entitlement that seems to have completely absorbed the younger generations.

The young people (and occasionally people in their thirties and forties!) who I’m talking about usually have this to say for themselves: “I see myself as retired in 5 years at about one or two hundred thousand dollars per year from residual income.”

I always find it remarkable that they all use 5 years as their time horizon, and they all use the phrase “residual income.”

Almost none of them have a plan to achieve it beyond “I want to own several businesses and real estate.”

Then there’s the growing ranks of the four hour workweek club. These are they who want to do the minimum possible to gain the minimum income possible to live the retirement lifestyle they envision for themselves immediately.

What both of these groups fail to acknowledge is that they endlessly covet what they don’t have, and fail to recognize the value of working hard for something better. They seek to follow the easiest path to misery in luxury.

What I don’t want to say is that retiring at 30 is bad. What I don’t mean is that wealth is somehow a negative thing. What I am saying is that the younger generation, myself included, sees work as something to avoid. Somehow an honest day’s work has become equated with slavery. We’ve been given all we need for the first 20 years of our lives and then tossed to the “real world” and expected to totally embrace self sufficiency. It’s no wonder that so many move back home with their parents, even in their 30s.

The fallacy of the four hour workweek is that it can’t bring satisfaction – only distraction.

We need to learn to work and recognize the happiness we can get out of simply doing it, no matter what type of work it is. A person who works and produces is the person most likely to find happiness and grow as an individual. The person waiting endlessly for their entitled good life is the endlessly miserable one, though living in comfortable ease.

See what Mike Rowe has to say about it here: http://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs.html

My economy worries

March 3, 2009

The Great Wave

The Great Wave

Are you sick of this yet? Even if you’re unaffected by the recession of late, it’s likely you’re sick of the news, commentary, posturing, and problems. I know I am.

Yet I can’t seem to let it go. As a culture, I think, we all tend to look for some as-of-yet undefined, great, “The End,” somewhere ahead – a cataclysmic final page to the story of the individual, nation, or world. It’s built into our upbringing as Americans. And, just as I did during the first few days after September 11, 2001; I find myself wondering, “Is this it? This time?” And though I find myself feeling more worried over time instead of less, I still feel confident in answering, “Nope.”

Similarly, I’ve been asking myself over the past few months “Is it over yet? Is this it? Is now the time when things start turning around?” Agian, I feel some level of confidence in answering, “Nope.” What I want to do is tell you why I think that way.

The problems we face today, I feel, are caused by two problems with the great American economy. They are specifically that we embrace debt, and that certain parts of the American Lifestyle grow in expense faster than the average earnings of the average American. This second problem simply feeds the first, as we buy on credit so we can have the things we can’t truly afford. We do this again and again for things as basic as insurance coverage to cars, homes, groceries, and any number of other things. Eventually our flow of income is completely diverted to other sources and bills start going unpaid. The once profitable flow of cash and income turns back upon itself in a crushing wave of debt.

Because Debt and payment plans in general are such a basic part of the American Lifestyle it’s become an investable and insurable asset in the economy. But when this debt wave began to crest and break, those companies who invested heavily in debt instruments found themselves suddenly worthless. (An example, I recently read that insurance giant The Hartford has a stock value now less than the actual value of it’s vast cash reserves. Wild.)

It’s been a rough ride so far. I’ve worked with several young families who one week had plans to begin their retirement investment program, or insurance program; and the next week they call to say they’ve lost their jobs and will be moving home with mom and dad. (Mom and dad are usually in pretty dire situations, too.)

The big problem is that there are certain parts of the average American’s budget which grow bigger and bigger each year or each generation. These monsters eventually consume the rest of the budget and force the individual into insolvency. These are especially: The cost of Health Care, which inflates at about 7% per year (or doubles in cost every 10 years if you want to think of it that way) and which increases as a person ages; the cost of housing, which, on average, inflates at about 5% per year; and the cost of an advanced education, which costs, on average, 7% more each year.

Most people only gain about 3% per year on their income. Do you see the problem here?

With the help of the recent government plans and bailouts, etc, there could be an end to the current financial crisis very soon. Things could get better. But it could get much much worse. Here’s how:

The U.S. Government is just like an individual in some ways. The Government also has a budget, has ongoing financial obligations, and carries a huge amount of debt. In recent times, that ebb and flow of income and payments has remained essentially in balance – though there are always those who disagree.

However, by the end of the next decade, a massive swell is moving down the pipe. For most of us, we’re hoping that if we ignore it it will go away. It wont. It’s the cost of social security, medicaid and medicare. In about ten more years the monster of health care doubling yet again plus the huge amount of retirees combine to completely devour the federal budget as it is today.

There are only two outcomes: the federal aid programs continue, thus necessitating a vast tax increase; or the federal aid programs are diminished, thus requiring each individual to care for his or her own families’ needs.

It is most likely, in my opinion, that the government will write itself a credit line, trying to swallow up this problem in a long stream of gulps rather than all at once. More credit means a much larger debt payment in the budget. More payments means more taxes and cut programs.

Now imagine for yourself – your health care costs have more than doubled as you are now 10 years more unhealthy and health care costs have inflated at 7%. Your children’s education now costs twice as much as it does today. And your tax bill has just increased.

Add to those the car payment, house payment, utilities, and other living expenses. Will you have enough to even get by?

Now imagine if this begins to happen today. More debts go unpaid. More banks become insolvent and start to call in the debts they’re owed by the average cardholder. The cycle continues and industry after industry fails.

In reality, these things have been going on bit by bit for a long time and will continue long after we’re through the current crisis. It is unlikely that the ’08-’09 recession will suddenly be driven into a second great depression. If things get worse it will probably be gradual and will take place after the recovery from our current recession. Putting off problems is our national pastime today just as it has been for the past century or so.

(It’s no wonder, then, that the youth of today have to take on more and more debt to get through college. Nor, then, should it be a surprise that people are choosing to live with their parents for decades longer than they did a generation ago, or that the last thing a person does before leaving this world is to devour all their estate on paying for the high cost of long term care and other medical needs. But I get off subject.)

The answer to this impending crisis, both individually and in a worldwide sense, is to avoid debt. If, as a society, we weren’t clamoring for bigger and better homes than our parents and their parents had, and if banks hadn’t been willing to give it to us, treating debt like an unfailing and perfect resource, it would not have come to this.

Avoid debt as much as you can. Save up for yourself. Only those who aren’t already stretched to their budgetary limits will survive if this next wave comes crashing down.

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