The latest in midlife crises

03 N1903P68004C“The exact instant you realize that you have less time in front of you than you do behind you is the moment the crisis begins.”

A Floridian named George Raymond wrote that to The Wall Street Journal in response to a WSJ article last month, “The Virtuous Midlife Crisis.” If Baby Boomers, Americans born between 1946 and 1964, most of whom are now on Medicare and Social Security, suffered midlife crises involving sports cars, younger and/or multiple partners, tattoos, facelifts and fancy jewelry, their children now settling into middle age are putting their stamp on that venerable midlife phenomenon. Instead of partying in Las Vegas, Gen Xers are meditating, eating well and hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Andrea Petersen, author of “The Virtuous Midlife Crisis,” put it, “Many people facing midlife now don’t want to blow up their lives, just upgrade them.” Having married later than their parents, Gen Xers may feel that they have already had plenty of fun and want to stay healthy and happy for as long as they can. Many appear less concerned with achievement and money than with life experiences and overall well-being.

Gen Xers’  revised thinking in midlife is having impacts in all sorts of ways. Doctors report more people in their 40s and 50s are altering lifestyles by less food and drink and more exercise, with a clear goal of staving off lifestyle-related conditions including cancer, heart disease and possibly dementia. Yoga and meditation classes are packed with middle-agers. Travel professionals increasingly book “adventure” travel for Gen Xers to commemorate birthdays, anniversaries and other life markers. Why party on a yacht when you can go biking or hiking — maybe in a far-flung destination and maybe in your neighborhood — seems to be the operative thought.

At first blush, Gen Xers’ rejection of their Boomer parents’ midlife crises to strive for a healthier one probably stings a bit to Mom and Dad, but there is a darker side as well. While today’s middle-agers seek well-being, economists point out that Gen Xers face economic realities their parents did not. Many of them came into adulthood in the early 1990s, during a recession, and were starting families and trying to become homeowners during the mortgage scandal Great Recession of the 2000s. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, only about one-third of Gen Xers have the wealth their parents did at their age, and many have six times more debt.

Patty David, director of consumer insights for the American Association of Retired People, or  AARP, puts it this way. For Gen Xers, the American Dream centers on “well-being, to be healthy and not necessarily worry about the big expensive things and having all the money. … Because they can’t have everything Boomers have, their American Dream isn’t going to be what the boomers’ … was.”

As a proud Boomer watching with great fascination as her massive generation, once the largest in American history, moves through the demographic snake and changes every institution it encounters, I salute Gen Xers for approaching middle age their way. Individually we all do it our way, of course, and there are millions of Boomers living healthy lifestyles and engaging in what is now deemed “self-care.” There are also millions of Gen Xers who may well head to Las Vegas, or at least Myrtle Beach, for their birthdays. And, there are folks in both generations neither buying convertible sports cars nor meditating for hours on end.

Wherever we may be on the continuum, it does appear to at least this Boomer that our children, the Gen-Exers, are copying not so much our choices as following their grandparents, the Greatest Generation. That generation forged by the Depression and World War II and now almost gone, counseled all things in moderation.

Six to one. Mayor wins. Fayetteville loses!

02 Colvins building If I were a property owner or downtown Fayetteville business, I would be looking at the members of the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission with one eye closed saying, “What the hell were they thinking?” after voting 6-1 to allow Mayor Mitch Colvin several unapproved changes to his downtown building that violated the commissioners’ Certificate of Appropriateness guidelines.

Colvin’s building is the old Kress building. He painted the building and added glass and aluminum doors to it.

Eight responsible Fayetteville citizens were charged with overseeing policies designed to establish and maintain the dignity and historic integrity of our downtown community. Then they spinelessly acquiesced with authoritative objections as meaningless, ineffective and ferocious as a collective pack of paper tigers. The unintended consequence of this action is heard loud and clear by all downtown property owners: Mea culpa is an acceptable strategic tactic to get things accomplished downtown since COA violations have no consequences. No fines, no sanctions, no reprimands or penalties. Out of the eight — only one responsible, policymaking, law-abiding, honest, Fayetteville citizen with integrity took their responsibility as a board member seriously and had the backbone to ward off the threats and intimidation of those who perceive themselves above the law. That is downtown businessman Bruce Arnold, owner of Rude Awakening coffee shop. Even with his sense of responsibility, he is that lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to demonstrating a leadership style that reflects doing the right thing for the right reasons. It was Arnold who pointed out that Colvin violated the COA and gamed the system by making unauthorized changes to his building. Sadly, even after acknowledging and condemning the violations, the FHRC board voted to approve the changes 6-1 with Henry Tyson abstaining because of a compromising conflict of interest.

Even with this dubious victory tucked securely under his belt, Colvin took to social media to continue his undignified attack on Arnold by doubling-down and playing the race card. No doubt to draw attention away from his misdeed by garnering sympathy from his supporters — without any regard to the fact he is dividing our community. This is not leadership. However, it is a near-perfect example of why Fayetteville struggles to project a positive image and gain respect among statewide peers and why it’s difficult to attract industry to our community. But, there is something even more troubling here. Colvin is only one person cashing in on his authority and privilege. Bruce Arnold is only one person trying to do the right thing for the right reasons.

 Troubling is the fact that seven Fayetteville residents serving in leadership positions on the Fayetteville Historic Resources Commission (Thomas Batson, Jeremy Fiebig, Gordon Johnson, Tiffany Ketchum, George Turner, Henry Tyson, Liz Vernadoe), collectively not only recognized, identified and acknowledged Colvin’s violations and wrongdoing, but they refused to take the appropriate action. Their refusal left one of their own FHRC board members, who followed the rules, enforced the policies and executed the FHRC’s responsibilities, out in the cold to absorb the full wrath of the mayor all by himself. That’s a significant betrayal of trust and dereliction of responsibility.
Sure, we assume we know what the commissioners were thinking when the vote was taken: “Too late now. The work is already done.” True as that may be, the question remains: Why are they serving on the board in the first place? And, what about the future? How is this commission going to handle the next set of COA

Something else is disturbing about this situation. Before Bill Kirby’s comments appeared in Saturday’s Feb. 1 edition of The Fayetteville Observer’s article “You are right, Mr. Turner; vote doesn’t look good,” many people had already expressed the same sentiments as Kirby. Social media and blogs exploded and were having a field day with the FHRC decision and the resulting 6-1 vote, saying it was shortsighted and ill-conceived. Kirby’s observations and analysis were right on point, but after the fact. In the weeks before the vote, The Fayetteville Observer could have and should have assigned a reporter to this story, talked with the mayor about the situation and interviewed downtown residents, businesses and property owners from the downtown historic district as well as individual FHRC commission members.

This style of investigative reporting is the purest form of journalism, yet, it didn’t happen. Why? I suspect it would have caused a public outcry, resulting in the mayor having to comply with the COA. Or maybe that it would put some of the FHRC members at odds with the mayor or any of the building’s “unnamed” partners. Transparency and a little objective reporting just might have stirred up public sentiment, which would have provided the information and confidence that the FHRC board needed to face the violation head-on. Unfortunately, it’s too late now, and the virtual can has been kicked way down Hay St. Bad decisions always have consequences. You can bet you will see that can again in the near future.

In marketing, your brand — whether personal or business — is defined by a combination of who you are, what you are and what you stand for. I’ll be surprised if the stigma of this poor decision doesn’t cause at least a few, if not all, of the FHRC members’ resignations. No one enjoys being used or publicly compromised. This case could be the poster child for both. We’ll see.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Are you a mindful investor?

05 moneyRecently, we’ve seen an increased interest in mindfulness, although the concept itself is thousands of years old. Essentially, being mindful means you are living very much in the present, highly conscious of your thoughts and feelings. However, being mindful doesn’t mean acting on those thoughts and feelings — it’s just the opposite. With mindfulness, your decision-making is based on cognitive skills and a rational perspective, rather than emotions. As such, mindfulness can be quite valuable as you make investment decisions.

Two of the most common emotions or tendencies associated with investing are fear and greed. Let’s see how they can affect investors’ behavior.

• When investors are fearful … Investors’ biggest fear is losing money. So, how did many of them respond during the steep market decline from late 2007 through early 2009? They began selling off their stocks and stock-based mutual funds and fled for “safer” investments, such as Treasury bills and certificates of deposit. But mindful investors witnessed the same situation and saw something else: a great buying opportunity. By looking past the fear of losing money, they recognized the chance to buy quality investments at bargain prices. And they were rewarded for their patience, long-term perspective and refusal to let fear govern their decisions, because 10 years after the market bottomed out in March 2009 (as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average), it had risen about 300%.

• When investors are greedy … We only have to go back a few years before the 2007-09 bear market to see a classic example of greed in the investment world. From 1995 to early 2000, investors chased after almost any company that had “dot com” in its name, even companies with no business plans, no assets and, in some cases, no products. Yet, the rising stock prices of these companies led more and more investors to buy shares in them, causing a greed-driven vicious circle — more demand led to higher prices, which led to more demand. But the bubble burst in March 2000, and by October 2002, the technology-dominated Nasdaq stock index had fallen more than 75%. And since some of these companies not only lost value, but went out of business, many investors never recouped their investments.

To avoid the dangers of fear and greed, take these steps:

• Know your investments. Make sure you understand what you’re investing in. Know the fundamentals, such as the quality of the product or service, the skill of the management team, the state of the industry, whether the stock is priced fairly or overvalued, and so on. The better informed you are, the less likely you’ll be to chase after “hot” investments or to bail out on good ones.

• Rebalance when necessary. If you’ve decided your portfolio should contain certain percentages of stocks, bonds and other vehicles, stick to those percentages and rebalance when necessary.

• Keep investing. Ups and downs are a normal feature of the investment landscape. By continuing to invest over time, rather than stopping and starting, you can reduce the effects of volatility on your portfolio.
It’s not always easy to be a mindful investor and to avoid letting emotions drive your decisions – but it’s well worth the effort.

Potluck on the highway

14 car at side of roadReturning from a funeral in Texas, I encountered on the west outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina, on I-20, a 10-year old Lincoln four-door sedan, which had “just died”. Occupants were “Kiki”, the driver, a 30-something-year-old woman with a purple wig, “Estevan” a 25-year old guy and two young grade-school kids. Kiki told me that the clamps to her battery posts — battery was in the trunk — were loose and the car had cut off several times.

 I asked how she knew the clamps were loose. She replied that she had gotten a jump start from someone else who had told her that, but this person didn’t have any tools to tighten the clamps. I figured that getting the clamps tightened would be easy, and it was — only one clamp was loose, but it required six 1-inch-long segments of paper clip wire inserted between the clamp and post to add enough bulk to the post. This paper clip trick on the battery worked, since the engine started right away and kept running. 

In the trunk, I noticed that the vehicle’s donut spare had no air; there was a gap where there should have been a bead between the tire and the rim. The spare was not needed since there was no flat tire, but when I told Kiki about the empty spare and offered to try to inflate it, she agreed.

I was hoping that my new more-powerful Viair compressor would pump air into the tire fast enough to reseal the bead without having to use a ratchet strap around the tread to force the tire’s inner lip against the rim. After massaging the tire with my hand as the compressor hummed away, I was delighted to hear a very loud pop as the bead sealed. As Estevan looked on I pointed out a jack in the trunk, but there was no lug wrench.
I informed Kiki of all this, recommending she get a lug wrench. It was then that she told me also that the vehicle’s steering was very loose so the car was hard to keep in a lane. I advised her to call for a tow or drive the car slowly and directly to a shop like Pep Boys in Columbia.
She replied that she had no money for either so she would have to try to drive it another 20 miles to her original destination. Before we split, Kiki and Estevan both thanked me for helping them. I hope they made it.
Walt’s tips:
Keep battery clamps tight, so they cannot be moved by hand.
Check the spare tire for proper inflation.
Have tire changing tools.
If the car cannot be steered safely, park it!

What’s love got to do with it?

 04 IMG 0365What’s that signpost up ahead? Beware, you are about to cross over into the Valentine Zone. It’s the middle ground between light and shadow, science and superstition. It lies between the pit of man’s fears and women’s expectations. This is the dimension of sensitivity. A place where no man is safe from making a bumble-headed move in affairs of the heart.

As a public service to men everywhere, today’s stain on world literature will explain what love is. Gentlemen start your engines. As our Beloved Dear Leader might report: “Many people say that love is a hot-blooded emotion.” Au contraire, as our French friends would say love is best exemplified by the world’s greatest cold-blooded lover. I speak of the Casanova of Reptilian Love, the one, the only, Diego the Giant Tortoise of Amor. Diego was recently the subject of an admiring article in The New York Times written by Amee Ortiz. If Amee said it, I believe it and that settles it. Diego has recently retired as the King of Tortoise Love, which triggered The New York Times article.
Let us first consider Diego’s background to determine what made him such a superstar in the giant tortoise world. Diego was hatched around 1920 on the island of Espanola. At some point in the 1930s, he emigrated from Espanola to his current home in the Galapagos. Diego’s personal stats are impressive. When he extends his full length, he is almost 5 feet long and weighs over 175 pounds. That is a lot of giant tortoise. Despite Diego’s uncanny resemblance to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Lady Tortoise’s can’t get enough of Diego. Who says love is blind? Diego says so.

To misquote our old pal, Percy Bysshe Shelly in his poem “Ozymandias,” “Look upon Diego’s works, ye mighty warm-blooded mammals, and despair!” Diego is over 100 years old and a stud among studs. He had a way with the lady tortoises that resulted in saving his species from extinction. He was placed in a captive breeding program in the 1970s in the Galapagos Islands. When Diego signed up for romantic duty, there were only 14 giant tortoises of his tribe, the Chelonoidis hoodensis, on the island. The 14 giant tortoises consisted of 12 lady tortoises, Diego and another male with the uninspiring name of E5. Things were looking bleaker than the chance the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA tournament for the survival of the species until Diego rose to the occasion. When Diego had finished doing his thing in 2019, there were 2,000 giant tortoises on the island. These statistics demonstrate that baby giant tortoises are proof that male giant tortoises look good to female giant tortoises.

Through the giant tortoise equivalent of 23 & Me genetic testing, it turns out that Diego was responsible for 40% of the resulting baby giant tortoises. This does mean that his buddy, E5 was responsible for 60% of the new giant tortoises, but Diego gets all the publicity. Obviously, Diego has a much better press agent than E5 — as well as a much catchier name. Professor James Gibbs, head guru of giant tortoise Love Island, explained Diego’s fame, saying that “Diego has a big personality — quite aggressive, active and vocal in his mating habits, and so I think he has gotten most of the attention. But it clearly is the other quieter male that has had much more success. Maybe he prefers to mate more at night.”

Makes you wonder what sweet nothings Diego bellows in the ears of the lady tortoises. It also makes you wonder if tortoises have ears. Have you ever seen a giant tortoise’s ears? Not me. But apparently Diego knew where to look. Apparently, lady tortoises have an aural spot with which Diego could tickle their fancy. One can only wonder what Diego whispered to his lady loves — “If loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be a giant tortoise,” “This giant tortoise is in love with you,” “I just bellowed to say ‘I love you’” “Tortoise love will keep us together,” “All you need is tortoise love,” “I want to hold your claw,” or possibly “My shell, Ma Belle.” The ways of giant tortoise love are a many splendored thing.

Diego is going to be sent back to his home island of Espanola, where he is going to live out the rest of his days writing his memoirs, telling lies to his tortoise buddies about his multiple romantic conquests and appearing in commercials for Viagra.

So, what can Diego teach mere mortal men about love in this most dangerous time of the upcoming Valentine Zone? Toot your own horn. Have a big personality. Promise her anything but remember to deliver. Slow and steady wins the race to repopulate. Never, ever give up. Even if you look like Mitch McConnell, there is a woman who is right for you.

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