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How To Pull off the Cross-Country Road Trip of a Lifetime for Under $4000

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How To Pull off the Cross-Country Road Trip of a Lifetime for Under $4000

If you haven’t seen the infographic showing the computer generated driving route for a road trip that hits landmarks in all 48 continental states, I suggest you check it out. Randy Olsen’s model is an amazingly efficient way to see “must see” locations in each of the lower 48 states (assuming, of course, you have the time to do it)...

For as long as we both can remember, my wife and I have dreamed of one taking our own road trip across the U.S. (albeit not as ambitious as Randy’s). This Summer, we packed our Suburu Forester with camping supplies, canned goods and our two 70 lb. dogs, and made that dream a reality whilst visiting 18 National Parks, Forests, and Recreation Areas - traversing all the way from Upstate New York to California, North to Montana, and back home in 23 days.    

To say it was incredible would be an understatement. Four + months later, we still find ourselves referencing the trip regularly and can’t wait to return to some our favorite spots. Before I discuss our process for planning the trip and detail out our specific route, here are a few suggestions for planning your own cost-effective epic cross-country adventure. 

  • Plan Extensively But Remain Flexible – In my opinion, Kerrin (my wife) and I struck a great balance between thoroughly researching potential locations, carefully planning our route, and improvising our way to new and novel destinations. We booked roughly half of our campsites and hotels ahead of time and found the other places ad hoc, which gave us a lot of flexibility. By not over-planning and keeping three “open days”, we were able to visit a few places we didn’t expect without tweaking our existing reservations in some of the busier locations. 
  • Default to Camping and Supplement with Hotel Rooms– If you haven’t camped before, I highly suggest you try it. The National Parks, Forests, and Recreation Areas nearly all have Campgrounds, most of which offer views and vistas that trump nearly any hotel at fraction of the cost ($12-$20 a night). Sunset Magazine has detailed recommendations on most of the country’s best campsites, many of which can be reserved up to six months in advance via www.recreation.gov. Our camp set-up included a Coleman 4-Person Instant Tent, two self-inflating air pads, and one incredibly comfortable two-person sleeping bag. In all, we camped a total of 15 nights and stayed in hotels for 6, which we could have easily trimmed to 4-5 had we not insisted on doing three consecutive 12-14 hour shifts on our drive home. Our strategically spaced hotel visits provided a nice reprieve from camp showers and shared bathrooms, which wasn’t the worst thing 2+ weeks into our trip. 
  • Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and California Offer A Lot of Bang for Your Buck – Between these four connecting states, you’ll find a grand total of 20 National Parks. If you want to see a lot of places in as short time as possible, incorporate at least one of these states into your trip. I highly recommend prioritizing Utah, as Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, and Zion National Parks are all AMAZING and in relatively close proximity, while the Grand Canyon’s (less travelled) North Rim in Arizona isn’t far. 
  • Keep Food Costs Low But Eat Healthy – As someone who eats pretty healthy and generally avoids gluten and processed foods, I couldn’t stomach 3+ weeks of fast food while trying to hike everyday. We effectively prepped by packing nearly a case of canned beans, protein bars, packages of Almonds, jars of Sauerkraut, and a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables - which we replenished multiple times throughout the trip. By doing so, we were able to eat well while only spending money on one meal “out” a day (on average). In retrospect, we would have actually saved more by doing more camp meals over the fire, as they were surprisingly tasty and quite cost effective.   
  • Pressed for Time?  Consider Alternative Modes of Transport – Both Kerrin and I were set on the idea of taking our two dogs and weren’t all that intimidated at the idea of driving from New York to Colorado in two days time.  Another option would have been to fly out west and rent an RV from a company like Cruise America, as this would have saved us a lot of driving time but significantly increased our costs. I’m very happy we got to see every state but could definitely see the benefit in this approach. 
  • Plan for Emergencies – This should be an obvious point, but I’m going to state it anyway. Besides extra blankets, a spare tire and jack, a serious first aid kit, we also carried bear spray, extra flashlights, gallons of water (especially in Utah, Nevada and Arizona), and few other accouterments to ensure our comfort and safety.  Doing so gave us piece of mind in some of the more remote and rugged landscapes..

Still with me? 

Here’s a bit about our process...  

We planned our 23 day adventure around the idea that there were four National Parks we had to visit: Zion, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, but later decided to include Glacier National Park as the fifth. We then sprinkled in other potential National areas that both looked incredible while being en-route to a next destination, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Bryce Canyon. 

While traveling, we decided to do both Arches and Canyonlands in one day, skipped Bryce Canyon and ventured through the Glen Canyon Recreation Area to camp on the shore of Lake Powell. We also added Lake Tahoe as an impromptu stop as well. Due to simple proximity, we were able to both camp in and pass through a number of National Forests and Recreation Areas in addition to the National Parks, while spending time in 18 different states.   

Anyhow – here’s what we actually did, day by day.  If we were to do it all over again, there are a few things we’d tweak or optimize further, but not many.   

 

Trip Itinerary

Day 1 – Tuesday, June 30

·      Drove from Halfmoon, NY to Des Moines, Iowa.  Approximate Drive Time – 18 hours

·      Lodging – Hotel in Des Moines

Day 2 - Wednesday, July 1

·      Drove from Des Moines to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Approximate Drive Time – 10 hours

·      *Camp – Moraine Park Campground

Day 3 - Thursday, July 2

·      Hiked Rocky Mountain National Park, Explored Roosevelt National Forest and Toured Boulder, Colorado

·      Lodging – Hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Day 4 - Friday, July 3

·      Explored Manti La Sal National Forest and Buckeye Recreation Area on Colorado, Utah border

·      *Camp – Buckeye Recreation Area (note:  beautiful location, but VERY dangerous if you don’t stay on main roads.  I wouldn’t recommend this location)

Day 5 - Saturday, July 4*

·      Explored both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

·      Camp – Bureau of Land Management campground outside Moab, Utah

Day 6 – Sunday, July 5

·      Explored (beautiful) Utah and Glen Canyon Recreation Area en route to Lake Powell

·      *Camp –Wahweap RV & Campground

Day 7 – Monday, July 6

·      Drove to Grand Canyon North Rim (note: the North Rim was more accessible than the South Rim given our route).  Approximate Drive Time – 1 hour

·      *Camp – Jacob Creek Recreation Area

Day 8 - Tuesday, July 7

·      Drove to Zion.  Approximate Drive Time from North Rim - 2 hours

·      Camp – Watchman Campground

Day 9 - Wednesday, July 8  

·      More Zion

·      Camp – Watchman Campground

Day 10 - Thursday, July 9 * 

·      Drove to Mammoth Lakes, CA (Yosemite area).  Approximate Drive Time - 8 hours (through Nevada). 

·      Lodging – Hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA (1+ hour to Yosemite)

Day 11 - Friday, July 10 *

·      Explored Yosemite

·      Lodging – Hotel in Mammoth Lakes, CA (1+ hour to Yosemite)

Day 12 - Saturday, July 11

·      Drove to and explored Lake Tahoe.  Approximate Drive Time – 2.5 Hours

·      Camp – Rural RV Park outside Lake Tahoe

Day 13 - Sunday, July 12

·      Drove from Lake Tahoe to Idaho Falls, Idaho

·      Lodging – Hotel in Idaho Falls

Day 14 - Monday, July 13

·      Drove to and explored Grand Teton National Park.  Approximate Drive Time: 2 Hours

·      Camp – Signal Mountain Campground

Day 15 - Tuesday, July 14 *

·      Explored Grand Teton National Park.  Approximate Drive Time: 2 Hours

·      Camp – Signal Mountain Campground

Day 16 – Wednesday, July 15

·      Drive to Yellowstone.  Approximate Drive Time: 30 Minutes to park entrance

·      Camp – Private campsite just outside park on Montana Side  

Day 17 - Thursday, July 16

·      More Yellowstone

·       Camp –Private camp just outside park on Montana Side  

Day 18 - Thursday, July 17 *

·      Drive to and explored Glacier National Park.   Approximate Drive Time:  6 Hours

·      Camped - Apgar Campground (Beautiful location, though, in retrospect, we would have stayed on the other side of the park)

Day 19- Friday, July 18 *

·      Explored Glacier National Park

·      Camped – Apgar Campground  

Day 20 – Saturday, July 19

·      Started Trek Home :(

*Indicates specific campground/location was bookable ahead of time.  Note:  we didn’t make reservations for Wahweap or Glacier

 

Is there anything you’d change or further optimize from our trip?  Have you done your own cross-country trip?  If so – share details in the comments section... 

 

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In a Career Funk?  Four Books to Upgrade Your "Personal Operating System"

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In a Career Funk? Four Books to Upgrade Your "Personal Operating System"

In my role as a career counselor to some of the brightest students and alums in the Country, I’m often surprised to encounter talented clients who feel stuck. Highly intelligent people that feel they’re on a predestined track rather than empowered; unable to see the all the potential possibilities their skills, network, and experience afford them.

One client I recently spoke to, “Julie”, secured an assistant role at a major television studio shortly after graduating.  As someone aspiring to work in the entertainment industry, paying her dues in an entry-level position seemed like the right place to start her ascension up the corporate ladder. 

Julie quickly found, however, that her days were consumed up with administrative tasks.  Moreover, her role did nothing to engage her intellect or creativity, and led her to question both her skill set and overall value.  Though she’s likely to be promoted in the next few months, she’s dreading it and feels fixed to her role – unable to identify or explore other potential opportunities, despite the fact she has an impressive network and credentials. 

When I’m working with clients like Julie that feel powerless, I gently recommend they upgrade their “personal operating system” – their mindset, perspective and thinking, so as to better prepare them to think deeply and tackle challenges.  

Just like your computer won’t be at peak performance if it’s using Windows 95, your ability to make things happen for yourself will be compromised if you’re not willing to get out of your comfort zone, challenge your most deeply held assumptions, or let the negative voice in your head run unchecked.

Below is a small cross-section of books I recommend to people who need help upgrading their mindset.   While each serves slightly different purposes, I’ve found they’ve all helped me expand my ability to think objectively, see new possibilities, and live in the present.     

·       “The 4 Hour Workweek”- The title of this book is misleading, but the content is great.  Tim Ferriss challenges long held assumptions regarding productivity, and provides a lot of tangible suggestions for reducing email dependence, automating systems, and increasing productivity with minimal bandwidth.  I've found this book has informed my approach to creating sustainable productivity systems that have maximum return on investment – particularly time.  It’s also helped me rethink my approach to work life balance and assessing productivity. 

·       “Zero to One” - This book is written by Peter Thiel, a legendary Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, who discusses how to build a world-class company from the ground up.  Thiel discusses the importance of, and processes behind, innovating, and how to structure a new organization capable of meeting its goals – no matter how lofty.  I find this book reinforces how to think for oneself, ask difficult questions, challenge assumptions, and iterate your approach so as to self-evolve in new and novel ways. 

·       “The Art of Learning” - I find this author, Josh Waitzkin, particularly fascinating, as he ascended to world-class status in a variety of very different fields, including Chess, Tai Chi, and Brazilian jiu jitsu.  In “The Art of Learning” ,Waitzkin deconstructs how he harnesses his intuition to internalize complex knowledge systems, and highlights how he utilizes routines to cultivate a deep sense of presence and maximize performance.  Waitzkin also provides really tangible suggestions for tapping the power of the unconscious mind in creative pursuits. Among other things, I've found the systems highlighted have helped me harness my creativity and perform well during high-stress situations. 

·       “The Intelligent Investor” - This is Warren Buffett's favorite book and I can see why.   Benjamin Graham provides a really thoughtful and detailed analysis of how to identify and invest in stocks and bonds that are undervalued. However, I find the transferable skills emphasized - learning to recognize and detach from emotional biases, improving analytical skills through thoughtful analysis of fact-based systems, and not chasing trends at the expense of one's core goal - are directly transferable to my work.  There is a surprising overlap with mindfulness here, too, as the book’s principals underscore the importance of clear thinking.    

Other titles I’d recommend – “Rebirth” by Kamal Ravikant takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, as the main character struggles with his father’s death, the loss of a woman he loved, and an uncertain future as he walks the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  “Black Swan” by Nassim Taleb discusses the frailties around human predictions and our tendency to construct narratives, and how “Black Swan” type events ultimately shape our lives.  “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans discuss how to use the process of Design Thinking to create a meaningful and fulfilling life. 

This is just a small cross-section of book I’ve found helpful.  What books have you found most useful in upgrading your personal operating system?      

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How to Crush Your Interview

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How to Crush Your Interview

As a Career Services professional who teaches interviewing to hundreds of students annually vying for some of the most competitive opportunities in the Country, I geek out every time I get to talk, teach, or practice interviewing.  However, like many people who interview tons of people, I find myself disappointed to learn the person sitting across me from me hasn't adequately prepared...

 So how do best prepare?  Whether you’re trying to break into a startup, mom and pop-business, fortune 500 company, or global NGO, there are a few simple and time efficient things you can do to prepare to absolutely crush your interview. 

Before The Interview

Learn Everything You Can About Your Target Organization, Office, and Interviewers

I often find that candidates don't know much about the organization to which they're applying.  At the very least, I suggest you know the following:  basic information about the organization’s mission, competitors, industry or market, client base, flagship products or programming, and recent news/headlines.  It's obviously not possible nor practical to learn everything possible about your target organization, but 1-2 hours of research should provide you enough baseline knowledge to understand organizational priorities.  

Often overlooked, but just as important, is taking time to research the specific people interviewing you. Learn anything you can about individuals you'll be spending significant amounts of time with (e.g., alma maters, work history, press coverage, social media presence, etc.).  The more insight you have into who person is that's interviewing you, the better chance you have of identifying areas off which to build rapport.  This can provide rich context for better targeting your answers and having more meaningful conversations.  

Craft A Compelling (But True) Reason For Why You Want the Job

In almost every interview, "Why (Organization Name or Position Title)", "What Interested You in This Position" or some kind of permutation therein is the first question asked. 

The trick for answering these types of questions to be specific, targeted, genuine, and, ideally memorable. Think through what, specifically, about this opportunity is unique?  Why do you want to join this community?  What 2-3 experiences or character traits do you offer that makes YOU uniquely qualified?  

 For instance:  “There are so many things I like about this job but, of everything, I’d say the opportunity to develop relationships in new and local markets is the most exciting.  I’ve been working in the area for three years, and already have contacts at Organization X, Y, and Z that would be interested in partnering with us.”

Targeted research can also come in a lot of handy.  Prior to your Interview, try to speak with at least one person connected to your target organization to learn more about the culture and extrapolate potential talking points.  If that's not possible, focus on one or two specific aspects of the opportunity that are genuinely appealing and connect them to your work history and/or personal interests.  

The people sitting on the other side of the table from you want someone who's not going to just be competent, but interested in doing the work.  Enthusiasm and warmth go a long way towards selling yourself for this question and establishing rapport with your interviewers, while provide you with positive momentum for the questions that follow.   

 

Prepare 6-8 Compelling Examples of Past Successes

Behavioral Interviewing, where you're asked to cite specific examples of your past experiences, is widely practiced as past experiences are generally the best indicators of future behavior.  

To prepare for these questions, I suggest identifying a number of past successes and/or challenges you resolved that they're particularly proud of.  While I don't think there's a magic number, I find that 6-8 examples are usually easy enough to remember and can cover a lot of potential questions.  The same answer you give to “Provide an example of a time where you launched a new program”, could very well apply to “Provide an example of a time you worked through a significant obstacle”. 

For each one example, write out the context of the presenting issue, specific actions that you took, and the positive end result.  Think of the acronym CAR as a shortcut... 

  • Context – “I just started working for this Rent-A-Car company when an irate customer came in saying he was overcharged.  I asked him which piece of his bill he was upset with, and learned his daily wasn’t discounted at the rate he was used too. As I looked into the matter more, I saw that he had been doing business with the company for years, and generally paid roughly 20% less than what he was charged for the week... a byproduct of our increased fee system and the fact he didn’t book with his company credit card.”
  • Action – “I let the man vent for a few minutes, and didn’t interrupt as he explained why he had received a discounted rate in the past through his company.  I empathetically told him I’d be upset too, as I brainstormed potential solutions. I quickly calculated that two days of a free rental would slightly more than make up for the lost cost, and offered him two free rental days on us.”
  • Result – “The customer shook my hand, thanked me for my patience, and told me he’d be back soon with more business.  Sure enough, he continued to rent from us, and even referred a few clients our way.”

 

Practice   

Like anything, the more you practice interviewing, the better you become. 

Consider hiring a career/interview coach and scheduling a practice interview.  A good coach will run you a few hundred dollars; money well spent if you get the job. 

  

Day Of Your Interview

 

Body Language Priming

If you haven't seen Amy Cuddy's Ted Talk: "Your Body Shapes Who You Are", check it out.  As silly as it sounds, just 15-20 seconds of "Power Posing" will go a long way towards making you feeling more confident.   

Prime your mind and body to kick butt... you’ll thank yourself (and Amy!) later. 

I’ve also found a quick, but intense, exercise sessions do a lot for activating your brain and elevating energy levels.  Even 3-5 minutes of high-intensity exercise can help you feel sharper and more confident. 

 

Ask Targeted, Insightful, and Inclusive Questions

 Your fourth grade teacher lied to you... there are stupid questions.  I've personally seen candidates ask about vacation time, benefits, and aspects of the job that either indicated they weren’t all that interested or could have been answered with a bit more research. 

 Another common mistake I see is the candidate not asking questions targeted towards, or inclusive of, the specific people in the room. Again - a tiny bit of research into the individual's interviewing you can go a long way.  For each specific question you craft, I'd suggest following one of two strategies or a combination therein.

  1. Ask something that shows your level insight into the organization and is open to anyone to answer.  For example:  "In my time here, I've noticed ________.  What makes (organization name) unique?".  Another question I like: "What are you looking for in an ideal candidate", will oftentimes give you a read on how well you’re doing, as the interviewers will likely either repeat talking points from your conversation or point out some of your areas of weakness.  Either way, I've found this question is an easy way to take the pulse of the room....
  2. Ask targeted and specific questions to each individual about their areas of expertise.  This approach requires a bit more research, quick-thinking, and the ability to tactfully elicit quick responses.  When pulled off well, though, it's an absolute home run.  During a Director of Career Services search, I saw a candidate address eight of his potential team members by name asking them a specific and relevant question about their role (.e.g, "what kinds of trends do you notice at the front desk", “how do you incentivize programmatic participation”, etc.).  This sealed the deal for our team, who made an offer to the candidate that very night. 

 

Following The Interview

Nail the Follow-up

Send a quick, but thoughtful, email or hand-written thank you note expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to interview with their organization. Be sure to reference one specific thing you discussed, and leave the door open for potential future correspondence.

 

Bottom line 

Interviewing can be intimidating, but, like anything, gets easier with practice.  6-10 hours of targeted research, preparation, and practice will go along way towards making you feel more confident walking-in, and prime you for success.   

 Above are just a few of my tips.  I’d love to hear from you, though... what do YOU do to prepare for interviews? 

 

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Keep Calm and Carry On:  Ten Quotes From Marcus Aurelius That Will Improve Your Day

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Keep Calm and Carry On: Ten Quotes From Marcus Aurelius That Will Improve Your Day

During my downtime, I’ve been reading classic non-fiction texts and have been amazed by how great books transcend time. After finishing “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham, I can see why Warren Buffet called it “By far the best book on investing ever written”.  Despite the fact Graham’s work was authored in a completely different era, it discusses concrete strategies for identifying stocks that are undervalued with a “margin of safety” that are as applicable today as they were when authored in 1949.  Last year, I read “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking and found myself re-reading passages multiple times so as to gain some understanding of the prevailing theories explaining time travel and black holes. The concepts underlining  “A Brief History...” are still widely accepted by theoretical physicists, and form the basis for much of what we think we know of the universe nearly 30 years later.    

I seek books and resources that challenge my own perspectives in areas where I’m not well-versed. Recently, my interest has been piqued around Philosophy – particularly Stoicism. Stoic philosophy rests on the concept that destructive emotions are the byproduct of errors in judgment, and teaches self-control and fortitude as means for becoming an unbiased thinker. Stoics believed in living in accordance with nature, and valued emotional clarity and alignment between an individual’s beliefs and behaviors.   

Interestingly, one of the greatest students of Stoic Philosophy wasn’t just a philosopher, but an emperor. Marcus Aurelius was a true bad ass, who ruled the Roman Empire from 161-180 AD.  He’s known as the last of the “Good Emperors” and helped free slaves and protect orphaned children while protecting Rome on multiple fronts.  Between fighting Parthinians and Barbarians, Aurelius found time to express and hone his Stoic thoughts in his diary, which was eventually published as the book “Meditations”.  Nearly 2000 years later, his teachings and perspective are as applicable today as they were when he wrote them.  

Here are a 10 quotes from Aurelius to help improve your day.  

  • “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

  • “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”

  • “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

  • “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

  • “Everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.”

  • “The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.”

  • “Here is the rule to remember in the future, When anything tempts you to be bitter: not, 'This is a misfortune' but 'To bear this worthily is good fortune.'”

  • “To live happily is an inward power of the soul.”

  • “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”

  • “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading"  

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The All-Weather Portfolio:  A Template for Asset Allocation for Newbie Investors

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The All-Weather Portfolio: A Template for Asset Allocation for Newbie Investors

As I was driving around town running errands on an unseasonably warm morning a few days ago, I spent a few minutes identifying some of the things I’m grateful for... my amazing wife, incredible family, hilarious friends, loyal dogs, quaint (but lovely) home, and career were the first things that came to mind. I then started thinking about all the amazing places my wife and I have been fortunate enough to travel in the past few years, the experiences ahead in the years to come, and how lucky we are to be in a position to design the life we want.  My mind then rapidly switched to the uber-practical, as I started thinking about how I could help position us to financially sustain the modest but experience-rich lifestyle we’ve built now that we’re about to have our first child...  

Given that both my wife and I work in Higher Education (and are not flush with inexhaustible assets), strategic investing isn’t just a good idea but necessary prerequisite to our eventual financial freedom.  Given that most Savings accounts net somewhere 1% annually while the average rate of inflation hovers somewhere around 2.5-3%, simply "saving" means we’d lose huge amounts of purchasing power over time.  On the other hand, putting our money in individual stocks would be speculative (at best) while diversifying by investing in mutual funds would mean overpaying in fees for a fund that, in all likely hood, will underperform relative to the market (as nearly 96% of mutual funds do)....

What’s a novice investor to do?  How does one invest their money so as to provide them the best chance at decent returns over time without “betting the farm” or having their returns eaten by brokerage and/or fund fees?  Also - Is it possible to design a portfolio that performs well in any economic climate? 

I’ve spent the last few months chasing these questions and have some answers.  Before I dive into specifics on investment asset allocation and the importance therein, let me stress a few investment basics that apply to just about every full-time professional. 

  1. If You’re Not Taking Advantage of Your Employer’s Retirement Plan and/or Contribution Match, Start Today – Most employers offer employees match contributions up to a certain percentage.  If you’re not taking advantage of this to it’s full potential – start doing so... it will compound significantly over time if invested right. 
  2. Start A Roth IRA (Assuming You Make Under 125k) – Roth IRA’s are a versatile investment tool that offer significant tax advantages. Investors can contribute as much as $5,500 annually without being taxed on earnings. Within a Roth, an investor can contribute allocations anywhere they want – stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, etc. and reinvest their gains.  Roth's also allow you to withdraw contributions tax-free in the event of an emergency (though, I'd strongly not touching them if at all possible). 
  3. Index Funds Are Your Friends – If you haven’t heard of Exchanged Traded Funds (ETFS) and/or Index Funds, spend a few minutes reading up on them.  They offer functionality and diversification similar to mutual funds for a tiny fraction of their fees.  Whether or not you’re new to investing, Index Funds and ETF's offer easy opportunities for diversification and long-term growth.  

Now that we’ve covered a few basics, let’s start talking about where, specifically, to invest your money. I modeled this portfolio off David Swensen's and Ray Dalio’s sample portfolios in Tony Robbins “MONEY: Master the Game”.  Both portfolios were designed to maximize potential growth over time while hedging against inflation and deflation, rising and failing interest rates, and fluctuations in the stock market.  

Broadly speaking, here’s how my ideal portfolio looks with regards to asset allocation:

 

Here’s the rationale behind the allocations...

  • Stocks - U.S. Stocks (30%) are the biggest allocation because they offer the most potential upside and, over time, yield the highest returns of any asset class.  Stocks perform well both during periods of economic growth and falling inflation, making them a cornerstone component of any diversified portfolio.  Emerging Market Stocks (10%) offer your portfolio exposure to international “small-cap” (small companies) that are domestically focused in emerging economies across the globe.   My Portfolio – VTI & ACWX.   
  • Long-Term U.S. Bonds & Inflation-Linked U.S. Treasure Bonds (TIPS) - Bonds aren’t the sexiest investment but hot damn – they’re reliable.  Long-term Bonds (25%) have an inverse relation to inflation and tend to perform best when inflation is falling and the market is trending downward.  Like Treasury Bonds, Inflation-Linked Bonds (10%) – a.k.a. TIPS - also perform well during periods of declining economic growth but, unlike Treasury Bonds, perform well during periods of Inflation.  Having both types of Bond in your portfolio hedges against market changes.  My Portfolio – ILTB & TIP.
  • Commodities & Gold – Commodities (7%) and Gold (8%) offer investment alternatives that don’t move in lockstep with Stocks or Bonds, providing even greater diversification to one’s overall portfolio.  Both assets perform well during periods of growth AND periods of inflation, which makes them unique among asset classes.  My Portfolio - VAW & GLD. 
  • Real Estate - Though I’m not the biggest fan of Real Estate investments given their speculative nature, a well-designed Real Estate Investment Trust (10%) offers opportunities quite a lot: interest dividends, asset diversification, liquidity, and long-term growth. Personally, I like Vanguard’s REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) ETF as it provides exposure to a wide variety of commercial Real Estate holdings with very, very low fees.  Personally – I would likely lower the percentage of my REIT’s to 5% and increase my exposure elsewhere, but I included the 10% recommendation as so many investment gurus see Real Estate as a small, but important, component of a diversified portfolio.  My Portfolio – VNQ 

So there it is.  A portfolio built to weather all types of economic conditions while delivering handsome returns.  Please note: I took the time to include my recommendations for specific funds because, with investments, the devil is often in the details...

Here’s a more detailed description of specific recommended fund for each asset class.  Every one was specifically chosen because of their SUPER low fee structure and backing institution. High Fees, whether packaged within a mutual fund or a “sophisticated” financial instrument incentivized by brokerage sales, eat away at your annualized returns which adds up to HUGE amounts of money over time.   

Specific ETF Recommendations

  • U.S. Stocks (30%) – Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (Symbol - VTI)
  • Emerging Markets (10%) – iShares MSCI ACWI (Symbol – ACWX)
  • Long-term U.S. Bonds (25%) – iShares Core 10+ Year USD Bond (Symbol – ILTB)
  • Inflation-Linked U.S. Treasury Bonds (10%) – iShares TIP Bond ETF (Symbol – TIP)
  • Commodities (7.5%) – Vanguard Materials ETF (Symbol – VAW)
  • Gold (7.5%) – SPDR Gold Trust ETF (Symbol – GLD)
  • Real Estate (10%) – Vanguard REIT ETF (Symbol – VNQ)

 

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Five Unconventional (But Brilliant) Hacks for Health & Wellness

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Five Unconventional (But Brilliant) Hacks for Health & Wellness

We are all familiar with the phrase “work smarter, not harder.”  Unfortunately, the vast majority of us typically defer to our daily routines rather than consciously identify and implement potentially beneficial changes. There are few areas in our lives where this is truer than with diet and exercise. The good news, though, are a few small tweaks can lead to quick and sustainable results. Below are a few non-intuitive hacks to increase your energy level, lower your body fat and assist you in becoming a healthier version of yourself.

  • Cut the Crap Carbs. Think Paleo is just a fad for fitness enthusiasts?  Think again. While I personally believe humans benefit from a diet that is diversified beyond the constraints of Paleo, the lifestyle is un-refutably right about one thing: swapping high quality vegetables in place of sugars and grains leads to fantastic results. The wheat we consume today barely resembles the grain our ancestors cultivated and provides little nutritional benefit. Eliminate gluten and sugar from your diet and enjoy the increased energy levels and fat loss that are sure to come.
  • Get Lean By Eating Fat. Medium chain triglycerides are easily digested and absorbed on a cellular level, making them readily available for energy use. They’re so good for you, they don’t lead to fat storage even when eaten in excess. If you’re not currently using coconut oil, grass fed butter, avocado and animal fats as your primary fat sources, start today. They offer great metabolic benefits and keep you satiated in a way carbs cannot.
  • Fast (intermittently). Intermittent fasting is a technique where you limit your meals to smaller time windows, thus allowing your body more time to burn existing body fat during the day. Not sure you can go all morning without something in your stomach?  Give “bulletproof” or “fatty coffee” a try – it’s delicious and keep you feeling full.  Moreover, fatty coffee fasting is super effective when combined with a low carb or Ketogenic diet.
  • Learn to Cook.  In his bestselling book “4 hour chef“, Meta-learning specialist (and lifelong non-cook) Tim Ferris breaks down the art of cooking into 14 strategically chosen 5-20 minute meals that provide you with all the skills you need to be a culinary dynamo. For those of you looking for a great book full of fat loss tips and AMAZING recipes, check out “The Wild Diet” by the Abel James, the bio-hacking host of the top-ranked “Fat-Burning Man” podcast.
  • HIIT the Gym Hard and Quick.  Few things in the fitness world embrace the “work smarter, not harder” philosophy more than High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT combines large muscle group strength and cardiovascular training, alternating short intense training bursts with less intense recovery periods. It’s extremely effective for fat loss as the intensity of the workouts provide an “after burn” that keeps your metabolism in fat burning mode for hours after your workout. Better yet, almost all of the best HIIT workouts are less than 30 minutes in length. Search “HIIT for Beginners” on Pinterest for ideas.  Not wild enough?  Try an Outdoors HIIT workout.

Make the most of your finite time and energy and start experimenting with some of these non-intuitive strategies. You’ll be thrilled with the results.

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Life Lessons From My Four-Year Old Niece

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Life Lessons From My Four-Year Old Niece

“All things in this world must be seen with youthful, hopeful eyes.”
Henry David Thoreau

Coming from a huge family (my Dad had four siblings, my Mom - five, and I have 17 first cousins, countless second cousins, and a network of pseudo aunts, uncles, grandparents, and in-laws the size of a small army), I’ve always been around kids.  I’ve been lucky enough to watch most of them grow into awesome people, and am consistently amazed by how they simultaneously develop while retaining core pieces of their personality from birth through young adulthood. 

While I love every single one of them for very different reasons, I have one all-time favorite: my niece Madeleine. 

Madeleine’s a kid with a magical mix of confidence, creativity, adventure, and independence; two parts fun-loving child and one part “magic potion and pixie dust” (my sister’s quote).  She took her first steps at eight months and was playing her own rogue version of “hide and go seek” at just over a year. 

She has a wicked and advanced sense of humor and seems to know just how funny she is.  At our family reunion, she lured unsuspecting adults to her level saying that she had a secret to share, and gave each a huge “wet willy” (tongue in ear).  Later that day, unprompted, she started licking family at the lunch table and rank ordered which family members tasted best (even telling my wife Uncle Mike’s “feet are the best part.”).   

She’ll dress herself in ridiculous outfits, take flowers from the vase and eat them, invent elaborate games and role plays, and do impromptu “butt dances” simply to entertain herself and those around her.  Following her random acts of comedy, she’ll find a blank sheet of paper and crayons and draw, calmly play with our dogs, or sit on your lap and nod off to “Wonder Pets”.   

Spending time with her, you can’t help but absorb the happiness she radiates.  She has a real sense of compassion and deep appreciation for life’s simple pleasures, and is a quick witted as any four-year old I’ve encountered.  She’s a wonderful little person with a distinct personality that’s inspirational.    

Below are a few life lessons Madeleine’s taught me.     

  • Let Joy Be Your Resting Position, and Soldier On When It’s Not:  Madeleine’s smile, laugh, and quick wit are a welcome addition to any venue.  I’m wowed by her ability to read the room and appropriately behave while retaining her personality.  She’s super silly when the situation calls for it and quietly attentive when the mood turns somber.  She’s quick to disarm with a warm, genuine smile and has no problem entertaining herself.  She’s not a whiner and she rarely lets negative emotions weigh her down.  When she cries, she cries hard and moves on quickly.  She adds positivity to every interaction and leaves nearly everyone feeling better than before they saw her; traits you have to admire. 
  • Live In the Moment and Do What Makes You Happy– Kids are amazing at this and Madeleine is a great as they come.  If Madeleine wants to play outside she goes and plays outside, if she wants to paint, she paints.  She’s not distracted by her mental “to-do” list or upcoming work deadline, she’s present, engaged, and pouring every ounce of her energy into whatever she’s doing while she’s doing it; completely detached from ego or any semblance of what she “should be” doing or behaving.  Her ability to immerse herself in life’s experience allow her to capitalize on every interaction while deriving as much joy as possible.  
  •  Focus On What Matters, But Don’t Yourself Too Seriously – Madeleine’s not thinking about how silly she looks when she’s dancing to “shake it off” and is not the least bit self-conscious when jumping in and out of a lake stark naked.  She’s not preoccupied with her status, social standing, or how others perceive her, and doesn’t judge others by such standards.  She guided by her fun-loving spirit and innate curiosity, which informs her ever-evolving opinions, perspectives, and world-view.   Her motivation for pursuit of just about everything is pure and intrinsic.  

At four years old, Madeleine obviously doesn’t encounter the same daily pressures, obstacles, or situations of those an adult.  However, in just 4.5 of years on this planet, she’s already managed to become of the happiest people I’ve ever met.  As such – I’m willing to follow her lead... 

 

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Hack Your Retirement Plan

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Hack Your Retirement Plan

If you're among the 46% of Americans who have less than $10,000 saved for retirement... Start saving already!  There's no time like the present.  On the other hand, if you have a 401k or 403b, chances are you're not utilizing these sophisticated financial instruments to their fullest capacity.  Below are a few simple things you can do to get the most out of your retirement plan.    

  • Choose Your Own Investment Allocations.  With the exception of Vanguard, most target date funds consistently underperform.  In fact, many underperform significantly. Take matters into your own hands and optimize your portfolio by choosing a diversified cross section of investments consistent with your risk tolerance.   It's easy to do with a bit of homework and feedback from a rep from your retirement provider, and will likely lead to more growth over time.  If you're under 50, consider taking advantage of Father Time by allocating a significant portion of your portfolio towards growth funds.  Still not feeling confident?   Check out Wealthfront’s Risk Tolerance Assessment tool for allocation ideas and set-up a meeting with a representative from your retirement provider. 
  • Use Your Plan to Pay Off "Bad Debt".  Did you know that you can borrow funds from your own 401k or 403b at no cost?   In fact, most plans allow you to borrow up to 50% of your account balance up to $50,000 for five years interest free, and even longer if you're buying a home.  Consult with your retirement vendor or organization's benefits office for your plan's specifics.  
  • Invest to Match, But Don't Go Further.  If your employer matches retirement contributions, contribute enough to get the full match.  Failing to do so is a big mistake, as you're giving money back that, in all likelihood, will grow significantly over time.  Don't invest beyond your match, though.  Why?   Because there are better vehicles for your money.   Traditional and Roth IRAs offer significant tax advantages and investment diversification.  If you're seeking funds that are more liquid, check out Exchange Traded Funds.  Etf's are traded like stocks but offer similar functionality and perks to Mutual Funds.  

Whether you're 25 or 55, small changes to your investments can have huge results.   An individual that nets an average of 7.5% annually on their plan versus 5% is able to earn 60% more over the course of 30 years.  Similarly, one who is able to reduce or eliminate their debt can dramatically improve both their saving and credit potential.  Take a few hours to thoroughly research and optimize your retirement plan.  You'll be richer for it.

 

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How To Pull Off A Workplace Prank That People Will Talk About For Years

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How To Pull Off A Workplace Prank That People Will Talk About For Years

I love workplace pranks. To me, nothing breaks up the stress and monotony of the work-week like a carefully choreographed practical joke. Nothing. In my 10+ years in office settings, I've pulled off a handful of pranks that are still talked about today. I've been on the receiving end of a number too, though, sadly, only one sticks out as truly epic (thank you, Tom Breen!). So what distinguishes an epic prank from a crappy one? I’m glad you asked...

  • Originality & Personalization – A quick Google search for “Office Pranks” might spark some inspiration, but overall, you’ll find that most lack originality.  To stand out, do something that’s highly individualized and unique.  At my last job, I borrowed a brash colleague’s beloved Rajon Rondo poster and, over the course of two weeks, emailed him photos of Rondo “visiting” locations throughout our area with text detailing his travels.   All the correspondence came from a fake email address that poked fun at both his Celtics fandom and alma mater.  Because I thought this prank was too good NOT to share, I CC’d the nine members of his staff on each email (original text with redacted name below).

A***,

Close game with Toronto last night.  Who would have thought a 7 Footer named "Andrea" was going to put up 29 on us, and make KG look like a ten-year old girl?  NOT me...

After the game, I drowned my sorrows in a bucket of Rum-Nog (Rum & Egg-Nog), and went drunken caroling by myself. 

Miss you Friend,

-Rajon Rondo

  • Select Your Victim Carefully – Most people are not going to like being the target of high-profile prank. In my experience, the best pranksters are generally the best prankees. If they’re poor sports, they’re still fair game assuming they’ve pranked you (after all, they drew first blood). Generally speaking, you should select a target that is going to take the joke in stride and not have a reaction that could land you in the Human Resources office. It’s also important that you have an understanding of your organizational culture and tolerance for sophomoric behavior. I’ve been in my current role two years and, in that time, have not orchestrated a large-scale practical joke. Doing so could potentially alienate my more serious colleagues and severe the rapport I’ve worked hard to build. Err on the side of caution, and thoroughly assess the potential downsides of your joke before you fully commit. 

  • Plan, but Retain Flexibility – Years ago, my friend and I had an elaborate plan to retarget our Rondo victim. We intended to remove his car’s wheels, place them on cinder blocks, and project a picture of our handiwork during a training involving 30+ colleagues.  As luck would have it, our victim caught us removing his car’s wheels when he stepped outside for a pre-lunch cigarette. We came clean and laughingly confessed our intended plan; he then brilliantly suggested we target another colleague, “Greg”, since we had the necessary tools at our disposal. As we broke for lunch, our original victim (now an ally) projected a picture of Greg’s car perched on cinder blocks with a caption reading “Watch Out for that Back Lot!”. Needless to say, everyone had a great laugh... All the planning in the world can easily go awry, but that doesn’t have to ruin the joke. Always have a Plan B and pivot when necessary. 

  • Be Resourceful – Years ago, I had a chance encounter with an award-winning Robotics engineer whom I pitched on letting me borrow a remote controlled robot for April Fools Day. I hid said Robot in a Certified Mail package and placed it under the bracketed sink in the Men’s bathroom.  When my boss got up to relieve himself, I lingered behind (remote control in hand) and our entire staff followed. I then manipulated the Robot to move towards his feet while he was doing his business. Hilarity ensued.  Always seek out opportunity, leverage your network, and don’t be afraid to pitch someone on your crazy prank plan once you’ve thought it through; people LOVE being part of an original and game-changing practical joke. 

  • Embrace The Payback - Don't dish it out if you can’t take it. If you pull off an epic prank, revenge is going to come. My boss got me back for the robot stunt a solid 2-3 times, all of which were both deserved and hilarious (on one occasion, he circulated a picture of me sipping a rainbow colored “girly drink” to all the all the managers within our division). Take it stride and be comfortable with yourself enough to fully embrace the funny. 

Planning, originality, resourcefulness, and the ability to think on your feet go a long way with orchestrating an amazing practical joke.  No matter how elaborate, be sure your joke contains no malintent; a good joke is one where everyone can laugh about it in a few days time. 

I’d love to hear about the best pranks you’ve seen in the comments section.  Include as much detail and context as you’re willing to share... 

 

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Get In Touch With Your Inner Wildman (or Woman)

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Get In Touch With Your Inner Wildman (or Woman)

In today's world, it's easy to go days, weeks, months and, for an unfortunate few, even years without spending extensive amounts of time with and in nature. While your iPhone and Netflix queue offer a welcome reprieve and distraction from the routine of every day life, these distractions add to our biological stresses if not thoughtfully counterbalanced. As humans, our body's immune, endocrine and nervous systems haven't evolved to the point where they're able to effectively respond to modern technology. The good news is you can hack own biology and reverse the potential side effects of modern day trappings with a few simple tricks. Here are four to get you started and connected with your ancestral roots.  

  • Get Grounded - Your nervous system is an interconnected network of billions of neurons transmitting signals via electric pulses. These nerves relay information to and from your senses, control internal functions, inform thinking and movement, and form a massive energy field that is directly altered by our phones, computers, televisions, lights and modern appliances. By walking barefoot outside for just minutes a day, you directly absorb the earth's negatively charged energy field, which not only improves immune function, reduces inflammation and provides antioxidants that are difficult, if not impossible, to get elsewhere.  
  • Get Dirty - Soil is good for you. In fact, a strain of bacteria in soil is actually proven to release serotonin (our body's own "feel good" hormone), improve cognition and possibly even treat cancer. Playing in the dirt also increases our exposure to environmental bacteria, builds immunity and connects us to the same flora and fauna our ancestors used to prevent and treat disease.  
  • Build Fires - There are few things that connect us to our biological heritage more than building a fire. Fire was a discovery that provided protection from predators, generated warmth and allowed for extended activity outside of daylight hours. Fire also greatly enhanced mankind’s cooking methods and increased our range of edible foods, as it allowed us to break down starchy plants for the first time (an advent that eventually led to increases in brain size). If building a fire isn't wild enough, learn how to do it without matches
  • Forge for Food - While I could try to sell you on the nutritional density of wild foods or educate you on the variety of plants that are relatively easy to find all over the United States, I'd rather tell you about the biological benefits.  Believe it or not, your brain is designed to make mental maps of food sources. In fact, some experts claim that once you've sourced food somewhere, your instincts will intuitively remember said place and the specific plants harvested. A great skill to have in the event of a drought or, God forbid, food shortage.   

While the pros of modern life far outweigh the cons, our culture has intentionally separated us from the mammalian species we evolved from. Ignoring our own biology doesn't just make us fat and sick, but leaves us unfilled and disconnected from something larger than ourselves. Take control and reverse the trappings of modern life by connecting to your roots and Mother Nature.  

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