Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Real Men Don't Wear Knee Pads



"A man's got to know his limitations."
Harry Callahan/Clint Eastwood

I guess it's time to confess to something very un-macho: I sometimes wear knee pads when I work in the garden.
My children gave them to me for Christmas and I initially resisted the notion of wearing them. Unmanly and not cool, I thought.
But my children also gave me two large bunches of red onion plants, and by the time I had a fourth of them planted, my knees were rebelling against my male vanity. Out came the new knee pads and voila! Sudden comfort! Rebellion over! With my new protection in place, I had the rest of the onions in the ground in no time.
Uncool? Perhaps.
Un-macho? Without a doubt.
Comfortable? Absolutely!
One of the nice things about being almost 65 is that I no longer worry what other people think of me. People who love me will keep on loving me even with those goofy-looking things strapped around my legs, and those who don't, don't matter after all.
As my hero Dirty Harry said, a man's got to know his limitations. One of mine is that I don't have 5-year-old knees any more, and if I don't take care of the ones I've got, some orthopedic surgeon is going to cut them out and install some artificial ones in their place.
No thanks. I think I'll go with the unmanly, goofy-looking knee pads for as long as possible. Thanks, children, for looking out for your old man.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Don't Pull Up the Bonus Broccoli!


Very few people know about "bonus broccoli."

The first time I raised broccoli I harvested some large lovely heads, plump and full and rich dark green. Then, being the efficient gardener that I was, I started pulling up all the old plants and planting something else in the space.
A more experienced gardener saw what I was doing and rushed over to try to head off my mistake. "If you leave them alone for a few weeks, they'll grow more heads," she told me. "The plants may look a little ragged at this stage but they've still got lots more production left in them."
The next season when I harvested broccoli, I took her advice and let the plants grow after the first harvest. Just as she had told me, those older plants started producing more broccoli. The heads weren't quite as large during the second round as the first crop, but they were still excellent broccoli. And they kept going for several more weeks. I ended up picking about three extra months' worth.
Now that I understand how broccoli grows, I am able to harvest three or four times more broccoli per planting than I used to, simply by not being so hasty to get rid of the old plants.
I call these extra months of production "bonus broccoli." It's a nice return on my garden investment, because all it costs me is a little patience. My experienced gardener friend's instruction was correct: there is still a lot of production left in those mature plants and it's foolish to pull them up too quickly.

* * * * *
In my work as a retirement planning expert, I help lots of folks in their early 60s. Some come to me after receiving the devastating news that they have just been laid off from their long-term job.
Losing your job at that stage of life is a bitter pill to swallow. Your paycheck and your benefits are gone, as well as your sense of identity. But more significantly, it also means you're very unlikely to find a new position similar to your previous one. It's sad but undeniable - even if it's illegal, age discrimination is alive and well in 21st century America. You may get an interview but if you have gray hair, you probably won't get hired.
I'd like to tell employers who are thinking of firing long-time faithful employees the same thing that experienced gardener once told me about broccoli:
Mister, you're making a big mistake. You're being too hasty. There's still plenty of production left in that seasoned employee.
Don't pull up the bonus broccoli!
Besides their actual production, mature workers bring a number of intangibles to the table. They may not be as flashy as a new batch of replacement millennials, but the wisdom and common sense they bring to the job will serve you and your company well. They introduce a work ethic to your organization that the youngsters just don't have. They're more stable. They're less likely to wilt under pressure, or drag their "life-traumas" to the workplace.
Don't pull up the bonus broccoli!
Today's retirees need more flexibility. Some can't wait to retire, while others enjoy their job and want to work - perhaps part-time - into their 70s. And obviously there comes a time when every worker needs to retire gracefully, but usually they're sent away far too early. Don't waste all that talent. Your patience will be well rewarded with a significant return on investment.
Don't pull up the bonus broccoli!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - "Choose It or Lose It" - Part Two


"Emotions [can] run high over who gets Grandma's pearl necklace or Dad's fishing pole. Disagreements over who gets what can lead to bawling and brawling between siblings that can scar relationships forever."
John Ewolt

(Dividing the assets of a recently-deceased loved one can challenge the good will of even the best of families. This series of articles provides guidance for those facing this tricky task.)

In the fall of 1986, my wife's father, Henry Ware Hobbs, Jr. sent each of his six children a large legal file entitled "Choose It or Lose It." The file contained a photograph of every heirloom object he owned and a paragraph about each item. In the cover letter to the file, he invited his children to come to his house "at high noon" (he often had a flair for the dramatic) on the Friday after Thanksgiving, without spouses, prepared to "choose it or lose it."
At the meeting, each of the children drew numbers and then proceeded to voice their top choice, one child at a time until all six had selected. Then the order was reversed for round two, with the child who had drawn number six going first this time, followed by number five, etc.   Back and forth they went, round by round, until everything had been earmarked and their choices recorded. It was elegantly simple and eminently fair.
Here are the key elements of Henry's wisdom:
  1. He took personal responsibility, not leaving this difficult issue for his children to muddle through without his guidance and oversight.
  2. He developed a simple and fair process for making the division, and made sure everyone understood it.
  3. He did not presume as the parent to know what each child valued; instead his process allowed them to express with their choices what was important to them.
  4. He found ways to reduce the emotions and stress in a setting naturally fraught with tender feelings, hidden agendas, and deeply-embedded rivalries, such as by starting early, using humor, and disinviting spouses.
When Henry passed away seven years later, everything from the original "Choose It or Lose It" meeting was distributed according to the earlier lists without confusion, rancor, or drama.
But as it turned out, Henry had not included his own possessions in the original "Choose It or Lose It" session, only those things he considered family heirlooms. No problem. The family inventoried Henry's personal items, selected a private meeting place, and repeated the same process, again with harmonious results.
When my father died about ten years ago, my brothers and sisters and I employed this simple process to allocate his meager personal effects. It was a sweet and satisfying experience for all. We felt our father would have been pleased to see our cooperation and our concern for each other's happiness in distributing these cherished items.
Most recently, over the New Year's holiday, my wife and her siblings used their father's "Choose It or Lose It" approach to smoothly divide and distribute the contents of their mother's large Mississippi home, which had been sold after their mother moved to a nursing home.
From observing the process three times in my wife's family and once in my own, and from using it with great success in my own legal practice, I can heartily recommend the principles that undergird Henry's methodology: 1) Take personal responsibility; 2) Develop a fair and simple process; 3) Let the heirs express their values with their choices; and 4) Avoid overly-emotional settings.
I encourage families to implement these four principles as they face the daunting task of dividing the artwork, heirlooms, and tangible effects of a loved one. Each family's methodology may vary somewhat from Henry's, but as long as the principles are honored, the results should be positive. I am not suggesting that this approach can eliminate every pitfall, but I do believe it is more likely to engender lasting family harmony than the free-for-all most parents and grandparents leave their heirs.