Sep 252014

For more than 100 years, the population of developed countries has coalesced and formed sprawling metropolises, as cities offered ever greater opportunity to excel and succeed. One of the prices paid for the density of humanity is the gridlock of traffic that is the bane of any thriving metro today.


I question everything, study everything, and observe how people react to situations. Traffic seems to be a nearly universal challenge that brings out the worst in most people. Traffic, so mysterious, so out of our own control, leads even the best of us to complain. I now believe that there is an invaluable lesson to be learned while you sit in daily traffic, yet exceedingly few manage to learn it.

Bear with me for a second while I make a pretty big leap: This lesson can be traced to the extreme hardships vividly documented by Viktor Frankl.

Viktor Frankl’s mother, father, wife, and brother all died in Nazi concentration camps. Viktor endured hunger, cold, and brutality in Auschwitz and Dachau. He knew that he would probably be killed any day. He lost all his belongings, including his life’s work, which was a scientific manuscript that had taken extraordinary time and care to create.


Frankl’s situation was dire. He could have easily given up all hope – most people in fact did. But Frankl emerged from the tortures an optimist by cultivating an empowering idea: he reasoned that even in the worst of situations, a person has the freedom to choose 1) how they perceive the circumstances and 2) to create their own meaning from them. Gordon Allport notes in the preface to the third edition of Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” classic, this is what the ancient Stoics called the ‘last freedom’. The evil of torture is not so much physical, but the active attempt to extinguish it is dibilatating. A favorite quote of Frankl’s was Nietzsche’s “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”

Fast forwarding to Los Angeles, Houston, NYC, Dallas, Portland, or Chicago, the minor torture one endures daily is traffic. It infuriates, it shreds our positive attitude, it becomes a great source of complaints, and there is no escape or relief. It is clearly far less daunting than Viktor faced, but traffic is a modern, incessant torture just the same.

The lesson to be learned and appreciated is similar. In concentration camps, Frankl learned that, even though captive, he had the freedom to either let his circumstances infect and corrode his attitude or he had the freedom to choose his attitude and make the best of it. The lesson of traffic is the same: you can either let it get to you, or you can choose to enjoy the day, traffic be damned.

Consider these quotes for a minute:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

— Viktor Frankl

The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.

— Andrew Bernstein

Nothing gives one person so much an advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.

— Thomas Jefferson

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

— Mahatma Gandhi

Complaints, either voiced out loud or simply thought out inside your own head, are a mental cancer that ruins your day. Decide to have a great day, no matter what happens, and you will have your great day as your reward.

— Bob Sakalas

This masters-level life lesson is universal. You often cannot choose your circumstances but you can choose your attitude. This applies universally to almost any situation you can’t control. If you are a student, you can’t control that teacher who doesn’t do it your way. If you are a parent, your teen will argue to the point of no return. You may have coworkers that drive you crazy day in and day out. There is no finite list of circumstances as Bernstein pointed out above.

Recently, I unwittingly started complaining — mostly inside my own thoughts — about how much back-to-back business travel I had to endure in the last few months. Although I didn’t voice it often, it was on my mind and my internal complaints began to corrode my attitude, which has a domino effect on everything like productivity, effectiveness, clear thought, focus, peace, optimism, and gratitude. This week, I finally realized the downward spiral I had inadvertently decided to put myself on. I have the freedom to ‘whistle a happy tune’ as I board flight 255 or let the circumstances infect me. Only the former helps things turn out for the best.

Tomorrow morning, I will sit in traffic, thankful for the opportunity to catch up on my stock market awareness while I listen to CNBC. I have seen the light. I hope that you do to.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. FYI, I did in fact whistle the tune to the Andy Griffith show as I boarded a 737 this week.

Sep 222014

Most commercials offer little value. Once in a while, however, Madison Ave manages to capture an idea brilliantly in just 30 or 60 seconds. Here is one such spot well worth thinking about if you have a daughter:


I hope that you take it to heart. It is really easy for parents to be protective. We have a kid who wants to build, to invent, to have her own tool box. I believe it is time to let her breathe, even if it costs a few bandaids.

Don’t miss Have a Daughter? Part 1, here.

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. I have no idea how this actually sell more Verizon phones and plans… but I’m glad that they funded it.

PSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 1 and Part 3.

Sep 162014

Warren Buffett is a smart guy. In my book, it is more important to have great common sense than it is to just be I.Q. rocket-science smart. Mr. Buffett is both – he clearly stood in line several times as God was dealing out common sense before he was born.


As many of you know, I am a long-term investor and I have read Warren’s shareholder letters with great interest for years. I don’t agree with Warren on every front (mostly politics) but he does author a lot of great, common-sense quotes worth thinking through.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
  2. Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.
  3. Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.
  4. It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.
  5. It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.
  6. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.
  7. You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.
  8. The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.
  9. Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.
  10. It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.
  11. Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it.
  12. We believe that according the name ‘investors’ to institutions that trade actively is like calling someone who repeatedly engages in one-night stands a ‘romantic.’
  13. If a business does well, the stock eventually follows.
  14. You’d get very rich if you thought of yourself as having a card with only twenty punches in a lifetime, and every financial decision used up one punch. You’d resist the temptation to dabble. You’d make more good decisions and you’d make more big decisions.
  15. Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.
  16. You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you.
  17. The trick is, when there is nothing to do, do nothing.
  18. No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
  19. Money will not change how healthy you are or how many people love you.
  20. Never lie under any circumstances.


There’s a lot of wisdom, and great reason for optimism, in less than 500 words.

I.M. Optimism Man

Sep 022014

I have two teenage daughters so I’m truly conscious of how difficult it is to grow up in America’s totally faked “what is beauty” ideal. Every TV show, every magazine, every commercial seems to tell girls that they should not be happy with what God gave them and that they should strive for an ideal that is frankly, a mirage.

Here is a typical beauty shot:


Dove ran a series of commercials that exposes how contrived the concept of beauty has become in society. Please watch these two videos as a reminder, especially after looking at the picture above:


Dove Evolution Video


Dove Body Video

I hope all parents can convince their kids, and especially their daughters, that beauty starts from inside. What they see, far too often, is skin deep and unattainable without a lot of photoshop distortions.

I.M. Optimism Man

PSSS. Here are the other two parts of my Have a Daughter? Series… Part 2 and Part 3.