11 days worth of meditation

Eat, sleep and dress well.
Keep fit and read plenty.

Be cool.
Do it for the story.
Remember that commitment is a good thing.

Always say yes when someone asks you to dinner.
Take risks and play the odds.
Challenge yourself to stay open minded.
Take the date.

Always say please and thank you.
Practice patience with yourself, deal patiently your shortcomings.
Be a great coach to yourself.
Keep a sense of humor.

When things go well, bend a knee and thank God.
When they don’t, do the same (and ask God for help).

Thank your parents.
Be good to your family.
They’ll be the ones still hanging around when the dust settles.

Remember that you’re a speck of dust.
Be cool.

[August 2018]

A baseline of needs, or a Millennial’s applied version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I recently arrived at the conclusion that I have a baseline level of absolute needs. These needs must be met before any type of growth or personal development can be achieved or even sought. They are the foundation for the mental and emotional stability that I require to make myself vulnerable or take risks. They are:

1. Keep a robust, balanced, healthy, and nutritious diet. Eat at least three meals a day and eat fruits and vegetables every day.
2. Live within my means. Run a personal budget surplus each month, excepting one-time items.
3. Sleep an average of 8 hours per night. Variance is OK, but try to minimize the standard deviation.
4. Exercise at least 4 days per week.
5. Maintain work / life balance. Spend no more than an average of 9 hours per day in the office. Variance is OK, but remember that it’s more acceptable to work 4 hours more than the average than 4 hours less.
6. Maintain a healthy and active sex life.

These rules are a work in progress, evolving with my changing needs and my recognition of any blind spots I confront while living them out. For example, attempting to further myself professionally, I loaded up my hours in the office, neglecting my personal life and overlooking my need for loving and intimate relationships. That resulted in a feeling of isolation and anxiety which inhibited my ability to focus clearly on my goals and desires otherwise. I added maintenance of a healthy sex life to my list of requirements, dedicated time and effort to it, and my life began to stabilize.

One note on this list is that my default action is to fill my space with work and work-related activities. My tendency is to drift into long hours in the office, often resulting in small marginal gains of productivity. These rules are therefore a balancing act for me, to keep watchful eye on the completeness of my needs, in addition to the need to work hard and keep focus on my work. Those needs therefore go without saying on here for me. That may not be the case for another person.

This list is a result of a checklist of mental health requirements that a friend of mine shared with me months ago. I’ve always assumed that it had its origins in an Alcoholics Anonymous space, given he was an active member of the club and many of his self-regulation tools had their roots there. Whenever he was bothered or upset, doubtful or anxious, or even considering drinking, he asked himself 4 questions:

1. H – Am I Hungry?
2. A – Am I Angry (with another person or thing?)
3. L – Am I Lonely?
4. T – Am I Tired?

It was essentially a sanity check. It’s not bulletproof, but it drives at something deeper for me.

I watched a Christmas Carol with my family yesterday at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton. As Jacob Marley made his initial appearance to Scrooge, the latter refused to believe the ghost was real. He was being haunted, and to defend himself from the torment, he rebutted to himself that the terror was simply a mental trick being played by some physiological factor. “You’re a piece of undercooked beef! You’re an old piece of cheese I should not have eaten!” It seems that in 1843 London, Scrooge was aware that our mental health can be affected by physical factors and that the two can be interconnected.

As I began testing the method for myself, I found a few additions were required to suit my life. I first added a C. C stands for chemically balanced. As a man not in recovery and apt to have fun on weekends, my chemical levels are rarely balanced Friday through Sunday and the imbalance frequently drifts into Monday. If I could recognize that a lack of dopamine or some other neurochemical, caused by a rough Saturday night, was to blame for my Monday cragginess, I could compartmentalize it and not extrapolate the feeling as a sign of impending personal failure. That helped.

I then added F. F stands for financial stability. Am I financially secure? I’m two years out of college, earning essentially an entry level salary, and taking on the financial obligations necessary for self-sufficiency seemingly every day. I live in a nice house in a nice part of the city, I own a car, I pay utilities and insurance and I buy food and gas and furniture and everyday items. Taking a sober look at my finances and understanding where I need to cut is a sometimes-painful activity, but the comfort I can derive by knowing that I am in control of my finances, and that I am beholden to nobody financially is powerful.

Finally, I added another L. L stands for love. Do I feel loved? Do I feel that, if I were to fail today and be in a bad situation, that there would be someone who would still love me?

Without these things, it’s hard to look outside myself. Charity, generosity, and selflessness are traits I seek to build into my life, but they’re difficult to sustain if you cannot first provide for yourself. I’ve come to think that there’s nothing selfish in recognizing that I must come first and that I cannot adequately or sustainably provide for others, especially those that I love, if I am not stable. These cumulative activities, bringing together my physical needs with some basic economic and lifestyle rules, bring me a great deal of stability when implemented accordingly. It’s no surprise that people like me best, and I am happiest and most generous to others, when I have successfully checked all the boxes laid out above. The hope for this list is that the requirements serve as a baseline of self-sufficiency, and do not occupy my whole time. With proper planning, I can chart out meals, workouts, and good sleeps in an hour’s time. I do this – or at least attempt to – on a weekly basis. I can say that the simple requirements listed out above have had a significant, positive impact on my life. With further refinement, I hope that I can push them to the subconscious, and dedicate my active thinking to topics concerning others wellbeing and areas of interest. The true goal is to limit my introspection to a reasonable level and accept that things are OK, and I will be OK.

My reason for sharing this stems from a desire to get my ideas out of my head. This concept isn’t new. Maslow essentially came up with this idea in the 1940s. But it seems to me that I’ve been wrestling with the details for months now, trying to perfect the list, and that just isn’t healthy. I think that this list is strong and sufficient. That’s not to say it can not or will not be improved in the future. That’s my hope with publication. I think that I’ve taken it as far as I can in my own head and can only pass it along for testing and breaking by others with different perspectives.

The Far East Races South

Originally published February 10, 2015 in the Penn State Economics Association’s February edition of the fabled Optimal Bundle.

At the time, I was a second-semester junior at Penn State, studying finance and economics and had just invested half of my life savings in an ETF tracking the Nikkei 225 (primary Japanese stock index). 

There is a race to the bottom happening in East Asia. Export-heavy countries like Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan have watched their currencies depreciate over the past few years. Japan has taken charge in this race to the bottom as the Yen has shed 54% of its value against the U.S. dollar since February 2012. The drop has been exacerbated by the Bank of Japan’s quantitative easing, which has put pressure on other export-heavy countries to copycat and depress their currencies. Since the announcement of Japanese QE in April 2013, the Singapore dollar and New Taiwan dollar have lost 10.5% and 7% respectively relative to the U.S. dollar. The depreciation is due to a cocktail of the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar and Asian central bank intervention. If natural strengthening of the USD does not satisfy the export desires of Asian central bankers, FX traders could see an Asian currency print-off and the race to the bottom would accelerate.





Waiting to Grexhale

Originally published March 6, 2015 in the Penn State Economics Association’s March edition of the fabled Optimal Bundle.

At the time, I was a second-semester junior at Penn State, studying finance and economics and was very proud of the title of this piece. It was funny in 2015 .. to a wannabe Wall Street Journal reporter. 

Investors breathed a sigh of relief early last week. Greece reached an eleventh hour agreement  Tuesday with its international creditors to secure €240 billion in continued bailout funding. Its willingness to push the envelope has roiled financial markets in the past month. The yield on Greek 10-year government bonds rose as high as 11.21% this month before settling at 9.24% after trading Thursday. An increase in bond yields indicates fears that Greece may not repay its debt. Greek bond investors have reason to worry – a 2012 debt restructuring shed the face value of Greek debt by 53.5%, reduced interest rates, and extended maturities. In all, the debt lost 74% of its overall value. International investors now hold €370 billion in Greek debt – a similar restructuring would cost them about €270 billion. The new agreement gives Greece four months to act. In the meantime, investors will hold their breath once again.







Op-Ed: The Fuel Behind the Rocket

Originally published March 31, 2015 in the Penn State Economics Association’s March edition of the fabled Optimal Bundle.

At the time, I was a second-semester junior at Penn State, studying finance and economics and attempting to convince myself I was an investment banker. 

Securities markets in the United States are red-hot. The Nasdaq Composite recently hit its eerie 5,000 point mark – reminiscent of the 2000 tech bubble implosion – and the benchmark 10-year Treasury is trading below 1.9%, as of March 25th. As investors worldwide pour into domestic markets, we have to ask ourselves: are investors fueling another bubble?

The answer, in my humble opinion, is no. The term bubble is fairly subjective, but it is most commonly associated with the phenomenon where asset prices rise based on large amounts of market speculation, rather than fundamental analysis. Massive speculation in the housing market led to the financial crisis in 2007. The dotcom bubble in the late 1990s and early 2000s was the quintessential bubble – some technology stocks gained nearly 1000% within days of going public. Fundamentals couldn’t support this.

So what’s different about today? Since the Nasdaq bottomed out at around 1,250 in March 2009, it has jumped 284%. As of March 25, the Index stands at 4,888 — admittedly, an absurdly high growth rate for a 5-year span. However, the difference is the fuel behind the rocket.  Bubbles are a result of over-speculation, which is not necessarily the case today. Then what’s fueling today’s rise?

Investors are hungry. They’ve sat patiently for years in a low-to-zero interest rate world as the global economy recovered from the financial meltdown. Select German, Japanese, Swiss, and Swedish short- and medium-term government debts are currently paying negative interest. The EU is on the brink of deflation and the ECB just embarked on a massive new stimulus round aimed at pushing bond yields down even further. Growth in most EU countries is less than 1%, China is revising its growth forecasts downward at an alarming rate, and there continues to be uncertainty in the Middle East. And that leaves us with the current star of financial markets, the United States. Growth forecasts put GDP growth around 3% for 2015 and the Fed is expected to raise rates at some point this year, making domestic securities even more enticing.

The capital inflows into the US securities markets, therefore, aren’t speculative by nature. As prices rise, returns should continue to thin out. Investors will presumably keep piling into them until the returns on American securities are on par with the paltry returns elsewhere. The market may be saturated, but it doesn’t appear to be a bubble. It just begs the question: to where else should investors turn?