Talent And Desire Are NOT Enough: What We Must Learn To Achieve Our Goals

The traditional view of achievement assumes that results come from a combination of talent and desire. Therefore, when you fail, it must be because you are not talented enough or that you don’t want it bad enough. However, failure also occurs when talent and desire are abundantly present — but optimism is missing!

Why is optimism an important ingredient for success? What makes some people view the glass as half full while others see it half empty? How are depression and pessimism related? Are optimists born or made? Can we unlearn pessimism? What can parents do to help their children grow optimistically?

My family, at least three generations deep, suffers from a genetic predisposition towards clinical, chronic depression. It would be fair to say that I didn’t always have the happiest of role models when I was growing up. I’ve never been diagnosed with depression (other than PMS-related symptoms). Why did I escape depression while many of my family members did not?

A therapist, who my entire family visited when I was a teenager, suggested that I had learned to cope by taking on the role of “hero child” in our dysfunctional family. The hero child is the one who fantasizes that if she accomplishes enough, then the whole family will be OK. The hero child is overly conscientious, over achieving, and constantly seeks approval. As the hero child of my family, it was my “job” to help everyone see the light and function well. I became our family’s cheerleader of optimism.

Then as a young adult, my experiences as an animal trainer and behaviorist taught me some useful cognitive skills. (Apparently rats, cats, dogs and humans tend to learn in similar ways!) I discovered how to avoid learned helplessness (giving up because you feel unable to change things) and how to reinforce my sense of personal control. In turn, personal control leads to optimism; and optimism can protect against depression, better your physical and mental well-being, and increase your level of achievement.

I’m reading a fascinating book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. Using evidence gleaned from scientific research done with dogs and people, Seligman demonstrates how optimism enhances the quality of life, explains how to break an “I give up” habit, and offers advice for parents who want to help their child(ren) become empowered by optimism.

What is a pessimist? Pessimists tend to:

  • believe bad events are enduring (will last a long time)
  • believe misfortunes are their own fault
  • undermine everything they do
  • get physically sick more often
  • get depressed more often
  • give up more easily

Optimists, who are dealt the same hard knocks, tend to:

  • believe defeat is just a temporary setback
  • believe defeat is confined to this one case
  • believe defeat is not their fault: circumstances, bad luck or other people brought it about
  • perceive bad situations as a challenge and try harder
  • do better in school and college
  • do better at work
  • do better in sports
  • exceed the predictions of aptitude tests
  • be more apt to be elected into public office
  • enjoy unusually good health
  • age well
  • live longer

How can I help my child learn optimism?

My daughter’s life didn’t start out well: she was abandoned at birth by a mother who could not/would not raise her; placed in a neglectful foster care situation for nine months; then uprooted from her native country to live in a place where very few look like her. In addition to these early traumatic events, maybe her birthmother suffered from depression during her pregnancy (aware that she’d have to give up her baby), which could have affected her developing fetus. When we adopted our daughter, she was emotionally withdrawn and shutdown.

What affects a child’s level of optimism? According to Martin Seligman, Ph.D., director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Learned Optimism, there is evidence for three kinds of influences:

  1. How parents analyze and explain everyday occurrences: If my child hears me explain things optimistically, she will too. Optimism is learned. It is important that parents serve as positive role models.
  2. The form of criticisms a child hears when she fails: If they are permanent (“You always make such a big mess”) and pervasive (“You are a slob”), her view of herself will turn toward pessimism. If the criticisms she hears have a temporary and specific message (“Your room tends to be messy after you have friends over to play“), she will be hopeful, empowered and optimistic.
  3. The reality of her early losses and traumas: If her losses and trauma are permanent and pervasive, the seeds of hopelessness will be deeply planted. If they remit, she will develop the theory that bad events can be changed and conquered.

I am incredibly proud of my daughter’s strong spirit. She inspires me to see the glass as half full every day. Together, we practice optimism… and we blossom.

Considering the far-reaching and long-lasting effects that optimism has in all of our lives, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. It’s a national bestseller for good reason.

Is The Key To Wealth Found In A Book?

Personal Finance BooksI often scan the business and finance section at our bookstore for new book covers. Virtually every week, I find new titles. Row upon row of money books. How many ways can money be discussed? Which one holds the key to wealth and financial freedom? More importantly:

If the answer to wealth is revealed between the covers of the books proliferating in bookstores, why aren’t more people wealthy?

Take my mom, for instance. Despite her intelligence, upper-grad college education and vibrant energy, she struggled financially her entire life. She passed away a few years ago, penniless.

My mom was an avid reader. My inheritance consisted of boxes filled with books — including a large assortment on the topic of personal finance. If the cure to her financial woes was sitting on her bookshelf, why didn’t her money life thrive?

I am convinced that achieving wealth and financial freedom takes more than understanding how to make, save and invest money. Becoming wealthy is the product of factors more fundamental — and complex — than math.

I really didn’t do anything extraordinary to become a millionaire. No grand inventions, no Fortune 500 company, no big paychecks. I applied basic money principles and they worked. I ask myself, why did I apply these principles, but not my mom? What does it take?  Why have I achieved financial freedom while others have not?

While I do have a few explanatory thoughts, I struggle to answer this question succinctly.

I’ve been told more than a few times that I appear to think differently than the crowd. Is the key to my personal and financial success in these five words?

When I was 30, I told my husband, friends and family that I wanted to be financially free by forty.

“Yeah, yeah, and who doesn’t? Best of luck with that!”, they replied.

Undeterred, I studied money books and personal finance web sites and drafted a lifetime financial plan. When I shared my plan with my husband, he remarked skeptically, “If it’s that easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?”

My response to him was:

  1. they don’t know how to do it,
  2. they aren’t aware of the possibilities,
  3. they don’t want it bad enough, and/or
  4. they haven’t made the choice to do what it takes.

Today, I’d add two more reasons:

  1. they don’t have (or haven’t developed) the capacity to delay gratification, and/or
  2. they believe their personal life circumstances prohibit it.

What are the key factors that help you? Hinder you? Do the reasons I’ve outlined above speak to you? Why or why not? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments.

In my next post, I’ll share the very specific factors that I attribute to my own personal finance success.

photo credit: gaspi *your guide

Learn From Successful Entrepreneurs Who Have BTDT (been there, done that)

Brian was tired of making other people wealthy. He no longer felt in control of his earnings as an employee. One day not too long ago, Brian Schwartz told his wife that he wanted to quit his 9 to 5 job and become his own boss.

Brian, the primary bread winner for his family, had never been an entrepreneur before. His astute wife put him to a test — she told him he could quit his job, after he interviewed 50 entrepreneurs.

The vast majority of small businesses fail. Why? And what does it take for an entrepreneur to succeed? Brian discovered the answers to these questions and more by asking those who have BTDT (been there, done that). Armed with a list of 13 pertinent questions, Brian met with over 50 entrepreneurs. I was one of them. Brian’s end result? An army of role models and mentors, a 245 page biographical encyclopedia, his wife’s blessings, and a new business that he is already turning into a franchise.

Recently, I turned the tables and interviewed Brian. Our ten minute discussion comes in two video parts:

In Part One, I ask Brian:

  • What was your motivation behind launching 50 Interviews?
  • Did you quit your job after publishing the book?
  • From everything you learned through your interview process, what was your most surprising finding?
  • Do you think successful entrepreneurs are born or made?

(Email subscribers, you’ll need to click here to view the video on my blog page.)

In Part Two, Brian responds to these questions:

  • Among the 50+ entrepreneurs you interviewed, what characteristics do they share in common?
  • What do you see as the biggest barriers confronting a wanna-be entrepreneur?
  • Upon publishing 50 Interviews, you quit your own job to become an entrepreneur yourself. Have you encountered challenges that you didn’t expect?

(Email subscribers, you’ll need to click here to view the video on my blog page.)

Brian’s book, 50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs, provides a short background about each business owner, then provides each entrepreneur’s answers — in their own words — to the following questions:

1. What was your initial start-up cost and source?
2. How long was it until you reached a positive cash flow?
3. Did you use a business plan?
4. What was the genesis of your business idea?
5. What is the vision of your company & the community you serve?
6. What is the passion that it fills for you personally?
7. Where do you see yourself and your company in ten years?
8. What were your biggest challenges? Looking back now, is there anything you wish you had done differently? What do you know now that you wish you’d known sooner?
9. What aspects of ownership are the most rewarding? Any unexpected rewards?
10. What do you attribute your success to? Luck, timing, someone who helped you?
11. How do you attract and retain the best employees? What is the most important attribute you look for?
12. Can you recommended any training or resources such as books, classes or websites? Do you recommend an MBA?
13. What slogan do you live by? What might your tombstone say?

The collective — yet very diverse — wisdom contained between the covers of the book 50 Interviews: Entrepreneurs is a godsend for any aspiring new business owner. If you are thinking about ditching the 9-5 grind for a business to call your own, spare yourself a few time-consuming and expensive hard knocks.

Financial Illiteracy: An Epidemic With A Simple Cure

How do we learn about money? 80% of parents surveyed believe that schools provide classes for their children on money management and budgeting.

Sorry to break the bad news, Mom and Dad — your kiddos probably aren’t learning personal finance in school. Our school system requires English, math and science, but not a practical life-skills class like financial literacy. Ridiculous, isn’t it? I am all in favor of a well-rounded education, but what good is it if students learn where Shakespeare was born, but not what a tax-deferred retirement plan is? Or that n2x, but not that if you use Payday loans, you could pay an outrageous 1560% in annual interest!

Once we graduate from high school, the vast majority of us are responsible for earning an income, establishing and maintaining a respectable credit score, balancing our bank account, and saving for our future. We deal with money decisions almost daily — yet we are taught nothing about personal finance in school.

Braun Mincher (Braun Media, LLC) is currently producing a feature-length documentary film which exposes the financial illiteracy epidemic in order to bring awareness to this important topic. Braun’s goal is to show viewers why taking personal responsibility for their own financial wellbeing is so important. He wants to expose how little parents and the school system are doing to prepare the next generation for this growingly complex and relevant topic.

Braun conducted over 100 interviews with a wide variety of people: students, parents, educators, consumers, government officials, celebrities and personal finance experts. I was honored to be one of his interviewees. Here’s a short video teaser clip of my own money-life story and response to his million dollar question: “If financial literacy education is so important, then why are we not requiring schools to teach the subject, especially considering the current economic situation?”

(Email subscribers, click here to view the video posted on my blog.)

Incidentally, I think it’s supposed to look like I’m sitting at my desk but the office I was interviewed in is not mine — naturally, my office is wallpapered with family photos, colorful Treasure Maps (aka vision boards) and cute puppies!

I’ve served as a volunteer Junior Achievement instructor and have taught students basic economic, personal finance and small business management concepts. The kids and their teacher loved the program. So did the parents — in fact, several of the student’s parents had their kids ask me pressing, personal finance questions for them. Yet the only administrators in my area interested in offering the course were those managing private schools. There is a pathetic 2.3% percent national market penetration at the high school level — and Junior Achievement classes are offered for free!

What about you: Did your parents pass along their financial literacy skills to you? Were you taught personal finance in school? Do you think schools should be required to teach money management skills? And finally, if the cure for financial illiteracy is so simple, then why aren’t we doing it?

Read my tips on how parents can teach kid’s about money management.

Debt Is Slavery

I was a typical naive college freshman, relishing my first day on campus. Lining the hallways of the crowded student center, financial companies competed obnoxiously for our attention.

“Apply for your first credit card and you could win a brand new TV!”

“Step right up! We’ll make it easy for you to buy things now… then pay for them forever!”

The Giant Marketing Machine deftly defines what is fashionable and brainwashes us to spend. As young adults, my friends and I were perfect targets.

Too bad Michael Mihalik’s book, Debt is Slavery: and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money wasn’t prerequisite reading prior to admittance into those hallways, littered with credit card applications.

Michael’s short book offers preventative medicine for students and young adults — plus concise treatment for anyone struggling with debt. This author didn’t create words simply to increase page count. He created a short read that gets right to the point. In his just-the-right-size book, he offers practical advice and illustrates financial concepts with relevant examples.

Golden nuggets of wisdom are sprinkled throughout each chapter. Here are some of my favorites:

Chapter 1: Debt is Slavery

Do you ever wake up in the morning and groan, “I don’t want to go to work today?” As you lie in bed toying with the idea of staying home, your thoughts turn to all the bills you have to pay. So you drag your tired self out of your warm bed, drink a pot of coffee, and drive to work (in your cool car–only 43 more payments and that baby is all yours!). You drag yourself out of bed and go to work, because you have to. Isn’t that a form of slavery?

Reading this passage brings back haunting memories of the relentless “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” of my old alarm clock. Aack! I hated that obnoxious beast! When I say that I haven’t set an alarm clock in years, I truly mean it. Financial freedom has set me free from that blasted beeping slave master.

Chapter 2: Time May Not Be Money, But Money Definitely Is Time

…if I earn $12 per hour and want to buy something for $12, I am spending an hour of my life. I quantify all potential purchases with two questions:

  • How many hours do I have to work to pay for it?

  • Is it worth that much of my life?

Bingo. We trade our time for money and our money for stuff. Problem is this: while we can make more money, we only have a finite amount of time. See my relevant post, How to Revolutionize Your Spending Habits by putting a price tag on your time.

Chapter 3: Possessions Are a Prison

Don’t love something that can’t love you back.

I have friends who define their self-worth on what kind of car they drive. They just love their car. But is that love returned? When you love a thing, the love will never be returned. A car will never comfort you when you’re sick. It will never help you when you’re in trouble. If you’re going to love something, make sure it can love you back.

Powerful concept. Have you ever participated in “retail therapy”?

Chapter 4: Be Aware of the Ongoing Campaign to Separate You from Your Money

We have become so desensitized to advertising that we are unaware of its insidious effect on our lives. We have become sheep who buy what we are told.

Isn’t that a little extreme? Are we really sheep?

So what kind of clothes are “in”? What kind of car should you drive if you want to look successful? How do you know what’s “cool” and what’s not?

Advertisers and marketers tell you.

What I appreciate most about our Tivo boob-tube box is that we can skip past the commercials, thereby reducing our exposure to advertisements. We avoid magazines for this reason, too.

Chapter 5: Money Buys Freedom

Money may not buy happiness, but it does buy freedom, options, and opportunity–and freedom, options, and opportunity may lead to happiness.

This is certainly true for me and my family.

Chapter 6: Don’t Sell Your Soul for a Salary

Sunday nights fill many people with dread because they know they have to go back to work Monday morning. So why do we end up at jobs we don’t like? Because we sold our souls for a salary.

Yep, the salary that’s required to pay for the vacation you charged to your credit card — two years ago.

Chapter 7: Own

Most wealthy people, especially if they’re self-made, are aware of the difference between income-producing assets and income-consuming assets.

I’m tickled pink that Michael recognizes and demonstrates the difference between the two — especially when it comes to real estate!

Personal real estate may appreciate over time, but it does not produce income. It consumes income. It consumes income because you have to spend money on maintenance, utilities, repairs, taxes and insurance. The only way you can extract money from real estate is by taking out a home-equity loan (debt!) or by selling the property.

As I’ve said several times here before, home-ownership is not normally the most effective way to create wealth and financial freedom.

Chapter 8: Spend Less Than You Earn By Controlling Your Expenses

…you have to value your peace of mind and financial security more than the things you buy.

Chapter 9: Save 50 Percent of Your Salary

If you save 50 percent of your salary, for every month you work, you will save enough to take a month off– without changing your lifestyle.

(The author doesn’t take compounding interest into consideration here — which would grow your future savings balance exponentially.) He illustrates his point by sharing a personal story of financial hardship: he was able to withstand two job layoffs, lasting a year or longer, because he had sufficient savings to see him through tough times.

Chapter 10: Control Your Money or Your Money Will Control You

Change your attitude toward debt. Every time you use credit for a purchase think, “Debt is slavery; I am making myself a slave.”

In this chapter, the author provides step-by-step instructions for creating a written financial plan aimed to minimize expenses, eliminate debt, and start saving.

While Debt is Slavery: and 9 Other Things I Wish My Dad Had Taught Me About Money might not be particularly suited for advanced finance readers, I enthusiastically recommended it for young adults and those struggling to break free from the handcuffs of debt.

Simple Prosperity: Finding the Sweet Spot

David Wann author speaker filmmakerDavid Wann is a writer, filmmaker, and speaker on the topic of sustainable lifestyles. He’s coauthor of the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, a best seller that’s now in nine languages. Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle is Wann’s vision of a lifestyle that’s immune to Affluenza, and his book in progress, Beyond Simple Choices, evaluates 100 high-yield decisions at both the personal and public scale.

Twice, I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing Dave speak.  His message resonates with me, deep down in my soul.  Generously, Dave offered to share his thoughts with my readers here, about how to find the sweet spot with REAL wealth. His message is timely: As both our physical and economic climates reach crisis levels, Dave offers us a chance to reflect, plenty of hope, and specific pathways for healthy, joyful change. Thank you, Dave!

1) Dave, how do you define “simple prosperity”?

I think of simple prosperity as a social movement, a non-violent revolution similar to the civil rights movement, to replace our excessive lifestyle with a more moderate, sensible, grounded way of life. It’s not about guilt, shame, judgment, or sacrifice, but a strategic, mutually agreeable reduction in our level of consumption and a corresponding increase in our level of contentment. My message in Simple Prosperity is two-fold: it’s not ecologically, geologically, or socially possible to pump so much stuff, so quickly, through the global economy; however, a mindful lifestyle rich in experience, information, efficiency, connection, culture, and human energy can significantly reduce much of our hyperactive production and consumption. We can have twice the satisfaction for half the resources – a bargain!

When we directly meet basic needs like security; connection with nature and with people we respect, self-expression and creativity; meaningful leisure activities, it becomes clear that money and possessions are really an indirect way of meeting needs. For example, how can a money-distracted culture create trust, authenticity, loyalty, inspiration, calmness, tradition, and passion? Frankly, the evidence indicates that the quest for “more” at both the personal and commercial scale often strips these essential qualities away, leaving us borrowing, buying and selling rather than being.

Simple prosperity re-values the ecstasy of time spent in a garden or having a stimulating conversation; the relief and renewal of ideas put to practical use, as when we work to improve our neighborhoods and communities. To “save the planet” as well as ourselves, we’ll need to change far more than light bulbs and grocery sacks; we’ll need to change our value system, creating policies and technologies based on long-term success rather than just short-term gratification. If the cultural direction – the everyday ethic – changes, individuals will follow, en masse.

2) How is simple prosperity different than a lifestyle of frugal deprivation?

Simple prosperity is not about what we give up, but what we get back when we let all the junk go: the distraction, dysfunction, depression, corruption, pollution, doubt, debt, shame, stress, guilt, cruelty, and all the rest. If we actively re-prioritize our personal lives and also participate in getting our culture back on track, we’ll re-locate what I call the “sweet spot” of enough. Enough is perfect, too much results in diminishing returns. For example, when we drink a cup or two of coffee, we have useful energy. But ten cups is way beyond “enough,” and we pay for it in craziness, just as we are paying dearly for “too much” in this year’s economic train wreck.

The lifestyle presented in Simple Prosperity could easily avoid the need to earn and spend half a million dollars over a lifetime, including reduced medical bills, utility bills, legal fees, interest payments, counseling, lawn care, day care, appliance maintenance, and other forms of hired “care” that we can provide ourselves if we make time, and liberate ourselves from a consumer script that’s driving us nuts.

3) What does simple prosperity look like on a day-to-day basis?

In our current way of life, the typical American will spend six months of his life sitting at red lights, eight months opening junk mail, one year searching for misplaced items, two years trying to return calls to people who aren’t there, four years cleaning house, and five years waiting in line – all activities that relate at least in part to our lives as consumers.


When we choose real wealth, we change the way we spend both time and money. We begin choosing things like healthy, great-tasting food; work that challenges and stimulates us; and spiritual connection with a universe that’s infinitely larger than our stock portfolio. Instead of more stuff in our already-stuffed lives, we can have fewer things but better things of higher quality; fewer visits to the doctor and more visits to museums and friends’ houses. More joyful intimacy, more restful sleep, and more brilliantly sunny mornings in campsites on the beach – bacon & eggs sizzling in the skillet and coffee brewing in the pot. Greater use of our hands and minds in creative activities like building a table, knitting a sweater, or harvesting the season’s first juicy, heirloom tomato. These are the things that matter, and we can choose them, if we spend less time, money, and energy being such obedient consumers.

A great example of the social and personal benefits of a new lifestyle already occurred in Michigan from 1930 to 1985, when the Kellogg Company operated with a six-hour day. With two hours more discretionary time, Kellogg employees transformed the lifestyle of Kalamazoo, where many of them lived. Families and neighborhoods benefited from the extra time; schools included curricula about the “arts of living” and parental involvement in schools – such as “room mothers” in the classrooms – increased. Parks, community centers, skating rinks, churches, libraries, and YMCAs became centers of activity. Kellogg workers recall that the balance of their lives shifted from working to living. What to do with their time became more important than what to buy with their money.

4) How can adopting a lifestyle of simple prosperity help us individually and collectively?

We are an extremely socially oriented species, which accounts for our stunning success. Our ever-expanding brains enabled speech and language, and the complex social relationships that made cooperation and group decisions possible. Because of our genetic make-up, it’s hard for individuals to change unless the whole group’s ethic changes. I propose that a joyfully moderate lifestyle become, by consensus, the new norm for “the good life,” as it already has in moderate countries like Holland, Denmark, Costa Rica, and New Zealand.

Historian Arnold Toynbee observed that among thirty or more empire- civilizations, those that survived and thrived followed a Law of Progressive Simplification. The Roman Empire became Italy, where the Renaissance was born. The British Empire is now the far more moderate and exemplary United Kingdom, a world leader in dealing with global warming. The American Empire, too, will mature, in effect, outgrowing the gospel of growth.

I like the analogy of a backpacker when I think about the emerging American lifestyle. The backpacker doesn’t want a lot of junk in her backpack. She wants only items that are ingeniously designed, like a Whisper Lite cookstove, a warm fleece sweater, a good pair of boots that can go the extra miles, and food that’s full of slow-release energy. The backpacker brings along skills she has learned, the stories she can tell, a well-designed tent, maybe a flute or a great book. On her journey, the world is a splash of light and shadow, with mountain peaks in the distance and bighorn sheep standing guard. If we’re smart, the awakening American lifestyle will deliver clarity, a sense of wonder, and great health, as if life itself was an energizing, mind-opening backpacking trip.

5) I’ve heard you encourage your audiences to become “historical super-heroes.” As I recall, you suggested that we curb our consumption so that our grandkids will read about our generation in their history books with reverence. Can you elaborate?

In recent experiments with MRI technology, altruism, generosity, and cooperation register as strongly in the brain’s “pleasure center” as gambling, drugs, shopping, chocolate, or attractive faces. It would feel great to act unselfishly, in the best interests of our grandkids, but our society is focused elsewhere, distracted by situation comedies and constantly morphing car styles.

If we score high in the history books and become super-heroes, it will be because we finally let go of all the junk images, junk food, and junk information, and went after the real wealth. It’s so important that we each do our part to nudge our lifestyle in a more meaningful direction. We need fulfillment rather than just “fun,” engagement with passions rather than just passing the time. We should each ask ourselves this question: If it’s true that our whole life flashes before us when we die, will it hold our interest?

6) Despite the pain this financial crisis has caused, I can’t help but think that it serves as the wake-up call many seemed to need. My hope is that we become a nation of savers and conservationists, not spenders and takers; that we learn to value relationships over material possessions. What are your thoughts about the effect this crisis might have on society?

A culture shift like the one I propose – from an emphasis on material wealth to an abundance of time, relationships, and experiences – has already occurred in cultures such as Japan in the 18th century. Land was in short supply, forest resources were being depleted, and minerals such as gold, silver, and copper were suddenly scarce as well. Japan went from being resource-rich to resource-poor, but its culture adapted by developing a national ethic that centered on moderation and efficiency. An attachment to the material things in life was seen as demeaning, while the advancement of crafts and human knowledge were seen as lofty goals.

In this “culture of contraction,” an emphasis on quality became ingrained in a culture that eventually produced world-class solar cells and Toyota Priuses. Japanese shoguns established strict policies for reforesting. Training and education in aesthetics and ritualistic arts fluorished, resulting in disciplines like fencing, martial arts, the tea ceremony, flower arranging, literature, art, and skillful use of the abacus. The three largest cities in Japan had 1500 bookstores among them, and most people had access to basic education, health care, and the necessities of life, further enriching a culture that required very few resources per unit of happiness.

One of the main purposes of culture is to moderate and restrain individual excess, but our collective identity in 2009 is itself excessive. We’re like a family whose parents do not set clear, healthy guidelines for their children. Anything goes – drugs, unprotected sex, weapons, junk food by the barrel. Our global family desperately needs to set sensible guidelines. For example, we need to retrieve traditional diets that prevent illness and generate wellness. When the basic food groups and recipes of a particular culture are lost in the shuffle, we can’t figure out what we should be eating, with disastrous and financially costly results.

7) How would you describe a sensible economy?

A sweeping culture shift is happening right now, right in our generation. We’re at the tail end of the Industrial Era, moving into an age of restoration, biospirituality, and preservation. The entire industrial civilization is ramping down, just in time to prevent ecological catastrophe. If we’re lucky, we’ll find authentic abundance we can count on, rather than manufactured, prefabricated wealth that literally counts on us.

It’s not the Joneses we strive to keep up with; it’s an all-encompassing system of production and consumption – a way of life that takes away our ability to feed ourselves, entertain ourselves, or even have original thoughts. We’re looking for value in the wrong places. Is it really large houses we crave, or large lives, rich in discretionary time and generosity that we can share with those we love? Is it really expensive, programmed vacations we want, or simply the respect and admiration of our peers, and a sense that life is exciting? When our daily lives are energized with creativity and playfulness, we discover that life is an adventure no matter where we are.

It’s time for a cultural revolution – for consumer disobedience that demands quality over quantity; localization rather than globalization; time affluence rather than the poverty of constant, stressful deadlines; less aggression, more empathy; more respect for public places, including the environment, and less obsession with individual accumulation.

A sensible economy does not take more than it gives. On our watch, the world’s solar income and renewable yield is being consumed at a faster pace every year. This year, ecologists calculate that we’ll consume nature’s “interest” (from fisheries, forests, and farmland, etc.) by the middle of September, then, we’ll continue to draw down nature’s principle, in the process undermining the ecosystems that support us.

8 ) If we continue to reduce our levels of consumption, what do you think will happen to our economy?

We will simply create a different kind of economy, as the Japanese did centuries ago, including a rebirth of craft, amateur art and self-expression, and basic skills of self-reliance. Let’s face it, right now, we are at the mercy of a lifestyle support system that commands our obedience because we don’t even know how to re-light the pilot on our furnaces or spend a solitary hour in the park without being entertained.

Our economy’s primary measurement of “progress” is the Gross Domestic Product, which is very much a toxic loaf of bread. All economic activities are folded into it, whether beneficial or destructive. Crime, family breakdown, loss of leisure time, oil spills, hurricane damage, car accidents, loss of wetlands, legal fees for corruption – all are included in the GDP, and even though the bread is toxic, the superficial fact that it rises is good enough for mainstream economists. We need a new economic yardstick that tells us how we’re really doing, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator developed by the non-profit Redefining Progress, which subtracts the “bads.”

The U.S. GDP might possibly be smaller in the future, but that’s okay, because it could contain greater real wealth overall if all the negatives decrease while positive values like social relationships, renewable energy, bike trails, small farms, preventive health care, and compact communities with town centers increase.

Here are a few more shifts in the way we meet needs that will make our lifestyle more affordable:

* If our collective demand for products falls, so will prices, as we’ve seen recently with gasoline. With cooperation and synergies among social and technical systems, we’ll make better use of finite resources.

* When we design communities to fit human needs rather than corporate or automobile needs, our lifestyle becomes more affordable. Public transit will be far less expensive per capita than America’s current fleet of 250 million cars.

* Getting rid of packaging, glossy green lawns, and food waste also takes a huge chunk out of the collective cost of our lifestyle. We currently spend $900 per capita on advertising, which of course is embedded in the cost of products and services. Less consumption means less advertising as well as less debt. And less debt of course means less interest on the debt.

* Reasonable reductions in meat consumption, air travel, and energy-intensive materials like cement, aluminum, paper, and synthetic chemicals make it seem like we’re all making more money. War must finally be seen as the epitome of waste. Green chemistry, which shortens the steps and softens the environmental cost of making chemicals, in turn lowers the cost of everything manufactured.

* Preventive health approaches and more empathetic, service-oriented doctors and nurses lower the cost of maintaining our health, and better industrial design generates much less costly pollution.

* Eliminating subsidies that result in the destruction of ecosystems would save the world about $700 billion annually, about a third of that in the U.S. Rather than drawing down aquifers, letting soil erode, clear-cutting forests, and over-fishing the world’s fish species, we would learn how to be efficient, and how to harvest only a sustainable yield.

* In the new economy, recycling becomes a religion so less costly extraction is required; In a world with different values and priorities, there is less need for crime control, lawsuits, and security systems, because with a higher ratio of social input as well as greater equality, we nurture a population that is less fearful and has less “status anxiety,” a direct stimulant of crime.

These savings arise not because we are “doing without,” but because we’re tuning up our value system, getting rid of waste, and creating a more sustainable way of being in the world. Rather than requiring a hundred thousand hours of work per lifetime, this lifestyle enables each citizen to work less, avoiding the need for half a million dollars of earnings per capita — yielding a better quality of life in which nature is on the rebound, and trust is, too.

The future is waiting. I believe it’s time for us to stop seeing the world as it is, and begin to see it as it should be.

simple-prosperity-bookDavid Wann is a writer, filmmaker, and speaker on the topic of sustainable lifestyles. He’s coauthor of the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, a best seller that’s now in nine languages. Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle is Wann’s vision of a lifestyle that’s immune to Affluenza, and his book in progress, Beyond Simple Choices, evaluates 100 high-yield decisions at both the personal and public scale.

Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan

Suze Orman outlined her 2009 Action Plan today on the Oprah Show. For the next week, you can download her new book for free or order a print copy of Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Planat Amazon for $9.99.

Here are the notes I took from the show today:

Tell the truth. Take an honest look at your financial situation and discuss it openly with your spouse or life partner. How much do you owe? How much do you have in your savings account?

Pay off credit card debt BEFORE creating a savings account. List your credit card accounts in order of interest rate. Pay extra on the account with the highest rate first, while paying minimum payments on the rest. After the highest rate card is paid off, get to work on the next highest. And so on until you no longer have credit card debt.

Improve your FICO score. The higher the number the better (850 is the highest). In today’s economic climate, under 700 is considered low. Did you know that potential landlords and employers also use your FICO score to determine how responsible you are? Yep, so do insurance agencies. Those with a high FICO number score big when it comes to loan rates, jobs and insurance premiums.

Ways to improve your FICO score:

1) Pay more than the minimum payment on each credit card.
2) Pay on time. (This constitutes 35% of your score.)
3) Never go over your credit limit. If you do, they raise your interest rates.
4) Don’t close your credit card accounts. This hurts your score. Why? Because 30% of your FICO score consists of your debt to credit ratio.

Separate WANTS from NEEDS.
If you have debt or no savings, ELIMINATE THE WANTS!

Save 8 months of expenses in an emergency savings account. Decide how much you can save each month and add 20% as a stretch goal. Search for the highest savings account interest rates from FIDC-insured banks.


1) Don’t panic when the market goes down.
2) Keep investing in your 401k or IRA.
3) Money you need in the next 5 years DOESN’T BELONG IN THE STOCK MARKET. If you need your money in 5 years or less, take it out of the stock market.

Suze’s pledge idea:

1) Don’t spend money for 1 day.
2) Don’t use your credit card for 1 week.
3) Don’t eat out at at restaurant for 1 month.
(The first two pledges are easy ones for me, but not the third!)