Retirement Investments

Thinking About Retirement

It is your rational intuition to have a job which provides a paycheck to support yourself, your family, and the economy. Some of that pay is dedicated to state taxes, federal taxes, social security, life insurance, healthcare plans, etc, and there is a chance some is invested toward retirement. Sometimes a company matches a percentage invested up to 3–6%, and usually we select that percentage to invest toward retirement without much thought. Eventually, we assume that we will retire, and our retirement will be supported.

The table above shows an example of an individual investing 5% (+5% employer match) of a $50K income over 40 years. A standard stock index return of 7% with a low annual investment fee of 0.10% would yield a retirement account totaling $1,008,000. Certain companies including Vanguard (my personal favorite) and TIAA (in rare situations) do offer plans with similar fees, but most retirement investment partners including Voya and Valic have fees with closer to a 2% minimum (read the fine print!). These 2% fees would have costed you about $388,000. Rather than a $1,008,000 retirement account, the value would be closer to $620,000.

Vanguard offers index investment options with fees in the area of 0.05 – 0.40%. Another investment company with similar options may also be a good choice. The most important take-home message:

Find all the investment fees associated with your current plan.

School systems are often heavily influenced to partner with companies like Valic and Voya. These companies often provide Vanguard or other index stock options with annual investment fees presented as something close to 0.35%. Within the official paperwork it is a bit harder to find the fact that all accounts are subject to an annual investment fee of  1.25%. This means that the low fee Vanguard option is great, but you are still paying 1.6% of investment fees. Rather than ending $388,000 dollars short of potential investment gains with the 2% fees, the best investment option within the overarching company would still cost you close to $350,000 with their 1.6% fees.

But investment advisors within these companies have reassured me…

You are in a safe location with plenty of growth potential.

Your investments are outperforming ‘insert other random comparisons here’.

Fees are this ‘insert a low number here’ which is better than ‘insert another random comparison here’.

Don’t forget to remain paranoid. Low fee index options are bad because at one random time the market dropped 50% in this 4 month period and it will probably crash again soon.

I have heard those arguments, and I learned a few things since then. High fee investment options usually contain several index investments anyway. They may not crash as hard as an index only fund when the market crashes, but they probably won’t profit as well as the index either. Over a period of 30–40 years, the ‘studious’ investment analysts may perform slightly better than the index, but the annual fee they require drops your investment gain potentials more than they are willing to admit. The flashy numbers and graphs selling their product rarely includes the annual investment fees when predicting potential investment gains. Is this costing you slightly less or significantly more than $388,000?

If you are unsure, here is a link to bankrate retirement calculators.

There are times when only one company is selected, and your investment options are limited. If your company’s chosen investment partner is funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department, you are probably funding vacations and dinners for your company’s finance department. That being said, a $620,000 retirement plan yield is better than a $0-dollar retirement plan. Social norms have prioritized ‘owning’ large houses (via mortgage), and nice vehicles (via loan) over long-term investing. When nothing is invested toward retirement, fee details become a moot issue.

A savings account investment plan would be slightly better than the previously mentioned 0-dollar retirement plan option. Investing $5000 (5% of 50K + 5% employee match) per year in savings account with a 0.25% return will result in a figure closer to $210,000. Considering the employee match isn’t going to happen, that number will actually be closer to $105,000. Succumbing to excessive annual investment fees would still leave you with more money than conservatively stockpiling your cash at a local bank ($620,000 is indeed greater than $105,000).

Take home point: Invest toward retirement. But if you see hundreds of advertisements promoting your investment company and/or your financial advisor is driving a luxury SUV, find somewhere else to invest.

Please leave a comment, and let the debate begin!

Experiencing the Moment with One Half of the Mind

As mentioned in my story, I had a tumor removed from my left temporal lobe. Before the tumor was surgically removed I experienced complex partial seizures isolated within the left hemisphere of my brain. During these one to two-minute complex partial seizures, I was unable to speak. It felt like I was entrapped within a dysfunctional mind. My silent, slurred, or illogical communication attempts during seizures were always frustrating and sometimes embarrassing.

The Wada Test

My neurosurgeon wanted to confirm that temporarily disabling the left hemisphere of my brain would indeed leave me unable to speak, and he also wanted to know if the right or left hemisphere of my brain was my primary memory operator. If the test concluded that the disabled brain hemisphere was important enough, a functional MRI would have also been performed before the surgery to ensure valuable parts of the brain were not removed. Of course, I wanted the functional MRI performed regardless of the primary memory location of my brain. Most of the time I would make a convincing argument against extreme practices for very little benefit. In this case my insurance deductible was already met, and this procedure, the Wada Test, sounded like an entertaining adventure.

The Adventure of Half of the Mind

A catheter was inserted into the femoral artery in my leg, and it was pushed all the way up to the internal carotid artery of my neck. It felt weird in my stomach area, but I couldn’t feel it move any further than that. However, I could see it through the computer screen showing an ongoing x-ray of my body. The catheter then released dye into my body which heated significantly as my body rejected the visitors. The x-ray clearly showed the dye map out all the veins in my left hemisphere.

My neuropsychologist prepared me for the memory test of random objects shown to me when the anesthetic would be released into my left hemisphere.

First as the anesthetic was being injected, I had both hands up wiggling my fingers and counting. At exactly 33 seconds I was unable to speak, and my right arm fell to the bed. As I was trying to say the number 34 I gazed at my right hand in awe as I tried to move it back to where it was originally. I was staring at it and expecting it to move where I wanted, but it wouldn’t move. My left hemisphere was undoubtedly numbed by the anesthetic.

Then the neuropsychologist started showing me the random objects. I was supposed to name them; however, I was unable to speak. Initially I thought my lack of speech was because I couldn’t think of the name of the object. I convinced myself I was just trying to remember the name before I said something. I would sometimes use filler words like umm, or uhh at times when I experienced partial seizures, or just couldn’t remember names. In this case I just couldn’t speak at all. The Wada test was like an extremely long and intense partial seizure. It felt like I was entrapped in a realistic dream where I was unable to speak. I was stuck with a goal that simply could not be accomplished.

He kept showing me the objects anyway. I was baffled by my inability to speak. In that moment I did feel confident that I knew the name for one or two things out of the fifteen. I also recognized all the objects, but the names for the others were just nowhere to be found. I was trying very hard to push the words out, but they just didn’t go. When I hear the word speechless, I think back to the Wada test experience and wonder how closely that relates to their word choice.

After about 15 minutes the anesthetic wore off. Since half of my brain wasn’t functioning it actually felt more like 2 minutes to me. He showed me the objects again. I knew immediately if I had seen them earlier, and I could clearly remember a snapshot of the moment he showed me each one. It was very relieving because it confirmed some functional immediate memory in my right hemisphere. This meant that all of my memory would not be lost as a result of the surgery.

What I learned about myself

Shutting down my left hemisphere with an anesthetic was similar to having an intense seizure in the left hemisphere of my brain. This was an interesting realization considering hyperactive neuron firing of a seizure is the opposite of the anesthetic numbing of the Wada test. The recovery process after a complex partial seizure was also similar to the recovery process my brain needed after the Wada test. I was able to experience the effect of a seizure within a controlled experiment.

This knowledge was valuable as I prepared for the upcoming surgery and dealt with my occasional seizures. Seizures were no longer a baffling annoyance and irritation; after this procedure the experience of a seizure evolved into more of an experimental data point. For the sake of my health I did everything I could to minimize the occurrence of seizures, but seizures became less of a fear. When the occasional seizure occurred, I was able to fully accept that moment in time. Rather than push to overcome the effect of the seizure, I learned to rest within the unaffected areas of my body until the seizure had quieted.

Have you experienced a challenging situation which lead to a peaceful realization? Please share!

The Fear of Guilt

As Lorean and I are raising our daughter Madelyn, the choices we make for her seem to be non-stop. With my ties to psychology and obsessions with neurological development, I am known to overthink decisions every once in a while, (or all the time according to Lorean as well as reality). We are trying to provide a loving environment where our daughter can maintain her sense of peace while experiencing the world around her. Decisions including:

Food: times, temperatures, quantities, introductions, allergies, etc.

Sleep: times, habits, positions, environments, consistency, etc.

Family: times, obligations, travels, vacations, meals, etc.

Medical: appointments, doctors, research, medications, etc.

Babysitting: times, cost, selection, etc.

…can be overwhelming from time to time (or all the time). So, then I start to ponder the inevitable question: Am I doing what is right for her as well as what is right for us and the people around us?

Unfortunately, that question doesn’t have an answer.

Am I doing what is right for her as well as what is right for us and the people around us?

The black and white assessment of right and wrong is an overwhelming weight to carry. If the standard is locked at the unreachable (right) perfection, it would be more accurately described as impossible. The impossible scenario often leads to the feeling of guilt, and with habit and more thought, the guilt is enhanced with fear.

Guilt

According to Merriam Webster, guilt is defined as “feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”. First, let’s assess the components of this definition in more detail:

‘Feelings of deserving blame’

When you feel that you deserve to be blamed, you are identifying yourself as the cause of the negative situation. The feelings associated with this label include fear for the situation itself, and fear for the potential guilt which may occur. There is a potential of experiencing more guilt. Therefore, the feeling of guilt is compounded into a more overwhelming feeling.

‘Imagined offenses’

Something may happen in the future which the family, friends, group, coworkers, or whoever else will not be happy about. There is a fear that the something will happen, and there is a preconceived guilt regarding the potential experience. Personal blame is anticipated due to situational involvement.

‘Sense of inadequacy’

This sense of inadequacy may be a bigger issue to tackle, and it is important to jump right to the specific root of the feeling of inadequacy:

[Let’s imagine I am currently experiencing extreme cycles of the fear of guilt. That was a fairly negative introduction to this topic, and I am personally feeling a little down about things after that analysis. Surely if I am feeling negative then everyone else who reads those descriptions will also be feeling negative. If there is already a fear of guilt factor within the reader I don’t want to impose more negative feelings. I am feeling anxious that the reader will not benefit from my attempt to help. Somehow, I have to make things better for the reader. Everyone will probably end up worse than where they started. I need to delete this whole thing and start over. It would probably be best if I just didn’t post anything on this website. At this moment I am feeling some tension in my neck. My palms are starting to sweat. I am thinking about other faults I have, and I am wandering further into how these faults may have a negative impact on other people.]

If you can identify with similar feelings related to work, parenting, relationships, family, etc., then I have a few considerations and self-assessment work for you.

Considerations

First, let’s take some time to assess the bigger picture. Whether the situation is a couple years within the 4 million years of human existence, or the situation impacts a small group of individuals within the 7-billion-person population of the current earth, it could be argued that the ‘imagined offense’ is not of significant magnitude. Yes, all lives are important, and all time is valuable. Therefore, your time should be allocated for sharing positivity within yourself and with those around you.

Another perspective of the bigger picture might be related to the wrath of your religious leader and/or God Himself. Many religious followers and leaders have thoroughly implanted a fear within the minds of children who accept the affiliation (before their minds are able to differentiate rational choice). Thus, it may be rational to fear the potential scenarios which may damn you to hell. My apologies for sliding right back into a spin of negativity…..

Spirituality offers another helpful perspective of the bigger picture. The following Bible verse from the book of Matthew is one of the most important as well as a personal favorite:

“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.”

This is a very simple and profound message with 3 important take home points:

1. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind

Your spiritual journey must remain fully encompassed within your love for God. Obsessions over personal and/or community issues will distract you from loving God.

2. Love others as much as you love yourself.

Your love for God and your spiritual journey will become distorted and distracted if you do not also share your love with yourself and the people around you.

3. Love yourself

This crucial message is usually grouped with the previous point, especially in the context of current Christian religions. Within the quote the statement was phrased as if loving yourself would be easy and inevitable. Although immediate personal satisfaction could be argued as our current social norm, it has become easy to disconnect from the true love of our human self. I will write more about this later, but personal satisfaction tends to outweigh self-love too much of the time.

If you have fully dedicated your heart, soul, and mind to loving God and loving others as much as you love yourself, guilt is minimized. This love is a holistic entity of belonging which is more than right and wrong, it is different than the social norm, and it is a fulfilling experience.

Before we move on, it is important to first clarify a common misconception of love. The picture of yourself which you have created, your ego, will not support lasting or meaningful love. Unfortunately, it is easy to become trapped within our ego. We try to optimize feelings we have for our created sense of self, and these feelings are usually dependent on the guessed opinions of the people around us. The true entity of lasting and meaningful love becomes confusing and clouded. Personal satisfaction jumps up to become the primary concern, and there is an unhealthy dependence on the ‘love’ that other people have for you. Guessing how much you are loved and feeling guilty when optimal levels aren’t reached (or when there is a chance they won’t be reached) becomes habit.

It is time to break the guilt habit and resolve the underlying fear of guilt. Hopefully the enormous time-frame of human existence, the massive human population, and the full dedication of heart, soul, and mind references were helpful, but let’s identify some specific times when you feel the guilt and tackle the issue!

Self Assessment

What specific experiences initiate the cycle of guilt?

Has the situation actually occurred?

If the answer is yes, then you can move on to the next question. If you want to gain more control over the feeling of guilt, or if the answer is no, then it might be best to understand that many future scenarios ranging from the happiness of new life through the emotions surrounding death are quite possible. It is best to fully experience the present moment and share your love with the people around you.

Are you sure you are the primary cause?

If the answer is yes, then it may be more efficient to discuss the situation with the person or group before the negative situation occurs. If the answer is no, then it might be beneficial to simply experience the partly negative event with an open mind.

Do you feel that you have not prepared well enough for the situation?

It might be beneficial to simply experience the partly negative event with an open mind. If you feel that better preparation would have been beneficial, imagine this as a learning experience which will guide you through the process of preparation for future events.

Do you feel that you are incapable of preparing well enough for the situation?

This is a self-esteem or sense of self-worth issue if you feel that your preparing is always or inevitably lacking. Depending on the accuracy of your assessment as well as the level of the feeling, it may be beneficial to tackle these issues with counseling and other appropriate activities. On the other hand, if I were signed up to run a marathon tomorrow, I would certainly be having that feeling. I have not adequately prepared my body to run the marathon, and that would probably be too taxing for my body to handle. I would have to make a firm decision to either withdraw from the marathon, or pack a couple meals and plenty of water as I begin my casual 8 hour, 26.2 mile walk.

The overall goal is to focus on sharing and experiencing love. Therefore, when the feelings of guilt arise it is best to immediately tackle the issue. Here are a couple options to consider:

Stop participating in the experience if the guilt association is inevitable or it is not in your best interest.

Take a deep breath and accept each moment of experience for just that moment. Your assessment of potential scenarios is now complete, and the step-wise sequence of future events may or may not take place as you have foreseen. Either way it will be a learning experience and it will be a valuable experience for you.

The fix will not happen overnight, and you will have to remake your choice hundreds of times until it becomes natural for you. As you practice the valuable experience of self-growth, it is always helpful to focus on the positives. This applies to yourself and the potential situations which trigger the fear/guilt response.

What positive qualities are you bringing to the situation which may present potential challenges?

What characteristics about the upcoming situation may be interesting, valuable, or beneficial to yourself or others?

If you believe you will start to see progress, that is likely what will happen. However, if there are specific situations which you cannot overcome, it may be beneficial to ask yourself the deeper question: What are the specific reasons I cannot overcome the cycle of guilt within that specific situation? More importantly: What steps do I need to take to overcome the cycle of guilt for that specific situation?

As always, I look forward to hearing your feedback. Please leave a comment.

Self Awareness

Self-awareness is a general term which fully encompasses the topics I have specified within this blog. As this content continues to grow; more importantly, as you continue to learn, do not forget to step back and re-assess how the knowledge and content relates to your sense of self. Self-awareness is a cyclic process of continuous growth. As children, we experience these cycles for the first time. I am watching my daughter, Madelyn, begin to experience more physical potentials (sitting and crawling) followed by her emotional experiences in response to them. Eventually she will be able to talk about her actions, and one day she will ask about the purpose of learning her next task. The valuable cycles will continue as she begins to apply her physical self to mastering more complex tasks. She will experience more intertwined psychological responses, and she will have a better grasp of the rational pathway of achieving her goals. Her greater purpose will hopefully become more clear as she expands her interactions with the people around her.

How can I improve my sense of self awareness?

Self awareness is a broad and potentially daunting topic, hence why it is minimized and often overlooked by many. To tackle this challenging task it may be useful to itemize the components of who you are as a person. I look forward to relating a few well known references including Maslow’s hierarchy, Erikson’s stages of development, Piaget’s model, and Kohlberg’s theory in later posts. For now it is best to start with a more simple overview.

1. What are your physical health needs?

Many people overlook the critical needs of the human body. We are all dependent on the oxygen in clean air to breath, clean water to hydrate our body, healthy foods to nourish our body, a good night sleep to repair our physical body, and maintenance of the homeostasis potentials within our body. Unfortunately, we tend to overlook these necessities as more complex social challenges inevitably become prioritized. It is always important to keep in touch with your health.

2. What are your psychological needs?

Once your health is optimized, you are able to fully and completely experience the psychology of yourself. You have a psychological need to feel secure and comfortable with yourself, and this allows you to develop healthy relationships with the people around you. This drive to improve yourself and your relationships will also motivate you to follow at least a few social trends which may or may not be optimal for your health.

3. What are your rational needs?

Learning is a lifelong process, and the amount of knowledge which can be attained does not have limits similar to physical potentials. Whether you are eating a meal, interacting with other people, studying a book, or meditating in silence, the ongoing stream rational processing will continue. Each moment you are blessed with the option of applying that stream positively and productively for yourself and for those around you.

4. What are your spiritual needs?

The robotic and repetitive nature of socially defined productivity has minimal value unless there is a greater purpose. While churches aim to assist in helping to define spirituality, it is up to you to truly connect with something more. The support of your spiritual needs helps to fulfill the sense of the human self, beyond the human body and beyond the psychological ego. Spirituality fully encompasses the physical, psychological, and rational self in order to relate with the soul which will be carried into eternity (the ‘location’/specific definitions are up for debate).

As my first blog post I left this fairly general, but please let me know if you have any topics you would like me to discuss in more detail! Here is a quick link to the comments.