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Will this work?

I told you I’m spending the month of February blogging through the process of starting a business from scratch.

One of the things I’ve got to figure out is if my idea has any legs.

I think there’s a fancy name for that…it’s called “validating the concept” or something.

Anyway, the premise is…take some time to see if there’s a market for what you’re gonna do before you dump a bunch of time, money and energy into it.

So, let’s say we want to validate our concept. How do we do that?

I’m just gonna be straight with you and say I’m not 100% sure.

How about I tell you what I do know?

Last year I polled a few people to get some feedback about how other families in roughly the same stage of life (youngish kids, growing in their careers, involved in their churches and communities, etc.) felt about their personal finances.

What I found was most of the people I talked to felt stressed out, confused, or frustrated.

The general consensus was everyone knows what they should be doing, it’s just actually doing it that’s really hard.

On Wednesday night I took a deeper dive with a friend. He let me ask any question I wanted about how he gets financial advice, about what his biggest frustrations are, and about his experience handling his family’s money.

The results of our conversation told me that all the stuff I’ve had on my mind about creating a better way for our families to get financial advice and to reach our goals…it has legs.

If you’d be willing to let me ask you a few questions via Skype (or in person if you’re local) just say “I’ll help!” in the comments.

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This four-step system changed the way I think about goals

In my last post I asked you about goals.

I’m curious.

How do you set financial goals?

I asked that question (and I’m still eager to hear your answer!) because I know every family is different.

I confessed that we’re a little loosey-goosey at our house.

Sometimes we have a good process, other times we don’t.

Today I want to share something I learned about goals.

I heard this on the You Need A Budget podcast a few weeks ago.

Don’t let the title scare you…

Even though “You need a budget!” sounds like something your dad would say, they have a really helpful podcast and a nifty budgeting tool.

You can check out YNAB here or listen to the podcast episode “The Four Disciplines of Execution.”

Aaaaaaannnyyyyhooooo…the thing about goals.

So on the YNAB podcast they were talking about having a goal-setting process.

It’s a simple, four-step process. Turns out there’s no need to junk up whatever you’re trying to do with a big, elaborate plan.

Here’s the four step plan…

Focus on one big goal

Pick one thing. Don’t pick five things, pick one thing.

I always chuckle when I hear the word “focus” because a long time ago I worked at a huge bank and they used to have these weekly conference calls to browbeat everyone to sell stuff.

“Don’t forget! We’re focusing on checking accounts, cross-sell, online banking, investment referrals, and HELOCs this week,” they’d say.

Focusing on five things?

It was confusing because I always thought focus meant concentrating on ONE thing.

By the way, can you guess how successful we were at crushing our goals in all the things we were supposed to be focusing on?

If you said, “Not very”…give yourself ten points.

So pick ONE thing to focus on.

Pick leading indicators

After you pick your goal, select indicators that are predictive of success in that realm.

For example, if your goal is to have stronger arms, doing a set number of pull-ups each day is predictive of reaching your goal. The number of pull-ups you’re doing is a “leading indicator” of your success.

Keep score

Once you have one big thing to focus on and you’ve picked leading indicators, the next thing to do is track your progress.

What that means is, write down the number of pull-ups you actually did each day.

If you pick a leading indicator but don’t track it, it’s hard to know if what you’re doing is working.

Create accountability

The final piece of the goal-setting puzzle is accountability.

What “accountability” means is having someone you can report your results to on a regular basis.

It’s human nature to stay on track if we know someone has expectations for us.

If someone is expecting you to stick to your plan, you’ll be less likely to fudge.

How about that?

A simple, four-step plan for setting and achieving goals.

Here’s how this plan worked for me recently…

Right when I heard this YNAB podcast, I was preparing to take the Series 65 exam.

If you’re not familiar, the Series 65 is a big bad securities law exam that – if you pass it – lets you set up shop as a registered investment adviser.

I had a study book so thick I thought it was a Manhattan phone book when I first saw it.

But I wanted to get the exam behind me sooner than later, so I used this four-step plan to set a goal to pass the exam.

Focusing on one big goal was easy: pass the Series 65.

Picking leading indicators was pretty easy, too. I divided the study book up into sections and assigned every section to its own day in my calendar. I assumed studying the book would be predictive of success on the exam.

To keep score, I did two things. First, I logged my scores on the practice tests in each chapter. Second, I logged the date I finished each section.

And finally, I made a plan for accountability. I sent Mary Craig and my friend Colin the study schedule and emailed them every time I finished a section.

See?

Screenshot 2016-02-04 14.50.51

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And guess what?

It worked!

I passed the exam last week.

This four-step system is super-easy and can be applied to almost any goal, whether it’s a personal goal or a business goal.

Is this something you can see yourself using next time you have something you want to accomplish?

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Can you answer this super-simple question?

Today I just have a simple question.

And just to be clear, this is a poll question…not a “make you feel guilty”question.

You know the difference, right?

A poll question is like, “If the election were held today, would you vote for Jerry Seinfeld or George Costanza?”

A “make you feel guilty question” is like, “How productive have you been today?”

See the difference?

The “make you feel guilty question” is gonna make you think, “I’ve done okay, but gosh…now that I think about it I’ve taken three Buzzfeed quizzes today and I’ve been texting with four different friends.”

The poll question, on the other hand, is just trying to get information. There’s no right or wrong answer.

I’m trying to poll you, not make you feel guilty.

That’s a big setup for something that really isn’t a big deal, but I want to make sure you’re not afraid to answer because you think there’s some elusive “right answer” that I’m looking for. I’m not.

Okay, let’s get to it.

The question I want to ask is…

How do you set financial goals?

That’s it.

Here’s why I’m asking…

I know how we set financial goals at our house, but I know it’s probably not the same way you set goals at your house.

And actually, truth be told, the way we set goals can sometimes be, “Oh shit! We need to set save some money for vacation this summer!” or, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a little condo at the beach someday?”

In other words, our current system can be a little loosey-goosey.

So that’s it…

How do you set financial goals?

Answer any way you like. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. I just want to hear what you do.

If you don’t want to share in the comments, I made a form you can drop your answer into…just click here.

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I just transferred my IRA online in six minutes

When I left my job a month ago, I rolled over my 401(k) into my brokerage account IRA.

I’ve been wanted to kick the tires on using a “robo-advisor” because I’m naturally drawn to things with “robo” in the name ever since I watched Robocop twenty-five times as a kid.

I was surprised at the experience of opening an account with a robo-advisor.

BTW, my Mac keeps wanting to auto-correct “robo-advisor” to “robe-advisor” which might be the creepiest thing I’ve ever read.

Anyhow, here’s how it went…

Screenshot 2016-02-02 13.12.57

 

 

 

Once I got over the fact that I’m 39 and STILL NOT RETIRED…(heavy sigh)…I started feeding the system the info it needed.

The vendor I chose was Betterment. I picked Betterment because I’m going to be offering an enhanced version of Betterment to clients when my business is up and running, so I want to see what it’s like to use it as a customer.

The first screen you see after telling them you want to open an account is the screen above, where you give them a brief snapshot of your current life stage.

Screenshot 2016-02-02 13On the next screen, they have you pick a goal. Mine defaulted to “Safety Net” with a 60/40 ratio of stocks to bonds and a “suggested target” of $12,000, but since I’m transferring IRA money, I changed my goal to “Retirement.” I’m not sure how they arrive at the suggested target.

When I changed my goal to retirement, it suggested a 90/10 ratio. That’s more like it.
Screenshot 2016-02-02 13.14.59

Above you can see the screen that appeared after I selected Retirement as my goal. What’s helpful about this page is that it hits the basics, like “You’re 90% in stocks and 10% in bonds.” It also gives a list of what you get from Betterment in the right-hand column, things like diversification, low fees, and rebalancing.

But there are diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, so if you’re a little more analytical and you’re hungry to know exactly what your dollars are invested in, you can click the “Details” tab under the portfolio wheel and get a listing of all the holdings in your portfolio.

Screenshot 2016-02-02 13.15.16

 

This is the list of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) my money will be invested in when my transfer gets to Betterment.

What’s cool is that they give you the actual ticker symbols of the funds they buy…they don’t have some kind of “secret sauce” or David Blaine-style trick to make your money grow. If I wanted to buy these funds on my own outside of this account, I could because I have them all listed right here.

But here, it’s all bundled up into one portfolio that they’ll rebalance for me.

As far as the actual account opening process goes, it’s easy as pie.

I didn’t screen cap those pages because they have my personal info on ’em, but it’s a few short forms to enter name, address, SSN and some very basic financial info.

When all is said and done, here’s what the main dashboard page looks like:

Screenshot 2016-02-02 13.28.33

After my account was set up, I clicked a button to transfer my IRA from my existing provider to Betterment.

I entered the name of the company that holds those funds currently and my account number and Betterment generated a PDF transfer form for me to print, sign and mail.

Here’s the incredible thing…

The whole process…from when I started to when I printed off the transfer form…took six-and-a-half minutes.

SIX MINUTES!

I was shocked.

Shocked because it was so unlike the process I went through to open accounts for clients when I was a broker.

Depending on what the client needed, it could take anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes just to do the paperwork to open an account.

My head is still spinning at how fast Betterment was.

So what happens now?

Today I’m dropping my transfer form in the mail. In a few days, my existing IRA company will cut a check for the amount I’m transferring to Betterment.

Betterment will get the money and invest it in the portfolio you see above.

Boom, bam.

Do you use a purely online company to do any of your saving/investing?

What has your experience been?

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Here’s the game plan

 

It’s day one of the 30 day blogging goal I set for myself and I’ve been thinking about how to tackle this.

I think I figured it out.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m in the process of starting a new business from scratch and I’m going to document the experience here for the next 30 days.

Some of what I share will be practical, like what a bank asks for when I go to open a bank account. Other things I share might be more reflective, like any challenges or successes that come along.

While we do this, can I ask a favor? If you’re not already on my email list, will you sign up in the box at the bottom of this post?

If you don’t see a sign-up box at the bottom of this post, just click here. Thanks!

 

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What can 30 days do for you?

 

A few months ago I survived something I never thought I could do…

I ate nothing but fresh vegetables and meat for 30 days.

No dairy. No sugar. No grain. No alcohol.

For 30 damn days.

It wasn’t easy.

In fact, I did some serious, “What’s the point of this? What’s the point of ANYTHING?!?” soul-searching during those 30 days.

And I survived.

I’ve got a friend who’s doing the same 30 day deal right now.

I talked to him on his 15th day.

By the 15th day you don’t hate the world anymore. You’re not thinking about all the things you can’t eat, like meatball subs and beef lo mein and Chick-fil-A milkshakes.

By the 15th day you’re starting to feel like a superhero.

I asked my friend why he decided to try eating differently for 30 days.

“Health,” he said.

He said after just 15 days he was feeling better and seeing results in his body…so much so that he was convinced he should latch on to some of the changes permanently.

What I thought was amazing was this guy was only 15 days in and was already down 12 pounds.

This 30 day deal…(it’s called Whole30)…it’s not a weight loss thing.

But it’s pretty wild to see the dramatic results that come in a relatively short period of time.

When I did Whole30 I discovered I had fewer migraines.

I went from having two a week to having two the entire month.

For me, that was a great result. It was worth the anger and frustration I felt early in the month because I was hungry and couldn’t find enough of the “right” foods to eat.

A few weeks ago I asked my friends on Facebook if they’ve ever done a 30 day challenge.

I was curious to see what types of things people have pushed themselves to try.

My friend Carrie is in the middle of a 30 day challenge to eat raw food until 4 p.m. and she’s also stringing together 30 consecutive days of yoga. If that’s not the recipe for a fresh-feeling mind and body, I don’t know what is.

My dad said he’s done a 30 day plank challenge. An apple a day keeps the doctor away? Try “a firm core keeps the doctor away.”

My friend Jessica said she’s had a glass of wine every day for 30 days. She’s not doing it as part of any kind of challenge. It’s just worked out that way. I can definitely see the benefit of this program.

So let’s chat for a minute…

Remember how 12 pounds fell off my friend after just 15 days of Whole30?

And remember how my migraines took a hike when I changed the way I ate for 30 days?

And remember how we’ve been talking about how big results can come from small actions?

With all that in mind, I wonder…

Are you up for a challenge?

A whole brand-spankin’ new month starts Monday, so it’s the perfect time to dive into something.

Here’s what I want to do…

I want to write a blog post every day for 30 days.

I think the benefits I’ll get from that will be really interesting.

But that’s what I’m gonna do.

What do you want to do?

Post a photo a day to your Instagram account?

Walk around the block once every day?

Make a list of things you’re grateful for everyday for 30 days?

If you’re up for a 30 day challenge, just pick something.

If you need more ideas, check out the post 7 Little Habits That Can Change Your Life, and How to Form Them at zenhabits.

Even better if a few of us can do our challenges together.

Who’s in?

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Happier, healthier and more likable

If I told you I knew something you could do that would make you happier, healthier and more likable, would you want to know what it is?

I don’t know about you, but I’d be all over it.

I’m always in need of as much happiness, healthiness and most of all likability as I can get.

Now, if I told you to guess what this certain something is that can offer these nice benefits, what would you think it is?

“Happier” and “more likable” sound like the benefits offered by about two glasses of bourbon…but it’s not that.

Would you believe me if I told you that you can feel happier, healthier and people will like you more if you get in the habit of being grateful?

It sounds nuts, I know.

I mean, gratitude is a state of mind, right?

It’s a choice to look at things a certain way, right?

And somehow it can impact us physically, emotionally and socially?

That’s crazy.

It absolutely sounds crazy but it’s true. Like, science-y true.

Researchers have done hundreds of studies on the effects of gratitude and the evidence is pretty clear…gratitude is really, really good for us.

Do you find that hard to believe?

I do.

It’s hard to believe for me because when I look at all the areas of life gratitude can improve, it wouldn’t seem that gratitude would be the direct path to success.

What do I mean?

Here’s an example…

Gratitude and sleep

Gratitude can help us sleep better. Pretty cool, right?

But if you set out to get better sleep, how would you tackle that problem?

If you’re like me, you’d probably pick an earlier bedtime. You might make sure you didn’t have any caffeine late in the day. You might resolve to stay off Facebook right before bed so you don’t get sucked into anyone’s ridiculousness.

You might even try some melatonin…or an Ambien if you’re up for an adventure.

And those are all good things to do. Those are surely part of the solution.

Making a list of things you’re grateful for…would that factor into solving your sleep problems?

Hell nah.

Here’s what’s interesting…it turns out that a grateful person is a relaxed person. When we’re grateful our bodies can slip into relaxation mode more easily. And as a result we fall asleep and stay asleep with more regularity.

If you want to sleep better at night, take a few days and make a list of five or ten things you’re grateful for…and just see what happens.

Social benefits of gratitude

Can I let you in on a little secret?

Sometimes when I leave a social event, I replay everything in my head and try to figure out how I “did.”

Did I say the right things? Was I nice to everyone? Was I accidentally rude to anyone?

In short, I try to figure out if I was likable enough.

You’d think a nearly 40 year old man wouldn’t do these things, but whatev. It’s the way I am.

Likability is something I’ll gladly take in buckets.

That’s why I was fascinated to learn that people with a gratitude habit are more likable to other people.

Why would that be? I mean, like we said earlier, gratitude is a state of mind. How could something we do in our minds change the way people see us?

Well, think about this…

Think about someone you know who is super-appreciative. They never miss a chance to let you know when there’s something you’ve done that they’re grateful for.

How do you feel about that person?

Pretty good, right?

Let’s do another one…

Think about someone who is very trusting. Not “always trusting” in a naive way, but what I mean is they’re always going to give you the benefit of the doubt.

How do you feel about that person?

You like ’em, I’ll bet!

That’s exactly why gratitude makes us more likable…because it first makes us more appreciate, more trusting and nicer in general.

And those are qualities that other people really like.

Health benefits of gratitude

Another thing gratitude can do is make us healthier.

A state of mind can make our bodies physically healthier?

The science says yes.

I’ll let you dig into the details if you want, but here’s the quick and dirty version…

Grateful people are less-stressed people.

And if you haven’t noticed, stress can ruin the human body.

Stress can mess up your heart. It’ll attack your immune system. It’s bad stuff.

What researchers have found out is people who practice gratitude regularly can bounce back from injury more quickly, have fewer heart problems, and stronger immune systems than those who don’t.

Now, can gratitude actually heal a persistent condition? I don’t know. I kinda doubt it.

So I’m not saying gratitude is medicine.

But there’s enough research out there linking gratitude to feeling better that it’s probably worth trying.

Easier than we think

The amazing thing is creating a daily gratitude habit isn’t as big a deal as it sounds.

I mean, it’s not like you have to block off all this time to sit quietly and ponder your life.

All it really means is: can you make a new list every day of a few thanks you’re thankful for?

If you want to go high tech, one way to do it is could keep a running list in Evernote or Day One. Or just open up a Word document and start typing. It’s that easy.

If you like to put pen to paper, you could grab a classic Moleskine notebook (this one is my fav) and collect your ideas there.

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits of gratitude, I wonder if you’ve had any experience with a habit like this.

What was your experience?

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10 quick facts about Generation X

How much do you know about Generation X?

If you’ve been around the blog this week you know we’ve been talking about Gen X (loosely defined as the generation of people currently between ages of 35 and 54).

We’ve been talking mostly about Gen X and work, but I wanted to share some quick facts with you to shine some light on who we are as a generation.

Here are ten quick facts about Generation X:

  1. On average, Gen Xers have stayed with their current employer about eight years. More than 40% of Gen Xers have been with their employer 10 years or more.
  2. About 10% of Gen Xers have received an inheritance from their parents. The average amount they received was $81,000.
  3. The typical Gen Xer wants to retire at age 62.
  4. Most Gen Xers are married with children.
  5. Half of Gen Xers are behind on saving for retirement.
  6. More than 80% of Gen Xers own their own home.
  7. About 20% of Gen Xers provide regular care for older relatives.
  8. Ten percent of Gen Xers are grandparents.
  9. Sixty percent of Gen Xers include sports and exercise in their daily routine.
  10. More than 10% of Gen Xers use herbal remedies.

What’s most surprising to you in that list?

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Here’s why Gen Xers feel career frustration

There’s an old saying, “When you point your finger, remember there are three pointing back at you.”

You’ve heard that, right?

I think it’s something people tell us so we won’t blame other people for our problems.

But today I’m going to make this a safe place. We’re going to point fingers.

As many fingers as we want in as many different directions as we want.

In fact, why don’t you take a minute and point a finger or two right now…right where you’re reading this.

Point at your phone screen. Point out the window.

Point in your cat’s dumb face.

Okay, are you good and warmed up?

Good!

Let’s point some fingers together!

So, we spent some time in our last post talking about how over half of Gen Xers aren’t working in the same career they intended to work in when they got started.

I shared a little story about how I always thought I was going to be a lawyer, then worked for a newspaper, and now I’m a financial advisor.

I also shared this little bit of research…despite the fact that many of us aren’t where we thought we would be, on the whole we’re okay with it. That’s according to a big Gen X study done by MetLife.

By “okay with it” I mean almost nine out of 10 Gen Xers report some level of satisfaction with where they are in their careers.

But that still leaves about 10 percent of Gen X feeling like they’re not satisfied with their career advancement.

And when you consider that Gen X is 50 million strong, that’s five million people we’re talking about who aren’t where they want to be in their careers and who don’t feel satisfied with their progress.

That’s a bunch of people.

Now can I ask you something a little personal?

Something that people usually don’t talk about in mixed company?

Here it is…

Have you ever found yourself in that 10 percent?

Have you ever been one of the people whose career wasn’t going according to plan…and you weren’t all that happy about it?

If that was you, how did it feel?

I’ll let you in on this little secret…

I’ve been there. And it feels awful.

How did it feel?

Some days it felt like anxiety. Other days it felt like insurmountable stress. Still others days all I could feel was hopelessness.

Just a big hot sack full of bad stuff.

In fairness, it wasn’t all the time. It came in waves.

But when I read that as many as five million Gen Xers are possibly frustrated, I guess I’m not surprised.

Now we talked at the start of this post about pointing fingers, so let’s get back to that.

When Gen Xers think about why they’re not advancing in their careers, I want to show you who they point their fingers at.

A big group point their fingers at lack of advancement opportunities as the reason they’re not farther down their career path.

That might mean there’s no career track where they work or it might mean the people sitting on the next few rungs up the ladder aren’t moving.

Another reason Gen Xers say they’re not advancing in their careers is lack of education.

I don’t have any deeper detail on this one, so I can’t say if it’s because people don’t feel they have access to education in general or if people don’t feel they have the specific education they need to perform certain skilled jobs.

You know what, though?

I really feel for this group of people.

This big collection of five million or so Gen Xers who, for whatever reason, aren’t really feeling where they are right now.

 

So why am I telling you this?

A few reasons…

First, if you’re not where you want to be in your career and it bums you out, I bet it’s helpful to know you’re not alone.

Second, I’m imagining the opportunities out there for a “market” of five MILLION people who want to make positive changes in their lives.

What could you make available to five million people to help them move from dissatisfied to satisfied?

What do these people need?

I don’t have answers to these questions…

I’m just thinking.

What do you think?

If your wife or your sister or your husband wanted to make career progress, but for some reason it just wasn’t happening, what would you tell them? How would you help them?

Let’s figure this out!

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Career change can create satisfaction for Gen Xers

Two quick questions for you…

First, what did you study in school?

And second, is what you’re doing now connected to what you studied in school?

I’ve been reading up on Generation X…which is loosely defined as the group of people between 35 and 54 years old…and there’s something pretty interesting about this generation.

Actually, I think there are plenty of interesting things about Gen X, but let’s zero in on one for today.

I’ll tell you what it is, but first let me tell you this…

I always thought I was going to be a lawyer.

My dad is a lawyer. His brother and sister are lawyers.

When I was a kid I would go to his office and play hide and seek with my brother in the stacks of law books.

During summers in college I worked for lawyers making copies, sending faxes and hand-delivering documents around downtown Tampa.

I studied political science in college. I spent a semester in Washington studying government and the legal system.

I was locked and loaded for law school.

And then I took the LSAT.

The LSAT told me, “Oh no you’re NOT going to law school.”

So I made other plans.

I went to work for a newspaper.

Then I discovered my interest in personal finance and investing.

It worked out fine. But what I do today isn’t even remotely related to what I studied in school.

Is your story anything like that?

You know what I learned recently while I was studying Generation X?

I’m pretty typical.

About 55 percent of Gen Xers aren’t working in the career they intended, according to a study by MetLife.

What that means is, if you studied art and now you’re a preschool teacher…you’re not alone.

If you planned to be an accountant but now you’re a drug rep…that’s normal.

If you started out as a nurse and now you stay home with kids…don’t think you’re the only one.

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised to learn that a little more than half of my generation hasn’t landed in the spot they were aiming for. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

But with the benefit of *cough* age, I get why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

There are all kinds of reasons why people choose the work they choose.

One reason might be the spot they were aiming for wasn’t the right spot to begin with.

But let me tell you this…

Even though a little more than half of us are doing different things than we originally set out to do, we feel okay about it.

In the study, 87 percent of Gen Xers reported being either somewhat or very satisfied with their current situation.

Now I know “somewhat satisfied” maybe isn’t the ideal scenario, but compared to “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” it’s definitely the preferred outlook.

Obviously that’s not the whole story on work for Gen Xers.

Surely you know someone who desperately wants to change their work situation…or who has made the comment, “I don’t even know how I ended up here.”

We’ll talk about what Gen Xers think is holding them back in the next post.

For now, let me ask this: are you doing what you pictured yourself doing when you were younger?

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