“Cementing” the Past

When I was four years old my father taught me an object lesson in choice making.

My dad was a jack of trades, he loved to work with his hands.  From a very early age I was exposed to organic gardening, alternative energy sources and all around clean country living.  My sister likes to say that our dad was an organic hippie before being an organic hippie was hip.

In the spring and summer of 1976 my parents bought a small acreage in Southwestern Ontario and built a house on it themselves.  We moved in August and one warm fall day while dad was mixing concrete and pouring a slab for our front step I learned a lesson that would stick with me to this day.

A Cement Mixer similar to the one my dad used to build our house. He actually had two for some reason…

How did I learn this life lesson at the ripe old age of four?  My dad showed me while pouring concrete.

You see, after you mix concrete and pour it out in the area you want to cover the next step is to take a large trowel and smooth it out as flat and cleanly as you can.  The trick is to mix the concrete with just the right amount of water so that you can manipulate it with the trowel but no so much that it takes too long to dry.

Once troweled you need to watch it carefully to make sure no imperfections arise from an air bubble or something landing on it.  If that happens you must quickly trowel out the imperfection again before it sets.  Once concrete sets it’s as hard as a rock and you’ll never get it smooth again after that.

After I watched my dad work for what seemed like hours mixing, spreading and troweling this slab of concrete to perfection, all the while explaining to me exactly what he was doing, he did something completely incomprehensible.  He took a stick, wrote his name in the corner of this perfectly troweled concrete slab and walked away!

Our family moved out of that house in 1989 but to this day, unless the new owners used a jack hammer, on the corner of the front step you can still clearly see. “A. Sheil, 1976”

When we make choices in life it’s as if the concrete of our past sets instantly.  You can’t go back and un-ring a bell as the old proverb says and you can’t trowel your name out of dry concrete.

Once you make a choice it’s fixed in the past.  The only thing left to do is figure out how to continue living moment to moment and that choice is binary.  You either do A or B.  There is no C because you can’t make two choices at once.  You may be able to return to C later, after the consequences of A or B have been experienced but the choice you make is always between two options.

So why am I telling you this?

This is a blog about life, business, personal finance and spirituality.  There is nothing more relevant to all four of those things than the way we make choices.  A lot of motivational gurus will tell you that your choices and options are always open and that’s true but once made your choices are fixed, like concrete.  You can’t go back.  All choices have consequences and like writing your name in concrete, the results of your choices will leave visible manifestations on your life forever.

So how do you make choices?  Once fixed, how do you deal with the results?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments below…



I’m not a basketball fan.

Truth be told I’m not really a rabid fan of any sport.  I watch the odd game here and there and I’m not above getting swept up in a bandwagon when my local teams go on a winning streak, but I wouldn’t call myself a loyal sports fan.

What I am a fan of is the relentless pursuit of excellence.

To many basketball fans the number twenty-three is the embodiment of these values.  Michael Jordan wore the number twenty-three from 1979 at Laney High School, all the way through college at North Carolina State and for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards of the NBA from 1984-2003.   He won the NCAA tournament with North Carolina, was the 1985 NBA rookie of the year, won 6 NBA championships and 2 Olympic Gold medals, was named to the NBA All-Star team 14 times, and was named to the NBA’s 50th anniversary all-star team in 1996.

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

However; in 1978 he was cut from his high school team because he was too short.   In the 1984 college draft he was selected 3rd overall having been passed over by both the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers for Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie respectively.  While Olajuwon had a respectable NBA career, playing 18 seasons for Houston and Toronto and winning two NBA championships, Bowie never lived up to his potential and retired after just 11 seasons with Portland, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

Jordan rarely led the league in any statistically category other than wins.  It is true that he was the scoring champion for 10 seasons but a closer look at that stat reveals that he also led the league in missed shots all 10 of those years as well.  His actually field goal percentage was only 30% over his entire career.

What made Michael Jordan the greatest basketball player of all time wasn’t his innate ability as much as it was his drive to achieve greatness.  The way I see it we can all learn a thing or two from Michael Jordan.

1 – Don’t Give Up Too Easily

How different would his life, and indeed the history of both North Carolina State, the NBA and the city of Chicago have been had he given up when he was cut from the team in 1978?  No one will ever know.  And you don’t know what the future holds for you either.  Set-backs are a part of life.  Hold on to your dreams and don’t give up too easily.

2 – Listen to the Experts

Throughout his high school, college and early NBA career Michael Jordan was widely regarded as a coach’s dream.  His number one desire was to get better and he would listen to advise and apply lessons learned in every situation.  No one has reinvented the wheel in business, there is always someone who has been down this road before.  If you are willing to seek them out and learn from them chances are you will be better for it.

3 – Work Harder Than Anyone Else

Not only did Michael Jordan listen to and take direction from his coaches he also sought out and hired personal coaches and trainers to work with on the side.  Legend has it that the night he won his 4th NBA title Jordan saw his personal trainer in the stands, as he was walking off the court he looked up and said; “I’ll see you in the gym tomorrow.”  Not even winning could stop Jordan’s desire to be better.

Which brings me to the last point…

4 – Never Settle

Winning is fun.  We should all strive to win and achieve at whatever we set our minds to but once we’ve won this prize or achieved that goal there is always something more.  “What’s next?”, is the question most prevalent on the mind of winners.

I’m not a basketball fan but I am a Michael Jordan fan.  His number twenty-three hangs in the rafters of the United Center in Chicago for good reason but he’s still not done.  Even though his playing days are over, as the owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, Jordan is in pursuit of his seventh NBA title.  I for one wouldn’t bet against him achieving that goal one day too.

What does your relentless pursuit of excellence look like?  Let me know in the comments below.

The First Christmas Carol

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:15-20]

The early church didn’t celebrate Christmas.  At least not as a special feast day or as the modern-day retail orgy of capitalistic idolatry that we call Christ’s birthday today.  But the early church did recognize that the event of Christ’s birth was a significant event in human history and they celebrated it regularly with the reverent awe and jubilation that it deserves.

Last week, as I was getting ready to celebrate Christmas I had a chance encounter with a Jehovah’s Witness co-worker of mine.  The office Holiday Luncheon as we call it so as not to offend anyone, was held at the restaurant across the street and after I’d had my fill and stayed a respectful amount of time I decided to return to the office to finish up a bit of work before heading home for the night.  As I came back in I noticed that this individual was sitting at the reception desk.  It’s not unusually to see certain admin staff taking a turn at reception when the regular people are away, and I immediately recognized that she must be covering while most of us were at lunch.  As I walked past I casually asked if she had had a chance to get out and enjoy a bit of time with the rest of us.

“I don’t celebrate Christmas”, was her immediate and matter of fact response.

In this day and age, it is not uncommon to encounter people who do not celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ.  We live in a multi-cultural society.  At the last census only 67.3% Canadians self- identified as Christians with less than half of those attending services more than 3 times per month.  But a large percentage of people who do not identify as Christians still celebrate Christmas in one form or another.  My next-door neighbour is a Hindu, born and raised in India.  His seven-year-old son knows all about Santa Claus and was all too happy to explain to my wife in detail everything he had put into his letter to the North Pole.  Apparently, Santa doesn’t care if you know anything about Jesus, only if you’re good.

Christmas isn’t just for Christians anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time.

So, when my co-worker, who is descended from Irish protestants and married to a man French Roman Catholic origin stated flatly that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas I was a bit taken aback.  But then I remembered why.  Jehovah’s Witnesses and a few other pseudo-Christian groups do not celebrate Christmas on December 25 because there is no historically credible way of pinpointing the exact moment of Christ’s birth.

December 25 was chosen as the date by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 336 A.D. in part, to combat the pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  Prior to Constantine some Christians had estimated the date to fall any where between December 6 and January 6 (the day many Coptic and Orthodox Christians still recognize today), citing historical records of the Roman census and, the reason why Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem in the first place.

Still others, notably the Jehovah’s Witness and a few other fringe groups, contend that the day was more likely in the spring or summer since Shepherds would not have been tending flocks out in the fields in the winter.  Personally, I think that argument is weak, winter in the middle east is still warm enough to tend flocks outside even if it might have been rare.

Anyway, the fact is, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, January 6th or some other time the historical event is still the fulcrum on which history turns.  The earliest Christians knew that and celebrated it just as much as we do today.

Which brings me back to the earliest Christmas Carol.

Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse opens with a poem that could have easily been set to music.  To our modern eyes it might not look much like a poem because when it is translated to English it loses much of it’s poetic feeling, but I assure you was originally a poem and likely a song.

This poem tells us four things about the birth of Jesus.  What it accomplished and how it changes history.

1 – Jesus brings God to us

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Colossians 1:15]

He is God incarnate!  If you want to see God and understand what he is like look to Jesus.  If you want to follow God and do his will do what Jesus taught.  Everything up to this point, all the laws and the prophets are mere shadows of what has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus.  Put another way, if the Old Testament conflicts with anything Jesus taught, throw it out, Jesus is the true image of God.

Jesus brings us to life

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. [Colossians 1:16]

All things were created through him.  We exist because he made us for himself and all things were created through him.  The law brings death and condemnation.  We have life because of Jesus.

Jesus brings life to us

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. [Colossians 1:17]

He sustains us.  He breaths life into us.  There is a popular contemporary Gospel song that I hear on the radio from time to time that repeats the refrain, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise to you only.”

Jesus brings us to God

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Colossians 1:19-20]

The ministry of reconciliation brings us back into perfect unity with God.  This unity is a common theme in Paul’s writing.  It comes up again in 2 Corinthians 5 where he says,

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. [2 Corinthians 5:18-20]

Ever since Genesis 3 and the so called, fall of man the path of history is a story of mankind’s failed attempts through rules and regulations to reconcile with God.  It wasn’t until God came in human form and showed us his love for us, a father’s unfailing love, that reconciliation became possible.

It is a Christmas, or when ever you choose to acknowledge the historical reality of Christ’s birth, that we can truly celebrate that Jesus came to bring God to us, bring us to life, bring life to us and to bring us to God.  That is the gospel, and that is what we acknowledge when we celebrate Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Goals and Resolutions – 2018 Version

Every year around this time I sit down and work on my goals for the coming year.  Not New Year’s Resolutions per say but a handful of things that I plan to do on a regular basis over the course of the year to reach my major goals.

It’s a two-step process.

In accordance with the second of Steven Covey’s famous Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I begin with the end in mind.   What are my major goals for 2018?

1 – Complete an Olympic Distance Triathlon

The Olympic Triathlon is the official distance run at the Olympic games and is approximately one quarter of an Iron Man.  It consists of a 1500 m swim, 40 km bike and 10 km run.  World class athletes can generally complete an Olympic Tri in about 2 hours.  The world record is 1:39:50, set at the World Championships in Cleveland Ohio in 1996.  That record has stood for over 20 years and is the stuff of legend in the Triathlon community.  I’ll be happy if I complete my Olympic Tri in under 4 hours.

2 – Finish my Third Book

My first two books came relatively easily to me.  I poured a lot of pent up energy into those books.  My third effort has been quite a bit harder.  I’ve been writing a book on Leadership for about 3 years now and it’s just not working.  Probably because I don’t really have a lot of experience in leadership.  I’m more the solopreneur type so writing about leadership seems a bit disingenuous.  I have several other books sketched out so I’m going to return to my favourite topic – behavioural economics, and work on something along those lines.  I’ve also started writing a memoir of sorts, maybe that could be something, we’ll see, keep an eye out here for more information as these projects grow.

3 – Develop the Financial Coaching Aspect of my Practice

The Meekonomics Project, (financial coaching) has been near and dear to my heart and my plans since the very beginning.  For the past six years I’ve focussed on building my financial practice along traditional lines, Life Insurance and Investments for the family market, Disability Insurance and Group Health Plans for businesses and business owners.  But that’s not where my heart is.  I have a passion for the poor, disadvantaged and victims of predatory lenders.  The Meekonomics Project is my assault on the PayDay Lending industry and stewardship planning for the working poor.

4 – Grow my practice to $85,000 in gross income

Two years ago, I made $74,000, and I thought I was on my way.  The next year I struggled to make $60,000 and this year I will make about $66,000.  These past two years have been hard.  I made a few mistakes, missed a few opportunities and got drawn off on some tangents.  To hit these goals, I need to remain focused and learn to filter out the noise that could pull me off track.

So those are the major goals.  But how are we going to get there?

Covey’s third habit is to put first things first.  In other words, work backwards from the end goal and figure out what to do next.  As a result, I have figured out five daily goals that are going to move me closer to the four major goals every single day.

1 – Go to the Gym for an hour at least 3 days a week  

There are several different triathlon training programs on line.  Most of them say that you can train for an Olympic Tri in about 10 weeks.  They all require at least six days a week in the gym, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I’m pretty sure I can modify a program to work over a 3 day cycle and be ready to complete the distance in about 20 weeks.  In fact, I’ve been working on this for a few months already and should be ready to complete the distance by April.  If I do, great, if not I will save eight months to work on it and hit the goal by the end of the year.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

2 – Spend 30 minutes in prayer and meditation every day

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Why isn’t this the number one priority?  If I was a good Christian boy nothing should take precedence over spending time in prayer, but hear me out.

This list is semi-chronological, and I have learned from experience that if I get up early and do anything other than get out he door and go the gym, it’s not going to happen.  Therefore, for the three days that I plan to go and train for the triathlon, nothing else happens until I can check that off the list.  That being said; my 30 minutes of prayer is the only thing that I am committing to doing every single day.  It keeps me grounded and on point for the rest of the day.

There is a lot more I could say about the importance of connecting with a higher power, however you define it, but I think maybe I’ll save that for another post.  For now, I’ll just say this, releasing my stresses and worries to the God of the universe while at the same time expressing my hopes and dreams and confessing my short comings is incredibly relaxing.   Starting my day in a state of peace and relaxation is the best way I’ve yet found to remain centered, balanced and calm.

3 – Reach out to 40 Individual Clients and Prospects each work day

Working backwards from my goal of making $85,000 this year I need to make approximately 2 new sales per week.  Decades of statistical research in the insurance and investment industry has proven that it takes 5 face-to-face appointments for every sale.  Many of those appointments are simple policy reviews and service calls that don’t necessarily lead to anything new and of those that do require additional services it usually takes 3 or 4 meetings to move someone from prospect to client.  That means I need at least 10 appointments a week.

The same research has show that it takes approximately 20 client “touches” to book an appointment.  Again, many of those touches are simple check in calls or emails that don’t necessarily lead to a meeting right away.  All of this to say that I need to reach out to 200 clients and prospects a week to book 10 appointments.  Broken down over the course of a 5-day workweek that amounts to 40 unique “touches” per day.

4 – Initiate 5 Cold Introductions to new Prospects each work day

This is the law of attrition.  If I’m reaching out to 40 individual clients and prospects each work day it stands to reason that a percentage of those prospects are going to be non-responsive or say they aren’t interested.  All that research about the number of sales and the number of meetings also says that a little better than 10% of your prospects will die on the vine.   So, to keep the numbers consistent I need to be reaching out to 5 new prospects every day.

5 – Write 500 words or film 2 minutes of video each work day

I’m a writer and writers write, ‘nuff said.

Not everything I write will be worth publishing and not every piece of video I record will make it out of my phone but like training for a triathlon the daily discipline will help to improve the final results and hopefully lead to a lot more content on my blog and another book.

500 words is approximately one typewritten page and takes less than 2 minutes to read, the perfect length for a blog post.  2 minute videos get more views than 20 minute videos.  It’s about accessibility, short sweet and too the point, that’s what a blog or vlog should be.  Save the longer thoughts and more detailed analysis for the books.

This combination of major goals and daily goals aren’t exactly New Years Resolutions.  They are more like an execution plan.  I do have a few resolutions tough.  These are simple tweaks to my personality designed to boost my productivity, social capital and emotional connections.

1 – Just Do It

Procrastination is the enemy of productivity.  If a job takes less than 5 minutes to complete it should be completed immediately.  If it takes less than 15 minutes to complete it should be completed by the end of the day.  If it takes more than 15 minutes to complete make an appointment to work on it before the end of the week.

2 – Smile   

Happy people are proven to be more successful people, especially in sales and customer centric industries like financial services.  Even if you don’t feel happy, smiling has been proven to trick your brain into thinking you are happier and so becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Smiling puts people at ease and increases your credibility so that they like you more.

3 – Say Yes as much as possible

Defaulting to yes, even when it’s a yes, but or a yes, and is far better than saying no.  In difficult situations, starting with yes makes you appear as though you are a problem solver even when the eventual outcome is not what was originally desired.  Saying yes is collaborative, while no is confrontational.

So, there you have it.  My goals and resolutions for 2018.  What do you think? Do you have goals or resolutions?  I’d love to hear them, please comment back.