Our Blind Spots


On Life: 

There was one blind kid enrolled at my elementary school, and just one blind student in my collegiate class. I can’t remember sharing many words with either of them. It’s also rare to meet disabled people in corporate America, so as far as I know I’d never had a meaningful conversation with a blind person my entire life.

Among the places I now volunteer, the most revelatory experiences have come while working with the blind. A local organization provides free services to blind citizens, including reading mail or books aloud, escorts for shopping trips, help with job applications, & more.

The work I’m given is different every day, but the constant is that each day teaches me something new. Here are 3 thoughts I’d like to share: 

1. Connection 

The sense of human connection that develops while being with blind people differs from what I typically experience in the world. From the moment you meet each new person (gently touching your right hand to theirs before shaking), you feel you will become known solely by your inner person, and not at all by appearance. The first time I understood this simple but powerful reality, it felt so freeing — as if all our inhibitions had suddenly been cleared away.  

In a way, to be in the presence of the blind is to be fully present. Conversations often feel sharper, as no one signals wavering attention through wandering eyes or handling phones. Even in silence, it feels as if you are in a constant state of being “perceived.” Because this makes communication so satisfying, I think there could be a market for blind therapists, nurses, or life coaches.

2. Joy 

When I dove head first into volunteering I sought to make a difference in my city and in the world. Amid the inevitable ups & downs, I sometimes question the impact. Does reading with underprivileged 3rd-graders a few times a week make any impact on their chances of ending up in college, or even jail?

But watching people navigate the world without their sight has brought appreciation for life’s small victories. One of the first tasks assigned to me was to record audio books for people to listen to at their leisure.


As I recorded a few chapters from a book of short stories, I visualized a person listening to the tape and enjoying the author’s words, partly because I leant my voice to them. If that ever happens then I will have tangibly improved someone’s life, even if for a moment. I can think of no other word than joy to describe the sense of happiness that brought.

3. Blind Spots

Regardless of our lens prescriptions, there are points where we walk through life as blind as those without sight. How many people take flights without seeing the pilot? Who can see what goes into medicine we ingest or the food in restaurants? A life of faith requires believing in a God you cannot see, and even atheist scientists believe there are dimensions we may never perceive.  

Some of the things my blind friends do — unassisted — are so deft and uncanny I sometimes wonder if it’s all a hoax, as if I entered the movie Get Out. It’s truly remarkable what a determined human spirit can accomplish, and the American independence ethos reigns supreme especially among the blind.

Yet there are certain points when someone must lend a hand to complete the task. Jumping in at these moments — the “blind spots” — has caused me to learn some things about humility and trust. There are times in life when the best thing is for an individual to rely on other people, regardless of the individual’s vision. In the halls of the blind service office there is a profoundly shared awareness that none of us can quite handle our lives on our own (despite how we’re inclined to keep up a facade).  

Lately I’ve been considering my personal blind spots. What are the things I don’t notice in social situations? What are the gaps in my knowledge on local or global issues? When is it best to ask for help, and why does doing that feel so uncomfortable?

Going forward, I aspire to make better connections with strangers, and ask friends & family to be candid about my blind spots. Perhaps more joy will come from others than from within.

— April 12, 2018


Writing Workshop Wonders


On Life:

This week I volunteered for a few writing workshops at a local literacy organization.

The setup is pretty neat — schools treat these workshops as field trips, so the kids get to ride a bus to a place that is new. This also makes the workshop more of an “experience,” despite the fact that the writing exercises aren’t very different from what likely goes on in the classroom.

Each day there is a designated theme students learn and write about, such as “Setting the Scene” or “Lessons I’ve Learned.” Paid instructors craft the content (lesson plans, YouTube clips, worksheets, games etc.) and volunteers like myself are mostly there to provide assistance, encouragement, and assurance that no one gets stabbed with a pencil (a plausible scenario when dealing with third graders).

Here are 3 highlights I’d like to share:

    • The Inspirational: One of the students, “Layla,” was from a home where Spanish is the dominant language and she wasn’t able to write in English at the pace of the lesson plan. However, I appreciated her determination to participate, her politeness, and her brazen willingness to ask for help (she would tell me her ideas and I’d spell each sentence out letter-by-letter). It was truly inspiring to be part of that, especially while some of her peers were bouncing off the walls and generally taking things for granted.
    • The Humorous: My friends who have been schoolteachers for years could probably write novels worth of funny anecdotes generated by their students, but these interactions are new to me and so many things were simply hilarious. In one moment I was so proud and hopeful for the rising generation when a 3rd grade boy knew that a Gaming PC required a special chip . . . in the next moment he titled his story “Dream House for Rich People Only” and said that he wanted “grilz” everywhere 🙂
    • The Spiritual: In teaching the kids to think critically about descriptive language, one of the instructors showed a YouTube clip from the movie Toy Story. The scene featured a villainous character, Sid (the neighborhood bully who tortures toys). When the instructor asked the children to describe Sid, one of the boys said, “he’s probably someone who doesn’t believe in God.” The instructor essentially tried to blink away the “G word” that had just been uttered, but the boy continued, “maybe he believes in the devil since he does bad things.”

I totally understood the situation the instructor was in — honestly part of me wanted to move things to a safer space, so we could all enjoy the comfortable complacency fostered by separation of church and state. Suppressing faith is an instinctual reaction I adapted while pursuing higher education, and regrettably solidified while working in corporate America.

At the same time, the boy’s innocent candor brought a huge smile to my face, and I wanted to wink and say something along the lines of “Good answer kid, Jesus is awesome”  😉

What if I had?

— Feb 18, 2018

Farewell and the Future


On Life:

After several years at my company I recently walked out the doors for the last time.   

Saying “goodbye” often makes me feel sentimental. It’s as if our minds want to suppress the fact that goodbye is often forever, despite our best intentions and how much we enjoy the company of our peers.

At least while in school there’s a given departure date. You may not know what the future holds, but you and your friends all transition to that future — however divergent it may be — in unison, on graduation day.

In my first job after college I made fast friends with a group of fellow 20-somethings. We ate lunch together nearly every day and even developed a nickname — “The Circus” — after someone sent an email asking, “Where do you clowns want to eat today?”

We all started our careers on the same day, and bonded through shared experiences of transitioning to a new city, and the real world, and adulthood in general. On a subconscious level I knew things would change someday, but it felt quite abrupt when the first person in our group announced he was leaving for a new job thousands of miles away.

Since then I’ve grown accustomed to seeing work friends depart. Yet it’s still a bit jarring when someone leaves unexpectedly, and this time I underestimated the emotions felt while turning in my employee badge.

What I’ll likely miss most are the informal interactions with certain people. After high school, college, and my time at another company, life brought more experiences with a few close people. For some, keeping in touch was natural if not organic. But the overwhelming majority of people I met in those places I have never seen again.

So as I realize I may never live out certain elements of daily routines — chatting books with one colleague face-to-face at their desk, debriefing with another about football weekends in the fall, making industry puns with those who’ve been conditioned to endure my specific brand of humor . . . the loss of these things makes me feel something. The poets speak truth when they say the little things in life may be the best things.

Hopefully life’s next steps will bring equally gratifying best things, and I’m also hoping to make a bigger impact. Between now and the start of summer, here’s how I plan to serve:

    • Reading Mentor: helping young kids cultivate a love of reading at an underprivileged elementary school.
    • Writing Mentor: increasing my involvement with a local literacy org to help kids improve their writing.
    • Books for the Blind: working with a local association to read books, mail, and other items to blind persons, and also escorting them through the city for errands and outings.
    • Financial Coaching: enrolled in a nine-week budget & debt-management course as a first step to helping individuals make better financial decisions. I’ll also be apprenticed by mentors who have been doing this for years.
    • Financial Advising: currently meeting bi-weekly with a few clients (read: friends) to discuss investing. Eventually I’d like to develop webinars and other content to provide recommendations to family and friends. The plan is to always offer the investment strategies that enabled this journey pro bono to anyone interested.
    • Animals: gaining certification to handle foster animals and serve in whatever capacity the local shelter needs me. Because, dogs 🙂
    • Remodeling: One day I hope to find time to improve the aesthetics of this site. Contact me if you know someone interested in helping.

— Feb 16, 2018

Clothing and Technology


On Life:

One Saturday each month my church gives out clothing to homeless persons. There are many bins filled with random pieces of donated clothing, which means lots of sorting before we can distribute the clothes in a practical way.

This got me thinking about clothing in general — the “life cycles” of items that end up in donation bins, and the experience of buying clothes as an urban professional. Often I find myself in front of a dressing room mirror, where the sound of trendy but irresistibly catchy music floats through the air, in the glow of that special lighting that somehow makes me look better than I look everywhere else.  

What I realized is in these moments it’s not clothing I’ve been shopping for, but life itself. When I make the decision to buy a new shirt, it’s with hope that life will bring new memories that are worthy of the pricetag. On some level I imagine myself in scenes of the future, and that underlying hope may impact my purchase decision more than things like fit or price.

As I folded dozens of old garments this weekend, I wondered about the people who donated them, and whether their “hopes” had ever been fully experienced. It also led me to think critically about my closet. How much clothing is sitting idly in my apartment, reserved for the experiences I’d once hoped for in a dressing room?

One of the great promises of society’s new “sharing economy” is better utilization of resources. The prime example is cars:

A recent study reported the average American car sits unused for more than 20 hours per day.

In a perfectly optimized sharing economy, every car would be utilized more efficiently. Perhaps one day your car will “self-drive” fellow citizens around your town while you’re at work, then return to meet you at the office for your commute home, then drive neighborhood kids to soccer practice while you eat dinner, and so on.  

As a minimalist this concept fascinates me, and I wonder if it can also be applied to clothing. Last year I bought hiking boots and had a wonderful trek through Utah, but beyond that my “utilization” was worse than the average car. For years I’ve owned multiple winter coats (people may agree one kinda “needs” multiple coats here, but I digress) — and it’s harrowing to consider there will always be people out there for whom one coat of any kind would meet a basic human need for warmth, and that they would need it every day.   

Between technology and society there have to be better solutions for sharing clothing. A primary reason I’m reluctant to donate clothing items is all the time I invested to find them. Time is the essential unit of life, and when it comes to shopping for clothing it seems the only certainty is that I end up spending more time than anticipated.

Perhaps one day a convergence of big data, artificial intelligence, same-day delivery, and in-home devices like the Amazon fashion look will embolden people to keep a much smaller amount of clothing in their closet and donate more frequently.

For example, someone who skis seldomly may be willing to donate a ski jacket they spent hours searching for years ago, if they knew they could efficiently summon an equally perfect ski jacket right before a trip. Personally I often feel there are way too many neckties collecting dust in my closet. The ties could be donated, and perhaps rotated, among less-advantaged people for job interviews, yet when wedding season rolls around I suddenly feel like I don’t have enough.

In a perfect world a digital assistant would store data on which colors I wore at recent weddings, analyze the guest list to see if anyone would notice, and gather current fashion trends to recommend (and deliver) ties for each occasion at affordable prices.

I realize this is drifting into “first-world-problem” territory, and many of these ideas are just pie in the sky, for now. But I’d be happy if someone more entrepreneurial would draw something from this to make society better. Or at least point out the holes in my thinking so I can feel better about my closet 🙂

— Jan 15, 2018 

3 Stocks for the New Year

3 stocks

On Life:

This week I was blown away by coworkers’ responses to my departure announcement. The individuals I spoke with were genuinely supportive, and my manager in particular remarked how excited she was to see me “go and make the world a better place.” The positive responses were warm and encouraging; I can’t wait to use all I’ve learned at the company to tangibly help people outside of it.

On the Market:

As the first week of 2018 concludes here are 3 stocks I recommend for the year:

Visa (V) +46% in 2017

This is the stock I’ve held longest and it remains my largest position. A question I pose to friends is:

If someone gave you $20 million with one condition — that you must launch a new credit card business — would you do it?

Most people decline once they realize how difficult it would be to convince merchants across the globe to accept the new card . . . which would require demand from consumers everywhere . . . which would require the card already being accepted by merchants everywhere . . .

That would be akin to jumping on a merry-go-round already spinning too quickly for you to “process” (pun intended). Hence we haven’t seen a competitor enter this space for decades. Recent innovations (Square, Venmo, Apple Pay etc.) have not been able to disintermediate Visa from the payment path, which is why you generate revenue for Visa regardless of whether you ride with Uber or Lyft, own an iPhone or Android, stream on Netflix or Amazon, or shop at Whole Foods or Walmart.    

For years only two things have concerned me about Visa:

  1. Regulation (due to its virtual monopoly power)
  2. Technological disruption (the likes of which we’ve never seen before)

In 2018 I think these two things will converge, but behind the scenes and in ways that are actually beneficial for Visa. The cryptocurrency movement — including its underlying Blockchain technology — is the first thing I ever thought had potential to disrupt Visa.

However it appears that the earliest real-word payment solutions will still rely on Visa’s network. Many of the “cards” I’ve seen emerge to pay for things with cryptocurrency still bear the Visa logo, and adoption of truly alternative payment systems — at scale — is likely years away.  

Banks and other operators within the traditional financial system are more immediately threatened by blockchain technology. I anticipate there will be increased lobbying to regulate Bitcoin and other entities that have potential to disrupt Wall Street firms. Meanwhile Visa will continue squeezing profits from merchants relatively under the radar, as regulators focus on the blockchain trend that hijacked everyone’s attention in 2017. So until further notice I am sticking with Visa.

Amazon (AMZN) +53% in 2017

The Whole Foods acquisition in 2017 marked a tipping point in the general public’s awareness that Amazon is much more than a store.

I’ve been closely following Amazon’s evolution since investing in the stock several years ago, yet I continue to be amazed by Jeff Bezos, and his company’s ability to lead markets by building toward the future as they foresee it.  

In 2017, I learned that Amazon has plans to make prices for goods even lower, by integrating optional advertising into videos on its product pages (a purchase model no other company in the world can really offer). They may also disrupt the venture capital industry by becoming their own fund, and offering startups discounts on computing needs via Amazon Web Services. In my ongoing quest to gain perspective on the future, I read about how the “e-sport” of video gaming streaming is becoming popular across the globe. Many of the articles noted how Amazon purchased Twitch.tv — the world’s largest site in the category — more than three years ago.

It’s this incredibly diversified vision for the future (combined with a long track record of execution) that makes me bullish on Amazon stock. It’s quite plausible the stock will dip at least once in 2018, if Wall Street expectations for earnings get ahead of Amazon’s reported performance. Whenever that happens I will look to buy more of it.

Alibaba (BABA) +97% in 2017

Perhaps it’s an oversimplification to say Alibaba is the Amazon of China (though the latter did partially exit after conceding it couldn’t compete with the former). The business models differ in several ways including how goods are managed and how consumers transact.

However, my bull case for Alibaba rests as much on its market as its mojo. The government of China is able to create long-term plans (Made in China 2025, One Belt One Road Initiative, etc.) and attempt to achieve them with minimal resistance. Compare that to the United States, where a new president seeks to systematically undo the policies of his predecessor (Affordable Care Act, The Paris Agreement, TransPacific Partnership, etc.).

I don’t intend to make political statements on this site, and the Chinese government certainly has its faults, but it stands to reason that a superpower with stable leadership determined to execute long-term plans may perform better economically than one that changes course every few years. In this case, I am willing to bet that China makes significant progress as leader of global commerce in the coming years, and Alibaba stock is one of the surest ways to profit from that reality.

— Jan 7, 2018

Day One


Today is day one. The first day of a journey. Today I will enter the office and begin the resignation process. After a decade in corporate America I’m now retiring, with plans to spend the rest of my life serving others.

People may be curious about how this developed. The short answer is I’ve been blessed to reach a point where returns on stock investments made during the last decade now far exceed my living expenses. Even when allowing for market scenarios such as a major economic downturn, or life events such as having a family, it’s reasonable to conclude that if I stop taking a salary, my investments will still provide more income than would be necessary for living.

Given this opportunity, I’ve decided to leave the company in order to devote my time, talent and energy to helping others. The Bible says “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” I’ve been given more than I ever would’ve imagined (or asked for), and find myself stewarding more than I ever expect to need. To give back in meaningful ways is my sincere and earnest desire, and the journey can’t start soon enough.

Currently I am thinking through how to make the most of this opportunity. As a starting point there are several volunteer organizations where I’d like to give more of my time. Over the long run, I hope this site will develop into a platform that surfaces new ideas and new approaches to helping others. (Your suggestions are always welcome) 🙂

In the meantime this will be a place where I write about my financial story, my experiences serving others (e.g. “Life”), and my views on investing (e.g. “The Market”). If one day I can say with certainty that I have truly helped or inspired someone, then that will be bigger than anything I’ve accomplished in life so far.

Lastly it wouldn’t be a “retirement” without a bucket list, so here are my goals as I write on day one:

“Work Hard”

  • Dive into volunteering. There are a handful of local organizations where I’d like to take on additional responsibilities, and several more I’m eager to engage for the first time.
  • Think of creative ways to pay it forward. As a social experiment, one day I’d like to walk across the entire city with the goal of picking up 300 pieces of litter. Or spend several hours at the airport helping people carry luggage. Or visit touristy locations in search of people who need directions, and actually have time to walk with them.
  • Become a financial coach. I’d like to share the saving and investing strategies that have benefited me with as many people as possible (pro bono).
  • Write. Since youth, books have been a passion of mine, and writing was one of the things that came naturally. I’m hoping to return to writing in earnest in the coming years, including publishing some of the poems, short stories and novels I’ve tried to write (sparingly) while working full-time.
  • Share my faith. I’d like to be more honest and open about how a personal relationship with Jesus has changed my life. Often I’ve felt pressure to keep quiet about my faith in professional and social environments, and had fears about what people would think if they knew I believed the Bible is true. But if even one person is able to experience what I’ve found in Jesus, then sharing about faith will be worth it.

“Play Hard”

  • Read 100 books a year. For years I’ve carried a book with me everywhere I go, and I managed to read 70 while working full-time in 2017.
  • Ditto for films, where I’ve always sought artistic and professional inspiration.
  • Exercise every day of the week.
  • Live in another city (for one month each year). I think there would be something special to be gleaned from picking one new place, spending a full month there, and letting the local people and culture influence me. Hoping this will be beneficial for my writing dreams as well.

— Jan 3, 2018