Good-Bad

For a very long time I wished to be good… and that strong desire made me become bad many times. I would speak my mind – giving many times “cutting” opinions, made people feel bad and then feel bad about myself for pointing them what their inner self tells them too but don’t want to admit. Feeling bad about yourself is the sure way of behaving nasty toward the others. What is worse is that while in time I learned to be more diplomat with people I don’t care much how they live their life, I kept on giving my truth to people dear or close to me, the ones with a future I perceived intertwined with mine. In other words I scold only the people I care for, just like I scold myself.
No, I am not a good person. Not in this definition: telling people what they want and what they need to hear. I do good deeds – many times I was told that too much out of my way to help people, even to get away from their own mistakes, but I can’t help telling them what they did wrong. And that is wrong – because people know what they did wrong, they know why their lives are not what they want them to be. They simply would not admit it. And that is why attending lifestyle-gurus conferences don’t make one bit of a difference – people don’t need to be told what is wrong, they just need will to fix what they are doing wrong. Unfortunately, I am so impatient that I keep on forgetting that one is never a prophet in his/her own country and I believe that a simple demonstration would (as it should) be taken for what it’s worth.
People spend too much and then complain publicly about the state of their finances. Do you think they need to hear me pointing out the errors of their budget (or lack of)?! People make wrong emotional choices – hanging on too long on a destructive relationship… do you think it makes any difference if I point out the futility of expectation of love and care where it didn’t happen in 1-2-3 years?!
I remember how angry it made me when my ex told me that she is with a man who is “good”. It seemed so unfair! He paid for 2-3 dinners, told her that she is the most beautiful, accomplished woman he ever knew and had become good. I, on the other hand, to consider only the Canadian period, sustained her financially for 4-5 years. But during this time I told her what I considered is wrong: that taking Computer Science during the layoffs in the technology sector is dumb, then she should chose the stable job, not the exciting one… and unfortunately I was accurate as a soothsayer and she resented me for this. I pushed her to make a credit history, a driver license, forced her to become autonomous so in case of my death, she could continue to be on her feet and take care of Gabriel. That is why I became “mean” and a stranger who didn’t help in any way in her becoming was “good”.
No, I am not a good person. I am just like a horrible Jiminy The Cricket… the voice of conscience, telling people “That is wrong “… but they already know it and just do what they were programmed to do. In the end I resent myself too because I think I am a complete idiot expecting the pig to fly, the eagle to dig the soil, the chicken to kill and so on. What I build with dedication and hard work, I destroy in a moment with my damn mouth.

Money, Life, and Happiness

It’s just my life philosophy that I am trying to share with you. Everyone is completely free, in what I am concerned, to decide how to spend their money. The issue that I have is with the unhappiness money generates. I always believed that while money doesn’t bring happiness, they help preserve it. Well, it’s not true. Families with incomes of 150,000$ or more end up unhappy, in debt. I see them trading their long term peace of mind, relaxation for the “cheap” thrill of unwrapping NOW that desired gadget or car or thing that somewhat complicates their life and makes it less happy.
Money is meant to be spent. I agree. Up to a point. All?! Even money one doesn’t have? How much borrowed money do we need for our happiness?! Pretty much none. I did it, don’t get me wrong – even my motorcycle was financed with borrowed money. Yet a measure must exist – you pleasure yourself, then I believe you should take a break from pleasuring yourself… for a while. I have even witnessed the idiotic vicious circle: I am in debt, can’t make ends meet, I am unhappy sooo… I will buy myself some knick-knack that will make me feel better. What is even more infuriating is that the people will feed you wise sayings such as “life is more about being and less about having”.
As I was saying, happiness is much simpler and cheaper than you think. Renovating the kitchen with 600$ and some work – change handles, paint it, some spots, new window covers – will make you happy in ways a 12,000$ renovation made by some contractor will never be able to do. At the end of 2 years that you have been saving money, purchasing that set of living-room furniture you dreamed of will reward you infinitely more in joy than living with the dangling sword of 5000$ loan taken right before losing the job. What is wrong with saving and letting the Joneses get into bankruptcy?! The 10000$ invested when you are 30 that becomes 20000$ at 40, will buy you that peace of mind that the quick thrill of shopping never can.
The common point seems to be this desire for perfection NOW. Purchased a new home?! What kind of dream-home is that which doesn’t have hardwood floors, interlock patio, new furniture?! And the sad truth is that when we achieve our dreams we don’t fill fulfilled but EMPTY. We reached our goals. And now what?! Now we should mess our lives: get more toys, a bigger house, get in debt, break the marriage over accumulated debts, blame the other for decisions we helped take.
We need goals in life. Most of us don’t have Earth-shattering goals: to build a pyramid, to circumnavigate, to compose a symphony. So I believe that we should spread our goals over a longer period of time. Instant gratification doesn’t work. Not for those who seek peace and happiness.

Doomsday

We hear in the background – IMF and EU offer 78 billion EU bailout to Portugal, US debt reached 14.3 trillion $ (BBC Source), Greece has close to 500 billion EU debt and pays 13% interest rates on 10-year government bonds (BBC Source) … Still very few people stop to ponder what does this means for them?! Even fewer see the writing on the wall. It’s in our nature to believe that we can make any kind of excesses and that we’ll never pay for them. US, a country ridden by debt, this is the first year when people are allowed to pay their due taxes using a CREDIT card.
What does it mean 14.3 trillion $ in debt ?! It means that each American – old, young, newborn, making 12,000$/year is liable for close to 48,000$. And this doesn’t include the personal debt! Right now the Federal Reserve keeps the interest on this debt artificially low, close to 0%. What if US would have to pay 7% (less than Portugal pays right now and almost half of what Greece pays)?! That would mean 1 trillion $ in interest only, every year.
So why should one care?! Well, to finance these huge debts that countries run without much worry, the printing machines are running hot. US is financing this huge debt by printing money. All our monetary system is pegged onto USD so we are all liable to pay for it when The Reckoning Day arrives. Many people are completely oblivious about what it means inflation, not the real one or what is called hyperinflation (BBC Source). Yes, prices are rising but what if they increase by 3000% per year as it did in Brazil in 1994 (BBC Source)?! The bread that costs 2$ today would be costing 60$ in a single year and 1800$ in the second year. Do you think that your salaries or the ones on which you depend to live your life would increase at the same rate?! Yes, people will make strikes, pressure on the governments would increase (as we have seen in France, Greece, Portugal etc.) and actually by creating an unstable political system it would become worse. Soon. Very soon. Can you see this future with 20-30% unemployment, with public sector continuous strikes, with interest rates of 80-90-120%?!
But this will not happen, some would say, because US can continue to manipulate the currency and make the games. It is not so. For years now, they are having a hard time convincing the world countries to keep USD in their local reserves. Pressures on Saudi Arabia, made them change their mind in 2009 about leaving the current system. Last week, Mexico purchased gold worth 4 billion USD. Chinese government, stuck with huge loads of USD (close to 1 trillion $) that they acquired by financing American splurge, is on a shopping spree to make use of these reserves which soon might become worthless.
Not scared enough?! How bad can it be? In 1923, 1 USD was worth 4 trillion German marks! Prices were doubling every two days! In 1985, Bolivia suffered inflation of 12,000% for 1 year.
What is there to do?! Surely there will be life after the crash of USD. Maybe not as we know it but there will be. We have to minimize the risks. Go back to basics: live without (or as little as possible) debt, save and invest, learn to do more with less and… don’t forget to enjoy life. Who remembers that old saying “Best things in life are free”?

Tomorrow

Try to ignore these depressive thought. They are just an emtpy howling to the moon. I still feel the need to lay them down so here they are…

Tomorrow will be better. Through how many tomorrows can one survive?! A tomorrow that will be better and never is. Sometimes it seems that that tomorrow when things are good, peaceful, meaningful, is just around the corner. Then, without a warning, those hopes crumble. How many times, do you think, Phoenix can rise again before it becomes a simple chicken and remains in the flames to get roasted.
I use to be immortal. Full of dreams, hopes, always postponing the greater purpose I thought I was meant for. And I could dream and achieve if only it served somebody. A random one like in the old sophism “The meaning of life is to give it a meaning”.
Then life throws upon one days like this, when one is in doubt.
I lived in 40 years what most people live in 80, if they are lucky. It wasn’t because I was special but because I had eyes to see what I have been living. I lived not only my life but also the lives of the ones surrounding me: my grandparent’s lives, my parents’, Brindusa’s, Gabriel’s and of all the other interesting people who have touched my life. And somehow, despite this great burden placed on my soul by this continuous introspection and understanding, I managed to find a purpose to all this absurd game that my life was. Yet now, more often, I find myself without an aim, erasing one after the other all those beliefs that guided me, that gave my existence a meaning. Gabriel?! He’s a great kid and would probably be better feeding on the image of a father who tries, who told him so many stories, who guided him, than the one of the father going through life like a ghost. My parents?! They never thought I had a purpose. Myself?! I am disappointed with myself – just a fly pretending to be an eagle, who managed to accomplish good things but never extraordinary ones.
I will pull up now the dark but soothing blanket of forgetfulness and I will sleep. Good night, Andi!

Watcha gonna do?!

The lack of logic frustrates me. It frustrates me deeply. I can’t help the feeling of being helpless when I am confronted, for example, with a mother complaining about her child’s weight and 10 minutes later encourages him to have a snack and use lots of mayo. Or somebody complaining about the debt burden and then, right away, proposing a long, expensive vacation.
People are not stupid. Not THAT stupid, anyway, yet they seem to not exercise any control over their live. Mostly everyone agrees that we are trashing this planet but most don’t see anything wrong throwing 2-3 years old electronics just for the sake of latest fashion, replace the car every 4-5 years, buying more junk to fill their closets. Everyone says financial responsibility is very important but when you point out their debt, they say “well, everyone has debt”. Most of the people deplore the technology invading their lives, but if one waits a few minutes you will hear “Ohhh, I am adicted to my blackberry/iPad”. All the media is filled with articles about the decline of knowledge – high-school graduates not being able to be functional even in the most modest jobs, inculture of the most shameful kind, yet somehow the main idea of the education system is to not push the children to achieve more, do more. We are surrounded by a “whatever” generation and yet many of us replace parenting with friendship and expect teachers to do our “dirty” work… but without being stressful on the children in any way.
Most people know what is good for them, know what is the correct thing to do yet they indulge themselves into doing what they want, when they want it. Of course, everything has a justification. “The more you buy, the more you save” or “we need confort” or “carpe diem”. Nobody accepts the fact that our perverse mind can rationalize anything and give a justification even to the most unjustifiable things.
Caught up in hedonism, preferring immediate, superficial pleasure to deep, long term satisfaction, we ignore willingly common sense. Of course it is hard doing the right thing, it takes self control, it takes tough standards applied to ourselves but not everything that is hard is bad. So very few children love math – yet should we remove it from curriculum just because it’s unpleasant? Does anybody want a surgery and the long recovery?! Then why don’t we just say to the surgeon “Please, dude, don’t do it because it will be, like, hard on me and, like, totally unpleasant
Why don’t I simply accept and ignore it, enjoy life?! But I do and I apply what is right mostly to me and those that I hold dear. “Whatcha gonna do?!” say all with a shrug. Spread the word, make yourself and people confront their own failures , adjust and try – to the best of one’s abilities – to live by the principles you have. And NEVER accept pre-digested thoughts just because they make your life easier.

Pawning Our Future

My ex said once that we are still born slaves and it is our duty to pay for our freedom. This made me think and compare it with what we accept as being slavery. In Ancient Rome, slaves had the option of saving the tips, do business and profit and, in the end, pay themselves out of slavery. Few did so, indeed. Most would use it for pretty things, wine, instant gratification. Their children, born out of a slave would remain slaves as well.
Truly, there isn’t much difference. Most of us hate to work, to be at specific times somewhere, the rush hour, being away from our children. But we all love confort and instant gratification and we are having issues defining clear and sane boundaries. At 20 we call a confortable car one that doesn’t break in the middle of the road, has running air-conditioning and, maybe, automatic transmission. At 45, suddenly we are having a hard time driving a car without heated seats, without DVD player and navigation system, 7 seats which we fill once a year and 300 HP to carry all that load. At 25, a one bedroom for ourselves is comfort, at 45 we NEED that 3500 sqft and 5 bedrooms for two adults and one child. And to pay for this increased comfort, we have to work, to go where/when we don’t want to, to have 2-3 weeks of rest per year, half of it being used to maintain that huge house…
Easy debt makes us stay always behind the moment of freedom. Bigger income, bigger house, more comfort and we never repay ourselves out of this modern slavery. Comfort?! What could be more comfortable than the thought of playing with the children in the park, reading a book in peace, having enough time to do our chores properly and still be left with some “me time” – all these without thinking of the next bills?!
I believe that everyone should live their lives whatever way they want. Yet I am still shocked that people can’t see this hamster wheel. And they stay blind not for 5-10 years but for all their lives. They declare that they want happiness but don’t seem to notice how miserable they feel after 20 years of doing the same thing, upgrading, replacing, redecorating. Or if they notice they have something missing in their life they blame it on anything else but on this behaviour.
Now, don’t you think that I am blameless! I’ve been through this but when I discovered why I was living hand-to-mouth, I asked myself what am I doing with my life, why do I work in a profession I don’t particularly like – to pay the bills. I want comfort too and I have urges for luxury too but then I fight myself and discover that I can be happy without that Mercedes and without increasing the square footage of my home. The thought that one of these days, soon, I will have repayed my debt to Capitalism, that I will be able to pay my minimum bills with the income I generate, is soothing.
Freedom, for me is to be able to do what I want, when I want. As long as I didn’t reach that point in life, my philosophy is not to over-live. Live the day with the soul, not the wallet.

Truth or Lies

I had a little while back somebody who kept asking me – based on a comment I made on a forum – if I condone lying. “Of course not”, I answered… but then I started thinking. I could come up with lots of situations where a lie would be more appropriate than the truth. A depressive friend who tells you that if she ever catches her husband cheating would comit suicide, and you find out that he, indeed, cheats on her. Would you blurt it out? A family member who asks you with hope in their eyes, after a cancer-check “What did the doctor say?” and the doctor didn’t have anything good to say… Would you blurt it out?! If you see somebody ugly by all measures, would you tell them straight to their face? Don’t give me that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – I’ve seen people that could be considered ugly by any beholder. If truth and lies bear positive and negative connotations, then what should have been my answer?
Then it dawn onto me: truth or lies are simply tools, social tools. What is important is to choose the right tool for the task. But how can we do that?! Easier said than done. I am not sure this is the only answer but I would pick the one that has benefits for the others, not for us.
I did cheat on my wife in the first years of marriage. Why?! That’s a long story but let’s leave it at “I was young and stupid”. I even told her, taking great pride in my honesty. Later, I did realize that I was telling the truth to get away from the remorse I felt. If I have had her best interest in mind, as there was no way she could have ever find out, I would have stopped doing it and learn to live with the shame of what I did.
Each case is separate and to answer precisely where to use truth and where lies is as impossible as to answer the question: when should I use a hammer and when a screwdriver?! Even in the examples listed above, the truth might be a better answer under certain circumstances.

It’s a big, fat f@&%ing joke!

Life has a not-so-steep learning curve. I used to think that divorce is for sissies who can’t capture with their enthusiasm and valor the heart of their woman. Then, the divorce hit me and all my value and sexual prowess didn’t help one bit turning the tide. I used to think that my wife loves me unconditionally to death – and I chose to see her as a kin of blood. She chose to see me differently.
I used to laugh of ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) and about autism – thinking that we live in a modern world that needs to label anything, that these are “diseases” meant to justify the growing army of psychologists and care workers. Then my child was diagnosed with ADD and Asperger. I still think that there is too much labeling for things that are borderline normal but now I understand why/how my dad could disconnect from the world and not follow a conversation even when looking into your eyes, why he didn’t speak easily about feelings and why his mind was so abstract.
After I divorced, the joke continued. Yeah, right, you’re laughing! Up there, you are looking at me as one would look upon an ant and teach it that focused light means certain death!
I first though – any good women, with household skills, that love me fiery is a good partner… And I got one. She wasn’t balanced, she had an inclination to think that each disease is a terminal one. The idea was that as soon as I find a job – I was unemployed by my will at the time – I would send for her. I had the most terrible misfortunes and jobs that I thought I pocketed already, were lost in a blink of an eye. Then I got one, she came and it was a disaster. I realized that the Big Joker was onto me. At that time he had my best intentions in mind: I will not give you a job because then you’ll bring her here. Seeing that I insist, HE gave me one… and it was a disaster. You want one?! Know what you wish for! Every time I would think I know what I want and formulate the desire, he would hand it to me. After a selfish girlfriend, I asked for “A good, genuinly good person who will place me first and care and heal me.” Anything else was optional since I could carry us both. And HE granted my wish once more – a genuinely good and naïve person, a procrastinator filled with goodwill and making promises but saying silly things, incapable of standing on her own two feet. By now I had been compromised by “wiseness” and looked in the past for answers of the future. I looked at her and I decided she, and her child, and the sponsorship is too much to handle. I played this game with my wife – pushing her, scolding her to strive, to achieve something, to be able to be of some support to me… and I succeeded and she got on her own two feet but, by then, she had already drifted apart from me and my pushy ways. Start it all over?! I don’t think so. With this example in mind, I said to myself – Oh, now I know! I know – what I really need is somebody who I admire and respect and that way, when my soul would grow tired of loving, I could always have an answer to “Why do I love her?”. And God was nice and granted me that wish… And I met somebody who I admired entirely, ambitious, enthusiast, strong… and strong-willed, with theories, and polluted by life and hardened in her independence and proud, who never gave up even an inch.
When is this fucking joke going to end?! I know that God doesn’t give you much more than you can carry… but, in my case, I would want him to not overestimate me so grossly. I am sick and tired of learning. Forget about me and shine your light somewhere else, don’t burn me with your magnifier!

Investing DIY – 4 – Some tips

I thought I shouldn’t close this cycle without giving you basic tips. In the end, keep in mind that only YOU have to judge and understand what makes sense for you. I know, I know, it’s difficult: you have to take responsibility of your life and your decisions and who is ready to do this?!

The simplest thing are mutual funds. As you most probably know, mutual funds are a collection of stocks, meant to spread the risk over a number of companies of either the same profile, or in the same country, region etc. There isn’t much to evaluate:

  • what sector/country/type of business you believe will grow. There are technology mutual funds, health, energy, emerging markets… endless possibilities.
  • what type of fund you select – large or small: large funds have stability should problems show up but the downside is that they tend to have issues liquidating assets not performing. Think about it: selling 3% of 10 billion dollars, means selling 300 mil $ worth of stocks and they cannot do that overnight, especially when that asset has hit hard times, or else they might shoot themselves in the foot, dropping the price even lower.
  • who manages what. In this area the mutual fund manager is important – experience in finances, experience in that sector etc. Do your homework because it will pay.
  • performance. Look for a track of performance and check the best and worst years. Especially the worst to see if you can stomach those drops. At the same time, if the average looks good enough and you are not really close to retirement, take a chance because there is no gain without pain. Many mutual funds with high-load boast about their “performance” in years when the market is losing money. i.e. A mutual fund might lose 15% when the industry it’s focused on lost as a whole -23%… yet as somebody was pointing, we can’t eat negative returns. Same mutual funds in years when the industry made 12%, only managed to achieve an 7%…
  • Fees. MER (Management Expense Ratio) is the most important because it is ongoing. A mutual fund with 0.7% is a great deal but most, in Canada at least, charge 2.3-3%… It might seem paltry to bargain over 1% yet over years that translates in lots of money. Ofc, as somebody was pointing out there is no point in getting a very low fee fund if it doesn’t perform… yet there seems to be no direct relationship: there are low-MER funds that perform well and high-MER ones that don’t do so well. Other fees that can kill you are the loads: front-load and back-load. Front-load means they take a commission upfront, while backload means they will take some money, less and less as years go by. Usually most of it goes to the financial advisor. Most of the funds have versions that incorporate a 1% for the financial advisor while one can get the same mutual fund without that load or with a much lower load when buying a different series of that mutual fund. I personally believe that in the beginning, index funds are great – very low MER and very few other funds manage to beat them year over year. All you need is to figure out what area of the economy will grow. I have 2 iShares mutual funds – Gold and Asia without Japan – doing quite well.
  • Don’t forget to chose DRIP in case they pay dividends (and many do). Year after year, those dividends will start making a difference.

With the stocks the situation becomes more complicated – more work, more risks but at the same time potential for more growth is better. I generally subscribe to a number of newsletters who bring to my attention a number of companies within the larger picture of the industry. It was said that an average company within a stellar industry performs much better than the best company in a sector in recession. What we are trying to achieve is identify a good player in a good/excellent industry. Stay away from top performers posted in your local newspaper – read about them but normally, if they hit the large press these stocks are overpriced. How do you know that a stock is overpriced, how do you know when it’s risky?!

  • P/E Ratio – Profit of the last year/Number of shares = Earnings Per Share (EPS). Divide the price of the stock with the EPS and you get P/E Ratio which is a basic indicator of how much is the confidence in that company. Another way to put it, this P/E Ration shows how many years the earnings of that company should stay at least the same to pay for the stock itself – to get your money back. Both Google and Apple, i.e. show a P/E of more than 22, yet they grow a lot each ear… P/E Ratio is only relevant when compared to the industry average but it is something you can take in consideration. Check the growth of the company as it may justify the large P/E Ratio.
  • Dividend/Yield – if you, like me, are focusing on dividends (recommended in these uncertain times), this is important. Check for companies with long track of paying dividends, since these are not guaranteed but a long track says something. Yield will change over time as the price of the stock unit increases or drops: it’s the value of the dividend divided over the total cost of the share: i.e. if the company pays 1$ in dividends per year and the stock is currently 10$/share, the yield is 10%. If the share prices becomes 20$, then the yield is only 5%. Focus on companies that increase their dividends over years.
  • 52-week price: shows the low-end and the high-end of the stock during the last year. If the company is financially sound (check their financials) and the price is close to the bottom, chances are you will be doing good.
  • Beta – index to show how volatile a stock is, or else said how much its price varied in the last year. S&P500 – is given a beta of 1. If the Beta index of the company is below 1, it means it was more stable than the market; if it is over 1 it is more volatile. Normally, you should look for stocks with high-returns with a beta bellow 1. If you can stomach higher risks and the company has a Beta over 1, it might still be a good deal, since higher risks should always mean higher potential return. But by itself it’s not a good indicator because it is only math, not the real situation of the industry which might be in a restructuring period etc. Use it only for short-term planning.

There are more indicators but the best indicator is common sense. It is a fun game but don’t expect to win it every time. If you are not a gambler, then don’t gamble! Make solid investments that need maybe 1-2 re-adjustments per year and keep an eye on them monthly – in normal times even this could be bypassed yet surprises are to be expected in such a roller-coaster ride. Never “play” more than you can afford to lose – maybe a 10% of your portfolio – this means buying and selling on short term, stocks not so reputable. They might be a bargain but then again neighbour’s garbage is an even bigger bargain.

Other rules of thumb which, while well-known, might be news for some of you. These are normal fluctuations:

  • sell in may and go away” – stocks drop over the summer as industrial activity slows down, less interest in the market, people redeeming investments to pay for vacations. Yet, I would recommend to start when everyone else is selling. Yes, they might drop a little bit more yet in September, if you chose good investments, it will pay off and you will rejoice with the timing. Beside this, much timing cannot be done on the investments, unless you are a day trader… in which case, why the hell are you reading this?!
  • It’s normal for companies being acquired to have the stock going up and for the ones purchasing to have their stock going down
  • Before the dividend date, many investors buy that stock 1-2 weeks, maybe 1 mo, in advance, depending on the rules established (“this will be paid to investors who were on the record at the date X”). Buy outside of those rush periods and you might save a 1-2% or even more. In general, try to avoid the stampedes for a certain stock – for every Apple, there are many obscure but solid investments.
  • If your stocks follow the market indexes (NASDAQ, Dow Jones), don’t panic – it’s quite normal. Actually, don’t panic in any circumstance. Keep an eye on the investments and if they have sudden moves – drops or raises check the news to see what caused those moves.

Get Rich! Slow!

ARROGANT

I was told that I shouldn’t place myself on a pedestal, and that I brag about doing things that people consider normal. I was told that I should lower myself to the level of the street, in order to be happy and satisfied. Well, that person might as well told me to change the colour of my skin.
Most of you, reading this, are Romanian and you know why I should lower my head. Because we were given a commandment that every head that stays high should be chopped until we become a people of mediocrities. We only did chose another way than the Western culture to implement this commandment. We chose the fight and extermination of those who stand tall, instead of the “hmmm, interesting” and turning our back… and to be honest our method is not so efficient.

I always felt special. I hated it and throughout my life I tried to look at ALL people as my peers. What happened was that I asked too much of them and they felt this is unfair.
After the divorce, I was able to expand my horizon, to hear many new stories, to enter worlds that were not my own, some of which I didn’t even know they existed. Slowly I had to admit to myself that I AM SPECIAL. Sometimes, after being minimized by low people, I had to force myself to believe it, because my emotions were telling me the opposite.

Words are cheap, isn’t it?! What is more important: quality or quantity?! How much of each?! How can one measure one’s performance?! The system of reference chosen is important. Do I think highly of myself on an absolute reference system?! Not at all. I would be crazy to believe that. I read books of superb humans, I had the chance to meet people who excel in their professions, I saw feasts of performance never thought on TV… But – one of the corners of The Absolute Reference Systems, Einstein – said that everything is relative (he actually told to an actor “I have a little theory about this” :))

  • Am I the best system admin?! Shit, NO!!! Who knows who that is?! I met 3-4-5 people who can whoop my bottom when it comes to understanding technology. I know I had to work hard to get even where I am because it’s not my main interest and I wasn’t built to grasp technology with a blink of the eye. Yet, after working in about 14 companies in North America, I realized that I am in the top 10-15% of the professionals I met, while being paid much less than the others, above me. So I am proud of being a very reasonable priced asset.
  • Is it such a big deal writing?! Nope. Many people write, some even publish, some even get awards and extremely few become best-sellers.
  • Is it such a wonderful accomplishment to be handy and do things around the house: to install a fence, to put ceramic tiles, to install a toilet, or scounces?! Nope. Many men do that and that makes their women happy.
  • Big deal to have a job?! Not so much… but when life and your big-mouth, and the crisis hitting technology makes you look for a job 14 times in 10 years, and when one never has more than 3 months (and that only once, and only because of a string of bad lucks – i.e. not having “secret security clearance”) it becomes somewhat of a performance. In the most unstable years, my income actually grew. But still, not one statue giving.
  • Earth shattering to have a man cooking?! And not once every three weeks but every 2-3 days, from scratch many times, soup and second dish, every now and then trying something new, adding something to his book of recipes? God, NO! Many men cook and no statues are placed for them in the public square and it’s good they don’t do that. And who is the judge of the quality of cooking?! Others but still, the biggest critic is ME.
  • Investing with some success ?!Knowing what you are doing instead of just buying on a rumour is a good thing, yet it isn’t something stellar.
  • Losing weight, 12 kg, 24 lbs and keeping it off for 3 years?! Losing it when I was the most depressed in my life, when nothing had a meaning and I was doing this because a dying voice of reason was telling me that I have to do it, because nothing has any meaning after all.
  • Cleaning and cleaning well, basic mechanic for the cars, good taste in movies, books and interior design…

BUT HOW ABOUT ALL TOGETHER?! I know I am mediocre… but I can only compare myself with the people around me, the ones whose lives I know well. Without trying to minimize them, I know that while many are good or even exceptional at a number of things, few encompass so many qualities which MAKES ME EXCEPTIONAL and I will not allow anybody say it different.
How can I prove it though?! Oh, I know, there is only one thing that people believe easily: NUMBERS!!!

In US there were, in 2007, 44,000 registered self-employed, published authors. This was the only number I could get but it’s a generous one because I will extrapolate this to the entire planet, and one has to keep in mind that not many nations have so much publishing space available. That means only 0.014% of the world population has published their writings. That gives a whopping number of 94 million people (gosh, wayyy too many but then again open your local newspaper and you’ll see what kind of them!). Out of these how many were recognized through national awards?! Hmmmm – a statistic that I am not able to find. Do you think that 30% is a number too restrictive?! Personally I believe that 30% is a large number yet I am inclined to err in the direction non profitable for me. That puts me in the regal place of being one of 31 million people who published and were recognized officially for this.
How many of these are planning, shopping AND cooking?! A 1998 statistic (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9739799) shows that 23%, 36%, 27% are respectively doing so. Ok, so we hit again the 30% rate as an average of men cooking. That elevates me to one in 10 million people of Earth. We’re not even going to enter the area “how many of them are cooking GOOD?!” What?! Don’t include women?! But it’s the same – read here: http://uclue.com/?xq=1501 – that says that in the advanced world only about 30% cook regularly.
How many of these would ever change the brakes on their cars?! (no, I will not ask how many of these have cars). 10%?! Yes, many males do maintenance work on their cars, or even thorough repairs. Think though about the ones you know personally – how many of them are deep thinkers?! 🙂 I think 10% is again a very generous assessment. Thus I find myself in a the very exclusive “MILLION CLUB”.
I don’t even want to go further and adjust for self-directed investors, because I am quite happy with this result. GODDAM, I just proven that I have the RIGHT to ARROGANCE.

I will conclude with another ranting about Romanians – so, please, other nations, turn your eyes away. We like to minimize the others and their accomplishments just so we feel better about ourselves and the lack of certified merits. We kick the ones who do a little bit better than ourselves and say “what’s the big deal” to even things and accomplishments we never even tried to achieve. The envy that I feel seeing someone rise above myself, I always used it to push myself further, to see if I cannot match those achievements (but only if I think worthy; you’ll not see me eager to eat 50 hot-dogs in 2 minutes).

Should I wait for others to praise me and my accomplishments?! Sure, that would be the decent thing to do! But don’t rush to judge unless you were raised in Romanian culture. If not, you don’t know how hurtful it is to have a mom who, when asked why she never praises me she said “I’d rather have others praise my son, than think I am a fool for praising him just because he is my son” (true line from my mother’s mouth). I waited 37 years for my mom to say something nice, to praise me for my achievements, to trust me to make the right decisions, and I wanted it on the account of proven track of record. It only happened after the divorce, when my mom praised me for cooking a soup and, more recently, for neatly arranging clothes in my luggage. I waited 13 years, while I was married, for my ex to say “You are AMAZING!”… and mean it. She said it once or twice but on longer scrutiny she laughed loud. Last year I installed concrete slabs under my deck – by myself I moved 15 tons of earth, crushed stone, sand and slabs… I basked in the admiration of my Canadian friends who were impressed but from Romanians I only got indications that I am cheap and “that corner is not quite rounded” and so on. I am sick and tired of waiting for Romanians to admit that I am pretty good and I will not let anymore, anybody, say I am common!

Yet, I know – “Nobody can be a prophet in his own land” – and we’ll (at least, “we, the Romanians” – as far of them as I feel I cannot deny my roots) always miss the endearment, the pat on the back followed by “good job” exactly from those people from whom we need it most! You see?! I am not that arrogant, after all.