Friday, May 30, 2014

At our best during our worst moments

During last week's kite race I accidentally crashed my kite into another competitor's kite, wrecking his kite (mine suffered no damage). It was entirely my fault and I felt terrible. I could have simply "left the scene of the accident". But I felt really bad and wanted to do all I could to help the other racer. For a short while I simply stayed floating close to him waiting for the rescue boat to pick him up. Then I realized that we had identical kites, so I could give him my kite and take his. This would allow him to compete in the following race and avoid the ordeal of a rescue. We did that and I got rescued with his kite. Afterwards I told him that we should swap kites permanently. He would keep my kite, which was in perfect shape, and I would keep his broken kite and fix it.

The other kiter really appreciated my behavior and told me that last time he had a similar incident the racer who was at fault didn't do anything to help him with his situation or broken gear. He simply apologized and moved on. I didn't feel that I was doing anything particularly special. I had caused an incident and felt that it was my responsibility to do everything within my power to correct the situation. Why should the other kiter deal with the cost and hassle of repairing a kite that I had broken? Yet, as we all know, not everyone always does the "right thing". This bad situation that I caused gave me the opportunity to show that I am one of those people who does try to do the right thing. And the people who witnessed that appreciated it.

I am obviously not suggesting that we intentionally put ourselves in bad situations to show we behave well in them :-). Just that we remember that our worst moments sometimes give us the opportunity to be at our best. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Financial Leverage 101

Told the boys about financial leverage. Used the example of buying a house with 100% of your own money versus a 20% downpayment and 80% mortgage. When you sell the house, your return can be a lot better if you have the leverage of the mortgage. Of course, you need to factor the cost of the mortgage, i.e., the interest, and the risk that if the value of your investment goes down you might end up owing more money to the bank than your investment is worth.

Sometimes people use leverage because they have no choice. They simply don't have the money to buy the asset without borrowing. Sometimes they do it for the better expected financial return - if they think they can invest the rest of their money in something else that will give a better return than the cost of the loan.

A bit of leverage can be good, and sometimes represent's "free money". For example, interest expenses on home mortgages are tax deductible. That tax deduction is an incentive from the government towards home ownership and is, in essence, free money. Of course, even with that benefit sometimes you are better off not borrowing, say, if the interests are too high, or not buying, say if renting is a better route. So it is important to always keep the big picture in mind.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Beware of First Impressions

A few years ago I met a couple of people around the same time. One was more extroverted and charismatic, call him Bob, the other more serious and quiet, call him Jim. I initially became closer with Bob. He was much easier to talk to. I was a bit intimidated by Jim. Yet over the years I had the opportunity to interact many times with both and realized that I didn't really like Bob very much. Sure, at first he seemed nice & fun, but it turned out underneath he was a bit mean and didn't share any of my values. Jim, on the other hand, turned out to be the nicest guy. Sure, he is a quiet guy, but after talking with him enough times I realized we got along very well and had many shared values and beliefs.

I thought this was a timely anecdote to share with the boys as Paco is about to go to a new school for high school. He will meet dozens of classmates and might decide who to befriend based on first impressions... The good news if that in a situation such as high school, Paco will have plenty of time to get to know most (if not all) of his classmates - and thus move beyond first impressions. Most situations in life are not like that. So what to do? At least one should be aware of the imperfect nature of first impression judgements. Be careful about "superficial" traits that might make someone likeable, e.g., charisma, and those traits that might make other people harder to relate to, e.g., seriousness, shyness. Figure out what is it that you really care about in people and assess that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We see and hear what we expect to see and hear

Ale was giving Paco a hard time about being late when Nico jumped in saying he wasn't late. Ale clarified he was referring to Paco only but Nico insisted Ale had also referred to him. Truth is Ale had been super specific about Paco, even saying that while Paco got up first, he was often last to the car. I believe that Nico had heard what he expected to hear, i.e., his older brother giving him a hard time. And our memories are so unreliable that I am sure Nico remembered Ale saying his name. We construct our memories based on our expectations.

A related situation that I often see is people who believe they can "interpret" others expressions and intonations. "It is not what you said but how you said it". Maybe. But a more accurate saying might sometimes be "It is not what you said but what I expected you to say". So, think hard before jumping to conclusions. Don't try to read too much between the lines, as more often than not, it is you who is writing there, not the person speaking.