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60 Harsh Truths I Know at 60 I Wish I Knew at 30

Today is my 60th birthday. Decades of experience has taught me some harsh truths I wish I knew when I was 30.

Why not send a message back to myself at 20? Because at 20 I wasn’t smart enough to take the advice. Also, at 20, we don’t have enough life experiences to adequately absorb as much information. At 20, we are still developing our mental skills.

At 40 we finally (hopefully) hit our stride, putting knowledge and experience to work in a meaningful way. In our 50s we power our way toward retirement. But 30 is that magical age where we have accumulated enough knowledge to put our experiences to work. Some get there at 25; some never get there. Still, these are harsh truths I wish I knew at 30.

1.) Speed Reading is Stupid

Anyone that knows me thinks I always was a voracious reader. Growing up in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin on a dairy farm led me to believe reading was an elective.

It was my junior year of high school when I picked up a book on weather from the school library. It was a mere 126 pages with many drawings.

What interested me was weather prediction. The book pulled me in. As the last page turned something clicked inside my mind. I digested a book and the knowledge within! I was hooked. It was the first book I read cover-to-cover.

From there on I have been an unstoppable reader. I have a strong desire to know things. I wanted to absorb more books, more information, faster.

In my mid-20s I ran across a speed reading course. It went down smooth. However, it became clear drinking from a water hose might not be the best way to learn. Speed reading allowed me to consume a lot of printed material, it did nothing for retention.

Eventually I got the gunk out of my head and focused on retention. It is not how fast you read. It is what you retain!

Ever since my short foray into thinking I could consume information like a computer, I slowed my reading pace down to match the material in hand. I now come armed with a highlighter or pencil or pen to mark passages I find useful. Even novels get marks occasionally. I take the time to really read the material.

I want to learn, not impress people by how many book are in my library I pretended to read.

It is okay to read slower.

2.) Learn to Re-Read

A close cousin to speed reading was my idea that you read something once and move on, never to visit again.

There is no law that says you can’t re-read a book. A really good, and familiar, novel or short story is a welcome companion on a cold winter’s day in front of the fireplace. Re-reading nonfiction is even more important. You always absorb more with each reading.

There are articles I have read 20 or more times. I keep coming back to them as a reminder of how to live life or invest or run my business or…

Don’t let anyone talk you out of re-reading a book or other printed material.

3.) Take More Notes

Note-taking is vital for keeping your thoughts in order. Great ideas are fleeting. Without a note those ideas disappear quickly into the aether forever.

There is never a pencil and paper far from me. I keep a pen and paper on the nightstand beside my bed. Ideas do strike in the middle of the night.

Ideas for blog posts, stories for editors, and business planning requires notes. I can then address them later, freeing my mind to work on other issues. Or sleep!

Once I take notes I often build on them. A note about a story idea for this blog or for my editor over at Think Outside the Tax Box is only a starting point. An idea is not a blog post or story, only a piece of something much bigger. From that original idea I add thoughts, often from additional research, as I build the arc of the article.

Not every idea sees the light of day. Many never rise high enough to become a priority. Others die when further thought and/or research says to quietly send that one to the round filing cabinet.

Take notes. Life will be easier, and better, if you do. Nothing is worse than struggling to remember a fleeting thought.

4.) Money Isn’t that Important

Before anyone calls the paramedics, let me assure you I am not suffering a mental breakdown.

Money is really important when you don’t have any. Remember the dairy farm where I grew up. Money was always tight. The year I turned 18 the family farm was lost in bankruptcy. Money became an obsession for me. Childhood poverty had something to do with that.

Even after the family farm was gone, the lesson for me was not learned.

On the farm the whole family became obsessed with money as things deteriorated. Everything bagan to revolve around money so we could save the farm. What nobody noticed is no one was paying attention to animal husbandry.

As the focus became money, the cows kept producing less and less milk. More calves were dying than should have.

If we would have focused on running the farm in an efficient way I might not be here speaking to you as an accountant. This blog might be The Wealthy Farmer. And yes, there are many wealthy farmers. We just weren’t one of them.

It took me years to shake that garbage out of my head. When I went full-time in my tax practice the focus was on quality work. Serve the client. Learn as much as possible about tax law and strategies so the client got real value.

Money was still managed. Money was important, but not “that” important. The primary goal was to make a profit because nothing else mattered if that didn’t happen. But profit was not gained by stressing all day about money. Money was managed by providing clients good value.

Wish I had learned this one when I was 15. Life would have been a lot better prior to reaching 30.

5.) Forget Dreams and Goals and Instead Embrace the Process

I have no issues with goals. Dreams are fun, but really they are just dreams until action is taken.

The problem with goals is they are often a wish list. Goals also take a really long time.

Walking to the mailbox is a goal, but is not what I mean. A million dollar net worth is a goal. Unfortunately one too vague in nature to be of value.

When I discovered I could be a tax guy I was all into it. There were goals along the way. Not every goal was reached. The reason I survived and thrived was because I learned to love the process. Goals rarely provide long-term motivation. Loving the process makes every day at work a joy. After 40 years I still love preparing tax returns, reading and studying tax laws and strategies.

6.) Listen More; Talk Less

Okay. I’ll shut up now.

Could have used this harsh truth since I was about 2.

7.) Stop Caring About What Other People Think of You

People are not thinking about you as much as you think they are! They’re too busy thinking of themselves.

You will notice a spot on your shirt. Almost no one else notices. Or cares! There is nothing to be embarrassed about.

8.) Love is Conditional

I know people talk about unconditional love. But it doesn’t exist in the real world.

I have been married for 36 years as I write this. To the same woman!

What is the secret? Communication. Oh, and we give each other space. We care. Share. And love.

We like to say unconditional love in our relationship. But there are conditions. Drug use would be a deal breaker. So would violence: verbal, mental, emotional, or physical. Infidelity would take the gloss off the rose quickly.

That does not mean we would stop caring about the other. Or that it would automatically lead to divorce.

No, love often dies long before two people stand before the judge.

Love is a gift. Cherish it!

I know people who are married for longer than I who lost the love a long time ago. Nobody did anything wrong. Dementia did the damage. See, there are conditions to love and we don’t always get to decide.

Love every day while you can. There is no guarantee it will last. And you are not the only one who decides how love progresses.

9.) Most Relationships are Temporary

Remember all your friends from high school? College? Co-workers from a job you had a decade ago?

How many high school friends are still close friends? Some readers still might have friends from that time of childhood. Most of us, however, lost touch with those people we grew up with. They got married, had kids, or went to college, or moved to another state, or…

The longest relationship I have had in life to-date is with my wife. One year and two weeks prior to our wedding neither of us knew the other existed.

Even kids move out and move along.

Most non-family people we befriend are only temporary relationships. In the future they will be dead to you, taking a phrase from Mark Manson, because you will no longer stay in touch. It is as if they no longer exist. That is the way of life.

Often the separation is a slow bleed. As each go their own way, contact becomes less frequent until one day you ask, “Whatever happened to __________?” Nobody in your group knows.

This is a harsh truth. But it is best knowing this before it happens.

10.) When It Come to Religion, Focus on Learning the Lesson

There are two ways to read the Bible (or any other religious book). The first way is devotionally. The other is as living literature.

Most people focus on the faith element of religion. They just accept what is spoon fed them. While a devotional reading and study of a religious document is valuable, asking what the message means from the perspective of the person or people writing it adds meaning to the text.

There is so much more meaning to the Bible and other religious texts than what first meets the eye. Only a deep study brings these gems, the hidden information, to the surface.

Most important, you begin to realize people from millenia ago struggled with the same issues. The only difference between them and us is that we have more, and different, technologies.

“They” struggled with money. We can learn from that. They struggled with running a business. More lessons to learn. They dealt with employees or an employer. Lessons.

Only once I studied other faiths did I get a greater appreciation for mine. Study and learn the lessons. It takes a lifetime of study, but, oh, so worth it.

11.) You Are Not Always Right

Well, this got personal real fast.

A harsh truth I needed to understand, and still need to understand, is that I’m not always right, no matter how sure I am of myself.

It goes back to Harsh Truth #6: Listen more.

You never know when you can learn more by listening instead of demanding you are right.

Demanding you are right only means you closed your mind.

12.) Say Something Nice

If you are honest, you can say something nice and something you disagree with about a person.

This is really hard in practice. Let’s take politics, for example. Can you say something you agree with and something you disagree with on the candidate you support? What about the candidate you don’t support?

It’s not easy to express pros AND cons for each candidate. You don’t have to change your candidate of choice. Just be honest in what you support. Nobody is perfect, nobody is 100% wrong. Truth is somewhere in the middle.

This also comes with friends, acquaintances, and anyone else you meet. Most everyone has at least one positive trait and we certainly all have things that are not enviable. Even a potential mate has flaws after the initial infatuation wears off.

Say something nice. About friends and foes. Be honest. Nobody is perfect either.

13.) Highlight the Important

Highlight important points when you read. Whether it be a book or article, highlight. It forces you to re-read something that catches your eye. The action of highlighting helps sink the knowledge deeper into memory.

You know you can print out this, and other, posts and pin them on the wall next to your desk. Right? You can highlight in any color or other marking device to your heart’s content. That is how you learn.

14.) Stop Procrastinating!

Stop with all the distractions. Start! Take that first step. Once you get the first few seconds the momentum can carry you to the finish line.

Difficult tax returns often stall me out. Tax season is busy and it is easy to understand getting mentally tired. Often, the offending tax return in question is easier than expected once started. So start!

Other tasks follow the same pattern. Start taking notes and gathering research for that article. Start putting words onto the digital page. Writers write. So write!

Also, don’t put off spending time with family. Let them know you love them. Listen to their hopes and fears. Talk to your parents while you still can. The end often happens fast. Often, the end comes before the heart stops beating. Never lose an opportunity to spend time with loved ones.

Procrastination has killed more dreams than any action. No dream, no goal, no hope, no idea, no relationship stands a chance when procrastination grips hard. Start right now. This second. Then take action every day until the task is completed.

15.) Write by Hand Periodically

Most of my notes are handwritten. If you have witnessed my handwriting you would reconsider your doctor’s handwriting exemplary. Still, I take most notes by hand and often flesh out an article with pen and pad.

Writing by hand requires a different type of thinking than using the keyboard. Hand writing requires you to slow down. That has value. Ideas hitting the page too fast splatter. Bad! When I write by hand too fast even I can’t read it. I end up scratching the previous line and rewriting it. By then I thought about it a second or so more and many times change the verbiage. The idea evolved and grew in that short time. Don’t ignore its value.

16.) Take More Time Off

I’m not talking about travel, either. Though I need to remind myself of that too.

Bill Gates is famous for taking a “Think Week” annually or more often. Think week is devoid of distractions. No cell phone, social media, or work. Gates secludes himself to a cabin in the woods. Books are all he brings. He spends the entire week deep in thought. Long walks mixed in helps focus his mind.

You may not have a cabin in the woods. But you can turn off distractions for a week and immerse yourself in deep thinking. The internet is too much of a distraction. Bring the mobile phone for emergencies, but keep it turned off unless needed.

A mere week steeped deep into an issue of interest can give you a college education on the topic in a short period of time, even as little as one think week.

Yes, take vacation time. Also take a think week or three every year.

17.) Travel Every Year

Longtime readers of this blog know my disdain for travel. I’m a homebody, what can I say?

Still, every year of my adult life I have traveled. Yes, I feel the anxiety of leaving home and want to get back sooner than planned. But every trip I took has been a blessing. I usually stay the allotted time and visit with people and see natural wonders. I am always glad afterwards.

Short trips are enjoyable, but at least once per year take a week or longer travel stint. Just live the moment.

Now that I am 60 I travel even more with less anxiety. I learned to let go.

I met too many incredible people in my travels to give that up. 30-year-old Keith, make travel a priority. Work, no matter how much you love it, is not so important as to give up the meaningful things of life.


18.) Your Children Are Watching

Not only are the children watching, they are learning. They will believe half of what you say and all of what you do.

Send the right message.

19.) Prior Behavior Does Not Harm You

It amazes me when people sit in my office and ask for advice on how to raise their kids or relationship advice. I have to explain I am an accountant and have no formal therapist training. The client still wants my advice because they feel my success earns me the authority.

The one that gets me the most is when a young man—it is usually a young man—wants my opinion on marrying a girl with, ah, prior experience.

Often the young man is religious with no prior history of his own, if I can say this delicately.

It bother the young man the woman he deeply loves has had that type of intimacy with another man prior to their relationship.

This is when I remind the young man his girlfriend did not commit those acts to harm him. She may not even have known him at the time. She thought it was the right thing to do at that time or maybe had a wild streak. We all make mistakes; have lapses of good judgment. When someone is ready to grow up, let them.

I point out prior actions were not meant to harm him.

The same theory applies in all areas of life.

I see new clients that really have a mess on their hands. If I take on the work, it will be unpleasant until the books are clean. I always remind myself they didn’t let their financials get out of control just to hurt me. Their prior act is not a personal assault!

Life is filled with these types of events. Everything is not about you. People do things they later regret. Nothing personal about it.

20.) Meditate

A think week does not eliminate the need for daily meditation.

For religious people, prayer is a form of meditation. Any meditation allows you to relax and focus thoughts. It does not mean an empty mind.

Meditation releases stress; calms the mind.

This is a daily need. A need as necessary as food, water, and breath. Meditate every day in a quiet place, or at least as quiet as possible. Meditation, when done right, can block out distractions, but it takes time to build the skill. Daily practice works.

21.) Eat Healthier

This is more along the lines of do what I say, not what I do.

This is a harsh truth for my 30-year-old self and for the 60-year-old man typing this.


22.) Fewer Clients; Higher Quality Work

My career in tax started with the 1982 tax season. I worked for my dad’s silo unloader business after the family farm collapsed. Employees and a few vendors needed someone to prepare their tax return. It was good money compared to what I was paid fixing silo equipment.

The 1989 tax season (spring of 1990) was my first year full-time. Because I moved, most clients didn’t follow me. That first year full-time I prepared 48 return. Gulp!

All I could do was roll up my sleeves and let the world know I was open for business. Year two I prepared 142 tax returns and still had a loss.

Year three I broke 412 tax returns and broke even. I never had a losing year since. The heavy cost of initial investment wound down while the client list and my fees grew.

Before long I moved from a home office to a commercial building. My client list exploded to several thousand. Nearly 20 people were employed during tax season and at least six outside tax season.

Twenty years ago I hit my client list peak. I winnowed the list by disengaging with less profitable clients. To my surprise profits climbed!

What I learned is that doing better work for fewer clients led to good clients asking for more services and paying for it, hence the profit increase with fewer clients. (Revenues climbed, too.)

Ever since I have managed my client list. Now there are about 400 clients and I only have one employee. Profits are good; stress is almost zero. (Tax season does test the spirit periodically, but stress is a fraction of where it was two decades ago.)

Serve fewer people at a higher level of quality. Those are the clients you want. You are the tax professional they want.

23.) Charge For Your Work

There seems to be an unwritten rule where people think if you prepare their return you must work the rest of the year for free. I see peers neglect consulting with clients because it takes time and there is no revenue to show for it.

You get paid to work! Business owners are working when providing a service, even if not the main service they provide.

I was guilty of not charging for some services early in my career. All that extra work took time from an already tight schedule.

It became a priority to provide top-quality service and charge a fee for it. Attitudes change fast when work is compensated.

While this applies to business owners and those with a side hustle, employees also do not clock out and then work some more. If you are working, you get paid. Not getting paid? Then you should be with family or friends, or reading a book, relaxing, anything but working for the boss. Work is an environment where you get paid for actions taken.

24.) Stress Less

A harsh truth I struggled with is stress. Tax and accounting work has lots of due dates and deadlines. A well planned day can go off the rails when the mail comes with letters from the IRS demanding a response in 10 days, knowing the IRS will then takes two years to respond.

In #22 and #23 above we saw you should charge for your work and focus on serving fewer clients with better quality work. You know what that is a recipe for? Less stress!

Giving yourself time to think reduces errors and stress. You also earn more. What’s not to like?

Don’t forget to apply stress reducing behaviors in your personal life, too.

25.) Don’t Look For Friends; Be a Friend

Finding “good” friends is never easy. The mistake made is looking for friends when being a friend is the best way to build a friendship.

Be a friend. Always.

My oldest daughter (right side of photo) in China teaching English as a second language. She is still a friend with the family she stayed with and helped.
My oldest daughter (right side of photo) in China teaching English as a second language. She is still a friend with the family she stayed with and helped. The girl she was teaching is the closest, with black hair, facing away. The two women facing this way are two other Americans helping teach English as a second language, too.

26.) Don’t Be Judgmental

I make it clear my office is a judgment-free zone. I want people to be comfortable and open with me. It is the only way I can do my job well.

And I have heard it all. Had an entire family as clients. One made the news as a peeping tom. Never thought less of the clients.

Had a client that killed a bicyclist. He drove off scared so he got jail. No judgment from me.

Divorce? Heard a lot of stories over my career. Judgment withheld.

I could say more, but you get the idea.

Before I honed my judgment-free skills I had a few pet peeves where I did show judgment. One thing I used to looked down upon was tattoos.

If you had a tattoo I thought less of you and often mentioned it. One day I realized if there was an ass in the room it was me. The people I met with tattoos made a decision for them. I had no say in the matter.

No one ever got a tattooed to irritate me. This was solely my judgment. I was wrong and it took a long time to realize it. 30-year-old Keith, dump the judging sooner. It never did you a lick of good.

I do not have tattoos and never will. That is my choice. If you have a tattoo or three, no worries. I grew up.

27.) Forgive Fast; Praise Easily

Forgive any perceived slight as soon as known. Praise even faster.

This isn’t about them. It’s about you. By forgiving fast and praising easily you are giving yourself permission to do the same for yourself.

28.) Learn to Say “No” More Often

It was the hardest lesson to learn and almost cost me my business. My attitude was always, “If you have the ability to help someone you have the obligation to help them.”

Works well in the backwoods where only three people live per square mile. I can easily prepare a tax return for perhaps 150 million individuals and businesses.

Then I got very public exposure from a A-list blogger with 10 million page views per month and those 150 million tax returns took me up on it all at the same time. Broke me of that habit might quick, but the damage was done and would take serious effort to recover. Almost cost me my business.

Since then I learned a lot about saying “No.” Ryan Holiday said it best in this article.

Or a video of Tim Ferriss interviewing Seth Godin. These fine folks broke me of the habit of saying “Yes” all the time.

29.) Reward Good Work

Rewards are not just for employees. However, reward people who work for or with you. Also reward yourself.

Good work is hard to find. It’s nobody’s fault either. It takes time to get really good at something. Reward improvement; reward good work.

Family and friends also need to be rewarded! We think of incentives as something to encourage employees. You can also reward family members with a mini-vacation or a movie.

Show gratitude at every moment possible. People will respond in kind.

There is nothing like being surrounded by people quick to give and help.

30.) Pay Your Team More

A client once told me he likes to pay his employees the least possible so they stay hungry and have nowhere to go. I disagree 100%!

The payscale in my office has always been on the high side. As a result, my people were more dedicated and committed to high quality work.

Underpaying people does not make them loyal; it makes them loathe you. Pay your people more. More than average. Leaving is harder then because they have it good working for you. But never injure an employee looking to grow. If it is time to move on, give them a hand in a smooth transition.

31.) Early to Bed, Early to Rise

My grandfather always said, “If you don’t get it done by lunch it doesn’t get done that day.”

Granddad also was an early riser. Had to be. Remember the dairy farm. Cows don’t milk themselves.

Staying up late (for most people) is not conducive to a productive next day. Hitting the road running early is the best way I know to get things done.

I know accountants that get to work by 4 or 5 a.m. and are home before noon. You get a lot of work done before the phone starts ringing and people walk in. Afternoons are rarely the most productive part of the day.

Whenever I get behind I move my hours earlier. I get more done sooner, thereby reducing stress and interruptions from people wanting an ETA. One snafu putting you behind can cause a serious knock-on effect. Get important work out early!

32.) Take Responsibility!

The natural inclination is to deny you are at fault. The adult thing to do is fess up fast and make amends. Cover Up takes a massive amount of energy and time. And in the end you still have to deal with the issue.

Come clean so you can move on.

33.) Exercise More

Strength training is good. Aerobic exercise is also important. You need to elevate your heart rate for a while to build endurance.

Accountants polish the chair with their tail a lot of hour per day. A modest run can shake the cobwebs and refocus the mind.

Strength training at least two times per week!

After all these years I still need to heed this advice. Reference Harsh Truth #55 on daily walking.

Of course, you need to work with your doctor to verify you can handle the type of exercise planned.

34.) Make Charity a Priority

Give generously.

Giving is more than a monetary contribution. Also contribute time. Share your knowledge and experience. It is the best way to pay-it-forward.

35.) Stop Bragging

You are not as good as you think, and even if you are, it is nauseating to listen to someone brag.

Humility is a far better trait.

Show humility whenever the desire to brag enters your mind.

36.) Say “Thank You” Often; Make Eye Contact When You Do

It is easy to get into the habit of giving pleasantries as rote formality without thinking.

“How was your day?” “Nice weather.” “Good morning.” “Thank you.”

All these phrases, and more, have become utterances in most cases.

Want a powerful connection? The next time the opportunity arises, say, “Thank you” while making eye contact. Give a gentle smile, a slight nod.

It messes with people. They actually realize you are “really” thankful for what they did, no matter how small.

Be careful, however. You might make a friend/s when you so this.

37.) Show Real Interest In People

Is it too much to stop and really listen to what someone is saying when they speak to you?

In Stephen R. Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 5 is: Seek to Understand, Then be Understood.

In other words, listen. Really listen so you understand what is communicated. Then, and only then, can you really respond effectively.

38.) It’s Okay to Swear

For a very long time I rarely swore. Then one day in the office I dropped a cuss word and the whole office froze. They couldn’t believe their ears.

I swear more often now. Depends on my mood. You might even have notice a phase in the past where I let the f-bomb fly in this blog. I since attempted to edit all those out and refrain from the practice now.

There are rumors of studies that say people that swear are more intelligent. I have no way of proving or disproving that. What I am telling you is that if you want to swear, let it fly. People can handle cuss words.

Well, maybe you should refrain from swearing and cussing at church.

39.) Ask for Directions

As a man I take acceptation to the insinuation. (Yes, I’m joking!)

This is about more than driving. “Asking” is also about more than men.

Asking for directions is something we need to do in every facet of our lives.

A new employee in my office on his first day was shown his personal office. I gave him a test tax return to get a feel for the software we use. Every time I walked past his office door papers were moving everywhere. He was serious about getting the lay of the land!

About three hours later he is still moving papers like a whirlwind. I said, “Mike, getting a feel for the software?”

“No,” he said. “Where is the on button?”

Mike didn’t work out. It wasn’t because he couldn’t find the “on” button; it was that after three hours he still had not asked.

He did find a home in another tax office later. Still, it seems like such a waste to pretend things are good when all he needed was to ask directions so he could start.

Ask for directions!

40.) Research and Verify What You Think You Know

Bad habits creep in fast.

If only I would have kept count of all the times I thought I knew the answer to a tax question so I didn’t look it up, and turned out I was wrong.

My ego is strong enough to look things up, even when I am certain I am right. Yes, it takes time. But it reduces errors a lot! And nobody, especially me, likes a reminder I was wrong in the form of an IRS letter. Best to discover the error of my ways while in private research.

Trust, but verify is the old adage. It is a good one. Trust your skills, experience, and knowledge. Then verify just to be safe.

You also learn a lot of new material when you research. It is also fun going down the rabbit hole.

41.) Do Something Difficult Every Day

The best time to tackle the toughest job on your desk is first thing in the morning. Get that pain in the tail off your desk and declare victory.

A close cousin to this is undertaking a new difficult task often. Push your limits at the gym. Run a bit further. Research a tough topic.

If that difficult task is stalling you out, even when the attempt takes place first thing in the morning, consider a few small victories first and using the momentum as you grab the difficult task next.

I do this during tax season when mental fatigue sets in. If I can get one monster out first thing in the morning I feel better all day. When that is not working I grab a few simple returns and pound them out rapidfire to get momentum. Then I grab that difficult return and use the momentum to pile into the difficult task. Unless tax season has used all the gray matter I have, it usually work. Removing the obstacle is the way to less stress and a happy life.

42.) Create a Plan

While I am not big on budgets or goal setting, I do create plans. It is a bit difficult to explain so stay with me.

I write down goals. Both long- and short-term. Nothing formal. Changes are the norm. Goals for me are fluid.

The plan is the template for achieving the goal. Since any goal I’m interested in is all-encompassing, the plan is the meat of the framework, where all the action takes place.

Building my business, more clients, investing, and so forth are all goals. Then the goals need to become precise for them to mean anything. Then an action plan is needed if it is ever going to happen.

Plans are in pencil because plans change. A lot!

I know full well I am wasting my time building a plan. That is not the point. Planning is my way of building thoughts, creating a process.

Thinking a problem through is a good way to discover solutions.

Plans are the full program for reaching a goal. Goals require dicing into small steps to keep the mind engaged and not create overwhelm.

Which leads us to…

43.) Stop Worrying About Goals

Goals should be big enough to awe. Then the goal needs to be chopped up into pieces you can easily digest.

Funny thing is, goals, even massive ones, tend to change as the plan unfolds. The environment changes. New opportunities or obstacles get in the way. The goal is relatively unscathed; the plan gets butchered.

If you don’t reach a goal, so what! The ultimate goal is to be a bit better today than yesterday. That’s it. The only goal that matters is the goal that asks to to improve by any amount each day. Since growth is cumulative, original goals are often surpassed by a large margin. That original all-encompassing goal looks rather tame in the rearview mirror.

Again, it is not about the goal or the plan. It is about creating a better you each day. As the years pass you become many times what you once were. That is the goal. The real goal. The only goal anyone should ever have. Plan on it.

44.) Budgeting Is a Waste of Time

Yes, I am prepared for the pushback. But I am right!

Budgets don’t stand the test of time. I have worked with enough non-profits that demand an annual budget to know budgets don’t work. Revenues are a wish list that often is not reached while expenses are an excuse to spend to that limit when cutting costs would be a better course.

My four decades of experience tell me my method of budgeting works.

I compare the year-to date to the prior year-to-date. The goal is to have more revenue and fewer expenses in each category year-over-year.

Of course, things don’t always go smooth. Sometimes revenues spring ahead or lag. Certain expenses can get out of line.

For me, I want to see total revenues up and total expenses either down or at least up less than revenues are up. In short, profits should be climbing. I don’t care if the win is big or small. I just want the win. No pressure to shoot for the moon, or other such craziness.

If the basic goal is not met, well, we have another year to work on that.

Under my method no time is spent building a budget that almost certainly will becomes scrap metal before long. The time saved can be used to grow the business.

If the business is starting out, the goal is to see how the first revenues and expenses come in and try to beat the prior month. As a business grows the gap higher can be significant. As the numbers grow, so do the challenges to beat that number next year. Regardless, no wasted time on budgeting.

As a reference, as I trimmed the size of my practice my revenues kept climbing while expenses declined. At some point I expect my practice to shrink. Writing may pick up the slack. If not, it is still okay for an orderly retirement, or sale, of the business. (Note to clients: I have no plans of ever selling my practice. You will not get rid of me that easily.)

45.) Quality Over Quantity

This harsh truth applies to business, but is vital in personal life, too.

Quality food is rarely the cheapest. But it is better for you.

All consumer goods and services are similar. Quality cost more. However, higher cost does not always equal higher quality. Understand what I am saying?

You can buy an overpriced piece of junk. That is why you must always do your due diligence when making a purchase. Low quality can harm, or worse. Cheaper is rarely the lower total cost.

Since quality costs more and shysters are out there, it is vital to learn the characteristics of quality. Often there are easy ways to tell if something has quality. Sometimes it is not so easy.

Be cautious about the over promise. Tesla’s electric vehicles were supposed to save on energy costs and maintenance. Now it seems the higher priced product was not necessarily better as repair and maintenance costs are significantly higher than old fashioned internal combustion engines. Since the issue seems to be with Tesla, it is worth noting the reputation of the company. I never bought a Tesla because I saw too much anecdotal evidence that the product was not going to live up to the hype.

The worst part is that if you overpay for a lower quality product or service you are out more money than the loss from low cost/low quality product. Of course, the lower quality, low cost item is always a loss.

Focus on quality and verify you are getting quality.

46.) You Can’t Help Everyone

As made clear in Harsh Truth #28 (Learn to say “No” more often), the ability to help does not necessitate you do.

The close cousin to this is you can’t help everyone. If you allow everyone unfettered access, they will wear you out.

You can’t help everyone. Don’t even try. Trying will harm the people you are helping.

As always, focus! Know your limits.

Also, everything takes more time than expected! You would think the fewer clients I have in my office would open up more free time for me. Sorry. I’m just as busy with 80% fewer clients than a decade ago. That means all those people I “tried” to help were under served. As soon as time opened, current clients moved in the fill the space. They need and want more services!

You can’t help everyone, but those you help should be helped at the highest level.

47.) Slow Down When You Write

Not just writing. Slow down when communicating. It’s not a race to see who can speak the fastest.

Fast writing is sloppy writing. It’s probably the rough draft so there is an expectation for some slop. But you still need to get the thought out so it can be edited.

Part of the slowing down process is to edit and edit some more. The actual writing is the easy part and doesn’t take as much time as the researching and editing. Editing the rough draft, and drafts that follow, is vital.

Now that I think about it, slow down in everything you do. You will do just fine without always being in a rush.

48.) Never Blame

In Harsh Truth #32 I asked you to take responsibility. Don’t blame either.

Blaming leads to recriminations. That solves nothing. NOTHING!

Instead, work to resolve the problem. People know when they are at fault. They are struggling with Harsh Truth #32. It happens. We have all been there. No need to rub their nose in it. Help them make it right and the chance is you have created an ally.

49.) Re-write

Sometimes I write blog posts and articles for other publications more than once. Sometimes no amount of editing will fix a manuscript.

Learn to love the re-write. I can’t think of a time when the second writing of an article was not superior to the first.

Twice the work for one check bothering you? It could be worse. Your reputation could be tarnished by submitting subpar work.

50.) Final Copy is Rough Draft Minus 10%

Learned that from my good buddy Stephen King. He learned it from Algis Budrys.

The advice is solid for writers. It applies in other areas of life as well.

Trim whenever you can. Frugality is a positive quality and necessary for wealth creation and retention.

Don’t cut corners! That is not trimming or tightening up a manuscript. Trimming means eliminated waste. Proper redundancies remain. Waste goes.

51.) Gurus Are Not

When the curtain gets pulled back and the guru is exposed, he usually is unclothed. The wizard of Oz was just a dude behind a curtain.

Gurus are not a magic pill or a secret way to wealth or any other desired end. If someone appears to be, is called, or calls themselves a guru, they are most likely a cult. Don’t walk, RUN, away! While you still can.

How do you identify a guru? They want absolute allegiance. They want your money, time, life, and devotion. They make outlandish claims, such as, I am the only one who can provide this result or achieve this goal.

You see the guru in business. If they rise to the top of a business it is best to take your money and leave. The odds are low you will experience a positive outcome. Don’t be fooled. Invest elsewhere.

52.) Famous People Are Normal People Too

I worked with a fair number of famous people over the years. The one thing that sticks out to me is how normal they are.

Imagine my surprise when the public face of a celebrity is completely wiped clean when working with them away from the public eye?

It has always been a pleasure working with celebrities. There normalcy is nice to see. And they need help in tax, accounting, and investing as much as everyone else.

Don’t be fooled by the public persona. Most celebrities are really nice people when you get to know them personally.

53.) Sleep

Sleep is vital to life. The bravado of living on only a few hours of sleep per day is not the stuff of efficiency, productivity, or accuracy.

When you stay up all night there is a price. Often it doesn’t hit you the next day. It’s the day after the next day when it sets in. Now that I think of it, it might not be Monday that is the issue for more accidents and heart attacks. It might have something to do with Saturday night.

Ryan Holiday said it first and better. Check out his article on sleep. It is must read.

54.) Family First, Work a Distant Second

Money problems? The temptation is to work more hours.

Love your job or business? The temptation is to work more hours.

Lead us not into temptation, the Lord prayed.

For many people, work is the answer to every problem. Not just formalized work, but busyness falls into the same category.

The refrain is common. “I’m working.”

What are you doing? Running errands, cleaning the house, paying bills, or maybe really at work. Or really working the business.

Work is important, but not nearly as important as family and friends. Family is at the top of pyramid. Friends are also up there. Work comes after a significant gap after family. You should never live to work. You work to live. And the hope is you get efficient at it so life is the priority.

Priorities first. And so is family. Or you may one day come home to find you don’t have one.

55.) Walk Every Day

In Harsh Truth #33 I asked you to exercise daily. Part of that habit is walking. I list walking separate because aerobic exercise and strength training are difficult to fit in every day.

But walking is different. You can talk with a client while you walk. You can make phone calls. You can think, plan, take notes.

I also suggest enjoying the world around you, too. Nature is beautiful; people are interesting critters to observe.

Walking is exercise, but it is so much more. Walking needs to be part of your daily schedule. Make the appointment.

56.) Success Is Proportional to Risk

Unless managed.

Generally, when investing, reward is matched with risk. No-risk government bonds pay less than riskier corporate bonds. Stocks have the potential for a higher gain, coupled with the risk of temporary, or in the case of an individual company, permanent loss.

That doesn’t mean you gravitate to the highest risk for a chance at the highest reward. By the way, that would be the lottery. The chance at millions all for a $2 ticket. Just say no.

What is important to understand is that if there is no, or little, risk, then the opportunity for large gain is eliminated. Bank deposits are safe, but pay only a modest rate of interest.

Managing your investments can reduce risk while increasing the return. Index funds are the easy way, and the way most people should go, when interested in the maximum return at the lowest risk.

In business, risk is also proportional to potential gain. Sometimes it is still a good risk, sometimes not. Risk can, and should, be managed.

Remember, younger me, there is always risk, even if only lost opportunity cost.

And for the love of God, don’t take unnecessary risks. Life is too short for that kind of stress.

57.) Do Things That Feel Good

Love. Time with family. A walk in the park. The sun on your face. Walking barefoot in the sand. Quality food. Kindness. Intimacy with a significant other.

Life does not need to be an endless litany of suffering or drudgery. There is nothing wrong with things that feel good.

Be sure to live a little each day. It is the only way to know you are still alive.

Experience things that feel good.

58.) There Are No Heroes, We Are All Heroes

We see it often. Someone does a heroic act and the media gushes with praise.

A pilot saves a plane with a mechanical failure. His quick thinking and experience keep everyone alive. He is a hero.

A drowning child is saved by a hero.

A soldier falls on a grenade to save his platoon. He is awarded a posthumous medal of honor. He is a hero

But there are no heroes! The people we call heroes were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were compelled to act heroically. You don’t volunteer to fall on a grenade. It just happens and you don’t have time to think about it. You save your friends and leave your loved ones behind.

Don’t fall for a hero complex. People quickly forget the heroism and move on with their life. If you become addicted to the heroic act you will be tempted to create the situation where a hero is needed. That is not heroic!

Deep down we all want to live. Heroic behavior is only required in an emergency situation. If called upon to make that sacrifice, do it. But don’t do it so people can call you a hero. You only do the act because you were the only real choice. Remember, the pilot saved the plane because he was also on it. No other pilot outside the plane got involved.

59.) There Is No Perfect

Perfection is the enemy of (pick one) proficiency/progress/done/great. It is also the thief of joy.

There is no perfect! The secret to a good, joyful, productive life is knowing when something is good enough. Perfect does not exist. You can always improve something.

Never fall prey to the curse of perfection. Some tasks require great care. A doctor enticed by perfection will let the patient die on the table, never closing the patient up and sending her to recovery.

Some tasks only require approximation. Where you place the garbage barrel at the side of the road on garbage day is not an exact science. Not in the road and not too far off the road so the fork on the truck can grab the barrel. Close enough for government work.

You will make mistakes. Some will be doozies. Perfection is not the answer. Learning and experience can reduce errors. Still, attempting perfection is a sure way to drive yourself insane.

You will make mistakes.

It is possible to commit no error and lose. That is not a character flaw, it is life.

60.) People Care

Not everyone will care. But a large number of people do care.

They care for people they never met. I have proof of this.

A bit over three years ago my youngest daughter went through a medical emergency that came this close to taking her from us. Because memory is fluid, I kept notes and shared many events as they unfolded on social media and this blog. I wanted a record of what happened, a memory for the future and in case things went unfavorably.

Even after all these years it is still emotional for me to review posts and notes from that time. Three and a half years ago we were planning a funeral and now she is working a job. We did nothing to deserve this gift. We were just rewarded with it.

The people that came out was unreal. Neighbors from miles away visited, offered support, and gave small gifts. The community came together over my child.

But then something happened that is still hard for me to comprehend. People that only know me from my work, from all over the country, started sending support. Flowers arrived at the hospital. Stuffed animals and books came in the mail at our home and my office.

People from other continents started sending support and comforting words.

The love and care came from every direction. People do care. They really do!

We are told people are cold, uncaring. For over 95% of people that is false. Yes, there are uncaring people. But the vast majority hurt when you hurt. They care. They want the hurt to stop.

If there is anything in life worth clinging to, it is that people care. Deeply. For others. Even those they never met.

That is a reason to live every day. To to consider these harsh truths and learn they are points of “unconditional love.”

People care.
People care.

David Castelli

Thursday 4th of July 2024

Great article. Thank you!

Mark B

Monday 1st of July 2024

Happy Birthday Keith! Long time reader of the blog (but first time commenter). You're list is great and a brush with my mortality at 36 (Brain tumor) snapped me out of my delusions pretty quick. Thank you for the excellent words of wisdom and wishing you and your family all the best! -Mark

Keith Taxguy, EA

Monday 1st of July 2024

Thank you for the birthday wishes, Mark.

I am always humbled by my readers. Writing in solitude sometimes causes me to forget I might hit close to home. Treat every day as the gift it is.


Monday 1st of July 2024

Happy Birthday! I appreciated the list. I also wish I had some of the wisdom I’ve come to know 40 years earlier. Only I wouldn’t have had the wisdom at the time to realize how profound it really was. So we proceed from the here and now.

Keith Taxguy, EA

Monday 1st of July 2024

Thank you, Dan!

I know I would not have had the wisdom even at 30 to accept all these harsh truths. Still struggle a bit.


Monday 1st of July 2024

I've been an avid reader to your blog for several years, but never commented before - today is that day. This list is the most comprehensive I've seen and your ruth #1 definitely applies to it. Saving it for many years to come and will refer back to it often.

Happy birthday! You should be receiving gifts today, but appreciate the one you provided your readers.

Keith Taxguy, EA

Monday 1st of July 2024

Thank you, Paul.

The list was a challenge. I was able to develop the list last week. Writing the thing was the real work. Lots of work and editing. Hope the list helps you.

Michael O

Monday 1st of July 2024

Happy Birthday Keith!!

Keith Taxguy, EA

Monday 1st of July 2024

Thank you, Michael.