The Good Press — Issue #5

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Welcome to the fifth edition of The Good Press. Thanks for reading.

I hope that you find every issue of The Good Press to be worth your time.

Perspective

About 7.8 billion people are roaming our planet these days, and about 7.8 billion different perspectives among us on how we all see the world.

Perspective is a funny thing that way. Until you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, can you really see things from their point of view in a meaningful way?

Of course, we can’t all walk a mile in 7.8 billion different pairs of shoes. For one, our feet would get really sore. Plus, many shoes wouldn’t even fit us.

Maybe people have the same favorite color as you, or they belong to the same community that you do in some way or another, but when push comes to shove, your perspective is uniquely yours, just as mine is uniquely mine.

Of course, it’s not impossible to try to see something from someone else’s perspective, to try to understand where they’re coming from. It’s not always easy, but being able to empathize with others is a vital life skill to have. We can’t see everything that someone else sees, feel everything that they feel, experience everything that they experience. But we can try to understand.

Readers of The Good Press have continued to send in life lessons they’ve learned through the prism of sports, and I briefly touched on one in the baseball life lessons issue a few weeks back, about the way that baseball, in particular, can be such a humbling game, how it teaches us an important lesson about mental resilience, about being able to bounce back from failure.

When it comes to baseball, it’s important to have a healthy perspective on relative failure; that batting .300 means failing to get a base hit 70% of your at-bats. If the goal each at-bat is to get a base hit, non-baseball fans might have a hard time accepting that a 30% success rate is what batters strive for.

Sometimes, we see the very same things, but we don’t see it the very same way. My perspective may be different from yours and we might both be right. It all depends on your vantage point, what you see from your point of view.

I was thinking about that when I was watching The Last Dance, the documentary series chronicling the Chicago Bulls and the career of Michael Jordan, the Hall of Fame basketball star turned underwear spokesman.

One of the most fascinating parts of Jordan’s story is his time playing professional baseball in 1994, between his first retirement from basketball in the fall of 1993 and his return to the basketball court in the spring of 1995.

From one perspective, Jordan’s brief baseball career represents the ultimate example of how baseball can humble even the greatest of athletes. How even the great MJ was brought down a peg by the rigors of America’s pastime.

That’s a popular perspective, that Michael Jordan couldn’t hack it in baseball.

We can look up Jordan’s minor league batting statistics and see that he had a .202 batting average in his 127 games at the Double-A level of minor league baseball. He struck out 114 times in those 127 games. He was seven years older on average than the players he was competing against at that level.

Yet from another perspective, one might see Jordan’s baseball career as an experiment with a surprising amount out of success, all things considered.

Jordan hadn’t played organized competitive baseball since he was a teenager. And after spending 14 years away from the diamond, he was assigned to play at the Double-A level, just two levels below the majors. In this context, from this vantage point, one could argue that it was sort of like Jordan was thrown into the deep end of the pool with no swimming lessons and no life jacket.

And it’s not as if he drowned. You could even argue he was treading water at one of the highest levels of competition in the sport. Jordan drove in 51 runs and stole 30 bases in those 127 Double-A games. It’s rather remarkable.

Maybe Michael Jordan would not have become an All-Star baseball player, even if he’d never picked up a basketball and focused solely on baseball after high school. Maybe he wouldn’t have become a full-time everyday player in the majors. Maybe he would have been a fringe player who was shuttled between the minors and the majors. Or maybe even a career minor leaguer.

But by even batting .202 at the Double-A level, Jordan arguably reached a level of success in baseball that a vast majority of high school players will never reach. On top of that, he was also one of the most famous athletes in the world at the time, and with an enormous target on his back, all those pitchers seven years younger than him were trying to make him a .000 hitter.

Maybe you believe that Jordan’s baseball career was an embarrassment and a failure of a conquest. Maybe you believe that he deserves a little more credit for the modicum of success that he did achieve in baseball. Or maybe it’s somewhere in the middle. It depends on your view, where you see it from.

For what it’s worth, future Hall of Fame baseball manager Terry Francona, who managed Jordan in the minor leagues in 1994? His perspective is that he believes that if Jordan had stuck with baseball just a little bit longer, he would’ve earned an opportunity in the majors. We’ll never know for sure. We never got to see what would’ve happened. But at least we did get Space Jam.

More Thoughts on Wellness

In previous issues, I’ve written about my continued learning about mindfulness and wellness. It’s been helping me mentally and emotionally, and it’s also been a catalyst for improving my physical wellness, helping me pursue sustainable improvement (and not just #TheBestShapeOfMyLife).

When I initially found myself thinking about wellness, I was thinking mostly about my body and mind. However, as I’ve explored the concepts of wellness more, I’ve realized that it goes beyond those traditional personal wellnesses.

Like tens of millions of other Americans, my professional life has been affected by the once-a-century circumstances that we’ve found ourselves in.

It’s not a unique position to be in, unfortunately. The virus has proven to be a lot of things, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be biased. The virus itself doesn’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you did; not one bit of the chorus of that Backstreet Boys song matters at all to this novel coronavirus.

It’s why I’ve tried to find the silver linings in the situation we find ourselves in.

It’s why I’ve been exploring my artistic side and encouraging you to do the same. The virus doesn’t care if you love what you do for a living. In the meantime, it’s important to protect ourselves and our well-being.

That’s what got me thinking about a different kind of wellness. Financial wellness. The ability to protect the future that I visualize for myself and my loved ones when I close my eyes. How can I work on that kind of wellness?

One of the things I pride myself on when it comes to each newsletter is hopefully being able to provide a good perspective on a given topic or idea.

I’m a lifelong learner, and when you’re someone like me who enjoys learning new things, there are often topics that pique my interest, ones that aren’t necessarily things I’ve studied thoroughly before. In these cases, it’s important to me that I bring in more informed perspectives, if possible.

In my previous issue, when I was able to lean on a member of The Good Press community to better inform me about mindfulness practices, I think it made for a better overall discussion, getting and sharing his perspective on things.

In today’s issue, I wanted to share another conversation I had with a reader, this time about a topic I was curious about but needed help to fully digest. I had some questions about financial wellness, and luckily for me, another member of The Good Press community was able to give me some answers.

Reader E.G. works in the financial sector, and I’d like to share with you the back-and-forth that we had. I hope that you find it as informative as I did.

Here is my Q&A on finance and financial wellness with E.G.:

Jon: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and share your perspective with the readers. Let’s get into it.

Most people these days may have a checking and a savings account, but savings accounts are not always as productive as other ways to save. In general terms, can you compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of regular savings accounts, a Certificate of Deposit (CD), and retirement accounts such as a 401(k) plan or an IRA?

E.G.: Certainly Jon, thanks for having me.

In the simplest form, each account is for specific different savings goals. A regular savings account is typically for money that you need today and in the near future. This includes your emergency/rainy day fund, so to speak. Money in a savings account is fully guaranteed by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), up to $250,000 per person. Since savings accounts allow you to withdraw any or all of your balance at any time, banks typically pay a very low annual interest rate (also known as an annual percentage yield, or APY).

Nowadays, most banks offer 0.01% APY, given historically low interest rates. So as an example, if you deposit $1,000 into a savings account, at an APY of 0.01%, you will earn $0.10 of interest per year, if you were to simply leave it there without withdrawing or depositing any money after that initial $1,000. So your balance after one year at a 0.01% APY would be $1,000.10, a ten-cent gain for having your money in the bank and doing nothing else.

A CD, or Certificate of Deposit, is a time deposit issued by a bank that is FDIC-insured similar to a regular savings account. With CDs, you get a higher APY than savings accounts do, in exchange for leaving your money with the bank for a set period of time (there are penalties for early withdrawal). Generally, you deposit money into a CD for a period of time between three months and five years, and since you’re not likely to be withdrawing any of the money over that period of time, CDs pay a higher APY than savings accounts. The interest rate depends on which bank you select, how much money you initially deposit, and the length of time you choose. For example, if you deposit $1,000 into a one-year CD at Bank of America, you can lock in an APY of 0.05%, which earns $0.50 per year (five times the savings account example above). Your total balance at the end of the one-year period would be $1,000.50. Other banks may offer more competitive rates, so always do your research before you lock anything in.

Finally, retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans (employer-sponsored retirement plans) and IRAs (Individual Retirement Account) are a little different than savings accounts and CDs. These accounts are not FDIC-insured, and they come with a host of rules and limitations. The upside of these retirement accounts is that they allow you to invest in a broad range of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc., and allow you to generate a significantly higher rate of return than savings accounts and CDs. Money contributed to a 401(k) and traditional IRA is done “pre-tax”, such that you defer paying tax until the money is withdrawn. When planning, experts suggest forecasting a 5.00–8.00% annual return over the long run in a 401(k)/IRA, but your return will depend on the assets you select. However, there are rules and limitations on when one can actually withdraw the money in a 401(k) or IRA. If you withdraw money too early (generally before age 59½), it can lead to negative tax consequences and cut into your overall earnings.

Jon: Can you break down why Roth IRA plans, in particular, are such a popular option for so many people these days?

E.G.: For sure. First, the term “Roth IRA” is named after former Delaware Senator William Roth, who helped pass legislation giving rise to the popular investment strategy in 1997. With a Roth IRA, you build savings by being able to make contributions to the account (up to $6,000 per year, for those under 50 in 2020) to invest in a portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc. Importantly, unlike a traditional IRA or a 401(k) plan, one contributes money to a Roth IRA with “after-tax” money, such that any growth on your investments can be withdrawn tax-free, generally after 59 ½.

The Roth IRA is so popular because all of your gains can be withdrawn during retirement tax-free, and, with historically low tax rates, it’s a great and affordable way to save money for your future. You can plug-and-play on this Roth IRA calculator to see how a Roth IRA can help you create real wealth over your lifetime. The other difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA is that, if you ever need to access your money before retirement, the Roth IRA is a little more flexible. That said, I do not recommend withdrawing money from a Roth IRA if you can help it. Emergencies can happen (like the current crisis we’re going through), so setting yourself up with options is a great way to provide long-term financial health.

Lastly, when it comes to the difference between IRAs and 401(k) plans, anybody can set up their own IRA, (literally, IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account) while 401(k) plans are set up through an employer. For any of your self-employed readers there is a Solo 401(k) and SEP-IRA, too. [Editor’s note: you can read more about Solo 401(k)/SEP-IRA here]. If I had to speculate about one reason more people are choosing the Roth IRA in recent years, it could be due to the peace of mind of having a retirement plan that isn’t tied to a company, especially during these uncertain times. Plus, about a third of people (perhaps more given the unfortunate rise in unemployment) do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan so a traditional IRA or Roth IRA may be their only option.

Jon: Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I’m curious, in your opinion, why do you think investing feels like such an intimidating endeavor for so many?

E.G.: I think investing can feel intimidating because of two big factors: uncertainty and a lack of knowledge. No one can guarantee that a stock will make money, and anyone who guarantees earnings is probably doing something fishy (see Madoff, Bernie) [Editor’s note: sorry, Mets fans]. Furthermore, since even a “safe” investment can lose money, “loss aversion”, or people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains, is a real thing. For many people, there’s a mindset that simply “not losing $5” is better than finding an extra $5, which is an understandable and real hurdle that speaks to people’s willingness to invest. To overcome the intimidation, I recommend starting out small.

Focus on a product you or a loved one uses regularly and finds value in, (e.g., Apple, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.). If you’re uncomfortable investing in a single stock, look at broadly traded mutual funds or ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) that hold a large number of assets and give you broad exposure.

Jon: Gotcha, that’s good advice. I’m curious, what are some of the strategies that you personally use to invest wisely for your own future?

E.G.: My wife and I try and keep it simple. We use broad-based Vanguard ETFs and mutual funds that cover a diverse segment of the global financial market. We ensure that our exposure of stock/bonds is right for our age, (~30 in our case) and we ensure that we have exposure to U.S. small and large companies, foreign and emerging markets, as well as industries that we feel are set up for a mix of long-term value and growth: biotech, healthcare, and high-yielding REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts). Portfolios, such as Ray Dalio’s “All Weather Fund”, are easy to understand and implement as well. We also have a nice mix of taxable investment accounts via Merrill Lynch, savings accounts via Bank of America, and 401(k) and IRA assets. We put as much money as we can away for retirement because of the tax benefits and compounding interest.

Jon: That’s no joke, you definitely seem like you have your bases covered. What would be your general advice to anybody who is curious about the markets at a time like this, and what would you say is your bottom line philosophy for financial wellness overall, from your perspective?

E.G.: Well, this is a great time to be curious, because no one knows where the markets are headed. It’s both scary and an opportunity, because stocks and other assets have depreciated since their highs of mid-February 2020, such that you can practice the old classic Wall Street saying, “buy low, sell high.”

It’s an overwhelming and scary time for all of us, so take a deep breath, and if you’re worried about the markets right now, remember that an investment in the S&P 500 in October 2008, with reinvested dividends, would still have returned 263%, as of April 2020. If you do your research, you can set yourself up well.

If you’re curious about investing, start small. Sites like Acorns specialize in micro-investing (i.e., small-dollar amounts) [Editor’s note: You can read more about Acorns here]. It’s also pretty easy to get set up with a free investing account through places like E-Trade, Merrill Lynch, or Chase, for example.

Don’t be so afraid that you look back in 30 years and realize that you’re not set up for the financial future that you deserve just because you were afraid to be curious. During a market downturn, the worst thing you can do is make a rash decision. If possible, try not to touch retirement accounts and other long-term investments. Do a little research on potential stocks, mutual funds, and ETFs so that you feel comfortable with your choice, and remember, it’s always ok to ask for help. It’s your money, and nobody can make you do anything with it that you don’t feel comfortable with. Stay away from complicated products, options, or anything that just doesn’t seem “down the fairway,” to use a sports metaphor.

For me, I truly believe that knowledge is power, and my wife makes fun of me for how much random stuff I read. I read articles from everything from The New York Times, MarketWatch, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and more every day. To many, that’s overwhelming and I get it. So, again, start small. Pick one new news outlet to start following with your newfound free time and go from there. Have some conversations with your partner, your parents, whoever you trust with important matters. Ask them what they think about money and investing, and be open to asking for help when you need it.

Jon: Thanks so much. I really appreciate you breaking down the nuts and bolts of all this, I could go back and forth all day, but I won’t keep you.

This stuff is really interesting (pun not intended but patently unavoidable).

E.G.: Any time! Thanks for having me.

I’m not sure if he regrets giving me the opening on “any time” because I did end up peppering him with more questions throughout the week. I’m amazed he’s still taking my calls and emails at this point. Much appreciated, E.G.!

As a lifelong learner, one thing I’ve embraced is that there’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. I love learning new things, gaining knowledge, and sharing what I’ve learned with my partner and my other loved ones. It reminds me of something Alex T. told me in our mindfulness conversation:

“The moments that we lose this balance [in our lives] are simply opportunities to find that balance again, and as such, those moments should be embraced rather than disparaged.”

I really like that sentiment, and I think that it’s the same way with knowledge. I don’t get frustrated when I don’t know something, because anything that I don’t know yet is an opportunity to learn. Leaning on people with good perspectives who are willing to share what they know is a wonderful thing.

So thank you to Alex for those wise words, and thanks once again to E.G. for sharing his perspective and his thoughts on financial wellness with us today.

Recommendations

My first recommendation this week is more reading, as if today’s newsletter wasn’t long enough. David Fleming wrote an oral history of perhaps the most effective trash talk in sports history, an incredible footnote to the 1990s Bulls teams that somehow didn’t make the final cut of The Last Dance.

For my other recommendation today, I’m not sharing something to watch or read or listen to. I figured I’d recommend something you can actively do.

Let’s bake a cake. Who doesn’t love cake?

My partner found this recipe a few weeks ago when we had a craving for chocolate cake. We tried this recipe out of curiosity, and we really like it.

It’s a recipe that doesn’t require eggs, butter, or milk. It’s colloquially called, “Chocolate Depression cake,” since it was invented during The Great Depression, the last time baking essentials were hard to find.

That name could use some work. I’ve been tentatively calling it, “Chocolate Soda Cake” for now, since it uses baking soda as a leavening agent.

Here’s how to make “Chocolate Soda Cake,” aka the dessert to be named later, courtesy of BudgetBytes.com, which has the full recipe write-up:

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil*
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar**
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup water

*You can use any neutral cooking oil of your choice, like canola, vegetable, grapeseed, safflower, corn, or avocado oil.

**Any light vinegar will do; white vinegar, rice vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  • In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder until well combined.
  • Add 1 cup water to a liquid measuring cup, then add the vanilla extract and vinegar to the water.
  • Add the oil to the bowl of dry ingredients, followed by the water mixture. Stir until the chocolate cake batter is mostly smooth. Make sure no dry flour remains on the bottom of the bowl.
  • Pour the cake batter into an 8x8" or 9x9" baking dish. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake the cake for 35 minutes.

Check out the link to see the author’s full commentary on the dish, including a recipe for homemade icing that you can throw on top of it when it’s done.

“Chocolate Soda Cake,” sans icing (photography by my partner, hand modeling by me)

We’ve baked it twice, and you would never know that it didn’t have eggs, milk, or butter. Good texture, good taste. You can trial-and-error the sugar to your liking. Try it yourself, and pass along some better name suggestions.

Parting Thoughts

I’ve always liked the number five. It’s always looked good on a uniform to me. Many of my favorite athletes have worn that single-digit 5 on their backs. I didn’t grow up particularly rooting for anyone just because they wore the number, but a lot of my favorites, past and present, happened to wear that 5.

Like multiples of ten, five is a number that is often celebrated as a nice, round number. Nobody really commemorates the threes, the sevens, the twos. But the fives? Fives seem to mean more. Writing this fifth issue is very gratifying.

I’m glad that I’m writing again. I’m thrilled to bring you The Good Press on an ongoing basis, and I can’t thank you enough for your ongoing support and feedback. Without you, The Good Press would simply be a private journal.

Thank you for allowing me to express myself and trust you all to eavesdrop a little bit on the thoughts that run through my mind. Your readership, support, and feedback makes me better and makes the newsletter itself better, too.

Issue #5 isn’t the biggest milestone, but it feels good to reach it nonetheless.

I haven’t run out of ideas to write about yet, so that’s encouraging. I’m knocking on wood as I type that, because as the wise famed philosopher Michael Scott once said, “I’m not superstitious… but, I am a little ‘stitious.”

Until next time, thanks for reading and be well.

-Jon

Previously at The Good Press

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The Good Press

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