By Dr. James M. Dahle, WCI Founder
We had an eventful spring break here in Utah. In many ways, it didn't turn out like we'd planned. However, there were lots of lessons learned that anyone can apply in their lives. Forgive the personal nature of this post. Take what you find useful, and leave the rest.
Lesson #1 – Be Flexible
Our original plan for spring break was to go backpacking in Bears Ears National Monument. Through careful planning, we obtained not one but two difficult-to-obtain permits, and we were excited to take our kids into the wilderness and see how the ancient Puebloans lived. However, those who have been paying attention know the American West is having a bonkers winter. We're all very thankful, given the drought we have been in, but as of spring break, our local ski resort had received 877 inches (73 feet) of snow. The previous all-time record was 747 inches, and we still had a month of the season to go.
Bears Ears was covered in snow, and low temperatures were going to be in the 20s. As a family, we have a pretty high tolerance for suffering, but it's not that high. The suffering-to-fun ratio still needs to be reasonable, so we canceled those desirable permits and started looking at other plans. Meanwhile, a tournament hockey game was scheduled for Tuesday and a funeral for a friend and neighbor was scheduled for Friday, leaving us just Wednesday and Thursday for spring break. We pivoted to an overnight stay at a mountain lodge and an activity I had done many times as a teenager but that my kids had not: snowmachining (aka snowmobiling among those in the Lower 48).
More information here:
#2 Know Your Part
It's been a long season for our adult league hockey team, and we're not that good. We finished the season ranked 11th of 14 teams, and we were lined up against the No. 6 team. To make matters worse, our leading scorer was out of town on business. As the third-highest scoring player, I felt really bad about going out of town and missing the game, but by shortening our spring break trip, I could be there. The team captain asked me to play center, not my usual position. We only had two centers and three sets of wings, so I would be playing half the game (that's a lot in ice hockey) opposite our second-leading scorer (and, honestly, our best player). It turned out my role in the game was simply to keep our best player on the ice as much as possible, spelling him as needed and keeping anything too bad from happening when he wasn't out there. While I contributed an assist in our 6-4 victory, his five goals made all the difference. In life, you make your contribution when and where you can, but it's important to know your role.
#3 Rent Things You Don't Use Often
Everything you own owns a little piece of you. When I look at a snowmachine I think, “That would be really fun to own a couple of those, like we did when I was a kid.” But I've only been snowmachining once in the last 20 years. When you own an item like that (such as our boat), you feel like you need to use it frequently, squeezing other activities out of your life, AND you have to buy it (and a truck and trailer to transport it), maintain it, store it, repair it, and insure it. Earning the money you spent on it (and continue to spend on it) represents a certain portion of your life. Renting three machines for two days was really expensive but nowhere near as expensive as owning them.
#4 Never Give Up
After checking out the machines and receiving serious warnings not to leave the groomed trails due to conditions (3-4 feet of that famous fresh, fluffy Utah powder) and the fact that our rented machines were “trail machines” and not “powder machines,” we were off into the boondocks. I let my 13-year-old son drive, and a few minutes later, he hit a bump and bounced off the trail down a steep hill. By the time I got the machine stopped, we were 40 feet below the road, down a steep embankment in the deepest powder I had ever been in with a snowmachine.
While my family has never spent much time “sledding,” it wasn't a new activity to me, and I figured I could get it back up onto the road somehow. Over the next hour and a half, I got to put on a clinic for my wife, 16-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old son about how to get snowmobiles stuck and unstuck. I got it badly stuck a total of four times, and each time, it required much digging and turning of this 1,000-pound machine 90 to 180 degrees while we were in powder to our waist. My daughter started suggesting that it might be faster to call the rental shop and beg for rescue.
Finally, we worked out a plan that we thought would work. We tramped down a track in the waist-deep powder for about 75 yards to where the embankment up to the road wasn't quite so steep. Then, with my wife and daughter each pulling on a ski and me pushing and gunning the engine, we got it moving and blasted it down the track and back up onto the road. Luckily, I had the experience to know how to get a snowmachine out of trouble. As a teenager, my dad dropped his into a creek in the dead of an Alaskan winter. While standing in 18 inches of water, we built a ramp of snow to get out of that creek. Back then, I was the one suggesting we go get a rescue, but my father taught me to never give up. We eventually got the machine out, pulled our boots off at -10 degrees, wrung out our socks, and headed for home. Those lessons of hard work, self-sufficiency, and mindset came in handy.
#5 Know Yourself
When signing out the machines, they offered us a damage waiver for $50 a machine. Snowmobiles cost $13,000-$25,000. Having experience, I knew that someone on a snowmachining trip breaks something on a machine about every other day. I knew that $50 was a steal for the way I ride (no, I had no intention to keep the machines on the trail, even if I wasn't planning to go off trail at the location noted above). So, we bought $150 a day worth of damage waivers. I was really glad once I went through the windshield within an hour of leaving the rental shop while trying to get it back up on the road. The next day also involved a slightly bent ski and a torn snow flap.
While I don't usually recommend “consumer insurance,” I know a deal when I see one. Knowing we had that insurance made the whole trip a lot more fun because it allowed us to “drive it like a rental.” Eventually, we did find a great place to play in the powder off the trail. It was the highlight of the trip for the kids, and it gave them an amazing amount of confidence as they really learned how to ride a snowmachine.
More information here:
#6 Your Career Doesn't Matter That Much
A dear neighbor and friend passed away recently from cancer. At 70, he wasn't young, but he certainly wasn't old either. We set up chairs for 1,000 people at his funeral. His obituary ran nine paragraphs. There were only two sentences about his career. Sometimes, we think we are what we do. But if we want to have a successful life (and have hundreds of people at our funeral), perhaps we need to remember that the most important moments of our lives won't be spent at work.
#7 Your Hearse Won't Have a Trailer Hitch
I checked the hearse at the funeral. Like every other hearse I've ever seen, there was no trailer hitch. None of that stuff or those financial assets you're accumulating during your life will go with you when you die. Relationships are the key to life. Whether you have a handful of close friends and family like many introverts or whether you're known by thousands, remember where the real value is in life.
#8 Cash Is King
Financially speaking, April is always my least favorite month of the year, and that always adds some stress to spring break time. The cash flow challenges can be immense. Not only is our entire state income tax bill due, but any unpaid amount of federal taxes is also due. Plus, there's the first quarter estimated tax payment, and I know there will be another one of those due just 60 days later. I also need to come up with the profit-sharing portion of my partnership 401(k) which cannot be calculated until the K-1s are prepared at seemingly the last moment. In addition, the massive hotel bill from WCICON comes due.
Our bank (for the business and for the personal side) was also put on the “watch list” after the Silicon Valley Bank meltdown. Meanwhile, stocks are 17 months into a bear market (average bear market = 10 months), bonds are coming off their worst year ever, and rising interest rates are having serious impacts on real estate.
After a few years of April stress, I've learned my lesson. By February, I stop investing and start piling up cash, both personally and for the business. The business stops paying salaries to Katie and me to ensure that we can make payroll and meet our obligations to vendors and tax agencies.
When you need cash, nothing else will do. Don't invest money in long-term instruments that you will need in the short term. Sometimes the return of your principal is more important than the return on your principal.
Spring break sometimes turns into winter break, but with preparation, hard work, and perspective, you can get what you want out of life—for you and your loved ones.
What do you think? What did you do for spring break? Any recent experiences that taught you important life lessons? Comment below!