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May 11-May 15, 2020 


a look back at this week’s essays… 


Money. Let’s Talk About Money! 

I collect art. I also collect books, beer bottles, and cigar lighters. I enjoy collecting them all. But there is something I get from my art collection that I don’t get from books, bottles, and lighters: I get richer.

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The Simplicity Imperative 

There are probably a hundred personal productivity mistakes I have made in my business career, but most of them can be sorted into three persistently wrong-headed impulses…

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Fear and Hope for Young People Today 

“I feel sorry for young people today,” a friend said to me recently. “They are growing up in a terrible time.” I gave him a sympathetic nod. I didn’t want to get into it. I don’t have the same feeling. And I’m not even sure why…

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quick quiz  

  1. How much do you remember about this week’s “Words to the Wise”? Use each of these words in a sentence: 

*  dilettante (5/11/20)

*  respite (5/13/20)

*  breviloquent (5/15/20)


  1. Fill in the blanks in this week’s quotations: 

* “There are two ways that art is judged as good: connoisseurship and _____.” – Michael Masterson (5/11/20)

* “As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be _____; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” – Henry David Thoreau (5/13/20)

* “‘_____’ is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops – at all” – Emily Dickinson (5/15/20)


  1. Are these statements True or False? 

* Prices of investable art follow the stock market. They immediately rise when the stock market rises, and fall when the stock market falls. (5/11/20)

* COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, spreads the same way as chickenpox, measles, and the common cold. (5/13/20)

* Dr. Matthew Schmitt developed a breathing exercise to help people stop smoking. (5/15/20)



recommended links from this week’s blog 


* “Stephen King Has an Idea for the Story Joe Biden Could Be Telling” in The New York TimesA solid interview with a very good writer. Click here to read it.


* “Seymour the Squirrel and the Avocado Helmet” – Is this animal abuse? HERE

* “Lockdown is a huge mistake…” – A dull presentation, but it’s from someone (a Nobel Prize winning scientist) that understands the math. HERE

* Whether it’s caused by COVID-19 or another illness, you can help relieve mucus buildup in the lungs by following this doctor’s “rule of threes.” Click here to see how it’s done.

* “To prevent the next pandemic, it’s the legal wildlife trade we should worry about…” – In this essay from National Geographic, a biologist argues that viruses can spread as easily from the trade of legal wildlife like frogs and monkeys, a multibillion-dollar global business, as they can by bats and other exotics in “wet” markets. Click here to read it.

* This poignant video of a music teacher trying to convey her thoughts and feelings about shelter-in-place through a heartfelt song nearly brought me to tears. HERE




Your Question: 

I’m a 51-year-old actor living in Los Angeles. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many great projects in the past 30 years, but haven’t created any savings. What advice or suggestions do you have for creating wealth at this stage of my life?

My Answer: 

Ah, to be 51 again!

Lucky you! But I get it. When you pass that 50-yard line, the end zone is no longer a distant possibility. And as an aging actor, you may be anticipating less demand than supply of your talents in the future.

But you didn’t write for my encouragement or sympathy. You want advice, or at least a suggestion or two that you can make useful. I’m happy to oblige.

The first thing I’m going to say is something you already know and may not want to hear. The bottom-line reason you haven’t saved any money till now is not because of any or all of the dozens of serious financial challenges you’ve faced in your life so far. It’s because of all the thousands of small decisions you’ve made about working and spending and (not) saving.

Take responsibility for that.

You don’t have to beat yourself up about it. There are millions of happy people that live without the burden of that responsibility. And some portion of them make it through life without a care in the world. But you have a care. You are concerned about the lifestyle you’ll have in the coming years. And with good reason. The country is broke. The entertainment industry is in lockdown. Your prospects for making good money in the future are narrowing with each coming birthday. It’s almost enough to make a person think, “Why me?”

Since I’ve written thousands of pages on your question already, I’m not going to waste your time or mine repeating bits and pieces of them in truncated form today. Instead, I’m going to recommend that you read two of the books I’ve written (under my pen name “Michael Masterson”) in a specific order.

  1. The Pledge: Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life– If you let it, this book will get you over the hurdle of making the changes you need to make to accomplish your financial goals.
  2. Automatic Wealth: The 6 Steps to Financial Independence– This is basically a blueprint for acquiring wealth. There are plenty of books out there that do this. Some of them are very good. What I like about Automatic Wealth is that I know the blueprint is real because it’s my blueprint. And I know it’s easy to follow because I hate complicated plans.

If you are willing to read these books, I am confident you’ll have the answers you are looking for. If you are not willing to read them, I’ve got another book for you. It’s called Living Rich. It’s about having a truly rich life on a modest budget

Have a question for me? Submit it on our Contact Us page. 


For a look back at the stock market, click here.  

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About 20 years ago, I did a little experiment. I wanted to find out if it really is possible to do business from anywhere in the world. So I packed my family off to Rome (one of my favorite cities) for a six-week “working vacation.” I not only learned that, yes, it is possible for me to work in Rome (or just about anywhere else, for that matter), I also learned something that has had a much more profound effect.

In Rome, completely separated from the crazy, stressful routine I was used to back home, I learned how to simplify my life.

If you think simplifying your life will mean making less money, enjoying less success, maybe even being less effective as a businessperson, think again. Simplifying your life is about having more – not less – of the good things. More passion. More meaningful work and relationships. And you can have more of those things by having fewer of the bad things – unsatisfying rituals, self-destructive habits, energy-draining feelings, and so on.


The Simplicity Imperative 

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.” – Henry David Thoreau

Today, I’d like to talk about simplifying your work life. I’m going tell you about a few things I’ve discovered that have worked for me. If they work as well for you, you’ll  accomplish more of what matters and eliminate stress-inducing and time-wasting experiences that are commonplace to smart, hardworking people in almost every sort of business.

We live in a time in which information overload is ubiquitous, communication is largely unfiltered, and meaningless busyness keeps many earnest people from achieving their most important goals. In an effort to keep up with the daily storm of inputs, they unwittingly mistake being busy for being productive – even though, in calm moments, they can easily distinguish them. Very commonly, they let the priorities of other people – their bosses, their colleagues, and their employees – take precedence over their own. As a result, they feel swamped… and out of control.

If this sounds familiar, you should know this. You are never going to gain control over your life if you continue to do what you are doing now: trying to catch up with the current backlog so you can start fresh and stay in control after that’s done.

It’s not going to happen. Even if you do catch up, you’ll have, at best, a day’s respite. Then the whole mess will begin anew.

There are probably a hundred personal productivity mistakes I have made in my business career, but most of them can be sorted into three persistently wrong-headed impulses:

* The egoistic desire to be the “man” – i.e., the person that solves the problem and gets things done.

* The self-indulgent enjoyment I get from solving complicated problems with complex solutions.

* The mental resistance I have to reexamining my priorities every day.

These wrong-headed impulses have corrective measures:

* I have to remind myself every day NOT to get involved in 80% of the work problems I encounter.

* I have to ask myself, every time I come up with a “good idea”: Can I make this simpler? Simpler to explain and to understand and to execute?

* I have to spend a half hour every day examining the chores in front of me and prioritizing them so that I can delegate or ignore most of them.

I’m not suggesting that these protocols will double your effective productivity, cut your stress levels in half, and put your career advancement in fast forward. They had that effect on my career, but you’ll have to decide if they make sense for you.

If you are intrigued by what I’ve said so far, you should begin by considering the following two-step plan for improving your business life:

It’s not the ingredients that matter. It’s the cake! 

Whether you’re managing a project, running a company, or handling your day-to-day schedule, you need a firm grasp of the big picture. Yes, that’s what every business management expert says – but I don’t believe more than 10% of those that “know it” do it. I know I didn’t.

Having a “vision” for the business will do nothing for you or the business if it’s a lofty dream about either improving the world or making a zillion dollars. For a vision to work, it must be specific to your industry and to your company. It must be realistic – i.e., achievable. It must be understandable – i.e., clearly articulated. And it must be customer-focused – i.e., it can’t be only about you, your shareholders, and your employees.

Ninety percent of the “visions” I see promoted by CEOs in the business press are obviously BS – pabulum for the public or feel-good messages for shareholders and employees. As a business leader, you are certainly entitled to whatever fantasies you have of the future. But the company vision you should formulate and promote should be, as I said, achievable, understandable, and customer-focused.

Work on that and you will have something to build on. You don’t have to get your vision exactly right out of the gate. You shouldn’t even try. Because as time passes and you learn more about your business and its market, you will adjust and sometimes even radically change parts of it. But having a pretty good vision (that adheres to these three rules) will make your work life so much better. You will find, as I did, that everything moves faster and with fewer restarts and much less stress and toil.

First the Vision. Then the Goals. 

Your business objectives should grow naturally out of your vision.  Use it as a guide to develop your goals. I establish mine at 5 levels:

  1. Long-term (5 to 7 years)
  2. Annual
  3. Monthly
  4. Weekly
  5. Daily

Since I have explained this system in detail elsewhere, I won’t get into it here. The logic of it is easy to understand: How can you create yearly goals if you don’t know what you want to accomplish in 5 to 7 years? Likewise, how can you create monthly goals without a yearly plan?

I won’t try to convince you, here, why this is such an important practice for personal productivity in your business life. I will acknowledge that it takes a bit of time. A half-hour daily. An hour or two weekly and monthly. And a day or two yearly.

And unless you are already in the habit of doing this (not making to-do lists – that is a completely wasteful practice), the idea of this extra work will not appeal to you. I can say only this about that feeling: I get it. I felt it. But I was wrong. This is the single most effective thing I’ve ever done to accomplish what I’ve accomplished in my business career.

It’s all about time. Yes, you’ve heard that before, too. But it’s true. Time is the most valuable resource we have in life. And it is also very limited. We can give ourselves more of it by working longer hours and more days and by living longer. But that can only get you so far.

The answer is not to spend more time working, but to increase the productivity of every hour that you work.

Some tricks to help you along the way: 

 When composing your daily objectives, ask yourself:

* “Is this something I could not do? Is it something I could delegate? Is it something I don’t need to do at all?”

* “Is there some way I could do this in half the time?”

* “Is this related to one of my long-term objectives, one that will truly improve my career?”

In selecting my priorities each day, I highlight the most important tasks – the ones that that are essential to my long-term business plan. And because I know I can do only a limited number of things each day, I do those tasks first thing in the morning, when I have an abundance of mental energy. Accomplishing them gives me a boost of additional energy that helps me get through all the secondary and tertiary objectives of the day.

If I ever have to choose between two priorities, I ask myself: “Of the two, which one will be more important to me at the end of my life?”

It’s all about economy – doing fewer things overall but making sure that the things you do have the greatest possible importance… to the business, to its customers, and to your career.


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One Thing & Another

Lisbon, Portugal

Notes From My Journal: Returning After 30 Years

The first time we were in Portugal, it was rainy and cold. That gave us a bad impression of the country. We knew our reaction was unfair but it must have had an unconscious effect: It took us nearly 30 years to return. We expected to have better weather this time since the weather in Portugal is usually good this time of year. And it is.

Our guide in Lisbon, Rogerio, is both knowledgeable and also agreeable. He talks entertainingly about the country’s history and culture.

“At one time,” he says, “Portugal and Spain were the two most powerful colonial powers in the world. They even signed a treaty dividing the world between them.”

I admit I had completely forgotten about that.

But it’s true. Portugal’s empire once went from China to Africa to South America. They still speak Portuguese in Macao, Mozambique, Angola, and Brazil.

And just one of Portugal’s former colony’s, Brazil, is nearly the size of the United States and has a population of more than 200 million. Portugal is a fraction of that size and has only 10 million people, less than the population of Rio.

I ask Rogerio about Portugal’s relationship with Spain now. “There must be lots of similarities,” I say. “Right?”

There’s a pained expression on Rogerio’s face. In the kindest way, he corrects my faux pas. “There is a very big difference between Spanish culture and Portuguese culture,” he tells us.

“How so?” I ask.

“Well, for one thing,” he says, “the Portuguese tend to be more – how should I put it – more reserved than the Spanish.”

“Like how?”
“The Spanish tend to be, well, rougher around the edges, as you say. More passionate.”

“You mean less sophisticated.”

“One could say that.”

I am taken aback. I’ve always thought of Spain, and certainly Madrid, as very sophisticated. And I’d always assumed that Portugal, being smaller and poorer than Spain today, was less sophisticated. But according to Rogerio, that’s not true.

I find myself feeling happy to hear his opinion. Not because I have anything against the Spanish. It’s just that I like learning things that surprise me. But is it true?

The next day…

As it turns out, Rogerio isn’t the only Portuguese who feels that way. This afternoon K and I are listening to a Rick Steves podcast about Madrid. The subject of culture comes up and – sure enough – one of Steves’ local tour guides makes the very same comment.

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